Business Management

Three things your new managers need to know and how to teach them

If you haven’t noticed by now, training new managers is one of the things I’m most passionate about in my consulting business. There is no other group that I work with that is more motivated to learn, more in need of the information, and better positioned to make a positive impact in their organizations. I remember from my days of running HR and Organizational Development departments for growing companies that there are literally thousands of providers offering so-called management training. Some are cheap and some are wildly expensive and it can get overwhelming. It doesn’t help that the people who need the training are usually not the best ones to determine what kind of training they need.

Case in point: It’s been my experience that most new (or even seasoned) managers will tell you that they need training in time management, communication, and management skills. If you’re the one in charge of arranging for this training, you can spend thousands before you realize that this hasn’t actually helped. For example:

  • Time management courses almost all present cookie cutter information that you can get yourself online, and won’t help the real problem, which is usually multiple and conflicting priorities and managers who don’t have the tools or resources to manage them.
  • Communication problems are not usually communication at all. It’s usually a lack of systems and processes, and a culture that has permitted lack of follow through and broken commitments. This is not fixed by role playing difficult conversations.
  • Management training means so many different things. My main issue with canned management training is that to be a good manager you have to be able to manage performance, and newer managers need very practical, relevant information about how to do this, which I just haven’t seen done well in affordable classes all that often.

I think there’s a pretty safe rule of thumb you can follow when arranging for or creating management training for newer managers. First is make sure they don’t get you or themselves sued, second is make sure they don’t drive away your great employees, and third is make sure they know how to manage your resources to maximize profitability.

1. Don’t get sued: Even if you have a good HR department, it’s advisable to educate managers on at least the basics of employment law so they know enough not to get you in hot water. You’d be surprised at what you might take for granted that they don’t know, and I always say that common sense and employment law rarely intersect. An overview of protected classes, overtime law, and the ins and outs of privacy and leave laws will inform your managers of areas where they will need to ask for help. This can easily be done via webinar or in person if you have the resources. I’ve found you can cover the basics in about three webinars.

2. Don’t drive away good employees: This can happen when managers are promoted, or are brought in to a new team. Most problems result from newer managers reacting to the real or perceived pressure of their new roles by setting unrealistic goals for their team, blowing up, or acting unnecessarily abrasively. This can be easily corrected by helping them understand the roles and responsibilities of a leader and by role-playing various tough situations they are bound to face. I like peer group settings for this type of training, because the more we can use real life situations, the more applicable.

3. Maximize your resources and profitability: I so often hear business owners complain that their managers don’t care, and this is hardly ever true. If we want our managers to steward our resources effectively, we have to teach them how. Don’t just tell them to manager their overtime without telling them how. Or even more importantly -why. Explain profit and loss statements, show them how their departments contribute to the purpose and profitability of the company. Give accurate and timely feedback. This can be accomplished best by theory, and by practical application. We can explain the basics of a P&L using the same terminology across multiple industries, but you would use different metrics to manage a sales team and a manufacturing one.

Of course there are many other areas that managers benefit from training. I’ve found these three to be the top priority. If you neglect training in these foundations, it will be difficult to reach your goals, minimize potential problems, and create the kind of morale you want in your company.

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Make sure you know what you’re asking for with Leadership Development programs

iphone-download-030314-146I must confess I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with leadership development. I was trained right out of the chute (the university chute that is) in Organizational Behavior Management by a pioneer in applied behavioral science. We would teach companies from every industry under the sun how to increase employee productivity, engagement, morale, safety – you name it, using very specific techniques. One thing my mentor would not do, however, was talk about leadership. It was too hard to define, he’d explain, and nobody could really agree on what a leader was. Was it a set of traits? Behaviors? Can it be learned or is it innate? He basically elected to just not go there. And it didn’t really matter, to be honest, because we were able to produce the results people were trying to get through ‘leadership’ and ‘motivation’ without going there.

Not going there is not really an option in today’s climate, however. Most companies aren’t comfortable relying exclusively on the principles of behavioral psychology for their leadership philosophies, nor should they be, in my opinion. Having been on the receiving end of the transformational power of servant leadership done right, I’d be remiss in not emphasizing leadership development as a critical component in building a truly great company. Besides that, most of my clients acknowledge a need for ‘leadership training’.

And here’s where I would caution you. Leadership training is kind of like communication and accountability. A lot of people prescribe it as a solution to a felt problem but it may not solve what you hope it will. Typically, when people want leadership training it’s because of a few different symptoms:

  • Turnover is higher than acceptable, and problems with management is cited as a reason people are leaving.
  • High growth is anticipated, and there are not enough people experienced to take on new leadership roles.
  • Production and profitability are slipping, and management is not able to articulate why.
  • Managers themselves have expressed a need or desire for more training.
  • Owners are just not comfortable that leaders are where they should be in terms of inspiring, casting a vision and impacting the culture of the company.

All of these are legitimate issues that should be solved, but before investing in leadership development, make sure you’re very clear on your needs and what you’d like to see changed as a result of the leadership development you’re seeking. For example, many of the pain points that result in asking for leadership training are actually issues that can be more effectively resolved through the implementation of solid management systems and processes. If that’s what you really need help with, it’s important to state it.

When I’m asked to conduct leadership training, I look at it as two different mini-projects . First is setting up the leadership program. This includes identifying the leadership behaviors and expectations, determining the promotional process, identifying training and assessment goals and timelines and other program parameters.

Developing the content of the leadership program is a much more customized process, simply because there are so many models to choose from. The qualities and behaviors of the leaders in your company directly impact and are impacted by your vision. If your company DNA is to put the customer first at any cost, your leadership values are going to be slightly different (or maybe dramatically different) than a company who puts employees first. I know that while I try to flex with my clients’ preferences, personal experience as well as research leads me to be heavily biased to a servant leadership approach with most of the content built around the 12 areas of emotional intelligence that Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis define.

Just wanting your managers to ‘be better leaders’ will not be helpful in defining your leadership brand and culture. Some people know what they want based on the best leader they’ve ever had, and some based on the worst. Of course, the developmental stage of the employees is a factor as well.

The point is that as you grow, a more formalized process for hiring, identifying, promoting and training leaders is going to put you at a competitive advantage based on improved retention, higher productivity, and the ability to grow more quickly. However, you need to do some prep work to make sure you are clear about what you really expect from your leaders. It’s also important to invest some necessary time and money in making sure you are solid on managing the behaviors and processes required for success as well.lavoro di squadra

As always, there’s no magic bullet – unless you count the magic that follows preparation, hard work and follow through!

Carrie Maldonado is the founder of Today’s Leadership Solutions, a Seattle-based consulting firm providing comprehensive organizational development solutions for companies who are growing and who truly value their people.  With certified Executive Coaches, Organizational Behavior Management (OBM) practitioners, SPHR-certified HR professionals, and Organizational Development Specialists, Carrie’s team brings a unique perspective and a cross-functional approach to providing workplace solutions that work.  Carrie can be reached for consultation at


The magical formula to crushing the employee performance conversation

Five key components to crushing the employee performance conversation

This is probably THE biggest problem area for managers of all levels; from first time supervisor to CEO. IT is terribly difficult to have a conversation with someone who is not performing well. Reactions to this situation range from just ignoring the problem indefinitely to firing people without ever telling them why. Yes, that’s right – many managers would rather fire someone than tell them they need to improve! Why is this?

I think there are probably a couple factors. First, we are scared the person will get upset and quit and we don’t have a replacement lined up. Second, sometimes managers feel that they have not provided an ideal opportunity to perform well and so don’t feel it’s fair to correct performance in those circumstances. Third, some companies who pay below market average tend to compromise on poor performance out of guilt, or resignation that this is just the best they’re likely to get for what they’re paying. Fourth, people believe that the performance isn’t going to change, so why go to the hassle of an unpleasant coaching talk? I’ll be honest – sometimes these fears are legitimate.  However, I would argue that it’s still good practice and having these tough conversations will increase your management skills. Not only that, sometimes it actually works and performance turns around. The reality is you have nothing to lose by coaching poor performing employees and everything to gain. So what’s the magical formula?

The most important part of coaching poor employees is taking the emotion out of it, for you. There are usually two emotions warring when we have a badly performing employee. First is anger, especially if the performance is making your life more difficult or reflecting badly on you (and eventually it does). Second is fear – fear of confrontation, fear of the employee crying, fear of the employee quitting, or maybe fear of the employee not liking your or their job anymore. It’s okay to be nervous, but it’s not okay to either avoid or villainize the employee because of the emotion. To take the emotion out, take your ego out of it and right size the issue. Likely, it’s not a life or death issue, and will not make or break the company or your career. Put the performance in perspective and remind yourself that it’s part of your job as supervisor to help people do better, not an indicator that you’re failing if they need help. This is crucial.

Next, take a step back and look at the behavior only. Not your label or interpretation of the behavior. If your employee is consistently late for work, or does not complete tasks in a timely manner, this is the issue. It’s not that they don’t care, or are lazy, or have a bad attitude (necessarily). These things may be true from your perspective but it’s highly unlikely the employee will agree. Most of us judge ourselves by our intentions, not our actions, and your employees are no different. Your job as their supervisor and coach is to help them see the discrepancy between their intentions and their actions. This is the magical part of the formula because this is what will help your employees understand that you’re on their side and stop seeing you as an enemy.

Next, in order to increase the likelihood of successful change, you, the manager, must not own the problem. If you want the employee to successful more than they do, it won’t work. Part of the coaching conversation is to uncover or inspire a desire to succeed. If you can’t do that, or it’s just not there, there’s a very slim chance that the employee can and will turn their performance around. It’s very common for well-intentioned managers to own the problem and the solution. I’ve seen managers actually volunteer to call employees at home to wake them up so that they can make it to work on time. This is crossing the line from caring to co-dependent and I don’t recommend it as a general rule. Sometimes the best favor you can do someone is help them become more responsible on their own by holding them reasonably accountable for their actions.

As part of the performance discussion, make sure to establish specifically what you’d like to see more of, less of, started or stopped and the timelines in which you’d like to see it. An expression of confidence in their ability to do this is also good, but only if you believe it. If you can’t authentically tell someone you know they can improve, try for hoping they can improve.

There is one final component to crushing the employee performance conversation and this is to have performance conversations all the time. When someone is doing great, have a conversation to outline what they’re doing well. When they’re maintaining satisfactorily have a touch base to make sure they’re feeling challenged and appreciated. This takes the ‘no news is good news’ perception out of your presence and reduces the fear factor immensely, which makes it much more productive when there actually is an issue.

So to conclude, talk to your employees and talk to them often. Talk to them when things are good and when they’re not and remember that having this conversation isn’t taking you away from your job…it IS your job.


The magical formula for meetings that ‘don’t suck’

Any questions? Anyone? Anyone? It’s kind of a joke based on popular movies (at least, popular for my generation) but if you’ve ever led a meeting you know how it feels to try desperately to encourage interaction, only to be met with blank stares (or if you’re on a conference call not even that). I’ve seen meetings that were inspiring, awesome and trajectory-changing as well as meetings that gave a new definition to the word interminable. Having sat through and (unfortunately) led the bad as well as the good and researched the topic extensively, I’ve developed somewhat of a magic formula for fun and effective meetings (and that’s saying a lot for a confirmed introvert, let me tell you!)

It is all centered around the golden rule of meetings, which is that people remember what they say, not what you say. The more involved they are in the meeting, the more effective it will be. Period. It doesn’t matter what the purpose is of the meeting, or what information you have that they don’t. They will remember what engages them and they will be engaged when they are participating.

It took me a long time to a) learn this and b) use it effectively in most situations. In some cases, it’s obvious. If I’m gathering a group of managers together to discuss why sales are down then clearly I’m going to want a participative meeting, but what if I want to share they monthly financials? Or roll out a new incentive plan? Or discuss a current problem we’re facing? Or train folks on a new system or piece of equipment? Obviously in those cases, a lecture or presentation is most effective, with time for questions at the end, right?

Actually no. I’ve found that any time I’m lecturing or presenting info to people they are tuning out if they’re not talking, no matter how important the information is. The good news is that it’s possible to hold engaging, fun and participative meetings on even the most ‘boring’ of topics. Here’s my magic formula for engaging meetings:

1)      Develop a meeting intent

2)      Carefully balance an agenda to include participation, exercises and input

3)      Provide a specific expectation of meeting roles ahead of time

4)      Elicit and not just solicit input

5)      Employ brevity and humor (it’s a tie)

Regarding meeting intent, it’s important to be clear on the purpose of your meeting. If you’re just gathering people together because it’s been a while since you had a meeting (don’t laugh, I’ve heard this a lot) then you need to do a bit more prep. Don’t confuse the subject of the meeting with the purpose. There are all sorts of meeting subjects; sharing top down info, gaining bottom up info, training, financial review, policy implementations, etc.  To transition your mindset from subject to purpose, just keep asking why, and what do you want to be different as a result of this meeting? WHY do you want people to know the monthly financials? WHY are you training people? WHY do you want to tell them this info? It’s never just to give people more facts, but to help people do more or less or something different as a result of the facts. THAT is your meeting intent and THAT is what you need to keep front and center.

Balancing your agenda: Once you have your meeting purpose, it’s a lot easier to decide what should be on the agenda and how to present it. If you are reviewing financials, for example, your intent might be to have your managers take ownership of their departments, suggest ways to improve revenue and/or profit, or to account for the variances. OR, you might want to share a particular success with the intent of adopting it throughout the company, or continuing great progress. Alternatively, you may have identified a problem that needs quick resolution.  Knowing your intent allows you to decide how to deliver the info and what to ask of the participants. This will ensure that if you do decide to present the information in the meeting (rather than ahead of time) you can balance that part out with audience participation.

After you have an agenda that is balanced (or even better, weighted in favor of audience participation), it’s a good idea to share it ahead of time. For example, let your managers know that the purpose of the meeting will be to review their department’s financials and each manager will be delivering a five-minute presentation explaining their variance to plan (positive or negative). Or that you will be reviewing a decline in sales and asking each participant to review their contingency plan with the team. This will avoid your unduly embarrassing participants by ‘catching’ them being unprepared, and will also ensure people are actively engaged, knowing they will be playing a part in the meeting.

Fourth is to elicit and not just solicit input. This means you make sure everyone talks in your meeting. Because the point is not to catch people not paying attention but to ensure they are paying attention in the first place, make it clear at the outset that you WILL be calling on people. This is even more critical on conference calls where (like it or not) most people are muting the call and doing other things. Tell people that this is an interactive meeting and that each person on the call will be addressed directly at least once because you want to hear from them.

I couldn’t decide between humor and brevity for the final point. They both play critical roles in engaging people in meetings. As an act of human kindness, try to make your meetings as short as possible. Most people are just too busy to be able to stay engaged for very long. If you do require a long meeting do everything in your power as the leader to reduce other workload so as to keep people’s attention on the task at hand. And wherever you can, use humor. If you’re not funny, harness the funny person in the room for good, because otherwise they will derail your meeting for their own distracting purposes.  People can definitely laugh and learn at the same time and if they are enjoying themselves, they will not be doing other things during the meeting.

So there you have it…the magic formula for meeting preparation. If this was helpful to you, please let me know and happy planning!


Superstar School 101: How to make your boss think you’re a rock star

Unless you work for yourself, you have a boss (and if you do work for yourself you have a lot of bosses; they’re called your clients and it’s way easier for them to fire you than traditional bosses).  And, unless you just inherited a gazillion dollars, it behooves you to ensure your boss is pleased with you. I’m not talking about the phony, sucking up kind of pleased. Most bosses and all true leaders are able to look past flattery pretty quickly.  Rather, I’m talking about some basic communication and professional standards of behavior that will mark you as the super star you are, but that are surprisingly UNcommon.  In fact, the majority of management counseling, disciplinary actions and even terminations I’ve seen result from these NOT occurring.  They are so important that even if you are a technical expert at your job, failing to do these things could be the kiss of death for your career. On the other hand, these coupled with competence could just get you labeled a rock star! And you want to be considered a rock star, because it leads to great things like more money, more opportunity, more responsibility, more interesting assignments and more leadership opportunities.

1: Follow up on a request from your manager:

This one is crucial and a huge source of frustration to leaders when it doesn’t happen. If your boss, or the company owner, specifically asks you to do something there are a couple important next steps. First, DO IT. Second, let your boss know it was completed. You don’t need a lengthy dissertation, but a quick email, text, IM or even, gasp, verbal confirmation that it was done is more than professional courtesy. By doing this, you are relieving your boss from having to worry about something. When you are the person who relieves worry, instead of causing it, this is a good thing for you. Now, suppose step one is not possible and you can’t complete the assignment. This happens and in this situation it is exponentially MORE important to communicate this was not done. Your boss may not like that it was not completed but they will dislike getting surprised with this information even more.

2: Restate objectives to ensure you’ve heard them:

This is not something everyone does, but they should.  If communication was easy and straightforward, it wouldn’t consistently rank in the top three biggest issues companies face. I strongly recommend taking notes when meeting with your manager or company owner, even if for no other reason than to keep yourself focused. Always, always and ALWAYS restate the objectives you believe you’ve been given to make sure you and your boss are on the same page. This does more than just reassure you both that you are in agreement, believe it or not, it also is a great way for your manager to process through things. When my employees would do this, it sometimes turned into a fantastic problem solving opportunity for both of us, as I realized there were some missing components in my action plan. Without this critical step, the mission would probably have failed and both me and my employees would have been frustrated.

3: Engage your boss in re-prioritizing:

There will be a time in your career when you are given more than is possible to reasonably do (cough, every day, cough). Most of the time, our priorities are pretty clear, but there can be times when they’re not. Your boss is likely juggling multiple responsibilities as well and, being only human, can lose track of what you’re working on. And sometimes you may be given additional directives from other managers or your boss’s boss. When this happens it can feel stressful, but it doesn’t have to be a big deal. Instead, talk to your boss, reasonably, to ask which is most important. They often times have access to information you don’t which can help prioritize. Regardless, it’s good practice, because this way you are engaging your boss and eliminating the element of surprise at potentially unfinished tasks.

4: Celebrate your team:

This is so important! Teamwork makes the world go round, or at least, good companies. By pointing out the star players on your team to your boss, you are giving him/her a chance to thank them, which can be an amazing boost to morale. In addition, it reflects well on you that you are consciously growing and supporting talent. No company has room for managers who hog the glory or the credit, whether this is spoken or unspoken. It’s confident, savvy leaders who know that building people up is an important component of their job – maybe THE most important.

5: Effectively advocate for the company AND your employees

Most managers are intrinsically good at one or the other, but to be a rock star, you need to do both, at the same time, all the time. It’s impossible to separate which is more important. If the company goes down, no one has jobs and if the people aren’t taken care of, the company goes down. As much as it’s important to celebrate your team, if you are acting more like a shop union steward (in a non-union company) and neglecting to see the big picture of what is in the company’s best interest as well, you will not be successful and you will not be able to partner effectively with your boss. This is not easy, because much of the time it can feel like the company and the employees have opposing interests, but it is possible to find a middle ground and that is where the rock stars live.

So essentially, make your boss (and your company) successful and they will in turn make you successful. Exceptions lie in the cases of grave economic conditions, or working for terrible bosses in terrible cultures but the principles of rock-star-ness hold true even in those situations. Sometimes we are placed in positions to make a difference in bad circumstances, or to elevate our awesomeness to the extent we will be hand-picked by an equally awesome company. So let your inner rock star out!


Why Limitless HR Solutions?

Have you decided your company is finally ready for an HR Director or HR Manager?  We can answer your need for a top quality HR Manager or Director for a fraction of the cost.  Let us partner with you to build a best in class HR infrastructure that is legally compliant and strategically aligned with your goals.  You will receive the benefit of working with a seasoned executive hands-on to assess your needs and put in place all your required HR processes and procedures without incurring a fixed labor cost to your budget.  This enables you to hire a solid generalist or administrator (if needed) rather than a higher level manager and we will support you on your out of the ordinary situations.  It’s a win-win.  Best of all, there are no long-term commitments required.  You’ve got nothing to lose except personnel headaches and fears. 

How do you know you need Limitless HR Solutions?

You’re not sure your handbook is compliant with all the most current laws (or you don’t have a handbook at all), your personnel records are filed by common sense, not necessarily federal requirements, your company has outgrown your processes, hiring and onboarding is a major headache and you’re starting to become afraid of what you don’t know.  If you’re growing or getting ready to grow you might also be seeing an increase in employee relations issues and your managers could use some help and support.  You don’t even know where to start!   We can help!

With Limitless HR Solutions, you will receive the benefit of two decades in the Human Resources and Organizational Development field, in multiple states and multiple industries, including:
•    Vast and current knowledge of legal compliance to ensure you are meeting all relevant state and federal requirements
•    Proven track record of establishing HR departments within budget
•    Wealth of strategic experience to ensure your job descriptions, wage classification and wage banding are in alignment with your organizational short and long term goals
•    Years of experience successfully establishing incentive plans and employee engagement to ensure you are attracting and retaining the right people to make your business successful
•    Top notch leadership and development experience to work with your supervisors and managers for specific training or ongoing coaching
•    Extensive experience in both Washington and California labor law
•    Calm, cool, and collected: We don’t like to say we’ve seen everything, but we’ve seen a lot.  Chances are if you’re having an HR problem, we’ve dealt with that situation or something similar.  Don’t swim through shark infested legal waters on your own. We have an on-call HR hotline for on-the-spot issues. We’ve got this.
•    Years of experience with benefits selection, administration and broker relations
•    Handbook and IIPP creation
•    Policy development, implementation and enforcement
•    Onboarding and orientation

Call or email now for a free consultation.  949.354.1588 or