5 Top Tips for Vacation Communication

Your next vacation doesn’t have to cause a wave.

We weren’t meant to spend the summer cooped up inside an office. In fact, many companies are now advocating for a balanced lifestyle and are encouraging their staff to take advantage of available vacation days.

But with great vacations comes great responsibility. And just as you would prepare for a meeting, you should also prepare for your absences. Far too often a vacation can interrupt an important project, deal or client relationship and derail the progress of your team. However, this process can also flow smoothly if you take the right steps.  It all depends on how effectively you communicate with your colleagues, your clients and yourself.


Heres are our 5 Best Tips for vacation communication:

 Give notice about your vacation well in advance

Whether you’ve booked your vacation a year or a month in advance, your team deserves a fair warning about your travels. Consider the amount of stress and inconvenience you may impose on your colleagues with a last-minute announcement about your two-week trip to Iceland, a week before you board the plane. Everyone needs time to prepare – yourself included. After all, these are the colleagues who will absorb your workload while you’re away.

We recommend giving everyone at least one month notice if possible, especially if you have a larger role within your organization. Set reminders in the weeks and days leading up to your departure so there are no surprises to a forgetful or busy employee. Don’t catch anyone off guard; open dialogue is a must.

Delegate jobs and tasks in your absence

Leave no stone unturned. Over-prepare for every possible situation, task or crisis. Pull colleagues aside and ask them to take over specific responsibilities and be sure to train them thoroughly on the work you are leaving them with.  Is someone stepping into your client meetings? Brief them on specific client needs and details. Will someone take over a special project for you? Give them a detailed list of what needs to be completed.

Prepare a relief document outlining where specific files are located, who to talk to about certain projects or what to do in the event of an emergency. You don’t want to be bombarded with panicked emails while you lay on the beach. It’s better to be safe than sorry and leave your projects in capable hands.

Set up clear out-of-office voicemail greetings and automatic email replies

Your team may know your whereabouts, but your clients or contacts likely will not. We highly recommended reaching out to important contacts and alerting them of your vacation.

Construct a clear and impactful voicemail greeting and include the dates of your vacation and return. Leave an alternate contact that can address your client’s enquires and take care of any pressing matters before you leave. There is nothing more annoying on the client’s side than receiving a vacation notification in the middle of an important project without notice.

More importantly, if you’re providing an alternate contact in your out-of-office messages, be sure to get their permission in advance. This will prevent awkward encounters and ensure your co-worker is well aware that they may be called upon.

If you do email while on vacation, be sure to keep all communication brief and to the point

No one enjoys writing long emails on their smartphone. Similarly, reading run-on emails sent from a mobile device can be a frustrating experience. Despite our best intentions, they’re often full of auto-corrected typos and have than less than ideal formatting.

When responding to an email on vacation (although we advise against it whenever possible), keep all written communication short and concise. Think about your greater message, structure it into a few key points and relay that message back to your team. Point forms are ideal, and always be sure to summarize your argument at the end of the email to reinforce the message. This prevents follow-up questions so you can get back to relaxing.

Don’t skip a beat! Have a plan to slide right back into work

Returning to the office after a vacation can often be a job within itself. You arrive back to a pile of email threads, missed calls, memos, status updates, potential issues, pressing questions and a staff who expect you to jump right back in where you left off.

Plan ahead for all your post-vacation tasks and execute them the moment you walk into the office. We suggest arranging a catch-up meeting with a few members of your team to discuss what occurred. Organize your email inbox and tackle the most pressing issues first. Keep an open and honest dialogue with your team so you can go over all details and progress on projects or tasks that you missed.

The better you communicate the more effective and productive your team becomes!


A vacation is meant to help balance your life with the ever-demanding responsibilities of your career. Your health and well-being is important. Don’t be afraid to unplug and wind down – just make sure you use our advice on vacation communication.

Six Keys to Leading Successfully During Transition

By Professor Dave Ulrich, Ross School of Business

The last few months have seen noteworthy CEO appointments in South Africa and the rest of the world.  At home, MTN announced in June that Rob Shuter will replace Sifiso Dabengwa as chief executive in 2017, and in September it was announced that Sisa Ntshona will take over the reins at South African Tourism.  Internationally, Vicki Hollub became the first woman to lead US independent oil giant Occidental Petroleum, a Fortune 500 company, and Edward Bastian stepped into the corner office at Delta Airlines.

Changing a company’s top leadership can raise a lot of questions about its immediate and long-term future, and may even have a material effect on the company’s value and stock pricing. Many, both inside and outside the company, look to the CEO to set the tone in the immediate aftermath of any major change. Here are a few things that any CEO leading a company through a transition should keep in mind:

  1. Be aware of how the departures look to outsiders: Any leader is made stronger by the leaders he or she creates. Leaders should multiply others and make them better, and talk about “we” more than “I.” When an entire team leaves, it may send a signal to investors and others watching that a leader is not empowering his or her leadership team.
  2. Remind people watching, of your track record of leading people to success: An effective leader delivers results and takes personal responsibility for doing so. In high tech firms, there is often “patient” capital that will provide market value far beyond earnings—as seen in companies like Uber and Amazon—but executives need a track record of building market presence and share in clear and measurable ways. At a time when doubt runs high, a CEO should reassure those watching that he or she has a strong action plan and vision.
  3. Position the departures as an opportunity for growth: An effective leader has insight into industry trends and how to position his or her company to win. In fast-moving social media industries, it is critical to continually reinvest and create a future. For example, Google may not succeed in balloons or driverless cars, but its leaders are constantly positioning themselves to be the innovators and leaders of the future. There’s opportunity for the CEO and other company spokespeople to message the departures as a chance to propel the company forward.
  4. Hire the right talent to replace the people who have left: Good leaders surround themselves with better people. The most confident leaders are able to hire and develop very competent teams; the least confident leaders often try to make themselves look better by bringing in people who are not as effective. Whether someone has left or was asked to leave doesn’t matter, as long as the CEO takes this opportunity to replace them with someone even more closely aligned with the company’s goals. This will help propel the company forward.
  5. Stay true to the company’s mission: Effective leaders should turn customer brand promises into leadership actions in order to build trust. Walmart’s leadership team is dedicated to delivering low cost; Disney leaders are dedicated to guest experience. Twitter’s challenge is to create a clear external brand promise to customers and then use that as criteria for its leadership team.
  6. Above all, put the company and its success first: Effective leaders build cultures and HR systems that institutionalize the leadership. When the company becomes more important than the leader, it is more likely to navigate, and even thrive, through a transition.

Leadership transitions happen, especially when a company is entering a new strategic phase, and the current executive team isn’t the right one to get the company to where it needs to be. But all too often, the transition itself focuses too much on the individual people involved and not enough on the requirements and unique needs of the company. By keeping the focus where it always belongs—on how these developments can serve the greater business goals—a CEO can lead his or her company to an even stronger position.

Dave Ulrich is the Rensis Likert Professor of Business at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and author of Leadership Capital Index. Ulrich is ranked as the #1 management guru by Business Week, has been profiled by Fast Company as one of the world’s top 10 creative people in business, and listed as a Top 5 Coach in Forbes.  Ulrich was in South Africa last week leading an ongoing series of events on Human Capital, hosted by Business Results Group and the Gordon Institute of Business Science.

What value am I creating for someone else?

By Dave Ulrich.


Value is defined by the receiver more than the giver. This simple principle affects professional and personal relationships and impact.

In professional settings, we often judge ourselves by our intent, but others judge us by our behavior. We intend to be provocative, but we come across as snarky. We intend to challenge, but we come across as contrarian. We intend to be playful or funny, but we may come across as cynical or cryptic. We need to have our “head on a swivel” and think about how our actions and behaviors will create value for someone else. It is like being on a balcony watching our life’s performance.

When we focus on value we create for others, traditional management maxims change. Building on our strengths is not complete unless we build on our strengths that will strengthen others. Leadership authenticity (a highly desired leadership trait) is merely narcissism unless our authenticity helps someone else meet their goals. Some leaders brag about how wealthy they are, but real leaders create wealth for others. When the inevitable crisis occurs, value-based, other-centered leaders start with the impact of the crisis on others and how their response will benefit others; self-oriented leaders start by thinking about themselves and what they can and should do. Leaders with a value focus reflect on whom they serve each day and how their work will make others’ work better.

The sample principle applies in many settings. Good teaching is not what I know, but how what I know helps students better accomplish their goals. Professional training and development is more effective when we focus on learning solutions by helping those who attend better solve their problems rather than giving a stirring lecture or presenting an insightful case. Often training faculty are exceptional performers who present the same material as a lecture or case study over and over again. When focused on value creating, training starts with the challenges participants may have, then seeks solutions to those challenges. When I coach leaders, I teach them that listening is not that they understand, but that the other person feels understood. When I work to upgrade a company’s HR practices, we start with the value these practices will have to company success. HR analytics starts with the business and shows how HR work will show up on the business scorecard, not an HR scorecard. When we work on culture change, we start by defining culture through the eyes of the customer (or other key external stakeholder) and define the value of the values. When I write, I often think about the reader and how the ideas might provide insights with impact to them.

In personal relationships, when I start by thinking about what someone else values, I better relate to and serve them. When I start with what is meaningful to my wife, my gifts add more value to her. When I listen to my friends and children, I show that I care for them and their well being more than for my actions. When I celebrate others’ accomplishments, my success is magnified. Good parenting is not about what parents know and do, but about how parents help children discover their strengths and purposes. When someone might do something that frustrates me, I can pause and see how their behaviors may make sense from their point of view. This “seek first to understand” mantra helps build enduring relationship built on mutual respect.


Why Creating a Winning Culture Matters

By Dave Ulrich

Business success is not only about individual talent

Deloitte’s human capital trends for 2015 and 2016 found that organisation issues (culture, organisational design) were the top human resource (HR) issues. Some companies (Disney, Marriott) are trying to maintain their culture, others want to change it (General Electric, Apple), and others want to embed it (Google, Facebook). Top HR leaders share the same message: the war for talent is evolving and needs to evolve toward creating victory through organisation.

Read more about why Creating a Winning Culture Matters

Published in Skyways Insight Magazine – August 2016

Serious About Simplicity

Ron Ashkenas, author of Simply Effective, suggests that complexity in business has emerged due to a combination of product mitosis, product proliferation, process evolution and poor managerial habits. These factors combine to land many businesses in a world of complexity and silo thinking and complicated work processes.  Ashkenas also suggests that one of the biggest, and often hidden, causes of complexity is the individual. Yes, that’s right – you!  It’s all your fault.  You did this!  But the great thing is that if you created the problem, then you surely have the talent to solve it.  Cue ‘Simplicity.’

If you’re ready to take the topic of simplicity seriously, and consider adopting it as a core business strategy (not a “we really should” but a deliberate, strategic focus for your business), then read on.

Ashkenas suggests you start with these four areas, which he believes to be primed for delivering value.  

  1. Streamline the organisation, or as Norman Kobert once said ‘Cut the fat, not the muscle”.  Companies are often resource heavy, process burdened, and policy proliferate.  Cut out what you don’t need, and make a deliberate effort to combine products, reduce lines, stick to the core.  
  2. Prune products, services and features to focus on those that are profitable and have the biggest growth potential.  Get rid of dead weight “stuff” that isn’t bringing in value.  Can you really turn 2% of revenue business into your biggest opportunity, or can you cull those things that don’t deliver, and get focused back on your core?
  3. Process – disciplined process.  Build pragmatic processes into your business that drive the right behaviours for your leadership and your teams.  Make what you capture relevant, useful and support fact-based, informed decision making.  Take a rigorous look at your processes and ask the question: is this necessary?  Do we really need this or could we do without it?
  4. Improve managerial habits.  Life would certainly be simpler (but so much sadder) were it not for other people. For the value of simplicity to realize benefits, it’s important to drive it home in behaviour. Ritualistic repetition, and supporting the value through consistent change and communication, are the factors most likely to reap rewards.  In short, consider making simplicity a cult if you want to make it part of your culture.  The gift is that everyone wins as the benefits reap rewards for both the business and the people who live in it.

Simplicity as a Strategy

New strategic business values emerge over time.  In the 1980s, it was all about quality. In the 1990s, it was about cost cutting. By 2000, innovation had peeked its way through the clouds. What was once new has become the norm: quality and innovation are now widely accepted as common business practice. In fact, if either is not on your business radar, then you’re a laggard, and possibly in trouble. As we witness ever-increasing levels of business complexity, where a plethora of data and information prevails, a new set of values is emerging: the theme of “simplicity” is now pushing its way onto the corporate radar.  How do we make things simpler, for ourselves, for our customers, for our people? If you’re not easy to do business with, the customer will rapidly click somewhere else.

Simplicity is emerging as the next wave of strategic thinking.  Businesses and governments are preparing to make our lives easier.  Paperless offices used to be a pipe dream, but not so today. How can we harness technology to support simplicity? How can we use technology to reduce information overload rather than increase it?  Simplicity, just like quality, will eventually find a home, it will become embedded in other business processes. We need to give it full attention. The next wave is coming, and simplicity will be key to staying on your surfboard!


The Paperless Panacea

Before the dawn of the internet, companies were paper prolific and the idea of the paperless office was considered a radical innovation.  Heralded by Lars Kolind of Denmark’s Oticon as a prime business strategy, the concept that businesses could operate without paper seemed like a far-off dream.  Kolind, whose turnaround strategy was coined “Mission Impossible”, created a stand-up-only office on his  building’s top floor.  Employees would review their mail, magazines, etc and then hand it in to be scanned before venturing down to their desk.  Through the center of the building was a  transparent tube through which all things paper were shredded.  Radical.  At the time, it truly was.  

Today a “paperless” world is not only a reality, but an accessible option for all. Or is it? Two recent events have told me otherwise.  Renewing my mobile phone contract was a 1.5 hour process involving no fewer than 27 pieces of paper, (multiplied by two!)  including a copy of my driver licence.  It seems strange that despite having been a customer for over 20 years, they’re still not sure who I am.  Later, an attempt to open a new facility at what I considered to be a world-class bank, involved no fewer than 12 pieces of paper. Two transactions, 66 slices of tree!  Needless to say, these transactions are the company’s way of managing risk and for dealing with the new F word in finance – FICA!  Today, fortunately, there is an opportunity to leverage our advances in technology to support simplicity as a strategy.  Forewarned is forearmed.  


Information Overload

There is more content on YouTube today than the history of television ever produced. There are more books written and published in a year than you could read in several lifetimes.  There is more data, and more information, but perhaps less knowledge.  Are we really informed or are we over-informed?  For the most part, my clients cite “information overload” and “too many emails” as being big issues today.  Sometimes it creates acrimony in the corporate dialogue:“Why didn’t your reply to my mail?  I sent you that?  Find out for yourself.  Google it!” are all common conversations.  

What we lack are tools for how to deal with such vast amounts of information.  We need filters so that we can pay attention to what is relevant, rather than be distracted by the shiny and the new.  If there were an addict group for “Shiny Penny Syndrome”, I would have long since been a member.  On the one hand it’s marvelous: we have access to so much new, exciting information; learning is available to us all, quite literally at the swipe of a finger.  But is life really simpler, or is the weight of information a burden on our shoulders?  Does simplicity have a role to play in helping us convert data to information, and information to knowledge?


Simplicity as a Strategy

In short, simplicity is emerging as the next wave of strategic thinking.  Businesses and governments are preparing to make our lives easier.  Food manufacturers are reducing their brand SKUs to reduce choice, technology companies are introducing “ease of use” departments to ensure that users don’t have to figure out their complex models, and business engineers are using simplicity as a new way of re-engineering business processes.

Other simpler businesses – your competition – may be just a click away for your customer.  While it is good to ponder on the past, think forward to the future.  The next wave is coming, and simplicity will be key to staying on your surfboard.  Enjoy the ride.

Could you be doing something more smartly, more efficiently and more profitably. We can teach you how to streamline business processes and the world of work. Click HERE for more information or contact us at info@brg.co.za to book a needs assessment.