9 Easy Ways to Get Busy People to Respond to Emails

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You might think you spend the majority of your time at work sitting in meetings or talking on the phone, but you could be wrong.

In fact, a significant portion of your work week could be spent writing, ready, and responding to emails.

A recent study from Adobe revealed that workers are spending 4.1 hours per week checking and interacting with our work emails. Despite the adoption of tools like Slack, workers are using email more than ever — and what’s more, it can take us up to 25 minutes to get back on task once we’ve interrupted by checking and reading email during the workday.

So needless to say, when you draft an email — whether it’s to your manager, your direct report, or a contact you want to work with — you want it to be well-crafted and impactful so it doesn’t expend even more time. So we’ve put together these tips for writing emails — that will get opened and replied to, without wasting anyone’s time.

How to Write Emails Your Contacts Will Actually Reply To

1) Write a descriptive subject line.

Your subject line should outline the reason for your email so the recipient is compelled to open and answer it. It should also be clear and succinct — after all, if your subject line is clear, your email will likely be, too. We suggest avoiding full sentences and only putting the meatiest part of your reason for emailing in the subject line.

Phrases to Avoid:

  1. “Checking in”
  2. “Touching base”
  3. “Following up”

Example Subject Lines:

  1. “Question about your blog post about Snapchat”
  2. “Meeting information for Monday, 5/1”
  3. “New data: 43% of consumers want video content”

2) Get to the point, and quickly.

In the opening lines of your email, you might be tempted to enumerate on your credentials or your organization, but you can do that later. Instead, the opening line of your email should immediately get to the point so the recipient immediately understands what’s being asked of them.

The basic format of a successful email should be:

  1. Opening greeting
  2. Reason for emailing
  3. Details
  4. Call-to-action
  5. Closing greeting

This format is considerate to your reader, who has trouble maintaining attention for long periods of time, and it compels you to write clearly and compellingly to make the recipient keep reading.

3) Use basic language.

Remember the episode of Friends when Monica and Chandler asked Joey to write them a letter of reference, and he used his thesaurus too enthusiastically?

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Source: Rebloggy

In this case, Joey changed so many words to their more advanced synonyms that his original meaning was completely convoluted. This can happen with your emails, too.

Resist the urge to use industry jargon or flowery language and stick to the basics. Make your sentences clear, straightforward, and short — if a sentence requires more than one comma, consider breaking it into two sentences. The easier your email is to understand, the easier it will be for the recipient to quickly respond.

4) Use numbers.

There are a few ways you can use numbers and statistics in your email that will make it easier to attract and keep the recipient’s attention.

  1. Numbers written as numerals (23) instead of words (twenty-three) have been shown to attract reader attention when they quickly scan what they’re reading online — which research shows internet users are more and more likely to do.
  2. Numbers as statistical data lend your email more credibility. Numbers represent facts, which your reader might be more compelled to respond to.

See what we did there? The numbered list probably drew your eye more than writing that out in paragraph format would have. Formatting helps too — more on that later.

5) Keep it as short as possible.

Keep it short and sweet.

Researchers analyzed over five years of emails, and they found that shorter emails resulted in faster response times. That’s helpful when you consider that reading and responding to emails can eat up so many hours in your week. Shorter emails help you and the recipient spend less time writing and replying to emails, which makes everyone more productive.

Our trick for keeping emails short is by typing them in Twitter first. Emails don’t have to be under 140 characters, but it’s a good guardrail for having maximum impact in fewer words. You can keep your emails shorter by using numbers, omitting unnecessary words like adjectives and adverbs, and thinking carefully about formatting. 

The ideal email length varies depending on your industry, but we suggest keeping your emails under 200 words in length. The average screen reading speed is 200 words per minute, so aiming to keep messages below that target is a good rule of thumb.

6) Use bullet points.

Whenever possible, use bullet points or a numbered list to organize your email structure. Here’s why:

  • Bullets don’t require full sentences, so you can use fewer words to get the same message across.
  • Bullets help break up the formatting of an email to maintain the reader’s attention.
  • Bulleted or numbered lists help clearly outline steps in a process that need to be taken, which is useful for email documenting meetings or initiatives.

We suggest using only three bullets. Studies have shown that our brains like to be presented with three options to consider. Use three bullets or numbered items in your emails for maximum impact.

7) Answer the question “so what?”

Just because the subject of your email is important to you doesn’t mean the recipient necessarily agrees. You need to ensure that your reader comes away from your email with the answer to the question “so what?”

Psychologist Ellen Langler found that the use of the word “because” made people more likely to comply with the request. By providing the reason behind asking someone to help you or do something for you in an email, you make it easier for the recipient to say “yes.”

When asking for someone else’s time and effort, make sure to include a “because … ” so they can understand the impact their compliance will have.

8) Make your ask clear.

Some emails have clear asks, and some emails do not. Either way, make sure to clearly state what exactly you need from the recipient of your email to make it easier for them to reply.

Remember the email structure we mentioned above?

  1. Opening greeting
  2. Reason for emailing
  3. Details
  4. Call-to-action
  5. Closing greeting

Start your email with the reason you’re emailing, provide the recipient with details and the “so what?” of your message, and close your email with a clear ask for next steps. Whether you need them to edit a blog post, attend a meeting, or you don’t need any specific action from them at that time, make sure that is the last line of your email.

The final line of your email will likely be most memorable, so if the recipient doesn’t reply right away, they’ll be able to easily remember what they need to do next.

9) Know when to take it offline.

Sometimes, the best email isn’t an email at all. Instead, it’s a phone call, a Slack direct message, a virtual conference, or an in-person meeting.

We’ve told you to keep your email as clear and succinct as possible. So if you’re drafting your message and finding that it requires any of the following, that could be an indication that it’s time to sit down and talk about what you’re working on:

  • If your email is highly time-sensitive, explore if there is a faster way to reach that person in the office or using a messaging app.
  • If it takes you multiple paragraphs to get your point across, consider if you want to produce a slide deck to present in a meeting.
  • If you need answers to multiple complicated questions (that don’t involve a yes or no answer), send a meeting invitation instead — but include the questions in the event description so the recipient can prepare.

A good indicator to determine if you should take your message offline is how long it takes you to write out your email. If you have to keep editing and rewriting to make your points clear, they might not be clear to your recipient, either. 

Luckily, meeting invites are short and sweet, and they involve a simple yes or no answer. Make sure to provide context in the event description, or a pre-meeting email, so attendees can prepare for the conversation early.

Email Is an Art

If you’re emailing your colleagues and contacts, they’ll understand a run-on sentence or a typo here and there (although we advise self-editing before pressing “send,” of course). But when it comes time to start emailing subscribers and leads on behalf of your brand, check out our free beginner’s email marketing guide for more suggestions and ideas.

What are your strategies for writing actionable emails? Share with us in the comments below.

To learn more about the transactional email add-on, contact your CSM.

Source: 9 Easy Ways to Get Busy People to Respond to Emails
blog.hubspot.com/marketing

Type A vs. Type B: Does Personality Type Matter at Work?

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We begin with a cast of two characters. One is organized, ambitious, competitive, and sometimes a little impatient. The other is laid-back, collaborative, creative and, sometimes, a little messy.

Do you identify with one more than the other?

Many of us already identify as either a “Type A” or “Type B” personality. Or, maybe you see yourself as a hybrid of both — like those of us who schedule our time and manage to-do lists like maniacs, but can’t recall the last time we made our beds. New Call-to-action

Here’s how the two types tend to break down, according to the American Psychological Association:

  • Type A: “A complex pattern of behaviors and emotions that includes excessive emphasis on competition, aggression, impatience, and hostility.”
  • Type B: “As compared to Type A behavior pattern, a less competitive, less aggressive, less hostile pattern of behavior and emotion.”

But if you’re anything like me, you might be thinking, “Well, that seems a bit restrictive.” That’s why we’re going to dive a bit deeper into each one. But first — let’s have a little fun.

Type A vs. Type B Personalities

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of these personality types, check out this infographic to see if there’s one with which you identify more than the other:


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While the options above might be generally easy to associate with either Type A vs. Type B workplace personalities, you may have found yourself identifying with a little bit of both. And that’s normal — it’s hard to check off all the boxes for one category.

It’s a visual, very informal representation of the A/B personality test — take it with a grain of salt, since it doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the original version of this assessment. That began in the 1960s, when researchers David C. Jenkins, Stephen Zyzanski, and Ray Rosenmen sought a way to measure the correlation between certain behaviors and coronary heart disease.

That study lead to the development of the Jenkins Activity Survey (JAS): a multiple-choice questionnaire that was distributed for use among psychology professionals in 1979. Today, many A/B personality tests are adaptations of the JAS, like this one — designed primarily for university students — available through UNC Charlotte’s Department of Psychology.

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Source: UNC Department of Psychology

Today, it’s hardly the only personality inventory of its kind, and almost seems a bit antiquated. In the last few decades, we’ve seen more complex assessments emerge, like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®), DiSC, and Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI®). Sure, we might still make general references to it — for example, I’ve lost count of the number of times each day I declare how Type A I am — it seems like the classic A/B dichotomy isn’t sufficient enough to comprehensively measure someone’s personality anymore.

It poses the question: Is there still room for the old fashioned Type A vs. Type B labels in the workplace? Or are they, as a reliable measure of personality, defunct? And in the end, do all of these elaborate assessments and profiles really just lead to Types A and B?

Does the A/B Personality Construct Have a Place in the Office?

The fact that many people identify with characteristics ascribed to both Type A and Type B — depending on the context — is why these more elaborate personality inventories were created. For example, DiSC is a test that assesses someone’s personality based on four behavioral drivers:

  1. Dominance
  2. Influence
  3. Conscientiousness
  4. Steadiness

Someone who scores high in steadiness, for example, tends to be friendly, empathetic, and places a lot of importance on being well liked and avoiding risk. That might sound a bit like Type B, right?

Someone who scores high in influence, on the other hand, tends to be outgoing, spontaneous, enthusiastic, unfocused, and optimistic. But wait — those also sounds like Type B traits.

But despite both steadiness and influence erring more toward the Type B side, each sounds like it has a pretty distinct character, working style, and approach to collaboration. See? As we said — that’s why these more detailed personality profiles exist.

Now, let’s take a look at someone who scores high in conscientiousness. This person tends to:

  • Be a data-driven problem solver.
  • Work deliberately and at a conservative pace.
  • Want to be correct and accurate.
  • Communicate in a more non-verbal manner.

So which bucket does this person fall into: Type A, or Type B?

The value that this person places on accuracy might scream, “Type A!” But the conservative pace might lean a bit more toward Type B. It’s more difficult to place this one into a single category — again, that’s where a more detailed personality inventory becomes particularly useful.

How Much Does “A” or “B” Really Matter?

When we’re able to categorize things, it gives us the impression that we can better understand our surroundings. It’s human nature — the A/B personality constructs, like many other identifying “buckets,” likely exist because of our instinctive compulsion and desire to identify the unknown.

But much of the time, these categories leave out important details. After all, if you don’t fit neatly into one bucket, what are you supposed to do?

Good news — that doesn’t really matter.

What does matter, however, is how you operate in and respond to day-to-day workplace scenarios. Which systems help you stay organized? How many unread emails do you feel comfortable having in your inbox? How far in advance do you care to plan out your lunch?

Answering those questions can help you identify and align your priorities, and ultimately determine which factors are going to help you be most successful and productive at work.

So While There’s No Need to Be “A” Or “B” …

… it might be helpful to look into some of the newer, more detailed personality inventories. Many of them, like the DiSC, are designed to help you gain more honest insight into the questions above — the ones that help you shed light on how you approach deadlines and collaborate, for example. Having that information can help you better prepare for team projects and high-pressure scenarios, and self-identity detrimental behaviors of which you might not have been previously aware.

So, while there’s no need to pressure yourself to uphold one personality type or the other — whether it’s Type A or Type B, introvert or extrovert, ENTJ or ENJF — it’s important to know what’s going to help you do your best work.

Do you think understanding formal personality types are important at work? Let us know in the comments.

This post was originally published in July 2015 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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Source: blog.hubspot.com/marketing

How to Avoid Burnout at Work: 7 Strategies from HubSpot’s Manager of Culture

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Doesn’t it seem like we don’t go a day without hearing about employee burnout — mostly what a problem it is?

In a survey conducted last year by Morar Consulting, 95% of human resources professionals blamed the loss of good employees on job burnout. Headlines call it a “crisis.” Type the words “employee burnout” into the Google search bar, and one of the autocomplete phrases likely ends with, “is becoming a huge problem.” And yet, despite all the research pointing to how bad it is — for reasons ranging from physical health to how much employers lose on turnover because of it — it continues to be a huge problem.

But what are you supposed to do about it?

Many of us recognize these patterns in friends and family, but rarely ask that question of ourselves or, sometimes, our employees. So many people are afraid to take time for themselves until it’s too late and we reach — you guessed it — burnout status. Download our free guide here for more interviewing and screening tips to build  your team.

That’s why I decided to enlist the help of an expert: HubSpot’s Manager of Culture and Experience, Tamara Lilian. I asked her about the many ways her team goes above and beyond to prevent employee burnout here — and, perhaps even more important, how employees and employers everywhere can put them into practice in their own environments.

So, what did we learn? Read on to find out — or listen to our interview with Lilian by pressing “play” below.

How to Avoid Burnout at Work

For Employers and Managers

1) Learn how to recognize signs of burnout.

This tip applies more to individual managers than it does to employers as a whole. When workloads are at a peak for everyone, and there’s plenty of stress to go around, it can be difficult to remember to observe what — and how — others around us are doing. And when it comes to signs of burnout, it’s often difficult for people to recognize them even within themselves.

That’s why it’s so important for managers to be able to recognize them — and take the necessary actions to address and resolve them. And while that can be tough for new managers, Lilian says, with some knowledge and information, it’s certainly not impossible.

“We’re stepping up our manager training, and we’re working on trainings to support them with their teams,” she explains. That includes things like knowing how to manage workloads in a way that mitigates burnout before it even happens, as well as supporting employees during their time off.

Actionably, what does that mean? To start, if you have people on your team who are particularly overeager to tackle things, recognize that it’s a great attitude to have, but check in regularly to make sure that person isn’t biting off more than she can chew. That way, you’re working to manage her workload in a way that prevents burnout.

And while employees should also be encouraged to take time off when they need it, make sure they know that they should truly be offline during their times out of the office. For that reason, it’s fair to request as much advanced notice as necessary, so you can work together to make sure there’s a support system in place at the office that can allow that person to fully disconnect.

2) Set the tone with a company (or team) culture code.

Here at HubSpot, we have a Culture Code, a document created to represent our people, culture, and values. It was written by CTO and Co-founder Dharmesh Shah with the mentality that, to build the best company, he would build it much like an engineer builds a product with code.

But the keys here are the three aforementioned things that the Culture Code was built to support: people, culture, and values. And no matter how big or small your team or company, you can still build a “code” guide the way your team operates. In fact, there are a few things from HubSpot’s own that can be applied to a number of environments, says Lilian. These are things like:

Transparency

“We share everything internally, from executive leadership meeting decks, to finances, to board meetings,” Lilian explains. “That creates trust, which in turn makes people feel valued.”

One easy way to add more transparency to your team or company culture is to always add context to major changes or decisions, especially when they impact the things your employees work on. If there’s a sudden pivot, explain why, and acknowledge that it’s sudden.

Trust

“Speaking of trust,” says Lilian, “in the Culture Code, we have a three-word policy: use good judgment. There’s no employee handbook you receive on Day One, because we put an enormous amount of trust in our employees.”

Showing that you trust your employees can manifest itself in a number of ways, but a big one is to stop micromanaging. Autonomy is also a big part of our culture here at HubSpot — which means that while managers are encouraged to maintain strong communication and be available for help whenever it’s needed, they trust us to get our work done on time, ask for help when we need it, and keep them updated on projects.

In other words, employees are given a large degree of control over their own work, which has been shown to correlate with both higher productivity and overall wellness. It also allows employees the freedom to independently discover the ways in which their work contributes to an organization’s overall success, which can lead to a greater willingness to ask questions — instead of being afraid of looking like they don’t know something. Being able to obtain that information without being judged for it can encourage creativity, too, as transparent, comprehensive answers can encourage new ideas.

People > Perks

“Sure, the free beer, being able to bring your dog to work, and having a gym on-site are cool,” says Lilian. “But that’s not what keeps people here. Keeping people motivated, challenged, and welcomed with an inclusive work environment is what keeps people here.”

That said, as you begin to build your team, remember that perks don’t go unappreciated. Free coffee is great for most of us, let alone free beer. But also think about the things for which the novelty isn’t quite as likely to wear off — things like the engaging work that Lilian referred to. If your team isn’t producing quality work, don’t assume that it’s due to laziness. The issue could just be a lack of interest. Have a conversation with employees about that to find out what’s making them lose interest, and together, figure out how to make it more engaging.

3) Lead by example.

Riddle me this: If you never see your boss take a vacation, how good are you going to feel about taking one? Probably not great — you wouldn’t be mirroring the example set by your manager to never take time off.

“You have to lead by example,” says Lilian. “For example, our CEO, Brian Halligan, just took his one-month sabbatical. If he can take that time off, then others definitely can.”

In the end, leading by the example of taking time off when you need it ends up benefitting everyone. Not only will it permit you the time you need to disconnect and recharge — which boosts productivity — but also, you’re showing your team that it’s an important thing to do.

They say that actions speak louder than words, but this tip partially goes back to the idea of knowing when to recognize burnout. Don’t just take time off — encourage it, too. If you’re planning to take some time off and realize that it’s been a while since your employees have, bring that up in your next conversation. Even if that person responds that she’s too busy to take time off, discuss the importance of breaks and that you’re ready to work with her to make sure all bases are covered while she’s out.

For Employees

4) Use the resources made available to you.

And while we’re on the topic of the old “I don’t have time” excuse, when it comes to taking care of yourself, “you need to make the time,” says Lilian.

She points to the the Healthy@HubSpot program, which includes things like on-site fitness classes, a kitchen full of healthy snacks — including fresh fruit and vegetables — and standing desks. And while not every workplace will have the budget for these types of resources, it’s important to take advantage of those that are available.

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For example, maybe your workplace has a nice outdoor area. Weather permitting, don’t let it go to waste — eat lunch there, or sit there for five minutes when you’re feeling particularly stressed (more on that later).

Sometimes, though, taking advantage of what’s made available to you comes down to your colleagues. “It sound so simple, but just grabbing coffee with someone you work with can have an impact,” says Lilian, “or turning a meeting into a ‘walking meeting’ outside.”

She also encourages making time to do these things with people who you don’t necessarily work with regularly. “Getting to know folks from other parts of the business can benefit the quality of your work,” she explains, by gaining more neutral and fresh insights or ideas.

5) Get away from your desk.

I’ll never forget a quote I once read from Bon Appétit editor-in-chief Adam Rapoport in the article “25 Ways to Practice Self-Care”:

I know what you’re thinking. The time to take care of yourself is when you have time to take care of yourself. Bright-and-early Saturday morning yoga. Sunday afternoon hike. But that’s not where my head’s at. I’m talking 3:18 p.m. on a Tuesday. When you’re sitting at your desk, ready to throttle your boss. Or quietly seething that your colleague got credit for something that your colleague totally didn’t do. That’s when you need to get up and walk away. And go do something. Anything. On such days, I head out for a coffee. Not because I need a coffee, but because I need to get out. I wander down to this little joint in a giant office complex on the Hudson River. And, then, instead of walking back to the office, I park it on a bench. And I just sit there. Breathing actual nonrecycled office-building air. Watching the ferries pull up to the dock. Because sometimes doing a better job means not doing your job at all.”

In other words, when you’re starting to feel like you might lose it — whether it’s the result of a frustrating project or a co-worker’s annoying whistling — step away. Now.

Lilian emphasizes the importance of getting away from your desk — even if it means doing your work somewhere else. “Results matter more than hours, or where we produce them. You can actually see this in the HubSpot offices, as we create ‘nomad desks’ where folks can work from in addition to their main desk,” she explains. “But we have plenty of collaborative workspaces to grab a seat at any time, if you need a change of environment or feel more creative or inspired in a different area.”

6) Take the time you need — with good judgment.

This practice falls along the lines of taking advantages of the resources made available to you. If you have paid time off — use it!

According to Project: Time Off’s 2016 State of American Vacation, the use of paid vacation has been dwindling among U.S.employees since 2000. In fact, last year, 55% of them didn’t even use all of their vacation days, with an average of .2 days taken off per employee.

I don’t know about you, but those numbers make me sad. If you’ve read the text leading up to this point, then you already know that taking time off can aid productivity. But if the refresh-and-renew benefit isn’t your thing, think of it this way: “By giving up this time off, Americans are effectively volunteering hundreds of millions of days of free work for their employers,” writes the Project: Time Off report, “which results in $61.4 billion in forfeited benefits.”

Okay, so maybe you’re worried about leaving your team in a lurch by taking time off. You’re in luck — there’s a fairly simple solution for that. “This goes back to using good judgment,” Lilian explains. “If you’re looking to take a week’s vacation with your family, make sure your team is set up for success while you are gone.”

Not sure how to start? Here are two key points:

  • Let your team know when you’ll be out of the office as far in advance as possible. My colleague, Sophia Bernazzani, uses the rule of one week notice for every day that you’ll be out of the office — so if you’ll be off for ten business days, let your colleagues and manager know about it ten weeks before you leave.
  • Be prepared to hustle before you leave in order to get ahead on the time you’ll be out. Not only will you be minimizing the amount of extra work your colleagues have to share in your absence, but also, you’ll (hopefully) be returning to that much less to catch up on when you return.
  • Make sure which regularly-occurring tasks you’ll be out for. For example, let’s say you and a colleague take turns doing something each month, like compiling a monthly performance report. If you’re going to be away during the time when it’s normally your turn, work with a colleague to rearrange the schedule so that she doesn’t have to unexpectedly take it on.

7) Don’t check in during your time off — and don’t feel bad about it.

Part of the point of working so hard before you leave for your vacation is to make sure you can completely step away during your time off. And yes — a lot of people “do a significant amount of work while on vacation,” Robert Blendon, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health professor told NPR. “So they’re taking their stress along with them wherever they go.”

The point of a vacation is to leave your stress behind, or at least to try your best to detach from it, so you can feel rested when you get back to work. Keeping that source of stress present during your time off is like going to the dentist with one cavity and leaving with four. It defeats the purpose of why you went there.

So please — don’t come back to work with four cavities. Disconnect when you’re away, and get the rest you need.

They Say It Takes a Village

Remember, preventing job burnout requires efforts from both managers and employees. The latter can’t be afraid to ask for the things they need to be well and do the best work they can — but their supervisors also have to create an environment where it’s not discouraged. Start making some of these incremental changes, and you’ll be well on your way to your own healthy workplace.

How does your team prevent job burnout? Let us know in the comments.

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Source: How to Avoid Burnout at Work: 7 Strategies from HubSpot’s Manager of Culture
blog.hubspot.com/marketing

12 Brainstorming Techniques for Unearthing Better Ideas From Your Team

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If you want to hold brainstorms that unearth better, more creative ideas, it all starts with the people in the room. Like, the actual number of people in the room.

That’s my first tip for you: Follow the “pizza rule” for brainstorming. If you’re unfamiliar with the “pizza rule,” it’s the idea that if you have more people in a room than you could feed with a pizza, there are too many people in that room to hold a productive meeting.

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The same rule goes for a brainstorming session: If you’ve got a dozen people sitting around a table, expect a really long list of truly mediocre ideas.

So, what else can you do other than bribe a group of two to six people with pizza to unearth good ideas? So glad you asked.

12 Team Brainstorming Techniques for Getting to Good Ideas

1) Invite a diverse group of people.

If your team works on all of the same projects together, goes to team meetings together, sits next to each other in the office, and hangs out in the same group chats all day … well, needless to say, the ideas will likely start to get pretty homogenous.

Instead, invite new people from other teams to your brainstorms — people with different skill sets and experiences to help get you out of your rut and see things in a new way. It’ll give you that great mix of new perspectives and contextual knowledge that’ll help you land on ideas that are both original and doable.

2) Keep the meeting to 22(ish) minutes.

Nicole Steinbok advocates this technique, and it’s one I’ve used with positive results. (I usually round up to 30 minutes, but what’s a few minutes among friends?) It works particularly well for people like myself that thrive under the threat of a deadline.

In my experience, having a limited amount of time to brainstorm only works if all participants are actually ready for the meeting. (More on that in a minute.) But two other tenets Steinbok harps on are a no-laptop rule, and a no off-topic-banter rule. While some might disagree with the latter, I have found that aggressive time constraints help keep people on task and delivering their best ideas as a result.

3) Provide context and goals well before the meeting.

“Well before the meeting” doesn’t mean that morning. Offer any pertinent information at least two business days in advance so people have a fighting chance at actually being prepared for the brainstorm.

In addition to providing any reading materials or contextual information that help set up the reason for the brainstorm (and explicitly asking that they read it, too), describe what the ideal outcome of the meeting looks like. This will help people come into the meeting understanding the scope of what you’re all trying to do. I think you’ll find this helps you avoid wasting time catching everyone up so you can get to the brainstorm right away.

If necessary, run your meeting like Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, and dedicate 30 minutes specifically to quietly reading in a group to bring everyone together — especially if they won’t have time to read before the meeting.

4) Ask people to come prepared with some ideas.

Often, great ideas don’t show themselves when you ask them to. They pop up on the train, in the shower, while you’re watching TV … basically any time you’re not actually trying to come up with the idea.

This is one reason why it’s good to provide a few days of lead-time before your meeting, but it’s also why you might want to explicitly ask people to think of some ideas beforehand. With this approach, you might find that you start the meeting off with pretty strong ideas from the get-go, and the group can add to and modify them to make them even stronger. In fact, this hybrid brainstorming approach was found to be more effective in a University of Pennsylvania study.

Frankly, I’ve also found that when everyone comes in cold turkey, the brainstorm often ends with a long list of very uninspired ideas. At the very least, whoever runs the brainstorm should come with a few ideas to kick off the brainstorm and give an indication of what a good idea looks like.

5) Say “no” to the bad ideas. Fast.

It might be brainstorm heresy to recommend people squash bad ideas, but I’ve seen one too many brainstorms go astray because people are too scared to say “no.” This is particularly important if you’re trying to run a quick brainstorm session.

Yes, there’s a fine line: Squashing bad ideas could lead people to fear speaking up, missing out on good ideas as a result. But if you’re giving every idea equal due regardless of merit, then you get off-track real fast and end up down a bad idea rabbit hole.

Better brainstorms that yield better ideas leave time to nurture the strongest inclinations.

On that note …

6) Foster an environment where bad ideas are okay.

Yes, you should call out bad ideas. But you should also make it okay that people had them. Call out your own ideas, in fact. If people can speak freely, but not feel stupid for doing so, you’ll get more ideas out — which makes it more likely you’ll land on a good one.

7) Lean into constraints.

If you have every resource and opportunity in the world, creativity will naturally stifle. Lay out the constraints you’re working within in terms of goals and resources for executing any idea you come up with. Then, try to see those as opportunities for creativity instead of roadblocks that make it impossible to come up with a good idea.

8) Lean into silence.

Anyone in sales already knows: Silence is power. In a brainstorm, silences are times when people get thinking done — either about their own ideas, or how to build on the last idea that came up.

And hey, it might also encourage more people to speak up with an idea, just out of their hatred of uncomfortable silences.

9) Lean into failure … outside of the brainstorm.

If you have a team where taking smart risks — regardless of outcome — is rewarded, people will have a better sense of what ideas are worth pursuing and what’s worth passing on. Because, you know, they do it a lot and get a second sense for these things.

If experimentation is a part of your team culture, that’ll manifest itself in better ideas than if your team is stuck in stasis. You’ll have better brainstorms where creative and smart, yet risky ideas come out.

10) Be prepared to ditch the meeting altogether.

Sometimes in-person meetings aren’t the right format for unearthing good ideas. Certain brainstorms can be better performed digitally.

For example, we often resort to Google Docs or Slack for brainstorms when curating blog post or title ideas across a large group of people. There’s really no need to pull everyone away from their work to participate in a brainstorm like that — and the benefit is that people can participate on their own time, when they’re ready and eager to contribute ideas, not when the meeting happens to occur.

11) Provide a place for anonymous submissions.

For some people, the “right” format might be an anonymous submission. Provide a place for anonymous idea submission both before and after the meeting. People might have some ideas that they’re reticent to bring up in front of the group. It’d be a shame to miss out on those ideas due to shyness, discomfort, or simply a preference for writing out ideas instead of speaking about them. This is easy to set up through a Google form.

12) Be prepared to pursue absolutely nothing that came out of that brainstorm.

Don’t feel like you have to choose and pursue an idea just because you had a brainstorm. If the brainstorm didn’t yield any good ideas, that’s fine. It wasn’t a waste of time. But you will waste your time if you pursue an idea that isn’t worth doing. Moving forward with the lesser of all evils is still … evil.

Instead, do some reflection on your own about why the ideas aren’t ready to see the light of day, and see if any are worth more thought before ditching them. Perhaps you’ll get another group of people in a room to iterate on them — or even the same group once they’ve had some distance from the ideas. Now that ideas have started flowing, you might find a second round of brainstorming yields something even better.

What other tips do you have for getting more out of brainstorms? Share with us in the comments.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in March 2016 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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Source: 12 Brainstorming Techniques for Unearthing Better Ideas From Your Team
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10 Job Interview Questions to Stop Asking Candidates

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When I get a job interview, there’s a lot to prepare. I diligently research the company and my interviewers, pore over Glassdoor interview questions, and print out copies of my resume and portfolio.

When I interview someone else, it’s easier to prepare. I don’t have to put together the perfect outfit, I don’t have to worry about how to find the restroom, and at the end of the day, I don’t have to worry about if I got the job or not.

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A quick Google Search for job interview questions brings up some of the most common asks you might have already answered 20 times over the course of your career. They’re popular, but that doesn’t mean they’re good questions. In fact, they could be hurting your chances of the candidate accepting an offer.

Nobody wants to feel stressed out, put on the spot, or tricked during a job interview. After all, you wouldn’t want to experience that in your day-to-day job, so why do we demand it of candidates?

Be mindful of the different personality types, cultures, and backgrounds that are applying for open roles at your company, and consider retiring some of the more common interview questions in your arsenal. Instead, try these alternatives that might give you more helpful information about the candidate — without making them feel awkward in the process.

10 Job Interview Questions to Stop Asking (and What to Ask Instead)

1) What can you tell me about yourself?

You might be surprised to see such a traditional interview question at the top of our list, but it’s not as great of an opener as you might think. In fact, from the candidate’s perspective, it might tell them that you haven’t read their résumé, browsed their portfolio, or checked out their LinkedIn profile. Candidates don’t want to brief you on their entire job history during the short time they have to make a first impression — they want to have a conversation.

Instead, ask a question based on what stood out to you most from their resume and application. Show the candidate you’re taking them seriously and want to learn more about them, beyond what’s on paper.

2) Why are you leaving your current job?

This question could lead to an awkward answer that doesn’t cast the candidate in their best light. The answer could be highly personal, and it isn’t that helpful for learning more about the candidate.

Instead, ask them about their favorite part and biggest challenge of their current role. You’ll learn more about their priorities, dealbreakers, and culture fit — without the conversation becoming too negative.

3) What’s the project you’re most proud of?

It’s useful to learn what projects a candidate enjoys working on most, but you could take this question further by asking something broader. 

Instead, ask them to talk about how they produced a piece of work with multiple different teams. The answer will reveal how they work dynamically and as a project manager — useful traits for most marketing and sales teams.

4) What’s your biggest weakness?

Simply put, it’s presumptuous to assume that you understand what a candidate’s perceived weaknesses are. The answer could exclude candidates from other cultures or industries who aren’t familiar with yours, and it puts candidates in a negative state of mind.

Instead, ask them to describe a challenge they faced in a role and how they handled it. The answer will teach you more about their problem-solving skills, without putting them in the awkward position of personal self-reflection.

5) What’s your five-year career plan?

HubSpot Inbound Recruiting Manager Hannah Fleishman has made more inclusive hiring her mission, and she suggests replacing this interview question. “It can be a loaded question, especially for women, professionals who are thinking of starting a family, and even aspiring entrepreneurs who want to start a company one day.”

Instead, Fleishman suggests asking candidates a more specific question: “How does this role fit into your long-term career plans?” The answer will give you the information you’re really looking for — if the role and your organization present opportunities for them to grow.

6) What makes you passionate about your work?

Candidates don’t have to be passionate to be successful in a role. Sure, it helps — but passion is such a subjective topic, it’s not necessary for a job interview.

Instead, ask them what makes them passionate about a company. The answer will tell you about their culture priorities and if they’ll fit with the larger team they’ll be working with.

7) Are you a team player?

Generally speaking, we advise against asking yes or no questions. Open-ended questions are more conversational and will give you more information about the candidate.

When it comes to this question, the answer is valuable, but a candidate is unlikely to self-identify as an individual worker. Likewise, your company probably doesn’t have any roles that are completely solitary — everyone has to attend meetings or work on campaigns at some point.

Instead, ask the candidate what their ideal team dynamic is. You’ll get the same answer you’re looking for — if they work well with others — while allowing them to elaborate on their preferred working environment.

8) How many people do you think flew out of JFK Airport last year?

Brain teasers might be entertaining to ask — and they might teach you a thing or two about a candidate’s problem-solving abilities — but brain teasing questions like this one create too much stress for the candidate. They’re usually ridiculously hard to solve and put the candidate on the spot — without revealing a ton of helpful information.

Instead, ask the candidate how they’d solve a problem that’s common on your team. The answer will be more useful, and it won’t take the candidate by surprise.

9) Sell me this pen.

If you’re hiring for a sales role, you should know: “Sell me this pen” has become such a frequently-asked question, it can be easily answered in a quick Google search before the interview. It might not give you the candidate’s true selling abilities — something you need to know before investing time and resources in training them.

Instead, ask them how they would handle a common roadblock your sales team faces. The answer will prove if they’ve done their research, and it will give you an idea of their persuasion skills if they were on a call. 

10) What’s your salary history?

Fleishman also suggests avoiding questions or discussions of salary or benefits until an offer has been extended to the candidate. “Salary history shouldn’t determine what a candidate’s offer package is,” she says. “This question can actually discriminate against minorities who are more likely to be under-compensated compared to their peers — which is why cities in New York and Massachusetts have banned it from interviews.”

Instead, scratch this question from your list altogether.

The interview is only one piece of the puzzle for the candidate, but by asking more thoughtfully-phrased questions, you could be doing yourself and the candidate a favor. For more recruiting and hiring ideas for your next open marketing position, download our free ebook.

What’s a common job interview question you wish would be retired? Share with us in the comments below.

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Source: 10 Job Interview Questions to Stop Asking Candidates
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