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10 Elements of Executive Presence

Posted on August 18, 2020 at 3:45 PM

In my executive coaching practice, clients often ask me to help improve their "executive presence." It is hard to find a good definition of this elusive term. Some people say "you know it when you see it." I think a useful way to define "executive presence" is to reverse engineer what it is about people who seem to have it. I've had the opportunity to work with many senior executives that have had a great "executive presence." Here are the 10 unique things I have most often observed in them.


Humble Confidence - They project confidence, but in a humble way. They don’t talk about how qualified, experienced, or talented they are. They just demonstrate it with their performance. Their confidence comes from the preparation behind the scenes they do to be at their best at work each day.

Set Aspirational Example - People want to be like them and see them as a model for their career. People want to impress them. These executives view every interaction they have with people as a chance to either build or tarnish their personal brand, so they perform at their best in all interactions. That comes through to others who see a great example of what they want to be like.

Make it Look Fun - They smile and look like they are having fun at work, even when they are in stressful situations. They make it look like they are totally at ease in their job, and that projects competence. Like a duck, people only see their ease and enjoyment as they float through their job. They don't see all the hard work they do below the waterline that makes them good at their job.

Poise in Crisis - They NEVER get flustered in front of others. They may feel lots of stress, but they don’t show it to others. They have trained themself to do this. It’s almost like they are waiting for crises so they can demonstrate this. They know that it is their job as the leader to give others confidence in crises, so they set the example.

Speak Little, Say Much - They don’t talk the most in meetings. They let others talk and they carefully listen. When they do talk, it is well-thought out and shows they have listened and thought about the issues, often connecting the dots in a way that others have not. They carefully structure their communications to most effectively convey their insights and desires.

Set the Pace and Temperature - They speed people up when more action is needed. They slow things down when more caution is needed. They cools things down when things are getting heated, and turn up the heat when people are getting complacent. It's like they have a superpower of sensing where people's heads are and know when to do this just before others do. This superpower sense is really just the result of seeking feedback far and wide about how things are really going with their team.

Absorb Risk - When difficult decisions need to be made, they step up and make them and take personal responsibility. This "air cover" lets others get on with their work without worrying if they will be at risk of getting blamed for bad outcomes. They shoulder the stress so others don't have to.

Show Commitment - They show passion for the work their organization does. By showing their pride in their work, they make people in their organization proud of their jobs too. Their commitment makes the work that everyone does feel important.

Be Authentic - They mean what they say and say what they mean. People don’t feel like they are getting a sales job from them. They feel like they are hearing from the real person behind the big title. They don't hide behind the big office and other perqs of their office. They view themself as no better than anyone else.

Have a Style - They aren’t exactly the same as every other executive. They have some unique way of doing things that makes them interesting. People notice it. It could be an interesting phrase, gesture, way of speaking, way of dressing, or whatever. It makes them a memorable character. Some team members may even be even able to do an impression of the executive.

This is in not a scientifically-generated list. But, after working with many leaders in my career, ranging from big city mayors and federal agency heads to corporate CEOs and high-powered consultants, I have known it when I saw it. These are what I saw. I hope you find it helpful.

10 Year Review of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act

Posted on July 21, 2020 at 9:10 AM

Today marked the tenth anniversary of President Obama signing the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, more commonly known as the Dodd-Frank Act in honor of its two authors, Senator Christopher Dodd and Representative Barney Frank. To mark the day, the Better Markets nonprofit advocacy group sponsored a virtual conference in partnership with George Washington University. The speakers at the virtual conference included former President Obama, former Senator Dodd, former Representative Frank, Senator Elizabeth Warren, and others. As a founding member and former Chief Operating Officer (COO) of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) that was created from Dodd-Frank, I was invited to participate in the virtual conference. Here were the highlights I recorded from the first few speakers.


President Obama shared these thoughts in his opening address:


  • The country was on the brink of another Great Depression when he was inaugurated. Banks were collapsing and credit was freezing up, resulting in businesses closing and jobs disappearing.
  • His administration was focused on addressing the crisis in the short term and preventing financial crises in the future by reforming Wall Street by removing excessively risky and predatory behavior from "too big to fail" banks.
  • Entrenched and well-funded opposition tried to block reform then and they are still working to undo the reform since. They have had some successes, but the Dodd-Frank Act remains largely intact.

John S. Reed - former Citicorp/Citigroup CEO from 1984-2000 who started at Citibank in 1965 - gave a personal history of the evolution of the financial services industry in the USA. It was a fascinating, sweeping, personal recount from someone who was an important player through several decades.


  • In the 1960s, banks were mostly regional not national. It was a slow and steady business. The focus was on satisfying customers and getting a reasonable return for doing so. The industry was not exciting nor exceptionally well-paid, but it was an honest business.
  • In the 1970s and 80s, innovation in banking included credit cards and ATMS.
  • The 1990s saw a big change when "greenmail" emerged and activist investors got aggressive in taking controlling stock stakes to exert influence on bank management to more aggressively increase returns to shareholders. This began a shift in bank management focus from customer satisfaction to shareholder return. Executive compensation started to grow too, as investors didn't care about it as long as shareholder returns grew.
  • Product complexity also increased in the 1990s, including with derivatives. In 1995, there was an important case that should have been a warning bell about the dangerous impact of predatory practices and product complexity by banks. Bankers Trust was recorded talking about the "rip off factor" of one of their derivative products that was profitable for the bank but a bad product for customers. A product like this would never have made it to market in the 1960s-70s.
  • Since the 1990s, the market and products got more complex. Mortgage backed securities emerged. Compensation started to increase rapidly too, turning banking into a very high paid industry.
  • The 1998 bailout of Long Term Capital Management should have been another warning for regulation, especially before the 2007-08 crash. It was a hedge fund that got too complex and got into trouble. The Fed had to come in to refinance and liquidate it. This should have been a warning shot that financial product complexity was getting too hard to regulate.
  • By the 1990s, major banks were getting very involved in trading. It was because large customers put a lot of pressure on banks to take them to market. Banking got pushed into the idea of breaking down regulations from the Glass-Steagall law. Banks started looking like investment banks. At Citibank, Reed even merged with Travelers to keep up. All major banks started big trading activities. Commercial banks "got way out over their skis" according to Reed. They didn't have the management in place to understand trading and how to manage traders. The splicing and dicing of loans into new complex financial products was very dangerous. You started to see 40 to 1 liquidity ratios.
  • Dodd Frank emerged after the 2008 meltdown to correct for these mistakes. Making banks have a "living will" is a worthwhile exercise because it forces managers at banks to think through how they would go through a bankruptcy. It forced them to take this type of planning seriously. Stress tests are important. The Volker Rule was very important because it addressed the fundamental conflict of interest banks had by trading for their own accounts while also trading for customers.

Dennis Kelleher of Better Markets summed up John Reed's history of the industry by saying that the Dodd-Frank Act was key to make sure the COVID-19 pandemic didn't trigger another financial meltdown.


Former Senator Chris Dodd and former Representative Barney Frank spoke next as part of a panel moderated by Stephanie Ruhle of NBC and MSNBC. Here were the key points they shared.


Former Senator Dodd shared these observations:


  • TARP came shortly before the 2008 election. He was in meeting where Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernacke said the world financial system would melt down if they did not approve a bailout. He realized he had to push the bailout through but it made him want to do reform too to make sure that never happened again.
  • By 2010, lots of public memories of the financial bust had faded. The Obama Administration had prioritized the Recovery Act and the Affordable Care Act as legislative priorities before reform of Wall Street. This allowed political opposition, fueled by lobbying dollars from the banks, to grow against the Dodd-Frank Act.
  • The Dodd-Frank Act was passed on a largely partisan vote, but all the regulators appointed by President George W. Bush supported the outlines of the bill.
  • Some ideas that made it into the bill came from Republicans. Half of the 60 amendments to the bill were Republican and ten passed. The bill also followed principles proposed by the G-20 that President George W. Bush had signed.
  • Senator Dodd remembered being disappointed at his first meeting with the Financial Services Roundtable after he took over the chair of the Senate Finance Committee. He thought they would maybe want to take the chance to educate him on the increasingly complex financial services products being released into the market. Instead they used the meeting to lobby him on two topics - the need to block a consumer financial protection agency and to block regulation of financial services executive compensation.

Former Representative Frank shared these insights:


  • The ban on abusive predatory mortgages was perhaps the biggest part of Dodd-Frank.
  • Community banks have enormous political power because they have connected people everywhere. Local bankers are important in their local communities, and that translates to big political power. That power got them exempted from being examined by the CFPB because they claimed it costs too much to comply with inspections.
  • The reputation of US banks being well regulated is a big reason why US financial securities and the US dollar are attractive to foreign investors. They feel it is safe here since it is well regulated.
  • Dodd-Frank basically prevented people and banks from incurring more debt than they can handle. There is a competitive race to get more leverage.
  • Regulating derivatives by putting them in exchanges where counterparts can deal in them pretty much took out a huge risk from the financial markets.
  • There is discussion now of how non-bank financial actors like private equity firms and hedge funds need to be regulated next. He said the financial risk is a lot less, but there may be reason to start looking at anti-trust regulation on things like their impact on depressing wages.

Those were the highlights I got out from the first part of the virtual conference. I found it to be quite insightful and wanted to share with other people who are interested in how to make financial markets in the United States work most effectively.



Famous Executives Who Had Executive Coaches

Posted on May 27, 2020 at 9:15 PM

If you have considered getting an executive coach, you would be in some good company. According to a 2013 survey by Stanford Graduate School of Business professors, 51 percent of senior executives reported they "receive coaching or leadership advice from outside consultants or coaches." Among those are some big names. Here are some of the most high-profile executives who have worked with a coach.

Steve Jobs, Co-founder and CEO of Apple - The late Steve Jobs had a reputation as being a demanding and difficult leader. He was also inquisitive. In a moment of self-reflection, he brought in executive coach John Mattone for an assessment and a couple of coaching sessions. You can read Mattone's description of those sessions on an article on LinkedIn. 

Marc Benioff, Founder, Chairman, CEO of - Benioff counts legendary coach Tony Robbins as a valued partner, with this endorsement: "Tony Robbins and his strategies and his tools have been at the core of our culture from the beginning. He has been one of the critical keys to's leadership in cloud computing and its growth into an over $6 billion company."

Brian C. Cornell, Chairman and CEO, Target Corporation - Cornell has worked with famed coach Marshall Goldsmith and endorsed him this way: "Marshall is an amazing coach who helped me become a better leader and a better person. He has a unique blend of intelligence, insight and practical steps to improve performance. As he says in his new book Triggers, there is a big difference between understanding and doing. We all understand what to do, but Marshall gives us the tools to actually change for the better."

Roger Enrico, CEO of Pepsi - The late Roger Enrico became the CEO of Pepsi in 1983 at the age of 38. He would stay with Pepsi until he retired in 2001. Like Steve Jobs, Enrico also got coaching from John Mattone. Enrico valued coaching so much he launched a program at Pepsi where he personally coached a group of nine proteges at a time in a structured, 18 month-long program he started and personally led.

Goldman Sachs - The Wall Street firm that has produced many distinguished alumni --including four recent US Secretaries of the Treasury -- values coaching so highly they have embedded it in their executive development. Here is a description from their website: "Our nomination-based leadership development programs provide vice presidents and managing directors with skills training, individual coaching and networking opportunities to help them to continue to grow in their careers. In addition, we offer our most senior leaders executive coaching, leadership acceleration initiatives and other training through Pine Street, our internal leadership academy." They explain further - "Through the years, Pine Street also moved in the direction of offering fewer, more experiential programs targeted at critical points in a partner’s career, with a strengthened focus on executive coaching and executive assessments."

Hiring an executive coach can be a worthwhile investment for executives of all types. A coach can be an independent sing board to pressure test ideas, brainstorm, and prepare for crucial conversations. A coach can provide feedback to help find blind spots to work on. A coach can also help a client set a self-development plan and keep them accountable for following it. For those seeking to continue climbing up the ladder, it can provide a valuable competitive edge over executives who insist on a "go it alone" approach. For executives content with where they are, coaching can be a great way to make work more enjoyable ... for themselves and everyone who works with them.

Executive Coaching in a COVID World - 5 Predictions

Posted on April 17, 2020 at 8:05 PM

Like all industries, the COVID-19 pandemic is having an impact on the executive coaching industry. It will also shape the executive coaching industry in the future. As a strategy consultant turned executive coach, here are five trends I see emerging.


1 - Cutbacks in Spending - The pandemic has probably launched a serious recession and recessions mean organizations and individuals slash expenses. Coaching will take hits. Some existing coaching relationships will be cancelled or put on hold. New coaching engagements will come in slower. This will be the immediate, obvious effect.


2 - Validation of the Value of Coaching - Executives are in crisis management mode right now. COVID is accelerating the need for leadership, stress-management, decision-making, and creativity from executives. Executives who already have coaching relationships may find that coaching to be especially valuable during this crisis management. Having a coach as an independent sounding board to talk through those issues can be particularly helpful. Executives who are benefitting from coaching right now may become loyalists and evangelists for coaching in the future.


3 - New Needs for Coaching - Executives are going to be challenged even after the initial crisis-management phase of COVID ends. Leading teams is going to be a different challenge going forward, at least until there is a vaccine for COVID. How do executives work through the difficult decisions they need to make in the face of the recession? What conflicts will bubble up from communication breakdowns from teams who don't see each other in-person as much, if at all? What do employees, who feel scared and disconnected, need from their leaders these days? How do executives maintain their relationships with their bosses, customers, suppliers, and other stakeholders in the new world? Coaches will be invaluable resources and sounding boards to executives to work through issues like these. Organizations and individuals who can afford an investment in coaching will likely see good returns on that investment.


4 - More Comfort with Virtual Coaching - Video communications channels like Zoom have exploded in use over the last months due to the social distancing required by COVID. Many executives who may have been slow adopters of video conferencing have been forced to become users. As they feel more comfortable with video-conferencing's ability to replace face to face meetings, these executives may start seeing other potential uses of video conferencing too. Executive coaching, which is often phone or video-conferencing based, may start getting on the radar of many executives who never thought about it before.


5 - Niches Become Even More Important - Coaching will likely migrate even more to virtual meetings over in-person meetings. Why meet in person when you can talk over the phone or video? Some coaching clients will realize they are not constrained to find a coach in their same city. They will search for expertise and fit over proximity. Why settle for choosing between coaches in your city when you can search for the exact right coach for you anywhere on the globe? Coaches who have mastered a deep, well-defined niche will benefit. Coaching customer niches can be vertical/industry-based (e.g., financial services executives), horizontal/profession-based (e.g., ex-consultants transitioned to corporate roles), or highly-specialized (e.g., doctors dealing with private equity suitors.) Coaches who have deep expertise in a niche can serve anyone in the world. Language and time zones will be the main barriers to overcome in global coaching relationships.


If you are a coach, it is time for some coaching. How is your coaching practice going to weather the current COVID storm? How can you thrive in the post-COVID world? What powerful questions would you ask if you were coaching yourself?

7 Best Books about Management Consulting

Posted on March 1, 2020 at 5:45 PM

There are about 700,000 management consultants in the USA, according to Statista. While from from the biggest industry, management consulting does cast a big shadow because of the impact, scrutiny, and alumni it generates. Since I started my business career as a management consultant with Bain & Co., I've read many books about the industry. Not only did these books make me a better consultant, they have made me a smarter client of consulting too.


Here are the seven books I recommend to anyone who is, or wants to be, a management consultant. These books are also useful for people who work with management consultants as a client, or with ex-consultants as colleagues.


1 - The Lords of Strategy by Walter Kiechel III - This book from 2010 gives a historical overview of how the strategy consulting industry grew in the powerhouse it is today. It reads more like a novel than a technical manual, especially as it tells the often intertwined stories of the founders of the traditional leaders in strategy firms - McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group, and Bain. It tells the story of how some of the frameworks that MBA students learn today - e.g., the learning/experience curve, the growth-share/"cash cow" matrix, the Five Forces Model - emerged from people in the consulting world. If you are someone who finds insights from reading history, this is the book to read on the history of the consulting industry.


2 - The McKinsey Way by Ethan M. Rasiel - This 1999 book, along with its follow up book in 2001, The McKinsey Mind, offer insights into how the most famous strategy consulting firm works. It describes the process, and several of the frameworks, that McKinsey consultants are taught to use to crack big strategic problems for clients. These are especially useful if you are considering working with McKinsey, either as an employee or as a client.


3 - The Silent War: Inside the Global Business Battles Shaping America's Future by Ira Magaziner - This 1989 book introduced me to the idea of management consulting. As an economics student before then, I had thought mostly about business as economic theories and trade policies. This book showed me the power of individual corporate strategies in driving business value. The author, a former Rhodes Scholar, shares several case studies from his career as a management consultant. He writes them more as compelling human stories than as dry business cases. The book is old and the examples are dated, but I remember it decades later, which says something about it. Read an old review here.


4 - Turnaround by Mitt Romney - Before he was a governor, presidential nominee, and senator, Mitt Romney started his career as a consultant with Bain. In this 2004 book, Romney tells the story of how he led the effort to save the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, after scandal and financial mismanagement threatened to torpedo them. The story reads like a memoir, but the management lessons and techniques that Romney learned as a consultant are constant themes. From cost-cutting to finding new revenue to driving organizational change, Romney had to lead his team through it all. It is an insightful way to see how someone steeped in consulting actually used those lessons to successfully turn-around an organization as the leader. As a bonus, Romney shares many stories from his Bain days in the book as well.


5 - The Elegant Pitch by Mike Figliuolo - Full disclosure - the author and I are friends, co-authors, and colleagues, and we teach a course based on this book. That said, I would recommend this 2016 book anyway. It teaches a framework to communicate big ideas in a succinct and compelling way. The author is a McKinsey alum, but the framework is much the same that I learned, used, and taught at Bain. By applying the process described in the book, you can avoid the "analysis/paralysis" that many organizations have where meetings are strangled by 50-page slide decks that have no clear point and generate no decisions.


6 - Death by Meeting by Patrick Lencioni - While not exactly a book about consulting, the author is a former Bain consultant and his lessons come from the experience. Lencioni's books are written as fables, with each telling a fictional story designed to teach leadership lessons. This 2004 book was the first that introduced me to his whole series, which have been remarkably successful.


7 - The 10 Day MBA: A Step-By-Step Guide To Mastering The Skills Taught In America's Top Business Schools by Steven Silbiger - Not every consultant gets an MBA. This book is a good overview of what an MBA entails if you didn't go to business school. While it won't teach you everything an MBA learns, it will give you the overview so you know what you have missed. It gives you just enough content on the topics to enable you to at least understand a conversation about the topics. The 4th edition of this book came out in 2012.



5 Ways Marketers Alienate Customers - And How to Avoid Them

Posted on February 25, 2020 at 2:40 PM

4Ps. 5 Forces. 3 C's. Marketing professionals learn many frameworks in business school and beyond. One framework is missing, however - how to avoid alienating customers through marketing practices that can go wrong. As more companies move to subscription-based models, the lessons from poor customer experience in industries like financial services, cable television, and mobile phones can provide lessons in how to avoid bad customer experiences. Here are the five biggest areas where marketers need to minimize the risk of harming their customers.


1 - Penalty Overuse - Penalties for things like late payment serve a valid purpose to shape customer behavior. The ability to levy penalties also creates an "easy money" temptation for service providers. If you are relying on penalty fees for things like late payments for a substantial part of your profit, you are courting risk because you are creating incentives to impose penalties beyond their valid purpose. If you are charging a penalty fee to terminate an account, for example, that may be a lazy way to fight customer attrition.


Recommended Action - Look at two metrics - the percentage of your profits that come from penalty fees and the the amount of penalty fees your customer service reps are reversing. If those are higher than expected, that can be a sign that you are imposing too many penalty fees.


2 - Product Perplexity - As technology drives product innovation, it also can drive complexity. Complexity can be a good thing if it moves toward mass-customization, where everyone gets a product tailored for their needs. Product complexity can be a tempting cloak to sneak bad customer deals into a product too, though. If you bury changing terms, teaser rates, hidden fees, and other "gotcha's" into your terms and conditions, you are opening yourself to alienating customers down the road. If you make it hard to figure out that total cost of your service, you are asking for complaints.


Recommended Action - Monitor your customer complaints to see where over-complexity is driving an inordinate share of your customer complaints. Re-engineer those out of your product offerings.


3 - Channel Inconsistency - Marketing often means offering different products to different customers. But if you are not providing a consistent marketing experience as your marketing plan intends, you are also courting trouble. For example, if your call center reps have a lot of individual discretion in setting prices without adequate policies and procedures, you are opening yourself to risk of unfair or biased treatment of some customers over others. If you have lots of affiliates marketing your product without clear direction and supervision, you are opening yourself to having your product pitched in ways in your name that are "off-script." Multi-channel strategies can be effective, but they take work to ensure they are delivering on the marketing intent as designed.


Recommended Action - Create clear policies and procedures for all your marketing channels - especially third party affiliates. Train everyone involved and hold them accountable by regularly auditing their performance against those standards.


4 - Vulnerability-Based Targeting - Marketing 101 teaches us why supermarkets put candy and other impulse buys next to the cash register - they are hitting customers when and where they are most vulnerable while waiting to pay. It can be tempting for marketers to focus too much on customer's vulnerabilities instead of on their needs. Left unchecked, clever merchandising tactics can evolve into marketing practices described as "predatory targeting." If your market targeting starts to look like it is based on consumer vulnerabilities more than distinct needs - e.g., "going after" the elderly or those with limited English-language proficiency - you are exposing yourself to risks of being seen as a predatory marketer.


Recommended Action - Consider getting an outside, independent audit of your marketing efforts to assess your risk of being seen as targeting vulnerable populations.


5 - Incomplete Accountability - Sales incentives are core to marketing strategies because they work. Sales agents sell more because they are rewarded for doing so. Risks emerge when the incentives that sales agents see do not include the full cost of their actions. If a sales person isn't held accountable for customer dissatisfaction after the sale, they may have a temptation to go "off script" and say whatever they need to to close the sale. If your sales performance metrics don't include things about the resulting default rates, attrition rates, and customer satisfaction, you are asking for trouble. And this goes not just for your own employees, but for your marketing partners and vendors too.


Recommended Action - Assess your sales performance metrics and incentives to see if they are balanced to include accountability with customer satisfaction post-sale.


While not a complete list of risks, these are the handful of practices that probably drive the bulk of customer alienation today. If you assess and manage your risks in these areas, you should avoid a lot of pain in the future.

Photo by Moose Photos from Pexels

10 Insights from the 2019 Chief Learning Officer (CLO) Exchange

Posted on January 19, 2020 at 2:55 PM

Last month, I attended the CLO Exchange in San Diego, a conference of the top learning and development (L&D) leaders from about 50 companies in the United States. Together, these companies employ about 2.3 million employees in the US and 3.8 million globally. It was an intense three days of information-sharing, brainstorming, and networking. While the companies represented were not a random, perfectly-representative sample of CLOs, they still offer a useful snapshot of the demographics and interests of the senior-most learning executives in the USA. Here are the biggest 10 insights I gleaned from the meeting.


1 - "Leadership / Executive Development" is the Clear #1 Focus - When asked a free-form question about their top priorities for the coming year, 40 percent of the group mentioned leadership or executive development as one of their top priorities. This was far and away the top area mentioned. The need was described several different ways, such as: "elevate leadership capabilities at all levels," "roll out tiered leadership learning journeys, customized to the experience/leadership maturity level of the individual," "bridge leadership skill gaps," and "build the leadership bench."


Recommendation -> If you don't have leadership development as one of your priorities, reconsider your priorities. Leadership is like air and water - you don't appreciate how important it is until it isn't there. Leadership takes continual development to keep pace in the face of organization growth and executive attrition. If you haven't added or refreshed your leadership development in a while, start looking for good training and other programs now.


2 - Developing a "Learning & Development Culture" is the #2 Focus - The second most prevalent priority mentioned was to develop a learning and development culture in their organization. This builds on the momentum that has re-labeled the field from "training" to "learning and development." L&D leaders want to weave continuous learning and people development into the fabric of their organizations' cultures as an everyday value, not just as a task that has to be done.


Recommendation -> Recruit your senior-most executives to talk about the importance of continual learning as the key to organizational success. Arm them with some data and stories of how successful leaders in your organization grew from L&D efforts. Ask them to think about how training and development efforts personally helped them on their own career and leadership journeys.


3 - E-Learning is Everywhere - The third most mentioned priority was the need to offer learning through new digital channels to meet clients needs in more flexible ways. Sometimes this means having a blended approach to training, where an e-learning channel complements other traditional channels, like instructor-led training. Sometimes it means offering e-learning as an alternative or replacement.


Recommendation -> Review your existing programs to see where e-learning could be a valuable addition, replacement, or complement to your existing inventory. Explore growing e-learning channels, such as LinkedIN Learning, as an additional channel to spur learning and development. Often, LinkedIN Learning is already available to your users but they are not aware it is there and they can access it.


4 - On-Boarding is Core - Fifteen percent of attendees said working on their on-boarding/orientation process was a priority. On-boarding and new employee orientation are often a core responsibility of L&D teams. Since it touches every employee and creates a first impression, it is kind of like the base of the hierarchy of needs. You have to make sure your L&D team consistently excels in its role in on-boarding and new employee orientation.


Recommendation -> Before you ask to grow your L&D footprint, make sure you are crushing the basics. Delivering great on-boarding/orientation can be the table stakes your top executives will want to see before you ask for their support to expand and innovate your L&D efforts.


5 - Asked for L&D's ROI? You're Not Alone - Fifteen percent of these L&D leaders said finding a way to measure the return on investment (ROI) in training was a priority for them in the coming year. There doesn't seem to be a one-sized-fits-all silver bullet for measuring the value and outcomes from training.


Recommendation -> This is a tough one, as it's hard to argue against knowing your efforts' ROI. As data continues to get more accessible to measure the effectiveness of programs like online marketing, expect the demands to quantify the ROI of L&D to increase. Think through a high-level approach and philosophy to responding to the question to avoid getting dragged down a data wormhole. With leadership development, for example, start by painting a picture of what happens if you make no investment there. Your best strategy may be to focus on delivering great learning and development results and stand by your overall record as proof of your worth.


6 - LMS/LXPs are Still Rolling - Fifteen percent of the L&D leaders mentioned something with their Learning Management/Experience System as being a priority for the year. For some, it was getting the most out of their existing system. For others, it was rolling out a new system. The vast majority of L&D leaders didn't mention their LMS/LXS as a priority though.


Recommendation -> Before making a big investment in upgrading or getting a new LMS/LXS, make sure you are getting the full use of what you already have. Because they can be complex, included features in LMS systems can often be untapped.


7 - "Microlearning" is the new "Gamification" - The word "gamification" was only mentioned once with the L&D leaders, while "microlearning" came up with about ten percent of them. The biggest interest was in delivering training in small bites to workers on the front line (e.g., retail, food service) when they had time, and the need, to consume it.


Recommendation -> Read up on "microlearning." It will probably be the next learning buzzword that makes it into the management mainstream. Get smart about it before your boss does.


8 - L&D Leader Job Titles Center on "Director" - "Director" was the most prevalent job title at 37 percent, with "Senior Director" at 12 percent, "Assistant/Associate Vice President" at 12 percent, "Vice President / Senior Vice President" at 8 percent, and "Head of" at 10 percent. Four percent were "Assistant / Associate Director" and another 10 percent were "Manager" or "Lead." Only 6 percent had the title "Chief Learning Officer."


Recommendation -> If the leader of your L&D efforts has a title below "Director," consider upgrading it to align with their peers in other organizations and demonstrate that you value the role.


9 - "Learning" and "Development" Have Replaced "Training" - Only 15 percent of attendees had the word "training" in their title, while the word "learning" was in 53 percent and "development" was in 47 percent.


Recommendation -> If you still have the word "training" in your team and job titles, consider updating it to "learning" or "development." "Training" is an input. "Learning" and "Development" are the desired outcomes of training.


10 - Women are Well-Represented in L&D Leadership - Two-thirds of the representatives were women, and one-third were men. In other words, women outnumbered men two to one in this group of leaders.


Recommendation -> Look to your L&D team as a center of excellence in developing women leaders. Consider L&D leaders as you look to fill executive roles outside L&D. Look to L&D for mentors to help grow women leaders in other areas of your organization.


There were many other issues that were also shared as top priorities by at least a few of these L&D leaders, such as employee engagement, artificial intelligence and virtual reality, diversity and inclusion, and succession planning. Perhaps the most important lesson I learned at this conference is how strong the L&D community is. Because L&D doesn't typically center around trade secrets, L&D leaders are open to talking and helping their peers in different organizations. Conferences like the CLO Exchange can be a great way to connect with your L&D peers to share best practices and realize you are not alone in the challenges you are facing.

Photo courtesy of Rene Asmussen on



7 Core Skills for Employee Development Plans in 2020

Posted on December 5, 2019 at 5:35 PM

You get the mass email from HR and feel a familiar dread - "Has it already been a year? Performance management time again?" At a minimum, you probably have to write your self-appraisal and goals for the next year. If you have people reporting to you, you have to write appraisals and goals for them as well. That means more work for you, without any more time to do it. Ouch!

The good news is that there can be a payoff to that investment, particularly in the goal setting for the next year. In addition to performance goals, you should also add goals to improve key skills required for the job and career track. As automation continues to change the workplace, training will be an essential way for people to stay competitive in the workforce. Here are seven core skills trainings that should be included in employee development plans in 2020.

1 - Problem-Solving - Work that is predictable and programable can be done by a machine. Work that includes problems that cannot be solved by machines requires humans. Problem-solving is a core skill that people need to master. Problem-solving means diagnosing a problem and identifying and assessing potential solutions. A great method to solve problems comes from an old source - the centuries-old hypothesis testing process many of us learned in high school science class. Elite consulting firms train their new hires to use this scientific method to solve business problems. 

2 - Communication - Figuring out solutions to problems is critical, but if you cannot communicate those solutions to others, you will not be effective. Elite consulting firms train their professionals in a standard structure to communicate complex ideas in an effective and efficient way. This method can help you communicate your ideas clearly and concisely, which will improve your chances of success. 

3 - Teamwork - People get trained before working with complex technology. Humans are more complex than any technology, and working effectively in teams requires training too. It takes work to set team goals and coordinate individual roles and responsibilities around those team goals. Done poorly, teamwork can drive stress, poor results, and inefficiency. Done well, teamwork can be a fantastic force multiplier. 

4 - Decision-Making - Identifying problems and possible solutions are great, but if you cannot decide between the options, you will be stuck. Decision-making is a skill that can be improved by learning and applying a proven process. Some decisions need a lot of input and time, while others just need to get made quickly. 

5 - Conflict Resolution - People at work compete for finite resources like time and money. People have different opinions on which strategies are the best. Conflict in the workplace is a natural outcome of activity. In fact, if you don't see conflict at your work you may need to worry that there is not enough activity or engagement. It takes skills to ensure conflict is a healthy dynamic instead of a destructive force at work. 

6 - Leadership - If you master the above five skills, chances are you will succeed as an individual performer and be considered for advancement to leadership roles. If you are already leading teams, you always have an opportunity to take on larger leadership roles. Leading people at work is a skill that can be learned and improved. 

7 - Strategic Planning - In addition to learning to lead people at work, you will need to sharpen your strategic planning skills to be an effective leader. You don't have to be a visionary to be a strategic planner. A good strategic plan can also come from a good strategic planning process that generates ideas from your team and prioritized them against your goals. Strategic planning is as much about deciding what not to do as it is about deciding what to do. 

You spend a lot of time on your annual performance management process. Make sure you get a payoff for that work. Use your self-appraisal and development plans to ask your manager for trainings like these that will help you succeed. If you lead people at work, recommend these trainings as needed for your people as you assess their opportunities for improvement. Performance management often focuses on the past. These trainings can show a path forward to future success.

5 Ways to Measure the Value of Corporate Training

Posted on November 3, 2019 at 2:15 PM

I was at a summit of Chief Learning Officers (CLOs) and one of the most common challenges they mentioned was the need to demonstrate a return on investment from training. Unlike investments in "hard" assets like facilities and equipment, investments in "soft" skills through training can be hard to calculate. At budget request time, CLOs can find themselves at a disadvantage to their colleagues who can point to more easily measured improvements in their operations. Here are five ways that CLOs can communicate the value of training in a concrete way.

1 - A/B Testing - One of the CLOs described how he rolled out training to call centers in a controlled testing way. The company decided to invest in training their call center employees in new soft skills like showing empathy and de-escalating emotional conversations. In the roll out, the CLO held off training one call center to be the control in the experiment they could use to isolate the effects of the training. After the training was delivered, they tracked changes in key metrics like customer satisfaction, retention rates, and employee turnover at each of the call centers. Because they kept one call center out as the control in the experiment, they were able to claim the improvement in metrics was due to the training.

Implementation Tip - Ensure the internal clients agree with your testing plan, especially that the site picked as the "control" in the experiment is comparable to the other sites. Plan to roll out the training at the control site at a set time - e.g., 6-12 months later.

2 - Tie to Performance Appraisal Metrics - Since employee appraisals often have common competencies that are scored across all employees, they can provide a way to quantify a "before versus after" impact of training. Identify the competencies that a training is aimed at improving. Gather and compare the before versus after scores on those competencies for training attendees. Compare the change in scores to a similar set of employees that have not had the training (i.e., your "control" in the experiment.) If you have had enough employees go through the training, the comparison can be a solid way to show results on competencies that matter.

Implementation Tip - If you have a hard time mapping a training to competencies your employees are measured against, reconsider the training in question to find one more directly applicable.

3 - Compare it to the Compensation of Students - Identify the cost of the training per person trained and the average annual compensation per person trained. Express the cost of the training as a percentage of their compensation. For example, if a training costs $1,000 per student and the average annual compensation of students is $50,000, that means the training represents two percent of their annual cost. That two percent becomes the one-year "break-even" point for the training investment. That means that if it sounds reasonable that the training will make the students at least two percent better at their job on average, the training is a positive investment.

Implementation Tip - The investment in training is a one-time cost but the benefits should last more than just one year. Comparing the one-time cost to the combined compensation over multiple years can make the break even point be much lower.

4 - Ask Students to Appraise Value - After the training is completed, ask the students to assess the value they received. Beyond the usual survey questions, ask them how much they would pay to get that training. Give them a few relevant costs as reference points, like the average cost of a college course or other corporate trainings they are familiar with. Those will give them comparison points to set a value on the training. While not scientific, they may provide a useful customer insight with dollar signs attached.

Implementation Tip - Choose your reference points wisely. Find one that everyone goes through and can relate to, such as new employee orientation or mandatory trainings.

5 - Get Key Student Testimonials - In the post-training surveys, ask students if they would recommend the training to others. Ask them to write a sentence or two that you can use as a recommendation for others to take the course. Just like customer testimonials are important on many consumer purchases, use those testimonials to demonstrate the value of your training courses.

Implementation Tip - Keep a running list of all the employees you have trained and identify the ones over time who rise up through the organization. Highlight those testimonials when discussing the value of your trainings to show a senior level of support.

Fighting for training dollars at budget time can be stressful for everyone, especially Chief Learning Officers. It can seem impossible to point to a concrete return on investment calculation for a new training in soft skills. The best way to show the expected return on investment from a new training can often be to point to the historical results from other trainings like it.

Note: Photos are from and 

8 Steps to Better Quarterly Performance Review Meetings

Posted on October 1, 2019 at 3:55 PM

You see the upcoming meeting on your calendar and feel a familiar dread. "Has it already been three months?" Of all your meetings, this is the one that takes (wastes?) the most time. How many people attend these meetings? How many people-hours does it take to put the slides together each time?

When done well, Quarterly Business Reviews (QBRs) or Quarterly Performance Reviews (QPRs) can be an essential way for leaders at different levels of an organization to stay in synch and demonstrate good governance. When done poorly, they can be a soul-sapping waste of time. If you are involved in QBRs, here are 8 steps to make sure your organization's QBR's are effective.

1 - Identify Your Audience's Goals - Who is the main audience for the meeting - e.g., the Chief Executive Officer (CEO)? What do they most need, and want, to learn from this meeting? They probably sit through several of these each quarter and don't want a primer on your business again. They definitely don't need to hear how busy you are. Perhaps they just want to see the results in your area - especially discussing where results are not as expected. Perhaps they want advance warning of risks and bad news so they can try to manage them. Perhaps they want to hear good news so they can share it. Perhaps they want to hear what is top of mind with your customers or employees. Anticipate the handful of things your audience is probably going to focus on and plan your meeting around those. Reviewing notes from previous QBRs can be a good start to identify themes that recur.

2 - Identify Your Goals - As an organizational unit presenting a QBR, it can be one of the few times you get the CEO's attention focused on your team. Make sure you meet their needs listed above, but don't forget to incorporate your goals for the meeting too. Perhaps you need to tee up a decision or a resource request you need from them. Perhaps you want to give your team members exposure and recognition. Maybe you want to plant seeds with the CEO to test the waters for your future plans. Whatever your goals are, plan the meeting so you make sure you get to them. The last slide should be titled "Next Steps" and include those to make sure everyone is talking about the same outcomes from the meeting.


3 - Start with a Summary - Start your meeting with an executive summary that covers the goals you and your audience have. If done well, it may be the only slide that you get to and lead to the outcomes you, and your audience, want. If you worry about your meeting going off on unexpected tangents, having a well crafted executive summary can help you get back to the main points of the presentation. If you are technically savvy, inserting hyperlinks in the on-screen presentation to navigate from and back to your executive summary can be a great way to keep the meeting on point.


4 - Standardize the Slides - If you treat every QBR as a new presentation, that will burn a lot of resources to produce the slides. Create a dashboard for your key metrics that you will show each time and just update the data. Where you don't have numbers, think about creating a stoplight chart of red, yellow, and green circles to show where things are tracking against expectations. Start each new QBR with the last version and just edit it with updates. Not only will that save you time, it will also train your audience on what to expect to see in these meetings. It will also focus your new slide creation to be just on the new goals you have for this meeting.


5 - Confirm the Attendees - One good thing about QBRs is that they can be scheduled far in advance so planned absences can be avoided. As you are scheduling it, ensure that all the right people from your side are committed to be there that day in-person. Principals only - don't let people send their deputies to represent them. If it is important enough for the CEO to be there, it is important enough for the team heads to be there in-person too. This is important to ensure accountability for the information being presented and to be able to commit to the next steps coming out of the meeting.


6 - Anticipate the Questions - You may not want to invest the time to do a trial run of your meeting, but it is worthwhile to anticipate the question that may arise. As you circulate the slides with your team in the preparation stage, encourage people to share the questions that come to their mind from the content. That will identify holes you need to fill and inconsistencies you need to fix. It can also make sure you figure out how to steer the conversation back to the goals that you and your audience have.


7 - Track the Follow-Up - Assign someone in the meeting with the duty of capturing the next steps that come out of the discussion - especially the requests coming from the CEO. Capture those on paper, a word processor, or a flip chart and share those with the group at the end of the meeting. That way everyone can agree on exactly what the next steps are and a deadline and accountable person for each. Once the meeting is over, send out those next steps as an email to all the attendees at the meeting. Assign someone to check in on the status of the next steps. Complete the circle by starting the next QBR with a reminder of the next steps from the last one and the results against each since then.


8 - Share the Story - Make your QBR a platform and reminder to regularly communicate about performance down through the rest of your organization. People want to hear how they are doing and how their work fits into the larger goals of the organization. You have just invested a lot of time to create your QBR, so use it to keep your rank and file connected too. You may want to simplify and edit the content before you share it more broadly. Introduce the content as a letter from the team leader and include appropriate comments from the CEO about the work of the team, especially the kudos.


The next time you are in a QBR, do this math equation in your head: (number of people in the meeting) x (average annual salary / 2,000) = the hourly salary cost of your QBR meeting. Like an iceberg, that will just be the cost you can see above the surface, so multiply that times maybe 5-10 to capture the hours spent preparing for the meeting. You may be surprised at the cost. These meetings are big investments, so taking the time to ensure they are effective can be a great investment too.