Want People to Work for You? Make Them Feel Heard

They have 14,000 employees. And more clamoring to come on board.

Under Armour was recently included on LinkedIn’s U.S. list of Top Attractors, the top 40 companies at attracting and keeping the best employees. In an article referencing the inclusion, “To Thrive at Under Armour, You Have to Answer Kevin Plank’s Three Questions,” I found out one of the reasons why more people want to join the ranks at the sports clothing and accessories company with close to $4 billion in revenue.

The three questions management is encouraged to ask after every meeting or conversation are:

  • This is what I heard
  • This is what I think
  • This is what we are going to do

The goal of the questions, Kevin said, is to make sure you heard and understood what people said. With this method you don’t waste time on miscommunication, you facilitate buy-in and people feel their ideas have been heard, a huge factor in employee morale and retention.

My favorite method for clear communication is the whiteboard. I’m a huge fan of the whiteboard, even writing a whole chapter on its use in my book, “How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned from CEOs’ Mistakes.”

For more reasons I love the whiteboard, please read my post “The Value of the Low-Tech Whiteboard in a High-Tech World.” Good luck with your new and improved communication.


The Value of the Low-Tech Whiteboard in a High-Tech World

I had to chuckle when I saw an article last week in the Wall Street Journal, “High Tech’s Secret Weapon: The White Board.” Even though I am a fast adopter of technology, I am a major supporter of using the whiteboard in my work as the Turnaround Authority. In fact, I even devoted a whole subchapter of my book, “How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned from CEOs’ Mistakes,” to the whiteboard, touting it as one of the keys to success.

So I found it humorous to see this old-fashioned tool referred to as a secret weapon. What was even more interesting is that the article is about the company that developed the note-taking app Evernote. I use Evernote every day, making notes in my iPad that are automatically synced to my computer so I have them with me wherever I go. I can take photos and create to-do lists as well. And the best thing is that these notes are totally searchable so I never waste time tracking down information I need.

I loved learning that almost every surface of the offices of Evernote in Silicon Valley are covered with IdeaPaint, which allows the employees to write on the walls with dry-erase markers. Evernote relies on this low-tech way to engage employees in focusing on developing their high tech products. And it seems many other high tech firms do the same.

As the author, Farhad Manjoo, noted, “Whiteboards are to Silicon Valley what legal pads are to lawyers, what Excel is to accountants, and what long sleeves are to magicians.”

Here are just a few things to love about the use of a whiteboard for business.

1. Anyone can use it

We can all pick up a marker and draw on a whiteboard. I can’t say the same for the ability for everyone to master collaborative software or being able to share documents digitally.

2. It allows people to focus

I would argue that we focus better when looking at the large canvas of the whiteboard than staring at the small screen of a computer, having been conditioned since we were children by the teacher diagramming sentences and doing math problems on a large chalkboard.

3. It points out gaps in logic

One of my favorite ways to use a whiteboard is to draw timelines. I find that drawing on a whiteboard helps a group to clarify complex situations and analyze the issues involved in a particular situation.

For example, I once worked with a racetrack that took 18 months and $100 million to build, and just 30 days to run out of cash. We created a 12-month timeline to get the racetrack out of bankruptcy. It was ambitious, as we had a lot to accomplish for the company to make that goal. But by putting everything that needed to be done on the whiteboard, each person could visualize their own responsibilities and how crucial it was that they each complete their jobs on time so we could make the deadline.

4. It enables collaboration and buy-in

When people participate in the whiteboard process they can clearly visualize their roles and how they all need to work together to accomplish the set goal. And if everyone is allowed to participate and share their ideas freely, you generally achieve automatic buy-in of the steps to achieve that goal.

I’ll continue to incorporate the latest technology into my business. But I will forever be a fan of the good old whiteboard. It’s nice to know all the whiz kids in Silicon Valley agree with me.

Look for me November 10 at 4:30 at the Book Festival of the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta. I’ll be discussing my book,  ”How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned from CEOs’ Mistakes.” The event is free and open to the public. Click here for more information.

5 Ways to Find Direction When You Feel Lost

The most powerful businessmen are the least likely to admit when they are lacking direction. You are used to helping others find their way, and it seems unimaginable that, with so much on your plate, you’ve lost focus. But it happens, and it’s nothing of which to be ashamed.

Here are some great ways to gain clarity on your purpose and leadership direction.

1. Rest 

It’s easier said than done, but rest is necessary to function efficiently through your long workdays. Whether sitting down for a proper meal, sleeping in, going to the beach for a weekend or just taking a night off to be with friends, guilt-free downtime is an absolute necessity to offset high intensity days.

2. Discuss challenges with a partner or colleague

Do you ever find yourself in the middle of a sentence, trying to explain a business challenge to others and suddenly realize you have the answer? Sharing with others forces us to synthesize information and clarifies problems (I also recommend the whiteboard). In some cases the person listening may not even need to be informed of the topic, but having to explain it to them requires you to think differently.

3. Find one thing to get back your inertia

Sometimes what we lose is inertia, and we just need to swing ourselves back in motion. Pick just one thing that will contribute to your business – not the most important or best thing. Just pick one easy thing. After completing the task, acknowledge how easy it was to make a small change that will positively benefit your business in the long run.

4. Help someone else

You’re probably not the only one who’s stuck or could use a little help. Find someone who needs to talk things through or even be assigned some mindless task that helps them get their inertia back. You’ll be contributing, taking a look at something you otherwise wouldn’t have that may trigger ideas and getting back your inertia.

5. Go for a walk

Little clears your head like fresh air and moving your body. It doesn’t have to be long – 20 minutes will do it. Just take a walk, preferably outside, though if you have to lap the floor of your office building, that’s fine, too. Just move around and clear your head. Busy with phone calls? Take one of those on a walk with you!

Keep these easy solutions in mind for when you feel you’re losing focus (and perhaps motivation) despite knowing how much there is to do.

The Wonderful Ways of the Whiteboard in Business, Part 1

I love my white board, and quite frankly, I don’t think I could do business as successfully without it. A white board lends clarity to complex situations and helps viewers logically analyze the many issues surrounding a case or problem.

The white board also allows you to see the holes in your logic – and therefore solidify your case by dealing with those holes.

Other white board fleshings reveal that you had the wrong fact in place. Many times I find that people are operating under the pretense of erroneous information, but by sharing their thoughts on a white board, they allow others to see their wrong facts and correct them.

In short, white boards get everyone on the same page.

Whiteboard Timelines

I find that timelines are one of the most useful ways to employ a white board. With one client we strategized a Chapter 11 case and created a timeline that included everything from the details of the date of filing to the date of exiting, thinking the whole process would take 9 months (ambitious, I know).

As we made the timeline we assigned specific tasks and responsibilities to people, and we also added our goals. By placing our goals at appropriate time intervals and getting buy-in from everyone involved, we could see how missed deadlines would affect our actual timing throughout the process.

And timelines aren’t just for bankruptcies. They work with any task: moving production lines, BK plans, relocating your offices, planning a wedding or whatever else.

With a timeline visualized on a white board you can get buy in, understand milestones and see how adjustments need to be made. This also reinforces people doing their jobs on time because their screw ups or lapses are tied into everyone else’s success and the overall feasibility of the timeline and the plan. This creates a great deal of personal responsibility and the consequences become very palpable.

This can all be especially effective if you add a budget to your whiteboard timeline.

An Example – With Horses!

Rotama Park, which I’ll discuss more thoroughly another time, was a race track that took 100 million dollars to build over 18 months – and 30 days to run out of cash.

I wanted to get them out of bankruptcy in 12 months. With my initial filing I also needed marketing plans, PR and other “why we’ll survive” materials. There was an opening period to fine-tune operations for profitability and positive cash flow, restructure debt equity and maintain a line of credit – and by day 300 we needed the disclosure statement hearing and approval so that by day 360 we were out of bankruptcy.

People said it couldn’t be done, but after putting the timeline on the whiteboard so that they could visualize the process, we were able to get buy in by asking each person involved what he needed to complete his responsibilities on time.

Without a whiteboard workout this turnaround never would have happened. Only by mapping everything out for all involved was I able to get buy-in and approval.

Use the whiteboard to your advantage and see where it can take you.

Do you use white boards? How do they help you?