Just for a Moment…Listen

Active ListeningI listened to a TED Talk yesterday while I was on the elliptical (got to keep up with that New Year’s resolution). It was about how we are losing our ability to listen. As leaders or business owners we spend a lot of time talking. We are giving direction or input to our employees. We’re talking with customers. We’re talking with people at networking events. We spend a lot of time working on getting our story out there. This talk reminded me of how critical listening is for those of us who are leading others.

This week try to spend more time listening. Here are some ideas how to do that:

1. Open every conversation by asking the other person a question. This question should not be a perfunctory ‘how are you?”. Make it a question that is really about something. Focus on listening to the answer, not waiting for the other person to be done so you can get on to your real agenda.

2. When you have listened to what someone has to say, reflect or summarize. Anyone who has taken an active listening course knows that this is a technique to show the other person you are listening. I’m not suggesting it for that reason. Rather, by verbally saying what you’ve heard out loud, you are hearing it again and increasing the likelihood that you are actually listening to the words meaning.

3. Institute the ‘no multitasking’ rule during conversations. More and more I attend meetings where people think it is perfectly okay to have a laptop or smartphone in front of them so that they can multitask. This may sound efficient, but in reality it completely undermines the ability to listen and engage in what is going on. The human brain doesn’t work that way. It needs to be focused on what is being said. When you are visually looking at something, the sound becomes background noise. Most of the time, the person sending the text or email can wait for your reply.

4. Create listening posts. Create opportunities for others to have your undivided attention. Establish a regular time when you’ll be available for an individual or group to speak with you when you will give them complete, undivided attention. Make it immutable.

At the end of the week, assess the impact of your listening on your decision making, your relationships with your team and your awareness of what is happening in your organization.

“The only constant is change.” – Unknown

change is the only constant


Over the past several years this saying and many others about change have become rather trite. “Change is everywhere and to be successful you must embrace it.” “Change is the new normal.” “Champions eat change for breakfast.” Yeah, we’ve heard it all before.

What is somewhat new about change is the sheer pace of it. With the advent of breakneck technology advances, change is not only constant but accelerating. Every few months there is a new social media outlet that can help you reach your customers while you’re still trying to figure out Twitter. Some businesses are wondering if they should create an app for their services. Messages can travel around your company, not to mention the world, in nanoseconds. And there are still the usual changes like new product introductions, reorganizations, and new workflows.

– How should you take a leadership position around change in the 2015 workplace?

– Answer the big question, “WHY?” People yearn for context. They want to understand why things happen and how they fit into that equation. As things move ever more quickly, we often forget to answer this simple question in our haste to “just get it done.”

– Listen to the reactions. Sometimes we think that in order to lead change, we need to be the cheerleader, playing down the realities that change is hard and that there will be bumps along the way. Take the time to listen and to respond in a realistic way to the reactions people have — the good, the bad and the ugly. In some situations it’s okay to say, “Yes, this stinks and at times it is going to be difficult. When we get through this, here is how we will be in a better place…”

Know that some people will be more ready to change than you. When it comes to introducing technological change, there are people in your organization who will be asking why the company isn’t moving more quickly. We have a whole generation who have grown up with IM, texting, Facebook and other forms of social media. Harness their enthusiasm to learn all you can about the benefits and the drawbacks of various technologies. Engage them in understanding how it could be used in your business or why your business isn’t ready for it.

Be a storyteller. Think back to your childhood. I could probably mention a story that you haven’t heard in 30 years and you could tell it to me. If I asked you to explain Freshman Algebra concepts to me, that would probably not be so easy for most of us. We are wired to remember stories. They help us put ourselves in situations and to remember information. Tell stories about the successes of previous changes where people first had doubts. Tell stories about how a team worked together to make it happen. Tell stories that help people paint a picture and understand how to move forward.

-Use social media. More and more of our organizations are using social media as way for people within the company to communicate with each other. Use social media yourself to ask questions, share updates, talk about successes, and ask for ideas. Again, if you need help in this area, there are people in your organization who are social media savvy. Encourage your team to use it as a way to have a productive conversation about the changes that are occurring. Soon you’ll see leaders emerge on your team, taking the reins of championing change.


higher profits

While traveling a few weeks ago, the USA Today appeared under my door. It’s Money section cover story was Do Happy Workers Mean Higher Profits? Looking at stock prices and earnings, the evidence suggests the answer is sort of, YES. You see the real payoff is not just how happy people are, it’s how engaged they are.

As we have often heard, engaged employees tend to do a better job, work harder, put in extra hours and stay longer. When you dig a little deeper, the article cites some real evidence to support this:


      • Companies on Fortune’s list of 100 Best Companies to Work for tend to have significantly lower turnover. In the IT industry, which is known for frequent job moves, companies on the list have a 5.9% turnover vs. a 14.4% rate industrywide. In professional services, it’s 11.3% vs. 24.7%.
      • In the past year, many of the publicly traded companies on Fortune’s list beat the S&P 500 by a mile. While the S&P was up 13%, Whole Foods rose 31%, Marriott gained 28% and AmEx was up 22%.
      • While benefits and financial perks definitely have an impact on happiness and engagement, according to Julie Gebauer of Towers Watson, it’s those things without significant cost that really make a difference, “What makes the biggest impact are things that don’t have significant costs. How expensive is it for a senior leader to give an employee a pat on the back, or give someone the opportunity to work from home for a day or two?” (I’ve spoken many times about the impact meaning, autonomy, competence and the ability to make progress at work all have sustained engagement)

So, what do you think. How do happy employees impact your bottom line?


Strategy & Choice


The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do. — @MichaelEPorter



I was recently having a conversation with someone about strategy. He noted that at the end of the day, strategy is simply about choice. As someone who does a lot of strategy work, I was taken by this elegant definition of strategy. A well-defined strategy should be an articulation of a choice you are making about how you will achieve your vision. It is also the choice of what you will not do to achieve your vision. It is saying yes to some things and no to others.

It’s also a guide for the choices you make about how to implement the strategy. On a tactical level, it serves as the guidepost for the daily choices and decisions that get made about what markets to pursue, what products to introduce, who to hire and promote and where offices should be located. It can be a touchstone for difficult decisions, providing criteria for weighing your options.

For the strategy to play its important role in guiding choice, it needs to be widely communicated and understood. It needs to be discussed on a regular basis so it is top of mind. Too many times I hear Directors or VP’s in large organizations that the strategy is not clear. If they don’t know it, how can anyone else?




Edith Onderick-Harvey is a recognized organizational and leadership development expert.  She works with Fortune 500 firms, growing companies, and universities to design their organizations, develop their leaders and continually elevate performance.  She has been quoted in The New York Times, Human Resource Executive, CNN.com and the author of the newly released book “Getting Real:  Strategies for Leadership in Today’s Innovation-Hungry, Time-Strapped, Multi-Tasking World of Work”


Living on the Cubicle Farm

Cubicle FarmOne of the speakers at my daughter’s recent high school graduation was a retiring art teacher. He had taught at the high school for seven years after a very successful career in a variety of commercial ventures. A child of the 60’s, he encouraged the graduates to challenge authority, find their voice and push the boundaries. During the speech he also told them to not lose their idealism when they head to the cubicle farm.

What a great term — the cubicle farm. I flashed forward 10 years and wondered just how many of these kids, who are ready to take on the world, will be feeling deflated, hemmed in and not-so-idealistic because they are living in the cubicle farm.

Many of us have been there. That 8 x 8 space. Or worse, the 6 x 6 space. One of many in the rows and rows of identical spaces. A killer of creativity and innovation. A space that literally causes you to think inside the box. I’ve never heard someone say, “I love going to my cube every day.”

Thankfully, many companies are creating spaces for collaboration and creative thinking that get people outside the clutch of the cubicle. Some are doing away with cubicles all together. That arrangement can cause its own set of issues. In a time when innovation and creativity are needed to create better products and services, better customer experiences and better working lives, cubicles are the antithesis of the answer.

Take some time to think about your space and what life is like on the cubicle farm in your company. How’s it impacting people’s enthusiasm for the work? Does it interfere with collaboration and idea generation because people have to plan time for collaboration — and that’s dictated by the fact you don’t have enough conference rooms? How can you get people outside the box?



About Edith Onderick-Harvey

Edith Onderick-Harvey is a highly regarded consultant, leadership and talent expert, and speaker. Edith is frequently quoted in the media including The New York Times, CNN.com, HR Executive, and American Executive. As the President of Factor In Talent, Edith works with leaders to take performance — their own, their team’s and their organization’s — to the next level.


Big, Hairy Audacious Goals

Big, Hairy Audacious Goals

Many of you have just finished your annual goal setting process. Often, that includes creating at least a few big, hairy, audacious goals. We’ve all heard about the importance of these types of goals in motivating and engaging our workforce to achieve top performance. So, we create the goals and roll them out. However, to achieve top performance, there’s another step in the process. You need to break them down into bite-sized pieces.

In his blog for Harvard Business Review, Robert I. Sutton lays out the reasons for making those big, hairy goals not so big and hairy. He shares the story of a CEO who sets a really audacious revenue target for his company. The CEO then has the team break the goal down into a campaign that will make it not just possible but probable. When the team lists over 100 tasks, the fear and anxiety level is palpable. When they sort the list into easy and difficult tasks, it becomes apparent that more than half the tasks can happen in a few days. The stage is now set for a series of small wins that will create success.

Take a look at the big, hairy, audacious goals you’ve set for this year. Have they created motivation or fear or just apathy because they seem so out of reach? How can you break them down into bite sized pieces? What’s easy? What’s difficult? Knock off the easy ones. Get some small wins. Build the energy for tackling the more difficult ones.

About Edith Onderick-Harvey

Edith Onderick-Harvey is a highly regarded consultant, leadership and talent expert, and speaker. Edith is frequently quoted in the media including The New York Times, CNN.com, HR Executive, and American Executive. As the President of Factor In Talent, Edith works with leaders to take performance — their own, their team’s and their organization’s — to the next level.

What’s It like to Join your Company?

To a whole new adventure.
Another chapter in an incredibly exciting story.
Yours. And Ours.
It’s probably a bit different from where you used to be.
(Maybe really, really different.)
But your reason for being here hasn’t changed.
You are here to do great things.”


This is the note my brother received a couple of months ago when he and his wife arrived at their temporary housing as part of the relocation for his new job.

His new job is with what many of us think of as a dream company — Apple.

As part of his relo, they’re providing him with corporate housing for a few weeks until they find a new place. Pretty standard for many companies. However, that note is very, very different.

What makes companies like Apple great is that they build and rebuild their culture every time they greet a new associate with that note. They reinforce why great talent would want to work for them. They reinforce that their culture is about adventure, an exciting story and doing great things. It’s not ‘here’s you desk, here’s your compute and orientation starts at 9:00.” That note and the actions that surround it — I’ll get to those in a minute — say “We are so glad you’re here to be part of what we are here to do.”

The actions that surrounded the note? The corporate housing had a stocked fridge and homemade cookies. They were greeted at the door, given a tour of the facilities and ideas for how to spend their first weekend in California.

You know it won’t need to be going to the grocery store.

What’s it like to join your company?


About Edith Onderick-Harvey

Edith Onderick-Harvey is a highly regarded consultant, leadership and talent expert, and speaker. Edith is frequently quoted in the media including The New York Times, CNN.com, HR Executive, and American Executive. As the President of Factor In Talent, Edith works with leaders to take performance — their own, their team’s and their organization’s — to the next level.

Too many meetings

Factor In Talent - too many meetingsAsk anyone about meetings and you get a similar response. “Waste of time.” “They get in the way of real work.” “Too many meetings.” For most people, they represent the time sink that produces very little. I’m stunned by how even the most seasoned executives, with years of experience leading meetings, see them as nothing more than a forum for information sharing, status updates and data dumps. Here’s a secret — they don’t have to be that way. As a matter of fact, you can use them to get real work done.

Meetings are an opportunity for interaction. They are a place to discuss issues, share ideas, and gather information that can guide decision making. However, they usually include very little of this. There are many reasons for this including a lack of a clear objective for the meeting, no agenda, not having the right people in the room, spending too much time reviewing what’s been done instead of focusing on what needs to be done.

To make meetings more productive, start with these questions:

      • Why are we meeting? If the answer is to share updates, you most likely don’t need a meeting. Unless you need input from most of the meeting participants that impacts the ability to move an issue or imperative forward, find another way to share. Share updates via brief status reports on Box.net or Sharepoint. A good reason for a meeting is the need to discuss issues, debate a plan of action, gather input for decisions or finalize decisions.
      • Who should be in the room? Who are the right participants? Do they have the perspective, responsibility and accountability for the issues and actions you’ll be discussing.
      • How often do we need to have these conversations? There is no perfect number. In a rapidly growing dynamic company, it may be once a week. In a more mature firm with less change, maybe once a month or once a quarter. Too often meetings are scheduled more frequently than the content warrants.
      • Do I have tools to use that will facilitate the conversation? Sometimes it’s just asking the right question. Sometimes it’s having a framework for analyzing the issue or guiding the conversation. The most basic tool — have an agenda that is shared with people before the meeting.

Look at the meetings you are currently leading. How could they be better?

About Edith Onderick-Harvey

Edith Onderick-Harvey is a highly regarded consultant, leadership and talent expert, and speaker. Edith is frequently quoted in the media including The New York Times, CNN.com, HR Executive, and American Executive. As the President of Factor In Talent, Edith works with leaders to take performance — their own, their team’s and their organization’s — to the next level.

Love vs. Fear, Making It Great and a Sense of Purpose

leadership and relationships
August is upon us, and our New England summer is winding down…

I decided to share other people’s thinking with you this week. Check these out:

Connect, then Lead. Stop leading with your strength. A growing body of research shows that influence — which is the heart of leadership — starts with warmth. Without trust, emphasizing strength leads to fear and compliance not engaged followership. For additional tips on establishing trust, check out my blog article on the trust equation.

7 Ways to Make the Rest of 2013 Amazing. Kevin Baum shares some additional thoughts on Finishing Strong in his blog for Inc.

‘Culture of Purpose’ Is Key To Success According To New Research From Deloitte. A new study from Deloitte shows that a culture of purpose is key to strong financial performance and…Companies aren’t doing enough to create a shared sense of purpose. Take a look at the full article on Forbes.com.

Another Common Misconception

working guy over 40

I saw a recent example of hiring decisions based assumptions not reality today. It seems that Silicon Valley has a major issue with hiring people over the age of 40. The common thinking is that anyone over 40 has lost their edge, aren’t innovative and stuck in a paradigm. Based on some research by Vivek Wadhwa, the news of the over-40’s creative demise seems to be drastically overstated.

Here are a few innovators and their over-40 inventions:


    • Ben Franklin invented the lightning rod when he was 44. He discovered electricity at 46.
      He helped draft the Declaration of Independence at 70, and he invented bifocals after that.
    • Henry Ford introduced the Model T when he was 45. 
    • Sam Walton built Walmart in his mid-40s. 
    • Ray Kroc built McDonald’s in his early 50s. 
    • Ray Kurzweil published The Singularity Is Near in his 50s.
    • Alfred Hitchcock directed Vertigo when he was 59.
    • Frank Lloyd Wright built his architectural masterpiece, Fallingwater, when he was 68. 
    • Steve Jobs’ most significant innovations-iMac, iTunes, iPod, iPhone, and iPad-came after he was 45.

Instead of making the assumption when you’re hiring and cutting out a significant sector of your possible candidate pool, ask some questions that will let you know just how creative that gray-haired guy with few wrinkles really is.