What is your learning BRAND?

There are two questions I love to ask people to get a sense for how they learn.

1. Where do you get your learning?

2. What is your favorite TED video?

These two questions help me understand their brand as a learner.  It helps me see how the trends in information flow and the tools that have emerged to create communities around topics have been absorbed into their lives.  For example, if I hear the standard – I am a reader, then I know they prepared for the interview, but question if they are prepared to help my business hit our 2020 goals.   If I hear the talk about a website I have never heard of, discuss what they learned on LinkedIn last week, or try to convince me to drop Business Week in favor of Inc or Wired, then I know I have someone that is hungry and resourceful.

So why TED? Over the past 12 months I have been blessed to be part of a program called Shifting Gears in Michigan, and it has exposed me to individuals in transition that have 15-20+ years of work experience.  When I ask the question, who watches TED videos, <25% of hands go up.  TED is free, it is thought provoking, and it is mostly normal people sharing amazing passion/knowledge for a topic.   It is also not new, and if you are not familiar with it or not plugged into it I will venture a guess that you are not a real active, self-driven learner.  It makes me smile to think of the Shifting Gears participants who begin to own their learning.  Your learning Brand is not about age, it is about attitude and energy.

Elliott Masie, a learning futurist, is having his annual conference this fall and will be talking about how learners want things customized just for them.  He is right (by the way – the answer is called Google or LinkedIn Groups and it is not in the future).  The good news for small businesses is that if you have Google and spend time with your people talking about what they need to learn or what they have learned and used at their job (fyi – development plan) – then customized learning can be mostly free.

Ask the questions.  Listen well to the answers.  For job seekers, work to make your answers compelling and authentic.  Help me get excited about your learning Brand.

Building a Leadership Development Program from Scratch

I was presenting at the SHRM conference in Illinois and had a chance to sit in on a presentation by Benjamin McCall.  It was a solid and thought provoking presentation, and my big takeaway was the question How would I build a leadership development program from scratch?

It reminded me how times have changed around doing things from scratch.  A personal example for me is baking.  I grew up thinking everything – pie crusts, cakes, and even muffins were only made from scratch.  While I love to make bread, cinamon roles, and even pancakes from scratch, most of the time it is much easier to get it from a box or a store.  I started my leadership development career thinking the stuff from the box was what needed to happen.  If the name Ken Blanchard, Center for Creative Leadership, Executive MBA, University of Michigan, or Harvard was on the label then it was great.

Then I went to a small company and was asked to build one from scratch, for one person, and with a limited budget.  The other condition was that it had to work because our business growth strategy was depending on the leaders from this program to open the offices in our plan.

What I learned is that there are some core benefits that all participants in these programs takeaway, and it has very little to do with content.  I also learned that the two core benefits, self-awareness and peer communities could be provided even if it is a small company.  trU Tips 21 is coming out next week and I will provide an outline of how I would answer this question.

I still stop when I hear the words Center for Creative Leadership or Ross School of Business or Harvard, but I know now that anyone can make something  really good from scratch.

Finally – the key currency to support this being done well and on your own – time from you and the rest of the leadership team.  That is the magic ingredient.  More to come in trU Tips 21 . . . . . .


What if We Called It Your Individual Development Story?


When we think of anything with the word PLAN in it, do these words quickly follow in your mind?

What if we called it something different?  For example, instead of your Individual Development Plan, what if we called it your Individual Development Story?Talent Management - Writing your story

If you think of it as a story, it would have a main character – You – in all your strengths, experiences, successes, weaknesses,  and moments of non-performance.

It would have . . .

. . . history that helps you frame your character with terms like talents, passions, rewards, and realities. (what I call your trUYou)

. . . a current story about where you are today and what might be changing for you.  It would also have some preferred future that gives us a sense of where the story might be going.

. . . ownership. It is our story and although we need to ask others for help, in the end it is ours to write and to tell.

. . . portability. Sometimes our story needs to go somewhere else to move ahead – another role, another project, and maybe another organization.

. . . help.  If we know you and understand where you desire to go, then we could choose to enter your story and join you on the journey as a mentor, a friend, a partner in accountability, or maybe even a fellow learner that desires the same journey.

If we know our journey will be challenging journey, then maybe we hire a coach.  They would help us step back and see things differently, or rewrite the journey so that the story takes us to some different places and outcomes that we might not see by ourselves.

I am thinking of renaming my template as I prepare to share it with the human resource professionals at the Illinois SHRM Conference next week.  Too many people do not have them based on the Talent Scorecards I have given leaders and too many I have seen lack the pieces that tell a great story.

I would like my story to say that I worked, with others, to change that.

It feels like a great conversation.  I love great conversations.

5 Key Outcomes – Individual Development Plan Conversation

Talent Management is about putting the relationship first, building a process full of great conversations, and using goals to drive individual ownership

Based on surveying 150+ human resource and business leaders 20% seems to be the magic number.  Only 20% of organizations have development plans for ALL their high potentials and for their executive teams.   This is a key conversation because it allows for a great conversation around past, present, and future.  My standard measure for a great conversation around performance and development is 30 / 30 / 40.  30% focused on the past, 30% focused on where you are right now, and 40% focused on where things need to be in the future.5 Benefits from doing development plans

So why do development plans?  Below are five outcomes that happen when we invest 60 minutes 1-2x per year to update development plans:

1. Refined knowledge of talents/nontalents: Wisdom is knowledge gained from our experiences that we apply to influence the outcomes of some present or future situation.  When individuals develop wisdom about their talents/non-talents the success rate for taking on new assignments or successfully building a relationship with a new leader goes way up.  Development plans (see my template) always start with refining our picture of ourselves.

2.  Creates the building block for performance – A Strength: Gallup shared the formula Strength = Talent + Skill + Knowledge in their book First, Break All The Rules.  Research has also shown that achieving mastery in a discipline takes 10,000 hours of effort (see Malcolm Gladwell’s book – Outliers).  The core of the development plan is to script the building of skills and knowledge so that the effort people are putting into personal growth moves them towards mastery.

3.  Get Feedback From Others: Where a plan or measure exists, feedback has the best chance of happening.  Author Jodi Glickman (Great On The Job) says the goal of feedback – “. . . . is not to make you feel good.  The goal is to make you better at your job.”  We do not get better without understanding the perceptions of others.  In our own minds, we are all amazing performers. 🙂  A great development conversation confirms and challenges this belief.

4.  Proactively Deal With A Weakness: Weaknesses are either non-talents that are required for success in your current job or strengths that are being overused.  Whichever the case, spending time talking about weaknesses before a performance evaluation is done or before they evolve into a crisis provides an opportunity for that individual to make a conscious shift to address an issue before it becomes a big problem.

5.  Self Management of Stress: Development plans get people thinking about what their preferred future looks like, whether it is 6 months out or two years.  This includes what has to change in how they are feeling about their role – ie:  stress, balance, and focus.  It is not a leader’s job to fix how their team members are feeling, but it is their job to ask the questions, be present for the answers, and support the plans that are created.

When I first created the Talent Scorecard over two years ago this list was not in my mind.  Since learning that only a small number of teams have development plans for all their people (20%) and personally leading 30+ leaders through the creation of Individual Development Plans this list has emerged.   It is one of the new additions to my Talent Scorecard presentation that I will be sharing at the Illinois SHRM State Conference in a couple of weeks – and it has become one of my favorite conversations.

If you are interested in what your Talent Scorecard looks like – here is a link to an on-line version that will give you a printout of your results and some hints for what your priorities should be.

Our Talent / Self Awareness Language – Have One?

How do you talk about what you are good at doing?  Does it sound like a list of your educational accomplishments?  Do you share the last three job titles you have?  Does some answer come out as you look awkwardly at the floor?

Developing a language around who you are, what you bring to a role, and how the learning from your past will be a fuel for your future success is where talent management starts.trUYou: our model for developing self-awareness

The challenge – making the journey for wisdom a habit and not just something you do once and then just put your head down and work for the next 10 years.

Not sure what this Journey looks like? Read the book Mastery by George Leonard or LinchPin by Seth Godin

Are you stuck with thinking of yourself as a degree or a role? Buy the book Strengthsfinder 2.o by Tom Rath and take the assessment.

What are the key things I need to understand about myself? Take a look at my trUYou™ model and fill in the boxes.  Where are your gaps?  How confident are you in the picture it paints?

I was talking to a community organization this week about coming to their area to provide a keynote for a community leadership program.  I thought  what seeds can I plant in that community to help each individual move it along and initiate some conversations among the people that will keep things going long after I leave. One tool – Strengthsfinder 2.0 and one model – trUYou™ are great ways to begin any journey towards development and performance.

Once we share a language, the conversation becomes more impactful and a learning community is born.

Sound like a great journey?


Process Trumps Solution – If relationships matter . . .

If relationships matter, then the process trumps the solution.

At a recent Family Business Alliance event in Grand Rapids, Michigan, family business expert Greg McCann shared this quote in the context of a story.  The story was of a older business owner who had just put together a plan for passing his business on to his wife and two sons after his death.  The plan assembled by his lawyer and accountants put one son in charge who was part of the business and desired the top job, and make the other two financially comfortable.  When McCann asked him when he was going to share the plan, his response was “when I die it will be part of my will.”  McCann’s only advice was simple – if you want this to work, they need to know about it now so that they can work out the details and any disagreements or problems can be addressed while you are here.  If relationships matter (this is a family, so this IS the goal), then process trumps the solution.

We can learn a lot in talent management and leadership about building relationships from family business.  I created a talent calendar with the single goal of defining the events (process) that produced the best opportunity to talk, listen, support, and problem solve throughout the year for a leader and a follower. While content is important, presence and process is the goal.

I am reminded of a study shared in the book SWAY by Ori and Ram Brafman.  A survey given to convicted felons about the judicial process and how fairly they were treated.  In the end, two factors emerged as significant on their perception of fairness.  As was expected, the inmates placed a lot of importance on the outcome, which was the sentence they received.  But almost equally weighted was how much time their lawyer spent with them.  Process matters.

If relationships matter, then open and honest dialogue during process of setting the goal is more important than the goal being set.  Talent management is about process and the relationships that happen when it is done well.

How to get better at delivering feedback? First, get better at receiving it.

I am in the process of reading/reviewing Jodi Glickman’s book Great On The Job – What To Say, How To Say It – The Secrets of Getting Ahead.  As I go through it I will share some thoughts that make me go Hmmmm . . .  This posting is based on one of those moments.

What is the secret to speaking what you feel about someones performance and having it end up in a place where the relationship is still intact (or stronger) and your thoughts are heard?

The first and only tip – Focus on how you request and receive feedback from others.

I read Jodi Glickman’s book Great on the Job, and one quote is stuck in my head.  It is under the chapter of Ask for Feedback and the heading of Say Thank You.  The quote is (p. 129):

The goal, however, is continuous improvement and learning, not just feeling good.  If you have a tough feedback session, remind yourself that the goal of the session is not to make you feel good.  The goal is to make you better at your job.


Talent management is about great conversations, and the definition of a conversation is a form of interactive, spontaneous communication between two or more people who are following rules of etiquette. (wikipedia)  We all need to hear what is going well, but we have to be able to hear what we can do better.  At the heart of this conversation is a lot of smaller conversations around –  How am I doing?  What is going well and where do I need to improve?

How can we use this as individuals?

First, recognize that giving feedback is a lost art for many leaders who are, themselves, caught in a spot where nobody is telling them what they are doing well (when is the last time you told your leader about something they did well?) and the list of to do’s is only getting longer.  So, our job as individuals is to ask for it well,  stay calm in the moment of receiving it, and respond by saying thank you without our faces getting red or our jaws tightening.  Then do something with it that creates momentum for you and the organization.

Second, put extra focus into defining your role/objectives and own the one on one time with your leader.  This makes talking about performance  easier.  Here is a template if you want an example of what that looks like.

Getting and giving good feedback is not easy, but it is pretty simple.  I wonder what would happen if both leaders and followers read this one chapter together and tried it for a couple of months.  My guess is some great conversations would happen.

What tips do you have for giving/getting good feedback?

Talent Wars – How to not fight them

I am not much for going through walls, I usually look for a way around them.

It a recent study released by the Northern California Human Resource Association, the following statistics were shared:

93% believe there is now or will soon be a talent shortage
44% report full leadership support for the New Reality
78% said retention is a high priority this year

When I hear the words high priority this year, I automatically think initiative.  I can hear the front-line business leaders now – “HR wants us to do something new this year . . . “.

So a slew of new priorities and initiatives are happening to deal with the talent shortage and make retention a high priority.  We get in the talent wars because we join the same battle everyone else is fighting – post the job, recruit for the job, hope they can do the job, hope they stay, hope the skilled people mentor the new people effectively, and hope people tell us when they want to do more.  Here are some questions to help you think about how you are fighting this war:

  • Do you have a list of key jobs and are you adding names to it every couple months that you would hire today if you had an opening?
  • Is every candidate greeted by the nicest person in the company?
  • Do you allow yourself to smile during the interview?
  • Do you always respond to interviewees in a timely manner?
  • Do you(manager) send a present/personal note to people when they accept an offer?
  • Do you(manager) personally call people back when you want to have another interview with them?
  • Do you(manager) personally call people back after interviewing them and deciding not to continue the process with them?
  • Do you share with people as part of the interview how important this role is to the strategy of the team/organization and take five minutes to share with them why you love to work here?
  • Do you tell them the truth without prefacing it with “Let me be completely honest with you” or “I am going to be 100% truthful on this one”.
  • Do you(manager) map out a path to success for new people(onboarding) and spend extra time with them over the first 3-6 months?
  • When they say No to your offer do you(manager) personally call them to learn more about their Yes to someone else and No to you – then wish them great success. Do you then invite them to connect on LinkedIn so you can stay in touch?

Talent wars are real in areas where skills are scarce, but they are also about every employer being equal in the eyes of the people looking for work.

What if you were so good at telling your story and matching passions/talents with your needs that people could not imagine going anywhere else when you offered them a job?  What if your people were recruiting for you because they were so passionate about your organization?

Don’t have time to worry about these little things?  Wars are expensive, but good luck fighting it.

Personally, I would try and position myself so everyone else is fighting over the people I passed on.


8 Questions To Ask Before Starting Succession Planning

Succession planning is a great conversation.

For the organization, it puts plans in place to be used in case of a sudden departure of a key person.  It also identifies talent gaps that can be discussed and dealt with before they become emergencies.

For your best people, it creates a vision of the future for them and identifies ways to challenge/develop them over the coming years.

Then there is you, the executive.  Maybe not such a great process.  You are putting plans in place for after you are gone.  You are sharing the talent you have worked hard to hire and develop with the rest of the organization by allowing them to be considered for key roles in other areas.  Do we avoid these conversations?  The numbers would say yes.  First number – only 35% of the CEO’s in the United States have succession plans.  Second number – personally only 45% of us have wills.

Talent management is about great conversations.  Here are eight questions to ask a leader before starting a succession planning effort:

  1. I am excited about this process.
  2. I think this is an important process to do each year.
  3. I have talked to all my direct reports about what they want to do in the future.
  4. I have done this before and I feel comfortable/skilled at the process.
  5. I will make the time (10-20 hrs) to do this work over the next 2 months.
  6. I am willing to accept input from other peers on my succession list . . . and I will use it.
  7. I am willing to allow key players from my team to be on succession plans for other groups.
  8. I feel good about setting up my groups/the organization to be successful after I move on.


Here is a link to this form with a number scale attached.

By naming our reasons for being reluctant, we can at least talk about them.  By letting those reason stay hidden there is very real potential to erode trust on the team and leave great talent(people!) unchallenged and unclear about what opportunities exist for them in the future.

I would opt for the great talent management/succession planning conversation started by these 8 questions.

3 Simple Habits To Help Strengthen Teams

Are there things about you that people do not know?  We all know the answer to that question – but is anything on that list that others need to know?  Maybe you love to problem solve.  Maybe you led a team of 20 people at one point in your career.  Maybe there is some part of the business you want to learn more about.  Maybe you get 150 emails a day and prefer phone calls.

Are there things about you that others see and you do not?

Several years ago a friend shared some feedback with me that we still laugh about. He told me that whenever he told a story, I usually followed up with a better one. I did not realize it – but watched myself for a few days and there it was – the proof.   It was funny, and I was unaware of it.   In JoHari Window language, it was a BLIND SPOT.Talent Management tool - JoHari Window

If you are not familiar with it, here is a link to a short YouTube video that explains it.

Talent management is about having great conversations.  When we talk, we develop relationships with the people around us, and at the core of those relationships is knowledge that we bring to every interaction.

Here are 3 tips to continually develop your team and teamwork.

TIP 1: As part of any team meeting spend 5 minutes asking/answering these questions:

  • This week – What are two wins?  What is keeping me up at night?

These questions are almost guaranteed to  keep a steady flow of HIDDEN items that will be valuable for the team to know.

TIP 2: When you have an off-site and you are looking for ways to get people sharing/laughing – have everyone answer the following questions for themselves and their teammates.  Next, go around the room and have others share first, seeing if they matched answers with the individual.

  • What is one thing I am really good at doing?
  • How do you know I am having a good day?
  • How do you know when I am stressed?
  • How do you know I am listening / not listening?

After this, watch the JoHari Window video and ask the questions:  What came out in our last discussion that could be considered HIDDEN? A BLIND SPOT?  What is the impact of having that information in the OPEN area for you?  For this team?  What is one way we can be more purposeful about these conversations?

TIP 3: I often use a tool called the Team Member Fact Sheet to get people talking.  Using it as a tool to get to know new teammates or test the knowledge of existing teams.

Talent management is about great conversations.  Go have one!