Merge's Blog

Monthly Archives: October 2010

Subversive workplace humor can be a cover for some uncomfortable truths

My good friend and professional colleague Mike Kerr is known as the Workplace Energizer because of his focus on using humor to create inspiring workplaces.  I am honored to have him as my guest blogger today as he makes the case for not getting TOO politically correct.  Don’t get me wrong … he’s certainly not suggesting that we be disrespectful to one another in the workplace, but he is offering a different and interesting perspective.

Reading Between the Punch Lines

I think we spend too much time, frankly, worrying about practicing “safe humor” in the workplace. Yes, we need to be sensitive about using certain types of inappropriate humor,  and of course there is humor in the workplace that should be off limits.   Racists or sexist or otherwise offensive humor that bullies people or divides people or offends your customers is obviously not what any healthy, inspiring workplace should be aiming for.

To me, it’s about common sense and basic respect: two things you can’t “legislate” at work.

So having said all that, here’s my concern.

First, too many workplaces that are too hypersensitive about this topic risk creating sterile, boring workplaces where all humor is off-limits, risks are minimized and doing anything different gets you in trouble.   Hardly an inspiring workplace! Continue reading

Lousy Performances, Unacceptable Behavior or Rotten Attitudes? Live audio event on November 3

Unfortunately, at some point or another, every leader will encounter at least one – a problem employee who has a bad attitude and brings substandard performance and disruptive behavior to the workplace.  And if you’ve had even just one, then you know that a single bad apple can not only destroy productivity and team morale, but can also take up an excessive proportion of your time and energy.  And, to add insult to injury, the effort it takes to deal with a problem employee just leaves you less time to get a gazillion other things done, including investing in the motivated members of your team.  It’s time to learn how to take control of this difficult leadership challenge!  If you want to learn, for once and for all, the definitive process and specific techniques to deal with poor performance, unacceptable behavior and terrible workplace attitudes, then you absolutely must join me in this upcoming event.

Click here to register now.

I’m not going to be giving you any sophisticated theories or elevated philosophies in this program; just specific and practical tools and techniques that you can use right away to make positive progress with your problem employees.  You’ll learn:

  • Why it’s critical to differentiate between performance, behavior and attitude problems
  • Specific things to say and do when giving employees feedback – the difference between what works and what doesn’t!
  • Three steps to describing the performance problem – if you can’t verbalize it, then your employee can’t act on it!
  • The (only) four reasons employees don’t do what they’re supposed to do
  • What to do and say when an employee becomes defensive
  • The definitive process to systematically determine the source of the problem, and then decisively deal with the problem employee (laid out in an easy-to-use flowchart)
  • Tips for (relatively) painless documentation
  • The path to termination – the four steps in progressive discipline

Join me on November 3, 2010 at 11 AM MDT. Early bird pricing in effect ONLY until this Wednesday October 27!

Click here to register, or for more information.

Giving negative feedback: focus on facts instead of opinions

Offering negative feedback, whether to an employee or a co-worker, can be a difficult task.  The challenge lies in trying to convey your message in a way that not only achieves the desired change in behavior, but also reduces or even eliminates defensiveness in the other person.  Ultimately, it all comes down to how you say what you need to say. And fortunately, there are many small modifications you can make in your language that will increase the likelihood that the other person will listen to what you have to say and take positive action towards correcting the offending behaviour.  One such small thing is to focus on facts, rather than opinions.  For example, if I was to say to an employee “you’re disorganized,” it doesn’t tell the employee anything about what he or she needs to do or change in order to fix the problem, so the likelihood of a positive change occurring is low.  However, if I was to change my language to “I have noticed that you are unable to find the files I need when I ask you for them,” I am now being specific by focusing on facts rather than an opinion, and this tells the person what he or she needs to do in order to produce the change in behavior I desire.

Now I’m not saying that just this one change in language will make a difference in outcome 100% of the time.  But I am saying that the likelihood of getting a positive response will go up.  In future blog posts over the upcoming months, I’ll offer other specific ideas.  But for now, I’d like to hear yours.  What are some of the specific things you say or do to increase that likelihood that the feedback you offer to others is heard and acted upon?

When management doesn’t listen … tips to improve your persuasiveness

CGA0910-2010CoverDear Merge,

Over the past year, I’ve been working closely with my company’s senior management, and at the beginning, I thought this was a great opportunity. But now I’m finding that my voice isn’t being heard, and it’s very aggravating.  I was given this assignment because of my expertise in this area, so you’d think that senior management would value and appreciate my input.  Instead, I feel like they’re ignoring what I have to say. What can I do to get the attention and credit that my ideas deserve?

I answered this not-so-uncommon question in the latest issue of CGA Magazine.  For four specific tips on communicating upwards more effectively, read the entire article here.

What are your experiences and insights?

What is the most difficult thing about managing problem employees?

Every organization has them – problem employees who have poor attitudes and bring shoddy performance and disruptive behavior to the workplace. Even though they are usually a small percentage of your entire team, if you’ve had even one, then you know that it’s one too many! A single bad apple can not only destroy productivity and team morale, but can also take up an inordinate amount of your time and mental space.

What obstacles do YOU face when it comes to managing employees with lousy performances, unacceptable behaviour or rotten attitudes? Tell me about your most difficult challenge at, and I’ll do my best to answer as many questions as I can during my live Audio Conference coming up on Wednesday November 3.

Decision-making by consensus – Dutch style

WindmillLast week, I spoke at a conference in Amsterdam, Holland to employees from the European and Middle Eastern operations of a client’s organization.  A senior executive opened the meeting on Wednesday morning by welcoming all the participants to the Netherlands, and during his speech, he reminded employees about what the Dutch are famous for – tulips, cheese, canals, windmills, wooden clogs, the polder model …  Wait!  The polder model?  I was certainly aware of the rest, but I’d never heard of the polder model before.  He obligingly explained.   The polder model is a process of decision-making by consensus, something that the Dutch are widely-recognized for around the world.

The polder model has its origins in the unique polder geography of the Netherlands – land reclaimed from the sea – which requires constant pumping and maintenance of the surrounding dikes.  Continue reading

Build speed and momentum for new project success

Why flying is better than drivingTake off!

On a recent flight from Montreal to Toronto, I struck up a conversation with the off-duty pilot sitting next to me, who regaled me with interesting tidbits of trivia about flying and airplanes.  Did you know that when planes taxi on the runway, they usually roll along the tarmac at about 25 miles per hour (that’s about 35 km per hour for those of you metrically inclined)?  Yet there is absolutely NO way that a plane could take off at that speed.  In order to take off, most large jets have to leave the ground at a minimum of about 180 miles per hour (290 kph), and then in order to stay aloft, have to cruise at about 600 miles per hour (960 kph).  In other words, if you want to take off and fly, you must increase your speed up to a significant level before you’ll ever get off the ground, and then accelerate even further if you want to stay up high.

As I continued to converse with my new-found friend, it occurred to me that there were parallels to be drawn between what he was describing and the launch of new initiatives in the workplace.  When there is a new project in the works, conventional wisdom suggests that starting slowly and conservatively may be the best way to go.  “That way,” its supporters rationalize, “you’ll be able to gain experience and work out the kinks along the way.”  But my experience has been just the opposite.  When it comes to launching a new program, taking measured carefully-considered steps is in fact the kiss of death.  If you travel slowly along the runway, you will move forward, but you will NEVER get off the ground.  If your goal is to drive the plane from Montreal to Toronto, then 25 mph may eventually get you there.  But if you want to fly the distance, then you have to build up speed and generate momentum to take off, and then accelerate even more to stay high in the sky.  So … if you have a new initiative underway in the workplace, remember … establish your destination, put your flight plan in place, and then fly, don’t roll, to your destination.

Your thoughts?

Problem employee? Is it performance, behaviour, or attitude?

If you’re in a position of formal leadership in your organization, sooner or later, you’re going to be faced with the problem employee.  This is the employee who misses deadlines, presents sub-standard work, is frequently tardy or absent, uses the telephone excessively for personal use, complains constantly, or has a tendency to be a “know-it-all.”  You know – the one that takes up a disproportionate amount of your time at work, and if that isn’t enough, keeps you up at night.

So … how are you going to address this problem issue with your employee?  Continue reading