How To Handle A Bad Boss: 7 Strategies For ‘Managing Up’

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If you’ve got a lousy boss right now you have my sympathy. Truly. It can really siphon the enjoyment from what might otherwise be a rewarding role, leave you feeling undervalued, and wondering whether you should begin searching for something new. But before you start planning an exit strategy, it would be wise to rethink how you can better manage the boss you already have –for all their flaws and shortcomings.

Having worked with numerous not-so-inspiring bosses in my corporate career, I’ve learned they provide invaluable opportunities for developing  executive leadership skills and learning ‘what not to do’ when managing people who work for you. You just have to be proactive in looking for them and ready to practice some real self-leadership.

New research has found that being overworked is not the reason people leave their jobs. A Danish study of 4,500 public service workers has provided credence to the adage that “people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers.”  According to psychologist Matias Brødsgaard Grynderup, one of the researchers behind the study, “We may have a tendency to associate depression and stress with work pressure and workload; however, our study shows that the workload actually has no effect on workplace depression.”

However fixed in their ways your boss may be, you can always learn ways to better manage him or her.  The secret is to “manage up” without them ever realizing you are doing it. So rather than think of your boss as your boss,  think of them as a difficult client – one you have to figure out how to work with if you want to get ahead, even if you’d rather not.

Hopefully the strategies below will help you on your way. Underpinning each of them is a commitment to take responsibility for your own success, regardless of the different (and difficult) personalities you will inevitably have to encounter throughout your working life.

1.  Know their why: what motivates them

The better you understand what your boss does, and more importantly, why, the better positioned you are to deliver results, manage expectations, and avoid lose:lose situations.  Try to put yourself in their shoes and see the world, and your workplace, as they might.

  • What does he care about?
  • What keeps him up at night?
  • What would he love more of and what would he love less of on a daily basis?  
  • What frightens him?
  • How much importance does he place on impressing others? 
  • How does he measure success and what does he think about failure?

When you know what drives your boss (even if your boss may not be fully conscious of it), you can speak to “his listening,” frame your opinions and use language in ways that line up with his core values, concerns and priorities.

2.  Support their success:  Work around their weaknesses

While it may sound counter intuitive to support a bad boss in becoming more successful, there is absolutely nothing to be gained by making him look bad, going to war or helping him to fail. If he is as bad as you think, he will likely do a pretty good job of that all by himself. Exposing his incompetence will only compound your own misery and may even damage your reputation.

One way is to help your boss focus on his natural strengths. Another is to proactively work around his weaknesses. If you know you have a boss who’s disorganized, then help him to be on top of things rather than whining about his lack of organizational skills. If you know your boss is often late to meetings, offer to kick off the next meeting for him. If he tends to change his mind frequently, or is outright forgetful, be sure to document interactions so you can refer back to them if he ever contradicts himself. If you know your boss is slow to respond, continue to work on a project while you wait to hear back from him.  Making yourself  indispensable and someone your boss can rely on to help him do his job is a valuable asset when you start to look to ‘what’s next?’

By doing what you can to help your boss succeed, you lay a solid foundation for greater success yourself. It may not be an immediate reward, but in the long run, you can never lose by helping others do better than they otherwise would.

3.  Take the high road: Your “Personal Brand” is riding on it

Never let your boss’s bad behavior be an excuse for your own. All too often, people start feeling entitled to slack off, take longer and longer lunches, lose interest or stop performing well because of their bad boss. Don’t do it. Keep your mind focused on top performance. Complain to your spouse or your friends all you want, but when in the office or workplace, stay upbeat and engaged. Actually handling a difficult boss well can really set you apart. You never know who is watching or listening but be assured, people who can open or close future opportunities for you are doing just that!

Evening the score by working slower, taking excessive “mental health” days or longer lunches doesn’t do you any favors and can hurt your own self more in the long run than any irritation or trouble you cause for your boss. On top of that, it may only put you behind in your workload and build a case for your boss to give you the old heave-ho before you’re ready to go. So if your boss is a shouter, don’t react by shouting back. If they are petty or small minded, don’t descend to smallness yourself.  Rather maintain a calm and professional demeanor in dealing with your difficult boss or let your emotions get the better of you. Literally. As Gandhi wrote “Be the change you want to see in the world.” In this case, act like the leader you wish your boss was.

If you feel you’ve run out of options for dealing with him reasonably, then don’t go rumor-mongering or bad-mouthing him to everyone within earshot. That will ultimately say more about you than it does about your boss (and not things you’d want said!)  Rather, follow proper procedures for registering complaints with Human Resources or with higher-level superiors, documenting each step of the way.

4.  Know their preferences: Adapt to them

Observe your boss’s behavioral style, preferences and pet peeves.  Is he fast-paced and quick to make decisions? Is he slow to think about things, needing time to process information?  How does he like to communicate – via e-mail, in person drop-ins, or lengthy memos? The more you can match your style to your boss’s style when communicating, the more he will really hear what you’re saying.

If you’ve ever done any personality assessments such as Myers-Briggs or DISC, then see if your boss has as well and find out what they are.  It can help you adapt your style and spare a lot of strain.  Working with his preferences is an obvious way of managing your boss without his ever knowing it, and it’s a key leadership skill to develop regardless of the kind of boss you are working for.

5.  Don’t be intimidated by a bully: Stand tall, never cower

People who bully get their power from those who respond by cowering and showing fear. If your boss is a yeller, a criticizer, or a judge – stand firm. If you’re doing the best job you can do, keep your head held high and don’t give him the satisfaction of pushing you about.  Rather ask questions, seek to understand, and work to defuse a difficult situation instead of cowering or responding in anger. It takes practice, but over time you will get better at it and he will look elsewhere for his power kick.

If you feel compelled to call your boss on his behavior, go ahead but do so with a cool head and prepare in advance for the ensuing fallout. It could get ugly so think things through beforehand. What are your options?  Who are your allies? Have you documented his behavior? Can you deal with the possibility of the worst outcome?  Sure, it’s important to stand strong, but be smart about it. As I wrote in Stop Playing Safe, “Sometimes you have to go out on a limb and do something where the risks are high. But before you climb out, be sure you’ve managed the risks as best you can and set up a safety net should you fall.”

6.  Speak up: Give your boss a chance to respond 

Early into my career,  I left a good job with a global consulting firm because I had a lousy boss and a toxic work environment.  Upon leaving, the HR lead – a senior partner at this organization – asked to meet with me to find out why I was leaving.  I shared how undervalued I had felt, how the promises made to me upon employment had not been met and how little accountability there was for my colleagues. He was surprised and disturbed and asked if there was anything he could do to make me change my mind. Apparently I’d been ear-marked a hi-po (which would have been nice to have known before then!), but by this point it was too late. I’d already made other plans, hoping for a better work environment, and a better boss.

The lesson for me was this: have the courage to speak up rather than cower in silence for fear of an awkward conversation. The truth is that I’d  been too cowardly to address my concerns with my boss or to go around her.  Admittedly I was young (mid-twenties) and inexperienced, but if I knew then what I do now, it would have been that I owed it to myself, and to my boss at the time, to have at least voiced my concerns, offered up some possible solutions and engaged in a conversation about how we could have improved the situation.  It may not have changed a thing, but at least I could have known that I at least gave her a chance.

So just because it may be easier to say nothing, to just ‘suffer quietly’ or complain loudly to colleagues or to head for the exit as I ultimately did, you at least owe your boss the opportunity to respond. Don’t prejudge and assume they aren’t able to take feedback, or don’t care how miserable you are. When you approach them with respect and with a genuine desire to make things work better, you can open the door to whole new levels of trust, collaboration and outcomes. A door that will remain permanently closed otherwise.

7.  Be Proactive:  Do your research before  jumping ship 

Of course the best way to manage a bad boss is not to have one in the first place. So whenever you are looking to move into a new role in the same company or move to another organization  all together, invest some time to get a sense of the culture, the leadership and the sort of management practices that are tolerated and supported. If you are moving internally, make sure you do your networking ahead of time to get a sense of both the environment within the team you might be moving to, and those  who are creating it. Are they leaders who create an environment where people are inspired and supported to work hard, or do they incite fear about what will happen if people don’t?

If you are moving to a new organization, do your research to make sure you’re not jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Sometimes in our desperation to escape a toxic work environment we fail to take notice of the warning signs that the new job we’re taking will only be worse.  Have a coffee with whoever you know at the new company to get a sense of the culture, employee engagement, moral, and management style. Investing a few hours up front could spare you a few years of frustration. -Margie Warrell

Being a Good Manager: Overcoming 5 Common Myths

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Building healthy culture, promoting innovation and bringing people together are key indicators of a successful manager. While working as an organizational consultant with startups who aim to scale their business, I’ve noticed five recurring misconceptions related to managing people that produce opposite results: unhealthy workplaces, unmotivated employees and frustrated managers. Especially for individuals who have started a business and end up hiring employees and becoming managers, here are five simple myths of managing that will help you turn around the way that you supervise your employees.

Myth #1: “The paycheck is the reward. That should be enough.”
Try this instead: A paycheck will not motivate employees to move mountains. Their paycheck is expected when people show up for work. Most employees aren’t concerned with your business bottom line. They do however concern themselves with the people they work with. The relationship they have with their co-workers and management. Daniel, the CEO of a startup in Santa Monica I work with, often sends a delivery order of chicken soup to his sick employees. I’ve told him that this is the type of gesture that expresses louder than words that his care extends past the quality and/or quantity of their work. An employee vested in the relationship will be happier and as a result more productive, more innovative and stay loyal as the company grows and changes. Yes, people need pay check to eat, but an “A” performance generally requires more than just a paycheck.

Myth #2: “They work for me.” 
Try this instead: It is your job to make your employees successful. A good manager strives to eliminate obstacles that impede their employees from reaching their goals. Try spending a day figuring out what you can do to make your employee’s life easier. When consulting with a local software company, their programmers mentioned that they would be happier if they could have one “flexible work day” where they could choose to work from home. The manager decided to implement this and soon found that his employees would only take advantage of the day when they truly needed it, and were happier and less concerned with balancing their work and life commitments. What obstacles can you remove to help your team meet their goals and achieve their deliverables? Yes, they may contractually work for you, but a good manager is also a servant of his people.

Myth #3: “I’ve told them this multiple times, they should be doing it already.”
Try this instead: Many employees have a difficult time keeping track of verbal suggestions. Verbal feedback is much more effective if paired with written feedback. The research suggests that therapists were more likely to provide higher quality services to their patients when their supervisor gave feedback orally, then followed up with written confirmation of the feedback. Are you frustrated that your employee isn’t responding to in-person feedback? The key word is accountability — and people feel much more accountable when documentation exists to make them easily accountable.

2013-12-02-WrittenFeedback.pngTry adding a followup email to your verbal suggestions. A quick email can serve as a good reference point if the problem persists, can create a paper trail of known issues to use for more formal feedback, and also allows the employee to go back and see a history of their progress. If the instruction already exists in an employee handbook, job description or email and you still notice compliance issues, feel free to cite the document and date to jog their memory and increase their accountability. Yes, your employees may forget your suggestions, but accountability is essential to good management and it is your job to hold yourself and them accountable.

Myth #4: “My employee’s mistakes cost me money.”
Try this instead: Mistakes employees make are typically unintentional and are an opportunity to improve existing systems. While some large mistakes can be very costly. The small day-to-day mistakes you deal with as a manager are perfect opportunities to understand flaws in your system. This upfront cost of identifying a hole in your system will save you money long-term if instead of blaming your employee, you use it as a way to give them feedback and improve your systems.

While working in a small health care company, we worked on a project to transition the responsibility of scheduling patients from the clinician to an in-house scheduling department. Although there were some instances where short-term utilization of billable hours wasn’t optimal, instead of blaming the scheduler, clinician or unreliable patient, we used these instances as a golden opportunity to revisit the scheduling protocols and identify gaps in the system. Yes, there is an instant cost of an error, but there are also hidden savings if you take the time to learn from this expensive lesson by providing feedback about the error and improving your systems.

Myth #5: “It’s faster for me to do it myself, than to train someone else to do it.”
Try this instead: Training takes time, but the time saved after your employee knows the ropes can give you more time to focus on more complicated tasks. Joe, a physician who decided to open a wellness center quickly found that running a boutique clinic was even more complicated than treating medical conditions. He often found himself filing patient charts, scheduling appointments, booking guest lecturers and creating daily activity schedules. When scaling his business, he resisted spending time training his employees on more important or complicated tasks, fearing that it wouldn’t be done correctly. In Joe’s case, by holding onto more complicated tasks, like finding his ideal guest lecturers to come visit his clinic, instead of integrating those into an employee’s workflow began causing later roadblocks when he was faced with more complicated medical-related demands. Once he realized that training his administrative assistant to research leads and give him options allowed him to focus on improving his clinic’s patient experience and he was able to make sure he was always operating at maximum capacity.

When faced with challenges, a manager should identify how these challenges fit within the context of growing their business and creating a stronger organizational structure. By trying these strategies, each obstacle sheds light on a learning opportunity to hone your managing skills, tighten your company protocols and learn about yourself and your team. Adopting these alternative views of the five common myths of management is a great place to start your journey to becoming a great manager. – Sara Gershfeld

Management Lessons: Moving Beyond Our Mistakes

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I departed the plane and as soon as I crossed the security threshold I remembered the book, still on the plane in the seat pocket. It had only been five minutes and the plane was only one hundred yards away but it was impossible to sprint back. I had no boarding pass to get back through security. After pleading with United customer service, I filed the report and was assured the book would be returned. I was so mad at myself I couldn’t see straight.

But there was a lost and found and, after all, my name and phone number were prominently displayed on the front page.

That was months ago. The prized notebook never showed up. I was so crazed to find the book that the day after I left it on the plane, I went back to the airport looking for the lost and found office. The closest thing to a lost and found was the lost luggage counter. A nice woman there informed me there was a room where such things were stored until they were claimed or sent to the rightful owner. I pleaded with a nice woman behind the desk that since I am here now, to please let me check the inventory. She relented, but informed me it was against policy. It might have been my tears that swayed her.

In the lost luggage “room” I was transformed. It was like a home for broken toys and abandoned dreams. The shelves were full of iPods, iPads, laptops, prized notebooks just like mine (but not mine), well-loved stuffed animals, jackets and other priceless items. I thought the items might come alive and develop into a Pixar movie. I gave up on finding the notebook at that point but not on being mad at myself for making such a stupid mistake.

We all get mad at ourselves for making mistakes and we all have stories to tell. I am no exception. There was the time:

  • I hit the “Reply All” button and the message went to all the wrong people. It was too late, the message was out there and I had to go into recovery mode. I was so mad at myself I vowed to never use “Reply All” again.
  • I made an off-hand comment that someone overheard. It was the one person I didn’t want to hear the comment. I kicked myself – I should know better.
  • I drove away with a latte on top of my car where it spilled all over the roof. I had a messed up car and no coffee. I was pissed.
  • Someone gave me the middle finger recently and I responded in a way that had my blood boiling – at myself.

Being the glass half-full guy, I wondered, “When we all get furious at ourselves for making mistakes, is there anything to learn from the anger?” The answer is yes; managers need to keep the self-loathing under control. What can we all learn from our mistakes and anger?

  • Plan – Almost all of my anger-induced events could be traced to sloppy planning.
  • Delegate – If I gave more work away I wouldn’t be so busy and sloppy with my planning.
  • Think – Being thoughtful in how I approach each project and activity would help keep the blood pressure down.
  • Manage Time Better – Being late or overbooked always creates problems.

I suspect that no matter how much we plan, delegate, think and manage time, there will always be those day-to-day events or mistakes we make, after all, nobody’s perfect. Maybe the more important lesson is that when we make mistakes, to recover quickly. And when we’re mad at ourselves, to make sure that we don’t take it out on others in the workplace. -Richard A. Moran

Five Bosses You Don’t Want (Or Want to Be)

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What is lousy leadership? Here are a few of the most common ways leaders can get it wrong and too often do.

The first and perhaps most frustrating way that some people blow leadership is by being know-it-alls. They can tell you how the world works, what corporate is thinking, how it will backfire if you try this or that, and why you can’t change the product one iota. They even know what kind of car you should be driving. Sometimes these blowhards get their swagger from a few positive experiences. But usually they’re just victims of their own bad personalities. And you and your company are victims, too. Because know-it-alls aren’t just insufferable, they’re dangerous. They don’t listen, and that “deafness” makes it very hard for new ideas to get heard, debated, expanded, or improved. No single person, no matter how smart, can take a business to its apex. For that, you need every voice heard. And know-it-all leadership creates a deadly silence.

If know-it-alls are too in-your-face, a second kind of lousy leader is too remote. These emotionally distant bosses are more comfortable behind closed doors than mucking it out with the team. Sure, they attend meetings and other requisite functions, but they’d rather be staring at their computers. If possible, all the messy, sweaty people stuff would be delegated to HR managers on another floor. Like know-it-alls, this breed of leader is dangerous, but for a different reason. They don’t engage, which means they can’t inspire. That’s a big problem. Leaders, after all, need followers to get anything done. And followers need passion for their fuel.

A third category of lousy leadership is comprised of bosses who are just plain jerks—nasty, bullying, insensitive, or all three. As one reader wrote us recently: “My boss is abusive, by which I mean disrespectful, finger-pointing, and sometimes even paranoid.” Such leaders are usually protected from above because they deliver the numbers. But with their destructive personalities, they rarely win their people’s trust. That’s no way to run a business, which is why these types of leaders typically self-destruct. It’s never as quickly as you’d hope, but unless they own the place, it does happen eventually.

The fourth type of lousy leadership is at the other end of the spectrum: It’s too nice. These bosses have no edge, no capacity to make hard decisions. They say yes to the last person in their office, then spend hours trying to clean up the confusion they’ve created. Such bosses usually defend themselves by saying they’re trying to build consensus. What they really are is scared. Their real agenda is self-preservation—good old CYA.

Which leads us to a final version of lousy leadership which is not unrelated: bosses who do not have the guts to differentiate. The facts are, not all investment opportunities are created equal. But some leaders can’t face that reality, and so they sprinkle their resources like cheese on a pizza, a little bit everywhere. As a result, promising growth opportunities too often don’t get the outsized infusions of cash and people they need. If they did, someone might get offended during the resource allocation process. Someone, as in the manager of a weak business or the sponsor of a dubious investment proposal.

But leaders who don’t differentiate usually do the most damage when it comes to people. Unwilling to deliver candid, rigorous performance reviews, they give every employee the same kind of bland, mushy, “nice job” sign-off. And when rewards are doled out, they give star performers not much more than the laggards. Now, you can call this “egalitarian” approach kind or fair—and these lousy leaders usually do—but it’s really just weakness. And when it comes to building a thriving enterprise where people have an opportunity to grow and succeed, weakness just doesn’t cut it.

Surely we could go on, but we’ll end here with a caveat. We hardly expect lousy leaders to read this column and see themselves. Part of being a lousy leader, no matter what the category, is lack of self-awareness. But if you see your boss here, take heart. When it’s finally your turn to lead, you’ll know what not to do. – Jack and Suzy Welch

10 Qualities Every Leader of The Future Needs to Have

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The reigning theory in business has long been that “alpha” leaders make the best entrepreneurs. These are aggressive, results-driven achievers who  assert control and insist on a hierarchical organizational model. Yet I am  seeing increasing success from “beta” startup cultures where the emphasis is on  collaboration, curation and communication.

Some argue that this new horizontal culture is being driven by Gen-Y,  whose focus has always been more communitarian. Other business culture experts,  like Dr. Dana Ardi, in her new book The Fall of the Alphas, argue that the rise of the  betas is really part of a broader culture change driven by the Internet —  emphasizing communities, instant communication and collaboration.

Can you imagine the overwhelming growth of Facebook,  Wikipedia and Twitter in  a culture dominated by alphas? This would never happen. I agree with Ardi who  says most successful workplaces of the future need to adopt the following beta  characteristics and better align themselves with the beta leadership model:

1. Do away with archaic command-and-control models. Winning  startups today are horizontal, not hierarchical. Everyone who works at an  organization feels they’re part of something, and moreover, that it’s the next  big thing. They want to be on the cutting-edge of technology.

2. Practice ego management. Be aware of your own biases and  focus on the present as on the future. You need to manage the egos of team  members by rewarding collaborative behavior. There will always be the need for  decisive leadership, particularly in times of crisis. I’m not suggesting total  democracy.

3. Stress innovation. Betas believe that team members need  to be given an opportunity to make a difference — to give input into key  decisions and communicate their findings and learnings to one another. Encourage  team-members to play to their own strengths so that the entire team and  organization leads the competition.

4. Put a premium on collaboration and teamwork. Instead of  knives-out competition, these companies thrive by building a successful  community with shared values. Team members are empowered and encouraged to  express themselves. The best teams are hired with collaboration in mind. The  whole is thus more than the sum of its parts.

5. Create a shared culture. Leadership is fluid and  flexible. Integrity and character matter a lot. Everyone knows about the  culture. Everyone subscribes to the culture. Everyone recognizes both its  passion and its nuance. The result looks more like a symphony orchestra than an  advancing army.

6. Be ready for roles and responsibilities to change weekly, daily  and even hourly. One of the big mistakes entrepreneurs make is they  don’t act quickly enough. Markets and needs change fast. Now there is a focus on  social, global and environmental responsibility. Hierarchies make it hard to  adjust positions or redefine roles. The beta culture gets it done.

7. Temper confidence with compassion. Mindfulness, of self  and others, by boards, executives and employees, may very well be the single  most important trait of a successful company. If someone is not a good cultural  fit or is not getting their job done, make the change quickly, but with  sensitivity.

8. Invite employees to contribute. The closer everyone in  the organization comes to achieving his or her singular potential, the more  successful the business will be. Successful cultures encourage their employees  to keep refreshing their toolkits, keep flexible, keep their stakes in the  stream.

9. Stay diverse. Entrepreneurs build teams. They don’t fill  positions. Cherry-picking candidates from name-brand universities will do  nothing to further an organization and may even work against it. Don’t wait for  the perfect person — he or she may not exist. Hire for track record and  potential.

10. Not everyone needs to be a superstar. Superstars don’t  pass the ball, they just shoot it. Not everyone wants to move up in an  organization. It’s perfectly fine to move across. Become your employees’ sponsor  — on-boarding with training and tools is essential. Spend time listening. Give  them what they need to succeed.

Savvy entrepreneurs and managers around the world are finding it more  effective to lead through influence and collaboration, rather than relying on  fear, authority and competition. This is rapidly becoming the new paradigm for  success in today’s challenging market. Where does your startup fit in with this  new model? -Martin Zwilling

Which of These 4 Types of Managers Are You?

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When it comes to management style, many think they can spot an introverted or extroverted manager a mile away. However, within those broad categories are more nuanced interaction styles that can have a direct impact on how an individual manages employees, says Kimberly Gerber, founder of Irvine, Calif. leadership coaching and communication firm Excelerate. Four common types include:

In Charge: This typically extroverted manager has a direct language preference. He or she is comfortable telling people what to do. Those around this manager tend to be responsive to that take-charge style. This person naturally gravitates toward the head of the table and is a little more formal in his or her relationships. Heavily focused on numbers and processes, these managers tend to want to set achievable goals — those that can clearly be accomplished.

Chart the Course: More likely to be introverted and less comfortable being put on the spot, this leader doesn’t like surprises, says Gerber. Unlike the In Charge type who is concerned with the big-picture of “where we’re going” vision, this type of manager is more concerned with how to get there. Chart the Course managers are planners and want to make sure that everyone is on-board and moving in the same direction.

They tend to be very friendly with a direct style and inclusive in gathering input and feedback. However, don’t mistake the Chart the Course manager as soft — he or she has little tolerance for those who are off-plan or not up to snuff performance-wise. Chart the Course managers set an achievable result with careful planning and anything less is failure.

Behind the Scenes: Another typically introverted type, the Behind the Scenes manager shuns the spotlight in favor of data. This type of manager makes consultative decisions and needs a great deal of input from different sources to be comfortable with those choices. Interaction is often small-scale and this manager motivates more individually than his or her more outspoken counterparts, eschewing confrontation. The downside of this collaborative approach is that it takes longer to make decisions and get things done. This manager wants the best possible result based on all of the information available.

Get Things Going: Another extrovert, this manager is the life of the party, Gerber says. Gregarious and well-liked, the Get Things Going manager wants everyone to be as enthusiastic about the plan and outcome as he or she is. This manager intuitively understands that work gets done through people and that harmony facilitates productivity. But don’t mistake them for emotion-ruled — they understand what needs to be done, even if they’re not the most goal-oriented managers. They look for a result that is embraced by the team.

Understanding these types can help you both recognize these qualities in yourself and better understand the managers you have working for you, Gerber says.

Seven Ways to Make Your Strategic Planning Relevant

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One of the most important shifts in many companies today is the move toward a capabilities-driven strategy. Companies that define a “way to play,” lined up with a handful of key differentiating capabilities that deliver on that value proposition, have a definite competitive advantage. Your own company may have redesigned your strategy accordingly. Now it’s time to execute.

Undoubtedly, you already have a planning and performance management system—otherwise known as a strategic plan and corporate budget. This is a group of deeply ingrained methods for allocating costs and tracking. Even as the top executive team embraces a capabilities-driven strategy, the planning and performance management system tends to remain unchanged. That’s because traditional budgeting planning practices were designed with other priorities in mind. They tend to foster silo-based thinking and to spread investments across all activities. That makes them irrelevant to your strategy—at best. At worst, they will undermine the development of key capabilities. Yet they tend to be so entrenched, combining so many of the formal and informal drivers of behavior in a company, that you may find it difficult to change them.

A truly relevant planning and performance management system will help you instill the discipline and accountability to make hard choices. It will make it easier, not harder, to assign the lion’s share of investment to your differentiating capabilities. And it will keep things on track with clearly articulated objectives and performance metrics. Here are seven guiding principles that will help you put such a system into place:

1. Emphasize key capabilities in your strategic plan. Look beyond short-term marketplace opportunities and challenges. Articulate what you need to do, different from what any other company can do, to deliver on the company’s unique value proposition. Tie strategic objectives to those capabilities. For example, one bank recognized a major opportunity to build its business by selling across product lines. Developing a robust client analytics capability was a requirement. By naming this capability in their strategic plan, the bank’s leaders forced themselves to lay out the steps needed to achieve their long-term goal.

2. Spell out capability-building initiatives in the plan. Design roadmaps for developing and steadily upgrading specific capabilities over time. Then, in each annual plan thereafter, spell out how you can further advance these capability-building initiatives. The leaders of a mining conglomerate, for instance, realized that they could increase production output by rolling out new standards across their portfolio of subsidiaries. That required a series of initiatives: one each for measurement, reporting, IT, best-practice methodologies, and training. Developing the initiative roadmap provided an actionable plan for the management team to build the capability over time.

3. Manage discretionary and non-discretionary spending separately. A successful strategy concentrates investment dollars where they are needed most: the company’s distinctive capabilities. Traditional budgeting can undermine this goal by allowing individual units to spend discretionary dollars as they see fit—often favoring pet projects, even if they have no strategic relevance. To prevent this, use zero-based budgeting to determine the amount of non-discretionary expenditures needed to “keep the lights on” throughout the company. The rest of your spending should go through a management process, connected directly to the strategic plan.

4. Use cross-functional governance to balance company priorities against the priorities of individual business areas. Governance forums should use a set of clearly defined decision rights on a regular basis to steer the business. A transportation company relied on a common information technology infrastructure across all of its business units. Every year, each business unit submitted IT investment requests to an investment committee panel composed of business unit and support function leaders. Its cross-functional organizational design enabled the panel to best decide how to allocate scarce resources for initiatives that would generate the best return for the enterprise. Some of the enterprise opportunities would not have been captured if business unit leaders were the only decision makers on IT.

5. Create guidelines for evaluating investment demands. Your company is subject to a range of investment demands with varying degrees of relevance to strategic priorities. Detailed investment guidelines will help assess these requests, especially when you’re balancing “apples and oranges” demands (such as regulatory compliance expenditures versus capital spending proposals). Each year, for example, the managers of a moderate-sized but much-used airport have to choose just a few of many investment requests—balancing safety, strategy, operations, and regulatory arguments. Establishing a clear set of communicated guidelines allows the airport leaders to focus on higher-return projects. Knowing the reasons for the choices encourages everyone, including those whose proposals didn’t get funded, to engage and execute with more focus on the winning initiatives.

6. Give leaders cross-functional authority to build capabilities and hold them accountable. Capability-building efforts fail when nobody has the authority to carry them out. Help individual leaders build capability systems across functional lines by making sure others can see that they have the requisite decision rights and position. For example, remember the bank building out its analytics capability. This required coordinating resources to develop a solution across product lines and IT. An empowered leader was authorized to manage resources, initiate investments, and manage delivery across the organization matrix to build the capability.

7. Measure and reward progress. Building a strategic capability can often take months or years. Explain clearly how each initiative bolsters a critical capability. Establish objectives and milestones for each initiative. Use these benchmarks to measure and reward progress toward the ultimate goal: a market-leading capability.

A more relevant planning and performance management system yields significant long-term benefits, because it continuously evaluates your company’s performance against strategic goals. The performance benchmarks tell you where and how external changes are affecting your progress. This provides a real-time snapshot of your capabilities at work in the marketplace. Strengths and weaknesses become clear, informing your investment decisions for the next strategic planning cycle. After a few years, this virtuous feedback loop can become second nature, paving the way for real collective mastery of the capabilities that distinguish your company.  – Matthew Siegel  s+b

The Right Way to Fire Employees

“I’ve seen many a CEO take a bullet themselves because they did not fire the unmotivated and incompetent thinking they could reform, retrain, and remotivate people who either don’t know or don’t care, or both. This is a great article worth the read.” – Sharon Jenks

 

In my years of experience in the C-suite, I’ve met and worked with every kind of personality out there, from big and brash know-it-all executives to quietly confident managers who fly below the radar — and always get the job done.

But I’ve never known anyone who likes to use the “f” word.

Not that “f” word. The one I’m referring to here is “fired,” as in, “You are.”

Even Donald Trump, who has added to his fame and fortune by making “You’re fired!” his catch phrase (something I have first-hand experience with from my time on “Celebrity Apprentice”) doesn’t always relish the idea of letting someone go.

One of the most authentic, radically transparent people I know, Trump didn’t get to where he is today by playing small, avoiding risk, and hoping things will get better. And as a change agent whose job it is to overhaul your company in a way that is massive and measurable, nor should you.

No matter what business you’re in, the key to your success will always be the quality of the people on your team. From your front-line foot soldiers to the back-room strategists, in order for your company to succeed in the cutthroat world of business, you have to know that every one of them is ready, willing, and able to go the distance with you.

If not, it’s time to fire the dead weight and hire new blood. It’s easy to say and hard to put into practice, but it’s crucial to your success.

How crucial?

In my bestselling book, “Running the Gauntlet,” I talk a great deal about the importance of changing a mood of a company as a necessary first step towards changing its culture.
And integral to changing the mood is making sure you’ve got the right people in place.

Avoid firing people, and you might as well try to teach a pig to kiss

Anytime I’m invited to speak to an audience of C-suite execs about turning around a company, effecting massive change, and reaping the financial rewards that come as a result, I always get a chuckle when I liken holding onto employees that no longer fit in with the vision you have for your company to teaching pigs to kiss. As I point out, you can do it, but it’s a messy job.

And it really pisses off the pig.

It’s far easier (and a lot cleaner) to get rid of those employees who aren’t working and trade up for talent that will. This involves identifying those who can’t (or won’t) change as well as those who don’t believe that they need to change in order to be successful, and then firing them.

You hear talk all the time about how hiring the right people is an art, and there’s a lot of wisdom to that statement. But the flip side to that coin is the art of firing those who can’t handle the course to success you’ve charted.

If you’re not there already, chances are good that the time is coming when you’ll need to make some tough decisions about who to keep on and who to let go. Like others in your position, you might find yourself hemming and hawing over your decision, finding every excuse in the book to avoid actually taking action.

These excuses run the gamut, with executives citing everything from the high cost of searching for new talent or the effect of unemployment on insurance costs, to the fact that deep down, they are holding out hope that with a little bit of help or retraining, under-performers will somehow change to become star employees. And then there’s the fear of making a mistake in firing someone and the fear of how letting people go will make the company look to those on the outside.

Yes, yes, yes. Blah, blah, blah.

The truth of the matter is, if someone’s not a right fit, they need to go. Yesterday. When I’ve had to make personnel changes, once the dust has settled I have never felt I made a mistake in firing someone. In fact, more often than not, I often think I should have done it sooner.

It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it: Three steps to firing with confidence

If the writing’s on the wall for some of the employees at your company, now’s the time to take immediate and decisive action to trim the fat and make room for new talent.

Yes, it’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it. If that someone is you, use my three-step process for making the job as painless — and effective — a proposition as you can for all involved:

Be clear on your conditions of satisfaction first
No matter what your battle plan for success is, or who it involves, a necessary first step is that you get very clear on your conditions for satisfaction, and then share these with your team.

These are so important to your company’s success that I spend a considerable amount of time on the subject in both “Running the Gauntlet” and my earlier book, “The Mirror Test.” Without clearly defined conditions of satisfaction, you miss out on a few key ingredients to success:

  • You won’t be able to sell your endgame to your people.
  • You won’t have a prayer of tackling head-on those feelings that often blind your people to the fact that change is needed — or to the reality that it’s time for some of them to move on.
  • You won’t have any way of pinpointing what your desired end result looks like or knowing whether or not something is working to keep you on track.

When you align your teams around the company’s conditions of satisfaction, you build a foundation for success. Those that get your vision will serve as a cornerstone for that success; those that don’t, won’t. Identifying and sharing your conditions of satisfaction brings into focus who falls into these categories, making it easier for you to decide who to keep and who to let go.

Gather feedback from the rank and file
One of the easiest ways I’ve found to identify who’s pulling their weight and who’s dead weight in a company is by asking your best employees. As with everything else, there’s an art to this (you don’t want your employees to feel like tattletales). The best approach is to ask them honestly and to let them know that what they share with you is in confidence.

I’ve found that asking trusted employees for this kind of information not only makes the process that much more fool-proof (how often have you had someone come up to you after you’ve fired one of their colleagues to confirm that you made the right choice?) but also empowers your best people who are honored to have earned your trust.

And I don’t know about you, but those are exactly the kind of people I want to go into battle with, confident that they’ve got my back, just as I’ve got theirs.

Stop thinking about “why not,” and act!
My friend Miles Young, Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide’s CEO, once told me that whenever he sees anything that’s not working in business, the first thing he does is to take a look at the people around the problem. “Things don’t break by themselves,” Young said, “they get broken as a result of negligence or mistakes.”

Once you’ve laid out your conditions for satisfaction, you know where those conditions aren’t being met, and you have identified the people around the problem, as Young puts it, it’s time to take action. No more beating around the bush, thinking of all the reasons why not to let someone go. A company can only move as fast as its lowest common denominator, which means if you’re going to succeed, you’ve got to let go of those who aren’t cutting it.

If firing people isn’t your thing, get someone to do it for you. However you go about it, get it done. Nothing negatively affects a company’s morale like employees who aren’t a good fit, and chances are those who need to be fired already know that they’re the odd man out living on borrowed time as it is. Giving them the push out the door into something bigger and better won’t just improve the performance of those who stay to build the company; it could be exactly what the person you’ve let go needs in order to grow.

Give your company a fighting chance to succeed

There’s an old saying that goes, “An army marches on its stomach.” These days, while you might not literally be leading troops into battle, you are waging war on a battleground of sorts: the marketplace.

This means that your army feeds on trust and empowerment. And if it’s going to march at all, it’s got to march in unison.

Fill your rank and file with those who share your vision and are ready and willing to follow you into battle, and fire the others. In doing so, you’ll give your company the fighting chance it needs to succeed on today’s battlefield.

Jeffrey Hayzlett is a global business celebrity, TV commentator, bestselling author, and sometimes cowboy.

 

What It Takes to Be a Boss Every Employee Loves

takes-boss-everyone-loves, leadership, relationships, behavior

Being a successful leader means being good at what you do and possessing integrity. But more than anything, it’s about your ability to build healthy relationships with others — particularly those who work for you.

As an entrepreneur, you’re viewed differently than you were when you were a manager or colleague in a traditional job. You stand to gain the most from the company’s success, and it is easier for your employees to think you’re more interested in the business than them and their lives. Your success is paramount, but it shouldn’t be achieved at the expense of healthy relationships with those you depend on.

1. Don’t treat people as transactions.
Years ago in my first real job out of college, I was delighted to have my very own assistant. She was a very capable and competent woman who I really liked. One day while a client was visiting the office, I made the naïve mistake of introducing my assistant by saying, “This is Teri. She works for me.” Teri’s response would have served me better in private, but her point was valid none-the-less: “I work with you, Mark, not for you.”

I meant no ill respect with my choice of words, but it suggested to Teri that she was a means to an end, that I was “above” her. And while technically she did report to me, the difference between working for and with someone is critical. The former can make a person feel conquered, while the latter signals collaboration.

Think through how you title and refer to your employees. Focus on reciprocity: look for ways you can help them achieve their work-life goals while they help you achieve yours. And guard against letting tasks trump a true regard and appreciation for the relationship you have with those who have voluntarily chosen to work with you.

2. Invest in those you value.
The ultimate test of value in a relationship is how much time, interest and support you are willing to invest. Rather than ask, “What have you done for me lately?” turn the tables and ask yourself what you’ve done lately for those you truly value.

Here’s one way to invest for great dividends: identify the potential in an employee that he or she doesn’t recognize in him- or herself. Often people are blind to their own abilities or potential, and good leaders not only recognize these latent strengths, they help develop them.

Several years ago, my office manager was spending more time on our website and technology platforms. A colleague was presenting a multi-day event in Las Vegas that I knew would give my team member information and skills to help her in these areas. Going to Las Vegas for the event was an added perk, so I gladly paid for the seminar and trip. She came back better equipped for her work, knowing I was willing to invest in her success.

3. Be involved, but know your limits.

You can work in the same office space with people every day and still be absent because you are preoccupied with your own worries. An open door policy means nothing if you don’t stop what you’re doing long enough to give your attention to those who walk through it.

How can you do this? Make it a point to “check in” with every employee each day. That means a simple but sincere question: “How are things going?” Listen and if necessary, probe for information you can use to support your employees. Identify frustrations they are facing, opportunities they’ve recognized and gauge their emotional energy and commitment to their work.

You’ll know you’re micromanaging when you’re spending more time telling someone how to do something than you are in clarifying what needs to be done. A thorough explanation with a chance to ask questions is vastly different than a droning presentation about how you’d do it. Give people the freedom to achieve the best results in their own way.

4. Show your gratitude.
I’ve heard a lot of complaints from employees who feel underappreciated by their manager, but I’ve never heard anyone complain they were recognized, rewarded or appreciated too much. I’m puzzled at why so many entrepreneurs and leaders are reticent to voice appreciation. Don’t be afraid of over-doing it. You connect with people more deeply when you recognize the best in them and let them know.

Here’s a powerful way to show appreciation: When you get feedback from a customer about someone on your team who has done a great job, get their permission to record it. Then play the recording at the next team meeting. There is even more power in a customer’s expression of a job well done than simply acknowledging it yourself.

Growing your business successfully means doing all that you can to make your team want to work their hardest for your cause. That means connecting with employees in a meaningful way.

By Mark Sanborn  an author, speaker and president of Sanborn & Associates Inc., a leadership development firm based in Lonetree, Colo.

What do you do to deepen your connections with employees?

The Popular Advice That Could Kill Your Business

Career-Advice-Featured, Small Business, Planning
Run, don’t walk, away from these all-too-common words of advice.
Small-business owners get unsolicited advice everyday. Some of it can be very helpful, some of it is better off ignored. If you hear any of the “words of wisdom” listed below, our advice to you is to smile, say thank you, and move on.
Good things come to those who wait.
If you follow this advice, you may be waiting a very long time for success.
Better advice: Small-business owners need to be aggressive and go out and grab opportunities as they happen. You are responsible for initiating your success.

Failure is not an option.
Unfortunately, it is the most likely outcome in any small business venture.
Better advice: Accept failure, learn what you can, let go of it, and look for another opportunity to succeed.

Do what you love and the money will follow.
In the ideal world, this would always be true.
Better advice: The money will follow if you find something you are passionate aboutand you’re selling a product or service your customers need or want.

The customer is always right.
If the customer was always right then it would be too expensive for any company to stay in business.
Better advice: Listen to the customer’s concerns and show empathy in proposing solutions to their problems.

Think outside the box.
Sometimes ideas so far outside the box will make a small-business owner go broke because customers won’t pay for it.
Better advice: Look inside the box for constant problems customers still pay to solve.

Never give up.
This hard fast rule can lead to bankruptcy. Don’t go down with the ship!
Better advice: Follow Kenny Rogers’ advice and “know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em”.  Successful entrepreneurs know when it’s time to close down their business and look for a new start.

If you are not hiring, you are not growing.
Successful businesses are not measured in the number of employees, but in the profit (cash flow) they generate for their owners.
Better advice: Get the right resources (employees, freelancers, vendors) to get the job done most effectively.

Separate out your business and personal life.
In the world of the Internet-enabled smartphone, it is nearly impossible to separate these two worlds. Better advice: Merge your business and personal aspects into one happy life. But establish business free zones (like the gym, dinner table, bedroom or vacation) so you are able to recharge.

Never leave money on the table. This strategy is greedy and shows short term thinking. It can also blind the small-business owner to additional objectives, or big-picture thinking and planning.
Better advice: Emphasize long term relationships so annuities with vendors and customers can be built to maximize their lifetime value.

Always be innovating.
While it is important to evolve and change with the market, innovation should not be done for its own sake.
Better advice: Consistently ask customers and survey competitors on new ways to solve problems.

If you want it done right, do it yourself.
If you follow this strategy, you will always be working. You will have built a job, but not a company.
Better advice: Find leverage in your business by training employees to do tasks that will leverage your time. Later, bring in a team that is better at these tasks than you are.

If you build a great product (or service), customers will come.
While this may work in the movies, it never is effective in business. If your product can’t get found, it will never be chosen.
Better advice:  Set up a consistent system of sales and marketing so customers can find your product when they are looking.

Business is about taking big risks.
This is a surefire way to go out of business and never have the financial resources to recover.
Better advice: Take small risks and analyze the results. Business is ultimately a series of small decisions and incremental steps.

Don’t quit your day job.
Many entrepreneurs are told to keep their start up as a hobby and don’t risk doing it full time.
Better advice: When you have enough customers to support your minimum overhead, jump to doing the business on an exclusive basis. Only with complete focus will you be able to grow the business to its full potential.

Everything is fair in business.
You will be surprised what people have the audacity to do in business, and no not everything is “fair” in business, and what may be considered “fair”, it isn’t always right.
Better advice: Think about the code of conduct with which you want to conduct your business. Train your staff to stick to it.

You can’t change the world.
You are told you will never have enough resources to really make a difference.
Better advice: You actually can change the world. As a small-business owner, focus on doing it one customer at a time.

You must first write a detailed business plan.
Business plans are totally overrated. They typically are a series of assumptions that never come true.
Better advice: After writing the initial business plan, get customers to validate assumptions or help morph to a more profitable path.

Business is about having a great idea.
Many entrepreneurs think they have to protect their innovative idea or sometimes even want to sell it.
Better advice: Business ideas are meaningless if you can’t back it up. Success is really about taking action and finding the right team to work with to build a company.

Quit while you are ahead.
This is a fearful and fatalistic approach to business.
Better advice: Find out how you can build on the success that you have already achieved that can minimize some of your risks going forward. If you feel comfortable, take some money out of the business as financial insurance.

You have to spend money to make money.
Many vendors say you have to invest a lot of money to build a business.
Better advice: Having too much money will make you frivolous with it. Most businesses are started with less than $10,000. As a small-business owner, it’s your money so be cheap. Only spend money on things that are testable, trackable and repeatable.    —-Barry Moltz