The Role of Grub in Performance Management

(Guest Author Jared Olsen, for Real. Simple. Leadership.)

Grub, food, chow, it all plays a vital part in effective leadership.  Having worked in leadership for over 10 years I’ve had many difficult conversations.  Those conversations have been most effective when I’ve been honest, bold, and surrounded by grub.  Take for example the employee’s perspective when grub is not involved.

“John, do you have a minute we could talk in my office?”  As John sits down he has no idea what is going on, is sitting on a hard wooden chair, the office door is shut, and the manager I am taking a position of power sitting behind their desk as John is totally exposed.  “John, I’ll get straight to it, we’ve received complaints about your customer service.”  John is now on the defense, scared, and alone.  The result, is whatever you say could go in one ear and out the other for John and he fears going into your office ever again.

Now let’s look at involving grub to this conversation.

“John, I was wondering if you might be free at lunch today to go grab a bite of food with me?”  John says, “Sounds great, what’s up?”  “I’ve been getting some customer feedback that I’d like to talk to you about.”

John now has time to prepare and reflect on his recent customer service, this way he shouldn’t be blindsided.  When you go out to eat, you’re both in a neutral location where no one has home field advantage.  Food invites casual conversation, small talk, and puts you both at ease.  This is a great time to show the human side of who you both are.

“John, I wanted to share some feedback with you about your customer service.  I know that there are some areas we can improve on and I just want to know your thoughts and how I can help.”

John is not defensive but now views his manager as a resource and someone willing to help.  Instead of feeling alone, he feels empowered, and working with you, John has a leader instead of a manager.  What changed?  Grub.  Food puts you at ease and helps more important conversations result.

jared-olsenDuring his career, Jared Olsen has promoted innovative and unique ideas to the business community in Utah.  Jared started his career in Human Resources and has worked for large and small businesses, and has seen the importance of leadership and company culture which has led to the success and demise of several businesses.

Jared received his undergraduate from the University of Utah, and his MBA from University of Phoenix.  Jared is a certified SPHR and SHRM-SCP.  Jared has been the President of the Salt Lake Society for Human Resource Management, sits on a compensation committee with South Jordan city to consult with the Mayor on city staffing and compensation needs, and is the creator of the largest LinkedIn group in Utah focusing on HR called, Salt Lake City Human Resource Professionals.

Jared currently is the Owner of REYFYA (ray-fee-a) which is an outsourced culture company.  Jared truly believes the root cause of any business issue is a cultural opportunity.  Whether it is leadership, training, hiring, or coaching, culture is at the heart of any business.  REYFYA’s approach to culture shows the human side of businesses and has a fresh millennial approach.  Additionally, Jared is the Director of Business Operations at Xima Software which is the 4th fastest growing company in Utah, and two-time winner of the best place to work in Utah with under 40 employees.  In 2015 Jared was selected as a CXO Winner by Utah Business Magazine as one of the up and coming C-Suite executives in the state of Utah.

What a leader should do when it’s awkward…


If I say “awkward,” what’s the first thing you think of?  A first date?  A painful social interaction?  What about a job interview or a work conversation?

You figured once you “arrived” into management, your days of awkward conversations were coming to an end, right?  Welp, if you haven’t figured out already this is not the case, you will soon…

You know what?  I hope you embrace it!  Yes, that’s right! Embrace awkwardness in leadership.  It is a challenge, for sure – but it will allow you to build your own leadership capability, and demonstrate true firmness as a leader (a very important attribute).

Why?  Because leadership is not comfortable.  

You will need to acknowledge awkward conversations, prepare for them, and tackle them head on.  One of the most damaging thing to credibility and trust, as you manage your team, is to always take the easy way out.  To always say or do what makes things comfortable.  It’s the wrong way to go.  “Management awkwardness” is potentially a very important way for you to gain ground as a leader.

Let’s play out “management awkwardness” in a few different scenarios:

Scenario 1:  giving employee important coaching/feedback on some points of improvement.  He immediately starts arguing – making excuses, blaming, or (worst of all) pointing our your flaws and shortcomings as a leader.  What do you do?

Natural response: you ‘hedge your bet,’ either softening the feedback message, adding in some positive elements, or even retreating altogether.

Correct response:  wait.  Endure the awkward silence, but hold fast to your previous comments (which, I’m going to assume, were substantive, fair and objective).  Don’t back off.  Instead, listen to understand what makes them feel this way, then request to continue the discussion at a later date.  Don’t ‘keep trying’ to get your point across; they aren’t listening anyway by that point.

Scenario 2:  all-star employee, high performer asks to meet with you to discuss career development.  He/she expresses concern at not knowing what his/her direction and future will be with the company.  What do you do? Continue reading

The Power of Interest-Based Leadership

(Guest Author Mariann McDonagh, for Real. Simple. Leadership.)

As a senior executive who has built high-performance teams in challenging growth environments, I have often been asked about the secret to my success. The real answer is, there is no secret. Cultivating leaders and building great teams is a full-time job and one that requires commitment and intention.

Great leadership is interest-based leadership; your teams need to know at all times that following you is their best bet because their interests lie with you. And we often forget this critical fact in leadership: following is a voluntary act. To create a passionate, high performing team, they must want to follow you, especially when the going gets tough.

In my experience, interest-based leaders share these characteristics:


Real leaders need to be…real. Especially in a growth environment when the pressure is on, your people can immediately tell if you are not being genuine. Tell it like it is and they’ll accept it at face value. Recognize how hard things are right now and pitch in to help. No one needs to have “smoke blown up their skirt” in an effort to mask what’s really happening. Be straight with your people and they’ll respect you for it.


One of the fundamental keys to interest-based leadership is one-on-one communication. You have to be accessible to your people and make yourself available for questions, brainstorming and helping to remove obstacles from important projects. But don’t confuse accessibility with the need to physically be together in one location. I’ve effectively run teams across 7 time zones, and they always knew I was available to them when they needed me. Remember: the single greatest gift you can give someone is your time, because it’s finite and you can never earn more.


I cannot say enough about the importance of building trust with your teams. Trust that you have their back, trust that you will recognize them when they excel, trust that you’ll course correct them when they need it. A great deal of this trust is developed in the one-on-one communications we just talked about. But it’s also in the consistency of your leadership and the predictability of your behavior. Trust is key for day to day interactions, but where it really matters is when things get hard. When the challenges mount and the outcome and future may seem unclear, it important your teams trust you enough to follow where you lead.


The final ingredient to interest-based leadership is investment. You have to invest in people in order to effectively lead them. You give them your time, your ear, your advice. You help them be better managers, learn how to effectively deal with conflict, help them chart a course to increase their own strategic value. While this may make you uncomfortable, it’s an important epiphany: the more marketable you help your people become, the more loyal they are to you and the faster they will run.

And remember the cardinal rule:

People don’t want to be managed. They want to be led.



Mariann McDonagh.  President, McDonagh Growth Associates


Mariann McDonagh is President and CEO of McDonagh Growth Associates, a rapidly expanding growth consulting business.

At McD Growth, Mariann leverages more than 30 years of experience and C-suite perspective to assist growing companies across a myriad of strategic initiatives.

Prior to launching McD Growth, Mariann McDonagh was responsible for product management, brand strategy, demand generation and channel development at cloud software player, inContact (NASDAQ: SAAS). In five years as the Chief Marketing Officer at inContact, Mariann significantly changed the competitive contact center marketplace, firmly establishing inContact as the leading brand in the market and helping to drive their stock price up by a factor of 4.

Prior to inContact, Mariann served for more than six years as Senior Vice President of corporate marketing for Verint Systems. Mariann’s 30 year career in high-tech and software marketing also includes tenures with CMP Media, Computer Associates and Cheyenne Software.

Mariann is a frequent industry speaker and contributor on cloud, marketing and customer experience and was named one of the most influential women in marketing in 2013 by DM News.

Connect with Mariann on LinkedIn at


Why SHOULD I build trust, anyway…?

A lot has been written – and rightfully so – on the importance of building trust.  Even on this site, I’ve written here and here I’ve written about why it is so important, and how you build it.

Books like Speed of Trust, Trustology and many others give a lot of really good information about why trust is important.  They all give really good insight into trust and why it’s important.

As I sit back and reflect on what that means for leaders, workers, people in general, I realize they probably have a really good question:  “why should I?”  Like, why should I take the time to build trust in relationships at work?  It’s a valid question – because it certainly will take time, and certainly will take a great deal of deliberate attention and work.

So, to the manager (whether first-time, or veteran), who asks this very legitimate question, I share my two simple reasons that you should build trust:

First, it is just the right way to treat people.

Stop and think for a moment -life is about people.  Even the most solitary person among us will rely on people for something.  Work is largely made up of teams, and interactions and communication.  Each person we interact with has their own story, their own perspective, and their own strengths and value.  Behaving with trust and respect is just the right thing to do.

Treat people well.  Trust others.

Cultivating this mindset in your professional life will serve you well – you’ve likely heard the phrase “you reap what you sow”.  There will likely be a time in the future, perhaps totally random and completely unexpected, that a relationship of trust pays some sort of dividend.

Second, it is the best way to get things done.

In our jobs, we all just want to “get stuff done”.  Well, there is very little chance that in your own work, you will be able to get everything done, all the time, by yourself.  You need others.

Leaders learn to effectively ‘contribute through others’.

The bottom line is, people are only going to do stuff if they trust you.  A delegated task, a request for help, etc. will only really be fulfilled if it is laid down on a foundation of trust.

It is very similar to parenting, actually – a kid will respond much more favorably to his/her parent if he/she trusts them.  If the relationship is already in place, requests, discussions, and parental advice will go much more smoothly.

The work place is not that much different.

Trust makes everything smoother.  Trust makes everything easier.

Trust will help us all to “get stuff done”.


How to lead “Passionate” people

(Guest Author Tim Harris  for Real. Simple. Leadership.)

In my role as a Product Leader, I have the privilege to work with extremely talented product and engineering team members on a daily basis. In my experience, those that have a passion for the product they are working on are many times more effective than equally talented but less passionate team members. It’s important to note that when I say “passionate” I am aware that passion is displayed in many different ways.


Passion is a mystery to many leaders and one that many tend to avoid by saying “people either have it or they don’t.” I personally believe passion is controllable (in many circumstances) even though it is not something you can simply instill as a leader.

To me “controlling” passion is about creating an environment that fosters it and selecting the correct people to work in it.  There is a lot of talk about office environments, management structures, incentives, team dynamics, and the list goes on. All of these items are important but to me it’s all about passion. Another way to look at it is that passion is an outward representation of a truly proactive employee.

Leading and managing proactive employees is rewarding on many levels. You look great because your team performs so well but also these employees are actively looking for your guidance and support.

I am blessed to be a leader in a product organization where the roles require a proactive employee. You simply will not succeed in product management if you are not a self-starter and energized by what you are doing.

4 Steps in Leading Passionate Team Members:

  1. Understand what and why they are passionate.  It may be about the art of product management or it could be all about user experience or the product itself or a million other things. Take the time to figure it out.
  2. Set a vision and get out of the way.  Passionate employees need room. Don’t over manage. Stay in the loop so they have the air cover and backing they need but let them guide the ship.
  3. Help them succeed holistically. Never take your eye off what they want both short and long term. Help them by identifying projects or accomplishments they can work toward inside and outside their specific job function.
  4. Pay them fairly. Do not ever haggle over a few thousand dollars. Pay them fairly and never make promises you cannot deliver on. If possible financially reward them for their proactive actions.

Tim HarrisTim Harris is Vice President of Product at RizePoint.

Tim leverages nearly 20 years of cloud-solution product leadership to drive RizePoint’s industry-defining products. Harris joins RizePoint from inContact, where he was Vice President, Product Management and Principal Product Owner. There, he was responsible for ensuring the coordination and continued creation of a unified cloud platform. Prior to this, he was instrumental in the product development workflow for inContact in his roles as Sr. Director of Product Management, Sr. Director of Cloud Ecosystem, and Director of Cloud Solutions. Harris holds two patents related to Business Communication and Call Routing


Twitter: @mitharris


A simple definition for “Stratetgic HR” (!?!)

Over the course of my career in HR, the buzzword ‘strategic’ has always been present.  Admonition like “be more strategic” or “we’re not strategic enough” becomes common as we HR professionals find our way into valuable business contribution and the proverbial ‘seat at the table’…

However, no one could ever really define what it means to be ‘strategic’ in HR.  Can’t describe how many seminars, conferences, and other meetings I was in where that simple charge was shared:  “Be more strategic”… yet, I couldn’t really find anyone who could give a really good explanation of what that looked like.

So, in an attempt to share what I’ve learned, and give others something to build on for themselves, I share my ‘work-in-progress’ definition of Strategic HR:

Strategic HR is the alignment of culture, talent and leadership with the company’s overall strategy.

Seems simple enough, right?  Three key ingredients that HR professionals can own and/or influence, that will prove your ‘strategic’ worth.  Talent.  Culture.  Leadership.  Align them with each other, always focus on the company’s strategy, and you’ll be on your way!


First and foremost, company strategy.

Do you understand what your company actually does, and how it gets done?  Do you understand the processes and people that make it all happen?  Do you know your company’s competitors?  How about competitive advantages over those competitors?

Do you know your company’s goals (both annual and quarterly)?  Do you know your company’s mission or vision?  (not just the words on a page, but what it actually means)

Do you understand the direction of your company?  Plans to grow?  Plans to reduce spending?  Plans to acquire or be acquired?

These pieces are a bedrock of knowledge that will give HR professionals the credibility necessary to connect with business leaders, and contribute in strategic ways.  #relationshipsmatter  #credibilitybuildsrelationships

Now, the three pillars that should align to it (understanding, of course, that this is merely scratching the surface of each one): Continue reading

Leadership lessons from… an Ostrich???

A while back I was putting together some material to train on some leadership principles.  I needed a really good example of what not to do – don’t hide from a problem, address it head on.  My first thought was an ostrich sticking its head in the sand.

I had heard the phrase before…  “don’t stick your head in the sand…” or “don’t bury your head in the sand”

So I started to do a little reading.  Why do ostriches do this, anyway?  Is it true that they really assume that if they hide their head, their whole body can’t be seen, as originally thought?

As I read a few different things, here and here, I learned a few lessons that really apply to leaders.  Not what I originally thought, but perhaps even more valuable.

I learned that ostriches demonstrate three distinct behaviors very similar to leaders & managers in the workplace.  We can learn from each of them what not to do as a leader.

First, don’t run away.

The physical make-up of an ostrich is well known – can’t fly, but can run at great speeds.  Well, it turns out that this is their greatest defense – to run away from trouble.  No great surprise, right?

What I learned:  leaders can also run away from problems.  They will physically go out of their way to avoid people, meetings, places or situations that might present a sort of “danger”.  This is a mistake.

Leaders don’t run from things!  Confront reality, even though difficult.

Second, don’t lie down and pretend you won’t be noticed.

Did you know that an ostrich will, in fact, lay down and hold perfectly still as a defense?  It’s true.  They hope to not be noticed and to avoid any trouble by just holding perfectly still.  Ostriches have excellent sight and hearing; in fact, they can oftenostrich-head-sand sense predators coming long before they actually arrive.  They commonly lay down flat to “hide” from the danger they sense coming.

What I learned: leaders often have a sense of pending danger, or a sense when something is wrong.  It is a mistake to just lay down hoping it just goes away!  Seems risky for the ostrich to just lay there, hoping that a predator won’t notice, don’t you think?  Likewise, it’s even more risky for a leader to figuratively “hold still” and hope no one notices, or no bad happens.

Leaders should not just lay down and hope trouble passes.  

Take an active role!  Face it head on!

Finally, don’t bury your head in the sand.  Really.  🙂

Back to the myth of burying your head in the sand.  This was the most interesting breakthrough I had… Continue reading

Ally or Adversary? 5 Actions that Destroy Professional Relationships

(Guest Author Morag Barrett, for Real. Simple. Leadership.)

For Part 1 (5 Actions the Build Professional Relationships), click here

Remember, if relationships matter, they matter even more at work.

Your success depends on the quality of your professional relationships.

Those people without whom your success would be compromised; the professional connections that you reach out to when you have a question or are unsure of what action to take; winning relationships that empower you to achieve outstanding results together; the “I-couldn’t-get-my-job-done-without-you” relationships. It is also about those difficult and challenging relationships that drain your energy, that create roadblocks and impact your ability to deliver the goals and results expected of you, the “I-get-my-job-done-in-spite-of-you” relationships.

Improving the quality of our professional relationships at work is not rocket science, but it may as well be. We’re all so busy keeping our heads down and eyes on the prize that we can forget to look up and connect with those around us.

Here are five Don’t’s that will help ensure you create career allies and not career adversaries:

DON’T: Focus only on what you can get.

If you only contact your critical stakeholder when you need something, you’ll very quickly find that your ‘work-spouse’ might be washing their hair and unavailable! An Ally relationship is about ‘give and take’. Be proactive in offering your expertise, and ensure that reciprocity is part of your relationship.

DON’T: Stick with the usual suspects.

Many leaders put a lot of energy in cultivating relationships with those with the right title and seniority (the vertical relationships) but spend less care and attention on horizontal relationships across their business. If you’re focused only on the ‘right’ connections, your style will come across as inauthentic. I’ve worked with many leaders whose relationships have been skewed in one direction (usually up) and do not include representation from across the organization. Continue reading

The Simplest Definition of ‘Engagement’

There has been a LOT of discussion about Employee Engagement.  Much research has been done about how engaged employees build culture, improve bottom line results, and contribute to the overall company success.  All really good stuff!

But the question is, how do I decide if my employees are engaged?  Is there simple thermometer I can use to tell how engaged my employees are?

The simplest version of employee engagement is this:

Engagement = discretionary effort.

Think about that for a moment.  What does ‘discretionary’ mean?  It is different than just ‘doing a great job’ or ‘doing what you’re asked’ or even ‘doing a great job when you’re asked’.  To me, true engagement occurs in the times when an employee can choose what they are doing.  

Try that out – see if you can identify employees who are more or less engaged by using ‘discretionary effort’ as a measuring stick.  When they are between tasks, or not up against a deadline, what do they do?  Do they jump right into social media for a break?  Do they chat with co-workers to kill time?  Do they spend large amounts of time in the break room or around the water cooler?  All of these things are fine, and important to balance out the work day… but when employees really have a choice, what do they do?

It is an interesting exercise, to either confirm or disprove what you already believe.

With this simple observation, you come to one of two conclusions:

First, an engaged employee.  Perfect!  They spend their discretionary time doing good things, helping others, contributing in various ways.  Awesome.  That’s what we want.

But the other alternative, an employee who is not engaged.  He/she spends discretionary time doing nothing (I would say a person not doing their job at all isn’t just a matter of engagement, but a performance problem – that’s a greater topic for a different day  #staytuned).

So what now?  How do you increase engagement?  Well, you can’t really

Well, you can’t really force someone to be engaged, it is definitely a choice they make on their own.  But you can provide the environment and contributors that help them get there.  The folks at DecisionWise have laid out a simple framework and explanation

The folks at DecisionWise have laid out a simple framework and explanation here.  I highly recommend it, once you’ve identified the engagement “temperature” and want to start moving things forward.

So what do you think?  Does the simple ‘thermometer’ definition of engagement match what you’ve seen?  Please share comments below!



How do I Repair a Broken Relationship With My Employee?

Imagine for a moment, you are the manager of a team.  You were promoted into this role either because…

  1. It was the only career path (more $$$) available,
  2. You had some preconceived notion about the glamor of ‘management,’
  3. You were the highest performer on the team at a time there was a vacancy in the manager spot, or
  4. …Well… you don’t really know why or how – you were just going well in your job, and then suddenly found yourself promoted into a manager role.  #howdidIgethere

Sound familiar?  Let’s continue.

Even though you have been in the role for a little while, there is still one person on the team that is just a struggle.  For some reason, you can’t connect with him/her.  He/she causes problems, is a poor performer, or there is something else “broken” about your relationship with that person.

Still sound familiar?  If so, you are not alone.  In fact, it happens often.  VERY often.

Oh, and the feeling you probably have that this situation is known by others, and is probably dragging down the team in some way?  You’re not alone there either, and your instincts are right.  Resolving the situation with that one person will help the team.

Now, I have some good news and some bad news.  Good news: you’re not alone, all is not lost, and you will be able to improve things if you want to.  Bad news: it won’t be easy, there’s no ‘magic  bullet’, and it might be painful at times.

So where do we begin? Continue reading