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.

Performance Management Faces Major Paradox

Gone are the days of performance reviews. Dave Ulrich explains to Alan Hosking from HR Future how companies can resolve the performance management paradox by clarifying expectations, defining consequences, establishing metrics and standards, and bringing it all together through conversation. In what way is the thinking on performance management changing? A senior leader at a company recently said, “We have done away with performance appraisal because it causes so many problems.”

Read More


Why neuroscience matters for business

It’s imperative that business leaders can create a lasting environment in which creativity, meaning and purpose can thrive. How and why does neuroscience come into this? Harnessing neuroscience lets us embed sustainable behaviour change in existing leadership patterns, in turn leading teams to be more innovative and allowing organisations to flourish within a culture of trust.

Our brains are by no means fixed or set in adulthood: we are all capable of neuroplasticity, changing the way with think and feel about things.  If we want to make a change, say from fixed to growth mindset, we have to do it consciously and deliberately with awareness, focus and attention. In applying ourselves to a new skill or activity in this way, we can retain the capacity for the brain to change, reformat and potentially grow well into our 60s.

We can of course also help the brain by ensuring that we care for it. When working with new clients, the first thing we tackle is not just their surrounding environment, but their internal environment. Sleep is one of the key factors in neurological health that cannot be ignored. Many executives survive on far too little. What they don’t realise is that lack of sleep can have the same effect on your decision-making ability as being drunk. This is not what executives are hired and paid for. Seven to nine hours of sleep is key for the cerebrospinal fluid that sits around your brain and spinal cord to filter through the brain.  We can also help the brain by resting during the day (short naps, for example) if we want to and are able to.

What we put in our bodies as fuel also has a huge impact on how our brain works. Our body is not just a convenient vehicle for moving the brain from meeting to meeting. We receive a lot of information and input from our bodies. In the stomach and gut, you find almost all of the neurotransmitters – such as serotonin and dopamine – that are also active in the brain, and help us make decisions and function in everyday life.The gut is often referred to as the other brain. Caring for both body and brain with a healthy diet, we can improve our brain’s effectiveness at work. Good hydration is equally important; likewise, cutting back on alcohol and caffeine is ideal.

Senior leaders also need to understand the effect that stress hormones – cortisol and adrenaline – can have on our bodies and on those around us. What’s even more interesting is that cortisol can spread around an office. That’s right. It hangs around the body and can be absorbed by others through the skin; this effect is even stronger is if it is the leader that is stressed. Reducing cortisol and adrenaline are key to a happy and creative work environment. It can be sweated out through exercise. Other things that help include mindfulness, meditation, journaling and coaching – where you can release tension and worrisome thoughts onto paper or to another person.

Sometimes it’s not possible to remove the stressors from our lives. In these cases resilience, or an ability to deal with stress, is key. If we are able to use our brain plasticity to reframe and rethink the stress we’re feeling, we will be more resilient to its negative effects.

In sum, neuroscience turns out to be far more important for business than we might first imagine. Neuroscience-based coaching, and drawing on the remarkable plasticity of the brain, helps create the ideal environment and mindset in which business leaders can thrive, enjoy their work, and build happier teams too.
Tara Swart, CEO of The Unlimited Mind, is a medical doctor and neuroscientist. She will be speaking at South Africa’s only ‘Happiness-at-Work’ event this December. Learn more here.

Leading Like a Multiplier

As the knowledge economy takes hold, companies around the world are rapidly realizing that the future value of their business no longer lies in the ownership of infrastructure and technology, but in intangible assets such as brand, intellectual property and people.  And those people all report to someone, a leader.  So how do leaders get more from their existing assets?

In 2013 Peter Bregman, a leadership development consultant writing for Forbes magazine, suggested that “there is a massive difference between what we know about leadership and what we do as leaders”, adding that “I’ve never seen a leader fail because he or she didn’t know enough about leadership”.  Yet knowing, without doing, isn’t knowing.  

Leadership development is an industry in its own right, with numerous emerging development programmes punting their own unique formula about “what to do”.  There are many to choose from, and some fail dismally, leaving companies floundering about what to do next.  Yet some leadership development techniques stick and get traction – not just at a business level, but at a global level.  Liz Wiseman’s research on “Multipliers” exemplifies this kind of traction.

Listed on Thinkers 50 as one of the top 10 leadership thinkers in the world, Wiseman reflected on her 17 years of experience at Oracle and embarked on a research project focusing on the question, “How do some leaders seem to get more out of their teams than their counterparts?”.  The global project was conducted across 4 continents and 120 companies.  The result was astonishing and yet simple: great leaders do 5 things well, so well that they double their access to their team’s intelligence than their diminishing counterparts.

Every company out there would be thrilled to get double the value from their existing assets.  Wiseman’s research demonstrates that leaders who act as “multipliers” are not only successful, but they have a resoundingly positive and profitable effect on organizations—getting more done with fewer resources, developing and attracting talent, and cultivating new ideas and energy to drive organizational change and innovation.  Most importantly, multiplier skills can be learned and developed. Quite simply, Wiseman’s Multipliers approach tells leaders what to do to get more intelligence out of their existing teams.  Here in South Africa, companies like SAB, SAsol, Atlas Copco, Old Mutual and Standard Bank are already putting multiplier theory into practice, with good effect.

5 Secrets of Leading like a Multiplier

Multiplying leaders do 5 things: they act as talent magnets, liberators, challengers, debate makers and investors.

Talent Magnets don’t have a shortage of talent, quite the opposite – people line up to work for them.  They have an innate ability to identify what Wiseman calls the “native genius” in each member of their team, naming the talent and then putting it to work for them.  They are not constrained by traditional job descriptions, but rather seek to apply the talent of their team to the job at hand.  

Liberators free people up to do their best thinking.  Instead of providing all the answers, liberators have learned the art of asking the question, facilitating conversations that encourage people to find their own answers.  Multiplying leaders encourage people to think for themselves instead; those employees quite literally report that they become smarter.

Challengers are up for precisely that – a challenge.  The have the ability to stretch people beyond their current capability, thrusting people out of their comfort zones in such a way that the “stretch is met”. As people step into their new zone, they discover a level of capability that they never knew existed.

Debate Makers create the ultimate democracy, convinced that the best answers will come from the group. Instead of setting teams up to fail and fight, Multipliers who facilitate debate give their teams time to research their position, clearly define the parameters and goals, and then “pit their wits against each other” to unleash the potential of what lies in the realm of possibility.

Investors answer the biggest question of all: how do we get people in the business to be accountable for the outcome?  Investors know that real ownership and accountability only comes when the individual or team have made the decision themselves, what Wiseman terms “giving them 51% of the vote”.  A courageous act?  Maybe, but one that will forever change the landscape of your business. 

Written by Nicola Tyler


create value                                                                  Dave Norton says,  

“Behind every story of shareholder value, there is another story of value creation. That is the real story of strategy execution.”

Having had the privilege today to proof read the delegate materials for the upcoming Dave Norton Progress Conference on the 11th September, I cannot resist offering a little sneak preview of the 100 plus slides he has prepared for his South African audience.

In essence, he says, strategy must be a core competence and his presentation shows you precisely what you need to accomplish to make it a core state of the art competence. You can be assured of rich content with case studies and real life applications relevant to both the Private and Public sectors. His content flows seamlessly, offering delegates a deliberate journey through which they can contextualise their strategy execution efforts. And behind every success he shares with you he also tells the story of how the value was created.


First and foremost he will show how management systems have STILL not changed to keep up with the way the world has changed.  This is what he calls a Strategy Management Vacuum. He goes on to reveal his research into why strategies continue to fail and offer solutions to overcome this sadly, prevalent reality.


I was fascinated by his take on intangible assets and how describing your strategy begins by understanding the value the intangibles offer. He cites Apple, General Electric, IBM and others and will illustrate how Tom Stewart’s thinking in respect of how knowledge that exists in an organisation creates differential advantage. Dave remarks, “A good strategy focusses on the processes and people that have greatest impact on customer satisfaction.”


Dave has prepared a prolific set of strategy maps, scorecards and themes that have been applied within leading organisations. He asserts that your strategic theme is critical to create change and value.

“Intangible assets are bundled”, he says. “One initiative is not enough to execute strategy. You require a portfolio of several initiatives that are interdependent and cannot be treated on a stand- alone basis.” And again, he provides real management tools to show you how to include specific ways to define your strategic architecture, create robust strategy maps and tailor relevant strategy themes. In particular he provides delegates with specific Balanced Scorecards to show how they consistently fill the strategy management vacuum


Dave also says, “It is not a simple process for a CEO to mobilize transformation.” But his content goes on to provide tried and tested leadership essentials for certain success. He shows what is required in terms of left and right brain thinking to build your effective strategy management systems and why leadership issues are most often the dominant barrier to effective strategy execution. Just one barrier cited is how politics, in 89% of cases, is the major factor that prohibits the successful execution of strategy. Enter Dave’s right brain change management techniques and priorities, with ways to break down silos, get politics out of the way and cascade the strategy and scorecards to all key executives, business units and departments with appropriate accountability.

What follows on from there are the left brain change management tools that he has observed and that have been shown to achieve desired results.


Dave illustrates how Hilton Hotels did just this by linking their Balanced Scorecard to education, personal goals, incentive compensation and communication. Looking forward to how he will unpack this for us on the day.


Be prepared for prolific content and techniques to define your measures and targets and determine adequate funding.


An annual survey of CEO’s Presidents and Chairman showed that Human Capital Development is the most important issue facing senior management. “People driven strategies counter slow markets and economic conditions. The Balanced Scorecard Hall of Fame shows that successful strategy execution begins with Human Capital Development”, he says. And then goes on to share the results of Public & Private sector results whilst showing you which are the key Human Capital Value Multipliers. He will also show us how to develop competency profiles for each essential strategic job family and in particular how to determine the gaps between individual and group level.


As he insists that strategy is a core competence and that managing strategy is a whole new ball game very different to managing functions, he will show you why new organisation approaches are needed to facilitate cross-functional alignment. He defines the responsibilities of the office of strategy management and suggests the best practices in terms of conducting your meetings and reviews to keep your strategy on course including frequency and structure.

This blog barely scratches the surface or even does justice to what Dave Norton has in store for delegates on the 11th September, but hopefully provides you with some ideas to provoke and challenge your thinking in respect of your strategy execution efforts.


Dr David Norton is the co-creator of the Balanced Scorecard and leading global practitioner in applying the Balanced Scorecard in both the Private and Public Sector. Together with Professor Robert Kaplan, he has been acclaimed by Harvard Business Review for his significant contribution to the management profession in the past 75 years. More recently Thinkers 50 have ranked them in their Hall of Fame alongside Tom Peters, Kenichi Ohmae, Warren Bennis, Howard Gardner, Henry Mintzberg, Charles Handy, Philip Kotler and Ikujiro Nonaka for their mammoth contribution to business management and leadership.

On the 11th September 2014 Dr Norton will present a full day seminar in Johannesburg on EXECUTING STRATEGY IN A NEW ECONOMY – Balanced Scorecard Essentials.



Tom Peters has long argued the case for Customer Centricity. At the 2011 Progress Conference he said; “The magic formula that business has revealed is to treat their customers like guests and their employees like people.” So what is his 2013 take on strategy and leadership? Think of this as “Tom Peter’s Balanced Scorecard”.

Leaders “Do” People

You take care of the people.

The people take care of the service.

The service takes care of the customer.

The customer takes care of the profit.

The profit takes care of the reinvestment.

The reinvestment takes care of the future.

Now, hold that thought.

In The Execution Premium, Dr Dave Norton and Professor Robert Kaplan evidence the magic of Tom’s winning formula. The book cites a case study of how a large retailer, Store 24, turned around their failed strategy by applying what their CEO Bob Gordon, called their Customer Intimacy programme as a key scorecard metric.

The Store 24 strategy, which was called “Ban Boredom”, seemed like a great idea and a sure fire way to differentiate them from their competitors. The original “Ban Boredom” plan was an exciting strategy providing an entertaining atmosphere with fun promotions and frequent themes. This gave store managers permission and discretion to find ways to execute on the strategy. They dressed up in costumes consistent with themes and holidays and activated imaginative promotions with great displays.


Unfortunately this “Disney” approach had an adverse effect. It seemed that while executed with good intentions, the result was failing on the customer intimacy metric.

It was most fortunate that this strategy was predicated on their “customer intimacy” programme. And by getting “up close and personal” with their customers, they were able to quickly abandon the “Ban Boredom” Programme after two years and replace it with a new strategy.

What their “customer intimacy” programme showed was that the customers valued their traditional strengths of good product selection, quick service and a clean environment. They did not value, AT ALL, the experience they were trying to create. Customers were unhappy with the inattentive store employees dressed in costumes and distracted by the ever-changing displays in store.


You get what you measure! It’s an old adage and one that could not have been truer for Store 24. Using the Balanced Scorecard approach, the retailer was able to assess customer satisfaction quickly. Not only were they able to change direction quickly, they were also able to identify interesting elements for a comeback strategy.


Their comeback strategy, called “Cause, you just can’t wait”, was wholly based on customer feedback. They realised that flawless execution was essential and further research showed the negative relationship between low skilled employees and operating profit. They were able to show consistently that strategy implementation was only effective when done at stores with high skill crews. They realised, too, that the ability for them to implement their come-back strategy relied heavily on employee satisfaction.


Which brings us right back to Tom Peters, “Treat your customers like guests and your employees like people. You take care of the people. The people take care of the service. The service takes care of the customer. The customer takes care of the profit.” Most readers will acknowledge that this is very much the Disney leadership model the difference, however, is that it doesn’t mean that every customer wants a “Disney moment”. What does ring true is that if you get the people right, the service will follow. Get that right, and the profits are a natural result.

Having acknowledged the metrics, Store 24 brought back their traditional strengths as a key driver of their customer value proposition and replaced the “fun, entertaining experience” strategy with speed and efficiency as their new value proposition.


Had Store 24 not had a Balanced Scorecard in place, they may well have pursued their quirky “Ban Boredom” idea for many more years, with inexperienced and dissatisfied store crews having “fun” at the expense of their customer and profits. Scorecard metrics not only determine how organisations measure up on people, products, processes and resultant profits; they also provide a direct link to customer satisfaction.

Dave Norton urges companies to use an “employee-customer-profit value chain model” as their main management system.

Are you measuring the right things? Do you scrutinise the “employee-customer-profit value” cause and effect relationships? If you did, what might that value chain reveal and offer you in terms of a new strategic opportunity with a high execution premium?


Dr David Norton is the co-creator of the Balanced Scorecard and leading global practitioner in applying the Balanced Scorecard in both the Private and Public Sector. Together with Professor Robert Kaplan, he has been acclaimed by Harvard Business Review for his significant contribution to the management profession in the past 75 years. More recently Thinkers 50 have ranked them in their Hall of Fame alongside Tom Peters, Kenichi Ohmae, Warren Bennis, Howard Gardner, Henry Mintzberg, Charles Handy, Philip Kotler and Ikujiro Nonaka for their mammoth contribution to business management and leadership.

On the 11th September 2014 Dr Norton will present a full day seminar in Johannesburg on EXECUTING STRATEGY IN A NEW ECONOMY – Balanced Scorecard Essentials.