The Truth Will Set You Free

Fourteen years ago, I took a class at a tiny local theater. The goal was to create and then perform, a ten-minute monologue, which would happen on the last day of the class in front of an invitation-only audience. Our instructors - actors and improv people - led our group of eight through many exercises to stimulate creativity and practice the skills we'd need to stage and perform our pieces at the end. One of the writing exercises was called "The Truth Is." A timer was set for eight minutes and we were instructed to begin with those words, then just let the pen go where it wished. If you got bored, you'd start a new paragraph but it had to start with "The truth is..." and go from there. Afterward, each person got on stage and read their writing aloud. I took that class seventeen times over six years. All of my monologues came from the writings that began with "The truth is..." (Some of them are on YouTube if you're curious.) Lately, when I use

Meetings Just Don't Have To Be So BAD

People complain about how much time they spend in meetings, how little work they get done because of meetings, and how frustrating it is to be present in those meetings. It's been eighteen years since I had an inside job so I'm empathetic but haven't lived it for a good while. But now I'm involved with an organization and I'll have a chance to put my money where my mouth is :-) The organization is a good example of well-intentioned meetings gone astray. Agenda? Check. A list of topics, pretty standard. Start time? Check. Location? Check. Basic housekeeping handled. But this is not enough to have a productive, satisfying, energetic meeting. You need a clear purpose ("monthly team meeting" doesn't count), desired outcomes ("talk about agenda items" doesn't count), a facilitator (it can be the person who called the meeting), and one more thing. At the risk of sounding like a Facebook "You Probably Don't Know This!" person, the

Stop Being Nice

Don't be nice to your employees. Just don't. I wonder what you thought about when reading those two short lines. It doesn't sound very positive, does it?  The word nice can mean so many things. One dictionary listing defines it as "Pleasing and agreeable in nature." Well, I can tell you I was raised to be pleasing and agreeable to a fault and it hasn't served me very well as a boss or as a human in regular life. Another listing defines it as "Exhibiting courtesy and politeness." This one is better. For everyone, and for bosses.  Time and again I've heard from leaders that they finally let someone go after giving the person many, many chances. They tried so hard to keep the person employed, find a role that would work when other roles didn't, etc etc. I've heard more than once, "I guess I was too nice." Yup.  Sometimes that niceness results in a complaint after the termination, rubbing salt into the wound. I have a friend who is

How In The World Do People Even Work Together?

I've been working on myself for a long time. Professional development, personal exploration, books, classes, coaches, therapists. I've had more than one conversation about traumatic childhood experiences. And the better I get to know myself, the more astounded I am that strangers are able to work in the same environment and get any results. Or that people leaders are able to do anything to manage performance and morale. We're all just real people walking around with our childhoods in our shoes. That time when I was 10 and I pissed off the wrong girl and she and her friends chased me and threw rocks? Yeah, I know that happened but it took me a long time to understand the influence it had on me as an adult. Mainly, don't say anything that might bother someone else . Guess how that guided me in my first boss role? I was nice but when "bad" news had to be delivered, I bungled it. The first couple of groups I managed did NOT like working for me. No help from my bos

Aarrgh, Performance Evaluations!

Annual reviews don't have to be "aarrgh" but most people I've worked with react to them with distaste, if not downright abhorrence.  The chief complaint from leaders seems to be that they take too long to write. There's a cure for that. The cure is, do the work throughout the year and don't wait until it's time to write a review to figure out what to say. Here is a fundamental framework for good performance management. Practicing this has many benefits, not the least of which is no-surprise reviews that are easier on everyone. 1. Set expectations and goals up front. You should have a performance planning period, usually aligned with organizational planning and budgeting for the year. Define the big results you need for the year and who is doing what. Get agreements about what "good" looks like. 2. Provide necessary support and guidance - as in, tailored to the individual - such as mentoring, training, providing resources, acting as a sounding boa

Realistic Job Title: Meeting Attendee

Good grief! When did a normal person's workweek become a series of meetings that prevent any actual work getting done? The real tragedy is not the time spent in meetings. The real tragedy is that great things can be accomplished in meetings, real work can get done in there, and people really can come out feeling better than when they went in. Alas, too few stories start with "I just got out of the best meeting!" There's a cure for that. Make them "working meetings." Not "open discussion meetings" or "update meetings" or "everyone go around the table and tell us what you're working on meetings." Why should I have to sit through an hour to pick up a clue about something that affects my work? Here are some tips for creating working meetings: 1. Have a clear purpose and at least one clear desired outcome for your meeting. Is it decision-making? Do we need to come together to solve a problem? Does the leader need input on somethi

Don't Waste Your Money On Training

Bold statement, I know. But after twenty years in the corporate training game, I can say with confidence that training without reinforcement is a waste of time and money. Here's a familiar story. It goes something like this: "We did all this management training, rented hotel conference rooms, brought in lunch, took people away from their jobs, and we don't really see a difference." There are a few reasons for this and all of them are fixable. 1) The only result that was measured was the immediate reaction of the participants. It has been called a "smile sheet" - the survey at the end of the training to ask how people liked it, what they would have liked to be different, do they think they'll use it, etc. This isn't all that useful other than to see how people felt about the facilitator.  2) The training isn't supported in practice by the culture or the leadership. I can teach people all day long how to be effective managers, but if the organizati