3 Ways to Improve Your Strategic Thinking

You may have heard the story of the truck that was immovably stuck under a bridge and how the solution came from an unlikely source. If you don’t know it, I’ll share it at the end of this newsletter.

I was thinking about this story when recalling a professional meeting where the topic was developing a global mindset. One of the speakers was talking about their company’s research showing that experiencing another culture has a significant impact on one’s strategic thinking. “Experiencing” didn’t mean going there on a vacation. It was an immersive, longer-term experience, like ex pat assignments or managing a global team where you had to travel to work within their culture somewhat regularly.

The speaker noted that these assignments have this profound impact because they challenge your perceptions and perspectives of the world. These different perspectives allow you to be more nuanced in your thinking about how different parts of a whole interact, the variables that impact it, and the resulting implications. Your competitors are increasingly global, not just national or local. Therefore, such experiences help you to think more like (and outthink) your competitors, to anticipate trends, and to consider solutions and strategies from a broader array of possibilities.

How, then, can you stretch your perspectives to help develop your strategic thinking when working globally isn’t a possibility (or, at least, not yet)?

  • Regularly interact with people in a different function or area of the company. Marketers and engineers don’t think alike. Operations people think differently than researchers. See how someone different from you may experience the same issues or the organization itself.
  • Interact with those outside your industry.  For years, benchmarking was the buzzword when you wanted to get a more strategic perspective and to gain some competitive advantage. Benchmarking is often practiced with a closed-system approach. Life science companies benchmark other life science companies. Tech firms benchmark other tech firms. That’s important, but it’s also somewhat limiting, especially in a world where industries and disciplines are bleeding together like never before. The perspective of someone in a different industry about your issue or situation will cause you to think about the variables and interactions more broadly, more strategically. One of the things that made Steve Jobs so successful at product design was that he included perspectives he gained from things as diverse as digital animation, calligraphy and architecture.

When we hire people who are mostly like ourselves we multiply our strengths… but also our weaknesses and blind spots.

  • Hire people who are different from you. We’re all familiar with research which shows that diverse organizations are generally more successful. In addition to the typical diversity categories we’re used to thinking about (gender, race, age, etc.) we should look for diversity of thought, experience, and education, among many other factors. When we hire people who are mostly like ourselves, we multiply our strengths… but also our weaknesses and blind spots. Make sure to regularly ask those you’ve hired for their perspective and input on the business issues you are working to address.

Thinking about your daily business interactions expansively will help you develop the broader perspective needed for strategic thinking.

So, the story of the truck goes like this. The top of the truck was wedged against the underside of a bridge, and it could go neither forward nor backward. It just wouldn’t budge. Traffic was backed up and police and tow trucks were trying to figure out how to get it out. A little boy walked up and asked what was going on.  The police officer explained the dilemma. The little boy looked at him and said, “let the air out of the tires.”

Alignment + Agility = Competitive Advantage

Our previous two articles talked about creating alignment for success in 2021. First, your organization (and your teams) need a clearly articulated North Star and strategic clarity. Second, it is imperative to build a culture that reinforces alignment between how you work and what you aim to achieve. Alignment is essential for success. However, agility – in addition to alignment – will lead to competitive advantage.

Alignment without agility is stagnation.

Agility without alignment is chaos.

Over the past year, rapid response and breakneck adaptation have been watchwords for successful businesses in the COVID environment. The pace of that agile response has left people exhausted and organizations risking burnout among their teams. Some organizations have been changing so quickly that they have prioritized adaptation too highly. They are no longer aligned with or certain about their business strategy. And some feel they no longer recognize their culture. In a deep and dire emergency, business survival trumps culture.  Nevertheless, it has its negative consequences.

On the other hand, some of my clients are already worried that, as we approach a post-pandemic world, the desire for a sense of “normalcy” and decompression will result in a temporary, but dangerous stagnation. It could be very tempting to feed the longing for some stability, and focus too heavily on alignment, deprioritizing agility.

And therein lies the conundrum. Organizations that build and maintain competitive advantage create a balance between two competing elements: alignment and agility. It can be convincingly argued that the benefits of agility are only achieved within the context of ongoing alignment with strategy and culture. It is also a fact that change and alignment are, at their core, competing forces that require constant attention.

How can you create alignment and agility within your team?

  • Clearly focus on only a handful of strategic imperatives. And don’t assume clarity. Revisit those imperatives regularly with your team and discuss how the team’s work contributes to them. Use them as your guardrails.
  • Help strategy bubble up from the bottom.  People in the organization who are closer to the customers, operations and technologies often see opportunities and threats more quickly than executives do. In my HBR article, “5 Behaviors of Leaders Who Embrace Change”, I shared these two ideas for building this capability in your team:
    • Make opportunity-seeking part of the regular conversation. Simply asking questions like “What are our customers talking about? What do you think they will want a year or two from now? What new trends do you think will impact us?” sends the message that looking ahead is important. And that you value their input.
    • Advertise successes. Nothing breeds success like success. Tell the stories at company events and recognize team members who are looking ahead and identifying opportunities. Demonstrate that the status quo is not enough anymore.
  • Encourage experimentation and learn from failure:  Too often, traditional organizations’ first response to a risk is to ask, “Why?” Change agility requires leaders to ask “why not?” and to establish opportunities for pilots, prototypes, and experimentation. Experimentation is an integral part of R&D. While an overall strategy informs the researchers’ focus, any R&D scientist will tell you that there are sometimes dozens of experiments that don’t get results and that, without those failures, they wouldn’t have been able to find the successes.
  • Reallocate resources with discipline.  As Sulls’ and Homkes research found, organizations tend to move too slowly or move quickly but lose sight of the strategy. I consulted to an organization a few years ago where moving too quickly without discipline was hampering their ability to achieve results. The CEO had started the company and was the classic early-stage entrepreneur; extremely responsive to market needs, ready and willing to change strategy, and endlessly shifting resources. However, the company was not early stage anymore and this nearly sole focus on agility led to a complete lack of follow-through, very little alignment and was seriously impacting results. The board removed him and named a new CEO who added a new level of discipline to resource allocation through a combination of centralized oversight and distributed decision-making.

Start 2021 with the ideas we’ve discussed in these three articles – defining your North Star, creating strategic clarity, building a strong culture and creating aligned agility – and you will have improved your ability to thrive.

The 3rd Key to Better Results in 2021

Everyone wants a competitive advantage. In our last article, we talked about the critical nature of purpose (a North Star) and strategic clarity. They provide much needed direction in a time of change and uncertainty. The third key to better results in 2021 is culture. And it’s considered by many to be the most important.

Peter Drucker famously said “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” and research supports that assertion. Just a couple examples:

Culture is what bonds people together (or doesn’t) – and it usually determines how effectively you pursue strategy. Whether your organization or team will be remote, blended or back in the office, one of your 2021 priorities should be ensuring your culture is positioning you to take advantage of opportunities.


Just Words on a Page?
Culture is often defined in terms of published values (or principles, philosophy, ideals). These statements are meant to guide the actions and decisions of employees throughout the organization. Do those statements actually create culture? The answer is no. Sull, Turconi, and Sull researched the correlation between 9 of the most frequently stated company values and how well the companies lived up to those values in their employees’ eyes. The correlation between the published values and actual values were very weak for all, and negative for four of them.  As the saying goes, “don’t pay attention to what they say, pay attention to what they do.”

Culture is a Reflection
It reflects how we actually navigate our relationships… with employees, peers, customers and business partners.  Culture is about where we spend our time. Do we spend more time fixing client problems than anticipating them, more time penalizing people for mistakes than recognizing effective behavior? Should we spend more time on service, on innovation or on building value? Ultimately, culture is the collective nature of what we value as a company. And it’s not what we write on a piece of paper, but what we do. Every. single. day.

Build, Maintain and Adapt Intentionally
Our behavior is how we define, demonstrate, and continually recreate culture. As a leader, what actions should you take to build a culture that supports peak performance?

Start with your North Star and strategy: 
Purpose and strategic clarity need to be defined and communicated regularly. They provide the context and direction for the culture choices the company makes.

Align it with the company’s brand:
 Your brand is how your company is perceived and experienced by the customer and other stakeholders.  David Matting, Head of Trends and Insights for TrendWatching notes “There’s really no such thing as internal culture anymore. Your culture is always public, and it’s your most powerful, public-facing asset or liability.” It’s difficult to tell the market you are, for example, positioned around an outstanding customer experience when your business doesn’t support an outstanding employee experience.

Define the behaviors that epitomize values.
 Values are often stated as words or phrases like ‘act with integrity’ or ‘delight the customer’. What does that look like? Define the behaviors that epitomize those values. By watching how people behave, what they say and what decisions and trade-offs are made, any leader or employee should be able to say what your culture is.

Connect roles and work to purpose
.  What does a salesperson, developer, machine operator or the CEO do (and not do) that represents the best in your culture? Go beyond traditional job descriptions and define how that role connects to the purpose and culture. Hire for those attributes; expect them, celebrate them and reward them.

Actively and regularly assess.
Whether through surveys, focus groups or an assessment by an external consultant, regularly take a step back and assess how well people in your organization understand the cultural goals.

According to Gallup, Only 41% of employees strongly

agree that they know what their company stands for

and what makes it different from competitors

Leaders also should be asking how well their teams reflect the stated culture. It’s easy for employees and leaders alike to become unmoored from cultural goals. An honest look will continue to position your culture as a competitive advantage, including when it comes to attracting talent.


Adapt in real time.
 Change can’t wait. When the culture no longer represents who the organization or team should be, adapt it to meet changing needs.
By defining your North Star, creating strategic clarity, and intentionally focusing on culture, you are well on your way to creating competitive advantage and an ability to take advantage of the opportunities presented in 2021.

The Two Keys to Better Results in 2021

In these first few weeks of 2021 one thing is abundantly clear – change, disruption and challenge are going to be with us for the foreseeable future. It’s time to move beyond survival mode and figure out how to thrive. Simplicity and focus are key. The organizations and teams that create sustained alignment, keep engagement high and outperform their competition will start 2021 answering two questions:

What is our North Star?
How will we create and maintain strategic clarity?

Without a clear purpose and understanding of what continues to be important in a rapidly changing environment, work becomes fractured, misaligned and frustrating. Recently, McKinsey examined how 30 top companies are preparing for the future. 83% are taking bold moves around their purpose, their North Star. Research by LSA Global shows that strategic clarity accounts for 31% of the difference between high and low performance in terms of revenue growth, profitability, customer loyalty, leadership effectiveness and employee engagement. Research also tells us that finding meaning – having purpose, a North Star – is a universal intrinsic motivator.

Answering “What Is Our North Star?” Provides Clear Purpose

For centuries, travelers have navigated by the North Star. No matter the circumstance, it was a constant in the night sky. It is the answer to the questions, “why do we exist?  What is our purpose?” With today’s unpredictability and the need for agility, your North Star defines the constant core that will drive strategy, priorities and decisions. Without a North Star, agility becomes chaos. Decision-making and priority setting are reactive, siloed and lack alignment.
Defining the North Star should start with the executive team but not end there. Share the definition. Ask what resonates and what’s missing. Create a short statement that is understandable, memorable and defines the essence of why the organization exists. If the statement sounds something like “to increase shareholder value,” keep asking “is that really the core of who we are? Is our purpose larger than that?” Test how simple and memorable it is. After broad and intentional communication, ask 10 random people what the North Star is. If it’s not consistent, you have more work to do.

Strategic Clarity Provides the Map

Strategic clarity follows from strategic simplicity.
Donald Sull, a global authority on strategy execution, recommends three questions that create simplicity and actionable clarity  out of complex strategies.
  • What are your critical business drivers?
  • What are the 3-5 challenges we need to overcome to succeed in 2021?
  • What are our must-win battles?
I add one more question that I believe is essential in today’s environment:
  • How will we keep ahead of or quickly be responsive to changes that occur?

Answering the first three questions brings clarity to targets and daily choices. Why did we choose these targets and those activities? For example, why is our target 3 % growth instead of 5% growth? Why are we focused on digital transformation? Sure, it’s to stay competitive; but specifically, HOW will it help your organization? What business strategies will it support? Can everyone in the organization explain strategy and how it manifests in their function, and in their role? If not, some of your people may be rowing in the wrong direction.

The final question recognizes that change will remain constant and that as we address the challenges and must-win battles, tactics may need to be altered or changed completely. It tells people we recognize that change will occur and leveraging it (instead of fearing it) is how we succeed.
In 2021 we’ll have our next new normal. My prediction is that many people will still feel like their organization’s goals have little connection to their work because things have shifted… again.
By having a North Star and simplifying your strategy to create clarity, your team will be better aligned and more engaged.

Our Most Read LinkedIn Articles of 2020

As we all welcome 2021, we thought we’d look back to 2020 and some of our most-read LinkedIn articles.


COVID has taught us that we can and must be able to change rapidly, to transform on the fly if need be. We’ve had no choice but to go more completely digital, transforming our customer, employee, student and supplier experiences. Truly listening with empathy, and being agile became key not just for leaders, but for everyone. Change can’t just be a priority for a few people at the top. It needs to be a priority for everyone. And, honestly, that’s kind of exciting. 

1. 10 𝑻𝒊𝒑𝒔 𝒕𝒐 𝑯𝒆𝒍𝒑 𝒀𝒐𝒖𝒓 𝑻𝒆𝒂𝒎 𝒊𝒏 𝒂 𝑫𝒊𝒔𝒓𝒖𝒑𝒕𝒆𝒅 𝑬𝒏𝒗𝒊𝒓𝒐𝒏𝒎𝒆𝒏𝒕: http://bit.ly/3q8oMg

2. 𝑺𝒊𝒍𝒗𝒆𝒓 𝑳𝒊𝒏𝒊𝒏𝒈𝒔 𝒐𝒇 𝑪𝒐𝒗𝒊𝒅 19: http://bit.ly/3qbjpi0

3. 𝑻𝒉𝒆 𝑴𝒐𝒓𝒆 𝑻𝒉𝒊𝒏𝒈𝒔 𝑪𝒉𝒂𝒏𝒈𝒆… 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝑴𝒐𝒓𝒆 𝑾𝒆 𝑵𝒆𝒆𝒅 𝒕𝒐 𝑳𝒆𝒂𝒏 𝒐𝒏 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝑭𝒖𝒏𝒅𝒂𝒎𝒆𝒏𝒕𝒂𝒍𝒔: http://bit.ly/39uetOF


NextBridge partners with you to create and execute pragmatic, sustainable business solutions. Please let us know how we can help you in 2021.

7 Ways to Make Performance Review Discussions Easier… and More Effective

Performance management is a source of some frustration for most managers, especially having the “dreaded” review discussion. There are ways to make that conversation both easier and more effective.


It’s that time of the year again.  No, not the holidays.  Performance review and annual goal setting time. Many people dread performance reviews.  That dread is exacerbated this year by the exceptional circumstances we’ve all been living through.  It’s too bad this sense of dread is so prevalent. Performance reviews and feedback could be easier and more effective, if we reframe our thinking. Here are 7 tips to make performance reviews easier and more effective:

1. Change the label. The term “performance review” or “performance management” conjures up images of passing judgement on a person’s performance, on their worth. A “performance and development conversation” is a two-way dialogue. We are sharing perspectives, insights and ideas. It’s a partnership. How we talk with our team members can put people more at ease.

2. Change the focus. Make the review all about developing your team member. The focus of performance conversations should not be primarily about the rating we are giving someone or justifying a salary increase. It’s an opportunity to help this individual perform at the highest level possible, to build on their strengths and support their development. According to McKinsey, superior talent is up to eight times more productive than average employees.  The more time and sincere effort you invest in your employee’s development, the higher the return.

3. Start with empathy. Ask about the challenges and realities the person is experiencing – balancing work and child-care, caring for an elderly parent, managing remote or hybrid learning or just the loneliness of being remote. Ask at the beginning of the review. Even if you asked last week. You want to establish empathy as part of the review. Why? Besides being a good thing to do? Among employees who said they feel cared for by their employer, 94% say they feel personally engaged in their work compared to 43% of those who don’t. Furthermore, according to IBM research, organizations that score in the  top 25% of employee experience report nearly 3x the return on assets and double the return on sales when compared to organizations in the bottom 25%.

4. Simplify. Start with a high-level narrative that summarizes past performance, development needs and goals. Then launch into the review. But don’t just read it together. Instead, think about using these five questions to drive conversation:

  • What accomplishments are you most proud of?
  • How well are you achieving your current goals?
  • How do goals need to change to meet new business strategy or goals?
  • How are your actions aligning with our values and culture?
  • What do you need to continue doing because you are doing it well? What do you need to stop doing because it’s not effective? What do you need to start doing instead?
5. Redefine accountabilities. In light of the exceptionally difficult year, we will want to remember to reframe our expectations. For example, is it realistic to think a salesperson will have the same level of sales as they did last year? 

6. Talk about expectations and reality.  
Discuss how those expectations can be managed against the realities mentioned above.  Ask for the individual’s thoughts on it. 

7. Focus not just on what was achieved but how it was achieved. 
For example, in remote environments, collaboration is more important but can be more difficult. Make sure people are clear on what is important for success.

Performance Reviews: 4 Tips for Better Strategic Alignment

Most managers and employees don’t know their own organization’s strategic goals. So, whether you’re reviewing a middle manager or a front-line supervisor, there are good reasons to make the discussion more strategic.  For starters, you’ll have more productive and effective leaders on your team; along with higher engagement and retention of key talent.   Here are 4 ways to make that happen.

These tips are designed primarily for immediate impact with your team members in their upcoming reviews, not for how you conduct the entire performance management process.  But if you carry these ideas into your ongoing feedback and coaching regimen next year, you’ll continue to build a team that delivers more value for the organization and helps each of them build more fulfilling careers.

Make business strategy and priorities central to the discussion.  Even executives sometimes lose the forest for the trees when it comes to appraisals.  In a conversation there is a tendency to focus on specific goals or behaviors rather than how they contribute to achieving the strategy itself.  Create an opening narrative for your discussion that provides an overview of your team member’s performance in light of your organization’s strategy. Then keep referring back to strategy as you break into specific content.

Have a conversation.  Shared responsibility for the discussion feels more engaging and will increase ownership of the results.  Asking questions is always an effective leadership skill.  Here it pays extra dividends.  How clear is your direct report on the business strategy and her role in making that happen?  What you’re looking for here is a way to frame up the discussion of their performance in a strategic way, even as you’re gaining information on how they perceive their performance and its alignment to strategy.

  • What business priorities do you think you made the biggest contributions to this year? Why?
  • Which of your goals do you feel was most aligned with (for example) client retention, and how so?
  • Which of next year’s business goals do you think our team will impact the most?  How do you see yourself supporting that goal?
  • What skill development would help you be a more strategic asset to the organization?
Make strategic alignment explicit.  That means drawing a straight line from strategy to business function to their role and finally, their goals.  For example… “John, you’ll recall that another one of our company’s biggest priorities this year has been to retain our biggest clients in the face of the pandemic.  One of our jobs was to provide systems enhancements that allowed for higher volumes of online traffic.  And I asked you to make that happen by getting your team to…”  Your most strategically plugged-in team members may require a lighter touch, but it’s important to be certain they’re fully aware how much their performance impacts specific organizational priorities.  And to keep it at the forefront of their mind.

Motivate with strategic involvement.  Explain how their future performance will impact their ability to advance to projects and roles that increasingly have more impact on strategy.  Link their ability to develop key skills to becoming a more valuable asset to the organization.  Ask them what part of the strategy motivates them the most.  Ask what roles, projects, and skills they think will help them get there.  Provide your input and agree to a plan.

You want your team to not only understand business strategy, and how it aligns with their work.  You want them to internalize it as part of what drives them to succeed.  You want to help them make it a part of how they develop skills and reach career goals.  This feeds into three of the biggest needs we all have… knowing what’s expected of me, knowing that my manager cares about me and knowing that what I’m working on matters.

How To Leverage A Toxic Boss

Virtually everyone has a bad manager story. But what about truly toxic bosses? According to a study by the Employment Law Alliance, nearly 50% of all employees have had a toxic boss at some point in their career. I know I have.

Should you run away from him as fast as you can? It depends (see below).  Skillful management of the situation can actually be a career advantage. Accomplishing results under a difficult boss builds Emotional Intelligence, develops resilience and gets you noticed. Not bad if you can handle it.

Two caveats before we begin:

  • A single toxic behavior doesn’t make for a toxic manager. Like most things, there are degrees of toxicity. Be careful not to generalize. For example, someone may have astronomical performance expectations, but otherwise is a likeable, capable manager. Or another manager may be insensitively blunt, but fair-minded. These managers happen to have huge blind spots that need to be brought to their attention.
  • Not all toxic bosses are alike. Some are bullies who yell and scream. Some are sophisticated manipulators… quiet but tyrannical, with a complete lack of empathy. Check out Roy Lubit’s article for more details on the different types of toxicity.

Typical Approaches

We aren’t going to completely rid ourselves of toxic bosses anytime soon. When you review the literature, you’ll find there are different strategies you can try that can help the situation but each has its drawbacks.

  • Lie Low. Acquiesce to her demands, try to avoid confrontation, hope that it gets better, or one of you leaves the company. This only works when you’re 100% sure she’s not your boss for long. Otherwise it’s demoralizing, creates a victim mentality, and invites further and deeper abuse.
  • Reason With Them. Try to engage, explain how he makes you feel, or try to “work out” your differences in a heat-to heart. Unlikely to work. If this is someone who purposefully or uncontrollably makes your life a living hell, he doesn’t care how you feel.
  • Report Them. You’ve had enough, so you bring it to HR. It’s often the “right” thing to do, and some situations almost demand it. Know that it’s a big risk. HR usually has a high bar to side with you over your manager. And you could win the battle but lose the war. You could get an undeserved reputation as a tattle-tale or a malcontent which could follow you for years. The good news: more organizations and HR functions are clamping down on toxic bosses, particularly around harassment. Get unbiased advice and proceed carefully.
  • Fight Them. Confront them aggressively. Or use passive-aggressive tactics like pretending you didn’t hear them or acting out behind their backs. A Baylor University study clames it’s the most successful approach (which tells you how bad the others are, by comparison). Be extremely cautious. It requires excellent EQ, otherwise solid performance, and not a little luck. And it’s not exactly taking the high road.
  • Leave the Company or the department for another role. This is often an excellent option. But not for everyone, and it can take several months to find a better situation. Also, don’t be surprised if you run into him again. Maybe because of a reorganization. Maybe as a project manager. Or hired to replace your boss at the new company. I’ve seen it happen.

A Better Way: Manage Your Boss

This is not a tongue-in-cheek suggestion. You should think about this like you would a project or a developmental assignment. Approach it with some rigor and discipline. There are three main considerations.

Manage Yourself: This is the most critical element of managing your manager. You must reframe how you think of your boss and your relationship. You will certainly need to make adjustments along the way, but you must fully commit to this new approach.

  •  Make the Decision.  Is this the right approach? If so, attack this as a project, and think about it objectively. Put the focus on you… your performance, your career, and serving your clients’ best interests. While thinking about things like “destroying your boss” might feel good in the moment, the negativity will eat you up, and make it much harder to accomplish your goals.
  • Be Positive and Maintain Your Self-Esteem. Keep focused on the end result. Management usually knows who the difficult bosses are and they’ll be impressed with how you handle yourself in the toughest of situations.
  • Don’t Let Yourself Get Isolated. Continue to build your network. Maintain your visibility. Bounce ideas off trusted peers. Promote yourself discretely.

Be Openly Respectful even if he or she doesn’t always deserve it. Don’t engage in gossip or character assassination. Don’t make your boss look bad. It’s likely other people know at least a little about your toxic boss’ behavior.  They are also looking at you and evaluating how you respond. And wondering, “would he treat me the same way behind my back?”

Know Your Manager: The better you understand what makes your boss tick, the better you can avoid, counteract or even leverage their own behaviors to everyone’s advantage. This is a capability that’s useful as you work with even the best of managers.

  • Put Yourself in Their Shoes. Work to understand the challenges and pressures the boss is facing and be empathetic. Like you, she may have overly aggressive goals, too much on their plate, not enough resources, unrealistic timelines, or maybe even a toxic boss themselves.
  • Ask Yourself What Motivates Them? When irritated by someone, most people perceive what motivates themselves in a positive light and routinely question the motivations of others. “He makes my life hell because he’s on a power trip.” Maybe. Could it also be that he is struggling to be a good manager and doesn’t understand that this isn’t how you do it? What have his bosses modeled for him?
  • Learn Your Boss’s Strengths and Weaknesses. Employees and their managers are linked together whether they like it or not. So it is really important for employees to pay close attention to a manager’s work habits, management style, and how they operate on a daily basis. Observe:
  • Likes and dislikes?
  • Emotional intelligence?
  • Personality quirks?
  • What things set off the boss?

There is no substitute for finding out what makes a boss tick and understanding the things that motivate him or her. Failing to do so puts you at a disadvantage when developing strategies to work more effectively with your boss.

Collaborate: Even the worst bosses appreciate employees who help them look good. And, it’s relatively easy to work productively with people you like. Learning to collaborate with even the most difficult people will develops your EQ and boosts your career.  

  • Get Aligned. Do you know and FOCUS on your bosses goals? Have a conversation about goals, responsibilities and tasks.
  • Communicate Their Way. Some people prefer to talk things through while others prefer to think about it first. Some people like long narratives, others prefer a few bullet points. Some want frequent communication, others don’t. Learn what your manager likes. And, don’t be afraid to ask. They will probably appreciate that you are taking their preferences into account.
  • Be a Problem Solver. Never identify a problem or bring a complaint to your boss without having a at least one potential solution in hand that you have thought through. Better yet – provide options. Even bad bosses like employees who solve problems for them.
  • Communicate in Writing as Much as Possible to ensure you’re on the same page and that you’re able to demonstrate your work. Make sure you adapt that writing to your boss’ preferences. After important meetings, send emails to confirm what was agreed upon.
  • Pick Your Battles. This isn’t about subservience. You should still maintain your dignity, and stand up for yourself when necessary. The more you know about your boss, and the more you demonstrate your collaborative behavior, the easier it will be to address your concerns. Don’t do it often. Don’t do it in front of other people.
  • Know When It’s Time to Go. Even if you do all of the above, you may decide that you can’t work in this situation. Decide when and how you’ll move on. Do it with grace and with a focus on maintaining as positive a relationship as you can. Burning bridges doesn’t help anyone. Document truly toxic behavior in case you need to provide it.

Every situation is different. Make a decision with eyes wide open about who you are, what you are willing to tolerate, what the pros and cons are. If you’re lucky, you may never work for a toxic boss. However, managing your boss is good advice no matter the circumstances. It allows you to take control of your performance and gain some control over the relationship with your manager in a way that helps you, your boss, and your organization.

5 Tips To Stay Focused

We’re approaching that time of year when things become more hectic. There’s the year-end push to meet our targets, planning for next year, and adjusting to the change in personal and family schedules that tends to happen over the next few months. It can be easy to lose focus, especially if you layer shifting priorities and organization changes on top of this. Here are 5 tips for staying focused.
  • Revisit your strategic objectives: Remember those objectives that were set at the beginning of the year? Have things shifted, are they still relevant? If not, what has taken their place? Check-in with your boss, your team, and your peers to ensure you are in agreement on what’s most important to achieve between now and the end of the year.
  • Map the next ten days: A few months can feel like a long time or no time at all when you’re thinking about achieving results. I’ve started using a planning system that pushes me to create 10-day objectives that map to key goals and strategies. It has caused me to pause, step back and really think about and then focus on what the most valuable use of my time is over the next two weeks.
  • Manage Your Energy . Along with those 10-day objectives will be daily to-do’s that pop up and can’t be ignored. Be mindful of what time of day you are at your best. Allocate your time so that your most important work happens when you are at your best. Use the first 15 minutes of your work day prioritizing and planning for the rest of the day.
  • Think sprints not marathons: David Rock, co-founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute studied thousands of people and found that we are really only focused for about 6-hours a week and our goal should be short, bursts of distraction-free work. So rather than saying, I’m going to close my door and be focused for the next 3-hours, make a commitment to shut everything else out for 30 minutes. This will give you 5-minutes of transition time at the beginning, 20 minutes of deep focus and 5 minutes to ramp up to what’s next.
  • Reward yourself: Multi-tasking is automatically rewarding to our brains. After one of your sprints, take a couple of minutes to do something rewarding. Take a walk, call a friend, grab your favorite coffee and think about how great it felt to have those few minutes of complete focus.
Do you have other tips on staying focused when there is too much going on? We’d love to hear them!

Re-frame Your Feedback

I have a leadership challenge for you. You will need to execute this challenge at the most foundational level of the leadership experience — in the one-on-one relationships you have with individuals on your team or in the company. The challenge relates to feedback.

I’ve found over the years that giving feedback is often not the favorite part of the leadership conversation. I believe this is true because for many of us feedback means hearing something negative. We only think about giving feedback when it’s about what someone is not doing well or about a mistake that person made or about what that person needs to do to improve. For the next week, my challenge to you is to make

Feedback = Positive

One of the things research has proven over and over again. but hasn’t seemed to make it into leaders’ thinking is the power of positive feedback. Several years ago The Corporate Leadership Council did research on the impact of one-hundred-plus performance management practices on bottom-line results and employee satisfaction. Positive feedback was one of seven practices that had significant impact on both results and satisfaction, and the impact was far greater than feedback that was focused on the negative. The ratio of positive feedback and developmental feedback that seems to have the biggest impact is about 4:1 (i.e., 4 positive, 1 negative).

So, your challenge is to catch people doing something right this week. Focus on a couple of team members and try to get close to the 4:1 ratio.

When you provide your positive feedback, remember a couple of guidelines:

  • The feedback should be specific and situational. Tell them the specific situation you are talking about.
  • It should focus on behavior. What did they do or say that created a positive result?
  • It should describe the impact of their behavior. What was the positive impact they created? How did it affect you or the team or the company or the customer.
  • Avoid vague feedback like “great job” or “way to go.” One of the reasons to give positive feedback is to help someone replicate the behavior and results in the future. If he’s not sure what you’re talking about, it’s harder for him to make it happen again.