Leaders Who Ask For Help

March 18, 2016

In my work as a leadership coach I regularly encounter senior managers and directors who desire to become leaders, but many fail to understand that the leap is much more than a title, salary and corner office.

Leadership isn’t so much appointed as it is earned through your management track record and, perhaps just as importantly, the soft skills you demonstrate.

Soft skills include the ability to communicate clearly and effectively, inspire people to deliver their best, organizational savvy, courage to make hard decisions, and the ability to admit you don’t have all the answers. This last one means demonstrating humility and often runs counter to what we expect in our leaders.

“In a culture of scarcity and perfectionism, asking for help can be shaming if we’re not raised to understand how seeking help is human and foundational to connection,” writes author and researcher Brené Brown in her book Rising Strong. “But the truth is that no amount of money, influence, resources, or determination will change our physical, emotional, and spiritual dependence on others.”

None of us have all the answers and the strongest leaders are those who not only acknowledge this to themselves, but demonstrate it to others. As much as we may be seeking a single person to have all the answers and take care of everything, the reality is no one person can do this.

However, we live in a culture that presents it that way. Think about sports and how despite the need for total team effort, the media presents Payton Manning and the Denver Broncos or Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers. NBA match-ups are promoted as LeBron James and the Cavaliers versus Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors.

Taking nothing away from the leadership these talented athletes demonstrate, we discount and denigrate the efforts of those around them who contribute to victories. We give too much credit to the individual athletes when they succeed and lay on too much blame when they fail.

In the more serious arena of politics, this lack of humility and the leader’s inability to rely upon others can be much more troubling. When a leader claims he or she has all the answers, beware because this can mean a lack of self-awareness, extreme egotism, narcissism and will likely lead to destructive and even catastrophic decisions.

When Republican presidential front-running candidate Donald Trump was recently asked by host Mika Brzezinski on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” who he would rely on for help with foreign policy, he said:

“I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain. I’ve said a lot of things … I speak to a lot of people, but my primary consultant is myself, and I have a good instinct for this stuff.”

Despite no experience in domestic or foreign policy, Trump is essentially saying we should take him on faith. He says he’s smart and he can figure it out. In this bizarre political season, vetting potential leaders of the free world should demand more than this.

In the corporate setting, those leading from a cool and professional distance are unable to make sound decisions because, like all of us, they have blind spots and areas where they are simply deficient. When these leaders refuse to ask for help they risk alienating their people and make bad decisions.

The difficulty with asking for help is because it is emotionally risky and may expose our uncertainty. This is, however, the exact vulnerability necessary for us to fully connect with others. Without the courage to risk opening up and being seen, there can be no connection.

Just the other day I spoke with a leader who described the most powerful and important day in his career. It was at an off-site where they were discussing the importance of trust. When it was brought up that there was a trust problem in the organization, he invited feedback as to whether he was someone who could be trusted. The answer came back negative.

Without becoming defensive, he asked for examples of why this was the case, and in front of the entire group he listened with an open mind and open heart. He invited follow up conversations with each of the individuals who spoke up in order to learn from them and to express his perspective. Later he came to find not only did these individual relationships improve, but so did trust, his satisfaction at work and his overall growth as a leader, culminating with a promotion.

The ability to courageously expose our vulnerability and ask for help is the very thing that builds our leadership capacity. Demonstrating humility that runs counter to the image we’re trying to live up to facilitates an important connection to those we want as followers.

Expecting leaders to be anything other than emotionally vulnerable and imperfect human beings is detrimental to our institutions and our very livelihood. Instead, let leaders risk exposing their ignorance in order to raise their competence and connection with those we want them to lead.

Millennials as Managers

February 4, 2016

Millennials now represent the largest generation in the U.S. workforce. These digital natives are often described as confident and tolerant as well as entitled and narcissistic. What does this mean in terms of their effectiveness as managers in the workplace?

Stereotypes of the 54 million working Millennials include: lack of experience, immaturity, no long-term vision, too focused on their next career step, and they struggle with people skills. These were no doubt similar to the stereotypes associated with Generation X, Baby Boomers and even Traditionalists when they first entered the workforce.

People born into each generation are roughly sorted as: Traditionalists or Silent Generation (1927-1945), Baby Boomers (1946-1963), Generation X (1964-1979) and Millennials or Generation Y (1980-1999). The values and work ethic of each can vary immensely.

Every generation seems to have an opinion about those who follow or preceded them. Baby Boomers were born at a time when the economy was booming after World War II. No surprise then that those of Generation X often describe Baby Boomers as optimistic and workaholics. And Boomers describe Gen Xers as skeptical and self-reliant.

Typically, the previous generation believes the up and coming generation has it so much easier than they did, though it could be argued just the opposite.

The reality is that the members of each generation continue to evolve both as individuals and as a group. And all the generations need to learn to coexist—rather than discount each others’ differences, find ways to complement these unique perspectives.

Like the generations that preceded them, Millennials face challenges in being seen as competent managers of other people. In their book Millennials Who Manage, Chip Espinoza and Joel Schwarzbart conducted research to determine the biggest challenges Millennials face in the workplace. These challenges are listed from most to least frequently mentioned.

  • Lack of experience
  • Not being taken seriously
  • Not getting respect
  • Being perceived as “entitled”
  • Lack of patience
  • Getting helpful feedback
  • Understanding expectations
  • Miscommunication with older workers
  • Rigid processes
  • Proving value
  • Understanding corporate culture

Though this is a long list, it hasn’t prohibited Millennials from becoming competent workers and effective managers. In fact, as the Traditionalist and Baby Boomer generations move further into retirement, Millennials will be taking on more and more management opportunities.

So what can Millennials do to further overcome these challenges and become better at managing people older and more experienced than themselves?

Espinoza and Schwarzbart provide a number of recommendations. Though I can see all of these being useful in any management scenario, they may be especially suitable for Millennials managing workers who are older and more experienced. When managing workers older than themselves, Millennials should:

  • Know What They Don’t Like
    Demotivating factors are not necessarily the opposite of motivating factors. For example, a demotivating factor could be a manager who micromanages others, which may very well trump a number of motivating factors meant to encourage engagement.
  • Understand What Does Motivate Them
    Though it’s dangerous to link everyone within a certain generational category, keep in mind that what motivates one employee is not true for all others. For instance, a Gen X employee may more likely have an independent streak and be not nearly as interested in team building events as Baby Boomers or Millennials.
  • Seek Their Input, Learn from Them, and Encourage Mentoring
    The lack of experience in Millennial managers can be offset somewhat by showing reverence to the wisdom of other generations. This doesn’t mean capitulating authority as the boss, but simply encouraging a dialogue for you to learn and others to feel respected and valued in their respective roles.
  • Communicate
    An open channel for communication is essential in any successful business. Though Millennials may seek more frequent feedback than other generations, it is important to maintain a regular practice of give and take rather than await the dreaded and oftentimes detrimental annual performance review.
  • Be a Leader, but Don’t Overdo the “Boss” Thing
    Just because you have the job title, doesn’t mean you can bully others or force your employees to do their work effectively. True leadership is your ability to inspire and influence others so people you manage choose to follow your direction.

A multigenerational workplace has many challenges, and yet every generation seems to be especially challenged by both effectively listening and sharing information. Perhaps these two areas are where the focus for growth and learning can be best accomplished.

And when you think about listening and sharing information, it’s clear that trust is inherent in both. Perhaps building trust among the generations will see the widest and most effective intervention for helping them all to work together better.

As a Millennial manager, you have the opportunity to effectively lead your team by making a concerted effort to foster trusting relationships where listening and sharing information is both modeled and rewarded. Appeal to all the generations and be the change agent to lead us in the 21st Century.

10 Tips to Improve Your Relationship with Your Boss

January 8, 2016

People use Google to search for information on everything from local weather to “what happened in Paris” shortly after the terrorist attack. And sometimes people search random things they’re currently thinking about with the hope they’ll find help.

“I hate my boss” is currently typed into Google’s search engine about 1,600 times each month in the United States. This must represent only a fraction of those who say this out loud to their spouse or friends each month.

In fact, a Gallup survey of more than 7,000 US workers found that half of them had left a job at some point in their careers solely because they could no longer put up with their manager, thus proving the adage that people join a company based on its reputation and leave it due to a boss.

No matter where you work, your boss has a great deal of control over your destiny and it’s important that you do all you can to nurture this relationship. The idea of managing one’s boss should be taken very seriously.

Communication is often at the heart of a poor relationship between a boss and subordinate as this can quickly lead to a lack of respect and trust. But it could also be due to many other factors that are both within and outside of your control.

The most successful relationships are those where bosses and employees really get to know one another, says Piera Palazzo, senior vice president of Dale Carnegie Training.

“That’s different from years ago, when you weren’t supposed to ask any personal questions,” says Palazzo. “Those lines are blurred now, people want you to care about them, particularly if there’s something going on in their lives that might affect their performance.”

In my work coaching individuals, the discontented relationship with a boss is a common concern. So often my help begins with working on communication—both speaking and listening. This includes clearly stating what you need from your boss in order to be successful, and actively listening to what is said and not said, or reading between the lines with written messages.

Like so many challenging relationships both in our personal and professional lives, poor communication often takes center stage. And if you put the cause of the problem entirely on the other person, you are clearly not taking responsibility for your role in the challenge.

So what can you do to improve this? Here are 10 ways to improve your relationship with your boss:

  1. Ensure clear expectations. Nothing can derail a boss-employee relationship more quickly than unclear expectations. You should drive your one-on-one meetings and be certain you are crystal clear on what you are expected to do.
  2. Know how to best communicate. Don’t assume your boss has your same communication style. Determine the best time of day, day of week, email, etc. to communicate. Keep your boss informed well in advance to minimize surprises.
  3. Demonstrate your value. Don’t be afraid to challenge assumptions and offer your own ideas, but do it respectfully. And when you are in conflict, take it as a sign that one of you knows something the other doesn’t, or that one of you is looking at the situation from a different perspective. Then bring that to the surface to bridge the gap.
  4. Get to know your boss personally. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that your boss has friends, family, and a personal life with passions just as you do. Be curious and show an interest just as you would with your other co-workers.
  5. Make your boss look good. Don’t suck up, but don’t push back either. This doesn’t mean you should be disingenuous; instead be authentic, respectful and professional. The level of professionalism you demonstrate not only benefits you, but also reflects highly on your boss as a leader of others.
  6. Put yourself in your boss’s shoes. A little empathy goes a long way and it shouldn’t be discarded when it comes to those above us in the organization. Try to see things from his or her perspective when you don’t agree with a decision.
  7. Ask for feedback. If something is not going especially well or you feel you aren’t clear on how your performance stacks up, ask about it. Don’t wait to be surprised in the annual performance review.
  8. Ask for help and advice. Determine whether you need direction, support, both or neither, and let your boss know. This is one of the most important aspects of managing and being managed by someone. And like all of us, your boss will appreciate being asked for his or her opinion.
  9. Stay above gossip. This is detrimental to employee engagement and especially your career advancement. Stay clear of those who engage in it.
  10. Know when it’s time to move on. You can learn a great deal from a bad boss, but if he or she is derailing your morale that’s impacting your performance, it may be time to look for a new job either inside or outside of the company.

And if it is time to look for a new job, be sure you know what it is you’re looking for in an ideal boss. Then learn all you can about your potential new boss during the interview. You don’t want to leave a bad boss and then run into another one, or you may have to take a lot more responsibility for it not working out this next time.

I recently learned that when choosing where to attend college, high school seniors should spend a lot more time interviewing professors in their field of study rather than relying on the university’s reputation alone. This relationship with the professors is often a better indicator of the true value you will derive from your educational experience. The same could be said for your boss in the workplace.

It’s ultimately about building a strong relationship just like any other. It takes time to establish rapport, instill trust, and find a common understanding for how to work together well. And this is your responsibility. It’s vital to work on this so you can be fully engaged and bring your best self to the workplace.

Raise Employee Engagement via Encouragement

September 8, 2015

Despite his best efforts, your employee misses a critical deadline and an important business outcome is in doubt. How do you respond?

This situation is something every manager or leader faces at some point.

Will your response depend on the individual employee or on how well you have been informed throughout the process?

Obviously, many factors weigh into your response, but your gut reaction is to either attack the person or attack the problem. And these two reactions can result in very different outcomes.

Those who attack the person may find that this employee can never adequately escape from your perspective that he has let you down. And this can be detrimental to both the employee and the organization.

Those who attack the problem may find that this can keep the employee from taking it personally and hopefully learn from the experience. It can also nurture the relationship you have with the employee and likely raise his engagement going forward.

Encouragement can raise employee engagement like nothing else. I’m not suggesting you say only nice things, but you can choose to encourage the positive and let the negative speak for itself.

Throughout much of business, there tends to be a laser focus on problem solving, which is to seek out what is wrong and find a way to fix it. A counter notion is appreciative inquiry, which is about focusing on what the organization is doing well in certain areas and find a way to replicate it in others.

Too many organizations focus exclusively on problem fixing that never relieve the employee or the organization from creating the problems. That’s because it is all too easy to find problems and fix them without really changing anything to keep them from happening in the first place.

Appreciative inquiry, on the other hand, is about recognizing what results in positive outcomes and spreading it around the organization. Often used to bring about strategic change, appreciative inquiry offers an alternative perspective that encourages rather than discourages, that builds up rather than knocks down, that spreads rather than eliminates.

In a recent front page New York Times article, this notion of positivity was focused on the Seattle Seahawks. Led by head coach Pete Carroll, the football team is having a great deal of success in part because he encourages his players rather than beats them up over miscues.

Remaining positive despite interceptions, dropped passes, missed tackles and even game losses has been instrumental to getting the most out of so many of the Seahawks’ late round draft picks and undrafted players. It has certainly played a part in their back-to-back Super Bowl appearances and expectations for returning again this year.

In the same way this positive philosophy is rare in the National Football League, it is also rare in business. That needs to change if an organization wants to be about collaboration, innovation, continual learning and success.

Collaboration requires trust that an individual will not be attacked for doing his or her best—unless, of course, this becomes a pattern rather than an exception. Collaboration requires taking risks and making ourselves vulnerable. That cannot happen if we’re running scared of making mistakes for fear of reprisals.

Innovation means trying new things and coloring outside the lines in order to find solutions. This won’t happen if we are avoiding experimentation for fear of personal repercussions. Out-of-the-box thinking can’t be based on fear, but requires a nurturing atmosphere to foster creativity.

Continual learning is required for organizations to thrive in the 21st century. This means constantly attacking what (not who) is wrong and find ways to fix or do it better. It requires allowing for mistakes, miscues and failures in order to find the best sustainable solutions.

Success is a road paved with failure goes the old saying. There can be no success if we don’t acknowledge our failures, learn from them, and move forward. Acknowledging these failures can be done in a positive light that encourages participants to own up to their part or negative where people hide or blame others.

Author and management consultant Peter Drucker once said: “The task of leadership is to create an alignment of strengths in ways the make the system’s weaknesses irrelevant.”

If this is not focusing on positive rather than negative, I don’t know what is.

Next time your employee makes a mistake, misses a deadline, or falls short despite his or her best efforts, use encouragement. You will find that, in the long run, this will bring about better performance and raise overall engagement.

Futility in Infrequent Feedback

July 16, 2015

Most annual reviews are dreaded both by those giving and those receiving them, yet they are a mainstay in the corporate world. This is because annual reviews can help people stay on track to meet individual, workgroup and corporate goals.

One of the problems is that annual reviews often feel contrived. Typically too much is riding on them because the feedback is focused on past failures, shortcomings and mistakes rather than corrective actions, training opportunities and future success.

As a result, it’s difficult to deliver constructive feedback on performance without the recipient taking it personally.

In many cases, an annual review is the only communication between a supervisor and an employee specifically related to performance. There in lies the problem. Communication about performance should be given much more often, and it should be given in ways that are supportive and instructive.

Feedback in the form of a 360 report can be helpful as it provides a more balanced perspective that includes the boss but other leaders, peers, direct reports and sometimes clients or customers. The sum of this report can make it easier to receive feedback because it represents how you show up in the workplace.

The great leadership coach and best-selling author Marshall Goldsmith in his book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There suggests getting four commitments from those providing feedback for a 360 report. These four commitments are:

  1. Let go of the past
  2. Tell the truth
  3. Be supportive and helpful—not cynical or negative
  4. Pick something to improve yourself—so everyone is focused more on “improving” than “judging”

When these commitments are kept, 360 results provide an accurate and objective perspective of the individual from which he or she can use as a guide to confidently continue doing what they do well and initiate behavioral change where necessary.

The biggest problem with feedback, however, is that it focuses on the past and rarely on the present or future.

In addition to feedback, we should also provide feedforward to encourage a more positive and dynamic focus on performance improvement. Feedforward is different from feedback in the following ways:

Feedback                                                      Feedforward
Past                                                                Future
Revisit failure                                                Envision success
Who you are (or were)                                 Who you can become
Can be difficult to give                                 Easier and satisfying to offer
Often taken personally                                 Received as supportive and instructive

Goldsmith offered many leaders the opportunity to participate in feedforward sessions where they were asked to play two roles: one who provides feedforward and one who receives feedforward. This was an experiential exercise where the participants did not even need to know each other because it was based on specific behaviors all of us can relate to.

Here’s how his Feedforward Sessions work:

  • Pick one behavior you would like to change, a change that will make a significant and positive difference in your life.
  • Describe the behavior to a fellow participant. This is done face-to-face. Example: “I want to become a better listener.”
  • Ask the participant for feedforward. Specifically, two ideas to help you achieve the change you seek in your behavior. (If participant knows you, he or she should not give any feedback about the past. It should be focused entirely on the future.)
  • Your job is to then listen attentively and take notes. Do not comment on, critique or even praise the suggestions in any way. Just pay attention.
  • Thank the participant no matter how good, bad, redundant or unhelpful the suggestions may be.
  • Ask the other participant what he or she would like to change. Repeat the process with you now providing feedforward suggestions.
  • Repeat this process with as many others as possible.

Participants report this exercise to be very positive and even fun. What’s truly great about it is that people feel as if everyone is in service of helping everyone else. It is not competitive, but truly collaborative. Goldsmith describes feedforward and the value of it in this article.

A similar idea is in clearness committees from the Quaker tradition, which provide a process of discernment whereby members assist one who has a difficult concern or dilemma by simply asking honest and open-ended questions. These questions are not leading questions or meant to challenge assumptions, but simply to help the individual find clarity in his or her own answers from within.

It can be difficult to ask such simple questions because we are wired to focus on offering advice and solutions. However, what we often need is simply someone to truly listen and help us in finding our own answers.

Feedforward sessions like clearness committees offer the opportunity for active listening and truly supportive attention. They provide a safe and helpful setting in which people can often gain insight into what they want to change or answer.

Regardless of the process, don’t wait for an annual review to best manage your direct reports. While feedback can be helpful, be mindful of the fact that focusing on the past and on failures or mistakes can only go so far. And don’t save it all up for a once a year opportunity.

Don’t let the futility of infrequent feedback undermine your ability to help your employees improve their performance.

Instead, help them achieve performance goals by being more proactive: take corrective action in the moment, catch them doing things well and acknowledge it, support them as they take on new challenges, and regularly communicate with them to ensure there are no surprises at the annual review.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/1752089487″>Success is ours!! :-)</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a>

Values-Based Recognition for Employee Retention

July 2, 2015

Retaining the best employees is difficult, especially when the economy is on the rise and new opportunities are opening up all around. But keeping your talent is essential if you want to remain competitive.

In the 2015 Employee Recognition Report published by SHRM and Globoforce, employee turnover/retention is the biggest challenge now facing HR leaders. Not surprisingly, employee engagement is a close second. Some 40 percent of all companies surveyed said the loss of personnel was a top concern. Another 29 percent were stressed about finding replacement talent.

Why do employees leave companies: higher salary, better benefits, a shorter commute? There’s a saying that people join a company due to its reputation, but they leave because of their manager.

Perhaps it’s the rise of the notion of free-agent nation with each of us looking out only for ourselves rather than the company as a whole. Maybe it’s generational as there are now more Millennials in the workforce than Generation Xers or Baby Boomers.

Research conducted by Marshall Goldsmith for Accenture found that when high potential leaders were asked why they would stay in their own company versus taking a better offer elsewhere, the answers were never about money. They were always about happiness, relationships, following dreams, and meaning.

I’ve worked for some successful start-ups that had a laser focus on customers, with employees coming in a very close second. Once these companies went public, however, shareholders took over the second if not the first spot. And the top two were the only ones that got attention.

According to the SHRM/Globoforce report, lack of recognition at work is one of the most cited reasons why employees leave their jobs. Employees feel their contribution in achieving the company’s goals are not valued by their peers or manager.

Why don’t we celebrate success? Why don’t we congratulate our peers and our direct reports for their work? The simple act of saying “thank you” or “great job” has somehow become difficult to get out of our mouths.

Many companies are taking steps to address this more formally by implementing specific recognition programs because frequent and immediate recognition have been found to increase employee engagement and reduce turnover.

However, unless these recognition programs are aligned with a company’s values, they will have little effect. Values-based recognition seems to make employees feel they are valued and their contributions are fully appreciated.

And while more than 80% of large companies offer some kind of formal recognition, values-based recognition is still practiced by only a little more than 50% of these companies—though it is on the rise. And with good reason.

In the SHRM/Globoforce report, recognition was perceived to positively impact engagement for 90 percent of respondents practicing values-based recognition versus just 67 percent for non-values-based programs. Retention was also directly affected with 68 percent of values-based programs perceived with a positive impact versus just 41 percent for non-values-based programs.

With your company’s values as a guide, link your recognition programs directly to them in order to reinforce their importance and encourage employees to practice behavior that you want your company to represent.

This will not only enable you to hold on to your best and brightest employees, but also make everyone more engaged, which can boost productivity. Values-based recognition will also attract new job candidates looking for companies that demonstrate their core values in the way they treat employees.

So consider skipping bagel Fridays, the monthly pizza party or generic birthday cupcake each month in favor of specific, timely and frequent recognition that is deeply tied to your company’s core values. This will encourage your employees to stay and be more engaged than just about anything.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/5954679540″>Retention and Engagement</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a>

Power Napping for Increased Productivity

June 4, 2015

It’s early afternoon and the yawning begins. That’s when many of us reach for an energy drink or another cup of coffee, both containing caffeine—the most-used drug in the world.

What if instead we actually accepted what our bodies are telling us? We’re tired and we need rest. It’s that simple.

Research shows that when we’re tired we get into more disagreements, not just because we’re less patient, but also because we are less able to read other people. And caffeine doesn’t help.

The solution is a nap. Don’t laugh. Power napping could be the best way to increase creativity, enhance decision-making, promote better understanding, and improve overall productivity.

Unfortunately, many of us have a mindset that napping is slacker behavior. Many napping misconceptions exist, including:

  • We associate afternoon drowsiness to having eaten too much at lunch. Blaming your “post-lunch dip” on the meal is silly. If the mid-day meal makes you drowsy, then why doesn’t breakfast? You’re tired because you’ve been awake for seven or more hours and your biology calls out for rest.
  • We have a biological need for rest that is just as strong as our need for food and water. Productivity suffers when we’re tired because there is less blood flowing to areas of the brain that are critical to thinking. Our long-term memory also suffers.
  • Many believe that if you take a nap you will wake up feeling groggy, or it will disrupt your nighttime sleep cycle. This is true if you sleep too deeply, but power napping requires waking before descending into a deep sleep.
  • The biggest reason we frown on the idea of napping is the pervasive belief that hours on the job is equal to hours of productivity. While this may be true on the factory floor, most of us do jobs that require quality thinking, which is directly tied not to our time in the office, but our overall energy level.

David Dinges, a professor and sleep scientist at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, says a short nap can help maintain your energy level and, the older you are, the less time you need for a nap to be beneficial. Twenty minutes can provide an enormous boost to our mental acuity.

The best time to take a catnap is between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. according to MayoClinic.com. This is when your energy slump is most likely to occur and the nap is far enough away from your nighttime slumber to interfere.

Sleep researcher Sara Mednick in her book Take a Nap! Change Your Life says twenty to thirty minute naps have been proven to:

  • Boost productivity
  • Increase alertness
  • Quicken motor reflexes
  • Raise accuracy
  • Heighten perceptions
  • Strengthen stamina
  • Improve decision-making
  • Elevate mood
  • Enhance creativity
  • Bolster memory
  • Lower stress
  • Reduce dependence on drugs and alcohol
  • Less the frequency of migraines and ulcers
  • Promote weight loss
  • Minimize the likelihood of heart disease, diabetes, an cancer risk

Companies like Google, Cisco, P&G, AOL and others able napping on the job by providing Energy Nap Pods in their offices. These futuristic capsules furnished with reclining leather couches that tilt so your feet are higher than your heart to improve circulation, and designed with dimmed lights and ambient sounds to lull you to sleep. Twenty minutes later, a gentle vibration wakes you feeling refreshed.

Other companies outsource napping to local spas where employees can recharge in private rooms. Sometimes simply providing a quiet and private space is all that is necessary for one to take a break.

If it’s simply impossible for you to take a nap at work, there are still ways you can improve your productivity during the day without resorting to caffeine. Most importantly, take a break from what you’re doing to refocus and recharge.

You can also keep your most creative and important tasks for the morning hours and leave more mundane tasks during the early afternoon. It’s also important to stand up from your desk every so often and walk around. Exercise, take a walking meeting, and get outside for some natural light and fresh air.

Each of these will help you be more productive in the afternoon even if you can’t get in a nap.

But if there’s any way you can incorporate getting a quick nap as an alternative to a quick jolt of caffeine at mid-day, you may find it will make you much more productive in the long run.

5 Ways to Motivate Employees

May 6, 2015

Navigating one’s career has as much to do with managing a boss as it does with being productive and getting results. Anyone who has ever had to manage their boss knows this is difficult yet important for job security and career advancement.

The boss has a responsibility in this too. In fact, more and more managers are now judged as much on how they manage downwards as how they manage across and upwards throughout an organization.

There’s a saying that people join a company due to its reputation and they leave because of a manager. The manager who leaves a wake of high attrition is bad for business, since experts claim it can cost companies up to twice an employee’s annual salary to find and train a replacement.

So how can managers become better bosses? It means a manager who invests time and energy in helping their employees grow and prosper. And a manager people want to work for because they feel valued and have an opportunity to be successful.

The best managers are those who hold their people accountable for the work, but they connect with the humanity we share. They demonstrate true concern for their people and connect by being present.

Being present means in regular one-on-one meetings, they actively listen and focus on how they can help. They are there to serve the best interests of helping their employee perform the job. They are there as a guide, a confidant, an advisor and a motivator.

Nothing can raise employee engagement more than an engaged and present boss. That’s because people feel valued when the person responsible for their success is regularly involved. This means more not less contact, but the quality of the contact is what is most important.

Top Five Ways to Motivate Employees

  • Communicate (listen) – Stop using email to communicate whenever possible. Your people will be motivated more by hearing the words come out of your mouth than reading them on a computer screen. And be sure you actively listen rather than do all the talking. Let them know they are being heard.
  • Take a genuine interest in their career – All of us want to know that our boss is looking out for us. Don’t wait for that annual review to tell them what they did well and where they need to improve. Make this a routine conversation to help you understand them and reach their individual career goals.
  • Empower them – None of us can grow and become a stronger leader if we are not empowered to make decisions at our level. Enable your employees to determine how to best accomplish their tasks, yet hold them responsible for the results. Trust that they will find the best solution to problems until you find evidence to the contrary.
  • Be a role model – Nothing speaks louder than the actions you take as you conduct your business. Your words will mean little if they contradict your actions. Hold yourself accountable to the same standard you hold them.
  • Seek to inspire rather than micro-manage – In order to thrive, employees are best inspired by a vision for what is to be accomplished. This means presenting a goal that is more than a simple date on a calendar or dollar amount on a spreadsheet. Make the value appeal to their intrinsic interests.

Motivating employees is perhaps one of the most important and challenging aspects of managing others. It is not taught in business school, yet every manager can become better with practice.

All it takes is attention to being the best boss you can be. If you do this well, you may find your boss taking note and becoming better too.

photo credit: N03/9045254666″>Business man shows success abstract flow chart via photopin (license)

Emotional Health for High Performing Teams

February 19, 2015

Why is it when we put together a group of highly capable individuals to form a team, this “whole” doesn’t necessarily exceed the sum of its parts?

Obviously, teams won’t always exceed the collective contributions of the individuals, and sometimes these teams can backfire and produce even less.

“It is relatively easy to find talent; it is hard to form teams,” wrote David Brooks in The New York Times. “In hiring I suspect most companies and organizations pay too much attention to the former and too little to the latter.”

Selecting talented individuals without consideration for how they interact with others is a risky proposition, since so much of what we do in organizations is done in collaboration with other people.

“The key to success is not found in the individual members, but in the quality of the space between them,” according to Brooks.

This space between members has to do with emotions, and individuals must be emotionally healthy to work together properly. As I’ve written about in previous posts, one’s emotional intelligence is vital to workplace success.

In fact, Daniel Goleman, author of Working with Emotional Intelligence, found that 67% of all competencies deemed essential for high performance were related to emotional intelligence. Furthermore, one’s emotional intelligence mattered twice as much as one’s technical knowledge or IQ for this high performance.

This emotional intelligence is magnified on teams since the effectiveness of team performance relies so heavily on the interaction between team members.

Effective teams are those with trust, open and effective communication, respect among members, a common goal, and interdependence. These are foundational in fostering healthy conflict, collaboration, cooperation and creativity to find innovative solutions to challenges.

Getting to this solid foundation requires the emotional health of each individual because our ability to self-reflect, self-regulate and empathize with others determines to what degree we are able to work together effectively.

Instead of using familiar and workplace-safe words such as “empowerment” and “team-based” and “motivation,” I think it’s time we accept that our feelings are not something we lock away in our private lives or keep at home during the day. Our emotions—both the positive and negative—are with us everyday and everywhere we go.

Accepting and honoring these emotions does not mean no longer acting professional or giving up all rational thought. Instead, it means embracing the gift these feelings provide us in order to work effectively with others and be more productive.

Fear, anger, frustration and other negative feelings can undermine group dynamics. For teams to function at a high level it is therefore important to shift these and harness optimal emotions such as joy, passion, even excitement to provide energy and enthusiasm.

The most optimal emotions can stimulate innovation and productivity because they enhance the competencies of quickness, flexibility, resilience, and the ability to deal with complexity, according to Jackie Barretta, author of Primal Teams: Harnessing the Power of Emotions to Fuel Extraordinary Performance. These optimal emotions can then transform any team into a high-performance engine where people function with sharper minds, find creative solutions and everyone operates at their peak.

This does not mean faking positive emotions in order to overcome negative ones. You need to remain congruent with your feelings. But it does mean paying attention to those negative feelings that may be hampering your team.

In her book, Barretta provides a “Fear Release Guide” to reduce fear and negativity. Many of these techniques rely on a high level of trust for team members to feel comfortable sharing their emotions with other teammates, and this is key in order to shift to optimal emotions.

When that fear and anxiety are replaced with joy and playfulness, a team finds it easier to dream up elegant solutions to satisfy customers and deliver long-term value. Barretta defines positive emotions as heartfelt emotions that you can actually feel by the way people speak about their job, their team and their company.

Heartfelt emotions can dramatically impact our ability to interrelate with others, and learning how to navigate them in ourselves as well as those around us can greatly influence our success on teams.

Researchers at HeartMath used sensitive magnetometers to find that the electromagnetic field emitted by our hearts actually extends beyond our physical body to those around us. We automatically and unconsciously sense the heart fields of other people. And this provides valuable information for how well or poorly we function as a part of a team.

If your team is not currently functioning at a high level, perhaps it’s time to take an emotional assessment. What is the predominant feeling in the room? Maybe it’s time to shift away from fear, anxiety or frustration in order to improve your team’s effectiveness.

The Value of Working in a Restaurant

December 19, 2014

Back when I was a kid, my spending money didn’t come from my parents. I needed to earn it on my own. And these jobs provided me valuable lessons that served me well throughout my career.

Beginning as a 10-year-old, I had two paper routes and delivered newspapers after school. I also had to collect for them and send checks to my employer. I didn’t earn much money, but I learned about the value of work and I enjoyed having this cash.

My father was a carpenter and on Saturday mornings he would take my brothers and me to his construction jobs, where we would pick up scrap lumber, sweep floors, do small carpentry work and even nail asphalt shingles on house roofs. The real treat was a hamburger and Coke for lunch. For this work we were paid a total of $4 . . . for the day! This was the early 1970s and it was actually a lot of money to us at the time.

When I turned 15 I lied to a restaurant manager and told him I was actually 16. This enabled me to work as a busboy and make the big money. Before long, I took part in many aspects of the business, including washing dishes, waiting tables, cooking, managing a small team of others to clean and stock the bar, and, when I reached the age of 17, bartending. This was not typical for kids my age, but that’s what happened with me.

Looking back on that time now, I see I learned some important lessons in each of these environments, but it was in the restaurant—where I worked throughout my high school years—that I learned the most valuable lessons of all. These lessons include a sense of urgency, maximum efficiency, relationship management, teamwork, motivation, perseverance, and doing things right the first time.

  • Sense of Urgency – In a restaurant, this means dealing effectively with the uncertainty of a busy night. No matter what business you are in today, the ability to speed up when necessary is especially important. This means you are able to separate the critical from the trivial and get stuff done. It means you are able to rise to the occasion and respond to your customer’s immediate needs.
  • Maximum Efficiency – Restaurant work requires that you don’t waste steps. This means whenever you bring out dishes or beverages, you also pick up empty plates or glasses when returning to the kitchen—either from the same table or another one nearby. Every organization has similar operational efficiencies that need to be observed and adhered to. They can ultimately influence your overall profitability.
  • Relationship Management – Restaurants are all about repeat business and the best way to ensure this is to serve great food at reasonable prices, and provide exceptional service. Great service is vital for every business and perhaps one the most important advantages given the competition on price and availability. Relationships with fellow employees are just as important as those with customers. Invest in all your relationships and your business will thrive both internally and externally.
  • Teamwork – If a waiter and cook are not on the same page, there is no way the customer is going to receive the food they ordered in a reasonable length of time. The same is true for any organization. More can be accomplished when all employees are working together towards the same goal. This means ensuring that goals are clear and everyone understands their roles and responsibilities in the process.
  • Motivation – In a restaurant, especially on the front line where you interact most with customers, your attitude can greatly impact your income. This behavior impacts how you are perceived as well as treated by others. As a waiter this can influence how much you receive in tips. In every workplace your motivation can determine to what level others rely on you, trust you and want to work with or follow your direction.
  • Perseverance – The ability to continue in spite of an unruly customer or unfair scheduling means you will succeed when the going gets tough. This is an important lesson in every workplace because you will face adversity no matter what business you are in. And how you deal with it determines how long you will last and how well you will succeed.
  • Doing Things Right the First Time – Making a good impression on a restaurant customer is essential if you want to see them again. This means providing a warm and welcoming environment, providing impeccable service with a smile and delivering a great meal. No matter what business you are in today, it is essential that you seek to do things correctly from the beginning. This ensures you meet your customer’s expectations and maintain your costs.

Restaurant jobs may not pay especially well, but they do offer opportunities to learn valuable lessons and hone skills for whatever you do in your career. Much of this may be understood only in retrospect, but don’t underestimate how you can benefit from your current position no matter where you are in your career.

Work Friends & Social Recognition

September 22, 2014

All of us want to feel valued for our contribution in the workplace. But there may be a disconnect between what employers think drive this feeling of being valued and what employees actually want and need.

It turns out that peer relationships can greatly impact our level of commitment and engagement. And the more friends we have at work, the more likely we are to trust co-workers as well as leadership.

Another area is in years of service recognition. The days of the gold watch or pin for various years of service no longer suffice as recent research has show that employees are more likely to be moved by emotionally-driven, social recognition.

These are the findings of research by Globoforce in a report called “The Effect of Work Relationships on Organizational Culture and Commitment.” The Fall 2014 Workforce Mood Tracker recently surveyed 716 randomly selected employees in the United States who were working in companies with at least 500 employees.

When we consider that most of us with full time jobs spend more time with our co-workers than we do with our families, we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of these relationships.

Among the research findings with regard to peer relationships:

  • 93% value the respect of work friends or colleagues and 63% of them find it extremely important or very important.
  • 74% claim to have a shared history and memories with co-workers.
  • 89% say work relationships matter to their quality of life, with more than half (55%) saying it is extremely important or very important.
  • Employees with friends at work are twice as likely to trust leadership than those without friends.
  • The more friends one has at work, the higher level of pride they take in their company as well as their co-workers.
  • The more friends an employee has at work, the less likely they are to leave. In response to: “Would you accept another job if it were offered to you?” those with no friends at work were 42% likely, while those with 1-5 friends 38% likely, and those with 6 to 25 friends only 30% likely.
  • Highly engaged workers: no friends 28%, 1-5 friends 37%, 6-25 friends 48%, 25+ friends 69%.


Clearly, having friends at work can directly impact trust, engagement, retention and overall quality of life.

When it comes to recognition, the survey also found that meaningful recognition matters, and when not tied in with co-workers can actually negatively impact the employee. Among the findings on recognition:

  • Employees feel more valued when peers participate in anniversaries. 70% vs. 24% feel more valued when celebrated with peers in addition to the company as opposed to the company alone.
  • Workers with peer-celebrated milestones are less likely to leave the company for another position. In response to the question: “Would you accept a new job if it were offered to you?” 74% said yes when there was no celebration at all, 66% said yes when celebration was with company only, and only 52% said yes when celebration included co-workers.
  • When employees report their last company milestone as “an emotional, moving or poignant experience,” they are significantly more likely to see that anniversary as positive and three times more likely to say it made them feel more valued.
  • Employees were more likely to report a positive experience when the formal recognition experience was tied to company goals and values. They were also three times more likely to say it made them feel more valued.
  • When asked what could make the milestone experience more meaningful, 65% said shared stories and memories, and 72% said they like the idea of including a retrospective of their career accomplishments.


Emotional anniversaries and recognition make employees feel more valued with higher pride, higher engagement, and are more reflective and likely to renew their commitment to the company.

So how do you encourage workplace friendships and provide more robust, meaningful recognition? Obviously, a friendly and welcoming workplace is more likely to encourage people to socialize. Specificity both positive and negative when providing feedback is extremely helpful. Also, you can encourage other’s opinions and viewpoints when determining policy decisions and workplace issues.

Peter Drucker once said “culture eats strategy over breakfast.” Staying on top of your company’s culture to keep it positive and aligned with your values will go a long way towards encouraging friendships and making recognition more meaningful. Never underestimate the power of your company’s culture.

A product called TINYpulse can capture anonymous feedback from team members to reveal insights, trends, and opportunities to improve retention, culture and results. Think of it like the old fashioned “suggestion box” only it can be done with quick online surveys directly pushed to employees. This will help keep them involved and encourage them to feel their opinions matter.

Finding ways to foster friendships as well as acknowledging years of service by including co-workers in the recognition will go a long way in making employees feel valued. And feeling valued is what will make employees more engaged, productive, and less likely to leave for another opportunity.


Higher Engagement by Meeting Employee Needs

July 23, 2014

Employee engagement is a vital component of successful organizations. Nothing helps spur innovation and raise productivity like a highly engaged group of people who are passionately involved in what they are doing.

“Because they [employees] care more, they are more productive, give better service, and even stay in their jobs longer,” writes Kevin Kruse, author of Employee Engagement 2.0. “All of that leads to happier customers, who buy more and refer more often, which drives sales and profits higher, finally resulting in an increase in stock price.”

Kruse sites 28 research studies showing a correlation between employee engagement and sales, service, quality, safety, retention and total shareholder return.

Employee engagement is about a person’s emotional commitment to the organization and its goals. Raising this emotional commitment cannot be done through some generic training course or corporate mandate.

Instead, the organization must appeal to the employees’ needs and meet these needs with specific leadership skill development.

Every employee has basic human needs that must be met in order for them to feel passionate about the work they do. When this need is met with specific leadership skills, the organization will benefit from more engaged employees.

The Passion Pyramid identifies five human needs that help ignite passion and the accompanying leadership skills required to create conditions to satisfy each need. It also describes the outcome or payoff to the organization for satisfying each need.

These human needs are:

  1. Be respected
  2. Learn and grow
  3. Be an “insider”
  4. Do meaningful work
  5. Be on a winning team

As I described in an earlier post, what employees say they want can vary a great deal from what managers think employees want. Many of these same human needs for increasing employee engagement were among the top ten things employees say they want. Specifically: 

  1. Full appreciation for work done (Be respected)
  2. Feeling “part” of things (Be an “insider”)
  3. Interesting work (Do meaningful work)
  4. Promotion/growth opportunities (Learn and grow)

Tying these human needs with specific leadership skill development can then help ignite the passion necessary to raise engagement. With intentional and orderly intervention, these leadership skills can meet the employees’ needs.

The leadership skills are also in a specific order as no team can be effective without building upon a foundation of trust. Coaching, counseling and mentoring can help with each individual’s specific growth opportunities and blind spots. And no organization can expect employees to be engaged without inclusiveness.

Aligning teams with the organization’s purpose, values and vision ties intrinsic motivation with extrinsic rewards. Finally, building a high performance team requires the foundation of all the preceding skills as well as a shared purpose and bond to succeed together.

These leadership skills help meet employees’ needs, which can help ignite the passion necessary to raise employee engagement in your organization. Isn’t it worth the investment to bring out the best in your employees so they can bring out the best in your organization?

Workplace Engagement Through Continual Learning

May 8, 2014

Maximizing your investment in today’s economy should be a no-brainer. However, when it comes to the selection of higher education, there seems to be way too much emphasis on which university to attend rather than the quality of the professors and a passion for a particular field of study.

Having a prestigious university name to list on your resume may get you the job interview, but finding inspirational mentors and holding a passion for a particular subject matter that engages you to continue learning throughout life may be much more important to thriving in your career and life.

The college years are undoubtedly the most optimal time to learn, however, they should serve merely as a launching pad for a lifetime of continual learning. To best compete in the 21st century job market, it is vital that you can demonstrate active learning as an integral part of living.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal described a Gallup survey of 30,000 college graduates of all ages and all 50 states, which found that elite universities don’t necessarily produce better workers or overall happiness. Instead, it was the inspiring professors—wherever they may have taught—who made the biggest difference.

“Individual traits matter more than where you went,” says Stacy Dale, an economist at Mathematica, a New Jersey research firm. “It’s a lot more important what you learn later in life than where you got your undergraduate degree.”

The WSJ poll didn’t measure graduates’ earnings or earning potential. Instead Gallup’s research was based upon their 30 years of data that demonstrates the people who are most happy and engaged at work are also the most productive.

Gallup found that success for the people who are most engaged and happy was determined by “meaningful connections with professors or mentors” and the significant investments these people made in long-term academic projects and extracurricular activities.

Among other findings, the poll found that only 39% of graduates said they felt engaged at work and just 11% stated they were “thriving” in aspects of life such as financial stability, strong social network and a sense of purpose.

The strongest correlation for well being emerged with graduates described as thriving in that they were three times as likely to have described feelings of being emotionally supported by a professor or mentor while in school. Those people who described “experiential and deep learning” while in school, were twice as likely to be engaged in their work.

We should all recognize the importance of continued learning in our field of study, and that following passionate leaders and mentors who can inspire us will keep us engaged in the work and perhaps increase our overall happiness.

Keeping our brains active in the work we do enables us to continually exercise our creativity and ingenuity in solving problems and innovating. This also keeps us more fully engaged and it is what companies need most in their workers.

Employers should recognize that hiring based on the prestigious name recognition of universities should not out-weigh the overall candidate’s suitability for a job based on his or her abilities to engage in the work and continual learning on the job.

Getting a potential candidate to speak about a professor or mentor who inspired them may reveal more about their productivity potential than anything else.

I have learned that as my children approach their high school completion, the college campus tours we take will now require a better analysis of individual professors in particular subject areas and perhaps trying to sit in on their classes. And the elite universities will have to do more to convince us that we should spend our money with them based on their reputation alone.

Organizational Health Key to Innovation

April 3, 2014

Is risk encouraged or discouraged in your organization? What happens when someone makes a mistake?

When I talk with a potential client with regard to his or her organization, these are questions I like to ask because they provide me with an indication of just how much of a learning organization it may or may not be. Peter M. Senge describes this concept in great detail in his book, “The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization.”

So much of organizational health is determined by how these two questions are answered because a healthy organization is one that knows calculated risks and mistakes are necessary in order to grow and prosper.

Risk is inherent in business and most businesses would never have started if their founders were risk averse. As companies get larger, control often increases to help maintain structure and order. It can also stifle risk and the resulting innovation.

Organizations that try to minimize mistakes are also likely to minimize innovation. Those that accept mistakes as part of growth, however, are likely to reap more innovation.

Innovation doesn’t have to be about creating the next iPhone: it can also be about finding new materials to minimize production costs, restructuring the workforce to be more efficient, or expanding into new and unproven markets.

Innovation requires being open to risk and allowing for mistakes.

So much of risk taking is the ability to make oneself vulnerable. Being vulnerable can often lead to criticism, ridicule and embarrassment. It can also lead to creativity and spur new ideas.

Vulnerability is all too rarely seen in our leaders. However, I believe it actually demonstrates great strength of character and brings about loyalty.

In Brene Brown’s book “Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way we Live, Love, Parent and Lead,” she discusses the importance of our ability to be vulnerable. She argues that this vulnerability is not a weakness, but instead a path to courage, engagement and meaningful connection. And vulnerability can spark a spirit of truth—and trust—in organizations as well as our families, schools and communities.

Vulnerability is what unites us as humans and, contrary to popular belief, when demonstrated by leaders, actually inspires us to follow them.

In her book, Dr. Brown has 10 questions that help uncover the health of an organization:

  1. What behaviors are rewarded? Punished?
  2. Where and how are people actually spending their resources (time, money, attention)?
  3. What rules and expectations are followed, enforced, and ignored?
  4. Do people feel safe and supported talking about how they feel and asking for what they need?
  5. What are the sacred cows? Who is most likely to tip them? Who stands the cows back up?
  6. What stories are legend and what values to they convey?
  7. What happens when someone fails, disappoints, or makes a mistake?
  8. How is vulnerability (uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure) perceived?
  9. How prevalent are shame and blame and how are they showing up?
  10. What’s the collective tolerance for discomfort? Is the discomfort of learning, trying new things, and giving and receiving feedback normalized, or is there a high premium put on comfort (and how does that look)?

These questions can be difficult because they will cause those answering them to be vulnerable. However, the process can lead to great insight and perhaps fundamental shifts inside the organization. Ultimately, discussing them with a large group could reap huge benefits and begin to help heal the organization.

One of my favorite quotes is by the wrier Anais Nin who said, “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” What if rather than holding back and keeping yourself from showing your vulnerability, you brought it forward? This would take great courage, but it would also free you from what holds you back and expand your life.

Is it risky? You bet. But there may be no better way to transform yourself and your organization to become healthy.  And a healthy you in a healthy organization will bring about needed innovation.

7 Tips for Effective Conference Calls

March 2, 2014

Today’s workplace means people are more geographically dispersed and this greatly compromises our ability to communicate well. There’s also an increased need to collaborate and this can be especially challenging when working in different locations.

The ubiquitous conference call has quickly become the norm when it comes to meetings and makes for unique challenges in for them to be effective. So much of our communication is non-verbal (eye contact, body language, etc.), and we need to take this into account when speaking and listening in conference calls.

In the same ways that emails can be easily misinterpreted, so too can the things that are said and unsaid in conference calls. You can’t simply speak and listen the way you would in face-to-face meetings.

Even with the popularity of videoconferencing tools such as NetMeeting, GoToMeeting, Google+ hangouts and others, the voice-only conference call is still used in most cases.

Determining first whether or not to hold a conference call should take a few things into consideration: 1) What is the purpose of the call? 2) Who needs to be on the call? 3) Will a voice-only call be effective and appropriate given the purpose or should a face-to-face meeting or videoconferencing be employed instead?

Like any meeting, certain ground rules should be considered: 1) start on time (don’t wait for stragglers as it only encourages them), 2) have an agenda and stick to it, 3) keep minutes of the meeting and follow up with action items, 4) end on time or earlier if you’re finished.

Conference calls require additional rules to make them most effective. These include:

  1. Lead the call effectively. Take charge by explaining who you are and the purpose for the meeting within the first two minutes. Establishing leadership with your voice only means you often need to over communicate and be more careful with your word choice.
  2. Get everyone involved. Engage everyone from the start by giving them a chance to speak up by introducing themselves. Call on those who are not speaking up during the call to keep everyone engaged.
  3. Share the floor. Unless you are presenting something, as the leader you should ensure you don’t hog the floor. Give everyone an equal opportunity to share their perspective. If there are many people on the call or new people, have everyone identify themselves when they begin to speak.
  4. Avoid distractions. Ensure that everyone finds a quiet space for the call and uses a landline if at all possible. Use the mute button strategically. Be careful not to shuffle papers, tap pens, and turn off other electronic devices. Anything that could be considered rude in face-to-face meetings should be avoided during a conference call.
  5. Don’t multitask. Close email so you’re not tempted to play catch up on other things. If you find yourself doing something other than focusing on who is speaking and the meeting at hand, perhaps you should not be on the call. As a leader, ensure that the meeting remains focused so no one’s time is wasted.
  6. Provide time for questions. Give a five-minute warning before the end of the call so everyone has an opportunity to question or ask for clarification on anything.
  7. End the call effectively. Thank them for their participation. Indicate when minutes will be coming as well as any follow up that needs to happen. Provide the time and date for the next meeting as necessary.

Another thing you might consider: some people can be perceived as negative or disagreeable and may want or need to improve this perception among coworkers. To do this during a conference call, consider the use of a mirror during the call. This can greatly help regulate your tone of voice as you will be influenced by how you look when you’re speaking. Most of us will not deliberately look negative or disagreeable when looking into a mirror and this will be reflected in our tone.

Like any meeting, conference calls need to be run well so people stay engaged and the meeting remains an effective use of everyone’s time. Leading a conference call means you need to be hypersensitive because you have so few ways to monitor meeting attendees beyond what you hear them say.

Keep in mind these seven tips for conference calls and you’ll find them to be more effective and a useful method for meeting with others.

Three Ways to Increase Employee Engagement

January 27, 2014

Raising employee engagement should be the goal of every organization because engaged employees are more productive than those who are not.

Despite the fact that many companies are lavishing their workers with extravagant perks, overall employee engagement is still very low. Seventy percent of the country’s 100 million full-time workers are either not engaged or are actively disengaged.

Three ways to increase employee engagement include the freedom on how to do the work, the option to work on things that interest the individual employee, and the flexibility to work remotely at least part of the time.

A few years ago Netflix created their employee slide deck in which one of the seven aspects of their culture is freedom and responsibility. This includes self-motivation, self-awareness, self-discipline, self-improving, acts like a leader and others.

They found that as companies grow they are typically forced to add more processes and procedures in order to manage the increasing complexity that comes with more employees. These processes and procedures, however, lead only to short-term benefits and often drive the highest performing employees out of the company.

Netflix instead attracted high value people with the freedom to have a big impact, demanded a high performance culture, and provided top of market compensation. So instead of a “culture of process adherence” they have a “culture of creativity and self-discipline, freedom and responsibility.”

As I wrote in a previous post, this freedom takes great courage and faith that your employees will be responsible and accountable for getting things done.  So far, this seems to have paid off for Netflix.

The second area that can help boost employee engagement is enabling workers to follow their interests and passions. This could be similar to what Google provides in “20% Time,” where employees can choose to work on a project or concept that intrigues them to stir innovation. Though not official, there are reports that Google has done away with 20% Time, even though it produced such profitable ventures as Gmail, Google News and Adsense.

The idea of giving employees this freedom is not new as 3M was exploring the use of 15% time for this purpose as far back as the conservative 1950s. Well-known and profitable products like Post-its and masking tape were invented out of this.

There is even a 20-Time in Education that allows students 20% of class time (one day each week) to work on and explore a topic of their choice. Since the world is becoming more interconnected and collaborative, it seems natural to enable learners to begin working in this way before they need to earn a paycheck for it. This means teaching students to be autonomous learners who can guide their own career and discover how to most effectively contribute to a team.

Finally, there is the notion of creating a culture of openness that enables employees to choose not only how they do the work, but also from where.

Nearly 30% of employers now offer telecommuting as a way to improve staff retention rates, and nearly three-quarter of employees say flexible work hours would cause them to choose one job over another.

But is the ability to work remotely really the complete answer?

Gallup recently found that employees who worked remotely ended up working longer hours and were slightly more engaged employees. They found that 32% of employees who worked remotely engaged, while only 28% of those employees working on-site were engaged.

However, it turns out that there was a point of diminishing returns for remote workers. Those spending 20% or less of their time working remotely were found to be the most engaged (35%) and had the lowest level of active disengagement (12%). Working remotely began to decrease engagement levels, however, with more time spent away from the workplace.

There should be a balance between face-time with other workers and flexibility for how the work gets accomplished.

Dave Coplin, chief envisioning officer at Microsoft, in an entertaining look in this RSA animated video, discusses how technology can be part of the problem as well as a potential solution.

Among other things, Coplin says that social networking has changed how we work in that we are now sharing just about everything versus previously when we were sharing only what we chose to share. This sharing inevitably requires a great deal more trust not only in our selves but in each other as well.

The idea of providing employee perks to encourage workers to stay at the office longer can initially attract employees, but giving benefits that stir innovation and lasting employee engagement needs to appeal more to people’s intrinsic motivation.

This means providing people with the freedom on what the work is, how it gets done and where to do it. Accompanying this freedom also requires a degree of trust, responsibility and accountability.  And that’s a formula for increasing employee engagement.

Happiness Through Work

December 17, 2013

Social scientists have boiled down Americans’ level of happiness to three major sources: genetics, events and values. The first two are largely out of our control, but the last one is where we have a great deal of control with which can ultimately determine our happiness.

According to a University of Chicago’s General Social Survey of Americans conducted since 1972, it found that about a third of Americans reported they are “very happy,” about half say they are “pretty happy,” and 10% to 15% report being “not too happy.” And these ratios have stayed about the same over 40 years.

In a recent New York Times opinion piece titled “A Formula for Happiness” and in similar content on a YouTube video, Arthur C. Brooks explains how research has determined that 48% of our happiness is inherited and another 40% is based on events that have occurred in the recent past. Much of that may be beyond our control. This leaves just 12% that can help us alter our happiness quotient.

Many people may think there is direct relationship between money and happiness. And this is generally true for the poor.

But Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman found that once people reach a little beyond an average middle-class income level (about $75,000), even big financial gains don’t bring about much more, if any, happiness.

So that brings us to the 12% of which all of us have some control over our happiness. And this is in our values.

According to Brooks, these values come down to four things upon which we have a great deal of control. These are: faith, family, community and work.

Faith does not necessarily mean being religious, but is more about the interior or spiritual life. Family is obvious, but may require a new perspective with regard to how integral these people are to our overall happiness. Community means cultivating important people into our lives and being charitable. This includes the friends we choose to associate with and how generous we are to those outside of our immediate family.

And then there is work.

“Work can bring happiness by marrying our passions to our skills, empowering us to create value in our lives and in the lives of others,” says Brooks. This secret to happiness through work is what Brooks calls earned success.

“This is not conjecture; it is driven by the data,” says Brooks. “Americans who feel they are successful at work are twice as likely to say they are very happy overall as people who don’t feel that way. And these differences persist after controlling for income and other demographics.”

I should point out that Brooks is president of the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington, D.C. public policy think tank with an obvious free market perspective. Its mission is “to defend the principles and improve the institutions of American freedom and democratic capitalism.“

His perspective is that free enterprise is the right approach to reaching happiness through work. He says that if you want happiness not only for you but for others around the world, then you should work for free enterprise everywhere.

I won’t debate the potential political and economic argument here, but instead stay focused on the element of pursuing work that matters to you which can help determine your happiness.

What about you? Are you happy? Are you very happy? Is there something you can do to alter the values upon which determine your level of happiness?

Here at the end of another year, perhaps it’s time to take stock of where we are. Since our faith, family and community is ultimately under our control, it comes down to whether or not we choose to take responsibility for them or not. The same is true for work.

Do you believe you are creating value with your contribution at work? If so, the research says that you are more likely to be happy with your life.

As I’ve written about on a number of occasions, the work we do is a lot more than simply a paycheck and a way to provide for us monetarily. In our work, we have the opportunity to find fulfillment, a sense of purpose, and a reason for being that can ultimately help determine our overall happiness.

Don’t we owe it to ourselves to find and make ourselves happy by pursuing work that joins our passion and skills to provide value to us, and to the world?

Great Leadership Requires Asking Questions

November 27, 2013

So often we look to leaders to provide answers to the most challenging problems we face whether in politics or business. In fact, great leaders are those who instead ask the right questions and engage others to arrive at the best answers together.

The media overly promotes a single businessman, politician or sports star as responsible for overall success. As a result, it’s hard to think of Apple without Steve Jobs, J.P. Morgan Chase without Jamie Dimon, and the current Denver Broncos without Payton Manning.

We tend to therefore associate the success of any group as overly reliant on those who lead them. Leaders are vital, of course, but the best are those who inspire others and share leadership to arrive at the most creative solutions.

Leaders play a pivotal role yet achieving success is predicated on getting more from the individuals they lead. This means engaging everyone to contribute fully because the best solutions come when the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts.

A recent Forbes magazine article discussed the book Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter by Liz Wiseman, and quoted the author as writing that the best multipliers “are leaders who bring out intelligence in others and get the best ideas and work out of the people they lead. ”

One of the trappings of leadership is thinking you have to have all the answers and that it is entirely up to you to provide people with the right answers. This is narrow-minded and it is detrimental to multiplier thinking.

“When a leader asks the questions,” says Wiseman, “they channel the energy and intelligence of their team on the challenge at hand, and they shift the burden of thinking onto others.”

Instead of looking to answer the big and important questions on his or her own, the multiplier asks provocative questions of the group and encourages them to work on it together. This engages employees like nothing else and no longer has them sitting on the sidelines awaiting the answer from their leader.

In his book Living the Questions: Essays Inspired by the Work and Life of Parker J. Palmer, he writes:

“The great gift we receive on the inner journey is the certain knowledge that ours is not the only act in town. Not only are there other acts in town, but some of them from time to time are even better than ours! On this inner journey we learn that we do not have too carry the whole load, that we can be empowered by sharing the load with others, and that sometimes we are even free to lay our part of the load down. On the inner journey we learn that co-creation leaves us free to do only what we are called and able to do, and to trust the rest to other hands. With that learning, we become leaders who cast less shadow and more light.”

Leaders who encourage this co-creation demonstrate humility in the face of the attention attributed entirely to them.

Jim Collins stated that great leaders are those who look out the window when things are going right, and in the mirror when things are not going right. It is this strength of character that enables great leaders to ignore the limelight society wants to throw upon them and instead diffuse it by sharing the glory with others with success and taking responsibility with failure.

This takes courage and patience. It takes resilience and persistence. And ultimately it takes trust that the individuals you lead have the ability to reach the best solutions collectively.

These best solutions require the best questions and a collective approach to reaching the answers.

Should a Good Leader also be a Good Manager?

November 18, 2013

President Obama’s leadership has recently come into question due to the Affordable Care Act’s website challenges. The Economist magazine recently suggested that even Obama’s supporters are now concerned that he is a terrible manager.

It begs the question: Does good leadership require good management?

Warren Bennis famously wrote “good managers do things right, while good leaders do the right things.” This is more than a play on words.

While some may argue that creating the Affordable Care Act in the first place was not the right thing, executing what was created and passed into law should be up to those responsible for managing things right.

Leaders should be about creating strategy and managers should be about executing strategy.

In Obama’s apology to the American people for the technical problems surrounding the website, he defended Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services. “Ultimately, the buck stops with me,” he said. “You know, I’m the president. This is my team. If it’s not working, it’s my job to get it fixed.”

Taking responsibility for the failures of those reporting to him is a sign of good leadership. Years to come, President Obama knows the ultimate success or failure of Obamacare will be attached to him regardless of how many other people work on it.

This responsibility is a huge component of leadership. That’s why business leaders and sports coaches get huge salary increases with the success of their companies or teams, and why they get fired if these companies or teams fail.

In my experience, good managers don’t necessarily make good leaders. Some of them, however, do become great managers. And we can’t have too many of them. Great managers get results, execute strategy and fulfill the mission.

Great leaders, on the other hand, create and communicate a compelling vision others want to follow. They also ensure the right people are in the right place, and they engage them to bring out their best.

And perhaps somewhat surprisingly, great leaders don’t necessarily make great managers. That’s because they require a different set of skills.

The best leaders are focused on strategy and looking at the big picture without getting mired in the execution of that strategy.

Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer will soon step down from the CEO job because as he stated they needed to break a pattern and he’s a pattern. His management style included requiring direct reports to provide a massive amount of data and details before decision making, an environment with corporate silos where colleagues competed with each other for resources, and the recently dropped rank order performance-appraisal practice that pitted people against each other for personal gain rather than encouraged collaboration and cooperation for the good of Microsoft.

While Ballmer tripled Microsoft’s revenue during his 13 years at the helm, this came from their existing markets and the company missed huge opportunities in Web-search engine advertising and the overall shift of consumers to mobile devices and social media.

Ultimately, Ballmer admitted he had created an environment where managers were so focused on trees instead of the forest that it was impossible for him to change their thinking. Trees, of course, should be the primary focus for managers and forests the primary focus of leaders. But neither can lose sight of the other.

Managers should be laser-focused on day-to-day execution. They should be concerned with ensuring the strategy is executed as planned.

Is it therefore really possible for anyone to be far-sighted for strategy and at the same time near-sighted for execution?

In my work as an executive coach, I try to help middle managers and directors build leadership skills so they can become more effective and advance their careers. I help them focus on competency areas that will enable them to grow their leadership capacity. But this doesn’t mean they will all become great leaders.

Some of us are better suited for vision, while others are more suited for process. Some more concerned with asking why and others with asking how.

Being able to shift back and forth between seeing the future vision and the day-to-day reality is extremely valuable, but there is a natural tendency to have a dominant perspective.

Ballmer’s successor may very well need to be more a visionary like Bill Gates if Microsoft is to transition back to the dominate player it was previously.

If Obama is to be successful with the Affordable Care Act, he will ultimately need to ensure he does in fact have the right people in place to execute his vision. He will also need to do a better job communicating not only to these people, but also to the American people.

Any leader can only be as great as the quality of the managers he or she leads.

Predictive Analysis to Motivate Employees

September 21, 2013

Predictive analysis in human resources is becoming a lot more helpful in determining how well-suited potential employees may be for a particular company and a specific job.

What can it tell us about employee engagement?

According to a recent Wall Street Journal article regarding a soon to be published study by Deloitte Consulting LLP, about 5% of companies with 25,000 or more employees are now using predictive analysis in human resources.

This analytical information can go a long way towards learning about who to hire and for what positions to better ensure they are likely to succeed in the job and stay at the company.

At Google, where numbers are crunched for just about everything, they use analytics to identify the skills, behaviors and values of ideal candidates for specific roles. Humans still scan resumes, but this is no longer the primary method for finding the right people.

ConAgra Foods has gone further and used analytic software to help predict which key employees were likely to leave the company and why. They studied departments with particularly high turnover as well as those with low turnover and looked at more than 200 factors that may contribute to employees leaving the company.

The results surprised them as two of the strongest indicators as to whether an employee would likely leave the company were his or her relationship with their supervisor and the degree to which they were recognized for their work. Compensation wasn’t even in the top ten.

As I wrote in a previous post, what employees are looking for can vary greatly from what managers assume they want. This disparity can greatly diminish productivity as well as cause employees to leave the company. Learning to correct for this disparity can improve employee engagement and organizational performance.

One should expect that data will be used more and more for determining existing employees’ suitability for promotions and succession planning as well as the overall impact on them through mergers and acquisitions.

Studying human capital data may not only help verify the difference between what we think and what actually does motivate employees, it may help us understand how to best engage them as well.

In the same way the Hawthorne effect demonstrated at least a minimal short-term positive impact by simply paying attention to employees, I think predictive analysis could be used to generate some greater understanding of how to best engage employees. And this can have much longer term implications.

Ideas to do this may include finding effective ways to first quantifiably measure employee engagement as well as emotional intelligence and job satisfaction levels. Using this data, organizations can then analyze how it compares to the productivity of individual employees. If a direct correlation can be drawn from the results, then creating effective ways to raise any of the variables may result in a predictable increase in employee productivity.

This is not meant to reduce employees into statistics, but only as a way of verifying in a quantitative way what we may already suspect qualitatively.

Understanding and verifying how to best engage and motivate employees can then effectively raise an organization’s productivity, reduce the high cost of turnover and make for a better workplace environment.

Valuing Diverse Personality Types in Workgroups

September 10, 2013

Today’s workgroups are made up of people from a variety of cultures, ethnicities, ages, and backgrounds. They also include different personalities.

High performing workgroups are those that embrace and leverage these personality differences in order to achieve outstanding results.

In my line of work I use many diagnostic tools and assessments to help evaluate clients in the environment where they work. These can be useful as they provide valuable insight into how individuals differ from the people they work with most closely.

Each of these tools and assessments typically involve a four square grid where people are placed in one specific quadrant. Yes, they put people into boxes, but more importantly, they provide a common vocabulary in order to converse about what it means to be different.

Not better or worse, just different in how we think, respond and operate in the world.

This common vocabulary can then enable better understanding and ultimately movement with regard to changing behavior to help improve communication, engagement, collaboration, and overall efficiency in the workplace.

Whether using the popular Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator, Keirsey Temperament Sorter, DISC profile or any number of tools, the fundamental principle of all models basically provide four types of personalities—expressive, analytical, driven and social.

Each personality type is valuable to the success of a team. All of them are vital to getting things done. And the team’s leader can come from any of them.

Most importantly, it is the dynamic interplay between these four types that make a team of people truly creative in finding and implementing effective solutions.

You can find examples of these four personality types in every workplace, even popular television shows. Think of Seinfeld where Kramer is the expressive, burst in to rooms, big personality; George is the analytical, wanting to know all aspects of a situation before making a decision to act; Elaine is the driven, assertive person who can never find a man smart enough and rich enough; Jerry is the social, friendly guy who brings together and maintains the cohesiveness of the group.

After first identifying our own type and realizing the gifts and challenges it provides, next comes understanding the value of the other types and appreciating how they can also contribute to team results.

Jim Collins, author of the best-selling Good to Great, says it’s not only important to get the right people on the bus, but to get each of them in the right seat on the bus.

Without making too much of an over generalization, different personality types lend themselves to different work. Those who are the analytical type may not be happy or successful in a traditional sales or public relations position. An expressive or social type may find a research position far too confining.

In the words of Albert Einstein, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

A workgroup must take into account how the work is shared among diverse personality types. Just because one person has a certain job title or job function doesn’t mean he or she should be confined to that specific work. Let your team members determine how best to accomplish the work.

For any whole to be greater than the sum of its parts requires maximizing the potential of each individual and leveraging the efficiencies found in true collaboration.

In their book Extraordinary Groups: How Ordinary Teams Achieve Amazing Results, Geoffrey Bellman and Kathleen Ryan write “extraordinary groups cultivate a positive mind-set about differences, choosing to see them as intriguing, informative, and essential—rather than irritating, divisive or threatening.”

Bellman and Ryan found in their research of extraordinary groups that this ability to express and work with these differences as critical to their success. Holding these differences in a way all individuals can move forward together rather than pulling the group apart is a core distinction between an ordinary and an extraordinary group.

To enable more creative and innovative solutions to business problems requires utilizing the creative potential of diverse personalities in workgroups. This means not only welcoming and respecting our differences, but also learning to collaborate with and maximizing the collective wisdom found in this mix.

Low Employee Engagement: The Cost and the Cure

July 19, 2013

An astounding 70% of U.S. workers are either not engaged or are actively disengaged, according to a 2012 survey by Gallup. Further, these actively disengaged employees are emotionally disconnected from their companies and as a result are less productive, more likely to miss work, more likely to steal, may negatively influence coworkers, and will drive customers away.

Employee engagement is strongly connected to business outcomes that are so essential to the organization’s productivity, profitability and customer engagement. And those who are actively disengaged at work (18%) can cost the U.S. $450 billion to $550 billion in lost productivity every year.

Gallup’s State of the American Workplace: 2010-2012 report also revealed that this level of employee engagement differed among generations.

Those at the beginning of their careers and at the end of their careers are most likely to be engaged at work. Traditionalists, representing merely 4% of the workforce, have the highest level of engagement at 41% and Millennials, who represent just 8% of the workforce, are second highest at 33%. The remaining 88% of the workforce has just 28% of Generation Xers and 26% of Baby Boomers likely to be engaged at work.

Clearly employee engagement is critical for every organization and much can be learned by the questions Gallup uses to measure it. They finalized what they call the Q12 in the late 1990s and it has since been administered to more than 25 million employees in 189 countries. These 12 questions represent what Gallup considers actionable workplace elements with proven links to performance outcomes.

  1. I know what is expected of me at work.
  2. I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.
  3. At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
  4. In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.
  5. My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.
  6. There is someone at work who cares about my development.
  7. At work, my opinions seem to count.
  8. The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel the job I do is important.
  9. My associates or fellow workers are committed to doing quality work.
  10. I have a best friend at work.
  11. In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.
  12. This last year I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.

The answers to these questions are important, but so are the questions themselves. What do they reveal about employee engagement? It seems to me that clarity about the work and focusing on the employee’s strengths is important. Recognition and praise for a job well-done too. Empathy, congeniality and genuine concern are also important.

The order of the questions is also intentional. The first two represent the employee’s primary needs and asks: What do I get out of this role? Questions 3 through 6 have to do with how employees think about their own contribution as well as their connection to the team and the organization. The questions 7 through 10 have to do with: Do I belong? The final two questions have to do with whether or not the employee can learn, grow and input their own ideas.

Increasing employee engagement is not a one-off intervention through an annual team building off-site, but instead it is a continual process of healthy workplace policies and behaviors. These should include:

  • Clear roles and responsibilities for everyone, and ensure that each person is equipped with the right tools and training to do the job they were hired to do.
  • Start at the top. If your managers, directors, vice presidents and CEO are not engaged, you can forget about your frontline employees. Ensure that engagement begins at the top and extends throughout the organization.
  • Live the values in your business plan. Employees join your company because of its reputation and what they believe you stand for. Ensure that these values are more than corporate marketing.
  • Build upon employee strengths. Rather than focusing on fixing weaknesses, companies should focus on building upon each employee’s individual strengths. According to research, Gallup found that people who use their strengths everyday are six times more likely to be engaged at work.
  • Give praise and be friendly. There is no reason why the workplace needs to be a cold and dreary place. Every one of us has the opportunity to show gratitude and genuine concern for others at work. This can go a long way towards making us feel that our contribution matters and that we’re cared about.

Each of these can help raise employee engagement, but they need to be under constant scrutiny because they won’t last simply because they were written down in some policy and procedures manual. These policies and behaviors need to be continually demonstrated and practiced for engagement to last.

Actively engaged employees should be the goal because they are directly tied to positive business outcomes. Getting and retaining employees who are actively engaged means better business results and a better place to work. And that’s the cure we all could use.

Six Tips to Successfully Deliver Employee Feedback

June 28, 2013

Leadership involves many interpersonal skills and for some of us the ability to deliver effective feedback can be the most challenging.

Everyone who supervises other people is expected to provide feedback—both positive and negative—and yet it is often put off until annual performance reviews, which makes it even more stressful to both because of the context it’s given in.

For some reason the workplace is a difficult place for many people to regularly speak openly and honestly about the work that’s being performed. Perhaps the formality of many places makes a genuine compliment or complaint much more difficult to convey. Or maybe it’s simply the emotions it can stir up.

Whenever you say something nice or not so nice to someone, it is likely to be met with an emotional response. This can make you and the other person feel awkward, uncomfortable, or embarrassed in the workplace setting. And that alone can be reason enough to make you avoid saying anything at all.

But the more you exercise giving genuine feedback to others, the more comfortable you will become with it and this can benefit both you and your organization.

That’s because we all seek recognition and acknowledgement for what we are doing, whether we are willing to admit it or not. We want to know that what we do matters and that others are aware of it. Additionally, if we are doing something not so well, we want to know what this is and especially how to correct it. Don’t underestimate a person’s level of resilience because such feedback loops are vital to their continued growth.

When you deliver effective feedback to others, you are also seen as someone who is observant and concerned. Others see and feel this, which enables them to respond to it either by basking in the glow of recognition of a job well done or by taking corrective action to improve their performance.

If you find yourself avoiding giving face-to-face feedback to those you supervise, these six suggestions may provide a more comfortable approach.

  1. Deliver feedback (good & bad) all the time. Catch people doing things well and make a point to notice and compliment them right then and there. By the same token, when someone is doing something not particularly well, let them know it immediately. Don’t wait until an annual performance review to tell an employee they did something wrong nine months earlier.
  2. Make it specific and focused on behavior. Meaningful feedback needs to be about something specific in order for a change to result. This is also why it is so important to give it when you see it. And keep feedback about the behavior or the work. Remember to attack the problem not the person.
  3. Be direct and use a measured tone. Speak to him or her in a straight-forward manner so there can be no ambiguity. Keep your voice poised and calm. Give the listener an opportunity to ask questions or seek clarification. Maintain eye contact but don’t glare. Be patient and look for genuine understanding.
  4. Praise publicly and criticize privately. When you want to give someone a compliment on something done well, be sure and do this in a public forum whenever possible. Be sensitive to those who may be uncomfortable with this, however. And when you need to admonish someone, do this in a private meeting so you don’t humiliate or create resentment in the person.
  5. Offer support with constructive feedback. Don’t simply tell the individual what they did wrong and demand it gets fixed. Instead, offer a genuine desire to help through your support. This might be recommending a class or training, a mentor (including yourself), or perhaps a leadership coach. Sometimes it could just mean providing an open door for them in the future.
  6. Make clear your expectations. If you expect to see more of the same from the person you are complimenting, go ahead and say “keep up the good work.” By the same token, if you expect a change from someone you are criticizing, ensure that you make it clear that this is unacceptable and you expect to see what specific change and by when.

Providing meaningful feedback is not necessarily difficult, but it is a skill and like any other skill it needs practice to master. Start out small by offering compliments to one or two individuals for a couple of weeks. Then expand your feedback beyond them.

Make all your feedback constructive rather than destructive. Remember that the reason for feedback is for continual performance improvement. Focusing on this will ensure that others see the value of all your comments and respond accordingly.

The more regularly you can give feedback the more it will foster greater trust and strengthen overall employee engagement. And that’s important for everyone.