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Op/Ed

You lost a rockstar employee – don’t lose the band too

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Bands lose lead singers all the time, and sometimes are the better for it. Your business can rally too in the wake of losing a star employee.

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Smiling rockstar employee accepting paper from off screen.

Turnover is one of the largest expenses a business may have to prepare for; a study by Employee Benefits News estimates that the dollar amount is equivalent to a third of an employee’s annual salary. Indirect costs arrive alongside this, which can include the loss of employee knowledge and added expenses to invest in searching for a replacement. The recruitment process can be lengthy and has many steps and phases, and hiring may require paying bonuses, higher salaries, or providing additional benefits.

As many as 40% of employees quit in their first year, and when all is said and done, it might be 50-70% of that employee’s salary might suddenly be lost.

This can present a large problem if a top performing and well liked employee – what some recruiters might call a rockstar employee – leaves. Under the worst scenarios, it can cause a domino effect; remaining employees might begin to question why that person chose to make their exit, and this may manifest as a series of departures. From a management standpoint, this is catastrophic, and can lead to missed deadlines, an increased burden on the remaining staff, and generally result in less quality output.

Contingency plans should be in place to help mitigate this situation, and all companies should – at some point – consider what their best options are to stop a destructive downward spiral. Jokingly – if a little morbid – this is sometimes referred to as the bus factor, which literally confronts this question by asking what happens if ____ were hit by a bus tomorrow? After all, if your critically vital employee suddenly could not show up again – literally never again – what can you do to prevent cascading effects?

Let’s consider the best things to do in this situation in order to prevent insert-your-favorite-natural-disaster-term-here when you suddenly learn your unicorn is on their way out.

Ask Questions and Listen

First and foremost, it’s best to ask the rockstar employee why they are leaving and make a sincere effort to understand their decision. The benefits of exit interviewing are known and can help immensely in this area. Even under the best circumstances and with an employee leaving without any negative reasons, there is likely still something they’d like to see improved, and this can be applied to those who remain.

Speaking of those remaining employees, it’s best to talk with them as well. Be transparent and genuine – ask about current moods and morale, get their perspective on the situation, and how they think it might affect their work moving forward. If the exiting employee did give any advice about improving the work environment, you can inject this into these follow-on conversations to see if others share that opinion, and then use those overlapping patterns to understand what to do immediately.

Surveys can be sent out as well, and this might provide a quick response and some metrics to go on. This should be used in conjunction with interviews and one-on-one conversations. During these engagements, listen intently, acknowledge any issues that may have been uncovered, and explain that you are committed to ensuring a smooth transition and will proactively address any problems that have been revealed.

Futureproofing

Reassure employees that their work is meaningful and recognized as vital and important, and commit to finding a replacement in order to prevent concerns that an increased workload will remain in place for an extended period of time. This will require taking introspective looks into the current workplace and its metrics, and then channeling these into efforts outwardly. In other words, the future is still bright, and all the brighter with their contributions.

It’s likely that employees may start to look at their work pessimistically – “Why should I stay if what we’re doing couldn’t keep ___ here?” This is why management must act quickly to assess the situation and provide direct answers. Explain that goals are still attainable and emphasize each employee’s importance.

Happiness

Perhaps the most abstract – yet arguably most significant – thing to worry about is the overall happiness of employees, and how to best continue this in an upward trajectory. There are plenty of ways to do this, with many revolving around frequent check-ins, seeking out ways to improve skillsets through education, and providing – if possible – promotions now that voids exist. After all, if there is an open opportunity within the organization, it will likely bolster the entire team to see someone move into a new position (and provide inspiration).

Engagement is key. There is no substitute for this – employees want to be heard, want to know they matter, and will respond to such efforts positively. In addition to the strategies above, it might be a good time to consider morale boosting events while redoubling efforts to improve the workplace.

Conclusion

Focusing on what to do now with plans in place will help provide a solid head start. Engage and speak with (not just to) employees, understand their concerns, and actively respond to anything that repeatedly emerges from such conversations. Reassure by shifting focus toward the future of the company, and maintain employee happiness by being transparent and considering ways to reorganize hierarchy through promotions.

When a favorite employee leaves, there’s always going to be a rippling effect throughout the office. Turnover cannot be fully avoided, but there are several ways to cushion the blow and continue to move forward in an efficient, agile manner.

Robert Snodgrass has an English degree from Texas A&M University, and wants you to know that yes, that is actually a thing. And now he's doing something with it! Let us all join in on the experiment together. When he's not web developing at Docusign, he runs distances that routinely harm people and is the kind of giant nerd that says "you know, there's a King of the Hill episode that addresses this exact topic".

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Op/Ed

To-do list tips to maximize productivity and lower stress

(EDITORIAL) Even if you have a to-do list, the weight of your tasks might be overwhelming. Here’s advice on how to fix the overwhelm.

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To-do list in a journal with gold rings.

If you ask me, there’s no better way to unwind and ease everyday stress by making a to-do list. Like they said in the movie, Clueless, “It gives [you] a sense of control in a world full of chaos.”

While that quote was specific to a makeover, it certainly applies here. When you have too many things on your plate, making a to-do list is a quick way to get yourself in order. Typically, this does the trick for organizing your upcoming tasks.

It’s important to determine what method of listmaking works for you. I personally like to use sticky notes around my computer monitor to keep me in check for what’s needed to be done work-wise or by use of my computer. Other personal task items will either be kept in a list on my phone, or in my paper planner.

For work, I have a roster of clients I work with everyday. They each have their own list containing tasks I have to complete for them. I also use Google Calendar to keep these tasks in order if they have a specific deadline.

For personal use, I create a to-do list at the start of each week to determine what needs to be accomplished over the next seven days. I also have a monthly overview for big-picture items that need to be tackled (like an oil change).

This form of organization can be a lot and it can still be overwhelming, even if I have my ducks in a row. And, every once in a while, those tasks can really pile up on those lists and a whole new kind of overwhelm develops.

Fear not, as there are still ways to break it down from here. Let me explain.

First, what I’d recommend is going through all of your tasks and categorizing them (i.e. a work list, a personal list, a family list, etc.) From there, go through each subsequent list and determine priority.

You can do this by setting a deadline for each task, and then put every task in order based on what deadline is coming up first. From there, pieces start to fall into place and tasks begin to be eliminated. I do recognize that this is what works for my brain, and may not be what works for yours.

Leo Babauta of Zen Habits has some interesting insight on the topic and examines the importance of how you relate to your tasks. The concept is, instead of letting the tasks be some sort of scary stress, find ways to make them more relatable. Here are some examples that Babauta shares:

  • I’m fully committed to this task because it’s incredibly important to me, so I’m going to create a sacred space of 30 minutes today to be fully present with it.
  • This task is an opportunity for me to serve someone I care deeply about, with love.
  • These tasks are training ground for me to practice presence, devotion, getting comfortable with uncertainty.
  • These tasks are an adventure! An exploration of new ground, a learning space, a way to grow and discover and create and be curious.
  • This task list is a huge playground, full of ways for me to play today!

Finding the best method of creating your to-do list or your task list and the best method for accomplishing those tasks is all about how you relate and work best. It can be trial and error, but there is certainly a method for everyone. What are your methods?

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Op/Ed

Why delegation of work doesn’t always lead to productivity

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Delegation is tricky, and can end up creating more work for yourself if it isn’t done well. Here’s how to fix that.

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Man talking on virtual meeting, using delegation to get more work done.

Delegating work is a logical step in the process of attaining peak efficiency. It’s also a step that, when executed incorrectly, leads to a huge headache and a lot of extra work for whomever is delegating tasks—not to mention frustration on the part of those asked to complete said tasks. Here is how you can assign work with the confidence that it will be done quickly and effectively.

Firstly, realizing that a “one size fits all” approach doesn’t work can be a bit of a blow. It’s certainly easier to assign tasks across the board and wait for them to be completed; however, when you consider how much clean-up work you have to do when those tasks don’t end the way you expect them to, it’s actually simpler to assign tasks according to employees’ strengths and weaknesses, providing appropriate supports along the way.

In education, this process is called “differentiation”, and it’s the same idea: If you assign 30 students the exact same work, you’ll see pretty close to 30 different answers. Assigning that same piece with the accommodations each student needs to succeed—or giving them different parameters according to their strengths—means more consistency overall. You can apply that same concept to your delegation.

Another weak point in many people’s management models revolves around how employees see their superiors. In part, this isn’t your fault; American authority paradigms mandate that employees fear their bosses, bend over backward to impress them, and refrain from communicating concerns. However, it is ultimately your job to make sure that your employees feel both supported and capable.

To wit, assign your employees open-ended questions and thought-provoking problems early on to allow them to foster critical thinking skills. The more you solve their problems for them, the more they will begin to rely on you in a crisis—and the more work you’ll take home despite all of your delegation efforts. Molding employees into problem-solvers can certainly take time, but it’s worth the wait.

Finally, your employees may lack strength in the areas of quality and initiative. That sounds a lot worse than it actually is—basically, employees may not know what you expect, and in the absence of certainty, they will flounder. You can solve this by providing employees with the aforementioned supports; in this case, those look like a list of things to avoid, a bulleted list of priorities for a given project, or even a demo of how to complete their work.

Again, this sounds like a lot of effort upfront for your delegation, but you’ll find your patience rewarded come deadline time.

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Op/Ed

5 things your home office may not need

(EDITORIAL) Since many of us are working entirely from home now, we are probably getting annoyed at a messy desk, let’s take a crack at minimalism!

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desk minimalism

COVID-19 is changing our behaviors. As more people stay home, they’re seeing (and having to deal with) the clutter in their home. Many people are turning to minimalism to reduce clutter and find more joy. There are many ways to define minimalism. Some people define it as the number of items you own. Others think of it as only owning items that you actually need.

I prefer to think of minimalism as intentionality of possessions. I have a couple of dishes that are not practical, nor do I use them very often. But they belonged to my grandma, and out of sentimentality, I keep them. Most minimalists probably wouldn’t.

They say a messy desk is a sign of creativity. Unfortunately, that same messy desk limits productivity. Harvard Business Review reports that cluttered spaces have negative effects on us. Keep your messy desk, but get rid of the clutter. Take a minimalistic approach to your home office. Here are 5 things to clean up:

  1. Old technology – When was the last time you printed something for work? Most of us don’t print much anymore. Get rid of the old printers, computer parts, and other pieces of hardware that are collecting dust.
  2. Papers and documents – Go digital, or just save the documents that absolutely matter. Of course, this may vary by industry, but take a hard look at the paper you’ve saved over the past month or so. Then ask yourself whether you will really ever look at it again.
  3. Filing cabinets – If you’re not saving paper, you don’t need filing cabinets.
  4. Trade magazines and journals – Go digital, and keep your magazines on your Kindle, or pass down the print versions to colleagues who may be interested.
  5. Anything unrelated to work – Ok, save the picture of your family and coffee mug, but clean off your desk of things that aren’t required for work. It’s easy for home and work to get mixed up when you’re working and living in one place. Keep it separate for your own peace of mind and better workflow. If space is tight and you’re sharing a dining room table with work, get a laundry basket or box. At the start of the workday, remove home items and put them in the box. Transfer work items to another box at the end of the day.

This might seem like a little more work, but all these practices will give you some boundaries.

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