Leading with Trust

The 1 Thing That Reveals Your Leadership Priorities

CalendarIs there a leader out there who isn’t busy? Is there anyone who is a little bored at work and is looking for more to do? Um, I don’t think so! I don’t know about you, but I’ve got plenty on my plate. Formulating plans and strategies for the year ahead, working on team members’ performance reviews, putting out the inevitable daily fires that erupt, and attending meeting, meetings, and more meetings. Sound familiar? There’s no shortage of priorities calling for our attention.

As a leader, what should the most important priority be? I’d argue it’s your people. And how can you tell if your people are your top priority? It’s simple: look at your calendar.

Leading people takes time. There’s no two ways about it. Your calendar is a brutal reality check about your priorities. Where you spend your time is where your priorities are. Is your calendar full of meetings and activities related to the development and support of your people, or is it filled with other activities, that although likely important, may not be as impactful as investing in helping your people accomplish their goals (and hence the goals of the organization)?

Here are three simple ways to leverage the power of your calendar to build trust, improve morale, and increase engagement with your team members.

1. Schedule regular one-on-one meetings with your employees – You can’t develop relationships without the investment of time. Having regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings with each team member will provide the structure you need to spend focused time with each other. These don’t have to take a lot of time. Thirty minute meetings every two weeks will usually do the job. Check out this post for more helpful advice about one-on-one meetings.

2. Preserve white space on your calendar – Block out 1-3 hour chunks of time on your calendar where you can wander the halls and connect with team members, be available for drop-in meetings, or use the time for whatever you want. Many leaders tend to over-schedule themselves and wonder why they go home at the end of the day feeling like they didn’t ever really connect with their team members.

3. Eat lunch with your team – Sharing a meal together is one of the best ways to build trust and develop deeper relationships with your team members. It allows your team to interact with you in a less formal, more relaxed setting where they get to relate to you on a personal level and not just as “the boss.”

For some leaders their busy calendar is a badge of honor. They mistakenly think that being busy all hours of the day means they are important and needed. However, leadership is about people, and our priorities—and calendars—should reflect that importance.

Top 7 Posts in 2015: Why it’s Hard to Trust People, Good Bosses vs. Bad Bosses, and More!

Top 7As I reflect back on 2015, it’s incredible to consider this is the fifth year of the Leading with Trust blog. In some respects it seems like just a few months ago that I started writing about the importance of trust in leadership, but in other ways it seems as though this blog has been a part of me for as long as I can remember.

This past year saw an amazing 67% increase in viewership! It’s mind-boggling to me that hundreds of thousands of people take the time to read, comment, and share articles from this blog. I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to encourage others to lead in authentic ways that build trust in the workplace. The world desperately needs servant leaders more than ever and it has to begin with trust.

As you reflect on your leadership lessons from this past year and contemplate areas for growth in 2016, these Top 7 articles from this year may provide some inspiration and guidance. Enjoy!

7th Most Popular Post: Top 10 Easy, No or Low Cost Ways to Tell Employees “Thank You” — Originally published in 2013 for the Thanksgiving holiday, this post has stood the test of time. Check it out for creative ideas on how to recognize and reward employees.

6th: The 5 Fundamentals of Effective Listening — Listening is one of the most neglected leadership skills yet it is key to building high trust relationships with your followers.

5th: Are You Easy to Follow? 10 Things Great Leaders Know and Do — The best leaders make it easy for people to follow them. Here are 10 leadership practices you should consider.

4th: 8 Ways to Tell if You’re a Good Boss or a Bad Boss — Inspired by the Wizard of Oz, this post explores eight ways that distinguish whether you are a good boss or a bad one.

3rd: Stop Measuring Employee Performance and Start Evaluating This 1 Thing Instead — This post discusses the one thing that is a better indicator of an employee’s contribution in place of the traditional performance review.

2nd: 5 Stages of Distrust and How it Destroys Your Relationships — Low trust rears its head in predictable ways and this post from May 2014 clues you in on the warning signs.

and the #1 most popular post in 2015…

3 Reasons You Find it Hard to Trust People — For the second year in a row this is the most viewed post on Leading with Trust. Choosing to trust someone can be a difficult and risky situation. This article will help you understand three common reasons why you find it hard to trust people and what you can do about it.

Be a Fair Leader by Treating Employees Like Chess Pieces, Not Checkers

Chess PiecesWhen I was a young kid I used to love playing checkers with my younger sister. Part of the joy came from always beating her, which isn’t much of an accomplishment given she was four years younger than me, but mostly from it being an easy game to play. Checkers is a game with limited variations and clearly defined rules. You can move a checker forward, and once you get a “King,” you can move it backward. You capture your opponents’ checkers by jumping them and once you’ve captured all of them you win. That’s pretty much it.

Chess, on the other hand, is a different kind of game. Each piece on the board can move in different directions, but although each piece is treated differently, the rules of the game apply equally to all. There is also much more strategy involved in chess than in checkers. In chess you have to play with the long game in mind. Each move is one step in a larger plan to take control of the board and defeat your opponent. There are limitless ways to creatively implement your strategies.

I’ve noticed that when it comes to managing people, many leaders treat their people like checkers rather than chess pieces. I can understand why; it’s easier and less complicated. It’s also one of the most unfair things you can do as a leader.

Complete this statement: As a leader I am being fair because I treat everyone the _____.

You probably said “same,” didn’t you?

You’ve probably heard many leaders say that, and in fact, you’ve likely said it yourself from time to time, haven’t you? I know I have.

The reality is treating everyone the same can be quite unfair because everyone is not the same. People are like chess pieces, not checkers. Aristotle said, “There is nothing so unequal as the equal treatment of unequals.”

The key is to treat each of your people equitably and ethically given their unique needs and circumstances. Each team member has their own life story and individual gifts and abilities. Fair leaders don’t broad-brush everyone and treat them the same. They take each person’s situation into account and apply the rules and policies of the organization in an equitable and ethical way.

Of course there are certain rules, policies, and procedures that need to apply equally to everyone to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of all employees or to make sure your business produces quality products and services. However, when it comes to career development, performance management, and other employee-specific issues, leaders will build more trust and loyalty be treating people individually.

Treat your people like chess pieces and not checkers. Although it’s a harder game to play and takes more thought and energy, your team members will appreciate your efforts and respond with higher levels of trust, engagement, and performance.

Note: Credit goes to Tim Elmore for first exposing me to this idea. Check out his blog post on this topic for great insights.

8 Ways to Tell if You’re a Good Boss or a Bad Boss

Glinda the Good Witch of the NorthAre you a good boss or a bad boss? That question reminds me of the scene from the Wizard of Oz when Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, first encounters Dorothy in Munchkinland. Glinda asks Dorothy “Are you a good witch, or a bad witch?” Dorothy replies that she’s not a witch at all, and besides, witches are old and ugly. After being informed that the beautiful, young Glinda is a witch, Dorothy says “You are! I beg your pardon! But I’ve never heard of a beautiful witch before.” Glinda responds, “Only bad witches are ugly.”

I think only bad bosses are ugly.

How do you know if you’re a good boss or a bad boss? A few years ago, Google’s People Operations group unveiled the results of a two-year study into what separates bad bosses from good bosses in their own company. They performed extensive data analysis on performance reviews, feedback surveys, and nominations for top-manager awards. They came up with eight behaviors that distinguished the best bosses at Google. How do you stack up against this list?

1. Be a good coach

  • Provide specific, constructive feedback, balancing the negative and the positive.
  • Have regular one-on-ones, presenting solutions to problems tailored to your employees’ specific strengths

2. Empower your team and don’t micromanage

  • Balance giving freedom to your employees, while still being available for advice. Make “stretch” assignments to help the team tackle big problems.

3. Express interest in team members’ success and personal well-being

  • Get to know your employees as people, with lives outside of work.
  • Make new members of your team feel welcome and help ease their transition.

4. Don’t be a sissy: Be productive and results-oriented

  • Focus on what employees want the team to achieve and how they can help achieve it.
  • Help the team prioritize work and use seniority to remove roadblocks.

5. Be a good communicator and listen to your team

  • Communication is two-way: you both listen and share information.
  • Hold all-hands meetings and be straightforward about the messages and goals of the team. Help the team connect the dots.
  • Encourage open dialogue and listen to the issues and concerns of your employees.

6. Help your employees with career development

  • Be a mentor and advocate for career growth.
  • Help people develop their skills so they are better positioned for new opportunities.

7. Have a clear vision and strategy for the team

  • Even in the midst of turmoil, keep the team focused on goals and strategy
  • Include the team in setting and evolving the team’s vision and making progress toward it.

8. Have key technical skills so you can help advise the team

  • Roll up your sleeves and conduct work side by side with the team, when needed.
  • Understand the specific challenges of the work.

Kind of a no-brainer list, huh? It reinforces the idea that leaders can make tremendous strides by simply following the basics: Be interested in your folks, help them achieve their goals, provide the resources and support they need and get out of their way, communicate and share information, and have a vision for where the team needs to go.

Hopefully you’re a good boss and these behaviors are already part of your repertoire. If they aren’t, don’t worry. They’re all things that are very much under your control and you can incorporate them into your leadership practices. After all, you don’t want to be a bad boss. Bad bosses are ugly.

Stop Measuring Employee Performance and Start Evaluating This 1 Thing Instead

ValueYour performance reviews are doing very little to impact the results of your organization. Although they are an annual ritual in most organizations, the traditional performance evaluation of whether an employee “meets” or “exceeds expectations” or “needs improvement” is missing the mark. It’s measuring the wrong thing.

Instead of measuring an employee’s performance or effort against some generic set of competencies or how well they did in accomplishing their goals (which are almost always ill-defined or not completely within their control), we should be measuring the value they are creating and adding to the organization.

What does value look like compared to performance? Cy Wakeman’s recent Forbes article sparked an interesting discussion with my leadership team this past week. She has an interesting perspective on what value creation looks like in today’s business environment and I have to say I agree with her. The bottom-line is that adding value to the organization is much more important than meeting the minimum level of requirements in your job. Value is about delivering results that tangibly move your organization forward in fulfilling its purpose and mission. Value is about making you and your role indispensable to the organization, not just showing up to do a job.

Here are five practical ways you can move from just doing a job to truly adding value:

1. Adapt to change, don’t resist it – What did you say? You don’t like change? Get over it! The days of landing a job at a large company, plugging away for 30 years to earn your pension and a gold watch, then retiring to play golf or do needle-stitch the rest of your life are long gone. It’s 2015, not 1955. Flexibly adapting to change is one of the most critical skills needed in today’s business environment. What you’re doing today may not be what you’re doing tomorrow. The goals of the organization today may look different tomorrow when a new competitor enters the arena or economic conditions change suddenly. You have to be ready to adjust the sails and move in a new direction at a moments notice.

2. Keep improving your skillsEvery day at work is a job interview. As employees, all of us should expect our employer to help develop us in our role, but career development should be seen as a privilege, not a right. Organizations have an obligation to provide the right training, tools, and resources to enable employees to maximize their potential in the job they were hired to do, but career development (promotions, moving into new roles, etc.) is a privilege and is not the employer’s responsibility. Is it a smart thing for employers to facilitate career development in order to attract and retain key talent? Absolutely! But it’s up to you to keep learning, to further your education, improve proficiency in your job, and develop new skills in alignment with the direction of your organization’s goals and strategies. No one else except you is responsible for your career development.

3. Be easy to do business with – Results have to be delivered and you have a choice in how that happens. You can choose to make it hard or easy. Hard looks like staying in your box, not considering alternatives, and religiously adhering to policy and losing sight of the spirit behind those rules and regulations. Easy looks like creative problem solving, understanding the needs of your customer, and changing systems and processes that may get in the way of serving them effectively. Easy looks like developing a brand reputation of being a “go to” person, someone who will find a way to get things done in spite of internal barriers and frustrations. Easy to do business with also means you have a no-drama factor. In fact, your emotional contribution to the organization adds value rather than taking it away.

4. Deliver results – Adding value is about contribution, not effort. Many people work extremely hard in their jobs but don’t necessarily contribute to the organization’s bottom-line. Working hard is a necessary ingredient for success but it’s not the end game. The end game is helping your team and organization succeed. Your hard work needs to translate into tangible results that contribute to the success of the organization. Delivering results means you’re constantly looking for ways to improve systems and processes, both personally and organizationally. It means you’re a problem solver and not just a problem spotter. Are you more valuable to your organization today than you were yesterday? People who focus on delivering results, and not just fulfilling the requirements of a job description, make themselves invaluable contributors to the organization whose worth grows day by day.

5. Have an ownership mentality – How would the value of your contribution be different if you acted like you own the place? Would you be more emotionally invested and passionate about the work you do? Would you produce higher quality products? Would you be a little more prudent or cautious with company expenses? Would you care a little more about the customer experience? People who approach their jobs with an ownership mentality care about these sorts of things. They view themselves as stewards of the company’s resources and work hard to promote the success of the entire organization, not just their particular role, team, or department.

Measuring performance is a good start but we can’t stop there. We have to move toward measuring value contribution and it’s our job as leaders to help our employees see the difference. Most importantly, we as leaders have to see our jobs differently. We have to see our jobs as facilitators of value creation and not just managers of performance.

Feel free to leave a comment and share your thoughts about how you, as an individual contributor or leader, are adding value to your organization.

The 1 Thing Every Employee Needs That Most Bosses Don’t Know How to Give

Challenging ConversationsEvery employee needs candid (yet caring) feedback about her performance, but most bosses shudder in fear at the thought of having that tough conversation.

I’m the first to admit that having a discussion about an employee’s failing performance is one of the most unpleasant things a leader has to do; it’s awkward and uncomfortable for both parties involved. I mean, come one, no one likes to hear they aren’t doing a good job. But the way in which the feedback and coaching is delivered can make a huge difference. The key is to have a plan and process to follow.

The following steps can help you balance toughness with tenderness and get an employee’s performance back on track while preserving, or even building trust in the process.

1. Prepare – Before you have the performance discussion, you need to make sure you’re prepared. Collect the facts or data that support your assessment of the employee’s low performance. Be sure to analyze the problem by asking yourself questions like:

        1. Was the goal clear?
        2. Was the right training, tools, or resources provided?
        3. Did I provide the right leadership style?
        4. Did the employee receiving coaching and feedback along the way?
        5. Was the employee motivated and confident to achieve the goal?
        6. Did the employee have any personal problems that impacted performance?

2. Describe the problem – State the purpose and ground rules of the meeting. It could sound something like “Susan, I’d like to talk to you about the problem you’re having with the defect rate of your widgets. I’ll give you my take on the problem and then I’d like to hear your perspective.”

Be specific in describing the problem, using the data you’ve collected or the behaviors you’ve observed. Illustrate the gap in performance by explaining what the performance or behavior should be and state what you want to happen now. It could sound something like “In the last week your defect rate has been 18% instead of your normal 10% or less. As I look at all the variables of the situation, I realize you’ve had some new people working on the line, and in a few instances, you haven’t had the necessary replacement parts you’ve needed. Obviously we need to get your rate back under 10%.”

3. Explore and acknowledge their viewpoint – This step involves you soliciting the input of the employee to get their perspective on the cause of the performance problem. Despite the information you’ve collected, you may learn something new about what could be causing or contributing to the decline in performance. Depending on the employee’s attitude, you may need to be prepared for defensiveness or excuses about the performance gap. Keep the conversation focused on the issue at hand and solicit the employee’s ideas for solving the problem.

4. Summarize the problem and causes – Identify points of disagreement that may exist, but try to emphasize the areas of agreement between you and the employee. When you’ve summarized the problem and main causes, ask if the two of you have enough agreement to move to problem solving. It could sound something like “Susan, we both agree that we need to get your defect rate to 10% or below and that you’ve had a few obstacles in your way like new people on the line and occasionally missing replacement parts. Where we see things differently is that I believe you don’t always have your paperwork, parts, and tools organized in advance the way you used to. While we don’t see the problem exactly the same, are we close enough to work on a solution?”

5. Problem solve for the solution – Once you’ve completed step four, you can then problem solve for specific solutions to close the performance gap. Depending on the employee’s level of competence and commitment on the goal or task, you may need to use more or less direction or support to help guide the problem solving process. The outcome of the problem solving process should be specific goals, actions, or strategies that you and/or the employee will put in place to address the performance problem. Set a schedule for checking in on the employee’s progress and be sure to thank them and express a desire for the performance to improve.

Using this five step process can help you address an employee’s poor performance with candor and care that will leave the employee knowing that you respect their dignity, value their contributions, and have their best interests at heart.

2014’s Top 10 Posts: Why You Don’t Trust People, When to Fire Someone, and More

Top 10 StampIt’s hard to believe we’re about to tie a bow on 2014 and unwrap the present that will be 2015. This past year has seen a 29% growth in viewership for the Leading with Trust blog! I’m grateful for the community of people who take the time to read, comment on, and share the articles I write. My hope is they are beneficial to helping you lead in more authentic and genuine ways that build trust with those under your care. There is nothing more critical to the success of a leader than building trust with his/her followers. Leadership begins with trust!

As you reflect on your leadership lessons from this past year and contemplate areas for growth in 2015, these Top 10 articles from this year may provide some inspiration and guidance. Enjoy!

10th Most Popular Post: 10 Awesome Interview Questions to Really Get to Know Job Candidates – Creative questions that will help you make one of the most important decisions a leader faces.

9th: Five Steps to Repair Broken Trust – Originally published in July 2011, this continues to be one of the most widely read posts on Leading with Trust.

8th: 9 Warning Signs an Employee Needs to be Let Go – Sometimes firing an employee is inevitable. Learn the warning signs so you can address the situation quickly and respectfully.

7th: 3 Types of People, Projects, and Tasks Every Leader Needs to Eliminate – You need to lead with a purpose and this post will help you understand areas in your life that could benefit from some healthy pruning.

6th: 8 Essentials of an Effective Apology – One of the most powerful ways to rebuild trust is to apologize when you make mistakes. But not all apologies are created equal and this post will help you learn how to do it the right way.

5th: Are You a Thermometer or Thermostat Leader? – Do you set the tone for your team or do you reflect it? This post from June 2013 will challenge you to be a leader that functions like a thermostat instead of a thermometer.

4th: Everyday at Work is a Job Interview – 5 Tips for Demonstrating Your Value – Each day at work is an interview for you to keep your job. This post will help you understand and adapt to the reality of today’s competitive job environment.

3rd: Top 10 Easy, No or Low Cost Ways to Tell Employees “Thank You” – This Thanksgiving-themed post from 2013 applies year-round. Telling employees how much they are appreciated is one of the most powerful ways to build trust and high performance in your team.

2nd: Stop Walking on Eggshells – 4 Tips for Dealing with Temperamental People – Dealing with temperamental people at work can be intimidating and emotionally exhausting. Learn four tips to help you deal with this challenging situation.

and the #1 Most Popular Post for 2014…

3 Reasons You Find it Hard to Trust People – Choosing to trust someone can be a difficult and risky situation. This post will help you understand three common reasons why you find it hard to trust people and what you can do about it.

Be a Fair Leader by Treating Your Employees Like Chess Pieces, Not Checkers

Chess PiecesWhen I was a young kid I used to love playing checkers with my younger sister. Part of the joy came from always beating her, which isn’t much of an accomplishment given she was four years younger than me, but mostly from it being an easy game to play. Checkers is a game with limited variations and clearly defined rules. You can move a checker forward, and once you get a “King,” you can move it backward. You capture your opponents’ checkers by jumping them and once you’ve captured all of them you win. That’s pretty much it.

Chess, on the other hand, is a different kind of game. Each piece on the board can move in different directions, but although each piece is treated differently, the rules of the game apply equally to all. There is also much more strategy involved in chess than in checkers. In chess you have to play with the long game in mind. Each move is one step in a larger plan to take control of the board and defeat your opponent. There are limitless ways to creatively implement your strategies.

I’ve noticed that when it comes to managing people, many leaders treat their people like checkers rather than chess pieces. I can understand why; it’s easier and less complicated. It’s also one of the most unfair things you can do as a leader.

Complete this statement: As a leader I am being fair because I treat everyone the _____.

You probably said “same,” didn’t you?

You’ve probably heard many leaders say that, and in fact, you’ve likely said it yourself from time to time, haven’t you? I know I have.

The reality is treating everyone the same can be quite unfair because everyone is not the same. People are like chess pieces, not checkers. Aristotle said, “There is nothing so unequal as the equal treatment of unequals.”

The key is to treat each of your people equitably and ethically given their unique needs and circumstances. Each team member has their own life story and individual gifts and abilities. Fair leaders don’t broad-brush everyone and treat them the same. They take each person’s situation into account and apply the rules and policies of the organization in an equitable and ethical way.

Of course there are certain rules, policies, and procedures that need to apply equally to everyone to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of all employees or to make sure your business produces quality products and services. However, when it comes to career development, performance management, and other employee-specific issues, leaders will build more trust and loyalty be treating people individually.

Treat your people like chess pieces and not checkers. Although it’s a harder game to play and takes more thought and energy, your team members will appreciate your efforts and respond with higher levels of trust, engagement, and performance.

Note: Credit goes to Tim Elmore for first exposing me to this idea. Check out his blog post on this topic for great insights.

10 Awesome Interview Questions to Really Get to Know Job Candidates

Question MarksThe last few weeks I’ve been focused on hiring a new team member. Although time-consuming and laborious, it’s one of the most important things I do and is one responsibility a leader can’t delegate.

I have two main goals when conducting an interview: 1) Assess the candidate’s skills and abilities to do the job, and 2) gauge the candidate’s personality, attitude, values, and beliefs to determine if she will be a culture fit. (And not necessarily in that priority order. I would rather hire someone who is a good culture fit that has the aptitude to learn the job, than hire someone with great technical skills who is a bad culture fit. The culture will chew them up and spit them out every time, meanwhile, your life will be miserable managing the person and the fallout created.)

I try to accomplish the first goal through behavioral interviewing. Over the years, my leadership team and I have honed in on a list of behavioral interview statements/questions that align with the key competencies of the position for which we’re hiring. We look for specific accomplishments from the candidate that demonstrate she has the relevant transferable skills that will likely make her a success on our team.

For the second goal—to determine if the candidate will be a culture fit—I ask questions designed to get below the surface. I want to move beyond the standard, interview response clichés, and get to know the candidate on a more personal level. I want to learn about her motivators, demotivators, personality, and instinctive responses to the highs and lows of the job. In order to do that, we’ve come up with some slightly off-beat questions. Granted, you can only learn so much about a person in an interview, but we’ve found these questions to be pretty insightful. Feel free to use them at your own risk!

  1. Tell me your story. This is probably the most generic of the questions we ask, but it’s helpful to get to know the candidate on a personal level. Asking the question in this way leaves the candidate wide latitude in what she shares, which I find telling in regards to her level of vulnerability. Does she talk about her family or just herself? Does she include any personal information or does she keep it focused on her career?
  2. Let’s play a word association game! This is actually multiple questions wrapped up in one. We have chosen several key words that relate to different aspects of our culture, organization, and the job itself. We ask the candidate to share her first response upon hearing the key word, and then we ask her to expand on her answer. The rapid fire nature of this question and answer exchange helps us assess the candidate’s instinctive response and thoughts to the word/situation at hand.
  3. What is the biggest misconception people have about you? This question is designed to probe the candidate’s level of self-awareness and her willingness to be honest and vulnerable. The first impression we have of someone can often be a misconception, and I’m interested in knowing if the candidate has enough self-awareness to understand and manage the way she is perceived by others.
  4. What do you not want to be doing in five years? Rather than asking the standard “What are your goals over the next five years?” question, we flip it around and ask what the candidate doesn’t want to be doing. It gives insight into the type of work or environment that will be demotivating to the individual.
  5. What are three words your coworkers would use to describe you? Whether we realize it or not, each of us has a brand image at work. I’m interested in knowing if the candidate is aware of her brand image, as perceived by others, and if it’s a positive one.
  6. What are your biggest pet peeves at work? It’s amazing how revealing people will be when you ask this question. Their eyes will light up and they’ll rattle off several things that get under their skin. If those irritants are common in your workplace, you’ve just received a heads-up that this particular candidate may experience extreme frustration in the job.
  7. Who are your biggest role models in life? This question gives me insight into the candidate’s upbringing and values system. Does the candidate have positive role models? Does she credit other people with helping her along the way or is she self-focused? This question can open many doors of conversation in the interview that allow you to learn more about the candidate.
  8. Why should we not hire you? I want to see if the candidate has a realistic view of their skills and abilities in relation to the job requirements. Seldom is there a perfect job candidate and I want to see if she is authentic enough to admit she still has some areas of growth.
  9. What would your biggest critic say about you? We’ve all received negative feedback from time to time. This question probes the candidate’s level of self-awareness to see if she is vulnerable and authentic enough to admit it and to help me understand how she has dealt with it.
  10. What is your biggest regret? If you couldn’t tell already, I’m really interested in getting to know the candidate deeper than surface level niceties. A genuine, heartfelt response to this question often tells me more about the candidate’s character and maturity than any other question we ask.

There you go, ten awesome interview questions to help you really get to know your job candidates. Feel free to leave a comment and share your own awesome interview questions.

Performance Anxiety – Not Just a Problem in the Bedroom

Performance Anxiety 2Performance Anxiety…words often reserved to describe a person’s worrisome beliefs or fears regarding their sexual performance in the bedroom is now being used to describe the same debilitating effects on performance in the workplace. That’s the message from a recent publication by Vadim Liberman of The Conference Board, detailing the “performance anxiety” that has gripped many in corporate America. Years of corporate restructuring, shuffling people between positions, adding, deleting, and modifying roles, departments, and jobs has taken its toll on people. The mantra of “doing more with less” has become the norm as business continues a slow recovery from the economic recession of the last several years. Employees who once feared losing their jobs are now feeling insecure about keeping their jobs.

Liberman’s basic point is that people are having trouble keeping up with the amount of tasks added to their plates and the pace of change occurring in their organizations. Recession-driven layoffs, restructures, and job modifications have forced people to take on extra work, new job duties, or assume different roles and it’s taking a toll. As job scope increases, people feel overwhelmed with the amount of work they have to accomplish, and it leads even the most engaged employees to gravitate toward focusing on the least complex, simple tasks they can control, rather than focusing on the most important and complex issues that need to be addressed.

According to Liberman, much of the fault lies at the feet of senior leaders. Whether it’s pursuing the latest management fad, reorganizing on a whim, or doing a poor job of managing change, senior leaders can be prone to lay the blame of organizational failure at the feet of employees who aren’t performing up to snuff, not taking into account those same employees are still trying to come to grips with the previous round of changes. Wharton professor Peter Cappelli says, “Today, work demands are through the roof. Not just the amount of work but challenges that employees do not know how to meet, in part because they may not be achievable.” Workplace frustration leads to insecurity which leads to a lack of trust and confidence in leadership.

I can identify with these conditions. The team I lead has experienced increased job scope and responsibilities over the years as our business has grown more complex and demanding in today’s global economy. “Task saturation” is a word we’ve used to describe this condition and the insecure, frustrated state of mind it induces. Here are six strategies I’ve found helpful to deal with this “performance anxiety” in the workplace:

1. Create a safe and trusting environment—The number one job of a leader is to build trust with his/her followers. Fostering a culture of safety is essential for trust to not only survive, but thrive. People need to know they can count on their leaders to look out for their best interests, protect them when necessary (even from themselves sometimes), and to genuinely care about them as people and not just worker drones showing up to do a job. Simon Sinek speaks to this truth in his insightful TED Talk, Why good leaders make you feel safe.

2. Ask people for their opinions—One of the most tangible ways leaders can combat frustration and insecurity in the workplace is to ask people for their opinions. But asking is just the first step; you have to do something with what they tell you. The higher up a leader rises in the organization, the easier it is to lose touch with the daily frustrations and battles your employees face. It’s easy to oversimplify the problems and solutions our people face and dismiss their expressions of frustration as whining or griping. Listen with the intent of being influenced and be willing to take action on what you learn.

3. Start, stop, continue—As you consider your next round of corporate restructuring, job modification, or process improvements, ask yourself these three questions: What do we need to start doing? What do we need to stop doing? What do we need to continue doing? I’ve found it’s easy to keep adding new tasks while continuing to do the old tasks. It’s much, much harder to identify those things we should stop doing. We can’t continue to pile more and more work on people and expect them to perform at consistently high levels. There is only so much time to accomplish the work at hand. As an addition to the start, stop, continue strategy, I’m seriously considering adopting a strategy from the simplicity movement: for every new task I add for my team, we have to eliminate one task. Enough of task saturation!

4. Manage change, don’t just announce it—Managing a change initiative involves more than just announcing a new strategy. That’s the easy part! The hard part is actually implementing and managing the change well. People go through specific stages of concern when faced with a major change and leaders need to be equipped to address those concerns throughout the process. By addressing the information, personal, and implementation concerns of employees, leaders can be much more successful in helping their people adapt and endorse the change initiative.

5. Focus on development of boss/employee relationship—One of the primary factors in an employee’s success, satisfaction, and engagement on the job is the quality of the relationship with their boss. Intentional effort needs to be placed on cultivating high-quality boss/employee relationships founded on trust and mutual respect. Frequent and quality conversations need to occur regularly between the boss and employee so the boss is aware of the daily challenges faced by the employee and can work to remove obstacles.

6. Foster empowerment, control, and autonomy—People don’t resist change; they resist being controlled. Much of today’s workplace frustrations are caused by workers having a lack of empowerment in their role, little control over what effects them at work, and scant autonomy in how they perform their tasks. Leaders can build engagement by focusing on the development of these three qualities in the work people do.

Performance anxiety in the workplace is like organizational high blood pressure—it’s a silent killer. This silent killer is not always evident through outward symptoms, but it’s always lurking underneath causing damage day after day. We have a choice…will we do anything about it?

Moment of Trust – How to Give Feedback That Builds Trust, Not Destroys It

feedback2Giving feedback to someone is a “moment of trust” – an opportunity to either build or erode trust in the relationship. If you deliver the feedback with competence and care, the level of trust in your relationship can leap forward. Fumble the opportunity and you can expect to lose trust and confidence in your leadership.

For most leaders, giving feedback is not our most pleasurable task. Having been on both sides of the conversation, giving feedback and receiving it, I know it can be awkward and uncomfortable. However, I’ve also come to learn and believe that people not only need to hear the honest truth about their performance, they deserve it. Most people don’t go to work in the morning and say to themselves, “I can’t wait to be a poor performer today!” We do a disservice to our people if we don’t give them candid and caring feedback about their performance.

The key to giving feedback that builds trust rather than destroys it is to have a plan in place and a process to follow. You want people to leave the feedback discussion thinking about how they can improve, not focused on how you handled the discussion or made them feel.

People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.      ~Maya Angelou

Before Giving Feedback

Before you have the feedback discussion, it’s important to do three things:

  1. Assess the quality of your relationship – What is the level of trust and mutual respect in your relationship? If the level of trust is low, work on building it. If there has been a specific breach of trust, work on healing the relationship before giving feedback. If the feedback receiver doesn’t trust and respect you, your message will be perceived as one more way “you’re out to get them.”
  2. Diagnose the situation and clarify your motives – Clarifying your motive for giving feedback and the results you want to achieve will help you give the right kind of feedback. Is your motive to simply give information and let the receiver decide what to do with it, or are you making a request or demand and expecting the receiver to do something different? Be clear on the outcome you’re trying to achieve, otherwise your feedback will be muddled and ineffective.
  3. Make sure there is/was clear agreements about goals, roles, and expectations – Did you fulfill your leadership obligations by setting the person up for success with a clear goal? If the goal isn’t/wasn’t clear, then reset or renegotiate the goal. If circumstances beyond the employee’s control have changed to inhibit goal achievement, work on removing those obstacles, revisit the goal, or engage in problem solving.

Feedback Guidelines

When you have the feedback discussion, you’ll be much more successful if you follow these guidelines:

  1. Give feedback on behaviors that can be changed, not on traits or personality – Behavior is something you can see someone doing or hear someone saying. Telling someone they need to be more professional, flexible, or reliable is not helpful feedback because it’s judgmental, nonspecific, and would likely create defensiveness. Being specific about the behaviors the person needs to use to be professional, flexible, or reliable will give the receiver a clear picture of what he/she needs to do differently.
  2. Be specific and descriptive; don’t generalize – Because giving feedback can be uncomfortable and awkward, it’s easy to soft pedal it or beat around the bush. Think of giving feedback as the front page newspaper article, not the editorial. Provide facts, not opinions or judgments.
  3. Be timely – Ideally, feedback should be delivered as close as possible to the time of the exhibited behavior. With the passage of time, perceptions can change, facts and details can be forgotten, and the likelihood of disagreement about the situation increases. Above all, don’t save up negative feedback for a quarterly or yearly performance review. Blasting someone with negative feedback months after the fact is leadership malpractice.
  4. Control the context – Timing is everything! I’ve been married for nearly 26 years and I’ve learned (the hard way) the value of this truth. Choose a neutral and comfortable setting, make sure you have plenty of time for the discussion, be calm, and pay attention to your body language and that of the receiver. Don’t let your urgent need to deliver the feedback overrule common sense. Find the right time and place to deliver the feedback and the receiver will be more receptive to your message.
  5. Make it relevant and about moving forward – Rehashing or dwelling on past behavior that isn’t likely to recur erodes trust and damages the relationship. Keep the feedback focused on current events and problem solving strategies or action plans to improve performance. Staying forward-focused also makes the conversation more positive in nature because you’re looking ahead to how things can be better, not looking back on how bad they’ve been.

Along with these five guidelines, it’s important to solicit input from the feedback receiver to hear his/her viewpoint. You may be surprised to learn new facts or gain a better understanding of the story behind the situation at hand. Don’t presume to know it all when having the feedback discussion.

Giving feedback doesn’t have to be scary and painful. Most people know if they’ve messed up or are falling short in a certain area, even if they don’t like to admit it. The way in which the leader delivers the feedback can have more impact than the feedback itself. You can deliver the message in such a way that your people leave the meeting committed to improving their performance because they know you care about them and their success, or your delivery can cause them to leave feeling wounded, defeated, and less engaged than when they arrived. Which will it be?

It’s your moment of trust. Seize it!

9 Warning Signs an Employee Needs to be Let Go

sinking-ship“We need to let you go.”

Oomph! Those words feel like a punch to the gut of the employee on the receiving end, and for the leader delivering the bad news, those words create anxiety and many sleepless nights leading up to that difficult conversation.

No leader likes to see an employee fail on the job. From the moment we start the recruitment process, through interviewing, hiring, and training, our goal is to set up our employees for success. It takes a tremendous amount of time, energy, and expense to bring new people into the organization and ramp them up to full productivity, so it’s in everyone’s vested interest to see an employee succeed. Yet we all know there are situations that, for whatever reason, an employee struggles on the job and there isn’t much hope of turning it around.

I recently met with a group of HR professionals and line managers to debrief employee termination situations. As we reviewed the cases at hand, the following nine signs emerged as warning signals, that had they been heeded early on in the employee’s career, a termination decision could have been made much earlier in the process that would have saved everyone a lot of heartache and the company a lot of money. Any one of these signs is alarming in and of itself, but when you combine all of them together…lookout! That ship is sinking fast.

Nine Warning Signs an Employee Needs to be Let Go

1. Things don’t improve with a change of scenery – Maybe it’s the relationship with their boss, certain peers, or the nature of the work has changed and the employee is struggling to perform at his best. Whatever the reason, moving the employee to another role or department can get him back on track. I’ve done it myself and have seen it work. But if you’ve given the employee another chance by giving him a change of scenery and it’s still not working out, you should be concerned. The scenery probably isn’t the problem.

2. You feel like you have to walk on eggshells around the employee – We all have personality quirks and some people are more difficult to work with than others, but when an employee becomes cancerous to the morale and productivity of the team and everyone feels like they have to walk on eggshells around the person for fear of incurring their wrath, you’ve got a serious problem. Don’t underestimate the destructive power of a toxic, unpredictable employee.

3. Emotional instability – Part of being a mature adult is being able to manage your emotions and it’s critically important in a professional workplace. If you have an employee that demonstrates severe emotional mood swings on the job and in their relationships with others, you need to pursue the proper legal and ethical guidelines in dealing with him to provide the support he needs. Don’t ignore the behavior by chalking it up to the heat of the moment, the stress of the job, or excusing it by saying “Oh, that’s just Joe being Joe.” (No offense to all the Joe’s out there.)

4. Trouble fitting into the company culture – Perhaps one of the earliest signs that you have a failing employee is noticing him having significant trouble adapting to the culture of the organization. There is a natural transition time for any new employee, but if you’re constantly hearing the employee make negative comments about how the company operates and criticizing leadership, or not developing solid relationships with others and becoming part of the team, warning alarms should be going off in your head.

5. Blames others, makes excuses, and challenges authority – You know the incredibly loud sound of air raid sirens used in civil defense situations? That’s the sound you should be hearing if you have an employee with a track record of blaming others and making excuses for his poor performance. Troubled employees will often challenge authority by trying to lay the blame at the boss’ feet by saying things like “You should have done this…” or “You didn’t address that problem…” or whatever the case may be. If you have an employee who always seems to be involved in drama, ask yourself “What (or more appropriately ‘who’) is the common denominator in these situations?”

6. Distorts or manipulates the truth – I’ve dealt with employees who were very skilled at manipulating or distorting the truth. In whatever difficult situation they were in, they would find a kernel of truth to justify and excuse their involvement to the point that I would feel compelled to side with them. I learned you have to be discerning and consistent in your approach to dealing with manipulative people and make sure you document your interactions so you have sufficient data to support your termination decision.

7. Unseen gaps in performance – One of the most challenging situations is when an employee seems to be performing well by outside appearances, but when you explore behind the scenes you discover there are gaps in performance. Maybe it’s sloppy work, not following correct procedures, or even worse, being intentionally deceptive or unethical. Be careful, things may not always be as they seem.

8. A trail of broken relationships – Employees don’t have to be BFF’s with all of their coworkers, but they do need to respect others and be able to work together. A person may be a high-performer in the tasks of his job, but if he can’t get along with other people and has a history of damaging relationships with colleagues, eventually there will come a point where his contributions are outweighed by the damage and drama he creates.

9. Passive-aggressive behavior – You know those smiley-face emoticons at the end of slightly sarcastic and critical emails? A classic example of passive-aggressive behavior where the sender is trying to couch his criticism in feigned-humor. This is toxic and can be hard to manage because it manifests itself in so many ways that appear to be innocuous in and of themselves. Veiled jokes, procrastination, sullenness, resentment, and deliberate or repeated failure to follow-through on tasks are all signs of passive-aggressive behavior. Be careful…very careful.

Before an employee is terminated, a leader needs to look in the mirror and honestly answer this question: “Have I done everything possible to help this person succeed?” If the answer to that question is “no,” then you owe it to the employee, and yourself, to put more effort into turning things around. However, if the answer is “yes,” then it’s time to make the hard decision and let them go.

%d bloggers like this: