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Posts Tagged ‘management’

That’s Not My Job – Four Words You Should Never Say

That's not my jobThere are three reasons people say “that’s above or below my paygrade” or “that’s not my job” –they don’t feel empowered to make decisions, they think they’re being unfairly compensated for the challenges at hand, or they aren’t particularly motivated (read lazy).

“That’s not my job” (aka, I don’t do things that are outside of my job description) is a mindset, and if someone has it, I’d suggest not hiring that person. People who think they should only have to do what’s on their job description aren’t utility players, and your organization is likely too lean to afford employees who only want to perform in a narrow box.

“That’s not my job” can also be an outcome of leaders and managers who can’t let go and let employees take risks and make decisions. If that’s your management style, hire people who will follow directions and don’t want to create new things and solve problems. Problem solvers will be frustrated if they only get to follow instructions.

Here are six steps to steer clear of “that’s not my job” syndrome and advance your career, regardless of your current role in your organization:

  1. Never say the words “that’s above or below my paygrade” or “that’s not my job.” Even if it’s true.
  1. If you don’t have the latitude to solve certain problems, ask the people you work for how they want you to handle those types of issues when you see or hear about them. That’s a subtle way to provide feedback that you don’t have the latitude you need to solve certain problems.
  1. When you see an impending train wreck, say something. I see lots of very capable employees see the train wreck coming, comment to themselves or others who can’t do anything about the problem (aka gossip), and then nod knowingly when the *&#@ hits the fan. Don’t be that person. Look out for your organization and the people you work with.
  1. If you see a broken or lacking process, raise the issue with someone who can do something about it, and offer to take a stab at fixing the problem. One of managers’ biggest complaints is employees who dump and run – “I’ve identified a problem. I’m leaving it for you to fix.”
  1. Go out of your way to do the right thing, even if you are uncomfortable or don’t want to. If it’s easier to email someone, but you know the right thing to do is to pick up the phone, pick up the phone. If an internal or external customer expresses concern and you can’t solve the problem, find someone who can. There are lots of ways to make an impact.
  1. Ask more questions. Find a non-judgmental way to ask, “Why do we do this this way?” “Have we considered…?” “Would you be open to trying…?” Status quo can be the right thing and what’s necessary. It can also be the death of organizations.

Make stuff happen. Don’t pass the buck. And if you are going to pass the buck, don’t announce it. It only makes you look disempowered and uncommitted.

that's not my job

Ask Better Clarifying Questions – Stop Being Disappointed at Work

I’m taking golf lessons, which should frighten anyone within 100 feet. Every time the instructor explains something new, he asks me, “Does that make sense?” “Does that make sense” is a common clarifying question, that many managers, trainers, and instructors ask, but it’s not a good question for two reasons.

Clarifying Questions

Reason number one: If an explanation doesn’t make sense to me, I’m the idiot for not ‘getting it.’ It’s not that the instructor hasn’t been clear, I just ‘didn’t get it.’

Reason number two: The question doesn’t force me to speak. “Does that make sense” is like asking a shopper in a store, “Can I help you?” We all know the right answer to that question is, “No, I’m just looking.” This is a similar to when someone asks, “Are there any questions?” The right answer is “no.” And when people say “no,” the person who asked the question often says, “good,” affirming people for not asking questions and making it less likely that questions will be asked in the future.

Here are some clarifying questions that will force people to talk and won’t make them feel stupid for asking questions. Instead of asking, “Does that make sense,” consider asking:

  • So I know I’ve been clear, tell me what you heard me say.

** This may sound harsh and like micromanaging in writing, but the questions can be asked in a supportive and non-judgmental manner.

  • Just so I know how I landed, what do you think I’m asking/expecting you to do?
  • What do you think you need to do?
  • What are you planning to do?

I was talking with one of my clients a few months ago. She was very upset because she told one of her employees what to do and he didn’t do it. Frustrated, she said, “He knew what to do, and he didn’t do it.” I asked her, “How do you know that he knew what to do?” She replied, “I told him what to do and when I asked if he had any questions, he said no.”

Her situation is a common one.  The right answer to “do you have any questions” is “no.” And we’re surprised when we swing by the person’s desk two weeks later to get a status update on the project, and he hasn’t started working on it yet.

Here are some additional examples of clarifying questions and delegation questions. These questions will force people to speak, providing a clearer sense of what people know and are likely to do.

  • What questions do you have?
  • What are you planning to do first? If the person answers this question appropriately, ask what he is planning to do next. If he doesn’t answer the question appropriately, step in and give more direction.

Provided you trust that the person knows what to do, give a tight deadline and ask to review the person’s work in a few days. Give people some freedom, but not enough to waste a lot of time and go down a fruitless path. Delegation is something few managers do well and the root of many missed deadlines and frustrations in the workplace.

The golf instructor should be asking me:

  • What did you learn today?
  • What are you planning to do as a result of what we’ve covered?
  • What techniques did I ask you to follow?
  • Let me see how that form looks?
  • What questions do you have for me?

If he asks me these clarifying questions and forces me to do the things he is asking me to do, he will know what I know and am likely to do on the golf course. All he knows right now is that I’m poking fun of him in a blog post.

Clarifying Questions


Employee Engagement Surveys – Why Not Do Them Live?

Employee Engagement SurveysSurveys are a great way to gather data. They’re not a great way to build relationships. In addition to sending out employee engagement surveys, ask questions live. Employees want to talk about their experience working with your organization. And employees will give you real, honest, and salient data, if you ask them and make it safe to tell the truth.

Here are a few methods of gathering data, in addition to sending employee engagement surveys:

Managers, ask questions during every one-on-one and team meeting with employees.

Managers, consider asking: 

  • What’s being talked about in the rumor mill?
  • What do I need to know about that you suspect I don’t?
  • What makes your job harder than it has to be?  What would make your job easier?
  • What meetings are not a good use of time?

Listen and be careful not to defend. Employees want to be heard. Respond if you’re able, but don’t deflect the feedback you’ve received.

Leaders, conduct roundtable discussions with small groups of employees throughout the year. I’d suggest discussions with groups of six employees. Have lunch or coffee. Keep the meetings informal.

Leaders, consider asking:

  • What’s a good decision we made in the last six months. What’s a decision we made that you question?
  • What would need to happen for you to be comfortable referring your friends to work here?
  • What’s something happening in the organization that you’re concerned about?

How to Get the Truth:

  • Share as much information as you can. Trust your employees.
  • Ensure there are no negative consequences for people who tell you the truth.
  • Give positive attention to the people who risk and give you negative information.
  • Tell employees what you learn during these discussions and what you will and won’t be doing with the information.
    • You don’t need to act on every piece of data you receive. Just acknowledge what you heard and explain why you will or won’t be taking action.

Employees are loyal to managers and organizations they feel connected to. And connections are formed through conversations.  So in addition to sending employee engagement surveys, ask questions during every conversation and make it clear that you’re listening to the answers.

Employee Engagement Surveys



How to Retain Good Employees, and Yourself

The fear of saying what we think and asking for what we want at work is prevalent across organizations. We want more money, but don’t know how to ask for it. We want to advance our careers but are concerned about the impression we’ll make if we ask for more. Instead of making requests, many employees assume they won’t get their needs met and choose to leave their jobs, either physically or emotionally.

How to Retain Good Employees:

The key to keeping the best employees engaged and doing their best work is to ask more questions and make it safe to tell the truth.

Managers:How to Retain Good Employees

  • Do you know why your employees chose your organization and what would make them leave?
  • Do you know your employees’ best and worst boss?

The answers to these questions tells managers what employees need from the organization, job, and from the manager/employee working relationship.

Can your manager answer these questions – that I call Candor Questions – about you? For most people, the answer is no. Most managers don’t ask these questions. And most employees are not comfortable giving this information, especially if the manager hasn’t asked for it.

It’s easy to mistake my book, How to Say Anything to Anyone, as a book about giving feedback. It’s not. It takes me nine chapters to get to feedback. The first eight chapters of the book are about how to create relationships in which you can tell the truth without fear. You can read all the feedback books you want and take numerous training classes on coaching, managing people, giving feedback, and managing conflict, and you’ll still be hesitant to speak up, because a formula for giving feedback is not what you’re missing. What’s missing is being given permission and knowing it’s safe to tell the truth.

How to Retain Good Employees

Managers, here’s how to retain good employees:

“I appreciate you choosing to work here. I want this to be the best career move you’ve made, and I want to be the best boss you’ve had. I don’t want to have to guess what’s important to you. I’d like to ask you some questions to get to know you and your career goals better. Please tell me anything you’re comfortable saying. And if you’re not comfortable answering a question, just know that I’m interested and I care. And if, at any point, you’re comfortable telling me, I’d like to know.”

How to Retain Good EmployeesThen ask the Candor Questions during job interviews, one-on-one, and team meetings. We’re always learning how to work with people. So continue asking questions throughout your relationships. These conversations are not one-time events.

If you work for someone who isn’t asking you these questions, offer the information. You could say:

“I wanted to tell you why I chose this organization and job, and what keeps me here. I also want to tell you the things I really need to be happy and do my best work. Is it ok if I share?”

Your manager will be caught off guard, but it is likely that she will also be grateful. It’s much easier to manage people when you know what they need and why. Most managers want this information, it just may not occur to them to ask.

If the language above makes you uncomfortable, you can always blame me. You could say:

“I read this blog and the author suggested I tell you what brought me to this organization and what I really need to be happy here and do my best work. She said I’d be easier to manage if you had that information. Is it ok if I share?”

Yes, this might feel a little awkward at first, but the conversation will flow, and both you and your manager will learn a great deal about each other.

The ability to tell the truth starts with asking questions, giving people permission to speak candidly, and listening to the answers.
How to Retain Good Employees

Become a Candid Culture – Make It Easier to Give Feedback at Work

For the most part, people are afraid to speak up at work. Despite the town hall meetings and roundtable discussions executives host, the feedback training offered, the existence of ask-the-CEO email addresses and blogs, and employee satisfaction and engagement surveys, many employees are still afraid to give feedback at work, citing fear of damaging relationships, being fired, and other forms of retaliation.

Those of you who have worked with me, read How to Say Anything to Anyone, and/or used our tools, know that I am on a quest to make it easier to tell the truth at work.

The Candid Culture Vision:

  1. Coworkers, leaders, and managers set clear expectations before problems occur. No one has to guess what is expected of them and what a good job looks like.
  2. Employees ask for and receive regular, balanced and candid feedback and always know where they stand performance wise.
  3. Managers and leaders are open to and ask for feedback. They always know what’s really happening in the organization and can lead accordingly.
  4. People talk to each other versus about each other. Gossip and drama is the exception, not the norm.
  5. Work is a fun place to be. People enjoy working together and produce their best work.

Many of you are taking actions to create the environment I’ve described above. I want to hear from you and want to use this blog to share practices for creating more candid communication at work.


Add a comment and tell us:

  • What you are doing to increase the trust and communication in your organization.
  • The avenues you are using to give feedback on your team, in your department, or in your entire organization.

We’ll enter you to win 50 of our new door tags. The door tags were designed to tell your coworkers that your office is a place they can speak freely, without concern.

Specific Feedback is Good Feedback

Most of the feedback people receive in the workplace isn’t feedback at all.  It’s what I fondly refer to as Cap’n Crunch – vague and unhelpful words that make people defensive but don’t change behavior. If you want the people you work with to do some differently, give specific feedback.

Most of the fake feedback people get sounds like this:Specific Feedback

“You did a great job on that.”

“You’re doing really good work.”

“You’re dressing inappropriately.”

“You’re difficult to work with.”

None of this is feedback. It’s all Cap’n Crunch. Vague, vague, and more vague.

The first words out of your mouth will invariably be Cap’n Crunch. Follow those words with, “for example” and you’ll be headed in the right direction.

“You did a great job on that. For example, I never had to ask about the status of the project. You gave me an update every Friday, and that made me feel comfortable that we were on track.”

You dressed inappropriately for that meeting. For example, the client was dressed in business casual and you were jeans and tennis shoes. Next time, please dress as the client dresses or a step above in khaki pants or slacks, a button down shirt, and a jacket.”

Most people are afraid to give feedback because they don’t want to deal with the defensive reaction they anticipate. The more vague you are, the more defensive people will be. Because they don’t know what you’re talking about.

If employees shop your feedback around, asking what others think of the feedback, it’s because you were vague, they disagree with you or they’re being defensive. Feedback will be received better and resisted less if you’re specific.

Specific feedback can be captured on video. Meaning, you can video someone walking into a meeting late, rolling his eyes, and texting on his phone. I dare you to video “you were disrespectful in the meeting, you dressed inappropriately, or you’re difficult to work with.”  If you can’t capture the feedback on video, you don’t yet have specific feedback. You have Cap’n Crunch.

When I teach managers to give feedback I ask the managers to, “Describe the situation to me. What did the person do? Managers often reply with, “He was negative.” This is Cap’n Crunch. So I keep asking questions. “What did he do that was negative? What did it look like?” After two or three questions the manager tells me, “I overheard him complaining to other employees in his cube about the decisions the company is making. I’d rather he ask me questions about the direction we’re going versus gossip to his peers.” Now we have specific feedback.

Wait to give feedback until you have a specific example. If you don’t have a specific example, go get one. Without an example, employees will look at you in a confused way, question the validity of what you’re saying and become defensive. And they’ll be right in doing all of these things.

Most of us dread giving and receiving performance reviews. Last week, this week and next week’s blogs are designed to make the performance appraisal process easier. If you want more help, chapters nine through twelve of How to Say Anything to Anyone provide a clear and easy-to-follow formula for giving specific feedback.

I’ll be back next week with more tips on giving feedback that actually changes behavior. Until then, BE SPECIFIC. If you’re not using the words “for example” you’re not giving specific feedback.


Set Expectations That Are Clear and Manage People Well

Set ExpectationsGiving negative feedback is hard. Asking for what you want will always be easier.

Set Expectations That Are Clear

We have all worked hard on a project, only to find out that what we created is not what our manager was expecting. When this happens, everyone is frustrated. Managers question whether or not employees listen. Employees wonder why managers who want something specific didn’t just say so when the work was assigned.

Managers would be well served by setting clear expectations at the beginning of working relationships and projects. Tell your employees what a good job looks like. Don’t make them guess.

If you want a weekly status update, tell employees that rather than being frustrated when you don’t know where projects stand. If you want a bulleted summary, tell people that rather than being annoyed when five paragraphs land in your inbox. If you envision a report with tables and charts, tell employees that versus being disappointed when they create a bulleted list.

Most of us assume people will do things the way we do. They won’t. Save time and reduce frustration by being crystal clear when you set expectations at the beginning of anything new.

When people see the title of my book How to Say Anything to Anyone, they think it’s a book about giving feedback and having difficult conversations. It’s not. How to Say Anything to Anyone is about asking more questions, so you know what your direct supervisor, coworkers, and customers need and don’t have to guess. How to Say Anything to Anyone is not about giving people bad news. It is about asking for what you want before challenges occur, and then talking about how you’ll deal with challenges when they arise.

If you work for someone who does not set expectations that are clear, then you, the employee, needs to set those expectations.

Set expectations by asking your manager:

• When do you want to see this, in what format, with how much detail?
• What does a good job look like?
• What’s your expectation of how this should look when it’s complete?
• Where does this fit, as a priority, in relation to other projects?
• How does this project fit into the department’s or organization’s goals?

Asking questions and telling people what you want is always easier than giving negative feedback. Everyone – employees and managers alike – are accountable for ensuring that the set expectations are clear and that work is done right the first time Ask more. Assume less.

Download the five questions managers must ask their employees to set expectations that are clear:ManagingQ

Ask for Feedback and Take Control of Your Career

Don'tWaitForYourYear-EndReviewMost people wait way too long to give feedback. We wait for the right time, aka when we’re comfortable. That day will not come.

Instead of waiting to give feedback until you’re about to explode in frustration, or until a formal review, give feedback every time you meet with someone.

Managers, make it a practice to meet with each of your employees at least once a month. Twice a month or weekly would be better. But if you’re not doing one-on-one meetings now, start meeting monthly. If you’re meeting monthly, start meeting twice a month. Employees need face time with their boss. Team meetings and casual conversations do not replace individual meetings.

Direct Report One-on-One Meeting Agenda:

The direct report comes to the meeting ready to discuss:

1. What she’s working on that is going well.
2. What she’s working on that is not going well.
3. What she needs help with.
4. Then the manager gives feedback on what went well since the last meeting and what could be improved.
5. And the employee gives the manager feedback on what has gone well since the last meeting and what could be improved.

Feedback goes both directions. Managers, if you want your employees to be open to your feedback, ask for feedback from your employees on what they need from you. Give feedback on both the work and your working relationship. A poor working relationship often motivates employees to leave a job, but it’s the last thing that gets discussed.BookCover2LowRes

Feedback discussions should be short. You can say anything in two minutes or fewer. No one wants to be told she isn’t cutting it for 20 minutes. Say what you need to say and end the conversation or move on to another topic.

If you’re not giving your employees regular feedback you can use this language to start:

“I’m realizing that I’m not giving you enough feedback. I want to be helpful to you. If I don’t provide regular, timely feedback, I’m not being as helpful as I could be. I’d like to start a regular practice of meeting monthly, getting an update from you on how things are going, and giving each other feedback on what went well and what could be improved since our last meeting.”

You Are 100% Accountable For Your CareerIf you work for someone who is not forthcoming with feedback, ask for feedback. You’re 100% accountable for your career. Don’t wait for your manager, customers or peers to give you feedback. Ask for feedback on a regular basis.

Here’s how you can ask for feedback from your manager:

“Your feedback helps ensure I’m focused on the right work. Can we put a monthly meeting on the calendar, and I’ll tell you what I’m working on, where I do and don’t need help, and we can discuss how things are going?”

If meetings get cancelled, reschedule them. If your manager says these meetings aren’t necessary or she doesn’t have time, tell her, “Your regular input is helpful to me. What’s the best way to ensure we catch each other for a few minutes each month?” Meaning, push the issue.

If your manager still doesn’t make time for the meetings or doesn’t provide clear and specific feedback, even when you ask for examples, ask your internal and external customers and coworkers for feedback. The people you work closely with see you work and will likely give feedback, if asked.

No news is not necessarily good news. Waiting six months or a year to receive performance feedback is like going on a road trip from St. Louis to Los Angeles but not consulting a map until you arrive in New York, frustrated and far from your desired destination.

Managers: Meet with employees monthly, semi-monthly or weekly, and give feedback every time you meet.

Employees: Ask your managers, customers, and coworkers for regular feedback, and take control of your career.

The Job Interview Questions Hiring Managers Must Ask

There is one job interview question recruiters and hiring managers must ask. And the answer should be a deal breaker.

The most important job interview question for any role and level, in every organization: Tell me about a time you received negative feedback.

This is NOT the same question as tell me about a weakness. Or tell me about a time you made a mistake at work. Those are also important job interview questions to ask. But they’re not the most important question.

Let’s assume everyone you interview is age sixteen and older. Unless your candidates live in a cave, never speaking to anyone, it’s not possible to arrive at age 16 without having received negative feedback. The feedback can come from a friend, teacher, or parent. It doesn’t need to be work related.

The point of the question is to discover whether the candidate is open to feedback. People who are not open to feedback are extraordinarily difficult to work with. They aren’t coachable. Any type of feedback they receive will result in resistance and defensiveness.

Employees who aren’t open to feedback won’t change or improve their behavior, regardless of how effective a manager is. Instead of listening to feedback and taking corrective action, employees who are not open to feedback will tell managers why they are wrong.

Everyone you interview has received negative feedback at some point. The question is whether or not candidates were open enough to listen to the feedback. People who aren’t open to feedback won’t be able to answer your question.

If candidates can’t tell you about a time they received negative feedback, ask a follow-up question. Your job as the interviewer is to give candidates every possible opportunity to be successful. If you don’t get the answer you’re looking for, ask the interview question in two different ways, until you’re certain the candidate can’t or won’t answer the question.

If candidates can’t tell you about a time they received negative feedback, ask what their reputation is at their current job or was at a previous job. Candidates probably won’t be able to answer this question either. Most people don’t know their reputation at work.

Even if a candidate doesn’t know with certainty his reputation at work, the answer he provides will give you a sense of how self aware he is. People who are self aware are more open to feedback and are easier to coach and manage than people who are not self aware.

I really do eliminate candidates who demonstrate that they aren’t open to feedback –whether I’m hiring for Candid Culture or for one of my clients. I don’t care how credentialed or experienced the candidate is.

Writing Annual Performance Goals – Don’t Go to Work Without Knowing the Rules of the Game

Sue:  “I shouldn’t have to tell him what I want.  He should just know.”

Bob:  “She expects me to read her mind.  I’m not a mind reader.”

This age-old romantic relationship complaint is as common at work as it is at home.

Several years ago, before I started Candid Culture, I wrote down my annual performance goals, and asked my manager to approve the goals, which he did. But we didn’t weigh the goals. Neither I nor my manager articulated what percent of my bonus should be dedicated to each goal. The company practiced pay-for-performance and paid bonuses based on goal achievement.

At the end of the year, my boss reviewed my performance goals as part of my performance appraisal. There was one very small project that I didn’t finish. And when I say small, I mean, really, really small. So small, that detail-oriented me shouldn’t have included the project on my list of performance goals. My boss dinged me 15% of my annual bonus for not completing that one very small project. Apparently he thought the project was important. And I lost a chunk of change.

I was really upset. But it was my fault. I didn’t work with my boss to weight my projects or performance goals. So when it came time to determine bonuses, the decision was subjective, which is not what you the employee wants.

When evaluating performance, Managers don’t really want subjectivity either. When there are no clear criteria for awarding bonuses, pay increases, or company stock, managers can have a hard time making decisions, and employees often feel treated unfairly. Written guidelines for how compensation is allocated reduce the feeling that compensation decisions are unfair and subjective.

Your manager may or may not verbalize his expectations for the year, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have expectations.  A professional athlete would never get on the field without knowing the rules of the game, and neither should you. Don’t go to work without knowing what, specifically, is expected of you.

Ask your manager these questions each quarter. Don’t guess!

  1. What projects are most important this quarter?
  2. How is my work being evaluated? What are the criteria for a good job?
  3. How often would you like to review work in progress so you can give feedback, and I can make adjustments as projects progress?

The bottom line is:

  1. Don’t wait for someone to tell you what to do at work.
  2. Like speeding limits, not knowing the rules doesn’t mean you’re not subject to them.
  3. Write down your performance goals and get them approved in writing by your manager, even if your manager is difficult to schedule with. While it’s not ideal, you can write your performance goals down and email them for edits and approval, without discussing live.
  4. Review performance goals quarterly, at a minimum.  Monthly would be better. Bring your goals to your one-on-one meetings with your manager and discuss progress regularly. Don’t make your manager ask you for updates.
  5. If you’re not having one-on-one meetings with your manager, start. Employees are accountable for asking their manager for feedback.
  6. Make changes, in writing, to goals that change or become irrelevant.
  7.  If your compensation or annual performance rating is tied to goal achievement, write down specifically how each goal contributes to your compensation or annual rating. Giving each goal a numerical value (a percentage) is ideal.

These guidelines may sound like a lot of work or overly formal. In my experience writing agreed-upon performance goals give employees a sense of control. When I know what I need to do, and I know how I’m being evaluated, I feel like I am in charge of where I put my time. If I elect not to finish a project, I know how I will be affected. And that makes me feel like I’m running the show.


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