What's Going to Happen to You in 2016

If only you had a crystal ball. The planning, the decisions, the choices would be so much easier. But you don’t. And those decisions and tradeoffs aren’t easy. Should you stay? Should you go? Is that project realistic? What if they reorganize… again? Are you getting the whole story?

What You Do Know About 2016

There’s much you can’t possible predict. But I’m confident…

  • A co-worker will really tick you off.
  • An unlikely subject will surprise you with their generosity.
  • Work you do will be vastly under-appreciated.
  • You’ll learn something new.
  • You’ll regret what you said.
  • He’ll take more credit than he should.
  • It will be one of those weeks.
  • The balance will get way off kilter.
  • You will know you did the best you could.
  • You will screw it up.
  • The news will suck.
  • You will fix it.

Knowing natural ups and downs are going to happen, and they are happening to everyone, will help you save vital energy for what matters most.

There’s much freedom that knowing the minor frustrations are not so much a matter of “if” but “when.” That way when they do show up, instead of reacting poorly you can say “Oh there you are… I’ve been expecting you” and keep perspective on your bigger mission.

I was inspired to write this post when my blogging hero, Seth Godin, shared his more universal Surefire Predictions.

5 Reasons Your Team Doesn't Buy Your Game Plan

Trust me, I’ve seen that look.

The #areyouinsane? look.

The #whatplanetareyoufrom? grimace.

The #thischickisclearlyfromHR lament.

The #anddoesnthaveaclue freak out.

A few months later, they were all in. Not because of some clever incentive program. Not because of beautiful spin. Almost entirely because they could taste the win.

If you’re struggling to gain traction on a new idea or program, you may be dealing with one of these five sources of resistance.

1. They’ve seen this movie before.

If you have to start with “This time is really different,” for goodness sake, take three steps back and be sure that is true. You can only say that once with real credibility.

2. They don’t trust you.

Ouch. This one’s a harder nut to crack, and it just might be true. Don’t continue to “sell” this until you work on the bigger issue. Check yourself first, are your motives in their best interest? Do you trust them enough to share real information (if you don’t trust them, they won’t trust you)? Are you taking time to really listen to their concerns? To you care about them as human beings? Do you you consistently do you what you say you will?

3. They don’t trust the last guy.

This one just sucks. You’re out there with the right motives, connecting and doing the right thing, but they’ve been burned before. Don’t trash the last guy, but just keep showing up consistently to and doing the right thing again and again. Yes, yes, talk about the plan, but also tell stories that reveal who you are as a leader to build deeper connection.

4. They don’t understand why this matters.

Remember you’ve had lots of time to think about this and it makes perfect sense to you. Back up a few steps and remember some of your earlier concerns. Take time to really consider how this must look from their perspective. Develop a tight communciation strategy to consistently explain why this matters so much, be sure to include right brain (stories and emotions) and left brain appeals (facts, figures and evidence).

5. They don’t think it will work.

Ahh, well if you’re a regular reader, you know the best way to fix this is by breaking it down, and building confidence and competence in bursts.

Pushing harder just invites push-back. Dig deeper to understand why and gently pull them in your direction.

Leaders Stand in the Gap of Uncertainty to Help Others Across

Far too many of us can also relate to working for managers who wielded their title and position authority as their only levers for leading. These managers caused me to question the likelihood of my contributing anything of value to the corporate mission. To hear their names, even years later, leaves me feeling drained and conjures emotions of lacking. My concerns were reinforced every time they tried to make me do something, because…well…they were in charge and the conversation was supposed to end there.

When it was my turn to lead, I had questions of my own: What type of leader would I be? Would I have the “it that seemed to sift the effective from the not so effective leaders of my past? Could I learn to lead? Or, is it true that leaders are not made but born and shipped in from a distant planet?

Many people aspire to leadership positions because of the big bonuses, nice clothes and public accolades. I was no different. But a lot of work and responsibility precede the shiny watches and flattering headlines. By evaluating my personal journey and working closely with hundreds of executives, I have seen successful leaders embrace three primary responsibilities. Many receive no fanfare; providing confidence often without having full certainty themselves.

  1. Effective leaders paint a clear pictures of success. Every organization regardless of size or mission needs a vision of what winning looks like. Without clarity, followers meander aimlessly executing well-intentioned tasks not knowing whether they are truly helping the organization be successful. Effective leaders create a tangible vision that coveys how everyone contributes to achieving the mission.
  1. Productive leaders remove barriers. Barriers can be physical (a person, situation or thing blocking success), financial (insufficient funding of key projects or a misallocation of scarce resources) or informational (antiquated training, outdated ideas or flawed analysis inhibiting success). Productive leaders spend their time minimizing or totally removing barriers.
  1. True leaders inspire action. Let’s face it, nothing happens until something happens. While there are examples of short-term results coming from dictates and demands, enduring results come from sustained employee or follower engagement. The more effective leaders tap into organizational beliefs and desires for success. True leaders inspire others to want to take action.

I am convinced that every success and failure begins and ends with leadership. Harry Truman was onto something when he proclaimed, The Buck Stops Here! Widespread uncertainty marks a failure of leadership. It is always tempting for leaders to busy themselves with management activities (measure this, track that; evaluate performance versus budgets). Management activities are quite useful, but should never be confused for leadership – and they often are.

Leaders are more effective when they dedicate themselves to the three responsibilities that only they can fulfill. Their organizations will thrive and appreciate their willingness to stand in the gap of uncertainty to help others across.

Galen’s new book Leadership Residue: A Leadership Fable and Leadership Residue: Writings on the Wall focus on creating inspiration that will remain even after the leader is gone is available on Amazon.

How to Stop Drama Queens and Chronic Complainers From Destroying Your Team

I often start my speeches on employee engagement sharing prototypes of various kinds of disengagement. The favorite is always Barbara Boatrocker– “her life feels like a sad country song, every little thing is wrong”– for the appropriate audience I’ll even sing that line ;-). “She’s always stirring the pot. Nothing’s ever quite right when Barbara’s around. She sucks the life-force out of your team.”

Last week, when I asked what we should do about Barbara, the entire audience screamed out in unison, “Fire her.”

I paused.

“How many of you have a Barbara on your team?” Again, almost 100% raised their hands, with lots of knowing laughter.

Clearly, it’s not that easy to fire the “Barbaras” of the world, or this exchange wouldn’t continue to work across all kinds of industries and cultures– even the top-notch law firm I spoke to recently hasn’t cracked the code in their own organization.

5 Ways to Deal With Drama Queens and Chronic Complainers

First let me emphasize the CHRONIC part of the syndrome I’m talking about here. Open dialogue and employees expressing concern is not complaining. Seeking to understand is not resistance. I’m talking about the handful of looney tunes you’ll encounter in your career who consistently make matters worse.

1. Take it Off-Line

What Barbara wants more than anything is an audience. Don’t let her hijack your meeting. Acknowledge her concern and schedule some limited time to understand her concern privately (always good to have someone headed to your office right after). Trust me, your team will thank you.

2. Listen with an Open Mind

Honestly, the reason these Barbaras are so annoying is that they have a point. Some of what they say is true, and you know it. But, you understand the bigger picture and the constraints. I must admit, I’ve gotten some great insights from the Barbaras of the world. Pay attention enough so you don’t miss the good stuff.

3. Give Them a Project

I swear this works. Get them involved in solving the problem, not just talking about it. It’s always easier to tear something down than to build something up. Pull her into the solution-building equation.

4. Watch Your Body Language and Facial Expressions

Looking annoyed and ticked off will only reinforce her opinion that you’re an idiot who doesn’t care. It’s easy to slip into passive aggressive mode here, to roll your eyes, or sigh deeply. Remember that Barbara is annoying, not stupid.

5. Fire Them

Not for complaining, but for the other complicating factors. All that miss-spent energy normally comes at a productivity price. If Steps 1-4 still don’t work (be sure you’ve given them a chance), pay close attention to the side effects and document them.

Why Job Descriptions are a Dying Art

A client called. “Karin, I’m going to send you the job description for the new role we designed, but ignore all the HR mumbo jumbo. Just concentrate on the competencies and see if they seem right to you based on the strategy we’ve been working on.”

Game on. We were going to have the conversation that was most worth having: How do we find the right person with the aptitude for this vital job? The 25% this, 37% that of traditional job descriptions was a crap shoot at best. We needed a thinker who would work with us to be as creative as possible and build this role into more than we ever imagined.

Planning out roles and functions is vital. Pricing jobs for fair market value makes sense. But when job descriptions serve to confine, or “swim lanes” become too narrow, you’re headed into dangerous waters.

I remembered the time the union fought so hard to prevent “service reps” from doing higher paid “customer rep” work, and kept a careful watch–telling both groups to be careful not to do too much outside their “role.” Once the lawyers got involved, the higher job was eliminated, and the career path disappeared, and really great people were disappointed, and stopped trying. I was devastated to see good people with hopes of moving up crushed by the instruction to do less, because some artificial boundaries said that would help. It didn’t. It never does.

It’s not just in union jobs. Recently, I failed to convince one of my MBA students in the power of thinking beyond her current low level ” job description.” She sings opera on the side and was asked if she would like to sing at her company gala (with external players). She said only if she were paid for the gig since this is “not in her job description.”

She had a big opportunity to get noticed and to differentiate herself. She didn’t sing as a matter of principle.

As a musician myself, I get it at some level. But, I’ll also never forget the time we were  in the middle of a touching measure of a huge rehearsal and the conductor put down the baton between beats, because it was time for a union break.

Most examples are not this dramatic, and often not articulated. But in almost every company I work in I see signs of the “it’s not my job virus” gaining momentum… and the “A Players” are shooting themselves in the foot while the mediocre get by just fine.

Why Job Descriptions are Old School

I can’t claim to fully understand every circumstance, and I know there are grave situations where good people are being exploited. I’m not talking about that. What I do know is the hundreds, at this point likely thousands, of people I’ve met over the years in reasonable paying jobs, whose fear of working outside their job description absolutely damaged their careers and sabotaged their long-term earnings.

And it’s even more critical now.

We’re in a knowledge and technology economy when even lower level jobs change faster than HR can keep up.

Your job description is the skeleton–the unimaginative view of minimal requirements. Many will stop there and stay put. And that’s a tragedy.

The game changers will understand this limited view, and know that the real work is to think past the basics and add value that changes the game. In most cases the money will follow. If not, know there are plenty of companies hungry to hire people willing to change the game.

The Call to HR

Of course you need job descriptions. It’s just time to get more creative. Imagine the possibilities if every job description had the 75% skeleton as it exists today, and then 25% encouraging innovation and additional contribution?

  • Continuously seeks new ways to enhance the customer experience and shares them with peers
  • Collaborates across departments for innovative solutions to improve quality and reduce costs
  • Builds a deep bench of talent through recruiting, mentoring and organic employee development

Let’s Discuss

The old Field of Dreams idea of “build it and they will come” sometimes fails as a short-term solution. But I’ve never seen a genuine effort of a competent person giving a little more than expected over time fail.

I’m wide-open to real dialogue here. Let’s talk about this important issue.

The Secret to Holding a Meeting that Gets Results

Does this sound familiar? You went to a meeting where you had invigorating discussions, examined alternatives, came up with a cool plan of action, everyone left the meeting feeling motivated, and then six weeks later you get back together. As everyone enters the room and takes their seat, there are sideways glances, “Did you do that thing we talked about?”

“No…how about you?”

A quick shake of the head and you realize that the great idea everyone talked about has languished.

The prior meeting, the discussions, the new meeting – all of it – are a waste because nothing happened. In fact, it’s worse than doing nothing because now you’ve created negative energy…that feeling that “it doesn’t matter what we talk about because nothing really changes around here.” That corrosive malaise will eat away at your people and leave them looking for excuses to take your next meeting via conference call so they can multi-task and “get real work done.”

Every meeting you hold should produce activities that move results forward, build momentum, and build morale with healthy relationships. You can achieve all this in just ten minutes at the end of every meeting.

The Best 10 Minutes of Every Meeting

At the end of every meeting ask these three commitment questions:

Commitment #1:  Who will do what?

There are actually two questions here:

  1. What is to be done?
  2. Who will do it?

Every task must have a specific person who is responsible to complete it. For smaller decisions there might be only one or two answers to this question. For larger strategic initiatives you might have an entire work plan that outlines dozens of tasks and people responsible.

Commitment # 2 By When?

This one is straightforward. What is the finish line for the tasks people have agreed to complete? When these deadlines are shared and publicly available, everyone is more likely to meet them.

Commitment #3 How Will We Know?

“How will we know?” is the magic question that moves your meeting from good intentions to real-world impact. It’s also the one managers most frequently ignore. “How will we know?” closes the loop from intention to action and creates momentum without you having to spend hours every day tracking down action steps. Here’s how it works: When someone completes a task, what do they do next?

  • Do they need to pass the results to another person or group?
  • Should they update the team and let them know?
  • Will they make a presentation of their findings?
  • Do they report completion in a common area or software?

The specific answers depend on the task and project. What matters is that the accountability and next step are “baked into” the decision. Everyone knows what he or she is accountable to do, the team knows if it’s been completed, and no one is left waiting around for information they need.

Combine these commitments into one sentence: Who does what, by when, and how will we know? and you have the Winning Well Meeting Formula to get clarity, accountability, and results in just ten minutes at the end of every meeting: In fact, you can ask these questions whether you are the positional leader of a group or not. That’s a great way to establish yourself as a leader who gets things done – people notice when you produce clarity, accountability, and results. Don’t let the simplicity of these questions fool you into not using them.  These are the most important ten minutes you’ll spend to make your meetings achieve results.

Winning WellExciting news, the book I’m David Dye and I are publishing is off to the AMACOM for publication this Spring. We’re jazzed and honored that Marshall Goldsmith wrote a smashing foreward. More to come, but in the meantime here’s a peek at the cover.

2 Reasons Employee Engagement is So Hard– And What to Do About It

If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of employee engagement results, you most likely know the, “How in the world could they feel THAT WAY after ALL I’ve done?” head-scratching frustration. I know I have. You’ve recognized, mentored, career-pathed, taken some bullets, helped them win… and yet, it somehow wasn’t enough for everyone. A few folks still feel frustration and are not afraid to make that perfectly clear on your “stupid survey that no one ever does anything with.”

The truth is, what makes employee engagement so hard is that it’s not just about what’s happening today. Your employees are impacted by all their yesterdays, and their view of how they will fit into the future of your organization tomorrow.

Winning Well managers are translators of the past and sherpas toward the future. Before they motivate, they translate.

Winning Well managers know they need to help employees recover from their memory of past experiences: a boss that took credit for their work; an organizational structure change that made their role less meaningful; a shift in strategy which made their project less of a priority… and at the same time help them see a bright future for themselves in the organization. If employees are skeptical that they’ll matter in the future, they’ll be less likely to go the extra mile today.

How to Help Employees Make Sense of the Past

1. Have a private conversation

I actually had one manager who had worked in my organization for three years tell me how intimidated she was around me for a very long time. I was shocked, as I’d never treated her with anything but kindness and respect, and was always working to connect with her at a human level.

She confided that she’d “been burned so many times before” by other female leaders that she just didn’t trust my motives.  Her opening up to me allowed me to share some of my personal stories of my career growth and why I believe and act like I do now–based on mistakes by myself and others in the past. I then explained that all leaders (whether they admit it or not) have similar insecurities and regrets–that instead of starting from a place of fear or skepticism of a new leader, it’s much more productive to get to know one another and give them a chance. Assuming mal-intent will color your perceptions and potentially lead to false interpretations.

After we had that conversation, she became much more secure in her role, took more risks, shared her opinions, and eventually was promoted. Her fear from her past had actually been holding her back from being her best self. Once she realized the past did not define the future, she was able to truly engage and build a better one for herself and the company.

2. Help them understand the context

Often when something negative happens, the employee doesn’t have all the context. Start with questions: Do you know WHY they made the decision to close that office? Do you know WHY the project lost funding? Often employees are so caught up in the impact, that they may not have truly sought to understand the bigger picture (or someone may not have explained it well). Translators take time to help employees understand the greater context of decisions so they seem less arbitrary.

And Get Excited About the Future

3. Help them understand what they can control

Nothing creates anxiety more than feeling out of control. Helping employees understand that although they may not have influence on some of the bigger strategic moves that could potentially impact their future, they have much they can do to prepare to be a utility player that adds value when circumstances change. Finishing their degree, learning new skills, networking with other departments, all go a long way in helping people feel better about themselves and their future in the company.

4. Help them see the road ahead

The main reason employees don’t think strategically is that they aren’t given enough information to connect the dots. Help employees see the strategic and competitive environment and where the organization is headed. Help them understand how the work they do contributes today and where it fits into the future. When holding career discussions, help them develop the skills that will be most important as the company grows and transforms.

To feel better about their jobs, employees need support making sense of the past and understanding what’s possible in the future.

Before you motivate, translate.

How to Get Your Team Fired Up About a Change

The minute I walked into their building, I could feel the excitement reverberating from the walls. Everyone was buzzing about the unveiling of their new company name, branding, and messaging. The IT Guy explained that they were “no longer” a start-up (true), and the designer clearly articulated how these changes were to take the company into the next phase of their growth. Everyone I spoke to was fired up, and could articulate the reasons behind the changes in a remarkably extemporaneous and consistent way.

“How long have you known about this?,” I asked suddenly aware of how different this announcement felt from the ones I was a part of in my corporate roles. “Oh about a month,” was the consistent answer. “They trusted us to keep in under wraps until today.” “We don’t really have secrets around here.” I looked around. The only closeable doors were the conference rooms and the cleverly designed old-fashioned red phone booths employees could use in case they needed some privacy for a personal matter. “Plus WE WERE PART OF the design for the new look for the website and social media channels.”

I thought back to my early years on the receiving end of such transformation messages. As a lower level manager, I’d receive last-minute notice of a meeting and then would head to a conference room or a conference call to hear a carefully prepared speech about why we should be fired up and then handed a tee-shirt to seal the deal.

A few years later, when I was closer to the inner circle, I’d receive an invite to a conference call 30 minutes before the press release, where I would be handed a list of carefully crafted Q & As to cover with my team 30 minutes after the press got the news.

In my most recent executive role, I signed a stack of non-disclosures and was one of the few “in the know,” wordsmithing talking points and crafting As to the Qs most likely to be asked, triple checking to ensure the wording could be stomached by both legal and the employees.

Of course, you can’t manage a Fortune 50 company like a “no longer a start-up.” But, when the veil of secrecy becomes the norm, employees waste valuable energy bracing themselves for what’s next and guarding their enthusiasm.

Organic fire comes when change ignites with you, not on you.

If you want a team on fire about your change, trust them enough to help gather the kindling.

Why to Be Surprised: The Power of Not Knowing

This weekend, on a flight out to Bend, Oregon to film am exciting project (coming soon), I clumsily dumped the manuscript for my upcoming book, Winning Well, on the lap of an older gentleman with sparkling eyes sitting beside me. We were about an hour into the flight, and up until then, neither of us had said a word–and quite frankly, we both seemed just fine with that. #thankgoodnesswegotpastthat

When I apologized and tried to recover the paper that was all over his feet and lap (#nexttimeuseabinderclip), he just seemed annoyed. Now, I know he was processing. A few minutes after my scramble, he said softly, “You writing a book?”

Now, as you can imagine, there’s nothing a woman like me wants to talk about more during this frantic final editing journey than my book.  In fact, when I check out at the grocery store and they say “paper or plastic,” I’m inclined to tell them “I like paper because it reminds me of my book which will also be available in Kindle, which I guess, is kind-of like plastic.”

I lit up past the embarrassment.

“Why, yes, I am. How could you tell?” I smiled, glad to have finally connected past the scramble.

“What’s it about?”  I launched into the Cliff’s notes version of Winning Well and getting results without losing your soul. (Hmmm… I wonder how I get Cliff to cover Winning Well. No, no, that would be a tragedy).

“Oh that’s awesome.” He shared. “I’m doing a talk at my daughter’s work next month. I’m trying to pick up everything I can about leadership. I’ve been watching TED talks. Trying to nail down my ideas.”

I jotted down his email, promised to send resources, and started to ask questions about the nature of his talk.

Imagine how surprised I was to find I was talking to  Frederick Gregory, astronaut and a NASA senior administrator who led the International management team responsible for the International Space Station (among other significant leadership feats and awards).

More to come on my new friend Fred. We’re connecting again later this week.

For now I’ll leave you with this piece of advice.

The biggest life and leadership lessons come when you’re surprised. 

Think about it. when you go on vacation, what stories do you tell when you get back home? The times when everything went just as planned? Or the more awkward moments, like when you had to ski down the blacks with your baby on your back because you made a wrong turn (been there), or followed your GPS only to find “You have arrived” put you deep into a dead-end of a National forest (#myweekend).

How we react, and what we do during the times of biggest surprise
are the moments that most shape us. 

Astronaut Gregory shared how surprised he was to find that the Russians he was working with during that tense time had some of the same childhood experiences as he, hearing a siren and being instructed to climb under the desk to practice in case the “bad guys” attacked. “Oh, we thought YOU were the bad guys.”

Being open to the surprise of common experiences helps us accelerate understanding and facilitate identification of a common goal.

When we’re so sure in what we know–when we let confidence trump humility–we lose the ability to learn from surprise. We can’t win well from that space.

Imagine the power of beginning each day looking forward to something that will surprise us, and expand our perspective.

Does Your Boss Have Your Back?

When I was fairly young in my HR career, I was walking by my boss’ boss’ office (let’s call him Eric) while visiting our corporate headquarters in Manhattan. Without leaving his desk, he called out:

Karin, can you please do me a favor? You see there’s this meeting that I’m unable to attend, and it would be great if you could attend it for me. Sally, the Senior VP of our call center division has an absence problem. She asked me to attend, but I’m busy. I think it would be great if you could go talk employee engagement. It’s starting in a few minutes so you should head down now.

Honored to be asked, and delighted for the exposure, I eagerly said “Yes!” and ran off to the meeting. As I entered the room (apparently late), all conversation stopped.

“Who are you?” Sally barked.

“Oh, I’m Karin, Eric couldn’t make it, but asked me to come instead.”

“This is an important issue, and needs to be handled at the senior level! Doesn’t Eric care enough here to show up? Why didn’t he let me know he was sending you? What’s your role? Don’t answer that. I’ll be right back.”

She slammed the door and called Eric.

“You can stay, she grumbled.”

Oh, wait for it. It gets worse.

The VPs around the room had all kinds of ideas for how to “fix those people;” none of which involved actually talking to them to understand root cause.

I piped in and told them so.

I was completely ignored and they went on with their planning.

Later that day…

I was on the elevator when the doors opened and Sally walked in. When was this day going to end?! I tried to get absorbed in the crowd, hoping she wouldn’t notice. When we stopped at her floor, she asked me to step off with her for a moment.

You’ve got great ideas, but you’re incredibly clumsy.  As a manager, you don’t tell a room full of VPs all of them are wrong in a meeting with their peers. You quietly take notes, and then talk with a few of them offline to stakeholder your ideas. You really ticked me off, so I couldn’t even process what you were saying. But I’ve been thinking about it and you’re right. I’d like you to lead the HR leg of this project. You help me fix my absence problem and I’ll help you learn how to navigate politically so you don’t sabotage what could be a promising career. Sound like a deal?

She smiled for the first time that day.

It was the start to a beautiful mentoring relationship. She always had my back.

Two VPs with position power: one with his back firmly against the wall, protecting himself. The other taking a risk on a naive but passionate kid. What a difference it makes when someone has your back.

How to Get Employees to Care About Your Company

Great commercials, strong PR, a brilliant social media strategy all warrant effort when building your company’s reputation. But there’s no better PR than an army of loyal employees living and breathing your brand. You know the type–folks with enthusiasm bursting from their veins–talking up your products and services with their friends at every bar, baptism and bat mitzvah they attend.

“No, I’m telling you this works, I’ve seen it from the inside! This product has changed my life! Let me show you.”

Or  “I’m so sorry you had that experience, it’s not usually like that.”

Yes. Define your image. Yes, yes, advertise it. But don’t overlook the power of your employees to tell your story.

7 Way To Turn Your Employees into Advocates

Your best employees want to be part of the inner circle. If you want them to act like owners, treat them that way. Here’s how.

1. Acknowledge Reality

Don’t blow smoke. They know the truth better than anyone and how it’s been received. Don’t sugarcoat the issues. Share your concerns and get them involved to fix them.

2. Listen to What They Hear

Don’t discount their feedback as “noise” really listen to what they’re hearing from customers. Nothing is more disconcerting that watching employees share relentless feedback in focus groups and having execs finally pay attention when the consultant comes in and says the same thing.

3. Give Them Context

Share the bigger picture and dynamics of the parameters you’re up against. Creativity comes best when the constraints are clear.

4. Treat Them with Deep Respect

“PR or HR or Staff or the VP knows best” never really plays well at the front line. Respect their perspective, and they’ll respect yours.

5. Encourage Them to Speak in Their Own Voice

Once this deeper understanding is established, I’m always amazed at the insights and eloquence of the frontline. Scripting may keep you out of trouble, but I’ve never seen a script create a best-in-class brand.

6. Allow Them to Be the Hero

There’s nothing more frustrating to a frontline employee than when an executive swoops in and does EXACTLY what they would have done but their hands were tied. Execs chalk this up to common sense that apparently they think they have but I’ve met many who question whether anyone they’ve hired to service their customers could possibly be that astute.

Give your employees a few opportunities (at least) to do what you would do in such circumstances. Can you imagine what would happen if you could replicate that level of prudence and critical thinking?

7. Encourage Swagger

This part may seem unnecessary. But I’m telling you, it matters. I remember when I first started working for Bell Atlantic (as a transition from my teaching assistanceship at the University of MD). All I wanted for Christmas was for my husband to get a hold of a Bell Atlantic sweat shirt. Here I was ready to be a spokesperson and to wear it proudly, but I couldn’t figure out how!

When two decades later I led the outsourced call center channel, it became obvious in about 37 seconds that these outsourced employees working for Verizon Wireless were wild about getting a hold of some VZW gear and would be honored to wear it. They felt passionate about being ambassadors of the brand.

When in doubt invest in the tee-shirts.

Effective brands are built from the inside out. Clever brands build the external engagement. Lasting brands build internal and external excitement concurrently.  What steps could you take to build an army of brand advocates?

One Thing to Eliminate From Every Job Description

I asked a group of managers (coming from a variety of industries and positions) “What do you think most bosses want from their employees?” They reached quick consensus: responsiveness, self-sufficiency, creativity, and candor topped the list (with a beautiful argument about the pros and cons of compliance).

I then asked, “How do you know what YOUR manager wants?” The responses were more varied and cryptic.

“You’ve got to watch for clues.”

“You learn by trial and error.”

“You’ve got to watch their body language.”

“You learn what not to do when others screw up.”

“Or worse, I learn when I screw up.”

And then the obvious question. “How do you think your team learns what you expect?” Crickets. Apparently mind-reading is a common, yet invisible requirement in many job descriptions.

How much time would we save if we were more explicit about what we want and need?

How much energy could be diverted to actually working on the work, rather than guessing what’s on one another’s minds?

  • “A response to my questions within  12 hours is vital. Let me explain why. We had this client _________.”
  • “I travel a lot so I’m going to count on you to make some important decisions when I’m in the air. Let me explain my process of evaluating a good decision.”
  • “There are some areas where I expect 100% compliance. All security standards must be followed at all times and we never jeopardize a customer’s private information.” In other areas I’m all for creativity and experimentation. I expect you to push back when something feels stupid. Let me tell you about a time _______.”

You know what you want and need. Your employees know what they need in order to meet your expectations. Imagine the possibilities with just a little more communication?