Archive for the ‘Management’ Category

How to get the most out of strategic planning

Friday, September 2nd, 2011

Strategic planning has been a hot topic of conversation lately as companies focus on how to thrive — not just survive — in a challenging economy. Here are my two cents. Strategic planning is all about the questions we ask, the new insights that come into view, and the concrete, smart and actionable outcomes that come about. 

Strategic plans are often several inches thick and packed with data. We absolutely need the data to drive data-informed decisions. And even before we collect the data, we need to know which questions we want the data to help us answer. Ideally the data will lead us in new directions and drive important decisions not just confirm what we already know.

There’s a wonderful story about Albert Einstein proctoring an exam. One of his students was surprised by the test’s questions and said, “Professor Einstein, you accidentally gave us last year’s exam. The questions are the same.” Einstein replied, “The questions may be the same, but the answers are not.”

So whether you’re asking new questions or revisiting important questions you’ve explored in the past, what new answers are you discovering through your strategic planning process?

10 Ways to Be More Confident

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

I’m often asked by clients to help managers stepping up into more visible leadership roles.  They typically say, “He’s very smart and has great ideas…but he needs to be more confident.”

While there is no “confident” switch, there are ways to help us feel more confident. Here are ten suggestions:

  1. Focus on why you have the position, the seat at the table, the opportunity to speak at a conference…Think about your successes and accomplishments — give yourself a silent, in-the-moment pep talk!
  2. Don’t wing it when meeting people for the first time. There is no excuse today not to be prepared with insights about a prospective client (both the company and individual).  It’s easy to do a quick Google search or check someone’s profile on LinkedIn, yet it always impresses the other person, which boosts your confidence!
  3. Use that preparation to help you shape your point of view and then own it! Deliver your point of view eyeball to eyeball!
  4. Banish tentative language. “I think…” “We might…” “I’m pretty confident.” If you don’t sound like you believe in what you’re saying, why should anyone else care?
  5. Don’t fidget. No nail biting or cuticle picking or hair twirling or pen clicking or coin-rattling in your pocket.
  6. Stand tall. Excellent posture exudes confidence. If seated, lean into the conversation vs. retreating into the back of your chair.
  7. Smile. Remind yourself that you’re happy to be there, in that situation, at that event, at that moment.
  8. Anticipate conversation starters and questions that will demonstrate sincere interest in others. 
  9. Look confident. Dress the part.
  10. Beware of the “wet fish” handshake. When you enter a conference room or restaurant, put your hand out to confidently shake the other person’s hand. Have a firm (but still friendly) handshake and make eye contact.


The next time someone says to you, “you just need to be more confident,” remember these ten suggestions.

How to Give Positive Feedback That Means Something And Avoid Being a Human “Like” Button

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

Do you worry that you’re giving praise so often that you risk diluting its impact and value? Is there such a thing as being too nice?

Recent critique of the current season of “American Idol” proposes that either America has suddenly become more talented or the new judges just like everything. “When human ‘Like’ buttons Steven, Jennifer and Randy give out too many gold stars the value of gold drops,” according to Time Magazine writer, James Poniewozik in \”Six Thumbs Up!\”

Managers in Loeb Group training often say that they sometimes withhold positive feedback until a team member does something truly extraordinary rather than praise everything and render their feedback meaningless. This concern is expressed most often by the Baby Boomer generation who worry that Generation X and Millenials have grown up receiving trophies for coming in first, second, third AND last place. If you get a prize for just showing up, does the prize still mean anything?

The reality is, however, that most managers are far from over-praising their team members. A more common mistake managers make is giving feedback that is so generic “Good job” or “Well done” that it feels good for the moment but doesn’t let a team member know exactly what they did that they should repeat in the future.

Smaller things that merit positive feedback: Most often when people leave a conference room, they leave behind their empty coffee cups and papers. It’s clear that they think someone else will come in after them to clean up. But you’ve noticed that one team member (and not the most junior person on the team) always stays behind to get the room ready for the next meeting. Acknowledge this person’s thoughtfulness, awareness of his surroundings and attention to detail. Every effort that helps us all work together is important.

Bigger effort pays off: Have you noticed that you are making fewer changes when you edit something written by your team member? While you might be thinking “It’s about time that this guy finally wrote something good, instead try saying, “Thank you for the hard work you’ve been doing on your writing. The last three documents you asked me to approve were well-organized with a great opening paragraph and strong close, written with our audience in mind, and proof-read so that there were no typos.”

Exceptional accomplishments: Maybe one team member in particular has demonstrated exceptional initiative, commitment and perseverance over the past few weeks of annual program planning for an important client. While other team members seemed exhausted by the added pressure, this team member remained upbeat and demonstrated a “can do” spirit whenever asked to do more. Say exactly that!

Specific and timely feedback is not mindless and not the equivalent of the “like” button on Facebook. Recognition of the big and little things will be appreciated and will result in accountability and the excellence that you want to encourage.

What are your “Four Questions?”

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

In the spirit of Passover, the Jewish holiday celebrated around the world this week, I’m dedicating this blog to the practice of asking questions — so important for families and also business leaders, managers and client service professionals.

In Jewish tradition, the youngest children at the Passover seder (the holiday dinner) ask four questions about the holiday’s traditions. We ask the same four questions every year (and have for more than three thousand years) and yet everyone gets excited to ask and answer the four questions. I grew up asking the questions in yiddish, hebrew and english. Today at our family’s seder table children and adults ask the questions because we recognize that all of us are still learning. We ask the questions in yiddish, hebrew, english and have added french, spanish and, this year, mandarin. Everyone actively participates — including my eight-five year old aunt and my six-year old cousin.

Why bother asking the same four questions each year? In addition to honoring tradition, asking the same four questions is part of a structure, a practiced and disciplined way of examining a situation.

Why bother asking the same four questions when we know the answer? At this time every year, we revisit the questions and answers, and both provide lessons for us. The essence of the answer remains the same but the context in which we explore the answers evolves in response to our lives and world conditions.

Why bother innovating how we ask the questions? Building on the tradition is part of the mandate of this holiday — to enlarge upon the telling of the Passover story. In addition, innovating encourages us to take a new look, to examine what we’ve done for years from a different perspective.

What questions do your children know they’ll be asked at the dinner table? What questions do your team members know they’ll be asked to explore during your weekly status meetings? What questions do you explore during your quarterly or annual planning sessions with your client?  How can you enlarge upon those questions? How can you innovate to make sure that everyone’s really paying attention?

Are you a “yes” or “no” person?

Friday, April 15th, 2011

In a gross oversimplification of the workplace, there are two kinds of people: those who say “yes” and those whose default response is “no.”

Let’s take a closer look at an account executive at a large public relations firm who says “yes” to everything. Not only is he considered one of the most positive, eager and open people on the planet, he’s also one of the most overworked and stressed. Despite all his effort, his work is inconsistent and he’s disappointing rather than impressing his manager. He is the first person to volunteer to take on a new project or opportunity to learn new skills. But he also says “yes” even when he doesn’t have a moment free in the day, even when he might not be the best person to get the job done and when he doesn’t feel prepared to do the work. “Yep…got it!” But does he really? When would it be better for this account executive to say “no” and how could he say “no” in a way that enhances rather than hinders his reputation?

Managers love a team member who is on top of his work, eager to take on additional responsibility and shows initiative. They welcome the confident individual who says, “Yes, I’d like to do that” followed by either “and I’ll have the work completed by 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday,” or “I have a few questions that I’d like to talk about with you so that I understand your expectations and make sure I approach the task successfully.”  Or “I have some other work due later this week and I want to confirm that I can meet those deadlines and still work on this project.”

Managers also know which of their team members always respond with the same knee-jerk, “Nope.” “Can’t do that.” “No time.” “I’m far too busy.” Or worse, “That’s not something I do…”

What about those times when a team member is genuinely swamped and the manager isn’t really asking for a “yes” or “no” rather just insisting something has to get done in what she knows is an unreasonable time frame. “The client really, really, really needs this tomorrow morning” (said apologetically yet firmly). Typically the manager has already agreed to the tight deadline in the spirit of keeping the client happy.

Is the answer to pull another all-niter or is there an alternative to keep the account executive, manager and client happy? Instead of grinning and bearing it, the account executive can do some probing to learn what the client really needs by the deadline looming less than 24 hours away. Perhaps instead of a finished product (completed to the agency’s usual high standards), the account executive could present a well-thought-through outline, or questions for discussion, or samples of work done for other clients to be used as a jumping-off point for the discussion.

The account executive hasn’t exactly said “yes.”  But he hasn’t said “no,” is still being helpful and has proposed a compromise that may make more sense given the time frame. Of course there will always be those times when the tight turn-around isn’t negotiable. But wouldn’t it be great to make those the exception rather than the rule?

As with most things in life, people in the workplace are best-served by striking a balance between the unrealistic eager beaver and the self-obsessed, unhelpful naysayer. You want to be known as the person who is positive, enthusiastic and standing with two feet firmly — and successfully — grounded in reality!

Contagious Handshakes: Reminding Managers to Pass it On

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

An editorial in yesterday’s Boston Globe, Handshakes: Good vibes can be contagious, was one of those feel-good reads. But more than that, the article is a great reminder for managers to pass along positive experiences that they are privileged to have.

In the article, students from a school in Massachusetts visited by President Obama who had the opportunity to shake the President’s hand are transmitting the experience by shaking hands with other students. “Hand to hand, the students linked themselves to each other and to the president who honored their school. There can be no better metaphor for what makes a successful school or community or society….”

In today’s workplace, managers are moving fast — so fast that they don’t always remember to share experiences they’re having that are relevant for their teams, such as company briefings or client feedback conversations. The decision they make to break the link by not passing along information is a lost opportunity to connect. Of course, managers are sometimes privy to conversations that can’t be shared, and I’m not suggesting that they breach confidences or share content not yet ready for public distribution. But in all other instances more communication, a stronger commitment to passing it on, can go a long way in boosting employees’ sense of community.  In the workplace, communication can be the “contagious handshake.”

Managers, motivation, delegation…and the Passover seder

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

What does the upcoming Jewish holiday of Passover have to do with managers?

As Passover approaches, Jewish community leaders in Boston realized that one of the obstacles to young adults hosting their own seders (the traditional meal and ceremony) was that people just don’t know how to do it. With that one insight, had the idea to create a do-it-yourself kit for celebrating Passover that includes everything from the shopping list through the materials needed to lead a Passover seder on your own.

There are two lesson here for managers about motivation and delegation: 1) hone in on the most significant obstacles that might be keeping your team members from taking more initiative; and 2) offer support with a project’s daunting first steps.

Hone in on the right obstacles: There are lots of potential reasons why young Jewish adults might not be making the holiday on their own including the possibility that they’re just not interested. If there’s absolutely no interest, then all the support in the world may not make a difference. But if you focus on helping those people who want to do it but just don’t know how, then you’ve identified a problem for which you can create a solution!

Make the first steps less daunting: Very often team members get stuck at the very beginning of a project — overwhelmed by the complexity of a project or simply because they’ve never done anything like what they’re being asked to do. In the ideal delegation scenario a manager would say, “Now that we’ve discussed the context for the project, confirmed expectations and deadlines, let’s talk about how you might get started…” Or the manager might ask, “This is a large project. How can I help you jumpstart the effort?”  Or, “Given everything we’ve talked about, where do you think you’ll begin to get this project started?”

Good managers remove obstacles and offer support to help team members successfully take initiative.

Taking responsibility as citizens of the world, at home and work

Monday, March 21st, 2011

Do we standby and merely witness or do we get involved? How can we each personally — and then collectively — take responsibility for improving our condition in the world, at home and at work?

These are tumultuous times. The world watches as Japan is devastated by earthquake, tsunami and nuclear power plant failures and radioactive leaks. The world watches as people revolt, in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain and Libya. Our economy struggles to recover, yet remains so fragile that world events such as the flow of oil from Libya and the industrial uncertainty in Japan shake investor confidence.

Two experiences this past weekend prompted this morning’s blog about personal and collective responsibility. I attended a protest rally this weekend, just one of many protests I’ve joined in my lifetime. The mere act of attending, of standing up to be counted, is an act of personal responsibility. There was collective potential from a gathering of close to a thousand people coming together to send a message to our legislators. Perhaps most significant for me was the rallying cry in response to one individual’s speech, “Not on our watch.” A reminder that we can either sit back, shake our heads in frustration and let it happen, or step forward to try to influence what takes place in our lifetime. “Not on my watch.” “Not on our watch.”

While still thinking about the rally, I read Seth Godin’s blog, Idea Tourism.  “Idea Tourism” urges us to actively engage in our life’s experiences, to participate vs. just pass through.

Taking responsibility in Japan: worldwide expert counsel and rescuers, and individuals sending desperately needed financial support.

Taking responsibility in Libya: a coalition of countries vowing to help after debating what constitutes another country’s internal conflict vs. a humanitarian crisis. (This remains a controversial and difficult decision and the outcome remains to be seen.)

Taking responsibility back home: the budget crisis has sparked individuals and groups to get involved, to stand up to ensure that budget cuts are compassionate, balanced and compelling vs. knee-jerk, self-serving and politically motivated.

Taking responsibility in the workplace: managers and employees are taking responsibility, to add value, to help their companies save money, and ultimately to help create jobs so that more Americans can pay their mortgages and feed their families.  Managers and employees need to hold each other accountable for doing things differently.

These are tough times, and we all need to consciously live the mantra, “not on our watch.”  What will you take responsibility for making happen? What negative outcome can you help prevent?

Tip for managers: celebrate small wins

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

“Long, dark tunnel.” “No end in sight.” “A black hole.” We’ve all worked on projects that seemed never-ending. Managing those projects is even harder as you fight to keep your team members focused and motivated.

I thought about the “dark tunnel” struggle as I read Dan Heath and Chip Heath’s column in Fast Company, “Why True Grit Matters in the Face of Adversity”.  The authors talk about those goals that require single-mindedness.  “Grit is tough because you don’t get the psychic payoffs that come along with any exciting discovery or a shift in direction. You rarely get big wins to celebrate.”

Ah-ha! That’s where managers can make a difference. Instead of letting your team wait — and work harder and harder — for that far-away big win, you need to celebrate the small wins along the way. The Heath brothers describe some small wins in their True Grit story about an anti-smoking campaign in North Carolina, which happens to be the home of the pro-tobacco (and smoking) lobby.

Imagine you’re overhauling a website for a client. The small wins might be agreeing on the website outline, getting approval on the design, submitting revised website copy and, later, getting client approval, finalizing website art and graphics, confirming the format, submitting the test to the client, and ultimately the moment when the website goes live. Take advantage of each of those milestone moments to celebrate the small wins and acknowledge the individuals and teams who make each win possible.

Celebrating the small wins along the way is one way in which we nourish ourselves and our team members. We remind ourselves why we love doing what we do. We’re motivated to return the next day and work tirelessly to reach the next milestone, the next small win.

What project is your team’s long, dark tunnel? What small wins can you celebrate?

Focus on 3 Things You Love About Your Clients, Managers, Teams…

Monday, February 14th, 2011

In honor of Valentine’s Day, focus on three things you love about your client. (She remembers to say thank you, she asks great questions, she is very demanding but holds herself to the same high standards…). Then three things you love about your manager. (He’s always accessible, he shares recognition for our team’s good work, he has my best interests at heart…). Then your team members. (They do whatever it takes to get the job done, they ask great questions, they collaborate well as a team). Then the individuals on your team. Then your peers. Keep that love coming!

And once you’ve thought about the three things, try communicating them. Go ahead…you can always say you got swept away by the spirit of Valentine’s Day.