4 Ways to Develop & Retain Employees When You Can’t Give Promotions

Climbing the corporate ladder has long been the traditional view of success in an organization. The main strategy for developing and retaining key talent has been to keep them engaged through a series of promotions and title changes that satisfy an individual’s need for growth and recognition.

Corporate Ladder vs Lattice

Credit: The Corporate Lattice, Deloitte University Press

Well, in most organizations these days, the corporate ladder has been replaced by the corporate lattice. The flat design of most organizations has eliminated the ladder—multiple layers of structure—and instead created an environment where growth has to be achieved in a zig-zag, network pattern of project-based assignments or leadership experiences. So when leaders doesn’t have the ability to hand out promotions, how do they grow, engage, and retain their key talent? Here are four approaches:

1. Ask your team members what they’re interested in doing — Asking someone what they want…novel concept, huh? Many leaders choose not to have this conversation because they are afraid they won’t be able to provide what is requested. Instead, frame the conversation with your employees as a time to explore opportunities with no strings attached. I tell team members that nothing is off the table when we have these conversations and I balance it with also saying I’m not making any promises. We’re simply exploring options, yet I make it clear that I’m in the employee’s corner and will do everything in my power to help them achieve their goals if there is a way we can find alignment between their interests and the needs of the organization.

2.Don’t be constrained by job descriptions — My HR colleagues may cringe a bit with my philosophy, but I believe leaders need to think beyond job descriptions when it comes to employee growth. Too often we get locked into job descriptions as the defining scope of a person’s responsibilities, including who reports to who in the chain of command. In reality, we need to consider the job description as the broad outline of how and where the person will contribute to the organization. Growing in the corporate lattice requires people to take on BHAG’s (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals) that allow them to develop new skill-sets and competencies. Leaders should frame growth as an individual’s chance for resume enhancement that will benefit them in the future, whether at your organization or somewhere else.

3. Give away parts of your job — Most leaders have far too much on their plates to accomplish on their own, so why not delegate some of your key responsibility areas to competent and motivated team members? It’s hard for some leaders to go this route because it means giving up control and trusting others. It can also be threatening to your ego, as if it’s an admission you aren’t capable of doing it all on your own. Actually, smart leaders use this strategy because it’s a win-win for everyone. Your employees get to take on challenging goals and they earn the satisfaction of contributing in important ways, and you deliver on the key objectives for your team and develop a strong bench of capable and committed team members.

4. Adopt a mindset of being a developer and exporter of talent — Leaders should consider it a fiduciary responsibility to help their people grow, even at the risk of having them leave for greener pastures at some point in the future. My experience has shown when employees clearly know you are on their side and will do whatever you can to support their growth, they devote even more loyalty to you and will stay with you as long as possible. Who would want to leave an environment where they know their boss bends over backwards to provide opportunities for growth and development? Not many.

The corporate ladder doesn’t exist in many organizations these days and leaders don’t have the ability to hand out promotions like they were candy. We’ve got to have ongoing career conversations with team members, look for areas of growth beyond the boundaries of job descriptions, delegate key responsibilities to others, and be willing to invest in developing people, even at the risk of them ultimately leaving the organization. Using these strategies to navigate the corporate lattice, combined with financial models that facilitate income growth, will help you develop an engaged and passionate workforce that fuels personal and organizational success.

Posted in Career Growth, Engagement, Leadership, Performance Management, Talent Management | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

3 Ways to Create Trust with Millennials in the Workplace Today

The following is a guest post by Dan Negroni, author of the newly released book Chasing Relevance: 6 Steps to Understand, Engage, and Maximize Next Generation Leaders in the Workplace.

Chasing RelevanceMillennials will be 75% of your workforce in the next 10 years. As a manager or leader, this might make you nervous. Millennials live and work much differently than you do. Handing over the reigns to Generation Y and establishing their trust will take real deal, no BS effort on your part. However, this is necessary. We must build trust with millennials if we want to bridge the generational gap and work effectively today. Here are 3 ways you can create trust with your millennial employees starting now.

Show that you care

As the saying goes, people don’t care about how much you know until they know how much you care. In order to establish trust, caring by itself isn’t enough—you must show that you care. You may genuinely care, but if you don’t show and express that you do, it does no good. They need to believe you are authentic and real. Ask your millennials questions to really understand them and build trust.  Questions like “How can I help you in any way?” and “What do you need from me to learn, grow and provide value?” are great, as long as you are being authentic. Make an effort to show up for them in this honest and direct way through all coaching opportunities daily. You can start by simply explaining how grateful you are to them for leaning in. Showing gratitude, even if it’s for something small, goes a long way…it shows that you care! And caring is critical for building trust… and it takes repeatable and consistent behavior, just like all of your relationships.

Check in regularly

A poll by Gallup revealed that only 19% of millennials routinely receive feedback and only 15% of millennials routinely ask for feedback.[i] This discrepancy offers you an incredible opportunity to build trust. Make yourself approachable so your millennials feel comfortable to want to ask you anything. Whether it’s physically coming in the office, sending regular texts or another form of communication, establish a relationship with your millennials on a regular, weekly basis. Act in a way that’s relevant to them, which lets them know you care. They will remain loyal and retention will go through the roof.

You need to lead the way and initiate a feedback loop by engaging with them and effectively communicating that they can and should come to you with questions, ideas and feedback. This results in how to connect and trust better.

Own your stuff and be responsible

As a manager or leader, you must be accountable for your actions—and show it. In order to establish respect and trust with millennials, be transparent. Own up to your mistakes. Take responsibility when you mess up. By doing so, you not only set a positive example for your millennial employees to follow, but you show authenticity and vulnerability. Vulnerability is key to connecting with millennials because it makes you more real and humanizes you. They will feel more comfortable approaching you and trusting you.  So own up and be transparent about your wins and losses!

Show that you care. Make yourself open and approachable. Check in regularly and engage with your millennial employees daily. Be authentic, be vulnerable and take responsibility for your actions. Start developing trust with your millennials today!

[i] Adkins, Amy, and Brandon J. Rigoni. “Managers: Millennials Want Feedback, but Won’t Ask for It.” Gallup. Gallup, Inc., n.d. Web.
Posted in Book Reviews, Leadership, Millennials, Relationships, Trust | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Will Dropping the Occasional F-Bomb Help You Build Trust at Work?

profanityI’ll be upfront with you about my viewpoint on profanity; I’m not a fan. I don’t mind the occasional use of a mild curse word, but chronic use of profanity, especially the heavy-duty vulgar words, comes across as unintelligent, rude, boorish, and a character flaw. Just my opinion.

However, there’s a school of thought that a well-timed and appropriate use of profanity might help you develop closer and more trustful relationships. A recent article from Quartz highlights a new book by Michael Adams, In Praise of Profanity. Adams, a professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Indiana, argues that profanity fosters intimacy between people because of the risk it carries. He says we like to get away with things and sometimes do so with like-minded people. Indeed, researchers from the University of East Anglia in the UK have found that occasional swearing at work can help coworkers express their feelings and build tighter relationships. These instances can serve as mini trust-bonding moments between people.

Like anything, overuse of a particular behavior can lead to bad results. Carol Bartz, former CEO of Yahoo, was famous for her prolific use of profanity that contributed to her termination. In 2010 Goldman Sachs banned the use of profanity after receiving negative blow-back from an employee who used curse words in an email.

So, would dropping the occasional F-Bomb at work help you build trust? Maybe. A lot depends on the context: the organizational culture, the situation, the people involved, the emotional tone conveyed, and of course, the choice of words.

What do you think? Do you use profanity at work? If so, how’s it working for you? Feel free to leave a comment and share your thoughts.

Posted in Communication, Relationships, Trust | Tagged , , | 16 Comments

9 Habits of Trustworthy Leaders

habitshabit [hab-it], noun — an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary

Habits…we all have them, don’t we? Some are good for us and help us live healthier and happier lives. Others aren’t so good and they cause us pain, guilt, and turmoil. Hopefully the good outweigh the bad.

As the definition above illustrates, habits are something that can be learned, and that’s important when it comes to being a trustworthy leader. Most people assume trust “just happens,” but that’s false. Trust is built through the use of very specific behaviors that anyone can learn and master over time. Trustworthiness can, and should, become a habit.

First we make our habits, and then our habits make us.

My fellow trust activist, John Blakey, has recently published The Trusted Executive—Nine leadership habits that inspire results, relationships, and reputation. His book is a road-map that can help anyone develop the habit of trustworthiness. Built around the three pillars of trust—ability, integrity, and benevolence—John outlines nine habits of trustworthiness.

The Habits of Ability

  • Choosing to deliver—People trust you when you have a track record of success. That means you follow through on your commitments and deliver results. Be sure you only make commitments you can keep and be careful of using the “P” word—promise. If you promise to do something, make sure you do it. Breaking a promise is one of the quickest ways to erode people’s trust.
  • Choosing to coach—The number one priority of a sports coach is to help players maximize their abilities and achieve success. When leaders develop the habit of acting like a coach they put the needs of their people ahead of their own. Your job as a leader is plain and simple—help your people succeed.
  • Choosing to be consistent—Predictable and consistent behavior is essential for being a trustworthy leader. Your people trust you when they can rely on you to act, and react, in a consistent manner. Wild swings of behavior lead people to be on edge and behaving inconsistently will cause your people to hold back on giving you their all because they aren’t sure how you’ll react when they encounter difficulties.

The Habits of Integrity

  • Choosing the be honest—Honesty is the foundation of integrity. It means you tell the truth, admit mistakes, and make ethical decisions. If people can’t trust your word they find it hard to trust anything else about you.
  • Choosing to be open—Trustworthy leaders share information in an open and transparent fashion. They keep their team members informed so they can make responsible decisions because without information people are shooting in the dark.
  • Choosing to be humble—Trustworthy leaders are humble leaders. Humbleness doesn’t mean meekness; humbleness is strength under control. Leading with humility means you consider the needs of your people more important than your own.

The Habits of Benevolence

  • Choosing to evangelize—Blakey advocates that leaders need to be evangelists who spread the good news of all the great things happening in their organizations. Bad news travels like wildfire and trustworthy leaders keep their people focused on the vision and goals of the organization.
  • Choosing to be brave—Leadership is not for the faint of heart. Leaders have to make tough decisions, often in uncertain conditions with sparse information. Trustworthy leaders demonstrate bravery by making decisions in alignment with their values and those of the organization.
  • Choosing to be kind—Kindness should not be underestimated when it comes to building trust. Extending common courtesies, praising and recognizing team members, and building personal rapport are all ways leaders demonstrate kindness.

Leaders don’t become trustworthy by accident. They learn the behaviors of trust and practice them over a period of time to the point where they become habits. Developing these nine habits will help you become the kind of leader your people not only desire but deserve.

Posted in Book Reviews, Coaching, Credibility, Dependability, Ethics, Humility, Integrity, Leadership, Servant Leadership, Sharing Information, Transparency, Trust | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Thrown Under the Bus? 8 Tips on Dealing with Unfair Criticism

thrown under busSooner or later…sooner if you’re in a leadership position…you will get thrown under the bus by receiving unfair criticism from a boss or colleague.

Unfair criticism comes in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes it shows up in your annual performance review when the boss rates you as failing to meet expectations in an area of performance where you had no idea you were falling short. Other times it shows up when a colleague criticizes you in an effort to deflect attention from his/her own shortcomings. Regardless of the cause or circumstance, unfair criticism hurts. It erodes trust between people, causes rifts in relationships, and stymies effective teamwork. You can’t control when you get thrown under the bus, but you can choose how to respond. Here are 8 tips on how to respond to unfair criticism:

1. Remember that your response shapes your reputation – Above all else, remember this point: the way you choose to respond to criticism will greatly shape your reputation. Take the high road and respond with integrity, empathy, and professionalism. Don’t let someone else’s unprofessional behavior goad you into responding in kind. Trusted leaders know that at the end of the day all they have is their integrity.

2. Don’t react defensively – Defensiveness only escalates the situation and lends weight to the unjustified criticism (similar to responding to a loaded question like “Have you stopped beating your wife?”). Getting passionately fired up over friendly fire gives emotional control to the accuser and limits your ability to respond rationally and thoughtfully.

3. Listen to understand; not to rebut or defend – Our most common instinct when we experience unfair criticism is to zero in on the fallacies of the other person’s comments and formulate a response to defend ourselves. Instead, resist the urge to focus on the micro elements of what’s being communicated and instead focus on the macro implications of the criticism. Even if the specific accusations of the criticism are off-base, there may be things you can learn and benefit from if you consider the broader message.

4. Acknowledge any truth that is present – Agreeing with any valid part of the criticism is a way to acknowledge you’re hearing the feedback without agreeing to the entirety of what’s being communicated or beating yourself up over the situation. Sometimes there is a kernel of truth present in friendly fire and it may be an opportunity for you to learn something new about yourself or the other person. If there are elements of the criticism that are blatantly not true, state your differences in a respectful and professional way without getting into a debate parsing the details.

5. Consider the source – Probably the sagest of all advice when it comes to unfair criticism. If the person delivering the criticism is prone to dramatization, criticizing others, being egotistical, or other unpredictable behavioral patterns, then you have more evidence to discredit their feedback. However, if the person delivering the criticism is known as a steady, stable, trustworthy professional who has been personally supportive of you in the past, you should take stock of their feedback and explore it further.

6. Probe for root causes – What’s being communicated in the unfair criticism is often symptoms of a deeper problem or issue. When you encounter criticism, ask open-ended questions or statements like “Tell me more…,” “Explain why that’s important to you…,” or “What is the impact of that?” Asking a series of “why?” questions can also help you discover the root cause of the issue.

7. Understand their world – It’s helpful to put yourself in the other person’s shoes in order to understand their motivation for being unfairly critical. Is the person unhappy? Stressed? Insecure? Vying for power or control? Frustrated? Is there a significant amount of change happening in the organization? Organizational change brings out the critics and unfair criticism increases dramatically. Criticizing and blaming others is a defense mechanism to deal with the fear of being asked to change. Even though you’re the target, remember that unfair criticism is often more about them than you.

8. Remember that you are more than the criticism – It’s easy to get down on ourselves when we experience the friendly fire of criticism from our colleagues. Most people strive to perform well and do what’s right, and when we have a boss or colleague criticize our efforts it hurts deeply. Depending on our personality and emotional make up, it may lead to anger, bitterness, stress, resentment, self-doubt, and pity, just to name a few. Remember that this too shall past, and in the big scheme of things this is probably just a blip on the radar. Keep focused on all the positive things in your life such as the people you love, those who love you, the successes you’re having at work, the joy you experience from your hobbies, your spiritual faith, and the support of your family and friends.

As the American writer Elbert Hubbard said, the only way to avoid criticism is to do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing. Getting wounded by criticism stinks; there’s no two ways about it. But remembering these principles can help us keep things in perspective and maintain a strong defense when we’re thrown under the bus.

How do you deal with unfair criticism? Feel free to leave a comment and share your wisdom with others.

Posted in Conflict, Criticism, Emotions, Fairness, Relationships | Tagged , | 5 Comments