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.