Thursday, May 25, 2017

Choose Resilience

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Stress Tolerance

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Bad Case of Indecision

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

The most common for slow decision making include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Truth About Lies

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

The Truth About Lies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Month in a Minute

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

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

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

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