Category Archives: Blog

It’s easy to cover the corporate break room and hallways with bold statements and inspiring pictures and then claim your corporate culture is not only alive and well, but thriving. That may go over well in an executive planning meeting when discussing inexpensive ways to rally the troops. But does it actually provide any motivation to the groups on the front lines of everyday business?

The short answer is no. If your company thinks something that simple equals “mission accomplished,” I encourage someone from executive management to walk the halls. Simply observe the rolling eyes and shaking heads of the general population while they try to eat their lunches, and the ineffectiveness will be readily apparent.

In the book Culture by Design, David Friedman explains, “It’s not simply posting the vision and mission. It’s about what you and your leadership team are teaching your people day after day after day. And if you don’t know what you’re teaching because you’ve never defined it clearly enough, you’re not likely to be able to do it very effectively, and certainly not very consistently.”

Learning to embody your company’s corporate culture — to live and breathe it with sincerity — takes a genuine commitment. If you don’t practice it every day in what you say and what you do, your employees notice.

Corporate culture must be supported by a strong foundation of staying true to your stated principles and the way you do business — not when it’s convenient, but most especially when it’s not convenient. It must guide your business decisions and show that from the C-suite down, your corporate culture is the guiding force behind your organizational ethics.

Authors Edgar H. Schein and Peter A. Schein in their book The Corporate Culture Survival Guide describe it this way: “Culture is not a function, a result, a lever, an outcome, a tool. Culture is the multifaceted learned structure and practice of the people who lead and people who follow, people who work together and build a history that shapes the future.”

Your consistently reinforced core values should ultimately define your business. They should impact every aspect of hiring, the employee review process, the reward structure and even the disciplinary process.

If the application of your core values and corporate culture are confusing, dysfunctional and haphazard at best, you will find that the gaps between what you desire (the stated culture) and the actual behavior (the cultural reality) are deep and wide. Inconsistency is the enemy of efficiency.

However, when the corporate culture is organic and rooted in the goals of the organization, its approaches to customers, employees, investors and the community at large will be systemic. The shared beliefs, approaches and values create a sustainable model, especially when the desired qualities are consistently exhibited by upper management.

According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace report, “Only when employees know what is expected of them, have what they need to do their job right, are a good fit for their role and feel their manager has their back will they feel invested enough to connect with proclamations of mission or values — no matter how inspiring these might sound in the head office.”

One of my colleagues, Val Williams, MCC, offers this advice to aid in maintaining corporate culture during times and situations that require employees to work from separate locations. “Identify the top three descriptors of your culture and ask your people to brainstorm with you on how to demonstrate those aspects of your culture to each other virtually.” Let them know it’s important to preserve this valuable driving force even during intervals of change.

It’s important to keep the core values you expect your employees to live — day in and day out — in sight. They need to have constant reminders of the principles the organization stands for to bolster their alignment with these ideals. Corporate newsletters and visual reminders, such as company swag awarded for living the values and demonstrating them at every opportunity, are as important as engaging, uplifting communications from the C-suite.

All the uplifting corporate culture bullet points and core values mean absolutely nothing if your employees aren’t empowered to embody them equally. If the management team is trusted to make executive decisions when the situation demands it, but the customer service agents and mailroom employees aren’t, then those platitudes aren’t anything but pieces of paper on the wall. Display the courage it takes to ensure you align what your organization cares about with the way your organization is run.

Jodi McLean, in her post “Corporate Culture Case Study: Do Your Employees Embody Your Corporate Ethos?,” speaks on empowering her employees to make emergency decisions that align with the company’s core values by providing them with the tools they need in advance. “It may not always be the right decision in hindsight, but our corporate culture embraces decisive actions made with aggression, and we are never penalized for the wrong decision made for the right reasons.”

Can your organization make the same claim? Take a leap of faith. If you’ve done everything possible to exemplify every aspect of your corporate culture with honest effort, believe that your employees are willing to step up and demonstrate those principles as well.

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This article has previously been published on Forbes.

It isn’t easy to give up entrenched behaviors. It requires the willingness to develop new skills, new attitudes and new understandings instead of your old way of thinking. Start with some self-reflection on your current perspectives of your job, organization and life. Honestly evaluate which ideas and actions have served you well and which haven’t.

In A Year of Resilience, Dr. Maureen Orey relates, “Resilience requires a sense of balance. Take the time to focus on your strengths while acknowledging any areas of potential development. By knowing your comfort zone and the aspects of your life and work that provide you with feelings of security and fulfillment, you’ll be better equipped to stay grounded to leverage your inner strength when times get tough.”

If you discover you’ve been stuck in a rut that’s getting you nowhere, it’s time to harness your confidence. Resilient people don’t dwell on the qualities they lack; they concentrate on their assets and how to best deploy them in times of difficulty or transformation.

Resilient leaders are decisive, willing to take appropriate risks and try new ideas. They have a strong sense of purpose and fully believe in self-empowerment. They’re self-assured and understand that if they make a decision that doesn’t fulfill the desired result, they can change course and try another tack.

Authors Sandy Asch and Tim Mulligan explain in Roar: How to Build a Resilient Organization the World-Famous San Diego Zoo Way, “Resilience is more than survival. It is the ability of the individual and the organization to endure while remaining true to closely held values. Resilient people and companies not only rebound from challenging circumstances, they seek out meaningful ways to learn from those experiences and build capacity for the future.”

I had the opportunity to lead a workshop for executives who’d paid consultants a significant amount of money to research what was impeding the productivity of their employees and what could be done to improve the situation. After carefully considering the detailed report, which explained the problem was due to an antiquated software program and suggested implementing a new, streamlined system at a truly reasonable cost, the executive team decided not to proceed.

It took a substantial bit of leadership counseling until I helped them understand that their fear and inflexibility would result in even worse productivity statistics in the future. The outdated program required more fixes with every month and would become obsolete within two years. Fortunately, the COO had been through a similar situation with a previous company and was able to convey the positive outcome of their commitment to becoming resilient from that point forward.

The changes you make to become more resilient aren’t made in a vacuum. The way you think about challenges needs to be effectively communicated with others who will join you on the journey. Cultivate positive relationships and build strong teams. Share what you’ve learned, and teach others to support transformation. Be compassionate throughout this process — some individuals and some organizations view change as the enemy.

Encourage them with productive feedback on a consistent basis. Help them to learn from their mistakes and develop a mindset that acknowledges failures are only temporary. Foster a desire in them to become effective by bolstering skills that need improvement and, more importantly, flex the abilities in which they excel.

It’s normal to fear the unknown, but by communicating effectively and frequently with those who will be impacted by the coming change, anxiety will be lessened and enthusiasm for the new direction will be increased. Helping them understand your expectations and intentions during the process will build trust.

At the end of the day, it’s important to take time for reflection. What strategies are working, and which ones are not? Should adjustments be made at this time, or do you need time to gather more data? Are you being mindful in your planning? If you don’t review the game tapes occasionally, how will you know what plays should be altered?

At Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street in Manhattan, the New York Public Library is guarded by a pair of lions sculpted from pink Tennessee marble. Former mayor Fiorello LaGuardia named them Patience and Fortitude in the 1930s for the virtues he believed his city would need in order to endure the current economic depression. These symbols also stand true for two of the qualities we all need to embrace change, live in the present moment and cultivate our capacity for resilience.

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This article has previously been published on Forbes.

What makes a good leader great? Although there are about as many answers as there are leaders, one of the key elements has to be versatility. If you don’t have the ability to approach different problems in different ways, you’re at a distinct disadvantage in today’s business environment.

If all you have under your belt is a one-dimensional methodology to tackle any challenge, you lack the multifaceted tactics necessary to be the type of manager who can inspire colleagues in this era of multicultural, multigenerational businesses in multiple time zones. It’s increasingly important to learn how to most effectively approach a problem, an employee or a business strategy.

In his Harvard Business Review article “The Best Leaders Are Versatile Ones” (registration required), Robert B. Kaiser writes, “It is not an overstatement to say that versatility is the most important component of leading effectively today. Versatile leaders have more engaged employees and higher performing teams.”

Because we now work in a global community, it’s necessary to effectively interact with people of diverse backgrounds and skill levels. This requires a more well-rounded approach to problems and solutions. A good place to start is by conducting a personal inventory of your current abilities and talents.

No matter what methodology you use to accomplish this (there are multiple personal inventory systems and tests on the market), the important things to discover are:

• What is lacking in your management toolbox?

• What executive tools do you possess and wield with expertise?

You can make this process as simple as a list on paper. If you want a very clear and truthful picture, include the opinions of those people you know and respect. Ask them to give you an accurate description of behaviors and actions in various business scenarios. You should begin to see a pattern of where you need to develop to become a more versatile leader.

You may have had success in the past by being authoritative and have gotten into the habit of using this style to the exclusion of others that may be better suited to the situation or employee. Relying on a single tactic won’t serve you well in the long run. Bob Kaplan and Rob Kaiser explain this tendency in their book The Versatile Leader: “A chief reason why leaders overuse their strengths is that they underestimate them. Often their gauge is off: they think they’re only going 55 miles per hour when in fact they’re breaking the speed limit.”

To become more adaptable to challenges that arise, you’ll have to put in some effort and self-reflection. If you’ve had the opportunity to work in multiple companies, various departments and at different levels in the corporate structure, you most likely have a leg up on your peers. Working in diverse backgrounds teaches you to use the approach that fits each specific need.

For example, acting overly assertive in a situation with an employee who values cooperation and consensus will rarely result in a positive interaction with that person. Conversely, going out of your way to be conciliatory in a serious project deadline default with a confrontational associate won’t accomplish anything. In her book Becoming a More Versatile Learner, Maxine A. Dalton explains, “You learn the most if, when facing challenges, you employ a variety of behaviors, or learning tactics. Some managers, although perfectly willing to take on challenging experiences, use only comfortable, tried-and-true tactics, thus severely limiting their ability to learn from these experiences.”

If your ultimate goal is to reduce interpersonal tensions and lessen strained communications, you need to stop relying on your default style. Being flexible can be a real problem for managers unwilling or unable to move out of their comfort zones.

I worked with a group of middle managers in a production facility. They all seemed fairly confident of their abilities to use different management styles under different circumstances, but once we began performing exercises in how each of them behaved in a specific situation, many of them realized (with surprise) that they were simply using the same hammer, even in circumstances that required a screwdriver!

To get out of your linear rut as a manager requires effort on your part. I think the first thing you need to realize is that the skills, perceptions and perspectives of others almost always differ from your own. You have to understand different ways of learning and thinking. Being open and aware during this process will not only make it less painful but will also shorten the learning curve.

Make a commitment to your continuing education. It doesn’t have to involve reading a stack of dry business improvement manuals. Take some educational courses, travel to somewhere you’ve never been, try a new hobby and meet new people with new perspectives.

Pledge to make your personal development and the flexibility to stretch yourself not only professionally but personally a priority. The benefits of becoming more versatile will make you aware of how much more there is for you to learn. In business as well as life, progress is everything. Learn to evolve.

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This article has previously been published on Forbes.

There is good stress and there is bad stress. The good kind is necessary for survival and involves the fight-or-flight response. When you see a lion stalking you through a cubicle jungle and you run into the VP’s office, shut the door and hide, that’s good stress keeping you alive. It makes you hyperaware, sends extra blood to your muscles and increases glucose levels to speed up your heart rate. When the threat is over, your body returns to its normal hormonal levels.

Unfortunately, chronic bad stress induces the same responses, but the body never gets the chance to reset itself. Living in a nearly constant state of stress causes all sorts of maladies. It causes elevated blood pressure and stress on the whole cardiovascular system. It also typically causes poor-quality sleep, digestive problems and a weak immune system.

If you think stress isn’t prevalent, you would be wrong. According to the American Psychological Association’s 2019 Stress in America survey, “More than three-quarters of adults report physical or emotional symptoms of stress, such as headache, feeling tired or changes in sleeping habits” and “Nearly half of adults say they have laid awake at night because of stress in the prior month.”

Quantifiable information on the effects of stress can be found in multiple studies. For example, researchers at Arizona State University performed an experiment with rats. They put each one into a maze with one of three corridors blocked off. They then put healthy (unstressed) rats back through the maze at a later time with the previously blocked corridor unblocked. These rats explored the new corridor, according to their natural curiosity.

When they performed the same experiment with rats that had been stressed, the rats did not show an interest in the newly unblocked corridor. This led researchers to the conclusion that the induced stress disrupted the ability of the rats to navigate by memory. On a positive note, once the stress was removed, the previously stressed rats performed normally in the maze.

Researchers hope this research information will eventually lead to a way in which to control how stress affects human brains.

When I work with companies that determine workplace stress is affecting the quantity and quality of work performed by their employees, we begin by finding out the main source(s) of the tension. Some of them come prepared with an anonymous employee survey, which speeds up the process. Other companies, some of whose executives are in denial, insist the work environment is perfect as it is and try to reject the possibility that their workplace is causing burnout, lack of intellectual acuity and an uptick in sick days used.

 A common stressor is differing expectations of productivity between upper management and the employees who actually perform the tasks. If management determines that each employee in the widget department should be able to produce 10 widgets per hour with no defects, and the actual number employees are able to produce without defects per hour is five, that is quite a disconnect and will understandably affect morale and cause negative stress in the workforce.

Another stressor I find on a frequent basis is management’s inflexibility toward the time an employee must be present at the office. If an employee is required to be at their desk from nine to five no matter what, that person is going to experience a high-stress level each time a situation occurs that causes a conflict.

For example, if their car is in the shop and they have to take alternate transportation, there may be limited options as to when they arrive at or depart from the office. What if Dad has to pick up little Jimmy from school because of a sudden illness? If work time flexibility isn’t built into the corporate structure, you may find employee retention to be a problem.

In the meantime, how can you manage negative stress in your daily life and the lives of your employees when it originates from your work environment?

I often suggest upper management should allow people to develop new skills. New skills can give them new tools to solve problems on the job, which reduces stress. A course on time management skills may help employees to prioritize their work and learn to control what they can and avoid dwelling on things they can’t control.

It is also important to give employees time to reflect on past successes. Having an employee of the month award, or some similar form of recognition, would be one way to accomplish this.

The American Psychological Association, who surveyed 3,617 adults in 2019, found that “44% of adults say they exercise or walk to manage stress and 47% say they listen to music.” Alternatively, “More than one third (37%) spend time with friends or family.” Why not create a walking club at work? Employees can be encouraged to take one of their daily breaks outdoors performing light exercise. Again, rewards presented for the walker logging the most steps per month can encourage participation.

There are various ways to combat stress in a person-by-person format. The Mayo Clinic suggests that each person make a stress inventory, writing down for one to two weeks every time they feel stressed, including a short explanation of each situation. When they finish the prescribed time period, they should assess the data that was collected. Each employee may find several commonalities as to what causes them to feel stress and how they typically react to that stress. Once they understand what drives them in those situations, they can begin to find ways to alter either the reoccurring situation or their reoccurring response to the situation.

Negative stress is not a situation that will get better when left alone. It is prevalent, and it is detrimental to the quality of life. There is no reason not to tackle it head on to improve the quality of life for yourself and your employees.

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This article has previously been published on Forbes.

According to Joseph Astrachan, as cited by Family Business Alliance, only 30% of all family-owned businesses make the transition into the second generation, only 12% make it into the third generation and only 3% survive at or beyond the fourth generation.

If you are involved in the operation of a family business, those numbers are sobering. Since the majority of businesses are family businesses (some estimate that as many as 90% of American businesses are family-owned or -controlled), what are the reasons for this sharp drop off after the first founding generation?

Unfortunately, there is no one, easy answer — most often, it is an amalgamation of reasons that combine to create a crippling downward spiral. If, as a family business owner, founder or successive generation operator you take the time to study the commonalities involved in either business failure or business success, you are much more likely to engineer a successful environment that is conducive to leading your company through the pitfalls that line the path of the startup or maintenance of your family business.

One of the most important factors for success is communication. It is imperative to establish clear and regular methods of communication in your company. Communication must be open, frequent and honest. Also, there should be policies in place that ensure that each member of the group can submit ideas and feel that their suggestions are valued and duly considered.

There must be a shared sense of purpose to rally the troops. If Aunt Dorothy believes the company should be providing service to one specific sector of the population and Cousin Fred thinks that they should be providing service to a different sector, their infighting will only serve to disrupt the actual mission, which may be to provide service to all sectors. If the company vision is not made clear, management can become locked in a tug-of-war with no winners.

I clearly remember a previously successful family business I consulted with that by the second generation was beginning to unravel. The founders had neglected to prepare their children for taking the helm of the company. They had not involved the children in family discussions about the business, they had not required the next generation to participate in any planning or decision-making and their children, as a result, had very little understanding of what the business was truly about. They had only been waiting for the old folks to retire so they could claim the positions (and salaries) of their predecessors.

Another important factor to keep in mind as a family business leader is although you must treat your company like a family-owned and -operated business, there comes a point in the growth cycle that begs some outside input. Feedback and contribution from business experts become more and more necessary as the business develops into a larger, perhaps global, entity.

In his book Innovation in the Family Business: Succeeding Through Generations, Joe Schmieder explains, “In most cases, family members are owners and operating leaders of the business until it grows to a size and complexity best served by a blend of family ownership and professional executive leadership. Thus the business’s success correlates directly to the family’s well-being, and the family’s economic well-being correlates directly to the business’s success.”

I always advise that a family business must be sensitive to interrelationships between not only family members but also outside advisors. Business relationships should be clarified in writing. Roles and responsibilities should be divided and defined so owners and other employees don’t find themselves in a position of confusion, which can cause crossing of management lines. For example, just because you are a management executive from the founding family doesn’t mean you can randomly discipline employees who aren’t your direct reports. That only leads to resentment by both the employee and the actual manager of the employee.

A successful strategy for many family businesses is to require that children and grandchildren who wish to join the business get outside business experience first. This gives the potential family employee the benefit of knowledge in another environment, which shows them alternative ways of working, managing and producing products and services. Without that world know-how, they may fall into the trap of doing things the way they’ve always been done at their family company.

Unfortunately, despite the best intentions, many family companies ultimately fail. The reasons they fail tend to fall into two main categories: family reasons and business reasons. These both weaken successful first-generation leaders and the continued succession by future generations of the founders.

According to George A. Isaac in his book, Your Business, Your Family, Your Legacy: Building a Multigenerational Family Business That Lasts, “Business reasons included excessive risk acceptance, outdated business strategies, and poor management of the business. Family reasons included problematic family dynamics, inadequate succession planning, and unaligned shareholder objectives.”

When it comes to a successful family venture, it is important to set boundaries with both family and outside employees. Treating them all fairly is another imperative facet. Above all, don’t be tempted to provide “sympathy” job positions to relatives who are not qualified for the work the company requires. In the end, it doesn’t help anyone.

If you want to run a successful family business that you can pass down to the next generation (and hopefully the generation after that), develop a sound succession plan, listen to all the generations at the table and realize that family unity is as important as, or more important than, profit.


This article has previously been featured on Forbes

Whether you’re a new hand at developing your executive presence, a C-suite executive who’d like to think they mastered executive presence years ago or someone who is somewhere in between, there is always room for improvement. Taking the time to update, upgrade or simply polish your executive presence skills is always a profitable use of your time and resources.

There are many ways to define that certain something, that charisma that is one of the hallmarks of great leaders throughout time. Some people seem to have been born mastering the keys of this set of skills, and other people seem to find it all but elusive, but with enough effort, anyone can refine these characteristics and inspire others to do the same.

In the early 2000s, I was working with a large, successful insurance company with a rock-solid C-suite. They had executive presence to spare. The CEO could walk into any corporate office across the United States and have an intelligent, optimistic, uplifting business conversation with anyone from the office VP to the mailroom clerk. Add to that the fact that he could somehow remember the first names of thousands of employees in the company, and you can begin to appreciate the magnetism he possessed.

The CEO intuitively understood what the Center for Talent Innovation found out after a research study (registration required) on the key pillars of executive presence. The participants involved in the study determined these three qualities in this order of importance were imperative:

• Gravitas — The ability to exude confidence, act decisively, show integrity, demonstrate emotional intelligence, burnish reputation and project vision

• Communication — The ability to command a room, read an audience and having great speaking skills

• Appearance — Exhibiting good grooming and physical attractiveness

You may define these skills differently, but if you look carefully, you’ll notice that most of your word choices for executive presence talents will actually fit in one of these three broad categories.

For example, in his book Executive Presence: The Art of Commanding Respect Like a CEO, author Harrison Monarth describes an important trait that could fit under gravitas or communication: first impressions. “The first tool for making a powerful first impression and forging an emotional connection is warmth. Warmth fosters trust and puts people in the receptive frame of mind known to psychologists as an approach state as opposed to an avoid state.”

The trait of enthusiasm could also easily fit under the same two categories: gravitas and communications. In her book Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges, Amy Cuddy explains why this trait is imperative, especially in business situations: “There’s another reason we tend to put our faith in people who project passion, confidence, and enthusiasm: these traits can’t easily be faked.” She continues, “When we try to fake confidence or enthusiasm, other people can tell something is off, even if they can’t precisely articulate what that thing is.”

If you’re not talented at projecting warmth or enthusiasm, at the very least, you’re going to need the skill of “reading the air.” In Bryan Lufkin’s article “How ‘Reading the Air’ Keeps Japan Running,” he points out, “Knowing the unspoken rules governing social life requires comprehensive understanding of your environment, whatever the setting. It’s a skill that’s valuable anywhere in the world — but in Japan, where communication tends to be indirect, it is elevated to another level. Reading the air — kuuki o yomu in Japanese — is a constant exercise, and misreading the air can blow business deals or ruin relationships.” Unfortunately, some people lack most of the skills required of executive presence.

Back to our CEO of the successful national insurance company. I can honestly report he had all of these executive presence qualities (gravitas, communication, appearance) and more. He was warm, relatable and not at all stuffy or superior. This charming executive decided after dedicating decades to this company it was time to retire and spend some time with his many grandchildren in his later years. Everyone was thrilled for him, especially because he had stayed long after he had planned to retire due to having no suitable successors for his position.

After being persuaded by his family that it was no longer his duty to wait until the perfect replacement came along, he finally retired. Fortunately for him, he lived happily ever after. The company did not.

The replacement chosen for the CEO’s position was a senior executive who was excellent and most comfortable with numbers and spreadsheets. He was about as far from a people person as one could get.

On semiannual visits to the regional offices, he scheduled office-wide meetings (which shut down that building’s entire operations for two to three hours at a time and completely disrupted all time-sensitive and customer-sensitive procedures for nearly half a day). He spoke in a monotone, pointed at indecipherable charts and graphs and would not answer any questions from the audience. He would then promptly hop on a plane to inflict his “company update” on another office.

I’d hoped the situation would resolve itself, but it did not. I had to disengage myself from the contract after realizing this executive consistently refused to make any changes no matter the inevitable outcome. Another year and a half after that, the company shut down. The stock was nearly worthless.

The moral of the story is, if your desire is to polish your executive presence, it requires patience, practice and the willingness to change for the better. It sounds challenging because it is. If everyone could display these talents without any effort, we’d all be up to our necks in competent C-suite executives. Until that day comes, know that your sincere efforts at perfecting these skills will not go unrewarded.


This article has previously been featured on Forbes

I’ll admit, I’ve asked myself more than once, “Does it ever get any easier?” So many of my clients and leaders the world over — despite the cumulative hours and hours of training on diversity and inclusion — still have trouble authentically engaging with the subject matter.

One of the big problems with a lack of confidence when speaking to this very real, very important challenge is that if you have a fear of discussing diversity in an honest and meaningful way, your employees will know it. They will sense it the way a shark can sense blood in the water. There’s no faking your way on this subject.

All too often, the fear of lack of authenticity will result in your people avoiding discussions about differences because they, perhaps like you, are afraid of unintentionally offending others.

Most of these fear perceptions can be lumped into one of three main categories. Some of the worries that fall under an organizational umbrella would be being punished for raising uncomfortable issues at work or being placed on the shortlist for downsizing because of making waves. This can result in employees avoiding conflict at all costs, thereby cutting off any possibilities of making progress learning to relate to individuals who are different from themselves.

Another main categorical umbrella would be cultural. This would include the fears of the ramifications of different communication styles and different conflict styles between people from different backgrounds.

The largest category is personal. Employees can be afraid of unintentionally offending another, or being ridiculed for asking honest, relevant questions about others in the workplace (anything from which pronouns a specific person prefers to be addressed by to how to create a productive meeting schedule that can respectfully incorporate religious holidays for diverse groups within the department). Fear of betrayal (or repercussions) for revealing personal information at work is another anxiety.

It’s no wonder leaders can be apprehensive about seriously discussing diversity and inclusion with their staff.

There are many misperceptions about two aspects of diversity, gender and race, in society as a whole, and that is reflected in the workplace. There have been historical relationships between different groups that have resulted in distrust, inequality, mistreatment and exclusion. These historical relationships can add yet another layer of discomfort when discussing diversity and inclusion in mixed-gender and mixed-race settings. A well-intentioned discussion can end up with everyone feeling uncomfortable.

Ijeomo Oluo, the author of So You Want to Talk About Race, offers some good points when talking about a challenging topic such as race, which can be a key fear factor when speaking on diversity:

• State your intentions.

• Remember what your top priority in the conversation is, and don’t let your emotions override that.

• Do your research.

• Don’t make your anti-racism argument oppressive against other groups.

So many diversity programs that start out in a burst of optimism go down in flames because of the human need to feel safe. Some important discussions on the infinite variety of human beings get avoided altogether because of fear. Some common anxieties in the workplace are fear of giving offense, fear of being excluded, fear of being misunderstood, fear of being seen as disrespectful toward another’s “differences” and fear of being perceived as prejudiced.

It has been my experience in workshops with several Fortune 500 companies that exorcising the fear of talking about diversity is a common hurdle. I’m often asked for a magic bullet to swiftly solve the painful dilemma, but I don’t have one. My advice is that there isn’t a shortcut for an honest and meaningful diversity program in your company.

If you want your company to be held up as positive role model for implementing cultural competence, you’re going to have to put in the work. Everyone in your institution must be empowered to speak. If management is the only entity allowed to preach diversity, guess what? There isn’t any diversity.

Like anything else, you can talk the talk, but can you walk the walk? You have to demonstrate inclusive behaviors from the top all the way down. Everyone must commit to valuing individual differences, giving and seeking feedback, accepting responsibility for their own actions and taking a stand on inappropriate behaviors. I believe the key word in all of this is “respect.” Without respect, we won’t take on responsibility.

I love this quote from Dominic Price in a blog he wrote on misconceptions about diversity and our responsibility to bust those myths: “Just because we’re not personally guilty of creating the unequal playing field does not mean we’re not personally responsible for helping to [fix] it.”

It is important to remember when discussing a subject that has the potential to make so many colleagues anxious that as a leader, it is your responsibility to show control, remain dispassionate and neutral and be objective and calm. Be the voice and be the example. Most of all, be respectful. All of these attitudes inspire confidence in your genuine effort to ensure that diversity in your organization isn’t merely lip service.


This article has previously been featured on Forbes

If you’ve ever been in a meeting and uttered the dreaded word “change,” you’ve probably had the experience of watching the faces of the attendees express emotions ranging from horror to glee. It’s been my experience in the corporate world that no two people have the same reaction.

It’s important to understand that to many people the idea of change feels threatening. Even if the current process, organizational structure or focus is outdated or even obsolete, employees are familiar with it. Sometimes no matter how inefficient or emotionally painful a situation is, they’ve developed a certain comfort level. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve worked with a company that said, “But we’ve always done it that way,” I could retire right now.

The way they’ve always done it may well be the way it was originally organized in 1980 or 1990. If a company wants to expand instead of contract, it must self-reflect. If the C-suite is composed of a majority of yes-men and -women, change is unlikely to happen until it’s too late to reverse the slide. In cases such as this, it’s often helpful to bring in an external perspective to evaluate the business and recommend a plan of action that can initiate meaningful change. In fact, you might even want to have the consultants initiate the initial changes themselves, so as to reduce the opportunity of backsliding once they’ve left.

In his book Elastic: Unlocking Your Brain’s Ability to Embrace Change, Leonard Mlodinow points out, “Today’s society bestows rewards as never before upon those who are comfortable with change, and it may punish those who are not, for what used to be the safe terrain of stability is now often a dangerous minefield of stagnation.”

One of the important pieces of the puzzle in the beginning stages of any plan to change is to bring the new vision into complete focus. Trying to begin implementation before this phase is completed will ensure failure. I worked with a large retail company whose upper management decided to introduce an entirely new ordering system for their multiple call centers. It would save money because it was more efficient and would allow the agents to perform their jobs in a faster time frame per call.

The problems were legion. They never bothered to show it to any focus groups from the company. They did not test the system in beta mode long enough. They never asked anyone who worked with the existing systems to explain the pros and cons of the existing programming.

Instead, they filmed an announcement from the CEO, who had only been working with the company for under a year and had never even touched the current system or traveled to any of the call centers. The filmed announcement was basically a pep rally with no helpful information, but it was required watching for every employee.

The resulting premature rollout was a predictable disaster. There were multiple malfunctions, employees having meltdowns because they couldn’t meet their stats and supervisors tearing their hair out because with no training beyond a PowerPoint presentation, they were expected to troubleshoot every problem that arose. You can only imagine how frustrated the customers were, and you wouldn’t believe how many of them threatened to take their business elsewhere.

With some forethought and focus, it all could have been avoided. The only people who didn’t seem to realize that were in the C-suite. They could have done so much better (they couldn’t have done much worse, after all). They could’ve communicated their new vision for the company by email, social media, video, corporate intranet, motivational posters showing the benefits and meetings at the individual call centers where someone from upper management actually bothered to visit.

There’s no shortcut to effectively implementing change. It involves a process, and time and effort must be invested for it to be a success. After a clear explanation of the vision, there must be a high sense of urgency from management. Momentum must be maintained, or entropy will take over.

For progress to continue, obstacles to that progress must be removed. The obstacle could be a process, a tool that isn’t working properly, a lack of monetary commitment to the project or even a leader who overtly opposes the change and actively works to undermine it. If these hindrances are not removed, change won’t flow.

Real and lasting change cannot gain a foothold unless it’s broken up into smaller, more digestible pieces. The goal of expansion into European markets, for example, might be segmented by country, region or demographic. Whatever it is, once the first goal is met, it’s time to celebrate the victory. Those on the front lines will mostly just see the mountain of work ahead, and rewarding them for each success keeps them motivated to continue.

John P. Kotter, in his book Leading Change, advises, “Real transformation takes time. Complex efforts to change strategies or restructure businesses risk losing momentum if there are no short-term goals to meet and celebrate.”

Frequent feedback meetings are also imperative. If you’re not listening to your people on a regular basis, you’re not in touch with what’s actually happing on the front lines. You can look at reports all day long, but if you don’t actually make yourself available to hear what the problems and triumphs are, you don’t have a clear picture.

As a manager of people, it’s your job to motivate them to embrace the changes, listen to their fears and suggestions, and cheerlead the new company vision. Reward innovation and positive behavior, and share stories of success, no matter how small.

As the innovator Walt Disney pointed out, “Times and conditions change so rapidly that we must keep our aim constantly focused on the future.” If we don’t, we’ll surely fail.


This article has previously been featured on Forbes

I’ve observed a growing problem in today’s workplace where employees hide, hoard or simply don’t provide information to others in their organization. It’s disruptive and contributes substantially to the lack of productivity. Although employers have tried multiple solutions to the problem — meetings, team building, knowledge management systems — the issue remains largely unresolved.

Human beings are a complicated bunch, and, as it turns out, there are multiple reasons that can cause this breakdown in the flow of information from person to person, level to level or team to team. The fix depends largely on determining which specific issues are driving the behavior in each particular instance.

Individual Motivations

Individual motivations at work may be something as simple as the lack of time to communicate the information to the requestor. For example, if a certain colleague is constantly requesting information, it can be a serious drain on the time of the employee who is being asked. Frustration ensues, and the thought becomes, “If Dave in accounting doesn’t know how to do his job, why should I keep helping him at the risk of my own productivity stats?” On the other hand, an employee may hoard information for personal gain or power. Clarice in sales may have decided that if she doesn’t share her hard-earned knowledge with others on the sales team, she will continue to be the star and the most valuable player, who is immune to layoffs. Neither scenario benefits the organization as a whole. So, what’s the solution?

Authors of the Harvard Business Review article “Why Employees Don’t Share Knowledge with Each Other,” point to their research to help explain why people hide information or share it: “We found that more cognitively complex jobs — in which people need to process large amounts of information and solve complex problems — tended to promote more knowledge sharing, as did jobs offering more autonomy. By focusing on these aspects of work, managers can encourage employees to share more and hide less.”

A Lack Of Trust

Trust can also be a contributing factor as to why employees withhold information. To combat this, management may need to actively recognize and reward the contributions of those who exhibit the desired behavior. They also need to work to eliminate the various barriers at their company that are restricting the free flow of information. It might be that different members of a team are in very different time zones and find it difficult to communicate in a meaningful way. Or it could be that there’s a deep-seated rivalry between teams that are, in theory, supposed to be cooperating instead of competing.

In the book The 7 Fundamentals to Create and Sustain A Successful Knowledge Sharing Organization, author Patricia Pedraza-Nafziger says, “To encourage employees to share the knowledge gained through experience requires building trust and an understanding of how their knowledge will be used.” Be upfront and honest with employees. Explain the benefits of knowledge sharing, and remind everyone of shared goals.

Organizational Hierarchy

Another interesting study, “Helping Others Most When They Are Not Too Close: Status Distance as a Determinant of Interpersonal Helping in Organizations,” found that people in an organization were more likely to provide information if there was moderate distance between their positions on the organizational chart.

As the study’s abstract explains, “Scholars examining interpersonal relations in organizations have long known that status matters, but findings regarding the link between status differences and prosocial behavior have been equivocal.” In other words, you’re more likely to share information with individuals who are moderately distant from you in status because the feelings of potential competition or power status are diminished.

In my experience, one of the best ways to combat the employee knowledge hoarding tendency is to reward employees who participate in the consistent sharing of appropriate information and make clear the benefits of doing so. Management also needs to be responsive to recognizing those employees who are draining the productivity of others by requesting information that they should already know. It should be addressed by more training or perhaps a performance improvement plan.

In the end, it is the role of leadership in the organization to ensure the free flow of important information is actually happening on a day-to-day basis. Effective collaboration can move the needle for your company and improve the bottom line.


This article has previously been featured on Forbes

Employee Motivation: It Really Does Matter

If you’ve ever been stuck in a job with no direction or motivation and have felt extremely discouraged, you’re not alone. Unfortunately, there are many employees who find themselves caught in the same situation. Managers and supervisors are often not