Nothing is more frustrating than sitting in endless meetings, feeling like conversations are going around in circles. However, it doesn’t have to be this way! Here are our pro tips to keep your meetings on track, without adding more hours to your day.

1. Ensure your meeting notes are well organised

Keep your meeting notes simple, a few bullet points on each topic is more than sufficient. If you try to detail too many notes you risk creating confusion and clutter when you review them later. Keep notes in one section of your page and actions on another section. Check out our Meeting Notebooks.

2. Ask open-ended questions to promote collaboration

If you keep asking your team the same questions, you’ll get the same answers! Ask your colleagues questions to get them thinking in a different mindset. This could include:

  • ‘If we were our competition, how would we beat us?’
  • ‘If we only had $10 to execute this idea what would we spend it on?’
  • ‘If we had to execute this idea in 24 hours, how would we do it?’

3. Mix up the type of meeting

Avoid stale meetings by mixing up the location. Instead, try walking meetings, quick standing meetings, meetings in an unusual place (a nearby park, museum or cafe). Plenty of local libraries let you book meeting rooms too!

4. Delegate note-taking in meetings

Gift your colleagues a Meeting Notebook and delegate a different person to take and circulate notes each meeting. This helps people stay engaged, encourages collaboration and shares the responsibility.

You can even personalise your corporate gifts with monogramming to make your colleagues feel extra special!

5. Start each meeting with something a bit different

Break the ice of your meeting and increase energy with a two-minute introduction. This could be approaching a different colleague each meeting to tell a unique story about themselves or organising a fun quiz about your companies history. Did you know you can run polls in Google hangouts?

6. Filters are your friend in video meetings

In back to back Zoom calls? Add the Snap Camera widget to your browser and utilise their humorous filters to keep your colleagues grinning.

How do you keep your meetings fresh? Let us know in the comments below!


When it comes to leadership and management style there are two categories most people fall into. Those are sledgehammer or velvet hammer leaders. 

If you’re reading this post, you are likely a high-performing professional who takes pride in your work, and you’re extremely attentive to your own personal and professional development. 

You are the type of woman who wants to climb the ladder and be a part of a team that works together to achieve greatness. 

I’m also going to bet that many of you have likely had a boss at some point in your career who has pushed you beyond what you thought you were capable of — and the outcome was either one of two things. 

1) You felt that you were likely smarter than the boss and could do a much better job of leading the team and getting the job done. OR 

2) You felt your boss was the most awesome, compassionate, and highly intelligent (both emotional and academic) person in the room and you looked forward to the next interaction. 

The first boss is what we call a sledgehammer leader. The second was a velvet hammer leader — and that’s the goal to shoot for in your professional development. An effective leadership style uses a velvet hammer approach to bring out the best in a team. 

These experiences definitely set the tone for how we end up leading our own teams and businesses. If you missed out on having a velvet hammer leadership example, that’s okay. I’m going to give you three practical tips to develop this effective management style. 

THE VELVET HAMMER LEADER VS. THE SLEDGEHAMMER LEADER

How many of you consider yourself to be a sledgehammer or a velvet hammer leader when it comes to your leadership style? 

Let me break this down for you. 

The sledgehammer leader tells it how it is, regardless of their audience. I’m talking about no filter – what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of style. The sledgehammer doesn’t consider what other people might be thinking or feeling, nor does this person care to hear another perspective. It’s more of a my-way-or-the-highway approach.

(Haven’t we all had a boss like that in our past lives?) 

The velvet hammer leader takes into consideration the audience and actively listens to them. They think about how people may perceive a message. They ask themselves questions like: How would this person feel if I said things a certain way? What would that audience think if I approached things a certain way? The velvet hammer leader puts themselves into the mindset of their audience. 

3 TIPS TO BE AN EFFECTIVE VELVET HAMMER LEADER 

As the leader of your business or organization, you have three primary functions:

  1. Listen to others

Even if you decide to stick with your original message or plan, if you sincerely listened and genuinely took into consideration a possible alternative, that’s what matters. People want to be heard. 

  1. Develop a high level of self-awareness

This is critical to your success. Your team is relying on you to understand where they’re coming from and to know their strengths and weaknesses. They want you to lean on them and solicit their input. They want to please and give you great results. But, the only way you’ll really achieve this is to have a thorough understanding of your own tendencies and leadership style. 

  1. Communicate with empathy

The most beloved leaders are those who communicate with clarity and take into consideration how a message will be perceived. I love how Brene Brown writes in Dare to Lead, “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.” 

The fact of the matter is, when you’re not clear about your expectations or requirements, you’re not leading with integrity and ultimately will not garner the results you desire. Remember, being clear doesn’t mean you have to be a jerk. 

Your team takes its cues from the leader. If you come across like a sledgehammer — they will too over time. If that happens, don’t ever expect to build community and camaraderie as a sledgehammer. It’ll never happen. 

The velvet hammer, on the other hand, tends to win people over, tends to build community better, and tends to retain excellent staff and clients too. 

Take this opportunity to review what leadership style you have been using and make adjustments where needed to listen, be self-aware, and communicate with empathy as a velvet hammer leader. 

About the author

Heather Lisle is a professional problem-solver, business coach, and entrepreneur with 20 plus years of experience helping business owners and leaders identify their biggest pain points and develop a fast track for growth and success.

Get to know her at @heatherlisleco on FB and IG and at http://www.heatherlisle.com


There are few steps during the hiring process that are more important than the proper training of employees. However, many businesses fail to recognise this fact, which can lead to high turnover rates and unprepared workers.

When you equip your new hires with the tools, resources, and training they need to succeed, however, you’ll lay down the groundwork for an effective first few months. This, in turn, results in higher job morale and increased productivity.

Here are some tips on how to develop an employee training program.

Identify Goals

The first step in creating an employee training program is to identify the goals that need to be met for success to be achieved. Every business is unique, and therefore the goals will be dictated by the requirements in the workplace.

For instance, when training hotel employees you may want to set goals that are related to customer service, while the goals of a firefighter training program may focus more on safety. Depending on the type of business your organisation runs, you will need to tailor the steps in the training process to fit the knowledge and skillset that will best serve your new hire and prepare them for success.

Utilise Training Resources

With the emergence of technology, training resources have been taken to a new level. Gone are the days of flipping through manuals and writing on chalkboards. Instead, there are an array of software platforms on the market that can be programmed to meet the demands of nearly any business.

By utilising these, employees will have a more interactive and dynamic training process. This also shaves numerous hours off HR personnel’s work days, allowing them to allocate dedicated time to more personalized, one-on-one training as needed.

Implement a Schedule

In order to create the most efficient training process possible, employers need to consider implementing a training schedule. There are jobs where the training programs can take weeks to complete, and accommodating the individual schedules of the employees can cause delays.

For this reason, it is wise to have a set schedule in place which can be accessed by all those going through training. Not only will this ensure that every employee is properly trained, but it will also expedite the process. 

Hire a Trainer

Hiring an experienced trainer can help the process move along more smoothly and it can be an incredibly effective way of onboarding employees. While there are costs to consider when using a professional trainer, it is certainly one of the most efficient ways of teaching.

You may also want to seek out the assistance of a seasoned employee, as this can also go a long way in showing the new hires the details of the position.

Monitor Progress

Keeping track of the progress of the trainees can be crucial. After all, it can cost a significant amount of money to put employees through the hiring process, and the results can be disastrous if they are not properly trained.

Whether your business is using software for training purposes or the learning is more hands-on, you will need to develop a set of criteria to gauge the progress of those being trained.

Gaining Feedback

It is important for a company to gain feedback during and after the training process. This can help to show areas that need to be improved upon, along with pointing out the strengths of the program.

To do this, arrange one-on-one meetings with employees so that their opinion will not be skewed by that of other workers. Have them list a few of the obstacles they encountered during the process and the places where they feel they benefited the most.

 

Training employees in every facet of their job will significantly increase the chances that a business will succeed, and it helps to maintain employee morale. If your company is implementing a training program, be sure to identify the goals that need to be met and take advantage of the array of training resources available.

Furthermore, it is necessary to put in place a schedule so that the training of employees can be streamlined, thus reducing training-related expenses. Take note of these points and you are sure to develop an effective employee training program.


As companies look to reduce their office footprints, what does the future of working from home look like?

We started the year with a resurgence of posts on LinkedIn about research findings that highlighted the benefits of individual offices over open-plan workspaces. Skipping forward to August, the language has shifted to some describing offices as a relic of the past. 

There’s no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken the world by surprise. The upheaval of our normal lives has meant that much of the business world has had to adapt at a blistering pace too. 

The trend towards flexibility and remote working has continued to grow over the past 15 years with Europe and the US previously leading the way, but in the face of a global pandemic for those who were able to pivot to a virtual workforce, the if/how/when debate quickly evaporated in the face of ‘now’. 

It’s clear that this trend is bad for commercial landlords, but there are many positive indicators that working from home can have a number of positive outcomes for employers and employees. 

So how can companies, and employees, thrive in this new world of virtual work? 

Are people productive working from home?

One of the traditional critiques of virtual work is that employees are slacking off, the alternate being that the ‘busy-ness’ visible in an office equals productiveness.  

This pessimism could not be further from the truth, a finding which is not only good news for businesses but for employees too. The research overwhelmingly tells us that people are more productive working from home. In a recent study of 5,000 workers across five countries, workers felt less stressed and got more done than they could in an office environment. 

Setting aside the recent experiences of those juggling homeschooling whilst also working from home, workers, in particular, reported increased levels of productivity resulting from no commute, with many also feeling happier because of the additional time they were able to spend with their families or on leisure pursuits. 

I’m fortunate to live within walking distance of the OpenLearning office and my daughter’s school, but the shift to all team members working from home has resulted in productivity benefits such as: team members being more refreshed from not having to commute, a more conscious approach to meeting schedules and agendas to avoid teleconference fatigue, and efficiencies for the team members who pre COVID-19 were often out of the office at face-to-face meetings which required factoring in travel time.  

Whilst being able to track and measure productivity within businesses is important, combined with culture and organisational theory grounding, the jury is in; when employees are given agency, freedom, and are empowered to do their best work, both their productivity and engagement soars. The change in location as to where that work occurs is secondary to the trust and support bestowed. 

Virtual leadership & company culture

When we work from home, it’s true that we can lack the camaraderie of our peers and the presence of our leaders. For some, this is a relief, but in general, the question is whether it is a conducive working arrangement for building a strong and cohesive company culture? 

It’s a known fact that when a leader is absent for extended periods, their team suffers, and so does company culture. Considering the full gamut of ‘readiness’ that businesses were in for their staff to move to a work from home model, it’s fair to say that virtual leadership and fostering the company culture requires some adaptations if the increased productivity is to be maintained in the medium to long-term. 

For OpenLearning, our approach to leadership during COVID-19 is much akin to our approach to learning – one size does not (and should not) fit all. As such, different techniques have been tried and amended as needed for each team – from daily stand-ups for our Learning Services team who are working on a range of projects at the moment, more regular 1:1’s for our Partnerships team who are generally more social personalities, through to virtual ‘drop-in/coffee’ sessions with the CEO each Wednesday afternoon. 

At a whole organisation level, structured monthly town halls have continued as usual, and cross team collaboration has been sustained via a range of tools and processes. Digging deeper though, sharing of common experiences with the team about what our ‘working from home’ reality is, insights into what is working for them, and being more conscientious about the frequency of communication flow or tweaks (or pivots) in strategy are important considerations in maintaining human connections, trust, and loyalty. 

Working from home or living at work? 

I’m aware of a number of organisations that have asked their employees for input on what a ‘return to office’ world would look like. In general, their findings have been that many would prefer working from home 2-3 days per week. So, if we know that productivity is up and many are up for it to continue longer-term, what’s the downside? 

With increased flexibility and the fact that most businesses had to pivot quickly in order to continue operating, the challenge is for companies to help employees in establishing healthy boundaries and techniques for separating work from home in order to avoid burnout. 

With recent news that Google and Facebook have updated their communication to employees that they will be able to choose to continue working from home until mid-2021, leaders will need to play an increasingly important role in ensuring that the team knows that being ‘always on’ isn’t a good thing, sick leave isn’t only reserved for when you are too sick to commute to a commercial office, and that taking annual leave shouldn’t just be saved for a date in the future for when travel is an option. 

Embrace the new normal 

A recent observation is that virtual meetings no longer open with the discussion about how many weeks it’s been since each organisation moved to a work from home policy, symbolising the ‘new normal’ taking effect. 

With the trend towards remotely based teams longer-term and slimmed down office spaces accelerated by the pandemic, by embracing increased productivity and promoting greater flexibility, companies can build an even stronger culture than before.

Whilst we may not be catching up in a physical office kitchen or breakout space anytime soon, thankfully with the help of collaboration and connectivity tools available today, many companies are engaging in a genuine dialogue with their employees about what the ‘new normal’ should be.

About the author of ‘How can we thrive working from home?’
Cherie Diaz is the Managing Director of Australian operations at OpenLearning Limited (ASX:OLL). Cherie has over 15 years’ experience within education, including roles as the Head of Education Delivery at the Australian Institute of Company Directors And Director of Customer Success at Scentia, where she led the operational teams of four colleges. Cherie is the recipient of multiple individual and business awards for service excellence by the Customer Service Institute of Australia.


Change is the six-letter word that makes most of us cringe.

Ask anyone how they feel about change, and most people will tell you it’s not their favourite thing to experience in life. That’s because change can be incredibly difficult and more than a little stressful—especially when change occurs in the workplace.

Below are four strategies you can implement before, during and after the next change episode in your workplace to ensure your team stays positive, optimistic, and both mentally and emotionally resilient.

 

Inclusion

It’s amazing how many companies and organisations roll out new changes without ever informing their employees beforehand.

This can lead to confusion, anger, and distrust among employees. People don’t like unexpected losses, and they certainly don’t like to feel as if they’ve lost control.

Wherever it’s possible, it’s absolutely vital for leaders to let their employees ‘in’ on the change that’s soon to take place.

An easy way to accomplish this is to invite them into planning meetings so that they feel they have ownership of the change from the start.

 

Security

Sometimes, change can be an extensive process. It can last for weeks, months, or even years.

This is a very fragile time for employees because they’re still learning ‘the ropes’ of the change, as well as what to expect at each and every turn. This can often lead to anxiety in some team members, who may feel as if they’re experiencing a loss of certainty and security.

To combat this, it’s important to provide them with a new sense of safety.

How?

Set easy-to-understand timetables that serve as roadmaps for the change and go over new processes in-depth, answering any and all questions employees may have. This will reinstate their feeling of security and allow them to trust the change on a higher level.

 

Community

As social creatures, we depend on others for support constantly. We want to feel as if we belong.

In too many cases, employee morale has reached an all-time low during change because people no longer feel connected to each other.

As a leader, you can ensure this doesn’t happen by regularly investing in team building activities for your staff.

When you build a solid foundation through such activities, you ensure that your employees can thrive and build healthy workplace relationships with one another—a great tool to lean on during change.

 

Development

In the wake of a change, some employees may feel left behind because of new tasks that are mismatched with their current skillset.

When people don’t feel they have the skills to perform a job well, it can lead to stress, anxiety, and frustration, which eventually results in low morale and poor performance.

Fortunately, this is easily remedied.

Keep your employees sharp and on top of their game by continuously providing training, education, mentorship and support during and after times of transition.

When you invest in your employees’ skillset and talents, you not only make your team stronger but you also equip an individual with the confidence to perform a job well and the dedication to contribute their best work to the team moving forward.

 

When you employ the four strategies above, you’ll create a work environment that feels not just positive but cohesive as well.

The more people feel as if they’ve been heard, guided, supported, and developed, the more they’ll feel capable of facing the changes that your company faces, making for a stronger, more adaptive, and happier team.


At Leaders in Heels, we’ve operated our team remotely since our inception almost a decade ago. Our staff, partnerships and suppliers work in different cities, countries and timezones. Needless to say, we’ve found our groove and how to best operate for productivity AND, more importantly, in a way that fosters provocative work too!

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