Tuesday Jun 16, 2015

Feedback: What They Want, Or What They Need?

This weekend, my husband and I drove four hours into the mountains to take our kids to church camp.  After getting my "almost 8" year old registered, he hugged me and said, "I'm going to miss you, Mommy."

"Really buddy," I asked, feeling a little "aawww" in my heart for such a rare show of emotion.

"No," he giggled.  "I just know you want me to say that."

Bammo!!  Reality hits hard when it hits!

His comment, though, made me think about something all leaders are responsible for, and some of them don't do very well - feedback.  Often, people in leadership positions will tell people what they want to hear (like my son) - a true leader, however, tells people what they need to hear.

Providing feedback to people is tough - you don't want to hurt their feelings; they might perceive it as negative; you're not sure if you're getting through; the feedback might not be specific enough; the conversation will likely be uncomfortable; and your employee might not like you very much at the end of it.  Great picture, huh?

Here's a different picture.  You start with positive intent - feedback is designed to help a person perform better.  You gather specific actions and results related to your feedback; you talk with your employee about these actions and results and what needs to be different; you ask them how, together, you can help others from making the same mistake in the future; and you both leave the conversation feeling like something was accomplished.

In their book Your First Leadership Job: How Catalyst Leaders Bring Out the Best in Others, authors Tacy Byham and Richard Wellins explain the concept of using STARs for feedback (Oracle employees can access the book via Safari).  STAR stands for:

  • Situation/Task (ST): basically, what was being handled or addressed
  • Action (A): what a person did that was effective
  • Result (R): the positive impact of the action

The book further explains the concept of STAR/AR for providing developmental feedback, where the /AR stands for:

  • Alternative Action (A): what a person might have said or done instead
  • Enhanced Result (R): what might have been more effective as a result of the alternative action

A Zenger/Folkman study written about in Harvard Business Review indicates that people actually want corrective feedback, even more so than they want praise (or positive feedback).  What employees do not want is "constructive criticism" because, let's face it, any criticism is not really constructive.  Additionally, employees don't want feedback that is focused on them, as a person.  For example, if you started the conversation with "I can't believe how inept you were in that discussion," the conversation will undoubtedly go downhill from there.

Instead, experts suggest that the feedback you provide focuses on specific actions (like in the STAR/AR model), and when providing feedback, you:

  • are timely - you don't wait until performance reviews at the end of the year to address an issue from 8 months prior
  • are explicit - you explain exactly what you saw and what you would like to see differently so your employee doesn't have to read your mind
  • ask questions - you ask your employee to consider alternativse by asking them how they perceived the situation and what might have worked better
  • follow through - the first conversation isn't the end.  You need to follow up with your employee to find out how changes are going and how you can continue to support him or her.

Yes, feedback can be uncomfortable, but if you approach it as an opportunity to improve one's performance, it can be well received...much more so than just telling your employees what they want to hear.

Wednesday Apr 01, 2015

1 Easy Rule for Being a Great Leader

I've been reading a lot of blogs and articles that talk about how you should treat your employees in order to motivate them, help them achieve peak performance, engage them, etc.  The advice is generally really good, but I admit that I'm one of the people who is going to forget to:
Smile at people every day; Talk to my team to really get to know them; Remember to marry employee desires to corporate strategy; Know the top three things that motivate each employee; Help tie personal goals to corporate goals; Have 1:1 meetings; Have career conversations with each employee; Avoid blame; Bring others along on a change journey; Build trust; Maintain integrity; Build meaningful relationships and networks; Conduct an annual performance review; Be vulnerable...be strong; Communicate often...don't over-communicate.

I'm sure you get the picture.  So, I've boiled it down to just one single rule for being a great leader:  Treat everyone on your team the way you would like to be treated. 

This is a rule that was drilled into us in kindergarten, but somewhere along the way, we forgot about it.  It's the "Golden Rule" in many religions, but somewhere along the way, we forgot about it.  It's the rule of the philosopher Plato when he said "Be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle."  But we forget about it.

Instead, we rush to work in a traffic jam that is being created just to piss us off and start our day off wrong.  The person in front of you saw you coming up to the door and slammed it in your face instead.  The one employee that you really needed to perform today should know that you need more from them.  And why did your whole team decide to slack off when you needed them working hard.  By golly, you have a right to be mad as hell and take it out on everyone!

But we forget.

Take a deep breath.

That traffic jam occurred because there was an accident on the highway, and someone was killed.  The person going through the door in front of you happened to be blind and didn't even know you were there.  The distracted employee just learned yesterday that her parent had a stroke.  And that team that wasn't working...they were working to support their co-worker who was just diagnosed with cancer.

Treat everyone on your team the way you would like to be treated.

Instead of being mad that a traffic jam exists, use the time to think about how you're going to approach a specific problem.  Instead of assuming ill-intent from your employee, ask her "I notice that you're attention isn't really here today.  Is something going on?"  Instead of being mad that someone in front of you didn't hold the door, hold the door for the person behind you.  And instead of assuming that your team isn't working, ask them what is top of their mind.

Most people don't wake up and plan how they are going to make everyone around them miserable.  They don't plan how badly they can screw up at work.  They don't plan how they're going to make everyone else look bad. 

So the next time you are interacting with your employees, think about how you would like to be treated.  Ask instead of assuming.  Listen with respect.  Show compassion.  Act like a human being.  Remember Plato's advice to "Be kind."  Chances are pretty good that you'll learn something about your employees, and they'll learn that you are, indeed, a great leader.

Monday Mar 30, 2015

3 Characteristics of Poetry That Can Help You Communicate Better

My fifth grade daughter has a new assignment in school - she has to read 100 poems by the end of May, with specifics about the types of poems to be covered and what information is to be recorded for each poem.  Almost immediately, I pulled out all sorts of poems that she could read, running the gamut from Christopher Marlow to John Donne to Emily Dickinson (I was an English major, so I have a fairly large selection of poetry on my bookshelves).

As I started reading through different poems, I was reminded once more of how incredible poems are because they teach us how to communicate more effectively than we might imagine possible.  I might have lost you at the mention of reading 100 poems, but if you're still with me, let me explain the characteristics that I'm talking about:
  • Word choice:   Poets carefully choose their words to paint a picture of what they want you to see.  Instead of "it was cloudy," a poet might say "the wisps of white were like puffs of dandelion floating in a gentle blue breeze."  The poet has selected words that create the image of puffy clouds slowly moving in the breeze.  It is this kind of careful selection of words that we should strive for in our own messaging - using powerful words to tell our story. 
  • Brevity:  With the exception of epic poems (apologies to Homer, Milton, Vyasa and others), poems don't spew forth every word known to man.  Poets manager to get their points across in as few words as possible.  Think about this - the human brain can store 5-7 'chunks' of information in short term memory.  If you want to get your point across and be memorable, you should aim for 'short and sweet' in your message.
  • Reflection:  A great poem gives you something to think about, and the message of that poem may stay with you long after you read it.  Likewise, if you are presenting a message, you should think about what you want your audience to continue thinking about long after the presentation.  This can help define the words that you use when you communicate.

You may think word choice and brevity conflict with each other, but they really don't.  A poet might choose very precise words to create the imagery that is necessary for the meaning of the poem, but the overall poem may be very short.  Check out the following:

Risk - Anais Nin

And then the day came,
when the risk
to remain tight
in a bud
was more painful
than the risk
it took
to Blossom.

Emily Dickinson

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

Hans Christian Anderson

To move, to breathe, to fly, to float,
To gain all while you give,
To roam the roads of lands remote,
To travel is to live.

Nin tells us that at some point we have to step up and take a risk; Dickinson tells us that what we do actually matters to others; and Anderson makes us want to get on the next plane to some unknown destiny.  And they do this with beautifully painted imagery and a minimum number of words.

Long after you read this post, you'll probably be wondering 'What risk should I be taking?'  Or 'Who's life might I have impacted by my actions?'  Or 'Where should I go on my next journey?' And therein lies the reflective nature of poetry and its message.

Poetry may not speak to the masses (at least that's what my husband tells me), but if you consider the word choice, brevity and reflective qualities of poems and and how they relate to your own messaging, poetry may just help you become a more effective communicator.

Monday Mar 16, 2015

Are You Leading With a Growth Mindset?

Growing up, my mom would tell me "You can achieve anything if you set your mind to it."  Mom was also a big believer in PMA, or Positive Mental Attitude.  If I was having a bad day...PMA.  If I was having a bad gymnastics meet...PMA.  If I didn't achieve to the level I expected of myself...PMA.  My mom wasn't going to let me feel sorry for myself or dwell in negative thought; instead, she insisted that I figure out what went wrong and move forward with a positive mental attitude.  I heard PMA from Mom so often that when I left home for college and then moved away to start a career, I would tell myself "PMA" whenever I was having issues with something (I think that was my mom's goal).

Little did I know, my mom was teaching me to have a growth mindset.  The term 'growth mindset' refers to the belief that abilities can be developed and honed through dedication and hard work.  In contrast a 'fixed mindset' is the belief that you are born with a level of talent and intelligence that really can't be changed.  These concepts are the basis for Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck's book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.  Dweck maintains that how we feel about things like risk, learning, intelligence, tests, failure , effort (and other things) form our beliefs, and those beliefs can ultimately impact our performance and success.  This is a great picture differentiating growth/fixed mindset:

(Click here for a larger image of this picture)

Fortunately, as Dweck explains, mindsets are simply our beliefs, and we have the power to change our beliefs and our mind.  In Dweck's TED Talk The Power of Believing That You Can Improve, she describes the power of "not yet."  The phrase "not yet" implies a learning path into the future and provides a person the confidence to persevere.  Think about it like this - you are coaching an employee on a particular issue, and they come to you with an idea on how they will solve the issue.  Do you say No, that won't work or do you say You're not there yet.  Think about what else you might do?

"That won't work" closes down the conversation and forces the employee to give up.  On the other hand, the "not yet" phrase gives the employee permission to grapple with the problem, learn from what he or she has already tried and come up with a better solution.  And, an additional benefit is that the employe has learned to persevere and think outside his or her comfort zone - this causes neurons in the brain to form new connections, which helps with future problem solving.  You are, in essence, setting up the employee for success.

If you tend to have a fixed mindset, you can change it!  First, learn to "hear" your fixed mindset when it occurs.  Second, recognize that you have a choice on how you interpret what is happening.  Third, talk back to your fixed mindset with a growth mindset voice.  And finally, take the growth mindset actions.  Details of each of these steps can be found on MindSetOnline

New research tells us that leaders with a growth mindset tend to be better coaches to their employees; they are more likely to notice improvement in their employees; they make better negotiators; they seek more feedback so they can improve.  And - I think this is a biggie - they are modeling a growth mindset for their employees.  Even Harvard Business Review has written about "How Companies Can Profit from a 'Growth Mindset"  (Hint: words like trustworthy, commitment and innovation are used).

Leadership is all about the willingness to grow and change and to help your people do the same...this is the embodiment of the growth mindset.  You may not have my mom whispering "PMA" inside your head whenever you're facing a challenge, but you do have Carol Dweck telling you that the only thing standing between you and your goals is the story you tell yourself about why you can't achieve them.  And the beauty is, you have the power to change that story!

Wednesday Feb 11, 2015

Stay Interviews: A Great Tool for Great Leaders (Including You)

I’ve been a fan of stay interviews for a long time, but in the last couple of weeks I’ve seen questions from people about what a stay interview is and comments that they’ve never heard of stay interviews. Since I’m a fan, I figured I would share a little bit of information about stay interviews and why I think it’s a great leadership tool that you should be using regularly.

What Is a Stay Interview?

At its core, a stay interview is a conversation with your employees to learn why they stay at Oracle and with you. That is, what are the specific things that contribute to an employee’s decision to remain in their current position rather than move to a different position or company? These factors might be things like salary, ability to work from home, free soda, fitness centers on location, FMLA access, great insurance, ability to try new things, going to OpenWorld, etc.

The point is, you want to understand what motivates each employee so you can do more of that for each unique person.

How Do I Initiate a Stay Interview?

This is an easy one! You simply make an appointment with one of your employees and say “You’re a key contributor on the team, and I’d like to know more about what you like about your job and why you choose to stay at Oracle.”

Honestly, if you’re not in the habit of talking to your employees (and there are books written on that topic!), your employees will probably hesitate and wonder what kind of trick you’re playing. Your best option is to be honest and simply tell them “I read about something called a stay interview, and it got me thinking about what makes our team members stay here.”

Your employees may be a bit jaded from previous managers who simply didn’t care, but if you keep trying, they will respect your effort and open up to you.

What do I say during a Stay Interview?

If you google stay interview questions, you will receive 271 million hits. Since looking through 271M hits isn't really feasible for most people, I've identified a dozen common questions that you might consider:

  1. What about your job makes you excited to come to work?
  2. If you changed your role completely, what are the things that you would miss most?
  3. What job from your past would you go back to if you had to stay in it for an extended period of time? Why did you choose that job?
  4. What skills do you have that you are not using but would like to?
  5. What have you felt good about accomplishing in your current position?
  6. What bothers you the most about your work?
  7. What kind of feedback would you like about your performance that you are not currently receiving?
  8. What development opportunities would you like that can push you past your current role?
  9. If you could spend 10-20% of your time exploring something related to your job, what would that be and why?
  10. What do you like to do outside of work? What are you passionate about?
  11. What is one thing that you would change about your current position, team or company if you could?
  12. What can I do more of less of as your manager?

Keep in mind that you primary job is to listen…and maybe take some notes. Whatever you do, do NOT rebut anything your employee is telling you. Nothing will shut down the conversation faster than you saying “But that’s not true. We really do (fill in the blank).” Your goal is simply to understand what motivates and engages your employees and to let your employees know that you recognize and appreciate their contributions.

Also be aware, that this is not the time to promise anything to your employees. You are simply gathering information to help you understand your employees and identify what keeps them satisfied.

What do I do with the information I get?

Your first step is to simply review your notes and ensure you understand what you heard. From there, determine what you can do to support those things that motivate your employees. Perhaps you have an employee who is motivated by the opportunities for professional development. Maybe you can approve their attending a conference, working with an extended team on a cross-functional project, or securing a presentation at a local User’s Group conference. The point is, you don’t know that you should be doing these things if you don’t know that your employee is motivated by development opportunities.

You should also be sure that your Stay Interview isn’t a one-time event. Your employees have given you great information. You need to have continued conversations with them to make sure that both of you are on the right track. As you have these conversations with your employees, you will be building trust in those relationships, which can open even more dialogue about the team and its achievements.


Stay Interviews are not difficult – you are simply having a conversation to learn more about your employees and why they continue to work for you. There are no judgments, no promises, no pressures – just an effort to understand what motivates your employees.

One thing to consider – conduct Stay Interviews with all your employees within a set timeframe (within a couple of weeks). This allows you to see any trends across all employees and implement any changes right away rather than letting something negative sit within your team for an extended period of time.

If you’re concerned that a Stay Interview might be difficult, think about the best performer on your team. Do you know what keeps him or her in their position? What might you do if you knew that information? Start with this one employee. My guess is that your conversation will inspire you to do the same for all of your employees – and your employee will talk about what a great leader they have!

Wednesday Jan 28, 2015

4 Leadership Challenges for 2015

With the start of a new year, there are predictions all over the place about what 2015 will bring. So what makes my predictions any different? They’re mine…and you have to wait 12 months to tell me that I was wrong!! These predictions are based solely on my own research and trends that I’m seeing in the industry. So, with that, here’s what I think will be happening with leadership in 2015:

  • Leaders will become marketeers to a new workforce. The global workforce will drastically change as more employees approach retirement age but still want to work reduced hours and younger employees choose work that really matters to them. We will see a rise in micro-consulting – short bursts of project-based work that is still very important to the business (check out platforms like Maven, Guru and Elance). Leaders will have to develop marketing skills that continue to ‘sell’ the organization and projects to these ‘sometime’ employees, especially if they want the employee to come back for more projects. Further, the ability to quickly and effectively coalesce a team will be required as the ‘sometimes’ employees and full-time employees will need to work together to achieve project outcomes. The leader’s ability to manage this diverse knowledge community will be crucial in meeting the needs of an organization and its customers
  • A leader’s new career tool will be the Learning Portfolio. The world is constantly changing; information continues to increase at exponential rates; knowledge is doubling every 12 months, with the rate expected to increase to every 12 hours with the build out of the “internet of things;” and leaders will be expected to stay ahead of the curve. Now, more than ever, learning agility is a key to leader success. Organizations will start looking at how a leader has learned throughout his or her career to determine if they are capable of creating and driving new ideas. Rather than a resume, this proof will instead come in the form of a Learning Portfolio that documents everything learned – degrees, MOOCs, mentoring, formal and informal learning – how it’s learned, and learning plans that show a leader’s growth and indicate what they plan to learn in the future. And the best jobs will go to those who can prove that they are continually learning.
  • Accountability will be the battle cry. We have more leadership advice available than ever before, and more people are unhappy with their managers and leaders than ever before – a Forbes article even indicated that 65% of Americans would prefer a new boss over a raise. I think this has to do with the trust that employees have in their managers and their companies. We are told to focus on we and us rather than me or I – and that allows us to shift responsibility from me to the unknown them. Accountability means taking ownership of your actions and decisions – not passing them off as group-think and -actions. Leaders who hold themselves accountable for their actions and decisions build trust in their organizations, and that trust allows for greater accomplishment. As we see leaders hold themselves to a higher level of accountability, we’ll see their teams and employees being held to a higher standard as well. If you’re wondering what accountability looks like, check out Michael Hyatt’s article “How Real Leaders Demonstrate Accountability.”
  • The Re-emergence of Systems Thinking. Systems thinking is basically understanding how individual things influence one another within a whole. In today’s business environment, we need to be able to make connections like never before – connections between multiple projects, company strategies, competitor strategies, world economies, business trends, geographical differences, remote teams, our social networks, and so on. The complexity that we live in increases every day, month, year. Successful leaders will need to look at their business with a systems mindset – they need to influence across multiple differences; they need to recognize recurring patterns and behaviors within the system; they need to address cause/effect and unintended consequences resulting from their (and their teams’) decisions; they must project potential risk and accelerate decisions within an increasingly complex business environment; and they need to help their people (and themselves) deal effectively with the ongoing complexity. By having this broad understanding of their system, leaders will be able to have an increasingly positive impact on their organizations’ performance.

Are there other things that leaders will have to concern themselves with in 2015? Yes. Things like employees as stakeholders, leaders becoming career coaches, mass customization of learning, cloud based learning, and so on. But, those are fodder for another post!

So, what do you think? Will these four things become big issues for leaders? What do YOU think will be the biggest leadership challenges this year?

Tuesday Jan 20, 2015

Your Mom Loves You, But She Doesn't Work Here

You’ve probably heard the stories about helicopter parents – those moms and dads who show up to their kids’ job interviews and don’t hesitate to call the hiring manager to find out why little Johnny didn’t the big grown-up job.

Now picture this kind of parent “helping” you at work. He or she makes an appointment with your manager (and maybe you in the room) to ask why you don’t have a career path mapped out in order to be CEO by the time you’re 32? Your manager turns to you and says “Because you didn’t make one. And you didn’t tell me anything you wanted to do. Nor did you ever tell me you wanted to be CEO. Further, I’m not a freaking mind-reader.”

No good manager is seriously going to be that blunt (probably), but he or she will get the same point across through many 1-on-1 conversations with you about your development and your career. The point of the scenario above is that you – and only you – own your own career and development. You have to put in the thought to figure out what you want to be, what goals you want to achieve, when you want to do it, and what you need to know to get there. You are also responsible for coming up with the steps you’re going to take to obtain that knowledge.

So, what does a manager need to do? Think of your manager as a tour guide. They are there to guide you, to open doors, help define possibilities, fine-tune your development or career plan so that it works with the goals of the business (this assumes that you’re not wanting to change careers from a programmer to a children’s book artist or something like that). They do this by having conversations with you where you share what it is you want and how you think you might achieve it.

What does your manager not do? The things you would expect a helicopter parent to do. Your manager does not decide what your career path looks like. Your manager does not assume that you want to achieve a specific role unless you tell them. Your manager does not question your level of achievement by a certain age. And you manager definitely doesn’t read your mind to know exactly what you want.

Now, you might read this and think it’s all good and well, but then you say “But my manager doesn’t have development conversations with me.” My response is going to be “Take the initiative.” Send an email to your manager requesting 30 minutes to talk about your career. Tell him or her you would like their advice on how your aspirations can help build the department or contribute to the company. Any good manager will welcome a conversation like this. It’s called managing.

Defining where you want to be in 5-10 years helps you determine the steps that you need to take and the help that you need to ask for to get there. However, the key is that you need to be the one defining the end goal. After all, you want to be happy in your career – not in someone else’s.

Monday Dec 15, 2014

5 Easy Ways to Make Your Employees Leave You

A boss asked his employee to do some research on salaries for like positions around the country, and when the employee came back with the information, the boss said “If you want to make that much money, you should be looking for a different job.”

And then there was the boss who shared confidential information and, when found out, said “I’ve worked too hard to get to where I am, and I’ll be damned if I’m going down for this.”

And finally, there was the boss who asked for an estimate of what could be accomplished for a given cost…and at an All-Hands meeting announced that one employee was going to achieve the full plan…at zero cost.

We’ve all had bad bosses, but the one great thing about a bad boss is that he or she helps you realize what you would never do as a leader. From my own experiences (the three above as examples) and from watching leaders in other companies where I’ve consulted, I can tell you some common themes that can cause your employees to start looking for a new position.

  1. You make everything an emergency. Yes, we know that there really are emergencies, but someone a level up from you asking a question does not mean that we need to pull an all-nighter to write a white paper on the subject. Use Covey’s time management matrix to determine if a request is both urgent and important before calling “all hands on deck.”

  2. You don’t give any recognition. Everyone likes to know that they’re contributing to the team and that their work has an impact. A simple “You did a great job on X” can be all the encouragement someone needs to continue doing that great job and feel a part of the team. You can find additional ways to motivate and recognize employees here and here.

  3. You don’t provide feedback. How often does a coach tell a soccer team “We’re going to practice every day, play about 20 games or so, and I’ll tell you how you did at the end of the season?” Common sense tells us this is ridiculous, and yet, some managers will not provide any feedback to their employees and then whack ‘em with a surprise at year-end reviews. You should be having enough conversations throughout the year that nothing is a surprise at performance reviews. MindTools has a great article on Giving Feedback.

  4. You take all the credit. As an employee, my job is to make my manager and my team look good. However, when you refuse to acknowledge the contributions of your team members, it makes us cranky. Let people know when your team does great work, and you’ll be admired as well for being such a great leader.

  5. You fail to articulate goals. If you let us know where we’re going, chances are good we all have some great ideas on how to get there. However, if you can’t tell us what our goals are, you are not allowed to get upset with us for not achieving them. Read this short article for tips on articulating a vision.

Research tells us that people leave managers – not positions. If you can avoid these five ways of making your employees crazy, chances are pretty good that they’ll stick around.

Monday Oct 20, 2014

No Raise? No Development? No Way!

The other day, I was asked why we should be concerned about development if we're not getting raises or bonuses.  I asked the person if they were getting a ‘performance review’ or a ‘salary review.’ After chuckling, the person responded "Yea, but really, what's the point?"

What’s the point? Let me start with a story.

When I was in grade school, I told my mom that I thought I should get an allowance. After all, my friends did. Mom and I negotiated, and I walked away with $3 per week. At the end of the first week, I asked my mom for my allowance, and she gave me $3 with an extra piece of paper. When I opened the paper, it was a bill…for $5.

Mom explained that this was my charge for room and board – after all, I was earning money, so it was only fair that I contributed to household expenses. When I complained that the bill was more than I earned, she simply said “You’ve got a problem, then.” She explained that when you are part of anything – family, team, or organization – you do certain things because they are expected of you as part of your role.

So let’s go back to development – why should you care? There’s no immediate financial reward (unless you count your paycheck). You’re not getting a diploma. You’re not having a party thrown in your honor for completing a class. So why should you care?

Because development is something expected of you as part of your role – your role on your team, in your organization, in your community and in society.

Dictionary.com defines “development” as the act or process of developing; growth; progress. If we chose not to grow, adults would still act like 2-year olds (okay, some still do, but that’s another post); technology would be irrelevant; and we’d still be rubbing sticks together to make fire.

Since I like the idea of growth and progress rather than stagnation and uselessness, here are some reasons why I bother with my own development (and why you might want to bother, too):

  • Preparation for the Future: Learning new things, studying emerging trends and exploring possibilities prepare me for changes that will happen in the future. I can’t predict what will happen, but if I have knowledge of the possibilities, I can predict what I might do in different circumstances. (Shell Oil refers to this as ‘scenario planning’ and uses it extensively in developing Shell Scenarios to aid their business strategies).
  • Career Advancement: I’m not aiming for a C-level position (I’m sure Mark and Safra are relieved), but I know that if I am continually improving my skill set and my capabilities, I’ll be ready if/when an opportunity comes up. And I also know, based upon what I’m learning about myself and my skills, what kind of opportunity I’m actually willing to take on.
  • It Keeps My Brain Happy. I have to admit, I’m one of those people who does not do well stamping loan papers “Paid in Full” and calling it a day (that was actually one of my summer jobs in college). With every new thing learned, I end up asking more questions…and learning more new things…and coming up with more new ideas.  All of these new ideas form new connections for me and keep my brain engaged in my work.
  • My Manager Cares About It. Listen up, leaders! If you care about development (including your own), your people will care about it too. My manager pushes information to me, she asks about my interest in different conferences, she asks about new things I’m learning. And she shares new things that she’s learned, information from conferences, etc. She takes an interest in what I know and how my knowledge applies to what we’re trying to do, and having a manager who cares can be a great motivator!
  • The World Is Changing. Knowledge doubles about every 12 months. What you know now is probably not what you will have to know in three years. If you keep abreast of new developments, you will be able to incorporate these things into your work and show that you are future-minded. Need an example? Twelve years ago, you didn’t know about wikis, LinkedIn (both 10 years old) or Twitter (8 years old)
  • My Network Needs It. Every time I learn something new, I have the potential to interact with other people learning the same thing. I might interact with people who have the potential to mentor me. I might interact with people to whom I can teach this new thing. All of these provide the opportunity to expand my professional network and build relationships that might not have existed if I wasn’t willing to learn something new.
  • Collaboration Rules. As our business environment moves more toward collaboration, it will be increasingly important that we’re able to work together and share knowledge (check out the HBR Insight Center Making Collaboration Work). However, if you are unwilling to learn anything new, you won’t have much to contribute in a social and collaborative world.

Development doesn't have to be taking a class (see my post on 45 Ways to Check the Development Plan Box). Rather, pick something that you’re passionate about and determine how that passion ties into your business role.

Maybe you’re excited about developing a new application that customers are going to love – do a 30-minute presentation to a Sales team to show off those new features. You’re fine-tuning presentation skills; learning more about customer needs (because Sales folks will tell you what will/will not work); expanding your network (because now you and the people in your presentation know of each other); teaching others (and improving your own knowledge); and preparing for the day when you get asked to present at OpenWorld (but you don’t know that’s coming yet).

You might notice that none of the reasons on my list are associated with salary or bonuses. Instead, they’re all about preparing yourself for future opportunities. The future might hold opportunities you would love that don’t exist and haven’t even been imagined yet; but you have to be ready for those opportunities...and that is why you should care about your development.

Tuesday Aug 26, 2014

What Have You Done For Your Company Today?

Some time ago, my office was located in the same section of the building as an entire management team. Whenever I asked one of them – I’ll call him Paul – how he was doing, his answer was always the same: “Glad to be here, proud to serve.” I chalked it up to his military service until I got to know Paul and found out that he was just that type of person.

As we got to know each other, I realized that Paul was kind of the ‘dad’ of the office. And one day, at the end of a really long day, he asked one of those dad types of questions: What have you done for your company today?

What? That simple question made me stop and think. What DID I do for my company that day? Did I contribute anything to the bottom line? Increase customer satisfaction? Improve process efficiency? Help someone improve? Since this was the first time in my career that I wasn’t billable to a client, answering what I did for my company that day required some thought on my part.

This simple question also made me realize that every one of us should be able to answer this question on a daily basis. Too often, we gripe and moan about how our company doesn’t do _____ (fill in the blank) for us. I’m betting very few of us consider the reverse. If we all approached work with the attitude of “what am I going to do for my company today,” my guess is that we might remain a bit more positive throughout the day – even on those grueling days when nothing seems to be going right.

Paul passed away a few years ago in an accident, so I can’t tell him what this question meant to me. But, I can share his question with you and ask that, at the end of each day, you answer for yourself “What have you done for your company today?”

Monday Aug 25, 2014

Coachable Employees Require a Good Coach

Quite a few years ago, I experienced one of those stand-out moments of my life – I sat next to Nadia Comaneci for almost three hours as we flew from Cincinnati to Los Angeles. I competed in, coached, and judged gymnastics, and Nadia’s picture was in my locker all through high school to serve as inspiration for my endless hours in the gym. To say that I was thrilled is a complete understatement.

On a USA gymnastics tour, Nadia had visited the gym I worked at, so I re-introduced myself, and we started talking. She had just talked to Bela (Karolyi) that morning about the upcoming Olympic Trials, so we talked about who we thought would make the team, how gymnastics had changed since we both competed, and all those things that older gymnasts talk about. When I asked about what it took to earn perfect 10s, Nadia simply explained that she did what Bela told her to do. Quite simply, Nadia was coachable.

Interestingly, both Webster and Dictionary.com provide a definition for ‘Coach’ but no definition for ‘Coachable.’ I’m going to change that. I would define coachable as having the capacity to receive constructive feedback, trust in what a coach is telling you, and modify performance based upon that feedback. It is mandatory in the sports world, and I believe it is mandatory in the business world as well.

So, how do you build coachable employees? I’m not sure you can. If you look at my definition, ‘coachable’ is a mindset that is actually the responsibility of the individual, not of the coach. However, I think there are four pillars of a coaching relationship that can impact your ability as a coach and your employee’s ability to be coachable. These four pillars are outlined in the table below:

You’ll notice that the first pillar I identified is Infer Positive Intent. I think this is quite possibly the most important pillar. As a coach, I need to trust that my employee really wants to improve, and I need to provide advice that will make him or her a stronger member of the team. If I want to be coachable, I need to believe that my coach has my best interests at heart and will ask me to do things that will have a positive impact on me and my career. Positive Intent forms the basis for trust in the coaching relationship and helps all the other pillars fall into place.

If you’re still reading, it’s obvious that you want to help employees be coachable. But why should they be interested? You might want to fill them in on the benefits of being coachable, including:

  • Increased responsibility. If you prove that you can willingly take advice, learn from others and apply what you are learning, you will build the trust of your manager and likely receive larger assignments with more responsibility. This, in turn, builds your capabilities even further.
  • Accelerated development. Nobody likes to be stagnant. If you willingly accept feedback, you are more likely to receive feedback. The only thing this can do is give you more, broader ideas and increase your potential for professional development.
  • Internal well-being. If you’re coachable, constructive criticism becomes information for change rather than a personal attack. This viewpoint allows you to have a more positive view of yourself and your work.
  • Better relationships. If you are willing to accept and thoughtfully consider feedback, you will be able to build a trusting relationships with your coach and stronger relationships with your team members as they see your willingness to improve.

A willingness to be coached is a critical skill for the success of any individual, and coachable employees contribute to the success of a company. If you want coachable employees, start by modeling coachable behavior yourself, and share with employees why you think being coachable is important. If you’re struggling with where to start, simply ask “Can you tell me more?” the next time you receive feedback and then really listen so that you can better understand that feedback and how you might apply it.

You might not end up on the inside of my locker like Nadia did, but your ability to be coachable or to be a good coach will definitely be admired by others and make it easier for you to succeed at being your best.

Tuesday Jul 29, 2014

Yes, You Can Use My Light Bulb Moments

I’ve talked with quite a few managers in the last couple of weeks, and one of the questions that has come up in every conversations is “How do I go about sharing some of the interesting things I’m learning?”

Sharing can be difficult sometimes because you’re excited about the new stuff you’re learning, but the rest of your staff…well..they’re not that excited about it.

Enter the light bulb moment.

In a previous job, I was in a director role for a very diverse team (everything from learning to black ops), and most of the team was not that engaged because they had been through a number of directors and managers due to acquisitions, team member changes and so on. Being in a team meeting with me was not high on their list of things to do.

At one of our first meetings, I shared something I had read about that week that made stop and think about the work we were doing. I told my team that it was “an a-ha moment” for me – the light bulb went on in my head. I saw heads nodding, and I asked if they had ever come across information that made the light bulb turn on for them. Every person nodded their head yes.

So I challenged them. At our next meeting, I want each of you to come to the meeting with a light bulb moment. That is, something you came across during the week that made you say “a-ha” and made you want to share it with the team.

I had 12 direct reports, and every one of them came into the next meeting talking about their light bulb moment. A few weeks after I took over the director role, I had one person tell me that he was leaving. He explained that he had applied for a new job before I became his director, and he was really sad to be leaving because none of his prior managers really cared about anything he was learning. And then he asked me if he could borrow my light bulb moments to share with his new team. Of course, I said yes.

When managers ask me how they can share something they’re learning, I share the light bulb story. In turn, I’m always asked “Would it be okay if I use that?”

And my answer is always “Yes, you can use my light bulb moments.”

Hope it works for you, also!

Wednesday Jul 16, 2014

45 Ways to Check the Development Plan Box

It's that time of year again...when employees cringe at the thought of creating a development plan, and managers can't wait to check it off the list until next year.  But think about this - I read a blog this week that stated employers have no obligation to be concerned about your development.  You're hired to do a job, and as long as your employer provides the tools and resources to perform that job, they've met their obligation.

Rather than think of the development plan as a box to check off a list, perhaps we should look at the opportunity to create a development plan as a...well, a gift.  If your company is asking you to create a development plan, it's giving you time to think about your career and encouraging your ongoing learning and growth so that you can move your career forward.

I've written two past blogs on ideas for development plans that are not "attend a class" - the last being in 2011 - and I've taken the liberty of updating the list again for 2014 based upon additional inputs, ideas and changes in learning technologies.  Check out the list below and see if there's something in which you might be interested:

  1. Attend a local, regional or national conference. Be sure to bring your findings back to your team. MANAGERS: Make sure you provide the opportunity for your employee to share with the team.
  2. Present at a local, regional or national conference. Ask your manager, peers or mentor about opportunities that exist. Don’t forget about the possibility of presenting at virtual conferences.
  3. Submit ideas to be a guest blogger on a blog that you read and like.
  4. Interview key stakeholders or customers to find out what they like or don't like about your product or service.  Understand their business goals and brainstorm with your team how you can help and how you can build the relationships.
  5. If your company has an internal conference (user groups, engineering conference, etc), apply to present at that.  Actually present if accepted.
  6. Complete a course at your local university or at an online university. Make sure the university is accredited if you’re planning to use your company’s tuition reimbursement program.
  7. If you want to “dip your toes” into virtual learning, Google free online course <insert topic> to see if anything is offered.
  8. Explore Khan Academy to see if there’s an online course that will work for your goals.
  9. Check out iTunes U for a course or podcast that you can listen to while you’re communiting, working out, etc.  You can see a preview of Business topics here.
  10. Finish your undergraduate or Master’s degree.
  11. Write an article for a professional publication or organization.  Be sure to check the submission requirements for the publication!
  12. Join a professional organization and attend a local chapter meeting or seminar. If possible, serve in a leadership position at the local level.
  13. Attend a seminar or workshop offered outside of your company. These are often advertised through professional organizations. Oracle sponsors the Professional Business Womens Conference, and their webinars are free to Oracle employees as advertised in “In the Know.”
  14. Teach a TOI (transfer of information), Lunch & Learn or something similar for your team or another team in your organization.
  15. Create a video on a topic of your expertise and post it to your internal platform (Oracle employees can use OTube upon release).
  16. Review 2-3 journals or magazines every month to monitor industry trends.  You can access many journals through EBSCOHost - commonly available in public libraries with your library card. Oracle employees can access EBSCOHost here).
  17. Read Harvard Business Review or California Management Review to understand business trends.  Both of these can be accessed through EBSCO Host as well.
  18. Pick out a top business book - read it and discuss it with your manager.  This would be a great opportunity to take your manager out for a cup of coffee to get his or her undivided attention.
  19. MANAGERS: Provide a copy of your favorite business book to each member of your team. Use 15 minutes of your staff meeting to discuss a chapter, idea or something else about the book.
  20. Select a technical book to review.  Discuss it with your team, your manager, or your mentor.
  21. Mentor another person.
  22. Ask someone to be your mentor.  Know what you want to get out a mentoring relationship before asking someone.  You may also want to talk with your manager about possible mentors.
  23. Pair up with an Accountability Partner. Different from a mentor, this is a person that you meet with to provide each other with suggestions, feedback and encouragement about your goals and objectives.
  24. Conduct Informational Interviews (about 30 minutes in length) to learn more about different people and lines of business in the company
  25. Volunteer on the board or on a committee of a professional organization.
  26. Google free webinar <insert topic> and see if there's a free webinar that interests you.  Attend and share what you learned with your team.
  27. Start a blog to share your thoughts with others.
  28. Participate in an online community - respond to a blog, start a group on LinkedIn or Facebook, etc.
  29. Join a TwitterChat for a topic area of interest…and participate. You can view the Twitter Chat schedule to see what’s out there. Some topics of interest include Blogging, Business, Career, Communications, Customer Service, Human Resources, Information Technology, Marketing, Social Media, and Technology
  30. For Oracle employees, participate in the Mission Red Innovation Engine.  This is a new tool out of EMEA, designed to turn good ideas into great innovations.
  31. Attend a web-based class offered through your company.
  32. Engage with local colleges to be a guest speaker or host a workshop on campus.
  33. Look for volunteer opportunities with state and local government agencies to provide IT help (if you’re an IT type of person). Many agencies need help in all sorts of areas outside of IT, so if you’re interested, ask if they need help in your area.
  34. Plan a technology fair, science fair or something similar for your company.  Recruit people to present and share ideas.
  35. Join an open source project and get involved in the product development, forums, or aliases.
  36. Lead a group of volunteers for community or charity work to build your leadership skills.
  37. Join the board of a non-profit.  This will give you the ability to assess an entire organization and work on cross-business initiatives, all while doing something good.
  38. If you have a Masters degree, check with a local university or college about becoming an adjunct professor (sometimes called a contract or network instructor).
  39. Volunteer to teach computer skills (or your area of expertise) at a Senior Citizens Center.
  40. Ask your local school districts if they offer any kind of special event around kids and technology.  Volunteer at that event.
  41. Coordinate an internal conference where best practices can be shared for a team within your company - a sales conference for sales people; an IT conference for your technical team, etc.
  42. Volunteer to teach a class at a local Recreation Center or Community Center.
  43. Apply to teach classes for a continuing education program (typically offered through local universities or community colleges). These programs sometimes don’t have the same instructor requirements as becoming an adjunct professor.
  44. Start keeping a reflective journal. Simply record your thoughts about what is happening in your development process and use those reflective thoughts in career conversations with your manager.
  45. Attend a MOOC (massive, open, online courseware).  MOOCs provide access to world-class content on a variety of topics for free.  You just need to have the desire to attend.  Current providers include edX, Coursera and Udacity.

A word of warning about this list: this is just a list. It requires human input to determine how to effectively incorporate one of these ideas into a personal development plan. If one of these options looks intriguing, a manager and employee should work together to determine what, exactly, is expected from the activity and how, exactly, an employee will grow as a result of an activity. Any of the ideas on this list should be used simply as a seed to start a manager/employee discussion.

As you can see, there are many more options for "development" than just attending a class.  If you have other ideas that should be added to this list, please leave a comment in order to share with everyone else.  Hey, then you can add #25 to your plan!

Happy planning!

Wednesday May 07, 2014

If You Were Your Boss

I heard an interesting question this week – it was “If you were your boss, would you like coming to work?” Wow - that’s an interesting question to ponder!

Industry research tells us that people leave managers – not positions. Basically, the relationship you build with your employees will largely determine whether or not those employees will be engaged with their company and job and whether or not they will willingly give their best effort (that’s the essence of employee engagement).

I’ve had bosses who left a body count in their wake; and I’ve had bosses that I loved working for even though the work was demanding, markets weren’t great, and bonuses and raises were non-existent. The reasons I loved working for them are the same reasons that I think most people like their boss:

  • They are fair in how they dealt with everyone – everyone on the team was a “favorite” because we all brought different strengths to the table.
  • They recognize efforts – even a simple “great job” in a team meeting can be effective if done earnestly.
  • They have your back – work problems were “opportunities to succeed,” but the boss fully supported us and wouldn’t “throw us to the wolves” to make himself look good.
  • They care about their team members – simply by involving your team members in things like team decisions and long-term planning (for the team) and being open and honest in your communications tells team members that you are interested in their well-being and sense of fulfillment at work. (This also goes a long way toward building respect and trust).

So there you have it! Respect, Fairness, Recognition and Support: what I would consider four hallmarks of a great boss.

There are countless articles on how to engage your employees and how to be a great boss (over 1B when I googled it), but these four characteristics immediately come to mind when I think about my best bosses.  What would you add?

Consider the characteristics of your best bosses, and then ask yourself “If I were my boss, would I like coming to work?” If you hesitate on the answer, consider what change you might make so you would want to be on your team!

Wednesday Apr 16, 2014

Start-Stop-Continue in Transitions

What do Sigma, a Leadership class and a webcast have in common? They’ve all created ideas that are swirling around in my head! Let me start from the beginning. I was sitting in on a leadership class for midlevel leaders, listening to a conversation about competing priorities and how to address them. Last week I listened to a web-cast that suggested leaders should create a “Do Not Do” list. I’m also exploring some ideas around transitioning to a leadership role and what an individual needs to do differently.

I struggled a bit with a “Do Not Do” list because it just seems a bit negative, and then my Sigma training kicked in and I thought of a great exercise we used to do…and I think it might work for new leaders, or really anyone who’s taking on a new role. It’s a simple Start-Stop-Continue exercise to identify behaviors and actions that you need to address.

Here’s how you do it. Take a piece of paper and draw three columns on it. At the top of one column, write Start; in the next column write Stop and in the last column write Continue. Then, close your eyes and really think about your new role - imagine what it will look like if done very successfully. If you’re a first time leader, you’ll want to think about how your leadership role is going to be different from your individual contributor role. If you’re a midlevel leader, you’ll want to consider the difference between managing people and managing managers. And if you’re an individual contributor, you might want to review your development plan and think about what your goals are for the future.

Now, open your eyes and write down those behaviors or actions that you need to Start doing in your new role. Continue to write down behaviors and actions that you need to Stop doing and then Continue doing. Now, take a good look at your list. Will your role or development be negatively impacted if you stop anything on the Stop list? Will your role or development be positively impacted by those things on the Start or Continue list?

If you have so many things on each list that you feel overwhelmed, try prioritizing the list. This may require a conversation with your manager!! You might ask questions like:

  • When choosing to continue a behavior/activity, what can I do to be more effective in that behavior/activity?

  • What behaviors or activities do the best leaders I know exhibit? Are those on my list?

  • What have I said I would never do as a leader? Are those on my Stop list?

This list could end up being your friend – it can feed into your development plans; it can help you prioritize your work; it can help clarify your role. If you choose to do this, I would make two suggestions. First, share your list with your manager to get his or her input. He or she might have some ideas that could provide a clearer focus for you. Second, keep your list and pull it out every quarter to review. This is a great way to determine if you’re modifying your actions and behaviors the way you want or intended.

Hopefully something like this can help keep you on track when changing roles!


Sandy's ideas about learning, organizational & personal improvement and other stuff.

I work on Oracle's Leadership Development team, but all thoughts and opinions expressed here are solely my own!


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