How To Disagree With Your Boss Without Damaging Your Career: Part II

To Read Part I please Click Here.

In Part I of this article I began laying out 8 tips on how to challenge your boss in a smart and effective way. Here are the final few tips to help you with this complicated topic.

I am a strong believer that most plans have multiple options for success… but we don’t have time to debate every one of them. When you decide to bring an idea forward make sure it is about making noticeable business impact.

The best teams thrive on productive disagreement. If you can promote that with your team you will be part of a dynamic, strategic powerhouse that will achieve great things. You will be showing others what success looks like.

Prepare Your Message / How To Disagree With Your Boss!

You have to communicate your counter argument in a non-threatening way or risk the consequences. You don’t want to argue with your boss and earn the reputation as an arrogant / difficult employee. You do want a reputation as someone who is respectful and gets things done.

The fate of your reputation and your idea lies in your purpose and how you express your disagreement.Screen Shot 2018-01-08 at 1.54.58 PM

An easy way to respect your boss when you have an idea is to ask if you can share. For example, “I’d like to share an idea I have for the project that I think will have a positive impact but I’m concerned it may sound like I doubt the project. I want to assure you that I don’t. May I share my ideas?” This approach helps set people’s expectations and make what you are about to say sound less threatening. The less you can surprise people the less risk you will have of triggering a defensive response.

You can be attentive… but in the end, you cannot control how someone feels. So, stay aware of how others respond and perhaps most importantly… how they are feeling. People often shut-down when they feel disrespected… whether you mean it or not.

Plan your message in advance. Research your idea (as suggested above), but in most cases you don’t want to spend days and days preparing to introduce your idea for a few reasons. First, it may look like you are aggressively pushing your agenda. Second, you don’t want your boss to think you have wasted valuable time preparing an elaborate presentation for an ‘idea / suggestion’ you have. Only you can make that decision based on the project, your work environment, attitudes and workloads.

As you prepare your plan, choose the word you will use carefully – be non-aggressive. For example:

  • Don’t use the words “I disagree”, instead try offering “recommendations” or “suggestions”.
  • Be careful of the word “should”, perhaps use the words, “consider” or “could”.
  • Ask, “Can I offer a suggestion.” Do not say “I have a better idea.
  • Ask for “background”, not the “rationale” when inquiring about other existing approaches.
  • Try using “I” statements to describe what you are feeling. For example, “I feel there may be another approach that may help.
  • Under no circumstances should you make people feel stupid, embarrassed and absolutely no name-calling.

I recommend practicing your first sentence beforehand – at least your first sentence. Keep your message simple and to the point.

When you speak:

  1. State the topic on which you disagree and explain your position. Talk about what you are feeling – but don’t be emotional. Don’t use inflammatory or accusatory language. Don’t complain or disagree but do have a solution. Offer suggestions including S.M.A.R.T. reasons why you think your idea is helpful.
  2. Reintroduce the plan goals and values remembering to promote the parts of the existing plan that you do agree with. Don’t make it appear the decision is a Win-Lose event; every decision should be a Win-Win. You want to be a team player who is focused on supporting the team, the company and the project goals.
  3. Present your idea with pride, confidence and enthusiasm but do not appear like a know-it-all who’s challenging their authority. Be polite and professional.
  4. Be careful about including your co-workers unless you have their absolute permission… and in this case, I hope they are sitting with you when you present the idea. You want to speak for yourself and let others speak for themselves.
  5. Let your boss know you are looking forward to their input / thoughts / questions about your idea. Two-way feedback allows you both to work through details and perhaps clarify project important goals that may impact your idea / the project.

You want to support your career goals – not hurt them. Don’t present a list of problems to your boss without any thought of a solution.

Eventually, when you have done this a few times (and have a great boss who trusts you), you’ll be able to speak your mind without damaging your career.

Be Careful With Emotion

As I always say in my Managing Difficult Conversation workshops, share emotion but don’t be emotional. Sharing emotion lets people know you care… that you are human. Believe it or not, that approach increases the chances of your idea being heard… and accepted (if it is a good idea). Bosses get nervous when employees appear emotionally attached. For Example: Calmly saying, ‘I feel very connected to this project and I want it to succeed’ shows you care. But, pounding on the boardroom table and screaming those same words suggests you have lost perspective and are not thinking rationally.

Always remain calm and confident. Never lose your temper.

Let It Go / Know When To Back Down / Respect the Final Decision

Your boss doesn’t agree with your suggestion / idea? Thank your boss for the opportunity and then let it go! As a leader, your boss may have 100 reasons for their decision. For example, the company strategy could be shifting in response to competitors’ moves (but not yet been shared company-wide). Stay calm, carry on.

Be sure your boss understands you will fully support whatever decision is agreed upon. The more you make them feel it isn’t a competition for you the more they won’t feel it’s a competition next time you have a suggestion. Protect your reputation and your influence for your career.

There will be many times during your career that you will not always agree with the decisions others make – and others wont agree with you…and that’s OK. By letting this be OK you will get the experience of working on many important projects. Trust me – that collection of experience and being part of many collaborative teams where you will meet and work with great people is far more important.


My corporate training and coaching career has proven to me that every workplace has a variety of personalities, work styles, cultures, education and experience; so, challenges are inevitable. So, making them work for us – not against us is important.

Great Leaders primary responsibility it to build long-term company success. How they do this is by listening to dedicated, talented, hard-working employees and earning employee trust. When great leaders have employees who feel listened to and trusted, these employees will often also be the leaders most loyal and motivated employees; a great leaders most important asset – a leaders best opportunity to achieve their responsibilities.

Disagreement is helpful as long as it’s strategic, measurable, actionable, relevant and timely.


  • Don’t have a conversation when either of your attention is elsewhere – like on a tight deadline or running to pick up the kids after work.
  • Tell your boss you have a suggestion for an alternative approach… then ask them if they would like to schedule a one-on-one meeting. Challenging your boss in front of others is risky – for you and your idea.
  • Prepare for any conversation, but especially when you are challenging your boss. Your first sentence is important – it will set the mood for the whole meeting. Take every precaution to not sound confrontational.
  • Be sensitive to their mood… especially if they often get stressed easily.
  • Never embarrass anyone – especially someone you report to.
  • Never seem aggressive, condescending, or accusatory.
  • Never make demands.
  • Always respect them and respect their final decision.

Happy communicating, mentoring and working with people from all generations.

To Read Part I please Click Here.

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If you enjoyed this post we think you’ll like:

Bruce Mayhew Consulting is an Executive Coach who facilitates courses including Managing Difficult Conversations, Business Email Etiquette, Generational Differences, Time Management, Leadership and Mindfulness.

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How To Disagree With Your Boss Without Damaging Your Career: Part I

To Read Part II please Click Here.

If you are a talented employee, what do you do if you want to disagree with your boss without damaging your career? Do you sit back and wait until you have a great boss, or do you learn how to disagree with the boss you have without damaging your career? I believe the answer is clear; to be in control of your professional success you have to learn how to disagree with your boss in a respectful, productive way.Screen Shot 2018-01-08 at 1.45.34 PM

When it comes to disagreeing with your boss the challenge is to never appear like you undermining their authority. Respect is key! Your ideas also cannot appear to be a threat to your boss’ goals or the project goals. Your ideas should be inspirational and clearly demonstrate your commitment to company success. For example, you might say, “I have an idea that will help us improve client retention” versus negative, “This project is doomed and only my idea will save it.” When you introduce your idea in a positive way you can prove yourself as an important team member and a forward-thinking employee who adds value.

I offer you these tips on how to challenge your boss in a smart and effective way… and apologize now for the length of this article… but it is not an easy challenge to solve.

Here are 8 key steps:

  1. Have a good point / Pick your battles wisely
  2. Stop being a ‘Yes’ person
  3. Know your boss (and your team)
  4. Find time when you both have time
  5. Do research / Know your stuff
  6. Build trust
  7. Prepare your message / How to deliver your message well
  8. Let it go if they don’t agree / Respect the final decision

1.  Have A Good Point / Pick Your Battles Wisely

Make sure your suggestion is worth the trouble; it should add measurable, strategic value to the final project. A ‘tweak’ isn’t worth the risk to your reputation.

Before you speak ask yourself, “Am I adding value and is the idea S.M.A.R.T. (Strategic, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant and Timely)?” You also want to ask yourself , “Is this my responsibility and how might the other person ‘feel’?” You want to be focused on important work not busy work. You also want to make sure it’s your responsibility… or at least will impact one of your responsibilities. If you proceed, make sure your approach and tone of voice is positive, respectful and collaborative.

Do not be the negative person who points out the things the team can’t realistically change or will make no difference.

2. Stop Being A ‘Yes’ Person

If you go along with every decision your boss makes you are known as a ‘yes’ person and not likely using your talents to the best of your abilities.

You may be hurting your ability to be promoted if you always follow the pack. If done well, challenging your boss will help you stand out for a future promotion / recognition because it demonstrates leadership, courage and your ability to negotiate and collaborate. It also demonstrates creativity and strategic thinking.

The best companies thrive because they embrace employees who respectfully disagree with their boss. Great leaders want (and all leaders need) their employees to contribute to original ideas… to speak up about important right things at the right time.

3. Know Your Boss

Arguing with your boss is a losing proposition.

Is your boss going to react badly to any idea that’s not their own? I once had a boss like that. If the answer is yes it may be better to warm up your resume… you need to find a work environment where you can show your leadership qualities and learn to manage all of the difficult conversations / difficult situations leaders have to manage every day.

Poor leaders don’t want to be challenged by their employees but great leaders encouraged and promoted people to challenge one another. Great bosses want their employees to add their experience and expertise into the mix. Innovation, diversification and long-term company success demands this.

When you know your boss you can motivate them by using the language they use. Plan your proposal from their perspective. If they think in numbers be sure to show solid numbers. If they think about marketing and brand, frame your idea in that language.

Find Time When You Both Have Time

Know your boss’ personality and triggers. Find a time when you both are thinking clearly and your emotions are not triggered. Don’t approach your boss if either of you are stressed or in a bad mood or running to pick up your kids from the sitter.

If you are in a meeting, be very sensitive to both who is in the room and what your idea entails. If your boss’ boss is around be very careful not to embarrass anyone – including yourself. You want whatever you do to build the trust and respect of your boss and coworkers.

When and where you choose to share your idea can make a world of difference in how your boss reacts vs. responds to your opinion.

Do Research / Know Your Stuff

When you decide to speak you have to be accurate and to-the-point… especially if you have senior people in the room. So, before you lay your reputation and perhaps your job on the line, be sure you:

  • Know why any current decisions have been made
  • Research your idea – including important criteria like budget, employee impact, customer impact and timing

Once you feel confident (and this may take only seconds if you are experienced with the project), sketch out a high-level plan. Anticipate any possible counter-arguments your boss and/or team may have. Perhaps use the S.M.A.R.T. model to test the existing plan and then the value of your idea. Preparing a well thought out S.M.A.R.T. plan means your boss is more likely to be open to listening to what you want to say / share.

You may also want to check out a supplier/stakeholder or two – but don’t do so much it looks like you are hijacking the project or putting supplier/stakeholder relationships at risk.

No matter how well you prepare there’s always a chance your input will not be acted upon. You have to be OK with that outcome.

Build Trust

Trust is at the center of all good employee-employer relations. Without it there’s virtually no hope you can persuade your boss your idea has value.

Trust is a two-way street, and you have to do your part to earn it. Your first day on the job might not be the best day to disagree with your boss (unless you’ve been promoted from within). If your boss specifically asks for your opinion then carefully offer a suggestion for ‘discussion / evaluation purposes based on the project goals’.

How can you build trust over time?

  • Be positive – glass half-full not half-empty
  • Take humble credit for your successes and take quick credit for your errors (be solutions oriented)
  • Demonstrate empathy and compassion for your work and coworkers
  • Learn the company goals and values… and all project goals and values
  • Meet your project deadlines – practice good time management
  • Make sure your performance is consistently high-quality and in line with project goals and values
  • Be a team player – manage everyone’s expectations… including your own
  • Be flexible and communicate clearly

Demonstrate you are a reliable team player and you understand the work. Do it right and your boss may come looking for you next time they want a fresh opinion. Do it wrong and you might find it career limiting.


There will be many times during your career that you will not always agree with the decisions others make – and others will not agree with you…and that’s OK. By letting this be OK you will get the experience of working on many important projects.

Happy communicating, mentoring and working with people from all generations.

To Read Part II please Click Here.

Click here to join our priority list to receive our latest Business Communication blog posts.

If you enjoyed this post we think you’ll like:

Bruce Mayhew Consulting is an Executive Coach who facilitates courses including Managing Difficult Conversations, Business Email Etiquette, Generational Differences, Time Management, Leadership and Mindfulness.

Bruce Mayhew on Canada AM

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Find answers to your Professional Development questions / needs at

Call us at 416.617.0462.

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I’d enjoy reading your comments on this post.


Why I Believe Millennials Are Marginally Motivated

In the last 3 months my ‘Hiring, Motivating and Retaining Millennials’ workshop has been my most popular program. I’ve trained at a few companies and spoken at a golf conference, a long-term care conference and even a heavy machinery conference. No matter who my audience is, one of the most frequent questions I’m asked is, “How do I get the best out of Millennials and keep them more than 18 months“. It’s a great question. There are many concerned leaders who believe Millennials are only ‘marginally motivated’ when it comes to their work.

That’s what I would like to address over the next few minutes. My goal is to share three key reasons why I believe Millennials are marginally motivated at work.

Reason 1: We Don’t Hire The Right People

Some Millennials take jobs that are not in their chosen profession. You may wonder, ‘Why would someone take work they don’t really want?’ The simple truth is many Millennials may need the money, or they may be tired of looking for work, or perhaps they want to make sure there isn’t a gap in their resume. There are many reasons why a Millennial might compromise, and whatever the reason, it is not good for you or for them.

If your new Millennial employee feels they are compromising (and my Millennial At Work Survey research says that many Millennials feel they have to compromise), it’s not surprising that during that time with you they will be ‘Marginally Motivated’ and you’ll only get 50%, 60% or perhaps 70% of their effort. In addition, it should not surprising that they keep looking for work they really do want.

This is why it is critical to hire the right people. When you hire people whose career goals and personal values reflect the work and your corporate values, you will have engaged employees. When you use a hiring process that is measurable, accountable and reliable, you will have lower-than-average turnover and lower-than-average training expenses. In addition, all of your other success indicators will move in the right direction. If you are not using a formal hiring process it’s like gambling in Las Vegas… it’s risky, based on chance and will likely be expensive when you lose.

Reason 2: We All Excel When Respected

Millennials want to be respected and valued. They also want to feel they are making a contribution and want professional development opportunities. Lets face it, we all excel when we are respected, valued and feel we are making a contribution. You know that when you love something you spend lots of time doing it… you many even volunteer to do more of it.

The difference between Millennials and everyone else is that if a Millennial doesn’t feel they are growing / acquiring new skills or making a difference, they quickly feel frustrated and lose interest… which is why people think they are ‘Marginally Motivated’. And, because many parents of Millennials have not done a great job of teaching their kids patience, even if Millennials are working in their chosen profession, when they feel frustrated you will begin to have a retention problem.

NOTE: Millennials are life-long learners – these are values their Boomer and Gen X parents instilled in them.

Reason 3: Millennials Want Meaningful Work

Millennials see work as part of their whole life, something they want to enjoy and is / will be something that fulfills them. Millennials want their work to be meaningful and even (for many), a place where they make friends with their co-workers / leaders. Millennials also perform better when they are given frequent, positive reinforcement / encouragement.

Giving frequent reward and motivation to each employee isn’t ‘natural’ for Boomers. For 30 plus years Baby Boomers were the primary employment market. In addition (and this is critically important), for the most part each of them shared very similar goals. Generally speaking, Boomers never thought of work as a place to fulfill their passions. Boomers wanted stability; they didn’t want to take risks (and since change equals risk… it was bad). What Boomers wanted was mutual loyalty, to pay their mortgage and to collect wealth (which would give them even more stability). Very few Millennials share these values – for now at least.


Does this sound like too much effort? I hope not. Employers can only insulate themselves from Millennials (and the upcoming Gen Z), for so long. Soon, most of the Boomers will have retired and the largest workforce will be Millennials.

In case you don’t sense it, I do believe Millennials are hard-working, creative and loyal as long as we hire the right Millennial and support them / motivate them in the way that meets their individual, personal and professional goals. And, while they do want to be loyal, they do not expect to work for one company their whole career.

The benefits of hiring Millennials and motivating them as unique individuals is tremendously profitable. And this holds true for people of all generations. When a company is able to keep highly motivated employees (not marginally motivated employees), for five or more years instead of the two years so many employers are experiencing… and even expecting… it translates into a great pay-off (and saving), for the company AND a great learning experience for each employee.

Happy communicating, mentoring, motivating, coaching… and training.

Click here to learn more about Bruce Mayhew Consulting. We facilitate training courses and speak on a number of topics including email etiquette, time management, leadership, generational differences and more.

What Leaders Should Know About Intrinsic Motivation & Extrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation are important engagement opportunities that have very different results.

Extrinsic motivation is what many of us are familiar with; it’s the primary way Boomers and Gen Xers have been rewarded throughout their working career. It’s how we most often motivate children as well. Extrinsic motivation is based on earning a reward (like money $$ or praise), or avoiding something undesirable. It’s motivation by carrot or stick. Extrinsic motivation is also often the most expensive and the least effective way to motivate employees over long periods of time. As a good friend and Chief Financial Offices (CFO) says, “Money is an external reward and a lousy motivator, it’s good for a week or two and then forgotten.” screen-shot-2016-10-19-at-10-16-16-am

Intrinsic motivation is when we find doing something personally satisfying. It’s the engagement that often leads us to choose our career in the first place. Intrinsic reward supports long-term motivation and professional development that is rooted in taking pride in our work – not making your boss happy so he/she will give you a raise. It’s why many of us volunteer, or paint, play a musical instrument or garden. It’s why we enjoyed curling up with a good book when we were a kid… and still do now.

The easiest way to ruin a persons satisfaction and pride in their work (intrinsic motivation) is to monetize it (give them money $$ for doing something they enjoy). Studies have shown that intrinsic motivation will decrease when external rewards (extrinsic rewards), are given.

Example 1: I know a lady who loved to bake cookies and cakes – she took great pride in them and they were delicious and beautiful. So she started a bakery business and soon had an employee and lots of clients. She felt stress in keeping clients happy, and managing the employee, and there were deliveries and… and… and. Worst of all she no longer baked to relax and enjoy herself. She closed her business.

Example 2: In an experiment to test motivation, psychologist and professor Edward L. Deci studied two groups of students who enjoyed playing puzzle games. The 1st group was paid whenever they solved a puzzle; the other group played for no monetary reward. Deci noticed that the 1st group stopped working on the puzzles when they stopped being paid. The 2nd group continued to solve puzzles because they continued to enjoy the game. By offering extrinsic motivation, the 1st group were trained to see puzzles as work.

All too often our parents, leaders, coworkers… and even ourselves focus only on…or mostly on extrinsic rewards. This begins to cause problems as we disconnect with what feeds our heart… our spirit… our humanity. Instead, we are trained to ignore our natural spirit and instead focus only on (mostly on), physical – short-term recognition / respect. So, what is the real benefit and what can we do?

Benefit: Intrinsic Motivation Increases Pride

The impact of intrinsic rewards on an employee’s self-management is great. An intrinsically motivate employee will likely stay late to finish an important project – not because they have to… or want to please their boss/customer. Because of this pride, they will routinely go the extra mile because it makes them happy and… this pride makes them want to be loyal… a win/win.

Benefit: Intrinsic Motivation Increases Employee Loyalty

Employees who are self-motivated, proud of their work and feel they are making a difference often also demonstrate greater employee loyalty. BMC have seen this in our Millennial At Work study.

If employees are intrinsically motivated they will not quit to go to a company that pays a bit more – they stay with a company that respects them and gives them greater autonomy. Their loyalty will be largely derived from work life balance and how much they enjoy their work – and the company. Pride makes a difference; they stay with the company that feeds their spirit.

Intrinsic rewards mean people feel good about feeling good about what they are doing / thinking.

Benefit: Intrinsic Motivation Increases Professional Development

Extrinsic motivation isn’t all-bad – it actually plays an important part in the learning / teaching process – especially helping learners overcome the frustration of acquiring new skills. Positive reinforcement and praise (extrinsic motivation), helps people keep trying – keep learning. Unfortunately, we all-too-often only reward professional development on extrinsic motivation. We don’t include motivation that helps people feel a sense of personal pride and accomplishment in their newly acquired skill. Ultimately this means that the learners will not fully invest in adopting new skills. Instead they feel pride in getting praise for their work… and will need it again and again. This is a problem I hear all the time from Baby Boomers when I give Generational Differences training.

What Can We Do? How Can We Use Intrinsic Rewards?

Intrinsic rewards help individuals find satisfaction in ‘doing’ of their work or task as much as the end result. The journey is as important as the destination. I’ve mentioned in other posts, there are 4 very effective ways to develop intrinsic motivation in others. From your children to your employees, help them see and ‘feel’:

  1. C – Competence / Mastery… learning new things – gaining  and/or using an expertise.
  2. A – Autonomy / Choice… what to work on, when and how
  3. R – Relevance / Purpose… why the work is meaningful – important
  4. P – Progress… what they are doing is adding to the greater good or perhaps they are gaining experience.


The last 50 or so years we got used to extrinsically rewards but we forget to help people feel good about feeling good about their work or what they are learning. As leaders we’ve underestimated the importance of intrinsic rewards and its low-cost… and instead have got used to thinking of financial rewards as the primary way to motivate.

Intrinsic rewards are a strong win/win for organizations that want to stay innovative and retain great, inspired, happy and proud employees. Research has shown that when people are proud, feel like they are making a difference and feel some ownership of how they structure their time at work they stick around… and they do great work.

Happy communicating… and mentoring… and training.

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If you enjoyed this post we think you’ll like:

Bruce Mayhew Consulting facilitates courses including Business Writing, Email Etiquette, Time Management and Mindfulness.

Bruce Mayhew on Canada AM

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Find answers to your Professional Development questions / needs at

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Good Business Managers Are Also Good HR Managers

In todays fast paced life it’s easy to dismiss anything that is older that a few months or years… especially from 1988. But, I’ve enjoyed reading and thinking about a summary of a 4-year long study that was published in 1988 called “A Descriptive Model of Managerial Effectiveness” by Fred Luthans, Dianne H. B. Welsh, and Lewis A. Taylor III.

I’m not surprised that in 1988, studies showed that HR activities and soft-skills were given low importance. However, I’m happy to say that Luthans, Welsh, and Taylor III decided to measure how much ‘time’ the managers spent on these low-priority human resource activities. By doing this Luthans, Welsh, and Taylor III identify soft-skill tasks such as socializing/politicking, training and development, staffing (hiring), managing conflict, and motivating/reinforcing employees surprisingly represented over 30% of a managers’ efforts back in the 80’s.

Leadership QualitiesStepping forward to present time, we now know that soft-skills are critical to performance and employee engagement. Current, unrelated studies identify the top 5 leadership qualities can easily be considered soft-skills (assuming technical skill pre-exists). In fact, this slide from one of my leadership training programs demonstrates that of the top 10 qualities, almost all of the most important qualities of great leaders are soft-skills.

I bet that back in the late 80’s the finding of 30% of a managers’ efforts were HR related surprised many people. Unfortunately, I bet that is still a surprised to many leaders / managers… even though I believe that today this number is actually higher than 30%.

My theory is supported by the many leadership scholars including the late Peter Drucker (who continues to be one of the most influential leaders in management philosophy and effectiveness), who clearly identified soft-skills as critical characteristics of top leaders. Also, I think it’s higher because today all of the 4 generations in our workforce expect a more from our professional and personal lives.


Back in the mid-80’s the study authors Luthans, Welsh, and Taylor III were pioneers. As with all great ideas the challenge lies in the adoption… or lack of. In the case of embracing soft-skills, adoption has been slow.

Back in the 80’s and 90’s while the Baby Boomers were the largest population in the workforce, soft-skills were not seen to be important – largely because it was easy to anticipate how each other would react and/or wanted. Why? Because in part, even though consumerism was growing rapidly, options were limited. Today that has changed. Organizations have to consider a global economy and a global workforce who are both highly educated and have skills are easily transferable by industry AND geography.

So, great leaders of today use their learned technical skill as well as their learned soft-skills to engage, motivate and retain talent from all four generations in the workspace. Not only do they need to be good technical experts, they also need to be good HR managers.

Happy communicating.

Click here to join our priority list to receive our latest Business Communication blog posts.

If you enjoyed this post we think you’ll like:

Bruce Mayhew Consulting facilitates courses including Business Writing, Email Etiquette, Time Management and Mindfulness.

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Find answers to your Professional Development questions / needs at

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John Nash’s Game Theory Applied To HR & Leadership

Nash’s Game Theory has intrigued me of late. I like how although it is often used in economics, Nash’s Game Theory can be applied to everyday situations including how people can make engaged and thoughtful businesses decisions.

That said, this theory wasn’t all 100% Nash’s. Using a technology term, Nash “upgraded” an existing theory proposed by von Neumann and Morgenstern.

von Neumann and Morgenstern Zero Sum Game

Von Neumann and Morgenstern proposed that the best decisions is when individuals approached decision-making as a zero-sum theory, or (in my interpretation), if I win you have to lose. The concept is that if we as individuals all work at winning, in the long run we will all do better.

Thankfully, most real-life situations are not usually zero-sum so this theory often falls short.

Nash’s Game Theory

John Nash Game Theory

Bruce Mayhew interpretation: Nash’s Game Theory vs. von Neumann and Morgenstern Zero Sum Game

Nash saw a better way to make decisions by pushing the zero-sum theory closer to altruism (again in my interpretation), altruism being an ethical philosophy in which the happiness of the greatest number of people within the society is accepted as the greatest good (source business dictionary). Nash believed that the best solution is when we consider what is best for the individual (zero-sum), AND the group.

I agree that zero-sum is a poor way to run a company or a department. Considering that when one person wins and the majority lose is disheartening. From the point of view of a business leader, my belief (and there are many general studies that support this), is that if work is a zero-sum game, it destroys collaborative team dynamics, individual motivation, costs go up, production & quality goes down and soon employment turnover goes up.

But Nash’s theory provides a simple mathematical equation for modeling any number of competitive situations. Nash’s equilibrium as it is sometimes called, offers the idea that a best response equilibrium exists. Again, from the point of view of a business leader, consider it a theory that guides us to use empathy and our listening skills to prioritize our actions so that we can make decisions that serve our purpose and do the best to support others impacted. Those impacted can represent our co-workers, clients, investors or even the environment.

Fredrick Herzbers Motivation – Hygiene Theory

If you let me take a leap of faith, in the HR world we can better support the collaborative idea of individual and team benefit by using elements of psychologist Fredrick Herzbers Motivation – Hygiene theory as guides to what benefits the company (ROI because it is important and what almost all decisions include), AND the greater good.

Fredrick Herzbers Motivation – Hygiene theory studies Factors for Satisfaction and Factors for Dissatisfaction (which are not opposite and which I promise to write on soon). For example, Herzberg’s research identified true Factors for Satisfaction motivators were:

  1. Achievement
  2. Recognition
  3. Work (as in respectful work)
  4. Responsibility
  5. Advancement

How many times do you make decisions also considering the impact those decisions make on Herzberg’s 5 Factors for Satisfaction? If you don’t, you may be making decisions that have short-term gain but long-term negative impact on productivity, employee engagement, quality, customer satisfaction and employment turnover… all things that are very expensive costs for the organization.

Staying with the idea of HR, motivation and job satisfaction, one of Nash’s truisms is that even when working toward the greater good, there is often more than one best response. This was an early criticism of Nash’s theory, but one that I think we should celebrate. Why? Because choice and change are exciting. Because our personal and professional needs, goals, likes and dislikes are different which means that within a collaborative team where each person giving their unique best, there will be many ways for the team to meet their goal. If one person was taken away from or added to the team – the team would still find a great solution… but it would likely be a bit different.


The long and the short of it (that sounds like my dad speaking), is that if the purpose of economic theories is to predict which one (single), outcome will occur, Nash’s methodology doesn’t help. But, what it does do is give us space to explore options where we try to find a solution where we all win.

Happy communicating.

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Who Should You Promote Next? A Case Study

You have a recent job opening for a team leader and two interested internal candidates; who should you promote?

  • Mary is your top financial expert – her associates go to her when they are stuck for a solution and you wish you had 5 more just like her.
  • John knows finances as well as anybody – he’s a great team player and his associates trust and respect him and his work.

All other things are equal between Mary and John. Who should you promote as the new team leader?

In a traditional environment, Mary is usually the person that gets the promotion. Most traditional organizations still recruit based on technical knowledge and past performance, and put low value on soft skills / emotional intelligence… but this is changing. We’ve all heard about someone being promoted to their level of incompetence… and this may be one of those times.

In my opinion, the right candidate depends heavily on what Mary or John want out of their personal and professional lives… and what the company wants to invest in them.

If Mary Gets The Promotion

If Mary is motivated because:

  • She is looking to grow in the area of leadership and managing people… AND if the company is ready to invest in ongoing (ongoing is critical), Leadership training and coaching, then Mary may be right for the job… in time.

If this is the case I would suggest Mary’s training and coaching should have started long ago as part of a professional development plan. If Mary gets the job now she is going to be studying and growing for the next 6 months (at least). Her team will not have the hit-the-ground-running leader that it should from an internal hire, and the company will not benefit from her significant financial expertise as they used to (she’ll be doing more ‘leading‘ and less ‘doing‘). The opportunity losses to the organization will be significant.

If Mary is motivated because:

  • She sees all her friends and peers climbing the corporate ladder and thinks success means moving up, then I’d say there are many ways to satisfy Mary’s needs while also keeping her from making a mistake by becoming a leader. The great risk is that if she is promoted without previous leadership skill or training, everyone including Mary may discover she’s not built for management. So, rather than be demoted Mary will quit to save face and go to one of your competitors. And you don’t want that to happen.

The added risk is that if John really did want the job and he has to work for Mary (someone who doesn’t know how to motivate and lead the team), this natural born leader may quit and go to one of your competitors out of frustration.

If John Gets The Promotion

John seems to have some of the natural emotional intelligence that translate well into being a great leader – skills like technical skill, trustworthiness, ability to communicate, respect and creativity. If John gets the promotion, he will still need leadership training and coaching. It’s likely that John is going to be able to motivate his team and that with some training, John could make the transition into an official and successful leadership position.

If Mary’s real need of peer-status is taken care of creativity, Mary will likely be very happy to also save her reputation as the brightest financial expert on the team.

Everyone Should Have A Professional Development Plan

As I was suggesting earlier, companies should want to get this figured out long before there is a vacancy, not only with Mary and John but with the whole team. The organization should be thinking about a professional development plan for each employee as well as what is best for the company, each individual and team.

By having open dialogue with employees about their needs, dreams and professional aspirations, the organization leaders can prepare a professional development plan that increases employee engagement, lowers turnover and increases profitability. The added beauty is that some of the best employee engagement motivators (like a need for recognition), are no or low cost.


Success for people and organizations is all about the leadership – promoting growth and development for themselves (the leaders), and all employees throughout their career. To drive employee commitment, engagement and therefore profitability and organizational success, it’s critical for leaders to always consider the potential of the people and the potential of the group.

Happy business development.

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Leadership: A Leaders Responsibilities Have Changed: Part 1

Being a leader isn’t glamorous or easy. Changing your leadership style is even more difficult… but the rewards of both are immense.

If you are an individual or a company, your leadership qualities and leadership style are essential if you are going to survive and thrive. Stats show that half the companies in the S&P500 are different from 1999 (Source Sam Ro). Said another way, the world is changing around us and longevity demands our leaders promote responsible change and keep their teams adapting.

Leader TrainingLets think back a few years when Blackberry (Research In Motion), was leading the smartphone market. Many Leadership Coaches agree that Blackberry’s leaders had become comfortable that their main core competency (their security protocols), would continue to lead market demand. Then Apple innovated the market and gave mobile users new features like cameras, an ipod, touch screen, useful apps and high-definition for movie watchers and gamers. Almost overnight Blackberry became one of the smallest players in the mobile market.

Apple, a company known for a non-traditional approach to almost everything focused on customer delight, not how to keep doing the same thing and maximize existing revenue. Apple won because their leaders and by extension their employees looked at tomorrow and built a solution for tomorrows customer. Apple leaders gave their employees the freedom to look at what individuals were doing within their lives and explore solutions. By doing this Apple leaders and employees did far more than maximize existing revenue – they created a whole new revenue stream. HOOYAH!

This is a good segue into one of the key things leaders need to do.

Put Your Customer And Employee Needs First

Before you think about maximize existing revenue or cost cutting to increase ROI, are you preparing for what customers will want tomorrow? How can you make life better for them? When you make life better people see value, and when they see value they will buy your stuff.

The world is going to be different tomorrow!

Not only are customer needs changing, employees’ wants and needs are changing… really quickly. So, your leadership qualities and leadership style also has to change if you want to survive.

Great companies run on great employees. Products don’t think or make themselves – and they don’t innovate themselves.

Innovation happens in months not years, and to keep up leaders need their employees to grow, contribute, innovate and collaborate. Todays leaders need to create a vision and instead of telling their team what to do and how to get it done, todays leaders / mangers are successful when they empower their team and remove roadblocks.

Great leaders have learned how to hire and motivate great employees… and stay out of their way.


Customers want great products. Employees want to be proud, contribute and get better/learn.

Doing the same thing and/or just putting in more hours isn’t going to… work; it’s not 1958. So, how do companies attract, motivate and retain promising employees who build great customer solutions? How do companies prepare employees to be tomorrows leaders? The simple answer is to invest in leadership training and leadership development for todays leaders – and tomorrows leaders.

Happy leadership and communication.

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Bruce Mayhew Consulting coaches leaders and facilitates business etiquette courses including Business Writing, Email Etiquette, Time Management and Mindfulness.

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Leadership Styles, Leadership Qualities, Leadership Skills

Business is about people — it always has been although sometimes we forget this and put the bottom line before customers and employees needs. In the short-term we get away with the putting bottom line first, but soon goodwill begins to drop, employee and customer loyalty drops and turnover increases; creating a very risky and more expensive organizational challenge.

And while human capital is an organization’s most important asset, in today’s job market employee loyalty is low – in part I believe because employer loyalty has been on a steady decline for the last 30 plus years. Many employees wonder why they should be loyal if the company isn’t. So, most full-time employees (especially Millennials), see themselves as entrepreneurs who are working a contract and happy to move on. Why? Because all the evidence has taught them they are dispensable.

A Bruce Mayhew Consulting I enjoy helping leaders create leadership development plans and create great teams. To help you do your own not-so-quick analysis of the state of your leadership development plan, here’s an extensive list of 20 important leadership development goals.

1. Focus On Strategy

The leadership team need to know and support its business strategy, key objectives and stakeholders of the organization.

Without doubt I believe having and sharing a vision is one of the most important goals of a Leader. Their next most important role is establishing and supporting their team… what I will call Talent Management (point 2).

I’ve mentioned in some of my other blog posts how during one of my corporate jobs I had a boss who rarely shared a clear vision with the team. And he was so involved in the ‘doing’ of our work that he became a bottleneck for productivity and a significant drain on moral and creativity. The result was the department regularly missed deadlines and frustrated employees (like me), left.

2. Talent Management

This is a big area.

Leaders hire (using BEI), by thoughtfully considering the talent AND soft skills required for the job as well as the team/department.

Leaders mentor their staff to collaborate and depend on each others talents, look for opportunities to grow and to not be shy about adding their opinion or discouraged if/when another recommendation is made or someone builds upon their recommendation.

In best cases, leaders keep a written list of their employees strengths close at hand.

3. Increase Knowledge

Working hand-in-hand with Talent Management, ‘Increasing Knowledge’ is a way leaders better themself as well as inspire their team. One of my most favourite leadership qualities is to always look to improve. Increasing your knowledge or gaining a new skill keeps you fresh and open to new ideas. Whether its reading a book, finding a mentor, listening to a pod cast, group training or attending night-school, increasing your knowledge sets a motivating example to employees.

As employees see their leaders participating in training and development and reaching personal goals, they are encouraged to do the same. In addition, great leaders work with employees to plan team and individual goals. Increasing knowledge is critical at all employee levels and supportive step as they set high performance challenges and encourage employees to step out of their comfort zone.

Want to engage your team more? Turn this into a team-building, collaborative exercise by asking team members what group training they want. Work with each employee to create their personal development plan – both for their professional and personal goals.

4. Tap Into Your Emotional Intelligence (EI)

Emotional intelligence is a persons ability to draw on their soft-skills and to mindfully interact with others. Emotional intelligence builds trust and supports a mutually beneficial relationship. More technically EI founders Peter Salovey and John Mayer define EI as follows;

Emotional intelligence is the ability to perceive emotions, to access and generate emotions so as to assist thought, to understand emotions and emotional knowledge, and to reflectively regulate emotions so as to promote emotional and intellectual growth.

– Mayer & Salovey, 1997

A department head that lacks emotional intelligence is just as unqualified as a department head that doesn’t have technical knowledge and experience.

5. Practice Coaching

Coaching isn’t easy.  Coaching creates an environment that’s conducive to growth – helping individuals succeed by expanding their abilities (knowledge, experience and soft skills), and move up their professional ladder. And lets not forget work/life balance.

Leaders who coach help their employees to recognize their strengths, develop their strengths and overcome their weaknesses.

6. Support Collaboration

Leadership creates and maintains an environment that supports collaboration where team members respectfully share information, decision-making, responsibility, learning and recognition.

One of the most important leadership qualities is the ability to guide employees to see how their work and work habits support the greater vision and goals (personal goals, professional goals, team goals, organizational goals).

7. Motivate

Motivation often sits hand-in-hand with ‘Communication’ (point 16), and together they inspire employees to give their best. When leaders learn motivation skills they maximize effectiveness and improve employee engagement and loyalty.

Employee motivation can take many forms – from wanting to work for leaders who make decisions quickly so the team keeps moving forward (point 20), to many other non-military motivators like telling someone they did a great job and/or are a valuable part of the team.

Zenger Folkman have done lots of great research here as well.

8. Manage Off-Site

What are the chances that your next best employee lives within 50kms of your office? Slim!

More and more employers are using technology to plan, communicate and collaborate virtually with their team members. And, more and more employees are embracing the work-from-home (or Starbucks), lifestyle. Millennials are naturally used to working, managing and being managed off-site… and more and more Boomers and Gen X are seeing the personal and professional benefits.

9. Manage Difficult Conversations & Conflict

When we avoid a difficult conversations the issue can never get resolved… until valuable talent or clients leave – and then it’s just gone… not resolved. I write extensively within some of my Blog Posts and Difficult Conversation Training that when we participate in difficult conversations we have an opportunity to build trust and respect which means our relationships with other people and/or organizations improve greatly.Long Term Gain

When we participate in difficult conversations we demonstrate we care enough to bother. Short term pain = long-term gain.

10. Practice And Encourage Time Management

Time management lets us be consciously aware of being proactive – not reactive. Time management and Leadership skills mean leaders help their teams practice good time management skills and focus on their important work / strategic work vs. busy work. Sometimes this means learning how to say ‘No’ or ‘Not Now’ to some requests.

Being a good leader also means learning how to prioritize, delegate tasks, set realistic deadlines and avoid distractions. Time management helps employees effectively manage their workload, thereby spend more time on the projects and tasks that have the greatest contribution to personal and professional success.

11. Embrace and Steward Change Management

Most people are naturally resistant to change even though change management is necessary to stay current and relevant. A successful leadership quality is the ability to have a clear focus AND also be open to change.

Setting change management goals is a first step to motivate employees to embrace change. Then, bring employees into the discussion on how to implement change – letting them add to the discussion and become part of the implementation solution.

When you incorporate change management into your training and development plan, you will experience increased employee retention, productivity, and your employees will get used to staying open to change – not resistant to change.

12. Cross Train Employees As A Motivational Tool

Cross training is a leadership style often overlooked by organizations looking for VERY low-cost ways to improve profitability, team performance, collaboration and employee retention. All leaders should use this as a highly beneficial, non-monetary recognition AND investment in their employees.

Aside from the confidence that there will always be someone available to get a key activity done when (not if), an employee is sick or on vacation, almost all employees see cross training as their employer making an investment in their personal and professional future. In addition, employees see this as a desirable way to expand their personal and professional knowledge/experience (Win/Win).

13. Industry, Competitive And Customer Knowledge

Moving away from supporting their team, one of the best leadership qualities is to fully understand their industry, who are their competitors and to know what their customers need and value.

14. Trust & Be Trustworthy

We all have experienced people who ignore our suggestions or who take credit for others’ ideas. Employees must trust their leaders just like customers must trust your product / service. Employees must trust their leaders to be knowledgeable, fair and to support them when they need to escalate challenges.

In addition, employees must feel their leaders trust their judgement, knowledge and that they are acting in everyone’s best interest.

Trust is a two-way street.

15. Read The Financials

My least favourite leadership skill is spending time reading, interpreting and using financials even thought I know its an important part of improving business strategy.

This is an important part of being a leader… and now I’m moving on.

16. Mindful Listening / Communication

Leaders know productivity and motivation is tied to communication. Effective leaders openly share goals and vision and other relevant information in real-time… keeping the team up-to-date.

One of the most important leadership qualities is how leaders communicate to build a community and an appreciative workspace that also respects work/life balance. Leaders teach their employees to be clear and to get to the point with their verbal and written communication.

When communicating, skillful leaders use mindful leadership and mindful listening techniques like not judging, waiting to respond vs. react during conversations, and asking open-ended questions. Mindful leaders demonstrate patience and caring.

17. Look Around

Leaders also don’t wait for a performance review to tell people how they’re doing. Millennials especially want coaching and feedback on a regular basis – even if all you share is “Thank you – you did a good job on that report”.

Leaders notice employees’ unique, specific contributions and they take the time to acknowledge those contributions. Leadership skills also include having respect for others no matter if they are a Secretary or a CEO.

18. Lead Effective Meetings

Practice and share your meeting skills. Most of us spend too many hours in meetings. Great leaders keep coach their team to use meetings sparingly… and to be efficient when you do have them. The following are a few general points to keep in mind in order to lead effective meetings:

  • Start & finish on time
  • Always share the purpose of the meeting in advance so attendees can prepare
  • Everyone has an equal voice
  • Decisions get made
  • Action items get assigned
  • Document decisions and action items
  • Everyone acts on agreed upon decisions and action items in a timely manner

19. Find The Right Job For The Right People

Great leaders work with their staff to understand their talents, their passions and their aspirations. The better the leader the higher the engagement.

Great leaders put and keep the right people in the right jobs. When people love their jobs they are more productive and creative. If a promotion is the right decision for an existing high achiever, a great leader helps that employee understand any gaps that may exist and help them overcome those gaps (develop a new skill), with coaching and training.

20. Speed and Agility

Nobody likes to work for an organization or leader that can not make a discussion or move forward.

This may also be a leader that gets stuck at 95% on a project and try to hit 100%. While there are places (like space travel), where 100% is important, in many cases the effort to go from 95% to 98% will be similar to the time and cost to get a whole new project up to the 95% level.

Great bosses always understand the vision – and allow that vision to make decisions quickly. This means that employees always know what they have to do next… and are always moving forward… learning, doing, accomplishing greatness.


Leadership is no easy task – it takes lots of work just to lead… which supports the idea that leadership is a full-time commitment to strategy. Quality leaders can’t be knee-deep into doing the ‘doing’.

When you are planning your strategy and managing the other 20 steps, be sure the goals you set are:

  • Realistic – While goals should be challenging, they should also be achievable.
  • Appropriate – for current personal and professional goals.
  • Clear – Managers should easily understand the goals they’re working toward and why those goals are necessary.
  • On A Timeline – When goals have beginning and end points, team members work to reach the finish line.
  • Measurable – The ability to identify progress encourages employees and boosts confidence.
  • Rewarded – If a goal is achieved, it’s essential to give recognition. This heightens employee confidence and encourages further progress.

The biggest challenge leaders face is the desire to forgo long-term strategy for short-term gain. Decades of research on leadership styles and leadership skills demonstrate that emotional intelligence and social skills are critical for long-term leadership and organizational success.

Happy communicating.

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If you enjoyed this post we think you’ll like:

Bruce Mayhew Consulting facilitates training and development courses including Difficult Conversations, Email Etiquette, Time Management and Mindfulness.

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Find answers to your Professional Development questions / needs at

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I’d enjoy reading your comments on this post.


Change Management: Why The Process Matters

Change Management means that project timelines are often shorter with greater results, less cost and less disruption.

Change sucks, but it’s always happening. The options are to hope for the best, or to plan for the best. Change Management is about planning at the front end to thoughtfully, collaboratively, mindfully:

  • Plan all things that need to change
  • Plan all things that don’t need to change
  • Collect choices / options
  • Evaluate choices and impact… on everything and everyone
  • Agree upon a vision and tactics

My preference is to think of Change Management as ‘Recalibrate’ vs. ‘Overhaul’. Identifying and resolving challenges early, before they turn into emergencies and/or conflict. I believe Change Management is our best chance to exceed expectations and to keep communication and all personal / professional relationships, honest, safe, respectful and supportive… recognizing that sometimes that means having difficult conversations.change management

Organizational Change Requires Individual Change

Mediocre adoption of any new process / system means mediocre results – or worse. Managing the ‘people’ side will always be the most important part of Change Management success. What people? Change may impact you… your family… or employees, clients, suppliers. Realistically, change will impact all of these groups… and more.

Most of the time, people don’t like change… and this makes change difficult for companies. If you’ve ever had to quit something – like smoking – or start something new – like a new job, you know it takes time to become familiar with a new behaviour / habits and to leave a deeply rooted behaviour behind. Familiarity lets us work quickly and confidently – change slows us down and increases the risk of mistakes (and therefore our professional reputation); and yet, the reality is that when managed well, change will drive greater benefits after a short adjustment period.

All For One, One For All                

Change Management establishes a clear vision and universal agreement. When we all participate we all take responsibility – and the benefit is great.

At times joint responsibility means managing difficult conversations (and opposing objectives) – but that is OK. Better to be open to our concerns and get difficult questions and conversations in the open so they can be managed proactively, mindfully, collaboratively. Lets face it – challenging situations and opposite objectives are part of all change – so better to have a process that deals with them vs. letting them surprise us at the 11th hour.


As stated, a key part of change management is collaboration; this includes continuous input from departments like Legal… a department that is often at odds with representatives from departments like Marketing, Communication, and Product Development.

With input from your Legal department, concerns can be flagged early which means roll-out strategies, training, language – even target audiences can be aligned early by the team (which includes a legal representative), to address Legal concerns. This can avoid an 11th hour project shut-down (and expenses), to address missed legal concerns. Lets face it – legal is there to protect us – so better to bring them in early and let them help us identify opportunities and challenges… and get their approval early… and often.

Change Management Leadership

To succeed, change requires universal collaboration, leadership, support and respect.

Change Management requires supporters at all levels of the organization. The leadership team needs to support the process – which means giving everyone an opportunity for input. Successful Change Management is a collaborative, creative plan – no one person or department can be expected to see / know and anticipate every opportunity… and every risk.

100% adoption is often one of the greatest challenges to change. Why? Because as mentioned above, change sucks; change slows us down and increases risk of mistakes (and therefore our professional reputation). If we are discussing employees, Leaders must ensure no one person – even a high-performer can ignore the new, agreed upon organizational culture standards. Without participation from all people at all levels the best-intended plans risk not meeting target adoption rates and therefore benefit (and profitability).


Change Management lets us better understand what is required; be it change or deciding not to change.

When employees know the benefits of change they become motivated to a common goal – not fearful of it.

Highlights Of The Benefits Of Change Management:

  • Goals are agreed upon
  • Scope and clarity of scope is defined and understood
  • Challenges can be anticipated
  • Surprises are reduced
  • Disruptions are reduced
  • Scope creep is reduced / eliminated
  • Employee engagement is increased
  • Resistance to change is reduced
  • Adoptionis increased:
    • Adoption rate (who is using it)
    • How quickly they are coming onboard (adapting / adopting)
    • Accuracy with the new adoption
  • Stress is reduced at all levels
  • Collaboration is increased (harmony)
  • User Acceptance Testing (UAT), goes smoothly
  • A successful change process is greatly increased

Happy communicating.

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Bruce Mayhew is founder and President of Bruce Mayhew Consulting a Professional Development firm that excels at quickly and easily tailoring programs to meet the unique needs of our clients and their employees. In addition to being an effective professional development trainer, Bruce is a popular conference speaker, writer and has been featured on major TV, Radio and Newspaper networks ranging from CTV to Global to The Globe & Mail.

Connect with Bruce on Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn.

Bruce Mayhew Consulting facilitates courses including Email Etiquette, Managing Difficult Conversations, Mindfulness, Time Management and more.

Give us a call at 416 617 0462. We’ll listen.

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