Merge's Blog

Monthly Archives: May 2016

One strategy to avoid micro-managing

Micromanaging word breaking apart on chain links to illustrate sI often blog about the perils of micro-managing, most recently Perfectionists are micro-managers (and lousy leaders) and Here’s what micro-managers shouldn’t do.  Today, I thought I’d offer up another proven idea to avoid the trap of micro-managing – participate, at least to some degree, in the training of your employees.  Think about it, the necessity to micro-manage is rooted in the need for control.  And control, not necessarily in a negative way, is because you want to make sure that things are done right and to the standards that you and others expect.  So if you involve yourself, at least partially, in training your employees, then you can be confident, first-hand, that they know what needs to be done.  This knowledge will allow you to trust that your staff are ready to take charge of things on their own.

Now let’s be clear here, the outcome of “training” is not that your employee will do things EXACTLY the way you do it!  Yes, I am well aware that you like to format your spreadsheet using font size 12 and prefer your totals to show currency signs.  But these details do not affect the outcome of the deliverable you are expecting from your employee.  Continue reading

Leaders, do you solicit and listen to negative feedback?

Woman With Sore FeetI’ve often blogged about how leaders can give negative feedback more effectively (including this post: Five things every leader should know about giving negative feedback).  But a recent event caused me to consider how good leaders are at soliciting and listening to negative feedback.

Only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches.

My dad used this phrase the other day, specifically to give a vendor negative feedback about unsatisfactory service.  My father had complained about the quality of the service he had received from one of the company’s staff members, and the supervisor-in-charge was arguing with him, questioning my dad’s account, and suggesting that what he had received was adequate.  My dad’s response was a succinct way of emphasizing that because he was the sole recipient of the service, he was the only one who could offer first-hand knowledge of whether the result was acceptable or not.  In other words, the person receiving the service is in the best position to offer feedback, both positive and negative!

This phrase got my attention, and not just because it was unusual.  Continue reading

How to break bad news to a client

In the world of business, things don’t always go according to plan.  Shipments can get delayed, production lines may break down, and unforeseen events might prevent people from getting the job done.  My latest column for is titled How to Break Bad News to a Client.  In it, I lay out seven steps for when things just don’t go your way and you now have to tell your customers the unfortunate truth without jeopardizing your reputation and credibility.


So do you have anything to add to my seven?  How have you handled the difficult situation of breaking bad news to a client?  Please share by commenting below.

P.S. I am so proud to be in my second year as a regular contributor to’s panel of business experts. You can find links to my previous columns on their site. For your information, Profit Magazine is a sister publication to Canadian business magazine giants Canadian Business, MoneySense and Macleans, and their list of columnists reads like the Who’s Who of Canadian business, so I am honoured to be in such distinguished company.

Analyst versus leader – it’s important to know the difference

MagnifyingGlassBack in December 2012, I penned this post titled You can’t read the label from inside the bottle, which highlighted the danger of getting bogged downed in the details instead of seeking a big picture view  Recently, I observed an interaction between a supervisor and one of his employees that brought this issue to mind once again.  In this case, the supervisor was struggling between his identity as an analyst versus leader.

This particular supervisor had come up through the ranks in this process-oriented team, and was an expert on the detailed ins-and-outs of the department’s responsibilities.  Continue reading

I versus We – both are powerful in different situations

IVsWeIn my leadership and communication programs, I often teach how to use “I” language to reduce defensiveness in others, particularly when trying to convey a message that may be perceived as negative.   “I” language is a very powerful communication tool in certain situations, but I am often asked – Why not “we”?  Good question!  So let me answer this question of “I versus We” in today’s blog post.

“We” has an important place for leaders in a business environment, specifically at its most effective when being used to take credit.  “We beat this quarter’s sales targets” or “We achieved 99% customer satisfaction ratings in April” are great situations in which to use “we”.  It builds team spirit and morale, creates positive energy, and as an extra bonus – makes you come across as a graceful leader.  This is true even if it was one person that contributed the most to the great result, because there is nothing stopping you from following up the initial statement with more detail about individual performance.  In contrast, Continue reading

Positive change doesn’t come from watching, it comes from doing

I often blog about the difficulties that arise when trying to make positive change, both at a personal and professional level, most recently in this post – Leading change you don’t agree with? Rise above your emotions.  So here is yet another viewpoint on this continuing leadership challenge.

Has this ever happened to you?

  • Top View of Business Shoes on the floor with the text: Do It.You signed up for a gym membership but you stopped going after the first few weeks?
  • You bought the healthy eating cookbook, but it’s languishing on a shelf in your kitchen?
  • You attended a training course, took copious notes, but never actually used the tips you wrote down so carefully?
  • You went to the doctor for an ailment, got a prescription but never filled it. Or maybe you went so far as to get the meds, but then never remembered to take them.

Change doesn’t come from watching, it comes from doing.  You won’t get stronger, healthier, smarter, or better if all you are is a spectator.  If you want to be exceptional – a leader, a role model, a person – then you have to become a player, a participant, a contributor.  What will it take to move you from spectator to participant, to shift you from watching to doing?  Or maybe the right question is “what’s getting in the way?”

Here are some of my (not-so-good) reasons for still being a spectator: Continue reading

Forced ranking of employees is a foolish approach

It’s up!  After a short hiatus from writing for The Globe & Mail, my latest column is out in cyberspace, and this edition addresses a subject that is controversial in many of my client organizations, particularly larger ones — the topic of forced ranking of employee performance.  In Forced employee ranking is a foolish approach, I make the case for why bell-curving and forced numerical ranking have absolutely no place in high-performance workplaces.

G&M051016So … you know my opinion on this subject, but I’d love to know what you think.  Forced employee ranking – brilliant concept or stupid management practice?  If possible, please share your perspectives directly on the The Globe‘s site since your point of view will get a much wider audience than if you choose another alternative.  But I’m always open to hearing from you directly as well, so you can post your comments here on the blog, or send me a tweet (@mergespeaks) with your thoughts too.

And one last thing — do me a HUGE favour – help me get the word out … share the link with your staff and colleagues (easiest directly from The Globe’s site using the share icon at the very top of the article).  My objective is always to get conversations started, so the more people that react to this column means deeper and extended dialogue, which is always a good thing!  In advance, please accept my thanks for your help.

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:

Does empathy really work?

FeetInShoesEmpathy – the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see things from their perspective – is a critical skill in leadership (and it can be very difficult, as hilariously illustrated in this video I blogged about last year).  As a leader, if you are empathetic, you will get more things done through other people.  Let me give you a recent example, narrated to me by a client who is a sales manager in an office furnishings company.

This manager was discussing with one of his employees an upcoming planned sales visit with a potential client.  The employee seemed reluctant to attend the sales presentation, and several times suggested that the visit would be more effective if it was delayed to the following week.  However, this was a high-profile opportunity, and the manager did not want to delay the visit, so continued to push for haste.  But, as he told me, several minutes into the conversation, it occurred to him to ask “Is there a reason you think we should delay this visit?”  After some reluctance, the employee finally admitted that the present week was a difficult one for him as it was the first anniversary of his mother’s passing, and he was worried that he might not put his best foot forward.  Continue reading

Struggling with making a decision? Set a short time limit

timerI’ve previously blogged about the pitfalls that come from amassing too much information in advance of making a decision (Does the wisdom of Segal’s Law help or hinder decision making?).  Today, I thought I’d offer an idea on a related subject –what to do when you face an issue to which there is no clear, obvious, or right solution, but yet you’re responsible for making a decision.  One very powerful answer, set a short time limit.  Now I know that this won’t sit well with many of you, but hear me out.

If you’ve reached the point where you’ve explored all reasonable options and there is still no clear answer, then set a timer for 15 minutes (or 5 or 10 or 20), and at the end, just decide.  Continue reading