Good boss, bad boss

A few days ago I realized that this year marks a decade of my career in Human Resources. Over this past decade I have had the opportunity to work with a variety of bosses and in some of my roles, I have had the opportunity to manage teams.

So I wrote down a few points about the different types of bosses that I have had and how they have influenced me. Of course, it was almost easier to remember all the annoying traits and the more I thought about them, the more it became clear to me that I have been all those annoying traits to someone else. But first a little more about these amazing boss traits. 

Amazing bosses really led their team to excellence and did it with compassion. They were not afraid to fail, they gave solid feedback to help people improve, and they invested time in mentoring. They let their teams own their projects, encouraging innovation and leadership.

They measured outcomes against high standards. Trust was common. These leaders helped their team shine before their own bosses and were comfortable leading with a servant heart. They stood up for their teams, protecting them from fruitless labour. They didn’t feel threatened when their teams knew more than them and were able to accept their mistakes. They created a growth attitude and pushed their teams to new challenges to enable them to become stronger.

They bought treats for their teams out of their own pocket. They let their teams rest on vacations and weekends. They knew their families and bothered to ask about them sometimes. They discouraged gossip and kindled a culture of respectful feedback. They knew how to celebrate successes. These are the leaders that have impacted me so deeply and I strive to be like them.

Now on to some funny traits:  


I am always stressed out – I work all the time and expect my team to do the same.

I stress over minute details and I need to please everyone! What if they don’t like me?! is my greatest fear. As a result, I can’t give thorough feedback, can’t handle feedback about myself, but end up making my team rework everything just because someone suggested it.

I am competent so I micromanage. I am always late to meetings because I always “need” to finish “one more thing”.

20180421_160314I know more than you ever will – how dare you try to teach me! I need to reply to all emails immediately – even during sensitive meetings.

You can’t expect me to remember everything and I can’t bear any blame. It is always someone else’s mistake. Be diplomatic with me and praise me all the time, not because I need affirmation but because I truly deserve it – I am the best.

Every one likes me – what’s not to like? I am full of life and I know everything.

20180421_160302I hear no feedback, I change nothing! Don’t innovate and just do it my way.

I can show strategic compassion to make my team feel valued. If someone in my team knows more than me, they will be favoured above the others.

If you make a mistake, I will reprimand you in front of the team so that no one ever thinks of repeating that mistake ever! I love gifts, initiative and people who follow instructions impeccably. 


20180421_160322I am laid back and I am awesome. I have a new vision speech every week but can’t seem to follow through on any plans. I think it’s because I am a perfectionist and if I cannot do it perfectly, I won’t do it at all.

I borrow ideas and spin it off as my own, taking credit for work I didn’t do. If I am leading a project, I cannot delegate because no one else can do it a perfectly. It’s okay if I miss important deadlines that impact my team.

I hate confrontation but you can pick up hints from my passive aggression.

I guess we are all combinations of some good boss and some bad boss. Being self aware can help us become better bosses and have lasting impacts in the lives of our teammates. If you have had a good boss, remember to send them a thank you note today.


Are you a ‘slasher’?

“Have you been doing too much?” Most of the people I have spoken to in the last few weeks have described their weeks as being very busy and themselves as being very tired. Whether it’s multiple jobs or multiple projects, supporting the family or being a student – there are times when we realize that we are doing too much… and sometimes with little to show for it. It helps to remember the big picture especially when you are busy.

When I first read about the concept of Project Portfolio Matrix (PPM), I did not connect it to anything beyond work projects. Basically PPM helps to prioritize projects in alignment with goals while maximizing the use of available resources. In other words, it helps to maintain an overview while handling multiple projects. The matrix can be used to evaluate multiple scenarios and could prove very useful when applied correctly.

The idea of applying the matrix to both work and private projects was suggested in The Decision Book. The chapter on PPM was dedicated to ‘slashers’ – people who cannot give a single answer to the question, ‘and what do you do for a living?‘. Reminds me of people who feel the need to constantly juggle multiple projects, even when they don’t need to. And more often than not, they fail to keep it all perfectly balanced, dropping key projects because they lack the necessary overview. In the end no real progress is made.

In the chapter, the author was particularly talking about the matrix in relation to ‘objectives achieved’ and the ‘amount learned’. Give it a try: You can use the parameters that are relevant to your situation. Costs can be considered not only in terms of money but also resources such as friends, energy, stress levels. The author suggested using the x-axis as the measure to determine how a project is helping you achieve your overriding objective. On the y-axis, you can then plot how much you are able to learn from the project.

The author suggested ways to interpret the results and I will quote it directly from the book:

  • Reject projects if there is nothing you can learn from them and if they do not correspond to your overriding vision.

  • Projects that you can learn from but do not correspond to your vision are interesting but will not help you achieve your objective. Try to change the project so that it serves your vision.

  • If a project corresponds to your vision, but you are learning nothing new, look for somebody else to do it for you.

  • If you are learning something and achieving your vision, you have hit the jackpot.

If you were using this tool in an area like fundraising, it could mean plotting your fundraising target on the x-axis and plotting your strategic efforts on the y-axis. Then you could measure how strategic your efforts really are in achieving your goal and invest time accordingly. Sounds like a winning strategy.

Maybe we will end up as permanent ‘slashers’. We can make all that busyness count towards our overriding vision.


Quotes from: The Decision Book by Krogerus and Tschaeppeler. 


My TEAM is no longer a GROUP

One of the most common characteristic of a ‘team’ is that they function most commonly as ‘groups’. As a manager, if this is your struggle, you are not alone. Whether you are a new manager/leader for the team or whether you’ve been leading them for a while, the sooner you begin making changes, the sooner you will inspire teamwork.

Communication can be one of the most powerful tools in building teams. As a leader, your style of communication with members of the team WILL impact the style in which other members interact with each other. If you are overly-dramatic, conflict driven or indifferent to others, your team will reflect that attitude. Exemplify the behavior you want your team to display. I used the word behavior because usually even if a person is not naturally team-oriented, behaving in the right way can cause sustainable change in attitude.

In terms of team interaction, the first step is to provide regular opportunities for focused and meaningful conversation within the team. For example, have the team meet briefly once a day or as often as possible during the week to share work goals and progress from the week. You can call these priorities and accomplishments or something else more relevant. This helps teams work more cohesively. They know what their teammates are doing, everyone stays updated about the team’s progress which creates a sense of belonging. Keep these brief meetings under ten minutes, if possible and set the right expectations about the time each one has to speak. Even though this meeting is set to be task oriented, encourage casual conversation once in a while.

Any sign of favoritism from the manager towards one team member can ruin teamwork. Even if you have a friend in the team, treat the entire team favorably. You will notice a remarkable difference in teamwork and entrepreneurship when your team believes that you actually like them.

Feedback is another important tool that can impact team-spirit. Pour positive feedback on team members publicly. This is usually the easy part. The part that becomes a little tricky is when the feedback is not positive. In cases when the feedback involves a confidential matter, it’s best to address it with the individual team member. However, I have noticed that minor performance issues, namely punctuality, email response time, failure to meet deadlines – issues that the team is impacted by and is aware of – could be discussed as a team issue. This definitely requires a strong yet friendly leadership style and trust between team members. From personal experience, this sort of open accountability can also inspire trust.

When dealing with team conflicts, encourage the resolution to be based on honest facts because feelings can be baseless. Even in a cohesive team, conflict resolution between two members should not be advertised to other team members. This definitely helps in easier resolution.

Even if you are not a fan of ‘hanging-out’ with your team after work, it does help build relationships when people engage in non-work activities once in a while. Potlucks, team-days, coffee/tea breaks, sports, book clubs, other team interests can be effective tools to build your team.

As a manager, be part of your team. Teams don’t build themselves and it takes regular and consistent effort to inspire change. It will take a while for you to see results. Maybe a few months or perhaps a whole year, but don’t give up. The outcome will be worth the time.

Become a Better Public Speaker

When you speak, people listen. Now WHAT they listen to while you speak is key to determining what kind of a speaker you are. I have listened to people snoring or listened to my imagination during some speeches. You might have as well. But there are some speeches that can change your life. Your style of speaking is also often used to determine how charismatic you are as a leader. Therefore, in a lot of ways career or life progress is dependent on how well you can speak to an audience.

The best part: The more you do it, the easier it gets. 

Be aware of how you react when you are nervous while speaking. This is important because we can be our own worst enemies under the spotlight. Do you tend to speak faster? Does your accent change? Do you forget your lines? Do you say too much? Do you start shaking? Do you get really cold or hot? Knowing the signs can help you take control of your reactions. Just as you begin feeling that nervous energy rising, shift your focus on the strategy that helps you remain calm.

Preparation really helps. Its easier to speak to an audience when you have had some time to prepare. However, the more confident you get as a speaker, the lesser the need for preparation will be. Preparation is always helpful so use it well. Just remembering that you prepared for the speech can help you stay composed when you begin feeling nervous.

Prepare the content to fit the context. You can have a great talk prepared but if you forget to apply it to the right audience and context, it’s the same as being unprepared.

Presentation matters. When all eyes are on you, the way you present yourself and the speech will make a huge impact on how interested your audience will be. If you have your speech printed out in multiple sheets of paper, use a folder to keep them organized. It’s hard for people to take you seriously when you are disorganized. Prompting cards are helpful when there is no podium. You can hold the cards in your hand easily and they can have the outline on them or quotes that cannot be paraphrased.

Your body language speaks as loud as your voice. Standing at ease is usually the most comfortable posture during a speech. Don’t slouch unless you are using it as an illustration in your speech. Use your hands to gesture but don’t overdo it. You must have heard this ‘helpful’ tip – fix your eye on a corner of a room if you are nervous and it will make public speaking easy. You don’t have to do that to make speaking easier. Maintain eye contact with your audience. If you have the stage to walk around, feel free to – again, don’t overdo it. Your movements should serve two purposes: to keep the audience engaged and to accessorize your speech.

Use pauses instead of thinking sounds: Pauses during speeches can be used for various reasons. For example when you make a point that needs to sink in, you can pause for maybe two or more seconds. Pauses can also help you when you need to use your notes because you forgot the next point. Just remember not to flip frantically through those pages in the middle of a sentence. Pauses are also so much better than a long errrr or ummm.

If you want your speech to be remembered for a long time, use your opening and closing portions smartly – those are usually what your audience will remember.

Use opening lines that get people interested. I am usually more interested in listening to a speech if it starts with humor. Humor might be the easiest way to begin a speech because it lightens the mood and gets the audience more interested. Using a reflective question or story can also have a similar impact.

Connect your concluding lines to the introduction. Finish the story that you started as the introduction to your speech or reuse the sentence that captures the message. Short stories, visual illustrations, a word or sentence that summarizes the essence of the speech also make speeches memorable. There’s one speech that I remember especially well mostly because of this line that captured the full talk: You cannot care for others if you don’t take care of yourself. 

Speaking to an audience can be an energizing experience. No matter what kind of a speaker you are today, you can keep improving with practice. Keep that speech short and powerful and if the audience is allowed to applaud, enjoy that sound when you are done.

Employee Retention

Long long ago, in mostly every part of the world, people would start and end their careers with the same company. In other words, when a person joined a company, they would work there until they retired. Loyalty to an employer wasn’t necessarily the reason. Staying with a company for a lifetime was the culture. That culture changed.

Employees need a reason to continue working with a company and when the reasons are not compelling, there’s nothing holding them back. Companies end up spending a lot of resources when they need to hire new talent. Companies also face significant loses when talented people leave. Yet many companies don’t try hard enough to make strong employees stay. Different companies have different reasons for weak retention strategies but the common one is the belief that it is not tough to find a replacement.

I support strategic change. Letting go of employees when you need to progress beyond them is wise but giving strong performing employees reasons to stay is equally wise. These reasons are not hard to guess.

Life balance: Workaholics are no longer considered cool. People are beginning to take pride in their work-life balance. And companies that offer that balance are more attractive even to workaholics. Work-life balance could include paid time off which employees can actually use, flexible work hours, work from home options for new mothers, break rooms and opportunities to refresh at work. The culture of the workplace can be used to judge how much employees are valued. Feeling valued makes the work load and demands of the job seem worth the effort.

Compensation: Have you reviewed a company’s careers section recently? Most of them list their salaries as ‘competitive with benefits’. And most of them keep that promise. But mostly to new hires. When an employee is part of a company for a few years already, it’s cheaper to retain them because companies don’t need to pay them as much. Or so employers think and employees know this for a fact. Unless they are lazy or loyal, they are not going to let their skills remain overused and underpaid. Even when companies do not pay the higher amount they would to a new hire, it’s wise to continue being ‘competitive with benefits’ with competent existing employees.

Additional incentives for excellent performance is also a key reason for competent people to stay longer with a company. This is not necessarily the same as encouraging competition but it does help employees who perform better to stick around.

Growth: Opportunities for learning and development is a big retention tool in addition to all the other benefits it offers to the company and employees. A college degree is no longer the upper limit for learning. The opportunities that the company provides for learning and development play a big role in an employee’s decision to stay with the company. The saying “if you can’t pay them, promote them”, is more common now and sometimes it works. Companies that cannot support the growth and development of competent employees will lose them sooner than companies that have growth trajectories in place.

Team: Surprisingly team bonding has retained more employees than we care to admit. If an employee feels a sense of belonging and has colleagues whom they can call friends at the workplace, leaving becomes harder.

Supervisor: Immediate supervisors can be the deal-breaker or deal-maker when it comes to the decision to stay with a company. Leadership style can build trust and create reasons for employees to stay with a company. Clear and transparent communication from leaders is also key to a healthy work culture. It stifles rumors and doubts and encourages trust towards the company. There’s truth in the statement that employees don’t quit companies, they quit managers.

Other reasons included pride in the company’s brand; belief company’s mission/vision; and no better options.

As an employer, it is wise to value employees and give them reasons to stay. After all without them, no work can be accomplished. As an employee it is good for you to evaluate your reasons to stay with a company and find motivation in that. And if you don’t, well, you don’t.

Managing Conflicts like Fireworks

In a team of competent people with strong personalities, conflicts are common. But even if the team was laid back and lazy, conflicts would still be quite common. As long as we continue working with humans, conflicts will be part of work. Maybe someday we will have the privilege of witnessing the types of conflicts that robots can cause.

Conflict is defined by any disagreement that is perceived as a threat by either or both parties. It’s more common among peers but it is also seen among team leaders and team members. You might discover new characteristics in a person by the way they handle conflicts. I have noticed the following types:

  • Those who enjoy “clearing the air” even when there is no air to clear;
  • Those who act “awkward” throughout the conflict but do nothing about it;
  • Those who act awkward throughout the conflict, do nothing about it but make sure that everyone knows about how they are being victimized;
  • Those who depend on someone else to resolve it and pretend that everything is alright till that happens;
  • Those who manage it effectively.

If you have a conflict with someone:

For most people, conflicts are never enjoyable and we try our best to avoid them. But if you find yourself in a conflict with someone, it’s better to resolve it than to dwell in it and watch it ruin performance and productivity. Before any resolution strategies let your emotions stabilize. We say and reveal a lot more than necessary when our emotions take charge of our conversations. Think about the situation objectively.

Are you perceiving the conflict correctly or imagining it? Do you need to get feedback on the situation from someone trusted before you do something about? Why is the resolution important to you? How will you handle the different reactions from the other person so that you keep the situation controlled even if the resolution does not go as planned? What changes are necessary so that you can continue working with the person even if the awkwardness remains? What compromises are necessary for the well being of the project and the relationship? 

Preparing ahead for difficult conversations is a good idea because it could prevent any damage to an already delicate situation and steer you away from an effective resolution.

If the other person initiates a reconciliation, fight the urge to resist the conversation despite the awkwardness and irritation. Be sincerely polite throughout the conversation – someone’s trying to make things right and you are wise if you help them. You style of resolving the conflict will impact the person’s perception of you. They are getting a glimpse into your character just as you are getting a glimpse into theirs. Of course as a professional, your ability to resolve conflicts should also impact your performance evaluation.

When mediating a conflict between others:

When mediating a conflict, the first step for you is to believe that resolving the conflict is not your responsibility. Mediation should be necessary only if individuals have attempted to first resolve the conflict themselves. Even if you are the team leader who is desperate to get your conflict packed team to work, it is not your problem to solve their problem. If you fail to understand this, you are preparing your team for failure by crippling them during learning situations.

Get both sides of the story separately. During this information gathering stage, avoid taking sides even if it is clear that someone is in the right and the other one is messed up. Maintain confidentiality of the details from both parties and other team members. But it is good for both parties to know that you are mediating. It will ensure accuracy in details and it will save you uncomfortable awkwardness. If accounts seem different, lead with clarifying questions without revealing that the other person had provided a different account of the incident or problem.

Once you have gathered the information you need, prepare action steps before meeting them together. Choose a neutral location that is also sound proof and allow them to resolve the conflict on their own. Guide the conversation when needed if they steer away from respectful resolution or compromise attempts. You are fortunate if they can keep their emotions in check. Based on how successful that conversation is, direct action steps for them in case the incident is repeated and hold them accountable.

Don’t expect your team to put it all behind them and move on as though the conflict had never occurred. It’s not impossible for that to happen but it is unlikely. However, help them understand that resolving workplace conflict is a professional necessity and reflected in their performance.

As a manager, encourage disagreements, not necessarily conflicts. But at the same time, don’t be afraid of conflicts. Some of them are called healthy conflicts for a reason. They are like fireworks and can be used to cause damage or light up the sky with better ideas. 


Managing Volunteers Better

Have you ever served as a volunteer? I hope your experiences have been better than most others. Imagine being told that they need you because they cannot afford employees. But since you are a volunteer, you will be treated badly. Or imagine showing up for an event after sacrificing valuable sleep, because you volunteered to, and finding out that you are not really needed.

We have accepted this statement to be a fact: “That’s how volunteering works!” And we use it to justify all the negative aspects of volunteering. I wish we change that. Sincere volunteers can be more dedicated than your paid employees and they usually fill critical gaps in your team.

Volunteers are usually perceived as people with plenty of time to waste. Their skills are not taken as seriously and definitely not used effectively. They end up doing odd jobs till they get bored and leave.

People are terrible at managing people:

It’s true. Systems and policies can be managed more easily than people can. People are our best resources but we all have, at some point in life, failed to manage them well. However, there’s hope for everyone who is willing to learn and embrace change.

I have worked with volunteers for a few years now and have often served as one. These experiences have taught me a few things.

Evaluate volunteers to find out their strengths:

It is now common sense to place the best people in roles that use their strengths. Apply the same logic for volunteers. Just because someone wants to volunteer to be part of the meal planning team, does not mean that they are suitable for it. Evaluate them. If they are not gifted meal planners, assign a different role to them. You will be amazed at how well people perform when they do things they truly enjoy. This is especially true for volunteers. Often they are placed in positions that they are not suitable for and therefore, their work output is low. Here’s your chance of helping them do their best and let the project flourish as a result – assign the right roles. Added advantage: you will not have to micromanage them.

If you absolutely have to work with volunteers without relevant talent, invest time in training them. Untrained volunteers can cause disasters. When volunteers find fulfillment in their roles and learn from their experience, they might last longer and work better and that’s a win for everyone.

Value volunteers like you value your employees:

The most common challenge in managing volunteers is to find them in the first place. Getting people interested to volunteer has often more to do with how their services are requested and less to do with their interests and time. Plenty of talented people volunteer. Therefore, value them. Treating volunteers badly only leads to less commitment and less volunteers. Volunteers who are treated well will, in turn, invite others to volunteer.

In most organizations, volunteers are managed by other volunteers or by staff who are already handling too many roles. The reason stated is simply, “They are volunteers. What do you expect?” As a manager, you can do something about it: treat volunteers respectfully. Make them feel valued. You will reap the benefits. Avoid exploiting them just because they are passionate about something. As soon as someone figures out that they are not valued, you can expect a drop in their performance.

Set clear expectations:

When advertising for a volunteer position, ensure that you are setting the right expectations. This includes expectations regarding their responsibilities, schedules, performance and accountability. Since people usually sign up to be volunteers without being compelled to, they will most likely perform well if they commit to something. Often high expectations are set for volunteers but they are not clearly communicated.  This leads to frustrations for everyone involved.

The other problem that I have experienced is that often volunteers can get away with insufficient effort or inadequate results. They are not held accountable because they don’t get paid. But it does not have to be that way. You can only hold them accountable when you set clear expectations that they had accept when they sign up. So save yourself and your team the trouble of having to deal with half-hearted volunteers and set clear expectations.

Commend them:

Money does not motivate volunteers. When a job is done well or even when a volunteer shows up, don’t hesitate to commend them. They are most likely not expecting any benefits or rewards but genuine commendations make their service more meaningful.

You need your volunteers and they need the opportunities. Build trust, manage them well and watch them achieve.


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