Monday, November 10, 2014



Every so often a management team gets stuck in a rut; that murky sloggy place where for no good reason progress just slows down. Everything takes looooooonger. You discuss the same projects over and over. Nothing much really happens. The pending lists just get a little longer every day. It’s the way you feel during a heat wave when the air conditioning isn’t cranking.

Quick. Schedule an ACTION PLAN meeting.

To make it interesting, take the chairs out of the conference room. Really. Everyone stands. You’ll have more energy in the room and people will work faster so they can go back to their offices and sit down.

At the meeting, each manager presents a specific Action Plan to the group. It has to be for a current project and a timeline is mandatory. Every step in the plan must have the "owners" name. Next, the group improves each plan - with kindness and cheeky sarcasm. Tear it apart – and put it back together again. Make it real and make it better.

Here’s what you’ll get:
1. Action plans galore. Real ones. In writing, for current projects.
2. Better action plans because they have been improved by the team.
3. Momentum. Which should kick off a windstorm of Action Plans. (In fact, you should make sure that it does).

Three months from now, do it again. Do you have a dusty action plan sitting in a drawer?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

I Love Lists

The Thing You DOn't Say

The most excellent list below was lifted from Tom Peters in a post called “The Pursuit of Luck”. (visitors are enthusiastically encouraged to lift anytime @ The full list contains 50 real life, actionable ideas, and here are my favorite Nine Strategies To Change Your Luck:

More at-bats. More times at the plate, more hits. Try it. Cut the baloney and DO something.
Read odd stuff. Look anywhere for ideas. Cultivate odd hobbies. Raise orchids. Race yaks. Pluck chickens.
Pay for training unrelated to work. Keep everyone engaged in learning. Period.
Listen to everyone. Ideas come from anywhere.
Don’t listen to anyone. Trust your inner ear.
Forget the same tired old trade association meetings & join a trade org that has nothing to do with your industry).
Spend more time “outside”. Customers and vendors will give you more ideas in five minutes than another five-hour committee meeting.
Don’t “help.” Let the people who work for you slip, trip, fall— and grow and learn on their own.
Analyze, discuss and praise #8 right after it happens.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Own It

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I know that you are tired of your same old problems week after week. What are you doing about it? Are you taking full ownership?

No doubt that you are working hard, but working harder isn’t the solution. If you DECIDE to take full ownership of everything that you do….and why wouldn’t you take full responsibility for your own actions – only then will you have real control over the outcomes.
And you can stop behaving like a victim. It is victim thinking every time you think that someone else has to “fix this”.

I get frustrated with managers who don’t “own” the performance of their crummy, lazy salesperson. It’s easy to blame him and everyone buys right into that. I’m annoyed with CEO who allows his sales manager to fight with employees and vendors, even though the CEO knows that the guy has little management talent.

Here’s a mantra for 2008: say to yourself repeatedly, “here’s what I am going to DO about that”.

Imagine that you are sitting on the first baseline at a Red Sox Game (World Champs, by the way). At the 7th inning stretch, you go and sit with a friend in his seats on the third baseline. For the last four innings you’re still watching the same game, but your view is different. Elements will come into your field of visions that you didn’t see earlier. When you see the whole picture you increase your choices in the action you take.

Change your point of view and everything changes. Go ahead and change your seat at the game.

Start saying, “here’s what I am going to DO about that”

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Resolve This!


I would like to just tell you my suggestion for a great, all purpose and all powerful "new year" resolution, not just for this year. And this one is all purpose.  You can use it every year. It’s simple, but not easy. It’s a small thing, but it will make a huge difference. It’s understandable that it happens, but incomprehensible that everyone thinks it’s OK. Please...

Never again utter this universal excuse, “I didn’t do it because I’m just too busy”. Puh-lease. EVERYONE is busy. Some are even busier than you. Really. We are ALL incredibly busy, yet many many busy people manage to do what they promise.

We know it's not deliberate, but it’s a bit of an insult to those who are very busy...yet managed to deliver on what they promised. Let’s just call it a blind spot upon which I am shining a bright light. Just stop telling people that you are very, very busy.

Instead, I offer you a choice for your all-purpose 2008 resolution:

1. Stop saying “I’m so busy, “I’m crazy busy” or “I lost track of time." Just stop. Never say it again. To anyone. Skip the excuse part and fess up. Just say, “I didn’t do it". Take responsibility. Be a role model. It will change everything. Or, (this one is even better, I think)

2. Stop agreeing to do things that you really ARE too busy to do. Only agree to do things that you will absolutely do. Because if you stop making commitments you can’t keep then you won’t have to offer an excuse later on. Stop the madness!

Pick one of these. Please. Just do it. Write it down and post it somewhere where everyone in your office can see it. Post it everywhere in your office where everyone can see it.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Failure IS an Option

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I just found a cool blogger named Alexander Kjerulf. He writes about the productivity of happy employees and he and I agree: a business will have happy employees ONLY when managers pay attention to the right stuff. And happy employees are more productive employees.

Old truth: Failure is not an option which means that we absolutely, positively must succeed. Well, guess what: Putting pressure on people to always succeed makes mistakes more likely because people who work under pressure are less effective. They resist reporting bad news and often, they close their eyes to signs of trouble. All of this especially true when it’s reinforced with punishment for those who make mistakes.

Peter Drucker (often credited as the “inventor” of modern business writing) suggested that businesses should find all the employees who never make mistakes and fire them, because employees who never make mistakes never do anything interesting. Admitting that mistakes happen and dealing constructively with them makes mistakes less likely.

Also, failure is often the path to new, exciting opportunities that wouldn’t have appeared otherwise. Closing your eyes to failure means closing your eyes to these opportunities.
New Truth: Failure happens. Deal with it. Invite it. Welcome it.

Jake’s suggestion: this week, go hunting in your organization. Go find some failure and reward it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

I don’t ask for much here in my little slice of the blogosphere, but I do have one small request for 2008. The following predicament has happened to me eleven times since last July. I counted. Really. Eleven times since July I was “voice-cancelled” or

“e-canceled” on the day of an appointment. And merely as a result of having sent the message, the person who cancelled considered the appointment sufficiently undone. So very wrong.

Because in each of eleven instances, I had neither read nor heard the message in time, and I went to the appointment, on time.

And for some added fun, on three of those eleven
occasions - because I live in Boston - I paid $30 to park my car and eat lunch by myself.
This is common sense: when you cancel an appointment it is absolutely necessary to confirm that the cancellation message has actually reached the cancellee prior to the occurrence of the appointment.
This type of behavior is bad business hygiene. And bad manners. And bad karma. And a bad blow to a business relationship. Really. Please believe me.

The way in which you cancel appointments is an opportunity to add some grace to an unpleasant message. Do it with class. Be considerate. Try REALLY HARD not to cancel with less than 24 hours notice. If you have to cancel on the “day of” you should track down the person and deliver the message yourself. Or buy the person a swell present.

I think that my eleven presents will be arriving any day now.

If you need more info please visit

Monday, October 13, 2014


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Even if you’ve never taken any of the advice from my previous blogs, grab hold of this one. This can really help improve your meetings. Easily and Forever.

First, have you ever attended a meeting where people are saying things like, “at the last meeting didn’t someone say they were definitely going to finish that project by some deadline soon?”. Who was going to do it? What was that project, specifcally? When was it due? It’s so frustrating.

Instead, follow these FOUR RULES FOR MEETINGS THAT WORK. Post them all over in offices and conference rooms. Make them your mission. Get some t-shirts printed. But pledge to adopt these magical rules.

1. WHO
4. HOW

Yes, it is this simple. And you don’t even need them explained (except #4 – just a little). The hard part is actually following them, of course. Actually adopting the rules and using them consistently. Posting the rules will help keep awareness high and aim everyone toward the same outcome. Just do it.

Rule #4 reveals whether assistance is needed to generate some fresh ideas. And whether the person really knows how to do the project. And confirms that she has all the tools, help or resources needed. Sometimes you have to dig deeper and push a little on HOW. Or dig in privately so someone can admit that something is needed and not feel any embarrassment.

The final essential step – and it’s absolutely essential - is a meeting summary in an ACTION LIST format. Pick a note-taker, worship his or her note-taking skills and have the ACTION LIST emailed to all attendees ASAP. The action list will reflect who, what, when and how.

Then, all manner of terrific stuff happens. Everyone knows exactly what is being done, who is doing it and when it will be done. They know whether more info, tools or ideas are needed. You can stop talking about it and everyone can count on the right outcome.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

I Hereby Invite You To Gripe


1. Do you have an an “open door policy?”
2. When was the last time you asked an employee to “step right in and tell you something that you might not want to know”?

If the answer to question #1 is yes…then the answer to question #2 should be "yesterday". What matters more: telling people that you have an open door or employees walking through that door with news you don’t want to hear? Telling versus walking….big difference.

Imagine one of your employees bragging that their boss (you) regularly asks them to come on in and complain.
And share their fears.
And voice their concerns.
And tell you something you don’t know.
And discuss a problem that is festering.
And tell you about that project that is going nowhere.
And bounce some balls that you have dropped.
And tell you what they fear.
And tell you about someone who needs help.
And who is in the wrong job.
And how you can help them.

3. Why don’t you ask for this kind of feedback all the time?
4. What is stopping you from asking tomorrow?
And every day thereafter.

Monday, October 6, 2014

No X-ray Vision

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Only Superman has X-Ray vision so sadly, we cannot literally look inside our employees to understand what motivates them. Or to learn about their beliefs and values. Or to uncover their strengths and weaknesses. So, how do you get ALL information you need in the hiring process? There is ONE incredibly important step and frankly, the rest are just the how-to’s. Step #1 is, as they say in football, to GO DEEP.

I think the biggest challenge in making great hires is the stamina that the process requires. First, you still have to do your job while simultaneously carving out a LOT of additional time for the entire hiring process. And truthfully, even when you are genuinely excited about finding a “great” person, the whole thing can be tedious, disappointing and often boring. Finally, just when you think it can’t get worse, it does. True danger sets in.

That danger is when a manager starts to feel a little – and then a lot - desperate. As in, “I gotta get someone hired or my boss will hang me”. Or, “I gotta make a hire this week to fill my quota”. You’re not a meter maid. Quotas won’t get the job done.
In my next few blogs I am going deep on the essential steps that will really help you improve your hiring.
Step #1 - the most important step of all, is to decide….really commit to the idea that you will GO DEEP. Deeper than you’ve ever gone before: more interviewing time, more time with other team members, more reference checking, better initial screening, better interview questions and in general, setting higher standards.

Wouldn't it be swell to spend your truly valuable time up front, doing all the right stuff that leads to hiring the right person?
Rather than spending endless hours after she's on board and before that truly miserable thought sets in, "did I hire the wrong person?"

Remedial mop-up is the worst management task ever.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Webster Says

What is your definition of management? Not the company’s, not the dictionary’s….yours. Can you state it in behavioral terms, and in less than 60 seconds? (that's a long time, by the's the length of an average radio ad). Specifically, can you explain what you DO? How you spend 50+ hours at work every week?

Probably more important is a different question: Can your TEAM easily offer up your definition of management? Are you interested enough to ask them? Go ahead. Ask. Make a private wager with yourself as to how many will answer the questions correctly.

This will be an email they will be really interested in reading. And answering. One sentence is all you need: “In five sentences or less please write what you believe to be my management philosophies.”

I don’t know what Webster says, but here’s my definition, “ to lead and engage a team of people, enabling them to use their strengths to accomplish the agreed-upon outcomes for the company and for each individual”. I have not spent hours on that definition – and I intend to. But, I like it as a first draft.

Do you like it? What don’t you like? Just Tell Me How You Manage...please send me your questions, ideas, comments or sarcastic remarks.

Monday, September 29, 2014


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I’m gonna deliver this message once a month ‘cuz it’s so dang important.The zillion dollar question to ask at the start of every process is this, “What’s the outcome we want?”
You gotta start with the results you are aiming for. Start with whatever you want to have at the end of the meeting, project or conversation.

Simply by asking “what’s the outcome we want?” you can streamline any process. You’ll gain clarity about where to take the questions. Troubleshooting will become a snap. It will be easier to avoid the distractions that present themselves in every procedure. Because you know where you’re headed. You know where you want the finish line to be.

Write your desired outcome on a BIG piece of paper and post it on the wall. Keep it in sight at all times. Hang it in the hall. Make it your screen saver. Write it on your hand. Email it to everyone. Keep your eye on the outcome.

When other important issues pop up (and threaten to derail your process), take a Post-It note, write down the distraction and call it “other issues to be discussed”. Deal with it later...but deal with it.

Try this: talk to your management team. Make a pact that you will continually ask each other “what’s the outcome?”

When you know what track you’re on it’s easier to STAY on track.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Management a la Spitzer

Eliot Spitzer was a bad manager. His recent change of occupation revealed much about his management style when he was AG - he was a bullying boss. No surprise...he also took his out of control swagger into the world where he publicly bullied everyone he could. He bulldozed relentlessly, even when a collaborative outcome would have served the public good. He even nicknamed himself “the *&^!?!* steamroller”.

Like too many senior managers, there was nobody to stop his bullying. The guy was pure ego gone nuts. Yes, Spitzer was extreme, but there are a few ouch questions to be asked. Are you a *%t#lm+! steamroller? Do you bully your staff? Most importantly, how would you know if it’s true?

Ask. Ask everyone. Quickly. Bully bosses are just bad news. It doesn’t matter what golden talents you possess…bullying will be your crummy legacy. Ask an ex. Ask your assistant. Just ask.

Because even if it’s just a little true, then you have a huge problem. And a great opportunity. To stop. Just stop. Declare out loud that your bullying days are behind you. Fess up. Just stop.

Don't kid yourself. Talented people will work for a
bully for a while. But eventually, you’ll bully the good ones right out of your company.

And then, just like Spitzmeister, they’ll cheer when you fall.

Monday, September 22, 2014


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The staff has gathered in the conference room and the manager is about to offer some well deserved praise for a huge sale made to a new client. But sadly, she starts with that demoralizing and empty sentence we’ve all heard (or said??) too often:
“You all did a great job, but I won’t name any names because I might leave someone out”…so I’ll just thank the entire group because you know who you are”.

What I don’t know is whether YOU, my boss, think I did a good job.
And now, nobody else will know, because this is backwards. You don't praise the deed - you praise the people. So as Ms. Manager goes on and one about the group effort that produced the huge multi-year sale, most people are now only half listening. Because thanking a group just doesn't count as praise.
This is praise: naming names, lauding specific accomplishments, making it public, making it timely and when appropriate, adding a reward.
Here are four rules for offering killer praise:

Praise the person, not the outcome. Do your homework. Get ALL the names and pronounce them perfectly one by one. If you mistakenly omit someone, then you can offer some after-the-fact public praise to make it right.

This makes it easy: pretend you are praising the greatest piece of chocolate cake you’ve ever eaten….then, praise the person even more enthusiastically than you would praise the cake.

There are endless ways to make the praise public. How about a group email, a company-wide email, a mock ad in the company newsletter, a real ad in their hometown paper, a monthly ad in a trade publication, a banner ad on your website, a special parking place, a day off with an email that says, "David is off today because he did the following great thing, create a place on your website devoted to employee recognition, send an email to the CEO, post an announcement in the lunchroom, offer a cash reward, offer any kind of reward, write a letter to their spouse, mother, children or friends. Do something. Do anything. Keep doing it.

In addition to the monthly birthday party, host a monthly recognition party where the only things that get talked about are jobs well done.

Try this: create a new position called Company CPA – Chief Praise Auditor. The job is easy... to gather info every month to make sure that YOU publicly praise the right people.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

THE List


Do you have a long list? It’s a secret list that contains all the wrong things that your company, your staff, your senior management or your assistant foist upon you every day. If you named your list, it would be titled, “All the things that are wrong at work”.

Bad news: If have that list – even if it’s short - then you are a blamer. If the list is long, you’re a blamer AND you’re behaving like a martyr. You know…“Nobody works as hard as me”. Or, “here’s another stupid thing they did”. What if you stopped complaining and attempted to fix all the things that are wrong??

Blaming is tricky because technically, you’re probably correct. And worse, blamers hardly ever see themselves that way. You know that this is absolutely unacceptable behavior at work. (Or anywhere, actually). When your staff sees and hears this behavior they follow. They start complaining. They think it’s ok to just whine.

There’s a preacher in Kansas who became fed up his complaining parishioners that he started a movement called “A Complaint Free World”. It’s the real thing. . Oprah, The Today Show, all of it.

He challenges people to one little commitment: NO complaining for 21 days. Wear a silicone bracelet and move it to the opposite wrist every time you complain. He says he broke three bracelets moving it back and forth so often.

I challenge you. Stop complaining. DO SOMETHING. I know what you can do….stop complaining. You’ll be a better manager. And a better person.

Monday, September 15, 2014


Something good has happened. The cheery staff has gathered in the conference room and the manager is about to offer some well deserved, public praise. And her first sentence is that demoralizing empty sentence we’ve all heard (or said??) too often: “You all did a great job, but I won’t name any names because I might leave someone out”…so I’ll just thank the entire group because you know who you are”. Ugh.

OF COURSE I KNOW WHO I AM. What I don’t know is whether YOU, my boss, think I did a good job. And now, nobody else will know, either.

This is backwards because the idea is to praise the people, not the deed. Now, as ms. manager gets all misty about the huge sale or the new product most people are only half listening. Because that isn’t praise.

This is praise: naming names, lauding specific accomplishments, making it public, making it timely and when appropriate, adding a reward. Four rules for killer praise:


You are praising the people, not the outcome. Do your homework. Get ALL the names and pronounce them perfectly one by one. If you mistakenly omit someone, then offer some after-the-fact public praise to make it right.


Find out exactly what is praise-worthy and talk about that. Here’s a tip: pretend you are praising the greatest piece of chocolate cake you’ve ever eaten….and praise the person even more enthusiastically than you would praise the cake.


The possibilities are endless. How about a group email, a company-wide email, a mock ad in the company newsletter, a real ad in their hometown paper, a monthly ad in a trade publication, a banner ad on your own website, a special parking place, a day off with an email that says, "David is off today because he did the following great thing, a place on your website devoted to employee recognition, an email to the company owner or CEO, a special poster hung in the lunchroom, a cash reward, any kind of reward, a letter written to their spouse, mother, children or friends. Something. Anything.


In addition to the monthly birthday party, hold a monthly recognition party where the only things that get talked about are jobs well done.

Try this: create the position of Company CPA – the Chief Praise Auditor. Their job is to gather the info every month and ensure that YOU publicly praise the right people.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

All Ya Gotta Do Is Ask – Part I


I learned today that a sales manager who used to work on my team – a woman that I had to unfortunately de-hire – just went to work for a guy that I know pretty well. I am baffled. It makes no sense. How is it possible that this smart guy hired her without calling me??

Is this how it goes now?
1. Nice to meet you
2. Tell me how great you are
3. Ok, I believe you
4. You’re hired.

If my old pal didn’t bother to call me for a reference on Ms. De-hire, I seriously doubt that he called anyone.

Hiring rule #1: calling references is required because
Candidates deliberately lie. (Sometimes).
Candidates have a exaggerated self-perception. (Often).
Candidates are good at interviewing and bad at actually working. (Too often).
YOU might not be the Tiger Woods of interviewing. (ikely).
You might find out that the candidate is truly fantastic. (Once in a while).
You can reasonably predict how the candidate is likely to behave in your job. (If you’re lucky).
And crazy people never seem crazy during the interview. (I speak from experience).

More and more, lawyers advise that providing a reference is asking for trouble. Call anyway. You might get lucky.

Part II on reference checking in my next post.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Organizational Hell

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Do you have an organizational system? If I followed you around would I see you using it?
It’s not whether you have a good system or the right system; it’s whether you have a system that you USE. If you can’t answer the two questions above lickety split, then your answers are no and no. As a manager, you have to be a poster child for this.

Here's a break: forget about a system. More than a system, organization is also a decision. A method where you spend time every day in service to what you will do tomorrow. So, here’s your system and I promise that it’s the best one ever.

EVERY DAY you spend 15 minutes planning the next day. That’s it. The whole system. Put a recurring appointment in your Outlook EVERY DAY. And keep it. Make this the most important appointment of your day. EVERY DAY.

If you have an assistant, ask for help. Or, just like in kindergarten, choose a work buddy and ask the buddy to help you.

Or….ask a friend to email you, set up an auto email reminder, set up the Outlook reminder that pops up so annoyingly, use the alarm on your Blackberry or phone, hire an old-school answering service to call you or ask your mother to leave a message on your voicemail every night which you listen to on your way to work. EVERY DAY.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

All You Gotta Do Is Ask - Part II


It is absurd, crazy, dumb and totally absent of common sense when a hiring manager doesn’t call a candidate’s references. There is absolutely no excuse to justify skipping this essential step.
Puh-lease become evangelical about calling references. I promise it will pay off huge for you every time.

Here’s how it’s done:
Explain to the candidate that your goal is to speak with a minimum of four references. You expect her help to ensure that the references take and/or return your calls.
Call ahead and book a phone appointment with the reference and ask for 15 minutes of their time.
Write a list of questions. Each one should be about what the candidate does, says or believes.
Take notes. Or put the call on speakerphone and have someone else take notes. (You think you’ll remember, but you won’t). Write down what the reference says (not your perceptions).
Push for specific answers and examples. Say things like, tell me more, please give me an example and can you explain that further.
Listen for tone of voice (are the answers enthusiastic)? Listen for important pauses (as in uh oh, how should I answer that)?
Don’t stop until you’ve spoken with four references. Yes, these are people who will say nice things, but developing your skill as an interviewer will go a long way toward revealing the truth.

Monday, September 1, 2014

What Have You Done for YOU lately?

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Regardless of the type or quantity of training and development that your company offers (and most offer zip squat nada) YOU are the one responsible for your own growth. Don’t be discouraged. Now that you know it’s part of your job description to get yourself trained, it’s easier than ever to make it happen.

You already know about the workshops, night courses and best sellers that you are avoiding. I understand completely. Instead, here’s a partial list of some other possibilities, and they’re not the same old same old. PICK ONE and do something.

RSS Feeds – easy-peasy. If there is management content on a website that you like, you can have that content sent to you, rather than visting the site daily. Go to Wikipedia and learn about RSS feeds. They’re like buttah. Take a look at

Podcasts – sure, you’ve heard of them, but have you listened to one? Do you subscribe to any? If you listen to audio on any type of portable device or on your computer, you are almost a podster. Every single business magazine, newspaper and management site offers great content you can listen to. Wiki Podcasting to learn how.

Newsletters – How about an email you'd really look forward to, daily or weekly? I promise you - there are terrific management newsletters FREE, and all you have to do is opt-in. Pick one and subscribe. I like

Craig’s List – get yourself a tutor for the specific stuff you want to learn about, such as reading spreadsheets or enhancing your computer skills. – It's MySpace for professionals. Do not hesitate. Go there. Register. Play around. It's great.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Last Lecture


Have you watched “The Last Lecture” on YouTube? Or Oprah? Or everywhere? Here it is... . I encourage you to take 45 minutes and watch the whole enchilada. Pausch is a wildly popular professor at Carnegie Mellon and this really was his last lecture, delivered last September. Professor Randy Pausch suffers from untreatable pancreatic cancer.

He offers numerous essential messages such as follow your childhood dreams, live your best life, let your kids paint their bedrooms and brick walls exist for a reason. He tells funny, insightful and illuminating stories.

The reason I am asking you to watch is not because of this particular story. It’s because part of your job as a manager – a big part of your job – is to inspire others. Not to merely lead or manage or direct, but to exhilarate, arouse and invigorate those around you.

Isn't that one of the things we truly long for in life? Someone or something that will help us to become the best person we can be. A way to feel deep satisfaction in the place that most of us spend 50 or more hours every week. You can give that gift to your team. And to yourself.

Accept this request. Take the challenge. Do at least one thing every week that sparks you and you will naturally begin to set aglow those around you. It's a video on YouTube, read a book, visit websites, read a new magazine, find a blog that is clever and ask people all around you to tell you their stories. Inspiration is everywhere if you just look.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Thing You Don't Say

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One of the “Managers’ Ten Commandments” is: Thou shalt lead the way in saying the difficult things that need to be said.

Rachel is an art director and she is having trouble with Ross, one of the new graphic artists on her team. She is frustrated and confused about the hours that Ross works in the office versus at home. Yet she has not discussed this with Ross, even though his erratic arrival times at the office are becoming ever more frustrating to her.

One small detail: Ross has no idea that he is doing anything wrong. And after eight weeks of simmering Rachel just crossed over into flat-out furious.

Managers, please repeat after me: “I have to initiate the difficult conversations. I have to say the stuff that has to be said”.

At this point, Rachel has a number of excuses (she’s telling herself) as to why she hasn’t talked to Ross about his hours. But the real reason is that she doesn’t know how to have the conversation in a reasonable way. She is inexperienced, somewhat intimidated and just plain bad at conducting difficult conversations. So she rarely does it.

This management skill is called Mastering the Difficult Exchange, and it ought to be a part of Management 101. Because the only way to get good at it is to do it regularly.

Make a decision: don’t let a problem go on too long or too far. Don't let a question or conversation fester. Ever. Whether it’s between you and a direct report, your boss, another manager or someone down the hall, just spit it out. Ask the question. Bring up the problem. Identify the barrier. Say something.

Try this: decide to master the difficult exchange. Make this a behavior that you are known for. Become famous in your organization as the manager who is candid and forthright. Be the manager who never lets problems go too long or too far. Be the person who says the things that need to be said.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Self Scan

Maybe things aren’t going so well at work these days. Out of the blue, a new idea pops into your head: is it time to go? (This is where the scary music gets loud in the movie to warn us that something bad is about to happen). Then it happens. You’re online and you take just one little fast glance at “a few listings on”. Stop. Don’t go there. Literally.

Instead, I suggest a different kind of choice: how about a self scan instead of a new job scan? How about a better you instead of a better job? If I asked your boss – or your staff – these five questions would you like the answers?

Does Molly come to work every day with a fully engaged attitude?
Does she ask for feedback about her performance?
Does Molly contribute to a happy and productive atmosphere?
Is she a valuable member of the team?
Does Molly contribute to your ability to do a good job?

The ‘best you’ choice requires that you to stop looking outside at the things in your way like new competitors or a bad economy, or start looking inside. At your talents. Identify the things you do well and do more of them.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Our chief want in life is somebody who will make us do what we can”. I say, do it for yourself.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Are you oblivious?

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Please don’t be the boss who “just doesn’t get it”. It’s surprising when managers need to be reminded of the basics, but many need it. This is not a complete list, but it’s a good start.
Are you feeling brave this week? I have a challenge to offer you, but first, the list.

Rate yourself on the following statements. Score it #1-5 where #1 means you strongly disagree and #5 means you strongly agree.

· I don’t talk about myself all the time.
· I don’t say one thing and do another.
· I don’t play favorites
· I don’t bad-mouth my employees, co-workers or the big boss
· I don’t treat everyone the same…I treat people as individuals.
· I don’t change the rules without telling people
· I don’t promise things that I can’t deliver

Here’s the brave part. Print the list, pass it around and ask your staff to rate you on the same 1-5 scale. We could add one more..."I don't act like a coward". Go ahead. Be brave.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Just Like the Scouts


Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts each have a motto. A motto is a set of behaviors that can be counted on. A motto is a foundation that scouts (or managers) can rely on if they get off track or lose their way. The Scouts’ motto is a promise and a motto is not vague.

We grow up…get a job…and we change it from motto to mission statement, but it’s really the same thing. Even if your business has a mission statement I think that every manager should have a personal motto. It’s what you stand for. And when you are clear about your foundation your staff benefits from that clarity. Everyone benefits.

I like mottos better than mission statements. Mottos are personal. A motto tells others what you can expect of me.

A company says:
“Our mission is to deliver the best customer service possible and to strive for happy customers. We really care!” Sorry. That means nothing to me.

A manager’s motto might be:
I promise to tell you the truth, provide sincere feedback and to help you grow your skills.

Every manager should identify their personal motto, hang it on the wall, talk about it and deliver on the promise of your motto.

Monday, August 11, 2014

New Address: Neptune

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A new COO client is “having trouble” with her Chief Technical Officer. As she explained it, he understands all the problems because she has explained them clearly and consistently. To his face. In frequent meetings. So I spent time with him yesterday and whaddayathink? Me thinks she is living in outer space ‘cuz he had only a vague idea that there were problems, let alone the ability to name them.

Come on. Don’t mess with this one. When something has to be said, say it. Be decent and kind… and say it again. And again, if needed. And then make it a conversation – WITH the employee. If your CTO doesn’t know what she’s doing right and wrong, it is ON YOU. (Like everything else managerial).

When you are delivering news that nobody likes to deliver or receive, be direct. Blunt. Frank. Candid. Blurt it out if that's what it takes. Saying it decently matters….a lot…but actually saying it matters more.

Once said, the most helpful and professional thing you can do is to write a concise email that summarizes your observations AND outlines the agreements that were made to fix the problems. If those agreements were not made, then you might as well have been whistling a happy tune because "if nothing changes, nothing changes".

Just state the facts, and if you didn’t make your points in person this will make sure the job is done.

Try this: in your next 1:1 meeting ask specific questions about the new behaviors you discussed the week before.
Continue to ask, ask, ask until the new behaviors are routine.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Resolve This!

In keeping with the spirit of this blog I’d like to just tell you my suggestion for a great, all purpose and all powerful 2008 resolution. It’s simple, but not easy. It’s a small thing, but will make a huge difference. It’s understandable that it happens, but incomprehensible that everyone thinks it’s ok. This can be a gift you give to the people in your world.

Never again utter this universal excuse, “I didn’t do it because I’m just too busy”. Do you not know that EVERYONE is busy? Possibly even busier than you. Really. We are ALL incredibly busy, yet these other busy people manage to do what they promise.

So, when you offer that lame excuse it’s often experienced an insult to the rest of us who are very busy yet delivered what we promised. We know you don’t mean to insult us, so let’s consider it a blind spot upon which I am shining a bright light. Please stop telling us that you are very busy. Therefore, I am offering you a choice for your all-purpose 2008 resolution:

Stop saying “I’m so busy, “I’m crazy busy” or “I lost track of time ”. Just stop all of it. Never say it again. To anyone. Instead, just say, “I didn’t do the thing I said I would do”. Skip the excuse part and fess up. Take responsibility for your actions. Be a role model. It will change everything.
Or (this one is even better, I think)

Stop agreeing to do things when, if you really check in on your intention, you know that you ARE too busy to do them. If you stop making commitments you can’t keep then you won’t have to offer an excuse later on. Stop the madness! Pick one. Please. Write it down and post it somewhere where everyone can see it.

I don’t ask for much here in my little slice of the blogosphere, but I do have one small request for 2008 and it’s important. This has happened to me eleven times since July. I counted. Really.

When you cancel an appointment it is absolutely necessary to confirm that the cancellation message has reached the cancellee. Eleven times since July I was voice mailed or emailed on the day of the meeting, and therefore, the canceller considered the appointment sufficiently canceled. Eleven times I did not read or hear the message in time, and I went to the appointment. Eleven times I was kinda peeved.

That behavior is just bad business hygiene. And bad karma. And bad manners. And a bad blow to a business relationship. If you need more info please visit

Monday, August 4, 2014

Bada Bing

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In the past seven years The Sopranos gave us 86 hours of fun in New Jersey…and 86 hours of darn good management instruction. The best lesson of all was offered up in the finale: speculate all you want about outcomes, but don’t believe that you ever really know what’s going to happen. Be ready for anything.

In New Jersey and in business it’s one thing or the other. Either your brother-in-law gets whacked or an employee defects to the competition with no notice. The head of another family gets run over by his own car or your sales plan falls flat.
You just never know.

Tony’s managerial talent was in knowing how to navigate the waters in which he swam. OK, he had one tiny advantage: he could whack the competition when things got too hot. But otherwise, Tony faced the same management junk day after day, just like the rest of us.

He took off that bathrobe every morning, drove to work and fiercely led his team. All the while he was guided by his code of ethics (bad ones, but he definitely had a mission statement that he lived by).

Yo. I offer you management a la Tony.

Trust, but verify.
Give people freedom to do their jobs, but stay close.
Offer guidance regularly.
Hire talented people who have specific skills and talent for that job.
Dedicate yourself to forging a tight team that gets the job done.
Bada Bing.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Hiring is Hard


Hiring is always hard. Hiring well is even harder. Really hard.

One of our clients has finally committed to radically changing the way he hires and step one is the use of hiring tools such as DISC. Actually using the info from DISC is hard, too. Because the results often tell him something he doesn’t want to hear: the candidate is not a fit for the job.

Hiring tools have been used for decades. The good ones are expensive and worth it. They are the real thing. When they are used well they absolutely improve your ability to hire someone who is the RIGHT FIT for the job.

Hiring well is everything. If you aren't working to develop your hiring skills, start now. Go online and start googling.

I'd like to write a Mastercard ad for hiring tools:

Help wanted ads: $1000
Management time spent interviewing: $3000
Tools that prevent you from hiring the wrong person: priceless.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Beware the Glare

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Jerry Seinfeld has a funny routine about dating and job interviews. He talks about their similarities except that at an interview there’s very little chance you’ll be naked at the end.

In both cases we are hoping to fall in love, and I’m not sure which one has more pitfalls. Instead of being “blinded by love” interviewers are so very susceptible to being “blinded by glare”.

Glare is the blindingly attractive quality that the interviewer quickly falls in love with.

Glare is a defining characteristic of the candidate and it shows up early.

Glare blinds the interviewer with its bright, shiny appeal.

Glare is often what causes good managers to make bad hires.

Sad but true: interviewing is usually a one way street. A bad first interview (or first date) pretty much guarantees no seconds. And…if only it was true that a good first impression guaranteed a great fit in love or in life.

As a manager - Beware the glare. Ignore those first tugs at your heartstrings. DO NOT fall in love on a first date or a first interview.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014



Do you think of yourself as a manager who skillfully leads the team through change? If your answer is yes, what is the last change you led? And how do you know whether you did a good job.

It’s really hard to lead or manage change, regardless of whether you “like” change or not. Lots of managers will say that they like change, but in real life, it’s the act of changing that they resist. To me, a true change agent is the manager who leads the staff through the desert of change. And hopefully, it won’t take 40 years of wandering.

Managing change requires a mountain of skill. And the “Don’ts” are as important as the “Dos”. A few “Don’ts” for change management:

Don’t tell people “you gotta find a way”. When I used to hear that my first thought was always, “YOU find the way and tell us about it”. It’s your job to work with your team and offer them HOW to find the way.

Don’t suggest that you have all the answers. Ask for feedback and help.

Don’t forget that the staff experiences the change very differently from management. Increase the level of communication so you understand exactly what they are going through.

Don’t be rigid. Change management requires you to change…along the way.

Don’t lie. About anything. Tell people every shred of information you can. Tell them consistently. And tell them what you don’t know.

Monday, July 21, 2014

A Higher Standard

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Hebrew National Hot Dogs had a slogan for years that was “we answer to a higher authority”…and the higher authority was God. Pretty darn high.

When you are hiring, to whom or to what standard do you answer to? I can just about guarantee that if your standard isn’t defined as “great” then it’s just not good enough. Consider that good news because that means your hires can continue to get better.

One of my clients is interviewing for a key position. At the start of the process they had decided to hire only people who would be the best possible fit. Let’s call that “hiring only A level candidates”. Except that a “B” candidate has shown up and they are talking themselves into hiring him.

(By the way, the definitions of A’s, B’s and even C’s comes from companies who offer testing and assessments to help ensure better hires. More on that in tomorrow’s post).

Be warned: it’s really really really hard to hire only A’s because that means you will NOT hire people who are quite good. Because a “B” is quite good, right? In other words, holding out for a fantastic hire means you take a pass on a merely good hire.

Maybe that sounds crazy but in fact, it’s a piece of advice that can change your business. I recommend two great books on this topic called, FIRST, DISCOVER YOUR STRENGTHS by Marcus Buckingham and SOAR WITH YOUR STRENGTHS by Donald Clifton. Two classics, really.

I promise…you absolutely can learn how to recognize talent and increase your chances of making better hires, but it starts with a difficult commitment. I encourage you to read those books and commit to hiring only people who will be A’s in your company. Once you commit you can learn how to do it.

Try this: read or podcast those books. Totally worth it.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The New Guy

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Lots of companies mess up when it comes to the first 90 days of a new hire.

Here's what happens too often: we give the new guy “lots of space to find his way”. We “check in” and provide feedback gently, as needed.
What should happen: on day #1 new hires should meet with senior management. Each manager should deliver the same message: employment is a partnership and we are here to DO everything possible to ensure our success.

It’s one of the ten commandments of management: feedback instead of esp.
Right from the start the new guy needs specific feedback to deliver the behavior that is expected. And it is the responsibility of management to provide the feedback, corrections and communication consistently…until the new guy is getting the job done the way everyone wants. A week, a month or a quarter - as long as it takes.

Try this: make this agreement upon hiring. This has to be a promise from management to deliver consistent and specific feedback and it has to match up with a promise from the new guy to accept and even crave the feedback… and know that this is the key to his success. Make sure the promise is followed by an action plan, with three elements:
What kind of feedback will be provided, who will deliver it and how often.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

What is too close?


Why do employees so often feel like management is on one team and they are on another? As if they live in two different countries and each is speaking a different language?

A truly unproductive idea that many of us have been taught is that managers should never get too close to their people. I think that one is really wrong thinking. What exactly is too close? What would that really look like? Does that mean you would care too much? What bad outcome would occur if you were too close?

I have heard this answser: “if I get too close to my people they’ll forget I’m the boss”. Really?? Is that what you really believe?? I have never known or heard of an employee who was confused as to who their boss it. I think that everyone knows who their boss is every single day.

It is a widely documented fact that employees work harder and better when they believe that someone cares about their growth and performance at work. ( And that someone is almost always a manager.

Get close to your people. Talk to them. Often. Create genuine rapport. Ask questions. Listen to the answers. Ask more questions. Take action on their answers. In that way, you will naturally inspire people to “want” to do their best. And then some.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Beam Me Up Scottie

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I crave bad news.
Actually, what I really crave is learning about bad news as soon as it happens. That is a true report card for good management: how fast the bad news travels upstream to you.

One thing I know for sure: the higher up the management ladder one goes, the longer it takes bad news to work its way up all those rungs. It doesn’t matter whether you’re bad, good or even a great manager...Newton’s law prevails. The gravitational pull downward is mighty strong.

Leona has run a successful real estate office in Boston for twelve years and Heidi has been her terrific assistant the entire time. A month ago it was discovered that Annie, an office assistant, was routinely reading confidential files and she knew things like everyone’s compensation and their bonus deals. And they weren’t confidential anymore. She was let go immediately, of course.

When Leona told Heidi what happened Heidi told her that she already knew about Annie’s bad behavior…lots of people knew.

Leona was flabbergasted. If Heidi knew, why didn’t Leona know?
WHAT WAS HEIDI THINKING? When Leona asked, Heidi told her that she really didn’t know why she hadn’t come forward but maybe it just wasn’t her place. What does that mean….”not her place”?

Once you’re sitting in the boss’ chair it’s as if you become surrounded by the invisible force field from Star Trek, and almost everything that reaches you has to penetrate that invisible shield. Which slows everything down. Or stops the information flow completely.

This is a tough pattern to change because "the boss thing" looms large. I suggest that your first step is to pay attention to the rate at which bad news reaches you. And don’t kid yourself…know that you are going to be the last to know.

And when you get some bad news, just know that you ARE the last to know and chances are, the bad stuff has been going on for a while. And everyone else already knows.

Try this: work on your company’s the ROI….rate of information. Reward those who bring you the bad news first and praise anyone who steps up and tells you what’s going on.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Ask For Help

It is just so difficult to make even the smallest changes in our behavior…and to make them stick. There's loads of research on this topic and in real life, I think it’s almost impossible to truly change anything unless you are willing to ask for – and accept some help.
You know this is true. We have to ask for help is because awareness alone doesn’t magically cause unwanted behavior to change. Which is so globally unfair. I've always like the tenet, “the truth shall set you free”. Unfortunately, awareness of the truth doesn’t guarantee that anything will change. In fact, that new truth or that new awareness…it’s only the beginning.

Ongoing debate: I hold the opinion that it’s extraordinarily rare when a person truly changes an aspect of himself. Behavior can surely change and rational thought changes, of course, but most of us will always fight against some strands of DNA that push hard towards unwanted behavior. We are wired to do it. We don't really change.

However, in the name of change I offer a small challenge: write down this question and tape it to your computer: What am I doing differently? And hey, that's the first something different you can do).

Finally, the hardest part for many of us is simply asking for help. There are thousands of pages of research proving that behavioral change is far more successful when the changee asks for help. So, start by asking for help from just one person at work. Someone who likes you and wants you to succeed.

You might use some version of this, “I have become aware that I interrupt people far more than I ever thought. I know that it’s rude and I now understand that it makes some people feel bad. I want to stop but I need some help to keep my awareness high. When you see me interrupt, please signal me. We’ll come up with something”.

The truth shall set you free.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Not My Usual Post

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I heard an interesting story recently about Itzhak Perlman, the great violinist. On Nov. 18, 1995, he gave a concert in New York City. Making his way on stage is a big achievement for him. He had polio as a child and he has braces on both legs. He walks with two crutches. To see him walk across the stage one step at a time, laboriously and slowly, is an arresting sight.

He sits down slowly, puts his crutches on the floor and undoes the braces on his legs.Then he bends down and picks up the violin, puts it under his chin, nods to the conductor and begins to play.

By now, audiences are used to this procedure and they sit quietly while he makes his way across the stage. They wait until he is ready to play.

But on that night something went wrong. Shortly after he began playing one of the strings on his violin broke. You could hear it snap - it went off like a firecracker. There was no mistaking what was likely to come next.

We whispered that he would have to put on the braces again, pick up the crutches and slowly move off stage either to find another violin or more likely, another string for this one. But he didn't. Instead, he closed his eyes, paused briefly and signaled the conductor to begin again.

When the music started he played from where he had left off. And he played with a passion and power as this audience of loyal fans had never heard before.

Of course, anyone knows that it is impossible to play a symphonic work with just three strings on a violin. But that night Itzhak Perlman refused to know that.

You could see him changing and improvising. At one point, it sounded like he was re-tuning the strings to get new sounds that they had never made before.

When he finished, there was just silence for an extraordinary moment. Then there was an extraordinary outburst of applause from every corner of the auditorium. People screaming and cheering, and doing everything possible to show their enormous appreciation for the magic they had just seen and heard.

He smiled and raised his bow to quiet us - and then he spoke in a quiet tone that was not boastful in any way . He said, "you know, sometimes it is the artist's task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left."

What a powerful sentence. It has stayed with me since the first time I heard that story a decade ago.

I think that might be the definitive definition of management. You are trained to make violin music on an instrument with four strings and one day a string breaks and you've got a three-stringer. And no time to find a new instrument, or even an extra string.

Try this with your team: make music with what you have.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Tim Russert


I was stunned by the way so many people across our country were broken-hearted over the death of Tim Russert. I surprised myself as I became weepy every time I saw or heard a reference in those first few days. It can’t be just because we were both born in Buffalo, (even though Tim made it ok for me to come out of the Buffalo closet). Tim made Buffalo kinda cool. I stress kinda.

I have a theory: I think that so many people experienced Russert’s death as a personal loss mostly because he was the real deal. Yup, he was smart, really great at his job, funny, reliable, respectful, relentless, clever in the right way and so much more. But Russert formed a rare kind of connection with millions of people right through the damn TV. Almost as if he was a real friend. From high school maybe. My friend. Your friend.

I believe that Russert's remarkable connection came from his genuineness. It just poured out of the guy. I think we are all starved for people who are the real deal, and not just on TV. He gave us the best version of himself everyday, so let’s take a few management lessons from Tim.

Are you vigilant about being respectful to everyone?
Are you willing to do a sufficient amount of prep every week so you have all the info you need to do your job?
Are you relentless about the things you and your team need to get the job done?
Do you keep your word?
Do you ask (many) questions in order to fully understand any situation?
If you happen to be the smartest person in the room do you ensure that others never feel less smart than you?
And do you go to work every day in service to others?

Monday, June 23, 2014

Surprising Behavior

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Sometimes, employees suddenly change their behavior…and it takes a turn that you don’t like. And you can’t figure out why it’s happening. And you suddenly feel disconnected from the employee in a way that suggests that you don’t know her as well as you thought.

When this happens your action should be to think like a detective. DO NOT focus on yourself, as in “why is she behaving like this towards me”? This change in her behavior probably has nothing to do with you and as her boss; it’s an opportunity to increase your focus on her.

Ask some questions. Of yourself.

Have you changed your behavior towards her?
Are you spending more/less time with her than in the past?
Have you changed your performance expectations and maybe she’s confused, nervous, angry, disappointed or just plain upset?
Have the office dynamics changed – a new high performing employee, a new manager in the organization, the departure of a key employee?

Next, ask her one question.

Is she aware of the change?
Be candid about what you have observed. Don’t be too analytical…just offer your observations about her behavior. Then, move to talking about the effects these changes are having.

Try this: the outcome of your conversation should be agreement on the specific behavior that you are looking for.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Are You Popular?


This topic is often debated with fire and brimstone (what is brimstone?) And I seem to hold a minority opinion. Here it is: I absolutely believe that a manager can be both popular AND effective.

There's an old saying; “management is not a popularity contest”. Au contraire, dear managers. It is a contest, but it's also true that popularity is not the only thing that matters. There are additional ingredients in the management soup, as well.

The definition of popular literally means to be regarded with favor, approval or affection. It means that people like you. And popularity matters a great deal if you want employees that are truly engaged in their work.

It matters because people rarely do excellent work if they don’t "want to". And they surely don’t do outstanding, over-the-top work if they don’t want to. Ergo, if they don’t like you, the “wanna factor” plummets.

Important disclaimer: this is not about the popularity to be gained from buying lunch, drinks or their affection.

Let's go real life here. Think about a favorite teacher from your distant past. Or a great manager for whom your worked. Somehow, almost magically, did they make it so your "wanna factor" was high? I bet they helped you become the best version of yourself.

One of my tenets for managers is "Thou shalt remember that people don't work for companies; people work for people" Bash the Manager is a favorite workplace game, but you can change that game. One way to grow your popularity is to deliver on the basics.

And in case you’ve forgotten, here are a few basics :

  • provide specific feedback on a regular basis
  • set clear performance expectations and put those expectations in writing
  • the right person in the right job.
  • make sure that people know they have the opportunity to learn and grow.
Your style can be low-key, socially inept, introverted, not adorable and even un-charming. But I promise that you will be a popular manager if you deliver on those basics every day.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Mad As A Hatter

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A client told me a story about an employee whose behavior “just makes her mad”. It took thirty minutes of focused conversation to uncover the root of her anger at the employee, and it turned out to be something small; a consistent work habit that the manager objected to.

As we talked it out, the manager opened up a new awareness regarding that habit and she came up with a plan to help the employee improve. Recognizing the reason for the behavior dissipated her anger and allowed her to see the situation differently.

When an employee’s behavior makes you mad what’s the first thing you do?
I suggest that your first move should be to NOT get mad, and shift your thinking to the employee’s intention. Then, start asking questions. Of yourself.

It’s bad news when managers become known as someone who responds “emotionally’. When someone's behavior makes you mad go on a hunt. There is often some missing piece of information that “changes everything” and the thing that you got angry about isn’t that thing at all.

So first, examine your response. Get specific and take a fresh look at what it was that made you mad. Why did you respond this way? Is your response part of a a consistent pattern that you haven’t noticed until now? If you aren’t sure, this is an ideal question to ask your peers or your colleagues.

After you’ve started to pay attention to your own anger/annoyance responses start observing the other managers’ responses. Do you like what you see? Is there behavior conducive to creating better outcomes? Are there some managers on the team who are, in fact, known as people who respond emotionally?

Everything you say and do at work have an outcome in mind. When that’s true it’s easier to self-assess on the fly and modulate your anger responses.

Try this for the next three days: whenever you feel angry or annoyed at an employee, stop and write it down. Later, give some careful thought to the employee and his reason for the behavior. Soon…talk about it with the employee and take some action to change.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Making Great Hires


It’s time to play that really fun business game called
“Making Great Hires”.

Question: do you know that hiring well is the most important skill that a managers must do well?
Answer: If yours is yes, then you will get all the money.

Making great hires means: matching employees and new hires with jobs that match up with their natural strengths. And it means hiring based on talent first, not just skills or experience. And it means setting the right expectations and defining outcomes you want.

If (when) managers become very good at making great hires the business can make mistakes in other areas and still be successful. Right person - right job means that people are hired to do the work they were meant to do.

How often have you experienced really great customer service? Or been sold something in a way that felt right? Or had a teacher who made learning fun? Or a boss who made work effortless? Those are examples of right person - right job.

Heresy: your #1 job as a manager is not to simply make money. That is the outcome of your job. Your #1 is to put the right people in the right jobs.

Do you know how?

Monday, June 9, 2014

Just Tell Me

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I’m leaving London in the morning but here’s an interesting follow up-to my previous post.

I took my last tube ride yesterday and surprisingly, I got delayed again. After a mere thirty seconds (even faster than two days ago) an announcer came on to explain the delay. I swear this is exactly what he said: “there is no service on the Northern Line north of this station until approximately three o’clock due to a body on the tracks under a car”. Nobody on my car even flinched.

If ever there was a situation that begged for a partial truth - or none at all - surely this is it. Yet the Tube folks must know something that most other organizations haven’t figured out (yet).

When we’re on the receiving end of information we want to be told the truth. We are entitled to the truth. And most importantly, Jack Nicholson was not correct…we can handle the truth.

Telling the truth is a powerful way to show your staff your high opinion of them. When you tell the truth you share the burden of “what comes next” with your team rather than behaving as if you are the only one who can solve the problem. One could even argue that withholding the truth is a form of arrogance because it suggests that you get to decide what people do and do not have a right to know.

Try this: “When in doubt, tell the truth”. That’s what we teach our kids.

Monday, June 2, 2014



Pretend that it’s one year from today and you are throwing a party to celebrate the #1 accomplishment that your team pulled off this year. You are celebrating ONE GREAT THING….the #1 thing that you asked them to deliver. The #1 thing where you asked your team to put a crazy intense focus. And they did it.

Back to the present. You and your team have started working on that ONE THING and you will work on it all year. You’ve asked questions, planned, strategized, made lists and identified goals to make it happen. Below are a few more questions - of a different type - to make sure that party happens.

Do your key people know that this is your #1 expectation?

If you asked each one to talk about #1, would everyone give the same answer?

Does your #1 get “enough” focus, time, energy, learning, thinking and doing from each person?

Do you spend “enough” time talking to your people about #1; finding new ways to make it happen and doing all that you can to make it happen?

Does everyone in the company (division) know about #1?

Can everyone talk about #1 the way you want them to?

Have you spent time with everyone who has a role in accomplishing #1?

Have you allocated “enough” money?

If not, why not?

It’s a year from today. Time is running out.

Truth or Consequences

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I’m vacationing in London and managerial lessons are all around. We were riding the Tube (subway) today and as transportation does, it just stopped. After about 90 seconds a very pleasant female voice began explaining the reason for the delay – there was a stalled car ahead. She apologized and went on to say that the estimated time of delay would be 6-9 minutes. 6-9 minutes! She didn’t say “soon”. She didn’t say “we don’t know”. She said 6-9 minutes. Wow.

Here’s my revelation for today’s event: because I learned the reason for the delay along with my new estimated time of arrival nobody nobody nobody seemed frustrated. Lots of people were nodding as if they felt bad for the Tube!

It may seem like a small thing, but it was so respectful. It was so reasonable. Almost pleasant.

Managers should operate like the nice Tube lady. Every time something goes wrong you can summon your own pleasing voice and be a truth-telling manager.

Q: What would happen – good and bad - if you were totally honest with your employees?
A: Far more good things would happen.

Yeah, yeah that’s rubbish you say.

But it’s not.

How many times just this week that you didn’t tell the (whole) truth. Think of a specific incident and ask yourself, "why not"? Why didn't you tell the whole truth?

I am not suggesting that you tell lies…merely that you do not reveal the whole truth nearly often enough. Again, why not?

I promise that if you decide to tell the truth the great majority of the time (I’m giving you a tiny bit of leeway) you will get a better outcome from your team. And it's not just a decision - it's a commitment.

Here’s how you know that I’m telling you the truth:

YOU want the whole truth, right?
You can take it, right?
You deserve the whole truth, right?

Try this: BE the manager that YOU want to work for.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Are You Nailing Up Plywood?

"It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory."

W. Edwards Deming wrote that iconic line in the sixties and it could have been written last week. This was illustrated dramtically when Alan Greenspan recently apologized to America for not knowing that the cowboy bankers were ruining thousands of lives.

“Greenspan said that he (and others) had believed that lending institutions would do a good job of protecting their shareholders; they are in a ‘state of shocked disbelief at the outcome. They were shocked that when they removed the referees from the Wall Street hockey game and allowed the players to regulate themselves, the result was chaos on the ice!" It occurred to me that management often plays the role of referees for their teams. We make the rules and when needed, we also need the foresight to change the rules. (A privilege that sports referees don't have, by the way)

When business is booming we keep zooming. We say far too often that we are “crazy busy”, and planning for the future is that thing we’ll work on tomorrow. Well, an ideal time to plan for the future is when everyone else is worrying about how to nail plywood on the windows and survive the impending storm. Put down your hammer, gather the team in the storm cellar and get to work.

I believe that our current economic condition is a gift for you and your team; it’s the gift of time. It’s time NOW to referee a different game. And you're the ref.

Let’s say you run a $10million business and your vision is to grow to $20mil.A bad economy does not have to douse that dream. Thousands of businesses will grow during a down economy and yours can be one of them. Yours should be one of them.

Gather your team and declare that you will create a plan to solve the problems that you’ve been thinking about solving. You might start by replacing the people who are a bad fit for their position. Or, work to improve accountability. Create a set of definitive operational metrics or take your systems implementation to 99%. Pick one. Or more.
It’s the season of budgets and planning, and you can create your clearest, strongest and most actionable plan.

Gather your team and your calendars and block out your planning sessions. Get a smarter before you start – buy a book, visit some websites or start reading blogs. is a favorite.
Make time now to improve your operating plan. Do it carefully - with a method, with team participation and keep it planted in reality. Create criteria and use it. Then…get the team back in the room and ask the hardest questions you can ask.
It’s time to unwrap your gift.

Monday, May 26, 2014

On The Way to Great Hiring

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The fun dial is about to crank all the way up as you start interviewing candidates for your open position. You’ve written a clear job description (see previous post) and the next step is to create the list of your hiring requirements.

Step 1: make three lists:

1. The absolute requirements for the job. A combination of talent, skills and
experience. This should be a very short list because it’s got to be absolute…no
more than five things. If a candidate is missing one of the five requirements they
don’t get interviewed. Absolute.

2. Important requirements for the job. No more than five.

3. Extras. No more than five.

You can see where this is going. Any job that has more than 15 requirements is heading toward a bad hire, anyway.

Step 2: write a short list of “Screen-Out” questions.

No more than seven. (I just like that number). The screen-outs should be focused on the absolute list. This enables you to have a seven minute phone conversation to determine whether the candidate should move forward.

Step 3: About the interview.

Great selection happens when a person’s talents are a good fit for the job (not just experience). Focus on the talents required for success, in addition to experience. Write a long list of interview questions and leave plenty of room to write the candidates’ answers.

Ideally, bring in someone else to write the answers while you ask the questions.
This is very important. You think you’ll remember the answers but it ain’t necessarily so. Actually, it ain’t so at all. Great note-taking is part of great interviewing.

Next post: Great hiring is a talent show.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Feedback: Outgoing

Outgoing feedback is what you offer your staff to help them to perform better. Frequently, it's delivered in a casual way and often unscheduled. Sometimes there’s an annual review. If that’s how you do it, then this is worth improving. Your team needs feedback that’s ongoing, specific and scheduled.

Maybe you think your feedback system is just fine. But, if you want to know whether this actually needs improvement, that’s great, because feedback is all about asking.

The purpose of feedback is to help your people be more successful. That’s a little vague, but you can get specific, fast. Your opportunity is to get started and ensure that it continues to happen regularly…and well done.

One caution: be careful that your feedback is more than criticism. It’s easy to get into that rut because managers sometimes think their role is to provide never-ending corrections. But there’s much more in the feedback bucket than criticism and corrections; there are questions, observations, praise, tweaks, enhancements, what-ifs, edits, revisions and more praise.

I have read over and over that (second only to money), the #1 thing that employees want at work is more time with their manager. Even if you don't like your manager I bet that you would like more one-to-one time with her.

I think that frequent, scheduled one-to-one meetings are practically holy. Their reason for being is feedback. In one-to-ones employees spend time with managers who are focusing only on them; their problems, successes, goals and wishes. Wow.

You’re a manager - and perhaps you’re also an employee who reports to a manager. Do you get enought time with your boss? Would you be more successful if you met one-to-one, frequently, with your manager? Would it help you?

Just say yes to feedback.

Monday, May 19, 2014


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What is it the most important of all the management tasks? What is the one skill that we usually spend the least amount of time improving? (hum the Jeopardy song)……the answer is Great Hiring.

You know this is the biggie. The one that matters most of all. The one that either gives you a true advantage over your competitors or dooms you to mediocrity – and worse. Why isn’t every manager reading, asking, discussing, debating and challenging the mostly inferior way we hire? Why don't you decide to DO something?

It’s ugly out there in the land of great recruitment. And yes, it’s difficult to hire well. But it is the foundation of all success. I hope you don’t see yourself in this list below, but if you do, then it’s time to fess up and make a decision to do it differently. Immediately. Forever. Be brave - do you:

Use the same tired & vague recruitment ads over and over?

Write job descriptions that are masterpieces? (you can)

Conduct interviews with as much preparation that goes into your best business presentations?

Spend a lot of time with your finalist candidates? At least 10 hours?

Talk to five references using a written list of questions?

The next few blogs will offer strategies for great hiring.

Try this: focus on a current opening. Write a terrific job description that spells out in detail how the employee will spend 40+ hours every week. It’s fine to include the big concepts, but if you can’t “see” what the person will do from the description, then how will you OR the employee what is to be done?
When the masterpiece is finished, pass it around the office and ask for brutal feedback. Here’s the test it should pass: if you show the job description to your grandma would she understand this position?