The Office Blend Blog

Why You Should Lose That Toxic High Performer Sooner Rather Than Later

Photo by Alejandro Ortiz on Unsplash

I’ve recently read (and shared) this MIT Sloan post about the notion of a “Toxic Superstar”. (My previous post on the topic is here.) Most of us do not require convincing that this scenario is a common one, or that managers ring their hands over it. However, if you are in the midst of this, you may feel frozen — and I may have to convince you to act sooner, rather than later.

Long ago, in my very first role a “toxic superstar” not only held an entire team hostage, she managed to have me eliminated for no good reason (except that she engaged in an intense competition with me). Sadly, I was unaware of this unhealthy dynamic until 4:00 PM on a given Friday afternoon. It was both shocking and devastating.

Toxicity happens.

I am fully aware of the risks that must be weighed which lurk in the foreground. There is the workload. The schedule. The deadlines. There is the effect (short and longer-term) upon the customer and the fallout this may bring.

Queue the impending tsunami of drama.

Now, I will encourage you to walk away with your winnings (but at the right moment, and with a plan).

Consider the following:

  • Membership. The very first thing to acknowledge is this: they are not a part of our team. They are rogue a soldier. Their goals are their own and they can be a destructive force when left to their own devices. Their presence is laden with increasing risk.
  • Currency. What makes them “tick” and brings them to work — is likely not what drives the rest of your team. This essentially limits your impact upon their behavior. In many cases, you will have little influence over them.
  • Consider your metrics. While the work may be moving along swimmingly, other metrics/costs are mounting. As a manager or team leader, are you willing to pay the outstanding debt, when all is said an done?
  • Psychological resources. Playing to this person and allowing them “go their own way” will eventually damage trust between manager and team. Observing a rogue superstar run the show, ultimately damages psychological capital.
  • Plan, plan, plan. Above all, it is important to separate the skill set, from the individual that is bringing it to the party. Offer them help to change their ways, but also start a plan to replace their competencies. You may be in the position to offer a another, committed team member a chance to shine.

Have you been in this situation? How did you proceed?

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.

Managing Others? You Need to Declare Yourself


Author’s Note: During the current health crisis — clarity is vital. Please take every opportunity to discuss shifting roles, responsibilities and emotions.

Adjusting to any new role is a challenge.

There are countless elements that must be mastered; core tasks, a new organizational culture and team commitments. Organizations may be well versed in helping newcomers complete on-boarding basics such as needed documentation, work spaces and technology. Yet, there are untapped opportunities, instrumental in helping this transition become the first steps toward a healthy, productive employee journey.

The bottom of the learning curve that newcomers face is often a steep one — characterized by a brisk influx of both information and people-focused demands. (I’ve heard the experience described as “drinking from the fire hose.”) Existing research focusing on newcomers, can offer managers clues as to what hey can do to support the process. Overall, these actions should serve to establish core stability, a confluence of elements that help a contributor become engaged and hopefully, successful.

However, we miss key opportunities to help newcomers find their way — and managers can actively contribute to building this needed sense of stability early on.

While we inundate newcomers with information about projects, budgets and goals — we under-represent information about ourselves. As a manager, providing essential information concerning who you are as a manager can be overlooked, leaving employees mired with questions. How do I connect with my manager? What is their work style? What do they value in the workplace? Sharing who you are as a manager — what you value, how you work best, what you are looking for performance-wise in the context of their role, even your career backstory — can put a newcomer at ease.

So declare yourself.

Share what you can share comfortably.

Fill in the blanks.

Here lies the rub: Managers are not encouraged to reflect on their own “management brand”. This may occur because: 1) we undervalue its contribution to healthy work relationships and 2) we are somewhat uncomfortable sharing it. However, as managers, there is an expectation to lay a solid foundation.

Team members shouldn’t be left to guess.

I will go one step further to say that (as a goal) this information should be shared long before the newcomer’s first day. This may allow talent (and managers) to assess whether there is real fit and an opportunity to form a healthy psychological contract.

However, to be honest — I’ll settle for this discussion on any given Monday.

What are your thoughts? Have you ever felt left in the dark concerning how to connect with your manager?

Want to bring this methods to your management team utilize? Write Dr. Gottschalk to learn about her virtual training options here.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. Her program: The Core Training Series for Managers — focuses on the importance of building core stability to a strong team. 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.

My Take: What Cross-Functional Teams Need to Succeed

Photo by Manuel Nägeli on Unsplash


When approaching our work, it is unwise to ignore the elements that provide needed support. These elements combine to create a broad, stable foundation that acknowledges a set of decidedly human-centered needs. Ultimately, these “stabilizers” are necessary for our work to become a success. Case in point: cross-functional teams.

Cross-functional teaming arose from a vital need to deal with quickly developing challenges and opportunities in the external environment. With teams, diverse skill sets are brought together to forge an improved organizational response. However, the supporting elements necessary for this process to function to its best advantage are not always present. To understand this dilemma, we must fully explore the systems that inform or support their work.

Clearly there are underlying structures that support teaming. However, much of what contributes to the success of teams, is rarely discussed completely.

Here are a few elements I would like to consider, likely critical to the support of cross-functional teams; 1) role clarity, 2) built sense of community, 3) networks, and 4) technology/systems that inform the network. Over the years, I’ve observed how these elements have pushed their way to the forefront of leadership concerns. Interestingly, these elements explore both the quality and boundary of connection — the very essence teaming.

Role Clarity
As discussed in this now classic HBR post, psychologist Tammy Erickson schools us on the distinction between providing role clarity and controlling natural and the creative process. Here research revealed that team members must understand their role, their contributing “building block” so to speak, as their team collectively propels forward to meet their valued goals. Yet, teams are more likely to be successful when we leave room for ambiguity concerning “how ” the work is completed.

Examples such as the “Hollywood Model” — which allows the film industry the flexibility to come together, disband and re-convene for different projects. The foundation of the model is built upon a rare collection of supportive elements that provide role clarity, pay stability and fulfilling work.

A Sense of Community
In the opening pages of Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell tells the story of a small town in Pennsylvania which on the face of things, had defied medical odds. Heart disease was nearly absent in its population under the age of 65 — something quite unusual — and no one was able to explain this peculiarity. Examining diet, exercise and genetics of Rosetans offered no clues. They smoked heavily and ingested a fat laden diet. Family members living in other areas did not enjoy the same health outcomes.

The identified explanation is surprising, even shocking. However, in retrospect it is an element that should have been in the forefront. It was the environment, which influenced well being. It was the very culture of Roseto itself. The built community.

When an erosion of that sense of community occurs in a workplace, we sense the loss — even if we cannot describe it.  We mourn it. The conversations with colleagues, the support and recognition. Ultimately, this dynamic influences the way in which team members interact with each other, with those across the organization.

There are numerous theories of networks within organizations. However, the manner in which networks are built and utilized, stands as one of the most critical concerns within modern organizations. Moreover, as organizations aspire to become more agile — how they communicate internally becomes central.

Exploring the specific qualities of a network is important. As organizations moved from traditional hierarchies to looser connections, it became evident that the problem of communication wasn’t completely solved. In fact as discussed here, networks will always have an “informal” quality.  (They aren’t always captured — within an organizational chart.) Like organizations networks must also remain agile, flowing and evolving as needed. Organizations must set the stage, to encourage their growth.

Technology that Informs the Network
While networks help carry out the work, technology platforms — and the elements they address informs those networks. Ultimately, the completeness of this set of systems must also be carefully considered. Consider the challenge of communicating key organizational initiatives. We cannot argue that the explanation of those initiatives will affect teaming and the work accomplished by these teams. However, there are often few systems to rapidly share these shifting priorities. Moreover, there is often incomplete information available internally, providing information about potential the team members that might contribute to its achievement.

Does your organization provide stable systems to help cross-functional teams? Yes or no. Share that here.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She examines the importance of core stability for people & organizations. 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.


Build Your Core: Identify Your Personal Work Life Commandments

Photo by Felicia Buitenwerf on Unsplash

I firmly believe that exploring who you truly are as a contributor is vital to leading a happy, fulfilling work life. In my recent work with managers, (read more about that here) we build upon the work of Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project to explore the essence of their work lives — to harvest what they require to solidify their own managerial brand.

The process begins with an inquiry into what makes us “tick” at work — and how to acknowledge that individualized blueprint. In this post, Rubin discusses the identification of a set of personal commandments which serve as an over-arching umbrella to approach our lives. This exercise is easily applied to work life, and is fundamental to working toward an adequate level of self-awareness.

Your first thought may be that you do not have the “ingredients” to develop your own list of commandments, yet I urge you to do so. You have likely already considered (faced and applied) many of the commandments that you will include.

Above all, be true to yourself and how you approach your work life.

Here are a few of my guiding commandments:

  1. Seek inspiration daily.
  2. When in doubt, reach out, share.
  3. Preserve ideas. Respect them. Explore them.
  4. Value goals, but let go of them if needed.
  5. Connect the dots for others.

Here are a few ideas to help you identify your own work life commandments:

  • What feeds your work life? What drives you? What does your inner voice tell you to seek?
  • What advice do you offer others? What would you say to your younger work life self?
  • What words of wisdom resonate? As Rubin mentions, words of wisdom and shared advice or guidance often stick with us for the long haul. Note what has stayed with you.
  • What do you object to? Think of situations when you felt that someone received the “short end of the stick”. What happened? What would you have done differently?
  • Why you’ve left a role. Look back on when you’ve been tempted (or actually left) a job? Why did you leave? What was broken?
  • What you are seeking? What are you looking for at your next role? What are the guiding values within an organization or team would attract you? What is missing in your current role?

This takes time.

Build your list of commandments as they strike you.

Revise as you evolve.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She examines the effect of Core Stability on work life with The Core Training. 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.


Considering the Power of Career Expectations


“I find it harder and harder every day to live up to my blue china.” – Oscar Wilde

Author’s Note: Thanks to Gretchen Rubin for inspiring this post.

As you likely have, I hold many expectations pertaining to my career. These expectations can prove invigorating, limiting, or even humiliating — depending on my vantage point. On some days, I hold myself to unachievable standards. On the following day, I may hold a much different view of my career reflection.

I do know this: Kindness matters — as expectations can become a cruel task master.

So a bit of advice:

Know that you likely do the best you possibly can to meet your most valued expectations.

Know that missing the mark isn’t a crime, and not venturing to try is far worse.

Know that falling back on what feels comfortable or fulfilling is never wrong — it just may not always pay the bills or prove practical (in the present).

Know that mixing expectations and comfort, may reveal a recipe that works for you.

Know that expectations should serve as a guide — and not a sentence.

Above all, always strive to acknowledge that difference.

Happy Independence Day!

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 — her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.


How to Stop Saying Goodbye to Employees Prematurely

Photot by Alan Pham 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 You Can Do Now.

Photo by Eutah Mizushima on Unsplash

It is a random day — at a random time — in a week that seems like any other.

Except for one glaring reality.

One of your “stars” stands in front of you resigning. Your utter shock can 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, you fast forward to your world without them.

Try to remain calm. There are steps that can be taken. Not all relationships can be saved. However, there is hope.

Here’s what to do next:

  • Set up a time to talk. 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? Were you turning a blind eye to developing issues? (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 is time to do so. This is an often unstated exchange agreement concerning what your contributor brings to the table and what they need/expect in return. If the contract has been inadvertently broken, address a possible repair — although know it is far better to avert a breach.
  • Don’t talk money. Refrain from a conversation about money. In many cases, the reasons behind a high performer departing are much more complex . If you make this about salary, you may miss the driving point entirely and any true 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. Set up a follow-up talk.
  • Don’t make quick promises you cannot keep. Any progress that you forge needs to be carefully considered and must be 100% genuine. Do not make a promise you cannot keep. If your contributor is looking for something you or your organization really cannot offer — make peace with that — and let them move on.

I have no doubt that you will grow as a manager— even if your team member ends their tenure. At the very least, look at the situation as an opportunity to learn.

Have you found yourself in this situation? What did you do? What happened?

Learn more about utilizing The Core Philosophy™ training, to empower your 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 the Boss Needs Mentoring


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

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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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.