A Manager’s Guide to Keeping the Best and Brightest


When a valued employee suddenly and unexpectedly gives his or her notice, managers and supervisors will want to know why. Often, they will seek the answer in the “exit interview,” the standard meeting between outgoing employees and their bosses. The concept of exit interviews raises an obvious question: Would it not be better to find out why valued employees may want to leave before they turn in their resignation letters?

Consultant Richard Finnegan agrees and offers a solution: the “stay” interview. In his book The Stay Interview: A Manager’s Guide to Keeping the Best and Brightest, Finnegan lays out the process for regular face-to-face meetings during which managers can pre-emptively uncover problems and concerns and resolve them.

Questions and Probes

The goal of the stay interview, and one that differentiates it from performance reviews or personal-development meetings, is for the employee to set the agenda, not the manager. This does not mean that the manager should not prepare for the meeting. On the contrary, managers should prepare as much as possible, Finnegan writes. For example, he suggests that before the meeting managers prepare two lists: an “important to them” list and a “my beliefs” list. The “important to them” list is an effort to anticipate (and thus be prepared to respond to) all the issues and concerns that the employee might have. “Avoid falling into the trap of thinking that if something is important to you, then it must be important to everybody,” warns Finnegan. “Conducting effective stay interviews requires putting your needs on the sidelines and focusing entirely on those of your employees.” The “my beliefs” list must follow this rule. It is a list of solutions or suggestions that managers believe should be offered (if the employee does not ask for them first) because they believe the employee will benefit from them.

The next step is to prepare the questions for the interview that will, in essence, help the employee set the agenda — that is, keep the meeting focused on his or her needs and not the needs of the manager. Finnegan offers five key questions to use in the interviews:

When you come to work each day, what things do you look forward to?

What are you learning here?

Why do you stay here?

When was the last time you thought about leaving our team? What prompted it?

What can I do to make your experience at work better for you?

These questions are the opening to the conversations. Each question, Finnegan emphasizes, must be followed up with what he calls “probes”: questions designed to dig deep into the reasoning of the employee’s responses. Effective probing will reveal the core emotions, concerns or challenges at the heart of the first responses to the questions.

Four Essential Skills

Probing, according to Finnegan, is one of the four essential skills required to make stay interviews work. Listening and taking notes are also essential skills, but it may be the fourth skill that Finnegan highlights that may be the most challenging to managers: supporting the employee without throwing the company under the bus. It’s easy in such situations to commiserate with the employee about the unfairness of the situation. In the long run, however, an employee is not going to stay engaged in a company in which even middle managers agree that the executives don’t know what they’re doing. Managers, Finnegan writes, should respond by expressing to employees their trust in top management — a trust that must be sincere. If managers have their own doubts about the company, they are not in a good position to work with employees on engagement.

Finnegan’s comprehensive guide, which covers all the facets of stay interviews, including developing stay plans and avoiding interview traps, does not gloss over the challenge of keeping the best and brightest in the company. In The Stay Interview, he introduces a valuable employee engagement tool that is realistic and practical but requires a conscientious effort from both parties.

Balancing the Inverse Equation of Increasing Demands + Shrinking Resources


What consultant Jesse Sostrin calls “the manager’s dilemma” is easily explained and all too familiar to any manager: too much demand, not enough resources. Specifically, as Sostrin writes in his new book, The Manager’s Dilemma: Balancing the Inverse Equation of Increasing Demands and Shrinking Resources, “There is not — and never will be — enough time, energy, resources or focus to meet the demand.” As a result, managers and businesses are often toggling between a “performance zone,” where resources meet demands, and a “danger zone,” when resources and demands are out of balance, and one, Sostrin writes, becomes “defensive, disorganized, disrupted, disoriented and disengaged.” (Sostrin uses the evocative acronym TERF for time, energy, resources and focus.)

Before addressing the dilemma, you have to know that it exists, Sostrin writes. Many managers are unaware that they are in the dilemma. They say things such as, “With so many deadlines and demands, some priorities will have to be sacrificed,” or “It’s too crazy now; I’ll focus better once things settle down.”

Contradictory statements such as these — not addressing priorities only means that the deadlines and demands will continue, for example — are red flags that indicate the manager is entangled in the manager’s dilemma and doesn’t know it, writes Sostrin. “The first and best response to the manager’s dilemma,” he explains, “is to accept the situation for what it is and to focus all of your available TERF in a concentrated effort to balance the equation.”

Principles to Guide Managers

Balancing the equation is the first of the two big phases that managers must achieve to effectively emerge from the manager’s dilemma. Sostrin offers four principles, explored in detail in the book, that will guide managers in balancing the equation.

The first principle is to follow the contradiction. Contradictions, explains Sostrin, are subtle clues that tell the alert manager something is wrong. Rushing your work because you have no time to slow down, only to spend more time fixing the mistakes in the rushed work is a typical contradiction reflecting the manager’s dilemma.

Once alerted, the other three principles help you move out of the danger zone: Determine your line of sight; in other words, focus on the right priorities. Distinguish your contributions; that is, know your strongest value-added capabilities, and use those capabilities over others. And plug the leaks, i.e., the ongoing experiences that reduce performance by draining your TERF.

These four principles, writes Sostrin, “rebalance the inverse equation of shrinking resources and increasing demands” — but he believes managers can do better. In a section called “Flip the Scales,” Sostrin introduces an additional four principles that, he writes, will “render the dilemma’s effects irrelevant.”

The first principle is to create the conditions you need to achieve more value. A sample of such conditions, according to Sostrin, includes flexibility, openness to diverse ideas or a willingness to innovate even if it requires letting go of the past.

The second principle is to find the pocket of influence. The issue is timing — learning the optimal time to take the bold action required. Sostrin’s third principle is to convert your challenges to fuel — in other words, turn setbacks into opportunities for learning and performance. A tool called the navigation map makes this possible. Finally, Sostrin urges you to make your goals their priorities. This last principle entails building a mutual agenda with your team.

Scenarios, examples and tools in The Manager’s Dilemma support this solid eight-principle methodology for addressing one of the core barriers to management performance: too little resources for too many demands.

Leading the Way to World-Class Excellence

theleanceo2As organizations strive to do more with less, many are turning to Lean methodology, which is based on the same techniques that propelled the legendary turnaround of Japan’s industrial sector after World War II.

The Lean CEO reveals the true power of Lean through in-depth interviews with CEOs who have gone beyond tool adoption and established Lean as a corporate-wide management system.

The CEOs tell in their own words how they applied Lean management to deliver sustainable financial results, empower and motivate employees, break down internal silos and build solid partnerships with customers and suppliers. Their testimony provides a goldmine of practical advice for managers in Lean and non-Lean organizations alike, as they share their personal insights on topics such as leading and empowering people, building transparency and trust, tuning into the customer experience and creating a learning organization.

Thoughtful, sometimes brutally frank, these leaders challenge many of the sacred cows of traditional business, such as standard cost accounting, hierarchical management, emphasis on large batches and our obsession with data and computers. Citing  numerous examples from their experiences, they provide a fresh view of today’s business challenges and a positive roadmap for any organization that is striving for excellence.


• How to apply Lean management to empower and motivate people.

• How to build transparency and trust.

• How to align strategic direction with day-to-day operations.

• How to instill a corporate-wide culture that promotes quality.

Not a Soundview Executive Book Summaries subscriber? Then click on the title to purchase and download it right now to begin learning these critical business skills.


4 Tips for Becoming a Whole-Brained Leader

Ann Herrmann-Nehdi is CEO of Herrmann International and co-author of The Whole Brain® Business Book, Second Edition (McGraw-Hill).

What’s the most effective leadership style?

OK, it’s a trick question.

There is no “one size fits all” style. Leadership is personal; it’s individual. The best leaders aren’t trying to be someone they’re not or to force-fit themselves into a prescribed mold. They understand their own style—who they are—and they’ve learned how to leverage it.

But regardless of personal leadership styles, our research has shown that there are some commonalities among the most effective leaders. Especially in a business world that’s as complex and fluid as today’s, we’ve found that being a successful leader requires Whole Brain® Thinking.

This means understanding how you prefer to think as well as what your mental “blind spots” are. It’s also about having the agility to stretch outside your thinking comfort zones when the situation requires it.

The great thing about the brain is that you have access to all of it. So while I may prefer conceptual thinking over structured approaches, that doesn’t mean I can’t focus in on detailed action items. It does, however, take conscious awareness, motivation, and effort. And most of the time, we’re pretty unconscious about our thinking.

To get more conscious about thinking so you can become a more effective leader, start with these quick tips:

  1. Understand all the brainpower that’s available. Being whole-brained isn’t just about your own thinking; it’s also about recognizing who can supplement your strengths when the situation requires it (and then listening to them!). Know the people around you, and bring in the complementary thinking you need to see all contingencies and aspects of an issue.
  2. Make thinking a priority. Our culture is focused on “do, do, do,” to the point where thinking is often viewed as a luxury. But it’s your job to think, and you can’t run on autopilot when the landscape is constantly changing. Own, schedule, and protect your thinking time, as well as the thinking time for those you lead.
  3. Play to people’s strengths. When employees are disengaged and burned out because their jobs don’t match their thinking preferences, it can cost the company millions. Tools like the HBDI® Assessment can be used to understand not only the person’s preferences, but also the mental requirements of a particular job. This is valuable information for talent alignment and coaching/performance support discussions.
  4. Escape your thinking confines. It’s easy to get contaminated by your industry or organizational mindset. To be more strategic and innovative, you have to make a point to regularly escape this narrow view. Read about industries that have nothing to do with yours, attend different conferences, network widely. If you don’t look outside, you risk getting caught off-guard.

You can hire experts in finance and lean and technology. What you can’t hire is your own ability to think critically, creatively, and strategically, to think visually, intuitively, and globally—to be able to project your leadership out into the future. Get conscious about your thinking by exercising Whole Brain® leadership daily.

Learn more about Whole Brain Thinking at our upcoming webinar with Ann Herrmann-Nehdi: Unlock the Power of Whole Brain Thinking.

A New Way of Thinking

So often, we are limited by our own perspective, our own way of looking at business and life. It is no small challenge to break out of this narrow mindset in order to gain the perspective of our colleagues, employees and customers – but it can mean the difference between success and failure.

We have invited two authors to join us next week to help us break through the limitations of our thinking. On August 4th Ann Herrmann-Nehdi will introduce the concept of whole-brain thinking, and then on August 6th Bernard Mayer will provide a new perspective on conflict resolution.

Unlock the Power of Whole Brain Thinking – Ann Herrmann-Nehdi

Filled with real-world examples and essential charts, exercises, action steps, and strategies, this Soundview Live webinar shows you how to rethink your business, prepare for the future, realign your goals, and reinvigorate your team — by putting your whole brain to work.

Taking Conflict to a More Productive Place – Bernard Mayer

In this Soundview Live webinar Bernard Mayer outlines seven major dilemmas that conflict practitioners face every day. Participants will find expert guidance toward getting to the heart of the conflict and will be challenged to adopt a new way to think about the choices disputants face.  They will also be offered practical tools and techniques for more successful intervention. Using stories, experiences, and reflective exercises to bring these concepts to life, Mayer provides actionable advice for overcoming roadblocks to effective conflict work.

As always, these webinar are free for subscribers. And if you’re not yet a subscriber, you can Subscribe to our Online Edition for what it would cost for just these two events, and receive our summaries and a year of weekly webinars.

Concentrate on the First 90 Days to Avoid Mentoring Missteps

Today’s guest bloggers are Lois Zachary and Lory Fischler, authors of Starting Strong: A Mentoring Fable.

Mentoring Missteps:

  • Mentors start off a mentoring relationship by drilling down on workplace issues before sufficiently establishing trust and build a solid relationship.
  • Mentoring pairs avoid difficult conversations.
  • Mentoring pairs automatically assume they each understand the need for discretion.
  • Mentees feel compelled to accept mentor recommendations, even though other issues might be more pressing.
  • Mentee goals are not be worthy of a mentor’s time and effort.
  • Goals are too easily accomplished or become a punch list of tasks and to-dos.
  • Goals are beyond the mentee’s capability or position or they don’t align with organizational priorities.

These missteps can be easily avoided if you take the time to lay a solid foundation at the beginning of a mentoring relationship, specifically during its first 90 days.

Engage in conversation. During the first 90 days mentoring partners build a trusting relationship, settle into agreements about how to work together, and focus on creating and working on SMART goals. If trust isn’t established early on, a mentee won’t be real and honest.  She may “posture” and try to look successful.  When this happens it masks a mentee’s real challenges and problems. Conversation will remain on the surface.

  • What questions can you ask your mentee to get her to feel comfortable?


Embed structure. Even when trust is established, partners need to put some structured agreements in place to ensure they stay on track and are productive.  Planning, agendas, timelines, confidentiality, deciding how often, where and when to meet all need to be addressed up front.  How do you handle a cancelled meeting?  How do you make the most of your time?  What are the hot buttons each person wants to avoid?  Talking about these at the beginning of a relationship increases the likelihood of mentoring success.

  • What agreements will you and your mentee need to put it place before you get started?


Create smart goals. Learning is the central focus of the relationship and the mentee’s goals drive that learning. If the goals aren’t specific, conversations never have a focus.  If goals are measurable, mentoring partners don’t know if they are actually making progress.  Both the mentor and mentee need to be invested in the goals. And not all goals are right for mentoring; they need to be stretch goals, they need to be worthy of the mentor’s time and effort and the energy and commitment of the mentee.  The goals need to make a difference ultimately to the mentee’s career success.

  • How will the goals your mentee wants to work on contribute to his growth and development?


The first 90 days are critical to mentoring success. What structures do you need to put in place to make the most of your first 90 days?

To learn more about the mentoring process, watch our recent webinar with Zachary and Fischler, titled The First 90 Days of a Mentoring Relationship.

People Are Not Widgets

“Your people are not your greatest asset. They’re not yours, and they’re not assets.”

Rodd Wagner

In his book Widgets, Wagner refers to the many terms used to codify people for business purposes, like “full-time equivalents,” “headcount,” “talent,” “human capital,” “overhead,” “inventory,” or “aprons.”

“Once people are seen as widgets – as “human resources” – it’s much easier to apply to them the kinds of Operationspeak that should be reserved for raw materials. They are “downsized,” attributed,” “onboarded,” “blended,” “change-managed,” “diversity-trained,” “e-taught,” “force-ranked,” “matrixed,” “requisitioned,” or “made redundant.”

Wagner and his researchers developed the 12 new rules of engagement to counteract this dehumanizing influence:

  1. Get inside their heads
  2. Make them fearless
  3. Make money a non-issue
  4. Help them thrive
  5. Be cool
  6. Be boldly transparent
  7. Don’t kill the meaning
  8. See their future
  9. Magnify their success
  10. Unite them
  11. Let them lead
  12. Take it to extremes

To learn more about how these new rules of engagement work in business, join us for our Soundview Live webinar with Rodd Wagner called Managing Employees As If They’re Real People. Wagner provides a guide to better understanding human nature on the job and to understanding each of the New Rules that emerged from the team’s extensive research. It’s a guide for ferreting out and fixing all the ways your company treats its people like widgets.

Insights From Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead


Laszlo Bock, head of People Operations at Google, once interviewed a job candidate who was clearly wearing a new and quite expensive pinstripe suit purchased just for the interview. Bock told the candidate that he had good news and bad news. The good news was that he was hired; the bad news is that he would never wear that beautiful suit again.

Googlers, as the 50,000 employees of Google are called, do not wear suits. However, casual clothes is just one (rather minor) facet of a progressive working environment that has allowed Google to win numerous Great Place to Work awards, not only in the United States but in countries around the world. In his book Work Rules: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Work, Bock details how the company recruits, motivates and manages the highly talented people who join the company.

A High-Freedom Approach

For Bock, a “high-freedom approach” to managing people is key, as compared to the low-freedom command-and-control approach of traditional companies. For example, in addition to mission (Google’s succinct mission statement is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”), the cornerstones of Google’s culture are transparency and voice, he writes.

While many companies insist they champion full transparency of the company’s operations and giving their employees a voice, Google translates the words into unequivocal, on-the-ground action. For example, one would expect that Google would carefully guard its code base — the collection of source code that contains, Bock writes, “the secrets of how Google’s algorithms and products work.” In most software companies, new engineers can see some of the code base for just their product. “At Google, a newly hired software engineer gets access to almost all of our code on the first day,” he writes. The issue is trust, he explains. If you trust your employees, there is no reason not to be transparent and not to let them guide decisions.

As Bock writes in one of the two “work rules” that summarize the chapter on culture, “Give people slightly more trust, freedom and authority than you are comfortable giving them. If you’re not nervous, you haven’t given them enough.”

Each chapter ends with two to four of these succinct work rules that encapsulate the core lesson of the chapter. These work rules are listed at the end of the book, creating perhaps one of the most comprehensive guides to managing people ever gathered in four short pages.

Some of the work rules are progressive but not surprising. The work rules for selecting new employees, for example, are set a high bar for quality, find your own candidates, assess candidates objectively and give candidates a reason to join.

Other work rules may be more unexpected. The rules for compensation begin with “Swallow hard and pay unfairly. Have wide variations in pay that reflect the power law distribution of performance.” In other words, it is often assumed that employees at a certain level should make approximately the same amount of compensation, with some slight adjustment for performance. However, the contribution that employees make to the company will vary greatly from employee to employee. Studies show that the top 1 percent (in performance) of workers generates 10 times the output of average workers. Employees, Bock writes, should be compensated accordingly.

While there are numerous books about Silicon Valley management methods, Work Rules offers both an in-depth exploration of the workings of the iconic company’s HR efforts and policies and a take-away list of practical to-dos valuable to the HR functions of any company.

Markers of Meaning

“The startling truth is that 70% of the workforce is disengaged – their bodies may put in long hours, but their hearts and minds never punch in.  You may even be one of those that’s searching for ways to make work really work for you.  This is a terrible dilemma for organizations trying to motivate employees to do more with less. So how to motivate the disengaged, and further engage the engaged?  It’s not pay, perks, or promotions.

The answer is to foster meaning at work, that is, give work a greater sense of personal significance, and thus, make work matter. “    Scott Mautz

Through his research, Mautz has discovered that specific Markers of Meaning exist, or unique conditions that create meaning in and at work. It’s possible to learn how to trigger each Marker of Meaning and inspire elevated performance and fulfillment that sustains over the long haul.

Markers of Meaning:


  1. Doing work that matters


  1. Being congruently challenged
  2. Working with a heightened sense of competency and self-esteem
  3. Being in control and influencing decisions/outcomes


  1. Working in a caring/authentic/teamwork-based culture
  2. Feeling connection with and confidence in leadership and the mission
  3. Being free from corrosive workplace behavior

Looking at this list of markers, I can see why such conditions would be motivators for engagement in any company or work environment. But how do we foster these markers of meaning in our organizations?

Join us on July 7th to learn how. We have invited Scott Mautz to present his findings and answers at our Soundview Live webinar How to Motivate By Creating Meaning. You’ll walk away equipped with a host of specific ideas, insight, and practical tools to help do so.

Why Do Many Mentoring Relationships Lose Their Way?

Our guest bloggers today are Lois Zachary and Lory Fischler, authors of Starting Strong.

Why is it that so many mentoring relationships seem to lose their way?

We believe that we have some answers!

  • The concept of mentoring is not uniformly understood. Mentoring partners hold different assumptions about what mentoring actually means.
  • Mentees and mentors are inadequately prepared for mentoring roles and responsibilities.
  • The mentor’s role is frequently seen as doling out advice, offering guidance and dispensing wisdom.
  • Mentoring partners assume they know each other and fail to take the adequate time to build trust.
  • Relationships derail when mentoring goals remain fuzzy, and that affects the desired outcome.
  • Mentors and mentees fail to build in structures to promote mutual accountability for the relationship.
  • Only one partner is doing the heavy lifting.

Be assured there is no magic or mystique to mentoring. Mentoring requires work— work that unfolds in continuous conversation. And, not just any conversation works. While many mentor-mentee exchanges are called conversation, these so called conversations end up being a series of transactions or interactions. Mentors and mentees experience better results when they are fully prepared to engage in effective conversations.

Our research and experience demonstrates that conversations that take place during the first 90 days of a mentoring relationship are good barometers of success or failure. These conversations set the tone, direction, energy and momentum for unleashing powerful learning experiences.

We wrote Starting Strong for two reasons. First, we wanted to help people understand what really good mentoring conversation looks like in practice. Second, we wanted to address the most very basic and common questions: What does it actually look like in practice?  How do the individuals who are engaged in mentoring actually experience the relationship? What do they think about?  What do they talk about? What conversations should they engage in to build their relationship and initiate the learning process?

Our purpose was to invite readers to become armchair observers and learn some valuable lessons about mentoring from watching good mentoring practice in action over the critical first 90 days.

The mentor in Starting Strong is an experienced executive and savvy mentor. Her millennial mentee is ambitious and eager for a quick promotion. As their mentoring relationship ramps up, readers listen in as the mentoring partners engage in six essential conversations. Readers also become privy to each of their thoughts as the relationship develops over time.

The conversations help the mentee and mentor build trust, establish agreements, formulate goals, and tackle challenges that get in the way. In the process, both partners discover the importance of a well-launched mentoring relationship, the critical role of preparation, how to build a trusting, open and honest relationship, how to maximize their mentoring time, how mentors help mentees take charge of their own learning, and how to address stumbling blocks without jeopardizing the relationship. These conversations lay the foundation for a thriving, growing and satisfying learning journey.

To learn more about setting up a strong mentoring relationship, join us for our Soundview Live webinar: The First 90 Days of a Mentoring Relationship.