Effective Postmortem Discussions

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Problems come in all shapes and sizes. Don’t get mad. Get learning!

Sure, proper planning, resources, and discipline, can prevent many problems from ever happening. But no matter how hard we try, some will slip through, anyway – that’s just reality.

So how best can we learn from the bad things that happen?

Mistakes are the Stepping Stones to Wisdom

It starts with realizing that once whatever issues are resolved, we need to learn what we can from whatever just happened.

So it’s not a time to get mad. Or retributive. It’s a time to get smarter. And an important and helpful, but often overlooked step to bringing that learning front-and-center is something called the “postmortem.”

The Postmortem Process

For those of you not familiar with the term, let’s define the term as an analysis or discussion of an event after it is over.

Here are the steps I’ve used to great success with postmortems in the workplace:

1. Gather everyone together. Include staff, vendor personnel, and customers, if appropriate and thank them all for the being there. Focus on trying to put everyone at ease so they know it’s not an inquisition and it is okay to for them to relax. Assure them, if necessary, that “no heads will roll,” as that would lead to a quite different type of postmortem, if you get my drift!

2. Review what happened. Ask those most directly involved to retell the story, in their own words, of what happened. Encourage everyone to add pieces of information no matter how big or small their role was or the information is. Look to understand, not to blame, by asking questions like, “What then?” and “What else?” Show everyone the utmost respect and a true curiosity in recreating circumstances. And keep probing until everyone who has something to say, says it.

3. Ask for the learning. When you’re satisfied that everyone has spoken, shift to asking about what people have learned from what happened. “What did we learn from all this?” “How are we smarter?” “What changes should we make to plug any vulnerabilities that have become apparent?” Keep asking until, again, even the ‘quiet’ people speak. And if they don’t, invite each to share their thinking with the group…because the quiet people often have the best insights.

4. Assign follow-up tasks and due dates. Likely, some pretty good ideas will surface, many of which will require some planning, preparation, or processing. Follow-up is key, so be sure to have someone put these assignments in writing and distribute to everyone within one business day, and determine how best to insure these open items are properly tracked to completion in a suitable time frame.

5. Reiterate your appreciation. Close happily. Say something that indicates the work of the meeting is now complete. Thank them, again, for their openness, honesty, and collective wisdom. Say something funny, if you can – laughter is a great way to help people release any lingering tension they may be feeling. Reiterate how helpful their participation in this process has been for you…and hopefully them, as well.

6. Get ‘em back to work, because, well, there’s always more work to be done.

Hope this helps.

Original Source: https://www.ggci.com/blog/2003/10/effective-post-mortem-discussions.htm.

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Self-Imposed Pressure

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A leader’s success can easily be predicted by how pressure affects performance. But while the pressures that organizations routinely place on leaders can be tremendous, it’s the pressures leaders put on themselves that are often more powerful…and debilitating.

Pressures Imposed by the Organization

The list of pressures that organizations put on leaders is near-infinite. Here are just a few examples of what you already know this to be about:

  • pressures to increase sales, again and again and again
  • pressures to decrease costs, again and again and again
  • pressures to better accelerate and integrate change
  • pressures to do more with less
  • pressures to collaborate more fully and freely, especially with those who are historically not particularly productive or cooperative
  • pressures to deal smoothly and crisply with changing priorities, special requests, and executive overrides
  • pressures to build (or rebuild) reputation and credibility
  • pressures to speed time-to-market
  • pressures to not just meet, but hardily exceed quarterly earnings expectations
  • pressures to instill urgency in nearly everything and everyone
  • pressures to roll with political pressures, conflicting priorities, inter-department communications issues and the failed commitments of others
  • pressures to maintain motivation and morale notwithstanding decision-making bottlenecks up the chain
  • pressures to create and maintain effective workarounds to technology shortcomings and hiccups
  • pressures to freeze hiring, retain staff, minimize turnover, and manage output
  • pressures to be bound by ineffective policies and processes
  • pressures to resolve a seemingly endless flow of customer, vendor, employee, and shareholder complaints

Is any of this easy? Often not. But it’s what the job entails so we do our best to deal with it all as effectively as we can. And some leaders do that much better than others.

Whether you do it well or not, it’s quite likely that someone will notice and recognize – and hopefully reward – your achievements, if not the your efforts in doing so.

The upside can be surprisingly positive, just as the downside can be surprisingly negative, each being a resume-updating opportunity of its own – although for significantly different reasons.

By, and large, whatever job you’re in could quite easily be more accurately defined by the pressures it puts you under rather than a mere recitation of its primary responsibilities. (Do yourself a favor a bookmark that idea for when you’re preparing for your year-end performance review with your immediate supervisor.)

That’s why we get paid – to deal with all of that.

Self-Imposed Pressures

But then there are the pressures we put on ourselves that our employer may not even know, or care about:

  • our perfectionist tendencies
  • our fear of failure
  • our fear of success
  • our worry about buckling under an overwhelming sense of responsibility
  • our suspicions that we’re losing esteem with others because we’re letting them down in some way
  • our second-guessing ourselves
  • our losing our confidence and questioning our value and self-worth
  • our not being able to shake this growing sense of anxiety, uncertainty, and doubt

These are the pressures that cause far more disruption than most everything our employers put on us.

Why? Because it all happens internally. We do it to ourselves. And, unlike a cast on your arm or a patch over an eye, the signs are not particularly obvious…at first.

Sure, others can see our performance ebb and flow – especially if the self-imposed pressure starts affecting our mood. (And, yes, it WILL affect your mood so ignore the signs at your own peril.)

Even if others take note, chances are that, in time, more and more will. Your inconsistencies and changes in behaviors will become increasingly apparent…and unflattering.

Which only adds to the pressure you’ll be under.

But YOU’LL know what it is. And that begs an important question to ask yourself: “How well am I doing with that?”

Easing Up on Yourself

Think about it. How well ARE you doing with your self-imposed pressures?

Your answer matters.


Let me know if you need some help thinking it through.

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Assessing An Interviewee’s Conflict Management Skills

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Being able to effectively handle challenging conversations is an essential leadership skill. But is there a way to assess someone’s conflict competence – or any other leadership competency, for that matter – BEFORE you hire them?


Here, as example, are some conversation-starters you can easily add to your upcoming interviews:

  1. “People don’t always agree. And those disagreements can sometimes become uncomfortable. Please share an example of a conflict you experienced at work…and how you worked through it.”
  2. (Part A) “Different things ‘trigger’ different people. Please share an example of a time that YOU were triggered by someone…and how you dealt with it.”
  3. (Part B) “What helps you NOT get triggered?”
  4. (Part C) “How do you help others who you’ve inadvertently triggered regain their composure?”
  5. “Please share an example of a time when you avoided addressing a work issue because of the conflict you felt it would’ve caused…and walk me through your decision process.”
  6. “Please share an example of a workplace conflict you unintentionally may have caused – or was blamed for causing…and how you dealt with it.”
  7. “Please share an example of how you worked through an issue with someone you disagreed with that resulting in something excellent happening.”
  8. (Part A) “On a scale of 1 to 10 (1=low; 10=high) how would you rate your conflict management skills? Why?”
  9. (Part B) “On a scale of 1 to 10 (1=low; 10=high) how would OTHERS rate your conflict management skills? Why?”

The key is in your thinking about whatever competency you want to focus on, where (what scenarios) that competency would be needed, and asking the interviewee to share an experience of theirs that illuminates how they thought, felt, and/or acted in such a scenario of their choosing – and then asking whatever clarification or followup questions you need to fully understand their example.

By doing so, you can then pretty easily determine if the answer they provided sufficiently demonstrates the competency you’re looking for – in a sufficiently relevant context – or not.

Give it a try and let me know what you learn.

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Leadership Moves #31: Use Your Authority to Make Good Things Happen Sooner

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Great bosses use their authority to unlock important doors for their staff.

  • Is another department causing problems for your team? Use your authority (by calling who needs to be called) to get things moving in the right direction, again.
  • Is there some sort of roadblock that’s slowing down an important project? Use your authority (by authorizing additional headcount or financial resources) to clear it away.
  • Is there some annoying internal process thing that’s unnecessarily frustrating your staff ? Use your authority (by changing a policy or providing additional information) to make it better.

Whatever it is, hit it head on. Make some waves if you have to, but show your staff you’re willing to go to bat for them. Big or small, the impact will be noticeable AND appreciated.

Then, with things realigned, as such, challenge your staff – and their staff – to use THEIR authority to surprise and delight you with what they can now accomplish.

Ready? Go!


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Leadership Move #12: Master the Difficult Conversation

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Conversations are an essential part of your job, especially those difficult conversations.

Difficult conversations are the ones where you know you need to talk with someone about something, but you expect that they’ll either: (a) want to vociferously disagree with you, or (b) become upset, agitated, or disgruntled by what you are saying.

Said another way, Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen, authors of Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss what Matters Most, describe it thusly:

“Anytime we feel vulnerable or our self-esteem is implicated, when the issues at stake are important and the outcome uncertain, when we care deeply about what is being discussed or about the people with whom we are discussing it, there is potential for us to experience the conversation as difficult.”

Leadership IS Difficult Conversations

Who hasn’t, at some point, used any of these difficult conversation starters?

  • “You’re being written up for a performance lapse…”
  • “You’re getting less of a raise and/or bonus than you probably expected…”
  • “You didn’t get the promotion…”
  • “You cannot have that day off…”
  • “Your request has been denied…”
  • “Funding for your project was not approved…”

But what many bosses don’t seem to realize, is that having a difficult conversations really IS what their job is all about. And it’s helpful to remember that while difficult conversations may be somewhat challenging, they’re really, really important.

Making Difficult Conversations More So

It’s really a shame how many bosses make difficult conversations so much more difficult than they need to be. How? Here are just 10 obvious ways:

  1. By being disrespectful
  2. By being argumentative
  3. By becoming triggered
  4. By not listening
  5. By losing patience
  6. By allowing the conversation to shift to a related, but different topic
  7. By holding a grudge from prior difficult conversations
  8. By not having the conversation in a timely manner
  9. By not preparing their whys and wherefores
  10. By not insuring that the message they INTENDED to be received was the message that actually WAS received. (Remember Leadership Move #7?!)

We’ve all had bosses who’ve made conversations more difficult than they needed to be. Maybe you do, too, sometimes.

Making Difficult Conversations Less So

Countless articles, blog posts, books, and such, have been written on the topic. Pick up a few and start reading. Or, if you prefer podcasts or videos, etc., there are plenty of them, out there, as well.

But if you’re looking for a few ideas to get you started on the road to mastering difficult conversations, here’s what I’d recommend:

  1. Always be respectful and attentive to the employee you’re talking with, AND the related business concerns you’re wanting to address.
  2. Remember that, as the boss, you have the authority (and responsibility) to choose the agenda or specific (business-appropriate) topic of any meeting you chair.
  3. Never, ever, confront someone with only hearsay evidence. Instead, lead with either verifiable facts or direct personal experience.
  4. Unbundle and differentiate between related and overlapping issues so you can speak more discerningly about what you want to talk about.
  5. Purposefully choose how best to start each conversation and when best to segue between related issues.
  6. Actively monitor tone, tenor, and mood to insure that the employee feels comfortable and safe enough to actually BE present, when present.
  7. Deflect attempts to change the topic until you are completely satisfied that the message you intended to be received is exactly the message that was received.
  8. Reiterate as often as necessary ‘why’ this topic is so important (usually because it affects not just their own performance, but the performance of the larger group – which is, by the way, why you’re totally justified in raising it with them) and that it’s important to you that they fully understand these implications and ‘respond’ to them, constructively.
  9. Have the employee restate the message you wanted them to receive (to confirm proper receipt) and discuss and agree to any related commitments, appropriate next steps, and ongoing accountabilities.
  10. Thank them for their time and willingness to have such an important dialogue with you, express your appreciation for who they are and what they do, and offer to clarify any points or answer any follow-up questions they may have as they think through and work to integrate your counsel.

Of course you could also schedule a time for us to talk it through, together.

Your thoughts?


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Leadership Move #10: Be Courageous

Unlike many (most?) people, leaders are often seen as being truly fearless.

Even the most challenging of circumstances, whatever they may be, seem to create little to no fear for (or in) them.

But that’s not always (read: actually) the case.

Don’t Fear the Fear

Sometimes, leaders feel a LOT of fear. Even if you can’t see it.

But it’s their ability to move forward, notwithstanding the fear, that sets them apart.

So it’s not really their ‘fearlessness’ – the absence of fear – but,  their ‘courageousness’ – their not letting the fear they feel slow them down.

And courageousness is an ESSENTIAL component of being a good leader.

(Courageousness is not the same as recklessness or being irresponsible. You get that, right?)

Do not strive to become comfortable in uncomfortable situations. Rather, learn to not mind being uncomfortable in such situations.

Becoming More Courageous

Admittedly, it’s a process, but here are some ideas to keep testing and challenging yourself with:

  • Quit waiting for permission…
    • By virtue of your position and rank, you’ve likely already got whatever permission you think you need.
    • Recognize that, and OWN it.
  • Articulate what you see…
    • To help you fine-tune your message.
    • So that others can see it, too.
  • Say what needs to be said…
    • Whatever ‘it’ is as clearly as possible.
    • Without diluting your message with avoidance or sugar-coating – and as politely and respectfully as possible.
  • Tell your staff meaningful things, such as…
    • ‘Here’s what I want you to think about…’
    • ‘Here’s what I think you’re missing…’
  • And when your staff tells you what IS missing…
    • Don’t just explain it away.
    • Really work to improve what you can and if you really can’t, explain why you can’t.
  • Share your insights and perspectives…
    • You’ve got good things to say.
    • Recognize that, and OWN it.
  • But, don’t shoot from the hip…
    • It rarely works as well as you think.
    • Impulsiveness has far more to do with being undisciplined than being courageous – realize the difference.
  • Speak from an informed point of view…
    • Keep your eyes on what’s IMPORTANT, not just on what’s HAPPENING.
    • Don’t pretend to know when you don’t – it leaves a mark!
  • Understand the 5 (or 6) Truths about Fear

the 5 (or 6) truths about fear

Feeling the Fear

Being courageous doesn’t not ELIMINATE fear; it just helps you better manage it – especially when tackling difficult issues.

Which, as a leader, is a large part of what you get paid to do.

For more on fear, fearlessness, and courageousness, visit https://www.leadershiptraction.com/executive-courage/.

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