Performance Management: Beginning the Discussion

How many of us have heard…or uttered … these phrases in our professional lives?

“I haven’t had a performance review with my boss since I got here.”

“She couldn’t really tell me why I got the performance rating.”

“It’s not fair.  I know I did better than he says I did.”

“He said, I should ‘be happy’”

Are these the comments that stellar organizations and relations are built upon?  I think not.  If this is, or has been, a part of your journey, how can we as leaders make change?  Some believe that change can only occur from the top of an organization.  There is a grass roots component that I believe can enhance your work place and potentially have an impact on the larger organization.  It begins with first level leaders understanding key themes about managing employee performance to better the organization.  I have always thought of these as the key components of understanding outstanding employee performance management:

1.  WHY

2.  WHO

3.  WHAT

4.  HOW

5.  WHEN

Let’s address each of these in successive posts, starting with WHY.


1.  Critical to Business Success.  Employees must have expectations for performance excellence tied to goals.  Without employee performance expectations aligned with company vision and mission, employees and leaders struggle with focus.  When employee expectations are aligned and met, it is a simple progression that leads to enhanced engagement.

2.  Improves Colleague Engagement.  Simply doing without understanding why limits employee engagement.  Imagine the motivation when an employee actually gets it.  Think of how that employee feels about him/herself and the work required on a project, when they are clear on the importance of how their role relates to the end product.

3.  Drives Individual Employee Development.  As the leader assigns goals and/or objectives, it can be done with an eye toward stretching the ability of the employee.  In so doing, a business-complementary stretch objective is introduced; the employee senses trust on the part of the leader and can more easily align with growth/development opportunities.  Success for both parties is derived from employee growth and business success. Of course, employee accountability for performance is an important part of development and growth.

4.  Enhances Rewards and Recognition Program.  With a clear, established performance program, employees understand what is happening to them.  Comments like those that opened this blog can be reduced and eliminated.

We may even get solid suggestions and recommendations from our employees concerning rewards and recognition.  Talk about engagement!

5.  Incentivizes Employees.  Now we have employees who understand and participate in the organization’s rewards and recognition program. They are bought-in to their individual development objectives. They are engaged because there is clarity and understanding about what they are doing and why.  Because they see the alignment with overall business vision and goals, these employees are now leaning forward, looking for additional opportunities.

Once we have clarity about WHY performance management is valuable, we need to next look at WHO is involved in our performance management process. That is the topic for our next blog.

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This article was written by Gary Steele, Vice President with Learning Dynamics. Visit his personal profile page to learn more about Gary’s career and expertise.

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Learning Dynamics offers several customizable leadership development programs including Coaching for Results. Contact us today to learn how we can help your organization develop your supervisors and managers into leaders.


Training on Awareness and Preparedness Reduces Workplace Violence

Workplace violence is a good news/bad news story in the United States. The good news is that workplace violence has declined in the last decade as reported by Department of Justice statistics. The bad news, according to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), is that there are still nearly two million cases of workplace violence reported in the United States every year. The decline, we can hope, can be credited to better awareness among employers, especially human resources and corporate security practitioners, but we know there is still a lot of work to be done. This is where manager and employee training can play an important role.

The first and best step to reducing workplace violence is to confront the issue with training and consistent reinforcement so employees at every level are aware of the situations that can lead to violence. Actions like unfair treatment, bullying, and behavior by outsiders need to be recognized. (Did you know that the vast majority of violence incidents in retail environments are committed by strangers?)

Safe and Sound, Learning Dynamics’ workplace violence awareness and preparedness training, focuses on two key concepts: recognizing and responding. Through this training, managers and employees recognize behaviors that could lead to workplace violence if not promptly addressed. That’s where responding – appropriately and quickly – can literally become a life-saver.

Responding can include one or more of the following actions: calling 911; contacting security; engaging the help of human resources leadership; consulting with your company’s employee assistance program (EAP); using proven de-escalation techniques; and sometimes just documenting behavior.

Many employers have seen a bottom-line benefit to providing workplace violence avoidance training and services. A major communications company, for example, saw an immediate improvement in employee productivity when it provided support for employees dealing with domestic violence issues, something that can and has spilled into the workplace when perpetrators (“malicious intruders”) visit work sites and act on their anger.

Workplace violence is a risk employers need to recognize and mitigate. While training cannot ensure that violence will never happen, it can raise awareness and prepare people to act before tragedy strikes. Consider a training initiative now. Your employees and your corporate reputation will both benefit.

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Safe and Sound is Learning Dynamics’ workplace violence avoidance and preparedness training. Recently updated to address concerns in today’s workplace, it provides an engaging and awareness-raising opportunity for leaders and employees to address this important issue. Contact Learning Dynamics today to learn more.


Five Steps to Conference Call Success

Meetings that Drive Results is a popular training program with Learning Dynamics clients as many are working to find ways to have more effective meetings, fewer meetings, and different ways to communicate across teams. Conference calls are one option toward that end.

A participant at a recent session asked, “How do I help other managers who don’t trust the effectiveness of conference calls? This person wants to have in-person meetings, even when they are inconvenient for many. He doesn’t think conference calls work. He says that people don’t pay attention and no work gets done.”

While there are many ways to make conference calls more effective, we offered a five-step strategy to get everyone engaged in the calls and to ensure that work is accomplished.

Prepare an Agenda. This should be a part of every effective meeting, whether in-person or virtual, and it is especially valuable for conference calls. Let your participants know the start and end times, the topics to be discussed, and who is presenting what information. A compelling agenda will help get people on your call on time, ready to collaborate.

Track Participation. After you have taken attendance at the beginning of the call, keep a tally of who participates. Is Bob lurking in the shadows and staying quiet? Call on him for his insights and opinions. You will only have to do this a few times before people realize they can’t just dial in and go quiet.

Get Commitments. Make task assignments and clarification of next steps a non-negotiable part of every call. You cannot afford to let a call end without having a clear plan for what will happen next.

Follow Up. When the call is over, send out notes and a summary of commitments. Follow up individually with participants at appropriate times to ensure they are staying on track with their work.

Celebrate. Starting with the second conference call, recognize and celebrate the work accomplished to which your participants committed during the previous call. This positive feedback loop will help everyone understand the value of the conference calls and will keep them striving to fulfill the commitments they make during them.

While conference calls are not always ideal (sometimes the technology can be a big challenge!), they can save a lot of time and expense. The trick, of course, is to plan for the calls to be productive and successful, and then take the steps above to make the plan reality.

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Do you even need to have that meeting? Read this to decide for yourself.

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Learning Dynamics has been delivering customized employee training and development solutions to its clients for 35 years. Meetings that Drive Results is just one of many training initiatives that can help your organization improve efficiency and effectiveness. Contact Learning Dynamics today to learn more.


Three Ways to Explode Training ROI

During the 35 years that Learning Dynamics has been offering training and development solutions, we have seen client companies make significant changes for the better, with comprehensive, coordinated training being a crucial part of the initiatives. We have also seen companies make no changes at all. Our interest, of course, is to see our clients maximize their training budget return on investment (ROI). After all, if we can show that training and development investments pay for themselves, we are likely to be brought back for future engagements (more than 80% of clients invite us back). We are truly partnered with our clients.

The companies we have worked with, and continue to work with, those getting the most out of their training dollars, do all or some of the following. More effort in these three areas can lead to better outcomes.

Big Bang. One of our banking industry clients recognized that they were spending too much time having meetings, and some – maybe more than just some – were ineffective or not as efficient as they could be. Senior leaders decided to make a change and implement it immediately. Learning Dynamics helped with training to enable their managers to make better use of meeting time and to consider other options. By getting involved and making it happen at the highest levels, the organization paid attention. They made a big deal of the change and did it quickly. It got everyone involved in making the changes successful.

Leadership Engagement. Walk the walk, don’t just talk the talk. We have found the most successful implementations include senior leaders modeling the behaviors they want to see and making the improvements part of their everyday discussions. Rather than just budgeting for training for everyone below them in the organization, these leaders took the time to understand and influence the training initiatives and their content, and supported them by changing their own behavior.

Reinforcement & Refreshers. Another client with a large customer-facing team, one that has a long history of excellent customer service and loyalty, wanted to encourage its people to be more purposeful in understanding customer needs and making recommendations for additional products and services. The goal was to deepen the customer relationship with the company without being too “salesy.” Management did not want to alienate long-time customers or sacrifice its service standards by trying for a hard sell.

Learning Dynamics provided organization-wide training and additional follow-up materials over six months – what we call Skills Sharpeners – to allow company managers and supervisors to continue the training conversation over an extended period. They used the tools to conduct short follow-up training and as a script for one-on-one coaching. The result: customer-facing employees are asking more exploratory questions and generating incremental business. This Learning Dynamics client considers its investment a success, and they’ve agreed to have us back in this year.

Keeping a training initiative alive after the training event is over should be the goal of every organization. By using some or all of the above ideas, your company can boost ROI and make managers at every level of the organization embrace and champion training and development efforts. In the end, employees and customers benefit while sales and profit grow. Isn’t that the point? Ask us how we can help.


Learning Dynamics is proud of its 35-year history of consulting with clients on how Investing in People(TM) can make a big difference in business outcomes. 


Contact us today to learn more.


The Thoughtful Leader

As leaders we often insert ourselves into situations to drive decisions.  Once engaged we want to solve them, quickly extricate ourselves, and move on to the next challenge.

If we haven’t thought these situations through – our involvement, the desired end state, and how we will get there – we can find ourselves caught in the ever-tightening grip of our problem.  How might we better manage our challenge?


Are we victims of our push for speed?  For the great majority of situations we encounter, the “standard” speed to solution will work.  Certainly there are times when we must make fast decisions…and we do.  I heard a phrase once that goes, “If you want it bad, you’ll get it…BAD”!  How many times have we seen things get redone because of the pressure applied to reach a fast decision?  Time, people, resources, and profitability can be wasted.


To create a framework for success, what can we do?  We pause, analyze, consider, decide, and execute.  If one thinks about all elements of a situation (WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHY) perhaps one might not find themselves imprisoned by their own good intentions.

Many years ago I learned a tool primarily used to create a document for the effective planning and execution of military operations.  I learned it as the Five Paragraph Field Order.  It consists of five paragraphs within which a leader captures the basic elements of a plan to successfully accomplish a mission.

Here is a quick look at the five elements:

SITUATION.  Before diving into creating a solution, the situation at hand must be accurately described.  This includes all positive and negative factors impacting decisions.

MISSION.  After understanding the situation, the leader can intelligently articulate the objective or goal.  This is a thoughtfully composed planning component that includes the WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, and WHY.

EXECUTION.  Here is where the leader clearly lays out how he/she sees the operation unfolding to accomplish the mission.

ADMINISTRATION AND LOGISTICS.  This incudes the leader’s guidance on the use of all available resources for mission accomplishment.

COMMAND AND COMMUNICATION.  It is important that all involved parties are clear on individual and group responsibilities.  All must understand “who’s responsible for what,” and how we will communicate status.

In any environment – civilian, military, for profit, and non – collaboration and delegation must play a part, too. An intelligent leader will take the time to understand if she or he is even needed. Can the employees handling the situation do it on their own? Can we create a developmental opportunity through which others can learn and grow? Sometimes the top person doesn’t need to be involved at all.


Not every challenge faced by today’s and tomorrow’s leaders will necessarily require something of the magnitude of the Five Paragraph Field Order.  It is up to us, as thoughtful leaders, to discern the level of planning and execution required to drive our organizations to success. What’s important is that there is a thoughtful process used to navigate challenges.

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This article was written by Gary Steele, Vice President with Learning Dynamics. Visit his personal profile page to learn more about Gary’s career and expertise.

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Learning Dynamics offers several customizable leadership development programs including Coaching for Results. Contact us today to learn how we can help your organization develop your supervisors and managers into leaders.


Don’t Wait to Give This

Black Friday is just behind us, and Cyber Monday is off to a record-breaking pace as everyone searches for holiday gifts at the lowest possible price. Then we will wrap them up and give them to our family, friends, customers, and coworkers over the coming weeks. It’s a fun time of year, for sure.

Our employees are deserving of something, too. We aren’t talking about a box of chocolate or a gift card, but recognition. In nearly every survey and study of the workplace, employees say they wish for more recognition. Giving it, and meaning it, can make the difference between a healthy, vibrant team and a place of drudgery and high turnover.

Here are some of the keys to offering recognition:

Be Timely. The best time to give recognition is when it is earned. Don’t wait. As a leader who is working to generate energy and build a high performance team, you should take a moment to offer recognition while the positive behavior you have seen is still fresh and memorable. If you wait a day or a week, your recognition will be less powerful. The right words at the right time have impact.

Be Specific. They don’t give out the Oscars to actors, directors and the rest without mentioning the film that is being honored. That would be ridiculous. When offering recognition, mention something specific about the performance. “I really appreciate the dedication you showed by staying late to work on that customer issue.”

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For more on building high performance teams, see Hire It & Inspire It.

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Link It. Take your recognition to the next level by linking the positive behavior to some immediate or future benefit. Make the connection for your employee so she will understand not just the fact that you appreciate some specific behavior, but how it will affect the company and its customers in the future. To add on to the statement above, “I’m sure your work will improve our relationship with the customer and lead to future sales.”

Be Personal. When offering recognition, make it clear that you, as the employee’s supervisor, personally appreciate the effort made. This one-to-one relationship building will prove valuable over time, especially when you have to ask for some extra effort in the future. Your team members are more likely to perform in a pinch if you have this leadership equity with them.

Be Public. Leverage is the idea here. Public recognition makes the experience that much better for the person receiving it, and it helps others. They can learn what’s important in your firm and how to earn praise themselves. They might even be inspired to perform better. Your public recognition can be delivered in person – maybe a brief department meeting or a stand-up huddle – or any other way that works for you. If you have a multi-shift operation, written recognition on a bulletin board or electronic resource (e.g., email, intranet page) could be appropriate.

Recognition is powerful. It’s free, it’s meaningful, and it works. Give that gift of recognition right now. Make regular, consistent recognition part of your routine to build your high performance team.

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Learning Dynamics helps leaders at every level learn to be better leaders. Bringing Out the Best in Others teaches participants leadership skills to enhance teamwork, morale, and organizational performance. Ask for more information today.


Moving the Needle by Motivating Millennials

Millennials now make up about 40% of the US workforce. As Baby Boomers retire, these youngest workers who were born in the 80’s and 90’s are becoming more important than ever before to the success of your organization. Companies that engage this group will win, while those for which Millennials are a mystery will struggle.

There are things Millennials have in common with everyone else. Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and our youngest employees (Gen Z?), all like to be recognized for doing good work. Who doesn’t like to be appreciated? Also, everyone needs their basic needs met. A reliable paycheck, pleasant work environment, and other base-level considerations must be addressed. That’s the foundation. Here are some ideas to consider, and some things to avoid, as you take the Millennial motivation and management challenge more seriously.

Do These Things

Help Millennials understand the meaning behind their work. Why is what you are asking me to do important? How does it affect others in the company? How does it help our customers? How does this work move us forward in our mission? These and other questions should be answered to get Millennials engaged. It’s not that they enjoy playing 20 Questions; rather, they want to understand how their work is important. Help them connect the dots.

Engage Millennials by showing them corporate values are real. Nearly every industry has been affected by Millennials’ search for authenticity. Whether considering the food they eat, the cars they drive (if they do at all), the clothes they wear, or where they choose to work, Millennials want to know your words are backed by action. If your actions are inconsistent with stated goals and values, you can expect Millennials to head for the exits.

Spend time with career planning. How do you see your youngest employees progressing in the organization? Have you shared this by discussing it directly with them? If not, you run the risk of losing talented people to other organizations that present a more compelling vision. Your Boomers might have been OK with a no-news-is-good-news approach, but that isn’t going to work with your youngest employees.

Respect them and ask for their opinions. Millennials come from different parenting and educational experiences than earlier generations. Relationships have been less rigid and more open. They expect their opinions and ideas to be heard and respected. If they don’t get this chance, they will find somewhere else where their contributions will be considered.

Don’t Do These Things

Expect loyalty. This isn’t your fault. Millennials are a product of the economy they have witnessed and experienced. They know nobody who has experienced lifetime employment with the same company. On the contrary, they have seen parents and others laid off in round after round of downsizings. They do not expect to be with you forever, even if you try to convince them otherwise.

Set rigid work rules and requirements. Why, exactly, do your employees need to be in at 8:30 AM? Why do you want them to dress a certain way? “Why?” is a big question, so be prepared to answer it effectively. If not, you run the risk of being seen as a fossil who makes rules “just because we’ve always done it that way.” You will also alienate this group and lose some great people.

Talk about shareholder value. Millennials are not interested in making the shareholders wealthy. This will be especially true if shareholder interests are in conflict with some other social value. See the comments about authenticity above.

As Millennials continue to grow in importance in the workplace, their contributions can make a significant difference in the performance of your organization. By getting this intelligent, tech-savvy, high-energy group engage in their work and your mission, you can move the performance needle to new highs. Get to know your people and what’s important to them so you all (yes, even your shareholders) can reap the rewards.

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Learning Dynamics can help you maximize the contributions of all generations in your organization. Ask us about Managing a Multigenerational Workforce and other training programs to help your company invest in people.


Prioritizing and Planning for Success

Time management is one of the popular topics we train our client organizations at Learning Dynamics. Managers and senior executives recognize their teams need the training and individual contributors and first-line supervisors realize they need it. Many feel overwhelmed by the demands of the day. They find themselves reacting rather than planning, responding to the latest crisis rather than investing their efforts into achieving important, lasting outcomes. Here are some ideas that resonate with our training participants.

Understanding the Difference Between the Urgent And the Important.

Reactive approaches typically find us on the work treadmill, sweating and straining to keep up while never getting anywhere. Urgency created in a reactive environment can burn people out and leave them frustrated as their goals never get closer. Good leaders should recognize when their people are simply responding, putting out fires, rather than working toward important outcomes. Coaching by leaders can make a big difference.

Taking Time to Plan

Less experienced employees frequently admit to not having a plan for their day and week. Instead, they show up to work and deal with things as they cross their desks. This might be appropriate in some roles, but for many working in our knowledge economy, one in which companies hire people for their ability to contribute at a level above the rote and routine, planning based on priorities must be part of the roadmap to success.

Knowing When to Say “No”

A critical skill among successful time managers is the ability to say “no” to certain activities. Typically the frivolous and distracting, these are time-wasters that deserve no time on the professional’s calendar. Managers can help their people think about and determine which items can be removed from the schedule and workplace by looking critically at the low-value tasks that can be eliminated or pushed further down in the organization (or out of it altogether).

Keeping Everyone in Their Pay Grade

A good indicator of whether a person is functioning at his or her level – and hopefully above – is the occasional check-in with that person’s job description. Is the employee fulfilling her roles and responsibilities, or is she spending time operating at a lower functional level? Frequently, this situation is the product of poor planning and prioritization, and a supportive manager can have the coaching conversation to keep that employee focused on higher-value functions that will help her or him and the entire organization reach its goals. (It could also uncover the need for additional resources to allow your talented thought workers more time to do what you are paying them to do.)

The sad truth is that many young professionals have never been exposed to the ideas of planning and prioritization and have no idea how to do it. With a small investment of a leader’s time, this next generation of your company’s managers can be working smarter by focusing on important, high-value activities to drive results, rather than low-value tasks that just fill the day.

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Learning Dynamics can help your company inspire better productivity and effectiveness with time management training. Ask us how today.


I Heard What You Didn’t Say

Your Smile Does a Lot of Good!

Your Smile Does a Lot of Good!

- By Bev Bahmanyari, Learning Dynamics Consultant

The next time you are waiting at an airport gate and passing the time by people watching, see yourself as a behavioral scientist conducting some research.  Check your thoughts for the first noun that pops into your head to describe your fellow travelers.  Even without the benefit of hearing them speak you’ll find you have no problem coming up with a descriptive noun for each person you observe.

A study of the communication process was written in 1972 by Albert Mehrabian, a behavioral psychologist, who determined that 55% of our communication is processed through nonverbals.  You will likely agree with this when you become aware of how strong your opinions of someone can be just by watching that person for a moment.

Our first impressions actually take only a few seconds.  Think of all the ways that happens: a handshake, appearance, walk, posture, hygiene, eye contact, gestures, and other traits.  All of these nonverbals are creating an instant turn-on or turn-off!

Most people are unaware of the importance of the unspoken messages they are sending.  The silent skills are critical; those who are aware of and hone their skills in this area are more likely to get the job, close the sale, establish strong relationships and create the needed networks for success.

So, how do we know how we come across to others?  You can do a self-check when you are walking through a mall or down the street and catch a glimpse of your reflection in a window or a mirror.  What do you see?  Do you look friendly and approachable?  Oftentimes, we are deep in thought, and we actually look a little mean and detached.

How are your handshake and eye contact?  There is an art and science to creating positive first impressions.  First of all, it takes awareness of what your reaction is to others (i.e. the airport experience) and the degree of your own self-awareness.  Remember, we rarely see ourselves as others see us.

Where can we start?  There is one universal nonverbal that seems to break down almost all barriers that many people don’t do often enough: a genuine and sincere SMILE.  That’s right; so simple, yet so powerful.  It’s the language that tells everyone “I’m approachable”, “I’m safe,” and “I’m kind.”  Sometimes we wonder why people don’t seem to be connected anymore.  How can we connect when we have our faces connected to technology the majority of our waking hours?  We appear cold and disconnected to our fellow humans.  Again, simple eye contact with a smile and perceptions can change in an instant.

When you are done with your airport experiment, be the guinea pig and try out the smile tactic.  See how it will resonate and change the atmosphere if only for a moment.  If you’re lucky, perhaps others will pay it forward.  In any case, it will do good things for you.  Scientists say that the muscles in our face that we use to smile actually release those good endorphins that make us feel better. Smiling actually creates a better mood; you can inspire your brain to be happier.  Give it a try.  What have you got to lose?

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Learning Dynamics can help your team communicate better by mastering the art of nonverbal communication. Ask us today how we can help your employees communicate more effectively to create better business results and teamwork with Learning Dynamics training programs.


Sprint or Marathon?

Have you read the New York Times piece on the tough work environment at Amazon? There has been a huge amount of coverage about the article itself and the responses by CEO Jeff Bezos and his lieutenants. Stress, tears, and very long work hours – along with hefty compensation for top performers – are all part of that company’s culture, and it can be argued that it has worked for them.

The bigger questions raised by this discussion are important. What is the culture you want in your organization? What must your organization do to compete and thrive? What do you and your top leaders want the company to be known for?

While the Amazon story gives a clear description of a tough, combative work environment – some might label it a cold meritocracy – it also is one that gets results. If you are competing against Amazon – and that includes most every organization that sells and ships anything – its intense focus on taking market share is one that should cause concern. Your customers are likely buying from them sometimes. What can you do? Do you need to transform your organization by adopting the Amazon culture, or can you get results some other way?

The short answer is this: You can get results however you would like, but your team needs to understand expectations. This starts with the hiring and selection process, through onboarding, and during the employee’s entire stay with your company.

Is your company one that encourages long tenure and values loyalty? Will it settle for 90% effectiveness rather than demanding – often demonstrated with midnight emails and text messages – 110% over months? Do you see your organization made up of a team of people running a metaphorical marathon? If so, then create and nurture a performance management and rewards systems that is consistent with that desired culture.

Is yours an organization that runs at a flat-out sprint? Does it bring in people for a relatively short time, work them hard, and reward them well, fully prepared for short tenure and a constantly active hiring team? Then be sure all of the elements – selection, training, compensation, executive messages, and exit protocols – are consistent with that paradigm.

In the end, there are not necessarily any right or wrong ways to run your business. If everyone is honest, ethical, and in compliance with the law, it is your choice as a leader as to which way lead. Just be clear and consistent, ensuring  all know what to expect. Anything less is dishonest and a path to trouble.


Learning Dynamics can help your organization inspire great performance from its people. Visit us today to learn about our leadership programs that allow you to invest in people who will give you great results. Contact us today for more information.