Merge's Blog

Monthly Archives: March 2010

How to lower productivity and de-motivate your workforce

Last Monday was not a good day!  My 77-year old mother had a nasty fall in her home, and as a result, was rushed by ambulance to the emergency ward of the nearest hospital.  When I arrived at the hospital, she was on a stretcher waiting in a line of stretchers in a long hallway, her neck in a brace and her small frame tightly strapped to a body board.  The two paramedics accompanying her explained that because she might have a spinal injury, they had braced her back and neck.  They were now waiting for her turn to get a CAT scan, x-rays, and a bed in the emergency room.  For the next five hours, the four of us – the two paramedics, my father, and I – waited in the hallway, leaning up against the wall, while the wheels of the healthcare system turned slowly.  Eventually she got her CAT scan, then we waited some more.  Finally, she went in for x-rays, then we waited again.  It was impossible to move her off the stretcher until the results of the CAT scan and x-rays came in; besides there were still no open beds in the emergency ward, so where could they have moved her to?  Eventually, almost five hours later, a bed opened up and they moved her, neck brace, body board and all, into the emergency ward.  At last, the paramedics were able to complete the transfer of custody and leave the hospital. Continue reading

Motivating employees without spending a fortune!

As a manager, supervisor or team leader, what is your single most difficult challenge when it comes to motivating your employees, particularly when budgets are tight and resources are few?  Ask your tough questions at, and Merge will do her best to answer as many as she can in her live Audio Conference coming up on May 12.

How to rub out innovation and creativity

2005 Saturn
2005 Saturn

I read a very interesting article in Forbes Magazine a couple of weeks ago about why Saturn, a GM company that had great promise in the early 1990’s, ultimately failed in this decade because senior GM leaders couldn’t see the benefits of new ways of doing things nor the value of a new kind of organizational culture.  Just in case you didn’t know, Saturn, the 1990’s success story, stopped production in October last year, and is expected to completely shut down before 2010 is over.  The Forbes’ article is authored by David Hanna, a HR consultant who worked with Saturn’s leadership team in the mid-1990’s and thus can offer some first-hand insights.  The overall message lies in the article’s sub-title: a lesson at how to win at innovation in even the most traditional company – and then how to crush that innovationContinue reading

Managers vs. leaders: What vs. How

If you’ve spent any time with me (via this blog, my newsletter, or in person), you know that the overriding message I give to people in organizations is that there is a significant difference between managers and leaders: management is what you do, leadership is how to do it.  In fact, the foundation of my entire professional practice is based on turning managers into leaders!

My friend and professional colleague Mike Kerr, the Humor at Work guy, recently filmed a very funny spoof of the Mac vs. PC commercials, in which he illustrated the difference between managers and leaders.

See, the manager on the left just doesn’t get it – he thinks it’s all about the what – so he invents the Smile-o-Matic.  The leader on the right though knows that it’s about the how.  It isn’t good enough to just make people smile, they have to smile because they want to.  So the leader on the right focuses on creating a positive and productive work environment, he focuses on the how, in order to give his people reasons to smile.  Not that tough, right?  So then why do so many managers miss the boat?

By the way, if you just happen to be one of the few people who has never seen a Mac vs. PC commercial before, below are two of my all-time favourites.  I just love Mr. Bean!

Olympic excitement offers lessons in leadership

Canadian pride in downtown Vancouver

Last Wednesday, I was in Vancouver, Canada for a speaking engagement.  As just about everyone knows, Vancouver was the host city for the 2010 Winter Olympic games which ended on February 28.  And there I was in Vancouver, ten days later, and this city was still humming!  Large public buildings were still majestically emblazoned with the Canadian maple leaf, average working Canadians on the street were still proudly wearing their red-and-white outfits, and downtown Vancouver was surrounded by an indescribable yet very real buzz that just seemed to scream excitement and euphoria.  I spent most of my day in an office building, but the moment you stepped out, you could see it, you could hear it, you could feel it.  Even inside the office buildings, walls and windows were covered with symbols of patriotic pride.  For me, as a visitor, Vancouver was an exhilarating place to be last week. Continue reading

Stop waiting for someone else to act, do it yourself

Topes in the Mexican village of Chilahuite
Topes in the Mexican village of Chilahuite

The Mexican state of Veracruz is bordered on the east by endless stretches of dark sand beaches that gently flatten into the Gulf of Mexico.  To get from the main coastal highway to the beach, you usually have to travel through one or more sleepy villages on your way to the ocean.  One such small village (pop. 500) is Chilahuite.  Like most small coastal communities, the single road that runs through town is also where everything happens – children play, friends meet, daily trade is conducted, beverages are sipped and gossip exchanged sitting on plastic chairs on the side of the road.  But as Mexico has commercialized and grown, city folk from the large urban centres are increasingly visiting the beaches, and traffic in these small little villages has multiplied.  Not only has the number of vehicles increased exponentially, but most newcomers ignore the posted speed limits of 30 kms/hr (about 18 miles/hr), creating dangerous situations for the townspeople who are used to a much slower and sedate pace.  In Chilahuite, the complaining has been endless.  For at least two years (if not more), I have heard people grumble about how “someone should do something”, each hoping that the municipality would either install los topes (Spanish for speed bumps), or increase patrols to enforce the speed limit.  Unfortunately, despite the complaining, no visible action has been taken.  It took a fatal accident earlier this year for the villagers to finally take matters into their own hands.  Because asphalt and concrete are expensive in Mexico, the townspeople devised another solution.  They obtained heavy rope (made from natural fibres) and laid it across the main road at frequent intervals – instant topes.  As they were able to raise enough money, they covered the ropes with a thin layer of asphalt to create a more permanent solution.  “I don’t know why we waited this long,” commented one of the old-timers.  “We should have just taken action ourselves a lot earlier instead of waiting for someone else to do something.”

Are you grumbling about how so-and-so should do this-and-that?  Are you waiting for someone else to get things done?  Perhaps it’s time to become the doer instead of the observer, to step up and act.  Stop waiting for someone else to do it, take action and do it for yourself!

Are you an Olympic contender?

Wow, what a ride!  Thank you Canada!Winter2010MedalsLoRes

In case you’ve been hibernating in a cave somewhere, the 2010 Olympic Winter games ended a week yesterday in Vancouver, Canada.  An Olympics that began with the devastating death of a luger ended with an enthusiastic and high-spirited celebration of Canada, fueled even further, no doubt, by the gold medal men’s hockey win earlier that afternoon.  When all was said and done, Canada’s organizers and athletes not only overcame early tragedy and a whole host of other glitches, but also Mother Nature’s distinct lack of cooperation when it came to providing snow!  With determination and single-minded resolve, Canada triumphed with 26 medals, setting a record for the number of gold – 14!  The previous record for gold medals at a winter Olympics was 13, won by Norway in 2002 and the Soviet Union in 1976.  Pretty darn good for a country that at the start of the Games had never won an Olympic gold on home soil!

Okay, I’ll stop now … I think you get it – I’m a proud Canadian (who still gets goosebumps thinking about the men’s gold medal hockey game)!  But my reason for writing is more than just to wax poetic about Canada’s success at the Games.  It’s because of the great leadership lesson this offers to each of us.  In your workplace (as it did at the Olympics), stuff happens.  Sometimes, really BAD stuff happens.  There is disappointment, heartache and tragedy; but people rally with dedication, determination and motivation; through it all, it requires persistence, tenacity and effort.  Winning an Olympic medal is not easy, and neither is business or leadership success.  Both take years of perseverance, practice, and yes, often disappointment.  You can give up, retreat and take cover, or you can stand up straight, keep the ultimate goal in mind, and move forward.  When “stuff” happens, how to do you respond to adversity?  Do you surrender and resign yourself to defeat?  Or do you confront misfortune and fight your way back?  Are YOU an Olympic contender?

A short history of the “Lobster”

As many of you know, my most popular keynote has and continues to be my flagship program Why Does the Lobster Cast Off Its Shell? In fact, this is also the name of my book, which went into 2nd edition printing last summer.  What many people don’t know though is that both the Why Does the Lobster Cast Off Its Shell? keynote and the book started life as a Monthly Mega Minute.

Every month since July 2002, as part of my commitment to offer leaders everywhere a quick and easy source for continuous growth and learning, I have written Merge’s Monthly Mega Minute, a bite-sized, yet substantial and practical, nugget of information that you can use immediately to enhance your professional and personal success.  Back in October 2002, I wrote the issue titled A life’s lesson from a lobster.  Later that year, the “Lobster” keynote took shape, and then in 2004 the first edition of the book was published.

Sometimes I enjoy a stroll down memory lane … if you’d like, you can read the original “Lobster” Mega Minute here.

A life’s lesson from a lobster

How many hats?

A few months ago, I received a call from a manager at a client company who was frustrated because his team members weren’t working as a cohesive group.  And if that wasn’t enough, they were increasingly also blaming each other when things weren’t getting done.  After a short conversation, we got at one of the root causes of the problem – the members of his team each brought different priorities and “personal agendas” to the overall functioning of the group, and these differing objectives were creating conflict.  “If only I could get them to acknowledge and understand each others’ various priorities,” he said.  “But you can,” I said, and I recommended that he try How Many Hats? **, a fun and enlightening team-building exercise at his next department meeting. Continue reading