Anamcgary's Blog

Leadership thoughts from PeopleFirst HR


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Serious Kindness

The best advice I can give to a new manager is to be kind and caring and make the world a better place for your employees. This does not mean that you should be a pushover or a patsy. You still need to get your work done, be a star performer, etc. but serious kindness gets you serious results.

It’s not always easy to be kind. It’s hard when you have to tell people with no talent for what they are doing that they are in the wrong field or when you have to terminate someone and tell them this will help them find what they are good at. Equally hard is when you have to tell a person who has lots of talent and skill that their co-workers really don’t like them because of their communication style, sarcasm, negativity, oh and let’s not forget “body odor” and that if they don’t improve (correct) they may not succeed in their role.  This is difficult news to pass on, and managers who don’t care ignore the problem or shuffle the person off to a new, unsuspecting manager. A kind boss helps a person find a new path, and sometimes that means termination.

Many times in my role I have to help people see why their current job is not a good fit for them. As a manager, you are a counselor, helping people to see their highest potential be it with you or at another type of position or another type of company.

As a manager you are in a position to make peoples’ lives better. You can give them more interesting work, better coaching, more flexibility, as well as other things that you have always wanted in a job, and you should do that.

But, don’t go overboard. The company comes first. And your job is to be the best for your company. Which is everyone’s job. You get an opportunity to manage people because you are going to make things better for the company. The company wants happy workers, but not at the expense of effective workers.

So here’s another piece of advice for new managers: Success is about balance. A good manager balances the needs of his/her company and the needs of his/her employees, and after that, a good manager uses his/her power over peoples’ lives to make the world a better place.

The cynics of the world will say, “That’s not realistic. I never got that.” But don’t ask yourself if you ever got that. Ask yourself if you ever gave it. It is possible to go through your life doing good deeds and just trusting that they’ll come back to you, in some way. Management is the power to make a difference. Do that, without wondering what you’ll get in return.


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What does poor communication cost businesses?

Between reduced productivity, lost talent and other direct and indirect losses, a recent Unify survey indicates lackluster communication can cost businesses up to $5,000 per employee each year. Communication isn’t rocket science, but it does require thought and care.

A cornerstone of business communication is the feedback system, whether formal – by way of performance reviews, or informal – addressing an employee’s performance (good or bad) and outlining potential course corrections.

Feedback, especially among a leadership team, is critical to a business leader’s growth and decision-making. Frequently, however, the idea of feedback – what it really means – gets misconstrued. Sometimes those in leadership positions think they are providing proper feedback when they simply reprimand an employee as a result of a mistake or error.  And while it is important to address mistakes and errors, as C-Level leaders, feedback is often inefficient because there’s no plan in place for these types of communications. “Gotcha” leadership is no leadership at all.

Some of the common feedback mistakes include examples like an executive giving his/her opinion instead of stating facts, another making sarcastic and/or disparaging remarks about an employee’s error, and still another would be to berate an employee in such a way that it changes the very subject of the conversation – the employee’s performance, and shifted it to “what the heck did I do to deserve this?” then subsequently having a discussion that yields no positive outcome regarding individual growth.

In order to correct (or sustain) performance, we need to engage employees and improve the business enterprise, proper feedback needs to be helpful (first and foremost), as well as relevant and timely.

To be clear: feedback is information provided to another person to help him or her grow and improve. If a leader isn’t trying to help someone grow/improve, he or she isn’t providing feedback. Criticism, more than likely, but not feedback. A true leader finds ways to sincerely help subordinates, not use veiled criticism or overt tongue-lashings. Face it; it doesn’t take much skill to be a jerk.

In addition to being helpful to an individual employee, feedback in business should be helpful to the enterprise as a whole. Leaders must think beyond performance reviews and reactive feedback necessitated by a mistake or problem. Take a proactive approach to feedback by identifying and focusing on the desirable behaviors and making corrections as needed, but in a thoughtful manner. Feedback is most effective when leaders take the time and attention to outline a proactive communication plan, instead of relying on performance reviews during which the manager will feel obligated to restate old one-liners and stock company blurbs. Or worse, a software solution that fills in the wording automatically.

If feedback isn’t relevant and engaging, leaders are wasting their time. Non-specific feedback, at best, leaves the employee wondering how he or she can improve or avoid making the same error(s) in the future; at worst, non-specific feedback leaves the employee totally confused and unmotivated to improve performance. Vague communication at performance reviews leads to misunderstanding and often future meetings to better clarify the feedback given.

Relevant, engaging feedback is personal and tailored to ensure the employee can actually comprehend the message. Before a leader begins the dialog, he or she needs to begin with the end in mind. Determine if the goal is to simply win an argument, or if the goal is to act as a change agent for an employee (trying to change behavior). Hopefully, the desired outcome is to improve the employee’s performance, and the leader can dedicate a little time and heartfelt effort to preparing for the communication, to decrease the likelihood that the topic of the feedback will be subject matter next time around.

Leaders should also give feedback in a way and at a time that can be best received by the employee. Let’s say a marketing executive makes a boneheaded snafu in a press release by mistakenly using 2013 sales data instead of intended data from 2014 – the latter of which provides a year-to-year profit bump of 20 percent. If the CEO would rather string the EVP of Marketing up outside the window than speak in a helpful and relevant manner, then perhaps the CEO should wait a bit before talking with the marketing chief. That’s not to say that a reprimand be avoided, but only that feedback should be practical to the event, behavior or action that necessitated the discussion and provided at a time when its relevance can be best understood.

Certainly, threat of a severe reprimand may help prevent such an error from occurring in the future, but does it improve the EVP of Marketing? Does it benefit the whole enterprise, or merely lend credence to the longstanding belief that the head honcho tolerates no mistakes and, thus, can be impossible to work for? Timely, responsive feedback fosters awareness and understanding, creating an environment focused on personal and professional growth; growth that positively impacts the entire enterprise. The sooner employees recognize that and truly believe that is the environment in which they work, the better the organization will be.

Leadership success is established and developed through helpful, relevant and timely feedback. Feedback fosters trust, and trust is the currency of leadership. The more employees believe in their leaders, the more comfortable they will be providing feedback and helpful insight to their managers. Proper feedback – provided, accepted and acted upon – creates a system of learning after every mistake, making them, therefore, easier to swallow. Employees crave feedback that improves them professionally, and perhaps personally as well. Without it, leaders may only get what they pay for and not an ounce of effort more.  And perhaps as damaging – the organization may have a very difficult time retaining talent.

As the old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

And in this case, an ounce of prevention may be worth $5,000 per employee per year.


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Coaching for Personality Preferance

Not everyone is motivated by the same thing or in the same way. Personality preferences influence both the coach and the person being coached. For the coach, certain approaches and methods will come more naturally, depending on their personality. For example, if the coach is generally outgoing, he or she may be likely to expect the person being coached to be able to talk things through in the moment. Enough time may not be allotted for some who is introspective and needs to think about things. Conversely, if the coach has a preference for introversion, he or she may expect the person being coached to find great value in thinking through things ahead of time, rather than talking things out.

You can’t necessarily fulfill everyone’s wishes, but it’s crucial to understand what makes them tick.

I’m not saying either approach is wrong. It’s just a simple example of a complex topic.  A coach needs to be able to recognize his or her own personality preference as just that – a preference. And, the coach needs to approach each coaching situation with curiosity– to discover the style preferences of the person being coached – before determining the coaching methodology.  It means, do unto others as they would have you do unto them. It recognizes that you have to take yourself out of the situation and look at it as if you’re viewing other people playing your role. You have to be able to walk in someone else’s shoes and really empathize with them. But it’s also just as important to see yourself as others see you. If you can do that, it gives you a 360-degree view, and then you have more understanding. It doesn’t make a hard job easier, but it gives you a framework.


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Trust Gap

Despite the fact that employees who trust the decisions of their boss are more loyal and engaged, leaders often fail to cultivate employee trust. A recent survey found we have a deep trust gap: while 90 percent of leaders and employees say that it’s important for employees to trust their leaders, 65 percent of employees rate their level of trust in their leaders as moderate; 37 percent of employees say that they trust leaders less today; and 47 percent of leaders say that their employees trust them less. Only 8 percent of employees say they trust their leaders to a great extent.

Leaders should place a premium on trust since we see a strong correlation between trust in leaders and employee engagement. Employees with a low-level of trust are not nearly as engaged as those with high trust in their leaders.

What erodes trust? Bosses not owning up to their mistakes is a huge factor: 89 percent of leaders say that they either always or often apologize for their mistakes, but only 19 percent of employees agree.

43 percent of employees surveyed say that their leaders rarely or never apologize for their errors. The main reason that bosses don’t apologize is that they’re afraid of looking weak and incompetent, but fear of tarnishing their image sacrifices employee trust and loyalty. Employees also named other boss behaviors that erode trust, including:

  • lying,
  • taking credit for others’ ideas,
  • blaming employees unfairly,
  • gossiping, lack of clarity,
  • poor communication.

 Trust is bolstered (and the trust gap narrowed) when leaders take these four steps:

  1. listening to employees and understanding their concerns;
  2. walking the talk—leaders doing as they say;
  3. following through on commitments;
  4. encouraging employees to offers ideas and suggestions and then LISTENING and TAKING ACTION!

Often leaders ask for ideas, suggestions and feedback, but then don’t take any action or even acknowledge the information.  This is worse than not asking at all.  So if you ask, listen and acknowledge, even if the suggestion is not one you can use, take the time to explain why.


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Four Steps of Coaching

When employees slowdown in their work, your business operations will also slow down. We can blame that to a lot of factors, like slow sales cycles or non-delivery of important equipment, but one of the most commonly overlooked (as well as the most damaging) could be as simple as a change in marketing strategies or processes.

As a business owner or senior manager, we all want to employ the latest tools or innovations in the sales process in order to make a profit. But with our desire to change quickly, we often forget to prepare our own people for it. For this reason they end up in the dark and have a hard time meeting your demands through your new parameters.

You should have coached them in the first place. But since you have most likely implemented the change already, you might as well prepare your marketing team throughout the process. And that means coaching them at times when their performance goes down.

To do that, you need to remember the four steps of effective coaching:

  1. Explanation – when implementing a change in your marketing process, you need to first      explain why you are doing it in the first place. You need to give meaning to what you are doing. You need to share with them your strategies, your plans in reaching your goals, the contribution of each member, as well as the rewards for a successful completion of the task.
  2. Clarification – after the explanations, you need to ask your employees if they got what you are saying. Never move to the next step unless you and your team are clear already on what you want to achieve in your marketing campaign. In case of problems with performance, it is best that you choose the right time for a quick discussion, like employee breaks or something similar. Do      not judge them until they have explained their reason for weak performance.
  3. Participation – for performance issues, get the on board in problem-solving and strategies. Tell them clearly what you need done and help them come up with solutions that they can work on. Try to figure out the root cause of the problem (is it the new business process you implemented, personal issues, employee interactions, etc.). Usually, they can provide you details that can help you nail down the cause and resolve it to the satisfaction of both sides.
  4. Appreciation – as a manager, you should be able to recognize success in whatever endeavor that your prospects can do. Monitor their performance. If you see anything that is worth your praise, then do so. Show them your appreciation, considering their actions based on who they are, not just on what they are doing.

As a business owner or senior manager, you should know how to guide or coach your employees well. With the way business and marketing evolves rapidly, you should also be up to the task of preparing them for the changes. This is for the sake of your continued success in business.


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Are Meetings Always Needed?

I just returned from a good meeting. Everyone was engaged, no one dominated (unless it made sense because of specific expertise), and everyone who spoke did something to check for understanding. It was more like a comfortable discussion around a warm fireplace in winter than a stereotypical business meeting.  So it made me think about the planning that went into it and how it was led.

A couple of months ago I read a blog that generated some thought about people who impede meetings and how to overcome them.  Here are 5 of the traps.  See if any sound familiar to you:

1)    People think they are experts.
2)    People think they are inspiring.
3)    People think others agree with them.
4)    People think others are clairvoyant.
5)    People think meetings are necessary.

Number 3 is my personal favorite, but number 5 is the one I run into most.

Five Hidden Traps in Meetings – If you have sat through a few bad meetings, you must have experienced the following traps.

People think they are experts. Many people tell me that they know how to hold a meeting. Actually, all they do is host a party. They invite guests, provide treats, and preside over a conversation. People talk. People eat. And nothing happens. Or, if they somehow manage to reach an agreement, no one implements it.

What to do: Learn how to lead a real meeting. Schedule a workshop or buy a book.  Death by Meeting: by Patrick Lencioni comes to mind.  When results really matter, hire a facilitator. Recognize that there are modern tools that help people make methodical progress toward results.

People think they are inspiring. Many people believe that long-winded announcements impress others. Actually, it’s the opposite. A long lecture quickly becomes a boring (and sometimes offensive) tirade. Why? Most employees want an active role in contributing to the business, and thus listening to a speech feels like a waste of time.

What to do: Design meetings that give the attendees opportunities to contribute. Plan questions that direct thinking toward the results that you want. Use activities that help people make decisions. Distribute announcements in letters, memos, or E-mails. Or, if you must use a meeting, keep announcements brief (less than a few minutes).

People think others agree with them. Many people rely on nods, smiles, and eye contact to measure acceptance. Actually, most employees will do anything to appease a boss. And if the boss seems to be upset, the employees will become even more agreeable. Then, once the meeting ends, the employees will do one of three things: forget the lecture, ignore the message, or sabotage the idea.

What to do: Conduct meetings by a process that everyone considers to be fair. Use consensus to reach agreements and make decisions. People will accept decisions that they helped make.

People think others are clairvoyant. Many people call meetings without an agenda expecting that everyone will arrive sharing their vision for what needs to be done. Actually, everyone brings their private hopes, fears, and vision to the meeting. Without a clear agenda, the result is something between chitchat and chaos, depending upon the complexity of the issue.  Note: A vague agenda, such as a list of topics, is almost as useless as no agenda.

What to do: Write out your goal for the meeting. Then prepare an agenda that is so complete someone else could use it to run the meeting without you. Specify each step and provide a time limit. Send the agenda at least a day before the meeting so that the attendees can use it to prepare. Call key participants before the meeting to check if they have questions or want to talk about the agenda.

People think meetings are necessary. Many people respond to every emergency, surprise, or twitch by calling a meeting.  Actually, a meeting is a special (and expensive) process. It should be used only to obtain results that require the efforts of a group of people working as a team. A meeting is NOT a universal cure for everything. Meetings held for the wrong reasons, waste everyone’s time.

What to do: Challenge every meeting for its ability to earn a profit for your business.  That is, make sure the value of the results is greater than the cost of holding a meeting. If any other activity can accomplish the same result, use that other activity.


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Leaders should be willing to hear

For company leaders to make the right decisions about strategy, people, execution, and money, they need to understand what their customers and employees really think.  Asking the right questions … and fostering a candid conversation about where the company stands today is paramount to a company’s ability to reach and exceed their revenue and profitability objectives.

Customers see the company for who it is today, and that is not always where the company wants to be. Hearing customer perspectives on the sales experience, the on boarding process, use of products or services, support, and even billing can be an eye-opening experience for some leaders. Gathering in-depth feedback on all aspects of each customer’s experience is essential to executive leadership as it can highlight where you need to really focus or make changes to achieve the company’s growth objectives.  Companies who embrace the concept of truly understanding market perception always win.  My recommendation is to use a third-party to conduct a survey.  They know what questions to ask and how to ask them to get you the information you really need to make the right decisions.  Last but not least is what you do with the outcome of your survey. Only collecting the data is not enough. If you are not willing to change your strategy, or any other thing that might be affecting the standard of your business, then don’t bother doing the survey. The only reason why you collect customer feedback is to ensure the customer loyalty to your brand or service and how you are viewed in the market. It’s done only when you realize the importance of feedback in order to improve your business.

Employees at every company can be the source of countless ideas that will effectively cut costs, streamline operations and/or grow revenue. From the corporate office, to the call center floor, to out in the field, each employee brings a unique perspective based on their role and responsibilities, and many great ideas can be uncovered just by asking.  Beyond the employee suggestion box, encouraging innovation can take the form of putting together small teams to brainstorm new ideas, allocating and encouraging a certain amount of time each month dedicated to idea creation, or implementing an online solution focused on sharing ideas, which often leads to further innovation.  Just as critical as creating an environment that encourages innovation, is having a plan in place to implement the most promising idea(s). This requires true support from management as it entails allocating resources and dollars that could be used elsewhere to further develop each idea and determine its long-term viability. While not every project will turn out as planned, they may turn out even better and have a substantial impact on the company.  But as with customer feedback, if you are not willing to change your strategy, or make suggested changes don’t bother asking.

Top performing CEOs aren’t afraid to ask the tough questions – they will provide critical data that can be leveraged to create a cohesive strategy involving people, execution, and money, all of which is essential to exceed revenue and profitability goals.