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Managing People Archive

Hire and Fire for Attitude – Hiring Employees

“He does great work but is really difficult to work with.” “She produces great results at the expense of people.” I hear these complaints all the time. I feel like people need permission to hire and fire because of fit. So here it is, it’s ok to hire and fire people who don’t fit your culture. You can find people who do great work and who interact according to your company’s values, and you deserve to have both.

Results are often considered more important than the seemingly ‘softer stuff,’ how people got those results. And it often doesn’t feel legitimate to want to get rid of an employee who treats coworkers poorly. We question ourselves thinking, “Maybe it’s not that bad? Perhaps I’m being too sensitive?” Or, “He does great work and is really reliable. Maybe I need to get over that he throws me under the bus in meetings I don’t attend?” “It’s really hard to find and keep good, reliable, employees. I should just suck it up.”

What if employees who treat coworkers and direct reports poorly or don’t practice your organizational values aren’t good employees? People don’t want to work for a manager who is knowledgeable but mistreats people. And likewise, people don’t want to work with people who are super friendly but do no work.

Some organizations evaluate employees both on the results they achieve and how they get to those results. That makes perfect sense.

Here are six tips for hiring and firing employees for fit:

  1. Share your organizational values and behavior practices overtly when you interview candidates. Make it clear that people who don’t follow those practices won’t be happy or successful in the organization.
  2. Create an opportunity for candidates to do an extended practical interview, during which they can get a feel for what the culture is really like, outside of a formal sit-down interview. Then give candidates an opportunity to opt-out of a job because they didn’t feel they fit in during the practical interview.
  3. Trust yourself. If you find it off putting that a coworker raises her voice at you, gossips about you, or takes credit for your work, trust yourself.
  4. Set clear expectations around how employees, coworkers, vendors, and customers are expected to behave when doing business with your organization. And be willing to let internal and external customers and suppliers go because they aren’t willing or able to follow your behavioral practices.
  5. Coach and give feedback on how people achieve results.
  6. Let employees go who don’t respond to feedback on interpersonal behaviors. Or let them know it’s time for them to look elsewhere.

Suffering at work is optional. You deserve to work with people who reflect your organization’s values.


Exit interviews are too late

Lots of organizations do exit interviews after employees give notice. Exit interviews can be a source of helpful information. Employees have little to lose after they’ve quit, so they’re likely to speak candidly about their work experience. But asking for feedback after an employee has quit is a little (a lot) too late. The time to ask about an employee’s working experience is every 90 days, if not more frequently.

Employees quit. It’s a natural part of doing business. And some turnover is healthy and helpful. Surprises, however, are not helpful and are unnecessary. Turnover should rarely, if ever, be a surprise. The writing is always on the wall, if you ask the right questions and make it easy to speak freely.

exit interviews

Most employees are concerned about giving feedback when their input is negative. Employees at almost every company cite “a list,” and those who speak up, end up on it, and then mysteriously leave the organization. Mind you, no one has ever seen the list, but employees at all types of organizations are certain it exists.

If you want to reduce the turnover in your organization and increase employee engagement and satisfaction, ask for feedback regularly, and make it easy to speak candidly.

Five ways to get your employees talking before they quit:

  1. Ask for feedback at the end of every meeting. Simply ask, “What are you enjoying about your job? What are you not enjoying?” Or ask, “What makes your job easier? What makes your job harder?”
  2. Manage your responses to feedback. The easier it is to tell you the truth, the more truth you’ll get. Employees are afraid of their manager’s reactions. Resist the urge to become defensive (which is very difficult to do). Saying, “I’m sorry that was your experience. Thank you for telling me,” goes a long way. Employees will breathe a sigh of relief and are more likely to speak candidly in the future.
  3. Replace one satisfaction survey with roundtable discussions during which a leader or manager asks a small group of employees for feedback. Live conversations build trust and loyalty. Written surveys do not.
  4. Help employees who aren’t a good fit, exit the organization. Don’t wait for poor performers or employees who aren’t a good culture fit to leave. Help misplaced employees find a better match. The right employees raise performance and morale, the wrong employees destroy both.
  5. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback. Just because you asked for feedback, doesn’t mean you have to act on that information. Employees don’t typically expect all of their requests to be met. It’s often enough just to be able to speak and be heard.

Keep doing exit interviews, and add quarterly or monthly requests for feedback. Talk with people over the phone or in person. Ask one or two simple questions to get the other person talking. Manage your face. Smile. Say “thank you” for the feedback. And watch your employee engagement and satisfaction rise.


Leaders – Encourage Employees to Disagree

A few years ago, I facilitated a company-wide training program for an 80-person organization. Early in the program, we were talking about career deal breakers and I asked someone in the group to share a deal breaker so I knew that everyone was clear on what is and is not a true deal-breaker. An employee spoke up. She said, “I’ve been here six weeks. I’m overwhelmed and exhausted. If I don’t get some help soon, I’m leaving.” People in the room gasped audibly. And everyone surely thought the same thing – “She’s done. She’ll be gone by Monday.”

I ran into the organization’s CEO at the Denver airport two weeks later and we had dinner together. Over dinner, I asked if I could give him some advice. I said, “That woman who spoke up during the training did you a huge favor. You spent time and money to become a more candid organization; she gave you the opportunity to demonstrate whether or not you really mean it. Make sure nothing (bad) happens to her.”

It can be really hard when people disagree with us. Leaders institute a new practice, employees resist. Employees say they agree with a policy in a meeting but managers hear otherwise informally.

It may feel easier to introduce a practice and ask employees to follow it without asking what they think. And sometimes it makes sense to do that. You shouldn’t involve employees in every decision. But in an organization, it has to be safe to offer a counter-point-of-view. It must be safe to disagree – publicly and privately.

Disagreement is hard. But silence and the fear of speaking up is dangerous. Organizations full of yes people don’t innovate. They don’t solve problems or find new ways to save costs. They don’t grow, develop, or change. Hearing the truth takes courage and persistence. Put your ego aside and ask – again and again and again.

Every time I work with a new organization, at least one employee pulls me aside and tells me about the organization’s “list”. Employees who speak up and say things the leadership team disagree with get put on the “list”. And employees who make the “list” disappear from the organization. Mind you, no one has ever seen this “list”, but employees everywhere are convinced it exists. And this is a challenge for leaders.

Even leaders who do all the right things regarding asking for and being open to all kinds of input are up against the belief that it isn’t safe to tell the truth at work. It may not even be true. There may be no consequences whatsoever for speaking up, but the perception of the negative consequence is what matters. And this perception is powerful and pervasive across organizations.

So what is to be done? How do leaders get the truth when employees are afraid, disbelieving and perhaps cynical?

Below are seven practices for leaders and managers to get more truth in their organization:

  1. Put your ego aside. It hurts when people disagree with our beliefs or approach, and we’ll be fine. Let curiosity rather than your ego run the show.
  2. Ask for input. Ask again and again and again. Employees may eventually believe that you really want their input.
  3. Ask for input in different ways – in-person roundtable discussions, email, surveys (if you wish).
  4. Ensure there are no negative consequences for speaking up. You can coach employees on how they spoke up and make suggestions for diplomacy, but reward the courage it took to speak up.
  5. Share what you learn after gathering data. Give more information than you think you need to.
  6. Tell employees the ideas you’re accepting and those you’re rejecting and why. It’s ok not to accept and act on all feedback. But close the loop and explain the rationale for decisions.
  7. Be human. Admit failure, fear, worry, and wins. People trust leaders who are human and humans have feelings and make mistakes. I’ll follow a humble leader further than a polished and seemingly perfect one.

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.


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