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Monthly Archives: August 2015

Five things every leader should know about giving negative feedback

The thumb down icon. Rejected and no, negative symbol. FlatIf you’re in a position of formal leadership, then it’s your job to offer feedback, both positive and negative, to your staff. The positive feedback is easy – it’s the thank you’s, the pats of the back, the kudos to the team. But offering negative feedback isn’t so simple, often because many leaders don’t know how, don’t have the time, or both. Yet it’s your job to deliver your message in a way that is constructive, heard and acted upon. So can you effect positive behavior change, rather than create anger and resentment? Sure you can, and in the past I’ve often blogged about it (see Giving negative feedback: focus on facts instead of opinions for one example. But today, I thought I’d summarize five must-do’s that every leader should know about giving negative feedback. Continue reading

Commitment is more valuable than compliance

CommitmentAs a leader, you want commitment from your employees. Unfortunately, unless you are vigilant, what you may get is compliance. They both look and feel the same – objectives are met, clients are served, things get done – but that is only as long as everything is “situation normal”. It’s when things go wrong – a crisis occurs, emotions escalate, a routine process breaks down – that the difference between commitment and compliance becomes glaringly obvious. If all you had was compliance, look around; you’re likely on your own as your staff will have (emotionally, if not physically) abandoned you. Unfortunately, at that moment, it’s too late to build commitment, and that’s when you need it the most.

The sad truth is that people who are not committed to your vision and goals are unlikely to go “the extra mile” when things go wrong. Instead of rolling up their sleeves and tackling the problem as a team, they are more apt to take the “you’re the boss, you figure it out” approach. Continue reading

What vs how – Amazon lost sight of the difference

web-rb-co-gupta-sunderji-08Amazon’s leadership forgot that ‘how’ is as important as ‘what’

The Globe & Mail asked me to write a piece for their Weekend Commentary & Analysis section, a regular feature in the weekend paper where subject matter experts are asked to provide insights into the top news stories of the past week.  Here is a link to this story that ran in Saturday’s print and online editions.  For me the fundamental issue in the case of Amazon’s toxic work environment came down to what vs how.

Interested in your thoughts as well.  What went wrong at Amazon?  Or is there anything wrong?  Please share your thoughts directly on The Globe‘s site or add your comments to our blog right here by adding your response below.

Ironically, I wrote a piece for The Globe back in October last year that addressed this very same issue from a slightly different perspective.  Why are so many managers useless as leaders? had over 30,000 views and 24,000 direct shares in just the first three days online so this topic clearly struck a chord with many back then as well.

Use Cunningham’s Law to stimulate creativity

So have you ever found yourself struggling to get your team to contribute ideas or offer creative input to a situation or problem? Every so often, I offer up ideas on this blog about how to creativity problem-solve by changing your frame of reference (for a pretty unique example of this approach see how city planners in Budapest creatively solved a difficult challenge). And today’s blog post is yet another way to do that – use Cunningham’s Law as a tool to stimulate creativity. So what is Cunningham’s Law? So glad you asked!

Ward Cunningham, the person who invented the first user-editable website (or wiki), is credited with making this statement in 1980’s:

CunninghamLawEssentially, human nature has a tendency to correct. Which is something that a savvy leader can use to stimulate conversation and motivate action. Continue reading

Trying to motivate your employees? Could you be inadvertently demotivating them?

Demotivator on Warning Road SignA while ago, I wrote a blog post titled How to lower productivity and demotivate your workforce that illustrated how process bottlenecks stopped employees from being productive and motivated. And sometimes, managers deliberately and consciously take actions that while logical, inadvertently create situations that are non-productive and demotivating. In fact, I wrote a column about just this topic in The Globe & Mail last November titled Why do smart managers do stupid things? Today’s blog post takes this quandary further. Today’s topic is about when things that are intended to motivate people not only turn out to be hugely demotivating, but also actually incent people to act in the absolute opposite way than was meant. As leaders charged with inspiring and encouraging staff, it’s important to consider whether our good intentions may in fact be producing an unexpected negative result. Let me share some interesting (and unusual) examples of incentives that, while good-intentioned, were hugely demotivating. Continue reading

Five foolproof ways to demotivate your employees

My latest Leadership Lab column in The Globe & Mail is up on their site today.

Five foolproof ways to destroy employee morale

is about what some managers do to completely destroy their employees’ self-confidence, drag down team morale, and create a negative working environment. In short, they demotivate their people! Fortunately, most of the leaders I work with are keenly focused on keeping their people committed and loyal because they know that engaged and empowered employees perform to their highest abilities and produce exceptional results. But every so often, I come across managers who seem hell bent on doing just the opposite. Not surprisingly, their staff hate coming to work, and positivity and productivity plummets. This is their story of failure.


Well, what do you have to add to the list? What have you seen that demotivates, demoralizes and disempowers employees? Rather than comment here on the blog, please add your viewpoint directly to The Globe‘s site, as their (much larger) readership will also have a chance to join the discussion. Or send me a tweet (@mergespeaks). I’m eagerly looking forward to your reactions and perspectives.

And please do me one more favour – help me get the word out … pass the link along to your staff and colleagues. I’d love to hear their thoughts as well; I bet they have a few to add to this list!

I’m looking forward to hearing from you. Here is a direct link to the article in case you need to cut and paste it elsewhere:

Build resiliency in your employees

As leaders we care about our employees’ intellectual capital, and even their social capital. But we don’t always concern ourselves with our employees’ psychological capital. We should. If you aren’t sure what these three phrases mean, an easy way to understand it is to think of intellectual capital as what people know, and social capital as who they know. Psychological capital, on the other hand, is who they are, or who they are becoming. And there is a growing amount of research that shows that employees with high psychological capital are more productive and perform better in the workplace. The crux of psychological capital is resiliency, the ability to overcome challenges (both routine and traumatic) and bounce back stronger, wiser and more personally powerful.

eggRubberBallA powerful visual to demonstrate resiliency is to compare a raw egg to a rubber ball. When you drop a raw egg, it breaks, scattering yolk and albumen everywhere, creating an unpleasant mess that someone will have to clean up. Conversely, when you drop a rubber ball, it bounces back up within seconds, with no harm done, either to itself or those around it. As a leader, your role is to help your employees shift from being raw eggs and grow and develop into rubber balls.   Continue reading

Common first time leader mistake – thinking you can be everything to everyone all the time

Millennial10For the last two weeks, I’ve been doing a short series on the blog about common leadership mistakes made by many a first time leader. So far, I’ve blogged about thinking you can control your staff, assuming the title means respect, and trying to be best friends with the team. Today, I have one last one to put up for discussion – thinking you can be everything to everyone all the time.

People new to leadership positions often think that they have to (need to) please everybody – their employees, their boss, their clients – all at the same time. But trying to be everything to everyone all the time is an unrealistic goal and will only cause you frustration and angst. The truth is that in your role as leader, different priorities and needs will clash repeatedly, and ultimately, you will discover (if you haven’t already) that there is simply not enough time to be everything to everyone.

But the even worse scenario is if you don’t realize this. Continue reading

Common first time leader mistake – trying to be best friends with the team

Millennial09Last week I wrote a couple of blog posts about the most common mistakes made by first time leaders – thinking you can control your staff and assuming the title means respect – and I had promised a couple more this week. So here is number three – trying to be best friends with the team.

You can’t. There, I said it. The truth is that being best friends with people in the team is hard, if not impossible. As a supervisor, manager or team leader, you have to make decisions that are based on the needs of the organization first and foremost, and not the feelings of your friends. And these two diverse needs will often conflict. For example, what happens if a good friend is up for a promotion but not necessarily the best candidate for the job? How will your friend feel and react if he doesn’t get the job? What if you had to give difficult constructive criticism to another friend? Worse, how would it feel if you had to fire her? Unfortunately, such situations will arise, whether you like it or not, whether you want it or not. Continue reading