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Did you ever work in a place where your workmates felt like family? It’s a great feeling, isn’t it? That’s when you really love going to work because you know that whatever happens, there will be harmony. Everyone will be in sync and tasks will be accomplished.

Did you ever work in a place where you felt like prey? You never knew what to expect once you arrived. Everyone was looking out for himself and shifting blame elsewhere whenever possible. The very thought of having to go to work felt like a kick in the gut. You knew that at any time there could be conflict and you would have to be on the defensive. You always had to be on the lookout because no one had your back but someone would surely have a piece of it in their mouth.

It’s amazing how one person can throw off the entire balance of a team. Whether it’s a manager or a co-worker, a single self centred individual can ruin the dynamic of your work environment. These people suck the life out of organizations every day. How do they get in there, anyway?

They get in because it’s hard to know what someone is made of when you interview them. People put their best face forward and they are not necessarily hired for fit, but rather experience or skill. Mind you, experience and skill are both very important, but hiring people who fit into your corporate culture (and hopefully you are trying to create a positive one), is extremely important.

Before you decide to hire someone, make sure they are interviewed by both managers and peers. If the candidate’s personality has a certain edge to it, or if their mentality is simply not compatible with everyone else’s, someone will likely pick up on it. Some people are very astute that way. If you are lucky, you will have at least one person on your hiring team who is a highly intuitive judge of character.

As your new hire settles in, listen to what co-workers have to say about that person. Typically, if everyone has a problem with someone, then that person is the problem. If you do hire someone who turns out to be someone who is hard to get along with, then offer training if appropriate. If that doesn’t work, then get rid of them. Don’t waste your resources on a bad hire and don’t ruin everyone else’s productivity level and your corporate culture because the toxic person you hired happens to produce certain favourable results. Attitude is everything. Your business will thrive the most when all of your employees are acting in the best interest of the team’s objectives for the company. One person putting his or her personal needs first (financial, promotional, etc) destroys the dynamic of the team and the greater results of the company. Even if they are producing, the team as a whole would do much better without the toxic member’s input.

Showing your employees that you have zero tolerance for abusive or difficult people will strengthen their commitment to your company and increase their overall level of engagement. Also, when your company gains a reputation for being a great place to work, you’ll find your hiring pool to be loaded with excellent candidates. After all, who wouldn’t love to work for a company that prides itself on maintaining respect and dignity in the workplace?

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So you’re a manager or team leader and you’ve dumped on your people and treated them as underlings and ninnies for quite some time. Now you find you’ve got employees who give you lip, call in sick, refuse to do you favours and resist your direction. You know they talk about you behind your back. They’ve complained about you to your supervisor/manager and everything is falling apart on you. Clearly, no one has any respect for you and some don’t even care about the consequences of acting out their anger and frustration. You’ve received your wake-up call but don’t know how to fix the mess you’ve created.

As a bully manager, you are a liability to your company. Your behaviour can result in law suits being filed by employees and former employees. You cause turnover and you also cause people to take stress leave. Your behaviour seriously hampers productivity and causes customers to desert you.

Furthermore, I’ve never met a bully manager who wasn’t all stressed out by their conflicts at work. It takes a lot of energy to be a creep. If you have a history of being a mean-spirited, condescending jerk, then you need to understand that you are bound to have your comeuppance. As Groucho Marx once cleverly said, “Time wounds all heels.”

The process of building trust as a manager is one that takes patience and commitment, so if you’re looking for a quick fix, you can forget it. Naturally, it will be especially difficult if you’ve got a reputation for being a jerk (that’s the polite term). Take heart, though. I said it will be difficult, but it is definitely possible to create a positive environment even when your leadership has been less than exemplary. Here are some tips to get you started:

No Double Standards: If you want your employees to respect you, you need to follow the exact same rules you expect them to follow; and do it 100 per cent of the time.

Respect: You have to give respect in order to get it, so make sure all of your interactions with your team members are non-threatening. Never speak to others in a condescending tone. Ask politely and don’t give orders.

Show Genuine Interest: People naturally like people who take an interest in them. Ask your employees if they had a pleasant weekend; ask about their family, pets and hobbies. Ask about anything that isn’t too personal and take an interest in what they tell you.

Share Information: Share a little personal information and share information related to the business. Openness is an important part of building trust. When you share, others will reciprocate.

Be Helpful: Don’t set up road blocks for your employees. Give them every opportunity to be successful. Encourage them to be the best they can be by offering your assistance and friendly advice. Offer courses, books or whatever else you need to offer to build their confidence and skills.

Be Flexible: Even though rules are important, it is also important to be flexible enough to bend them once in a while for people. If you treat people the way you would want to be treated under the same circumstances, then you will know when flexibility is necessary.

Have Fun: Don’t take things so seriously all the time. It’s ok to let loose and relax with people. Tell a clean joke or a funny story. As long as your remarks are not negative or potentially hurtful to someone, it should be safe to have a laugh.

Don’t Be a Hot Head: If someone annoys you, don’t blast them right away. Cool down and find the appropriate moment to address the behaviour in a civilized fashion. You may find that after you’ve cooled down, that it really wasn’t that big a deal.

Pick Your Battles: Understand that you don’t always have to be right, and even if you are right, it’s ok if you are the only one who knows it. Some arguments just aren’t worth pursuing. If the matter is not really earth shattering, then don’t waste your energy on it.

Don’t Be Vindictive: Never try to get even with people. No one can respect or trust anyone who cannot take the high road. We win when we choose grace over drama.

Don’t Be a Control Freak: Give people credit for having intelligent ideas and capabilities. If things always have to be done your way, then you are doing a great disservice to the business. No one is perfect and acting like you are better than everyone else will only serve to alienate you from the people you need the most: your team.

Don’t Engage in Constructive Dismissal Practices: Constructive dismissal is a sleazy practice that doesn’t escape the notice of the victim’s co-workers. It seriously hampers productivity and fosters an environment of extreme mistrust and lack of respect. If you need to fire someone, then do it as nicely as possible. Civil behaviour is always best.

These tips just scratch the surface. I’m looking forward to the day when companies adopt and actually enforce a zero tolerance policy around bullying and workplace harassment. To date, I have seen a lot of companies who simply pay lip service. It makes me question how people interpret the word, “harassment” and I wonder why some types of harassment are condoned while others are not. Harassment is bad for business, no matter who is doing it or how they are doing it.

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It’s really been such a long time since I’ve posted anything to my blog. In order to regenerate readership and interest in what I do, I would like to offer Canadian residents a free copy of my book, Engaged for Growth. All you need to do is email me a request with your business mailing info, company name and position/title. I’d be very happy to cover the cost of postage provided there is only one book per person/company. Please send your request to: renee@powerconferences.ca

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I don’t get it. I see this time and time again, and I am always baffled by managers who hire people just because they have a pulse and are willing to do the job. This practice is especially common where the position being filled is a low paying, low status job (retail, customer service, etc).  The problem with not carefully choosing employees is that you will constantly have to replace them. Hiring the wrong people causes turnover, lost customers and a whole host of other problems that cost companies a lot of money.

Considering these front line positions actually drive the business, employers need to be especially careful about who they hire. It makes no sense whatsoever to hire people who are not perfectly suited for the work.  Taking the time to look for the right people may be a little painful, but in the long run it will pay off. You’ll have employees who are passionate and dedicated to the company.

Here’s another pearl of wisdom:  If you regard all people who occupy those front line positions as imbeciles, then you will continually hire imbeciles. If you think they are all a bunch of unreliable flakes, then you will hire unreliable flakes. Do you get it? Look for the people you want, not the people you think you will end up with and don’t settle for less.

If you think no one wants to be a CSR or a retail sales guru, think again. I have met many people over the course of my career who simply love being on the front line. The money isn’t what drives them, it’s the challenge of making a customer happy or selling a bunch of merchandise to a customer who was “only browsing”.  These people are out there so there is really no need to hire someone who is clearly not right for the job.

Here are some people you should never hire for a front line position:

  • People who have no relevant experience but have a long employment history. Registered Nurses or Computer Programmers applying for a receptionist position are not suitable candidates. They will leave as soon as they find something in their field of expertise.
  • People who do not present themselves professionally.  Avoid sloppy dressers, people who smell bad, people who look to be of questionable character, people with poor language skills, and people who have no polish whatsoever.
  • People who say, “I just want a job (any job) so I can pay my bills.” These people have no passion for the business or the work they will do. They will only put in enough effort to get a pay cheque and will probably call in sick every chance they get.
  • People who have a history of leaving jobs after only a few months. That’s a no brainer for some. Don’t fool yourself into believing your company will be the one that this person will stick with. The best indicator of future behaviour is past behaviour.
  • People you don’t have rapport with. If you can’t build rapport in a job interview you will not build it later. Employees need to fit in with the culture and they need to be able to relate with their co workers and their boss. If you’re not feeling the love in the interview, don’t hire that person no matter what. Your job as a manager will be infinitely easier if you are working with people you can get along with.
  • People who are not naturally pleasant. This runs along the same line as the above point. You can’t teach people how to be pleasant or happy. If you detect that a job candidate has a certain negative edge to him, then don’t hire him.  He won’t suddenly change and become nice to be around.

Employers should develop a profile of the perfect candidate for the job. Taking the time to figure out what type of person is best suited for the position will help you with your search. Knowing what type of people to avoid will help you even further. Committing yourself to hiring only those who fit the profile will pay off, so be patient and keep trying to find the right people.

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Blackberry, iPad, laptops, internet; it is easy to develop addictions to the devices that simultaneously join and divide us.  There are now so many ways to remain connected to people that the line between our private lives and our business lives has become increasingly obscure. Managing business and personal relationships can be a tremendous challenge. People sacrifice their personal lives to develop better business relationships and race to get more accomplished at work. Bosses and employees are often expected to keep working long after 5:00PM and frequently miss important events and dinners with family. At night, they are wound so tight they get out of bed at 3:00AM to send out email. They know it’s not healthy, but they keep on driving forward. Some are fearful of what will happen if they don’t try to create miracles every day at work, and others are so driven and passionate about their work, that they just can’t stop themselves. The self -imposed stress is almost unbearable. Mental fatigue has become the new normal, and even though they know all of this can be personally disastrous, they persist.

Several years ago, I was interviewing for a sales job and asked my would-be manager what he was like to work for. He told me he works 10-13 hours a day and expects the same kind of dedication from his employees. I told him the position would not be suitable for me because I have a family and they are my priority. I added that I was willing to put in extra time when needed, but I could not do that every day. He immediately got defensive and told me that when he gets home at night, he does not open his brief case and he mows the grass on weekends. It occurred to me that he will come home one night and find his wife in bed with his neighbour. Needless to say, I didn’t get offered the job, and wouldn’t have taken it, anyway.

That guy made an impression on me, though. Over and over I see people giving it all up for the company. They never seem to realize how expendable they are. They foolishly believe that if they work hard enough and long enough, they will never be let go. The truth is, however, that the decision to let go of an employee is a business decision. When it is time to let you go, they will let you go because it suits them. They will focus on your shortcomings and completely ignore your sacrifices. They will never thank you for always being early and working late. They will never pay the legal fees you incurred for your divorce which was the result of your misaligned priorities. Likewise, no one gets promoted because they never take a lunch break, or because they missed twelve of their children’s concerts and a family funeral.

Entrepreneurs face similar challenges. They make themselves overly available in case of emergency. The computer is on all evening, the Blackberry is forever buzzing and the phone is always ringing, yet probably 98% of what takes them away from enhancing their personal relationships can be dealt with during a normal work day. It is a matter of managing time and setting priorities.

Just as we make decisions to be constantly available for business, we can make decisions to block off pockets of time to be available only to family and friends. Taking yourself off the grid, so to speak, will refresh you. Follow these simple rules for a month and see what happens:

  1. Use a phone with voice mail that is only for family and friends to find you and tell them when they can call you.
  2. Turn off the Blackberry and other mobile devices during social time with family.
  3. Make a rule not to work after 6:30PM.
  4. Don’t work on weekends.
  5. Hire an answering service to field business related calls after hours. Give them the criteria for what is urgent, and have them contact you under those circumstances only.
  6. During evenings and weekends, don’t check email or surf the net, even for fun. Go for a walk, or engage in some other physical activity instead. Include a friend or a family member, or just enjoy being alone.
  7. If you take a vacation, do not take electronic devices with you.

If you do these things, you will probably find that you are more relaxed, and that your personal relationships are warmer. You will also notice that your business did not fall apart; the earth did not break into pieces and that your desk still has a bottomless pile of tasks that you can now more effectively work on. What about your blood pressure? I’ll bet it’s lower.

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A number of months ago I had my kitchen renovated and a couple of weeks into the project, the designer, “went on leave”. I later found out she would certainly not be coming back. The same company lost its receptionist recently and when I called to follow up on a problem I requested be fixed, I was told she “retired”. Sure! Judging from the dealings we had with this company I am pretty sure that is simply a euphemism for, “she quit”. In fact, I’m surprised she lasted as long as she did!

Geeze! It reminds me of a company I used to work for. Whenever someone got fired an obscure email would circulate saying that person was no longer with the company. It always felt a little weird. Now, I know they can’t very well divulge the details of an employee’s departure, but there is always something a little curious/ominous about the use of euphemisms. Who do they think they are fooling, anyway?

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An employee hands his resignation into his manager. The boss is surprised and disappointed. This guy was his best worker. He thought he was really engaged and had high hopes for him. When he asks his departing employee why he is leaving the company, the employee simply states he received a better opportunity from someone else.

What really happened? Do engaged employees really quit their jobs to pursue better opportunities? No they don’t. Being an engaged employee means being very committed to what you are doing with your current employer. It means your work is challenging enough, you are comfortable with the corporate culture, you feel like you are a part of the greater vision and you are making a measurable difference. Engaged employees do not quit. Not ever. It is only when they become disillusioned, frustrated, fearful, or experience some other negative emotion that they become disengaged and then quit “for a better opportunity”. That phrase, “a better opportunity” is really a euphemism for, “you suck”.

So what were the game changing moves that caused your precious employee to become disengaged? It is really important to ask yourself what went wrong. When you lose employees, you need to take it personally, because it is personal. They may not hate you as a person, but you somehow failed them from a management perspective and you will continue to lose employees if you do not reflect on the real circumstances of their departure.

Reflecting on the circumstances will allow you to get to the real issue. Don’t blow off the excuses. Drill down and find the truth you need to see. The employee will never tell you the whole truth, so you need to put your thinking cap on and drop your ego into the garbage bin. If they tell you they need more money, for example, they are more likely telling you they feel taken advantage of (money is rarely, if ever an issue for engaged employees). You need to then ask yourself why they would feel taken advantage of. What did you do to make them feel that way?

Taking the time to reflect on your failings as a leader will allow you to improve your skills. Asking yourself what you could have done differently and remodelling your style, so to speak, will give you better results as you endeavour to keep employee engagement at a high level.

Here are some of the real reasons people become disengaged and quit their jobs:
1. Something damaged the relationship between the manager and the employee
2. Doesn’t fit in with co-workers
3. Feels their job may be in jeopardy
4. Feels taken advantage of
5. Feels unsupported
6. Feels unappreciated
7. Confused about expectations
8. Embarrassed by performance of co-workers/company (lots of mistakes and angry customers)
9. Lack of equipment needed to perform quality work
10. No future opportunities for advancement or improvement
11. Negative corporate culture
12. Bored with tasks (work feels meaningless and unchallenging)
13. Personal values conflict with corporate values or scope of job
14. Life changes (spouse gets transfer, illness, etc)
Except for number 14, all of the above mentioned reasons can be dealt with before employees decide to quit. Communication is the key. Building rapport with your employees and fostering an environment of trust, excellence, respect and integrity will help you a lot.

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