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Sun 26 September 2021
Attracting and retaining talent in the summer of 2021 has been incredibly difficult – so much so that LinkedIn and other news outlets have dubbed this time period as the “Great Resignation”. I have personally interviewed dozens of executives and consistently heard sentiments like this: 

“Business is booming, but we can’t find people to staff the demand we are receiving or keep the people we have!”

Some executives I have interviewed have blamed working from home and the general burnout from the increased uncertainty as reasons for this. Other executives blame generous unemployment benefits as the reason for these hiring struggles.

This article won’t serve as a deep-dive into why the Great Resignation is happening. Instead, I’m going to focus on solutions and highlight one major way we can handle this challenge to our businesses’ viability.

According to a Gallup survey, 75% of employees who voluntarily left their jobs did so because of their bosses, not because of the position itself. 

In other words, the adage ‘people don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses’ seems to ring true for people who are quitting – and with workers quitting at an incredibly high level at the moment, it is paramount that we, as leaders, do more to equip our managers with the tools and resources to be better managers.

There has been significant research into measuring work engagement and its impact on retention and productivity from teams – and if your team isn’t measuring engagement, I would highly recommend starting now. But new research is showing that there are 5 additional criteria that should be measured to understand the level of satisfaction employees have at work and their productivity.

1.       Team Cohesion – Employees’ self-assessment of how well the team has been working together in terms of their camaraderie
2.       Team Productivity – Employees’ self-assessment of how productive the team has been 
3.       Task Performance – Employees’ self-assessment of how productive, they personally, have been
4.       Manager Performance – Employees’ assessment of how effective their manager has been at leading them
5.       Organizational Citizenship – Employees’ self-assessment of their ability to be helpful to the team outside of their explicit work duties 

Caveats about measuring this data: 

1.       It should be measured monthly, at a minimum. Feelings about work and productivity change rapidly and asking annually, bi-annually, or quarterly is not enough to garner an accurate picture.
2.       It should be measured on a team-by-team basis, not a general overview of the entire company. The dynamics that occur within teams are more relevant and critical to an employee’s sense of belonging and willingness to stay at a company. Company-wide metrics are far too broad to be useful.  
3.       Managers should be provided with tools for enacting change based on these metrics. For example, conversation prompts and suggested questions for 1-on-1 meetings with direct reports can help managers address these issues early. Collecting data without immediate action diminishes the employee experience instead of enhancing it.

If you can measure this data on a month by month basis for each and every manager and their respective teams and equip your managers with suggested questions and conversation prompts to discuss with their direct reports based on the data, you are significantly better equipped to elevate the employee experience and feelings of belonging at work.

Why?

Because employees’ feelings of burnout and dissatisfaction with managers don’t happen because the manager is purposefully trying to sabotage the team or individual employees. These negative feelings typically happen because of poor communication between the manager and their employees. Most bad managers think they are good managers.

When an employee receives poor communication from their manager, there are consequences. It may cause them to do work that is not what the manager actually wanted, or to feel they are being treated unfairly, or to feel they aren’t receiving ample feedback (or too much unnecessary feedback), or just feel uncomfortable or dissatisfied with the manager in any way. When this happens, it is VITAL that the manager understands this frustration right away and have a conversation to rectify it (Kim Scott, the author of Radical Candor calls this “challenge directly while caring personally”).

If a manager doesn’t rectify the situation and this feeling of dissatisfaction from the employee festers, they are going to become actively disengaged, bring down other employees because of their dissatisfaction, and eventually leave. 

If you are a CEO and you believe that having an “open door policy” or “clear lines of communication” is enough to gather this information, you are making the MASSIVE assumption that your managers’ direct reports have the same level of psychological safety as your direct reports have with you. You are also assuming that your employees have personality traits in which they are comfortable being optimally objective with everyone they interact with across all levels of an organization. 

Overall, now is the time to equip our managers with the data and the tools necessary to build strong teams. Providing a robust system through conversation prompts helps managers understand how their direct reports are feeling about work in terms of their team cohesion, team productivity, task performance, manager performance, and organizational citizenship. If we can do that, we are much more likely to increase retention and the productivity of our teams.

A quick final note, my team and I at Ambition In Motion are working on tools and ways to research these 5 core areas that increase work satisfaction and productivity across all employees. If you are a manager that is interested in collaborating or learning more about our research, please feel free to send me an email at garrett@ambition-in-motion.com.

Sun 8 August 2021
Over the past 2 months, I have interviewed over 50 senior-level leaders and CEOs of companies in the Louisville and Indianapolis communities, and this article shares their perspectives on the key trends and challenges facing local industries and businesses. This article omits specific names and companies to keep the focus on the industries, trends, and challenges facing our community.

Below are the industries and types of companies interviewed:

 | Industry | Company Types
| Recruitment  | IT, medical, sales, and manufacturing
 | Media  | AV, Entertainment
 | Sanitation  | Janitorial Services, PPE
 | Healthcare  | Telehealth, Pharma, Community-Based Healthcare, COVID Testing/Vaccine Rollout, Physical Therapy
 | Manufacturing  | Legacy and Startup
 | Hospitality  | Hair Care, Hotels, Restaurants, Theme Parks, Online Food Ordering,
 | Logistics  | Legacy and Startup
 | Banking & Finance  | Collections Agencies, Credit Unions, Banks, Title Companies, Insurance/Financial Management
 | Technology  | Development, Software, Hardware
 | Government  | Local Government, Criminal Justice System
 | Real estate | Commercial & Residential
| Consulting  | Management, Technology, HR
 | Marketing  | Legacy Mail Marketing, Search Engine Optimization, and Social Media
 | Key Challenges | labor shortages, inflation/raising prices, supply chain/inventory management, workspace management, finding new ways to sell
 
From the diverse perspectives of these industries and companies, there were 5 key challenges that emerged from these interviews: 1) Labor shortages, 2) Inflation and rising prices, 3) Supply chain and inventory management, 4) Workspace management, and 5) Finding new ways to sell.

This article will focus on these key challenges and share stories on how different types of companies reacted to these challenges and are creating opportunities from them. 


Labor Shortages
The number one challenge posed by the executives I interviewed was labor shortages.

From blue collar to white collar, from entry-level to highly experienced roles, finding the right people to fill those roles has become a challenge for many companies.

Two questions become apparent: 1) Why did this happen? and 2) What did the most successful teams do to keep their teams?

When the pandemic first hit, many companies laid off their less-essential employees because of the uncertainty as to what would happen next. Some companies were able to get creative, and they found ways to pay people hourly and retain their benefits for their employees, but the most common response was to either furlough their employees or let them go. 

Other companies kept their entire team on-staff and full-time, despite the reduced demand. Those companies definitely took a financial hit, but the stability and continuity paid off when business turned back around and they were ready to go.

However, the teams that thrived during the past 18 months were the ones that completely leaned in to the necessary changes and rapidly pivoted at the onset of the pandemic. Some companies fundamentally changed their business model and were able to successfully deploy their teams and leverage their skillsets into a different vertical. Some of those pivoting efforts became total successes – i.e., creating entirely new business lines and driving strong revenues. Others saw ephemeral successes that temporarily worked but eventually fizzled out (e.g., distilleries changing from making spirits to  hand sanitizer during shortages). There are also other pivot-stories that didn’t work out but provided great lessons and helped exercise their innovative muscles for pivoting, changing, and thinking creatively. Compared to stagnant companies that were caught flat-footed, even the unsuccessful pivots had long-term benefits on the companies that sought to adapt to the new challenges. 

Trend Observed: If you are a leader and you are ever faced with an existential scenario where your core business has completely fallen off, the businesses that thrive in these conditions are the ones that accept the need to pivot immediately and start trying new things, while the stagnant or stubborn companies get stuck in the churn that accompanies momentous change.

Most teams did not pivot immediately, and nor could they afford to hold steady, so most teams ended up with furloughed or laid off employees.

Paired with strong unemployment benefits during this time period and the lapse in hiring new employees from April through November of 2020 (for many companies), that 8-month gap disrupted the typical job turnover and growth cycle and led many to delay going back to work.

For companies that hire recent graduates, finding hires has been a struggle as well because of how many students delayed or altered their college education plans due to COVID. With fewer students graduating and a strong need to hire out of college, being attractive to candidates has become crucial for getting the best candidates.

For companies seeking to hire highly experienced (high salary) roles, finding and identifying the right person has been difficult because of the lack of in-person interviewing and onboarding. Most companies have found ways to make virtual onboarding work (and some even thrive), but when it comes to hiring for a highly sought-after role, some companies have become more risk-averse towards making a hire with less experience because of the high expense of making a mistake. Plus, with it being so difficult to fill less experienced roles with an organization, the promotional track for some companies’ employees have been delayed because companies need continuity for these key functions during this chaotic period.

However, we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel! There are companies that have filled all or most of their hiring needs during this time without substantially raising their wages offered. Two of my interviewees found a way to successfully attract great candidates to their firms. One company was a management consulting firm, the other, a large hospitality company, but both used similar tactics. Their secret: focus on the brand and making the brand fun, enjoyable, and attractive. They observed that their benefits weren’t terribly different from comparable firms with similar hiring needs. However, these firms leaned their marketing resources, internal communications, and overall brand statement towards having fun and doing good work, they were able to fulfill all or most of their hiring needs. One other interesting observation about both of these companies was that they both also provided opportunities for either temporary work or changing work. For example, the hospitality company hired their employees with the expectation that they would only work for the summer. For these employees, this was great because they had a very clear end-date for their employment with the company which caused them to feel like they weren’t making a massive commitment by starting work with the company. For the management consulting firm, they constantly switch their new employees on the type of working they are doing (e.g. a rotation). So, the employees knew that if they didn’t like the work they were doing, they were going to switch in a few weeks and if they did like it, they knew that they could always come back to that work.

Trend Observed: The (usually) unstated precept from leadership to employees that “You should be grateful to have a job” is gone. In fact, in many ways it has inverted to become “You should be grateful to have me.” People’s motivations have shifted away from simply working to get a paycheck. For many people, work is an outlet to socialize, collaborate with great teammates, use their brain in fulfilling ways, and get some time away from the house. If you are a leader and you are struggling to hire and are feeling pressure to raise your wages and benefits past what is feasible, you might find greater success in attracting candidates by developing your company culture to be more fun in the eyes of your current and prospective employees.


Inflation and Rising Prices
Since many companies are struggling to make the right hires, or in some cases just hire enough employees to do the work, companies are following the logical conclusion and raising wages.

Paying for wages is the largest expense for most companies. Therefore, when wages rise, margins rapidly diminish. So, the only major way for companies to get back to their previous margins is by raising the prices for their goods and services.

Make no mistake about it – this is inflation.

Inflation isn’t necessarily horrible, but it can be if you don’t know how to handle it or if you are in an industry that regulates how you handle it.

For example, there were many small business owners that I interviewed that were apprehensive to raise their prices to avoid offending their legacy customers with sticker shock. Many small business owners also have fewer resources for determining when or by how much to raise their prices.

With inflation reaching a peak compared to the previous 15 years, it might be difficult to determine when the right time is to raise prices and project how inflation will change in future years. 

If you are a business owner and you are trying to figure out how to keep your salaries competitive, retain margin, and not offend your customers with price increases, you are not alone. Some ways business owners have handled this situation is by assessing how often they will adjust prices. By increasing the frequency of price adjustments, you can decrease the effects of sticker-shock that may coincide with increasing prices. If you are apprehensive to changing your prices frequently, then you need to project inflation’s trends and bake in extra margin now to buy time for once the margin dwindles over time.

There are some industries that don’t have the luxury of easily adjusting their prices. For example, in healthcare, many insurance companies have already determined the price of certain procedures and medications. Hospitals and healthcare companies are then forced to work their business model around the predetermined prices. This model works well when there is little to no inflation, but when inflation weakens the value of a previously competitive salary, companies must choose between more difficult hiring, or reducing their margins by offering higher salaries.

One question that comes up frequently around this topic is: What happens when the unemployment benefits end and all of these people flood the market seeking a job?

Most of these open roles will likely be filled, but it is unlikely that the companies will be able to drop their salaries back to where they used to be. At the start of the pandemic, some companies were able to get away with “hero pay” in which employees were temporarily paid a higher salary. It was mutually understood by both parties that the salaries would eventually revert. However, most companies have already adjusted their wages, some by 20-30%, and they are not branding this wage as “hero pay” or any other form of temporary high pay based on need, meaning that these salaries are here to stay – but so is the inflation that comes with it.

Trend Observed: If you have the freedom to adjust your prices, it is probably best to rip that band-aid early and have a plan around how often you are willing to adjust your prices and clearly communicate that to your team. Your team needs to be in the loop on the plan or they may become frustrated at being stuck in the dark regarding the changing prices. If you don’t have the freedom to adjust your prices (e.g. in an industry that has regulation), you need to begin lobbying and having the conversation around having more flexibility around adjusting those prices. This will likely take a very long time to happen, but what alternative do you have? You either get to a point where your staff is completely overworked and underpaid (compared to other work opportunities), and either your people leave or you eat the losses because the business is losing money (to keep wages competitive) for the hope that one day the prices will adjust.

Supply Chain and Inventory Management

The pandemic has put to the test the just-in-time inventory management system. Just-in-time inventory management is the notion that companies hold inventory for the least number of days before the item is shipped to the customer. By limiting the amount of time inventory sits in a warehouse, waste from spoilage, breaking, and mismanagement is significantly diminished, and this allows companies in supply chain and logistics to work more efficiently. 

But what happens when you have one part that is missing? You have a car that consists of hundreds of different parts and is completely assembled, but it is missing 1 semiconductor chip. What happens? The answer is that you have thousands of cars sitting, unable to be shipped because they are missing 1 part out of hundreds.

Why is it so difficult to get one measly semiconductor chip (or any other product or material that is leveraged in just-in-time inventory)? Aren’t there competing manufacturing companies that can find the part they need?

The answer is complicated. With the world economy opening up and allowing for companies to procure materials from anywhere at the cheapest price, the supply chain is growing more complex. Combined with just-in-time inventory management, this means that manufacturing companies hold only for their immediate needs. When a global pandemic hits, different countries are impacted in diverse ways. Some countries can’t let raw materials get shipped out, or some countries can’t get raw materials in for their factories. Others can’t operate at maximum capacity because people are sick. This all makes the seemingly brief delays pile up, turning an interstate into a traffic jam. 

Another massive issue in all of this is the overall lack of organization of many of the ports in the US. Many ports in the US, before the pandemic, were operating in a way where some shipping containers would never get processed and left in potential space available for unloading new boats. That extra space was taken for granted and containers just kept getting stacked up over years. Well, when the pandemic came, not only were boats still arriving in US ports, but the people to operate those ports weren’t coming to work because of COVID. Essentially, this giant game of catch-up for unloading cargo becomes exacerbated because the decreased workforce around the ports means that parts come into the US more slowly (or not at all) and the entire supply chain becomes compromised.

One supply chain CEO I interviewed was able to project what was about to happen and benefit from his forward thinking. He observed what was going on in China in January 2020 and decided to stock up on the raw materials he needed for him to provide his products, and this gave him an advantage later.

Most inventory management systems observe low demand (e.g. March, April, and May of 2020) as a sign to order less in subsequent months. When demand drastically swung back, companies were caught on their back foot trying to catch up. The supply chain CEO I spoke with projected this would happen, went to his clients to inform them of what was going to happen, and was able to get his clients to pay early for materials for the rest of the year based on this projection.

Trend Observed: Most inventory management systems focus on microeconomic, short-term factors for making inventory decisions. And although this works 95% of the time, it is extremely important to project for macroeconomic factors that could have a long-term impact on inventory and supply chain management overall. 

Trend Observed: The other trend observed was the importance of diversifying sources for raw materials. Obviously quality control, price, and a drive for simplicity play a factor in business decisions, but if your business is solely reliant on one provider for your raw materials, you are leaving yourself liable to changes in their market conditions which inevitably impact your business. 

Workspace Management

Work from home, hybrid, or the traditional office set up. Which is best? 

The answer is that it depends on your company and your work situation.

Every leader I spoke with had to adjust their working situation some way or another. Some leaders went to their employees and took a vote of what they would like to do. Some leaders immediately started having their teams work remotely. And some leaders had to implement sanitation and safety measures to keep their teams working at the office. 

Now that people are starting to feel more comfortable opening up socially, many companies are starting to come back to the office, but not all in the same ways.

Some companies are directly coming back to the office and generally returning to the status quo. However, many other companies are finding creative ways to either get out of or diminish their leases. For example, one executive that I interviewed partitioned off half of his office and is now leasing out that space to drive some additional income and allow his staff to continue hybrid work – partly from home and partly from the office setting. Other companies are simply letting their lease lapse and partially converting that funding to support coworking spaces for sales conversations or board rooms for big meetings, but otherwise allowing everyone to work from home. 

If you own commercial real estate, it isn’t all doom and gloom. There is an opportunity in supply chain. As mentioned in the previous segment, this notion of just in time inventory is falling out of favor meaning that manufacturing companies and companies that work with raw materials are starting to buy larger warehouses to store more raw materials. Some large logistics companies are even looking at leasing or buying old malls and converting them into warehouses and supply chain centers.

Trend Observed: Companies are finding unique ways to optimally deploy their teams into work environments that are efficient and work for them, and there isn’t just one trend everyone is following for finding the best working situation for their team.

But back to the original question as to what is best: working from home, a hybrid model, or at the office. The jury is still out. However, I have found it strange how many CEOs are clinging onto anecdotes and feelings when deciding between working in the office versus remote or a hybrid.

There is a lot of data that has shown that working remotely has led to greater productivity from teams, particularly for output and qualitative data around satisfaction at work. Remote work hasn’t led to greater productivity for every team, but between my interviews with executives and the research articles I’ve read on this topic, most teams were more productive working remotely.

However, many CEOs and leaders that I have interviewed have taken their team back to the office. I believe that the data on best practices for determining work location will become clearer in the future, but I have only seen a limited amount of data showing the advantages of in-person over remote. When I have interviewed CEOs that have taken their teams back to the office, the traditional response I have heard is “this working situation works best for us” or “everyone seems much happier at the office compared to at home” or “we have been able to collaborate much better at the office”. Like I mentioned before, I believe the data could come, but none of the CEOs that I interviewed referenced any sort of comparative analysis on productivity differences between remote-work versus in person. 

For the most part, this ends up being just conjecture and feelings and not rooted in metrics. My biggest surprise is how many of these CEOs dove fully into working from the office without offering a hybrid model to ease this transition. 

Trend Observed: If you are transitioning back from working remotely to the office, it is really critical that you consider some metrics you can measure to assess whether one works better for you. If your team is currently working remotely and you are contemplating coming back to the office, you must have a system in place for measuring productivity, so you can understand what happens when you come back to the office.  

Finding new ways to sell

Finding a new way to sell was critical for many companies to stay alive during the pandemic. From restaurants transitioning from legacy ordering via a server to online orders, to companies expanding delivery to include curb-side drop-offs right into one’s car, companies have had to completely transition the way they operate and sell their goods and services.

Here are some of the most interesting stories about how companies have had to change the way they sell.

One of the executives I interviewed works for a large pharmaceutical company. One of the biggest challenges she faced was retaining her high-level account executives who sold their medicines into doctors’ offices.

Since many doctors embraced telehealth, they left their medical offices and started working from home. For small pharmaceutical companies who relied heavily on in-person meetings with doctors to sell their medicines when doctors have a free moment to chat, they now had to find alternative ways to get their voices heard. Therefore, they started poaching account executives from larger, established pharmaceutical companies to harvest their rolodex of relationships and for the opportunity to drive business from those account executives. 

This forced these larger pharmaceutical companies to focus more heavily on the doctor experience and having multiple points of relationship with their company, not just one individual account executive who might convince the doctor to take their business elsewhere.

Another executive I interviewed creates software and learning programs for governments working on educating and rehabilitating people after they have been arrested for a crime. Most of these classes were in-person and expensive for local governments to run. Since most local governments have limited budgets for this type of work, and they must keep offering these services, they were in a bind. This executive decided to offer his software and learning programming to governments for free with the caveat that those who were arrested would pay for the classes. He was able to help these governments get COVID-compliant, continue offering these services to their citizens and still save money.

Other executives I interviewed decided to take full accountability of the entire process of their service. For example, one executive whose company helps roll out the COVID vaccine and testing in low-income areas. This executive’s work went beyond providing the vaccine and the tests, but also renting the portable facilities to create a comfortable environment for their clients to get tested and vaccinated. Another executive in the consulting space provided free consulting to businesses and startups trying to find traction in the pandemic, because he realized that he could boost his brand and name recognition by being helpful to others that may want his services but couldn’t afford them (yet!).  

Trend Observed: Never waste a pandemic! When consumer behaviors are changing rapidly, there are opportunities to solve problems and build relationships with people that could become fruitful both immediately and over time. If you are a leader, it is critical to take time to step back and observe the trends that are happening so you can leverage your team’s skillset and product to help solve a challenge faced by the constant changes in consumer behavior. If you don’t, you may miss out on an opportunity, or worse, get left behind.

Wed 7 July 2021
Every year, PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) conducts a survey of over 5,000 CEOs to assess trends and forecasts based on what these CEOs are seeing in the marketplace.

PwC’s global chairman on strategy analyzed the responses to this survey and identified two key trends that leaders need to be preparing for in 2021 and beyond. The first is urgent innovation, the ability to make quick pivots in the face of data contrary to your expectations. The second trend is fostering an environment of innovation that builds teams that feel comfortable generating bold potential solutions, turning those into actionable plans, and sharing their results after testing. 

These concepts may seem like obvious goals that all leadership teams strive for, however, the reality is that most leadership teams struggle with empowering their teams for urgent innovation and the ability to empower their teams to be innovative.

This article is for people in those companies that tried new business ideas, regardless of whether they worked. Most leaders would agree that it’s important for their company to be innovative but struggle to empower their people.

Common things I hear from leaders are:

My team always comes to me (the leader) with problems but rarely with solutions,

Or

I give my team complete autonomy, but they keep doing the same thing over and over again,

Or

My team and I talk about being innovative all the time, it’s even in our core values, but we never find time to actually innovate.

When leaders run into these pitfalls and struggle to empower their teams, it’s usually for one (or both) of these reasons:

1.       Leadership didn’t provide sufficient context, and the team fails to focus on the problem that needs to be solved or on the desired outcome being created.
2.       Leadership failed at demonstrating psychological safety. You need to be willing to showcase your own mistakes and bad ideas in a way that invites others to share their own crazy, off-the-wall ideas.

The reason this article is titled Innovation with Bumpers is Better is because this approach is a simple way of solving both challenges from a leadership perspective.

Innovation with bumpers provides context to teams because it helps outline the problem being solved and the outcome being created.

For example, if you were to ask your team to cook you an entrée and stop there, that’s not enough context (i.e., too much autonomy). If you ask them to cook you an entrée after going to the grocery store, that still wouldn’t be enough because of the near-limitless combinations of ingredients your team must pick from. However, if you ask your team to cook an entrée from what’s available in your refrigerator now–that’s how you spark some creative solutions because there are a finite number of potential entrées your team could cook.

When you narrow down the problem scope and present clear context, it becomes much easier for them to innovate. The more open-ended your innovation process is, the less likely your team is to innovate because they don’t have enough context to innovate. 

Bumpers are the context clues you provide your team based on your own experiences in the market. You still leave some problem aspects open-ended, but you focus them on achieving a specific desired outcome because you are facing a specific problem that needs a solution.

Innovation with bumpers also provides teams with the psychological safety necessary to innovate.

A great example of this is the honeypot example. A Canadian power line company faces the challenge every winter of getting snow off their power lines. Their solution has been hiring a person to climb up the wire poles and shake the snow off the lines one-by-one. Not only is this process dangerous, it’s also extremely expensive. Insurance premiums from this work are enormous, plus the one-by-one nature of de-snowing each pole is extremely inefficient.

This power line company was very clear about the problem that needed to be solved (removing snow from the power lines) and the solution it wanted but left the team open-ended on how to solve this challenge.

A team without psychological safety will defer to leadership to generate ideas because they fear what their leadership might think if they share an idea that seems nonsensical or absurd. 

The reason this is called the honeypot story is because one of this company’s lowest level employees suggested putting honeypots on top of each pole and when bears smell the honey, they will try to climb up the poles for a snack and shake off the snow in the process. 

Take a moment to let that sink in…what an insane idea!?!? For a low-level employee to feel comfortable enough to propose an idea like that, it shows a LOT about their level of psychological safety within their team. 

And although the company didn’t end up using the honeypot idea, it did spark their eventual solution: hiring helicopters to fly by their power lines and using the wind from the helicopters to knock the snow off: a cheap, safe, and efficient solution. 

Psychological safety in innovation doesn’t mean that people feel comfortable when proposing the ultimate idea. It just means they feel comfortable proposing ANY workable idea and help narrow down what the eventual idea might end up being.

One of the best ways to build psychological safety on a team is with vulnerability. As a leader, being vulnerable shows your team the emotional bumpers and that you don’t always have answers to every problem. Vulnerability also shows your team that you have made big mistakes and had awful ideas before and that those ideas help lead to better solutions. In the early days of Amazon, they had to pack their boxes on the floor, and Jeff Bezos suggested that the team needs knee pads; psychological safety helped an employee to say “No Jeff. We need packing tables”. 

When I write “innovation with bumpers is better”, this means that if we can provide enough context and psychological safety to our teams, we are much more likely to empower them and build an environment of innovation.

Mon 10 May 2021
I lead an Executive Horizontal Mentorship Program and part of what I do is facilitate group sessions where all the executives come together to share their insights, questions, and thoughts on a new topic each session.

For our March group meeting, the topic was leadership and how we can improve our ability to lead at our companies. These meetings tend to start with one topic, but eventually lead to fruitful, wide-ranging conversations that might not obviously connect to our initial topic. For this meeting, we eventually started discussing psychological safety, the belief that you won’t be punished for making a mistake. 

And then, one of the executives in our group brought up the point:

“It seems that progress and gratitude are in conflict with each other. If I am grateful, I am celebrating something that existed in the past. But if I am focused on progress, I am quickly dismissing the wins to move onto the next challenge.”

This is a fascinating point that I’ve been ruminating on for the past few weeks. There is a lot of research on the power of gratitude and its correlation with happiness. As a simple demonstration, really try to be grateful and angry at the same time and notice the contradiction between those feelings. 

There is also a lot of research validating the power of SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) goals to achieve progress. 

Being grateful necessitates focusing on your past; being goal-oriented necessitates focusing on your future.

Can these mindsets work together?

This article is going to assess the merits of both practicing gratitude and goal-setting. I’ll consider their respective implications on business outcomes and analyze whether or not they are truly incompatible.

Gratitude

Gratitude is the public and private act of conscientiously and deliberately acknowledging something that has positively affected you. In a work setting, gratitude can inform your team of a job well done or show how much your team’s efforts meant to you. Gratitude gives your team purpose, a sense of pride, and a sense of belonging. It is an important signal showing the impact of their work and it shows that their work is respected and appreciated.

When frequently expressing gratitude for specific, meaningful actions is ingrained in the fabric of a culture, people tend to be happier and more likely to reach out to a coworker when something negative happens. A culture of gratitude helps build up rapport and unity across people and across teams.

People are also less likely to mistake feedback for criticism. When gratitude is an active part of the culture, it fosters emotional resilience for negative news because they know that there is no malice from the other person when receiving feedback. 

The point is gratitude helps build emotional resilience. And a culture of gratitude for specific, meaningful actions helps deflate passive-aggressive mindsets or people omitting information for fear of hurt feelings. A culture of gratitude supports open, honest communication, resilient mindsets, and high-quality work. 

Goal Setting

SMART goal-setting means setting Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound activities (SMART) for achieving your goals. This helps you identify a specific vision and create a measurable and achievable plan for something you intend to accomplish. SMART goal-setting helps teams plan for the future, improve performance, and identify specific issues and solutions for the problems they encounter. 

SMART goal setting improves the efficiency and effectiveness of teams. It empowers people to envision what they would like to accomplish and helps them create a specific step-by-step plan that will accomplish that outcome. 

Can gratitude and goal setting work together?

 The Executive Horizontal Mentorship group that started this discussion seems to think that they are compatible, and I am inclined to agree. As mentioned previously, a culture of gratitude can boost the emotional resiliency of teammates, and this makes the identification of challenges faster and finding solutions easier. 

When teams don’t have a culture of gratitude, issues start popping up all over the place: an employee trying to solve a tough problem alone; a coworker spending too much time crafting their feedback to avoid hurt feelings; a teammate happy to criticize problems without caring to offer solutions. These brief examples are only the tip of the iceberg.  

The ability to identify these challenges and properly communicate them with the team helps support the work of setting SMART goals to solve the issues at hand. Open, honest, grateful communication helps your team look into the future, and SMART goals help your team leverage the present to improve the future. 

Taking intentional time for gratitude on a consistent basis creates pathways and lines of communication that make problem-solving and SMART goal setting more effective. So, while the two ideas of Progress and Gratitude seemed to be in contradiction at first glance, hopefully, I’ve shown you how that is simply not the case. Instead, Progress and Gratitude build off each other to create a strong, productive, and engaged workplace. 

Tue 30 March 2021
I lead an Executive Horizontal Mentorship Program and part of what I do is facilitate group sessions where all the executives come together to share their insights, questions, and thoughts on a new topic each session.
   
Our most recent group conversation focused on innovation and how we would like to become more innovative with our work. As with most meetings, I lay out the topic, but the executives can take the conversation in any direction the group chooses.

I hypothesized a few ways I thought the discussion would go. I expected it to revolve around people management. We would discuss ways to be a better leader, how to foster psychological safety with direct reports, or how to improve a specific skill and perform their role better (all of which are great topics!).

Instead, many of the group sessions went in a very different direction when discussing innovation.

In this case, the conversation revolved around priorities, balancing our values, and discussing what we find most important in our lives.

An exchange between two executives sticks with me: one executive mentioned, “If I spent time innovating in my family life like I do my work life, I would be much happier and have greater balance.”

To which another executive chimed in: “If you ask me for my priority list, I would say family comes first, then work. But, if you were to ask me the amount of time and emotional energy I put into my work compared to family life, it wouldn’t even be close to a relevant comparison”.

A third executive jumped in to reply: “But our work allows us to live the family life we want to have. But, I will admit that I struggle to enjoy my family time when the majority of my focus and energy is on work.”

This was a really interesting and unexpected direction for this conversation to go. There is a shift in work mentality from the old school bragging about how many hours one has worked in a week (the notion of asking about or even mentioning how many hours one has worked in a given week indicates this). Instead of leveraging the response of “busy” as the default response to ‘how are you?’, the mentality is trending where family life is starting to be conscientiously prioritized above work.

Based on this group discussion, we still aren’t there yet. But the fact that this stemmed from a conversation on innovation shows where we are headed: there is beginning to be a conscious push to have more balance between work and home.

The overarching question that arose from the discussion is “can we innovate in our work in a way that reduces the amount of time and emotional energy required to get the same amount of work done?” AND, instead of replacing that time with more work, can we instead divert that time and mental/emotional energy to family? 

The open question here is: can this be done?

Based on the feedback from the executives in this group meeting, yes, it can be done. People become more efficient and effective in their roles all the time. Whether through new technologies or improved prioritization of time and tasks, improving the efficiency of both time and mental inputs for work can definitely be accomplished without sacrificing work quality.

The second question is: if this can be done, why do we fill that extra time with more work versus family?

There is a natural drive to keep pushing the needle forward; it manifests as a growing fear that if I am not working hard, the next person in line could be working harder and eventually take my spot. 

This drive also leads to a natural tendency for executives to not fully celebrate wins, and instead simply move onto the next task. When we don’t give ourselves credit for hitting a milestone, we rob ourselves of the deserved reward that we crave for getting the job done. And the people around you notice this: “If my boss can’t take a break to reward himself for a job well done, why would I deserve a reward?” This might be motivating for some people in the short term, but eventually, that kind of ambivalence to success drains the satisfaction in a job well done. 

Lastly, most executives justify more work as an effort to help their families live better lives. A perfect example of this is from the television show Breaking Bad. If you haven’t seen the show, Breaking Bad follows a high school science teacher who is recently diagnosed with terminal cancer. After realizing that he can’t afford the treatment, he decides to start cooking and selling meth to cover the cost. He justifies sacrificing his time, his emotional well-being, and even his morals into this endeavor because it is going to be “better for his family” (something he determined without their input!). Eventually, he comes to realize that he was lying to himself: it wasn’t about supporting his family; it was about his greed masquerading as providing for his family. I doubt many of your situations will end quite as dramatically, but I’m sure many will recognize some familiarity with that example. 

Most executives don’t want an outcome like this! The fact that they are consciously aware that they are spending too much time and mental/emotional energy on work and not enough time on their family is the first step to creating more balance.

So the third question is: what can executives do to ensure that their newly found time and energy doesn’t simply get used with more work?

Create Standard Operating Procedures around work and life

As executives, one way we grow our impact and scale our performance is by creating SOP’s (Standard Operating Procedures) for our team. So why can’t we do that for ourselves when distinguishing between work and life?

Oftentimes executives choose not to commit to this type of action because it “deters flexibility when emergencies happen”. And this is a fair point. But just like creating SOPs for a work team, you can build in caveats for emergencies. AND most executives know that this excuse is pretty flimsy: if there weren’t any SOP’s in other cases, inconsistency and quality control issues would be endless. 

Therefore, if we, as executives, don’t set SOP’s for when we are working versus when we are with family, then we are always working. Why? Because family time is a longer-term drive. There rarely are deadlines that occur with family time, but because work is typically filled with short-term deadlines, we prioritize those over the longer-term rewards from spending time with family. 

SOP’s help take the emotion out of the decision of how best to distribute your time. An SOP is like a computer; it will do what you tell it to do – no more, no less. If you are firm with your work and life SOP, you will not have to worry about circumstantial judgment calls. It either fits into your SOP or it doesn’t.

Devote specific time to family 

This is more like action 1A as it falls within the work and life SOP. Time with family is powerful. You could be doing absolutely nothing, but the fact that you are there with family is what counts. This sounds like an obvious point, but if it were so obvious, this article wouldn’t be relevant. It is easy to quantify work output and less easy to quantify family time output. You don’t earn “points” for attending your daughter’s soccer match or your son’s recital. You do it because it makes you happy. Even if you don’t have any plans on the docket for your family time, that isn’t an excuse for getting back into work during the time that you have already decided is for family. 

Devote specific mental and emotional energy to family

This is more like action 1B as it falls within the work and life SOP. Simply spending time with family is not enough for that time to be meaningful. Our executives clearly distinguished between both time and mental and emotional energy. If you are physically “with” your family, but you are mentally and emotionally “checked out”, can you really consider that time valuable?

Family time deserves as much mental and emotional intention as we are willing to put into our work. And it probably deserves more! 

If executives can begin to implement these actions into their lives, they will become substantially happier and aligned between their work and family time value system – at least according to our executives in our group meeting.



Sun 21 February 2021
A 360-degree assessment helps you understand your professional performance by having both you and your colleagues assess your abilities across several key skills. 

The goal of a 360-degree assessment is to identify blind spots and vulnerabilities in your professional skillset. By getting feedback from your colleagues and comparing their perspectives to your self-assessment, you can get a deeper understanding of your work performance.  

There are generally 3 outcomes from a 360-degree assessment: 1) somebody has underestimated their abilities, 2) somebody has overestimated their abilities, or 3) somebody is self-aware about their abilities. 

This article is going to address some possible problems and solutions that might arise for people who have overestimated their abilities. This article is part of a series I’m writing about Ambition In Motion’s 360-Degree Assessments and how their results should be interpreted. There are ten other articles addressing the two other possible outcomes of a 360-Degree Assessment available here:


When somebody has overestimated their abilities, they are essentially giving themselves a greater score for whatever category is being measured compared to their colleagues’ scores of them.

At first glance, this can sting because you are essentially learning that your perception of yourself is greater than your colleagues' perception of you which may cause one to think “I must not be as good as I think I am” or “My colleagues must not realize all of the things I do to be strong in this area.”

For most people, the answer is somewhere in the middle. 

When my team and I at Ambition In Motion facilitate mentorship programs, we also include a 360-Degree Assessment and report to each participant. We do this for two reasons: 1) these reports can help reveal opportunities for growth in one’s professional skill set, and 2) deep self-reflection is a major launching pad for fostering vulnerability in a mentor relationship. These two components are crucial to developing strong, valuable mentor relationships. 

The 5 core areas we measure in our 360-Degree Assessment are: People Management, Innovation, Leadership Ability, Communication Skills, and Financial Management.

Next, I’ll explain the significance of each of these categories, and then suggest ways that someone can learn after finding out they are overestimating their abilities in each category. This should be an opportunity for growth and understanding, not a time to be defensive and stubborn.

People Management

People management abilities are extremely valuable, regardless of whether or not you are in a leadership position or have the title of manager. People management stretches across one’s ability to maintain positive relationships with those they work with, participate in organizational citizenship activities (e.g., supporting a colleague with their work), be open to constructive feedback, and show that you are always open to learning more.

If you gave yourself a greater score than colleagues on your people management abilities, there is clearly a gap. This could mean that either you are not as skilled as you believe, or that the people you work with don’t realize the effort you put into being a good people manager. The first step to reducing that gap is purposefully reflecting and trying to understand what is causing the gap. 

Not as good as you believe you are

This can be a tough pill to swallow. You may not be as good of a people manager as you thought you were. If you gave yourself a moderate score and your colleagues gave you a lower score, this typically is a product of stagnation: sitting still means falling behind in the long run. You might not think highly of your people management ability, but in your perception, you do enough to get the work done but you aren’t that bad. 

You gave yourself a moderate score

This is a fork in the road. One option is to accept being a bad/mediocre people manager, which means operating under the assumption that this skill is not crucial for your own career trajectory or happiness. This is a risky move! Humans are naturally social, whether we realize it or not, and poor people management abilities will have unforeseen costs. But if that’s how you decide, perhaps you can skip the rest of this segment. 

On the other hand, if you want to grow your People Management abilities, then keep reading. 

Being a strong people manager is all about being willing to help others and contribute positively to the workplace culture; we call this “Organizational Citizenship”. I like to refer to being a strong people manager as the Tim Duncan award. Tim Duncan is a retired professional basketball player who played for the San Antonio Spurs and won 5 NBA championships with them. Tim was consistently the best player on the floor, but he had a secret weapon. Tim’s playstyle was special because he deferred to his team and played to their strengths to amplify his team’s ability to win. Tim consistently ceded the spotlight to his teammates, even though he was the best player on his team for most of those championships. By helping build up those around him, even if it didn’t get him the stats, recognition, or pay that other superstars demand, he helped push his team towards victory. 

Now, I don’t know Tim Duncan personally. But, I would imagine that his professional basketball career was very satisfying: 5 NBA Championship Rings speaks for itself. He also avoided drama with his contract or playtime or coach, and his teammates took notice. When the best player on the team cares so deeply about building up his teammates and avoiding the BS, the rest of the team follows his lead because they are invested in reaching their team’s potential. 

If you are reading this, you are probably not a professional basketball player – most work environments don’t have a pinnacle moment that they work up to every year similar to a national championship. But, you do have a long “regular season”, even if your “championship” is only your annual review at the end of the year. And dominating your personal regular season can sometimes mean pulling your team together to avoid the drama and put in the hard work, game after game. 

Everyone wants to work in an environment in which they feel happy, respected, and clear about what and why they do their work. You probably also want a work environment with other people that also feel happy, respected, and clear about what and why they do their work. Regardless of whether you have people management in your job description, working on improving your people management abilities will help keep you and your team thrive and become happier at work. 

You gave yourself a high score

The other side of this people management coin is that you gave yourself a high score and your colleagues gave you a moderate or a low score.

This is typically a sign of a person who is well informed on what it means to be a strong people manager – e.g. you have read the books, maybe you have motivational quotes on your wall or posted on social media, maybe you’ve even written out what it means to be a good people manager.

You, theoretically, understand what it means to be a strong people manager, but in real life have not been able to effectively apply what you have learned.

Just to be abundantly clear, this is on YOU. Sure, you can find some mitigating factors or excuses, but in the end, good People Management will mean adapting to your environment. It’s not your team’s fault that your methods for being a strong people manager haven’t been impactful to them. It is up to you to listen to feedback, reflect on it, and then try something different to be better. And if you have tried multiple times to be a better people manager and it still isn’t working, it means you haven’t tried enough things. It took Thomas Edison 1,000 attempts to invent the light bulb. If you have studied people management tactics AND you have tried 1,000 different ways to be a better people manager but still are having trouble, you are probably just extremely unlucky. But just like in so many other parts of life, take some comfort in knowing that all you need to do is keep learning and trying new things.  

Keep in mind that people management is an ever-evolving process. In the 1980s, Jack Welch of General Electric slashed the bottom 10% of earners every year at the company, and at the time people lauded him for it. Now, GE’s stock is all over the place and a cutthroat culture ensued because nobody felt safe.  The point is that what is considered a strong people management strategy now may not be considered a strong people management strategy in the future. Keep an open mind for the innovation in People Management. 

Strategies to improve your people management

To begin, always ask for feedback. Performance reviews shouldn’t be some annual tradition; gathering feedback is the crucial final step when somebody has tried something new at work and they need to know if it was effective. And reviews shouldn’t just be between the manager and direct report. Anyone who is affected by your work should have their feedback incorporated when you seek to make improvements.

Being a strong people manager is about your ability to help others do their best work. Put another way, how can you be the best Robin to their Batman? If you can think of yourself as the sidekick to help those you work with be the hero in their own story, you will make incredible strides at being a better people manager.

Therefore, the first step is understanding where those you are working with would like to go. Have you ever helped someone and then felt that they weren’t grateful for your help? Oftentimes it is because what you thought would be helpful to them wasn’t what they needed. You assumed that going out of your way to perform some task would be what they were looking for, but you skipped past communicating and stepped on their toes. This might be because they wanted to experience doing the task themselves and your help seemed more like you didn’t trust them. Or, it could be because your assumption about what they want is incorrect, so by jumping in and taking over, you were really just forcing your personal style onto their own decisions.  

So, the best thing for being a better people manager is asking those you are working with what their biggest challenges are and finding the clarifying details that will help you truly understand the issue. Without that information, you can’t start the next step: working collaboratively to find new ideas to support them and ensuring achieving these new outcomes will work for the people involved. 

Notice how I didn’t write “performing these new tasks” but instead wrote “achieving these new outcomes”. This is critical to distinguish because you completing random tasks is not enough to be considered a strong people manager. You have to help the people achieve the outcomes that you all have agreed are important. If I lose my dog and you say that you will help me find my dog, I will be grateful if you help search but my pain is not alleviated until my dog is found. 

Thus, commit to clear, achievable outcomes that directly support your colleagues and ensure that achieving those specific outcomes will be, in fact, helpful.

Once you achieve that outcome, ask for feedback on how that outcome helped them with their work and how it made them more efficient or effective at work.

This may seem like a lot, but this is the type of work that is necessary to be a truly impactful and strong people manager.

In essence, overestimating your abilities in these categories does not mean that you will forever be this way, but it does mean that there are opportunities for growth that you must tap into if you would like to improve. 
Sat 20 February 2021
A 360-degree assessment helps you understand your professional performance by having both you and your colleagues assess your abilities across several key skills. 

The goal of a 360-degree assessment is to identify blind spots and vulnerabilities in your professional skillset. By getting feedback from your colleagues and comparing their perspectives to your self-assessment, you can get a deeper understanding of your work performance.  

There are generally 3 outcomes from a 360-degree assessment: 1) somebody has underestimated their abilities, 2) somebody has overestimated their abilities, or 3) somebody is self-aware about their abilities. 

This article is going to address some possible problems and solutions that might arise for people who have overestimated their abilities. This article is part of a series I’m writing about Ambition In Motion’s 360-Degree Assessments and how their results should be interpreted. There are ten other articles addressing the two other possible outcomes of a 360-Degree Assessment available here:


When somebody has overestimated their abilities, they are essentially giving themselves a greater score for whatever category is being measured compared to their colleagues’ scores of them.

At first glance, this can sting because you are essentially learning that your perception of yourself is greater than your colleagues' perception of you which may cause one to think “I must not be as good as I think I am” or “My colleagues must not realize all of the things I do to be strong in this area.”

For most people, the answer is somewhere in the middle. 

When my team and I at Ambition In Motion facilitate mentorship programs, we also include a 360-Degree Assessment and report to each participant. We do this for two reasons: 1) these reports can help reveal opportunities for growth in one’s professional skill set, and 2) deep self-reflection is a major launching pad for fostering vulnerability in a mentor relationship. These two components are crucial to developing strong, valuable mentor relationships. 

The 5 core areas we measure in our 360-Degree Assessment are: People Management, Innovation, Leadership Ability, Communication Skills, and Financial Management.

Next, I’ll explain the significance of each of these categories, and then suggest ways that someone can learn after finding out they are overestimating their abilities in each category. This should be an opportunity for growth and understanding, not a time to be defensive and stubborn.

Innovation

Innovation is a critical skill to possess in any working environment, even (and probably especially) if your role requires you to follow strict protocols and procedures. Innovation stretches across one’s willingness to pursue new activities or actions that can drive different results, ability to incorporate others in the innovation process, and propensity to challenge conventional thinking.

If you have overestimated your innovation score, that means that either you gave yourself a moderate innovation score and your colleagues gave you a low score or you gave yourself a high score and your colleagues gave a low to moderate score.

You gave yourself a moderate score

You may think that your work doesn’t require you to be all that innovative. You gave yourself a moderate score because perhaps you think you do your work adequately and that you try about as many new things as anyone else at work does. 

What you might not have realized was that your colleagues don’t view you as someone willing to try new things or take an innovative approach to your work.

They may perceive you as somebody who is comfortable and either unwilling or disinterested in pushing the envelope because of that comfort. However, comfort is the enemy of innovation. All things considered, it’s pretty tough to maintain that comfort and also focus on making important changes at the same time. Innovation requires being willing to try something new at the expense of comfort now.

As humans, we constantly seek comfort and our ability to innovate allows us to be more comfortable.

But comfort also leads to boredom, stagnation, and eventual decline.

By conveying to your colleagues that you aren’t innovative, you are communicating that you aren’t willing to try something new today so you can be more comfortable in the future. In this case, that future comfort could mean that your team has finally mastered a new tool that takes care of their most tedious tasks, or it could mean that a bold company culture initiative finally begins showing its positive effects after a rocky start. 

Instead, you are communicating that you are going to ride out this comfort wave until you retire, or until you become uncomfortable (e.g. you get fired, your company declines in business, or you quit because of boredom). 

The issue with communicating this to others is that you are inadvertently contributing to a stale, uninspired culture. If you are riding out this comfort wave, others may think “I am going to ride out this comfort wave too.” And once everyone at your company is too comfortable, eventually, another company that is willing to innovate is going to come along and run you out of business (e.g. Blockbuster) forcing you to be uncomfortable and have to start innovating again.

Essentially, I am writing that by neglecting your ability to innovate, you are being a freeloader on your company’s culture. You also aren’t exercising your “innovation muscles”, which leaves you less equipped to handle an uncomfortable situation when it presents itself. 

This even makes sense from a pure self-preservation perspective, even if you don’t care about making work more interesting or being better at your job. You should want to be more innovative at work because it encourages others to follow suit (and not be freeloaders themselves). This allows you to preserve the level of comfort you have with your job (because ideally, every person is pursuing some semblance of innovation at work), and also allows you to flex your “innovation muscles” and be prepared for the inevitable uncomfortable situations that will arise. It is really difficult to predict getting fired or facing a business decline (otherwise you might “pull a hammy” and go unemployed for over a year because your work and skill set has become obsolete).

You gave yourself a high score

If you gave yourself a high score for your innovation, but your colleagues gave you a low or moderate score, this almost always stems from a lack of effective communication.

People who are innovative tend to innovate on their own. Sometimes this is because a lack of trust (e.g. I don’t want others to find out what I am working on or I don’t trust that others will work as hard as me so I don’t share with them) or a lack of confidence with failure (e.g. if I tell people and it fails, people will think negatively of me).

If it is a lack of trust, why is that? Sometimes it requires some soul-searching and reflecting on some scars to get down to the root of this lack of trust. You could have been burned in the past by people that you relied on that didn’t come through for you. Or you could have had ideas stolen and others taking credit for your plans.

Once you have identified the reason for this lack of trust, ask yourself, have the people you are working with currently done anything to cause you to not trust them?

If the answer is no, then it is critical to separate those past scars from the current opportunity of people you get to work with.

The reason this is so critical is that people like being included in innovative processes. Your current circumstances are different from the past, and you need to be fair to the people around you. People like being included in the innovation process because innovating is like a super-fertilizer for fostering a feeling of purpose at work. There is this notion called the “IKEA Affect” in which people feel much more connected to the furniture that they build (like most of the furniture from IKEA) than the furniture that comes pre-made. When people feel part of an innovation process, they are much more likely to support the idea’s success and find greater satisfaction within their own work because they have found a new application of their skills and perspective. Finally, this also lets others know that you are somebody they can approach when they have an innovative idea or want to try something new.

The other big reason people overestimate their innovation score and score themselves highly is because of a lack of confidence with failure. This stems from the goal of perfectionism. Studies have been done on high school Valedictorians and their likelihood of achieving similar high marks in their careers. The unfortunate results are that Valedictorians rarely achieve similar high marks and accomplishments in their careers. The researchers theorize that the reason for this is the drive for perfection. Because these Valedictorians were instilled to be perfect from such a young age, it may stunt their ability to try new things because they don’t want to risk that “4.0 GPA”.  

Failure is a part of growth and innovation. There is never a perfect time to innovate, and there is never a perfect solution for our issues. However, the more things we try and sometimes fail at doing and sharing with others, the closer we will be to achieving a solution that improves on our current situation. As Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn says, “If you aren’t embarrassed by what you put out 3 months after launching it, you released too late.”

To be more innovative, the key is being willing to try new things to make your work more efficient and effective. Innovation is the process of taking temporary discomfort now to be more comfortable later. Incorporating others is critical to being more innovative. Alone, your ideas will only reach a fraction of your potential. But, your ideas with the feedback of others can make a monumental impact. 

However, one final concern is with gathering feedback. There is a critical mass to feedback, especially if you are soliciting feedback from a group. The more people you have in a conversation, the worse your feedback will be. This is caused by a combination of groupthink and the conscious and subconscious concerns people have about sharing in front of a group. To make this point, in a traditional classroom, roughly 10% of students will consistently raise their hands to ask or answer questions. Is this because only 10% of students have questions or know the answer? No. It is because others aren’t comfortable with bringing up questions or drawing attention to themselves in front of an audience. Or the cost of drawing this attention doesn’t outweigh the reward of finding out the answer. Therefore, get feedback from many people, but in smaller groups or individually. 

In essence, overestimating your abilities in these categories does not mean that you will forever be this way, but it does mean that there are opportunities for growth that you must tap into if you would like to improve. 
Fri 19 February 2021
A 360-degree assessment helps you understand your professional performance by having both you and your colleagues assess your abilities across several key skills. 

The goal of a 360-degree assessment is to identify blind spots and vulnerabilities in your professional skillset. By getting feedback from your colleagues and comparing their perspectives to your self-assessment, you can get a deeper understanding of your work performance.  

There are generally 3 outcomes from a 360-degree assessment: 1) somebody has underestimated their abilities, 2) somebody has overestimated their abilities, or 3) somebody is self-aware about their abilities. 

This article is going to address some possible problems and solutions that might arise for people who have overestimated their abilities. This article is part of a series I’m writing about Ambition In Motion’s 360-Degree Assessments and how their results should be interpreted. There are ten other articles addressing the two other possible outcomes of a 360-Degree Assessment available here:


When somebody has overestimated their abilities, they are essentially giving themselves a greater score for whatever category is being measured compared to their colleagues’ scores of them.

At first glance, this can sting because you are essentially learning that your perception of yourself is greater than your colleagues' perception of you which may cause one to think “I must not be as good as I think I am” or “My colleagues must not realize all of the things I do to be strong in this area.”

For most people, the answer is somewhere in the middle. 

When my team and I at Ambition In Motion facilitate mentorship programs, we also include a 360-Degree Assessment and report to each participant. We do this for two reasons: 1) these reports can help reveal opportunities for growth in one’s professional skill set, and 2) deep self-reflection is a major launching pad for fostering vulnerability in a mentor relationship. These two components are crucial to developing strong, valuable mentor relationships. 

The 5 core areas we measure in our 360-Degree Assessment are: People Management, Innovation, Leadership Ability, Communication Skills, and Financial Management.

Next, I’ll explain the significance of each of these categories, and then suggest ways that someone can learn after finding out they are overestimating their abilities in each category. This should be an opportunity for growth and understanding, not a time to be defensive and stubborn.

Leadership Ability

Leadership ability is an important skill for any professional, regardless of whether you hold an official leadership position. Leadership ability is based on one’s ability to set proper expectations for their work and communicate those expectations clearly and effectively. Skilled leaders demonstrate their ability to motivate others towards a purpose that benefits everyone, their willingness to take accountability when things go wrong, and the modesty to give credit when things go right.

If you overestimated your leadership abilities, it means that you gave yourself a moderate score while your colleagues rated you low or you gave yourself a high score and your colleagues rated you moderate to low.

You rated yourself moderately

You may think that if you aren’t in a leadership role that you don’t need to focus on your leadership ability. However, leadership ability goes beyond your title.

You may have thought that if you perform as expected that you could justify giving yourself a moderate leadership ability score. However, if your colleagues rated you low, they clearly disagree, and this is an important opportunity for growth.

Leadership ability is all about transparency, accountability, and the ability to give credit to others.

The reason why possessing a leadership title is not necessary to possess strong leadership abilities is because great leadership is about being a great colleague to work with. 

Have you ever worked with somebody whose work you relied on, but you were unclear on what they would deliver, when they would deliver it, or how they would deliver it? What about somebody that’s full to the brim with excuses? Anytime anything goes wrong, they immediately blame others or come up with excuses for why it didn’t work out. Or have you ever worked with somebody that consistently takes all of the credit and doesn’t mention you or anyone else on your team who worked hard? You don’t want to be that person! Just because others do it, doesn’t mean you should too.

Think about how most people act in their first 2 weeks at a new job. They are probably excited to throw themselves at the work in front of them, and they are open to taking accountability when things go wrong because they have the fair excuse of being new. They will likely set (potentially over-optimistic) expectations about their work with everyone and because they don’t want to let anyone down, make a strong effort to meet those expectations. They also will be focused on giving credit to those they work with when things go well because they want to make positive first impressions. What they lack in experience at the workplace is made up for in earnest commitment to doing good work with their coworkers. 

Being a strong leader is being like that…just all the time and not just in the first two weeks at a new job. People like that are much more enjoyable to work with, give others less anxiety, and have confidence because they have earned the credibility and respect of those they work with.

You rated yourself highly

If you rated yourself highly in your leadership abilities and your colleagues rated you moderately or low, you are probably not as strong of a leader as you think you are. 

People in this situation typically have read leadership books, have gone to seminars, and have seen motivational speakers. They, theoretically, know all of the keys to be a strong leader, but when it comes to the application of those theories, their efforts simply aren’t ringing true with those they work with. And when it comes down to it, that’s the only part that matters. 

Because they have the knowledge of what it means to be a strong leader, they tend to rate themselves highly. But, when there is a gap and their colleagues disagree with their self-assessment, it is natural to feel defensive about this disparity.

The question one needs to ask themselves if they are faced with this situation is “why is there this gap?”. Or put another way “what am I doing that I feel is exuding strong leadership traits?” and then “How could my colleagues not perceive those actions in the way I am perceiving them?”.

In some cases, people feel like they are showing strong leadership abilities, but their colleagues perceive those efforts as the standard tasks that anyone would do. If this is the case then a discussion around expectations needs to be had between the professional and their colleagues. If you feel like you are going out of your way to being a strong leader, but others perceive those efforts as standard operating procedures, you probably need to update your expectations. Instead of treating those actions as “above and beyond” (because maybe they were “above and beyond” at a previous employer), try to trust your colleagues and trust their assessment. That means finding new ways to demonstrate your leadership abilities that make a difference in the work being done by your colleagues.  

In other cases, people feel like they are showcasing leadership abilities with their actions, but nobody is noticing. This is a difficult argument to make because leadership is an inherently public task. Essentially, when something goes wrong and you take accountability, you should be taking accountability publicly and fairly with others to view and observe. If you are taking accountability “quietly”, you aren’t really taking accountability because the nature of accountability is ownership over the responsibility so others know who they are counting on, for better or for worse. If you are giving credit “behind the scenes”, you are giving credit, but not in a way that fully exemplifies your leadership ability. Your willingness to praise publicly and fairly means that you are willing to put your reputation on the line in front of an audience to give credit to someone else. If you are setting your expectations on a case-by-case basis for the exact same work from different people, you are opening yourself to favoritism (intentional or not) and building a reputation for inconsistency. Your willingness to set consistent, public, and fair expectations both for your own work and from others’ work demonstrates that you hold yourself and others to the same standards.

Therefore, leadership ability should be a very noticeable activity, and if people aren’t noticing, then you aren’t leading. If that’s the case, you need to work to make sure that people notice without you incidentally seeming pompous or outlandish in your actions. This will take some work, and you may have some missteps, but the key is to keep trying to improve each day.

To improve your leadership ability, focus on immediately taking accountability when things go wrong (even if it isn’t directly your fault). If you had anything to do with something not going right, you can take accountability for it publicly. 

Focus on setting clear expectations for others for what you expect from their work and what they should expect from yours. You can set clear timelines for when others should expect your work to be finished and provide useful details so they can know what to expect. This will help build trust and ensure that your colleagues know what to expect from you, which then can mean that you know what to expect from their work as well. 

Set aside time to think about who has been working hard and accomplishing difficult tasks (even if they aren’t publicly recognized) and give credit, publicly, to those people for working so hard. For example, oftentimes in sales, we give a lot of credit to those making the sale, but those people in supply chain, operations, or account management don’t get the credit they deserve for implementing the delivery of the product. 

In essence, overestimating your abilities in these categories does not mean that you will forever be this way, but it does mean that there are opportunities for growth that you must tap into if you would like to improve. 
Thu 18 February 2021
A 360-degree assessment helps you understand your professional performance by having both you and your colleagues assess your abilities across several key skills. 

The goal of a 360-degree assessment is to identify blind spots and vulnerabilities in your professional skillset. By getting feedback from your colleagues and comparing their perspectives to your self-assessment, you can get a deeper understanding of your work performance.  

There are generally 3 outcomes from a 360-degree assessment: 1) somebody has underestimated their abilities, 2) somebody has overestimated their abilities, or 3) somebody is self-aware about their abilities. 

This article is going to address some possible problems and solutions that might arise for people who have overestimated their abilities. This article is part of a series I’m writing about Ambition In Motion’s 360-Degree Assessments and how their results should be interpreted. There are ten other articles addressing the two other possible outcomes of a 360-Degree Assessment available here:


When somebody has overestimated their abilities, they are essentially giving themselves a greater score for whatever category is being measured compared to their colleagues’ scores of them.

At first glance, this can sting because you are essentially learning that your perception of yourself is greater than your colleagues' perception of you which may cause one to think “I must not be as good as I think I am” or “My colleagues must not realize all of the things I do to be strong in this area.”

For most people, the answer is somewhere in the middle. 

When my team and I at Ambition In Motion facilitate mentorship programs, we also include a 360-Degree Assessment and report to each participant. We do this for two reasons: 1) these reports can help reveal opportunities for growth in one’s professional skill set, and 2) deep self-reflection is a major launching pad for fostering vulnerability in a mentor relationship. These two components are crucial to developing strong, valuable mentor relationships. 

The 5 core areas we measure in our 360-Degree Assessment are: People Management, Innovation, Leadership Ability, Communication Skills, and Financial Management.

Next, I’ll explain the significance of each of these categories, and then suggest ways that someone can learn after finding out they are overestimating their abilities in each category. This should be an opportunity for growth and understanding, not a time to be defensive and stubborn.

Communication Skills

The ability to communicate effectively affects every interaction you have personally and professionally. When you make improvements to your communication skills, you are likely going to improve your skills in every other category measured by our 360-Degree Assessment. Communication is based on one’s ability to listen, trust that others are speaking openly and honestly with them, and understand what others are sharing before focusing on being understood.

If you overestimated your communication skills that means either you gave yourself a moderate score and your colleagues gave you a low score or you gave yourself a high score and your colleagues gave you a moderate or low score.

You rated yourself moderately

There are many reasons you may have rated yourself moderately in your communication skills. It could be that you don’t believe you need strong communication skills to perform your role effectively, or it could be that you’re aware of your weakness here but haven’t found the time to focus on improving it. 

If you are of the mindset that your role doesn’t require you to have strong communication skills, you might be right, at least based on your limited view of what your role is. If you are a solo contributor, you may think “I only need to get my work done and that’s it.” These common refrains don’t tell you the whole story though. 

The issue with this mode of thinking is that it forces you to walk the tightrope of patience. When you are an individual contributor and you don’t feel like you need strong communication skills, you willingly turn yourself into a commodity; if your company can find somebody to do your work better for cheaper, the economic decision would be to fire you and hire them. The reason is that you aren’t bringing anything else to the table in terms of your contributions to the culture of the company because you have decided that you don’t need strong communication skills so subsequently your interactions with others at your company are likely to be minimal at best and a net negative at worst. Any mistake in your work becomes magnified because you have decided to not invest in your communication skills. Consider which sounds better for management: “Jon made that mistake, but he is a great guy and he pulls the team together” versus “Jon made a mistake and now I feel like he isn’t listening to me or communicating effectively with the team.” Everyone makes mistakes so which Jon would you want at your company?

Maybe you feel like you just don’t have the time to work on your communication skills. So, you gave yourself a moderate score because you “think” you are communicating fairly effectively at least. Well, let this report be the smoke signal informing you that, as the saying goes, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. You are NOT communicating effectively and what you “think” is just getting by is not making the cut.

If that’s surprising or frustrating to read, try putting the shoe on the other foot.

Have you ever given instructions to somebody or been discussing some important work topic and they responded as if they weren’t listening to a word of what you said? Or they seem like they were listening but still end up acting in a way completely contradictory to what you said? Think about that frustration for a moment.

You know how frustrating it can be to feel ignored. If your team is giving you a low communication skills score, YOU are that person, or at least you are that person often enough for them to notice.

Have you ever felt like you had to sugarcoat the truth when talking with somebody? First off, that is usually a frustrating conversation. But even worse, it’s a recipe for eventual disaster, especially if they need to know the real truth of what you are trying to tell them. Based on your team’s feedback, you are the person they feel they need to sugar-coat the truth for. Your communication skills with your team keep them from feeling comfortable being open and honest with you. Instead, they don’t trust your reactions and worry that you might react poorly to bad news, but that isn’t going to make the bad news go away. When your team does not feel comfortable telling you the full truth, you may as well be flying blind.

When your team gives you a low communication skills score, they are telling you that you are an energy taker instead of an energy giver. People must exert significantly more energy communicating with you because they have to work double-time trying to find how to get their point across effectively. Instead of just getting to the point, they might need to repeat themselves. Or, since they feel that they can’t be fully honest with you, they are forced to plan out what to say so you can handle it. That type of working relationship is untenable. Poor communication skills are bad for business, bad for your team’s patience, and bad for your career stability.

You rated yourself highly

If you rate your communication skills highly and your team gave you a moderate or low score, that likely means that you are consciously trying to improve your communication skills, but it isn’t translating into reality.

People who rate their communication skills highly and then receive a lower score tend to be pretty surprised when they get their results. They may have done their “homework” and are familiar with many communication books or concepts and think they have tried ways to be better communicators. If you fall into this category, you probably are a little confused by these results.

Essentially, what this means is that the efforts you have taken to be a better communicator have not rung true for those you work with. 

For your ability to listen to others, do you ever hear what somebody says and then respond with a story or comment on something unrelated? We all do this from time to time. Maybe you felt that their point was likely over and you really needed to get that other story or comment out (what if you forgot it or the moment passed?!). What you may be neglecting is what your response is communicating to the other person. You didn’t realize that, although you heard what they said, they were expecting a relevant response to close out their comment; your completely irrelevant response about something completely irrelevant to that point makes them feel that what they said wasn’t heard. And when people pick up those signals, consciously or not, they begin to feel frustrated. By the way, I – Garrett Mintz the writer of this article – am VERY guilty of this and I try to work on improving this every day.

The other side of communications skills is fostering an environment where others feel comfortable communicating openly and honestly with you. Have you ever seen this type of thing happen with other people? If you are a fan of the television show, Game of Thrones, this type of poor listening reminds me of how people listen to Petyr Baelish, or Littlefinger, when he is talking with them. If you haven’t seen Game of Thrones, Littlefinger is a sly, fast-talking businessman who is constantly playing people off of each other. When he speaks with anyone, he always tells them what they want to hear and everyone thinks he is on their side…that is until he backstabs them and leaves them out to dry. I am not saying that the people you work with are Petyr Baelish, but I am saying that they feel like they can’t give you the whole truth, and eventually, that will rear its ugly head (e.g. turnover, upset clients/employees, missed deadlines, unmet expectations).

There are a few things you can do to improve your communication skills. First, from a listening skills perspective, you can focus on your body language. Your body communicates substantially more than what your words do, even if neither person consciously realizes it. If you feel like you are listening but others don’t think you are, your body is likely telling them another story with mixed signals. To improve your body language you can focus on standing (or sitting) up straight when speaking with others, making 80% eye contact, nodding when they make points, and taking notes (if relevant and appropriate). From a verbal perspective, you must practice actively listening when you are waiting until they are done talking before sharing your response (and don’t interrupt them either!). When you do respond, you can reiterate their perspective to confirm that you understand what they just said. E.g. “If I am hearing you correctly…”

Second, from an openness and honesty perspective, focus on asking for feedback. When people provide unsolicited feedback to others, the brainwaves that are activated by the person receiving the unsolicited feedback are similar to the brainwaves when listening to white noise/nonsense. However, when we frequently ask for specific feedback, we are inviting others to give honest feedback and you are mentally preparing yourself to actually reflect on it. They are much more likely to be conscientious when giving this feedback and compared to unsolicited feedback, it’s much more likely to be a productive critique rather than some trite complaint. 

The other thing you can do to encourage openness and honesty with your colleagues is to practice vulnerability exercises with them. In a 1-on-1 environment, ask them if they would be willing to be vulnerable with you, and you in turn be vulnerable with them. Think of the things that concern you with work and try to share these with them; they may share these exact same concerns! The benefit of doing this is that it sets the standard that it’s okay to deliver you potentially negative news on important topics because it was on your mind anyways. People tend to not give people the full truth for fear of upsetting them. By showing others that you are just as concerned, it makes it okay for them to deliver you the full truth of what is going on.

In essence, overestimating your abilities in these categories does not mean that you will forever be this way, but it does mean that there are opportunities for growth that you must tap into if you would like to improve. 

Wed 17 February 2021
A 360-degree assessment helps you understand your professional performance by having both you and your colleagues assess your abilities across several key skills. 

The goal of a 360-degree assessment is to identify blind spots and vulnerabilities in your professional skillset. By getting feedback from your colleagues and comparing their perspectives to your self-assessment, you can get a deeper understanding of your work performance.  

There are generally 3 outcomes from a 360-degree assessment: 1) somebody has underestimated their abilities, 2) somebody has overestimated their abilities, or 3) somebody is self-aware about their abilities. 

This article is going to address some possible problems and solutions that might arise for people who have overestimated their abilities. This article is part of a series I’m writing about Ambition In Motion’s 360-Degree Assessments and how their results should be interpreted. There are ten other articles addressing the two other possible outcomes of a 360-Degree Assessment available here:


When somebody has overestimated their abilities, they are essentially giving themselves a greater score for whatever category is being measured compared to their colleagues’ scores of them.

At first glance, this can sting because you are essentially learning that your perception of yourself is greater than your colleagues' perception of you which may cause one to think “I must not be as good as I think I am” or “My colleagues must not realize all of the things I do to be strong in this area.”

For most people, the answer is somewhere in the middle. 

When my team and I at Ambition In Motion facilitate mentorship programs, we also include a 360-Degree Assessment and report to each participant. We do this for two reasons: 1) these reports can help reveal opportunities for growth in one’s professional skill set, and 2) deep self-reflection is a major launching pad for fostering vulnerability in a mentor relationship. These two components are crucial to developing strong, valuable mentor relationships. 

The 5 core areas we measure in our 360-Degree Assessment are: People Management, Innovation, Leadership Ability, Communication Skills, and Financial Management.

Next, I’ll explain the significance of each of these categories, and then suggest ways that someone can learn after finding out they are overestimating their abilities in each category. This should be an opportunity for growth and understanding, not a time to be defensive and stubborn.

Financial Management

Financial management is a skill that is often overlooked but can have a large impact on the company. Financial management is based on one’s ability to manage the resources they oversee (including their time and the way they are spending their time at work), a company budget, and others’ perception of a person being fiscally responsible.

If you have overestimated your financial management abilities, you have either given yourself a moderate score and your colleagues rated you low or you gave yourself and high score and your colleagues rated you moderately or low.

You rated yourself moderately

If you rated yourself moderately in terms of your financial management, there are a few possible explanations. Perhaps you aren’t in charge of a budget, or maybe you don’t think that managing finances is that critical to your role. 

If your colleagues rated you low for financial management then that is a sign that there is an opportunity for growth for your abilities.

This is also typically a sign that others believe you could be more effective or efficient with your work. Even if you aren’t in charge of a formal budget, you are responsible for your time and how effective you are with the time you spend at work. 

By giving yourself a moderate score, you might think that you are doing enough to get by and do the “normal” amount of work compared to your colleagues. But if your colleagues rated you low, they clearly do not see it that way.

Your colleagues' low score indicates that you are either spending either company dollars or company time on things that aren’t helpful to the business. We aren’t robots; everyone does this to some degree, but once your colleagues start to notice, that’s a strong sign that you need to do better.

Dr. Robert Cialdini has a concept called “what is focal is causal” meaning that what people see is what they perceive and internalize as important or significant. If people are giving you a low score on your financial management ability, they perceive you as lazy, or looking for ways to get out of work, or as someone who spends money recklessly; no matter which way they perceive it, they end up realizing that you shouldn’t be trusted with a budget.

Before getting your results on a 360-Degree Assessment, you may think others aren’t noticing, or that others in the company are way more wasteful than you. However, clearly in the perception of your colleagues, that is not the case and you have been put on notice.

You rated yourself highly

If you rated yourself high on your financial management abilities but your colleagues gave you a low or moderate score, it indicates that you aren’t as strong of a financial manager (in the perspective of your team) as you think you are.

This typically stems from a lack of communication. If you manage a budget and your team sees you spending money on things that seem lavish and unnecessary (from their perspective), this can cause them to feel like you aren’t managing your company’s finances appropriately. This feeling is magnified if they feel underpaid while seeing this. If you don’t manage a budget and your team gave you a low or moderate financial management score, it means that they don’t believe that you spend your time at work effectively or that you are overpaid for your work. If salaries aren’t public information, people make assumptions for income based on your lifestyle, and if your lifestyle appears to be better than others, especially if they see you doing the same or less work than them, they will notice.

If people at your work are staying late and getting in early, and meanwhile they see you working the base 9 to 5, then that may cause them to become frustrated. They might think that either you are lazy, or that you are expecting more from them than is fair. What they may not realize is that your work responsibilities might be deeply analytical and have a compounding impact on the business, or they might not see the parts of your job that take place outside the office. For example, some work directly correlates time with output – essentially the company can get a certain number of tasks done by an employee for every hour they are at work; this is called linear productivity. On the other hand, there is work that, with intentional deep thinking, has an exponential impact on output in shorter bursts, but with increasingly marginal returns over a long period of time; this is called exponential productivity. Not every job has the same types of tasks and productivity needs; but without your open communication with your team, you can end up looking like a slacker. 

The point is that until the truth is communicated to those you work with, they will form assumptions to fill in the gaps as to why things are happening the way that they are. Unfortunately, many of these assumptions are negative.

The best thing you can do to improve your financial management abilities, both for you and for how your team perceives you, is to communicate and learn. New innovations are constantly happening to make our work more efficient and effective. If we are open to learning about these tools and resources, we can ensure we are up to date on what needs to be done to be most effective at work – both for managing a budget and managing our time at work. Communicating effectively to those we work with allows them to know how we are spending our budget and our time. The more we can loop our team in on budget decisions and decisions about how to best spend our time, the more aware they will be as to what we are doing and how that is impacting the business. The best-run companies did not end up that way by accident; they intentionally fostered a company culture of honesty, hard work, and accountability from the top down and that pays dividends when everyone is brought into the fold.

In essence, overestimating your abilities in these categories does not mean that you will forever be this way, but it does mean that there are opportunities for growth that you must tap into if you would like to improve. 

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