The Power of A Second Chance

The planners of the 2015 National Speaker’s Association Influence conference had every reason to believe he was up to the challenge. After all “Sam” had just received the coveted CSP (certified speaking professional) certification (proving he was a seasoned speaking master). But as Sam took the stage in front of 1700 of his speaking peers for his five minutes of NSA fame, he went blank. After a few stumbles and restarts, he uttered the words that drew an audible gasp from the supportive crowd, “I knew this would happen.”

He’d just committed professional speaking sin #37 “When you screw up, for God’s sake don’t draw attention to it and make it worse. Keep going.” We all were watching our worst speaking nightmare play out before our eyes. Nothing worse than bombing in front of your professional community.

By Tuesday morning so much was going on, our brains were full, and “Sam’s” five minutes of angst had faded for most of us. What happened next sent tears down my face (I looked around it… wasn’t just me).

The music blared and large screens spread the message, “Welcome to Redemption Island.” The screens then REPLAYED that horrible moment where “Sam” had let his inside voice out, “I knew this would happen.” The MC announced, and “We are here to give him another shot.”

The crowd went wild.

He gave the speech. Flawlessly. He ended with thanking his peer who had encouraged him to give it another go, in fact he said “I love you.” (There’s nothing more powerful at work than peers who truly love you-with a little “l” and no sex.)

The Power of a Second Chance

First some context.

In yesterday’s keynote,  Mel Robbins described the NSA like this “It’s like you’re going camping by yourself and stumble upon a huge party down by the river with all kinds of people just like you who invite you to come play” (I may be paraphrasing, but that’s close… please don’t quote me, quoting her). So what’s surprising is not that they got to this answer, but how few other organizations I’ve been a part of would have handled it this way.

Why it worked.

1. No one judged

Okay, okay. Who knows, there might have been someone. But I watched the hush come over the crowd like a wave at a large stadium. I’d be willing to bet my next keynote fee that 98% were in his court. I’d venture to guess there were at least 100 prayers lifted up in his direction. There was no scolding. No, “We trusted you with a coveted spot” speeches. No, “Don’t ever do that again pep talks.” Or stories of “a long recovery.” It was more of “Well, that happened. It sucked. Let’s figure out how to move on.”

2. They let him try again.

Risky. If he had blown it again, it would have been a nightmare for him, and sent questions about the certification process. The meeting planners knew the risk. They went there anyway.

3. He was willing to.

It would have been easier to have a few drinks, call his wife, and obsess over this for the next two decades. He took the risk of getting back on the stage, and trying again.

4. He worked hard.

I don’t know how many times he practiced, but I’d be willing to bet my NEXT keynote fee, that he left nothing to chance. A humbling experience makes us stronger.

5. They acknowledged success.

A standing ovation.

What could have devastated his confidence, became a career highlight. I’ll bet somehow the moment of 1700 peers saying “I understand” will be in his “best of” highlights reel.

Failure feels like an island.  Can you imagine what would happen if we started with finding opportunities for redemption?

There’s awesome power in winning well.

Let it be so. #winningwell

How to Motivate Yourself

I had just finished reviewing the syllabus with my Masters level leadership class, and asked my typical follow-up question. “What else would you like to cover?” Lin raised her hand and asked sincerely, “Professor, you are so passionate about what you do, it’s oozing out of you. How do we motivate ourselves to feel like that?”

Oh boy, a challenge.

You see this is the debate my husband, Marcus, and I have been having for the last 12 years. He swears that kind of motivation is genetic, and therefore, unteachable. If you met my family, you’d see where his gene theory comes from. But still, I’m passionate about proving him wrong. Yes, the irony is not lost on me.

I do know one thing, you can’t give someone 5 steps to figuring it out. It involves miring in the muck of what drives you, what you value and why.

From Motivation Theory to Real Life

So last night, I told them to buckle their seat belts and took them on a tour of motivation theory. We started with the classics: content theories (what motivates), process theories (how to motivate) and of course good old reinforcement theory. We then moved to more current thinking like Sinek and Pink. I told them to take good notes because it would be on the exam (that’s always a motivator.)

Then the real work began. I asked them to break into small groups and come up with five ways to help someone motivate themselves (all of which had to be grounded in at least one of the theories).

They started miring in the muck. I overheard deep conversation about where they get stuck and why: Childhood memories of reinforcement motivation for which they blame their bad habits, frustration of sending out so many resumes they have a hard time mustering up the gumption to send one more, questions of how they had let themselves turn from an athlete to a couch potato.

And so today I bring  you five ways to motivate yourself, courtesy of BUMO 796.

5 Ways to Motivate Yourself

1. Love (my personal favorite)

Connect with the feelings of love and sacrifice others have made for you. Acknowledge that support. Go get more if you need it. And then, turn that love into something spectacular. (P.S. this might not be unrelated to gene theory).

2. Focus on Your Basic Needs First

Work your way up Maslow’s hierarchy. If you need sleep and food, get that first. It’s hard to be motivated to change the world if you’re exhausted.

3. Set Achieveable Goals

Expectancy theory seemed to resonate.

4. Create a Support Network

Don’t try to do this alone. Articulate your goals, and surround yourself with people who will help to keep you on track.

5. Reward Yourself

Give yourself something to look forward to at each milestone.

If you’re feeling stuck, perhaps a good mire in motivation theory muck will help.

Are you looking to take your team to the next level? Please give me a call for a free consultation.

Excited vs. Excitable: The Real Secret to Executive Presence

The situation would have sent any leader who cared running for aspirin. I asked Mark, the Senior VP, “Are you okay? Are you stressed? What needs to happen next?” Mark responded, “Karin, I don’t get stressed. There’s no use in that. But as it turns out I’m a stress carrier.”

In humor lies the truth.

Mark had mastered executive presence. Mark had excited but not excitable nailed. Deeply passionate about the cause, nothing rattled him. He’d taken on each new scene as if he’d seen it a thousand times before. His actions were values-based, consistent, deliberate and timely. And yet he knew that his calm words didn’t always have a calming effect on his team. In fact sometimes, the more calm he appeared, the wilder his VPs became– as if to make up for his lack of excitable.

Stress was still rolling down hill, even though Mark had tried to stop it.

Excited Energizes, Excitable Freaks People Out

In almost every company I work with, I’ve noticed a consistent pattern– things are remarkably calmer on the executive “floor.” (Thank goodness, not always a real floor these days.)

The stakes are higher, the decisions graver, these folks have farther to fall, and yet when the going gets tough (for the execs who get it) the volume doesn’t amplify.

In full disclosure, I didn’t learn this early in my career. For a long time I believed my excitable nature proved I cared. I confused stress with passion. Fired up is a long way from freaked out. Know the difference in yourself, and in those you lead.

Your team longs for calm in you and in them. Don’t stop with you.

How to Encourage Excited vs. Excitable

So how do you grow leaders who emulate calm, in the midst of a frantic context?

1. Acknowledge Reality

More than anything your team needs to know you get it. Otherwise they think your head is in the sand. When you calmly state the issue and the implications, I promise that your team will breathe a sigh of relief. They’ll move from trying to prove that the fire is real, to trying to figure out how to extinguish it.

2. Stay Consistently True to Your Values

Great leaders stay true to their values when the going gets tough. If “customer service is #1” has been your rallying cry and you start short-cutting when budget (or boss) pressures loom, your team will be confused at best. Don’t change course. Instead ask, how do MAINTAIN OUR COMMITMENT to a great customer experience with these new parameters?

3. Encourage Wacky Solutions

Chances are that someone is sitting on an idea that is so crazy it might just work. Give them an opportunity to share. Then help them calm down, ask great questions, and consider how they could best execute.

4. Use Failure as Learning

When the going gets tough, our  tolerance for failing decreases, and in many well-intentioned leaders, disappears. Ironically, it’s in the toughest times that we need it most. The 18th failure is much harder than the second. Help your team stay calm and keep learning.

5. Stay Real

When the going gets really tough, your team wants the truth. Share what you can and help them to make informed decisions.

Leaders who win well are excited, but not excitable. They have a strong vision and a strong sense of where they are headed. They expect disruption and leverage chaos as an opportunity to engage creative solutions.

Stay excited. Resist excitable–for you and those who care enough to follow your lead.

Managing Millennials: What's Really Different

A working student in my evening MBA program approached me to talk about a work situation that was driving her crazy.

She gave me the gory behind-the-scenes view: a few apathetic employees were fully taking advantage of a system that had let them get away with ridiculous performance for too long. She was a new supervisor and knew what was right. Apparently her instincts had been reinforced in our class that night. But the situation felt difficult to reverse. She shrugged and said, “It’s probably because they’re millennials.”

I laughed, “Uh…you do realize YOU are a millennial. right?”

“Yeah, yeah,” she acknowledged, “but I’m a DIFFERENT kind of millennial.”

Of course she is. Every millennial is.

Whatever your generation, I’d bet money you don’t feel like you fully fit the stereotype.

Don’t let generational labels and stereotypes screw up your ability to build a winning team. 

What Every Employee Needs

All this talk of the millennial situation is aggravating the perceived “generation gap.” It happens every time a new crop of growing leaders gains traction.  The truth is, the problem she was describing was not generational. It was a hard-core, poster-child example of weak expectations, exacerbated by low-reinforcement and no consequences.

I had those same slippery characters working for me when I was 26. Oh sure their names and contexts were different, but I recognized the story. Back then, I was a gen-Xer trying to manage gen-Xers (I even had to take a course on managing gen-Xers before I could move into management). I recall telling the trainer I was a DIFFERENT kind of gen-Xer.

Yes, we need to understand and value the millennial generation. They bring insights and values we may not understand.

For example, I was all ears when my informal millennial coaches (employees in my organization at the front lines who I specifically put on my informal board of directors to tell me the truth) told me how to become more trusted and accessible to the front lines: Stop wearing a suit and heels to the call centers–it was too intimidating; bring my humor to the next corporate video; and for God’s sake watch some TV every now and then so I can chime in on the break room small talk. It worked. Sure there are few things you can do to be more relevant to the masses.

But the truth is, it didn’t work because they were millennial. It worked because it was a way to meet people where they are. That wisdom has worked for centuries.

Figure out the easy things you can change to connect better at a broad scale, but never forget that teams are built of unique human beings. 

The next time you’re faced with a “millennial” problem, I encourage you to resist the label and dig deeper. What’s really going on at the individual level? Do they get the big picture, so they have the skills to do the job, are they confident and competent…? You get the picture.

Are you struggling with a difficult employee engagement scene? Please call me at 443 750-1249 for a free consultation.

Managing Millennials: What’s Really Different

A working student in my evening MBA program approached me to talk about a work situation that was driving her crazy.

She gave me the gory behind-the-scenes view: a few apathetic employees were fully taking advantage of a system that had let them get away with ridiculous performance for too long. She was a new supervisor and knew what was right. Apparently her instincts had been reinforced in our class that night. But the situation felt difficult to reverse. She shrugged and said, “It’s probably because they’re millennials.”

I laughed, “Uh…you do realize YOU are a millennial. right?”

“Yeah, yeah,” she acknowledged, “but I’m a DIFFERENT kind of millennial.”

Of course she is. Every millennial is.

Whatever your generation, I’d bet money you don’t feel like you fully fit the stereotype.

Don’t let generational labels and stereotypes screw up your ability to build a winning team. 

What Every Employee Needs

All this talk of the millennial situation is aggravating the perceived “generation gap.” It happens every time a new crop of growing leaders gains traction.  The truth is, the problem she was describing was not generational. It was a hard-core, poster-child example of weak expectations, exacerbated by low-reinforcement and no consequences.

I had those same slippery characters working for me when I was 26. Oh sure their names and contexts were different, but I recognized the story. Back then, I was a gen-Xer trying to manage gen-Xers (I even had to take a course on managing gen-Xers before I could move into management). I recall telling the trainer I was a DIFFERENT kind of gen-Xer.

Yes, we need to understand and value the millennial generation. They bring insights and values we may not understand.

For example, I was all ears when my informal millennial coaches (employees in my organization at the front lines who I specifically put on my informal board of directors to tell me the truth) told me how to become more trusted and accessible to the front lines: Stop wearing a suit and heels to the call centers–it was too intimidating; bring my humor to the next corporate video; and for God’s sake watch some TV every now and then so I can chime in on the break room small talk. It worked. Sure there are few things you can do to be more relevant to the masses.

But the truth is, it didn’t work because they were millennial. It worked because it was a way to meet people where they are. That wisdom has worked for centuries.

Figure out the easy things you can change to connect better at a broad scale, but never forget that teams are built of unique human beings. 

The next time you’re faced with a “millennial” problem, I encourage you to resist the label and dig deeper. What’s really going on at the individual level? Do they get the big picture, so they have the skills to do the job, are they confident and competent…? You get the picture.

Are you struggling with a difficult employee engagement scene? Please call me at 443 750-1249 for a free consultation.

What To Do When You’re Really Stuck

I received this email from subscriber (modified enough for anonymity). Let’s call him Guy.

Would you be up to offer a little free advice to beat down manager? I have been in some type of leadership position for over a decade now. Two years ago I took over as manager of the noted, “ really tough crowd” in our company. A slight understatement, but–I was up for the challenge.

In discussions with my boss, she informed me that I needed to win my team over and that I did not have their respect. I have never had anyone tell me anything like that with either of the previous teams that I oversaw. Dazed and confused, I moved forward.

I have worked beside them and did the same jobs that they were doing, and bought them breakfast or donuts when I held early morning meetings. I’ve taken some of them to lunch to get to know them. I championed for their needs for extra fabric, materials, and machines, and got them the resources they needed.

I have stood before them and asked them to tell me what they needed me to do to work better for them and make their work lives better–very few responses but at least a couple of them offered.

Today I was lambasted by my boss because of one individual who easily gets her feelings hurt when she is required to do more than she believes she should be doing. The epitome of, “ I’ll do what I want to.” Each time I have tried a new approach, and ease into conversations with this individual. I now have all but stopped trying to work with her. I only get in trouble when I do.

So, tell how you would proceed. I am at my wit’s end. I am giving up. It became painfully obvious to me when I began this email seeking advice from an unfamiliar, outside source.

Most of us have hit a wall like that.  We all have times in our careers where we feel stuck, lack confidence, or wonder why no one sees things our way.

If you’ve ever felt even a third of what Guy’s feeling, it’s easy to have similar sentiments like “Maybe I should just give up.”

When it gets that bad, the co-author of our upcoming book, David Dye, and I encourage you to start with three words.

“How Can I…”

With those three words you:

  • Return focus to your own power and ability to act
  • Tap into the energy of your prefrontal cortex–the part of your brain that problem-solves and plans
  • Vastly increase the odds of finding a solution
  • Take responsibility and ownership for the one thing you can control–yourself.

Let’s try some “How can I?” questions with Guy’s scene.

  • How can I better understand this employee’s resistance?
  • How can I get more input and feedback from my team?
  • How can I set clearer expectations?
  • How can I build deeper trust with my boss?

or maybe even…

  • How can I find a job that doesn’t make me so frustrated?

When you ask “How can I?” you might honestly respond with “I don’t know.” That’s okay. Try David’s bonus question,  “What might I do if I did know?”

Now watch what happens. It’s amazing how you can generate ideas when you give yourself permission.

Sometimes you’ll realize that you don’t have the information you need in order to craft solutions. Then the question becomes, “How can I get the information?”

Stuck sucks. But you can and will get through it. Start with the simple question, “How do I?” Then move to an even more powerful question, “How do we?”

Looking to get your team unstuck? Call me for a free consultation. 443-750-1249.

What To Do When You're Really Stuck

I received this email from subscriber (modified enough for anonymity). Let’s call him Guy.

Would you be up to offer a little free advice to beat down manager? I have been in some type of leadership position for over a decade now. Two years ago I took over as manager of the noted, “ really tough crowd” in our company. A slight understatement, but–I was up for the challenge.

In discussions with my boss, she informed me that I needed to win my team over and that I did not have their respect. I have never had anyone tell me anything like that with either of the previous teams that I oversaw. Dazed and confused, I moved forward.

I have worked beside them and did the same jobs that they were doing, and bought them breakfast or donuts when I held early morning meetings. I’ve taken some of them to lunch to get to know them. I championed for their needs for extra fabric, materials, and machines, and got them the resources they needed.

I have stood before them and asked them to tell me what they needed me to do to work better for them and make their work lives better–very few responses but at least a couple of them offered.

Today I was lambasted by my boss because of one individual who easily gets her feelings hurt when she is required to do more than she believes she should be doing. The epitome of, “ I’ll do what I want to.” Each time I have tried a new approach, and ease into conversations with this individual. I now have all but stopped trying to work with her. I only get in trouble when I do.

So, tell how you would proceed. I am at my wit’s end. I am giving up. It became painfully obvious to me when I began this email seeking advice from an unfamiliar, outside source.

Most of us have hit a wall like that.  We all have times in our careers where we feel stuck, lack confidence, or wonder why no one sees things our way.

If you’ve ever felt even a third of what Guy’s feeling, it’s easy to have similar sentiments like “Maybe I should just give up.”

When it gets that bad, the co-author of our upcoming book, David Dye, and I encourage you to start with three words.

“How Can I…”

With those three words you:

  • Return focus to your own power and ability to act
  • Tap into the energy of your prefrontal cortex–the part of your brain that problem-solves and plans
  • Vastly increase the odds of finding a solution
  • Take responsibility and ownership for the one thing you can control–yourself.

Let’s try some “How can I?” questions with Guy’s scene.

  • How can I better understand this employee’s resistance?
  • How can I get more input and feedback from my team?
  • How can I set clearer expectations?
  • How can I build deeper trust with my boss?

or maybe even…

  • How can I find a job that doesn’t make me so frustrated?

When you ask “How can I?” you might honestly respond with “I don’t know.” That’s okay. Try David’s bonus question,  “What might I do if I did know?”

Now watch what happens. It’s amazing how you can generate ideas when you give yourself permission.

Sometimes you’ll realize that you don’t have the information you need in order to craft solutions. Then the question becomes, “How can I get the information?”

Stuck sucks. But you can and will get through it. Start with the simple question, “How do I?” Then move to an even more powerful question, “How do we?”

Looking to get your team unstuck? Call me for a free consultation. 443-750-1249.

digging deeper

What I Learned From Marshall Goldsmith: A Simple and Effective Technique

When Marshall Goldsmith sent me his new book, Triggers, I read it cover to cover on my flight to Vegas. Great read. But what makes a good book a great book is when it leads you to action. This one did.

The Power of Daily Questions

It’s so simple. Goldsmith recommends asking yourself a few “easy” questions each day. Of course, I say easy because they should be straightforward. But we all know gut-check questions are some of the most difficult in the world.

He shares:

For years I’ve followed a nightly follow-up routine that I call Daily Questions, in which I have someone call me wherever I am in the world and listen while I answer a specific set of questions that I have written for myself. Every day. For the longest time there were thirteen questions, many focused on my physical well-being, because if you don’t have your health . . well, you know the rest. The first question was always “How happy was I today?” (because that’s important to me), followed by questions like:

How meaningful was my day?
How much do I weigh?
Did I say or do something nice for Lydia?

And so on. The nightly specter of honestly answering these questions kept me focused on my goal of being a happier and healthier individual. For more than a decade it was the one constant of self-regulated discipline in my otherwise chaotic 180-days-a year-on-the-road life. (I’m not boasting that I do this test; I’m confessing how much discipline I lack.)

For those who are stumped on where to start, he draws on research of behaviors that lead to employee engagement and comes up with six key questions.

  • Did I do my best to set clear goals today?
  • Did I do my best to make progress toward my goals today?
  • Did I do my best to find meaning today?
  • Did I do my best to be happy today?
  • Did I do my best to build positive relationships today?
  • Did I do my best to be fully engaged today?

What you’ll notice is the recurring theme is “do my best.” Yes, its subjective. You could cheat. But if no one else is looking…

My Big 5

Picking the questions is easy and hard. I have about 100 things I SHOULD be doing every day, but that’s not the point. The point is to focus on what Covey would call the “big rocks” not the pebbles.

It also occurred to me that these questions will need to change with the seasons. For me this summer is really heavy into content development. I have a book due to a publisher and an online course that we’re neck-deep in curriculum development. I need to be writing and developing content every day. In other seasons, it will be more about delivery and the questions will change.

Here are mine:

  • Did I write something meaningful that will help managers lead more effectively?
  • Did I actively work on growing my speaking and consulting business?
  • Did I add value to husband’s and sons’ day?
  • Did I connect with my father today (This is really important because my mom died recently. He lives close and it’s a blessing to have him so integrated in our lives)?
  • Did I exercise?

As the clock ticks away, it’s surprising how motivating knowing I’ll have to answer to myself will be.

Simple and effective.

How to Achieve the Impossible

IT managers, Lori and Ann, were both shocked when they were given their latest projects. What this new client wanted was really complicated, and their teams were already about to tip over, not to mention the ridiculous time frame the sales team had committed to. “Why don’t they ask us before making these impossible commitments?” “What are they smoking? We can’t possibly do this!” ​ They both knew better than to say what was on their minds. ​​

But now the tough part. Telling their teams.

Feeling the urgency, Lori immediately called her team together for a quick huddle. Her team knew there was trouble by the look on her face, before she even said a word. And then she looked at them sincerely, “Guys, I’m so sorry. We’ve been given an impossible deadline, and I know you’re already working so hard. We’re just going to have to do the best we can. Here are the parameters…”

Ann took her cell phone to the parking lot and vented to her husband. Then she took a walk and cleared her head. She had to figure out a way to do this without crushing the team. Back at her desk, she sent out a quick calendar invite for 8 a.m. the next morning labeled “Launch Project Flying Colors”–no other details.

Intrigued, her team got there a bit earlier than usual to find the conference room filled with colorful helium balloons and streamers, along with blank white easel sheets plastering the walls. She had a medley of upbeat “color” themed songs playing on her iPhone.

“Guys, we’ve been given an exciting challenge and I’m sure we’re going to pass it with flying colors. It’s going to be hard, perhaps the most difficult thing we’ve accomplished, which is why I’ve brought us here to get really creative on the best path forward. Let me outline the parameters we have to work with, and then we’re going to work together to make a game plan.”

How to Galvanize Your Team to Achieve the Impossible

Don’t get me wrong. I’m fully aware that hard work is still hard work. But I’ve seen a little bit of galvanizing magic go a long way in sparking creativity and getting folks into a “Yes, we can!” mindset.

To galvanize your team toward achieving the possible…

Make winning feel like a sport.

In sports, nothings more fun than winning when the odds are stacked against you. A game of lay-ups would be a real yawner. Tap into the sporting side of human nature.

Be clear why every role matters.

Watch any Little League game and at some point there will be a kid in the outfield with his finger up his nose. Not so in the major leagues. Be sure everyone on the team has a valuable role and is deeply connected to the vision.

Identify specific skills and behaviors needed for success in every role.

Be sure that every team member knows the behaviors they must exhibit for success.

Align team member’s passions with purpose.

Tap into skills and abilities that may be outside of the person’s day job. Nothing galvanizes people more than being able to do what they love while adding value.

Acknowledge challenges and obstacles, and include the team in finding solutions.

Go ahead, admit that it’s tough. “Heck yeah, those parameters are ridiculous. But we’ve got to find a way to do it. What would we do if we did know how to make this happen?”

Articulate a winning game plan.

Be clear on the actions of who will achieve what by when. Build in natural celebration points along the way.

When you develop a reputation for being a galvanizer, folks will knock down your door to join you the next time. Winning well is fun.

Lost in Translation: Communication Techniques for Middle Managers

You know your boss cares deeply about customers, employees, and doing the right thing for your business. And you’ve built a passionate team of customer advocates, who want to make a good living and feel good about coming to work every day.

And yet here you are, precariously squashed amidst the intensity of all this passion and good intentions.

At the core, everyone wants similar outcomes…you get it. But the cacophony of misunderstanding and misinterpretation can be deafening.

“Why don’t they understand why this is so important?”

“Why would she do THAT if she really cared about employees?”

“How can they be so out of touch with reality?”

“These executives don’t have a clue how annoyed our customers are about this decision.”

“This is just another sign the frontline is disengaged.”

Chances are no one put “translator” on your job description. But trust me, the managers with the best outcomes are masters of translation.

Great Managers are Translators

The very best managers are leaders with a keen ability translate:

Industry dynamics into pragmatic straight talk

They listen closely to what’s happen with competitors and strategic partners. They’re intrigued by the dynamics, and help their team to better understand their company’s proactive approaches and responses.

Organizational vision into meaningful work

They work hard to understand the big picture and have a keen ability to explain articulate specifically how the work their team is doing makes an impact on customers and to the world.

Executive urgency into tangible action

They don’t let stress roll downhill. They buffer negative executive emotion and translate the meaning into specific behaviors for the team to implement.

Questions into dialogue

They listen carefully to questions from executives, bosses, peers, and direct reports, to understand the deeper concern. They proactively work to bring the right people together to have meaningful conversation.

Employee angst into reasonable requests

They empathize with the stress and concerns of their team. They help employees frame their needs so they can be heard and addressed to get the resources and support they need.

Great middle managers take time to learn the languages of those around them, and listen well to hear the truths from multiple perspectives. Translating well saves time and is a vital step toward achieving breakthrough results.

what to do when your team is downsized

5 Things to Do When Your Team is Downsized

I’ve never met a manager who felt they had more headcount than they needed. In fact, the number one answer I get when I ask managers what they need most is “More people!” And yet most of us have been on the receiving end of the conversation saying “We’re going to need to figure out how to do more with less.” In fact, there was one dark period of my career that I received that call every quarter for 2 years. By the end of that run, I had half the team and more customers. The wacky part was, results kept improving.

5 Things to Do When Your Team is Downsized

As painful as downsizing is, I’ve learned the hard way that it’s possible to keep results going up, while your team size is going down. It requires a positive outlook, innovative thinking, and most importantly trust and support.

1.Keep Your Cool

Don’t let your team see you cry or whatever your equivalent of a tantrum is. Don’t vent to your team or blame “them (those above you, or HR)” for being clueless to how hard you’re already working. Get it out of your system off line and show up strong. Your team needs to feel confident that you’ve got a path forward, not get more unrattled as you lose your footing.

2. Help Your People Find Jobs

If the headcount being cut are not vacancies but real human beings, put them first. Do whatever you can to help them land well. Besides being the right thing to do for the impacted employees, it will go a long way in building trust and loyalty with those who remain.

3. Eliminate Less Necessary Work

Before you tell me “Nothing we’re doing is unnecessary,” get your team together and ask (and then don’t let them tell you that either). Look under every rock for time spent on seldom reviewed reports or redundant processes. You can’t do the same work with fewer people for long without causing people to tip over, or sacrifice quality. Get serious about what can go.

4. Strategize Failure

If you can’t find enough work to eliminate, know that some balls are likely to drop (or at least be picked up on the second bounce). Don’t pretend that every goal is equally important, help your team to prioritize. Be sure they know that if they have to screw-up something, which of their goals is less critical.

5. Go Outside Your Team for Support

You’re probably thinking, “Karin, now you’re really talking crazy, if we’re pressed, so is everyone else.” I bet they are. But I also know that in every organization, there is always redundant work going on. Instead of viewing other teams as the competition, or keeping staff at an arms distance to get them out of your hair, look for opportunities to partner. Could you pool functions and create a shared services group? Could you lend resources back and forth during peak times? Have the confidence to know it can be done, and the humility to ask for help.

Downsizing is never easy. I also know that of all the times I thought we’d been cut too far to survive, we someone how did, and in many cases thrived. Leadership is often about doing what feels impossible.

Bot Syndrome

The Bot Syndrome: 5 Symptoms Which Indicate Your Employee Feels Like a Bot

“The other day, a customer tweeted at me, ‘Are you a bot?’ At first I was really offended and wanted to tweet back ‘I AM NOT A BOT!’ But when I thought about it some more, I got kind-of sad. I realized that by following the scripts and all the rules, I sounded very robotic. That’s not what our customers want or need. They come to social media because they want some upbeat and friendly interaction. I could provide better service if they gave us a bit more freedom to do what we know is right.’”

– Customer Service Social Media Rep

It’s not just social media reps who feel that way. It happens across industries at all levels. I’ve met VPs whose fear has caused a dangerous bot-like trance. Bots leading bots is no way to change the game.

Sadly, it starts with good intentions: an effort to get everyone on the same page; a PR team who wants to ensure all employees share the same story; or efficiency studies that show the “right way” to do things saves much more time. I once had a boss tell me, “Karin, the truth is in that role, I want to take all the thinking out of it, make it as simple as possible so they can just execute efficiently.”

Sometimes your employees will tell you. But often, they just subtly lose their passion for your work and find meaning elsewhere.

5 Signs Your Employee Feels Like a Bot

1. They stop asking important questions.

The “Why?” “What’s next?” and “What if?” questions disappear.

2. But… they don’t make a move without asking obvious questions.

They need approval for everything, even if it means keeping a customer waiting. Most of your answers are “of course.”

3. They “follow the rules” even when they don’t make sense.

Of course they should have made an exception for the customer whose son just died. But the guidebook didn’t say, so they stuck by the rules. It’s impossible to predict and script every scenario. If an employee can’t function outside the playbook, check for bot-building policies.

4. Meetings are lifeless.

Your meetings look like a scene from an old zombie movie. It’s like pulling teeth to get everyone to talk. You feel like a cheerleader in an empty stadium.

5. Even well-thought out recognition, compensation, and employee engagement programs don’t make a dent.

If employees could double their hourly wage if they just “embraced the program” you first need a shift from bot gear, before any incentive overlay will work.

The guy I worked for was wrong. Because I’m not a bot, I ignored that advice, and results improved. You can’t grow a bot. You can’t motivate a bot. Bots will never deliver a best in class customer experience.

Bonus

After publishing this article, I was asked to share it in Malaysia for Leaderonomics. The fun part about that is they created an amazing PDF with other great thoughts on building your social media strategy.