Learning and 2014

Rarely do I recommend a book to someone to fulfill a need for development.  While I love to read, it is probably the least effective way to learn.  Here are two knocks against making it the default for development:

1.  Reading is too often hiding.  Here is an example –  conflict management.  I have encountered two situations in the past year where someone was assigned a task to read a book about dealing more directly with conflict.  In each case they did not get better but they enjoyed the book.  Hmm . . . .

2.  Reading is based on the premise that you need more information to deal with a challenge.  My first question around a development goal is what have you learned or experienced in the past that applies to this challenge?  My two oldest children have received more leadership training in the last year than I have in the last 5 years.  Use what they have first, and they likely have something to use.

Here are two moves that help replace the need for books and still provide a way to refresh your knowledge and challenge your thinking:

1.  Find one thinker that pushes you and commit to reading their blog, YouTube channel, or email every week.  (I read Seth Godin and have setup a Feedly page to send me content in topics that are important for me)

2.  Carve out 15 minutes of learning time in every team meeting where people on your team teach each other something new.  Need content?  See #1.

I love learning.  In each of the 5 times I have taken the Strengthsfinder assessment over the last 10 years Learner shows up in my top 5.  Learning agility is the one competency Lominger was able to tie to the identification of high potentials.  Learning is important, but in 2014 it does not mean pick up a book.

My message for 2014 is to keep learning but put the books away and add more doing to your development goals.



Creating Space for Honest Conversations: Some Tips

Creating Space for Honest Conversations: Some Tips

As a leader, you are not a psychologist.  When we spend too much time trying to get into the heads of our people we are destined to drive ourselves and everyone else crazy.

That is the message I tell leaders in almost every class or coaching relationship I have had for the last 15 years.

Your goal:  Getting people to tell us where they are with things and what they need.  More simply put:  An honest conversation, leading to thoughtful actions, and resulting in higher performance. 

There are some questions that help create momentum towards an honest conversation.  Are you asking any of these?

    • What is energizing you now?
    • What is frustrating you now?
    • What do you need me to keep doing?  Start doing?  Stop doing?
    • What are the things you are hearing that I should know?
    • What should our team be celebrating in 6 months?  What do you want to be celebrating in 6 months?

After over a decade of watching intentional conversations happen in companies I am convinced of two things:

    1. It is impossible to get good answers to these questions without intentional one on one time with your team.
    2. In order for these questions to work, it takes a 3-6 month commitment to stick with one on one time and follow-up on any actions.

If you are looking for a great focus for next year, spend the first part of the year creating these conversations with your team.

Honest conversations   |   Thoughtful actions   |   Higher performance


fyi:  Here are some templates that might help



The “Am I crazy?” Talk

The “Am I crazy?” Talk

One of my earliest posts was around how so many people appear, for lack of a better term, crazy at work.  The post was Nobody Behaves Well In The Corner.  In researching the topic I found data showing that in any given year 28-30% of adults experience a mental or addictive disorder.  That point I was making then, when we are stressed we often slip into that space of not being our rational selves.

Have you ever uttered these words?

  • What’s wrong with me?
  • Does what I just shared make any sense?
  • Am I just an idiot?
  • Can you help me make some sense out of this?
  • I just need someone to listen and tell me if I am nuts, or just bad at my job?

There are lots of reasons we get to this place, and it would take far to many words to explore that space.  Here are four tips for getting out of it.

  1. Why am I here?  The Birkman Method and the research behind it found that when needs are not being met, stress behavior results.  All of these questions above indicate a certain level of stress or panic.  Simply asking yourself this question – – and after you write down the reasons, cross out all the sentences with they/them/everyone/someones name.  Hopefully, what is left is I/me/my.  Always try to focus on what you control, which is your actions/feelings/reactions/narratives you have created around a situation.
  2. Find a safe outlet, repeat step 1.  Remember the movie The Shining, when Jack Nicholson utters the famous “Here’s Johnny” line?  When we spend too much time alone we don’t do well.  We break-up and challenge the narrative in our head by getting it out to another and getting a different perspective.  Find a friend you trust and that can empathize with you and get their opinion.
  3. What do I need to address first?  How will I do that?  In a space where we feel confused and overwhelmed, it is important to focus on the most critical things first.  These often get lost in our narrative.  Asking yourself this question sets up the next step.
  4. What is my next step?  There may be ten things we need to do, so see all of them and pick one.  Since getting out of this loop is a journey, it is important to stay connected to those individuals that are safe sounding boards for you as you work your way back to a place where you are feeling at your best.  Keep revisiting and nurturing those relationships that are part of step 2.

When you hear the questions shared above, whether they come from your own mouth or from another – – – >  Listen.  It is through our process of filtering the noise of our thoughts, fears, concerns, frustrations, experiences, intuitions that we identify what we need to address first.  Then we need to act.

Launching my own business taught me (and continues to teach me) the lesson of stepping back from ‘crazy’, sifting through what is real/imagined/important, and stepping back into it with a plan.  With the caveat – Repeat as needed.

Let me leave you the quote that is attached to my computer screen, and is a subtle reminder of this whole space.

Do not allow the fear of what if to ruin the joy of what is

The Gift of Our Time

Today a new trU Tips comes out, and the topic is mentoring.  One word that will be prominent in this edition is the word GIFT.

My work is in the space of development and transition (some call it personal growth), and in that space I get to have conversations with the leaders and followers – so I get to hear both perspectives.  As I think back on all these conversations, several themes emerge:


  • Underestimate the value people put on getting time with them.
  • Fail to leverage their own network for support in self development / development of their team/themselves.


  • Make up reasons not to ask their leader for one on one time or help.
  • Look to their organization or leader to drive their personal development.

There will be many gifts given this holiday season, and I always encourage leaders to give the gift of time.  If there is a magazine you love or a book you get excited about sharing, why not make that a gift and include a couple of hours of your time to discuss it as they read it.  If you are looking for ideas, here are the books I share (my library) and a few tips for making a book a real gift by including your time.

The late Zig Ziglar, a champion for individual ownership/growth, was once asked by a leader after one of his talks, “What if I develop someone on my team and then they leave?”  His answer, “What if you don’t develop them at all and they stay?”

We do have choices, and the choices we make with our time tells others what we value.

Make your gifts matter.


An Open Door is not enough – How about an Open Ears policy?

Early on in my own entrepreneurial journey a client asked if I read Inc. Magazine. When I said no and listed the other, more traditional publications, he just replied “If you are going to be an entrepreneur you need to read Inc.”. I listened, and it continues to give me things every month that help me develop.open ears

This month Jason Fried (co-founder of 37signals – Basecamp) makes the case that if your door is open as a leader, it does not mean they are lining up to come in. The article reminds me of a phenomenon I continue to see in workplaces – people are reluctant to bother their leaders.

Here are three excuses(direct quotes!) I have heard from people why they don’t go in:

  • “They are always so busy, I don’t want to bother them.”
  • “If I take them my problem, they will try and fix it.”
  • “I don’t want to look like I can’t do my job.”

When we went virtual with our teams and our time, we forgot to change our terms. Open office is outdated and irrelevant as a concept, because the virtual world has made it insignificant. Here are two habits and two questions to help you translate an open door policy to an open ears policy.

  1. Habit: 20 minute One on Ones 1-2x per month (see my guidelines and template if you want to learn more about this one).
  2. Habit: Eat lunch with your team 2x per month.
  3. Q: What is the dumbest things you are working on? (thanks Michael Fertik, CEO of Reputation.com for this, INC. Nov 2013)
  4. Q: (for one on one) What things should I Keep doing? Start doing? Stop doing?

Do you have any to add?

Talent management is about great conversations, and it does not start with an open door anymore, it starts with our presence and open ears.  The challenge for followers is to have the courage to step into that open ears space and take advantage of the opportunity.  The challenge for leaders is to slow down and actually listen – really listen – and do something with what you hear.  Here is your big risk:  You can fake an open door policy – you can’t fake an open ears policy.

Here are some templates to help you listen better and make open ears work.

Note: Rework by Jason Fried is in my Library/Resource Center.  I also added a few more great reads this month:  The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey and Self Leadership and the One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard,  Leadership and Self Deception.

Should we do an employee survey?

Should we do an employee survey?

I always say great conversations start with a question, and this one was offered up to me recently and it really got me thinking . . . . .   Why should we do an employee survey?

Let me first state a couple of core beliefs I have about employee surveys.

First, talent management is about having great conversations.  Conversations are a place where two people come together and do equal amounts of listening and sharing.   To accomplish it, great conversations start with a question.  Especially for people in power (leaders, parents, etc.),  before you respond to anything you need to know what the other person is thinking and/or feeling.  As soon as your opinion hits the table, it changes the conversation.  Culture is built one relationship at a time, so doing this listening / sharing / conversation thing well is critical to people feeling good about their role, feeling part of something special, knowing what they need to be working on, etc  .  .  .   FYI – this is often called Employee Engagement.

Secondly, an employee survey is the leadership team asking two general questions of each person in their organization:  How are you feeling?  How are we doing as leaders?  When the answers are rolled up by team, division, entire organization, some great things emerge (your organizational strengths) and some themes that point you towards areas where you can improve your culture / leadership also emerge.  What you do with those answers tells the organization you are listening, and ultimately makes people FEEL like someone is listening to them and willing to respond to their feedback. (ie.  your opinion matters)  The debrief is to find a way to start another conversation to establish some priorities around  – What do we need to KEEP doing?  What do we need to START doing?  What do we need to STOP doing?  Notice I always use WE because this is not a leadership to do list.  Culture is everyone working to make your organization a special place to work.

Here are a few questions that I ask clients:

Q1: Give me your gut answer – Why do you think you need to do one?  What would you want out of a survey?

 Take a look at the answer and if contains any messages like “have to” or “always done one” or “they did one so we should” then I would recommend thinking through it a little more. By themselves, these are the wrong reasons.

Was one of your answers to the second question “to identify ineffective leaders”?   Safety is critical in these surveys, and leadership effectiveness should be measured by performance of the team (metrics) and cultural fit (which can be assessed by a survey).  If your metrics and/or accountability for performance are weak, a survey is not the place to start.  Focus your efforts on one on one ongoing management conversations and your annual performance conversations.

If your answer to the second question is rooted in a discontent that you are feeling or you have had some surprises in outlying divisions where key people have left suddenly that surprised you but did not surprise the people that were left (or maybe they were thankful), then there is probably an issue in how effectively the leadership team is in listening to the entire organization and identifying opportunities to strengthen culture.  Any employee survey can help address this, and an ROI number can probably be determined.

Q2:  What do you think you do well as leaders?  What makes this place special?

Q3:  How do you think your people would answer the above Q2 questions?  What is your confidence level, based on your current habits around leaders listening to concerns AND cascading those positive and negative themes up the organization so the leadership team can continue to maintain/build culture through strategy?

Q4:  Is that confidence level from Q3 good enough for you to say you are effectively listening to your people? 

If yes, spend your time and resources somewhere else. 

If NO, then a survey can help you listen and put some reasons around both the positive and the negative vibes you are getting from your people.

A few comments to those organizations that are growing quickly . . . . . .

My experience is that there are two things that get in the way of listening well – growth (bigger and locations) and management layers.  If you have 4+ locations it is difficult for any leader to get there often enough to establish the familiarity and relationships with the team so they can get an accurate reading of what people are feeling.  Habits like monthly breakfasts with groups, showing up at lunch and sitting with different people weekly (or daily) are all habits that replace the need for surveys.  This is just not a CEO habit, but a habit for all executive leaders.

Management layers make it difficult for accurate information to move up the organization.  If you have 4 or more layers of management (CEO – frontline supervisor) it is hard to move opinions/feedback up and down the organization effectively.  Remember the telephone game as kids?  A message gets passed around a circle until the person who started the message gets it back.  Is the end message ever the same as when it started?  Rarely.  Hmmmmm . . . . . .    Layers create the same situation.  If you have 4 or more layers of management it makes listening and reacting a little bit like the telephone game.

So the bottom line is that the answer to Do we need to do a survey is . . . . It depends.

What other reasons or resources would you add to this post based on your experience?



Owning it

Owning it

When you develop an ear for ownership, it reveals a lot.

  • Yeah, but . . . .
  • They must be thinking . . .
  • If you didn’t . . . .
  • I couldn’t because . . .
  • They are . . .
  • How could they . . .

It is not that others don’t get in our way, it is that we quickly dismiss movement for ourselves because of something they did.

When I started my business, a dear friend told me to read Do The Work by Steven Pressfield and The Dip by Seth Godin. Both have become constant reminders and equippers for me when I need to manage through these moments. When you are engaged in meaningful work with great people, it is surprising how often it happens.

The biggest barrier for big companies to act like small companies is ownership. Blaming accounting or the person who is going through a divorce and off their game or blaming others because they don’t get your ‘situation’ is the easy way out.  Jumping in to do something is actually harder, because it involves more work for you and maybe a good argument about priorities and ownership. In the end, the work has to get done. We need more people willing to go into these moments with a good heart, and a relentless resolve to do the work that matters.

The biggest reason people get stuck OUT of work is ownership.  Not that companies don’t do bad things to people in how they handle separations – they do.  We just don’t process it and move through those endings well.  When we don’t we suffer, and we blame them.  Sure it is not fair, and it is also not necessary.

Listen to your words today. Which side of the conversation are you on?

A lens for your talent conversations: 30-30-40 Conversation™ Rule

I spent a year working with some friends on a product to help people have conversations.  It hit me as my kids grew up that having meaningful conversations actually became harder as they grew up.  I also watched grandparents have the same challenge.  Alas, like any great idea someone else came up with the same idea and put it into a nice plastic case.  Table Topics is actually a fun and effective thing to have around.  We own two.  🙂

That exercise taught me something.  Great conversations have a nice balance of past, present, and future topics.  The lens I use to view every talent management conversation is governed by a simple rule: 30-30-40.

30% Past: Performance is measured in the past.  Our learning is measured in the past.  Spending time there is important.  Celebrations happen here.  Learning happens here (especially: what did not work).  Self awareness gets generated here because fresh memories reveal where we are at our best and where we struggle.

30% Present: Today is important because in it are the unsolved problems or the worries we bring to work.  In this space are the questions like: What are your top priorities today?  What is hot?  What are you concerned or worried about?  Life happens here, and relationships are built here.  There is no guessing about the present – it is what it is.

40% Future: The biggest chuck by design.  Defining our future, dealing with worries or barriers, and asking people “How can I support you?” all happen in this space.  This is the #1 neglected piece of the 30-30-40 Conversation™ rule.  Goals get set here.  Barriers and development needs are defined proactively here.

The lens put into our glasses help us to see more clearly.  Try this lens on your next conversation around performance, team meeting, or one on one.  How do things look?

This lens is actually where the trU came from in The trU Group.  trUth and trUst happen when it is used.

Great conversations are such a gift.  Go share one.

Ingredient #1: Owning your development

The career conversation is a tricky one.  After all, the organization provides you a check for doing your job today, and talking about tomorrow is not often on the radar of the leader because they have lots to worry about.  I have a 30-30-40 philosophy on talent conversations (30 past, 30 present, and 40 future).  The 40 is there to pull us into the future of our business and our own career so we can be intentional about preparing for it.  The reality, while it is nice for organizations and leaders to support that conversation, it is ours to own.

I am preparing to have a conversation with a group at a conference around the topic of owning your career, and the first point is simply that – decide that it is yours.  The supporting point is without being angry that someone is not taking care of you.

Too often I see people approach ownership with a caveat.  I will own it . . . .

  • Caveat 1 –  . . . if I have to.
  • Caveat 2 –  . . . since my leader does not care.
  • Caveat 3 – . . . since we all know I am just a number to this company and my job could be gone tomorrow.
  • Caveat 4 – . . . but I am still angry about the last leader who failed to see my gifts and contributions in my last job.

A critical ingredient to successfully navigating personal change lies in our perspective.  After spending a year facilitating a career transitions program called Shifting Gears I have seen ownership with and without caveats.  When we bring in unfinished business (what William Bridges refers to as endings in his book Transitions) it sabotages the effort and will block that path to success.  When our endings/caveats are gone, the personal transformations are nothing short of amazing.  I love seeing those stories unfold.

So when you commit to owning your career, start by asking yourself these questions:

  • Why am I doing this? (5-10 bullets)
  • What are the things I expect to get out of it?
  • How do I feel about what I have to do?
  • What help do I need and from who?

Leverage a close friend to proof your answers for caveats / unfinished endings.

If you are a leader, it is not your job to do this work for your people, but it is your job to support it.  Support is often just about listening.

Perspective shifting resources

It is hard to shift our perspective on our own.  I recommend a few of books in my libraryLinchPin by Seth Godin, Mastery by George Leonard, or Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer are all books that help paint a picture of ownership that might help you make a healthy shift to ownership without baggage.

One video I have used in training to help people see the power of perspective is Celebrate What’s Right With The World by DeWitt Jones.  It does an amazing job of painting a picture of how perspective changes everything.  It is 20 minutes well spent.


7 Books That Make Great Gifts For A New Job

My personal graduation party count is in the teens now and I am not done.  Strangely I find myself energized with each new party because it gives me a chance to connect with a graduate, hear some of their plans, and revisit their first 18 years by looking at all the pictures they (or their parents) have posted.  It if fun and scary at the same time.  I always appreciate the graduates that look me in the eye and admit some of those fears.  I get it.

Transitions are like that – fun and scary.  Fun because of all the new things that are presented to us – new people, new challenges, new learning, and new perspectives.  Scary because they often bring us into unfamiliar territory that will challenge our basic beliefs and put us into situations where we will experience failure.

Failure.  It is a word that nobody likes to hear, and yet it is so necessary to learn.  One of the reasons I like hanging around a start-up minded community is they see failure as a way to grow.  You cannot have growth without it.  While graduation is a great thing to celebrate, those graduates that will be going off to their first job in the next several months will need more help.  The help they need is the support from the people around them for a great start in that new role.  In the corporate world it is called, and when it is done well it provides a foundation for success.  The key to onboarding is really after the program(or first 2 weeks), when the work begins.  Being able to step into that work with the right perspective and attitude is critical.

Lets focus on the college graduate that will be starting their first job. As part of any new beginning, it is good to mark that day with a gift.  Here are several books that have the potential to equip people and start some great conversations that will lead to a successful transition into their new role.

If you have read my blog long enough you know that I believe in learning pairs.  My philosophy of giving a book as a gift is simple – keep the books thin(<200 pages) and as part of the gift offer to read it/discuss it with them.  (here are some other helpful gift giving tips)