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thinkspace Year in Review 2015

The only time you should look back is to see how far you’ve come. I’m grateful for this team and I’m looking forward to connecting the dots forward in 2016!

thinkspace 2015 by Slidely Slideshow

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How to decline a meeting.

standing_ozy-2Last week, I axed a weekly meeting.
The three other people in on this weekly meeting are incredible, and I’ve learned a lot from our time together.  But, besides enjoying their conversation, there was no reason to keep on meeting.  What we had set out to achieve had been accomplished.
 
Canceling this meeting got me wondering, if I hadn’t cancelled the meeting, how long would we have still met, simply for the sake of meeting?

Meetings are effective and necessary. But not all of them.

When deciding to accept or decline a meeting – run it through this checklist first.

  1. Agenda: Does the meeting have a planned agenda? If it doesn’t, consider opting out until one is established. I’ve attended way too many agenda-less meetings that could have been accomplished in 15 minutes instead of 60. Consider responding by saying something like: “Thank you for inviting me to this meeting. I’d like to attend, but before I accept could you provide me with an agenda of what will be discussed? As a rule, I only attend meetings that have objectives for what’s to be accomplished.”
  2. Content: Are you having the meeting to make a decision? Decision-based meetings are necessary. If no decisions are being made or discussed, there’s a good chance the meeting isn’t worth your time.
  3. People: Are the right people in the room? Only the people needed to make a decision should be invited. People attending to just be in the informational loop should be dismissed. Having the right people in the room makes for quality conversation. Having too many people in the room makes for a quantity of conversation.
  4. Brainstorm: Is the meeting a brainstorming session? Creative meetings are fun, and are meant to be less-structured and more free-flowing. But beware brainstorming sessions that are completely unstructured. So, run it through #1-3 first – make sure the meeting has some objectives (agenda), ask what outcome is needed from the meeting (content), and make sure all who needs to be there is present (people).

Do you have other criteria for accepting or declining meetings? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section!

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Every Question to Ask Before You Roll Out an Unlimited Vacation Policy

I’ve been thinking about implementing this policy for three months. I’ve interviewed dozens of CEO’s who have implemented an Unlimited Vacation Policy to discuss how different companies handle different situations. Next week at the Beyond the Beer Pong and Foosball Tables event, I’ll be discussing the process that I went through to  come up with answers to every Unlimited Vacation Policy question that we could think of. Register for this event at Westland Distillery on October 28!

Why Implement an Unlimited Vacation Policy?

My company is not a tech startup, but because we support hundreds of startups and are entrenched in the startup ecosystem, I gravitate towards and embrace the workplace culture that is on the bleeding edge. I also want to attract employees who thrive in the startup ecosystem and feel like this is one of those things that separate the best from the rest. I also feel that PTO is punitive and traditional vacation and sick leave is even worse. Having an Unlimited Vacation Policy shows your employees that you trust them and allows employees to recharge when they need to. This leaves employees feeling empowered, respected and motivated.

Build With the Long View in Mind

I’m also a firm believer of building the company with the long view in mind. There are no shortcuts when you’re building something that is sustainable. Life is full of changes at each stage of life. When you’re single, there are things that you just want to be able to do and there are fewer commitments holding you back. Once you have children, the world completely becomes different. Suddenly your time off is spent at your kid’s Halloween party, attending parent teacher conferences, staying home with them when they’re sick, or figuring out how to handle summer vacation when they are bouncing back and forth between summer camps. That leaves a person with essentially no time off for actually recovering from working hard and crushing their goals. There are also unforeseen issues that come up in life, ones that no one ever plans for, and I want employees to feel supported in those situations and throughout the various stages of life.

Questions and Roll Play

Here is a list of questions that I came up with. As a team, we spent a few hours (spread out over a week) to discuss and role play the questions.

  • How do you ensure that people don’t take too much time off?
  • How do you ensure that people don’t take too little time off?
  • How do you ensure that people do not become resentful of others who take too much time off?
  • What do you do if your incentives don’t support your goals?
  • How do you ensure that people do not feel guilty about taking time off?
  • What’s a healthy amount of time off to take per year?
  • How much lead time do you have to give in order for vacation to be approved?
  • Should unlimited vacation be tracked?
  • Most unlimited vacation plans have some sort of manager approval step. What systems are in place to ensure there is an equal approval process for each manager to ensure that there is not inequality among teams?
  • If sales people reach their goals they can take off as much time as they like. What about for jobs that are more operationally focused?
  • If you need an extra day to recover from your vacation buffer that it. Nothing sucks more than people that call in sick because they are wiped out, hung over or didn’t rest enough when they took their vacation. Be back in the office when you say you’re going to.
  • Is it okay to just call in sick when you just don’t feel like working?
  • If it just happens to be a sunny day, should you just call in and say, “I’m not coming in”?
  • What if an employee needs to take time off because of something related to FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act)? How does that work with a unlimited vacation policy?
  • How does maternity or paternity leave work with an unlimited vacation policy?
  • Can you take time off if you’re behind on your projects or they are not complete?
  • Do employees feel like they are working all the time even when they are on vacation?
  • Is there a cap on the number of weeks a person can take off at one time? Two weeks? What if someone has something that they would like to take off which is longer?
  • How do you treat existing accrued leave while transition from PTO to unlimited vacation? Payout at termination?
  • How do you ensure that you have a vacation schedule that is fair to all and effective for the business?
  • How can you have an unlimited vacation policy for hourly employees?
  • How do managers arrange with their teams to take time off?
  • The hiring process needs to weed out people that don’t align with our core values and how we operate with a unlimited vacation policy.
  • Is the client or customer suffering?
  • What if I want to take time off but my manager doesn’t approve?

Unstructured or Guidelines?

At the end of our discussion, it was clear that expectations are set and guidelines are in place. This helps people understand what is considered to be acceptable, aligns with our core values, and allows employees to show they really care about their coworkers and the company.

What other questions would you ask if you were implementing an unlimited vacation policy?

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I Hate Process, But, Now We Are Creating a Playbook

russell-wilson-playbook

I attended an event last week where ironman Jack Daly was the speaker talking about his journey as an entrepreneur. There are two things that stuck out to me when he spoke. Firstly, if the Seahawks drafted a player and they said “that’s nice you have a playbook, but, I’m not going to follow that because I’ve got my own style” – what do you think Coach Pete Caroll would say about that? Secondly, the only thing that matters is conversion rate. Yes, you can track tons of other KPI’s but the one that matters most is conversion rate. My personal feeling is that customer satisfaction is also one other metric that defines your success as company and a company should track their NPS (Net Promoter Score).

What’s inside our playbook:

  • Core values.
  • Mission and vision.
  • How do we want people to feel?
  • Defined Roles with each person having a set of measurable KPI’s.
  • Measuring KPI’s on a weekly, monthly, quarterly basis.
  • Color-coding each person’s KPI’s with the colors green, yellow, red.
  • Tying everything back to our Quarterly One Page Strategic Plan.
  • Accountability by having numbers on the wall for each person.
  • Quarterly performance reviews instead of annual performance reviews.
  • Standard operating procedures.
  • Training, practicing, and regular testing to ensure we understand what’s in the playbook.
  • Hiring people that only fit into this system.
  • Benefits that allow our team to have an unlimited vacation policy.

Who Draws Up the Plays?

This is definitely a situation where key employees get to help design what the playbook should look like for their area of expertise. I’ve always focused on leveraging the strengths of each individual person and learning what they are great at. In the book “It’s not about the coffee” by Howard Behar, Starbucks executive. He shares:

The Person Who Sweeps the Floor Should Choose the Broom. People are not “assets,” they are human beings who have the capacity to achieve results beyond what is thought possible. – Howard Behar

Leadership and employees need to both agree on the outcome, but, the process to get there should be determined by the employee. At the end of the day, it’s about ensuring the results are achieved.

Our Biggest Area of Focus

Over the last year, the thing that has been my biggest area of focus is the customer experience. It’s also been my biggest point of frustration too. I badly want to raise the bar for our customer experience but I just haven’t been able to make traction on that. Clearly, I’m missing something in my knowledge and work experience that is allowing me to break through. In the last few months, my last three hires are people with university degrees in Hospitality Management. My intention and hope is that these people will focus on raising the bar really high for customer experience. I don’t think we will be able to do this without having a playbook and the entire team is in synch and executing as a unit.

What do you think? Does your company have a playbook? What do you like about your company’s playbook? How do you track and measure KPS’s. Please share!

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You are your own boss.

mug“Twenty years ago, you’d go to a company and they’d tell you your [career] route.  Today, it’s on you” (Jody Greenstone Miller, CEO of Business Talent Group).

You are your own boss.

People rarely get promoted because they wait to do what they are told.  No.  People get promoted because they have the “I’m my own boss” mentality.  They know that they can decide their own career path, so they take ownership over their skills.  They are open and adaptable.  They constantly look for ways to improve or change the way they work.  They try new things and think outside the box.  And most of all, they have learned to be agile.

Agility is a job skill that Miller states shows someone that will be successful, and quickly.

If you’re 50 years old or younger, you may already be familiar with agility (by force or choice).  The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that those 50 years old and younger will not only have 11 different jobs, but 11 different careers.

I guess when you’re your own boss, you know when to stay and when to go.

What do you all think?  How important is agility?

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How to Satisfy Millennials’ Hunger for Collaboration

Whether good news or bad news, we’ve all heard everyone talking about millennials. There’s really no way to avoid them since there are 80 million in the U.S. and more entering the workforce day after day — almost 50% of millennials plan to actively look for a new job in 2015, according to a study by Aon Hewitt.

So in order to attract and keep this generation engaged, you’ll have to start listening to their needs. Gartner, a global research firm, found these interesting stats:

  • Employees are only spending about 40% of time at their personal workstations
  • Non-group tasks have decreased to about 20% of the working day

The dynamic of the work environment is changing, and can you guess who’s behind that? You guess it: millennials. As a generation that grew up collaborating, this crowd expects that in the workplace. So if you really want to attract millennials and tap into this pool of talent, you’ll need to consider restructuring or redesigning your workplace setup. Doing this will help create an environment that fosters collaboration and creative thinking — both of which this generation highly values.

Fall of the Wall

collaborative workspaces

In a typical workplace, employees would withdraw to their own private space. The human silo. Millennials don’t want this. They crave collaboration. And the first step to satisfying their hunger for teamwork is to say “rest in peace” to those cubicles. In fact, companies that moved from cubicles to an open-floor plan enjoyed some amazing results, according to this study by interior design and research firm Knoll:

  • Performance increased by an average of 440%
  • There was a 5.5% reduction in business process time and cost

This makes sense. Walls are a physical obstacle that blocks communication. They separate people and prevent them from talking to each other. So is there any good reason for organizations to still keep them up? Try grouping desks together in pods or lining them up in rows so employees are in close contact with each other. And make sure teammates can easily talk to one another without having to shout or move too far from their desks.

Space for Collaboration

After the walls are gone, the next step is to give millennials the space they need for collaboration. According to this survey by IdeaPaint, millennials reported that only 30.8% of their ideation meetings are planned. So to support that process, here are solutions that encourage both spontaneous and scheduled brainstorming:

  • Open meeting areas: Scatter tables and chairs in various nooks and crannies around the office. This allows employees do some spur-of-the-moment teamwork instead of making them wait until they can schedule a meeting room. Even better, hang up a whiteboard nearby, and you’ve got a truly productive space.
  •  Break rooms: Opposite to what you may think, idle chitchat around the water cooler isn’t always time wasting. Employees tend to create conversations that are work related, so you never really know when a brilliant idea will pop up.
  • Meeting rooms: Besides spontaneous gathering areas, don’t forget to keep rooms that people can schedule. This is ideal for when there’s a sensitive topic on the horizon or you need to gather a large party.

Startup Stock Photos

Collaboration can’t always be done at people’s desks — especially if it involves three or more people. So to encourage this type of work, you’ll need to designate specific spaces so people can be free to unleash their creative ideas with one another.

Space for Privacy

The one thing to keep in mind is that we’re not saying to get rid of all privacy. Collaborative areas are extremely important, but so are private spaces. This comes in handy when an employee needs to work on a complex project or a task that involves fine attention to details. With these spaces, they’ll be able to really hone in on their task and keep focus. And the walls don’t have to be fully enclosed; partitions will suffice. Just having that minor barrier still allows employees to zone in on their task. An office that pairs collaborative and private spaces gives employees the flexibility to choose workstations that suit whatever task they’re working on. It’s always said that millennials are shaking up the workplace in a negative manner. However, that’s not the case. They’re actually making it better for employees of all generations. So to really attract them to your organization and keep them truly engaged, you’ll need to create an environment that fosters their collaborative nature.

 

DavidNiu_HeadshotDavid Niu is the Founder and CEO of TINYpulse, an employee engagement survey solution that empowers leaders with actionable feedback to make positive changes in their workplaces. David is a serial entrepreneur, having founded and successfully sold two prior businesses, NetConversions and BuddyTV. He attended the University of California at Berkeley for his BA and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania for his MBA. He was named a “40 Under 40” recipient by the Puget Sound Business Journal and is actively involved in the Entrepreneurs Organization “EO.” David is also the author of Careercation: Trading Briefcase for Suitcase to Find Entrepreneurial Happiness.
Twitter: @davidniu
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What do you like most about working at thinkspace?

team

It’s easy to get so caught up in the grind that you forget to stop and thank the people around you. In the spirit of Gratitude (our newest company core value), we chose to share the following story.

thinkspace participates in a weekly TINYpulse exercise. TINYpulse provides insights into company culture, prompting anonymous responses to insightful survey questions. Last week, Tiny Pulse asked our staff, “What do you like most about working here?” The response was overwhelmingly about our amazing members! Thank you to our members for making such a huge impact on the thinkspace team! Need proof? Read our team’s responses to the question below & give in to the warm and fuzzies!

 

tinypulse

“Our members. We have some of the most amazing members.”

“The people! All the smartypants I get to work with everyday.”

“I enjoy seeing direct correlations between company success and my hard work. Its motivating to see clearly how my work moves the dial for the company.”

“I really enjoy interacting and assisting the members. We have such a great group of people in the community, I look forward to participating and helping to plan all-member activities and events. They make it fun to come into work.”

” I like the opportunities I get. Whether that be opportunities to better myself as an individual and grow as a leader or better myself professionally and as a team member. I get to meet so many amazing people everyday that constantly keep me on my toes, learning and asking questions. The insightful and incredible stories I get to hear will be experiences I never forget. I am inspired working here. Even if I get stressed out about many things I know I am supported and can take the time to refresh myself.”

The thing that I like most about working here is that I get to pour everything into this company. It’s the culmination of everything I know and everything I am. The experience that I can create for employees and customers can make a big impact in their lives. I would be very hard pressed to find something else out there that could provide that.

“Our members! How lucky are we to work with such creative, brilliant and humble people each and every day!?”

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Welcome to the Team Kim & Nikki!

 

Untitled-1

This spring has been an exciting time for the thinkspace team, and we are delighted to introduce our most recent additions: Nikki Barron, Marketing Manager and Kim Pua, Member Coordinator. Here is your chance to get to know them a little better!

 

Favorite weekday lunch spot?

KIM: Sip Thai Bistro. Everything I’ve had there has been delicious. Try the Chiang Mai Noodles (curry noodle soup with artistic flair) or something off of their seasonal menu. They have a large selection of loose leaf teas, too!

NIKKI: For a quick lunch, I really enjoy Blue C Sushi. If I have time, I love Cafe Turko. Get the rainbow hummus—I promise you won’t regret it!

 

 

Best book you’ve read this year?

KIM: I really enjoyed Tuesdays With Morrie. It was a very touching story that made me (and still does) reflect on what, and who, in life is important.

NIKKI: I recently finished The Hard Thing About Hard Things. I also have a startup that I’m working on, and it had great advice.

 

What do you love most about living in the Pacific Northwest?

KIM: The many outdoor activities that are easily accessible, the greenness, having the ocean on one side of our state and the desert on the other. Bordering Canada’s not bad either!

NIKKI: The PNW is one of the most vibrant places I’ve ever been. The amount of variety and individuality is beautiful

 

  • Connect with Kim on Linkedin and be sure to stop by the front desk and say hello!
  • Connect with Nikki on Linkedin. Want to have a marketing brainstorm session? Email Nikki@thinkspace.com to set up a 15 minute coffee appointment. 
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Comparison works the opposite way you want it to.

comparisonWe compare all the time and in all sorts of ways.  I compare my startup to another startup.  I compare my marriage to another’s marriage.  I compare my car to another’s car.  I compare my _______ to another’s _______.  It’s an endless cycle.

There are two types of comparison – comparing “upward” and comparing “downward.”  Upward comparison is when you beat yourself up by thinking other’s lives/businesses/bodies/kids/cars/houses/etc are better than yours.  Downward comparison (keeping those same things in mind) says “I am better.”

Both types of comparison work the opposite way you want them to.  Comparing upward doesn’t automatically get you what you want. More often than not, it creates an entitlement mindset that leaves you ungrateful for what you currently have.  Comparing downward uses the limitations of others to feel better about yourself.  Which is a shallow way to feel good.

Though comparison is a way to gauge how we measure up to others, it doesn’t always help you accomplish your goals.  Unless you compare yourself to yourself.  If you want to grow your company – compare where you are at the of the first quarter to where land at the end of the second quarter.  If you want to run a faster mile, compare your time at the beginning of the month with your time at the end of the month.  Comparing your company’s growth with another company’s growth, or your body’s performance with another body’s performance, isn’t fair and isn’t accurate.  And that type of comparison will end in one of two ways: with insecurity (upward comparison) or an over-inflated sense of self (downward comparison).

Our 26th President of the United States sums it up well:

“Comparison is the thief of joy.” -Theodore Roosevelt

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thinkspace Named Best 100 Companies to Work For by Seattle Business Magazine

seattles-best-100-companies-to-work-forWe were just named one of Seattle’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” by Seattle Business magazine. thinkspace was ranked 25 in the small company category, competing against hundreds of other companies in the Puget Sound area. It’s great to be chosen for this competitive award along with so many other notable companies. A big thank you to my employees for being a part of this company. I certainly enjoy working with smart people who really work well as a team.

The Soft Part is the Hard Part

2013-Best-Companies-logoOver five years ago, I wrote down that I was going to strive to have thinkspace listed as one of “Seattle’s Best Places to Work”. This award is a nice milestone as it marks setting a goal and achieving it. It actually means so much to me because it’s an award that comes from the employees of the company. It’s one thing to set revenue goals and hit them but controlling work place environment is a soft skill. Back during my Entrepreneurial Masters Program there was a lot of emphasis put on how the soft part (human interaction and work place culture) is the hard part.

Company Culture is Critical

For me, I want to come to work every day, laugh, have fun, and be excited about what I’m doing. I want to work around people that I like. Being in a small company and startup there are times where there is frustration with huge challenges and it literally can be a roller coaster within the same day. Small companies have huge challenges. You have to do amazing things with a small team where there is always more stuff to get done than seemingly resources to do it. To put time towards the things that we were judged on is not easy. The Seattle Business awards were judged on benefits, communication, corporate culture, hiring and retention, performance standards, responsibility and decision making, rewards and recognition, training and education, and work environment. As a small company and startup, who has time to focus on all those things?!

Best Way to Impact Workplace Culture

tinypulse-happiness-indexOver the last 12 months, the single best thing that we have done as a company that directly relates to us being named as one of the best companies to work for is implementing TINYpulse (<--my referral link). TINYpulse allows us to capture anonymous feedback from employees to reveal insights, trends, and opportunities to improve retention, culture, and results. Every week employees get a survey that asks a unique question like “On a scale of 1 to 10, how happy are you at work?” 1 being extremely unhappy and about to quit – to 10 being extremely happy and jumping for joy. Each week I have no idea what the question will be or how will my team respond and reply. Each week I have to deal with being comfortable with something that makes me uncomfortable. The TINYpulse website says “Don’t try TINYpulse unless you’re a leader who’s committed to 1) Change; 2) Sharing; 3) Action”. TINYpulse has given me an opportunity to listen to the things that can be really tough to hear but allows me to take action. When you are open to receiving the feedback it can be truly transformational. Having a great place to work is not a once-a-year kind of event. For us it’s a weekly feedback loop.