Merge's Blog

The right way to communicate unpopular decisions to your staff

Sometimes you will have to make unpopular decisions, choices (or decrees) that will not be liked by your staff; it’s one of the responsibilities of leadership.  Sure, good leaders strive to minimize the fallout of decisions on their people, but sometimes doing the right thing for the company as a whole means hurting some of the individuals within it. Whether that means layoffs, reorganization, or even just a strategy shift, there are bound to be a few people who are put out by the direction you (or your senior leadership) choose to take.

While you can’t avoid making unpopular decisions, there are things that you can do to help your team understand and accept the new reality. And that is exactly what I wrote about in one of my regular columns for ProfitGuide.com back in 2016.  In The right way to communicate unpopular decisions to your staff, I offered five ideas to deliver the message, yet soften the long-term impact.  And perhaps not so surprisingly, these still hold true today.

Still true today!

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What do you have to add to the list?  What specific things have you done to make sure people understand the implications, and to mitigate the ensuing damage?  Please share by commenting below.

P.S. For two years, 2014-15, I was a regular contributor to ProfitGuide.com’s panel of business experts. You can find links to all my columns in our Article Archives. For your information, Profit Magazine, now no longer publishing, was a sister publication to Canadian business magazine giants Canadian Business, MoneySense and Macleans. Their list of columnists still reads like the Who’s Who of Canadian business, so I was honoured to be in such distinguished company.

Having trouble getting things done? Kick the telephone and email auto-reaction

In my last strategy earlier this month in our series on getting things done, I told you about the importance of taking control of interruptions, specifically by other people.  But studies show that 44% of interruptions are actually self-induced.  In other words, people interrupt themselves almost as much as they are interrupted by external sources. So today’s tip for getting things done specifically addresses two self-induced interruptions – namely the telephone and email.

Kick the telephone and email auto-reaction

What do I mean by auto-reaction?  The innate response we have to the ringing of the phone, or the ding (or other sound) that heralds the arrival of an email.  Be honest, what happens when the phone rings?  Sure … we answer, or at least we lean over to check to see who is calling.  Even if you don’t answer, you’ve just interrupted yourself.  And what happens when you get that sound that tells you an email has just arrived?  Yes, you roll your chair over to see who it’s from. Self-induced interruption. Continue reading

Workplace lessons from the COVID contagion of kindness

As devastating and difficult as the COVID-19 world has been, the one seemingly silver lining to emerge from this pandemic is the contagion of kindness. Countless acts of generosity and thoughtfulness abound, and it has become increasingly evident that being kind is synonymous with strength and courage. Which is ironic. The world of work has usually viewed kindness differently, through the lens of weakness and naivety. Workplace norms often translate friendly, generous and considerate behaviour to mean one is indecisive or a pushover. While blunt, arrogant and curt often unfortunately implies results and profitability. This, of course, is unequivocally false.

Genuine kindness can often do more to further your career than your exceptional work ethic, or your results-focused determination, or your dogged persistence. Doing good work will always be a necessary baseline for your success, but it is your kindness – your empathy, your open-mindedness, and your treating others with respect – that will carry you further, faster. When you are kind, you build strong relationships that will stand firm in the years to come. So what are the workplace lessons that we can extract from the kindness pandemic that is currently afoot? I answer that question in my latest column in The Globe and Mail, published online yesterday, and due to go to print tomorrow.

Five ways being a kind person can help your career
kindness Continue reading

Respond calmly by “putting a stone in your mouth”

Being able to respond calmly in the face of anger can be difficult.  A client (who is from the Nisga’a nation) recently shared with me this powerful advice from a Nisga’a elder –

“Put a stone in your mouth”. 

It was in the context of being thoughtful about when to speak and what to say in potentially challenging situations.

If only you could turn back time …

Consider for a moment, all the times in the past when you have said something, only to wish afterwards that you could turn back time and do it differently.  All too often, emotionally-charged circumstances cause us say things we invariably regret later.  When you “put a stone in your mouth”, it is a powerful metaphoric reminder to pause; to feel the contours and ragged edges of the rock; to shift it around in your mouth as you consider what you should or ought to say or not say.  When you pause before you speak, the silence can seem interminable to you, but at the end, it can in fact become your best friend.  Words that are spoken thoughtfully, rather than in haste, are much more likely to give you the outcomes that you desire. Continue reading

Want to amp up your productivity? Control interruptions

Since the start of this year, the topic of our video series has been Productivity Tools for Leaders.  Today we’re up to strategy #12 and I’d like to talk about what you can do to control interruptions.

It’s imperative that you control interruptions

If you want to control interruptions in your workday, it is very important to take ownership of it.  Because if you sit around waiting for others to stop interrupting you, you’re going to be waiting a very long time!

A ground-breaking study conducted by Gloria Mark in 2005 showed that the average office worker spends only 11 minutes on any given task before s/he is interrupted.  If you think that’s bad, wait, it gets worse!  After someone is interrupted, it takes on average, 25 minutes to return to the initial task.  Do you see the mathematical problem here?  At this rate, you’ll never get anything done.  So it’s up to you to deliberately, thoughtfully, firmly, and respectfully control interruptions.  Now there are lots of things you can do to manage interruptions but in today’s post, I’d like to share two specific ideas. Continue reading

In the post-pandemic workplace, the “new normal” has become the “now normal”

now normal

As the temporary pandemic restrictions start lifting in many areas of the country, it is clear that the world of work is nothing like what it was before.  What we thought was the “new normal” has become the “now normal”, subject to repeated mutations and variations.  As I reflect on numerous conversations with leaders in client organizations, the anticipated changes in the upcoming months as people return to their workplaces fall into three main areas.

  1. People will return to work gradually
  2. There will be increased requests to work remotely
  3. Face-to-face protocols are forever changed
Welcome to the “now normal”

In this morning’s edition of The Globe and Mail, I address these three changes in my regular Leadership Matters column, and also offer up ideas for what it will take to thrive in the “now normal”.

In the post-pandemic workplace, the ‘new’ normal is just the ‘now’ normal

If you’re a paid online subscriber to The Globe, here is a direct link to the column on their site: https://tgam.ca/3eJXdGv

I’d love to hear more about your experiences as the pandemic restrictions are being lifted in your workplace.  What are the plans for your organization?  What has changed/is changing as more workplaces open?  What is working well and what is not?  Please share what you are observing and hearing about, so that we can exchange ideas.  Please add your comment below. 

I write a regular monthly column for The Globe and Mail Report on Business, under the banner of Leadership Matters.  Here are links to some of the more recent ones:

Use technology to block distractions (that come from using technology!)

It’s been three weeks since my last post in our video series on Productivity Tools for Leaders.  In How to manage distractions (aka the “Squirrel syndrome”), I put forward what turned out to be a controversial idea.  The idea of designating Internet-free times each day or week to block distractions got a lot of responses from all of you, but interestingly, from both ends of the spectrum.  Some of you told me that the idea was Draconian, but just as many thought it was brilliant!  And it was suggestions from the latter group that lead me to today’s strategy.  Today’s tip to focus and block distractions is to use an app!

To focus and block distractions, use an app!

Yes, I get the irony.  I am proposing that you use technology to block distractions that come from technology!  But if you think about it, it’s actually poetic.  If you are willing to admit that the “squirrel syndrome” is a huge drain on your productivity, then there are apps out there that can help you block distractions … like the Internet.  I’m going to share five of the apps that were brought to my attention.  Please keep in mind that I am not endorsing any of them as I haven’t had a chance to really use them myself – I only just heard about them recently.  But I did look them up, and it seems like they could be valuable.  Here’s what I learned: Continue reading

A framework for boosting employee well-being (in tough times)

well-beingSajel Bellon is a professor in human and behavioural sciences, a psychotherapist, and the Founder of Mind Armour™ & SOS Psychotherapy. She is also my professional colleague, and I am so pleased that she is guesting on the blog today talking about what it takes to enhance employee well-being.  Given the pandemic that has drastically changed our workplaces, her post today about how to move people “from pain to possibilities” is more than timely, it is essential!

Moving People from Pain to Possibilities, even during a Pandemic

Think about a time when you were so immersed in a task or project and you lost all sense of time, everything else and everyone around you. It all faded into the background. A time where you were enjoying what you were doing so much so that you walked away from the experience feeling energized.

In positive psychology, this concept is referred to as a state of ‘flow’ (Csíkszentmihályi, 1997). Research has shown that being involved in more tasks and activities that allow us to be in states of ‘flow’ or engagement, have lasting positive effects on our well-being and enhance the learning (Buil, Catalán, & Martínez, 2017).

As leaders, managers and supervisors, we can make the conscious effort to incorporate opportunities in our working environments and projects, to create more engagement and experiences of flow. This can prove to be especially beneficial when considering and investing in professional development and training, where we hope to influence change. This is just one of many evidence-based techniques. Continue reading

To cultivate high-performing teams, you need two elements

high-performing teamsEvery leader’s goal is to create high-performing teams.  And in order to do that, we invest significant effort into cultivating and growing strong people who work well together to achieve our department and organization’s objectives.  It is this concept of “cultivating and growing” that got me thinking about the papaya.

My favourite fruit is the papaya.  Succulent, fragrant, and slightly sweet, just one bite instantly transports me to the warm, gentle breezes of the Hawaiian and Caribbean islands.  I am reminded of early morning drives through papaya farms, where you can stop and buy the plump ripe fruit, picked just hours earlier. Oh, I wish I could grow my own papayas.  There is one problem though … I live in Canada!

You see, even though I have the best quality seeds, no matter how hard I try, it is almost impossible to grow papayas in Canada.  Papayas are a tropical crop, which means that they need high levels of humidity for growth, and then a warm and dry climate for ripening.  And they grow best in alluvial soil which is found along deltas and riverbanks.  Alas, while we have several deltas and many riverbanks in Canada, tropical weather is sadly lacking.  The only chance I would have of successfully growing papayas in Canada would be in a greenhouse, where I might be able to replicate the ideal growing conditions.

Bottom line: to successfully grow papayas, I need both the best quality seeds and the right climate.  Which isn’t unlike what it takes to grow high-performing teams.

High-performing teams need two elements

Continue reading

How to manage distractions (aka the “Squirrel syndrome”)

If you want to be productive, to get things done, then you need to manage distractions.  And one of the biggest distractions that we all face – the Internet!  Which brings me to today’s strategy in our series on productivity tools for leaders: designate Internet-free times each day or week.

Avoid the “Squirrel syndrome” by designating Internet-free times

Now don’t get me wrong, I love the Internet.  I mean where else can you look up the menu at a restaurant, watch cute cat videos, and unequivocally shut down bar arguments on stupid subjects.  Nowhere else but the Internet!

But once you get on the Net, it’s kind of like going down the rabbit hole.  Continue reading