In Work Life — Kindness Matters


Kindness applies so clearly to our work lives. However, we rarely exercise the option to use it. We’ve all suffered workplace disappointments and detours. However, many of these low points could have been tempered with a small dose of kindness. The opportunities for kindness are really endless. We just have to be mindful that they exist.

Here are just a couple of examples from my own career, where kindness might have changed the eventual outcome.

  • Applying for a job. Most of us have been either ignored, put off or minimized during the hiring process. So, do not post a role that has really already filled — or if a decision will not be made for months, don’t promise an update within a week. (Someone might turn down an opportunity with you in mind.)
  • A sharp change in direction. I was to gather data for my dissertation at a large auto company. One week before the process was to begin, a newly hired VP of HR stated: “We have ivy-league schools clambering to study us, why would I allow you to do so?”. (BTW, I attended Wayne State University, located in the heart of Detroit. It took 6 months to re-group with another sample). Explaining why they couldn’t comply without insult, would have been a better route.
  • Organizational downsizing. I was caught in one of these early in my career. After offering my heart and soul to the organization for nearly 2 years, they offered me a cardboard box (and out placement, if I signed a document to not sue) at 4:00 on a Friday afternoon. If I had known my role was in danger, I could have looked for another role. Instead they chose to be cold and perfunctory, to avoid a real conversation and potential legal issues. Real leaders know better.

I’m sure you have your own work life stories to reflect upon. How would an act of kindness have changed the situation?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, consultant and coach. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto.

Losing Talent: Go Ahead, Tell Yourself It’s Mutual


I’ve recently published a post at Linkedin entitled, How Not to Manage a High Performer. (The comments are worth a look.) In the article, I discuss all of the ways we, as managers and organizations as a whole, shoot ourselves in the foot where top talent is concerned. We rely too heavily on their collected experience when things become hectic, and essentially drain them dry. We fail to offer them real challenge. Then we somehow forget to say thanks — for a job truly well done.

The employee-employer relationship may have started out on the right foot — and good intentions were plentiful. However, as time marches on another troubling story emerges. We drop the proverbial “ball”, so to speak and the tenor of the relationship devolves. Then — without fail, the inevitable moment finally arrives when your high performer makes the decision to move on. We’ve forced their hand in many cases, and in truth we’ve actually limited (not energized) their careers.

We’d like to tell ourselves that the feeling is “mutual” — that as an organization we’ve done all that we could. They’ve “outgrown us” or were somewhat “hard to please”. However, that’s likely a little whit lie, we tell ourselves. Organizations can find themselves on the wrong side of that argument each and every day.

The decision to leave is often not mutual or well-timed (we’ve forced their hand), and organizations lose for a numbers of identifiable reasons — most of which are well-known and preventable. (Take a look at the concepts of the Psychological Contract and “Tours of Duty” in The Alliance).

So, I say hooray for talent. Move on. Jump off. Find an organization that is willing to take a moment to learn who you are and what you need to excel. I’ve seen talented, good-hearted, motivated employees suffer at the hand of a completely clueless organization, yet thrive at another. That difference is the responsibility of organizations to affect.

So tell yourself it’s mutual — and that the next employee is simply one click (through ATS) away. Go right ahead.

But, it’s not.

You lose.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto. She is also serves as an Influencer at LinkedIn.

Making Sense of Metrics

Photo by Miguel A. Amutio on Unsplash

Most of us utilize metrics in one form or another.

For better or worse, they potentially become the focus of our day-to-day behavior.

However, when metrics begin to conflict with our core values and long-term sustainability — it is time to rethink their power to drive your organization. In many cases, chosen metrics can develop a “dark side” that can spell trouble for your organization.

As reflected in this post at HBR, “…the wrong performance metrics will undermine good intentions every time.” In that regard, consider how your team utilizes them. Do the metrics you monitor offer the information your team requires to move forward? Are they pulling their weight?

On a very basic level, metrics should reflect key facets of performance, while supporting both mission and vision. However, they can fail to help us identify developing issues.

Let me offer an example.

Recently, I spent time with an organization that was grappling with metrics that was not helping them to evolve and secure market share. While they kept a close on eye on sales data and leads funneling into their system — there were relevant performance criteria not captured in their set of monitored metrics. (Here, late project changes occurred months after the original contract.)

When they pulled back “the curtain” on sales performance, it was clear that this information had not been actively acknowledged. As such, the team was not alerted to the pattern of costly fixes that would develop down the line.

An oversight such as this develops when performance effectiveness is not fully considered as metrics are chosen. Identifying facets of successful performance must occur first — then the metrics to parlay that information are identified.

We often become comfortable with aging or incomplete set of metrics, because they are available. However, these choices are critical, because ultimately what is measured — is valued organizationally.

The simple act of choosing a metric can ignite a cascade of behavioral expectations, which may or may not contribute team success or the benefit customers. (For example consider the goal of closing sales quickly or monitoring the length of a customer center call, etc.) Furthermore, if metrics are chosen without considering the impact upon product or service delivery systems, serious ramifications can arise. (More on metrics and “performance perversity” at the VA, here.)

Reviewing the usefulness of your metrics at regular intervals is key.

Ask these questions:

  • Are the metrics robust? Ideally, a set of metrics should represent the dynamic nature of the work that you complete. Ensure that all facets or your work are represented and that your collected numbers offer a broad view.
  • Are they “change worthy”? As discussed here, data is often prevalent — but insights are rare. We might collect endless numbers (at a high cost in both time and resources), which actually offer few clues as to help us improve. Remember that data and metrics are two very different things.
  • Do metrics direct behavior? Metrics are only as useful as the behavior they energize. When considering a metric, reflect on its power to truly impact behavior across functions. Be wary of “Vanity Metrics“, that can pack a powerful marketing message — yet do little to guide behavior.
  • Are the metrics meaningful? While information needs to be readily availableit also must must capture something vital about your organization. For example, do metrics help your team connect with their work?
  • Where are metrics focused? “Lagging” metrics report on states that have already occurred (lost customers, for example). “Leading” metrics, on the other hand, might help predict a developing problem and offer an opportunity to change a process mid-stream.
  • Are the metrics dynamic? Metrics should evolve with the changing focus of your team. (You might utilize the 80-20 rule; where 80% of your metrics represent your current focus, 20% represent areas of needed future performance emphasis.) Outdated metrics can “muddy the waters” and cause a good deal of confusion concerning valued behaviors. Metrics can have an “expiration date” — when they lose their value to promote performance excellence.

Other considerations:

  • Avoid the “single number” emphasis. Any construct worth measuring (such as sales effectiveness or customer service), is likely multidimensional. Ensure that your metrics reflect this.
  • Consider who utilizes the numbers. The heaviest, most demanding users must be carefully considered when developing metrics. Discuss the needed information required to monitor the health of a department or function, frequently.
  • Measure what matters, yet ensure they are easily understood. Metrics can become complicated quickly — but ultimately must be easily grasped. Your metrics should be informative and allow you to explain the crux of your business easily.
  • Refine them. No single metric is a perfect representation of performance. Attempt to factor out “white” noise, that might limit real-time use. You might also consider combining leading indicators to form a clearer picture of performance.
  • Share them. Metrics can help motivate others within the organization — so share the numbers with those whom might benefit the most. This will help team members align with the larger goals of the organization.
  • Add a qualitative component. You cannot measure something that is completely out of your purview. Keep abreast of developing areas that affect performance and ensure you have a handle on the leading edge.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is the Director of Organizational Development at Allied Talent.


What We Can Learn About Leadership From Comcast’s Nightmare Customer Service Call

Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash

Wow. Don’t get me started. My son has just spent the last 4 weeks trying to force Comcast to keep their promises to him. As a recent college grad, money really matters — and they really couldn’t care less. Getting his business was the only goal. Keeping him as a customer going forward — well that seems to be a message entirely lost on them. If he had another viable choice for high-speed internet (he’s a gamer), he we would take it. Immediately. He cannot stand them.

To tell you the truth I thought my family’s collective experiences with Comcast were simply random. (We recently discovered that we were being charged for a year’s worth of a router we did not have on premise.) However, after doing a bit of digging, I’m now convinced there may be serious problems lurking there. This week, Comcast’s darker side was fully exposed in a viral call center exchange that really is more than unbelievable — it’s ominous. Comcast, is now one of the two most hated companies in the country. As a leader, I would be very, very concerned.

We can learn from their uproarious blunder. In particular, quite a lot about leadership. Here we go:

  • Don’t close your doors. Ultimately, this rarely occurs within an organization where positive leadership has a strong, visible presence. This isn’t one incident, there is a pattern here. Yes, you may be an industry monolith. But that doesn’t absolve you of the responsibility to be front and center — driving home key messages that will sustain your business long-term. Don’t lock yourselves in an office — light years away from your customers.
  • Talk is cheap, but your actions really speak. I don’t think the mission of Comcast is “Irritate Customers Beyond Belief”. However, the behavior of the company is certainly communicating that message to us. Communicate the mission/vision within your organization completely. If not well understood, everyone will have their own ideas. Leaving something so critical to chance is very, very unwise.
  • Listen, listen, listen. Then listen again. Do you recall when customers would be required to wait all day to have someone hook up their service? Comcast adjusted this policy (and even offered $20 if they didn’t hold up their end of the bargain). Talk to your customers often. Are service plans confusing? Is your pricing structure likened to hieroglyphics? Do you fail to reward long-term customers for their patronage? Be aware.
  • Your people are a reflection of your brand. How did that call center representative come to believe that he should never, ever allow a customer leave of their own free will? I’m sorry, your employees often reflect leadership’s take on customers. He thought that was OK. It wasn’t.
  • Your company is at risk. When leadership fails to communicate the very core of a service organization’s creed (which would include exhibiting basic respect toward customers), it shows something vital. That, at the end of the day, you may not really care. That undoubtedly spells trouble for your business when viable competition shows up…and of course, it undoubtedly will.

What advice can you offer Comcast? Sound off here.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist, speaker and coach You can also find her on Twitter and Linkedin.

Blamestorming & Other Telling Signs Your Organization is “Siloed”

Photo by Jim Witkowski on Unsplash

I speak with organizations who have every intention of being collaborative. However, their collective actions tell a very different story. They envision functioning as a seamless, multi-functional entity — working in concert to satisfy clients and achieve organizational goals. But in reality, this is quite difficult to accomplish.

Unfortunately there are obvious, telling signs that they have missed the mark.

By and large, silos develop within organizations to protect valued resources. This is often fear-based — and building these proverbial “walls” can become the kiss of death for any organization that intends to remain agile. We’d all like to think of our organizations is immune to this condition. However, it is easy to slip into “protective mode”.

In some cases, we’ve acquiesced into a “silo-ed” state without recognizing the malaise.

Here are a few signs:

  • Lack of a consistent & constructive cross-functional conversation. Let’s be brutally honest — there really isn’t a lot of communication going on cross-functionally. Your customer/client process doesn’t really dovetail with other functional groups and sadly, no one seems to be alarmed that this integral step is absent.
  • Customers are no longer central to the conversation. Your teams are so busy putting out fires and keeping up with demands, that your clients are no longer central. When the “tail” (the acute issues) starts wagging the dog (being longer-term smart), it’s time to slow down and take another look.
  • You are unsure what other functions are really doing. Processes and procedures can evolve quickly. You can lose site of the roles that others play in the larger scheme. As result, your team really doesn’t have a grasp on how to effectively interface with other parts of the business.
  • Rampant “blame-storming”. Joint ownership of processes and procedures is non-existent. If issues seem to be more like “hot potatoes of blame” than a “call to arms” to improve — take this an ominous warning. If everyone seems to point a finger, yet no one is venturing to say “we take responsibility”, you may have a real problem.
  • Separate cultural identities. If each functional group is more akin to an independent “pop up” shop, take note. You might blame each other for the current problems or snafu, but it’s really the lack of shared vision that’s the offender. Time to re-group and get on the same page.
  • Things are portrayed as a “zero sum” game. If your group seems to feel that if they “give up” responsibility of tasks (even if tasks are best moved to another team), your organizational presence would be minimized. Scope of work should be assigned to the group best able to deliver the end-product of the highest quality.
  • You’ve given up trying to become a better organization. Many siloed organizations aren’t happy with the status quo — yet their employees feel that effort to change the dynamic would be fruitless. If you are so frustrated that you feel things cannot be improved, this is a telling sign that your group needs help.

Have you seen this operating in your organization? What did you do?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist who starts conversations about work life core stability. She also writes as an Influencer at LinkedIn.

Becoming More Positive: Embracing “Plan B”

plan b

I’ve never been afraid of  “Plan B”.

You know, the plan that is implemented after “Plan A” goes down in a fiery ball of flames. I have my first two bosses to thank for this perspective. Starting out in customer research, “Plan B” was certainly a lesson I learned rather quickly. Samples were never how I envisioned them. Implementation was never perfect. The results that followed? There was always some sort of  surprise —  a “twist” — so to speak.

How can we handle the inevitable imperfections that are a reality of our everyday work lives? How can leaders help us face the challenges that inevitably occur? During these quickly evolving these and unpredictable times, that is the question of the moment. The answer? This may relate to the level of positivity that our leaders possess and the behaviors they model for us. My first supervisor, for example, never flinched when a concern was raised. She simply listened and helped me work through the issues confidently. No drama. Just focus.

As it turns out, a leader’s expression of positivity could be one key to the psychological well-being of their followers — and the performance outcomes which follow. (A clear expression of hope and resilience, for example.) Recent research examining the construct of leader Psychological Capital, is elucidating the power of this connection.

Psychological Capital (PsyCap) is construct composed of four well researched psychological resources (the HERO resources) as follows:

The HERO resources:

  • Hope. A belief in the ability to persevere toward goals and find alternative paths to reach them.
  • Efficacy. The confidence that one can put forth the effort to affect outcomes.
  • Resilience. The ability to bounce back in the face of adversity or failure.
  • Optimism. A generally positive view of work and the potential of success.

In reality, those who lead or manage others possess varying levels of Psychological Capital — and the outward expression of those resources can change how we view (and process) the challenges we face in our work lives. Without this psychological support, failure can be just a failure. Not an opportunity to learn a few things and move forward feeling empowered.

So for what it is worth — thank you Marty and Elyse. Great bosses are worth their weight in gold.

What do you think? Does a leader’s level of positivity impact the workplace? Share your thoughts here.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. She also writes at Linkedin.

I Had a Life…But My Job Ate It?


Yesterday while driving home, I noticed a bumper sticker as I waited at a light. It read: “I had a life, but my job ate it.”


Fitting that this car should stop next to me. As you can imagine, the message bothered me on a number of levels. (I was a deer in headlights for a moment, requiring a reminder from the driver behind me the light had changed.) On one hand, with all that is written about work-life balance — you would think we were beginning to get a handle on the issue. On the other hand, it dawned on me that we may need more than a brief refresher concerning the potential contributors to the “out of balance” state.

We blame our jobs for eating up out time. However, I doubt it is that simple. We are there as well. It is possible that we contribute (not fully cause, mind you) to the situation.

A few things to think about:

  • We’re really having a time/task management issue. Life can be busy – often exceedingly so. As a result, we need to examine our use of time and the value we afford it. (If we don’t value our own time, no one else will.) Often when we complain of a lack of time, we actually are suffering from a task crisis. More specifically, we are not prioritizing or possibly eliminating, tasks that add little to our lives at work (or outside of the office for that matter.)
  • We’re not striving for the right kind of “peace”. I’m not convinced that “balance” is the right goal.  (Somehow that brings to mind a precariously perched set of spinning plates). When you examine the roles of busy and productive people, we find that there are times that work-life balance isn’t really “balanced” at all. In fact, there are moments when a shift towards one direction or another (work or personal life) is required and healthy. Maybe we should shoot for a different goal, somewhat like the one discussed in this recent HBR posts entitled: Work-Life “Balance” Isn’t the Point.
  • Organizations just aren’t listening. We cannot have a healthy sense of balance, if organization aren’t listening to our needs. Sure we’re all prepared to pitch in when we have an important or meaningful deadline. However, when every day brings drama and stress — this is an entirely different situation. If employees are expressing that processes and procedures need to change, for the well being of all involved, organization certainly need to take notice and make changes. Leaders take note.
  • We’re not engaged (and we’re not talking about it). I’m not sure how you feel about this, but sometimes I enjoy being “out of balance”. When I am on deadline or working on an interesting topic, I love the power that comes with the feeling of being truly connected to my work. My litmus test? If  I am so “job involved”, that the time flies by. If your job doesn’t align with your strengths and provide a core sense of energy — you need to do something about it. Seek engagement in your work life at every turn. If not, I fear that every moment at work will seem like an intrusion on our “real lives”.

What else may be operating here? Share your thoughts.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. She also writes for Linkedin and US News & World Report.

The Challenge of the “Turn Around” Leader


Recently, the leadership skills of Yahoo’s “turn-around” CEO, Marissa Mayer have come into question for addressing what she deemed to be a symptom of a palpable organizational ailment. I was not surprised at the reaction to her decision concerning flexible work — which could only be described as visceral and sensational. However, in my mind, a broader leadership question looms.

At LinkedIn, editor Isabelle Roughol has recounted developments in the evolution of both Yahoo and Groupon. Reading her post, I was struck with the importance of that pivotal “second chance” for ailing organizations — and the unique challenges faced by those leading that charge. Whether we are discussing Yahoo, Groupon, or J.C. Penney, one element remains brazenly obvious. Diagnosing organizational ills and affecting change is a difficult road to travel. Leaders cast in this “savior” role stand the chance of losing the good fight. It is a high stakes, high risk business.

In the case of Ms. Mayer, the proverbial “CEO alarm” was pulled the moment she revoked flexible work options. But, as the days passed and more information emerged, another aspect of the story became evident: the leadership challenges she faces in an organization that is actively seeking change. Bit by bit, information surfaced that was vital to this tale; including how Ms. Mayer determined she really had a serious problem and what motivated her course of action.

Personally, I don’t fault her for addressing what she believes to be a “waning” collaborative environment at Yahoo. ( I don’t view this is an assault on flexible work.) Gathering key talent together, in the hopes of igniting change, makes perfect sense. This action at the very least, begins to set behavioral expectations going forward for Yahoo. Critics abound — but only time will tell if this action contributes to needed change.

Yahoo’s leadership story (and others like it) seem to be at least partially rooted in our level of confidence in leadership — or more specifically, our skepticism. This seems counter intuitive on a very basic level, as a leap of faith is required when any organization needs to evolve. We need to view leadership as the dynamic and risky business that it truly is.

There has long been keen interest in specific leader attributes and how they impact success. However, this may have distracted us from the need for a broader, more integrated definition. Leadership is often a complicated, layered role, where culture and context must meld to formulate strategy. Prescribing the skills required for these leadership roles is an even more complicated task.

At the very least, a leader’s right to develop the best possible “script” for their highly specific situation seems critical. Marissa Mayer is faced with the task of assessing what Yahoo’s culture really needs at this moment to become healthy and productive. (I would hope that a modified flexible work policy will be hammered out as time passes.) Ultimately, a leader’s willingness to implement unpopular organizational decisions in these “second chance” situations, is required.

What do you think? Should we extend more confidence to our high-level leaders?

Set your counter-productive strategies out to sea with story

MB900432792My husband recently recounted an organizational change process that he had observed at a European client. Interestingly, it was based upon the story of the ancient ritual of a Viking funeral. In the process, the group symbolically “sent” their old strategies (hopefully along with the accompanying mindset) “out to sea”. They marked the occasion of this change with a considerable amount of respect – reflecting on what had passed – and anticipating what lay ahead.  An honorable “end” so to speak, of the outdated but once useful philosophy, that would help usher in a whole new way of doing business.

In fact, they were utilizing storytelling to spark a change. As we all have experienced, change within an organization can be a difficult process  – it is often wrought with fear and uncertainty. Weaving stories about the future during a change effort – can create a mental path for your employees to tread on that journey. In most cases, organizations  do not have the luxury of waiting for a change to “ignite” on its own. Storytelling can help start the process.

In many cases we acknowledge that things need to improve – and processes need to flex – but it’s often difficult to rally around that cause. Something is needed to get the process going.  Something simple – yet symbolic – that signifies the end of the old and the start of something new.

Some ideas to incorporate storytelling into your change effort:

  • Tell the story of “why”. Gather your team and discuss why you have reached the impasse. Have team members tell of of their experiences – and offer everyone an opportunity to voice their feelings about why the change needs to occur.
  • Talk of the future. Look forward and tell the story of how actions can translate into success. Utilize a “Springboard Story” which describes how your organization will function more effectively because of the change.
  • Give change the deference it deserves. Acknowledge that change is difficult. Be clear that the effort to come, deserves respect.
  • Add pompJust as a product launch can motivate a  group – a little ceremony can give a change effort momentum. Be sure to mark the beginning of the journey somehow.
  • Recognize behavioral change. As time goes on, be sure to offer encouragement and reward positive change. Always remember – unlearning old ways can be an arduous task.

How do you embark on the journey of change within your organization? Tell us your story.

Read more about this topic here: The Four Stories You Need to Lead Deep Organizational Change,  Steve Denning, Forbes.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. You can also find her on Twitter and Linkedin.

Facebook: Will Its Culture Survive?


Like you, I am fascinated by Facebook. Not by the foresight of their young founders to tap into the power of “connecting” — or the billion people who utilize the platform. I am fascinated by how they have structured their work. Their rebellious approach to product development (discussed here in Venture Beat’s post “The Hacker Way and here at Wired) has catapulted Facebook into its more recent evolution as a publicly traded business.

History tells us that things will likely change for Facebook going forward. Ten years out — I cannot help but wonder if their unique culture will continue to survive fully intact. With mounting doubts concerning the future, things can begin to shift.

It seems that the essence of Facebook lies in how they approach the development their products. For those unfamiliar with the process, they subscribe to the “Hacker Way” — a disruptively innovative development philosophy. The process flies in the face of the conventional wisdom concerning product development. At the core, the method emphasizes quick turnaround, where “multiple iterations and improvements” are completed on an “as you go” basis.

There is no long suffering, or protracted process before testing a new idea. They implement first — and perfect later.

More of how Zuckerberg described the method:

“Hackers believe that something can always be better, and that nothing is ever complete. They just have to go fix it — often in the face of people who say it’s impossible or are content with the status quo.”

The process in itself, is aspirational. However, publicly traded organizations exist within a larger system of checks and balances. With Facebook’s evolution into a publicly traded organization, it’s external system has become decidedly wider. Along with this, comes the possibility of pressure to change their ways and conform. There has already been speculation that they may acquiesce to more traditional development timetables, which could signal trouble that their unique culture is in danger.

Some other cultural concerns:

  • Intended mission. As stated in his letter to investors, the initial impetus for Facebook was to connect people socially. He admits openly, the idea was not originally intended to be a business. As such, their founding orientation and purpose, differed from other businesses, who begin with the notion that there is a defined product to sell. This fact can exert pressure on the organization.
  • Retaining passion. Cultivating code is one thing — but maintaining a passionate workforce is another. How will Facebook keep their employees “hungry” to create products, a year from now, or five years from now? Will the mindset of the employee group evolve in response to the changing status of the organization? Will the level of challenge present in the content of the work remain motivating? As organizations grow, this often becomes a looming challenge.
  • Tolerance for failure. Most highly innovative cultures such as Facebook, have a higher tolerance for failure as compared to more traditional organizations. They also have a collected mindset to support that tolerance. Will investors continue to embrace the philosophy, as well?

I am anxious to see how this culture evolves going forward. Any predictions?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist and coach. Connect with her and continue the conversation on Twitter and Linkedin.