Published by Scott Neilson on 21 Nov 2014

“Let them eat cake!”

Story goes that in the late 1700’s in France Marie Antoinette uttered those words in response to the fact that the people of the nation had no bread and were starving.  Whether true or not, is immaterial.  The central message was that the monarchy was out of touch with the needs of the people, which was a critical element in the overthrow of the government.

 …the balance has moved far in the direction favoring business and leadership, at the expense of employees, and, at times, other stakeholders.

This week I was having dinner with some friends…in France actually…and we were remarking that despite years of evolution of human rights in the workplace, and the training, growth and change in that regard, the workplace seems to be returning to one of disconnected leadership and essentially what boils down to beating employees for higher and higher levels of performance.  By beating we meant that longer and longer hours are expected, wages are not keeping pace with cost of living, companies are cutting back on benefits in the interest of saving money, etc.  While we all acknowledged that these are necessary actions that leaders must take at times, the balance has moved far in the direction favoring the business and leadership, and at the expense of employees, and, at times, other stakeholders.

What I find absolutely inconceivable is that many leaders fail to even imagine the consequences of this type of action.

I learned a long time ago that if you mistreat employees, they will find a way to get you back.  They will steal…time, money, products, supplies, etc.; they will be careless in their work and make costly mistakes; they will blow the whistle to regulatory authorities about violations; they will do damage in the workplace to facilities; they will speak badly in public about the organization and create a bad reputation for the company.  There are numerous ways in which they will harm you back.  Other stakeholders may take even more dramatic steps…customers and suppliers may stop doing business with you, regulators may shut you down.

Why is this becoming so much the norm in leadership behavior these days?  Is it arrogance, personal agendas, pressure to meet one stakeholders’ needs, or just being out of touch?  Personally, I think it is all of the above though some leaders may excel in one particular shortcoming.

I have learned through over 30 years of experience, my own and what I have observed in others’, that if you make the effort to represent all your stakeholders, listen to them and understand their needs and interests, and balance your efforts to meet those needs even though some may be conflicting, you are able to harness the energy and support of all your stakeholders to the goals and objectives of the organization…and to you as a leader.  Of course, you have to recognize that there are times when have to make trade-offs between conflicting needs.  You have to have the clarity and strength of conviction to make those trade-offs and communicate them to all stakeholders with confidence.  Difficult?  Absolutely!  Is everyone always happy with those decisions?  Absolutely not!  But, by making the effort to meet those needs and expectations as an element of improving performance and moving your organization forward, you get greater commitment, motivation, and performance from all your stakeholders, and better and more sustainable results.

How often do you consider the needs and interests of your different stakeholders in calibrating your actions or explaining your decisions as a leader?  Do you know who your stakeholders are…internal and external?  Do you know how satisfied they are?  Think about it…

Published by Scott Neilson on 23 Oct 2014

More on trust!

On the flight last night I had a long conversation with a woman who has just become the leader of the research division of a major healthcare institution.  She has been in the job for two weeks and remarked that her most significant observation of the organization thus far is the lack of trust of the leadership…throughout the organization.  The symptoms, she noted, are CYA emails cc’ing everyone imaginable, unwillingness to make decisions or take initiative, and more time being spent on blaming than on performing.

We talked about how to approach the problem.  She indicated that she intends to conduct focus groups with employees at all levels to collect information and diagnose the problems. Good idea, but may not be the best starting point.  Focus groups may not be considered a safe place.  In an organization in which trust is the issue you can bet that people in the focus group will be very cautious about who is in the room and what is safe to say.  You are unlikely to get the information you are looking for.

She also discussed an employee attitude survey, but indicated that the organization has been surveyed several times and no action has been taken.  The credibility is low and she feels participation will be limited.


I suggested an alternative approach…start with your Customers.

YOU, the leader, need to get out and talk to your customers…find out what is working for them and what is not.  This is especially effective if you are new in the role since you can also use it as a time to introduce yourself and begin building a relationship.  The nice thing about talking with your customers is that they do not fear any of your internal trust issues and are likely to give you the straight story.  Possible downside is that being on the outside, they may not have a clear picture of what is going on inside.

Be aware, you do NOT want to ask them what they know about your internal workings and team dynamics.  You should approach the subject in a more general way and ask them simply what is working for them and what is not in the current relationship?  This opens the door for a lot of discussion, and if they are aware of troublesome internal dynamics, they will likely tell you, or at least hint at it, and you can dig deeper from there.

My experience is that by the time you have spoken to three key customers you will have heard all there is to hear and you will start hearing repeats of the same issues.

Now, here is the key.  Building trust can come from many approaches.  One of the most effective is DOING WHAT YOU SAY YOU WILL DO.  You must do something with the information you get from your customers, and you must let your employees know about it.  The customer voice carries a lot of credibility with employees.  Though they may be in denial about the feedback, they know that they must meet the customers expectations.

  • Let the employees know what the customer is saying, and what you intend to do about it.
    • DO IT!!! 
      • Let the employees know what you have done in response to the customer feedback.

With this you will begin to establish some credibility…with both customers and employees.  Now you can turn to the employees and tell them you want to hear THEIR thoughts on the organization, what is working and what is not.  At this point you are likely to get more interest and participation.  Follow-through on this and your credibility grows…as does their trust in you as the leader.

Published by Scott Neilson on 14 Oct 2014

In their absence…

I want to say thank you to all who reached out to me over the past few months wondering why I had stopped writing on the blog…what had happened…was I okay?

Yes, I am fine, thank you. I have been dealing with numerous deaths…both family and close friends. It set me back in a way I had never expected. As sad as it has been, I have found the grieving process to be a very important one…one to be embraced, not avoided…one to spend time with, not to rush through…one to enable me to move on positively, not to leave me mired in sadness and depression.

I learned a lot…about myself and about those I lost. The process has enabled our relationships to come to closure in a healthy way…a way which will keep them in my life…contributing, not through words and actions, but through thoughts and memories…values and ideals…beliefs and attitudes.

Published by Scott Neilson on 12 Mar 2014

Trust me!

Building trust among your stakeholders is essential to your success.  Earning it takes a long time.  Maintaining it requires constant attention.  Losing it happens in seconds!

How do you build and maintain trust?

Care more about the needs and interests of your stakeholders than you do about your own.

Organization development specialists have many activities to help you begin to build trust.  Teambuilding activities are often designed to help people get to know each other and understand their respective frames of reference in an effort to build trust.  Activities like leading a blindfolded person through a maze are approaches to getting people to allow someone else to be in control of their life and to trust them with that control.  Survival games take people out of their normal business environment so they can get to know each other in a different light and under different circumstances.

The point of most of these activities is to manage fear.  A lack of trust stems from fear.  That fear is based in unknowns and how those unknowns might cause harm.  Having information reduces those unknowns…reduces the fear…builds trust.  That’s the idea.  They allow people to get to know you…to get to know the different facets of you.  Simple.

Interestingly, many leaders feel that it is not in their best interest to allow people to get to know them.  They fear that if people know them they will lose power or influence over them.  While I do think that there is some degree of importance to maintaining a “distance”, there are distinct advantages to allowing people to know you.

At the end of the day, there are many things you can do to build trust.  However, none of them will be as clear or send as powerful a message as how you live your life every day.  The people you lead are watching every step you take…and judging each and every one.  Their current perception of you is based on the latest step they have observed  you taking.

For me, one fundamental premise should be your guide on how to take those steps and earn the trust of your stakeholders…


Understand that not every decision you make will benefit every group of stakeholders.  There are often conflicting interests among stakeholders such as increased pay for Employees and increased profits for Owners.  You must make those trade-offs and balance meeting those needs over the long term.  (More on that in the next post!)

Evaluate every decision you make from the perspective of how it will affect them.  If you can do that and then look them in the eye and explain your rationale, then even the toughest decisions, and those that do not necessarily work to everyone’s benefit, will earn you their trust.

One interesting side effect…the more trust you earn, the less explaining you will have to do.

Published by Scott Neilson on 04 Mar 2014

Just what I need…Another meeting!

This is a good article to read on the over proliferation of meetings…and how to handle it…with a little bit of good humor thrown in!

It is about defining your organizations rhythm. Don’t observe what exists and add more.  Let your goals and objectives define your key progress measures, and build your operating rhythms around monitoring, measuring and managing those.

It is worth a read.


Published by Scott Neilson on 25 Feb 2014

Skill Development – Decision-making

A key to making good decisions is having options.  Simple!  As I am fond of saying, leadership is not rocket science.

Unfortunately, the world moves so fast that we often feel the need to decide and act quickly, and we do so to our own detriment.

I encourage you to slow the decision-making process… take the time to vet your own decisions more carefully…cultivate multiple options.


Take the time to sleep on your decisions…literally, sleep on it…especially the big ones.  Fight the need (internal or external) to come to closure immediately.  When making a decision, get in the habit of saying to your team that you will get back to them and confirm the decision.  Do not feel compelled to tell them why…just that you will get back to them with confirmation.

Learn to think through the steps necessary to implement your decision.  Envision that process (of implementation) and what results each step might have.  How will those results impact successive steps?  Is it getting you to the endpoint you desire?

Cultivate multiple options.  I have found that the best way to make a decision is to have options.  As soon as you find one suitable solution, go out and find another.  By doing so, you will become less emotionally wed to your first solution.  This enables you to be more objective in negotiations.

One is NOT enough…

Published by Scott Neilson on 20 Feb 2014


Here is a recording of the webinar I gave for the Lehigh University Alumni Association. Watch below or follow the link to view it full screen.

Continue Reading »

Published by Scott Neilson on 05 Feb 2014

Stand your ground!

You may be surprised to hear that many leaders wrestle with how much pressure they should put on their employees to achieve…to push harder…to strive for more.  They do not know how to determine when enough is enough.  It is not an easy concept to sort out.  Here are some good starting points.

As a leader you MUST require your employees to live up to your standards.  Erring on the side of softness earns you neither success nor respect.

You absolutely should expect your team to perform at the same level as yourself?  As a leader you MUST require your employees to live up to your standards.  Otherwise:

    • – they will not achieve the results you want;
    • – you will be frustrated with the results you achieve; and,
    • – your leadership will be seen as weak.


How hard is hard enough?  That is a more difficult question to answer, and a difficult balance to maintain.  Here are some tips for sorting through that question.

  • Ask yourself the reasonableness question…Is what I am asking reasonable?  Am I asking my team to work harder than I do?  If you have any doubt, ask a few trusted colleagues the same question…people you can trust to give you the straight story.  I generally find that my EA is one of my best sources for this type of information.
  • Keep your eyes open for signs of stress in the organization…increased rates of sickness and high turnover are good indicators that something is wrong.  Establish a few key metrics you can follow as an indicator of these issues.
  • Similarly, deteriorating interpersonal dynamics amongst your employees, such as rudeness and arguments, are signs of stress and overload.
  • Conduct regular focus group discussions to get a sense of how your team feels.  Have lower level supervisors conduct some of these.  People tend to speak more freely to lower level supervisors than to senior ones, and it is a good developmental experience for those supervisors.

There will certainly be individuals that are not willing to work as hard as you.  In that case, it is better that you both know and they find something more suited to their style.

However, my experience has been that most leaders do not push their people enough.  They err on the side of softness.  They feel that employee’s complaining is a bad thing and reflects poorly on their leadership and leads to bad results. Not so!  That approach earns you neither success nor respect.  Some degree of stress, pressure and urgency is a good thing.

The reality is that some people will complain about everything…to see what they can get from you.  It is like a negotiation.  They will complain as long as they see they are getting something out of it.

Stand your ground…expect performance…require it!

Published by Scott Neilson on 29 Jan 2014

See past the glare!

In an earlier article I discussed the subject of “Getting the Information You Need” to lead your business…or your department.  Link

In that post I pointed out that sometimes people inside your organization actually don’t want you to have that information.  They feel that it might expose some weakness or shortfall of theirs.  They feel that your visibility to that information might lead you to want to change something.  They fear a loss of control.  All this may sound a bit cynical, but it has been my experience and observation.

It is not at all unusual to be deceived by your direct reports.  People are often quite good at MANAGING UP…meaning managing YOU differently than they manage everyone else.  How do you get around that?

People at lower levels often have a much clearer view of what is really going on in the organization than the people up the ladder.  It is like looking at a pool of water from above and not being able to see the bottom because of light reflecting off the surface.  Stick your head under the water and you will see a whole world of activity you didn’t know existed.

I guarantee you will hear information that you have NOT heard before.

How do you do that?  Develop relationships with people at all levels…diversify your contacts and information sources.  I have found that people down the ladder a few rungs are likely to tell you the straight story…right between the eyes…and that is what you need.


Make it a habit of walking around and talking to everyone…

  • be approachable…
    • ask questions…
      • LISTEN!

Ask them what is working well…what isn’t working well…what could we be doing better?  Have focus groups in which YOU attend.  Have people submit their thoughts and questions anonymously beforehand so it is safe for them to say what is really on their mind.

I guarantee you will hear information that you have NOT heard before.  It will give you a new perspective on your operation and what you need to do to improve it.



Published by Scott Neilson on 26 Jan 2014

Good quick article…

Very good article about the prevailing business wisdom that the primary objective of corporations is to maximize shareholder value…and the steady stream of business failures left in it’s wake.

Clearly states what we ALL know to be true…and what will be the likely outcome if you only focus on the interests of one group of stakeholders.

So, why is it we can’t see this and change it?

Because the people who are in the position to change it are the ones who benefit the most by keeping it the way it is!!!

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