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Also in this compendium: How using data can improve your recruiting, and why startups need a CEO on the board

Imagine you're stuck.

You have big plans for a career change, a new project you want to get off the ground at work, or a new business you have been dreaming of starting. But nothing is happening because you're not sure what to do.

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To get unstuck, husband-and-wife consultants Jason and Jodi Womack offer a technique borrowed from surgery and five handy questions.

Atul Gawande, a surgeon and writer, highlighted the importance of checklists in his bestseller The Checklist Manifesto, showing their power in operating rooms, airplane cockpits, and a variety of endeavours. The consultants ask: "What would a checklist look like for you? Some examples might be to research how others have accomplished the goal you are trying to achieve or to make a list of all the reasons why you want to achieve this goal. This is essentially a pros and cons list, without the cons!"

They urge you not to be timid. Focus on success and dream big, since that will keep you motivated and wanting to come back to that checklist as often as possible.

They believe you can change your life by changing the information you let into your life. So they recommend answering these five momentum questions:

– What do I want to be known for? This helps to identify your higher purpose and achieve it. "Defining your legacy is the first step to any significant and lasting change," they write on ChangeThis. "You will be pinpointing what is important to you personally and professionally." Once you know that, review the many activities already under way and see whether they fit.

– From whom can I learn? Seek out people who can offer advice, encouragement and support. Share your dreams and goals. You'll find that mentors can give you vital perspective.

– What are three specific subprojects I can achieve? As you identify where you are headed, your mind will become flooded with ways to get there – too many ways. They recommend finding three things you can complete, each about 30 days apart, that will pull you closer to your goal. "These small victories are in fact significant events in the progress or development of a project. Thinking this way puts you in a position of control, making it easier to see how smaller parts of the project come together, ultimately growing closer to your end goal," they stress.

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– What positive thing is happening that I can acknowledge? We're always quick to criticize ourselves, pointing to what's going wrong. To sustain momentum, however, it's better to notice progress and use it to encourage yourself.

– What small change will I make next? To accommodate this progress, you will want to look at other aspects of your life and see what changes can help, such as automating or delegating tasks.

"Clarify and solidify the legacy you want to leave, find your support, define your milestones, acknowledge your progress, and be willing to try new things, and you'll be closer than you ever thought possible to accomplishing that thing you have always wanted to do," they conclude.

2. Using analytics for HR

Big data analytics have drawn attention for their power in marketing and finance. But three McKinsey & Co. consultants point out that chief human resource officers are now seeing the advantage predictive talent modeling can offer for recuiting, developing and retaining the right people.

Henri de Romrée, Bruce Fecheyr-Lippens, and Bill Schaninger offer these three opportunities:

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– Choose where to cast the recruiting net. A bank in Asia thought its top talent came from top academic programs but after an extensive analysis of its current staff of 8,000 people across 30 branches, it determined commonalities between high performers (and low ones too). In fact, the most effective employees came from a wider variety of institutions, including five specific universities and an additional three certification programs. Using that analysis to change recruiting practices has led to a 26-per-cent increase in branch productivity and 14-per-cent increase in profit.

– Cut though the hiring noise and bias. The consultants argue that the democracy of big data numbers can help organizations eliminate unconscious preferences and biases, which can surface even when those responsible have the best of intentions. One company used algorithms to screen résumés more effectively by computer in accordance with its desire to avoid bias and meet its aggressive push to hire more women. "The foundational assumption – that screening conducted by humans would increase gender diversity more effectively – was proved incorrect," they state.

– Address attrition by improving management. One company decided to find out which employees were most at risk of leaving the company. Turned out it was employees in smaller teams, with longer periods between promotions and with lower-performing managers. Once these high-risk employees had been identified, better efforts were made to convince them to stay, notably greater opportunities for learning development and more support from a stronger manager. Contrary to expectations, bonuses didn't work.

Does big data have a big role to play in your company's HR?

3. Why CEOs need others CEOs on their boards

When an entrepreneur is building his or her company, an early decision is to build a board. Make sure you put a current or former chief executive officer on it, advises serial entrepreneur Penny Herscher, executive chairman at FirstRain, an analytics platform.

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"Why a CEO? Why not a technologist, or a family friend, or your co-founder? Fundamentally, a current/former CEO is going to have seen your movie before and will bring a wealth of unexpected advantages to your board and your company," she writes on The Grassy Road blog.

If this CEO is independent of investors, that person will bring a broader perspective to the board. He or she should also offer you a good quality network of people to tap into, whether lawyers, recruiters or marketing consultants. As well, the CEO knows what the job entails and can offer guidance on determining which decisions are yours and which are the board's, and how to close deals as you grow.

Sometimes that CEO will be the bad guy, tearing apart your forecasts or sales campaign. "Your CEO director is not your friend, and sometimes she may feel like your enemy, but because her only reason to be there is to help the company, you can trust her even when you hate her. I've always had a former CEO on my boards, and sometimes it's been absolutely maddening," she confides. But worth it.

4. Quick hits

– What's your company's theme song? Politicians employ music to help with their brand message and so should you. Eddie Newquist, chief creative officer of Global Experience Specialists Inc., an events specialist, suggests writing down 10 songs that reflect your company – start with your mission statement, goals, product and positioning – and then develop a company soundtrack.

– Gallup research suggests that only about one in 10 people naturally possess high talent to manage, and organizations name the wrong person as manager about 80 per cent of the time.

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– Consultant Julie Giulioni calls it management by talking around. Don't just mingle with staff but be purposeful, identifying one topic each week that you would like to explore and selecting a question that you'll ask everyone you encounter.

Choose someone personable to perform performance appraisals. Not all managers are adept at these sessions and so freelance writer Malcolm Rowlings suggests that if you have a manager or partner who is extremely at ease talking with people, hand him or her the assignment.

– The problem with after-hours e-mail is not so much the time expended but the expectation that you will always be available, new research suggests. "It's the expectation that makes you exhausted," says co-author William Becker, an associate professor of management at Virginia Tech. The solution is to develop formal policies that dampen such concerns.

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. E-mail Harvey Schachter

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