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
What separates savvy managers from so-so managers?
Dec. 31, 2014
have worked hard to get that job in management. Now, how
do you keep it? What makes an employee work harder for
one boss than for another? Is it the leader’s charisma
or because they’re so “nice”? Hardly. Smart managers on
the rise in any organization know that it takes far more
than the right vibrations between manager and
subordinates to create a highly productive working
First of all, a good manager realizes that there are
three basic rules of adult motivation:
YOU can’t motivate anyone
ALL people are motivated. A basic definition is: The
element within a person that incites that person to
People do things for THEIR reasons, not yours.
wonder the carrot and stick approach never works for
how do you find your employees’ hot button that will
cause them to be self-motivated?
ideas have been advanced regarding motivational theory.
One thing inherent in all the theories is the need for
recognition within all of us for a job well done.
Recognizing your employees for the good job they do is
certainly not a new or imaginative concept. The problem
is that most managers think they are doing a good job of
it when, in fact, they don’t know the language of good
giving people positive feedback about what they are
doing well, you can increase the QUANTITY of their good
work. The following rules for giving recognition have
been developed and proven by William R. Daniels,
American Consulting and Training Inc. - and I’ve seen
the feedback refer to one SPECIFIC task. Generalized
compliments like, “You’re doing a great job,” are
received as back-slapping and glad-handling. They often
seem phony and can damage your credibility. Paint them a
clear picture of what you like and they’ll give you more
of it. For example: “Natalie, your respect for
customers, use of their names and eye contact is ideal.”
one on specifics is crucial. Unfortunately, it’s the one
researchers find managers violating most frequently. The
behavioral effects will not be achieved if the rewards,
attention and recognition are not clearly associated
with the behavior being reinforced. This is what
separates it from “positive thinking” or “being
pleasant.” There is no “free” appreciation. All rewards
are earned and the skilled manager is crystal clear
about what is being recognized.
the recognition PURE. That is, don’t mix it with
criticism. This one is tricky. Listen closely and you’ll
hear managers all around you making this mistake.
Listen: “You’re doing a nice job on the paperwork,
Karen, but you need to be friendlier with the
customers.” As soon as an employee hears the “but” after
a compliment, the entire thing is discounted. Given a
choice between “good news” and “bad news”, people only
hear and remember the bad news. So to get the “good
news” across, keep it pure.
maximum effect, make the feedback POSITIVE about good
work. By encouraging desirable work you will crowd out
less desirable work. For example, the following attempt
at recognition only focuses on the negative, “Marcia,
when you get your errors down, you’ll be a fine order
clerk.” The undesirable errors will diminish much more
quickly if Marcia’s manager tells her what he or she
likes about Marcia’s work.
Offer the feedback IMMEDIATELY after the behavior has
taken place or within 30 minutes of it coming to your
attention. Giving your positive feedback, soon after the
desirable work makes your message clear. The pleasure of
your compliment gets associated with the work.
first, offer the feedback FREQUENTLY - when the desired
work is in place, you can diminish the frequency.
Frequency at first helps the employee make certain that
you are paying attention and approve. Later, the
employee will internalize this feedback as you slowly
Offer the feedback IRREGULARLY. If you always offer your
recognition at the same time - Fridays at 4:30 - you
will probably find that people perform for you just
before your feedback, in anticipation. Give recognition
irregularly and you can stimulate a steady increase.
Haphazard? No. Easy? No. Does it work? Yes.
new employees come to their jobs highly motivated. A
good manager knows proper recognition helps them stay
‘Tough love’ philosophy makes employees take
responsibility for their actions
Dec. 23, 2014
your workplace have a “tough love” philosophy? Are
employees treated like adults, who are expected to meet
expectations, or do some people seem to push the rules
and get away with murder? Does your workplace tolerate
behaviors that it shouldn’t accept? Do some employees
act as if they are entitled to their jobs, regardless of
how poorly they perform?
Here’s a case study for you. What would you do if you
were Jason’s manager?
Jason’s performance began to slip right around the time
he started dating his new girlfriend. He was late
several times a week, sometimes by as much as forty-five
minutes. He made frequent personal calls during his
workday and seemed distracted. His manager spoke to him
several times about these behaviors and each time he
improved, only to slip back into old behaviors a few
weeks later. When his manager started to get customer
and co-worker complaints about Jason’s performance, he
knew he had to do something more. He decided to take
disciplinary action. He gave him a verbal warning and,
when that didn’t work, he issued a written warning that
indicated Jason could lose his job if he didn’t improve.
Jason’s manager didn’t want to lose him because Jason
generally did a good job and qualified employees with
his skills are hard to find. In addition, other
employees are complaining that they are overworked, and
without Jason, the situation will only get worse. When
the manager spoke to him, Jason admitted that he had
been “pushing it” and said he’d improve. Jason said he
liked his job and enjoyed working at the company but, in
spite of his promises, he continued to exhibit
Assuming that you have the latitude to do any of the
following, what do you do?
A. Keep on meeting with Jason and hope that he
B. Fire him and reassign his work until you can find
C. Suspend him for three days without pay, to teach
him a lesson and show him you’re serious.
Give him a “decision day” off, with pay, to decide if
he really wants his job. And if so, he is expected to
return the following day with a written action plan.
of the above answers might work, but I like “D” the
best, because it puts the responsibility for fixing the
problem where it belongs - on the employee. It’s a
"tough love" approach.
Let’s examine the other choices more closely. In choice
“A,” Jason is allowed to manipulate the situation and
only improve long enough to get his boss off his back.
Meanwhile, the rest of his co-workers see that he is
getting away with poor performance. Their inevitable
question is, “Why am I killing myself to get to work on
time and do a good job, when no one is holding him to
the same standard?” The leader’s credibility drops,
morale plummets and customer dissatisfaction grows.
Jason may be a valuable employee but if his manager
allows Jason to hold him hostage, just because there’s a
shortage of job candidates, the damage will spread
outward like ripples in a pond.
understandable why choice “B” is attractive, and perhaps
even desirable. Firing him seems a logical choice, since
he didn’t respond to all of the discussions or the
warnings. Yet, there are several things to consider. If
he is fired, the manager and the other overworked
employees will be burdened even more. Although they may
be supportive of the decision, dissatisfaction will soon
grow in proportion to their additional workload. More
importantly, when good employees are fired they are
often surprised, even shocked. After the fact, they say
they never really thought the boss was serious. They
thought they were somehow protected because they were
“good” employees. But unfortunately, this realization
comes after they are fired, when they have no
opportunity to act on their regret.
really dislike choice “C.” It reminds me of the
teacher/student or parent/child relationship that I
think is counterproductive in today’s workplace. In this
option, punishment is clearly the intent and shame is
the objective. The problem is that adults don’t respond
well to this tactic. They get angry. They get even. If
they come back to work at all, they are forced to save
face by laughing it off (“I loved my vacation...I went
fishing!”) or by stirring up their co-workers against
management. It’s a lose/lose outcome.
Choice “D” isn’t perfect either, but it treats the
employee as an adult who has to face up to the situation
and take responsibility for his or her behavior. It can
sound something like this: “I like you, Jason, and I
think you do good work...when you’re committed to doing
it. We’ve had numerous discussions about this and I’ve
even given you a written warning that you could lose
your job, but you haven’t sustained the improvements you
said you would make. I want you to take tomorrow off to
think about whether or not you want to work here. If you
do, come back the day after with a written action plan
that outlines what you will do. If you don’t, it’s been
a pleasure working with you.”
you have a “tough love” philosophy, it means you:
Set high expectations, so employees will be proud to be
on a winning team.
Be as selective as you can in the recruitment process.
Hold everyone accountable to the same high standards, no
matter what position they hold.
Expect employees to take responsibility for their own
behavior, rather than fixing blame on others.
Have adult-to-adult policies that eliminate
“babysitting” and punishment.
Give honest, straightforward feedback that lets everyone
know where they stand.
Expect honest feedback from your co-workers in return.
Rule bound system fails to serve customers
Dec. 10, 2014
My boss believes that the customer is always right -
even when he or she is wrong. This is fine conceptually,
but let me give you an example of my situation.
work in a store and a customer came in just before we
closed and requested a special service that required
many extra steps, which would have run way past our
closing time. A week before our manager posted a memo
telling all of us that we were not supposed to wait on
people after the store closes.
this case, I tried to state the policy to the customer
but she complained to the manager. I was not only
reprimanded in front of the customer but told to do even
more services than the customer requested no matter how
late it ran. I was then written up and told that I had a
poor attitude. Now I ask you am I wrong or is he?
both are. Each of you was trying to do what is right but
unfortunately your system is flawed. Your manager is
operating on the old principle that control can be
achieved by making a lot of policies and rules.
Unfortunately, policies never seem to fit every
situation, so then the rules either have to be broken or
more complex policies have to be developed for each
exception that comes up. What you end up with is an
impersonal bureaucracy, filled with people who are
rule-bound and unable to do what is right for the
There is a new philosophy, which takes a different
approach; the empowered employee should be able to
practice self-control and make the best decisions on the
spot - if the system is set up correctly.
Let’s look at this from three perspectives: the
customer’s, the manager’s, and yours.
Customers don’t want to hear about policies and rules.
They’ll balk and walk. They want a product or service on
their terms and if all their expectations are met or
exceeded they might be back. They want every person who
deals with them to have the authority to do whatever it
takes to serve them. In other words, they want every
employee to act like an owner who wants to keep them as
you were an “owner,” there’s a good chance you would
have looked at this situation differently. You probably
would have willingly stayed late, depending on your
judgment of the situation. You would hope that this
extra service would earn a loyal future customer.
manager probably established the policy on store hours
in response to another situation he was trying to remedy
- and it backfired. He may have been embarrassed that it
was his own policy that was causing the complaint. He
could have salvaged the situation by admitting it was
his well-intentioned rule that was at the heart of the
problem. ... not your obstinateness. Chances are, if you
had been treated with respect and dignity, you would
have been much more willing to stay late and do what was
policy tied your hands and made you look like the
problem. You made the situation worse when you argued
with your manager. In the future, you would be better
off to go to your boss immediately, explain the
situation and ask permission to “break the rule.”
any future policy, ask a lot of questions at the time
it’s implemented, so you know (and your boss is
forewarned) about how it could actually hurt instead of
manager doesn’t realize that his employees are his
customers too. This new philosophy of leadership means
treating you like a partner, with shared information
about future vision, the competition, profitability, and
goals. If you were aligned with your manager and top
management you wouldn’t need a lot of rules. Your
judgment would tell you what was the best reaction for
any customer situation because you would think more like
an owner. The “control” would be internal instead of
would even have a more powerful and compelling reason to
do this if your compensation was based on a combination
of your skills and knowledge; how well you performed;
and how well the company performed. You would have a
reason to learn new things and provide
Hopefully, management at your company will come to
realize that customer service rules can hurt the very
people they are designed to help. A system that builds
good judgment, rather than fat rule books, makes a lot
more sense for everyone.
When you must step into others’ turf
Dec. 4, 2014
have recently been appointed marketing manager of the
firm I work for. My new duties include crossing
functional lines of a dozen departments to direct and
implement our marketing programs. Two of the individuals
I deal with are close personal friends, who prefer to
deal [with each other] directly rather than following
the “chain of command” through my office. In order to be
effective in my position, I must have the cooperation of
these gentlemen on a day-to-day basis and need to assure
them it is necessary to respect the “chain of command”
for the overall success of our business. How can I be
assertive and obtain their cooperation without appearing
have touched on a significant problem in companies
today. That is, how to get cooperation from people over
whom you have no direct control.
the need to meet competition grows, departments are
finding it necessary to pull tightly together to get
more done in less time with better quality.
product teams and task forces frequently consist of
members from several departments. Line and staff
functions have been forced into more communication. And
office automation is connecting us directly to
information and to one another.
are the days when Production seldom talked to Marketing,
or Sales rarely communicated with Service.
There are several things that could be barriers to you
in this situation: You are new in your job and haven’t
built trust, influence and credibility with your new
the position is newly created, your colleagues aren’t
used to working with someone in your capacity. If you
did have a predecessor, he or she may have allowed these
two men, and others, to operate too informally without
central marketing control.
fact that you are a woman may, or may not, have some
bearing on your male colleagues’ reluctance to go
through you in “the chain of command.”
status level may be lower in the organizational
hierarchy than these co-workers, thus putting you in a
less powerful position.
all these barriers in mind, let’s examine your options:
Eliminate the phrase “chain of command” from all verbal
and written communications. It refers to power through
authority and is applicable only in a boss/subordinate
Constantly inform these two friends, and all other
people from whom you need cooperation, of the impact
their cooperation has on end sales. If people understand
why they need to cooperate, they will usually do so.
Show them what you do with the data they provide,
explain how you have followed up on their suggestions
and tactfully describe what can happen if you are left
out of the information loop.
Meet face to face as often as possible. Rather than
sending a formal memo, try to personalize your dealings
with these men. Because they seem to prefer an informal
way of sharing information, they will probably warm up
to this style of interaction. You may want to build in
more structure later after rapport and trust is built.
you perceive that this problem exists with more people
than just these two, you may need to market yourself
before you can market your products.
Schedule lunches with people from whom you need
cooperation and sell your marketing ideas, goals and
strategies. Solicit their ideas on how they can help you
accomplish these things. Always emphasize the success of
the business rather than your personal success.
Have regularly scheduled meetings that are attended by
people important to the company’s marketing goals. The
format for these meetings could range from sharing and
discussing information to brainstorming solution ideas
for marketing problems. However, if you use meetings,
make sure they are informative and worthwhile for all
direct, yet diplomatic about what you need. You’ve
already partially scripted in your letter a perfectly
logical way to state it assertively without being
aggressive: “In order to be effective in my position, I
need your help and cooperation on a day-to-day basis to
achieve the overall success of our business.”
could go on to say, “I respect the fact that you are
close friends and enjoy dealing directly with each
other, but it is causing some problems.” (Explain
“I know you’re both probably not even aware of this.
That’s why I thought I’d explain the situation and ask
for your help.
Throughout the process, keep your manager informed and
be sure to ask for his or her advice. The coaching you
receive will help you understand the political side of
This approach will help you earn respect and
cooperation that will get you more mileage than forcing
Helping an employee with personal woes
Nov 28, 2014
The performance of one of your best employees has begun
to sag. Her last two reports weren’t as thorough as they
usually are, and she seems distracted and preoccupied.
She’s even come to work late a few times - something she
rarely did before.
finally decide to talk to her. Her reasons? “I’m going
through a divorce.”
people have problems in their private lives that can
affect their performance on the job.
manager, you are faced with balancing the concern and
consideration you feel for your employee with the
standards and requirements of the job.
managers feel that employees’ private problems should be
discussed at home and not at work. They don’t want to be
“social workers,” and they feel uncomfortable discussing
personal problems. Other managers feel everything
bothering employees should be discussed. These managers
tend to get involved in the daily details of employees’
lives and try to give advice.
don’t think either approach is good for the employee,
the manager or the organization.
necessary to strike a balance between empathy and the
bottom line. Your employee needs to feel supported but
must also understand he or she still is responsible for
getting the job done.
manager shows no concern for an employee during a
traumatic personal time, he or she is likely to resent
that manager long after the crisis has ended. They may
think, “Why should I go the extra mile for him when he
doesn’t care about me?”
the other end of the scale, if an employee is allowed to
continually fail to meet job responsibilities, an
“understanding” boss soon finds a morale problem among
the rest of the employees who are forced to carry the
slack. Co-workers are usually more than willing to help
out a fellow employee during a rough time but not when
they sense that the situation is unfair. These “nice
guy” bosses usually wind up feeling bewildered because
their employees can’t get along like one big happy
strong, yet empathetic leader, you need to approach the
problem only when it begins to affect job performance.
Until that happens, you have no right to interfere in
the private life of an employee.
my opinion, it is never wise to give personal advice or
take sides. Instead, listen intently to the feelings and
concerns of your employee. Never say, “She sounds like a
jerk. I don’t blame you for divorcing her!” Not only are
your opinions irrelevant, but if there’s a
reconciliation, you will have to swallow your words and
your embarrassment. Sometimes an employee will use what
you say to bolster their argument, which is also
dangerous. For instance, “You’re being unreasonable!
Even my boss said so!”
Don’t automatically assume you can’t assign new or
challenging work to the employee. However, it the
project has high risk, high visibility, or both, you may
consider choosing another employee, or team up the
troubled employee with one who is a solid performer. He
or she may need a little extra care in the form of extra
resources, careful delegation and follow-through,
coaching and flexibility. Ask your employee what he or
she needs from you to continue meeting job standards. Be
willing to consider things like extending a deadline or
adjusting work hours.
companies offer an employee assistance program for the
purpose of referring employees to outside agencies for
counseling. This service is confidential and offers
strong support to employees of these companies. No
reports are sent to the company. If this type of program
is not available, consider suggesting outside
Things can become sticky if prolonged personal problems
cause a long-term decline in performance. After numerous
discussions about the importance of meeting standards,
you may be forced to outline the consequences of
continued poor performance. Before doing so, however,
you must be mentally prepared to carry out those
consequences, should the employee fail to improve. It’s
a judgment call that takes careful thought. Your best
bet is to get advice from Human Resources.
Fortunately, in most cases, the trauma is short-lived
and has little impact on an employee’s long-term career.
Often, all that’s needed from the manager is a
willingness to listen.
manager who conveys fairness and understanding to an
employee with personal problems can go a long way toward
inspiring renewed motivation for someone going through a
tough time and among other employees who watch from a
How to disagree agreeably (but directly)
Nov. 9, 2014
If people only talked to each other, most of the
conflict in the workplace would disappear.
Instead, it seems when we are wounded by someone, or
disagree with something they've done, we end up talking
to everyone except the person who's directly involved.
We wander down the hall and talk to a co-worker ...
mention it to our lunch buddies ... complain about it to
our spouses. We spread the negative poison around the
organization, drag unwitting coworkers into the fray,
sully reputations and, in the end, erode the trust that
comes from open, honest, face-to-face communication.
Where did we ever get the idea that confronting someone
face-to-face had to be such a horrible encounter? Are we
all so worried about being 'nice' that we've opted for
being spineless? And when did we get confused about the
perils of telling people the truth?
about the perils of not telling them the truth? Our
organizations are paying a big price for this 'smile to
your face/make a face behind your back' communication
style. It's costing millions in wasted time and lost
productivity, in addition to a human price in broken
trust and lost respect.
don't get me wrong. I'm not advocating brutal honesty
and confrontation that strips away self-esteem and
dignity. I'm talking about the respectful, caring
communication that says, 'I care about our relationship.
Something's bothering me and I thought it was important
to talk to you about it directly so we could reach an
think most people are afraid. They're afraid of hurting
someone's feelings. They're afraid of sounding
'negative' or 'making waves.' They're afraid of the
backlash that can come from a conflict that escalates
into a fight. They're afraid of de-motivating their
employees. They're afraid of not being liked. They're
afraid of collecting political baggage. They're afraid
of not getting ahead or losing their jobs.
you're guilty of side talk instead of straight talk,
here are some behaviors that can help:
Use the 'best intentions' approach. Most people don't
intentionally wake up in the morning and think to
themselves, 'I'm going to really hurt her feelings
today!' Most people have the very best intentions. But
it's those good intentions that keep getting us into
trouble because others don't know our intentions - they
only judge our actions.
approaching another person about a conflict, you could
say, 'I'm sure you had good intentions when you ... but
let me tell you how it looked from my perspective ...'
Rather than waving the finger of blame in someone else's
face, just talk about the effect it had on you.
Use the 'I'm just getting your advice' approach
sparingly. A lot of damage can be done by going to
multiple people to "seek advice" about how to handle a
conflict situation. It can become a way to see how many
people are on your side. It can also be a sneaky way of
poisoning the well for the other person; everyone's
heard your 'side' and so the other person suffers
political damage no matter what the outcome.
Start by looking for things for which you should take
responsibility. The beauty of opening any conflict
resolution session with self-disclosure is that you
bring the other person's defenses down immediately and
problem solving can occur.
example, 'I was out of line when I was sarcastic to you
in the staff meeting. I'm sorry - it was inappropriate.
I'd like to talk with you about the issue.'
Be as open and honest as you can, while preserving the
other person's self-respect and dignity. This is the
very heart and soul of building trust. Sugar-coating
your message, or smoothing over conflicts, might feel
better to you in the short run, but it can create more
can be liberating to lay it bare and call it what it is,
instead of pretending. The only way to build a
foundation of trust is to be open, honest and
straightforward in your day-to-day dealings. But in
order to preserve the relationship you must let people
maintain their dignity and save face. That means using
neutral words to describe the problem and finding common
ground - pointing out why both of you stand to win if
both of your needs are met.
this sound pretty basic? You bet. It also is just plain
good common sense, but common sense isn't so common - we
all have to work at it.