Wednesday, November 26, 2014

"I'd Like My Life Back" -- a lesson for CEOs in building an organization that listens to warnings

Guest post by Dave Yarin:

It was April 2010, and a Fortune 500 CEO would utter one of the most ill
advised yet memorable lines in corporate history. The world's largest man-made environmental disaster had taken place one week earlier when BP's Gulfwater Horizon rig exploded, killing 11 workers and spilling millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. BP's CEO at the time, Tony Hayward, stood on the beach in Louisiana, clearly unprepared for the disaster that had occurred and trying to fend off multiple questions from authorities and the media, when he said "I'd like my life back."
For the employees who worked on the rig, their families and friends; they wanted those 11 lives back. The citizens and businesses along the Gulf shore, the environment -- they wanted their old lives back too. Clearly, Hayward's declaration was stupid, thoughtless, and it rightfully cast him as arrogant and insensitive. Oddly however, the picture of Hayward prior to the oil spill was decidedly different. Before the 2010 disaster, Hayward was described as "unassuming and modest."1 He had succeeded John Browne in 2007 as CEO following Browne's prostitution and perjury scandal, along with leaving BP with a checkered safety record. Hayward promised an improved culture and safety record for BP, yet here he was less than three years later with a horrific disaster on his watch, and ending up departing BP under a cloud of controversy; worse than the departure of his predecessor John Browne.

How many leaders and managers of large corporations watched Hayward implode on television and thought to themselves, "I never want that to be me"! I'm guessing that many senior executives felt that way as they watched, since it is every business leader's nightmare to have a disaster such as the BP Oil rig explosion occur on their watch. Their hard work over years climbing the corporate ladder comes undone by a single event. But what makes the event even more tragic is that it was avoidable. There were multiple fair warnings provided to BP by oilrig employees that were ignored. Multiple BP documents, e-mail messages, engineering studies and other company records shed light on the extent of problems long before the explosion, including an internal report from a senior drilling engineer that warned of a loss of "well control" and collapse of the well casing and blowout preventer.2 At some point, Hayward must have regretted that his company didn't act on those warnings, save 11 lives and avoid the unprecedented environmental damage.

What can business leaders do to act on fair and credible warnings provided by their employees to avoid this type of disaster? The first step is understanding the aspects of human nature that prevent individuals from listening to warnings; the normalization of deviance ("We've done it this way before and nothing bad happened"), effects of hierarchy ("They're senior management – they must know what they're doing"), and over-focusing on one goal at the expense of others - as a few examples. The second step is to set up a "culture of listening" that includes systems and policies to facilitate the intake and proper escalation of credible warnings. In this way, business leaders can avoid "losing their lives" in the first place.
But how do we implement and maintain a culture of listening? Here are seven critical elements of an effective program to both identify and act on warning signs:
  1. High-level oversight – does your company have an organizational structure led by senior management that oversees issues such as compliance, quality and safety, while being able to respond quickly and appropriately to credible warnings?
  2. Training and education – How do you train employees to identify and report concerns?
  3. Auditing/monitoring and risk assessment – risk assessment is the "radar screen" of threats to your company. How are risk assessment, and more specifically -- enterprise risk management ("ERM") implemented in your organization? How and when are audits performed that "kick the tires" on key activities?
  4. Open lines of communication – Does your company have a hotline that operates 24/7/365 and is staffed by competent individuals who know how to properly intake and triage emergency reports or concerns? Yes, in these many reports will be false alarms and non-emergencies; one CFO told me that someone actually ordered a pizza on his company's hotline. But somewhere within these hotline reports will be a pearl of information that just may save the company from disaster.
  5. Written policies and procedures – Does your company have written guidelines that make reporting concerns a job requirement, as well as non-retaliation for doing so?
  6. Investigating reports of concerns – Does your company thoroughly escalate and investigate reported concerns?
  7. Enforcing standards – is your company prepared, culturally and otherwise, to both set and enforce standards related to issues such as safety, quality and compliance? I've often used a phrase with clients that I refer to as a "stop the presses" issue. Is your company prepared to "stop the presses" if and when a credible warning comes in?

1. – "Before Gulf Spill, BP CEO Tony Hayward Won Praise" – by Jim Zarroli – June 17, 2010
2. New York Times – "Documents Show Early Worries About Safety of Rig" – May 29, 2010

Author Bio
Dave Yarin
is a compliance and risk management consultant to senior management and directors of large and mid-size companies, and author of the soon to be published book Fair Warning – The Information Within. Dave follows and researches news stories regarding ignored warnings that lead to bad business outcomes, along with the social psychology theories that explain why these warnings were ignored. Dave lives near Boston, Massachusetts with his fiancée and two children. For more information please visit and follow Dave on Twitter

Monday, November 24, 2014

Stop Trying to Motivate Me!

Dear manager. Please stop using inane tactics to motivate me. It's frustrating for everyone involved and it just doesn't work. The effect of your tactics is the opposite of what you want. I’d like to help you help me by requesting that you stop doing three things ...
Read Susan Fowler's guest post over at Management and Leadership to learn more:

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Truth Doesn’t Have to Hurt

Guest post from Deb Bright:
Here it is the end of the year. You are feeling pretty good about how things are going in general but you have trepidations about giving some people their annual review. As you probably appreciate, you are not alone. In fact your boss likely feels the same way about giving you your annual review. For everyone knows and expects that at least some negatives will come up during their review session. Only the masochists among us look forward to being put on the carpet for things they have done wrong over the year! 

Let’s face it, just about everyone hates criticism – it’s the least sought after form of human communication.  But, criticism doesn’t have to be all that bad. As a matter of fact, current research on the subject shows that the more one learns about how to give and receive criticism, the more they come to discover that it can open doors to the achievement of personal goals and successes never dreamed possible.  By understanding a few skills involving criticism, whether as a giver or receiver, it can become a significant asset towards your personal success as a leader or manager. Once you learn some tenets on how to give it so others actually welcome it, or how to accept it as a form of self-advancement, you will know more than just about anyone you come in contact with. You might even come to consider it a kind of personal competitive edge.

The discomfort associated with criticism is understandable.  Besides conveying something negative, the stress associated with criticism is heightened when givers are not prepared and deliver a poorly constructed message highly subject to misinterpretation and challenge.  For receivers, they too often are stressed because they aren't sure whether the intent of the criticism is to help, hurt, rattle their self-confidence, or set them up for a fall.

The source of our discomfort with it can be traced to the fact that mostly all of us never developed the skills necessary to ensure that the criticism we give is received as intended. As receivers we lack the skills of looking for what is potentially helpful rather than what is argumentative.  

Because we lack the necessary skills, mistakes in handling criticism are plentiful for both givers and receivers. Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes that givers make is that they “call it as they see it.”  These are what I refer to as “Quick Draw" givers because their approach is based on an emotional reaction with little thought given to the consequences of their delivery. Consequently, they tend to alienate more than they motivate.  They overlook the fact that once they open their mouth, the control shifts to the receiver who decides how to interpret what's been said and likely takes a defensive position that is of benefit to neither party.

So to avoid being a Quick Draw giver, it's important to recognize that your control lies in proper preparation.  This involves considering such things as how to express the criticism (tone of voice), when (timing), where (privately is best), and by whom (in bounds of your relationship). What's required is always making these preparatory considerations a matter of habit aka - “thinking before you speak.”

Feeling uncomfortable when giving criticism is natural.  It's what you do with that uncomfortable feeling that can result in yet another common mistake.  With or without your awareness you may try to regain that sense of comfort by taking to the limits such biblical platitudes as “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” or “treat others the way you want to be treated.” What this implies is that you give criticism to others the way you would like to receive it.  So, you adopt an “All About Me” approach when delivering criticism.  This “All About Me” approach to giving criticism has the wrong focus.

Your goal is not to be comfortable when giving criticism; rather, the goal is to be effective.  You need to step outside yourself and factor in what you understand to be the receiver's preferences and needs.  When you do this, you are putting aside the “All About Me” approach and practicing a more appropriate adage that says, “treat others the way they want or need to be treated.”  This mindset is what you need to adopt in order to have your message heard.  There should never be any guessing about how best to approach someone you work closely with or – all the more so – someone who is significant in your life!

Receivers need to make givers feel comfortable during the criticism exchange. What many receivers all too often overlook is the fact that most givers don’t like giving criticism and they have likely never been trained in properly giving criticism.  Instead of trying to work with givers, the “I’m Being Attacked” receivers instantly become defensive, fire off questions, and become argumentative. These receivers fail to see that making givers uncomfortable is likely to eliminate what could be an important opportunity in their development and, over time, givers will shut down and put the need to say something to them at the bottom of their to-do list. 

There are two main things that receivers can do to make givers feel comfortable. First, the receiver should avoid interrupting the giver immediately and let them finish what they have to say. Secondly, the receiver really needs to listen carefully to what the giver is saying or trying to say. When the criticism is being delivered, receivers need to keep in mind that most givers have not been educated in giving criticism and can easily come across awkwardly and be careless about what is said. Rather than immediately taking a defensive stance, receivers need to ask questions with the intent of trying to understand whether the giver is really trying to be helpful and whether there is any potential value in what the giver is saying. 

Working on these tips and sharing them with those in your workplace is a great start toward making sure that messages come across as intended and that receivers find benefit in what’s said.

Deb Bright, Ed.D., is the author of The Truth Doesn’t Have to Hurt (AMACOM; Sept 2014). She is also founder and president of Bright Enterprises, Inc., a consulting firm devoted to enhancing performance. Her roster of clients includes Raytheon, Marriott, Disney, GE, Chase, Morgan Stanley, and other premier organizations. Follow her blog at

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Your Leadership Legacy is About the People you Leave Behind

When leaving a leadership legacy, you should think more about the people you leave behind, rather than the products and services you leave behind. After all, products and services come and go. It is the people that will keep the company moving forward toward its vision.

For more on why and how, read Beth Armknecht Miller's guest post over at Management and Leadership.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Help Wanted: Manager. 5-10 Years of Experience Required.

It’s hard to land a management position when you don’t have the title “manager” on your resume, or be able to provide specific examples of your management experience.

So what’s an aspiring manager to do without holding formal management positions? Plenty! If you are interested in becoming a manager, read my latest post over at Management and Leadership for 5 ways to get management experience without being a manager.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Engaging Your Team in Three Steps

Guest post from Chris Ruisi:

Achieving collective employee engagement is a challenge for most companies, especially in today’s delicate economy. It’s crucial for business leaders to engage their workers in order to prosper.
What is an engaged employee? This team member is fully invested and enthusiastic in their work because they identify with the company’s overall vision and feel their job responsibilities contribute to the company goals. They are dedicated to their specific role, which allows them to work toward the success of the company as well as their individual success.

Creating a culture of employee engagement involves three key components, all of which are related:
·        Vision
·        Leadership
·        Tactics

Companies who report high levels of employee engagement share these common characteristics:

·   They have a specific and well communicated vision that is constantly kept it in front of and discussed with their team – it outlines action, not just words. 
·    Their employees are able to describe why the organization does what it does and who they do it for.
·    Their employees are emotionally attached to the vision, believe in what they do and are committed and loyal to the organization.

So, you need a “great” vision that your team can willingly buy into, adopt and turn it into reality. For that to happen, every member of your team must know:
·        What they do
·        How to do it consistently well
·        Who they do it for (internal and external customers)
·        Why they do it – the most important factor
·    Where they fit in within their company – so they know that what they do is important and their contribution is valued
Now, if you can correctly “educate” each member of your team on these five points here is what you will have accomplished – your team will understand how what they do will help to make the vision a reality, and in turn, they will realize that achieving the vision will fuel their motivation to make it happen.
Think about it – do you have a vision; does your team truly understand it and do they understand the “why” of what they do? Answering these initial questions will put you on the road to building an engaged team.

Leaders get paid to produce results. It is a known fact that an effective leader is only as good as the team they assemble (recruit and select), develop (properly train) and lead (set expectations, accountabilities and goals). If the leader is not effective, then it stands to reason that the team will not perform well on a consistent basis and they are most likely not “engaged.”

To create an effective culture of employee engagement, leaders must:

·        Understand reality and explain why the “status quo” needs to change
·        Create the vision and show their team the way
·        Spell out timetables and milestones to measure progress
·        Show no fear
·        Don’t offer or accept excuses
·        Acknowledge the right actions and say “thank you”
·        Set performance expectations and hold people accountable to get the job done
·        Challenge their team to help them grow and “stretch” their capabilities
·        Reward the right actions –those that move the organization closer to the vision
·        Never accept “below average” and act quickly when poor performance has been identified
·        Listen to and solicit feedback

The obvious questions for you are – How do stack up to these characteristics? Which ones should you start doing? Which ones can you be better at?  When you do adopt these practices, will they follow your “lead?”

So you have a vision and your leadership skills are up to the challenge, now what are some ways – tactics – you can use to create a healthy employee engagement culture?

Consistent Communication: Employees want to know how the organization is doing, how corporate goals are being accomplished and how what they do contributes to achieving corporate objectives.
Interaction: Employees leave organizations because of their direct supervisor. The engagement of employees is tied to the leadership practices of their direct supervisor.

Employee Development: Employees want the opportunity to develop and grow professionally. They need opportunities to grow in their job and within the organization. Managers should be constantly coaching their employees to fine tune skills and develop new ones.
Team Environment: Strong employee engagement is dependent on how well employees get along, interact with each other and participate in a team environment.

Trust: Employees need to trust each other as well as their leadership. Employees are constantly watching leadership to see how their decisions affect the strategic direction of the organization and if their behaviors reflect what they say.

Clear Expectations: Employees need to know what is expected of them. This is accomplished by giving specific goals as well as the training, tools and resources needed to perform their job.
Reward and Recognition: Employees need to feel validated and acknowledged as a valued part of the organization. Rewards and recognition should be integrated into the way employees are managed on a day-to-day basis.

Employee Satisfaction: Employees need to feel like they are part of the process and that their thoughts and ideas matter. They are on the front line and know best about how work should be performed. Actively soliciting employee feedback is a very effective way to engage employees.
So there you have it – vision; leadership and tactics – the three critical components of a healthy and productive culture of employee engagement.  It’s now up to you to pull it all together and make it happen.

Bio: Chris Ruisi helps organizations and individuals achieve dramatic business growth through enhanced leadership and team development. Ruisi is a nationally recognized executive coach, leadership expert, professional business and leadership speaker, top-ranking author and radio show host who challenges business leaders to "Step and Play Big." Drawing on his more than 35 years of experience as a senior-level corporate executive, Ruisi uses his wealth of knowledge to help business professionals develop the practical skills and solutions necessary to navigate the risks and demands of the current economic climate.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Succession Planning Template

Succession planning is critical in order to ensure the long-term success of any organization.
See my latest post over at Management and Leadership for a template that contains all of the most common data elements of a good succession plan.

Monday, November 10, 2014

A Manager's Holiday Survival Guide

The holidays should be a time to count your blessings and celebrate with friends and families, but for many, they can also be filled with anxiety, stress, and even depression.

The same is true for managers, who need to figure out how to navigate the tricky waters of office holiday celebrations.

Read my latest post over at Leadership and Management: A Manager’s Guide for the Holiday Season for some common sense pointers.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

6 Steps That Help Generate Leaders from Followers

Guest post from Taffy Williams:

Leaders must be creative and agile in their thinking in order to create the leaders of tomorrow.  It is easy to stand back and give orders and assume all knowledge resides with top management of the business.  Working in this manner fails to utilize the skills and knowledge of the workforce, diminishes their critical thinking skills, and stifles their creativity.  Failure to encourage and demand more agile and critical thinking from the team results in management having to figure out everything all alone.
Good leaders develop the skills of their teams and those leaders learn from the team as well.  It is critical to recognize that one person does not possess all knowledge and that other team members may be better suited to solve critical issues.  Working with the team and taking advantage of the 6 concepts below will help create a stronger team that is more willing to follow their leader.  It also will help the leader with the critical task of succession planning.

1)     Teaching:  Teaching goes both ways.  It is not possible for one person to know everything, so teaching the team what you know best and learning what they know are both important.  People often view their teachers with respect and they feel empowered with new knowledge and improved skills.  The benefits go in both directions and newly learned skills help the team become better able to take on more complex challenges.

2)     Helping:  Sooner or later, tasks may become beyond the skill set of anyone.  This is a great time to enhance capabilities by aiding the team without doing the job for them.  It is a teachable moment and the act of helping and teaching will further their skills and build a stronger relationship.  It is much easier for people to follow a leader they know wants them to succeed.

3)     Problem solving:  Problems do not always have a readymade solution.  It may require all the creativity and ingenuity of the full team to identify and resolve the problem.  Participation in the review and decisions of steps leading to a solution build stronger teams.  The team will be more inclined to follow when they see the leader in the trenches with them.  A new solution generated by the team creates strong feelings of accomplishment and greater feelings of ability to tackle larger issues.

4)     Encouraging:  Everyone needs encouragement from time to time.  This is especially true when several failures have occurred.  Reaching lofty goals is often not a straight line and many twists and turns can cause someone to become discouraged.  This is the time that they need encouragement the most.  They will see the leader as standing with them and not in judgment of them.  The result is a willingness to work harder and take on more difficult tasks.

5)     Insisting on not giving up:  It can be very easy to want give up when reaching a roadblock in a project.  There is almost always a solution to any problem but it requires sticking to the task of seeking a solution.  It may require obtaining help or viewing the problem in different ways.  It is important to provide encouragement and insist that giving up is not an option.  It is through the successful achievements of tacking “impossible problems” that the team learns that they can make anything happen if they want to do so.

6)     Letting them lead too:  One of the hardest things for managers to do is give up control.  Failure to do so will ensure never having members that can take over or run on their own.  By letting the members lead from time to time, it becomes possible to sort out those that may need to be promoted or might even take over.  Some large corporations often identify tasks to assign to team members so the board can assess those that may take over running the company should it be needed.  Think of the latter case as a great way to create a succession plan!
The key is to be a leader that cares and works with the team members.  Remember that both sides have knowledge and skills that may work in a synergistic manner to take the business to new levels or solve really difficult problems.  Leaders know they must make use of all the talents and skills at their disposal to achieve greatness.  They also know that they have the responsibility to teach others to be the leaders of tomorrow.

TAFFY WILLIAMS has been a successful entrepreneur and advisor to entrepreneurs for over 30 years. The founder and president of Colonial Technology Development Company, which assists start-ups in technology commercialization, he writes the popular “Startup Blog,” as well as articles for He is the author of THINK AGILE: How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

10 Training Programs Every Manager/Leader Should Take

I’ve taken, taught, sold, and managed a lot of training programs throughout my career. Some were horrible, some pretty good at the time but the learning rarely applied, and some were game changers.
Read my latest post over at Management and Leadership for the 10 training programs that I’d recommend any manager should take, grouped in sequential order.

Monday, November 3, 2014

The November Leadership Development Carnival

This month's Leadership Development Carnival is being by regular guest author Beth Armknecht Miller over at Executive Velocity.

Beth did a great job rounding up over 20 posts on How Leaders Influence and Impact the Performance of Employees.

You can find it right here.