Expensive Whines

If there is one thing that can create a destructive and toxic culture it is when the most common mode of organizational communication is whining.  As opposed to productive criticism of things that can and need to be addressed, whining is simply complaining that things aren’t as we would like them to be. It is a social invitation that says, “I’m miserable. Join me and we can be miserable together.”

Of course, the fact of the matter is that there is a lot to whine about today. Many of your employees and followers areWhining never helps facing enormous stress from changing financial conditions and the ongoing pressures of the economy, the environment and the general chaos that seems to be predominant in life. With political stalemate and the ridiculous goings on in government, it seems that the chaos will be around for awhile. And you’re probably not the perfect boss and you probably don’t work for or run the perfect company. Salaries could be better, benefits could be better…surely whining is as understandable as it is annoying.

The thing about whining is that it comes from one place…a feeling of powerlessness. We complain when we feel there is nothing we can do…or when we don’t want to take the accountability to do something. So, sort that out with your employees. Are the things that they are complaining about within our control? Are they things that are within the employees control?

If the problem exceeds any influence by either you or your employees, then sit down and talk about the reality of the situation. Discuss how long the condition can be expected and, if it’s long-term, help your employees understand that whining only gives the situation power…it distracts and depresses them. Help them at least recognize what is good about the situation, even if it isn’t perfect.

If the whine is about something you have control over, then consider changing it. If it can’t be changed, or you simply don’t want to for some reason, then again, have a discussion with your employees to ensure that they understand the situation.

If the whining is about something that THEY can have control over, then either give it to them or remind them that it is in their power to make a change. There’s nothing more draining than a group of people who have decided they are powerless when they simply either don’t know they have the ability or don’t care to take the initiative. Let them know that either they do something about the situation or learn to live with it, but that whining creates that toxic environment for everybody. Often you will find a critical mass who is also tired of being a part of the whining crusade and will take it on themselves to make whatever changes need to be made.

This may be more than one discussion and issues tend to fall somewhere in-between the descriptions above. But they can be addressed and resolved if you take the time to talk to your employees, truly listen to what they are saying, and then give their input honest consideration. Closing the loop and coming to some kind of resolution can go a long way in making the work environment productive again.


Leaders and Leadership on the Big Show with Michael Patrick Shiels

Got the chance to appear with one of Michigan’s highest rated talk show hosts, Michael Patrick Shiels on October 5th. Ended up with two segments, both of which are posted below:




Take a listen and let me know what you think.

Competing Commitments Stifle Change

You’re banging your head against the wall trying to figure out why that one person just can’t see the need to change. You’ve tried the carrot, you’ve tried the stick, you’ve tried coaching, but nothing seems to work. How can it be that an otherwise smart and reasonable person just simply refuses to change, even when the change is obviously needed?

Competing Commitments cause self-conflict

I have worked with leaders in this situation for over 15 years and one of the most common reasons for unchanging behavior is a psychological concept that Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey from Harvard call “competing commitments.” Obviously everybody has external competing commitments. If you are at work, you’re not looking after your sick mother. You need to be at your kid’s soccer game, but you also need to travel to Kansas City. The internal competing commitmeCompeting Commitments cause self-conflictnts, however, are often hidden from view, both to you as the manager and to the employee.

Take John for example. He was a rising star in the company and has continually been told that if he improves his presentation skills, he could seriously be considered for a senior position. He’s been offered workshops, he’s tagged along with other presenters, but still, his presentation skills are just not of the level they need to be. He won’t change.

Our friend John has an internal competing commitment. On the one hand, he is committed to being successful at work. On the other hand, he is committed to having a stellar reputation as an expert at what he does. John recognizes that, immediately after a promotion, he’ll be a novice again as he learns a new job. He doesn’t know if he can be a star at the next level. His commitment to success conflicts with his commitment to personal reputation. So…he doesn’t do what is necessary to get the promotion and may not even know why himself.

As you can see, throwing money or threats or anything else at John isn’t going to be successful because those aren’t really the problem areas. To uncover these issues you need to be able to have a real dialogue with your employee about what is getting in the way. This takes awhile and is often a good role for a coach…either professionally trained or at least somebody who the employee can trust to work through the issue without criticism or negative consequences.

What do you need to change that has been impossible? What competing commitments are you struggling with? This might be an area worth serious personal reflection, as you might uncover…as painful as it is…some of the areas where you sabotage yourself. If you can identify the conflict you can often come up with a new solution that allows all areas of concern to be addressed.

A Guaranteed ROI

While I have spent my career as a corporate trainer, speaker and coach, I have to admit something:

High Impact Meetings

Not every problem requires training.

There. I said it. Sometimes, we don’t need deep understanding of concepts and principles…we just need some ideas about how to do something better.

High Impact Meetings

Sometimes you just need ideas

This is the foundation to my new book series of management tools and techniques. Starting with Meeting Management, about every six months I hope to produce another 45-60 page book with concrete tips and ideas for improving effectiveness and productivity without breaking the bank on workshops and seminars.

This first book, “High Impact Meetings: A Guide for Greater Productivity” combines my years of experience and coaching with some of the best practices in making meetings work. There are 46 strategies included that can start with your very next meeting. The ideas start with what to do before the meeting, how to handle the meeting in progress, and perhaps most importantly, what to do after the meeting is over. Ten bucks, thirty minutes, I promise you’ll get a return on your investment.

One caveat: Sometimes ineffective meetings are the result of deeper issues. If there is a lack of trust among participants, or if the meeting is actually a proxy for the political issues within the organization, or there are specific people who hijack the meeting for their personal agendas, then coaching or consulting on the issue might be worthwhile. In my experience, 80% of the time, this is less of a problem than simply a lack of tools and strategies for improving the meeting experience.

The Kindle version of High Impact Meetings can be found on Amazon, while the entire range of other electronic options can be found at Smashwords. The print version has limited availability at the moment, but will be available on Amazon very soon. In the meantime, if you check it out and think you would like a print copy soon…or would like multiple copies (with a discount)…send me a note or leave a voicemail from my website and I’ll take care of it.


Consequences of Unmanaged Change: Ron Johnson and JCPenney

The world of Apple may be one of big ideas and making change happen, but as Ron Johnson has discovered, J.C. Penney isn’t Apple. Where Apple sells unique products, or at least products with a unique aura, Penney’s is one of a large number of stores selling similar products with similar brands to similar customers.  Going into an Apple store is about seeing what is the newest, coolest, stuff. Going into a JCPenney is about comfort. My 94-year old mother enjoys going to Penney’s because she’s always gone to Penney’s. She would be frightened (and also frightening) in an Apple store.

Struggling to make change work

I’m guessing that it was the “Apple Swagger” that has put Mr. Johnson in such a difficult spot these days. As a new leader in a new environment, his biggest mistake was in believing that he had all of the answers from the beginning. He recognized losses in one-off discounts (such as coupons), felt that solid pricing could replace traditional sales, and created what he believed to be “cool” branded boutiques within the stores.

Unfortunately, JCPenney isn’t about “cool.” To go from predictable to cool takes time, strategy, patience and change management. While the new CEO has shown a willingness to take risks (laudable), he has not shown the kind of understanding and consideration that makes change effectively happen. As a result, he has thrown all ideas into production at the same time and on Friday had to report a net-loss of $147 million as same-store sales plunged over 21%.

Obviously, J.C. Penney needs badly to develop a strategy that works in the 21st century. And just as obviously, when Mr. Johnson took the reins from former CEO Myron Ullman, there was an urgency to make change happen. Nonetheless, the stalwart department store is an aircraft carrier, not a speed boat, so whether or not Johnson is ultimately successful, there are some lessons worth considering for any manager transitioning into a new role:

  1. Don’t believe that you have all the answers. While you’re perspectives might be accurate and you may recognize what you believe to be obvious issues, it is unlikely that your changes will be effective if you don’t take the time to really listen to those who have been living with the problems. Whatever your experience has been to this point, it is unlikely that it can simply be transferred into an expertise in your new situation. Recognize your limitations and seek out input from your team.
  2. Prioritize. Remember that things did not get where they are today because of yesterday. They likely evolved over a long period of time. While you may have a mandate to make change happen, you simply cannot be successful trying to make it all happen at once. When you try, customers and employees become confused because they lose sight of any landmark of which they are familiar. Physics pioneer John Wheeler once said, “Time is what prevents everything from happening at once.” Plan your time quickly, but let things unfold in a way that people can understand.
  3. Don’t let urgency become chaos. In most cases, the people you want to change have been doing what they’re doing with absolute integrity of purpose. When you come into the situation and start changing everything, you not only confuse people but you are probably behaving in a way that communicates you think they are idiots. Neither your employees nor at a high level, your investors, want to feel that things are out of control. The mature leader finds a way to fire up people about change but still provide the sense of security and control that is necessary to allow them to focus on what needs to be done.

Ron Johnson may ultimately be successful in making JCPenney a contemporary leader in the department store arena. The question isn’t whether or not his changes are needed, but rather, can the company afford to pay the consequences of unmanaged change. While your situation may not be as large-scale as that of Mr. Johnson, the question applies to your efforts as well.

Making Ethics Codes Meaningful

I’m missing good times this week as I was supposed to be presenting today at the American Accounting Association annual convention in Washington DC. Unfortunately, scheduling and other tactical issues got in the way so my DeVos Graduate School colleague, Brett Hunkins, is handling it on his own.  I’m sure he’s doing a great job although I regret not getting to hang out with all of those wild accountants.

Our research title is impressive too: “The Role of Salience and Group Identity in the Effectiveness of Codes of Ethics.”  I’ll give you a second just to be in awe over that title.

Codes of Ethics are only the first step

Ok, what it actually means is that an individual’s commitment to, and engagement in, a corporate code of ethics is directly impacted by that individual’s feeling of belonging. We propose that the closer a person is to the Code, the more likely they are to follow it. The more personally meaningful it is, the more likely that the code will be used as a guideline when facing questionable situations.

Of course, like most academic research, that sounds like a given. But here’s the thing. Most organizations have A code of ethics and if they train to it, they do so across the organization. In an effort to be consistent, and make sure everybody has received the same information, it is less likely that the code will be “translated” into anything meaningful for those in the various departments. For example, an ethical issue that occurs in Human Resources may be unimaginable in Sales and vice versa.

We’ve just started this examination with some initial surveys and hope to find some things that can help organizations be more effective in putting their Codes of Ethics to use. As many companies have found, having a Code of Ethics is one thing…making them meaningful and real is something entirely different.