Be Willing to Tolerate a Little ‘White Space’

by Bill, by Richard, Leadership, Management

Be Willing to Tolerate a Little ‘White Space’

No Comments 17 July 2014


*Please see special note below before leaving this page.

Many years ago I had the opportunity to do some contract training for Steve Stowell and Matt Starcevich, co-founders of CMOE, the folks who gave birth to the highly effective 8-Step Coaching Model. I remain grateful to them to this day for the work, and for helping me launch a productive and enjoyable career as an executive coach.

One of the activities used in their management coaching seminar involved doing a ten minute, pre-learning role play coaching discussion between two people, both class participants. The conversation was audio-recorded and then the audio was replayed and critiqued. Nothing unique there. What was unique is that, during the replay, we calculated how much of the conversation was consumed by each participant, AND how much dead air (silence) existed.

Almost without exception, the amount of time consumed by the person playing the ‘manager’ in the role play exceeded that of the ‘employee’ by a ratio of anywhere from 2:1 to 5:1. Some conversation.

As to the latter point, in a typical ten minute managerial-type coaching session, how much silence do you think occurred, on average? A minute? Two minutes? More? Think again. I’m fairly certain that I led at least a hundred of these workshops, with 5 or more groups doing this exercise in each one, and can’t remember a single session where there was more than 15 seconds of dead air out of the 10 minute total! Most were in the 6 to 8 second range, if that. We’re talking about only 1% of the total time of the “conversation.” In most cases, we had a good bit of the opposite of dead air. .. both people talking at once! That was more than twenty years ago. I hesitate to think what the ratio would be today.

I was reminded of this while watching evening television over the last week, and seeing two well known, otherwise quite professional news anchors stuttering and stammering because due to the fear of incurring a few seconds of dead air, their mouths were outrunning their minds. It happens to us all, particularly in the midst of a big presentation, sales call, or uncomfortable business meeting. We see it often with relatively new managers who are deathly afraid of what will happen if they shut up and yield the floor for a few seconds in a conversation with one or more of their team-members. A couple of thoughts:

1. In working recently with a C-level exec on reducing his snarkiness, I encouraged him to adopt a 3-second response delay, much like the ‘Iron Dome’ of cursing on American television, that would give him just a little more time to reflect on the message that was about to leave his mouth. Aside from reducing unintended verbal messes, that brief delay also allows the last thing that was said to him (and to you, if you adopt the idea)  to ferment and register a bit more. In other words, it aids listening. Indeed, it has been said that the opposite of listening is waiting to talk. To wit, if your mouth flies open at the very nanosecond the other person goes silent, it’s a good bet that you haven’t been listening. Rather, you’ve been waiting to talk. Don’t be afraid of a little dead air, or white space  in your conversations. Indeed, you’ll probably hear more, and your conversation partners (including spouses) will appreciate the difference, and the feeling that they’re actually being listened to for a change.

2. Note to Leaders – Put some of that same white space in your calendar. Smart leaders are not, repeat, not the ones who have the greatest calendar density. Rather, they deliberately build in some “me time” and thinking time to their daily schedules, and they take great pains to preserve it.

* Special Note: If you missed it, take a few minutes to view cancer patient and ESPN personality Stuart Scott’s acceptance speech at this year’s ESPY’s.  It’s probably his finest moment on television to date, and just might change your life.


A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement Bill Catlette is an Executive Coach, Advisor to Management, Conference Speaker, and Business & Workplace Author. He helps leaders connect the dots between People, Passion, Performance and Profit, hone their leadership skills, and achieve demonstrably better outcomes. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website, or follow them on Twitter.

Metrics and Managing – Be Careful What and How You Measure

by Bill, by Richard, Leadership, Management

Metrics and Managing – Be Careful What and How You Measure

No Comments 08 July 2014

One of the time honored, oft repeated (sometimes mindlessly) management mantras is, “What gets measured gets done.” It seems harmless enough on the surface, right? After all, if you visibly go to the trouble of measuring or inspecting a particular method or outcome, the very act of doing so suggests to onlookers that it’s important to you. And, if those onlookers happen to be junior to you in the organization’s food chain, it provides a not so subtle signal that they probably ought to pay attention. And generally, that’s exactly how things play out. Fair enough.

The trouble with that principle is that, because it tends to be such a powerful inducer of behavior, you better be real careful what you are conspicuously measuring, monitoring, and thus encouraging people to do.

One of my early jobs out of college was with a large DP services company. After stints in two regional offices I was moved to headquarters as an HR staff professional. (I guess I had screwed up enough things for them to want to watch me more closely.) As happens with anyone starting a new assignment, in an effort to assimilate and better understand the organization and my new cohorts, I paid pretty careful attention early on to the prevailing norms and habits.

An observation that to this day remains firmly embedded in my mind is the visual memory of the then company C.O.O. making twice daily rounds through the corporate offices (once shortly after 8AM and the other around 4:30PM). He was a very bright, and nice enough guy, but not a very good actor. The purpose of these jaunts was unmistakable – he was taking attendance. Nothing more, nothing less. With his head swiveling left, right, left in order to scan every office, he didn’t stop to speak, socialize, inquire about status on a project, or see if anybody needed anything. No, he was merely calling the roll. In retrospect, I wonder why he didn’t just issue us all timecards.

The net result from that little exercise? People aren’t stupid, and we all made it a point to be physically present for check-in when we were in town. Physically present. I can assure you that no more work got done, and no work got done better because of it. In fact, some of us spent a good bit of time amusing ourselves by placing bets on the over/under of the precise time that he would pass a certain office door. Worse yet, his actions reinforced the premise that merely being present meant more than just about anything else. After all, if the number 2 guy in the company was spending the better part of an hour every day checking up on it, it must have been pretty important, right?

So what’s the point? In the age of ‘big data’, with nearly limitless amounts of cheap computing power available to us, we seem to be reaching the point where absolutely everything is measured, stored, and rendered into analytics. That’s fine until we’re crunching numbers just because we can, and, dazzled by the myriad implied points of emphasis, our people become utterly confused about where we’re going, why their work matters, and what they are supposed to do. In short, we run the risk of feeding people information through a fire hose, just as we have done with email. While you are chewing on that for a second, here are a couple thoughts:

1. Let’s not confuse measuring and processing data with leading. Measure all you want, and use metrics where it makes sense to do so, but leaders still need to lead. Let them. They need to build teams, set direction, focus effort, motivate, reward, make decisions, hold people accountable, and refine business processes by trial and error. Some of those activities depend more on hard data, while others require learned perspective, judgment, and experience. Analytics can tell us a lot about the what, where, when, who, and how. Not so much the why.

Despite achieving a team best winning record in 2013, NBA coach, Lionel Hollins was reportedly shown the door by Memphis Grizzlies management over this exact issue. Without his Heart + Head balanced approach, the team performed nowhere near as well without him this past year. And Hollins just signed with the Brooklyn Nets for a fat raise in pay. Note to Nets opponents – watch out.

2. Share the data with your team, but don’t let your players get lost in it. Test your teammates regularly for their knowledge of the organization’s highest priorities. If they can’t articulate the three highest priorities in their sleep, something has broken down, due quite possibly to an avalanche of you guessed it… data. Oh, and by the way, it’s not their fault, it’s yours.


A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement Bill Catlette is an Executive Coach, Advisor to Management, Conference Speaker, and Business & Workplace Author. He helps leaders connect the dots between People, Passion, Performance and Profit, hone their leadership skills, and achieve demonstrably better outcomes. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit theirwebsite, or follow them onTwitter.


by Bill, by Richard, Leadership, Management

Three Things That Will Improve Employee Engagement

No Comments 03 July 2014

Recently I read a piece in the e-version of a major business publication which, by title and implication suggested that seventy percent of Americans hate their work. The piece used as its factual anchor the oft-quoted “State of the American Workplace Report” by Gallup, which suggests that only about 30% of American workers are truly “engaged” in their jobs, leaving 70% or so in one level or another of disengagement.

Without doing too much ballet on the head of a pin, let’s make a distinction, an important one. My strong belief, after a couple decades of effort in this arena, is that by and large, people don’t hate their work at all. In fact, most of us rather like our work. Some of us even love it. What we dislike, and what we have difficulty ‘engaging’ with is our jobs, that broader context within which our work resides, and does or does not get done. The “job” encompasses a lot more than the task(s) that we get paid to do. It includes the terms of the deal, the people we interact with and answer to, the support that we get (or lack), the culture that permeates and defines the workspace, et. al.

Indeed, satisfaction and engagement surveys, which our firm has done for longer than I care to admit, suggest that quite often the greatest source of disengagement stems from people and processes that keep us from doing our very best work. In other words, that utterly stupid purchasing policy, or clueless manager who frustrate, rather than enable our best effort are among the primary culprits causing us to disengage. If we didn’t like our work, or want to go home at the end of each day feeling that we made progress, that stuff wouldn’t bother us. But we do, and people and things that block our work progress do more than cause disengagement – they make us crazy! Following are three things that most leaders can do (or refrain from doing) to improve employee engagement levels:

1. Become More Intentional and Selective in Hiring: By most measures, the burner underneath hiring in this country has been turned from “Off” to “Low”, and recently to “Medium” heat. In parts of the energy and tech landscape, it remains on “High.” Ergo, it’s more important than ever that, beginning right now, we use methods and processes that yield more talented, more compatible people. Put plainly but crudely, our staffers (particularly the better ones) don’t want to work with turkeys. Few things are more disengaging than working alongside people who can’t do the work, choose not to, or just plain don’t fit in.

So, as we go about the process of adding staff, it is imperative that we find people who have a penchant for doing terrific work, and whom others want to work with. If they don’t fit the culture, do NOT hire them, regardless of how talented they may be. And, it is also important that we move more quickly to identify and de-select those folks, including managers, who fail to measure up. Doing otherwise is unkind and a disservice to all involved.

2. Get Serious About Learning and Development: Every dentist office is equipped with a sign that says something to the effect of: “Do I have to brush and floss my teeth? Only the ones you want to keep.” The same thing could be said for training and developing our workforce. Engagement surveys consistently tell us that one of THE most important engagement drivers is the opportunity to learn, grow, and yes, build your resume. Yet, owing perhaps to a formerly soft job market, the response from most quarters has been a big, collective yawn.

Nowhere is that more evident than in the realm of so called “soft skills” training, especially leadership development, which for too long now has been a DIY proposition. And it shows. We are now seeing people move into every level of management, including the C-suite, without the benefit of even a shred of training. Consistent with the recent shared ownership of the healthcare equation in the U.S., we would do well to engage our staff members in earnest discussion about their professional development, and work with them toward a more jointly owned development process that is uniquely tailored to them. Beyond getting a more engaged workforce, we’ll also benefit from much better execution.

3. Don’t Fool* With the Gravy: Legend has it that not long after he sold the Kentucky Fried Chicken chain to Heublein Inc., Col. Harland Sanders began taking issue with some of the changes imposed by the firm’s new owners. Upon reaching a point of exasperation, the Colonel invited himself to a Heublein management meeting. When asked the purpose of his visit, he allowed that, for the $285 million purchase price, the new owners probably had the right to exercise bad judgment in changing store layouts and the menu, but, he nonetheless had five words of advice for them… “Don’t fool* with the gravy.” (*Legend also has it that the Colonel’s choice of verbiage was, like his chicken, a little spicier than mine.)

The lesson for us is that, as we continue to innovate, streamline, and economize, we must be mindful not to callously ignore the hard earned knowledge and opinions of those who are, and have been doing the work and who might, just might be able to prevent us from making big, expensive mistakes. Doing a better job on the listening front isn’t just a tool for avoiding mistakes though. Anyone with as few as five gray hairs in their head can affirm that one of the quickest ways to disenfranchise a workforce is to ignore (disrespect) them.

Better listening is a product of hard work as well as technique. A tip given to me not long ago is to try to “read” the words as they come off of someone’s lips. It’s akin perhaps to the advantage that great baseball hitters get by seeing the ball come out of the  pitcher’s hand and then tracking it all the way to the plate. Try it, I think you’ll like it.


A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement Bill Catlette is an Executive Coach, Advisor to Management, Conference Speaker, and Business & Workplace Author. He helps leaders connect the dots between People, Passion, Performance and Profit, hone their leadership skills, and achieve demonstrably better outcomes. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website, or follow them on Twitter.



by Bill, by Richard, Leadership

What Are YOU Expecting?

2 Comments 09 June 2014

Before the World Cup soccer games even start, U.S. men’s head coach, Jurgen Klinsmann has apparently relegated his team to loser status, in what has been termed a “brutally honest and realistic assessment of their chances.” According to Coach Klinsmann, “We cannot win the World Cup because we are not at that level yet.”

Really? Really?! The 1980 U.S. Men’s Olympic ice hockey team wasn’t considered by many to be at that level either, but I’m fairly sure their coach, Herb Brooks didn’t point that out to them, and the “Miracle on Ice”  happened. That team was a long shot as well, but they won anyhow. Why? Because they prepared to win, they believed they could win (nobody in the same uniform was telling them otherwise), and because they let their play and the scoreboard, not the oddsmakers, determine the outcome.

Whether in sports, life, or, more relevant to this forum – business and the workspace, one of the essential characteristics of good leaders is that they are optimists, period. They don’t get up in the morning, consult the handicap sheets, and then determine whether they’re going to be optimistic that day. They know that they are going to give their best effort, they expect the same from those around them, and believe that as a result, good things will happen. You get what you expect to get. What are YOU expecting?


A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement Bill Catlette is an Executive Coach, Advisor to Management, Conference Speaker, and Business & Workplace Author. He helps leaders connect the dots between People, Passion, Performance and Profit, hone their leadership skills, and achieve demonstrably better outcomes. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website, or follow them on Twitter.


by Bill, by Richard, Leadership, Management

Shoot. Move. Communicate. Management Lesson from the New York Times

No Comments 19 May 2014

Beginning in boot camp, the Army embeds a short, three word mantra in its soldiers: Shoot. Move. Communicate. Within the confines of both military (absolutely), and business settings (metaphorically), that precept makes impeccably good sense. Get some licks in on the enemy or competition, defend yourself while maintaining the element of surprise, and let your troops and supporters know what you’re doing, how it’s going, and what you need from them.

It doesn’t stop there, though. Smart leaders, like smart soldiers pay careful attention to where and how much of these three elements they are employing in a given scenario. For example, sometimes it makes sense to keep your powder dry.

This is a concept that NY Times publisher and chairman Arthur Sulzberger is apparently still adjusting to. Last week, he shot (specifically, he fired the paper’s Executive Editor, Jill Abramson). He moved (as in on, by promoting Dean Baquet to replace Ms. Abramson). And then he communicated (not content to simply announce her departure, he publicly went into detail as to the fault he found with her job performance).

Mr. Sulzberger may have been entirely correct on the first two decisions, but the third one is a complete non-starter, and it will cost him, even if the damage is limited to his reputation. Ostensibly, the exact reasons for the termination had already been reviewed with the paper’s board, to wit no one else needed to know his justification for the decision. Further, it’s important to realize that right now the paper’s remaining 3500 or so employees are spending copious quantities of time and energy wondering if that’s how they would be treated if they were the ones in the cross-hairs. As a consequence, we can be pretty well assured that there isn’t a lot of good writing and reporting going on at the Times this week.

There is never (repeat, never) a good reason to disparage someone on their way out the door, even if your comments are factual. That is advice that your attorney, your HR staff, and PR pro would all likely agree with.

Instead, Mr. Sulzberger would have been far better off simply announcing the management change, thanking Ms. Abramson for her service, and wishing her well… end of story. Or, as our mommas taught us at a young age, “If you don’t have something nice to say…”


A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement Bill Catlette is an Executive Coach, Advisor to Management, Conference Speaker, and Business & Workplace Author. He helps leaders connect the dots between People, Passion, Performance and Profit, hone their leadership skills, and achieve demonstrably better outcomes. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website, or follow them on Twitter.


by Bill, by Richard, Leadership, Management

Leaders Need to Be In the Moment

2 Comments 06 April 2014

In the last month I have had fairly strong conversations with three coaching clients about their growing tendency to “multi-task” while in meetings, including one on ones with team members or other business partners. Specifically, I’m referring to the tendency to allow an e-device (phone, tablet, or monitor) to occupy a seat at the table equal to or greater than the humans.


First things first, a disclosure. I’m rather partial to my devices, too. In fact, in a recent university management class lecture I remarked that, as with Charlton Heston and his guns, my iPhone would have to be pried from my cold, dead hands.


Not unlike those who sneak a peek at their watch during church services, it wasn’t that long ago that meeting participants would occasionally take a quick glance at a device that was secreted below the table on their lap. A quick tap or two, and it was back to the business at hand. No more. Today, the ringing, beeping, reading, tapping, typing, and yapping are all out in the open. It’s as if we’re suggesting that we can listen (really listen) to and converse meaningfully with others around us while we’re occupied with tangential or wholly unrelated matters streaming from our e-devices. Sure we can… And pigs can fly, too.



“The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.” -Thich Nhat Hanh

To those who would argue that they’ve got a special multi-channel port installed in their head that allows simultaneous parsing of disparate input, I say, “Fine, I don’t believe you, but I’ll give you the argument.” But what you cannot do is prevent or mitigate the utter disrespect for the people around you caused by the clear suggestion that you’ve got better things to do than listen to them at that moment.


While such behavior may have become more commonly accepted, it is no less rude or injurious to relationships.

So, not to put too fine a point on it, we either need an industrial-sized vat of Ritalin in every conference room, or the discipline to turn the damned things off when we’re supposed to be listening and conversing with others. And, as we’ve heard from hundreds of flight attendants, “Off means off.” Here are a few related thoughts:



1. Try to be a little more mindful about when you do and do not engage with others in the workspace. If someone pops the proverbial, “have you got a minute?” question, and the reality is that you really don’t at that point in time, consider responding to the effect that you want to be able to give them your undivided attention, and seek a mutually agreeable time to meet.


2. If you are running a meeting, make it a point to visibly turn your device off at the opening, thus sending a pretty clear message throughout the room.


3. On the premise that even some of us Boomers can still “hold our water” longer than we can hold a cold device, build sufficient break time into meetings so as to allow participants to visit the restroom AND reconnect with their devices, without having to do so simultaneously.


What’s in it for you as a leader? First, you will likely find that meetings are a lot more efficient when unencumbered by the dawdling and awkward pauses that are caused by various participants reconnecting with the meeting after their device dalliance. More importantly, over time you will earn considerable respect as one who actually listens and is “in the moment” with people when you’re meeting with them. That alone is worth the price of admission.


  A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette is a seminar leader, keynote speaker, and executive coach. He helps individuals and organizations improve business outcomes by having a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. He is co-author of the Contented Cows leadership book series, and Rebooting Leadership. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website, or follow them on Twitter.





by Bill, by Richard, Leadership, Management

Three Things You Can Do to Help Your Team Perform Like a Champion

No Comments 24 March 2014

climbing-mountainAs an executive coach, part of my job is to help clients learn from and avoid getting their own version of some of the scars on my back. One of those scars came at an early age. As a young, 20-something leader I did my best to ensure that my team had its share of talent, a firm grasp of our mission and priorities, and as much preparation as we could arrange. We performed at a consistently good, but not great level.


In retrospect, I was unknowingly limiting our progress by playing too tight, playing not to lose, specifically, not to lose my job. As a result, I wasn’t having much fun at work, and the people around me weren’t either. And then a day came when my boss took me out to lunch, and when we finished, we were really finished, with only one of us still having his job.


After some reflection and getting a new job (a better one), I realized that getting fired wasn’t the worst thing in the world, and resolved to double up on my self-awareness, and loosen the necktie just a bit going forward. As a result, some things changed in my approach to being a leader, and our results got better, a lot better.


I really hadn’t thought much about that episode in my life until recently when I read an article written by Michael David Smith about Seattle Seahawks coach, Pete Carroll. In the interview, Coach Carroll said, “It really took me getting fired a couple times, getting kicked in the butt, to get to where I am now.” In case you missed Super Bowl 2014, where Coach Carroll is right now is a pretty good spot.


It would have been hard for anyone watching Super Bowl 2014 not to notice that, though the players on both sides of the field were immensely talented and well coached, Carroll’s players, from the very start, were playing the game a little looser, and visibly having more fun.


Indeed, the Bronco’s jitters showed early when the Seahawks scored on the very first play from scrimmage after Denver’s center prematurely snapped the ball over Peyton Manning’s head. Before they knew it, the Broncos were down heavy, and the game was out of hand.


Okay, so how does this translate for the average, non-NFL manager who is simply trying to get the wash out every day? Here are three things to keep in mind:


1.     You’ve got to manage you before you can hope to lead others.  And that starts with you being an optimist, keeping some fun in the game, and making sure that your players aren’t slowed down by fear (yours or their own). A Chinese proverb suggests that, “A man without a smile must not open a shop.” That applies just as much to the role of a leader as it does a shopkeeper. People will not follow a sour, grumpy pessimist for long. After being told by a client many years ago that I needed to smile a little more, I’ve made it a habit, particularly on days that I know are likely to be stressful, to wear a rubber band on my wrist as a private reminder to smile. It works. (I guess it’s not private any more, though.)


2.     Be “the iron.” It has been said that it’s not the mountains we have to climb, but the grains of sand in our shoes that keep us from doing our best. That axiom is certainly true in the workplace. Our jobs as leaders involve spending time removing the impediments from the path of our team, making sure they have the tools, the processes, the wherewithal to do their very best work each day, every day. My co-author and business partner, Richard Hadden likens that to the effect that a hot iron has on a wrinkled shirt, as he advises leaders to, “be the iron.”


3.     Let people know that you care about them, not just as players or cogs in the wheel, but as real, pulsating human beings. You don’t have to become buddies, in fact, it’s better that you don’t, but you can still demonstrate in lots of ways, some large, but mostly small, that you care about them. Start by taking an interest in them, what’s important to them, what their goals, aspirations, and fears are. In order to do this, it is vital to listen, really listen. One tip that works for me is, when talking with someone, to make careful note of their eye color, and then, in real time, “read” the words coming off their lips. If I’m doing that, it’s much harder to engage in what I call the opposite of listening, which is waiting to talk, while formatting what I’m going to say next.


  A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette is a seminar leader, keynote speaker, and executive coach. He helps individuals and organizations improve business outcomes by having a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. He is co-author of the Contented Cows leadership book series, and Rebooting Leadership. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website, or follow them on Twitter.



by Richard, Leadership

Customer Indifference is a Real Biz Kill

No Comments 27 February 2014

self absorbedWhat’s more toxic than incompetence? Deadlier than old technology? More surely fatal than being slow to market? It’s the remarkable indifference to customers that we all still see from some service providers, those who were nodding off during the part where the rest of us learned that that just won’t cut it anymore. Remember Eastern Airlines, anybody? In a few years, we’ll be asking the same question about K-Mart. And AOL.

For several years, our company relied on a spam filtering service now provided by Excel Micro. We didn’t choose them; we ended up there after they acquired the little startup provider we selected years before, a company that had a really effective anti-spam system, and responsive customer service. Everything was rocking along fine until earlier this week, while flying back to the US from Canada, I began getting notifications via my personal email that my regular (company) email was bouncing everything back. Because, with this system, all mail goes first through the anti-spam system, Excel Micro was my first suspect. When I tried to log in to the spam portal, I got kicked out – invalid password. No way.

The call to tech support went like this: 20 minutes on hold. Young guy who neither knew nor seemed to care why my email was broken. Finally determined that it was time to pay the annual subscription, but my credit card had a new expiration date, so it wouldn’t go through. Their solution? Suspend the account. They never got in touch with me, despite the fact that this is my email company, and they had my email address! Just cut off my email oxygen. That’s all. They figured I’d call them and fix things. I fixed things alright. The billing department apparently keeps bankers’ hours, so “there’s nothing we can do until morning.” Wrong again. There’s almost always something the customer can do. In this case, I went online, asked a few friends what they used for spam, found something I liked, and installed a 10-day free trial. It seems to be working beautifully.

This morning I called the billing department at Excel Micro to let them know they’d been fired as our service provider. Again, I was smacked to the ground with a wall of indifference, the likes of which we rarely see these days. After talking with several people, I couldn’t find even one who cared one hoot about either my email problem, or their customer retention problem. It was as though I had called to report a change of address.

I’ve never had any correspondence with Joseph Vaccone, Excel Micro’s CEO and Founder, so I don’t know how he feels about customers. But I do know that in most cases, indifference is modeled from the top.

The competitive landscape in your business, just like Joe’s, is probably too unforgiving to survive indifference to customers. There are just too many good service providers out there, hungry enough for a share of your business, that they’ll go to great lengths to astound their customers with great service.

When I can go online at, and click a button, and someone from Amazon calls me, in 2 seconds, then replaces my broken Kindle by next-day air; and when the Delta flight attendant takes the time to place a personalized, handwritten welcome note in my seat before I arrive, the response from the spam company (what’s their name, again?) stands out as particularly old school and unsustainable.

It’s not about your products, your services, your prices, or your catchy ad campaigns. It’s about people. The people who work for your customers. Are you, as a leader, at whatever level, setting an astounding standard to knock your customers’ socks off every day? Are you providing them with the means, the tools, the wherewithal, to do it? Do they know it’s important to you? Are you rewarding them when they succeed? And coaching them when they fail?

Or – are the people in your organization just going through the motions, like those I encountered at Excel Micro, with a remarkable indifference to the very people who enable the organization to exist?

Suggestion: find out. But not the way Eastern Airlines did.



Richard Hadden is a leadership speaker, author, and consultant who helps organizations improve their business results by virtue of a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. He and Bill Catlette are the authors of the popular “Contented Cows” leadership book series, and Rebooting Leadership. Their newest book, Contented Cows STILL Give Better Milk, published by John Wiley & Sons, is now available. Learn more about them and their work at


by Richard, Leadership, Motivation

Are the Generations Really All That Different?

1 Comment 23 January 2014

generationsDon’t look now, but next year, Generation X turns 50.


You may need a moment to process that. But it’s true. Following immediately on the heels of the boomers (those of us born between 1946 and 1964), the eldest members of the first alphabetically labeled generation are already receiving mailbox stuffing solicitations from the AARP.


As the new year dawned, it occurred to me that I’ve been in the business of studying, writing, and speaking about the workforce for 24 years now, a generation itself. And during that time, among the most persistent themes vexing managers has been how to deal with “the younger generation”. This, incidentally, is a phrase you’ll never hear me use; I’m becoming my father fast enough as it is, without adopting figures of speech I can easily avoid. I’ll just call them younger workers.


Look around you, and you’ll find the workspace populated by an unprecedented four generations of workers. For managers in this multi-tiered environment, trying to make everybody happy can be as frustrating as trying to find an unbiased news program on cable TV.


Anyone who’s tried to provide leadership to a team consisting of both teenagers and seventy-somethings knows that generational differences do make a difference, but these leaders also tell me that they’ve observed some remarkable similarities among workers born in vastly different decades.


For instance, regardless of the hashtag or label used to mark our generation, most of us need:

  • Focus and direction
  • Meaningful work, and the freedom to pursue it
  • Clear, helpful feedback
  • Appreciation
  • A leader who cares about us and has our best interest at heart


Generational friction and bewilderment have existed since Adam and Eve despaired over Cain and Abel. Think about it. Your grandparents thought your parents were hopeless – that they would never amount to anything. Don’t laugh. Your folks thought the same about you. And yet, with probably a few exceptions, those of us reading this have managed to avoid incarceration, and hold meaningful jobs, and occupy a valuable place in society.


And it gives me no end of satisfaction to think that my own Generation Y offspring will, in the not-too-distant future shake their heads and denounce the profligacy of their own version of “the younger generation”.


And if past is, as they say, prologue, they’ll all do just fine.


Just you watch. Twenty years from now, well-led businesses (led by people born after 9/11) will be making a profit. The stock market will be up by more than the rate of inflation. And advances in technology will bring us things most of us don’t know we need. (Who among us thought, in 1994, that this lazy bunch of self-centered slackers could have produced a device that could let you simultaneously talk on the phone and navigate your car to a restaurant you’d never heard of when you got in the car a half-hour earlier?)


Stereotypes have never served me well. As soon as I think I have some group figured out, some of its members surprise me. We hear certain things about newer workforce members, but those generalizations are of dubious accuracy.


For example, we hear that Generation Y won’t commit to anything. Have we, as leaders, given them anything to commit to? Have we indicated any commitment to them? It’s said they’re self-absorbed. Try giving them something else to be absorbed with (like customers, a real sense of mission, or meaningful work), and see what happens.


And we hear that, perhaps due in part to the practice of giving school kids “participation trophies” for coming in last place in a competition, the under 40 crowd wants grand rewards for modest achievement. If you see that, don’t feed it! But when someone implements an idea that saves your company a million dollars, a gold-colored paper star on their cubicle is unlikely to stimulate a repeat performance. Make a BIG DEAL out of BIG DEALS. Learn the reward preferences of everyone on your team, and when someone does something really reward-worthy, knock their socks off in return.


Generation Y, I’ve been told, won’t stick around if they’re not promoted rapidly. We’ve got to stop equating development with promotion. The career ladder’s not as tall as it was for earlier generations. Help people develop valuable skills, and reward them for it. If you play your cards right, they’ll be eager to stay, yet prepared to go.


And finally, I’ve heard that younger workers are rude. I’ve got a real simple solution for that one. Don’t hire rude people, no matter how talented they are. A business owner I know takes finalists for positions in his company on a business trip as part of the vetting process. (Yes, he pays them for their time.) He observes how they treat airline, hotel, and restaurant employees. Only the most considerate and professional get the offer.


Sure, each succeeding generation has always been different from its predecessor. How boring it would be otherwise. Good leaders pay attention to the differences, but continue to lead from and pass on a strong set of core commitments, to develop the leaders to come.


Richard Hadden is a leadership speaker, author, and consultant who helps organizations improve their business results by virtue of a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. He and Bill Catlette are the authors of the popular “Contented Cows” leadership book series, and Rebooting Leadership. Their newest book, Contented Cows STILL Give Better Milk, published by John Wiley & Sons, is now available. Learn more about them and their work at


by Bill, by Richard, Management, Motivation

Sometimes It IS About the Money

No Comments 22 October 2013

Few issues in the domain of business are thornier, more complex, and emotion-packed than that of how much money to pay someone for the work they do. Employee compensation thrusts its tendrils into considerations no less substantial than motivation, employment law, labor unions, production, and the very profitability of the enterprise. Oh, yeah. That.

Corresponding almost exactly with the arc of the Great Recession, we’ve been blinded of late by arguments put forth, like shiny objects, suggesting that the paper stuff that goes in your pocket (cash compensation) isn’t as important as the cornucopia of less extrinsic factors that have entered the deal in the workplace… things like concierge-type services, telecommuting, or participating in Habitat for Humanity builds alongside your co-workers.

Whoa, full flaps, brakes, stop! To be sure, there is considerable attraction and motivational impact in achieving a state of camaraderie, and in job-related perks that are special. Indeed, one of us helped launch FedEx, and for a while when the business was running on fumes, it certainly helped to be working alongside a charismatic CEO with a warrior spirit, to be a participant in reshaping commerce, and for every employee to have the opportunity to ride free on company planes, because the mixture of cold, hard cash was pretty lean.

But at the end of the day, people, nearly all of us are motivated, at some level and to a significant degree, by money. We are. Aren’t you? Sure, it’s not everything, but it’s definitely in the mix. And it’s more in the mix of late for two reasons:

1. Due to a still struggling economy and a slack labor market, real hourly earnings are mired US$0.24 below the December 2008 high.

2. Employee engagement levels are abysmally low, to wit the deal in the workplace tends to be more transactional, where cash is the coin of the realm.

So chewy and multidimensional is the comp issue that an entire professional association, WorldAtWork (formerly known as the American Compensation Association), exists to help employers figure it all out.

Credible studies abound, suggesting that higher compensation won’t necessarily buy you a better performing organization. In chapter 5 of our latest book, Contented Cows STILL Give Better Milk, we illustrate that with some NFL stats showing that many of the highest paid football teams in the US consistently turn in some pretty middling results.

Still, most of us don’t lead entire organizations; we lead individuals. And taken one person at a time, let’s be clear. Sometimes it IS about the money.

It’s sometimes about the money, because people who are struggling to make ends meet, or who believe they can earn substantially more somewhere else, or who feel taken for granted spend more time thinking about their comp-related woes than they do thinking about their work, their customers, and your business. When that happens, they can’t possibly be as engaged as you need them to be.

It’s sometimes about the money because, let’s face it: right or wrong, in our society, money sends a message. A message about a person’s worth. One’s composite view of his or her “deal” at work consists of at least these four factors:

  • Leadership: How do I feel about the person I report to, and the big guns who run the place?
  • Meaningful work: Is what I do valuable and important to others, and do I get frequent reminders of that? Expressed appreciation is a HUGE part of this one.
  • Lifestyle fit: Does this job support and promote the kind of life I want to live? Schedule, benefits, amenities, time demands, etc.
  • Compensation “Worth-its”: Am I satisfied with the money I earn?

You’ll notice that the above list is heavily weighted in favor of intangibles. Only one factor – the last one – is tangible. Most of us would like to maximize the mix of these elements, but they don’t all have to be perfect. If I really like my boss, and the work provides a real sense of meaning to me, I may be willing to work long and inconvenient hours for less than optimal pay. But if I have to work for a jerk doing stuff that doesn’t provide much emotional satisfaction, you’d better be prepared to fork over the big bucks, or I’m outta here. Mentally if not physically.

Think about your competition for talent. Someone else can always outbid you on the tangible; not necessarily on the intangibles.

Here’s our position, and some tips to go along with it:

  • You should never pay anyone more than you can afford, or more than they’ve earned. And not substantially more than the market dictates.
  • Without violating anything in the above bullet point, make your very best offer to attract and retain the best people for your organization, and keep them interested.
  • The question of whether or not you can afford a certain amount for a certain person must be balanced with the question, “Can we afford not to pay that certain amount?” Consider the cost both if the person were to leave, and if they were to power back. If you really are underpaying someone, do you really expect to get their best work?
  • Stay educated on what the market demands. Take advantage of current salary survey data for your industry. Your professional association probably has some. Be sure to filter for geography, profession, education and most of all, demonstrated capability.
  • You can offset the desire for more monetary compensation – to a fairly substantial degree – by paying lots of attention to the intangibles mentioned above. Especially appreciation. Simply saying “thank you” – and meaning it – can go a long, long way. It’s worth real money. But be careful about using these intangibles to justify paying less than you can, and less than you should.
  • Apart from paying “stay bonuses” or step increases, never increase anyone’s base compensation simply for hanging around another year. If given a choice, your compensation dollars would be much better spent as merit-based differentiation than endurance pay.
  • Paying people by the hour is intellectually bankrupt. Find a way to correlate people’s pay with the income or value they provide to the organization.
  • Give everyone as much information and control as possible over how much they earn. Here’s a conversation we love to hear (and have): “You want to make more money? Let me show you how.”

Until next payday, wishing you the best!



Considered thought leaders in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette and Richard Hadden speak to, train, and coach managers on leadership practices for better business outcomes.

OUR PREMISE: Having a focused, engaged, and capably led workforce is one of the best things any organization can do for its bottom line.



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