Tell the Truth – Are You Bored at Work?

It’s the dreaded phrase all parents hear that makes them want to pull their hair out –“I’m bored.”  Boredom isn’t just a complaint of many an eight-year-old.  It’s emerging as a key contributor to what people are calling “The Great Resignation.” Proactive leadership can make a difference.

Chances are, You’re Not Alone

The BBC recently had an article about the rise of a condition they call “boreout.” We’re much more familiar with its fellow work ailment, burnout. Boreout is defined as being bored by your work to the point that one feels it is meaningless. It can be created by an environment that feels demoralizing, by feeling underchallenged for a prolonged period of time, and, yes, from being confined to Zoom and the same four walls for months on end.  Burnout and boreout have very similar impacts. Among them are higher turnover, checking-the-box behavior, lost productivity, decreased strategic thinking and innovation, and lost opportunity.

The difference between the two is that burnout can be seen as a badge of honor.  You suffer from it because you’ve really been driven and making things happen.  Suffering from boreout is perceived as not being motivated enough.

We probably can sense boreout quickly when (or if) it happens to our high performers and we will jump into to help them re-engage. For our poor performers, we assume they lack motivation. It can go unrecognized in the core of our team – those 60-80% who are good, solid performers who are less likely to actively voice what they are experiencing. Boreout among this group is going to have the most significant impact. That’s because of the sheer volume of that segment of our workforce… and because it goes undiagnosed for a longer period of time. But make no mistake, if you miss the signs of boreout with your top tier talent, or don’t address it effectively, it’s impact is obvious and has long-term leadership consequences. Top performers are more likely to leave because they know they have more career mobility.

We shouldn’t assume that boreout only happens to front-line team members. Senior leaders sometimes confide in me that they feel a strong need to find something new because they aren’t challenged by their role anymore. Our conversations then focus on how we can make that happen within their organization.

No matter what level of leader you’re managing, making it okay to talk about prolonged boredom or lack of challenge has to be the first step in addressing the issue. It’s not a sign that they are unmotivated. Actually, quite the opposite. Boredom means they’re motivated to do more. So, create relationships built on high levels of trust.  Make sure there is the safety to talk about tough issues – boredom being only one of them.  Let people know that you don’t see boredom as their failing, but as an opportunity to expand or change their role so that they have new challenges. The organization gains from their increased engagement, productivity and impact. Some people will still perform well, for a certain period of time, when bored. But don’t wait to check in until you see a drop off in performance, or worse, see talent walking out the door. Be proactive about it.

5 Powerful Tools for Quick Situation Analysis

Today’s leaders need to rapidly understand evolving situations. How can analytical tools help you make these assessments? By providing a structure to help you brainstorm and organize your thoughts in a relatively timely manner… which in turn provides the building blocks for better decision-making. While many of these tools are meant to provide in-depth assessments, they can also be used for more abbreviated uses, including “back of the envelope” type analysis when speed is important. Here are five tools that can be used to help you analyze a variety of situations.

Analytical tools are a staple of business. They are available to assist with everything from strategic planning to problem solving to communications planning. You can use these tools by yourself, as a team, or at an organizational level. They range from conceptual frameworks to highly structured models that include formal step by step processes. Here are five tools that give you a wide range of options:

1. People-Process-Technology/Tools (PPT): This is my personal favorite because of the simplicity and flexibility it offers. Originally, this framework was used to understand and maintain balance between those three dynamics in business situations, particularly with process design and reorganization… and typically related to technology impact. However, it also can be used quickly to frame up any number of things; for yourself, or when brainstorming with teams.

I add Financial to this to make it more robust. Hundreds of times, I’ve used this construct as a “white board” exercise. I’ve used it to understand the implications of a new client satisfaction initiative for my own teams, to prepare a recommendation about adopting a new technology, and with clients to help them work through potential organizational changes. It’s amazing what you can uncover with this exercise… including downstream impacts, important ancillary issues, and traps to avoid. And yes, I have literally done this on the back of an envelope in “emergency” situations, where I had less than 10 minutes to prepare. I wrote the situation (or question) at the top of the page or envelope, drew 4 swim lanes with category headings and jotted down some quick details. I went into the meeting better prepared and mentally more organized.

There have been numerous updated versions of this construct over the years. Here is some additional information on the original People Process Technology.

2. MOST: stands for Mission, Objectives, Strategy, Tactics. A lot of leaders have a hard time understanding (or, at least, explaining) how lofty mission statements become specific processes, actions steps or behaviors on the part of their team members. This powerful alignment tool helps you analyze how mission translates into action. It’s effective for both leadership teams and work groups alike. MOST helps refocus teams or business areas on organizational goals and better alignment from one level to the next. Again, while it’s an effective in-depth tool, it can be used to do a “quick study” of a situation. Here’s more on MOST.

3. STEEPLE: is primarily used as an external environmental scanning construct. The acronym stands for Social, Technological, Economic, Environmental, Political, Legal, Ethical. It helps you look, as an organization, at all these factors in a structured way to better understand the external forces impacting your organization. For example, what are the trends around emerging technologies that could force major changes in your business, like your own early adoption, service delivery models, or pricing implications? For more on STEEPLE.

4. The 5C Analysis model is used for marketing purposes. It helps you analyze both internal and external factors impacting your marketing decisions. 5C stands for Customers, Competitors, Company, Collaborators, Climate. This is usually meant for in-depth assessment and strategic planning. Each one of these factors has you focus on multiple sub-factors. For example, Customers looks at: market segments, customer requirements and demands, market size and growth, retail channel and information sources, buying process, consumer trends, etc. I haven’t used this approach, but I know that it can be highly effective for those taking a deep dive. For more on 5C Analysis.

5. McKinsey 7S Framework: This is the ultimate organizational alignment tool. It guides you through a process that to understand where seven key internal elements are in sync and where they’re not. This framework was originally developed by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman, who once worked for McKinsey. Terminology commonly used to discuss organizational dynamics has changed since then, but the basic construct is still very effective. It has been used for performance improvement, to aid strategy implementation, and for organizational change initiatives. The model is broken down into three Hard elements; Strategy, Structure, Systems, and Soft elements: Shared Values, Skills, Style and Staff. There’s a great Mind Tools article on how to use this model that includes worksheets.

I didn’t include tools like SWOT Analysis and Stakeholder Analysis because they’re very well-known and you’ve probably used one or both of them at some point in your careers. I also didn’t cover things like mind-mapping for similar reasons. However, the links above provide good explanations and tools.

For each of these analytical constructs, you can literally find dozens of sites that provide good content and supplementary tools for each of them. And there are many more analysis constructs to explore. Some people blend concepts or steps from one construct into another for a tool that better fits their unique business needs or analytical styles. Whether you use them to do in-depth assessment at an organizational level, a 10-minute “emergency” exercise, or anything in-between, you’ll develop a more thorough analysis of the situation at hand. And that typically leads to better decision-making.

Improve Remote Performance – The Power of Connection

High-performing individuals and teams feel well-connected to the things that matter most. That includes a deeper connection to mission and strategy, their goals, and to you and their fellow team members. Working remotely often leads to lower levels of connection. Here are some ways you can build a more connected – and better performing – team.

A good deal of research shows that remote employees are often more productive than their on-site peers.  But, as a manager, as a leader, you’re more interested in performance than productivity.  Productivity is a measure of how much you do… in other words, activity. “I get a lot done when I work from home.” Performance is about how effective your work is. “My team improved client satisfaction by 5% over last quarter.”  Certainly, productivity and performance often go hand in hand, but not always. We all know people who work hard and get a lot done; but, still, they just don’t seem to be able to move the needle far enough.

No doubt, over the last year or so, you’ve been flooded with all kinds of advice on how to keep your newly remote team of managers or professionals engaged and performing well .  Here’s a slightly different way of looking at how to make that happen – by leveraging key leadership techniques in ways that keep people connected. Connected to their mission, their goals and to you and their team.

Connect Your Team to Mission / Vision / Strategy 
Working through COVID conditions has meant facing and overcoming a lot of challenges.  People have had to deal with a myriad of urgent and often difficult changes to our personal and work lives.  When that happens, it’s easy to get distracted.  It’s critical that we focus and refocus our team members on why we’re here.  What’s our purpose? What’s our strategy for making that happen?
  • Keep it in front of them.  You can do this at team meetings.  “This new project aligns with our mission to…”  And when problem solving.  “Part of our strategy calls for cross selling more technology products.  With that as our primary criteria, let’s discuss which of these projects will make that happen more quickly?”  When answering questions.  “The reason we’re going to move to a 70/30 remote model is because of the upcoming business acquisition.  We’ll need maximum levels of trust and collaboration to make this work.  And that means more face-to-face time in the office.”
  • Make it personal.  Virtually every organization has a mission or vision and a business strategy. So too should every team. How does the overall business strategy map to your team? How do you make high-level strategy make sense in your part of the organization? In fact, how do you help each of your team members align what they do with mission and strategy? Take the time for a formal process of aligning your team’s mission and goals with the organization’s. One meeting isn’t likely to be enough. Make it a short project, assign a lead to it, and ask people to come prepared to the meetings with their own ideas.
Connect Them to Their Goals and Objectives
This is another important touchstone that drives connection and improves performance. With organizations facing an evolving post-pandemic world, significant changes are already taking place again. For many, if not most, that means more disruption. Another way to reel people back in is to help them stay focused on their goals.
  • Keep their formal goals up to date. Don’t wait until the end of the year to align their work goals to new business goals and initiatives and new ways of working.  These changes provide a perfect opportunity to get their attention. Talk about goals, find out what challenges they have, and help them create a plan for addressing them. Remember to make this a robust two-way conversation.
  • Set clear expectations.  Remote management is usually harder because communication is more difficult and less frequent. Don’t let distance get in the way of clarity. You’ll want to let your team and your employees know exactly what’s expected. For example, it’s not enough to tell them you want them to maintain or improve collaboration. How do you expect them to do that?  “Remember, we’ll be switching to Flowdock next quarter. I expect everyone to have 100% of their team members attend the product training by no later than September 15th.”
  • Hold people and teams accountable. Expectations without accountability are a half-measure. Even highly motivated people need to be accountable for how effectively they perform. Remember to role-model what you want to see. If you ask the managers who report to you to update their team’s performance goals, but you don’t do it with your own team, it’s likely to elicit a half-hearted and incomplete effort on their part as well.  For more on remote accountability, look for our upcoming article.
Connect Them to Their Team and to You
We’re saving the best for last. It’s a well-established fact that personal connectivity to one’s team and boss positively impact engagement, talent retention and performance. Even for those who love to work remotely, almost all of them still need to connect with the people they work with. In addition to holding regular individual and team meetings and events, here are some ways to improve personal connectivity.
  • Empathy (and loads of it), not Sympathy.  As organizations continue to sort out the future of their organization’s work structures and practices, it’s important that leaders be empathetic. Note that I did not say sympathetic. Here’s the difference. When a leader is empathetic, they understand and share the feelings of another person. They recognize the person’s challenges. “It must be hard to have to re-organize your personal life around the new work arrangements.” It’s supportive. On the other hand, when someone is sympathetic, they are signaling that they feel pity or distress for them. “I’m so sorry that you have to come back to work in the office full time. It really stinks.” This also sounds supportive. But managers who sympathize (instead of empathize) are more likely to excuse poor performance and lower their expectations. It also crosses the manager/employee boundary and makes it harder to be objective with an employee.
  • Help them help themselves.  People like and respect leaders who help them solve problems, not managers who dictate solutions. Ask questions. “You’ve been late getting the financials to me two months in a row. What’s going on? Why do you suppose that’s happening? What do you think will solve that problem?” Of course, if you see something else, you’ll want to mention it, but collaborative course corrections are the most effective. It’s also important to ask how you can help. This technique also works well for teams. Help them define and then solve the collaborative challenges they have, and ask what you can do to help.
  • Set team goals.  Individuals need to know that they will be held accountable for how well their team(s) perform, and that collaboration is critical to their success. See above.
  • Remain focused on professional development. Don’t lose sight of helping your team members develop their skills and acquire important experiences. Remote employees are more likely to be overlooked when it comes to development opportunities. Pick your times wisely, but make sure it remains part of the ongoing dialogue you have with them.

Connection is Powerful. Connecting with others and with purpose are deep-seated personal needs, and that includes in one’s work life. High-performing teams thrive on the level of trust and respect that connection helps drive.

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.