Leadership Barometer 121 Follow Up on Commitments

November 24, 2021

In today’s environment, most leaders are over-committed, which can lead to mistakes and omissions. Following up on commitments is essential, but sometimes neglected by busy leaders.  It is so easy to say to someone, “I’ll get back to you on this,” and then forget it in the crunch of critical work or other distractions.

You may rationalize and say, “Well, it wasn’t really a promise and they know how busy I am. This is only a minor issue anyway.” That kind of thinking will harpoon your trust-building efforts. If building trust is all about consistency, nothing is more basic than doing what you say.

Whenever you make a commitment, no matter how small, make sure you do it. 

Tips on following up effectively:

When you promise something, put a time frame on it. Rather than “I’ll get back to you,” say “I’ll get back to you on this by the end of tomorrow. If I get derailed and you don’t hear from me by then, please give me a call.” The person knows you really do intend to answer their question.

Keep an action item list. Whatever form, whether a 3″x5″ card in your pocket or a text message to yourself, get the item written down along with a time frame to answer.

It helps to write it in front of the person with the concern. You can say, “Just a second – let me jot that down so I don’t forget to get back to you.” The person feels honored that you are considering the issue strongly enough to document it and will tell others about the exchange during the next break.

It is dangerous to have someone else follow up for you, but it can be done if you are careful. If you delegate the issue to another person for follow-up, make sure they preface their response with, “Bob asked me to get back to you on this question.”

Also, make sure your agent confirms with you when it is done. Cross it off your list when your agent tells you it is closed, not when you delegate it to him.

In some cases, you should circle back to the person with a note or call saying, “I asked Mike to get back to you on your concern about the slippery floors. Did you hear from him, and was his response satisfactory?” Doing that gives you the opportunity to jack up any agents that shirk their duty. 

In a staff meeting, you can say something like, “I have been following up when I ask some of you to get back to employees on their concerns. Some of them have complained that their concern is downplayed. When I ask you to act as my agent, I expect you will keep working on it until the situation is resolved satisfactorily to the employee. If you can’t resolve their concern, get back to me. Do not let it drop.”

Use handwritten notes to people.  A brief note, along with a “thank you for bringing this up,” will be prized by the individual and shared with others.

Be careful to use a tangible note only when the response is positive and difficult to misinterpret. Otherwise, you may find your note tacked to the break room bulletin board next to a Dilbert cartoon. For difficult issues, it is always better to deal face-to-face.

Closure on action items is not confined to personal discussions. The same logic holds when you promise something to a group. If you say, “I will make a decision on overtime by noon,” make sure they hear from you on that schedule. It is important to state a deadline or things tend to stretch out.

If, for any reason, you will be late with a promised action, make sure you get back to the person and explain the delay. You may think a week to unveil a new organization is reasonable, but for some people, it feels like, “he promised to do something about that but never got back to us.”

The best approach is to set a personal expectation that you will always be prompt and helpful with getting back to people. Think of it as a personal trademark that will set you apart from most other leaders.

This is not to say that you need to resolve every issue in the originally expected time frame. That would be impossible. Just do not leave people hanging wondering why you are not addressing their concern. It is a common courtesy that many leaders neglect.



Robert Whipple is also the author of The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals and, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online. Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics. He is CEO of Leadergrow Inc. a company dedicated to growing leaders.

Talent Development 19 Overcoming Barriers

December 10, 2020

Section 3.2 in the CPTD Certification program for ATD is Consulting and Business Partnering. Section D reads, “Skill in identifying, minimizing, and overcoming organizational barriers to implementing talent development solutions and/or strategies.”

I will discuss six of the main reasons for barriers and suggest solutions to each one.

Lack of Commitment

We see many examples of top leaders who talk a good game in terms of developing their workforce, but the level of commitment is mostly lip service. In the daily pressures for short term deliverables, many leaders fail to follow through with resources or emphasis to make their stated intentions into reality.

The cure for this is to have the courage to stick with programs, even if the pathway gets a bit rocky. Once leaders give the slightest hint of backing away from the agreed-upon path it is the kiss of death to enthusiasm for the program.

If this phenomenon occurs, the results of the training effort will be a tiny fraction of what was originally envisioned.

Too Many Surveys

When designing development efforts, surveys are used to determine which areas need the most help. Unfortunately, in many cases organizations have too many surveys and ones that are poorly designed. When this happen, people end up giving false or warped input or simply fail to respond.

If workers do not see a strong positive correlation between their input on surveys and the resulting training, they lose enthusiasm and become jaded. The cure is to have robust and infrequent surveys.

For the “how to” of doing surveys well, I refer you to my prior article on this topic.

Poorly Designed Training

When training programs are inconvenient, boring, or otherwise flawed, they fail to have the impact that was intended. If people are going to give their full effort willingly, the activities must be inspired and of top quality throughout.

Often organizations skimp on the resources needed to provide the very best training. When workers see this happen, they turn their energies to other more vital activities and put the training on the “back burner.”

One decision that needs to be carefully considered is whether the internal training staff is up to world class standards of design and delivery. If there is any doubt, it is a good idea to go with an external expert in the particular area that is being developed.

Many organizations shy away from outside help because it is perceived the result will be too expensive.

When organizations fail to provide top quality resources in order to save some cash, it severely undermines the entire training effort.

Lay-On Programs

If the program is a formality or lay-on type of training, then people are going to be less enthusiastic than is required for success. The cure here is to have good involvement by the people who will ultimately get trained in specifying and designing the program.

People need to see a very strong connection between the development plan and what the organization is trying to achieve. They need to feel that the training will benefit each one of them in their future.

You cannot expect people to participate with their full energy if they do not see a better future in it for them.

Antiquated Training Methods

Some organizations are still in the dark ages when it comes to the methods used to conduct the training. Not only does the material need to be fresh and up to date, but the tools used must be the latest technology.

Experiential learning always translates into real learning far better than just lecture or exercises following reading assignments.

Poor Follow Through

All training events have a finite schedule. Regardless of the topic being trained, people will normally get a lot out of the effort while the training is going on.

Many organizations fail to recognize that the half-life of the benefits is really quite short. For example, I do a lot of leadership training, and I believe the benefits atrophy in a matter of weeks unless I follow up with materials after the training.

For a training effort to produce lasting results, there needs to be a follow-on plan to keep the material fresh and being used until it has time to become habitual behavior.

For this aspect, I like to use follow on video programs that stretch the learning at least 30 days after the formal training is complete.

Supervisors should hold periodic review sessions where they ask people to describe how they are using the new knowledge in their daily activities. They should raise the consciousness of the new skills being used to the benefit of the organization.

Work to avoid these six pitfalls, and you will have overcome the most significant barriers with your talent development program.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.

Talent Development 18 Consulting and Business Partnering

November 27, 2020

Section 3.2 in the CPTD Certification program for ATD is Consulting and Business Partnering. Section A reads, “Skill in synthesizing information to formulate recommendations or a course of action to gain agreement, support, and/or buy-in from stakeholders.”

To be successful at consulting, you must operate as a strong business partner with the client. The people involved in the training must be truly excited about the venture and anxious to have it work out well for them.

If you follow these eight tips, you should have agreement, support, and full buy-in.

1. Start with solid research

The way to gain commitment is to listen well to what the participants say they need. This sounds easy, but it is more difficult than it seems. I start with interviews of the key players in the organization. That sets the stage, but it is not enough because they may not be able to articulate the real needs.

2. Needs analysis

I do a survey of the people involved in which they select what topics would create the most significant payoff for them. The key here is to involve as many people in the group that will ultimately be trained so that each person recognizes he or she had real input into the topic selection.

3. Create a rough draft of the program

Based on the research, I put together a draft of the main topics to be covered as well as the delivery style to be used. Be sure to state the objective clearly and outline the deliverables in detail.

4. Review and gain commitment

This is a critical step that is often overlooked or short changed. Let me share an example of how this looks, if it is done well. I was doing a design for a CEO of a major training effort. I did the research, needs analysis, and a draft of the proposed program. I came back a few days later and shared a list of seven things the proposed program would accomplish. The CEO looked at the seven things and wrote BINGO in large letters next to my list.

5. Design the program in detail

In this phase it is necessary to customize the material so that you will be speaking “their language.” Do not offer the same program for a hospital as you would for a manufacturing plant. Make the entire program feel like it was made for that specific client. I normally use their logo and pictures that reflect their actual business.

6. Make sure the program delivery is user friendly

For people to be excited about the training, they need to have it done on a schedule that is most convenient for them, not you. They may want it delivered very early in the morning or even on weekends. Always bend to their needs.

7. Avoid “Death by PowerPoint.”

Only a few points per slide, and do not read the points. Instead, talk about the topic area letting them absorb the actual words on the slide. Always have a photograph (and obtain the license to use it) on each slide. Do not use clip art or cartoons. Make sure the photo is illustrative of the points you are making and has some element of creativity or twist to keep people interested.

8. Make the training experiential

Do not have just hours of lecture. Have an activity, like a role play or body sculpture every 20 minutes or so to break up the training. This keeps people from getting bored.

Following these eight tips will ensure your program has the full support of people in your client’s organization.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.

Talent Development 11 Instructional Design

September 26, 2020

Section 2.2 in the CPTD Certification program for ATD is Instructional Design. The first bullet reads, ”Skill in selecting and aligning delivery options and media for training and/or learning events to the desired learning or behavioral outcomes.”

In this article, I will describe the process I have developed that has worked well for me over the past 20 years.

Step 1 Meet with the team and the leaders

I set up a few meetings to understand what they want to accomplish by an intervention. In these meetings I am like a sponge just soaking up the various bits of input. Usually the issue of trust is one factor in why they want some training, so I often recommend a trust survey to add to the data base.

Step 2 Administer a Trust Survey

I have developed my own version, but there are also commercial trust surveys that can be employed. My version identifies the general trust level and measures it in the specific organizational layers. For example: it is common for the higher levels in an organization to believe trust is at a pretty high level. When you get to the lower levels, the data spreads out and many people feel trust is pretty low.

My survey also has 30 areas where there could be an issue causing lower trust. For example, accountability and/or transparency often surface as an issue within an organization.

I feed back the information to the team and watch their reactions to it. It is generally a positive reaction, like I am on the right track.

Step 3 Look at extant data

The organization will likely have internal surveys for quality of work life or turnover data. They might have investigations of employee complaints. I gather all of the information they are willing to share with me.

Step 4 Identify most urgent training needs

This is done with another quick survey in which I identify over 80 different potential training topics and ask each participant to identify, for each one, what is his or her opinion of the urgency for training on the following scale:

0= no need at this time
1= routine – may be a little helpful
2= Important now – this topic would be very helpful
3= Urgent – we really need this right now

The 80 different topics cover a wide range of potential topics, such as, Communication skills, Emotional Intelligence, Understanding Body Language, Leading Successful Change Programs, Customer Service, etc.

Step 5 Winnow down the field

I now go into an analysis phase where I take all the data I have gathered (usually in just a few days) and compare it to a set of modules that I have built that cover about 100 different training topics.

Based on the data, I run a “comb” through the 100 potential topic areas and out pops a subset (normally 10-20 topics). This is the core elements of a custom program for that organization.

I put the topics in a logical order, so there will be a logical flow and schedule a meeting with the leaders. This meeting is usually less than a week from the first moment I walked into the organization.

Step 6 Gain Commitment

At the meeting I summarize the data that has been collected and then show an outline of the development program that was custom designed to meet their needs.

At this point, I almost always get a positive reaction to the proposal, because the data came from them. I recall one CEO looking at the proposal and writing BINGO next to the 7 action items I listed.

By this point I have not charged the client anything for my effort. I can give a pretty accurate estimate of the number of sessions that will be required and also the fee I would charge. My batting average for approvals is close to 90%.

Step 7 Customize the training for their particular industry

This is where I design the program to fit the specific company and industry. A program for a manufacturing plant will be quite different from a hospital or a financial planning office. I also customize the role-playing exercises, body sculptures, photographs on my slides to be for that specific industry.

I will use the company logo and any pictures of the actual people I can get in the program.

Step 8 Spice it up

In every training event, I include several stories to illustrate my points in an entertaining way. I also use magic illusions that relate directly to the concepts I am training. The illusions keep people on their toes but also each one is related to the topic I am teaching at the moment. I have hundreds of illusions to draw from.

By breaking up the training with experiential things that involve the participants in physical activities, I can keep the groups fresh and having fun while they learn the vital skills.

I have found this eight-step process allows me to efficiently handle a variety of clients in totally different industries but remain effective with my instructional design.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.

Leadership Barometer 42 Impossible Goals

March 16, 2020

Does your organization establish goals that seem impossible to reach? If so, you are not alone.

Many organizations go through a negotiation process with individuals and teams to establish annual performance goals. Often, the person or team is asked for their opinion on the best that can be achieved in the following year.

Then, just for good measure, senior managers tack on an additional 15 to 25% and set that as the target goal.

When employees learn to anticipate this markup process, they instinctively sandbag their initial offer to account for the anticipated bump by senior management. It becomes a game of cat and mouse to establish reasonable stretch goals, and in the end, the organization and its employees suffer.

I believe a better process starts with an understanding of what the entire organization needs and then breaks down individual and team performance goals that will ensure the organization meets its commitments.

Quite often, goals set by senior managers seem unrealistic or unobtainable, which has a significant negative impact on trust. When this happens, employees take on a fatalistic viewpoint that the team has no chance to perform up to expectations. Team members hope they can achieve the goal, but deep down they don’t believe it is possible.

This sequence creates a Pygmalion effect where the negative outcome is nearly guaranteed.

The truth is, you cannot “hope” your way to success. You must believe and expect success for it to become reality.

When stretching for seemingly impossible goals, the most important ingredient is not technology, market size, manufacturing capacity, quality processes, sales force expertise, HR policies, or any other tangible enablers. The most important ingredient is belief.

This fundamental principle has been identified by philosophers and social psychologists numerous times throughout history. It seems that, through the ages, our civilization keeps discovering the same ideas. Here are a few famous quotations from historical figures you may recognize. Notice how they all say the same thing in different words.

Zig Zigler – “When you believe it, you will see it.”
Earl Nightingale – “We become what we think about.”
Brian Tracy – “If you think you can do it and hang on to that vision, you will accomplish it.”
Henry Ford – “If you think you can, or if you think you can’t… You are right.”
Lou Holtz – “If you get people to believe in themselves, they will set bigger goals.”
Maxwell Maltz – “What you believe will happen actually becomes physical reality.”
Norman Vincent Peale – “The power of positive thinking: No success occurs without it.”
Andrew Carnegie – “You will not be able to do it until you believe you can do it.”
Tony Robbins – “Beliefs have the power to create and the power to destroy.”
Napoleon Hill – “What the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.”

This list is just a small sample of available quotations on the same topic. The phenomenon of creating success by visualizing it already being accomplished is well known.

Unfortunately, most teams in the working world have forgotten this time-honored wisdom. They wring their hands and lament that achieving the goal set out by management is simply impossible. Well of course it is impossible if they believe that.

Quite often, teams believe they can’t accomplish the goal because they cannot visualize how it could possibly be done. It is important to not get discouraged at the start because the “how” is not evident. Forget about how you will accomplish a goal; simply set out to believe that it will happen.

There are many tools available that can help you accomplish the goal. Resolve to find the right ones for your situation. If you do that, you will achieve the goal in ways you could not possibly imagine at the outset. Unfortunately, it is easy to experience the pangs of fear, especially in an environment of low trust.

The antidote is to teach individuals and teams to re-train their brains so that they drive out any thought of failure. Set the goal high, and then use all the power of mind over matter to make that goal a reality.

That sounds so simple, but it is very difficult to gain the skills required to believe rather than doubt.

Experts like the ones above, have taught us that if we reiterate an affirmative statement that we not only intend to meet the goal but to exceed the goal, then repeat that phrase in earnest at least twice a day for 30 consecutive days, we will actually bring forth a vital energy that was unavailable prior to the new mindset.

It is not the rote repeating of an affirmation that makes the difference. The method gives us a chance to catch the difference between the positive attitude and any negative thoughts or feelings that arise. We then have a moment of truth where we have the opportunity to examine what is holding us back.

As we address these self-limiting beliefs, we can come into mental and emotional alignment and resonance with the affirmation. We become energetically congruent with the vision, and that brings forth powers that are truly amazing.

Having this resonance and congruity changes everything. Of course, a positive mental attitude is not the only factor that will allow us to meet difficult goals.

We have to have a good plan, we have to execute well, we have to have high trust and great teamwork, we have to work incredibly hard, we must employ lean and six sigma principles, we need the right technology and resources, and, yes, we sometimes need some luck.

The truth is that by having the right frame of mind at the outset, we enable the other necessary elements to materialize in the physical world. When we expect and believe we will achieve the goal, sometimes the elements required to accomplish it materialize as if by magic. It is not magic; it is simply how the universe works.

I am not reporting anything new here, but I believe it needs to be reiterated, especially when goals for the next increment of time are being set. This is the time to create a new mindset that will allow you and your team to consistently reach or exceed seemingly impossible goals.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc.

Keep Values Simple

August 15, 2010

Simple Values

Few people would doubt the impact of a good set of values for any organization. Values provide a bedrock of beliefs on which leaders build the culture for their group. The true power of values lies in having everyone in the organization not only understand them but live them every day. That is why I believe it is a mistake to make the values too complex.

Some leaders get enamored by the idea of values and create a set of complex rules that would take a rocket scientist to remember. It is not uncommon to have a list of 20-30 values published by a leader. This sounds like a good idea on the surface; after all, the more values we have the better, right? Not so fast! If the list is cumbersome and hard to remember, then people will have a difficult time remembering them, much less following them every day.

Coach Krzyzewski of the Duke Basketball Program modeled a kind of philosophy with values that helps illustrate the power of a short memorable list. He has used the analogy of the “fist” with each finger being one powerful value that is used to create passion and unity among his teams. The fingers represent 1) Communication, 2) Trust, 3) Collective Responsibility, 4) Care, and 5) Pride. By centering all activities in relation to a powerful fist, Coach K has nurtured a consistent champion level team that has won two National Championships.

Another coach who understood the benefits of a simple philosophy of values was Lou Holtz. He took over 6 collegiate football programs in his career. He never inherited a winning team, but never failed to take that team to a Bowl Game by his second season at the latest. His values were boiled down to only three concepts: 1) Do what’s right, 2) Do the best you can, and 3) Treat others like you would like to be treated. The incredible simplicity of this philosophy made it easy to translate the passion embodied in these values into the hearts of all players. The results speak for themselves.

Simple but great values are not just for sports teams. Any organization will benefit from a memorable set of foundational concepts. My home town of Rochester, NY is blessed to be the home of Wegmans, one of the most successful chains of grocery stores in the world and a frequent top placement in the 100 best places to work in America. The current CEO, Colleen Wegman, said of their values, “We’re committed to our Who We Are Values because they set a strong foundation for us as a company – a foundation of caring about people and each other.” The Wegmans values are very simple: 1) Caring, 2) Respect, 3) High Standards, 4) Making a Difference, and 5) Empowerment.

If you are a leader in an organization, challenge your senior team to come up with a handful of powerful words that describe the essence of your core values. Keep the list of values short so everyone will remember and live them daily.

Simple Values