3 Tips to Reduce Pre-vacation Anxiety

I’m not proud to admit I get anxiety before I take time off from work. It feels like a sign of weakness. It’s definitely a sign I have not yet reached work life harmony. For me, the anxiety manifests mostly as a fear of missing important things. Big decisions, private conversations, strategy shaping moments. Also, a fear of forgetting to take care of something and having it explode when I’m not there to help. And if I’m brutally honest, a fear of being forgotten. There’s no sense in pretending the anxiety isn’t there, as silly as it may sound. It is there. The question is, how to manage it.

Here are three tips I’ve used over the years to control my pre-vacation anxiety. They help me de-stress before I leave and reduce the worry I often feel when I get back to work.

1. Prepare a pre-vacation briefing package

Many managers do not do this effectively. In fact, most managers don’t do it at all. Before you leave for vacation, you should prepare a briefing package for your manager and for key leaders on your team. If you’re just bailing with little or no preparation, and hoping things don’t die while you’re sunning yourself at the beach, you’re not being a responsible manager.

Before I leave for vacation, I take a couple of hours and prepare a briefing document for my manager that outlines all the major issues I have ongoing, as well as a list of specific actions I need her to take on my behalf when I’m out of office. I try to be as detailed as I can since I really don’t want things to pop up and surprise her when I’m away. I also don’t want it to appear like I don’t have a handle on my business when something I didn’t prep her for becomes a problem while I’m sipping margaritas.

I also create shorter packages for the key leaders on my team. Priority items for them to focus on, clear expectations for progress that needs to be made while I’m away. By doing this, we can all be on the same page with what the objectives are for the period and how they will be able to make decisions in when I’m not present to weigh in. The last thing you want is for momentum to stall out because you’re on holiday. You goal, in preparing for your vacation, is to arm your team with enough direction and authority so they can push forward confidently without you.

My advice to managers is to spend a little more time preparing pre-vacation briefing packages for your boss and team members. It will ensure progress is made when you’re away and it will set your mind at ease so you can relax and enjoy your well-deserved holiday.

2.  Check in with your key stakeholders and influencers

Before I take off, I try to connect with the most important stakeholders and influencers in my work life. I’m talking about key people in the organization, peers, people you’d normally be meeting with but won’t be. I don’t think it’s enough to just switch on your out of office reply and hope for the best. I like to have a quick friendly conversation to let them know I’m taking off for a while. I have found these quick pre-vacation check-ins make things go a lot smoother when I’m out. Nobody panics when they have an issue and realize I’m not around to help. And we can get alignment on key issues that might occur during my time off. It helps.

My advice to managers is to make a quick list of the most important people in your work life, and give them a call before you take off on vacation. There is no downside to doing this and it can help maintain momentum and alignment on key issues while you’re away.

3. Take some perspective

This one probably should have come first. Clearly, I need this perspective as much as any of us by virtue of the fact I felt compelled to write this blog in the first place. I try to remind myself that the world doesn’t revolve around me. That, my career will be played out over many years and decades, and that a couple weeks off is a mere blip on that timeline. In the grand scheme, this vacation will have zero impact on my reputation or career trajectory. Its pure hubris to think that somehow me being away will send the department or company into a tail spin. I get quite embarrassed whenever I catch myself in this mode of thinking.

My advice to managers is to take some healthy perspective the next time you feel anxiety about taking vacation. Remind yourself that you are just not THAT important. The world, the company, your team will go on without you. At the scale of your career, this two-week period – any two-week period - is nothing. The energy you will take from unwinding will greatly outweigh any drawdown in productivity that could occur in your absence. Take your vacation, enjoy your time off, come back and start doing your best at work again.

Some of you, I suspect, will be able to relate very personally to the issues I’ve raised in this blog. Some of you may not. It’s certainly not something we should simply accept as a normal way of being. My hope is that by sharing some of my own anxieties and tips for managing them, you’ll be able to face your own pre-vacation angst. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section – if for nothing more than to let me know I’m not alone 😊

The Weekly Reid: Sink or swim or something in between?

Before I argue against the sink or swim philosophy of management, let me make clear I do not advocate the opposite approach either. There are some managers who, for various reasons, are completely unwilling to give their employees a shot at anything. They protect them and shelter them and effectively block them from growth. I would never support this. We need to help our people develop – that’s the duty of a manager. We need to push them. The question is, how best to do that? Is the sink or swim approach optimal or is there some other, better way?

My experience tells me, there is no substitute for winning. Winning begets more winning. Winning creates momentum, and momentum can take you places you didn’t think possible. My fundamental philosophy as a manager is to create as many winning situations as possible for my team and the members of it. I look for potential wins, I focus my energy on winning opportunities, I celebrate and reward and recognize wins as much as I possibly can. A culture of winning is hard to beat.

The counter argument to this is if you never place team members in situations that will test them – where they will likely fail – they’ll never be able to win at the highest levels of the game. That if you create artificial winning scenarios for people, they’ll eventually have to learn the hard lessons anyway, and by that time it will be too late. I see merit in this argument too.

The right question, in my opinion, is how do we strike a balance between building a culture (and habit) of winning while also challenging our people enough so they keep developing and can ultimately reach the highest levels of performance?

Here are 3 tactics I use to strike that magic balance between winning and development.

1.  Fail in practice, win in the game

In martial arts there is a saying – train hard, fight easy. I think there is a lot of wisdom here that can be applied to the workplace. The essential point is you should challenge and test yourself relentlessly within the relatively safe confines of training, so when you’re on the big stage you can be confident and shine. You lose a hundred times in practice so you can win when it really counts.

As much as I can, I try to create this environment at work. I try to build a safe training space where team members can be challenged and fail without suffering the repercussions of failing on the big stage. This way they can develop and grow and adapt AND create a habit of winning.

A good example of this is when team members have big presentations like an executive briefing or a customer presentation or some other high-pressure event. In these situations, I get deeply invested in helping prepare my team members. Probably more than just about any manager I know. I review presentations and talk strategy and ask hard questions and give extremely critical feedback. I push and push and push during the preparation phase. I create a safe space to fail so they will be ready to win when its show time.

At first, it can seem like micromanagement. Like I’m getting all up in their business or like I don’t trust them to deliver. But over time, as team members win and get recognized and rewarded, and as they build stronger and stronger reputations, they come to embrace the process, they seek out opportunities to learn hard lessons in private so they can win big in public.

My advice to managers is to create safe learning environments for your team members. Create opportunities for them to learn tough lessons and get difficult feedback in an environment that doesn’t carry the same consequence as failing in public. I have found this approach helps build deeper levels of trust between you and your team members as they come to realize your harsh criticism and feedback is designed to help them succeed under the bright lights.

2. Tough love in private, praise in public

I have found the best way to build trust with team members is to praise them in public while being tough on them in private. At first this may seem like a truism but I don’t think it’s as self-evident as you might think. Some managers are hard on their people 24-7 - in private and public. They push and they push some more. Other managers are way too soft on their people. They praise and praise and praise and don’t have the stomach to provide honest, critical feedback to their teams. Neither of these approaches work.

I want to be able to be hard on my team members so they can push themselves to new levels. I want to be able to be very direct and honest with my feedback. I want to be able to continuously raise the standard of excellence. But if you’re constantly criticizing your team, they’ll eventually give up on you, and then everyone loses.

My experience tells me there is a balance to be struck between praising and pushing. I want team members to know I will support and praise them in public when they’ve won. I want them to know I’m their biggest fan and that I’m personally invested in their success. But in exchange for that, when the lights go down and we’re back in a safe space, I will be quite hard on them. I will push them. That’s the bargain.

3. Find the win in failing

Win or learn. Another great philosophy that applies well to leading a team. No matter how much you support your team members in the preparation for big moments, they will fail from time to time. It’s a reality of life and work. The question is, how do we maintain a winning culture in moments of failure?

Great managers help their team members be as prepared as possible for big moments. Great managers are also supportive when that preparation isn’t met with a win. Sometimes we lose. Winners lose all the time. Our job as managers is to give our people the highest probability of winning and then help them find a win even in defeat. The worst managers bail on their people when they fail. They avoid talking about it. They lay blame. They shirk responsibility. Never do this.

The bargain you strike with your team members is to do everything possible to put them in a position to win and then accept whatever result happens. Your team members need to believe you won’t give up on them when they’ve prepared well but still fail.  

My advice to managers is to talk openly about failure. Don’t pretend it doesn’t exist. Don’t hide from it. If a member of your team gives maximum effort and still fails, help them find a win in the lessons learned. That way you can continue building a culture of winning even in defeat.

The sink or swim mentality has some merit to it, but I don’t think it’s always applied correctly in the workplace. Too many managers place their team members in unwinnable situations under the auspices of sink or swim. I reality, they’re just creating a losing culture. My experience tells me we can push and test our people AND create a culture of winning. I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments section

The Weekly Reid: Are Your Team Members Lying to You?

As I’ve progressed in my career, from my first management jobs to running a large team, I’ve had to face a difficult reality. As you move higher in an organization, people (some people), find it harder to tell you the truth. They don’t want to disappoint you. They fear repercussions – real and imagined. They infer a certain power dynamic whether or not you believe it exists. And so, they package their messages, they qualify their statements, they seek out ways to agree with you.

I see this dynamic just about every day. Team members find it hard to be honest with senior leaders, managers and executives. Whenever possible, they try to find a way to be supportive, agreeable. They want to make the leader happy. They want to find common ground. It is a very logical behavior quite honestly. If that’s not the optimal career strategy, you could see how it would seem like a pretty safe one. Aligning with your boss on everything seems like a path to job security, doesn’t it?

It’s easy to sit there, as you read this, and be critical of this approach i.e. agreeing with senior leaders whether or not that means you have to tell half-truths every once in a while. But ask yourself honestly, what are you doing as a leader to create an environment where being honest is a better career move than being agreeable? What are you doing to make honesty a policy that pays off for your team members?

Do you have a tendency to overreact to bad news? Do you ever blame the messenger? Do you ever fly off then handle when you learn of some indiscretion and then explode a bunch of relationships your team members have worked hard to build? Whether you realize it or not, you may be creating an environment where your team feels you can’t handle hearing the truth.

Here are 4 specific behaviors managers can adopt that will help them create an environment where team members feel comfortable (and compelled) to tell the truth, no matter how hard those truths may be to hear.

1. Build a culture of calmness

With every passing year, as our companies move faster, the number of decisions a manager needs to make is growing rapidly. Every day it seems there is a new big issue or challenge or problem to deal with. If I overreacted to every piece of difficult news I got, my life would be a mess and my team would be anxious and stressed.

Unfortunately, some managers still react too strongly to every little problem they encounter. A campaign bombed, a new hire isn’t working out, someone did something stupid, a competitor made a big announcement. If you’re not careful, you can run around screaming from one thing to the next and leave a wake of anxiety behind you. This is not how you build a winning team.

My advice to managers is to focus on building a culture of calmness. This culture shift starts with you. Set the example. Learn to control yourself when you hear difficult news. Act logically and unemotionally when you are faced with problems. Show your team members how a leader faces challenges. Your poise will be infectious. It will trickle down. This doesn’t take years either. Start presenting a picture of calmness to your team and you’ll witness a noticeable and collective sigh of relief. The impact will be a team that can be honest with you and a team with the confidence to face difficult challenges with control and objectivity.

2. Focus on what do we do next vs. whose fault was it

I’m sorry to say there are still many managers out there who tend to shoot the messenger. They give such visceral, emotional reactions whenever faced with unfortunate news, their team members become too afraid to tell them the truth. Team members fear getting penalized just for being associated with something bad. God forbid they commit some mistake or indiscretion themselves – hiding the truth would seem like a more prudent move than being honest.

You may say, employees who can’t be honest are just not good employees. They lack a certain moral code. I say, look in the mirror. The one thing we know about companies is they are made up of people, and people are inherently flawed. We all are. If you’re operating as a manager with some misguided expectation that people will be anything other than human, you’re fooling yourself.

The best managers, in my experience, immediately jump to “so what do we do now?” when employees share tough news. They don’t dwell on whose fault it was or immediately jump to laying blame. They take the new information calmly, make a good decision and move forward. If further reflection is required, they do so constructively and only after the crisis is over.

My advice to managers is to make yourself an easy target for bad news. Don’t shoot the messenger. Don’t make the consequence of communicating failure so high people feel they can’t be honest with you. That isn’t to say you don’t hold people to account. You do. And you give feedback and make changes when you have to. But, you cannot create an environment where the cost of telling you the truth is so high that lying and withholding become attractive options. Don’t create an environment where the “yes” men and women get ahead and the honest people get left behind.

3. Get over things quickly and give second chances

Managers who hold grudges tend to get lied to a lot. The higher the price for disappointing you, the fewer people on your team that will own up to mistakes. I’ve seen some leaders who hold grudges for so long and so publicly, they create a culture of fear. They attract political animals and morally corrupt individuals around them. They’ve made the price for disagreeing with them or disappointing them so high, team members see no choice but to lie, withhold, and package information.

The best managers I know, can bounce back quickly from bad news and failures. They give people second chances so long as they still have reason to believe in the person. They tend to focus on the future and don’t dwell on the past. Team members see this. They grow more confident. They become willing to take calculated risks. They become comfortable sharing their mistakes and failures with you. This leads to better performance, a developing team, and a culture of honesty. This is what we want.

My advice to managers is to give feedback, hold people accountable, but get over things. If you find yourself holding a grudge over someone for a long time, ask yourself if you should just fire them instead. It’s not constructive, for anyone, to have someone on your team you can’t trust. When people make mistakes, but they used reasonable judgement, give them a second chance. Give them a third chance. Let people see that it pays to be honest in your organization.

4. Take and give feedback easily

It hurts when a team member gives you tough love. It always stings a little, to hear you’ve done something to upset people. Some managers react very poorly when criticism is given to them by team members. They get defensive. Their natural reaction is to justify or bite back. I know this because every time it happens to me, I can feel that reaction swelling inside me for a split section before I remind myself to be calm and embrace the feedback.

The fact is, you want your team members to be able to give you criticism. You are making mistakes, I can promise you that. And sometimes, when you’re moving so fast, it’s hard to see the real impact your statements and actions have. Sometimes your actions have unintended consequences. It happens. You need to build a team of people who feel they can be honest with you when you’ve done something to upset them. Likewise, you want to build a team of people who are willing to hear the same criticism from you.

My advice to managers is to focus on building a culture of feedback. Where all members of your team (including you) can give and take feedback easily. Where every ounce of criticism doesn’t carry existential consequence. Constant feedback and adjustment leads to higher performance. Building this culture starts with you. Learn to accept feedback well and give feedback fairly and with compassion.

When I ask leaders if their teams lie to them, the first reaction is always a visceral “no”. But then, as we probe a little further, we discover that like most things in your career, it’s just not that simple. What we do know, is that to be effective as a manager in the long term, you need to build a culture where team members feel compelled to be honest with you. They want to come to you with problems. They tell you when you’ve done something silly. Their first thought when a mistake happens, is to tell you about it. Honesty, like this, is a key building block of a performance culture. I’d love to hear any tips or advice you have for building honesty into your team culture.

The Weekly Reid: Why I worked 20 hours straight and threw it all away

Can you work your butt off for hours and days and weeks and months and have the strength to throw it all away?

Can you look at your own work and have the courage to admit it’s not good enough?

If you can’t honestly answer “yes” to these questions, don’t beat yourself up too hard. It wasn’t long ago I couldn’t do it either. But it’s important. To be self-aware. To be able to look at yourself and your work objectively. It’s one of the top attributes I look for when I’m hiring.

To move fast, we need to be agile, we need to correct course quickly. We can’t afford to dwell on sunk efforts. We can’t afford to invest good money (or time) after bad.

I worked all weekend on a project I was sure was going to be a homerun. I had it all figured out. I stayed up late. I cancelled plans. It was sunny and warm outside and I stayed inside and worked. And then, 20 hours later, when the work was done, I had to admit to myself that it wasn’t anywhere near as good as I hoped it would be. It wasn’t up to my standard. There were holes in my logic all along. The right move was to throw it all in the garbage. To cut my losses.

But was it really?

Maybe it wasn’t that bad. Maybe I could salvage a piece of it. Maybe with a little more work I could turn it into something good.

Maybe not.

I caught myself in this line of thinking after about an hour. I wasn’t thinking right. I was upset about wasted time and effort and money. I was no longer making an optimal decision with the information at hand. I was emotional. I was grasping for anything that would mean I didn’t burn an entire weekend for nothing.

Put up your hand if you know the exquisite pain that comes from having to throw out something you’ve worked your ass off on. It hurts. But you have to do it. And I’m proud that I did.

Here are four mindset tricks I’ve adopted over the years, that make it easier to do this.

1.  Take pride in being objective

I’ve written extensively on the power of objectivity. It’s one of the most powerful qualities I look for in leaders. It’s something I’ve worked hard to develop in myself. Self-awareness and objectivity will keep you on the right path no matter where your emotions try to steer you. To be successful in the long term, you need to be able to see yourself and your work for what it really is, not for how you wish it would be. Just because you worked hard on something does not mean it is any good. In fact, many of the projects I’ve worked hardest on were total crap. Many of the projects that came out easy, were my best work.

My advice to managers and career-minded people is to force yourself to be objective. Pride yourself on self-awareness. Nurture this skill in yourself and your teams. Objectivity begets credibility. Credibility begets trust. And trust, brings new opportunities for growth and expansion.

2.  Focus on making an optimal decision right now

All you can do is make the best decision with the information you have at any given moment in time. This is my mindset whenever I’m making decisions. Am I confident that when I look back on this decision at some later time, that I’ve made the best decision possible with the information at hand? Am I using good judgement? If you can answer “yes” to these questions, it will give you the courage to make a tough call.

Even though, as the months and years pass, some of your decisions may prove to have been wrong, you can still be confident so long as you made a solid decision with the information you had. In my case, I’m very comfortable with my decision to invest an entire weekend on a project that landed in the garbage can. Based on what I knew at the time, my approach made a lot of sense. It just didn’t work out. Things happened that were impossible for me to foresee at the outset. And that’s ok. I made an optimal decision to start the project based on what I knew, and then I made an optimal decision to trash it when I discovered new information that changed the dynamics of the game.

My advice is to leaders is to focus only on making optimal decisions based on the information at hand. It’s rare we have perfect information to work from. And waiting for more information will slow you down and make you less competitive. Make good decisions and then make new good decisions when the information landscape changes. Then be satisfied with all the optimal decisions you’ve made.

3.  Never compromise your high standard

Every time I compromise my personal standard, I regret it. Every time I let something squeak through, or give something a pass when I know it deserves a fail, it comes back to haunt me. I can’t think of any time where I compromised my standards for quality, that ultimately helped me progress in my career.

It’s easy to be tempted to compromise your high standard. I nearly was today. I made several arguments (to myself) for why I should just go ahead and publish my crappy work. But ultimately, I couldn’t do it. It takes years to build a reputation and minutes to blow it all away.

My advice is to figure out what your standard is and hold to it. Hold your team to it. Don’t take short cuts. Do great work. And when your work isn’t as great as you thought it was going to be, fix it or do something else.

4.  Take “learning” as a win

In the moment, when you’ve just “wasted” 20 hours working on a project that will never see the light of day, the value in learning a lesson is hard to swallow. But I do find, with enough time, I can point to the value in the hard lessons I’ve learned. If you can force yourself to step back, and view things with a wider perspective, you can take solace in learning from your fruitless efforts.

I will admit, if someone had told me to “take learning as a win” about three hours ago, I wouldn’t have responded as positively as I should have. But that doesn’t mean it’s not true. Most of my success (and ironically, most of what I write about) comes directly from my mistakes and lessons learned.

My advice is to search for the wins in admitting defeat and moving forward. They’re not always easy to find in the moment, but they are real and they will help you in the long run.

It takes great discipline and strength to be able to look at your own work, after hours and days of effort, and admit it isn’t good enough. The courage and objectivity to do this are qualities I look for in every candidate I hire. I may have wasted my weekend on a project that will never see the light, but my hope is by sharing my lesson, I’ll have created some value for you in the process.

The Weekly Reid: 3 Big Moments Most Managers FAIL to Capitalize on

Let me set a tiny bit more context before we jump into examples. Whether we want to admit it or not, career progression is a competitive game. Everything is relative. Everything is comparative. If you’re a manager – you get compared with other managers. If you’re a Director – you get compared with other Directors. The same holds true until you’re CEO and then you get compared with CEOs from other companies. This is a reality of corporate life. Your value is always measured in relative terms.

She’s one of our brightest executives

He’s been placed on a management fast track

She’s high potential employee

He’s a key manager we need to retain

The entire dialogue about careers in the workplace is comparative. And that makes sense. The higher you go in an organization, the fewer spots there are. Organizational structures, for the most part, are smaller at the top than they are at the bottom. This means we are all competing for advancement opportunities, whether we like it or not.

This doesn’t mean you need to turn into a blood thirsty shark at work tomorrow.  I’m not advocating for that. But it does help to take an accurate view of the playing field you’re on. It does help to appreciate the real dynamics at play so you can play your optimal game and maximize your chances of success.

I’m often surprised by the poor career choices I see managers make. Where they invest their time. Where they choose to focus. What upsets them. What opportunities they ignore completely. The good news is, with so many managers making suboptimal career decisions, you can find an edge. You can take advantage of the opportunities they pass up.

Here are three moments I see managers consistency fail to capitalize on. They don’t give them enough attention or energy. They mail it in when they should be leaning in. My advice, when you’re next faced with one of these, is to double your efforts, make it a priority, differentiate yourself from your peers. Your career will thank you.

1.  Your Presentation at Annual Kickoff

Most of us have some forum at the beginning of the year to present something. For some of us, it’s in front of the entire company. For others, it’s in front of a smaller team. Whatever your moment is, my advice is to quadruple your efforts to make it great.

Your annual meeting is one of the few times people will see presentations from a bunch of managers in a row. Whether we are conscious to it or not, we are rating, ranking and positioning managers in this moment.

Whose presentation was amazing?

Who was funny?

Who looked unprepared?

Who energized the audience?

Who has mad presentation skills?

Who seemed authentic?

Who was full of crap?

These are the questions racing through the minds of audience members during annual kickoff. Your boss, the CEO, other executives, your peers, your team members. It’s a huge moment.

It’s a huge moment, but also one that way too many managers squander. It never ceases to amaze me how weak most of the presentations are at annual kickoff. People just don’t try that hard. They aren’t polished or prepared. The tragedy is, many managers work tirelessly to build great plans and execute them all year, only to mail it in when presenting at the annual kickoff.

I never do this. For me, the presentation about what I’m going to do, or about what I have done, is equally as important as doing it in the first place. You’d be shocked at how much effort I will put into my presentation at a kickoff. It’s THE moment to distinguish yourself from everyone else. Even if your actual contributions were only on par with your peers, this is a moment where you can separate yourself from the pack. This is a moment where you can energize the company (or department) about your initiatives such that it will provide a tailwind for your efforts for the rest of the year.

My advice to managers is to triple or quadruple the amount of effort you expend preparing for your presentation at annual kickoff. Make it amazing. Focus on making a presentation that will set you apart from everyone else. Don’t just be good. Be amazing.

Now, you may say – I’m not a great public speaker, so what about me? – that’s fine. Be the person who has clearly put in the most effort. Have amazing materials, polished slides, great data, concise points. You don’t need to the best speaker to advance your career in a material way at your annual kickoff.

2.  Any time Your Team Members Present

One thing that might surprise you, is how much time I spend helping my team members prepare for their own presentations. Reviews with executives, team meetings, anything with an audience of significance. My job as a leader is to help my people maximize their potential and realize success. So that’s what I do. I never let a manager on my team present in front of a large group or senior leaders without helping them prepare. At first, this might sound to you like a control mechanism. Like I’m a micromanager. Like this is all about me. It’s not. The deal I make with managers on my team is that I will do everything in my power to make them successful, to make them look great. And that means getting personally invested in their big moments as well as mine.

I’m often shocked when I see people deliver poorly prepared or unpolished presentations in large groups while their manager looks on in horror. I would never allow this to happen. When my team members present, I want them to be the best. I want them to be confident and proud. I want them to know, no matter how the presentation goes, that we’ve worked on it together and I’ve got their backs. Even if it doesn’t go well - if they struggle in the moment, that we’ve done everything we could to make it great.

It should go without saying, your team members are a reflection on your management competency. Which is why I’m often shocked at how many managers leave their team members to fend for themselves when preparing for a big presentation. It’s possible they think it too controlling or micromanaging to review their team members’ presentations. I obviously disagree with that perspective. In my experience, the kindest thing you can do for your team members is to help them be great.

My advice to managers is to get more involved in helping your team members prepare for big presentations and meetings. Get in there. If they know you’re doing it because you genuinely want them to look good, they’ll appreciate it. And once they knock a few out of the park and separate themselves from their peers, they’ll embrace the process.

3. Your Quarterly Business Review (QBR)

This is another moment most managers don’t expend enough effort on. They take quarterly business reviews for granted. They view them as necessary evils – an event that gets in the way of what’s really important. This is a misguided perspective. How you present your progress and results is as important as the results themselves. I realize that sounds like quite a statement. Can that really be true? Is this one presentation every three months really as important as all the work expended the other 99 percent of the quarter? Yes.

Put yourself in your boss’s shoes. The QBR (or whatever the equivalent is at your company) is the one moment she gets to compare all the managers on her team. To see them perform on an equal playing field. In a matter of hours or days, she gets to see your management prowess on display, one after another. If you think she’s not evaluating, making judgement, mentally positioning you, you’re naïve. 

Of course, you need good results. If you’ve bombed the quarter, no QBR presentation in the world is going to save you. But if you’ve done reasonably well, this moment can differentiate you from everyone else. If your results are slightly below average, a great QBR presentation can make people believe in your potential. If your results are great, it can catapult you into consideration for promotion or expansion. The QBR presentation is your showcase opportunity, and you need to NAIL it.

Let me give you a window into how your competition might be thinking (by sharing my own mindset). When I am preparing for a QBR (or when I help my team members prepare) I am 100% committed to building what I believe will be the number one presentation my boss sees that week. I commit to spending more time preparing. I commit to polishing and practicing. No matter what happens, no matter what results I’m sharing, I make certain my presentation will be the best. Unlike the results, which have already happened, the quality of my QBR presentation is something that is fully under my control. And so, I nail it. I help managers on my team nail theirs. If you’re not doing the same, your competition is lapping you.

My advice to managers is to invest more energy in your QBRs. Commit to be the best. Presentation quality, slide design, data accuracy. Be compelling. Even if you think every other manager is just going to follow some standard template, go three steps further. Take unnatural efforts to be great in this moment.

I’m often confused by the moments managers choose to focus on (and ignore). In my experience, we spend too much time fixating on creating and executing our plans, and not nearly enough time preparing to tell people about them. I’d love to hear your experiences and perspective on the issue in the comments section.

The Weekly Reid: 4 Times When The Best Move is to Do Nothing

Most managers are action oriented. They see a problem and try to solve it. They meet a roadblock and they try to push through it. I believe you need to have more depth in your game than this. You need to know when taking no action is the best action to take.

Here are a handful of scenarios where doing nothing is usually the best approach.

1. Flaming Emails

The first instinct for many managers, when on the receiving end of a flame email or criticism, is to hit back. Many of us hit back twice as hard. We meet aggression with aggression. We stand up to the bully. We can’t stand the thought of losing. And so, we fight. There is certainly a school of thought that advocates for this level of aggression in business, I just haven’t found that it works over the long term.

Early in my career, if I received an A$$H#&E email from someone, I would instantaneously react. I would respond with at least as much aggression as was targeted at me. Usually a lot more. I reacted emotionally. I reacted quickly and without thinking. Even though it was often therapeutic to bite back, and even though I managed to “win” some battles along the way, my reputation in the long term took a hit. I became known as aggressive, immature … volatile even. It became painfully clear to me a few years in, when I got passed over for a leadership role because the executive team didn’t think I was ready yet. And then it happened again.

As I’ve matured in my career, I’ve learned to not react. To do nothing. I have built great self-control. I have learned to act with purpose. If you send me a flaming email, the chances of receiving an angry response back from me is almost zero. I will let it sit. I will let you sit and wait for me to respond. I’ll let you get impatient. I’ll let you wonder if I’ve even received it. I’ll let you contemplate what you’ve done. And as the hours pass and your emotions shift, you’ll start second guessing yourself. You’ll start wondering if you were inappropriate or unfair. You’ll wonder who I may have shared your email with, and what they may be thinking or doing. I’ll let you sit for a long time. And then, in a day or two or more, when your emotions have calmed and you’re questioning your approach, I’ll call you and very calmly address the issue, make my argument and you’ll apologize to me for being a dickhead.

Who is the leader in this scenario?

Who won this battle?

My advice to managers is to press pause every time you’re tempted to bite back at someone for an angry email or call. Just stop and do nothing. Let it simmer. And when you finally act, do so with purpose and poise. I’m not advocating that you roll over every time someone attacks you – far from it. I’m advocating to act strategically. It will do wonders for your reputation and relationships.

2. Low Priority Work

This is a very different example from the first one, but no less important. Many of us fall victim to the constant onslaught of emails, meetings, calls, minor issues. If you’re not careful, taking action on these can stagnate real progress. In my job, I could easily burn 40 hours a week responding to emails, attending second tier meetings, and answering the phone. I could spend 40 hours a week and make zero progress. I see other managers do this all the time. They just don’t seem to have enough hours in the week. They just can’t seem to move the ball forward on key initiatives.

This is another scenario where the optimal move, in my opinion, is to do nothing. I never answer emails as they come in. I only answer the phone if I know the caller and I have reason to believe the issue is a priority. I decline all non-essential meetings. I almost never schedule meetings for more than 30 minutes even when they are essential. My default response to incoming activity is to do nothing. To let it sit and simmer while I make progress on my big wins.

My observation is that many managers overvalue responsiveness as a management virtue. They respond and respond and respond and at the end of the year, have nothing to show for their work. And when they are being considered for a promotion or expansion, they struggle to show enough progress to support their case.

My advice to managers: When you see the emails flooding your inbox and the calls coming in and meetings piling up – do nothing. Focus on your wins, make progress.

3. Losing Small to Win Big

Managers need to keep their eyes on the prize. You need to know what your big goals are at all times. The decisions you make, on what to give attention and energy to, must be directed by your target wins. One of the biggest mistakes I see managers make is winning small only to lose big. This is true in relationships as well as projects and programs.

To be successful in the long game, you need to build a network of strong relationships. And those strong relationships can’t only be with people you like. The most successful leaders have productive relationships with people they don’t particularly care for. The only way this is possible is if you can keep from getting sucked into petty conflicts that turn into feuds and impasses. You might be surprised at how often I will intentionally lose an argument. You might be surprised at how often I’ll let something slide by that upsets me, that I know is wrong.

I lose small all the time. Some people will scratch their heads and wonder if I’ve gone soft or if I’m not paying attention. That’s not what’s happening. I choose to lose small in order to win big. I choose to accumulate goodwill by sacrificing for other leaders, so when something big comes up, I can cash in my chips.

My advice to managers is to look for more opportunities to lose small so you can win big later. Look for opportunities to turn the other cheek, to do nothing. My experience tells me this approach strengthens relationships, accumulates capital in your network, and strengthens your position when you ultimately do fight for an issue.

4. Unclear Risk vs. Reward

The last scenario I should mention is when you’re unable to approximate the risk/reward for a decision with a reasonable degree of confidence. This is a tricky one and should not be mistaken for tacit permission to punt every tricky call you need to make. The best managers need to be able to act with imperfect information – that is not up for debate. But even without perfect information, you should be able to assess the risk/reward dynamics of a situation before acting.

Is there a big win for me if I do this?

How big is the downside if I mess this up?

If this goes bad, am I comfortable with my decision based on the information I have?

My advice to managers is that if you can’t answer these simple risk/reward questions, it’s usually a good idea to do nothing. Wait. Pass. Take a breath. Like in investing, sometimes the smartest moves are the investments you didn’t make.

Sometimes it pays to take no action at all. This doesn’t come naturally to most managers. We are bred to execute with aggression. Most of us have realized some measure of success by being action-oriented. To do nothing, seems weak, indecisive. Don’t let yourself fall into this line of thinking. Your goal is to make the optimal move in every business scenario you encounter. And many times, in my experience, the optimal move is no movement at all. I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback in the comments section below.

The Weekly Reid: The one question you should ask yourself every day

“Where is the win?”

“Where is the win?”

“Where is the win?”

This is one of the most important career questions you can ask yourself.

It has endless applications. It never gets old or irrelevant. It is the secret to any measure of success I have enjoyed. It seems simple, but its immeasurably powerful in my opinion. So many of us get stuck in situations where a win is impossible or we aren’t clear what win we should be pursuing in the first place.

So many of us take on projects that are not winnable. So many of us focus our energy on time-consuming activities instead of concrete wins. Some of us used to win, but now we’ve taken on more, and we aren’t winning any longer. We traded winning in exchange for money or role expansion or title. It’s a bad trade every time.

The most important career advice I give to clients and team members is to focus on winning. I tell people to seek out wins, to build a reputation of winning. Even if that means taking a step back, changing jobs, reducing responsibility. The most important thing you can do for your career is to build a reputation as a winner. You are better served being a winner on a small scale than being loser on a large scale. Winning is how you build the forward momentum you need to progress in your career. Winning also builds spiritual momentum and energy and confidence which beget even more winning.

One obvious question you must have is, “what exactly is a win?”

Here’s how I think about wins:

Is the reward I can expect for my activity commensurate with the effort I’m exerting?

Are the potential rewards disproportionately high relative to my efforts?

If I’m successful, will anyone know or care?

Does this effort advance me on the path to my larger purpose in life?

Do I find intrinsic fulfillment in doing this irrespective of any discrete reward at the end?

On the surface, this lecture on winning may sound self-evident. Simple even. If it were simple and self-evident, I wouldn’t have to remind myself and others about it nearly every day. I wouldn’t observe so much wasted energy in the workplace. Let’s look at some pragmatic examples of its application to get a little deeper into it.

To leave or to stay?

It’s very hard to leave a job, a boss, a company. Even when your current situation is bad, there is no guarantee the next opportunity will be better. The grass isn’t always greener. Many of us have learned that the hard way. In fact I wrote a blog last year that documents my own thought process when I left my last company. You can read it here.

Too many of us stay in unwinnable situations. In unwinnable jobs. With companies that can’t win. We get lost in the routine, comfortable in the environment, even numb to abuse. I stayed in a job, which by any objective measure was destructive, for four years when I knew after four months there was no reasonable expectation of a win. Believe me, I get it.

But then you wake up one day, as I did, and you’ve accomplished nothing. You’ve become a fragment of your former self, you’ve gone from being a winner to being a loser. You tricked yourself into believing you could win when you couldn’t.

My advice is to ask yourself every day or week or month, “Is this a winnable situation?” If I keep working hard in this job, is there a win in it for me? If you can’t answer “yes” with conviction, you need to find a new path, a new company, a new job.

Going backwards to go forwards

There are many situations where we find ourselves in unwinnable positions. Sometimes we’ve taken on more than we can reasonably expect to succeed at. Other times we’ve taken a job that, by its very nature, can’t result in a win. Sometimes we take on challenges that, even if we were to win in some way, nobody else would care.

Sometimes it makes sense to go backwards to move forwards. I see this a lot with inexperienced managers who get prematurely promoted to run large teams. They can go from being a recognized winner at a smaller scale to a clear loser on a larger scale. It can happen in an instant. When I observe this to be happening to me or to people I manage, I immediately try to find ways to help bring the person back to winning. It’s a tragedy to see a career stall out or falter for no reason other than we’ve placed a winner in an unwinnable situation.

My advice to leaders is to purposely place your top performers in positions that are designed to help them win. The best gift you can give a team member is the opportunity to consistently win. Winning begets winning. If you see someone who was a star, now struggling, pull them back into a winning situation, retool, recharge, and then start moving forward again. Keeping someone in a losing role when they could be winning at something else, is to do them a disservice. It may feel awkward to have this type of conversation with a team member, but in the long run they will thank you.

A path to prioritization

The larger your mandate, the more priorities you must juggle. Most days when I look at my list of things I could do, its daunting to say the least. In fact, if I tried to pursue my full list every day, I’d never win at anything.

When I look at my list in the morning, I do so through the lens of winning. I ask myself, and my team members, which of these tasks are most likely to lead us to a big win. Which of these tasks are going to propel us forward? Which of these activities presents the opportunity for a win that is disproportionate to the effort we would expend pursuing it? I let these activities take priority every time.

You may be asking yourself, well that sounds nice, but what about all the other stuff we have to do but aren’t winnable? My advice to is pursue big wins when you have maximum energy and pursue your table stakes activities when you don’t. I try to pursue wins first thing in the morning and early in the week. Later in the day or week I’ll catch up on the routine things that don’t present me or my team an opportunity for a win.

Outcomes vs. activities

The dialogue I have with my team is always about wins. I don’t speak in terms of activities. I try not to reward efforts that cannot be directly correlated to a win. To do so, would be to reward the exact behavior we want to avoid. I try to find examples of highly efficient wins – where disproportionately small efforts result in disproportionately large wins. I’m even happy recognizing failed efforts that were rooted in the pursuit of a disproportionately large outcome. It’s about building a winning mindset in your team culture.

My advice to managers is to focus on building a winning culture. Ask yourself and your team the question, “where is the win?”. I think you’ll like the answers you get back.

The Weekly Reid: How do you manage "ok" performers?

Most good managers act in basically the same way and with basically the same mindset when it comes to top and bottom tier performers. That’s a bit of a generalization, but true for the most part. The wider variance in management focus and approach can be found in that middle performance tier, the average and slightly below average team members. I don’t think we all approach them the same way. It stands to reason, if this variance does exist, that there is a lot of ground to be won vs. your competition by making better decisions about the middle group – the “ok” performers.

Why do I describe the issue in this way?

My mindset is always to strive for “best in the world.” In fact, the number one attribute I look for when hiring new people is a genuine desire to be great. Truly great. Irrespective of where your team may be today, you should be working towards being the best in the world at what you do. It may take 20 years. You may never have the budget to do it. Your company many be in a tough industry. I get that. But what matters to me is the mindset – the commitment to a process that ultimately (even on an infinite timescale) gets your team to best in the world status.

If your team is striving to reach best in the world status, you need to find every edge you can get. In my experience, how you manage your middle tier, or “ok” performers present a real opportunity to find that edge. Most managers tend to ignore this group. It’s easy to do that. And sometimes, frankly, it’s the right thing to do if you have many other burning priorities. It’s easy to place all your attention and investment on motivating your top performers and managing your low performers. Part of the reason for that is it’s just so much more obvious to know what to do with them. The optimal approach for managing average or slightly below average team members if a much more complex problem. As a result, most of us do nothing. And therein lies the opportunity for competitive advantage.

If similar departments in other companies in my industry are ignoring their middle performers, I want to exploit that weakness. I want to outplay them in this area of management. Over the long run, as my middle performers become stronger and their middle performers stay flat, my team becomes better and my company has a new edge in the market. That’s the point of this article.

You may not often think of your team in this way. But what else is there? You’d compare sports teams on the strength of their starting lineups and the strength of their bench. Look at my beloved Toronto Raptors. The had a great season, by in large a result of their middle tier team members. Rather than ignore this group and attend only to the top and bottom players, they focused on building a stronger middle contingent, and it led to a competitive edge (for the regular season at least ☹)

Hopefully, I’ve made a decent argument for why you need to spend more time actively thinking about the development of your “ok” performers. Here are a few tips for how I do it:

Differentiate between “ok now” and “ok forever”

I pay very close attention to forward momentum when evaluating middle tier performers. If I can spot progress, even if it comes at a slow pace, I will happily continue investing in development. As much as I can, I take a pretty long-term view when it comes to team management. I don’t want to be trading people around like baseball cards. It’s important for me to develop long terms relationships with strong performers so we can build great teams together for many years and across many companies. This is not to say I would keep someone in a specific role if they aren’t competent – I wouldn’t. But I won’t give up on a team member if I see some evidence of forward momentum. That is, if I believe there is a reasonable probability the person will someday be great.

On the other hand, when I don’t see evidence of progress in a team member, I immediately start managing in the same way I’d manage a low performer. Either find a role that is a better fit or aggressively performance manage. That may sound harsh to some people. If the person is doing ok, why treat them like a low performer? And my answer is, because I want to be the best in the world.

My advice to managers is to look more closely at your “ok” performers. Specifically, I recommend looking for signs of momentum. If you find it, great, keep challenging them and don’t give up. If you can’t find it, I recommend managing them more as you would a low performer.

Aggressively move people to where they can be great

I need to be a bit careful on this one. I am not really a supporter of moving people around the organization from one role to another when they have not been successful anywhere. You see this happen in a lot of companies. Moderate performers moving from one group to another, ostensibly for their experience, but really because it seems easier than letting them go or hiring an unknown from outside the organization. I call this group, “serial movers”, and advocate against doing this.

With that said, there are cases where otherwise talented, high potential team members are just misplaced in the company. Strong individual contributors who moved hastily to management is probably the best example. Another example are team members who were very effective when the company was small, but now that it’s much bigger, seem a bit lost.

Many managers are reluctant to take action on this group. For the reasons I mentioned above or out of a sense of loyalty to long time team members who were once successful. I think this is a mistake. In my experience, team members are happiest when they are winning. It can be demoralizing for a habitual winner to start losing for a prolonged period of time. So, while you may be reluctant to have a tough conversation about a role change with someone on your team, they may well be silently wishing for it.

My advice to managers is to study your middle tier performers and identify those who could be great if placed in a different role. But really hold yourself to that standard – could this person be great if placed in a new role? If the answer is “yes,” then I recommend moving aggressively. If the answer is “no,” then I would immediately start managing them like you would a low performer.

Hire for the desire to be great

I won’t belabor this one since I kind of already made the point. In my interviews, I actively search for signs that the person I’m talking to has a deep seeded desire to be great. I look for people who are obsessed with best practices, and are well versed in what the best companies in the world are doing. When I find these qualities, I hire. It’s very rare, that a person who genuinely needs to be great will disappoint you. They may struggle here and there, but ultimately their drive and ambition for greatness will overcome.

Note, there is a big difference between wanting to be truly great in the purest sense, and wanting the trappings of success. You need to learn to tell the difference between the two. I’m looking for people who want to be true masters of their craft – to be great ... intrinsically. That’s the kind of magic that can transform a middle performer into a future star.

It’s not always clear how to manage average performers. It’s very easy to do nothing. To ignore them and place your all your energy on top and bottom performers. My contention is there is a competitive edge to be found in out-managing your competition in this middle realm. By raising the level of your “ok” performers, you could well become the Toronto Raptors of your industry (except hopefully you won’t’ collapse in the playoffs). Have a great week.

Want to Lose Your Top Performers? Do these Four Things

I have been critical in the past about managers and media speaking about engagement as an abstraction. As some high-level program or company-wide initiative that lumps everyone together. You’ve read the stat that more than 50% of us have quit a job because of a bad manager. You’ve heard the saying, people quit managers, not companies. This completely lines up with my experience. My observation is that employee engagement is the biproduct of a very personal relationship between an employee and a manager. It’s the result of a partnership based on fairness, opportunity, challenge, and development. I get frustrated when I hear people speak about engagement at the surface level only. As though some system or program or policy is actually going to change how engaged a high performer is.

I spent some time thinking this weekend about the periods where I have felt unengaged at work. They weren’t during the most challenging times, or the times when the company was struggling. They weren’t when I had a crappy vacation plan or a when I couldn’t wear jeans to work. My lowest periods of engagement came when I felt I was being treated unfairly. My engagement withered when I felt the game was rigged, when I couldn’t win. My great efforts no longer resulted in great outcomes.

If you want to retain and engage your top performers, you should never do the four things below. You may find these to be extremely specific and tactical. They are. They are directly related to creating and maintaining a fair playing field at work. I’m sharing with you because after 20 years of career, these are the four things tattooed into my subconscious as guaranteed engagement suckers for top performers. They caused me to leave companies which tells me they’re likely to have the same effect on others.

1.       Friday-night Flames

I used to work with a leader who made a point of sending incredibly harsh emails every Friday afternoon. At first, I thought it was unintentional, but as the months and years went by I became quite certain it was purposeful. Every Friday afternoon around 3 or 4 o’clock, this manager would send a nasty, pointed, critical email seemingly designed to create chaos and anxiety. He would target key members of his team and stakeholders from groups he worked closely with. For about three years, I went home just about every Friday, thinking about or worrying about some critical message this guy had sent.

This was obviously an extremely divisive and frankly, sadistic management technique. And, as I reflect on it now, it was clearly an attempt at exerting control. We’re all nodding our heads as we read this – what a jerk – but ask yourself, do you have any habits like this?

I make a point now, of saving my harshest criticism for a time when we will have the chance to actually talk it through. This may sound like a truism, but I try not to ruin people’s evenings and weekends whenever possible. Even when something really upsets me, and I feel compelled to admonish a person, I’ll hang on to it until Monday and deal with it in a 1-1.

My advice to managers is to dial up your level of self-control. Stop sending flame emails or harsh criticism on Friday afternoons or weekends or evenings when the target of your admonishment isn’t able to talk to you and resolve it. If I’m still painfully recalling those Fridays and Saturdays I spent stewing over flame emails, you can bet your top performers feel the same way about yours.

2.       Copy Staff Members on a Critical Email to their Manager

Don’t undermine your leaders in front of their team members. There is little worse as a manager, than getting crushed on an email or in a meeting in front of your team. If I’m honest with myself, I’m sure I’ve done this more than I should. You tell yourself you want to send a message to the team, or you come up with some other justification for why a hard, public reprimand makes sense. The problem is, when you admonish a manager in front of her team, you create an amplification effect that may have unintended consequences.

When you de-pants a leader in front of the team, you give the team members tacit permission to question his or her competency. You send a clear message to the team that you’ve lost confidence in their leader. It’s easy to imagine the trickle-down effects of this. You crush the manager, the team sees this, they question the leader’s skill and career prospects, they start second guessing direction given to them by the manager, projects start suffering, the member and team perform poorly as a result. Your “message” accomplished exactly the opposite of what you wanted it to.

My advice to leaders is to give hard, critical feedback directly to managers. If you want to send a message to the larger team, I suggest first engaging with the manager and then delivering a purposeful message to the team together. That way you preserve the manager’s ability to lead the team, you have the opportunity to voice your criticism, and you get to deliver a larger message to the team.

3.       Harsh Criticism Too Soon After a Big Effort

I’ll never forget this one time my team and I pushed hard for two months on a massive project – really went above and beyond – the team was completely fried by the end of it. By all accounts it was a success. And then, not even eight hours after it was over, when we were still basking in the glow of our crazy hard effort, we received a flaming email about a mistake we’d made on some other, unrelated project.

If you want to take engagement from 100 to 0 in 5 seconds, this is how you do it.

As a manager, you must pick and choose when and how you criticize. I’m the first person to point out we need to be more critical of our teams. I wrote an entire blog on the subject. But be smart about it. If your team has just worked hard on a tough project, give them a minute to enjoy the success. Have the self-control to hold your criticism for a few days.

In the same vein, if your team is in the heat of the moment – during a big event, in a big customer meeting, about to do something pressure packed, hold your feedback until its done. I’ve never understood managers who insist on crushing their people in the heat of the moment. If they were unprepared, nothing you will say now can fix that. All you will do, by admonishing them in the moment, is make things worse. Performance and engagement will suffer. Wait until it’s over and set up a productive feedback session to share your criticism and advice.

My advice to managers is to be more purposeful in your delivery of feedback and criticism. Too many leaders operate from emotion instead of purpose. Yes, you may be pissed. Yes, your team may have screwed up. But that doesn’t mean you have to react recklessly to satisfy your emotional needs. That is short sighted. Stop reacting. Think through how you want to deliver criticism. Act from purpose, not from anger.

4.       Coddle Underperformers

I wrote about this one in my blog, How to Lose a Team in 10 Days. I won’t dwell on it. Except to say, a guaranteed way of losing your top performers is to be seen coddling or favoring underperformers. Some managers, who aren’t comfortable delivering pointed, critical feedback, or who are unwilling to make hard changes on their teams, can get sucked into a habit of lowering the bar for low performers. You must never do this. I realize it can get exhausting having to constantly provide performance feedback to low performers. It can be tempting to give them a pass just to save the energy. The problem is this behavior sends a clear message to your higher performers. It says the game is not fair.

The worst thing we can do as managers is to sacrifice the engagement of our top performers to coddle our low performers. My advice to leaders is to set a consistent standard for performance and stick to it. Your high performers need to see you pushing lower performers, otherwise you risk losing them.

I think we speak about employee engagement too generically. We rarely get past the surface level in our discussion of it. If we’re not careful, we risk missing the real point. Our goal as managers is to behave in a way that motivates, engages and retains our top performers. I’ve shared a handful of behaviors I’ve seen over the years that do the exact opposite of that. I try really hard not to do these things. I’d love to hear from you about other behaviors you’ve seen that are sure fire ways to suck the engagement from high performers.

The Weekly Reid: Impostor Syndrome - 3 Strategies to Overcome it

The first time I recall the feeling of impostor syndrome was just a couple years into my career. I had a boss who was very talented, he knew everything about our company’s products. As part of my job I had to demo our product to investors and prospective customers after he did the main presentation and pitch. Because I’d done the demo so many times, I felt relatively confident doing it. But impostor syndrome reared its head every time during the question period.

As you’d expect the audience would have many questions about the company and the product after seeing the presentation and demo. And while I knew the answers to many of them, I could rarely summon the confidence to actually respond. I just couldn’t pull the trigger. Even though I knew the answers, I also knew my boss could definitely answer them better than I could. He knew everything. No matter how well I answered, surely he could answer with more detail and finesse. So, I passed, and I passed, and I let him answer over and over again until one day he pulled me aside and asked me why I thought I should be in these meetings if I wasn’t going to add value in the question period. Ouch.

That was a defining moment in my career. I felt like an impostor. Like, why would anyone want to hear my perspective when they could just hear his instead? What if I got the questions wrong? What if everyone realized I was too inexperienced and underqualified to be in these high-profile meetings? My insecurities paralyzed me. Sadly, there wasn’t a short term happy ending to this story. I stopped getting invited to participate in as many customer and investor calls. I had let my fear of being discovered as an impostor manifest into the very thing I was afraid of. I learned a hard lesson.

Many years have passed since this sad tale and I’m happy to report I’ve most of the fears I once had. Through trial and failure and experience I learned a set of strategies and mindset queues that have been effective at calming and controlling the feelings of impostor syndrome that paralyzed me early in my career.

Here are three that I use to this day.

“Nobody Else Knows What They’re Doing Either”

This may sound a bit blunt, but I have found it to be a very helpful mantra. Many of us walk through our careers assuming (falsely) that everyone around us has it all figured out. They look so poised. They seem so sure of themselves. They speak with such confidence. It’s easy to trick yourself into believing you’re an impostor and everyone else is a well-qualified professional. It’s an aberration.

The truth: We are all neophytes. Most people at your company are as unsure of themselves as you are. And a good percentage of those who appear to be extremely confident are actually overconfident or not self-aware. My advice to people afflicted with impostor syndrome is to remind yourself that none of us has it figured out. Real confidence isn’t believing you know everything, its knowing enough to know you must be in a constant state of learning. If you approach your career with that mindset, and with the security of knowing most of the people around you are equally as unsure as you are, it will help you pull the trigger where I could not.

Don’t Fake it til You Make it - Learn it While You Earn it

With every year of experience I gain, the questions I ask in meetings get more basic. I vividly recall being too afraid to ask questions early in my career for fear I would out myself as an impostor. Specifically, questions that might reveal a lack of basic understanding. I would rather not know the answer than risk looking stupid. The irony was, as time passed, those basic questions, which would have been ok to ask a couple months into the job, became legitimately embarrassing to ask a year into the job. Again, I manifested the very thing I was so fearful of.

Fast forward almost 20 years and I will very confidently ask the most basic, neophyte questions you can imagine. I probably say, “I don’t understand” more than anyone I know. I have reached a point where I have zero fear of people thinking I’m not smart or qualified. My only fear at this point, is that I will make mistakes from acting without understanding. So, I ask. I always ask. I ask “dumb” questions”. You should too. Expertise is a perishable resource in the fast-paced workplace we operate in. It’s also renewable. But only if you are confident enough to ask questions and to make learning and understanding a priority over posing and posturing.

Develop and Trust Core Principles

The world is changing so quickly. Technologies change, corporate dynamics change, product offerings shift, industries move. Even if you know something today, there is no guarantee it will be valid tomorrow. In fact, getting locked into a rigid mindset or process is very dangerous to your career. In the current career climate, the winners are the agile and creative thinkers, not the dogmatic so-called experts. Being aware of this reality places a premium on learning how to think about problems and discounts the value of knowing any given answer in a moment in time.

My career has been buoyed by developing a set of principles, a model for evaluating problems, building programs and communicating with people around me. I have found these basic principles will hold true even as everything in my environment is in flux. Having these well tested principles gives me confidence even when I am a complete newbie in the field or problem area I’m immersed in. I may not know anything about an industry or a product or a competitor, but I do know about to think about a problem. I do know how to model a solution. I do know how to execute a program and communicate with a team. When you pair these core principles with a commitment to continuous learning, you have a powerful arsenal that applies to just about any business situation.

My advice is to start building your core models and principles. They will be a great comfort to you. Once you have them in place, you’ll feel much more confident and much less like an impostor.

Many of us have walk through our careers assuming (incorrectly) that everyone else knows what they’re doing. We fear at any minute, we’ll be outed as a fraud. We expend energy and emotion worrying about what might happen if we are faced with a challenge we don’t understand. We fear what will happen if we are embarrassed by a mistake we should be able to foresee. And so, we avoid new challenges, we operate too conservatively and we miss out on valuable opportunities for growth.

I help coaching clients understand and manage impostor syndrome all the time. If you think you’re the only one dealing with this problem, you’re wrong. Many highly successful executives have done battle with it. For those of you this resonates with, I hope these strategies were helpful.

The Weekly Reid: 3 Strategies to Reduce Surprise Turnover On Your Team

It’s getting harder to retain talent. Especially young, high potential team members. There are a bunch of reasons for this.

A few that come to my mind:

The widespread availability of salary information and benchmarks can make people impatient. Employees, especially those early in their careers, can earn relatively large salary jumps by moving from one company to another.

There is a near universal expectation of empowerment and autonomy, even from entry level employees. There is almost zero tolerance at this point for menial work, rigid direction, or tough performance management. It can be easy for a team member to justify making a quick career move in search of what may seem like greater freedom and responsibility somewhere else.

These days, company culture is marketed as aggressively as the products companies produce. More than ever, the grass can appear to greener at other organizations. It’s easy for your team members, especially the less experienced ones, to imagine themselves in the job of their dreams at some utopian company they’ve read about in promoted articles on LinkedIn or Glassdoor.

As managers, we need to stop pretending things haven’t changed. We need to stop bemoaning the situation and start changing our behaviors. I had to give my own head a shake a couple of years ago when one of my favorite employees left the company. It was a total shock to me. It made me question everything. Here I was thinking I was being a great mentor, a great teacher, and then … she was gone. I was forced, in that moment, to confront the truth of my management practices. I took a hard look at what I was doing and what I was not doing, and made some specific changes to my approach.

Here are three strategies I adopted to reduce the amount of surprise turnover on my team. I can’t promise this will eliminate it entirely for you, but it will help.

More Dedicated Career Conversations

Most managers will claim to conduct career conversations with team members. You need to be honest with yourself about this one. The occasional 5-minute conversation during performance review time is not enough. Waiting until your employee comes to you asking about career path or asking about a raise is also not enough.

In my opinion, managers need to have an ongoing, active career conversation with every employee on the team. What I mean by “active” is that it is something YOU make happen. Some managers espouse that it’s the employee’s job to manage their own careers – I disagree. That perspective is too passive. It ignores the reality of the situation we’re in. A manager needs to get personally invested in the careers of team members. “Active”, in this sense, also means “purposeful”. You need to schedule time that is dedicated only to having career conversations – in addition to the ongoing dialogue you have in your regular 1-1 cadence. This may seem like a lot to you, but my recommendation is to have one career conversation every month with each employee. In this meeting you only talk about career. That’s 12 dedicated career conversations a year with each of your team members. It’s a lot – but these are crazy times – I believe it’s necessary.

If you are not personally invested in the careers of your team members, who is? If you don’t understand what your team members are striving for, who does? A manager should never be surprised when an employee leaves. That is not to say your team members will never leave – they will. Sometimes there is a disconnect between what they want for their careers and what you can offer. Sometimes there is a gap between their assessment of their abilities and yours. It happens. By having more career conversations, you can’t prevent people from leaving entirely, but you can make sure you’ll never be surprised when they do.

Give More Context for Everything

A big reason employees leave is they don’t feel like their work is meaningful. They can’t see a connection between what they do and the highest-level strategy of the company. This is especially true of entry level employees. When you can’t connect the dots between your work and the outcomes the company is pursuing, it can be demoralizing. It can also make that start-up down the street seem extremely attractive.

While you can’t give every team member a job on the strategic front lines, you can help them find meaning in their work. Since I vowed to change my behavior, I’ve made a point of investing more time providing the full business context for every request I make and project I assign. Some managers feel they don’t have time for this. They just want to give direction and have that direction followed. In my experience, this leads to lower quality work and dramatically increases the risk of surprise turnover.

My recommendation to managers is to begin every project or task request with a clear articulation of what the company is trying to achieve and how the request is connected to it. The task in question may be multiple steps removed from company strategy but you should still have the patience to connect it. Since I have started making this investment, I’ve seen a dramatic improvement in overall work quality and employee engagement. When your team members understand why something is important and what you’re ultimately trying to achieve, they can act with greater creativity and purpose.

Engage in a Longer-Term Plan

Most employees are too short-term focused. Most managers are too. That’s easy for me to say given I’m 20 years into a career, but bear with me. When you’re two years out of school, still living pay cheque to pay cheque, it’s hard not to be short sighted. The challenge is, without the benefit of experience, it’s almost impossible to appreciate the real value of patience in a career. It’s so easy to convince yourself that making a quick jump to the company down the street for a 10K raise and “Senior” on your title is a good move. For an entry level employee, that can be the difference between getting car and taking the bus. It can be the difference between living with roommates and getting your own place. Job hopping can be extremely appealing.

Managers should not restrict the scope of career conversations to the next rung on the ladder. If your conversation with an Associate is restricted to what it will take to make Specialist, you’re not looking long term enough. Go all the way with your career conversations.

My recommendation to managers is to create a long-term plan with employees. They don’t need to have all the answers right away – they may not even know what they want to do in 15 years – but you should still have the dialogue. Help them see multiple moves ahead. Help them understand how salaries will change dramatically three or four levels from where they are today. Where a 10K difference in salary isn’t as significant as it may now seem. Show them how you’ll help them develop and grow. Get them thinking more long term and you’ll get surprised much less.

You can’t eliminate regrettable turnover altogether. It’s impossible to keep everyone engaged. You can’t always offer exactly what your team members want. But you can avoid getting surprised when people quit. Get more invested in your team member’s careers. Start really caring about them. Dedicate time to talking about them. Since I’ve adopted these strategies, I’ve noticed a marked reduction in surprise turnover. I hope they’ll help you too.

The Weekly Reid: 3 Management Lessons I Learned from my Mom

There are a set of principles that govern most of my thinking and behavior at work (and in life). Whether you have written them down or not, you have them too. I find it incredibly valuable to have these principles and to vocalize and document them. They serve me well when I’m faced with a tough decision or a daunting challenge. Many of principles I rely on most, came from my mom. Here are 3 that stand out to me and have helped me become a better manager.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

I rarely rush at anything. I get this from my mother. I drive slowly, I walk slowly, I try not to rush to judgement on issues. When presented with challenges or complex decisions, I can often be heard saying, “I need to think about it ...” This can be a mild source of frustration for people who work for me and others around me, who are motivated to move quickly. But I have always found it best to think deeply about things before acting on them. This shouldn’t be confused for being indecisive. Quite the opposite in fact. I like to think through a problem so I can be decisive and be right more often than I’m wrong.

The longer I go in my career, the more evidence I see that a contemplative approach to decision making is a good one. I see a lot of managers and teams make impulsive decisions and act too quickly and end up having to reverse course or rework projects. They do damage to their reputations and to the business in the process. I should be careful to say that this perspective is not meant to be in opposition to the “fail fast” mentality. I’m not actually making a comment on the speed of overall execution. Pace to market is important. In fact, I would argue, when you tally it all up, a slow and steady approach is as fast if not faster at reaching a positive outcome than what might appear to be quicker methods. (My mother would be so proud) My advice to managers is to spend more time upfront weighing the options and forecasting potential outcomes so that you can be decisive and swift in execution once you’ve landed on the correct path – measure twice, cut once.

If You Can’t Say Something Nice, Don’t Say Anything at All

Many managers spend more time than they should in conflict with peers and gossiping about people at work. Nothing good comes from this. You should never allow yourself to be bullied, but you shouldn’t be seeking out conflict with people you work with either. I see some managers wearing conflict like a badge of honor. They want to be considered tough. But like all bullies, they are confused about what toughness means.

I try to build strong, positive relationships with everyone around me, and I find it helps me get things done in an organization. If I do enter into conflict with someone, I try to resolve it as quickly as I can. Prolonged conflicts and rivalries at work have no long term benefit I can think of.

Gossiping is also a weakness. I fall into this trap from time to time like we all do, but I try not to. Nothing positive comes from gossiping about people you don’t like or peers you find to be incompetent or a boss who is hard on you. When you gossip, you raise a very unfortunate question about your character to those around you. If this guy is gossiping about these people, what does he say about me when I’m not around?

Gossiping creates a slippery slope. It may seem innocent enough at first, but over time, your entire character can be called into question. In the long run, gossiping at work is a classic negative upside proposition – there are no wins in it for you – only losses.

Look People in the Eye When You Speak to Them

There is a literal interpretation of this and a metaphorical one. Both will serve you well in your career, but for today I’m going to focus on the metaphorical one. As a manager, you face difficult situations almost every day. You must give people feedback on performance, you must make tough hiring and firing decisions. Your life is about making decisions and communicating them to your team and to the company.

I’ve known managers who had all the natural tools, but were ultimately held back because they couldn’t make and communicate the hard calls. They couldn’t purposefully make a decision that would negatively impact a person or group for the good of the business, and then have the strength to break the news to them in a kind but concise manner.

Anyone can be a good manager when things are going well - when all news is good news. The great managers can keep a team motivated even when things are going badly. The best managers I’ve worked with communicated with honesty and integrity. They took no joy in delivering bad news but they weren’t afraid of doing it either. They had the strength to look employees and peers and superiors in the eye and be honest with them. For the aspiring managers reading this, I can assure you that sounds easier than it is. Even when every fiber of your being is telling you how much easier it would be to sugar coat something, or just avoid it altogether, great managers grit their teeth and take the harder path. This is something my mother tried to instill in me and something I try to do as much as possible to this day.

I guess it’s not surprising that these timeless edicts translate so well into valuable business lessons. What is surprising, is that of all the technical learnings and practical experiences I’ve had over a two-decade long career, these three lessons I learned from my mother, are the ones I point to most for contributing to my success as a manager. Happy Mother’s Day!

The Weekly Reid: How to be a Great Manager Even When You're at Your Worst

Finding success in your career takes many years (decades even) of consistently high performance. You need to build a track record of achievement to keep advancing. One or two blemishes on your record can easily stall out your progression. It’s hard enough to perform when everything in your personal life is great. But when things are bad, it’s easy to let that bleed over into your professional life.

I won’t pretend there is some magic checklist of things you can do to keep it together when your world is falling apart. There isn’t. But there are specific things you can do to partially quarantine your professional life from your personal life when times are tough. Having just gone through one of these periods myself, I thought it would be helpful to share the tactics I employed to keep the momentum at work going at a time I could have easily let it sputter out.

Rely on Structured Management Cadence

When your mind is elsewhere, it’s easy to let things slip at work. When I’m distracted by my personal life, there is always a temptation to skip non-essential things at work. I’m tempted to cancel 1-1s, push out team meetings, take a pass on a review session. My mind tries to convince me that anything not desperately urgent can be skipped so it can focus on the other issues weighing on my emotions.

When I’m feeling down or distracted, I stop being proactive. I stop taking action unless I’m compelled to do it. It won’t surprise you to know that if you behave like this for many weeks or months, your performance will suffer.

I recognized this tendency early on, and made a deal with myself. I vowed, no matter what, I’d stick to a structured management cadence. I also added some additional structured touch points to make up for the fact my natural proactive energy might be suffering. I made a conscious choice to add formal cadence to counter a lapse in natural proactivity and attention.

For me it was weekly 1-1s with every direct report, a weekly full team standup, a weekly leaders meeting, and quarterly 1-1s with every member of my extended department. I felt that if I could stick to this, at a bare minimum, I could maintain a reasonable enough connection with my team to keep performance improving even if my own energy and emotions were not fully engaged. But upping the amount of formal cadence I did, I was protecting against any natural drawdown in activity and attention I might be experiencing.

Build New Routines and Follow Them Religiously

When you’re having problems at home or your energy is being consumed by something other than work, it’s really hard to make professional progress. As regular readers of The Weekly Reid will know, I’ve always been a huge proponent for continuous learning. When my personal life is calm, I find it easy to naturally build learning into my daily routine. My mind is free, I’m intellectually curious, and so I just find opportunities to learn. But when life is chaotic, when I’m down or preoccupied, learning is one of the first things to go for me. Innovation is another - I all but cease to be creative. For whatever reason, I just can’t summon the creative energy to do these things when my mind is elsewhere.

When I started realizing this tendency in myself, I decided to add more rigidity into my routines to force myself to do these things. I won’t lie to you and say it always worked. It didn’t. But it did help.

For me it was going to work 30 minutes earlier every morning and spending that time reading and learning and brainstorming. I still had to battle with distractions, but this routine got me to focus more on learning and being creative than I would otherwise have. I came to love this special 30-minute period every morning and I still do it now, even as my personal life is as happy and healthy as ever. I also started doing private yoga classes. I realize not everyone can do this (or wants to) but for me, committing to a private session where someone would be waiting for me at 7 am, was exactly what I needed to force me into a behavior my mind didn’t really feel like doing.

The act of building a specific set of routines and committing to them, was exactly what I needed to keep my momentum building when my natural inclination was to retract into my own thoughts and concerns.

Focus on Helping Other People

I have found that when I’m upset, when I’m fixated on problems in my life, it helps to shift my focus onto other people. I tend to obsess about things. And that has served me well in my career but has the opposite effect when I face challenges in my personal life. When I catch myself brooding over my personal problems, I purposely try to shift my selfish energy onto helping other people.

One of the great things about being a manager, is that when you’re doing it right, its inherently a selfless endeavor. You must have empathy to be a great manager. You need to put yourself in the shoes of others. You need to put the team first. Whenever I catch myself stuck in my own head, I’ll find someone on the team to help.

For example, I might to a special mentoring session with a team member. I may do a round of career conversations with my team. Anything to redirect my self-centered energy. I have found this helps keep my management performance high, and calm the obsession I might otherwise focus on my personal problems.

Make a List Every Day and Keep Track of Your Wins

I won’t dwell on this one for very long since it appears in every book ever written on personal productivity. It works. When I’m not at my best (and when I am) I start each morning by writing a list of target accomplishments for the day. Then I order them by impact. I tackle the biggest impact ones first. As it happens these are also often the toughest. I find it best to take these on as early in the day as possible while I have maximum energy and positivity.

At the end of the day I reflect on my list and make note of a few wins I had during the day. I find a minute or two spent acknowledging your wins, goes a long way to building and maintaining momentum especially when you’re down or distracted. That may sound a bit corny to some, but for me, it makes all the difference in the world.

Finding success in your career is challenging enough when your life is firing on all cylinders. Unfortunately, none of us is immune to the inevitable ups and downs of life. I hope these tips were helpful for you, and I’d love to hear what has helped you keep performance up when other aspects of your life are down.

Is there an optimal level of employee engagement? (And, is it 100%)?

Employee engagement is good, right?

Of course, it is, if you look at it as an abstract concept.

We want our teams to be engaged, motivated, driven, purposed. We want to provide a positive environment where great people can thrive and grow and develop.

But there you have it … right there in the details … we want GREAT people to thrive and grow and develop. We want to maximize their engagement. But do we want to maximize engagement for everyone? Can we maximize engagement for all employees and still maximize engagement for our top performers? Are there tradeoffs? Is that even possible? Is an environment that engages high performers also an environment that engages low performers? Should we be pursuing 100% employee engagement or is there some other optimal level we should strive for?

I have lots of questions as you can see.

Let me make a few points for your consideration and then I’d invite you to share in the comments section so we can have a dialogue about the subject.

Engagement on Your Real Team

There is a difference between teams in the abstract and teams in reality. It’s extremely rare that a manager has a team where each and every member is a top performer. That is a desired state – something we all strive for, but almost never reach. I can tell you with no measure of embarrassment, that I’ve never reached a level in my management career where every member of my team was a top performer. Most of the time in fact, I find myself in the middle of some type of transformation. I take on new teams, business conditions change, people come and go, it’s almost impossible to reach a universal level of performance. At least it has been for me.

For argument’s sake, let’s assume that most managers have similar experiences to mine. They typically have teams with a quasi-pareto distribution. 20% of team members are absolute stars and really move the needle in a major way. The other 80% range from developing stars, reliable performers and some under performers. If you team doesn’t look quite like this, that’s fine, the principle still holds well enough.

Some Questions for You

Knowing this, do we want stars and underperformers to be equally engaged?

If underperformers are highly engaged but still not performing, what does that say about their competency and fit for your team?

If your approach to recognition and rewards creates an environment where both stars and underperformers report high engagement, are you sure you have the right program?

If you’re answering “No” to these questions, then isn’t that an argument for the optimal level of engagement on your team being less than 100%? Is there a disconnect between a near universal worship at the altar of engagement, and what we actually should want?

A Counter Argument

One argument against what I’ve just laid out is that as a manager, you want to get the best out of every employee you have. You want to maximize performance. In any given moment, you want to field the best team you possibly can, whether they’re top performers or not. And that you should seek to maximize engagement for everyone regardless of performance level.

I have argued in the past – including in my blog about Unicorn Recruiting Strategies – that you don’t necessarily want or need a team of “A” players. That it is a fool’s errand. Rather you want to build an environment where people can pursue their own personal bests. One could argue that the way to do this is to maximize engagement across the board.

The challenge with that argument is that it assumes (falsely I think) that the only way to maximize performance is to maximize engagement. More precisely – that the only way to maximize performance is to maximize engagement SCORES. It also assumes that everyone on your team can and will eventually maximize their own performance and that it will be at the level you need.

The reality of my experience, is that at any given time, there are going to be some underperformers on your team who, no matter how positive the environment is, cannot reach the level you require. In these cases, managers need to apply pressure - to aggressively manage performance. And, in some cases, manage people out of the organization. In these unfortunate (but not uncommon) instances, do you really want these underperformers at maximum engagement? I would argue that if you’re applying the right level of pressure and giving the right amount of critical feedback, this could be impossible.

Some Questions for You

Do you want your top performers highly engaged and your underperformers less engaged because of intense pressure on their performance? Or should they both be equally engaged?

Can you apply pressure on underperformers and still maximize engagement for them? Is this even possible?

Should an underperformer be highly engaged right up until the end?

My Ask of You

As you can see, I don’t have many answers. I can argue both sides of this debate. And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing in my head for the last week or so. I wanted to invite you into my internal struggle and ask you to share your thoughts and experiences with me so we can advance our collective understanding of the subject.

Is a little bit of micromanagement ok?

Tell me if any of these scenarios hit home for you:

You give your team a project to manage. You provide direction up front about the desired outcome, timing, budget and other relevant details. High level direction, but certainly enough for the team to work with. Three or four weeks pass, the deadline is rapidly approaching, you ask for a review of progress, only to discover, the project is completely off the rails – now you’re in big trouble.

A senior-level person joins your team, they have all the credentials and a ton of experience. When the first big project comes along, you want to offer a lot of space for them to operate and be creative. They’re experienced after all. With the deadline bearing down, you do a status review only to be shocked by how “off” everything is. You need to jump in at the last minute to save the project which causes a lot of frustration and some measure of embarrassment to both you and the new manager.

You’ve been pulled onto a strategic project and its seriously hampered your ability to manage the team like you normally would. You’ve been acting as an individual contributor way more than you probably should. Because you haven’t been paying close enough attention, several projects have been operating for weeks without a meaningful check point. When you finally have time to check in, you discover things are way worse than you thought. Projects are behind, quality has suffered, people are unhappy. Now you have to dive in and repair.

Some of you may read these and say, “well you’re just not hiring the right people.” That’s easy enough to say, but I think it’s an overly simplistic and somewhat naïve perspective frankly. My experience tells me that teams are made of people, and people are inherently imperfect, so the strategy of just hiring better people is never the complete solution. Certainly, it’s not a solution to this problem specifically.

We all want to build great teams and hire great people – that’s an ever-present management goal – it doesn’t go away. It’s also not something that happens overnight. Most managers, myself included, are constantly in a state of transformation - taking a team from one place and building towards another. The real question is, how do you maximize empowerment, autonomy and flexibility for your teams while also ensuring great quality and results?

Here are a few techniques I’ve adopted over the years that improve the probability projects will be done with quality and stay on track without having to micromanage the entire way. Think of them as tiny bits of micromanagement at certain points of a project that provide the right guidance to ensure a quality result without sacrificing empowerment, autonomy and flexibility for the team.

Help Build the Framework

I encourage my teams to include me at the very beginning stages of a projects. When we’re first building the basic skeleton and framework for the major deliverables. If we can agree on the core principles, outline and structure for the project, the probability of having a great outcome goes up significantly. I also find that this level of collaboration, at the outset, still allows for a lot of creativity and autonomy in how the team executes within that framework. Moreover, as the likelihood of success increases, the level of frustration that often comes from discovering a last minute disconnect, reduces as well.

My advice to managers is to get deeply involved in the first stage of a project rather than micromanaging the entire thing or removing yourself completely. You’ll find the overall quality of outputs will go up and the team will gain confidence as they execute creatively within a framework you’re aligned to.

Find Examples of Great

It’s one thing to align in principle and another thing to align in practice. A source of great frustration for teams everywhere, is when they think they have alignment with the leader only to discover when the project has been delivered, that they weren’t as aligned as they thought. Everyone loses in this scenario, and it’s an extremely common occurrence. The leader, who didn’t have enough time to properly focus, nodded when she was presented the initial high-level direction. Then, in the final review, discovers she didn’t fully understand or appreciate the direction in the first place. The project is off the rails and everyone is frustrated.

To avoid this situation, I find it helpful to align up front on some actual examples or mockups of what the result will look like. I’ll often ask my team to look for examples of how other great companies have done something similar. If we can align at the very beginning on an outcome we all agree is great, the chances of success go up significantly. A little bit of “micromanagement” up front, frees everyone up to execute with confidence and creativity for the remainder of the project.

Discourage the “Tadaa” Moment

Many team members try to pursue big “tadaa” moments. In an effort to show they can be trusted to “own” big projects, they operate in isolation for days and weeks in anticipation of a big reveal. This approach, while well intentioned, is misguided. More often than not, projects that run in isolation like this, fail miserably in the so-called “tadaa” moment. I discourage this entire line of thinking and prefer my team members to work collaboratively with each other and with me. Rather than have a big reveal at the end, you and your team should be in sync the entire way through a project. This increases the likelihood of a quality results and shouldn’t be any less empowering for your team members.

It’s a mistake to equate empowerment and isolation, and many less experienced managers and contributors do this. It’s an important lesson for your team that you can be collaborative and empowered at the same time.

My advice to managers is to discourage the “tadaa” moment. Encourage your team to collaborate with you and with each other throughout the entire project to protect against it veering too far off course. I think you’ll find it has a positive impact on quality and engagement.

Make Yourself Approachable to Share Work in Progress

This is one I need to work on. If you want a truly collaborative environment, your team needs to be comfortable showing you unfinished work. This one is on you. If you overreact every time you see work in progress; if you create fear and tension for people, you’ll never get the level of collaboration you want. If your team fears you, they will operate in isolation for too long, they will hoard unfinished work, and you’ll get a lot last minute surprises with projects that have fallen off the rails. It’s easy to blame your team for this behavior, but you also need to look inwardly.

My advice to managers is to make yourself more approachable for early stage collaboration. Reduce the fear and anxiety and consequences of showing you unfinished or misdirected work so long as there is enough time budgeted to repair and redirect. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the improvements in quality and the overall reduction in stress and anxiety during projects.

We’ve all grown up loathing the very notion of micromanagement. But my observation is that some managers have over-rotated to the point where we are sacrificing quality in exchange for empowerment. I don’t think these things need to be mutually exclusive, but I do think there are some specific hands-on management techniques managers can apply to preserve the best parts of autonomy and empowerment while maximizing the probability that projects are executed on time and with quality. I appreciate this is a delicate subject and would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

The Weekly Reid: Are You Critical Enough of Your Team?

Do you ever look around at other leaders in your company and wonder how it’s possible they don’t see problems with their teams that seem so obvious to you?

Do you think other leaders look at your team and wonder the same thing?

My observation is that many (if not most) managers, are not critical enough of their teams. They are critical of other teams. They are critical of peers. They are critical of corporate policies. But, for whatever reason, managers tend to look at their own teams through rose colored glasses.

Today I’m going to walk through some key factors leaders should consider when calibrating that optimal level of critique. My goal is not to send you off to be tyrants. Far from it. In fact, I’ve written on several occasions, how being critical and being negative are not the same thing. Check out the blog below if you want to read more about that now.

3 Tips for Giving Negative Feedback to Employees

The question of how hard to push my team is something I battle with all the time. There aren’t clear cut answers I’m afraid. Every situation is different. The job of the leader is to read the pulse of the team and the needs of the business situation, and throttle criticism commensurately. I’m going to share some concepts for you to consider as you calibrate criticism to the level that makes the most sense for your team.

Engagement vs. Improvement

Employee engagement is critical – there is no news here. We want our teams to have purpose and autonomy and the opportunity to learn and grow in a positive way. But as engagement scores have become metrics we all monitor so closely (and publicly), it’s had an impact on the amount of pressure we feel comfortable placing on our teams. There is a debate playing inside the heads of most managers as they worry about how critical they can be of performance before the engagement score begins to fall. No manager wants their team at the bottom of the engagement list at the end of the year. So, its easy to hold back. It’s easy to push a little less. It’s easy to search for a positive spin whenever we can. It’s easy to coddle when we should criticize. I understand why we do this, but we need to be careful.

In the long run, in my experience at least, great accomplishment and meaningful development lead to higher engagement. Even when that comes at the end of a long, difficult struggle. If you try to game the engagement system by going soft on your team, you may lose in the long run. My advice to managers is to focus on building a high-performance team with a culture of learning and development. Make honest feedback a hallmark of your team culture. In the long run this will lead to higher performance and higher engagement.

Believing Your Own Press

If you’ve read my book or my blog, you’ll know I’m the biggest proponent of building visibility for yourself and your teams. You must promote your accomplishments across the company. But sometimes, managers start believing their own press a little too much. They get confused between promotion and truth and mistakenly throttle down the critical feedback.

In my experience, you want to praise and promote your team publicly as much as possible. This helps with engagement and helps build relevance and respect for your team in the company. When you do this, your team will see that you have their backs – that you’re their biggest fan. But you need to pair that with an equal dose of critical performance feedback.

One of the great things about being so aggressive in promoting your team internally is that it buys you the right to push them very hard. It’s a fair exchange. I’m very happy to be pushed hard by my manager if there is a commensurate reward/recognition on the other side. That’s the essence of a performance culture.

My advice to managers is to separate the public promotion of you team’s success from their development towards optimal performance. Don’t believe all your own press. Promote your team’s success but never stop pushing for greatness.

Focused Criticism vs. White Noise

It can be overwhelming to take on a new team or transform and underperforming one. There are so many areas you could be critical of, but should you? I’ve had several experiences like this in my career, and it takes a lot of patience to get it right. This is one case where I think you need to be more conservative in the volume of critical feedback you give out. If you’re critical about everything, nothing stands out. It becomes white noise to your team. Managers need to identify the areas that need the most improvement or that are most negatively impacting the business, and focus criticism on them.

It can be painful to watch inefficiencies happen and do nothing about them. But manager’s need to have the patience and perspective to take a pass sometimes. If your team has many challenges, my recommendation is to focus your critical feedback on one of two areas only. Just let the other stuff simmer until you can address it properly. This is not an argument for being less critical, rather for focusing your criticism to ensure you make progress instead of just creating noise.

Every manager has an inner dialogue about how critical to be. We see suboptimal behavior and performance everywhere. But, when you should react and when should you let it go? In general, I think managers need to dial up the criticism and do so in a more focused way. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

The Weekly Reid: How to Lose a Team in 10 Days

If you manage teams for long enough, you’re going to lose them every so often. You’re going to get busy or distracted. You’re going to make mistakes. The company is going to go through ups and downs. It’s impossible not to lose the team once in a while. We all do it. Through my own reflection and self-assessment, I’ve identified 10 specific management behaviors you should be on the lookout for. When you see these in yourself or in leaders on your team, you should be doing whatever you can to eliminate them.  

Here’s how you lose a team in 10 days:

Day 1 – Protect underperformers

It’s easy to trick yourself into believing that terminating underperformers is bad for morale. You tell yourself firing people makes team members nervous, that it signals larger systemic problems, that it brings people down. I’ve seen many managers talk themselves out of a termination they know in their heart is the best thing for the business. Managers who apply this line of thinking are, more often than not, rationalizing a fear of making tough decisions. They use this flawed logic to defend it to themselves and others.

In a performance-based culture, protecting underperformers does more harm than terminating them. When you allow low performers to flourish, it tells top performers that there is an unfair playing field. If you’re not careful, your inaction will cause you to lose the high performers in favor of the low performers.

Day 2 – Cancel 1-1s

For some managers, the first thing to go when things get busy, are regular 1-1s. You should never do this. In fact, the crazier things get at work, and the busier people are, the more you need to prioritize these check-in meetings. Cancelling 1-1s is a sure-fire way to lose touch with your team and ultimately have them slip away entirely.

When I notice things are uniquely chaotic for my team, I make a point of doing more 1-1s to give them the opportunity to talk things through, share challenges and feel supported. Its counterintuitive, but I’ve found doubling down on 1-1s during turbulent times to be extremely effective.

Day 3 – Disparage departing employees

Some inexperienced managers are unable to control their emotions when people leave the company or get terminated. They can’t help but speak negatively about their former team members in public. This is a huge mistake. Your team is always watching. And when they see you disrespect or disparage former employees they naturally imagine how you’d speak about them if they left.

Managers should make a point of speaking positively in public about employees who have left, no matter what the circumstances of the departure were. There is no downside to this approach that I can think of. Control your emotions, always be kind and respectful when speaking about departed team members, or risk losing the team you still have.

Day 4 – Sugar coat everything

Your team is smart, don’t lie to them.

Some leaders have a nasty habit of trying to paint everything as a positive. They tell themselves it’s to keep morale up and to prevent panic, but it’s actually a great way to lose a team. In my experience, it’s much more productive (and positive in the long run), to be honest with your team. Don’t tell them things are ok when they’re not. Tell them what is going on, and ask for their partnership in overcoming whatever obstacles you face. They can take it. They will surprise you.

Day 5 – Pay inequitably

10 years ago, it was uncommon for employees to talk openly about their salaries. They do now. Glass Door and other sites have made pay so much more transparent. The new generation workforce has completely abandoned the conventions we had when it comes to talking about money. It’s time to acknowledge everyone on your team knows what everyone else makes. For this reason, (and for the obvious ethical and moral reasons) you must make a point of paying equitably.

You can lose a team in a heartbeat if they discover you’re not paying fairly across gender, race, performance, and experience. I realize there are many practical realities that make consistent pay equity more challenging than it appears on the surface. New hires tend to come in at higher salaries, some people negotiate harder than others, your company doesn’t always make it easy to fix pay gaps that may exist. I get all that. But your team needs to believe YOU are committed to doing the right thing. If they don’t, you’ll lose them.

Day 6 – Talk badly about staff when they are not present

Many leaders, when frustrated, will talk disparagingly about staff members when they’re not in the room. It often happens in front of that person’s peers or subordinates. This is another byproduct of leaders not being able to control their emotions. It’s inexcusable. When you speak badly about a team member in from of their peers or subordinates, it sends a terrible message.

If my manager talks about him like this, how does she talk about me when I’m not here?

When I’m in the presence of others, I try to use the classic rule – if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. It’s not always easy. I will admit, I still catch myself from time to time, criticizing a team member when they’re not present. This behavior serves no purpose. There is no upside to speaking negatively about a person in front of others and we all need to eliminate it or risk losing our teams.

Day 7 – Apply standards inconsistently

Have you ever had a manager who seemed to be very hard on certain teams and very easy on others?

Have you ever had a manager who seemed to care more about some functions than others?

I think we all have. Sometimes this happens because of a leader’s personal experience and interests. Other times it happens because of personal relationships. Whatever the reason, leaders risk losing their teams when they’re seen to be setting the bar differently across people and groups. It sends a very confusing message. It seems unfair. You can lose the team entirely if you’re not careful. I’ve found it helpful, in my self-reflection, to make sure I’m pushing all teams and people to the same standard of excellence.

Day 8 – Miss team meetings

I catch myself, from time to time, cancelling the full team meeting I run every week. Most of the time it’s for unavoidable reasons, but not always. If I’m travelling or engaged in a big project, a regular team meeting seems like an easy thing to push. In fact, this is the opposite of what I should do.

The more disconnected you feel from your team – due to travel or high priority projects – the more important your team meetings are. If you’re feeling disconnected, your team is likely feeling that at 10X. If you get too disconnected, you can lose them entirely. Next time you’re about to push or cancel your team meeting, make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons.

Day 9 – Make yourself unapproachable

This is one I’ve thought about a lot over the last five years. Some managers create an aura about them that makes them difficult to approach with bad news or challenges. I have been accused of this in the past and it bothers me every time I think about it. As a leader, your team needs to feel comfortable bringing bad news to you. You want to be the first person they think of when sh&t hits the fan. If they’re afraid of telling you, if they think you can’t handle bad news calmly, they will internalize problems and you won’t find out about then until it’s too late to take action.

Day 10 – Stop communicating

Communication has been a recurring theme in this list. As soon as you stop communicating with your team, you will lose them. Some managers prefer to operate at an arm’s length from their teams. They sit in an office and pat themselves on the back for not being a micromanager. The problem is, when you’re not actively communicating with your team members, you run the risk of missing too much important stuff. I have always favored a much more active management style than some experts advocate for. I want to be in the middle of things with my team – not to micromanage them – not even to direct them – but to be in the struggle alongside them.

Whatever approach works best for you, I recommend to all leaders to engage in a continuous, active dialogue with your team. Do save your conversations for regular 1-1s and update meetings. Keep communicating or lose your team.

If you’re anything like me, you see a few of these in yourself. I’ve found it helpful to practice regular self-reflection and self-assessment. I actively look for weaknesses in my management style and act to shore them up. If you’ve got some other bad habits I may have missed, please send me an email or share in the comments.

The Weekly Reid: 5 Attributes Every Great Leader Needs

While there is no single formula that makes a great leader, there are some traits most great leaders have in common. I work to develop these traits in myself and my team members. I’d love to hear your thoughts on these attributes and if you think I may be missing some.

1.  Calmness

The longer I go in my career, the more I value calmness as a leadership attribute. Things change so fast these days. Our companies are changing. Our technologies are changing. It feels, to me at least, that we are spinning faster and faster. The pace of change can be overwhelming even for the hardened veterans among us.

Calm leadership is more important now than ever. Your team needs you to be stoic when everything around them is chaotic. When a plane goes through sudden turbulence, the first thing passengers do is look at the flight attendants to see if they’re panicking. If the flight attendants are calm, it calms everyone. If the flight attendants blink, everyone panics. Panic and worry are contagious. The same is true at work.

I council the leaders on my team to make calmness an attribute they strive for. It takes practice, but you can develop it – at least outwardly. None of us are immune to a certain degree of worry and panic – I do it all the time on the inside. But I make a point of presenting a calm demeanor, especially when things are chaotic. When my team members look at me, I want them to see someone who is under control, so they in turn, will stay controlled. I want to make the contagion work for good instead of bad.

2.  Clarity

I used to think I was clear in my communication until I started doing performance reviews and terminations on a larger team. I realized in a hurry, that the messages I thought I was communicating to people, were not exactly what they were hearing.

Many of us focus too much on what we think we are saying, and not nearly enough on what our audience is actually hearing. How many times have you left a meeting believing you were crystal clear, only to learn later there was a huge disconnect? It’s happened to me more than I’d care to admit.

How many times have you given someone a negative performance review, only to discover they had no idea there was a problem in the first place? It can be quite vexing for everyone. It’s easy to blame the person on the other side for not listening, but is that really fair?

Your job as a leader, is to be clear with people. To give clear direction. To provide clear feedback. To be honest. There’s a big difference between speaking and communication. What matters most in communication, is that both parties are aligned. With that goal in mind, I have worked over the last few years to make clarity a priority. At first, that meant being a bit robotic. I could be quite clinical when giving direction and feedback. I’d document things. I’d list things clearly. I’d speak in brief, direct language. It felt a bit awkward, but it was effective. It solved the clarity problem. And, over the years, with more practice, I have learned to be clear without being so clinical. It’s become more natural for me and just as effective.   

My advice to leaders is to make clarity your top communication priority. Focus more on what is being heard and less on what you are saying. I realize that sounds a bit odd, but it has worked wonders for me.

3. Objectivity

Long time readers of The Weekly Reid may be bored of me talking about objectivity. I do it a lot, because I have found it to be extremely important in my career. Some leaders struggle to be objective because their passion clouds their judgement. They get locked into a way of thinking. They become rigid. They become blind to alternative ways of thinking. I’m sure you know managers like this. You may even see this tendency in yourself sometimes. When you lose objectivity, you miss opportunities that could be roads to greatness for you and your team.

I’ve had a few unfortunate experiences working with leaders who lacked objectivity. They became unable to see beyond their own perspectives. They became TOO passionate about a program or approach or strategy, and it eroded their performance and credibility. If you’re not careful, a dogmatic allegiance to one way of thinking can chip away at your reputation over time. You want to be viewed as a manager who can take on anything, who can adapt to change – not a one trick pony.

By contrast, the best managers I’ve worked with, were ruthlessly objective. Passionately objective, if you will. They were open to new ideas, counter arguments, input from others. They could embrace being wrong as strongly as they could embrace being right. They took advantage of changes and new perspectives. Their teams were loyal because their ideas were heard.

My recommendation to leaders is to focus on embracing a spirit of objectivity in yourself and inspiring it in your teams. If you want to read more about my views on this subject, check out this blog I wrote a while back:

4 Tips to Move from Director Level to VP Level

4.  Empathy

We hear a lot about empathy these days. To the point where it’s easy to ignore the concept when you see it. I would advise against that. If there was one attribute I would credit most for any success I have had as a leader, it would be empathy.

When you hear the word … “empathy” … most of us hear something very soft. Not me. For me, empathy at work is about taking the perspective of others so you can be effective. When I’m in a negotiation, I’m using empathy to put myself in the other party’s position. When I’m building competitive intelligence, I use empathy to understand why my competition is behaving the way they are. When I’m developing people, I use empathy to discover the best possible ways to motivate my team members.

Tactical empathy, as I call it, is one of the most valuable (and underutilized) leadership skills. If you haven’t already, I suggest checking out this blog I wrote on the subject.

The #1 Workplace Mistake I Saw in 2016

My advice is to take empathy more seriously. Develop in yourself. Spend more time placing yourself in the shoes of others, and less time focusing on your own perspective. It has been immeasurably valuable for me and I think it can help you too.

5. Decisiveness

In chaotic times, your team needs you to be decisive. It’s rare that you will ever have all the information you need to be certain about any decision, but you still need to be decisive. That’s one of the great challenges of being a leader. Indecision or waffling from a leader can kill a team faster than just about anything.

I spent many years playing poker at a reasonably high level. That experience taught me to be comfortable making tough decisions based on incomplete information and loosely calculated probabilities and expected returns. In poker, you never know exactly what hand your opponent has, but with some practice and a little math, you can narrow the possibilities down to a range of possible holdings. To be successful at poker, and at work, you need to be able to take whatever information you have, evaluate the probable outcomes of your available options, and make a confident, decisive decision. And then learn to live with the results. You won’t always be right, but if you do it often enough, in the long run, you will come out ahead.

It’s hard for leaders to make confident decisions knowing that some percentage of the time they will be wrong. But the alternative is worse. Not making firm decisions leads to chaos. Your team will lose confidence in you. Your peers will lose respect for you. And you won’t come out any further ahead in the long run anyways.

My advice is to focus on being decisive, even when you don’t have all the information you need. Embrace the concept of making logical, well-formed decisions without perfect information. As it becomes a habit, you’ll get more confident and your team will embrace it too.

I spend a lot of time thinking about what kind of leader I want to be. And as I continue to learn and gain experience, my image of model leadership is evolving. I’d love to hear your thoughts on leadership attributes. What stands out to you? Send me an email or write in the comments to share your experiences.

The Weekly Reid: 2 Success Traps to Avoid at all Costs

There is a school of thought that you should myopically focus on your personal strengths and steer clear of your weaknesses. The idea holds that by doubling down on your strengths and wasting less time dealing with your weaknesses, your path to success accelerates. While I see merit in some of the points behind this philosophy, it has always seemed overly fatalistic to me. As though your path and destiny are inevitable. I don’t see evidence of this in my own life and career. I attribute much of my personal success to acute self-awareness and a constant cycle of reflection and improvement. I’ve played out this cycle over several decades to shore up my weaknesses and build the best possible version of myself.  

Last week I had the chance to sit down with an old friend and fellow coach – a person I admire and respect greatly. We chatted about this very topic and it got me thinking about the success traps I’ve done battle with over the years and my quest to overcome them. Today I’m going to share the two traps I’ve struggled with most. I’d love to hear about the traps that plague you, so we can start working to remedy them together.

1. The Future State Fallacy

Once my divorce is finalized I’ll start working on my business again.

Just as soon as my travel schedule lightens up I’ll get back to writing.

Once I lose 15 pounds I’ll go back to the gym (love this one … lol).

Once things die down a bit, I’ll start doing more regular 1 on 1s with my team members.

If we can just close out this quarter strongly, I’ll start focusing more on my family.

Sound familiar to you?

This mindset – what I call the future state fallacy – is a killer for me. It’s safe to say, my career, my relationships, and my health have suffered greatly because I fall victim to this demon over and over again. Just as soon as I figure out how to solve this one, I can start focusing on being successful (See what I did there?  J ).

Unlike some of the things I write about, where I have struggled with a problem and overcome it, this one is different. I’m still plagued by the future state fallacy. I catch myself in this line of thinking almost every day. “Once I do that, then I can start this.” It’s a trap. And if you’re not careful, it can prevent you from tackling the activities and projects and problems that will most profoundly impact on your life and career.

I have not overcome this one yet. But I can tell you, from years of experimentation and self-reflection, that it is helpful to actively look for the demon and acknowledge its existence. When I see myself heading down this path, I call it out and put a stop to it immediately. That seems to help. The other thing I do is make a weekly list of the biggest, scariest things I need to take on – and I try to act on them right away. Instead of looking for reasons why it makes more sense to wait until some future state to change my behavior, I look for reasons why I should start immediately.

I’d be lying if I told you this is a foolproof method, or that I’ve overcome the challenge. I haven’t, but this mindset does help. If you’re interested in reading more about my views on this subject, check out my recent blog:

Hard Conversations: Why You Need to Have More of Them

I’d love to hear from any of you who have also struggled with the future state fallacy. Share your thoughts and stories in the comments or send me an email so we can learn from each other.

2. Pursuit of the Clean Inbox

Early in your career, when you get one call and only ten emails a day, the pursuit of a clean inbox is possible. But when you get ten calls and two hundred emails a day, this pursuit becomes a trap. The pursuit of the clean inbox is a demon I’ve faced and mostly conquered. And I can tell you it has had an extremely positive impact on my productivity and career success.

Too many of us let our natural desire for order trick us into prioritizing a clean inbox over real productivity and progress towards our most important goals. We get lost in a quest to stay current and in control, and lose sight of our real purpose. It’s easy to do. I did it for years.

Do any of these sound like you?

Answer the phone every time it rings.

Read every email as it comes in.

Check voice mails as soon as they come in.

Never leave work with unread messages.

Constantly cleanup and file inbox items.

On the surface, these behaviors masquerade as virtues. We tell ourselves we’re responsive. We’re on top of things. We feel good because life appears to be in balance. But in my experience, these behaviors are traps. They trick you into favoring responsiveness and order over real productivity. They create the illusion of progress.

The most successful people I know are myopically focused on specific goals, game changing initiatives, big wins. They embrace a certain degree of chaos around them so they can doggedly pursue the activities that will have the biggest impact on their mission and on their success.

There was a time when I struggled mightily with the pursuit of the clean inbox and other time wasting activities. They artificially constrained my success for many years. To overcome it, I adopted a new mindset and a specific set of behaviors designed to keep me focused on high impact pursuits. For example, I start every morning by identifying the big wins I am pursuing and then close each day by writing down the big wins I have achieved. It’s become a habit with many benefits. It keeps me focused on high impact work and it creates positive momentum as I actively make note of my wins on a daily basis. I do the same thing for the team’s I manage. I have found that a focus on wins, with purposeful behaviors to support it, goes a long way to getting you off the pursuit of order and onto the pursuit of progress.

If you find yourself falling into this trap, here’s another blog on the subject you might want to check out.

Why Multi-tasking is a Trap and How to Break Out of It

I hope that was helpful for you. It was certainly therapeutic for me. It’s easy to blame external factors for your problems. We all do it. But I have found it to be much more productive to focus on the internal demons that are limiting my success. More than anything, I have found that an honest acknowledgement of weakness, some healthy self-awareness, and a constant pursuit of improvement have been the biggest contributors to success in my life. I’d love to hear about your experiences so we can move towards success together.

The Weekly Reid: The Best Strategic Planning Template

We waste so much time building slides. It hurts me to think about the countless hours my teams have spent over the years building and rebuilding the same basic slides over and over again. And here I am, Mr. Template (self proclaimed ...) doing nothing about it. Well those days are over. I spent the last two weeks under cover collecting and refining all my favorite strategic planning slides so we can all stop wasting so much time. 

I've assembled 40 of the strategic business slides I use most frequently. You can flip through a handful of them below to give you a sense for what's in the package, but keep in mind that is only a small sample. I've designed these templates so they're visually appealing but really easy to use and edit. Most of them use well designed PowerPoint tables instead of shapes which makes them way easier to use. Instead of spending 3 hours building a presentation for your boss next week, you can spend 15 minutes by using my slide templates. 

If I already had you at "strategic slide templates" and you just want to buy them now and get on with it, click here and use the promo code "SLIDE2018". In the package you'll get 40 strategic slide templates and a fully baked example version to show how I would use them in practice.

Buy the strategic planning template package

If you want to learn a bit more about what's inside the template, I'll outline below.

I've probably built hundreds of strategy and business presentations over the years. I have evaluated hundreds more. And during that time, I've developed a set of slides I always use because they make sense and they work. 

Mission Slides (2 slide templates)

Its good to start every strategic presentation or plan with a reminder of the highest level mission. It provides an anchor point for all plans and strategies. In the strategic planning template, I’ve given a simple template and a visual template to communicate your mission.

Situational Analysis Slides (7 slide templates)

I start every strategic presentation with a review of the current situation. This can include analysis of internal factors like your team or budget as well as external factors like competitors and markets. Situational analysis slides are critical to setting proper context. You can't build an effective plan or presentation without at least one. In the strategic planning template, I’ve provided several slides to use when analyzing the current situation. 

Goals Slides (3 slide templates)

Once you have assessed the situation, you need to communicate your goals in a way that is specific and measurable. Goals are ultimately tied to your mission but should reflect the situational analysis you’ve just done. I’ve given you a few templates for communicating your goals.

Transformation Slides (4 slide templates)

Every company is transforming in some way. Every team is transforming. I find it very useful to use transformation slides in my business presentations. I've built a few of my favorites for you to use in the strategic planning template.

Strategic Initiatives Slides (3 slide templates)

In my experiences this is the most important section of a strategic plan or presentation. Once you’ve identified your goals and desired transformation, you need initiatives to get it done. In this section I’ve given you a few templates to communicate and describe your strategic initiatives in a compelling way.

Comparative Analysis Slides (4 slide templates)

In many business and strategy presentations you will need to compare markets, competitors, features and other attributes. I do it all the time. I've designed four of my favorite slides for comparisons and included in this template.

KPIs and Dashboard Slides (2 slide templates)

You can't have a strategic plan without some sort of measurement dashboard. I use the same basic dashboards in every plan I do and I've included two versions of it for you in this package.

Budget and Resources Slides (2 slide templates)

Most strategic plans need to contemplate resources and budget requirements. I created a couple of simple slide designs that embed excel sheets into them. This makes it way easier for you to edit and adjust based on your specific needs.

Execution Plan Slides (4 slide templates)

Once you've aligned everyone to your strategic and the key initiatives, you need to present a project plan and timeline. Most people spend too much time building these or they try to copy and past something from excel that is not legible. I've included 4 slide designs I use all the time when presenting my execution plans.

Decision Framework Slides (2 slide templates)

How often do you need to decide between two options? All the time, right? I've included a couple of slides I use when I need to get executive alignment or a key decision made between two reasonable options. 

Risks and Request Slides (4 slide templates)

Most good presentations end with a statement of risks and some requests for support or help. I've included 4 of my favorite templates for doing that. They should help you save time in future plans and presentations.

I hope this package is helpful for you and saves you a ton of time. Send me an email and let me know how it goes!

Buy the strategic planning template package