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

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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The Problem With Assumptions and Talent

Discovering TalentI just had a visit this morning from a new plumber by the name of Dave, who I assumed was educated at a technical school. My assumptions couldn’t have been further than the truth. Dave holds two degrees in engineering and is certified by the US Navy to fix submarines. Good to know in case I decide to purchase a submarine for my beach house. He also spent a year in Italy learning how to cook from a woman who lived in a small village in southern Italy. Lucky for me, he shared one of his recipes while fixing my garbage disposal.

We often make assumptions about people without taking the time to really get to know them. I have personally experienced what it’s like when someone makes an assumption without taking the time to get to know me. A number of years ago I was working as a temp for a large communications company. My intent was to make enough money to return to Europe. My boss Vijay, was being extremely detail-oriented when he was instructing me on how to enter data into an Excel spreadsheet. My sense was that he was a bit nervous, since I was a temp. How much could I really know? Imagine his surprise when I told him  I had an MBA in finance and that he needn’t be worried. We laughed and he apologized for making an assumption about my abilities and not taking the time to get to know me.

Many of you are in the midst of looking for talent to fill current positions or new roles that have come about due to growth. You are posting jobs here and there and may have even engaged a search firm to help you in your efforts. Yet the one thing you may not have done is look inside your own talent pool because you have assumed that no one inside is qualified to fill these slots. STOP what you are doing and make it a point to get to know the people inside your own firm. Take time to have a real conversation, rather than one of the many superficial, “How was your weekend?”conversations you typically have as you are quickly darting out of the break room. There is a lot of talent waiting to be discovered within your own organization.

Stop making assumptions and start having conversations that will no doubt lead to some interesting discoveries, including people within your own firm who are able and ready to take on a new role in your organization.

Posted in Hiring and Recruitment, Human Touch, Talent Acquisition and Retention

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Searching for Mr. or Ms. Right

Looking for jobAs I travel around the country working with top organizations, this is what they are saying:

We can’t find talent.

Yet, here’s what I’m hearing from those in the market looking for new job opportunities:

We can’t find jobs.

Seems to me that people may be looking for Mr. or Ms. Right in all the wrong places. The following are my recommendations to help organizations dramatically accelerate their ability to hire top talent as well as some ideas on how top talent can finally find their match.

Flaunt What You’ve Got

Employers: You may be one of the hottest employers in an industry that few have ever heard of. Time to get out there and flaunt what you’ve got. Today’s job seekers are looking for an experience. Not just a job. You’ve got to use whatever you’ve got to get their attention. This means describing how great it is to work in your company (it is great, right?) and creating job postings that have people saying, “Wow! I can see myself working here.”

Job Seekers: Now is the time to spruce up your looks and your attitude. Sure it’s been a few tough years for job seekers. But things have changed. You need to readjust your attitude and start anew. Update your wardrobe and prepare for success. Approaching interviews with a new look and attitude can go a long way towards landing your dream job.

Ask for Referrals

Employers: Ask your employees, customers, suppliers and friends who they know that may be seeking a new job opportunity. Of course it can’t hurt to offer your employees a bonus for their referrals. Do this on a quarterly basis so you can keep your pump primed.

Job Seekers: Ask your former co-workers, employer (if you left on good terms), neighbors, friends and professional service providers (e.g., your attorney, accountant, etc.) who they might know that is need of a stellar worker like you. Make the job easier for them by checking out their Linkedin profiles and coming up with three connections that you’d like an introduction to. Take this one step further by offering to provide them with a brief introduction.

Step Away From Your Computer

Employers: Posting a job and waiting for people to come in when the job market is flush with opportunities is like putting up a website and hoping customers will flock to your door. Neither approach works particularly well. I hear lots of employers complaining about their inability to fill jobs while at the same time, companies in the same industry have a line of people outside their door waiting to work for them. Every manager on your team needs to be a talent magnet. This means that at a minimum, they should be attending industry events, speaking at conferences and accepting requests for informational interviews.

Job Seekers: Applying for jobs online all day does not make a job search. You know this or you wouldn’t be reading this post because you’d be employed. Step away from your computer and re-enter the real world. Attend at least one networking event every week where recommenders or hiring managers may be in attendance. And when I say hiring managers, I don’t mean HR people. I mean the people who are the final decision makers when it comes to deciding who will be offered the job and who won’t.

Expand Your Reach

Employers: When you first started searching for people to fill your job openings you may have made the decision to consider only local applicants. Now that you are six months into your search, you may want to extend your search and consider relocating the perfect candidate, who happens to live somewhere else.

Job Seekers: In a perfect world, you might have landed a job that’s within driving distance to your home. However, life isn’t perfect and you are still looking for work. Take a look at those places where hiring seems to be plentiful and concentrate your search where there are significantly more opportunities than where you are currently living.

Companies are hiring and workers are looking for work. Imagine all the possibilities if both parties were willing to meet in the middle. Here’s to finding Mr. or Mrs. Right!

Posted in Careers, Creating Exceptional Work Places, Job Searching, Talent Acquisition and Retention

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A Tale of Two Hotels

I’m hosting an event in September and really wanted to give my business to the hotel where I hosted my last meeting. However, their policies and rigidness prevented me from doing so. On the other side of that coin is the hotel where I will be now hosting my event. The two experiences couldn’t be more different, yet these two hotels are located only a few miles from one another.

I reached out to the Hotel Indigo in Newton, Mass to book an executive breakfast that began at 7:30 AM and ended promptly at 9:00 AM. I chose this hotel because they had done such a fabulous job the last time I hosted a similar event. This time the experience was completely different. I was told that because I was not guaranteeing rooms, I could not secure my meeting room arrangements until four weeks prior to the event. I don’t know many people who could pull off a business event in less than four weeks time. I asked for a slight exception…the ability to book six weeks in advance…and I was told in four different ways, “No.”

Trying to get the hotel policy slightly modified was like trying to work with city hall. I  decided to take my business down the highway to the Newton Marriott.

My dealings with Sheila Townes, Catering Manager of the Newton Marriott, have been nothing but pleasant. I mentioned that I wanted to do something a bit more special than your typical continental breakfast. “No problem. Let me talk to the chef.” I asked if I could place a temporary hold on one of the meeting rooms. “No problem.” September is a particularly busy time of the year for business meetings in the Boston area and Sheila is taking care of me like I’m her only client.

A hotel is nothing more than a building with beds and some meeting rooms. It’s the service that is the differentiating factor. I hope the folks at the Hotel Indigo in Newton wake up one day and smell the coffee. Then again, thanks to them, I may have just found my new go to hotel!

Posted in Customer satisfaction, Word-of-Mouth