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Managing People Archive

Say Thank You to Employees

If a friend asked you to do something, you did it, and she didn’t say thank you, you’d probably think twice the next time she asked you for something. The people you work with are not different.

If you don’t say thank you to employees, they too will stop doing things you think are important. Human beings thrive on recognition and relationships. We need both to survive. And when we don’t feel connected or appreciated, we find appreciation elsewhere.

Say Thank You to Employees

If you think saying “thank you” to the people you work with is unnecessary, consider this example. An overwhelmed employee feels strapped for time. She produces a 30-page report every month that takes hours of her time. No one has ever talked with her about how the report is used and why it’s important. So when she is overwhelmed and decides that something needs to go, she stops doing work that appears not to add value—the 30-page report. It turns out the report reflects her department’s results and is reviewed by the CEO, CIO, CFO, and COO. Oops.

There are managers who think that a paycheck is enough of a thank you to employees (old school) and that any other thank you to employees is unnecessary (this doesn’t work). Human beings want to make a difference. We don’t like doing tasks we perceive as not being impactful. So tell the people you work with that their work matters by saying thank you, and how you say thank you matters. Saying, “Thanks for doing such a great job on that project” doesn’t go nearly as far as saying, “Thank you for taking over the Briggs proposal. You shepherded the proposal from beginning to end and made sure no detail was overlooked. You made all of us look good and we would not have won the business without you.” Like all feedback, specific feedback is meaningful and drives future behavior. Vague feedback feels inauthentic and doesn’t tell the recipient what to replicate in the future.

Onto why it’s important to say “I’m sorry.” Some people think that saying you’re sorry puts you in a weak position and that you will lose employees’ respect. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Strong people admit when they’re wrong. Weak people can’t admit mistakes. Admitting fault ingratiates you to other people. Refusing to take responsibility alienates you.

It’s very frustrating to work hard and never be told “thank you.” Likewise, it’s upsetting when people don’t apologize for dropping the ball and making mistakes. It’s so easy to say “thank you” and “I’m sorry,” and it costs nothing. The more you demonstrate appreciation for the people you work with and take responsibility for your mistakes, the harder people will work on your behalf.

Say Thank You to Employees


Giving Feedback – Be Specific

Want to know why people get defensive when you give feedback and why they often don’t change their behavior? Because what you’re giving them isn’t actually feedback.

“You’re awesome to work with” isn’t feedback. Neither is “You did a great job.” “Your work isn’t thorough” isn’t either. Neither is, “You were inappropriate.”

Most of what we consider feedback isn’t feedback at all. It’s vague, unhelpful language that leaves people wondering what they need to do more, better, or differently.

There are only two reasons to give feedback – to encourage someone to either change or replicate a behavior. Unfortunately, most of the ‘information’ we give is too vague to help people do either.

When you coach or give feedback, you serve as someone’s GPS. Like the GPS on your phone, you need to be so specific the person knows precisely what to change or replicate. If you were driving and your GPS said, “Good job” or “I think you’re off track,” you’d throw the GPS out the window and get a map.

If you give someone what you consider feedback and he says, “I don’t know what you mean, can I have an example?” you’ll know you weren’t helpful.

Here are six tips for giving helpful feedback:

Giving feedback tip one:  Write down what you plan to say, then strip out half the words. Shorter feedback with fewer words is better.

Giving feedback tip two: Practice what you plan to say out loud. Have you noticed that what you ‘practice’ in your head is typically not what comes out of your mouth?

Giving feedback tip three:  Before having the ‘real’ conversations, give the feedback to an independent, third-party and ask her to tell you what she heard. Ensure who you talk with will maintain confidentiality. Your organization doesn’t need more gossip.

Giving feedback tip four: Tell someone else about the conversation you need to have, and ask him what he would say. Anyone not emotionally involved in the situation will do a better job than you will. Again, ensure confidentiality.

Giving feedback tip five: Ask the feedback recipient what he heard you say. Asking, “Does that make sense?” is an ineffective question. “Do you have any questions?” isn’t any better.

Giving feedback tip six: Give one to three examples of what the person did or didn’t do, during the conversation. If you don’t have an example, you’re not ready to provide feedback, and anything you say will evoke defensiveness rather than behavior change.

Giving feedback doesn’t have to be so hard. Be so specific that your feedback could be used as driving directions. The purpose of feedback is to be helpful.

Just say it feedback training

Office Culture: Your Job Isn’t to Make Everyone Happy

I want each of my employees to be happy and to enjoy their jobs and enjoy working for me, every day. That can’t and won’t happen, especially right now. Some days are hard. Some are dull. Sometimes I’m fun and easy to work for. Lots of days I’m not.

I had a manager years ago who told me that my need to be liked by my employees would take me down. He was right. Unfortunately, I’m not the only manager with this challenge.

Lots of managers tell me they’re hesitant to give feedback because they’re afraid employees will quit. Other managers do work they know they shouldn’t be doing because they don’t want to burden their employees.

Not every day will be great. And that’s ok. Work is a roller coaster. Some days are awesome. Others are the pits. Your job isn’t to make people happy at every moment, it’s to create a supportive environment and ensure people have the tools to be successful.

My employees have all the tools they need to be successful. I work hard to set clear expectations and give timely positive and upgrade feedback. The rest is up to them. Some days I’m sure they’re happy. Most days, hopefully. And I’m sure there are days that other jobs sound appealing.

Here are five actions to create a positive culture at work:

Office culture tip #1: Set clear expectations at the beginning of every new project and task. The root of frustration and unhappiness is thwarted expectations.

Office culture tip #2: Ask for and be open to feedback from your employees and coworkers. Ask for feedback regularly and work to respond with, “Thank you for telling me that.”

Office culture tip #3: Respond to feedback by changing what it makes sense to change. Giving feedback that is never acted upon creates cynicism and distrust.

Office culture tip #4: Provide a rationale for your decisions. It’s fine to do things the way you want to do them, even if others disagree. Explain your rationale. You’ll get more buy-in.

Office culture tip #5: Don’t be afraid to make decisions that are unpopular. There is a reason that you want to do what you want to do, the way you want to do it. Vet your plans, when appropriate. Be open to others’ input. And then do what you think is right (within the scope of your role).

Your job isn’t to please everyone and trying to do so will likely produce lesser results and be exhausting.


Giving Feedback – Less is More

People leave feedback training armed with new skills and they unfortunately sometimes use those skills as a weapon. It goes something like this, “I need to have a candid conversation with you.” And then the person proceeds to dump, dump, dump. This couldn’t be more wrong, wrong, wrong.

When you give someone negative feedback you are essentially telling him that he did something wrong. And who likes to be wrong? The ego gets bruised and people often start to question themselves. This normal reaction doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give feedback, you just need to do it judiciously.

Ask yourself these four questions when deciding whether or not to give someone feedback:

  • Do I have the relationship to provide feedback? Does the recipient trust me and my motives?
  • Do I have permission to give feedback? If the recipient doesn’t work for you, you need permission to give feedback.
  • Is this something the person can do something about? If it’s not a change the recipient can make, keep your thoughts to yourself.
  • Is the feedback helpful? Ultimately the purpose of all feedback is to be helpful.

Let’s say you’re on the receiving end of too much feedback. What should you do?  It’s ok to say “no thank you” to feedback. Here’s what you could say:

“Thank you for taking the time to bring this to my attention. I really appreciate it. You’ve given me a lot of feedback today. I’d like something to focus on that I can impact right now. What’s the most important thing I should do?” You’ve validated the other person and demonstrated openness and interest. You’ve also set some boundaries and expectations of what you will and won’t do.

“Thank you for taking the time to share your requests about… We won’t be making any changes to that and here’s why.” It’s ok not to act on all feedback, simply tell people why you won’t.

“I appreciate your concern. I’m not looking for feedback on that right now.” Can you say that to someone? Yes. Should you? Sometimes. To your boss – no. To someone who offers unsolicited advice that’s outside of their lane, yes. They’ll get the message.

People can only act on and digest small amounts of feedback at a time. Be judicious and assess your motives. The purpose of feedback is to be helpful, when the feedback is requested and when you have the relationship to give it.

If you receive too much feedback or unsolicited feedback, it’s ok to decline. You’re not the 7-11, aka you’re not always open.


Don’t Guess – Ask More Questions at Work

There was way too much guessing at work before most people began working from home. Without visual cues, figuring out how to work with people is even harder. You may find yourself thinking, “I’m going to miss this deadline. I wonder what the consequences will be?” Or perhaps, “She said she wanted input on this project. I wonder if she really meant that, and how much feedback is ok to provide?” Or maybe, “He asked for a proposal. Is he expecting something elaborate, or will a one-pager do?”

We often don’t know what others are expecting from us, so we guess. The problem with guessing is that we may do more work than we actually need to, and not in the way the other person wants it. Even worse, when we don’t work according to others’ expectations, they aren’t likely to tell us. Instead, they tell others and make decisions about us that aren’t positive.

I’m a fan of asking lots and lots of questions, preferably at the beginning of anything new. Anticipate all that can happen, get in front of breakdowns, and set clear expectations by asking questions. The people who participate in virtual and in-person training with me get an entire box of questions to ask. And the homework is to go ask more questions of the people they work most closely with.  Asking questions will always be easier than recovering from violated and often unstated expectations.

If you want fewer breakdowns and frustrations at work, ask the following questions of the people you work with:

What do you want to do, on this project, and what do you want me to do?

What does a good job look like?

What will be different in the organization when this project is finished?

How would I frustrate you and not even know it?

How often do you want to receive updates from me?

Do you want to receive all the details or just big picture information?

Do you want to receive the information in bullet form or paragraphs?

It’s never too late to ask questions like these. It’s ideal to ask the question at the beginning of a piece of work. But asking in the middle or even towards the end is fine too. People will appreciate that you asked, whenever you ask.

Ask more. Assume less.


Managing Remote Employees

Many managers are asking the question, “How do I manage employees remotely?” Managing employees remotely isn’t too different than managing in person. Whether someone is sitting with you or in their home office, the steps involved in managing people are the same.

There are a few things effective managers do repeatedly. Do these handful of things and managing people will go well, provided you have the right person in the job. Managing someone who is a good fit for their current job is challenging but doable. Managing a person who is not a good fit for their job is extraordinarily hard. No management practices or skills supersedes hiring the right person. Hiring the right people is the single most important thing managers do. Managing and coaching employees are the next most important things managers do.

Here are the three things effective managers do:

  1. Set clear expectations:

Conversation with new/inexperienced employees: “This is what I want you to do and by when.”

Conversation with experienced employees: “What do you think needs to be done and when is a manageable deadline?”

2. Delegate:

New/inexperienced employees: “Here is my vision of how this should look.”

Experienced employees: “What’s your vision of how this should look?”

3. Review work, coach, and give feedback:

Review small pieces of work so employees can course correct as they go, reducing wasted time and frustration. Agree on a schedule to review work in process, so employees feel supported and not micromanaged.

New/inexperienced employees: “Here is what I would do differently and why.”

Experienced employees: “Here are my areas of concern. What changes do you think need to be made?”

  • Repeat

That’s all you need to do. It’s so simple. And so hard. Managing employees is very challenging.

Here are five ways to make it easier to manage well:

  1. Spend time at the beginning of working relationships and projects getting to know employees work styles and preferences and sharing your own.
  2. Check in with employees regularly, asking questions that elicit what employees need to be successful.
  3. Have frequent, short conversations. A weekly 15-minute touch base is more effective than a monthly 60-minute meeting.
  4. Do a plus/delta every time you meet, giving positive and upgrade feedback as events happen. Waiting to give feedback negatively impacts results and damages trust.
  5. Have courage and know that employees want to work for a manager who sets clear expectations and gives clear feedback. Working in the dark is frustrating and difficult.

If you’re hesitant to do any of the actions above or are worried about how those actions will be perceived by employees, tell employees that. Be authentic and candid. You could say something like, “I want to review your work more frequently than I have in the past, but I’m concerned how you’ll perceive that.” “I want to give you regular, timely feedback to be helpful to you, and know feedback can be hard to hear.”

Lastly – remote meetings can be held via video conferencing but don’t need to be. Sometimes it’s nice to talk via phone and not have to get dressed up or manage your facial expressions. If you’re not sure if you should meet with employees via video or phone, ask them. Setting clear expectations is the first step in managing all business relationships effectively.


Let’s Get Real – Realistic Work-from-Home Schedules

You’ve been on video calls for the past two hours. Your kids are bored, you aren’t accustomed to working alone at home and miss working in an office with other people, you don’t have a quiet, interruption-free environment in which to work, or your parents have called eight times.

Everyone you work with is dealing with different circumstances. Some are perfectly content working a full day at home, others are finding the experience isolating and lonely. Some have no distractions at home and others have many. But we won’t know what others are dealing with and how those circumstances impact work schedules and deliverables if we don’t ask.

Managers, employees, and coworkers need to talk to each other about the constraints they’re dealing with and what a realistic work schedule looks like right now, and those conversations may be personal. They’re likely more personal than the conversations you’ve had in the past and that may be uncomfortable.

Managers, before setting goals, assigning projects, or scheduling meetings, talk to employees about what a realistic workday looks like right now.

Here’s how the conversation could go: “I know working from home all the time is different from you’re used to. I want to get a sense of what a realistic schedule is for you and what kind of challenges you’re dealing with. We can create deadlines and deliverables from there.”

Managers share about your own situation and set expectations with your employees, coworkers and with your own boss. It could sound something like this: “I have two young kids at home and I’m bringing my parents food each day. I check and return emails before 7:00 am, while my kids are still asleep. I log back on and am available for calls from 9:00 am – 10:30 am. I’m out of commission until 3:00 pm. I work from 3:00 pm – 4:30 pm and then I’m available at night from 8:00 pm – 9:30 pm. I know it’s not ideal, but it is my reality. Let’s figure out how to ensure you get what you need from me given the schedule.”

These are the conversations we need to be having and no one wants to have them. Who wants to admit to their boss, employees, and coworkers that they’re not able to work and focus for much of the day? No one. But pretending like we can participate in six hours of video calls each day or that our availability and productivity isn’t impacted is stressful and unrealistic. We are humans working with other humans and we need to be real with one another.

Managers ask your employees what a realistic work schedule looks like and find out what they’re able to do on a given day. Employees, broach the conversation with managers and coworkers. Be honest and ask for flexibility. It’s better to set expectations upfront than to surprise and disappoint.


Don’t Make Decisions From Fear – Play the Long Game

We all know people who have been furloughed, taken pay cuts, or who were laid off over the past few weeks. It happened fast. Business has slowed or ceased in many industries, businesses are shut, people aren’t working.  There are loans and tax refunds in place to motivate employers not to reduce employees’ hours or to reduce headcount.

Business leaders are doing the best they can to make decisions that will keep businesses afloat. It is a difficult time to run a business and manage people.

I too am confronted by these decisions in my own business. I had a new person who was supposed to start on March 16th. I have part-timers who aren’t coming in right now. I have an open job I’m not filling.

I want to suggest you play the long game letting your personal and professional goals drive your decision making, and I know this is very, very difficult. It’s difficult for me too.

Maybe you need to lay people off or reduce hours or compensation. Communicate with those employees from a place of TLC – communicate early and often. Give as much information as you can. Be as generous as you can.

Generosity comes in all forms. It is not necessarily financial.

Tell employees the benefits that are available to them. Be realistic about when employees may receive checks. But also share how you feel about these employees and how difficult it is to reduce compensation and jobs. People want to work for people who are authentic and care about them. Don’t be afraid to show you care. Call and check-in with employees who aren’t working. Ask how they’re doing. Demonstrate concern.

There is a long game in how we make business decisions but also in how we treat people. Treat people like they’re family and you’re working to have a long-term relationship.

Lastly, try not to make decisions from fear. This is a tricky one and one I can’t say I’m doing well.  I’ve made a few too many recent decisions out of fear. But fear is not a powerful place to stand. Fear is paralyzing and limiting.

When making personal and professional decisions, consider your long-term goals. Ask, “What do I want my business to look like in one year, three years, five years? What do I need to do today to achieve those goals, within today’s scary reality.” Act from your goals, not your momentary fear. You may need to remind yourself of this from moment to moment. I know I do.

Think future. Be realistic. Act with care and humanity. Play your long game personally and professionally.


Manage People Who Give You ‘The Tone’ – Tone of Voice Communication

You know when someone gives you ‘the tone’, similar to when people roll their eyes at you? When you get ‘the tone’ you’re being told that the other person is exasperated.

Tone of voice is one of the hardest things to coach because we don’t hear ourselves. People who give people ‘the tone’ rarely know they’re doing it. One of the best ways I know to effectively coach tone of voice is to ask tone givers to tape themselves during phone calls. Then listen to the recording together and ask the tone giver, “If your grandmother called and someone spoke to her that way, would you be happy?” You can also read written correspondence out loud, adding the tone you ‘heard’, and ask the sender how she would have interpreted the message.

When given the tone, most people feel judged. And when people feel judged, conversations are constrained.

The way to avoid giving ‘the tone’ is to come from a place of curiosity. When you ask the question, “What were you thinking when you approached the customer that way,” you can sound curious or judgmental. Being judgmental evokes defensiveness, which shuts conversations down. Being curious creates discussion.

Consider asking questions like these to invite discussion:

• Tell me more about…
• Help me understand what happened here…
• What are your thoughts about…
• What’s the history behind….

Any of these questions will lead to a good discussion, if you manage your tone.

If you want to get information or influence someone, ask questions and engage the person in a dialogue. We often try to persuade people by giving them information. This rarely works. Instead of overloading people with data, ask questions that evoke discussion. Through discussion, you might get to a different place. And if not, you’ll at least have learned why the other person thinks as he does and you will have shared your point of view in a way that is inviting versus off-putting.

It’s easy to give people ‘the tone’ when we’re tired and frustrated. Try to avoid difficult conversations when you’re tired or stressed. Wait to have important conversations until you know you can manage yourself and your tone.


Employee Appreciation Ideas for Employee Appreciation Day and Every Day

Some people say that you show employees appreciation by giving them a paycheck and that any more thanks is over the top. We call that old school management. And it doesn’t work.

The human brain thrives on recognition. People are more likely to replicate positive behaviors when those behaviors are recognized. If your employees are doing a good job and you appreciate them, don’t make them guess. “Well, my badge still works. So I guess things are going ok,” is not sufficient recognition.

Today is Employee Appreciation Day – a made-up holiday to remind us to say “thank you” to the people we work with, who contribute every day.

Don’t take your employees for granted, or you’ll be finding new ones.

Here are six ways to mark Employee Appreciation Day today and every day:

Employee appreciation ideas 1) Ask employees what’s important to them – why they accepted the job, why they stay, and how they would like to receive recognition.

Most employees will work their entire career without a manager ever asking these questions. Getting to know your employees better and differently costs nothing but a little time.

Employee appreciation ideas 2) Ask employees about the kind of work they want to do in the future and what they want to learn and gain exposure to. Write down what they say (so you don’t have to remember) and give employees exposure to this type of work when it’s appropriate (when there’s a business need and when they’ve earned it by doing good work.)

Employee appreciation ideas 3) Give very specific, positive feedback regularly. Giving specific feedback demonstrates you’re paying attention to employees’ work and noticing the impact they’re making. Employees want to know how they’re doing. As odd as it may sound, feedback is a form of recognition. Taking the time to observe performance and give specific, timely feedback tells employees they matter.

Employee appreciation ideas 4) Tell the senior people in your organization what a great job your employees are doing. Employees have limited exposure to senior leaders. Don’t make the people who can influence your employees’ careers guess who’s doing great work.

Employee appreciation ideas 5) Take the time to write a handwritten note. In my 15 years of working in a corporate environment, I received one handwritten note from one of my managers. I kept it for 10 years.

Employee appreciation ideas 6) Spend time with your employees. Every employee needs face time with his/her boss. Don’t underestimate the value employees place on the time you give them. If you’re not meeting with your employees on a one-on-one basis regularly, start. Meet for 30-minutes once a quarter. Then meet once a month. Employees create the meeting agenda and come prepared to give you an update on their work. You should be prepared to give both positive and upgrade feedback.

Notice not one of the employee appreciation ideas or ways to recognize Employee Appreciation Day above is monetary in nature. Employees want your time and attention. They want to learn and grow. Provided employees feel fairly compensated, money is secondary.

Today, and every day, find a way to say “thank you” that’s meaningful to your employees. And the only way to know what employees will find meaningful is to ask.


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