Category Archives: Management

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

7 Tips for Emotional Conversations

Emotional Conversations

How do you prepare for a potentially emotional conversation? Many inexperienced leaders –  and others, too – struggle with this common scenario. Some avoid it. In most every case, reticence to have these discussions leads to stress, anxiety rooted in procrastination and fear, and lost team productivity and effectiveness.

It is in everyone’s best interest to handle these conversations as quickly as possible. Here are some tips that you can use yourself, or to coach others as they prepare.

Have a Plan: Detail everything about the conversation. What will be discussed? When and where will it happen? What is the goal of the conversation?

Deal with it Now: Unnecessary delay has many negative effects. Continued poor performance, the stress that comes from artificial team harmony, and the opportunity cost of spending time thinking about something that should have already been addressed are just the beginning. Deal with it and move on.

Choose Your Setting: Potentially emotional and negative conversations must be held in private. No exceptions. Ensure that privacy is a top priority. Avoid distractions like phones, computers and visitors.

Have a Clear Goal: What does the supervisor expect to change as a result of the talk? While this is part of the plan, it is worthy of its own bullet here because it is that important.

Have Your Facts Ready: Are you having a performance discussion? Use the reports and other tools that you need to make your case. Preparation will lead to an efficient and effective conversation based on facts, rather than a painful and vague discussion built on the sands of assumption.

Don’t Take it Personally: Keep the conversation professional and as dispassionate as possible. People can be naturally defensive, so expect it. This isn’t about you; it’s about the other person.

Keep it Focused and Concise: Don’t try to ease into the conversation with small talk. Greet the person, invite her or him to sit down, and explain why you are initiating the conversation.

Recognize that tough conversations are a part of all our work experiences. Learning how to manage them effectively and calmly can make this unwelcome part of our work lives less onerous.


Learning Dynamics offers learning and development solutions to help your team members become better communicators. Contact us today to discuss your needs.



L&D Secret Ingredient: Executive Endorsement

Why do some learning and development initiatives flourish while others founder and fail? Why do some generate monstrous ROI while others are a waste of time and money? There can be many reasons, but a common one is executive endorsement and follow-through, or lack of it. The boss sets the tone and focuses energy on priorities. Training is one of those things that will get the attention it deserves or not based on leadership urgency.

At a recent conference, members of the Learning Dynamics team took part in conversations with training managers and other learning and development professionals from around the country. When the topic of conversation came around to obstacles to effective training, lack of leadership’s commitment was a too-common comment.

With that in mind, what can an organization do to not just eliminate executive roadblocks, but engage and energize the most senior managers to make training outcomes a top priority? Here are some ideas.

Get executive buy-in early. Senior leaders need to understand the need for training and what they can expect from the effort and expense. What is the ROI? Paint the picture of better financial and customer service results and anything else that is important to the organization.

Ask for support. Learning and development advocates must enlist support. A conversation starting with, “If this training investment is going to make sense, we will need your help with…” Fill in the blanks by asking for specific support on key messages and expectations of behavioral change.

Take a stand on outcomes. Do your learning and development advocates have skin in the game? Are they willing to commit to some level of performance improvement? If they don’t believe in it, the top people likely will not either.

Celebrate success along the way. If the training initiative is important, it deserves internal publicity. Recruit an executive champion (cheerleader, perhaps?) to give it the air time and attention it deserves. Celebrate incremental improvements that can be tied back to the L&D effort.

Document the effort. After your training program is complete and the results are in, recap the results. Prepare a concise executive summary to explain the outcomes of the training. Can you show causality from the training to the performance improvements? Take nothing for granted. Document it.

What ideas do you have to get executive endorsement? We would love to hear them. Share your ideas here.


Learning Dynamics can help your company create a comprehensive learning and development program that includes executive tools to reinforce the effort and improve its effectiveness. Contact us today for a free consultation.

People and (not “or”) Machines

people and machinesToyota is taking tasks back from the robots. A compelling piece on Quartz explains that the carmaker’s executives realized that people still play an important role in production and that something is lost when employees do little more than feed the machine. Humans use their creativity and wisdom to envision new and better ways of doing a job, while computers and robots simply follow their programs. It’s a big difference. Toyota’s quality and efficiency have improved as a result.

There is something to be learned from this for all business leaders. While computers and robotics have helped us make giant improvements in quality, reliability and safety, and they handle many monotonous mind-numbing tasks that people don’t want to do, people still contribute in a special way. Creativity is part of it. Intuition, inspiration and joyful experimentation make a difference, too.

Have you ever seen a technology implementation deliver less than expected? How about a new process or an outsourcing initiative to failed to achieve its goals? Is it possible that the best people have had their roles reduced or eliminated and something has been lost?

Maybe the sweet spot is somewhere in the middle. A strategy where the best, most talented people are engaged and inspired to create, while the machines do the heavy lifting, should be explored. Until the day when computers can think for themselves – and that is still a long time away (we hope) – the spark and serendipitous discovery that only happen when people have a part will make a critical difference.

What is your organization doing to train, inspire and retain its best people, those who can “master the machines”? Who are your masters, or who will be with enough time, training and development.


Learning Dynamics offers a wide range of training and development solutions for progressive, forward-looking organizations.

LMX: Are You Engaging?


Leader Member Exchange Drives Engagement

Great employee engagement has been shown to drive better sales, service and profitability. It makes sense, even without numbers to support the claim. It stands to reason that employees who believe in the corporate mission, have the tools they need, understand how their work is important, and intend to stick around will perform better than their disengaged peers. Jumping up a level, the engaged team or organization will stomp on its rivals, winning market share and raving fans for customers.

How do leaders play a role? There is a vast body of research that points to the importance of “Leader Member Exchange” or LMX. LMX is focused on the quality, content and frequency of interactions between leaders and team members. Those leaders who can connect with their team members in individual, meaningful ways tend to have more engaged people and better results. Knowing this is different than doing this, of course.

Some say that people are born leaders. We can make the opposite case, though, by focusing on this element of leadership. It is something that can be trained and measured. For example, we can ask a new supervisor to schedule and complete weekly 15-minute one-on-one conversations with each member of her team. This easily trained and measured tactic can help a person develop and grow as a leader. And this is just one example.

While some people are more charismatic than others, and will have an advantage in getting people to follow, charisma is neither sufficient nor predictive. Personality only gets one so far. The rest is about learning leadership skills, using them, practicing and having real impact on an organization and its results.

Leadership can be learned. Good leaders create effective, engaging LMX environments. Engaged teams win. It’s a simple chain of actions and results that define victory.


Learning Dynamics offers comprehensive leadership training and development solutions including Investing in People. Contact us to learn how we can help you create an engaging environment that creates winning teams and outstanding results.

Your Change Message Isn’t Getting Through

change bullhorn“The company is making strategic moves, but we don’t know why.” This is a common complaint when we get people talking. Maybe “never” is an exaggeration, but we see lots of agreement with the point during training sessions. Senior executives make decisions, the company is moving in a different direction, and employers further down the ladder don’t understand the rationale.

Followers are more likely to support change when they understand the reasons. As a matter of fact, one of the most common things that people do when they learn of change is to seek more information. Why are we doing this? What market forces or strategic calculations are part of the decision? How does this affect me? What can I do to help make this initiative successful?

Your best people will want to know how they can write themselves into the story. How can they make a difference and contribute to success?

Without information, rumor and speculation fill the void. Is the company failing? Am I going to lose my job? Should I be updating my résumé? Lack of detail and communication from the top can lead to distraction and lost productivity as gossiping floods the organization.

Here are a few ideas to enhance communication during change.

Over-Communicate: People don’t always get the message the first time. Repeat it, use different channels, and do it over a period of time. One email or memo is not enough for bigger changes.

Check for Understanding: If changes are significant, conduct listening sessions with the team. Do they have questions? Do they need clarification? Do they have concerns? Use your leadership team to open the door and executive ears to address all concerns.

Make Your Case: This is probably the most important. Develop a clear and compelling answer for the question, “Why are we doing this?”

One of the most important responsibilities of a leader is communication. If she or he cannot articulate the reason for change, there is work to do. The effort will be worth it with a shorter change cycle and a faster return to normal – and hopefully better – productivity. Plan your change strategy to include exceptional surround-sound communication.

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.

Three Critical Motivators

Do you know what motivates your people? It has often been said that the key to managing and motivating others is to know the person you are working to motivate. Knowing each person’s experience and skills is the first step. Step two is more important: Know what drives and motivates your people to succeed.

In the literature, there are three critical motivators every manager needs to understand. Most people fall into one of these three, or some combination, to varying degrees:

Affiliation: Some people seek out others for validation. They are happiest working in teams and belonging to a group.  They thrive on and enjoy the camaraderie that comes with being associated with others. The socialization and interaction with team members feeds them well and becomes the prime reason for their success.

Achievement: These individuals are driven to succeed and be rewarded based on their own contributions and ideas. Recognition and goal attainment are critical to their success. They are propelled by a desire to be better, succeed and make a difference.

Power:  This category states that having influence and control over others is critical to their internal drive. They thrive on being in the spotlight and climbing the ladder of success to the top. They are usually self-involved and driven to succeed.

Do you know your direct reports? Are they motivated by Affiliation, Achievement or Power? These are not difficult to understand but they do make a difference when trying to motivate or encourage them. Apply your tactics and approach to fit the needs of the individual. This will go a long way in getting better results for you, the team and the company.


Written by Barbara Phillips, Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Learning Dynamics. Barbara, like all Learning Dynamics team members, offers extensive professional leadership experience to benefit our clients.


Do you supervisors and managers know this? Could it help your organization if managers knew how to understand and inspire their teams? Contact Learning Dynamics to learn how we can help your organization grow by Investing in People™.

The Triangle of Behavior

Leaders will be copied. They set the tone and serve as the example for others. These ideas, and the understanding of the impact of positive and negative role models, should give everyone in a position of authority reason to consider effective communication techniques. The triangle of behavior is one handy way to remember how a person’s behavior affects others.

Triangle of Behvior

Intent: What is the message that a person means to send to an individual or group? The words, tone and non-verbal cues all are influenced by intent.

Behavior: Actions taken, what a person does, define behavior. Even if no words are spoken, behavior speaks volumes about what is acceptable and expected. Inconsistency between word and action is one of the fastest ways to destroy leadership effectiveness.

Impact: How the receiver of a message understands and handles it is the final piece. This can be influenced by the receiver’s mood and willingness to listen and understand, so sender should consider impact when evaluating message effectiveness.

In a leadership setting, intent is often the point that makes the biggest difference and carries the greatest consequences. Consider all three points of the triangle when sending your message.


Also see Four Ways to Influence for more about communicating at work.


Learning Dynamics offers several customizable training programs to enhance communication effectiveness. Personally Speaking ™ offers tools and training to improve business speaking skills.