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Thursday, December 19, 2019

6 phrases managers need to stop using in team meetings

Team meetings are a great time for managers to update their direct reports, discuss or
brainstorm an important issue, or find the answer to a problem or question. Not only are
meetings good for soliciting ideas or resolving conflict, they can also be used to improve
communication within your team.
Every manager knows that these meetings are only effective when their team members
are fully engaged in the conversation. Managers invest a lot of time preparing for these
meetings, but they can be a huge waste of time if your team members are checking out
or missing the important messages you’re trying to convey.
One of the easiest ways to disengage employees is to utter any of the following phrases.
Each phrase inadvertently leads to a negative response from your team, even when you
don’t intend it.
If you find yourself about to say any of these phrases, try some of the alternatives we
suggest. This will keep your employee’s mind from wandering and guarantee you are
communicating exactly what you intend.
“Don’t bring me problems. Bring me solutions.”

Adam Grant, Professor of Psychology at the Wharton School at the University of
Pennsylvania, described this phrase as one of the worst a manager could use. He
acknowledges that while it has good intentions, with this approach, “people never speak
up about the hardest problems that they don’t know how to solve yet.” He advocates for
organizations embracing problems without solutions as this leads to a culture of inquiry
and innovation.
According to Grant, Warby Parker is an exceptional example of this culture. At the glasses
company, they encourage all employees to add the problems they encounter during
their day-to-day to one massive Google Doc. At the end of each week, managers get to
decide which problems they need to prioritize.
By discouraging employees to only report successes, everyone is able to get a better idea
of the problems that need to be solved to increase efficiency and productivity. When
employees bring up problems, it makes it possible for everyone to work together to
come up with meaningful solutions.
So how do you prevent your employees from just complaining to you all the time? Alison
Greene, author of Ask a Manager, suggests setting strict boundaries. Make it clear that
you will hear complaints surrounding an issue only once. This expectation should rein in
chronic complainers, while also empowering employees to bring up problems when they
encounter them.
Try instead: This phrase is more emblematic of a broader issue than just being a
problematic phrase on its own. Try implementing your own version of Warby Parker’s
“Let me think on that.” or “Let’s touch base on that later.”
Most employees know that these are used as a way to avoid difficult conversations or to
simply dismiss their contribution. As a manager, it’s likely that you are using this phrase
to keep the meeting on track or try to pass over an idea you don’t find useful, but
beware: it may come at the cost of employee morale.
Team meetings are expensive — as we all know, time is money. An hour-long meeting of 2/6
Team meetings are expensive — as we all know, time is money. An hour-long meeting of
10 people with an average salary of $80,000 costs $560. Let’s say this meeting is weekly.
This one meeting is costing your organization more than $29,000 a year.
It’s the role of a manager to ensure this a meaningful investment by keeping meetings
directed and purposeful so as not to waste any time. The tricky part is balancing
efficiency and the need to make sure your employees feel heard.
As this Forbes article puts nicely, “People will sometimes have excellent ideas and other
times will have stupid ideas. Either way, taking the time to respectfully listen sends the
message that people are valued and respected. Being open and inviting ideas from
others will increase empowerment in your team.”
The best way to show that you value and respect your team’s contributions is by making
time to meet one-on-one with whoever spoke out the same day. However, we all know
how insane most managers’ schedules are, so if you can’t discuss it right now, show that
you are serious about talking to your report about their ideas by putting time on your
calendar directly after the meeting.
Try instead: If you want to really consider their idea — Forbes suggests “This matters to
me. I appreciate you expressing your ideas. When would be another good time to sit
down and discuss this in more detail?” If you don’t plan on considering their idea — “I think
that idea could be useful for some contexts, but I don’t know if this is the right one.”
“In my opinion…”
When using this phrase, managers are simply trading one opinion for another. While it’s
definitely important for managers to have a say in the actions of their team and to take a
stance on important workplace issues, what managers say carries weight, and should
therefore be backed with evidence.
As a manager, you should set the gold standard for data-driven thinking. By utilizing
data, you are changing your debatable opinions into facts. In fact, the MIT Sloan School
of Management determined that companies that utilized data-driven decision-making
saw a 6% increase in productivity and output compared to those organizations that did
Try instead: “Based on the trends that our operations team has been seeing, we know
that the best approach to generate more traffic to the website is to increase the number
of marketing emails we send every week.” You can also use Pathlight to keep your
management super data-driven.
“Keep doing what you’re doing.”

Gallup recently reported that “only about one in four employees ‘strongly agree’ that
their manager provides meaningful feedback to them — or that the feedback they
receive helps them do better work.” Keep doing what you’re doing is way too vague to be
considered “meaningful” and certainly does not help your reports “do better work.”
Whether you’re talking to your team or speaking to an individual, this is not the type of
feedback most employees want to hear. Indeed, top-performers are usually ambitious,
meaning those who are most frequently receiving this kind of praise actually want to
improve or be tasked with more challenging work.
Without constructive criticism, employees may feel empowered to seek professional
development elsewhere. In fact, a survey administered by Officevibe revealed that there
is “14.9% lower turnover rates in companies that implement regular employee feedback”
and that “82% of employees really appreciate receiving feedback, regardless if it’s
positive or negative.” But by saying “keep doing what you’re doing,” you are providing
neither positive nor negative feedback.
Your directs reports will have no idea if you are actually seeing their contributions if you
try to paint them all over with this blanket statement.
Try instead: “I’m really impressed by your performance on this project. You were able to
increase qualified leads by 10%, you brought everyone’s ideas together efficiently, and
you finished ahead of time. I’d like for you to show the rest of the team the new
framework you developed for this.”
“What should we discuss today?”
No. Just no. As we mentioned earlier, meetings are expensive. If you, the one in charge of
leading the meeting, comes unprepared with no material to discuss, you’re asking for an
hour of expensive, unproductive banter.
In order to lead efficient meetings, one of the first steps that Harvard Business Review
suggests, is determining whether you really need a meeting. Chances are if you come
with no predetermined material to discuss, the meeting is not necessary. If that’s the
case, you should let your employees focus on their work and divert your time
somewhere more productive.
If a manager is uttering this phrase, it also means there was no agenda distributed to
attendees or developed at all. The same Harvard Business Review article also states that
an effective agenda helps create efficient meetings, and should determine exactly what
you are going to talk about and how much time is devoted to each topic.
Try instead: “Hello, everyone. I hope you all had a chance to take a look at the agenda I
sent out yesterday. Let’s start with the first item on the list.”

“We need to think outside the box.”
Not only is this one of the most clichéd management phrases, but no one knows what it
means! One of the most important ways a manager can guide their team is by providing
an actual framework for them to operate off of.
There are ways in which managers can encourage their employees to think creatively
without employing the dreaded “think outside of the box.” Here are a couple of tips from
Ron Carucci in his Harvard Business Review article on creativity:
Define creativity for your team without being overly prescriptive — Creative
thinking must be centered around the goals of your team and your organization or
else it could be costly. There should be an explicit link between the creativity that
you encourage and the expectations that you set for your team.
Balance between art and commerce — Effective creativity falls on a spectrum
between art and commerce. Art is where ideas are solely presented for the sake of
creativity and commerce is where ideas are only proposed for financial gain.
Encourage employees that seem to fall towards either ends of the spectrum to
migrate towards the center to strike the perfect balance.
Make space for collaboration — Collaboration is inherently creative. Good, creative
ideas are molded into great, creative ideas when multiple minds are working
towards the same goal.
Try instead: “This is a new type of problem that we haven’t experienced before. It might
require some creativity on our part, but I would suggest…”

Even in an age where emails, phone calls, video conferences, and Slack are taking over
communication, the team meeting doesn’t seem like it will ever go out of style.
Your team meetings are an important part of team development, transparency, and
communication. In order to guarantee these meetings remain productive, managers
need to avoid these common phrases that may do more harm than their intended good.
Not only will refraining from these phrases increase your influence as a manager, but
your employees will also thank you when they aren’t left wondering how they can
improve, what they are doing well, and how they can be more creative in their work.

Monday, September 9, 2019

How to lead through inspiration

I don’t care whether you’re in high school or leading a firm with 500 people, some situations require leadership. When you get in trouble with your group or friends at school, there must be one person who takes ownership and apologizes. When your company has to deal with a huge setback, there must be people who lead the way toward growth. When your relationship with your partner is on the line, one of you must commit to improving it. You see, when people talk and write about leadership, we often assume that you need a title to be a leader. “A CEO or president, that’s a leader,” is what most of us falsely assume. Look, being a leader has nothing to do with your job. Leadership is a character trait that we can all cultivate. In fact, I believe leadership is one of the essential skills that every person should have. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t think that leaders are born. Yes, some people are naturally more dominant and assertive. But leadership is about more than those things. I know leaders who are introverted and soft-spoken. But how do you lead? How do you get people to follow you? How do you get people to listen to your ideas? It’s something my readers often ask me about. I recently received this email: “My team is small but has very strong, opinionated people. I find myself playing mediator on a daily basis. It takes up a lot of my time, but I believe in making time for the people side of work. However, it can really be mentally exhausting. I’d love to hear you talk more about team dynamics and how to stay positive around negativity. How to really influence change.” This is what leadership is about. I don’t think you can make people do anything. You can’t make people follow you or listen to you. I’ve been fortunate to be around many business leaders. One of my mentors is one of the wealthiest people in The Netherlands. He never told me what to do, and yet, I’ve learned many great lessons from him. There’s Only One Leadership Strategy Everyone knows this. You can only lead by example. There’s no other effective way to inspire people. If you want your team to be positive, you must be positive. The same is true for your family, partner, and friends. Leadership is about ownership. I like how former Navy Seals, Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, put this in their classic leadership book Extreme Ownership: “The most fundamental and important truth at the heart of Extreme Ownership: there are no bad teams, only bad leaders.” If you think that your team sucks, you suck. “But I’m not the leader or manager.” That’s what people often hide behind. So what? Remember how we talked about that leadership is not about titles? This is exactly what I mean. So you might technically not be the leader at your work, family, or group of friends; you can still set the right example. “How do you set the right example?” Here’s how I personally do it: I only expect from others what I expect from myself. I will never ask you to do something I’m not doing. All my articles and courses are based on my actions and actual results. But because I have high expectations of myself, I also expect that from the people I work with. When things go wrong, I try to stay calm. Life is nothing but a series of solved problems. That means we run into challenges, problems, and bad situations all the time. It’s important that you stay calm and take your time to think. If possible, I don’t make quick decisions. When I stay calm, others will too. When I screw up, I admit it. I’m the last person who believes he’s perfect. Even though I try to stay calm and positive — sometimes I lose my shit too. I admit it and then move on. But I always make sure I learn from it and I never hold a grudge. There’s no place for your ego. I’m clear about my values and rules. Look, there are certain things I don’t put up with. For example, lazy people don’t get my respect. And I’m not sorry about that. Also, I’m not afraid to attack assholes. People must take you seriously. I respect others and don’t try to change them or tell them what to do. It’s impossible to change people. You can only change yourself. What other adults ultimately do is none of your business. I can set the right example, but sometimes it doesn’t work or takes more time. I accept that. These are the lessons I’ve learned from studying leaders from all walks of life: From business leaders to spiritual leaders. To be honest, when someone asks about “influencing change,” the truth is that it can be done. The most important thing is that we change ourselves. And when we change, others often feel inspired to do the same. That’s the greatest thing one could see. When I receive emails from my students and readers about how they made big changes to their lives, I feel happy for them. And I often write back that the only person they have to thank is themselves. But what if some people don’t change? That’s probably better news than you think. You don’t want to be around those people. So leadership is also about self-selection. Not only the strong — but also the leaders — survive.

Sunday, September 8, 2019


The US president Dwight D. Eisenhower supposedly once said: “The most urgent decisions are rarely the most important ones.” Eisenhower was considered a master of time management, i.e., he had the ability to do everything as and when it needed to be done. With the Eisenhower method, you will learn to distinguish between what is important and what is urgent. Whatever the job that lands on your desk, begin by breaking it down according to the Eisenhower method and then decide how to proceed. We often focus too strongly on the “urgent and important” field, on the things that have to be dealt with immediately. Ask yourself: When will I deal with the things that are important, but not urgent? When will I take the time to deal with important tasks before they become urgent? This is the field for strategic, long-term decisions. Another method of organizing your time better is attributed to the multimillionaire Warren Buffett. Make a list of everything you want to get done today. Begin with the task at the top of the list, and continue only when you have completed it. When a task has been completed, cross it off the list. Better late than never. But never late is better.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Hiring Without These Critical “Soft Skills” is a Recipe for Disaster

Here is good old common sense from Lou!

Having personally been involved in more than 2,000 different hiring situations over the past forty years and tracking the subsequent performance of many of those who were hired, it’s clear most hiring mistakes are attributed to the following non-technical factors:

  • A mismatch between the hiring manager’s style and the new hire’s need for management and coaching.
  • Lack of intrinsic motivation or full commitment to do the actual work required. Ability to do the work is far different than motivation to do it. 
  • Lack of fit with the pace of the organization. The pressure to perform is a primary factor defining a company’s culture and a person’s likelihood of success.
  • Lack of fit with how decisions are made and how work is accomplished. This is another aspect of what company culture looks like on-the-job.
  • Lack of fit with the team. Much of this relates to the new hire’s inability to collaborate cross-functionally coupled with the lack of appreciation for the needs of others.
  • An inability for the new hire to properly manage and organize his/her work properly. This is true whether the person is an individual contributor or a manager.
  • For management roles, in addition to the above, it’s an inability to build, manage and develop the team assigned.
Labeling these factors collectively as “soft skills” minimizes their importance since without them people will underperform. Despite this, too many interviewers focus too much on the person’s technical ability – the so-called “hard skills” – and not enough on the factors that actually determine on-the-job performance.
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Despite the challenge, it is possible to assess all of these non-technical factors by using The Hiring Formula for Success relationship shown in the graphic. Simply stated, “The ability to do the work in relation to fit drives motivation and ultimately performance.”
The performance-based interview described in The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired has been built on this concept. The process starts by rethinking the job description as a series of key performance objectives (KPOs) embedding the required hard and “soft skills” into a series of outcomes. For example, rather than saying a person must have a specific degree, specific experience and be results-oriented, it’s better to say something like, “Complete the XZY project within 120 days under tight budget and schedule constraints.”  
The performance-based interview is used to prove the person can achieve the outcomes under the circumstances required and, if so, she/he will obviously have all of the technical and non-technical skills necessary. Here’s the basic process:
First, conduct a comprehensive work history review. Going step-by-step through the person’s background determines general fit for the role on a scope and scale basis and if the person possesses the Achiever Pattern. This indicates if the person is in the top tier of his/her peer group.
Second, ask the Most Significant Accomplishment question for each performance objective. By digging into the person’s major accomplishments most related to the KPOs of the open role it’s possible to assess all of the factors shown in the graphic. The trend of growth over time is an important indicator of potential.
Third, ask a realistic problem-solving question. This is not a hypothetical question. It must address a real problem the person is likely to face on the job taking the form of, “What would you need to do to address this challenge (describe) we’re currently facing?” The purpose of this question is to understand the process the person uses to figure out a solution, not the actual solution. Using a give-and-take format this process reveals the candidate’s planning, problem-solving, creative and strategic thinking skills.
As part of our Performance-based Hiring learning programs we suggest that each interviewer be assigned a narrow role focusing on just one or two of the non-technical factors. While each interviewer will ask a similar major accomplishment question, it will be prefaced with something like, “I’ve been assigned to assess your project management skills. Can you give me an example of a major recent accomplishment you believe best demonstrates your ability in this critical area?” It takes about 15 minutes of fact-finding and peeling the onion (i.e., asking all of the who, when, what, where, why and how questions) to fully understand the accomplishment and make the comparison to the actual performance objectives of the job. To increase overall assessment accuracy, it’s best if the interviewers share their evidence using a summary form similar to this Quality of Hire Talent Scorecard.
The Hiring Formula for Success offers a means to fully understand how the non-technical and fit factors impact a person’s ability and motivation to achieve results. It’s important to recognize that ability without fit is the primary cause of underperformance, dissatisfaction and excessive turnover. As important is the recognition that it’s what people have accomplished with their skills that’s important, not the amount or list of skills themselves.


Demanding or dare I say it, unreasonable, bosses are something I come across every
day through my work with middle and senior managers. When we dig down to the root cause of whatever issue it is I’ve been asked to help with, for example burnout or under performance, pretty much every time the answer comes up as too many priorities. And the person coming up with new priorities on top of the many plates someone is already spinning? Their boss.
Paul Jarvis, in his 2019 book Company of One, states,
“We now incorrectly assume that we must have numerous priorities and multitask to get ahead in business, even though working in this way can deeply affect (and hurt) our productivity”
If this issue resonates with you then fear not, my friend. Here are five steps that may help you as they’ve helped others.

1) Be prepared to say something

One of the first things I ask a coaching client is whether they’ve had a conversation with their boss about the incessant and unrelenting list of new priorities that pop up. More often than not, they haven’t raised the issue and so, the boss is most likely operating from a state of blissful ignorance.
In this instance, contrary to the popular 1960's song, silence is most definitely not golden.
Therefore, the first step is to be prepared to say something.
Planning for what you want to say, how you’re going to say it and the outcome you want to achieve are the three things that will help make it a more productive conversation. Brene Brown reminds us of this in her book Dare to Lead
Giving productive and respectful feedback is a skill set that most of us have never learned
Therefore, starting from a position of respect and giving the other person, in this instance your boss, the benefit of the doubt is key. Assuming they are like the evil and incompetent boss in the Dilbert comic strip is the way to make a bad situation even worse.

2) Get clear on the problem

As well as the emotional side of the problem, it’s helpful to provide data to help make your argument. One way to do this is to collate every single priority you have been given and how this relates to your time. In other words, because of all the other responsibilities you have such as people management, budget management etc. it might be that to respond to the many additional priorities you’re constantly given you’re having to work late into the evening and over weekends. As Chris Bailey says in The Productivity Project
“The more you get out of your head, the more clearly you’ll think”

3) Come up with some solutions

As someone who used to line manage team managers, I loved it when someone not only raised a problem but then also gave some ideas for how it could be solved. It immediately helped the conversation get into a more positive, less blame-y, finger-pointing space.
Is it that the problem is not so much the priorities but rather the lack of people to deliver them? Job-Demands Resource Theory suggests that work strain and burnout is a response to an imbalance between demands on an individual (i.e. you) and the resources they have available to deal with those demands (i.e. enough people, money etc). Therefore, a solution might be to make the business case for another person to join your team.
Is the problem less about priorities and more about the number of interruptions you’re experiencing every day? A famous study by Gloria Mark found that interruptions and the necessary recovery time now consume 28%of a person’s working day. The study found that each employee spent only 11 minutes on a project before being interrupted. It took the average employee around 25 minutes to return to the original task. Therefore, a solution might be to turn off your email notifications, only checking your email at designated times such as first thing, midday and end of the day. Many managers have told me this has helped them get some much-needed time back to do more important work. And if your boss tends to send their newest priority to you via email, then another solution might be to ask them to ask you face-to-face so you can talk through expectations and implications.
Is the problem that you’re getting pulled in a hundred different directions each day and essentially, constantly stopping and starting different things? Melina R Uncapher and Anthony D Wagner conducted a review of a decade’s worth of research on the relationship between media multitasking and various aspects of thinking, including working memory and attention. They found that people who frequently use several types of media at once, or “heavy media multitaskers,” performed much worse on simple memory tasks. In other words, constantly dipping in and out of tasks and projects doesn’t help you to perform at your best. Therefore, a solution might be to block out different chunks of time in your calendar. For example, a chunk of time for ‘deep work’ such as writing a report; and keeping some buffer time, in the event an unexpected thing gets thrown your way.

4) Be assertive but not too much

Now you’ve got everything out of your head and you’ve come up with some ideas which help resolve the issue of too many priorities, you now need to have the actual conversation with your boss.
To ensure it’s a constructive discussion, and a win/win for both of you, you need to think about your negotiation tactics. In their book, Getting to Yes, Roger Fisher and William Ury talk about the concept of Principled Negotiation. This has four aspects to it:
  • PEOPLE: Separate the people from the problem
  • INTERESTS: Focus on interests, not positions
  • OPTIONS: Invent multiple options looking for mutual gains before deciding what to do
  • CRITERIA: Insist that the result be based on some objective standard

5) Agree the new ‘contract’ between you

Now you’ve had the discussion and agreed a way forward, the next thing is to put in place a new way of working so neither of you fall into the same habits and traps of before. Why not use the Trust Triangle as the basis for agreeing how you’ll handle new, additional and unexpected priorities coming through? The Trust Triangle was developed by John Carter at the Gestalt Institute in the US and is undoubtedly one of the tools that has resonated profoundly with many of my clients.
Essentially, the model suggests to have a relationship of mutual trust and respect, you need to each be demonstrating the three foundation stones of:
  1. Straight talk i.e. honest conversation
  2. Listening to understand the other person
  3. Making commitments to each other

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