Time for Your Annual Tune-up

December 29, 2010

In a few days we’ll begin a brand new year and two key questions are whether and how you will make it a better, fulfilled and more successful year than this one?  I hope you’ll answer these questions for your business and personal life.  Today, we’ll focus on the business side. 

One important step to achieve a better, fulfilled and more successful business year is to have a solid plan.  Another is to engage your employees.  This week we’ll focus on the plan.  Next week, we’ll share some tips on best ways to engage your employees. 

The most essential pieces to both of these plans are involvement and alignment

6 Steps to a More Effective Annual Plan

If you’ve done annual planning and goal setting as a ‘check-the-box’ exercise in the past, you know that it can be unnecessarily complex and marginally useful.  Here are 6 steps to help you create a more effective plan that gets you the intended results.  

1.  Keep the plan simple and alive.  An effective annual plan provides clear direction for all employees.  It shows the goals as the target (the bulls-eye) and helps guide employee actions (the arrows) day to day.  As Scott McNealy of Sun Microsystems once said, a good plan puts “all the wood behind one arrow”.   

2.  Involve key stakeholders.  Ensure that the plan reflects the voice of the organization by including key stakeholders in the planning and goal setting process.  When you invite others to participate, they feel ownership of the plan and are more willing to focus their efforts on achieving the results.   

3.  Clearly outline responsibilities and accountability.  If everyone owns it, no one owns it.  Without goal “owners” who develop and drive the action plan, the goals become everybody’s job with no clear accountability. An owner will take the lead in identifying a team, implementing tactics, monitoring progress and rewarding and recognizing desired behaviors and results.  

4.  Review organizational performance frequently.  Ensure that measurement of actual performance against goals is agreed to at the time the goals are set.  Every measure should have a defined measurement interval (e.g. daily, monthly, quarterly) in order to correct and modify the plan along the way and ensure achievement.  If we only look at our performance at the end of the quarter, it is too late to take corrective action and hit the target.  

5.  Assess your organization’s capabilities and capacities before setting goals.  Do you have the right people in the right jobs with the right skills to set aggressive goals?  Are senior leaders aligned and engaged in the journey?  Do you have the right tools and systems in place?   These answers will determine how aggressive your goals can be.  Part of your plan may include building new capabilities within the organization.  

6.  Link company goals to all employees.  To ensure organizational alignment, every employee needs to have a clear line-of-sight as to how their job impacts the annual plan and the customer experience.   Use your formal and informal communication and performance management processes to ensure this insight and alignment.   

Action Plan

  1. Review your plan and identify potential obstacles to success (personal and business).
  2. Determine what you can and will do to overcome them if these obstacles appear. 

Question:  Which of your 2011 goals are the most important to you?

Categories: Alignment, Attitude, Change management, Communication, Culture, Leadership, Leadership development, Peformance management, Strategic planning.

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Best Gift You Can Give – Year Round!

December 22, 2010

Want to give the gift that we all want and need – Give Gratitude!  It will help you feel great and create some positive impact! 

The holidays can bring a special excitement to us, but it can also be a time of sadness and challenge for some people. The holidays can bring on all sorts of emotions. Regardless of how the holiday season impacts you, there is always something you can count on to help lift spirits and joy.  It’s free.  There’s no right way to do it.  You can be incredibly generous with it.  There is a limitless supply.  It creates a powerful impact.  It’s Gratitude.

My challenge to you this holiday season is to reach out and “gratitude” someone. Go out and make an impact.  Not only on the people you know and love – but on the people you don’t.  Let them know how grateful you are for them.  Let them know that you see the things that they might think go unnoticed, that you care, that you’re grateful they’re a part of your organization, or your community, or your team.

Whoever it is, engage with them from the heart.  See them.  Thank them.  Acknowledge them. Engage them.  Do whatever feels right and authentic to you.  It’s amazing how much a little nod of gratitude can matter.  And it’s even more amazing the ripple effects it can have.  So go, have fun and show some gratitude.  Be generous with it. 

Action Plan

Here are a few things you can do this holiday season to raise that holiday cheer even more and get ready for the New Year:

  • Appreciation Days:  Dedicate a full day to letting people know how much you appreciate them.
  • Team Appreciation Days:  Have your team members share at least 3 strengths for each team member that they are grateful for. 
  • Gratitude Rounds: Spend 10 minutes at the end of every week doing the “Gratitude Rounds”: make phone calls, write letters, go out of your way to thank the person at the coffee shop for making you that fabulous coffee every day.
  • Impact Gratitude: Thank your mentors, parents, kids, sibling, colleagues, spouse, teachers, team members, etc. for the impact they’ve had on you this year.
  • Break the funk: Whenever you are feeling in a “funk” or low or grumpy – think about what you have to be grateful for. Make a list and check it twice!
  • Start a gratitude journal:  Every day, write down 3 things that you are grateful for.

There are many ways you can give gratitude.  Three rules: make it authentic, go out of your way to do it and make sure it’s heard!  HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

Question:  Who are you most grateful for?

Categories: Communication, Culture, Employee engagement, Employee satisfaction, Leadership, Morale, Teamwork.

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Finding Meaning in Work

December 15, 2010

I recently had the pleasure of hearing Dave and Wendy Ulrich discuss their new book “The Why of Work”.  It was an inspiring hour for me mostly because I have long been a believer in their findings.  Now, thanks to them, I have the facts to back up my long-term beliefs! 

 When executives were asked “where have you found meaning?”, the answer never came back about work.  It’s typically about being a volunteer, helping their neighbors and friends or about their family. 

 As leaders, it is our job to help people find meaning in their work.   Meaning has bottom line benefits.  When we provide opportunities to engage employee’s hearts and feel a sense of contribution to something bigger than themselves or their individual jobs, people become more engaged and committed. 

Finding meaning in our work does not have to be monumental, like curing cancer.  Most of us want to make a difference – it could be with the people we see every day, the work that we do, the experience we provide our customers.  Here are a few examples of finding meaning. 

  • A taxi driver who gave his fares a hot towel and bottle of water to make them more comfortable.
  • An individual who sold newspapers on the corner smiled and said “have a great day” to everyone he made eye contact with on the street. 
  • A brick layer who, when asked what he was doing, replied “building a cathedral” vs. ‘laying bricks’. 
  • A high school principle welcomed each student at the door with a handshake.  By the end of the year, he knew every one of his student’s names and his graduation rate grew as a result.  

These individuals were connected to something bigger than their job.  They knew that they made a difference every day.  Here are just a few ways you can help your employees find meaning in their work. 

1.  Create a sense of caring – share how they make a difference, how their job impacts others either in the company or outside with customers or others. 

2.  Identify and build on your strengths – use your strengths to build the strengths of others.

3.  Learn from your mistakes and help others learn from theirs.  When a mistake occurs, ask “what did you learn?  What do you feel best about how you handled it?”  Celebrate the learnings. 

When we find meaning and purpose in our work, we tend to give more and strive to make a bigger contribution!   

Action plan

1.  Ask your employees how they think they make a difference every day. 

2.  Select one of the 3 suggestions above to begin to help your employees find more meaning in work.

Question:  Where have you found meaning?

Categories: Communication, Culture, Employee engagement, Employee satisfaction, Leadership, Morale.

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Are Your Employees Giving You the Silent Treatment?

December 7, 2010

If you’re like a lot of managers, you pride yourself on all the ways you signal to employees that you welcome their input, especially your open door. And you probably believe that you’re actually hearing what’s on their minds — after all, they speak up in meetings, talk openly with you in the hall and keep you informed by copying you on emails.  Well, you’re not hearing as much as you think or as much as you need to.

 Because employees sometimes talk, bosses are often unaware of their workers’ self-censorship.  They imagine they’re hearing what’s important when in fact they’re being met with silence they’re simply unaware of.  Think of the times you’ve kept your own mouth shut. There have probably been numerous instances, even if you’re generally candid. The combination of tight-lipped employees and oblivious bosses prevents the best ideas from bubbling up through the organization.

In the latest phase of Harvard Business Journal’s decade’s worth of research on organizational silence, they piggybacked six questions onto the annual Cornell National Social Survey to explore how and when employees hold back.  As you’d expect, they clam up when they’re afraid that speaking could get them into trouble, but surprisingly, the most common reason for withholding input is a sense of futility rather than fear of retribution.

The data from the 439 survey respondents who are full-time employees (not self-employed) shared a common reason for not speaking up.  It was NOT because they didn’t feel safe in doing so.  More than 25 percent say they withhold feedback on routine problems and opportunities for improvement to avoid wasting their time, not because they fear consequences.  They didn’t speak up because they didn’t think that anything would happen – be different or improved – as a result of their feedback. 

Most of the time, employees have something to say about the everyday flow of operations. This is the world that each employee inhabits and knows intimately – the one where they engage their tasks, their coworkers, their customers and their boss. Unfortunately, when employees have opened a discussion with their boss about problems or potential solutions, employees may have been perceived that it had been received poorly.  Sometimes, by the immediately reaction by the boss – minimizing it, making the employee feel stupid.  Or, most of the time, because nothing happens with the informaton or recommendation that the employee shared. 

In order to begin to change this ‘silent treatment’, managers must:

  1. Listen, ask questions – Make the employee feel heard.
  2. Understand the employee’s expectations – Ask the employee what they want you to do with the information and  focus on solutions and next steps. 
  3. Follow-up – Always follow-up with the employee on status of the employee’s actions and yours. 
  4. Be honest – If you are not able to use the information or recommendation at that time, help them understand why.  Make sure you thank them for bringing it to your attention and encourage them to continue to bring good information and recommendations to you.   

Remember that your employees are the key to organizational success.  Silence on day-to-day issues keeps us from getting the information we need to prevent bigger problems — performance and otherwise — down the road.


  1. Look at your organization.  Have your employees given you feedback or suggestions on how to improve things?  If not, why not?
  2. What have you done with your employee’s feedback and suggestions over the past month?
  3. Determine one thing you can start to do today to eliminate the ‘silent treatment’ with your employees.   

Question:  What are you not sharing with your boss?  Why?

Categories: Attitude, Communication, Culture, Leadership, Morale.

Give Thanks with Trust

December 1, 2010

For many, the Thanksgiving holiday is a time to enjoy family and give thanks for the joys in their lives. For others, it’s a time to be endured, not enjoyed, peppered by awkward conversation around the dinner table. 

In every personal relationship, there’s the equivalent of a trust account, said Stephen Covey, author of the business best-seller The Speed of Trust

“Just like a bank account, you grow the account when you make a deposit and you deplete it if you take a withdrawal,” he said. “What’s a deposit and what’s a withdrawal for trust? It’s your behavior. It’s how you act, how you work together, how you exchange. There are certain behaviors that will grow trust fast and others that will cause you to lose it.” 

Covey said there are four basic ways to grow the trust account:

  • Demonstrate respect and show others that you care.
  • Listen with the intent of understanding, rather than with the intent to reply.
  • Show loyalty and speak about people as if they’re present, even if they’re not.
  • Give others an advance of your trust.  

That’s not to say that you should enter relationships blindly, but rather extend trust until it’s proven you should do otherwise. People will often act as they are treated.  “Too often we get wrapped in a vicious cycle of distrust and suspicion and it goes down the drain,” he said. 

Family badmouthing is a key example of this — people know that you’re probably talking about them behind their back too. Rather than join in the behavior, try to understand the other perspective and be fair. “It tells everyone that is present that I’d do the same for them too,” Covey said. 

In relationships, just as with bank accounts, bankruptcy happens because people make too many withdrawals or withdrawals are too big. Words are helpful and apologies sometimes necessary to rebuild the trust account, but they need to be followed up with action.  Covey says “You can’t talk yourself out of a problem that you behaved yourself into.  The only way is you’ve got to behave your way out of it. It’s through behavior that we restore trust.”  

Covey said there are four principles to change behavior and create lasting trust:

  • Take responsibility and practice accountability.
  • Right wrongs and make restitution, if necessary.
  • Clarify expectations and declare your intent by letting people know what you plan to do going forward.
  • Most importantly, keep the commitments you just made and do what you said you were going to do.

The basics of relationship trust are the same, whether it’s personal relationships at home or professional relationships at work.  “It’s always about credibility — giving them a person they can trust — and behavior — interacting in ways that grow the trust,” Covey said. “It’s just that the context may change. Certain behaviors may be important in some settings more than others.” 

In professional settings, it may be more important to practice behaviors such as talking straight, delivering results and showing competence. In personal relationships, people may be more forgiving of shortcomings; after all, you can’t fire your brother because he’s acting like a jerk.  That focus changes in professional relationships. 

Covey recommends that organizations make the creation of trust an explicit goal and objective. Trust is a competence — one with direct impact on performance.

“Help the organization see that trust is not just a nice, soft social virtue,” he said. “This is about us being able to perform better, faster, with less cost, greater speed and more profitability.” 

Managers can start by modeling trust themselves with their team, engaging the executive team in developing it and creating a framework, process and methodology for implementing trust building. Covey said it’s pivotal to include measurement. Without that, it’s just another nice thing to have, not a business necessity. 

“To really elevate trust, make it an explicit goal, just like there are goals around market share or goals around profitability and growth,” Covey said. “Trust is not just a sideshow. Trust is of its own deserving of that type of stature. 

“If you can start anything in a climate of trust, your probability of success has gone up and the speed of success has gone up. If you do any other initiative, no matter what it is, in an environment of low trust, the probability of success goes down, as does the speed. 

The creation of that culture would indeed be something to be thankful for. 


  1. Identify those with whom you need to make some trust deposits in their trust account. 
  2. Take one action to make that deposit.   

Question:  How would you rate TRUST in your organization?

Categories: Communication, Culture, Employee engagement, Leadership.