Bottle up that Holiday Cheer – it’s Contagious!


By, Cari Desiderio

I’m sitting here fat and full, enjoying the joy of this simple day, a hearty meal, time with family, songs and relaxation. Yes, it is the holidays. For me that is a precious time to simplify and celebrate the gift of forgiveness, joy and faith. But today is otherwise not too different from the rest. The weather is cold and damp and not too pleasant. Nothing is marvelously changed about life. But it is different all the same, isn’t it? It is the holiday season and so that substantially changes the environment due to the meaning of the season. I feel cheer because of what that symbolizes.

Which makes me wonder. Why should this day be so unique? Why should a holiday day really be different than any other day?

So here is a challenge I put forward today. Make every day something special. Don’t be complacent and accept the status quo. For those in the business world, the challenge is this. Bring more than work back to work. Bring some purpose and bring some fun. As Seth Godin says in his book TRIBES, be a heretic, “Heretics are the new leaders. The ones who challenge the status quo, who get out in front of their tribes, who create movements.”

I will never forget the fun bag one of my bosses who did this well gave me at a healthcare company I was at a few years back. She was a VP of Finance, not known to be the more energetic of professions. But she defied the status quo of what COOs and Finance VPs were supposed to be. She was a heretic you might say, after the Godin definition. She brought laughter everywhere she went. The fun bag was literally a bag with a clown nose in it, and a book about how to bring joy and fun to each new day. Many of us on her staff received this little gift, which symbolized something she wanted us to remember. She taught me to not let the status quo, the should be, the dreariness, the boredom of corporate America, stifle the wonder of life. She made work fun and appreciated the value in relationships. To this day my best friendships from the workplace are from this company. Because when you let your guard down and approach business and life not as a place to win and conquer and “perform” so hard, but a place to cultivate relationships and find joy, something happens. You are that heretic that Seth Godin speaks of. You are a magnet for followers. You are joyful. And you lead engaged teams. It was in this place of work that I learned to hold fiercely to the principle of positivity and relationship. Yes we will face obstacles to this. I have in fact faced strong resistance when I have held steady to the principles of relationship based management in environments a bit more cold to this, where distance based control and fear management was preferred. But in the end, loyal employees win out and engaged teams are the ones that produce the most profound things. When you lead with a little joy, with a little focus on others before self, you wind up with a loyal group. A tribe as Godin would put in. And these tribes equate to high retention and high performance in the workplace.

So, enjoy this holiday season all! And bring a bottle of that celebration with you to work in 2015!


Godin, Seth. Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us


Learning from the Masters: What our Sales Folks can Teach About Creating Happy Teams


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By, Cari Desiderio

Over the course of my HR career I have supported sales, manufacturing, engineering and healthcare organizations predominantly. Each genre has it’s strong suits when it comes to creating an attractive employee environment. My healthcare friends were masters as creating an environment of care and belonging. This was related to their slant towards nurturing and nursing I suppose. The engineering and manufacturing folks had a very organized and steady culture in terms of laying out expectations and having clear communication.

But I’ve learned the most from my sales teams. There is no team in the company that has a better handle on “gut check” when it comes to understanding the state of employee contentment and engagement. Even the HR professionals miss the boat, sometimes. We can get so fixated on the process and the policy and completely miss what is going on on the streets and in the trenches with our people. We can become more concerned with form and less about substance if we forget the art of people that our sales teams know so well. So what is the remedy?  A little Sales 101 my friend. It is the cure all for any HR person afflicted with the malady of being a schoolmarm instead of a being an effective team coach.

Why do our sales folks get it? Well I think it’s simple actually. To be in sales you just simply need to be a people person. It’s in the salesperson’s blood. That said I’ve thought about this a bit and I think there are four main ways that sales people can teach us the art of creating happy teams.

Intuition. This is the quality of just “getting it” you might say. Street smarts. It is the art of sensing what is going on in person’s head and what it around the bend based on the circumstances in front of them. This is about having a sense of how your employees are feeling, who is a flight risk, what they need to be motivated. Some people would argue that intuition cannot be learned. But I think some of it can be. If you get out there and hang with your people enough, and make yourself approachable, you will soon be in the know. Lower that window of separation and pretense and get real. Take them out to lunch. Crack a few jokes in meetings. When you break the ice people open up. Listen to them.

Communication. This is the quality of speaking the love language of others as well as the discipline of just making yourself frequently check in and talk with teams. Sales people communicate all day long. They go to industry events and chat with people. They fly on planes to visit customer sites and talk to all the key people. Now applied to teams this is about one on ones, walking the floors, talking to people about their lives and what’s going on. Finally, this art form is also about being able to speak the language of others. A simple book I’ve taught multiple times on this is Julie Straw’s The 4 Dimensional Manager. It’s about knowing your personality makeup, studying that of others, and learning to tailor your method of engaging and approaching to reach others.

One Class Act. This is the art of treating people like they are special. Sales folks figuratively wine and dine their prospects all day long. This simply means they treat them like they are special. This too is not a complicated thing. When you go out on a date to McDonalds for a burger and fries in your shorts and tank it just doesn’t feel as special as a night out on Lake Michigan on the Odyssey Boat with formal wear, a four course meal and stars in the sky. Now treating employees with a little class act thought doesn’t need to involve nights out on the town. But when a service with a smile culture culture is applied to employee engagement there can be simple ways to make your teams feel special. I’ve seen grill outs with leaders donning aprons and serving food. I’ve seen recognition ceremonies where leaders thank team members for contributions and provide service awards and a gift. It can even be the little things like being sure to recognize the team as the real reason for success (and downplay self) when a leader is speaking in a group setting. Class Act behavior is about respect and treating people like they are special. Because, they are.

The Art Of Negotiation. This is probably the skill that is the more substantial that our sales friends teach us.  Sales folks are very aware that if they go to their customers and threaten them with contract loss and insist they pay higher rates that they will commit sales suicide.  Now do they want to get a contract signed and charge more money?  Of course.  But they have to immerse themselves in discussion with the customers, talk, negotiate, give and take a little here and a little there in order to get that contract signed. Transferred to the team management dynamic, a healthy team is one that learns to manage conflict among themselves and negotiate the working structure.  The leader who can step back from any need to be the big boss who imposes rules, and step into the role of negotiating a team structure that works for all will create the most lasting engagement success.  This is because people are hard wired to need to be heard.  So if they are at the table in negotiating team rules and structure they will be most bought in.



Picture By User:Jacquelene88 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons!_2013-06-24_11-59.jpg

Saving Manufacturing: The Return of the Apprentice


Just about every time I peruse a manufacturing industry article or website it seems the topic of skilled labor shortage in US manufacturing comes up.  The problem is simple and stark.  We have roughly 600,000 too few skilled laborers for the trades (Business Week).  Combine this with the fact that the skilled workforce that exists is comprised of many nearing retirement age.  The math shakes out to a stark reality. Either manufacturing jobs cannot stay in the US at the clip of the past. Or, we need to reform our education system and motivate more young people to study manufacturing trades.

Companies today may be wise to study the apprenticeship programs of long past.  I have seem a superb example of this on the floor.  A cross training method to take less skilled workers and rotate them during down time through lathe, mill, assembly and other skilled aspects of machining and manufacturing.  I have also seen a trade program that partners with at risk high school students to introduce them to a trade. After all, a skilled machinist can earn a very respectable incomes that easily doubles or triples minimum wage. If we can do a better job of changing the perception young people have about manufacturing, we can bring a lot more good jobs back.

Perhaps the picture in this post is not just nostalgic old school America.  Perhaps, with a little investment in training and development and our American workers, this can become the new face of American manufacturing.



Picture By Wmpearl (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia

Smart Succession Planning… It’s for far more than your Top Jobs!

Succession plans are utterly critical to business success. They are indeed different by person.  The higher potential person needs significant challenge to be motivated, grow and become a future leader.  The mid level person, perhaps content in their role without career promotion, needs to have job enrichment activities to further engage them in their existing role.

An author I recently read likens a company with a solid succession plan to a successful sports team (Hill, 2012).  I really love this analogy.  You see, the team (or company) can remain a top tier team (or company) because of the systems and structure and training in place.  Players (or employees) come and go. So, if a company has a solid succession and training plan in place, they can rest assured that even as employees come and go, they will remain solid and performance strong.

A very practical methodology to place high and even mid performers in the right path and  plan is to start with the discipline of the nine-box grid (Noe, 2013, p. 400-402). Here one can identify who all the players are and where they fit organizationally. If you are not familiar with this nine box concept, it is essentially a set of boxes laid out like a graph.  On one axis is the performance output of the person. On the other axis is their potential.  So, in the bottom left you have a person with little ability and little interest in performing; in other words a person to weed out.  In the top right is the opposite–your superstar.  However, the notion is that a company is a blend.  Yes you must weed out the ill performing.  Yes you need to promote, retain and focus on the top stars.  But what about the rest?  You see, the “middle of the road” is in fact the heart and soul of the core business.  We need to have a plan for those jobs same as the more critical high level ones. Without this a company cannot stay market strong, agile and able to flex and move as retention ebbs and flows.

Now let’s dive a little deeper into the idea of creating a succession plan for all roles; again the activity that lets a company be an A-player team.  Succession planning is stereotypically seen as a way to fill key roles.  The reality, however, is that all people are replaceable and when that retirement hits, promotion comes, etc, the company needs to be agile and ready to act.  The idea extended further is that while the company can recruit from the outside, it’s better to have the knowledge on the inside from the get go to avoid the toil of bringing in new employees and getting them up to speed.

Here is a proposed method to develop the varying levels.  To keep this simple I’ve proposed three layers here:  the mid performance track, the high performance track and the leadership track. The plans will be unique to the type of role, but in the end the totality of them all is what keeps that company strong and prepared for turnover and change.  The degree of weight placed on individual learning opportunities will simply depend on the need of the individuals in each of these plans.

The Mid Performance Track. The mid performance track employees are the core.  They need to be developed to take on lateral moves when others leave.  And, they need to have succession plans in place to back fill their jobs when they leave.  So, the approach here is more of a cross training approach.  An example of this might be a factory environment with various pieces of equipment. One worker runs one piece of machinery, while another is trained in a slightly different piece of machinery operation.  Yet another worker assembles while another boxes and ships.  Left in their individual silos, the company is weak.  However, it’s entirely possible to cross train and flex workers so as to enhance the skill set.  And the same can be applied to an office environment.  Office workers can be trained in multiple software programs, different aspects of customer service and administrative work, and so forth. This not only helps build bench strength for the time a person retires/leaves, but it also helps build interest and respect for fellow workers, and it breaks the monotony of one task all the time.  Point being, for the core jobs that are held by workers who are content there for the long haul, simply focus on cross training and skill broadening.  And, lastly, be sure to be bringing in the new and current technological and other training to remain agile.

The High Performance Track (could be more technical/not leadership management. These are the employees who are technically highly skilled but won’t become managers.  For example, engineers or accountants.  The same approach as listed in the mid performance section above applies in terms of cross training to create job enrichment and the ability for employees to cover when a person leaves.  However, this group possesses more complex and critical skills.  For example, a high performing engineer may be a critical contributor to patents for the company.  If he/she leaves the company will suffer great loss.  As such, there need to be more rich and in depth coach and shadowing partnerships to cross train. There should also be investment in outside curriculum.  This might be patent writing classes for engineers, accounting continuing ed for accountants, PHR classes for HR generalists, and so forth.  Finally, there needs to be compensation to reward the employees for their extra strides.  So, on the whole, more time, care, attention and money will be paid to this group than the mid performers.

The Leadership Track. This group of employees are your current and future leaders.  They require everything listed above to develop a strong core of skills. However, they need special mentoring, coaching and leadership development to boot.  The most money will likely go into this group.  Every high performer on this track should have a job coach (likely an outside consultant) and a formal development plan.  The plan should be a partnership where the employee owns his/her development and actions/commitments, but the company also commits.  There should be special projects assigned to grow the leadership and management skills.  There should be entry level management opportunities to pave the way.  This might start with project management.  Then perhaps intern management. And, in time, these employees should be given staff in small to greater quantities.  They should be very involved in directly shadowing key executives at the top level to learn from them as well.  These are internally mentors.  And, there are many outside seminars and leadership institutes to also get involved with. Last but not least, compensation is key.  The company needs to reward this group well so as to not lose them to outside competition after all the investment.

Hopefully the above gives you a small sampling of the ways to blend and deviate paths to tailor as role appropriate.  Every person needs to be touched here.  Let me repeat.  No company can thrive if they are not planning to develop and have succession paths for every role.  That is because strength lies in numbers, in the totality, and in the whole team.


Noe, Raymond. (2013). Employee Training and Development. New York,

         NY: McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Hill, Scott. (2012). Creating a Dynasty. Grant Rapids Business Journal.

          Vol. 30 Issue 31, p11-11

Disengagement = The Employee Who Quit But Didn’t Tell You


i quit

By, Cari Desiderio

In my years doing what I do, I’ve seen way too many cases of employees who quit and don’t tell management about it. They just stick around and do as little as possible, draining the company of dollars and ensuring little competitive advantage can be had. There are a number of ways to ensure that your employees quit on the job, leading to this low engagement and low productivity. Here’s what you need to do to ensure your employees quit without telling you:

1. Micromanage them
2. When they have great ideas, don’t recognize them (and worse yet steal them)
3. Belittle them and criticize them more than you praise them
4. Enjoy the power you have over them
5. Apply looser rules to leadership than line level employees
6. Fail to pay for performance and let lower performers earn same as higher performers
7. Don’t communicate properly and then chastise employees when they don’t know what to do
8. Have a negative view of humankind and assume punishment is regularly required (eg assume lots of write ups and firing must happen to scare employees into submission)
9. Be apathetic to the warning signs of high turnover
10. Punish and challenge employees when they question you or point out your weaknesses
11. Simply ignore them (this actually speaks volumes)
12. Be insecure and afraid they could outshine you, thereby reinforcing your motivation to do the above listed items

All of the above may sound terrible when bunched up together in one unpleasant to do list, but the reality is that this can be the natural state of management when we let our ego get in the way. Ego leads to a lot of blind spots that reign and what we might call the classic “command and control” style of leadership. The reality is that to engage employees managers need to be on the watch out for their ego, step back, and invest a lot of care and attention into their staff. They must lead by example and lead a culture that starts with accountability at the top. There should always be a higher calling of accountability to leaders than followers. Then, the accountability atmosphere will cascade down from here.

I’m not say that the older fashioned command and control style never worked. It sadly did when times were more abundant and rich for America in the post World War II era and into the later portion of last century. However, we are not living in the past in corporate America. You see, ultimately the command and control style is unable to grow with the complexities of business and the more metrics based system that modern industries command. This is because command and control assumes people are mostly unintelligent/ignorant, and cannot contribute to lead in a flatter organizational style. The issue is that in a more complex industry environment where quality and metrics are becoming key, the command and control style will eventually fail to fully engage the line level folks who must lead the organization to the next level alongside management. So, in time, this old fashioned style of management will be swallowed up by the more modern organizations where work teams and democratic-like cultures thrive because they produce more effective work contributors.

The more effective work contribution piece is where the engagement kicks in. This is old school Theory X and Theory Y stuff, developed by Douglas McGregor in the 1960s at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Anyone who took a psychology class learned this stuff. In a nutshell, Theory X says that you believe people to be inherently lazy and in need of discipline and punishment to perform. This becomes a self fulfilling prophesy. Theory Y on the other hand is the polar opposite. Theory Y suggests that people inherently will embrace and step up to responsibility, and enjoy achievements. I’ve seen both X and Y managers in my years in HR. Theory X folks adopt all of my rules stated above. Theory Y, well, they are magnificent and lead the greatest achieving teams.

Know Thyself… And Fill Up That Cup!

IMG_20131215_210140I was reading a very simple but spot on article on leadership this past weekend. In it, the author discusses some basic elements of leadership. One of the key elements really revolves around understanding oneself (Langhorne, 2013). How simple I thought. But, how true.

This is the well know old adage: know thyself. I think of a reference question I pose to individuals I am interviewing to assess potential new hires. I ask quite a few questions, but one in particular that strikes many as kind of unusual at first. I ask the interviewee if the applicant handles stress well. I then explain that my definition of stress is unique. It means to really understand self, one’s weaknesses and strengths, and to be able to own mistakes and manage one’s environment accordingly in a state of awareness around said understanding of self.  I usually get very honest answers when I ask this question because I think people pause and really think about it. You see, a person who knows himself and manages his environment around that can manage stress well. Explained another way, I think of the pep talks I have with my teenage son. He (like his mother) is naturally just a wee bit absent minded and forgetful. Head in the clouds. Conjuring up cool ideas (or perhaps new blog ideas!) while meanwhile forgetting about regular time and space, and things like deadlines and to do lists. I coach him to understand this personal management weakness and arrange systems (organizers, alarm reminders for appointments, etc) to manage himself. This is all about knowing thyself and setting self up for success by applying said knowledge.

Another part of knowing yourself as relates to being successful in the workplace is setting up a structure that keeps you in balance as a human being.  This means that you don’t let the corporate urgent crowd out what will make you a balanced and grounded person.  Again this is very simple stuff.  Certainly a person whose cup is empty cannot be prepared to overflow and serve and lead others.  Good leaders tend to their inner self first, and set up boundaries to protect the sacred things in their life.  This is certainly about knowing not only yourself but the human condition.  So carve out uninterrupted time for things like your faith activities, family, non-profit volunteer work or projects that are meaningful to you, and even just quiet time for self and refreshment. I guess this is not rocket science, but it’s so critical. You see, if your cup isn’t full, it cannot overflow to others. So, fill it up!


Langhorne, J (2013). Leadership and leading a meaningful life. Corridor Business Journal 10 (11), 18-21


Have You Looked Back Recently To Make Sure They Are Following?

Nine box models. Four box models.  Forced ranking.  Up or out campaigns.  Mentoring and coaching.  Training and development.  Engagement surveys.  Action plans of every shape and size to retain talent.  Having led Human Resources in three different types of industries for thirteen years now I can say I’ve done them all. Well, maybe not every one of the nine boxes.  But close.  And  truth be told it is critical to have a solid succession plan. I’ve developed succession plans for executive management and line level roles.  And, it’s critical to have solid individual development plans with rich content for every single employee.  I’ve developed hourly wage housekeepers and corporate directors alike with clear cut programs combining LMS and coaching and kinesthetic hands on training.   Point being, tools matter.  Tools like strong performance management systems, content rich training programs, formal leadership development programs, a firm and communicated pay-for-performance culture, and all that goes into the HR formula are a must to have a shot at developing and retaining your human capital.

I would assert, however, that all of the above activities will be entirely in vain if one critical ingredient is missing.

No system to retain and develop talent, leading to strong performance output, will work without the right leader at the helm. Bad leaders corrupt good systems. I’ve seen engagement scores skyrocket on the heels of removing a bad leader.  I’ve seen productivity more than double when a superior leader was instituted.  In my profession I have the chance to interview individuals when they leave.  I think the number one reason I’ve seen people leave, other than a rock star job they just couldn’t decline, is that they didn’t respect the leadership.  Top reasons cited have been inauthentic ways, autocratic ways, hypocrisy, love of power and greed, punitive and not positive ways, control and micro management, poor communication, not caring and ignoring the staff, failure to coach and develop staff, failure to solve problems and remove bottlenecks, and simply lack of intelligence in leading the department/team in the right direction.

Conversely I’ve seen people flock to follow good leaders, leaving jobs to accompany the boss they like to a new corporate home.  I can think of one leader I know who merely has to post a job opening and suddenly employees from a prior company start popping out of the wood work.  Truth be told, if it weren’t for my deep roots in Chicago, I’d have followed my “work dad” who used to be a director over me but now as the CHRO over a small university is blessing many others.  Funny thing is that I only worked for him for four months.  I grew more in those four months than all my corporate years working. That’s because he led well and took keen interest in me and all those working for him.  He grew us with tough love.  But he grew us.

So, the message of today’s blog is pretty simple.  Pay attention to who is allowed to lead.  Take warning signs seriously when the followers stop following.  And, when you find a person with leadership talents, develop them.  I don’t care if it’s a new college grad that  is ten years away from that VP job.  If they have inspiration genes and a good mind, invest, invest, invest.

Check this out too.  It’s a Forbes article about the top seven things great leaders do, which range from igniting enthusiam in others to encouraging their potential.  It’s a simple list but a good one:

“Every leader needs to look back once in a while to make sure he has followers.” – Anonymous

“A leader is not an administrator who loves to run others, but someone who carries water for his people so that they can get on with their jobs.” — Robert Townsend