I met a guy named Rich Sheridan two years ago, and have had the pleasure of touring his company (Menlo Innovations) several times.  Menlo is a software company that has developed a very unique culture and Rich has just published a book about it called Joy, Inc.  How We Built a Workplace People Love.  I read a lot of business books, and rarely do I finish any of them.  I am good for 150-175 pages, but at some point I run out of gas.  I read Joy cover to cover.  It was part because I have experienced the culture and personal tours from Rich, and part because it gave me a chance to hear all of Rich’s journey with the culture at Menlo.  He is coming to speak at our local chamber on June 6, so I look forward to sharing him with some of my high growth second stage companies.

At the very end of the book, he gives three next steps to any leaders who want to open up the conversations in their workplace and make JOY a greater part of their business, and I loved them. Here is the excerpt.

WHERE DO YOU SIT? Most visitors are simultaneously intrigued by and uncomfortable with the thought of a space without walls, offices, cubes, or doors. As I mentioned earlier, our guests are intrigued by the fact that I sit out in the room with everyone else. This kind of managerial experiment builds trust, the kind that comes from treating your team members like the adults they are.

Changing your seating is a simple experiment to run. If you are a leader trapped in an office or caught by the trappings of an office, turn the office into a conference room, grab a small table, and move out among the rest of your team. Ask them to select the table’s location. Tell them it’s okay to move it whenever they like without asking permission. Post a sign-up sheet outside the new conference room that was your old office and let the team know it’s available to anyone, first come, first served. Have them name the room.

You can always book the conference room yourself for those truly private conversations. I’m guessing you will be amazed at how few there are. If you are having a lot of private conversations, there is likely something else amiss with your team that requires deeper attention.

Remember my earlier admonition: everyone has to change in order for you to achieve the dramatic change you seek. This includes you. What’s the worst that can happen?

TRY A STANDUP MEETING FOR A WEEK: Go back to chapter four and read about how we do our daily standup meeting. Try it for a week. Set a timer, pick a goofy token, and experiment with some silly traditions. Find something fun in your current culture and blend it in.

COME VISIT: There’s one thing you have that I didn’t: Menlo. Come visit, explore[…]”


Excerpt From: Sheridan, Richard. “Joy, Inc.” Penguin Group, USA, 2013-12-26. iBooks.

This material may be protected by copyright.

. . . and When We Want Feedback – Step 1

(Thanks to Seth Godin for planting the seed for this post – this is post 2 on this topic, see Post 1 if you want to start at the beginning)

I have talked to dozens of groups about feedback, and in almost every case someone comes to me and asks me to give them feedback based on my interactions with them.  I applaud their willingness to seek feedback, but it is the wrong place to start because there is no context.  Some feedback is too broad.  So if you want feedback, here are some tips for gathering valuable feedback.

Step 1:  Mentally be ready

Feedback is not about feeling good (that’s applause), it is about getting better.  There are ways to effectively give feedback that allows us to not only reflect on successes (things we need to KEEP doing), but also identify where we can get better (START doing and STOP doing items).  Regardless of the method, to receive the feedback you have to first prepare yourself to get it, because it is always hard to hear.

Jodi Glickman wrote a book called Great On The Job, and in it she outlines some very simple advice on feedback.  Here are the phases/steps she outlines for getting valuable feedback.

Phase 1:  The Preparation

  1. Plant the Seed
  2. Schedule the Conversation
  3. Provide Specific Guidance (of What You’re Looking For)

Phase 2:  The Conversation

  1. Ask for Concrete Ways to Improve
  2. Say Thank You
  3. Wait, Digest, and Revisit

The number one miss I see happening is skipping Phase 1.  The key to this step is letting people know you will be asking and helping them understand what would help you the most.  If you are working on your nerves – ask them to watch for signs you are nervous.  If you are working on use of humor, ask them to track laughter and how effectively you used humor.  The key is to plant the seed and to pick a time to talk about it that is convenient for them and will be the best time for you to hear it.  fyi – sometimes coming off the high of a 2 hour presentation is not a good time for you to really listen to feedback.

I do a lot of presentations to groups, and when it is possible I take one of my children so they get to experience me at work and I have someone that will give me feedback.  In a presentation last year to a group of entrepreneurs I took my oldest daughter.  I told her before I started that I wanted her to watch me and give me feedback on one thing I could do to improve.  At the end, I took her to dinner and asked her what feedback she had for me.  Her response was “You did a good job Dad, but at the end when you went around the room to ask people What one thing you are taking away from our time together?, you talked too much so it dragged.  At that point people want to leave and you need to keep things moving.”

She was right – I did start too many 20-30 second conversations.  It was great, and it happened because I first focused on The Preparation.  Next time I will be better.

Whether it is a One on One or a performance conversation, Always start with preparation.  Remember, leading and being led is about having Honest Conversations that lead to Thoughtful Actions, that result in Improved Performance.


Today I am giving a speech at the celebration honoring 11 high school seniors who are receiving the Daughters of the American Revolution Good Citizenship Award. It is one I received thirty years ago, and a long time family friend asked me if I would be willing to come back and help them honor these young leaders. It was an easy YES.

I need your help. If you have a Twitter account, please post a comment today saying thank you to someone in your life that is deserving of a heartfelt thank you, and then use the hashtag #nicematters.

Here is the why behind that request. I am sharing three tips with them:

  • Learn to say NO
  • Face to Face: Show your best YOU
  • Store Gratitude (keep a #nicematters file with notes you receive from others)

At the end of my talk, they will get a thank you card with #nicematters on it, and I will ask them to practice gratitude with someone by sending them a note in the next 24 hours. I will also ask them to tweet a thank you to someone, and attached the hashtag #nicematters to it. When they look, I would love them to see a bunch of other messages from different people with the same hashtag.  I need your help to make a point with these 11 future leaders.

For me this is one of my Google-Time activities.  When I started my business four years ago, I made a pledge that I would spend 10% of my time saying YES to certain things because they were fun.  Today is one of those days.  The request cane from a friend who has known me since I was born, and my kids, my Mother, my Father, and my Aunt Ginny will be coming.

Thank you for helping the message of gratitude get passed today!

Entrepreneurial Leadership – My presentation & Two things I learned

This week I spoke to a group of entrepreneurs at Start Garden, an incubator in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  After receiving support from a program called Fast Track to start my own business, I pledged to us my Google-time (10% of my time) to connect with programs that help others start their own businesses and/or allow me to hang out with great people.  Start Garden meets both criteria.  Here are two things I learned from my workshop:

1. To get feedback, you have to ask for it: In dozens of appearances, I have found it very hard to get constructive feedback.  For this presentation I took my teenage daughter and told her ahead of time that I would like some feedback about what improvements I could make.  When I asked her after I was done she shared “Dad, at the end your closing kind of dragged.  People want to get going, and you could have kept the pace moving a little better as you went around the room for your closing.”    She was right, and next time I will be better because she cared enough to share.  The best way to get feedback is to ask for it before you start.

2.  Entrepreneurs love to learn: We were talking about leadership, and had some very frank discussions about barriers to leading well, but we never got stuck in what facilitators call a ‘negative spiral’.   We acknowledged what made it hard to lead, but quickly moved past it to what they could do to be better leaders.  It is what I try to do as a facilitator, but I know that when it is easy – the groups gets part of the credit.  Entrepreneurs see the opportunities in anything, which is why it is fun to hang around them.


Here is a copy of my presentation if you are interested.  It was themed around a John Wayne movie that I loved.

My question:  If you had to share one thing with a group of entrepreneurs about leadership, what would it be?

Beware of MORE Leadership

I was once asked during start-up of my own business what my sales plan was.  I thought for a second about my business plan, the problems that I wanted to solve, the clients I wanted to help – – and then, after a deep breath, I said “MORE”.  MORE is a great start-up word and a great growth word.  I have seen it uttered by 10 month old companies and 25 year old companies.  The last great recession we faced, MORE became a very important word as companies scrambled for cash.

The truth is – At some point, MORE is not enough.

1.  It is not enough when you are faced with a choice: doing work X that gets you excited, in a new industry, but not as profitable vs work Y that is what you do well, feels a little bit boring to your entrepreneurial energies, nurtures/expands your current customer base, and creates a healthy cash flow.  MORE provides no focus, only motion.

2.  It is not enough when your team looks to you, as the leader, for some direction around ‘How did we do?”  When you point to MORE, say thank you, and then head off in your new luxury car that MORE helped you afford – – they begin to see what MORE did for you, and then their part of MORE seems not enough.  Dilbert owes some if its success to MORE leadership.

3.  It is not enough when you are looking at your own succession/future, and the two people that could move into your role and your measure of their ability to understand MORE and follow your lead is the only measure you have.  MORE leaders hire MORE leaders.

4.  It is not enough when you want to sit back for a few months, catch your breath, and enjoy some of the fruits of your MORE labor.  Your team is left wondering when MORE became ENOUGH, and in a few weeks begins to believe ENOUGH is the goal now.  When you re-engage, probably starting with the lecture around accountability and ownership – they get confused, angry, and sometimes bitter.  MORE becomes an irritating word.  MORE erodes TRUST.

4.  No celebrations can be planned around MORE because it is always moving.

5.  When MORE is used as a goal for a career change, it moves you towards increases in the numerical parts of a job, but not necessarily the passion/energy/fit parts.  Inevitably the MORE reasons will move to NOT ENOUGH.

6.  No development plans or talent management activities can be directed by MORE goals.  Are MORE Nicer or MORE Communication real targets?

MORE has its place in circumstances where it is important to push forward through things and speed to opportunities is critical.  It is okay to be in a MORE state, but staying there for long periods of time is not healthy.

More can help you get to BETTER, but it will never get you to BEST.


3 Books That Make Great Graduation Gifts

College graduation is coming up, and after last weekend working with 21 students in Michigan through our Governor’s Economic Summit I have been thinking a lot about what I experienced and ways in which all of us can invest in someone starting a career.  While high school graduations might compel us to get something like Oh, The Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss, college is a little different.  Here are three books that would be great gifts for a new grad to help them to success in their first job and connect you with that success:

LinchPin by Seth Godin:  A little longer, but is focused on helping people be purposeful about building their brand and reputation through their work.  It is a good balance between practical advice and thinking bigger.

Great On The Job by Jodi Glickman: This book is targeted at college students.  I have also used some of the advice Jodi gives (especially around getting feedback) with some of the mid/late career transition individuals I coach through Shifting Gears, but she targets the new grad.  Our governor is actually giving a signed copy to each student from our recent summit.

Effective Immediately by Emily Bennington and Skip Lineberg: I am preparing to review this book and share my thoughts through my TruTips, but in advance I also like this book.  It differs from Jodi’s book in that it provides lots of 1 page tips for individuals.  How I would make this a great gift would be for you to write a note that identified your top 5 and pledge to be a mentor as they read and use this in their first job.

There are other books new professionals should read, but hold off until they get a job.  I actually like one of the chapters in Effective Immediately where the authors give them a list of books to keep in their cubicle and to read.  The great thing about all of these books is they are focused on helping them be successful, and coupled with a pledge from you of some time to read it with them/mentor them – this actually become a great gift.

Greg Hartle – Wisdom from walking around

I had a chance to share a meal with Greg Hartle.  Does his name sound familiar?  It shouldn’t.

Not that he is not remarkable, but he is not trying to be remarkable and famous.  He is just traveling around the country, making enough, and trying to rebuild his life as he works towards some goals – one of which being to help 500 people.

Really?  After a near death experience and asking himself some big questions, he decided to take $10, a laptop, and some clothes – and go help people.  If you want to know more here is his link. I want to brand him with some statement like – Meet Mother Theresa wearing jeans.  But the truth is that would do a disservice to Mother Theresa and to Greg.  You see, he is just trying to be a better Greg, and that should be good enough for all of us.

I loved listening to Greg.  What hit me was the perspective he has gained from sitting in the living rooms or across the table from over 250+ people across this country trying to help them through their life transitions.  He is focused on micro-micro economics.  In that world the graphs go away and we can talk in names, addresses, and challenges.  He is also one of those genuine people that makes you want to shut out the world for a while and enjoy being present.

Two thoughts he left me with that continue to roll around –

He sees lots of people fully prepared for a world that no longer exists. If you are not ready to personally manage the cycle of learn, unlearn, and relearn – then in a few missed cycles you risk becoming stuck in a difficult place.  Learn, do, do, do, do better, do, do, do, do, do a little better – does not exist.

Purpose + Passion + Skill for their craft.  Many people have purpose and passion, but too often the gap is in the level of skill they have for their intended craft.  You see, the skill piece takes a dedication to something, over the course of time, to work towards mastery.  (see Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule)  Also, see point number one.

The rest of Greg Hartle’s story can be followed on Facebook, or check out the business he just launched at newmethods.org.  He was also a great speaker if you are looking for someone to inspire your group.

Thanks Greg.


Good advice for new or old grads – Effective Immediately Post 1

I am in the process of reading/reviewing a book by Emily Bennington and Skip Lineberg called Effective Immediately – How to FIT IN, STAND OUT, and MOVE UP at Your First REAL JOB.  As I go through it I will share some thoughts that make me go Hmmmm . . .  This posting is based on one of those moments.

As I started through this book I found myself grinning at some of the helpful hints.  Not because they were funny (other than the statement – If someone farts, ignore it), but they were the kind of things that are simple, obvious, and too often lost in the shuffle of starting something new.

Advice I liked:

Under the heading Have Patience – a quote from Sir William Osler (a pioneer of modern medicine): The best preparation for tomorrow is to do today’s work superbly well. A great reminder not to get caught in the who is looking and what is the next project.  Just focus on what is in front of you.

Professional etiquette:  Listen more than you talk – Obvious, but how often do nerves translate to communication misses such as talking too much.  Remember that when someone talks about themselves it stimulates the brain in the same way as when someone is eating or receives money.  Get others talking about themselves and listen.

Professional etiquette:  Always clean up after yourself. This one makes me smile, because my first job was in a steel mill where nobody every cleaned up after lunch and expected the janitor to do it for them.  Then I worked for a company that had a cultural norm around this, and every place I have been since I still wipe down the counter in the coffee counter when I leave.  I watch for this habit.

Reality check: Traditional HR departments are either gone or spread thin.  Most new people do not really know the function of the HR department, so they will not miss them.  But this statement is true, and even more true for smaller organizations.  The book goes on to give a list of Macro and Micro items that could be used by anyone to do their own onboarding plan.  For example:  Macro item:  What are the key responsibilities of your job? and Micro item:  Who is your supervisor or boss you report to directly, and who do they report to?

So far I like it.  As with all business books I believe they need to be read with a partner or small groups.  This book is written in short sections that fits that model very well, and is a great reference tool because each short chapter equals a skill.

More to come . . . .


4 Things That Identify a Great Community

Tomorrow starts Cohort #12 of an amazing program created in Michigan called Shifting Gears that helps people through job transitions.  My involvement in the last year has been a blessing in many ways, not the least of which being the amazing team that I get to work with since starting as the lead facilitator of the program in June.

A cornerstone of the program is creating a community that supports the hard work of making a career transition.  Dr. Diana Wong, who is the creator of the program, added this unique aspect because she understands hard work and achievement.  She also is a master at creating community around herself as a normal habit, and how she does that is probably worth a couple more blog entries.

A great community, like a great team, has some unique characteristics that make it a special place.  Here are four that stand out as I think of Shifting Gears.  Great communities are:

  • Welcoming –  One habit in Shifting Gears is asking people to stand up and say their name when they speak.  When a guest speaker comes in that habit becomes a way to welcome every time someone speaks because they know the name of the person who is speaking.  We also put speakers before lunch so they can stay and share a meal/conversation with the participants.  As a facilitator, whenever someone stops in to share the space with us (ie. a guest) I stop whatever I am doing to make a proper introduction.  Taking time to get to know each other, knowing the names of new people, and greeting with a smile are welcoming steps.  Great communities do this out of habit.
  • Supportive – The formal time together might be meetings, learning events, or even organized gatherings.  Great communities go beyond that by asking How can I support you as you prepare for this networking event? or I noticed you are not yourself today – What is happening in your life right now?. Support is ultimately an action, but it starts with a question and the presence to work through a meaningful answer.
  • Require involvement/ownership – There is a charge of $500 to join Shifting Gears, and for someone who is without a job this is a sacrifice to spend this money.  It would be very easy (and happens often) to come into the room the first day with a customer centric approach that asks What can this program do for me? – after all that is what I paid for.  Joining a community is not about What can I get out of this?. We reframe that question to What is the work I need to be doing for/in this community? .  A great example is networking.  A program circulates want adds or connects job seeker to job boards.  Shifting Gears has a big focus on networking, connecting people to networking events, encouraging the sharing of networking events within the community, and asking people to own the work of networking.
  • Forgiving – Communities have high standards and challenging goals, and sometimes people fail to meet the standards.  Great communities circle around people when they have a setback, and help them work through it.

The four points above can be used by a leader to measure the progress of the team towards becoming a great community.

I look forward to walking with the 39 individuals that will show up tomorrow as we create a community within the new Cohort #12.

Process vs Solution – What does my focus say?

If relationships matter, then the process trumps the solution.

These words were spoken by Greg McCann, an expert in helping families come together and work through passing the business on to the next generation.  It is brilliant, because it is simple and gives you a choice.  Do you allow for time to have a process, or do you drive the perfect outcome?

Too often we focus on the outcome, and the process just becomes something we have to do to get there.

Talent management is about relationships and trust.  Trust is built by focusing on the process, not necessarily the outcome.  I often share with leaders that true Talent Management is like cooking with a crockpot, not a microwave.  It just take time, and the end is not an exact time, but a time of day.

Outcome minded leaders like the microwave because it is exact, predictable, and efficient.

If you are a microwave person put the quote above on a post-it and put it up as a reminder for yourself.

  • What if – – – we worried more about getting people involved in solving the problem?
  • What if – – – we worried more about asking what other people think, giving them a little extra time, letting them fight a little, and accepted non-powerpoint answers that got most of the way there?
  • What if – – –  we focused on the customer in front of us and not the 9 more we knew we had to talk with?
  • What if – – – we stopped filling the one on one agenda and gave that off to our people to make it THEIR time?

But, business results are critical and accountability is synonomous with goal achievement and a clear process for getting there!  Enjoy your microwave . . . .