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Effective Leaders Develop Their People

July 26th, 2018

By: Karen Colligan

“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”  - Former CEO of GE, Jack Welch

In my last blog, I talked about the importance of your continuing to grow and develop as a leader. Now let’s talk about the importance of growing and developing your people. Both are essential if you want to prepare your organization to succeed today and into the future.

Employees need to feel valued, connected, challenged and recognized.  Providing them with opportunities to build on their strengths, learn new skills and prepare for the future needs of the company demonstrates in a very real way that they are integral to the organization and its success. And when employees feel that kind of connection they will be more engaged and loyal.

Employee development can happen in many different forms: on-the-job training, personal development, cross-functional projects, coach and/or mentor, special projects, stretch assignments, training courses, reading and personal study, online courses, peer coaching, job shadowing, etc. The important thing is that it is available and encouraged.

Too often development opportunities are limited to “fixing” an employee’s weaknesses rather than leveraging and developing their strengths. Yet, according to Gallup, organizations that focus on employee strengths have higher engagement, less turnover and a better bottom line.

Create development plans that take into consideration organization goals and the skills and behaviors employees will need to contribute to achieving those goals. It’s also essential that individual employee career goals and personal interests be taken into account in development plans. All too often employees have skills and talents that are under-utilized. In fact, 74% of employees feel that they are not reaching their full potential. (The Learning Wave)

Also consider the skills and behaviors employees will need in the future to succeed (yes, even if it’s not in your organization).  According to a report from the World Economic Forum, the top 10 skills in 2020 will be:

  1. Complex problem solving

  2. Critical thinking

  3. Creativity

  4. People management

  5. Coordinating with others

  6. Emotional intelligence

  7. Judgment and decision making

  8. Service orientation

  9. Negotiation

  10. Cognitive flexibility

  11. Creating, implementing and supporting development plans for your employees will not only help keep them loyal and engaged, it will ensure that your organization is ready for the challenges and opportunities of the future.

    "The only thing worse than training your employees and having them leave is not training them and having them stay." - Henry Ford

    Till next time,




    Development, Engagement, Leadership, Professional development, Teams


Want to Keep Your Top Talent? Give Them a Reason to Stay!

February 22nd, 2018

By: Karen Colligan

The job market is looking pretty good these days, which means many employees – especially those whose skills are in demand – no longer feel bound by the “just be happy to have a job” mantra that has kept them in place. The competition for top talent has been heating up, and if you want to keep yours, you need to give them a reason to stay.

Why is it so important to keep top talent? Well, aside from the obvious (that they are high contributors to your success) these employees are rare and in demand, they cost more to replace, and they often take other top talent with them.

So, what can you do to keep ‘em?

To be engaged and loyal, employees need to feel valued, connected, challenged and recognized. Today, unfortunately, many are feeling overextended, under-appreciated and exhausted from trying to meet ever-increasing productivity expectations. And…with more opportunities out there, many are just a phone call away from leaving…

If you want your employees to be loyal to you, give them a reason to stay. Demonstrate that you value and appreciate them. Make them feel…

Valued by listening to them, and acknowledging their need for work/life balance.

Connected through ongoing communication about the direction of the organization and their role in it. Show them that they are a community and have a purpose bigger than themselves in it.

Challenged through growth opportunities and a clearly defined career path (NOT by more work, more hours…).

Recognized by frequent, sincere appreciation – both monetary and non-monetary – for their efforts.

Don’t let valuable mindshare and talent walk out your door. Start working to keep them today.

For more tips on how to keep your top talent, and some specific examples of actions that work, listen to my podcast “How to Keep ‘Em.”

Till next time,



company culture, Engagement, Leadership, People

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Leading to a Great Company Culture

April 24th, 2017

By: Karen Colligan

We hear a lot about the importance of company culture and its role in attracting, engaging and retaining employees. But what is company culture, and how do you go about creating a “best-place-to-work” caliber of culture when there’s so much other stuff to get done?

First of all, a great culture is more than fun after-work events, casual dress, and catchy slogans. It’s how employees, customers and the outside world perceive an organization based on its attitudes and behaviors. I can’t imagine that many of us perceive the skies to be as “friendly” after that paying customer was dragged from his seat recently on a United flight from Chicago to Louisville. If that’s how they treat customers, how do they treat their employees?

Culture is synonymous with behavior. And it stems from leadership behavior at all organizational levels.

To build a great culture, start by becoming really clear about who you are as a leader. I call this “developing your leadership mantra,” which I wrote about in a previous blog.

Once you’ve done this, the next steps are:
Be sure that everyone understands the Vision and Mission of the organization. Define them. Communicate them. Post them. Refer to them in employee meetings and other communications.

Establish and communicate clear Values. Model them with employees, customers, vendors, job candidates, everyone. Recognize employees who go above and beyond to model the values.

Ensure that expected leadership behaviors at all levels align with the Vision, Mission and Values. Coach leaders who do not meet these expectations.

Develop and communicate a clear and consistent definition of the culture. Make it easy to describe. Make it real. Test the definition with employees, with customers.

Recruit and hire great people who fit the culture. Use your tested definition in job postings and interviews. As part of your hiring process, determine what a “fit” is, and what it isn’t. Train hiring managers, and develop behavioral interview questions that will help determine fit.

Ask for feedback and adjust accordingly. Once you feel you’ve developed a great culture it’s easy to get complacent. But workplace cultures can shift – changes in leadership, business downturn, overly rapid growth, or external pressures, etc. Do a periodic check-up to ensure that all parts of your culture are healthy and if not, review, adjust and get back on track.

How would you currently rate your company culture? Here’s an idea: Interview a cross-section of your employees and see whether they all describe it the same. If not, go back to the steps above.

Till next time,


company culture, Engagement, Leadership

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Resist “Flavor of the Month” People Initiatives

August 12th, 2015

By: Karen Colligan

Flavor-2One of the common concerns among the leadership teams I work with at various organizations is – “How do we keep our key employees from leaving?” I typically start by asking them what they’ve done so far. Often the conversation then goes something like this:

Client: We did a survey, and built some initiatives around the results.
Me: And how did that go?
Client: Well, we created cross-functional teams to work on each of the top four areas from the survey, but then_________ (fill in the blank from the following): a) their recommendations were too costly, or b) the team fell apart because of members’ work obligations or c) there was a shift in priorities due to business needs...


For years now, companies have been trying to turn around the widely reported low employee engagement scores. Tons of articles have been written, myriad solutions advised, and numerous remedies tried. It’s become “the flavor of the month” for employee engagement and retention. But here’s the thing. You can’t be everything to everyone. And in my experience with the multitude of clients I’ve worked with over the years, those who retain their top talent are the ones who:

1. Prioritize and commit to their people initiatives
2. Communicate consistently and ask for feedback on progress
3. Align their initiatives with the company culture

As a talent leader or learning and development leader, you need to get very clear about what your people initiatives are going to be. You need to prioritize based on your company culture, input from your employees, and the needs of the business. Once you prioritize, it’s critical to communicate and commit to those priorities so that your employees understand, and can get on board with them. Naturally, you can make tweaks and updates (communicating along the way), however changing things midstream, or trying to do too much at once, is confusing and disheartening to employees.

How are you going to keep your employees? Make them feel valued, connected, challenged, and recognized. Create an environment where individual, team and organizational goals are aligned so every employee knows how their work impacts overall success. Provide employees with a menu of options for continued development and growth. If you want to be an “employer of choice,” employees need to trust that you have their best interests at heart. That means resisting the “flavor of the month” and committing to initiatives that will have the best results for your people.

Till next time,

Communication, company culture, Engagement, Leadership, People


Why Employees Stay

July 27th, 2015

By: Karen Colligan

Stay-1A lot has been written about why employees leave – poor leadership, lack of advancement, compensation, and increasingly, work/life balance. In fact, the latter was cited in a 2014 BambooHR survey as the second highest reason employees leave, right behind #1: opportunity for advancement.

That’s why employees leave. Let’s talk about how you can get them to stay. Employees need to feel valued, connected, challenged and recognized. They want to use their strengths – every day - and know that they’re contributing to the success of the organization. They also want to have time to spend with their families and/or to pursue interests outside of work. And they want to be fairly compensated for the work they do. It’s not rocket science.

Help your employees feel valued by communicating how their goals align with team and organizational goals. Provide them with opportunities to build on their strengths, learn new skills and prepare for the future needs of the company. Development can happen in many different forms: on-the-job training, personal development, cross-functional projects, coach and/or mentor, special projects, stretch assignments, training courses, reading and personal study, online courses, peer coaching, job shadowing… The important thing is that it is available and encouraged.

Help them feel connected by communicating with them clearly and consistently. An HBR article, “The Top Complaints from Employees About Their Leaders” noted that communication issues top the list, including: Not recognizing employee achievements, not giving clear directions, and not having time to meet with employees. When leaders communicate regularly, and build a sense of connectedness with their employees, those employees are happier and more productive.

Do you have career roadmaps and succession plans in place? If not, what are you waiting for? Help your employees feel challenged by communicating the next level in their career path and what they need to do to get there. Give them temporary assignments that will stretch their skills and comfort level.

In the leaner work environment today, most employees are feeling the brunt of doing more with less. Recognize their efforts by saying “thank you” early and often. Don’t wait until review time to tell them what a good job they’re doing. And be specific – what was the situation, what did they do, and what was the impact. Applaud the behavior you want to see repeated and emulated.

Organizations need to acknowledge that their people are the lifeblood of the business. Don’t take your employees for granted. As the economy continues to improve and there are options for them elsewhere, you want to keep those employees in your organization. Find creative ways to develop and challenge them. Let them know they are valued, and that they are a critical component to the business moving forward. Build succession plans to ensure that your bench strength is available and ready to grow the business.

And most of all, don’t forget the old adage…treat your employees the way you want to be treated. It will pay off in leaps and bounds in the future.

Till next time,



Communication, company culture, Engagement, Leadership


Culture-2I’ve worked with several organizations recently who were preparing for major hiring efforts in anticipation of launching a new product or service. So often in this situation companies get caught up in the numbers and logistics of it all – “We’ve got 25 positions to fill by next month, do we have enough resumes in the pipeline?” “What’s our process going to be?” “How quickly will we be able to get the new hires up to speed?” I tell my clients that before they even think about pipeline and process and orientation programs, they need to determine the company culture that they’ll be hiring these people into. They need to ask the question: What are the qualities – the competencies and chemistry – we’ll be hiring for to ensure that our new hires will stay? Otherwise they’re just hiring to be hiring. They might as well just hand out company badges to the first 25 people off the freeway.

We all know that hiring mistakes are costly. In fact, it costs organizations an average of 1.5 times salary and benefits to replace an employee. Avoid this by taking the time to get very clear about the criteria for making good hires, and that includes culture. The senior leadership team must determine what they want their culture to be, communicate that culture, model the culture and hire to that culture. Here are 5 tips for defining your culture and hiring for retention.

Determine the company values. Identify at least 3, a maximum of 5. Name them, define them, and come up with examples of behaviors that align with the values. Everyone on the leadership team and everyone who interviews candidates should have a clear understanding of the values, and be prepared to ask interview questions that determine alignment.

Define the 2 Cs – competency and chemistry. Establish very clear roles and responsibilities for every position at every level within the organization. Develop job descriptions that include both core competencies (mapped to the culture) and job specific skills. Determine what a good fit is and what it isn’t.

Get clear about what you want the organization to be known for. This is key in attracting – and keeping – the type of employees who will align with your culture and help propel the company forward. Think of some brands and what they’re known for. For example, Virgin America – innovation, service, customer care. Trump – money, building, Trump. Be sure your branding reflects how you want to be perceived.

Communicate. Communicate your culture to current employees, to candidates, to new hires, to customers.

And last, but certainly not least, remember that it’s about the PEOPLE, PEOPLE, PEOPLE. Hiring the brightest and the best does you no good if you don’t take care of them. Be clear about their roles and responsibilities. Help them understand the values and the culture. Keep developing them, providing them with new challenges, and creating a work environment where every level of the organization is valued, connected, challenged and recognized.

Till next time,


Communication, company culture, Engagement, Leadership, People

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