Sincere Questions That Cut Through Small Talk

One thing I know for sure about myself is this: I’m not great at small talk. I wasn’t born with the gift of gab. While I thrive on other people’s energy, I hate to come up with frivolous conversation starters. I’d much rather jump right into a meaningful dialogue than participate in idle chatter. This makes opportunities like networking events a bit intimidating. And I’m certain I’m not the only one with this aversion to small-talk.

Marcel Schwantes, principal and founder of Leadership From the Core, discovered that to be able to draw people in, he simply had to ask the right questions. Here, we’ll share some of Schwantes’ questions that drive interest and persuasion in a professional conversation. He points out that the first four questions are borrowed from business author David Burkus, which were shared in the Harvard Business Review.

1. What excites you right now? As Burkus explains, this question can go in many directions with a wide range of possible answers that may overlap into your personal life or work life, which will open the conversation further. And asking it allows for the other person to share something that he or she is passionate about.

2. What are you looking forward to? Like the last question, this one is more forward-looking, which, says Burkus, allows for the other person “to choose from a bigger set of possible answers.”

3. What’s the best thing that’s happened to you this year? It’s the same technique as the previous two, but this one goes back in time for the other person to reflect on something pivotal that may have changed the course of his or her life. It also opens up a wealth of answers to choose from, which may overlap into some of your own areas of interest for further discussion.

4. What’s the most important thing I should know about you? Because it can come across as a little direct, this is certainly not your first question, and it may not even be your third or fourth, but it “gives the broadest possible range from which they can choose,” says Burkus. Use it in context, listen for clues and wait for the right timing.

5. What’s your story? This is open-ended enough to trigger an intriguing story—a journey to a foreign country, meeting a famous person, getting funded for a startup, a special talent used for making the world a better place, etc. It’s a question that immediately draws in the other person and lets him or her speak from the heart.

6. What is one of your defining moments? This question invites the speaker to share on a deeper level, which builds momentum and rapport more quickly. Obviously, asking a few casual questions before it helps set the mood for hearing about a profound moment or transition in that person’s life.

7. Why did you choose your profession? This assumes that, at some point, you dropped the mandatory “What do you do?” question. As a follow-up, it’s a question that will reveal multiple layers of someone’s journey. It speaks to people’s values, what motivates them and whether their work is their calling. It may also trigger a different, more thought-provoking response: some people aren’t happy in their jobs. By asking, you may be in the position to assist or mentor a person through a career or job transition.

8. What are you currently reading? You may have the same authors and subjects in common, which will deepen your conversation. Also, use this question to ask for book recommendations. You may find the conversation going down the path of exploring mutual book ideas to solve a workplace issue or implement a new business strategy.

9. How can I be most helpful to you right now? To really add the most value to a conversation, once a level of comfort has been established, ask the other person how you can be most helpful to him or her, whether personally or professionally. You’ll be amazed how pleasantly surprised people will be by that thoughtful gesture, and how responsive they are in their answer. Your genuine willingness, no strings attached, to make yourself useful to others leads to more interesting, engaging and real conversations that may lead to future opportunities.

Whatever question you decide to use, the important thing is to always ask open-ended questions and to avoid work-related questions or business questions until much, much later in the conversation. You’ll be surprised by how seamless the transition will be to business, conducting a sales pitch or exploring partnerships once both parties know each other.

Source: Marcel Schwantes is an expert in developing exceptional servant leadership work cultures where employees, managers, executives and their businesses thrive. He is an entrepreneur, executive coach and adviser, and keynote speaker.

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Seven Ways To Improve Your Sphere Of Influence

To move things forward and achieve key milestones at work, you often need to be able to influence others—whether it’s colleagues, subordinates, your boss, customers or suppliers. In most cases, influence is power and it’s a critical element for success. Gaining influence can help you better manage a team or get your voice heard in a key meeting.

We’re sharing these key tips for building influence from Jayson DeMers, founder and CEO of AudienceBloom, a Seattle-based content marketing and social media agency.

1. Build Trust With Your Co-Workers. Only when a co-worker trusts you will he or she be open to your influence. The easiest way to do that is to be open and honest, no matter what. State your opinions, disclose your apprehensions and be transparent.

2. Be Consistent To Show Reliability. Inconsistency is the fastest way to ruin your reputation. On the other hand, if you execute your tasks effectively and on time, day after day, eventually people will come to rely on you. The same is true when you execute a consistent style of leadership, setting consistent expectations with your employees and giving consistent rewards for good work.

3. Be Assertive, Not Aggressive. Being assertive is the only way to get your ideas noticed, especially when you’re competing with others for visibility, such as in a meeting. However, there’s a difference between being assertive and being aggressive. You’ll need to present your thoughts and ideas with a high degree of confidence , but excessive confidence could be mistaken for arrogance, which will compromise your perceived authority. Tread carefully, especially when you’re unfamiliar with your audience or if you’re presenting your thoughts on an area outside of your expertise. Being assertive, so long as you truly believe in what you’re saying, is a way to cultivate a reputation of authority and earn the ability to influence your peers and employees.

4. Be Flexible. Work to demonstrate flexibility while holding firm on your beliefs. Negotiations and compromises are often the best ways to do this. Hold your ground when someone contradicts you, but work with them to find a mutually acceptable solution. When people believe you are flexible, they’ll be more likely to listen to you even if they’re stubborn.

5. Be Personal. A little personality goes a long way, especially when you’re trying to build influence in the workplace. This is especially important when you’re in a higher position, as a boss or a supervisor. If you isolate yourself, or try to build your perceived authority by distancing yourself from others, it might only serve to alienate you. Instead, go out of your way to have personal exchanges with your employees and co-workers. Personal working relationships are important for cultivating a sense of team, and if people see you as another team member, they’ll be more receptive when you present your ideas or opinions.

6. Focus On Actions Rather Than Arguments. Trying to build influence through words is useless. If you’re going to build influence in the workplace, you need to speak through your actions, or at the very least have the actions and history to back up whatever it is you’re saying. Demonstrating your ideas through real examples provides proof of your genuine nature.

7. Listen To Others. Finally, remember that influence is a two-way street. If you want to build relationships with your co-workers and employees, you first have to listen. The more you believe in the people around you and incorporate their ideas into your vision, the more they’ll believe in your ideas and incorporate them into their work habits. Encourage people to speak up, especially if they don’t often voice their opinions. Take time to respect and acknowledge everybody’s opinion, and let people know that you value them.

Try these strategies to improve your scope of influence in the workplace, and your opinions will naturally be heard, acknowledged and respected as a result.

Source: Jayson DeMers is the founder and CEO of AudienceBloom, a Seattle-based content marketing and social media agency.

Three Ways To Encourage Innovation

Where does innovation fit in your business? Regardless of size, innovation is important to enter new markets and grow the reach and market share of your business.

Innovation, however, can sound rather intimidating to some businesses, but it doesn’t have to be. According to workspace design company, Red Thread, there are simple things you can do today to encourage innovation among your employees.

1. Give Your Employees A Reason To Care. Employees with an emotional investment in your company and their jobs are the ones who are going to put in the most effort and produce the best work. If your employees are only at the office for the paycheck, their willingness to participate and innovate is going to be much lower. Encourage innovation by giving them a reason to care. This motivation can come in many forms such as incentives, raises, promotions and feedback for a job well done. When employees feel like they matter, they are more likely to be invested in the company and innovate on new projects.

2. Include Social Spaces In Your Office. Give your employees a physical space to be creative and innovative. Creating social areas or lounge-type spaces in your office is a great invitation for employees to relax, mingle and get the creative juices flowing. Studies show that taking small breaks throughout the workday can boost workers’ productivity and motivation, too. When employees have a space to take a break from their hectic workday, they can recharge and come back to their desk full of fresh ideas.

3. Collaboration Is Key. When it comes to innovating and generating new ideas, the more heads in the room the better. Collaboration allows for employees to put their best ideas together and generate truly innovative solutions. In order for employees to collaborate successfully, they need the technology, space and resources to do so. Equip work spaces with collaboration technology like smart boards and wireless connection to encourage innovation. Make sure you incorporate areas where employees can individually focus as well as collaborate in groups.

Source: Red Thread helps organizations and their partners to create work environments that support productive, engaged employees. Through integrating furniture, architectural products and audiovisual technology, holistically designed spaces can dramatically impact your bottom line. Red Thread was established in 2012 when Office Environments of New England, BKM Total Office and Business Interiors joined forces as a regional enterprise. Red Thread serves as the authorized Steelcase dealer in New England.

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Using “Thank-You” To Get What You Want

Most of us like to be thanked, especially when the sentiment is sincere. For that reason, saying “thank-you” is one of the most powerful phrases in any language.

Upon meeting you, a job candidate thanks you for considering him for the position. Your boss thanks you in a staff meeting for the project you are about to undertake. A sign in your gym thanks members for placing used towels in the hamper.

Today, we share these insights into the power of saying thank-you in advance to get what you want from Kate Zabriskie, president of Business Training Works, Inc.

Why A Thank-You In Advance Works

Zabriskie says that thanking people in advance works for a several reasons. The first has to do with a sense of obligation many people feel to reciprocate after they’ve received something.

The second explanation for the technique’s effectiveness is because people want to conform to a positive image of themselves. In other words, “I’m going to act like a good worker because I am a good worker.”

A third explanation for the power of this method has to do with instruction. Often, we assume people intuitively know what they are supposed to do. Guess what? Many don’t. They’ve forgotten, they’re preoccupied or they’re simply not thinking. Offered in the right way, many people will follow a suggested course of action, because it’s the path of least resistance.

The Structure Of Saying Thank-You In Advance

To plan an advanced thank-you, use the following framework:

1. Think about the desired result. “I want my employees to show up on time.”

2. Identify the type of people who typically demonstrate that behavior. “Responsible and accountable people show up on time.”

3. Craft a statement that identifies the people you are addressing as that group, and be specific about the result you want to see. For example: “I appreciate the fact that I have such a dedicated team. I want to thank you in advance for giving 110 percent this week. The hours during this busy season are demanding, and it takes a true group of professionals to act upbeat and engaged with every visitor. This is why we hired you.”

Tips and Cautions:

1. Thanking people for good behavior should be done before you’ve observed anything particularly egregious. For example, imagine a chaotic scene in a retail environment where customers are pushing and shoving each other. It’s more difficult to thank them into a reverse course after they’ve gone wild. However, a little advanced gratitude offered earlier could have helped avoid mayhem.

2. Thanking people is not a substitute for confronting inappropriate behavior. For example, if an employee comes to work dressed improperly, you can’t thank your way around addressing the problem. However, you can use a thank you as part of the corrective conversation. “Mary, I appreciate you listening to me this morning, and I want to thank you in advance for taking the conversation seriously. I know you have what it takes to represent our company well. I look forward to seeing you be successful here.”

3. Thanking people for everything dilutes the method’s effectiveness. “Bill, I want to thank you for coming in on time today. I know how important punctuality is to you, so thank you for parking in the employee lot and not taking a visitor’s space.” Too much of that, and Bill is going to think you’ve got a screw or two loose. Worse still, he’s not going to believe a word you say.

Perfecting the science and art of the advanced thank-you takes time but it can be an important tool of influence.

PCT wants to thank you in advance for checking your inbox tomorrow for the next issue.

Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works, Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. She and her team help businesses establish customer service strategies and train their people to live up to what’s promised.

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Five Ways Small Businesses Can Leverage PR

It was Edward Bernays, known as the father of public relations, who said, “”Modern business must have its finger continuously on the public pulse. It must understand the changes in the public mind and be prepared to interpret itself fairly and eloquently to changing opinion.”

In today’s business world, public relations is often associated with large, corporate challenges and societal issues. But, PR can have an important impact on a small business as well. In fact, when it comes to branding and marketing, PR is one of the most important tools to help get you the right type of attention-and it can easily fit into your marketing budget.

Here, we share these five tips for PR success, from business author Shannon Gausepohl.

To get started with PR, begin with the right mindset. Building brand awareness and name recognition takes time. Gausepohl advises to set aside 10 percent of your annual budget for public relations activities. Use these dollars to help you:

  • Establish clear, measurable goals for your business.
  • Determine the best strategy to achieve these goals and execute this strategy.
  • Review your results and establish new goals or a new strategy.

Here are key steps to building and implementing your plan:

1. Figure out your “why.” What is the ultimate goal of your PR campaign? Increase customer engagement? Position yourself as a community leader? You’ll need to define your goal before creating your PR strategy or tactics.

Remember, the “why” is your story, not your product or your service. For example, say you are a launching a new restaurant. Instead of telling people to check out this new trendy place (your what), you’ll need to answer why it matters. Why did you decide to start this restaurant in the first place?

2. Build your own media list. The next step is to identify your influencers, both online and offline. Who are those influencers with the most targeted reach that can serve as a third-party earned endorsement? Before you pitch anything, make sure that what you’re sending is relevant to what the media out writes about or covers.

3. Create your brand message. When sending information, personalize it to both your brand and the person you are pitching to. Often, highly personalized, short email pitches are better than long-winded news releases.

Also, if you don’t hear back right away, don’t take it personally. It often takes a few tries before a journalist will reach out to you. If one pitch doesn’t work, be patient, wait and try a new angle when you have something newsworthy to share again.

4. Be a source for the media. It’s valuable to build relationships with journalists in your industry. You can save them time by providing industry information and being a resource. Be fast in your response to their requests and don’t bother with multiple follow-ups. Be sincere, helpful and informative.

5. Ask for help. There are PR resources to fit any budget, so ask for help. You can source both independent contractors as well as PR firms to help you navigate your industry landscape. These resources already have the trust and relationships with the media, and they can help you design PR campaigns that build your brand and serve as a resource should you need to navigate through any potential issues.

Try these tips to improve your PR value, influence key audiences and build your brand equity.

Source: Shannon Gausepohl graduated from Rowan University in 2012 with a degree in journalism. She has worked at a newspaper and in the public relations field, and is currently a staff writer at Business News Daily. Gausepohl is a zealous bookworm, has her blue belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and loves her Blue Heeler mix, Tucker.

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Six Body Language Tricks To Create Instant Rapport

Research shows that up to 80 percent of the information we receive in personal conversation is transmitted nonverbally, making body language as critical as the words we use. According to the book, How to Talk to Anyone by Leil Lowndes, you can capture and hold anyone’s attention without saying a single word.

here we take a look as, Business Insider contributor Maggie Zhang shares these body language tips from Lowndes’ book for capturing someone’s attention. Try these during your next prospect or customer meeting to increase your credibility and engagement.

1. The Flooding Smile: “Don’t flash an immediate smile when you greet someone,” says Lowndes. If you do, it appears as if anyone in your line of sight would receive that same smile. Instead, pause and look at the other person’s face for a second, and then let a “big, warm, responsive smile flood over your face and overflow into your eyes.”

This delayed, slower smile creates a sense of sincerity and the recipient feels like this smile was specifically for them. It increases the depth of how people perceive you.

2. Sticky Eyes: “Pretend your eyes are glued to your conversation partner’s eyes with sticky, warm taffy,” Lowndes advises. After the person speaks, don’t break eye contact. Lowndes says, “When you must look away, do it ever so slowly, reluctantly, stretching the gooey taffy until the tiny string finally breaks.” You can also try counting your conversation partner’s blinks to maintain eye contact. In a case study, subjects reported significantly higher feelings of respect and fondness for their colleagues who used this technique.

3. Epoxy Eyes: In a group of people, you should occasionally look at the person you are interested in, no matter who else is talking. If your attention is drawn to that person even when they are simply listening, you show that you are interested in his or her reactions. You should primarily watch the speaker, but allow your glance to bounce to your target when the speaker finishes interesting points.

4. The Big-Baby Pivot: People are very conscious of how you react to them. When you meet someone new, turn your body fully toward them and give them the same, undivided attention you would give a baby. Lowndes says, “Pivoting 100 percent toward the new person shouts, ‘I think you are very, very special.'”

5. Limit The Fidget: If you want to appear credible, try not to move too much when your conversation really matters. “Do not fidget, twitch, wiggle, squirm or scratch,” Lowndes says. Frequent hand motions near your face can give your listener the feeling that you’re lying or anxious. Instead, simply fix a constant gaze on the listener and show them that you’re fully concentrated on the matter at hand.

6. Hello, Old Friend: When you first meet someone, imagine they’re your old friend. According to Lowndes, this will cause a lot of subconscious reactions in your body, from the softening of your eyebrows to the positioning of your toes. When you act as though you like someone, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy — you might really start to like them. The next time you are introduced to someone new, try this positive approach.

Using these tips in various business settings will set the tone for more positive working relationships.

Source: Maggie Zhang, an English major from Princeton University, is an editorial intern at Business Insider. Her article appeared in the Thrive Global Community.

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Seven Ways To Motivate Your Team

It’s 2018, a new year, and a great opportunity to assess what can be done to make your team more collaborative, motivated and effective in the coming year. Here, we share these pillars from executive coach Jan Makela to help you and your team get there.

1. Vision and mission: Begin by asking some key questions. What is it that you want? What is in it for others? There has to be something bigger than you that others can grasp and buy in to. Why does your organization exist? Workers today want to work for organizations that can show a purpose or cause. Makela gives the example of Google, whose corporate mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

2. Goals: In just a few weeks, everyone will be setting goals for the New Year, whether it’s losing weight, saving money or something else. And then what happens? The goals go into a drawer or are hidden in an electronic file never to see the light of day until someone asks for them. So, put your goals on display so that the entire team can see them daily. Why? Out of sight means out of mind. Keep your goals in front of the people in charge of accomplishing them and ask them about their progress on a routine basis-preferably weekly. Ask them how they are doing and what can you do to make the goals easier to accomplish.

3. Expectations: Only 30 percent of employees know what is expected of them at work. Your goal is to get people to work and perform together. People will live up or down to the perception of your expectations of them. If they think you believe in their abilities and expect them to do well, they will. Remember, if people don’t know what you expect, don’t be surprised by what you get.

4. Feedback: Positive feedback grows and negative feedback stifles. Catch your employees doing the job right and recognize them for it. They will do more of what generates positive feedback.

5. Treat everyone fairly but not equally: The people you work with are all unique individuals, and although you need to treat each one fairly, that does not necessarily mean equally. They have different values, wants, backgrounds, skill sets and experiences, and most likely they are at different stages of their careers. One size fits nobody. Great managers play chess, meaning that all of the pieces move differently. The key to success is knowing the differences between the pieces, how each piece moves and how to create a strategy that maximizes the moves for all of them. Another key piece of the puzzle is showing your team that you genuinely care about them. They need to know you have their interest at heart; people want to know that someone at work cares about them as a person.

6. Provide tools and resources to do quality work: Most people want to do quality work. Part of that is having the tools and resources to do a quality job. Ask your team members what you can do to make their job easier. If they say, “I need a new widget maker,” get it. Provide them with the resources they need to succeed. If they say they don’t need anything, your response should be, “guess I can expect quality work.” You want to remove any and all reasons for failure. You only leave a path to success.

7. Celebrate success: What do organizations do when they accomplish a big thing? Well, they move on to the next big thing. It is important to stop and celebrate with your team. Allow people to share the memory of what has been accomplished. Simple things like handwritten notes are important. Remember to thank everyone for what they did and how their contribution led to the overall achievement of the group.

The seven pillars can help you and your team stand out within your organization.

Jan Makela is an executive coach, highly-sought after speaker and bestselling author of Cracking the Code to Success and Be the Manager People Won’t Leave. Makela has a long and successful history of working with companies to ensure quality hiring and training practices. His specialty revolves around strength-based leadership development with a focus on working with senior and mid-level executives, business owners and professionals.

Create A Positive, Productive Workplace

Have you ever worked in a setting that was not a happy place? Ever had a boss that always had their door closed and did not welcome questions or conversation, which created an isolated environment. Plus, the company’s structure was continually changing, so job security was always in question. And there was a definite pecking order of favorite employees, causing animosity among teammates. Working in an environment like this can be stressful, distracting and downright depressing.

Today, we share a model for creating a happy workplace by looking to one of the most cheerful places on earth—the North Pole—and Santa’s workshop. Human resources expert Susan Heathfield has studied the elves who work there (well, the concept anyway), and says they are always happy and continue to meet production demand for toys as the world’s population of children increases. Based on this model, here’s what Heathfield says are the keys to a creating a happy workplace.

Create a purpose. Santa’s elves have a higher purpose than themselves by providing little boys and girls all over the world with exactly what they want for Christmas. Bringing joy through their work and knowing that they are participating in an activity that impacts millions in a positive way brings a sense of purpose and happiness.

Know your customer. Elves have a customer intelligence gathering system that allows them to get up close with customers—literally. They get to see people in shopping centers all over the world and ask them what they want. Elves listen and they build intelligence on the customer. These insights are rewarding in allowing them to be targeted in their work. And by meeting the customer needs, they have happy customers who will refer their work to others.

Create a sense of security. Elves feel totally needed and secure in their employment. Santa simply can’t serve the entire world on his own. It takes a spirit of teamwork between the elves, reindeer and the entire North Pole operations team. Elves have lots of customer orders and they know they will never run out of work. Job security and teamwork are desirable conditions to create happy employees.

Live the mission and vision. Elves have clear direction. They must meet the goal of delivering presents on Christmas Eve. They must do whatever it takes to make that delivery happen. And they have a vision: to create joy for boys and girls around the world. It’s an aspiration that keeps the elf team motivated and focused, and when they hit their goals, the impact is highly rewarding. Elves know they make a difference to millions of lives.

Have an open-door policy. One key principle at the North Pole is that jolly old elf, Santa. He creates an atmosphere of laughter and trust, yet he motivates and delegates across the elf teams. He doesn’t play favorites because every elf matters to get the work done, and every elf’s ideas are seriously considered. Santa creates an environment in which he’s approachable by all elves, no matter their roles.

Tap into these elf-friendly tips to create a happy and productive workplace for your team in 2018.

Source: Susan Heathfield is a human resources expert. She is a management and organization development consultant who specializes in human resources issues and in management development to create forward-thinking workplaces. She is also a professional facilitator, speaker, trainer and writer.

Five Ways To Maintain Brand Value

When it comes to your business, do you know the value of your brand? In other words, what is the monetary impact of your brand to your bottom line? According to Forbes magazine, the values of some of the world’s top brands look like this: Apple, $104.3 billion; Microsoft, $56.7 billion; and Coca-Cola, $54.9 billion.

Your brand value is most likely not in the billions like these global companies, but nonetheless, it’s important to maintain your brand value. Here, we share five ways to retain your reputation, make the most of economic upswings and positively impact your bottom line from Mark Di Somma, a partner and senior brand strategist at The Blake Project.

1. Be part of a rising category. If you have a brand in a rising product category, then you want to invest in building that brand interest. If you don’t have a brand in an up-and-coming category, then consider how you can get your brand in that space either through acquisition, a partnership or co-branding opportunity.

2. Tackle social issues. What are the reputational or social issues that your market segment faces? What impact could your brand have on a social issue? For example, product safety is closely tied to child safety. In the fast-food industry, those brands are being challenged by healthier brands, so they are having to step up with more health and nutrition programs.

3. Increase “share of life.” This phrase from Millward Brown refers to expanding your touchpoints and extending your ecosystem to reach customers in multiple ways and through multiple products and channels. Di Somma uses the example of Apple, a brand that affects lives every day through mobile phones, apps, iPads, point-of-purchase, music and entertainment. Amazon is another brand example of this with its easy, one-click shopping and relevant purchase recommendations. Nike, with its Nike+ Fuelband, has transformed itself from a mere apparel brand to a companion and coach for runners.

4. Be more convenient. One way brands like Apple and Amazon are successful is by creating seamless experiences. This is convenient for the consumer while also helping the brand control the consumer journey. Di Somma points out that digital media plays a key role with this, so think of ways you can develop digital touchpoints through your brand to keep the customer engaged and connected.

5. Beautify. Continue to review and adjust the design and style of your products and your advertising so that your brand feels “now.” This is hard, but not impossible, for brands with long lead times. It is also relative, and chances are your competitors face the same logistical issues that you do. By continually checking the appeal of what you offer, you can introduce your brand to new segments. Remember the slogan, “It’s not your father’s Oldsmobile”? An updated car design led to a younger market for the car manufacturer.

Be a champion of your brand and try these tactics to continue to increase your brand value.

Source: Mark Di Somma is a partner and senior brand strategist at The Blake Project. For more than 20 years he has helped decision makers, brand owners and brand agencies define, articulate and elevate the value of their brands.

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Want Innovation? Learn From Ants

As is virtually always discussed, innovation plays an important role in any organization, both large and small, but there’s a significant difference in how innovation shows up in each type of organization.

Large companies usually have innovation teams focused on large-scale problems and large- scale production. Ron Ashkenas and Markus Spiegel, authors and contributors to HBR.org, note that these types of teams move in a specified direction at predictable speed.

On the other hand, innovation is not as organized and formal in small companies. It’s usually more spontaneous and nimble, driven by those wearing multiple hats.

Ashkenas and Spiegel have studied more than a dozen global organizations and their approaches to innovation—some successful and some not so much. Here, we share four of their findings on innovation.

1. It takes the mindset of an ant. Teams functioning like machines—blindly following highly defined processes and execution plans—were the least effective at achieving their goals and coming up with innovations. The most successful teams operated less like highly efficient machines and more like ant colonies, where they quickly adapted to changes in their environment. They had a set of simple rules and a clear goal, allowing them to be more flexible and able to learn along the way.

2. Centralize your mission; loosen your structure. As Ashkenas and Spiegel point out, ants have no central control, no single “master ant,” yet the entire colony works together as one community. They’re able to align their individual activities to the powerful common purpose that each ant shares—the survival of the nest. Thus, when the environment shifts, individual ants adapt their roles for the collective good.

Leaders of effective innovation teams communicate and centralize the mission of the team, but give the team members the freedom to do what’s needed to achieve their part. This allows the team to adapt when they hit dead ends. This is also why companies like Google align their people through yearly and quarterly goals, while giving them the ability to work toward these results in multiple ways.

3. Communication is key. Back to the ants. We’ve all seen long ant trails leading to a food source. If the source is particularly good, the trail intensifies and more ants follow it. It’s a time- and energy-saving way to communicate.

Rich, frequent and candid communication is also important for organizational teams to find innovations as quickly as possible. People need to bounce around ideas, share insights and challenge each other’s assumptions. Leaders need to make sure their teams have the time, space and tools to make this happen. Bring your team together often and create a comfortable atmosphere for dialog and brainstorming. Make it easy to share ideas through tools like instant messaging and file sharing.

4. Experiment with ideas. Always test new ideas and new ways of doing things. It’s at the heart of innovation. Ashkenas and Spiegel us the example of Intuit, who puts new product ideas on the internet before they are developed to test whether there is a market. If there’s interest, they proceed with development; if not, they modify the idea or quietly withdraw it.

Encourage your team to test ideas through action instead of just through studies and analyses. Of course, this requires both dollars and resources to build prototypes and mock-ups early in the discovery process and to engage directly with customers to get rapid feedback and test assumptions.

Embrace these management concepts behind innovation and watch your “colony” flourish.

Source: Ron Ashkenas is partner emeritus at Shaffer Consulting, where he helped leading organizations achieve dramatic performance improvements and coached CEOs and senior executives on strengthening their leadership capacity. He’s also an avid author and contributor to publications such as Harvard Business Reviewon topics related to organizational change.

Markus Spiegel is partner at Schaffer Consulting where he helps organizations to master the challenges in complex environments. His experience includes working in the automotive and financial services industry, including key roles at the BMW Group. He is also a contributor to Harvard Business Review.