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Make a splash in the summer slowdown

Some people ignore the gifts of summer and try to work at the same speed they do the rest of the year. Others lose their momentum and productivity in the joy of the summer sun. The slowdown can be hard on everyone, with half of us frustrated by interruptions from co-worker vacations and early-Friday afternoon escapes. The other half unable to focus while daydreaming about being on a mountain or a beach somewhere, drink in hand. There’s opportunity in this scenario for both you and your business.

Despite the efforts of our nose-to-the-ground colleagues who manage to overcome temptation, summer’s call for something more is in the air, and hard for any of us to ignore. We want to be with family and friends; we want to travel and be outside; we want to have fun. Accept that—and make the most of it. Summer is the ideal time to step back, give everyone a little space (including yourself), and review and reflect about all that relates to your people.

Since we’re conveniently in the midst of the summer Olympics, think about the athletes. They’re not so different from those of us in business. They’ve worked long and hard as individuals and teams to meet their goals. Now that it’s time for the summer games, as they continue to do the work, they also make time to participate in the pageantry, comradery, and fun. When athletes are interviewed they rave as much about the experience and the people as they do the competition itself. And isn’t that what we hear from employees working in the best companies? For all of us, it’s about how being at work feels as much, or more, as it is about what we do.

Without the high pressure of the other nine months of the year, the best companies I know use the summer slowdown to evaluate progress toward goals—especially goals related to people. The more relaxed environment cultivates out-of-the-box thinking and openness in sharing opinions and suggestions about both strategy and culture. The best leaders also take time for personal renewal and inspiration while they can.

From a talent strategy perspective, we’ve found the following questions helpful to begin your evaluation:

  • How many people will we need over the next few years, and in what positions?
  • What specific qualities are we looking for in those people, and how will we know when we find them?
  • Does our organizational structure support our talent strategies and, if not, what should it look like?
  • How effectively does our current candidate and leadership pipeline ensure we find and develop key talent?
  • Who has ultimate executive responsibility for our overall talent strategy? What internal/external resources do they need?

On the cultural side, the most important question to ask is: How well do your strategies support the kind of culture you envision? If you haven’t yet incorporated more flexible policies like telecommuting, job sharing, or unlimited vacation, the summer slowdown can be the ideal time to test how these kinds of programs work in your business. By clearly putting a two- or three-month timeframe around more flexible policies, with no promises for the future, you can boost employee morale during the months people most want more choices. You may find, as many companies do, that the policy changes you make increase engagement and productivity.

If you’re not into these kinds of changes, the summer months are a good time to focus on training and development, which provide a welcome break from routine for employees who can’t take the time during peak seasons. Summer is also an excellent time for team building. If employees need to be on premises, get everyone together over a weekly bar-b-que or picnic and, space permitting, a volleyball game.

As a business leader, it’s easy to forget your personal development and wellbeing, which inevitably appear a long way down on your list of concerns. My summer advice is: Take some time for yourself; you need it as much as all of the people who depend on you for support and guidance. Concentrate on some “nice-to-haves”: spend some time in nature contemplating; read a good novel; take time to network; or study an instrument or a new language. You’ll find renewal and energy that nurture you and your business over the next nine months—guaranteed.

Make the most of what’s left of this summer’s slowdown. There’s still plenty of time left before the pace returns, inescapably, back to normal. Relax, enjoy, think, plan—and take time to watch the Olympics for inspiration.

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