Category Archives: Management Tips

Measuring Employee Engagement

Trending seems to be the new buzz word. Today on Twitter, Mischief Managed, Mrs. Wesley, the British Open and Thanking God are all trending. In the world of work, Employee Engagement is definitely trending. 

In a previous position, I managed a large department of 44 people. At one point I had recently promoted members of the team to supervisory positions. Wanting to measure the level of communication and presentation of clear objectives, I sent a survey to all team members soliciting their feedback.  I was pleasantly surprised by the responses (which thankfully meant that I was clearly communicating with my new leadership team – whew).  

If you haven’t solicited feedback from your staff in a while, here are 12 questions  to spark a conversation.  Right Management also has a white paper called How do you engage with, retain and motivate employees? But remember, these kind of questions  can do more harm than good if you don’t take action on any deficiencies that might be uncovered.   


The Power Behind the Power Hour

I recently read an article by Tony Schwartz called, Working Harder Doesn’t Get You Ahead.  

By the end of the article he suggested tackling “your most challenging task first thing in the morning, for 60 to 90 minutes, uninterrupted.” I don’t always have free time first thing in the morning. In fact I usually have my first meeting between 8:00 am and 8:30 a.m.  However, it made me think about the list of Guiding Principles (how we define who we want to be and how we conduct ourselves) that my staff and I created last fall, one of which is, Power Hours – Permission to Focus.

The idea behind the “Power Hour” is to block out a specific amount of time to “power” through a task or project. This uninterrupted time can be an hour or it can be thirty minutes, whatever block of time you need depending upon what you hope to accomplish.  Because this is one of our organization’s Guiding Principals, there’s a great deal of consideration given to an individual who is taking their “Power Hour” and encourage team members to do so often. It’s one way we support each other and tackle those projects that have that looming deadline which appeared out of nowhere.

Let’s face it, our work days are busy enough, so giving your self permission to take a “power hour” may provide you with a bit of calm that we all need in our work days. Try it. Schedule a set block of time on your calendar to focus on your project and power through. You’ll be surprised at how much you can get done.

Four HR Skills Critical in Turning Around a Crappy Culture |

 It’s not uncommon for a company’s culture to change or evolve over time. Your company’s core values may remain the same, but as employees leave and new employees are hired, it’s possible the values of the employees may change.

Assessing your company’s culture becomes a priority.  So, what happens if you’ve evaluated your company culture and you realize it’s broken? How do you fix it?

I recently read a great article by Kris Dunn that talked about four skills an HR department needs to bring to the table in order to implement a positive change.

 I’m not sure it’s just the HR department that needs to possess these skills. Read the article and let me know what you think.

Four HR Skills Critical in Turning Around a Crappy Culture |

Can we recover in time for the Recovery?

It seems that most of the expert sources are now in agreement that the recession has bottomed out, and that we’re moving into a period of recovery.  Thank goodness!  Now it’s time to really gear up and jump into the recovery in high gear – we’ve got a lot of ground to make up.

If you’re one of the lucky ones, you’re still working!  Obviously, the acts of becoming and remaining employed involve a great deal more than mere luck, so let’s say instead that you’re one of the fortunate ones.  (This is relevant, so please bear with me.)  Assuming that you’ve been working consistently during the last year or two, the chances are pretty good that your actual workload has  increased, and that the phrase “Do More With Less” has either passed through your lips, your ears or both.  It’s become a mantra, a battle cry and in some instances, a bleak joke. 

Your department just got downsized?  Ha-Ha, guess you’ll have to Do More With Less.  Already pushed to the limit?  Tough.  Suck it up and just Do More With Less!

Here’s the conundrum though: We’ve proven that we can all Do More With Less – but for how long?  Everyone can kick it up a notch in a pinch, somewhat like an athlete getting a “second wind”.  That act can even be exhilarating, especially when it’s teamed with learning new tasks/skills, and stepping outside of your normal duties for the good of the cause. At what point though, does our overall productivity begin to fade into Doing Less With Less?  When in this Do More With Less marathon do we hit the wall and stop being able to put one foot in front of the other through sheer force of will? 

I hope it’s not now ’cause there’s a Recovery looming ahead of us, and we’ve got work to do.

If we’re at a threshold at which job fatigue is about to replace job adrenaline, how do we maintain productivity while allowing for some type of downtime?  How do we recharge the batteries?

My belief is that the answer lies in some combination of 1) strategically adding people to provide some level of reinforcement, 2) temporarily relaxing quotas and/or goals, and 3) building in some type of “active” downtime.

1) People – if you’ve ever been involved in a picnic tug-of war, especially one that lasted for a while, you can picture the immense advantage that one side would have by just adding one more energetic tugger.  In some instances, well-thought out staff additions could provide momentum to help carry you strongly into the Recovery.

2) Quotas – while any organization needs to achieve growth-related goals, this may be the time to right-size those goals to today’s market realities and the fatigue described above.  Even a thoroughbred horse will only go so far so fast without a break, no matter how much you whip it.

3) Downtime – Remaining conscious not to inadvertently add to existing stress levels, team building or fun-themed events may be a way of allowing employees to catch their breath.  Rebuilding positive feelings about the workplace can help to return it to a more vibrant, interesting and socially fulfilling place, rather than it being a hellish sweatshop.

I’d love to go on, but I’ve got to take a break!

Be Your Own Leadership Consultant


I recently wrote an article for the Des Moines Business Record on the importance of real leadership in the workplace. What I really tried to point out is how a real leader lives and thinks. I hope you will find this article helpful as you lead in your work, life and any other areas that you devote yourself too.


As the world and business continue to turn, grow and change, one thing is for sure. There is always a need for leaders – real leaders who do what they believe is right to move things forward and inspire others to come along. In times of struggle, leaders give hope; in times of uncertainty, they give direction. However, being a leader does not always mean having success; more times than not, it might mean failure. Being OK with failure, learning from it and moving forward may be the true definition of a real leader.

If you are reading this, you are probably in some form of leadership in your company. To be sure, though, being in a position of leadership is not the same as being a leader. I bet it wouldn’t take you long to think of people throughout your career who have been in positions of leadership but have been far from leaders. Maybe they lead by fear and intimidation or incompetence and blame. Real leadership is rare in the workplace.

A lot of companies bring in consultants to be leadership gurus and train their people how to lead. The only problem with that approach is that everyone is different; in leadership, one size does not fit all. Trying to form everyone with all of their different personalities and dispositions into one type of manager just ends up frustrating people.

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Saving the World at Work

world at work book

Tim Sanders has recently relaunched his book Saving the World at Work. This is a great book that is definitely worth your time. I would encourage you to look at his book relaunch page and learn more about it. Tim’s writing style is compelling and his ability to tell a meaningful story is unmatched. This is an important book for our times as the focus on corporate social responsibility is becoming more of a determining factor for how companies partner together. As a part of the book relaunch Tim is donating a part of the proceeds to The National Association for Urban Debate Leagues.

To see a video from bnet discussing the book click here.

An excerpt from Saving The World At Work by Tim Sanders

In December 2006, footwear maker Timberland held its wholesale account reps sales rally in New Orleans, fifteen months after the city had been ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.

Timberland’s event planners always inject a local community service component into the agenda, so on the conference’s first evening, local leaders were asked to talk to the group about the battle to rebuild the city. On the second day, two hundred sales reps were taken by bus to New Orleans’ historic Central City district to work on a neighborhood restoration program.

The specific project they were assigned to was renowned chef Dukey Chase’s restaurant, a Central City neighborhood anchor, whose reopening meant a great deal to the area. So Timberlanders performed demolition, planted trees, hauled trash, and cleaned up a nearby playground, all working side by side with local volunteers.

In just a few hours, the Timberlanders made a difference in the restaurant and Central City’s restoration. But feeling the reps needed to understand more about New Orleans’ dismal situation, meeting planners decided to give them a tour of the Ninth Ward, one of the city’s most devastated areas. Jubilant while working so well at the Central City work site, the Timberlanders now became somber, realizing that even though one eatery had been spruced up, many parts of the city remained utterly uninhabitable.

At the end of the tour, the buses parked to allow the reps to get out and walk around the neighborhood. As they did, one rep noticed a makeshift community gathering spot constructed of tarps and rotted wood where a middle‐aged man in a baseball cap was taking notes on a clipboard. The sales rep started a conversation with the man and soon discovered that he was a volunteer community organizer who had lived in the Ninth Ward pre‐Katrina.

Moved by the moment, the rep asked the volunteer what the community center most needed. “Shoes,” the volunteer replied, pointing to a chalkboard that listed shoes at the top of the Please Drop Off list. “Used ones, new ones—we need shoes.” He then explained that many of the community service volunteers were working in flip‐flops and soleless shoes in an area littered with rusty nails and splintered boards.

 The Timberland employee immediately bent down, unlaced his boots, and handed them to the volunteer. He then walked barefoot back to the buses, where employees were loading up for the ride back to the hotel. A coworker, who noticed the sales rep wasn’t wearing his boots, asked why. “That man there told me that they needed shoes,” the sales rep replied, pointing to the community center. “I gave him mine.” The coworker stood up, left the bus, and gave the volunteer his shoes, too. The others watched, and acted: In the next ten minutes, the buses emptied out as all two hundred sales reps walked to the community center and donated their shoes or boots to the Ninth Ward, even though, for many of them, these Timberland boots were prized possessions.

The volunteer, overwhelmed, scrambled to keep pairs matched together, tucking laces into bootsand organizing them by size. All he could muster was a repetitive “Thank you, thank you” to every Timberlander. The trip back to the hotel was silent, as employees reflected on what they’d seen that day. A senior meeting planner later recalled, “It was the quietest twenty‐minute bus ride I’ve ever been on.”

 Do you want to know what happened next? The conclusion to this story is inspiring, but

you’ll need to read the book to find out what happened.

Breaking Out of Groupthink


Have you ever been trapped in the frustration of a meeting that was not functioning well? Have you sat in a meeting where you did not speak your mind because you knew the risk, or the futility of it? Perhaps you have suffered through more bad meetings than you participated in useful ones. Have you ever sat in a meeting where nothing of value was accomplished, and it seemed like a terrible waste of time, yours and everyone else’s? Reflecting on it later, did you wonder what it was that caused the teams to be so ineffective?

The situations that lead to these nonworking meetings tend to fall into three categories:
1. We are so sure that everyone is in agreement that we don’t want to be the lone dissenting voice.
2. Our team has always been “right.” We have been on the cutting edge for as long as anyone can remember — therefore we must be “right” now.
3. The boss says we must — therefore we must.

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