Good communication goes beyond email, memos and meetings   


May 21, 2015

Joan Lloyd

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Often an audit will reveal that a company’s communication system is outdated or ineffective.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.


What makes an organization a great organization? 
March 12, 2015

Dear Joan:

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.

Here 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.”


In general, the best organizations have:

1. 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 decisions.

2. Communication - Managers who recognize their role as the “key connection” between the people and the organization.

3. Rewards - Systems, benefits and pay systems that reward the right behavior.

If 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 culture.

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.

The 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 bonuses, etc.

Managers understand their role as the “key connection” between employees and the company.

They 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 the team.

They 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.

Each 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

What 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.

Ask 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 successful leader?


The best leaders I know have certain personal characteristics in common:

They have the ability to focus attention on the vision for the future.

They 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 organization.


They 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.


They 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.


They 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.


They coach by simultaneously challenging and supporting their subordinates.

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.


They 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.

An 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.

Last 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.”

Tom 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 retirement.

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 communication style.

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.”

An 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.”

Ask 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!”

What are we so afraid of? Perhaps it’s the fear of saying the wrong thing, alienating an employee, receiving a grievance or becoming unpopular.

Here 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 voice.

* 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.”

* If 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 them so.

* 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

As a 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.

Why? 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.

The 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.” 

He was angry and frustrated. For most of his life, he could win by being smart and driven but now it wasn’t enough.

He 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 collaboration skills? 

* Do 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.

* Do 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.

* Do 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.

* Do 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 the answers.

* 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 problem solver?

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

Do 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.

Why? 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.

You 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 it!

Here 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.


1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.”

It’s 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 quick prioritization.

5. Go group by group and ask the spokesperson to stand and state their group’s comment or question.

The 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 the rest.

The 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 mannerisms.

Here are some of the internal and intangible things that make the difference:


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.

Jack 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 job.

In 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

I 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.”

In 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 peers.

In 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.


The willingness to disclose to others that they are working on themselves

Some coaching situations are done without involving others but in many cases, involving others is necessary and desirable.

Take 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 with.

Once 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 for self-development.

Even an open door policy needs some ground rules

Feb. 3, 2015

Dear Joan:

We 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.

We 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.

In 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?

It 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?



Your 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.

It’s 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 needed now.

As 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.


Here 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 the agenda.

*  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 over time.

* 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 later.

* 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

Dear Joan:

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, including her.

I 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.

I 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!

I 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 employees.”



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 those conditions.

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 team player.

Your boss and others noticed that your reputation was thriving in spite of the trouble your co-worker was giving you.

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.

If 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.”

A 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 motives.

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 yourself.

In 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.

I hope your career comes up roses!


Meetings are only as effective as the person who leads them   
Jan. 9, 2015

A 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."

In 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.

As a skilled meeting leader, you can get more done in less time, increase teamwork and demonstrate your ability to get results.

Let’s examine what it takes to run a good meeting. The first questions to ask yourself are:

IS A 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.

WHAT 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.

WHO 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.)

When 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 the meeting.

It’s also helpful to explain why you have invited each of them, so they know how you want each of them to contribute.

Many 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.

This 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 written down.

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 managers.

What are these new leader expectations? They’re more sophisticated and demanding than ever before. They can be categorized in four distinct areas.


Build organizational strength.

A 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 everyone else.

In 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 communicate it.

* 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 differently?’”

* 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.


Build interpersonal strength.

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 meetings.

* Ask each employee, “What do you want most from your job?” and offer concrete help so they get what they need.

* Spend more time with the good performers than with the poor ones and take steps to coach or confront those who need it.

* 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.


Build inner strength.

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 are saying.

* Do 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 leading others.


Build career strength.

A 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.

We are in the middle of a workplace renaissance. There is a shortage of courageous leaders. Make the most of the opportunity.










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