organizations get more complex, it becomes increasingly
important to communicate clearly and quickly. Wherever I
go these days, I keep hearing, “We need to communicate
better!” At the same time, I hear complaints such as,
“We spend all our time in meetings and can’t get
not take an audit of your communications systems? I
often find that people don’t think about the way they
communicate, and as a result, they do things the same
way they always have ... for instance, the staff meeting
on Monday where everyone reports on what they’re working
on (yawn). Meanwhile, there’s an interdepartmental war
going on over a new project and there is no established
way to talk to each other in order to work out new
Often an audit will reveal that a company’s
communication system is outdated or ineffective. If you
compare it to upgrading software, upgrading your
communication process may get information flowing in
ways you never thought of.
Here are a few suggestions you may want to use to
upgrade your communications system:
Most teams require constant communication throughout the
week, as the workflow changes. A quick huddle once or
twice a week can keep everyone informed and part of the
process. Rather than a lengthy meeting, a huddle is
often a stand-up affair, no longer than 15 to 20
minutes, right in the work area. Its format is loose and
simply assesses how things are going and helps determine
what changes are needed. This is particularly useful for
a team who works together in a fast-paced environment to
reach a common goal.
Frequently, departments operate independently. The
warehouse fills orders, customer service takes orders,
billing sends invoices, and so on. Too often, the left
hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, and the
customer suffers. Production (or Process) Meetings are a
great way to bring each area together at least once a
week. One way to conduct them is to have each area
represented by one supervisor and one worker from the
area. Each week, this worker can rotate. Then the
supervisors and the employees go back to their
respective work units and hold a unit meeting to relay
what is happening between all units that week.
Quarterly business meetings
hear a lot of talk about empowerment, yet we don’t hear
a lot about companies creating an atmosphere where
empowerment can occur. In order for employees to feel
comfortable making decisions at their level, they need
to know how the business works. They need to know things
such as how much raw materials cost, how the company
makes money, and what the customers are saying They also
need to know where the company wants to go in the long
and the short term. It is important that the numbers are
broken down into understandable language, and the
connection to each person’s job is made.
Quarterly feedback discussions
people feel that they don’t get enough ongoing feedback.
In some cases they don’t even get an annual performance
review. One way to remedy this is to schedule quarterly
feedback sessions that last no more than one hour. These
can be scheduled all at once, in the beginning of the
year, so everyone knows when they are and can anticipate
them. At this meeting, you can discuss progress toward
goals. If you have a performance review form, you can
use it informally as a guide to discuss how the person
Career development discussions
Everyone is concerned about job security these days, and
the best way to stay ahead of the game is to keep on
learning and developing new skills. Employees whose
managers actively help them grow are more committed to
the job and the company. At least once a year, the
manager should sit down with each employee and take the
time to find out how the employee wants to develop on
the job. Then the manager can do career development “on
the fly” all year long. In other words, when a work
assignment is made and parts of it are connected to the
person’s goal, it’s a win/win for everyone.
Being a good communicator doesn’t just mean doing more
of it. It means choosing methods that fit the work, the
environment, and the person. Many people are buried in
emails, memos and meetings. Taking some time to revamp
your communication will revitalize productivity and
you a micromanager?
May 14, 2015
are a few questions to ask yourself:
1. Are you frustrated that your employees don’t do their
work as well as you would do it?
Do you frequently correct your employees’ correspondence
and redo their reports and presentation slides?
Even if you don’t do their work for them, do you review
their work and have them redo it according to your
specifications? Do you even send it back again and again
until they get it the way you want it?
Do you find you spend more time on projects and
technical work than on coaching your employees to do the
Ironically, if you
ask micromanagers why they do it, they’ll tell you that
they have high standards and a heightened sense of
accountability. That’s fine if they are going to do the
work themselves, but it is deadly when they are trying
to over-control the actions of their employees.
These back seat drivers kill initiative and motivation.
Good employees will become frustrated and leave and
mediocre employees will become drones, doing only what
they are told to do.
how do you direct and coach, without over doing it?
When you are delegating work, spend enough time on the
front end discussing and clarifying the desired
outcomes, rather than saying nothing and then critiquing
at the end. Even a short project requires clarification
on the front end. Saying, “Handle this,” is a
an employee seems off track, ask the employee to share
his or her thought process with you. If you think
employees are overlooking something say so, but then put
it back in their lap and ask them for alternative ideas.
By listening to the thoughts behind their actions you
will learn where their blind spots are. Once they see
the problem, they may be able to solve it on their own.
If not, you can guide them to a better solution. Do not
take the work back and do it yourself. It doesn’t teach
employees any skills and makes the manager the chief
Ask for regular progress reports but don’t expect your
employees to be “Mini-mes”. As long as they get to an
acceptable end result, resist the urge to make them do
everything your way.
One way to keep in touch without overdoing it is to have
regular weekly updates. It’s an opportunity to check in
and see how their projects are coming. This allows you
the opening to coach as the work evolves. The operative
word is “coach” not “tell.” If you have a history of
micromanaging, don’t be surprised to find that employees
try to hide their work from you. They don’t want you
meddling. Your new approach will gradually encourage
them to be more open about what they are doing.
Master artful questioning and careful listening. For
example, “How do you plan to approach this?” “How are
you planning to get buy in on this?” “What are you going
to do to get Marketing involved?” “Do you have any ideas
for solving this problem?”
a micromanager pulls his nose out of the weeds, he is
likely to ask, “If I don’t control the day-to-day work,
what am I supposed to be doing?” It varies but often
includes getting closer to customer needs, developing
strategies and new initiatives, communicating and
collaborating with other divisions, and in short -
When your coworker throws temper tantrums and your boss
turns a blind eye
May 8, 2015
have been in my job for several years and enjoy it very
much. It is in a creative field and it offers me many
opportunities for interesting work and enjoyable
have been having a problem with one of my co-workers,
however, and this is threatening my job satisfaction. My
co-worker throws temper tantrums. He throws things,
swears, shouts and generally upsets everyone in his
path. This really bothers me and I would like to know
how to stop it or control it.
gone to our boss about this and his response could be
summarized: We all know he has a big ego and we’ve all
know how talented he is so we’ll just ignore it.
difficult to work around him because he upsets me so
much when he reacts this way. I get flustered and angry
myself. Is there any answer to this problem?
Have you ever watched a toddler throw himself down in a
grocery aisle and kick and wail for a box of cookies? I
always study the parent when this happens. If they give
in to the child I shake my head and mumble something to
myself about the bail money they’ll need to start saving
for bigger tantrums fifteen years from now. If the
parent simply ignores the child and walks away, or
firmly conveys their disapproval, I smile at the child’s
boss has given your co-worker many boxes of cookies. You
have little hope of changing your co-worker’s theatrics
since your boss is giving in to keep your talented peer
happy. Your co-worker may be using these fits of
unacceptable behavior to exercise some power over his
boss. Because his boss hasn’t challenged it, your peer
has probably stepped farther and farther over the line.
To pull him back at this point would cause a
confrontation your boss isn’t willing to risk.
point is, you can’t control his behavior so you’ll have
to learn to manage your own reaction to it. In fact,
pushing this point with your boss could boomerang. You
probably aren’t the first one to complain about him.
Imagine a scenario in the future: Your boss is giving
you a job reference and he says to your potential
employer, “She’s very talented but has difficulty
working with some of the heavy hitters with big egos and
you know how many of those we have in this business!”
Wouldn’t you rather have him say, “She works extremely
well with all different types of personalities, in spite
of the fact that some egos here can be tough to work
are some ideas to try:
Next time objects fly through the air, simply turn and
walk out of the room. When the audience walks away, the
behavior may extinguish. If you are working together on
a project, and don’t want to appear huffy or parental,
simply say, “I can see how upset you are. Why don’t you
come and get me when you want to continue.”
key is to keep all emotion out of your voice. If it’s
dripping with disgust or anger, it will only add fuel to
suggesting that he find you when he’s finished fuming,
you have put the responsibility on him to collect
himself and decide to get back to work. The trick is to
detach yourself from him and let him be responsible for
his own behavior.
Another way to think about it is to change your
relationship from parent/child to adult/adult. If you
judge his behavior or try to control it, he’s likely to
react like a child and the cycle will continue.
you would like to talk to him about it, I’d suggest that
you only speak about your feelings, not whether his
actions are right or wrong. For example, you could say,
“You probably don’t realize this but when you express
your anger at work it really upsets me. I get very tense
and find I can’t concentrate.” He may have fallen into
this pattern of release and be unaware of the effect he
has on those around him.
Whatever he chooses to do about his anger will have no
effect on you, since you will continue to appear
competent, cool and effective no matter how many temper
tantrums he throws. In the end, it can only work to your
Even talented managers can have career-derailing blind
April 27, 2015
The Protectionist can only see her team through
rose-colored glasses. She hired them, she’s groomed
them, she sees them as talented and an extension of her
own ability to create a great team. Like a mama bear
with her cubs, no one had better get too close.
example emerged during a recent RIF (reduction in
force). All the managers were struggling to make the
tough decisions about whom to lay off, in order to meet
the mandate set by senior management. Five percent had
to go. But when it came to Amanda’s team, she adamantly
refused to budge. Her team was full of superstars, she
contended, and no one was to be cut.
Amanda also showed her protectionist blind spot during
project reviews. Mistakes were never the fault of her
team, and she was quick to point out the failings of
other teams. Her own team basked in her perception of
them, and, as a result, didn’t collaborate well with
ways to modify this behavior (besides honest feedback
and coaching) is to move The Protectionist to lead other
teams every few years or give her responsibility for a
cross-functional team, so she is forced to get a broader
complaints from employees who work with a controller are
always the same. “He makes us run everything past him.
We have to rework our communications and presentations
so many times, they’re reduced to a meaningless shadow
of what they were intended to be. Then, just when we
think we are ready to move forward on something, he
calls it back because he has some other concern. We
can’t stand it and people are leaving.”
Controller is usually overly concerned about his or her
political standing in an organization, and worries about
how decisions will reflect upon him. Often an analytical
thinker, The Controller can’t seem to get enough data to
make decisions and will obsess beyond the prudent time
coaching manager will be clear about the need for
empowerment and put mandates in place for the Controller
to let go and delegate both responsibility and
you aren’t in his group of pals, you’re likely to get
less time and attention ... and possibly less career
opportunity. This can be a big problem when you see your
peers going to ball games with the boss but you’re not
Loyalist believes either you are with him or against
him. Like Knights of the Roundtable, they pledge their
allegiance. In exchange, the Loyalist gives them
protection and shares the currency of the organization -
information and opportunity.
wise manager will direct the Loyalist to expand his or
her circle at work, and strongly suggest the same for
social outings. The manager will also push the
Loyalist’s employees to lead projects on their own and
across the organization, which will force them to have
some accountability to other leaders.
One-on-one meetings will be this leader’s style, if she
meets with her employees at all. She eschews meetings
because they make her uncomfortable. You are likely to
find her hunched over her computer screen, maybe even
with her door closed. She’s the master at data
crunching, knows her department’s outputs to the tenth
of a percent, but couldn’t tell you the name of her
administrative assistant’s kids.
Introvert tends to think more than she talks out loud.
The problem is that she often thinks she’s told you
something, but in reality, she only had the conversation
in her own head. She tends to overlook the importance of
communicating the big picture messages, such as “Where
are we headed?” “How are we doing?” “What are our
priorities?” As a result, employees line up outside her
door, and projects can get bottlenecked.
Introvert is wise to partner with a natural communicator
- on her own team, HR, or an outside coach - to get
assistance with the important messages, facilitation of
planning sessions and a weekly meeting structure that
gets the job done.
He’s often the favorite of top management. He knows how
to work a room and how to spin a presentation. Usually
gifted with interpersonal skills, the player knows who’s
who in the organization and makes sure he knows the
right people. He sometimes rides his team like an army
mule, demanding results and riding roughshod over egos
and personal schedules. But when it comes to sharing
credit for those results, he’s front and center
accepting the awards.
interviews and 360 feedback tools are perfect to expose
this behavior and modify it. The Player’s manager is
wise to have one-on-one contact with the Player’s staff
and insist that the Player invite his or her staff to
make key presentations.
apples & lax bosses - use diplomacy when complaining about
April 22, 2015
small department has a problem with an individual who
takes advantage of a lax boss.
individual comes to work as much as one half-hour late
repeatedly, and over-extends the lunch hour. A lot of
company time is spent conducting personal business such
as paying bills, making or receiving numerous personal
phone calls, as many as three or four per hour. The
matter is compounded by an unwillingness to work in
harmony with other employees.
believe this type of behavior creates a negative
environment in the department, especially since the boss
chooses not to reprimand this individual. He also does
not document these actions so that any disciplinary
measures can be taken.
there anything that can be done by the co-workers to try
to improve the situation?
rotten apple is spoiling everyone’s attitude. You’ve
called your boss lax. I call him irresponsible if,
indeed, he has chosen to do nothing.
there a possibility he is unaware of the specifics? I
suggest that a spokesperson be nominated by the group to
make sure he hears the facts. Since you are motivated to
solve the problem, why don’t you volunteer to speak to
the boss on their behalf?
have a clear, unemotional writing style, which suggests
you could describe specific behaviors to your boss
without accusations or theatrics.
you do approach your boss, start out by giving him the
benefit of the doubt. Say: “I know how busy you’ve been,
so you may not have noticed what’s been going on.
have hesitated to come to you and we’ve tried to
overlook this problem but we can’t anymore.
“We need your help to solve it because it’s starting to
affect our attitude and motivation.”
calmly spell out some of the facts as you’ve observed
them. Make no assumptions or you will weaken your
example: “When I went to the copy machine at 10:30, she
was planning a party with her friend on the phone. Her
invitations were on her desk, and I heard her discussing
the food to be served. Ten minutes later, when I
returned, she was balancing her checkbook.”
is much better than saying, “I’m sure she wastes company
time by conducting personal business at work.”
Also, by mentioning the task you were doing, you won’t
appear to be a gossip who does nothing but spy on your
bosses hesitate to confront employees with rotten work
habits because the employee’s production is still good.
create a sense of urgency, choose examples that can be
tied to production. If you can point to delayed
projects, missed deadlines, complaints, or cases where
the group has been forced to take her calls or do her
work, your boss will be compelled to take action.
your boss fails to reprimand this employee, he probably
isn’t going to reward your good performance either. Both
require good judgment and leadership. If this is the
case, consider looking for a new job.
There are a few circumstances that may be worth staying
for: If your excellent performance is highly visible to
others; if a promotion is less than a year away; if the
technical skills you’re learning will be highly
marketable; or if your boss is about to retire.
Confronting this employee yourself will only make
matters worse. If he or she flouts the rules in the face
of authority, your intervention will probably be ignored
or create more hostility. If you decide to stay, focus
your energy on your own performance. Don’t be tempted by
the philosophy: “If he gets away with it, I’ll do it,
your attitude begins to decay, it could destroy your
good record. Maintain a healthy, motivated outlook and
make a promise to yourself: “Someday, when I’m the boss,
I’ll confront and resolve problems before they affect
the morale of the team.”
Just whose job is it to motivate employees?
April 16, 2015
People talk about the paramount importance and the need
to keep employees in the organization motivated. Some
management gurus also keep saying a monetary allowance
is not the only way to keep employees motivated. I
understand there could be plenty of ways to keep people
in the organization motivated, but can managers
practically keep all the employees in the organization
motivated? The organization has diversified staff, with
heterogenous mindsets, with differences in perception
it necessary for the managers to break their heads in
trying to keep people motivated? Does it bring about any
positive returns to the organization?
belief is, if people are hired to perform what is
clearly defined and indicated in their job description,
it is his or her own job. Why do managers have to
motivate staff to perform their duties, for which they
have been hired and paid?
blame it on the selection process, but where is a
foolproof mechanism to ensure the people in the
selection panel have all knowledge, skills and ability
to select the best candidates? We may not be able to
study and understand the people during an hour or two
all is said and done, I have reservations about whether
the managers have that responsibility to motivate
people. If someone fails to do what he or she is
supposed to be doing, or if someone has a negative
attitude toward his or her duties, I would say those
kind of people should be dismissed without second
Every manager has probably asked him or herself that
same question. Just like every parent has probably
wished that their child’s self-motivation and success
would take care of itself. While I’m not suggesting that
the manager has the same influence over an individual as
a parent, I do think there is some basis for comparison,
when it comes to nature versus nurture.
believe the answer to motivation lies in the combination
of three main areas: the person’s internal
self-motivation; the manager’s behavior toward that
employee; and the work itself. If one or more of these
is flawed - the person lacks initiative, the boss is a
jerk, or the work is boring or a poor fit - motivation
will be a problem.
First, let’s address the hiring process. Selection
interviews are far from scientific. That is why testing
has become popular, panel and multiple interviews are
used, and behavioral, open-ended questions (used to tie
former experiences to job-specific requirements) is
considered a best practice. But even though the past is
a good indicator of future success and motivation, it’s
While I agree that everyone is motivated by different
things, I do think it’s the manager’s job to find out
what trips the trigger for each of his or her employees.
For example, for the person who loves challenge, it
would be in the best interest of the manager to feed
that person varying assignments and opportunities to
grow her responsibilities. For the person who just wants
to do his job and punch out at five o’clock, the manager
should be able to support that, as long as the person is
willing to keep up with quality and quantity demands,
pitch in during peak times and meet the changing
expectations of the job.
let’s move beyond the internal drivers and consider what
happens when a self-motivated individual is managed by a
bully, or a micromanager, or someone who doesn’t pay
much attention to anyone but themselves. Even the most
self-directed person will begin to be affected
negatively over time. And even with an average manager,
most people won’t flourish on their own.
to your chicken-or-the-egg question, my answer is
“both”. The employee is responsible for applying himself
to the job for which he was hired. If he doesn’t meet
the basic requirements of the job, the manager has every
right to fire the person (provided, of course, that the
necessary training and tools have been provided). And to
your point about someone with a negative attitude, I
agree that attitude is an essential part of job
responsibilities - it affects co-workers, customers and
However, it’s the manager’s responsibility to contribute
positively to the equation as well. I have seen many
situations where the “negative attitude” was caused by
the manager. For example, he should treat employees with
respect, value their contributions, communicate
expectations and provide feedback. With that, the
employee will probably be satisfied.
however, that manager takes the extra step to discover
what each person’s internal motivators and goals are,
and then tries to tie those to the work at hand,
motivation will soar. After all, isn’t that the added
value a manager should be bringing to the mix? If we
lived in an ideal world, where everyone was perfectly
matched to their work and were completely
self-motivated, the manager role would never have been
Team-oriented companies use peer hiring to build
April 14, 2015
Teamwork is so important at work these
days ... everyone has to do their share to produce a
good end product. And if one of your co-workers isn’t
pulling his or her weight - or worse, isn’t qualified -
it hurts the whole team’s results. Have you ever wished
you could be the one to hire your co-workers? Well, you
may get your wish. Peer hiring is one of the fastest
growing new trends in team-oriented companies.
Here’s how it works:
First, decide who the interviewing team
will be. It might be peer managers along with the person
who is to be the person’s manager. It could be a
combination of peers, employees and “internal” customers
who will be interacting with the new person. Ideally,
the group will make the ultimate decision by consensus,
so if there is anyone who could veto the choice, they
should be included from the beginning.
To start, the team gets together to list
all the qualifications they want in the new position. It
might be a good idea to have an independent facilitator
to help the group stay on track.
It helps to create two lists: 1.”Musts”
(qualifications that are requirements) and 2.
“Preferred” (qualifications that are desirable but
aren’t absolutely required). For example, it might be a
requirement to have “two years of customer service
experience in a retail environment” but a bachelor’s
degree may be preferred but not required. The manager or
team leader should write these on a flipchart so the
team can see both lists as they are developed. The team
may not be experienced at this process, so the manager
may want to suggest some criteria.
Next, the team figures out what questions
to ask each candidate and which people will do the
interviewing. In most cases, everyone participates in
determining what is needed but only a few actually
interview. For example, one person who has the best
technical skills might ask candidates all the technical
questions. Two people who work with customers could
focus on customer service questions.
It’s also a good idea to educate the
group on how to conduct a good interview. The
interviewers on the team may need some help developing
open-ended questions. For example, they may need
coaching on how to avoid asking illegal questions and
how to probe after a general answer is given.
The team may decide to do some behavioral
interviewing, where real life case studies or role plays
are developed to evaluate candidates. For example, a
team I was working with decided to present candidates
with a “problem customer” scenario to see how they would
handle it. The position was a customer service manager
and a cross-functional team of employees and managers
were on the interview team. The team predetermined the
appropriate response to the “problem customer” and were
able to objectively determine if the candidates indeed
had the behaviors they were looking for.
Once a few candidates are chosen, they
are scheduled to move from interviewer to interviewer.
Afterwards, the team gets together and rates each
candidate against their original list of required
qualifications. If there are a few people who aren’t
doing the interviewing, it may be a good idea to at
least introduce the final candidates to them. For
example, in the prior example of the customer service
manager, the entire employee group had a chance to meet
the two finalists and ask them some questions. Once a
consensus is reached about who to hire, the manager
takes over and makes an offer.
Team interviewing does take more time but
it is particularly effective when hiring a key position
where a lot is at risk or where employee buy-in is
critical. The team feels a sense of ownership about the
decision and they are committed to making sure that
person succeeds. When you consider the high cost and
emotional destruction that comes from hiring the wrong
person for a job, the time spent on the front end is
well worth it.
The candidates I’ve spoken to who have
gone through this process often comment about how
impressed they were. They are more eager to work for a
company that includes employees in the hiring process
because it demonstrates a strong, participative culture.
The candidate is well informed about what the
expectations are as well as about with whom they will be
working. Candidates are impressed with the depth and
breadth of the questions they are asked. It’s no
surprise when you consider how closely team members will
scrutinize a potential co-worker who can influence their
Manager urged to confront hostile employee
March 29, 2015
I am a supervisor and I have a problem that requires
help. One of my employees resents it whenever I have to
talk to her about her performance. It has gotten to the
point that she gets quite hostile. I have become
intimidated by her attitude and it has affected my
ability to properly supervise her. How do I overcome
this and regain my position while lessening her
Things have gotten out of hand and in order to correct
the situation, you are going to have to manage your own
emotions. If you are unable to deal with this employee
in an objective, firm way, not only will the situation
worsen, you will lose stature with the rest of your
employees and your boss.
time to deal with this employee’s attitude straight on.
Up to now, her hostility has gotten her exactly what she
wanted and you have backed off. No more intimidation
games. Now, in addition to her performance problems, she
has an attitude problem to work on.
employee has successfully deflected the negative
feedback because she sensed you felt uncomfortable
giving it. The next discussion you have with her will be
controlled by you, not by her. Your confidence and
control will come from the knowledge that you are
prepared. Let’s get started.
First, write down the expectations this person has not
been meeting. In other words, what is it she should be
doing and to what degree of quality. For example: “All
weekly reports must be completed by Friday at noon and
contain X,Y and Z.”
Next, write down examples of her poor performance. It’s
not enough to say, “She hasn’t been doing it.” Instead,
you might say something such as, “Reports for March 10,
17, 31 and April 14 and 28 were turned in two or three
days late. Errors included: X was missing on 4 of them,
Y was incomplete and data collected was inaccurate on
both of the April reports that were late.” Include as
much detail and as many examples as you have.
say to yourself, “What are the consequences of her poor
performance?” Perhaps her poor work is slowing down
production or is affecting the quality of the product.
Other team members may be negatively affected. Use as
many detailed examples as you can.
Write down some ideas you have for solving the problem.
Make sure the ideas you come up with are the
responsibility of your employee. For example, if the
problem were really poor reports, as in the previous
example, an appropriate solution would not be for you to
rewrite or edit them.
Finally, decide how you will follow up on this problem.
Will you check her work daily? Will you have an
experienced employee work with her? And when will you
need to have another follow up discussion to check on
you are ready. Call your employee into a private area
and get ready to manage your own reactions and stay
removed from hers.
Concentrate on only this: This employee has created her
own problems and she needs to take steps to correct them
or she could eventually be fired. Your job is to get the
work done. You will not be sidetracked with accusations
or any other form of hostility. The facts will speak for
themselves. The consequences of her poor work will
clearly show that she is hurting the operation. Your job
is to be fair to the company and the workers by solving
she retaliates with an accusation that you are picking
on her, say, “I’m sorry you feel that way. I don’t like
having this conversation any more than you do but as you
can see, these results speak for themselves.”
she glares in silence, ignore it and say what you have
to say. If she refuses to answer your questions, say, “I
was hoping you would be more cooperative and we could
work together to solve this. The choice is yours but I
must tell you that failure to improve could result in
more disciplinary action or even termination.”
her attitude has begun to affect the way she relates to
you in front of others, be ready with examples that you
found inappropriate. Keep a steady, calm tone of voice
and make it clear that you want that behavior stopped.
For example, “Yesterday, when I gave you your work
assignments you rolled your eyes and slammed the papers
down on your desk in front of the others, I felt that
was inappropriate. If you have something to say to me, I
am happy to discuss it but reactions like that are
beginning to affect the rest of the team and they must
the discussion focused on what she wants to do to solve
the problem. If she has an idea, let her try it for a
period of time and monitor how it works. Bring in your
solution ideas, if she has none, or you don’t think hers
After the discussion, summarize it in memo form and give
a copy to her. Tell her you want to make sure there is
no misunderstanding. In the memo, detail the problem,
the negative effect it has on the unit, her solution
ideas, the terms of the follow-up arrangements and the
date of the next discussion. This should leave no room
for questions in her mind regarding what must be done.
Inoculate your company against rigid thinking
March 19, 2015
was thinking of you at a staff meeting we had today. I
thought you might appreciate an anecdote from the field
about a regular occurrence: incorporating new people
into a work team.
Today, I had the first management team meeting with a
new employer. I found the situation to be productive and
extremely comfortable. Of the nine people in the room
(all upper managers), three of us had less than a year
with the employer, three had over 15 years of
experience, and the other three were somewhere in
between. What made the meeting special was the
interchange of ideas and a good dose of humor. The
newcomers were neither singled out nor ignored. Even
though we had little experience as a team, the humor
helped us to build the relationships we will need to be
effective in the future.
Contrast this with two other employers with whom I tried
to build a career. Virtually from day one, it was made
clear that “We won’t even know your name until you’ve
been here for 10 years.” Although it was a joke, it was
also a sad truism. It was difficult to bring anything
new to the table because the culture excluded
contributions from newcomers (even at high levels).
of my peers was constantly on the defensive as a manager
because long-service, lower-level people would go over
her head to other long-service executives. Tens of
thousands of dollars in recruiting fees were wasted
because the employer did not have the gene that
incorporates new contributors into the organization.
Both employers had high turnover of middle management
employees hired from outside the company. (And in
neither case was I given the opportunity to give an exit
believe there is so much to be gained in the
collaboration of long-service employees with those who
have other work experiences. Employers who do that are
truly “employers of choice.”
Every organization is like a living, breathing organism
with its own personality, emotional health, ethical
standards and an immune system that rejects behavior and
ideas that threaten its state of being.
a foreign object - such as a new idea - is injected into
the system, the organization’s antibodies rush to
surround it and destroy it before it can spread to the
rest of the organization.
healthy company, the foreign behavior that isn’t
tolerated may be that of a disrespectful sales rep, who
verbally abuses the internal sales assistants. Or, the
organization might drive out an employee who refuses to
work cooperatively on her team.
an unhealthy organization, it sounds like this, “Oh, we
tried that already and it doesn’t work,” or “Nothing
changes around here unless the boss says it’s okay,” or
“OK, try it if you want but I wouldn’t want to be in
your shoes if it doesn’t work.”
kind of insulated, narrow-minded thinking usually comes
straight from the top and the only way it will change is
through a change in leadership (or seeing the Ghosts of
Christmas Past). That’s one of the reasons old-line or
closely controlled companies with calcified cultures so
often start by looking for an enlightened leader with a
strong stomach for initiating change. The problem is
that the executives and managers are conditioned so
well, it is very difficult to change years of reinforced
Organizations that want to inoculate their organizations
against rigid thinking are wise to take some of the
Hire enough people from the outside to keep fresh ideas
in the company’s blood stream.
Make it a point to take full advantage of lessons
learned somewhere else. Ask, “Jack, you’ve had
experience with this at ACME. When you were there, how
would they have approached this problem? Any lessons we
could apply here?”
Do 60-day interviews with new employees to find out how
they like the organization, if they are feeling accepted
and if there is more you can do to tap their experience.
meetings, squash nay-saying and premature evaluation of
If an employee has a new idea they are convinced will
work, let them test it and monitor its effectiveness.
a “Post Mortem” on projects that fail or ideas that
didn’t work. Rather than blaming those involved, make
them a valuable part of the analysis of why it didn’t
work and what can be learned. Thank people for their
As an executive or manager, have the emotional courage
to stay open to new ideas yourself. Admit when you’re
wrong. Ask for advice. Try something for the first time.
the smartest companies fall into the “not invented here”
trap. If you think it’s seeping into your organization,
it may be time for a booster shot.
makes an organization a great organization?
March 12, 2015
There are, or at least there used to be,
companies/organizations reputed to be especially good
places to work. What qualities and characteristics do
such places of employment possess? What is it about
these companies or organizations that causes their
employees, and often the community, to feel so
positively about them?
Sometimes I feel like a very lucky fly on the wall.
Because our consulting firm has an opportunity to work
with so many good companies, as well as companies who
strive to be, we learn so much about what really works.
And because we are on the lookout for the latest studies
and research, we have discovered some common traits that
just simply come up time and time again.
are some of those observations. Perhaps they will be
useful fodder for your next staff meeting. Why not say,
“Let’s rate ourselves on these things and create an
action plan to close the gaps we have.”
general, the best organizations have:
Focus - Senior leaders who are of one mind about the
kind of culture they want to create, and who
consistently send the message through their actions and
Communication - Managers who recognize their role as the
“key connection” between the people and the
Rewards - Systems, benefits and pay systems that reward
the right behavior.
an organization is successful in these 3 areas,
employees will be clear about what is expected of them
in their culture and make a personal commitment to their
part of the “contract.”
Senior managers are enthusiastic advocates for a healthy
Excellent companies recruit executives who are focused
on a lot more than just the bottom line. They set aside
time to talk about the culture and recognize that it is
an important component of strategic planning. The
president or CEO is usually the strongest advocate and
holds his or her senior managers personally responsible
for being role models.
senior management does not wall itself off from the next
layer of management. They often meet together to plan
and decide how best to roll out new initiatives with
employees. Senior managers value the input middle
managers can provide and they expect managers to
actively encourage employee involvement.
Senior managers periodically interact personally with
employees in small group settings, or electronically, to
help them understand the company’s direction, a new
initiative or just to keep communications open.
Senior management takes an active interest in the
systems, benefits and pay systems that are created. They
know that these are powerful tools that can help them
shape the culture they are trying to create. They
usually want flexible systems that encourage people to
self-manage and take personal responsibility. They also
tend to be creative with their perks and benefits;
things such as, flextime, work at home, incentive
Managers understand their role as the “key connection”
between employees and the company.
act like the “hub” of communication and decision-making.
They don’t just focus on getting the job done; they care
about each individual. They care about their career
interests, their families, their morale and satisfaction
with their work.
Managers demonstrate their respect for employees by
encouraging their involvement and by valuing their
ideas. They also help employees experiment and implement
their ideas. They have lively team meetings, where
problems and solutions are discussed, but they also
spend some one-on-one time with each person, to provide
direction and to give honest feedback. They look for
“teachable moments” to keep employees on track and to
give them career coaching. They look for ways to
challenge and grow employees; big assignments, job
rotations, lots of responsibility, visibility, etc.
Probably one of the toughest things to do, but one of
the most important, is a culture where managers deal
with conflict early and honestly and hold people
accountable for making changes. They aren’t afraid to
let someone go if they aren’t performing or are hurting
also find ways to make work fun and lighthearted. They
celebrate successes and take care to thank and
compliment employees personally and in group settings.
Healthy workplaces expect a lot from their employees.
employee is expected to take personal responsibility for
his or her own behavior. They are clear about what is
expected in their culture and when they sign on to be a
part of it, they are held accountable. They are expected
to step up to changes, learn new skills, and speak up
when they have a new idea or a complaint. They are
expected to get involved on a meaningful level. And an
entitlement mentality is not accepted. In short, the
unspoken contract is that employees are treated like
adults and then employees are expected to come halfway
as adults in a mutually beneficial partnership.
The best managers are the best leaders
March 5, 2015
do managers do all day? Put their feet up on the desk
and think deep thoughts? Spend the day keeping track of
everything their subordinates do? Make broad policy
decisions and command whatever resources are needed?
Surely, life must get less complicated as the manager
moves up the pyramid.
any upper level manager and you’re likely to get a long,
low chuckle. Most of them will quickly tell you that
these widely held notions are myths. Well, then, what
does a good manager do that makes him or her a
best leaders I know have certain personal
characteristics in common:
They have the
ability to focus attention on the vision for the future.
are single-minded about the direction they wish to
chart. In staff meetings, speeches, work assignments,
the theme is the same. There is no doubt in anyone’s
mind what the goal is and what values support it. This
framework helps his or her direct reports make their own
decisions, since they can evaluate each situation
against the goal. If quality customer service is the
vision, for example, then it becomes a criterion in the
decision-making process for everyone in their
have patience and a sense of timing.
They have the ability to assess the power structure of
the organization and determine - on any given proposal -
who will support it, block it and all areas in between.
No matter how sorely they want to push an idea through,
they will seldom challenge when a corridor is blocked,
preferring to wait for it to open up. These leaders are
able to move the organization toward the goals they’ve
set by finding opportunities as situations arise. They
watch the trial balloons of others and put their finger
to the wind, always looking for an opening. They
recognize the futility of trying to push total packages
or programs through the organization, if it isn’t ready.
They are willing to take less than total acceptance in
order to achieve modest progress toward their goals.
have a talent for keeping themselves informed about a
wide range of operating decisions.
As they move up, their network expands across many
departments. When necessary, they will bypass the formal
lines of authority to get the “whole story” about a
situation. Their subordinates know they must keep them
well-informed about decisions they make. These leaders
know that if they isolate themselves from operations,
their decisions will be based on limited knowledge.
avoid meddling in their subordinates’ work.
Because they are well informed, they can help guide and
position their employees’ ideas or projects, but they
avoid telling them how to do their work. They don’t make
- or unmake - their subordinates’ decisions. Rather,
they are alert to potential problems or opportunities.
Their primary functions are to open doors, support and
influence decisions, play devil’s advocate and act as
chief questioner and strategist.
coach by simultaneously challenging and supporting their
In your own career, you probably can recall a boss who
supported you but seldom challenged you to the limits of
your capabilities. Or, you may have had a manager who
provided you with more challenges than you could handle,
yet was never around when you needed him or her. Leaders
who can do both are likely to have high-performing
employees who aren’t stagnating or burning out.
can build commitment.
They know how to energize the organization at all
levels, to create and exploit change. They know that
employees who are involved in the decisions that affect
their work are more committed to their work. They
encourage participative meetings and welcome any
creative idea. They praise people who identify problems
as much as those who bring good news. They know that
continual change is necessary to discover new
combinations of opportunities.
organization is doomed to mediocrity unless it is guided
by good general managers in key positions. No matter how
rich its other resources, an organization will not excel
unless it is led by what are becoming increasingly rare
individuals ... superior leaders.
Employees deserve honest coaching
Feb. 26, 2015
Jack’s secretary drove him crazy. She forgot to write
meetings in his calendar, sent memos to the wrong people
and was curt on the phone.
week he exploded in a fit of anger and fired her. She
was dumbfounded. “He never told me there was anything
wrong! He seemed crabby sometimes but he never said he
was unhappy with my work.”
is a vice president for a medium-sized company. One of
the managers who reports to him is a weak performer. In
spite of the fact that the president has urged Tom to
take some action, he can’t seem to bring himself to
demote him or fire him. When pushed, Tom makes excuses
for his manager rather than hold him accountable. After
all, he reasons, this fellow only has six years until
Janet is a supervisor in a small manufacturing plant.
Janet has gone to her boss on several occasions to
discuss her promotability. He always tells her the same
thing, “Don’t worry, your performance is just fine.
Something will come along that’s suited to your skills.”
After four years of hearing the same old story, Janet
left the company and is now working as a manager for a
competitor. After she left, a former co-worker told her
that her old boss made negative remarks about Janet’s
Jack, Tom and Janet are self-muzzled managers. They are
unable to level with their own employees about what they
want. They not only hurt themselves, they cripple the
very people they are trying to shield.
Under their leadership, good employees lose their
enthusiasm and poor performers propagate. Political
gamesmanship flourishes because the person with all the
cards can’t be depended upon to keep things fair.
Decisions rarely get made and those that do are easily
unmade by those who choose not to be accountable.
Some of it boils down to a reluctance to deliver bad
news. The fear of being disliked for making a judgment
sends these managers scurrying for their rationales:
“I’ll hurt his feelings,” “She might cry,” “He’ll be
devastated,” “He’ll lose his motivation,” “She’ll stir
up trouble in the unit.”
interesting thing happens when you ask managers like
Jack, Tom and Janet a question about their own bosses.
Ironically, they often complain about a lack of honest
feedback or coaching. “How can I advance unless I really
know what I must work on?” “I’d give anything to know
what he really thinks.”
any working adult this question: “If you were doing
something at work that was getting in the way of your
performance or advancement, would you want your boss to
tell you?” The person would probably respond, “If it is
something I had the power to change, of course I would
want to know!”
are we so afraid of? Perhaps it’s the fear of saying the
wrong thing, alienating an employee, receiving a
grievance or becoming unpopular.
are some tips for you to use the next time you feel like
holding back important performance information:
Don’t postpone the feedback. The longer you do, the more
likely hostility will build toward the employee and the
problem will be blown out of proportion.
Analyze the severity and urgency of the problem. If it
is getting in the way of his or her success, you have a
responsibility to be honest with this employee.
Bring up only one issue and give a description of the
problem, not your judgment about it. For example, “I
believe that it is important that staff meetings start
on time. I know you’re very busy but I’d like you to
make a stronger effort to be on time.” Don’t open with,
“You are always late for staff meetings and constantly
waste everyone’s time.”
Only bring up behavior the employee has the ability to
change. Your employee can learn to give smoother
presentations but probably can’t do much about a squeaky
Give feedback in a private area. However, making a big
production out of finding an out-of-the-way place can
make the message seem worse than it really is.
It’s very important to tell the employee about your
positive intent and your desire to help him or her
succeed. For example, “I know you are interested in
getting ahead. I want to help you succeed in this
company. As I see it, the best way to help you is to
give you honest coaching.”
you don’t have quantifiable facts, say, “It appears to
me...” or “As I see it...”
Once you have made your point, don’t apologize for it or
sugarcoat it. Calmly listen to your employee’s reaction.
Your employee may benefit from examples and advice you
may have for solving this problem. It’s also wise to ask
your employee if he or she has any ideas for solving it.
Hold the person responsible for solving the problem. If
your employee blames others or makes excuses, re-focus
the discussion by paraphrasing, “You feel that your late
reports are Sue’s fault. You are accountable for the
overall results on this project. What can you do to make
sure you don’t miss your deadline?”
Don’t forget to ask what you can do to assist your
employee. Often, managers get in the way without knowing
it and don’t give their employees opportunities to tell
Finally, speak in a matter-of-fact manner. If your tone
and demeanor are upbeat and natural, your employee is
more likely to see the discussion as helpful coaching.
If you wrinkle your brow, avoid eye contact, sugarcoat
your words or lean forward in a worried pose, your
employee will become alarmed. If you are straightforward
about the discussion, your employee will be able to hear
it for what it is - helpful coaching from someone who
cares enough to help them succeed.
The smartest guy in the room
Feb. 19, 2015
kid he was always bored in class. He took a tough
curriculum in college and sped through it, with honors.
He had plenty of job offers and took a position that
enabled him to use his talents and shine. So why isn’t
he getting promoted five years later? In fact, he was
just pulled off a cross-functional team project and was
appalled that the project leader role was given to
someone he considered inferior in intelligence.
“I think he got the project because he was kissing up,”
he said. “They are going to fall flat on their face
without me. They don’t have the technical capacity and
knowledge I have.” He may be right about the
intellectual contribution he provided but the project
was crashing because of him.
Because he thinks he is the smartest guy in the room and
his behavior was a turnoff to others on the project.
They resented his arrogance and his refusal to listen to
the ideas from the group. It was clear he thought he was
the only one who could solve the problem. He dismissed
their offers to help and tried to be a one-man team.
Complaints started among the team - quietly at first.
But over time, their frustration grew and it started to
leak out in wider circles. The negative reputation
started to spread like oil in the water.
noise about him reached his boss’s ears and he was
pulled from the high-visibility project. When he
marched in and demanded to know why, his manager said,
“You don’t play well with others. You need to be more
collaborative and build a working team that is going to
be engaged and buy in to the final solution. I was
hearing too many concerns about you trying to do the
project on your own, without the team.”
was angry and frustrated. For most of his life, he could
win by being smart and driven but now it wasn’t enough.
was lucky. His manager arranged for him to work with a
coach. It was going to take some rewiring and some new
behaviors to get his career back on the rails. And he
had a big hole to dig out of - his peers had already
decided he was a jerk.
Collaboration skills are prized in the modern
organization and in many jobs are more important than
intelligence alone. I can think of few jobs where an
employee can succeed in isolation today. Most
organizations have morphed from a siloed (vertical
hierarchy) to a matrix structure. It’s common today to
have “solid line” and “dotted line” reporting
relationships, where the solid line is the “real” boss
and the dotted line is the internal customer, or
co-dependent peer. If you can’t collaborate with others,
your career will stall.
How are your
you seek out the opinions of your customers and other
stakeholders? Do you really listen to their advice?
Then, do you get back to them to tell them how you used
their suggestions? Most people don’t close the loop and
miss this opportunity to build the relationship and make
colleagues feel valued.
you wait to offer your opinion until most people have
offered theirs? Or, are you quick to jump in and push
your opinions on others? Even if their ideas aren’t
completely solid, there may be a nugget that is
valuable. And listening to them will make them more
inclined to hear your ideas, too. Paraphrasing can curb
your desire to speed ahead.
When you are the project leader, do you facilitate
meetings so everyone is heard? Creating a safe place for
people to share their ideas is a key to the success of a
team. If the only voice in the room is yours and the
heads around the table are simply nodding, you aren’t
doing your job.
you make it safe for team members to challenge each
other and look for the best solutions? If some people
are silent for too long, you are missing something.
Often, they’re silently disagreeing, or finding a flaw
but hesitating to speak.
Are people showing up for your team meetings and acting
engaged? If they start finding reasons to leave early,
show up late, or not at all, they are telling you they
feel it is a waste of time.
you know how to ask good questions? Or are you too busy
talking? People who are full of themselves don’t learn
to ask good questions because they think they know all
Have you worked on your facilitation skills? Do you know
how to create a process that focuses the team on the
right work at the right time? Do you pay attention to
the group dynamics - or are you so down in the details
you forget you are leading the team, and not the sole
Ironically, the smartest person in the room is the one
who makes everyone else feel they are smart, too.
How to ensure understanding and get engagement when
presenting to large audiences
Feb. 12, 2015
you want to convey an important message to a large group
and get commitment and buy in? Simply standing in front
of them and speaking, even if it is accompanied by a
great set of PowerPoint slides, usually doesn’t do it.
Because the individuals in the audience haven’t been
living it and discussing it for weeks like you and your
senior team have. They don’t have the context or
background information you have.
exclaim, “But I ask them if they have any questions and
I get nothing!” Of course people aren’t going to stick
their necks out in a political atmosphere - in front of
peers, bosses, employees - and look like they don’t get
it. Or worse, like they are challenging or questioning
is a technique I call “The Huddle Technique” that will
help you engage with your audience (even hundreds of
people), assure they get their questions answered in a
safe environment, and experience firsthand what your
audience really comprehends and buys into.
Tell the audience upfront that you are going to be using
a new approach to get questions and dialogue after your
presentation. This puts them on notice that they will
have to do something different, and as a result, they
will listen closely.
Present your material in a concise, conversational
manner, using slides that graphically illustrate your
points (if slides are necessary). Keep it short - 15
minutes is ideal.
Once you are finished, say, “What I would like you to do
is to huddle up in groups of four or five, with whomever
is seated closest to you. Your assignment over the next
10 minutes or so is to discuss what was presented and
come up with one question or one comment per group.”
Then give them time to buzz.
Interrupt them after about 10 minutes and say, “Can I
interrupt please? Now would you go back into your group
and choose a spokesperson, who will ask your question or
make your comment.”
important to wait until the group has had a chance to
discuss the topics without a leader before naming a
spokesperson. (If you ask for a spokesperson upfront,
they will choose the highest ranking or most outspoken
person-who tends to dominate the conversation and
influence the group with his or her own ideas.) Give the
group a few minutes to regroup and decide on their
question or comment. This will automatically create a
Go group by group and ask the spokesperson to stand and
state their group’s comment or question.
beauty of this approach is that it is “safe.” It’s the
groups’ question and not a person’s question. They feel
more anonymous. Your objective is to answer the
questions as honestly and transparently as possible. You
may want to direct one of the other leaders to take a
question. If the question is something you can’t answer
yet, say so and let them know when you will tell them
(perhaps in another session like this). If you run out
of time, you may want to collect the remaining questions
and address them via conference call or email. You may
want to ask one of your leaders to write down the
questions asked verbally, or collect them on 3x5 cards.
Usually there are a lot of similar themes, so even if
you have a large audience, a few groups will represent
goal of this process is to address their concerns in the
meeting room. If you don’t, it’s likely the real
concerns and questions will be voiced in the hallway and
behind closed doors for days to come.
Self-reflection allows coaching to take root
Feb. 6, 2015
After years of coaching high potential executives, I’ve
observed some factors that make the difference in
whether or not they are successful. When an outside
coach is brought in, it’s usually because there is
something they need to polish or there is a problem they
need to fix. Often, the change includes modifying their
behavior, job execution, leadership tactics, or personal
are some of the internal and intangible things that make
The capacity for
internal examination and reflection
Once an executive, or other high potential, has climbed
a few rungs of the success ladder, he or she can be
easily lulled into a false sense of complacency
regarding his or her skills and credibility. After all,
they can reason, they beat out hundreds, perhaps
thousands, to reach this level.
Unfortunately, for those who have limited capacity to
look inward, the path to derailment can come faster than
a hairpin turn.
was a brilliant negotiator and also possessed the
technical skills that propelled his rise to the level of
vice president. Jack’s blind spot was his arrogance and
disregard for the feelings of his employees and peers.
When his bullying treatment of others reached crisis
proportions, the company enlisted my help as his coach.
After interviewing the people around him at all levels,
I presented him with the feedback. It wasn’t pretty.
“These people are idiots,” he explained to me as if I
had missed the obvious. “I’m smarter than all of them
and they are too thin-skinned when I prove it.” His
inability to look in the mirror eventually cost him his
another case, I was asked to help a brilliant
statistician, who couldn’t explain his work to the
executive team in laymen’s terms. When first presented
with the idea of working with a coach, he said, “My
reports and findings are self-explanatory. They should
be obvious to the executive team. They just don’t
understand the field.” Once he realized his work was
useless unless it was understood, he was willing to
learn how to win the credibility he deserved.
The ability to learn
from and act on feedback
worked with a new plant manager, who was having problems
adjusting to an old-fashioned, autocratic culture.
Rather than rejecting the feedback because of its
source, he was able to use it to modify his style. “I
know this company has its flaws,” he said, “but if I can
be successful here, I can be successful anywhere. I’m
going to learn a lot about how to change a culture -
it’s going to be a great learning experience.”
another case, I was working with a female executive who
received some stinging feedback from her peers. Some of
it was based on some false rumors. She came around to
this conclusion: “If I am going to change their
perceptions, I guess I am going to have to behave in a
way that makes them change their thinking.” Along the
way, she discovered that she had inadvertently
contributed to some of the perceptions, and was able to
positively change her credibility in the eyes of her
both cases, they were willing to take the change process
to heart and put energy and enthusiasm into doing their
personal development “homework” between sessions, to
reach their goals.
willingness to disclose to others that they are working
coaching situations are done without involving others
but in many cases, involving others is necessary and
the case of Tom, a hothead who blew up at the slightest
provocation and intimidated his staff. He agreed to let
me interview his colleagues for feedback, because he
realized without it we wouldn’t have much data to work
he heard the collective opinion about the damage his
behavior caused, he called his team together and thanked
them for having the courage to be honest. He then read a
list of the behaviors he never wanted to display again
and gave them permission to tell him if they ever saw
him violate anything on his list.
Starting that day, his team rallied around him and
became a team of “coaches.” By being authentic and
vulnerable with his team, he was able to jump-start the
journey toward winning respect and becoming a role model
Even an open door policy needs some ground rules
Feb. 3, 2015
have an extremely busy office, which has experienced
tremendous growth this past year. There are three of us
supervising about 30 professional people. These are
wonderful, fun-loving individuals who seem to enjoy our
casual work environment.
are beginning to think we are too casual, as our staff
constantly interrupts us, thinking nothing of walking
into our offices and interrupting a conversation to ask
questions or give a running commentary on some project
in which they are involved. They seem to want answers
immediately so they can complete something, rather than
gather up several questions to approach us at one time.
the past, we have suggested to them that they give us a
note and we will seek them out when we are finished with
our task. This lasted about one week. Perhaps the
question is, how available should supervisors be?
feels like they have no respect for our time and want us
to be “on-call” when and if they need us. Most of what
they ask for or need could be addressed at a later time.
As a result of the constant interruptions, we end up
working weekends or staying late just to keep up. Are we
not being clear enough?
actions speak so clearly, your employees aren’t hearing
a word you say. If you say one thing but reward another
you are sabotaging your message. In an effort to be
supportive and respectful to your employees, you have
created a disrespectful situation for yourselves.
Although I hate to draw an analogy between employees and
children, I think this example will say it all: Often
parents will give in to their child’s whining because
they just want the child to be quiet. Of course, once
this behavior is rewarded, the child now whines on a
continual basis to get what he or she wants. That habit
will not be broken if the parent simply tells the child
to stop whining. As with your situation, you will need
to back it up with behaviors that are congruent with
what you say.
easy to see how you could have gotten yourselves into
this situation. You undoubtedly want to keep your
delightful group of employees happy and motivated. And
it’s great to see supervisors who want to be so
accessible, especially during times of rapid growth,
when fast decisions need to be made minute to minute.
Communication and consistency break down when there are
no systems in place during rapid growth. Then, when you
get just a little bit bigger, say 50 employees, problems
start erupting and satisfaction begins to take a
nosedive, unless a little more structure is in place.
Obviously you don’t want to create unnecessary
bureaucracy, but a few ground rules and systems are
you make these changes, take care not to position them
as a reaction to the employees’ interruptions. You
certainly want them to continue to come to you with
issues and updates. Instead, explain the changes as a
few “structural steps” you feel will be helpful to
everyone as the company grows.
are some ideas:
Commit to holding regular weekly meetings, no matter how
busy you are. These meetings can be short (no more than
one hour). Invite people to electronically submit their
issues/topics, or just post a sheet of paper that people
can use to add their agenda items. Explain that these
meetings are necessary so that everyone can keep in
touch with each other, and that you expect them to share
information during the meeting, rather than just having
one-on-one conversations with supervisors. Start
directing people to submit their updates and issues on
Have regular one-on-ones with each key employee. Make it
clear that these sessions are for them to update you on
their work, and for you to provide guidance and answer
questions. They can be encouraged to save non-essential
questions for their one-on-one. Start with once a week
for 20 minutes - you may be able to go to twice a month
Hold daily huddles at the beginning of the day or shift.
Keep these even shorter (15 minutes). Gather in one area
at the same time each day for a stand-up meeting. This
can be used to plan the day and follow up on burning
issues. Let everyone know that this is the time for
quick questions and information sharing.
It’s important that you meet often enough with your
fellow supervisors so that you are all sending out the
same message on key issues and policies. If you are
inconsistent, or if one supervisor shares more than the
others, you will start rumors and create communication
gaps that will require more time and energy to resolve
Create a signal that means “No interruptions.” This can
be as simple as a closed door. Tell them you must do
this to get some of your work done and encourage them to
find their own signal so they can have quiet time, too.
Then DO NOT ALLOW THEM TO BREAK THE RULE. Simply say,
“My door was closed. Remember that means I need quiet
time to get some work done.” Period.
Are you an absentee manager?
Jan. 20, 2015
Something happened to me that I thought other readers
could benefit from, especially managers. I took a new
job about a year ago as an accountant for a small
insurance company. There was a long-term employee who
seemed to have it in for me and never let up. Because I
was new I didn’t push it by telling our boss. Instead, I
tried to do my own work and get along with everyone,
soon found out that others have left because of her. In
the meantime, I began looking for another job because I
could see that I wasn’t going to get anywhere. She
withheld information from me as I was training and
seemed to be threatened by me. However, lately we had
simply stayed out of each other’s way. I’m not a very
threatening person and recently made this career change
after earning my MBA at night.
was offered a new job two weeks ago for more money and
responsibility. They didn’t call for a reference at my
job so my boss didn’t know I got an offer. When I went
in to tell him I was leaving, he was shocked and upset.
He tried to offer me more money and told me how great I
was doing. He went on and on about how much I had
contributed to the company. I would have stayed with
this company if I had known this!
have volunteered to work overtime so that I can train a
replacement. In fact, I’ve heard from someone else that
two people might replace me. My leaving disappoints
people in other departments because I was working with
many of them on projects. Why didn’t he take the time to
tell me all of that when I was on the job ... Why wait
until good people leave?
If you print this, maybe other managers will learn from
my situation. I would say to them, “Don’t hide under a
bushel and hope your problems will go away because they
won’t. The only thing that may go away are your good
Managers like yours are like absentee gardeners. They
sow a few seeds, hope for rain and wander off. They
don’t come back until harvest time and blame their poor
crop on the weather and the weeds. Even the most
self-motivated seedling will wither from neglect under
Because you were new to the job, and the field, your
boss should have taken special care to supervise your
growth. He should have showered you with performance
feedback and asked you if you had any questions.
Your strategy was perfect: you didn’t lock horns with
the long-term employee and developed a reputation as a
boss and others noticed that your reputation was
thriving in spite of the trouble your co-worker was
Now is the time to think through what you will do if
something like this should happen on your new job. For
example, will you go to your new boss, say, after three
months, and ask him or her “how am I doing?” Many
companies have a six-month probationary period, so don’t
make the mistake of believing no news is good news. If
you are having trouble in your new job, it is especially
important to take this initiative.
someone on your new job begins to make life miserable
for you, what will you do? Although your strategy worked
last time, it caused you to leave your job. If you have
regular meetings with your new boss, you would have
opportunities to subtly make your point before it
escalates to that level.
For example, if a co-worker withholds information, you
could approach it by asking your boss a question, “Am I
supposed to be getting the Thomson figures?” You may be
able to add, “I thought I should ask because so-and-so
seemed to be confused about whether I needed them.”
few “naive” questions from a new employee will soon tip
off a manager that there is a problem. By asking
questions to make your point, you avoid the risk of
sounding like a complainer or of misjudging someone’s
If you get the opportunity, you may want to have a talk
with your former boss before you leave. Perhaps your
comments will help him deal with the long-term employee
before she affects more co-workers. Weigh this
carefully, however, since you don’t want to burn the
only bridge you have in your new field. If you doubt
he’ll handle the information well, don’t jeopardize
the meantime, you’re wise to be gracious about training
a replacement. Don’t discuss the situation while you’re
at the old job or the new one. If you sow negative seeds
they could choke out your victory garden.
hope your career comes up roses!
Meetings are only as effective as the person who leads
Jan. 9, 2015
meeting is only as effective as the person who leads it.
When most managers and executives often spend half their
work time in meetings, it’s shocking to hear so many
complaints: "Meetings are a waste of time!" "Why was I
invited to that meeting in the first place?" "We never
get anything accomplished."
business, meetings are a way of life. In fact, studies
show that twice as many meetings and conferences are
being held today as compared with just ten years ago.
skilled meeting leader, you can get more done in less
time, increase teamwork and demonstrate your ability to
Let’s examine what it takes to run a good meeting. The
first questions to ask yourself are:
MEETING NECESSARY? Could I get the job done with a memo
or phone call? Use a phone call or memo if you want to
communicate routine information that is likely to be
well understood, accepted or does not require a group
decision. Call a meeting if you want to get acceptance
of ideas, resolve conflicting viewpoints, obtain
immediate reactions and understanding or draw on the
group’s creativity to solve a problem.
DO YOU WANT TO ACCOMPLISH? If you don’t know, you can
bet the participants will spend most of the meeting time
bouncing from one subject to the next. State your
objective in specific terms. For instance, "Decide on a
more efficient procedure to balance workflow" is much
better than "Discuss our workflow problems." if the
group knows the outcome they’re working toward, they
will tend to remain focused on that objective.
SHOULD BE THERE? Include only those who can contribute
and benefit from attending. People who have nothing to
contribute will only be frustrated or bored. Beware of
inviting people solely because of their title or out of
habit. When dealing with a controversial issue, it’s
often wise to invite people who resist change or
disagree. The meeting may produce sparks, but will
prevent fire-fighting later.
Another thing you should do is assign pre-work to save
valuable time once the meeting begins. This includes
doing your own prework.
Develop an agenda designed to get the results you’re
after and send it in advance, if possible. Anticipate
participants’ reactions and how you will deal with them.
Determine the materials needed, the meeting location, as
well as the task. (Always set an ending time and try to
stick to it, This is not only courteous, but encourages
the participants to move at a faster pace.)
you get to the meeting itself, start on time. Don’t
punish those who are punctual by making them wait for
those who are not. Your opening remarks should include
the meeting’s objective, background information, time
constraints and a description of the way you want to run
also helpful to explain why you have invited each of
them, so they know how you want each of them to
leaders record the meeting on a flipchart mounted on an
easel in full view of the group. As the pages are
filled, they are torn off and taped to the wall.
technique keeps everyone together and provides a written
record. Another advantage is that members of the group
feel that their ideas have been heard because they are
Recording the meeting is particularly important during
group problem-solving sessions. All brainstorming ideas
can be listed, and members have an easier time
generating ideas when they know each one will be
captured for later evaluation.
Specific action plans can be charted, recording who will
do what, how and when.
When the meeting is over, these giant sized flipchart
minutes can be typed and distributed so everyone has a
clear understanding of what was said and agreed to.
High expectations for new leaders
Jan. 5, 2015
Being a boss isn’t what it used to be. In fact, many
workplaces are cooking up new names to reflect the
changes. “Boss” sounds dictatorial. “Supervisor” implies
that employees need to be watched. “Leader” is the
favorite of the moment. The change of title is strong
testimony about the deeper changes that are evolving for
are these new leader expectations? They’re more
sophisticated and demanding than ever before. They can
be categorized in four distinct areas.
business owner told me recently, “Running a company
today is a little like building an airplane while you
fly it.” Changes are happening so fast, senior managers
are scrambling to reinvent their companies. Consuming
questions such as, “How do we do use the Web to maximize
our business?” or, “Where are we going to find
employees?” are heard in boardrooms everywhere. And
quickly changing priorities can feel like chaos to
the past, middle managers could sit back and wait for
the grand rollout of the corporate strategy. Today,
managers have to jump in and help shape it and
* Don’t complain
about changes. Investigate why the change is needed so
you can help others who are at different stages of
commitment. Take time to answer employees’ questions:
“Why are we doing this?” and “How will this affect me?”
Think like an owner. A respected manager said to me,
“When I have to make a decision, I always ask myself,
‘If I owned this business, would I make this decision
Become an opportunist who hunts down problems. Volunteer
to lead a cross-functional task force, rather than view
it as extra work. Organizational issues are your work.
Seek out new and challenging lateral jobs in other
departments. Think of yourself as an entrepreneur with
one client - the company you work for.
Employees are in the driver’s seat in this economy. If
they don’t feel well treated, they vote with their feet.
They want more balance, more respect and more
involvement. Retention surveys we’ve done with employers
point convincingly to the manager’s role as the most
important link in the retention chain.
Look for ways to make deposits in your employees’
emotional accounts. In spite of your busy schedule, find
ways to give employees face time, both one-on-one and in
Ask each employee, “What do you want most from your
job?” and offer concrete help so they get what they
Spend more time with the good performers than with the
poor ones and take steps to coach or confront those who
Show each employee that their contribution counts in
personal, meaningful ways.
Take a stand and do what’s right rather than what is
perceived as “fair” by different constituencies. Apply
policies with good judgment, not “by the book.”
Treat your employees like your important joint venture
partners, because they are.
Being a manager today isn’t for wimps. It requires
mental and physical stamina. Effective managers have a
strong sense of values and use them as an internal
compass to guide their behavior. They treat people with
dignity and respect and work hard to build trust. They
know their actions speak more loudly than the words they
the “Duck Paddle.” Act calm and unruffled, even when
you’re paddling like hell underneath. Compartmentalize
stress - don’t spread it.
Seek and act on personal feedback.
Lead by example. Recognize that every word you say and
action you take is sending a message.
Learn everything you can about the art and science of
programmer told me, “Why would I want to move into a
manager’s job? Why would I want that target painted on
my back?” He knows that front line employees have a
higher stock value than managers do. Simply put, average
managers are expendable and hard-to-find technical
employees are golden.
Know that job security is created by you - not granted
by an organization.
Be more interested in solving problems and adding value
than status or position.
Stay marketable by keeping your skills honed and build
influence with outside networks.
Pay attention to critics because they are the first to
discover your weaknesses.
are in the middle of a workplace renaissance. There is a
shortage of courageous leaders. Make the most of the