Sunday, June 28, 2015

Developing Your Employees On the Job (aka For Zero or Little Money)

One of the most popular posts I have had was about low cost team building ideas (Team Building That Is Fun, Easy & Cheap...No Really, It's True). So I thought I would do a similar topic again, but this time around developing people on your team.  Development doesn't have to mean a promotion.  It doesn't have to mean sending them out for big and expensive training.  There are plenty of internal opportunities or free events you can help them find that are just, if not more impactful, to their development.  

Below are five ways you can help your employees start to achieve their development goals on the job!

  • Shadow other employees - If you know an employee has an interest in another area of the business, speak to a manager in that function/department and see if it is possible for your employee to shadow someone on the team.  This way they can be exposed to that area of the business and see what a job there is really like and start to learn those key skills and knowledge.  Maybe you can even ask them to then lead a team lunch and learn about what they took away from their experience.  They can also shadow you!  Are you leading a big project, can you take time to speak to them more in-depth about the project so they can learn from your experience and you can walk them through your thinking and approach.
  • Mentor or train new team members - If one of your employees wants to be a future leader or manager, give them a chance to help on-board new team members.  Whether they train them in their roles or just act as a mentor or formal buddy, it will give them an opportunity to stretch their leadership skills and help develop someone on the team (as they develop themselves!).  
  • Rotate to a short term assignment - Is there another team in the department that needs some additional help short term (maybe to cover an absent team member or during a spike in work)?  Consider how you can loan your employee to this team to give them an opportunity to work on something different that is in-line with their career goals.  It can be on a part time or full time basis depending on the needs of your team.  Just make sure you have  way to have them rotate back to your team (this should be rewarding, not worrisome that they will lose their job after the rotation!).  Or, thinking back to if you are leading a large project, are there responsibilities you can delegate to them during the project?  This will not only leverage your time better, but also give the employee a chance to be a leader on the team.
  • Join a task force or pilot launch - Is the company looking for representatives from different departments to join a task force or help give feedback on an upcoming possible product or change in service?  This might be an opportunity for your employee to represent your department.  Not only will it recognize them as a subject matter expert, but also expose them to different people in the company and put them in the spotlight.  They will also have the chance to see the importance of cross-department collaboration or how leaders think strategically about key business decisions.  
  • Bring them to a professional group as a guest - Most likely you belong to a professional networking group (national association, a meet-up, etc).  This could be a great opportunity to expand your employee's network and learn about industry trends and hot topics outside of their daily responsibilities.  Often these groups let members bring a guest for free, or for a very low fee.  And if your company can pay for them to attend, or even for their own membership, that is even better!  

No matter what you end up doing, the main point is that you can find ways to develop your top employees without having to spend lots of money sending them to a conference, a training or promoting them (if the business can't support it or they aren't quite ready yet).  Of course, you need to balance the opportunity with the needs of your team/department.  But it's rare that there is literally nothing you can do to help develop your employee without hurting your team or the business.

What ways have you developed your team on the job?  Share your experiences below!  And as always, if there is anything I can do to help you think of ideas for your employees, feel free to message me!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Leadership Self-Reflection, Do I Embody My Vision of Leadership

Last year, I moved into a role that focused more on functional leadership and people management (versus solely being a coach and business partner, though I am lucky enough that those are still a big part of my day).  With that change, I have done a lot of self-reflection on what it means to be a leader.  What kind of leader do I want to be?  What style is authentic but also effective?  What are my natural strengths?  What does it mean to be a good leader, what qualities do great leaders possess?
I realized quickly that I wanted to be a visionary leader.  I wanted to be innovative, creative, supportive of my team's development, supportive during change and forward looking.  It was around this time that I saw a blog post from "The Leadership Freak" that caught my attention and spoke to me.  In the post, Dan lays out "The Seven Qualities of Visionary Leaders", which is based on a chapter of Brad Lomenick's "The Catalyst Leader".   I have copied those below with my thoughts on how I have applied this to myself.  I encourage you to read the blog post and think about how you may be a visionary leader for your team and organization!  Is there one that is a strength of yours?  Will one be a stretch?  How can you tie this to any other development goals?
  1. Optimistic about the future.  I see myself as the person that has to stay positive and encouraging; the "it's going to be ok" voice in the room.  I do not dismiss when things are hard.  I do not sugar coat tough news.  But I truly do believe we are going to be ok, even during the tough times.  So I always make sure my team knows that and it comes across at genuine.  We have recently gone through a lot of change in our department and I am upfront with them, but I figure if I put on a brave face, it helps them through it!
  2. Focused on the best in their people.  They focus on the unique strengths of every employee.  I always try to take a moment to recognize each person on my team for something they accomplish each week and why I am thankful for them.  Sometimes it is a small thing, sometimes it is a big thing.  Sometimes it is multiple things!  Sometimes I do this in our team meetings, sometimes I do it 1:1 or in my status updates to my boss.  But even someone struggling in role made some sort of contribution that week...even if it was coming in to the office and trying.  And if they truly didn't, they know that it is representative of the size of the disconnect between them, the company and my expectations of them.  I expect everyone to be a good citizen, even if they are struggling with their performance. 
  3. Never satisfied but always content.  They seem happy where they are but refuse to stay there.  This one can be hard sometimes just because of the amount of work we have.  It's not that I don't want to be looking ahead and thinking about the next big impact we can have or the next way we can add value.  But it's making the time and prioritizing those initiatives and finding the appropriate way and time to launch them.  At the end of the day, we cannot do those big sexy projects if we aren't successfully doing the day to day.  But it's those innovative projects that keep us motivated and excited.  Ah the conundrum!  It's also important to know what our company is ready to tackle.  I may want to do a complete overall of a process or create a new program from scratch.  But we may only be ready for phase one or a simplified version of something I ready about in SHRM.  That's not a bash on the company, but a realistic (and therefore important) realization.  
  4. Consumed with making tomorrow better than today.  Hopeful leaders never settle.  Each day we are presented with new challenges.  These are what make us great and make every day interesting (in my mind!).  The great things about these 7 qualities is that they are all interconnected.  You will never be optimistic about the future if you are working on making tomorrow better than today.  I always tell my team, its ok to make mistakes and ask questions, as long as you learn from them.  We should learn something new everyday.  Look for a challenge that will develop us and make us stronger.  I believe that for myself as a leader and I try to instill that in my team.  I try to ask myself each week as I do my status update, "What did I learn this week and I will I apply it next week?"
  5. Accepting of change.  The good news is that we literally would not work at my company if we could not accept (and adapt to change).  So much so that when I started as an adjunct faculty member at a local college, I didn't bat an eye when my first class assignment was Change Management!  But I do think it is important to recognize change fatigue as well.  It is possible to change too much or too often.  So I always try to ask myself, "Is this something that we need to change today?"  If it something that can be pushed off, or phased in more slowly, I will consider it so I don't wear the team out.  We can all adapt to change, but if we are constantly changing, we never take the time to reflect on the recent changes and if they were successful (or have even taken hold).
  6. Inclusive, but not exclusive.  Hopeful leaders invite others into their vision.  This is one that has been hard for me as I moved from senior individual contributor to leader/manager.  Even when I was an L&D Manager, everything fell on my plate since I was an island of one.  I had peers that I worked closely with, but often they were stakeholders, they weren't expected to do the work.  So now, as a manger and leader of a function, I have to be comfortable letting go and let others lead a project that I may have helped create (or let them own completely).  Because I am ultimately accountable for anything my team does, I want to understand how decisions are made.  And I usually love the project or am passionate about the topic myself, so I want to be involved.  But I have to remember to let go; help them succeed, but also let them fall (softly) at times so they learn.  My desire to be involved is not a reflection of my trust in them, it's truly because I love what we do, so I just want to be a part of it!
  7. Personally bought in.  Vision is inside them.  This is another place where I feel this quality is directly tied to others.  As I just mentioned above, I truly love what I do.  I am very passionate about organization and people development...obviously, I blog about it in my spare time!  But not only do I think it is personally important that I love what I do, that I am bought in to the work the team does and I can create and communicate that vision, but it's important that the team is (and can) as well.  I make sure they know what is going on in the business and how that directly connects to our work.   That will also help them be bought in and be able to speak to how we are making a direct impact on the business.  And hopefully enjoy the work every day, even when it's frustrating or repetitive or the non-sexy work we have to do!
So that's my self-assessment of myself as a visionary leader.  Whatever kind of leader you want to be, make sure you take time to do a pulse check and see how you are demonstrating the values that are important to you as a leader.  Ask your team for feedback!  They can speak best to if you are truly living the type of leader you aim to be.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Making Time for What is Truly Important to You

It feels like in today's world, everyone is trying to do everything. Maybe it is our overly ambitious culture.  We over-schedule our kids and as adults, we think we are supposed to be able to do it all. Maybe it's the immediateness and inter-connectivity of our world now.  With smart phones, tablets, laptops, video chats, social media and now even watches, we have the ability to always be connected with anyone in the world at any time.  It's ironic, we are living longer, but we think we need to be at a certain place career-wise earlier and earlier, but we wait later and later to get married and have a family (if that is the path we take at all).  

It's not that any of this is wrong nor am I judging people for their high ambitions, I am one of those people.  I am constantly trying to think about how I can be doing more, making a bigger impact, finding steps to take now to get me closer to my future goals.  But I do wonder if people are truly making time for what is important to them, versus what they think they are supposed to be doing.  Sometimes, I feel like I am making decisions about things because I am still trying to have the most well-rounded college application.  Except I am 20 years out of school and really just trying to make sure I have a fulfilling and meaningful life :) 

Recently, I have had several reasons to stop and reflect on what is really important to ME; what makes ME feel fulfilled.  Not what I think I should be doing or what a book tells me I should be doing or what I think society tells me I should be doing.  But what I WANT to be doing.  And that too takes discipline.  To me, there are two big things that are important to consider when figuring out how to prioritize what is truly important to ME!

The first thing is relatively straight forward, but needs to be said:  You have to find time to do the things you NEED to do, even if they are not what you want to do.  You have to pay your bills.  You have to do what is required at work (so you stay employed and get a paycheck to pay those bills).  Your house and clothes have to be clean.  You have to eat :)  You see where I am going with this.

For me, I find ways to multitask or allow myself a splurge to get all this done.  For example, the one thing we do that is very "New York" is that we drop off our laundry at the laundromat to have them do it for us.  This keeps me from having to sit in the laudromat for hours.  But a friend of mine uses her time at the laundromat to catch up on her favorite shows or Netflix because it's a time no one else is around her! Another friend meets her girlfriends and they do laundry together with their coffees in hand and use that time to socialize and catch up.  I know a mom who does laundry during a specific playtime event with her kids (craft time, homework time, etc) since it's something she can step away from for 5-10 minutes here and there to switch the loads but her kids are heavily engaged so they are ok on their own for that short time.  Or maybe the "have to" you hate is grocery shopping, meal planning, or cooking.  Try Blue Apron or Plated and have a couple of meals planned out for you.  They will deliver a box of ingredients for one meal each week.  It will also will introduce you to new things (if you like that kind of change and spontaneity).  Another thing my husband and I will do, is cook and do dishes together.  Even if it's a simple meal, the other person will just sit in the kitchen to keep the cook/cleaner company and talk about our day.  As for bills, we have finally joined the 21st century and do more of our bills online to make it easier and save us from not having to sit and write checks during the month.  It's about finding anything you can to spice up the chores, multitask the boring stuff with the fun stuff or just make those "need to do's" less painful!  

The second thing I have learned is to make sure the "extra" stuff fits into the life I want to lead.  I tend to be very busy during the week.  My workload is often overwhelming (and at best just flat out a lot) and I have long days during the week.   So my weekends with my family are precious to me.  I want to be able to relax, go out and do fun stuff, have adventures and enjoy my amazing and fortunate life.  But there are a couple of things that were important to me that I wanted to make sure were part of my well-balanced life.

One example is to find a way to clear my head on the weekends.  I read about meditation and how to clear the clutter out of my brain by disconnecting from screens.  I loved the concept so I tried that on my weekends.  But I was getting more stressed making sure I was meditating right...did I have the right location in my one bedroom apartment, did I have the right thing to focus on, could I do it at a time when the house was quiet and the dog and cats wouldn't try to help!  So then I was getting up early to do it, and I just found myself tired later in the day.  And while I was "offline", I was wondering what I was missing by not checking Facebook, that it cluttered my brain more than helped.  So then I tried Yoga.  There was a class right down the street on Sunday mornings.  In general, I really liked it.  It was a small enough class that the teacher was able to give individual attention  so I knew I was getting the most out of it physically.  It also included a cool down meditation in the end which gave me a chance to clear my brain for my final day of the weekend.  But then the class-time shifted to later in the morning.  And since the class always ran long, now I wasn't able to start my Sunday, my final day of the weekend, until almost 1:30.  Now my quiet healthy, time for me, was again only causing stress.  

It was then that I realized that it wasn't about the event or action that would help me disconnect on the weekends, and give me a chance to breathe, but just that I found something.  And wouldn't you know it ended up being the simplest thing.  Anytime I go out on the weekends, whether it's to walk the dog, go to the grocery store, drop off laundry, or head into the city for an event, I make a point to look up to the sky, breathe in the fresh air, close my eyes and just smile.  And then just pay attention to the beauty around me.  Kami (my dog) and I will literally stop and smell the flowers (thanks Aunt Donna!) or I will point out an intersting building to my husband, or I will take a different route to experience something different.  Or just hum something in my head as I walk with the other million New Yorkers and notice the people that walk past me.  I realized  MY way to clear my head, was just to enjoy my surroundings and be in the moment!  It's not taking time away from anything else, it's building it into something that I am already doing.  For me, this works.  I have plenty of friends who prefer to schedule the time to meditate or go to that yoga class.  And that works for them.  But again, the lesson here is to find what is important to me (clearing my head) and finding a way to do it in a way that works for me!

Another thing that is important to me is finding a way to give back to my community.  As I mentioned above, my weekends are precious to me.  Especially as my husband and I consider having children in the future, I am focusing on putting into practice good behaviors now to make sure I am presentand engaged when at home and setting boundaries and priorities with my job (and my writing and speaking and everything else I am trying to do outside of that job).  Side note, my husband deserves that attention as well, and so do my friends and family, so I should have been doing this for years :)  But I need to know that I am making a difference in this world.  The biggest influences in my life growing up all made an impact in our community.  My mom was a teacher and always volunteered at our schools, brownie troops, etc.  My dad volunteered with Lions Club, did community theatre and coached all my brother's sports teams.  And my maternal grandmother was a proud AA member for 30+ years and sponsored many new people in the program.  I want to know that throughout my life, I am able to make similar contributions.  So a few years ago, we signed up with NY Cares to be a volunteer, but each weekend, we would look at the open opportunities and nothing really inspired us to give up those precious 4 hours on a weekend.  But then I felt guilty that I wasn't doing anything.  So instead, we found one cause very close to our hearts (NAMI, which is a group that works to end the stigma around mental illness and provides support and education to individuals and their families) and we do their annual walk to raise awareness.  We also make financial contributions to other organizations that align with our beliefs and causes that are important to us.  And I give blood on a regular schedule.  I am a universal blood type so I know my donations can really go a long way.  Right now, these things work for us and I believe I am making a difference.  Other friends find ways to volunteer at a local organization on their lunch breaks or during down times in their schedules at work.  And that works for them!

I don't have it all figured out.  For example, I have not found the right balance for my physical self.  I need to change my eating habits again and find ways to burn some calories and get in better shape. Right now, that is not going to be going to a gym or an exercise class and I'm ok with that.  So, I actually just scheduled an appointment with a nutritionist to help weed through all the internet advice about taking in more calcium since I'm a woman, but not too much because that may not be good for my skin. Or how I get enough fruits and grains without overloading on sugar and carbs.  I just need someone else to tell me the right answer :)  And we bought a rowing machine that we can use in our living room while watching tv or while the other one is working on something else (writing, gaming, editing pictures, recording music).

But I can say that I have found some tricks that work for me and I encourage you to do the same.  Figure out what is truly important to you and then how you can realistically find ways to include that in your life without hindering or hurting other areas.  There is a realistic approach and balance to having it all based on your definition.  How you go about it will look different for you than someone else and that's ok :)  What things do you do that allows you to prioritize what is truly important to you?

Monday, March 23, 2015

7 Stages of Change

I was recently reading an article about the seven stages of grief (based on the model created by Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross) and I realized they correlated directly with change management in an organization.  Because at the end of the day, when people are hearing about change, often they are mourning the loss of "how things used to be".  

If your team has recently gone through a change (which let's face it, I'm sure we all have had some sort of change, it's the way of the world today), see if anything on the list below feels familiar!  

  1. Shock or Disbelief - "Wait, what?! I had no idea we were considering something different.  I thought what we were doing was working.  Where is this coming from?  Are you sure?"  People's immediate response will come across as confusion or a lack of understanding.  It's important that you take time to help them really hear what you are saying.  It's important that leader's stay on point and reiterate the original messaging.  If you stray from your approved or original message, you potentially create more confusion or give them something to hold on to that is not realty.  The message may be hard, you should build in empathy into your messaging, but you will also need to be comfortable with them taking the time to work through these stages, and not rush them or ignore it.  Let them keep asking questions as they work through this stage of disbelief.
  2. Denial  - "This is a joke.  There is no way we are actually going to start doing (stop doing) this.  It's our foundational core."  When people hear about change, they often take it personally and tie it to something bigger than it potentially is (or rightfully tie it to something bigger).  They will start poking holes into the new plan or way of doing things.  This is their way of showing the news just doesn't make sense or won't work and therefore not actually happening.  Just like with stage #1, you have to empathize and listen, without going too far.  Don't say you are sorry (this can show that you don't agree with the decision) and don't say that you can understand what they are going through or that you know this is hard.  Unless you have literally been in the same situation and in their shoes, you don't know.  You can assume, but you don't know the full affect this will have on them so it will come across as patronizing and will make the third step worse!
  3. Anger - "You didn't think this through.  You don't care how this affects people.  You only care about money.  This is BS.  This was your plan all along.  Forget this, I'm outa here."  This is the step where you need to start stepping in more and direct the conversation as best you can, versus just listening.  Think about some of the possible things they can throw back at you and be ready with some responses.  As always, be ready to listen but then help them see how what they are saying is not the truth.  If they seem to be stuck in this stage, let them know there will be a time when they will have to continue to move to acceptance or decide that they can't and move on.  You can't let someone who is negative or not able to accept the change stay as they will poison others or just stopped the team from being productive and successful.  But hopefully once they have time to work through their anger, they will start asking questions again and move to the next step. 
  4. Bargaining - "But what if we try this instead or first?  Who can I talk to about this, maybe they didn't consider X or maybe they didn't even know about Y?  What if I work on this idea on the side before we implement throughout?"  People will often try to find a different solution so this new reality doesn't have to exist.  There will try to think of something you must not have thought of since you don't do the actual work (you are too removed as a leader).  They may even find some piece of data that will support their new saving solution.  Make sure you understand all the possibilities the leadership team considered in order not to   be pulled into the bargaining.  It's also important to let them know that the decision is final, that nothing they can come up with will change that.  Otherwise they will continue to try and not move on to acceptance.  One thing you can offer, if appropriate, is to provide feedback on the new processes or program (again knowing that it won't change what is happening today).  Or maybe they can be part of the first group to be trained on the new thing so they can help train others.  Sometimes ownership of the new thing will help people continue to move through the stages.
  5. Guilt - "I feel bad that I am still here, or I still get to work on this project when my friends and peers aren't/don't."  I have found this stage is most common during layoffs or job eliminations.  Sometimes it comes up with reorganizations where some of the department will work on one project and another will work elsewhere (and people feel like one project is better than the other).  It's important that you are prepared to explain how the decision was made (why one role stays and another doesn't or how it was decided who or the many would be let go).  And through that, you can encourage and praise the person who remains (or appears to be working on the better project).  But be careful not to speak ill of the people directly effected or provide false praise to the person in front of you.   Like every stage, help them move through this stage as much as possible since it will lead to the depression stage, which other than anger, can be the place people get stuck.
  6. Depression - "I don't know if I can come in every day if this is where we are going as a team/company.  What if I can't do the new thing they are asking of me?  What if I don't like it?"  This stage will be a combination of doubt about themselves and some final remnants of concern about the company.  A part of them won't know if they want to stay and be part of this new version of the team, department, role, etc.  But another part of them will start to wonder if they can do the new thing that is being asked of them.  Ask them to at least give the new thing a chance.  Start with a short window, maybe two weeks.  You can encourage them to continue to come to you with questions and feedback.  Hopefully during that time they will continue to accept the new world.  If not, it gives you a chance to stay close enough to it to make sure they don't go backwards in the steps and help them come to the right answer for them.  But you also want to help them understand how you and the rest of the leadership team is committed to making sure this is a successful transition for them.  Set milestones and check points to make sure they feel supported and committed to this new way.
  7. Acceptance and Hope - "Let's see what happens.  Maybe there is some good with this new approach.  I may not like it today, but I'm willing to try".  After they have worked through all the stages, and you have listened and coached them, they have gotten to the point of acceptance.  Continue to check in to make sure they are still committed and engaged and watch for any slips backwards.  Continue to listen and support and they will continue to be great members of your team!

Each person on your team may not go through each stage, just like each mourner deals with grief differently.  But it's important to look for the signs of the above within your team and use some of the tips above to help each person on your team work through their grief as they say good-bye to the old way and come to accept the change.  

PS  You also have to recognize that you will go through these stages.  Make sure you allow yourself time to grieve, process and accept the change.  And don't hesitate to reach out to someone who can help you!

What are some things you have done to help yourself or your team members through change?  Share your tips below or feel free to reach out with questions or for specific advice!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Training Support for Small Businesses & Non-Profit Organizations

I recently read a great (and super short) article in the latest ATD Magazine.  It talked about training grants that small businesses in Hawaii can get from the state government.  What a great idea!  Just because you are small (or non-profit) doesn't mean you shouldn't have access to the same great training opportunities big companies can create internally or buy externally.  And to be honest, small businesses and non-profit orgs might need some of the basics even more since they don't have the day to day coaching other companies might have.  The training can be developmental for leaders or employees (presentation skills, how to give feedback, etc), basic skills (excel, QuickBooks) or business skills (online marketing optimization).  They are all out there, ready for your application!

So I did some quick research and I found some other grants or volunteer training offerings for small businesses and non-profits across the country.  I don't endorse any of these, it's just based on a Google search that anyone can do (but may not have the time).  But hopefully it's a good starting point for you if you are looking to bring some new or enhanced skills to your organization.  Let me know if you are looking for something specific and you can't find an affordable solution.  Or comment below if you know, are from or have used an organization for affordable training solutions!

Article from Wall Street Journal about how to find grants

Taproot Organization (for non-profits only)

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

5 Ways To Turn A Tough Conversation Into A Tough One

It's the beginning of the year, which for many people means some sort of annual performance appraisal.  These look different for everyone these days; some are more traditional, some are focused on goal attainment, some are focused on future development.  And then there are those companies that just review the feedback collected through the year by programs that replicate the social media forum.  But no matter what platform, design or process you use, hopefully you are sitting down with your employees and sharing feedback and planning for the new year.  But not all of these will be easy or "happy" conversations.  So below are 5 tips to help make any conversation, no matter the feedback, productive and engaging.

1) Be Honest.  No one walks into a tough conversation wanting to deliver difficult feedback (or feedback you know they are going to disagree with).  But you do more of a disservice if you talk around the feedback or try to sugar coat it.   As hard as it may be to deliver (or hear) it will only help the person in future.  How can they change the behavior or meet their goals if they don't hear what they should be doing differently?   Take it out of the workplace for a minute.  If you made a dish that people thought was too salty, don't you want to know so you could adjust the recipe?  Or if a professional athlete should change their swing to hit more home runs, their trainer or coach will tell them so they can be the best they can be. Set the tone of the conversation with an opening line like, "I hope you know that I am dedicated to your development and success and that I respect you as a professional.  Because of that I have some honest feedback to give you."  Like I said, the initial reaction may still be of hurt, sadness, frustration, anger, etc.  But hopefully it will get you to the solution oriented part of the conversation sooner.

2) Take Time to Know What is Important to Them Before You Walk into the Room.  Below, I lay out some reasons why people react emotionally to tough feedback.  It's important to know, as best you can, what is important to them before you walk into the room.  Are they trying to get a promotion, are they hoping for a raise, are they looking for new responsibilities or the chance to work on harder projects?  Does public recognition drive their engagement and motivation?  It's important to find this out ahead of the conversation so that you can both anticipate reactions and also go in with a couple of ideas for next steps (that directly tie to both improving performance but also getting them to their goal, or driving motivational force).

3) Preparation is Key.  Whether it is making sure you have all the feedback, putting together the story of the feedback, or coming up with ideas for next steps, you want to make sure you take time to prep for the conversation.  Have you asked other stakeholders for feedback, so it's not just your point of view?  Have you come up with specific examples and how you would have expected them to behave/perform?   Do you have a cohesive story to the feedback, is it succinct and clear (and not contradictory)?  Do you have your key talking points mapped out, that you can keep going back to if the conversation veers off course?  Are you ready for rebuttal or a negative reaction?  See why it's important to prepare ahead of time :). The last thing you want to do is rush and create a confusing conversation on an already difficult topic.  If you are nervous about delivering the feedback, consider practicing (or at least walking through the conversation) with your manager or your HR partner.  Finally, think about the best time and place to have the conversation.  For example, maybe it is best that you meet at the end of the day so you can let them go home to continue react and think about next steps.  You should always plan to be in a private room but think about where in the office (for example, towards an exit so they can excuse themselves easier, or an office away from the team so they don't see the reaction through the window, etc).  Reserve the room for 15 min before (so you aren't standing outside waiting for the last meeting to end) and reserve it for an extra 30 after if either the employee needs it to get ready to go back out with the team or because the conversation lasts longer than you expected.  The worst thing is for someone to be hovering outside because they reserved the room or the employee is worried about being late to a call or meeting.  If you have to have the conversation remotely, consider video chat if that is something you and your employee are used to using (but don't add a new technology to the mix if you aren't used to it, it will make it more awkward and potentially more frustrating if it doesn't work).  

4) Take Time to Ask Questions and Allow Them to Work through Their Emotions.  Even if you have done the best job possible setting up the feedback, it may still be painful to hear.  No one wants to hear that they are not succeeding.  They may feel they let you or the team down.  They may be tough on themselves and take this as a sign that they won't be successful.  Or maybe they have personal goals that they feel this might delay.  Or they might compare themselves to someone else on the team and feel less-than because the other person is moving up faster in the company than they are.  Whatever is driving the reaction (which hopefully you were able to at least partially anticipate), it's important to let them work through it.  This is where you need to be able to improv and read the room.  Most times, just taking your time, letting them breathe, letting them work through their questions and statements will be enough.  Don't try to finish the sentence for them if they stumble or jump on the question thinking you know the answer before they get to finish their question.  If they appear to be surprised or trying to work through the emotions silently, give them a minute to process and then ask follow up questions to help them, but don't diagnose them.  Instead of saying "I can tell this is hard for you" or "This is obviously upsetting you", ask a question like "What are you thinking right now?" Or "What questions can I answer for you?".  If you can't tell how they are doing, you can ask, "Are you ok, do you want to take a few minutes?"  Let silence sit for a few minutes but don't let it sit too long.  This is where you need to improvise.  It's best to be able to continue the conversation instead of coming back together.  But if they have shut down and leading questions aren't helping them start to work through it in the moment, no further conversation will be fruitful.  You have lost them in that room and they won't be able to comprehend or register anything else you say there.  Sometimes you don't have to break for long, even a walk around the block can help, they just need to get out of that room.  If you do need to take a break, make sure you come back together the next day at the latest.  Restart the conversation by asking if they have any questions about what was discussed before and then focus on next steps.  Don't rehash the feedback or summarize (trust me, they remember!) Unless it answers their specific questions.  But other employees will need to keep talking, even through emotion, because they won't be able to get through it on their own.  This is why it's important to know your employee, what they need and what's important to them in order to help them work through the moment.

5) End with a Commitment to Next Steps.  As I mentioned in the first tip, the point of this conversation is to help develop the employee.  It's not to have them walk away feeling disengaged or frustrated or hopeless about the future.  So assuming they have been able to work through the initial reaction, make sure you start talking about next steps before finishing the conversation.  What are you both going to commit to so that they can improve their performance...and therefore find success or reach their goals?  This should be a two way conversation, not you dictating the solution.  As noted earlier, you should have initial ideas going into the conversation to kick it off if needed.  The employee may not be able to come up with anything on their own initially, so you may need to help guide them by offering suggestions.  They should be bought into the plan and both of your should be committed (and comfortable) with the next steps.  They should be attainable goals (both within the ability of the employee and your/the businesses ability to provide the opportunity).  With an action plan in place (or at least some initial ideas for next steps), hopefully the employee can walk out the room committed and excited about the future.

We are all human.  You never want to have to give tough feedback and an employee never wants to hear it.  But if you respect each other, have a foundation of trust and a commitment to development, a tough conversation can turn into a productive one...and hopefully something you both look back on as a turning point in their development.

Please join the conversation below in the chat box!  What other things have you used to help have a successful conversation?  What have you learned from a situation that didn't go as you panned?  If you have any questions about a specific situation you are going through, don't hesitate to reach out to me for a complimentary coaching session.  Good luck!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

52 Weeks Blog Challenge

Hello world!  Happy New Year.  I am very lucky, 2014 was a great year but my accomplishments were not what I expected at the beginning of the year.  That made me realize that as great as goals and new year resolutions are, they just aren't realistic for me and my lifestyle.  A lot changes for me during the year.  Usually all good, but still things I can't predict at the beginning of the year, heck sometimes even at the beginning of the month!  So I am taking a different approach in 2015.

I still have my 5 year plan, that keeps my eyes on the prize and reminds me that decisions I make should be helping me get to those long term goals.  But then I'm going to set weekly goals.  I even bought a book to help me track weekly goals :). This will help me feel like I am making progress but I can adjust goals as something I can achieve each week.  I can look at life in snippets and not feel frustrated or down if I don't hit a yearly goal because I can look back and see what I accomplished and how they all got me closer to the future life.

My biggest advice to people is to set yourself up for for success.  You don't want your goals to be so easy that they don't challenge you.  But you shouldn't make them unattainable, or not relative to your life.  For some people, longer term goals work.  But after focusing on taking steps to hit my long term goals in 2014, I realized that my life changes too much and goes too fast to be be successful with a year long goal.  I also lose touch with something that is very important to me - a balanced set of goals that focus on my whole self.  If I don't chop it up into bite size goals, I spiral into an obsession about one thing and miss the others.  And then I miss celebrating what I did accomplish because I can't check the box I set at the beginning of the year.

One of these attempts to focus each week on bite size goals is my 52 Weeks Blogging Challenge.  I couldn't resist the play on my name!  So I am challenging myself to write a blog post each week.  In my idea notebook, yep, I have a small notebook in my bag.  It's where I write down ideas as they pop into my head - it helps me remember my ideas as they organically happen without obsessing about them until I am ready to act on them.  Anyway, I realized I have over 40 ideas for blog topics in my notebook on Jan 1 so I know I will be able to have an idea a week I can pull from.  It also helps me continue to work on my writing each week as I try to finish my book.  A discipline I have also broken down in weekly chunks.  Each week I will have something for each area of my "whole self" to help me love s balance life, where I am enjoying today while feeling like I am taking steps towards the future me.

So here is blog one of fifty-two!  Looking forward to connecting with my readers each week! As always, please feel free to leave comments or email me with individual thoughts or questions!  Happy New Year!