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When Not Making it Worse is Key


So many times in business, sports and life in general, it is not what you do wrong that gets you in hot water, it is what you do after the thing you did wrong that tends to get you in serious trouble. Case in point, Martha Stewart did not go to jail for securities fraud, she went to jail for lying* about it.

During his interview with Erin Andrews, moments after an incredible play that propelled the Seahawks to the Super Bowl with a win over the 49ers, Richard Sherman did in fact put on a display of bravado that many (myself included) felt distasteful. What stands out, though, is the comments he has made since then. His regret about his comments as well as his concern that he took attention away from his teammates, show a side of Sherman that one would expect from a Stanford graduate, which, of course, he is…

Getting things right the first time is always the best option, but when that fails, not making them worse is the best alternative.

* Per Wikipedia, Martha Stewart was convicted of conspiracy, obstruction of an agency proceeding, and making false statements to federal investigators.

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Posted in Communication, Leadership.

Defining Your Company’s Culture

I find corporate culture similar to brand. They are both hard to define and both hard to change. The are also both determined by individuals that your company has limited control over.

Brand is determined by those outside of your business including your clients, customers, suppliers… Many organizations work hard to influence their brand, but it is ultimately defined by how others see your company.bigstock-Conceptual-peace-and-cultural--37333945

Culture is defined by employees. Most leadership teams try to influence their culture, but at the end of the day, it is determined by employee perspective. It is normal for companies to use words to try describe their culture. This is important as they try to make changes and describe their culture to candidates. Words, though, have much less impact on culture than actions. Actions even when silent, tend to be heard loud and clear.

I once worked for a company that decided respect would soon be a cornerstone of their culture. The CEO used several approaches to accomplish this goal. For example, she let everyone know that she was using a coach to help her prioritize respectfulness in her day-to-day activities. She also implemented mandatory dispute training that required employees, when there was a disagreement, to use the words “I understand your perspective is….” before continuing the conversation. The training was not popular, but it had an impact on the organization establishing how we interacted when the temperature began to bubble over. It became a habit and eventually part of the culture.

Understanding your culture begins with asking questions of both your leadership team and your employees. Some of the ones listed below can get you started.

How are decisions made and who makes the most of them? Senior Management, Middle Management, Line Management, Employees?
Do teams get to make decisions, or just team leaders? What happens when a mistake is made? punishment? celebration? something in between?
What is the physical layout of your facility? Is it open and collaborative or is there lots of private space?
Are office doors typically open or closed?
Do your employees get together socially? Do different levels of employees get together socially?
When was the last time that an employee had a conversation with another employee 2 or 3 levels up?
How do you share good/bad information?
Do you have a long term vision? Is your vision shared by your employees?


The answers to these questions can be surprising and often contradictory, but that’s OK. After all, we are talking about people here.

Once you have some perspective on your culture, confirm it with your employees. If you don’t do an engagement survey, now would be a great time to start. There are tons of survey vendors, just send me a comment if you would like suggestions.

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Posted in Leadership.

The Strength of Affinity

As humans, we are driven to be a part of something, a group (or groups) that we associate with. Perhaps it is an after-work softball team, the parents of your kid’s soccer team, or a project team at work. Male Paper Chain

I had the good fortune of recently attending the HCI Human Capital Summit in Orlando, FL. It was a great conference.

Several of the presenters provided tips on growing company affinity to build employee engagement. One of the presenters pointed out the affinity that we as attendees had for each other, just because we happened to be attending the same conference.  He was right.  Between sessions, I noticed  many engaging conversations taking place, some with me as a participant.    Since we all had HCI badges, it was easy to identify fellow conference attendees. We had an affinity. There was another medical related conference going on at the same hotel. They, of course, had different badges and were chatting only amongst themselves. Everyone at the conference center was a complete stranger to me, yet I had a affinity with my fellow HCI attendees.

The power of affinity is strong. If our group of 500+ strangers could develop an instant affinity just on the basis of having similar backgrounds and attending the same conference, the possibilities for a team, group or company are immense.

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Posted in Communication, Leadership.

Using Stress to Conquer Panic

Panic is the natural reaction to a significant amount of stress. In some cases a flight-or-flight response is needed for survival and panic is appropriate. Imagine you are reading a text message on your Panic attack icon designiPhone while crossing the street. Suddenly, you hear a loud horn and see a large city bus lock its wheels as it is quickly approaching you. This is a perfect time to run like a wild person so you don’t get hit by the bus.

Generally, though, panic is not the best course of action.

A few years ago, my son finally convinced me to get certified in scuba diving with him. I never had an interest in scuba diving and frankly had more than a small amount of stress/anxiety as I thought about all the bad things that might happen when you are 60 feet below the surface.

We took a five week certification class at the local dive shop and learned tons about how to dive safely. The more we learned, the more I found I was able to control the stress I was feeling. We went through scenario after scenario about what to do when something unexpected happens (such as running out of air–a seriously stressful situation). All of the planning and preparation, classroom tests, and swimming pool practice helped me take my stress and apply it to preparing how to handle almost every possible situation.

All was well until we began our open water certification dive at a local quarry. As my son and I began our initial descent, I noticed the water was murky. I could only see about six inches in front of me. I knew that there was a dive instructor just a couple of feet away, but I felt claustrophobic. It was kind of like being in a phone booth under 15 feet of water. I had an almost uncontrollable urge to bolt to the surface. Panic was starting to set in. Then I happened to notice my son right next to me enjoying his underwater experience. So I took a deep breath of air and let the panic go. We ended up having an OK dive, although it ended a bit short because one in our group was taking frequent deep breaths and used up his air faster than normal.

Later that day we did a second dive in a less hazy part of the quarry and I did a much better job of keeping my panic under control. I actual enjoyed the dive and was sorry when it was time to come up. What amazed me was that diving is relaxing, almost like yoga on steroids. Later diving in the Virgin Islands and then around wrecks off North Carolina, I learned to very much enjoy diving. Now I am addicted.

Before each dive, though, I still have some stress. I channel it, though, to planning the dive, reviewing all of the safety steps, making sure all of our equipment is ready…

Dealing with stress is something most of us manage on almost a daily basis. At work, it could be preparing for a presentation or rolling out an important project. Just like with my diving, it is OK to experience stress, it is equally important to channel that stress to productive things that are going to help you better perform your job while at the same time your constructive steps tend to lower your stress. In the business world, panic (or running around with your hair on fire) never leads to a good outcome.

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Posted in Development, Wellness.

Here’s the Thing About Goals

Over the years, I have received many goal related questions.  1. Why do I need them?  2.  How do they relate to my year-end bonus?  3. What happens if I don’t have goals?  4. Do I have to come up with goals? 5. Are goals ever bad? (See Answers below)

Goals only exist so that you can stay focused on what you need to accomplish which maximizes the amount of value you can provide.  At the end of the day, what really matters is how much value you deliver; to yourself, to you family, to your team, to your employer…  The key is to establish a reasonable amount of balance between your goals and your priorities (with a priority on the goals that mean the most to you).

Goals are merely a way to keep you on track while you are on your journey. Checking on them can ensure you’re going to accomplish your desired end results.  Be careful, though, focusing too much on your goals and not enough on your priorities or outcomes or may lead you to unintended consequences.

A classic example of goals leading to a bad place is when Lee Iacocca was at Ford. Mr. Iacocca, is known for engineering the Mustang at Ford.  In the late 60’s he decided to design and build a new car under 2,000 lbs. and under $2,000 in a very short timeframe.  He accomplished these goals with the launch of the Pinto in 1970.  Unfortunately, with the short timeline, the Pinto’s gas tank was hastily designed to fit behind the rear axial of the car.  This resulted in a huge failure as rear end collisions caused explosions that resulted in over 50 deaths.

Over time, our priorities naturally shift.  It is important that our goals shift as well.  26 years ago, my then fiancé was faced with a dilemma.  She had dual goals of traveling to Paris and graduating from college before she got married.  The kink came when I proposed to her well before we could afford to go to Paris and when she had about half the credits she needed to graduate.  Fortunately for me, she shifted her goals and we got married six months later.  It took her another two years to get her degree and we plan on going to Paris over the upcoming holidays.  (Ok, I know, I’m a little late on the Paris trip…)

Goals are important.  They help us get to where we are going.  We just need to be careful to adjust and refine our goals over time so that we get to the right place.

Answers: 1. You need goals because they help you stay focused on what you need to accomplish; 2. They don’t; 3. Nothing; 4. No; 5. Sometimes

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Posted in Development.

Do You Have the Stress Mitigation Gene?

Let’s face it. We all deal with stress differently and those of us who are effective at dealing with stress tend to have the best outcomes. A shining example was Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger calmly landing US Airways Flight 1549 into the Hudson River saving all 155 passengers and crew.

Some of us are lucky and have what I refer to as the Stress Mitigation Gene. Given the same exact stressful situation, some of us calmly focus and get things done quickly while others run around with our hair on fire.

While I have seen it many times in the workplace, I first noticed the Stress Mitigation Gene many years ago when I was in college and working at my first of several restaurant waiter jobs. At the beginning of the shift, everyone seemed normal. As the restaurant started to get busy and we entered a state commonly referred to as “in the weeds”, I noticed some of the wait staff start to succumb to pressure. The symptoms of anxiety took over, perspiration, yelling, that glazed look in the eyes… What impressed me was that some of my fellow wait staff had the exact opposite reaction. They became focused on multi-tasking and quietly increased their efficiency/output. They were able to navigate the wildly chaotic kitchen and then moments later calmly engage in topical conversation with their customers in the dining room. Not surprisingly, at the end of the evening, their tips tended to be much higher.

The good news is that while we are not all born with the Stress Mitigation Gene, each of us has the ability to develop an appropriate response to stressful situations.

The tricky part is recognizing when you don’t handle stress well. How often have you watched someone have a meltdown in a room full of people? Funny how every single person, except for the one screaming, recognizes how poorly he/she is dealing with stress.

Other symptoms of not handling stress well include: procrastination, over eating, too much alcohol, sleeping too much and problems at home. One quick way of identifying that you have a stress problem is to simply ask your spouse, partner or children. They will tell you in a second.

Once you identify your stressful moments, take steps to get back to a calm state. Exercise and sleep can be a big help. So can discussing your stress with someone such as a friend, mentor or boss. Many company health plans provide employee assistance plans and mental health coverage. Check with your HR department if you have questions.

The bottom line is that you don’t need the Stress Mitigation Gene to effectively deal with stress. It sure helps, though.

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Posted in Development.

6 Steps to Landing Your Next Job

The job search process can be a very anxious time, especially when you are too focused on the outcome.  Of course, it is human nature to focus on outcomes, but unless you’re extremely lucky, finding your next job will the result of the steps you take.  If you focus on the steps and are comfortable that you are taking ALL necessary steps, then you should feel comfortable that the result of finding a job is well within reach.


Step 1 – Build Your Brand

Start with identifying your key skills and then write them down.  Common areas to consider:  recent work/school projects, emails from coworkers, year-end evaluations, volunteer work…

Spend some time building your online brand.  The key is to leverage your current online presence and then work on expanding it.  Start with your personal email.  Review your address list and send emails to those individuals who might be able to help you.  Ask for job leads and summarize you key skills.  If you have a Facebook account, leverage your Friends to help.  If you have LinkedIn, reach out to your contacts for help.  Use Twitter to Direct Message everyone who might be able to help.

-stayed tuned for an upcoming posting on “Online Brand”


Step 2 – Career Research

Now that you are comfortable with your key skills, you need to map them to specific job openings.  Stay as broad as possible and consider companies, government agencies and non-profits as appropriate.  Job boards can be valuable resources include the big ones like, Careerbuilder, Idealist and Craigslist.  Also consider local job boards and industry specific ones.

 Step 3 – Networking

This is where the rubber meets the road.  If you are looking for a job, it is important that EVERYONE who might be able to help you is aware.  Reach out and touch somebody including:  friends, friends of friends, recruiters, association members, volunteers you have worked with, friends at church, parents of your children’s’ friends…  If you are not working now, try to find a volunteering opportunity to prevent any gaps in your resume.

 Step 4 – Interview Prep

Good news!!  Because of your brand, career research and networking, you have identified an opportunity (or several) and the company is interested in interviewing you.

Take time to review your key talents.  Review all the times when you have demonstrated those talents.  Re-research the company.  Have they been in the press recently?  Google the names of the individuals who will be interviewing you.  Have they been in the news? Perhaps have a blog?  Prepare for common interview questions, such as:  What are your strengths? Weaknesses?  Give me a summary of your background.

 Step 5 – Interview: The Big Day

Be sure to walk into the room with confidence.  Give a good strong handshake.  Make sure you are dressed professionally.  Remember to ask questions letting your curiosity guide the conversation.  If possible, avoid salary conversations.

If you are interested in the job, make sure that you make it crystal clear to the interviewer.

 Step 6 – The Art of the Offer

OK, you are almost there.  After your interview, be sure to research your worth.  What have you made on past jobs? Check online sites such as

Before you discuss a salary with potential employer, make sure you know the benefits.  Do they offer health care insurance? 401K match? Vesting?  Vacation pay? Sick leave?  This will allow you to come up with an apples to apples comparison.

If possible, let the employer come up with the salary number.  If you are asked for your salary requirement, give a range.  If the salary offered is low, there is nothing wrong with asking if there is room for negotiation.  If there is not room for negotiation on salary, ask if they can offer you a Sign On Bonus to make up the difference.  At the end of the conversation, ask how much time the employer needs for you to make a decision.

Good Luck!!

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Posted in Recruiting.

4 Tips for Ensuring a Smooth Post Vacation Reentry

I have heard it many times in my HR career, employees complaining about how they are more stressed returning from vacation then before they left. Once or twice the employee complaining sounded remarkable like me.

I get it. Coming back is not always easy, especially from a fabulous vacation. Following are some tips to help make vacation reentry less stressful.

1. Decide well before your vacation if you are going to go incommunicado. If you want a total disconnection from the office, it is important that you plan ahead. To the degree possible, find qualified colleagues who can make decisions for you while you are gone. This may help lower the tsunami of decisions you will need to make when you return. Keep in mind that in the future, you will need to return the favor(s).

Note: Depending upon your role, this option may not work for full week (or longer) vacations. I strongly recommend finding at least a few days each year to totally get away. Here is an example that works for me –> The Value of “Alone” Time

2. There is nothing worse than coming back to work after bad vacation.  Make sure the vacation you pick is a fit for you.   Is relaxation and meditation your thing or is adventure a better fit? Below are a few categories to get you started. Lots of web sites provide more information. is a good place to start.

  • Relaxation – beach, mountains, cruise, spa
  • Exercise – bike tours, skiing, golf, scuba diving
  • Meditation – mountains, parks, islands
  • Fun – gambling, adventure tours, amusement parks
  • Social Responsibility – voluntourism, green hotels
  • Adventure – safari, dude ranch, fishing, cliff diving

3. If you plan on keeping in touch with the office, try to restrict your work time to very specific times. For me, spending an hour or so catching up on email first thing in the morning works best, especially when my wife and children are sleeping. This gives me the rest of the day to enjoy my vacation.

4. If you are traveling for vacation, arrive home at least a day before you return to work. This will give you time to decompress and perhaps cut the grass if that motivates you. It also helps with time zone adjustments.

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Posted in Work-Life Balance.

Where Does Your Career Path Lead?

I remember once when an employee complained to me that her manager had never had a conversation with her about career goals. I asked if career goals are important to her, to which she replied that they are vitally important. I then asked why, if her career goals are so important, had she not bothered to discuss them with her manager.

I have seen this circle of confusion frequently over my career in human resources. The bottom line is that each of us is responsible for our own career growth. Most of us are experts in where we want to grow in our careers. If we don’t take initiative to take the lead in realizing our career goals, then we have no one to blame but ourselves if we don’t find the opportunities that will take us to where we want to grow.

Don’t worry, I am not letting Managers off the hook here. They play a pivotal role helping employees grow to the next level. The best managers are frequently described as “mentor” or “coach”. From an employee career growth perspective, this is where they add the most value. Good Managers understand that it all comes down to asking good questions. Here are a few to get you started.

Where do you want to grow in your career?
Is this realistic?
What time frame do you have in mind?
What are the steps you will need to take to get there?
What skills do you already have that will help?
What new skills will you need?
How can I help you acquire those skills?

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Posted in Development.

5 Steps to Winning the Email War

Let me be clear.  I don’t presume to say that I have won the email war.  After all, you can’t declare victory in a war that never ends.  I can honestly say though that at the moment, I have less than 50 emails (spanning 2 days) in my inbox.  This is the same person who left a job 3 1/2 years ago with over 5,000 emails in my inbox that I had never laid eyes on. (I sure hope they have been deleted.)

In my quest to slay the email dragon, I have tried just about everything finally settling on a combination of a process (GTD) and a tool (Evernote) to bring some order to my chaos.

GTD (Getting Things Done) is a methodology developed by David Allen.  The process helps organize tasks (and emails) into logical folders.  You can use this process effectively with paper folders or one of many automated tools.  I use an automated tool, Evernote.

Evernote is a cloud based note taking/storing tool.  The power of Evernote is that it allows you to use multiple notebooks and a multitude of tags to keep things tidy and organized.  The fact that you can use many tags on the same note is my favorite feature.  It makes finding notes in the future a breeze.  You can easily forward important emails to Evernote and tag them at the same time. Tags allow me to incorporate the GTD methodology using the Evernote tool.

Step 1

Go to David Allen’s web site, and learn a bit about his methodology.   I also recommend getting and reading his book.

Step 2

Download Evernote ( ) to all your devices, PC, iPad, Android Phone, iPhone…  Get Evernote Premium.  It is just $45 a year and well worth it.

Step 3

After becoming familiar with both GTD and Evernote, start building Evernote tags.  Pick topics where you spend most of your time.  Recruiting and Benefits are my two biggest although Homebrewing is my favorite.  Don’t worry about having too many tags, you can consolidate them later.  Then add three very important tags:  @today, @week and @Zfuture.

Step 4

As you now have already read in David Allen’s book, you know that any emails that you can knock out in less than two minutes should be resolved right in your inbox.  If you need to keep a copy of an email or your response, just forward it to Evernote and give it an appropriate tag or two.  Emails (and other tasks) that take more than 2 minutes should be listed in one of the new folders based on urgency/time sensitivity.  Items in @today should be done TODAY.  @week tasks should be done within 7 days.  @zfuture tasks should be done when you have time.

Step 5

Here comes the tricky part.  For this to work, you need to keep current.  If you have emails/tasks tagged to @today that are a week old, you either tagged them wrong to begin with or you have missed an important deadline.  You must empty out your email box regularly, daily is best.  If you are like me, just skipping a few days can result in a backlog of 300+ emails.  If this happens, I now have to split my time between what I know I need to do (emails/tasks tagged @today) and what I don’t know I need to do (little bomb shells lurking in my now bloated inbox).

The bottom line with this model is that it will help you to spend more time doing what needs to be done today and less time worrying about if there are things you should be doing, but are not aware of.  I’d say that is the definition of winning the email war!

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Posted in Communication, Leadership.