Anamcgary's Blog

Leadership thoughts from PeopleFirst HR

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Managing And Developing Leaders

Happy New Year!  Start your new year with a plan to develop your management team to succeed!

Many HR leaders report that developing leadership talent is hard for them, and this goes back to coaching and development.

Google does this well. Using data from hundreds of surveys, feedback responses, performance reviews, etc. they were able to figure out what qualities make a great leader. You can do this for your organization too.

Going through all of this data and finding patterns among responses of what employees think make an excellent manager, you can use that data to develop your talent.

360-degree feedback is an excellent way to discover people’s strengths and weaknesses and come up with a plan to improve.

What Google also does, which you can do too, is create a mentorship program, where the best managers help the lower performing or new managers. Once you’re able to discover what qualities make a good manager, and who has those qualities, create an environment for knowledge sharing.  Good Luck in 2015.


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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.

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True Value in Effective Feedback

If you don’t give your employees feedback on their performance—whether on a daily basis or, at least, at performance reviews—they’ll never improve. Then why do so many entrepreneurs do such a horrible job of providing feedback?

Many of us aren’t “people persons” and it simply doesn’t occur to us to tell people how they’re doing. Often, entrepreneurs are take-charge types who, if something isn’t done the way they like it, grab the reins and do it themselves, not giving their employees a chance to improve. Finally, some of us want to give feedback, but fear coming off too harsh with negative criticism.

How can you get over these hurdles to provide feedback that will help your employees learn, grow and improve their job performance? Here are some tips all leaders can use.

  • Set a goal.      Consider what you want the feedback to achieve for your business. Don’t      criticize someone simply to vent your frustration; always have a larger      goal such as helping the person to improve, preventing customer issues, or      increasing sales. By showing the employee that you have a larger goal in      mind, feedback will seem less of a personal criticism.
  • Begin with the good stuff. Try to find something positive about the way an      employee handled a task or situation. This will put them in a receptive      frame of mind. After they have absorbed the positive praise, bring up any      negative criticism. (Keep in mind, not every instance of feedback has to      involve negativity. Rewarding employees with positive feedback for a job      done well has a strong reinforcement effect.)
  • Provide detail.      Give specifics as to what was done right or wrong and why this was helpful      or hurtful. (“You answered the phone on the first ring, which conveys a      positive impression to our customers. Great job!”) If you want the      employee to change how he or she is doing something, be specific about      what they should do and why.
  • Allow questions.      Always make sure the employee feels comfortable asking for clarification      on your feedback. You can ask them, “Does that make sense to you?” or “Do      you have any questions about that?” to confirm that they’ve understood      what you said.
  • Follow up.      If you ask an employee to do something differently, pay attention to see      whether they learn from the feedback. If so, comment positively on the      progress. If not, continue to provide feedback until they get it right.

You’ll be surprised how much feedback can improve your business when it’s used correctly.



Informal Recognition: A Powerful Tool!

Formal employee recognition programs can be effective, but many formal programs only pay lip service to recognizing employee performance.

Real praise should reward effort and accomplishment, reinforce positive behaviors, build self-esteem and confidence, and boost motivation and enthusiasm.

Do your formal recognition programs accomplish all that? I’m guessing maybe not.

Here are four informal and powerful ways to praise your employees:

Ask for ideas. Don’t just ask, “Do you have any ideas for how we can help you do your job better?” (Certainly ask that, but sometimes go farther.) Build off skills or insights they possess to use them in other ways.

Say a production employee is incredibly organized. Say, I am always impressed by how organized you are. I wish there was a way to clone you.” Then ask if she has thoughts about how to streamline order processing, or ways to reduce the flow of paperwork, or how another department could more efficiently collect data.

Not only will you get great ideas, but you also recognize skill and ability in powerful way.

Ask for help. Asking another person for help is one of the sincerest ways to recognize their abilities and value. Ask employees for help and you show you respect their skills and you extend a measure of trust.

The key is to ask for help partly or totally unrelated to their function, and to make the assistance relatively personal to you. Early on in my career I attended a meeting to talk downsizing; by the time I got back to the office word had already spread that layoffs were coming. One of my employees said, “So, layoffs, huh?” I didn’t have to confirm it; she knew. I said, “I’m struggling with what to tell our employees. What would you say?”

She thought and said, “Just tell everyone you’re doing your best on their behalf. Then talk about where we go from here.”

Simple? Sure, but powerful too. She later told me how much it meant to her that I had asked for her opinion and taken her advice.

Create informal leadership roles. Putting an employee in a short-term informal leadership role can make a major impact. Think how you would feel if you had a boss and she said, “We have a huge problem with a customer. If we don’t take care of it we may lose them. Can you grab a few people and handle it for me?”

Informal leadership roles show you trust an employee’s skills and judgment. The more important the task, the higher the implied praise and the greater the boost to their self-esteem.

Team up. You and your employees are on unequal footing since you’re the boss. A great way to recognize an employee’s value—especially to you—is to take on a task together.

What you choose to do together doesn’t have to be outside work, of course. The key is to do something as relative equals, not as boss and employee. Unequal separates, while equal elevates.

Verbal praise is great, but at times implied praise can be even more powerful. Ask for help or ideas, put an employee in charge, drop hierarchical roles, and work together. Each is a powerful way to recognize the true value of your employees—and to show you trust them, which is the highest praise of all.

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Why your staff may not be listening

“I have been telling my staff that for years………they don’t listen.”  I can’t tell you how many times managers say this to me. 

Today, it’s easy to communicate with one person or thousands very quickly. Too frequently, however, the message gets lost in the medium and fails to resonate with the intended audience.

Here are some tips I have recommended to leaders that encourage more effective communication:

  • Be clear about what you need. Don’t expect your team to guess. Remember, that one size doesn’t fit all, so you may have to infuse your cut-to-the-chase request with humor or compliments to soften the message.
  • Overhaul voice mail and e-mail. Survey your team members’ current responses for their business e-mail and telephone messages, and prepare to be shocked by the content and length! This calls for creating a template or script. Each script should be tailored to the person’s job function.
  • Teach your team how to communicate. While you can’t control every word that comes out of your team members’ mouths, you can establish standards of what is appropriate.
  • Have frequent in-person updates. Somewhere along the line, “micromanage” has become a  bad word. It conjures up images of bosses who can’t delegate, who don’t trust their team members and who don’t give employees room to do their      best work. No, you shouldn’t do your team’s work for them, you should get regular (and of course, succinct!) updates.
  • Use your negatives sparingly. If you’re telling your team everything they need to know, but you still aren’t getting the results you want, try using more cut-to-the-chase sound bites. Be sure your announcements don’t always  start with a negative, followed by a litany of unpleasant consequences. If you frequently start each communication with negatives, your team will simply stop listening to your entire message.
  • Look in the mirror.  The golden rule definitely applies to leadership and business. It’s always a good idea to treat your team as grown-ups and make them partners in whatever you’re doing.

If you’re not getting the results you want, you might be the problem. When you’re open about what’s at stake and use a logical, positive tone, you’ll find that your communications will gain traction.

The vehicle or venue you select to deliver your message is just as important as the point itself. Good news should be presented in an upbeat setting, and more serious subjects should be broached in a setting that’s “strictly business.”

If you’re open and succinct, you find that your team will mimic your style. Communications will become understandable and actionable.

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Is speaking the truth in your best interest?

Hey, boss! Remember how you asked me what I really thought? Well, I thought about it and decided I really don’t think it’s in my best interests to tell you.  In my role it has always been critical for me to tell my boss the truth and it isn’t always pretty and I do provide suggestions, recommendations and solutions during these times.  However, I will admit it has sometimes been at my own peril.  Would I go back and change it?  Not on your life!

In a recent survey almost half the professionals surveyed (48%) indicated this is precisely the reason they keep from speaking their truth at the office much of the time. Note, this wasn’t a scientific survey, but 155 respondents’ gave pretty consistent answers that look like meaningful indicators as you plot how to manage your employee base to stellar business success.

And this data is consistent with a recent study by Corporate Executive Board with even scarier results.

  • Companies whose employees were afraid to speak up suffered 5.8% lower total shareholder return than those with cultures that encouraged open communications.
  • Where fear was more prevalent, fraud and misconduct were higher.
  • 59% of companies surveyed said that $1 million worth of harm would have to be at stake for employees to share honest negative feedback (29% said $10 million).

Why? You make my life miserable for weeks, that’s why.

Eighty-two percent of respondents to the first survey said at some point in their careers they’d been penalized for speaking their truth, penalties ranging from being passed over for promotion, pushed aside and fired. Get this, 70% said it was the boss’ fault because his/her ego got in the way. So even if you’re not a jerk, your employees are probably walking on eggshells around you anyway because their last jerk-boss made them wary.

Want scientific backup for this point? CEB found it was a “fear of retaliation” was the most important driver for employee discomfort in speaking up.

So what? I’m outta here, that’s what.

Many people report that being penalized for speaking their truth made them quit or seek employment elsewhere. Speaking truth isn’t just another career skill — like negotiating a salary package — it really hits people at their core and is related to feeling like they’re being true to themselves as human beings. Seventy-six percent said when they withheld their truth they regretted it later. So if almost half your employees aren’t comfortable speaking their truth to you, and the majority of them regret having to bite their tongues, it’s logical to think that this issue is contributing to the increased levels of job dissatisfaction and loyalty we see reported lately.

There was also some indication that women are rewarded less often for speaking their truth than men (68% and 82% respectively). Sure, there may be many reasons for that, but if you have a goal to reach the 30% tipping point of women in leadership at your organization so you can reap the market rewards, then you might want to look into whether this issue is driving some of your best women leaders away.

Sure, I’ll listen if you’ve got a plan.

We all know that plenty of people think they’re speaking their truth when they’re really not. Speaking truth to power – the skill that will help your employees tell you what’s really on their mind in a way that is productive and meaningful – is a career minefield judging by the high numbers of people who’ve experienced severe penalty (82%) and high reward (72%), but an important one if you want to make your employees feel valued and find out what they’re not telling you. For that matter, are YOU good at speaking truth to power? Your truth matters too and the CEO or the board should want to hear what you have to say just as much as you need to hear from those below you.

Speaking truth to power effectively means you have to resist buying into our cultural myths about truth-telling – that the truth that matters most is the first thing in our minds or hearts – no matter how deeply felt – and that the opposite of True is always False, for example. You and your employees need to learn to speak truth to power effectively and work to make it part of your corporate culture. Only by focusing on it will all the pains of past penalties be overcome in your workspace.

What do you think? What’s your personal experience with speaking truth to power? Have you been penalized? Rewarded? How does that factor into your willingness to speak your truth in your current situation? Come on – we all have a story!



Where are Company decisions made?

I think everyone who has ever worked, especially in some type of corporate environment can tell you a story or two about terrible meetings they have attended.  There are also many, many examples of meetings that, while not awful, are far from productive. One of the reasons for these experiences is that meetings are not often a place where decisions are made effectively – or even made at all.

Meetings, of course, aren’t the only place where decisions can and should be made, but in the context of meetings is one way to talk about how decisions can be made.

That discussion must start with the leader. The leader must consciously (better) or unconsciously (far too often) determine how a decision for any specific situation will be reached. The basic choices are:

An independent decision – one made by the leader alone. These decisions may be announced at a meeting, but by definition they don’t require any input from others; a meeting isn’t required to make them.

  • A decision with input – the leader wants input from others before making the decision; a perfect reason for a meeting.
  • A collaborative decision – more than just a bit of input, in this approach the group deliberates on the facts and other factors before a decision is made.
  • A consensus decision – a decision where the leader themselves isn’t making the decision, but truly the full group comes to the decision collectively.

Each of these decision-making types, including all of the nuanced versions of them, are valid and valuable in the right situation.

Next week I am going to provide readers with the best meeting approach for your situation. Your answers to certain questions will help you create better and more open decision-making processes, and in the meantime help you create more effective and productive meetings.

Oh and one very important reminder:

If you have already decided which direction to go, or which course of action to take, do NOT ask for input.

It damages trust, wastes people’s time and is a dangerous manipulation.  I have seen this far too many times.  You know who you are……

To be continued…..