by Andrew Sumitani on Nov 14, 2017 2:06:00 PM

Be happy

This guide is about a powerful idea — one that’s well known by only some of the elite managers of the world. The funny thing is it’s not top-secret information at all. People have researched, written, and spoken about employee engagement for years. And the top managers have practiced and refined it over the last few decades to create tremendous value within their organizations.

For a variety of reasons, though, a vast majority of CEO’s, VP’s, Directors, and HR professionals still only half-understand it: this guide was created to change this.

Why this Employee Engagement Guide?

My goal is for you to understand the fundamental reason the very best managers reach the top and leave everyone else in the dark. I want you to understand how they are able to maximize the talent potential of their teams, regardless of what company they join.

By itself, understanding how the best do it won’t make you and your organization awesome. It’s a mere thought, after all. If you want to be like the top managers, you need to dedicate many hours of careful collaboration and experimentation with your team, all with the goal of improving employee engagement to drive business performance. Like learning to play an instrument or sport at a high level, you need to understand the steps required to improve, and then you need to practice, practice, practice.

I frequently use an analogy because I think it’s super relevant: raising employee engagement is like losing weight.

It’s not enough for you to queue up a workout video on YouTube, sit down with a bowl of chips, and expect to shed pounds. The workout video is a helpful tool because it contains the steps that will give you maximum value. The results only come when you commit to doing the work and being consistent about it.

My goals for you:

1. The first goal of this guide is to get you thinking about employee engagement the right way.

We talk to a lot of people about how to increase employee engagement and motivation, and most of them fixate on the wrong things. Then, even if they try to put in the work, they will be unable to succeed because they end up working on the wrong things.

2. The second goal is to motivate you.

If you read this guide and then work with your team to follow the steps in this guide, your organization and its employees can become far more engaged than they are right now. No, you probably won’t become the next Sheryl Sandberg or Tony Hsieh. But most managers can create extremely engaged teams if they simply learn the right steps to improve, then put in the work to follow those steps.

I hope this motivates you. You can create an extremely engaged team of employees — significantly more engaged than they are right now — by committing to improving and following the steps in this guide.

Here’s how the Employee Engagement Guide works:

This guide is super simple — I’ll present three core concepts and show you how to best follow them, along with pitfalls to avoid. The reason for keeping it simple is that employee engagement remains a very loose idea for most people. Applying it correctly can easily get very complicated, so if something seems oversimplified, it’s so that you understand the main point clearly.

Along the way, I’ll point you to some other resources that will provide more detail and context. However, most of the top-level work in employee engagement is fairly exclusive and gets researched and presented at events like TINYcon and Bersin IMPACT.

The goal of this guide is to provide you some “aha” moments, show you what you may be missing, and start your journey to the top.

Let’s begin

What is employee engagement?

To improve employee engagement, you need to understand what it actually is.

According to Wikipedia, employee engagement is “a property of the relationship between an organization and its employees. An ‘engaged employee’ is defined as one who is fully absorbed by and enthusiastic about their work and so takes positive action to further the organization’s reputation and interests.”

Pretty dense stuff, right? Try this instead:

Employee engagement is the level of personal investment a person has in his or her work.

Let me simplify even further:

The more personally invested you are in something, the more it matters to you.

You become a bigger stakeholder in whatever “it” may be, whether it’s your kids, your health, or your career. And you’ll be far more likely to put more into it if the result is meaningful to you.

The same goes for your employees. The more personally invested they are in their work, the more it matters to them and encourages them to contribute more. Employee engagement is what you have to work on to raise everyone’s level of personal investment. That way they increase their positive contributions to the organization.

Why is employee engagement important?

A fast-growing body of research demonstrates that employee engagement is a huge mover of fundamental metrics like retention and revenue. This is why senior executives and CEOs are clamoring to get a grasp and reap the bottom line benefits of employee engagement to the organization. But again, most are focusing on the wrong things and not following the principles in this guide. The problem is that these managers aren’t working on how to consistently raise the level of personal investment by their employees.

To understand what motivates personal investment of an employee, you first need to understand how motivation even works: what makes us feel good about work?

(take a brief moment to watch this TedTalk, ‘What makes us feel good about our work?‘, by Dan Ariely)

Now that you have an idea of what motivates people to personally invest more at work, I’ll look more in-depth at what employee engagement is capable of doing for your organization.

Most companies guard their detailed performance data, but Gallup did a great job in their report called “The State of the American Workplace” correlating many performance outcomes with higher employee engagement.

Among those outcomes, there are two you should really care about:

1. Making more money

Let’s get one thing straight. The financial impact of employee engagement can’t be exaggerated: it’s massive.

Over the course of a decade, Queen’s University School of Business examined over 111,000 employee surveys on employee engagement.

Organizations with the highest levels of employee engagement were consistent with 15% greater employee productivity and up to 30% greater customer satisfaction levels.

Gallup employee engagement statistics indicate that an engaged organization can lead to up to 18% higher revenue per employee.

If dollar amounts interest you, the Workplace Research Foundation has found that a 10% increase in investment in employee engagement can increase profits by $2,400 per employee, per year.

Organizations with high employee engagement also tend to withstand economic downturns and, when the economy picks back up, are able to run circles around their competitors.

2. Saving more money

In the US only 32% of employees are engaged at work, while only 13% are engaged worldwide.

Together with the fact that companies with lower levels of engagement experience significantly higher costs of absenteeism and turnover, you get the picture as to why employee engagement is important.

It’s common wisdom that retaining employees is more cost effective than hiring new ones, so it’s easy to see why low levels of engagement are super expensive. If you ever want to make money with your staffing, you should work on getting more employees to stay with the organization for longer.

Don’t ignore the financial upsides of employee engagement.

And bonus (3.) — a successful company culture!

I know I said there were two main benefits, but there’s a third benefit that answers the question, “Why is employee engagement important?”

Raising employee engagement builds company culture.

Think about it:

A vast majority of companies still depend on a culture of hyper-competitive, self-serving behavior to drive results. It’s a pernicious, but almost universal thought process. It goes something like this: “Competition will drive employees to do better as individuals, so the sum of their results will be better. Let the invisible hand take care of the rest.” Unfortunately, this prevents employees from personally investing any more than the minimum that affects them as individuals.”

This is a big problem, because employee engagement and company culture go hand in hand. Just take a look at what 400,000 employee survey responses showed about the factors with the highest positive relationship with an employee’s experience:



When employees act not only to benefit themselves but the organization at large, they fuel this positive relationship and build culture at the same time. Don’t forget: an investment in employee engagement is an investment in culture.

The 2 Key Strategies to increase employee engagement; better recognition, and good employee survey practices

Improve your workplace recognition:


One of the first things you can do to make sure that you’re setting the tone for a highly engaged workforce is bolstering your recognition program.


According to Bersin & Associates, 87% of recognition programs focus on tenure—rather than contribution and efforts. Especially with a millennial-heavy workforce, where the average tenure is somewhere between 1 and 3 years, it’s unlikely that your new workforce is feeling the impacts of recognition programs targeting 5-year anniversaries.

Though over $100 billion is being spent annually on incentive programs in the US, 58% of employees responded that their leadership could “give recognition” first, to improve engagement. Having free recognition programs that focus on highlighting exceptional work ethic or output means that you can positively reinforce that awesome behavior, and increase your employee engagement, without extra cost to the company.


The most successful recognition is highly personal. The value of highly-personalized rewards can’t be understated, even in the case of those tenure-based anniversary gifts.

It’s also a great opportunity to reinforce the value to employees of sticking around that long—while poor rewards like keychains and plaques might demoralize an employee who’s feeling undervalued, a reward which was chosen with them in mind, or which they can look forward to, is a great motivator to keep going during moments of low-morale.

On the other hand, having a recognition system that stacks employees against each other does more harm than good. While competing for points might motivate the top performers to try even harder, it can be demoralizing for those at the bottom of the competition, and even cause employees to act poorly in order to win.

Instead of having employees compete against each other for the most recognition, have them work towards a personal objective. Perhaps recognition can translate to bigger rewards with some accumulation, like free lunch, or some extra pto.


Unfortunately, not enough companies are providing peer-to-peer recognition opportunities, according to our Employee Engagement Report. And peer-to-peer recognition can be one of the easiest ways for employees to feel connected and recognized, without requiring a costly rewards campaign.

That increase in morale translates to end-consumer benefits too. 41% of companies that have peer-to-peer recognition in place have seen positive increases in their customer satisfaction.

Recognition isn’t a difficult value to put some action behind, and it doesn’t need to cost a fortune—but it is important to recognize what your existing programs aren’t doing, and how you can supplement those.


Excercise good employee survey practices:


The main goal of surveying your employees is to start a conversation toward understanding what will raise your employees’ level of personal investment at work. Overall, you’ll want to survey in a way that will produce the most thoughtful, timely responses.

Keep the surveys short

Imagine a company with 1,000 employees sending out its annual employee survey. That survey likely has at least twenty questions that every employee is expected to thoughtfully answer. There are two big problems with this seemingly helpful practice:

  • First, what’s alarming is the 20,000 responses that someone else is expected to read and process.
  • Second, the company has the right motives at heart, but the sheer length of survey means lackluster answers, employee apathy, and lower response rates.

surveyquestions-vs-time (2).pngJust look at the results of Cvent’s research on the time people spend answering survey questions as the number of questions grows.

The more questions you have, the less time respondents spend answering them. Employees who rush through questions aren’t going to give you the most thoughtful or useful answers.


Make use of frequent pulse surveys

Short, regular surveys are better for both employees and employers. As I showed you above, this is because the small number of questions allows employees to be more thoughtful and respond at a higher rate.

We also asked managers about their problems with annual surveys, and here’s a stack-ranking of their complaints:

top reasons managers dislike traditional surveys


Managers identified many shortcomings of long, infrequent surveys. But the biggest problem managers faced was frequency. It’s hard to get and act on good feedback if it happens only once per year. In fact, the majority of managers told us that they want to get employee feedback at least once every two often managers would like to survey

This is a lot to take in, but remember: the main goal is to start a conversation toward understanding what will raise your employees’ level of personal investment at work.

This starts by gathering the most thoughtful, timely information which boils down to two guidelines:

  • Keep the surveys short
  • Make use of frequent pulse surveys

If you follow these guidelines as a manager, you’ll protect yourself from too much work and a low quality of your employee responses, so that you can move on to Step 2.

That’s it, you’ve just run a simple, effective employee engagement survey.


Note: This is where it gets real. The information in this section is extremely important. Reread it a dozen times if you have to.

Employee engagement isn’t just on you as a manager. It’s actually on everyone in the organization. Sharing all the data from surveys is a simple way to demonstrate transparency and start engaging employees.

It demonstrates an openness to tackle even the toughest of questions and address even the most minute employee concern. So be sure to share survey responses with everyone to ensure each member of your team has a vested interest in fostering a positive, collaborative culture.


Make sure senior management takes a central role

Engagement programs initiated by senior management are twice as successful as those not introduced by leadership. So before you jump into the process, make sure you involve decision makers who can initiate positive change. If not, get their buy-in to conduct pulse surveys, review results, acknowledge opportunities, and take action based on feedback.

And if you have the authority to undertake changes based on feedback, make sure you have the time, bandwidth, and dedication to follow through.


The 4-step process for effective survey sharing

Survey feedback will show you the good and the bad in your organization. Though you may want to only share positive responses, you’ll be better off being completely candid about all the feedback you receive by following these four steps:

  1. 1. Prescreen results: Review all data ahead of time to make sure it doesn’t reveal information that’s obviously embarrassing or offensive to another employee.2. Set it so you don’t forget it: Make sure to set up a recurring meeting to review survey data when as many participants as possible can gather and discuss the findings.

    3. Transparent conversation: Use the findings to begin healthy discussion of problems, not a jumping-off point for accusations or witch-hunting. One good way to initiate this is to discuss all the positive points highlighted in the feedback.

    4. Determine next steps: Be sure to create an action plan to follow up on issues, which we’ll cover in the next section.


Leaders who follow this process may find it challenging at first but will see changes rather quickly. Like changing eating habits or exercise, doing something new feels like a burden at first. But it will keep you honest. Remember, this is you putting in the work, and not just watching the workout video.


This is a big one.

As crazy as this sounds, I’d rather you do nothing instead of surveying employees without a plan to act on the results. 

Simply listening, without action, leads to employee disengagement. BlessingWhite, an employee engagement consulting firm, found that nearly a third of all employees become disengaged when employers ask for feedback but do nothing about it.

Fielding a survey without the commitment to act on its findings is a recipe for apathetic employees. Don’t do it.

Knowing how to tackle that feedback is key to ensuring employees feel like stakeholders in their organization.


If you field employee surveys, be ready for one of two types of feedback

  • 1. Small, easier challenges: These include concerns like overflowing trash cans or not having the right type of software licenses — concerns that are generally easier to solve.2. Big, difficult challenges: The primary issues you’ll have to address here are recurring interpersonal issues, managerial style, or disengagement with job roles.

Acting on one or two smaller challenges immediately is a great way to show your team that you’re following through on their feedback. Because these can be handled quickly, acting on them shows your commitment to change and encourages your employees to continue answering the regular surveys.

Bigger, difficult challenges are harder to address, but will have longer-term impact on your company culture and business results.

From the first moment you get survey feedback, start thinking about how to address these issues. Don’t worry about not knowing how to act immediately. Just don’t forget to continue being transparent about the problems and the action plan for resolving these bigger issues.


Be ultra-consistent in your responses, no matter the outcome

Here’s a simple three-step process to make this easy to remember:

1. Thank the respondent: Always show your gratitude for any type of response. Responding to surveys may not be customary for your employees, and saying “thanks” shows that you value that feedback.

2. Acknowledge the feedback: Show that you understand the feedback and that you recognize its value. When you empathize with others, your employees will be more likely to open up about the issue at hand.

3. Ask employees for a solution: Employees know how to fix problems with astonishing efficiency. Asking them how they would fix a problem further captures their feedback and ensures they are part of the solution.

What you should do precisely for every type of response is beyond the range of this guide. But the main point is that fielding a survey and gathering data is only as valuable as the willingness to act. Don’t consume precious time and resources just to satisfy curiosity or check a box in your HR to-do list. Do it because you want to improve your culture, which will lead to improved bottom-line results.

The importance of adapting your employee engagement techniques

So far I’ve covered a lot — I’ve introduced you to the winning way to think about employee engagement and shown you some strategies you can apply today. But the reality is that employee engagement gets even more complex with large organizations. Some have multiple offices, and others with distributed workforces. Others have 100% employee turnover to deal with every year. Organizations are fraught with constant change.

But this is the very reason why employee engagement is important — so that organizations can embrace that change continuously. Not just once or twice a year.

When you follow the steps in this guide, you will start creating a culture around employee-led change. By enabling employees to not just bring up challenges but also brainstorm solutions, you empower them to lead and institutionalize the value of proactive action.

One of the best things you can do now is learn how others have raised employee engagement. There’s no special magic to developing an employee engagement strategy, and many managers are on the same pathway as you. Many business leaders have written on this topic and refined those ideas.

Reach out to your fellow managers and talk about employee engagement. Talk about the level of personal investment they see in their employees. Ask them what they’ve done to raise that level of investment.

Chances are they are thinking about it too, and if you continue to learn and think about employee engagement, you’ll stay motivated.

  • Closing thoughts:


If you haven’t experienced issues of employee engagement as a manager, congratulations. You should continue running around high-fiving your colleagues every day. I encourage you not to relax though, for this might not be the case tomorrow. Remember; the best managers can, and do, engage employees wherever they go under any circumstance. Their mastery of this idea allows them to generate incredible value by fully tapping the talent potential of their teams.

Today’s managers are measuring and increasing employee engagement to drive business results and build successful company cultures. It’s almost not an option anymore for success.

Don’t worry if you’ve already tried to raise employee engagement but it didn’t pan out.

Just commit to starting today with this guide

3 Sample Email Templates Job Seekers Can Send to A Recruiter

Download our amazing job search guide for FREE. Includes resume, cover letter, & email templates. Click here.

During the talk Carlos Gil and I gave at SXSW (Resumes Suck! 7 Ways to Find a Job With Social Media), we had a handful of questions that I wanted to follow up on. One in particular I thought was important was a question about how job seekers and candidates should best reach out to hiring managers and recruiters before they formally apply for a job.

In my work many years ago as a resume writer and career coach, this was one of the most effective ways to land hidden job opportunitites from recruiters and hiring managers directly or from friends, colleagues and referrals who can make introductions for you.

These days it’s relatively easy to find people’s email addresses thanks to Chrome extensions like Email Hunter. Sometimes recruiters (conveniently) share their email address on their website or LinkedIn Profile, but if not you can find them in online databases like WhoIs which serves as a website registry.

Because only 2% of candidates who apply for jobs are considered for positions after applying using a company application process, I encourage candidates to reach out to recruiters and hiring managers directly. Email is the best and most non-intrusive way.

Gmail tools like YesWare can be used by job seekers to receive notification that a recruiter has opened up an email. That’s similar to one of the benefits of the LinkedIn Business Account function – I’m able to see when people have viewed my profile and can take action to engage, follow up or reach out to them.

3 Sample Email Templates Job Seekers Can Send To A Recruiter

In terms of candidates engaging recruiters and hiring managers, there are three types of messages you can consider when you are doing your reachout to inquire about opportunities at a company or specific positions. These messages are labor intensive, meaning that there is a great deal of research and customizing to be done. Carlos mentioned in our talk that it’s a good idea to create an employer hit list and focus on 10-15 target companies you are most interested at working in. This helps focus your efforts to make sure you do the work and build the relationships the right way.

I’ve included 3 sample email templates you can use to reach out to recruiters in a non-aggressive, professional but casual way. These templates are meant to be updated and customized depending on the job, your experience and based on your specific needs.

#1 – The Informational Interview Reach Out

The informational interview is a bit of a lost art form. It’s a great way to engage recruiters or hiring managers if there aren’t any job openings listed on their career site. I use my Workology Podcast as a form of an informational interview to build new connections, relationships and as a consulting customer acquisition tool. As an interested job seeker during an informational interview, you ask questions about the company culture, hiring process and learn about the selection process. These are time consuming but an effective way to build a relationship and make an impression with someone at your hit list company.

Dear <insert name>,

My name is and I would love to schedule an informational interview. I’ve heard great things about your company culture and would like to learn more about the hiring and selection process. I’m developing a article series on LinkedIn Publisher (or your blog) featuring local employers who have great reputations, sharing with the community just what makes a great place to work.

The interview would take no more than 30 minutes. It’s a Q&A style format. I’d love to schedule a time to stop by and meet with you in person and get a tour of the offices before publishing my story.


<insert your name>

The beauty of this day and age is that everyone is a publisher whether its a podcast, blog like this one, LinkedIn Publisher, Medium and starting later this month Facebook. You don’t have to be an amazing writer to write question and answer type stories. Most importantly, this puts you directly in front of the recruiter where you can send a follow up message, after your article goes live, saying that you enjoyed talking with them and would be interested in being a part of their team.

#2 – The Referral Email

One of the best ways to accelerate the hiring process is using a referral email for a direct introduction to a recruiter or hiring manager for a friend, peer or colleague. This was one of my favorite tactics in my resume writing days. A simple targeted email sent to 5 people resulted in a hire for an engineer who had 30 years of work experience but no college degree. Because he didn’t have the educational requirement, he kept getting disqualified from job openings even though he had enough experience.

The referral email is sent to a handful of your most trusted contacts. The smaller the better, and I recommend that you send a personalized note instead of blasting or messaging everyone in a form of spray and pray.

Dear <insert friend’s name>,

Earlier this month, I made the decision to begin looking for a new career opportunity. It’s been a great <insert number of years> working at <insert company name> as their <insert job title>. I’m looking for a new company to challenge me and grow my skill set in <insert skill name>, <insert skill name>, and <insert skill name>.

I’m focusing my job search on five different companies in the <insert city name> metro area for a career opportunity as an <insert job title>, <insert job title> or <insert job title>. I would appreciate your help by providing a direct introduction by email or phone to anyone you know who works at any of the companies listed below.

  • Name of company #1
  • Name of company #2
  • Name of company #3
  • Name of company #4
  • Name of company #5

Please include my LinkedIn Profile in your introduction <insert LinkedIn Profile link> and a short introduction about me that includes my <xx> years of experience in the fields of <insert skill name> and <insert skill name> and that I’m interested in a job opportunity as a <insert job title>.

Thank you so much for you assistance. Let me know how I can help you.

<insert name>

#3 – The Application Follow Up Email to a Recruiter or Hiring Manager

Recruiters are some of the most visible professionals on the web today and following up with them via email or on social media after applying for a job opening, can also be an effective way to improve the likelihood that you will receive a response from the company. I like to engage recruiters on multiple channels to help ensure they will at least open the message. You can send them a tweet telling a recruiter you just shot them an email and are awaiting their response or a quick note on LinkedIn paraphrasing your email.

When sending any kind of email, I suggest using an email extension tool like the above mentioned YesWare to update you on when your message is opened. This helps ensure that your email is getting to the right person and in a timely way.

Dear <insert recruiter name>,

I recently applied for a job opening at <insert company name> for the position of <insert position name> on your online career site. The position fits perfectly with my experience in <insert experience>, <insert experience> and <insert experience>. You can learn more about me by viewing my LinkedIn Profile <insert LinkedIn Profile url>.

I recently followed you on <insert social media site> and appreciated the valuable resources you are providing for job seekers and the way you interact with candidates. I’m a fan of <insert sports team, type of animal or other interest> too.

I’d love to set up a time to schedule a call and talk about the position and my experience. I have some availability on <insert days> next week from <insert time span with time zone>. You can email me at <insert your email address> or by phone at <insert phone number>. I look forward to scheduling some time with you.


<insert your  name>

Accelerate Your Job Search with Email

Use the power of the internet combined with email messages to engage, customize and make an impression with recruiters and hiring managers that encourages them to learn more about you. While the job search process is a numbers game, you can stack the odds in your favor by doing research, customizing your messages and tapping into your professional network in creative, targeted ways. Email isn’t dead. Email and sample templates are one of the most effective ways to accelerate your job search and improve your chances of landing an interview. I’ve also included the slide from our SXSW talk below.

Download my job search guide for FREE. Includes resume, cover letter and email templates like the ones you see above. Click here

Employee Recognition for High-Performers: Think Substance Over Volume

April 24, 2017


By Gene Nichols

Most managers understand the importance of employee recognition. If you want your people to perform at a high level, you need to praise them when they excel.                                       

It’s basic human nature: Make people feel good about something and they’ll do more of it.

That is true, but employee recognition only works if you recognize the right things. The volume of employee recognition is much less important than the substance, particularly when you’re dealing with high-performing or highly skilled employees.

Remember that the goal of employee recognition is to reinforce the behaviors and outcomes you want. So, it helps to have a plan and to understand exactly what you need from each of your team members.

Assuming you want your high performers to…um…perform at high levels (bring new ideas to the table, solve big problems, lead major projects, drive new revenue, etc.), you should save your employee recognition efforts for these types of initiatives.

High performers tend to be intrinsically motivated. They come to work and perform their everyday tasks because they are responsible professionals. Recognizing them for doing the basic things noted in their job descriptions won’t move the dial; in fact, it might have a demotivating effect.

Here’s an example: 

The Employee: Let’s say you have an experienced employee who consistently does a fantastic job. She gets high ratings on her performance reviews and brings new ideas to the table regularly. She’s good to work with and you want her to stick around. Maybe she even has an advanced degree or a skillset that’s unique to the organization.

Scenario 1: Your employee does something truly outstanding. She makes a presentation to executives and secures funding for a new project; she identifies a possible quality or safety issue before it becomes a major problem.

Response: You want more of that. Turn the recognition machine on high.

Scenario 2: Your employee does something basic (and, let’s face it, we all have mundane elements of our jobs). She sends a really well-written e-mail, she does a heck of a job ordering office supplies, or she completes paperwork on time.

Response: In this context, recognizing her “efforts” or “great work” would be counterproductive. Emphasizing basic tasks comes off as condescending to a high-performing professional; it attacks her sense of self (high performers want to feel like the work they do is uniquely valuable), and it may highlight a lack of challenge in her job or a lack of career momentum.

In short, recognizing high performers for doing basic things will make them feel bad (the opposite of the desired effect) and is a recipe for turnover on your team.

It’s not good enough to pay lip service to employee recognition. You, as a manager, need to do it right, and you need to tailor the recognition to your employee’s unique needs.

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Lean Out Communications is a management consulting and training firm with a unique angle: We take a pragmatic, lean approach to strategic communications. We help you build the right communications processes and programs so you can build brands, drive culture and grow revenue without significant investments in staff, agencies or technology. And we give you the solid foundation you need to pivot, scale and grow.

For tools, tips and content to help you build leaned out and right-sized strategic communications capabilities, visit the Lean Out Learnings section of our website. We offer trainings, insightful blog posts, white papers and tools, and much more. And don’t forget to join the Lean Out Communications e-mail list to stay on top of the latest trends in lean communications.

15 Body Language Secrets Of Successful People


10/16/2016 06:41 pm ET Updated Oct 19, 2017


Our bodies have a language of their own, and their words aren’t always kind. Your body language has likely become an integral part of who you are, to the point where you might not even think about it.

If that’s the case, it’s time to start, because you could be sabotaging your career.

TalentSmart has tested more than a million people and found that the upper echelons of top performance are filled with people who are high in emotional intelligence (90% of top performers, to be exact). These people know the power that unspoken signals have in communication and they monitor their own body language accordingly.

What follows are the 15 most common body language blunders that people make, and emotionally intelligent people are careful to avoid.

1. Slouching is a sign of disrespect. It communicates that you’re bored and have no desire to be where you are. You would never tell your boss, “I don’t understand why I have to listen to you,” but if you slouch, you don’t have to — your body says it for you, loud and clear.

The brain is hardwired to equate power with the amount of space people take up. Standing up straight with your shoulders back is a power position. It maximizes the amount of space you fill. Slouching, on the other hand, is the result of collapsing your form — it takes up less space and projects less power.

Maintaining good posture commands respect and promotes engagement from both ends of the conversation.

2. Exaggerated gestures can imply that you’re stretching the truth. Aim for small, controlled gestures to indicate leadership and confidence, and open gestures — like spreading your arms apart or showing the palms of your hands — to communicate that you have nothing to hide.

3. Watching the clock while talking to someone is a clear sign of disrespect, impatience, and inflated ego. It sends the message that you have better things to do than talk to the person you’re with, and that you’re anxious to leave them.

4. Turning yourself away from others, or not leaning into your conversation, portrays that you are unengaged, uninterested, uncomfortable, and perhaps even distrustful of the person speaking.

Try leaning in towards the person who is speaking and tilt your head slightly as you listen to them speak. This shows the person speaking that they have your complete focus and attention.

5. Crossed arms — and crossed legs, to some degree — are physical barriers that suggest you’re not open to what the other person is saying. Even if you’re smiling or engaged in a pleasant conversation, the other person may get a nagging sense that you’re shutting him or her out.

Even if folding your arms feels comfortable, resist the urge to do so if you want people to see you as open-minded and interested in what they have to say.

6. Inconsistency between your words and your facial expression causes people to sense that something isn’t right and they begin to suspect that you’re trying to deceive them, even if they don’t know exactly why or how.

For example, a nervous smile while rejecting an offer during a negotiation won’t help you get what you want; it will just make the other person feel uneasy about working with you because they’ll assume that you’re up to something.

7. Exaggerated nodding signals anxiety about approval. People may perceive your heavy nods as an attempt to show you agree with or understand something that you actually don’t.

8. Fidgeting with or fixing your hair signals that you’re anxious, over-energized, self-conscious, and distracted. People will perceive you as overly concerned with your physical appearance and not concerned enough with your career.

9. Avoiding eye contact makes it look like you have something to hide, and that arouses suspicion. Lack of eye contact can also indicate a lack of confidence and interest, which you never want to communicate in a business setting.

Looking down as you talk makes it seem like you lack confidence or are self-conscious, causing your words to lose their effect. It’s especially important to keep your eyes level if you’re making complicated or important points.

Sustained eye contact, on the other hand, communicates confidence, leadership, strength, and intelligence. While it is possible to be engaged without direct, constant eye contact, complete negligence will clearly have negative effects on your professional relationships.

10. Eye contact that’s too intense may be perceived as aggressive, or an attempt to dominate. On average, Americans hold eye contact for seven to ten seconds, longer when we’re listening than when we’re talking. The way we break contact sends a message, too. Glancing down communicates submission, while looking to the side projects confidence.

11. Rolling your eyes is a fail-proof way to communicate lack of respect. Fortunately, while it may be a habit, it’s voluntary. You can control it, and it’s worth the effort.

12. Scowling or having a generally unhappy expression sends the message that you’re upset by those around you, even if they have nothing to do with your mood. Scowls turn people away, as they feel judged.

Smiling, however, suggests that you’re open, trustworthy, confident, and friendly. MRI studies have shown that the human brain responds favorably to a person who’s smiling, and this leaves a lasting positive impression.

13. Weak handshakes signal that you lack authority and confidence, while a handshake that is too strong could be perceived as an aggressive attempt at domination, which is just as bad. Adapt your handshake to each person and situation, but make sure it’s always firm.

14. Clenched fists, much like crossed arms and legs, can signal that you’re not open to other people’s points. It can also make you look argumentative and defensive, which will make people nervous about interacting with you.

15. Getting too close.
 If you stand too close to someone (nearer than one and a half feet), it signals that you have no respect for or understanding of personal space. This will make people very uncomfortable when they’re around you.

Bringing It All Together

Avoiding these body language blunders will help you form stronger relationships, both professionally and personally.

Are there any other blunders I should add to this list? Please share your thoughts in the comments below, as I learn just as much from you as you do from me.


Introverts, Extroverts, and the Complexities of Team Dynamics


Let’s start with a short personality test. For each of the following dimensions, indicate the extent to which each of the following words describes you, with a 5 indicating “very much so” and a 1 indicating “not at all”: assertive, talkative, bold, not reserved, and energetic. Now sum up your scores. What’s the total?

If you scored under 10 points, you are likely to have an introverted personality rather than an extroverted one. If that is the case, you are certainly not alone. Studies find that introverts make up one-third to one-half of the population. Yet most workplaces are set up exclusively with extroverts in mind, a fact that becomes clear when you look at traits associated with the two personality types.

Extroverts gravitate toward groups and constant action, and they tend to think out loud. They are energized and recharged by external stimuli, such as personal interactions, social gatherings, and shared ideas. Being around other people gives them energy. In contrast, introverts typically dislike noise, interruptions, and big group settings. They instead tend to prefer quiet solitude, time to think before speaking (or acting), and building relationships and trust one-on-one. Introverts recharge with reflection, deep dives into their inner landscape to research ideas, and focus deeply on work.

What do these tendencies mean for the ability of extroverts and introverts to succeed in team settings, where they must interact and sometimes lead others? My research suggests that the answer depends on the types of team members being led.

Team leaders who are extroverted can be highly effective leaders when the members of their team are dutiful followers looking for guidance from above. Extroverts bring the vision, assertiveness, energy, and networks necessary to give them direction.

By contrast, when team members are proactive — and take the initiative to introduce changes, champion new visions, and promote better strategies — it is introverted leaders who have the advantage. Extroverted leaders are more likely to feel threatened, I’ve found. When employees champion new visions, strategies, and work processes, they often steal the spotlight, challenging leaders’ dominance, authority, and status. As a result, extroverted leaders tend to be less receptive: They shoot down suggestions and discourage employees from contributing. By comparison, an introverted leader might be comfortable listening and carefully considering suggestions from below. This finding is consistent with a wealth of research on what is known as dominance complementarity: the tendency of groups to be more cohesive and effective when they have a balance of dominant and submissive members.


The intuition here is that extroverted leadership may drive higher performance when employees are passive but lower performance when employees are proactive. To test this idea, my colleagues Adam Grant of Wharton, Dave Hofmann of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and I studied a U.S. pizza-delivery chain. Since the stores in the chain were highly similar, they offered a natural opportunity to track whether their success varied as a function of extroverted leadership and employee proactivity.

With the goal of isolating the influence of extroverted leadership, we compared the profitability of 57 different stores. We assessed each store leader’s levels of extraversion — how assertive, talkative, bold, and energetic he or she was. In addition, an average of six to seven employees per store completed surveys about how proactive their store was as a group: to what extent did they voice suggestions for improvement, attempt to influence the store’s strategy, and create better work processes?

Then, for the following seven weeks, we tracked each store’s profits. We statistically adjusted for factors beyond the leader’s control, such as the average price of pizza orders and the total number of employee labor hours. We found that extroverted leadership was linked to significantly higher store profits when employees were passive but significantly lower store profits when employees were proactive. In stores with passive employees, those led by extroverts achieved 16% higher profits than those led by introverts. However, in stores with proactive employees, those led by extroverts achieved 14% lower profits. As expected, extroverted leadership was an advantage with passive groups, but a disadvantage with proactive groups.

These results suggest that introverts can use their strengths to bring out the best in others. Yet introverts’ strengths are often locked up because of the way work is structured. Take meetings. In a culture where the typical meeting resembles a competition for loudest and most talkative, where the workspace is open and desks are practically touching, and where high levels of confidence, charisma, and sociability are the gold standard, introverts often feel they have to adjust who they are to “pass.” But they do so at a price, one that has ramifications for the company as well.

How can you get the best from deep, quiet team members during meetings? A look at practices used in some organizations points to an answer. At Amazon, every meeting begins in total silence. Before any conversation can occur, everyone must quietly read a six-page memo about the meeting’s agenda for 20 to 30 minutes. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos instituted this process after recognizing that employees rarely read meeting materials sent in advance. Reading together focuses everyone’s attention on the issues at hand.

The type of clear thinking that these structured memos require also serves the purpose of leveling the playing field for team members who differ in their level of introversion and extroversion. The imposition of writing as a medium turns self-discipline and personal reflection into effective meetings and participative decision making. After devoting time to reading, the group can then focus on engaging in a valuable discourse: reaching shared understandings, digging deeper into data and insights, and perhaps most importantly, having a meaningful debate. The process gives introverted team members the time they need to formulate their thoughts and, for some, build up the courage to share them with the rest of the team. It also encourages the extroverted to listen, reflect, and become more open to the perspectives of their more silent peers.

Thinking more carefully about how to structure meetings can be very helpful to make sure they produce good outcomes. And it can also assure management can get the best out of the introverted members, in addition to the more extroverted ones.

Francesca Gino is a professor at Harvard Business School, a faculty affiliate of the Behavioral Insights Group at Harvard Kennedy School, and the author of Sidetracked: Why Our Decisions Get Derailed, and How We Can Stick to the Plan (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013). She cochairs an HBS executive education program on applying behavioral economics to organizational problems. Twitter: @francescagino.


  • Designing High-Performance Jobs


    You have a compelling product, an exciting vision, and a clear strategy for your new business. You’ve hired good people and forged relationships with critical suppliers and distributors. You’ve launched a marketing campaign targeting high-value customers. All that remains is to build an organization that can deliver on the promise.

But implementation goes badly. Managers in the regional offices don’t show enough entrepreneurial spirit. They are too complacent and far too slow in responding to customers. Moreover, it’s proving very difficult to coordinate activities across units to serve large, multisite customers. Decision making is fragmented, and time to market is much longer than expected. Excessive costs are eating away at profit margins. You begin to wonder: “Have I put the wrong people in critical jobs?” But the problems are more widespread than that—in fact, they’re systemic across the organization.

This tale of a great strategy derailed by poor execution is all too common. Of course, there are many possible reasons for such a failure and many people who might be to blame. But if this story reminds you of your own experience, have you considered the possibility that your organization is designed to fail? Specifically, are key jobs structured to achieve the business’s performance potential? If not, unhappy consequences are all but inevitable.

In this article, I present an action-oriented framework that will show you how to design jobs for high performance. My basic point is straightforward: For your business to achieve its potential, each employee’s supply of organizational resources should equal his or her demand for them, and the same supply-and-demand balance must apply to every function, every business unit, and the entire company. Sounds simple, and it is. But only if you understand what determines this balance and how you can influence it.

The Four Spans of Job Design

To understand what determines whether a job is designed for high performance, you must put yourself in the shoes of your organization’s managers. To carry out his or her job, each employee has to know the answer to four basic questions:

  • “What resources do I control to accomplish my tasks?”
  • “What measures will be used to evaluate my performance?”
  • “Who do I need to interact with and influence to achieve my goals?”
  • “How much support can I expect when I reach out to others for help?”

The questions correspond to what I call the four basic spans of a job: control, accountability, influence, and support. Each span can be adjusted so that it is narrow or wide or somewhere in between. I think of the adjustments as being made on sliders, like those found on music amplifiers. If you get the settings right, you can design a job in which a talented individual can successfully execute your company’s strategy. But if you get the settings wrong, it will be difficult for any employee to be effective. I’ll look at each span in detail and discuss how managers can adjust the settings. (The exhibit “The Four Spans” provides a summary.)

The Four Spans

The first span defines the range of resources—not only people but also assets and infrastructure—for which a manager is given decision rights. These are also the resources whose performance the manager is held accountable for. Executives must adjust the span of control for each key position and unit on the basis of how the company delivers value to customers.

Consider Wal-Mart, which has configured its entire organization to deliver low prices. Wal-Mart’s strategy depends on standardization of store operations coupled with economies of scale in merchandising, marketing, and distribution. To ensure standardization, Wal-Mart sets the span of control for store managers at the “narrow” end of the scale. Although they nominally control their stores, Wal-Mart site managers have limited decision rights regarding hours of operation, merchandising displays, and pricing. By contrast, the span of control for managers at corporate headquarters who oversee merchandising and other core operations is set at “wide.” They are responsible for implementing best practices and consolidating operations to capture economies of scale. In addition to controlling purchasing, merchandising, and distribution, these managers even control the lighting and temperature at Wal-Mart’s 3,500 stores by remote computer. (The settings for the two jobs are compared in the exhibit “Spans of Control at Wal-Mart.”)

Of course, the spans of control will be set very differently in companies that follow different strategies. Consider Nestlé, a food company that reformulates its products in response to regional tastes for spices and sweets. In this “local value creation” configuration, the span of control for regional business managers is set very wide so that they have all the resources they need to customize products and respond to customers. Regional managers take responsibility for sales, product development, distribution, and manufacturing. As a consequence, the spans of control for managers back at the head office are relatively narrow, covering only logistics, the supply chain, global contracts, and accounting and finance.

The Span of Accountability.

The second span refers to the range of trade-offs affecting the measures used to evaluate a manager’s achievements. For example, a person who is accountable for head count or specific expenses in an operating budget can make few trade-offs in trying to improve the measured dimensions of performance and so has a narrow span of accountability. By contrast, a manager responsible for market share or business profit can make many trade-offs and thus has a relatively wide span of accountability.

Your setting for this span is determined by the kind of behavior you want to see. To ensure compliance with detailed directives, hold managers to narrow measures. To encourage creative thinking, make them responsible for broad metrics such as market share, customer satisfaction, and return on capital employed, which allow them greater freedom.

The span of control and the span of accountability are not independent. They must be considered together. The first defines the resources available to a manager; the second defines the goals the manager is expected to achieve. You might conclude, therefore, that the two spans should be equally wide or narrow. As the adage goes, authority should match responsibility. But in high-performing organizations, many people are held to broad performance measures such as brand profit and customer satisfaction, even though they do not control all the resources—manufacturing and service, for example—needed to achieve the desired results.

There is a good reason for this discrepancy. By explicitly setting the span of accountability wider than the span of control, executives can force their managerial subordinates to become entrepreneurs. In fact, entrepreneurship has been defined (by Howard H. Stevenson and J. Carlos Jarillo) as “the process by which individuals—either on their own or inside organizations—pursue opportunities without regard to the resources they currently control.” What happens when employees are faced with this entrepreneurial gap? They must use their energy and creativity to figure out how to succeed without direct control of the resources they need. (See the exhibit “Creating the Entrepreneurial Gap.”) Thus, managers can adjust these two spans to stimulate creativity and entrepreneurial behavior.

Of course, spans of accountability vary by level in most organizations—in general, they are wider at the top of a company and narrower at the bottom. The CEO of McDonald’s has a wide span of accountability that encompasses stock price, earnings per share, and competitive market position. A McDonald’s store manager has a much narrower span. She must focus on compliance with standard operating procedures, and she is monitored through detailed input and process measures.

The Span of Influence.

The third span corresponds to the width of the net that an individual needs to cast in collecting data, probing for new information, and attempting to influence the work of others. An employee with a narrow span of influence does not need to pay much attention to people outside his small area to do his job effectively. An individual with a wide span must interact extensively with, and influence, people in other units.

As is the case with the other spans, senior managers can adjust the span of influence to promote desired behaviors. They can widen the span when they want to stimulate people to think outside the box to develop new ways of serving customers, increasing internal efficiencies, or adapting to changes in external markets. In many companies, widening the span of influence counteracts the rigidity of organizational structures based on boxes and silos. For example, although global companies like Procter & Gamble need to be responsive to local customers’ needs, they must also create pressure for people in different operations to look beyond their silos to consolidate operations and share best practices to lower costs. Similarly, firms such as big-box retailers that centralize merchandising and distribution to deliver low prices must ensure that they continue to monitor changing competitive dynamics. Operations managers who are insulated from the marketplace must be forced to interact with people in units that are closest to customers. In all of these cases, it’s up to senior managers to ensure that individuals work across organizational boundaries to test new ideas, share information, and learn.

Executives can widen a manager’s span of influence by redesigning her job—placing her on a cross-functional team, for example, or giving her an assignment that requires her to report to two bosses. They can also adjust a job’s span of influence through the level of goals they set. Although the nature of a manager’s goals drives her span of accountability (by determining the trade-offs she can make), the level,or difficulty, drives her sphere of influence. Someone given a stretch goal will often be forced to seek out and interact with more people than someone whose goal is set at a much lower level. Finally, executives can use accounting and control systems to adjust the span of influence. For example, the span will be wider for managers who are forced to bear the burden of indirect cost allocations generated by other units, because they will attempt to influence the decisions of the units responsible for the costs.

The Span of Support.

This final span refers to the amount of help an individual can expect from people in other organizational units. Again, the slider can be set anywhere from narrow to wide depending on how much commitment from others the person needs in order to implement strategy.

Jobs in some organizations—particularly positions such as commission-based sales in efficient and liquid markets—do not need wide spans of support. In fact, such organizations generally operate more efficiently with narrow spans, since each job is independent and individual contributions can be calculated easily at day’s end. Traders in financial institutions, for example, need little support from their fellow traders, and their colleagues can and should stay focused on their own work (and should be compensated solely for their success in generating profit).

But wide spans of support become critically important when customer loyalty is vital to strategy implementation (for example, at exclusive hotel chains) or when the organizational design is highly complex because of sophisticated technologies and a complex value chain (in aerospace or computers, for instance). In these cases, individuals throughout the company must move beyond their job descriptions to respond to requests for help from others who are attempting to satisfy customers or navigate organizational processes.

Managers cannot adjust a job’s span of support in isolation. That’s because the span is largely determined by people’s sense of shared responsibilities, which in turn stems from a company’s culture and values. In many cases, therefore, all or most of a company’s jobs will have a wide span of support, or none will. But even within a given company culture, there are often circumstances in which managers need to widen the span of support separately for key business units (for example, to support a new division created to bundle and cross sell products from other units) or for key positions (for example, to facilitate the work of cross-functional task forces).

There are various policies that managers can employ to widen spans of support. For example, a focus on a customer based mission typically creates a sense of shared purpose. In addition, broad-based stock ownership plans and team- and group-centered incentive programs often foster a sense of equity and belonging and encourage people to help others achieve shared goals. Firms that are characterized by wide spans of support also frown on letting top executives flaunt the trappings of privilege and generally follow a policy of promoting people internally to senior positions.

The slider settings for the four spans in any job or business unit are a function of the business’s strategy and the role of that job or unit in implementing it. When you are adjusting job or unit design, the first step is to set the span of control to reflect the resources allocated to each position and unit that plays an important role in delivering customer value. This setting, like the others, is determined by how the business creates value for customers and differentiates its products and services from competitors’. Next, you can dial in different levels of entrepreneurial behavior and creative tension for specific jobs and units by widening or narrowing spans of accountability and influence. Finally, you must adjust the span of support to ensure that the job or unit will get the informal help it needs.

You can dial in different levels of entrepreneurial behavior by widening or narrowing spans of accountability and influence.

The exhibit “Four Spans at a Software Company” displays the settings of the spans for a marketing and sales manager at a well-known company that develops and sells complex software for large corporate clients. The span of control for this job is quite narrow. As the manager stated, “To do my day-to-day job, I depend on sales, sales consulting, competency groups, alliances, technical support, corporate marketing, field marketing, and integrated marketing communications. None of these functions reports to me, and most do not even report to my group.” The span of accountability, by contrast, is wide. The manager is accountable, along with others throughout the business, for revenue growth, profit, and customer satisfaction—measures that require responsiveness and a willingness to make many trade-offs.

Note that the span of influence is set somewhat wider than the span of control. To get things done, the manager has to cross boundaries and convince people in other units (whom he cannot command) to help him. So that the manager receives the help he needs, the CEO works hard to ensure that the job’s span of support is wide. An ethos of mutual responsibilities has been created through shared goals, strong group identification, trust, and an equity component in compensation. As the manager noted, “Coordination happens because we all have customer satisfaction as our first priority. We are in constant communication, and we all are given consistent customer-satisfaction objectives.”

Achieving Equilibrium

At this point, you’re probably wondering how to determine whether specific jobs or business units in your organization are properly designed. Jobs vary within any business, and firms operate in different markets with unique strategies. How exactly should the spans be set in these many circumstances?

After the spans have been adjusted to implement your strategy, there’s an easy way to find out whether a specific job is designed for high performance. It’s a test that can (and should) be applied to every key job, function, and unit in your business. I’ll get to the details shortly, but first, it’s important to recognize the underlying nature of the four spans. Two of the spans measure the supply of organizational resources the company provides to individuals. The span of control relates to the level of direct control a person has over people, assets, and information. The span of support is its “softer” counterpart, reflecting the supply of resources in the form of help from people in the organization.

The other two spans—the span of accountability (hard) and the span of influence (soft)—determine the individual’s demand for organizational resources. The level of an employee’s accountability, as defined by the company, directly affects the level of pressure on him to make trade-offs; that pressure in turn drives his need for organizational resources. His level of influence, as determined by the structure of his job and the broader system in which his job is embedded, also reflects the extent to which he needs resources. As I pointed out earlier, when an employee joins a multidisciplinary initiative, or works for two bosses, or gets a stretch goal, he begins reaching out across units more frequently.

For any organization to operate at maximum efficiency and effectiveness, the supply of resources for each job and each unit must equal the demand. In other words, span of control plus span of support must equal span of accountability plus span of influence. You can determine whether any job in your organization is poised for sustained high performance—or is designed to fail—by applying this simple test: Using “Four Spans at a Software Company” as an example, draw two lines, one connecting span of control and span of support (the supply of resources) and the other connecting span of accountability and span of influence (the demand for resources).

If these two lines intersect, forming an X, as they do in the exhibit, then demand equals supply (at least roughly) and the job is properly designed for sustained performance. If the lines do not cross, then the spans are misaligned—with predictable consequences. If resources (span of control plus span of support) are insufficient for the task at hand, strategy implementation will fail; if resources are excessive, underutilization of assets and poor economic performance can be predicted.

Depending on the desired unit of analysis, this test can be applied to an individual job, a function, a business unit, and even an entire company.

When Spans Are Misaligned

Consider the case of a struggling high-tech company that makes medical devices. One division was rapidly losing revenue and market share to new competitors because of insufficient sales-force coverage and a lack of new-product development. In another division, created to bundle and cross sell products, managers were unable to get the collaboration they needed to provide a unified solution for a large potential customer. In a third, local managers were making decisions that did not support or build on the company’s overall direction and strategy.

These situations arose because senior managers had failed to align the four spans for key jobs and for the divisions overall. In particular, the problems this company encountered reflect three common situations that can limit performance potential.

The Crisis of Resources.

In some cases, the supply of resources is simply inadequate for the job at hand, leading to a failure of strategy implementation. In the medical devices company, the sales staff had neither enough people to cover the competition (a narrow span of control) nor support from R&D to bring new products to market rapidly (a narrow span of support). A crisis of resources is most likely to occur when executives spend too much time thinking about control, influence, and accountability and not enough time thinking about support. They may, for instance, set the span of accountability wider than the span of control to encourage entrepreneurial behavior. And they may set the span of influence wider than the span of control to stimulate people to interact and work across units. But if the span of support is not widened to compensate for the relatively narrow span of control, people in other units will be unwilling to help when asked.

Consider the local subsidiary of a regional investment bank. The managers had few direct resources (a narrow span of control) and relied on specialists from corporate headquarters to fly in to manage deals. Yet their span of accountability was relatively wide, with performance measures focusing on successful deals and revenue generation. Evaluations of the local managers failed to recognize or reward people’s commitment to help others in the organization. As a result, the span of support was too low to support the strategy of the business, which eventually failed.

The Crisis of Control.

Sometimes the supply of resources exceeds demand, leading to suboptimal economic performance. In highly decentralized organizations where separate business units are created to be close to customers, a crisis of control can occur when the supply of resources (the span of control plus the span of support) exceeds corporate management’s ability to effectively monitor trade-offs (the span of accountability) and to ensure coordination of knowledge sharing with other units (the span of influence). The result is uncoordinated activities across units, missed opportunities, and wasted resources.

Consider a large telecommunications company in which regions were organized as independent business units. Because of rapid growth, division managers were able to create fiefdoms in which resources were plentiful. And because of the company’s success, commitment to the business mission was strong. But before long, the lack of effective performance monitoring by corporate superiors caught up with the business. The strategies of the divisions often worked at cross-purposes; there was waste and redundancy. Competitors that were more focused began overtaking the units.

The Crisis of Red Tape.

This can occur in any organization where powerful staff groups, overseeing key internal processes such as strategic planning and resource allocation, design performance management systems that are too complex for the organization. In such circumstances, spans of accountability and influence are very high, but resources are insufficient and misdirected. Endless time spent in staff meetings wastes resources, slows decision making, and makes the organization unable to respond rapidly to changing customer needs and competitive actions. The demand for resources exceeds supply, and strategy execution fails as more nimble competitors move in.

Adjusting the Spans over Time

Of course, organizations and job designs must change with shifting circumstances and strategies. To see how this plays out in practice, let’s look at how the job spans for a typical market-facing sales unit at IBM evolved as a result of the strategic choices made by successive CEOs.

We pick up the story in 1981, when John Opel became IBM’s chief executive. IBM had been organized into stand-alone product groups that were run as profit centers. Reacting to threats from Japanese companies, Opel wanted to reposition the business as a low-cost competitor. For purposes of increasing cost efficiency, the business was reorganized on a functional basis. The span of control for operating-core units such as manufacturing was widened dramatically, and there was a corresponding reduction in the spans of control and accountability for market-facing sales units (illustrated in the top panel of the exhibit “Three Eras at IBM”). The company also enlarged its definition of “customer.” Rather than focus narrowly on professional IT managers in governments and large companies, IBM began marketing to small companies, resellers, and distributors. It created experimental independent business units and gave resources for experimentation without imposing any accountability for performance.

Three Eras at IBM

By the end of Opel’s tenure, IBM was criticized for confusion about strategy and priorities. As one writer noted, “IBM settled into a feeling that it could be all things to all customers.” However, the effects of these problems were masked by the dramatic and unrelenting growth of the computer industry during this period.

In 1985, John Akers took over as CEO. The organization he inherited was configured to develop, manufacture, and market computing hardware in independent silos. Not only were products incompatible across categories, they failed to meet customer needs in a world that was moving quickly from hardware to software and customer solutions. To get closer to customers, Akers created a unified marketing and services group, organized by region. The mission of this new market-facing unit was to translate customer needs into integrated product solutions and coordinate internal resources to deliver the right products to customers. Business units and divisions were consolidated into six lines of business. The span of control for the market-facing sales units widened dramatically.

The new marketing and services group was made accountable for profit, and, as a result, many new profit centers were created. Unfortunately, the existing accounting system was not capable of calculating profit at the branch level or for individual customers and product lines. Instead, a top-down planning system run by centralized staff groups set sales quotas for individual product categories. Customer sales representatives thus had few choices or trade-offs; their span of accountability was not wide enough to support the company’s new strategy. To make matters worse, the new profit centers made the company extremely complex and fragmented, a situation reflected in the unit’s relatively narrow spans of influence and support. As the strategy’s failure became evident and losses mounted, Akers considered breaking the corporation into separate entities.

Lou Gerstner took charge in 1993. He restructured the business around specific industry groups, narrowing the spans of control and widening the spans of accountability for marketing and sales units. At the same time, he widened the spans of influence by formally pairing product specialists with global industry teams, which worked closely with customers. To widen the spans of support, the company reconfigured bonuses to give more weight to corporate results than to business-unit performance.

Sam Palmisano took over as CEO in 2002 and reinforced the positive changes wrought by Gerstner. The new CEO’s strategy emphasized “on-demand” computing solutions delivered through seamless integration of hardware, software, and services. This involved adopting a team-based, “dedicated service relationship” configuration at the sales units. To ensure that all employees in such a complex organization would be willing to work across units to build customer loyalty, Palmisano worked to widen spans of support further. In a well-publicized initiative, he returned the company to its roots by reemphasizing the importance of IBM values such as dedication to client success, innovation, and trust and personal responsibility in all relationships. To increase trust within the company and heighten the perception of fairness—necessary actions before people will assume responsibility for helping others—Palmisano asked the board to allocate half of his 2003 bonus to other IBM executives who would be critical leaders of the new team-based strategy.

A Precarious Balance

As IBM illustrates, complex strategies for large firms usually require that all the spans of key jobs widen, indicating high levels of both demand for, and supply of, organizational resources. But the potential for problems is great in any organization where all four spans are wide and tightly aligned. A relatively small change in any one of them will disrupt the balance of supply and demand and tip the organization toward disequilibrium. In the short run, of course, the dedication and hard work of good people can often compensate for a misalignment. But the more dynamic your markets and the more demanding your customers, the more critical and difficult it becomes to ensure that all four spans of organization design are aligned to allow your business to reach its performance potential.

A version of this article appeared in the July–August 2005 issue of Harvard Business Review.

Robert Simons is the Charles M. Williams Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. He is the author of Seven Strategy Questions: A Simple Approach for Better Execution (Harvard Business Review Press, 2010).

The Future of Hiring Is Quality of Hire

The function responsible for identifying, engaging, and bringing talent into an organization has lived under a variety of names over the decades, ranging from staffing to recruitment to talent acquisition to search operations to future state buzz-heavy names like talent fulfillment and career engineering. The processes and designs behind these functions exist anywhere along a spectrum of how and what and why wherein some organizations still rely on paper applications (I, too, shudder to think about it) to workplaces that have moved the candidate experience to places built on VR and gamification. While the names and the way the functions get their work done may vary, one commonality for any and all of these functions is the overarching desire to:

  • Find — identify talent appropriate to the needs and wants of the organization
  • Enamor — ensure that identified talent is as interested in the role as the organization is with them as a candidate
  • Escalate — bring the recruitment process to a close so the organization can begin the onboarding process
  • Develop — partner with HR and organizational colleagues to create an employee experience that builds on the candidate experience

In essence, the talent acquisition function FEEDs the organization’s hunger for good people. It seems like an easy enough prospect, but anyone who has sourced, recruited, or hired knows that the dish you order isn’t always the one you get served. Despite best efforts to formalize the talent acquisition process and make it as much a science as an art, not every hire ends up being the best hire. Tools like assessments, simulations, behavioral interviews, competency-based hiring, etc. all make the challenge of bringing on the best people better, but in many organizations, they feel disjointed and ad hoc. Because while the equation of Structure + Interview = Better Hiring Decisions is true, it still leaves lots of opportunities.

What if instead of relying solely piece meal approaches, we looked at A) measuring our past quality of hire — a field Lou Adler and company have cornered the thought market on; B) began measuring the quality of our hiring managers, and C) worked toward predicting quality of hire?

It’s easy to measure things we’ve already done, not so much when it comes to the decisions we’re trying to make. But what if it could be easier? What if we could link quality hiring to performance to organization fit? What if hiring practices fed performance management which in turn fed career pathing and professional development?

Stop asking “what if?” and start asking how we can do the following:

  • Identify a select set of competencies (in the ballpark of five to nine) that are true to the organization’s mission, vision, and strategic imperatives
  • Scale those competencies based on the types of roles the organization has and begin using them as the primary measure when considering employee performance
  • Link performance to pay practices, work toward a model of recruit, retain, and reward
  • Build behavioral interviews and assessments that measure a candidate’s fit with the organization’s competencies

Easier said than done, but all within the realm of reasonable and feasible when handed over to a good talent acquisition and HR team. And while these steps all get toward the idea of trying to ensure hires are good organizational fits, they don’t accomplish the blue-sky goal of predicting quality of hire — that’s where data comes in the picture. Or rather, all the data collected by going through these steps and contextualizing what the information tells you.

Using a common set of organizational competencies, understanding each organization will vary, a fairly standard five point Likert scale all linked to a behavioral interview model, and the ACDC Model, one might end up with something like:

Using the ACDC approach, we can begin to measure and understand performance differently. With that new understanding, we finally have the ability to effectively begin predicting quality of hire instead of just measuring it after the fact using a simple (even for us HR and talent professionals) formula …

… with ACA, ACB, etc. representing each unique competency, X representing the number of questions focused on a given competency, and Y representing the number of competencies on that half of the matrix.

Interview, calculate, and plot – candidates falling into invest are ones who are a predicted good fit out of the gate, with assess candidates being ones that can move to the invest box with some strong leadership and professional development (the benefits of which can continue to be measured going forward using a similar model and approach as part of the performance assessment/conversation process). In short …

  • Build + Interview + Calculate + Measure/Plot = Predictive High-Quality Hiring (PHQH)
  • PHQH + Assess + Develop + Reward = Engaged, Productive Employees
  • Engaged, Productive Employees = Talent ROI = Organizational ROI

Erik Smetana

Erik Smetana is an HR strategist and talent leader with extensive experience working in and fostering teams and innovation for an eclectic mix of organizations including Fortune 500 companies, international not-for-profits, and institutions of higher education and research. His thoughts and opinions related to all things “employee experience” (and occasionally other topics) can be found online at


Putting Emotional Intelligence to Work for Your Team

  • Published on Published onNovember 16, 2017
Dr. Ernest Jones

By Dr. Ernest Jones

Since the 1990s, it’s been widely accepted that emotional intelligence is a key aspect of an effective leader’s personality. Not all leaders, however, understand what emotional intelligence is or, more importantly, how to leverage their own emotional intelligence to make themselves better leaders.

Simply put, emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize specific emotions in yourself and others, to understand the information that can be transferred by emotions, and to manage your own and others’ emotions.

Plenty of research has shown that the most effective leaders possess a high level of emotional intelligence. And in many cases, the importance of emotional intelligence may outweigh that of general IQ or technical skills.

How does emotional intelligence translate into effective team leadership?

  • First of all, good leaders are able to recognize and manage their own emotions to a significant degree. Emotions are contagious. And a leader who is in solid control of his or her emotions is able to positively influence the emotions of the team.
  • Emotionally intelligent leaders are also empathetic, meaning that they accurately understand and appreciate the emotions of team members. They understand how expressions of emotion gives cues about relationships within the team, and they know how to manage emotions to mediate interactions between team members.

The bottom line is that leaders must understand that emotions are not superfluous in team dynamics. They are the bedrock upon which the team functions. An effective leader must be both aware and in control of the emotional health of the team.

About this Series

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You Don’t Have to Include Everything on Your Resume


As a certified professional resume writer, I’ve noticed that one mistake a lot of job seekers make is trying to include everything on their resumes. Of course, it is important to include pertinent qualifications, achievements, and so on, but you don’t have to cram every single detail of your professional life into your resume.

This may sound counterintuitive, but including less information on your resume may sometimes be better than oversharing. You certainly don’t want to end up with a vague and unimpressive document, but if your resume repeats the same duties for multiple positions over and over again, a recruiter or hiring manager’s eye will start to skim over the details. They’ll be less interested in your document – and, by extension, you.

The goal of a resume is to impress the reader with your skills and entice them to learn more about you, presumably through an interview. If your resume simply repeats itself over and over, the reader won’t be impressed or intrigued – they’ll be bored. If this happens, it is likely that the recruiter or hiring manager will decide to go with a different candidate – perhaps even someone with the same qualifications but a more interesting resume.

Get Creative With Your Language

Often, people hold similar roles throughout their careers, which is why so many people find themselves with repetitive resumes. What you should be doing instead is highlighting the differences between each role while noting your various achievements in each position. You may have had the same role at three different companies, but it is very unlikely that you handled the exact same tasks without any variation at every single job.

For example, consider an administrative assistant’s resume. Administrative assistants often have very similar job duties, regardless of for whom they are working. To add some variation to a resume, all an administrative assistant has to do is switch up their wording and phrasing when describing similar responsibilities.

For example:

1. “Office manager handling in- and outbound phone calls, serving as first point of contact for client inquiries, and resolving minor disputes.”

2. “Client relations specialist serving to engage clients over the phone, answer any questions, resolve problems, and direct calls to the correct point of contact.”

These two examples describe essentially the same job duties, but the unique wording makes the descriptions seem different.

Waiting RoomYou may be doing the same thing at different jobs, but you shouldn’t be using the same wording for each role on your resume. This is where you need to get creative. Use a thesaurus. Look online to see how different job descriptions phrase similar responsibilities.

In fact, searching through job listings is a great way to draw inspiration for your own resume in general. You might even find some keywords and phrases that capture the essence of your role and make great additions to your resume.

Focus on What Makes You Unique

Another thing to understand is that you do not need to list every single responsibility you held at each job. List only the responsibilities that correspond with the job you’re applying to. If that starts to get repetitive, list the duties that make you stand out.

Take the administrative assistant example again. It is common knowledge that administrative assistants answer phones, file paperwork, maintain orderly offices, etc. If, however, you went above and beyond your responsibilities as an administrative assistant, you would want to call attention to that on your resume.

Did you manage social media accounts, plan events, or help with the hiring of new employees? Those are the duties you want to list on your resume, not the common-knowledge responsibilities everyone knows you held. By listing the times you went above and beyond your job requirements, you are creating differences between your job descriptions, highlighting your achievements, and showing prospective employers that you are a motivated and highly accomplished worker.

When you are writing your resume, remember to change things up and that less can be more. You don’t have to include everything on your resume, but you do need to include the information that makes you unique.

When it comes down to it, no one is looking at your resume to find out if you’re a nice person; they want to see if you are a skilled person who can get the job done. The goal of a resume is to highlight your qualifications and show potential employers your achievements throughout your career.

Michele Lando is a certified professional resume writer and the founder of Write Styles.

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6 Behaviors That Can Hurt Your Chances At Getting The Job

6 Behaviors That Can Hurt Your Chances At Getting The Job

Your attitude can impact your behavior and ultimately your job search results. Even if you can offer employers the exact experience and skills they are looking for (and more), you’ll have trouble getting the job unless you carry the right attitude.

The wrong attitude leads to poor behavior and unfortunately, that may be the cause to why some of the very qualified job candidates are still struggling to secure a job. Worried your behavior might be why you’re not getting the job? Here’s what you need to watch out for:

1. Lack of conversation.

The more conversational you are with contacts the better connection you can build. Read up on what’s happening in your field and industry as well as general news (things that are happening around you). When you share information and talk about it, it starts conversations. When you have nothing to share or say, communication with others becomes dead. Being conversational at the job interview is also critical. People hire those they are comfortable with and enjoy talking to. So even if you have the experience and skills to offer but there’s stiffness in the air due to lack of conversation, you lose out.

2. Waiting on others to take action.

You are responsible for finding a job, not others. Even when you have a network of contacts who say they are willing to help, it’s still up to you to take action as well as control of the situation to make things happen. Often times job seekers will share their resume with their network of contacts, letting them know that they are job searching. Then they wait around hoping for a call back. It doesn’t work that way! As a job seeker, you need to personalize your communication with each contact who can help you so they clearly understand what it is that you have to offer.

From there, you will receive valuable information as to who you need to make contact with and how to follow-up. You also can’t rely on recruiters to bring you job opportunities – that’s not what they do! Recruiters don’t find jobs for people, they find people for jobs. Recruiters are working for the employer, not you! Job seekers need to take a more proactive approach with job searching – knowing who, when and where to follow-up from to get results.

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3. Not staying current.

Everything from the way you think to your technical skills can come off as dated if you lack willingness to explore and try things new. Just because your previous job functioned a certain way or you had technical expertise in a certain area that worked on the old job doesn’t mean the next job will work the same way. Be willing to experience things new and adapt to change. Do some research to understand what core skills are needed for the job so you maintain the necessary technical skills. This may mean you need to enroll in a course or go through additional training to stay current for the profession.

4. Unwilling to start from the ground up.

It’s okay to have big dreams, but when you’re new to the job market or profession understand that you may have to start at the bottom and work your way up. It’s only through experience that you can gain the knowledge needed to advance. Get more advice reading: “4 Things To Know Before Taking A Lower Level Position.”

5. Me. Me.

Back in the days when the resume was still written with an objective statement, the “Me. Me. Me.” mentally was standard. You would state what you wanted. Today, however, it’s about the employer. What can you do for the employer? What do you have that the employer needs? How can you bring value to the employer? As a job seeker, you have to address these questions in your communication on email, the resume and during the interview to impress employers.

6. Talking bad.

People enjoy being around others who have a positive attitude and outlook, not those who simply like to talk bad about others and complain. Keep a positive attitude and talk less about the problem and more about solutions.

Fortunately, behaviors and attitudes can be changed. Knowing how the above attitudes and behaviors can hinder your job search, make the necessary changes now and see better results in your job search!

This post was originally published at an earlier date.