How to Start a Consulting Business: Get Ready to Launch

Every day when I walk to my office in Brooklyn, the majority of people are walking in the other direction towards the subway. I assume many of them are heading to their jobs in Manhattan, and by the looks on their faces, that a good number of them are completely miserable. Mind you, it’s 8 am and they’re about to get on a crowded subway train, but I’m sure it runs deeper than that for some people.

It is my assumption and my experience that they’re marching towards a job that doesn’t inspire them or doesn’t pay them enough or doesn’t express who they are beyond what they do. This is one reason why we’re seeing so many professionals consider starting a consulting business. They want to operate in their zone of genius and do so on their own terms. 

I daydream about standing near the subway entrance yelling, “Turn around, come to my office, let me help you!” However, ignoring all the insane things you encounter on a daily basis is a base level coping mechanism for most people who live in NYC, so I don’t think that would work too well. This series of articles will have to do the trick. 

I help consultants monetize their knowledge so they can grow their business without sacrificing their health, family or personal interests. But it all starts with them knowing what they want to do. I know there are all sorts of tests you can take to find your true calling, but I’ll assume you already have an idea of the services you can offer based on your previous experiences. Besides, I took one of those “ideal career” tests in junior high and it said I should be a forest ranger. Ever since then, I’ve somewhat lost faith in a standardized test being able to determine your career. 

Assuming you have a general idea of what you’d like to do or are already offering consulting services, I’m going to detail how you can start or scale your business over a series of articles. Here are the first two steps. 

Do deep research on your target audience

I’m sure you have a target audience in mind, but you’ll need to perform extensive research to make sure you fully understand who they are and how you can help them. This goes beyond a user persona — you’ll need to develop a deep understanding of their psychographics as well.  I strongly suggest creating an Empathy Map. As per HubSpot, “Empathy maps visualize customer needs, condense customer data into a brief chat, and help you consider what customers want — not what you think they want.” You can view an example and a complete guide on how to build one on their website. If this sounds hard, that’s a good thing. Most people will skip this step so it provides you with an opportunity to separate yourself from the pack. 

As the name suggests, an empathy map will help you better connect with your audience. For example, let’s say you’re a sleep consultant. Sure, you know your target audience includes people who have trouble sleeping. You may even have some other basic demographics. Creating an empathy map will allow you to uncover how their lack of sleep impacts their life, how they’ve already tried to solve the problem, where they get information and other nuggets of valuable information. You can then say “I understand what it’s like when people think you’re moody or withdrawn, but the truth is, you’re just under-recovered. I’ll assess your sleep challenges and design a custom plan to help you get a sufficient night’s rest, so you can be the best version of yourself the next day.” That sounds a heck of a lot better than “I’ll help you get more sleep.”

When you do this research, it’s beneficial to focus on people who have already paid money to address the challenges or aspirations you help with. You want to take your cues from people who see the value in the services you offer. This is your audience, not just people who have a need for what you provide. 

If at all possible, you’ll want to get this information directly from these individuals through surveys and individuals. I understand this may not be an option for everyone, so I suggest performing social listening as well. As per Sprout Social: “Social listening refers to analyzing the conversations and trends happening not just around your brand, but around your industry as a whole, and using those insights to make better marketing decisions.” Let’s go back to the sleep consultant. She could follow #insomnia on Twitter and Instagram to research her target audience. For you, it might be #newparent or #relocating. Just find the hashtags that make sense for your audience. is a free tool that will help you discover popular hashtags based on the keywords you enter.  

Define their problems and develop a solution

Now that you have a better understanding of your audience, you can craft a solution that addresses their specific challenges or aspirations. This is where being an expert can actually hinder you. It’s vitally important to craft this solution from your audience’s perspective. Minor details that seem obvious to you may be a critical step on their journey. If you fail to mention it, they may not think you understand them or are capable of helping them. 

Since I’m not a sleep consultant, I’ll talk about the clients that I do help: other consultants. 

Although every situation is unique, there are general themes I hear in regard to their challenges.

  • How much should I charge?
  • How do I get more clients?
  • How do I present myself?
  • How do I create proposals and contracts?

The questions you hear will inform the solution you create. When creating this solution it’s extremely beneficial to map things out in a way that is easy for your audience to understand, while also deploying empathy. This is the solution I offer clients in my consultant training program

Clarity: We’ll nail down the services you offer, how much to charge, who you offer them to, and why you’re their obvious choice

Process: Focus on doing what you love by implementing routines, apps and services to streamline your business process

Branding and marketing: You’ll learn how to position yourself, provide value to your audience and perform “passive prospecting” through in-person events, media mentions and podcasts

Pitching and proposals: I’ll supply you with training and templates to make this part simple, pain-free and predictable

Fulfillment: From onboarding to relationship management, I’ll teach you how to deliver on the promises you’ve made with a systematic approach

My goal is to demonstrate an understanding of their challenges, and a defined path towards resolution. Often, a prospect will say “I don’t need help with that, but I really need help with this part you mentioned.” That’s totally fine, my goal is to reflect the journey then refine it based on their needs. 

Back to you. What journey will you take your clients on? Developing this narrative is extremely important. Unfortunately, I see many consultants exhaust themselves trying to develop and reinforce a unique differentiator. Your audience doesn’t want unique, they want to be understood. Once you prove you understand their challenges, they’ll want to hear about your plan to solve them. That’s it.

Packaging your solution in a concise and understandable way also makes it much easier to navigate sales or prospecting calls. You won’t say, “Um well, it kinda depends on, let’s see here…” You’ll simply say, “I have a process to address your situation. Now, I know every situation is unique, but this process is aligned with the outcomes you’re seeking. So long as we follow the process, we can be as creative as we’d like while still reaching the goals we’ve established.” From there, you can walk through your process and address their unique situation as you go along. 


Next Steps:

Perform audience research. If possible, connect with people who have paid for the service you offer, or something similar in the past. As a bonus, this will also help you determine pricing, which we’ll address in the next article.

Develop your solution. Based on your research, and your area of expertise, determine how you can help. It’s perfectly fine if you can’t address every challenge they have. You want to operate in your zone of genius and not overstate what you’re capable of.

A Consultant’s View On Getting Comfortable With The Uncomfortable!

Between two trapezes – The Transition Zone!

Don’t you feel like life is a series of trapeze swings? You either hanging on to a trapeze bar swinging along or, for a few moments in life, hurtling across space in between trapeze bars, hanging on for dear life to the trapeze-bar-of-the-moment. Today the moment is Covid-19. Six months into the pandemic, it’s carrying us along at a certain steady rate of swing with the feeling that ‘I’m in control of my life.’ I now think I know most of the right questions and even some of the answers.

As I move from one point to another, it’s that in-between, uncertain time of letting go and waiting to grab the next thing – a new trapeze bar, that’s the most challenging at the best of times and for some, even debilitating.

I know that this new trapeze is my next step, my growth, my aliveness coming to get me. In my heart, I know that for me to grow, I must release my grip on this present, well-known bar or old world and move to the new one, the world ahead.

We really do not like change, so part of me hopes that I won’t have to let go of my old bar completely before I grab the new one. But I know that I must totally release my grasp on my old bar, and, for some moment in time, I must hurtle across space before I can grab onto the new bar. In that transition, the uncertainty & unknown, I am filled with terror. It doesn’t matter that in the past, I have previously made it. I am afraid that I will miss, that I will be crushed on unseen rocks between bars. I do it anyway and leap ahead. Perhaps this is the essence of what the mystics call the faith experience. No guarantees, no net, no insurance policy, but you do it anyway because somehow to keep hanging on to that old bar is no longer on the list of alternatives. So, I soar across the dark void of “the past is gone, the future is not yet here.”

It’s called “transition.” I have come to believe that this transition is the only place that real change occurs. I have noticed that this transition zone is looked upon as a “no-thing,” a no-place between places. Sure, the old trapeze bar was real, and that new one coming toward me, I hope that’s real, too. But the void in between? Is that just a scary, confusing, disorienting nowhere that must be gotten through as fast and as unconsciously as possible?

NO! What a wasted opportunity that would be. I have a sneaking suspicion that the transition zone is the only real thing and the bars are illusions we dream up to avoid the void where the real change, the real growth, occurs for us. Whether or not my hunch is true, it remains that the transition zones in our lives are incredibly rich places. They should be honored, even savored. Yes, with all the pain and fear and feelings of being out of control that can accompany transitions, they are still the most alive, most growth-filled, passionate, expansive moments in our lives. But we can only experience it by being fully present in it!

We cannot discover new oceans unless we have the courage to lose sight of the shore.


True transformation is about giving ourselves permission to “hang out” in the transition between trapezes. Transforming our need to grab that new bar, any bar, allows ourselves to dwell in the only place where change really happens. It can be terrifying. It can also be enlightening in the true sense of the word. In the transition, we just may learn how to fly. 

As Covid’s dizzying spin starts to slow, leaders steel themselves for the long road to recovery. An essential early step will be effectively addressing the anxieties of millions of workers worried about the future of their work and their health. Given the pain of this moment, leaders are urged to handle the journey’s challenges mindfully with resilience, authenticity, and connection.

With the ringing injunction to “normalize the new” and get back on the treadmill.  If leaders want to use this moment to do more than return worried, distracted employees to old jobs they once knew, we need to still the maelstrom in our minds; most of all, we need to break the semi-automated responses that continue to chain us to the old trapeze. If we don’t, we will find ourselves frantically doing the same things yet expecting a different result. We must become comfortable with the uncomfortable and embrace the suck.

To embrace the suck means to have discipline. Having that mental toughness to see the hard work through to the end. You continue with the hard-charging attitude of being able to keep moving forward and never give up.

We are wired for survival and staying in comfort – every fiber in our being wants to hold on to the old trapeze and not let go, but nothing will come of staying put; we have to keep moving. “The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide you are not going to stay where you are,” JP Morgan

According to a Green Beret, Jason Van Camp, there are 7 ways to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

1. Start.

The first step is always the most uncomfortable. All you have to do is show up. The battle is half won if you just show up.

2. Don’t quit.

You’ve decided to start. You do not see the results. It’s difficult. You want to quit. It’s OK. Just keep pushing forward. That voice in your head is going to make you think of a way out. Don’t do it. Don’t give yourself an out.

3. Push yourself past your comfort zone.

At some point, you are going to say to yourself, “I’ve never done this before” or “I don’t know what I’m doing.” We’ve all been there. Here’s a trick: Just pretend to be confident. Fake it till you make it.

4. Embrace “the suck.”

The situation is bad–deal with it. And don’t just deal with it–open your arms and welcome it as you would an old friend. You know him well. You are building your mental and physical toughness.

5. Be around like-minded people.

Create a support network. Talk about your experiences. The worse the experience it is to you, the better the story it is to everyone else.

6. Recognize your improvements.

Track your progress. Revel in it. You are now a changed person. You know it because you see it. Build your confidence by going back to what before was uncomfortable and go through the experience again.

7. Rinse. Repeat.

“repetition is the mother of learning.”

The more you perform the same activity, the more confident you become. Confidence is a tangible thing–it comes from practice and repetition.


Perhaps the most difficult part of this pandemic is the uncertainty we are all facing.  Uncertainty about how contagious and deadly Coronavirus is.  Uncertainty about the travel that we have planned.  Uncertainty about the economy. Uncertainty about our jobs. But the real world is highly uncertain, and that can be uncomfortable. So, to succeed, we must keep moving, take that next step in faith, and welcome in the discomfort of the transition zone as you reach for your new trapeze of growth.


-Priyal Ramdass

How to Use Your Expertise to Start a Consulting Business

We all reach a point in our careers when we start getting questions about our experience or expertise. Perhaps you’ve been asked if you can do someone a favor and “look something over.” Or maybe someone has even asked if they can pay you for a consulting session. Perhaps you tapped into a new way to create marketing campaigns or conduct market research that you know other people would want to know about. Whatever your expertise is, it’s likely you’ve felt the tug at one time or another to offer consulting services

Here’s how to get started marketing your expertise to do just that.

1. Understand your unique expertise, then offer it for free.

Of course, the first step to starting a consulting side hustle is to know what it is you have to offer. This could be based on experiences you’ve had or an area of specialty you’ve studied at length. Depending on your reputation in your industry, you could go out there and immediately start selling sessions. But, you’ll have more luck on sales calls and in marketing yourself if you have clear deliverables on what you’ve done for companies and individuals in the past. 

So, commit to working for 2-3 companies for free at first. This will give you a good sense of your consulting style, and there’s a clear difference between being able to say, “I can help you increase your profit margin” and “I helped two companies triple their profit margin.” Potential clients want to hear about clients you’ve worked in the past. The Ambition Plan writes that offering to work for free is also a great way to “meet and spend time with influential people in your industry.” Get out there and show them what you have to offer!

2. Craft an offer and a payment plan. 

Once you get some experience under your belt, craft an offer that makes sense. Choosing a price is also why it’s so important to know what exactly you can do for companies or individuals. If you help companies hit six figures in their first six months, it’s reasonable to charge at a higher price tag than if you just “help companies become profitable quickly.” Cory Jean, a credit and receivables consultant, noted to this end that, “Clients respond well to numbers. Telling potential clients exact percentages in sales growth helps them understand the full picture of what their investment in you is, and what it will reward them with.” 

Then, figure out if you’ll offer consulting on a retainer or just on one-off sessions. Both serve different purposes. If you have one core branding strategy session for startups, perhaps it will just be a two-hour immersive meeting at one set price. But, if you help with a longer-term strategy and go into the trenches with them, a retainer would be more appropriate. Consulting services usually go on retainer.

3. Create materials promoting your consulting business. 

It’s important that all numbers associated with your consulting promises are listed somewhere; ideally on a funnel or a landing page. Create the exact specifications of what your consulting services entail, including hours spent in 1:1 meetings, materials included, and what the potential client can expect to learn and get from you. The more specific you can be, the better. Make sure to write to their pain points and rely heavily on past experiences for credibility.

Then, brand strategist Erin Feree recommends marketing through a blog, a newsletter, and a small website. Create more succinct versions of your sales script, such as small paragraphs that can be used as a bio on blogs or in the “about” section on a newsletter.

4. Engage in content marketing.

Finally, remember that the best way to demonstrate your expertise to your audiences online is to release content associated with what you consult on. This type of content is often referred to as “top of the funnel content,” and will give potential clients a taste for your style and insights, thus establishing trust. They need to be able to see your obvious expertise in order to want to hire you. 

Do you offer social media consulting? Post a few social media tips a week. Do you offer HR consulting? Post a few HR tips or stories a week. Over time, this will begin to equate with your brand and appeal to your audience. If you feel like you’re running out of content, Tsavo Neil recommends asking your audience what they’re struggling with. The more you can start to solve their problems, the more they’ll see you as the industry leader. 

Over time, as you continue to land clients and help them, you’ll have enough case studies and numerical evidence to expand your consulting business beyond a side hustle. You have something to share and a way to help entrepreneurs or businesses; get out there and show them!

4 Things You Should Change About Your Email Marketing

More than 306 billion. That’s how many emails were expected to be sent and received each day in 2020, according to Statista. With millions of companies switching to remote work and brands sending more emails, the number may well exceed Statista’s prediction this year.

 is performing better than it has in a long time. There’s been a spike of 200 percent in engagement since March, writes Ray Schultz of MediaPost, a clear sign that people are spending a lot more time in their inboxes.

What are they looking for, and how can your respond? Moreover, how can you anticipate your customers’ needs and expectations? Being quick to adapt is vital. Let’s take a look at four things you should consider changing in using email for marketing.

1. Prune your lists more often

If you used to clean your email lists of bad contacts every quarter, email hygiene involves more initiative right now. Think about the massive loss of jobs across almost all continents and industries. In the U.S., the unemployment rate is 11.1 percent. Although that’s a decline compared to March and April, millions of business-to-business () email addresses are now invalid.

“We’ve gotten feedback from customers that many of their B2B email addresses are bouncing,” ZeroBounce COO Brian Minick told me. No surprise there. Many businesses have had to reduce their staff or shut down permanently. That’s awful for the people involved, and it also poses a risk to email marketers. “To avoid deliverability issues, we recommend keeping an eye on your bounce rate,” Minick added. “If it’s above the industry benchmark of 2 percent, you know it’s time to validate your contacts again.”

2. Be empathetic and offer practical help

Your message and the way you convey it can make the difference between choosing your business or cutting you out of their lives for good. “People can be very sensitive, especially during a crisis. Some of your customers may be facing countless challenges right now,” says InvoiceBerry founder and CEO Uwe Dreissigacker. How is your business there for them?

“You don’t have to mention the pandemic in every email you send,” Dreissigacker elaborates. “Rather, ask yourself: Is this helpful to my audience? How can I show more clearly that I care? Make sure to run your content by your PR department and all the executives/ There may be nuances you fail to catch. More eyeballs looking at your emails means fewer risks.”

Expressing  during difficult times is common sense, but words are not enough. Back them up with practical, immediate assistance. Make the crisis easier to bear with offers that help your customers the most. Can’t figure out what that is? Use email to encourage conversations and run a survey if you can. The sooner you get to the bottom of your customers’ problems, the more prompt and relevant your response will be.

3. Be more aware of spam complaints

Here’s a cliché. No matter how good your intentions are, someone is going to be unhappy. It applies to email, too.

It could be that your newsletter or marketing offer came at a bad time. Or perhaps the person feels you shouldn’t be running any promotions during the crisis. By labeling you as spam, these subscribers are telling inbox providers that your content is bothering them.

More than one spam complaint about every 1,000 emails is worrisome. Abuse emails — accounts that belong to frequent complainers — will taint your sender reputation and cause your future campaigns to land in spam or be blocked altogether. You can’t afford that, especially if you’re hardly keeping your business afloat. To secure your spot in the inbox, be more diligent about removing complainers.

Apart from weeding them out from your list, you can also prevent them from getting there in the first place. An email verification API checks every subscriber’s email address in real-time and rejects the bad ones — including abuse emails.

4. Stick to a consistent sending schedule

Speaking of spam complaints, a simple way to keep them under control is by following a consistent sending schedule. Being punctual fosters familiarity, so your subscribers are less likely to feel your messages are spam.

Emily Ryan, an email strategist and co-founder of Westfield Creative, confirms, “When you stay consistent, your readers stay engaged. If you send one email and then don’t show up for two months, you risk getting unsubscribers the next time you email.”

Nervous about emailing people too often? “Just remember they want and expect to hear from you,” Ryan continues. “Whether you send something once a month or once a week, showing up for your subscribers is so important. One of the biggest things we do for our clients is to help them stay consistent with their email campaigns. After determining a frequency that aligns with their overall marketing goals, we make sure to stick to an email campaign calendar. A simple spreadsheet works. Also, we constantly monitor the need to increase or decrease the consistency if there are too many unsubscribes happening.”

So, create your own calendar, fill it up with content ideas, and stick to it. “Even if it’s a short, simple email,” Ryan concludes, “show up for your people.”

5 Questions Every Consultant Must Ask During a Sales Call

What’s the easiest way for a consultant to completely flop on a sales call? Talking about yourself the whole time. I help consultants efficiently scale their business, and this is one of the most common mistakes I see them make. I know it can be challenging. You may have been taught to perfect your elevator pitch or to speak about some magical proprietary process you developed. Unfortunately, your prospects don’t want to hear your sales pitch or about your unique approach — they want to be understood. And once you prove you understand their challenges, they’ll want to hear about your plan to solve them. That’s it.

You shouldn’t even think of it as a sales call, it’s an enrollment conversation. At the end, you want them to be excited about the potential of partnering with you. You never want to feel like you talked them into doing something they didn’t fully understand, or aren’t completely committed to. 

That dreaded “sales-y” feeling

If you’re not overly “sales-y,” the selling part of your consulting business can be terrifying. Fortunately, you don’t need to be sales-y. You just need to have a genuine desire to help your clients. Beyond that, with the right process in place, you’ll most likely never need to do any cold calling. Instead, you can connect with prospects through referrals or a lead magnet on your website.

A lead magnet is content you provide in exchange for a prospect’s contact information such as a guide or checklist. A good lead magnet solves a real problem and is specific to your intended audience. Mine is an eBook “The 10 Biggest Mistakes Entrepreneurs make on Social Media and What You Should Do Instead”. If you don’t already have something like this in place, you should make a plan to do so. These conversations go much easier when you’ve already proven your value and expertise. 

When chatting with a prospect you should be listening more than you talk, but you’ll need to make sure you’re receiving the right information. These are the five questions you must ask during any enrollment conversation.

1. What’s going on and how is it affecting your business/personal life?


You most likely have some information before entering this conversation. You can use that to tee things up, but you’ll still want them to essentially start from scratch. The more information you can get about their specific need, the better you’ll be able to explain how you can help them, assuming that you can. If you can’t help them, this is the time to make that known. Maybe you have a colleague who can, or you have some resources that might help, but the whole “fake it till you make it” approach is a good way to damage your reputation and it’s not right to waste someone’s time and money. Hopefully, you’re still in a position to help them, and you can continue asking probing questions. 

If you’re able to quantify revenue impact, this will make it easier for you to explain your fees later on. You’ll be able to show them a clear ROI from the partnership. If you can help someone make $80,000 and your fee is $10,000, it’s clearly a good investment. However, some challenges aren’t associated with revenue, such as the inability to get a sufficient night’s sleep. In this case, you’ll want to better understand how this problem is affecting their personal life. 

Take notes, and ask them to pause if necessary. It’s not rude, you’re proving that you have a genuine need to understand their challenge. 

2. What have you already tried to address this problem?

Again, you don’t want to start talking about yourself until you have a better understanding of their challenge. Their response will help you in a few ways:

  • You won’t recommend solutions that have already failed for a legitimate reason.
  • You’ll be able to course-correct solutions that could have been successful with the proper guidance.

Beyond that, you’ll get a better insight into how important it is for them to solve for this challenge, and the pain associated with this resolution. This is also your time to show genuine empathy by paraphrasing and hypothesizing.

For example: “It sounds like you’ve been working on this for a while, I imagine it’s been a drain on morale and productivity implementing one solution after another.”

3. What are some approaches or resources you haven’t explored yet?

This can easily be one of the most unselfish questions you ask. Together, you may both determine there’s another internal resource or someone they could hire full-time to solve this challenge. You may be able to assist or reengage if the problem persists after they attempt to solve it on their own. Your goal is to help them resolve their problem, even if they don’t need you to do it. 

Again, this is an unselfish approach, but it will go a long way in boosting your reputation for being trustworthy and solutions-oriented. I’ve consulted myself out of job opportunity during this phase, only to receive a referral from the same prospect months later. 

4. What would need to happen in order for you to feel good about our results? What outcomes are you looking for?

This is a paraphrased version of an approach developed by Dan Sullivan of Strategic Coach. Get ready to take notes on their response. They’ll tell you exactly what they want from you, and — inadvertently — exactly what would earn you a referral or testimonial. You’ll also hear more about their vision. Just talking about this vision will make it more tangible for them, and you can position yourself as the person who will help them get there.

Paraphrase this response back to them, reinforce any poignant or mission-critical aspects of what they said. Once this part is complete, you can start talking more about how you can help achieve this vision. Again, only move forward if you’re certain you can help them achieve their goals. 

5. Would you like my help?

This is a simple but powerful question I began using based on the advice by Mike Koenigs, Advisor and CEO of

Always ask this question during the conversation, overtly. This can lead to a no, yes or they’ll ask more probing questions. Don’t say, “Well, I can send you some more information.” Or ”Would you like to think about it and set up another time to call?” Just ask. If they want more information or to think about it, they’ll tell you. 

Of course, you should only ask this question if you actually want to work with the client. You want to be a friend of their future, not just a service provider. 

This can be a challenging question, but you’ll have a more immediate understanding of how things are going and can start planning any necessary next steps. Hopefully, things go well. If not, you’ll be able to better focus on the next opportunity. 

Final thoughts on consulting sales calls

It’s important to remember that the prospect wants this call to go well. They have a problem and believe you may be able to assist. This isn’t a contentious situation, so you should be relaxed. Focus on being who you are, listening to their needs and enjoying the conversation. The best version of yourself is all you need to be, and you can’t do that if you’re trying to be someone you’re not.

How Good Managers Influence Employee Happiness

People join organizations and leave their managers. Considering the labor market situation and the challenges that organizations are facing when trying to attract and retain top talent, employers must think more than ever about the topic of leadership quality. 

For instance, Gallup’s research shows that managers account for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores. A study of 7,272 U.S. adults revealed that one in two had left their job to get away from their manager to improve their overall life at some point in their career. 

Similar findings are revealed with the poll of 2,000 people in the UK conducted by Human Resources firm Investors in People49% of employees say that they are thinking to leave their job because of poor management – making that the most popular reason for a potential move.

National Study conducted by Ultimate Software revealed there is a need for greater focus for Manager-Employee Relationships. For 93% of employees, trust in their direct boss is essential to staying satisfied at work, and over half of employees surveyed say if they aren’t satisfied at work, they can’t put forth their best effort. A good manager-employee relationship can play a significant role in retention too: more than half the employees say they’d turn down a 10% pay increase to stay with a great boss.

“Support from management” is also one of the aspects that affect work-life happiness. All of this goes to show that managers are definitely the key players when we are talking about employee happiness or unhappiness at work.

What makes a Great Manager?

There have been a bunch of different studies and researches that are trying to determine the qualities of best, effective, successful, or great leaders. One size definitely doesn’t fit all! The qualities of a great leader heavily depend on the organization culture as well as the behaviors of their teams. 

In 2008 Google launched Project Oxygen to find out what makes a manager great at Google and determined eight different behaviors that were common among their highest performing managers. 10 years later they looked at their employee survey and found that the qualities of a great manager at Google had grown and evolved. The top ten Oxygen behaviors of their best managers include:

1. Is a good coach

2. Empowers the team and does not micromanage

3. Creates an inclusive team environment, showing concern for success and well-being

4. Is productive and results-oriented

5. Is a good communicator — listens and shares information

6. Supports career development and discusses performance

7. Has a clear vision/strategy for the team

8. Has key technical skills to help advise the team

9. Collaborates across Google

10. Is a strong decision-maker

There are a lot of touchpoints in Google findings with the research done by Sunnie Giles a few years ago when studying 195 leaders in 15 countries over 30 global organizations. Participants were asked to choose the 15 most important leadership competencies from a list of 74. 

Manager Influence on Employee Happiness

When a manager is happy then most likely workers are happy too. According to Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, Happy workers have higher levels of productivity, produce higher sales, perform better in leadership positions, and receive higher performance ratings and higher pay. They also enjoy more job security and are less likely to take sick days, to quit, or to become burned out. Happy CEOs are more likely to lead teams of employees who are both happy and healthy, and who find their work climate conducive to high performance. 

Organizations need both happy workers as well as happy managers. As we saw from the Google study and Sunnie Giles’s research, there are certain behaviors and competencies that people expect from great managers. Because these factors affect happiness,  you must carefully think about whom you are recruiting. 

Whether hiring from the outside or promoting from within, organizations that scientifically select managers for the unique talents it takes to effectively manage people greatly increase the odds of engaging their employees. Companies should treat these roles as unique with distinct functional demands that require a specific talent set. They should select managers with the right talents for supporting, positioning, empowering, and engaging their staff.

5 Ways to Improve your Managers

1. Educate and develop your people! 

A lot of organizations have created programs to train and develop their talents. At Starbucks for instance, there are several different training programs available to prepare people to take the next steps in their career. One of their programs is called the Retail Management Training program that contains information on effective management practices, including topics on motivation, delegation, problem-solving, improving performance, managing the Starbucks Experience and maximizing profits.

In addition to developing potential manager and leaders, organizations need to develop existing managers. There are a lot of organizations that are developing their managers to be better through complex training programs. Some organizations such as ISS that have gone so far to start their one Universities and Academies to train and develop its leaders up to the highest levels in the organization. 


2. Promote and encourage communication! 

Communication is often the basis of any healthy relationship, including the one between an employee and his or her manager. Gallup has found that consistent communication – whether it occurs in-person, over the phone, or electronically – is connected to higher engagement. 

For example, employees whose managers hold regular meetings with them are almost three times as likely to be engaged as employees whose managers do not hold regular meetings. 

Gallup also found that engagement is highest among employees who have some form (face to face, phone or digital) of daily communication with their managers. Managers who use a combination of face-to-face, phone, and electronic communication are the most successful in engaging employees. And when employees attempt to contact their manager, engaged employees report their manager returns their calls or messages within 24 hours. These ongoing transactions explain why engaged workers are more likely to say their manager knows what projects or tasks they are working on.

3. Favor collaboration with other leaders! 

Even the very best ones can and shall learn from others. Therefore organizations should encourage their leaders to participate in different meetups, conferences, seminars or similar to meet other industry leaders and to collaborate with them. 

Groups like the Estonian Startup Leaders Club, for instance, are formed with the goal to build strong relationships, provide opportunities for members, encourage communication and collaboration, as well as to develop startup entrepreneurs. Members of the club are from various famous (like Taxify, Transferwise, SportID, etc) and not so well-known Estonian startups who share information and experience on a daily bases.

4. Enroll your leaders in mentoring programs! 

You can either start with your in-house mentoring program or use some public programs for that. A great example is PayPal’s Unity Mentorship program which is implemented with an aim to build a thriving work culture for female professionals. This employee-led initiative matches 100 pairs of mentors-mentees from same or different departments at any given time. 

The pairs, even of mixed gender, are initially matched through a short survey, to make sure an intimate bond can be formed between individuals through the initiative. Both mentor and mentee interact with and learn from each other to build a transparent communication that’s more valuable than exercising professional etiquettes.

5. Start a book club, or create your own (e-)library!

People learn by reading books. So why not initiate a corporate book-club or have your own library from where all your people can lend books, read and learn. A lot of leaders love to read, including Eric S. Yuan from Zoom Video Communication, one of the highest-rated CEO’s in Glassdoor, who learns by reading books.

The importance of good management to the success of an organization cannot be stressed enough! Good managers heavily influence the employees they work with and will affect the overall workplace happiness of your company. Finding manager candidates with a foundation of great leadership qualities and behavioral skills is a great way to start, but remember that management training and improvement is an ongoing process. How do you educate yourself and leaders in your organization?

Technology in the Pandemic: Recreate the Office or Repurpose It?

The pandemic has forced companies to adapt quickly to new realities, including shifting to virtual work arrangements and rethinking short- and long-term business priorities. It has also amplified the role of managers to help employees shape their work lives in effective and healthy ways.

In the office, we socialize on the fly, flit from meeting to meeting seamlessly, and establish routines and patterns that not only work for us but jell with those of others. One of the important decisions that managers confront now, as working remotely becomes standard practice, is how to use technology to recreate these dynamics. Should they attempt to replicate life as it was in brick-and-mortar offices, or does the drastic switch to virtual work necessitate that they try something different?

As the initial shock of the pandemic begins to wane, now is the time to consider how to balance strategically what work used to be and what it is now. We provide a series of ideas for managers on how to approach these considerations as remote work becomes the norm for the foreseeable future — and perhaps even permanently.

Recreate or Repurpose Office Life?

One of the authors of this article, Eliana, studied the post-bankruptcy reactions of former Lehman Brothers bankers. She found that disruptive events that profoundly alter work circumstances often prompt people to feel a sense of loss and void, akin to what people feel when they mourn the loss of a loved one.

At a minimum, the shift to virtual work has left workers bereft of a common place, of unplanned interactions with their coworkers, and of the vicarious learning opportunities that colocation promotes. As one senior manager at a large educational institution explained to us recently, “I miss bumping into people I do not directly work with, catching up with them in the hallway. … For me, now it’s just not the same. I feel I’m missing context. It’s almost as if I do not know my colleagues as much anymore.” Another employee we interviewed, who started her new job just days before switching to remote work, told us, “I’m trying to learn what I’m supposed to do as best I can. I miss shadowing my colleagues who have more experience.”

Workers all around the world are grieving a host of aspects related to how, where, and when they used to work.

The study of former Lehman Brothers employees found that in the face of void and loss, workers — even those on the same team — may mourn unexpected loss differently. The Lehman employees approached their post-bankruptcy work lives in two distinct ways. Some, Recreators, craved the safety of their former work lives. These bankers tried to revive what they had at Lehman by pursuing similar work opportunities — often with some of their former colleagues — and holding on to the close-knit relationships they had developed while at the company. Others, Repurposers, craved the control that they had over their former work lives. These bankers held on to the spirit of what they had at Lehman but did not try to replicate it. Rather, they repurposed the skills and knowledge they had acquired and pursued different careers, often as entrepreneurs.

These two approaches provide important clues to how managers might try to better understand and manage their now remote employees.

Consider Alicia and Dan. Before going virtual, their days looked approximately the same. Today, both are performing at the same level, but their work situations are very different. Alicia is a Recreator. She currently holds the same schedule as before COVID-19. The only difference for her? Instead of meeting face to face, she meets her colleagues and clients via Zoom, from her home. She even has virtual drinks with her coworkers at the end of the workday. Now consider Dan, a Repurposer. He checks in with his colleagues and clients via email and text periodically throughout the day but completes most of his actual client work at night.

Recreating and repurposing fulfill different needs for employees, especially in times of grief. For Alicia, recreating provides a sense of safety in a time of uncertainty. By keeping the same schedule and regularly meeting with colleagues virtually, she preserves the rhythms of the daily life she had before COVID-19. For Dan, repurposing is about reimagining the execution of tasks to separate the “what” from the “how.” Adjusting and time-blocking his new schedule ultimately provides him with a sense of control over his work life.

Companies and managers are seeing these mechanisms play out for their employees in different ways. For example, if face-to-face team meetings are about checking in with one another, Repurposers might maintain some meetings but transform how they happen: They might, for instance, institute asynchronous discussion boards for their teams, as opposed to arranging synchronous virtual calls.

So, how should managers make the choice of recreating or repurposing?

Understand Employees’ Needs and Constraints

Remember that people are coping with sudden, unexpected loss in individual ways. What employees need most from their managers and colleagues, and what they are finding most challenging, will vary from person to person. Have honest conversations with your own employees about what they most miss from being in the office and what their current constraints are. Do they miss the safety and regularity of routine? If so, work with them to recreate certain aspects of their work lives. For example, they might have started each morning with a cup of coffee and small talk in the break room. Offer to host a virtual morning break room with your team to simulate that routine. Do they miss the ability to control their work environment and to concentrate without other family members around? If so, work with them to repurpose. For instance, allow them flexibility in when they work (for example, before or after their children go to bed) and how (for example, reduce asynchronous meetings during the daytime).

Balance Recreating With Repurposing Through Technology

Working virtually allows employees to choose whether to repurpose or recreate their office lives. Rather than leaving this choice solely in their hands, such that each person on a team may approach his or her work differently, consider setting a company or team strategy that offers guidance. To do so, you might brainstorm with your employees about the aspects of office life they individually miss, and then help them either recreate or repurpose such aspects. A framework for such a conversation might be as simple as these two questions: Is there anything from your work life pre-COVID-19 that you no longer have but would help you meet your professional and/or personal goals? How might we incorporate that based on your current life?

It is also important to recognize the limits of recreating and repurposing. Giving employees complete autonomy over recreating or repurposing may ultimately erode their ability to form and maintain regular cadence with coworkers. The second author of this article, Beth, researched virtual workers and found that having consistent cadence with coworkers — being able to predict the time and mode of interacting — determines the quality of remote workers’ relationships. To foster such cadences, consider instituting virtual collective routines, such using collaboration tools and discussion forums to clarify when employees are available and when they are not.

Finally, recreating is unlikely to bring back the face-to-face office experience, and it may be difficult (or even impossible) when individuals are trying to balance additional duties — such as home schooling their children. Setting realistic expectations for a recreating strategy is thus critical. Because repurposing shifts the focus of work from process to outcomes, recreating can be particularly challenging to enact when work is highly collaborative and interdependent — especially when there are Recreators and Repurposers working together toward the same goal. Communicating expectations, deadlines, and processes clearly is thus especially critical.

Five ways to design a better mental-health future for a stressed-out workforce

We know that mental health occurs along a continuum, with thriving and positive mental health at one end and serious mental illnesses or addictions at the other. In between, however, there are many shades of substance use, anxiety, depression, and other conditions that vary in intensity and impact. Every leader must ask, “What are we doing to help our employees stay physically and emotionally healthy?”

Far from being a soft issue, there is an economic cost to this humanitarian clarion call. For the global economy, the loss of productivity because of poor mental health can be as high as $1 trillion per year.2 The pandemic has also created a disproportionate mental toll on women in the workplace, causing one in four senior-level women to consider leaving the workforce or downshifting their careers since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Businesses need to do more to help employees cope during these turbulent times. Consider the following actions, where we’re beginning to see impact based on feedback from our clients’ employees and our own colleagues at McKinsey.

Open the lines of communication

Demonstrate commitment from the top and lead by example, communicating that during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond, it is important to address stress, mental illness, and substance use.

This can start with “pulse checks”—emails sent to employees that ask two or three short questions about their work, life, mentorship, and health. Or it could be as simple as, “How are you feeling?” and “What’s giving you the greatest stress this week?” Always provide a reminder on how to access mental-health resources and professional help for those in immediate crisis.

Understand and meet the need

Understand the impact of psychological distress, mental illnesses, and substance-use disorders on the workforce. This includes using employee surveys, benefits reports, disability claims, and productivity assessments.

While anecdotes can illustrate the human impact of mental illness, at McKinsey, we also look at metrics and data, all of which are anonymized and confidential. This aggregate information can pinpoint which departments have employees with higher rates of distress. Further, an analysis of disability claims and benefit reports can allow insights into whether we are meeting employees’ needs.

Know the signs of distress

Invest in training to equip leaders with the skills, language, and norms to support your colleagues.

Twenty years ago, when someone on my team told me he had to take leave to address his mental health, I was crushed: I completely missed the distress signals and wasn’t there to support him when he needed it most. It is a deep regret and learning moment I hold with me to this day. It is also why I’m so committed to the mental-health training we are rolling out for our leaders.

Consider a short training for team leaders that focuses on recognizing signs of distress, making clear that it’s driven by a genuine desire to connect employees with the right support and resources. When companies make mental health a priority, teams can, in turn, offer greater value to their customers or clients. For example, one of our recent projects at McKinsey involved helping interested members of a medical staff receive 90-minute training sessions on building team resilience and deepening relationships.

Make help available

Embrace strategies to address key stressors, improve behavioral-health literacy, promote mental wellness, and prevent substance misuse.

Make it easy to access help, ensuring that everything from self-help tools to high-quality treatment providers are visible, affordable, and available virtually as well as in person. Be clear about which options for mental health are available via telehealth services.

Embrace and encourage self-care

Create an inclusive culture where those seeking treatment and self-care are supported, recovery is celebrated, and social connectivity is a priority.

Maintain an open dialogue. Ask if your colleagues are taking regular breaks, prioritizing sleep, and checking in on one another. My teams make it a point to discuss what we’re doing over the weekend, how we’re staying healthy, and whether we’re all getting enough rest.

As the lines of our personal and work spaces blur, I remind my team to take extra care for renewal and try to lead by example. That means unplugging and finding family or individual activities that restore the spirit. Recently, in my house, that has meant bringing a journal to the dinner table each night so that my husband, daughter, and I can write a line of gratitude—no repeats! Whether it’s reflection, reading, exercise, or spending time with our family, it is up to us to practice self-care and show vulnerability by admitting our own struggles.

This isn’t going to be easy, and there’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. It will require us to learn an entire new vocabulary on mental health, and many organizations will have to undertake large structural and cultural transformations. But even when the challenges seem great, I know we can lift each other up. Every day, I draw inspiration from my colleagues. I know you do, too. It’s up to us to harness that inspiration into tangible change that can address mental health across the workforce.

This article was published by Fast Company on October 27, 2020.

What Business Can Learn from Supermarkets’ Pandemic Playbooks

Jennifer Spencer

Businesses across the board are struggling to meet the new demands put forth due to Covid. Increasing  while decreasing operational costs is not an easy feat. However, the country’s nearly 40,000 grocery stores, classified an essential service during the pandemic, have had to adapt quickly without any downtime. 

Only about 3 to 4 percent of grocery spending in the U.S. was online before the pandemic, but that’s surged to 10 to 15 percent, according to research by consulting firm Bain & Company. And in some cases, it’s much greater than that. 

“Early on during the pandemic, we saw a 300 percent increase, on average, in online grocery sales among our clients compared to the same time period last year. Some of our clients successfully handled much larger online sales spikes. A single location gourmet market in Brooklyn, New York, for example, went from $53,000 to $388,000 weekly online sales at the height of the pandemic,” says Dan Dashevsky, COO of My Cloud Grocer, an ecommerce software platform for  chains. The company offers a robust, customizable virtual storefront with a white-label platform that powers and integrates the full shopping experience.

As the current pandemic dramatically changes the landscape of  around the world, smart grocers are utilizing technology to grow their sales while safeguarding their customers. Let’s look at the technology and tactics businesses are using, not only to stay afloat during these troubled times but to thrive. 

Customer needs and their experience must come first 

The  should always be the driving force that determines how a website operates or which policies a company will enforce, but unfortunately. that is not always the case. During the pandemic, customers have complained that they’ve had to wait days or even weeks to receive grocery deliveries — not an ideal scenario when supplies are low and the need is greater. 

“Many online grocery platforms are only showing available delivery times at checkout — after customers have spent 20-40 minutes filling their carts with products — causing additional frustration for customers when they realize they can’t get their groceries within a reasonable time and on top of that, they’ve also wasted their time,” says Dashevsky. “We made sure that our clients’ platforms display the available delivery and pickup times as soon as shoppers add the first item to their cart.”

Why Forcing Employees Out Of Their Comfort Zones Achieves Greatness

Diverse teams are smarter teams. They have higher rates of innovation, error detection and creative problem solving.

In environments that possess diverse stakeholders, being able to have different perspectives in the room may even enable more alignment with varied customer needs.

Being able to think from different perspectives actually lights up areas of the brain, such as the emotional centres needed for perspective taking that would previously not be activated in similar or non-diverse groups.

In a nutshell, you use more of your brain when you encourage different perspectives by including different views in the room. However, work done at the NeuroLeadership Institute has proven that this only works when diverse teams are inclusive, and this still remains a key challenge in business today.

When we consider the amount of diversity present in the modern workplace and the addition of more diverse thinking as a result of globalisation and the use of virtual work teams, it’s clear that the ability to unlock the power of diversity is just waiting to be unleashed.

Here’s how you can unlock this powerful performance driver.

The Social Brain

Despite the rich sources of diversity present in most workplaces, companies are still often unable to leverage the different perspectives available to them in driving business goals. Recent breakthroughs in neuroscience have enabled us to understand why.The major breakthrough has centred around the basic needs of the social brain.  We have an instinctual need to continually define whether we are within an in-group or an out-group.

This is an evolutionary remnant of the brain that enabled us to strive to remain within a herd or group where we had access to social support structures, food and potential mates.

If we were part of the out-group it could literally have meant life or death. We are therefore hypersensitive to feelings of exclusion as it affected our survival.

The brain is further hardwired for threat and unconsciously scans our environments for threats five times a second. This means, coupled with our life or death need for group affiliation, we are hypersensitive to finding sameness and a need for in-group inclusion.

When we heard a rustle in a bush it was safer to assume that it may be a lion than a gust of wind. It is this threat detection network that has kept us alive until today.The challenge is that society has developed faster than our brains. In times of uncertainty we often jump to what is more threatening. Some of the ways that this plays out is when we leave someone out of an email and they begin to wonder why they were left out.

The problem is that it’s easy to unconsciously exclude someone if we are not actively including. The trouble occurs when we incorrectly use physical proxies to define in-group and out-group, as this is the most readily available evidence used unconsciously by the brain.

Barriers to Inclusion

A study done between a diverse group and non-diverse group demonstrates how this plays out in the work place. Both groups completed a challenging task and were asked how they felt they did as a team after the exercise.

The effectiveness of the team and how they perceived effectiveness were both measured in the study. It’s no surprise that the diverse team did better in the completion of the problem-solving task, but what is surprising is that they felt they did not do well.

In contrast, the non-diverse team did worse, but felt that they had done well. Working in a diverse team feels uncomfortable and that’s why we perform better.

Discomfort arouses our brain, which leads to better performance. It feels easier to work in a team where we feel at ease in sameness, but in that environment we are more prone to groupthink and are less effective.

Creating Inclusion

We can’t assume that when we place diverse teams together we will automatically reap the rewards of higher team performance. As discussed, we’re hardwired for sameness and if we’re not actively including, we may be unconsciously excluding.

If we want diversity to become a silver bullet, we need to actively make efforts to find common ground amongst disparate team members. This in turn will build team cohesion and create a sense of unity, including reminders of a shared purpose and shared goals. Many global businesses put an emphasis on a shared corporate culture that supersedes individual difference.

It’s the same mechanism that is used in science fiction films that bond individuals together against a common alien invasion. It can also be used to describe why we felt such a great sense of accomplishment during the 2010 World Cup as we banded together as a nation. 

We must also make sure we uplift all team members by sharing credit widely when available and recognising performance. The last thing we can do to further inclusion is to create clarity for teams.

By removing ambiguity, we allow individuals to not jump to conclusions about their membership within groups and calm their minds so they can use their mental capacity to focus on the task at hand.