Category Archives: Performance Management

On Appreciation and Engagement

I have an enviable job; I get to help leaders figure out how to create productive, prosperous workplaces. Yesterday, Amanda Gianotti of Allogram Inc., and I spoke with the Women in Business at the Hunt Valley Business Forum. Our topic was Cultivating the Heart of Appreciation.

It is such a rich topic that we didn’t have time to answer all of our audience’s questions, so I’d like to provide forum for questions and commentary on the topic.

Here are a few of the questions that came-up during and after our presentation. Please let us know what is on your mind.

Q.  If I work with someone who isn’t a great performer, should I still show them appreciation?

A. Yes. Appreciating and rewarding people are not necessarily the same thing, though they can be. Appreciation is about valuing people for who they are and how they were made. Rewards are for motivating.

Everyone is “deficient” in some way(s). It is easy for us to allow our frustration with others to blind us to their value. People who show sincere appreciation for others are able to exercise influence and leadership. Those who don’t have a much harder go of it.

Q. You said that everyone has a language of appreciation; how do I know someone’s language?

A. That’s the million dollar question!  We generally find that people have a primary language and often a secondary language that speaks to them most clearly. A person tends to give what they want. A person who frequently encourages others is likely to have “Words of Affirmation” as their language. If you notice that a person frequently asks how they can help or readily jumps in to serve, he or she likely to understand “Acts of Service,” and that is the language you should speak to them.

What are your questions?

Is Employee Appreciation Day Coming Up?

gift box on wooden table on natural sunny background

gift box on wooden table on natural sunny background

Christmas and the end of the fiscal year are fast approaching. That has a lot of people thinking about “employee appreciation.” Visions of parties, bonuses, promotions and sugar plum fairies are dancing through senior managers’ heads.

Parties can be a lot of fun, especially when people already feel good about each other and the company. Bonuses and promotions are fantastic, but they can be as elusive as sugar plum fairies as well. That’s okay because while parties, bonuses, and promotions are nice, they don’t always speak “I value you,” as much as you might think.

So, what can a manager give to show appreciation?


Managers, or anyone for that matter, can always give the gift of SUVS. It doesn’t cost much, if anything, at all. In honor of Employee Appreciation Day 2015, the Kronos Workforce Institute commissioned a survey of U.S employees. They found that what most people want in their workplace stocking is recognition for what they do. More than anything else people want others to see and appreciate that they are: 1) doing a good job like 90+ percent of the time, and 2) that their valued talents are contributing to the company’s success.

The Key to SUVs is:
See the people around you notice how they are made and what they contribute to the work community. This is easier said than done. The busyness of work and preoccupation with our own wants are formidable barriers to noticing others.

Understand: Study people to learn their motives, values, talents, and their Languages of Appreciation. Be curious about what you notice and explore it rather than glossing over it.

Value: Many of us are inclined to critique others, especially when they are not like us. Since there are about 7.3 billion people in the world, this is an inherently flawed approach. We have generational differences, gender differences, personality differences and dozens of different differences! While there are most certainly things that are morally right and wrong, good and bad, better and worse, many of us confuse our likeness as the standard. It is far wiser to look for the beauty in those differences.

Savor people like a fine wine. Just like fine wine, I am told, people are complex. There is much to enjoy about them if you take the time to dwell on their fine qualities.

The great thing about SUVS is that you can’t give it just at the Christmas party or just on Employee Appreciation Day.  It takes time to See, Understand, Value and Savor people, and when you do gratitude will flow naturally from you. Hopefully, you will be able express it in a Language of Appreciation that people understand!

The Zombie Chronicles

In my last post I shared four things you can do to create a zombie workforce. If you have a tribe of zombies but would rather have a team of zealots, this post is for you. Never fear; it can be done – there are a few things you can do to transform the most listless employees into motivated, engaged employees. But I warn you, patience is required since the transition back to life can take a while.

Part 2: From Zombies to Zealots


Promote Emotionally Intelligent People into Leadership

Leadership is all about influencing people. To do that you must first master your own demons and have empathy for other people. With that strong foundation a person is able to motivate him/herself as well as navigate the turbulent waters of others’ emotions and the politics of moving teams. Spotting emotionally intelligent people in your organization isn’t usually difficult. Here are a few signs of such people. They:

  • express their feelings – productively,
  • recover from let-downs relatively quickly,
  • listen intently to others,
  • attract people to themselves,
  • confront conflict directly,
  • find ways to use talents, and.
  • are adaptable.

Spotting emotionally intelligent job applicants is more difficult, but it can be done with the aid of well-structured job interviews combined with personality assessments. Though this requires support from a professional, the return on your investment is well worth the up-front cost.

Drive Progress

Nothing motivates a person as much as achieving something worthwhile, and sometimes anything whatsoever can be good enough to make a person’s day!  Sports fans know this:  a big play can ignite a team with a fresh “zealotry” and turn a certain defeat into victory. The keys to progress are:

  • a clear goal,
  • a clear path for achieving the goal,
  • competence, and
  • persistence.

Emotionally intelligent leaders know that progress is sometimes a matter of perspective and that persistence can be manufactured. Saying “we are already one-quarter there” encourages whereas saying “we have a long way to go” overwhelms. Strategies for persistence can be taught, and rewarding people for small accomplishments keeps them chugging along. No one can jump over a tall building in a single bound, but most everyone can walk to the top (and back) step by step. The emotionally intelligent leader encourages people to take one step at a time and cheers when they complete each flight of stairs.

Make Work Meaningful

Live people have a relentless desire to matter – to do things that make a difference to others.

Zealots will tell you that they are doing important work – work that helps people, creates value, and contributes to society. But they don’t stop there. Zealots will also tell you how they are using their talents, how they are challenged to solve problems, and how they are learning. Cynics will tell you that you have to hire people like this and that you can’t manufacture them, but they are wrong.

It’s the leader’s responsibility to design jobs that challenge people and to continually communicate the importance of each person’s role. It’s true: many jobs can become mundane over time. Knowing this, some wise leaders at GE introduced manufacturing employees to their customers and showed them the ultimate outcome of their labor. Without realizing the meaning of their work, people easily succumb to the daily trials it entails. They also lose focus, make poor decisions, and their energy seeps out of them. Finally, quality fails to remain important when people do not see the purpose in their work.


Feedback has the power to give people much of what they need to thrive. It’s the breakfast of champions. In fact, it has so many essential vitamins that it alone may have the power to transform a zombie into a zealot. The power comes from communicating:

  • what actually matters to you,
  • how to perform successfully,
  • that you care about the person’s success,
  • interest and approval, and
  • connection.

Silence communicates just the opposite. It’s not necessary for leaders to provide all of the feedback a healthy zealot needs. Instead, the leader’s job is to ensure the zealot gets what he needs. This is done by building feedback loops into the workflow so people get timely feedback on the outcomes of their efforts. These days, surgeons monitor patients’ vital signs as they operate, but that wasn’t always the case. As a result of the timely feedback surgeons get, more patients stick around to express their approval to surgeons for a job well done. That’s a good thing because I am sure surgeons prefer zealous recommendations to raids by vengeful zombies.


I am continually changing the TV channel to protect my children from images of horrifying zombies. If you share my aversion, perhaps we could work together to grow the population of zealots. It’s not complicated work, but it does take a measure of courage and mindfulness to promote emotionally intelligent leaders, drive progress, make work meaningful, and give people useful feedback. Will you join me in this effort?

Executive Intent – C.A.P.E.S

Disappointing Results

Leaders know how frustrating it can be when team members fail to follow what seem to be simple directions to complete a task.  It’s tempting to attribute the glitch on the staff member, but wisdom instructs leaders to rethink this notion.  Instead the leader should consider whether the source of the problem might be his/her leader’s failure to communicate their purpose.  “Purpose” tells people how to interpret orders, execute procedures, solve problems, resolve conflicts, and overcome unexpected challenges; it informs their judgment and allows them to improvise.  “Purpose” is also the power behind initiative, goal setting, and perseverance.  So it is always wise to communicate the purpose of a task or project when you assign it.

One way to ensure that you communicate your purpose is to use the C.A.P.E .S. acronym as a guide whenever you assign work.


Describe the situation, events, and conditions that are calling for action at this time.


Briefly tell the person what you want them to do.  Concisely provide an amount of detail that matches their expertise.  Include information on timelines, resources, and scope boundaries as well.


Describe why you want this work done, including goals, outcomes, and what is important about the work.  Sometimes it can be important to use contrasting, which is telling the person what outcomes you do and do not intend to result.

Explain what you know:

Tell the person what to look out for, such as challenges they might face, problems that could arise, sensitive issues, and touchy stakeholders.

Solicit Feedback:

Invite the person to probe for more information. Converse with the person until they are clear about the “whats” and “whys” of the assignment.

© Credo Consulting, June 2012





Feedback, The Breakfast of Champions

The other night I watched two teenage sisters shine. They shined so brightly that their audience beamed with pride at their character and accomplishment. The girls volunteered to make a presentation and be coached in front of roughly fifty adults at a meeting of the Institute for Cultural Communicators (ICC). After diligent preparation and no small amount of creative labor, the girls stood in front of their audience ready to deliver their performance. What happened next reminded me of a paper my wife wrote entitled “Feedback: The Breakfast of Champions.” The girls confidently delivered their presentation. Then they consumed enough “breakfast” for a team of champions. Again and again they performed and consumed, performed and consumed. It was beautiful– and so were they.

With each cycle their presentation improved. The girls listened carefully and graciously, though it was no doubt trying to be jostled around by such direct feedback– don’t do that, try this, now this… In the end, the performance was greatly improved and so was, I believe, the audience. We, the audience, witnessed two young ladies gracefully accept and respond to a public critique of something they personally created and performed. The contrast with the adult workplace was glaring, at least to me.

As I reflect on the contrast and draw on my years of experience, here is what I see.

ICC Workplace
Interdependence Autonomy
Feedback is expected and wanted by both parties Feedback is threatening to both parties
Feedback is essential to the process Feedback is an exception to the process
Critics are viewed as partners Critics are viewed as rivals
Accepting feedback is sign of character Accepting feedback is sign of weakness

I doubt that these girls have always taken feedback so well.  Most people don’t.  But I am pretty sure I know how they got to this point:  Their goal is to improve, and their learning process is collaborative. Twice a month they gather with other students and adults to work on their communication skills.  In those sessions they routinely give and get feedback just like breathing– in and out, give and get—and the results are exceptional.

…I wonder what would happen if adults in the workplace did the same thing

Failure Management, Sick Care, and Ray Lewis

Recently, I have been interviewing physicians about their practices, their professions, and their so-called lives. With all the changes in healthcare, many docs are finding it hard to navigate the emerging business models while caring for their patients and prospering financially. There is a lot to it. But when I ask, “What are the three most important problems they would like to solve?”, this is what comes up:

Dealing with Poor Performance and Difficult Behavior in the Workplace

It just isn’t covered in medical school.

Well, if you are a doctor, you can relax a bit. You have a lot of good company. Although performance management is covered in business management programs, most managers are poorly prepared for these same challenges. So I thought I would share the single most common mistake people make in managing performance in healthcare and other business settings. No kidding, this is THE SINGLE MOST COMMON MISTAKE as of  11:01 a.m. on October 3, 2011. It’s all proven 100%.

Failing to focus on performance

Sunday, aka football day in the fall, has just passed. All week, 32 teams with 1,760 players, 590 coaches, and numerous ancillary staff thought, trained, and practiced in order to perform at their peak on Sunday afternoon. All week, performance was their single focus; it is all they talked about. Regardless of the outcomes of yesterday’s games, (the Ravens won, but the Eagles didn’t!) there is no denying that these people consistently perform at high levels.  

Wherever we see excellence, performance is the focus of the people in the organization. Managers and staff think about it, they plan it, they talk about it, and they rehearse it. When things go well, they notice it and talk about why it went that way. When things don’t go well, they notice it and talk about why they didn’t go that way. And it’s not just “managers” who are talking about it. It is everyone, because it is everyone’s goal. They work together on it all week. When someone screws up, colleagues on peak performing teams talk directly with the person about it without hesitation or worrying that it is “not my place.”

In recent years my doctor has begun talking about healthcare in a new way. He has been talking about “health care” versus “sick care.”  Our nation is burdened by sicknesses created by the failure to create health. For years medicine has focused on curing sickness versus creating and sustaining health. So what do we have? We have a country plagued with diseases created by destructive life habits. Somehow we have expected health without doing the work to create and sustain it. Managers make the same mistake in their organizations. They expect performance without doing the work to nurture, create, and sustain it. If I only had a nickel for every time a manager said to me, “You’d think they would know how to do this!”  

Did Ray Lewis become a 16-year-star automatically? No, he studies, trains, and coaches other players all week on how to perform with excellence. He works hard at creating high performance rather than expecting that it will happen on its own.  

So what does it take to create high performance in your workplace?

  1. Define what high performance looks like for every role, for every task, and for the business as whole. (Leaders have the responsibility to do this but are wise to do it collaboratively with staff.)
  2. Spend time and effort figuring out what it actually takes to perform in your environment.
  3. Measure performance and talk about how you are hitting, exceeding, and falling short of the mark on a regular basis.
  4. Talk about performance and how to get there continuously, like you would talk about the weather, your weekend, and where to eat for lunch. This is relatively easy to do when you have defined what is needed, set clear standards for success, and talked about what it takes to get there. But it is hard to do if you just expect it without defining it or communicating about it.
  5. Refine, adjust, and learn along the way.

Even if you are not the “person in charge,” you can do these things to create high performance in your workplace. Ray Lewis started with himself, then started talking with his peers and coaches about what he was doing to excel. My doctor is talking with his patients about caring for their health rather than managing sickness. What is keeping you from doing the same?