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When Parting Ways is Best for the Organization, the Employee and You

For his first three years, Tom was a model employee. You were convinced you had made a perfect hire as you watched him crank out work product, impress clients and inspire the team. You could depend on Tom and saw a bright future for him.

For the past year, though, you have noticed a significant decline in the quality of his work. He has been argumentative with clients and employees who used to fight to be on his project teams, now fight to get reassigned to other projects. Any other project…

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Posted in Talent Management.

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Rethinking Annual Performance Reviews

Most employees and managers look forward to annual performance reviews as much as they look forward to having a root canal. Next to getting fired, it is the most unpleasant employee experience. According to a recent survey by CEB Global, 95% of managers are dissatisfied with their performance management system and 59% of employees feel their performance reviews are not worth the time invested. Many misinterpret this kind of data as evidence that we should eliminate all performance reviews. But employees have been telling us for years that they want more feedback, not less. If we stop performance reviews, we may eliminate what little feedback employees currently receive. The issue is how often and in what way employee performance is reviewed. What employees don’t want is feedback concentrated into a year-end performance discussion and what they really don’t want is a rating attached to that discussion.

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Posted in Leadership.

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The Importance of Hiring Your Next Superstar

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus is believed to have said, “Nothing is constant but change.” Funny that such an old saying fits many companies today. In order to remain successful, most companies and their employees must be both nimble and innovative so they can meet the ever-changing needs of their clients.

In professional services, the most successful hires tend to exhibit the three attributes listed below:

  • Drive (think fire in the belly)
  • Intellectual Curiosity
  • Learning Agility

Click to read the full article:  The Importance of Hiring Your Next Superstar

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Posted in Attraction.

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.