Assign Homework Before Meetings

How can you coax creative ideas and input from meeting attendees?

The key is to have them prepare before the meeting. Make sure they have all the background they need to hit the ground running. Withholding information until the meeting will only slow the group down. A few best practices:

  • Highlight what’s important. If background material is long, flag or highlight key parts of the documents. Avoid overload.
  • Provide a “brain dump” memo that lists everything you know about the issue at hand. Include background on products, the marketplace and current competition. That allows the group to digest information and do some creative thinking in advance.
  • Assign homework. For example, challenge all participants to bring three solutions to the problem being discussed. Or, to start a meeting on a positive note, have all participants recall their biggest success since the last meeting, and ask one person to share a success with the group. The benefit: The practice generates excitement and involvement from participants.


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Make “Face time” Pay Off

If you don’t already hold weekly one-on-one meetings with your team members, you’re missing out on an opportunity to engage with them and to keep them engaged.

You may be skipping private meetings because your days are already filled with endless meetings. Even so, making time for individual sessions allows you to stamp out fires early and get in touch with your team in an effective way. In short, they’re a must. Here’s how to conduct them the right way:

  • Batch issues to discuss during your meeting. Keep a folder, either paper or digital – for each person you meet with. Throughout the week, drop in emails, documents or notes to remind you what needs discussing. The practice also eliminates interruptions, because your direct reports will be doing the same thing, rather than coming to you with each issue piecemeal.
  • Meet weekly or twice a month. Less than that and you won’t be able to build a relationship or provide direction and feedback. Even if your entire group meets that often, it’s the entire group, which means you can’t truly know what’s going on with individuals.
  • Don’t treat it as social time. Make sure you have an agenda, and keep it simple. Here’s one idea for an agenda template: project updates, challenges, successes, next steps and brainstorming solutions for an issue. Most topics should fall into one of those categories.
  • Add it all up at the end of the year. Whether you’re keeping notes or you’ve asked employees to turn in weekly updates, compile the documents in a file, with folders for each person. At the end of the year, you’ll have a detailed history of successes and challenges to reference during employees’ performance reviews.


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Quick tip: Delegate Tasks You Struggle With

Write down your top five weaknesses and assess which staff members are stronger than you in each area. Congratulations! You’ve just created a master delegation list. By assigning these tasks to employees who will perform as well or better than you, you’ll free key time for yourself to focus on your strengths.

Caution: Don’t delegate just the unpleasant tasks. Employees will feel “dumped on” if you give them only what’s mundane, insignificant or simply not fun.

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Create a Sense of Urgency

When you can’t afford to miss an opportunity or need to avoid a big mistake, create a sense of urgency to prompt your employees and coworkers to act now. Follow these tips:

  • Explain why the time to act is now. Every decision can’t be urgent or else none will seem so. However, when time is of the essence, offer reasons why. Perhaps you have an opportunity today that you won’t have in a couple of weeks or you have to act immediately to avoid a costly problem.
  • Share the benefits of acting now. What will the organization—and its employees—receive as a result of moving forward with a plan? You have to spell out what’s in it for your team if you expect people to jump on board and execute a plan quickly.
  • Describe what’s at stake if you don’t act now. Telling people how they will be worse off is often more powerful than telling them how their lives will improve. Don’t exaggerate or be overdramatic, but honestly point out what the business—and they—could lose if they fail to act.

— Adapted from “Three Ways to Create a Sense of Urgency When You Communicate,”

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4 Ways To Raise Productivity

Offer new work/life benefits and policies that allow employees to balance both worlds and you will boost innovation, creativity, loyalty, efficiency, culture and morale. Consider these helpful solutions:

  1. Family-care programs. Implement stress-reducing programs and services that help employees handle family obligations. Many employees are responsible for managing households and caring for children, elderly parents or pets, among other personal obligations. Provide services such as on-site daycare, support groups and referrals, and plenty of personal time off to manage those matters to build loyalty.
  2. Forced fun. Boost mental fatigue and team spirit with breaks and celebrations that encourage employees to connect on a social level and blow off some steam. Birthday celebrations, team lunches, games, snack or beverage carts, and field trips are great ways to bring your team together for some downtime.
  3. Flexible work options. According to recent Gallup research, employees who work remotely even part of the time are more engaged and more productive. When possible offer flexible scheduling or telecommuting. Encourage breaks during which employees can handle personal business.
  4. Staff recognition. Show your appreciation by recognizing employees’ hard work. Publicly praise people who exceed expectations, create a reward system to honor achievements and consistently say “Thank you” to your staffers.

— Adapted from “Four Unconventional Ways to Increase Employee Productivity,” Nicole Fallon,

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Six Business Lessons I Learned From My Father

This is a guest post by J.D. “Jamey” Power IV, former senior executive at J.D. Power and Associates.

When my father, Dave Power, founded J.D. Power and Associates in 1968, he was already in his late thirties with enough education and work experience under his belt to provide a solid understanding of business. But he also had a lifelong interest in understanding people’s motivations—what made them tick—that I think allowed him to not only excel in the field of market research but also effectively lead the more than seven hundred people that made up his organization.

Like many in family businesses, my mother, siblings, and I were closely connected to the triumphs and travails of the business, even from a young age. As such, around the kitchen table or when we visited him at the office, Dad imparted valuable lessons about running a business. Just as his parents had instilled core values in him as he was growing up, my father let me and my siblings know that the values he had built and operated his business under—integrity, independence, and impact—were ones that we should carry in whatever we pursued in life.

Later, as I worked at J.D. Power, I had a chance to observe the qualities and characteristics that my father brought to his interactions with employees and clients as well as the way he integrated his values into business strategies. In participating in a book about my father’s career, I was able to clarify some of the most valuable lessons I learned from him—ones that I think others would appreciate also.

1. Create a culture: My dad built a business with a sense of purpose. For him it was genuinely about doing more than making money; it was about doing what was right and making a difference. He calls it having impact. Employees loved the idea and implicitly knew what the mission was. Today he remains most proud of the organization he created and the impact he and his associates had together on business and how businesses respond to customers.

2. Manage by walking around: His was not just an open door policy but one in which he made a point to walk the hallways to be accessible. He would use this time to check on things, to make people feel important, to get into impromptu discussions, to provide feedback, to encourage, and to seek out information. He also found it to be an effective way to communicate directly with employees, giving them feedback on the business and insights into what clients were experiencing.

3. Set expectations and challenge people: Often for my father the goals he set out were not target numbers but rather visions and concepts that he wanted to see realized. He’d put an idea out there and ask people to develop it and execute against his estimation of how far that idea could go. One example was the Power Information Network, a subscription database auto dealers could use to access real-time sales information. It took years to develop but because he continued to challenge employees to pursue it, it eventually met with success. Years after my father first initiated the idea, we happened to be sitting next to some mid-level auto executives at an industry event. Without knowing who we were, they started telling us how excited they were about the PIN information. They were showing us how they had access to the data on their iPads and described how they would use it to monitor the sales and incentive situation daily. It has been gratifying for him to see that part of his vision played out—finally.

4. Maintain integrity with clients: My father had the fortitude to tell clients when their customers were not happy, or when they were missing quality. The fact that he was known as a respectful straight shooter brought the business success and modeled an important value to employees. Today, in retirement, he looks back on his career without regret and enjoys a reputation of integrity and respect—even among the people who didn’t particularly like to hear what he had to say at the time.

5. Share the limelight with associates: Dad consistently made sure that associates who contributed were given exposure—both internally and externally. Many times he would ask junior staffers to go to client meetings, or even make them part of the presentations. He took the same gracious approach to responding to media requests. A lot of the employees loved the chance to see their names in the newspaper commenting on a situation. Generally he correctly judged when they were ready for this exposure, but only because he was always on the lookout for opportunities to share the stage.

6. Seek different perspectives and counter-intuitive solutions: My dad has a knack for discussing and examining an issue from different viewpoints. He would often ask people to provide differing opinions. He really shined when he himself would sometimes take an opposing view just to vet the issue further, or to try and find a solution that was not apparent or on the table. Probably part of this stems from his Jesuit college education—though we joke about it being his right-brain orientation. (He is extremely left-handed.)

Jamey Power is the former Executive Vice President of International Operations at J.D. Power and Associates. He is also the son of founder Dave Power, the subject of POWER: How J.D. Power III Became the Auto Industry’s Adviser, Confessor, and Eyewitness to History (2013: Fenwick Publishing Group), in bookstores now. Jamey co-authored Satisfaction: How Every Great Company Listens to the Voice of the Customer (2006: Portfolio). For more information, visit

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Train Your Mind to Stay on Task

Improve your ability to focus on tasks and reduce stress, by practicing mediation. A study of human resource managers found those who had been trained to meditate:

  • Spent more time on tasks.
  • Switched tasks less often.
  • Completed their tasks as fast as multitaskers.
  • Reported less stress.

Another group that learned body relaxation techniques did not have any of those benefits. Researcher David Levy at the University of Washington said that meditation is like going to a gym and “strengthens your attention muscle.”

— Adapted from “Meditation Can Keep You More Focused at Work, Study Says,” Anita Bruzzese, USA Today,

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