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July 12, 2017 bstrathman
Align Your Leadership Spine

leadership alignmentRemember the 55-38-7 communication rule? Even though its specifics have been disputed, there is truth to the idea that the messages you send are muddled when your words don’t match your behaviors. The same confusion occurs with your company’s strategy, initiatives, and daily work. To avoid confusion, align your leadership spine by adjusting your intention, attention, and actions, so strategy, initiatives, and daily work flow together. Aligning this leadership "spine", will bolster your capacity to lead.

Clarify Your Intentions
Intentions set the course for what we want. Your intentions seem obvious to you, but they aren’t to everyone else. Without the benefit of knowing exactly what’s in YOUR head, others interpret your messages based on what’s in THEIR heads. For example, from your perspective, if you’re hesitant to move forward on something, you’re concerned about identified risks. However, others might interpret your slow decision-making as a lack of know-how or interest in the initiative. Your intentions are unclear, when: 1) your decision and resulting action plans are disconnected from your company’s vision, mission, values, and strategy and/or 2) you haven’t communicated your decision and proposed action plan in a way that explicitly ties them to the company’s broader strategy. To clarify your intentions, create a clear line of connection between company vision, mission, values, and strategic priorities/goals with decisions made and action taken. Communicate this connection to direct reports and others before you start moving your decisions forward.
Move From Distraction to Focused Attention
With clear intentions, your employees will follow your lead about where to put THEIR focus. Thus, you will model an ability to focus your attention on the things that will help your company stay the course. To determine your level of distraction versus focus, look at how much time and effort you give to people and tasks related to what you say are the company’s most important priorities. The 80/20 rule serves as a general rule of thumb. Using this rule, you will spend approximately 20% of your working time on important initiatives and the related tasks that are important, based on your role. Check yourself by looking back at how you’ve been using your time over the past couple of weeks. If you’ve been distracted from the company’s most important priorities, look at what’s getting in your way (e.g., poor boundaries, unclear work processes for direct reports that create dependency on you, failing to take time to plan/think/work without interruption, etc.).
Take Deliberate Action
With a clear intentions and focused attention on important priorities, you’re ready to walk the talk and to do what is appropriate to your role to move things forward. This could mean you . . .
  • spend time following up with direct reports on progress in their respective roles,
  • communicate with a broader group of employees about what’s happening and how progress is being made,
  • spend time fostering internal and external relationships that will further those initiatives, and/or
  • ensure direct reports develop new competencies that support the initiatives.
The bottom line is to do the tasks and strengthen the relationships that will further the original intention of the strategic and tactical plans. It seems so simple to make sure your words and actions are reflecting company priorities. Yet, if you don’t consciously maintain that aligned focus each day, you will be in reaction mode and be distracted by events that aren’t worth your time and attention. In the end, you will see how powerful it is to align the leadership “vertebrae” of intention, attention, and action.   WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with corporate leaders to increase employee engagement and retention by aligning strategy and tactics during rapid growth and change. Learn more about her company Firebrand Consulting LLC at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

July 7, 2017 bstrathman
How to Shift From Emotionally Reactive To Calmly Responsive

calm responseEmotional reactivity indicates a lack of self-control. When you are an emotionally reactive leader, people will follow you – but out of fear rather than out of respect. And they certainly will think twice about showing initiative because they can’t predict if and how you’ll react. Alternatively, if you respond without outburts and negativity, not only will people follow you, they will respect and admire you. Calm responsiveness shows an ability of your neocortex's rational executive function to quell the illogical emotionality of the limbic brain. A calm response is less likely to send others into a fearful survival mode. The discipline to calmly choose your response in challenging situations gives you a better chance of displaying emotionally competent leadership as compared to “losing it”. Taking the time to think through options and to respond consciously is a hallmark of a strong leader and can payoff big. To wean yourself of the habit of reactivity, practice 3 things:

1. Notice and acknowledge when something has triggered a reaction.
You can’t do anything about your reactivity if you don’t know when it’s happening. Often, the best sign that you are being reactive is that you experience a negative emotion – anywhere between mild irritation to an outright meltdown. That unpleasant emotion often expresses itself physically in your body. This can include a contraction in the stomach, a palpitation in the heart, or a flush in the face. When you notice these sensations, take note and acknowledge to yourself that you’re in reactive mode.
2.  Do something different than your usual reaction.
When you notice your reactivity, you can break your usual cycle and choose to do something different. You won’t break your reactive tendencies if you keep allowing yourself to automatically act on the negative emotion by raising your voice, using choice words, or physically acting out. Instead you can choose to rewire your brain to create a more appropriate response. To do this, slow down. Observe yourself from an outside perspective, like floating above yourself. Then you can try reframing the situation in the best possible light or affirming the good intentions of the other person. You could even interrupt the automatic reaction by excusing yourself and taking a short walk (like to the restroom) to remove yourself from the situation. The goal is to interrupt your automatic negative reaction. For example, once you notice irritation or anger when stuck in traffic or cut off by another driver, reframe the traffic situation as a lucky thing because it is positioning you precisely where you need to be to avoid a problem. Or you can make up a story about the other driver’s good intentions even though an accident resulted. This way, you'll be less likely to feed your frustration or pound on the steering wheel.
3. Practice.
Rinse and repeat. Every time you feel the negative emotions coming on, practice catching yourself and choosing a different thought or behavior. The more you practice interrupting your cycle of reactivity, the more likely you are to build new neural networks. When you do that, you will build different capabilities that are more calm and responsive to these triggering situations. Think about the last time, you reacted negatively in a noticeable way. What did you do or say? If someone behaved that way in front of you, what would you think of that person? Is that the leader you want to be? WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with senior leaders I work with corporate leaders to increase employee engagement and retention by aligning strategy and tactics in times of rapid growth and change. Learn more about her company Firebrand Consulting LLC at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

May 31, 2017 bstrathman
5 Signs You Shirk Responsibility When Communicating

angerCommunicating effectively is probably the most common area where most leaders need to grow. In fact, a 2016 Harris poll found that 69% of managers surveyed said that they're often uncomfortable communicating with employees. I wager that discomfort comes from not knowing how to connect with the other person in a way that both of you will leave the conversation on the same page and feeling respected and heard. First, however, you must become aware that you're not taking responsibility in your interactions with others. One simple (but not easy) technique to take responsibility and thereby improve your communication with others comes from the teachings of Dr. Marshall B. Rosenberg on Non-Violent Communication (NVC). Dr. Rosenberg’s teachings are based on consciously taking responsibility for yourself during any conversation. When you do this, you tune into your own observations, negative emotions, and underlying unmet needs that are shaping negative reactions you may have in a given situation. You can then make a request of the other person that will allow you to meet those needs. You will create connection and understanding by discerning and meeting your own needs and the needs of others.

Here are 5 signs that you might be shirking responsibility and inhibiting your ability to communicate effectively:
1. If I don’t get what I want from an interaction, I give up and blame the other person for not understanding. 2. If business results are poor, I look at what other’s did or failed to do to cause them. 3. Under pressure, I get reactive and express my first impulse or feeling regardless of how it will impact others. 4. When in a conflict with another, I don't give in and wait for them to apologize first. 5. Even if others admit mistakes, I often hold a grudge and have a hard time working effectively with them in the future. If even one of the above statements describes you, consider taking a hard look at your responsibility in that instance. Leadership requires you to look at yourself first and to shoulder the responsibility for everything that happens on your watch. Learning more effective communication techniques, like those taught in NVC, can help you do just that.   WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with business leaders who want to increase productivity and retention by shifting their focus from daily tactical work to the strategic work required to move their companies forward. Learn more about her company Firebrand Consulting LLC at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.
Thanks to Julie Warr of The Compassion Connection for being my podcast guest. Julie-Warr-NVCJulie Warr has a passion for compassion. Inspired after her attendance at the 2015 Parliament of Religions, followed by a serendipitous suggestion from her coach, Julie explored the teachings of Dr. Marshall B. Rosenberg, the founder of the Center for Non-Violent Communication. For Julie, “the heavens opened, angels sang, and my mind lit up”. She knew she had found what she was meant to do. Although she still works full-time in the financial services industry, Julie continues to pursue what she considers her life’s work. She is in the process of forming a non-profit organization, with the intention of bringing NVC to Salt Lake City. Julie and I met at her office recently to talk about NVC and how it can be used in the workplace to create more satisfying, productive, and peaceful interactions. You can find out more about Julie's endeavor,The Compassion Connection, on Facebook and Instagram. You can contact her at juliewarr.nvc@gmail.com.

March 30, 2017 bstrathman
How to Be Unpopular During Strategic Plan Execution

executionCreating a strategic plan is such an accomplishment. After all, you spend tons of time, energy, and money going through the planning process. However, the work has just begun. Now, as the rubber meets the road, things can easily fall apart. Many employees will resist changing what they have always done. Yet, others will be excited at the prospect of going in a different direction. If, as part of your strategic plan, you don’t have a specific plan to execute your strategy, you will be a very unpopular leader.

Here are 10 surefire ways to become that unpopular leader:
1. Never mention your big-picture vision.
Employees need to be reminded of the big picture your company is working towards. However, some leaders rarely or never refer back to that vision during the execution of the strategic plan because they get so focused on “doing” the plan. Realize that keeping that vision fresh in people’s minds helps guide them through the excitement and the drudgery of change.
2. Attempt to eat the elephant all at once.
One way to decrease the awkwardness and the anxiety of any change is to break the overall plan down into manageable pieces. If you do not look for quick wins that are easy and map out milestones to focus on along the way, you are likely to overwhelm employees who will give up before they even start.
3. Discount stakeholder interests
Can you believe that not everyone is going to be psyched about any new direction mapped out by your strategic plan? You’ll be extremely unpopular if you fail to leverage the enthusiasm and support of those who are on board. And you’ll be “toast” if you fail to influence the “resistors” or neutralize those who are outright antagonistic.
4. Ignore potential risks.
Hopefully all will go well with your new strategy; however, you’ll lose support if you don’t plan for the worst in at least some respects.
5. Overlook current company processes, structures, and systems that get in the way.
Ever been subject to a process or system within a company that seemed to be at odds with what the company said was important? If you change your strategy, your employees will loathe you if you don’t also update and align the way things work.
6. Remain silent and aloof.
The most common way to be unpopular while executing your strategic plan is to rarely if ever speak of it. Employees get disgruntled without almost constant references to why, what, who, and how things are proceeding.
7. Fumble new insights and ideas along the way.
If you don’t have a way to capture new insights as you go along, your employees will lose respect for you and what you’re trying to accomplish. Without a way to vet and champion unanticipated new ideas, you will miss out on new innovations that could make you a hero.
8. Allow employees to dodge adopting new conduct and attitudes.
You will surely become unpopular if you don’t require everyone (including yourself) to adjust your thinking and conduct to support your strategic plan. When conduct and attitudes don’t align with new goals, old patterns will sabotage what you’re trying to achieve.
9. Fail to resolve setbacks and remove obstacles.
Your popularity will take a nose dive if you fail to follow up on setbacks and obstacles. Tracking and tending to these issues is critical.
10. Forego recognizing and celebrating achievements.
Employees feel dejected if you forget to acknowledge the attainment of milestones or even the final goal before jumping immediately into the next phase or initiative. Don’t be the leader who forgets to acknowledge and celebrate success and achievement throughout the journey.   WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can. Simply include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with business leaders who want to increase productivity and retention by shifting their focus from daily tactical work to the strategic work required to move their companies forward. Learn more about her company Firebrand Consulting LLC at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

March 22, 2017 bstrathman
How to Add Wisdom to Your Company’s Strategy

"We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom. The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely.” – E.O. Wilson, entomologist
leverage, key performance indicatorsIf your company is like most, you set goals then wait to see what happens -- as if merely stating the goal will bring it about. In reality, for goals to make a real difference to your company, you need to pay more attention than that. You must pay attention to what you and your employees will do differently to move an ambitious goal forward. And this often requires infusing some wisdom into the process – wisdom that comes from using data that drives and measures progress toward a goal. How do you gain the wisdom to get the results you want? You get it from past experience and intentional trial and error now. It is wisdom, rooted in the experimentation of science in the form of “independent variables” and “dependent variables”. In science, an “independent variable” is a condition or value you change to see what effect it has on something else. That “something else” meant to be impacted is the “dependent variable”. Think of a science fair and the ubiquitous experiments involving growing plants. Usually, kids varied one of many growing conditions to see what would support or inhibit plant growth. Some of the things they would vary included amounts of sunlight, amount of water, etc. Each condition changed was an “independent variable”. Plant growth is the “dependent variable” because it would depend (hypothetically) on what was done with the chosen independent variable. A straightforward business example would be a desire to decrease production time for a widget by minimizing manufacturing downtime to while maintaining current quality. Manufacturing downtime is the independent variable and production time is the dependent variable. Applied to your company goals, independent variables are called Key Performance Indicators (KPI) or “lead measures”. Thus, independent variables are to a hypothesis as KPIs are to strategic goals. They are the key to gaining real wisdom around what will allow your company to successfully achieve its goals. To gain such wisdom regarding your goals, run the experiment by simply restating your goal in the form of a question to more easily identify relevant KPIs. For example, if the goal is to decrease production time by 10% by December 31, restate it as a question. “How can we decrease production time by 10%, by December 31, without sacrificing quality?” The answers to your business question will point you in the direction of possible KPIs. Then, you can vet further for potential impact and your ability to control them. Unfortunately, many leaders fall short when it comes to gaining wisdom. They don't develop and track KPIs in an intentional and deliberate way. Instead, many leave it to chance that employees will make the adjustments needed to get to the company goal. Or if they do identify the KPIs, they don’t work with their teams to design “experiments” to prove or disprove that the KPIs are affecting the goal. How are you adding wisdom that informs your company’s strategy? Which goals and related KPIs is your team focusing on now? How are you showing a correlation or causation (or lack thereof) between those KPIs and the goal? WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can. Simply include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with business leaders who want to increase productivity and retention by shifting their focus from daily tactical work to the strategic work required to move their companies forward. Learn more about her company Firebrand Consulting LLC at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

March 20, 2017 bstrathman
Effective Presentations: The Foolproof Five

I had the pleasure of interviewing communications coach Beth Noymer Levine. She graciously allowed me to share the following blog post, excerpted in part from her book, Jock Talk: 5 Communication Principles for Leaders as Exemplified by Legends of the Sports World, www.jocktalkbook.com.   team; working in groups; leading groupsMore often than not, what makes people freeze before a big presentation is the nagging question, “Am I even doing this right?” and its companion, the fear of embarrassment. I’m always taken aback when smart, successful, otherwise confident people reveal that they’re afraid to make a fool of themselves. I would never have guessed in most cases. Trust me when I say that no one is “a natural” at speaking and presenting; even the best of the best think about it, worry, and work at it. Regardless of your style or your comfort level with public speaking, it’s wise to consider some core guiding principles for yourself as a speaker. Below are five foolproof principles of being an effective speaker or presenter that will give you the confidence to know you’re “doing it right,” and will leave your audience quite impressed. The five principles are:

  • Audience-centricity
  • Transparency
  • Graciousness
  • Brevity
  • Preparedness
Taken together, they send two really important messages about you to your audience:
  1. That you care about and respect them.
  2. That you’re real and therefore credible and trustworthy.
Audience-centricity
It may be a new term to you, yet it’s probably the most fundamental of the five principles. Simply put, audience-centricity is making the audience’s interests and experience a top priority in the planning and execution of a talk. Too many speakers prepare and deliver what is important and interesting to themselves without enough careful considerations of their listeners. Being audience-centric is a mindset shift that encourages the speaker to prepare and deliver content in a way that will matter to and resonate with the audience.
Transparency
It is exactly what you think it is; it’s about being open and direct — yes, and honest, too. Transparency is critical. It contributes to the levels of sincerity and trust that are accorded to you by your audience.
Graciousness
It is the art, skill, and willingness to be kind-hearted, fair and polite. As motivators and influencers, love and peace work far better than anger and war. Speaking in positives rather than negatives leaves lasting, favorable impressions.
Brevity
Brevity is a crowd-pleaser and needs no further introduction.
Preparedness
Preparedness speaks for itself as well. The unprepared speaker is the one who is most likely to be long-winded, not to mention unfocused. While the mere thought of preparation might bring feelings of dread, the feeling of approaching the front of the room ill-prepared is far worse – and it shows. Success is in the eye of the beholder – your audience. Show care and respect, be real, and your audience is much more likely to listen, like you, and be impressed.   Beth Noymer Levine Beth Noymer Levine - Communications Coach at SmartMouth Communications SmartMouth Founder and Principal Beth Noymer Levine is a Communications Coach who is emerging as one of the country’s leading voices on how to prepare and deliver speeches and presentations that actually work for both the audience and the speaker.