Resistance to change is often subtle


Feb. 8, 2016

Joan Lloyd

Dear Joan:

Having worked for state and local governments for over sixteen years, I was just wondering how you get past the unstated resistance of group leaders or members who may feel they have the most to gain by keeping things the same, and therefore undermine change.

Is this a problem specific to government managers? What has been your experience? What suggestions do you have?


You have put your finger on why organizational change is so difficult. It’s hard enough convincing someone to change when the reasons are clearly in their best interest (like losing weight, for example), but when the person thinks they will by hurt by the change, they really dig their heels in.

Resistance takes many forms but in organizations it’s often unspoken and subtle because to be seen as “resistant” is risky. Often, a resistant person will say the right things but make no changes in behavior or subtly undermine anyone who does.

Much of my consulting work is in the area of organizational change, and over the years I’ve begun to identify the key factors that make the difference in a transformation effort. Here they are:

* The leader is the most important factor. If the leader has a clear vision of where he or she wants to take the organization, and he or she communicates that vision in every action, people will fall into line easier and faster.

I have found that leaders frequently underestimate the power and influence they carry. One president said to me, “I’m just a nice guy. I don't throw my weight around or act like a big shot. I’m just one of the team.” Not quite. Whether he wants to acknowledge it or not, every person who comes in contact with him studies his moves. A leader's actions speak so loudly, people can't hear a word he/she says.

* The senior team can't delegate the change to someone else. Teamwork and empowerment must start at the top. Typically, senior managers each run a different part of the organization and only share information on a need to know basis with their peers. The top management group needs to work together to define the changes and their new role.

* The incentives and consequences must change. In government, like many other bureaucratic organizations, the game was played by keeping out of the line of fire, telling superiors what they want to hear, building an empire of many employees, and not rocking the boat. The people who played the game won promotions. Today, the organizations that are serious about change must change the rules and the prizes.

* Government jobs are narrowly defined, pay scales are locked in and promotions are often determined by rigid rules and tests. If you're an ambitious, bright employee with many innovative ideas, where's the incentive? As a result, government can’t change as fast as private industry. It needs to start “reinventing” these systems to create the freedom it needs to compete against privatization.

* The structure needs to change. They say that “form follows function” so it’s often necessary to change the structure to match the changing functions in the transforming organization. If you leave all the supervisors in place, for example, with the same number of employees and the same policies and procedures, why in the world would they suddenly embrace (or understand) the change just because the CEO said to do it?

On the other hand, some companies make the mistake of only changing structure, in the hopes that it alone will force the changes to happen. For example, in some companies where middle layers have been removed and all other bureaucratic rules and administration have stayed the same, the net effect is a lot of burned out people. You simply can’t “do more with less” unless the system is re-wired for fewer people.

* The process is everything. Most organizations approach organizational change the way they design a new product or switch suppliers. They figure if it looks logical down on paper, it should all go according to schedule. They overlook the complications that occur because the changes are affecting people’s lives. That takes longer. That takes endless face-to-face communication. That takes more employee involvement. You don’t build trust via e-mail and you can’t change an organization via memo and speeches.

Good coaches find balance 
Jan 28, 2016

Every manager is supposed to be a “coach” these days. And if you’ve ever taken on the challenge of a coaching job - from little league to adult volleyball - you know it’s not easy. You’ve got to balance a lot of factors at once: for example, the desire to win needs to be balanced with having fun and letting everyone play. Your new coaching role at work isn’t much different - corporate goals must be met while helping everyone participate and stay challenged on the job.

But even though the word “coaching” is thrown around a lot, I’ve found that few people are able to actually define what "coaching" really means when you apply it to the workplace. For instance, most bosses err on one side of the spectrum or the other. They say, “Just do it right. Figure it out for yourself” or, “Here’s a list of everything you’re doing wrong. Now fix it.” If you were on an athletic team and heard that “coaching,” would it help your performance?

I’ve studied master coaches as a part of my work in organizational change and leadership development. I’ve watched them and analyzed their techniques. Then I’ve worked with them and asked them to coach me - to see if their techniques made a difference in my performance. They did.

Here are a few ideas to try with your employees. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t catch on right away - these master level techniques take a while to learn.

1.) Identify what I call the “performance gap” between their current performance and the desired performance. Here’s an example: “What Linda’s doing is taking the customer’s order. What I’d like her to be doing is taking the order and then cross-selling other products.”

Once the gap has been identified, the master coach begins to closely observe and analyze the behavior patterns that are contributing to the gap. For instance, in a retail store the manager might observe a new sales representative working with a customer and study the way she greets the customer, suggests products, and other behaviors.

2. Pick out and isolate one thing in the performance gap and create a “drill” for the person to practice. Etch the new behaviors one at a time. Master coaches don’t try to close the performance gap all at once. They know that the gap is made up of numerous little skills that need to be isolated and improved. Sometimes coaches even work on the isolated behavior to an extreme in order to put a spotlight on it. Then when the new skill has been learned, they ask the performer to refine it down to where it can be integrated into the whole process. This is a technique I learned from Jerry Warren, master coach for the Professional Ski Instructors of America and member of the U.S. Demonstration Team.

An example of this is the golfer who practices swinging the club with only the left hand for creating a new mental “groove” to etch the sensation of letting the left hand lead. Once the groove is made, the golfer can go back to a two-handed swing. Similarly, the retail sales rep could isolate and practice a new suggestive selling technique until she is ready to integrate it into her whole approach.

3. Use the Warren learning model: SEE, FEEL, UNDERSTAND. Most of us just coach by explaining things to the learner. Unfortunately, most of us aren’t auditory learners. Instead, try to combine talking with showing and doing.

In the SEE, FEEL, UNDERSTAND approach, first show the person what the performance looks like when it’s done correctly. Either demonstrate it yourself or ask someone else to do it. They will SEE what correct performance looks like. Together with the learner, analyze the good performance and isolate one thing to practice.

In order to FEEL the new behavior, they need to try it out for themselves while the coach watches. The coach looks for anything that is even close to “right” and reinforces it with comments such as “That’s the idea!” Master coaches don’t wait until it’s perfect to praise. They know that self-esteem is a powerful factor in learning. If they constantly say, “No, that’s not quite right,” the energy for learning drains quickly.

UNDERSTANDING comes when the performer starts using the skill on their own and internalizes it. When they can describe what they’re doing and why, they have integrated the new behavior.

Here’s an example of a leader who used this approach recently with his construction foremen who needed to learn public relations skills with residents who lived near a new construction site: He took a small group of foremen with him to visit five homeowners.

First, he did all the talking and answered all the questions. After each one, he asked them to analyze what he did to isolate what made it work.

Then, he asked each one to take different parts of the presentation. As they walked between houses, they gave each other feedback and further refined their skills.

Next, he asked them to divide up the remaining homeowners and do presentations on their own.

Then, they got together periodically to discuss how it was going and to share approaches.

These tactics make people love learning. They will willingly try new behaviors without prodding from you. With effective coaching, employees will experience progress and will feel like winners with the self-confidence to pursue more. And isn’t that what “continuous improvement” is all about?


CEO, what is your humility quotient? 
Jan 21, 2016

Dear Joan:

Could you please write a column on the arrogance of top management? When I read about the enormous salaries they are paid, the “bail out” golden parachutes they have and the general lack of accountability they demonstrate to their employees, it makes me wonder.


Although many top executives don’t fit your description, many others do. Somehow, something happens to them on the way to the top - and it isn’t pretty. The saddest part is most of them have no idea how they are coming across and how much damage they are doing to themselves and to their own companies. They judge themselves by their best intentions, while others judge them by their actions.

If you’re an executive, it may be time to check your HUMILITY SCALE. True leadership is an earned privilege.

Here’s a quiz that might cause some introspection:

* Do you surround yourself with status symbols in your job? Is it important for you to have a fancy corner office, executive parking privileges, expensive suits? Often, executives who wear their position like a crown treat people as inferior subjects.

* Do you feel your time is too valuable to be “wasted” with people who can’t make their point in five minutes or less? Do you get impatient with people, dismiss them if they aren’t talking about something high on your priority list? Do people below you take great pains to squeeze ideas into a one-page summary or massage them into a format you’ll pay attention to? Impatient executives miss great ideas and innovative solutions.

* In the past, have you been surprised by a problem you didn’t know about? It could be a sign that you aren’t listening or that you are shooting the messenger when he or she tries to tell you bad news.

* Do you think you are doing well in the eyes of your superiors but not sure what your employees think? If you don’t know (or care) about how you are perceived by people below you, there’s a good chance you aren’t treating them with the same respect you give to people above you. If you haven’t asked them lately, you could be kidding yourself.

* Do you know the names of all your employees and a little about their personal lives? If you take the time to get to know the mail clerk, the secretaries, the intern, there’s a good chance you’re a team builder instead of an empire builder.

* Do you think you are smarter than your employees or peers? Do you think you have the best grasp of the key issues and problems that need to be solved? If you feel that way, you probably aren’t seeking input and ideas from others. Arrogance can make you listen poorly and learn slowly.

* Do you make negative judgments about people based on limited information and contact? This creates a highly political environment, where people jockey for an image you’ll approve of. They will waste hours getting ready for any contact with you and you may be fooled by a slick operator who knows how to appeal to your ego.

* Do you think you know what the customer needs better than they do? You may by quick to deny this one, yet if you don’t talk to your customers, listen to the employees on the front lines, or get reliable customer data to use in your strategic planning, you may know less than you think.

* Do you think you are above the rules? Everyone else has to follow the system for buying supplies, filling out expense reports, holding performance reviews, but you do what you want. If you don’t lead by example, don’t expect anyone else to follow your rules.

* Do you show your importance and intelligence by the questions you ask? Any new idea is game. You pride yourself on finding the weakness and risk in any idea and you love to show off this ability in front of your peers. Killing new ideas with questions beats the innovation out of your organization and snuffs out initiative.

* Do you think your value is so much higher than that of other people in the organization that your salary should be exempt from pay freezes and layoffs even if the rest of the employees are taking a hit? Are you so important that your salary ratio is in the stratosphere, while first level employees’ salaries are subterranean? Do you get a raise whether the company performs well or not?

Leadership is a privilege. You earn it by building respect and trust. Maybe the best question of all is this one: “If your employees could choose their own leader, would it be you?”

If you lead with humility, you can probably say “Yes,” with confidence.

Taking disciplinary action with your employee can be extremely difficult
Jan. 14, 2016

Dear Joan:

I am an office manager in a medium-sized company. Prior to this promotion one year ago, I worked with the women I now supervise.

After my promotion, I had my share of resentment and jealousy from these women. They have gotten much better and I finally can say I’m beginning to enjoy supervision.

My problem centers around one woman who was out on a maternity leave and who is now back. She has had many problems with her babysitter and has missed a lot of work. Because the problem is serious, I spoke to her about it, but she always has some new excuse. She knows I’ve had a few problems with sitters in the past myself (when I was her co-worker), so she always brings it up and expects me to understand her situation. She has also been spending a lot of time on personal phone calls to her sitter.

So I know I must draw the line soon, but I am having some difficulty deciding how to do it. I know she will be very angry and resentful.

If you could give me any advice, I’d be most grateful.



Supervising former peers can be a difficult task. As you struggle with your new role as the boss, your former co-workers must adjust also.

Disciplining a former co-worker, for a problem you have shared, is going to take some special effort.

You must first put some distance between her current problem and your former problem. This is her problem, not yours. She must take full responsibility for solving it.

Feeling empathy for her situation and taking disciplinary action are not mutually exclusive. You can express empathy for her predicament, but your job, and hers, is to get the work done.

It doesn’t appear that your employee realizes how serious this problem has become. She must be told, in clear language, what the consequences are if she fails to resolve this problem. You may wish to follow the outline below when having the next discussion with this employee.

1. Review previous discussions, including any solutions that were agreed upon and any action actually taken. Your tone of voice and manner should be that of adult to adult, not adult to child. Make sure you stick to facts and focus on the problem, not the person.

2. Ask for the reason this problem is continuing and listen with understanding. This has been a trouble spot for you in the past. Prepare carefully. If she says, “You know how hard it is to find a good sitter,” you can certainly respond with, “I understand how concerned you are about quality care for your child.” Stay focused on her problem and feeling, not yours.

3. Explain the effects her problem is having on you and the rest of your staff. As a new mother, it’s understandable how she may have overlooked or minimized the effects of her absences and personal phone calls on others. It’s important to be specific. Rather than saying, “We all must do our share,” say, “When your phone is tied up, customers can’t get through.”

4. Let your employee know the consequences of her continued behavior. (If that has already been done in your last discussion, outline the action you must take and why.) Unless there are new factors to consider - the child has a serious illness, for example - you must clearly describe the action you must take if the problem is not resolved.

If your employee becomes angry, remain calm. If she becomes emotional, hand her a box of tissues and wait for her to regain her composure. If she accuses you of being uncaring or unfair, calmly acknowledge her feelings “I’m sure I must seem that way to you, but I must try to be fair to all the people who work for me. Your frequent absences and long phone calls have affected all of us.”

5. Attempt to come up with specific actions the employee will take to solve her problem. You might say, “I know you can turn this situation around. Do you have any ideas for solving this problem?” If her solutions are the same ideas that haven’t worked in the past, say, “You’ve had some difficulty doing that in the past. What will you do to make sure it’s successful this time?”

6. Set a follow-up date to review progress. Choose a period of time that will allow your employee enough time to solve the problem. In this case, you may want to ask her how long she thinks it will take to straighten things out. Keep an informal log of all the discussions held with this employee on these matters.


Can quiz predict success or failure of a manager?

Jan. 9, 2016

Dear Joan:

Can you shed some light on what separates the managers who succeed from those who fail? It seems to me that the differences are hard to pin down, since some people who appear to have poor people skills make it up the ladder while others who are talented don’t make much progress. Any thoughts?


The magic ingredients that separate the winners from the losers are hard to bottle. Most of us have our own dark predictions about the witch down the hall or the Vice-Emperor in the corner office.

The Center for Creative Leadership, in Greensboro, NC, took a scientific approach to predicting their fates. They studied the specific characteristics that lead to managerial “derailment” - demotion, being fired, or plateaued.

Their research revealed some interesting traits and behaviors that can kill careers. It may help you keep score in your own organization. Keep in mind, however, that each organization has its own set of values and rules and you can learn a great deal about the politics and culture of your company by watching who gets rewarded and who doesn’t. If you can’t see the logic in who gets knighted and who winds up the dungeon supervisor, you need to expand your internal network and get closer to the subjects you’re studying.

You might take the following quiz twice - once for yourself and another time with the Vice-Emperor in mind.

(1=strongly disagree and 5=strongly agree A 5 is always negative)

1. Does not follow up on promises; lets people dangle

2. Thinks more about getting promoted than the job he or she is in now

3. Does not select staff wisely

4. Could not handle conflict with a bad boss or one he/she disagreed with

5. Is not good at building a team

6. Has an insensitive, abrasive style

7. Cannot handle a job requiring the formulation of complex organizational strategies

8. Chooses an overly narrow subordinate group

9. Makes a splash and moves on without really completing a job

10. Can’t make the mental transition from technical manager to general manager

11. Is arrogant (e.g., devalues the contribution of others)

12. Has not adapted to the management culture

13. Does not resolve conflict among subordinates

14. Adopts a bullying style under stress

15. Does not pay enough attention to detail

16. Does not handle pressure well

17. Isolates him/herself from others

18. Relies too much on natural talent

19. Disagrees with higher management about how the business should be run

20. Is emotionally volatile and unpredictable

21. Has chosen to stay with the same boss too long

22. Makes subordinates or peers feel stupid or unintelligent

23. Might burn out, run out of steam

24. Has left a trail of little problems

25. Might lose a powerful advocate within the organization

26. Has left a trail of bruised people


The new year is a great time to review, rethink and revamp
Dec. 30, 2015

Happy New Year! Have you made any resolutions yet? Well, even if resolutions aren’t your style, the New Year is a logical time to start fresh with some changes in your job and your work life. Here are a few ideas - big and small-- to get you started:

* Learn something new that will make you more marketable. Check the want ads in your field and see what the latest qualifications are. This should give you ideas about where to focus your own development. Next New Year’s Eve you could be one step closer to your next career move.

* Identify 2 colleagues you admire and initiate a relationship with them. If all goes well, they may become your friends or even your mentors. Surrounding yourself with people who are successful and who know what it takes to reach their goals is a tactic most successful people use. Not only will you learn a lot from their experience and wisdom but you’re likely to meet a whole new circle of friends.

* Volunteer for something extra at work. Your company probably has lots of opportunities for people who are willing to reach out and grab them. Join the office social committee or bowling league - you’ll see fellow workers from a whole new perspective and develop a new branch of your network. 

* Take up a new outside hobby or sport. Staying active is good for the spirit as well as the body. Start tennis lessons or build birdhouses - whatever will provide a totally different activity from your job duties. Your mind craves the challenge of varied activities and the stimulation will make you fresher at work.

* Change your workspace. Whether you change your office decor or clean out your files, the new environment will do you good. New surroundings can be uplifting and organized systems will make you feel more in control.

* Ask 3 respected professionals in your field, “What was the best business book you read last year?” and then read their top choices. If you like, follow up with them after you’ve read the books to discuss key ideas. It’s a great time-saving way to stay on top of the latest and greatest new books while enriching your network.

* Write more personal notes. High tech is convenient and fast but it tends to de-humanize the workplace. Short thank-you notes and brief notes to acknowledge someone else’s latest accomplishment make the workplace a better place. Maintaining a personal touch in spite of a busy schedule will make your efforts all the more appreciated and significant.

* Upgrade your appearance. If you haven’t updated your wardrobe and you’re wearing the same old hairstyle you’ve had for years, maybe it’s time for a more modern look. If your appearance shouts 2000, people may assume your ideas aren’t up-to-date in 2016.

* Stop complaining about your biggest beef and do something about it. If a policy or procedure at work is bugging you, take steps to correct it or bring it to the right person’s attention. If a co-worker is a pain, work on your half of the relationship.

* Write down your personal and professional goals for the year. There’s magic in writing down what you want to accomplish. Many successful people are firm believers in the power of writing down their short and long-term goals. They say it holds them more accountable and is a more powerful motivator than just a passing wish. (I did this for myself last year and it worked so well I’m going to do it again this year.)

Whatever you decide to do for yourself in 2016, may it bring satisfaction, success and prosperity!

Flextime abuse creating resentment

Dec. 17, 2015

Dear Joan:

We have flextime at my place of employment. You may choose to begin work any time (in half-hour increments) between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m., with the core hours being 9 to 3. The problem that we are confronted with is the underwriting manager has elected to work the 8 to 4:30 shift. It has been brought to his attention that there are people abusing the flextime (we don’t punch a time clock). These are both the time card and exempt employees.

The manager will not say anything to these people or change their hours because he doesn’t see them coming in late. Is this fair for those of us who have to rotate our hours with those who do not arrive to work on time?

Please respond as I have no one I can talk to. If I go over my manager’s head I am in trouble. I do not feel it is fair that those who abuse the system should have the privilege of working these hours.


A flexible work place is the goal most companies want. But the absence of strict, rigid policies does not mean that everyone can do whatever they want. Some managers get confused - they think that giving employees more autonomy means that they should take a hands-off approach: “If I shouldn’t dictate and control anymore, maybe I shouldn’t exhibit any authority.” Not true.

In fact, as the organization gets more flexible, it requires stronger leaders; people who can keep the balance fair for all employees without resorting to the old one-size-fits-all policies.

Although your manager is wise to be cautious about second-hand information, he isn’t being wise about what he should be doing about it. Saying “I don’t see it so I can’t confront it” is a cop-out. He needs to change his hours occasionally - and without warning - so he can be aware of what’s going on during different times of the day. If he’s received complaints from people that a problem exists, he needs to take off his blinders and check it out for himself.

Some managers I know, who have dealt with this problem, have asked the chronic abusers to go back to using the time clock until the problem is overcome. (The wrong thing to do would be to make every employee go back on the time clock. Why punish everyone? It would only infuriate the good employees.)

Leaders in the flexible workplace walk a fine line between “checking up on” employees and turning a blind eye toward their activities.

The key delineation is this: If the problem behavior is negatively affecting the work, co-workers or customers, it’s time for the manager to step in. In this case, the offenders seem to be working fewer hours and coming in when they feel like it. This negatively impacts several things:

1. They are getting paid for hours they aren’t working, which violates the fundamental employer/employee agreement - you could even call it stealing.

2. The purpose behind the “core hour” concept, and locking in a start time, is so that there is enough coverage for customer service. Phones can be answered, meetings can be scheduled. People know when you will be available. Abuses disrupt everyone’s schedules.

3. The fairness factor. Inconsistent application of guidelines or rules creates  resentment and poor morale among the good employees. When the good employees feel taken advantage of, they leave.

I agree that going over your boss’s head is likely to infuriate him, since he doesn’t want to look weak and ineffective to those above him. Perhaps you can suggest that your manager try to see for himself what is going on so he can have first-hand information.

Surely, if you decide to take matters into your own hands and have a direct confrontation with the offending employees it will only make matters worse.

If your manager refuses to act, you need to decide if this is a battle worth fighting. If you think it will eat at you and cause you to become obsessed and bitter about it, perhaps changing jobs is your only answer. But if you like your job and the company, ignoring the behavior of others, while upholding your own high standards, may be your only solution.

What is an internal HR consultant? How do I work with one?  
Dec. 10, 2015

Dear Joan:

I’ve recently moved to a new company and I’m a manager with a fairly large staff. Most of my experience is in manufacturing and now I’m working in a service business. In the past, my dealings with Human Resources have been mostly grievance related and disciplinary actions for personnel problems. They helped with the hiring and firing and things like performance reviews.

In this new company, I have an “HR consultant” but she is employed by the company - not an outside consultant. She works with our division. My question is about her role. I’m not quite sure how I’m supposed to be working with her. She wants to sit in on some of my staff meetings, and wants to meet with me to talk about my staff. I’m not sure how to take that. Is it because I’m new, or because my boss doesn’t trust what I’m doing? It feels a little like she is overstepping her job.

She reports to corporate HR and has my division as her “customer.” I’m worried about confidentiality and also about how much she should be involved in my decisions. Could you tell me what this role is supposed to be? I don’t want to appear defensive. She seems competent enough but how much do I tell her?



The HR consultant role has evolved over the past 10 years. It has been adopted by many companies but the transformation from administrator to consultant varies by company and corporate culture.

Historically, the philosophy among managers was, “I’ll get the job done, HR can do the people stuff.” But without ownership and involvement in the “people stuff” the results aren’t as good. As managers evolved their leadership acumen, they - rightfully - began to get more involved in the people business. And as laws and regulations increased, and employees became more sophisticated, leaders needed expertise to help them. And the HR consultant role was born.

I’ve worked with many HR consultants, and I also created and teach a course for HR consultants, so they can partner effectively with the leaders they work with. One of the key points is that trust has to be earned. And the way to earn it is to add value to the leaders you work with. And the best way to add value is to help them find practical solutions to business and people problems, not be the HR Police, enforcing rules and handing out forms.

In other words, a good HR consultant may help you think through a decision you, or your team, is wrestling with. She would ask insightful questions to help you and the team think of all the upsides and downsides to the company and the employees. She may help with a plan to communicate it. She might give you honest feedback about what you do well and what you need to work on, to be more successful. She may give you feedback about members of your staff or help you sell an idea to your manager. She would give you creative ways to apply HR practices. For instance, she may challenge the need to replace a retiring employee - and suggest ways to redistribute those responsibilities.

But of course, if you don’t trust that she has your best interests at heart, or she can’t keep some things confidential, you aren’t going to partner with her. So, like with any partnership, she has to earn your trust. I would suggest that you have a “contracting meeting” to discuss each of your roles and responsibilities. For example, spell out things such as:

* How she can add value to you and to your employees.

* What kind of ongoing communication you both want to have.

* What should be confidential.

*  Explore how open each of you are to feedback from the other. For example, do you want her to provide feedback on your leadership skills? Give input on business decisions?

* Talk about “trust busters” each of you have. For example, going around you to your employees without your knowledge. Or, speaking for you, instead of letting you speak for yourself. Or, sharing negative information about you or your team with other people.

* In what areas do you want her to take a stronger role and exert more influence?

Having an open conversation about your respective roles will be a solid start to a collaborative partnership that could be developmental for both of you. 

Enjoy your organization’s holiday party, but remember - you’re still at work  
Dec. 3, 2015

Holiday parties are a wonderful time to celebrate the season with co-workers but make no mistake - you aren’t just at any ordinary party - you are still at work. Memories are long when it comes to social gaffes and political blunders and you don’t want stories being told about you long after you’d like them to be forgotten.


Here are some career-healthy do’s and don’ts for your workplace celebration:

* Attend! This is a great opportunity to join your colleagues to celebrate your good will as a work family. If you don’t attend you will be missed and your teammates - and boss - may even feel slighted if you don’t show up.

* Decide in advance how much you plan to drink at the party and stick to it. We’ve all heard stories about people who have made fools of themselves because they had a few too many and told the boss what they really thought.

* Mix with people from different departments. This is a good opportunity to introduce yourself to executives and fellow employees you wouldn’t normally have an opportunity to meet. You can cross department lines and jump hierarchy levels without stepping on any political toes, so why not take advantage of it?

* Stand near the buffet or bar so you’re in the best spot to meet the most people. This will also enable you to break away gracefully if you are caught in a conversation you would like to escape.

* Avoid talking shop. Use the occasion to get to know your co-workers on a more personal level. Find out about their lives outside of work. Knowing something about their children, their hobbies and their friends will help you relate to them as whole people and it will give you new insight into their approach to work.

* If you are interested in mingling don’t sit down. Once you are parked at a table with a group of people, it’s more difficult to leave.

* Avoid giving gifts at the holiday party. Public exchange of gifts can cause discomfort or even embarrassment; Did you spend too much? Too little? Was your gift too personal? And gag gifts aren’t a good alternative because they can backfire if they’re in bad taste or cause hurt feelings.

* Watch what you say. Remember, you are at work. Don’t say anything at the party that you wouldn’t say in a meeting. Stray remarks in a “social” setting can do great damage to yourself and others.

* Coach your spouse or date so they are on their best behavior. I’ve seen cases where a spouse has cornered a boss to demand why her husband wasn’t given a raise! In another incident, two spouses were chatting and one of them revealed that her husband was thinking of looking for another job. The remark got back to the employee’s manager and caused problems.

* Discuss gift-giving among co-workers early in the season. Instead of exchanging gifts, many groups choose to do things together such as going out for a holiday lunch or doing something for a worthy cause. Some have a cookie exchange or an ornament exchange - it’s inexpensive and fun.

* If it’s customary to exchange gifts, agree as a group about the cost limits. Many people have a tough time affording gifts for their families and the added expense of buying for co-workers can be a burden they feel pressured to bear.

* Use the holidays to update your contact list and keep up your networking. Send holiday cards to update your address book. Take colleagues and mentors to lunch. Attend holiday gatherings sponsored by professional organizations to keep up your professional affiliations with people who can potentially influence your career.

* Take some time off to shop, cook, wrap, party...The holidays can be stressful and trying to squeeze it all in while you’re working can make you less effective in both areas of your life. 


Coal in the stocking 
Nov. 27, 2015

Dear Joan:

I work for a small department of a large employer who frequently receives holiday gifts from vendors with whom we do business, as a thank you, at the end of the year.  However, when we receive the gifts, we aren’t allowed to open them to enjoy.  Rather, our boss tells us not to touch them because we will re-gift them to other people (sometimes other departments that never work with these vendors, sometimes outsiders) in order to save money.

This greatly upsets the worker bees because not only do we think it’s rude, we feel that the giver meant for us to have it because they value the work we do with them throughout the year.  (No, the dollar values are not over our corporate compliance policy either.)  Not being allowed to enjoy it makes us feel like we aren’t supposed to feel appreciated.

We are also told that our department really doesn’t need the food items. We’re all aware that we don’t really “need” the cookies, candy, etc. that come in; it’s all part of Christmas cheer.  It’s the principle of it that bothers us because we feel like we don’t get a say in it. (On a side note, we did mention it to one of our vendors.  He was dumbfounded by what was happening with his gift.)

What’s worse is that we also have to sign a thank you note to the sender with personalized notes about the gift.  In addition, we’re told that we need to choose who we’re sending the gift on to.

By the way, we aren’t opposed to giving gifts to other departments, or outsiders.  We just feel that we can budget the $50 it might take to give gifts, to be able to keep someone’s thoughtful gesture in our area.

How should we tactfully bring this up with our boss to let her know how much it’s hurting morale?


Answer:  This is a joke, right? You’re testing me to see if I really read all my mail! 

Your boss must have had coal in her stocking when she was a child. This whole notion is so Scrooge-like, I am stunned (and I thought I had heard it all.)

If I put myself in your boss’s shoes (and it is a struggle) and try to rationalize why she would do this, I can only come up with the idea that she doesn’t think vendor relationships need to be rewarded. Or, that she is worried that the “payola” could influence your vendor selection in the coming year. (However, I have yet to see anyone base a vendor decision on their annual box of chocolate cremes.)  And even Scrooge didn’t make his employees turn over their gifts so he could re-gift them, and he was the king of cheap. At least Scrooge made it clear he didn’t want gifts at all. 

Not only are you forced to give up your gift, but you have to write a thank you for the gift you weren’t allowed to keep? This is like yanking your kid’s gifts out of their hands and giving them to the neighbor children, and then telling them they have to write a heartfelt thank you to Santa. (Would your boss have given away her real Barbie doll or Chutes and Ladders?)

If I were a vendor, I’d be angry that my gift was passed on like meaningless chattel, a monetary object of no real worth to the receiver. When I buy someone a gift, I mean it for the person, not to make that person look good when she gives it to someone else!

Everyone’s a kid at Christmas. Giving and getting a box of goodies is a wonderful way to spread good cheer and well wishes between business partners who work together all year. Business can be tough and stressful the rest of the year, but let the magic of the holidays create a little peace on earth - even if it only lasts a little while.

How to tell your boss? Wrap a piece of coal in this column and put it on her desk.

Avoid these common performance review mistakes 
Nov. 19, 2015

For many managers, the end of the year means performance review time. A performance review discussion can leave the employee feeling motivated and appreciated, but if it is poorly handled, it will do just the opposite, and it will damage the relationship.

Here are some common mistakes and how to avoid them:

Mistake: Only focusing on the last few months or on a specific incident.

Solution: Keep an electronic file (or a three-ring binder) for each employee, and throughout the year add notes and samples of the employee’s work. Some people like to use Post It Notes, because they are easy to insert and less likely to dislodge.

Mistake: Over-emphasize the negatives and skip over the positive performance. 

Solution: In addition to the above suggestion, ask the employee to do a self-assessment. The employee will be sure to include examples of things he or she is proud of.  This will be a welcome reminder as you reflect on the past year. Also, during the discussion, make sure you give ample time and detail to all of the positive contributions the employee made.


Mistake: Using subjective words that judge the person, rather than behavioral descriptions of the person’s performance and actions. 

Solution: You will cause defensiveness and resistance if you guess your employee’s motives or judge him/her as a person. For example, “You were very inconsiderate because you” judges the person. A better example is, “When you didn’t invite me to the meetings on the Baker project, it kept me out of the decision-making process. That caused problems for the project later on, when you needed my help in the eleventh hour.” The trick is to describe behavior specifically (rather than judging it) and tell the person why that hurt them.


Mistake: The words and the written review don’t match.

If you only tell the person they need to improve and then you gloss over it in writing, the employee doesn’t know if it’s really important to fix. On the other hand, if you write it but don’t mention it, the employee feels like they’ve been blindsided.

Solution: Be consistent and only write what you say, with the same kinds of descriptions and examples.


Mistake: Soften or sugar-coat the review because you don’t want to hurt the employee or make the person angry.

Solution: Employees deserve to know the truth, so they have an opportunity to improve. In addition, if an employee has poor performance and applies for another job in the company, and their performance review is glowing, the next supervisor gets stuck with a turkey. That artificially inflated review will make you look weak and ineffective. In addition, it isn’t fair to the good employees, who really earned a good rating.


Mistake: Retrofitting the rating so the person gets a raise.

This often happens when there is a numeric formula for determining ratings and salary.  Instead of rating the person where they belong, the supervisor wants everyone to be happy, so works backwards from the salary number to determine the rating. This isn’t fair to anyone.

Solution: The purpose of the performance review and salary increase are to let people know where they stand and to reward their contribution. And if they don’t meet expectations, they should get a clear message that they need to step it up. If you aren’t comfortable delivering this message, you probably shouldn’t be a manager.


Mistake: Not allowing enough time for the review.

If you rush through the review, simply hand the review to the person and ask them to sign it, or answer the phone during the review, you will be telling the person they really don’t matter very much to you. 

Solution: Allow at least an hour for each person. Turn off your phone and computer and give your employee the undivided attention he or she deserves.

When personality, not performance, is the issue
Nov. 12, 2015

Dear Joan:

I am searching for some information and advice on an employee I have.  I am at a loss for what my next step is.  I can’t fault this employee for anything regarding DOING her job.  She does her duties well and in a timely manner. I can always count on her for that.  The problem I am having is with her personality. 

I noticed almost immediately after her arrival here that she would try and force a friendship with me, to the point that she would drop in unannounced at your house on the weekends (even when you never told her where you live). And she would always call - just to chat.  She started to bring me small gifts and my children small gifts.  It was all very uncomfortable. 

While I am friendly with all my employees, I try and keep my personal life separate from my job. In the past, I have been good friends with fellow employees and it always backfired.  So, I tried to speak with her about it being unnecessary to do such things.  None of it worked.  Finally, out of frustration, I just started withdrawing from the situation.  Since that time, she has “laid off” me and moved on to others.

At that point, her paranoia started to become apparent.  Pretty much on a regular basis she would ask me whether or not I was going to fire her.  I tried to calm her fears on that subject.  None of it worked.  

Then, it started getting back to me that she was talking about me behind my back - and none of it nice.  She would complain about every action I took, whether it regarded her, her job, or her division, or not.  I tried to speak with her about that.  She became very hostile and started shouting that if I wanted her gone to just fire her.  It was a very ugly situation.  At that time, I wrote her up for her behavior. 

Once I was able to speak with her when she was calmed down she expressed to me that she felt like I was trying to get her to quit.  Which is the farthest from the truth - as far as her job goes; she is one of few people I can count on.  I tried to reassure her that was not the case.  But, again - none of it worked.  But, I feel like this all stems back to her trying to be my friend.  I have tried dropping comments about how I feel toward office relationships.  I don’t know how to explain the reasons for not being her friend.  Nor do I think I should have to.

Sadly, I am now convinced that she is suffering from some disorder that affects her thinking and behavior.  I have noticed symptoms of bipolar and paranoia.  I have also had a half a dozen other employees bring certain traits of hers to my attention.  I don’t know what to do.  I do not want to see her go but I want to see her get the help she deserves.  And I need some peace in this office.  Not only for myself but for all concerned. 

I admit I am sure I have not handled the situation to the best of my ability.  I have never had to deal with this situation.  Please help.  What could I have done better?  What can I do?  What can I say?



She needs professional help, so stop kicking yourself for not handling her correctly. On the contrary, I think you handled the situation quite well, given the circumstances.

If you have an EAP (Employee Assistance Program), I recommend an immediate referral. They will be able to recommend someone who can diagnose her behavior and direct her to a qualified person to help her. 

If you don’t have an EAP, suggesting that she get some counseling could backfire. Given her paranoia, she is likely to overreact and explode, just as she has in the past. She will probably think that this is a validation of her worst fears. 

Instead, I recommend a straightforward, consistent approach that includes telling her exactly what behavior is problematic and how it is hurting her. Beating around the bush with her hasn’t worked, so clearly explain why you aren’t friends with employees. Tell her that her work is excellent and you would not want to lose her. Explain that her constant need for reassurance is unnecessary and time consuming. Tell her that you will have one-on-one meetings with her each week, to go over her work and give her direct feedback, if she feels it would be helpful. Summarize your conversation and send her a copy.

As an added step, and to be certain that she is on track, you may also want her to summarize your weekly meetings with a brief summary emailed to you. Explain, “Since it seems as if you and I are on different pages - for instance you think I am trying to fire you - I’d like you to summarize our meeting each week, to make sure you and I have a clear understanding of what we discussed and any action plans you have agreed to do. That way, I can verify that we are in agreement and you won’t worry unnecessarily.”

If she continues to have outbursts or other inappropriate behavior, document it and call it to her attention immediately.

If she can’t turn it around and continues to be a serious disruption, I would tell her, “I feel it is only fair to tell you what could happen if this continues. You could lose your job. I hope you won’t force me to do that.” If she doesn’t seek treatment and the behavior continues, all you can do is react to the behavior she displays.

Don’t mistakenly think that you can’t fire her because her work is well-executed. Behavior at work is just as much a part of performance as the technical outcomes. Sadly, she is self-sabotaging and I suspect this is exactly how the story will end. You can only hope that she will get help before her self-fulfilling prophecy plays out.


When, and why, executive coaching makes sense

Oct. 29, 2015

Executives are often expected to run across a battle field, carrying a heavy load of employee and customer problems, dodging competitive bullets, while jumping over political landmines. The job requires a tool bag that includes communication skills, persuasive presentations, political savvy, analytical skills and a rucksack filled with sophisticated techniques and tactics. That’s why I love coaching these folks.

Most executives bring a technical expertise with them as they climb the ranks, but some of the subtler things - people - politics - polish - can be their undoing. The idea of executive coaching has caught on across the country faster than a cold in a kindergarten. And I think the reason is that it makes sense.

Companies turn over coffers of cash to executive search firms and spend company resources grooming, growing and promoting people into their executive suite and when they falter, it’s a misstep that can be felt all the way through the organization because of the impact they have.

Executive coaching, if done well, can pinpoint the specific behavior that needs to get buffed or overhauled. It focuses a laser beam on the area and teaches the executive a new way to perform. While a seminar or a conference can create awareness or educate an executive about new trends or teach some skills, the intense coaching experience goes right to the heart of the matter and creates specific homework designed to get results immediately. And that’s the fun of it for me. I love to craft the transformation.

But make no mistake, changing your “soft skills” is anything but soft. It’s a boot camp with you as the only recruit, so the pressure is on. And the behavior changes can range from purging small, quirky behaviors to exorcising major career killers. Here is a sample of some of the spoken and unspoken rules that can trip up executives:

Stepping on political landmines

Credibility is tough to build and easy to lose. Executives, who think their career’s protective shield is the results they get, are sure to step on an internal mine or two. Sometimes they think the way to challenge an idea is to challenge their peers in front of others, only to discover later that the cultural norm is to challenge privately and build consensus before the meeting.

Executives who are perceived as doing things for themselves rather than the organization are sure to be attacked. If they are seen as arrogant or know-it-all, they will attract snipers from all camps.

Or, others are too technically focused and duck all that “political stuff,” so their ideas are ignored or trampled in the fight for better productivity and profitability.


Inability to manage employees without being either too hands-off or too hands-on

For many executives, their rise to the top came up through one department. Suddenly, they find themselves directing multiple disciplines and working with many new constituencies. Selecting the right management staff and working through them to reach the people in the organization is sophisticated stuff.

It takes a battle plan of one-on-one and cross functional meetings, with an organized system for tracking people, projects and outcomes. Executives need to stay at the 30,000 feet level but have a system that allows them to swoop close to the action when they need to. 


Inability to tailor a presentation to the audience

If there is one thing that smacks new executives in the face, it’s the amount of time and focus that goes into presentations at this level to their own organization, to their peers, to sales, to customers, to outside groups, to the board. The farther they get from the front line, the more important crafting an effective message becomes.

The skill set ranges from being “folksy” and conversational to delivering a compelling, executive summary. And did I mention being able to tango and cha cha, when you are asked those tough questions?


Being either too accommodating, or too resistant

You’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. If you take on too much work, in an effort to look like a good soldier to your superiors, you can weigh down your own troops. Or, you can appear to be too rigid and protective of your own organization, so they can meet their goals, but you end up looking like you are not a team player with a sense of urgency. The art of “pushback” reaches critical importance at this level.


Being perceived as insensitive or even a bully

Executives who have risen to their position early, but failed to change with the times, usually see their corporate image fade like a photo in the sun.

Anyone who thinks they can be a bull in a china shop regarding sexual orientation, race, religion or gender hasn’t been paying attention to the rising cost of china.

People expect to be included in decision making, not bullied into predetermined solutions. They expect to be treated with respect and dignity and not screamed at by a drill sergeant. The diversity of the workforce today is unparalleled. In age demographics alone, this is the first time we’ve seen four generations in the workplace. Getting them all to march united across the battle field is no small task.

Respect and fairness are the very core of good management

Oct. 29, 2015

Dear Joan:

I am 32 years old and have worked as a computer programmer for 10 years. Recently, I was hired for a managerial position with another firm. I look forward to the job, but am uneasy about being the manager. I feel confident in my work skills, but not as confident about my managerial skills. (I applied for a job with a new company as a technical worker, and they offered me the management job.)

I will be supervising six people. Would you consider writing about the “essentials of management”? I’m sure you have written about this before, but I never thought it would affect me. I know there are golden rules of management that I am unaware of - and I don’t want one of the people I will be supervising to write a letter to you - about me!



I doubt you will get a letter written about you as long as you continue to be eager and open to learning about how to manage people. I suspect it’s the ones who think they know it all and aren’t introspective about their skills who get letters written about them.

Perhaps the best guide to managing others is to think about how you would like to be managed. I’ll boil it down to my version of the basics. But make no mistake; just because they are the “basics” doesn’t mean that they are easy, and just because they are common sense doesn’t mean that they are very common.


1. People want to know what the goal is and what your expectations are. Too many managers just hire people and put them in a job and then never tell them anything more about the mission of the business or future goals of the organization. No matter what kind of organization I work with, employees at all levels express a keen interest in wanting to know where the organization is going and how they fit in. Talk about the mission and goals during staff meetings, when decisions are made, when praising someone, when people are hired ... in other words, all the time.

2. Treat your employees with the same respect you would show to the CEO. If you deeply believe this key principle, you will listen closely to what they suggest and follow up on your promises to them. You will value their contributions and tell them so. If they disagree with you, you will be open to their point of view.

3. Find out what their career goals are and make every attempt to help them grow and succeed in their jobs. If you challenge them with interesting work and let them try out their ideas, you will see your employees get excited about their jobs and become motivated to get better results. This doesn’t just mean a once-a-year career chat. It means seeing yourself as a full-time mentor to your employees.

4. Communicate with them as adults - honestly and straightforwardly. When you share the good news, the bad news, what you do know and what you don’t know, they will learn that they can rely on you to give it to them straight. This ties right back into having respect for them. This means giving them feedback that is clear and immediate, yet tactful. It also means saying, “I was hoping you could all help me solve this problem because I really don’t know what to do.”

5. Care about your employees as whole people. Find out about their children, discover what their hobbies are, pay attention to their trials and triumphs outside of work. I’m not suggesting that you become their best friend - it can be a mistake to get too chummy - but taking the time to know what makes your employee tick will help you know how to create a bond as a leader that will make people feel like committing to you and to the enterprise.

6. Build their confidence and self-esteem. No matter how old we get, these two things are at the core of who we are as people. One of the best ways to create willingness to try something new or do something extra is to reinforce and recognize the behaviors we want more of. One of the biggest complaints I hear is “I always hear about it when I do the wrong thing, but he never notices when I do something right.” Positive encouragement is a tremendous tool to shape behavior and build confidence.

7. When making decisions, strive for outcomes that have a three-way balance: they are good for the organization/customer, good for the team and good for the individual employee. Managers get themselves into trouble when they get out of balance on one of these. For instance, if they take only the employees’ side and can’t see the organization’s perspective, they will be well-liked but ineffective. If they take only the organization’s perspective and fail to consider the employee’s needs and views, they will lose employee commitment.


I know there are many more “golden rules” but these have always been the ones I have used the most, and have seen work the best.

Reading “tells” is as important in the workplace as in poker 

Oct. 22, 2015

Joanne knew she her boss was nervous, even though he didn’t say a word.

Peter instantly saw that his peer was defensive, even though most people in the room didn’t recognize anything different.

The reason Joanne and Peter were able to read the reactions of their colleagues is because they knew how to read their “tells.”  A tell is a gesture or mannerism that someone uses frequently and predictably. Most of the time, they don’t even know they are doing it but if you know what to watch for, you will have an advantage in any conversation with them.

For example,

* One of my female colleagues picks up a piece of hair and bends it in a specific way, whenever she is tense or uncomfortable.

* Another colleague’s voice goes up to a high pitch when she is pushing her idea.

* A client of mine laces his fingers together and puts them behind his head and spreads his elbows, whenever he feels challenged, or disagrees with something being said.

* A friend of mine flexes her arm and hand in a certain way - almost like a spasm - when she feels judged, or is trying to get others to agree with her.

* A friend taps his toes or fingers when he is bored or restless.

* Another friend’s ears get red when he is embarrassed or irritated.

* A female colleague flushes pink on her neck and chest, and looks down, when she disagrees.

* I pick my cuticles when I am impatient with someone. 

So, what is your tell? If you don’t know, ask the people who know you best. In fact, ask them to describe your other body language habits while you’re at it. For example, many years ago I was in my boss’ office describing something important. He was reserved by nature and somewhat introverted, while I am an unabashed extrovert. I noticed his eyes and head were moving as I spoke. It dawned on me that he was watching my hands gesture wildly as I described the scenario! From then on, I tried to make it a point to hold my hands in my lap - and I assure you it wasn’t easy.

Another example of a body language habit comes from a colleague who tends to talk with his eyes closed when he is thinking about what he is saying. It goes on for prolonged periods and it feels odd to his companions. A different person looks away for long periods and doesn’t make eye contact. Someone else I know coughs (a short fake-sounding cough) whenever he reads something out loud (a holdover, he says, from the embarrassment he suffered as a kid, when he had to read in front of the class).

There are other body language cues that come out when we are nervous or feel under a spotlight. For example, when I coach leaders in presentation skills, I often see defensive body positions. Because public speaking is stressful and makes many people feel exposed and vulnerable, they reflexively protect their most intimate body parts. Men will sometimes use the “fig leaf” pose, with hands in front of their body, while women will glue their elbows down along their sides and gesture in front of their chests. It’s also why so many people prefer standing behind a podium. Of course, they would never do this in a normal conversation and don’t even realize they are doing it in front of a group.

Have I sparked your curiosity? For the next few days, pay attention to not only what is being said but what their body is doing. Watch your boss, your spouse, your children and friends. They are the most important people in your life and they make wonderful subjects to study. Your skills will improve over time and will give you an advantage in your communications with them. It will trigger you to be more empathetic, help you to stop and probe for unspoken disagreement, and make you realize when to back off, all good moves that will help you be a savvier communicator.

Respectful confrontation saves time & trust

Oct. 16, 2015

Trust. It’s at the core of any meaningful relationship. And it’s certainly a key requirement for any organization interested in creating and keeping a motivated, committed workforce.

You can’t automatically create trust - it must be earned, one behavior at a time. It’s almost like each of us has an emotional bank account. If you are treated well by your manager, a “deposit” is made in your account. But when a personal violation occurs, a “withdrawal” is made. If your manager treats you well over a long period of time, trust builds and an occasional withdrawal is no big deal. But when an account is empty - or even has a negative balance - trust has no foundation on which to build.

If a company has many employees with empty accounts and low trust, any attempt to implement any changes and improvements will be met with skepticism and resistance. Cultural change requires a personal commitment from everyone. Building trust must come first.

Saying “Trust me” won’t work. Only day-to-day actions can prove that management is trustworthy.

Here are some behaviors that will help you to invest in your employees’ emotional bank accounts:


Be consistent.

Trust is destroyed when employees are constantly surprised by inconsistent treatment. Surprising them with negative feedback at performance review time; changing priorities without explanation; and changing the rules arbitrarily are the kinds of behaviors that convince employees to be suspicious and on their guard. They see that the top has the power to knock them off balance whenever they want to.

Top management has a big role to play in establishing the values they want to operate from. If the top managers aren’t in alignment, there is little chance that their behaviors will be consistent. Mixed signals destroy trust.

Instead, say what you’ll do and do what you say. Keep the promises you make or don’t make them at all. If you need to change direction, explain why. Treat all employees like the most important customers you have - because they are.


Tell the truth.

If this were easy to do, we’d all be doing a lot more of it. Many managers hoard or hide company information from employees. They think knowledge is power and they want it all for themselves in the hope that it will give them job security. They don’t tell poor performers the truth about their need to improve. They don’t admit when they don’t know the answer or admit that they’ve made a mistake.

Telling the truth is closely related to the first point - being consistent. If you tell the truth consistently, you will build trust. Whether the news is good or bad, employees will learn to rely on you for a straight answer.


Treat people with respect and dignity.

This is not conditional. Even if they screw up or do something nasty to someone else, you need to set a clear example that people can trust. Does this mean you coddle poor performers or “look the other way” when mistakes are made? Not at all.

On the contrary, it means treating them like adults who deserve to know the truth. For example, if they’re failing on the job, they deserve to be told and given a chance to succeed. But if they don’t succeed, they can be “helped out of the organization” in a dignified way. The rest of the employees will be grateful. They will see that you can be trusted to reward the right behavior and that everyone - even the worst performers - will be treated with dignity. But they will also be expected to take responsibility for their own behavior.


Share information.

One of the best ways to demonstrate that you trust your employees is to treat them like colleagues who are as committed to the organization as you are. Give them information about customers; tell them what the vision and goals of the company are and discuss how they fit in; tell them what you know as soon as you know it.


Ask for input and listen to it.

You don’t trust people who do all the talking and don’t listen to your opinions and ideas. Your employees don’t either. Trust is built when employees know you will take time to listen to them and involve them during the decision making process. Telling them after the fact creates BOHICA (Bend Over Here It Comes Again).

Trust isn’t something you can demand from someone else until you’ve taken steps to deserve it.


Respectful confrontation saves time & trust
Oct. 9, 2015

“Just imagine that the audience is naked.” Anyone who has ever taken a workshop on how to make presentations has heard that one. But in a situation where you face a hostile audience or you are asked a challenging question, you’re the one who feels as if you’re standing there in your birthday suit.

If you are expected to make presentations to employee groups, shareholders, industry peers or the public, chances are you’ve been challenged by a member of the group at some point in your speaking life.

Increasingly, my firm is asked to help an executive polish his or her presentation skills. It’s becoming more important as companies realize the value of face-to-face communication in building commitment to changes and forming partnerships with constituencies. For instance, some executives are now expected to hold regular “town hall meetings” with employees at all levels. These meetings provide a great forum for give and take but it’s the “take” portion that causes presenters to sweat.

Presentation skills don’t come naturally for most of us. In fact, it’s number one on the list of things most feared by Americans. It’s daunting enough to just stand up there and talk, let alone be grilled or attacked by the audience. The good news is that group behavior is fairly predictable and predictably fair.

Here are some strategies for you to clip and save. You can pull them out the next time you’re asked to speak:


A member of the audience disagrees with a point you made in your presentation and attacks you in front of the rest of the group.

What not to do:

Do not respond with a condescending remark or attempt to justify your position. I recently heard a speaker say, “Apparently you didn’t listen to my whole speech or you would have known I made that point.” Then he went on to restate a portion of his speech that everyone had already heard. Ouch! The audience instantly turned against the speaker.

What to do:

Never get into a shooting match with a member of the audience. You will lose, even if the person is a flaming fool. Here’s why. The leader is in a position of power and authority, and if he or she appears to “argue down” a dissenter, or get defensive in front of the group, credibility is lost. Each member of the audience recognizes that the audience member who is being embarrassed could be them.

A better approach is to let the arrows pass right through you. For instance, say, “I appreciate your perspective. What do the rest of you think?” Almost without fail, a group will rise to the occasion and moderate the situation for you.

If the person has a personal axe to grind, or is inappropriate in other ways, another approach is to gently cut him or her off by briefly restating the opinion in neutral words and thanking the person before moving on. For example, “So, if I understand you correctly, you feel that managers are power hungry people who climb on the backs of their employees to get what they want and to look good to their superiors. Unfortunately, you must have had some very negative experiences. Thank you for sharing your perspective.”


An audience member who asks a question that is really a thinly veiled challenge.

What not to do:

Don’t take the question at face value and answer it. For example, if the person asks, “Don’t you think there are a lot of people who will disagree with this policy?” don’t respond with, “No, I think the policy is fair.” The audience will know you have tried to dodge the real issue and it will make them uncomfortable. Once there is dissension in the group, they will not be able to settle down until it is resolved. Ignoring it generally causes a flurry of conversation in the hallway and at break time. The audience needs the leader to bring closure to the challenge.

What to do:

Ask for more information. The more you show sincere respect and try to understand the point they are trying to make, the more the audience will settle down and respect the leader. “It sounds as if there is more behind your question. What specifically do you think some of the problems are?” will draw out the real issue and force the person to be straightforward about what they really mean.

An audience member who begins to take a lot of time to tell personal stories, express their views, or asks numerous questions about an issue that only has importance to that individual.

What not to do:

Don’t get caught in the trap of conducting a lengthy one-on-one dialogue in front of a group. The audience will begin to check their watch, shift in their chairs and even leave the room. They expect you to respectfully cut it off. Another mistake is to cut the person off too abruptly. For instance, interrupting the person with, “We’re running behind schedule. We have to move on” will insult the person and may make the person more disruptive.

What to do:

Look for an opening, briefly summarize the person’s point and say, “I’d be happy to discuss this with you after the session or at break.” Then neutralize it with, “I’d be happy to discuss any personal experiences or problems any of you have after the session. I wish we had more time but unfortunately we’re forced to stay on schedule.”

An audience member who expresses a contrary viewpoint that others seem to agree with.

What not to do:

Don’t evade this one or play down its significance

What to do:

Stop, restate what the person said, ask the rest of the group if they agree. Then spend the necessary time to explore the opposing viewpoint. If you don’t listen to the majority opinion, you will shut them down and lose them for the rest of your presentation. Ironically, even if the rest of the group disagrees, they will resent it if you don’t listen to what members of the group have to say.

Public speaking is a tremendous career builder. If you are able to handle tough situations with grace and dignity, your audience will respect you and listen to your ideas. Trust the group to help you succeed.

Respectful confrontation saves time & trust

Sept. 24, 2015

Dear Joan:

I am relatively new to my position (1 year) and I work in a high-tech industry. I have a peer who works with me on a variety of projects (he’s been here two years) and here is where the problem comes in.

He is a scene stealer - always using big, buzz words to “wow” the higher ups and making sure he gets credit for things. The problem is that he doesn’t have very good follow-through on projects and in actuality, is more talk than action. He is very political and this drives me crazy. I end up doing some of his work and when I have to pick up the pieces I become furious. He just goes on his smiling way, kissing up to all the executives.

I hesitate to talk to our manager because I am afraid I’ll look like “sour grapes.” In the meantime, my attitude toward my co-worker is getting very cool. Can I take any action without hurting my standing with my boss and the people in the company I do projects for?



Political animals tend to show their stripes over time and I will bet your co-worker will eventually be found out. You may not even be aware of how much your boss and clients already know. Most people are wary of people who snow them with $25 dollar words when 10 cent ones will do. The irony is that the harder he tries to impress them the phonier he’ll look.

Often, people who are trying this hard are secretly very worried that they’re not measuring up. These impostors either don’t have what it really takes to perform or are operating under the assumption that it is only who you know, not what you know, that counts. They spend more time strategizing than acting and can get very threatened when they feel someone has discovered their game. Your co-worker may even stoop to dirty politics if he feels it could help him advance. In other words, be careful.

By the same token, don’t let him dump all over you and then steal the credit. The trick will be to remain objective and cool about how to get the credit that is due you.

One way to do this is continue to perform exceptionally well for your clients. If you are doing things for them that they aren’t even aware of, make sure you mention what you are doing or keep them updated by memo, with a copy to your boss. Don’t be shy about passing on compliments you receive to your boss.

If you find that you are picking up the pieces your co-worker doesn’t complete, you are helping to cause the problem. You are making it easier for him to slack off. Smoke him out by being “too busy” with your own half of the project to bail him out.

Make sure you’re protected by being crystal clear about who is supposed to do what before beginning a project. It wouldn’t hurt to summarize this in a memo to your client, upfront. This will force him to complete his share or be discovered.

Writing memos about what you both have agreed to do and updates about your progress may seem like an unnecessary nuisance. But it will not only give you credit in a subtle way - it will make you feel that you are taking constructive action to protect yourself. It will also give you a positive way to manage your resentment.

If this problem persists, you may also want to ask your boss some “naive” questions. Questions such as, “I’m not clear about who is supposed to be doing this part of the project. I thought I was only supposed to do the research, not write the report. Did I get that mixed up?” This will give your manager an opportunity to intervene and you won’t look like a “tattle-tale.”

It may be difficult for you to be a team player with your co-worker. Keep in mind that there may be times when you should help him out. The flip side is that you shouldn’t hesitate to ask him for help if you should need it.

Don’t bad mouth him to your boss and be careful who you complain to about him. Above all, don’t try to find ways to make him look bad to your clients. Clients don’t want to know about any personal problems you’re having. They only care about results. You will look unprofessional and petty if you try to get them involved and the credibility of your entire unit will suffer.

In the end, excellent performance, assertive management of your projects and professionalism will speak the truth for you.


Respectful confrontation saves time & trust

Sept. 17, 2015

If people only talked to each other, most of the conflict in the workplace would disappear. Instead, it seems when we are wounded by someone or disagree with something they’ve done we end up talking to everyone except the person who’s directly involved.

We wander down the hall and talk to a co-worker ... mention it to our lunch buddies ... complain about it to our spouse. We spread the negative poison around the organization, drag unwitting co-workers into the fray, sully reputations and, in the end, erode the trust that comes from open, honest, face-to-face communication.

Where did we ever get the idea that confronting someone face-to-face had to be such a horrible encounter? Are we all so worried about being “nice” that we’ve opted for being spineless? And when did we get confused about the perils of telling people the truth? What about the perils of not telling them the truth? Our organizations are paying a big price for this “smile to your face/behind your back” communication style. It’s costing millions in wasted time and lost productivity in addition to a human price in broken trust and lost respect.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating brutal honesty and confrontation that strips away self-esteem and dignity. I’m talking about the respectful, caring communication that says, “I care about our relationship. Something’s bothering me and I thought it was important to talk to you about it directly so we could reach an understanding.”

I think most people are afraid. They’re afraid of hurting someone’s feelings. They’re afraid of sounding “negative” or “making waves.” They’re afraid of the backlash that can come from a conflict that escalates into a fight. They’re afraid of de-motivating their employees. They’re afraid of not being liked. They’re afraid of collecting political baggage. They’re afraid of not getting ahead or losing their job.

If you’re guilty of side-talk instead of straight-talk, here are some behaviors that can help:

Use the “best intentions” approach.

Most people don’t intentionally wake up in the morning and think to themselves, “I’m going to really hurt her feelings today!” Most people have the very best intentions. But it’s those good intentions that keep getting us into trouble because other’s don’t know our intentions - they only judge our actions.

When approaching another person about a conflict say, “I’m sure you had good intentions when you ... but let me tell you how it looked from my perspective...” Rather than waving the finger of blame in someone else’s face, just talk about the affect it had on you.

Use the “I’m just getting your advice” approach sparingly.

A lot of damage can be done by going to person after person “seeking advice” about how to handle a conflict situation. It can become a way to see how many people are on your side. It can also be a sneaky way of poisoning the well for the other person; everyone’s heard your “side” and so the other person suffers political blows no matter what the outcome.

Start by looking for things for which you should take responsibility.

The beauty of opening any conflict resolution session with self-disclosure is that you bring the other person’s defenses down immediately and problem solving can occur.

Be as open and honest as you can, while preserving their self-respect and dignity.

This is the very heart and soul of building trust. Sugar-coating your message or smoothing over the seriousness only destroys trust. If you respect the other person and want to remove barriers that are getting in the way, the only way to build trust is to be open, honest and straightforward. But in order to preserve the relationship you must let people maintain their dignity and save face. 

Does this sound pretty basic? You bet. It also is just plain good common sense. But common sense isn’t so common - we all have to work at it.

Fear is a great motivator

Sept. 10, 2015

Fear is a great motivator. I highly recommend it for leaders interested in short term, instantaneous results. It causes employees to jump through hoops to please you and it will just about guarantee that you will rarely hear much bad news. In fact, you will feel safe and secure knowing you are in complete control.

Of course, ruling by fear does have a few nasty side effects ...but nothing that a few more threats and insults can’t cure. Here are some tried and true techniques that are sure to inspire just the right amount of “motivation” in your employees:

1. Yell at them in front of peers and customers. This is sure to make them feel mortified and humiliated. There’s nothing like showing them whose boss to get their attention. It’s sure to make them dig in and apply themselves to solving the stupid mistake they made and they will have renewed incentive to try to please you.

2. Assume they aren’t trying to do the job the best they can. Don’t let their thin excuses about trying something new or helping the customer deter you from their real intentions. If you assume they are trying to slack off or sabotage the work they won’t be so quick to pull the wool over your eyes next time.

3. Threaten your employees by telling them they are going to lose their jobs. This is particularly effective if you want them to work extra hard on a special project. Another tip is to tell them that only the very best workers will be spared. This added motivation makes them work harder than ever before.

4. Keep them off balance by changing the work rules to suit your needs at the moment. This way, everyone will have to be nice to you to get any favors. Think of how powerful you’ll be! Don’t let charges of “inconsistency” and “unfairness” bother you. After all, you made the rules and you can bend them. You’re the boss, aren’t you?

5. Don’t tell your employees what you expect of them. This will give them too much information. It always leads to chaos. How can you control their every move and keep close tabs on them if they’re off on their own doing god knows what? Besides, if you don’t tell them what you want upfront, you can change it as often as you like.

6. Don’t give too much feedback. This is exactly what they want so don’t fall for it. If you don’t tell them anything - or just tell them when they make a mistake - you’ll be able to keep them confused and cowed. Only give negative feedback so they are always inspired by how smart you are. Only really smart people are able to spot the flaw in everything. If they ask too many questions about their performance, see number 3.

7. Change priorities suddenly and often. This is a great way to keep their attention focused on you. If you are good at this people will have to check with you all the time about what to do next and you won’t ever have to leave your office. It will also make you look very informed and important because you will react to top management’s wishes ... and you know how demanding they can be.

8. Don’t show them the strategic plan or the company or department’s goals. They aren’t as sophisticated as you are so they wouldn’t know what to do with them anyway. (See number 7)

9. Threaten them by saying top management is watching their every move. This is very useful if they stop jumping every time you issue an order or they are reluctant to take on more responsibility. If you scare them about some far away, distant, menacing rulers, they are sure to do whatever you tell them.

10. Only tell your employees the bare minimum. Operate by the “need to know” philosophy. Those people who preach “two-way communication” are out of their minds. Don’t they see how employees can use this information against you? And for heaven sakes, when you do talk to them, don’t allow any room for questions. That’s why emails are much better than meetings.

11. Don’t let employees out of your sight. You won’t be able to check on everything they do. It’s particularly effective if you peer over their shoulders while they’re working so they know you are on to them and alert to any mistakes they are about to make. The more you do this, the more mistakes you will catch them making.

12. Reward employees who squeal on each other. This will make all of them loyal to you and you alone.

If you don’t follow these steps you could start to build trust and honesty in the workplace and if that ever gets started, there’s no telling what could happen.

Overcontrolling managers breed failure in their employees and in their own careers

Sept. 3, 2015

“All of us were thrilled when Ed was promoted as our manager. We all respect his technical skill and knowledge of the field. What we didn’t expect was Ed’s unwillingness to let go. It’s really creating some serious morale problems around here."

Maybe you’ve worked for someone like Ed. Worse still, maybe you are someone like Ed.

The problem is a common one: a highly competent technical performer is recognized with a promotion to a managerial post. As a manager, the individual can’t keep his fingers out of the day-to-day work of his employees.

Overcontrol kills. It’s as simple as that. It kills your career as a manger and the careers of your subordinates. As a manager who won’t let go you find yourself working harder and longer than anyone else in the unit. You are constantly “rolling up your sleeves,” “staying close to the work,” “just checking” and “making sure it’s done right.”

As the subordinate under such a manager, you can feel distrusted, underutilized, stressed and resentful. “Why bother” is often heard around the coffee machine. After a while, the good performers leave and the mediocre ones will slip to new lows.

Overcontrol can be caused by many things. Some of these managers believe no one can do the job as well as they can. Others may be fearful of their own boss. Some simply don’t want to stop doing the technical work that has given them strokes and satisfaction.

Whatever the motivation, overcontrol will hurt your career as a manager: It gets you from both ends and traps you in the middle. Without a groomed replacement, you can’t move up. And if you don’t delegate authority to season and develop your replacement, you’ll never be free to tackle new responsibilities yourself.

To determine if you’re over-supervising, ask yourself:

* Do I often tell my employees how to do the details of their work?

* Do I take assignments back, after delegating them, because my employee runs into a problem?

* Do I do work that could be done by my employees?

* After delegating an assignment, do I frequently check with my employee to “see how it’s going?”

* When my employee runs into a problem, do I rarely ask, “What do you think you should do?”

* Do I put off or ignore managerial responsibilities like performance appraisals and career-development discussions?

If you answered “yes” to some of these questions, you may be too close for comfort.

If you are overcontrolling, face it and fix it.

Start by setting some goals for yourself. For example, “During the next month, I will not check on any project until the due date.”

When delegating an assignment, resist the temptation to elaborate on the “how to.” Instead, only discuss the end result you desire. Provide resources if the person is inexperienced or the work is new to the employee.

Dive into the task of learning your real job - managing others. If you give it half a chance, you may find it’s twice as rewarding as you ever dreamed it could be.


It takes more than attending meetings together to be a team

Aug. 20, 2015

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.










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