Author Archive

5 Things I Forbid You To Do This Labor Day Weekend

On Monday, we celebrate the social and economic accomplishments of the American worker. In an effort to truly honor the spirit of the holiday, here are 5 things I forbid you to do this Labor Day weekend:

  1. Set Your Alarm Clock. Sleep in. You work hard. You deserve it.
  2. Check Your E-Mail. Don’t worry, those “urgent” e-mails will still be there when you log in on Tuesday.
  3. Make or Take Business Calls. Please step away from the cell phone. Turn it off or send those calls straight to voice mail. Just like your e-mail, the messages will still be there for you on Tuesday.
  4. Engage Your Professional Social Network. I know you’re concerned about your Klout score but a couple days away shouldn’t cause any irreparable damage. Besides, we’ve got something in common with your e-mail and voice mail, we’ll also be here on Tuesday.
  5. Neglect Your Family and/or Friends. Spend some time with those other people in your life who you don’t get the chance to see while you’re in the office.

Hope you all have a fantastic, relaxing, and disconnected three-day weekend!

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(…just wait until Tuesday.)

Exploring the Hidden Secrets of Employee Engagement (pt.1)

As I walked out the door of our air conditioned building to go to lunch, I stepped though a stifling wall of heat that took my breath away. It was high noon and the temperature was 95 degrees farenheit…a stunning 20-25 degree difference from the comforts of my office. At that moment, I felt my energy level plummet and a number of thoughts began to run through my mind, including but not limited to, “I can’t wait to get home and put some shorts on,” and “I’d rather be at the beach or in the pool right now,” and “an ice cold beer would really hit the spot,” and “will I be able to recover and have a productive afternoon?”

In an instant, my level of engagement had been shifted by, yes, the weather. Is this example extreme? Perhaps, but is it really that far-fetched to think of a time when the weather outside affected your mood? In contrast to the previous example, a very cold day may have you daydreaming about snuggling up with your favorite blanket and sitting in front of the fireplace with your favorite book. When your mind wanders off to these places during your working hours or, in some cases, leads you to turn your daydream into reality, is that a reflection of your level of engagement and work passion?

My colleagues at The Ken Blanchard Companies have done some amazing research on the subject of employee engagement and work passion. To date, Blanchard has published four white papers on the subject which you can access by clicking here. In the latest installment, Blanchard identified 12 employee work passion factors within three different categories:

  • Job Factors – Autonomy, Meaninful Work, Feedback, Workload Balance, and Task Variety
  • Organizational Factors – Collaboration, Performance Expectations, Growth, Procedural Justice (process fairness), and Distributive Justice (rewards, pay, and benefits)
  • Relationship Factors – Connectedness with Colleagues and Connectedness with Leader

Without question, all of these factors are vital toward achieving an engaged and passionate workforce. What jumps out at me, and with most other’s research on the subject, is that the focus areas all tend to be very, for lack of a better word, work-centric. Whether you subscribe to the notion of work-life balance or work-life integration, my belief is that, in addition to these crucial work-centric factors, any number of outside personal factors may significantly influence an individual’s level of engagement and passion at any given time. And yes, this may even include an individual’s reaction to the weather outside.

It’s important to remember that regardless of your industry, you’re in the people business. Your colleagues and customers are human beings who are affected by other life experiences, both good and bad, besides those that occur while they’re working. We are individuals with unique needs, wants, situations, and emotions. In future posts in this series, we’ll further discuss situations and possible solutions to achieve a deeper understanding of what drives the engagement and passion of the unique individuals who make up your workforce.

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Don’t Lead With a Lead Foot

Stop for a second and picture yourself cruising down the highway behind the wheel of your dream car. The window, or perhaps the top, is down and the wind is blowing through your hair. The engine is purring like a kitten. At the moment, everything is running smoothly, as it should. You then decide you want to see what this high precision automobile can do.

So you give it a little more gas. You can feel the power as you accelerate. Sure, you can hear the engine working a little harder but it’s nothing to be too concerned about. You give it even more gas. Now you’re flying. The faster you go, the more exhilarating the ride. The engine is revving hard to perform the way you want it to, but there still doesn’t seem to be any immediate concerns. Now, the ultimate test…you push the pedal to the floor.

At first you’re impressed at how well the engine is performing and how much ground you’re able to cover. However, the longer you keep your foot to the floor, the more “normal” it seems. You think to yourself, “the engine is working hard but it can handle it so I’m going to drive like this all the time!”

You continue along with the pedal to the metal. The car makes you look and feel like a rock star. But you begin to notice some warning signs. You glance at your tachometer and see your engine is redlining. Then you look at your gas gauge and realize you’re depleting your engine’s fuel reserves much faster than normal. That once proud roar of your engine is beginning to sound more like a lion with bronchitis. In the beginning, the smell of burnout was caused by tire rubber, now the smell of burnout is a result of failing engine components. The engine hasn’t completely failed you yet so, despite the warning signs, you keep your foot to the floor.

The incredibly high and unsustainable demands you’ve placed on your engine finally catch up to you. The engine completely gives out and stops functioning. Even though you had all the warning signs, you still seem surprised. Your initial response is to go on a tirade placing blame on individual engine components when in reality you should be acknowledging the role your driving style played in the engine’s breakdown. The cost to replace the engine is tremendous and it will completely destroy your budget. All of this could have easily been avoided had you placed reasonable expectations on your engine and paid attention to the warning signs when your rising expectations started to become unreasonable.

Every manager dreams of leading a team that runs like a well-oiled machine. But even the most finely tuned, high-performance engines have limitations. Leaders, are you leading with a lead foot?

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Leaders, Are You Listening for Explanations or Excuses?

Stop for a moment and consider the last time either you or one of your direct reports missed a deadline. What happened? It’s likely you were asked, or asked for, an explanation. When the explanation was given, how was it received? If it was not well received, do you feel that ANY explanation would have realistically been acceptable? When this point is reached, unfortunately, the only thing being heard is an excuse.

Most people inherently know the difference between an explanation and excuse. Subconsciously, however, we frequently confuse the two. When explaining an action or behavior, you’re making clear the cause or reason for that action or behavior. When making an excuse for an action or behavior, you’re maliciously trying to hide something and/or avoid any consequences. The subconscious confusion comes into play when our expectations become so high that no explanation is good enough so, by default, it is interpreted as an excuse. Or, when an explanation is either overused or seemingly unbelievable, it is also easily interpreted as an excuse.

One of the most well known excuses that we all grew up with was, “the dog ate my homework.” But imagine the child who spent hours finishing his homework assignment and then woke up in the morning only to find that Fido used it as a chew toy during the night. When he tells his teacher that his dog ate his homework, is that an explanation or an excuse? When he’s laughed at, called a liar, or punished, how will that make him feel both in the moment and in the future?

The very first post I ever did for this blog was entitled, Assume the Best Intentions. The gist of this piece was that in your daily interactions, you “give people the benefit of the doubt and assume the best intentions.” People generally want and try to do well even when it may appear to you that their actions or behavior might not seem to support this. My challenge then is to apply this mentality whenever you are being offered an explanation for a behavior or action that you find displeasing. Listen with an open mind and with the intent to be influenced.

You’ll find that in most cases, an explanation is legitimate and valid. This then becomes an opportunity to flex your leadership skills. Hear the explanation and discover how you can support your direct report in accomplishing the task at hand. And when giving an explanation, do so with confidence and be prepared to share how you can be supported in accomplishing your task.

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Look To The Past To Improve The Present And Future

My younger brother, Chris Morris, is an insanely talented musician/singer/songwriter. (Sure, I might be a tad biased but if you don’t believe me just see for yourself). This week Chris released a new music video for a song called, “Why Don’t You Come Home?” The song is a resurrection and recreation of an incredibly rare and unreleased Stevie Wonder song from the 1960′s that inexplicably never made it on to any of Stevie’s albums. (Listen to Stevie’s original version here). When Chris stumbled across it he “decided to get in the studio and pay tribute to this unknown masterpiece.”

What amazed me is that more than 40 years after the song was originally written and recorded, it still sounds current and relevant. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say the song was ‘ahead of its time.’ And now, decades later, it has been given new life.

In thinking about Chris’ process, I’m reminded that often the best ideas, practices, methods, systems, and behaviors, are those that have been there all along, sitting around collecting dust. So why not look for new growth and development opportunities by reflecting on old ones that either used to work or were never put into practice in the first place?

Considering the following questions:

  • What worked well for you in the past that you’ve gotten away from? Did you have a system or process that worked well for an old task or job that could be applied to your current job or a current task? Do you no longer flex your leadership style as well as you used to?
  • What have you learned in the past that you never put into practice? Have you ever read a book or article and thought, “I need to do that,” but never did? Have you ever taken a class, loved the subject, but forgot about it the minute you put the textbook up on the shelf?
  • What were you once very passionate about that you’ve since abandoned? What activities or hobbies significantly contributed to your overall happiness and well-being that you no longer participate in?

I challenge you to sit down and do some brainstorming around this subject. What ideas, practices, methods, systems, and behaviors from the past can you breathe new life into? Once you’ve identified them, bring them home where they belong.

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The Not-So-Simple Art of Making Introductions

Patrick has been a high performing member of his organization for nearly 10 years. Recently, a member of his company’s Human Resources department, Elizabeth, was giving a tour to a couple of new hires and was introducing them to existing employees.

When they stopped at Patrick’s department, Elizabeth introduced the new hires to Bruce, whose office was next door to Patrick’s. With a smile on his face and eager to welcome the new hires, Patrick rose from his desk and went to his doorway to wait his turn.

As Elizabeth finished introducing Bruce to the new hires, she turned towards Patrick and said, “And this is, uh, wow, I don’t know who you are!”

Patrick was slightly stunned since he had had a few conversations with Elizabeth over the year or two that she had been with the organization…and of course, because his name was prominently displayed on his name plaque on the wall outside of his office.

Elizabeth then proceeded to explain, in front of the new hires and Bruce, that while she didn’t know Patrick’s name, she routinely observed him from her window indulging his nasty smoking habit on his breaks. This included her sarcastically mimicking the act, thoroughly explaining how her office window’s vantage point was positioned perfectly for spying on employees, how she regularly publicly chastised other employees who also share the habit, and even pointed how Patrick was going to die. What should have been a simple introduction had become incredibly uncomfortable for everyone except the blatantly oblivious Elizabeth from Human Resources. With each word she spoke, the eyes of the new hires grew wider, while Bruce could only look away in disbelief.

Despite all of this, Patrick kept his outward smile and simply nodded and faked a laugh while hoping that Elizabeth would simply stop talking. He wasn’t proud of his bad habit but felt strongly that it shouldn’t be the focus of his introduction to his new co-workers. As soon as he was given an opening, Patrick quickly chimed in and addressed the new employees with, “Hi, I’m Patrick.”

As he shook their hands, Elizabeth spoke up once again and said, “um, geez, I have no idea what you do!”

It wasn’t audible but you could sense a collective groan as Elizabeth successfully sucked the energy out of the room once again. Patrick continued to smile, nodded, faked a laugh and briefly explained his role and how it had evolved over his lengthy tenure with the organization.

As Elizabeth and the new hires walked away, Patrick turned to Bruce and asked, “what was THAT?”
Bruce replied, “THAT was completely uncalled for and incredibly unprofessional.”

To make successful, positive introductions, here are some things Elizabeth should consider doing in the future:

  • Ask employees to introduce themselves. If you don’t know someone’s name, don’t embarrass yourself, the person you’re introducing, or the person you’re introducing them to. After introducing the new hires, Elizabeth could have given the ‘your turn’ glance to Patrick and allowed him to chime in on his own. Or, she could have turned to Patrick and said something like, “why don’t you introduce yourself and tell them a little bit about who you are?”
    (Or, of course, she also could have glanced at the name plaque on the wall outside his office for assistance.)
  • Ask employees to describe their role in their own words. If you don’t know what someone does, simply have them describe it in their own words. By saying, “I have no idea what you do,” it implies that Patrick’s contributions aren’t noticeable, and by extension, not appreciated. Or, as a Human Resources representative, it implies that you’re not in tune with the actual work being done by the employees in the trenches.
  • If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. All these years later, Mom’s advice still rings true. Never introduce someone by pointing out their flaws, faults, or negative traits. By focusing on Patrick’s bad habit, Elizabeth effectively eroded any trust she had with Patrick and demonstrated to the new employees that perhaps they should be cautious around Elizabeth.

What other advice would you have for Elizabeth? Do you have any stories of introductions gone wrong?

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Redefining the Face-to-Face Meeting

Have you ever found yourself in a situation similar to this?

Dilbert by Scott Adams

If so, which side of the meeting request were you on? Are you more prone to insist on an in person face-to-face meeting or are you the one questioning why the face-to-face meeting can’t be held more efficiently using a virtual meeting/video conferencing service?

Truth is, you should be somewhere in the middle. Nothing beats being in the same room with your fellow meeting attendee(s)…as long as it makes sense. When it doesn’t make sense, conducting a virtual meeting (complete with webcams) is the next best thing. There are numerous virtual meeting hosting services that include video conferencing such as the aforementioned Skype (great for one-on-one meetings) or, WebEx and Nefsis (great for meetings with multiple attendees).

The key is being able to determine when it makes sense to meet face-to-face virtually as opposed to in person. If you’re in the same building, or perhaps in the same town, it’s quite likely that it makes the most sense to meet face-to-face in person. Even when distance is an issue, you may still feel those urges to push for the traditional in person face-to-face meeting despite the excessive costs (e.g., time and money). When you feel those urges, challenge yourself to consider the reasons why you absolutely CANNOT conduct the meeting virtually utilizing a video conferencing service. Chances are the most legitimate reason you’d have to oppose a video conference would be that you don’t yet have a webcam. If that’s the case, please click here now. (Disclaimer: I currently use the Logitech Webcam Pro 9000).

Furthermore, challenge yourself to determine which phone-only meetings you could dynamically transform into video conference meetings. For example, my manager and I are in different states but we now conduct all of of our one-on-one meetings face-to-face using Skype. Our team members are scattered across the country so we now conduct all of our team meetings face-to-face using Nefsis. Transforming these meetings from phone-only to video conference has been an incredibly positive experience.

Whether you’re on the fence about taking that in person meeting into cyberspace or, you’re considering turning a phone-only meeting into a video conference, consider the following benefits of video conferencing:

  • It significantly reduces costs. Gas is expensive. A plane ticket is, in most cases, even more expensive. And, don’t forget about travel expenses (especially if you have 5 star tastes). This, of course, doesn’t include the high cost of day rates you’d either be on the receiving end of as a client or, on the billing end as a service provider.
  • It significantly saves time. Time is money so, by extension, travel time is very expensive. Does it really make sense to meet in person when that four hour meeting ultimately costs you three full days after you factor in the travel time?
  • It allows you to build and develop relationships. Generally speaking, healthy, positive, productive relationships require a certain amount of face time. When you can’t physically be in the same room, this is how you can get it (with frequency and regularity).
  • It forces you to be present. When you’re on the phone only, it’s easy to tune out or multi-task. When you’re on video, you’re engaged…you’re conscious of your body language and emotions because you’re observing the same from others.
  • It forces you to improve your personal hygiene. If you’re working from home and know you have a video conference, you’re forced to get out of bed, get dressed, do your hair, and, well, look professional.
  • What used to only be possible in sci-fi cartoons is now a reality for YOU. And you gotta admit, that’s pretty cool.

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Tim Tebow, Natural Born Leader?

Photo by Jeffrey BeallWe’re roughly halfway through the NFL season. And while there have been many intriguing storylines, perhaps the most compelling subject has been the current starting quarterback of the Denver Broncos, Tim Tebow. The cultural phenomenon known as Tebowmania can be traced back to Tebow’s days as quarterback of the Florida Gators where he became the first college softmore in history to win the Heisman Trophy and led the team to two national championships in three years. Yet, intense discussion and debate surrounding Tebow has continued at a fever pitch since his controversial selection in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft.  His detractors say that he doesn’t possess the necessary technique and skill-set to be an effective quarterback in the NFL. His proponents say that he possesses an ideal set of intangibles, that he’s a winner, and routinely refer to him as a natural born leader.

That last description really intrigues me. Can someone truly be a natural born leader? What does it mean to be a natural born leader? Generally speaking, people are not natural born leaders. However, people can be born into a situation that supports their growth and development of leadership qualities. I would venture to say that Tebow’s background and upbringing provided a healthy environment that fostered the development of his leadership qualities. He wasn’t born to be a leader but he was raised in an environment that allowed for him to become one.

To his credit, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone question Tebow’s character or leadership abilities. ESPN analyst Matthew Berry recently shared his experience of meeting Tebow for the first time. After a minute with Tim Tebow, Berry went from someone who didn’t care to understand Tebowmania to becoming a huge fan. In the latest issue of ESPN The Magazine, columnist Tim Keown describes how Tebow deftly managed a public appearance that impressed and delighted all in attendance. And teammates such as Andre Goodman are saying things like, “Tim has a presence about him that I’ve never been around before. I’ve played with some Hall of Fame players before that weren’t close to the aura that this guy has.”

Each of these examples support the belief that Tebow possesses a high quality leadership skill set. Though as mentioned earlier, he does have doubters. And while they don’t question his ability to lead people, they do question his individual performance. They say his athletic skill set was a perfect match to the system used in college against inferior competition but in the NFL, the systems used are typically more complex and the athletes are all world-class. To date, his individual performances have been, to put it kindly, a mixed bag. And after his latest sub-par performance, his coach would only commit to keeping Tebow as his starting quarterback “for this week.”

This serves as a reminder that it’s not enough to have great character and leadership skills. Those serve as a great foundation and significantly contribute to one’s ability to do great things. However, leadership is about more than getting great results from those you lead. You must also be able to deliver results on the specific responsibilities that you are required to perform. The ability to inspire others and achieve results cannot be understated. If one or both are lacking, things can go downhill in a hurry…just ask the Indianapolis Colts.

For at least another week it’s still Tebow Time. What leadership lessons or observations have become apparent to you while looking through the lens of Tebow’s young career?

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How Do YOU Define Work-Life Balance?

I have long been a staunch advocate of work-life balance. Though I’ve been reflecting on the principle quite a bit recently and have come to realize that work-life balance is, at best, an abstract concept. Most of us have a general idea or opinion of what work-life balance looks like but there is no standard way to explicitly define or identify what work-life balance really is.

When two things are truly in balance,  there is an even distribution of  something. If I’m looking for balance between “work” and “life”, how exactly would I measure that? The simplest solution is to find a common denominator between these two ideals. For instance, one of the most used commonalities when discussing work-life balance is the amount of actual time spent on “work” versus the amount of actual time spent on “life.” However, even when using this simplest of measures, I encounter a couple significant stumbling blocks:

  • What is the answer to the equation?
    Is it 24 hours (day)? Is it 120 hours (work week)? Is it 168 hours (full week)? Or, should I choose to measure in minutes or days?
  • What is the equation to the answer?
    Let’s say I decide the answer to the equation is 24 hours. I need to set up the equation to give me the answer I’ve decided upon. Initially the equation is: 12 “work” hours + 12 “life” hours = 24 hours? Hmm, seems a little “work” heavy to me. Perhaps I factor sleep in separately so that the equation now becomes: 8 “sleep” hours + 8 “work” hours + 8 “life” hours = 24 hours. Still seems off…sleep probably should count as “life” time but I also have a one hour round trip commute to and from work that should probably count as “work” time. But, I’m paid to work an 8 hour day though I also have a one hour lunch break that, while technically is “life” time, feels more like “work” time since it’s smack dab in the middle of my “work” day…
    …see where I’m going with this?

Even if I am able to settle on an answer and an equation, it’ll most likely change tomorrow, or the next day, or next week, or next year. Variables will inevitably come into play shifting the focus heavily in one direction or the other. I’ll have an important project that requires more “work” time. Or, I’ll have a family emergency that requires more “life” time. Ideally, there is flexibility built into the equation to allow for these shifts so that I still feel in balance or can cope with a temporary imbalance.

Of course, time is just one of many considerations that go into an individual’s internal definition of work-life balance. Other factors such as finances, family, emotional and physical well-being, growth potential, work passion, and others, will likely be considered, and weighted differently, by individual employees. A single employee will likely have a different definition or work-life balance than a married employee. A male employee will likely have a different definition of work-life balance than a female employee. A Gen-Y employee will likely have a different definition of work-life balance than a Baby Boomer employee. Perhaps most importantly, a manager will likely have a different definition of work-life balance than each individual member of their team.

As leaders, it is important to understand that everyone’s definition of work-life balance is different. Take the time to help your people define what work-life balance means to them so that you can support that individual in achieving their version of work-life balance. Help them transform work-life balance from an empty dream into an achievable goal.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on work-life balance. Is it possible? If so, how do YOU define it? What does it look like to YOU?

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Four Steps for Leading the Newbie

Congratulations! Your budget has been approved and soon you’ll be adding a new employee to your department.

Not only is this an exciting time for you, but it will also be an incredibly exciting time for your new hire. It’s your responsibility to make sure that enthusiastic beginner eventually develops into an empowered expert.

To start the relationship off right, and set your newbie up for success, follow these four steps:

  1. Establish Clear Goals
    Make sure your new hire knows exactly what is expected of him. Set goals that are:
    pecific and measurable, Motivating, Attainable, Relevant, Trackable and timebound.
  2. Teach Them How
    Sure, your newbie has transferable skills, but he’s new to this role. Show him what a good job looks like and how to do it. Lucky for you, he’ll be eager to learn.
  3. Monitor Progress
    Keep him on track by regularly checking in on his progress. If he encounters any obstacles, you’ll want to know right away so that you can help him overcome them.
  4. Give Feedback
    Provide specific, timely feedback on his results. Boost his confidence by letting him know when he’s performed well. And, show him you care by redirecting him on a task that could be improved upon.

As your new hire’s confidence and competence continues to grow, you’ll need to adjust your style. But use these four steps to get started on the right foot.

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