Merge's Blog

Monthly Archives: August 2011

If you want to make an impact, prepare and practice first

“How was your fitness class?” I asked my husband as he walked in the door and dropped his gym bag on the floor.

“Frustrating,” came the response.  My eyebrows rose with the unspoken question.

“The instructor decided to introduce some new routines today.  But she clearly hadn’t practiced them herself.  It seemed as if she was formulating them in her mind while she demonstrated them!  So she kept getting confused and missing steps; then she would correct herself as she went along and sometimes start from the beginning and other times pick up where she left off.  It was a mess; all in all, a very confusing and exasperating experience!  If only she’d thought it through and practiced it at least once on her own before she presented it in front of a group of people, it would have been much better.”

Hmm!  My husband’s experience at the gym got me thinking about some of the business presentations I’ve observed over the years.  I have seen very intelligent people unable to communicate their message to others, primarily because they haven’t taken a few minutes to formulate their thoughts and practice what they wanted to say.  Because they are authorities in their areas of expertise, they feel that they can improvise or present off-the-cuff.  Yet what you know is not necessarily linked to how well you can communicate it to others.  There are very few people who are able to successfully cobble together a business presentation “on-the-fly”; the rest of us must put at least some preparation and practice into it.  If you don’t invest at least some time in laying out an outline and practicing key components of what you want to say, you run the risk of confusing and perhaps even annoying your audience, something you definitely don’t want to do if your objective is to persuade and convince.

So, do you agree?  Do you normally invest time in preparing and practicing before you present, or are you one of those lucky people who can “wing it”?

What do you want to know about creating a fun productive workplace?

So the research unequivocally shows that employees who have fun at work are also more motivated and productive.  Which means that if you’re a leader, it VERY worth your while to create a work climate that your employees find enjoyable, entertaining, playful and encouraging.  But not at the sacrifice of professionalism and performance!  On Wednesday September 14, I’m leading a live Audio Conference on exactly this topic — using fun to motivate your team and maximize performance — and I’ll be opening the lines for questions.  So tell me — what is one thing that I could help you with or one obstacle that I could help you overcome in order to create a fun, positive and productive workplace? Go to www.AskMerge.com to ask your question and I’ll answer as many as I can on September 14.

And while you’re at www.AskMerge.com, be sure to vote in our “fun” online poll.  Tell us what your workplace is like, an see how others have answered this question.  Just click on the link on the bottom left of the screen.

Actively seek out feedback

As a leader, it’s important to actively seek out feedback about your department or organization from others.  Whether it is customers, internal clients, or your employees, each of these stakeholders has important information to share with you about how you and your department are doing, and what you could be doing better.  But … the challenge lies in getting these people to be forthcoming with their insights.  Either they’re afraid of the negative repercussions of giving you this feedback, or they don’t see any value in offering their viewpoints.  In the latest issue of CGA Magazine, I give you four deliberate and effective things that you can do to uncover this valuable information.  Read the article – What the Buzz?  Keeping your finger on the pulse of opinion.

And of course, I would love to hear what you are doing?  Are you using any of these four strategies?  Or are you doing something else that works?  Do share.

Strategic thinking leads to lasting business and professional success

Recently I had an experience with a local service provider that once again illustrated to me how some (so-called) business people simply can’t think beyond the short-term.  Back in March, I bought a gift certificate for a manicure/pedicure at the little nail studio in my neighbourhood here in Calgary.  I called a few weeks ago to book my appointment and was surprised when the person on the phone told me that she wouldn’t honour it.

“We’re no longer called Extreme Nails,” explained Emily.  “I bought the studio from the previous owner and it’s now called Excellent Nails.  Since this is a certificate you bought from the previous owner, it is no longer valid.”

[Note: the names of the studios and the new owner have been changed]

I suggested to Emily that since I was a repeat customer, it would be in her best interest to honour the certificate as the potential existed for me to become a regular customer at her shop, but to no avail.  As I hung up the phone, I mentally shrugged, putting it down to a poor purchase combined with some bad luck.  But then, a few days later, I walked past the store, and curious, I stopped in for just a minute.  Continue reading

Long-distance leadership? Obtain written progress reports

By far, the biggest challenge in working with off-site employees is that communication becomes harder.  In previous columns, I’ve suggested that setting office hours and planning on at least one informal phone call a week can be very effective in overcoming the problem of “physical distance”.  Here’s another idea.

Obtain written monthly progress reports at least once a month.  Have your employee put in writing two things – the accomplishments of the past month and an update on new and outstanding issues.  This doesn’t have to be anything formal nor lengthy; in fact an e-mail note or one-page Word document will do.  This written report serves two very crucial purposes.  First, it forces the employee to acknowledge what has gone well over the past month and perhaps more importantly, it gives you an opportunity to acknowledge the work, something that often slips out of sight when working with remote employees.  Second, it keeps you aware of what your employee is working on, and more significantly, where you can step in to help support his or her efforts.  This written report will help you do two things – (1) offer praise and encouragement and (2) lend assistance where needed; both very critical functions of leadership.

If you’re in a “remote” working relationship, what else works (or doesn’t)?  What are you doing to overcome the challenges of long-distance leadership?  Do tell.

Watch your step and stay focused

E nihi ka hele … mai pulale i ka ‘ike a ka maka

— Hawaiian proverb

Translation:

Watch your step … and don’t let things you see lead you into trouble.

I first saw this truism on a sign at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, put there to caution visitors against wandering off the marked trails.  Certainly, in an active geological site where seemingly solid rock formations can unexpectedly turn into fragile sulphur banks and then crumble into steam vents in just a few short moments, this is very sage advice.  But this wise counsel is just as applicable in the workplace and to your role as a leader.

As a leader, you are faced with a myriad of responsibilities – day-to-day issues, fire-fighting crises, stacks of phone messages, and of course a never-ending stream of email – and while each is very important, they likely also pull you away from a long-term focus.  Yet it is the long-term initiatives that will actually take your organization (or your department) onward and upward to the next level of success.  So how do you focus that critical mental energy and time towards such issues?  By doing exactly what this Hawai’ian proverb suggests.  First, create a plan, preferably in writing.  Second, watch your step.  Move forward decisively and deliberately, but tread carefully nevertheless; there will be unexpected obstacles and setbacks and you have to be observant and prepared to counter them.  Third, stay focused.  Expect that there will be distractions along the way – unanticipated stakeholders, unforeseen options and the dreaded scope creep – but concentrate on your ultimate goal and stay the course.

How to maintain your composure? Identify your main triggers.

You’ve probably found yourself in situations where you’ve come dangerously close to losing your composure.  Perhaps it’s a frustrating employee, an irritating colleague, or even an exasperating client; whatever the cause, you know that as a leader, it’s important to stay poised, positive and unflappable, even in trying moments, and to think clearly and stay focused when the pressure is on.  C’mon, we’ve all had the experience of doing something in the heat of the moment that we regretted later.  So what can you do to maintain your self-control?

The first step to exercising restraint is to identify your main triggers – the things that cause you to get upset, irritated or impatient.  It’s actually worth your while to make a list of the main triggers that get you all hot and bothered.  Perhaps it’s people interrupting you, colleagues who seem incompetent, someone who talks too much, folks who are rude, lateness, clutter, or too much noise.  Ask yourself: what are the things that not only irritate me, but also drain my mental capacity?   Once you can clearly articulate what causes you to lose your cool, you’ve just taken a giant step towards staying calm, composed and unruffled in the face of stress and strain.

In the coming months, I’ll periodically offer up other specific ideas for maintaining self-control.  But for now, I’d like to know what you do.  What specific actions do you take to keep your cool under pressure?  Do share!

Your credibility is created by others

About six months ago, I was asked by a senior leader at a client company to help facilitate his regular leadership team meetings.  The leader was concerned because recent meetings had not gone well, and he was troubled by his managers’ reluctance to speak up and offer insights on the different subjects under discussion.  I agreed to help, and suggested that for the next meeting, I simply attend as an observer.  Being an onlooker would give me an opportunity to watch team interactions and dynamics, and I hoped that it would give me some additional perspectives on what was going (and not going) well in the group.  I observed one particular behaviour that I wanted to share in today’s blog post.

There was one manager on the team who had only been in the organization for just under a year, and who repeatedly used phrases such as:

“I have a lot more experience about this kind of scenario than you do.”

“This is my area of expertise so …”

“That’s why I studied this subject for over six years.”

All these and similar sentiments were verbalized with one singular objective – to let his colleagues know that because of his expertise, they were obliged to defer to his opinion and agree with his recommendations.

There was only one problem – Continue reading

Raise your employees’ self-esteem: offer genuine and sincere praise

Earlier this year in a previous blog post, I told you about the Hawthorne Effect – ground-breaking research on employee motivation by Dr. Elton Mayo in the 1930’s.  In a nutshell, Mayo discovered a fundamental concept that may seem obvious to us today: that workplaces are social environments and people thrive in positive and respectful surroundings.  So, as a leader, when you create a positive atmosphere at work, you are much more likely to secure your employees’ cooperation and loyalty, and thus improve productivity and performance.  Which leads to the next obvious question: what are some specific things that you can do to create such an environment and motivate and encourage your employees to peak performance?

Here’s one very effective approach: take steps to raise the self-esteem of your employees.  And the simplest and most influential way to do so – offer genuine and sincere praise for the things that they do well.  The keys to success – first, your praise must be genuine and sincere, and second, keep in mind that saying “thank you” is quite possibly the easiest alternative there is.  Now you may think to yourself that you do this already, but wait just a moment … let’s conduct a little experiment.  Tomorrow, before you go to work, put ten pennies in one pocket.  Continue reading