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Category Archives: Tough Situation Tools

How to communicate sensitive messages

TimBreithauptSometimes you will have to make decisions that will not be liked by your staff; it’s one of the responsibilities of leadership.  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.  Which is why I am so pleased to welcome today’s guest blogger.

Tim Breithaupt is first and foremost my professional colleague and friend, but he is also the founder and president of Spectrum Training Solutions. As a leading expert in the area of sales development, Tim delivers real-world wisdom to foster a level of sales confidence that boosts sales results to exciting new levels.  Today he joins us on the blog with some specific advice on how to communicate sensitive messages.

Communication is fraught with challenges at the best of times. Ample research suggests that managers and leaders struggle with the task of communicating sensitive messages.  One such example: unexpected changes to job descriptions and responsibilities. By tweaking your delivery (or as I like to say, your bedside manner), you will experience a smoother flow to your message and elevate your communication confidence. To that end I share a proven four-step model that helps to mitigate stress and communicate with impact. Continue reading

Systematize how you handle failure; you will create a powerful tool for employee learning

In today’s blog post, I’m back with another idea in our ongoing series of specific things that leaders can do to encourage and support employee learning.  Today’s tip: systematize learning from failure.

Normalize failure and systematize how you learn from it

At some point or another, we all fail.  Sometimes it’s a new process that doesn’t work out quite the way we’d hoped or intended.  Other times it’s an idea we tried to sell to others but they weren’t buying.  And on occasion, it’s a calculated risk we took that crashed and burned.  Whatever it is, whenever it occurs, it happens to all of us, even the best of us.

So if we know that at some point or another, failure is inevitable, then it’s time to embrace it and learn from it.  What I’m really saying is that failure is a great teacher – it shows us what our strengths and weaknesses are while motivating us to correct them.  So it’s time to systematize learning from failure.  Make it normal and make it consistent!  Make it an acceptable and regular form of employee learning.

Consistency is key

You can do this in a variety of ways, Continue reading

Employee growth comes from allowing your people to struggle

For the past several months, I’ve been offering up specific ideas for employee growth, things that you, as a leader, can do to help your people develop and grow into leaders themselves.  So today I have strategy #17 in this series.  Today’s tip is to allow your people to struggle.  This may sound counter-intuitive, so let me explain.

Allow your people to struggle

Consider the process of how a butterfly emerges from a chrysalis.  You may not realize it, but this is a complex, highly-sequential, and intricately choreographed process.  First, the insect’s abdominal muscles contract to increase blood pressure in the head and thoracic area causing the pupal coat to split along a line of weakness.  Next, the flexible and still-folded adult butterfly crawls out.  The blood pressure then relocates to the wings, legs and other soft parts to expand the body into the final, familiar butterfly form.  For the next few hours, the adult butterfly remains at increased blood pressure levels until its coat gradually hardens into the new shape.

What may surprise you is that any attempt to “help” the butterfly leave its cocoon is doomed to certain failure.  Continue reading

Identify Triggers and Keep Your Cool

Picture of man pointing and yelling, showing loss of self control.

Have you ever come dangerously close to losing your composure?

We’ve all been there. Sometimes—if we can’t control ourselves—it can lead to disastrous situations and negative impacts on relationships, employees, and colleagues.

Whether it’s a frustrating employee, irritating colleague, or even an exasperating client, you know that as a leader it is crucial to stay calm, poised, and positive.

What do you do in these situations?
Continue reading

A problem employee must be dealt with promptly

problem employeeIf you don’t deal with a problem employee swiftly and firmly, you run the risk that a few rotting leaves will ruin the whole salad.  Let me explain.

Bagged salad from the grocery store is simple and convenient, so I often purchase it as an easy way to add more greens to our meals.  But every so often, despite the “Best before” date, I see a few leaves beginning to brown through the cellophane wrap.  When I notice some of the edges browning, I have learned that it is wise to open the bag, remove the offending pieces, and store the remaining greens in an airtight container for the next couple of days.  Experience has taught me that if I leave the bag unopened, the few darkening bits turn the entire contents into one big slimy mess, and then nothing is salvageable.

If you don’t deal with your problem employee …

This everyday situation offers a lesson in how important it is for leaders to manage, without delay, the problem employee on their team.  If you observe any of your employees exhibiting poor performance or inappropriate workplace behaviour, it’s essential that you deal with them promptly and firmly.  Because if you leave these individuals unchecked, they will most certainly spread discord and negativity throughout your team simply by being present.  Even worse, your lack of decisive action with a problem employee will actually be demoralizing for the rest of your team.  The few rotting leaves will quickly turn the entire bag into a horrid place to work. Continue reading

Employee performance = ability X motivation

employee performanceI often address the issue of problem employees on the blog.  In the past, I’ve talked about the difference between performance, behaviour and attitude issues, the importance of articulating the problem, and the single most important question to ask yourself before you ever raise the issue with your employee. It’s always worth stepping back and taking a big picture perspective.   Let’s focus on what makes up employee performance, both good and bad.

Employee performance consists of two components

Employee performance is a function of two things – ability and motivation.

Performance = ability X motivation

Ability is the physical, intellectual or emotional capability of your employee to get the job done. Is your employee even able to do what is required in the job?

Motivation however has to do with desire and commitment. Does the employee WANT to do the job at the level and competence that is required?

Why should you care?

Why does this matter? Because you need to assess both factors when trying to get at the root cause of a performance problem. Someone who is highly motivated but at a reduced level of ability can often achieve above-average performance. Unfortunately the opposite is not always true. But don’t be fooled into thinking that motivation can overcome ANY lack of ability – the two are still necessary requirements for exceptional (or even adequate) employee performance. In my experience, you can operate tolerably at 50% ability, but anything less than 75% motivation will get you nowhere.

So what do you think? What are the minimum required levels of ability and motivation to have an adequately performing employee?

How to work with someone you don’t respect

When you have little professional respect for a client, a co-worker, an employee, or even your boss, it can be difficult to stay motivated and get things done.  But the unfortunate reality is that sooner or later, you will have to work with or for someone you don’t respect — people whom you may find difficult, distasteful or downright unbearable.  While it’s certainly easier to work alongside those you like, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you can only do a good job if you respect your workmates. In fact, you can function effectively with (almost) anyone if you keep just a few things in mind.

It is possible!

How to work with someone you don’t respect is exactly the subject I address in my latest column in The Globe and Mail which published this morning.

How to work with almost everyone — even those you don’t respect

If you get the print version of The Globe, you would have seen it on page B9.

Note: if you are a subscriber to The Globe and Mail, you can also read the column directly at their website at this link: https://tgam.ca/2B9JDKz

The reality is that sometimes you’re just going to have to work with people you don’t like and respect – it’s all part of being an adult in the world of work.  You’ve read my suggestions.  What is your advice to handle these kinds of situations with poise and equanimity?  I’d love to hear from you.  Please share by adding your Comments below.

Separating true leaders from narcissists

NarcissistLast year, I was a featured expert in a story about narcissists in the workplace, and how one can function effectively with (or despite) them, no matter whether they are your co-workers or your boss.  And certainly, if you follow American politics, there is a lot of conversation about whether a certain head of state is a prime example of a narcissist.  So it isn’t surprising that this topic continues to be front and centre in the news.  One question that often comes up in my leadership development practice is about how to separate leaders from narcissists, particularly during hiring, as the outcome of hiring one over the other can be enormous.  Ironically of course, on the surface, narcissists look suspiciously like leaders; it isn’t until later that the truth comes out.

Last week, CNN Business News put out an article titled How narcissistic CEOs put companies at risk, explaining how narcissist leaders create long-lasting negative consequences for their companies.  From a leadership perspective, a couple of points in particular caught my attention.   Continue reading

When facing difficult situations as a leader, think about the physics of flying a kite

difficult situationsI’ve previously blogged about how airplanes take off against the wind.  It seems counterintuitive … you would expect that it would be easier if the wind were coming from behind the aircraft, giving it a push. Yet in reality, it is easier for a pilot to take off when flying towards a full-force gale, rather than with it.  Well, turns out that the physics of flying a kite is actually similar to that of flying an airplane.

The science behind the flight of kites is not only interesting, but also offers a powerful lesson in leadership and an alternate perspective on dealing with the numerous difficult situations in which you face resistance, opposition, setbacks and delays in the things you are trying to accomplish.  There are four forces that counteract each other in order for flight to occur.  Lift and weight act vertically, and drag and thrust act horizontally.

As wind moves over the body of the kite, speed differences means that the air pressure above the kite is less than the pressure below, and as a result an upward force is created called lift.  At the same time, the downward gravitational force of weight pulls the kite towards the earth.  Thrust is the forward force that propels the kite in the direction of motion.  While an airplane generates thrust with its engines, a kite must rely on wind or failing that, running by the kite flyer.  Drag is the backward force that occurs due to the friction of the air movement.

What does it take to stay in the air?

Two things must happen for a kite to stay aloft.  Continue reading

Pressure can create both diamonds and dust

pressurepressureI’ve previously blogged about how the situations of adversity can lead to opportunities for growth and development – about how pearls begin life as irritants and frustrations, and about how incredibly high heat can turn a simple clay pot into exquisite porcelain.  But as quick as I am to point out the gains that can arise from difficulties, it is also worth noting that there can also be another, not so positive, outcome.  Pressure has the ability to create both diamonds and dust.

Which leader are you?

Which is also a great metaphor for how you can choose to deal with workplace pressure situations.  The reality of today’s workplace is that pressure is a common occurrence.  How you choose to cope with the pressure will determine whether you end up a diamonds or dust.  You can either look at it face on, as a positive, as an opportunity to prove to the world what you are capable of … ergo create diamonds.  Or you can hide and hope the problem will fade away (or someone else will deal with it) and become a victim of the situation … the metaphoric equivalent of dust.

As a leader, you will encounter a vast array of pressure situations.  Continue reading