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Leadership, Staff Development

Thanks to Mark Miller for this guest post, which coincides with the recent launch of his newest book, Talent Magnet: How to Attract and Keep the Best People. The book identifies three key elements for an organization to become a talent magnet. This article focuses on the first element, a Better Boss.


It’s fun to see different streams of work come together. I don’t know if you’ve had that experience or not. Let me try to explain the idea that’s stumbling around in my head.


I’ve been learning to lead for almost 40 years; I’ve been researching and writing about the topic for almost two decades. When I was asked to work on how we might win the war for talent, I was eager to learn and contribute, but honestly, I thought I had just entered another universe.


Now, many months into the journey, I see the convergence I referenced above. When I began thinking about talent, I initially took off my leadership hat. That was a mistake. I’ve now put it back on – Talent has always been a leadership issue. Looking at the war for talent through a leadership lenses I can see much more clearly what leaders must do to attract Top Talent.


Back to this idea of converging ideas – when we talked to Top Talent about their expectations of their leaders we found several attributes mentioned over and over. These two have been featured in other posts: A Better Boss must Demonstrate Care and Stay Engaged. Here’s another best practice… Top Talent expects their leaders to Lead Well. What does that mean? It means the unchanging fundamentals of leadership matter to Top Talent.


See the Future – Leadership always begins with a picture of the future.

Engage and Develop Others – Leaders create the context for people to thrive.

Reinvent Continuously – Progress is always preceded by change.

Value Results and Relationships – There is tremendous power in the “and.”

Embody the Values – People always watch their leaders.


Great leaders SERVE!


Don’t be discouraged as you look at the fundamentals and assess your own proficiency… you don’t need to be perfect to Lead Well. Influence is as much about being real as it is about being right. And great leadership is not just an issue of skills.


The attitude of your heart will ultimately have the greatest impact on your ability to lead well – admitting mistakes, sharing credit, maintaining a spirit of humility, being courageous and thinking others first all reflect your readiness to lead.


Do you really want to be a Better Boss capable of attracting a team of Top Talent? Commit to life-long journey and learn to Lead Well.


About Mark Miller


Mark Miller began his Chick-fil-A career working as an hourly team member in 1977. In 1978, he joined the corporate staff working in the warehouse and mailroom. Since that time, Mark has steadily increased his value at Chick-fil-A and has provided leadership for Corporate Communications, Field Operations, and Quality and Customer Satisfaction.


Today, he serves as the Vice President of High-Performance Leadership. During his time with Chick-fil-A, annual sales have grown to over $9 billion. The company now has more than 2,300 restaurants in 47 states and the District of Columbia.


When not working to sell more chicken, Mark is actively encouraging and equipping leaders around the world. He has taught at numerous international organizations over the years on topics including leadership, creativity, team building, and more.


Mark began writing about a decade ago. He teamed up with Ken Blanchard, co-author of The One Minute Manager, to write The Secret: What Great Leaders Know and Do (2007). More recently, he released Chess Not Checkers (2015), and Leaders Made Here (2017). His latest is Talent Magnet: How to Attract and Keep the Best People (February 2018). Today, over 1 million copies of Mark’s books are in print in more than two dozen languages.




LET’S TALK about strategies to retain top talent and increase employee engagement. A worker’s relationship with his/her supervisor is the X-factor. Send me an email or schedule a time to talk via my online calendar.


Leadership, Process Improvement

Guest Post By Dick Axelrod, originally published on


  1. Unclear Purpose


Meeting participants are unclear about the purpose of the meeting or what they want to accomplish. Before holding a meeting, ask yourself what you want to be different for yourself, the participants, and the organization as a result of holding this meeting. Make sure you share this purpose with the participants. If you are a meeting participant and don’t know or understand the purpose of the meeting ask, “What is the purpose of this meeting?” at the beginning of the meeting. Then ask yourself, “What can I contribute to make this meeting productive?”


  1. Unclear Roles


It is amazing to find out how many attend meetings where they don’t know why they are there or what is expected of them. We see many leaders who invite people to the meeting because they might provide a different perspective. However, these participants do not know that is what is expected of them. They attend the meeting not knowing why they are there and consequently feel the meeting is a waste of time.


  1. Decision-Makers Not Present


When the meeting participants are not empowered to make decisions, everyone feels their time is wasted. While participants may have fruitful discussions, they must then take their work product to the decision-makers who were not part of the discussion and who may not understand the reasons why recommendations are being made. This additional layer of bureaucracy wastes everyone’s time. Empowering meeting participants to make decisions or having decision-makers present will eliminate this added bureaucracy.


  1. Unclear Decision-Making Process


We have watched many groups flounder because the decision-making process is unclear. They don’t know whether they are being asked to learn about a decision that has already been made, provide the leader with feedback, or be part of the decision-making process. Clarifying the decision-making process prior to starting the discussion saves time and energy.



More about Dick Axelrod


Dick and is wife Emily Axelrod are pioneers in creating employee involvement programs to effect large-scale organization change, and co-founded the Axelrod Group in 1981. Dick is also a lecturer in University of Chicago’s Masters in Threat and Response Management Program, and a faculty member in American University’s Masters in Organization Development program. Dick and Emily created the Conference Model®, an internationally recognized high-involvement change methodology.


Together, Emily and Dick are frequent keynote speakers and co-authors. Their latest book is Let’s Stop Meeting Like This: Tools to Save Time and Get More Done it outlines a flexible and adaptable system used to run truly productive meetings in all kinds of organizations―meetings where people create concrete plans, accomplish tasks, build connections, and move projects forward.



Coaching, CPA, Leadership

Note: this article was originally published in the Minnesota Society of CPAs Public Practice e-Newsletter.


No matter what your role is, the first few months of the year are likely to be crunch time for one reason or another. If you’re in public accounting, April 17 marks the finish line for the annual race known as tax season. For CPAs in industry, the finish line may be closing your year-end, completing the audit, or filing quarterly reports if you have a year-end other than Dec. 31.


Unfortunately, it’s easy to get caught up in survival mode this time of the year. But don’t settle for mere survival this year. Instead, use these three self-coaching techniques to thrive during your busy season.


1. Revisit your ‘Big Why’


One approach to thriving this busy season is to revisit why you became a CPA and why you do the work you do. We are all motivated at our inner core by what I call the Big Why. It’s a sense of purpose that gets us out of bed in the morning. It’s what enables us to push through problems and difficulties on the way to achieving our goals.


You may have chosen the CPA profession because you like to generate financial reports. Perhaps you became a CPA because you enjoy talking about financial data with others in a consulting role. Or you saw becoming a CPA as a step toward starting your own business someday. Maybe, it’s because you viewed it as a good career path and job security. Or a solid paycheck to provide for your family, send your kids to college and enjoy nice vacations.


Likely, your Big Why is a combination of reasons, both selfless and selfish, which is OK. Some of those reasons may have changed over the years. Whatever your reasons for being in this line of work, it’s a good time to write them out. Jot down a few bullet points or write a short paragraph. Capture the essence of your Big Why in a way that propels you toward the finish line.


Once you revisit your Big Why, create some visual cues to remind you of it during crunch time. That might involve keeping pictures of your kids or grandkids on your desk or changing the background on your monitor to a scene from your favorite vacation spot.


2. Build natural rewards into your work


In their book, “Self-Leadership: The Definitive Guide to Personal Excellence,” authors Christopher Neck, Charles Manz and Jeffrey Houghton distinguish between external rewards associated with work and rewards that are inherent in the activity itself. Paychecks, raises and promotions are examples of external rewards. These rewards are important but don’t generate the same deep satisfaction that comes from doing tasks that are intrinsically rewarding.


To the extent possible, arrange your work to devote as much time and attention as you can to activities you enjoy. You may be able to delegate or assign less pleasant aspects of the work to others (bonus points if they find those aspects enjoyable). When you have no choice but to tackle both pleasant and unpleasant work, concentrate on the enjoyment you receive from the pleasant parts.


For example, you may not enjoy preparing audit schedules but get fulfillment from meeting to discuss them. In that case, focusing on the how the schedules will be discussed at the meeting makes the preparation more palatable and the overall work more rewarding.


Another natural rewards strategy is to find a pleasant place to perform challenging tasks. That’s one reason I frequent my “branch office” (aka the local coffee shop). Tackling a difficult writing project seems less daunting in a warm, friendly environment with my favorite cup of coffee. As I make progress on the assignment, my confidence builds, which enables me to complete the work sooner and with greater satisfaction.


3. Improve your self-talk


We all talk to ourselves. It may be in the car, while we shower or as we move from one meeting to the next, but we all do it in some way. If not out loud, we regularly carry on conversations with ourselves in our heads. Unfortunately, we often fall into the trap of negative self-talk, or using what Neck, Manz and Houghton call “sappers.”


“Sappers are destructive self-talk: they prevent you from achieving your goals and feeling good about yourself. They serve as self-fulfilling prophecies, because what you tell yourself every day usually ends up coming true,” per the authors.


The research bears this out. Effective use of self-leadership strategies such as positive self-talk increases self-efficacy, which is our perceived ability to successfully navigate challenging situations. Higher levels of self-efficacy lead to better performance and effectiveness. Compare the following examples of self-talk:


“I’m nervous that the client is going to ask me a question I can’t answer,” versus “I’m well-prepared and will give a good presentation to the client.”


“I always have trouble reconciling book and tax income,” versus “I’ve learned a lot about reconciling book/tax differences and I am getting better at it all the time.”


“I tend to freeze up when I deliver bad news to my boss,” versus “I’ve done my homework and I am ready to give my boss the information she needs, even though some of it is bad news.”


“I back down when confronting my direct report over poor performance because it makes him feel bad,” versus “I care enough about the development of my direct report to help him improve his work.”


Which self-talk statements are more likely to lead to a successful outcome? In each case, it’s the second statement, which serves as a reminder for us to constantly be aware of what we tell ourselves. So rather than going through this season saying, “I don’t think I can pull this off,” coach yourself with self-talk such as, “Busy season is a challenge, but I’ve been successful in the past and will be this year, too.”


Practice, practice, practice


Developing these self-coaching techniques takes practice. Set a daily reminder on your calendar to use them. Pause for positive self-talk before entering important meetings and conversations. Schedule a weekly review and record your progress. Find a partner to work with you, be it a coach, mentor or peer who can encourage you and hold you accountable.


Coach yourself to the finish line of your best busy season ever!


Jon Lokhorst, CPA, ACC, is an executive leadership coach and consultant, partnering with CPAs, CFOs, and other leaders who face massive change in their industry and recognize the need for a new leadership model to navigate those challenges.


Don’t want to go it alone? LET”S TALK about partnering to make 2018 your best busy season ever. Schedule a complimentary strategy call via my online calendar or contact me at


Photo credit: Copyright: <a href=’’>alphaspirit / 123RF Stock Photo</a>





Despite the constancy of change in today’s global marketplace, the environment for change in many organizations is unfriendly at best. Few organizations have the appetite for change found at Facebook, Google, Amazon, and other innovative firms. I work extensively with CPAs, CFOs, and other technical professionals; a group not known for its propensity to change.


As a leader, you recognize that when the pace of internal change lags the pace of change in the external environment . . . well, it’s not good news. But what do you do in a context that resists change? How can a leader initiate and navigate change in a change-averse industry or culture? Here are five approaches to overcome barriers to change in these situations.


1. Launch a “CEO for a Day” forum.


Host town meetings with workers from across all levels of your organization to ask what they would do differently if they were CEO for a day. Offer a structured brainstorming conversation that invites new ideas. Start with questions that generate ways to improve current practices. Then move to explore new opportunities.


Leverage these gatherings to open your team to ideas for improvement, growth, or new opportunities. Workers are more apt to support change initiatives when they’ve been a part of forming them.


2. Host an “If We Were the Competition” discussion.


Invite a cross-section of employees to view your organization as if they worked for your top competitors. Encourage them to point out weaknesses that could put the organization at a competitive disadvantage.


Ask questions like, “How would our top competitors attack us if they had inside information?” Or, “What weaknesses make us vulnerable to losing customers or market share?” Flipping the conversation will prompt your team to think critically about things that need to change.


3. Form an innovation team.


In 1943, Lockheed Martin commissioned an engineer to create an experimental team to begin work on a secret fighter jet for the U.S. Army. The name Skunk Works originated from the bad smell near the rented circus tent in which the team worked. The company website shares the full story of how this team delivered the new fighter jet and sparked an innovative culture at Lockheed Martin.


Your innovation team need not operate with the same degree of secrecy as Skunk Works but should be given the autonomy to explore and develop new and innovative projects. Include workers from all areas of the organization critical to the project’s success. It should be led by forward-thinkers, but consider including a skeptic or two to ensure hard questions are asked.


4. Create a pilot program.


This approach invites commitment to change as a trial run. Framing a new initiative as a pilot program eases fears of “betting the farm” or putting workers’ jobs at risk.


Conduct a structured review of the pilot program at regular intervals, so skeptical team members know it is being carefully scrutinized. This creates an iterative process where the new program can be retooled or enhanced as it is being developed.


5. Provide an innovation budget.


The fear of losing money on a new initiative is enough to kill it without further consideration. Allocating resources for new ideas shows a willingness to fund them without expectation of immediate return.


Every annual budget should include funds for innovation, even if new ideas are yet to be identified. Plan for them to emerge as the year goes on. This helps overcome the “it’s not in the budget” argument against such initiatives. At the same time, quantifying the allocation ensures the organization doesn’t open a bottomless pit.


Don’t be afraid to push the envelope


After all, that’s what a leader does. Be mindful of your employees’ and customers’ appetite for change as you consider how fast and far to push the envelope. But don’t neglect to push it. Try these approaches and start gaining new momentum on your change initiatives.



This article was first published on the LeadChange blog on December 12, 2017.


Photo credit: Copyright: <a href=’’>thingass / 123RF Stock Photo</a>


Coaching, Productivity

As we turn the calendar to 2018, it’s time to set goals for the new year. But first, a quick question: How did 2017 turn out for you? Did you achieve your goals? Or was it another year of disappointment or unfulfilled potential?


Perhaps you’re searching for a structure for goal-setting that really works. Or, you simply want to freshen up your approach. Or, maybe you’re looking to add another tool to your toolbox for working with others. This article is for you. Here are five steps to achieve your goals in 2018.


1. Get clarity on your personal foundation


Setting big goals is pointless if you don’t have a strong personal foundation. I like to say, “You can’t build a skyscraper on a foundation designed for a garage.” Your personal foundation comes from four key elements:


Vision: Where are you going?

Purpose: Why is this important?

Mission: What are you doing?

Values: How will you act?


Clarity on these questions provides direction as well as the perseverance to keep moving forward when obstacles come your way (which is inevitable). If you don’t have statements of your personal vision, purpose, mission, and values in place, take time to develop them now.


(To work on your personal foundation, subscribe to my free email course, Build a Strong Foundation.)


2. Shorten your year


Many annual goals are doomed from the start simply because twelve months is a long time. Complacency and procrastination set in when the finish line is too far off. Changes in circumstances can derail progress or make your initial goals irrelevant or less important than when you first set them.


Use a quarterly cycle to overcome these pitfalls. The shorter time frame brings the finish line closer and increases your ability to focus on desired outcomes. It allows you to recalibrate when major changes come your way. You get a fresh start each quarter, which increases the number of goals you can accomplish in a year.


(For an entire system based on this concept, I recommend “The 12 Week Year: Get More Done in 12 Weeks than Others Do in 12 Months” by Brian Moran.)


3. Create process goals, not just outcome goals


We’re often told that the best goals are SMART goals: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. To illustrate, let’s use a goal we often see at this time of the year—a weight loss goal:


I will lose 10 pounds by March 31, 2018.


Although this goal meets the SMART criteria, it’s unlikely to be achieved if it stands alone. It’s simply an outcome goal, what you hope to accomplish in the end. What’s missing are the steps it will take to be successful. That’s where process goals come in.


Pairing process goals with outcome goals dramatically increases your likelihood of success. Process goals provide the action steps, habits, or behaviors that are necessary to achieve your desired outcome.


Continuing with the weight loss scenario, here are three examples of process goals:


I will consume no more than 2,000 calories per day.

I will limit desserts to no more than one per week.

I will exercise for 30 or more minutes at least 5 days each week.


What makes process goals powerful is that you have more control over the process than the outcome. Outcomes are vulnerable to external circumstances and conditions that you can’t control. But generally, the right actions and activities lead to the right outcomes and results.


Now let’s apply this concept to a common business scenario, a goal to increase revenue. Here’s an example of how you might pair process goals with an outcome goal for the quarter:


Outcome goal:


I will increase revenue by $5,000 per month by March 31, 2018.


Process goals:


I will make 10 calls to potential new clients each week.

I will spend 30 minutes each day interacting with potential clients on LinkedIn.

I will ask each of my current clients for a referral before January 31.


Clients who use this structure report a higher rate of success in achieving their goals. And in cases where the goal isn’t met, clients say they got closer than they would have without following this process.


4. Establish a weekly planning and review process


I recommend scheduling a weekly self-meeting to review these elements and plan for the week ahead. Start by reading your personal vision, purpose, mission, and values statements. That serves as an important reminder of the big picture: where you want to go and why.


Then, review progress on your outcome and process goals for the quarter. Some can be evaluated with quantitative measures (i.e., number of contacts, days, dollars, etc.). Others are more subjective. A red-yellow-green grading system may suffice in those cases.


Finally, transfer action steps from your process goals to your calendar. That’s right, schedule them. Setting aside time during the week to work on these priorities increases your chances of getting them done. Many clients find it helpful to schedule recurring blocks of time each week to focus on their process goals; otherwise, their calendar is consumed by tasks and meetings that don’t move them toward their goals.


5. Get a coach!


The entire goal-setting process is tailor-made for partnering with a coach. Your coach will help by asking questions that bring clarity and focus. Your coach may spot gaps or weak links in your process, or help you explore possibilities you hadn’t considered. He or she adds the all-important element of accountability.


I’m going to share my goals with a coach throughout 2018. What about you?



This article was first published on the Noomii blog on January 2, 2018.


Leadership, Strategy

More than half of finance executives in a global study by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants and Institute of Management Accountants identified strategic thinking as critical to professional development for chief financial officers. These skills are just as important for CPAs in public accounting who want to advance in their careers or grow their firms. Strategic thinking is the key to delivering exceptional value in today’s rapidly changing, competitive business world.


This article describes the essence of strategic thinking and how it differs from traditional strategic planning, along with ways to develop strategic thinking and build it into your regular routines as a finance leader.


What is strategic thinking?

Strategic thinking is the process of exploring new and improved approaches to meet customer needs. It is future-oriented, focused on future customers and their needs, not just today’s. It involves regular scanning of the horizon, watching for emerging trends in the external environment. These trends include concerns such as globalization, economic movement, demographic shifts, and regulatory changes.


Strategic thinking is also customer-focused. By observing behavior in your target market, you are better positioned to respond to changing customer needs and preferences. Strategic thinking opens the door to innovation as you discover new ways to serve existing customers, as well as new customers. The best strategic thinkers open new frontiers. Consider Steve Jobs and the iPhone as a prime example.


Strategic thinking requires an awareness of your industry and monitoring the competition. Successful strategic thinkers differentiate their firms from competitors by offering superior customer value and effectively communicating that distinctness to the marketplace.


Strategic thinkers possess a keen understanding of their firm’s capabilities and ways to leverage them for competitive advantage. They find ways to build or acquire new capabilities to capitalize on emerging opportunities. Strategic thinkers go beyond operational improvements to develop new business models that enhance profitability and growth.


Strategic thinking versus strategic planning

Strategic thinking offers several advantages over traditional strategic planning, which by itself is insufficient to compete in today’s marketplace.


  • Strategic planning concludes with a static report that often ends up gathering dust on a bookshelf. Strategic thinking is continuous, nimble, and dynamic.
  • Strategic planning is a more rigid process. Strategic thinking is agile and flexible.
  • Strategic planning often becomes a destination in and of itself. Strategic thinking is a journey, a means more than an end.
  • Strategic planning is viewed as a project or an event. Strategic thinking is an ongoing process.


In most firms, strategic planning is at best an annual exercise. It’s valuable in that it prompts leaders to pause to evaluate their firms, scan the horizon, think about their customers, and establish goals and priorities. However, it doesn’t happen frequently or fast enough to address the challenges of a rapidly changing environment. Adding strategic thinking to your skillset will multiply your value — to your firm as well as to your customers.


Develop strategic thinking skills

Leaders with strategic planning experience are familiar with SWOT analysis — the assessment of a firm’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Strategy professor and consultant Stanley Abraham suggests building on that foundation as a step to develop strategic thinking skills.


Abraham offers six questions to go beyond SWOT analysis and cultivate deeper, “out-of-the-box” strategic thinking:


  1. What other type of customer could benefit from our product (service), even if used in a different way?
  2. What other products (services) could we produce for the same customer?
  3. What other products (services) could we produce, for any customers, that use the skills, techniques, technologies, and know-how that we have?
  4. Is there a way of reinventing our business model that would give us a competitive edge?
  5. What unmet needs do people or companies have that we could meet, even if it means acquiring the necessary know-how and expertise?
  6. What are the highest growth industries now and in the foreseeable future?


Regularly asking these questions and others will stretch your thinking to generate new approaches to meet customer needs and grow your firm in the process.


Build strategic thinking into your routines

The typical pattern in this deadline-driven profession is to run from one thing to the next without pausing to think about the future viability of the business itself. It’s easy to work in the business and never work on it. Or to become reactive, rather than proactive.


Here are a few tips to build strategic thinking into your routines:


Set aside TIME. LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner calls this “the importance of scheduling nothing.” Weiner blocks out 90 to 120 minutes each day for high-level activities such as strategic thinking. Schedule a recurring appointment with yourself for strategic thinking every week, if not daily. Guard that time as the most important meeting of your week or day.


Find a PLACE. Get away from your office and the day-to-day operational duties that reside there. My best strategic thinking happens in coffee shops, hotel lobbies, and libraries. The white noise and a great cup of coffee add to the pleasure of knowing I’m doing what’s most important for my business.


Get OFFLINE. You may need to be online for reading and research. But get offline to do your best, undistracted thinking. A pen and notebook are the only tools I need.


Engage your TEAM. Assign each team member one of the questions above. Gather periodically as a team to discuss what you’re thinking and explore new opportunities together.


Expand your strategic thinking skills and multiply your value as a finance leader.



This article was first published in the May-June issue of the Wisconsin Institute of CPAs On Balance magazine. Click here to view the article as it appeared in the magazine.


Staff Development, Training

Mr. Joe Employee (not his real name, but a real story) showed up for his first day of work at ABC Company, somewhat nervous but excited to tackle the challenges of a new position. Although tired from moving halfway across the country the week before to work at this company, he was eager to get off to a good start.


Joe found it strange that the offices in his small department were dark and quiet that Monday morning. Thinking his anticipation had gotten him there a bit early, he found someone in a nearby department to ask the whereabouts of his new boss and teammates. A receptionist said she would make a phone call or two while Joe explored his new workspace.


No boss and an empty desk

Joe found his desk by noticing two cellophane-wrapped packages of personalized stationery sitting on top. The desk was clean; in fact, it was so clean that the drawers were completely empty. There was a telephone on the desk, but no sign of a computer or other supplies. There wasn’t a chair to sit on, either.


As Joe scratched his head, wondering if he had misread the start date, the receptionist returned. She informed him that because the team had attended a conference over the weekend, they were taking Monday off. The CEO, COO and HR chief were also off due to a board meeting that same weekend. A part-time admin was on her way and might be of some help.


The admin apologized for the miscommunication and suggested Joe spend the day learning their ERP software. She rounded up the ERP user manuals and called IT for a spare laptop. No one had ordered a computer for Joe, not to mention set up an email address, username or passwords.


So much for making a good first impression! Fortunately, Joe survived the rocky first day to enjoy a productive and fulfilling tenure at ABC Company. But many other new employees don’t get past a bad start.


According to the Allied Workforce Mobility Survey, companies lose nearly 25 percent of their new employees within a year. Bamboo HR found that 31 percent of workers have quit a job within the first six months. More importantly, many decide whether they will stay long term during their first day on the job.


The starting point

Effective onboarding is the starting point for retaining top talent. Onboarding goes well beyond the typical new-hire orientation, which is traditionally a week-long focus on paperwork and company policies. Workers surveyed by Bamboo HR said the onboarding process needs to be more thorough and extend beyond the first week on the job.


The best onboarding flows seamlessly from the recruitment and hiring process. Once an offer is accepted, the new employee’s manager and HR start preparing for the worker’s first day. It may seem obvious, but many companies fail to get the new employee’s workspace ready. This includes basic supplies, a computer, and usernames and passwords needed for email and other company software.


Most new-staff paperwork can be completed ahead of time as well. Clearing W-4 forms, benefit applications and other logistical pieces in advance frees up time for more critical onboarding activities on day one.


Do a “culture dunk”

Ramsey Solutions suggests giving new employees a “culture dunk,” immersing them in company history, vision and values as they begin work. Introducing them to company leadership and co-workers, as well as providing time for meaningful connections, helps to establish good working relationships early on.


The new employee’s supervisor needs to be an active player on this first day. Bamboo HR found that workers prefer that their new boss is the one to show them around, give the company tour and provide information about office hours, parking, etc. Hosting a lunch or coffee break is a great way for the boss to introduce the new employee to the rest of his or her team.


This is also prime time for supervisors to discuss initial work assignments with new employees. Clarity about expectations, authority and the involvement of co-workers in these assignments leads to early wins. Research indicates that over three-quarters of workers view on-the-job training as the most important onboarding activity in the first week.


Check in and follow up

Don’t fall into the trap of many employers and think the onboarding process ends there. Top companies view the onboarding process as an extension of their recruiting and critical to their branding as an employer.


Schedule regular check-in meetings to follow up on questions that arise once the employee gets established. Often, new employee orientation becomes information overload and a follow-up meeting is needed to review key policies and procedures. These conversations are also helpful to ensure the new worker is assimilating well within the organization.


Beyond that, regular follow-up ensures clarity of expectations and feedback on performance. It’s easier to make timely midcourse corrections and adjustments when issues are addressed in real time rather than waiting for formal performance reviews.


Ensure meaningful contribution

Remember, employees want to make a meaningful contribution and have their work make a difference. A well-designed onboarding program jump-starts that process and increases the likelihood top talent will stay with your company for the long haul.


This article was first published in the Minnesota Society of CPAs May 2017 edition of the Footnote. The published article includes an Onboarding Checklist of key steps to take from before a new employee’s start date through the first six months of employment.



We return to the series, Your Greatest Leadership Challenge: A Look in the Mirror at Self-Leadership. Visit my blog to read previous articles in the series.


Knowing your strengths and struggles is essential to leading yourself and others well. Self-awareness about your unique design leads to greater effectiveness and, at the same time, lessens the risk of derailing yourself as a leader.


The strengths movement has gained momentum since the release of Now, Discover Your Strengths, by Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton, in 2001. At last count, nearly 16 million people have taken the StrengthsFinder assessment, administered by the Gallup organization.


Here’s how Gallup defines a strength:


A strength is the ability to consistently provide near-perfect performance in a specific activity. The key to building a strength is to identify your dominant talents, then complement them by acquiring knowledge and skills pertinent to the activity.


Lead from your strengths


The premise behind leading from your strengths is simple. Tapping into the behaviors that come most naturally requires less thought and energy, allowing us to employ those talents more frequently and consistently.


For instance, my strength of focus enables me to set clear goals and priorities, whether at an individual or organizational level. It also enables me to block out distractions and concentrate intensely on what’s most important in terms of those goals and priorities. Doing so allows me to gain momentum on key results areas, which ties into another one of my strengths, achiever.


Knowing my strengths provides an awareness that my own work and that of the teams I lead will be very results-oriented. That’s great for meeting deadlines, staying within budget, and getting things done. It informs my desire to take on initiatives with clear goals, objectives, and targets. Productivity and profitability are among the top business outcomes that come from that strength-based approach to leadership.


Is it possible to employ too much strength?


An overemphasis on strengths can have unintended consequences. As Jerry Mabe, founder and CEO of RightPath Resources, states, “Strengths overdone are more often the greatest hindrance to a person’s success.”


Unfortunately, we don’t always recognize when we cross the line into overplaying our strengths. This leads to what researchers Robert Kaiser and Darren Overfield call “lopsided leadership” (more on that in the next article in this series).


When my strengths are overdone, there’s too much focus on results, which can be very tiring for myself and those I lead. It’s easy to overlook the human element, relationships, and work-life tensions. Being too focused can also lead to tunnel vision, or a reluctance to explore new alternatives or opportunities.


In the assessment tool Mabe developed, this dynamic is referred to as a struggle, as opposed to a weakness, or non-talent. For each strength identified by the RightPath instrument, potential struggles are presented.


Seeing these factors scored on a continuum highlights the strengths a person is most apt to overplay into a struggle. RightPath characterizes the most extreme scores on the continuum as intensities, which my coaching clients find helpful to better understand their leadership style and potential pitfalls.


How well do you know your strengths and struggles?


There are numerous assessment tools to help you understand your natural wiring, personality, and behavioral tendencies. Most involve an online questionnaire that almost immediately generates a report of your results. That’s true of both the StrengthsFinder and RightPath profiles.


Other popular tools include the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), DISC profile, and Enneagram. Many of these resources have been replicated with free online versions, although let the buyer (or free user) beware, as they don’t typically have the same research validity as paid resources.


To get the best value from these tools, debrief your reports with a mentor, colleague, coach, or trained facilitator. There are often valuable insights hidden below the surface that you won’t find on your own. Make the time and investment to understand your individual uniqueness and leverage it for better leadership!


Want to take a deep dive into understanding your unique design and its impact on your leadership style? Let’s explore these factors together. Feel free to contact me via email or schedule a telephone conversation at my online calendar.


Productivity, Strategy

This is the second of a two-part series of articles. Visit my blog to read the first article, Jump Start Q2 with a Personal Quarterly Offsite Meeting.


As highlighted in my previous article, I recommend the QWD Planning Cycle to coaching clients as a way to better establish and achieve their most important goals. It consists of a series of meetings with oneself to ensure follow-through on good intentions. These meetings include the following:


  • Quarterly Offsite
  • Weekly Planning
  • Daily Tactical


After you complete the Quarterly Offsite discussed last week, you’re ready to conduct Weekly Planning and Daily Tactical meetings.


The Weekly Planning Meeting


Here’s your opportunity to set the stage for a productive and fulfilling week. Set aside 30-60 minutes to reflect on the prior week and plan for the next one. Schedule this meeting for the same day and time every week to more quickly establish it as a regular habit.


Some prefer to do this at the end of the workweek (i.e., Friday afternoon), to gain closure and create a fresh start the next week. Others start Monday morning with this activity to jump-start the new week by focusing on top priorities.


I schedule my planning for an hour between attending church and eating dinner on Sundays. I don’t typically work Sunday, but use the weekly planning session more holistically, not just looking at my business but personal life as well. Here’s my typical agenda, which is like the quarterly offsite:


Pray: for divine wisdom as I engage in planning my week.


Reflect: on my personal vision, purpose, and values, as well as the habits and behavioral change I’m working on.


Review: my schedule and notes from the prior week, evaluating progress on both routine tasks and my WIGs (wildly important goals) for the quarter.


Identify: people or projects highlighted for follow up from the previous week’s notes. Often, these are potential new business contacts or opportunities that emerged during the prior week’s conversations.


Prioritize: the most important tasks and projects for completion in the week ahead. I pull these from running lists I keep on 4×6 post-it notes of short and long-term projects. I also capture recurring items such as content development, administrative tasks, and professional development.


Schedule: the top priorities on my calendar for the week. Setting aside specific blocks of time to work on these priorities makes it more likely they’ll get the attention they deserve. That includes time set aside for strategic thinking, to focus on new and better ways to serve clients, as well as potential new business opportunities. I also review my calendar for regular coaching sessions, scheduled meetings, and personal functions, such as daily workouts.


Envision: the joy and fulfillment that comes from a well-planned and productive week.


Anticipate: that not everything will go according to plan and I will need to rely on self-leadership strategies to avoid being derailed by discouragement.


I love the feeling of confidence and clarity that my planning session creates for the week ahead!


The Daily Tactical Meeting


Truthfully, I don’t have the daily tactical meeting dialed in as well as my quarterly offsite or weekly planning sessions. Consider it a work in process. But here’s what I aim for at the start of every day:


Quiet time: to start with prayer, spiritual reading, and reflection.


Schedule review: as a reminder of meetings or appointments that day, as well as time blocks set aside during my weekly planning for top priorities.


Prioritization: to ensure I focus on my highest and best value work, rather than getting caught up in an endless sea of distractions.


Mental practice: to visualize a positive outcome from the day’s activities, and the behaviors, actions, and attitudes necessary to accomplish that.


My daily practice typically takes 15-30 minutes, with the quiet time consuming most of that on my most successful days.


Schedule These Meetings Now!


Nearly all digital calendars have functionality to schedule recurring meetings. Now’s the time to create each of these meetings with yourself. Color code them so they stand out from other scheduled functions. Set up notifications or reminders to ensure you don’t blow past them. Insert your meeting agenda or important points in the description or notes field.


Mark your schedule for July 1 to review your Q2 progress and reset the process again for Q3. You won’t achieve perfection, but you’ll advance beyond what you would have achieved without these proactive steps. Note the progress made and celebrate your success!



Is it time to shift your approach to setting and following through on important goals? Let’s Talk! Contact me via email or schedule a complimentary strategy call on my online calendar.


Productivity, Strategy

How was your first quarter? Did you achieve your goals? Whether you had your best quarter ever or fell flat on your face, now is the time to lay the groundwork for a successful second quarter.


To increase your effectiveness in Q2, implement The QWD Planning Cycle. I often recommend this approach to my coaching clients to better establish and achieve their most important goals. It involves a series of meetings with oneself throughout the quarter to ensure follow-through on good intentions. These meetings include the following:


·      Quarterly Offsite

·      Weekly Planning

·      Daily Tactical


This framework is influenced by Patrick Lencioni’s classic book, Death by Meeting, and Essentialism, by Greg McKeown. It works regardless of the size and scope of your leadership–whether you’re a solopreneur like me, the leader of a large organization, or someone who leads a small team within an organization.


Today’s focus is the Quarterly Offsite. Next week we’ll look at the Weekly Planning and Daily Tactical meetings.


The Quarterly Offsite


Get away from your office and all the operational details that reside there, so you can focus on what’s important for the quarter ahead. Find a coffee shop, public library, or park bench where you can brainstorm alternatives, determine priorities, and establish key initiatives. Increase the incentive to follow through on this meeting by going to a place where you enjoy spending time.


I prefer an analog approach to my offsite so I’m not distracted by email or other trappings of the digital world. Just a notebook and pen. Perhaps my earbuds and some concentration-enhancing background music (I like Focus at Will). If there’s an online resource I need, I bring it up on my screen and close everything else.


Here’s my agenda for this meeting, which typically includes a mix of personal and professional items:


Pray: as a person of faith, I seek divine wisdom as I enter the planning process.


Reflect: look back at the prior quarter, noting where I achieved goals and where I came up short. I also evaluate progress on the habits and behaviors I was focused on.


Review: consider whether my life has been consistent with my personal foundation (vision, purpose, and values) during the last quarter. Explore changes that will make the next quarter more in step with my personal foundation.


Establish: the WIGs (wildly important goals) I want to accomplish in the next quarter. For more information on WIGs, see The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals. In a nutshell, a WIG is a critical initiative that can’t be accomplished without focused action outside of normal routines. Think in terms of a special project, change initiative, or new venture.


Identify: new habits and behaviors to create during the next quarter, as well as those requiring continued attention to take hold.


Your offsite may require a couple hours, or a full day, depending on the complexity and scope of your role. Once you make it a habit, it’s easier to get in a groove, but don’t rush it. There’s something incredibly refreshing about pressing the pause button to gain clarity on what’s most important in your life and business.


Do It Today! Put your personal offsite on the calendar for this first week of the new quarter. Protect the time like you would your most important client or customer meetings.


Next Week: come back for insights on a weekly and daily planning process to achieve the goals established in your quarterly offsite.


Is it time to shift your approach to setting and following through on important goals? Let’s Talk! Contact me via email or schedule a complimentary strategy call on my online calendar.