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Pay attention – and you’ll find plenty of positives

Posted by on Jun 7, 2017 in Emotional Intelligence, Workplace Improvement


Birds are unlikely teachers, but I have to confess, they’ve taught me a big lesson in paying attention.

It’s a lesson for all of us who want to see the positive things that are going on at work.

It began last spring, when a pair of robins moved into our yard. Our family kept tabs on them and enjoyed their presence.

Then I bought binoculars. Then I started to go on birdwatching hikes in nearby woods. Then I downloaded a birdwatching app. Then I began learning bird facts and bird songs. Then I began to track my bird sightings.

In case you’re wondering, I’m no newcomer to Mother Nature. I’ve been enjoying walks and runs in the woods for years.

But when I’m outdoors now, it’s different. My awareness is deeper. I see more. Background sounds have moved up and become clearer.

I’m just a novice birdwatcher, but the moment I start walking on a trail, I can’t help but hear the birds. In some cases I can identify the type of bird and what it’s communicating.

When I use binoculars to get a sustained close-up view, it’s like I’m seeing birds for the first time. My biggest thrill so far was watching a Baltimore Oriole, aglow in late-evening sunlight, giving a free concert from atop a tree.

All of this has reminded me to be more attentive – not only in the woods, but also in workplaces and elsewhere.

When you start looking for something, you’re going to find it. The more you look, the more you’ll find. And the more you learn about what you’re finding, the more you’ll appreciate it.

So start paying attention with greater intention at work.

Watch for those interesting, instructive, and inspiring actions that are unfolding in the workplace around you. Watch for the good work. Watch for the great service.

You’ll be amazed by how much you see.


By Tom TerezContact

Reality check: Are you doing all you can to earn trust?

Posted by on Jun 2, 2017 in Emotional Intelligence, Leadership, Teamwork

Lean Process MeasuresLean Process Measures5-page self-assessment – 1.1MB

We know that trust is crucial to teamwork. We know it’s reciprocal: When you give it, you get it. We know that trust-building takes time.

But what about you when it comes to trust?

Are you doing everything you can to earn trust and build a trust-filled work environment?

Click here for a self-assessment that can serve as a quick reality check. It’s in PDF format, so feel free to print it and fill it out for your own benefit.

Too often, trust is talked about in vague generalities. And sometimes our thoughts about trust are all about what we wish others would do to earn our trust.

This self-assessment is different. It gets specific, it focuses on behaviors, and it serves as an important look in the mirror.

So take a few minutes for this – and get practical insights into what you can do to turn up the trust at work.


Download the 5-page self-assessment  (PDF 1.1MB)


This download is for e-letter subscribers • Sign up for the free Next Level e-letter

Speak the truth, because you can’t evade the radar

Posted by on May 30, 2017 in Emotional Intelligence, Workplace Communication


Did you know that you come fully equipped with your own radar? Each of your co-workers has one too. So do your customers.

Some people call it intuition. Others call it a gut feeling.

It detects things as they really are, alerting people whenever someone is giving them an incomplete or inaccurate version of the truth.

This internal radar is rarely fooled, so please take note:

If you’re planning to do some verbal gymnastics during your next team meeting to hide the fact that you’re late with an assignment, think twice. People will sense that you’re not playing straight.

If a co-worker asks for your feedback after doing an awful job, resist the urge to issue a fake “just fine.” Over time, false compliments get discovered, and your words will lose all weight. You can be candid and kind when giving feedback. If you don’t think you can, then bounce back the question and ask the asker how they think they did.

If you’re approaching a busy colleague to recruit them for your project team, and you’re tempted to downplay the amount of work that’s likely to be involved, don’t do it. Your would-be team member will pick up on it.

This radar is wired into us. Back in cave-dwelling days, people faced danger at every turn, so they had to assess, interpret, and respond all the time. Those who were best at this ended up living longer, sending an ever-stronger intuition up the generational line – all the way to us.

Think about your own internal radar. When someone tries to slide something past you, you usually catch on quickly, right?

Yes you do – and the same goes for just about everyone else.

Keep that in mind the next time you’re tempted to slip your message beneath the radar.


By Tom TerezContact

How a few key measures can fuel improvement

Posted by on May 24, 2017 in Lean, Process Improvement

Lean Process MeasuresLean Process Measures1-page handout – 75KB

Our lives are filled with measures, except when it comes to measuring the health of our business processes.

To monitor our physical health, we keep tabs on weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, and other indicators. With our favorite sports teams, we track rankings, batting averages, field goal percentages, and more. With our finances, we keep a watchful eye on our bank balances, interest rates, income, and expenses.

But at work, meaningful measures can be lacking – with people relying on intuition and instinct to tell how things are going.

This is especially the case when it comes to business processes. Staff (and even process owners) will offer opinions when asked about the current “health” of their process. But few will cite quantitative measures that reveal the real health with any precision.

This is a problem, but it’s mostly an opportunity for improvement.

When people learn about process-related measures, they start seeing the connections between different activities and functions.

And when a team begins to track several key measures over time, keeping those numbers front and center week after week, greater ownership takes hold. People start looking for ways to improve their process.

To help with this, we’ve packed our best measurement intelligence into a practical one-pager. It gives you a list of key process-related measures, with plain-language definitions for each. They’re sorted into four categories so you can see how the different measures relate.

You (and your colleagues) can use this one-pager right now. Decide on two or three high-priority measures for your process, gather baseline data, then gather new numbers at regular intervals so you can see trends. Use visuals (like bar charts) to add understanding and impact.

You’ll also use this one-pager when improving a process, whether it’s with a blitz approach like a Kaizen event, or a series of sessions over several weeks. Not all the measures will be relevant, but many will be. The team will want to gather baseline numbers reflecting the health of the current-state process – and put together a separate set of projected numbers to show the expected level of process fitness once the future-state process is in place. These projections serve as improvement targets going forward.

With their new numeric know-how, will staff start cheering on their processes like they cheer on their favorite sports teams?

We won’t go that far. But you can expect to see a better big-picture understanding among staff, more questions on how the process works, and greater interest in making the process simpler, faster, better, and less costly.

Those are some big gains from just a few meaningful measures.


Download the 1-page handout  (PDF 75KB)


By Tom TerezContact

Don’t let big words bog down your communications

Posted by on May 19, 2017 in Communication, Workplace Improvement


If you’re a fan of clear communication, the sign in this photo is going to bug you.

Look at those four words at the bottom: Wash produce before consumption.

Produce. Consumption. Really?

The sign-writer should’ve written the way people talk: Wash fruit before eating.

Now, it’s not a big deal when big words end up on store signs. But when they’re consistently used by organizations in their external and internal communications, they can confuse and frustrate and fail to get the intended point across.

Consider this paragraph from a government brochure on winter safety tips:

Timely preparation, including structural and non-structural mitigation measures to avoid the impacts of severe winter weather, can avert heavy personal, business and government expenditures. Experts agree that the following measures can be effective in dealing with the challenges of severe winter weather.

Fortunately, the agency rewrote this paragraph and the rest of the brochure. The new paragraph is concise and clear:

Severe winter weather can be extremely dangerous. Consider these safety tips to protect your property and yourself.

Want to bring new clarity to your own communications?

Here are tips we can all put to work, whether we’re writing a  memo or revising a form or producing something bigger like an instruction guide or brochure:

  • Before you write anything, get clear on the point you want to communicate.
  • Write like you speak. Avoid jargon, legalese, and acronyms.
  • With longer writing, use headings and lists. Organize the information so it’s easy to follow – by putting the most important info at the top, or by providing a sequenced list.
  • Use active voice. No: When your application is received, you will be contacted by a customer service rep. Yes: A customer service rep will contact you when your application is received.
  • Put your writing through this readability calculator. You’ll learn all sorts of things, including the grade level that’s needed for a reader to understand what you’re trying to say.


By Tom TerezContact