Ask Alice: Advice for Leaders

The Motivation Conundrum

QuestionI’ve been a business leader for most of my career, managing staff ranging from 3 to more than 20.  One thing that constantly puzzles me is employee motivation.  Some folks attack their work with great gusto, others simply clock in every day and do the minimal amount to get by.  What can I do to get everyone to be motivated and driven to do their best?

Alice Waagen says:  Good question and one that I am asked with great frequency as I coach organizational leaders.  If I could discover the magic elixir of motivation, I’d be one very rich woman.  There has been much written on the subject of motivating others and the research I find most compelling focuses on some broad overarching principles while acknowledging that what motivates behavior is very much an individual set of drivers.  (more…)

Generation Confused

Question:  I recently got my dream job being the Executive Director for a nonprofit whose mission is very dear to my heart.  I am excited about leading an organization with such a worthy cause.  My problem is that I have never managed so many young workers before.  As a nonprofit, our pay scale is not the best and we tend to hire recent college grads that are looking to get experience in lieu of the big salaries of corporate jobs.  Our age gap is causing me problems communicating and relating to them.  I am reading books on the different generations at work.  Can you give me some tips on how to lead the different generations?

Alice Waagen says:  Gen X, Gen Y, Millennial, I get such heartburn when I read the blather on generational differences.  Most, if not all of this stuff is little more than stereotyping a very large age cohort with a lot of negative qualities.  Here is a short list of descriptors I’ve read about Millennial employees: lazy, entitled, poor communicators, web-obsessed.  I’ll bet you that list was not written by a Millennial but probably by someone from an older cohort group. (more…)

Creativity Killers at Work

Question:  I am the head of Business Development for a boutique advertising firm.  We compete in a very aggressive market and need to be very creative with client solutions.  My problem?  I am surrounded by people who seem to check their creative ideas at the door.  I am so tired of seeing bland, rehashed solutions.  How can I get my staff to bring bold, innovative ideas to the table?  I’ve tried training programs, recognition awards, nothing seems to work.

Alice Waagen says:  If you hire smart, creative people who have a proven track record for a particular talent or skill and who then stop using that talent after they have been with your firm a while, you need to look for a solution by asking what are you doing to kill their creative juices.  If you or something in the organizational culture is blocking innovation, training and pats of the back won’t work.  You need to find the roadblock and barriers and remove them.  (more…)

The Perils of Analysis Paralysis

QuestionI’ve been getting a lot of feedback lately that I am too slow at making decisions.  My direct reports say that I am a bottleneck in their work flow.  My boss says the projects take too long for my team to complete because I pray over every detail.  Can you recommend a better decision making process?  Right now I start by identifying various solutions to the decision, analyze the pros and cons of each and then use a criteria chart to determine the best course of action.

Alice Waagen says:   I am not sure that you need a new decision making process.  The one you describe is a sound one to use to decide critical issues, ones with a high risk or where failure or mistakes could have huge impact.  But if you are using a criteria matrix with weights and measures for most of your decisions, I can see how you could be perceived as a rock on the road to progress. (more…)

Beyond the Job Description: Landing the Perfect Position

Question:  I am looking to make a job shift internally sometime within the next 6 months. When I go to my company’s job postings, I see job descriptions that have a lot of good information but they don’t tell me how well I’ll fit on the team or the leadership style of the boss. For instance, it is hard for me to tell how much of the work requires long hours or weekend work or if I can telecommute for part of the time. How can I find out more detail about the job beyond the posted description?

Alice Waagen says:  One of the most overlooked yet incredibly valuable tools in any job search is the informational interview. An informational interview’s purpose is in its name: you are looking to gather information, not to apply for any job openings.  You can have an informational conversation with the current manager of a job that you may apply for in the future. You can also have information gathering talks with any person who currently holds the job you may want in the future. Because you are not applying for the job but are simply asking questions about it, it is a low-risk, casual conversation and ideal for asking the questions about working on the team or for the manager that are not on a standard job description. (more…)

FIVE RULES FOR LIFE-LONG LEARNERS

There’s a small but persistent club of folks called life-long learners. I am a diehard member of this club. I can’t think of a time when I am not pursuing the acquisition of some new knowledge or skill. To me, learning is really about challenge. It is about starting from zero and trying to achieve some form of mastery. (more…)

Fixing a Boss Melt Down

Question:  I need some immediate advice.  My boss just had a melt down with me about a major project that I am leading.  We meet every week and I give her detailed status at that time.  A few weeks ago a key stakeholder asked me to make changes in a number of the deliverables and I agreed.  He is a senior executive and known to be demanding.  The changes I made shift the emphasis away from the planned outcome to be something a bit different.  My boss had a fit when she found this out.  She accused me of being a poor communicator and now wants to meet twice a week.  What can I do to fix this mess?

Alice Waagen says:  Your story is not as unusual as you may think.  The biggest problem with communication is not frequency, it is focus.  You are communicating status when you need to be talking about expectations and outcomes.  Pardon my rant, but the biggest waste of time I see in the business world today are regular status meetings.  Business leaders at all levels sit around conference tables and report on what they and their team are doing, their tasks and accomplishments.  Yawn. (more…)

NEW LEADER TRANSITION: THE FIRST 30 DAYS

It is part of human nature to bring to any new situation our wealth of past assumptions, beliefs and experiences.  As we travel down the various paths of professional advancement, we accumulate a hoard of internal rules and logic based on our successes and, more painfully, our failures. This lifetime of accumulated learning makes future decisions easier and easier – if it worked before, do it again.

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The Downside of Workaholics

Question:  Can I force an employee to take vacation?  I know that sounds draconian but I am concerned about one of my direct reports.  Ed has been working for me for more than five years and is a really great employee.  He is an incredibly hard worker, first one at work in the morning, last one out at night.  I asked him the other day to let me know when he planned to take time off this summer and he told me that he had no plans to take vacation.  While it is great to have him cover for the others when they are out, I can’t help but think that all work and no play can’t be healthy long term.

Alice Waggen says:  Sorry, you can’t play the boss card and force someone to take time off.  Vacation is an earned benefit and, as such, is up to the employee to use it or not as they wish.  That said, vacation time is a benefit with a purpose:  time off allows people to rest, recharge and recuperate both in mind and body.  With adequate planning, business leaders can cover for vacationing staff which promotes teamwork and collaboration. (more…)

NEW YEAR, NEW WORK HABITS

When I visit my corporate clients these days I am amazed at the levels of stress and burn out that I am seeing.  People look haggard, rushing from one meeting to another, clutching bulging notebooks and beeping cell phones. When I ask why things are so out of control I hear the same answer every time:  tightened purse strings. More work does not mean more resources. If anything, the “do more with less” mantra has folks at the end of their patience and sanity. (more…)