Employee Recognition, Leadership, Management Tips.

“Feedback”. Does that word conjure up good or bad images for you? One of the most important and difficult tasks of a leader is to give constructive feedback. I jokingly say it is why managers make the “big bucks.” In fact it is trust that the organization confers upon the manager – trust that you will give effective feedback. Unfortunately that trust is sometimes misplaced. When the task of giving feedback isn’t done well, the whole organization suffers. Retention, team morale and productivity are negatively affected. If feedback isn’t given when necessary, individuals and teams suffer due to lack of improvement in the case of constructive feedback, or recognition in the case of positive feedback. Ultimately team morale impacts organizational productivity.

Several years ago I worked for Steve, a VP who was terrific at giving constructive feedback. He used a practical approach. First his feedback was more of a regular dialogue, not a special occurrence. Regardless of whether his feedback was positive or constructive, he would always begin with an inquiry: “How is it going?” or “How do you think that went?” He was honestly interested in hearing input. Often people know when they have made a mistake or done a great job, and it is respectful to give them an opportunity to acknowledge either situation.

Then Steve might ask, “Okay, if you had to do it over again, is there anything you would change?” Again he was very respectful in soliciting feedback. If I had made a mistake and didn’t realize it, he would let me know the error and follow it with, “Moving forward, it would be better if…” The phrase moving forward was important for me to hear because many of us have a little voice that asks, “Is this a big enough mistake to affect my job security?”

Mistakes were viewed as learning opportunities…unless they were repeated. Repeated mistakes were treated with a development plan. And given the trust and respect that Steve’s group had for him due to his fairness, mistakes seldom recurred. His fairness began with regular check-ins to make sure you had the resources and training to do a good job. Steve’s example illustrates how frequent, systematic, proactive feedback can prevent a whole host of problems and create an atmosphere where people give their best.


Keep saying yes to leadership--this is what Jim Kouzes, world-renowned leadership expert wrote in my autographed copy of his book The Truth about Leadership.

The word “keep” implies that we have already been practicing leadership skills…because we probably have. His book reports that 77% of our leadership role models come from non-work situations. When asked at a recent conference about role models, the majority of the 200+ attendees cited family members as their role models for leadership. This gave  credence to Kouzes’s statement that the leaders who have the most influence on us are those closest to us.

What implications does this have? It encourages me to be more mindful of the behavior that I practice with those closest to me. Recently my twenty-something niece told me that she learned her strong work ethic from her “New England aunties.” I was happy to think that my sisters and I had such a positive influence on her. Yet I must admit it occurred unconsciously.

It gave me pause to think how we can be unconsciously influential. This can be good if the modeling is positive, as it was in my niece’s remembrance. My niece’s tribute gave me an opportunity to reflect on how one particular aunt in my own childhood was my role model because she had such interesting work that I loved to hear about. Her stories offered lasting lessons due to the trajectory of my own life. And yet she, too, was surprised to hear how influential she was in my early years.

If we can make such impressions without consciousness, imagine what can be done with a concerted effort.


I wondered recently, "What do leaders think about learning leadership skills?"  I was especially interested in leaders I have observed who seem to have “natural” leadership skills.  In fact, each of the leaders I heard from answered in a way that led me to conclude that leadership skills are a hybrid of native tendencies and learned behavior.

Here is what they had to say…

I think in general that leadership skills can be learned through experience, trial & error, and observation.  However, in order for those skills to take root and be properly applied, I believe people need to have some existing natural qualities, such as an openness to new things, humility, and integrity.  So in that sense there are leadership qualities / traits that predispose someone to learning and developing as a leader more effectively.
Carmen O’Shea, Vice President, SAP Inc.

I think that leadership skills are both natural and learned.  Over the course of my career, there have been many leadership decisions that I’ve made which, with certainty, I know were driven by my natural instincts.  I can also, however, recall many decisions made which were influenced by prior learning experiences that had helped to shape my thinking and outlook.
Dennis Driver, Vice President, Theravance Inc.

Although some leadership and managerial qualities may be deemed innate or natural, developing effective leadership capabilities is an immersion process which involves discovery, increasing self-awareness and continuous learning.   In addition, to be an effective leader one has to practice, be open to feedback and immerse oneself while taking risks to develop career opportunities laterally.  That’s how one grows and becomes an effective leader in an organization.
Marco Rosa, Vice President, MAP Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

I was also interested in hearing from other professionals who teach leaders.

Here is what they said:

The raw materials and predisposition to be a good leader exists in many people, but for most it takes work and discipline to define the chasm between being OK to being a great leader and then doing something about it.  By intent or unexpected circumstances, one’s raw leadership materials come together and have an impact (good or bad).  That impact defines them as a leader and defines their personal roadmap to become more than they started with.
Chris Lawson, Global Director, Change and Organizational Development, SAP Inc.

Some people are inherently better leaders than others.  Can anyone learn the skills to be a better leader?  Absolutely.  The distinction is in how motivated they are to be a great leader and learn the skills.
Jeanne-Marie Grumet, Presentation Skills Trainer and Coach for Executives

Based on the thoughts expressed by the respected leaders quoted above, it would be inaccurate to conclude that great leaders are born, not made.  Rather, the best leaders seem to start with some measure of inborn personality traits and develop them over time. We cannot control what we are born with, yet we can certainly focus on what to learn.

Management Tips.

In any strategic initiative, one of the opening stages is to identify the key stakeholders--individuals who will endorse and support the change sought by the project. Those key stakeholders are usually identified as high level executives (CEO, CAO, CTO, etc.), Vice Presidents, Department Directors and sometimes managers. Rarely, if ever, are the key stakeholders identified as the actual do-ers, individual contributors or the workforce who actually will carry out the work. And yet in fact, they are the most essential key stakeholders; they will be responsible for the success or failure of these initiatives.

Later, down the line, when the changes or new processes are implemented, I often hear complaints about “lack of accountability.” Strangely, nobody makes the connection that the real stakeholders were never asked for their input or ideas. As a former manager, I learned the hard way that if I didn’t bring my team in at the beginning of changes, the likelihood of success later decreased and if I did consult them, the likelihood increased. If you make people accountable at the beginning by inviting them into the process, the accountability is much more likely to be in place at the end.

Now, if you are a leader you may be asking, “Why can’t they just follow marching orders (a WW II term)? They are being paid good money to do the job.”
Hmmm...consider yourself in two situations:

  1. A meeting where the facilitator spends an hour giving information to the group. She or he may stop a time or two with “Questions?”, very top-down style.
  2. A meeting where the facilitator continually asks the group for their input, carefully listening to each person and taking notes and discussing issues raised and using the group as a brainstorming opportunity to problem-solve issues, very collaborative.

Which meeting are you more likely to be both engaged in and want to carry out the final “marching orders”? In our new tech-savvy collaborative young workforce, marching orders are as outdated as...well you get the idea.

"But," you ask, “what if the initiatives are already completed and I need them to be followed and that isn’t happening?" There is a solution for that as well. Get your group together and analyze the new system and processes. What is working, what isn’t, and why? It doesn’t necessarily mean revamping but rather improving. This input can bring about many good outcomes--not only increased accountability and morale building but also improvements in the way you are operating.

Consider Intuit, a local Bay Area company that continually wins awards for “Best Place to Work” and is very successful with great products and a high level of satisfaction among employees.

Why? Among many other reasons, they involve their employees continually in brainstorming sessions to solve company issues. The employees are part of the company’s success and intellectual horsepower; they are accountable (and yes, they are an accounting software company - forgive the pun!). At Intuit, a well-known and accepted “Say-Do” mantra is part of their culture where people get measured for following through on what they say they are going to do. And employees like it!

Accountability begins at the beginning. Tap into your employees' wealth of knowledge and expertise….and you will not only see the accountability grow, but you will also have a more satisfied workforce! Think of it not as relinquishing control but rather as broadening your power base.

Employee Recognition, Management Tips.

If a significant portion of a workforce views their organization as a “Best Place to Work,” one would expect a high level of alignment among the workers. In fact, my investigation bears that out.

Every April, the SF Business Times announces the Bay Area Best Places to work winners. 125 companies are chosen based on their employees’ evaluations of how satisfied they are in their workplace. The question always crosses my mind: “I wonder if these companies are using similar approaches to engage their employees?”

In July 2011, I set out to answer this question by telephoning and meeting with a sample of Bay Area human resource executives and winners in these top companies. They answered my question: Yes, they do share common strategies. The surprise was that most methods are cost effective and require little time to implement.

Best Places to Work Award winners that I interviewed shared the following key commonalities:

  • Transparent leadership involvement
  • Interactive and consistent communication channels
  • Engaged employees who are asked what is important to them
  • Human Resource Departments that were passionate business partners
  • Community and family focus with an emphasis on enjoying work
  • Competitive benefits and flexibility

The following eight suggestions represent strategies that these companies implemented to keep their employees satisfied, engaged and aligned:

  1. Facilitate special interest groups (exercise, games, cooking) to enhance community and cross-functional interaction. Increase number and variety of employee engagement activities.
  2. Offer brainstorm sessions and surveys for ways to engage employees and also involve them in solving company issues.
  3. Offer educational, career and special interest opportunities (mentoring, training, partial tuition reimbursement, professional association dues).
  4. Add flex time, holiday time off, or other ways to recognize balance of work-family life.
  5. Introduce relationships and work with non-profits (Habitat for Humanity, Breast Cancer Walk, holiday gift giving, soup kitchens).
  6. Schedule regular town hall meetings or other ways for leaders and employees to connect with each other.
  7. Remove ratings from performance reviews.
  8. Encourage employees to give honest feedback on initiatives and respond to communication received.

None of these ideas are revolutionary, yet taken together, they convey to the employee: You matter. Once an employer gets that across and keeps reinforcing it, loyalty and alignment ensue. I began with the idealistic notion that I would discover the one perfect strategy and finished being reminded of the wisdom of the author Robert Collier: "Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out."

To read more about my research, click here.

Management Tips.

In January and February, there is always a lot of talk about New Year’s resolutions and goal setting. I recommend a different plan...create a vision first before setting your goals. And make it a bold vision.

Allow me to offer a homey simile of vision and goals from my childhood. In my small town, summertime would find my friend's mother hanging her clean sheets on a sturdy rope hung between two trees. Without this efficient system of drying-- clothespins and a sturdy rope hung between those trees--the sheets would not dry as quickly. For those of you who are asking, “What about a dryer?” I ask, “Have you ever slept between line-dried sheets on a warm summer night?” If so, you’ll understand why the memory has special meaning.

This folksy reflection provides a modern-day analogy to vision-setting and goals. It is the rope (vision) that supports the sheets (goals). Without an over-arching vision, goals don’t necessarily hang together: The sturdy support must come first. To complete this image, those same sheets are folded and put away, and this step can be compared to the action steps that flow from those goals.

Here is a more contemporary business-related example. In 2004, I realized that without a better understanding of technology, my training and consulting business may not offer my clients the most value in the future. It would have been easy to jump into setting a new goal of reading articles or attending a conference on technology. Instead, I spent some time thinking about a long-term vision that would serve both the business and the clients. The vision: To help managers become leaders and employees become engaged. This broad vision informed my goal-setting process.

I considered that technology, when used properly, can facilitate better communication and engagement--both key ingredients to strong leadership. It then became clear that I must enhance my skills and education in technology. Therefore, one of my goals for 2004 became: “Enroll in a course of study where my technological skills and knowledge become more proficient.”

The action steps that flowed out of this goal were to: 1) do research to find the right program; 2) go through the application process; and 3) get accepted at my designated choice. These individual action steps resulted in my reaching the goal of a Master’s in Instructional Technology….an experience that made me more comfortable and skilled in cutting-edge technology with a network of tech-savvy colleagues to partner with on client's projects. Reaching that goal fulfills the vision of helping managers become leaders and employees become engaged.

My suggestion is: Don’t short-change yourself by simply developing some new goals…be bolder!

After all, in the Bay Area we have a reputation to uphold...

"We're gambling on our vision, and we would rather do that than make "me too" products. Let some other companies do that. For us, it's always the next dream." - Steve Jobs, 1983

Take the time to develop your vision. Goals without vision are only labor. A vision without goals is only a dream. But vision with goals will be ambition fulfilled. Inhale deeply the boundless opportunities of a New Year!


This time of year always makes me wistful. Autumn is closing in on the end of the year. Yet autumn also signals new beginnings, new lessons to learn, new people to meet and in the San Francisco area, beautiful blue skies and warm weather! For many it also means back to school.

For some like me, back to school may mean continuing your education at the mid-point of your life. From 2005 to 2009 I went back to school to earn my Master’s Degree and in those four years learned many strategies on how to balance school with work and also keep a happy home life. Given the variety and volume of schools in the Bay Area, San Francisco State University, University of San Francisco, UC Berkeley, Golden Gate University and more, you may be enrolled in either a graduate program or recontinuing your undergraduate degree.

Tips you might find useful:

School Friends

  • Make friends quickly at school with other students to enable you to form study groups for later in the semester when large projects or exams require group-work.
  • Consider that school friends may become future collaborators in your chosen career field. The learning at school can continue long after the last class is completed.


  • Identify at least one (and maybe more) designated time(s) each week that everyone in the family knows is study time. For me that time was 11am-5pm on Sundays. I would eat a big breakfast and stop mid-point for a short walk and then get back to it.
  • Identify at least two days during the week when you can study during lunchtime. These days may change, so be modest about making lunch plans except with those who can handle last-minute changes.

Family and Work

  • Post your school hours in a prominent place at home so that members of your family know when you will be gone—this new schedule is an adjustment for everyone, not just you.
  • Carry your cell phone to class and if necessary, check in with the family or co-workers on your break time.
  • Remind your loved ones (who will miss you) why you are going to school. Will it result in a better job, lifestyle, happier attitude? Although not perhaps immediately, your family will ultimately benefit from your education.
  • Remember to thank your family and co-workers for any sacrifices and changes they make to help you along.

And finally, as my husband likes to tell me with everything in life, “Have fun”!

Employee Recognition.

I know somebody who works for the San Francisco Superior Court, where recently 200 jobs were eliminated. That is approximately 40% of the employees currently employed. She is one of the “lucky” ones...or is she? While her job is intact, her responsibilities will double due to the reduction in work force. You, too, may be in a similar situation. Being laid off is difficult, and overseeing a reduced workforce is just as difficult.

How do you keep your group motivated when monies have been reduced, friends are gone and work has increased? Your team may feel like they are putting more into their jobs and that the rewards may not match their effort. Be honest and let your staff know the situation you are in and your desire to help them stay engaged and motivated.

There are numerous ways to recognize people besides money. Compensating good performance may require “psychological paychecks.” Consider the following list of psychological paychecks. Some involve small amounts of money.

Make sure to spend generously with:

  • Words of encouragement and positive feedback
  • Interest and questions to them about their lives outside of their work roles
  • Notes or e-mails of appreciation
  • Catered lunches
  • Bagels, coffee, fruit at the beginning of the day
  • Special assignments
  • Soliciting opinions and their recommendations
  • More decision-making authority
  • Listening...really listening
  • Delegating tasks that the employee enjoys doing
  • Recognition for your team’s efforts in company newsletter or meetings
  • Accurate and regular communication about effective dates and timelines of the changes and resulting impact
  • Special recognition for those who are working hardest
  • Meetings where group and you can discuss changes, issues and concerns

A terrific book to help you with more ideas is local (Santa Cruz) author Cindy Ventrice’s Make Their Day: Employee Recognition That Works, 2nd edition.

When it comes to handing out “soft” currency, be generous. Some or all of these are needed right now to keep your group motivated.

Management Tips.

The secret sauce, a perfect combination of ingredients that guarantees good teamwork, eludes many managers. Yet the manager of our home team--SF Giants’ Bruce Bochy--has mastered it. Since professional baseball provides the ultimate example of teamwork, the work world can learn a lot from our home town baseball skipper.

A recent headline announced: “Respect Is Name of Bochy’s Game.” The article quoted one of the Giants players: “He doesn’t play favorites by sucking up to guys going good or blowing off guys who are struggling.” Zito, pitcher for the San Francisco Giants who has experienced both conditions lately, went on to say, “One of his greatest attributes is he knows where to draw the line as far as being friendly with players and being authoritative with players. Communication is so important, and he tells his guys where they stand. It’s all we want to know.”

Is respect the key ingredient in the secret sauce? Absolutely! But respect is a big ideal. What does it look like? Watching Bochy being interviewed after a disappointing performance gives us a few clues. He makes statements to the press similar to: “He had an off night but he’ll get back to it tomorrow” or “He just cares so much he is freezing up” or “He has been working so hard that he needs a few days off.” While discussing his players, this manager always seems to have their backs.

On occasion, I react with a “What? This player is making millions of dollars—and he needs a few days off?” Yet inevitably the same player returns a few days later with better performance and a renewed spirit. While not everyone can give their employees time off when they seemed stressed, the underlying psychology seems to work. Realizing that poor performance may be a symptom of other issues is a good place to start. In my own experience, the best managers I worked my heart out for were the same ones who cut me a break when they could see my energy was flagging.

Naturally, discretion is important. Another tip from Bochy’s play book is that he will reward a good performance with a return performance. When members of his team play well, they get to play again. In other words, his compassion is blended with practicality....two more good ingredients in the manager's secret sauce.

To sum up the skipper’s success:

  • Take into account the situation and the individual,
  • Communicate honestly and with respect,
  • Allow for mistakes but reward success, and
  • Live to see another...championship?

He is creating another winning team, and borrowing his secret sauce can help you create champions, too!

Management Tips.

Are you un-engaged at work? A better question may be, “Are you an engaging manager?"

Why is it important to engage your employees? In the well-regarded book, 12:The Elements of Great Managing, author Rodd Wagner, principal of Gallup (of Gallup Polls) reports that engaged employees average 27% less absenteeism than those who are disengaged. Wagner also reports that in a 10,000-person company, absenteeism from disengagement costs the business about 5,000 lost days, or about $600,000, annually.

And according to a 2007 Florida State University study, when managers manage poorly, 40% of employees leave their bosses, not their jobs.

Here are some common behaviors that engaging managers practice:

  • Solicit advice from your team on problems.
  • Work with employees to use team decisions.
  • Understand how each employee likes to receive information. Some individuals like personal meetings, telephone, e-mail or text messages.
  • When tempted to be directive, consider whether this is the best way to proceed. Whenever possible, handle the issue with a more collaborative approach.
  • Use "we" when talking about your work group or discussing successful results. Your team is what makes you successful and praising them to others also benefits everybody.
  • In meetings, encourage rotating facilitators among your staff. You do not always need to lead meetings.
  • Ask employees to discuss their responsibilities with the entire group so that everyone knows where overlap occurs and how common problems can be solved.
  • Discuss job issues and involve employees in designing goals and objectives for the upcoming year.
  • Look for opportunities for employees to receive direct praise.
  • Make sure that everyone who contributes is mentioned on reports and memos. Public recognition is important.

A big part of a manager's role is to help facilitate employee success. Ask yourself, "What motivates my employee?" It has been proven that when employees are motivated and happy, productivity and performance go up.

And when performance needs improvement, look for the positive that can come out of offering information. Most people don't know that they are performing at less than capacity. Frame constructive feedback as a long term opportunity for staff to grow in their career.

Ghandi said, “Be the change you wish to see.” Beyond building a stronger team, your engaging manager style might help many people (including you) become more productive and happier at work.