Beer in the Cafeteria

Do you need beer in your break room?

At a company I worked at years ago, my colleague wanted to bring a beer tap into the cafeteria. He thought this would boost employee engagement and make our company hip. While this sounded quite tasty, I knew this wouldn't work to improve our company culture.

I came across an article in from another HR professional that resonated with me on this topic and I wanted to share it with you. According to Melissa Daimler, “there are three elements to a culture: behaviors, systems, and practices, all guided by an overarching set of values.” She explains that a great culture exists when all three elements are aligned with each other, as well as with the organization’s values. When “gaps start to appear,” problems soon follow. With enough problems and a little time, great employees start to leave.

Behaviors, Daimler writes have to be modeled by senior leaders. They need to be defined and everyone must be held accountable to them, even those at the top.

Systems-How are you aligning those behaviors into your systems like hiring? How are you assessing those behaviors? At one company where I worked, we defined our values into behavioral statements and included them in the performance review so that we could more easily determine who was adhering to them.

Practices are all of the ways things get done from making decisions and running meetings to feedback and corporate events.  If you ask someone why we do something and they answer 'because this is how we've always done it' then you know its a practice that must be re-evaluated.  As companies grow and change, the practices need to do the same or they will stagnate. 

Having worked in Boulder for a big portion of my career, I heard many stories of cafeterias stocked with goodies, bean bag chairs, and even beer kegs on Fridays.  These are not the kind of things mentioned by Daimler in her article.  The point is that culture and employee retention can't be bought.  It has to be crafted and built over time.  

A strong, stable workplace culture can ultimately induce people to stay in a position, or at least with an organization. If you have made some positive strides but haven't yet reached the pinnacle yet, do not fear.  It takes focused effort, with small incremental steps.  It's tempting to try to implement a 'quick fix" but its important to remember that culture can’t be patched on—it has to be built from the ground up.

Need some tips to get you started?  Here are some things I've tried over the years that have worked well:

Ask! Many companies I've worked with have tried to increase employee engagement without really addressing core issues.  Ping pong tables are not going to fix the culture when you have senior leaders in the business who are bullies.  Senior leaders can initiate the process and make final decisions, but ask your front line staff what's working and what needs to be changed.

Have a plan- You can't expect to make improvement without knowing what areas of engagement you're specifically looking to improve.  Target lower areas that will be meaningful for your employees.  Tell your employees what you're working on and get their suggestions.

Get help- Improving your culture is not for the faint of heart, nor is it an easy task.  It needs laser sharp focus.  With everything else on your plate you need to ask yourself if its going to be one of your top 3 priorities.  If not, it can be beneficial to seek the input of a trained expert who has done the work before.  They can create the spark to ignite the cultural change needed.

Involve your leaders- It’s critical that each department leader have an annual engagement plan developed and implemented based on lower scores for their area, if you're ever going to get traction organizationally, support from all leaders across the company is key.

Culture takes time to define.  It takes work to execute, but the payoff is invaluable.   

15 Questions for More Powerful Relationships

With so many personalities in the workplace, have you ever found it difficult to work with everyone?  In every organization, regardless of where you work, you will naturally have some coworkers that are more challenging to work with.  Hopefully you are in a culture that has very few of these but learning how to boost your relationship is a skill worth perfecting. 

Think about 1 person in your company with whom you would like to improve your relationship. Read on to find some important questions to ponder to begin nurturing a more positive and effective relationship. 


1.     If you could change one thing about this relationship, what would you change?  What could you do right now to effect that change?

2.     What is working well about how you both work together?  What could be improved?

3.     What would need to happen for you to walk towards this relationship?  What would cause you to walk away?

4.     How might you be misunderstood by this person?  How might you be misunderstanding them?

5.     How have you contributed to the current health of this relationship?

6.     Do you value this person’s success as much as your own?  If not, why not?  What could you do to change that?

7.     What, if anything, would have to change for you to describe this relationship as collaborative?

8.     What do you expect and need of this person in this relationship?  What are their expectations and needs of you?  How could you confirm the expectations?

9.     What mistakes do you need to recover from?  What mistakes do you need to forgive this person for?

10.  How much time and energy are you willing to invest in developing this relationship?

11.  How do you talk about this person when they are not present?

12.  What can you learn from others who have a good relationship with this person?

13.  What baggage are you bringing that you need to let go of?  What baggage are they bringing that they need to let go of?

14.  How would you describe your decision-making style?  In what way is this similar to or different from this person’s preferred style?

15.  In what ways would this person describe you as challenging to work with?  What would make this person not want to be your supporter or advocate?

 Spend some time reflecting on each question.  Ponder it for a while.  Jot down some notes.  Notice if you are seeing any themes pop up.  Improving relationships requires you to see the other person differently.  Then act!  You can continue to think about it for weeks, but acting on -those thoughts is the only way it will improve. 

3 Steps Every Leader Needs to Follow

Leadership is complex. Ultimately our job as leaders is the process of accomplishing work through others. As an individual contributor, you are measured based on the work you accomplished. As a leader, you will be measured by what you accomplish as a team and through others. 3 steps in the fundamental work of leaders is creating a vision, building alignment around that vision, and championing execution of the vision.

Many people know that a vision sets the stage for an organization’s growth. What might be new is that a vision doesn’t only exist at the lofty level of presidents and CEOs. Leaders at every level are responsible for crafting a vision. Your company likely has a vision statement, however Middle managers and frontline managers need to create a vision for their group that supports the organization’s vision. These visions will look different from top-level visions, but are equally important to the success of the organization. Vision statements for your group expands assumptions about what can be done. It provides purpose for organizations, teams, and individuals (including the leader). It drives the development of specific, vision-supporting goals and It unifies people.

Exploration Drives Vision
Although a great vision often sounds simple and elegant, a good deal of effort and insight has usually gone into developing it. There is a discipline to exploring new ideas that involves thinking at a big-picture level. It also involves resisting the temptation to choose the “right” idea too quickly. Leaders need to be intentional about exploring new directions and suspend judgment in order to consider a variety of ideas. Exploration involves giving oneself the time to weigh options.

Boldness Drives Vision Creating a bold vision doesn’t necessarily mean doing something on a big scale. But it does mean that the leader has a willingness to go out on a limb to champion bold new directions. Great leaders stretch the boundaries of what seems possible and challenge people to rise to the occasion. Leaders don’t make a big impact without being a little adventurous. People look to leaders for a compelling vision that excites them. Every great accomplishment begins with a bold idea. Being adventurous & speaking out will help when creating a bold vision.

Testing Assumptions Drives Vision Creating a vision requires exploring ideas and being bold, but it’s also crucial that the vision be grounded. Leaders can test their assumptions through several means, including seeking others’ advice and doing more formal research. This is not about looking for support, but instead is about soliciting objective input and surfacing potential problems. Leaders need to look beyond their own thinking to test assumptions. It's important to recognize obstacles when developing a vision. Consider a variety of methods in checking your hypotheses.

2. ALIGNMENT is gaining buy-in from the organization and your team. This is getting buy-in for the vision from everyone who will have a role in making it a reality. It ensures that everyone is on the same page, both from a task and an emotional perspective. Alignment requires ongoing one-way and two-way communication. In fact, the failure of a vision, no matter when it happens, can often have more to do with a lack of alignment than with the strength of the vision or the efficiency of execution. Too often, leaders treat alignment as something to check off a to-do list. In reality, alignment is a dynamic, ongoing process that requires the leader to continually monitor and realign as conditions and needs change.

Clarity Drives Alignment Some leaders have trouble translating their great ideas into words. Others struggle to stay on topic or fail to relay the most important points. When people don’t understand your vision, how can you expect them to get on board? When people understand a message, they can more easily buy in.

Dialogue Drives Alignment One of the simplest ways to get others aligned around the vision is to engage them in a rich dialogue about the “who,” “what,” “why,” “where,” “when,” and “how” questions. Involve others in two-way communications to increase by-in and also gain invaluable information. True alignment requires openness to others' ideas and concerns.

Inspiration Drives Alignment How do leaders get people truly excited to start a new project or initiative? They inspire others by painting an exciting picture of the future, sharing their own passion, and showing confidence in the team’s ability to succeed. Leaders who are able to inspire others in this way are much more successful in gaining and maintaining buy-in. Real buy-in isn't just getting people to go through the motions. When you express your passion, others become more committed. People need to see how their efforts will contribute to success.

3. EXECUTION At the most basic level, execution is making the vision a reality. The leader must make sure that all conditions are in place so that everyone can do the work necessary to fulfill the vision. Often people think of execution as something that happens in the trenches, while the leader sits in an office thinking up the big ideas. But the truth is that successful execution of a vision can’t happen without the deep commitment and support of the leader. Execution propels the development of concrete strategies and makes the vision actionable. It gives people a sense of achievement wile fulfilling the promise of the vision.

Momentum Drives Execution Leaders often set the pace for the group, so when they tend to be too low key, people may not feel the sense of momentum that’s needed to realize the vision. By being driven and proactive—and also by acknowledging others who take initiative—leaders send the message that getting things done at a brisk pace is important. Leaders often set an example when it comes to momentum. People tend to perform to the level of momentum that’s expected. Without a sense of momentum, projects can stall out and fail.

Structure Drives Execution To execute on a vision effectively, leaders need to ensure that people have enough structure to follow. Without appropriate processes, policies, and expectations in place, teams operate inefficiently and are less likely to create high-quality outcomes. To create structure, leaders need to make well thought-out plans and analyze complex problems. To work productively, people need to know what is expected. Effective leaders respond to the structure needs of their teams. Structure helps to produce predictable, reliable outcomes.

Feedback Drives Execution In order to ensure that the vision is executed, leaders must provide both critical and positive feedback. When inefficiencies and complications are evident, leaders need to be willing to speak up. And, when people are performing well, it’s equally important to provide the appropriate praise and recognition to keep everyone engaged. Feedback from leaders helps people know how they're performing. Leaders need to be willing to address problems head-on. Recognizing contributions encourages ownership and engagement.

Trust Crisis in Business

There is no doubt a trust crisis in the world today.  One only has to scan the news networks on any given evening to hear that play out.  What may be less evident is the notion of a trust crisis in business.  Concerns about data security, information credibility, and transparency of information are on the rise.  According to an article in Forbes a few weeks ago 73% of respondents globally worry about information being used as a weapon.  Senior leaders and HR professionals need to address this gap in trust.  Best in class organizations are using these strategies to increase the trust in their businesses:

Communication-Typical organizational communications are sent out via email.  CEO’s need to change their approach and regularly use town hall meetings as a strategy to increase trust.  This should not be just a Q&A session, but rather initiating a genuine dialogue.  This helps both parties (CEO and employees) get to know one another and the issues each are managing though.  This use of small group meetings can lead to other senior leaders and front-line managers doing the same.

Strengthen Leadership Teams-Executive teams that trust each other model the way for other teams in the organization to work efficiently and effectively.  In my work I have found that executives are the least likely group to spend time developing their skills.  They are so busy working in the business that they do not take the needed time to develop themselves as a team.  By slowing down and spending time working on specific competencies, they can ultimately gain speed and momentum.   

Teach people how to be good teammates.  The team is only as strong as its ability to dialogue openly with each other.  You need to have vigorous debate and exchange of ideas to find the best answers and make the best decisions.  This can’t happen when trust on the team is absent.  Teams are not productive when worrying about the political ramifications of a statement, instead of the substance of the idea itself.  When team members are genuinely transparent and honest with each other it builds trust, which  then leads to unfiltered constructive debate of ideas.   

What does it look like to have TRUST on a team?

  • Being unguarded and genuine with one another

  • Apologizing and being open about weaknesses and mistakes

  • Giving one another the benefit of the doubt rather than jumping to conclusions

  • Asking one another for help and input regarding your areas of responsibility.

If your organization is struggling in this area, I’d love to be able to help you.  You will be amazed at the difference it can make when you focus on this capability.

Keys for Stress Management

Learn to charge your battery first so that you have the juice to jump-start others.
— Annette Matthies

Lately, I have found more and more individuals swimming in stress. Their schedules are jammed packed with ever-increasing deadlines and responsibilities.  Some are not taking time for lunch to nourish their body and decompress.  Many even bring work home in the evenings and on weekends.

I know from firsthand experience all of these signs because I was right there with you.  I can even remember waiting to go to the bathroom until I wrote just one more email.  Over time it became a habit.  I was always “on” and couldn’t turn it off even when on vacation.

Over time this stress can have a significant effect on the 4 bodies:   mental, emotional, physical and spiritual. Stress prolonged can even turn into disease. I have many examples of this in my own life. I allowed this to happen over time due to chasing a career, my desire to help others and to be liked.

I had to realize that I held the key to my freedom. 

  1. Find stillness in your day to just be. Often at work, my lunchtime slot was scheduled over because it was an easy way to find an hour with a group of executives. Their thinking was that if they brought lunch in for us, we didn’t need any recoup time. Sometimes despite our best efforts, our calendars are not our own. Strategies I used to help this, was to block an hour on my calendar every single day for mindfulness and to breathe. It helped me gain perspective and to make better decisions for the organization. On a rare occasion when this time was needed, I would escape to my car for 15 minutes and play a YouTube meditation or just sit in the stillness. Oprah and Deepak Chopra have a wonderful series that can help you begin to meditate if you do not already do it regularly. Google it. That’s how I got my start. In an extreme emergency, go to the bathroom and stay there for 5-6 minutes just breathing to regain your footing.

  2. Get enough ZZZZs. I can remember periods of time where falling into bed at 11 or 11:30 exhausted was a way of being. I would get up at 5:30 and start all over again. I wasn’t getting nearly enough sleep. I’ve learned how healing sleep can be. My lights are always off by 10 now and that means that around 9 I start winding down, by getting ready for bed, reading, doing an evening meditation, listening to soft music or anything else to tell my body and mind it’s time to start shutting off for the night. Find a relaxing ritual that works for you.

  3. Make yourself a priority. As a woman and a mother, I think many of us have been programmed (or maybe it’s in our DNA) to care and nurture others but somehow many of us have forgotten to nurture ourselves as well. We think putting ourselves first is somehow selfish. We need to take time for ourselves by charging our own batteries. When our battery is full, we have more to give to others. Taking 30 minutes a day to do something that fills your soul can do wonders. Where are your passions? What fills you up? What gets those creative juices going? What re-energizes you? For me it’s making quilts, reading certain kinds of books or being in nature. For you it might be exercising, gardening or taking a bath and putting a note on the door an letting the family know that this is your time. Figure out what it is for you and calendar it in the way you would soccer practice or any other to do on your list. You’ll be glad you did.

  4. Sooth the inner critic. Be kind to yourself and this includes your thoughts. “You are stupid” or “you can’t do anything right” or a lot worse 😊 are things I used to say to myself. These are things I would never to say to anyone else and yet I would say them in my own head as looping tapes. This did not support my own health and mental well-being. I had to shift my thinking. I had to reprogram the autopilot that kept them running in my head. It started with my own self-awareness. I had to become aware that these tapes were running before I could change them. I then replaced them with kinder, gentler words like “I know I can figure this out over time. I am resilient. I’ve been in tougher situations and have come out on top. Breathe. You’ll get through this.”

Remember you always have a choice. You hold the key to making the change.  There is always an energy at work supporting you for your highest potential.    

Buddy to Boss

Leadership is the art of giving people a platform for spreading ideas that work.
— Seth Godin

Does your organization struggle to promote new leaders effectively into their new role?  Recently I was leading a training of a new group of leaders moving from “buddy to boss.”  We talked about the need to shift from exclusively ‘doing’ to achieving results through directing, delegating, motivating and empowering others.  This is often where new leaders fall down in their effectiveness.  Here are some areas that are critical to address for successful leadership and strong career advancement:

  • Increase self-awareness and awareness of others.  This is foundation for emotional intelligence.

  • Develop the ability to engage, coach and develop others.  If done well, it eliminates the need for a formal performance evaluation--the most hated of all HR processes.

  • Learn how to create a spark in their creativity and innovation.  There is a myth that some people are not creative.  They key here is to create an environment where learning can flourish.   

  • Engage in difficult conversations; the ability to provide feedback and hold others accountable for results.  This skill is quite challenging for some.  Have a method or formula to do this is essential for developing this competency.

  • Manage through change and maintain resiliency.    If your business is not changing, then it is not growing and will become stagnate and obsolete. 


Despite how critical this role is to the overall effectiveness of teams and organizations, over 80% of those who try to transition to their first leadership role fail to make the shift successfully.  Often new leaders receive training a long time after their promotion leading them and their teams to stumble.  The best employers set their high potentials up for success, by training them well in advance of their promotion, so they can hit the ground running without missing a beat.  Strong leaders can drive your business forward when they are highly engaged, proactive and armed with tools to lead. 

Is your organization healthy?

The vast majority of organizations today have more than enough intelligence, expertise and knowledge to be successful. What they lack is organizational health.
— Patrick Lencioni

At a speaking engagement recently, I asked my audience about their culture.  I asked them to raise their hand for 1 of 3 choices to state where their company resided along a conflict continuum:   

  • Culture of Nice- On the left of the continuum there is no conflict and people hold back their real opinions for fear of political ramifications, thus creating artificial harmony.  

  • Culture of Nasty- On the right of the continuum there is mean spirited conflict that is personal and there is no accountability for the bullies.

  • Healthy Culture – In the middle of the continuum is an organization that engages in productive ideological conflict where nobody holds back their opinions, but it's not personal.  If something is worth disagreeing about, they speak up.

Where would you place your organization along the continuum?  There were only a couple of hands that selected a healthy culture and the vast majority were in a culture of nice.  

Most executives are in their comfort zone working on business fundamentals like “strategy, marketing, finance and technology” yet all these areas will suffer if an organization is unhealthy. Healthy businesses operate with “minimal politics and confusion,” and with “high degrees of morale and productivity, and very low turnover,” says Patrick Lencioni, author of The Advantage.  

The benefits of organizational health are hard to quantify, so leaders often don’t even try to achieve it. They focus their time and energy on business staples, even if they recognize that being healthier could do a lot for their organization. Even those who recognize the damaging effects of infighting, confusion, and low morale – problems that healthy organizations can avoid – would rather focus on business staples than deal with emotions or uncomfortable interactions.

Solid strategy and industry expertise can’t counterbalance the hazards of an unhealthy corporate culture. Firms with an unhealthy culture are less able to handle problems, recover from mistakes or respond to opportunities. High-functioning, healthy companies keep improving over time because they can progress without having to overcome their own systemic flaws. Healthy firms capitalize on their staffers’ intelligence and expertise, while unhealthy organizations fail despite having smart, capable, knowledgeable people.  According to The Advantage, healthy organizations practice four disciplines:

Build a Cohesive Leadership Team which relies on trust, productive conflict, commitment, accountability and results.  For a simple team building exercise, ask each team member to speak briefly about his or her childhood and family life.  Revealing a little about themselves helps people open up in a discussion.  Individuals need this common ground to connect and to relate.  Sometimes personal histories shed light on an ongoing sticking point that helps other members of the team understand why they behave the way they do.

Create Clarity.  Define your organization’s core purpose and ensure every employee understands it and finds it inspirational.  Successful organizations have principles that guide their actions.  These are not buzzwords, but rather a motivating reason for existing.

Over Communicate Clarity.  Clarifying your company’s reason for existence (values, strategic anchor’s and goals) is not enough.  You must communicate these core messages repeatedly.  An email and a company announcement are not enough.  They must be reinforced in order for employees to believe you are earnest, sincere and committed to them.  

Reinforce Clarity.  Embed the values, strategies, and objectives into all aspects of your organization.  Incorporate and bolster these tenets in your processes starting with hiring and orientation.  

Ripple Effect of Employee Engagement

“Teamwork begins by building trust. And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability.” Patrick Lencioni

I recently had the opportunity to participate in Wiley’s annual partner conference where I was able to see hundreds of best practices for the 5 Behaviors of a Cohesive Team in action.  I heard lots of success stories and was also able to share some of my own.  This solution has the power to be a real game changer for organizations who need stronger more unified teams.  I have seen the power of teams when they are in sync with each other. When a group of people work together cohesively, towards a common goal, creating a positive working atmosphere, and supporting each other to combine individual strengths to enhance team performance, greater results can be expected; Businesses can scale and individuals have learning and development opportunities.

Here is the story of one organization, King County, who needed some help.  They made an investment, took the time to develop as a team and received huge dividends in return.  Take a look at the video and download the whitepaper.

Leading Remote Teams

With the increase in globalization and more telecommuters than ever before, leading remote teams is a skill that is increasing in necessity.   

Societal trends with Millennial’s and Gen Z are pushing more businesses towards adopting more flexible working policies allowing at least partial telecommuting.  Gen Z, in particular, doesn’t know a society without an internet.  They are very comfortable with newer technology and are seeking remote and/or flexible working arrangements.   

Leading them the same way you lead an in-person team will not retain and engage them in the long run.  A recent study with E&Y discovered that less than 50% of global professionals trust their current boss, team and organization.  Additionally, a lack of learning and progression opportunities leads to high turnover rates. 

Transitioning from an old school style of leadership will be essential in order to retain and build this new team.  Leaders of virtual teams need to be intentional in how they engage their widely dispersed teams.  They need to realize the incremental benefits of nurturing and re-engaging existing teams.   

Here are a few tips to get you started:

The highest-performing virtual teams make an effort to have face-to-face meetings with new team members within the first 90 days.

Create a team operational rhythm.  Schedule meetings for the same day, time and share agendas in advance.  Remember your 1 to 1’s and ensure that you don’t cancel them.  Cancelling leads to a lack of trust and a feeling of non-importance with your team.  Consider quick 5-minute check-ins calls daily.  A team of 6 only takes 30 minutes. 

Find opportunities for the team to engage.  Surveys have found that a lack of social interaction leads to lower productivity and a lack of engagement.  Keep an online open communication, such as a chat room, open all the time for team members to just hang out.  Declare, “break times,” ”lunch,” ”game time,” “check-in times,” etc.  It’s a modern-day version of a water cooler.

Run effective virtual team meetings.  No monologues.  Ask a lot of questions and opinions.  Validate that participants have been heard.  Call everyone by name.  Start and end on time.  Be concise.  Long, detailed information should be sent in advance.

Communicate, communicate, communicate.  In an office setting, the hallway chatter reinforces organizational and team messages.  Remote employees need to hear those same important messages repeatedly.  Share how and when you like to be contacted for the ordinary and the urgent.    

Set expectations and hold them accountable.  Share what you expect the output to look and feel like.  Determine any processes or tasks needed.  Establish milestones to track progress and create a “deliverables dashboard” visible to all on whatever collaborative hub you are using.  Check in, without micromanaging, to lend support or provide opportunities for clarification. 
Establish team norms.  Create a charter to establish behavior when participating in a virtual meeting, such as limiting background noise and side conversations, listening attentively, not dominating the conversation, talking clearly and at a reasonable pace and no side work being done during the meeting.  Also establish which communication modes to use in which circumstances, for example when to reply via email vs. picking up the phone or webcam.

Personalize the team.  You don’t have to become best friends, but you should get to know everyone professionally.  What motivates them?  What stresses them?  (Consider DiSC as one tool.) What’s going on in their personal life at the moment.  Take time during meetings to ensure some socialization and fun as well.

Critical Evaluation

“It isn’t that they cannot find the solution. It is that they cannot see the problem.” – G.K Chesterton

I recently had an opportunity to help a fantastic organization search for a new senior leader.  I am in the business of developing leaders, however, the recruiting process made me stop and think about the skills that leaders need when joining an organization.    

 There were many skills that jumped out at me, but one in particular, critical evaluation, made me pause a bit more than normal.  How can you tell from a resume or in an interview if someone has the propensity for critical evaluation?


The 2016 Future of Jobs Report, published by the World Economic Forum, has found that critical thinking will be one of the most essential sets of skills for anyone in the job market as early as next year. However, the report also found that these skills are some of the hardest to recruit for, most likely because they have been traditionally difficult to assess and measure.  In one study 62% of the responders said their organization doesn’t do anything to ensure it is hiring applicants with strong critical thinking skills. 

 The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) has a competency model and says that there are 6 critical behaviors associated with critical evaluation.

  1. Decision Making-makes sound decisions based on evaluating the information that’s available

  2. Critical Thinking- applies critical thinking to information received from organizational stakeholders and evaluates what can be used for organizational success

  3. Measurement and Assessment-analyzes data with a keen sense of what’s useful

  4. Inquisitiveness -Identifies leading indicators of outcomes

  5. Knowledge Management-identifies leading indicators of outcomes

  6. Research Methodology-delineates a clear set of best practices based on experience, evidence from industry literature, published peer-reviewed research, publicly available web based source of information and other sources.

Knowing which behaviors are associated with critical evaluation can support you in developing behavioral based interview questions to determine how an applicant came to their decision.  You can listen for the questions they asked of their stakeholders.  You can learn if and how they measured their success and what research they did before implementing their decisions.

 Those who critically evaluate decisions look beyond the status quo and find solutions that don’t just solve a problem, but that may even take you in a new direction.  This is how innovation occurs in organizations.  They have new perspectives and come up with creative problem-solving solutions.  Their ability to analyze and interpret information also allows them to better predict future outcomes. 

Change is not an event

Change is a process, not an event. John Kotter

It has been said that more than 75% of organizational change efforts fail.  That begs the question of what causes change efforts to fail?

Here are a few of the reasons:

  • The need for change is unclear to the masses.  The necessity of it has not been clearly articulated or understood at the individual level.   

  • Complacency overcomes urgency.  Maintaining the status quo feels comfortable.

  • Resistance is unexpected.  Leaders often think that just because they have bought into the change, others will come along as well.

  • Lack of commitment throughout the organization.  Other priorities and daily work take priority over the change initiative.  Since there are only so many hours in the day, the initiatives that are in place and have existing momentum take precedence.

Successful change efforts are not easy.  They require a clear plan and exceptional change leadership skills.  Change leaders have several common attributes that make them effective.

You must have and be able to articulate a strong vision.  This will simplify a lot of decisions, motivate employees to take action and also will help coordinate the actions of people in efficient ways.

As a leader you must already operate effectively in the current culture.  Teams will not follow ineffective leaders who do not model desired behaviors.

Effective communication skills cannot be over stated.  It has been studied and reported that many leaders under communicate in times of change by a factor of 10.  Change leaders need to communication the vision through simple, heartfelt messages via multiple channels so that people begin to buy into the change.  People change less because of data and facts and more if the change real. 

Urgency helps motivate personnel to overcome complacency, fear, anger, or pessimism, which result in resistance.

Communicating is a process and different levels of communication are needed for different goals.  You can think about it in this order:  Awareness, Understanding, Commitment, Action.

  • They first must become aware that something needs to be done

  • They have to understand it

  • Be committed to it and then act


It may not be necessary for everyone to leap to action for a change to be successful.  Some people may only need to be aware of what is going on, others may need to understand it, while others will need to be committed and then act.  It is up to the first level supervisor and leadership to determine where each team member is on the continuum of awareness, understanding commitment and action

 Another key skill is to empower your team by removing obstacles to the vision.  Processes, systems and structures have been created to support the status quo.  Ensure these have changed to support the newly desired change.  This includes ensuring reward programs, performance goals and skills are aligned for the future.

Be sure to Create short-term wins that provide momentum and then maintain momentum so that wave after wave of change is possible.  Make your change stick by nurturing a new culture. Anchoring the new changes in the culture. 

A change leader is someone who knows how to initiate, lead and manage change.  These attributes are not necessarily inherent in every leader, but they can be learned and developed with sufficient training and coaching. 

“A leader takes people where they do not want to go.  A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.”  Rosalynn Carter

Fail Fast, Fail Forward

Before starting my own business, I worked in Human Resources for several decades.  Throughout my career, I had many opportunities to interview candidates.  One of my standard questions was to have the interviewee tell me about a time they failed and how they handled it. 
I had many eyebrows raised as I shared this practice with my colleagues.  They couldn’t understand why I would ask such a question.  Candidates often seemed a bit uncomfortable too. Wasn’t this a time to talk about all you’ve accomplished?

We all have had failures in our past.  None of us are perfect, however, my rationale was not to hear as much about the failure, as it was to find out what they learned as a result.  As leaders we must be learners. 
A leader’s values are essential to how they lead.  It can be tough to genuinely find out what a candidate regards during an interview.  What we do when we are not successful tells us about character, values and true leadership style.  You can also get a sense to the level of humility and authenticity of a leader, when they speak to a situation that didn’t go as they first planned.  It also helps to understand how they communicate when under duress.
What I love about this is it moves away from the theoretical world of what would you do, to actually what was done in a given situation.  We know from research, that past behavior is the best predictor of future performance.
Have you ever had an epic fail that turned into a glorious achievement?  A lot of innovation and creativity can come as a result.  Read below to find out how some Fortune 500 companies use failure to help move their companies forward.

Healthy Relationships Don't Just Happen

It’s not exactly a profound idea that meaningful, happy, healthy relationships are key to a happy life.  We’re all aware of this on some level.  However, as people with busy lives, we often unintentionally prioritize life’s everyday demands over these relationships. 

So what impact does this have on our health and happiness?  In his Ted Talk, Dr. Robert Waldinger suggests some insights to answer this from the longest-running study on adult development created by researchers at Harvard University.  One key takeaway is:

“Good relationships keep us happier and healthier…period.”

Interestingly, the relationships can come in any form (familial, romantic, platonic, community-based, etc.) as long as they are positive and impactful. 

We know workplace relationships can have a profound impact (joyful or distressful) on our overall satisfaction and performance.  This study shows that people who fared the best were those who leaned in to relationships.  “What might leaning into relationships even look like?  Well, the possibilities are practically endless,” says Waldinger.

Employees who know how to sustain good relationships are happier and healthier, which ultimately adds to the value they give back to their company.  This synergistic relationship promotes positive cultural shifts and overall well-being in the workplace.

Dr. Waldinger’s final comment resonated with me, “The good life is built with good relationships.”  Providing your employees with the right tools for communication, feedback and how to overcome conflict will support their ability to build good relationships and support them into new approaches toward creating meaningful bonds with others.

Here is the Ted Talk from Dr. Robert Waldinger that was referenced above.  He shares information on the Harvard Study of Adult Development which began over 75 years ago and continues to this day.  Of the 724 original participants, about 60 are still alive, most of them in their 90s.
Listen Here

Here Comes Gen Z

 The ladder of success is best climbed by stepping on the rungs of opportunity.

~ Ayn Rand

Move over Gen Y.  Gen Z is here! 
So much has been written about Gen Y, often referred to as the Millennials, that many have forgotten about the next group of young professionals coming up in the ranks.  There is no consensus on when Gen Z starts and ends, but typically it’s between the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s.  This makes the oldest in this group around 23 years old.

Who are they?
Several distinctions differentiate this newest generations from their predecessors.  Gen Z is the first generation to grow up in an internet-centric society and are highly technologically savvy.  Contrasting that, they don’t have highly developed social skills.  Some of their soft skills, such as professional written communication, have not been cultivated with their truncated messaging practices.
With Gen X and Y, it was a forgone conclusion that they would attend some college, following high school, if they had the resources to do so.  However, in one study, 47% of Gen Z said, they would consider joining the workforce right out of high school and 60% said they would be open to employers offering education in their field in lieu of a college degree.  Their preference is to learn by doing and they tend to be more career focused than the last 2 generations before them.

The competition for Gen Z talent is starting
I was surprised to read recently that Gen Z workers are expected to comprise 36% of the workforce in 2020.  That’s less than a year away!  It seems like just yesterday we were talking about Millennials joining the workforce.  This is a meaningful group for which many businesses have failed to prepare. 
With unemployment hovering around 4%, the demand for talent is still a big issue for many organizations who will need to adjust their people strategies to attract and retain this group of digital natives. 
What Gen Z wants
Contrasting with past generations such as the Silent Generation or Baby Boomers, it’s not JUST about a paycheck, but about work that is fulfilling.  They want to make an impact on your business and mission.  They want opportunities focused on providing them with career growth and if you can’t or won’t provide it, they will find a company that will. 

They’ve grown up in a post-911 world filled with news of terrorism, war and economic distress.  Having stability in the workplace is also a priority.

They expect a deliberate use of software and technology in the workplace.   They want information at their fingertips.  They’ve never known a world without a smart phone.
With all of this ‘technology’ in their background, you might be surprised to learn that most of Gen Z prefers in-person meetings.  One survey said over 90% prefer a human element to their teams.

Mentoring is coming back as a much-valued practice, as well as flexibility with work hours and wellness-oriented benefits.
Alphabet Soup
Every generation leaves their mark on society and I am excited to see the advances and positive changes this new group of leaders will bring to the workplace.  Despite the classifications and groupings, we all have so much more in common as human beings in society than any generational delineation may indicate. 

By the way, in case you’re wondering, the next group of leaders following Gen Z will be called Alphas!  If their name is any indicator of what we can anticipate, I have 2 words for you:  Get ready!

Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.

-Arthur Ashe

A Two Legged Stool Doesn't Work

“I used to believe that culture was ‘soft,’ and had little bearing on our bottom line. What I believe today is that our culture has everything to do with our bottom line, now and into the future.” – Vern Dosch, Author, Wired Differently

A Two-Legged Stool Doesn't Work

Leadership, culture and strategy are the trio that directs the organization toward excellence. It’s essential that they be in sync with one another.  Many leaders focus on strategy at the expense of leadership and culture.  A 3-legged stool will topple if only 2 legs are strong. 

Organizational culture is defined in many ways.  My definition is a system of shared assumptions, values, belief and behaviors that governs and shapes how employees get work done in an organization.  It’s the way it feels as you walk into different businesses.  At its worst, culture can be a drag on productivity.  At its best it is an emotional energizer.

So what’s the cost when a leader isn’t upholding the organization’s values?  It can certainly impact their ability to drive results.  Poor leadership can reinforce the wrong values, behaviors and attitudes. 

They can create toxic cultures and discord between how a company is viewed and how it actually operates.  It can create confusion with staff who sees something written on paper and something else being demonstrated.  Many studies have been done that show leadership can have a measurable impact on results.  Leadership and culture can give a competitive advantage to your business.

A leader needs to…
Fit within the culture and model desired behaviors.  A leader sets the example for the organization and shapes the culture with their words and actions daily. 

Be self-aware and intentional-As a leader you need to understand who you are and have a clear perception of your personality, including strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, beliefs, motivation, and emotions.  Your behaviors have an impact, regardless of your intention.

Connect with employees on an emotional level.  Put the cell phone down and give your team your undivided attention.  Reach out to others, engage them in discussion, and actively provide feedback.  If you lean more towards introversion, this is a skill you will need to develop.

Instead of trying to change the culture itself, which can be a job of herculean effort, try changing the behaviors within the culture. Behaviors are tangible and measurable.  Culture change does tend to follow behavior change.  What are the behaviors you want in the new culture?  Instill those in your leaders and measure them.

Focus on a select group or the opinion leaders in a certain area.  Pick individuals who are likely to model the behaviors and are likely to spread them.  Focus on specific behaviors that if put into action would have a great impact. 

Find a few things that positively effect business performance.  Maybe that’s how individuals speak with customers or how they are solving a client issue the first time.  Translate the new behaviors into critical steps that an employee can take.  Check in that they feel good about these new behaviors so you are tapping into their emotional commitment.

Companies can gain a competitive advantage when they focus on trying to change a few specific behaviors, tap into employees’ powerful emotions and enlist influential opinion leaders.

When you’re committed to something, you accept no excuses; only results.”   - Kenneth Blanchard

Decide. Commit. Succeed.

Are your team members committed to the goals of the organization?  Most teams fail not because of a lack of desire, but a lack of commitment to their goals.  A team that fails to commit...
• Creates ambiguity among team members about direction and priorities
• Watches windows of opportunity close due to excessive analysis and unnecessary delay
• Breeds lack of confidence and fear of failure
• Revisits discussions and decisions again and again
• Encourages second-guessing among team members
How do you know if you have a lack of commitment on your team?  Decision are rushed.  There are concerns about timing and priorities being expressed.  There is a lack of confusion about how a decision was made and how or if to proceed.

Teams that commit to decisions and standards do so because they know how to embrace two separate but related concepts: buy-in and clarity.

Buy-in is the achievement of honest emotional support for a decision. Too often, consensus is not real. False consensus arises when, instead of discussing the conflict, team members just nod their agreement and move on. When team members are unwilling to weigh in and share their opinions, there is a high likelihood that they’re not going to commit to whatever decision is made.  Commitment is about a group of individuals buying in to a decision precisely when they don’t naturally agree.
In other words, it’s the ability to defy a lack of consensus. When people know that their colleagues have no reservations about disagreeing with one another and that every available opinion and perspective has been unapologetically aired, they will have the confidence to embrace a decision. This is not nasty name calling or throwing of insults.  This is spirited ideological debate regarding direction and ideas.  Team trust is essential for this process.
Good leaders drive commitment among the team by first extracting every possible idea, opinion, and perspective. Then, comfortable that nothing has been left off the table, they have the courage and wisdom to step up and make a decision, one that is sure to run counter to at least one of the team members, and usually more.
The fact is, however, that most people don’t really need to have their ideas adopted (a.k.a. “get their way”) in order to buy in to a decision. They just want to have their ideas heard, understood, considered, and explained within the context of the ultimate decision.  Setting agendas ahead of time to allow people time to think and process will help to ensure you hear from each person around the table.  Also allowing some processing time after the meeting before a final decision is made can be fruitful.
Clarity requires that teams avoid assumptions and ambiguity and that they end discussions with a clear understanding about their final decisions.
When it comes to commitment, the most critical ground rules that team members must agree to relate to timeliness at meetings, responsiveness in communication, and general interpersonal behavior.
They must also commit to other principles such as purpose, values, mission, strategy, and goals. At any given time, all the members of a team must also know what the team’s top priority is and how each of them contributes to moving it forward.
Increasing the commitment of individuals can have a significant impact on goal achievement in your business this year.  If you need help in this area, please drop me a line.

Wrap Up the Year

It’s that time of year again when we’re wrapping up 2018…putting a nice big bow on all of our accomplishments and thinking about what we need to accomplish next year.  It’s a time to reflect on what went well in the past 12 months and prepare for the new year by pulling together a plan to support your personal and professional goals.

While many people focus on getting organized and managing files (electronic and paper - yes I do this also and value its importance!) I wanted to spend time this blog on discussing the value of managing yourself and others as I’ve found these can really be big time sinks for me.   

Setting Boundaries
Boundary setting lessens stress and increases a sense of personal power, a key emotional intelligence competency.  It allows you to feel as if you have control over your day, even with interruptions and unplanned tasks arising.

Overall, maintaining boundaries will increase efficiency, maintain focus on priorities, and greatly contribute to a positive work environment.  This in turn helps keep employees happy and reduces turnover.

Avoiding needy coworkers
People can fill up your day if you let them. Let gabby coworkers know you are interested in hearing about their personal stories, but establish an appropriate time for storytelling.  Other ideas to minimize time with coworkers who want to fill your day include:

  • Coaching individuals through their own problem solving vs. providing the answer.  This teaches them self-sufficiency.

  • Encourage them to bring suggested solutions along with problems.

  • Deciding if you will or won’t help.  Make sure you are actually making a choice.

Saying No
Are you a people pleaser like me?  I often have a hard time telling others no.  This is a skill I’ve worked on for a lifetime and am getting better at it.  Keep in mind,you are not responsible for pleasing everyone.

  • Express your priorities.

  • Let go of control and let others do their work.

  • Realize you do not need the approval of others.

  • Establish the expectations of the task before saying yes or no.

But what about saying “no” to the boss?
It is difficult to tell your boss no, but there are times when it is necessary—when you cannot possibly accomplish what they ask of you.  The best approach is to view “saying no” as a negotiation process.  You need to present your manager with the projects you are currently working on and what your focus is.  Ask for their input on priority, delegating, or delaying current tasks to take on the new assignment.  The key is to maintain open, direct, and honest communication.

  • Remind them of the status of current assignments and review how the new request will affect them.

  • Estimate a time frame for the task, if you accept it.

  • Ask the boss to prioritize the new and existing projects.

  • Keep a positive attitude.

Spend some time reflecting on possible scenarios that will occur this year with coworkers and your boss.  Envision how you will respond and what you will say.  Spending a few minutes preparing now could save you hours down the road.

Long-Distance Leadership

Businesses everywhere are becoming larger and more global.  This inherently increases the number of employees working remotely and the urgency to know how to lead them. 

Common Remote Challenges
When I speak with leaders across the U.S., I often hear about their challenges of leading remote employees: 

  • What are “they” doing?

  • How are “they” doing?

  • Not enough communication

  • Unclear expectations

  • What and how work is being done

  • Less opportunity to “check in”

  • I need to be connected 24/7/365

  • A lack of trust

Do any of these ring true for you?  If so, you’re not alone.  As leaders we have the responsibility to overcome these challenges.  We have to take responsibility to fix it. 

We Need To Be Intentional
When employees are working remotely we can still have great interaction and communication.  We just have to work harder at it and do it differently than we did before. 

When we work together in the same building—or down the same hallway, the communication happens serendipitously.  We walk by and we say something.  The next thing you know a problem is being asked about, or a problem is being solved.  Trust is getting built with these small interactions over time.  Relationships are improved and productivity is grown. The same can happen with remote teams.  We just do it with more intentionality.

5 Skills To Sharpen
Here are some traits of Long-Distance Leaders that I found in the book the Long-Distance Leader.

Communication-  Our ability and need to communicate grows as our teams become remote.  I’ve never worked in an organization (even without remote teams) that ever said we communicate too much.  All organizations need more communication.  When you add the remote piece in, it gets even more important. And necessary.  We can’t just assume it’s happening.  We need to work on it.

Relationship building skills—People want to follow people that they know, like, and trust.  If we don’t have a relationship with the people who lead us, we will be less engaged and less satisfied. It’s important for leaders to have strong relationships with their teams.  At a distance it’s even more important.  There are specific things we need to think about doing and specific times we need to think about doing it.  We can’t take it for granted.

Higher EQ- All of the things you think that might be called ‘soft skills’ take on a greater meaning because we have fewer interactions when our employees work remotely.  Each of those interactions take on a greater importance and role.  A lot of it is being mediated by technology.  We need to work on our Emotional Intelligence skills because they play a bigger role. 

Technology skills - If I’m leading at a distance there are some technology skills I better have.  No one wants to be on a phone or a laptop when a meeting is supposed to begin and not be connected to the group.  Or think about the time that is wasted when the leader is fumbling during a meeting to open a document or find something and the team is just waiting. 

Greater intentionality –This is probably the most important on the list.  Leaders must be more intentional.  We allow more room for error when we see people in the hallway or see them 4-5 times during the day.  When we see people casually we are building trust.  It’s easier to engage our team and easier to know if they’re not engaged when we see them, are around them, or we walk in from the parking lot with them. 

So when our folks are remote, either part of the time or all of the time, we’ve got to be more intentional.  We need to be thinking about what we need to do, planning it out, making the other skills on this list a part of our day.  We can’t walk through the day the way we used to do and try to get the same results.  Even if we’re an excellent leader.  We’ve got to do some things differently.

There are probably more traits that could be on the list, but if you do these 5 well, you will be in better shape than most.  When we do these better, we will lead at a distance better.

Nothing Soft About Cold, Hard Cash

To win in the marketplace you must first win in the workplace.
— Doug Conant, CEO of Campbell's Soup

For companies looking for ways to boost their financial health, studies suggest that focusing on employee happiness, often referred to as employee engagement, is essential. Although the idea of employee “happiness” may be seen in the corporate world as fluffy or soft, you cannot argue the connection studies have found between employee engagement and a company’s profit margin.  Here are 8 tips to get you started:

  1. Paint a vision of the future that excites employees and connects to what’s important to them.

  2. Tell employees how they are making a difference and adding value for your customers, community, culture, company and team.

  3. Each person is motivated differently. Take the time to understand what inspires them and how they are driven.   

  4. Help employees create goals towards their career development plans. Then meet with them regularly to discuss their progress and help eliminate any hurdles they are experiencing.

  5. Appreciate and recognize employees in big and small ways throughout the year that aligns to what’s important to them.

  6. Practice flexibility in your approach and communication style to best meet the needs of their employee.

  7. Provide opportunities for employees to learn and challenge themselves in a way that is exciting to them (ex. participate in a cross functional team, pioneer a new project, lead a meeting, attend specialized training, be a mentor/coach)

  8. Engage in activities that focus on building team trust and unity such as communicating candidly about problems. Be flexible in your communication style to meet the needs of the employee.

Employee engagement is not something that companies can afford to ignore, since so many studies back up the idea that engaged employees result in profits. Companies today need to learn the drivers of employee engagement and happiness in order to enjoy increased profit margins. There is nothing soft about cold, hard cash. 

Employees which believe that management is concerned about them as a whole person - not just an employee - are more productive, more satisfied, more fulfilled. Satisfied employees mean satisfied customers, which leads to profitability
— Anne M Mulcahy, American Business Woman

Spooky Leadership

If human beings had genuine courage, they’d wear their costumes every day of the year, not just on Halloween.
— Doug Coupland

Halloween is a day when you can bring your alter ego out and no one blinks an eye.  It’s a day when you can authentically become anything you desire.    When I was in the corporate world, I worked for a company that celebrated Halloween in a way that was second to none. 
Here’s how it worked and some of the lessons I learned along the way:

Teamwork soared
The employees would plan their ideas for MONTHS.  Teams would select themes and decorate their departments.  The project was held as the biggest secret until the day of the big reveal.  It brought teams together in a way that no ‘team building’ activity ever could. 

Creativity abounded
The buzzing energy could be felt.  There was an electric charge in the air for weeks before and after.  Engagement climbed, and employees felt empowered.

Leaders not exempted from the fun
This was not something ‘just for staff.’  Senior leaders dressed up too and went to all departments and locations creating a sense of community.  Employees felt a connection in a way that didn’t happen during the normal workweek. 

Imagine if every day were Halloween?
Halloween shouldn’t be the only day of the year to have fun at work.  As a leader, don't have a reputation of spooky leadership.  Create an environment where folks are laughing, smiling and feel a sense of comradery.  Ask your team what needs to happen to make it more fun on a regular basis. 
Know that when fun is happening, creative juices are also flowing, and this translates back into the form of innovation into your business.  High employee engagement means higher member loyalty and profits.

Every day is Halloween isn’t it? For some of us.
— Tim Burton