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bossdepot.com aims to assist anyone with the challenge of managing people. By becoming a better boss you will more effectively run any type of business or organization. This website is a one-stop shop for management information and resources.  It is written and organized for speedy research, providing very brief “must know” information for topics relating to all bosses.  Then if you need more detail, there are links to other websites that have been evaluated for brevity, relevancy and accuracy.

Just use the Search tool to find your topic, or visit the Quick Find page. There are also tags that link to related bossdepot subjects located under the post.

bossdepot.com also provides personal assessment resources to help you focus on developing your management skills and to assess your strengths & weaknesses – click on the Self-Assessment Tools page for more information.

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Managing a “thoroughbred employee”

Most bosses have experienced managing one – a high performing, eager, results-oriented employee who can run circles around other staff. Usually it is a blessing, but sometimes it is also a curse, as these individuals accomplish much but can be very challenging to manage.

Studies show that the behavior of high performing horses can be affected by the environment in their stable, number of other horses, and other factors. Similarly, high performing individuals are affected by workplace factors.

So how do you manage and coach a high performer (HP) who is creating problems? Experience has shown me that the main factor in keeping them at a high performance level while minimizing issues is simply constructive communications. Oftentimes, high performers are so focused on results that they are not aware of the collateral damage they may be causing. And their bosses are reluctant to mention it lest they demotivate their “star” or be the cause of a resignation. (In most organizations senior management know who these HPs are.)

Most HPs are very interested in getting feedback so they can be even more effective. So the best way to manage them is to inform them of how they are impacting the company, stressing the positive contributions first followed by the challenges you, as the boss, are seeing. Here’s where the company’s core values and culture come in. These comprise the workplace parameters that high performers must operate in, and if you think about it, are really not negotiable. How an employee operates within these parameters is an equally important performance dimension than the output.

Think back when you started working at a new company or even a new department. Didn’t you want someone to tell you how you were being perceived and if you were “fitting-in”?

Don’t be afraid to offer high performers constructive feedback and criticism. It’s your responsibility as the boss. And don’t be afraid to make the tough decision that it might just be a bad fit and the work output is just not worth the high maintenance.

Further reading:

  1. 10 Tips to Help Manage High Performers with Difficult Personalities (Profiles International)
  2. Managing the “Toxic High Performer” (Blog by Dan McCarthy)
  3. Performance reviews in a nutshell (Bossdepot blog)
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Balancing Work with Life

We all have our work-life balance stories and challenges, especially as parents. Wikipedia defines it as “proper prioritizing between “work” (career and ambition) and “lifestyle” (health, pleasure, leisure, family and spiritual development/meditation)”.  It’s an easy topic to discuss, but a difficult dynamic to manage, especially as a boss – you’re managing your own as well as your team’s.

When confronted with an employee relations issue involving an otherwise good employee gone sour, seasoned HR professionals will enquire about the home environment. It’s a delicate subject, but divorces, child-rearing, illnesses, and other major life challenges will likely spill-over into the workplace, affecting not only the individual but other team members.

There’s plenty of advice on the web for dealing with work-life balance (some links below), but here’s another way of looking at it. The balance is constantly changing any time more “weight” is added or subtracted on either side of the scale. It could be one of the above “Life” issues, or on the “Work” side, a new project, financial hardship, a bad boss, etc.

Worklife scale

Having dealt with many imbalance issues, both personally and as a coach, here is some simple advice if you feel you’re off-balance:

  1.  Isolate the “weights” that are causing the imbalance
  2. Try to lessen those weights &/or add to the other side
  3. Remember that improving communications always helps

Some examples:

-          your boss is non-communicative or has a poor management style – try to adjust your own communications to improve it &/or learn not to take the interactions personally; occasionally telecommute if your company allows it and you think it will help.

-          You’re going through a divorce – seek counseling from others (but try to keep it out of work); distract yourself in a new project or hobby; get through the process as quickly as possible.

-          There’s a new project that requires a lot more extra time – prioritize the “Life” activities and cut into those that are low; ensure the proper resources are available to get the job done.

This may seem simplistic for what is usually a complicated challenge, but we sometimes tend to over-complicate matters. As a boss, be considerate of your staff’s demands on both sides of the scale, communicate with them, and try to assist in countering some of the weights that you can control.

 

Five Tips for Better Work-life Balance (WebMD)

Definition, historical data, and overall good background information (Wikipedia)

When the Work-Life Scales Are Unequal (NY Times article)

Ten Ways to Improve Work-life Balance (Inc.)

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Coaching vs. Counseling

If you think about the exceptional bosses you have had, they likely had something in common – they were good coaches. They were probably also good advisors, sharing their experiences and knowledge so that you could apply these to your own challenges. But a coach is something totally different.

I have come to really appreciate this while enrolled in a 10 month coach training program at the University of Miami. Taught by several Master Certified Coaches, one quickly understands that coaching does not involve “telling”, but rather “asking”. Accepting that everyone has the solutions and capabilities to resolve any challenge, a coach partners with the coachee on an exploratory journey.

It’s a total mind-shift from what most bosses do, which is to advise or counsel. As a coach that’s not the approach; you can’t offer advice as these are usually based on personal biases and past experiences, which could interfere in the coaching process. The focus is entirely on where the coachee is and wants to go, and the coach is there to help make that happen, on the coachee’s terms and way of being.

Nearly all the bosses I’ve had (18 since college) were really advisors. Only a few were also coaches. They were the ones who didn’t tell me what to do or how to do it, but challenged me to think through what would happen if I took different courses of action. They were the bosses who would let me figure-out how to accomplish my goals. These bosses brought-out capabilities in me that I didn’t know I had. They placed the responsibility for making the right decisions on my shoulders, and were willing to let me fail.

That’s how we learn best, when failure is a real possibility, and these experiences are the ones that give us true employee satisfaction.

The next several Bossdepot blogs will be devoted to coaching. I will share the key lessons from the UM program in the hopes that it can make you a better boss.

International Coach Federation

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How to retain key talent when they say, “I’m leaving.”

The “Be happy you have a job” era has ended. Yes, there are still many unemployed people out there, but ask any HR professional about finding quality talent and they’ll tell you it has become more challenging in the past year. It appears there’s even an increase in counter-offers. As an economic indicator that’s good. But if you’re recruiting, it’s getting tougher.

That’s why it’s so important to ensure that you keep your best talent. The number one reason employees leave is because of the relationship with their manager. There’s plenty of literature on how a boss should treat employees to increase retention, and some of the links below offer great advice. But at some point every will boss encounter a resignation. Sometimes it’s convenient (e.g. mediocre performer) but what if it’s someone you really don’t want to lose? Here are some tips on handling a resignation.

First, even though it’s likely to be your first feeling, do not take it personal and become defensive. That can kill any likelihood of changing the employee’s mindset. (Most people who resign have thought about how you will react, and whether they might stay if you say the right things.) Be graceful, understanding, and empathetic. If you’re not going to be able to keep the employee, you want to try to get as much notice as possible. Although most employees give two weeks, there’s a good chance you can get one or two more depending on the relationship.

Make sure you’re in a private area and won’t be interrupted. Say that you’re sorry to hear it and ask for the reasons. Listen carefully and don’t interrupt. Let the employee finish; there might be some venting. Consider what is said, and say that the employee is highly regarded and everyone will be sad to see him go. Then ask, “Is there anything we can do to keep you?”

My past experience has shown that longer tenured employees have a greater chance of changing their minds. If there is any waffling in the response to your question, you have a shot at retaining him. Try to get some specifics about what a counter offer looks like; often it’s more money, but can be many other issues. Don’t say no or commit to anything, and say that you’ll get back to him promptly. You will have to work through the options with your own boss.

If it’s a done deal, this is your opportunity to try to get another week or two notice. There’s nothing to lose in just asking. You can always go back and make it sooner. If you manage the resignation professionally, you may someday be able to rehire this employee.

But ultimately, the best retention strategy is to prevent resignations by treating your staff fairly, and being a good boss.

Why your employees are leaving. (Forbes)

Retaining employees, 5 things you need to know. (Huffington Post)

Handling employee resignations. (CBS Moneywatch)

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The Warning Shot

What do you do as a boss when you have repeatedly addressed a performance or behavior issue with an employee and there is no change?

Before firing an employee, s/he should have the benefit of a warning shot. In the HR world it’s called many things – “Pre-termination warning”, “Performance improvement warning”, even informally as a “Come to Jesus meeting.”

The Half Moon replica on the Hudson River (2010)

I like, “Shot across the bow”, an 18th Century nautical term. The action was intended to urgently call attention and demand some action of compliance from passing ships.

If you have an HR department, you should coordinate this activity through them to ensure consistency with past practices. Your HR folks may prefer written warnings &/or progressive disciplining.

Having conducted many such verbal warnings, here are some tips to making them effective:

Involve someone of higher authority, which can include your immediate boss or someone from Human Resources (preferred). Another person’s presence can show fairness (a second opinion) and seriousness. Including HR in particular illustrates the severity of the situation.

-          Be sure to discuss the issues and process with the second person before the meeting. If it’s HR, they will look at any potential legal issues, and will help with follow-up documentation.

-          Know what you are going to say.

Pick a private setting like a conference room or office and ask not to be disturbed. Public settings such as restaurants are not appropriate.

-          I prefer Friday afternoons to allow the employee to reflect on the matter over the weekend and hopefully discuss it with a partner or friend.

-          The employee may be shook-up a bit afterward, so be extra considerate.

The messaging should be brief, constructive and to the point. Things you can say:

-          I’ve spoken to you about this matter in the past, and feel that no progress has been made.

-          What has prevented you from complying with my requests?

-          This behavior is not fair to the others on the team or the company.

-          This is your final warning. If we don’t see immediate improvement, it can lead to termination.

Let the employee know that you want things to work-out. Take the time after the meeting to write-up key points of the discussion. If you have an HR department, share it with them. You may have to use it for future documentation.

I have found that about 75% of employees heed a shot across the bow, and change course. The others quit or are soon fired. When progress is made, let the employee know. If there are not immediate and lasting improvements act quickly to terminate.

Further reading:

Issue a verbal warning for poor performance. (About.com/HR)

Employee verbal warnings. (smallbusiness.chron.com)

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What would you like to learn?

Do you know that you are able to virtually attend classes taught at top universities for FREE?  

Coursera is an online platform for open-access, non-credit classes, available at no cost to participants. Such courses are commonly known as MOOCs, or massively open online courses. An independent company dedicated to working with high-quality university partners, Coursera was developed at Stanford University in the Fall of 2011 by two computer science professors. Through partner universities, it has since enrolled more than 1.6 million students worldwide. 

I became aware of it through my alma mater which plans its first classes in 2013. I immediately registered for one of its courses starting in February. After satisfactory completion, I’ll receive a certificate (no college credits). 

We are fortunate to be living in a time where technology is breaking-down barriers to learning. Knowledge sharing has never been easier. You just need to know where to look for what you want to learn. I’m sure you have visited YouTube to figure-out some task around the house or to tinker with your car. 

To learn about business and management practices there are many free webinars from organizations like the Harvard Business Review, Human Capital Institute, BrightTalk, and several universities, including the developer of Coursera, Stanford. 

So what would you like to learn? When was the last time you set-aside time to pursue a learning objective? In the past, cost and time have been the main obstacles to learning. Now it is becoming about making the time. 

By the way, the course I’m taking is Leading Strategic Innovation in Organizations, provided by Vanderbilt. I understand it’s popular, and hope some of my HR colleagues might be interested in it. Since the assignments include team-based work, I welcome the opportunity to work with local “students.” 

Happy learning! 

Further reading: 

Learn or die: a primer. Blog about the convergence of knowledge sharing and technology from the CEO of Bloomfire

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De-stressing in a kayak

Did you know that anti-depressants are the second-most widely prescribed drug in America (Wall Street Journal)?  In 2010, 253 million prescriptions for antidepressants were written. It encompasses 11% of Americans, and according to experts many don’t have a legitimate clinical need and take these mainly to cope with life’s stress.

We all have stress in our lives and work is recognized as a leading cause.  As bosses, we all tend to worry about both our own issues and those of our staff. The higher your rank the more people below you, and if you are a caring leader the stress is amplified, especially in difficult times (like downsizing).

There is plenty of advice on de-stressing mechanisms, and routine exercise is seen as very effective. If you can make exercise fun I think you compound the benefits.

Here’s a personal example…

I started kayaking as a form of exercise, offering excellent upper-body work-outs. Kayaking in Fort Lauderdale’s Intracoastal Waterway is a popular and safe activity. Recently, I had a fun experience that other kayakers might enjoy. I journeyed to the Port Everglades turning basin from 15th Street, taking me past the 17th Street Bridge.

 

Heading back, I was paddling into the receding tide. Under the west side of the bridge I encountered two water taxis making their stops. I had to move out of the way so I positioned myself between the two northern-most bridge columns. Then, the coolest thing happened.

Although I was facing the current with the water rushing by on both sides, I was floating still! I didn’t need to paddle to stay in place.  The taxi captains and some of the passengers were looking at me in wonderment; they couldn’t figure-out how the same current that was pushing their taxis wasn’t affecting me. I was in a vortex created by the columns and channel structure, and stayed there with minimal effort for about a half-hour.

That moment blocked-out all the mundane problems in my head, the same ones we all face day-to-day: work, relationships, family, health, etc. I was absolutely distracted for those 30 minutes.

        

To be effective leaders we need to attend to our own well-being, including effectively handling stress and frequently clearing our heads. That means temporarily disconnecting from those issues that are stressors, especially work-related ones. It means turning-off the smartphone and ignoring emails while on vacation, regularly exercising, getting enough sleep, and especially having fun.

Make time for yourself and do the things you really enjoy.  You will be healthier and more effective, and people around you will be happier.

Further reading:

Seven ways to de-stress instantly (Tips for life)

Stress Management blog (Bossdepot)

Fun and games for managing stress (About.com)

Fun exercises for stress management (Livestrong)

Antidepressant use soaring (Mayo Clinic)

A guide to kayaking in Fort Lauderdale (Ft. Laud Connex)

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Performance Reviews in a Nutshell

For many managers, conducting performance reviews can create anxiety because of the potential for conflict with the employee. As mentioned in an earlier post on getting feedback, How am I doing?, the anxiety is probably partly due to our experiences as kids being graded. There’s much that can be written about performance reviews, this is the condensed version.

The best advice is to put yourself in the employee’s place (I’m sure you’ve had reviews at some point in your career). This is what most of us want to hear:

1.       What should I keep doing? (What’s working)

2.      What should I start doing? (What will improve things)

3.      How are the company and you as my boss, going to help me increase my value?

4.      What should I stop doing? (What’s not working) 

The delivery of the answers to these questions is where we as bosses can easily stumble into a rat hole, especially when forced to use a standard form or template. Here are some tips:

-          Focus almost entirely on the positives (#s 1-3 above). Understand how the employee’s competencies are aligned with the role’s responsibilities, and the value they bring to the team and company.

-          Increasing the employee’s value (#3), is not simply compensation based; it is the employee’s development which includes training, assignments, etc. Leave the compensation topic until the end of the meeting. (Reviews that are not immediately tied to compensation are very effective.)

-          Unless you have a problem employee, don’t introduce negative performance issues (#4), especially trivial ones, early in the meeting. Otherwise, that’s all the employee will dwell on. If you have a problem employee, address it through a performance improvement plan.

-          Don’t turn the review into a lecture. It should be a dialogue with the employee offering ideas for improving systems, processes and especially his competencies. 

Time constraints, salary freezes, and the aversion to conflict all contribute to not conducting reviews, which then tend to be “forced” by most corporate HR teams at least once a year. The best reviews are quick & frequent, and spaced through-out the year. Done so, the process becomes more about on-going performance management, and is seen by both manager and employee as a positive experience.

Further reading:

  1. How performance evaluations help employees, and how to conduct one (large amount of reference material from About.com/HR).

2.   Performance management overview and resources (Mgmt Library).

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Getting everyone to row in the same direction

The new CEO of a large company in Miami recently shared a morale and productivity challenge in his organization, stemming from the former CEO leaving in shame last year. He asked me how I would tackle something like that from an HR perspective.

My first thought wasn’t the typical HR answer of a “strong, charismatic leadership”, although leadership is no doubt a key component. I simply asked him if his company had any established Core Values. He didn’t really know what I was talking about. So I asked him what were the values in his company, and how were they promoted. He offered the generic honesty and customer focus elements of company policies and executive speeches, but this company did not have any established Core Values. (It’s possible that they have in the past, but have not been adequately promoted.)

No matter the size of your company, establishing a set of Core Values that everyone rallies behind is the best way to establish commonality in culture, performance expectations, and behaviors. Executed properly, you hire, fire, and promote employees with these values in mind.

The larger the organization, the more critical it is to establish Core Values. When there are multiple business units, a set of Core Values is one of the common threads keeping them aligned. This is especially important with geographically dispersed groups.

Small businesses should also have Core Values. It simply makes clear to everyone, especially new hires, how they are expected to behave, what is really important to the success of the company, and helps everyone row in the same general direction. At my company, Stiles, our Core Values have been around for decades and are seen as instrumental in shaping a great workplace and contributing to our success.

Much has been written about how Core Values contribute to business success. Chief among these are Good to Great by Jim Collins, and Delivering Happiness, a path to profits, passion, and purpose by Tony Hsieh, the founder of Zappos. These books are worth reading to really understand Core Values. Also, read this site’s entry, Core Values

  1. Further definitions from the National Park Service
  2. Defining Core Values (About.com/HR).
  3. For sample corporate Core Values see Whole Foods and Zappos.
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How to effectively use temps and part-timers

The economic downturn has seen a rise in the use of temporary and part-time labor. These two resource capabilities allow a small company flexibility and cost savings. Temps are typically hired through an agency and are seen as short-term solutions. Part-timers are viewed as lower cost since they don’t usually qualify for benefits such as medical insurance or paid-time off.

These differences can lead to an environment where these individuals feel like, and sometimes are treated as, second-rate team members. As a boss, your job is to ensure that temps and part-timers are used effectively in your organization, and that labor regulations are not inadvertently violated.

Temps are typically straight-forward: there’s a particular project or position that needs a temporary worker (employees on leave are common needs). Make sure a realistic timeline is established and that you have the commitment from the individual and the agency. Understand that a temp typically wants to find a full-time position, so s/he may likely look around while still with you. Clearly define the role and responsibilities and periodically check on the progress. If a temp exceeds 3 months full-time and the work has no end in sight, consider making the position full-time. By then, you will have a good idea of the fit and competencies.

Part-timers can be trickier because you have to determine how to best schedule their limited hours. Since part-timers are not around all the time, they may not be aware of activities and issues that occurred in their absence. It’s a good idea to spend 10 minutes with them at the start of the day to provide any updates and check on their progress (see link #5).

As far as labor regulations, the best advice is to treat both groups like you would any other employee. Don’t assume that a temp can’t sue you because s/he works for the agency, even if the agency is fully insured (which you should ensure anyway). While it’s clear that temps don’t qualify for any benefits, part-timers MAY be eligible, depending on your company policies and agreements with insurance carriers. It all revolves around the number of hours (a typical criteria is 30-32 hours).

Treat these groups with the same respect as a regular employee and they will be effective team members. Put yourself in their place, understand their concerns and limitations, and address them as best you can.

  1. The rise of the permanently temporary worker (CNN Money)
  2. Legal concerns about part-time, temporary and seasonal employees (FindLaw)
  3. 7 Tips for Managing Part Time Workers (Inc.)
  4. Managing Part Time Employees (AllBusiness)
  5. Article on the dynamics of managing part-time employees (E. Carmichael)
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