Project House will be at the Small Business Advice-A-Thon!

Project House swagGot big questions about small business?  Come visit Project House at the Small Business Advice-a-Thon!

In celebration of Small Business Month, Benchmark Law Corporation is hosting a FREE Small Business Advice-a-Thon! Sign up for 20 minute sessions with lawyers, accountants, financial experts, business coaches, web designers, and more. You can have as many sessions as you want!

– Speakers and door prizes

– The first 100 attendees will receive a resource package containing useful business documents, coupons and products

Event Date:  October 17, 2014 10:00am – 4:00pm

Event Price:  Free!

Location: Creekside Community Centre

For more information or to register visit: Small Business Advice-a-Thon

Your Company’s Culture is You


Culture isn’t a beautiful office, scheduled “fun” time, or free candy. It’s not foosball, fancy vision statements, or a gym membership. It’s not, on its own, an open door policy, casual Fridays, or a great BBQ. A company’s culture is what a company’s leaders do, what they reward, and where they spend their time and money. Culture is what you create every time you make a decision, communicate to your team, have a meeting, give someone feedback, or set up a project to either succeed or fail.

Culture is how you make other people feel, how you act, and what you say. If you make promises you don’t keep, or if you set rules you don’t follow, that’s your culture. And all of the Beer Fridays in the world aren’t going to fix that.

Culture is how you are, not how you want others to see you.  It’s a pretty basic equation: Everything you do to and for your staff – good or bad, intentional or not, one time or repeatedly – it all adds up. If you throw great parties, reward your team with words of praise, but then gain a reputation for repeatedly and unapologetically taking credit for your employee’s ideas, that is your real culture.

As a leader, here’s one method for doing some quick Culture Math, in order to see how your work environment adds up.

Ask yourself how many times in the past month you have done something from this list:

  • Acted the way you expect others to act
  • Set clear expectations and acknowledged when they were met
  • Thanked someone
  • Celebrated success
  • Empowered your leads and your team
  • Rewarded good work
  • Inspired trust
  • Built up your team’s confidence
  • Taught, led, or motivated someone
  • Opened an opportunity unexpectedly for someone else
  • Took responsibility for your team’s mistakes
  • Admitted that you didn’t have the answer
  • Shown that you have someone else’s back
  • Trusted someone to do a job differently than you would do it
  • Encouraged an opinion that is different from your own
  • Gotten out of the way or rolled up your sleeves, depending on your team’s needs.

Now ask yourself how many times in the past month you have done something from this list:

  • Pointed a finger at someone else
  • Avoided giving someone feedback to their face
  • Thrown someone under the bus or proven that you don’t have their back
  • Withheld information from your team
  • Withheld an opportunity for someone else to be part of the bigger picture
  • Withheld your trust
  • Acted politically instead of for the benefit of the team or company
  • Changed your expectations without being clear
  • Assumed someone “should know that” without confirming that they do
  • Asked for something but then didn’t want it
  • Reacted to “we can’t do this” by saying “I still want you to do it”
  • Resisted someone’s interpretation of acting “like this is your own company”
  • Became the bottleneck to a decision
  • Advertised your “open door policy” without meaning it
  • Organized a meeting without knowing who should really be in it, what the agenda was, and what the expectations for the meeting outcome should be
  • Forced someone to shrink to meet your small expectations.

How do you measure up?

Culture can also be measured by looking at what kind of results you are getting. Do you retain great people, or is there a pattern of high turnover? What do your employees say when they leave, and are they even willing to give you feedback? Do your current employees tell you when things aren’t going well, or are you always the last to know? Do they speak up when they disagree or don’t clearly understand your vision? Are they thriving despite you – are they united against a common enemy? Are they often sick or away? Do your current employees recommend your open positions to their friends and colleagues?

Every company’s culture can be different – the successful ones are generally authentic. If you do what you say, care about your staff’s results, and share your vision for your company, you are certainly on the right path. If you support a culture of trust, your staff will tell you where things can improve, and they will help you build something amazing. You’ll know your culture is a healthy one when your employees are your best idea generators, your loudest cheering section, and your most valuable recruiting and marketing ambassadors. When they forgive you for mistakes and they have your back. When they want to learn and grow with you. When they are able to ride the waves of successes and failures that are part of any growing business. There are as many company cultures as there are leaders – just be honest with yourself about what you want to create, and watch your employees and clients to gauge your success.


Whoa Nelly! Hit pause before you send that next email!

Whoa_Nelly_projecthouseI did something I’m kind of sheepish about over the weekend. We have hired a delightful woman who works for us part-time. She is a very talented graphic designer and she is helping us stay organized and perform tasks in a variety of areas.

Here’s what happened: I was going through our Asana tasks (for those of you who are not familiar with Asana, it is an awesome task management web and mobile application that is great for teams or individuals) and just checking in on various projects that she had completed, and looking at the week ahead.

I came across one particular task and wanted to do a spot check. My role as her manager is to assign tasks and provide the freedom to complete these tasks in her own way and at a pace that suits her and our deadlines, but I also owe a duty to my clients to ensure that these jobs are being handled to the level of quality and service that is befitting of our company. In addition, as this employee is still new to our company, I want to ensure that she is getting the training that she needs from me, so before work goes out, I will often review it, or I will do the odd spot check on work to ensure that it has been done correctly.

My spot check on this particular web-based task revealed that the link was not displaying at all. In a quick moment of panic I sent this employee a note, thanking her for doing the work but letting her know that I had noticed that it was not working correctly, and asking her to fix it right away on Monday. I also inserted a quick reminder into the email to be sure that she doubled checked her work going forward.

Now, honestly, none of this is particularly that bad. I sent her a nicely toned email; I didn’t berate her or try to make her feel incompetent. Generally, my reminder to double check work is valid and a good rule to follow. Unfortunately, once I sent off the email and went back to my browser to close it down, I noticed that the link was in fact working. Apparently the content was a bit larger and had taken a few seconds longer than I had given it to load. So of course, I felt bad that I had sent this employee an email at all. I sent her a quick apology, explaining what had happened, and when she came in on Monday, I also offered up a verbal apology to ensure that the air was clear. No damage done, thank goodness, but it’s so easy for this kind of thing to spiral into something worse, so here are some takeaways:

1) Set the intention of your email before you write it. In this circumstance, I wanted this to be a teachable moment and avoid having this type of thing happen again. I also wanted my employee to know that I valued the fact that she had completed the task, even if it hadn’t been done exactly as I wanted (well…we now know it was!). The intention of your email shouldn’t be to berate or belittle someone, so make sure that it doesn’t come across that way. Which leads me to my next point…

2) Lead with a positive tone. When communicating by email (or verbally for that matter) you can either do good or do damage. My suggestion is to try to use a positive tone from the start, even if you are delivering negative feedback. I can be proud of the email that I sent her, as it started with a “Thank you for getting that job done, great work…I did however notice a small issue”. Much nicer than if I’d started with “I can’t believe what a mess you’ve made!” Imagine how that would have made her feel and how that could lead to a damaged relationship between us.

3) Take a step away, reread, and take a deep breath before hitting send. I’m not sure that I would have thought to go back and check the link again just to be sure that it wasn’t working – perhaps I will now that I’ve learned my lesson. I wish that I had taken just another few minutes before pushing send, or had come back to it, but at the very least, I can be happy that with doing items 1 and 2 above that I was able to avoid any longstanding damage.

If you are sending some feedback out or sending out an email that is particularly charged, I strongly recommend that you take a step away from the email for awhile after you’ve written it, and before you send it. If you feel the message could really have a negative impact on the other side, or if you are feeling particularly angry or upset, why not save the email and park it until tomorrow. You might find that after a good night’s rest you feel quite differently about the matter. At the very least, get up, get a glass of water or just walk around a little first.

When you come back to it – reread it. Perhaps double-check your facts, or even have someone else read the email for tone.

Lastly, take a deep breath before you hit send. If you still have any angst over sending it, then again ask yourself why – trust your next-day judgment; perhaps the message isn’t quite right, or it doesn’t need to be sent at all.

4) Take responsibility and be prepared for a reaction. Once you’ve hit send, it might be appropriate to follow up in person. If it’s a colleague or employee, you might ask them if they received your email and if they had any questions. And by all means, if you’ve made a mistake, make sure you take responsibility for it and own it, don’t forget to say you’re sorry!

So… in my case, no longstanding damage was done, no relationships were ruined, but it was a good reminder to me going forward. Email communication is fast and simple, but your words can be so easily be misconstrued or sent without realizing their impact. Sometimes a good old fashioned phone call or face-to-face may be the best action.

Looking for another cool option to send a message to someone? There is this neat web site where you can dictate a message and attach it to an email – the perfect way to communicate exactly the tone you want:



It’s How You Leave A Thing.

projecthouse_it's how you leave a thing

Last impressions count. You can be an absolute pro at work for years, you can try your hardest, lean in, produce great work, and add value; and then it happens. For whatever reason, you decide you’re going to leave (or someone decides for you), and the next thing you know, you’re in the last weeks of your job. During this phase, you let people know that you’re leaving, hand over your work and your responsibilities, and prepare yourself mentally to move on.  It’s at this point that you have a choice: you can keep your head in the game, or you can let things slide. I believe that it’s during this last phase of your job that you have to work harder than ever to wrap things up, properly hand things over, transfer as much of your knowledge as possible, and set others up for success after you’re gone.

You need to spend your final days doing consistently good work. Adding value. Staying positive. Doing your job well. Being sure to leave your responsibilities in a clean state that will be easy for someone else to pick up.  Until you walk out the door with your mug and photos in hand, you must continue to do a great job with a smile on your face.

Because, of course, it’s that last stretch by which you are measured. It does not matter how big a rock star you’ve been over the years; if you start to whine now, slag the company and your manager, let your work ethic slip, or in any way let your leaving negatively affect your attitude/abilities/impact, that is ultimately how you will be remembered.

I’ve been through a few of these in my career, and I’ve coached many others through this period, and it takes resolve. It is hard. It is tempting to let things go a bit, to not do your best work or to not stay positive or engaged, because hey, you’re leaving anyway.  But in reality, it is how you leave a thing that says a lot about who you are as a professional. If you burn down the forest on the way out, people will remember.

It might help to bear in mind that, in today’s job market where employees move around more often, your path will inevitably cross with many of your former coworkers’. In fact, any number of those people may one day start a company, manage a team, or hear about a job opening, and they will either reach out to you or avoid you, depending on what they remember of you.

If you haven’t always done this, don’t despair. While you can’t go back in time and take the high road on your way out the door, with some effort you can put a less-than-rosy past behind you. It shows strength and courage to reach out to people and to acknowledge your mistakes. It is powerful to extend an olive branch, to apologize, to retract harsh criticism, or to make genuine efforts to reconnect and start fresh. Most people understand that we all evolve over time, through trials and reflection, and you will discover that most people have at some point benefitted from a second chance.

SO. If this is your last week at work, be your best. Make people excited to see what great things you’ll do next. Make them look forward to working with you again. Be grateful. Be professional. Leave a great last impression. And when you get an opportunity down the road to give someone a second chance, take it.


Congratulations to!

We are so excited for our client, whose founder and CEO, Sean Clark, sold his Vancouver-based online footwear company this year in an acquisition that consolidated with, an online footwear retailer based out of Seattle. Roger Hardy, founder and former CEO of optical giant Coastal Contacts Inc., has consolidated both companies with the intention to create the largest online footwear operation headquartered in Canada. Sean is now President of the merged entity’s Canadian operations.

The Project House team was able to support ShoeMe with several aspects of their business, including the creation and implementation of new contracts, a hiring workflow, and an employee-friendly policy handbook.  We were also involved with OHS and WCB/WSIB research and set-up, as, in addition to their Vancouver headquarters, ShoeMe has warehouses in both Vancouver and Toronto.

Congratulations to Sean and the whole team on their continued growth and success. We are thankful for the opportunity to be part of your business journey!

To read some of the recent articles about ShoeMe, please follow these links:


“Human Resources”: A rose by any other name

2013-12-03 18.25.48

Ok I get it – “Human Resources” is not a widely understood term.  The title is a bit cold and uninspiring, and people don’t want to be referred to as “resources”, but rather as living, breathing, creative beings.  “Human Resources” doesn’t really reflect the skillset within the profession either:  there is no hint of staffing or training, recruiting or leadership coaching, strategic planning or interviewing, onboarding or outplacement, contract negotiation or employment law…  “Human Resources” is a broad businessy term with no tangible indication of friendliness, supportiveness, or of helping people succeed in their work.

Fair enough.  Many companies avoid “Human Resources” by using the abbreviation “HR” (I often use this term because it’s shorter and friendlier), and others have created new titles that suit their culture better, such as Manager of “People Potential” or “Talent”.  Until a new term is commonly used, I’m happy to just work hard for my clients and companies, and to talk about the meaning of HR as I perceive it, and (more importantly) how it pertains to their individual needs.

As an HR professional who has also had a long career in project management and development, and who has often been a customer and a partner to HR, I know firsthand that the role of HR isn’t always clear to everyone.  At the heart of the profession is a focus on employees, their potential, and their success within a company.  In the overall corporate balance, it is important to have someone more focused on people and process than on product or finance, but who appreciates that all of these aspects are critical to a company’s success.

Here’s what I care about:  Are the right employees performing the right jobs at the right times?  Are they trained?  Are they happy?  Do they know what is expected of them?  Are they treated fairly and legally?  Do they have everything they need in order to thrive at work?  Are their managers and leaders trained and engaged?  Is their company thinking about future hires, succession plans, performance measurements, rewards, promotions, competitive salary ranges?  Are people being hired properly, introduced to their responsibilities thoroughly, and also terminated when it makes sense?  Do they have a voice at the company, and are the right people listening?

A great company cares about their people because they know that great employees are critical to a company’s success, that it is difficult and expensive to find and hire them, and that great employees leave companies when they are not challenged or appreciated.  Great employees also leave when their managers are not strong, and when they are not given opportunities to do good work or grow their skills.  A great company knows that a strong reputation as an employer matters, and that people will work harder (and for less money) if they feel good about what they are doing and about who they are doing it for.  A great company understands the importance of clear roles and expectations, solid hiring and onboarding practices, and the need to recognize when an employee isn’t working out – as well as the desire and ability to find out why, and to do something about it, even if that means letting them go.

Many startup companies have fewer employees who are, by necessity, forced to wear multiple hats – founders often juggle the roles of CEO, CTO, COO, HR, Administration, Office Manager, Caterer, Programmer, Web Designer, Janitor –this is just the reality of running a lean machine until there is more money to spend.  However, because employees thrive when they are managed and guided by people who like and appreciate (and are skilled at) managing them, these companies often make the decision to invest in HR, in either full-time or consultant form, as early as possible.  HR, if used well, can help a company find the best people, use them wisely, set them up for success, and help them stay motivated, active, innovative, and hard-working over the long-term.  Essentially, where there are humans, there is a need for someone who specializes in them.

Grow Good

Project House Grow GoodWhether your company is tiny and eager to add people and reach a critical mass, or trying to find a rhythm of swelling and shrinking with the seasons, there is often an impulse to grow big and grow fast.

I try to encourage my companies and clients to focus instead on “growing good”.

In other words, if you add to the level of goodness of your business, your staff, and your place of work, your employees and clients will get more out of their experience with you, which will add to the value of your business overall.

Is every person you add to your team going to bring value to your work environment, as well as to your business?  Are you hiring and rewarding people who will make you think differently, consider your impact on your community, and behave better as a manager or business owner?

As a leader, are you modeling goodness?  Have you shared your knowledge in order to add value, or have you done it just to show how much you know?  Are you really listening to the people around you, or simply waiting for your turn to speak?  Do you share information so that everyone has the same opportunity to come up with great ideas, or do you hold onto it for fear that sharing it might somehow weaken your position?  Do you celebrate the strengths and skills of your team, or do you pick at their mistakes?  Do you claim to know and value your city and your community, and if so, does that show up in anything you do with your staff or with your business?

Are you encouraging your staff to leave every room better than they found it, by contributing in meetings, by encouraging their peers, by sharing their knowledge, by bringing up the mood, by making the people around them better?  What types of success do you reward?  Do you publicly praise sales results, but not teamwork or behind-the-scenes effort?  Do you have employees who behave poorly but who are exempt from critical feedback because they work hard or finish their code on time?

By sharing your business goals and challenges honestly with your employees, and by encouraging a positive environment where company values are clear (and real, and followed, and up-to-date), you can nurture what I call “managerial courage”, where employees of all levels feel confident to speak out when things aren’t going in the right direction or seem to be falling outside company values, without being afraid of ruffling feathers or being perceived as trouble-makers.

If you focus on growing good as you grow big, your existing team will model the kind of behaviour that you want new hires to feel and follow.  You will be growing stronger leaders and better “corporate citizens”, and this effort will be encouraged by your whole staff, not just by you.  Employees will reach into their networks and recommend their friends for job openings, they will share positive stories about your company and their experience to family and friends, they will post your successes on social media.  They will be more engaged in their work, and more invested in your business.  They will be powerful ambassadors for your company, and in this way they will help you reach your business goals (including rapid growth, if that’s also what you need) more quickly and effectively.

In other words, growing good is a powerful business tool, and, if embraced sincerely and seriously, it can easily become a key part of your true culture and your success.

(Originally posted on November 1, 2013)