Tag: Leaders

Simple Steps to Reduce Quiet Quitting in 2024

To reduce quiet quitting at workplace, provide clear performance expectations, encourage autonomy, have fewer meetings, communicate, connect, and engage your workforce.

Quiet quitting is not new. It’s just gotten more press in the past few years. More than a decade ago, I recommended that a leader invest in the development of his team to improve engagement and collaboration to achieve better results. 

“But what if I develop them and they leave?” he asked.

“What if you don’t develop them and they stay?” I replied. Which of course I said in my most supportive coaching voice. (I used my “inside-the-head” voice for the eye roll.)

Below, you’re going to read a number of statistics, causes, and ideas to reduce quiet quitting. All of it is good information, and all of it is stuff you already know. So, if we already know all this, why does quiet quitting continue to stay on our Top 10 list of people concerns? Really, I’m asking. Why?

If I had to guess, I’d say that we often look for tactical solutions but forget how to engage the “people” at the center of those concerns. We talk about employees, managers, and leaders, but all of them are people. What would it mean for each of us, every day, to engage with every individual we encounter as a person? This may sound fluffy, but it’s not. What does each person need to be their best and to do their best work? 

Let’s flip the question on its head for a moment. Instead of a person, let’s talk about a car. (Humor me.) What does a car need to operate at its best and to do its best work? The car needs gas, oil, and regular maintenance. Unless it’s an electric car, then it has other needs (just like different people do). Let’s assume our car is gas-powered. It’s a great car with a great engine and great potential. Which is all great. But what if I decide I don’t have time to fill the car with gas or change the brake pads, and I don’t understand why I need to change the oil, so I don’t? I’ve also ignored the “Check Engine” light burning brightly on my dashboard for months. Who cares? It’s just light, right? But eventually, my lack of attention and investment in my car are going to cause problems. However, my car is not going to quit quietly. Instead, I run out of gas, my battery dies, my brakes fail, and my engine seizes. All of which leave me stranded on the side of the road in the middle of the desert with only vultures for company.

It’s much easier to pay attention when quitting is loud and obvious, rather than quiet. What does a person need to be their best and to do their best work? There’s no manual for how people operate, but we have some good ideas, many of which you’ll find below. So, let’s review what we already know.

The Stats

Did you know that only one in three workers is fully engaged at work today?  Quiet quitters still make up half of the workforce, as they have for several years.  

A pair of Gallup reports, released in 2022 and 2024, summarize the situation:  

In its 2022 report, Gallup found that 32% of employees were “actively engaged” at work, while 18% were “actively disengaged,” (so-called “loud quitters”), and 50% were simply “not engaged” (the “quiet quitters”).

In the most recent report, released in January 2024, the results were very similar, with 33% of employees “actively engaged,” 16% “actively disengaged,” and at least 50% “not engaged.”

What is Quiet Quitting?

“Quiet quitting” refers to making the minimum effort to stay employed.  Broadly speaking, “quiet quitters” are employees who aren’t engaged at work, but aren’t actively looking for a new job. 

As a post-pandemic phenomenon rooted in lack of engagement, quiet quitting arose in tandem with the Great Resignation.  It increased sharply in the second half of 2021, according to Gallup. It remains a challenge today, but organizations can take simple, practical steps to reduce it.

Causes of quiet quitting

Workplace disruptions

Quiet quitting can be broadly traced to the effects of the pandemic.  Here are some contributing factors:

The Great Resignation was a major contributor to quiet quitting, according to a study reported in Forbes. The Great Resignation placed extra burdens on most of the employees who stayed. It caused organizations to restructure, breaking up teams and putting people in unfamiliar environments.  Not surprisingly, engagement suffered and quiet quitting rose.

Another pandemic-related disruption has been the rise of remote and hybrid work. Many organizations have yet to adapt.  According to Gallup, most managers reported having no formal training to lead a hybrid team. 

Without adequate management, the “new normal” of hybrid work has led to lower levels of engagement and more quiet quitting.

Unclear workplace expectations 

Many employees simply don’t know what they should be working on.  They report a lack of guidance on priorities, deadlines, and organizational goals.  Remote and hybrid workers are twice as likely as in-house workers to say they don’t receive enough guidance. Unclear expectations have been another cause of quiet quitting, according to both Gallup and Forbes.  

Lack of personal connection

 According to Gallup, employees are less likely than before the pandemic to say that “someone cares about them as a person” at work.  This lack of personal connection to the workplace leads to quiet quitting. 

Taking steps to reduce quiet quitting

The good news is that, although “quiet quitters” are not engaged, they are not beyond reach.  

Here are a few simple steps organizations can take to motivate quiet quitters to be more engaged at work.  

Have one conversation per week

This surprisingly simple suggestion comes from the 2024 Gallup report.  It is cited as the single most important step leaders can take to combat quiet quitting.  Spending 15 to 30 minutes per week speaking with each team member has several benefits: 

  • Making sure employees know what is expected of them, including clear priorities, deadlines, and organizational goals.  
  • Checking in with employees who may be struggling or showing signs of becoming disengaged. 
  • Making personal connections to reduce the feeling that “no one cares.”  

Avoid unnecessary meetings

This should be a no-brainer, but reporting in Forbes shows otherwise.  Too many organizations are scheduling ever more meetings to cope with post-pandemic changes. The results have been predictably negative.  

Employees feel micromanaged.  They report lower productivity, with some losing one-quarter to one-half of the workday to meetings.  And despite the time spent, employees feel no more informed about workplace expectations. 

The simple solution is to schedule fewer meetings, with fewer participants.  Avoid “all hands” meetings unless absolutely necessary.  Have conversations instead!

Encourage Autonomy

Encouraging autonomy and showing flexibility is another way to reduce quiet quitting, according to Psychology Today. Increased autonomy promotes feelings of being trusted and valued, rather than being micromanaged. 

Once the organization has made its expectations clear, let individuals decide how they will achieve their goals, as much as possible.  Be flexible in accommodating different working styles so each individual can realize his or her full potential.

The above steps are simple on paper, but harder to implement, especially if we approach fixing our culture and engagement like we would a car, rather than interacting with people. We need to invest time and attention in our people to understand what will help them to be at their best to do their best work. Quiet quitting is our Check Engine light. It’s a good indication that something’s not working, and the light has been flashing on our dashboard for decades. So, what are we going to do about it?

If you would like more information about employee engagement and quiet quitting, please contact us. 

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Rachel Burr is an executive and leadership coach with over 20 years of experience working with CEOs and the C-suite across all industries, in organizations of from 20 to 10,000 employees. Rachel holds dual master’s degrees in Organization Development and Clinical Psychology, and numerous certifications in the field of executive coaching. Rachel is a “people expert” who works with clients to unleash their leadership potential.

Reskilling:  Changing Roles for a Changing World

Reskilling is the process of preparing an existing workforce for new and different roles as the result of market changes and technology. Profound changes in the future of work, combined with a labor shortage, make reskilling a strategic imperative for large and small organizations alike.

Reskilling and upskilling are critical in a changing world

Upskilling and reskilling are more than trendy buzzwords.  They describe efforts to develop workforce skills in an era of technological transformation and demographic change.

In the previous blog, we looked at “upskilling,” the process of continuously upgrading employee skills in existing positions.  In this blog, we’ll consider “reskilling,” the process of preparing employees for different roles within an organization.

The world of work is changing

The World Economic Forum and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation predict that 1.1 billion jobs will be “radically transformed by technology” by the year 2030. The change will require intensive upskilling and reskilling to keep pace.  Despite the challenge, the WEF predicts that the combined effects of upskilling, reskilling, and improvements in early education could add $9 trillion to global GDP in this decade. 

The labor market is changing

The labor market is also forcing organizations to take reskilling and upskilling seriously. 

The U.S. unemployment rate was just 3.7% in November 2023, near historic lows.  According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, even if every unemployed person in the U.S. found work, the economy would still face a shortfall of 3 million workers. 

Long term demographic trends reveal an aging U.S. workforce whose growth has been slowing for decades.  In parts of Europe and East Asia, population decline has already begun.  The workforce of the future is likely to be smaller, in other words.  

Organizations can no longer expect to “hire” their way to success.  Instead, they must take steps to retain, upskill, and reskill the existing workforce.

Let’s next consider some of the steps to be taken in any successful reskilling effort. 

Identify Outmoded Positions and Skills Gaps to be Addressed

As was true of upskilling, the first step to a successful reskilling effort is to survey the organization’s needs. 

Identify the positions.  As a first step, the organization must look for positions becoming obsolete due to marketplace changes or advances in technology.  The organization should then look for areas where it wants to grow or where it has identified skills gaps. 

Identify the skills.  The next step is to identify the skills needed for success in the new positions.  The World Economic Forum and others have developed skills taxonomies to make the process more systematic.  Using such systems can help identify employees with related skills who may be a good fit for new positions.  

Identify the employees.  One under-appreciated challenge is to convince employees to undertake reskilling at all.  Organizations should recognize that reskilling can disrupt the lives of employees.  Resistance to change should be expected.

Organizations can manage that resistance by being open and transparent. Presenting clear career paths and training goals is key to improving results.

Design the reskilling effort to maximize success

Another key to success is giving proper attention to the process of reskilling.  

Choose appropriate reskilling methods.  For example, many adult learners prefer a “hands-on,” experiential approach to learning.  Practical training in the form of mentoring, internal apprenticeships, and “job shadowing” is often the most effective.

In other cases, online courses or webinars may be appropriate.  These should be easily digestible in short segments, typically an hour or less.  Lunchtime seminars are another way to fit learning into the workday.

Finally, some technical specialties may require certifications or the completion of degrees.  Some organizations, including Amazon, have programs to pre-pay or reimburse tuition and other educational expenses. They also provide time off for study and exam periods.

Involve all levels of management in the reskilling effort.  Having the support of C-suite leaders and upper level management is critical to success.  But still more is needed. 

The benefits of reskilling should be made clear to the middle managers and first line supervisors who implement it.  Too often these individuals bear the burdens of reskilling without reaping the benefits.  

One solution is to make employee development a part of the performance goals of all managers and supervisors.  Done properly, such goals can help instill a culture of development and provide incentives for participation. 

Meeting the future

The future of work is changing and so is the workforce.  Organizations need to adapt to the transformational changes already underway if they are to survive and thrive.  That means making the most of the existing workforce through upskilling and reskilling, to ensure that people have the tools they need to meet the challenges of tomorrow. 

Please contact us if you would like more information about reskilling, upskilling, and employee development.  

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Rachel Burr is an executive and leadership coach with over 20 years of experience working with CEOs and the C-suite across all industries, in organizations of from 20 to 10,000 employees. Rachel holds dual master’s degrees in Organization Development and Clinical Psychology, and numerous certifications in the field of executive coaching. Rachel is a “people expert” who works with clients to unleash their leadership potential.

Using Organizational Development to Create Effective Change

Organizational development goes through these phases: identify a specific problem, solve the problem with change, assess progress, and reset organizational culture, says Rachel Burr, Catamentum leadership Coaching.

Organizational Development is a systematic method of creating effective institutional change.  It relies on open communication with stakeholders (which can include managers and employees, suppliers and clients) and effective feedback to:

  • Identify a specific problem;
  • Effect changes to address the problem; 
  • Assess progress; and,
  • Reset organizational culture to the “new normal.”

Impetus for organizational change comes from changes in strategy by top leaders, when leaders need to steer the organization in a particular direction, they will need active involvement by stakeholders at different levels. Individuals who are active in the process of change are more likely to adopt it. 

Change Agents Lead the Way

Organization Development operates through “change agents” – Change agents can be leaders within an organization. Other times, leaders partner with OD consultants who bring their expertise to help leaders create and sustain change. They work with individuals and teams to identify both the problems and possible solutions, and make change happen.

Once the desired outcomes for changes are identified, change agents often begin the process through structured activities, such as workshops, surveys, or interviews, which are designed to gather information and collect feedback as the process unfolds.  Another big part of the change agent’s role is to coordinate communication so the reasons for change, and the benefits of change, are well understood. 

The communication itself needs to come from leaders. An OD consultant can help leaders design a plan for communication, including timing and messaging to different stakeholders. They may even help draft communications for the leader, but it is important the leaders themselves communicate to ensure these communications have the necessary weight and importance.

The Change Management Model – Three Steps to Change

A clear and concise way of viewing organization development is through the Change Management Model originated by Kurt Lewin, a pioneer in the field.  According to Lewin, successful change occurs in three phases , which he labeled:

  • Unfreezing;
  • Transition; and,
  • Refreezing.

Let’s explore the three steps individually, keeping in mind that there will be overlap among them. 

Unfreezing – Preparing for Change

Unfreezing is the planning stage, in which leaders and those assisting leaders with organizational changes gather information to identify the problem and its cause.  As noted above, the process may include structured activities or workshops, as well as surveys and interviews, to get stakeholders actively involved. 

The objective is to help people understand why the changes are happening, how these changes will impact the work, what the challenges might be, and how to navigate those challenges.

The leader is the owner for the change(s), even though some of the implementation work can be delegated to others, the leader owns both the responsibility and the results. 

Transition – Making the Change

Once the organization is “unfrozen” and ready for change, it’s time for action.  The organization undertakes the planned course of action, often called interventions

Interventions can take any number of forms, and may impact individuals, groups, or the organization as a whole.  

An individual intervention may call for training or coaching, either due to a new role or a performance issue.  A group intervention may involve team building exercises or workshops to develop new ways of collaborating.  Finally, an organization intervention may involve restructuring or strategic changes that affect everyone.  Such major changes will be unique to each organization. 

Transition is the most difficult stage.  Even with maximum involvement and understanding, some individuals will resist adopting new ways of working.  Leaders must communicate – clearly and consistently – the need for, and benefits of, change, and they must be prepared to help the organization navigate the resistance. 

The change agent has a dual role at this stage:  Supporting leaders in their communications, while also monitoring the impact of change.  The second part of that role reflects the need to continue getting feedback, assessing effectiveness, and making adjustments if needed. 

Refreezing – Establishing a “New Normal”

Once the hurdles of the transition stage have been overcome and the results assessed, the organization needs to reset its culture around the new ways of working.  The refreezing stage is intended to reinforce and ground changes in the organization to avoid falling back into old patterns. 

Leaders must set the tone and lead by example, becoming role models for change.  Leaders must understand where flexibility will be necessary: giving individuals time to adapt, preparing for the inevitable resistance, and providing other support as needed.  The goal is to ensure the organization successfully embraces change as a new way of doing business. 

If you would like to learn more about organizational development, or if you want to leverage Catamentum’s OD expertise, please contact us.

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Rachel Burr is an executive and leadership coach with over 20 years of experience working with CEOs and the C-suite across all industries, in organizations of from 20 to 10,000 employees. Rachel holds dual master’s degrees in Organization Development and Clinical Psychology, and numerous certifications in the field of executive coaching. Rachel is a “people expert” who works with clients to unleash their leadership potential.

Boosting Employee Morale is Good Business

Ways to boost employee morale include giving employees autonomy, recognition, appreciation, avoiding burnout, respecting work-life boundaries, etc., per Catamentum leadership coach Rachel Burr.

Happiness and fulfillment is what we all want, in life and at work.   Work forms a big part of our individual identities – our sense of who we are and what we contribute to the world. Work is also an important source of social contact. 

Being happy at work is good for business too. 

Research consistently shows that high employee morale is associated with higher revenue and profitability. High employee morale is also associated with higher productivity and lower use of sick time.

This article will consider three simple strategies to boost employee morale to create a happier, more productive workforce and  increase your organization’s bottom line.

Increase Employee Morale by Fostering Autonomy and Agency

People generally like to feel a sense of being in control of their lives and destinies, not a powerless bystander.  A simple way to boost employee morale, then, is to provide opportunities for employees to exercise autonomy and agency in the workplace.

Autonomy and agency can take many forms.  The American Psychological Association suggests several simple steps, such as

·         Giving employees some control over their schedules and working hours;

·         Allowing employees to manage how assigned tasks are accomplished; and,

·         Giving employees a voice in decisions that affect them.

Another important way is to allow employees to use their natural strengths and talents at work.  An easy way to find out what captures an employee’s passion and interest is by having a conversation.  The next step is to support that passion and interest with career development and training, as needed. 

Recognition, Appreciation, and Pitfalls Thereof

As the Harvard Business Review points out, recognition and appreciation are very different animals.  Both can be beneficial.  Each offers a different way to connect with employees to boost morale.

Employee recognition is essentially transactional.  It rewards a job well done, a goal achieved, or a milestone met.  The reward may be financial but not necessarily so. 

Employee appreciation is the acknowledgement of a person’s inherent value, regardless of goals or milestones achieved.  It can be formal or informal, public or private, according to the circumstances.  It can be as simple as remembering a person’s birthday or giving a note of thanks. 

Celebrating both outstanding performance and inherent value provides the organization with more ways to reach out and interact with employees – to show them you care.  As Maya Angelou says, that’s what they’ll remember.

Paradoxically, some studies have shown that financial incentives can backfire as a reward for performance.  For example, an analysis by the London School of Economics found that financial incentives can reduce an employee’s natural desire to complete tasks, and the pleasure they feel in doing so.  

An article by the American Psychological Association also found that competition to achieve unrealistic performance goals can lead to cynicism and disengagement. 

While we like to receive financial rewards, organizations should handle them with care.

Addressing Employee Morale by Dealing with Structural Issues Leading to Burnout

Organizations have been hit with a number of challenges over the past several years.  We’ve been through the COVID lockdown, the “work-from-home” and “return-to-the-office” disruptions, and now a tight labor market. 

These stressors and disruptions can lead to exhaustion and burnout among employees – which requires a look at deeper, structural issues, with people strategies. The Harvard Business Review emphasizes the effect on middle managers, but any employee can feel the burden of being stretched too thin. 

When demand on employees outstrips their resources, here are some steps to take:

·         Re-assessing the work assigned – ask whether each employee has the resources to keep up;

·         Re-prioritizing the work – make a list of the top three priorities and consider removing outdated issues, or putting them on the back burner;

·         Re-distributing the work – ensure that the burden is equally shared and that no individual is bearing more than their share.  If budgets allow, consider bringing in outside help, whether temporarily or permanently.

Respecting work-life boundaries

Another issue is to look at working culture and working boundaries.  If the work intrudes on employees’ personal lives, it can add to stress and contribute to burnout.  Consider reinforcing the boundaries between working life and personal life. 

For example, implement a “no email on the weekends” rule to make sure employees get some real downtime to recharge.  Another possibility is to make vacation time mandatory.  If vacation is required, employees may feel less inclined to skip taking time off because they’re “too busy.” 

These are just some of the ways organizations can build employee morale for the good of both their employees and their bottom lines.  The key is communication.  If you would like more ideas to keep your employees motivated and engaged, please reach out.

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Rachel Burr is an executive and leadership coach with over 20 years of experience working with CEOs and the C-suite across all industries, in organizations of from 20 to 10,000 employees. Rachel holds dual master’s degrees in Organization Development and Clinical Psychology, and numerous certifications in the field of executive coaching. Rachel is a “people expert” who works with clients to unleash their leadership potential.

Click here to book an appointment.

Use Executive Coaching to Tap Into Your “People Power”

Executive coaching by Rachel Burr, Catamentum Leadership Coach, empowers individual leaders, teams, and organizations with people skills.

In these often challenging times, leaders and executives may wonder how to motivate and empower their employees.  They want to improve employee engagement, encourage employees to take ownership, and help drive the organization’s success.  Leaders want the best for and from their teams, but achieving that goal can be challenging.

Surveys show that employees want both greater empowerment and support from leadership. 

According to a 2008 study by Google, employees said two of the most important qualities/skills in a manager were (1) being a good coach, and (2) empowering their team, rather than micromanaging. 

In 2020 Gallup surveyed 1.2 million employees from nearly 50,000 businesses across 45 countries to understand what employees wanted from their managers. First and foremost, employees said the best managers are coaches. The Gallup survey found the best managers: (1) focus on team engagement, (2) leverage the unique talents of each employee, and (3) set clear expectations and goals.  One big takeaway from the survey is that “The best managers talk to their employees and teams.  A lot.”  In other words, people skills are invaluable. 

The question is how to turn the reciprocal wants and needs of both leadership and employees into shared success. 

Executive Coaching Empowers Leaders with Functional Skills and People Skills

Good leaders develop their skills overtime, both through experience and by leveraging resources.  Executive coaching is a key resource that can be a catalyst to enhance leadership, both through developing functional skills and people skills.

A newly promoted leader, or a newly onboarded executive, may have outstanding talent and drive.  Managers may be promoted for their extraordinary technical skills and capabilities.  Nevertheless, if leaders and managers lack the necessary people skills, they will struggle in their new roles.   

In these situations, executive coaching helps leaders and managers close the gaps.  Coaching helps a leader navigate the challenges of a new role, or helps established leaders navigate ongoing challenges, particularly related to people management, mindset, emotional intelligence (EQ), and skill development.

While executive coaches don’t have all the answers, they are trained to ask good questions and guide leaders through their development process.  

People Skills Can Transform Leaders and Organizations

As the Google and Gallup surveys suggest, going beyond functional skills requires excellent communication and people skills.  A leader may have superb functional skills and business sense, and may have achieved considerable success, without mastering people skills.  To reach the next level, even successful leaders may need to scale up.

Developing better people skills can be as simple as learning to listen and giving constructive feedback.  It can encompass examining mindsets, developing greater emotional intelligence, and nurturing connections among employees and teams across the organization.  

When blind spots and limiting mindsets come up, executive coaching can lead to a process of self-discovery and transformation.  Personal transformation can translate to organizational transformation, and form the building blocks for the next level of success across the organization.

Leaders who Learn People Skills Help Themselves, Their Teams, and Their Organizations

When leaders develop the skills and traits to empower those around them, everyone wins.  Leadership is a team sport.  Successful leaders ultimately serve their teams and work toward a shared goal. In short, leaders who learn people skills help themselves, their teams, and their organizations.  

Rachel Burr is an executive and leadership coach with over 20 years of experience working with CEOs and the C-suite across all industries, in organizations of from 20 to 10,000 employees.  Rachel holds dual master’s degrees in Organization Development and Clinical Psychology, as well as numerous certifications in the field of executive coaching.  Rachel is a “people expert” who works with clients to unleash their leadership potential.To book an appointment visit:  https://catamentum.com.

PICA Member Spotlight of Rachel Burr

The following is an interview of Rachel Burr by PICA, Professional Independent Consultants of America.

Q&A with Rachel Burr of Catamentum Leadership Coaching & Consulting on creating the consulting career of her dreams, and how to “Catalyze Momentum”.

PICA Member Spotlight of Rachel Burr of Catamentum Coaching & Consulting on creating the consulting career of her dreams, and how to “Catalyze Momentum”.

https://www.successfulindependentconsulting.com/rachel-burr-spotlight

Q: Please introduce yourself and tell us about your business.

A: My name is Rachel Burr, and my company is Catamentum Coaching and Consulting (“Catalyze Momentum”). When we Catalyze Momentum, we can Unleash Potential. I’m an executive coach, leadership development consultant, and overall “people expert.” A big part of what I do is to help leaders step into their authentic potential. The way I see it, a lot of leaders may feel forced into a cookie cutter of leadership, either by what they think leadership is supposed to be or what they see modeled around them. My consulting approach is focused on getting leaders to explore who they are at their core, including their strengths and weaknesses, their values, and what they want to do as a leader. Then we look how they bring that core to their current role or the role they’d like to have. 

Q: Do you do a blend of coaching and consulting work or primarily just the coaching?

A: I do both. I do individual leadership coaching, I work with teams, and I facilitate tailored workshops. I also work with executives as a thought partner. I help them think through their people strategies, challenges, and opportunities.  Leaders will often have ideas and questions about their people and overall organization, but they may not be sure how to put these ideas into action. Leaders may not yet be ready to talk about these ideas with their boss, and it may not be appropriate at that point to talk with their team. I help leaders unpack their ideas and examine their options so they can make better decisions. 

Q: How long have you been independent now?

A: Four years, but it seems like so much has happened.

Q: How did you make the leap to independent consulting? 

A: It’s funny because I resigned from my corporate job without knowing what I was going to do next. There were a lot of things I appreciated about corporate, but I was also spending a lot of time on things that weren’t really leveraging my talents. I was comfortable but not happy. I’m a big believer that we have to make ourselves uncomfortable to catalyze change.  So, I quit.

I left not knowing what I was going to do, but I knew I wanted to explore the possibilities.  Granted, I had the benefit of my husband being very supportive, and having good health insurance. So, that made the leap into the unknown a little easier.

Initially, I stared to look at other corporate jobs. I wasn’t even thinking about consulting. I applied for a job, and I didn’t get it, which turned out to be a good thing. Then, I agreed to do an interview for a second corporate position, but it just didn’t feel right. A friend who had her own consulting business asked me why I didn’t try going independent. Then, she hired me to work on a small consulting project to help me “dip my toe in the water.” I remember the first day I met with the client. We were discussing their objectives and needs, the outcomes they wanted, and brainstorming ideas. I loved it!  30 minutes into our meeting, I thought, “Why have I never done this before?” That was it. I finished the project, and that summer, I started my own coaching and consulting company.

Q: What’s one thing you wish you would have done differently?

A: I would have asked for help earlier. I think when you go out on your own you feel like you have to do everything yourself. But you have people around you who are really good at what they do. They’re talented and they’ve got their own work that supports the business you want to grow. So, reach out. Build your village.

Q: Once you decided to really go for it how did you get your own clients?   

A: I had a number of strong relationships with people I had worked with and whom I greatly respected. The people I knew in HR, talent management, and consulting were natural conduits for connecting me with leaders to help them address needs in their organizations. One by one, I had people take a chance on me. I continued to build relationships, and as people get to know and trust you, building your business begins to come more naturally. It’s important to connect with folks in a way that’s genuine and authentic. Understand their pain points, what they are managing or struggling with, and figure out how you can help them.

Q: You make it sound very easy, Rachel. What’s your secret sauce?

A: It is not easy. There were so many times I was just overwhelmed because I had no idea how to run a business. Someone recently told me that you have to have a business plan before you jump in. I didn’t even know what a business plan was! I had moments that were these little highs from my wins. I also had moments of thinking I have no idea how I’m going to do this.

I specifically remember a friend of mine who had also decided to leave corporate. She left before I did, and I had been there to help her when she was figuring things out. After I had been out on my own for about six months, she called and said, “Hey, I’m going to this business accelerator program. Do you want to come with me?” I didn’t even know what that was.  We both signed up for the program, and as I went through it, I started to see all the things I didn’t realize. I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

I also remember being overwhelmed worrying about money, which is totally normal, but then you have to learn to invest in yourself to move forward and get to that next level. I remember calling my husband before I signed up for the program, because we are very good about making financial decisions together. I told him, “I really need help. I think this program could help me but it’s a lot of money.” I told him how much it cost. He was completely supportive and said, “If that’s what you need to do, that’s what you need to do.” I think it’s really important to tell people there’s no magic formula. Some days it was really a struggle and I wanted to give up. Those were the times I had to pick myself back up, reflect on what I learned, identify what I was going to do differently, and also identify those things I would never do again. I think it’s important to recognize that it’s going to be a journey.

Q: Four years in, what has changed or gotten easier?

A: One thing was that when I first started I had a really negative misconception of what it meant to sell my services. The word “sell” was a real hang up for me. I had this idea that I was pushing someone into something or getting them to do something that maybe they didn’t really want to do. After talking with a number of consultants, coaches, and other people I trusted and respected, I realized selling isn’t about pushing. It’s about listening, understanding a client’s challenges and pain points, and hearing what they want to achieve. Then, we can talk about how I can support them to address their problems. With that new mindset, my idea of selling shifted from feeling like a push to feeling like a partnership, and I love that.

Q:  What’s next for you and Catamentum Coaching & Consulting?

A: I love that I am continuing to figure out the kind of work I really want to do, that place where passion and talent intersect. I’m also figuring out what I don’t want to do. To say Yes to some things, you have to say No to others. We only get 24 hours in a day, so we have to figure out how to prioritize that time.

I want to expand my executive coaching and team coaching. I also love tailoring and facilitating workshops for teams and other groups. I’m not one to just pull something off the shelf. I want to adapt the approach to each group.

I also want to do more guesting on podcasts. I’m an extrovert at heart, so being able to get out there and talk with others about people, leadership, and unleashing our potential, that really fuels my passion.

Q: If people want to learn more about you and or what you do, what would be the best way to do that?

A: They can reach out on my website and of course I’m on LinkedIn.

Three Tricks to Managing Virtual Teams

Virtual teams’ management requires leadership to use people skills and communication technology to build trust, teamwork and relationships.

Leaders want to know the “tricks” to managing virtual teams. We want better tools, systems, and processes that will take groups of people spread around the country, or even the world, and transform them into well-oiled high-performing teams. Here’s the secret: There are no tricks or shortcuts to building a team (virtual or otherwise). Even with the best processes and technology, virtual teams are still made up of people who need to build relationships, create trust, and collaborate to be a successful team. I know the blog title was a little misleading (a clickbait and switch), but now that you’re here, let’s move beyond the illusion of “tricks” to real people-focused ways to address virtual challenges: build relationships, communicate as human beings, and optimize time together.

Build Relationships

We may respect titles or acquiesce to hierarchy, but we build a relationship with a person, the whole person. We’re often encouraged to separate our personal life from our work life, which is a lot like asking us to cut off our right arm to fit through the office door (and I don’t type well one-handed). When we bring our whole self and connect with someone else as a whole person, we find more in common, build better connections, and increase trust. As virtual teams, we don’t bump into each other in the halls, or at the coffeemaker, to help us build these connections more casually. Our interactions are more limited and more formal, occurring mostly during meetings and…well…more meetings.  

In a virtual team, we have to create opportunities to make more informal connections. It sounds ridiculous to work that hard to create “natural” interactions, but when we don’t plan and protect this time, our attention will be hijacked by some fire-of-the-moment, and what’s “urgent” will consume what’s “important.” So, how do we purposefully create opportunities for connection?  

Use Existing Meetings

Carve out time at the beginning of team meetings to connect as human beings: share what we did over the weekend, discuss a favorite hobby, or talk about anything other than work. We can also use virtual meeting tools to create smaller breakout groups for more intimate interactions, and then come back together to share important points or a new tidbit we learned about a teammate. 

Create Virtual Cafes

Meet 1:1 or in small groups for an online coffee break or happy hour. –Even if we work in different time zones, it’s 5 o’clock somewhere.

We need to build in those human moments to stay connected even when we’re thousands of miles apart. 

Communicate as Human Beings

Continuous communication over technology does not mean communication is clear or effective. It just provides a digital trail to prove messages were sent. I won’t call out specific tools because I might get sued, but you know the ones. The tools that allow us to constantly ping each other with emails, instant messages (IM), texts, etc.  What we often forget is that even when we use these tools, we still need to communicate with the brains of human beings. Ongoing distractions interrupt our concentration, limit our focus, and reduce productivity. We need to use the right tools in the right way:

Email

Email is best used to confirm information (that has already been discussed), and share information that is clear, concise, and not inflammatory. To make emails more effective try some of the following: Use the subject line as part of the message– “FYI,” “Response Requested,” “Action Required” or even “Action Required. Otherwise, will send X by Y date.” (That last one usually gets a response. Whether or not it’s a “good” response, depends on your audience). Call attention to due dates in emails by putting them in red. Keep emails short and summarize key points. Short emails take more time to write, but long emails take more time to read. So, if we want emails read, we should keep them short.

The above examples are focused more on US corporate cultures. We may need to adjust our approach to the team, company, or country cultures in which we operate. Regardless of the approach, our goal is to be effective.

IM

IM is good for a quick back and forth chat or to align schedules for a meeting. When either email or IM goes on too long, stop the thread. Summarize the text and identify next steps, or jump on a video conference to discuss. 

Video

Video is better than both email and IM when we want to communicate more complex ideas. Only about 25% of communication is made up of the words we use. The rest is tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language. That means text-based tools leave out 75% of our communication. So, we shouldn’t be surprised when our  meaning isn’t always clear.

Unplug

Technology tools are not just about sending information, but managing how and when we receive it. To improve our focus, we can block time on the calendar to turn off our email, IM, and phone. The book “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World” by Cal Newport offers great insights and tips to help us improve our concentration and get work done. If you are really struggling to focus, then stop reading this post, and go read Cal Newport’s book instead.

We can’t let technology dictate how we communicate. We need to use the tools in ways that will improve our communication. When we assume communication has been read and understood just because we click “Send,” that’s when things fall through the cracks (and often fall apart).

Optimize Time Together

The goal is to meet in person as often as schedules, pandemics, and fuel prices allow. Once face-to-face, we don’t want to squander our time, squeezing too much content into back-to-back meetings or doing work we could have done remotely. We want to use this precious in-person time to connect with each other and build stronger relationships. Of course, work has to get done, but spending time on people is also essential. When we know and trust each other, communication is easier, collaboration is more effective, and our work will be more productive long after the in-person meeting is over.

No Shortcuts to Building Teams

There are no magic “tricks” to leading virtual teams. Virtual or not, we work with people, and that requires focus, communication, and intentionally building relationships. When we align our approach with how people “work” (inside and out), our communication and collaboration will be more successful. No tricks required.

Owning Your Executive Presence

Executive presence is crucial to effective leadership. Aspiring leaders may reject developing executive presence if they view it as inauthentic or an attempt to become someone they’re not. This perspective could not be farther from the truth. Executive presence is the observable result of stepping into our strengths, owning our depth of experience, and valuing what we bring to leadership to instill trust and confidence in the people around us. 

How Do We Develop Executive Presence?

We develop and hone our executive presence by focusing on the fundamentals. Let’s break it down into three key components:

  • Mindset
  • Communicating Competence
  • Engagement with Others

Mindset

Mindset is how we think about ourselves, the world around us, and interactions between the two: Do we see ourselves as a leader? Do we believe we bring value to our role? Do we secretly believe we’re “faking it,” and fear others will discover we have no idea what we’re doing?  Mindset impacts our confidence, and our level of confidence impacts our executive presence.

Confidence is something we can develop. It comes through successes and failures when we learn from those experiences: “Wow, I did a great job, and here’s what contributed to that success…” or “Huh! That failure didn’t kill me…I wonder what else won’t kill me?” Confidence is built through engaging in the world and running toward something we want, rather than running away from what scares us (unless what scares you is a charging alligator. Then run, run like the wind!).  When we seek the intersection of experiences that both excite and scare us, that is where growth happens, and through that growth we build confidence.

Communicating Competence

Competence is also critical to executive presence and to our overall leadership. Even with a powerful mindset, we will not have an executive presence if people do not have confidence in our skills and abilities. However, it’s not just about having competence, but how we communicate that competence. Regardless of our personal style, there are deeper fundamentals we can leverage to communicate competence, both explicitly and implicitly.

Explicitly, we communicate competence through the ideas we bring to the table, how we respond to questions, and how we engage in discussions about the business, industry, etc. Implicitly, we communicate competence through our behavior and delivery. Physically, people who are calm and grounded appear more competent. They have a clear, concise message and tailor that message to their audience. Leaders with a strong executive presence do not appear easily flustered or overwhelmed. This is not to say they don’t sometimes feel those things, but there is a difference between our internal experience and our outward behavior. It’s the metaphor of a duck gliding serenely across the water while paddling like mad beneath the surface. This does not mean we should take an artificial “Fake it ‘til you make it” approach. Instead, author Timothy R. Clark encourages a more authentic, “Behave until you believe.” ( “The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety: Defining the Path to Inclusion and Innovation,” by Timothy R. Clark.)   When we breathe, slow down, and calm our mind, we help our inside experience begin to align with our outward behavior, and this allows us to improve how we communicate leadership. 

Engagement with Others

Executive presence is not a one-way communication. We also communicate competence and confidence by how we listen to people, ask good questions, and seek to understand the knowledge and perspectives of others. Executive presence does not mean we always need to have the right answer, be the smartest person in the room, or make all the decisions. Leadership is a team sport, a synergy between a leader who serves their people, and the people guided by that leader. Without synergy, leadership does not exist. An adage, often attributed to John C. Maxwell, says “If you think you’re a leader and you turn around and no one else is following you, then you’re simply out for a walk.” 

A Powerful Combination

Our executive presence is a combination of many factors, including internal mindset, communication of competence, and how we engage others. All these factors merge to create an executive presence that is unique to each of us. The most effective executive presence is not only achieved through our individual actions, but through the powerful interaction between us and the people around us. Our executive presence inspires others to have confidence in us as a leader, and that together we will achieve our goals.

Surprises Are for Parties, Not Performance Reviews

The dreaded annual performance reviews: Employees fear them, or at best are indifferent. Managers view them as check-the box HR processes to (begrudgingly) complete. Ultimately, it’s not even clear how useful the information really is. Why do we continue to torture ourselves?

Intention vs. Reality

Why do leaders require annual performance reviews? Humans are a superstitious lot. We often protect the traditions of our predecessors without questioning current relevance. The intention of annual reviews is to evaluate the performance of all employees against common metrics. Comparison of those metrics ostensibly determines raises, promotions, etc. It all sounds very logical, but this “fair-and-square” approach has a number of fatal flaws. Here are just a few–

  • Complex work is not easily quantifiable.
  • Not all managers give effective performance feedback.
  • Comparisons are not always meaningful.

Complex Work is Not Easily Quantifiable.  Frederick Taylor was an efficiency whiz kid of the Industrial Revolution. Revered in some circles, reviled in others, an “-ism” was named after him, “Taylorism.”  Taylorism evaluated performance by the efficiency of all the minute measurable aspects required to build a widget. If you couldn’t measure it, it didn’t matter. Taylorism strove to eliminate anything hindering efficiency, like thinking. Thinking was very bad for business; it distracted employees from the efficiency of predictable repetitive piecework. The value of employees was determined purely by the number of widgets/hour they produced. (Talk about a great place to work!)

Taylor died in 1915, but echoes of his “ism” linger. We measure what is most quantifiable, not necessarily what is most important regarding performance. Work today is far more complex. Rather than just efficiently following a process, the need to think, adjust, pivot, and innovate is critical. Efficiency is important, but efficiency and creativity are a balance. How do we capture that balance in a check-the-box performance review?

Not All Managers Give Effective Performance Feedback. Feedback is key to help people improve their performance and grow their career. Some managers are excellent at engaging their employees, providing regular feedback, and coaching people to help them grow. Other managers save up their big feedback discussions for annual performance reviews. Waiting until the end of the year to provide feedback is not helpful. First, feedback is most effective when given close to the time of a person’s actions. If we wait too long to give feedback, the impact of that feedback is lost, along with important details. Second, the year is long, memories are short, and time clouds our judgment. We are more likely to remember performance early in the year (primacy bias) and performance toward the end of the year (recency bias), but we forget a lot of that “in between stuff.” We also tend to remember BIG performance moments, especially when those big moments were BIG MISTAKES connected to strong negative emotions. When we only have feedback conversations once a year, performance factors that were at the beginning, the end, or were negative have a disproportionate impact on our overall assessment.

Comparisons Are Not Always Meaningful. Just because we can compare two things (or people), does not ensure the comparison will be meaningful. What does it mean to rank someone in marketing as a 5/5 on their performance review compared with someone in engineering, operations, finance, or HR? Does it mean–

  • They’re all doing equally well in their jobs at their respective levels? 
  • They’re all making an equal contribution to the success of the company? 
  • One or two of them demonstrated exceptional performance, while others did an “okay” job, but their managers gave them a 5/5 to avoid a difficult conversation? 

When the 5/5 data are fed into the ERP system, how does this problematic comparison distort impacts on salaries, bonuses, ESPs, and RSUs?  I haven’t the slightest idea. Have you?

Making Performance Feedback More Impactful 

How do we change our approach? I don’t have a perfect solution, but here are some places to start:

Summarize, Don’t Surprise. Communicate no new feedback during an annual performance review. The word “review” is meant to be a “summary” of performance discussions, feedback, and coaching throughout the year. If a manager hasn’t had these conversations, then the manager and employee need to talk about the lack of discussion and how together they can improve communication. 

Increase Frequency of Meaningful Feedback. Provide feedback early and often. Don’t wait for the annual performance summary. Make feedback meaningful. Specify the behaviors observed (e.g., actions, lack of actions, tone of voice, body language, etc.). Then, communicate specifics to the person about the impact of these behaviors.

Focus on the Humans in the Process. Too often we focus on getting the process “right” and getting it over with. We can easily forget the objective is to have conversations with human beings about performance. When we stop seeing people as human beings, and instead see them as performance widgets to be assessed via assembly line, that’s when people disconnect from the company machine and take their strengths and talents elsewhere. 

Is That Your Final Answer?

Should we revamp the annual performance “summary” or completely blow it up? I don’t know. What I do know is a check-the-box process for annual performance reviews is not effective. It’s long past time we step back, challenge traditions, and innovate a new approach that will enhance people’s growth and improve results.

What Makes Delegation So Difficult?

The art of delegation has never been more important. Organizations are larger, more complex, and have distributed workforces that span the globe. Individual leaders are not scalable, and that makes delegation essential.  So why is delegation still so challenging?

What gets in the way of delegation?

Three of the biggest challenges to effective delegation are time, trust, and history.

Time – VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity) no longer describes only short-term crises, it’s become a reality for doing business. To make effective decisions in a VUCA environment, employees need leaders to invest their time to–

  • Clarify their vision
  • Set expectations
  • Communicate their intent
  • Coach people to learn and adapt

Time is precious and leaders have very little to spare. However, the alternative to taking time is to delegate work by “throwing it over the wall,” without clear expectations or intent. Throwing work over the wall is a recipe for disastrous results, and it reinforces the bias: “It’s faster if I do it myself!” This reactive micromanagement is a great way to lose talented employees who won’t feel valued, and won’t see opportunities to grow.

Trust – Even with clarity, leaders may not trust people to execute to their standards. Ultimately, leaders are accountable for results, and when a leader’s neck is on the line, the impulse to “control” (vs. “coach”) easily rears its ugly head.

History – The old “What got you here, won’t get you there.”  Leaders often started out as talented individual contributors who were rewarded and promoted for their willingness to jump into action and swiftly solve problems. There’s no easy “off switch” for self-reliant behaviors. Just like there’s no easy “on switch” to immediately illuminate the “leadership light” that will refocus someone to coach and motivate others. We tend to hold on to what’s worked for us in the past, even when our role and environment have changed. It takes time, and often coaching, to help leaders make such a significant shift. 

What helps leaders delegate?

Build Trust – Leaders must invest their time and attention if they want to build trust with people.  We start by building a relationship with someone as a person, understanding their values, strengths, talents, and motivations. When we get to know the whole person, and they get to know us, it builds a deeper foundation for everything that follows. 

Invest in People’s Development – Talented people who see no growth path leave for better opportunities. During “The Great Resignation,” droves of talented people left organizations in search of greater purpose, growth opportunities, and a more meaningful connection with company culture.  When a leader invests in development, this investment is key to encouraging talented people to stay, grow, and continue to flourish.

Intentionally Create a Coaching Culture – The word “intentionally” may be overkill. Organizations don’t create a coaching culture “by accident.” Creating a coaching culture requires leaders to let go of “command and control” and, instead, develop their bench. Leaders who truly value a coaching culture require coaching as a core competency when they hire, develop, and promote people into leadership roles.

Keep a Finger on the Pulse – Doctors don’t control the details of how a human body works. They assess overall health and search for early warning signs that indicate problems. In the same vein, leaders don’t micromanage how work gets done, but they keep their finger on the pulse of progress. People will make mistakes as they learn. That’s part of growth. The key is to reinforce positive results and coach people to course-correct while mistakes and problems are small, rather than waiting for issues to build to a crisis.

Delegation is not easy. It’s a dynamic balance of knowing when & how to step in and when & how to step back.  Nevertheless, delegation is a skill that can be learned, and the only way to learn is to practice.