Tag archive for "engaged"

by Bill, Management

Talent Acquisition is More Than Putting Butts in Seats

No Comments 21 May 2012

For some time I’ve resisted the urge to excoriate a term that has been taking more prominent space in the lexicon of HR professionals. I’ve done so largely on the basis that there didn’t seem to be much harm in the emergence of new-agey alternative vocabulary among knowing professionals. I’ve resisted until now, that is. The term – “talent acquisition.”

Oh, I understand perfectly why some might prefer putting some distance between what they do for a living and the functional title that has long been associated with it… recruiting. Recruiting, after all is about as sexy as dirt, or maybe something that is done with dirt, like farming, or agribusiness as it’s now known. Have you ever noticed that the replacement titles never get shorter?

Like farming and selling, recruiting is hard work, because whereas you can exercise some control over the process, the outcome is much less controllable. In this respect, it matters not whether you are operating from a grimy, dog-eared Rolodex or an iPad. As with farming and selling, recruiting is vital work, and still today is a profession where you do a lot of groundwork, unearth a few leads, experience regular headwinds (e.g., withdrawn reqs, failed drug screens), and at the end of the day are glad if you can hit a bunch of singles, a few doubles, an occasional home run, and bat 300 over the long haul. Yet, one can make a compelling argument that the decision whether or not to put someone on an organization’s payroll is one of the most important decisions that can be made. So, if we want to sex up the title a bit to give ourselves some psychic income (or perhaps a higher pay grade), I’m down with that, but let’s use a little caution.

In fairness, cautious branding doesn’t sound like something that would be advocated by someone who for fourteen years has serially referred to workers, in writing no less, as “contented cows.” Thankfully for us, the cow metaphor is simple and very tight; so much so that on July 3, John Wiley & Sons will release our third book in the Contented Cows leadership series (more on that later). But that doesn’t mean that we haven’t taken some serious guff over it. I will never forget an afternoon spent on Clark Howard’s WSB Radio Show when an otherwise wonderful experience was chilled by a caller who got pretty irate over my “comparing people to animals.”

My concern with the expression, talent acquisition is this: Both words miss the mark. Although talent is important, it is secondary to finding people who, by virtue of pace, preference, temperament, and values happen to fit your particular organization. In the vast majority of cases, there are more available people with the talent to perform a given job than those who “fit” the organization. Marriott International, one of our newly minted Contented Cows, learned long ago that mixing grumpy, self-absorbed employees (no matter how talented) with travel-weary guests is not a combination that yields good business outcomes. In similar fashion, talented or not, most people (repeat, most people) would not be happy, productive, or successful working at your place. So, if we myopically get too hung up on the talent side of the equation, we run a very real risk of overlooking some extremely important factors.

Second, I’m more than a little bothered by the term, “acquisition” when it comes to the employment process. You might be able to borrow talent for a while, but you certainly don’t acquire it. Indeed, acquisition is entirely the wrong term if our aim is to do more than merely complete a transaction. I don’t know about you, but when I ran the organization that was responsible for much of the initial high growth staffing of FedEx, starting a relationship with people who would be today’s couriers and tomorrow’s managers was a hell of a lot more than merely putting butts in seats. No, we were trying to capture hearts, minds, and yes, talents, in large numbers, but still one at a time, because eagles don’t flock. Our aim then, and now is to productively engage with people who want to join our team and do important work.

Our hope is that however you choose to brand your organization’s people functions, you will do so thoughtfully.

*****

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, the next edition of which will be released in July 2012 by John Wiley & Sons. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ContentedCows

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by Bill, Leadership, Think About It...

Leaders and the “Little People”

1 Comment 10 March 2012

As election season rolls around and campaigning for public office ramps up (does it ever leave?) most of us dust off the decision matrix by which we choose the candidates we’ll vote for. For some, it’s simply a matter of whether there is a donkey or an elephant next to the candidate’s name. Some might resort to using a dart board. Others are only interested in finding someone they believe to be capable of beating the other guy. Those who want to think a little harder might use an issues or trait-based filter. My own process rests on an analysis of a candidate’s positions on a short list of key issues, coupled with an assessment of vital personal characteristics.

One of those vital personal characteristics, whether I’m helping choose the next president or a mid-level manager in the corporate world, is the person’s level of consideration and affinity for those who are south of them in the socio-economic order or org chart. I want some insight into how much or how little they care, really care about those whose interests they will be representing, or who they will be providing leadership and direction to.

Observing their interaction with a food server, retail clerk, or flight attendant provides a window into their world, but it’s just a start. I want to know, is the person naturally at ease with subordinates, and vice versa? At one company I worked for, a finance SVP had a habit of parking at the rear of his office building every morning and sneaking through a back door that no one else used, simply so he wouldn’t have to interact with the people who worked for him. The sad thing is he actually thought that no one noticed or cared.

Are they at ease interacting with those who may not dress as well as they do, or whose speech is not as polished? How quick are they to smile (really smile, not that plastic version) and greet a subordinate or service worker? Do they mumble “how are ya?” and keep right on moving, or do they stop and actually wait for an answer?

Some might argue that this is nothing but a touchy-feely academic exercise since once you are declared the leader, at any level, and have position power, people pretty well have to do your bidding and learn to live with it. Au contraire! As pointed out in our first book, upon entering a leadership role, you are immediately faced with a simple, ongoing high school physics problem – There are more of  “them” than there are of you. Failure to respect this iron law can have a drastic affect on one’s career. Remember that finance SVP who parked around back? It turned out that his people didn’t work very hard for him, because they had long since figured out that he really didn’t like them very much, or care about them. Ultimately, it cost him his job.

Conversely, we’ve seen any number of leaders with modest intelligence and skills race up the career ladder, propelled by the “little people” who were putting it all on the line for them every day.

*****

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, the next edition of which will be released in June 2012 by John Wiley & Sons. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ContentedCows

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by Bill, Think About It...

The TSA and “Don’t Touch My Junk”… a Little less Pontification, a Little More Communication and (maybe) Imagination

No Comments 21 November 2010

Anyone who has taken a knowing breath and been within reach of a portal to the outside world this week has heard the howls of outrage over the TSA’s stepped up body scans and searches. Purportedly in an effort to discover weapons and explosives secreted on the human body, the agency has recently deployed advanced imaging equipment together with more aggressive groping, ‘er pat down procedures.

When it comes to security measures, the flying public ‘gets it.’ We really do. What agency management fails to grasp is that we’re not stupid, and we still retain quite a bit of choice as to how cooperative we’ll be when “security measures” are visited upon us. Ironically, it’s not appreciably different from the way our employees react when new procedures are implemented in the workspace.

Rather than beating the TSA like a rented mule, let’s revisit a few practices that lend themselves to more successful outcomes, be it in the airport or our more pedestrian businesses:

  1. Selling trumps telling.  Rather than announcing new procedures at the “tip of the spear” e.g., when passengers are nearing a new screening device for the very first time, find ways to communicate ahead of time, what changes are being made, and why they are beneficial to the traveler, ‘er employee, ‘er customer. If you want me to buy into the change, tell me reliably and convincingly how the change is going to make my life better. Better yet, show me.  Telling someone to “Do it because I say so, or because I have the badge and you don’t” didn’t work a hundred years ago, and it sure doesn’t work today.
  2. Be authentic. Stop the canned responses and lame rationale for asking people to do obviously stupid things. Be quick to admit and remedy your mistakes. People really don’t expect you to be perfect. They do expect you to be honest.
  3. Lighten up a little. In case you haven’t noticed, most of us are self-absorbed, nervous, and wrapped a bit too tightly these days. We don’t respond very well to having overly officious security officers, supervisors, senior vp’s  or spouses barking orders. Smiles help. So does “please and thank you.”

If you think about it, what’s going on in airports today is akin to behavior that I’m told exists in strip clubs, but for the fact that no one is making money or having any fun at it. Perhaps DHS Secretary, Janet Napolitano should consider hiring some younger, better looking screeners and giving them a daily stack of $1 bills to tip passengers for putting some skin in the game… or dancing while we’re in the AIT machine:-)

Your views as always are welcome.

*****
A thought leader 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. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website at www.contentedcows.com, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ContentedCows

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by Bill, Leadership

Get Some Crayons, Mr. President

No Comments 28 August 2009

In his best-selling book, “Beating the Street”, famed investment fund manager, Peter Lynch opined that people ought not invest in anything which “cannot be explained with a crayon.” His reasoning was that, if you can’t explain with something as blunt and simple as a crayon what a company does and how it makes money, then you don’t understand it well enough to own it. I’ve tried very hard over the years to obey this iron law, and it has served me well, particularly on those days when the market is in free fall.

Mr. Lynch’s advice is equally appropos outside the financial world. It holds true, for example, for us manager-types. If we can’t credibly explain with that same crayon what our business/department/team does, then people aren’t going to buy into it, and we can be assured of half-hearted effort at best, and lots of empty seats on our bus. It’s not because people are stupid – not at all, but because they’re rightfully cynical, owing to all the hype, noise, and spinning directed our way as we go thru life.

Our president is finding more empty seats than he would like on the health care reform bus of late, not because reforming our health care system (correction, we have NO health care system) is a bad idea, but because he and those around him have thus far been unable to credibly articulate the problem and the proposed solutions. Granted, it’s not easy being heard above the din of competing interests, but he does have a pretty big microphone.

Peggy Noonan spelled it out as only she can in a recent WSJ piece . “The president’s health-care plan is not clear, and I mean that not only in the sense of “he hasn’t told us his plan.” I mean it in terms of the voodoo phrases, this gobbledygook, this secret language of government that no one understands—”single payer,” “public option,” “insurance marketplace exchange.” No one understands what this stuff means, nobody normal.” And, while I vehemently disagree with Mr. Noonan’s solution (pull the plug – not on grandma, but the whole shebang), she’s dead right about the explaining part.

Mr. President, it’s time for Congress to shut up and for you to find your voice, ‘er crayons. Now.

*****

A thought leader 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. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website at www.contentedcows.com, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ContentedCows

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Are You Being Waterboarded at Work?

by Bill, Leadership

Are You Being Waterboarded at Work?

No Comments 02 August 2009

Today’s managers go thru life feeling as if their lips are wrapped around an information fire hose, a condition we refer to as “Data Waterboarding.”  Indeed, various sources have suggested that email volume alone has now reached a level of 100 billion messages per day worldwide, a majority of which is, guess what… spam.

Having more information than you could ever possibly use, right at your fingertips, is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that, as we approach the decade of the 1’s, there simply aren’t many secrets any more. If you really want to find something out, you can do so, quickly and relatively inexpensively. The downsides? The very second you toggle the data switch into the open position or venture near an open web portal, you experience the digital equivalent of what radio host, Erich “Mancow” Muller felt when he volunteered to be waterboarded in his unsuccessful effort to prove that it didn’t constitute torture.

Even more so than the rest of us, managers experience this at some level every day, dealing with scores (hundreds?) of data impulses that come to them in digital, paper, telephonic, and human form, and many days it indeed feels like torture. “When will I have time to do MY work?” And just like what occurs everywhere else, a lot of this is spam, too. If you’re a part of a larger organization, the “switch” gets toggled for you, as others both inside and outside the organization have virtually limitless ability to dump things into your in-box, ‘er snorkle, and dump they do. Clearly, it’s not all stuff that you need or want.

To show how far we’ve come (notice I didn’t say progressed), my parents’ generation considered it very bad form not to examine and then respond personally to each and every incoming phone call or piece of written correspondence. In fact, my dad still gets annoyed whenever he hears that I’ve “rail dumped” an entire batch of email forwards from certain of his friends. Clearly, for the better part of three decades, we’ve been moving at a velocity and with volumes of input which make that totally unthinkable. So don’t try. Here’s what you CAN do though…

Get ruthless. Realize that, not unlike the function performed by a medical triage manager, you MUST sort thru this stuff, and become proficient at separating the vital (the ones that have stopped breathing) from the merely urgent (slow bleeders) and the folks who are just seeking attention or bloviating (hypochondriacs). Fail to do this, or do it poorly and you will drown. And, consistent with good triage, be clear that a lot of your inbound, a majority perhaps, doesn’t need to be opened or read EVER!

Triage derives from the French term, triagere, meaning to “sort”. The concept was first practiced by Napoleon’s battlefield surgeon, Baron Dominique Jean Larrey, who deduced that having some process by which to best allocate the needs of casualties to limited medical resources would yield much better outcomes. Triaging seems highly applicable to the process of optimizing data flow to the modern manager, as it depends on rapid assessment of need (relevance and quality of data in our case) and rationing of care (time and attention in our case). Managers must constantly bear in mind that, while data is useful to doing their job, it is not the job itself. Moreover, in most cases, having too much data is as debilitating as not having enough. No, it’s worse.

Gen. Colin Powell, one of the truly exemplary leaders of our time has long subscribed to a decision making theory that the optimum practical point to make a decision is when you have about 60% of the available information, AND you’ve expended no more than 60% of the available time. That’s the point at which you’ve likely got sufficient data to make a reasoned decision, and can still take advantage of being an early mover. General Powell’s advice is helpful for another reason as well. It reinforces the value of having not just the right amount of information, but getting it at the right time. Stale data is about as useful as stale bread.

To be continued in our upcoming book, Rebooting Leadership

*****

A thought leader 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. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website at www.contentedcows.com, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ContentedCows

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by Bill, Exemplars, Think About It...

Dr. J's Prescriptions for Health Care Reform

No Comments 28 July 2009

Yesterday, at the conclusion of a routine office visit with my primary care physician, I asked for his opinion on the most important aspects of fixing our health care system. Actually, use of the word “system” is off the mark, because we really don’t have a health care system at all, just a bunch of component parts that don’t work together especially well. I digress.

The doctor’s eyes lit up when he realized that I was seriously interested in the topic, and what he had to say. Owing to the doctor’s kindness, love of his work, and a surprisingly slow Monday in his office, he talked and I listened for the next forty (that’s right) minutes. Here’s what he said…

Dr. J (that’s what the folks in his office call him) suggested that in order to sufficiently bend the cost curve while expanding coverage, we need to do at least three things:

  1. Make patients accountable for questioning, being economically involved in, and then acting on the medical advice and treatment they are getting. He recounted a litany of instances where patients were needlessly tying up valuable health care resources (e.g., pharmaceuticals, breathing treatments for COPD, and recurring office/hospital visits) simply because they refused to quit smoking, lay down their fork, etc. He also suggested that there is a powerful link between a patient’s actually having paid something for a drug, as little as $1, and the likelihood of them taking that medicine as prescribed. He recommends a scenario whereby patients who don’t properly use the advice or treatment lose the ability to be reimbursed for it.
  2. Institute tort reform as a means of reducing the tendency of medical service providers to over-test. Surprisingly, he was not in favor of capping liability awards. Rather, he suggested a pre-trial medical panel review in which a dispassionate group of docs would review the facts and issue a finding to the court as to whether or not malpractice occurred. He cited good results from a handful of states where such a policy already exists.
  3. Finally, he suggested that we need to do something to prevent (as occurs presently) pharmaceutical R&D and marketing costs from being sequestered in this country due to price controls everywhere else around the globe.

I don’t know what the answers are, but I’m confident that if we all take the time and initiative to become better informed, to read and chat up our own “Dr. J’s”, make our voices heard, and demand that our elected representatives at least read any proposed legislation before voting, we’ll be miles ahead.

Godspeed!

*****

A thought leader 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. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website at www.contentedcows.com, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ContentedCows

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by Bill, Think About It...

Should Wal-Mart Be on Your Resume?

No Comments 14 July 2009

Our 1998 book, Contented Cows Give Better Milk, called attention to the substantial advantage in business outcomes achieved by companies with sensible leadership and employee relations practices. In it, we compared the difference in business results for a group of 6 companies with reputations for being great places to work (Contented Cows) versus a half dozen of their direct competitors with not quite the same workplace reputation (Common Cows). One of the companies profiled as an exemplar was Wal-Mart.

Despite very good business results, in the intervening years Wal-Mart has suffered more than its share of reputational black eyes inflicted by competitors who’ve endured countless beatings at the hands of the beast from Bentonville, labor unions that have grown weary of the company’s strident union-free posture, and yes, some mis-steps of its own.

Through it all, we’ve defied popular sentiment, maintaining instead that Wal-Mart is still a pretty good place to work, not to mention a convenient place to shop for a huge assortment of items at relatively low prices. Is it sexy? Nope, not one bit. Though I’ve never worked for the company, I get the distinct impression, gained from hundreds of store visits, interviews, and talking with acquaintances who do work their, that the work can be taxing (think long hours, hard floors), not especially lucrative, and, with  2.1 million people on the payroll (fully 50% larger than the active U.S. military), not particularly flexible. Moreover, consistent with lessons learned from other high performance workplaces, evidence abounds that employment at Wal-Mart is not for everybody. But it is right for a lot of people, and if you’re currently looking, you might give it some consideration.

What Wal-Mart lacks in “sexy” it makes up for in “steady”, something a lot of us are finding renewed appreciation for as the economy continues to quake and quiver. To wit…

  • Unlike employees at 3 of the 6 designated “Common Cow” companies (Consolidated Freightways, United Airlines, and General Motors) and a long list of others that have gone through bankruptcy since the book was published , Wal-Mart employees have enjoyed growth, relative prosperity, and job security.
  • Despite all the carping from organized labor about the company’s conservative approach to pay and benefits, Wal-Mart is now among the retail industry leaders in workforce health care insurance coverage. Indeed, the industry’s largest trade group, the National Retail Federation is apoplectic that Wal-Mart has endorsed congressional proposals that would require employers to provide health insurance for their employees
  • And, they actually are doing some exciting stuff on the environmental front. The company is currently working with environmentalist and entrepreneur  Yvon Chouinard (Patagonia) to develop and produce recyclable clothing

*****
A thought leader 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. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website at www.contentedcows.com, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ContentedCows

P.S. Bill Catlette does not currently own Wal-Mart stock, nor has he ever taken a dime from the company.

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by Bill, Management

Renaissance of the Part-Time Worker

No Comments 08 April 2009

Recent job reports suggest that, in addition to an 8.5% unemployment rate, nearly twice that number of people are at present “under employed”, as in working in jobs that are well beneath their skill level, or on an involuntary part-time basis.

In the latter case, organizations can, and should take steps for the benefit of all concerned to ensure that part-timers are challenged, used sensibly, and not abused. At a minimum, make darned sure that part-timers are not inadvertently relegated to “sub-human” status.

In the early days of FedEx, we made extensive use of part-time workers, owing to the fact that package count growth was uneven, difficult to predict, and a thinly stretched checkbook kept us from making full-time commitments to people until we were certain that we could afford to do so. In fact, they still rely extensively on part-time workers as a means of building workforce flexibility while avoiding over-staffing.

I’ll never forget a manager asking (whining) one day, “Do we really have to train all these part-timers?” “No, I replied – not all of them, just the ones who might have an accident, hurt somebody, break a piece of equipment, get lost on their route, disenfranchise a customer,”… and the list went on. In other words, of course you do. In fact, given that by virtue of their schedule they have less time to “practice” on a daily basis, we probably needed to train them even more than their full-time counterparts.

Tamara Schweitzer recently wrote a good piece, 7 Tips for Managing Part-Time Workers for Inc Magazine. Given that part-timers are more in vogue now than ever, you may want to check it out.

A thought leader 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. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website at www.contentedcows.com

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by Bill, Leadership, Management

Think Sustainable Employment Practices, Too

No Comments 23 November 2008

HandshakeMuch is being written and said these days about sustainability as it pertains to environmental, economic, and social activities. Because of an increasingly global arena, and factors such as overpopulation, the need to maintain commerce at a high level, lack of education and the like, achieving sustainability in any meaningful way is a real struggle. Nowhere is the issue of sustainability more important (and difficult) than in the workplace.

In the early (pre-email) days of FedEx, or Federal Express as it was then known, company founder, Fred Smith used memos printed on bright red paper (red memos) as a way of communicating important thoughts or instructions (okay, orders) to the management team. We probably didn’t get more than one or two such missives a year, and, as memory serves, they frequently pertained to the announcement of a company-wide hiring freeze. Freeze meant just that – freeze. By the time the red memo landed on your desk, the bean counters had already applied a giant tourniquet to the payroll, and, barring special dispensation from Smith himself, no new names would be added, period.

Those of us who were actively involved in recruiting dreaded the arrival of each red memo, as it often meant that a lot of our recent efforts were about to go to waste, as offers could not be extended to candidates in the pipeline. As big a pain in the a** as this was, we silently appreciated what was going on.

You see, Smith was quick to hit the brakes in a slowing economy because one promise he had made to every one of us was that we would never be sent home due to a lack of work, unless the very survival of the enterprise was at stake. It wasn’t a formal policy as much as a personal promise. Still, the net result was that, whenever the economy slowed (and it did), and whenever we found ourselves temporarily overstaffed because a big project (e.g., Zapmail) crashed and burned, we were able to keep both eyes on our work, and worry about customers, rather than whether or not we would have a job.

For the same reason that FedEx stopped just shy of having a no layoff “policy”, wise managements studiously avoid making Big 3 (automaker) type commitments for benefits that employees haven’t earned, and the company simply can’t afford. Doing so is nether smart, nor sustainable, and in the end, it does no one any good.

Much has changed in the intervening years, most particularly the social and economic construct – the ‘deal” if you will, in the workplace. Terms like job security and loyalty have all but vanished from the workday vernacular. One thing that has not changed, however, is the fact that people who are proud of their work, and who feel that they are treated with respect and consideration are a lot more prone to part with copious amounts of their discretionary effort, or what we call, Oomph.  For this reason, organizations desiring to exit the current rough patch with their better players still on the “home” side of the field would do well to think about both the effect AND the sustainability of their employment practices.

A thought leader 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. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard, and their work, please visit their website at www.contentedcows.com

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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.

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