Category Archives: Goal Setting

The One Skill That Most Managers Lack

Did you know that current research indicates that the No. 1 leadership skill most managers lack is communication with empathy?

The need to “create a communication-friendly environment” was the first choice listed on the top 10 skills and qualities of leaders by Officevibe, a fast-growing web-based tool for human resource and business leaders. And in 2015, an Interact/Harris Poll of approximately 1,000 U.S. workers illustrated the importance of opening those communication lines with empathy. In the poll, 91% of employees reported that communication is an area where executives need to improve, and a closer look at the results reveals a striking need for more empathy in the workplace. A failure to recognize employee achievements was cited by 63% of respondents, topping the list of specific communication issues. That list also included refusing to talk to subordinates (51%) and taking credit for others’ ideas (47%). Some in the survey even complained of bullying by management.  

All employees are entitled to a respectful work environment, but communication with empathy can impact more than that. As it raises team morale, it also can improve the bottom line.

According to Gallup’s 2015 State of the American Manager, disengaged employees cost up to $500 billion in lost productivity per year – with poor managers responsible for at least 70% of that employee disengagement. Liz Ryan, HR professional and author of the book Reinvention Roadmap, says the No. 1 skill these managers need is what she calls “perspective-taking.” In her column on that subject for, Ryan spells out a “working” definition of communication with empathy. “The more often you consciously step out of your own perspective to take someone else’s view, the more powerful you will become,” Ryan says.

So if you are trying to narrow the focus of any leadership training and development efforts you may be considering in the near term, this is one you may want to prioritize for anyone who manages people.

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Learning Dynamics offers training, organization development and coaching services that can help your organization grow and excel. Contact us today, call 203.265.7499 or email

The Most Important Question To Ask Yourself

“What did you learn today?”  It was a question I was often asked at the end of school days.  It was a question I heard often in my corporate years, after completing training or implementing a new process.  It has become a central question for me in undertaking any new endeavor, personal or professional.  It’s a key question to ask oneself when faced with successes or failures, achievements, or disappointments.  “What did you learn?” implies identification of what worked and what didn’t and defines the path forward.

The need to learn is a given.  Without learning, say goodbye to growth, evolution, personal and professional development, and constant improvement.  More importantly, say goodbye to your business if learning is not a constant.

Learning is a strategic initiative, and arguably the most critical component for a company’s growth and success.   And it can never stop.  Employee training and development is essential, but if training doesn’t result in demonstrated learning, it’s just lip service.  For a company or an individual, learning must be greater than or equal to the rate of change.

Educator Neil Postman stated that “children enter school as question marks and leave as periods.”  In many instances, the same can be said for adults entering the corporate world.  It is imperative to keep the question marks on the forefront.

So how does one go about making sure that employees are learning, learning, and learning without cessation?  This is where training comes in.   Training must be meaningful to the employee, not a formalistic exercise to satisfy a regulation or required hours.

All training programs have learning objectives, but every training program ever designed and conducted must include this objective:   To generate thought.  Thought leads to understanding and awareness, which leads to paradigm shifts and inevitable growth.  Growth is the greatest ROI there is for an individual or a company.  Think about the difference between a degree and an education.  Getting a degree means attending classes, obtaining the required credits, and passing tests.  Obtaining an education requires critical thinking and understanding.  Author Wallace Wattles stated: “There is no labor from which most people shrink as they do from that of sustained and consecutive thought; it is the hardest work in the world.”

In educating people on content, trainers must never lose sight of the intent, which is to generate thought and increase learning.  Learning needs to be integrated into all processes and outcomes.  Too often, training and subsequent learning is in reaction to something that failed.  If a valued customer is lost due to poor customer service, it’s easy to mandate customer service training . . but it’s also too late.

At Learning Dynamics, we customize each learning solution to ensure that participants are challenged to think, learn, and grow. Our goal is to have them answer a key question:  “What did you learn today?”

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Performance Reviews Are Coming: 5 Ways to More Value

2014 Review Score ImageAs the office holiday parties roll on, and wishes for happy holidays and the new year are shared, that can only mean one thing. Year-end performance reviews are just a calendar page away for many companies. Just like last year, it’s possible that you and your team look forward to them for only one reason: the money that comes from bonuses and merit increases.

Shouldn’t there be more to it, though? Shouldn’t there be some lasting value from the time invested in writing and delivering them? The answer, obviously, is yes. Last year at about this time, we shared some ideas on making the process better. Here are some others that can make this a performance-enhancing time, rather than just a performance-reviewing one.

Allow Time. Do you give your team enough time to prepare their self-review section? Do they even do one? Many workplaces (outside of retail, delivery services, travel and other seasonal industries) experience a little downtime during December. Encourage your team to reflect on the year now while there is some time to think before the January 2nd resumption of regular business rhythm.

Expect Specifics. If you are not doing this already, improve your review process by including a conversation and documentation about specific performance metrics from the year. Encourage your team members to review their own scorecards, dashboards and other reports as they evaluate themselves. The slower weeks in December can be a good time to pull that information.

Have Balance. While numbers are important in every business, there are also some intangibles that should be part of the conversation. These might include exemplifying company values, volunteerism and corporate social responsibility efforts, developing and mentoring others, and representing the brand.

Look Forward. Reviews are helpful in recording past results, and provide an opportunity to celebrate victories, thank employees for their efforts, and challenge them to improve. Be sure to include a look toward the future so progress in key results areas continues. See our related SMART goals story for more about this.

Collaborate on Goals. Nobody likes a goal given to them. Consider using a coaching approach to ask your employee about the goals she or he would like to set, and how it will be done. If you and your organization are clear communicators of mission and overall strategy, a competent employee should be able to articulate at least some goals for herself. Encourage and allow it to happen.

Reviews do not have to be drudgery. Instead, they can be valuable and contribute to improved performance. Work on it now and your annual review process can be an important part of your overall performance and talent development program.


Learning Dynamics offers several customizable programs to help managers be more effective at giving performance feedback. Learn about Honest Appraisal™ and other programs at our Programs page

Training Delivers More with Goals

training goals resultsGoals that are integrated into leadership training create better outcomes. This is the message of a study published by the Academy of Management Learning & Education in 2012 (abstract here). In this detailed work by Johnson et al., 360-degree surveys were used to measure perceived changes in people who had participated in leadership development training. Some had goals included in the training program, while other leaders did not.

The study showed a strong correlation between goal-setting by the leaders and the changes witnessed by their followers and other stakeholders. The message is clear: goal-setting with action and follow up will deliver better ROI on the effort.

What can your organization do with this knowledge? Think about how training can be aligned with business priorities and the routine activities of those who participate in the training. Ask participants to create goals based on the new skills learned.

Here is an example of what we are talking about.

Training Topic: Better Communication with Direct-Reports

Desired Outcome: Leaders who go through this training will understand how regularly planned check-ins with their team members will improve communication and organizational performance. Leaders will be encouraged to build a routine business rhythm for these sessions.

Goal:  Leaders will change their calendars to allow for one regularly-scheduled 30-minute check in with each direct report each week starting in two weeks.

The next step, of course, is to follow up to see if these things are happening and the impact the meetings – or whatever the targeted action – are having on the organization. If the desired outcome is to build communication between team members and their leaders, check in with those team members to see if it’s happening. Do they see a difference? If so, you win!

Every situation will be different. Your organization’s follow-up and measurement strategy will vary with the training activities and goals. Just remember to build a goal-setting component into your training initiative to improve effectiveness and ROI.


Learning Dynamics has more than 30 years of experience helping clients develop and deliver effective training programs that improve organizational performance. Speak with us today to learn how we can help you as you are Investing in People™.



Coaching is not Another Word for Managing

What comes to mind when you hear the word “coach”? Do you think of the guy at the sideline, pacing, watching and calling plays? Is this just the word your company uses for managers? Does it mean anything at all?

Leaders who coach, and those who coach for a living, have a different idea about coaching, coaches and clients/coachees. A clear definition of coaching, as opposed to managing, mentoring, training or counseling, is a good place to start. There are plenty of definitions, but this one will work:

Coaching is a process through which a coach inspires a client to achieve performance excellence by encouraging critical thinking about options, commitment to action, and by creating an environment of accountability and recognition.

One of the most important and difficult lessons for a coach in a business environment (as opposed to an athletic coach) to learn is this: The coach does not give advice or tell the client what to do. Instead, the coach does a few things well and consistently.

First, the coach asks open-ended questions to get the client to consider alternative courses of action. An effective coach will get the client to think and consider options that she may have not already considered. The coach draws ideas out of the client, allowing the client to decide her next steps for herself. Here is an example: What other options have you considered to deal with this issue?

Second, the coach encourages action and helps the client clarify his goals. Specific, time-bound goals are the meat and potatoes of the coaching relationship. Great ideas must convert to action and accomplishments.

Third, the coach provides recognition for goals achieved and accountability for less-than-full effort. Challenging questions addressing failures to act are part of the conversation.

In the end, the client will rise to better performance by making and following through on commitments to action. The coach will stand aside and watch, letting the client succeed and realize the rewards of her effort. There is plenty of satisfaction in coaching, but the coach telling the client what to do to be successful is not part of the deal. Instead, the coach helps the client become a more successful person with the skills to continue learning, growing and excelling.


Learning Dynamics can help your organization thrive by incorporating coaching practices that create a culture of accountability and success. Contact us to find out how Coaching for Results can help your company win.

Performance Reviews: 3 Tips for Better Impact

Annual performance reviews don’t get a lot of respect. In many cases, managers don’t like writing them, employees don’t like receiving them, and for many, the whole process is seen as the hurdle standing in the way of bonuses and salary increases. It doesn’t have to be this way!

A November 2013 article in BusinessWeek shares some stark statistics that illustrate just how bad it is. The story cites a 1997 survey showing a mere 5% approval rating among employees about their company’s process. A 2010 survey of HR managers – the people who run the review programs – said that 58% don’t like what they have going on in their own organizations.

The biggest problem, and something that we teach our clients to avoid, is the infrequent nature of reviews. Performance reviews need to happen more than once a year, and the content and nature of them should never surprise an employee. An annual “gotcha!”? No thanks!

Which of these scenarios sounds closest to the review culture at your company?

A. Reviews are a formality that we must complete to give raises.
B. Our reviews really just document performance shortfalls to justify smaller increases or no increases at all.
C. Reviews celebrate success, set engaging goals for the new year, and energize the organization.

If you answered something other than C, your organization could be getting more out of the annual ritual. Here are some ideas.

  1. Rather than a once year, create a more frequent schedule of performance reviews. Consider quarterly at a minimum, or even monthly, feedback. Once you create a plan, stick to it. Your team will come to expect and value regular discussions.
  2. Balance positive feedback with constructive, actionable criticism (if appropriate).
  3. Create a safe, collaborative culture around your regular review sessions. Nobody wants a monthly beat-up session. Nearly everyone wants to know where they stand and to have the opportunity to discuss their accomplishments and goals.

If your performance review process isn’t helping, it’s probably hurting. No organization has the luxury of wasting time on valueless activities. Make the effort useful, or maybe don’t do it at all.

These are some of the points that Learning Dynamics teaches in its Honest Appraisal™ training sessions. Let us know if we can help your organization get more out of your review process.

Training ROI: Include it in Your Plan

When was the last time your company spent money when the question of ROI was not raised? In the 90s? Never? Every manager worth her paycheck needs to consider the benefit of every investment and expense. Training is no exception. Here are some ways to think about the benefits of training and how you will measure it that will satisfy everyone.

Include your ROI calculations from the start. Why are you going to deliver this training? What do you need to change that includes training as part of the solution? Think about what you want to change, how training can assist, and how you will measure it. Getting approvals for this and future training initiatives will require this crucial step.

Where is the organization now (especially compared to your strongest competitor)? Some baseline measurements can be crucial in determining the need for training and the effectiveness of the path that your organization takes. How is your organization performing relative to competitors or other units within your company? Identify a handful of metrics that you want to improve with training as the solution.

What employee behaviors will change with training? Your training focus and goals will always include some behavioral changes in the trainees. How can you measure whether or not that has happened? Think about customer surveys, secret shoppers, risk reporting or new tools that you can create to measure the training’s effectiveness.

Monetize the measurements. Not every metric will easily convert to dollars, but most will. If you make the effort to do it, you can answer the ROI question easily for this and future initiatives. Here are some data points to consider: Customer acquisition costs, sales closing percentages, cost per incident (e.g., safety, HR, complaints). Show the financial improvement that comes from your training initiatives and follow-up.

What are your dashboard items and how can behavioral changes driven by effective training improve results? If you can answer that question, you can not only justify training, but you can articulate the costs of not training. How are you helping your competitors by not investing in staff development?

Learning Dynamics has over 30 years of experience helping its clients maximize their training ROI with its consultative results-based approach. Contact us today to discuss how we can help your organization meet its goals with the help of customized training solutions.

Getting SMART at Work

Is your team using SMART as a basic goal-setting tool? As we deliver training to clients across the country, we find that many first-time supervisors and early-career managers learn a lot from this acronym. Many have not seen it before, but it is a classic tool that doesn’t get old.

In case you haven’t seen it before, or if it’s been a while, here is a simple way to be more effective in your goal setting:

Specific: When setting a goal, be very specific about what you are to achieve. Use a number or some other clear descriptor of what you will achieve.

Measurable: If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.

Aggressive: Stretch yourself. If your goal is to do what you have always done, why bother?

Realistic: Aggressive is great, but if it is too ambitious and you know that you can’t possibly reach it, you will not be committed to achieving it. I might want to lose 20 pounds, but it’s not realistic to think that I can do it by this weekend.

Time-Bound: A goal without a deadline is a wish.

Here is an example of what we are talking about.

SCENARIO: A sales person who normally makes 15 to 20 calls a day without a lot of strain needs to pick up the pace.

BAD GOAL 1: I am going to make some sales calls. (Not specific)

BAD GOAL 2: I will make 50 calls before lunch today. (Too aggressive)

SMART GOAL: I am going to make 25 sales calls before 5 PM today.

The 25-call goal is a stretch that is a little better than current performance, but it is realistic. Everything else works to make it SMART, too.

SMART goals can be used for task and time management, performance coaching, self-assessments and in nearly any other area of professional life where goal-setting comes into play.

The next time you need to set a goal, get SMART.

Learning Dynamics has offered powerful employee training and development programs for over 31 years. Discover how we can help your employees use this and other tools to achieve peak performance at work.