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.


Justifying Title and Salary Upgrades

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It’s that time of year again, so let’s review how things work…

When talking about raises and title changes I always recommend a three-pronged approach:

Your Top 3 Justifications

  1. In-Place Growth – The better you can justify how your job has significantly grown since you first began in the position, the better. Chart out the increase in widgets, transactions, customers, budget, direct reports, etc. – whatever you can use to quantify your ‘in place’ growth, the better. (If your Flash Stats are meaningful enough, they will justify the ‘reasonableness’ of your request.)
  2. Separation – The better you can justify how you are currently performing duties ‘above and beyond’ the duties that people at your current level are performing, the better. This validates that you are already doing more than others. It’s sometimes helpful to think about this as a ‘push’ strategy – that you are proving that you have already pushed yourself up FROM (and beyond) your current level.
  3. Realignment – The better you can justify how you’re currently performing duties that are already similar to (on a par with) those being performed by people ALREADY at the next level, the better. This further justifies that your role and responsibilities are much better aligned with those at this higher level than they are at your current level and, overall, it’s actually more of a precedent-setting move to NOT formalize your raise (or promotion) than it is to simply authorize the upgrade. It’s sometimes helpful to think about this as a ‘pull’ strategy – that you are proving that you have already pulled yourself up TO the next level.

All three points – in-place growth, separation, and re-alignment – must be made, though, if you want your request to truly be a compelling business justification, the type that your boss can easily take to his/her boss to request approval on your behalf.

Sadly, two of three typically won’t be compelling enough. And, of course, each prong must be strong enough to stand on its own. So the onus is on you to articulate these points, as such.

Additional Considerations

A few other elements to keep in mind:

  • If you have some people OUTSIDE of your vertical chain-of-command who can sing your praises to your boss, that’d help make it even easier for your boss to obtain whatever approvals s/he might need to make things happen.
  • You might also ask for some *additional* responsibilities because: (a) you’re obviously ready for them; and (b) they’d help further justify the upgrade you’re seeking.
  • If s/he responds, “Sorry, no,” ask what other options might exist for increasing your compensation, recognition, and/or authority. Don’t discount the value of something less formal, such as additional comp time, increased visibility, to get you on a promotion track, a meeting with his/her boss to discuss additional possibilities, etc.
  • Know that with bonus pools, there’s almost ALWAYS some secret ‘extra’ money available for ‘special circumstances.’ And yours IS a ‘special circumstance,’ is it not? Make it easy to see that.

If All Else Fails

Know, too, that it’s sometimes helpful to ask your boss if the issue is that s/he doesn’t want to promote you…or s/he does, but just can’t get approval TO promote you.

If s/he doesn’t want to promote you, you need him/her to explain why not and then decide if you want to accept it, request a meeting with his/her boss to make your case, or look for new work (inside or out of the company).

If s/he wants to promote you but can’t get the necessary approvals, ask that s/he and you both meet with his/her boss to discuss options, alternatives, and time frames.

Hope this helps. And if this works for you, send me one of your new business cards


When Are You At Your Best?

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When challenges arise, it helps to know when you’re at your best.

Why? Because, by definition, challenges are challenging. And when we’re at our best, challenges become imminently more doable. When we’re at our best, we’re more creative and spontaneous – more capable and confident.

When we’re at our best, we tend to see challenges in the best possible light – as intriguing puzzles to solve, games to win, tests to ace!

So it naturally follows that if we know what helps us be at our best, we can take the necessary steps to get back there when we’re not.

This? or That?

What follows, then, are some questions to help you better understand what peaks your skills, interests, talents, and abilities.

But first a word of caution:

If you’re like most, you’ll want to say, “It depends.” And, yes, of course it does. But you’ll find this a more meaningful exercise if you resist the urge to say that. Rather, go a bit deeper than what you can do – get in touch with what you prefer.

Ready? Let’s begin.

Here are ten sets of choices to get you started, but feel free to create, and choose from, as many other distinctions as come to mind:

  • Do you prefer working with others? – or working alone?
  • Do you prefer solving problems? – or leveraging opportunities?
  • Do you prefer bigger? – or more targeted?
  • Do you prefer helping others? – or others helping you?
  • Do you prefer facts? – or ideas?
  • Do you prefer vibrancy? – or calm?
  • Do you prefer creating? – or editing?
  • Do you prefer overhauling? – or optimizing?
  • Do you prefer planning? – or improvisation?
  • Do you prefer new and innovative? – or tried and true?

Aligning Preferences

So let’s say you have a deadline approaching for a project or assignment that, frankly, doesn’t thrill you. How can you apply this?

Well if, as example, you prefer relationships (working with others) to solitude (working alone), you would likely become more motivated by calling or visiting some people you respect and admire to get their views on how best to move things forward. Conversely, if you prefer solitude, you would likely get more value from some extended ‘one-on-none’ session with just you and a whiteboard.

If you prefer to refine what others have said (editing) rather than capture your own ideas (creating) you might want to delegate specific elements of your assignment to your direct reports so you have something to work with. Conversely, if you get inspired through creating, you might find that drafting a scope document or executive summary to share with others as a more meaningful way to start.

And if you prefer a more structured approach to your work (planning) versus something more free-form (improvisation) you might start with an outline or project plan or to do list. Conversely, if you prefer taking a less structured approach, doing some mind-mapping, or capturing your ideas with colored pens on rearrangeable sticky notes would likely prove more beneficial.

And the more preferences you can combine, the better.

Key Traction Point⤞

No one can be their best at all times. (If you could, it wouldn’t be called your ‘best’, it’d just be ‘normal’.) So becoming more skilled at returning to your best is the what we’ve been talking about here.

Remember that Japanese proverb, nana korobi, ya oki? (“Fall down seven times, stand up eight.”) It’s not about when, or where, or even why you might not be at your best at any particular moment in time – it’s about how to return to your best as quickly and effortlessly, as possible.

That is the goal. That is the skill to develop.

What do YOU do to get back to being at your best?


Updating Your Self-Diminishing Conclusions

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The following exercise is a variation of Benjamin Franklin’s T-Chart (where he’d take a sheet of paper, divide it into two columns, and use one column to list out all the ‘pros’ of an upcoming decision and the other column to list out all the ‘cons’).

In our case, though, rather than starting with a decision to be made, let’s use a decidedly negative conclusion you’ve reached about yourself.

Maybe something like, “I can’t accomplish ANYTHING – I’m a total loser,” or “I just can’t follow rules.”

The idea is that, regardless of how ‘true’ it may FEEL to you, such a statement is NOT a fact — it’s just a conclusion. And not a particularly helpful conclusion, at that.

But it IS often helpful to state our negative self-beliefs out loud. Why?

  • Because we’re already thinking them
  • So we can re-frame them in decidedly more positive and supportive ways

The key is to do it in a self-supporting way.

Step 1 – Start with the Negative

Pick a piece of negative self-talk that is all-too-familiar to you. Write it down. (As illustration, let’s use, “I can’t accomplish ANYTHING – I’m a total loser” as our working example.)

Step 2 – Capture its Reason

Think about what caused you to reach that negative conclusion for our first example. . For example, maybe you’re thinking:

  • “I’ve failed at so many other things so many times before”
  • “I just never know what to do”
  • “I always feel I’m in over my head”

The point here is not to make yourself feel bad, but to better understand what led you to your conclusion in the first place.

(I suggest you limit the number of reasons items to 3 – at least to start – as this helps minimize any ‘awfulization’ that might creep in when first trying this exercise. Besides, we’ll only need 1 so no need to go overboard!)

Step 3 – ‘Stem’ the Tide

Use the following sentence stems to create an alternative positive and self-affirming explanation for the Negative Conclusion from Step 1 and the Reasons provided by Step 2.

I sometimes feel … [insert your Negative Conclusion from Step 1] and that’s probably because… [insert your Reason from Step 2] … which highlights one of my STRENGTHS, in that … [insert your Restatement from Step 3].

Sample/Example 1

I sometimes feel … “I can’t accomplish ANYTHING – I’m a total loser” and that’s probably because… I’ve failed at so many things so many times before … which highlights one of my STRENGTHS, in that … I’m unafraid to take on new challenges.

See what we’ve done? We’ve re-framed your self-talk from being about failure, to being about fearlessness.

Sample/Example 2

I sometimes feel … “I just can’t follow rules ” … and that’s probably because … I can always see why exceptions are in order … which highlights one of my STRENGTHS, in that … I am sincere, caring, and truly customer-focused,even when it’s inconvenient.

See what we did? We turned your so-called weakness into a customer-service value-added.

Moving (Positively) Forward

The way to leverage this exercise, moving forward, is by using it to help you recognize that just because you’ve reached a Negative Conclusion about yourself does not have to mean that it’s a fully accurate conclusion about yourself. And with that, you now also know how to quickly and easily replace that negative self-talk with something decidedly more positive, constructive, and self-affirming.


What Does It Take To Grow As A Leader?

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It’s hard to learn and grow when you’re the one in charge.

When you’re the boss, people all-too-often look to YOU for the answers to their questions. They all-too-often look to YOU for the questions they should be asking, too. And even when they say they don’t, they also all-too-often rely on YOU to check their work.

Isn’t that right?!

Maybe it’s because they’re trying to be really careful. Maybe it’s because they’re trying to shirk responsibility if things don’t go precisely as planned. Or maybe they just realize that you’re going to change whatever they decide or recommend, anyway, so why bother try to figure it out, beforehand.

Regardless, if this is happening to you, it’s likely that you’re encouraging people to do the exact opposite of what you’re hoping they will.

Stop Reinforcing The Wrong Lessons

This all-too-familiar cycle actively dampens learning. Or said another way, it encourages not learning in favor of upward delegation. Which creates a downward spiral of ‘dumbing down’ for employees and bosses, alike.

  • If you don’t know how to do something, ignore it and see if the boss ever follows up with you on it.
  • If ignoring it doesn’t work and you’re boss does ask about it, say you’ve been too busy working on more pressing priorities.
  • If saying you’re too busy doesn’t work, try ignoring it, again – or better yet, blame someone else for slowing you down.
  • And if none of that works, just dump it in your boss’ lap as something too difficult to handle on your own.

So now you, the boss, have to do not just YOUR job, but THEIRS, too.

Sad AND all-too-often true.

Articulating What (And How) To Learn

So how might we reset what (and how) learning takes hold? Here are some thoughts:

  1. Don’t just assign a task; state the learning opportunity it’s designed to enable – This may seem like an obvious place to start, but never underestimate how UN-obvious it can be.
    • Bad: “Call this irate customer.”
    • Better: “Call this irate customer and let me know what he wants.”
    • Best: “Call this irate customer to find out what he wants while practicing your rapport-building, conflict management, and independent problem-solving skills.”
  2. Don’t just assign a due date; explain how you’ll use the deliverable you’re requesting – All meaningful work is part of a process, not just a series of isolated to-dos so show how this piece fits into the larger whole.
    • Bad: “Get this done.”
    • Better: “Get this done by Tuesday at noon.”
    • Best: “Get this done by Tuesday at noon so I can use it for my presentation to Senior Management at their 1pm meeting so they can authorize our project.”
  3. Don’t just accept submitted work; circle back to review it with the person – Share both your positive and constructive feedback to inform the person as to what excellence looks like.
    • Bad: [Say nothing.]
    • Better: “There were a few parts I had to fix, but you did a nice job overall.”
    • Best: “Here’s specifically what I liked about what you did and what, specifically, I’d like to see you improve, moving forward.”

Leaders Learn By Helping Others Learn

Sure, you’re busy. You’re stressed. And there’s far too little time to do far too much. But here’s the math: Let’s say it takes 15 minutes for you to do something, yourself, and 30 minutes to train someone to do it for you. If it’s only a one-time thing, it might not be worth it. But, really, what are the chances that anything you have to do at work is a one-time thing?

Besides, helping others learn not only helps them learn, but it helps you learn, too:

  • Knowing, and being able to properly articulate, precisely what you want, and why you want it facilitates learning and higher levels of performance from others AND yourself.
  • Knowing, and being able to properly articulate, the difference between ‘good work’ and ‘excellent work’ (and ‘insufficient work’) facilitates learning and higher levels of performance from others AND yourself.
  • Knowing, and being able to properly articulate, your vision and priorities facilitates learning and higher levels of performance from others AND yourself.
  • Knowing, and being able to properly articulate, what outcomes you specifically want to avoid facilitates learning and higher levels of performance from others AND yourself.

See? You’re already learning, again, aren’t you?!



What Do People Listen For?

“What do the people you’re trying to influence, at work, ‘listen’ for?”

That’s one of the questions I asked attendees of a breakout session I did on leadership for the American Academy of Home Care Medicine, last month.

“Typically, 6-8 things,” I continued, as I put up the following slide:

Let me explain:

  1. The Crux of the Matter – Some people consider themselves professional problem-solvers. Others are what we might call ‘opportunity maximizers’. And how they listen to what you’re saying varies, greatly. If a problem-solver doesn’t hear a problem in what you’re saying, you likely won’t keep their attention. In that same way, if you bring a problem to be solved to an opportunity maximizer, you likely won’t get the traction you’re hoping for, either. So the key, is to match what you’re saying with what the person is naturally listening for. Another way the ‘crux of the matter’ shows itself is in listeners wanting to know if, as example, the course of action you’re recommending is supported by consensus, or not (as with a policy change) or some sort of imperative (i.e. upcoming deadline or crisis situation). Listening for the ‘crux’ is what gives them a context from which to listen further…or not.
  2. Size, Scope, and Impact – Some people like big, fat changes. Others prefer smaller and more targeted efforts. Some prefer incremental change; others prefer large-scale overhauling. For those preferring a smaller size and scope, ‘pilot’ studies and project phasing or staging enables them to ‘test the waters’ before committing more fully. But recommending that to an overhauler would likely lead to disappointment as to too slow a tempo. A similar difference can be seen with one’s preference for a project’s timing. While some people prefer to implement new initiatives ASAP, others would rather wait until it’s absolutely necessary to begin. Knowing who prefers what, and speaking to them through that ‘frame’, can most definitely improve the odds of their more actively supporting what we propose.
  3. Risks – Another key area of differentiation is how people react to risk. Some, as example, freak out at the first sign of risk and much prefer recommendations that work within existing guidelines and precedence. Others feel that anything worth doing has inherent risk so their objective is not so much to avoid risk as it is to insure that we properly identify what the risks are, and have plans to properly mitigate them.
  4. Quid Pro Quo – Yes, the old “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine,” is another relevant distinction in how people listen. This category has to do with inherent or underlying ‘political’ implications of what we’re proposing. In its simplest form, are we asking for them to go out on a limb for us using the promise of certain results to balance the scales; or is what we’re proposing more our returning a favor for what they’ve already done for us? Also relevant, here, is how our requests align with their work agenda. Are they in support of them, neutral to them, or complications for their spoken (and unspoken) priorities? It might not always matter, but it rarely never matters.
  5. Personal Commitment Required – This has to do with the level of support we’re looking for. Are we, as example, asking them to ‘let’ something happen? To ‘help’ something happen? Or to ‘make’ something happen? (Many a great idea has stalled because a person wasn’t ready, willing, or able to provide the level of support that was hoped for.)
  6. Next Steps – Similarly, it’s important to align, or at least clarify, what we’re specifically asking in any moment particular moment. Do we want the other person to make a decision for us…or with us? Is it to discuss an issue, brainstorm solutions, or debate the merits of a particular solution? As they say, it’s hard to be successful if you don’t know what you really want.

The larger point, here, is that the people we bring our issues to typically have definite preferences (and biases) – whether they’re consciously aware of those preferences and biases, or not. So it’s incumbent upon us to learn these proclivities as best (and quickly) as we can.

Your thoughts?