Thursday, June 22, 2017

Leadership Tips from Mankind’s Best Friend, the Dog

Guest post from Dr. Garry McDaniel:

For over three decades, the Gallup organization has been conducting surveys to illuminate the role leader’s play in creating a workforce of engaged employees to organizational leadership. While this is admirable, it is even more impressive to note that for over fifteen thousand years, dogs have been humankind’s constant companion and an observer of our progress from the epochs of hunter-gatherer, agriculturalist, industrialism, to the current knowledge era.  Since dogs have been our close companions for so many millennia, let’s consider what advice they might give us to serve as more effective leaders.
1.    Demonstrate loyalty.  When we ask dog owners what they like about dogs, one of the first qualities they identify is that dogs are unfailingly loyal. Dogs bond with their families and stick with them through thick and thin. Loyalty is also of key importance to leaders and organizational success. In fact, the mark of an effective leader is the ability to influence others to accomplish worthy goals; this requires loyalty to the desired outcome.  Tip from Fido: Don’t gossip about others who are not present and treat all employees fairly and with respect.  

2.    Maintain a positive attitude. Dogs are just about the most positive creature on Earth. My dog Panda views every outing as an opportunity to explore the world. An effective leader is definitely more of the ‘glass half full’ instead of the ‘glass half empty’ kind of person who projects a sincere positive attitude that others find contagious and inspiring. Tip from Fido: Starting tomorrow, begin each day or meeting not by bemoaning what went wrong, but by recognizing what is working well and for what you are grateful. 

3.    Communicate clearly.  A friend observed that dogs have ‘crystal hearts.’ By this, he meant that dogs communicate clearly and without guile; what you see is what you get. Humans, on the other hand, often intentionally say one thing and mean something else. Effective leaders communicate clearly and ensure that the message is offered in the right tone, through the most effective medium, and is received accurately. Tip from Fido: Don’t wag your tail as you growl, and don’t whimper when you need to bark. Say what you mean; don’t obfuscate your message intentionally deceive and mislead. Ensure there are clear channels for accurate communication up and down the chain of command.  

4.    Be playful. One of the qualities we admire most in our dogs is their unconcealed joy in engaging with us in play. Whether it is going for a walk, throwing a ball, playing tug-of-war, swimming, or jogging, our dogs love playing with us. Research is clear that happy, playful work environments are more productive than those that are drab and dreary. Employees respond far better to the carrot than the stick. Tip from Fido: Encourage creative, playful problem-solving and brainstorming.  Actively support employee play in the form of bowling, softball, fun runs, ping pong, dress-up days, and other fun events that foster connection and engagement. 

5.    Be forgiving. Step on your dog’s tail and they will yelp, but forgive you immediately. Is that true in your workplace? When someone feels slighted (whether real or imagined) does the resulting animosity fester and destroy productivity, communication, and efficiency? Good leaders ‘get over it’ and recognize that people- themselves included- make mistakes. Tip from Fido: Recognize that no one is perfect; learn from and forgive mistakes. Be humble and apologize when you are wrong and accept apologies from others.

6.    Love what you do. Unconditional love; it is the hallmark of what makes a dog humankind’s best friend. Race, creed, color, sexual preference, religion, body type, and age don’t matter to your dog; they still love being with you. Effective leaders demonstrate clear passion for what they do and appreciate the passion and success of others. Tips from Fido: Pay attention, reward and recognize the achievements of others. Let them know both publically and privately what they did and how much you value their contribution. Demonstrate an honest appreciation for diversity in everything you do. 

7.    Live a balanced life. Dogs seem particularly adept at living a balanced life. Panda appears to have a wonderful sense for knowing when to transition between sleeping, playing, eating, or just engaging with other dogs and people.  Our culture tends to demand that we focus on ‘getting results’ at the expense of all other aspects of our lives. Great leaders recognize that ‘results’ are important, but how one attains those results is vital to long term creativity, productivity, and effectiveness. Tip from Fido: Reflect on how you are spending your time; set aside adequate time for family, friends, your own personal health, professional and spiritual growth?  Intervene when you notice a well intentioned employee is burning themselves out trying to contribute to the organization. 

You may have seen the magic trick called the Chinese Locking Rings in which a magician holds up several separate rings and then ‘magically’ appears to link them all together. Our dogs would remind us that truly effective leaders recognize that the seven qualities discussed above may appear separate, but in reality, they are all highly interconnected. Separately, each has value; together they define the difference between mediocre and outstanding leadership. Perhaps dogs know us better than Gallup! 
Garry McDaniel and Sharon Massen are professors at Franklin University and speak nationally on what individuals and organizations can learn from dogs about leadership, team building, and customer service. Their latest book is, The Dog’s Guide to Your Happiness: Seven Secrets for a Better Life from Man’s Best Friend. Garry and Sharon invite you to contribute stories about what you have learned from your dog that has positively enhanced your view on personal, family or professional relationships. Please send your stories or insights to Garry and Sharon at or by calling 614-657-8524.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

A Leader’s First Step to Effective Influence

Guest post from Dan Mann

Leadership is about one thing: influencing adult behavior. Ironically, that’s one of the most difficult human actions to accomplish.

In our positions as leaders—whether that’s as a manager, owner, coach or something less traditional—our daily task is to influence the decisions of those under our charge. We’re tasked with the job of bending their wills and actions to the benefit of the greater good of our business or cause. But adults are free-thinking, strong-willed beings. Unlike children, their minds aren’t malleable sponges, and these old dogs are often reluctant to learn new tricks.

That’s not to say that it can’t be done. I’ve spent the past 30 years in leadership roles and, over the past [decade?], in leadership development through the Mann Group. Through my courses like Mann U, I’ve helped some of the country’s largest specialty retailers and manufacturers run well and, most importantly, lead well.

These “students” I get to mentor are the best of the best when it comes to leadership, and yet, they’re not perfect. They all site troublesome employees who just don’t listen and share stories of how changing their actions was often seemingly impossible. Over the years, their notes prompted me to look more closely into how exactly adult behavior change works.

As it turns out, the steps to influence are not some complex algorithm, but just straightforward, intentional movements.

The first step in influence, for example, is simple: establish context.

What does that mean? It means that in order to influence others, you need to start with yourself. Ask yourself this elementary questions: what’s your cause?

Before you begin to train anyone else, you need to be very clear on what it is you’re trying to establish in them and why. This doesn’t have to be some grand vision or life plan (although it certainly can be); it just needs to make sense to you, so it can make sense to the people you’re influencing. Once you have a clear vision of your intention, it’s possible to share it with others and to translate into a language they can understand. It’s impractical and actually impossible to influence the behavior of others if you’re not direct in your intention; you get distracted and a clear message is hidden behind other ideas. But when you approach influence with a clear and concise objective, you can package it into digestible bites for your employees or “students.”

So once you’ve established your own cause, you can build context for your trainee. And this is where those stubborn wills come into play.

When you’re trying to influence someone, their initial reaction will differ inherently from that of a child because they won’t just take what you say at face value. In fact, they may not want to listen at all; they could be distracted or purely argumentative.

As adults, their gut reaction will be to question the influence you’re trying to sway over them. Understand that questions like “ What are we working on?” “Why are we working on it?” “How long will this take?” and “What’s in it for me?” will inevitably be circulating through their minds. Whether they speak them out loud or not, your students are asking them, and failing to address them is fatal to effectively changing their behavior long term. 

That’s why being so clear in your cause is integral to effective influence. Because you’ve already established your objective internally, you can effectively address each of these questions. When you’re clear in your own objectives, it’s easy to persuade your students of the validity of your cause.

Answering these questions—like what they’re doing and why—doesn’t just convince your student that it’s worthwhile, which immediately changes their perspective and gains their attention. It also establishes trust, which is the trademark of long-term influence. You’re no longer a monarch demanding attention from your subjects; you’ve set yourself on equal footing, and your student is more likely to respect and incorporate your ideas into his own objectives.

At the outset of your training, establish what you’re doing, why you’re there, how long it will take and what your student will gain. Be clear in your cause so they can be too. Once you’ve prepped them for the benefits of the training about to take place, actual influence can occur.

About the author:
Influencing adult behavior is perfectly possible, you just have to understand how. Dan Mann is a 30 year veteran of leadership and leadership training. His new book, ORBiT: The Art & Science of Influence, offers a six-step system for influencing adult behavior. To learn the five steps that follow “Establish Context,” visit to pick up your copy of Dan’s new book.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Managing Distraction in the Digital Era

Guest post from Amy Blankson:
In 2013, the National Center for Biotechnology Information reported that the average attention span of a human has dropped to a mere eight seconds, one second behind that of a goldfish. Why does this matter? Distraction in the digital era has become an epidemic, robbing us of our focus, decreasing our productivity and hindering our overall life satisfaction. Our jobs today are “interrupt-driven,” with distractions not just a plague on our work—sometimes they can mean the difference between success and failure.

According to Cyrus Foroughi, a doctoral student at George Mason University one minute of distraction is more than enough to wipe your short-term memory. An interruption as short as 2.8 seconds (the length of time it takes to read a short text message) can double error rates on simple sequencing tasks and a 4.4 second interruption can triple error rates.  Linda Stone, a software executive who has worked for both Apple and Microsoft, explains that we are so busy keeping tabs on everything that we never focus on anything, a phenomenon she calls “continuous partial attention.”
Instead, messages undiscerningly bombard us, with the senders rationalizing that we can choose when and where to open a message. A recent survey of smartphone users found that:

As New York Times Magazine’s Clive Thompson writes, “Information is no longer a scarce resource—attention is.” In this Digital Era where work/home/play are blended together, we may not always have a choice about our work schedules or our work priorities; however, there are powerful things that we can do to regain a sense of control about our happiness at work.

5 Happy Hacks to Get You Started:
1.    Unplug strategically. In the Digital Era, most employers expect employees to be plugged in via email, phone, text, instant message, or all the above. This constant barrage of communication can be incredibly frustrating, if not counterproductive. While completely unplugging from email or phone may not be realistic in today’s working world, stepping away from technology, even briefly, can increase your focus, which leads to a 57 percent increase in more effective collaboration, an 88 percent increase in learning effectiveness, and a 42 percent increase in socializing effectiveness. If you can’t step away from technology completely during work, consider limiting how often you check email.  A recent study found that individuals who limited their frequency of checking email to three times a day experienced significantly lower daily stress, which in turn predicted higher well-being on a diverse range of well-being outcomes.

2.    Know your stats. The average person checks his phone 150 times every day. If every distraction took only one minute (a seriously optimistic estimate), that would account for 2.5 hours of distraction every day. That’s 912.5 hours a year, or roughly thirty-eight days each year. Knowing your stats increases your awareness so that you can make proactive choices about how you spend your time and energy. Download the Unplugged app to see how many times you turn on your phone each day and how you are using your time.

3.    Tell others what you are really doing.  When you need to step away from technology to focus, set a short-term auto-responder explaining what you are really doing and when you will be back (i.e., I’m stepping away from my email to finish this project. I’ll be back in one hour). This small gesture communicates to others that you value them, but you also value your work (of course this only works if you are actually using your time productively). If you worry about how such a message will be perceived, fear not. Many employers are actually thrilled that you want to focus more (and even inspired by your initiative to communicate this because they secretly want to do the same thing).

4.    Hide your phone. We have become joined at the hip with our phones—afraid to step back from this electronic umbilical cord for fear that someone might need us for something.  However, recent research shows that the mere presence of a cellphone can decrease your productivity and attention on cognitively demanding tasks.  Chances are that seeing every text message, email, or social media alert as it comes in won’t make you more productive, and it certainly won’t make you happier. To focus on your work, move your cellphone out of your line of sight (put it in your bag, behind your computer screen, or in a drawer); if that’s not possible, at the very least, turn off nonessential notifications. You also can get noise-canceling headphones to help you focus.

5.    Use the “Really?!” Rule.  When you find yourself tempted to use technology to zone out at work for a bit, stop and ask yourself: Does this tech truly make me happier and/or more productive? For instance, does taking my phone to the break room really rejuvenate your mind or does it prevent you from connecting with your colleagues? A recent study of 450 workers in Korea found that individuals who took a short work break without their cellphones felt more vigor and less emotional exhaustion than individuals who toted their cellphones along with them on their breaks, regardless of whether they actually used the phone! If you find yourself using tech to zone out rather than to tune in, try to shift your behavior to use your time in a way that will genuinely fuel your long-term happiness and productivity.

By practicing these happy hacks in your life, you can learn to manage distraction in the digital era and set yourself up for a future of greater happiness and well-being in the long run.  

Amy Blankson has become one of the world’s leading experts on the connection between positive psychology and technology. She is the only person to be named a Point of Light by two U.S. presidents for creating a movement to activate positive culture change. A sought-after speaker and consultant, Amy has now worked with organizations like Google, NASA, the US Army, and the Xprize Foundation to help foster a sense of well-being in the Digital Era. Amy received her BA from Harvard and MBA from Yale School of Management. Most recently, she was a featured professor in Oprah’s Happiness course. Amy is the author of two books: The Future of Happiness and an award-winning children’s book called Ripple’s Effect.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Stop Measuring Employee Loyalty By Tenure: 5 Steps to Creating a Boomerang Culture

Guest post from Lee Caraher:

The great lament of so many leaders and managers today is that “no one is loyal anymore.” With millions of millennials pegged as “job hoppers” who “leave before they even get productive,” older managers are increasingly unwilling to put in the effort to help develop and train their younger colleagues. The logic goes – “why should I put my effort into helping these people when they’re just going to leave me and I’ll have to start all over again.”

Oh, the good old days, when people stayed where you wanted them for as long as you wanted them to and retired with a golden watch and some balloons.

Yeah. Those good old days are long gone, if they ever existed at all. And not because people changed, but because companies stopped honoring the implicit contract that permeated American business: you work hard and the company will take care of you. Employees today know that they can’t count on a company to take care of them, and that they need to craft their own career with building blocks of job experiences that keep them relevant, and increasingly valuable. Add to that their desire to be both interested in and satisfied with the impact of their work.

The old loyalty paradigm is dead, and it’s time for us to switch from measuring employee loyalty by length of employment, to an entire career lifetime regardless of whether a paycheck is involved or not. This is the Boomerang Principle: the belief that organizations that allow and encourage former employees to return have a strategic advantage over those that don’t.

Consider these points to help prepare you for this new mindset:
   When you hire someone, you know they are going to leave you. Instead of worrying about when they’re going to leave, focus on helping your employees be as valuable as possible while they’re with you;
     It’s unlikely that one organization could offer the range of opportunities – skills, positions, locations, terms, or dynamics – that every employee will want over the course of their careers. Instead of treating former employees as “dead to you,” consider the skills that they will gain away from your company and figure out how you can get them to return when they are more valuable to you in the future;
     With every former employee, you have the opportunity to INCREASE your footprint in the business world. Creating an environment and relationship that keeps former employees informed and attached to your company can pay off in exponential ways after they leave you in terms of potential clients, partners and advocates in the industry and community. Better to have people proud of their association with you, than actively preferring not to recommend your company as an employer or a provider.
      When you create a “culture of return” you create a “culture to remain.” Environments that are worthy to return to – where people are welcomed to return – are generally more positive, more high-performing, more productive and more profitable than those that aren’t. These types of positive organizations are hard to leave just to leave, and have much lower employee turnover rates than those organizations that treat their former employees as pariahs.
And now, how can you create a culture of return? Here are 5 steps to creating a Boomerang culture.
1.    Kill the counter offer: Stop countering people with higher salaries when they tell you they are leaving. Don’t do it. Instead treat people who are moving on to different opportunities well and welcome them to return in the future if the time is right. Fellow employees know when a business counters exiting employees, and it creates an incredibly negative dynamic and resentment among teams. Stop feeding any negativity you can.
2.    Stay connected in real, meaningful ways: Stay in touch with your former employees. If you haven’t done this in a while, make a list of the people who left your company in the last 24 months. Over the next six to twelve months, reconnect with all of them in some way – from meeting for dinner to connecting on LinkedIn. Show interest in where they are and what they’re doing.
3.    Insist on and train great managers: Make sure your managers are actively involved in their team members’ development plans. Reward managers for helping their colleagues to succeed and reach their own goals. When organizations are demonstrably invested in their employees, people feel more loyalty towards them and are more willing to make good things happen in the workplace.
4.    Start a company-sponsored alumni program: If you can’t create your own online platform, start with a private Facebook group with your former employees and current team leaders in it. Share company updates, learning opportunities and discounts or other opportunities with your alumni. Ask your alumni for their recommendations for people to fill open positions; reward every referral with a token of appreciation. When you keep a relationship going with your former employees, they are more apt to recommend your company as a vendor, partner or employer – this shortens recruiting, biz dev and sales cycles by many cycles.
5.    Tout the quality of the staff you’ve had: You’ve created a great thing here, be proud of that. Showcase your company alumni in the alumni network. Post interviews with former employees that detail their current positions and lives; ask them to comment on how their time with your company prepared them for their current jobs. The more you demonstrate that you’re proud that they are proud of their time with you, the more valuable you become to your former, current and future, employees.
Thinking about and then putting in place mechanisms that help you inspire employees to be loyal to your organization for their entire careers – not just their tenure – is a paradigm shifting exercise. By applying the Boomerang Principle – the belief that organizations that allow and encourage their former employees to return have a strategic advantage over those that don’t – your company will increase happiness in the workplace – happiness that translates right down to the bottom line.

Lee Caraher is the founder and CEO of Double Forte a national PR and social media agency working with beloved brands in the consumer, technology and wine categories. Her second book, The Boomerang Principle: Inspiring Lifetime Loyalty From Your Employees, (Bibliomotion/Taylor & Francis) available now for pre-order, launches April 11, 2017.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Don’t Tolerate Dysfunctional Teams

Guest post from regular contributor S. Chris Edmonds:

Two key indicators of a healthy team are that they are productive (getting tasks done to standards, on budget and on time) and effective (working together with a minimum of drama.)

A 2013 University of Phoenix survey revealed that nearly 7 in 10 American workers have served on dysfunctional teams. Though 95% reported that teams serve an important function in organizations, less than 24% of respondents prefer to work on teams.

Further details reveal common issues in teams:

·         40% have witnessed a verbal confrontation

·         15% have seen confrontations turn physical

·         40% reported a team member blaming another member for problems

·         32% observed a team member start a rumor about another member

Sadly, left to ourselves, we humans don't always behave well with others. We often give into the temptation to leverage information and power to benefit ourselves, which creates an “I win, you lose” culture.

Self-Serving Team Members
Where do we learn to be selfish? Although it can be innate “wired” behavior, it is often likely that it is “acquired” behavior, learned through watching the dynamics in the family, school, sports, or the community.  We observe and practice behaviors that are modeled or tolerated by leaders and peers.

I believe many of us have been blessed to have served on a productive and effective team at least once in our lives. However, the research suggests that too often, teams are not productive AND effective.  This is not only frustrating for team members but can cost real money.  A 2009 study of New Zealand businesses found that one unproductive team can cost a company $140,000 a year.

Most of the senior leadership teams I work with are teams in name only. They do not have a common purpose or shared values and goals. They’re not partnered with a requirement that they work together. Instead, they are simply a group of people who meet regularly to fight each other for resources (funds, people, etc.) every day.

I engage to help these “groups” create a shared servant purpose and identify their values, strategies, and goals. We create agreements to help each member align their behaviors with those stated values. We develop clear expectations. Without these in place, team members can quickly resort to actions that serve their own interests, which severely affects the team’s overall productivity and effectiveness.

It doesn’t take much to identify a dysfunctional team. Don’t tolerate it. Step in and intentionally guide the team to clarify why they exist, and what they can expect from one another as they work together to fulfill their purpose.  You are likely to start seeing your teams thrive.

S. Chris Edmonds is a sought-after speaker, author, and executive consultant. After a 15-year career leading successful teams, Chris founded his consulting company, The Purposeful Culture Group, in 1990. Chris has also served as a senior consultant with The Ken Blanchard Companies since 1995. He is the author or co-author of seven books, including Amazon best sellers The Culture Engine and Leading at a Higher Level with Ken Blanchard. Learn from his blog posts, podcasts, assessments, research, and videos at Get free resources plus weekly updates from Chris by subscribing here

Thursday, May 18, 2017

What's the Secret to Becoming a Great Leader?

Guest post from Kene Erike:

That is not a question reserved for the gated playgrounds of MBA students or empty suits struggling to justify big paychecks. The concept of "Leadership" is a fixture in our daily lives that dictates the experiences we share with others.

Let's start by defining terms....

Leadership: The ability to encourage others to accept an idea. 

That's what leadership is, in plain terms. I'm all about challenging orthodoxy, so you won't find any platitudes and buzzwords here.

You may not realize it, but the impact of leadership is evident in every corner of your life, no matter what your background. It's how you spend free time with friends and family; How you convince your boss to give you a raise; the reason why you watch certain televisions shows and flip away from others; it’s all there, peeking from beneath the covers of your daily existence.

So, what's the secret to becoming an effective leader, a (wo)man who enjoys support and fulfillment in one's social and professional life?

The secret to great leadership is Empathy.

A willingness and ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes. A sensitivity to the needs of others and the skill to address them.

Like a great point guard, good leaders have mastered the game within the game and know how to position each player so they can shine. They take care of their people and make sure everybody gets fed.

Successful leadership assumes many forms. Great businesses have already mastered this, weaving carefully-crafted messages that draw in target audiences. They go beyond identifying market needs and demographics, establishing rallying points around issues that touch the lives of millions.

Take Planet Fitness, for example. 

On its face, Planet Fitness offers a simple proposition: Gym membership for a low monthly fee.

But let's look a little deeper.

We're all moved by basic motivations, emotions like the desire for acceptance and a desire to raise a family. Those motivations dictate our life choices and purchase decisions.

Women don't buy a particular dress because it's made by a noted designer. They purchase that dress because they want to be the envy of every other woman in the room when they go to their high school reunion.

Take a little time to consider the desires, interests, and fears of the people you want to lead and you'll start making headway.

That's where we find the genius in Planet Fitness' leadership model.

To many Americans, gym membership is just a means for assuaging guilt. Signing up allows a person to feel like they're doing something right, striving for an ideal and dedicating themselves to good health practices. Whether they actually break a sweat when they step in to the facility is of secondary importance.

It's like people who buy Priuses just so they can say they're environmentally-conscious; whether they're actually advancing the cause is of little consequence.

Planet Fitness knows their market and has a perfect pitch for their customers: Come here, check off the "workout" box, and go home. 

They maintain a relaxed atmosphere, even hosting regular pizza and bagel days, where members can indulge in the very foods that pack on pounds in a hurry.

(Pizza and treadmills? An unholy alliance, if we've ever heard one, but Planet Fitness is riding it to the bank.)

Cultivating the right membership base is a priority for Planet Fitness as well. They actively-alienate members who exhibit too much workout intensity, outfitting their gyms with "Lunk Alarms" that sound when a lifter makes too much noise and revoking memberships of anyone who appears even the least bit intimidating.

Planet Fitness is the bane of serious workout warriors everywhere, but you can't knock their results.

Leadership isn't a one-size-fits-all exercise, with one right answer to the question. There are multiple styles that can get the job done. Brandishing an iron fist never falls out of flavor and history is replete with autocrats who effected change through fear and intimidation; they held a firm grasp of human nature.

Not to say that their effectiveness is attributable to emotional intelligence. Historical figures were savvy politicians who know certain levers light a fire under all of us. They did an end-run around empathy, but got the job done just the same.

As long as you hone in on the base motivations lurking below the surface, you're walking down the right path. What's the driving force behind a decision and what do you have to offer them?

Again, you have to put yourself in someone else's shoes.

You can reverse engineer the process by starting with the end in mind. Consider what the people around you would want, what they need to get them moving in your direction. And then, deliver it.

Instead of whining that friends aren't listening to you or leering at the new guy in your office who has caught the eye of management, look inward. Is there more you can do to encourage others to align with your way of thinking? A commitment to self-development is a best practice in everything you do and a reputation for effective leadership pays big dividends.

A few here-and-now examples you can put in to practice:

--Want your emails answered? Send short emails with descriptive headers instead of tomes that go nowhere.

--Tired of how you spend your Saturday nights with friends? Take the lead and give everyone two specific options to choose from, which will guide the group towards choices you're comfortable with.
You'll get a less-frustrating experience than asking, "What does everybody want to do tonight?"

The overarching idea is that great leaders solve problems without planting new roadblocks for constituents to leap over. Effective leaders make it easy for people to do what they want them to do.

The world doesn't revolve around you.

Drill this in to your head and you'll be able to adapt to any environment you're thrown in to. Effective leadership is all about speaking to your fellow man in his language. Master that skill and the rest falls in to place.

Kene Erike is an entrepreneur and author specializing in human behavior. His book,"No" Doesn't Always Mean No, is a guide to developing stronger relationships, making more money, and becoming leaders people actually want to follow. Click here to learn more about leadership and connecting with people. You'll receive a free guide on reading body language as well.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

How to Prevent Redundant Performance Improvement Conversations

Guest Post from Karin Hurt:

Performance improvement conversations aren’t enjoyable -- for you or for them. To make sure you don’t have to have the same uncomfortable conversation twice, take a hard look at your approach.

The most effective performance improvement conversations are built using four components: Clarity, Conflicts, Confidence, and Conviction. Ask yourself, as you read each of the questions below, are you equipping your employees to answer in the affirmative? Are you setting them up to actually do what you need them to do?

Clarity: "I know exactly what to do."
You think you’ve communicated what needs to change. But, have you really? Almost every time I work with managers to improve their coaching, there’s a disconnect between what they think they’ve communicated and what’s actually been understood. What they’ve often missed is isolating the very specific behaviors that must change for the employee to be successful. What exactly do you want your employee to do? How will they (and you) know your expectations are being met? "A positive attitude," "More customer focus" and "Being more strategic" aren’t specific enough. Isolate and breakdown the behaviors you need to see shifted before success can be declared.

Conflicts: "I have your support to solve my underlying problems."
Yes, your primary objective in this conversation is to inspire behavioral change. Do you know the best way to do that? Discover why the undesirable behaviors are occurring. Listen. Closely. It's easy to discount the "reasons" why they can't improve: competing priorities; overload; mixed messages; customer angst. Go after the insight you need about what’s getting in the way of optimal performance. Chances are good that underlying issue is also undermining your high-performers and frustrating your customers.

Confidence: "I have no doubt that I do this."
I’ll be straight with you. If your employees leave these conversations with the feeling that you don’t think they can make positive change, they won’t. Your doubt will undermine them. Ask yourself, are you giving them the benefit of the doubt? Do you believe they’re able to do what you’re asking them to do? If not, cross your t's and dot your i's on your performance documentation. But, if you are coming from a place of belief, show them why. Talk about how they’ve been successful in the past. Teach them that you have confidence in their ability to break down the goal into bite size behaviors they can celebrate.

Conviction: "I'm committed to doing it."
If engagement is the issue, begin your conversation by asking questions. Why do they choose to work here? At the end of the day, what makes them feel accomplished? Link what you’re asking them to do with what matters most to them -- not just professionally, but personally.

You may not roll out a successful performance improvement conversation on your first try. Keep at it. It’s a skill you can refine, and it’s a skill that will serve you well. No one wants to work for a boss who sets them up to fail, even it’s unintentional.

About the Author
Karin Hurt is a keynote speaker, top leadership consultant, and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders. A former Verizon Wireless executive, she has over two decades of experience in sales, customer service, and Human Resources. The author of Winning Well and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss, Hurt has been named to Inc.'s list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers, AMA's 50 Leaders to Watch in 2015, and a Top Thought Leader in Trust by Trust Across America.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Birthing a Baby Unicorn: The Anatomy of a Successful Startup Launch

Guest post by Carol Broadbent and Tom Hogan:

Ask anyone in Silicon Valley and they have a theory on how to launch a startup. Most of them revolve around the role of marketing. Those who doubt the value or efficacy of marketing cite the success of such startups as Slack, Atlassian and WhatsApp, which launched with limited investment in marketing. But the other 95 need marketing to grow their enterprise—click by click, demo by demo, free trial by free trial.

Having launched 45 startups, we’re often asked what are the “best practices” in launching a company.  So much depends on the market the startup is in as well as the company’s focus (B2B vs. B2C), but there are still some guidelines that apply across the spectrum:

1.  Launch with a cross-functional team. According to a feature in the latest Harvard Business Review, 75 percent of cross-functional teams are dysfunctional. That stat caught our eye because at the heart of every successful startup launch is the launch team—which by its very nature is cross-functional. That’s product, support, sales, marketing and the CEO/founder coming together to introduce a new solution that solves a real pain point. The dependencies, tradeoffs and decisions that need to be made to meet the goals of launch can be made faster and more effectively with a cross-functional team.

2.   CEOs need to be on the team, but as players, not coaches.  If you want your launch to happen fast and well, put your CEO or co-founder on the cross-functional launch team. Otherwise you’ll spend more time socializing options and hunting down decisions than getting things done. But make it clear to the CEO and everyone else:  the CEO is a member of the team, not the leader. That role is reserved for marketing—specifically, an individual designated as “The Launchmeister”, to whom everyone, including the CEO, reports. The CEO’s job is to reinforce the goals, deadlines and accountability of the launch.  When tough decisions need to be made, it’s the team’s job to make them and the CEO’s job to support and implement them.   

3.   Banish pixel polishing.  Part of the Steve Jobs legacy is his famous/infamous attention to the details of Apple product design that bordered on obsession, a habit we call “pixel polishing.” Now Jonathan Ive and Elon Musk are celebrated for their same rabid focus on product details; and while this pursuit of perfection may be admirable in established companies, it can be fatal to a startup. A startup team in launch mode doesn’t have the time or the money to afford pixel-polishing. Just say no to pixel polishing and yes to “Done is good.”

4.  Beware nomadic board members. In a successful launch, board members should be heeded but not seen.  Getting their input offline is both good business and good politics; but when we see board members “dropping in” to the startup’s offices frequently prior to launch, it’s usually a red flag, a signal that the CEO is not strong enough to manage his board. In launch mode, feedback can be hugely valuable. But, it’s better to get feedback from early customers, not board members.

5.  Bring PR to the table early.  There are two types of PR firms:  “upstream” strategic firms that have a seat at the big table in developing positioning and messaging, and “downstream” implementation firms. Startups should hire only upstream firms, then use their experienced outsider perspective to build a solid story that will attract attention and followers among media, analysts and industry influencers. Encourage your team to challenge assumptions, build and test their message, and advocate their point of view at the table.

6.  Build content early and often.  Once positioning and messaging are established, get to work on the content. Launches are often delayed—once, even twice—due to product issues or customer feedback; but they should never be delayed because of lack of supporting content. You can never have enough content, so start developing—and reviewing—it the moment your positioning is finalized. Since iteration is a way of life in startup marketing, start drafting content early to hit your deadlines.

7.  Website UX trumps brand.  If the founder starts going into the weeds – opining about favorite brand colors and fonts – get back on track quickly. The most important thing for your launch website is designing the information architecture and content to drive conversions. Yes, design is integral to a successful site. Yes, building your brand is a process that starts with launch. But you need to focus on content and conversions first, or you’ll wander off into discussions of fonts and colors. See dangers of pixel polishing above.

8.  Anticipate—and prepare for—the trough.  Before you launch, be sure to have a post-launch PR plan, as well as two months of demand gen programs defined, funded, and queued. Otherwise, you run the risk of allowing all the visibility, brand awareness, and site traffic from early adopters to vaporize. To leverage the blood, sweat and tears of launch and leverage early market momentum to build early sales, use smart planning to avoid the post-launch trough.

According to a CBInsights article from May 2015, your startup has a 1.2 percent chance of becoming a unicorn (a private company valued at $1 billion or more). Even so, there are a record number of unicorns roaming the Valley today. Success in unicorn-land has a lot to do with vision, team and timing, but it also depends upon strong marketing and a great launch.

Tom Hogan and Carol Broadbent founded Crowded Ocean, Silicon Valley’s top marketing firm for start-ups, in 2008.  They are also co-authors of THE ULTIMATE START-UP GUIDE:  Marketing Lessons, War Stories, And Hard-Won Advice From Leading Venture Capitalists And Angel Investors.  For more information please visit or @CrowdedOcean.