It takes more than attending meetings together to be a team 


Aug. 20, 2015

Joan Lloyd

Dear Joan:

My company has recently begun the “team approach.” Basically what this means is people from several areas of the company are being asked to work together on a variety of projects. This is great in theory but the practical matter is that these teams are losing steam.

There is fighting between members, some people just stop showing up, and some supervisors don’t seem to be very supportive. They don’t adjust these employees’ schedules so they can attend meetings or do the work that is necessary between meetings. People are getting discouraged and fed up. What do you think is the problem?


The theory sounds so simple: take people from different areas of the company, give them a problem to work on and empower them to solve it. The “T” word is shouted from the tops of most corporate pyramids these days but few understand the special dynamics required to create Teams that work. Like individual ingredients in a recipe, they don’t make a cake unless you put them together right.

There are three basic ingredients needed to make teams work - a Common Goal, Permission and Information.

COMMON GOAL: Most individuals have been programmed to go after their department’s goal. Turf is built up over many years and it doesn’t go away because an executive says, “work together.” Rivalries flare unless the group spends time defining and agreeing to a common goal. Top management needs to help shape the goal and agree to give it the priority it deserves.

PERMISSION: The notion of cross-functional teams is outside of the traditional, hierarchical mold. It’s naive to presume that the old structure won’t get in the way. Many supervisors have come up through the ranks and are good soldiers. They know how to give orders and delegate duties. Some of them can learn new behaviors - listening, facilitating and giving the team more control. Some can’t. Their old role was to gather information to make decisions. Now their role  must shift to helping the team gather information to make their own decisions. This new role is just as important and even more complex.

So who coordinates a cross-functional team? If a multi-department team is formed to work on a task, have an advisor; someone at a higher level who will resolve political turf issues and who can act as a sponsor for their work. If a team is formed to work together on a more regular basis, it may make sense for them to report to the same person. Dotted line reporting relationships can also be used when a department (functional) person is on a cross-functional team. For example, the person reports (solid line) to his or her department head and “dotted” to the project leader. This dual accountability is designed to create the right alignment.

The top managers grant the most important permission. If resources aren’t provided, if the project isn’t a priority, if they give no clear charter, it will stall.

INFORMATION: In the past, information was the privilege of rank. Information was power. The top held all the cards and only showed one when they needed something done. Now employees are asking them to show their whole hand, so they can understand the big picture. Employees want to know what management knows so they can make smart decisions. Often, employees don’t know what they don’t know. It’s management’s job to tell them, educate them, and help them. Management also needs to outline boundaries and taboos so the team will have a clear idea of what is expected and what is off-limits.

Most people have spent their entire professional careers learning a technical specialty. Then they are thrown into a team environment and expected to understand group dynamics, shared accountability, and organizational politics. Most can’t run a meeting, they don’t know how to deal with peers who don’t cooperate, and they don’t know how to manage the process of a shared project. Training is part of the answer. Some comes from guidance provided by managers or outside help. And the rest comes from a shift in culture that creates the right environment for learning to occur.


The number 1 mistake leaders make
Aug. 13, 2015

Dear Joan:

Recently, I’ve had a performance evaluation which was very unsatisfactory. I’ve been employed at this hospital for over 10 years. Now suddenly, my work “needs improvement” and I have three months to do it in, otherwise, “be written up.”

There are 22 areas on this evaluation that you need to meet requirements with 30 pages of documentation to prove they have been met. There is an additional document, a peer review from two-three persons with 27 areas that are rated. This peer review carries a lot of weight and is confidential. This peer review has a lot of negatives according to my supervisor, such as “non-professional behavior.”

My questions are: Is this legal? Can a peer go around saying and writing anything about a co-worker without proof or evidence? Where can one obtain names of attorneys that are experts in employee rights in case of firing? How much severance for 10 years’ employment is customary? (Incidentally, the boss has hired two new persons at $6.00 an hour less than my hourly rate with no open positions.)

I have only two years left to go before I can collect Social Security, so I am not particularly anxious to look for a new job.



I have advice for both you and your boss. First, you would be wise to listen to his feedback and take steps to improve your performance. Second, your boss must be very specific about what it is that you need to change ...”non-professional behavior” is too vague to be acceptable criticism.

Although I think peer reviews provide valuable input in a team environment, they should not be used as a club to beat the co-worker. The manager must take the responsibility to observe each employee, firsthand, so he can support and pinpoint the peers’ feedback and then work with the individual to help him or her improve.

The key word in your letter is “suddenly.” After 10 years, you “suddenly” need to improve. Either your boss has been telling you (or hinting?) for a while and you haven’t been listening, or your boss has been putting off telling you and things have been building up and he is fed up. Perhaps the peer input has forced the issue.

Another possibility that can’t be discounted is that he is trying to replace you with cheaper labor. Although it is tempting to believe that, the fact that your peers have given you a negative rating suggests that your performance is the real problem.

You are right to feel indignant about the general nature of the feedback. I suggest that you go back to your manager and ask for more specifics. However, I would wait until you can do it calmly and with an open mind. Explain that you are frustrated and upset about the feedback because you don’t know why they said it and you can’t correct it if you don’t know what it means.

Then listen carefully to his response. If he doesn’t have specifics tell him that it is impossible for you to improve during the next three months. If he does have specific details, don’t get defensive. Listen and force yourself to write them down. This will keep you from getting into an argument and provide a record for you to refer to later.

Then think about what he said and decide what you can do to improve. Schedule another meeting with your manager and discuss what you want to do to improve and get his advice. Although you are feeling hurt and angry, you only have two years left before you can leave on your terms, so why not make it as pleasant as possible?

Lawyers who specialize in employees’ rights can be found online. Frankly, you will be far better off (whether you ever file a suit or not) to take proactive steps now, such as asking for details and trying to improve. If you are fired, the company doesn’t have to give you any severance, but if they do, a rule of thumb is one or two weeks severance pay for each year worked.

Surprise feedback is not an easy thing to hear and it’s even tougher to listen to. It’s in your best interest to do both.


The number 1 mistake leaders make
Aug. 6, 2015

Dear Joan:

I was recently demoted at my current company with no substantial reason except reorganization. I always got A+ reviews and good raises. I was never told to work on any weaknesses or develop areas I needed work in. In other words, I thought I was doing a good job. If I wasn’t, the company never told me and, thus, never gave me the opportunity to improve.

Now I feel just terrible - humiliated, a failure, hurt at not getting a raise that I really depend on, etc. What do you think is going on? Is this company trying to get rid of me? What do you think of this tactic? Do I have any legal recourse here? I worked very hard - was conscientious - put off extended vacations and dragged myself to work when sick. What happened?

Now someone else is being hired for my previous position. Is this the “politics” that goes on in companies now? Is it who you kiss up to or how hard you work that gets you places nowadays?



I hope your letter is read by every manager who would rather remain silent than tell employees what they need to improve on. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard derailed employees say, “If I had only known what to improve, I would have gladly worked on it but I thought everything was OK.”

The workplace would be a more effective - and happy - place if managers would remember the golden rule of bad news: “If I had that problem, would I want MY boss to tell ME?” If the employee’s behaviors are hurting his or her career, it’s the manager’s responsibility to provide feedback and coaching.

If you do a post-mortem on this situation you may learn some things that could help you in the future. Bear in mind, however, that you may never know the whole truth.

First, let’s consider the fact that someone was hired for your previous position. Your boss is probably not being open with you. For example, if your position had been eliminated in a reorganization, it would be easier to see how this demotion could occur, given your high ratings in the past.

If your replacement has exactly the same job you held, the “reorganization” was your boss’s way of dealing with a performance issue he or she was unwilling to confront. Even if the job has been expanded, you need to ask yourself, “Why didn’t my boss tell me about the required changes and help me develop the necessary skills?” “If the job has gotten bigger, were the qualifications beyond my abilities?”

Consider the bigger picture. Does your manager have a new boss? Could this decision have been made by someone other than your supervisor? Perhaps your manager was happy with your work but someone else above him or her wasn’t satisfied.

As you examine the last few years of your performance, think about how easy it is to confuse “hard work” with “smart work.” By that I mean dragging yourself in to work when you’re sick and putting off vacations is laudable but you’ll notice there is no category called “DEDICATED” on your performance appraisal. These things deserve a pat on the back but don’t necessarily qualify you for more money by themselves - it’s how effective you are that keeps you in the winner’s circle. Does your definition of “effectiveness” and your boss’s definition match?

Another question for you to investigate is, “How valid was my A+ rating all these years?” Although it will be difficult for you, I’d suggest that you ask your boss for some feedback. However, since you haven’t heard about any weaknesses before, your manager may have a problem telling you now.

Before asking your boss to give you constructive feedback, you’ll need to manage the anger and bitterness you surely must feel. You don’t want this meeting to be explosive. Your manager may have avoided honesty in the past because he or she was afraid of hurting your feelings or making you angry. In order to get the truth, you will need to manage your emotions. It may help to say, “I’m confused by the mixed signals I’m getting. I need to know what areas I need to improve on if there is some problem with my performance.” Listen carefully to the answer and don’t argue with it. Instead, ask for more specifics and examples until you feel satisfied that you understand what your manager is telling you.

Your company is probably not trying to get rid of you. If they were, they would have used this “reorganization” to eliminate your job and fire you. Perhaps they value your many technical skills but feel you were over-extended in your former job. Without feedback from your boss, it’s impossible to know exactly what the real reasons were.

Once you have more information, you have some decisions to make. For instance: Is your new job a good fit for you and worth keeping? Are you too embarrassed to stay under any circumstances? If you get some negative feedback, can you work on it in your new job? Does this demotion mean that you are dead-ended in your present company? If I pursue legal action what will that buy me?

Whether you decide to leave or stay, be more assertive about soliciting performance feedback in the future. Ask your boss for advice and coaching on your work long before the performance appraisal, so that weaknesses are addressed before they can become problems. Stay in tune with shifting organizational priorities so that you can anticipate changes. Most important, make sure you have a clear understanding of your boss’s priorities and expectations. You were blind-sided on this one. I’m sure you will never let this happen to you again.

Cure poor work habits with feedback

July 31, 2015

Dear Joan:

I am a manager in a small manufacturing firm. I would like to know your thoughts on how to address under-performing employees who have not been dealt with and have been tolerated for years.



An employee whose poor performance has been tolerated for years is a festering sore in a work group. The infection is likely to spread to the rest of the area. Stopping the spread of the disease means you must treat everyone who shows symptoms the same way. Your challenge is this: If you have allowed the employees’ work standards to slip without consequences before, you have lowered the standard of what you will accept. If you attempt to change things, the poor employees will cry, “Foul!” and the good employees will cheer.

This can be a very difficult thing to do and requires a fresh strategy, a strong backbone and a solid plan to get the employee back on track.

Before you begin, imagine the worst thing that could result from confronting the problem and ask yourself, “Am I willing to go all the way to resolve this problem?” Then talk to your boss and Human Resources and ask, “How much support and back-up can I count on from you?” If you don’t hear encouraging words, you may want to execute a more conservative strategy. For example, if the person is close to retirement, you will probably have a different plan than if the person had 15 years to go.

The biggest problem to overcome is the fact that you are suddenly expecting a performance level you haven’t required before. One way to establish a new baseline is to move the employee to new job tasks. I hesitate to suggest this because “passing the turkey” is probably what caused this problem in the first place. It's likely that past managers didn't confront the problem and passed it on to the next manager. So, rather than moving him or her to a new boss (who would surely add your name to his political hit list), reorganize the tasks within your work group or within the individual's job. This will allow you to wipe the slate clean so you can impose a new standard.

Next, sit the employee down and spell out what the new expectations are, how they will be measured and what the consequences are for poor performance. Once the new baseline is drawn, you must follow up to make sure the standards are being met. A word of warning here: This is not a trap. It is tempting to think, “There! Now I can finally fire this guy if I can catch him messing up!” This isn’t fair play and wouldn’t help your case if the employee sued.

Give the employee a reasonable amount of coaching and training and, above all, constant feedback on his or her performance. If he or she is doing well, be quick with a pat on the back. Sometimes poor performers have never felt appreciated and have turned sour because of it. If, however, the employee’s old habits and behaviors don't change, start with a verbal admonishment and move to written memos and finally a final written warning of possible termination.

The most difficult part of disciplining an employee is the pacing. If you are too quick to issue ultimatums and don’t give the employee a chance to improve, you will look as if you are trying to set him up to fail. On the other hand, if you don’t step in early and monitor the situation through ongoing performance discussions, you will allow your own standards to slip by implied consent.

If, in the end, the employee is fired, he should be fully aware of why it happened, what he could have done to prevent it (but chose not to do) and how straightforward and supportive you were. In effect, he chose to fire himself.

If you can't move an employee or change the job tasks, you have a tougher challenge. In this case, analyze the standards you have set for all the other employees in the work group to see how uneven they are. If you are going to clamp down on one, you must hold all the rest to the same expectations.

Tell all the employees that starting “now” it will be necessary to meet the standard and why. Employees deserve to know why a certain level of performance is required...and that it’s not just an arbitrary number chosen at the whim of management. If they are out of touch with their “customers” (internal or external), find a way for them to get direct feedback on how important their “product” is and how it is used. Letting employees find out what the customer requirements are for the work they produce is more powerful than an eloquent lecture from you. If their “customer” is the guy on the next machine, get them together with everyone else who contributes to the final product and discuss how their quality affects everyone else’s.

Confronting a long standing problem is never easy. Managers who do deserve to be rewarded because they help the problem employee get back on track, help the morale of the work group and improve the bottom line.


Micro-manager produces negative macro effect
July 23, 2015

Listen in on what it’s like when a micro-manager is the boss:

Manager: I like to make sure things are done right in my department. I’m accountable for the results and I want to make sure my employees are working up to par. After all, I have to answer to my boss about mistakes. My employees just don’t have the experience I have ... and if I don’t check it I can’t be confident it’s the caliber of work I want representing me and my department.

Employee: My boss is always looking over my shoulder. He’s always telling me how to do every little detail even though I’ve been doing my job for several years. It’s as if he doesn’t trust me or he thinks I’m incompetent. If I’m doing something wrong or if I need to improve something why doesn’t he tell me ... I want to grow and develop on my job. Sometimes I just want to say, “Here! Why don’t you do it? You’re going to pick it apart and redo it yourself anyway!” I’m not making a contribution ... maybe I should just leave.


Manager: My employees just don’t have a good idea of the big picture ... the politics of the situation. And they don’t need to know what’s going on, especially about political and strategic issues. They don’t need to know that to do their jobs. I keep them out of trouble by guiding them through their projects.

Employee: My manager doesn’t tell me anything. He doesn’t share information about the company’s direction or about political sensitivities I should be aware of. He’s forever checking on my work and then changing my priorities - but he doesn’t tell me why. It’s very frustrating because I’m operating in the dark half the time. If he trusted me with more information, I’d be able to use my own judgment and I’d be able to anticipate problems before they happen.


Manager: The downsizing going on is targeting people like me. I’ve watched my peers get laid off and I’m worried about becoming one of them. The way I’m protecting myself is by making myself indispensable and visible. I need to look good so I don’t find myself on the hit list. I don’t want my peers or employees to look better than I do. I also have to fight for resources to make my department look better than other managers’ departments. These are dog-eat-dog times.

Employee: My boss used to let me attend meetings outside of the department occasionally but not anymore; now he attends them all. He went to a convention about the latest technical developments instead of letting me go. He uses my ideas and reports as his own and never seems to mention that they came from me. I’m glad he thinks they’re good ideas but I’m not getting any of the credit. I think he’s threatened by me ... why else would he be trying so hard to keep me locked up and invisible to people above me?


Manager: I get input and involvement from my employees. I meet with them to give them a chance to discuss new policies or procedures. I always have an “open door” policy.

Employee: My manager only meets with us one-on-one. Only rarely do we have a department or unit meeting. When we do get together, he does most of the talking about some new rule or there is a company-wide announcement. When he does ask for input, he argues with us about our point of view or acts like we don’t have all the information and only his ideas could work. Why does he go through the motions of asking us for our ideas if he’s only going to implement his own ideas?

Micro-managers suffocate their employees’ initiative. They are so narrowly focused on themselves and the work that they don’t take a broader look at the people who do the work. Micro-managers are classic examples of the Peter Principle - good performers who were promoted once too often. They should have been left where they were to do the work they do best.

Micro-managers are often a product of their organization’s culture. If the top manager shows the behavior, it often cascades down throughout the organization. Because when the top boss expects managers to be personally involved in all the details, other levels of managers are likely to be expected to do the same. They don’t want to look out of touch.

Organizations that don’t identify the leadership characteristics they want for managerial jobs often promote the best technical performer and hope for the best. Unfortunately, those technical performers are often ill-equipped to perform successfully in their new role.

Why not take the time to train and coach the leaders in your organization? And before you hire or promote the next manager, define the leadership behaviors you’re looking for. Everyone will be glad you did.

And if one of your direct reports is a micro-manager, the best thing you can do for him or her is to give honest feedback through a direct conversation - citing clear examples. Or, by bringing in an outside coach who can gather the employee feedback this manager needs to hear and guiding him or her to make a course correction. Most micro-managers don’t realize that their justifications are misguided. Rather than helping their credibility and their career, micro-managing is a career derailer.


Sherlock Holmes can solve corporate culture mystery
July 16, 2015

Dear Joan:

We have been experiencing a critical personnel problem within our firm during the past few years. Many of our employees have been with the company for at least 10 years. Due to changes that occur over such an extensive period of time, these employees have developed an “anti-corporate” attitude. New ideas are flatly rejected and each employee clamors for the credit and recognition for any successful idea.

This situation is causing severe morale problems among newer employees and they are leaving as fast as they join the firm. The older employees can’t be terminated because of the knowledge and skills they possess.

How do we deal with this situation and maintain the old with the new?



The clue to solving this case may be in the last sentence of the first paragraph. A group of people will always adjust to their environment in order to cope, so a good place to begin looking for answers is in the way they respond to the workplace. As a corporate Sherlock Holmes, your job is to identify the rewards and punishments that have created this situation and find ways to solve the mystery.

If this group is quick to reject new ideas and eager to take credit for any idea that works, what caused this? My hunch is an unskilled boss or an authoritative corporate culture has something to do with it.

Here are a few clues to investigate: If a new idea was tried and failed, were they criticized? Did their boss cultivate “pets” who had good ideas that were rubbed in the faces of the rest? Does your company expect its employees to check their brains at the door? Were new ideas shoved down their throats before they were tested? Did new ideas always seem to result in demands for higher productivity? Did new ideas add work that was never rewarded? Was individual competition rewarded over team play?

An “anti-corporate” attitude grows from a feeling of being used by the system. Anti-corporate feelings can only grow when employees don’t feel a part of the company. Unfortunately, once negativism sets in, so does skepticism and sarcasm. This gruesome threesome is tough to drive out.

The first place to consider making a change is in the leadership of the group. Even if the manager is reasonably good, the old order of things needs to be shaken. This group needs a people-smart manager, who has a clearly demonstrated understanding of human motivation. If this new boss is a well-respected, well-liked manager in your firm, all the better.

The next thing to do is find a way to train backups. It worries me (and should worry your management) that “you can’t terminate” these older workers because they are the only ones who know the job. These employees are holding you hostage!

Change your reward system to favor cross training and cooperation. Giving a “training bonus” to employees who train others can do this. If your company can’t give money, give significant non-monetary perks, such as flexible hours or Friday afternoon off. Don’t be conservative. This is a time to ring the bell of change and you don’t want anyone to miss it.

Find ways to listen to these experienced workers. One idea is to get them together in a weekly meeting to brainstorm solutions to problems. Don’t tease them with fake meetings, however. If you aren’t prepared to let them try their own ideas and reward them for their effort, don’t yank their chain. This won’t work unless their manager is a skilled meeting leader and believes in employee involvement and empowerment.

Start with problems that are relatively easy to fix, so they see quick results and know you mean business. If they need training in how to participate in problem-solving meetings, bring someone in to teach them (and their boss) the skills. Praise all ideas and reward team successes with theatre tickets, pizza at lunch or - better yet - let them split a percentage of the money their new ideas save the company.

Try to find ways to break up old cliques. A few hard-core leaders may need to be moved or their jobs changed to create a new power balance. If some employees sabotage your attempts to create a new atmosphere, deal with them quickly. Talk to them privately about what you see them doing and ask for their cooperation. If repeated conversations fail to get the desired result, begin to document their lack of cooperation and warn them that they could lose their jobs. As much as you would hate to lose an experienced worker, you can’t afford to let them scare off new talent that is the future lifeblood of your company.

If you can crack this case, you will create the kind of healthy corporate culture that will encourage the old and new employees to work together to help your company grow.

Open door policy is the key success for manager

July 2, 2015

Dear Joan:

I was recently promoted to a supervisory position over my unit. There really isn’t much of a supervisory training program at my company so I’ve been teaching myself through books and the like.

One thing that I know is very important is to keep an “open door” policy. The problem I have with this idea is that every manager I have had in the past has said he had it but no one ever used it. People were hesitant to approach the boss with problems or just to talk because of some of the problems it caused.

I have a good relationship with my unit after having worked with them for seven years as their peer and then the backup supervisor. They seemed to feel good about coming to me then but I’m concerned that the open communication will soon end as I take over as their boss. Do you have any suggestions?


I can see why you were promoted. You care about the right things! One of the most important jobs of a supervisor is to stay close to his or her employees. Managers who lose touch lose out - in low productivity, morale problems and lack of commitment among workers.

Employees don’t listen to what their manager says, they watch what their manager does. An “Open Door Policy” is only as good as the manager behind the door.

You have a good history with your work unit but that doesn’t mean they aren’t watching you like a hawk for any changes in your leadership style. They know you have always been under someone else’s wing and now your own personal style will finally emerge.


Here are some ideas to consider:

* When an employee comes to you with a complaint, spend more time listening than talking. Ask the employee many questions about why he or she is concerned and how this is negatively affecting them. Ask what they have done to try to resolve the issue. Then ask “How can I help you?” If you feel that your intervention is important and essential, discuss how you might help.

Be careful, however, that you aren’t jumping in where you shouldn’t. Often, employees will test a new boss to see where the new line is drawn. Don’t take their problems on your shoulders if they haven’t done all they can to try to solve the problem on their own first. For example, don’t get trapped into playing dad or mom when employees complain to you about some work issue involving their co-workers. Encourage them to discuss conflicts with each other individually or in team meetings.

* When an employee comes to you with a personal problem, stay objective. There is a fine line between being empathetic and being sympathetic. If, for example, an employee is going through a divorce and she is telling you messy details, don’t commiserate or offer advice. Instead, listen empathetically and respond with comments such as, “That must have been really tough for you.” Avoid making judgments such as, “He really is a rat. I couldn’t stand being married to someone like that. If I were you ...” You never know how your words will be repeated and to whom.

You open yourself to other problems when you get too deeply involved in someone else’s personal life. For example, the employee who is going through a divorce may expect you to “understand” when she starts having an attendance problem.

* Keep confidences. Nothing will slam that “open door” faster than betraying a promise. For example, if an employee has a problem with another manager in a different department and he comes to you for confidential advice, don’t jump the gun by calling that manager and explaining the whole situation. Stay out of it and coach your employee to take some action on his own first.

However, if an employee reveals something to you that you know you must act on, be honest about what you must do and why.

* If you find out that an employee has made a serious mistake, don’t explode. Chances are, the employee feels as horrible as you do and doesn’t need a finger wagged in his face. Instead, call the employee in and ask him what happened and why. Ask him what he is going to do about solving the problem. Resist the urge to solve it yourself. If you snatch the project away from your employee, you’ll demoralize him and punish him instead of treating him as he should be treated - like an adult who needs to solve his own problems.

Crisis situations are where you’ll show your true style. Employees will study and remember how you react in these situations and will forget everything else. If you blow someone’s head off, don’t be surprised if they treat you as if you always have a loaded gun ... behind a closed door.

All of these ideas have a common theme. Treat your employees as independent adults who may need coaching and a friendly ear but not a parent or a psychologist. If you do, your door will never be a barrier to open, honest communication.


Meetings present a maze of problems
June 25, 2015

If you want to get the most out of the meetings you lead, you must know how to manage different situations as they come up. Any group of people working together will bring a wide range of needs and abilities that you can direct, much like a traffic cop at a busy intersection.

Before we look at some problem situations, let’s consider the important leadership characteristics that establish a healthy, participative atmosphere. Without these, your meeting may never get off the ground.


Don’t be a road hog.  Let them do at least 76 percent of the talking, or more.

Don’t use your meetings to get on your pulpit or podium. Be positive and encouraging by looking for the merit in people’s comments and by encouraging incomplete, unusual or hesitant ideas.


Protect members from personal attack

Nothing will choke off participation faster than immediate evaluation or put-downs. This protection includes allowing everyone to get in their “two cents worth.” Be honest and good humored about admitting your mistakes and not having all the answers. Don’t be afraid to tell the group when you’re upset, tired, distracted or in doubt. Being human can build trust and credibility. If you do, the group will stay on your side.


Paraphrase and clarify

Even when all else fails, these two techniques will probably save you. They are key, meeting-leading skills.

Now let’s look at some familiar problems and how to handle them, as discussed in the book, “How to Make Meetings Work,” by Michael Doyle and David Straus.


The great silence

Avoid the temptation to fill the void. Wait for a while. If nothing happens, ask the group what the problem is. People may be confused, bored, lost or deep in thought. Don’t be a mind-reader, and never assume.

Ask for suggestions on what to do next. If nothing is offered, make a suggestion yourself and check out their acceptance. Or, ask each individual for his or her thoughts at the moment.

It may be a good time to summarize what has happened up to this point. You might even suggest a short stretch or break, or ask them if it’s time to move on to the next point. The important thing is to stay on their wavelength.


The traffic jam

When everyone talks at once, good ideas are lost and nothing is accomplished. Say, “Hold it, everybody.  We will accomplish much more if one person speaks at a time.”


The interrupter

Sometimes people are impatient and excited, or afraid an idea will be lost if it isn’t blurted out. Deal with the interrupter immediately. People will be watching to see if you protect their right to speak.

Don’t play favorites, either, even if the interrupter is a VIP. You could say, “Please hold on to your idea a moment, Frank. Let’s let Mary finish what she was saying.”


The rambler

Ramblers love meetings. They can smell a meeting from a department away. They often use this forum to voice complaints or share their years of experience.

They may have a lot of good ideas to offer, but lose them on a restless audience. Force yourself to listen for a useful idea. Then, wait for a natural pause or break, confirm your understanding of the point in the story and ask someone else for an opinion.


The attacker

It’s important to hear conflicting viewpoints, but when someone’s idea or personality is attacked, it’s time to blow the whistle.

Paraphrase the attacker’s idea, but leave out the personal references. Attack: “Where did you get an idea like that? You obviously haven’t had any experience dealing with that department.”

Your paraphrased response: “Let’s make sure we are capturing your criticisms. You feel that this suggestion is unrealistic and unworkable?”



Sometimes people are hesitant to state an objection. Whispering to someone nearby can destroy the concentration and trust in your meeting.

Look directly at the conversers. If that doesn’t work, say, “It looks like you have some ideas on this. Would you like to share them with the group?” Don’t embarrass them, or the group may protect them and turn against you.


The Dropout

If someone is silent, doodling or reading, don’t play “gotcha" by saying, “What do you think about that, Claudia?” She may be thinking about the problem at hand or preoccupied. Perhaps she shouldn’t even be there if she has no interest in the discussion.

You could try to bring her into the discussion by saying, “Claudia, I’d like to hear your ideas on this. I’ll give you a moment to think. How about you, Jerry?”

Ego and leadership - do you know any OE types? 

June 18, 2015

“It’s all about Charlie,” my colleague muttered, as we waited for him once again for a meeting. “He never thinks about anyone else’s schedule; his is always more important - and he’ll let you know it.”

Fifteen minutes later, with a few quick jokes and a dazzling smile, he swept into the room. Before long he was on his email, and then stepped out to take a call. What’s going on here?

Ego strength is a necessary character trait for leadership, but it can be a career derailer if it’s not in balance with other behaviors such as empathy and collaboration. Over time, Charlie’s self-absorbed behavior will erode the support of his colleagues, no matter how well he performs his job.

How do you recognize an over-developed ego? It feels like arrogance, if you’re on the receiving end. The over-developed ego - I’ll call it the OE type - will typically jump in and out of meetings, disrupting the agenda. He or she will take calls during a one-on-one conversation. The OE will steer meetings to outcomes they want, blowing past other’s ideas. Often, the OE will have a larger than life personality, and sometimes that manifests in charm and charisma, other times the OE type acts like a bully. Either way, they aim to win.

OE types with talent often rise to the top of their field. They brush off rejection and failure - in fact, they barely notice it - as they single-mindedly plow ahead toward their goals. That works to a point and it’s particularly useful in an individual contributor role, like sales. But when they find themselves in a position of leadership, it can begin to unravel.

Here’s why:

* Rather than listen to other’s views about why something won’t work, he or she will push it through anyway. Resistance from the troops - both active and passive - will stall implementation.

* Rather than share the credit with those who deserve it, he or she will wear the team’s results like a personal badge. Team resentment builds and initiative and ownership flags.

* Peers, who have grown tired of disrespectful behavior toward themselves and their teams, will tend to passively watch the OE make a mistake, rather than jump in with corrective, honest feedback. They have learned it isn’t heard or heeded anyway, so why try to bail him or her out?

* Senior management, who is wowed with the OE’s star quality, will eventually have to face up to the OE’s “dark side.” If the OE’s bad behavior results in losing high potential employees, peer complaints, or lack of support for the OE’s upward promotability, the senior leaders will have to deal with that fallout. Ultimately, the OE’s career will stall or derail.

* The OE tends to hold many jobs in his or her career. Usually, they interview well and make a big splash early. But over time, they get themselves into trouble with comments and actions the culture rejects.

Sometimes the OE will have a life-changing event that will force him or her to look in the mirror. Sometimes they will benefit from an external coach, who is tough enough to call them on their behavior and teach them new approaches. If they are lucky, they will get a good manager who will call out the inappropriate behavior and mentor them to the greatness they are capable of if they can just get out of their own way.

Ten questions that will encourage open, positive performance discussions

June 11, 2015

Dear Joan:

I was recently promoted to a senior executive position in my company. I have worked with most of my direct subordinates for many years as their peer and now I find myself in the role of their boss.

Fortunately, my relationship with them is very good. My concern is that I must evaluate them at the end of the year and complete their performance review. Please be assured that I am not hesitant to give them honest feedback on a regular basis. What bothers me is that I prefer not to do a formal evaluation; I want to use the opportunity to build our new relationship and establish myself as more of a coach.

These people are all experienced, senior managers and are good performers. They would resent close scrutiny of their work and a “performance review,” yet, I want to set a good example and encourage them to hold coaching sessions with their employees. I find that evaluations tend to cause defensiveness and hard feelings, with an over-emphasis on the negative. What would you suggest?



You sound as if you know the difference between managing and leading; it’s no wonder you have a good relationship with your team.

You are not alone in doubting the value of an annual performance review. There is new thinking about the purpose of a review and whether or not it is really a helpful exercise, particularly if it is the only feedback an employee receives each year. It is much more motivating for employees to have built-in measurements (and coaching) in their jobs, which allows them to know how they are doing at all times in relation to the goal.

Leaders like you know that coaching and feedback should occur all year long. The performance review should be nothing more than a summary of the year’s growth and experiences and an opportunity to set expectations and new goals for the coming year.

I recommend that you hold a two-way discussion with each of them. It will give you a chance to build your new relationship. They will be wondering what kind of leader you will be and they may be anxious to see if you will change your stripes in your new job.

To set the tone, give them some questions like the following. These questions are designed to create a positive discussion that will stay focused on the right things.


1. What did you do that you are most proud of this past year?

2. What was your biggest challenge?

3. What was your biggest disappointment?

4. If you had to do it over again, what would you do differently?

5. What did you find to be the most stimulating and caused you to grow the most?

6. What was the most fun?

7. What are you looking forward to doing in the new year?

8. What worries you the most about the coming year?

9. What would you like to say about your performance one year from now?

10. How can I help you? (What would you like me to do more of, less of, the same?)

Is your inability to delegate holding your employees and you back?

June 5, 2015

Mary is a star in her new job. In fact, she’s so good, her boss has promoted her to a managerial position just one year after she took over as marketing director of a small company.

“I really love my job,” she said during our recent lunch, “but I realize I have a lot to learn about managing,” she confessed. “My employees are asking me for more responsibility and yet I hesitate to delegate the grunt work and I end up doing it all myself ... besides, it takes longer to explain it than to do it. My boss is thrilled with my results and I don’t want to do anything to mess that up with him.”

Mary has always been a sole performer who has had total control over her own work. The shift to delegating part of her work feels uncomfortable because she feels accountable for the results and she wants it done right. Like most new managers, she thinks that “letting go” means being irresponsible.

Her employees are lucky; Mary is smart enough to recognize her need to learn new skills. Managers, who don’t learn to delegate effectively, end up with employees who feel unchallenged and resentful. These managers tend to plateau at the first level of supervision and wonder why their To Do Lists are a mile long and their employees keep leaving.


Here’s what I told Mary: Your need to be in ultimate control could be your undoing. Your boss won’t think you are a star for long if you can’t “off load” your routine work to make room for new, more challenging assignments.

Managers who are reluctant to delegate for fear of “dumping” on their employees are missing the point. Employees who are worth their salt want to help their boss. In fact, bosses who treat their employees as partners in their projects are not seen as "dumpers" they are seen as “developers.”

Perfectionists like Mary have a hard time delegating. Part of the challenge of supervising others is knowing how to back off and let your employees complete tasks in their own way. They may even discover a better way to do the job.

A good place to start is to take a look at your To Do List each week and check the tasks that are routine or fairly straightforward. Even though it takes time to explain WHAT, WHY AND WHEN, it is a long-term investment because next time there will be no need for an explanation.

Be careful about the HOW. It’s fine to describe how you’ve done the task in the past but make sure your employees know they are expected to find new and better approaches whenever they can. Peering over their shoulders or re-doing their work will discourage and anger them (“If she wanted it done her way, why didn’t she just do it in the first place?”).

This is tricky. Spell out the results up front and set up interim meetings to coach and advise. Otherwise, keep your hands off. Ask yourself, “Does their result do the job?” instead of “Is it exactly as I would have done it?”

If a task requires a lot of judgment or decision-making or a senior manager has asked you to personally complete an assignment, don’t delegate it. The same is true of a project that has high visibility with an element of risk; don’t toss the hot potato to your employee unless they are well prepared for the job and the visibility could do them some good.

Make it very clear how much authority they have in the given task, so your employees don’t have to ask you for your approval at each step. If you let your employees have some decision-making authority, they will take more responsibility for their work because the end result will be their own.

If you only delegate the junk and keep the good stuff for yourself, your employees will become bored, and what’s worse, they will feel that you don’t trust them to do the “important” work. And if your employees can’t do at least some of the "important" work, you are to blame. A manager’s responsibility is to expose employees to more and more complex assignments so they learn to handle them.

You are ultimately responsible for tasks you delegate so don’t blame them when things go wrong. Find out why and look for ways to avoid making the same mistake again. And don’t delegate with an apologetic tone. They aren’t doing you a favor; you are giving them to chance to find challenge in their work and growth in their careers.

New teams need coaching

May 28, 2015

Many companies are implementing a “team” approach. They are experimenting with natural teams, management teams, self-directed teams, cross-functional teams, cells, process teams and matrix teams. These approaches can cause some exciting “wins” but they can also create a lot of confusion and frustration, especially for companies new at working this way.

For instance, self-directed teams aren’t appropriate for every company. And many companies are pursuing them as the goal instead of identifying the goal that is best for the customer and working backwards to figure out the best structure to get it.

Another problem is that companies jump into self-directed work teams too quickly, the workforce usually isn’t prepared for it. And neither is management. Too many companies simply deem a work group “self-directed” send them to a few training classes and then wonder why they aren’t taking responsibility. If you were suddenly thrust into “taking more responsibility” would you make a decision with little information in a culture that traditionally blames the person if it doesn’t work? If the culture isn’t modified to support the teams, they will fail.


Here are some tips for guiding groups who are new at team behavior and responsibilities:

1. Don’t just turn them loose. This is irresponsible and will set them up to fail. Provide them with a seasoned coach and mentor. Ideally, this person will be at a high enough level to be their connection to the top of the organization. This guardian angel can steer them clear of political sinkholes and teach them how to gather data, work across boundaries and sell a new idea. This coach can also act as their liaison for setting up training to build skills and for getting information they need to make decisions.

2. When the team works on a project, give them a clear picture of what you want and what the boundaries are. Too often, well-meaning management decides to let an inexperienced group solve a problem without giving them any guidance and structure. Then the group process breaks down or the solution is unrealistic or solves the wrong problem. For inexperienced groups always provide a process facilitator.

3. Clarify what the authority limits are. Sometimes managers in their haste to “empower” people send them charging off to work on a problem only to find that the solution isn’t acceptable. Now the managers feel that they are held hostage and must accept the group’s decision or risk looking non-supportive of empowerment.

By and large, employees are adults who will work within the limits you set. It’s irresponsible to presume that employees who are inexperienced in working in teams will hit home runs in their first game. Start out with limited authority and work up to more freedom as they gain experience. And don’t forget: You don’t ever have to say yes. Just be honest and tell them the truth.

And remember, the reason their solution is unrealistic may be because they don’t know all the facts. It’s management’s job to provide them what they need to make the best decision. That’s why pairing up inexperienced teams with experienced people can work well.

4. Don’t do it for them. One of the most difficult things traditional managers need to learn in this new environment is to let the employees do it. If they ask questions guide them to find out the answers for themselves. If they stumble don’t grab the work and do it yourself so it’s done “right.” Use it as a teaching opportunity and let them fix it. If they need information from another department, let them go get it. It’s the only way they can learn good judgment and feel a sense of ownership.

Good communication goes beyond email, memos and meetings

May 21, 2015

As 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 anything done.”

Why 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 procedures!

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:


The huddle

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.


Production meetings

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

We 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

Most 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 is doing.


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 boost satisfaction.


Are you a micromanager?
May 14, 2015

Here 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?

2. Do you frequently correct your employees’ correspondence and redo their reports and presentation slides?

3. 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?

4. Do you find you spend more time on projects and technical work than on coaching your employees to do the work?

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.


So 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 micromanager’s trap.

* If 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 “doer.”

* 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?”


Once 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 - leading.

When your coworker throws temper tantrums and your boss turns a blind eye

May 8, 2015

Dear Joan:

I 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 surroundings.

I 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.

I’ve 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.

It’s 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 good fortune.



Your 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.

The 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 around!”


Here 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.”

The key is to keep all emotion out of your voice. If it’s dripping with disgust or anger, it will only add fuel to his fire.

By 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.

If 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 advantage.


Even talented managers can have career-derailing blind spots

April 27, 2015

The Protectionist

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.

An 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 other departments. 

Some 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 view.

The Controller

The 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.”

The 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 to act.

A 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 authority.


The Loyalist

If 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 invited

The 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.

A 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.


The Introvert

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.

The 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.

The 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.


The Player

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.

Exit 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.


Bad apples & lax bosses - use diplomacy when complaining about co-worker
April 22, 2015

Our small department has a problem with an individual who takes advantage of a lax boss.

The 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.

I 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.

Is there anything that can be done by the co-workers to try to improve the situation?


This 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.

Is 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?

You have a clear, unemotional writing style, which suggests you could describe specific behaviors to your boss without accusations or theatrics.

If 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.

“We 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.”

Then calmly spell out some of the facts as you’ve observed them. Make no assumptions or you will weaken your position.

For 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.”

This 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 co-workers.

Some bosses hesitate to confront employees with rotten work habits because the employee’s production is still good.

To 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.

If 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, too.”

If 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

Dear Joan:

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 and wants.

Is 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?

My 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?

Some 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 interview sessions.

When 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 thought.


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.

I 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 no guarantee.

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.

But 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.

So, 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 teamwork.

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.

If, 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 created.

Team-oriented companies use peer hiring to build stronger teams

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 results!


Manager urged to confront hostile employee 
March 29, 2015

Dear Joan:  

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 hostility?


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.

It’s 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.

This 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.

Now 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 her progress?

Now, 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 this problem.

If 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.”

If 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.”

If 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 stop.”

Keep 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 are acceptable.

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

Dear Joan:

I 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).

One 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 interview.)

I 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.

When 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.

In a 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.

In 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.”

This 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 behavior.

Organizations that want to inoculate their organizations against rigid thinking are wise to take some of the following steps:

* 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.

* In meetings, squash nay-saying and premature evaluation of new ideas.

* If an employee has a new idea they are convinced will work, let them test it and monitor its effectiveness.

* Do 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 efforts.

* 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.

Even 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.










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