How to keep remote employees enthused, energized and engaged

A 49-year-old father of two hits his alarm clock at 6:30 a.m., starts a pot of coffee and prepares for his daily commute. For the past three years, Bill Lewis has worked for a large company based in the heart of New York City; even though his home in Texas is nearly 2,000 miles from the office, Bill’s daily commute only takes him a few steps. Along with a rapidly growing percent of America’s workforce, Bill Lewis is a telecommuter, a remote employee. He completes his daily assignments from his front porch, sends e-mails from a coffee shop down the street, and holds conference calls in his living room.

In the past 10 years, this type of work environment has become one of the fastest growing trends in the corporate world. According to the Census Bureau’s annual American Community Survey, it is estimated that telecommuting rose 79% between 2005 and 2012, and with the constant evolution of communication technology, this trend shows no signs of stopping. More and more companies are turning to remote employment as a means to lower costs and lock in skilled workers. It seems like a winning recipe, except for one large downside; technology can never fully replace the intangible benefits of human connection.

Leaders must adapt to this obstacle in order to engage remote employees and maintain a positive work environment. Here are some tips on how to create a healthy “connection culture” that engages people by keeping them feeling connected to the organization while working in your virtual workplace.

  • First and foremost, you have to maximize face time with remote workers. The easiest way to do this is by using programs like Skype, Facetime, and Google Hangouts. Reserve a time for this type of communication at least twice a month in order to maintain a healthy workplace relationship. In addition to virtual communication, schedule times to meet in person as often as possible. Telecommuting technologies have never been more advanced, but the human element simply can’t be replaced.
  • As a leader, keep multiple lines of communication open and make sure your remote workers are aware of those lines. Remote employment puts workers at risk of losing their voice in the company. As the leader, it is your responsibility to open lines of communication and determine which medium allows your virtual employees to share their ideas and opinions.
  • Give your remote employees opportunity for growth. A study conducted by Stanford Professor of Economics Nicholas Bloom found that remote employees worked 9.5 percent longer and were 13 percent more productive than their in-office colleagues, but were promoted at half the rate. Make sure you do not neglect your virtual workers in this way. On the other hand, be careful not to become overly attentive. Micromanaging your remote employees will stifle their growth and tell them they are not valued. If you want them to grow, practice trust, delegate responsibilities and reward their achievements.
  • Finally, take the time to speak candidly about things other than work. It is easy to become lonely when you work from home, and remote employees should be made aware of their need for connection. As a leader, it is your responsibility to gauge your employees’ satisfaction with their work environment and invest in their overall health. Without a sense of connection in the virtual workplace, productivity will drop and burnout is sure to follow.

By 1) maximizing face time, 2) opening multiple lines of communication, 3) allowing opportunity for growth, and 4) speaking candidly, remote managers can engage their employees and sustain a virtual connection culture.

Michael Lee Stallard, president of E Pluribus Partners, speaks, teaches workshops and coaches leaders. He is the author of “Fired Up or Burned Out: How to Reignite Your Team’s Passion, Creativity and Productivity” (Thomas Nelson). Follow Stallard on his blog, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or on LinkedIn.

Colton Perry is an intern at E Pluribus Partners.

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How to keep remote employees enthused, energized and engaged originally published by SmartBlogs

The normalization of deviance: When saying “We’ve never had problems before” becomes a problem

The space shuttle Challenger in 1983. (Wikipedia/NASA)

The space shuttle Challenger in 1983. (Wikipedia/NASA)

The hours ticked down to launch time, and Roger Boisjoly had the weight of the world on his shoulders.

It was January of 1986, and the highly respected Morton Thiokol rocket engineer and thermodynamicist was pleading with his supervisors and NASA to postpone the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger on that unusually cold Florida day. Icicles extended for hours from the shuttle and the launch platform, and NASA had never before launched in such cold weather. In fact, it was 15 degrees colder on this day than on any prior shuttle launch.

Boisjoly presented hard data and evidence to support his point — that the O-rings on the shuttle’s solid rocket boosters would fail, leading to an explosion, the loss of the Challenger and the astronauts on board. Boisjoly had written a memo less than 1 year earlier about the clear evidence of the O-Ring failure following a prior launch, and he was concerned that the extreme cold temperatures on the morning of January 28, 1986 would lead to a disaster. Morton Thiokol engineers had also expressed concerns about the O-Rings in a memo written seven years before the Challenger launch.

How did NASA incorporate normalization of deviance into their decision-making processes? NASA and Morton Thiokol convened a teleconference in the hours leading up to the launch, and NASA pressed Morton Thiokol for data to prove Boisjoly’s concern. This was an odd shift for NASA personnel, who historically required their engineers and contractors to have evidence that launching was safe; but now, they reversed field and asked Morton Thiokol to prove why the launch wasn’t safe.

On the teleconference, Boisjoly described the data from recent previous launches that showed O-ring failure, and at one point, a pause in the discussion gave Roger hope that his concerns were being heard. Suddenly, however, Thiokol senior management asked the engineers to leave the room, and Boisjoly’s heart sank. He knew this meant that senior management wanted to go over the engineers’ heads and recommend launching to NASA.

Not only was Boisjoly dismissed from the room, but his warnings were dismissed, as well. Roger sat in his office and waited while the countdown commenced. He believed that the O-ring failure would cause immediate explosion after the rocket engines ignited on the launch pad. He was temporarily relieved however when the Challenger lifted off without incident. But 73 seconds later as Challenger went “throttle up”; he was inconsolable when the shuttle exploded. Employees came to talk to Roger, but he found himself so stunned that he was unable to speak. The months and years that followed led to depression and inability to work.

There were so many questions he wanted to answer about the explosion of the shuttle and the loss of the seven astronauts on board — most importantly, “Why didn’t they listen?”

What Roger didn’t realize at the time was how much he was up against. He had more than just his Morton Thiokol superiors and NASA supervisors to convince; he was also fighting a battle against human nature. Roger had all the right data, all the correct technical explanations — heck, he had identified the very problem that would cause the shuttle to explode. But on that cold January day in 1986, it was understanding social psychology that could have been his best weapon.

Let’s start with the social psychology phenomenon known as the “normalization of deviance.” In laypersons’ terms, it describes a situation in which an unacceptable practice has gone on for so long without a serious problem or disaster that this deviant practice actually becomes the accepted way of doing things. As far back as 1979 (two years before the first shuttle launch and seven years before the Challenger exploded), engineers warned of concerns with the O-rings.

The Rogers Commission that investigated the Challenger explosion highlighted the history of concerns with the O-rings that went back to 1979, and included a copy of a Morton Thiokol memo that indicated that the design would be best used for unmanned space travel. In a 1979 Morton Thiokol memo, an engineer wrote that he believed the O-ring rocket design should be used with unmanned rockets, as he was concerned about their failure. Burn-through and the resulting erosion of the O-ring had been documented on several past flights. But in the absence of an explosion prior to the Challenger launch, NASA actually came to accept the failure of the O-rings because no disaster has occurred.

The same social psychology phenomenon would rear its ugly head 17 years later at NASA. When a large piece of insulation struck the shuttle Columbia orbiter just after a 2003 launch, several NASA engineers expressed concern that a hole could have been opened in the shuttle wing. NASA management dismissed the concern by saying that insulation had fallen off on multiple prior launches without harm to the shuttle occurring. A NASA engineer pleaded with his superiors to take a picture of the orbiting shuttle, as he was concerned that the foam insulation that had hit the shuttle upon takeoff had caused serious damage to the wing. His warnings were ignored, no picture or thermal imaging was performed on the Columbia orbiter during flight, and the ship disintegrated upon re-entry.

Impact to your company

Business leaders should take notice of the lessons learned from the two shuttle disasters. The normalization of deviance is one of the most dangerous aspects of human nature in preventing disasters.

If an unexpected and undesirable event is taking place in your organization, investigate and understand it thoroughly.

The absence of a disaster doesn’t mean that one won’t occur. Perhaps you’ve merely “beaten the odds” up till now, but statistics will catch up with you eventually, and the result could be tragic. If you find yourself or an employee explaining away known risks by saying, “We’ve done it this way before without problems,” the organization may be succumbing to the normalization of deviance.

Dave YarinDave Yarin is a compliance and risk management consultant to senior management and directors of large and mid-size companies, and author of the soon to be published book “Fair Warning — The Information Within.” Yarin follows and researches news stories regarding ignored warnings that lead to bad business outcomes, along with the social psychology theories that explain why these warnings were ignored. He lives near Boston with his fiancée and two children. For more information, visit his website, follow him on Twitter, or subscribe to his FlipBoard magazine, Fair Warning

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The normalization of deviance: When saying “We’ve never had problems before” becomes a problem originally published by SmartBlogs

10 ways to take charge of your leadership development

When I started in the field of leadership development (when gas was 89 cents a gallon), the model we used looking like this:

  • When someone got promoted to team leader, supervisor, or manager, they were sent a memo (no e-mail yet) from HR informing them that they have been registered for a mandatory four-week supervisory training course.
  • When they showed up, some (or most) of them kicking and screaming, HR told them everything they had to learn, showed them step-by-step details, made them practice (role plays), and then sent them off to do good and no harm, never to be seen or heard from again.

Sadly, there are many organizations that are still using this outdated method of leadership development. While this model is inherently flawed in a number of ways, the biggest problem with it is that people won’t grow or change unless they want to. They need to be intrinsically motivated to change, and in order to be motivated, they need to have a sense of autonomy, or control.

While force-feeding leadership development was never a good idea, neither is going too far in the other extreme. Some organizations have adopted a philosophy that says “you’re in charge of your own development.” Which sounds great, but it often ends up really meaning, “Good luck, you’re on your own, now sink or swim.” They eliminate all training programs, budgets and support, and mandate “individual development plans,” without teaching people how to develop on their own.

If that’s the situation you find yourself, here are 10 ways to put yourself in the driver’s seat and take charge of your own development:

1. Find out for yourself what really matters. Don’t just rely on the HR-produced formal leadership competency model. Most of these are so complicated or sanitized they aren’t very helpful at all when it comes to figuring out how to succeed as a leader in your organization. Instead, ask around and find out who the most respected leaders are, then go and talk to them about what skills and mindsets are the most important and why.

2. Go get feedback. Don’t wait for a formal 360-degree assessment, or for someone to tell you where you’re screwed up when it’s too late to do something about it. There are a number of free 360-assessment tools out there — just do a search. Here’s 10 more ways to get candid feedback, including one of my favorites, “feedforward.” Everyone is different and will have different learning needs. Find out what yours are instead of conforming to what everyone else is told to learn.

3. Write your own development plan. Don’t wait for your boss to write it or for HR to tell you to write one. If it’s your development, then it’s your plan. If you don’t have a template or know how to write one, here’s a few samples.

4. Find your own training — then ask for it. Don’t wait to be sent to class, or wait for your boss to make the offer. After you’ve completed steps one through three, find a training program that addresses your specific development needs. If you pick it, you’ll own it, and you’ll be much more motivated to learn and change. Sure, budgets might be tight, but if you put a good business case together, you just might be surprised. Maybe you offer to meet your company halfway — you attend on your own time if they pay for it, or you offer to pay half yourself.

5. Ask for an executive coach. Executive coaches are usually provided to select executives on their way up or executives in trouble on their way out. However, I’ve heard of plenty of organizations that will approve coaching to an executive who steps forward and asks. Again, you never know. When it comes to your own development, you have to be the squeaky wheel!

6. Negotiate your work assignments and next jobs. Before you take that next assignment or job, make sure it’s an assignment or job where there will be ample opportunities to learn, grow and develop. Sure, we don’t always have a choice, but if you do, don’t let your company or boss force fit you into roles that just play to your strengths.

7. Find your own mentors. Don’t hold your breath waiting for a mentor to be formally “assigned” to you. Find your own. Look for those that you admire that can give you advice, and ask them. Most people would be flattered.

8. Read books. Yes, books! This is a must for continuous development as a leader, and something I’m seeing less and less. While blogging “top 10 lists” is what I do, I also make sure I’m reading at least a few leadership and management books each year. It requires an attention span of greater than 2 minutes, which is getting harder and harder to maintain.

9. Start with yourself before you coach others. More and more organizations are saying that it’s the manager’s job to develop employees. However, in an organization where every manager is developing others and not developing themselves, you have to wonder if anyone is really developing at all. When you learn to take charge of your own development, you’ll be a role model and have more credibility when you show your employees how to take charge of their own development.

10. Carve out the time and treat it as a priority. You’ve probably heard the story about a hiker that came upon a woodsman in the forest, vigorously chopping down a tree with a very dull ax. Noticing the slow progress being made, he asked the woodsman why he didn’t stop and sharpen his ax. ”I haven’t time,” the reply was. ”I’ve got to chop down all these trees.”

Dan McCarthy is the director of Executive Development Programs at the University of New Hampshire and runs the Management & Leadership channel of He writes the award-winning leadership development blog Great Leadership and is consistently ranked as one of the top digital influencers in leadership and talent management. He’s a regular contributor to SmartBrief and a member of the SmartBrief on Workforce Advisory Board. E-mail McCarthy.

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10 ways to take charge of your leadership development originally published by SmartBlogs

What to ask employees about your leadership

The Young Entrepreneur Council is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses. Read previous SmartBlogs posts by YEC.

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Q. What is the most important question you can ask your employees about how well you’re doing as their leader?

yec_Michael Quinn1. Do you trust me?

I think trust is what binds every leader to their employees. Do you trust that I’m taking this company in the right direction? Do you trust that I have your best interests in mind? Do you trust that I’m working to keep this company successful? I believe that if they genuinely feel that they can trust and rely on leadership, they will strive to be their best as well. – Michael Quinn, Yellow Bridge Interactive

yec_Brian Honigman2. What could I do better?

True transparency and honesty at a company is fueled by feedback across the organization. These are two principles I try to instill in my employees and that I believe create a healthy work environment. I want my employees to feel comfortable enough to tell me what’s working and what’s not at the company from their perspective without fear of consequences. – Brian Honigman,

YEC_Joshua Lee3. How well do you understand the company’s vision?

Let the employee tell you in their own words your vision as a leader for the company. Ask them to describe how their contributions fit into achieving that overall vision. The answers you get are so revealing. It’s an open ended question. So if you get one word or very vague answers, it’s a red flag that you need to communicate your vision better and more clearly. – Joshua Lee, StandOut Authority

yec_Basha Rubin4. How would you review me?

Let your team review you. If you have enough employees, do blind reviews. You’ll learn a lot. If you don’t, ask regularly what’s working and what’s not and how you can help. – Basha Rubin, Priori Legal

yec_Scott Petinga5. Don’t ask

There’s no reason to ask this question. You already know the answer based on how happy your employees are and how well your company is run. Don’t waste time with this rhetoric. If you always have the best interest of your employees in mind, then you are a strong leader. After all, your employees are the core of your business. – Scott Petinga, The Scott Petinga Group

yec_Robert Glazer6. Would you work for this boss again?

We tell people in our company that if you want to be a leader, find people that want to be led by you. So the ability to build a team that wants to work for someone is a key indicator. I think it’s also key to ask people if they would work for someone again. If you get 100 percent yes, that’s a great leader — that is my goal even if someone ends up leaving. We also use this question in exit interviews. – Robert Glazer, Acceleration Partners

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What to ask employees about your leadership originally published by SmartBlogs

What you don’t know can hurt you: 12 tips for presenting on-camera

You prepare. Practice. Revise. Prepare some more. Practice again. You have a solid presentation ready to go. And yet somehow, it all falls flat when the camera rolls. And you just don’t know why.

When presenting “on camera,” what you don’t know can hurt you. Fortunately, there are a few trade secrets that can make the difference between mayhem and magic. With the help of trusted colleagues Glenn Gautier (executive producer, 2+Communications), and TV host, media trainer Scott Morgan (The Morgan Group) below are 12 tips (plus a bonus!) that will ensure the camera hangs on your every word.



Remember, appearance matters

1. Use caution with color. Be sensitive about the colors you choose to wear: avoid green (if you will be speaking against a green screen), black, white, or bright red. Another no-no: shiny fabrics or busy patterns like houndstooth. Women look good in jewel tones with simple, matte jewelry. Men look better in pastel colored shirts, navy blue blazers, and simple ties. Pro tip: Everyone looks good in powder blue.

2. Avoid wardrobe malfunctions. In addition to color, there are other wardrobe issues that can upstage your performance. Pro tip: Consider the following:

  • How does the fabric move if you shift in your seat or get up and move about? Will it rustle when you move, creating audio problems?
  • How does it drape when you sit? Will you look poised? Paunchy (with fabric clustering at your waist)? Does it drape like a tent?
  • Is there an unobtrusive place for a microphone to be placed? How about a belt or waistband where the battery can be attached?

3. Makeup. Daytime makeup is usually fine for ladies. Gentlemen, you may need a transparent power to reduce shine. Pro tip: Invest is a makeup artist. They are not that expensive and it is money well spent!

Strong platform skills

4. Practice good posture. Sit up straight just like your mother told you. It is so easy to get too comfortable and sit back in the chair. While it may be relaxing, on camera you can look like a sack of potatoes! Pro tip: Gentlemen, if you wear a jacket, sit on the tails so you don’t appear to be hunched over. Ladies, make sure you are wearing something that allows you to both sit and get in and out of the chair like a lady.

5. Use your hands! We think we need to sit on our hands when speaking on-camera, concerned that that we will look nervous and out of control. Pro tip: Gestures are a very powerful aspect of self-expression. Keep your elbows bent around the mid-section of your body. That way your hands will be above your waist and below your shoulders — visible but not in the way.

6. Keep a sparkle in your eyes. When being recorded, there can be lots of retakes, so how do you keep the sparkle when you restart? Pro tip: Close your eyes tilt your head forward taking a deep breath. Calm your mind and focus on the opening statement you want to make. Exhale, pick your head up, open your eyes and start. Guaranteed to look bright and engaged.

7. Remember to blink. It is easy to get mesmerized by the black hole of the camera lens and appear to be staring into space. Pro tip: Remember to blink at the end of each sentence.

8. Talk to the camera. Where are you supposed to look? Directly at the camera? Off camera, as you talk to someone else? Pro tip: Find out where you are supposed to look. If on-camera work is a new skill for you, here’s a warning: Speaking to a camera can be daunting. Create an imaginary audience for yourself and strive to connect with your listeners.

9. The camera loves a smile! The most important tip of all: begin and end with a smile. Morgan’s own special secret just for you blog readers: speak the entire time through a smile. It lifts your face and your enthusiasm (even when discussing serious topics) and helps puts a twinkle in your eye.

Essential voice and delivery skills

10. Breathe. It may be an involuntary reaction, but for some reason when speaking in front of camera speakers “get on a roll” and forget to breathe. Pro tip: The end of each sentence is also a good place to take a breath. Morgan suggests that the best technique is to breathe slow and deep through your nostrils. It is silent and helps moderate your pace.

11. Keep it conversational. Don’t worry about being word-perfect. Pro tip: Speak in a conversational tone. The tendency is to stress too many words in a sentence; to help mimic natural speech, emphasize only one word per sentence.

12. Reboot. Flubbed up! Not to worry, it happens! Pro tip: Take your lead from the pros, pause and pick up again with a complete thought. Remember, no apologies needed, keep a good sense of humor, stay focused and forge ahead.

One more for good measure

13. Hold that smile. Done saying what you have to say? Continue to look directly into the camera lens with that smile as you count to 10 (letting the camera crew get some final footage and wrap up the shot).

As Gautier so aptly puts it: “Remember, your message is not about you, it’s about sharing information with your audience. Take a breath and focus on the people who will be watching you.”

Stephanie Scotti is a strategic communication advisor specializing in high-stake presentations. She has 25-plus years experience of coaching experience and eight years teaching presentation skills for Duke University. She has provided presentation coaching to over 3,000 individuals in professional practices, Fortune 500 companies, high-level government officials and international business executives. Learn more at and

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What you don’t know can hurt you: 12 tips for presenting on-camera originally published by SmartBlogs

Do you want to be a boss or a leader?

I was having a cup of coffee with a former work colleague who lamented over what happened at a meeting with his employer when the CEO said many things that were, shall we say, less than inspiring. The episode really called into question the leadership of the CEO in the eyes of my friend and his colleagues.

I stressed to my friend that, if he wanted to thrive there, he needed to look past this one event and try to find something about the CEO that inspires him and gives him confidence because you cannot work for someone for whom you have no respect. Consider this the worst that this individual can be, and remember that you got through it, and move on.

Contradicting myself, I then laughed and quoted the movie “Starman,” in which Jeff Bridges’ character tells a government alien-life investigator why his kind are interested in our kind — “Humans are a strange species … you are at your very best when things are at their worst.”

My friend quickly said, “Not all humans.”

That is very true. Not all humans, indeed. But, leaders are not “all humans.” More is expected of them. And, in order to be considered a great leader, even more than that.

Great leaders are at their best when things are at their worst. Anyone can be considered a good leader when things are humming along without a hitch. It is easy to align employees and maintain a great vibe in a company when profits are soaring, or you recently moved into really cool new space and bonus checks were distributed.

Try leading when a new competitor just took significant market share away, when your manufacturing partner’s facility is destroyed by fire, or when the FDA delays your new drug approval indefinitely after you have hired and trained a new sales force. Try leading when Wall Street analysts downgrade your stock, when a licensing deal that you were working on for a year falls through, or when the patent for your main product has expired. These are the times when a boss earns the title of “leader” because these are the times when employees are looking for leadership. They are wondering, “What are we going to do?”; “Will everything be all right?”; “Can we make it through this?”; “I’m frightened.” If the boss does not have something to say and a plan to address these fears, he will never be considered a leader.

Keeping with the “Starman” theme, I offer five lessons to bosses out there who want to be great leaders:

  1. Be your best when conditions are at their worst;
  2. Make maps – that is the job that the alien who cloned Scott Hayden’s body tells a stranger that he does for a living. Leaders make the maps because they know where they want to go, and they have the skill to chart the course. Leaders also don’t look in the rear-view mirror;
  3. Exercise focused power for critical path items. The alien had a handful of silver beads with unlimited power, however, he used them for very specific purposes to achieve his objective with minimal to no collateral damage;
  4. Use some power to save a wounded deer. Build up the weak and teach them to do better, rather than pushing them down to make your own standing greater;
  5. Go very fast at yellow lights. Leaders step up to the front, quickly, at the first sign of a threat to the business.

Just like Jenny Hayden, who watched in awe and helped Starman as he did all of these things and more, your employees are constantly watching you, and even more so when the chips are down. Put on a good show at the most critical and even dire moments, and they might help you, and then even consider you a leader.

Most importantly, do not negate years of good performance — dare I say leadership — with one stupid word or action that you did not think through. Just like moviegoers, employees will turn on the hero when he does not act heroically. The reservoir of good will is a lot shallower than you think.

If you want to be great leader, be a hero.

Joseph V. Gulfo, MD, MBA, is the author of “Innovation Breakdown: How the FDA and Wall Street Cripple Medical Advances” and CEO of Breakthrough Medical Innovations, a team of biopharma and medtech consultants. An contributor, he also teaches graduate cancer biology and business and entrepreneurship classes and maintains an educational cancer biology blog. Dr. Gulfo received his MD from University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, and his MBA from Seton Hall University.

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Do you want to be a boss or a leader? originally published by SmartBlogs

All Change is personal – so put the personality back into change management

Anyone in business or part of a large organisation will not have escaped the rise and rise  of change management programs, they are everywhere.  Executives fret over doing it ‘right’ and employees fret over having it ‘done’ to them.  But ask anyone to describe what it is and we often find that there is little consensus of opinion.

It was Heraclitus that said ‘Change is the only Constant’ as we see in the ever changing seasons in nature.  And yet it is the very act of change that seems to be so difficult for organisations, and the larger the organisation, the more difficult that change appears to be.  Yet the view of the ‘status quo’ is only an illusion that we cling to.  For the organisation that you step into today is not the same as the one that you worked at yesterday, even if on the surface everything appears as it was; indefinable changes in people, processes, customers or products have occurred in the intervening hours between one dawn and the next.

We do of course have to use the logical tools of change management (roadmaps, project plans, gap analysis etc.)  to make things happen when we want to effect a change in direction or performance, but only in as much as it is the navigation tools that help us along our journey.  The real change has to happen in the hearts and minds of the individual, there has to be an intention to change for it to be successful.


Change Managment Diagram for blog

The important dialogue that needs to occur is around some fundamental questions such as:

  • What is getting in the way of us making these changes? 
  • What are we holding onto in terms of core beliefs, attitudes or ritualised behaviours that gets in the way of making these changes?
  • Why do our people not feel empowered to make the required changes?


In organisations big and small it can often come down to issues such as:


  1. A parent to child relationship between the employer and the employee –  a ‘we tell you do’ attitude that is pervasive though every level of management
  2. Blame is the default reaction to problems – there is little or no tolerance to good old fashioned human error.  In fact it is preferred that mistakes are glossed over rather than unearthed and learnings taken from them.  It is more important in this type of culture for managers and leaders to ‘save face’ rather than hold open a discussion on potential shortcomings.
  3. A belief that nothing can ever go wrong – this is particularly strong in growing organisations or those that have not yet plateaued.  A feeling of invincibility pervades the culture often resulting in early warning signs being filtered out until the issues start to seriously harm internal performance or customer loyalty.

But if we view change management as an organic process, we can see a more holistic and encompassing approach to managing change; one that is based on clear simple changes at the individual level of leaders, managers and operators.  By focusing on tangible steps, new patterns of working and allowing time for reflection and tolerance for mistakes, it is possible to create the momentum for change and give people the confidence to take the risks, make the decisions and try out new and unchartered paths.  This can be done by:

  • stating the reasons for change, what the journey will look like and why the destination is better than the current position and sharing this honestly with all employees in simple and engaging terms,
  • giving employees every opportunity to get involved and make things happen (and that also means not overcrowding the space with external experts – speaking as one) and taking some chances on the untested talent that comes forward,
  • regularly informing employees of how progress is made, sharing the good, the bad and if necessary the ugly stories, so that they understand and can continue to feel engaged in the process.

What do you think?  Have you examples of change management from your organisations or projects that you would like to share here?

Agents2Change specialises in Change Management, Implementation and Performance Management.  For more information visit us at

If someone on your team hates their job, what do you do?

SmartPulse — our weekly nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Leadership — tracks feedback from more than 190,000 business leaders. We run the poll question each week in our e-newsletter.

Last week, we asked: If someone on your team hates their job, what do you do?

  • Nothing — it’s up to them to find happiness: 7.24%
  • Point out the good things about their role: 27.35%
  • Change their role to make them happy: 7.81%
  • Encourage them to find another role: 57.6%

If you don’t like the job, take action. We’ll frequently have team members who aren’t happy in their roles. Your job as their leader is to help them find their passion for their job. One way to do so is to help them see their work through a different lens and point out the good about their role. The second is to encourage them to find a role that’s better suited to them. Sometimes you have to push them and remind them that if they don’t like their role, they should actively seek out a new one. Don’t just sit there and do nothing – push your people to where they’ll be happiest, even if that requires leaving your team.

Mike Figliuolo is managing director of thoughtLEADERS and author of “One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership.”

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If someone on your team hates their job, what do you do? originally published by SmartBlogs

Overworked and overwhelmed? Your answer starts with what you can control

9781118910665.pdfThe stress of having too much to do and too little time to get it all done is a wonderfully modern problem. After all, it can mean you wield great authority, are working on big and important problems, and, in many cases at work, you are well-compensated.

But being “Overworked and Overwhelmed,” as Scott Eblin named his latest book, is not just some problem we’d all love to have. Being overworked and overwhelmed means you are risking your health, your relationships and — despite your endless hours of work — your ability to be productive, to lead and to make smart decisions. You’re probably not prioritizing, not setting boundaries. You’re almost certainly rushing from one task and thought to another so quickly and so often that you aren’t listening to or focused on any of it. When’s the last time you took a deep breath (or three, as he recommends)?

What is this problem caused by? Well, probably a mix of things; the smartphone, e-mail, the Great Recession and a certain American trait of loving work over all else are certainly contributors. What is the fix? Well, that’s a trap Eblin won’t fall into: He will tell you steps you can take, questions you can ask yourself, ways to plan out goals and how you can achieve them, but he will not give you a one-size-fits-all solution.

What he does say, however, is that people can be mindful about what their routines and priorities are, and how they approach their lives. The goal isn’t to make work perfect or to get out of it. Rather, as Eblin writes in the introduction:

“This book is a guide to learning to work differently — mindfully — so you are more clear about the results that most merit your time and attention and how you need to show up to offer your highest and best contributions as a professional and as a person.”

I understand this problem — and how it can come from positive events and good intentions. I have daily editing deadlines. That, for my whole professional life until the past few years, was my basic duty and goal. The rest was gravy. Stressful? At times, but I’m good at editing and understand how to get it done on time. But since 2012 (and these are positive developments), I now manage people, am involved on non-deadline projects and tasks that don’t have to do with editing, and I frequently find myself staring at e-mail wondering, “What the hell was I supposed to be doing? What should I be working on? I have a million thoughts and can’t make sense of any of them.”

That distraction, something most of us are familiar with, harms my productivity during what should be my best working hours. That distraction stretches my days, leads me to idling checking my work e-mail and other apps on my phone during what should be my leisure. Because my job involves reading and comprehension, sometimes even reading something vaguely work-related in topic during my off-hours will trigger a response: I’ll suddenly notice how tense I am when all I’m doing, or so I thought, is reading something for fun.

A related issue: I sleep well, generally, but do I sleep enough hours? Do I go to bed with any sort of routine? Or am I catching up on work? Distracting myself from work?

All of these things are part of my life. Not insurmountable. Not terrible. But these are the sorts of things keeping me — and likely most of you — from becoming everything that we could be. “Overworked and Overwhelmed” takes on these topics specifically and in the broadest sense.

So, how will I try to regain some perspective, and be smarter so I can be better? In Eblin’s words:

“[M]indfulness is the intersection of two qualities: awareness and intention. By awareness, I mean awareness of what’s going on both around you and inside of you in any given moment. Being aware enables you to act in the moment with the intention of creating a particular outcome or result.”

I won’t (most likely) be taking up several days a week of yoga like Scott has, and I won’t necessarily follow exactly what the many leaders he interviewed did to be more mindful, less stressed and ultimately better at work and life. But that’s the point — this is a roadmap toward finding your own solution. Here are some things I found particularly insightful:

Living by example

Eblin has been an executive, and he’s been a coach and leadership development expert, among other things. So, he has bona fides. But he has also lived this struggle in a direct way. He describes some of the challenges he faced — and shifts he made — after being diagnosed in 2009 with multiple sclerosis. Not being overworked and overwhelmed is literally key to Eblin’s health, not just catchy alliteration.

Slow and steady

People are drawn to solutions that are quick, easy and relatively painless. Certainly, so many articles and books on leadership and management are titled with the idea that if YOU DO THESE 3 THINGS, YOU WILL WIN THE DAY. Of course, this is rarely the case. Life is a struggle in maintaining habits and routines, or overcoming the negative engrained habits in favor of better, healthier (we hope) routines. There are no quick fixes.

Eblin spends a good deal of time in his book on the importance of finding your best routines, which come in four varieties: “physical, mental, relational, and spiritual.” We do not “create” routines, though; we must assess the ones we already have and decide where to go from there. As he writes:

“When was the last time you stepped back and took a look at the routines you go through most days to ask if each of them is really in service of your showing up at your best? Chances are, it’s been a while. …
What are the routines that I either have in my life already or need to add to my life to enable me to show up at my best more often than not?”

Know what “Peak You” looks like

All this talk of not being at our best leads to the obvious question, the title of Chapter 5, “How are you at your best?” This is a good question, one that undoubtedly is answered by many people in terms of what they accomplished, not how they worked, the mindset they had, the processes they used. The answer, Eblin says, is to take some time to reflect, to breathe deeply. Then, describe what exactly being “at your best” looked like, felt like; find what links those events and feelings — keep taking those breaths. At the end of all this, pat yourself on the back.

There are a lot more work to do after this process, but the idea of actually asking “What is my best?” is simple and effective. And, as a bonus, he asked nearly 20 leaders what they describe themselves as when they are in the zone.


We probably are familiar with the benefits of exercise, but Eblin goes into not only what those benefits are, but also the many ways that the leaders he interviewed get that exercise. The benefits of movement aren’t just about set periods of exercise: As he tells Dan Rockwell of Leadership Freak, sitting all day, without breaks or any chance of scenery, leads to well-tested degradation of performance and creativity.

“Movement is really the key to your health and overall well-being, but it’s also key for your mental performance,” Eblin says to Rockwell in the first of two audio segments at that blog post.

It starts with a choice

There are many other areas of the book I could mention, but, as I’ve said, you won’t find a “fix.” “Overworked and Overwhelmed” is a powerfully written yet modest proposal: an attempt to guide overworked, on-the-way-to-burnout people gradually toward the solutions they wish to achieve.

In this sense, the book isn’t just for leaders — many millions of us don’t manage our own schedules, much less other people. Many of these people and others have financial, logistical and familial struggles and little power to change them.

What can each of us do, regardless of our situation? Recognize what we can control and try to improve our lives through those avenues, understanding that not all problems will be solved, or for forever. As William James once wrote, “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” “Overworked and Overwhelmed” can help you make that choice.

James daSilva is a senior editor at SmartBrief and manages SmartBlog on Leadership. He edits SmartBrief’s newsletters on leadership and entrepreneurship, among others. Before joining SmartBrief, he was copy desk chief at a daily newspaper in New York. You can find him on Twitter discussing leadership and management issues @SBLeaders.

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Overworked and overwhelmed? Your answer starts with what you can control originally published by SmartBlogs

The fear of slowing down

An article this summer in The New York Times quoted extensively from a research study conducted by Silicon Valley psychologist Stephanie Brown which refers to our collective fear of slowing down. Brown found that people who are alone with their own thoughts for more than a few minutes become agitated and seek any kind of stimulation they can find in order to avoid thinking.

“There’s this widespread belief that thinking and feeling will only slow you down and get in your way, but it’s the opposite,” she said.

Case in point: A study by Benjamin Baird and colleagues at the University of California, Santa Barbara, shows that daydreaming and fantasizing unleash fantastic amounts of creativity and allow people to problem-solve because they feel free to look at problems and challenges without deadlines and outside pressures.

Have you had a creative daydream lately? Would you like to? Here’s how to get started.

  • Disconnect
  • Compartmentalize
  • Get fit
  • Have fun
  1. Disconnect. You can’t constantly be connected or you’ll become overwhelmed and overworked. Yes, that means turn off the electronics. Shut down the computer, the iPad, the Smartphone whenever your work day ends and don’t fire them up again until the next workday starts. If the world comes to an end in the meantime, someone will be sure to let you know. You might also experiment with a media-free day. No TV, radio, or video games. If a day (or night) sounds like too much, try it for an hour or two and work your way up to a day.
  2. Compartmentalize. This means separating work time from play time, family time, and your time. Whatever your work culture dictates (9 to 5, 7 to 3), work those hours and only those hours. Don’t take work home at night or on weekends. When you’re working, give it your all. But once you walk out the door, transition immediately into a new mental and physical state. If you have a long commute, use the time to decompress rather than listening to the news or returning work-related phone calls. When you get home, shed your work clothes immediately and get into something that makes you feel casual and relaxed. Shift your focus.
  3. Get fit. Exercise is a great relaxer of both body and mind. For one thing, a lot of it is fairly routine. You don’t have to think about how to run on the treadmill or maneuver the elliptical trainer. Let your mind wander. Better still, if you can run or walk outdoors, you’ll have plenty of visual aids to redirect your busy thoughts. A healthy body supports creative thinking. And fitness is not just about your body. Your mind needs to stay fit as well. The word “meditation” scares a lot of people because they don’t understand how to do it. It’s as simple as sitting quietly and breathing for 10 or 15 minutes a day. Let your mind wander and don’t try to control where your thoughts take you.
  4. Have fun. Remember fun? Maybe you haven’t had any real fun since the fifth grade. But it’s never too late. Write out a bucket list of fun activities. (Hint: taking clients to a baseball game does not count.) Whether it’s whitewater rafting, taking a photography class or learning Italian cooking — get completely out of your comfort zone. Take one day a month off, just for you. Schedule at least one vacation a year, preferably two. And remember No. 1 above — disconnect completely when you’re having fun.

Take action now: Look carefully at the four items above. If you’re already doing one or more of these things, give yourself a pat on the back. Is there one you’re sure you couldn’t possibly do? Start there. Do it for a month, until it becomes a habit you can’t live without. Then move on to the next one. Notice how your mood, your relationships, and your creativity change.

Heed the words of art critic James Huneker: “All men (and women) of action are dreamers.” That could be you.

Joel Garfinkle is available for speaking and training. His most popular program is “Perception, Visibility and Influence: 3 Best Practices to Help Leaders Be More Successful.” He is the author of 300 articles on leadership and seven books, including “Getting Ahead: Three Steps to Take Your Career to the Next Level.” More than 10,000 people subscribe to his Fulfillment@Work newsletter. Subscribe and you’ll receive the free e-book “41 Proven Strategies to Get Promoted Now!”

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