Thoughts For Your Next Performance Review Meeting

While we wade through this new normal stemming from COVID-19, perhaps we can take some time to review where we are with regard to some long-standing business practices.  One of the most vilified practices is, of course, the annual performance evaluation.  Some of you have heard me talk about getting rid of these things completely and instead, creating an ongoing coaching relationship between managers and employees minus any form of Likert scale rating.  But I realize there are forces that will prevent you from making this happen.  Therefore, let me present you with some tidbits on how to improve your evaluation process.  Here are 10 common performance review pitfalls.

Missing the Opportunity. Most of our year is focused solely on driving service execution – interspersed (hopefully) with some timely feedback on specific accomplishments and ongoing needs. When it comes to the end of the year performance review however, managers must set aside a formal meeting time and make the discussion a priority.  While not having the meeting at all is certainly the most egregious error, constantly rescheduling and/or trying to conduct the conversation amidst other work (e.g. on the way to the client or conference, etc.) miss the mark as well. Your employee’s first clue to gauge how much you value this conversation is in the setup.

Missing Feedback from Others. Managers have direct oversight of employee performance and many opportunities to observe behavior and results over time.  In today’s increasingly flat and hyper-networked organizations however, there are likely many other working relationships and exchanges that managers do not observe. Tap into this critical feedback by soliciting thoughts on employee’s performance from these various sources. This 360 or multi-rater feedback may already be a part of your formal evaluation process. If so, managers should take the time to integrate the performance feedback and examples from the many constituents to provide employees with a more comprehensive performance review. 

Neglecting to Share Critical Feedback.  While Managers may intellectually know that they should provide balanced feedback, the development side is often touched on lightly and sometimes not at all. Providing critical feedback is the hard part of the conversation, however ignoring/downplaying issues can cause unpleasant surprises later on. While adequate time should be spent highlighting accomplishments and strengths, developmental feedback is just as important to your employee as it is to you. Remember to communicate improvement areas in a constructive manner that emphasizes how performance can be handled differently in the future.

Forgetting to Recognize Accomplishments. On the flip slide, managers can sometimes go overboard with problem or new employees who need a lot of hand holding. While the performance review meeting should be forward focused and improvement oriented, it is also the time to celebrate successes together. Build engagement through discussion of the employee’s contributions to departmental and organizational goals and highlight how employee strengths can be further leveraged going forward.

Focusing on Recent Events. Focusing on recent events is a well-known cognitive bias for all of us. To counteract this natural tendency, managers need to prepare for performance review discussions throughout the year. Leveraging technology, whether as simple as jotting down notes in your iPhone app, or as robust as an always-on performance planning system should jog your memory.

Dominating the Conversation. While managers have the responsibility of delivering the performance review, some are so caught up in communicating the review feedback that they forget to engage employees in dialogue. The performance review meeting should be a two-way discussion, allowing employees to be heard and giving managers the opportunity to understand employee perspectives. 

Dwelling on the Past.  While the performance review is a summary of past performance, adequate time should be spent linking the employee’s performance to the future. Using a forward-thinking approach, managers can help employees understand “what’s done is done” and shift the focus instead to lessons learned for the future. Also, make sure you recognize that honest mistakes will be made.  The mere fact that we all face an endless list of tasks everyday causes our focus and attention to be scattered.  While mistakes should be corrected if they are of a more serious nature, the key here is how we handle other’s mistakes and whether we see ourselves as a resource for helping those around us rather than merely evaluating them.  Evaluation without understanding leads to diminished morale.  

Short Term vs. Long Term.  While concrete planning requires us to be thinking in the here and now, managers who fail to discuss longer term career plans with employees during the review discussion miss the chance to link performance goals to bigger picture career growth. Managers should take the time to better understand how employees are progressing on long term and career goals and use the review discussion to show commitment to personal growth/development.

Not Planning to Reconnect and Check-in. Follow up plans and action items that come out of the performance review discussion should all have general check-in and follow up dates attached. Without this level of planning and accountability, performance goals agreed upon during the meeting can get lost in the shuffle.

I hope this helps!  Stay in touch.  Share your challenges and and let me know your thoughts.  

Bringing Demons To Work: An Executive Coaching Story

Growing up and learning to cope with her mother’s alcoholism had created habits that were destroying her work relationships. She was both unpredictable and volatile.   Some days she was collaborative, other days she was distant and biting. Most days she avoided those people she did not like, or more aptly put, those people she hated. After several people complained to HR, the CEO considered getting rid of her, but HR and the executive VP lobbied to save her job. Their first step was to send her to supervisory training even though she was in a higher position within the company. Four weeks following the training, not much had changed. That’s when HR called.

“Should we think about some team coaching or team building just to help her team understand and accept her?” she asked.   Perhaps some type of leadership development that we haven’t considered?”

After listening to the accounts and conditions of her “blow-ups,” I had a feeling that there was something that even my soon-to-be client was unaware of; something that was an old trigger for her. I convinced HR to let me meet with her first.

She was nervous the first time we met. Her lower lip trembled when she spoke and her swivel chair was angled toward the door as though readying herself to bolt at any moment. As I sat and studied her, I already knew that she was highly valued for her job-skills. That, in and of itself, was saving her job for the time being. But no employer could put up with behavior that instilled fear, destroyed trust, and angered those around her.

“Have you been told why we are visiting with each other,” I asked.

“Not really,” she answered. “I will say this though,” she blurted. “I have a huge problem with my counterpart on the creative side of the firm. He pi_ _ es me off! He’s arrogant and ambitious and I think he wants to be CEO someday. I cannot stand to be in the same room with him.”

“OK, but before we talk about him, let’s talk about what you hope to gain from our meetings.”

She paused for a long time as her eyes welled with tears. “I just want to learn how to not let people like him affect me so much.”

“How long has this sort of thing happened?”

“All my life.”

Although we met for two hours that first time, I had a hunch within the first five minutes. She had some unresolved triggers—probably from her upbringing—that created old, protective, and destructive responses.   It was not hard to foresee the ultimate outcome in her employment if she failed to change these automatic reactions. Despite some in the organization who were bent on saving her due to her industry knowledge and talent, they would eventually have to wish her well but send her out the door.

Although I had quite a challenge before me, her issues were not in the least unusual. Almost everyone I’m contracted to coach is being victimized by their own unrecognized and unconscious triggers. In truth, all of us possess these things under the skin that cause us to react and “shoot ourselves in the foot.” The issue is not whether we have these triggers, but whether we can manage them through awareness, choice, better habits, and insight. Through coaching and mentoring, these triggers can loosen their grip. Sadly, without help, these triggers continue to stimulate ingrained and negative lifelong patterns in employment, marriage, parenting, and friendships.

She told me that her mother cycled through love and affection when she was sober, hypercritical and rejecting when she was drunk. Her father was a perfectionist although not around much. She remembered seeking his approval but rarely receiving it. “Good enough was never enough.”

Through our meetings together, I was struck by her courage. Instead of running from her memories and experiences, she tackled them in an effort to gain an understanding. It was as though her life depended on it.

In a later meeting, she told me that regardless of what she did, she was supposed to do more. The only way she knew how to connect with her father was through achievement. But she never felt satisfaction or pride regardless of her accomplishments. “I think I’ve always just walked around with this frustration and hurt, expecting that I will ultimately be a disappointment,” she admitted.

“You were doing the best you could do under the circumstances,” I said. “Children don’t have the capacity to problem-solve something so complicated. When children learn to cope, it sets up all sorts of destructive patterns later on.”

“Yes, I think I’ve always sought approval from significant people. But the moment I do; the moment I place my feelings in their hands, I get angry.”

The room fell silent and I could tell that she was putting some things together. “My reactions are not really about my colleague, are they?”


Her eyes again filled with tears. “What are you experiencing,” I asked.

“I feel sad and also a little scared.”

“Why so?”

“I think I need to let go of being so hard on myself…maybe I should work on my assumption that I am automatically going to be rejected. But if I do these things, I’ll open myself up to that very thing.”

“You will also be opening up to closer relationships.”

“That seems nice. It feels good to imagine that possibility.”

Is Harassment Finally Getting The Attention It Deserves? Part II

February 2017…women marched in over 600 cities totaling approximate 4.2 million. It was arguably the largest demonstration in American history. Signs and banners read:

  • “Keep Your Little Hands OFF Our Rights.”
  • “Men of Quality Don’t Fear Equality.”
  • “I Will NOT Go quietly back to the 1950s”
  • “Super Callow Fragile Ego, Trump You Are Atrocious”

At least initially, the protests appeared to be triggered by the actions and statements made by Donald Trump during the campaign. Certainly, this played an important role. But it would be naïve and misguided to lay complete responsibility on President Trump as the sole reason for the protests. Private industry was also in the headlines in September 2016 as news host Gretchen Carlson settled one of the largest sexual harassment cases in US history for $20 million.

Since my last blog on sexual harassment—posted in December—the landscape on women’s rights has dramatically changed. I’ve not witnessed as much related activity since Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill in 1991.

So, were the women’s marches about harassment? You bet they were. But the marches were also about something more—something that you (our clients) should be aware of.

A lot of people are feeling harassed and it’s increasingly not just gender specific. The view of harassment has increasingly broadened to include race and same gender. Actually, any protected class is protected from harassment which means that actionable cases can stem from harassment/discrimination due to age, race, national origin, pregnancy, disability, religion, gender. Increasingly, your training classes will be labeled harassment prevention training instead of just sexual harassment prevention.

Accordingly, EEOC harassment claims in including sexual harassment, account for only about 30% of the claims nowadays. Race is actually the most frequent basis of harassment charges and sex-based harassment is the second most frequent. Last year, the EEOC had over 6,800 charges alleging sex-based harassment. That can include unwelcome advances or it can include gender-based harassment, which might be comments that are demeaning to a particular gender. Interestingly, about 17% of charges are filed by men, so it’s not an issue that only faces women. There have also been an increasing number of same-sex harassment cases. In the case of [EEOC v. Boh Bros. Constr. Co. LLC], a supervisor sexually harassed a subordinate because he thought this male subordinate was feminine and didn’t conform to the gender stereotype of a rough iron worker.

The EEOC is certainly aware that the charges that are filed are just the tip of the iceberg because so many women are afraid to come forward. About 25% of women say they’ve experienced harassment at work, but among that percentage, 70% said they never reported it. We have seen in many of our cases that people experience retaliation for coming forward. Because that’s a significant issue for many workers, that’s an issue where the EEOC has gotten involved.

So why did so many women protest recently? My opinion is because they (and other groups) are fed up! Fed up with a national culture (including workplace) that doesn’t support nor seem to care about their current experience. Obviously, racial minorities and even more men are feeling similarly. A blog by Dr. Zakiya Luna, Alex Kulick, and Anna Chatillon-Reed titled Why Did Millions March? A View from the Many Women’s Marches, should shed more specific light on the varied reasons for the protests as their survey research comes in.

So, what is the message to you? If we get back to square one, it is this: Leaders set the tone, period. For sure this means avoiding a behavioral display of harassment. But it also means having your finger on the pulse of the work atmosphere. What are the relationships between executives and managers? Managers and supervisors? Supervisors and front line employees? Forget what your mission statement says. What is really valued in your organization? Is it task accomplishment over everything else? Is profitability the master of all? Does technical expertise and industry knowledge supersede coaching and mentoring? Is prejudice, bias, and favoritism a common thread? Do supervisors and managers really listen and observe and come to the support of people who don’t feel they have a voice? Is everyone valued for their talents?

I will be addressing these questions and will also go into an in-depth discussion of harassment, including sexual harassment, gender and racial discrimination in a webinar on April 14. If you can’t make the Webinar, please send me an email and I will forward a link to the presentation.

Additional Articles:

Sexual Harassment: Revisited Again

Unless you have [enviably] been living on a remote South Pacific island the past eighteen months or so, it is obvious that sexual harassment and gender discrimination has recently been a huge topic. Brought up by both parties in the race for the white house, the mistreatment of women seemed to be a major issue continually being rehashed. In addition, we were bombarded with news reports of the Former Fox news anchor Gretchen Carlsen coming forward with allegations against the CEO of Fox News Channel and winning a big settlement.

Surprising? No! But the most recent contentious election has caused me to think about the complicated workplace of today and how things don’t seem to have changed all that much.

Early in our consulting endeavors I think I had a rather faulty assumption that harassment was a simple outgrowth of individuals who–through a combination of unexamined biases and stereotypes–perpetrated their destruction on those around them. This rather linear model of thinking was that if harassment was a fault of individuals then the remedy must be to simply train those individuals. Pretty much every consultant/educator seemed to think that way. The primary teaching methods involved a presentation of landmark legal decisions and case examples. Hundreds of thousands of in-person and computer/Web-based classes have been delivered since the Meritor Bank v Vinson decision and the higher profile coverage of Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas. In all honesty, most of the training has been very good. Usually presented are facts pertaining to the harmful workplace effects of harassment. Light is usually shed on the dollar impact of harassment as it relates to legal fees, lost productivity and turnover.

I know in our case, we have worked diligently to protect our organizational clients and to create a safe and productive workplace. Sound familiar? Frankly, I thought, things would improve nationwide due to the sheer amount of training and the fact that the older generation was on the way out. Another faulty assumption of mine was that the older males, who came from a culture of male domination, were the primary culprits while the younger males (and females) who have experienced the media coverage of gender equality would behave in a much more acceptable manner. After all, aren’t we becoming more enlightened? Wrong!

I was tipped off by my own daughter who, in her late 20s, was working for a start-up tech company on the cutting edge of commercial drone technology. Her workplace was nothing short of cool! Few offices, no cubicles, jeans and t-shirts. The walls almost seemed to pulsate from the creative energy stemming from frequent bullpen meetings. “The energy is palpable!” I ranted, as I walked out of the building having been invited by my daughter. “Man, I wish I could go back thirty years and experience this! You must get up every morning just dying to get to work!” With tears in her eyes she said, “You have no idea what I put up with.” Over lunch she described the all too familiar scenarios: the lewd comments, sexual innuendo, being steered toward “secretarial” duties like those from the 1950s even though she was hired in marketing. For an hour, she described an environment like those highlighted in court proceedings; behaviors that made no logical sense. Frankly, any being short of a barnyard animal should have known better. Furthermore, she said her friends have shared similar stories. Things have simply not changed all that much!

Her accounts are corroborated by the EEOC. A June 2016 Select Task Force report on the study of harassment in the workplace stated that “workplace harassment remains a persistent problem. Almost fully one third of the approximately 90,000 charges received by EEOC in fiscal year 2015 included an allegation of workplace harassment.

So why has harassment not been significantly reduced? Stay tuned! I will give you my thoughts on that in the 2nd installment of this newsletter. In the meantime, if this article has given you pause please take a moment to share your thoughts with me.

OK…..So You Want to Keep Your Appraisal System

Some time back, I composed a couple of newsletters that basically proposed the elimination of performance appraisals.  Needless to say, these were the most opened newsletters we’ve sent to you.  These were also the most controversial, not because of the belief that performance appraisals are the best thing since sliced bread, but because it will take too much darn work to get rid of them.  And, as I said last year, your question is probably what are we gonna do instead! 

Okay, so assuming that you are going to keep your appraisal system, how can you make it better?  Well first of all, start by stopping something.  Stop reworking the questions and the numbering system.  Whether you are using a 1-3, 1-5, or 1-10 Likert scale doesn’t make a bit of difference to the recipient of the appraisal.  Also, the questions you already have are probably good enough in that different questions aren’t going to work big magic anyway.

What employees want to know—and which is really the key to performance improvement is this:

-Do I have a sense of belonging here (do people care that I am here)?

-Am I competent (do I have a sense of effectiveness, control, and mastery)?

-Will you help me achieve these two things or are you going to hammer me when I don’t?

If you can remember something fundamental about humans it is that we have an amazing tendency to strive even under adverse circumstances.  History, literature, and movies repeatedly recount and depict this.  At the same time, most humans will protect themselves from personal disapproval and rejection with near equal tenacity.  The outgrowth of this self-preservation can vary from withdrawal to acting-out, and none of the responses are particularly positive.

Performance appraisals inherently carry the possibility of disapproval via low numbers and personal criticism of one’s work.

So what to do?

1. Keep the appraisal items as they are.

2. Replace the Likert scale with blank spaces for feed-forward comments and goals.

3. Keep thinking of ideal future performance rather than looking back at what went wrong.  Think of yourself as a teacher.

4. Meet fairly often instead of once a year.  Keep the meetings short and pleasant.

5. Focus on character strengths, not weaknesses.  Make sure the individual is in the right job/the right role.  Job fit is when the characteristics, traits, and attributes of the individual closely match the requirements of the job.

6. Show people you care about them:  ask about their family members, ask them what they are interested in, ask them whether you are being the kind of leader they need you to be, find out their hobbies, interact, interact, interact.

7. It’s OK to have an honest conversation with the individual about a job-fit mismatch.  Just because I want to win an Olympic gold medal in the marathon doesn’t mean I’m well-suited to do so.

8. Trust that most people will rise to the occasion and reveal their strengths when they feel accepted for who they are.  A sort of magic occurs in the workplace when people experience a feeling of safety and trust.

Changing The Asshole a.k.a. Executive Intervention

“You’re bombastic, caustic, uncaring and domineering.  And those may be your good points,” I started.  He just laughed.  “I embrace all of those things,” he said.  “But I’ll tell you one thing; I get a lot done.  By the way, how long is this meeting supposed to last?”

The individual sitting in front of me was a department director with no small string of complaints against him.  Employees avoided him like the Plague while upper management loved his “get it done” approach.   “I admit that he’s difficult,” said the City Manager as we discussed executive coaching.  “He’s too blunt, too demanding, doesn’t listen to his employees very well, and lacks a lot in the category of appreciation.

“So… you’ve kept him because?”

“Technically, he’s one of the best I’ve ever seen.  If we fire him we lose a lot of organizational knowledge.”

Sound familiar?  If so, there are some things to consider toward a fix.

To you—the bosses—of such individuals, allow me to address you with several suggestions.

Assess what the issue seems to be.  Is this individual just an A-hole by nature or could he/she be exhibiting pressure reactions?  Pressure reactions, as I call them, are unconscious habits we all experience when stressed out.  Something akin to Jekyll & Hyde, this person is usually fairly calm and centered but morphs into a bit of a monster when things aren’t going right.  Some people become aggressive, some hypercritical and perfectionistic.  Others withdraw and complain behind the back while others yell and pitch an immature looking fit.  Employee assessments help to identify what specific character traits are emerging under pressure.  Coaching or supervisory training can be helpful in providing personal coping strategies and may also uncover stress-inducing dynamics within the organization that should then be addressed.  Of course, if you are the boss of this individual, you must take an honest look at whether it is you who may be contributing to your employee’s stress.  Keep in mind that a good portion of negative behavior in an organization is systemic in nature.

But what about the perpetual A-hole?  This is that individual who seems to employ bullying, threatening, blaming or manipulation as go-to leadership tactics.  Employee assessments and coaching are important first steps here as well, but this individual must be put on a short leash.  An honest and blunt conversation must convey the impact of their behavior and specific expectations must be set forth in writing in a performance improvement plan.  Under no circumstances should this behavior be ignored in the hope that it will improve on its own.  This individual is destroying morale and forcing good people to leave either physically or by mentally checking out as a form of self-protection.

Additionally, follow up with those employees who have been impacted.  Find out whether the individual has begun altering his/her behavior.  You may get a “deer-in-headlights” kind of reaction because they will be afraid of reprisal, but reassure the employees that this will not be tolerated and then make sure you follow your word.

Finally, remember that no one is indispensable.  Putting technical expertise over common decency sends the message that our opinions, feelings, and efforts don’t matter.

Key Ability for Today’s Leaders? Adaptation Tops The List!

Recently pondering the motivation dilemma that most all organizations face at one time or another, I remembered my father’s mantra about creating the right organizational climate:  “Just check with the plumber about which way it runs,” he would say.  “It starts at the top and quickly goes downhill.”

Apathy is one of the most serious concerns for organizations today. Apathetic employees are unhappy, unproductive, deliver poor customer service and are lemmings jumping off the cliff of retention.  Some leaders still believe that incentives such as raises, benefits and employee recognition programs will boost motivation.  Clearly, everyone wants more money, but motivation does not follow just because we put more of the green stuff in our pockets.  At any rate, it is vital to be able to identify the root causes of low motivation.

No doubt my father was right.  After all, it is not uncommon to hear discussions about the influence leaders have on the rest of the organization; how their demeanor, approach, decisions, and actions affect everyone down line.  Frankly, every Tom, Dick and Harriet offers their personal notion of ideal leadership and character traits.  A simple online search will literally get you thousands of opinions, and they all boil down to the same 10-15 traits.

The problem is not in realizing which traits are important.  The problem is in knowing when and how to put any of these skills to use.  Not exhibiting a particular skill when it is most needed or deploying the wrong trait in a given instance is the cornerstone of most complaints about leaders.   Like a carpenter who uses a hammer when a saw is needed, so too are leaders limited in their effectiveness when they have a limited range or when they employ the wrong skill when another one would work better.  Therefore, I suggest to you that there is one and only one ability that binds all skills and traits:  Role Adaptation — the ability to adjust to varying circumstances and people and choose effective responses.

This is not easy to do.

The Dominant personality often lacks empathy; the Influencer often lacks discipline and specificity; the Steadfast individual often lacks assertiveness; and the conscientious individual usually struggles with spontaneity and encouragement.

Why should you be concerned?  It is my experience that many leaders are both inflexible in their approach and unaware of their effect on people.  And because they almost never receive feedback, they are left unaware of the effect they are having on teamwork, motivation, morale and trust.  According to Patrick Lencioni (2002), a lack of trust has a snowball effect on teams and creates a fear of conflict, a lack of overall commitment to the goals and vision of the organization, an avoidance of accountability, and a general inattention to results; in other words, apathy.

What should you do?  Heighten your leader’s self-awareness with a well-respected and valid assessment.  There are several on the market today, but make sure you choose one that tells your leader’s what their strengths are as well as how others may be experiencing them.  Make sure the goal is to heighten awareness and add flexibility in their approach, never to punish or demean.

It may be helpful to recall the great actors who can alter their face and voice to achieve the desired effect on the audience.  So too can supervisors and leaders learn how to create atmosphere and improve relationships.

Factors Influencing Employee Passion…Or…There Really Are Zombies Among Us!

Zombies really exist you know.  Just walk among your corridors and cubicles and you will see some.  Their lifelessness and stilted guttural emanations bring a halt to the energy and passion that underlies forward movement.  What’s worse is that they impart a kind of virus that creates other zombies.  Pretty soon there is an epidemic called “going through the motions and flying under the radar.”  Want to find out a bit about the virus that’s contributing to the demise of passion and engagement?  Rate your organization on the following ten items.

1 = Never   2 = Sometimes   3 = Often   4 = Always

___1.  We Have Meaningful Work—I perceive the organization’s larger purpose through our products or services produced.  I consider my work to be worthwhile, and I am proud of my individual actions and contributions that help the organization serve our customer.

­­­­­___ 2.  We Collaborate With Each Other—I perceive there to be an environment and a culture that enhances collaboration, cooperation, and encouragement between all organizational members.

___3.  Our Workplace is Fair—In this environment pay, benefits, resources and workload are fair and balanced and equitable, people treat each other with respect, and leaders act in an ethical manner.

___4.  I Have Autonomy to Make Decisions—I and others  have the tools, training, support, and authority to make decisions.

___5.  I Receive Regular (weekly) Recognition—I am (we are) are praised, recognized, and appreciated by our colleagues and our leaders for our accomplishments, where we receive monetary compensation for those accomplishments, and where we are contributing to positive relationships with others.

___6.  There Are Identified Opportunities for Growth—In this environment,  people have opportunities to learn, grow professionally, and develop skills that lead to advancement and career growth.

___7.  I Feel Connected With Our Leaders—I (we) trust our leader(s) and the leader(s) make an effort to form an interpersonal connection with us.

___8.  I Feel Connected With My Colleagues— I trust my colleagues and weall make an effort to form an interpersonal connection with each other.

___9.  It is Safe to Disagree—I have been able to safely disagree with my colleagues as well as the leaders.  Disagreements do not damage our relationships and I trust that if I have something to say that is outside the norm, people will listen without judgment.

___10.  We Have Fun—There is a light-hearted, glass-half-full kind of atmosphere here.  Regardless of outside forces, we know that we can rely on each other and make light of the crazy world we live in.

32-40…You are in the midst of engaged and passionate colleagues and leaders.  Differences in titles do not result in unwieldy power structures.  There is an atmosphere of listening and caring about people as individuals.  Trust is given, not just earned.  There is an atmosphere of teaching and coaching, not evaluation.  People voluntarily ask for feedback because the feedback is always given to help someone get better (and is perceived as such by almost everyone).

23-31… There is probably a good deal of variance among employees in levels of passion and engagement.  Zombies are present in a good portion of the population and exist alongside engaged and passionate people.  Levels of frustration reach a peak whenever outside forces create additional stress.  But there is always an undercurrent of dissatisfaction that goes largely unaddressed except via lip-service.  You might hear employees say: “things in my department are great!  I like what I do.  It’s management that is the biggest problem” or “if it weren’t for the employees, this would be a great place to work.”

22 and below….The virus is rampant and trust is at a minimum.  Silos exist as a means of self-preservation and sanity due to back stabbing or simply being ignored.  Serious consideration must be given to the causes.  Management is usually perceived to say one thing but do another.  Information tends to flow one way.  There is a general belief that those at the entry levels of the organization cannot handle information.  The culture is evidenced by a lack of appreciation and a lack of information.  People go out of their way to avoid getting noticed.  Perhaps most importantly, there is a chasm between what management says they do and what the employees say management does.

If you fell between 32-40 congratulations. You represent the benchmark that all companies strive for, and the fact that you took this test is a sign that you don’t take improvement and growth for granted. Keep up the good work!! If you fell between 23-31 all is not lost. You have individuals in your organization that can help rally the troops and lead the way toward positive employee engagement. Have open and honest discussions with them and solicit their feedback on why engagement is low among some.  Also, keep in mind that management assessments like the SOI or the EQ-i coupled with individual and team coaching can help push those numbers up. And finally, all is not lost if you fell below 22.  Enlisting the help of a consultant is highly recommended.

4 Unique Gifts You Can Give Your Employees During This Holiday Season

With Thanksgiving right around the corner many of us will embark upon a considerable gift buying spree for the Holiday Season. Some of us will practically break the bank in an effort to show love and appreciation for family members and significant friends.  But what about the other people in our lives that are significant due to the fact that they help us make a living and fulfill our mission?  What if we broke the bank in a different way for them? I have four gift ideas:

Gift #1: Manage your mindset!

-Remain positive and focused even when the project doesn’t go as planned.

-Practice patience. Keep in mind that waiting is not punishment, it is preparation.

-Have faith that things will work out, keep moving ahead, if even at a snail’s pace. With the destination straight ahead things always begin to clear up.

-Remember that positive work environments outperform negative work environments.

 Gift #2: Build recognition into your work culture.

-This is the season of Thanksgiving and gratitude”. Recognize and give thanks to your employees for doing good work.

-Recognize the effort; if it doesn’t work out exactly as you had planned be proud of the progress made, make the necessary adjustments, and then try again.

-Research has shown that companies that give regular thanks to their employees far out perform those that don’t.

-Share recognition stories at your next meeting.  Recognition has a physiological impact on performance. Our bodies create oxytocin when we feel appreciated.

 Gift #3: Smile more often………

-There is a mind-body connection in your frontal cortex that sends a message to your brain that you’re happy from the simple act of smiling. It changes our mood.

-Smiling can make others happy, it’s contagious.

-Smiling has been shown to lower your blood pressure. Check it out….sit for a few minutes with a smile on your face and take a reading, and then take a reading without smiling. Notice a difference?

Gift #4: Keep your pride in check.

This is actually a gift you can give your employees throughout the whole year, and when it is practiced it goes a long way.

-Remember that you can’t possibly know it all

-Admit that much of your success is owed to others

-Don’t allow your title to define you or what you do

Above all, remain humble. Learn from others. Enjoy the Journey.  The people who’ve meant the most to me in my life had these simple yet meaningful qualities.

Number One Leadership Task: Understand Your People!

I hope you don’t mind that I keep writing about The Walking Dead. Obviously sitting here on a Wednesday morning my brain is still processing what I have watched from the previous episode on Sunday evening.  In all my years as a management consultant I don’t think I have ever seen a more intense example of the necessity of teamwork as I have from this series. Those of us who watch this drama are drawn to it because the conflict and tension with both humans and zombies strikes a familiar chord inside of us and we cannot wait to see how it is resolved.

My favorite character in The Dead is Daryl.  I list him as a strong C style personality.  As with most C styles, Daryl can be aloof and somewhat formal until he gains familiarity with those around him.  He has laser-beam concentration and demonstrates incredible discipline around those things and people for whom he holds an interest.  He does not share his feelings readily and needs his leader to demonstrate consistency in thought and actions.  An atmosphere of Chaos is stressful for C styles like Daryl and, under long-term duress they can express “trigger” reactions in the form of anger.  Such reactions are an attempt to regain stability and will appear if logical approaches have not worked.  C Styles are often not the best verbal leaders and prefer to lead by example instead.

Smart, successful leaders have an in-depth understanding of their team members,   right?

Unfortunately this is often not the case.  In my consulting work when I asked leaders to list the characteristics of their employees they often list surface characteristics like “willing to work,” “stubborn,” good-natured,” “driven,” or “holds herself back.”  When I ask them what methods they use to motivate and encourage they say things like “I use humor” or “I stay out of the way and let people do things their own way.”  Not very helpful in terms of knowing how to best communicate or which job assignments make for the best fit for successful outcomes.

It is important for all leaders to understand that each individual has a unique stress source and shows stress idiosyncratically, listens differently and to different things, makes decisions differently based on unique criteria, possesses a particular social fear, and relates to authority uniquely.

We all know how crucial Daryl is to Rick, and yet I am not certain that Rick fully understands him, maybe even worries that he might lose him. This individual is critical to the survival of this group, and yet Rick may not always trust that he has what it takes to keep Daryl.  After all, Daryl left once, only to return later.

If I had one moment with Rick I would love to tell him about the strength of Daryl, and the challenges. We all see Daryl as somewhat dark, sullen, moody, and yet I cannot help but believe that he would prefer to avoid conflict. Unfortunately, because of tremendous stress, we see Daryl revert to his adapted style.

You see, we all have a natural personality style; the manner in which our personality is manifested.  It is largely genetic and determines the way we perceive the world, what we need from others, what we value in others, what we tend to fear and avoid, and what our strengths are.  Our personality is how other people see us and how they know us.  But we also have an adapted style that is not natural.  This adapted style is composed of traits and skills that are only used under certain situations, perhaps pressure situations.  It is neither natural nor permanent, but is helpful in the short run in order to achieve a particular goal or get past a stressful situation.  For example, a rather shy individual can temporarily embody more extroverted traits in order to make a good impression on the boss, or a normally passive individual can be assertive when necessary.   It is important to know however that not all adapted styles are helpful.  It can also be detrimental.  An extroverted individual who cannot focus on mundane details may be accused of turning in inferior work.  Most of us have the ability to adapt our style when necessary but it does not come without a cost.

The use of our adapted style takes energy and is never permanent.  It’s like resting after running a marathon.  You have to rest!  You have to regroup!  The same holds true for Daryl following the battles he must fight.  We certainly observe that it is difficult for him to verbalize his feelings. He probably needs clear cut boundaries in order to feel comfortable at work, in relationships, or to take action. Sometimes the C can be bound by procedures and methods and find it difficult to stray from order. Sometimes they can get too bogged down in the small details, making it difficult to see the next steps or big picture.  It is true that Daryl is a warrior, but that is because he is temporarily adapting to the environment that demands it.  When he finally finds refuge, he will go back to his natural state that will likely include introversion and the avoidance of conflict.

I present Daryl to you because I think he is a good example of the complexity of your employees.  Right now you may be thinking about someone you know, someone  that people are sometimes confusing.  And sometimes the adapted style

What does this mean for you?