Is this what you want?

Is this what you want?

Let’s face it: the recruiting and selection process in most organizations is hardly a shining example of open and honest communication. Candidates naturally avoid revealing too much truthful but negative information and organizations often soft-pedal unpleasant realities (or are completely blind to their many deficiencies). You might look at places like Glass Door to see what employees are saying about the organization, but the information posted there can range from messages from those who have drunk the Kool-Aid or comments by those with serious hidden agendas.

The best way to evaluate whether or not a workplace is worthy of your sacrifice is to ask direct questions of the people interviewing you and listen to both the content of the answer and the way they answer it. As total honesty is often rare in an interview process, you will know when you’ve heard it. When you hear dissembling, stuttering or avoiding the question entirely, it’s a very bad sign.

Here are some questions you can use to help you get more of the truth about what it’s really like to work there:

  • How much time and energy do you expect me to contribute to be successful on this job? (If you get “Whatever it takes,” press for a specific hours-per-week figure.)
  • What are the priorities of this organization right now? Of the workgroup? (Check those against the mission statement for a disconnection.)
  • What kind of support does this organization give its people in terms of technology, training and career movement? (Listen for what they’re actually doing, not what they’d like to do.)
  • What kind of people do you want working here? (Listen for underlying sexism, racism or other kinds of bias.)
  • What kind of people do you not want working here? (Same as above.)
  • How do you see me contributing to this company? How do you see me making a difference?
  • Is it possible for me to interview with the people I will be working with? (If they decline, that’s a big red flag.)
  • What other commitments beyond an honest day’s work do I need to make to achieve success here? (After-hours engagements, checking email at midnight, learning to play golf, etc.)

For your supervisor, try these questions:

  • Tell me what your hot buttons are. (This will reveal their true values.)
  • Tell me about the leader you worked for that you admired the most. (This will tell you about the kind of leader they see as a model.)
  • Tell me about a problem employee you had and why that person was a problem. (This will reveal any biases and blind spots.)
  • Now tell me about a great employee you’ve had and what made them great. (If you can’t get more than a general answer, that’s a very bad sign.)

Although it’s tough to turn down a job when you need the money, the truth is we often settle for jobs we don’t want because the job search has drained our confidence. You can’t let that happen. If you find your confidence sagging, review your resume and remind yourself of all the times that you have delivered great results. Whatever you do, don’t settle for a job in an organization that simply isn’t worthy of your time, energy and talent.


If you ask people what they love most about their job, they’ll frequently say, “The people I work with.” If you ask people what they dislike most about their job, they’ll frequently say, “The people I work with.”

Most people who dislike the people they work with rarely do anything about it beyond trying to tune them out or avoid them whenever possible. This is a lousy strategy that doesn’t improve anything and encourages people to internalize stress. Instead of honest interactions, we have people playing games with each other. Avoidance of others may be a decent short-term strategy if you’re trying to get out of a dysfunctional organization unable to change, but it’s a poor choice if you have any hope of workplace happiness.

In Working Choices, I wrote about our three basic human responsibilities: responsibility to self, responsibility to others and responsibility to the community. Let’s look at what that middle responsibility means.

Responsibility to others is all about your relationships and doing the things you need to do to keep them healthy. There are five fundamental actions related to this responsibility:

Seek the true self: Many people enter relationships based on their personal expectations of what they want the other person to be. This is obviously true in many romantic encounters, but also applies to the workplace, where we heap expectations on leaders and co-workers as to how they should behave. Such a perspective is inherently unfair and invariably disappointing, because no one is here on this earth to live up to our expectations. To be truly responsible to others, we must release others from our expectations and establish a space where people are encouraged to be natural. This also validates and supports the self-responsible action of self-development, in that by letting go of our projections, we learn more about others and therefore ourselves.

Respect for Choices: Along with seeking the real person behind the expectations, it is necessary to learn to accept another person’s right to choose. This does not mean that if someone chooses to shoot you that you should let them go ahead and do it, for you would be violating your overriding responsibility to yourself. What it means is that you allow people the right to make choices and mistakes, just as you permit yourself the right to make similar choices (and similar mistakes). It also means practicing tolerance for choices that may not fit with your particular tastes, but as long as a choice brings no harm to another, you cannot interfere. It is up to the person making the decision to judge whether or not a choice will result in harm to him or herself.

Offering Assistance with Choices: All of us need help in sorting out choices. Sometimes we miss potential consequences or fail to take certain variables into account. We can help others by sharing information and by listening to their thinking. Sharing information and listening without bias are probably the two greatest gifts we can give someone who is facing a difficult choice. Keep in mind that assistance does not involve giving advice or finding other sneaky ways to try to force them to live up to your expectations. It means being there for them, not for you.

Defining Your Parameters: It is important to be fair to others, and being fair often involves explaining to another person your own personal limitations. You have to let people know what values are important to you so they can make choices as to how to relate to you. It is not fair to another person for you to withhold values and feelings when withholding that information could lead them to make unwise choices about how they interact with you.

Forgiveness: Just as we need to learn to forgive ourselves, we need to avoid beating up other human beings who engage in the ultimate human experience of screwing up. Your parameters will determine how much you can forgive, which is why it is wise to let the people close to you know just how far your tolerance goes. It is also possible to forgive someone while at the same time deciding that you really don’t think it’s a good idea to maintain the relationship. In this case, forgiving another is important for you in terms of letting go as it is for the other in terms of receiving permission to attempt change.

The way to make co-workers more likable is to begin to see their actions through their perspective instead of through your judgments. Clarifying your parameters is a more professional way of dealing with relationships than walking the other way when you see your obnoxious co-worker coming down the hall towards you. If you want to be successful in this world, you’re going to have to learn to successfully deal with all kinds of people, and that means  building relationships based on the open, honest communication that leads to mutual understanding.

Running Track

What better way to reward and recognize a superstar employee than putting them on a career track to management?

Hold that thought!

That myth still holds power in many organizations. The reality of a modern workforce contradicts that assumption. The lure of a management position no longer holds the appeal it had decades ago. Many employees have no desire to go into management, particularly those in technical and scientific fields. They like the work they’re doing, they care more about work-life balance than status and they really don’t want to deal with the hassle of managing people.

The more important truth is that most employees seek validation for their contributions in the form of career growth. Countless articles and reams of research identify the lack of internal career opportunities as one of the top reasons employees leave an organization, and that data applies to those who want to go into management and those who are management-averse. For the management-averse, it’s a matter of providing career paths based on the continuing expansion and application of the technical skills the field demands.

For those who want to give management a shot, the path up the hierarchy seems relatively simple. However, research shows it is a much more complex situation than simply entering the person’s name in a different box on the org chart. As Kouzes and Posner demonstrated in their research on the subject, eighty percent of the people promoted into management are promoted for their technical skills, but seventy percent fail because of a lack of people skills.

Early in my career, I had to learn this lesson through personal experience, as I tried to correct a situation involving an internal promotion that was going bad—fast. I worked for a organization that had multiple locations, each location had a their own Customer Service Team led by a Customer Service Supervisor. Jim was a Customer Service Representative (CSR) at one of our largest branches and he was fabulous—an über-CSR.  Jim could handle any customer and every technical problem that came his way and was the person who trained all of the new CSRs, sometimes even for other locations. When the supervisor of Jim’s team retired, he was selected as her replacement.

At first, the team was proud and supportive of Jim. They were a close-knit team who often socialized together. But it didn’t take long for the friction with team members to develop and not much longer for the complaints to start flooding into Human Resources. Comments that he made to people to improve their work were heard as excessive criticism. Changes he wanted to implement were resisted. The productivity and morale of the team plummeted. One female team member actually complained of harassment when Jim invited her to lunch, even though he had extended similar invitations when they were peers.

What Jim missed was that the dynamics between Jim and the team had changed. Jim’s words and actions were no longer viewed through the lens of peers, but through the power of boss-to-subordinate. Jim hadn’t changed, but his role and the meaning his old friends attached to him had shifted. He was now Management, and people have different expectations of someone in Management. Jim failed to perceive that the boundaries of his relationships with his former peers had fundamentally changed.

Within a couple of months this high-performing team began to experience significant turnover and the quality of work plummeted. Jim soon resigned. While this situation occurred over fifteen years ago, I have never forgotten how sad and defeated Jim felt when he gave up. I felt badly that we hadn’t done a better job to help prepare him for a successful transition into management.

Unfortunately, the story of Jim is not uncommon. Glassdoor recently published an article titled Why Employee Quit Their Jobs. The most common cause is bad management, particularly bad management involving an internal promotion: “A lot of companies pride themselves on promoting from within, but sometimes that strategy can backfire if the person they are giving a management role to isn’t up to the task. “ Fortunately, an organization can take some very simple steps that will improve their internal promotional practices and help the new manager be successful.

First, help them understand the new dynamics between the would-be manager and the team they will lead. Talk to them about the change in the nature of the relationships and be candid about how boundaries move when a person takes on a leadership role. Include case-study interview questions that focus on how to handle management tasks and people situations that are common in your workplace so you can both educate them and identify learning needs.

Second, develop and adopt a process of “inboarding.” Inboarding is simply onboarding designed for internal promotions. Most organizations wouldn’t think of bringing in a new manager from the outside without a plan to get them up to speed. Yet internally-promoted managers are often moved into new roles and left to figure it out by themselves.  A good inboarding process will help the newly promoted manager be successful, so that their teams can be successful. An inboarding process cannot be one-size-fits-all because each person and situation will have different needs, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be costly or complex. The best inboarding is a thoughtful, tailored plan that includes these five ingredients:

1)   Pair up the new leader with an internal coach and mentor from within the organization and follow-up with them to make sure they are connecting.

2)   Make connections for the internally-promoted manager. Identify the key relationships the manager is going to need to foster and establish the connections. Make sure that they are on the mailing lists for key meetings and announcements.

3)   In addition to learning the new role, identify other technical areas in which they may need training, such as systems or processes that may be used differently by managers than by employees (for example, the performance management and attendance systems).

4)   Identify areas where they need leadership skill training and train them. Help the employee identify the areas that will enhance their leadership skills and connect them to training resources. Create a development plan with a timeline.

5)   Schedule time for the new leader to meet with an HR representative to review critical policies and legal obligations. The goal is to ensure that the new manager has a manager’s perspective of things like FMLA, ADA, employment discrimination and harassment.  This will help the new manager identify risky situations, so he or she can get the “experts” involved early.

Following these five simple steps will go a long way to set up the newly promoted manager for success and make your internal management promotions the win-win you meant them to be.



As a leadership trainer and organizational development facilitator, I get lots of requests for training. Usually the requests are in the form of “those idiots working for us need training,” because many executives believe they already know everything. I don’t bother to point out the obvious need for self-reflection, but instead dig deeper to find out the real needs and figure out what training (if any) is truly needed, within the bounds of the general thrust of the client’s request.

Over the years I have taught all aspects of leadership, management, communication, collaboration, group dynamics, diversity, strategic planning—you name it, I’ve probably taught it. But there is one topic I avoid like the plague.

I’m talking about Time Management.

If you want to learn how to organize your files and clean up your inbox, there are plenty of books that will help you do that. If you want a comprehensive appointment system, there are competing companies who will be happy to sell you all sorts of tracking tools and devices to help you feel like you’re really on top of the time thing. But until you absorb one fundamental concept, all the day-timers and Stephen Covey facilitators in the universe won’t help you.

The concept is this: time management is a choice. Your choice. You choose how you manage your time.

The reason why I resist teaching time management is that most people strongly object to the idea that they have a choice in the matter. They whine about the 2000 emails in the inbox, about the additional duties they’ve had to take on due to staff cuts, about the unreasonable demands of upper management that must be met and about the unreasonable clients who want everything yesterday.  They want somebody to give them a magic wand to make it all go away.

They conveniently forget that perception involves choice. We select perceptions from the thousands of stimuli at any given moment and ignore the rest. If you’re worried about the 2000 e-mails in your inbox, that is because you choose to focus on them and get your knickers in a twist. You aggravate the problem by keeping thousands of emails whose only purpose is CYA. The work continues to pile up, at least in your mind.

The common wisdom, “When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority” is true. Unless you have sufficient self-awareness to know when you’re responding from fear rather than from your native intelligence, no one can help you manage your time. Unless you develop the awareness that many so-called priorities are symptomatic of insecure people making a mountain out of a molehill, you’ll be trapped in reaction mode forever. And unless you have a clear idea of your purpose, both in your work and in your overall life, the stimuli generated by organizational fear and dysfunction will leave you helplessly flailing to manage priorities that aren’t really priorities at all.

So, stop playing the victim of the information explosion and take responsibility for your time. Organizations abound with fake priorities that have nothing to do with the alleged mission of the organization. Constantly ask, “Is this trip really necessary? Is this really worth our time, given all of the other things on our plate?” If the task is important, ask, “What current priorities are going to have to fall by the wayside? What additional resources will be available to help us with this new priority?”

I repeat: time management is a choice. Empower yourself and embrace that responsibility.


The refrain you usually hear when you ask unhappy people why they are working is the line, “It pays the bills.” This response implies that “the bills” are the unavoidable price of modern existence. It further suggests that we are helplessly chained to a cycle of financial burden.


It is true that a regular job appears to provide a consistent source of funds. Reliable employment translates into reliable income and our imaginative minds begin to project the present into the future, enabling us to make plans. With projections predicting a stable future, we buy houses for our families and occasionally spring for a new car. Self-employed individuals are at a disadvantage in this regard, because their income is not quite as predictable. Therefore, one of the advantages of having a job is that it allows us to believe that “it pays the bills,” and gives us confidence that the money will be there to meet current obligations and incur new ones.

Unfortunately, reality wreaks havoc on our projections. Organizations in this period of our history find it much easier to cut costs by cutting people; many employers have lost any sense of responsibility to provide secure employment. But despite the evidence of instability in nearly every organization on the planet, the regularity of a paycheck lulls us into the belief that it will always be there, making it too easy to create new financial obligations, making us feel more dependent on the whims of an employer.

We also forget that having a job is in itself an expensive proposition. Beyond commute and clothing expenses, there are dozens of hidden costs in having a job. These include: contributing to a co-worker’s birthday gift; laying out a couple of bucks on the football pool; being shamed by the company into contributing to their favorite charity; or feeling like you have to buy a couple of those waxy chocolate bars that working parents of high schoolers foist on their colleagues every school year. Taking into account the remarkable talent of most Americans to spend far beyond their means, it is safe to say that we waste a good two-thirds of our take-home pay on stuff we didn’t really want or need in the first place or on the trappings of employment itself.

While many people have told me that they work primarily for the money, the desire for money does not necessarily translate into having to have a job. There are hundreds of other ways to earn a living, many of which may be far more appealing than having to live your life by the clock and put up with the insanity of organizational life in the 21st century. So why do people automatically assume that the best way to survive in our culture is by getting a job?

I think it has to do with the hard-dying need for the appearance of stability. Having a job creates a routine that makes life appear to be a stable proposition. Going to work every day helps order our existence and human beings like a sense of order in their lives. A job gives us social validity, enabling us to confirm our right to respect when asked the question, “And what do you do?” While well-publicized layoffs and reorganizations have compromised this traditional meaning of security, having a job seems like a more ordered reality than working in the arts or starting your own business. The regularity of the weekly schedule provides a soft, steady rhythm in the midst of the chaotic dissonance of modern existence.

Unfortunately, this love of order is a two-edged sword. Our need for predictability can interfere with our ability to perceive new opportunities and consider new ideas. We get very stubborn when someone messes with our personal sense of order. However, when the need to preserve routine becomes more important than the human needs to learn, grow and contribute, we stagnate. Because organizations often reinforce our natural preference for order with endless rules and regulations, life in an organization can become so regimented that we start working far below our capabilities.

This need for order can also lead to absurd decision-making. I know many people who chose their careers simply because they believed that a particular field had a bright future. They didn’t bother to consider what the day-to-day reality of the job entailed, what kinds of people they’d be working with or even if they thought the work was particularly meaningful or important. They found careers that paid well or gave them status and it seemed to be the sensible thing to do. Unfortunately, they often find that years of education were wasted for a life at work that drained their spirit and left them feeling more trapped than ever. One woman I worked with who gave up artistic leanings to become an MRI tech spent most of her work life projecting her inner dissatisfaction onto her boss and co-workers, complaining constantly about anything and everything that triggered her inner frustration.

The lesson here is that you don’t have to let the economy control you or define you. We tend to start our search for work with the question, “What’s out there?” when we should be asking ourselves, “What do I really want to do?” You may not get there in your first attempt. It may take years of compromise and hard thinking to align your needs to something that will provide you with a decent income. But if you surrender your dream to the need for security at the start of your search, you’ll have a much harder time getting there. In the process, you’ll be compromising your psychological and physical self, which helps no one.

So, keep an open mind and open your eyes to the possibilities within you. Don’t get stubborn and affix yourself to a single possibility. Take the time to define what you really want and filter your choices through your true desires. You may have to settle for 40% for now, but if you keep pressing and refuse to give up, you might increase that percentage and wind up with something that makes you pretty happy.