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Jones Loflin is a motivational speaker and author with primary areas of focus being work/life balance, time management, and change.

A lot of teams nowadays are distributed. People are telecommuting, working fr om home and relying on other forms of non-traditional employment ranging fr om (freelancing, temp work, short term contacts). How do you build a strong team when people don’t see each other every day in an office environment? 

JL: Three things come to mind: 

Clarity of work and outcomes. When people are working in non-traditional environments, it’s easy to get so focused on your own work and forget how it connects to what others are doing. As a manager of leader of virtual teams, it’s critical to keep everyone focused on the “big picture” and what each member is doing to contribute to the outcomes.

Maintain “face time.” Part of what makes a strong team is positive emotional energy. Interacting with others through some type of video conferencing on a consistent basis is important. If at all possible, physically meet from time to time as well. 

Keep everyone informed. As the leader or manager of the virtual team, keep other team members abreast of what others are doing. It prevents team members from thinking, “I wonder what _______ is doing?” which can lessen the trust they have that the other person is fully contributing to the desired outcomes. 

A lot of times team building activities provide a short term motivational boost that quickly fizzles out. What can managers do in order to make sure that there really is a long term transformational effect after that weekend retreat? 

JL: I think it starts BEFORE the weekend retreat starts. Getting input from the team members about their expectations and needs from the retreat is essential. It helps them take more ownership in the event and more fully participate. When someone contacts me about conducting such a retreat and says the goal is “teambuilding,” I know I have a lot of work to do to get to the real needs of the team before the event. 

The other key is completing something akin to a 30/60/90 day plan before leaving the retreat. Connect the actions to goals and outcomes. Make it as “granular” as possible. 

What are the most common team building mistakes that companies make in your experience? 

JL: Thinking that team members know each other. You may know wh ere they have worked and some “surface” stuff, but do you know the types of projects and assignments they have completed? Team members so often have experience and insights that are never leveraged because we don’t take the time to learn from them. We don’t know what drives their behaviors or gives them a sense of meaning about their work. 

Not everyone is an outgoing extravert type. How do you deal with ‘loners’ and ‘lone wolf’ employees? 

JL: Communication, Communication, Communication. In my opinion this is wh ere the manager or leader can have a huge impact on the success of the team. Take the time to better understand how each member of your team prefers to get work done. Consistently communicate to that “lone wolf” about staying in contact with other team members. Regularly scheduled brief meetings via video chat or phone can help keep them connected to the team. 

You wrote three books. What was your motivation behind ‘Juggling Elephants’, ‘Getting to It’ and ‘Getting the Blue Ribbon’? 

JL: For Juggling Elephants, the primary motivation was for Todd Musig (other co-author) and I to find a better way to manage the struggle of “too much to do.” 

Getting to It was a natural follow up to Juggling Elephants. We wanted to create a sort of “field guide” to personal productivity. The idea of “It” is fun because people always say, “I just can’t seem to get to it.” We wrote the book to help people identify what “it” really is, how to get it done. 

Getting the Blue Ribbon grew out of my own struggle for professional and personal improvement. I was looking for a model that was easy to understand and apply. It’s been fun to see organizations take the gardening analogy and move their people and their teams forward. 

What resources, books, blogs, podcasts do you recommend to our readers who want to build a productive team and need to learn how? 

JL: There are just so many resources available today, and it’s hard to begin listing them. My advice for those who want a “quick start” on building a more productive team is to look to social media. For example, spend a few minutes on Twitter seeking out subject matter experts on teams and leadership. Create a list of 10-12 of them. Set aside 10 minutes each day to review the posts from the list and explore content that connects with your needs. It’s amazing how many nuggets you can gain in a short time that you can immediately apply to your situation. Look to Linked In in a similar way, following those who focus on developing your team. 

I’m a huge fan of Patrick Lencioni’s work in the development of teams. I think his book, 5 Dysfunctions Of A Team, is still one of the most eye-opening books about building a stronger team. You won’t go wrong with any of his content. 

Thank you for the interview.

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Online reviews have become a major factor in how consumers make purchase decisions. If you’ve been ignoring them, now is the time to start getting proactive. Gathering and promoting online reviews can help you gain customers, build brand awareness, and increase sales.




How Much Do Online Reviews Matter?

In 2010, Forrester Research found that approximately half of consumers use online reviews to research local entertainment options and big purchases (such as cars and household appliances).


Just three years later, a BrightLocal survey found that 85% of consumers check online reviews to research local businesses. According to the BrightLocal Survey summary, “Consulting reviews is now a logical step in the purchasing cycle for all types of products and services.” The good news is that “the path from reading online reviews to purchasing from a business is short.”


If you have customers researching and reading reviews of your business, they’re not idly meandering through the Internet, checking out peer critiques for fun; they’re very close to purchasing, and they’re narrowing down their options before they make a final decision.


More Reviews Are Better 

How many reviews your business has online, and how frequently they are added, affects how customers view your business. The BrightLocal survey found that most customers don’t bother reading more than seven reviews, so “the most recent reviews are the ones that impact purchasing decisions.”


You may have some fabulous reviews from long-time customers, but if they’re buried under a few so-so reviews, they’re not having much of an impact. Keep fresh reviews coming in so that customers can see an ongoing, always improving view of your business from the customer perspective.


How to Get Reviews 

The first step is to be sure that your profile on all major review sites is updated, and that you’ve claimed it so you can respond to reviews as needed. Major review sites include Yelp, CitySearch, Google Local, Yahoo! Local, Amazon, and Angie’s List. Apps like FourSquare and UrbanSpoon extend it to mobile use.


You can also search for review sites specific to your industry or expertise.; for example, TripAdvisor for travel services, destinations, and attractions; GoodReads for books; Zagat for dining; and Judy’s Book for locally based businesses.


The next step is to publicize your presence on a few review sites. Pick the ones that seem most active for your business, or your type of business. Promote these online by linking to them on the sidebar of your website; some of the review sites have widgets you can include on your site, as well, if you so desire.


You can also put these links into your social media profiles and periodically ask your followers to check out your review page. Some review sites, such as Yelp, frown on actually asking customers to leave reviews; instead, they recommend that you simply ask customers to connect with phrases like “Check us out on Yelp” or “Take a look at our review page.”


If you send out customer emails, include links to a review site (you can rotate thru the three most active review sites you’re focusing on) and the same request: “Check us out on Yelp (or Yahoo! or Google+ or Amazon).”


You can also promote your presence on review sites offline. Your in-store signage, documents (including receipts), and business cards can all contain a review link with the same suggestion to connect.


What To Do with Reviews

When you get a bad review, which will happen from time to time, don’t panic. And don’t ignore it. Instead, respond publicly to the bad review with an apology. Acknowledge the mistakes made by your business, even if they’re minor. And state that you will make it right.


Then follow up with the customer to make it right, or ask them to get in touch with you for a refund, a return, or some other method of appeasing their dissatisfaction. Consumers don’t expect businesses to be perfect, but they do want to know that when a business makes a mistake, they will work to make it right.


Share the Good Reviews 

When you get great reviews, share them. You can share a few lines from a great review with a link to the whole thing on your social media profiles. You can do the same on your blog or website; collect several and you’ve got a great testimonials page for your website. (Check copyright stipulations from the various review sites to be sure of how much content you can share from each review on your own website, blog, or social media page; usually a brief excerpt is fine.)


Be sure to thank the customers who leave you good reviews. You can respond publicly: “Thanks for the great review, we’re so happy to have wonderful customers like you!” And you can highlight positive reviews in your email newsletter with a big thank you to the customers who left them.


Building a collection of great reviews online is a really effective way to build rapport with your customers and to attract new customers. Put some time into it, and be consistent with sharing links and making those connection requests. Respond promptly to reviews, and you’ll slowly build a collection of peer-based information that will continually bring new business to your door.


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Plans are useful maps to follow in pursuit of a goal. But plans are never perfect, and these five common mistakes could turn the greatest plan into a disaster. Check them out so you’ll know what not to do next time you’re creating a plan. 

Pitfall 1: Planning Too Soon 
Plans are tied to opportunity and action; the timing matters. If you plan too soon, you’ll end up forecasting trends without up-to-date information. When you do get the data you need, you’ll have to remake your plan. Who wants to do the same planning twice? 

Avoid this pitfall by first making a list of the information or resources you need in order to do your planning accurately. Don’t start planning until you have what you need. 

Pitfall 2: Planning Too Late 
Some possibilities require quick action; if you wait too long to make a plan, you can miss out. Planning too late or strategizing for too long might cost you the opportunity, and your plan will simply become a memoir of what-might-have-been. 

To avoid this pitfall, set a basic protocol to follow for immediate-action possibilities. For example, establish an acceptable threshold for risk, set your priorities by order, and create a basic template to use when opportunity knocks. If a possibility meets your basic criteria, you can go ahead and grab it, filling in the blanks of your planning template as you move forward. 

Pitfall 3: Planning Without a Clear Purpose 
Before you can plan well, you need to know why you’re planning. Without a defined purpose, you won’t be able to determine what fits into the plan and what doesn’t. If you’re working on a marketing plan, for example, you need to know if the purpose is to generate more leads, more sales, more exposure, or more engagement with current customers. 

The more specific the purpose, the more you can customize the plan for the purpose, which makes it more likely that your plan will be successful. 
Avoid planning without purpose by making a clearly defined purpose the first requirement of every plan, every time. 

Pitfall 4: Planning Too Much 
A good plan includes a clear purpose as well as behavior guidelines and the steps needed to accomplish the purpose. It might also include estimated timeframes, needed resources, expenses, and potential obstacles. Too little information makes a plan pointless; too much detail makes it burdensome. The key to a functional plan is to include enough information, and then stop. 

Remember that a plan gives you a starting point, but it can’t predict the entire journey. It’s a map, not a crystal ball. As you use the plan, you’ll need to adjust when you encounter the unexpected (which you should expect). The more detailed a plan, the less flexible it becomes. Try to build a plan that gives you enough information to see the general lay-out of the road, but not so much that you’re counting mile markers and planning pit stop purchases before you ever start the engine. 

Pitfall 5: Planning with the Wrong Information 
Beware the trifecta of bad information that can plague planners: assumptions, anecdotes, and bad research. Assumptions are insidious little things that can blind you to the most obvious and important questions: Is there actually a demand for this product? Is this design really feasible? Do I really want to reach this goal? Does this project actually benefit the business? 

When it comes to anecdotes, remember this basic rule: anecdotal evidence is not evidence at all. Do actual research to get real evidence. And make sure that the research you do gets you the right data. Irrelevant data may be accurate, but it’s not helpful. Your target market may enjoy dining out; but if they’re also health-conscious retirees on a limited income, your upscale gourmet burger restaurant will fail. Make sure that your research connects directly with your defined purpose in order to get the information you really need. 

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Email offers a lot of benefits. It’s quick, accessible, and can save a lot of time that would be spent on back-and-forth phone calls or in-person meetings. The problem is that email is overused and misused; the resulting email overload can quickly eliminate all the time saved and cause productivity to plummet. 

To benefit from email and keep it from becoming a burden, follow these six principles. 

Always Filter 
Not all email needs a response, or even a glance; if it’s all flooding into your inbox, however, you have to view, decide, and act on every single email, even if that action is just to delete or archive the message. Use filters to set concrete limits on what even makes it into your inbox. For reference-only emails, such as bank statements, set up filters to send the emails to an appropriate folder. For those emails you don’t want but can’t avoid, like Aunt Judy’s weekly upd ate and your boss’s endless CCs, se t up a filter and a folder. 

Reduce the Inflow 
Unsubscribing takes a moment or two and can clear a lot of unnecessary clutter from your email life. Use a tool such as unroll.me to make it even simpler. There’s no need for you to keep sorting through the digital equivalent of junk mail. Say no to email notifications from apps and social media; you’re going to check in on your social accounts anyway. There’s no point in receiving an email about it, too. 

Organize Your Email 
Some people prefer a complex system of labels, hierarchical folders, and infinite categorization. Others prefer a simple system that sorts email into the most basic possible groups (such as Needs Action, Needs Reply, and Archived). It doesn’t matter what kind of organization you use. Just figure out which kind you like (complex or simple), implement it, and use it. Navigating and keeping up with email becomes much simpler when you use an organization model that makes sense to you. 

Reduce the Outflow 
Quit responding to emails you get that you don’t actually need. Fight the impulse to send a one-line response (”Thanks for the info” or “Got it” ). When you respond, you’re telling the sender that you approve the email, and want more. Is that what you want to say? 
Start to notice repeat offenders: there are just some folks who continually send useless emails. Take a few minutes to respond to the latest one with a kind but clear message: “Thanks for your thoughfulness, but this is information I don’t really need. Would you please remove me from your sender list? Thank you!” For the ones who still don’t get it, use a filter. 

Handle Your Inbox 
To zero or not to zero; that is the question of the inbox. 
Some people swear by inbox zero; they like to clean it out daily or weekly. Others 
see no need to try to achieve a clean inbox. Search queries can sort out what’s there, and cleaning it out regularly takes more time than it’s worth. As with organization, the key is for you to decide what works for you, then stick with it. 

Use Some Rules
A few basic email rules can save you much email frustration. 
The two-minute rule: if will take only a few minutes, respond to it right away. 
The email-time rule: designate a few times a day to handling email, and leave it alone the rest of the time. True emergencies will find you via other methods. People will learn what to expect if you are consistent. 

The informative-subject rule: make the most of the subject line, using it to ask the main question, designate a needed response, and otherwise make it easy for people to respond as quickly as possible.

Email isn’t going away, but you don’t have to lose your entire day to it. Remember it’s a tool; how you use it is what makes it burdensome or effective.

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Lori Kleiman is a Chicago based business expert and author with more than 25 years of experience advising companies on HR issues. Lori has a master’s degree in human resources, has been certified as Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) by the HR Certification Institute and is a member of the National Speakers Association. 

Telecommuting and remote work remains a hotly debated topic with high profile supported and defectors alike. How do you personally see this trend develop? Have we hit peak ‘telecommuting’ or will the remote workforce keep growing significantly for the foreseeable future? 

LK: I believe that flexible work schedules are essential, but full scale telecommuting can be difficult to maintain. There is no doubt that there is a loss of camaraderie and teamwork with workforces that do not interact on a regular basis. I recommend organizations use telecommuting for those that have earned the trust on an occasional basis as employee needs warrant. 

Do you have a simple rule of thumb that determines when telecommuting is a good idea and when it’s likely to negatively affect the company? 

LK: Telecommuting can be used in situations where a top performer is called out of town due to family obligations and the talent would be difficult to replace. There are also many cases where clients are located globally, and a robust telecommuting program would allow staff to be located closer to the clients. I find the best solution is a flexible schedule that would require all employees to be in the office during core work hours, but allowed to tele-commute or flex office hours as needed. 

What are some legal or regulatory aspects of telecommuting that employers tend to overlook when first letting their employees work from home? 

LK: The first issue is with hourly employees. Because it is difficult to track when they are actually working, there could be issues with wage and hour if they claim to have worked longer at home then they are being paid for. We are starting to see some issue with workers compensation when employees work from home. There have actually be cases reported of employees on exercise equipment during a meeting or looking at email, getting hurt and having it approved for a work comp claim. 

Recruiting is a key HR aspect for many companies. What recruiting mistakes do you see companies make most often and what are some simple/inexpensive tactics that work best for attracting top talent? 

LK: In terms of mistakes made most often, it would be overselling a job or work environment that is not realistic. Paint the picture with candidates of what your organization is really like, and you will attract the top talent for your organization. Two simple recuruitng tactics I like are utilizing my social media network to advise of the opening, and having a robust employee referral program to get their best and brightest contacts 

Can you recommend a few HR resources (blogs, books, podcast, etc.) to our readers? 

LK: Of course mine! hrtopics.com and my new book is coming out mid-June….Taking a SEAT at the table; being a Strategic Executive who is Action oriented and Technologically savvy. Others that I like to watch especially is the work coming out of the University of Michigan by David Ulrich’s team. I also am fascinated with the Harvard Business Review - it’s much more approachable then I ever thought and they consistently feature HR topics. Final resource I love - Executive Book Summaries - there are a few companies now that do them but its a great way to stay on top of what leadership is working on. 

Thank you for the interview. 

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