Three Unconventional Ways to Get Your Direct Reports to Stop Bickering and Start Working Together Again

June 24th, 2015 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Building Relationships, Business No Comments »

BickeringCoworkers“Jennifer, I’m so fed up with these two guys! I have told them – again and again — they have to stop going to the mat on every little thing.

I gave them your articles on how to give feedback to a coworker and how to engage in active listening, and coached them through both processes.

I sent them to our in-house negotiations training.

Today, I even lost my temper and raised my voice, which was so unprofessional of me, but I was exasperated.

I’m at the end of my rope with them. What’s left for me to try?”

Can you relate?

We’ve all had direct reports who rubbed each other the wrong way.

This is most common after a reorganization or realignment of resources. People you would never have hired to work together wind up working together, and they do it poorly.

Most of the time, it’s enough to simply coach your direct reports in active listening, feedback, and negotiation skills (and reward their progress, of course) to get them working together productively once again.

And then there are the problem children….

O.k., I admit it’s politically incorrect, but more than a few leaders have opened our consultation with, “My problem children are bickering again.” And that’s just what it feels like: you’re a parent of two siblings who don’t get along, and it’s in your face all day every day.

One challenge in today’s job market is that you can hardly threaten to fire them if they don’t work together to your standard. While it’s certainly a viable last resort, the cost and time to find replacements and the disruption to the function make this an undesirable solution.

Enter the Creative Alternatives

I’ve seen three rather creative alternatives work in this situation. The first one you will expect from me. The second and third, well, maybe not.

  1. Reframe it as a clash of styles that blocks productivity and hurts results. Explain in no uncertain terms the consequences to the business, and be specific. Then utilize an MBTI expert to explore their clashing styles with them and find a path forward in which they (perhaps begrudgingly) come to respect one another’s differing styles.
  2. Book a conference room for the whole day and tell them they must not leave until they have figured out the reasons their working relationship is so ineffective, a solution they can both live with, and an execution plan to implement their solution. Be unbending on this requirement, but flexible on the method to get there. It might not be like anything you would have come up with. Drop in from time to time to show you’re serious about this, to coach them over any hurdles, and to make sure they don’t stop talking about their problem and start talking about work or the business in general.
  3. Split them up. While it doesn’t develop their interpersonal and teamwork skills in the least, assigning one of them to a different function that has few or no interdependencies is one way to keep their poor working relationship from further damaging the business. Be clear that they both need to keep dramatically improving their skills, though. In today’s fast-changing business environments, teams form and change frequently, and everyone must be able to quickly figure out how to work well with a wide variety of people.

I hope these three ideas spark many more in your mind. There are as many ways to effectively deal with this challenge as there are people who seemingly just can’t get along.

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Are you frustrated with your peers?

October 9th, 2014 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Business, Change Leadership, Communication No Comments »

whiteboard_meeting“How do I get my peers to speed up decision-making?”

“How can I get the rest of the C-suite to agree to my recommendations for strategic investment? What worked at my old company isn’t working here. No one will commit.”

“How can I get these people on board? Even though I don’t report to them, I need to have their buy-in to move forward. They don’t have the authority to say yes to the budget, but they all have the influence to block it.”

What do these three questions have in common? In each case, the leader wants his or her peers to change, or more accurately, to change their behaviors. Peer-level influence is often the most frustrating persuasion challenge, since you have no hierarchical authority to fall back on if data and logic don’t convince them.

Let’s look at several techniques you can use to become less frustrated and more effective at influencing your peers.

First, make it real for them (and yourself) with action verbs.

Before influencing your peers, be sure to get behavioral and specific in your assessment of the challenge or problem as well as what would happen if the challenge or problem were successfully addressed.

In business, we often talk about the need for specific outcomes, but a specific noun or number isn’t enough. It turns out those boring English grammar classes back in your school days taught you something useful after all: an action verb is an action another person can see taking place. If you use action verbs to communicate with your peers, you will eliminate 80%+ of misinterpretation.

Using the first example, above, the leader would ask questions like this to get to action verbs and specifics:

  • What is the team doing or saying (or not doing or not saying) that leaves me with the opinion that decision-making is too slow?
  • Which specific behaviors do I think are causing decision-making to be slow, and what consequences are there to the business? (Don’t worry about the causes at this point, because the question is strictly about what you see happening.)
  • If I had a camera and I were recording everything that happens, what would I see people doing, saying, not doing, and not saying if the problem or challenge were successfully addressed?

Abstract observations are fine as a starting point for your thinking, but you have to get down to the level of the action verb to be convincing to others.

Next, consider the possible cause or causes of the current situation.

Everything in a business is the way it is because it made sense to somebody at the time, given the information and resources available to him or her.

Start with an environmental scan. Is this behavior or approach more or less the norm in this industry? If you’ve moved from a different industry, you need to get a handle on this before determining how you will influence peers. If this behavior or approach is the norm for the industry, you could be fighting a losing battle if you frame up your suggestion as an idea that’s important because you see it as important.

To be more influential, either determine how this change would support something your peers already see as very important (such as empowering their entire workforce, or providing the highest level of customer service) or begin seeding the idea that your company’s best chance at breaking away from the competition may be to pursue your recommended course of action.

If your peer group doesn’t want to break away from the pack or feels secure in their current market position, you’re going to have to be patient because this is going to take a while. In most organizations, it’s more difficult to get big changes off the ground when there is no immediate threat. You’ll have to work to get the momentum going.

Your peers may understandably be concerned about breaking something that isn’t broken by introducing the significant change you have in mind. One of the simplest and most often overlooked tools is putting yourself in their shoes and truly seeking to understand their perspectives, even allowing their perspectives to influence yours and further shape your thinking.

Take an honest look at potential trust issues in your peer relationships.

After conducting an environmental scan, it’s time to consider other factors, such as trust:

  • Are they experiencing low professional trust with you? Professional trust involves worries about your competence in the job, such as worries that you don’t know what you’re doing at this scale and that your decisions will sink the business.
  • Are your peers experiencing low personal trust with you? Personal trust involves concerns about your personal ethics, such as concerns that you will stab them in the back.

Do you see signs of trust issues? It can be very, very hard on the ego to really see these issues. Still, seeing a trust issue and acknowledging it are clearly prerequisite to working on the relationship and modifying your own behaviors in ways that will deepen trust and make you more influential.

Consider the possibility that you may need to adapt to extreme style differences.

Are you experiencing extreme style differences on the team, far more than you’ve experienced on other teams? It happens often on cross-functional leadership teams, because the leaders come from different professional backgrounds. This is considerably less common with teams of individual contributors, who often have more similar styles because they have been shaped by the same profession or business function.

If you’re new to being on a cross-functional leadership team, it can be quite a shock to find yourself attempting to influence people who seem to approach every challenge differently from you and differently from each other. Likewise, if you’ve always been able to bridge style differences on previous leadership teams but find yourself on a team with style differences more extreme than you’ve experienced, it can become discouraging.

The great new here is that style differences can be addressed more easily than the other issues, above, through the consistent, pragmatic, and ethical use of a style inventory and debrief.

The biggest challenge in the C-suite is rarely in the execution of this approach – it’s in getting everyone in agreement to do an inventory in the first place.

This is where your outside advisor can play a valuable role. I’ve found that style inventories are often more effective when integrated into a more business-focused meeting or off-site so that leadership team members can practice style adaptations real-time, working together on real business challenges, with their coach nearby to provide feedback.

Of course, none of these techniques are a substitute for your analytical chops. These techniques won’t help you if your fundamental assessment of the business problem or challenge is weak or your idea just isn’t a very good one. Hey, we’ve all had ideas that weren’t very good. There’s no shame in it and sometimes you just have to accept that your idea was a dog, after all. It’s o.k.

However, when your analysis is excellent but your peers just don’t seem to “get it,” try these techniques and then adapt your approach based on what you learn from exploring each of these three factors. Soon, you will be a much more influential peer.

What have you done to improve your influence with your peers? Let me know in the comments below.

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Want a Beer?

August 14th, 2014 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Building Relationships, Business, Communication No Comments »

palealeTwo weekends ago, Kirk gamely agreed to go shopping with me. While he doesn’t exactly live for the excitement of waiting for me while I’m in a dressing room, he’s a good sport. We headed up to the Fourth Street shopping area in Berkeley.

The first store we entered, Margaret O’Leary, had a few items I simply had to try on. While in the dressing room, I overheard, “Want a beer?” When I exited the dressing room a few minutes later, there was my very, very, very happy husband, sitting in a comfy leather armchair, drinking a bottle of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. He looked at me and declared, “I LOVE shopping!”

Later in the week, he started asking, “Hey, Babe, want to go shopping this weekend? Maybe back up to Margaret O’Leary?”

Now, at this point you may be wondering what this has to do with you, so let me tell you where I’m going with this.

Generally speaking, when a wife pops in to a clothing store to try on a few things, it gets boring for her husband. The odds increase that she will either just skip the store altogether or not spend as much time and money there, especially if she really likes her husband. After all, she doesn’t want the guy to suffer too much.

By spending a tiny amount of money to give this man a beer and provide a man-cave-worthy armchair in which to drink it, Margaret O’Leary is developing a devoted customer relationship with him. Now Margaret O’Leary is the one store he really wants to visit with his wife.

It also becomes the first place he thinks of when her birthday or another gift-giving occasion rolls around.

By thinking about the person who influences the buyer with as much consideration as the buyer herself, Margaret O’Leary eliminated a barrier to buying, in this case the tedious boredom of the spouse, which she brilliantly converted into a darn good time.

So here’s my question: what’s your free beer?

What’s the no-brainer that’s looking you right in the face, that none of your competitors have thought of, to build a relationship with the influencer? What’s the inexpensive, simple, thoughtful thing that your buyer’s influencer would really like? How fast can you provide it?

What’s your free beer? Let me know in the comments below.

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Who’s Afraid of Power?

February 6th, 2014 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Business, Change Leadership, Communication, Management 2 Comments »

switchI bet if I asked, you could rattle off dozens of examples of people who caused great harm from being drunk on power. It makes for great movies and it arguably was responsible for triggering the Great Recession.

But I see a different and equally destructive pattern at least as often: fear of power and ambivalence about power. Though it seems counterintuitive, these relationships with power can create as many problems as being drunk on power.

You may be thinking, “I’m an enlightened leader. I don’t think about petty things like power.” That might be true. However, if you aren’t attuned to power, it’s also possible that you are unaware of your own reaction to power and your relationship to it. Even if you are attuned to your feelings about power, and are at ease with it, are the managers who report to you as comfortable with their power as you are with yours?

How do you know there’s a fearful or ambivalent relationship with power in yourself or others? Let’s look at the some of the most common symptoms. Do any of the following statements describe you or any of the managers who report to you?

  • Tossing it away like a hot potato – Do you seek someone else to make a decision or broker decisions similar to those that your peers make for themselves or negotiate without a broker?
  • Schizophrenic leadership style – Do you swing back and forth from empowering your people to bringing down the hammer on them when they screw up, because you are not at ease with empowering them and holding them accountable in a constructive manner?
  • Acting like a friend – Do you talk with your employees as if you are peers and pals instead of recognizing that as their boss, you are more powerful and need to be more thoughtful about what you do and don’t share?
  • Accountability dumping – Do you delegate to your employees both the decision and the full accountability for the decision? Bosses who are at ease with power share accountability and know that their employee’s failure is also their own failure.
  • Excessive collaboration — Do you frequently seek collaboration and consensus on decisions that are relatively simple, straightforward, and noncontroversial? Simple, straightforward, and noncontroversial decisions should simply be made and executed, not turned into collaborative discussions.
  • Passive/Angry style with peers and your own boss – Do you not reach out and put effort into being included in key decisions, yet get angry when these decisions are made without you?

Unlike power hunger or power drunkenness, power fear and ambivalence are not obvious to others, so their destruction is quiet, passive, insidious, and pervasive. If any of these statements apply to you or to someone who reports to you, you need to understand the situation better and take action to improve it. There’s no easy answer and no one-fits-all solution, but here’s where to start:

  • If you see these behaviors in a manager who reports to you, share with that manager the behaviors that concern you and how you see these behaviors negatively impacting the team or the business results. Since this manager may have an ambivalent relationship with power, it’s particularly important you enter into this conversation in the mode of helping him or her be more successful and be certain that you’re not in the enforcer mode for this first conversation. Be ready to offer support for improvement in the form of mentoring, coaching, and/or training.
  • If you see this in yourself, the most important first step is accountability. You are solely responsible for the way you react to power in the workplace and for developing comfort and ease with power. Own this accountability.
  • Own your discomfort. Pretending you feel differently about power than you currently feel isn’t going to get you anywhere.
  • Once you have accepted your ambivalence or fear (or both), reframe power as merely something that is there, and that you are responsible to use wisely and ethically. You can’t make it go away. Managers hold more organizational power than individual contributors. Directors hold more organizational power than managers, and so on, up the chain. Hierarchy is part of the human condition. No matter how you are organized or what you call the different roles, some people will be more powerful than others. If you’re one of them, that simply is the situation. To pretend it’s not there is to deny the fundamental humanity of yourself and your coworkers.
  • Track situations in which you find yourself tempted to let your fear or ambivalence drive your actions, and note what triggers that temptation. Choose to respond differently to the trigger. You can’t change the trigger, which comes from outside of yourself, but you can change your internal response. A different internal response can lead to a different choice.

It’s by no means the whole solution, but it should be enough to get you or your direct report started on this important shift.

What are your thoughts about fear and ambivalence around power? Let me know in the comments below.

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Four Ways to Rule the Company Holiday Party

December 4th, 2013 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Business, Communication, Holiday No Comments »

Toast!Many corporate holiday parties are among the weirdest hybrids of work and play that I have ever experienced. Few companies are able to seamlessly blend the two, so the parties become a veritable minefield in which if you perform well, absolutely no one will remember you, and if you perform poorly, everyone will remember you for years to come – for all the wrong reasons.

In the spirit of ensuring the former and not the later, I offer this simple advice to avoid awkwardness and create a pleasant atmosphere, without excess effort.

Question: I don’t really like parties, and I have a lot of work to do before year-end. Do I really have to go?

As my fantastic former boss used to deadpan: “Folks, this event is optional-mandatory.”

Yes, you have to go and you have to stay for the whole thing, or at least until 60 minutes before the scheduled end time. No one may ever tell you that, but read between the lines and RSVP with enthusiasm, even if you hate parties.

Why am I so unyielding in this advice? When I interview employees about their work experiences, they tell my how let down they were when managers and executives skipped the holiday party and other optional team-building events, even though I don’t ever ask the question specifically. Employees do all of the work to make this party happen, in addition to their regular duties, and it’s more trouble than you think.

It’s also often the case that while this particular party may or may not be important to you, for some of your staff, it will be the nicest, kindest, and most festive thing they do through the whole holiday season, so step up with a smile and do your bit to make it a great experience for them.

Question: I’m no good at small talk. What should I say?

Here’s the good news: it’s not about what you say, it’s about what you ask.

Nobody really cares what you do for a living or what projects you’re working on. Yet, in American culture, like work-a-holic lemmings, we instinctively ask the spouses (or “plus one’s”), “What do you do?” and we ask co-workers, “What projects are you working on?”

Become the greatest conversationalist they’ve ever met in their entire lives by not asking about work at all. Try, “What interests you outside of work?”, “What are you doing these days for fun?”, “What are your kids up to?”, or anything else that invites conversation on a subject of interest other than work.

Follow-up questions help, too. (“You do scrapbooking with your friends. I didn’t realize that was a group hobby. How did you become interested in it?” “So your teenagers are budding Oaklandish t-shirt designers. I’ve never heard of that. Tell me more.”)

Don’t bolt from conversations with lower-ranking employees the minute you see a prospect, E-suite executive, or other prestigious individual. With few exceptions, you’ll not only be laughed at by the people you abandon, but you’ll be laughed at by the VIP’s, too.

Speaking of VIP’s, the holiday party is not the place to corner VIP’s with your great idea for the business. Say hello, engage in brief conversation, offer to introduce them to others, and move on. It’s o.k. to follow up with your business ideas after the party, but during the party, leave it alone.

If the event involves sitting down to eat, introduce yourself to every person at your table, and talk with each of them at some point during dinner, including the spouses and guests, who will speak highly of you forever simply because you steered the conversation away from endless droning on about the office.

Question: These events are embarrassing because I can’t remember names. Can I get better at this?

You get major bonus points if you remember names and introduce people to each other. It’s worth putting in the extra effort to learn how.

Here’s a great trick for remembering names. Kirk and I swear by it. As soon as you’re introduced, say the individual’s name, as in, “Pleased to meet you, Kate.” Then use it two more times early in the conversation. The repetition makes it stick in your head like glue.

And Now, my Favorite Tip for a Sit-Down Meal….

When you sit down next to the CEO, avoid eating his or her food by remembering that your bread plate is to the left and your drink is to the right. Cue yourself by forming an “o” with your index finger and thumb. On the left hand, this forms the letter “b” for bread, and on the right hand, the letter “d” for drink.

Try it now. See? Nifty, huh?

Don’t worry about getting caught doing this. It’s a sure-fire conversation starter. For example, the person next you just might say, “Ah, I see you read Traveling Light…”

Let me know how it goes in the comments!

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Five Ways to be More Entrepreneurial

October 3rd, 2013 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Business, Change Leadership, Management 1 Comment »

entrepreneurIn any given year, I spend 50 – 70% of my time working with entrepreneurs. This happens for several reasons. Sometimes their businesses were successful and were acquired by one of my mid-size or larger clients. At other times they hire me directly to help them address the challenges of rapid growth and scale. I also work with entrepreneurs in my role as a mentor in WebFWD, Mozilla’s start-up accelerator.

This frequent close-up interaction with entrepreneurs, many of whom have launched multiple businesses, has given me a unique perspective on who makes a successful entrepreneur and the cultures they create. The two are inseparable. If you lead a start-up, you can set the culture you want from scratch. If you lead an established business and want to create an entrepreneurial culture, you must become an entrepreneur in your heart, mind, and day-to-day habits.

If it doesn’t come naturally, there is no way to transform your culture without transforming yourself first. It’s true that some people are more naturally entrepreneurial in their thinking, but luckily, it’s mostly about choices. Any leadership team who is willing to make changes in attitudes and behaviors, and to keep it up until they themselves have transformed, can create a far more entrepreneurial culture. It takes effort, but it can be done.

I’ll skip the obvious things that successful entrepreneurs do right, like perfecting the pitch, hiring great intellectual property attorneys, and managing on a shoestring in the early days. Instead, I’d like to share the five more subtle leadership choices that successful entrepreneurs make day in and day out:

  • They create and emphasize a powerful vision and mission for their business, with relatively little emphasis on annual financial targets as compared to the leaders of most mid-sized to large companies. Financial goals are communicated and strived for, but are not the main emphasis in communication with employees. The successful entrepreneurs know they need to keep their own focus on the finances, but they understand that their people aren’t going to put in the extra hours because they’re excited about hitting a revenue target, so they communicate the financial targets in context and not nearly as often as they talk about progress toward the big vision.
  • They convey tremendous optimism and are not driven by fear. They have their moments of great fear, but fear is not their primary trigger. They have a lot of passion, heart, and drive, and they show it. That’s why people follow them.
  • They are massively empowering. With so much to do and so few resources, they don’t have the option to micromanage and solve their people’s problems for them, even if they wanted to. They manage by exception, focus only on doing what is appropriate to their role, and encourage employees to stretch and do many things that are unfamiliar to them.
  • They are not technical perfectionists and they are not at all in love with or attached to their technology. They focus on finding out what the customers want, quickly tinkering with their product to be what the customers want, seeing how customers like it, and quickly changing the product again. They can do this in part because they don’t have multiple product lines, yet, but it’s also because their people are so massively empowered at the individual contributor level that they can make decisions quickly, together, without escalations. Who would they escalate to, anyway? There aren’t too many layers in a small, fast-growing company, and the successful entrepreneurs find multiple escalations to be repulsive, a sign of something that needs to be fixed or improved.
  • They care a lot about their cultures. I cannot emphasize this enough. They dedicate time to maintaining the culture on a very frequent basis, through their everyday choices and through routine events that come to signify the culture, such as Google’s Friday afternoon all-hands with the founders, which began when it was a very small business. They view it as more important than spending that same time on managing the business functions. They trust that the people they hired can manage the business functions effectively. They know that if they don’t personally create a particular type of great place to work — the exact type of great place that attracts and retains the talent they want and repels the talent they don’t want – no manager or HR function can do it for them. They see the culture as a key intangible asset.

When you think about it, the successful entrepreneurs offer very little money, very little job security, long and unpredictable work hours, no obvious career paths, and very little that the best talent can get in an established company. Yet, they are massively dependent on the people they hire, each of whom carries massive responsibility due to their relatively small numbers. Entrepreneurs have to be able to attract and retain talent based on vision, mission, sometimes their actual technology (sometimes not), and culture. Established mid-sized and large competitors hold all of the other cards in their hands.

To those of you leading small and start-up companies, how do the daily choices you make compare to this list? Where could you stretch a bit to grow your leadership?

To those of you who lead more established companies, what would happen if you adopted more of the successful entrepreneurs’ choices in combination with the mid-sized or large company advantages you already hold?”

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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Five Completely False Acquisition Assumptions to Let Go of Today

April 5th, 2013 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Business, Change Leadership, Communication 9 Comments »

Is there such a thing as acquisition season? It seems that I have been in a lot of conversations about potential, pending, and actual acquisitions since the weather started to turn warmer. Even though acquisitions are more common than many people think, they are still notoriously tricky to pull off.

Leaders often begin an acquisition integration process by using the same methods that made them so successful in leading their organization on a day-to-day basis. Unfortunately, this just doesn’t work well for acquisitions, because an acquisition can be a big change, and change means you need to change many of your underlying assumptions.

In fact, you may need to change your assumptions about everything from long-standing customer and competitor relationships to who are your partners in the supply chain and what are the employees’ daily job responsibilities. The trick, of course, is not in the acquisition itself, but in the effective integration of the acquisition into the business.

Let’s review five of the most common deadly assumptions well-meaning leaders make about acquisitions, and what you can do to accelerate the integration process and produce a better and more synergistic integration.

1. Effective acquisition communication means close attention to messaging.” Depending on its size and scope, an acquisition can be a small change or an enormous one. The tendency is for leaders to make announcements and think they’re communicating, and to focus on what they say and not on what they hear.The most successful large-scale changes involve a two-way process, and it’s given the respect it deserves by being at least somewhat formalized and measured for its contribution to the success of the change.  It’s certainly a lot more than saying to managers, “So, how are your people doing? Everyone’s o.k., right? Great! Be sure to announce the latest acquisition updates at your next staff meeting.”

To get a better result and accelerate communication, set up a process for ensuring that concerns are raised through the hierarchy and addressed. Think there’s no hierarchy in the way? Think again. Trust me — I only hear that statement from people who are at the top of the heap, and virtually never from individual contributors. That’s not just a deadly assumption related to acquisitions – that one will kill you over time under any circumstance.

No matter how approachable you are, a medium or large acquisition is simply too big of a change to trust to strictly informal channels. If you’re communicating effectively during an acquisition, you are listening exponentially more than you are messaging, and you are not formulating your next thought while the employee is talking – you’re truly hearing and absorbing what he or she is saying.

2. With a few months of long hours, we can integrate people, processes, and systems.”  Most of your good and excellent people are already putting in long hours, and let’s be realistic — getting more hours from the weak performers isn’t going to help much, is it?Underestimating how much additional resource is needed for the integration is deadly because it creates drag on the organization as the integration misses deadlines and managers have to spend more and more time re-scoping the integration efforts in addition to doing their day jobs.

This can also create drag in the emotional mindset of frustrated and confused customers, dispirited employees, and angry partners. It takes a lot of courage, persistence, and tenacity to create and sustain a strong integration plan. Because the habit of most organizations is the habit of day-to-day operations, it takes serious effort to infuse the very different practices involved in managing a big change like an acquisition.

I’ve seen few successful acquisitions without a dedicated integration team, with the exception of very small ones with only a few employees. You’ll likely need dedicated resources in IT, a working group to integrate different business models and processes, and of course, the facilities and HR teams. You can begin moving in the right direction today by assessing the quality of the current plan and the resources in these areas. Hire an outside expert with amazing results in integrating processes and systems. I’ll help you get the people there, but you will need other experts to help you scope and execute processes and systems.

3. Better to reorganize slowly and in small pieces rather than upset the apple cart.”  There may be good business reasons for it, but never do a post-acquisition reorganization in bits and pieces on the assumption that it will ease people into the change.It’s a difficult truth, but some people may lose their jobs and if you need to make these cuts, it’s better to get on with the job. When leaders prolong confusing, duplicate, and overlapping roles, or lay off employees in seemingly random one’s and two’s, they increase cynicism, frustration, and the fear that the acquiring organization’s leaders are an inept, indecisive group of bureaucrats who can’t make up their minds.

The decision to let people go is so painful and exhausting for everyone involved (even me, and I’m just the outside consultant), but leaders must bite the bullet. If a reorganization is focused and takes weeks, not months, or as few months as is reasonable, the remaining employees at least will be able to focus on their work instead of wondering when the ax will fall.

4. Spin it up – we’ve got to keep people positive.”  Sure, everyone wants to follow an optimistic leader, and you should share all good news with great joy — but that doesn’t mean putting a positive spin on negative developments. You will kill your credibility, particularly among the employees of the acquired organization, most of whom have no relationship with you, and therefore no particular reason to trust you in the first place.Be honest, and share your plan to address the issues, or at least your timeline for pulling a plan together. Your people are living day-to-day with the consequences of any negative developments. They’re probably the ones who brought the problems to someone’s attention in the first place, if you’ve implemented a solid two-way communication process. Show your respect for them by treating these challenges with honesty and compassion.
5. And from deep in our unconscious selves… “the employees of the acquired company are so darn lucky to be part of our company, and they need to just get aligned with the way we do things around here.”  These days few leaders are crass enough to say this out loud, but the fact that we don’t say it out loud in no way addresses the fact that we feel it, if that’s what we feel. Attitudes and emotions leak out all over the place.But reverse this attitude quickly if you see it in yourself or in someone else, because if the undertone set by the acquiring company’s leadership is in any way superior, the employees of the acquired company will pick it up and head toward to door to your competitor at the first opportunity. You’ll also lose out on all you could have learned from the employees who stay, because you’ve inadvertently demeaned their knowledge, skills, and expertise.

I recall the time I found myself sitting in the regional sales office of an acquiring company.  When the SVP of Sales announced the acquisition of their largest, closest competitor, the sales team cheered and yelled, “We win! We win!”

The acquisition turned out to be a stunning success, in part because the SVP responded, “Hey, cut it out, you guys. Each of these people is part of our team now. We’re in it together and frankly, I’ve seen their numbers and they’re every bit as good as you are. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t have acquired the company.”

Accelerating integration is no small task, but make sure you and your team chase off the five deadly assumptions, and you’ll begin to gain the momentum you need.

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How to Handle an Ineffective Boss

March 6th, 2013 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Business, Communication, Management 10 Comments »

It happens to nearly everyone at least once. You find yourself working for an ineffective boss whose issues impact you and your team. While it’s certainly disappointing, it doesn’t have to be an unstoppable force of destruction.

There are three mistakes I see talented professionals make time and again when they find themselves in this unfortunate situation:

1. Avoiding taking action by playing psychologist. “Passive-aggressive,” “Taking out his anger at the ex-wife on everyone on his team,” “Bad childhood,” “Hates women,” “Commitment-phobe.” These may or may not be real issues your boss is facing. Who knows? However, spending too much time hypothesizing about a psychological issue is a way to disempower yourself because it’s all about the other person which makes you nothing more than a helpless victim.
2. Losing perspective by getting attached to one — and only one – solution. “I must persevere and turn around this product line no matter how much my funding gets cut or how often my boss and her boss change direction.” “I must get a big win so he can see how wrong he is.” “I’m going to HR and I’m not giving up until they fight for what’s right.” There’s rarely one clear-cut superior solution to the problems caused by an ineffective boss. However, in the American workplace in particular, we are by habit goal-driven, and you can find yourself setting a firm goal based on one particular solution, when in fact, there are probably better solutions and there are certainly more options.
3. Creating an emotional sinkhole by making it personal or taking sides in political battles. Ineffective bosses lead to lower performance which often leads to stress which often leads to making it personal or taking sides in a backside-covering political battle. When you find yourself thinking of your boss in sweeping terms that belittle him or her as a human being, you feed the intensely negative energy that is already there, and this does nothing to help you or your team. Likewise, an ineffective boss is an easy target for snarky side conversations, but this can also deepen the emotional sinkhole because it’s all about the other person, and casts you and others as the victims of his or her ineffectiveness.

Instead, try one or more of these techniques to view the situation from a different perspective and address it in the way that’s right for you.

Step back from the situation and size up the degree to which his or her incompetence affects you. Sure, it’s disappointing when your boss routinely lets you down, but what is the actual impact? Slowing down your professional growth for a few months isn’t in the same league as your entire bonus being on the line or your personal reputation being put in jeopardy with people you respect. This reflective exercise looks very different for different people at different times in their lives. However, doing this exercise calibrates the situation to your unique needs. I’ve seen clients come to the realization that several years of minor ineffectiveness have added up to something much bigger than they realized, and that they needed to take stronger action. I’ve also had clients realize that their situation is short-term and that they just wanted to stop letting it bother them so much.

Assess if you are in a politically messy situation and if so, begin basic defensive action. Employees have lost their jobs due to ineffective managers who failed to protect them and in some cases, gave them the ax. If you sense any risk and it’s important to keep your job, document conversations, agreements, and open items in follow-up emails after conversations. Try to have fewer 1:1 conversations and more group conversations, if this is appropriate to the work. Maintain your composure no matter how absurd a conversation becomes. One of my clients found himself receiving the wrong performance review from a general manager who couldn’t keep her direct reports straight in her own mind. She launched into the review thinking he was another guy on the team. He maintained his composure and told her that the objectives she was covering were for the other guy’s projects. He also made sure that accurate data about his performance was in writing. You don’t have to become ultra-paranoid or stop trying to build a positive working relationship, but you do need to anticipate that trouble could come your way and take simple (though admittedly, tedious) steps to protect your team and yourself.

Consider multiple ways to deal with the situation. If the ineffectiveness is entrenched or the result of a bevy of bad bosses on up the line, you may need to simply go find yourself a better boss at a better company. However, if your ineffective boss is new to the role and having a bumpy transition, you could choose to ramp up your compassion and figure out how to help him or her be better at the job. Consider options like going out of your way to ensure that the team achieves its goals while the boss gets up to speed on new responsibilities, or offering to help out in an area which your boss doesn’t enjoy and doesn’t do well. This can be something as simple as initiating a team-building outing or helping to validate a project plan.

Honestly ask yourself if you are resisting adapting to a change. For example, it’s painful to admit that you might be overly critical of the boss because you applied for her job and were rejected, or that your expectations are too high because you’ve had three bad bosses in as many years, or that even if his strategy is sound, you just plain hate it. If you do recognize that you are resisting adapting to a change, you may decide that adapting is a better choice, or you may decide to voice your concerns about the change and commit to making it successful, or you may even decide that the change is not for you and go find another job. Whatever you decide, at least it will be an informed choice, made after self-reflection, rather than a choice driven by unexamined and unconscious feelings.

Look at the trend. Ask your spouse or a close friend what trend he or she sees. Have you been complaining about this incompetent boss for a long time? Frequently? Do you seem to complain about every boss, or is this a one-off? Is there any pattern he or she sees? I have lovingly and firmly told friends that they are no longer allowed to complain to me about their bosses because they needed to either get a new boss or get a new attitude. Have you asked your confidantes for their feedback? Their perspectives can help you gain insights impossible to gain on your own, and make better decisions about what to do.

Finally, many people have asked me the secret to avoiding an incompetent boss in the first place. The intent of the question is spot-on. However, the truth today is that you can’t do much to prevent it. Markets change quickly, and companies change structure and direction quickly in response.

For many of you, this means you will be hired by one boss and within a matter of months, teams will be restructured and you will be working for a different boss. Likewise, you may find that your terrific boss isn’t so terrific once promoted too quickly to a role he or she can’t handle and won’t master for quite some time. The same applies when your company announces that it’s been acquired and the next day you report to someone from the acquiring company.

I believe we are about to see much more mobility in the job market as well. For leaders and professionals, the job market of today is a far cry from just two years ago, and an alarmingly high percentage of these highly-skilled individuals are disengaged and eager to leave their companies. You are likely to change bosses this year simply due to better offers elsewhere.

Businesses have become far more dynamic and far less stable and structured. The opportunities in this environment will be amazing for those who can be more dynamic in how they view, assess, and deal with challenges.

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Fix My Boss

February 1st, 2013 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Business, Change Leadership, Communication No Comments »

It was a cold and dreary winter day. I sat in a conference room with a VP of Operations and his team of nine directors for their quarterly operations review. The most senior director, Paul, began his presentation. As the minutes ticked by, my mood began to match the grey day outside. It was downright depressing, and not because Paul reported bad news. On the contrary, Paul’s organization was excelling, with most of the dashboard a cheery green, and just a few spots of yellow and red to indicate areas where they were struggling.

Paul was an operations star who could manage a larger global scope than anyone else in the company. He had earned the respect of everyone who worked with him. Never one to arrive unprepared, Paul was now reporting on a mind-numbing 43 projects. Each slide in his seemingly endless deck shared every statistic we could ever want to know about the activities on a given subset of tasks on each project over the past three months. Every question, however obscure, was answered immediately, accurately, and with the utter confidence that can only come from knowing your voluminous material cold.

There was just one big problem with all of this. Paul wasn’t happy and he wasn’t engaged. He had been a global operations star for over a decade. He was part of a very small club, the rare few who can effectively manage complex technical operations in over 100 countries at the same time, no matter what happened. Need two thousand PC’s up and running in a remote Chinese city this month? No sweat. Need four hundred highly specialized technicians in Brazil for three months? Child’s play. Need a network installed in the throes of a civil war in northern Africa? Been there, done that. How about renegotiating an unfavorable mega-million-dollar contract with a key vendor? Shrug.

Paul felt agitated and unappreciated. He firmly believed his boss had pigeon-holed him as a “super-manager” and would never give him the level of strategic responsibilities that would excite him at this point in his career. Privately, he told me he was certain he was one of the strongest leaders in the company and that his boss just didn’t get it. Paul received calls from executive recruiters every week, and he was seriously considering going to work for a competitor he felt would appreciate his leadership.

However, the quarterly operations review revealed an essential truth that Paul had missed. On the inside, he saw himself as a strategic and very senior leader. On the outside, he still communicated as if he were one or even two levels down, indeed, a super-manager. By launching into detailed slides without context, reporting on past activities without context, and presenting data in rapid succession without interpretation, he might as well have been screaming, “I’m the best bleepin’ manager you’ve ever had, and that’s all I bring to the table.”

So what can we learn from Paul? Plenty, because Paul was holding on to an ego-driven belief that put blinders on him. In fact, if Paul could let go of this belief, he could get everything he wanted.

The belief was that his boss didn’t “get it.” Likewise, your boss may or may not really understand or appreciate your potential. It’s impossible to know for sure. However, you can greatly influence the situation by examining your own assumption that it’s all his or her problem.

Paul believed that by presenting data that proved his amazing performance, he was conveying what a stellar leader he was. He also believed that it was up to his boss to understand what a fine leader he was and treat him accordingly. Both of these unquestioned assumptions became barriers to Paul achieving the extraordinary leadership of which he was capable.

Ninety-nine percent of the time, people only heard data from Paul, not a vision. No wonder they saw him as a super-manager. Sure, he mentioned his strategy from time to time, in quarterly strategic planning off-site meetings, but never referred back to it before presenting his updates in operations reviews. By doing this, he made it difficult for people to engage with him. He required people who already have too much to remember to try to dig back into their memories and accurately recall his vision and strategy, and to interpret the data against that vision and strategy. One of these people was his boss, who worried that Paul’s poor communication was holding him back.

If you are not seen as the leader you believe yourself to be, check to make sure you’re communicating like an extraordinary leader. It may very well be that your boss is clueless (some certainly are), but if even 10% of the problem lies with you, you’ll just take it with you to your next boss instead of changing for the better.

Start with this list of questions. How well and how often do you do each of the following?

1. Leaders very explicitly point people toward a vision of the future.
2. They create a strategy to move the organization closer to this vision.
3. They remind everyone of the vision and the strategy at every opportunity, assuming that it’s perfectly normal for people to need to hear it several times before it resonates with them or can even be remembered amid all of the noise.
4. They keep their attitude positive and constructive. Instead of judging others as “not getting it,” they seek a better understanding of the circumstances that make it difficult for others to embrace this vision and strategy. This includes an honest examination of how they themselves may be making it difficult for others to embrace the vision and strategy, not just an assessment of outside factors.
5. They don’t just present data and assume the numbers speak for themselves, they interpret data so others will understand if there is progress toward the vision or risks to achieving the vision.

Luckily for Paul, one of his peers recognized what was happening in the operations review, and subtly provided the leadership role by saying things like:

“So I interpret this data to mean that we have more risk in the first strategy going forward. Is that how you see it?”
“Wasn’t one of the key elements of your vision a career path for all key talent? It looks like we’re 70% there, but there are significant challenges to reaching 100%.”
And when a heated debate ensued, she listened with a positive and constructive mindset, and then said, “What Paul is saying, George, is actually pretty close to what you’re saying. Let’s go back to the vision and strategy for this group and see if you’re really misaligned or actually in violent agreement, like I think you are. The strategy Paul’s referring to includes…”

Much to his surprise, Paul’s boss also turned out to be one of his biggest supporters. Paul just hadn’t been able to see it when his ego was bruised. With practice, feedback, and focus, Paul was able to see how he unconsciously created much of the problem that so frustrated him. He realized that much of the solution was in his control, not dependent on anyone else, that he held more power than he thought.

It was such an honor to work with Paul and his boss. I was truly elated to see his transformation. Of course, “Paul” is a fictitious character combining the traits, situation, and challenges of several clients, and it was exciting working with each of them. Do you recognize any aspect of yourself in the character of Paul? If so, that’s fantastic, because it means much of the power to get what you want lies with you, not with anybody else.

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A Better Way to Plan for 2013

December 7th, 2012 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Business, Management, Professional Development No Comments »

It’s that time of year! I don’t mean the many holidays celebrated this month. I mean the annual personal planning process that gears up in December. It can be a real crunch to execute at year-end while also planning for the coming year. Still, it’s on your mind regardless of whether you’re using a structured process or just daydreaming about what you’ll achieve in 2013.  Would you like to try a relatively simple, rewarding, and productive approach?

Most advice for annual personal planning begins with getting out of the box to envision the incredible possibilities for the year, but that’s not how most lives work. By the time you’re doing your 2013 plan, you probably already have dozens of commitments for the year, yet it’s suggested that you ignore all of these to have your beautiful, glorious strategic visioning moment.

This tension between the greatest possibilities and managing reality is healthy and it occurs naturally in the psyche. In fact, if you didn’t feel this tension, it would be a sign that there’s something important you’re ignoring. It’s so important that it’s one of the topics I’m focusing on in my upcoming book, Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: How to Remove the Invisible Barriers to Extraordinary Leadership.

Instead of assuming you must begin by visioning, try starting with the reality of your whole life (not just work), so you know how much time you will really have to pursue the more radical possibilities.

Here’s the process I personally use, step-by-step.

1. Begin with a large blank wall calendar. There is something grand about seeing the whole year laid out in one physical – not virtual – place. It will take very little time to transfer into Outlook when you are ready. Here’s the calendar I use.

2. Mark in any known critical dates in your job and/or business. For example, if you are a finance director in a publically-traded company, you’ll almost certainly be working long hours during the first and last two weeks of each quarter. If you’re in Sales, even if annual sales events haven’t been scheduled, you should know roughly when they are occurring, because they don’t change much from year to year. For consultants, write in every speech and webinar you’ve already committed to do, any face-to-face work that is committed or reasonably close to being committed, and any professional development you know you will do, particularly if it requires travel or real-time webinars.

3. Now for the fun part. Block out vacation time, including at least one long weekend each quarter and at least one vacation that lasts 10 calendar days, inclusive of weekends. If you don’t, you’ll miss the mental and emotional renewal that keeps you intellectually at your best. Your stakeholders need your best thinking and enthusiasm far more than they need whatever you would have personally produced in those days. Even if you’re not 100% sure of the exact dates, block them out on the calendar in a dotted line so you can at least get a visual image of how much time you’ve allocated.

4. Next, add in any family travel. Many of us live in a different city or country than our families, and while it may be difficult to pinpoint exactly when you will see them, you can hold some dates as a starting point. I list this separately from Step 3 because I believe it’s important to designate both time with your loved ones and vacations that focus on relaxation or new adventures.

5. Now – this may seem silly — block out time for the things you will need to do that nobody remembers to put in their calendar, such as dental and medical check-ups. Particularly for those of us with both N and P in our four-letter MBTI code, it can be easy to completely forget about this and then get annoyed later in the year when we “don’t have time for this annoying stuff.”

6. For small business owners, be sure to include a chunk of time each quarter to discuss your revenues, expenses, and tax situation with your accountant and bookkeeper. No business owner should ever be surprised by how much time their finances take quarterly and at year end. If you’ve allocated the time, you won’t be caught off guard. This is true whether you have a finance person or not. You are accountable for all of the finances of the business, and need to personally be on top of this.

7. What now remains is the time you have available for your personal goals, some of which will be work-related and some of which, I certainly hope, will not. Now you can begin the more familiar planning steps:

a) explore possibilities

b) narrow them to what you really want

c) identify how far you can get toward each goal with the time you have available

d) designate time for each of the activities that help you achieve the goal

I’ve honed this process over several years and it has made a world of difference in the accomplishment of my goals and in my personal satisfaction. It’s a hybrid containing the best of each process I’ve learned along the way, and it keeps both sides of the dynamic tension in balance. I hope you enjoy it, and I wish you a very happy and prosperous 2013!

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