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.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The FAQs of Talent Management

How is talent management different from Human Resources?

Comparing talent management to Human Resources is like comparing apples to oranges. Talent management is the complete system of designing, administering, implementing, and measuring the policies and processes related to employees. At its core, talent management is a mindset that influences management's interactions with employees. Human Resources is the organization in a company which typically owns the administrative aspect of people processes like compensation and benefits, staffing, and training. The Human Resources organization can help you implement your talent management strategies, but is not, in and of itself, your talent management solution.

Which department in a company should "own" talent management?
The primary owners of talent management are those who directly manage talent in the organization. However, because talent management is a complete system, management, human resources, and even employees play a role.

Where do I start if I want to implement a talent management strategy?The first step in implementing a talent management strategy may look different in every organization. The key is to start somewhere. Choose an area - staffing, compensation and rewards, performance management, training, etc - and identify one process or program to improve. Remember that processes in different areas are often linked together, so the scope of your project may naturally grow in size as you begin to make changes. Don't be frustrated when your company does not adopt a talent management mindset overnight. See change management as a process, and take it step by step, building upon small successes as you go.

How does considering employees a part of the talent management system benefit management?
All managers are ultimately concerned with contributing to the bottom line. In a white paper entitled, "Employee Engagement: The Key to Realizing Competitive Advantage" released by Development Dimensions International (DDI), authors cited a Gallup organization study which revealed that "business units that reported employee engagement above the median had a 70 percent higher likelihood of success than those below the median." When managers realize that engaged employees are the most critical component to the success of the company, the benefits of talent management become tangible.
Additionally, employees are often the best marketing tool in a company's toolbox. Employees who love their jobs and feel personally invested and connected to the company spread positive messages that can profoundly impact the image of the company in the marketplace. And the idea works in reverse: disgruntled employees can cause tarnish a company's reputation in the eyes of current and potential customers.

How do employees benefit from being a part of a talent management system?
When a company seizes the opportunity to invest in its human capital, employees receive both tangible and intangible benefits from a talent management system. Matching an employee's skills and interest to his or her job description increases employee satisfaction. Compensation and rewards aligned with performance actually motivates employees. The employee also gains competitive skills through training and experiences. An employee will begin to see work as more than just a paycheck, but a place of growth, challenge, and enjoyment.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Dialing Down Fear: Tips for Change Management

Change can be a very scary thing for many people, there's no doubt about it.  But change can also be an incredibly wonderful, empowering experience. In this week's blog we will look at a few easy tips that might lessen the fears that are connected with venturing into territories unknown. 

There are a few main Emotional Intelligence competencies that move to the forefront when it comes to change management: two of them are Stress Tolerance and Flexibility. You can help coach these skills in others and use them to ease people through an uneasy time.

Stress Tolerance
  • Discuss their awareness of their stress triggers. All of us have tell-tale signs that our blood pressure is rising and our anxiety is increasing.  Helping your employees know what their unique physical symptoms are will help them be proactive in removing themselves from difficult situations before they lose control.  
  • Provide group relaxation activities. There has probably never been a better time to consider sending a reminder out of health benefits they are eligible for under your health plan (gym membership, smoking cessation, etc) and bringing some healthy resources on-site: massage therapists at lunch, a walk club after work, a company sports team.  Even having live music brought in can change the mood and lighten up a stressful work environment. Or how about a Guitar Hero or Rock Band competition to blow off some steam? 
  • Discuss factors in and out of their control. By helping people separate what they have a direct influence on (their attitude, their job performance, their pursuit of personal goals) and the things they cannot control (a merger or acquisition, cyber gossip, a layoff) it minimizes worrying about things that may or may not happen. Help them channel their anxious energy into activities that move them closer to a goal or a healthier mindset.  

  • Encourage them to take time to respond to unexpected events and not reject them out-of-hand. It is easy to have an immediate negative response to something we don't understand or want to have happen. A lot can be said for "sleeping on it" and the more time you give people to digest bad news the better. 
  • Brainstorm, preferably in a group context, to harvest ideas for handling dynamic, changing demands.  Some members of your team probably have demonstrated a high level of flexibility (think of those unflappable folks who never seem to let anything get under their skin). Leverage the strengths of your resources and either try a group consultation or partnering members together for some mentoring.
  • Use change as an opportunity to learn and develop; consider how past experiences and current skills are applicable to new challenges.Remind them of a past experience when a change seemed daunting and scary at first but resulted in some unexpected, but positive outcomes. What are the old processes or cultural norms that have needed a face lift? When things are moving at high velocity speed they are the things we put in the "To Do" pile and hope to get around to them one day. One day is here. Open the file and see what positive learning can happen right now.

There are some things you can do as the coach, including framing new information to include "How this is impacting you is...”  Also, the sooner you can give people information the better. Sometimes partial information can be more reassuring to others than waiting to have the complete picture and keeping them in dark until you get it.  
It is important to help each other and offer emotional support to those who need it. If you have real concerns about someone's ability to weather the stormy seas, please refer them to professional help. It is true that things are challenging, but these times will pass and make our companies stronger for going through them. Just like the difference between the lowest points in a deep lake to the peak of a neighboring tall mountain, the terrain can change quickly. And the view from the mountain top sure is sweet.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Month in a Minute

Steve with the HR team at Atlantis, Bahamas
Even though February is a short month, we have packed a lot into it busy with clients across the US, and even a trip to the Bahamas. I made a trip to Salt Lake City to work with Steve, and he made a trip to see us in NH to co-facilitate a program with me at SNHU. Steve also made a trip to Dallas to see a new client and was also lucky enough to go to the Atlantis Resort and work with their Human Resources team there.
Steve and me at SNHU
I have been amused by some of the recent events in the entertainment industry, from Mariah Carey’s foible at the New Year’s Eve show to the Academy Awards mishap with the Best Picture award. Although I am sure the likely root cause of both problems can be blamed on human error or incompetence, the way they were handled lacked emotional intelligence. A key component to EQ is “reading” – having the situational awareness to plug-in to your surroundings and respond appropriately. It seems in neither case did the Academy producers or Mariah know how to deal with an unplanned, unscripted situation. In our lives, we luckily don’t have TV cameras on us when something goes wrong, but we all have moments when we need to react in real-time. It’s important to ask yourself if you respond to unexpected events with professionalism and creativity or do you panic and freeze up? It’s the big difference between credibility and amateurism.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Tough Advice

I am the one who says comfort zone is the enemy of EQ and the way to greater happiness is by putting yourself through moderate stress. Taking my own advice is miserable. I am currently doing something that is making me feel very uncomfortable. I am selling my house. This is the house I have lived in for twelve years and it's a source of pride and been part of my identity since I moved to NH. It's the house I fought to keep when in 2010 I was 90-days late on my mortgage. It is a big house, much too big for our needs and it requires a lot of maintenance which is a huge hassle, especially because I travel so much. But, it's my known hassle. It's the longest I have lived anywhere since I was 17.

Part of my anxiety is I have no plan yet on where I will go next. So much of moving is timing and much depends on how long it takes to sell and how long I will have until I have to leave the property. Logic says to sell my house because I can spend much less a month by renting an apartment, with little to no upkeep, and have much more flexibility. It is "smart" to move. My heart is aching, saying I can't put a price on what is comfortable and familiar. Honestly, I was getting a little worried that if I waited too much longer I would chicken out and not do it. The time is right and I need to let go of the past and instead look forward to a new future. Upon reflection, I do have a pattern of doing multiple hard things at once. I enrolled in grad school when I had a toddler, was pregnant and supporting my family with a start-up business. Then during the year I wrote my first book I went through a divorce. Now I am about to publish my 2nd book and am relocating my home and office. Why do this to myself? But I have not regretted the last big changes and I know I won't regret this one either. If you are in the middle of a change yourself, hang in there. Life is good on the other side of it; we just have to get there.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Development Planning Process

Our topic this week is development plans, which is timely for the start of a new year but also very appropriate when employees are asked to do more with fewer resources.

When times are lean, you need everyone working at peak performance and learning new skills. This is the perfect chance to encourage folks to flex and consider their development opportunities: an opportunity good for them and good for the company.

In the year ahead, I believe we will all be tested and challenged. Providing your employees with an ongoing development plan gives them the tool they need to take responsibility for their own professional growth. 

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 road map 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 don’t forget 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.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Month in a Minute

In the Sandbox with the fabulous HR team at SNHU
Meagan Flint and me at the CASE District1
Conference in Boston
Since this our Month in a Minute for January, I am going to say happy new year! Last year flew by and it seems this year is possibly going even faster, how is it February already?

There has been much talk about leadership these last few weeks, what it looks like, who it should serve, and what is bad. When I was younger in my career I was certified in a number of leadership programs and read all the business book best sellers. I thought I had a good understanding of what a “good leader” was. Then I went to grad school and got a degree in Organizational Leadership, and was sure then that I knew exactly what it took to be a good leader.

Since then, I have done a ton of executive coaching, led my own team of people, and written a book. I am realizing that I don’t really know as much as I thought I did. I have seen some terrible leaders who I thought were guaranteed to fail, who instead build amazing companies. I have seen some great leaders I was certain would succeed, drive their company into bankruptcy. I wish it was a simple correlation, but instead, leadership takes many forms, and different styles of leadership are needed at different times. One client of ours has just completed a huge merger, another has been in a battle to not be acquired. One has been downsized by 70%, and another is planning for 500% growth over the next two years. Each of those companies and each of the employees in those companies have different needs of their senior leaders. It would never work to have the same style person at the helm and make all of those companies successful. While I am sure having EQ is a critical skill for all leaders, I don’t believe that there is one definition of a “good leader." Do you?

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Creating New Habits

We are one month in to those wonderful New Year's Resolutions . . . you know the ones that we are lucky to see, well, March 1st.

The idea of a fresh start is alluring, which is why so many people choose January 1st to make self-promises of improvement. Of course, it doesn't have to be January. One of my colleagues chooses to do a life audit every birthday, reviewing his past year for success and failure, and setting new resolutions then. I, on the other hand, tend to bumble it. My moods of reflection and resolution hit on my  milestone birthday years - an already sensitive time for me - but the results do stick, and resolutions made in those years firmly take root. It is painful, creates bedlam, but effective.     

Should you be contemplating your 2017 resolutions, I hope these tips help you make it to March 2nd.  

As you think about your New Year's Resolutions, consider these five pointers to help with sticking to your plan. 

1. Start Small
Just because a goal is small doesn't mean it isn't powerful. Dr. Steven Covey shared on a blog post, "There are a couple of things I have found that help people develop enough internal stamina and discipline to make great things happen. They start small-make and keep a promise, or set a small goal and accomplish it. They move from small things to slightly larger things-have small "wins" and then bigger and bigger "wins"-until they begin to experience a level of exhilaration and excitement that makes them feel like they can accomplish just about anything." 

2. Write It Down
Darby Checketts said, "Only goal setters who are goal writers are truly goal achievers" in his book, Leverage: How to Create Your Own "Tipping Points" in Business and in Life. Physically writing your goals helps you articulate specifically what you want to accomplish and how you will know if you are successful. Plus, for those of us who forget what we don't write down, you have a physical record of the goals you are trying to achieve.

3. Put a Time-Frame on It
Once you know how to measure your goal (answer the question: what does success look like?), give yourself a deadline. Goals without deadlines are easily set aside to accomplish "later," but as busy as our lives are, later rarely comes. Treat your goal as you do other business deadlines. In fact, aim to complete them early! 

4. Find Accountability
Tell someone else about your goal - your spouse, a friend or co-worker, your boss . . . Find a person who knows you well enough to provide the right balance between challenging you with the tough questions and being a cheerleader who encourages you to follow through. 

5. Celebrate Success 
Don't forget to celebrate your accomplishments! No goal is too small to celebrate. Too often we don't take the time to acknowledge our successes because we're already on to the next task. Pause for a moment to enjoy your achievement. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Orientation vs Onboarding

Consider this interesting law of nature. A newly hatched duck will bond maternally with the first moving object it sees. This relationship is solidified during the first day or so after hatching, a brief window known as the critical period for bonding. As you may have learned in school, this process is called Imprinting. Much like our fuzzy friends, we too have a narrow margin of time during which we engage or disengage from the organizations we join.

This critical imprinting period for new employees largely depends on the success of the first impression - the New-Hire Orientation.

45% of employees who decide to voluntarily terminate their employment make their decision during the first ninety days of employment. As awareness of this ‘failure to bond’ statistic grows, organizations today need to take a closer look at the first impression they are leaving with new employees.

What is typically a 2- hour paperwork dump, the traditional Orientation format does nothing to engage new employees. Once just a necessary evil, this welcoming experience is now being regarded as a tool to increase retention, jump-start productivity, and forge employee loyalty. This fresh take on Orientation is known as Onboarding.

Unlike typical Orientation meetings, Onboarding focuses on acclimating AND engaging new employees into a company. To engage someone is to become interlocked, or to bring something together; to attract and hold somebody’s attention. This describes a collaborative process spurred on by shared values, mutual goals, and a sense of trust and direction. Employee loyalty is the sign and symptom of employee engagement at work.

Consider the following differences between traditional Orientation programs and Onboarding.

Compliance vs. Commitment
Most companies have looked at Orientation programs as a task to be completed, resulting in a sea of compliance oriented paperwork. Also, as the pace of hiring sped up, so did the push to cut corners and get the new employee to their workstation as quickly as possible. The unfortunate focus is often on protecting the organization from liability.

By contrast, under the Onboarding method, the primary focus of the program is long-term integration; to connect the employee into the heart of the company, to align them with the organizational values, gain their commitment to the goals of the organization, and help them see how their role contributes to making those goals a reality.

One size fits all vs. Customized
Most traditional new-hire Orientation programs utilize a standard template updated periodically to reflect new information or policies. The majority are grandfathered, have no ownership, and are the same for every new employee regardless of their role, title, past experience or department.

Instead, the Onboarding and engagement process is well researched and designed thoughtfully, with the audience in mind. Check your content for meaning instead of volume. The best way to accomplish this is through employee surveys of recent new-hires. Ask them what information matters most when joining a new company. Ask them what areas they felt needed improvement in the current new-hire process.

One-time event vs. On-going experience
While 75% of companies say they have an orientation process in place, only 15% have strategies in place that sustain the process beyond the first month of employment. This is where Orientation and Onboarding differ the most. To engage someone requires the strategy extend beyond the “it’s now or never” philosophy of shoving a week’s worth of information into one day or less. Consider your own practices. Is it a tiered program designed to grow and expand as they do? Does it involve checking in with them periodically?

HR task vs. Direct leader’s relationship building
Has the responsibility for integrating new employees fallen through the cracks and into the hands of HR? Historically, the person who has the least day-to-day impact on the employee is the first face of the new employer. If the long term wellbeing of the relationship between the employee and the company hinges on the first day (as studies prove) what role should the direct supervisor be playing in shaping that initial experience? If your front line supervisors aren’t playing a key role in your program now, it’s time to train-the-trainer.

There’s some solid ROI for revamping a tired Orientation process. Engaged employees are happier, more creative, require less management time, are highly productive, and increase the morale of others. What have you got to lose? (besides them)

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Motivation Matching

How is it that a person who came highly recommended as a star performer in their previous company joins your team only to lose their spark and fizzle out? Why does someone who has been an average performer one place move positions or change bosses and reach surprising levels of success? This week’s blog offers some insight into this puzzling performance dynamic and how motivation matching can help you bring out the best in your employees....before someone else does.

Performance Factors

From years of working with clients on both sides of this story, we’ve found that the cause for this perplexing change in performance frequently boils down to an incompatibility between the values of the individual and the values of their leadership. For example, all salespeople are motivated by money - right? And everyone loves to be recognized in front of an audience - right? Tell that to the employee who would rather under-perform than risk having to endure public recognition again. Recognition that doesn't match the values of the person being recognized can backfire or have little to no effect at all. Leaders often overlook the importance of identifying the unique motivational needs of each employee in order to assess if their organization, as well as their personal leadership style, has what it takes to fulfill them – a process we call motivation matching.

How does one motivate someone else? In order to answer that question, you need to consider all of the factors that influence someone’s drive to achieve. Exceptional performance is the alignment of skills, passion, feedback, management style, measurement, rewards and culture. We each have a unique pass-code that unlocks our inspiration, potential, and desire to achieve. Before assuming your employee “just isn’t motivated”, consider these questions to determine if it may instead be a result of a motivation mismatch:
  • What skills do they possess that give THEM the most satisfaction?
  • How is their job drawing upon their strengths AND interests?
  • What rewards do they respond to best?
  • What kind of feedback (written, oral, public, private, broad, detailed) and at what frequency do they need?
  • What management style brings out the best in them?
  • What message does our company’s culture send about performance?

Start by making an educated guess and then test your knowledge by sitting down with your employees to ask them these questions. True motivation matching must include both observation and validation. Without it, it's merely assumption and leaves you with the burden of trying to hit a target you can't see. Let them tell you how to bring out the best in them.

Motivation matching requires a realistic assessment of the strengths and limitations of your organization and yourself, the insight to better understand your employee, the willingness to make adjustments that bring out the best in them, and the courage to admit when you can't offer what they need and releasing them to find it. As involved as that may sound, it is painless compared to the hours wasted struggling to solve performance problems or wondering who went wrong – you or them?

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Leadership and Delegation

A global survey conducted by the Association of Executive Search Consultants involving 1,311 senior executives found that 46% of respondents felt their work/life balance has changed over the last 5 years...for the worse.

Are you, and your leaders overworked?

It is no surprise that technology is a leading culprit in leadership exhaustion. Smart phones keep us on call 24/7 and email seems to multiply overnight. Leaders are asked to accomplish more in less uninterrupted time. So what to do? Delegation is key. Consider delegation as a win-win opportunity; you provide yourself some much needed time to concentrate on your primary objectives while offering someone else an opportunity to stretch into new areas.

Leaders can hand off more to direct reports but often do not because of the perceived time investment. How much time would be saved in the long run by having a well-rounded team ready to step up to the plate when you need them? The next time you're tempted to come in early or stay late, ask yourself, "who has the attitude and aptitude to take this on?" If you can't come up with an answer, you may want to take another look at our previous Performance Pointer on Interviewing and Selection. As leaders, we need the right players in the dugout.

Are you delegating enough?

Consider how much time you are spending on tactical, non-strategic tasks. How much time would you free up by not doing work that could be given to someone else to complete? Are you allowing your staff to delegate up?

It may be time to give up or give back duties that consume your valuable time and leave you further from your goals. Prioritize your work week to spend the most time on activities that produce the greatest impact and leverage your special strengths. Approach delegation as a development opportunity for both parties; you will learn to let go and improve your ability to prioritize and they will get to take on new challenges and acquire new skills. In the end, were you really hired for quantity of work or quality of work? It may be time to rethink that to-do list.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Are You Listening?

Great leaders are great communicators, and great communicators are great listeners. 

Are You Listening?

"I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant."
- Robert McCloskey

If you've ever found yourself shaking your head and saying "They just don't get it." and "I may as well be talking to a wall." Then it might be time to take a look at your own listening skills.

"Listening?" you respond, "THEY'RE the ones not LISTENING." Really? If you're the boss or if you have a specific agenda that you want understood, who should be the better listener? 

Miscommunication is often the product of the unconscious assumption that others have the same experience and understanding as you do. In most cases, that's just not true. Each of us has unique experience, cultural background, education, motivation, desires and needs. You and your partner may both speak English (which, as a second language, presents another layer of challenge), but each word is colored by your specific work and life contexts.

Leaders, managers and anyone who needs to influence (especially without authority) has a coaching role, and coaching requires deep listening skills, often called "committed listening" skills. Committed listening is listening to understand others' needs and desires with the goal of putting yourself into their frame of reference. Listening should make others feel that someone understands them - a deep human need and one of the foundations of trust.

Most of us have average listening skills. We have our preoccupations and agendas and we get caught up in our own feelings and - yes - we take things personally. Why, then, should you ASSUME a common language, let alone common motivations and goals?

There are plenty of barriers to committed listening:

  • Preparing to respond instead of listening without judging
  • Zoning out when others speak, one-on- one and in meetings
  • Interrupting others when they speak
  • "Knowing" what you want to hear
  • "Knowing" what you're going to hear
  • Assuming what is meant without asking or confirming
  • Listening for confirmation rather than information

By listening closely to others you'll discover that beliefs and assumptions are present in everything we humans say and do. If you can hear them, you can address them. For example, how would you interpret the following statement in a team meeting?

"The problem is that we can't move forward until leadership makes a decision about our next step."

Some possible translations are:

  • The team has no power to move forward.
  • If management doesn't see what we're doing as urgent, then why should I?
  • It is not our job to set direction.

There are many other interpretations, and every one needs confirmation, but there is much more information here than is evident from the words alone. How would you react? Here are some suggestions:

1) Ask questions without challenging, for example:

  • What can we act on right now?
  • What's the best decision that we can make? 

2) Ask questions that illicit governing values, such as:

  • What if we went with the best information we have now? Could we be effective?
  • What's the worst that could happen if we get it wrong?

3) Suspend judgment, without agreeing or disagreeing:

  • What is the team's decision-making role?
  • How would you handle it?
  • What information does the leadership have that we don't?

Notice, you're not giving advice or direction. By asking questions you coach others to think clearly through unresolved issues and to discover the solutions they have inside of them already. You also encourage accountability. Giving advice removes accountability and places it on the adviser.

How can you be a better listener?

  • Commit to improve your listening skills and to take responsibility for full and clear communication in every interaction from now on.
  • "Voice echo" to yourself what you hear as you hear it without judging.
  • At the end of each conversation, take a moment to tell your partner you appreciate what they said and then reflect it back, with the goal that the partner corrects your report until they agree that you understand.
  • Don't be offended or discouraged by feedback that says "You just don't get it." Most people don't communicate well. Allow for that and ask clarifying questions until you DO get it.
  • Keep a listening journal, noting when you do a good job of listening, and when it goes wrong, why and what you'll do differently next time.
  • Look for patterns that derail you, like particular people or topics that don't interest you.

  • Enlist someone you trust to offer support. Call on them if you find yourself stuck or unable to overcome distractions or break inattentive patterns.
Answer the questions:

1) When did I listen attentively? How can I tell?
2) When did I stop listening to the meeting or conversation?
3) What distracted me from listening to the conversation or meeting?

As Stephen Covey said in the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, "Seek first to understand, then to be understood." Be the one who opens the truly collaborative dialog and watch your influence grow with your effectiveness.