The Office Blend Blog

When a Great Employee Leaves — Go Ahead — Take Responsibility

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Photo by Filip Mroz on Unsplash

Losing a great employee can be a shocking experience. I’ve heard tales of wide-eyed horror and deep disappointment from managers, with long-lasting effects for their teams. This scenario plays out over and over again, like a worn, scratched record.

Sadly, saying goodbye prematurely — has become somewhat of an accepted state of affairs within organizations today.

I’m not entirely sure how this came to be. A combination of factors, such as learned-helplessness and exhaustion are likely operating. (Managers are often fighting both time and resources. Even strategy can get in the way.) Yet, sometimes we throw up our hands in defeat, before our entire arsenal of knowledge and experience has been applied. While we have solid plans concerning how to deal with the aftermath of losing a valued employee — why lose them at all?

I believe that we can empower managers to do more. Yet first, we have to take responsibility. Admit that sometimes we let great contributors slip through the cracks for our lack of foresight. The buck stops with us — those who know better — and that’s completely fine.

Taking responsibility leads to progress. Progress is of course, is what we need.

To be honest, none of this is a surprise. There are widely known indicators. For example, we’ve not resolved the engagement crisis, which of course has far-reaching effects. Most employees are still not connected with their work, which makes any of them an easy target. Engagement may be on the rise, but the numbers remain weak.

We simply have more to do.

There are noticeable gaps in the employee experience — and some live at the core of our work lives. These gaps can serve as fertile ground for improvement. Think of the impact of poor job fit or the psychological contract on employee tenure. Offering managers, those closest to employees, the tools to actively do more can contribute to a solution. What if we could detect a shift in an employee’s sentiment toward their role before they plan their exit?

We may not be able to cut every loss at the proverbial pass. After all — life does happen. However, I am convinced that we can do more.

Losing great employees is a morale busting experience.

I’m more than willing to own up and take some of that blame.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She examines the effect of Core Stability on work & work life life. A charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program since 2012 — her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

 

 

 

Surprise. Your High Performer is Resigning. What to Do Now.

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Photo by Eutah Mizushima on Unsplash

Surprise.

It’s a random day — at a random time — in a week that seems like any other. Except for one glaring reality. One of your “stars” is in front of you resigning. Your utter shock is only matched by the nagging shame that comes from the knowledge that as a manager, you had absolutely no clue.

As your eyes widen in panic, try to remain calm. There are steps that can be taken.

Here’s what to do next:

  • Set up a time to talk, but… Do this, but realize you have some pre-work to complete. What kind of problems might have contributed to this scenario? Be brutally honest. Does this truly come out of left field or were you turning a blind eye to developing issues? (You can read “How Not Manage a High Performer” for a few ideas concerning what may have gone wrong.)
  • Discuss exchange agreements. If you haven’t already acknowledged the existence of the psychological contract, it’s time to do so. This is an often unstated “give & take” agreement concerning what your contributor brings to the table and what they need/expect in return.
  • Don’t talk money, yet. Refrain from a conversation about money. In many cases, the reasons behind a high performer departing are much more complex. If you make this exclusively about salary, you may miss the driving point entirely and any chance of redemption.
  • Read the room. If you’ve struck a chord — ask for another conversation that would allow both of you to present/discuss short & longer-term solutions.
  • Don’t make quick promises you cannot keep. Any progress that you forge needs to be carefully considered and 100% genuine. If your contributor is looking for something you or your organization really can’t give — make peace with that — and let them move on.

As a manager, have you found yourself in this situation? What did you do?

Learn more about utilizing The Core to empower managers here.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

 

 

When Your Boss Needs Mentoring

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We all benefit from mentorship. Even those that hold lofty, leadership roles experience this need. When we look back on preparation for our current role for example, we can all identify training gaps. Ultimately, these gaps can come to roost over our paths in unsettling ways.

Early in my career, a VP in my firm pulled me into his office. Realizing that he wasn’t as popular as he might have hoped — he asked — in no uncertain terms where he had gone wrong. To be honest, I wasn’t surprised. He was reviled by many, feared by most, and known for being a hard-lined leader with absolutely no heart. He had a reputation for choosing clients over team members in a manner where resentment and anger were bound to grow. Sadly, I had been on the receiving end of this dynamic.

I surmised the conversation was precipitated by a “lively” discussion months earlier concerning a client situation where I had felt grossly unsupported. The situation had led to some very harsh words and much stress. In that moment, I realized that this sentiment was shared on both sides. For some reason, he realized that this was a growing pattern — and he likely lived in the center of that storm.

In retrospect, we invest a lot of time building our leaders, but fail to offer the same attention to management skills as they move through supervisory roles. When management skills are neglected, leaders often walk a fine line between expressing power and remaining relatable, which is difficult to master. This can be exacerbated if an individual possesses a temperament or demeanor that can misconstrued as “cold” — where building a warm feeling toward that leader can be very, very difficult. His overt displays of power, were undermining the potential afforded by his role.

He needed to express his own humanity. However, this was a tall order when trust was already undermined. Appearing “false” or “contrived” was of course a risk. The core of existing relationships was likely damaged or weakened.

What I said:

  • Celebrate the work. After a project was delivered, there was only silence from leadership, and a sense of relief/exhaustion from team members. Marking our successes in a positive manner, was fundamental for the team to stay energized longer-term. This fell on him, to do so.

What I would add today:

  • Acknowledge our challenges. Share that he understood that our line of work was challenging. With tough clients and looming deadlines, the work was — even in the best of situations — rigorous.
  • Respect what excellence demands. The quality of the work that was delivered was exceptional. However, this became routine and was demanded/expected with little thought of the impact on the team’s psychological resources.

As a final note, I have to commend this individual for coming forward and expressing the need for guidance. Why he chose me, I’ll never know. However, I respect his request whole-hardheartedly.

Reverse-mentoring is a beautiful thing.

Remember that eflection is the first step in the path to development and change. If you have identified a possible gap in your training — seek the mentor who can shed the most light on that gap. Your role, level and age are irrelevant.

Have you ever been asked to mentor your boss? What did you do?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. She explores the need for Core Stability at work. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

How to Get “Unstuck” When You Just Can’t Seem to Move Forward

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Photo by Aubrey Odom on Unsplash

There are times in work life when things slow to such a lethargic pace — that forward progress can only be measured in levels of frustration. As you likely feel, I find this state extremely disheartening. Yet in the end, these phases can prove fundamental to our progress. This occurs because the situation is telling us (in no uncertain terms), that there is something vital we should be attending to.

Motivation isn’t a topic to be taken lightly. Primarily because it is not only complicated, but insanely personal.

No one can begin exploring the reasons behind the stall, but you.

To start the sorting process, consider the following questions:

  • What’s missing? If we forget to include a leavening agent when baking (such as baking powder), cakes fail to rise. This doesn’t necessarily cast aspersion on the quality of the other ingredients — it’s simply basic chemistry. What or whom, might you need to bring toward your work life to expand? (BTW, I cover this thoroughly in The Core.)
  • What needs to go? Forward progress is often stymied when our attention is divided. In a world where we collect goals like sea shells — we fail to realize that juggling too many can hold us back. Instead, we should re-visit their individual value to our work life well-being. When multiple goals siphon focus away from a truly meaningful endeavor, we set ourselves up to lose.
  • Are you practicing self-care? In my years of experience as a coach, I’ve found that exhaustion (mental, physical, spiritual) leads the pack of reasons that might explain a lack of forward progress. Remember that creativity is fueled by a well-rested brain. If you can walk away from your challenge for a bit of time (even a mere 24 hours) — invest in that diversion.

How do you manage yourself when you feel stuck? What works for you?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

 

When it Comes to Conflict at Work — Consider the Danger of Avoiding It

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Photo by Tristan Billet on Unsplash

Conflict Debt is the sum of all the contentious issues that need to be addressed to be able to move forward, but instead remain undisclosed and unresolved.” – Liane Davey

Over the past years, I’ve been on a quiet mission exploring the elements that contribute to stability within our work lives. I refer to core stability as a confluence of elements, such as psychological safety and the psychological contract, that contribute to a strong work life foundation. Their presence help us to become (and remain) engaged and productive — even in the face of challenge. To some, stability may seem an odd path, in an age of relentless innovation and digital transformation. However, for those of us who are troubled by enduring workplace problems, such as poor fit and lack of engagement, stability offers fertile ground.

When you consider the topics that affect stability, conflict — and more specifically the absence of healthy conflict — land on the short list. When we think of conflict in our own work lives, we might recall the odd argument or heated discussion concerning a project or client. However, those memories are only part of the conflict story. We also must consider all of the moments where we failed to confront an issue. Instances where we hesitated because of the imagined aftermath. Those “forward flashes” can resemble a work life apocalypse.

In her new book, The Good Fight, Liane Davey lets us know that avoiding conflict comes with a clear cost — something she brilliantly named “Conflict Debt”. Conflict debt is the accumulation of emotions and resentment that can occur when we fail to broach the topic. Davey takes our hand and leads us through the emotions that come with that dynamic. The Good Fight explores the idea that when mastered, conflict builds both courage and confidence. She also explores the roots of why we feel the way we do. (Her personal conflict story is like so many of our own— laden with judgement, avoidance and outright fear.)

There is a certain hell that we quickly correlate with work-related conflict. In fact, that is enough to relegate conflict into near oblivion. We should be doing the polar opposite — dancing with it. “Normalizing healthy conflict” is the goal, Davey explains.

Ultimately, we sacrifice ourselves when we avoid conflict. We also negatively affect the strength and quality of our work.

Unresolved conflict doesn’t fully dissipate.

Sadly, it can take on a festering life of its own.

Purchase The Good Fight here:

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

To Tell Your Own Work Life Story — Discover Your Mentors

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Photo by Cathryn Lavery on Unsplash

Most of us would like to inject the wisdom of a mentor into our work lives. As we read the stories of successful individuals describing the impact of these “guiding forces”,  we might find yourself feeling a bit left behind. Real mentors — those that can can shape our work lives — are few and far between. To coin an old adage, they “don’t grow on trees”.

On a related note, I happened upon this incredible post by Nancy Duarte, who instructs us how to the tell the stories that matter. She shares techniques, that have helped her clients build life stories that engage and motivate others. (The process involves active reflection.) Most of us are challenged to recall the events and conversations that are no longer in the forefront of our minds. Through her process, we might recall pivotal moments and possibly identify those in our lives that have served as mentors (yet we haven’t identified them as such).

She calls these bits and pieces, “latent stories”. I love this idea.

One of Duarte’s techniques involves placing your name in the center of a piece of paper and then mapping connection between people, places and things — ensuring the we also describe the dynamic of each relationship. As I began the process, names ended up on the paper that I hadn’t thought of in years. In fact, their positive impact had been buried under a number of negative experiences that hovered (and clouded) over more positive experiences. For example, my schematic revealed a middle school teacher who instilled a real sense of pride concerning my strengths in math and science. She encouraged me to make a lasting contribution to the world, although at 13 my wish was simply to be accepted and blend in.

Bingo. Pay dirt.

I hadn’t really labeled her as a mentor — but there she was. What were the lasting lessons she taught? To take pride in who I was, even if I seemed different. There were many others as well. Those that shared the candid “one-liners” along the way, that did shift my self-view, my behavior or my path ever so slightly.

You may not think that you have a strong mentoring backstory.

However, exploring the past may reveal the individuals who saw potential within you. (Isn’t that what a mentor does?)

They showed us— by taking the time to share.

That is certainly a story worth retelling.

Who are the unsung heroes of your work life?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

 

 

 

When Delivering Feedback — Should We Dwell on Our Strengths?

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Photo by Victor Freitas on Unsplash

For some odd reason — performance feedback often becomes an exercise in dwelling upon our shortcomings. (Read a recent HBR post on feedback here.) As a psychologist, this concerns me deeply. I’m sure many of us agree that we learn more from shared feedback concerning our strengths. This likely occurs for a number of reasons, including not only how the information is delivered, but how we process the negative bits. We remain acutely aware that information about weaknesses shouldn’t be ignored. Yet when negative information enters the picture, things seem to go off the rails.

On the delivery side, we know we should be addressing both sides of the coin. As recipients, most of us really do want to hear the whole story (even as we brace for it, gritting our teeth.)

Still — we haven’t mastered the art. I fear that on many occasions we simply avoid it.

On a related note, this predisposition sets our managers up for the unsavory task of ripping us down. I’ve never heard a manager say, “I can’t wait to deliver performance appraisals”. I wonder in this moment, if negative information is the reason why. We know it is “loaded” and can drive a perfectly constructive conversation into the proverbial ditch.

Being honest about weaknesses while leaving our core fully intact, is not an easy stretch of the road to maneuver. Yet, we still need to complete the journey. As detailed here, confirmation bias can hide the deal-breaking flaws that affect our work (and organizations). But as human beings we have “tender” hearts when it comes to negative information. Resilience, that nifty quality that allows us to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off, is about self-efficacy — not self-doubt. So, I suppose “radical transparency” can have its pitfalls.

I’m wondering is there is a way for the two goals to marry? How do we deliver negative information, yet leave our inner work life core intact? There are options that may help us.

One theory, is hitting a comfortable ratio of positive to negative feedback that is offered. (Hint: We should dwell on the positive much more than the negative and a little negative information goes a long, long way). Another strategy is to use less judgemental language and present alternative behaviors, so that change doesn’t appear unreachable. This also demands that we note where someone is on the learning curve.

This is all a very delicate process.

You may have your own theory as well. There is probably a wealth of information living out there. Strategies that we have learned along the way.

I do know that solving this is imperative. Let’s share both our experiences and ideas.

Thoughts?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.