Comfy? You’re doing it wrong.

Change is uncomfortable.Cartoon of CEO at conference table declaring, "I don't want to change. I want all of you to change."

Full stop, end of statement.

Whether it’s operational change (implementing new software, for instance) or cultural change (such as a diversity initiative), you’re being challenged to do things differently.

Which means you’re being challenged to think differently.

And that’s uncomfortable.

We generally get it with operational change. We know we’re learning to use a new tool, or working in a different location (hello, pandemic-work-from-home), or taking on a new role. We may not like it much – there are so many reasons why people resist change – but we understand what’s going on.

Cultural change is more subtle. Where operational change starts with being required to take on new behaviors – the actions we do – cultural change starts with how we think and even what we believe. This leads – we hope, anyway! – to different actions, but it starts with the thought-and-belief cycle.

We don’t like changing how we think and what we believe. Oh, boy, do we not like it. (Just take a look around our world today. Ahem.)

It’s uncomfortable.

And that’s why so many culture-change initiatives fail: because the people who have to lead the change, the C-suite executives who must walk the talk before the rest of the organization can come into alignment, don’t like feeling uncomfortable.

But as author and activist James Baldwin said, “I can’t believe what you say, because I see what you do.”

Or, as Jerry Colonna, ex-venture capitalist, coach to startup founders and CEOs, says, “How have I been complicit in creating the conditions I say I don’t want?”

If you’re not willing to be uncomfortable, you won’t succeed in creating change – no matter how much you may say you want it.

Full stop, end of statement.

There’s a lot involved in creating change. And change leadership is a whole different skillset from change management. Check out the course: Change Leadership: strategies for success

gljudson Change leadership

Your employees: two tips and a mindset shift

Photo of multicolored chess pawns scattered randomlyEmployees – can’t live with them, can’t live without them, right? Ha.

Almost everyone I’ve spoken with recently has said they’re dealing with a higher-than-usual turnover rate (i.e., the Great Resignation), or they’re struggling to hire. Or both.

It’s Yet Another Stress Factor in an already really difficult time.

And I encourage you to recognize, even in the midst of the madness, that there are two important opportunities here.

First, though, a mindset shift: these aren’t just “employees” or “staff” or “resources” or “talent” or even “assets.”

They’re people. Individuals.

When we’re stressed and frazzled and overwhelmed, it’s hard to think about anything or anyone other than ourselves. I get that.

But if you want to navigate through this, not merely effectively, but well – then you need to remember that every employee, every staff member, is an individual person.

That said, I promised you two important opportunities.

Opportunity #1: pay attention to who’s staying

Have you ever been annoyed by a company that promises great rewards for new customers whilst ignoring their current customers (i.e., YOU)?

It’s seriously frustrating, right?

Well, consider that from the perspective of the employees – excuse me, people – who are sticking around.

If you’re busy trying to retain the ones who are quitting, or brainstorming with HR on how to find qualified new hires to fill those suddenly-open positions … you may be overlooking the talent – excuse me, people – right in front of you.

This is an opportunity to recognize performance, to promote, to develop, to train. Encourage people to step up, to engage, to help out in these difficult times.

At the very least, the tiniest minimum, acknowledge them for being the ones who are staying.

Opportunity #2: hire for culture add, not culture fit

Hiring for “culture fit” has been the gold standard for a long, long time. Does the candidate – the person – share our values? Will they assimilate into the team? Do we (argh) like them?

As I wrote on LinkedIn the other day – you might be happy to hire little green aliens, as long as they’re a “culture fit.”

If so, you’re accomplishing diversity in some (certainly important) ways, but you’re missing the boat on new ideas, creative thinking, challenging discussions, and innovative potential.

Because when you hire only, or primarily for culture fit, you’re just hiring more of what you already have. And as the saying goes, what got you here won’t get you there.

The tendency to hire “more people like us” is strong. As humans, we like “people like us,” and we tend not to be all that comfortable with people who aren’t “like us.”

But as General George Patton said, “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.” And hiring for culture fit means hiring people who think like us.

You don’t build high-performing teams when everyone thinks alike. You don’t innovate when everyone thinks alike. You don’t solve big problems when everyone thinks alike.

So if you need to hire – think about what’s missing in your culture, and how someone might be a great addition, instead of merely a great fit. Don’t overlook values and general working style, of course (you don’t want someone who can’t cope – for instance – with a super-fast-paced environment). But do extend yourself enough to welcome some difference!

Are you following me on LinkedIn?

gljudson Strategic thinking

When you just *can’t*

Photo of a person lying down, ground level, feet firstLeaders are supposed to keep on keeping on.

They’re supposed to make decisions, offer support, give feedback, notice who’s struggling, catch all the balls, help their teams through burnout, keep projects on track, stagger out of the office and deal with the kids, the dog, the cat, the partner, the family, the friends, the neighbors …

Shall I stop now?

Because really, it’s endless. For everyone, and especially for leaders.

And because we’ve swallowed so much cultural “stuff” about what it means to be a leader, we think we really do have to just keep on keeping on.

Even when we’re running on the fumes of fumes.

It’s okay to say I can’t

It’s okay to press pause.

It’s okay to step back.

It’s okay to take many moments to regroup, reground, and refill.

In fact, it’s essential.

Even if you believe you can’t pause, step back, take those moments, you really probably can. Somehow, some way, you can. Because ultimately, you must.

This isn’t about …

I’m frankly sick of – and a little angry at – the endless memes and posts and podcasts and books talking about bubble baths and walking in nature and whatever.

These aren’t necessarily what restores people. They aren’t always available to people. Not everyone can hop out their front door and take a “walk in nature,” for any number of reasons.

It IS about you

And yes, it’s One More Damn Thing To DO: figure out what restores you.

Figure out what makes you feel good.

In the long term as well as right now.

And then, for the love of all you hold holy and dear, go do it. In the long term as well as right now.

Because you can do it – you can find a way – and you must, if you’re going to be able to keep on keeping on as the leader you want to be.

Parting thought

Seen on Facebook from “the Cryptonaturalist”:

Being indoors does not remove you from nature, in much the same way that closing your eyes does not make you invisible.

Want support for yourself OR for your leaders? Let’s talk – click here to contact me.

gljudson Self-awareness

Do you have “toxic” managers? Three ways to find out.

Cartoonimage of a man in a suit reacting with horror to something on his computerLast week, I wrote a post on LinkedIn about a report I’d seen stating that 30% of managers are toxic.

That post got a ton of discussion, with wide-ranging opinions from “that’s too high” to “that’s too low” to “what the heck is ‘toxic,’ anyway?”

What fun!

I don’t know if that 30% is valid or not. The article I read pointed to another article summarizing a research report, which is no longer available online.

Here’s the thing, though: that 30% number is ultimately irrelevant.

The real point is that your experience of good, bad, or indifferent managers will absolutely influence your opinion of whether managers in general are good, bad, or indifferent.

If you’ve had predominantly good managers, you’ll be in the “30% is too high!” camp.

If you’ve had predominantly bad managers, you’ll be in the “it’s too low!” camp.

Your experience means it’s impossible for you to have an objective opinion about how many good, bad, or indifferent managers you have in your organization.

The only way to know is to find out for real.

And there are three simple steps you can take.

1. What’s your employee turnover rate?

People leave managers, not companies.

If you’re a small-to-medium sized company, your overall turnover rate is your window into whether you’ve got a problem.

Larger companies should look at division, department, or even team turnover rates.

Some industries typically have higher turnover than others (which, of course, leads to a whole new set of questions around whether that should be accepted as okay or not), so you’ll want to verify your turnover rate relative to that of your industry.

2. What types of issues come up in exit interviews?

Does your HR department conduct exit interviews with employees who are leaving – whether voluntarily or not? (If not … why not?)

Is the information they glean available to you?

As someone with plenty of “30% is too low” experience, I can tell you that, in my corporate youth, I made some … comments … about my managers in exit interviews. Not, perhaps, my wisest moments, but I have wondered if those comments made it back, in some form or another, to the managers themselves and/or to their managers.

If your company conducts exit interviews, the information shouldn’t just die in the interviewer’s office. The only good reason to do exit interviews is to use the feedback to make improvements, whether that’s recognizing that you have a manager who needs support or, more happily, that you have a manager who’s doing a great job (or some other unrelated-to-management question).

3. Do complaints get buried?

My last article, “Ever work for a ‘whiz kid’?“, tells the story of how I and my teammates went to two senior leaders where I worked at the time to tell them we had a problem with the team’s manager.

Nothing was done.

If you’re getting any kind of feedback – even, and yes, I’ll say it, even if it’s just rumors and gossip – and you’re not at least poking around a bit to see what’s going on, then you’re burying potential problems.

Sure, there are situations where disgruntled employees are simply troublemakers.

But not always.

Wouldn’t it be better to know, rather than assume or guess? Because if it is a problem employee, versus a problem manager, then that too is something needing attention.

In short …

This is a very high-level overview. Actually determining your organization’s culture goes deeper, by far, than these three questions. But this is a good place to start.

Because if you want a strong, humane culture in your organization, these are things you need to pay attention to.

Whether it’s 30% or 10% or 40%, any ineffective manager (I won’t even say “toxic”!) is a problem.

Because the cost of replacing employees who leave because of that manager is a whole lot higher than you might think.

A good culture starts with good leadership. And the ROI on developing and maintaining a good culture (and good leadership) is also higher than you might think.

Here’s the LinkedIn post.

Find out what it really costs when a manager fails: download the employee replacement costs spreadsheet here. I’ll wager it’s more than you think.

Got problem employees? Download the mini e-book The Five Most Challenging Employee Types (and how to manage them).

Want to explore options for developing your managers into good leaders? Let’s talk – click here to contact me.

gljudson Difficult people

Ever work for a “whiz kid”?

Bitmoji image of me on a resignation letterMany years ago in my early corporate days, I was on a team reporting to a self-described “whiz kid.”

I kid you not. (Pun intended.) He really did call himself a whiz kid.

He was a nice enough guy … but a really bad manager.

He was so bad that I and my fellow teammates went to not just one, but two of the senior leaders in the company to state our case for why we needed a different manager.

To no avail. They did nothing.

So I did something: I left.

And for my new employer, a reinsurance firm, I designed, coded, and implemented a software system that saved over one million dollars (not a typo: $1,000,000) in its first run, finding insurance recoveries that had been missed by the business unit that had been doing this work manually.

This was a system that many in that business unit said couldn’t be done programmatically. It was a system that the company who subsequently bought the company I was working for also said couldn’t be done programmatically. (The look on their faces when we said, “Oh, but we did do it,” was priceless.)

My point here is not what a great job I did.

My point here is that if you have struggling managers in your company, even if they’re perfectly nice people, what is that costing you in expertise, skill, insights, creativity, innovation, and, yes, cold hard cash, that is either lying dormant out of sheer frustration, or heading out the door to a new job?

You probably don’t know, because most people won’t tell you. They’ll just leave.

And then you’ll never know what they might have been able to accomplish for your company.

Find out what it really costs when a manager fails: download the employee replacement costs spreadsheet here. I’ll wager it’s more than you think.

Want to explore options for developing your managers into good leaders? Let’s talk – click here to contact me.

gljudson Leadership development

Can remote work – work?

Photo of a laptop screen with the words WORKHARD ANYWHERE, a phone, mouse, plant, and a notebookThere’s a whole host of stories, studies, and opinions on productivity and team collaboration in our pandemic era.

Some people are convinced that there’s no way collaboration and innovation can be effective in a remote or hybrid workplace.

Other people point to studies showing that many teams and companies are reporting higher productivity and greater trust.

What to believe? What to do?

It’s actually quite simple.

Look at the cause.

The companies and teams that are doing well are the ones that are intentional about creating psychological safety, allowing autonomy and authority at all levels, and creating opportunities for interactions beyond (wayyy beyond!) endless Zoom meetings.

The ones doing not-so-well are the ones micromanaging, installing spyware on employees’ computers, insisting on rigid schedules, and, yes, I’ll say it even as a fan of and investor in Zoom, holding wayyy too many Zoom meetings.

In other words: it’s about your culture.

Remote and hybrid work works when you have a solid, humane, empowering culture.

It doesn’t work when you have a suspicious, fault-finding, micromanaging culture.

Am I sounding harsh? Hmm. If you’re feeling attacked – or as if I’m attacking your company – you might want to take a step back and think about why.

And what you can do about it.

Three-day “virtual corporate culture” challenge – assess, plan, and fortify your company’s culture:  click here to sign up (free)

Comments on this from the ever-smart Seth Godin in his blog here.

gljudson Engagement

5 tips for handling gaslighting employees

Cartoon image of a shades-of-orange flame Gaslighting: to manipulate someone by psychological means into questioning their own sanity. (Google definition)

How does this show up at work?

“Oh, sorry, I never got that email. Are you sure you sent it?”

“I wasn’t supposed to take care of that – we never discussed it.”

“You said you were going to ask {other team member} to do it.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. It didn’t happen that way.”

“Hey, I know we’re all stressed right now. Don’t worry about it – you just forgot what we agreed on.”

And so on. Often accompanied by wide-eyed innocence, or – worse – by worried looks and raised eyebrows implying you’re kinda losing it.

In short, gaslighters lie, evade, prevaricate, avoid, change the subject, and anything else they can come up with to make you think you’re the one at fault.

And it can work – really, really well. It can make you feel uncertain – did I actually have that conversation, or only imagine it? – and hesitant in your decision-making and conversations with your team. You might find yourself wobbly in delegation, anxious in your personal relationships, and even doubting whether you’re really cut out to be a manager and leader.

In short, if you feel confused and frustrated by an employee’s behavior, but you’re not quite sure why, or whether you even “should” be feeling that way – you could well be dealing with a gaslighter.

So what to do?

Start by believing yourself

The gaslighter is brilliant at making you doubt yourself instead of them. You end up gaslighting yourself.

And that can be hard to get out of, because the whole thing is so nuanced and fuzzy. Maybe you really did mis-remember what that conversation was about – or even if it happened at all!

No. Stop. Decide that it did happen the way you remember.

Document, document, document

You can’t change what happened, and you can’t get the gaslighter to admit that you’re right and they’re wrong. That just devolves into ever-more gaslighting on their part.

Going forward, though, you absolutely can document what happens.

Sending an email? Send it with a read receipt, and keep those read receipts in a safe folder on your computer.

Having a conversation? Document it afterwards in an email outlining what was agreed upon. (Don’t forget the read receipt.) You can try asking them to reply to the email indicating their agreement, but of course it’s easy enough for them to simply ignore that request. And yes, I know email read receipts aren’t always reliable. Do your best; that’s all anyone can do.

Be careful using tools, such as Slack, that don’t clearly indicate whether someone’s read a message. If you have to use such a tool, set a standard that everyone must respond with a check-mark or other emoji response indicating that they’ve seen the message. Then if there’s no response from the gaslighter, you can check in with them via an email.

Obviously you can’t document something that didn’t happen, but that the gaslighter claims did. However, you can cover some of those situations by confirming – for instance – meeting times or task delegation in email or whatever tool you normally use. Include a statement that says, “If this changes, I’ll follow up with an email / message.”

You get the point.

Stay calm

The gaslighter’s day is made when their behavior rattles you. And their favorite response is, “I was just kidding – you’re over-reacting!”

As the saying goes, don’t let ’em see you sweat.

Stay outwardly calm, no matter what’s going on inside. You can rant to a friend (not another team member or co-worker!) later.

Maybe call them on it

Confronting a gaslighter seldom goes well; it just plays into their game. “Plausible deniability” is their superpower.

If you have iron-clad documentation, it might be worth a conversation – but any one-on-one conversation can be yet another tool in their toolbox for claiming that what you know happened, didn’t happen. And be very, very careful, because that “claiming what happened” thing can turn into an accusation to HR that you’re harrassing them.

Maybe go to HR or your boss

Do you trust HR? Do you trust your boss? Do you have any indication that your HR representative or your boss may already be misled by the gaslighter?

This is hard stuff, but the reality is that if your gaslighting employee is good at what they do – by which I mean BOTH at their job AND at gaslighting – your boss and your HR people may choose to believe them over anything you say, unless you have copious amounts of that iron-clad documentation. There are endless examples of companies choosing to retain toxic employees because they’re “so good” at their job.

No, it’s not easy

The gaslighting employee is one of the most difficult situations to handle. Employees who are difficult in other ways – failing to complete projects, demonstrating unethical behavior, and so on – are a lot easier (though never fun) to confront, coach, and, when necessary, let go.

Gaslighting by definition is fuzzy, uncertain, nuanced, and hard to pin down.

Whatever you choose to do, do not under any circumstances let them convince you that you’re wrong. As a leader, you have plenty of opportunities to actually be wrong, without taking on anything extra!

Got a gaslighting employee? Let’s talk.

gljudson Difficult people

Is that meeting an email in disguise?

You don’t need me to tell you that we’re all Zoomed out.Classic email graphic with envelope and @ sign

So I’ll make this short.

Are you defaulting to yet another meeting – yet another Zoom video call – without stopping to think if that’s what you really need?

Before sending out that invitation with the log-in link, I challenge you to ask:

  • Could this be an email?
  • Or a Slack exchange?
  • A quick phone call?
  • Or some other form of non-meeting communication?

What is it you really need to accomplish? And is a meeting really the best way to get there?

And if it is a meeting, how long does it really need to be? We default to hour-long meetings, but what if you made it 30 minutes? Might everyone be more focused, more present, more with it, and get more done in less time?

Things to think about… before you schedule another meeting. 

Oh – and while you’re at it – what about those meetings already on your calendar?

Leadership is small actions taken consciously over time – such as this questioning of the need for a meeting. Want to learn more? Let’s talk.

gljudson Leadership

You don’t have to like your team

Photo fo a hand writing RESPECT in blue markerIt’s not a requirement to like your team.

But you do have to respect them.

They’re on your team for a reason. Whether you hired them, or someone else did and you inherited them, they’ve been considered appropriate for the job.

If that’s not the case – if they’re not meeting expectations for the role they need to fill and the tasks they need to do – then you need to address that.  (I wrote about this on LinkedIn recently, and you can download a Performance Improvement Plan checklist here.)

So, yes, you need to respect them. Whether or not they are performing.

I know some of you are thinking … but what if they haven’t earned my respect?

I don’t believe anyone has to “earn” respect. Respect comes simply by virtue of being a human being.

Do I respect everyone I’ve ever met or known about?

Okay. Now you’re putting me on the spot, and I have to say – no. There are people whose behavior I consider to be so egregiously bad – dishonest, unethical, mean – that I do not respect them.

But I would never in a million years allow those people to be on, or stay on, my team.

Have I always liked the people I worked with, whether colleagues or direct reports? Nope. Of course not. Different people have different personalities, values, and approaches to life. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t respect them.

People respond to respect. You’ll get more respect from someone if you start out treating them with respect. Respect is the first step in building a true team, where everyone collaborates and cares for everyone else. Respect means ideas are listened to, concerns are considered, and no one is shamed, belittled, or disregarded.

In short, respect is the first requirement of psychological safety and high-performing teams.

(Also, anyone else now have an Aretha Franklin R-E-S-P-E-C-T earworm? Or have I hopelessly dated myself in asking that?)

Understanding how to lead is NOT instinctive or easy. When we promote people out of individual teamwork into management and leadership, we need to support them in crossing the very real, and very large, skills gap. Medium-sized companies in particular rely on their first-line and mid-level managers for success – so it’s even more important to offer that support. Let’s talk about what that would mean for your company. 

gljudson Difficult people

Water leaks and repeating problems

Photo of the water leak repair in progressThey’re digging up the street outside my house.

It’s yet another water leak. I live on a short, three-block street. We have roughly one leak per month. Seriously. The water-company office staff groanlaugh when we call to report Yet.Another.Leak.Here.

My husband and I have often wondered – as we circumnavigate a puddle or pile of dirt and gravel – why they don’t just dig up the whole street and replace the conduits once and for all. But noooooo…

A smart colleague pointed out that there’s a good chance the budgets for fixing leaks and overhauling the water system are two different buckets. And never, apparently, the twain shall meet.

This is a classic case of fixing immediate problems – the presenting symptom, if you will – without looking deeper to find the underlying issue.

It happens in companies. Symptoms such as high turnover, for instance, are “solved” by amping up the hiring process, without looking at the underlying cultural issues, or recognizing that there’s one failing manager creating a toxic environment for their team.

So many problems within organizations can be actually solved – really, truly solved on a long-term basis – when we recognize that the underlying issue is almost certainly leadership. Most often, it’s leaders who were promoted without being supported in learning the skills of leadership – which are wildly different from the skills of individual contribution.

If you're solving the same people-problem over and over, you just might need to support your leaders in learning better skills...Click To Tweet

Those leaders do their best. But when you don’t have the support and skills development you need, “best” often translates to “struggling” and “learning bad habits” – which means your company develops leaks. Leaks that translate into disengaged, unhappy employees, failing projects, missed deadlines, lost clients, frustrated customers, and so on and on.

If you try to solve those leaks individually, you’re playing whac-a-mole.

Go back to basics. Teach your managers how to be leaders. It’s a lot less drastic than you might think – and certainly a whole lot less painful than banging away at all those leaks.

Leadership development doesn’t have to be an expensive, time-consuming Thing. It can actually save time and will inevitably solve problems. Let’s talk. Click to contact me and schedule a brief conversation!

gljudson Leadership development