Before You Forget, Stop and Do This Immediately

Have you ever met a truly humble person– someone who’s entire life is a sacrificial commitment to a cause they deeply believe in? As I spoke with Sister Louise in Thailand about her 50-year commitment to helping women and children out of extreme poverty and danger, I was blown away by her selfless mission.

Although she’s Catholic, her focus is not about a conversion of her 95% Buddhist community–it’s about “saving (with a little “s”) lost sheep.”

She just wants to give as many women and children as possible a shot at an empowered life.

And she and her teams are transforming lives. She’s Winning more Well than I could ever hope to.

I’m pretty sure that’s why I’m so haunted by the story she shared when I asked her what was the most challenging part of her work.

She didn’t miss a beat. And her answer surprised me.

There Was This One Time

There was a woman who had come to us for help many times. We worked with her on skills like hairdressing and sewing, but she struggled. She would give up, quit, and then come back.

Several times we just gave her money to get her out of a jam. We didn’t give up.

And then one day after being gone for quite a while, she came back to us and she proudly showed me a stack of money she had earned.

Relieved, I said “Oh you must be so grateful for this blessing.”

And then she screamed at me, “THANKFUL? BLESSING?  I DID THIS ALL BY MYSELF!!!!”

Sister Louise looked at me with tears in her eyes, “Can you imagine? How could she not see all the people who had worked so hard to help her? To be grateful to those who didn’t give up?”

Sister Louise had no expectations that this sheep would believe in God, but held out hope for a little gratitude for the work of his “hands and feet” in the form of her volunteers.

And there she stood, arguably the most humble human I’ve ever met– dumbfounded by the lack of a simple expression of gratitude.

Everyone needs to hear that they are making a difference.

Who Do You Need to Thank?

When we’re working really hard, it’s so easy to delude ourselves into thinking we did it all by ourselves.

I hear it all the time “I EARNED this promotion.” “I WORKED MY BUTT off to get here.”

I’ll admit. I’ve said those words.

But the truth is, none of us got here on our own– no matter how hard we worked.

There are managers and teachers and parents and peers who all helped in some way. There’s even the boss you hated, that finally convinced you that you weren’t as strong as you thought you were…and you worked harder to prove her wrong.

Who helped you today? Last week? Last quarter?

Who had an INSPIRE conversation that made an impact? Who helped become more confident? Who consistently takes the time to sweat the small stuff so you don’t have to?

What if you stopped right now and said thank you?

How to Have More Joy at Work

The other evening, I was sitting at the kitchen table putting the finishing touches on next week’s keynote for the American Health Quality Association. They’d invited me to talk about “finding joy in your work,” a subject that’s at the core our entire Winning Well philosophy, but that I’m not usually invited to address head on. I kept feeling I was about 90% there when my son, Sebastian, walked in and plopped a crinkled sheet of notebook paper down my keyboard.

“Mom, here’s my story for the 5th-grade graduation speech contest. What do you think?”

I read the words he’d painstakingly written, full of the usual “I’d like to thank my parents and teachers.” I’m not sure if it was the look on my face or the fact that he knew it wasn’t his best work, that revealed my concern.

“It’s not that good, I know,” Seb winced.

Now here comes one of those awkward parenting moments. Perhaps you’ve been there. I know he can do better. I mean, this kid is a storyteller. In fact, he explains some of our concepts better than us.   But I also don’t want to be one of THOSE moms creating too much pressure, particularly around speaking.

But Seb and I have a deal. We tell one another the truth.

“Sebastian you are an amazing storyteller. This speech doesn’t just tap into that. You’ve got an important message to share– I imagine if you spend a little more time, you can find it. If you want to go with this speech you can, but if you want to take it to another level I think you’re not that far off.  Let me know if you want my help.”

And then, Sebastian curled up into a fetal position and said “I’m not changing it. It’s fine.”

Finding the Joy

The next morning at 6 am, Seb crawled into my bed and says, “Mom go get your computer, we’ve got to workshop this.”  Yikes, “Workshop?” I guess he’s been hanging around too many professional speakers. But that’s what we did. We talked about what the audience needed most. We mined for stories. We debated deep or broad– (all relative for the three minutes he had to fill.)

“Okay. I’ll think about it some more at indoor recess. It’s raining.”

When I picked him up for school, he hadn’t even shut the car door before he shared the advice three of his favorite teachers had given when he asked for input. Good stuff. Then we went to the back porch to finish the “workshop.”‘ And Bam. He had it. His speech was FANTASTIC. This child who the evening before had been ready to give up, was literally running around our home dancing to the “Happy” station on Pandora.

Joy.

Joy in his work.

Bam. The missing element from my speech.

Yup. Joy is contagious.

I thought about the times I’ve had the most joy in my work. And when I’ve seen the most joy in others. There’s a lot of joy that can come from working really hard at something you care about, and honing your skills to build your capacity to accomplish it. Sure there’s joy in the outcome, but there’s also joy in perseverance and growth. Joy comes from working really hard until you get it right.

Joy comes from rocking your role.

When we’re feeling joyless, it’s easy to give up. But just past that, joy is lurking.

 

7 Surefire Ways to Gain More Credibility in the New Year

It’s the time of year where many of us are talking about what we want to lose–a few pounds, some bad habits, a toxic relationship. Today, I’m inviting you to consider what you have to gain– investing in a few key actions to improve your credibility and enhance your reputation.

7 Surefire Ways to Gain More Credibility in 2017

Focus on these behaviors, early and often to give your credibility a boost in the new year.

1. Admit a mistake.
No. not just a small one. I’m going to assume you do that every day. Is there a decision you regret? A strategic move that took the team down a rabbit hole? Or perhaps you let your personal stress bleed into your work, and were harsher in that meeting than necessary.

The truth is when you screw up, your team already knows. You’ll gain instantly credibility points by admitting it.

2. Stop doing something stupid.

I’ve yet to work with a company where folks couldn’t list the “stupid” things they are still doing for stupid reasons. Want credibility as a leader? Pick one of those things and figure out how to stop doing it. Your team will want to kiss you, and you’ll free up more time for them to work on their MITs (Most Important Things).

3. Take a stand.

I bet if I asked you to describe the leaders you most admire, or your favorite boss, we’d only be a few sentences in before you told me a story about them standing up for something that mattered.  Be that person. You know that thing you’re not saying because you’re too afraid? If it really matters, figure out a way to say it well.

4. Forgive a grudge.

I know. This is a hard one. But you know who you’ll gain the most credibility with if you can pull this off? Yourself. There’s huge value in knowing you’re the one that can take the high road and give someone a second chance.

5. Open a door.

The most credible leaders are ones who help people when they have nothing to gain. Building a reputation as a door-opener is a great way to catalyze credibility, not to mention karma.

6. Have a real conversation with your boss.

I was exchanging stories with an old boss the other day about times where we had found ourselves being the only ones having the tough conversations with our bosses. That audacity has served us both well over the years, and has helped me build the muscles I need to now be a successful consultant. There’s huge power and influence in being viewed as the person who will speak the ugly truth in a way people in power can hear it. Gain credibility by being the one who will own the ugly and work to make it better.

And guess what? If you do it well, your boss will start proactively coming to you asking for advice.

7. Rock your role.

Of course you can’t beat the credibility that comes from being ridiculously great at what you do. Show up every day with your A game. Give 10% more than is necessary to every task. Be constantly learning.

Credibility is built through small and consistent actions over time. Imagine the power of paying some extra deliberate attention to a few of these vital behaviors as you turbo-charge your career for the new year.

9 Ways to Strengthen Your Personal Brand

If you Google you, do you like who shows up?

Do you feel like you’ve got a powerful message to share, but without the right positioning, find yourself talking to the metaphorical mute button?

Are you having trouble outgrowing an outdated reputation at work?

Or maybe you’re just looking to get a better seat at the table.

9 Ways to Strengthen Your Winning Well Brand

If your brand could use a power boost, take a step back and give your brand a Winning Well refresh using these nine approaches.

Results

1- Rock your Role
If you’re not knocking your current job out of the park, start there–even if you’re looking for something else. There’s nothing better you can do to enhance your brand than having a long track record of success. 

2- Mind the MIT (Most Important Thing)
Pick something extraordinary to accomplish and prioritize getting it right. If there are 27 metrics on your balanced scorecard, trust me, they are not all created equal. Pick one or two that matter most and be known as the guy or gal that cracked the code. 

3- Focus on the Game (Not the Score)
Don’t go around talking about metrics and stack ranks (even if you’re on top). Identify the key behaviors that will change the game, and focus yourself and your team on executing on those consistently. You build a brand by playing the game, not by measurement and commentary. 

Relationships

4- People before Projects
Of course projects are important (see above) but results without relationships leave people burned out, frustrated, and unlikely to give you their best effort. Take the time to establish genuine connection with the people you work with. Yes, you have time, because it will save you time downstream, not to mention building a reputation that will attract “A players” to want to work with you the next time, which of course, makes everything easier.

5- Prioritize Peers
Most managers understand the importance of supporting their team and making their boss look good. But to build a brand that lasts– have your peers backs (see 8 reasons your peers rate you low on your 360 feedback assessment) and go out of your way to make their lives easier. Trust me. I wish I learned this one sooner. Your boss may want you at the top of the stack rank, but your bosses boss wants a team of people working together to accomplish the bigger picture. A high tide rises all boats. Do what you can to be helpful.

Confidence

6- Take a Stand
When I first started writing my blog, the folks at Verizon got a little twitchy. And, I had no intention of leaving my day job at that point. I just wanted to help spread the word that you can get results without losing your soul, and yes, you can blend the bottom line with the human spirit. I loved my work at Verizon (and received the highest performance reviews during this time) AND I had something larger to say. I thank God every day that I had the courage to speak up and was open to next steps.

7. Expand your Expertise 
If you want to build your brand, get very, very good at something important. When everyone tells you, “You’re the best!”–that’s a great sign… keep learning and work harder. AND work on broadening your knowledge. I started at becoming the best HR expect I could be… and then made a career out of leading teams where I was not the expert in the field. I learned so much. It pays to be a “utility player” with deep knowledge in at least one arena.

Humility

8- Channel Challengers
One of the best ways to improve your brand is to know what people are saying behind your back. Ask for feedback. Say thank you. Work to improve. If you want to be the best possible version of you, surround yourself with people you respect who will tell you the truth.

9- Own the Ugly
Here’s a secret. When you screw up… your team already knows. If you want to foster respect and build a trusted Winning Well brand, admit your mistakes and make it right.

There are no shortcuts to a Winning Well brand. It’s showing up consistently day after day oriented in confident humility with a laser focus on results AND relationships.

5 Ways to Tame a Bad Boss

“Greg” called to share his news, “You know that situation with my boss is going a lot better! I decided to go on the offense and just keep him over-informed. He loves it. Now he stays off my back and I can do my work.”

Bingo. Another “bad boss” tamed.

5 Ways to Tame a Bad Boss

Sure I’ve met some loony tunes over the years. But I’m convinced that almost every bad boss situation can be made at least a little bit better with some proactive work on your part.

Sure he should know better, he’s the boss right? Perhaps. But do you want to be right, or happier at work?

We’ve got a lot more techniques in Winning Well and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss, but here are a few to get you started. 

  1. Get Your Asks Together
    If you need additional resources, tools, or want to attend training that will make you a better leader, you need to articulate a solid argument. Come with data, not emotion. The P.E.R.S.U.A.D.E. approach is a proven methodology that will help.
  2. Communicate Frequently In Bulleted Summaries
    Like “Greg” it might feel like overkill on your end, and if it is, your boss will tell you. But I’ve NEVER minded my team keeping me informed in easy to digest ways. Find a coding system that works for you both (e.g. FYI UPDATE ________ (project name) in the email heading.)
  3. Follow the “No Blindside” Rule
    If you’ve got bad news, be sure your boss hears it from you. Use the Winning Well D.A.R.N. method  of bad news giving.
  4. Ask How You Can Make Their Job Easer
    It’s likely your boss is dealing with pressures you don’t fully understand. Ask how you can be most helpful. Of course be prepared with a good answer when she turns the table and asks how she can best help you.
  5. Let It Go
    I know, easier than it sounds. But harboring resentment never does a relationship any good. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Forgive as needed and try again. 

Internal Internships- A Winning Well Best Practice

Have you ever been an intern? Have you ever hired an intern? 

There are many reasons to hire an intern. Sure some see it as a short-cut to cheap labor or to appease HR. 

But if you’ve ever been part of a great internship program–on either side of the desk– you know that it can be a fantastic job preview–an extensive 2-way interview process. It’s an opportunity to try before you buy.

Internships give interns the opportunity to ask:

  • Does this work align with my passion and purpose?
  • Are these my people? 
  • Can I see myself doing this every day?

Of course, employers are asking similar questions:

  • Does this kid have potential?
  • What unique contributions would they bring to our company?
  • Do they fit in?

Watching my MBA students in the great internship dance is fascinating. You can learn a lot about workplace culture and how to attract and retain millennial talent over a “How’s your internship going?” cup of coffee. (Even more over a beer.)

This observation is why I was so intrigued when I bumped into this best practice while I was doing some Winning Well consulting. 

The senior leadership team had sent me to this location to understand what was going so right and to help them spread it to their other locations. The list of Winning Well best practices was healthy, but this one struck me most.  And it’s going in our next book.

The Power of Internal Internships

The strong culture was keeping people there, but there was also a bit of stagnation. Employees were getting comfortable in their roles and afraid a lateral move would impact their performance rating or earning potential if they were not successful.

So the manager built an Internal Internship program. Employees could raise their hand to intern in another role for two weeks. They would receive some training, shadow, take on some tasks, and finally “try on” the job. No commitment. No risk. No guarantees. 

If after two weeks, everyone loves it, they are encouraged to apply for the next open position.  If they tried it and hated it, at least they knew without a lot of sunk costs or time on either end.

Benefits of Internal Internship

  • Exponentially more discussion around career pathing, even for those who didn’t decide to intern.
  • Frank career path conversations: “No, you cannot do an internship with that attendance record. Let’s get that cleaned up first.”
  • A broader understanding of the big picture. “Oh, that’s why they do it that way.”
  • Increased collaboration across departments, with more folks having walked a mile in the other guy’s shoes.
  • Improved morale and retention. More people seeing a future–not just a job, but a career.

When I asked the manager about the ROI, she was all in. The value of getting the right people in the right seats, performing well, far surpassed the additional time and effort her team spent on the program.

one common interviewing mistake

One Common Interviewing Mistake That Will Cost You the Job

Have you ever made this interviewing mistake?

One Common Interviewing Mistake

My phone rang. Colin was exasperated. “Karin, I thought I NAILED the interview. The owner seemed pleased with all my answers, and I had great stories for all his behavior-based interview questions. But I just got an email from him saying that although I was qualified,  he was worried about my passion for training!!! You KNOW how passionate I am about training– it’s my life! I was energetic throughout the whole process. Where could this have gone wrong?”

I had an inkling, but probed further. Sure enough, Colin had made a frequent and well-intentioned interviewing mistake that so often tank a solid interview.

He appeared desperate.

When asked if the training job was not available if he would be willing take a call center manager job for a few years. Wanting to appear flexible and interested in learning the business he said, “sure.”

A similar problem plagued Joe, a Director level succession planning candidate who came to me for coaching.

He had applied for several VP jobs: VP of Care, VP of Sales, VP of Marketing and always made the last round, but never got the job.

When I conducted interviews with key stakeholders to get underneath what was going on, everyone had a similar taste in their mouth about Joe.”He doesn’t seem to know what he really wants to do–besides have the title VP behind his name. When he interviewed for the care job, he gushed about how passionate he is about customer service, and how this is his dream job. He almost had me convinced, until I heard he was equally zealous about the sales role. We need a leader with a passion for the role, not just a passion for power.”

Yikes.

4 Ways to Let Your Passion For the Position Shine Through

Of course, you want to appear flexible in an interview. But too much flexibility makes you look desperate–like the guy working his way down the bar trying to land a date. “I’ll settle for this one” doesn’t make you an attractive match.

  1. Know What You Really Want
    This might sound really obvious, but trust me, I’ve asked “Why do you want this job?” in so many interviews–and it’s a surprising stumper. If “to make more money” or to “be promoted” is the answer, even if you say something different, any interviewer worth their salt will see right through. Know why this job matters to you and be able to articulate your reasoning well.
  2. Have a Plan
    It’s perfectly possible that you’re equally qualified for several positions. Before starting LGL, I made a career of dramatic cross-functional moves within Verizon, but I didn’t apply for them all at the same time. If you are highly interested in several roles, be able to explain the strategic value holding each of these positions now (or later) will help you contribute now, and in the future to the company. If you’re interviewing externally and your answer to “Where else are you applying?” looks as random as the fruit on a slot machine, you had better find a way to connect the dots.
  3. Do Your Homework
    The key is to really do your homework and be able to explain why your skill sets add the most value for THIS job at THIS company. You can’t do that without really knowing what THIS job and THIS company is all about. Not doing your homework is one of the biggest interviewing mistakes and is often caused when you’re spreading your job search too thin.
  4. Be Authentic, But Have a Filter
    I had another millennial call me to tell me he was in jeopardy of not getting a role because of how he answered the question “Where do you want to be in 15 years?” Well, the fact that he wanted to own his own business in 15 years was TMI (too much information) at this point for his interviewer who got all worried about “loyalty.” The sad part was, this guy WAS TOTALLY PREPARED to work there for 10 years. “Well, I’m not sure about 15 years, that’s a long time. But I would love to talk more about what the next decade could look like for our partnership.” Authentic AND intriguing.

There’s nothing more frustrating than watching the good guys lose the opportunity because of a communication breakdown. Avoid this common mistake and let your passion for the position shine through.

See Also: Fast Company: How to Recover From These Common Interviewing Blunders

A Deeper Dive into Developing Your People

When I ask managers where they regret not spending enough time, unequivocally, the number one answer is “Not spending enough time developing my people.” There never seems to be enough time, or resources, or support from above, or fill in your favorite blank here _______. And yet when I ask managers to identify one thing they KNOW would improve their results, you guessed it… the same answer, “If only I had more time to develop my people.”

Perhaps you’ve felt that way. Trust your instinct.

I will never forget the year that I shifted my approach to spending 30% of my time developing people–within three months results had taken a hockey stick turn for the better and engagement was way up.

Sure, it’s scary.

Yes, it takes serious effort.

But no matter how competent you are, you are one person.

No matter how hard you work, developing a team of A players will blow anything you can do on your own.

Spending 10% of your time developing your people is standard. For three months, try investing 30% and see what happens…

A Metaphor From the Deep

As I was doing a lot of underwater photography while scuba diving in Bonaire over the Christmas holidays, my mind kept moving to what a wonderful metaphor underwater photography is for employee development. So here’s a bit of deep-dive reflection for you as you begin your 2016 developmental planning process.

Be Still and Observe

48c5bb99-4289-44d8-b7c0-b5306141ab63

Sometimes the biggest developmental needs are the least obvious. Invest the time to observe behaviors across a variety of contexts and situations. Where do they feel most confident? What scares them? How are others responding to their style? Where do they need to be challenged? In which areas do they need some additional training?

Anticipate the Future

It’s impossible to get a decent picture of a swimming fish by pointing the camera where the fish is, you’ve got to anticipate where they’re heading. It’s the same with employee development. Great employee developers envision what their employees are capable of becoming and help people see themselves as more than they ever thought possible. Then they build the development plan with that lens in mind.sting ray

Be Patient

lion fishThe hardest part of underwater photography for me is patience. My inclination is to chase the fish, which of course scares them. Sometimes it’s important to move a little slower, to build confidence and incremental improvement.

There’s no greater gift you can give your team then challenging them to become more than they ever thought possible. Go deep.

 

8 Ways to Refresh Your Career in the New Year

If you’re like me, at this point, the holiday hoopla already feels like a distant memory; you’re invigorated by the possibilities for the year ahead; and perhaps just a bit overwhelmed by the the stretch-goals in front of you. You’re neck-deep in planning and goal setting. If you’re a people manager, you’re likely meeting with your team to establish performance agreements and developmental plans. Excellent. Don’t forget about you.

8 Ways to Refresh Your Career in the New Year

The new year is the perfect time to step back and take some tangible actions to invest in your career. Here are 8 ways to get you started.

  1. Identify one fear to overcome.
    We’ve all got them–the one area of our life that would improve if only we weren’t too scared. How would your career (and life) improve if this were the year you got past it? Start by writing it down. This year I’ll have the courage to _______. Then tell someone about your plan. The best way to build real confidence is to succeed at something that scares you.
  2. Take an honest inventory of what’s working and where you’re stuck.
    What were the three behaviors that most helped your career and your professional brand in 2015? Which three behaviors got in the way? What, specifically, can you do to continue more of the beneficial behaviors and reduce (or eliminate) the non-productive or career damaging ones?
  3. Update your LinkedIn profile.
    Yes, you should. I’m working with a company now that recently announced an 8000 person reduction. Many of those folks now scrambling to build the next phase of their career have admitted that they hadn’t really worried about their LinkedIn profile before. Here are some hints to get you started.
  4. Identify your big win.
    You have lots of goals and objectives to achieve this year, I get that. But it’s worth identifying the one area where you’re going to absolutely turn heads. What will you achieve this year that will be worth a champagne toast and others swarming to you to learn your secrets?  What can you and your team achieve that will really change the game? If you manage people, this is a great conversation to have in one of your first meetings of the year.
  5. Clear out the clutter.
    A Gartner survey found that an average employee can spend up to $4800 just looking for stuff. Now before any of my awesome administrative assistants who’ve supported me over the years start leaving pithy comments, let me admit I’m terrible at this. So, instead of telling you how…. here’s a nice resource on the topic.
  6. Build a networking plan.
    Make a list of people you would like to know better, and identify one way you can help them or make their job easier. I’m also a big believer in “just because” networking. Imagine the possibilities if you took a deliberate approach to getting to know a bit more about the folks you encounter as you go through your day (on the plane, at the gym, in that class you’re taking). There’s awesome power in the strength of weak ties.
  7. Make your reading list.
    A study from the University of Sussex found that reading as little as six minutes a day can reduce your stress levels by 68%.  Most CEOs I know read (including me) read at least four books a month.  Of course I recommend Winning Well for April (learn why here). Inc also has an interesting list of books recommended by high-profile CEOs.
  8. Get feedback
    Whether you use a simple DIY approach to 360 development or invest a little more in a formal process like the one included in my online course, Results that Last, the best way to improve is to truly understand the perceptions of others. 360s can help you identify small behavior changes that can go a long way in building trust and improving communications.

You have the power to make 2016 remarkable.

How to Become the Best ___________

One of my millennial friends, Vince, recently posted this on Facebook.

“I may not be the best organist, and yes, I play it like a piano. But I am determined to learn the Tocatta part of Tocatta and Fugue in D minor down for Saturday for a tour group I am playing for.”

The rush of comments seemed to entirely miss the point. “You worry too much.” “You are a great pianist.” For a little extra inspiration while you read on click here: Tocatta and Fugue in D Minor.

No one becomes the “best organist” without hours and hours…and hours…spent obsessing over and replaying the difficult runs. His comment showed that he was well on his way to becoming the best he could be. If you’re looking to become the best _______ (insert your audacious goal here,) follow Vince’s example.

4 Vital Factors to Becoming the Best __________

1. Take an Honest Assessment of Where You Are

Notice that Vince’s words had nothing to do with talent (which would imply finite potential). I’ve heard Vince play. In fact I’ve sung with him on more than one occasion. He’s solid. And, clearly someone he respects has told him he plays the organ like the piano… for now. And he’s listening. The best way to become the best is to have a clear view of where you stand and what you need to improve.

2. Accept Challenges that Feel Slightly Out of Reach

The only way to become better each day, is to take on the hard challenges that make your brain hurt and require you to stretch yourself to achieve them. The people at the top of their fields don’t say, “Oh, I’m not ready for that.” Instead they take a deep breath and say, “Game on.”

3. Work Your Butt Off

More than talent, truly successful people schlog many long hours perfecting their craft. They’re up early and work late.  They don’t watch much TV. If it takes 37 times to get one measure right, they play it 38 times just in case. The fastest runners have logged the miles. The best writers write every day. Whenever I start wishing that I could write like Seth Godin, I remind myself that he’s written 10x more blog posts than I have, and keep writing.

4. Don’t Wait Until You’re Perfect to Perform

One of my best friends is a brilliant writer, but as Seth would say, she seldom “ships her art.” She talks herself out of the blog posts or book chapters mid-way through. No one expects perfection, they want to hear your voice.

If you want to be the best ______ get out there and do it, surround yourself with supportive hearts, pay attention to what works, and enjoy the ride.

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.