7 phrases leaders should use more often to show vulnerability and build trust with their team

AmEx leadership lessons
As a leader, recognize that your tone can shift the energy in the room.

  • The tone and attitude of leaders can influence the psychological safety in their workplace.
  • Speaking honestly and openly can help you build a high-performing, engaged, and inclusive team.
  • Use phrases like ‘I appreciate you’ and ‘I’m sorry’ more often to build trust within your team.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

As a leader, your energy has a profound impact on your team. The way you show up in meetings and 1:1s, and even the tone in your emails can influence psychological safety in your workplace – for better or for worse. That’s why I often remind myself that words matter when it comes to building a high-performing, engaged, and inclusive team.

In an effort to be more intentional about the tone I’m setting every day, I’ve discovered these seven phrases help convey gratitude, vulnerability, and trust.

Read more: DEI professionals can make upwards of $200,000 a year. Experts reveal what it takes to land the job.

1. I appreciate you because …

Gratitude is a powerful tool; consider that more than 40% of Americans said they’d put more energy into their work if they were recognized more often. Importantly, though, is that gratitude works best when it’s specific. Don’t just thank people for their contributions. Tell them one thing you especially appreciated about how they ran that meeting, collaborated on that project, or shared that update. Doing so makes people feel seen, and who doesn’t love that?

2. What do you see that I don’t see?

My company now has a quarterly team meeting where people in our organization tell me about data I’m missing, perspectives I should be paying more attention to, or early warning signs of an issue we should spend more time on. These are some of my favorite meetings of the year, because I learn something new every time, and it’s a subtle reminder that leaders don’t have all the answers, but that we need, and value, our teams’ perspectives.

3. Welcome to the team

Being new is hard. Imposter syndrome is at an all-time high, and so proactively welcoming new employees is critical. I try to make it a point to see, notice, and welcome new people in our organization and learn a little bit about what makes them tick. Inclusion and belonging start on day one, so taking a few minutes to make an active effort helps people feel confident they made the right choice joining your team.

4. I’ve got you

My company starts our leadership meetings with a few structured prompts, and one of the questions is, “Who will you ask for help when you need it?” The person you choose then responds with “I’ve got you.” It’s just three words, but it normalizes both relying on the support of others and being ready to give it. That’s why this simple phrase helps build a culture of trust.

5. Tell me more

We all know that active listening is a critical skill in leadership. But if you’re like me, a fast talker and quick reactor, then it’s probably not always your first instinct. When I feel myself speeding up, I try to ask people to tell me more about their idea, challenge, or observation. Not only do they feel heard, but I can actually give better advice as a result.

6. I’m sorry

Vulnerability is arguably one of the most important traits of a great leader. The easiest way to practice it is to admit when you’ve made a mistake. For example, I recently derailed a meeting because I wasn’t as prepared as I could’ve been, and it resulted in my getting frustrated. Later that day, I apologized to the team and we moved forward. Remember that you’re a human being; it’s not only OK to admit when you’re wrong, but it also goes a long way with your team in building trust.

7. I’m signing off

Now that workplaces are reopening after the pandemic, many companies are trying to figure out how to effectively address burnout. One of the most meaningful actions we can take as leaders is to set the tone at the top that it’s not only OK to take a break but that it’s encouraged. Leave loudly by telling your team you’re signing off or using a Slack emoji to show that you’re offline. These seemingly small signals go a long way in promoting healthy work-life integration.

The most important thing we can do as leaders is recognize that our tone can shift the energy in the room (or Zoom). That doesn’t mean you need to be a cheerleader every day – you’re only human, after all – but it should serve as a reminder that your words carry weight. So when possible, choose them intentionally.

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Shark Tank’s Daymond John shares his process for creating a powerful mission statement for your brand

daymond john
Daymond John.

  • Daymond Johnson has a process for creating a mission statement that’s clear and easy to digest.
  • Reach out to your customers to share the first draft of your mission statement and ask for feedback.
  • Have them explain the mission back to you, and center your brand around their most used words.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

When it comes to mission-driven companies, sometimes customers care more about the mission than the company itself – which is why a strong mission can carry a business a long way.

That’s according to Shark Tank investor and serial founder Daymond John, who learned this lesson after investing in cult favorite sock company Bombas, which donates clothing to homeless shelters for every pair of socks sold. Simply put, John realized that customers care about companies that give back and have a clear mission people feel good about.

Read more: BARBARA CORCORAN: Here’s what I’m doing to keep my team and my Shark Tank businesses alive during this recession

It’s a lesson that factors prominently in John’s new course on entrepreneurship for kids ages 10 to 17. He shared with Inc. a process he teaches these young students and adult entrepreneurs alike about creating a mission statement that’s clear and easy to digest for customers.

The first step is reaching out to your customers to share the first draft of your mission statement for feedback. If you don’t have customers yet, John suggests querying family and friends who fit the target audience for your idea. Gather your small group, share your thoughts, and have your audience repeat back to you, in their own words, what they understand your mission to be. Pay special attention to words that get repeated. You want to make sure how you’re phrasing your mission truly communicates what you’re intending.

“There are gonna be so many different things to understand the identity and the DNA of your product, service, or brand,” he said. “You’ve got to come up with your two to five words of what you represent. Is there a social cause behind it? Is it price competitive? Is it luxury?”

He also suggests creating a separate value statement by asking yourself the following questions:

  • What do you want to solve?
  • What do you love?
  • What would you do for free every single day and why do you do it?
  • What joy does your business bring?
  • What about your business will create unity?

Once you have your value statement and two to five words that your group agrees clearly communicate your values, center your brand messaging on those words, according to John. What makes sense to your customer will give your marketing the strongest impact.

And while the initial steps of building a business can be tough, John says to look at it as an opportunity to lay the framework for something great. “The beginning part of the story is the best part,” he said.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Kickstarter is transitioning to a 4-day work week in 2022 – here’s how it’s shown to improve output and work-life balance

kickstarter office tour
The Kickstarter office in Brooklyn.

  • Crowdfunding platform Kickstarter said it will be moving to a four-day workweek in 2022.
  • CEO Aziz Hasan told Axios the pandemic inspired the transition for its 90 employees.
  • Companies that have already tested it, like Microsoft Japan, saw a huge productivity spike.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Kickstarter is launching one of its most interesting projects yet: a four-day workweek for its employees.

The Brooklyn-based crowdfunding platform announced last week that starting in 2022, it will become the first company to join a set of pilot programs called 4 Day Week US. The programs, launched in part by Kickstarter executive Jon Leland, are a spinoff from 4 Day Week Global, a not-for-profit that promotes a shortened work schedule. On Monday, 4 Day Week US circulated an employee petition to help identify companies to target, and encouraged employers to join the program.

For business owners, this could be the perfect time to experiment.

“Remote workers are now coming back, and they’re used to some flexibility,” said Chris Mullen, executive director at Boston-based think tank the Workforce Institute. Mullen advises most employers to try it, provided they first gauge employees’ interest and engage in significant dialogue about how to do it effectively.

Read more: I manage money for ultra-high net worth clients and experienced burnout early in my career. Here are 4 things I did to recover and improve my quality of life.

The four-day workweek has gotten some traction in recent years. In March, Spain’s government announced it would pay companies to try it. London-based consumer goods company Unilever began a yearlong test in its New Zealand offices in November 2020. And Buffer, a San Francisco-based social media software company, tried the schedule in 2020 and decided to continue it into 2021 because it “resulted in sustained productivity levels and a better sense of work-life balance,” according to a company blog post.

Kickstarter CEO Aziz Hasan told Axios that the pandemic inspired him to try a four-day workweek for its 90 employees.

“What we’ve been all living through the last 18 months, you feel this compression on your professional life, your personal life,” he said.

A Kickstarter spokesperson says the company has not yet determined how it will implement the schedule. 4 Day Week usually advocates a 32-hour workweek comprising four eight-hour days.

The results of early experiments have been promising. When Microsoft Japan tested the four-day week in 2019, productivity spiked by 40% and 92% of employees said they liked the schedule. A 2020 study of 350 people in the Philippines published in the Journal of Physics suggested that compressed workweeks help workers feel less stressed and manage their personal lives more effectively.

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3 ways leaders can help ease workplace stress and avoid employee burnout

employees
Employees who feel they can bring their whole selves to work perform the best.

  • Reports of burnout, stress, and loneliness levels are high as employees continue working from home.
  • Improving these conditions and rebuilding psychological safety will require leaders to step up.
  • Show gratitude for your employees, check-in frequently, and build resilience into the workforce.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The crisis is subsiding, but its wounds run deep. For all the heroic efforts of employees to keep companies operating, the past 16-plus months have left a powerful psychological scar.

A recent Workhuman survey of more than 3,000 US workers reveals a workforce in trouble. The data shows 48% of employees agree they’ve experienced burnout, 61% feel elevated stress levels, and 32% agree that they’ve felt lonely at work.

The emotional toll has been greater for working parents (especially mothers). Observed differences in stress and burnout levels between men and women appear to be related to caregiving responsibilities as well as the disproportionate loss of jobs among women.

Early in the crisis, for example, mothers with young children decreased their work hours four to five times more than fathers. The survey, which asked seven questions related to psychological safety, also discovered that non-White employees experienced lower levels than their White co-workers.

Read more: I manage money for ultra-high net worth clients and experienced burnout early in my career. Here are 4 things I did to recover and improve my quality of life.

The impact of psychological safety

Google’s People Operations team found that the number one driver of successful teams is psychological safety, an environment where people feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of one another.

When people feel safe, they will innovate, cooperate, and show up as their full selves at work, which are critical qualities in today’s agile environment. Conversely, lack of psychological safety in the workforce is corrosive; it endangers all plans to return to the “next normal.”

Rebuilding psychological safety after a crisis requires leaders to speak candidly about the toll employees have suffered, and show the way forward with a more human-centered approach to managing:

1. Say “thank you” more often

“Recognition builds lasting connections between people,” said Workhuman CEO Eric Mosley. “Great leaders instinctively know that the more human connection in a company, the better it performs.”

It’s easy to see why receiving a “thank you” makes an employee feel appreciated. What’s less obvious is that showing appreciation for someone’s efforts improves the positive feelings for the giver as well. Mutual recognition and gratitude help people take off their emotional armor. When employees do that, they feel safer as well as more connected.

2. Check in with employees more frequently

People who check in with their manager at least once a week experience higher psychological safety than those who check in less frequently, and yet only 29% of respondents in the Workhuman survey said they check in with their manager every week.

IBM is taking the lead on changing that statistic, emphasizing more frequent feedback for everyone. CHRO Nickle LaMoreaux, who spoke with Workhuman co-founder and CEO Eric Mosley, cites it as one of IBM’s four priorities, saying, “Feedback is as important as growth, innovation, and inclusivity, because you can’t have those first three elements without feedback.”

3. Build resilience into your culture

While you might not be able to prevent the next crisis from happening, you can take steps now to build resilience into the workforce, enabling people to deal well with external stressors.

For example, psychological safety can become part of your hybrid workplace design as you return to the office. You can consider formalizing appreciation and thank-yous with a data-rich social recognition system. You can strengthen diversity, inclusion, and belonging efforts by helping managers understand and mitigate unconscious biases.

Imagine how much time and resources would be salvaged if your organization moves the needle on psychological safety. If all employees, and especially underrepresented groups, feel more comfortable sharing ideas and bringing their whole selves to contribute, the “next normal” won’t just be a recovery from the crisis but a fresh start. There will never be a better time than now to build psychological safety into your culture.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Why non-negotiable downtime is the most beneficial habit for your professional growth

running exercise catching breath fitness workout
Keeping your body in shape can help you keep your business in shape.

  • If you want to grow your business, creating space and stillness in your life must be non-negotiable.
  • Developing healthy habits will help you turn downtime into a valuable asset to your career.
  • Create a rest routine, take time to reflect, and follow a fitness schedule to keep your body going.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

You want to change the world, so you work long, tireless hours, your mind never shuts off, and your body never rests. It feels as if your life were burning on both ends of the candlestick, but you can’t seem to let yourself stop.

I used to live that way, too. The idea of taking a break or resting was unimaginable. And the few evenings when I attempted to unwind and enjoy some free time, all I did was feel guilty about stepping away. I’d wind up returning to work later into the night than usual.

Was it healthy? No. Was I more productive? Not necessarily.

Here’s the truth. If you want to actually impart change, drive your mission forward, and grow your business, then creating space and stillness in your life must be non-negotiable. To do so requires a mindset shift away from thinking breaks are bad. To turn downtime into a valuable asset, I started to do the following three actions.

Schedule your downtime

Most people think taking breaks is spontaneous, but the best way to stop is to plan accordingly. When nighttime comes around, your circadian rhythm and body know without consciously thinking that it’s time to sleep. You’re training your body and mind to anticipate shutting down. You can impart this same level of shift within your daily or weekly schedule.

Create a routine for your rest. Whether it’s a block of time in the morning, a day during the week, or a few minutes throughout the day, plan time to take a break and stick to it. Every Wednesday and Sunday, for example, I have blocked off time specifically for relaxation and reflection. This has become a non-negotiable in my life in order to instill the habit within my mind and the cycle within my body to unwind. Taking downtime becomes a habit, similar to that of checking email.

Read more: Breaking these 3 bad habits will increase work productivity, according to a doctor and CEO

Participate in reflection

The thoughts and ideas that flow through your mind are how you raise your value as a leader. So use moments of pause to bolster your brain’s ability to think stronger and faster.

Take space to allow yourself to think. Focus on an aspect of business that you want to improve. Think about where you want to be and whether you are on the fastest path to get there.

In our society, we have become accustomed to constantly being stimulated and entertained. As a result, we must actively block time to find stillness, and allow these moments of perceived boredom to spark inner dreams and allow creativity to flourish. During this time, hold no judgment of the ideas you come up with.

You don’t need to work 12 grueling hours each day. You need one moment of insight.

Take care of your body

Some of the biggest deterrents to actual wealth creation and success are not resources, investors, or a strong supply chain; it’s your personal health. If you are energized, you are more likely to act and be bold when you experience fear or moments of opportunity. If you have taken care of yourself, you can more easily show up to connect with and support your employees, partners, and customers.

You are the leader within your organization. If something happens to you, everything is compromised. You must take care of yourself as if you are going to be around for a while. During your moments of space, create a wellness routine, navigate your fitness schedule, and give your body, mind, and spirit what it needs most. Some days, this looks like hitting the gym really hard, and other days, it consists of meditating, getting a massage, or reading a book.

Health is a resource that you can always provide to yourself.

Creating space for downtime in your life is necessary. After all, the entrepreneur road isn’t an end goal, it is a way of life. If you want to enjoy it for the long term, you must be willing to pause, reflect, and rejuvenate. It might just land you farther forward than those late nights at the office ever could.

Read the original article on Business Insider

3 qualities you should look for when hiring for leadership and C-suite roles

Notion Executive team
The best candidate not only demonstrates “teamwork”┬ábut lives and breathes that ethos to lead your business to the next level.

  • Hiring for executive and leadership roles places immense pressure on companies and their founders.
  • The best candidates for executive roles understand the immense value of multigenerational employees.
  • They should also be willing to embrace technology, communicate strongly, and be data-driven.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

While last year was all about the transition to remote work, one of the biggest challenges of 2021 is the shift of the recruitment landscape.

As it stands, hiring for executive and leadership roles places immense pressure on companies and their founders. But it’s not about finding a quick hire to fill the role and ease the pressure. Now more than ever, executives who help steer the ship, collaborate successfully with partners, stakeholders, and staff, and can take a handle on things when business shifts are in high demand.

Read more: A 22-year-old bitcoin multimillionaire shares how he spends his money after dropping out of high school

Here are the qualities every CEO will look for when hiring for their executive team this year:

They are multigenerational

If the previous year has taught us anything, it’s certainly the value of clear and concise communication. As some leaders were conducting business from vacation homes and golf courses, much to the frustration of employees, it’s been revealing for many organizations how little their leadership can effectively rally the troops.

A leader who embraces technology, communicates strongly, and understands the value of multigenerational employees will continue to be in high demand in 2021. These exceptional leaders seek out opportunities to better communicate and will analyze how employees contribute to the new blended model of leadership. They understand and will make sure everyone is on board, from Millennials to the old guard.

While navigating interviews, take note of candidates who mention nourishing and utilizing people’s strengths, those who have introduced new automations to make things easier for their team, or those who lead with empathy especially in a pandemic. Ultimately, you’re seeking out someone who not only demonstrates “teamwork” but lives and breathes that ethos to lead your business to the next level.

They have a specialty

Gone are the days of the traditionalist. Enter the specialist. In a post-pandemic world, executives who consistently deliver on customer success, optimize team performance and enhance culture, or improve business efficiencies will be in high demand as much of the world will be in a hybrid or remote-work model. These leaders will possess a deep understanding of your company vision and the sustainability of your business, a key ingredient in future-proofing your business.

How do you know you’ve found the leader who can take your business to the next level? The candidate’s work will speak for itself. Have they been successful in navigating pandemic decisions (large or small)? Have them speak candidly about the impact they’ve had, success, or challenges throughout the pandemic.

They’re data-driven

Just as exceptional as their communication skills are, leaders who thrive off data and make analytical decisions will be at the forefront of leadership teams this year. An executive who understands metrics and data makes decisions based on facts, not instinct. This data-first mind is particularly useful for proactive planning and especially important when blended office models, a flexible arrangement of both in-office and remote work, will become increasingly popular in 2021.

Just as the pandemic required businesses to pivot and make quick business decisions for precautionary COVID-19 measures, now business leaders are making reopening plans and moves based on their employees’ and customers’ needs. Potential leaders who can identify or provide examples where they have relied on data to plan, communicate, and execute strategies, whether team or consumer-based, should be high on your list of candidates. During the interview, listen closely throughout for insight as to how they formed conclusions or made bigger decisions pre- or post-pandemic.

Read the original article on Business Insider

4 pre-pandemic habits to leave behind when going back to the office

Office workers stock
Leaders should consider leaving behind office “norms” that no longer fit into the post-pandemic structure.

  • Work and the workplace office structure has evolved as a result of the pandemic.
  • Leaders should consider making changes post-pandemic to be more supportive of employees.
  • Long meetings, long commutes, and pressure to work when sick should be left behind.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

As the pace of vaccinations accelerates and states loosen mask-wearing and social-distancing restrictions, employers are spending a lot of time determining how to safely bring people back into the office. But health and safety measures aren’t the only aspects of workplaces that need to evolve. Leaders should use this opportunity to part ways with office norms that no longer serve their employees – and maybe never did.

While it’s natural to want to return to “the way things were,” instead of harping on nostalgia and what will be missed, you need to think about the long-term changes you can make in how your office works rather than temporary changes driven by the pandemic.

Here are four things I believe will make the office better if we leave them in the pre-pandemic era:

1. Hosting long and laborious meetings

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the number of meetings per person has risen by 12% since the pandemic, yet the average length of a meeting has declined by 20%. That means that despite people’s calendars getting booked more often, there’s a bigger appetite for bite-size meetings over the longer 60- or 90-minute sessions.

While COVID restrictions may force us to rethink meeting rooms, I’d challenge us to rethink the meeting itself. Let’s make better use of our time and energy by sending a pre-meeting memo and using our time together to align on actions and decisions. Or, rather than spending 30 minutes walking through updates, consider a Loom video and allow folks to react and respond asynchronously.

2. Scheduling after-work events

Before the pandemic, there was the notion that bonding and networking only happen in person. And those opportunities often happened after 5 p.m. Whether you’re a caregiver, have hobbies outside of work, are an introvert, or just want brighter lines between work and fun, we need to be more intentional about creating meaningful connections with our colleagues while still allowing folks to keep their work-life balance.

Instead of defaulting back to in-person, after-work events, I’ll be looking to add breaks within the workday where teams can connect and socialize that don’t start super early or end late so that everyone can attend whether they are in the office or working remotely.

3. Coming into the office when you’re sick

We’ve all felt the existential dread of walking into a conference room with someone who is coughing and sneezing. The only way we can return to working from an office is to learn from the past year and err on the side of caution when it comes to health.

My hope is that after a year of normalizing the concept that work isn’t just a place, employees will be more comfortable with staying home when feeling under the weather. It simply isn’t worth putting other employees and teammates at risk. For managers and leaders, the end of the pandemic shouldn’t mean the end of encouraging people to avoid the office if they aren’t feeling well.

No one should be expected to show up and tough it out, and no one should be rewarded for doing so.

4. Sitting through painful commute times

The average American worker spent 225 hours, or well over nine full calendar days, commuting before the pandemic. Seventy-five percent of Americans typically travel by car to get to work, which also has a negative impact on carbon emissions. There are definitely advantages to a commute, including separation between work and home and time to think or read, but for many people, commuting for hours at a time is something they would like to avoid doing every single day.

Providing options for employees to work when and where they work best will continue to be the best strategy for hiring and retaining top talent, and create less congestion on the road in the process.

While some have been counting down the days until they return to the office, there are a lot of people who are nervous about what that will look like and what’s expected of them. As business leaders, the return to the office is an opportunity to rebuild what worked and rethink what didn’t. Regardless of what you choose to keep or leave behind, your strategy should be rooted in empathy, clear communication, and a mission to create a better workplace than the one we left.

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Why you should try Melinda Gates’ ‘word of the year’ strategy instead of setting big, lofty goals

Melinda French Gates
Melinda French Gates.

  • Big, lofty goals can be demotivating – try focusing on how you want to feel in the moment instead.
  • Melinda Gates does this by choosing a ‘word of the year’ instead of making New Year’s resolutions.
  • Gates says focusing her attention on the moment creates more powerful change than a long-term goal.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Those who dream big dreams are often advised to set big goals. But there are a few big problems with big goals. First, they can be demotivating. People stumble and give up hope, or feel their destination is too far away to even attempt to reach.

Second, big goals can actually turn into distracting daydreams, science shows. Rather than do the hard work that’s required to reach their aims, people imagine their fabulous future and actually end up less hungry to make it happen in reality.

Finally, big goals often take a long time to achieve. By the time we reach our destination, we’ve changed so much that we no longer even want whatever it is we’ve been working so hard for.

So what works better than big, fixed, long-term goals? Melinda Gates and others, including some of the world’s happiest people, offer the same suggestions, and you’re going to love how simple they are.

Read more: Coaches, founders, and executives share how they’re setting goals this year

Why you need a ‘word of the day’

Writing on Fast Company recently, Michelle Wax, the founder of the American Happiness Project, explained the lessons she learned from interviewing 500 exceptionally happy people. Among her takeaways was the immense value of a “words to live by list.”

“Often, people think once you achieve a life goal, you’ll achieve long-term happiness, but that wasn’t the case for the majority of people I spoke with. For them, happiness was a muscle they needed to continuously exercise and reevaluate,” Wax wrote.

Rather than rely just on big, distant goals, the super joyful focused on how they wanted to feel and behave in the moment. “List a handful of words that embody the emotions and experiences you want to be feeling,” Wax instructed. “Once you have your list, you can start to shift your activities, thoughts, and content to align with those words.”

Process beats vision.

As soon as I read this advice, it struck me that I’d heard it before, and not just from some extremely cheerful friend. Melinda French Gates, the billionaire philanthropist and soon-to-be ex-wife of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, once made a very similar point though in a different context.

As Gates explained a few years ago on LinkedIn, she’s not a big fan of the subset of goals known as New Year’s resolutions. Instead, she sets herself a “word of the year.” Previous choices include grace, spacious, and gentle. Each “encapsulates my aspirations for the twelve months ahead,” she wrote.

Like the exceptionally happy folks Wax spoke to, Gates believes focusing her attention on the feelings she wants to experience moment to moment is a more powerful way to change her behavior than a long-term goal. Gates, for instance, recalled her touchstone word grace “during difficult conversations, long days at the office, busy trips with our foundation. … When I was upset or distressed, I whispered it to myself: ‘Grace.'”

While it can be hard to translate distant goals into daily behavior, a word of the day (or year) or personal mantra of some kind is always there to help you make sure your conduct lines up with your values and aspirations. And as “Atomic Habits” author James Clear points out, when it comes to achieving great things, a focus on the daily process will get you further than a focus on the end goal itself.

Or to put that more concretely, setting yourself the goal of writing a book can be stressful, vague, or overwhelming. Repeating the mantra “write” to yourself each day is more likely to keep you pumping out pages. Eventually you just may have a book.

So if your big goals don’t seem to be getting you far, consider taking the advice of Gates, Clear, and a bunch of happy folks and swap them for touchstone words instead.

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These green tech companies are planning to capitalize on President Biden’s infrastructure plan – here’s how

Virgin hyperloop test site
Inside Virgin Hyperloop’s new test facility in West Virginia.

  • Biden’s infrastructure plan could create growth opportunities for many sustainable tech companies.
  • The proposal calls for a $2 trillion commitment to clean energy, roads, bridges, transit, and more.
  • Virgin Hyperloop, Sealed, and CityZenith stand to benefit, but Depcom Power isn’t quite convinced.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

When Virgin Hyperloop cofounder Josh Giegel saw the Biden Administration’s infrastructure proposal, he couldn’t help but think some details sounded familiar. The American Jobs Plan calls for “the second great railroad revolution” – trains that are faster, cleaner, and more energy-efficient, which is the kind of technology Giegel’s California-based company has been working on since 2014. As such, Giegel has little doubt the company will be able to capitalize on America’s push toward greener infrastructure.

“At the end of this decade,” he said, “I think we’ll be talking about the decade of Hyperloop.”

Read more: Meet the architects building multimillion-dollar underground bunkers for the ultra-rich, complete with secret bookcase doorways and robot security

It’s still early days for the infrastructure plan, but Virgin Hyperloop is one of many tech companies well-positioned to capitalize on it. The proposal, which will need approval from the Senate and House before it can be signed into law, calls for a $2 trillion commitment to clean energy projects, roads and bridges, transit systems, agriculture, and home and building upgrades, among other initiatives. Companies in fields ranging from artificial intelligence to construction all stand to benefit.

“The private sector will play an essential role in this,” said climate economist Gernot Wagner, associate professor at New York University and coauthor of “Climate Shock: The Economic Consequences of a Hotter Planet.” “This is about incentivizing, motivating, and providing the money for private contractors and private businesses to come and build.”

For its part, Virgin Hyperloop has been pushing to get its high-speed, magnetic levitation rails built in the US since it began as Hyperloop One in a Los Angeles garage seven years ago. The startup rebranded after Richard Branson invested and joined its board in 2017. Last November, the company held its first passenger test when Giegel and a colleague rode in a Hyperloop pod within a vacuum-sealed tube. Virgin Hyperloop has held discussions with local governments about potential routes like Seattle to Portland and Chicago to Pittsburgh.

Giegel said a fully constructed Hyperloop will be able to travel at the speed of an aircraft, with a 10th of the energy consumption. One railway in each direction could move as many people as a 30-lane highway – with a fraction of the carbon emissions, given that the system runs on electricity.

“We have an opportunity now for a seismic change,” said Giegel. “We can make decisions now that we’ll benefit from in the 2060s and 2070s and beyond.”

Greenhouse effect

Biden’s infrastructure plan calls for upgrading four million buildings and two million homes to make them more energy-efficient. Lauren Salz, cofounder and CEO of New York City-based Sealed, hopes her company would benefit from the legislation. Sealed uses artificial intelligence and algorithms to calculate savings to a potential client’s utility bill based on factors like geographic location, size, and age of the home. If an upgrade makes financial sense, the company hires contractors to perform the work, which can include sealing leaks and installing new HVAC systems, smart thermostats, and energy-efficient LED bulbs. There’s no cost to the homeowner, and Sealed keeps the cost of the energy savings.

Sealed currently operates in New York State and is looking to expand soon. The infrastructure plan might necessitate that. “Private-public partnerships are definitely a possibility with this bill,” said Salz. “If that opportunity arose, and if it made sense for us and our customers, we’d definitely be interested.”

Even if no such deals come to fruition, Salz points out that having home-efficiency upgrades included in the plan should give the industry momentum. “There’s been a lack of awareness around how important energy efficiency is, particularly in the residential market,” said Salz. “It’s pretty exciting that it’s making it into the national discussion.”

Jump-starting growth

Construction firms will be sure to get a boost from new infrastructure legislation – as will tech companies that specialize in various aspects of the building process. Chicago-based software company CityZenith builds digital twins of physical spaces, allowing engineers and politicians to study proposed and in-progress projects to see how certain materials and features would impact the project’s carbon footprint and energy usage. The firm is currently working with the organizers of a new sports and entertainment district in Orlando and the 2030 District in New York City, a set of neighborhoods being outfitted with renewable energy and more sustainable design.

CityZenith founder Michael Jansen thinks the Biden proposal would be a boon for business. “We expect to get a lot of different types of work out of this,” he said. “The plan affords a lot of opportunities for projects that address climate change. It’s bold – and right now, the nation needs bold.”

Not all green tech entrepreneurs agree. Johnnie Taul, CEO of Scottsdale, Arizona-based solar power plant company Depcom Power, which claimed the No. 5 spot on the 2018 Inc. 500 and expects to hit $1 billion in annual revenue by next year, isn’t encouraged. “From what I’ve seen of the plan, I don’t have any positive takeaways,” he said. Taul doesn’t believe the government should play a role in helping certain industries grow, even if his industry is one that stands to benefit. He has a different idea for how to ensure the solar industry continues its growth.

“Lowering taxes,” he said. “It allows good businesses like ours to hire more, innovate more.”

NYU’s Wagner thinks it isn’t so simple, especially when something like climate change is at stake. “If you want the outcome that’s best for society and best overall, there is a very real role for government to play,” he said, adding that he believes Biden’s plan will have a positive overall impact on the private sector. “Investing money in green infrastructure creates jobs.”

Wagner notes that entrepreneurs in any industries potentially impacted by the plan should take the time now to ensure they’re ready if it’s passed. If you’re a roofer, for example, make sure you know how to install solar panels, but also know what permits and certificates you need, how to deal with local utility companies, how to talk with customers about pricing, and what you’ll need to do to potentially earn a government contract.

“It’s better to climb that learning curve now rather than later,” said Wagner. “There’s a lot of specialized learning involved and a lot of companies looking to take advantage of this plan.”

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5 employee retention strategies to keep working mothers – and all caretakers – from feeling burned out

Working mom
The flexibility to work from home is one great way to keep mothers and caretakers on staff long-term.

  • The pandemic has upended how we work, and employers have found creative ways to retain hard workers.
  • Parents and other caregivers need more flexibility to manage their jobs and their families at the same time.
  • Employers can help by looking at their employees’ lives holistically and making adjustments.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

During the depths of the pandemic, business owners had to get creative about keeping their best employees – especially moms, who were more likely to have to quit their jobs to care for school-age kids and sick family members. Now, with a light at the end of the tunnel, many entrepreneurs have no desire to go back to 2019.

Their pandemic-era strategies, devised to help hold onto parents, are helping them retain valued employees, recruit talent, and often, work more efficiently. Here are the parent-friendly strategies that entrepreneurs are employing for the long haul:

1. Keep working from home, mostly

There’s no doubt that the pandemic has had lasting effects on attitudes about remote work. While only 13% of companies say they’re giving up their offices for good, only 17% plan to go back to the office full time. And a number of entrepreneurs say this sort of flexibility is exactly what working parents need.

Gita Bhargava, the cofounder of outsourced HR and payroll services provider Global Upside, always thought the best way to bring new employees up to speed was to have them sit next to her. However, that’s not always practical. Her company has 500 employees in 170 countries, each with its own complex legal and regulatory requirements.

“The pandemic has opened my eyes,” she said. “I have changed my mind completely.” She used to think it was difficult to hire people with the experience she needs; now, she hires for fit – regardless of location – and trains new hires to do the work. “You can be working anywhere in the world,” she said. “And if you are working at home, I will be calling you to tell you not to burn the candle at both ends. The sky will not fall because you didn’t answer your email today.”

At Upside, an 85-person corporate travel company, the onset of the pandemic coincided with the expiration of the company’s lease. (Travel company Upside is unrelated to HR company Global Upside.) Its CEO, Scott Case, who was also the founding CTO of Priceline.com, decided the company would go fully remote, for good. Aside from the real estate savings, he wanted to give the parents on staff a bit of certainty at a particularly uncertain time. Those with families far away could move closer to them to get child care support, without having to worry that they’d lose their jobs once it was safe to go back to the office. A handful of people, said Case, left the company, saying they counted on having some social interaction at work. Case said he’ll get the staff together, maybe once a quarter, when it’s safe to do so. “We could have a really great party with the money we’ll save on real estate,” he said.

Talia Goldstein, the founder and president of matchmaking service Three Day Rule, ran a fully remote company before the pandemic. Her matchmakers never would have been in the office anyway, since their job was to meet potential matches for their clients.

Now those same interviews are conducted via video, and Goldstein said her company is never going back. Her team saves on travel time this way, she said, but that’s not even the biggest advantage. In interviews, matchmakers are asking people about their dating history, their family life, and other personal topics. Now, they’re finding those conversations are flowing more easily.

“Maybe people were a bit nervous because at a coffee shop, there are people around them,” she said. “They are much more comfortable divulging information on video. That part is so much better.”

2. Stay flexible with schedules and time on the job

For many families whose school-age kids are suddenly at home, 9-to-5 is no longer the peak productive time for work. Strongsuit, a 15-person company that provides families with a tech-enabled chief of staff, already had a customer service team that was fully remote. But in the spring of 2020, those employees started asking for various changes in their working hours. When plan B didn’t work either, employees would ask for yet another schedule – and likely, yet another change after that. Founder Lindsey Michaelides realized her staff needed total flexibility, even though her customers were accustomed to near-instantaneous response times.

Michaelides started by trying to reset customer expectations, letting them know that any message not marked “urgent” might have a 24-hour turnaround time. As a company that was started to support parents, she explained, it needed to make this change to support the parents on its own staff. “The customers were amazing,” said Michaelides. “We got applause.” It’s a relief for the employees, too, said Michaelides: “It gives them total control.”

In some cases, even total control wasn’t enough. Strongsuit has allowed its employees to reduce the overall number of hours they work, if necessary. Customer service staff were supposed to commit to at least 30 hours a week; now, some work just 15 hours a week.

3. Work smarter, with batch processing and asynchronous communication

Colugo, an 11-person Philadelphia-based company that makes baby gear, also found it had to offer flexible hours so its employees – eight of whom have young kids at home – could try to deal with both parenting and work. But the company also realized it needed to work smarter. One answer: batch processing. If a customer needed a refund, a team member used to see that request in Slack and respond right away. Questions about inventory were handled similarly.

But cofounder Christy MacGregor realized the inventory and refund requests weren’t actually urgent. So why not handle them all at once?

“A lot of this can be batch processed more efficiently,” she said. Now the person working on the last shift of the day will do all the inventory work in one go. Refunds get handled similarly. “The pandemic has forced us to become more efficient and find better ways to work,” said MacGregor. “We definitely want to continue that.”

4. Limit meetings

Employees who need maximum flexibility often find that meetings are the bane of their existence – or at least of their calendars. So Strongsuit’s Michaelides is on a quest to get rid of as many meetings as she can. The company’s daily standup now takes place on Slack. Instead of asking everyone to dial in at the same time, every day, a Slackbot programmed by one of the company’s developers walks them through a series of questions: How are you showing up today? What are your top three priorities? What are your needs of your teammates? What are you grateful for today?

All-hands meetings went from weekly to biweekly to quarterly. Team meetings, which used to take place weekly, are now every other week. “Do we need the all-hands meetings?” Michaelides wondered. “Or can we keep up the cultural health of the organization if we move it to Slack?”

5. Support mental health days

A few founders said they are reinforcing the idea of mental health days. Even with so-called unlimited vacation, they say, employees are reluctant to take time off. So they’re assigning everyone mental health days, often once a quarter, on a use-it-or-lose-it basis. All staffers are expected to take them, which helps remove some of the stigma that employees might feel if they’re perceived to be struggling.

“How do I have a conversation where I can say, look, you’ve had a lot of crazy shit going on. Maybe you need to take a day,” said Upside’s Case. The goal of the quarterly mental health day, he said, “is to help normalize that conversation.”

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