The Daily Recruiter

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Category: Leadership (Page 1 of 19)

We Default to Criticism

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” By Lydia Dishman, of Fast Company”

“Susan doesn’t pull her weight. She’s always negative, people don’t like her.”

“Robert is just incompetent. Why am I asked to do my job well when he gets to skate by?”

“This department would be better off if Beth was fired, everyone knows it, what are you going to do about it?”

Tim Cole, now founder and CEO of The Compass Alliance, used to hear criticism like this regularly in a previous work environment. Tasked with taking over a department he admits had a “septic culture,” Cole stepped into a quagmire of low morale. There was legitimate debate on shutting the operation down,” he explains, “despite the contribution to profitability.”

In the case of this particular team, Cole says the focus on individual contribution eroded teamwork. “Everyone was fighting to beat the employee next to them,” he recalls, “Not only was there ineffective praise, but the default was even more damaging: ‘I win by tearing others down.’”
Although their vitriol is a pretty dramatic example, the urge to critique others and their work (or lack thereof) are far too common.


Julita Haber, clinical assistant professor of Organizational Behavior at Fordham University, points out that focusing on the negative by being quick to criticize and slow to praise has deep roots. “Human tendency for negative bias evolved over time to help our ancestors survive by being responsive to potential threats,” Haber explains. “As such, negative stimuli in our brain are processed almost instantly.” That rapid processing ensures that the criticism will be stored in long-term memory. Positive experiences, on the other hand, have to be held in the brain for at least 12 seconds before they are absorbed in the long-term memory.


But there are other motivations for knee-jerk criticisms. Wally Adamchik, president of FireStarter Speaking and Consulting, says that managers, in particular, may be quick to call people out. Their job is to add value and make an impact, says Adamchik, and they see criticism as a way to do that. “They are making the bad better and in doing so justifying that position of power and knowledge,” he explains.

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The Best Apologies

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“By , of  Thin Difference”

Apologies have dominated the headlines recently. Kevin Spacey, Harvey Weinstein, Tom Price, Al Franken, Louis C.K., and Tim Murphy, a pro-life Republican Congressman who encouraged his mistress to have an abortion, are just a few of the prominent names to offer a public mea culpa in the past several months.

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Confronting the Jerk

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” By Barbara Mitchell, of Smartbrief”

Accounts of egregious workplace behavior are suddenly all over the news – again. Harvey Weinstein and Mark Halperin are just two of the more notable figures recently identified of being guilty of such behavior.

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Fault Finding

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“By Dan Rockwell, of  Leadership Freak”

Fault-finding is an island of security for incompetent leaders. Feedback launches into the deep.

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Exceptional Bosses

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” By Jeff Haden, of Inc.”

In late 1864 Union General William T. Sherman marched into Atlanta, crippling the southern war economy. The practical effect was massive but so was the psychological impact, and not just on southerners: Abraham Lincoln would ride the resulting wave of public confidence into his second term as President.

As Ron Chernow describes in the excellent biography Grant, this is how General Grant congratulated Sherman: 

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Stop Social Loafing

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” By Ken Downer of  Rapid Start Leadership”

You would think that the more people on a project, the greater the output.  Sadly, that’s not always the case.  A phenomenon called Social Loafing leads some team members to do the minimum possible.  They drag down group productivity like a boat anchor.

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7 Ways Not to Screw Up

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” By Mark Coronna of Chief Outsiders”

Value propositions are critical to the health and growth of your business.  How critical you think they are may be colored by your personal experience.  For me, a value proposition is a powerful summary of who you are and what you offer.  It defines what is distinct and valuable for those prospects and customers that you want to reach.

A business associate recently said to me: “Now I get you, you’re all about creating value.”  If our organizations are not creating value, what right to we have to continue to exist?  If every business was lookalike–other than franchises which strive to create the same customer experience regardless of location–why should we exist?

Through years of working with small- and mid-market businesses, one theme continues.  When someone says “We are a metal fabricator,” they only make that reference for your benefit or to provide context, because they will almost always follow that up with “But we’re not like other metal fabricators.”  You can be part of NAICS Code 322, but that does not help someone understand who you really are, what you offer, what your capabilities are, and why they should do business with you.  That last point: why they listen to your story about why should do business with you, is the essence of your value proposition.

Some might ask: “If value propositions are that important, why aren’t they more effective?”  There are seven ways that I have seen clients of all sizes and across all industries screw up (or under-optimize, in consultant speak) their value propositions.  Let’s review the list as well as best practices for building a killer value proposition.

Identify Distinctive Competencies

You may not have had an internal conversation around your business’ distinctive competencies recently—or maybe you’ve never had that conversation.  But simply, they are the foundation of every value proposition.

A distinctive competence is best defined as a strong competency that is maintainable in the face of competition. It is not easily duplicated, at least for a while. It can be thought of as an “unfair advantage.”

Distinctive competencies can come from technology, industry position, market relations, cost, business processes, manufacturing processes, people, customer satisfaction, or just being first to market.

Your value proposition needs to be solidly founded on your distinctive competencies.  Value propositions aren’t aspirational (that’s the role of a Vision Statement).  They translate what is unique about your business into something unique (like design or engineering services offered by manufacturers) and of value to your customers.


Write Your Value Proposition in Prospect and Customer-Facing Language

You’ve probably read value propositions that you will instantly recognize as being written by committee.  Others seem like they are written by PhDs for PhDs.  Yours must be written at the 10th grade reading level (a good average for readers today).

One suggestion I offer clients is this: think about a value proposition as if you are sitting across the table from a prospect and having an informal conversation.  Never try to impress a potential customer with language they don’t use—you’ll lose them.

Here’s an example of writing in a more direct and simple style…

Instead of saying: “Our collaborative and hands-on engagement with customers, combined with expertise in processes, materials, and technology, creates innovative and high-performing products.”

Try something more direct: “We help you create innovative, high-performing products. Customers value our expertise in processes, materials, and technology.”  That simple revision drops you down almost three grade levels in readability.

The Gunning Fog readability index is free and will help you understand the grade level you are writing to.

You can also use word clouds to understand what messages are really coming across to your readers.  This blog explains how to do that.

Adopt an “Outside In” Approach

It will be challenging, but you have to incorporate more use of the second personal pronoun “You” and less use of the word “We.”  Try talking about yourself but use the word “you” and see just how challenging this can be.  But if you want to be effective in stating your value proposition, you have to try to get there.  Time to stop navel gazing and take your customer’s perspective.  Make the benefits you offer explicit.

We are all much more interested in conversations that engage us than talk “to” us.  If you want your value proposition to be intrusive and memorable, using the work “You” will work much better for You.

And please, please, please, don’t start your value proposition with a sentence about when you were founded and how long you have been in business.  Honestly, we don’t care.  As much as we admire business longevity, we’d like to know right now what you can do for us right now.

Get Your Value Statements in the Right Order

Let’s say there are three or four major areas of value identified in your value proposition.  In Marketing there has been long been a saying that “companies get the benefits list right but the order wrong.”

I’ve been personally guilty of this.  In selling what became a multi-billion dollar deal with the Defense Department, I kept describing the service as a “cost-effective payment network with rich transaction detail.”  The customer kept describing our offering as a “rich information system that got its detail from a payment transaction.”  Both were benefits.  However, the customer saw that the long term value of the information generated would be more powerful than what they would save on lower payment processing costs.

Once I realized that their view of value was different than mine, and that $1billion was at stake, I adopted their language!

Turn Value Propositions into Marketing Language

Once you have written your value proposition, you probably think you’re home free and everyone can start using it immediately.  Hold on there, pardner.  Someone in Marketing needs to polish it, refine it, validate it, refine it again, and add proof points to make it credible and more meaningful.

Proof points for each value statement included should be quantitative examples of benefits.  Here’s an example: “Our collaborative design services often help customers reduce their costs by 22% or more.”  Now are you  more interested?

Proof points can also include industry certifications, third party awards, and anything else that makes your claims real and credible.  If you can go the extra mile, customer testimonials help here…a lot.

Time to Reinforce and Police

I’ve worked in start-ups and Fortune 500 corporations, and I’ve never had the Marketing budget I thought I needed to introduce new positioning.

Someone in your organization needs to put the “police” badge on and insure that every time, in every medium and in every channel, your value position is presented in exactly the same language every time.

A branding guru once told me that “Your customers will get your new positioning before your employees will.”  She was absolutely correct.  After re-branding one business and introducing a new value proposition, in 10 months our customers fully understood our position.  Two years after the launch, though, we still had salespeople who used the “old” company name.  And don’t trust your staff to use your new collateral and presentations, either.  That’s where policing comes in.  Trust but verify.

Audit at Least Every Two Years

Value evolves in competitive landscapes.  What is unique about your value offered today may be a market expectation tomorrow.  My recommendation to clients is to complete a brand audit every two years.  It’s not that expensive or time-consuming, and you can also combine sit with satisfaction questions and a net promoter score (NPS) loyalty study.

One example of evolving forms of value is power windows in automobiles.

In Summary

There was a motivational speaker who years ago gave me great advice.  He said: “What is easy to do is often easy NOT to do.”  Value propositions are not rocket science, but they are critical to your business and deserve your attention.  Do them well.

Increase Your Influence

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” By Mark Deterding of Leadchange”

If your life was a silent film, could the people in the audience discern your influence?


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3 Ideas to Change Company

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” By Jennifer V. Miller, of SmartBrief “

According to a Deloitte Consulting study, 88% of executives state that to build an “organization of the future,” they must transform their business practices. Transformation requires extensive change, which is difficult. Or is it?

In the Harvard Business Review article “Stop Using the Excuse that Organizational Change is Hard,” organizational psychologist Nick Tasler writes that we’ve come to believe the trope that “change is difficult.” Tasler observes that many change initiatives do actually achieve success, but negative biases “can create a toxic self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Perhaps changes isn’t as difficult as we think it is, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. There are legitimate barriers to transformation, both personal and organizational. Consider these three factors to help you sort out your change management challenges.

Outdated change-management philosophies

Many change-management practices are rooted in philosophies that are nearly three decades old. The problem is, many of them don’t take into account today’s business realities. Many change management systems are aimed at helping organizations maneuver through a specific, large-scale change rather than dealing with myriad micro-changes that leaders and their employees continually experience. Many of the models are linear and process-oriented, with the framework of grief or loss as their conceptual underpinning.

“Modern change management theory is based on a model of destruction, whereas the change management theory that I have found actually works for individuals and organizations is based on a model of creation,” writes Dana Theus of InPower Coaching. Theus advocates for leaders to see change as an act of creation, and invite people into the change process earlier.

New York Times-bestselling author Cy Wakeman believes it’s time to move past the “stages of grief” philosophy common in many change management models. In her latest book, “No Ego: How Leaders Can Cut the Cost of Workplace Drama, End Entitlement and Drive Big Results,” Wakeman writes, “Although change can indeed be a challenge, I don’t see how it make sense to grieve the natural and inevitable changes required to make a business successful in the same way as we would a death.”

Reframing the change-management conversation

Traditional change-management models that are based on loss and driven by a select few at the top of the organization tend to frame employees as helpless casualties. When a small cadre of leaders assume the majority of responsibility for managing change, it “generates negative energy and passive participants,” writes Theus.

Wakeman concurs: “When people are allowed to remain passive it breeds contempt,” which makes employees even less likely to engage in the change.

Wakeman advocates a shift in the way we talk about coping with change. Calling change management “so 1990s,” she suggests that we move from “managing change” to developing “business readiness” in employees. In the former, leaders bear the burden of softening the blow of the changes from employees. The latter helps develop a change-ready workforce.

“To be relevant in the future, leaders need to leave change management theories in the past and focus instead on ‘readiness’ by developing employees’ future potential on a daily basis,” writes Wakeman. “Effective leaders help people understand that change is inevitable, necessary and neutral.”

Leaders can do this through daily “downloads” of easy-to-digest information that create a workforce that’s ready for what’s next. They don’t shield people from reality, or invest excessive amounts of time with work arounds so that people will be more comfortable with the change.

Resilience as a key competency for change readiness

The key to being ready for whatever your workday brings is resilience.

Dean Becker is managing director of Adaptiv Learning, a company that provides resilience training. Becker has studied resilience for nearly two decades. Resilience is about “bouncing back” says Becker. Beyond that, it’s also about staying focused when there is ambiguity or oncoming change in your work situation. Speaking at the WorkHuman conference, Becker defined resilience as “the intelligent deployment of limited resources.”

“Most of us have wasted precious time and resources trying to solve problems over which we have little or no control,” says Becker.

Leaders and employees alike need to learn to put their resources where they’re likely to do the most good. But we’re often tripped up by what Becker terms our “habitual patterns of thought” — some of which lead to unproductive thinking. This dwelling in what “should” happen, or what’s “not fair” leads to what Wakeman calls “emotional waste”: mentally wasteful thought processes or unproductive behavior that keeps leaders or their teams from delivering the highest level of results.

Both Becker and Wakeman say that we can learn to redirect these unproductive thought patterns. Wakeman encourages leaders to give brief, targeted feedback, then encourage employees to reflect on their past actions and focus on the reality of their current situation.

Becker adds, “We all have habitual patterns of thought — about ourselves, our world, our future — that can interfere with our ability to accurately assess problems and find solutions.” With practice retraining our thinking, we can make better choices, he says.

Moving through change is a challenge but one worth attempting. As Tasler observes, “Change is hard in the same way that it’s hard to finish a marathon. Yes, it requires significant effort. But the fact that it requires effort doesn’t negate the fact that most people who commit to a change initiative will eventually succeed.”

Think about the changes you’ll ask of your team over the course of the next few months. How can you rethink your change management practices to help your team become more change-ready?

Be Authentic with Staff

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” By Joyce Warner, of SmartBrief”

In my 20 years of leading teams both large and small, I’ve never heard anyone say, “We wish you would pretend to ask our opinion more!”

Of course, all staff want to and should be heard, but pretending to ask their opinions is always worse than not asking at all. People are perceptive, so they can usually tell when you are not really asking, and ultimately it makes them lose (and often never regain) trust in the leader.

And when you pretend to ask, it might sound a lot like when you ask your better half, “Does this outfit make me look fat?” Everyone knows if you want to have a nice evening out, there is only one answer to that question.

So how can you be more authentic and credible when collecting feedback?

  1. Decide if there really are two or more paths available to the organization and if staff feedback will lead to a better decision. If there really is only one viable path, don’t ask. Instead, explain the reasoning behind your decision. As the leader, sometimes you must decide, and you probably have access to more information to inform your decision. Being authentic in what led you to make the decision can go a long way, especially with bad news. Show empathy when the situation warrants it.
  2. Ask clear questions and use anonymous spot polls. The technology to do this online is ubiquitous and many free versions exist. This type of poll also helps the normally quiet voices be heard equally along with those who regularly speak up. Long surveys generally have lower response rates and can be less valuable.
  3. Right-size the number of open-ended questions in surveys. If the staff survey respondent pool is large, voluminous free response answers are a bear to code and analyze correctly. Also, have someone objective (read: external) review and process the data.  You can always go back with another survey to do a deep-dive on a specific topic if you need more information.
  4. With any committees you form to help in the decision-making process, make sure they have members that are generally perceived as competent and credible, represent the diversity of staff views, and are not afraid to speak their mind. If the committee looks cherry-picked with “yes men/women,” everyone will think it is a sham and waste of company time.
  5. Consider the appropriateness of collecting one-to-one feedback, and if you do, don’t spend the whole time trying to sway the other person to your view. It’s a huge turn-off when someone barely has the chance to express what they think and you are already giving the impression that if they don’t agree with you there will be a mark against them.
  6. Tell folks how their feedback will factor into your decision-making before you collect it.Don’t give the impression that you will go with the will of the people and then do the opposite. Be prepared to share data collected and present it objectively, or risk your staff making and projecting their own analysis of what people really think.
  7. Don’t tell some staff how you plan to act on an issue while telling others you haven’t made up your mind yet. News travels fast, and leaders don’t always really know who is friendly with whom in an organization. I like to say there is invisible fiber optic cable carrying information throughout any organization.
  8. Be present after you announce a decision and deliver only good news on Fridays or before holidays. It’s hard to be the bearer of bad news, but looking like you are running away from your decision doesn’t breed confidence in you as a leader.
  9. Own bad decisions. Everyone makes a bad decision every once and a while. The most authentic thing you can do is own it. This lets staff know it’s ok for them to be open and own it if they make a bad decision.

Full disclosure, my husband came up with the title of this piece after I shared the concept. Note to self: Stop asking him if I look fat in this dress.

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