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Leadership thoughts from PeopleFirst HR

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Committment to leadership development, starts at the top!

In my experience one of the biggest differentiators of companies that excel in succession planning and senior leadership development is the commitment and ownership of the CEO or top executive.

However, it isn’t easy.  There are no quick or magic solutions. All companies struggle with this challenge, but some handle it better than others.  Why, well mostly because they pay attention to it.  I’ve worked with a number of senior executives – and have experienced the differences between those that really “get it” and those that don’t. A lot of them only pay it lip service, and have no results to show for it.

So…. what should you do if you “get it”?

Focus on results and don’t let the process be the tail wagging the dog.
I’ve seen way too many organizations get caught up in the process and lose sight of the results. They have a wonderful annual planning meeting with great ideas and tools to implement, but once the meeting is over, nothing really happens until the next year. VPs and senior managers soon catch on that it’s nothing but an exercise, and focus on “looking good instead of being good”.  This doesn’t mean that annual planning and business reviews are not important.  Events, like annual check-ups, force things to happen that otherwise get pushed aside because they are not urgent.  Treat succession planning and leadership development like just client satisfaction or revenue and insist that your HR team provide you with world-class processes and tools.

Make sure your HR VP knows how to do this.
Your HR partner not only needs to know all of the best practices and processes or how to get them, but they must have the ability to influence and be trusted by the executive team, as well as be your own trusted advisor on talent. It’s a tough balance – they may be coaching a struggling VP one day, and recommending to you the same VP be replaced the next day. They have to be able to play match-maker and broker job changes, and manage all of the ego and politics involved.

Practice what you preach.
In this article by Marshall Goldsmith

He focuses on one of the best ways top executives can get their leaders to improve is to work on improving themselves. Leading by example can mean a lot more than leading by public-relations hype. Your actions are powerful, more now than ever before – if you do it, they are more likely to do it with their reports and the behavior cascades down through the organization. If you don’t then the opposite occurs.

Don’t over complicate it

Think back on your own career – where and how did you learn your most valuable lessons? It was probably

  1. New jobs
  2. Challenging assignments
  3. From other people (good and bad bosses, a coach, mentors, etc…)
  4. Courses, books, articles, etc.

Too many companies spend too much time on #4 – and although effective, it doesn’t work without constant reinforcement. Well designed programs can be effective, when they incorporate #2, #3, and #4.  The principle of leadership development applies to all levels of management. All good leaders want their people to grow and develop on the job. If we work hard to improve ourselves, we might encourage the people around us to do the same thing.

Tell us how you influence the leadership development in your organization?

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Delegating Tasks – Successfully!

The following seven steps may help you in delegating tasks to achieve success. These tips can not only be used in your organization for more success, but in every aspect of your life to accomplish more.
1. Understand the Task – you must understand the task before you delegate it.  I can’t stress this on enough.

Make sure you understand the task so that you can clearly communicate the task to the person undertaking the task. You must also understand what barriers and resources are required to succeed.

Also, you must understand what tools you have to make the task successful. Along with resources needed, if the person isn’t progressing on the task, what options do you have as a leader and manager to make it successful? Questions you can ask is, “Can I provide additional training?” or “Can I acquire additional tools?” Or if they are not suited for the task, ask these questions, “Can I reassign them?” or if they turn out to be detrimental to the project or team, “What actions can I take to alleviate this situation?

2. Find the Right Person

Find the person who is motivated to take on the task. You may have someone who has the skills to do the task but is not motivated to do it. This situation will not work. However, if you have someone who doesn’t have the skills, but is highly motivated to learn and is excited about the opportunity, then this is a good candidate for delegation. The person must also be motivated to take on this task for the good of the group as well as his/her own motivations. You might ask, “How does this assignment help you achieve your career goals?” It also helps the person has good communications skills to express any concerns.
3. Communicate the Task

Take the time to clearly communicate the task. Communicate the expectations of the task. And most importantly, communicate the ownership of the task. What I mean is that the person assigned to the task will be ultimately responsible for the success of the task. When communicating responsibility for the task, let the person know the consequences of not completing the task and the rewards of completing the task. For example, you might say something like this:
“John, this report to justify the new computer system is important because if it is not done on time our department will not have the tools to meet our customer’s needs. By putting together the report by the June 15th deadline we will qualify for the new computer system which will allow our department to exceed customer service expectations, increase our organization’s bottom line and earn you a bigger bonus and positive exposure for future opportunities. I know you will do what it takes to make this happen.”
Note: If possible, show the employee how to do the task. Telling and showing the person delegated the task enhances the probability of his/her understanding and being confident with the task.
4. Provide Resources, Remove Barriers

Now is our opportunity to make sure that the person we are delegating the task to, has the resources. Whether it is the time, people, or technology, it is our responsibility to find out after understanding the task, picking the right person, and communicating the task to provide the resources for success. I have seen time and time again in a variety of organizations where the person delegated the task has the ownership for its success but doesn’t have the resources to be successful. Take the time to ask the following question, “What resources will you need to be successful?”
Also find out what barriers might be in the way to successful completion of the task and eliminate them. This could be people, organizational restrictions, or lack of knowledge. For example, with people, the task you assign might require the person assigned the task to work with someone who has a “challenging personality.” Knowing this, you could make sure that this person with the “challenging personality” understands the importance of this task so that he/she does not hinder the success of the task.
Note: Let the person delegated know that you have an open door should he/she have any questions concerning the task. Open communication is important for this arrangement to work.  When you provide resources and remove barriers for the person delegated the task, you are ensuring complete ownership for the success of the task.
5. Ensure Understanding

Make sure when the person leaves the meeting, that he/she understands exactly what is expected. The typical interaction between a manager or supervisor and the employee is the manager asks, “Do you understand everything we discussed?” and the employee of course says, “Yes.” Then a week later the manager is disappointed with the results of the task and asks, “What happened?” and the employee says, “I didn’t understand what I was supposed to do.” We set that employee up for failure by not taking the time to make sure he/she understood what was expected to make this task successful.
By asking the question, “John, do you understand the task at hand?” you receive a closed-ended, or yes or no, answer. It doesn’t give you one ounce of information on whether the person understands the project.
By asking an open-ended question, “John, please share with me your understanding of what is required to make this task successful?” the person giving the answer is required to give a comprehensive answer detailing his/her thoughts on the task at hand. The answer will give you an indication as to whether the task is understood or not. Also, at this point, the employee may give you in the answer a totally different and better way to accomplish the task.
6. Encourage Success

Let the person delegated the task know that you have confidence in him/her. Remember, in most cases, this task is new to him/her and by communicating that you have confidence that he/she will be successful gives the confidence to succeed. You might say something like:
“John, I’m glad we had the time to go over this task today and you understand what is required to be successful. I am excited and confident that you will make this task your own and put your unique spin on it. I look forward to hearing about your progress on this task and the successes along the way to its completion. Thank you for undertaking this very important task.”
7. Follow-up, Reward, Follow-up, Reward

Make sure you know the level of follow-up required. One factor is the person you are delegating the task to and his/her level of knowledge and confidence concerning the task. Ask! Some people may want much follow-up, while other may require little follow-up. It also depends on how difficult the task is to complete.

Make sure you have scheduled follow-ups. Before you leave the first meeting, make sure you schedule your first follow-up; whether it is one day or week, schedule that first follow-up. 

Reward progress at each follow-up meeting and in public if possible. Show appreciation in the meeting and, if possible, in public so that everyone is motivated to do more.

Correct to get back on track. In most cases it may be as simple as showing the correct way of doing the task or brainstorming so that the person responsible for the task will come up with the solution. This will keep the person and your team motivated toward the end result.

 I am sure there are many other ways people have successfully delegated in their business and personal lives and I welcome your suggestions and experiences.


Rewards of Delegation

I have been forced to learn over the years that I cannot do everything myself.  This is especially true when you are building a team, department or organization.  I have always prided myself in learning everything there is to know about my current initiative, job, life event etc.  Even when I was pregnant with my first child, I was bound and determined to read and understand everything there was to know about delivering a baby so I could guide the doctor if he ran into trouble.  Some would say I like to be in control.  I would rather believe that if I learn enough about things I can at least ask the right questions.  But seriously, when you have developed a process or anything else for that matter and give it to someone else only to get it back later in a shambles, it makes you a little jaded.  Typically this is when people begin to juggle everything themselves.  However, this not only sets unrealistic expectations of others but especially of yourself.  There is a much bigger risk with holding on to all the bits and pieces rather than acknowledging you need some help.  It’s been proven over and over that the more effective managers are better at delegating than those who try to “be in control.” The keys  are setting priorities, providing help and support, and designing the right work flows—not your personal effort.

So, if we know it is an important key for our success, why don’t we delegate? Here are some of the excuses I routinely hear:

  • No Time – I have no time to teach a team member the tasks.
  • No Energy – It takes a lot of energy to follow-up and keep team members on task for success.
  • I Can Do It Better – I know what needs to be done and can do it better and faster so I’ll just do it.

Why Should I? – Why should I train someone to do my job?        

Why? If you are in a leadership position, your job is to take the time and the energy to train others to do more so that the you, your team, and your organization are more successful.
So let’s remind ourselves of the benefits of quality delegation.

  1. You multiply yourself – The more you delegate, the more you create team members that can accomplish much more in much less time. You are known as someone who gets things done with self-directed teams.
  2. You create a motivated group – The more you delegate, the more your team members are motivated because they see you as someone who trusts them and their abilities to get things accomplished. Because your team is motivated, they take more initiative to create solutions, be more creative, and are willing to take on more responsibilities.
  3. You master stress and time management skills – You are forced to prioritize your tasks and realize that there are tasks that you do not need to do, yet would be perfect tasks to develop your team members. By learning how to prioritize your tasks for delegation, you will be less stressed during the workday and go home at the end of the day satisfied that you accomplished more. 
  4. You are known as a person who develops people – The more you delegate, the more you will be known within the organization as a person who develops people. Remember, even when you think no one is watching, someone is always watching the way you achieve success by developing your people. Whether it’s management, other teams, departments or divisions, someone is watching. The word will spread about how well you develop people. The results, management will see you as a developer of people; and other employees, both inside and outside of your organization, will fight to work for you because they know you have a motivated, creative working environment. 
  5. You create opportunities for yourself and others – By delegating tasks to others, you can then take on more advanced tasks that will prepare you for future opportunities when they become available. This is the main reason why the excuse “if I delegate my tasks to my employees, then they can take my job” doesn’t fly in my book. Another reason why you delegate tasks is so that you can develop yourself for future promotions, monetary, and career opportunities. For example, if you want to become vice president for your organization and you know that skills C, D, and Z are required by all vice presidents, then delegate any management tasks that you have already mastered to your team members so that you can then ask for more “vice presidential” tasks. When that position is available within or outside of the organization, who do you think will have the inside track? You will! Because you can say you already have the skills of a vice president, while developing the people behind you to fill the void when you are promoted. Also, as a leader, you never want your team members to be with you in the same position forever. Thus, delegating tasks continuously prepares them for opportunities that may come their way.

Tell us, how do you delegate tasks successfully?

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Exploring your Individuality

I read this post by Steve Weitzenkorn, Ph.D., today and couldn’t help seeing the leadership in his message.  Steve is an experienced business and nonprofit advisor, concentrating on the people side of organizational development, strategy formation, and change.  You can view additional information at his website

Mahatma Gandhi said, “He who loses his individuality loses all.” This raises the question, “What is individuality?’ We are all unique on a number of dimensions, including our DNA, physical characteristics, personality, style, talents, interests, temperament, and passions. These characteristics are important, however they are not what Gandhi had in mind. Some people have interpreted Ghandi’s view of individuality as central to the quest for determining the meaning of one’s life. And that this meaning is unique to each of us.

This is all very abstract, philosophical, and theoretical. How do we bring it down to earth so it connects with our own lives? I prefer not to ponder the meaning of life but rather the meaning I can pour into life. This then leads me to turn the question around. Instead of asking, “What’s the meaning of my life?” I ask, “How can I make my life more meaningful – to me and to others?” The answer to that question, along with the accompanying actions related to it, will define my individuality. My individuality is now determined by the purposes I embrace in my life and how I go about pursuing them.  This is so true.

Should I lose those aspects of my individuality, I greatly diminish who I am as a person and what I stand for.

There are two important elements to this perspective on individuality. The first focuses on the purpose(s) to which I devote myself. What is meaningful for me? What worthy objectives do I wish to pursue, in both my personal life and for a greater good?

The second element revolves around how I pursue them. Which of  my strengths and talents will I apply to make a positive difference? What special perspective, knowledge, or expertise can I offer to add value or propel an endeavor? What ethical principles and values will I embed in the process?

The answers to both sets of questions define an important part of our individuality and how we can create meaning in our own lives and the lives of others.

How would you define or describe your individuality? How can you bring it to life? How can you pour greater meaning into your life to make it more meaningful and fulfilling? These are questions most of us to do not ask ourselves. They are thought-provoking and often not easy to answer. When we do, we can set a more meaningful path for our lives or reinforce the one we are on. By acting on them, we further develop and actualize our authentic self.

Take time and devote thought to these questions. There are not any right or wrong answers, just answers that are right for you. Rather than risk losing your individuality, you will further develop it and enrich your life.

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Empowering HR drives business success

Cover of "Strategic Business Partner: Ali...

Cover via Amazon

A recent research study released by Bersin & Associates in January confirmed for me something I have believed and lived by throughout my career.  It’s not the quantity of your HR team; it truly is the knowledge and skills they bring to the table and the empowerment and support given by the organizations CEO and other senior leaders that makes it successful.  You can say I have been lucky enough to work for extremely dynamic CEO’s.  In some cases it’s true, I have worked with great leaders, but I have also had my share of the closed mindset CEO who doesn’t know or care what HR does as long as people get paid and have benefits.  It was up to me and my staff to demonstrate the value they were missing out on.  

This study looked at 720 organizations globally and found that the days of bloated HR organizations focused on administrative tasks is over.  This is great news for HR Leaders, who are often so tied to all those administrative tasks that they can’t look at technology and other options that will enable them to get to the business and people needs.  It proves that lean, technology-enabled, well-trained HR teams are able to take advantage of modern talent practices and partner with business leaders to drive impact.

These findings emerged from a two-year global benchmarking study that looked at 14 talent management and HR effectiveness measures across global businesses.  Among the measures examined include a company’s ability to:

  • Source the best talent.
  • Hire and onboard top candidates.
  • Identify and develop leaders.
  • Build a culture of learning.
  • Allocate compensation effectively.
  • Drive high performance through coaching and feedback. 

The research determined that Companies that empower key HR professionals to take on a strategic business partner role create HR teams that outperform the average HR organization by 25 percent or more.  This means these HR leaders are working closely with line executives on hiring the right people, coaching, leadership, succession planning and yes process improvement.  

HR still needs to continue to excel at the basics. Payroll, benefits, and administration are still critical factors in business success, and today these functions must be modified to be able to deal with a highly contingent workforce.

The report, The High-Impact HR Organization: Top 10 Best Practices on the Road to Excellence, includes benchmarks, tools, case studies, operational frameworks and proven service models that define best-practice human resources organizations.

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Maintaining a healthy work-life balance

One of the biggest challenges many business leaders face is trying to maintain a healthy work-life balance.  In fact I think we all struggle with this at times, and it gets even more challenging as you move to higher levels of responsibility in an organization.

When someone shares their concerns with me the first question I ask is “Do you like what you do?’  I believe people are always better at doing those things they enjoy and are passionate about.  Sure you won’t like everything your job entails, but as a general rule, if you like what you do, you do it better.  It’s very hard to do your best work, if you don’t enjoy it, let alone balance it with family obligations, social engagements and hobbies.  Once this question is answered it a little easier to establish some parameters for yourself.  Below are some additional suggestions that I was reminded of at a recent event and I wanted to share with you.

  • Make choices – Don’t let life happen.  Some people have more energy than others. Know your limits and schedule your time accordingly. Learn to outsource whatever you don’t like to do. Don’t enjoy cleaning the house? Then pay someone to do it for you. If you don’t have time to bake a homemade cake for your child’s bake sale, bring in a store-bought one, and for all you moms out there, throw away the guilt.
  • Don’t feel guilty about making time for your family. Both work and family are important, and there will be times when you need to prioritize one over the other. This is normal over the course of a career and if you choose your workplace with care, your employer will respect your choices.
  • Don’t neglect yourself. The soft issues — such as workplace culture — really do matter. You won’t be able to do your best work if your values don’t align with those of your work environment. If you’re passed over for a promotion because you chose your child’s concert over an after-hours get together, it’s probably time to consider a change. If you need to fit in daily exercise to maintain equilibrium, set aside the time and don’t apologize for it.
  • For those of you unattached, choose your husband, wife or partner carefully. Once you’re married, you’re a team doing the work-life dance together.
  • Recalibrate daily. You might not feel like you’re maintaining a work-life balance every single day. Take time to reflect and change your plan for the following day accordingly
  • Finally, keep learning, laughing and have fun.

Tell us how you maintain your work-life balance?

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Helping your staff help themselves

If you’re a good leader and employees trust you and your ability, you also have the problem that too often employees and managers depend on you for all the answers. 

However, simply providing answers and solutions for your staff impairs their ability to grow and develop their leadership and problems solving skills.  A better idea may be to help them find the answers themselves by posing a few probing questions.


  • “Can you explain more about this situation?”
  • “Have you experienced a similar situation in the past?”
  • “How have we handled this in the past?”
  • “Based on your experience, what do you suggest we do here?”

I believe in developing employees to their fullest potential, but one rule I have always lived by is “don’t just bring me the problem, bring me a solution”.  The long-term payoff:  Employees learn how to handle similar situations in the future – without your help.