The "Thank You" War for Talent

Here are some thought-provoking statistics from an article in the UK's Management Issues.

"Research by UK performance improvement consultants Maritz has found that almost one in five of us (19 per cent) have never been thanked for our efforts at work while more than a third only hear those two little words once or twice a year.

Perhaps not-entirely coincidentally, that's about the same proportion as another recent survey found have no loyalty towards the organisation they work for and couldn't care less about their job.

Yet at the other end of the spectrum, around a third of us do receive regular recognition and are thanked several times a week, something that (as more than eight out of 10 of those surveyed acknowledged) has a positive impact on their desire to remain with their employer."

"Thank You" & the "War for Talent"

Check out the screen shot of "the war for talent"  Google search. 164,000 results. Books, articles,  training programs, software systems, and academic research. Conferences are being held to ponder the meaning of talent acquisition and retention.



Let's assume for a minute that the statistics noted in the article are true. The third who receive thanks regularly feel positive about their employer and are inclined to remain at the firm.
My suggestion: Executives need to start thanking their managers regularly. Then they need to tell them to start thanking their people. Maybe we could get uppity and call it "Building a Culture of Thanks." Clearly, it would be more effective and less costly than conferences and software.

And it would make our mothers proud.

Like this article? Subscribe to my RSS feed.

Meetings: The First 15 Minutes Matter

Beginnings make a huge difference. 

Meetings offer a perfect example.

I was working with a VP who started off her 3-day, first quarter meeting with a 20 minute introduction. In that 20 minutes she crisply and energetically laid out:

  • The purpose and expected outcome of the three days
  • Three highlights and three lowlights from the previous year
  • Why people were seated, by name card, at their six-person tables. (There were actually two reasons):

Meetings   1. To include representatives of different functions at each table

    2.  To have a new manager at each table who had never been with the 60-person group before. 

It really beats spending an hour having new people introduce themselves, tell their histories, and then know nothing about the rest of the group. As a result of meals, breaks, and small group sessions, everyone knew everyone else pretty darned well by 6 p.m.

The overall impact of the opening? High energy, enthusiasm, and clarity.

The learning: Give people lots of information in advance so they can participate quickly and effectively.

Each day included small group sessions focused on product lines, operations, and continuous improvement. By 8:45 all participants knew which small groups they would be a part of on each day (they changed); why they were in that group; and what the task would be for each. By the time the first breakout sessions started at 1 p.m., everyone was mentally prepared to participate.

This isn't revolutionary stuff. It's the kind of intentional, thoughtful planning often forgotten in the haste of organizing agendas and travel plans. Yet these process details are the ones that make or break a successful meeting.

Like this article? Subscribe to my RSS feed.

How To Measure Relationships

“It’s only words, and words are all I have, to take your heart away.”
 --Maurice, Robin, & Barry Gibb, The Bee Gees: “Words”

Listen to the Lyrics

Do you want to know a way to check the depth of how someone is relating to you at a given moment? Just listen and check out their language. You’ll be fascinated at how revealing it will be. Here’s what I mean:

  • When people operate at a surface level, they often share catch-phrases or clichés: “Well, the new design isn’t moving along too fast. But hey, Rome wasn’t built in a day. I’ll hang in and hunker down; it’s all about ‘getting more efficient and effective’.”Bee_gees_words
  • Move a step deeper and folks will offer some facts: “I want to improve the quality by 10%.” “Jessica said she’ll give us three people from her team when the software project gets approval.”
  • More intimate: You’ll notice that you hear people offer personal judgments, opinions, and thoughts: “I’ve been watching your progress and I think you could use some help with the engineering. We’ve been getting some comments from the design folks who are concerned about the execution. Let’s see if we can get to the heart of this and make sure you get the results you want.”  “If the new talent development program isn’t in full swing by November, I believe we’re going to lose some people to our main competitor. They’re hiring.”
  • Most intimate: Listen for people to actually express how they feel. “I’m fed up with trying to launch this program. It’s been a drain on me since I’m not getting the financial support we need. I’m even sorry that I took it on. Even my friends tell me my demeanor has changed. I need some help about what to do next.”

One more thought. You’ll be able to tell, over time, when others view their relationship with you more deeply. They’ll start using first-person pronouns more frequently: I, You, We, Us.

What cues have you become conscious of over the years?

photo attribution: Picture Sleeve and Album Art Museum 

What kinds of other cues do people send at work and what is "acceptable?" 

Like this article? Subscribe to my RSS feed.

Why Should You Want to Work There?

An international survey of more than 500 HR executives by global talent management firm Bernard Hodes (now part of Findly) has found that the quality or reputation of products and services, the corporate culture and the work environment are a business's most important attributes when it comes to bringing talent on board.

Ethical reputation also scored highly. But benefits and compensation were, perhaps surprisingly, toward the bottom of the list.

What does it tell us? That job seekers have a keen idea about the kind of atmosphere in which they want to spend their work life and are savvy and discerning in their search. Discerning to the point that companies are getting professional help to create a "brand" for recruiting. I think that's a worthwhile endeavor. But consultants and their client companies have to pay more attention to what's actually happening: "The War for Talent" is really "the system-to-make-it-as-difficult-as-possible-to-ever-get-in-the-door."

Is Anyone Else Experiencing This?

Our daughter graduated from a well-known university. High GPA, Dean's list, two semesters of study abroad in two different countries, fluent in a second language and quite conversational in a third; leadership experiences during college, worked at a real job for a government agency in her junior and senior years and had additional work experience with a professional firm. Most of all she was motivated to work and clear about where she wanted to be.Jobpal_interface


Here's how the job search actually went:

1. All resumes had to be submitted online (not unusual or surprising). She understood the whole "keyword" deal in order to get through internal search machines.

    a. More often than not, there was no response indicating that the document was actually received.

    b. Many websites seemed to be designed by IT people for IT people. They were difficult for even the web-savvy to navigate.

    c. Frequently--very frequently--three quarters of the way through the process all of the information would disappear. On numerous occasions she had to enter the information multiple times before the site remained "up" long enough to complete the application.

2. Seldom did she ever receive any acknowledgment from a real human-being that the resume had been received. I understand that huge corporations receive many applications. If there is a "war for talent" and "company culture and reputation" are really important, then spending dollars on public relations is wasted capital if no one is actually talking to the talent.

3. Career Fairs. My favorite. She figured that if the online application system wasn't yielding results,   then some face-to-face contact could move things along. So she registered for the Career Fair and  showed up with the requested twenty resumes. Please feel free to use the following dialog if you are a stand-up comedian and need some job-related material:

    Daughter: HI, I'm interested in talking with you about___________.

    Recruiter: HI, my name is_____________________.

    (Casual conversation, brochure distributed by Recruiter)

    Daughter: I think this (points to brochure) might be an area where I'd like to contribute. Here is a copy of my resume.

    Recruiter: Go on our website and fill out an application.

    Daughter: Uh, I thought this was a place to talk about jobs and exchange information.

    Recruiter: We don't take resumes. Go on our website and fill in an application.

    Daughter's evil thought: (What are they paying you for if you don't handle resumes. I already knew there was a website. Maybe I should get a Recruiting job with your company so I wouldn't actually have to do Recruiting and could travel and turn in expense reports for meals and hotels.)

    Her target companies were well-known and in the Fortune 500 with some in the Fortune 50. Many tout their Talent Management initiatives. Experience tells me that the internal presentations about Talent Management may be more impressive than the actual execution.

    Happy Ending: She started working at a global firm on a temporary assignment. She liked the company a lot. They liked her work a lot and hire her as a full-time professional there.

Question: If companies are waging a "War for Talent," then wouldn't it be useful to remember that wars are won by the people on the front lines doing their jobs--not in the staff headquarters or the branding office?

Like this article? Subscribe to my RSS feed.

Tell The Truth About Talent

If you want to be the person who offers real value in a Talent Management discussion, then be the person who demands the truth about performance.

Organizations are all about power and equilibrium. Over time, "conventional wisdom"  creates the list of high potential candidates. Then, at "developmental discussion" time the same names often keep popping up, unquestioned.

Seek TruthPreparing for a keynote at a healthcare conference, I interviewed some CEO clients and their direct reports. The question: "What would make a manager or HR director a leader in your eyes?" The answer: "Ask the hard questions when a name is proposed for promotion or a new assignment." 

The execs shared how easy it is to have someone perform well in one assignment, then have that single success create a "career aura." When it comes time for succession planning and development, no one really questions the totality of the individual's success.

The lesson for all of us: Ask for the evidence. Value rests with the one who helps uncover the truth about performance.

Your organization's future depends on it.

Like this article? Subscribe to my RSS feed.

How Do You Really Help People Develop?

Start by seeing clearly who they really are

  • How many people at work know who you really are?
  • How many people do you see clearly for who they are?

I was thinking about the things an executive coach really does--or should be doing. One of the most important is this: Seeing people for who they are, realizing what they can be, and helping to take them there.

Person growing If that doesn't sound very "business-like," it may not be in the traditional sense of "business-like."

And therein lies the issue. Organizations of all kinds hire the best people they can find. Those folks look at the "people are our most important asset" blurbs in the corporate recruiting brochures. Then, they sign on with high hopes.

What happens later on that causes discontent, retention issues, and the need to search for "talent?" Weren't they talented when they were hired?

Here's what I see

I see highly motivated people getting performance appraisals that are designed to force rankings on a curve so they never accurately portray an individual's contribution and worth. I see employees at all levels  getting feedback on the gaps in their performance--and then receiving direction to "close the gaps." I see the same people then coming to workshops and seminars, hearing theoretical--but good--teaching, only to go back to work and say "what do I actually do with that?"

In nearly 30 years of managing, consulting, and coaching, I can count on one hand the number of people I've seen fired for technical incompetence. They get released for issues of character,  the inability to relate well with other people, or not being able to "close the gap."

Here are my thoughts as a result:

1. The character issue
 can be discerned during the hiring process. Discernment should be a highly valued talent possessed by those interviewing.  If not, get a coach to help with that element. Someone who sees others clearly and quickly for who they are.

2. Relating well with other people. You can send people to class to learn some skills. My question is this: does the day-to-day interaction at work model, support, and reward good relationships? A coach can impact that issue--or help the individual see that another role--maybe even in another organization--would be a better match. It's the coach's job to see those things clearly and to help the other person gain the same clarity.

3. Workshops and Education. Two things I enjoy with a passion. None has ever changed my own behavior very much. But I have learned a lot that has helped me think differently and more clearly. When do they work? When a manager or coach shows someone how to actually do what was taught--in the context of the organization's strategies and culture.

Manager As Coach

Before you get the idea that this is a treatise on why you should hire me, let me propose this: Managers can coach if they choose to see their people clearly by building relationships that let them know who their folks really are. If they don't have the time or inclination, then get some help to build the talent that seems, at times, to be hiding. It's probably not hiding. It might just be invisible to the naked eye.

And that brings us back to the opening:

If you want your talent to be valued, you've got to let people around you know who you really are. Make it impossible for them not to see you clearly.

If you are a manager, start thinking about intentionally "seeing clearly." And if it's tough, then get some help.

You and I wouldn't build a house in the dark. We need light to see in order to build. And unless your a truffle, you need a lot of light in order to grow and use your talent to perform.

Like this article? Subscribe to my RSS feed.

Four Ways To Impact Learning

Leaders, managers, and heads of projects constantly seek ways to grow talent and make a difference in organizational success.

More and more, job candidates are asking the question, "What will I learn here?" If they don't like the answer, chances are they'll keep looking.

So, I began reflecting on some recent speaking and workshop experiences. Four distinct factors came to mind as I thought about the give-and-take that led to learning for all of us. I hope you'll find these useful.


Four Ways to Impact Learning

Impact Curiosity: For every action there's a reaction. When we say or do something, people want time to react to it, talk about it, and understand what it means to them.

Practical Application: Allow  time for questions and answers. The give-and-take after you speak is where people actually learn and where they begin to develop an affinity for, and commitment to, the topic. Even if you're an expert, the learning takes place as a result of people wrestling with the information or idea rather than being the recipients of a data dump--no matter how eloquent you may be.

Impact self-confidence: How you deliver and discuss the information impacts how people feel about learning it. People with position power--managers, supervisors, team leaders--all have the ability to build confidence in the learners or create a defensive atmosphere.

Practical Application: Tell the group at the outset that you value their questions and that you hope they'll jump in when they experience an "Aha!" or a "Help me, I don't get it." When someone asks a question, throw it back out to the group to give someone else a chance to form an answer that may be framed in a way different than your own. Thank people whenever they ask a question or offer an answer.

Impact motivation: Even as youngsters, we knew who the teachers were who made learning exciting, interesting, and engaging. Why not be the "managerial version" of your best teacher. And remember this: Managers Are The Mediators of Motivation.

Practical Application: Take some time to develop questions and break people into groups to address them; if you're talking about a new marketing approach, give people a block of time to do a concept and present it to the group. You know the content. The time you spend designing the right approach will pay off in engaged learners and, ultimately, effective learning.

Impact Creativity: Unless you're involved in safety procedures, accounting rules, or a regulatory issue, people want to be able to offer their own "variation on a theme." One of the reasons to bring people together is to capitalize on the collective creativity and varying viewpoints in the room.

Practical Application: Give people latitude to take the discussion in directions that you never thought of. Remember, you're in charge--but to try to be in control will shut down the kind of learning that the group--and you--have an opportunity to experience.

Bonus: When the noise level goes up and people start debating, discussing, and delving into a topic, you've been successful. Let it go until the energy begins to die down. Then, capture the points that they were making with their co-workers and discuss next steps.

When learners sit passively, you may feel more relaxed because you feel in control not having to respond to questions or manage the group. What it may really mean is that they aren't engaged, aren't learning, and are waiting "until the bell rings" so they can go back to their workspace.

So, pick one of the four and impact someone's learning today. You can.


Like this article? Subscribe to my RSS feed.

Got A Jerk In Your Work Life? Read This

I've worked with individual executives and groups for more than 25 years on "How To Deal With Difficult People". 

It sounds kind of grim but is really a lot of fun. Why?

Because everyone has someone who "bugs" them. And, when they think long and hard about it, what bothers people most is actually something they really don't like about themselves in the situation. There are lots of ways to have fun with this and learn a lot at the same time without navel-gazing.

What I like best about the approach we've developed is that it isn't about coping with jerks. Why settle for coping? It doesn't really change anything. 

Do You Want To Change Something?


Good. Then here's a little synopsis that I hope will help.

1. What drives your blood pressure north?

Identify the triggers that push your buttons by thinking about past experiences in which your "favorite"  person finally got to you. 

What did they do?  That’s different than why it bothered you. Simply identify their actual behavior.  Was it the way they approached you? Looked at you?  How did they look at you? Maybe it was a certain voice quality or tone of voice?

2. How did you react? 

Do you immediately blame them for how you feel?  Do you act distracted or quickly find a distraction? Disavow what’s really going on? When they do their "special" thing, what do you do in response?

3. What do you want from yourself?  

What’s the very best you can bring to the situation? Regardless of what they did, what would you do to be delighted with yourself after the interaction?

4.  What do you really want from them?  

Yeah, I know: "Stop that stuff!" 

Not going to happen. So, think about this relationship the way the Cheerios people do on their nutrition label. "What is the MDR (minimum daily requirement) of behavior you can hope for and accept? Then start expecting nothing more. (it's quite free-ing, really). 

5.  Has someone else learned a way to deal with this person?

 How do they do it?  Who might know how to do it?  Describe your situation in a way that combines "behavior-then-how-I-feel." No need to dump on the offender; besides, it makes you less attractive and less of a good candidate for help.

When you've reached a point where you have an approach, use it. We train our muscle memories to play tennis, golf, and other sports in ways that become unconscious.  You can train your nervous system in the same way. Think about this: if you do just one thing differently you may change the entire pattern.

Most importantly: Life is not what happens to us. It's how we respond to what happens to us.

And you are in charge of your responses.

Like this article? Subscribe to my RSS feed.

Management Direction: Does 'Don't' Mean 'Do'?

"People learn what you teach them; not what you intend to teach them."

--B.F. Skinner

I just came back from an office building where a sign on a doorway clearly stated, "This is not an entrance." Hmm. Did that mean that I was to use the door next to it or go outside and enter through some other place? 

Don't Do It! iStock_ Here's another: "Don't prepare lengthy, time-consuming  RFPs unless it is obvious that they (the all-omniscient 'they') really want one." OK. Should I prepare a lengthy RFP if I have a template that allows me to generate one quickly?

We're all looking for clear direction in order to do a solid job. "Dont's" do not always define the "Dos." 

The human mind cannot process a negative and automatically turn it into a positive action intended by another. Period. Even if you are crystal clear about what you don't want, the people around you simply don't know what to do.

This week: Where will you take time to be crystal clear about what you do want? You'll be surprised at the increase in goal-directed activity.

Like this article? Subscribe to my RSS feed.

The Truth About Negative Feedback

Employees want development and developmental feedback. Every legitimate, broad-based survey from the past ten years confirms that as a fact.

Here's the challenge: most managers aren't very skilled at developing people over the long-term.

The data show that, although managers acknowledge the importance of development, they are usually ranked near the bottom in terms of there effectiveness and attention to "development." Related to this is the ability to deliver critical feedback, also a skill that receives a consistently low rating. In all fairness, colleagues and others in the organizational food chain aren't really any better when the data are analyzed. (Makes sense. Colleagues and others are also executives, managers, and supervisors).


What About High Potentials?

In a study done by Kaplan et al., in 1991, the findings revealed that high potential employees, especially executives, receive less feedback than others. (Subsequent research yields the same information). When high-po's do get feedback, it's more along the lines of how terrific they are. Feedback to high potentials is seldom specific and their bosses even tend to skip over the formal, face-to-face, yearly performance appraisal. We should all be so fortunate.

What to Do?

OK, let's agree that delivering pointed, negative feedback is uncomfortable for most people. It must be, otherwise there'd be more of it. 

The easiest way I know of to "get honest and developmental" is to sit down and agree on a set of specific skills or competencies needed to achieve strategic objectives. In general, we all lean toward the notion that skills can be developed and, when they are, it will bump up performance. Taking this approach makes it easier to discuss specific performance issues because each is tied to a skill that was agreed to at the outset.

Sure, it takes thoughtfulness and face time. If you need a little more motivation, research also shows that employees rate managerial/executive performance, in part, on the relationship established with direct reports. 

The very act of sitting down together is experienced as an indicator of managerial competency.

Like this article? Subscribe to my RSS feed.

Do You Have A "Success" Agreement At Work?

Chartered Management Institute  study of 1,684 managers in the U.K. that explored the same question as the title of this post. Here's a snapshot of the results:

  • "Nearly half of the managers polled said they judged success by the extent to which they developed their teams, yet only slightly more than a third believed their organizations felt the same way.
  • 25% thought that 'achieving a flexible lifestyle' was an indicator of professional success. Only six per cent thought that their employers shared the same view.


  • Just 13 per cent said they were concerned with 'ensuring the organization is market leader' – yet nearly two thirds thought their employers made this a priority.
  • A similarly small percentage – 16 per cent – of managers believed securing 'sustainability' was important, yet more than half felt their organizations perceived this as a priority.
  • Worryingly, fewer than half of the managers polled believed they had actually achieved their true potential.
  • More optimistically, many planned to take action to change this, with more than a third planning to undertake development or further education courses during the coming 12 months."

Finally, a quote from a marketing and corporate affairs director:

"Managers should voice professional needs so their definition of success is known while the organization needs to create a clear understanding of its corporate objectives to ensure employees and future employees feel an alignment to the corporate culture."

Let's Analyze This

1. The statements talk about what the managers think the gap is between them and their employers.

2. It would be helpful to know how the "employers" responded to the same questions. We have no way of knowing what the actual gap is.

3. Is it unusual for any living human being to believe that he or she has achieved one's potential? The very definition of potential points toward possibilities.

4. Will managers expressing their definitions of success change the purpose and goals of an organization?

5. Will "feeling" an alignment to the corporate culture change one's personal definition of success?

The very best that I can glean from this is that managers don't think there is a lot of alignment with their employers on issues of personal importance. Drawing any other conclusions would really be a stretch.

What can we do with this?

Senior executives who see this study could use it as a starting point for a real conversation with their managers about what's important to organizational success; what's important to the managers; and how they can achieve as much of both as possible.

What else are you seeing? 

Like this article? Subscribe to my RSS feed.

Start New Hires on Friday? I Like This

At, a build-your-own-website service in Vancouver, British Columbia, new employees always start on Fridays, when work is less hectic and everyone has time to introduce him- or herself. The hire is greeted with balloons, streamers, and a welcome card signed by the entire staff. By the time lunch rolls around, "the comfort level is through the roof," says co-founder and president Dean Gagnon. That's when new hires are asked to relate an embarrassing story about themselves. "It gives everyone insight into the new person," says Gagnon.

This really makes sense, although the payroll and benefits folks might get a bit miffed.



You can look at more hiring rituals at where I came across this one.

Like this article? Subscribe to my RSS feed.

Want Engagement? Allow The 'How'

Leadership certainly involves setting direction, but the best vision can be undermined by taking away the 'how'.

Unique  We humans want some sense of control over our lives. That often comes from freedom of choice about how and when a job gets done, responsibility for the success or failure of a project, or even freedom to interact freely across the entire organization.

When offering up a plan (the 'what'), be sure to leave as much of the implementation ('how') as possible to those involved. 

Think about this:

We hire people because we believe they offer a unique talent. That uniqueness lies in the 'how' they go about doing things. Once you take that away, you've taken away who they are at the core and why they signed on the dotted line. When you take away people's choices they'll begin to find ways to undercut or disengage from a project. 

Give people opportunities to choose and control. You'll become the master of engagement.

Like this article? Subscribe to my RSS feed.

Telling The Truth About Talent

If you want to be the person who offers real value in a Talent Management discussion, then be the person who demands the truth about performance.

Seek_truth Organizations are all about power and equilibrium. Over time, "conventional wisdom"  creates the list of high potential candidates. Then, at "developmental discussion" time the same names often keep popping up, unquestioned.

Preparing for my keynote at the Halogen Software User Conference last week I interviewed some CEO clients and their direct reports. The question: "What would make your HR person a leader in your eyes?" The answer: "Ask the hard questions when a name is proposed for promotion or a new assignment."

The execs shared how easy it is to have someone perform well in one assignment, then have that single success create a "career aura." When it comes time for succession planning and development, no one really questions the totality of the individual's success.

The lesson for HR folks (and the rest of us): Ask for the evidence. Value rests with the one who helps uncover the truth about performance.

Your organization's future depends on it.

Like this article? Subscribe to my RSS feed.

HR Leadership and Talent Management

I'm looking forward to giving the keynote at the Halogen Software User Conference this morning in Ottawa. 

The topic: How Talent Management Turns HR Pros into HR Leaders.

For years, HR folks have wondered how they can escape the "support staff" label and become a part of the action in business. Those willing to gain in-depth expertise in every phase of managing a company's talent have the opportunity to change their value--and status--in the organization.


Note: I've been off the online radar for a couple of months. My Dad passed away at the end of July following a brief illness. Sincere thanks to those who checked in to find out what was going on and offer their sympathy and support. I'll be writing a bit more about all of that shortly.

Like this article? Subscribe to my RSS feed.

Want to Influence? Know the Norms

Norms are rules that a group uses to define its appropriate and inappropriate values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. The catch: Those rules may be explicit or implicit. And those unspoken norms will bite you every time if you don't find out what they are.

Norms are so important that a failure to stick to the rules can result in severe punishment, the most feared of which is exclusion from the group. A common rule is that some norms must frequently be displayed; neutrality is seldom an option. Think about what "business casual" means in your company. Khakis and a golf shirt? Logo shirt? Jacket without a tie?


Your Norm Checklist

To help you and your colleagues identify norms, here are five very specific categories:

1. Explicit Norms are written or spoken openly.

2. Personal Norms: Standards we hold regarding our own actions.

3. Injunctive Norms: Behaviors perceived as being approved of by other people.

4. Subjective Norms: Expectations that "valued others" hold as to how we will behave.

5. Implicit Norms: Not stated openly; however, you'll find out quickly when you break one!

Norms can be conveyed  by non-verbal behavior such as silence or 'dirty looks' in response to an unspoken norm having been broken. They may also be passed along through stories, rituals and role-model behavior. In Japan, new employees are assigned a mentor who, over time, passes along the company's norms by sharing stories about people, situations, and the outcomes. No employee manual needed here; simply the storytelling of a more experienced employee.

What to Do

a. Identify the rules you put on other people  as a condition for being in your group. Are these productive or convenient?

b. What rules have the group put on you? Are they productive or convenient? Are there any which are particularly bothersome and unproductive?

What would happen if you made the implicit explicit? 

Like this article? Subscribe to my RSS feed.

Talent: Smart Heart Or A Well-Bred Head?

We are enamored of intellect and expertise. Yet, when we look at those who are asked to leave organizations, it's often the people who are "brilliant."

The problem? 

That "light of brilliance" shines down on the individual but isn't reflected in a way that adds warmth to the system as a whole. When that happens, it's not life-sustaining.

Heart&Head  My experience is that such folks do get a lot of feedback from their bosses and others about being "more collaborative." No one really wants to see these people fail and lose their expertise as a result. However, some combination of unwillingness and inability to adapt to the needs of others ultimately becomes organizationally untenable. The person has to go. 

Talent Implications

Few would dispute the importance of learning in organizations, and that's what this is all about. So, here is a question:

Is your organization deliberate about identifying--up front--people who have the heart to learn about themselves and the humility to make changes accordingly?

There are plenty of college grads out there who have managed to absorb a particular body of knowledge. You want to land the ones who want to learn how to use that knowledge in the service of those around them. You want people with a "smart heart."

A well-bred head lights up a single office. A smart heart lights up the organization. 

Like this article? Subscribe to my RSS feed.

Managing: You're Still In It Together

One of the joys experienced by a new manager is having an array of people to call on to "get it done."

One of the challenges experienced by a new manager is having an array of people to call on to "get it done."

I can't think of a role that's more challenging than managing, at any level. One of the traps, though, is a mistaken sense of what delegation is all about.

DelegateWhat Successful Managers Do

1.Help people perform.

That means you have to spend time focusing on the people who do the task, not just the task.

Who needs help? How much? How much is too much? How often do you need to follow up to see how things are going? When you follow up, what do you really need to do to be helpful? (It may be to get out of the way, explain how to do something in detail, or something in between).

2. Invest in people, not use them.

We agonize over how to invest our earnings so that we reap personal financial growth.

When we delegate are we asking, "How can I invest in this person during this task in order to benefit all of us over the long run?"

Or is the question "What can this person do for me?"

Each question leads to very different outcomes. One is personal and organizational growth. The other is a sense of using and being used.

3. Be alongside, in front of, or close behind--but never absent.

No one--no one--is successful alone. However, it's really easy and unbelievably common to fail by thinking we can do it alone.

So the best managers I know live out a model that clearly shares responsibility. They provide direction and support; their people ask questions easily as a result of the "we're in this together" atmosphere.

What's up in your management/delegating life?

Like this article? Subscribe to my RSS feed.

Performance and Family Systems

I think the real advantage to reading and discussion is the opportunity to finally "hear" something and get it for the first time.

Do You Think Systemically? struck a chord, based upon  the Tweets and comments that followed. 

We participate until we find the voice and the language that finally makes us go "Aha!"

Today, I want to offer a couple of simple ways to look at the relationship between people and systems in order to highlight the nature of Systemic Thinking--and it's critical importance in our lives.

Tap-dance  Performance: Is It Talent or The System?


Your favorite singer will disappoint you if the staging, lights, and sound don't offer the right technical support and atmosphere. A lousy singer won't sound any better in Carnegie Hall. In fact, the results may be worse because of the magnificent acoustical systems and orchestral support.

It takes a director (manager, conductor, pastor, lead operator) who can see how all of those elements are connected in a way that generates total performance and leads to a standing ovation.

What To Learn From Family Systems

Family counselors worth their salt know that an individual who comes with a "personal problem" is impacted in some way by the family system. If there is some normal dysfunction (you heard it right--people simply have problems that cause them to seek outside help), the counselor will look at the system in which the individual lives. The family.

Some families support and perpetuate unhealthy behavior. Even if the individual tries to change, there is an equilibrium that the family has established that simply won't allow it. I'm not saying that people aren't responsible for their own behavior. However, there is often a lack of awareness on the part of the individual and the family: they don't view themselves as a systemic entity. It becomes part of the counselor's task to help them see the connectedness within the system and the impact that each person--and the group as a whole--has on behavior (performance). When that begins to happen, healthy behavior (performance) can increase.

Organizations and the people in them can look at maximizing performance--and organizational health--using the same kind of thinking.

What To Do. . .

Instead of doing an amateur pop-psych number on someone whose talent seems to be faltering, ask:

1. "What part(s) of our systems are actually getting in the way of performance?"

After the deadly silence, which will last 10 seconds but seem like an eternity, the conversation will come. Ask clarifying questions to get to the heart of each issue. Note to leaders: You will always, in some way, be a part of the issue because of your role. It comes with the turf. You are also the biggest part of the solution. Listen without being defensive and you'll hear about barriers that you can remove, given your position and authority. Do it. The "leadership vision " thing is alluring and "sexy;" getting things out of people's way paves the highway to performance. That's leadership.

If the systems are actually pretty solid and connected, then ask yourself:

2. "Does this person have the willingness and ability to move forward with us?"

If the commitment (willingness) isn't there, then the person may flourish in another role or another organization. 

If the skill (ability) isn't there, look for a training & development solution.

And, of course, have the conversation directly with the person. Second-guessing will put you in the category of mystical soothsayer, a special role normally reserved for marketing researchers:-)

Where does your organization focus its attention when it thinks that the "talent isn't performing?"

Like this article? Subscribe to my RSS feed.

Leadership Coaching: Success Is In The Agreement

There is often an equal amount of fuzziness when it comes to Leadership Development and Leadership Coaching. As a result, the coaching issue can get blurred. So here are some suggestions after a lot of years wrestling with the issue.

Pay Attention to These

When it comes to coaching--or any kind of consulting activity--90% of the success or failure lies in the contracting phase. So:

1. Get clear about who initiated the coaching request. If it was a boss, be sure to understand what that person is looking for and why. Which means also asking, "Who really set this process in motion?" (Your boss may be the messenger).  Measure  

2. What are the specific results desired from the coaching engagement? While Leadership is a sexy, catch-all phrase, maybe the real issue is managing team performance, running better meetings, or initiating conversations with colleagues in other corporate locations. (All three have emerged after probing underneath the Leadership umbrella during contracting).

3. Is coaching the best way to get at the desired growth? The fact of the matter is that some things are skills than can be learned in other ways. And if you ask yourself how you best learned Leadership, the thoughtful answer will probably be "from leading." Be prepared to suggest expanded responsibility. People grow by being lifted up, then stepping up.

(Effective coaches know when it's time to simply hold the ladder).

Like this article? Subscribe to my RSS feed.

Performance Feedback Through The Back Door

Are you getting any real feedback on your performance at work?

Faux Feedback Disguised as 360 Assessment

1. I was asked late last year to provide coaching for a middle manager. During the exploratory meeting, I asked his boss how he (the middle manager) responded to the performance feedback that led to the coaching solution. The boss responded in a very general way, shuffled a bit, and said, "I guess I should sit down with him again. But I think using some kind of 360 feedback tool would really be helpful."

2. January brought about another coaching request at the executive level. Similar initial conversation, similar response, same "360 feedback tool" suggestion.

3. Three weeks ago...yep, it happened again. Along with the "360 might be helpful..."

FrontDoor_BackDoor  These are three different companies in three different industries with three different cultures.

My intuitive take: 360 Tools are seen by some as a way to satisfy the known need for feedback but to avoid having to provide it directly.

If the object of feedback were only to provide raw data, maybe that wouldn't matter. However:

Employees at all levels want feedback and direction first and foremost from their boss. That's the relationship that employees look to when making decisions about what to do, how to do it, and how well it's going. (

Dealing With Back-Door Feedback Through Front-Door Coaching

If you're a coach, then I will assume you adhere to this principle: You don't give feedback to a coaching client that he or she hasn't received from their boss. Period.

What to do?

I explained to each boss that I couldn't continue until their person had gotten all of the "what" and "why" feedback from them. That the coaching would be viewed as sneaky and unethical. And, that without the boss's direct contribution, it probably wouldn't have any real meaning.

The result? Each one agreed. This wasn't about an evil empire. It was about people who needed some help themselves.

So the first coaching session was with the boss to create the specific feedback and practice giving it.

And yes, we still did the 360 feedback because it really was desired by the people being coached.

What to take away: Be on the lookout for back door feedback requests and, regardless of your role, point people toward the front door before proceeding.

Photo Source:

Like this article? Subscribe to my RSS feed.

How Do You Measure Workplace Happiness?

I was checking the statistics here to discover the search engine queries that bring people to All Things Workplace. I figured that the keywords were going to be mostly about leadership or management.

I was wrong.


"Job Satisfaction"..."Happiness at Work"..."Where Can I Find the Best Job?"..."Strengths and Weaknesses"..."How Can I Find A Job Where the Boss Listens to Me?"...those were the themes. Career issues--sometimes disguised as communications--turned out to be the number one driver.

Make no mistake. People are searching for how to feel good at work. We want to do well...and we want to feel good in the process.

Think about two variables

There's a relationship between how much you love your job and how well you perform. That's not a mystery. But there is a dynamic you need to know about in order to manage yourself and others:

1. Some people have to feel good about their job and their workplace before they can get busy and perform at their max.

2. Others have to have to first achieve super results in order to feel good about their jobs.

It's a "Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?" phenomenon. I picked up on this some years ago during a stretch where I was diagnosing "performance issues" for a client.

My conclusion: Managers hadn't caught onto the validity of the two approaches to performance. Naturally, the "feel good first" people were perceived as weenie-like non-performers. However, they actually had a huge commitment to doing well. They just needed something else to help them be able to get there.

What was it? They wanted the managers to understand who they were and what made them tick. That went along way to having the "right feeling" about the job.

The second category of people wanted a scorecard. They weren't about to "feel" good until they checked off their tasks and accomplishments.

Target yourself and your people

1. Which approach most naturally fits you? Figure out what that means to the way you work and the way your work is managed. Then talk with your manager about your desire to excel and how you might use this natural preference to make that happen.

2. Managers: The next time you're in a meeting (or one-on-one), have an informal conversation about the two approaches. Let people talk about what comes first for them. You'll learn a lot about how to manage each person; and they'll get more of what they need in order to hit the top of the job satisfaction/high performance curve.

Do you come onto the work scene each day with one of these in the front of your mind? How does that play out for your job satisfaction and performance?


This post first ran in June, 2008. The issue of Workplace Happiness is still thriving across the entire range of social media and professional publications, so I thought a little "re-visit" might be worthwhile.

Like this article? Subscribe to my RSS feed.

Emotions, Work, and Engaged Employees

"Only passions, great passions, can elevate the soul to great things."
Denis Diderot
French author and  philosopher  (1713 - 1784)
Is It OK to Be Outwardly Passionate at Work?

I don't know how to separate the idea of being "engaged" from being "emotionally involved."

It's consistent with who I am and may be true of you, too.

But I'm thinking, "Steve, when was the last time you heard a client plead for emotional involvement?"

If there is an Employee Engagement! battle cry emanating from boardrooms worldwide, there's also a potential deal-breaker waiting in the wings. It's the uneasy directive you've heard in business meetings when people really get involved, and it goes like this:

"Now let's not be emotional. We are rational people who should behave rationally."

Great. Excuse me while I sat back and concentrate on becoming dispassionately engaged while you put up another 27-bullet PowerPoint slide.

Apparently It Is Not Ok

I Googled the phrase "emotions at work" to see what we'd come up. Here is a snapshot of the results:


Have a look at the titles listed. They view emotions as negative, something to be controlled, or something to "deal with."

I'll agree that no one wants an out-of-control wing-nut dominating a meeting. But is this  the  global business  approach to the lifeblood of humans?

I'm throwing down the gauntlet. Is it just me, or do we need to lighten up and genuinely accept people for who they are? That includes their enthusiasm, excitement, anger, disappointment, and all of the other normal and healthy emotions that are attached to a change, idea, or new initiative.

I hope that organizations who are proud of their diversity initiatives are equally as understanding of the deeper, common drives found in all of us.

Engagement depends upon it.

What do you think?!

Like this article? Subscribe to my RSS feed.

Manage Yourself, Manage Your Own Talent

Do you want your special talents to be noticed at work?

Of course you do. Me, too.

Then you'll probably have to identify what they are and use them to get recognized. By the "right people." (I know that you know who they are).

A Towers Perrin survey of CEO's and HR Execs that said:

  • Groups now considered to be "talent" included senior leadership, employees at mid-level with leadership potential, key contributors or technical experts and entry-level employees with leadership potential.
  • Together, these defined talent pools made up, on average, no more than 15 per cent of the total workforce, said Towers Perrin.

Thinking3  Become Part of the 15%

Does focusing on 15% make sense? 

Forget whether or not it makes sense, is fair, or is actually in the company's best interest. If someone in power thinks it is, then it is.

Three things you can do:

1. Self-assess. Use a combination of tools such as the StrengthsFinder, MBTI (Step II), and informal 360 feedback from trusted associates. Find those few areas where you are number one.

2. Ask yourself what you "can't not do." Pay attention to those things that you gravitate toward and that don't feel like work. That's where you are the Big Kareer Kahuna.

3. Ask your boss for a meeting. Share what you've found and ask for the opportunity to demonstrate those talents. Head up a project, a committee, an event. Something that will get you recognized and have your strengths acknowledged.

Here is a recent thought on self-management from a savvy All Things Workplace reader (who I follow on Twitter as well):

Greg Stroz says: Having just done this myself as an employee (having a discussion with my manager to discuss not only performance but how to align my development needs with the company's objectives), I can certainly say that taking more control of your destiny in this manner certainly helps to reduce stress. In the worst case, it reduces the uncertainty that can make your future path unclear, which in turn makes it harder to make career decisions."

You have to take charge of managing your personal talents in a way that will contribute to your employer and clearly show that you've got what it takes. (Whatever that may mean).

Talent Management is a program.Your talent is your life.

View it as the gift that it is and view yourself as the caretaker of that gift. No one is more qualified than you.

Don't ya think?

Like this article? Subscribe to my RSS feed.

Managers: Reduce Stress by Increasing the Feedback

"Whatever is unresolved becomes a stressor"

Managers add stress to their lives by postponing important conversations and letting them build up until their heads start to feel like a balloon waiting to burst. Or, we try to submerge those thoughts until we discover that they tend to pop out in strange and often harmful ways. How many times have we received--or given--a terse comment that really was the result of some long- unspoken feeling?

Why Does Feedback Matter?

Feedback started as a term used to describe the signals sent from a rocket back to earth in order to determine the accuracy of the rocket's course. By tracking speed and trajectory, ground crews could determine when and where to make corrections.

At some point in time, the term Feedback was incorporated into business language as a way to talk about performance. And, as in rocket flight, it has been determined that the best way for a person to stay "on course" is to assess where one stands at any given moment in relation to the task or goal at hand.

Here's the really important point: The chances of impacting performance increase with frequency and timeliness of feedback. That implies the need for ongoing "How are we doing?" conversations. It's our best chance at knowing whether we're on track or not.

Feedback Where's Mine_600x425

So, What Gets In The Way of Giving Feedback?

1. Let's face it: few of us enjoy hearing about those areas of work life where we're coming up short. It's human nature. The flip side is that managers are people, too, and they have the same thoughts and feelings. So it's not exactly a peak experience being the proverbial "messenger" even though it comes with the job.

2. The term "feedback" has morphed into "Here's what you need to correct" instead of "Here's how I think we're doing."

3. Feedback has been institutionalized to the point where it is often done at yearly or semi-annual performance reviews. That's usually too far away from the actual performance for a person to make the kind of changes that will alter an outcome. So, it become  a "Gotcha!"

4. It takes a relationship built on trust to have meaningful conversations about performance.

Trust comes from a series of interactions where people have made agreements, talked about how things were going, and then lived up to what they said they would do. And if something goes wrong, one person points that out to the other. They talk about what to do differently. And they learn that, even if something does go wrong, they care enough to bring it up and do something about it. I've said this before: The people you trust the most are the people who tell you the truth--good and bad. If it's good, they offer encouragement. If it's bad, they offer ways to work with you to sort things out.

5. Lack of ongoing, natural conversation about work life gets in the way of building relationships that breed the level of trust we need to have ongoing, natural conversations. It's circular.

What Can You Do?

1. Managers: Start the conversation from Day 1.

Set the tone for the future early on by asking, "How are things going with project x?" What didn't we anticipate? What's going well? What isn't going well, so we can find out how to get it on track? Then make sure that both of you do what you say you'll do.

2. Employees: If there isn't a conversation, start one.

Turn the questions in #1 into statements. For example, "Here's how project x is going." "Here's what we didn't anticipate." Sure, maybe your boss doesn't like bad news. Here's a secret: Surprises are worse than bad news.If you start the conversation, you have a better chance of putting your boss at ease with the whole idea of "How are we doing?"

3. Keep talking about having conversations, not feedback.

Language conveys feeling. The whole notion of feedback has degenerated to the point where the word contains more negative connotations than positive. Why? Maybe because it was never meant to be associated with the human condition in the first place. From the time we're kids we have conversations. We talk about "What's going on" and "How are things going?"

4. Start having ongoing "How are we doing?" conversations. Start now.

I absolutely guarantee you that two people of goodwill can increase their combined performance and reduce their stress-inducing baggage by having regular, honest talks about their progress and the factors impacting it. These kinds of talks are the foundation of every good relationship, on and off the job.

Bonus Thought: The longer you wait, the larger the "negative" becomes and the more difficult it is to discuss. Regular, frequent conversations mean that the problem areas will be smaller and easier to talk about!

Like this article? Subscribe to my RSS feed.

Overcoming Top Myths In HR

All Things Workplace welcomes Art Brooks, VP of BeneTrac, as guest author today.
Art looks to debunk myths and legends surrounding HR.

What makes the best in HR really the best?

Human resources is a complex, multifaceted field that requires professionals to have the ability to juggle priorities and excel at a number of tasks from the sometimes tedious to the often strategic.  It takes knowing what to hone in on and what to delegate, staying on top of the latest trends in compensation and always having a finger on the pulse of employee relations. And, often, with so many misconceptions about HR, it involves staying ahead of the curve through continuous education in an attempt to drive what the role will entail for the company.  Being in HR requires having a number of talents and is not for the faint of heart.  The role brings with it the potential to make a big impact on the lives of individuals working for the company its most important assets and, simultaneously, can leave managers feeling less than appreciated when contributions to the bottom line are questioned.  Perceptions of HR as a cost center and others, explained below, are just a few of the myths that often surround HR and can prevent practitioners and companies from getting the most from this important role.

Myths HR as a cost center

The view of HR as a cost center may be one of the hardest to overcome.  How executives view the HR department and its role often plays a huge part in its perception and function, including whether the job is managed in-house to begin with.  Frequently HR must take every opportunity to be its own proponent in providing greater education on the value of its offerings.  

Other companies realize that HR managers contribute more directly in taking care of their most valuable assets, handling a range of responsibilities, including: recruiting; interviewing; providing, presenting, and delivering medical, dental, vision, life, and other ancillary benefits; job training; instituting programs for retention and growth of employees; establishing tools and guidance for management reviews; and reviewing and selecting technology to support HR functions, to name a few.  Each of these, in fact, contributes greatly to the bottom line when all hard and soft costs of doing business are considered.  
Group benefits, for instance, are a major part of the compensation employers offer to entice and retain productive and reliable employees and maintain the organization's competitive nature.  The methods by which these compensation elements are derived and presented are key to a company's success.  In retaining good employees, companies can save thousands, if not more, in rehiring and training costs.  HR must be prepared to justify its case with a strong knowledge of its employee base and a rationalization of these types of obvious and not so obvious costs. 

HR's role: strategic and/or tactical

Whether dictated by management, assumed by the practitioner, a function of fighting fires on a daily basis, or a combination of the above, HR's role in the organization is all too often tactical over strategic, often to the dissatisfaction of practitioners themselves.  This point is illustrated by USC Professor Edward E. Lawler III, who noted that HR professionals reported spending only 23% of their time in 2005 being a strategic business partner; no more than they reported in 1995. And line managers, he found, said HR is far less involved in strategy than HR thinks it is.  

Though company culture often sets the stage, HR practitioners must actively seek key areas for improvement for themselves, their roles and for the company and take action to defend their role where possible.

Employee capabilities/technology's prevalence

 If employees and executives are guilty of downplaying HR's role, often so too is HR in assessing employees' ability to manage information.  Computers first appeared in schools over 12 years ago and today are used by 75 percent of Americans to access the Internet for three hours a day on average.  Still, many in HR are reluctant to give up basic self-service benefit management tasks that would save a tremendous amount of time and allow them to better address company objectives.
While it is true that online benefits management can be a scary prospect for those who may be less computer savvy, having access to employee benefits online is another way to provide greater employee satisfaction through accessibility and choice.  In fact, many employees will expect online access, especially today's younger generation for whom iPods and IM are part of everyday life.
 Self-service HR has become so invaluable that a September 2006 Forrester Research report termed it "an essential core application" for businesses.  The report pointed to the ability of Human Resource Management Systems (HRMS) to help manage personnel costs, operate efficient business processes, comply with regulations and manage legal exposures, and optimize the value of human capital.

Not all HR tools are created equal

Another way that HR can heighten its role and increase strategic input is by using technology to better access, manage, and report on information.  But, as with any industry, it is hard to cut through the clutter and hype surrounding proposed solutions to select the best technology to meet organizational needs. Though one provider may declare it offers self-service capabilities, for instance, it may not be the same level needed or offered by others, providing disappointing results.  For an HR manager that has met with false promises in the past, doing the homework on proposed solutions is even more important.  
 Selecting the best tools requires assessing key factors, such as the ability to:
 ·     Grow and scale with the organization
 ·     Provide full ownership of the data
 ·     Simplify processes through wizards
 ·     Provide full security for backups, servers, added protective layers, etc. and transfer data within secure encrypted sessions, secure sockets layer (SSL)  (128 bit encryption), or be encrypted prior to being sent
 ·     Provide authority to decide who will be allowed access and to what degree  
 ·     Offer a robust eligibility engine for company enrollment activities and rules
 ·     Link with carriers with clean, validated transfers, beyond basic ANSI files
 ·     Offer 24-hour service from a direct contact that can help.
In conclusion, though managing human resources is certainly not without its challenges, perhaps individuals are drawn to this role in the first place because of the challenge and the opportunity to make a difference at companies and in the lives of individuals. Frequently, HR managers can accomplish more and further prove their worth to the company by relying more heavily on employees and technology that can help them to focus on the most important issues.


Art Brooks is vice president of BeneTrac, a Paychex company and provider of powerful, web-based electronic enrollment and employee benefits administration software. The company has relationships with over 400 carriers and providers and is used to manage the benefits of hundreds of thousands of members in about 900 groups.

Like this article? Subscribe to my RSS feed.

Making Changes: What People Want

Change happens when something "new" starts or something "old" stops.

It's life. Period.

What's really important, personally and in organizations, is the ability for individuals and groups to re-orient themselves in order to find meaning in their changing situation. Most of the energy surrounding a life change or organizational initiative is focused on "the new thing." Yet transitions start with endings: people letting go of attitudes and actions that will no longer serve them well.

Think of the best disc jockey you've ever heard. You'll discover that the talent is in the segues--the transitions--from one song to the next. (S)he takes you on a musical journey that makes sense because of the connectedness "in between." Disc jockeys know that if people don't go through an inner process of transition, they won't end up at the right place with the right attitude for the next song.

Transitiontv How To Help People Make Changes

When it comes to business life, managers can become so preoccupied with the content and technical aspects of the change that they forget the psychological effects on their people. (We often do the same thing to ourselves with personal changes). The result: disorientation and a mistaken diagnosis that people are "resistant" or "uncommitted." If the changes are well-founded, that's probably not true.

As I write this I'm involved in a major corporate change effort. Here are four things that people want in order to let go of the "old" and start the "new":

  • A sense of control. Do your people (and you) feel you have some degree of control over what's happening?
  • Information and understanding. Do you and your people really understand, in sensible terms, what's happening and why? (If you don't accurately answer the why question, the "what" is meaningless).
  • Organizational & managerial support. What kind of practical (training, education, software, equipment) and emotional (time, listening, talking through situations) will be provided?
  • Deep Purpose. What is it about the changes that give personal meaning to the new way of life/doing business?

Life contains a series of new situations and events which prompt us to want to achieve equilibrium. Think about the four items above. When you have them, you experience a sense of equilibrium that allows you some emotional rest and re-charging before the next "event" (there will be one).

Pay attention to these four factors. They'll help provide the kind of realignment and renewal that everyone needs to move through business and personal changes effectively.


Two items about "new" and "change":

1. If you have a chance to join in, I'll be talking about Retention and Talent Management at 11 a.m today at HR.COM, sponsored by Halogen Software. We'll also be looking at real-life implementation by Kim Ellis, Senior Director of HR at SNC-Lavalin.

2. Earlier this year my dad dodged a bullet with a cancer test that was negative. Not so fortunate this month. While I normally post 4-5 days/week, I'll be posting "as often as possible" while the ongoing testing takes place, accurate data are gathered, and decisions are made. I will be checking comments and emails regularly but not as frequently as usual. All prayer graciously accepted.

Like this article? Subscribe to my RSS feed.

Don't Let Halos and Horns Blur Your Expectations

What do your company's talent  conversations sound like?

If you've spent more than a few minutes managing, succession planning, or doing a performance review, you know that total talent conversations can morph into a bias founded upon a single experience. Here's what I mean.

The Halo Effect

The Halo Effect surfaces when someone has an outstanding characteristic and we allow our positive reaction to that singe characteristic to influence our total judgment of the individual. What follows is a high assessment on many traits because we believe the person is a star in one trait. We ascribe a range of related talents that simply may not now, nor ever will, exist.

AngelAndDevilAtWork We see this in the realms of celebrity and politics when a physically attractive person is presumed to have a host of other positive traits. We also see it in companies where "the smartest guy in the room" moves up the hierarchy until it's discovered that his "smartness" not only doesn't extend to other fundamental traits e.g., cooperation, teamwork, initiating communication--but the individual may actually get in the way of the flow of work.

The Horn Effect

This one, often called the "Devil Effect," is the flip side of the Halo Effect and doesn't get quite as much attention. I don't know why that is. Its organizational impact is equally profound. 

In this scenario, if a person seems particularly lacking in one key trait, then that person will often be assumed to be deficient in many other traits. A manager who is constantly overdue on  project delivery (possibly due to unreasonable work demands and a boss who won't renegotiate what makes realistic sense) is assumed to be uncommitted, perhaps a little lazy, and even negligent in their overall work life.

Expectations and Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

We live up to our expectations. People who expect to be successful are more likely to succeed. People who expect failure are more likely to fail.

A manager's or supervisor's expectations about employees' performance will effect that performance. Period. Remember that performance evaluations and performance feedback will influence and mold future performance based upon the implicit and explicit expectations that managers convey.
(The same is true in families regarding the messages conveyed between spouses those between parents and children).

Today's thought: Be aware of how you might be contributing to self-fulfilling prophecies in your workplace and in your life. It's important, because you very often get what you expect. 


But that's not all! As we were hitting the "publish" key, The Leadership Carnival--Oscar Edition went online with more than top-notch articles on leadership by top-notch leadership writers. Be sure to add to your knowledge and check them out.

Like this article? Subscribe to my RSS feed.

Ten Online Resources for Job Seekers

The Internet can be a very useful tool when it comes to finding work. However, you may have to search hard and long for quality websites, since, as with most things online, there’s a lot of junk. The following are ten online resources with job search engines and other websites to help you find work fast.

1. Job Search Sites

Some of the better job search sites are, in no particular order: Indeed, LinkUp, Simply Hired, and Jobster .
Increasingly, employers are posting more and more ads on Craigslist , which is a great resource to find jobs in your immediate area.

If you’d like to take advantage of the connections that social networking affords, then check out Twitter Job Search .

2. Help with your resume offers a comprehensive guide to writing effective resumes and cover letters , with additional links to other websites.

Top10-logo-color 3. Interview tips

How To Nail an Interview offers twenty solid interview tips, as well as videos that demonstrate effective interviewing techniques.

4.  Information about prospective companies

Just as much as employers conduct research on potential candidates, through Google Search or other means, the job seeker should become informed about companies for which they’re wanting to work. Researching companies will help you during the interview process, in which interviewers often want to know how much you know about them in order to gauge your interest in the job.

But don’t just stop there. You may also want to find out how much you could potentially earn, or what the corporate culture is like in any given company. With GlassDoor , you can find out  the average salaries for different positions in different companies, and you can also read company reviews posted by current or former employees.

5. Tips on negotiating salary

Whether you’re in the process of getting a job, or you already have one, but feel that you deserve a raise, salaries are always negotiable. The State Department offers some good techniques in tactfully addressing salary after receiving a formal offer. gives sound advice on broaching the topic of raising your salary once you’ve already been working for awhile.

6.Tips for using LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking media to find employment.

LinkedIn can be especially helpful in finding a job. In a  recent blog post , Guy Kawasaki, a venture capitalist, offers some tips on using LinkedIn to do just that.

Also read Time Magazine’s article  about using social networking to find employment.

7. Career assessment tests

Whether you’re still in school, looking for your first job, or wanting a complete change of careers, you should take a career assessment test to find out the kind of work for which your skills are most useful. This site offers a comprehensive guide to the best career assessment tests online.

8. Tips on using a headhunter/recruiter/employment agency.

If you’d like to use an employment agency to help you find a job, but you don’t know where to start, then read’s guide to finding and effectively using headhunters’ services .

9. Career fairs

Sometimes, job fairs are a great way to get valuable face time with prospective employers and to find out what opportunities are out there in your locality. National Career Fairs  offers a search engine to find career fairs near you.

10. Tips on Relocating

Does your dream job require you to move? Or are you already looking for a change of scenery? offers some tips and resources for job seekers who must or simply want to relocate.


This guest post is contributed by Katheryn Rivas, who writes on the topics of online universities accredited .  She welcomes your comments at her email Id: .

Like this article? Subscribe to my RSS feed.

Want Better Results? Look For "Plays Well With Others"

"Collaboration is a key driver of overall performance of companies around the world. Its impact is twice as significant as a company’s aggressiveness in pursuing new market opportunities (strategic orientation) and five times as significant as the external market environment (market turbulence).

As a general rule, global companies that collaborate better, perform better. Those that collaborate less, do not perform as well. It’s just that simple.”

That's a pretty powerful claim. It comes from a research study I read a few years ago that was conducted through a collaborative effort of Frost & Sullivan, Microsoft, and Verizon. 

Collaboration The researchers created a collaboration index to measure a company’s relative “collaborativeness” based on two main factors:


An organization’s orientation and infrastructure to collaborate, including collaborative technologies such as audioconferencing, Web conferencing and instant messaging


The nature and extent of collaboration that allows people to work together as well as an organization’s culture and processes that encourage teamwork

Do You Play Well With Others?

This may seem like an abrupt switch from the serious tone, depth, and breadth of the study. But I needed that kind of data to help lead into an important career trait: playing well with others.

The study is right on target by highlighting the need for the right tools, systems, and culture. Yet it ultimately comes down to the individual. If you work in a global organization, you've got some extra challenges: time zone differences, language differences, cultural differences in what constitutes teamwork...(add your own experience by sending a comment!)

I recently spent three hours coaching a client who is now forced to deal with a highly intelligent, high-performing manager who isn't viewed as collaborative. By anyone. No one at any of their worldwide locations gave him decent feedback on teamwork and collaboration. And this has been happening over a matter of more than a few years. (He continues to achieve all of the goals set out for him and no one dislikes him personally.)

His side of the story

I sat down and spoke with the manager some months ago about these perceptions and what that might mean to his career. He understood that people didn't see him as collaborative. His take on it is that they are universally wrong. He communicates when he believes it's necessary. I told him that he had to simply initiate more, share more information--even if it didn't make sense to him--and mend some strained relationships with those who thought he was actually hiding something. He  listened, gave intellectual rebuttals for why that didn't make sense, and chose not to do anything differently.

What happened?

His management career is finished with the current employer. He'll probably have a shot at being an individual contributor in a specific discipline; but upward mobility is no longer a possibility.

Some people burn bridges. He never built them. We should take seriously the lessons we can learn from this real-life situation:

1. Organizations thrive because of collaboration. If you want to be seen as a player, then be one.

2. A high IQ doesn't compensate for low EQ. Your Emotional Quotient--your willingness and ability to relate and connect--is important to your company and your career.

3. Task results don't always matter if your behavior disrupts the rest of the system.

4. The study I cited noted the importance of processes, systems, and culture. This company's culture valued teamwork. That was one of their systems. Roesler's rule: Unless you have 51% of the vote, don't fight the system. The system always wins.

Like this article? Subscribe to my RSS feed.

Making Change: Earn Your Chips Early

If you want to change an organization, you start by changing the patterns in which people talk together, the things they talk about, the frequency of their contact and the makeup of those who overhear them." --Art Kleiner, Who Really Matters

I would add: Start doing those things before you need acceptance for a new initiative.

Change Chips Are Earned Up Front

Most change models start at the point where someone shares a new vision or plan, then asks for enthusiastic support. But we're all poker players (whether we know it or not). We spend time unconsciously earning or collecting chips based on the frequency and quality of our interactions. When it comes time to ask for something, that stack of chips can mean a make-it-or-break-it hand. It looks like this:


So What Does This Mean?

If we're in a position to initiate something new or different, the time we've invested  building solid relationships can determine our ability to gain support and moment.  The leader who spends time playing corporate video poker may revel in his individual genius--but lacks the relational chips needed to convert that genius into action.

What are you doing today to build the stack necessary for a successful change?

Are you "starting change before it starts?"

Like this article? Subscribe to my RSS feed.

What Happened to the Talent?

Changes and Changing Talents

It's a win for everyone when you find the kind of organization in which your talents can flourish.

But we live in a working-world filled with changes:

1. A CEO may decide it's more profitable to become a manufacturing-focused company than a sales & marketing-driven organization.

2. Mergers and acquisitions create new cultures. New cultures lead to new values and priorities.

3. Customers change their technology, causing your company to change its tech service response.

4. Downsizing. Fewer people, more responsibilities for those remaining.

Scratching_head Where Did The Talent Go?

I've watched each of the above grow into a crisis of confidence for employees and employers:

  • Mysteriously, you don't feel as talented and capable as before.
  • At the same time, the organization is wondering where it's talented people went.

Fact: no one suddenly got stupid!

Second fact: Something else will now need to change.

You or Them?

When you were hired it was a good fit because of how business was conducted. Now it doesn't seem that way. Here are some considerations when companies and employees find themselves in a talent mismatch as a result of changes:

1. Companies: Take time to assess the breadth of talent that exists in your employee base. You may not have been using the range of talents that individuals possess because you (naturally) hired on a given set of criteria.

Real-life example: In the past few years I've had the opportunity to assess three executives who were on the "We've changed, their role isn't needed, I guess they have to go even though they've been really effective" list. In two of the three cases a broader assessment showed that they were gifted in areas that hadn't been tapped before. Those two remain with their organizations in new roles and are contributing meaningfully and productively.

2. Individuals. Maybe it isn't such a good fit.The faster you figure out the reality of the situation the faster you can make a decision to stay or look elsewhere.

Bonus tip: The longer you hang out in a mismatch the more you will question your adequacy. So, knock it off! You are talented and you've been performing in a talented way. The situation changed, not you. Get yourself into another winning situation before you conclude that the problem is you.

A Final Thought

Our educational and career counseling entities need to become very deliberate in painting an accurate picture  of "careers."

My take is that the approach is still, "What will you do when you grow up?", the assumption being that one will "become something" and "do it at a company" for a lifetime. The reality is that a person needs to find out their range of talents and prepare for a series of long-term projects in multiple places vs. lifetime employment.

Building awareness of talents, project orientation, and transitions would go a long way in offering genuine help in accurately preparing young people for the future.

What do you think?

Like this article? Subscribe to my RSS feed.

Advice? Find Out What "They" Want

Be careful when you give advice--somebody might take it." Anonymous.

Most of us enjoy giving advice. If you're a manager, it may even make you feel a lot more managerial. And let's be honest, advice is a lot more fun than criticism.

What Kind of Advice Is Desired?

Advice1 Counselors know that when someone arrives for a first visit, the story that unfolds is usually the "presenting" problem. It's not necessarily a matter of deception. We may not feel comfortable "putting it all out there" quite yet. Or, we may not even be clear about what the real issue is, which is why we want to talk it through in the first place.

Advice & The Workplace

If you can't tell what your employee or boss wants by how a subject is introduced, ask a few questions. Does the person want:

  • To hear critical information and facts?
  • To know your opinion on an issue?
  • To get help with generating alternatives to a situation?
  • To know how you went about doing something?
  • To check out his or her reasoning on a decision?

It's easy to fall into the instant response trap; we all want to be helpful. Sometimes that kind of help isn't helpful at all.

Ask specifically what the other person wants. It will save you both a lot of time and lead to more satisfying results.


Note: I've been traveling, speaking, and delivering leadership workshops since Talent: Strengths or Weaknesses?Yes. and  Are We Educating For The Right Jobs? I want to take some time this evening to read through the comments again and jump back into the conversation. Thanks to everyone for keeping it rolling. If you haven't yet joined in, have a look; some good thinking going on there.

Like this article? Subscribe to my RSS feed.

Are We Educating for the Right Jobs?

We Don't Need As Many College Grads As People Think

You've suspected this for a long time. Me, too.

Look around at the growth of technical specialties, professional 'assistant' roles, and retail employees. Then look at the charts below:


It's important to differentiate between media headlines and sound bites that scream, "Ten fastest growing occupations!" at some given moment in time. The consequences could be far-reaching: Do we really need to be sending Brittany, Madison, Monroe (and maybe even John Quincy) into Saturday SAT tutoring to bump up those scores from 1218 to 1241?

Caveat: Just in case you think I'm dumping on the advantages of a good education, I'm not. I've been a public school teacher and college administrator in an earlier life. Which is also where I first began looking more carefully at the relationship between "what is taught" with "what is needed." Thus, the use of the term "good education."

If you look at the top chart of the 10 occupations with the highest rate of growth, you'll see that six require either an associate or bachelor's degree while the other four require short to moderate OJT.

Seventy percent of the the top 10 with the largest growth don't require college; 30 percent do.

Here is another graphic to tweak your career/talent/education synapses:


Add up the actual percentage of jobs requiring a Bachelor's Degree or more--now and in 2014--and you might be surprised at the results.

The Education/Job Implications?

Here are just a few that come to mind:

1. Is there a realistic connection, beginning early in public schools, with what is really going to be helpful to job candidates and employers?

2. Same question for colleges and universities.

3. The biggest piece of the pie (OK, Bar Chart) belongs to On-The-Job-Training. Yet the figures I've seen published in ASTD and other sources show that large companies are cutting back; (medium and smaller companies are actually increasing their T&D investment).

4. Is the intense competition--and unbelievable tense high school prep--an unhealthy response to an overstated and misunderstood need?

I want to be clear that what I've presented so far is designed to take interested readers to a more complete and fully contextual article in The Carnegie Mellon Change Magazine. The synopsis above is from the article. Kudos to Paul E. Barton on his clear and easy-to-digest explanations of the facts, the evidence and some of the implications in How Many Çollege Graduates Does the U.S. Really Need? He also does a nice job of clarifying the distinctions between fast-growing and largest growth; two terms that are often tossed around without a closer look at what they are really saying.

When it comes to Talent and thinking systemically about it, we can't ignore the institutions who educate and supply the workforce. We can and should question whether the current system is designed to effectively produce what, and who, is needed. Although these figures represent the U.S., the readers here at All Things Workplace are totally global. What are you seeing that may reflect a mismatch between your education system and real-life workplace needs?

Like this article? Subscribe to my RSS feed.

Talent: Develop Strengths or Weaknesses? Yes.

Have you noticed people making excuses for poor performance or ugly behavior by invoking the "It's just who I am" defense?

Experienced training consultant, Phyllis Roteman, sent in a good take on this:

Research (and common sense) confirm that focusing on peoples' strengths has a positive affect on morale, engagement and the bottom line.

But as with any approach (or new idea), focusing on strengths can go overboard in organizations, causing many negative side-effects. Some I've seen: 

Weight_Lifting_Hamster 1. Using the "strengths" research as an excuse for managers to avoid uncomfortable performance discussions with employees. ("Everyone knows that James is difficult to work with and shirks his responsibilities. No one wants to work with him and clients complain about him...but he's a really good analyst. Let's not rock the boat."

2.  Hiding behind strengths as an excuse for bad behavior. For example, "I'm sorry that I snapped at you and called you a bumbling idiot. I have a short fuse. That's just how I am. Sensitivity is not my strength. You'll just have to accept that."

3.  Dumping mundane tasks (like paperwork, administration) on others because "it's not my strength." (For example, "Anne, you're so good at making the office coffee, cleaning out the pot and using the fax machine. Would you mind? I'm not good at that kind of stuff.")

All jobs require doing some things we don't like, or aren't particularly good at...and most companies can't afford to give all of their employees an assistant to dump work on. Sometimes we just have to suck it up and do something, even though it's not our strength. All of that said, I'm still a huge believer in focusing on strengths. I just get alarmed when I see a good concept spin out of control and become destructive.

What's Happening?

First of all, what's happening is what Phyllis says is happening. There are probably a number of reasons why, but I think there is a phenomenon that gets played out--at least in American business circles--whenever the latest and greatest thing hits the scene. And it's this:

What is actually a principle is adopted as a rule. 

These are two actual representations of the 80/20 "concept":

8020 final.001

Instead of really taking time to understand all that lies underneath a principle, the human condition tends to run with a catch phrase and treat it as "the way." A book title becomes a buzzword that gets tossed around in meetings as a mantra. It becomes problematic when that word isn't represented accurately or in context.  And that happens a lot.

So it is with Strengths. It's a lot easier to say "It's all about Strengths" than it is to live a life identifying and acknowledging our strengths; figuring out where we need to become at least adequate in some of our weaknesses; and respecting the people around us enough to behave unselfishly even when we "feel" like doing our own thing our own way.

When managers avoid uncomfortable performance discussions, they are showing disrespect for their employee. How can the person improve without hearing the truth, explore ways to change, and growing as a result?

When we hide behind Strengths as an excuse for bad behavior we're really saying, "I don't respect you enough to bother to honor you with good behavior."

And when mundane tasks are dumped on someone else because "I'm not good at it," then I better ask myself just how I'm using my position power. Is one of my less attractive "strengths" the inclination to take advantage of others' weakness?

What I find ironic as I write this is: we're talking about Strength, yet the insidious culprit is Laziness.

What to do?

1. Take time to learn the "why?" behind the "what." When you can explain a concept accurately using everyday language, you've got it. If you or colleagues around you are still discussing things using buzzwords, stop and ask for an explanation of the meaning. That discussion could lead to shared meaning and deeper understanding.

2. When you hear a "performance excuse" disguised as a reason, follow up by asking: "What are you going to do about that? It's impacting other people and that's not acceptable." It's amazing how we'll make changes once we are called on our behavior and not allowed to explain it away.

3.  Make really bad coffee and jam the fax machine.

What experiences  do you have with  the topic? Jump in with a comment below.

Like this article? Subscribe to my RSS feed.

Talent & The "Misunderstanding Maslow" Factor

Most of us have been exposed to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. In fact, I've read that it is the most-used model in management training. I think it's also one of the most mis-represented and misunderstood.

Just in case you stepped out of the meeting room that day for an oatmeal cookie and bottled water:

Psychologist Abraham Maslow synthesized the research available up to the year 1954 about what motivates people. He came up with a shopping list of needs that we all try to satisfy. Have a look at the graphic below for a reminder or if you are experiencing it for the first time:

Maslow 2.001

I've never seen much argument about the content of the list. But the hierarchical implication has been rendered invalid by later research. Yet managers are still told that this is a "ladder that people climb" and that employees must have one set of needs satisfied before they move onto the next.

That means there are still vast numbers of well-meaning managers thinking, "Oh, I really can't start working on high performance until we have all of our "group issues" sorted out.

Not so.

The fact of the matter is that we're constantly chasing satisfaction in all of these areas simultaneously to some degree.

For example: You may be working on becoming an accepted member of a team. But that doesn't stop you from spending a little time adjusting your 401k mix and volunteering with Habitat for Humanity.

The only need that I've seen block the rest of the hierarchy is a seriously unmet Physiological need. If you're worried about your next meal, losing your home to foreclosure, or paying out-of-pocket for a major surgical procedure, the pressure at that level doesn't allow much freedom to focus on anything else.

How can organizations use this for meaningful impact?

Managers are the Mediators of Meaning

1. Physiological and Stability/Safety needs are met through corporate policies: adequate pay, benefits, and safety procedures. These are satisfied when organizations who claim "People Are Our Most Important Asset" back up the statement by ensuring that these needs are met as a matter of policy and philosophy.

2. The higher level needs can only be satisfied by assignments, development, and solid day-to-day management. This means that "Managers are the Mediators of Meaning" for their people. Surveys and research data consistently show that the immediate supervisor has the most impact on one's performance, productivity, and feelings about the workplace.

Every supervisor reading this can use the pyramid above as one more tool to start a discussion with employees about where they are and what they need to keep their batteries charged. But there has to be an ongoing conversation for something meaningful to happen.

If you take time to ask people what they're looking for, they will tell you. And that makes your job a whole lot easier.

Like this article? Subscribe to my RSS feed.

Three Tips To Help You Negotiate

Negotiations play a large role in our work lives.

We interview for and land a job, buy and sell services, and resolve conflicts. But  even as we do these again and again, they don't seem to become a lot easier. Here are a few thoughts that I hope you'll find useful:

Businessman-main_Full 1. Whenever possible, don't use the word "negotiate".

Really. When you think about it, it implies a winner and a loser.

For some it implies a compromise between two people who both walk away somewhat dissatisfied. Words go a long way toward framing the context of a conversation. This isn't an issue of political correctness. It's an issue of creating the best atmosphere for both parties.

So, try using phrases such as "arrive at a workable solution," "come to an agreement," or "work out a plan together." All imply cooperation.

2. Put your "stuff" out there sooner rather than later.

Ok, so you gamesmen gameswomen weasels won't like this and might be thinking, "What a wuss!" That's OK because you're just wrong. I recently watched an executive who was about to be hired lose a $300,000 job (plus benefits, stock options, and bonuses) because she decided to keep tacking on "Oh, and..." items to the employment contract. It didn't work.

Every time you hold back a key point and then plop it down later, the other person is likely to consider your tactics--and you--deceptive. Is that what you think will get you what you want?

Start off by putting your list of issues on the table. Avoid creating doubt about you and your intentions.

3. Focus on the other person first.

Demonstrate that it's about "you two" and not about you. Build trust by asking the other person what their needs and wants are, then listen. Ask questions to be sure you understand. Then, work at figuring out how to help them get what they want. Experience and observation show that this will, more often than not, enable them to help you get what you want.


I'll bet you've found your own tweaks to the whole "negotiation" thing. Add your favorites in a comment below. When we collect enough for another list I'll make them into a post with, of course, the appropriate attribution.

Like this article? Subscribe to my RSS feed.

Choosing Who Will Influence You

Every leader must also follow.

Following_elephants Those who show no accountability to others--in business, non-profits, or government--may hold a position of leadership but won't hold on to it without some version of brute and/or "political" force, overt or covert. (If that kind of leadership appeals to you, you may want to check Craigslist for the "Dictators Wanted" ads).

Be selective about who you allow to influence your thinking, attitudes, decisions, and behavior. What are the values that you hold most dear--the ones you would like others to adopt as a result of being influenced by you?

Take time to think about that question. Then, make sure that the influences on your life mirror the same values.

If you do, your life and your leadership will be reinforced and lifted up. If you don't, you put yourself in a position to be led away from your life's vision. Perhaps even worse, you'll lead others in the wrong direction.

Choose carefully who you will follow.

Like this article? Subscribe to my RSS feed.

Influence and Leadership: Raise the Standard

"Fitting in" is a big deal, and in many organizations it's seen as the way to career longevity.

Raise_the_bar That's a problem.

People are influenced by those they see as being "ahead of them." If you simply match the rest of the workforce and blend in, your influence is diminished. Eventually, you become invisible.

If you want to lead, be willing to raise your personal standards to exceed the common expectations of your organization or work group. "Raising" equates with "elevating." Once you raise the bar for yourself, you begin to view things from a heightened position that expands your perspective. When that happens, you're able to see and describe a greater vision for those around you.

What can you start doing now to raise your standards and impact your ability to lead?


For more insight into nearly every aspect of leadership, check out the just-released February Leadership Carnival hosted by Talented Apps' Mark Bennett.

Like this article? Subscribe to my RSS feed.

Influence Through Agreements

There's a misconception about influence that gets people into trouble. It's the idea that influence is a matter of "positional negotiation": one side lays out a case while the other counters with a stronger argument on a different position.

This is actually a kind of competition that most often ends in conflict. The one with the most power wins while the loser walks away filled with resentment.

How Start Thinking "Partnership"

Influence has its roots in agreements. In order to genuinely persuade someone to pursue a certain course of action, there needs to be an agreement about what is to be done and by whom. When agreements serve the interests of both parties the chances of success multiply. Why? Because there is increased commitment, and commitment leads to the laying of  the strongest foundation of influence--relationship.

Six Self-Assessment Questions

The best place to start being influential is with yourself. The clearer you are about what's important, the easier it will be to work through an agreement, especially the parts where you need to explain calmly and clearly why you don't want to do certain things. You can start by asking yourself these before entering a situation:

  • What do I want to achieve through this partnership?
  • What does (s)he want from our relationship and especially from this situation?
  • How can I meld these in some way to begin to create a framework for mutual satisfaction?
  • What can I give up, if needed, that will not do anything to sacrifice my overall goal?
  • What can (s)he offer that may not be obvious?
  • What new options or solutions could serve our common purpose?

Finally, when you get together, do these:

  • Look for shared interests
  • Listen to each others' ideas, synthesize mutual goals 
  • Work together and stay in touch to make sure you're both satisfied with how things are going. If not, start talking about what you can do differently to reach your mutual targets.

Which of these do you need to start doing to become more influential in your world?

Like this article? Subscribe to my RSS feed.

Meet Commitments. Build Trust. Say No.

Who do you trust?

Trust-me Probably those who you determine are reliable. So, those who don't keep their promises quickly lose the trust of their friends and colleagues.

Before you commit to a new project or obligation, be sure you can fulfill it. If you really aren't certain, then say so. It's better to simply disappoint someone now than show up empty-handed on the day of your big promise. If, despite your best effort, you think you'll miss a deadline or milestone, then contact the other person and explain what has happened. We've all been in similar situations and again: disappointment is a lot different than "I can' trust you."

5 Ways To Become Reliable

1. Before you agree to a new obligation, check that you have enough time--then keep your promise. 

2. Say "no" to demands that may stretch you past your capacity. This means being honest with yourself, about yourself, first.

3. Be honest and realistic about the scope of work and related deadlines.

4. Quickly alert people when you know there will be a delay.

Note: Thanks to a comment and reminder from "Lean" afficionado Jamie Flinchbaugh, this isn't a matter of "Oh, I'm going to be late." It may very well be the beginning of a renegotiation of the project. If the boss tells you "that's the date," you'll need to lay out everything else that's on your calendar and re-prioritize together. FYI: I have seen more than one boss say, "You committed to it, I announced it would be done, do it regardless of the other 'stuff'." Which underscores the point: Be thoughtful and careful about your commitments.

5. Meet deadlines and create trust.


Speaking of reliablity: How about a reliable source for those of you who are thinking about a business start-up?

My online friend and serial entrepreneur, GL Hoffman, has written a small book called Startup: 100 Tips To Get Your Business Going. There are over 100 short paragraph answers in the book, such as:

1.  Should you jump in and save every sales situation?  Number 59.  This answer makes you a leader.
2.  Do you have to know everything that's happening?  Number 39.
3.  What is the one thing that makes people join  your new company? Number 38.
4.  Is having fun at work over-rated?  Number 6.
5.  Why is firing someone at your startup extra hard?  Number 7.
6.  Why do you have to be an energy-creator?  Number 96.
7.  Why you don't want your people to worry like you are worrying.  Number 82.
8.  Why the "new guy" could be doing more harm than good.  Number 66.
9.  Why you shouldn't trust those who say they can help you raise money.  Number 67
10. What is the biggest sign of a culture that is developing badly?  Number 54.
11. Are your customers always right in a startup?  Number 47.
12.  On the priority list for a startup, where does SALES rank?  Number 30.
13.  What one thing can you do to motivate yourself? Number 23.

Darned good deal from a guy who has started and sold a lifetime-worth of companies.

Like this article? Subscribe to my RSS feed.

Influence: Help Competent People Grow Through Questions

Leaders do have to tell people exactly what to do when a person isn't yet competent--and confident--about the task or assignment. (The whole "leader" thing isn't just about high-concept and vision).

But how do you develop managers who are knowledgeable and committed?

You can build increased confidence and deeper understanding by asking questions designed to help them make their own discoveries and decisions. Here are seven questions to get you started as  a "coaching" leader:

Influence_7 Questions.001 

As you become more comfortable with probing questions, you'll develop your own. In fact, what are some of your favorites now?


Fistful of Talent names All Things Workplace in Top 25 Talent Management Power Rankings. We're buzzed! The FOT folks are all top-notch themselves and use some serious criteria vs. "popularity" to create the rankings. There are some new blogs at the top of the charts that are good additions to your RSS feed.

Like this article? Subscribe to my RSS feed.

Leaders: Learn This

In a recent meeting, the question was asked, “What does it take to be effective at group facilitation?”

Movieaudience3d There are a number of facilitation "skills" in which people can receive training. But after thinking about it, I answered: “You have to be an active part of what's going on and be able to watch it from the outside at the same time.”

It's like acting in a theater production while sitting in the audience. You focus on the script that's being acted out while interacting with the other characters; you watch how it unfolds; then, offer direction and coaching based on the performance.

I think we short-change our managers when we don't make facilitation an integral part of management development.  Effective facilitation requires an unbelievably deep awareness of self, task and process. In fact, it's exhausting because it requires "being there."

This is exactly what we want to become as leaders: People who are engaged with what needs to happen while orchestrating how to make it happen.

Like this article? Subscribe to my RSS feed.

Effective Leaders: Balancing the "Either/Or"

“What would you say is the first key skill of a leader who hopes to balance over-assertive and under-assertive in order to  lead from between their two extremes?”

That was the email question posed by a reader who had seen research by Ames and Flynn.  That pair observed that, according to workers, their leaders managed better when they walked somewhere between the lines of too much and two little assertiveness.

This underscores the situational nature of management and leadership.

What About Over-Assertiveness, Under-Assertiveness and Leadership?

It’s easy to lapse into confusion based upon individual misunderstanding of terminology as well as one’s own “issues.” One person’s “assertiveness” is someone else’s “over-controlling.”  I find that the absence of behavioral jargon can make it a lot easier and more natural to discuss topics whose buzzwords can build tension.


There is a recent history of attempting to carefully delineate behaviors using very specific language. This is, in part, the result of approaching human behavior in a more scientific way. Since behavior is, indeed, quite situational, this approach serves at least three purposes that I can see:

1. It provides a common language that, when used appropriately and above board, highlights nuance and helps one understand how specific actions impact one's effectiveness.

2. It provides specific definition of attributes that can lead to promotion, rewards, or dismissal. Which means that it also makes dismissal more explainable. (Likewise, terminology can become great fodder for one's attorney in the event of a dismissal).

3. It lends a "scientific" aura to common-sense training and development which, while fully understood as desirable by most reasonable managers, can't be bought and paid for without the "proof" that comes from a smathering of statistics and a few 6-syllable words that prove how deeply meaningful those statistics must really be.

The real issue: situational effectiveness.

If I don't know what to do or how to do it, then my boss has to be very directive and explanatory. If my task is something that I've done well a million times, then I want to know what the deadline is and I'll deliver it. Nothing more. If I need something along the way, I want a manager who I can go to for advice or re-direction.

In the first case, the manager manages me closely. In the second, the manager is my consultant.

The reason that Ames and Flynn saw what they did is really rather simple: Since most of us as workers are at least somewhat competent and, hopefully, somewhat mature, any behavior that operates at either extreme will be seen as:

1. Unnecessarily overbearing and somewhat demeaning

2. Unreasonably absent of relationship and connection, and therefore not engaged. Or overly focused on 'relationship and happiness' to the exclusion of completing the task successfully.

Anything in between will be close enough to respectfully  engage one's employees as well as create an atmosphere that invites questions and help, when needed.

So, Then: What is Effective Leadership?

The desire and ability to meet other people where they are and then spend the right amount of time helping them get where they need to go. 

Sometimes it's a long walk together. Other times a brief conversation and a nudge in the right direction.

What does a person need to manage in such an effective way?

1. A high degree of self-awareness regarding one's innate tendencies toward one extreme or the other

2. The desire and ability to manage those tendencies in a way that serves the needs and performance of others

3. The humility to pause regularly and ask "How am I doing?"

4. The decency to listen to the answers.

5. The wisdom to make selfless changes as a result.

That's my take, minus the jargon. 

What's yours?

Like this article? Subscribe to my RSS feed.

Reconcile Your Relational Accounts

Reconcile: 1 a : to restore to friendship or harmony <reconciled the factions> b : settle, resolve <reconcile differences> 2 : to make consistent or congruous <reconcile an ideal with reality. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2010.

You and I wouldn't think about going through life without reconciling our bank accounts, ensuring that   Reconcile_CC deposits, withdrawals, and balances are accurate. We know that unreconciled accounts can lead to overdraft charges and painful penalties. So we do our best to sit down, sort through the facts and figures, and when we see an error we do what it takes to reconcile the account. The longer we hold off, the more we risk creating a financial deficit.

 Workplace Reconciliation

The same dynamic holds true for on-the-job accounts: relationships. We talk about the importance of credibility, integrity, influence, and trust. But do we take the time to sit down and reconcile real and perceived wrongs with the people whose trust we need and value?

I'm seeing a couple of workplace phenomena that demand relational reconciliation in order to move ahead free, unencumbered, and "in relationship":

1. The protracted economic situation, along with its uncertainty (we want control) and attendant downsizing, is prompting normally relaxed people at all levels to lose their cool. Things are being said and done "in the moment" that are leading to disciplinary action and strained relations between people who have to work closely together to "get it done." Intervening to stop "it" and take disciplinary action is the right thing to do. However, although it stops the undesirable behavior, it doesn't re-start the relationship in a satisfying way to all those involved.

2. 360 Feedback. The Merriam-Webster definition #2 above mentions reconciling an ideal with a reality. That's what 360 Feedback is all about: surfacing any differences between intentions and actual impact. If you've ever been on the receiving end of a stack of 360 comments that were a total (negative) surprise, it's easy to feel "put upon" and defensive. It's equally easy to want to go on the offensive and even to make a biting remark or two about the results.

What To Do

Both instances demand a follow-up session, albeit a bit different for each.

In example 1, someone did something offensive. That means, when things cool down, it's important for the individual to sit down with any others involved and:

a. Admit the error in judgment and the ensuing behavior

b. Apologize

c. Ask for forgivenessReconciliation

Those who were impacted need to:

a. Acknowledge that it was hurtful, and how, without belaboring the point. (The worst thing that can happen is saying nothing at all or "Oh, that's ok; it wasn't that bad." It was, or you wouldn't be there.

b. Thank the person for caring enough to take time to reconcile the relationship.

Both parties then need to express (if truthful) the wish to move on together and restore a mutually respectful working relationship.

Example 2 is a bit different, yet still requires a conversation. When people take time to offer feedback, especially the kind that requires numerical ratings and narratives, they've made an investment. Like corporate surveys, participants want to know the outcome and what, if anything, is likely to change.

For the sake of example, let's say a manager has received in-depth feedback from direct reports. A follow-up session would have this kind of framework:

a. Thank the people for their willingness to invest in his/her development.

b. Share the over-arching themes--not the details--of the data.

c. Acknowledge that there are clearly areas for development. Ask for any needed clarification and suggestions for specific changes that would lead to improved performance.

d. At the next regularly scheduled meeting, take time at the outset to let the direct reports know what the focus of the changes will be, after considering their suggestions. Ask for verbal reinforcement  when a change is seen. Likewise, if something isn't happening as it should, invite continued reminders, especially "in the moment."

Healthy workplaces require healthy relationships. What's happening in your working world where reconciliation could move people, and the organization, toward a better place?

Like this article? Subscribe to my RSS feed.

Be Unique But Get With the Program

"We forfeit three-fourths of ourselves in order to be like other people."
--Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 - 1860)

Aeropostale2_thumbTeenagers are my favorite people to watch. Their crusade to be different leads them to dress alike, talk alike, and act alike. They are uniquely the same. It's also a survival mechanism that leads to acceptance as well as the avoidance of getting whupped for standing out in a crowd and being too different.

I'm not sure that this phenomenon is any different in organizations. Let's face it: if expectations include cookie-cutter behavior, who wants to be the first to respond to a call for innovation, creativity, and risk-taking? In fact, it's probably difficult for people to believe that the request is even genuine.

How to Be Unique At Work--And Thrive

Your boss is looking for "better." Better methods, better revenue, better savings, better results, better quality. These give you two meaningful ways to show off your individuality:

1. What you produce that is different from anyone else's output (see "better" above).

2. How you go about doing it using your own methodology.

Once you're successful at those two, feel free to spike your hair, put rings in places they shouldn't be, and invite your boss to sing with you on company Karaoke night. We'll upload the photos here.

photo attribution:

Like this article? Subscribe to my RSS feed.

Feeling Stressed? Do Something.

Think about this:

In order to induce terror, you never have to actually commit the act. It is the unresolved possibility of terror that keeps one--or the world--in a state of fear and stress.

Stressed+out So it is with daily stress, on and off the job. Whatever is unresolved becomes a stressor. Carried to the extreme, inaction causes us to, in effect, terrorize ourselves. And others. So:

Have you been putting off asking for or giving feedback at work?

  • If you're a manager, you have thoughts about people's performance that you are carrying around. And they are building up.
  • Your employees don't know how they're doing. And the first thing we humans do in the absence of truthful information is fantasize about it--negatively.

  • Do something now. Feel the relief that follows.

What is reappearing on your to-do list that's giving you second thoughts about yourself?

  • Do something now. Feel the relief that follows.

Who has been waiting for a decision from you?

  • Do something now. Feel the relief that follows.

You and I have more control over our stress than we sometimes care to acknowledge. Why terrorize yourself when you can get relief by taking even one definitive action toward a tick mark on your checklist?

Each step you take brings an additional sense of relief.  


But there's more!

Online friend Mark Harbeke of Winning Workplaces added this resource from J. Alex Sherrer of Project Management Road Trip®. It's a terrific paper on Combating Workplace Negativity. Let's face it: negativity breeds stress and knowing how to counteract negativity offers value to all of us. Thanks, Mark and Alex.

Like this article? Subscribe to my RSS feed.

What Do We Expect From "Real" Leaders?

There's an entire industry built around Leadership. Graduate programs, consulting businesses, workshops, seminars, books, DVD's...I sometimes wonder if it hasn't become a cult in search of an idealized organizational savior. If that's the case for some, then the search will continue indefinitely but the conversation will be wonderfully angst-filled.

"Most people who want to get ahead do it backward. They think, 'I'll get a bigger job, then I'll learn how to be a leader.' But showing leadership skill is how you get the bigger job in the first place. Leadership isn't a position, it's a process." --John C. Maxwell

Leadership-direction-development Let's Begin Here

For those seeking a realistic and practical approach to building leadership abilities, maybe we need to start by asking:

1. What do we really expect? This is based upon each organization's strategies, value system, and the ability to bring in "the right person at the right time for the right leadership role."

2. Are we willing to invest the time, money, and energy to build mature leadership capability by purposefully putting people in positions of leadership? Are we committed to making an investment in a process?

3. If "yes," how will we do that?

4. If "no," then are we willing to change our expectations and live with the results?

If it's about speed, it isn't about maturity

The business climate now is about speed, quarterly results, and change.

It is almost impossible to develop people's abilities for the long run in the context of a single organization's culture and needs. When there was commitment to-- and from--employees, you could track, train, develop, and promote with longevity in mind. Companies had a sense of confidence about an individual's real capabilities because people had been tested and observed in different situations over a long period of time. You could assess, first hand, both skill and maturity under pressure.

Perhaps many organizations aren't developing for the "long run" but instead, for a specific shorter-term window.

Leadership and the "Project Culture"

With so much job changing due to corporate change, downsizing, and personal goals, the notion of a traditional "career" is all but dead in most industries. Maybe we should get real and start to look at work life as a series of projects. If so, then perhaps we're looking to develop leaders whose strengths include the ability to move in and out of new relationships and situations as well as adept at gaining trust and unifying people under those conditions.

One thing I am sure of: You can't microwave leaders and expect a 5-Star Experience

Leaders can be developed. It seems to me that if we're genuinely concerned with leader development, it may be time to examine the validity of both our assumptions and expectations.


Update: Respected consultant and writer, Jackie Cameron, pointed me to a local example (Scotland) of someone who has stepped up and has exercised self-leadership in his early career search. His name is Antonio Greer.

Like this article? Subscribe to my RSS feed.

Feedback: Why, What, and How

Why Is Feedback Important?

Feedback started as a term used to describe the signals sent from a rocket back to earth in order to determine the accuracy of the rocket's course. By tracking speed and trajectory, ground crews could determine when and where to make corrections.

At some point in time, the term Feedback was incorporated into business language as a way to talk about performance. And, as in rocket flight, it has been determined that the best way for a person to stay "on course" is to assess where one stands at any given moment in relation to the task or goal at hand.

Here's the really important point: The chances of impacting performance increase with frequency and timeliness of feedback. That implies the need for ongoing "How are we doing?" conversations. It's our best chance at knowing whether we're on track or not.

What Gets In The Way of Giving Feedback?

1. Let's face it: few of us enjoy hearing about those areas of work life where we're coming up short. It's human nature. The flip side is that managers are people, too, and they have the same thoughts and feelings. So it's not exactly a peak experience being the proverbial "messenger" even though it comes with the job.

2. The term "feedback" has morphed into "Here's what you need to correct" instead of "Here's how I think we're doing."

3. Feedback has been institutionalized to the point where it is often done at yearly or semi-annual performance reviews. That's usually too far away from the actual performance for a person to make the kind of changes that will alter an outcome. So it's almost like a "Gotcha!"

4. It takes a relationship built on trust to have meaningful conversations about performance.

Trust comes from a series of interactions where people have made agreements, talked about how things were going, and then lived up to what they said they would do. And if something goes wrong, one person points that out to the other. They talk about what to do differently. And they learn that, even if something does go wrong, they care enough to bring it up and do something about it. I've said this before: The people you trust the most are the people who tell you the truth--good and bad. If it's good, they offer encouragement. If it's bad, they offer ways to work with you to sort things out.

5. Lack of ongoing, natural conversation about work life gets in the way of building relationships that breed the level of trust we need to have ongoing, natural conversations. It's circular.

What Can You Do About This?

1. Managers: Start the conversation from Day 1.

Set the tone for the future early on by asking, "How are things going with project x?" What didn't we anticipate? What's going well? What isn't going well, so we can find out how to get it on track?

Then make sure that both of you do what you say you'll do.

Coffee2. Employees: If there isn't a conversation, start one. Turn the questions in #1 into statements. For example, "Here's how project x is going." "Here's what we didn't anticipate."

Sure, maybe your boss doesn't like bad news. Here's a secret: Surprises are worse than bad news.

If you start the conversation, you have a better chance of putting your boss at ease with the whole idea of "How are we doing?"

3. Keep talking about having conversations, not feedback.

Language conveys feeling. The whole notion of feedback has degenerated to the point where the word contains more negative connotations than positive. Why? Maybe because it was never meant to be associated with the human condition in the first place.

From the time we're kids we have conversations. We talk about "What's going on" and "How are things going?"

Start having ongoing "How are we doing?" conversations. Start now.

I absolutely guarantee you that two people of goodwill can increase their combined performance and reduce their stress-inducing baggage by having regular, honest talks about their progress and the factors impacting it. These kinds of talks are the foundation of every good relationship, on and off the job.

Bonus Thought:
The longer you wait, the larger the "negative" becomes and the more difficult it is to discuss. Regular, frequent conversations mean that the problem areas will be smaller and easier to talk about!

Like this article? Subscribe to my RSS feed.

Prognosis Without Diagnosis Is Malpractice

You and I would run from any physician who prescribed a cure without first doing a thorough examination.

Yet we get caught up in the "do, action, execution" themes that permeate our businesses. I'm all for getting things done. It would be a good idea if they were the right things.

Toddler-future-doctor In business, "prognosis" is the mandatory forecasting that is required to project future needs, revenues, and stock analyst phone conversations. My experience has been that many companies do the best they can. At the same time, people in those organizations want to please their bosses and, as a result, deliver a "healthy" prognosis. What the company needs is an accurate diagnosis in order to behave in the right way. Schmoozing the numbers leads to inaccurate expectations, wrong use of capital and people, and diminished trust in the marketplace and on Wall Street (if you are publicly traded).

Real-Life Example

Prognosis: We can beat our competitors in the European market if we build a state-of-the-art processing facility.

Result: Facility shut down after five years of financial losses and little wear and tear on the machinery.

What was the diagnosis to begin with? There wasn't. Instead, there was a passionate presentation stating that, "If we build it, our competitors' customers will come." They never did. The competitors had the market locked up and anyone at the local coffee shop could have told that to diagnosticians from the incoming company as well as the reasons why.

Managers are the arbiters of organizational health. Their decisions lead to the success or failure of the organization itself. So, the next time a decision or projection of any consequence needs to be made, stop. Take out the managerial stethoscope and ask:

1. What do you want to do?

2. Why do you want to do it?

3. What facts can you show to support it? OK, now show me the data.

4. What are the other options?

5. Would you bet your career on the likelihood of success? (Stated seriously, that can prompt some unbelievably telling non-verbals).

What to think about today: If you are a manager or leader of any group, take time to sharpen and use your diagnostic skills. The prognosis for your organization's health will depend on them.


Looking forward to speaking to the Delaware Valley HDI association today on How To Be The Manager Your People Want To Work For. Hopefully my high school English teacher won't notice the preposition at the end of the title.

Like this article? Subscribe to my RSS feed.

My Photo

Steve Roesler, Principal & Founder
The Steve Roesler Group
Office: 609.654.7376
Mobile: 856.275.4002

Enter your name and email address to receive your copy of my coaching eGuide.

Human Resources Today
Business Blogs



  • View Steve Roesler's profile on LinkedIn
Personal Growth from

Get Updates via RSS Feed

  • Enter your email address in the yellow box for FREE daily updates

    Powered by FeedBlitz

Awards & Recognition...

  • Career 100
Alltop, all the top stories