Roberta Chinsky Matuson
Creating Exceptional Workplaces and Extraordinary Results
Roberta Matuson's Blog

How To Stay Productive During The Holiday Season

Young woman in office jubilates at deskIt may seem like everyone is on vacation during the Christmas holidays but this simply isn’t true. In fact, this is the perfect time to get work done. Here are three things you can do to stay productive during the holiday season and all year long.

Tear up your to-do list. If you are like most people, your to-do list is never done. That’s because you know you always have tomorrow to complete these tasks. But what if this weren’t so? By that I mean, what if you had no choice but to complete these tasks because you had no place to park them? One of two things would happen. You’d either get the work done that day or you’d realize that not doing so would have little or no impact on the your work. In other words, you’d soon see that you were working on items that should have never made the list.

Move one thing forward a mile. In this day and age, it’s so common to multitask that we often find ourselves moving ten things forward an inch, rather than one thing forward a mile. Stop it! What’s the most important task you need to complete this week? That’s the item you should be working on. The rest can wait.

Delegate. It’s exhausting, not to mention inefficient to try to do everything yourself. Yet, most leaders continue to do so without realizing the impact their actions are having on others as well as themselves. You have a staff for a reason. Give them the tasks that are a bit of a stretch for them so they can learn and take the time you’ve just gotten back and do something more productive–Hit the mall and buy your staff a holiday present!

Posted in Creating Exceptional Work Places, Leadership, Productivity

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Are Your Practices Driving Your Customers Away?

No wayI’m in the middle of a major renovation and if you’ve ever been through one yourself, you know exactly how much time and energy is required in order to make it through the process. Yesterday’s experience rose to the top of bizarre practices and made me wonder how businesses exist in spite of their non-customer friendly practices.

Yesterday was go pick out your granite day. I’ve done this several times before so I had a pretty good sense of how the day would go. Nothing could prepare me for the reality. You see, everywhere we turned we hit a brick wall.

We were provided a granite allowance by our contractor.  In this situation, he told us we could choose any piece that was similar in price to the one that was called out in the specs. Seems like this would be simple, right? If only this were so. We asked the salesperson to tell us the price point so that we could see what other options were in our budget. Her reply, “I can’t tell you the prices. You’ll need to ask your fabricator.” Next call was to the contractor who in turn called the fabricator. Would you believe that the contractor was not even able to get a price for us? So we basically spent the day in a large warehouse picking out tons of slabs with the hope that one or two would fit our budget. What a waste of time. If I could have, I would have walked out of this place and never would have returned.

What practices might your company be operating with that are turning customers away? The loss of even one customer can make the difference between a great year and one that you hope you won’t repeat.

Ask those who are closest to the customer for their suggestions on how the organization might make themselves more customer friendly. Call up your customers and ask them what can be done to improve upon your product and services. Notice how I didn’t say survey. This is one of those situations where you need to know what your customers are thinking so you can take immediate action. Be sure you do something before another customer walks out the door and doesn’t return.

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Posted in Creating Exceptional Work Places, Customer satisfaction, Small Business Management, Word-of-Mouth

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The Blame Game Hurts Employee Retention

Lately people have been talking about the increase in employee turnover in their organizations. Here are their responses when asked why they believe this is so. I call this the Blame Game.

  1. It was simply a bad batch of new hires – If only this were true. Could it be possible that something has changed in your organization? Have the needs of the organization changed but the hiring profile has stayed the same? Have you stopped holding managers accountable for their hiring decisions? Are you failing to provide interviewing training for newly promoted or hiring managers?
  2. The employees we hired were the best of the bunch – If that is truly the case, it’s time to begin thinking about ways to increase applicant flow so you have more choices. There are a number of things that can be done regardless of budget. The solution may be as simple as asking your employees for referrals. Or perhaps your needs require a more strategic approach.
  3. If people stay for a year we will have gotten our money’s worth – Would your stakeholders agree if they knew how much the company is losing whenever an employee walks out the door? Begin by quantifying the cost of replacing an employee when someone leaves your organization. You can do so by using my complimentary Employee Turnover Calculator. Do you still believe you have gotten your money’s worth?
  4. This is the best we can hire given our pay ranges – Granted, money is usually not the main reason employees leave their jobs. However, let’s be real. People want to be adequately compensated for their efforts. If employees are continually leaving your firm for more money, then it’s time to look at reallocating resources. You can probably survive if you don’t replace the three-year old copy machine in the mail room with a model that costs significantly more. Take the money saved and reallocate it to your merit budget.
  5. These are only entry-level positions, so who cares? Your customers care, so maybe you should as well. Companies spare no expenses when it comes to hiring their executives, yet so little is invested when hiring front line people like cashiers, bank tellers, and receptionists. Clients communicate with these people more often than with the CFO. In many cases, these employees are the only people customers interact with. Perhaps it’s time to rethink regarding the importance of your entry-level personnel.
  6. Our turnover has always been high – Congratulations for maintaining your position! Maybe it’s time to give someone else an opportunity to take home the award for high turnover. Right now you’ve got a bunch of employees in your organization who are thinking about leaving. If you want to keep these people, you must find the root causes of their dissatisfaction. The best way to do so is to ask employees why they are considering leaving. It’s no secret that employees will respond more honestly when this is done by an outside firm, so don’t even think about attempting this on your own.
  7. Even though employee turnover at our company is 40% we are still below the industry average – Would you be so accepting if this year’s revenues were down by 40%, even if it were a little better than the industry average? Of course not. You’d be bringing in teams of people to get you out of this tailspin. You can begin to pull yourself away from the pack by paying attention to factors, like employee fit and well-trained managers, which are key contributors to employee retention. Don’t know how to approach this? Learn how or ask a trusted advisor.
  8. If it doesn’t work out, we can always replace these people – Yes, but at what cost? Will your most valued clients hang around while you replace their main contact person for the third time this year? Do you have the resources to source for new candidates or have these people left as well? Consistency is key for most organizations and it’s impossible to retain if your workforce is in a constant state of change.
  9. We don’t have the staff to address this issue right now – You cannot afford to wait. You don’t have to go this alone. Bring in an expert who can design a strategy and implement a program that will help you prevent this situation from happening time and time again.
  10. It’s no big deal – If this were not a big deal, you wouldn’t have finished reading this article. This problem can be fixed if you are open to making changes. What do you have to lose?

It’s easy to place blame for employee turnover on all of these factors. However, this approach doesn’t position you well to win the game on customer satisfaction, employee retention and increased profitability. It’s your move.

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Posted in Employee Terminations, Employee Turnover, Hiring and Recruitment, Management, Productivity, Profitability, Retention, Talent Acquisition and Retention, Talent Maximization

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Leadership Starts In the Middle And Not At The Top

You are the team leader you jump firstIf you believe leadership starts at the top and flows downward through the veins of the organization, then your organization is a heart attack waiting to happen. Television series like Mad Men showcase a time when leadership started at the top. The guy in the corner office with a cigar in his mouth gave the orders and everyone followed suit. Those days are long gone, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, unless your organization does a poor job of selecting and training leaders who reside in the middle.

Mobilizing your workforce to quickly achieve targets set by top management requires a team of managers who can effectively lead from the middle. You can accelerate this movement in your organization by doing the following:

Key in on the real movers and shakers.  The real movement happens through middle managers. Prepare those in charge of carrying out the marching orders. Trust the people you’ve placed in management, and provide them with guidance on how to handle situations that will at times feel uncomfortable.

Capitalize on ideas presented by middle managers. Middle managers are closest to the end users and are usually the first to know about problem situations. They have ideas that can turn these situations into gold mines. To create an innovative middle management team, you have to make it okay to try new things and to fail. Otherwise people will merely execute what they are told to do, and will do nothing more.

Tap into the informal organization to catalyze great work. Much is written about the formal networks that exist in organizations. However, there is a more powerful network that exists in companies. We call this the informal network that operates behind the scenes. Here deals are cut daily among people working in the middle layers of the organization and those they supervise.

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Strong leadership in the middle will produce outstanding operational results, easing the need for top managers to oversee and intervene in day-to-day operations. A strong middle-management team also will proactively develop a constant stream of new ideas to remedy problems and seize new opportunities. Middle-management excellence is key to achieve great overall performance.

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Posted in Leadership, Management, Talent Maximization

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The One Question You Should Always Ask Before Promoting Someone

You've Been Chosen 3d Words Company Organization Chart PromotionI had breakfast the other day with an executive who told me that if she was promoted, she’d quit her job. She went on to say how happy she was in her current role because the job she was in was perfect for her. She had no desire or intention of giving up what she worked so hard to earn.

How many times have you promoted someone only to have them quit soon thereafter? You may think you know what your people want, but you can’t know for sure unless you ask them. Before you promote someone, ask them if this is what they want. Then sit back and listen to their answer.

I’ve had a number of people attend my Suddenly in Charge leadership workshops who are not in the position of managing people. They’ve told me they are attending so they can determine whether or not management is really for them. My hat is off to them, as they realize that management is not for everyone.

So what do you do if you have a manager who is failing miserably? Before investing resources, ask him or her how they feel about being in management. If you have another position elsewhere in the organization where they can remain an individual contributor, then let them know that’s an option. Make it okay for them to take a step back.

If more companies asked their people whether or not they were interested in being promoted into management before promoting them, we’d have a lot less people reluctantly taking on leadership roles and much stronger leadership throughout organizations.

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Posted in Leadership

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Conflict In The Workplace: How To Restore Peace In Your Organization

How many times have you asked yourself, “Can I put my employees in time out?” My guess is plenty.A child in time out or in trouble Conflict in the workplace can be quite stressful. However, it’s a fact of life so figure out how to deal with it.

Whenever groups of people are pulled together there is bound to be conflict. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, since life would be boring if everyone went along with everything you said. Besides, conflict can bring about positive change. Differences of opinion encourage creativity, change and progress.

However, all too often conflict in the workplace leads to dysfunction. So much so that even business owners have told me that if things don’t get better, they will leave the companies they’ve started! Your workplace doesn’t have to turn into a marriage gone bad, however, if you take the time to address situations when they surface. It’s when conflict is ignored that we end up with problems that make us want to stomp our feet and cover our ears.

Sources of conflict
When situations spiral out of control, they can be difficult to address. Familiarizing yourself with the following common sources of conflict will help you diffuse situations before they occur:

  • Lack of clarity. Employees wind up in turf wars when boundaries aren’t clearly defined. A conversation with a co-worker that clearly defines who will be doing what can help prevent this situation.
  • Poor communication. Poor communication leads to misunderstanding and discord among employees. For example, disputes can occur if a manager asks one employee to relay important instructions to the other employees, but the employee fails to provide all the information. Lack of information can lead to projects being mismanaged and to employees blaming each other for the failed result.
  • Power struggles. The need to control is at the root of many workplace conflicts. Who should have that information? Who should be involved on that project? Who has the corner office? Recognize that power struggles exist. Learn how to manage relationships in the organization to minimize conflict.

Tips for dealing with workplace conflict
A strong leader gives employees the tools needed to resolve conflict situations on their own, rather than continuously playing the role of referee. Here are some suggestions to help you transition from referee to coach:

Deal with the conflict. Hoping and praying the conflict will resolve on its own is never a good idea. It usually gets worse, while you lose credibility. Handle the situation before small matters turn into an explosion that cannot be contained.

Be a mediator, not a judge. While it’s preferable to allow people to resolve their own disputes, if that doesn’t happen or if the conflict is affecting their performance or the business itself, then you must intercede. Set aside time to meet privately with each person involved in the conflict.

To gain insight into the situation, ask each of them to describe:

  • What’s been said and done
  • The ideal outcome they’d like to see occur
  • How they would suggest the situation be handled

The next step is to bring the participants together to discuss the situation. Summarize their respective positions and work towards helping them meet in the middle. Point out where the parties have seen things the same way and work towards building conceptual agreement.

Since disagreement is inevitable, it makes good business sense to train employees and managers on how to recognize and effectively deal with conflict in the workplace. Your investment will reap immediate dividends. Employees will spend less time battling one another and more time on business growth. And you can rest at night knowing that peace has returned to your organization.

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Posted in Conflict

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Hiring Managers Behaving Badly

I get that companies are trying to do more with less these days and that the name of the game is delegation. What I don’t get is placing hiring managers on the front line without giving them the tools they need to represent you well.

A neighbor of mine  is a recent graduate from RIT with a degree in Information Technology. He is also hard of hearing. He wears a cochlear implant and has overcome  many challenges in his lifetime. Any company would be lucky to have him as one of their employees.

Last week he had a job interview with a company in Boston. Prior to his interview, he was told to set aside two hours, which he gladly did. He arrived on time, after a two hour drive and was escorted to a conference room. He was then “interviewed” by a gentleman with a heavy accent, which made it hard for him to hear what the hiring manager was saying. After 15 minutes, the hiring manager told this young man that the other people he was supposed to meet with were all called into a meeting. Basically he didn’t have the guts to tell the candidate that he felt the fit wasn’t right. This young man left the office and immediately went to the recruitment agency that sent him to the interview. He was offended and puzzled. So was the agency. They confronted the company and the hiring manager, who later admitted that he lied to the candidate.

I’m a huge proponent of not wasting candidates time and being honest with them. The hiring manager could have simply said that he didn’t think that the candidate was the right fit for the job. He had no reason to lie. I suspect  this hiring manager has never had any formal training on interviewing. I also believe he has no idea how his actions have placed his company in a very vulnerable position.

How many of your hiring managers are putting your company at risk at this very moment? From what I can tell, the answer is lots. I often hear stories about discrimination around hiring from minority candidates and those who are over age 50. I don’t believe this is intentional. I believe this comes from ignorance.

You wouldn’t send a technician, who hadn’t been properly trained to your top client, would you? Then why do you have people representing your company who have not been properly trained on how to assess and treat candidates?

There are no secrets anymore. All it takes is one post on a social media site that goes viral regarding the way a candidate has been treated and your reputation is gone. Why risk it? Every hiring manager should be required to attend a hands-on session on interviewing before they are permitted to represent your company. Don’t tell me you don’t have the time or the money to do so. You can save that line for your attorney or the CEO, who wants to know why sales are plummeting along with your company’s reputation.

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Posted in Hiring and Recruitment, Management

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Bad Karma

Earlier this month, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said that women should trust “karma” instead of asking for pay raises. Nadella suggested that the “system” would reward their work. In the apology, Nadella said he was “completely wrong.”

Well Nadella got one thing right. He was completely wrong.

Why? Because the “system” is flawed. Most reward systems are based on treating people equally. However, equal isn’t always fair. If I’m one of the top performing employees and I receive one percent more in merit pay than an average performer, is that fair? If the system forces managers to rate everyone according to a bell curve and I suffer because of this, is that fair?

I learned from an early age that if you want a raise, you have to ask for it. I was eighteen years old and working as a file clerk in a law firm and I went to my boss and asked him for a $20 per week pay raise. He said yes.

Every employee must learn how to advocate for him or herself. In my book Suddenly in Charge, I dedicated an entire chapter to the topic of How to Ask for a Raise and Actually Get It. I think I’ll send Nadella a copy so he can give it to his female employees, now that he’s apologized!

Encourage your employees to come to you if they think they deserve a raise. This option sure beats having your star performers go elsewhere for more money.

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Posted in Management, Retention, Suddenly In Charge, Thought Leadership

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What To Do If Your Employees Are Leaving Because of You

I QuitI was facilitating an executive breakfast the other day in NYC when one of the participants had an aha moment. Here’s what happened.

I was explaining to the group that most people don’t leave their jobs. They leave their companies. One of the business owners in the room couldn’t help himself and he blurted out, “Holy crap! People are leaving because of me!” A hush fell over the room followed by sounds of laughter as others noted his bluntness. Several other participants followed suit by admitting that they are also  the cause of unwanted employee turnover in their organization.

Moments like these remind me why I’m in this business. Holding up a mirror so others can see areas where they can improve is what makes my work so fulfilling. Why? Because I know these small changes can help them achieve big results.

So the next time you get ready to lower the hammer on your managers because they can’t keep staff, think twice. Are they root cause of the problem or are you?

Posted in Employee Turnover, Leadership

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Why Help Wanted Posts No Longer Work

Office chair Help Wanted Job Hiring IconsIs it me or have the number of “Help Wanted” and “I’m Hiring” posts been multiplying over the past year? So much so that some companies are sounding desperate, rather than attractive. It’s going to take a lot more in this competitive hiring market to land top talent than posting signs online saying that your company is  hiring. It’s going to take Talent Magnetism.

Think about people you’ve worked with over the years who you’d work for again tomorrow if the opportunity arose. What is it about those people that pulls you towards them? Did they always had your back? Did they encourage you to propel your career forward, even if that meant they’d have to hire and train someone else to replace you? Did they provide you with opportunities to do challenging work? They certainly did something.

In fact, the other day I was sitting on the beach listening to two guys talking about their former boss Ray, who had left their company five years ago. They mentioned how amazing he was and how things hadn’t been the same since he left. Sadly, I was the one who had to give them a reality check. Here’s what I said. “Listen people. You need to get over Ray. He’s not coming back. In fact, he’s retired. You have choices. You can  honor him by being the type of leader he was and pay it forward. You can also find another Ray in another company. But what you can’t do is mourn him for the next twenty years.”

My guess is that if there were more Rays, there would be less “I’m hiring” posts, as few people would leave a guy like that. The key to standing out in a crowd of postings is not to have to post in the first place. That’s right. Take care of the people who are in your chairs and they will stick with you through thick and thin.


Posted in Hiring and Recruitment, Talent Acquisition and Retention

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