Thursday, June 22, 2017


This week's blog explores the concept of culture in the workplace, and what all the buzz is about.

The definition of Corporate Culture includes a common understanding of definitions and traditions, including the appropriate ways to behave. In short, it is the way things get done at your company.

 A strong culture gives a business an edge in two major ways: 

1) it empowers people to think of themselves on behalf of the company and it allows them to do it with confidence.  

2) it builds the brand image as the customer experience is shaped consistently and reinforced with every interaction.
Spend a few moments considering your corporate culture and how you can be more intentional about shaping it into the one you desire.
Questions to Consider

What five words describe your corporate culture today? Are you satisfied with those descriptors? 

By limiting your description you can hone in on succinct thoughts about your culture. Ask the same question of your team and compare answers. You may find their perceptions extremely insightful. 

There are several factors that influence a corporate culture: 
  •    Atmosphere - how the office or retail location looks, smells, and sounds. This includes how employees dress and are titled
  •   Policies  - what is formally allowed and isn't allowed
  •   Performance Measures - the behaviors and results that people are measured by both formally and informally
  •   Reward - what actions are noticed and incentivized
  •   Training / Onboarding Experience - how you welcome your new employees to your company 
  •   Folklore - stories that get told about your company by your customers and employees
  •   Tone of Leader - leadership will always have the most influence over your organization's culture  

 How does your atmosphere support your stated business goals and values? 

Are your policies directly supporting the behaviors you expect from your employees?
Take a look at your performance reviews; do they measure behaviors proportional to results?

Do employees receive rewards not just for the results they get but how they get them?

When new employees start with the company does the Onboarding experience consist of a review of paperwork and benefits with Human Resources in a conference room? 

Does the company encourage folklore as a way to keep traditions alive? 

Does every member of senior management set the right tone to support the culture? Duplicity is toxic to credibility. When you say one thing and then have hidden rules, you force employees to behave in self-preserving ways; they learn the loopholes, workarounds, and can go underground. Most employees will follow the path of least resistance to meeting their goals.

One way to know if your actual corporate culture is aligned to your desired one is to read about your company in the news, on its website, or in internal publications and ask if you (and your employees) feel like the picture painted is an accurate representation of the way things really are? If you are a business that draws the general public to your location, there will be a wealth of chatter online about the real customer experience. Check out what people are saying.

As a manager, you cannot control every aspect of your corporate culture, but you do wield a great influence over it. By understanding and intentionally shaping your company's culture, you can work and interact more effectively.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Interview with Jen Shirkani...Wait, What?

Hello everyone!  In September of last year I had the great pleasure of interviewing my close colleague and friend Greg Hawks of Hawks Agency.  This week he decided to turn the tables and put me in the hot seat!  It was a fun interview with an incredibly enthusiastic, thoughtful, and gracious host!  Together we, "open the kimono," a bit about my own personal story, and inspiration for my new book Choose Resilience.  I hope you enjoy it! Thanks Greg!

Jen Shirkani Interview from Hawks Agency on Vimeo.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

From Victim to Victor

A Franklin Covey study on productivity and effectiveness issues involving 11,045 U.S. workers, found that just 31% feel they can express themselves honestly and candidly at work and only 34% say they work together in a "win-win" atmosphere.  Overall, U.S. workers gave their organizations a score of 51 out of 100 for their lack of focus and execution on truly important goals.

Indeed, a sad statement for leadership at large.  But what is the message here about the employees themselves?  How many of these individual contributors made exerted efforts to impart change in their business culture or even in their immediate work environment?  Only 13% of those surveyed said they are extremely satisfied with the results of their work at the end of most weeks and only 30% take time to plan their work schedule every day.  

And a whopping 46% of those employees reported that they have more creativity, resourcefulness, intelligence, and talent than their job requires or allows.  Requires?  Allows?  So has it now become someone else's responsibility to not just proactively develop us but also to ensure we are applying ourselves in our own lives? This trend of employee passivity seems to be creating a work culture filled with overgrown kids and leaders who feel more like parents.  Sounds like another outbreak of The Victim Virus.

Challenge Fault-Finding Thinking

A victim blames others for their circumstances, creating a comfortable insulation from any responsibility they may bear for creating or allowing the conditions or events that happen in their life.  According to Locus of Control theory, a psychological and sociological concept, there are two types of people - internals, who attribute events to their own control, and externals (or "victims"), who attribute events in their life to external circumstances.

Due to assigning control outside themselves, externals tend to feel they have little power over their fate.  They often communicate this belief (subtly or obviously, consciously or subconsciously) in day-to-day communication.  As leaders, our greatest opportunity to convert externals into internals is by challenging this fault-finding thinking, each and every time.

Listen closely for times when they describe others as being barriers or challenges to their success but stop short of explaining what they intend to do about it.  Practice making this a "time-out" opportunity for you to share what you have observed and how victim thinking increases Office stress, decreases job satisfaction, and undermines their present and future goals.  Help them see the payoff for making it personal.  Highlight their strengths to give them energy to break through into new ways of thinking.   

The Million Dollar Questions

Victor Frankl survived the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz by discovering the ultimate freedom: "to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."  Frankl explained, "Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."

The most effective way to help someone overcome the victim-hood stronghold is to help them take back the power they have willingly given away by taking responsibility for every action and circumstance in their life.  Often this requires showing them how.   To do this, practice asking the Million Dollar Questions any time you encounter victim thinking:
  • "What IS within your control?"
  • "Are you a part of the problem or the solution?  How so?
  • "What can you contribute to help solve the problem?
  • "What is your role in creating what you want to see happen?"
  • "What can you learn from this setback or challenge?"
  • "Are you holding yourself accountable to the same expectations you hold for others?  How so?

Settle for surface responses and that's exactly what you will get.  Help them objectively think through their problems and challenges and extract the lessons to be learned.  While this may be uncomfortable at first, it will require less of your involvement as you create a pattern of positive confrontation and condition your team to focus on individual accountability.  Also, keep in mind that this requires an environment of trust in which the leader consistently models ownership behavior.

Through consistent accountability and proper modeling, you can end the cycle of whining and cultivate a culture that lives by the motto - "Although I may not be able to control my circumstances, I can always control my response."  

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Month in a Minute

If you are a regular reader of my blog, I am going to assume you know that the focus this month has been the publication of my new book, Choose Resilience. For my first book, Ego vs EQ, I used a traditional publisher and this time I self-published, so my experience with the process has been very different. Although maneuvering the world of self-publishing has been challenging, it has been a good exercise in adaptability for me. And unlike my first book, this one tells so much of my personal story, it has also been an exercise in vulnerability.
Bright and early on the laundry truck
We did manage to also accomplish a few others things this month. Steve made several trips to New England to facilitate programs, I spoke at the Central Massachusetts HR association year-end meeting, I spoke at a global leadership meeting for a new client, and I had one very interesting day working in the field with another client to better understand a day-in-the-life of a front line employee.
The company is a very large uniform laundry service provider and I rode in the truck with one of their route salesmen. Our day started at 5am and ended around 1pm (we took no breaks) with stops to a grocery store, mechanic shops, chemical plants, a couple of restaurants, and even a butcher. We dropped off clean uniforms, towels and rugs but also had to pick up the dirty ones which were quite stinky, covered in rotting food, gasoline, and blood. And I had it lucky, I went in May. I couldn’t imagine doing that job while trudging through 2 feet of snow, or the odors that must permeate the whole truck by the end of a hot August day. The experience left me feeling quite grateful for the people who are dedicated to the service industry, and for the work I am lucky enough to do (which doesn’t involve anything smelly).

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Choose Resilience

Available here
My first test of resilience came without warning. Until that point, I’d never really experienced serious struggle or hardship. My husband and I had been on a trajectory of personal and professional success, and I had come to expect that our reasonably good fortune would continue. I was living my life in a comfort zone—a safe little bubble in Orange County, CA where everything ran smoothly and I never had to push my own limits —and I had no reason to believe that my course would be significantly altered any time soon. It wasn’t that my life was without challenges, but until that point in time, they hadn’t felt insurmountable.

My older daughter was two and I was pregnant with my second daughter when my husband, who was a salesman in the high-tech consulting industry, was laid off one September day in the aftermath of the dotcom crash. Then, the following Monday, at my twenty-week ultrasound, the doctors told us that our baby had a serious birth defect with one of her kidneys.

The very next morning was September 11, 2001 and we woke up to find the bubble of safety we had always taken for granted as Americans had also been burst. My entire business calendar canceled out for the next month. Because I billed only for the time I worked, my income for the foreseeable future vanished on the heels of my husband’s layoff.

I spent about a year struggling with anxiety, fear, anger and depression. I was eventually able to recover and deal with my situation productively. Choosing to face struggle takes stamina, courage, and resiliency. And you are probably asking, “Where does it come from?” What I started to realize as I faced my own personal difficulties is that I could leverage the power of EQ (emotional intelligence) to help me overcome them. If IQ is a measure of your intellect, EQ gauges your ability to read a situation involving yourself or others and to respond appropriately. An easy way to operationalize EQ is through what I call “the three Rs”: recognize, read, and respond.

When I choose my comfort over my EQ, I react from an instinctive place. When we use our EQ instead, we have the tools we need to cope calmly and confidently with the challenges we face. The skills I draw on regularly make up what I call the MOST model of resilience, because its three pillars are Motivation, Optimism, and Stress Tolerance.

The MOST model will help you when you’re faced with major life challenges or have a goal you want to achieve—as well as help you stay engaged and energized on a daily basis at work and in your personal life. When you use the MOST model, you’ll find that you are calmer and less anxious, and you’ll build the confidence you need to move out of your comfort zone and into your confidence zone. Building your emotional intelligence will help you face whatever life throws at you with grace and confidence.


By definition, motivation is “a propensity to pursue goals with energy and persistence, even despite setbacks.”[i] A willingness to take action to attempt to help ourselves, instead of waiting helplessly for someone to save us, is a foundational hallmark of those who survive hardship and end up stronger. This self-induced motivation results in resilience and a desire to continue overcoming obstacles. Most people who demonstrate motivation also understand the underlying reasons for their actions. To achieve all you’re truly capable of, it is important that you find out what really motivates you. Easy answers like “I want to be the CEO” or “I want to be rich” won’t keep you on task when the going is tough. You’ll need to do some real soul searching to determine what you’re willing to work for and what your motivations are. What is really in it for you if you choose to take more risk and get very uncomfortable?


Optimism is the belief that the best can happen, instead of the worst. Whereas motivation gets you started, optimism helps you persist. When you cultivate optimism, you will be able to move through setbacks rather than allowing them to defeat you. Optimism as defined in the MOST model is not passive. It’s the belief that you can move beyond your current condition, accompanied by the willingness to do the work it takes to get there. It acknowledges that you have the power to change your own circumstances. The key to this kind of healthy optimism is your ability to do a reality check: to see a situation for what it is, not what you may want it to be. It means letting go of what you wish were true, so that you can accept things as they actually are. When you do this, you take back a measure of control over your own life. Having optimism about yourself, your abilities, and the day ahead of you will get you out of bed and give you the stamina you need to persevere. Optimism gives you hope and reminds you that success is possible even against strong headwinds.

Stress Tolerance

We all face stressors from everyday life: issues at work, conflicts at home, the pressure to earn a living and pay bills, the need to keep up with all our commitments. Although stress is an expected part of life, extra stressors are the challenges that will inevitably come up when you try to do something new or different; they are the obstacles you will need to overcome on the way to achieving your goals. The first step to improving your stress tolerance is to recognize when your reserves are low. Too often, we don’t use our EQ to monitor our stress level. The pressure creeps up on us gradually. We often pile on self-induced stress and then give ourselves little room for failure. An ability to handle stress lets you respond to events with mindfulness—to be present, read the situation, and make a good decision—because you’re not overwhelmed by fear.

Since 2001, I have had to overcome business setbacks, financial hardships, a surgery for my daughter, and a divorce. There have been plenty of times when I have stopped and said, “Wait, this is not the plan!” My comfort zone not only kicked me out, it locked the door behind me. I didn’t want to change and challenge myself, mostly because I didn’t think I could. But after all these years, I have learned that struggle is good. The harder things are, the sweeter the sense of accomplishment is on the other side. When you begin your own journey of seeking challenge and reaching your goals, you will find that, just like me, you are much stronger than you ever realized.

Whenever we find that we’re staying in our comfort zone out of fear or avoidance, we need to formulate an exit strategy—a permanent change to our philosophy and our responses. The key isn’t necessarily to leave your comfort zone all at once; rather, you can make a series of small adaptations that ultimately rewire your intuitive and automatic responses so that you look beyond the easy or comfortable solutions. Gradually, you can become more willing to take on risk, try new things, and pursue your goals. This will help you build a rich life of challenge and fulfillment, resulting in increased pride, self-confidence, and happiness. Response is a choice. Resilience is the goal.

[1] Daniel Goleman, “What Makes a Leader,” Harvard Business Review, January 2004,

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Bad Case of Indecision

Leaders at large seem to be plagued by chronic indecisiveness, and as they stall on making important decisions, they effectively paralyze the rest of their organizations.  In fact, 53% of employees feel there is too much red tape in their organizations, according to Discovery Surveys.  

The most common for slow decision making include:

  • Too many priorities.  Projects continually move to "next quarter".
  • A perceived role/title of authority without any real power.
  • Velocity of business today and rapidly changing organizational goals.
  • An out of balance focus on "what" needs to be done over the "how", creating a gap in the knowledge and understanding required to make wise decisions.
  • Multiple bosses and competing agendas.
  • Lack of leadership resourcefulness, patience, and transparency in soliciting help and gathering information.
  • Fear of making a mistake or rocking the boat.
  • Chronic procrastination.
  • Hope that the situation will go away or resolve itself.
Regardless of the reason, leadership indecision is a destructive virus, gradually weakening organizations from the inside out.  Consider the following story that demonstrates the broad range impact of waffling.

In one large, national company there has been a change in executive leadership for positive reasons - the organization is growing and expanding into new markets and needed an experienced leader to set strategies and guide them through previously uncharted territory. 

The executive came aboard, conducted a thorough assessment, and then directed the functional leaders to do three things:  1. Restructure (without lost headcount),   2. Realign resources, 3. Create strategic plans that would lay out the framework for taking their respective departments to the next level of performance. The new company banner was accountability, accountability, accountability. 

A strong start, indeed; which makes what has happened since all the more baffling.  Half a year has passed and no visible changes have occurred.  Yet there has been no shortage of management meetings (or the cost per hour in salaries that come with it) or a lack of discussion, a lack of bench strength, or a lack of resources.  Committees have been formed, surveys have been conducted, and clear answers have emerged from employees at all levels.

If not manpower, time, or resources then what would prevent a clear mandate like this from coming to fruition?  The source of the stagnation most often stems from the department heads concern over ruffling feathers, breaking traditions and a general fear of rocking the boat. 

Now, let's be clear.  We are the first to preach the importance of leaders being tuned in to the needs and emotional climate of their workforce.  However, there is nothing advantageous or employee-centric about making your staff tread water while they sit and wait for final changes they have been told are coming. 

Management by consensus sounds great in theory.  We all know that employees who are involved in the decision making process are likely to be more engaged.  But, if management by consensus is overused it can take too long and create contagious indecisiveness. 

"Indecision is debilitating; it feeds upon itself; it is, one might almost say, habit-forming. Not only that, but it is contagious; it transmits itself to others." - H.A. Hopf

Much like boarding people on a plane without a destination, leaders risk losing employee's interest, motivation, and patience.  What earns you more employee engagement - to make decisions slowly, by popular vote or to lead with vision making swift changes that are thought out and clearly explained? 

While leaders doddle, trying to figure out a way to gently sneak the company into change, employees long for some good old fashioned, give-it-to-me-straight direction.  

Most managers overlook the destructive impact delays and flip-flopping have on employee performance.  By leaving them in no man's land (not operating in the past and not fully working in the future), they create a performance patchwork of people.  Some behave in the old way, some do things their own way, and some unsure of what to do, do nothing at all.  A sure fire recipe for inconsistency, quality erosion, and falling morale. 

To make matters worse, when decisions are finally made, they are often done at the wrong level to create real impact.  In a study by author and organizational psychologist Bruce Katcher, 63% of employees say that decisions in their company are usually not made at the appropriate level.

Admittedly, some leaders suffer alongside their people.  Innovative solutions at middle management get smothered because budgets haven't been approved. Financial incentive is out of alignment with the company's new direction as revised compensation plans sit waiting for approval. Customer opportunities are lost because sales support is off pace with market demands.   

So how can organizations get off the dime and start making some real progress?  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Set hard deadlines for publicly announcing strategic direction and hold people accountable to keeping them.
  • Stagger authority, especially if the new direction is complex, involving many layers of people to produce something. Give latitude to begin the process instead of keeping it all top secret until the entire plan is perfect.  Plan for small wins along the way.
  • Don't be afraid of hurt feelings.  It is impossible to make everyone happy at the same time.  Figure out who your most valuable employees are and who your most valuable customers are and make decisions based on what is best for them.
  • Be clear on your Purpose, Process, and Performance Measurement.  What is the potential value gained or lost based on this decision? Has my process taken into consideration all parties affected?  Have I sought impartial expertise?  What value or momentum will be lost if I wait?  How will I measure the success of this decision?
  • Timing is everything.  By postponing proactive changes you force your organization to be a fast follower instead of an industry pace setter.
  • Investigate delays.  Push past the standard "these things take time" and get involved in the construction stages.  Leaders must not stop at visioning and delegating.
  • Surround yourself with people who can make their own decisions and accept accountability for the results.
  • Educate front line and middle management on strategic decision making.  Given solid information and an understanding of the stakes, they will do the right thing for the business.  Trust them.
Effective leaders know when and how to orchestrate smart decision making and often rely on their front line to make big plays and execute serious decisions.  Employees want a leader who will lead, not a good survey taker.

As Theodore Roosevelt so wisely put it, "in any moment of decision the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing." 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Truth About Lies

According to a survey by the Society of Human Resource Managers (SHRM), over 53% of all job applicants lie on their resumes and more than 70% of all college students said they would lie to get a job. In this week's blog we'll discuss the truth about lies in the hiring process and how effective reference checking helps separate fact from fraud.

The Truth About Lies

It's no surprise that exaggeration, storytelling, and outright deceit are commonplace in the interviewing process. A study published in the Journal of Basic and Applied Social Psychology found that 60 percent of people lied at least once during a 10-minute conversation and told an average of two to three lies.

This truth about lies probably doesn't come as a shock. What does come as a surprise is the number of organizations who acknowledge the importance of checking references but feel they've gotten no real value from it so they don't do it at all. The most common reasons companies bypass this important step are a lack of time, belief that the references were coached, fear of bad news, or perceived liability due to defamation of character claims.

Despite the fact that in reality only a small number of defamation suits are brought against employers each year (fewer still are successful), this "don't ask - don't tell" mentality has become a sad reality in US businesses today.

In fact, most hiring managers would be surprised to know that each year there are twice as many legal actions brought against employers for negligent hiring because an employer has neglected to perform due diligence in researching someone's references to assess if they are a risk to the work environment.

Sadly, employers have lost 72% of these negligent hiring cases with an average settlement of more than $1.6 million, according to AAA Interactive Search Technologies. A clear statement the courts believe the majority of cases were preventable with the proper screening procedures in place.

Aside from the serious legal implications of not checking references, consider the other costs of an incomplete selection process. According to Leadership IQ, 46% of all new US hires fail in the first 18 months on the job--- because of bad hiring decisions.

The fact is reference checking is interviewing. It is not a task but rather a learned skill that requires focus, practice, and a few good insider how-to's. Let's review some best practice tips for effective reference checking:

  • Always check education references. They are easy to check now that most everything is automated or online. It is also one of the most common subjects candidates lie about.
  • Request that you are given a reference of a former supervisor (and/or co-worker) who no longer works with the company.
  • Ask for a reference from a reference. Let the reference know that you are very interested in learning more about the candidate and ask them if they know of anyone else whom you could speak to. By getting in touch with a reference that hasn’t been hand-picked or coached by the candidate directly, you might be surprised at the candid details you can unearth.
  • Place the burden on the candidate. Make the candidate responsible for getting people to call you back. If they want the job bad enough and have nothing to hide, they will be motivated to find a way to get you in touch with their references or them in touch with you.
  • Use the Behavior Based Interviewing technique when you check references. Keep in mind; checking references is a form of interviewing. You should probe for specific details regarding past behavior and events. For example, if you ask the reference about the candidate's 3 greatest strengths/weaknesses follow that up by asking them to recall a time when they demonstrated each of those behaviors.
  •  Always prepare a list of questions in advance by reviewing your interview notes and choosing situations and information you want to verify or want another perspective on. Use these targeted questions to help confirm or deny exactly what the person told you in the interview.
  • Use probing questions to dig for details. For example, if the candidate describes an important accomplishment or project, probe for specifics to get the whole picture. What was the scope of the project? What was the candidate's role? Who else was involved? What was the outcome? What specific impact did this candidate have on the project results? You get the idea.
  • Consider using the services of a reference checking company. Digging deep is their specialty.

Effective reference checking doesn't just uncover the truth about lies or protect your team from danger, it also helps you learn more about someone's talents, training needs, goals, and personality to help you know how to grow and motivate them once they're on board.

Is your candidate a diamond or a CZ? Time to find out.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Month in a Minute

Clockwise from top left: CHG Team in Salt Lake City, Steve and me at Commonwealth Financial,
Me speaking at SHRM, 4/5 of our team at The Copper Door, speaking at Merrimack College in MA.

Wow, what a whirlwind April was, and it flew by in a flash! We did work in six states, on-boarded three new clients, processed hundreds of style and EQ assessments, and the team logged 29,000 miles this month alone.

The highlight of the month was the day I arrived in Chicago to speak at the SHRM National Talent Management Conference. Upon landing and turning my phone back on, I received several messages, most of them going something like this, “Jen, where are you? Your session started 20 minutes ago. It’s not like you to be a no-show. We hope you are safe and everything is okay.” As a speaker, it is your worst nightmare that you missed the event you are hired to present at. I had expected to speak the next day, so I panicked and checked the trail of messages between us, only to discover that they were right and I was wrong. I was arriving in Chicago a day late. I had put the wrong day on my calendar, I totally screwed up. The wonderful people at SHRM were able to find me a breakout room and time slot for the following day, adjusting graciously to my mistake. I was so grateful. Too much going on and not enough attention to detail!

You may have also read in one of my previous posts that I tend to be forgetful when I am too stressed. This week, I drove off and left my ATM card still sitting in the ATM machine after I got cash. The bank called the next day to let me know they had it, before I even noticed it was missing! So, if you happen to see me this month, be a little patient with me. I am clearly a little out of sorts.

Thursday, April 27, 2017


As I am cleaning up my house, preparing for a move I found a newspaper clipping I had saved with a poem on it. It appeared in Dear Abby on May 17, 1983. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Today, upon a bus, I saw a lovely maid with golden hair,
I envied her, she seemed so gay, and I wished I were as fair.
When suddenly she rose to leave, I saw her hobble down the aisle; she had one foot, and used a crutch, but as she passed, she had a smile.
Oh, God forgive me when I whine; I have two feet, the world is mine.

And when I stopped to buy some sweets,
the lad who sold them had such charm. I talked with him, he said to me,
"It's nice to talk to men like you. You see," he said, "I'm blind."
Oh, God forgive me when I whine; I have two eyes, the world is mine.

Then, as I passed along the way, I saw a child with eyes of blue.
He stood and watched the others play; it seemed he knew not what to do.
I stopped for a moment; and then I said, "Why don't you join the others dear?"
He looked ahead without a word, and then I knew he could not hear.
Oh, God forgive me when I whine; I have two ears, the world is mine.

With feet to take me where I'd go,
with eyes to see the sunsets glow,
with ears to hear what I would know,
I am blessed indeed.
The world is mine.
Oh, God forgive me if I whine.

Author Unknown

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Paradox of Letting Go

I continue to run into leaders with serious control issues. They work so hard to micro-manage every aspect of their business (including all the people in it) that they don't even realize the consequences it has on their overall results. No one wants to be caught by surprise and we all want the best possible outcomes from our decisions but how much control is too much?

Every leader struggles with trust; how much to delegate? How important should the tasks that are delegated be? How do we know when someone is "ready" for the next level of accountability? Is there a balance between micro-managing and complete autonomy?

This points to the differences between management and leadership. Consider, "the paradox of letting go" from Lao Tzu. This philosophy says, "when I let go of what I am I become what I might be."

We never intend to come across as controlling or distrusting, but when we insert ourselves in the middle of projects without being invited, it sends a message that, "the situation is clearly so out of control it deems my immediate attention". It forces people to take the defense, disrupts any momentum they may have, or causes them to check out completely and disengage from the project and from you. They think, "Why invest the time and energy if you are just going to take over and do it your way anyway?"

There is also some law of nature at play when it comes to control; sometimes the things you work the hardest to command just slip through your tightly grasped hands. Instead, the more relaxed and centered you are about outcomes the more positive energy is drawn to you. If you aren't getting the results you want, raise your self-awareness about the issues that you chronically attempt to control. Ask for feedback on the times when you get in the middle "trying to help". And trust in the people and process around you. You may find a calmer peace of mind to go with it. There is no greater self-imposed pressure than the need to control the entire universe around you.

Hint:    It isn't about you - let it go

There is a certain sense of serenity that comes with surrendering and accepting that unintended consequences aren't always terrible.

Think of the power of leadership over management:

  • When I give up trying to be in control (management), I have greater influence (leadership).

  • When I let go of my fear of failure (management), I am stronger (leadership).

  • When I stop dictating to my team (management), I allow them to show me their capabilities (leadership).

What I learn by trying to control others is that my team can follow instructions; what I never learn is the potential waiting inside them. Management is about power, leadership is about liberation. In the moments of greatest desire to control, consider letting go. You will be pleasantly surprised by the results.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Optimizing Development Plans

The development planning process can be just another HR initiative that usurps precious time from your "business" activities. However, when you calculate the impact your employees have on the bottom line - both as an expense and a source of potential revenue - you can see the benefit of more strategically managing your one of your largest investments.

Consider this: A downturn in business presents an opportunity to retool and refocus your talent pool because when the market turns around you will be poised for dominance. Those who squander this chance to look inward risk lost revenue and market share as your competitors with better qualified talent surpass you. Therefore, as a part of your business planning process, you create a road map to refine your strengths, develop new skills or reach new markets, and mitigate your weaknesses.

Since company performance ultimately depends on the performance of each individual employee, you cannot afford for employee performance to remain stagnant year over year either.  This is where your development planning process plays an important role: the development plan is the business roadmap translated down to the employee level.

So how do you get started?

1) As a starting point, take your company and/or your team goals and have each employee identify 3-5 main objectives that align with those initiatives.
  •          Does the employee need to learn new skills to help them reach their objectives? Add that to the training plan.
  •          Does at least one of those objectives stretch and/or challenge the employee? If not, refine the list to include one.
  •          How will you know when the objective has been reached? Be sure to be specific enough that you can follow up on progress.

2) Additionally, choose at least one strength and evaluate how you as a supervisor can leverage that strength, while giving the employee more opportunities to stretch, grow, and refine.

3) Also, choose one development area and plan out how can the employee can improve. Think out of the box: shadowing, on the job training, formal training, research, mentoring, special project assignments.

4) Choose a time to discuss the plan with your employees. Remember this is a development discussion (proactive) not a corrective action discussion (reactive).

5) Write everything down. This ensures you have a visible reminder of your conversation.

6) Set a time to follow up. You might need to have formal monthly check-ins with the employee or informal conversations. Either is fine, but just remember to track progress and provide feedback regularly.

Remember, if you don't know where you're going, you'll never get there. Using a development road map helps ensure your employees and your company reach their maximum potential.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Courageous Leader, Cautious Team Paradox Part II

Part I of this article can be found HERE.

Here are just a few ways to get started:

1. Developmental "play" - Take it apart and rebuild it

Some of the most effective developmental toys for children involve taking the toy completely apart so the child can learn to put it back together.  Many times there are several ways it can be done, allowing the freedom of experimentation without being restricted to one "right" way.

The beauty of applying this learning design to daily work is that every person will approach tasks in a new and different way. Because they have a unique vision of what they would do if they could completely reinvent something, this process of experimentation is rich with discovery. 

It is easy to find ourselves in a confidence rut because we live in a world of routine.  If you do things the same way every time, it is hard to feel the thrill of purposeful excitement that only comes from providing a unique contribution to a successful venture.

Leaders can encourage creativity, fearlessness, and independent thinking by assigning employees the task of taking apart certain routine procedures or projects and rebuilding it in a new way.  It may mean only a slight change, but giving them permission (and accountability) to rethink the familiar can have a big effect on their confidence and willingness to accept responsibility.  It can be fun too!

2. Make friends with your fear

The most courageous people are not immune to fear.  They just don't believe all its hype.  Contrary to popular belief, self-confidence is not the opposite of self-doubt.  They are, in fact, quite intertwined.

Genuine confidence is gained by having the courage to try something even when there is a risk of failure.  As Eleanor Roosevelt so aptly put it, "You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face....You must do the thing which you think you cannot do". 

Pay attention to possible areas of fear or insecurity in your employees (i.e. avoidance behavior) and engage them in dialogue about it.  It is important to remember that people also avoid what doesn't interest them, so be sure to probe whether it is more a matter of a lack of motivation for the particular task.  Strategic division of labor is a major factor in high performance teams but is often overlooked as a means of improving employee's performance.

Ask permission to partner with them in overcoming this perceived obstacle.  For example, a leader noticed an insecurity one of their employees had in dealing with numbers and financial data.  After exploration and discussion of the employee's needs, she provided them with an instructional DVD set for basic accounting and financials that they could study in the privacy of their home. 

Remember, it is in our nature to avoid what we fear.  Instead of focusing on only their strengths or wishing they'd just "get over it", spend time understanding what holds them back.  Find ways to give them safe (and not too public) opportunities to stretch into the areas where fear holds them back.

3. Highlight the most "successful failures"

The best way to make someone feel safe to take risks around you is to prove that you understand and appreciate the value of failure.  Successes are obviously worth our attention, but our failures are often better teachers.  Instead of just broadcasting the wins, make it a point to highlight the losses that resulted in big learning gains. 

Start with your own and the habit will catch on.  Work toward freeing your employees of their failure inhibition and you'll be blown away at what they are capable of. 
The bottom line is this: 

You will not reach your performance goals without a confident, accountable, motivated team.

You have the power to create the team you desire.

Your belief in others should be based on a genuine desire to see THEM succeed, not in your terms but their own.  This is the difference between helping them soar on your confidence and freedom or watching them sink from your pressure.

YOU don't have to take on everything yourself.  Create a team just as courageous as you and imagine the possibilities.

The Courageous Leader, Cautious Team Paradox Part I

Mary is a strong leader.  She approaches everything with confidence and determination.  She makes a point to lead by example by modeling a positive attitude and a zero tolerance for failure.  Mary's team sees that she has a high degree of self-esteem, enjoys being involved and thrives on taking risks and tackling challenges head on.

But Mary has a puzzling problem.  She is a courageous leader with a cautious team.  She struggles to make sense of their lack of enthusiasm and initiative.  How can she do anything more than what she is already doing by putting on display the kind of go-getter, confident achiever she expects them to be?

Mary is certainly not alone in this frustrating scenario.  An inability to rally their troops is a common complaint we hear from leaders.  They are dismayed at the amount of work they take on because their team appears to be asleep at the wheel, or rarely taking it out of first gear.

Mary wonders if the only solution is to lower her expectations and continue to rely only on herself to drive the team.  She is beginning to believe that stepping up when no one else will is what defines leadership. 

This line of self-questioning is a crucial crossroad for leaders.  The breakneck pace of business seems to imply that the path of quickest gain is the road best taken.  This flawed belief explains the widespread yet ineffective "done right, do it myself" leadership mentality.
These leaders are making a crucial mistake.

By merely expecting their own enthusiasm, initiative, and creativity to catch on via modeling, they've unwittingly done one of three things:

1) Enabled their team to become lazy and dependent by a lack of accountability.

2) Failed to get to the bottom of why their team lacks energy and purpose.  Often, we see talented employees languishing because they are assigned tasks within their skill level but outside their interests.  Just because we do something well doesn't mean we want to be doing it.

3) Sent an unspoken message to the team that they are a one man show and the rest of them are non-essential.  Team members begin to disengage simply because they cannot keep pace with their driving style or continually fail to measure up to unrealistic expectations. 

In their book, Primal Leadership, Goleman, McKee and Boyatzis defined this third leadership mistake as part of the downside of a "Pacesetting" leadership style.  "The phrase that best describes the operating mode of the pacesetting leader is "Do as I do, now."  One of the perks of the Pacesetting style is they are quick to get results.  On the other hand, they are just as quick to burn through people.

Employees are often overwhelmed by the speed and demands placed upon them, resulting in rapidly eroding morale.  "The pace under this leadership style is so quick that instructions may not even be clear. And to make matters worse, the leader has no patience for those that need to learn or are not picking up new work fast enough," says Goleman, McKee and Boyatzis.

While leading by example is indeed a crucial component of successful leadership, this method alone is not sufficient to ignite engagement or build the catalyst ingredients of star performance - CONFIDENCE, ACCOUNTABILITY, and MOTIVATION MATCHING.  We're going to focus on the confidence component.

Leaders often overlook the significant influence a sense of confidence has on the performance, or lack thereof, of their team members.  This cause and effect, confidence to performance relationship has been largely misunderstood.  Thought to be something yielded primarily from in born personality, observation or inspiration, leaders are often puzzled why their high drive and fearless attitude doesn't catch on. 

Paradoxically, some of the most hard-hitting, self-assured leaders produce the weakest teams.  They cast long shadows, a tempting place for their team to hide.  Certainly, confidence can be air-borne contagious, but merely being in the presence of a strong spirited leader produces only temporary esteem building effects.  Because at its core, self-assurance is a belief system, true confidence must be infused and internalized to have real, long lasting effects.  One cannot merely feel it, they must BELIEVE it. 

So what exactly is confidence?  Confidence is defined as self-assurance or a belief in one's ability to succeed.  A confident person is made, not born.  Our level of self-confidence is impacted daily by our actions and the response from those around us.  As such, it requires development and nourishment to realize its full potential.

Employees with a high degree of confidence demonstrate APPROACH instead of avoidance behavior with new tasks, consistently produce high quality work, and resist the urge to let failure define or restrict them.

Through a series of targeted, ongoing developmental exercises, leaders can build individual as well as team confidence.  You might just find yourself with a "new" team, without the hassle of costly staffing changes.

Continue Here

Friday, March 31, 2017

Month in a Minute

Steve and me at CHG in Salt Lake City
March came in with snow and is ending with snow, needless to say I am ready to say goodbye to March. Thankfully most of our work was local, except for a quick trip out to Salt Lake City.  We weren't able to escape the weather, but at least we didn't have to do much traveling in it.

Book update:  The manuscript is now finished, and we are printing a test copy this week. We anticipate a late May publishing date.  I will be presenting a free companion webinar on April 14.  There are only a few seats left so register here for your sneak peek of Choose Resilience.The website is nearly finished, stay tuned, we will share it with our loyal blog subscribers first!

House update:  No buyers yet. If you're looking for a great house in Bedford, NH please let me know. Or you can contact my realtor Cheryl, directly. I have also decided to move our office to ease the transitional burden of having to do it all, all at once.

We are gearing up for an extremely busy April and May.  I will be in Chicago on April 25th for the SHRM Global Talent Management Conference and ExpositionIf any of you are going to be there please be sure to stop and say hello to Steve and me.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Case of the Cursed Position

What can you do about a position that seems “cursed” with chronic turnover? Before you resign yourself to affixing a permanent “just visiting” sign over the desk, consider the following ideas.

If you go to the doctor’s office complaining of a chronic ailment they will typically walk you through an inventory of questions to uncover potential causes of the reoccurring symptoms. 

Once all common causes are considered, they continue to rule out each possibility in order to isolate the core issue.

So what exactly is a “cursed” position? The job with the revolving spot on your open positions list, the ad most frequently placed, the “how long do you give them?” wagers at the water cooler. If this sounds familiar, it’s probably time to stop ignoring the signs and wasting time with “cross your fingers” hiring. Now is the time to establish a strategy to fix the problem once and for all.

Let’s review the key areas to examine:

Job Description and Hiring Process

  • How accurate does the job description reflect the day-to-day work experience?
  • Does it include specific skills AND measurable behaviors? In other words, what does this person need to do with those skills in order to be successful? For example, an important skill might be Interpersonal Skills. The measurable behavior that will demonstrate this skill might be “to demonstrate good interpersonal skills by having a positive, team-oriented attitude”. This helps you hold them accountable and helps them avoid inconsistent interpretation of performance standards.
  • Are you conducting Motivation Matching to be sure you aren’t asking for a major league player in a little league role? (email us for the full article on MM)

Performance expectations / Goal prioritization

  • How clear is the scope and focus of this role?
  • Have you identified the top 3-5 goals for this position and assisted them in prioritizing through regular check-in meetings?
  • Are you consistent in reinforcing these priorities or do you give mixed messages by allowing crisis management to dictate daily/weekly goals?

Onboarding training 

  • Have you taken an inventory of their current skill base at the time of hire in order to plot out a comprehensive training calendar?
  • Was their experience as a new employee so positive that it reinforced their decision to join your company? Or did it drive them to keep interviewing elsewhere?

Availability of information/resources

  • Is it clear where to go to get the answers they need to perform their job effectively?
  • Are they dependent on others to get certain goals or tasks accomplished? How pleasant or painful is that process?
  • Are you enlisting the help of various subject matter experts to assist you in training your new hire and expand their network of resources?

Leadership contact

  • How often do you set aside quality time for the person in this role?
  • Do they really feel known by you? Not just as an employee but as a person?
  • Do they expect it must be bad news if they’re called into your office?

Performance feedback

  • Can they rely on you for clear, consistent, and candid feedback on their performance? Not at review time, but in the moment when it really matters?

Volume of work

  • Is the amount of work reasonable for the time allotted?
  • Do they go through spurts of chaos and periods of boredom?


  • Is the compensation realistic for the caliber of person you desire?
  • Have you laid out a clear path for career development and salary growth?

Atmosphere / Co-workers

  • Is there anyone poisoning the water cooler? Check for common denominators amongst the team. Those who have interacted with the people in this role and curiously outlived them all.
  • Do people genuinely enjoy their jobs? How does it show?

The Departed

  • Are you conducting thorough exit interviews to look for feedback patterns?

This is a thoughtful process that takes time. Too often we get so busy trying to fill the spot we don't stop and take the time to diagnose the real causes in order to break the pattern. As you go deeper and see the position through the eyes of those who have left it, you just might discover there was never a curse at all. Just questions unasked, truths untold, and ideas unimagined.