Thursday, December 17, 2015

What Not to Do

As we rapidly approach the soft, gooey center of the holiday season, I've decided to share one more tumultuous tale of workplace distress.

This particular occurrence did not trickle down to me from a second or third hand source, oh no, this was witnessed by my very own eyes.

A few years ago one of my regular clients was kind enough to extend me an invitation to their holiday party.  Normally I would graciously decline an offer like this thinking that my presence might somehow hinder everyone's good time, and ability to relax.  But, I had been working with them for about ten years and we all felt pretty comfortable around one another. I accepted.

After a few hours of good tunes, and a few more glasses of holiday cheer, the mood was joyous and festive.  And then, the owner walked in dressed in a santa suit from head to toe. He wasn't passing out gift cards for coffee or company paper weights, what he was doing however, was inviting all of the office "hotties" to sit on his lap.  

Sure everyone was having a good time, and they might have appeared to be distracted, deep in conversation with one another.  THEY WERE ALL WATCHING.  Trust me.

The struggle is real.
Don't do this.

Happy Holidays everyone!  See you in 2016!


Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Silver Lining in Performance Reviews: Career Development

People Feature: The Silver Lining in Performance Reviews: Career Development
Article published on November 30, 2015
By Clare Trapasso
Annual performance reviews may be unpopular with many employees, but the development plans that typically accompany them can pave the way to gain the skills and experiences workers need to get ahead.
Firms such as State StreetPrudential Financial and Securian Financial Group encourage employees to consider stretch assignments with other departments and lateral moves to introduce them to different parts of the company. The firms also offer online and in-person training to help prepare workers for the next rung on the corporate ladder.

“Getting new experiences is really important in developing people’s careers,” says Alison Quirk, chief human resources and citizenship officer at State Street. “It could be continuing to do your job, but working on a project that will get you exposure to either another part of the business or a product or process you don’t have familiarity with.”
The onus is on employees to manage his or her own career and articulate goals to their supervisors during the performance review process, she says.
“Don’t let a manager assume they know what your career aspirations are,” Quirk says.
State Street’s more than 30,000 employees undergo performance reviews in December and then set goals and development plans the following month.
Employees at the Boston-based firm can apply for short-term assignments in different departments or offices around the globe to learn new skills, she says.
State Street also launched a professional development program this year for mid-level employees, where 36 workers rotate through four different assignments in various divisions and locations within the firm over a two-year span to fast-track their development. The firm hopes to expand the program to about 50 participants. A similar opportunity is offered to new recruits.
“Building careers means you really need to learn about what’s going on in different departments … [to] be able to progress,” Quirk says.
Staffers should be able to pinpoint their dream jobs within their companies and know the skills required to move into those positions, says Alexandra Levit, author of Blind Spots: The 10 Business Myths You Can’t Afford to Believe on Your New Path to Success. They can then pitch projects to their managers through which they could attain those skill sets.
“Even if you want to stay in your current job for the next 30 years, you need to be upping your game,” says Levit, who is also president of the Chicago-based workplace consultancy Inspiration at Work.
Like State Street, Prudential Financial encourages employees to figure out where they want to go professionally and candidly share those aspirations with their managers.
This helps managers identify opportunities for them, such as interdepartmental "stretch" assignments, jobs shadowing colleagues in different departments or finding new mentors, says Julie Stone, VP of learning and leadership development.
“We’re looking for a development plan that’s not just going to meet the company’s needs, but meet their own professional and personal needs,” she says.
The Newark, N.J.-based insurer starts its annual review process in February for its roughly 48,000 staffers, and development plans are encouraged, says Stone.
During performance reviews, professionals should discuss the development and training they want from the company to improve, says Jen Shirkani, founder and CEO of the Bedford, N.H.-based leadership development consultancy the Penumbra Group.
Workers interested in moving into other parts of the business should research the role they want by looking at the job description on hiring websites and talking to people in those positions.
They should also be on the lookout for educational opportunities. “If your company offers free workshops internally, take them,” she says. “It only adds to your value.”
Most employees are keen on professional development, says Victor Lipman, author of The Type B Manager: Leading Successfully in a Type A World.
“It leads to a lot of dissatisfaction, and ultimately retention problems, when employees don’t get the career support that they want,” says Lipman, a MassMutual alum who worked in corporate communications at the company.
State Street offers chapters of Toastmasters to help workers with their public speaking, as well on-site chartered financial analyst designation preparatory courses. It also maintains an internal website stocked with tutorials, online courses and videos on topics ranging from project management to beginner Microsoft Excel skills.
In addition, managers can send workers to certificate programs or to local colleges if their budgets allow.
Securian has an internal website for employees who want to learn more about particular business areas and skills that includes workshops, lists of books to read and links to training videos, says Mary Streed, head of human resources. The St. Paul, Minn.-based firm also offers about 100 in-person or online courses, with topics like how to cultivate talented teams.
The financial services company holds its performance reviews, which often include development plans, during the first quarter of each year. It has more than 4,000 employees.
“[A performance appraisal is] a wonderful opportunity to assess where you’ve been and position yourself for where you want to go,” Streed says.

Clare Trapasso is a print and multimedia journalist at the New York Daily News with experience writing breaking news and feature stories in urban and rural communities.

As a general assignment reporter on the Daily News’ Queens Bureau and Metro Desk, she covers everything from schools being closed, to naked bike rides, to grisly murders, local politics and everything in-between.

Prior to that, she was an Associated Press reporter in the wire service’s New Hampshire Bureau. During the six-month assignment, she covered state and national news and put together several multimedia projects. She also edited stories and wrote broadcast news.

She became passionate about journalism at the State University of New York at Purchase College, where she graduated with a B.A. in journalism in 2002. In her senior year, she created a campus women's newspaper called The Cycle.

After receiving her undergraduate degree, she joined the Peace Corps. She was sent to Independent Samoa in the South Pacific, where she learned Samoan and taught college-level journalism classes in the capitol.

When she returned to America, she began graduate school. In 2007, she earned a M.A. in Journalism from New York University. As a student, she interned for the Daily News and The Village Voice. After graduation, she did an internship in the Associated Press New York City Bureau.

Clare Trapasso is interested in writing stories that can effect change. She can be contacted at

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Focusing on What We Can Control

Once again we have another tragedy involving violence against innocent people. It’s an odd paradox: we are living in a global community that is more connected than any time in history, yet it seems to me that people feel disconnected and disenfranchised and desperate to be noticed more than ever. I am starting to feel overwhelmed by the lack of empathy and uncertainty in the world. As the live news feed rolled in on the TV tonight, all I could do was focus my mind on making dinner for my kids like it was any other Wednesday, wistfully remembering the days before 9/11. Since the Paris attacks, I have been thinking that maybe instead of allowing our attention to be glued to our devices, social media and events out there, we turn our focus to the people in our lives, right here. We must do a better job recognizing when someone is unstable, getting desperate, or needs coping skills. People cannot feel invisible. I am as guilty anyone for allowing the distraction of world headlines, news feeds and business priorities to pull me away from what is most important. I am going to make a focused effort to be present, to focus on the people and relationships in my life. Even if for 30 days we cut off technology, political blather, and meaningless distractions and worked hard at being good parents, responsible family members, accountable employees and community citizens, I believe we can stop this alarming trend. Each home can positively influence a town, each town can positively influence a state, and each country can positively change the world. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Three Career Skills Boomers are Better at than Millennials (Part II)

This is a continuation of an article I posted in our monthly Performance Pointer.  If you would like to subscribe to the monthly newsletter click here

Skill Three – Perseverance
Perseverance is tied to the emotional intelligence skill of motivation - staying productive even despite headwinds. Boomers have a strong stick-to-itiveness. They don’t just leave jobs if they are frustrated, they don’t call in sick because they want to avoid a co-worker, and they don’t want to change assignments every year because they are bored. Millennials do bring a great enthusiasm to their work and require it be fulfilling and engaging – all great traits. But in reality, all jobs have periods of stagnation. It just can’t always be fun…Boomers understand this and just slog through it when they have to. Millennials can gain key maturity skills by going to school on their Boomer colleagues.

As the Boomers retire in big numbers we are surely losing institutional knowledge, but we are also losing some key functional skills too. Organizations should be working to promote cross-generational mentor-ships to encourage the transferring of these vital career skills. Boomers should use their emotional intelligence to spot “coachable” moments to provide insight on business challenges. Millennials can use their emotional intelligence by recognizing when they are wanting too much too fast, identifying their triggers for creating unnecessary urgency. With all strengths, if they are overused they become a weakness. The strengths and weaknesses of the Boomers and Millennials nicely offset each other creating strong teams when both parties are open and willing to collaborate. For more ideas, check out this article on “reverse mentoring.”  At our firm, we have seen several family owned organizations with multiple generations working together in the workplace and the ones who are successful are leveraging the knowledge, experience and maturity of the older generation by keeping them active in on-boarding programs, leading small group discussions with younger employees, and assigning them to newly promoted employees as mentors. Ten thousand people turn 65 every day, don't hesitate to transfer vital EQ skills across the generations in your workplace.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Month in a Minute

Kristi Baxter, Michael Cameron and me taping the NH Brand Project Radio Show
November included some great experiences, I was a guest on the NH Brand Project Radio show which broadcasts from Portsmouth NH. If you would like to listen to my interview click here.  I traveled to Portland, Maine to present for HRASM. We had a Penumbra team retreat to plan some exciting new product offerings in 2016 (if you want more emotional intelligence webinars…stay tuned), and Pam and I had the great pleasure of participating in a leadership event at Chemonics International, an organization committed to development and positive social and economic change worldwide.   

Three's Company, sincerely, it was great having them here...our retreat, (TR) signing books at Chemonics with Jason Reed, and Cassie Farrelly, (BR) Chemonics CEO Susanna Mudge
This Thanksgiving we have so much to be grateful for. Thank you to our loyal readers, clients, supporters and believers in the power of emotional intelligence. You are why we do what we do every day. Wishing you a wonderful holiday with your family.

Loving the full room at HRASM, Pam and me in Portland

Thursday, November 19, 2015

What Not to Do


It's late Friday morning as you sit at your desk finishing up the last few loose ends from the week.  You see a new email pop up from your manager who also happens to be the president of the division.  You open it and begin skimming the memo, "Out of the office today (you are already aware of this because it is 11 o'clock) on and so forth...also, I would like to let you know I just hired a new senior VP. You will now be reporting to him...have a nice weekend."

Your jaw drops as you think of the last five years you've spent cultivating a strong working relationship with the president. You'd really like to know why you've been removed from her direct reporting line and when this new boss will start work. You have no idea who this person is, or what they are going to be like. "Why would she hire someone from outside the company instead of promoting one of us? How did he come in with a bigger title than any of us?"  You get up to go talk to her and then remember that she will be out of the office until Monday. Unsure how your tone might come across in email, you decide to wait to talk to her in person. 

That "nice weekend" she wished you just dissolved like the confidence you have in your company and their leadership ethics.

Do I really need to say it?

Don't do this!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Interview with Tom Crane

This month's interview is with Tom Crane, author of The Heart of Coaching. I have been following the principles in Tom's book for years and have shared it with clients, as I feel it is the BEST book on the techniques to be an effective coaching style leader. I especially love the section on observing others (pg. 63) and questions to ask yourself in preparation for a coaching session (pg. 69). I was lucky enough to finally meet Tom in person last month and am delighted to have him on the blog this month.

JS: You are a leader in the business of creating high performance organizations through a coaching methodology. How does your process work?

TC: For over 25 years, I have consulted with organizations by showing senior leaders and their teams how to create and conduct effective, highly accountable, coaching conversations between colleagues who work together. We use our proprietary assessments in our workshops, that now support 4 days of rich coaching skill development content - a 2 day Core Skills workshop and a 2 day Advanced Skills workshop. When the Leadership team sees the value proposition of opening up communications, trust and performance feedback in their culture, they most usually begin the journey of creating a coaching culture, where Collegial Coaching becomes the primary way everyone begins to think and behave. We also certify internal or external facilitators so they can design and conduct coaching workshops as a facilitator of the highly experiential skills learning processes.

JS: More and more organizations are using internal coaches and mentors so I can see how valuable the skill set of good coaching is. What kinds of leaders are ideal candidates for this kind of organizational change process?

TC: The impact that leaders have on organization readiness can't be understated. It is their personal readiness that usually determines how responsive the organization is to this kind of a behavioral change initiative. If the leaders see the need to change the way they go about leading, are willing to work on themselves, are committed to making this a "leader led" change process, are willing to embrace humility, compassion, can be transparent in this work, and effectively role model what it means to BE a coach, then the organizational change effort is extremely successful. The term "leader led" says it all.

I think the most critical characteristic seems to be what you have so aptly captured in your book - the willingness of leaders to check their EGO at the door, and use their Emotional Intelligence to build trust and respect with the teams they have the privilege of leading. The Collegial Coaching Road-map is described as a "road-map for emotionally intelligent coaching conversations between colleagues." I think that is really your first EGO trap - ignoring feedback they don't like. In terms of coaching per se, leaders must choose to show up "coachable," otherwise, they make a sham of what coaching actually means.

JS: I love that last sentence about it being a sham if they don't role model what it means to be coachable. It kills their credibility. So, in your opinion, what are some vital EQ behaviors required to be an effective coach?

TC: I have worked to embed what I believe to be the essential EQ skills directly into the process steps that we teach in the workshops. They are "hardwired" to directly support leaders and their teams using such skills as:

Being Present - to fully engage during the interaction
Sharing Feedback - "perceptions" vs. the "truth" about someone
Soliciting the Other's Perceptions - as a way to create ownership of the outcomes
Listening with Both the Head and Your Empathetic Heart
Validating the Other's Experience
Brainstorming Together Using Collaboration - to find better solutions and create ownership

EQ becomes the way people think about communication as this road-map, when integrated into how one thinks and behaves, and soon actually becomes their "communication software".

Tom is an international consultant, facilitator, author, and speaker who specializes in assisting leaders in creating high-performance through the development of high performance coaching cultures. He works with all levels of leaders and their teams to embrace coaching as a primary method of communication designed to enhance both individual and team effectiveness in achieving performance objectives. 

Tom’s passion (and book, The Heart of Coaching) is focused on changing a leader's mindset from “the BOSS OF people” to the mindset of "the COACH FOR people." The premise of the book is that a performance based, “feedback-rich” coaching culture will more effectively support an organization's business strategy, and lead to higher and more sustainable levels of performance. 

He has worked as a consultant and engagement leader for over 24 years in small and large organizations going through strategic change and culture alignment. Prior to founding Crane Consulting in 1995, Tom was vice-president of Senn-Delaney Leadership for nine years and consulted with clients engaged in strategic culture change. Additionally, he worked in financial planning and project management roles with Solar Turbines, a division of Caterpillar. He has a bachelor degree from Purdue University and an MBA from Drake University. 

Crane Consulting offers the following consulting services: building Coaching Cultures to support High Performance, Leadership Development processes, Coaching Workshops, High-Performance Team building, Strategic Group Facilitation and several online 360° and team assessment instruments. 

Tom resides in San Diego, CA, and is a member of the SD chapter of OD Network, The Society for Human Resource Management, the American Society for Training and Development, and the San Diego Professional Coaches Advisory Board. 

Website:    Office (858) 487-9017 
Email:  Fax (858) 592-0689

Thursday, November 5, 2015

A Tale of Two Coaches

Our very own Steve Friedlein found this article while traveling.  It's a great example of how EQ is relevant in every field at any level.

Even people at the top of their game are sometimes forced to come to terms
with their approach to being seen as the ultimate subject matter expert in their organizations.
The September 2015 Delta Sky Magazine ran a story about two coaches who are arguably the most successful in the realm of NCAA sports.
Mike Krzyzewski, coach of the Duke University Blue Devils basketball team, and Urban Meyer, coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes football team.
Both had won two national championships in their respective collegiate sports, and both developed health issues that forced them to re-think their superior subject matter focused leadership styles.
To quote Coach K:  “I had a back problem, but thought I was Superman and came back to work too quickly.
So I reevaluated everything, got counseling and managed my work load differently from that point on.”
What changed from that point on?  “I didn’t micromanage as much, and I made sure that I got accustomed
to depending more heavily on the qualified people who work with me, allowing them to make decisions.”
In Coach Urban’s case, he said:  “I was having chest pains for three years without getting the proper diagnosis…
I just started asking why…and evaluating…am I doing the right thing?
He said, “I’m a lot like Coach K…I was a micro manager…He gave me this advice (and I remind myself every day)
if it doesn’t help you, your coaching staff or your players…you don’t have to do it.”
Regardless of your level of talent…It’s nearly impossible to be all things to all people in your organization.
It may be working at this point in time, however you may be doing a disservice to yourself & to those around you.
Both of these coaches have consistently exhibited skills that had been the foundation of their success…
But both were forced to expand their self-awareness in order to continue their successful careers.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Month in a Minute

AimcoR meeting in Dallas
It seems impossible that it’s the end of October already! But here in New England, there are sure signs of Fall everywhere…the trees have turned gold and red and there is a chill in the air. I am in denial that we are a little over 60 days from the new year, and I know it’s time to savor this small lull before the holiday mayhem begins.

And it’s official. We have noticed a serious slow-down in business, and we are not alone. It seems every day now I read a headline about more layoffs and several of our very large corporate clients are in the middle of acquisitions or restructure. Change is happening all around us and it’s in times like this that our EQ is tested most of all. Hang in there, we are focusing on stress management, flexibility and optimism. 

Jane(Left) and Pam looking cute as can be road-tripping it to a Kansas City Chiefs football game.

We did have one exciting event, we got our 3,000th subscriber to our performance pointer newsletter!  While our recipient would like to remain anonymous, we congratulate her and appreciate the support.  Thank you!

The amazing view from the Seacrest Hotel in Falmouth, MA during the NEHRA HR Executive Roundtable, (Top Right) Shirkani sandwich with Steve Friedlein and Jordana Mirel at Eaton Vance, (Bottom Right) Steve and I at IR+M

Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Body Language and Ego

Quick observation. I was listening in on our weekly webinar as a participant while sitting in a colleague's office. There was a TV there broadcasting the Clinton testimony to the Select Committee on Benghazi sitting right in front of me. I had my headset on listening to the webinar, so all I could do was watch the body language of Hilary Clinton. Now, I should probably mention that I am not a Republican or a Democrat, I am a registered Independent in the state of New Hampshire so this is not a statement on Clinton's politics or conduct in Benghazi. It's a statement on her behavior today.

Her body language sent such strong messages -
"This is a ridiculous exercise you're making me go through."
"You have no idea how boring this is to me right now."
"I don't have time for this."
"You people are all idiots."

Honestly, watch the replay with the sound off. Ms.Clinton, along with all of us, must realize how powerful and disrespectful the messages we send non-verbally can be. Regardless of how justified you feel your position or actions are, you must treat others and their process in a serious matter with respect instead of ego. Pay attention, you're saying volumes.

What Not to Do

Imagine yourself in this situation:

It's Monday morning as you slowly make your way to your desk.  You sit down, boot up your computer, and begin checking the seemingly endless trail of new emails.  One email in particular catches your eye because it is from the corporate headquarters of the international company you work for.


Our lease for the building in the northeast branch will be up on 1/1/17.  We have no current plans to renew it.


Whaaaat does THIS mean? I work in the northeast branch. 
No lease means no office. Is this their way of saying no job after 12/31/16?
Should I start sending out resumes?
What's the plan?

Scary, right?  I'd even go so far as to say traumatic.

Now here's the disturbing part...this actually happened.

Does it really need to be said?

C'mon people, don't do this!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

People Feature: Catch-22 of Strong Corporate Cultures: Groupthink

Catch-22 of Strong Corporate Cultures: Groupthink

Article published on October 12, 2015
By Clare Trapasso
Asset managers may strive to craft strong corporate cultures to help differentiate themselves from competitors, but shops don’t want a workforce of lemmings, either.
Firms such as AB (formerly known as AllianceBernstein), Morgan StanleyPutnam Investments and Broadridge Financial Solutions strive to keep their cultures from falling subject to Groupthink, with tactics ranging from rewarding managers who encourage staff to express opinions to having C-suite executives meet with employees of all levels to gather input.
“[Combating] Groupthink is really about making sure managers value diverse thought and see the business case for diversity,” says Peg Sullivan, global head of talent management at Morgan Stanley. Such diversity transcends race and gender to include communication style and problem-solving approaches, she says.
Morgan Stanley kicked off a culture program earlier this year where about 1,800 global managing directors at the New York–based wirehouse met for half-day sessions to discuss the importance of the firm’s culture and how to build upon it.
Those conversations are now happening among the firm’s 56,000 employees in 43 countries, says Sullivan. The company is tracking the conversations to ensure that each division and office is thinking about the firm’s culture.
New staff training and performance reviews of managers incorporate elements meant to reinforce the importance of fostering an environment where people feel free to express their opinions, she says.
“We encourage people to challenge one another,” Sullivan says. “That’s how you get the most innovative ideas.”

Problems come when too many staffers share the same communication styles, says Jen Shirkani, president of the Penumbra Group, a Bedford, N.H.-based leadership consultancy.
“A lot of companies will hire people more for fit, which means they hire people more like them,” she says.
Managers need to bring on individuals with a mix of experiences and backgrounds and be careful not to ostracize those who challenge the status quo. Otherwise, workers with opinions are apt to bite their tongues.
“Groupthink can lead to disaster,” she says.
One sign of a culture of too much of the same can be when parties come to consensus too quickly. She recommends that when a decision needs to be made, groups split into two teams to argue each of the pros and cons.
“It’s easy to convince ourselves we’re doing the right thing when everyone is arm-in-arm on it,” Shirkani says. But “that causes you to miss out on other perspectives or different ways of approaching problems.”
Putnam CEO Bob Reynolds regularly holds small group meetings with randomly selected employees across the organization to solicit their feedback on the company and what it could be doing better.
The Boston-based shop also holds town hall meetings where staffers are encouraged to ask questions and share their concerns.
“If someone’s comfortable at work and they like being here and they’re not afraid of their boss, they’re more likely to give you an idea on how to do something better,” says Peter Curran, Putnam’s chief of human resources.
Talented employees should be given the autonomy, resources and freedom from day-to-day busywork so that they can innovate, says Rich Daly, president and CEO of Broadridge Financial Solutions.
“You can’t just do the same thing over and over again and expect to be successful,” Daly says. “If you want to do things differently, you need to create a different environment.”
Employees with a vision for doing things differently should show how their ideas can be implemented and get buy-in from colleagues before presenting it to a manager, says Willemien Kets, an economics professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.
For those who want to counter ideas, Penumbra’s Shirkani recommends building business cases around their opinions, “instead of just saying, ‘I don’t agree.”
Managers should remember that differences in opinion don’t always signal cracks within a culture, says Kets. Robust cultures typically foster trust among clients and streamline expectations for how employees communicate and will be rewarded and treated.
“You want a strong culture, but also a culture that stimulates people to do things differently,” Kets says.
Three years ago, AB began holding focus groups and meetings to ask senior employees across departments what they believed the culture to be. CEO Peter Kraus then discussed the company's values with employees as he traveled to various AB offices.
“You can have a strong culture, but not necessarily a good culture,” Ashish Shah, AB’s head of global credit and chief diversity officer. “You want everyone growing in the same direction. You also want to make sure that everyone understands the standards with which you’re expected to operate.”
Partners at the organization meet with senior VPs quarterly to discuss, among other things, where the firm is falling short in its culture and where it is doing well. Over the last year, AB has also begun to train senior leaders on how to be inclusive.
A mix of role-playing and lectures aims to teach managers to recognize their own biases, such as the weight they place on statements made by soft-spoken employees compared to those delivered by staffers who speak up. They are also encouraged to solicit feedback from quieter team members.
“Making sure you’re asking people’s opinions, even if they haven’t been offered, is absolutely critical,” Shah says. “You have to have a culture that actually values that diversity.”
Clare Trapasso is a print and multimedia journalist at the New York Daily News with experience writing breaking news and feature stories in urban and rural communities.

As a general assignment reporter on the Daily News’ Queens Bureau and Metro Desk, she covers everything from schools being closed, to naked bike rides, to grisly murders, local politics and everything in-between.

Prior to that, she was an Associated Press reporter in the wire service’s New Hampshire Bureau. During the six-month assignment, she covered state and national news and put together several multimedia projects. She also edited stories and wrote broadcast news.

She became passionate about journalism at the State University of New York at Purchase College, where she graduated with a B.A. in journalism in 2002. In her senior year, she created a campus women's newspaper called The Cycle.

After receiving her undergraduate degree, she joined the Peace Corps. She was sent to Independent Samoa in the South Pacific, where she learned Samoan and taught college-level journalism classes in the capitol.

When she returned to America, she began graduate school. In 2007, she earned a M.A. in Journalism from New York University. As a student, she interned for the Daily News and The Village Voice. After graduation, she did an internship in the Associated Press New York City Bureau.

Clare Trapasso is interested in writing stories that can effect change. She can be contacted at

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Interview with Ardy Sobhani from ORU Kayak

Ardy and his team in their amazing kayaks!
Some of you may have seen this innovative new company on the popular show Shark Tank, but I first became aware of Oru Kayak from our very own Angela Bearor.  An avid paddler, Angela told me about a kayak that was designed with portability in mind with design aspects based on origami.  I became very intrigued the with idea and some of the EQ challenges that might come along with being so unique in a very conventional industry.  We reached out to them, and Ardy generously agreed to participate in an interview.  

JS: What skills do you think are absolutely essential for a startup CEO to have?

AS: I think first and foremost a startup CEO needs to be prepared to be a Master Generalist. As the leader of a small company it is imperative to possess and utilize multifaceted skills. Of course, at Oru Kayak, we all have our own focus based on our expertise but I need to be a Swiss Army Knife for my team until we become a mature startup.

Another essential quality is having a high level of empathy. It is my true belief that teams with high levels of empathy, collaborate better, understand each other’s needs better, and are simply more productive, and as the CEO I lead by example. It isn’t only the culture of the company that benefits from having empathetic people on the team, but it’s the customers as well. An empathetic team will be motivated to focus on client-centered solutions and that is exactly what the team does at Oru Kayak.

The biggest asset any startup has is its team. Their individual talents, personal culture, goals, skills, etc. will all contribute to the success of the team and its dynamic. A great CEO will learn to put a multidisciplinary team in place because there is nothing like challenging discussion from different perspectives.

Adaptability is also key. Any good business will have a solid Mission, Value, Vision and Strategy but it’s just as important to remember that pivots are OK – Changing directions is OK when done at a right time and executed properly (changing the mission [or pivoting] should not disrupt your team). To that point it’s extremely important to recognize in order to be successful is not in the product but in the team (people before product).

JS: Do you consider yourselves to be optimists or pessimists, and why?

AS: I consider myself an optimistic person with a dash of dystopia. Recognizing the potential of an idea will lead to innovation and when approached with a slight skepticism, it allows me to examine it from a new/different perspective, which ultimately leads to a new opportunity.

The reality is having one foot in the manufacturing business (US made kayaks) I constantly need to be prepared for volatility. At times it seems nothing goes as planned but this doesn’t mean I am pessimistic, it only means I have my firefighter suit on and ready to put out any fires in my way. I tend to do well when everything is going wrong. Things seem quiet in me and I can see the problem clearly. We all know finding the solution to a problem is half the battle; the other half is execution.

JS: What are your techniques for maintaining emotional stamina in an industry not typically known for innovation?

AS: Practicing mindfulness and self-awareness! Victor Frankl said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lie our growth and our freedom.” It is in that space that I recognize how emotionally charged I am to change the world, and the community Oru Kayak has built is proof of that! Hearing how Oru Kayak has reinvented the way our customers explore the outdoors is a testament to our mission and that is what pushes our team to innovation in every aspect of the company. I believe everything can and should be designed better. We humans respond well to beauty, elegance, usability, and meaning beyond functionality. The era we live in requires more than just the right answer; it requires companies to deliver meaningful, human centered solutions to the people (and kayaks or other outdoor products are no exception).

When you get the right group of people with synced vision under the same roof you can change the world, or at least small part of the world - for now!


      Ardy is an entrepreneur and business strategist, energized by ideation, iteration, and systems design. After earning an MBA in Design Strategy from California College of the Arts in 2012, Ardy helped launched Oru Kayak via Kickstarter with his two co-founders. The response to the project was incredible, with over 700 backers supporting the folding kayak company. In three years since, Oru Kayak has grown quickly, from a weekend hobby to young and scrappy startup to international brand, all under the guidance of Ardy, Oru Kayak's CEO.

Today the company markets and sells through a wide variety of channels, has a robust and efficient manufacturing and fulfillment process in Southern California, and has developed key partnerships with REI,, Montbell, and many other major distributors. Looking forward, the company--which has doubled in growth each year since its founding--is poised for rapid expansion, riding a wave of good fortune and a dedication to the aggressive strategies put forth by Ardy and the rest of the executive team. Oru Kayak's dream of changing the way people experience the outdoors is closer than many believe.

As a leader, Ardy is motivated by a desire to use human-centered design to make the outdoors more accessible for all. He believes that clever, forward-thinking solutions will soon create game-changing products and services in the outdoor industry, and that Oru Kayak is position well to be a catalyst for this change. Ardy uses design thinking frameworks to inspire innovative thinking, merging design and business to create and deliver value to the customer and faster growth for the company.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Month in a Minute

Clockwise from top right: Jen and Steve with Karl Krayer at first Friday Book synopsis, Jen and
Jim Canfield, CEO of Renaissance Executive Forums, Jen speaking to a full house at PIHRA,
Jen speaking at NC SHRM,
Jen with Greg Hawkes at NC SHRM, Jen and Steve at Eaton Vance delivering a workshop

September was a whirlwind! We had several events from First Friday in Dallas, to the PIHRA breakfast event in Newport Beach, to the annual NC SHRM conference in Charlotte. In addition, we made stops in Boston, Spring Lake NJ, La Jolla CA, and Norwalk CT. We met so many wonderful people who are working on developing their own EQ and those bringing it into their organizations.  It is so much fun to meet people from all over the country!  

This month, we have also launched our new webinar series, it has been fun to present the principles of Ego vs EQ in a new format. The sessions cost $32 if you use coupon code “JPGCLIENT” and you can go to to register. I hope you will join us.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

What Not to Do

This month's segment is sponsored by a large international company, and when I say large, I mean enormous!

This company sent out a memo stating that they were foreseeing hard times, revenue wise.  They were going to have to tighten their belts, employees should expect layoffs, and other expense measures were being taken. In the exact same memo they also announced they were adding a senior vice president to the staff, and promoting two other senior leaders to C-level positions.

Basically they told their entire global workforce that they might not have jobs, resource restrictions are being put in place, and oh-by-the-way we are adding three big fat salaries at the top.

True story.

Don't do this.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

People Feature: Shops Keep Competition from Crushing Collaborative Cultures

Article published on September 14, 2015 
By Clare Trapasso
Building a corporate culture that pushes professionals to excel through a healthy dose of competition while also encouraging teamwork can be tricky.
But shops like Lincoln Financial and Janus have developed incentives and team-building techniques in a bid to boost collaboration among staffers.
Cutthroat cultures, like those depicted in a recent New York Times article about Amazon, can sap productivity and freeze workers with fear, workplace consultants say.
Employees at Amazon, for example, can submit critiques of their colleagues to managers through an internal program. In some cases, staffers also form alliances to target certain coworkers, while protecting themselves, as the tech giant is known for firing its lowest-ranking performers each year, according to The New York Times.
Such behavior “sets up more silos, more turf wars,” says Jen Shirkani, president of the Penumbra Group, a leadership consultancy based in Bedford, N.H. “A culture that is very competitive can bring out the worst in people. It’s human nature in some cases to want to make others look bad if they’re seen as a direct competitor.”
Strong bosses who don’t clamp down on bullying behavior enable backstabbing to continue, says Brian Gennaro, a partner at Rockwood Search Associates, a financial services recruiting firm.
“The tone is set by the leaders of organizations, leaders of departments, leaders of businesses,” he says. “Trying to strike that balance between fostering a competitive, challenging environment that is at the same time highly collaborative is not easy.”
Firms can avoid internal sabotage by directing competitive energy toward an outside competitor instead, says Jeffrey Pfeffer, a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business.
“Nothing brings people together like a common external threat,” he says. “They will work hard in a collaborative effort to win.”
Companies striving to incent strong, individual performance can do so through promotions and pay, says Alvin Spector, a partner at Chicago-based OverNorth Senior Executive Recruitment.
Lincoln Financial’s annuity and small-market 401(k) plan business this month launched a program through which sales teams can share in winning a financial award for boosting their sales by a certain percentage. The firm defines small-market 401(k) plans as those typically with under $15 million in assets and 100 participants or fewer.
“If you’re a wholesaler on a team and you see another wholesaler struggling, there’s an incentive to want to help that wholesaler out,” says John Kennedy, head of that sales division and its 180 external and 125 internal wholesalers.
The Radnor, Pa.-based firm uses financial awards to encourage wholesalers in different areas, such as variable annuities or 401(k) plans, to refer clients to other departments.
Working together is key for the company, as many of the best ideas to drive new sales come from wholesalers on the ground, Kennedy says. “We want those ideas shared throughout the organization,” he says.
For its part, Janus is rolling out a self-assessment questionnaire that is designed to take about 20 minutes and to help sales and marketing professionals pinpoint their strengths when working on teams.
“We’re very interested in leveraging strengths,” says John Evans Jr., executive director of the Denver-based Janus Labs. “When you understand the strengths of your team members, better outcomes ensue.”
The onus of fostering a collaborative but high-achieving environment that brings the best out of staffers lies with of the managers, he says. Bosses regularly share stories about the successes of the team, rather than individuals, to foster a team-oriented culture, he says.
Penumbra’s Shirkani recommends that firms dole out individual goals as well as goals shared across their teams so that they win — or lose — together. Bonuses should reflect a worker’s own performance as well as that of his or her team.
Companies that only reward the cream of the crop without recognizing contributions of others that helped them can unwittingly create a sharp-elbowed environment, says Jeanne Branthover, head of the global financial services practice at Boyden Global Executive Search.
Professionals who feel their workplaces have become toxic should try to diffuse tension and make allies in the office, says Kathryn Mayer, author of Collaborative Competition: A Woman’s Guide to Succeeding by Competing.
“Give credit to people, offer compliments,” she says. “You need to develop a wide network. You have to make sure that you’ve got someone at a senior level who will support you.”
Employees who feel they are being undermined need to figure out fast how much their colleagues can damage their careers.
“Don’t try to confront them if you don’t have more power than them,” Mayer says. Instead she recommends seeking counsel of someone with more power than the bully. A higher-up is “the only person who a Machiavellian will listen to.”
But that doesn’t mean workers should tattle on one another to management, says Boyden's Branthover.
“You don’t want to sabotage someone,” she says. “Say ‘I’m not happy working with this person because they’re not pulling their weight.’”
Professionals who don’t fit into uber-competitive cultures should not feel threatened, but they should consider leaving their firms for a better cultural fit, she says.
“Not every company is right for every person,” Branthover says.

Clare Trapasso is a print and multimedia journalist at the New York Daily News with experience writing breaking news and feature stories in urban and rural communities.

As a general assignment reporter on the Daily News’ Queens Bureau and Metro Desk, she covers everything from schools being closed, to naked bike rides, to grisly murders, local politics and everything in-between.

Prior to that, she was an Associated Press reporter in the wire service’s New Hampshire Bureau. During the six-month assignment, she covered state and national news and put together several multimedia projects. She also edited stories and wrote broadcast news.

She became passionate about journalism at the State University of New York at Purchase College, where she graduated with a B.A. in journalism in 2002. In her senior year, she created a campus women's newspaper called The Cycle.

After receiving her undergraduate degree, she joined the Peace Corps. She was sent to Independent Samoa in the South Pacific, where she learned Samoan and taught college-level journalism classes in the capitol.

When she returned to America, she began graduate school. In 2007, she earned a M.A. in Journalism from New York University. As a student, she interned for the Daily News and The Village Voice. After graduation, she did an internship in the Associated Press New York City Bureau.

Clare Trapasso is interested in writing stories that can effect change. She can be contacted at