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Over the month of July, everyone on the team was asked to reflect and make note of their key accomplishments, strengths, challenges and missed goals. Although SoJo continues to have a very young team, most have been onboard long enough to assess their performance and contributions. Often when you're in the daily grind, it is easy to forget about all that was achieved. Taking a step back to reflect allowed everyone on the team to do so, and take pride in their growth. Likewise, it is often easy to forget about challenges after they've past and continuously  repeat behaviours without awareness of the need to make corrections.

Zainab (the editorial coordinator who has direct contact with all of the editors) and I have started to turn these notes shared by our colleagues into individual development plans. In addition to sharing my thoughts on each team member's strengths and challenges, a section on Core Competencies was added. Through the use of specific examples, this section highlights a series of competencies, making specific reference to what was done well, and where improvements can be made. Each competency was backed by several examples, ensuring feedback was grounded in reality, and also aided the individual receiving the feedback to relate and better understand where actions could have been done differently.

The third and final section is a personal development plan. I am personally committed to developing and growing every member of SoJo's team, and ensuring that SoJo is positive learning experience, beyond the direct contributions everyone makes to our mandate. Everyone's development plan consists on average of 2 mutually agreed upon tangible goals. By writing out the developmental plan, it holds SoJo (myself or Zainab) and the individual team member to ensuring it happens.

Often we are not aware of the changes that we need to make. A manager or a peer is best positioned to provide an alternative perspective, as they can make the unconscious conscience or validate an assumption that previously existed. This inaugural round of development plans is adding some much needed structure and order to SoJo, and we're learning tons. Up until now, SoJo has had a very flat, friendly and collegial culture. To get over the fear of giving [critical] feedback to a colleague who is more like a friend, it is important to be reminded of the goal. In our case, we all share a goal of making SoJo the best it can be. As such feedback needs to be constructive, where the intention of personal growth is clear.

Making these plans are an investment, as it takes a lot of mental energy and time (2-3 hours for each individual). People are SoJo's greatest asset, and I see this investment necessary to show our team that we care, which in-turn will make SoJo the best it can be.

Likewise, once everyone's development plans have been completed, I will be inviting the team to share their feedback on my performance and leadership. This 360 review will provide a complete and thorough evaluation of everyone in the organization, ensuring we can all develop and grow together.

Strategic planning in a Cafe
Back from a wonderful vacation, I start this week beaming with energy and excitement. As entrepreneurs, we often don't give ourselves space to breathe, let alone permission to take an extended break. I initially had apprehensions when booking my tickets, but now thank myself.

More than ever do I appreciate the importance of giving yourself permission to have a break, without the guilt. There is always work to be done. With such a grandiose vision, it is hard to feel like you 'deserve' a vacation, as all you can see is the work that still needs to be completed. When you're at the helm it is scary to leave a team that has been so dependent on you. Timing will never be perfect for a vacation, however a vacation at the right time allows you to work smarter, and not harder. My past two weeks were a mix of relaxation, sleep and recharging the body combined with inspiration, fresh perspectives and strategic thinking.

Being disconnected from email and all incoming communications was a treat. Part of me still wishes I had my "out of office" message on in my inbox. With all the chatter and inflow of communication, it is difficult to shut off the mind, give it a break and decompress; going to the countryside with limited connectivity forced me to do so. Biking (and getting lost) through winding cobblestone streets allowed me to get inspired by the history and beautiful architecture that surrounded me. Having breakfast in a park with a passionate social activist hearing about the effects on the economic crisis gave me better insights. Spending my days in Parisian cafes people watching, observing my surroundings with an open mind allowed me to think and imagine new ideas.

Breaking free of my daily-grind in Toronto to do the above will undoubtedly add value to my work with SoJo.

SoJo is at a really good place now: We've officially launched our public site and now get to do the fun stuff of reaching out to users, building our brand and making SoJo known. In parallel, I will now focus my energies on conceptualizing and developing SoJo's next product. Going back to a clean slate and imagining possibilities is exciting and exhilarating. That being said, this next phase of growth with be equally challenging and I'm ready for what lies ahead.

I used to have this attitude, and among my entrepreneur friends I hear this all the time "I don't have time for a vacation / break, I'm too busy, I have too much to do, etc..."  I have no idea where the past year has gone, and as such, it is upon us to make the time to reset our mind and body. If we do not consciously make the time, it will slip through our fingers without second thought.

Upon publishing this blog post, I'll be on my way to an overseas trip. Over the next two weeks, no computer or emails. After the intense launch, this will be my opportunity to recharge the batteries and give my body the much needed rest it deserves. I'm equally looking forward to calming the mind and regaining focus for moving forward.

Someone once told me the best thing you can do for your business is to travel. Submersing yourself in a different culture and spending time getting to know different ways of life is a great way of diversifying perspectives and building great insights. Although I will not be monitoring emails, I do look forward to distraction-free time of strategizing and planning.

I was asked by multiple people this week who will be in-charge while I'm away. The answer: everyone. SoJo prides itself in not having a pronounced hierarchy, as such it is my hope that each team members holds themselves accountable to completing their tasks and keeping the ship moving. Traffic online has increased five-fold since the launch. It is crucial that we keep the momentum up, and not let the ball drop. A challenge indeed, as movement slowed down after the Beta launch.

Bottlenecks are never good, and we cannot afford to have any during the month of July. To avoid a potential slowdown, I created detailed goals for the month for each team member. I definitely underestimated the effort required to put these workplans together as it involved thinking two steps ahead for everyone. Just completed my last call, and feel confident that the team is ready to push the ship for.

The past 6 months have been dominated by execution and operations. I'm eagerly awaiting the luxury of thinking, and dreaming...

In this age of instant connections, one of the most important tools for turning your idea into action is the ability to connect to the people that matter, communicate ideas clearly, and respond quickly to feedback.  As SoJo continues to grow, we need to ensure that we too have the tools needed to communicate with and respond to our users quickly and effectively.  With that in mind, SoJo is excited to announce two of its most recent new partners, Viafoura and HitSend.  Both partners will be working to help SoJo strengthen its infrastructure through their cutting edge communication management tools. 
Viafoura is an audience engagement platform that adds advanced social functionality to websites and mobile applications. After researching different platforms, Viafoura's came out on top because of its features. By partnering with Viafoura, SoJo will enable our users to comment on multimedia including video, link their comments directly to different articles, increase interaction and provide an overall enhancement of social features to grow SoJo’s community. 

HitSend, through its community feedback tool Soapbox, creates a common place to input ideas and gather together as one large voice to suggest, vote, and filter ideas based on what the community wants as a whole. SoJo is being co-developed by our users. We actively encourage you to use the Feedback tool on the side of every page, to tell us what you like, don't like, and want to see changed or improved. By partnering with HitSend, SoJo will be able to easily sort through the ideas prioritized by you, the users, and act on what people really care about.

SoJo is very excited to welcome both partners into the SoJo community as we continually work to improve our products for our users.