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Mr. CEO — Supporting Your Staff and Employee Productivity

 

employeeproductivityYou’re running your business. Livin’ large, as they said in the 90’s — or so you think. It’s time for a little introspection, some self-analysis and a dash of good, old fashioned business advice to answer one question: Are you stifling your staff?

Employee productivity can be affected by a lot of what you do. It could be about your attitude, it could have to do with how things are being run or any number of other factors. Right now, though, this is about you. We’re going to give you a few points to chew on so you don’t make the mistake of stifling your staff and hindering employee productivity — whether that has to do with their ambition, creativity or feelings of value to your company.

Amp Up Employee Productivity

Be Self-Aware (And Other-Aware)

We’ll hit you with the hard one first. Self-awareness is not something to learn and then forget — it takes constant thought and effort. Take the time to get inside your own head and see how what you do and say affects those around you, particularly your employees. Find out how they function (there are plenty of personality tests out there specifically for the workplace) and consciously make the effort to use it in your employee/employer relationship. Don’t neglect needs for encouragement and learn how to recognize your own flaws (and the problems they may be causing) instead of placing the blame elsewhere.

Have Room and Grace for Failures

As with many things, fear is the enemy of the productive workplace. How do you treat failure? Is it grounds for pay cuts, firings and other forms of career execution? Part of management is making sure that there isn’t fear crippling your employees. Without room for failure and risk, there’s no room for creativity and innovation. If failure is a death sentence in your company, start changing that part of the culture. Treat the occasional failure as a learning process. See the merit in the attempt. While some errors are too big to overlook, most aren’t.

Criticize Constructively

Remember those failures? Don’t just chuck them out the window as you mutter to yourself about how terrible an idea it was (or worse, yell at them about how terrible of an idea it was). That serves only to discourage your employee from making genuine attempts to innovate. Instead of cutting their ideas down, see space to improve them. If they don’t work, they don’t work, but that news can always be framed with encouragement to try new approaches and generate new ideas. Outright rejection may be easiest, but it cuts your employees off from ever wanting to suggest anything — even things that do have merit and can shape your company for the better.

Forget Micromanaging

You hired these people to do a job. So let them do their job. It’s natural that new employees will need guidance in the first few months. That’s fine. Standing over their shoulder and constantly “double checking” that things were right a year or more in to work? Not so fine. Let your employees do their job, give them some trust and confidence. After all, you did hire them. Micromanaging and doing their jobs for them is a sure-fire way to get a heap of resentment and keep your employee productivity (and your own productivity) at an all time low.

Get Organized

Yes, you’re busy. Maybe you’re a little scatterbrained on top of it — but you can’t let that keep you from communicating clearly and effectively with your staff. Make sure they know schedules week-to-week, have tasks and expectations clearly defined and know what the company goals are. An employee without clear direction is not going to be productive. Your overall vision down to the nitty-gritty details should be communicated well. It’ll keep everyone out of a crisis.

While there are plenty of other steps to take to encourage innovation and keep your from unintentionally stifling employee productivity, we hope you’ll take this business advice to heart. Even if you’re doing a great job and the ideas are flowing like there’s no tomorrow, sometimes we all need a reminder to be the best that you — and your company — can be.


What do you do to encourage innovative thinking in the workplace? Let us know in the comments.

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image credit: herval


5 Innovative Office Gadgets for Your Holiday Wish List

 

office gadgetsDo you consider yourself the king or queen of office accessories? Of course you can decorate your workspace with the kitschy and quirky — it’s fun! But how about investing in some office gadgets that are fun and functional? Next time you’re thinking about splurging on something to spruce of your workspace, remember a few of these cool gadgets that will make you the coolest kid in school… erm, the office… and help increase your productivity. Put them on your holiday wish list!

Great Office Gadgets

1. Wacom Inkling — $99

We live in a digital age, artists. Be not mistaken, digital art is still art — but sometimes if you are a creative professional, you just need to put pen to paper and create away from the computer. Unfortunately, when you need your files in digital format, having your work on plain ol’ paper can be a hassle. That’s where Inkling comes in. Inkling records your strokes and even your layers electronically as you draw with a real ballpoint pen later to be imported as raster or vector files. It certainly makes the transition to digital easier!

2. Staple Free Stapler — $8

ThinkGeek’s awesome Staple Free Stapler is environmentally friendly and keeps you far away from unfortunately pointy, metal things. No more torn papers or fingers! The Staple Free Stapler works by cutting and folding paper together. It can staple up to five pages at a time.

3. Digital Protractor — $20
This is for you folks who do a lot of math (we’re looking at you, architects and engineers). ThinkGeek’s stainless steel Digital Protractor is pretty neat. Not only does it give you a precise angle calculation, it also lets you lock it at the angle of your choice. A cool gadget indeed (warning: if you have kids, they will likely try to sneak this away from you).

4. CableDrop — $10
You don’t have to be overwhelmed by wires to stay connected. Bluelounge’s CableDrops make sure that your wires stay put. They have adhesive bottom to stick to your desktop, keeping cables from falling off when you unplug them (and keeping them from getting tangled). The regular size comes in packs of six and the mini size comes in packs of nine - must-have office accessories to help you stay organized.

5. Arm Rested Mouse Pad — $40
After a while, keeping your wrist elevated and against the edge of your desk can be pretty painful. And really — no one wants carpal tunnel syndrome. This mousepad keeps your arm and wrist down on the armrest and is meant to ease tension in the arms and neck while using the computer for an extended period. Smart ergonomic design makes a difference when you spend hours in front of a screen.

There are plenty of office accessories on the market, from USB Mug Warmers to Rubber Band Gatling Guns. It’s important to keep your workspace personal, comfortable...and even whimsical. These office gadgets, we hope, will increase your productivity and make you feel cool at the same time.

What office accessories are must-haves for you? Let us know in the comments below.

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Striking a Balance: Staff Productivity vs. Holiday Frivolity

 

staff productivityIt's that time of year again! Holiday music is playing, there are brightly colored decorations hanging from every available fixture, and there are enough cakes, pies, and candies to fuel the next few months of regret on the treadmill.

And that's just in the break room.

There are a lot of great things about this time of year, but it's safe to say that all that festivity in the air, replete with holiday parties and gift exchanges, can cause a dent in your office's productivity.

Before you label us as Who-hating Scrooges or assail us with chants of, "Take your humbug somewhere else, Grinch!" just hear us out (and get your holiday-themed insults straight, while you're at it). We happen to think you strike a nice balance of staff productivity and festivity with a little planning and discipline, and your Atlanta IT support experts are here to tell you how.

Let Your Employees Know What's Expected

Understand that with all the holiday hubbub, there's going to be a certain amount of disruption. And let your employees understand that you understand.

Emphasize what needs to be accomplished for the month of December. If it's feasible, individual meetings with each employee with their goals for the month outlined might not be a bad idea. If it's not feasible due to the size of your office, scheduling issues, etc. it's something you can do via email. The more that gets accomplished when there aren't holiday-related disruptions, the more fun everyone can have when there are!

Plan Your Partying

Let everyone know plenty of time in advance when any holiday parties, gift exchanges, etc. will be taking place. Emphasize the importance of getting any urgent work done before holiday gatherings, particularly on projects requiring a lot of collaboration.

You want the fun times to be fun, and it's decidedly not fun to be the only one working while everyone else is celebrating. If one or two people ending up having to take one for the team and work while everyone else is having a good time, they're not going to be happy. There's enough extra stress during the holidays without adding more -- more that could have been avoided had everyone done his or her part.

Prepare for Vacation Time

A disproportionate amount of vacation time is used during the holidays, which is perfectly understandable. There's a certain amount of productivity lag that's to be expected with diminished manpower, but that doesn't mean everything has to grind to a halt.

It should be made clear to employees how vital it is that they're caught up on group projects before they leave for the holidays. If there are regular responsibilities and/or processes for which they're typically responsible, they should leave detailed notes for whoever will be taking over in their absence. These notes should be completed well in advance of any scheduled time off in order to give their "pinch hitter" a chance to ask any questions about his/her responsibilities.

Do you have any other ideas to increase staff productivity during the holidays? Please share them with us in the comments!

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Image credit: Tom Godber

THINQ's List of Things to be Thankful For

 

things to be thankful forHappy Thanksgiving weekend from your favorite Atlanta IT support professionals, everyone! If you have been feasting with family and friends, we hope you have been able to kick back and relax after the turkey has been basted, the stuffing has been stuffed, the pies have been baked, and the cranberry sauce has been…cranberried. Sliced? Whatever. (I don't eat cranberry sauce; I always get five portions of it and ransom them to those who do -- for extra slices of pie.)

If you've managed to successfully avoid any stressful hosting duties, then we salute you! Enjoy gorging yourself on food that others have prepared in a house that you didn't have to clean! After you help with the dishes (C'mon…it's the least you can do), you can now unbutton your pants to give your distended belly some (literal) breathing room, and drift into a tryptophan-induced coma to the televisions's sweet sounds of very large men beating one other senseless over a football.

It's customary at this time of year to list things to be thankful for. We here at THINQ certainly don't have to limit ourselves to one day a year of thankfulness, as we're a company that's been blessed in so many ways. But since giving thanks is what this holiday is all about, so here we go!

We're thankful to be able to provide our customers with top-notch service in an industry we love.

While we're talking about customers…we're thankful for each and every one of them! Without our customers, we wouldn't have a business, a purpose, or a job. We are grateful for all three, and we don't take a single one of them lightly.

We're also thankful for our blog readers! Thanks so much to all of you who stop by to read our thoughts on technology, office culture, and…well, whatever we happen to feel like writing about on that particular day. The knowledge that there are people out there who enjoy reading this blog makes the writing of it (and especially the researching of it) worth it!

And last, but not least, we're thankful for the bevy of Thanksgiving-themed baked goods that the grocery stores will have on the "50% Off!" rack this Friday. Those pumpkin pies, cakes decorated with turkeys, and cookies iced in the shape of Pilgrims aren't going to eat themselves, now are they?

What are your "things to be thankful for"? Please share your answers in the comments!

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Reducing Clutter: Organizational Tips for Office Productivity

 

reducing clutterDo you like the peace of mind you get when things are organized, yet have trouble keeping them that way? Are you sick and tired of losing significant chunks of time that could be spent working just looking for what you need to get the work done?

Relax: If you're fed up with falling victim to your own bad organizational habits, you're not alone. In 2010, Brother International Corporation released a survey finding that around 76 working hours per person each year are wasted as a result of various forms of workplace disorganization. That's a lot of time frittered away that doesn't have to be.

But there's no need to fear; THINQ is here! Your Atlanta IT solutions specialist is here with a few tips for reducing clutter -- of both the physical and electronic variety -- in your workspace.

1. Have a Place for It--and Use It!

How much time have you lost just searching for things you've misplaced? If you're a serial clutter bug with an earnest desire to be more organized and productive, the thought probably shames you.

One of the best things you can do to organize your workspace better is something most of us learned in kindergarten, if not before: Put things where they belong. Have a place for everything in your office, and put it back there when you're done with it.

Why is the (insert random object here) out? Does it need to be? Or is it out just because you haven't returned it to its place yet? It's about creating a habit, so it will take time for it to become second nature. But it won't become second nature if you don't do it consistently. Start today. Start right now. DO IT.

2. Minimize Your Stuff to Maximize Your Productivity

Make "stuff" earn its keep. In other words, if you don't use it and it's just taking up space, get rid of it. If you can't bring yourself to get rid of it, at least demote it to a location that's not prominent -- preferably somewhere out of sight, where it's not hampering your mobility or taking up precious real estate on your desk.

3. Deal with Your Email

Email is one of those things that can very easily -- and very quickly -- spiral out of control if you're not careful. Letting your inbox get cluttered can be just as harmful, if not more so, than letting your desk get out of hand. It's very easy for an important message to slip through the cracks because it was sitting right between a promotional email from an office supply store and Canadian pharmaceutical spam.

The best thing you can do to avoid email clutter is to deal with emails as you read them. If it's urgent, answer it immediately. If it's important but can wait until after you've dealt with more pressing matters, put it in a "pending" folder. Make it your goal to empty that folder every day, either by answering the emails contained therein or moving them to more specific folders. Every email should be organized to an appropriate folder (labeled "invoices," "project files," etc.). If it's junk, treat it like a used candy wrapper and trash it.


How do you go about reducing clutter in your office? Please share your answers in the comments!

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Image credit: Sean MacEntee

IT Support Services – Outsource, Insource, or Family Member?

 

Uncle ByronThe decision concerning whom you should use for your company's IT support services is likely based on a number of factors: How complex are my company's IT needs? How much can I afford to spend? Is there someone on my staff who could do the work? If I decide to outsource my company's IT, who has the best track record?

At THINQ, we understand your dilemma. That's why we're going to show you, generally speaking, what you might expect when you go with one of three different choices for your IT needs: outsourcing, insourcing, or a family member. Sure, we're generalizing a bit, and maybe you should take some of it with a grain of salt, but still…there's some truth to be had here. Oh, and when we mention "outsourcing," we're referring specifically to THINQ, of course.

What You Get:

When You Use THINQ: You get an expert -- a company whose very existence is dependent upon providing top-notch IT service to your company.

When You Insource: You get someone who has likely become your "IT person" by default. Maybe he knows slightly more than the rest of your employees about IT, or maybe she just volunteered.

When You Use a Family Member: You get your Uncle Byron.

Maintenance Issues:

THINQ: With one fixed monthly fee, you get unlimited server room support, 24/7 server/network monitoring, monthly server tuning, and backup and recovery management.

Insource: Chances are, you don't get a whole lot of maintenance. Whichever employee you're using to take care of your IT needs has an actual job that you're paying him/her to do, and the IT is likely treated like an extra duty that only gets attention when it all hits the fan.

Uncle Byron: "Uncle Byron don't do maintenance." (Apparently Uncle Byron does "do" referring to himself in the third person.)

Emergency IT Situation:

THINQ: With our Basic, Essentials, and Fully Managed plans, you get a 15-minute response time. With our Fully Managed plan, you get business continuity plans (Plan B and Plan C).

Insource: You'll most likely get a panicked employee yelling in a panic-stricken voice, "We've lost everything. WE'VE. LOST. EVERYTHING!!!"

Uncle Byron: "Meh. Just kick 'er a couple of times and restart 'er. She'll be fine." 

As you can see, you should expect significantly different levels of expertise, skill levels, and responses, depending on which direction you want to go with your IT. We may be a bit biased, but it seems to us that your best bet is to go with THINQ, your Atlanta IT solutions specialist.

You'll be secure in the knowledge that your IT is being handled by experts, your employees will be relieved not to have the added pressure of dealing with IT concerns on top of the job they're getting paid to do, and Uncle Byron can get back to drinking beer and watching the World Turkey Call Championships on TV. Everybody wins.

Have you ever relied on someone other than a professional to be responsible for your IT support services? Please tell us about it in the comments!

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Mr. CEO on Staff Productivity (II): How Productive is Your Staff?

 

staff productivityHello there, friends! Mr. CEO here again. Everyone recovered from the time shift? Let's hope so: I have plenty to discuss, and I don't have time for you all to be feeling all time-shifty and out of sorts!

In last week's post, we talked about how social media can drain your employees' productivity at work and what you can do about it. This week, we're going to look at some more obstacles to staff productivity and what you can do to neutralize -- or at least minimize -- them.

Inefficient Processes

Maybe you have a process/policy in your office that made perfect sense at one time, but has outlived its usefulness. It could be due to changes in technology. Or perhaps it was right when your company was smaller, but it doesn't work anymore. Whatever the reason, it's important to ask yourself: Is there a process or policy in place at my company that's outmoded?

No? Are you sure?

Ask your employees what they think. As management, it's easy to find yourself out of step with the day-to-day processes that are used in your business. Keeping an open-door policy is great for management/employee relations, but you can go a step further by actively asking your employees' opinions about how efficient the processes are in your office. Their answers may surprise you. And don't stop there: Ask their opinions on what the best solution is, and work with them to streamline the process.

Meetings (aka "Time Suckers of Death")

News flash: Meetings can be vampires of productivity, sucking away at one's time, productivity, and will to live. Okay, that last one may be a BIT of an exaggeration. Maybe. But you get the idea.

So how does one turn meetings from time-wasters into productivity-enhancers? Ask yourself these "really" questions:

1) Is this meeting really necessary?

If it's something that could just as easily be solved with phone calls, an email or two, and/or a couple of quick one-on-ones, save your time -- and everybody else's by doing so.

2) Who really needs to be there?

Including nonessential personnel in meetings wastes their time. If they're not essential to what's being discussed, leave them out of it. It'll help to streamline the meetings and leave them to do what you're paying them to do: their jobs.

3) What's the meeting really about?

KEEP THE MEETING ABOUT THAT. Resist the urge to go off-topic. Focus on the matter at hand and insist that others do the same. Address the issues that need to be addressed, and then get back to work.

For more ways to transform your company's meetings into a productivity asset rather than a liability, check out this article.  Do you have other suggestions to improve staff productivity? Please share them with your Atlanta IT solutions provider in the comments!

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Image credit: Michael Stein

Mr. CEO on Staff Productivity (Part I): How Productive is Your Staff?

 

staff productivityHowdy, folks! Mr. CEO here. Nice to meet you! I'm going to be offering my expertise in…well, all the things I'm an expert at. Um…inOn? (Okay, fine! Grammar isn't one of them! Give me a second to Google…)

Okay. Let's try this again. I'm going to be offering my expertise in all of the areas in which I'm an expert! Ha! Take that, grammerians!

What? Really? Gramarians? (One second, please…)

Grammarians!

Ahem.

Today's topic is the first in a series on productivity. How productive is your staff? What's keeping them from being as productive as possible? How can you enable them to be more productive? Hopefully, we'll answer some of your questions with this series of posts. Today we're going to focus on one of the obstacles to productivity and what you can do to overcome it.

Social Media

Did I just hear some chairs creaking due to some uncomfortable seat-shifting? After all, who hasn't been guilty of spending too much time on social media at some point?

This one can be tricky. There was a time when you could just block employee access to these sites on your company's network. I'm not saying that's what you should have been doing; I'm just pointing out that it was an option.

Though you can still choose to go this route, it's effectively useless, thanks to the explosion of social media's popularity on mobile devices. Do you want to be the employer who outlaws cell phone usage at his business? Or sneaks up on people to see if they're using their phone or tablet to log in to Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram? I didn't think so.

So what's the answer? Here's my suggestion: Rather than issue forth unenforceable policies regarding social media, focus on specific productivity goals and deadlines. If your employees know that there's a hard deadline for a specific task -- and there are consequences for missing said deadline -- they're more likely to self-regulate their time on social media. If they're not, then -- to put it bluntly -- you've probably hired the wrong person. Daniel Newman says it best in his post, Quit Blaming Social Media for Lost Workplace Productivity:

"Employees that want to waste time and have access to social media will use it. Take it away and they will waste their time somewhere else."

Have you had staff productivity issues due to the overuse and/or abuse of social media? Please share in the comments of your favorite Atlanta IT services blog! (That's us!)

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IT Efficiency + Staff Productivity = Lower IT Costs

 

staff-productivityLet's do a little exercise here:

You own a small company called WizBang (Don't judge; it's hypothetical, remember?) WizBang produces Wiz-Its. It has the capacity to produce a lot of Wiz-Its, and it's a good thing, as it turns out there's a high demand for them.

Wiz-It production is a highly specialized, highly technical skill. It takes a lot of time to educate and train a Wiz-It maker. 

One more thing: The Wiz-It-making process is extremely dependent on reliable computer access. If the servers go down, Wiz-It production ceases until they're back up.From a bottom-line point of view, every minute of the workday that the Wiz-It makers spend on what they're trained, educated, and hired to do -- produce Wiz-Its -- is a minute that generates revenue for the company. Every minute they're at work and not producing Wiz-Its is a loss of revenue.

WizBang has made the decision not to go the managed services route. After all, Jeremy, one of the Wiz-It makers, has a little bit of computer know-how. Why hire somebody to do their IT when WizBang already has someone on staff who has some basic IT knowledge?

(If this were a radio ad, it's at this point you'd hear the "record skip" sound effect.)

I'll repeat that: Why hire somebody to do their IT when WizBang already has someone on staff who has some basic IT knowledge?

Alright, so let's just answer that question.

1) Do you really want to put the entirety of your company's information technology -- indeed, the very ability of your company to function -- in the hands of someone who only has a basic knowledge of IT?

What happens if he runs into a problem he can't solve? You'll end up hiring someone anyway, and the urgency and severity of the problem may mean a higher price tag.

2) Perhaps you're thinking, "Well, what if Jeremy has more than a basic knowledge of IT?" What if this Wiz-It maker is a straight-up IT wiz?

Here's the thing: It doesn't matter. You're still losing money.

Even if Jeremy is an extremely competent IT guy, that's not what you're paying him for. Keep in mind that for every minute he's not producing Wiz-Its, WizBang is losing money. Even if Jeremy manages to keep WizBang's IT running smoothly -- even if it never goes down -- they're still losing money, because he's doing IT work, which generated zero revenue for the company, instead of the highly specialized, revenue-producing job of producing Wiz-Its.

Now you're starting to see, aren't you? Which leads us to #3.

3) Jeremy is only one of your Wiz-It makers.

To calculate the true cost of how much this little IT issue is costing you, you have to multiply the average amount of money WizBang loses from one Wiz-It maker's complete lack of Wiz-It production by the number of Wiz-It makers in the company. That will give you the total amount you're in the red with the loss of staff productivity.

Now do you see the inherent fallacy? WizBang isn't saving money at all by taking care of its own IT. In fact, it's hemorrhaging moola! 

WizBang could have saved money by going with THINQ's extremely reasonable managed IT services pricing. Learn from Wiz-It and put your IT in THINQ'S capable hands. Nip your IT issues in the bud with great preventive maintenance, and let your employees do what you're paying them to do!

Has your company ever suffered a loss of staff productivity due to an IT issue? Please tell us about it in the comments!

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3 Leadership Strategies That Can Transform Your Company

 

leadership strategiesAt some point in your life, you've probably had a supervisor who was -- to put it kindly -- less than effective. Their failure to lead could have been due to any number of things: indecisiveness, incompetence, inexperience, foul temperament, poor work ethic...the list goes on and on. Whatever the specifics on their leadership shortcomings, being in their employ probably left a strong impression, and not of the favorable kind.

It's easy to see the flaws in the leadership of others, particularly when it impacts us directly. When we find ourselves in a position of leadership, it's important to recognize those flaws so that we don't emulate them. However, in our quest to become better leaders, the
avoidance of poor leadership traits isn't enough; we must passionately and relentlessly pursue the traits we want to define us as leaders. In other words, it's not enough to say, "I don't want to be this kind of leader." It's imperative that we decide what kind of leaders we do want to be, so that we have goals for which to strive.

With that in mind, your Atlanta IT services company is here to talk about three leadership strategies you can apply to become the kind of leader you -- and, ultimately, your employees -- can be proud of.

1. Inspire by Example

When it comes to how you want your employees to conduct themselves, no handbook, video, or presentation can speak to your employees as effectively as your own behavior. You are the walking, talking, breathing embodiment of your leadership style. You can drone on all day long about how much you value a strong work ethic, but if you spend half your working hours at the golf course, do you really expect anyone to take you seriously? Be a positive case study for the application of your own advice.

2. Encourage Contrary Opinions

The best leaders don't surround themselves with "yes" men. They value different -- and even opposing -- points of view. Abraham Lincoln is one famous example of someone who took this to heart. In the book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, author Doris Kearns Goodwin chronicles Lincoln's efforts to recruit political rivals for his Cabinet. The 16th President of the United States was onto something. He knew that the input of those who thought differently than himself could prove invaluable. Opposing viewpoints provide a clearer, more complete picture of the problems we face and can offer additional insight into how to solve them. Great leaders are able to put their pride on the back burner in the service of the people they're leading.

3. Reward Innovative Thinking

In some office environments, employees are reluctant to bring ideas to management for fear they won't be well-received. In other words, they work in a culture that discourages innovation. This approach couldn't be more wrong-headed. Employees should be encouraged to brainstorm ideas and to present them to management, and they should be rewarded for doing so. Whether it's an idea for a new process or program or a tweak to an existing one, it could be the very idea that completely transforms your company.

Of course, not every idea is going to be a game-changer. Some may be slightly helpful; others may be outright stinkers and never make it past the first pitch. But you'll never know if it's not submitted in the first place, will you? Offer incentives to employees for innovative ideas. Once it's been established that innovation is both valued and rewarded, the creativity and ingenuity of your workforce can truly begin to flourish.

What are ways that you've utilized these leadership strategies in your office? Please share them in the comments!

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Image credit: Ken Teegardin 

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