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Category Archives: Leadership Tools

Garbage in, garbage out: poor inputs result in poor outputs

garbage in, garbage outGarbage in, garbage out is a phrase I learned in one of my first-year Computer Science classes, back in my university days.  It was used to express the important concept that incorrect or poor quality input will always produce faulty output.  I learned this phrase in the context of computers, but it’s a phrase that is just as easily applicable to the world of work.  Except, in recent times, I think we might have forgotten it.

Whether it’s hiring employees, sourcing out raw materials, or investing in training, I see repeated examples of short-sighted managers focusing only on solving the immediate problem.  Staff shortage? Let’s hire the first warm body that seems to have the required modicum of skills.  Need to cut costs?  Let’s find the cheapest material inputs.  New software or processes?  Let’s give our people the bare minimum of training and get them back to doing “real work” as soon as possible.

The problem with “Garbage in, garbage out”

The problem of course with all these approaches is what I said earlier – garbage in, garbage out.  When you are desperate enough to hire the first applicant simply because he meets the required minimums, you’ll never get off the turnover treadmill.   When your entire focus is on trying to find cheaper average inputs, your final product will always be of poor quality.  When you shortchange your people on the training they need, you’ll find yourself having to waste time and money doing it again later. Continue reading

Performance measurement – are you tracking the right metrics?

I have long been an advocate for performance measurement … as a way to motivate people (including myself) to get things done.  In fact, one of my leadership mantras is “What gets measured and publicized gets acted on!”  But if you’re going to make performance measurement work in a way that will create positive intended outcomes, then you have to make sure that you’re using the right benchmark.

It is better to have no timepiece than one that is wrong

performance measurementAn old mentor used to say to me: The worst kind of timepiece is the one that is wrong.  Think about it … if you don’t have a watch, then you are well aware that you don’t know the time.  So you know that you don’t know – conscious incompetence – and that is valuable information.  And then, if you really want to know what time it is, you’re going to find someone who has a watch, and ask.

But if you have a clock that is erratically fast or aimlessly slow (and you don’t realize that the problem exists), your natural inclination will be to accept the time you see at face value and assume that it is correct.  Which will, sooner or later, lead you into trouble. Continue reading

Active listening is a critical leadership skill

As regular readers of our blog know, active listening is an essential skill in leadership.  And like most aspects of leadership, it’s a learned skill.  Which is why I’m so pleased that Jackie Edwards is guesting on the blog today with this great piece focusing on the value of active listening.  Jackie is an editor and writer, who previously worked as an HR Manager for a small finance company.  She currently focuses on writing about the world of management and business.

Managers: Are You Really Listening?

When you’re talking to someone, naturally you want to know that they are listening. As in, really listening. This is especially true when it involves your place of work. As a manager, you have a huge part to play in your team’s happiness at work. Being a good listener is key to this. Employees want to know that their manager values their opinions, takes their points on board and responds accordingly. Seeing as we retain half of what we hear (at most), all of us should work on improving our listening skills. To be an effective leader, this is vital.

Be an active listener

The best listeners are active listeners. Active listening means not just hearing what someone says, but focusing on the speaker and showing that you are listening – whether that be through verbal or nonverbal cues, or both. Active listening can be practiced and developed over time by following a few simple steps: Continue reading

Waiting for all the facts … and making decisions

making decisions“We need to wait until we have all the facts …” is something I hear many managers and supervisors say.  It’s often in response to an issue that needs to be dealt with or an unexpected problem that has occurred.  Usually the situation is a difficult one and because the manager has no prior experience with making decisions in an identical or similar scenario, s/he is stalling for time.  The unfortunate reality of course is that if you wait for all the facts, you might be waiting for a really (really) long time; perhaps even an eternity.

When it comes to making decisions, you will never have all the facts

Leadership is about making decisions – it’s inherent in the role of a leader.  The reality is that there are very few instances in which leaders will have complete information … ever.  Whether it is predicting customer behaviour, forecasting sales volumes, expecting employees to act in certain ways, or anticipating your competitors’ activities, you will simply never have all the facts.  Which means that the real question is Continue reading

It’s time to get rid of the performance review!

Time to get rid of the performance reviewIs the performance review obsolete? Is it time to ditch this archaic exercise, which takes up valuable staff hours with no apparent gain? The answer is a resounding “yes” – and I make the case for getting rid of the performance review in my latest column for The Globe & Mail, which published today.  Here is a link to: It’s time to get rid of performance reviews

It no longer serves the intended purpose

Unfortunately, in many organizations today, reviews aren’t really designed to help employees grow; they’re designed to manage promotions and raises. The conversation tends to be more about “here is why you aren’t getting a raise” and less about “here’s how you can add value to the company and your career.” In other words, they’ve become the opposite of what they were intended to be.  If you add the antiquated practice of forced ranking, the result is more people who are disillusioned, disconnected and demoralized than before you started.

So … you know my opinion on this subject, but I’d love to know what you think.  The employee performance review – necessary evil or meaningless management practice?  The Globe has temporarily turned off commenting on articles while they resolve some technology issues, so you can’t comment directly on their site.  But I’d love to hear your thoughts right here on the blog.  Please share your thoughts and experiences by leaving a comment below.  I’d love to hear from you.

Sometimes, The Globe puts my columns behind their paywall. If that happens and you are unable to access the article directly through the link above, we have archived a pdf version at this link:

http://turningmanagersintoleaders.com/PDF/G&M_ManagementOnline_010129.pdf

A liquid metaphor about achieving goals

At this time of the year, there’s a lot of thought about setting and achieving goals.  In fact, on almost exactly this date last year, I blogged about how my unexpected encounter with a sea otter got me thinking about this very subject.  Today’s musings … about drinking water.

It’s a lot easier to drink water when you have a glass

glasswater3Potable water … absolutely essential to survival, but unless it is contained – within a glass, a bowl, or even a cupped hand – almost impossible to drink.  Sure you could kneel and lap at a running stream just like other members of the animal kingdom, but it’s a lot easier if it is in a vessel of some sort.  Even animals appreciate drinking from an enclosed source such as a pond or a puddle.

At a time of the year when so many people set and achieving goals and targets for their professional and personal lives, this liquid reality offers an apt metaphor.  Think of water as representing dreams and aspirations, the goals and objectives that you hope to accomplish over the next twelve months.  Just like a liquid takes less effort to drink when it is contained within a vessel, desired targets are easier to achieve when they are surrounded by a solid structure.  So what is this vessel that lets you move goals and aspirations from mere dreams to concrete reality?  The outer form of the vessel may differ from situation to situation, but it must always be constructed of three components – it must be specific, it must be measurable, and it must have a deadline.

Here is an example

Let’s say that one of your leadership objectives Continue reading

Open-enrollment leadership training events in Calgary this month

CPALast fall, I was excited to announce that for the third year in a row, I am partnering with the Chartered Professional Accountants of Alberta (CPA Alberta) to deliver high-quality cost-effective leadership skills training in a series of “public” programs.  What’s special about these programs is that they are open to ANYONE from ANY organization.  As many of you already know, most of my leadership training events are for specific client organizations, which means that only their employees can attend.  With this partnership with CPA Alberta though, even if you work in a smaller organization that doesn’t have the budget to run onsite leadership training programs, this is your chance to invest in yourself and your leaders’ competency and skill development!

Two leadership training events in Calgary on January 26 and 30

The first two events in Calgary in this series are coming up at the end of the month.  So if you live in or near Calgary AB, don’t miss this opportunity to invest in yourself and your leaders’ competency and skill development at a very reasonable cost, and a fraction of what it can cost through some commercial vendors.

Remember, this is open enrollment!

Again … you DO NOT have to be a member of CPA Alberta to register.  Continue reading

The five top leadership issues to watch out for in 2018

Happy new year everyone!  I hope your 2018 is already off to a fantastic start, both on the personal and well as professional fronts.  I’m excited to be kicking off a new year on the blog, looking forward to another great year of sharing tips and exchanging ideas, starting conversations and perhaps even some arguments, all in the pursuit of becoming even better leaders than you already are!

My first day of the new year came with a special bonus — my first 2018 column for The Globe & Mail was published in their New Year’s Day edition, both print and online!

The five employee-related trends that will gain the greatest momentum in the upcoming yearThe Globe & Mail, January 1, 2018

In The five top leadership issues in 2018, I make my predictions for the top five employee-related trends in the upcoming year.  My goal in creating this list of top-of-mind leadership issues was to give you insights as to where you should focus and emphasize your energy and effort as you go boldly into the future.  My forecasts come predominantly from two sources – from hundreds of conversations I have had with people in organizations this past year (including likely you), all the way from senior executives to front-line workers, and from my ongoing perusal of a wide variety of publications and academic journals. None of these five issues that I outline in this column are new; in fact, they’ve been gradually gaining traction for the past several years. But in 2018, I anticipate that attention to these five areas will gain the greatest momentum.

So take a read through and tell me what you think.  Is this what you’re seeing in your workplace as well?  The Globe has temporarily turned off commenting on articles while they resolve some technology issues, so you can’t comment directly on their site.  But I’d love to hear your thoughts right here on the blog.  Please add your perspectives on the top leadership issues in 2018 by leaving a comment below.  I’d love to hear from you.

Sometimes, The Globe puts my columns behind their paywall. If that happens and you are unable to access the article directly through the link above, we have archived a pdf version at this link.

Self-discipline and restraint are admirable leadership qualities

self-disciplineA bowl of dried beans offers two possibilities.  One, you can cook them up for a satisfying protein-rich meal.  Or two, you can plant them, and watch the successful seeds produce many, many more.  Your choice will determine whether you have food now, or food later.  This situation is reminiscent of the Stanford marshmallow experiment.  The Stanford marshmallow experiment was a series of studies on delayed gratification and self-discipline in the late 1960s and early 1970s, led by psychologist Walter Mischel, then a professor at Stanford University.  If you are interested in learning more about the marshmallow experiment, I wrote about it (in 2007) in a Mega Minute titled Marshmallows, self-discipline, and success.

Beans … now or later

Let’s go back to the beans however.  If you’re the kind of person who guards your bowl of beans so that you can consume them all yourself, then you’ll certainly have a satisfying meal.  But your triumph will likely end there.  On the other hand, if you’re the leader who is willing to exercise self-discipline and self-restraint, at least in the short-term, and one who plants those seeds far and wide, you’ll create much greater potential.  Not only will you ensure a longer-term food supply for yourself, but you’ll also nourish others and build incredible goodwill with your staff, your colleagues, and your clients.

So, are you the leader who is willing to apply self-discipline and share your resources with others – information, your expertise, and your time – in order to build long-term success?  Or are you more interested in hoarding your sources and means because you are focused on victory today?  I hope you are the former, but I’d love to hear your perspectives.  Please share your thoughts below.

Leadership literacy is essential; ignorance is unacceptable

leadership literacyLeaders have a responsibility to be literate.  And by the word “literate”, I mean knowledgeable.  Now that information is ubiquitous, available through our fingertips at the closest keyboard, twenty-four seven, there is no longer any reason to claim that you don’t know.  Ignorance is no longer an acceptable excuse.  But real leadership literacy also requires critical thinking.  It is possible to tell the difference between genuine data and pseudo-science; between real facts and false news.  It requires however that you read beyond the headlines and evaluate the sources and the author.  It is possible to appreciate and comprehend the people you work with.  But that means that you need to make the effort and take the time to get to know them.  Leadership literacy is not only essential, it is completely achievable.

5 Rules of 21st Century Leadership Literacy

With this cautionary counsel in mind, here are five rules of 21st century leadership literacy that every leader should follow: Continue reading