Effective Postmortem Discussions

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Image by Aline Ponce from Pixabay

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


Venting vs. Clearing

“I just HATE when they complain like that,” one leader said exasperatedly.

Sure. I get it. People grouse, grip, grumble, moan, bellyache, carp, whine, and yammer all the time. Especially at work. And all that negativity can all-too-easily negate an otherwise decent mood you’re in.

So what to do? What CAN you do?

Definition of Terms

When something someone does or says continually frustrates you, one of the very first things I want you to do in your capacity as a leader is to recognize that they’re acting that way more for their own benefit, than yours. And while it often helps to acknowledge their angst – so they feel heard and seen – you really don’t want to encourage this sort of complaining from them without boundaries.

But how?

Well, what I recommend is that you create a distinction between the sort of ‘venting’ that people do – which often feels like endless complaining just for complaining’s sake – and ‘clearing’ – the process of quickly and efficiently sharing strong feelings so that they can be dissipated and released, allowing everyone to get back to more important things. And then redirect them, accordingly.

Distinctions in Action

So here’s how it’d work.

Someone ‘stops by’ and starts dumping all this negativity on you. Calmly, quietly, and respectfully, you say, “Wow! That sounds awful. Here, take another 15-20 seconds to ‘clear’ it out of your system so you can feel better and get back to work.”

Yes. Just. Like. That.

“Wow! That sounds awful. Here, take another 15-20 seconds to ‘clear’ it out of your system so you can feel better and get back to work.”

It’s Not as Harsh as You’d Think

Have them take another 15-20 SECONDS?!

Yes, because by and large, most people simply don’t know how (or when) to stop their beefing. So the time-limit, is actually very helpful. Too, the deadline:

(a) gives them an endpoint;

(b) helps them realize that, as their boss, you’re not there for them to routinely dump on (that is ‘vent’ to);

(c) gives them a way to release (that is ‘clear’) their pent up the frustrations they’re all bollixed up about; and

(d) allows you to assert your authority in a respectful, powerful, and efficient way.

Now, can you give them more than 15-20 seconds? Sure. But why would you want to?! Especially when you consider a corollary of something called Parkinson’s Law.

Parkinson’s Law postulates that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”.

So it reasons that if you shrink the time available for completion, the completion will still occur…just in less time!

After all, as with any delegated assignment, it’s typically far less about how much time someone COULD put into completing the assignment as much as how much time you can ALLOT to them for completion, before you need to use the results they were charged with providing back to you.

Key Traction Point⤞

If you just told them to go away, they likely would…and then find someone else to vent to. But that would be terribly short-sighted on your part.

So by teaching your your staff the difference between ‘venting’ and ‘clearing’, you not only help them feel better, which is a very important skill, but it also will benefit YOU every time they come to ‘vent’ – as you cleanly redirect them to ‘clear’ instead – and will benefit THEM because they’ll now know what to do whenever someone comes to grousing to THEM!

Try it, yourself, and see. And if you’re so moved, I’d love if you share your experience in the comment section, below.


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?!



Grit, Resilience, and Hardiness

In many ways, GRIT, RESILIENCE, and HARDINESS are more similar than not. If we were to differentiate, though, I’d say it this way:

  • GRIT is what keeps you focused and helps you push through, notwithstanding the stress
  • RESILIENCE is what helps you bounce back from a prior stress
  • But HARDINESS is the ability to actually thrive before, during, and after – and notwithstanding – the stress

So while GRIT and RESILIENCE are obviously very important, if you want to maximize your efforts, work on increasing your level of HARDINESS.

Building Hardiness…or Not

Figure inspired by : The Hardy Executive, Salvador Maddi, Suzanne Kobasa

recognizing hardiness

Think about it this way:

  • CONTROL vs. POWERLESSNESS is created by

    • Shifting from: Trying to Control What You Really Can’t
    • To: Addressing What You Actually CAN Control
  • CHALLENGE vs. OVERWHELM is created by 
    • Shifting from: Feeling Helpless and Dis-empowered
    • To: Creating Healthy and Doable Challenges and Stretch Goals
  • COMMITMENT vs. REFUSAL is created by

    • Shifting from: Thinking, “It’s Too Hard, Why Bother?”
    • To: Reconnecting with your Core Values and Beliefs

Doing so – even partially – will help you create a more optimistic (and less pessimistic) view and naturally shift from avoiding what’s stressing you (which only causes more stress) to taking action to resolve what’s stressing you sooner.

Which Begs the Following Questions…

  1. How might you have more CONTROL than you maybe realize?
  2. What’s the a ‘doable’ CHALLENGE inside the overwhelm you’re maybe feeling?
  3. And what is the larger COMMITMENT you’re working toward?

Try It For Yourself And See, Yes?

While grit is good, don’t just settle for being able to push through your challenges, regardless of its personal cost to you.

And while resilience is good, too, don’t just settle for being able to recover from stress.

Focus, instead on increasing your hardiness so that you can actually thrive before, during, and after – and notwithstanding – the stress.

For more, visit www.leadershiptraction.com/hardiness.