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Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 43

Have you been the boss for so long you try and boss everything and every situation?

April 5th, 2021.

Dear Leaders,

For the past few months, I have been working more regularly with more founder-led businesses. 

Founder led businesses are notoriously more difficult if you do not know how to ask the right questions and you answer their questions quickly and concisely with a focus on delivery. 

One question that has bubbled up with each founder 

Have you been the boss for so long you try and boss everything and every situation?

The answer is 90% of the time, no, the 10% are the more open and transparent and typically say yes. 

The yes answer is good, they are aware of where they are and know they will be pushed to step back and challenged to understand where to let go.

The 90% have a few more sessions to go, they are unaware of having to control not boss each situation.

The 90% then split into two camps, those who want to change and those who want to control. The controlling group are those who need more coaching and guidance, you need to show where they are being too hands-on, too overbearing, too much talking nowhere near enough listening. 

So the question for you to ask is have you been the boss for so long, you attempt to boss everything? 

If yes, step back, challenge yourself to listen more and understand where you need to take a leap back or leap into action and where possible bring in external help or hire more people to remove some friction. 

Have a good week and remember being the boss doesn’t mean making every decision and kicking every ball it means knowing when to bring others to the table, bringing support in for you and the team and then being clear and concise when delegating. 

Thanks,

Danny Denhard

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Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 42

Recording Micro Moments & Micro Events

March 29th 2021.

Dear Leaders,

Over the last few weeks, I have been talking to c-suites, agency leads and departments heads about recording micro-moments. 

A micro-moment to me is when you feel a spark, you feel a move or a moment that is breaking through something, a moment you feel has pushed you, a colleague, a conversation or a project forward. 

Micro-moments to me are positive, especially at the time you don’t know how positive it is. 

As previously suggested I truly believe that notes taking, having knowledge centres and personal wiki’s help you run effective project, campaign or product launches.

Taking notes, sharing these notes and actions and being deliberate with reviewing micro-moments allows you to see signals, understand patterns and build out more micro-moments.  

I like to hand sketch these moments out in a diagram, follow the chain and review very briefly. Seeing the chain reactions as a timeline or as ripples is a great way to demonstrate to those around you.
Across my career, 95% of the time, scribbles or sketches beats 500 words or spreadsheets. 

One micro-moment I had this week was rolling out brand new software to a client who struggled to connect people with software, I knew it was a micro-moment as the team were surprised how quickly we got through the meeting, how many actions we had completed, how the small number of follow-ups could be completed asynchronously and how we all called out how it felt like real progress was made and the reduction of discord messages. 

The important part of reviewing micro-moments or micro-events is being able to teach these signals and patterns and then celebrate your micro wins (small wins). 

I know the phrase celebrate the small wins is a little overused but micro-moments need calling out and celebrating.

In the coming weeks, try to make notes of the micro-moments, the processes you followed and the feeling it gave to the team around you. 

Celebrate this micro moment with me! 

Cheers to this week and have a great week,

Danny Denhard

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Three Must Read Follow Up Articles

  1. The Four Questions To Build A More Informed Company
  2. Ghosting – A Real Business Issue
  3. How To Improve Virtual Meetings
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Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 41

The Four Questions To Build A More Informed Company

March 22nd 2021.

Dear Leaders, 

In recent times the majority of companies start by solving a problem or particular customer need and then build out on top of it. 

Some smart businesses solve a need by combing a few needs together, the package and branding create a desire for that particular product or service and then it catches on, gains referrals and gains tractions. 

The Large Company Example: Apple

Apple is the most famous at this. Steve Jobs for all of his known management and people management faults obsessed with only three things at one time and answered customer problems while packaging them together like a magician.

Apple famously followed this magic many times, firstly with the iPod, created a whole market with the iPad and most specifically with the iPhone, it’s been that way for fourteen years.
Given the choice, the majority of users would move across to the Apple ecosystem and then buy up and keep buying into the ecosystem once they are in.

Most recently Apple created a multi-billion dollar operation in the AirPods. Yes, Bluetooth headphones that most first thought was not much better than their parents Bluetooth headset for driving. How wrong were they?
There is an argument to be made it is down to age, brand power and equity, however, Apple is known for their quality, known for creating inspiration and aspiration in their product and marketing, but also, knowing where they can make smaller improvements in their core products that last without having to launch numerous products but large leaps in existing problems and releasing at the right time.

The New Entrance Example

Startups do well as they start small, niche and the bigger companies do not fear one problem being solved, what startups and smart companies do well is understand customer needs and builds out their solutions.
By the time the startup builds up and answers more problems, the incumbent struggles to defend and cannot attack.

You have likely been in one of the two positions, you could have been in the third, the thick middle aka the hardest fight, where you cannot seem to compete with the big player but the smaller more agile startup starts eating your dinner too.

Over Subscribes

Most recently the shift to subscriptions has seen many businesses move towards valuing their product or service monthly and suggesting to customers you have the choice to look around but the pain point and friction to leave is going to outweigh the price difference or the value difference. 

With all this said and experienced, this has helped me to ask questions that open up leadership teams and make them face the battles they have likely ignored or not made time for.

Consulting with a number of companies most recently, there a few questions many if not all struggle to truly answer. 

The four questions many just cannot answer are:

What are you uniquely good at? 

What problem are you truly solving? 

If you turned off all marketing – would anyone come directly to you and still buy?

What is your internal secret sauce?

These questions are designed to be easy to answer however they are crafted to make you rethink who you are, what you do and how you do it.

Great leaders have to be able to ask and answer these questions, not alone but with their departments, with the smart people around them and know if they are struggling to answer these type of questions to bring in the right support or external agency or consultancy to help improve their company.

Survive is not a strategy and is not something that helps teams buy into the company or the leadership. Survive is the bare minimum, despite how hard it feels this is only going to result in you creating an uninspired and unhappy workforce.
Going from survivor => compete => thrive can feel like a long battle however as a leader it is essential you and the company know how to and when to ask these important four questions.

As Q2 starts this is typically the best time to ask these questions and gain market intel on competitors to inform some of the reshaping of the business.

If you are struggling to answer these, you are not alone, however answering these four questions will help to shape your company’s requirement to improve product, improve training, improve internal communications and external messaging and refresh how you approach problem-solving.

Why not add these questions to your next management meeting or ELT and prep time for you and your colleagues to discuss this at length.

For one business, we created an internal motto; more deliberate direction = less reaction, more action. This was then added to the leadership principles.
Consider how you leverage both pieces of advice to progress your company this month.

Good luck for Q2 and keep driving forward.

Thanks,

Danny Denhard

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Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 40

Starting A Meeting With A Get To Know Me Question

15th March 2021.

Dear Leaders,

In the current state of work, working remotely and tackling meeting and video call fatigue, we have two options, keep going as is or change it.

Staying as is, is not really an option. If you were to poll your company or your team you will see quite quickly things aren’t working.

Not everyone enjoys small talk, however, small talk is an important part of team building, a foundational level of company culture and a way to kick off work positively.

Younger staff can suggest they dislike small talk, however, hearing a senior member of the company open and recommend something builds connections and compassion towards the leader they have not connected with previously.

Over the past year, leaders letters were created with three themes in mind:
(1) improving personal and professional performance
(2) improving company culture
(3) ensuring work is more deliberate and the world of work is less broken.

I always enforce meeting agenda’s, quick reminder of my rules:
(1) knowing the objective of the meeting,
(2) understand what success looks like at the end of the meeting,
(3) always take the notes and actions, centralise and share. I call it the DAN framework, what are the decisions, what are the actions and what were the notes you should share openly and to those in the meeting, those who could not attend and those who did not attend.

These are critical elements in the equation for successful meetings.

You may remember in leaders letter 20, I laid out ways to optimise your meetings.
Here is a free tip to add to team or departmental meetings.

This week, my recommended focus area is adding a new agenda item to team meetings. This means kicking off a meeting with get to know me questions, on the agenda, agree it is for this specific purpose, then a five-minute rapid-fire conversation around a connecting topic, trivial questions designed to connect colleagues together.

Some of the questions you can include:

  • If you had to select one cereal to eat every day for the rest of your life what would it be?
  • Ideal holiday / vacation?
  • Favourite pizza topping?
  • Coffee shop order of choice?
  • Favourite animal?
  • Your spirit animal?
  • Hidden talent?
  • One app you couldn’t live with?
  • Favourite memory in the company?

You will find this will set the meeting off positively (remember Bob Iger’s business lesson number 1), you will learn more about your colleagues and where there is a tie in you can bring into future meetings, the food discussed, remember and share the drinks suggested by your team and apps to download and use.

If you read any of the company culture books, including the stables, the five dysfunctions of a team, the culture code and Netflix’s no rules rules, the key message is relationship building for many (outside of the US) cultures wins the internal business battle, not diving straight into business.

So don’t be a bad HiPPO and create better and more connective meetings. Remember, to keep a mental note of the small and quirky and keep coming back to them and throw in a surprise, you will be surprised how far this goes.

Thanks, be well and have a great week.

Danny Denhard

Focus, Founder

PS here are some of the most important reads for improving company culture :

  1. Your secret weapon
  2. Find and embrace your Hidden leaders
  3. No Rules Rules – The Netflix culture guide
  4. Fewer managers, more coaches and mentors
  5. How remote work impact company culture
  6. How to review forced work from home

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Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 39

Is it time for a co-pilot?

Dear Leaders,

In the 39th letter to you, I have one simple question for you to answer:

Is it time for a co-pilot?

Why the question now? In the latter stages of Q1, you should be well on the way to understand where your business is and how you will need to recruit or internally promote the most deserving members of staff.

What is a co-pilot?
“A qualified pilot who assists or relieves the pilot but is not in command”

A co-pilot has a lot of responsibility, they know how your aeroplane works, they know how to fly the plane, they have been taught how to command and control the operations.

Seeing a co-pilot as a number two can be dangerous thinking, you want them to feel like they are in control when you need them to be and have complete confidence, often a number two is not considered this highly.
The role of the co-pilot is to co-lead and lead when required.

You will likely have the co-pilot within your team, they will likely be the hidden leader who should be formally recognized.

Timing is imperative for you and the co-pilot, if you are a mid-level manager do need you to take the step up and away from the day-to-day or do you need to make room to evolve and let someone else take the team or department forward while you improve and concentrate on other elements of the business?

If you are a senior leader, you might have recognized your weaknesses from your personal and professional SWOT’s, you may have noted you are not supporting your team to the level you would like to, for many, it is knowing you likely need additional support and concentrate on certain areas of the business that you cannot focus on “while in the weeds” or just it is time for someone better positioned to take over the team and help drive the direction week to week.

A co-pilot is an investment of money, an investment of time and the largest investment of handing over responsibility and trust.
Trust is the most important element here, trust in and for the team, trust for you and trust for the co-pilot.
If the trust is lost or broken it can be difficult to take back the team and the trust.

Tactically a co-pilot can be the best internal promotion or external hire for the business and can free many leaders up to step up and tackle issues that are business-critical and require the right leader and team on it.

This week, consider if you need a co-pilot, how the business would benefit, how you would change a number two into a co-pilot, if you have someone internally who could be the right co-pilot and if you will be improving trust and commitment across the business. Remember this is what leadership is.

Have a great week.

Thanks,

Danny Denhard

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Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 38

One Problem Two Solutions Framework 

March 1st 2021.

March 1st 2021.

Dear leaders, pinch punch, it’s the first of the month.

Something that has always stood me in good stead is frameworks. 

Frameworks help guide, shape and develop ideas and importantly, solutions. 

Problems arise every day.
Problems aren’t always straight forward or easy. Especially in framing and attacking them. 

Every business I have worked in or with have had a small number of frameworks that help shape the business. 

Fortunately (or unfortunately) they tend to be spreadsheet-based or out of date PowerPoint templates. 

For every problem, there are multiple solutions but it can be difficult to understand how to present the multiple options. 

However, attempting to show you have understood and know how to address the problem often requires more than one solution.
Creating a shopping list of solutions is rarely the answer.

Time and preciseness are key when you are presenting options to a senior leader especially those who have a c-suite title. 

A framework I stumbled upon a number of years ago was when presented with a particularly challenging problem, was one problem two solutions. I use it regularly and have shared it many times in recent months.

The trick is to frame the problem and then offer the solution you put forward and a second to show you have thought through any potential push backs. 

Like army-style bottom line up front emails, frame the problem, offer the solution and then detail(s). Always lead with the recommended and then offer the back up further down. The more you use this framework, the wider it is adopted and used.

I learnt from Coca Cola and Amazon execs that “flexibility within a framework” really helps with many problems, especially when you are customer-centric and have specific problems to solve for multiple stakeholders. 

So this week try and offer the one problem two solutions framework to your team.

Your one problem, two solutions that could be used in email or in project tool.

Offer the opportunity to show off their workings out and present their recommended solution first and if required ask them to present their second choice.
Being deliberate and presenting the problem with precise communications will always improve problem-solving and personal development.

Have a great week and solve those problems,

Thanks,

Danny Denhard

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Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 37

Read, Listen, Watch Recommendations

Dear leaders,

I trust you are well today and halfway through planning Q2 and creating the action plan for your department or team to be successful. 

I have spoken on a number of virtual panels and presented a number of presentations (including the future of work), one of the common themes of these online events has been offering the best reading materials and supporting content to the audience. 

For one event, I was asked to provide three recommendations of what to listen to, read and watch.

I wanted to share some of the recommendations for you to digest and consider reading and then you can share with your teams. I have added why you might be interested 

Read

  • The Dip by Seth Godin
    Why? The best short book on knowing when to stay with something or know when the dip is going to be painful
    Link  
  • 1000 True Fans
    Why? A must-read for anyone in business, particularly in modern times when everything is about an engaged audience and a way to reconsider how you create content and engage the 1000
    Link
    A newer spin on 1000 but totally inspired. 100 true fans. Link
  • Black Box Thinking (link) & Rebel ideas (link) by Matthew Syed.
    Why? These books will change your ways of thinking and shape how important your colleagues and having a diverse set of thinking and people around you truly are. These are dense books, there are talks on YouTube that will give you a tease into these. Listening to the books on Audible is a great option with these books.

Watch

  • Danish TV Advert. All that we share
    Why? Brilliant advert in English to help you understand how are all different but all connect on levels.
    YouTube Link
  • How Musically (now TikTok) was built.
    Why? How Musically (now TikTok) was fundamentally differently by thinking deeply about culture
    YouTube Link
  • How Facebook got to the first billion users
    Why? An unapologetic explainer of how Facebook got to their first billion users by being 100% driven by their goals of connecting people and understanding the first x friends or x actions improved experiences
    YouTube Link

Listen

  • Finding success in the music industry
    Why? Breakdowns the music industry so simply and helps you to understand how challenging industries have formulas & channel based thinking.
    YouTube Link
  • Business Movers Walt Disney Podcast
    Why? Captivating listen about Walt Disney, the complexity of being a genius who truly believed in stories and brand. As relevant today as then and will be relevant for decades to come.
    Podcast Link 
  • Spark and Fire Podcast – Soul Pixar edition
    Why? The best supporting podcast to a movie (Soul) I have heard, the lead writer talks about the process and insane level of details that go into Pixar movies
    Podcast Link

Thanks and have a great week,

Danny Denhard

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Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 36

Three Questions To Build Relationships

Dear Leaders, I hope you are doing well.

I asked a CEO I mentor how they were doing and their response last week was “you are the first person connected to work who has asked me how I am doing in months”.

It is likely feeling a little harder as a manager as of late, alongside being a support network and a confidant.

For almost everyone, its important to know you got this, you have likely done a better job than you know and you will likely have some time off booked that will help you refresh.

With that said, I have three questions for you to ask your team to help you feel like you are making progress and some exercises to follow up with.

The 3 Questions

When was the last time you reconnected with your team members individually?

Yes, this seems counter to my opening of the leader’s letter, however, it is an activity that brings people closer together and allows all parties to want to connect. Arrange a speed round of connecting to your team individually and asking for their advice or their opinion on something important coming up in 15 minutes slots. Short and concise meetings are essential to connecting.

I suggest this is done on the phone or through a video call and a project that you will need their help and guidance on.

When was the last time you found out something new about your colleagues?

Letting you into a little secret, in the Focus remote company culture workshops, the first thing we do is ask you to answer a number of quick-fire questions as a group, aiming to bring you closer to your colleagues by finding something out you would not know today. Starting with a positive is something we learnt from leaders letter 2 from Disney chairman Bob Iger and this is a great way to achieve this.

A very popular free template we launched recently will help you do this and enable your team to find out new things about you that will help to bring down some fears or barriers to asking how you are and if they can help you. This template works with teams, departments or companies and will kickstart improving your department’s subculture.

When was the last time you surprised your team?

Being remote has been a challenge logistically for almost every company, as a manager, one of the best ways to engage and connect with your team is to surprise them.

I know you have a number of tasks to complete and big projects to smash, however, if you are in a place to, consider making the time and thinking about how you might send a small thank you to your team members or the leaderships team around you.

It could be something small like their favourite snack or could be a new notepad with a handwritten thank you note.
Liaising with HR will be important re addresses etc but small gestures go a long way to (re)build trust and connection and importantly, showing you are thinking of them and how they are doing as people.

By giving to others you are taking the time to connect, to build stronger bonds and offer yourself a rest bite.

Have a good week answering the three questions and actioning small but significant gestures, and you will be surprised what you learn and how colleagues will want to connect in a reciprocal relationship.

Thanks,

Danny Denhard

How about sharing a few teamwork quotes?

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Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 35

Your Star Performer Decides To Leave – Now What?

8th February 2021,

Dear leaders,

This week I wanted to provide you with a quick scenario that some of you are facing currently that will help with the next few months. 

It is the first few weeks into the team’s stride, you have grand plans to execute, you survived the most testing year in our lives, and you get the dreaded “Do you have five minutes?” teams message sent to you. 
You make a guess of what it is but you are unsure. 

You arrange a quick teams call, your team member looks nervous and cuts straight to the chase, I’ve been offered another role and I wanted to let you know.

The team member is the “star performer of the team”, the best at their job and the one you tended to rely on.  

Your heart sinks, you look at your own face in the camera box and catch your face full of disappointment and regret. 

Your reaction says it all, you say “congrats” and “you’re happy for them” and you say the cliche, “is there anything I can do to change your mind”.

The response is a polite no. 

If you are unsure why you landed here, you won’t be the only manager or leader to in January or February. 

Your reaction and next actions will set you and your team up for the future, yes speak to the rest of the leadership team and HR to find out if you can replace, this will be the first question your team asks.

Ask for the formalities from your departing colleague but most importantly take this opportunity to step up and become the leader you need to be, the team need and lead from the front and be the leader you likely didn’t have.  

Your next actions are critical: 

  • Arrange an exit interview, ask for the factors that led to your colleague wanting to leave, ask for full transparency, it is important you understand the decisions they made and how you could have improved the team or the role for that person. Even if you don’t want to hear what they say, transparency is essential
  • Set up times with the rest of the team/department individually to understand how they are feeling and how they can operate
  • Understand the morale of the team and the department and address the concerns and arrange actions that will help to bring the team or department closer together 
  • Transparently call out any issues you may have uncovered, show your workings out and how you will address this and how you would like the team to assist.
    Bringing the team closer together is essential when the high performer leaves. Many will want to step up, they will want to be asked
  • Team Design: Being deliberate about how the new team will shape is often an important step many overlook, replacing like for like might not the best for the team. Show how you are looking to reshape and design the team moving forward, consider those who are on the team and how there could be someone internally who can step up or move across to bring in a different set of skills. 
  • Break down the team goals and how you can focus the team’s efforts on the goal – focusing the team around the collective goals helps everyone to focus as a team and become together  
  • Arrange a timeline of the next actions and when they will take place, who you will want to be part of the process and think of how you can bring together the hidden leader and secret weapon together to help ask for their feedback and help coach them. 
  • Make time to discuss this situation with other leaders: Make time with your leadership team and discuss the steps you took and why you made the decisions you did, you likely would have brought this up at your management meeting but these steps will help those around you to improve their leadership skills. As suggested in management pods there always ways to grow as a leadership team. This is one.

This seems a daunting list however these are the most important actions you will take when this happens. The team will rely upon you and your leadership skills will come into question.
Your Company Culture is often shaped by those who leave and when they leave as much who those are in the business. Owning this and co-owning the performance moving forward is paramount.

Many times when there doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day, you will need to operationally improve and make time to the leader, prioritise and attack, this is not the time to be on defence.

Have a good week and formalise this as a plan when this happens in the next few weeks.

Thanks and have a good week.

Danny Denhard.

Recommended Read: If you might struggle to gain support from the managers around you, consider reshaping into Management Pods

Read last week’s newsletter:

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Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 34

1st February 2021

Dear Leaders, welcome to February.

As it is the first week of February I wanted to write to you with something that has come up in many conversations with a variety of managers and leaders.

The first year of working remotely and how you might address this milestone in form of a retrospective.

Retro’s don’t have to be super long sessions or broken down into complicated workshop sessions, retros do, however, require a deliberate plan and an outline ahead of the hour session and help to provide context points of the remote world of work we entered into March 2020.

Important Points To Keep In Mind

  • It is important to note it was forced worked from home and everyone’s office is now different. Each country or state has seen a different approach, so has impacted everyone differently.
  • The remote office dynamics are very different from in the HQ dynamics and many people have struggled to adapt to working from home (image below to help demonstrate this)
  • Many colleagues have not had the chance to be their best work self and to many, this has frustrated them – this is individual and as a leader, it is important to help where possible.
  • There is a constant demand to perform in remote presentations, so there are more pressures and less opportunity to add your opinion and insights when who shouts loudest is often heard most.
  • There has also been a demand in knowing how to act and deliver on a live video, why? There are constant micro-reviews of you, your background, the noise, the echos from no headphones and the interruptions we all dislike, and to the formal zoom shirt, you always wear in important meetings.

There are a lot more of people who have thrived, it has given them time to get their heads down, concentrate on their deliverables and helped to remove some of the office politics they were exposed to within an office environment.

The Mad Glad Sad Retro

Some Product teams have a mad, glad, sad sessions where they run through a product release and review what made them mad, glad and sad.
This is something that could easily work with teams and departments, this also gives chance for colleagues to share their experiences and help each other with tips and action items. Quick snappy insights and shared experiences are important, the flow of these retro’s should be quick, collaborative and actionable.

Three Quick Retro Tips:
1. Use an open document/slides or miro or mural to enable real-time collaboration and a centralised view, this really helps the format work.
2. Try to be fair but start with positives (Like Bob Iger’s recommendation in leaders letter 2), do not focus in on all of the mad or sad, this will not set the right tone moving forward.
3. If you are looking to delegate, your hidden leader or secret weapon will be great options to lead these types of retro’s. It is essential you attend if you are the most senior, your attendance and participation will be priceless.

Make It Actionable & Follow Up

It is important to keep note, address important issues and follow up with deadlines of how you can make these better and improve for the future. Refer back to open document or Miro and show how you are moving these tickets forward and hopefully moving mad and sad into glad.

It is important you see this milestone as an important opportunity to bring the department closer to together, shape the company culture and collaborate on the future hybrid office.

For the week ahead, Focus on: Planning this session, see it as an opportunity to bring teams together and get around the campfire to share experiences and feel safer in knowing you are proactively trying to make a difference.

If you would like to read more about the future of work and the future of the workplace definitely read our guide below:

Let me know how your planning and the retro session goes by emailing me.

Thanks, leaders and have a good week ahead.

Danny Denhard

PS. You should be planning for the hybrid future, our free ebook is a must-read. The Hybrid Office Ebook


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