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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

If you find yourself wondering if it’s appropriate to take an issue or complaint to your human resources department, it pays to give the situation some serious thought. They are trained, and in certain cases required, to approach your problem with gravitas and thoughtful consideration.

If you plan to take this step, you need to be prepared. Meticulous and relevant documentation will present your case better than a disjointed monologue ever could. If you truly believe you are being harassed or discriminated against at work, start with writing down the date, time, what was said or done to you and by whom in what specific situation. Don’t ramble, and stick with the facts. Accurate records are the fast track to disciplinary action by your company against the perpetrator.

Author Sachi Barreiro in the book Your Rights in the Workplace: An Employee’s Guide to Fair Treatment advised, “Check the facts again. The human memory is not nearly as accurate as we like to think it is, particularly when it comes to remembering numbers and dates.” To ensure accuracy when documenting any workplace complaint, “Make a written record of everything that happened, with dates and other important facts.”

Throughout my time working with a variety of organizations, I’ve seen the importance of approaching HR to address a situation firsthand. Below are my tips on how you can tell when it’s time to bring HR into the equation:

When should you approach HR?

You experienced discrimination or harassment: Under no circumstances do you have to put up with discrimination or harassment in the workplace. There are very specific laws in place to protect you. Your employer is under a legal obligation to protect you against discrimination because of several factors that are addressed by federal laws, such as those in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In the book The Essential Guide to Handling Workplace Harassment & Discrimination, attorney Deborah C. England explained, “Harassment and discrimination are related but distinct concepts. An employer discriminates against an employee when it takes an action against the employee because of his or her membership in a protected group.” She continued, “Harassment is actually a type of discrimination, a particular way employers mistreat employees based on a protected trait.”

You need to take medical leave: In my experience, at some point in your work life, you’ll likely need to understand the family medical leave act, or FMLA. Almost everyone goes through the experiences of having an illness or having to care for a family member — and that is exactly what FMLA was enacted for. If you expect to be going through these situations, or similar medical situations, contact your HR department as early as possible. They’ll have paperwork for you to fill out and forms for you and your doctors to sign.

Taking care of these requirements ensures that you cannot be fired from your job because of medical problems and employment parameters that are recognized by the act. Your HR department will be able to help guide you through the process, but if you need to know more specific information, there are helpful online resources, such as the U.S. Department of Labor.

You witnessed wrongdoing: If at your place of employment you observe illegal happenings, such as chemical or mechanical hazards, you need to know that employers must abide by all applicable Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards, as well as comply with the General Duty Clause of the OSH Act, “which requires employers to keep their workplace free of serious recognized hazards,” according to OSHA.

Depending on the violation, the complaint might be covered under OSHA statutes, and you don’t need to fear retaliation. The organization website also said that “employers may not discharge or otherwise retaliate against an employee because the employee has filed a complaint or exercised any other rights provided to employees by the statute.”

Your HR department might not be tasked with dealing with this type of reporting, but they will know who is, and they can direct you in regards to reporting procedures.

When is filing an HR complaint unnecessary?

If you’re wondering when it’s not appropriate to go to HR with a problem, it might help you to remember that though you’re not in elementary school anymore, some of the rules still apply. For example, if you tattled to your teacher because someone said they don’t like you, the teacher would have probably told you to work it out among yourselves. Believe it or not, the workplace is similar. If it’s something very minor, such as you not getting along with a peer, don’t take it to HR. If you want to complain because your boss gave you a negative review that was completely justified, find a solution yourself or with the help of a colleague. HR is not there to solve problems that you’ve caused or problems you can solve yourself.

HR plays a critical role in your company.

In my many years of working with companies of all sizes in many different sectors, a common theme I encounter is how to best resolve these many types of serious issues. My advice to senior management is to not treat the HR department as one that brings in no revenue.

Although they might be categorized as “overhead” on your expense spreadsheets, HR is an important and integral part of corporate compliance. You might be dismissive, but understand that you ignore their importance at your own company peril. Just ask any of your peers how much was paid out in harassment, discrimination and OSHA noncompliance judgments with regard to companies they have worked for in the past. My informed recommendation is to hire your HR representatives with care, and always treat them with respect.


This article has previously been featured on Forbes

Giving a thorough and fair performance appraisal requires a lot of skill and a fair amount of work by your manager. If you are an active participant in the process by providing your manager with accurate details of your accomplishments spanning the timeframe — a highlight reel as it were — you’ll be doing yourself a big favor.

As a leadership coach, I’ve developed a few tips for how you can prepare yourself for your next performance review:

Share accomplishments with your boss.

It’s important to remember that your supervisor or manager is likely as overwhelmed as you are. Time is a limited resource for all of us. Your bosses already have their deadlines and statistics to meet, so writing accurate and fair performance evaluations for your team is no easy feat. Because of this, don’t expect your manager to have noticed every single one of your many accomplishments.

In his book I Am Not Average: How to Succeed in Your Performance Review, Brian Poggi explained that in every organization, there are people who are the “glue.” They continue to raise the bar on their contributions and the value they bring. So use your annual review to brag on yourself. If you don’t, who will?

One of the kindest favors you can do for your supervisor (and ultimately for yourself) is to prepare an accurate and well-worded list of accomplishments for the past year and submit it on time or — better yet — early. Believe me, your conscientiousness and forethought will be recognized and very much appreciated. As a boss, there is almost nothing worse than trying to chase an employee down for their list of accomplishments. If they can’t be bothered, why should the boss care? The employees who will end up getting the most love (read: attention and care on their evaluation) are the ones who understand the priority of getting that annual accomplishment list turned in on time.

When you make this list, remember several important things:

• Bosses love numbers. Give accurate, quantitative information whenever possible.

• Review your job description. Give facts and figures to illustrate how you’ve met those requirements.

• Review last year’s review. How have you improved? How have you addressed any past issues?

In Inc., Jayson DeMers wrote, “Take inventory of all the accomplishments you’ve had over the past year (or the evaluation period) and list them out. Use objective data whenever possible — that means verifiable numbers.”

Although your boss might be constantly busy with the office door shut, take the time to check in regularly. Don’t make it long and tedious. Hit the highlights, ask the questions you need to ask (such as, “Am I headed in the right direction on the Crocker account?”), then get out of their way.

Address areas of concern.

The most uncomfortable part of any performance evaluation is usually regarding how you plan to rectify any deficiencies or concerns. It’s usually coupled with how you’ve improved from your last evaluation and how you’ve addressed any issues that were previously presented.

If you have any issues that you feel need to be addressed, bring them up, but be prepared to offer solutions. No one wants to hear about a bunch of problems in your working environment or your job when you don’t even have an idea of how to solve them. Don’t simply dump your problems on your manager.

Do your research before asking for a raise.

If you feel and can prove your service has been exceptional and you want to state your case for a raise, be sure you’ve researched current salaries for equivalent positions in your area. Without that information, you won’t have much traction.

Use your review as a guide for the rest of the year.

Ideally, you should start preparing for your next performance review only a few days after your previous one. Take some time to divorce yourself from any emotional connections to the evaluation. Re-read any documents you received in a quiet environment and consider the points that were made. Did your boss want you to step up more? Did they suggest you take the lead on an important project? Did they want you to stop turning in your reports late?

This is a perfect opportunity for your professional growth. Make notes, and put them in a coherent system — whether that system consists of notes on your calendar for the next year or is a cheat sheet you can glance at once a week. This system is your “study guide” for the next year. If you find yourself slipping back to your old ways, use your notes to snap your attention back to the matters you should be concentrating on. It’s your manager’s job to help your career growth. But if you ignore that advice, you’ll only have yourself to blame when the next mediocre review comes around.

When setting your goals for the next year, I’ve found it can be helpful to heed the advice of HBR’s Guide to Performance Management, which explained that people can sometimes become overwhelmed by complex goals. So, it can be helpful to break a large goal down into smaller, short-term pieces. According to the guide, “Setting monthly or quarterly goals, rather than annual ones, can narrow the focus enough to make the target achievable while still having a big impact.”

If your boss offers goals that are constructed in too big of a chunk, suggest a breakdown that is bite-sized.

In conclusion, if you want to advance in any organization, you’ll have to work for it. Take the time to put the effort into your performance review, and your dedication, attention to detail and desire to ascend in the organization will be readably apparent to your manager — perhaps distinguishing you as an up-and-comer.


This article has previously been featured on Forbes

The mutually dreaded performance review is often a time of anxiety on both the part of the manager and the employee. Unfortunately, the narrative often follows the same storyline: The manager focuses on a recent memory, likely from the past month or so, and the employee is resentful because their year-long contribution and dedication are neither noticed nor mentioned. Mutual frustration follows.

How can you avoid this annual debacle? If the answer were easy, there wouldn’t be a problem. Employees are busy, supervisors are busy and managers are busy. It’s not easy to find the time to spend writing up fair, engaged and humanizing evaluations for every employee who reports to you.

Given enough time, it would be easy to accurately sing the praises of each and every colleague. It would also be simple to effectively relate areas for improvement and strategies for doing so. To be realistic, though, there is never any reasonable amount of spare time to give the performance appraisal its fair due.

In Job Feedback: Giving, Seeking, and Using Feedback for Performance Improvement, author Manuel London explained that he observed managers in various organizational settings who rarely took time to give feedback. He wrote, “Most managers recognized that giving feedback is an important part of the manager’s role, but they did not do it! They tended to let poor performance slide by rather than nip it in the bud.”

This is why it’s important to provide regular, informal feedback. If you wait a year at a time to tell someone what you think of their performance, how are they supposed to know what’s going right or wrong the other 11 months of the year? There should never be any surprises in an annual appraisal.

Below are my tips on how to provide these appraisals effectively:

1. Spend a few minutes every week keeping track of each employee’s performance. This way, at the end of the year, you only need to compile the information. Otherwise, it’s like cramming for a final exam the day before the test.

2. Be fair in the evaluation. Don’t just list all the negatives and hope for improvement. It’s important to explain to the employee what they are doing right, as well as what facets they need to develop. Otherwise, you could end up with an employee who is both dejected and uninspired.

3. Recognize the positives. When it comes to the standard annual performance review, M. Tamra Chandler and Laura Dowling Grealish said in their book, Feedback (and Other Dirty Words): Why We Fear It, How to Fix It, “When it’s over you quickly forget all the positive takeaways, and instead you obsess about your reviewer’s assessments of your areas for improvement, contemplating whether they were relevant, fair, or even truly representative of your work.”

4. Offer specific steps for improvement. Remember, it is your job to be the manager, but it’s also your job to be the coach. Be as prompt to acknowledge positive and productive behavior as you are to point out the negative. Don’t stop at stating the obvious. If you’re reviewing someone who has a chronic problem being late for work, don’t just say, “Stop being late.” That isn’t helpful. The employee already knows he or she has a problem. Go the extra step and offer solutions that have been helpful to you or someone you know.

5. Conduct performance reviews face-to-face whenever possible. It’s important for the employee to have a chance to ask questions. Use real examples from the previous time period and don’t sugar coat anything. Be honest; nothing changes if nothing changes. If you pretend that everything went at least OK, your employee is going to believe that doing a mediocre job is good enough for you.

6. Plan your interaction to end on a positive note. Leave on a note of encouragement. No one ever left an evaluation on a negative note and was then inspired to perform extraordinary feats of progress.

The words you choose are important. You need to be descriptive and detailed, but temper them with respectful professionalism. Don’t use information that is second- or third-hand and is impossible to verify. You’ll lose credibility with that shortcut, and I believe the employee could see you as an uninvolved manager who can’t be bothered to find out the truth first-hand.

If you’re having trouble getting your thoughts in order or being descriptive, there are several books out there that can easily help you with useful phrasing for preparing the performance evaluations for your employees. They can be so valuable when you get stuck or get stumped on how to word a concept you want to convey to your employee.

One of my favorites is Effective Phrases for Performance Appraisals by James E. Neal Jr. The phrases and categories in these types of books can help make what feels like an impossible task a much less arduous one. If you don’t consider yourself to have a way with words, one of these references can make your life much easier.

Well-crafted performance appraisals are much more important to employees than you might think. According to Gallup, “A mere 14% of employees strongly agree that the performance reviews they receive inspire them to improve, and only two in 10 employees strongly agree that their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work.”

Don’t be a party to those statistics. Take the time to sincerely manage the performance of your employees. You — and your company — will benefit for years to come.


This article has previously been featured on Forbes

There are multiple types of bias we humans can exhibit. None of them require any particular malice aforethought. Rather, they are natural offshoots of human development. We unconsciously group things together for fast and easy access in our brains. We automatically reach for what is familiar and broadly applicable.

We evolved to make rapid life or death decisions based on various sensory inputs occurring in a very short timeline. For example, imagine there’s an animal moving stealthily toward you with sharp teeth, stripes and a tail. You might have a series of thoughts that remind you that animals like that could potentially eat you, so it’s probably a bad idea to wait around and see what happens. Time for the fight or flight instinct to kick in.

While one’s biases can evolve, it’s important to realize when a bias is helpful and when it is harmful. For example, in my experience, if you find yourself using it to take a shortcut in making decisions in the corporate world, it’s almost always a detriment.

What are a few different types of bias you might see in the workplace?

• Unconscious bias: With unconscious bias (also referred to as implicit bias), we don’t even realize the bias we are thinking or exhibiting. For example, when hiring for a tech position, do you automatically assume that a younger person will perform better than a baby boomer? Obviously, if it’s unconscious, you’re not aware of it. It’s likely you’ll need a friend, colleague or mentor to point out this type of thinking and behavior.

• Confirmation bias: This form of bias is when we pay more attention to things we already believe. For example, you might think that just because an employee is talented in one area, they’re talented in other areas. But, that isn’t always the case.

• Attribution bias: This is when we believe someone’s behavior in a way we think should be true or accurate. We might attribute someone’s behavior to be altruistic because we believe them to be “good.” For example, if you get a good performance review, you attribute it to being hardworking and dedicated. But if get a poor performance review, you might attribute it to the boss not liking you.

Now that we understand what bias can look like in the workplace, how can we proactively seek to avoid it?

1. Recognize your bias.

First of all, it’s important to acknowledge that bias exists. For example, if you’re trying to decide who really deserves a raise and you find your mind drifting toward which employee needs it more than the others (rather than looking at merit), it’s important you can stop, realize you’re being influenced by a bias instead of logic, and redirect.

If you’re trying to decide who’s most qualified for a big promotion, stick to facts, figures and past proven performance. Don’t let yourself be swayed by who would fit in best with the management group or who would most likely fit with the status quo. Ask a colleague to block out names and identifying information on applications for promotion. If you’re looking strictly at facts, it’s difficult for bias to creep into the equation. Another option is to have someone in a lateral position check your thought process.

2. Be committed to mitigating bias in your organization.

In her book Diversity Beyond Lip Service: A Coaching Guide for Challenging Bias, author La’Wana Harris said, “Having people who think, act, and perform differently from you helps you grow and expand your ability to contribute more broadly across your organization. Your ideas can become more refined and relevant when the views of others — especially opposing views — are there to challenge your thinking.”

This is why I’ve also found it’s important to not just give lip service to bias mitigation. In my career, I’ve heard many CEOs and human resources professionals discuss diversity and inclusion in the workplace with no apparent conviction. It’s as if they were all issued the same script and instructed to read it with no passion at all.

However, if you take the time to understand the thought processes of people who are different from you, it can bring you to an understanding of what and how they think. Once you can see an issue from multiple viewpoints, it drives you to feel differently about the value of bias mitigation. When you can actually feel and understand an issue from alternate perspectives, it will help generate the passion that can compel change.

3. Speak up when you see others display biased behaviors.

Then there’s the issue of bad behavior in the workplace threatening to tear down what diversity and inclusion your company does possess. It’s often difficult to take a stand on inappropriate behaviors, but it’s necessary. Employees who experience these admittedly uncomfortable situations must accept their responsibility to respectfully quash the divisive actions, especially if they are in a management position. If the unacceptable behavior is not addressed, it implies that somehow it is acceptable.

It does take courage to be the one who doesn’t agree with a questionable comment or joke, especially when you’re the only one in the group who seemingly objects. But remember that others in the crowd might see the faults in it, too; they just don’t want to be seen as the one who rocks the boat.

In her article for the Harvard Business Review, “How to Speak Up if You See Bias at Work,” Amber Lee Williams pointed out, “The bottom line is that patterns of unchecked biased and offensive behavior in the workplace have the potential to erode full employee participation and take a toll on organizational effectiveness.”

Although everyone in the organization should feel empowered and encouraged to uphold the dignified vision of workplace equality, if the frontline people don’t see it reflected in the behavior of those in the C-suite, the initiative will never realize its full potential.


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I believe a quote by Ralph Nader in his book Crashing the Party sums up the role of a leader well: “The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.”

If you’ve worked very long in the corporate field, you’ve likely been exposed to high-level executives who were strong, competent, insightful leaders. You’ve also likely been exposed to executives who weren’t. The difference between the two is often dramatic.

Effective leaders, from my perspective, are quick to damp down their own ego and instead focus on the development and subsequent success of their top team. Leaders who concentrate on the advancement and improvement of the players who make up their team are setting themselves up to succeed not only with their group goals but also with their global, company-wide goals.

One of the key objectives to accomplish this is to focus on actual leadership. But, the ability to lead a team of people toward a successful business outcome isn’t as easy as you’d think. Below are my top tips on how you can become a leader of leaders:

Tailor your approach to each team member.

Some people who get promoted mistake advancement with implied leadership. It doesn’t happen that way. It’s not an organic progression. It requires a different mindset, a different perspective and a different process.

Anyone who does a good job and excels in his or her field can be promoted into a leadership position, but it’s not always justified. Sometimes, a perfectly qualified performer who is an expert in their field is neither trained nor geared for management.

Just because you can perform a task to perfection doesn’t mean you can supervise someone else to perform your old job to precision. Perhaps that person isn’t the stickler for details that you were. Perhaps your replacement can’t perform with as much agility and speed as you did.

This is why I believe one of the most important skills for a leader to develop is the ability to adapt. People are individuals. Each person learns in a different way, at a different pace. The trick is learning how to recognize the way each individual person ticks and how he or she learns in a lasting and profound way. Hammering away at each person on your team as if they were a copy of you and the way you work won’t get the job done.

Explain the ‘why’ behind your actions.

A massive mistake I’ve observed people chosen for a position of leadership make is to automatically decide that everyone reporting to you should adjust their attitudes and/or behaviors to suit your desires. I’ve seen this all too often, and it is a travesty.

Each and every person now reporting to you as a leader should be clear on why you’ve been chosen for that role. Jealously and rivalry can easily rear their ugly heads. They can be prone to anger, not understanding why the most qualified person (in your viewpoint) has been deemed the “chosen one.” The other team players might be reluctant to accept the leadership role granted to an employee who was recently considered equal to the team.

First of all, you need to focus on your new job and take care to always be professional. Realize what to expect; the first weeks in your new leadership role will be the most difficult. You’ll be settling into your new position and getting comfortable with the changes in your work relationships. You need to call out any bad behavior by your former associates and lead by example. Be firm, and create and maintain appropriate boundaries.

Don’t be afraid to delegate.

One important part of being a leader of leaders is to recognize what your strong suit is not — and delegating those tasks to someone who is very strong in those specific areas. You must realize that you cannot be an expert in every aspect of the contributions of the team. Different employees bring different talents to the job. In my experience, the day you understand and acknowledge that simple fact, not only will it free you up to do greater things and higher leadership tasks, but it will also empower you to invest in a worthy employee who is awaiting the lesson to become a leader of his or her own.

Inspire your team.

It really isn’t that difficult to inspire another person and point them in a positive direction. After all, that is what someone else did for you. Pass along the favor and the tradition, and develop the talent that is right in front of you.

When you work for an inspiring leader, you’ll know it! You’ll feel it! He or she will be enthusiastic and thrilled about your efforts to electrify yet another leader. They will encourage, coach and cheer your efforts to develop another leader that will increase the value of your organization.

As a leader, you can be an inspiration to your team by making your expectations clear from the beginning. No one enjoys floundering because of goals that aren’t expressed in a straightforward manner. Call on your team’s experience by asking for their suggestions and input on important projects. Everyone likes to feel useful and essential. Collaboration benefits everyone. Communicate and share your vision. Be available and approachable. No employee has ever been inspired by a closed door.

When you take the time and effort to inspire the next generation, you spend your time wisely. It will benefit your company, your corporate structure and your vision for the future. And after all that effort, it will definitely benefit your bottom line.

According to Jim Harter, co-author of It’s the Manager, “Managers are much more likely to inspire big-picture, cross-team cooperation in their employees when they themselves are engaged.” The key takeaway, from my perspective, is you are responsible for inspiring yourself, your leaders and the leaders of your multiple teams. If you don’t motivate them, who will?


This article has previously been featured on Forbes