Archive for the ‘Management’ Category

What Business Owners & Managers Don’t Know

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

It’s amazing how many small business owners don’t know how to develop a budget, and manage to a budget. Amazing how many don’t know how to manage people. Amazing how many are still in business!

But maybe it’s not so amazing. It’s not surprising at all. But it is scary. That’s what I’m told by many coaching and consulting clients.

So many people get into business or a management position accidentally. In other words, they didn’t plan on being where they are today, and now they have to make the best of it.

Have you ever found yourself in that position?

I’m not talking about being completely out of your depths, but rather, just being a little uncomfortable. Being just a little out of your comfort zone.

Often, people find themselves in this position because of excellent performance: they’ve done so well in previous jobs, they find themselves promoted into a position they really aren’t fully ready for.

That’s what happened to me. I was doing a good job, so I got promoted. Now I was a manager. I had to manage people. I was 21 years old, and didn’t even know how to spell management! Over the course of a year or so I learned a lot. Some of what I learned was what to do; a lot of what I learned was what not to do. I learned a lot of what I know today from that experience.

Other people take over family businesses, or have a mentor who owns a business hand over the keys to the store – literally.

Of course, some people have the vision of owning their own business and go for it, only to learn just how hard it is to be an owner. Many start off knowing how to make better widgets, but don’t have a clue about budgets, P&L, HR, managing people, marketing, sales, communicating… Or all the other things that go along with owning and running a successful business.

Funny how companies don’t seem to have much problem providing training to employees for technical skills, but not in people management skills. Funny how business owners are willing to jump in and invest everything they have without having the training or support that would make the difference between being successful and not making it.

Does that make sense to you?

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The Problem With Okay Employees

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

Problem employees, the ones that pretty consistently perform at a low level and make all sorts of mistakes, are easy to deal with. They either improve or you help them find a place where they can perform better (at least, you should do that). Almost any manager can deal with a problem employee because the solution is so obvious, and there isn’t much doubt as to whether they’re doing a good job or not.

Superstar employees are pretty easy to deal with, too.

The real problem employees are the ones that are “just okay.” You know, the ones that perform at a 5 or so out of 10. They’re the ones that are really challenging.

No one likes to let someone go, especially an employee who is not doing a bad job. And these “okay employees” are not doing a bad job – they’re just not doing a good job. That’s why these “okay employees” hang on – because no one wants to let them go, and most managers don’t know how to help a person like this perform at a higher level (I love a challenge like that, so let me know if you have one on your hands).

Most managers don’t like to be seen as someone who fires and slashes their way through a team of people. They don’t want to be seen as being unfair. Most managers would prefer to be liked, rather than feared and hated. And letting “okay employees” go can have that effect on a manager’s reputation.

But I ask you, is it fair to make your good, really good and superstar employees work alongside people who are just there to collect a paycheck? Is it fair to your customers? Is it fair to your business?

What isn’t fair is letting these “okay employees” drag a team or organization down. It’s not fair to not do something about them. Either do something to improve their performance (the first step and definitely my preference), or help them find a place where they can perform at a higher level (in most cases, that’s what they’d prefer, too).

The one strategy that definitely doesn’t work is hiding from the issue, with your head in the sand.

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High-Performer or High-Potential?

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

This week we have a guest blog by Kyle Lagunas, HR Analyst at Software Advice. Enjoy!

In a time when the workforce is increasingly transient, your ability to identify high-performing and high-potential employees—and that of your managers—is critical. And yet, many struggle to distinguish one from the other, negatively impacting their ability to develop and retain top talent. In many organizations, performance is the primary measure of an employee’s value in the organization. Star performers are promoted and rewarded, while diamonds in the rough become disengaged and move on.

Don’t get me wrong–you should definitely value performance. But if your end goal is to build a more robust talent pipeline (and it should be), performance can’t be the only point of entry. To that end, there are strategies that any manager can apply to develop high-potentials and high-performers effectively.

Step One: Identify

High-performers stand out in any organization. They consistently exceed expectations, and are management’s go-to for difficult projects. They take pride in their accomplishments, but may not have the potential (or the desire) to succeed in a higher-level role.

High potentials can be more difficult to identify, especially for line managers. That’s because most valuable attributes (e.g. stress management, adaptability, business sense) aren’t catalytic in entry-to-mid-level roles. Potential is subjective to what a company values, of course, but there are innate attributes that distinguish them from high-performers.

Line managers’ observations are often limited to the most obvious traits (time management, communication skills, attention to detail). By working with leadership, however, managers can profile the skills that ensure success in key roles—and be on the lookout for examples of both high performers and high potentials from day one.

Step Two: Assess

An established standard of the attributes and competencies of model employees is also an essential part of objective assessment. And though there’s a distinct difference between potential and performance, experts agree that employees should be assessed on competency in both.

Each category requires a different development strategy. With a clearer picture of who falls where, managers can make more informed decisions in how to effectively develop them. For example: High Po/ Low Per employees may need to improve their ability to perform consistently, or may be moved into roles better aligned with their natural abilities. And High Per/Low Po employees would be ideal candidates for soft skill development–or for roles that require more technical skill.

Step Three: Engage and Develop

The important thing about development and engagement strategies (especially for high-potential vs. high-performance employees) is to tailor your efforts to drive the results you want. Typical engagement strategies could look something like this:

Recognition is key for High Per/Low Po employees. They need constant encouragement and challenging assignments. Rather than promoting them to roles they don’t want (or aren’t ready for), give them the independence and engage them with projects that they can take full ownership of.

Alternately, while High Po/Low Per employees are hungry for more high-impact work, they need seasoning. On the job training is a great way to accomplish this, especially when pairing them with high performers. As they develop a stronger understanding of the organization and their role in it, give them projects to manage, new hires to train, and offer cross-training opportunities.

Set Your Line Managers Up for Success

Your line managers are the gatekeepers to your talent pipeline, and they’ve got their work cut out for them. While most will have some natural ability in identifying, assessing, and engaging performers and potentials, few will be adept at all three. If you want to improve your ability to retain top talent, it starts with your line managers. Set them up for success, and invest in their development.


About the Author: Kyle Lagunas is the HR Analyst at Software Advice—an online resource for HR software comparisions. He reports on trends, technology, and best practices in talent management, with work featured on Forbes, Business Insider, Information Weekly, and the NY Times.


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How To Compete Against the Big Boys for Tech Employees?

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

I read a lot of blogs, newsletters, books and articles, and every now and then I come across a really great one. What makes one great is not always some mind-blowing new idea or concept, but just the simplicity and relevance of the message – like the one I got this week in PMSI’s (Personnel Management Systems, Inc.) newsletter. PMSI is a great HR outsourcing company that I’ve personally had experience of working with. Thanks to them for letting me reprint the following:

You have probably heard the news. For tech employers there is a labor shortage. And to make it worse, the Big Boys (Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Facebook, etc.) are hiring – seriously hiring.

What is a small company to do?

Don’t panic. The good news is not everyone wants to work for giant companies. In fact, just the opposite – many people prefer to work for smaller companies. The trick is how do you position your organization so that you can attract and retain these highly sought-after employees?

Here are some ideas. Not all will work for every organization but give each of them some thought. Perhaps a tweak or two and you might end up with an idea that no one has yet thought of.

  1. Make a difference.  Many people want to “make a difference” and be a part of an organization that really improves people’s lives.  Many “mission driven” non-profits have this advantage over the private sector.
  2. Make it fun.  People want to work in organizations that are fun.  And, I don’t mean, go out and buy a foosball table.  Instead, create an engaging, interesting work environment where people embrace humor and enjoy being around one another.  If you think your work environment can’t be fun, read Fish! by Stephen Lundin.
  3. Work Life Balance.  The truth is many people don’t want to work 12 hour days.  They want to be home for dinner and spend time with friends and family.
  4. Work Environment.  Look around.  Do people look comfortable?  Are your break rooms and restrooms clean and well stocked?  Is it too loud, too cold, too crowded?
  5. Technology.  Has your organization embraced the newest technology?  Tech workers want access to the latest software and equipment.
  6. Quality of Management. It is a buyer’s market. Tech workers have choices and oftentimes will leave a job because of bad management.
  7. Open communication and collaboration.  We have been in business for almost 30 years.  In that time period we have surveyed thousands of employees.  Lack of communication is always one of the top complaints.  Employees expect a high level of communication and collaboration between themselves and management.
  8. Continuous Learning.  Tech workers want to be in an environment where continuous learning is part of the culture.  This could mean a strong mentor program, in-house speakers and reimbursement for course work and certifications.
  9. Pay and Benefits.  Yes, pay and benefits are important but that doesn’t mean as a small company you have to pay more than the Big Boys.  You just have to be competitive and “fair” to at least neutralize this issue.  Some tech workers will chase pay, and you may just have to accept this and let them go.  Others will look at the whole package.  This is how you can compete and win!

If you want to attract and retain your tech workers, then pay competitively, turn the job into something fun and meaningful and provide the best tools and work environment that you can afford.  Have a management team in place that truly understands the value of communication and understands and respects people’s desire to have balance in their lives.

Me again (Ross, that is): I think these tips apply to more than just tech employees…

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Feedback Leads to Happiness – Happiness Leads to Performance

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

For a long time I’ve been preaching about how important it is to give people confirming feedback, and that what you reward someone for will be repeated.

But there’s even more to positive or confirming feedback that helps improve performance. Study after study has proven that happy people perform better. And one way to help someone be happy is to have them replay successes. So, by telling someone what they did right, they will replay this and are more likely to feel positive and happy… and therefore perform even better.

Confirming feedback, therefore, has a double whammy effect:

  1. A person is more likely to repeat what he or she has been rewarded for.
  2. By hearing about the successful behavior again, the person will feel more happy (any time a person replays a past success they tend to feel happier), and happy people perform better.

Read The Happiness Advantage or watch the TED Talk by Shawn Achor. It’s an excellent book about the positive impact of happiness (well, duh), and I love the TED Talk.

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What’s Your Performance Strategy?

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

Does your business have a strategic plan? Does it have a sales and marketing strategy? How about a product development strategy? A financial plan or strategy? Does it have a performance strategy?

If your answers to these questions were “Yes,” “Yes,” “Yes,” “Yes” and “What?” then you own, manage or work for the typical company. Most don’t even know what a “performance strategy” is.

So, what is a performance strategy? It’s a strategy to get the best performance out of the people working in the company. Study after study has shown that more than three-quarters of workers in America do not perform at the best. Most only do enough to get by. And many, who are more than capable of performing much better, don’t perform anywhere near average.

Most companies that say they have a performance strategy only really have an annual performance review process, and perhaps some type of program that links compensation to results (and not necessarily to performance). That is far from a performance strategy, and even further from a Performance Management Program (PMP).

A PMP helps individuals perform better by ensuring they have what they need to do so, including appropriate feedback, clear expectations, resources, training, a sense of what matters to them, appropriate goals, and much more. A PMP helps managers bring out the best in their employees. A PMP helps groups perform better as teams. A PMP helps the entire company perform better.

I’ve read that as many at 80% of strategic plans that companies spend large sums of money creating never get implemented. Could it be because the employees are not performing well enough to implement it?

If your company doesn’t have a performance strategy, then how can it expect to meet the goals and objectives outlined in the strategic plan, the sales and marketing strategy, the product strategy, and/or the financial plan/strategy? Isn’t it the people in the business that have to carry out these other things?

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Outsource Inspiration: Use End-Users to Motivate Employees

Sunday, July 22nd, 2012

As a manager or leader you’re expected to inspire and motivate your staff. But here’s an idea: delegate or outsource inspiration.


In study after study, it’s been demonstrated that employees are not ultimately inspired or motivated by bonuses or rewards. In fact, one of the most motivational factors is employees knowing what impact their work is having on the end user.

Note: Read Daniel Pink’s book, Drive, for more information on what motivates employees. It’s awesome.

So, have end-users connect with your employees. Have them tell your employees how their work impacts them.

I’m not a great believer in focus groups. I think you get “safe” information from them. You often get group think. You don’t get real honest, out of the box thinking.

But if you were to use a focus group, have your employees sit down with your end-users, asking them what your product or service means to them. Don’t bother asking for feedback on what the end-users would do to improve the product or service – that’s not what you’re looking for. Just get the end-users to motivate your employees by talking about what your product or service means to them. Get to the emotions behind what your business represents to the end-user.

That will motivate your employees more than anything.

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Advice for First-Time Managers, From First-Time Managers

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

If you’ve read any of my blog posts in the past you know I’m passionate about helping people manage people better. The following is a summary of a great blog post from Jennifer King, an HR Analyst at Software Advice, a web site that reviews recruiting and employee appraisal software. She blogs about technology, trends, and best practices in human resources and recruiting. You can read the rest of her tips for first-time managers on her HR blog.

Congratulations! You’ve finally been promoted to “manager.” While the bump in salary and new job title are nice, you now have heaps of responsibility you didn’t have before. As a manager, part of your new job is being responsible for the growth and well-being of an entire team.

You may be crying for help at this point. I spoke with a few recently-appointed managers and an executive coach to get their words of wisdom and advice for first-time managers.

Find Out What They Want
One of your new responsibilities as a manager is helping your direct reports reach their career goals. Have that discussion up front and start with a few questions such as, what are your career goals? How can I help you get there? What do you want out of this job?

According to Deirdre Walsh, senior social media manager for Jive Software, “if you start by understanding the career goals and plans for each person, that will help you make better decisions that will benefit the company and the individual.”

When Walsh started managing her team of two back in November 2011, she took as much time as possible up front to get to know her people. By building a relationship with her team early on, she felt better prepared to address business needs as they related to her group.

Become the Best Listener
Knowing how to really to listen to your team will be critical as you spend more time with them one-on-one. Cheryl McMillan, an executive coach for Vistage, said “if this is the only skill a manager has, he or she will progress farther than anyone else.”

But along with that comes restraint and the ability to listen without assuming you know the right answer right away, according to Mike Lee, assistant branch manager for a staffing and recruiting firm. He says new managers should “strive to truly listen during discussions rather than prepare in your mind what you will say next.”

Know You Won’t Be Awesome at First
You were probably promoted to “manager” because you have the most experience on your team, you’re a star performer and you have great people skills. While these are all important traits for new managers to have, chances are you won’t actually be good at management in the beginning. But that’s okay. In most cases, new managers need training and development just like any new hire within a company.

“Some people can be good at it right away,” said McMillan. “But there’s a big misconception that people can do this stuff naturally. Management is really a science and an art. People need basic knowledge first and then practice.”

New managers can get a jump start on training by building out a solid plan with development goals and consistent performance evaluations. This a great way to assess progress during the first few months on the job.

What advice do you have for first-time managers?

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Leadership: What Is It Good For?

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

Actually, my real question is, “Leadership: What is it?” But every time I tried to type that question, the Edwin Starr song, War: What Is It Good For? came to mind.

So, what is leadership? That’s a big question. No, it’s a huge question. How about management – how does it differ? These are not questions I expect to fully answer here. What I am expecting to do is stir up some thinking.

And to start that thinking, here’s a couple of quotes:

Dwight Eisenhower once said, “Leadership: The art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”

John Holt, the renowned educational reformer in his excellent book, Teach Your Own, said, “Leaders are not, as we are often led to think, people who go along with huge crowds following them. Leaders are people who go their own way without caring, or even looking to see, whether anyone is following them. ‘Leadership qualities’ are not the qualities that enable people to attract followers, but those that enable them to do without them. They include, at the very least, courage, endurance, patience, humor, flexibility, resourcefulness, stubbornness, a keen sense of reality, and the ability to keep a cool and clear head, even when things are going badly. True leaders, in short, do not make people into followers, but into other leaders.”

What is the difference between a leader and a manager? I have my own thoughts in this, but I really want yours. So I’m pleading for everyone reading this blog to post a comment below, answering the question of what the difference is between a leader and a manager. I know for a fact that the comments will mean a lot more than my opinion or any definition found in a business book or course.

Take a few minutes to click on the comment button below and write whatever you want about my question.

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People Skills, Schmeople Skills. Who Needs ‘Em?

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

While looking through a university continuing education course catalog, it hit me. Wow, look at all those technical skill-building courses! And yet, very few courses focused on what really makes a difference in business: people skills.

I then came across this:

“The Stanford Research Institute, Harvard University, and the Carnegie Foundation once spent over one million dollars and five years of research studying why some people succeed. After the study was concluded, it was determined that 15% of the reason a person is able to get a job, keep a job, and move ahead in that job, is determined by his or her technical skills and knowledge, regardless of the profession. The other 85% of the reason a person is able to get a job, keep that job, and move ahead in that job, is directly related to people skills. It soon becomes apparent that working with people and managing people, starting with ourselves, must be a high priority if we are going to be successful.”

If that’s the case, why is so much training devoted to technical skill-building, and so little to people skills?

Of course, this doesn’t just apply to training. Given the choice between developing a system or developing a relationship, perhaps it’s the latter one should focus on.

I’ve heard it said that ninety percent of success in business is due to good communication. I would bet it’s the thing that is on most people’s “least favorite things to deal with” list. That’s certainly my conclusion based on the number of issues, problems and challenges that I’ve seen that could be resolved with more effective communication… but isn’t.

What is communication? Would you agree that it seems many people think that the definition of communication is “talking”? But we all know communication is as much about listening as anything else.

I once had a coaching client who faced a situation where groups of people were not working well together. We discussed ways to make things better and came to the conclusion that more communication was needed, so I asked how she was going to deal with it. Her reply was, “I’m going to tell them what to do, how to behave, when to do it, everything. Obviously, they can’t figure it out.” When I then asked her whether telling people what to do was the only way of fixing a communication problem, she looked confused. After some coaching she went into a meeting with the two groups, described her expectations (collaborative work through lots of communication), and then asked them to come up with some ideas of how to improve things. She then sat back and simply facilitated the communication. The groups came up with a process, and things began working much better.

Business is all about the results, the bottom line, and yet it’s only through people that the results happen. It’s only through people that business happens.

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