Merge's Blog

Monthly Archives: May 2011

Empower your employees to make decisions and take action

A couple of weeks ago I was having dinner with several clients at a popular eatery in Chicago.  The atmosphere was lively and the conversation animated, and while emphasizing a particular point, one of my dinner partners accidentally knocked over her drink.  A staff member rushed over to clean it up and our waitress offered a refill.

“Yes please” replied my colleague, “but this time, could you put it into a short glass instead of a tall one.”  “I want to make sure I don’t spill it again,” she said with a smile.

Imagine my surprise when the waitress’ brow furrowed and she replied, “I don’t think I can do that.  We only make this drink in tall glasses.  I’ll have to check with the bartender, but I can’t make any promises.”

Seriously?!  Our collective jaws dropped as the waitress left to determine whether such a breach in beverage protocol would cause havoc and consternation in the kitchen! Continue reading

Tell people why

I have blogged in the past about how surprised I am to see people repeatedly sabotage themselves by saying and doing things that will reduce the likelihood of others helping them.  This despite the fact that the only way to achieve substantial progress in the workplace is to count on others to help you get things done.  Last November, I wrote about one common self-sabotage: commanding or ordering people to do things, instead of asking.  Here’s another form of self-sabotage I observed recently: not telling people why – not telling them why you need what you need.  Compare these two examples.

A manager says to his assistant — “Cassie, can you have that report on my desk by 2:30 this afternoon?”

Or he says — “Cassie, can you have that report on my desk by 2:30 this afternoon.  The client’s expecting it first thing tomorrow morning, and I want to make sure I have a few moments to review it before we send it out.”

It may not seem like much, but the second version is MUCH more likely to get this manager his intended outcome.  By giving his employee the “why”, he has taken one giant step towards securing her commitment and follow-through.

Simple, huh?  So why don’t more people do this?  Do you have any insights, because it continues to constantly astound me that so many people just don’t get the power of a few simple words!


Agendas are a necessity for effective meetings

In previous blog posts, I’ve explored the bottom-line financial cost of ineffective meetings as well as offered ideas on how to make your meetings more productive.  Here’s one more thing that you can do to ensure that you maximize the potential in your meetings.

Always issue an agenda, distributed at least 48 hours in advance of the meeting. If you find yourself calling an unplanned or emergency meeting, use the first 10 minutes to develop a quick agenda on a whiteboard or flipchart, and don’t proceed until you’ve reached agreement on it. One of the best and easiest ways to develop an agenda is to use a table format with a minimum of four columns as follows:

  1. The agenda item
  2. The name of the person responsible for leading and/or facilitating the agenda item
  3. The required outcome for the agenda item, e.g. group discussion, information, update, decision, consensus, action, round-table reporting
  4. The allotted time for the agenda item (Make sure that the total of the allotted times does not exceed the total time set aside for the meeting!)

So for example, your agenda may contain the following items:

  • Purchasing software rollout: Amy Harris, IT lead; project update; 10 minutes
  • Customer service survey results: Reena Davis, customer service manager; information and action on complaints; 30 minutes
  • Software training vendor selection: Bob Edwards, procurement specialist; decision; 15 minutes

Now obviously, this is the basic format, but you can choose to add additional columns to your agenda based on your specific needs.

I cannot overemphasize the importance of an agenda … without it, you may well end up in the meeting from hell!  Have you attended meetings from hell?  Was the lack of an agenda the problem, or was it something else?

Use “I” language to reduce defensiveness

As a supervisor or manager, one of your toughest jobs is to give negative feedback to your people. Far too often, employees get defensive when confronted with criticism. Their defensiveness can be awkward and upsetting, causing you to veer away from your intended message. And to make things worse, defensiveness is known to worsen listening ability, so when you finally walk away from the interaction, you’re still uncertain whether your message was heard.  To overcome these challenges, successful leaders master the art of assertive language, which is based on the premise that you can emphasize what you need and still be respectful. While assertive language does not guarantee that the other person will not become defensive, it does lessen the likelihood of it happening. It improves the odds that your message will be received and understood in the way you had intended.

“I” language is one of the simplest and most basic assertive language tools in the successful leader’s communication toolkit. Consider this situation where Katrina is frustrated with Kelly, an employee always late in submitting his weekly expense statements for her approval.

“Kelly, you frustrate me when you don’t submit your expense statement on time.”

Unfortunately, Katrina’s use of the word “you” is practically guaranteed to make Kelly defensive and reduces the chance that he will listen effectively. Continue reading

Sometimes it’s worth thinking a decision through to its final outcome

This photo was forwarded to me by a friend and business colleague.  It was accompanied by the following caption:

These contractors are installing steel pillars in concrete to stop vehicles from parking on the pavement outside a Sports Bar downtown. They are now in the process of cleaning up at the end of the day and anxious to go home. How long do you think it’ll be before they realize where they parked their truck?

Funny, I know, but it also illustrates an important leadership concept – the importance of thinking through your decisions to the final result.  Clearly these gentlemen failed in this regard.  Unfortunately, during the course of my leadership development practice, I have seen more examples than I care to admit where leaders have taken actions without fully thinking through the implications and eventual outcomes.  What about you?  Have you observed situations where there is obvious lack of foresight?  Please share by clicking on the Comment link below.

PS. Unfortunately, I have been unable to determine the source of this photo and so have been unable to properly credit it, but if someone has some information in this regard, please drop me a quick email.

Get people to follow through on their commitments

When you get agreement from an employee on a particular course of action, increase the likelihood that the employee will follow through on the commitment by asking him or her to summarize the decision in an email and send it to you.  This seemingly small action is very powerful because research has shown that people are much more likely to follow through on commitments that they have made when it is in writing.  This concept was first demonstrated in an experiment conducted by Delia Cioffi and Randy Garner and published in the February 1996 issue of the Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin.  A group of undergraduates was asked to volunteer for a AIDS education project by filling out a printed form and affirming their choice.  A second group volunteered for the same projects but this time by leaving blank a form stating that they didn’t wish to participate.  So the first group volunteered by saying yes (active choice) and the second group volunteered by not saying no (passive choice).  Later, when the volunteers reported for duty, approximately three-quarters of those who showed up were the students who made an active choice to participate.  Since this original experiment, subsequent research has continued to demonstrate that people are much more likely to live up to what they have written down.  Worth keeping in mind if you have a situation where you want to ensure follow-through.

What do you think?  Have you seen this phenomenon to be true in your workplace? Share your experiences by clicking on the Comment link below.

It’s okay to ask for help

You are not an expert at everything. There, I said it! 🙂

You may have reached illustrious milestones in your career and life; perhaps you are so respected in your area of proficiency that you are sought out for your opinions and advice; it is even likely that you are widely-recognized as the expert in a certain subject; but, you are not, I repeat, you are not an expert at everything.  Which further means that it’s okay to ask others for help!  In fact, successful leaders appreciate and acknowledge this reality and usually go to great lengths to surround themselves with people with a variety of skills and capabilities who can assist them as needed.

Think of it this way.  If you were asked to solve a Rubik’s Cube puzzle with a blindfold on, you would probably balk at the task.  But then, you’d quickly realize that the easiest way to accomplish this seemingly gargantuan undertaking would be to have someone at your side guiding you through the process.  Suddenly the blindfold is no longer an obstacle!  Asking for counsel and guidance from a trusted advisor on questions and issues outside your area of primary expertise is much the same.  However, for this to happen, you must do two things.  First, you must be willing to admit that you are not an expert in everything.  Second, you must take proactive steps to find and build relationships with professionals who you can call upon for guidance and direction when the need arises.

Are you doing both these things?  If not, what’s stopping you? Add your comments below.

Why substance matters more than style

Two weeks ago I was speaking at a client event in Amsterdam, and as luck would have it, my visit to Holland coincided with the six weeks during which tulips bloom.  What an absolutely spectacular sight – miles upon miles of tulip fields in every colour you can imagine – red, pink, orange, yellow, and every shade in between for as far as the eye could see!  Imagine my surprise when I discovered that these flowers were not grown for their blooms, but rather for their bulbs.  In fact this week, probably as I write this post, harvesters are making their way down the rows upon rows of tulips and chopping the flower heads off, letting them drop right there on the ground.  Soon the fields will be dug up and the tens of thousands of bulbs will be packaged and shipped around the world.  A Dutch colleague explained it to me.  “Cut flowers are always beautiful,” she said, “but the real worth of these tulips lies in what you can’t see.  What’s below the ground is actually much more valuable and important.  Cut flowers only last a few days, but the bulbs can be planted in gardens around the world and then can be enjoyed for several weeks instead of several days.”

It got me thinking about how sometimes as leaders we get sidetracked in the workplace by the sizzle instead of the steak; we wrongly focus on style instead of substance.  We get distracted by the pretty bloom that has short-term value instead of focusing on the invisible bulb that has long-term potential.  I am personally aware of several situations where outgoing vocal employees were rated higher over those who were quiet or introverted, and I can recall at least one instance in which a vendor with the better product presentation won the contract despite the fact that another offered better service and terms.  What about you?  Have you observed situations in the workplace where style won out over substance?  Do you think it was okay?  Do tell.

Working more effectively with others using emotional intelligence – live audio event on May 11

Let’s face it … unless you work in a vacuum, you have to count on others to get things done. And sometimes that’s easier said than done! It doesn’t matter if it’s the demanding boss, the caustic customer, the timid team-member, the agreeable assistant, the cooperating client, the exasperating employee, or just the plain ol’ irritating individual; you are going to have to work with all of them at one point or another. Emotional intelligence (or EQ) is your ability to understand your own emotions and those of others, and to act appropriately using these emotions. And it’s a fact – people with higher levels of EQ consistently have greater success in working with others. They’re more resilient and adaptable when things go wrong, and as a result, they’re held in the highest regard by their bosses, co-workers, employees and others. Indeed, studies show that your EQ is a better predictor of your professional success than either your IQ or your technical skills.

So how’s your EQ? What are you doing to develop and harness the power of these proven performance tools? Let me help you.  Join me for a fast-paced and content-rich hour in which you’ll learn not only what exactly EQ is, but perhaps more importantly, specific and practical tools to work more effectively with all types of people in all types of situations.

Click here to register now.

Reduce or even eliminate the stress and frustration that often comes from working with others! The skills you learn here will make a profound difference in your career – and your life! Here’s just some of what you’ll learn:

  • How strengthening your emotional intelligence is vital to your success AND will have a lasting, positive effect on you … your team … your department … and your organization
  • The five main components of emotional intelligence, what they mean, and why they matter
  • How to manage your anxieties and self-doubts as a leader
  • Strategies to keep your emotions in check, no matter how tense the situation
  • How to evaluate and respond to criticism using the simple (yet powerful) “window” model
  • Powerful language tools to demonstrate empathy and active listening
  • Proven techniques to use emotional intelligence to motivate and inspire cohesive teams
  • Specific approaches to influence others and build consensus using emotional intelligence

Join me on May 11, 2011 at 11 AM MDT. Early bird pricing in effect ONLY until this Wednesday May 4!

Click here to register, or for more information.