Bite-Size Chunks of Wisdom

April 2015

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We’re human beings, not robots. That’s why it’s not possible for us to do the same things over and over again at the exact same success rate. Why? We like change — we need change.

If you’ve come across the hurdle of lower-than-usual productivity at your company, you’re not alone. In fact, and not surprisingly, only about 25 percent of business leaders have an employee engagement strategy to keep their employees chugging along productively. So, to take some of the weight off your shoulders, we’ve put together three quick steps to help you get your employees engaged and productive.

Step 1: Productivity Through a Vision

Have you ever considered the reason your employees may not be productive is simply because they do not understand the company’s vision? It’s more common than you think. Many employees have a blurry understanding about their company’s goals, strategies, and tactics.

Wondering if your employees know your company’s goals, strategies and the vision? It’s easy to find out. Ask your employees what they think your company’s vision for the future is. If everyone has a different answer, chances are they don’t have a clear understanding. This could be the culprit for low performance.

The solution? Get everyone on the same page — it’s that easy! Hold a meeting where you and your employees go over where your company is headed and show them what each of their roles are in the big picture. Doing this will help your employees understand their individual value and worth in your business.

Step 2: Productivity by Communication

Another big player in productivity at your company is communication. Maybe your employees already understand what the company’s vision is, but does everyone communicate effectively? Here’s a way to find out.

Example: Pull one of your employees into the office. Give them a specific task that they must delegate to another employee. Have the other employee then delegate the same task to another employee. The last employee (third employee if you lost track) must then come back to you and tell you what the task was. It’s a lot like the game of telephone. If the last employee comes back to you with the original task, you know communication is effective. If not, you may have some work to do.

The truth is, communication is hard. Of course, bits and pieces of the task will naturally be lost, but the underlying theme should stay the same if your employees and you communicate effectively. When your employees are communicating to one another effectively, it’s far easier to be productive. Things get done faster and your employees feel accomplished.

Step 3: Productivity Through Creativity

Lastly, it’s time to let your employees’ creativity fly. Why? While not all of your employees are the “creative” type, many of them are. Allow and strongly encourage your employees to be creative — to find solutions to everyday problems in a new way.

How does this boost your employees’ creativity? They’ll feel like they’re part of the solution. It’s much more exciting for an employee to say, “Hey, I came up with this process, cool!” rather than simply following processes without any room for creativity. Make creativity a normal, everyday part of your business.


Keeping in mind that your employees are human beings and not robots, the dream of the perfect employee who works non-stop will slowly fade away. Instead, replace that dream with a happy, creative, and driven employee who is ready for whatever comes their way. Besides, talking to robots (think Siri) never really was too fun.

Zane Benefits is the leader in individual health insurance reimbursement for small businesses. Since 2006, Zane Benefits has been on a mission to bring the benefits of individual health insurance to business owners and their employees.

Zane Benefits’ software helps businesses reimburse employees for individual health insurance plans for annual savings of 20 to 60 percent compared with traditional employer-provided health insurance. Today, over 20,000 customers use Zane Benefits’ software, services, and support to reimburse individual health insurance plans purchased independently of employment. For more information visit

You already know that you need a high rate of productivity to keep up with the competition. But how much effort are you putting into rewarding those employees that go above and beyond the call of duty for your company? What incentives are you offering to encourage even better performance?

While you may be a small business and don’t have an extensive budget for incentives, there are several low-cost ways to boost employee morale and motivate your staff to want to work harder towards your company’s success.

1. Show Your AppreciationThere are many ways to show employees your appreciation. When they perform well, they do expect some sort of recognition in return for that hard work. If you have an employee or multiple employees excelling at their jobs, make sure their performance is recognized. And never wait until their annual review to let them know you appreciate them. A few affordable ways you can show your appreciation includes:
  • Offer them a gift card
  • Provide small bonuses
  • Give them an extra paid day off
  • Take them to lunch

Or just give your employee a card saying “thank you.” It’s a low-cost but effective way of letting him or her know that you recognize and appreciate their dedication to meeting your company’s goals.

2. Have An Open Door Policy With Your Employees
Having an open door policy is another way to boost employee morale within your small business. Actively communicate with your staff, notify them of changes, and give them the opportunity to express themselves. When your employees feel like they’re in the dark, they may not feel as though the company and/or their job is stable, and may not work as hard to help you improve your business.

3. Make Schedule Changes Easier
Morale suffers when employees feel that they’re stuck in a specific schedule with no flexibility. While you cannot cater to everyone, try to make your scheduling tactics as flexible as possible. For example, allow employees who have young children to be able to take their kids to school and pick them up afterwards. Offer multiple shift types so that employees are able to pick a schedule that works for them.

4. Don’t Be So Critical
While constructive criticism is important for your employees to learn and grow, too much criticism could be taken the wrong way. Keep communication lines open, but avoid being overly critical. The fastest way to crush employee morale is to always focus on the negative without ever acknowledging small accomplishments as they happen every day. Provide positive feedback whenever possible.

5. Promote From Within
Employees will always be more motivated and will work harder if they know they have a chance to advance within your business. When managerial positions open up, offer it to existing employees before looking outside your company. Also, offer employees adequate training programs so that they have an opportunity to move into higher positions in the future. And, if there aren’t opportunities for advancement in your company, every employee appreciates growing and improving their skills. Reward them for exceptional performance by furthering their skills.

Improving employee morale isn’t difficult, and it doesn’t take a lot of money either. The higher your employee morale is, the lower your turnover rate will be as well. To unlock more secrets on how you can boost employee morale and reduce turnover rates, get your copy of Practical Tools to Manage Costly Employee Turnover today.

This article first appeared at M.J. Management Solutions, Inc.

MJ Management Solutions, Inc., is a human resources consulting firm that provides small businesses with a wide range of virtual and onsite HR solutions to meet their immediate and long-term needs. From ensuring legal compliance to writing customized employee handbooks to conducting sexual harassment training, businesses depend on our expertise and cost-effective human resources services to help them thrive.

After dinner with the kids in bed, you slip into your home office for a few hours of uninterrupted work time. Finally, when the clock strikes midnight, you drop into bed, utterly exhausted. Instead of counting sheep, you count deals, revenue, sales leads in the pipeline, and all the things left undone. You toss and turn. At 5 a.m., your alarm alerts you that its time to do it all over again. And so it goes…

Prolonged wakefulness is reaching epidemic proportion, but I didn’t need to tell you that. You live it each day. In fact, Gallup’s recent study reported that we’re getting an average of 6.8 hours of sleep, slightly below the recommended 7 hours of sleep per night. Between work and parenting, over half of those surveyed under the age of 50 are the most sleep deprived with 46% snagging less than 6 hours of sleep each night.

It comes as no surprise to anyone—the number of hours we’re working is increasing. Our leisure time is much more active, too. Seldom do we slouch in our Barco lounger, like Dad, after a long day at work. We’re hiking, biking, and running. Our “down time” is anything but low energy.

Implications of Sleep Deprivation

Ambitious entrepreneurs tolerate long days of work physically. It’s the mental aspect, however, that really kicks our performance. Sleep deprivation unquestionably impacts cognitive performance—one of the most important aspects of building a successful enterprise.

It impairs our ability to focus, furthers distractions, and affects our working memory. When sidetracked from a task, you may even ask, scratching your head, “What was I doing again?” Sounds only too familiar, doesn’t it?

With sleep deprivation comes slowed responses that influence speed and accuracy. It disturbs creativity, language, and executive functions such as decision-making—the most powerful asset for entrepreneurs.

Although the high level of motivation for which most entrepreneurs are known compensates for a decrease in performance, sleep deprivation beyond a day or two greatly diminishes returns. In fact, prolonged sleep deprivation is comparable to “legal drunkenness”.

An article entitled, Sleep Deficit: The Performance Killer, addresses the confusion between sleeplessness, vitality, and high performance. It appears that our culture of performance has influenced the belief that if we’re not moving at 150 mph all the time, we must be slackers. It’s the behavior we applaud—wrongly!

Performance Management 101

If you want to raise and sustain performance, pay attention to the amount of sleep you’re getting. Make it a priority. However, on those rare occasions when sleep deprivation gets the best of you, consider these fatigue management tips:

  • Drink water and lots of it to keep you hydrated and alert.
  • Limit your caffeine consumption from tea, coffee, soda, and chocolate.
  • Avoid sugar as it spikes your energy temporarily, but quickly drops your get-up-and-go.
  • Take 20–30 minute naps to restore vitality.
  • Exercise regularly as it also helps relieve your stress.
  • Stand at your desk to keep you focused on the task at hand.
  • Take 10 minutes outside to improve productivity and reduce the stress associated with sleep deprivation.

Of course, short-term fixes are only band-aids on a gaping wound. Sleep deprivation is not a sustainable strategy that aligns well with performance and goal achievement. Therefore, you must also consider the following actions:

  • Plan for one day a week off—preferably two—to avoid building up sleep deficit.
  • Establish a “sleep” policy that limits work to no more than 9 hours a day.
  • Allow for 11 consecutive hours of rest in a 24-hour period.
  • Avoid red-eye flights when traveling.
  • Establish a “Burnout Avoidance System.”

The bottom line? The occasional bout of sleep deprivation is easily managed. However, when sleep deprivation becomes a way of life, you’re not only hurting yourself physically, you’re greatly impairing your ability to perform which influences your power to succeed.

Productivity is the hallmark for small business owners and entrepreneurs looking to accelerate the rate of their business growth. All you have to do is Google “productivity” and you’ll be presented with 197,000,000 results in .37 seconds. Even so, productivity remains as elusive as Big Foot. With the volume of information available at our fingertips, why does productivity continue to baffle small business entrepreneurs? 

Last week, I wrote an article featured on Zane Benefits on the one thing every ambitious entrepreneur needs to know—and do—to squeeze every bit of productivity from each day.

Article Highlights:  The One Thing to Maximize Your Productivity

Productivity—and how to achieve it—has evolved over the years. As we’ve moved from the Industrial Age to the Information Age to the Technology Age, the way we achieve also needs to evolve. Unfortunately, too many small business entrepreneurs are using Industrial Age methodology to succeed in the age of Technology.

Humans Don’t Function Like Computers

Remember when the Disk Operating System (DOS) was the coolest thing to hit your industry? Even though it performed a single task at a time, its accomplishments were astonishing.

Soon, upgraded operating systems allowed multiple tasks to be performed simultaneously. “Human multitasking” quickly followed. Humans, unlike computers, are unable to effectively and accurately perform two tasks simultaneously…yet that doesn’t seem to stop people from trying.

In similar fashion, many small business entrepreneurs rely on outdated productivity “methods” that essentially obstruct productivity…like using a DOS system to run today’s high-powered computers.

To-Do Lists Throw Your Business Off Track

Although efficiency expert, Ivy Lee, helped Charles Schwab of Bethlehem Steel make tremendous strides in productivity in 1912, his 6 Most Important Things List lacks value for true productivity that leads to success.

Most “important things lists” today are littered with trivial tasks and activities that have little impact on the big picture of your business.

The One Thing to Know

Leadership expert, Jim Collins, first introduced the idea of “the one thing” in his book, Built to Last. The BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) swept the country. Defined as something so big that it breaks one out of their rut, instills a sense of urgency, and eliminates distractions, BHAG creates a single-mindedness of purpose that burns a hole through paper.

Recently, Gary Keller and Jay Papasan, reinforced the notion of “one thing” in their best selling book, The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results. Designed to evoke focus and greater productivity, Keller and Papasan proposed one question aimed at cutting through the clutter and confusion that is the Achilles tendon of most entrepreneurs today—“What’s the ONE Thing to do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”—not the six things you can do, should do, or would do. It’s one thing.

Keller and Papasan went on to add the defining statement for productivity: “Until my one thing is done, everything else is a distraction.” Now that’s a real behavior shaper—one that lends itself to greater productivity and success.

Times change and so must our methods and systems for productivity.  As Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz would say, “We’re not in Kansas anymore.”

The full article can be accessed via Zane Benefits and is a great resource for small business looking to bring the benefits of individual health insurance to their employees.

As a small business owner, you probably have a whole arsenal of tips and tricks to help you save time, money, and increase your efficiency. If you feel a little disorganized, don’t fret. We’ve compiled a list of strategies to help you streamline processes, catalog your ideas, and master your to-do lists.

This list is helpful for anyone but will particularly help you in the creation and growth of your small business.

1 – Set yourself up for success. Technology runs everything now, so you need to research and shop, and purchase the right software you’ll need for your business. If you spend the time getting the right products and apps now, you’ll have more time down the road to learn to use them make them work to your advantage. Spend time browsing online to find the perfect solutions for your small business.

2 – Know the difference between real time and clock time. Mapping out the tasks of your day, it’s essential to realize that we live in real time, not clock time. The clock will tell you that you have 8 hours in a work day to get items checked off your list, but real time will say that the hours of actual work are more like 6 when you figuring in lunch, breaks, distractions, etc. be realistic about how much actual time you have to complete your tasks.

3 – Master the calendar. Striking a perfect balance between all of your obligations is daunting. You have meetings, deadlines, vendors, events, paperwork, and of course things that pop up unexpectedly every single day. A great recommendation to streamline your calendar is to find an app that takes the burden off you. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of great apps to help you manage your calendar.

4 – Hire freelancers. Sometimes small business owners are nervous about hiring workers on a freelance basis because they haven’t worked with them before, they don’t know how reliable they are, etc. But utilizing freelancers as an extension of yourself is a fantastic use of your time. Delegate all kinds of work in an attempt to free up some of your own time. For example, administrative duties, copy and content for your website, and creating marketing videos and other marketing campaigns. If you’re not an expert in these areas, it’s best to farm the work out to people who are, allowing you to take care of other projects.

5 – Schedule non-activities. Don’t get caught up in looking at productivity as simply numbers – like how many emails you send, how many meetings you attend, or how many deliverables you complete. Non-activities include things like brainstorming, impromptu conversations with colleagues, a phone call with your mentor, or catching up on the latest industry news. These all have benefits for your small business. They help with idea flow and also serve as mental breaks in between heavy workloads.


Running a small business is as challenging as it is rewarding. Don’t get overwhelmed by the many tasks, meetings, and action items you have to attend to every day as a small business owner. Use these five strategies to streamline your days and make your agenda items clearer. You’ll find that your work becomes easier and more efficient because you are more organized and have clearer direction on what you need to accomplish.

About Zane Benefits:

Zane Benefits is the leader in individual health insurance reimbursement for small businesses. Since 2006, Zane Benefits has been on a mission to bring the benefits of individual health insurance to business owners and their employees.

Zane Benefits’ software helps businesses reimburse employees for individual health insurance plans for annual savings of 20 to 60 percent compared with traditional employer-provided health insurance. Today, over 20,000 customers use Zane Benefits’ software, services, and support to reimburse individual health insurance plans purchased independently of employment.  For more information visit

As a business owner, you’re challenged with a variety of tasks every day. Small business owners take on multiple roles, from accounting to legal to human resources. Regardless of whether you handle human resources yourself or delegate it to someone else, your company is bound to make mistakes.

These human resource management mistakes can be devastating for your company in numerous ways—from litigation to employee replacement costs. Therefore, it is imperative that you make sure your company avoids these common, costly mistakes.

#1. Not Hiring the Right People for the Job

Some small business owners hire people they know for open positions, rather than interviewing for outside, qualified options. Perhaps you don’t have the finances, so you don’t do background checks or pull references to verify what a candidate says on his or her resume, or perhaps you just hire someone because you feel bad for them. Regardless, hiring the wrong person is costly. Not only are they not qualified; eventually you will have to replace them, which is another added human resource management expense.

#2. Not Creating Clear Job Definitions

When you create a job listing, you create a description for that position. But most small business owners neglect creating an accurate, clear job description. This is imperative if you want to attract the right people for the job. Your description should include the skills, training, and education, an ideal candidate should possess, and you should only accept interviews with candidates that meet those basic requirements.

#3. Not Addressing or Documenting Performance Issues

If you have employees with performance issues, do not ignore them or hope that they go away on their own. You must create a performance review with a correction plan for the employee so that he or she knows how to improve. Also, make sure you address any employee issues right away rather than wait. By having all of the issues in writing, you can also back yourself up if you ever need to terminate that employee because of his or her performance.

#4. Not Understanding Basic Employment Laws

There are many human resource management laws that most small business owners ignore, but ignoring these laws could be detrimental to your company. Familiarize yourself with:

  • Discrimination
  • Overtime and minimum wage requirements
  • Family leave
  • Age and gender discrimination
  • Disability
  • Military leave
  • Gender-pay differences
  • Safety in the workplace
  • Pregnancy discrimination
  • Immigration

Never assume that employment laws don’t apply to your company. Ignoring them can cost your small business millions of dollars—or at least more than you realize.

#5. Misclassifying Your Employees

Do you know the difference between a contract worker, full-time employee, and part-time employee? If not, you need to familiarize yourself with these classifications. The U.S. Department of Labor has strict guidelines, as does the Internal Revenue Service. Do not try to classify employees as “contract workers” to save on benefits either. The duties and pay of employees classify whether or not they are permanent employees. In general, a person is only an independent contractor if you:

  • Don’t have control of their job and the work they do
  • Don’t have any written contracts, benefit plans, or vacation time spelled out
  • Don’t control the financial aspects of the worker’s assignments

Learn more about the costly mistakes employers make by getting your own copy of Practical Tools to Manage Costly Employee Turnover. This e-book teaches you about the common mistakes and provides you with practical tools that you can implement right away to fix employee turnover and save your company thousands in human resources costs. You can also download a free Hiring Essentials packet to make sure you avoid making any human resource management mistakes during the hiring process.

This article first appeared at M.J. Management Solutions, Inc.

MJ Management Solutions, Inc., is a human resources consulting firm that provides small businesses with a wide range of virtual and onsite HR solutions to meet their immediate and long-term needs. From ensuring legal compliance to writing customized employee handbooks to conducting sexual harassment training, businesses depend on our expertise and cost-effective human resources services to help them thrive.

Contrary to Kermit the Frog’s signature line, it’s not easy being green,” it’s easier than ever for your business to reduce its environmental impact. Not only can “going green” improve energy efficiency, reduce consumption, and net some cost savings, today’s buyers are more interested in doing business with companies dedicated to social causes. One of which is environmental responsibility.

In fact, in 2014, Nielsen conducted a study on corporate social responsibility involving 30,000 consumers in 60 countries. The results were revealing. The survey showed that over 55% of consumers are actually willing to pay more for products and services from companies dedicated to social and environmental causes. Now, that’s impressive!

Little Things That Make A Green Difference

Whether your business is looking to reduce its impact on the environment, lessen unnecessary costs, or meet the needs of your evolving consumer, there’s much your business can do to support the protection of our environment.

  1. Set up a recycling program. Did you know that 90% of office waste is recyclable? An office-recycling program accomplishes two objectives. It contributes to protecting the environment and it saves your business some serious cash.
  2. Go paperless. Think twice before hitting the “print” button. Advancements in technology make it easier than ever to reduce the amount of paper in your office.One of our favorite apps is Evernote! Instead of printing and filing vital information in paper files, Evernote allows us to maintain digital files. And, what can be said about the archive capabilities of Google business apps? Google makes it easier than ever to find the information you need when you need it without using a drop of printer ink.

    Capabilities in QuickBooks eliminates the need to print monthly, quarterly, or annual reports and filings. Plus, emailing invoices to your clients saves paper for you and your clients.

    How about furthering your commitment to going paperless by paying your bills online? To avoid any concerns about online identity theft, purchase an ID recovery service for just pennies a day.

    Finally, don’t forget regular data back ups to ensure you won’t lose vital information.

  3. Use alternate forms of transportation. If you’re fortunate to live in a city that has a comprehensive transportation system, you can save time, money, and a few brain cells using public transportation. Carpooling is also an option although it can be challenging when living and working in a larger metropolitan area.Have you considered walking to lunch? Biking to work? It’s good for the earth, your pocketbook, and your waistline!
  4. Give gifts that keep giving. Rather than a bottle of wine or a fruit basket as a client “thank you,” you’ll certainly leave a lasting impression when you plant a tree in their name.How about a branded bottle from Inspired by the work of John Muir, an early advocate of preserving the wilderness, Mirr leaves a “branded” impression, saves your client countless plastic water bottles and each bottle purchased provides clean water for one person in need for one year. It doesn’t get much better than that.
  5. Organize an event for your staff. Nothing is better than a day at the beach—even if it does mean picking up trash. But, don’t stop with your employees. Why not take the lead and invite your service providers and strategic partners to join you.
  6. Reduce your energy consumption. There are so many ways—big and small—by which you can make a difference and protect the environment.  Here are a few of our favorites:
    • unplug chargers when not is use to avoid phantom voltage,
    • replace filters on heater and air conditioners regularly for greater efficiency,
    • block sunlight to reduce the need for air conditioning,
    • use energy efficient light bulbs,
    • use recycled paper,
    • use paperclips rather than staples,
    • reuse file folders, and when possible,
    • use your more energy efficient laptop in place of your desktop.

By being a bit more conscious of protecting the environment, your business benefits in so many ways. Not only do you reduce your operational costs, productivity is improved…as is your public image.

There’s no downside to “being green.”

Core Business Assessment


Brooke Billingsley

Vice President
Perception Strategies

Synnovatia is a strategic coaching firm that is detailed and knowledgeable about business. i have a small business that grew from $150K to $750K because of the goal setting and resources that Synnovatia provided. It saves me years of learning on my own.

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