Category Archives for "Productivity"

Top 5 Problem Solving Tools

Solving problems is at the core of running a business and these problem solving tools will help you to take a structured and methodical approach. If you own a business, or if you are a manager within an organization, solving problems is one of your key duties. In fact, it may be the activity which takes up most of your time each day. Every time you make a decision to move the company forward, it is likely that the decision is being made because of a problem which has arisen. Needless to say, it is impossible to separate the task of problem solving from the task of running a successful business. They are one in the same, and you can’t do one without the other.

Unfortunately, solving problems properly is an extremely difficult task in many cases. The problem may be complex or you may have a number of different potential solutions to consider. Or, in some cases, you may have both a complex problem and a lot of possible solutions on your plate. When things get complicated as you are trying to make a crucial problem solving decision, it is helpful to have tools available to use.

In this article, we are going to highlight five of the top problem solving tools available to business owners and managers. Once you understand how to use these tools, and why they can be effective, you will be able to look for opportunities to put them into action in real-world applications.

Below is content which highlights each of the five problem solving tools we have selected. If you aren’t sure which of these tools is going to be the best bet for your needs, we’ll offer some help at the end of the article.

Six-Step Problem Solving Model

If it is simplicity that you are after, the six-step problem solving model is a great place to start. This is all about the basics of problem solving – each of the six steps will take you a bit closer to a positive outcome. This model might not be complex enough for your needs, but you may be surprised to find just how many times this technique is able to do the job.

To give you a better understanding of how the six-step problem solving model works, let’s quickly walk through each of the six steps.

  1. Define the problem. Obviously, you aren’t going to get far if you don’t know what the problem is that you are trying to solve. Take some time at this first step to understand the problem on a deeper level so you will be able to take logical action later on.
  2. Determine the root cause. This is an important step that is frequently missed when individuals or teams are trying to solve problems. What is it that is causing you to wind up in this situation? Is there just one root cause, or is it a combination of issues coming together negatively?
  3. Develop alternative solutions. At this point, you aren’t trying to find the single answer to the problem – instead, you are trying to find all possible answers. Anything which you believe may be able to help you solve this issue should be on the table at this point.
  4. Select a solution. Now that you have a list of possible solutions to consider, you can pare them down and wind up picking out the one which you believe will resolve the matter.
  5. Implement the solution. With your choice made, it’s now time to put that choice into action and see what happens. Of course, implementation itself can be a complex process which may require its own methods and tools to work through successfully.
  6. Evaluate the outcome. This is important. Once you implement a solution, you need to follow through with that solution to make sure it actually worked. If not, you may need to go back and consider one of your other potential solutions that was identified in step three.

There is nothing particularly complex about the six-step problem solving method, but that is exactly what makes it so effective. Take your time on each step, seek out collaboration as necessary, and trust the model to lead you to a wise choice.

The Drill Down Technique

You can probably guess from the name of this problem solving method roughly what it involves. The term ‘drill down’ is frequently used in business to highlight any process that narrows something down from bigger components into smaller pieces. That is exactly what is going to happen within the Drill Down Technique of problem solving. When you are facing a large and complex problem with significant potential ramifications, one of the best things you can do is break that problem down into its various components until you have it solved.

To use the drill down method successfully, you are going to need to have a plan. You can choose to work through this process either on your computer or with a pen on a piece of paper, whatever suits your personal preferences. To start, write down the problem that you are facing in big letters at the top of the page. Try to sum up the problem in just a word or a short phrase, even if it is complicated in nature. This will be your starting point, and the rest of the drill down process will take place from here.

At this point, the problem needs to be broken down into smaller chunks. Try dividing the problem up into three – five smaller issues which come together to form the bigger matter. You are going to keep ‘drilling down’ on the problem by dividing up the problems, layer by layer, until you feel that it would not be possible to go any farther.

This technique is a great way to uncover the complicated nature of most business problems. It is not typical for a business problem to be isolated within the organization – more often, the problem will be built upon layers of smaller issues. This is exactly what you are going to try to untangle by using the drill down technique. Look over the entire chart that you have created and figure out which of the ‘sub-problems’ is most likely to blame for the bigger problem. Once you have identified those lower-level issues which are creating trouble, you can get to work on correcting them as necessary.

The Four Frame Model

The Four Frame Model is a concept that divides up any given organization into ‘four frames’ – with the goal of understanding these organizations better when they are divided up in this manner. Organizations are extremely complicated entities, with a potentially huge number of personalities, motivations, capabilities, limitations, and more at play. If you are going to get the most out of your organization, you need to understand it as intricately as possible. While many tools exist for this purpose, the Four Frame Model is one of the most in-depth and one of the most successful.

So what are these four frames? Let’s take a quick look at them below, along with a description.

  • The basic organization of your business is the structural frame. These are the systems that are used to run the business, the hierarchy of the people within the company, and more.
  • Human Resource. The people who make up your organization are incredibly important – in fact, they are the most important asset you have. Are your people being well taken care of? Are they happy with their work, and challenged to do their best each day? Many problems can arise when the human resource frame is not functioning properly.
  • You aren’t going to be able to keep politics out of your organization completely, as they are the natural outcome of having many different individuals work toward the same goal. However, it is important to keep the political climate within your business as healthy as possible.
  • How does the organization work as a whole, as its own being? Above the level of the individuals, what direction is the organization moving in both in the short- and long-term. This final frame is a bit abstract, but important nonetheless.

Eight Disciplines of Problem Solving

Anytime a problem solving tool or process has been developed by one of the world’s largest companies, it is certainly worthy of a closer look. That is the case here with the Eight Disciplines Problem Solving process, which has been developed and used by Ford. As you certainly are aware, Ford is among the leading automakers in the world, and this process has played a role in the success that they have enjoyed over the years. Even if you own or manage an organization significantly smaller than Ford, you can still benefit from the proper application of this process.

If you are going to try to solve a large problem within your organization, you need to have a plan and a process. These eight disciplines give you just that. They are as follows –

  • Build the team
  • Describe the problem
  • Implement a temporary fix
  • Identify and eliminate the root cause
  • Implement a permanent solution
  • Prevent the problem from recurring
  • Celebrate team success

In many ways, this is a more complex and detailed version of the six-step problem solving model we discussed at the start of this article. It probably won’t be necessary to go into this whole process for each problem you encounter, but this can be a good choice for the major issues plaguing your organization.

The Cynefin Framework

Rather than provide you with a problem solving plan as is the case with other tools, the Cynefin Framework instead helps you figure out how you should be thinking about a problem in the first place. In many ways, this framework is a level ‘above’ other problem solving processes. You could theoretically use the Cynefin Framework to figure out how you should be dealing with a problem, and then you could move into another problem solving method if you so choose to get down to the business of finding a solution.

This framework helps you move problems into one of five contexts. Those contexts are listed below –

  • The problems here are self-explanatory, and these are the easiest problems to solve.
  • Many of your most-difficult problems will fall into the complicated context, which is usually going to require you to bring in help from throughout the organization in order to find a solution.
  • A problem which is considered complex might not be able to be solved today. Rather, it might need to simply stay on your radar until a viable solution becomes available.
  • These are problems you can’t understand at the moment, but need to solve anyway. Usually the best bet is to implement a temporary solution until the problem can be further analyzed.
  • Our final context is not an enjoyable one, as you won’t understand the problem or even identify the issue as a problem right away. The only step here is to gather more information until the problem comes into focus.

Choosing Your Method

So which of these valuable problem solving tools should you use in your organization? Well, that is going to be up to you in the end. It would be wise to learn how to use all of them, because one that works well for one of your problems might not work at all for another. For instance, many of your day to day business problems can likely be handled with the six-step problem solving model at the start of our list. For more complicated problems, however, you will need to use one of the other tools. In some cases, you might need to start with the Cynefin Framework to get a handle on the problem before you put one of the other tools to use in order to get the job done.

We hope this list of business problem solving tools has been helpful to you. For business owners and managers, the task of solving problems is not going away anytime soon. Learn how to use these methods and you will be able to fill your duties at a higher level going forward.

Top 5 Problem Solving Tools Book (40 Pages)
This free eBook outlines five problem-solving tools that can each be used to look at a particular problem from a different perspective. This can help you to find solutions that that might not be immediately obvious and to compare possible solutions before choosing the best one.

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The Action Priority Matrix

Do you feel like you are as efficient as possible when at work? If you are like most people, the answer to that question is a definitive ‘no’. Most people, no matter what position they hold, feel that they could get more out of the work day. In order to move in a more efficient direction, consider using the Action Priority Matrix to pick out the right activities day after day. By working on the right things, in the right order, you should get more done and see more achievement in the long run.

It is helpful to have a priority matrix available because you likely don’t have time to do everything you want to get done in a day. If you had unlimited time available, you wouldn’t need a matrix – you would just do your tasks one by one until they were all completed. Of course, that isn’t the world we live in. You are going to have to pick between tasks at some point, which is where the Action Priority Matrix comes into the picture.

Action Priority Matrix

Creating a Grid

To build the platform for your action priority matrix, you will need to create a grid with a vertical and horizontal axis. The vertical axis will serve at the measure of impact that a given activity has on your organization, while the horizontal axis will represent the effort required to complete the task. Each axis is going to be set up in ascending order, meaning low impact activities will be at the bottom with high impact activities at the top. Likewise, activities that require little effort will be placed on the left, with those activities that demand great effort landing on the right.

If you would like, you can create a numbering system to use with this grid. For instance, you may wish to use scores from 1-10 for both impact and effort. An activity which requires minimal effort will only rank as a 1 or 2, while an extremely demanding project could be a 10. The scores work the same way on the impact axis, with low impact jobs coming in around 1 or 2 and greatly impactful projects registering a 9 or 10.

Placing Your Projects

Now that your grid has been created, you can go ahead and place a variety of activities into the appropriate spot. Make a list of all activities that are currently ‘on your plate’, and mark them on the grid in a spot which you feel is accurate. It may take a bit of time to think through each activity to grade it accurately, but this step is essential for the overall success of the matrix. Once you have completed the task of assigning each project a spot in the grid, you can move on to the next step.

Identifying the Quadrants

For the purposes of the Action Priority Matrix, your grid is going to be broken up into four quadrants. By determining which quadrant each project lands in, you can start to see which you should prioritize and which should be moved to the back burner. The four quadrants are listed below.

Quick Wins

These are projects that end up in the top left quadrant of your matrix. In other words, they are jobs which offer a high level of impact while only requiring a minimal amount of effort. Of course, you are likely to enjoy these projects, as they can impact the company greatly without requiring you to work well into the night. If all of your projects landed in the Quick Wins category, you would be quite happy with your day to day job. Most people will want to check these projects off quickly because they offer such a significant reward without huge time or effort demands.

Major Projects

Again here, we find projects that come in high on the impact scale. However, these also rank highly on the effort scale as well, as they are going to require a notable investment of time to complete properly. Occupying the upper right portion of your matrix, those projects which land in this area are likely to take up most of your time on a day to day basis. It makes sense to focus on these jobs, as they have a large impact on your company. Ignoring these tasks can cost you in the long run as they begin to add up.

Thankless Tasks

Dropping down to the bottom right of the matrix, we find the jobs that no one wants to do – the Thankless Tasks. These duties do not provide much in the way of an impact on the company, but they do require a lot of time and effort. It is likely that you will attempt to delegate some of the jobs that fill up this quadrant, but it might not always be possible to do so. There are two schools of thought with regard to Thankless Tasks. Some people like to get them over with as quickly as possible, while others put them off for as long as they can. Whichever way you go, remember that these jobs still need to be done, even if you don’t like them.

Fill Ins

The final category in the matrix, the Fill Ins, are jobs which are low in both impact and required effort. As the name would suggest, these are good tasks to perform when you are in between jobs on other projects. These items do need to be checked off, but they aren’t going to make a substantial difference either way in the long run. Keep these tasks off to the side and have them available when you have a hole in your day to fill.

The Action Priority Matrix is a simple tool, yet it can help you to effectively organize your day. Once you have a clear picture of what you are trying to accomplish during your day, and which tasks have the greatest importance, it should be easy to plan your schedule accordingly. With any luck, implementing this tool will allow you to save time in short order.

Time Management eBooks, Templates and Checklists
Our time management resources can help you to make the most of your time as well as making sure that you get the best out of your team. Download these free eBooks, checklists and templates for your PC, Mac, laptop, tablet, Kindle, eBook reader or Smartphone.


If you fail to manage your time properly as a business professional, it is almost certain that you will fall short of your goals. Managing time is an incredibly important skill, yet it is one that many owners and managers take for granted. In today’s world, it is increasingly easy to distract yourself with text messages, web browsing, and other non-productive activities. To stay on track throughout the work day, you need to put time management strategies into action.

In the content below, we are going to take a close look at the concept of timeboxing. This technique is exactly as it sounds – you break up your projects into time-limited segments, enabling yourself to focus on the task at hand for a prescribed period of time. If you are accountable to these ‘boxes’ of time throughout the day, you just might be amazed at what can be accomplished. You will never have unlimited time during the day in which to meet your goals, but you can make the most of the time available with the help of timeboxing.

The Basic Idea

The concept behind timeboxing is to switch your way of thinking from task-based to time-based. Think about it this way – when you sit down at your desk to work, you will no longer base your action on completing a certain job. Most people, when they start work for the day, pick up a given task and work on it until it is completed. That is not the way it will go with timeboxing. Rather, you are going to set an amount of time to focus on one job and work on that job until the time is out. This might seem like a minor change, but it can have a big impact on your productivity.


For example, if you have a project which you know is going to take several days (or longer) to complete, you may have trouble finding the motivation to get started. After all, you aren’t going to finish the job anyway, so why not take your time? This way of thinking can lead to a major decline in productivity. When you employ timeboxing, you will give your brain a specific, short-term goal to focus on as you work. Whatever period of time to set as your ‘box’, you can tell yourself to focus in and work hard until the time has run out.

Finding the Right Time Frame

One of the keys to successful timeboxing is picking out an appropriate length of time to work on one task. If you set your timeframes too short, you will just be gaining steam on a given project when the timer runs out. On the other hand, if you give yourself too much time within a specific ‘box’, you might struggle to focus all the way to the end. The proper amount of time per work session is going to vary from person to person, so experiment with this idea until you settle on a time period that works for you.

It is important to note that you don’t have to use the same amount of time for each work session. If you are working on a particularly complicated project, for instance, you may wish to provide yourself with some additional time in order to get deep into the task. Or, if you are working on something that you would classify as ‘mindless’, you may only want to take it on for 10 minutes at a time. By varying your times, you can keep yourself focused appropriately based on the job at hand.

Timeboxing for Your Staff

The benefits of timeboxing can certainly extend beyond your desk. You can also teach this method to your employees in the hopes of improving their productivity. Even the best employees can wind up spending too much time on a relatively unimportant task, so using timeboxing can help them to stay on track as the week goes by. While you don’t want to dictate exactly how much time an employee is allowed to work on a certain part of their job, encouraging them to use timeboxing will at least make them more aware of how much time has passed while working on the same task.


Benefits and Drawbacks

As with any tool, there are both benefits and drawbacks to be considered when you think about putting timeboxing to work in your day to day life. The list below highlights some of these points.

  • Benefit – Improved Focus. If you tend to let your mind wander throughout the work day, timeboxing is a great way to keep yourself on track from start to finish. With specific time goals to meet, it will find it easier to ‘keep your head down’ until the timer runs out.
  • Drawback – Rushing Work. Should you feel pressured to finish a task within a specific timebox, you might sacrifice the quality of your work in favor of simply getting the job done. Of course, this is a mistake. Do your best to balance the productivity of timeboxing with the importance of producing quality work.
  • Benefit – Avoid Multitasking. The ability to multitask is a myth, and it is one that costs millions of people productivity each and every day. Since the human brain can only focus on one task at a time, use timeboxing to make sure you aren’t attempting to do more at once than you can handle.
  • Drawback – Breaking Your Rhythm. If you are diligent about sticking to your timeboxes, you may find that stepping away from your work when the timer runs out could cause you to lose your train of thought. Depending on the type of work you do, it may be important to schedule long timeboxes to ensure the entire task is completed before you quit.

There is nothing complicated about timeboxing. You simply set a timer, begin your work, and stop when the timer is out. After taking a few minutes for a break, you can restart a new timer and get back to work. This basic time management plan is brilliant for its simplicity. Give it a try and you just might have some of the most productive days of your career.

Time Management eBooks, Templates and Checklists
Our time management resources can help you to make the most of your time as well as making sure that you get the best out of your team. Download these free eBooks, checklists and templates for your PC, Mac, laptop, tablet, Kindle, eBook reader or Smartphone.

The Pomodoro Technique

If you simply measure your productivity at work in terms of how many hours you spend behind your desk, you are likely to be disappointed with the results. Sitting at your desk is no guarantee of production, as you actually have to be focused and on task during those hours if you are going to see real progress. It is hard to be motivated to work day after day, which is why so many people turn to time management techniques to stay on task. One popular option is the Pomodoro Technique. By using this technique, you will have built in short breaks and your overall day should be more productive as a whole.

As you may know, pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato. Inspired by a kitchen timer which was shaped like a tomato, this technique encourages users to work in 25-minute segments. When the 25-minute segment has expired, you are to take a five-minute break before getting back to work. Once you have gone through four cycles of working for 25 minutes at a time, you then take a longer break before getting back to the tasks at hand. This is likely more breaks than you take during your current work day, but adding breaks may actually be just what you need to improve your productivity.

Pomodoro Technique

Stepping Away

No one has the capability to focus on a single task for an indefinite period of time. Humans need breaks from any task which they are completing, no matter how important it may be. With that in mind, the Pomodoro Technique can help you to build in much-needed breaks to the course of your day. Without a technique such as this, you might wind up stuck at your desk all day long – with decreasing productivity as the hours go by. Step away for a few minutes after each work segment and you should return to your work refreshed and ready to go.

If you would like to put the Pomodoro Technique into action during your own work day, follow the process outlined below.

Map It Out

You need to make sure that your scheduling for the day matches up with any out-of-the-office obligations you have lined up. So, when you first arrive at the office for the day, take a look at your schedule as a whole and think about how you can build in the Pomodoro Technique to your day. If you are going to be in a meeting in the afternoon, for example, you may wish to line up your morning with a series of 25-minute work sessions. Make sure your plan works for the day in front of you and it should be easy to stay on track.

In addition to scheduling your work periods, you also want to schedule out your breaks as well. Are you going to take just a five-minute break between each session, or are you going to take a longer break at some point? It is good to take at least one 30-minute break in the day to have some food, relax, and just get away from a mental standpoint.

Find a Timer

To make sure you hit the 25-minute mark during each of your work sessions, find a timer that you can use over and over again. For most people, the easiest option is going to be an application for your phone. There are many timers available for both iPhone and Android devices, so download one that you like and learn how to use it. Now, setting a 25-minute timer will just be a tap away.

Pomodoro Technique

Narrow Your Focus

Once the timer starts, you are going to be working on only the task you have scheduled for that session. Don’t keep your email open on the side of your screen, and don’t check your phone incessantly. If you do need to be available, make sure your phone ringer is on and someone will be able to reach you if necessary. Work hard on the task at hand for the entire 25 minutes and you will be surprised with how much you can accomplish in such a short period of time. By focusing on just one task rather than several at the same time, your productivity will skyrocket.

As an added benefit of using the Pomodoro Technique, you may notice that your stress levels begin to decline. The hectic way in which many people go about work can lead to feelings of stress because you will constantly feel like you are scrambling to get things done. That won’t be the case when you use this system. Instead of being frazzled at the end of the day, you should wind up feeling content and satisfied with what you have accomplished. 25 minutes might not be a long time, but you can get plenty of work done as long as you are focused.

Take Your Breaks

Just as you need to be diligent about remaining focused during your work sessions, you also need to be serious about your breaks. When you arrive at a five-minute break window, take your mind off of work and do something else. Check messages on your phone, play a quick game, or just let your mind wander. If possible, it might be nice to walk outside for a couple minutes of fresh air. Whatever it is, find something that can help you to clear your mind before going back for more.

Finish the Day Strong

As the day wears on, you might be tempted to give up on your timer and just keep working until everything is complete. Don’t fall into that trap. Often, the biggest difference between an average day and a highly productive one is how you finish. Work hard through your final pomodoro period of the day and you will be satisfied with your effort.

The Pomodoro Technique is about as simple as it gets, yet it can be highly effective. Practice scheduling your day with 25-minute sessions and short breaks throughout, and you will see your performance in the office quickly improve.

Time Management eBooks, Templates and Checklists
Our time management resources can help you to make the most of your time as well as making sure that you get the best out of your team. Download these free eBooks, checklists and templates for your PC, Mac, laptop, tablet, Kindle, eBook reader or Smartphone.

The Conflict Layer Model

Negotiations are at the heart of many businesses. If you are working in the role of a business manager, it is likely you need to negotiate deals on a regular basis. Whether you are negotiating compensation packages with employees, or you are working on a purchase agreement with a supplier, successful negotiation can lead to a positive outcome for all involved. Despite what many believe to be true, negotiation doesn’t have to come down to a winner and a loser – both sides can get what they need out of the deal when communication is emphasized.

The Conflict Layer Model is a helpful way to look at any negotiation process. One of the problems commonly found in negotiation is the fact that one or both sides may not be willing to say what they are really looking for in the deal. Salary negotiations are a great example of this problem. An employee may be too nervous to openly state the pay rate they desire, as they don’t want to appear greedy or unrealistic. As a result, the negotiations could go back and forth without ever really getting to the point. In the end, the employee likely will not get their desired salary, and they may wind up looking for new employment in short order.

Conflict Layer Model

A better option would be to have the needs of all involved laid bare on the table. When everyone involved in the negotiation knows what the other side is looking for, serious negotiation can begin. While it is usually impossible to everyone to get exactly what they want, reasonable compromises may be attainable with the lines of communication open. By using the Conflict Layer Model, you may be able to get down to serious negotiations sooner rather than later.

As you might imagine from the name of this model, there are layers which make up the construction of this negotiation tool. Specifically, there are three layers which need to be understood before you can apply the model successfully. Those three layers are listed below.


The outer layer of the Conflict Layer Model is known as the positions. When negotiations begin, each side in the room will take up a position. While that might seem like a positive step, the problem lies in the fact that these positions are often not exactly what each side really wants out of the deal. Rather than stating openly what you are looking for, you may decide to represent a specific position based on how you want to appear.

Going back to our example of salary negotiations, an employee may state that they are looking for a wage which is 10% – 20% lower than what they actually desire. This employee may simply be embarrassed to ask for the kind of money they feel they deserve, so they will start out with this lower demand. Wanting to bargain a hard line, the company representation might offer numbers even lower than this initial request. At this point, each side will be standing behind a position which does not necessarily represent their true feelings or desires on the matter.


Moving to the middle layer of the model, the interests of each side are the reasons they use to back up their chosen positions. An employee may point to certain accomplishments in order to justify a salary increase, or they may point to the salary of an employee with similar responsibilities. Again, while these interests will be based in fact, they might not actually be the truth in terms of what each party desires. While negotiations remain in this middle layer, they will still be stuck and unlikely to lead to a meaningful resolution.

Conflict Layer Model


Finally, we get to the core of the negotiation. At the needs layer we will find exactly what both sides are truly looking for in the process. This is where the employee is completely honest about the compensation that he or she desires, and it is also where the company is open about the kinds of offers it can make. As you might expect, this is where deals can begin to take shape. Without working all the way to the needs level, it will be difficult to successfully strike an accord that makes everyone happy at the end of the day.

Think Carefully

It should be clearly stated that the Conflict Layer Model is not always going to be the best way to approach a negotiation. When the two parties involved in a negotiation are not working toward the same goal, it may be necessary to be more guarded than this model would provide. For instance, if a company goes into negotiations with another business by stating openly how much they are willing to pay for a particular good or service, that company will be giving away all of their bargaining power. There is a certain strategy that should be employed in specific negotiations which would run counter to the way talks can work in the Conflict Layer Model.

The reason we used the example of an employee and employer earlier in this article is because it illustrates a time when both sides can benefit from being honest. While the employee wants and much money as possible and the employer wants to save money, these two parties are still working toward the same end. If the company is successful, everyone at the bargaining table is going to succeed. The employee wants to maximize his or her earnings, and the business wants to retain a valued, talented individual. If these two parties can be honest with one another in order to find common ground, it should benefit the organization as a whole.

The Conflict Layer Model is not going to be the right way to approach every negotiation. It will, however, be the suitable method for a number of situations in which hardline negotiating is not necessary. Think about the stakes and the parties involved in each negotiation you enter and use this method when you deem it is appropriate.

Time Management eBooks, Templates and Checklists
Our time management resources can help you to make the most of your time as well as making sure that you get the best out of your team. Download these free eBooks, checklists and templates for your PC, Mac, laptop, tablet, Kindle, eBook reader or Smartphone.

Blanchard’s ABCD Model

Relationships are crucial in business. Of course, you may have already know that to be true. When you have strong relationships with individuals both inside and outside of your organization, you are more likely to be able to reach your goals. With that in mind, building trust is one of the best things you can do to care for your professional (and personal) relationships. When there is trust between parties, it is far more likely for those parties to work together in a productive manner.

Blanchard’s ABCD Model

In order to build trust in your professional world, you may wish to use Blanchard’s ABCD Model. This is a model which was designed for use by leaders within organizations. Sticking with the ABCDs outlined in this model should help any business manager or owner build the trust that is so desperately needed to be successful.

To better understand this model, we are going to walk through the ABCDs below, one point at a time.

A – Able

If there is going to be trust placed in a leader, that leader must demonstrate that he or she is capable of getting the job done. Do your employees believe in your abilities as a leader? If not, it is unlikely that the necessary amount of trust will be in place. The legitimacy of your leadership can be demonstrated in a number of ways, such as your education, past experiences, certifications, and more. When it is clear that you are able to handle your duties as a leader, you will command the attention and respect of your team right from the start.

Part of demonstrating your ability as a leader is openly acknowledging when something is outside of your area of expertise. For instance, if a project comes up that you are not familiar with, asking your team for help will go a long way in their eyes. No one knows everything, but many leaders like to pretend they know everything in an effort to maintain their position or standing. Instead of pretended, be open with your shortcomings and gain the trust of your team in the process.

B – Believable

This is one of the building blocks of trust in any kind of relationship. When you say something, those on the receiving end of the message should be able to believe it at face value. Promise a pay raise for a specific group of employees upon successful completion of a project? You better deliver. In many ways, being believable in the workplace just comes down to having integrity. If you have integrity on a basic level, those who report to you are far more likely to trust your words and actions each day.

Unfortunately, many leaders are not as believable as they should be. Some leaders are willing to say anything to reach a desired outcome, even if that means losing trust in the process. A good leader will take the long view while understanding that building trust is more important than a short-term gain. Consider the trust you build within your organization as an investment. The investment might not pay off today, but it is sure to benefit you and the organization in the end.

Blanchard’s ABCD Model

C – Connected

No one likes to be treated as just another employee, or as just a number within the organization. Each person in your business is their own individual with their own story, family, hobbies, challenges, and more. One of the best ways to create trust throughout your organization is to treat each of your employees as a human being rather than just a number. When you are a connected leader, you ask about the wellbeing of your employees on a regular basis, and you are genuinely interested in hearing their response.

Every business is only as strong as the people who make it run each day. Even a company with great systems in place will fall flat without excellent performance by its employees. When those employees feel connected to the leadership in a meaningful way, it is far more likely that you will receive their best effort. Yes, your teams are coming to work for the paycheck first and foremost, but they still want to feel valued in the office as a part of the team.

D – Dependable

The concept of being dependable as a leader goes right along with being believable. Do you follow through with your commitments, or are you regularly changing directions from day to day? You will not be seen as dependable if you switch paths without warning or explanation. Even if you have to make decisions on the fly as part of your job, you should always seek to explain your actions to your team members so they can see your thinking and trust your dependability.

Also, a dependable leader is one who will hold team members accountable if they fall short of their duties. Often, failing trust in a leader stems from inaction when one or more members of the team becomes a problem. For example, if one of your teams has 10 members and 2 of those employees are coming up short of expectations, you will need to take action to retain the trust of the rest of that team. A dependable leader will do what is best for the organization while also treating each individual fairly.

If you are going to lead your organization to great heights, you are going to need to have the trust of those around you. While you can’t force someone to trust you, it is possible to make that the likely outcome by following certain behaviors. Blanchard’s ABCD Model is a great way to keep trust in mind while molding your behavior as a leader in the workplace. Leaders who are able to hit on all four of the points covered in this model are likely to hold the trust of the vast majority of their staff – and that trust can go a long way toward productivity and performance. Put this model into action as soon as possible and you should notice a sudden improvement in your professional relationships.

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Lewicki and Hiam’s Negotiation Matrix

Strong negotiation skills are essential for the successful business owner or manager. Without the ability to hold your own in a negotiation setting, you may find that you are taken advantage of more often than not. You don’t always have to drive a hard bargain in order to succeed – but you do need to know how and when you stand up for yourself and your organization.

One of the keys to being a quality negotiator is understanding the fact that you can’t take the same approach to each situation. Tailoring your technique to match the situation at hand is more likely to lead to positive results than simply going into each negotiation with the same line of thinking. You wouldn’t use a hammer when the right tool for the job is a screwdriver, and the story is much the same when it comes to negotiation. Pick the right ‘tool’ from your negotiation toolbox and you are more likely to come out on the other side with a satisfactory conclusion.

Lewicki and Hiam’s Negotiation Matrix Lewicki and Hiam’s Negotiation Matrix

Lewicki and Hiam’s Negotiation Matrix is a helpful tool which can lead you to the right negotiating strategy for each situation. Using this matrix won’t automatically lead you to a successful outcome, but it will be a big step in the right direction. There are five negotiation styles contained within this matrix, each encouraging you to take a different tact depending on the stakes, the situation, and other factors. Below we will take a quick look at each of these five styles.


To get started, we find the ‘accommodating’ style of negotiation in the upper left portion of the matrix. This model suggests that you use this technique when you are involved in a negotiation where the underlying relationship is more important than the outcome of the deal. In other words, you are more concerned with making the other party happy than you are with ‘winning’ the negotiation. You don’t have to fight tooth and nail for every last penny in this situation because you are trying to foster a strong relationship. This can be thought of as a ‘lose-to-win’ technique, as you are willingly going to lose the negotiation in order to win the reward of a stronger relationship with the other party. You may take this approach with a valued employee who is looking for a raise, or with a long-time customer who you want to discourage from taking their business to the competition.


When you aren’t particularly concerned with the relationship or the outcome of a negotiation, it is best to simply avoid negotiating altogether. In this case, the process of sitting down to hammer out a deal isn’t worth your time or effort. With very little on the line, there is no point in investing significant time to come to a settlement. These kinds of negotiations are ‘lose-lose’, as nothing valuable is going to come from this process. Do your best to make a quick deal before getting into any kind of long, frustrating negotiation process.


This might be the most difficult segment in the matrix, as these are the negotiations where you care greatly about both the relationship you have with the other party, as well as the outcome of the deal. Likely, this would be a negotiation with your biggest customer, where you need to keep them happy yet also get a great price to support your bottom line. Or, this could be a discussion with union representation on a deal that is going to affect most of your employees. Whatever the case, working collaboratively with the other party is the ideal technique. They should have just as much to gain or lose as you do, so both sides have an incentive to work together. It takes skill to properly work through this kind of negotiation, but these are the deals that can take your business to a new level.

Lewicki and Hiam’s Negotiation Matrix


If you picture a confrontational negotiation in a typical business meeting room, this is what you likely imagine in your mind. These competitive negotiations are going to be appropriate when you need to get the best possible deal – even at the expense of the relationship you have with the other party. One example of this type of negotiation could be when you are working out a price with one of your suppliers. If there are other available suppliers for this same material, you don’t need to worry about your relationship, since the supplier could easily be replaced. Instead, you can drive a hard bargain and do your best to secure a low price.


In the real world, you may find that not all of your negotiations fit into one of the well-defined boxes above. When that is the case, you might need to move into the ‘compromise’ portion of the matrix. When you take this approach, you are going to blend two or more of the styles above to come up with a method that is appropriate. As you gain experience in the world of negotiations, you should see that you get better and better about developing hybrid tactics to come out as a winner in the end. The exact way you attack each negotiation is going to depend on the personalities involved, the history between the two sides, the stakes of the deal, and more.

It will always be important to develop strong negotiation skills in the business world. Regardless of what kind of business you own or operate, you are going to have to cut deals with customers and other companies in order to thrive. As you can see from the information provided above, using the Lewicki and Hiam Negotiation Matrix is a smart choice when you need to tailor your negotiation tactics to the situation in front of you. Get familiar with the five options within this matrix and pick out the right style to take with you into the meeting room for your next negotiation.

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Berrien’s Persuasion Tools Model

Do you ever wish you could simply convince other people to see things your way in the business world? That would be a powerful ability, of course, as you would be able to win all of your negotiations by persuading people over to your side. While it might not ever be that easy, you can put yourself in a better position by learning a variety of persuasion techniques and methods. Those who are able to negotiate with a high success rate tend to rise to the top in business, which is why you should consider using Berrien’s Persuasion Tools Model.

The idea behind this model is to help you pick out the right technique to use for an upcoming negotiation. As all of the negotiations you enter will be unique, you have to alter your technique in order to match the situation at hand. Trying to use the same negotiation methods each time is a plan which is destined to fail. Be willing to adapt on the go and you should become far more successful in the end.

Berrien’s Persuasion Tools Model

Not only do you need to adapt your negotiating strategy based on the situation in front of you, but you also need to cater to your own personal strengths. What do you do well, and where do you struggle? This model is going to help you pick out the right approach based on your own talents. Over time, you can work on strengthening your abilities in weak areas in order to be able to negotiate from any area of the model as necessary.

The Design of the Model

The labeling of both the vertical and horizontal axis in this model is important. The vertical axis is going to relate to Intuition, while the horizontal axis will cover Influencing. What does that mean? Check out the points below –

  • This axis is where you are going to rate your own intuition when in a negotiation setting. Are you something of a ‘natural’ when it comes to negotiations, or does this situation make you uncomfortable? Some people are more naturally inclined toward negotiations than others, so don’t feel bad if you score low in this rating. For the purposes of using this model, you can simply decide if you have a ‘high’ or ‘low’ degree of intuition in negotiations.
  • Along the bottom of the model, you are going to rate your influencing ability. Again, this is going to be either designated as ‘high’ or ‘low’. Do you feel like you can persuade people to see things in your favor effectively, or do you struggle in this area? If you believe that you are strong in the area of influencing others, you can rate yourself ‘high’ on this axis. If not, give yourself a ‘low’ score in order to land in the proper area of the model.

Once you have decided how to rate yourself on these two axes, you can then find your appropriate negotiating style. Below, you will find a brief explanation of each of the four quadrants included in the Persuasion Tools Model.

Compromise – Low Intuition, Low Influencing

Agreeing to a simple compromise isn’t much of a negotiation tactic, but it may be your best bet if you find yourself in this quadrant. When you don’t feel like you are strong in either the area of intuition or influencing, there won’t be much left to do other than agree to a compromise and move on. If you find yourself in this area and you continue to accept compromises which are not in the best interest of your organization, it may be necessary to turn over the task of negotiation to another party. Or, at least, you may wish to pursue negotiation training in order to improve your skills and performance.

Bargaining – High Intuition, Low Influencing

This is a classic negotiation tactic, and it is probably the one most often used in a business setting. When you are comfortable with your ability to pick the right time to use this method, you can usually settle on a strong deal even if you aren’t great in the influencing department. Bargaining, as you may already know, comes down to each side giving a little back and forth until a deal is struck. You might not always get the best possible deal when you are willing to bargain, but you will be likely to settle the matter quickly while maintaining a good relationship with the party on the other side of the table.

Logic – Low Intuition, High Influencing

The name of this part of the model says it all. Rather than trying to bargain your way to a deal, you are going to lay out a factual, logical argument for your side of the negotiation. A logical argument is not going to work in all settings, but it is the best choice for people who are low on intuition but have a knack for influencing others through the use of facts and figures.

Emotion – High Intuition, High Influencing

Only the best negotiators are going to be able to occupy this area of the model. To be able to negotiate from an emotional position, you will need to be skilled in reading the other party and then responding as necessary. This will be a blend of the other styles of negotiation, as you may have to use a bit of logic and a bit of bargaining in order to settle on a deal. It is unlikely that you will start out in this area of the model, as you are going to need plenty of experience before you have the confidence needed to negotiate on emotion alone.

Negotiations are tough. It can be hard to make your points clearly when there are numerous people involved, and you will always be fighting for a position which is not shared by the other party. The best way to come out on top in this kind of situation is to think about your own strengths and weaknesses first, and then work from there. With the use of Berrien’s Persuasion Tools Model, you should be able to identify the best starting point for your own negotiation tactics.

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Allen’s Input Processing Technique

Perhaps now more than ever before, you need to manage your time successfully if you wish to make progress in business. With so many sources of information at our fingertips, it is easy to get pulled off task in the 21st century. If you struggle with this issue in your day to day life on the job, Allen’s Input Processing Technique may help you become more productive. The technique offered in this model is not complicated, but it does have the potential to help you save a significant amount of time each day.

Allen's Input Processing Technique

The way you deal with ‘inputs’ will go a long way toward determining how efficient you are in the office. Do you allow various inputs to distract you from the job at hand? Or, do you completely ignore them, missing out on important information? Either way, you are operating at a sub-optimal level. By using Allen’s method, you can have a plan in place for how you are going to process each new input that you receive. Once this plan becomes second nature, you won’t need to waste time analyzing every new input that comes across your desk – you will be able to make quick decisions before you move on to something else.

Collecting Inputs

At the top of this process is the action of collecting inputs. These inputs can come in a variety of forms, and they can be delivered to you in a number of different ways. An email is an obvious example of an input which you can receive, as is a phone message. A text message, a request for a meeting, a new bill, a customer complaint, and more can all fall into this category as well. It doesn’t particularly matter in what form an input is presented to you – what matters is how you respond.

A Pivotal Question

When a new input is placed in front of you in some fashion, there is one pivotal question which is going to determine how you process. That question is as follows –

Will I act on this?

It’s just that simple. That basic question is going to kick off the whole process. If the answer is ‘no’, you then need to decide whether it is something that needs to be saved for later. If you are going to save the item for later, you can file it appropriately and move on. If it does not need to be saved – as in the case of junk email, for instance – you can simply trash it and be done.

By deciding right away if each new input needs action, you will avoid having a pile of information on your desk or in your inbox at any one time. Many people fall behind on their inputs and get into a position where they simply don’t have enough time to catch back up. Don’t let that happen to you. Determining immediately if you need to take action and your slate will remain comfortably clear.

Allen's Input Processing Technique

Taking Action

When you receive an input that you do decide needs action, the next question to ask is whether or not that action needs to take place right away. If the matter is urgent, the decision is simple – you will complete the associated task right away. Those urgent inputs are the easiest of all to handle in many cases because there is no doubt as to when you should do the task. You need to do it as soon as possible, and you can then check it off the list when it is complete.

If an input arrives which does need attention, but not immediate attention, you will then want to defer that job to a later time/date. However, you don’t want to just shove it off to the side, as it could get ‘lost in the shuffle’ that way. Instead, you need to act now by setting a time and date for the task to be completed later. Think about what it is that needs to be done, when it needs to be done by, and how long it will take.

Once you have settled on a time and date to take care of this task, make sure you add it to a calendar that will keep you accountable. It is a great idea for all business owners and managers to have a master calendar which keeps them on track. Many people choose to keep such a calendar on their phones, but there are plenty of desktop applications available for your computer to do this as well. Or, if you prefer, you could keep your calendar the ‘old fashioned way’ – with a piece of paper and a pen.

Consistency is Key

Allen’s Input Processing Technique has the potential to help you stay on track in the office, but only if you are consistent with its application. This is the kind of tool that needs to be used without fail if it is going to save you time and keep your organized. If you allow yourself to slip for even a day or two with the use of this tool, you will fall behind and it will be hard to catch back up once again. Also, falling behind on the management of your inputs is a sure way to miss something important – a mistake which could wind up costing you money in the long run.

It is tempting to think that you are organized enough not to need the use of this kind of tool but rarely is that the case. With more inputs than ever before heading in the direction of business managers, using organizational tools is a good choice. Allen’s Input Processing Technique is a time saver, it can help to reduce your stress levels at the office, and it can ensure everyone gets the information and assistance they need in a timely manner. Put this productivity solution to use in your own day to day work environment and the benefits should be soon to follow.

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When Work Feels Overwhelming

Being a manager is often about meeting goals that have been set for you by someone else. Whether it is the owner of the company, the board of directors, a senior manager, or whomever else, reaching goals is a typical way to measure success. Sometimes, these goals are very tangible things like sales totals, efficiency measurements, or other numerical values. Other times, things like employee morale and customer satisfaction can be used as more arbitrary measuring sticks.

You might find yourself in a situation where work feels overwhelming, and that you have been set up to fail. While we all like to shoot for the stars and take on any challenge, sometimes a goal is set that is simply not possible regardless of the expertise and efforts of the manager. If you find yourself in a position that feels like an impossible fight, consider the following options for dealing with the situation.

1) Confront it Early

One of the best ways to deal with an unattainable goal is to address it right away. If you have had a goal set for you by the owner, for example, and you don’t feel it is possible, speak with him or her right away. The longer you wait to deal with it, the more it will look like you are failing and hoping for a way out. If you talk about the adjusting the goal before you ever get started, it will seem more like a legitimate discussion and less like you covering for yourself. As with any business discussion, come prepared with reasons why you think the goal is unattainable, and what you think would be a fair mark to shoot for.

2) Careful Documentation of Action

If you go ahead and try to achieve the goal you feel is out of reach, keep careful track of all action taken during that time in pursuit of the goal. With that documentation behind you, there will be more basis for your argument when the goal is not reached and you are confronted about it. You can present the higher manager with all of your proof of action and demonstrate everything you did to try and attain the goal. You may find that your failure to reach the goal is understood when you carefully outline the process you followed all the way along. You are not working on excuses, but rather just proof of your hard work and effort to reach the goal.

3) Speak with Others about Success

When you have a goal to reach that you aren’t sure is possible, ask others in the business about it. It might be that they agree with you and are dubious on your chances of success, or it might be that they have a different perspective for you to consider. It is almost always helpful to consult with others when faced with a problem, so this is the perfect time to seek experienced advice. If you are told by multiple people that the goal is out of reach, it might be wise to revert to option one and speak with the owner or other manager about the goal. However, if you are told that you can do it, get right to work with the confidence that it can be achieved.

While setting goals for yourself is usually more comfortable, having a goal set for you can actually be a good thing. Others will often think more of your abilities than you will, so they set aggressive goals because they are confident in what you can do. If you are sure that a goal is out of reach, use one of the three options above to deal with the situation. However, make sure to think hard about what the goal is asking of you, because it just might be something that you can conquer.

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Productivity Tools eBook
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Successful Delegation eBook
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Key Points

  • The feeling of being overloaded is increasingly common in today’s workplace.
  • One of the best ways to deal with an unattainable goal is to address it right away.
  • The longer you wait to deal with it, the more it will look like you are failing.
  • Keep careful track of all action taken during the time you spend and make sure you document it.
  • Ask other people for their input because you may be missing something.
  • If you are told by multiple people that the goal is out of reach, then speak with your manager about it.

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