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Which of Your Strengths Are You Overusing

January 11, 2018

You have strengths that make you distinctive. And, you’ve seen yourself in situations when those same characteristics wouldn’t be called a strength.

For example, a well-honed sense of self-control can turn into rigidity. Courage, taken to the extreme, might become recklessness. Honesty, if not tempered, can turn into cruelty. Usually, the darker side of our talent strengths are seen when we are under pressure, tension, stress or fatigue. Consider the following list of “strengths” and how others might see those same strengths when under stress or fatigue:

Talent Trait/Strength Others’ Perception
Considerate Unconcerned
Thoughtful Hesitant
Team player Detached

Also, it’s worth reflecting on which of your skills you might be relying on too much. For example, consider one of your strengths that has served you well at work and has been admired by others. Then try to recall a situation in which you relied on that quality more than you should have. A people-orientation and trusting perspective may interfere with performance management. Are there occasions when a strength became a Self Leadershipliability, causing more harm than good — and perhaps even leading to an unintended outcome?

Keep in mind that we tend to overuse our strengths under stress. When we’re not getting what we want, our instinct is to double down on whatever has worked best in the past. Instead, step back and reflect objectively on the situation. Look for alternative ways to respond that will ensure a better outcome.

Want to learn more about Carl Nielson and The Nielson Group’s services? Complete the inquiry form below.

Leadership, talent management, personal development, executive coaching


Organizational Resistance or Human Resistance to Change? The Science of Inertia.

March 30, 2017

Team PerformanceJohn Kotter is a New York Times bestselling author. His latest book, the wryly titled That’s Not How We Do It Here!, is an animal fable in which two clans of meerkats in the Kalahari – one large, well managed, but rigid; the other small, relaxed and innovative – attempt to survive in the face of sudden droughts and vulture attacks.

It’s a study of how past triumphs can instill a dangerous false sense of confidence in continued success, and how companies can turn threats into opportunities.

“It’s easy for [older] organizations to slide into mature characteristics, one of which is that people tend to be complacent,” says Kotter. “If something has survived for 30, 60, 160 years, you don’t get much thought about the fact it might not survive the next five.

According to Kotter, “Some of the most successful organizations on earth are far too arrogant. They’ve been too successful for too long and they think they know everything, and that’s toxic. That’s a super-killer”. Now replace “organizations” with “HR executives or general managers or leadership or mid-level managers” and you have a more specific issue.

When you look at any historical data trends, for example looking at 1950 up to the present – volume on stock exchanges, number of patents filed, the amount of data that goes around the Earth and so on, what you see is data curves that all go up exponentially, roundish curves – things changing faster every year. They don’t go up smoothly either – they bounce around – that’s volatility.

Therefore, leaders need more than a tolerance for such volatility, but an appetite for it. “Whenever you have changing conditions and turbulence, it’s actually full of opportunities,” Kotter says.

Good times allow people to establish and hold onto bad habits.

[Adversity is] a brilliant platform for a company to say, Let’s not make the goal just to survive, to not get hurt too badly – let’s make the goal to actually advance and end up in a better position than we are today.”

So why does inertia control so many people?

It’s ingrained, Kotter says, in our business culture. “The average organization is run by people who’ve been trained by previous leadership that believed making ideas happen is all about an elite few people at the top of a hierarchy,” he says. Why not get lots of people into the game – so, while doing their regular jobs, everyone helps with these bigger, more challenging issues? Having open discussions about opportunities is much smarter than appointing committees. The world has seen enough appointed committees. With committees, there’s bureaucracy, rigid accountability, metrics that measure certain things that are relevant right now but discourage people from trying new things.

A major contributor to this change-resistant culture, says Kotter, is Darwinism. “Under conditions like Brexit or the U.S.-Mexico border wall issue, our brains – and this is something which has helped us survive for hundreds of thousands of years – have a mechanism that constantly looks for threats. This mechanism is stronger in some people. The minute a person is presented with a threat (whether real or perceived through alternative facts), it sends off signals that create chemicals that put us in a flight, fight or freeze position. We (people) also have an organic desire to surround ourselves with others who think or believe like we do (social normalization need) – which has been manipulated for ions for political or organizational profit.

In addition to the emotion of fear related to observable or believed threats, and the need to be part of a herd, another part of this challenge relates to a missing skill called futuristic thinking – which can be developed. But the greater barrier to futuristic thinking are personal motivators that drive each of us to action. Our motivators actually drive the development of certain skills to the detriment of others. It takes a certain combination of personal motivators to enjoy and want to focus on the unknown. Most people don’t have the combination of personal motivators to think and act on what Kotter is promoting – group involvement in making change happen.

Kotter thinks natural selection will need more millennia to catch up with the change in human circumstances wrought by the industrial and digital revolutions. While the broader population makeup of personal motivation does shift over time, there is no indication the shifting is toward all of us becoming change agents.

So how can we as leaders bypass resistance to change?

First, de-stigmatize failure, says Kotter:
“You have to make it clear, when you’re trying new things, that you’re not going to get it all right. In a traditional mature organization there’s so much emphasis on keeping the trains running on time that if a train is late, the first instinct is to figure out who to blame.
“When you’re dealing with inventing the future, that’s just a terrible instinct. It’ll deter people who want to get involved, be creative and take intelligent risks. It’s deadly.”

Second, recognize that people are motivated by different things and they will excel when they are doing work that rewards their personal motivators. If you want change, assign people (not committees) that are motivated by new ideas and methods, who enjoy acquiring knowledge and have an internal need to generate a return on their investment of time and money.

And third, train key people throughout your organization on Kotter’s eight steps for change.

If success isn’t incentive enough, how about the existential benefits? The possibility here is not just to increase revenue and/or market share. If you’re willing, in this turbulent world we’re living in, to open up and try new things, then ask how much are you poised to take advantage of. Encouraging a culture of risk taking and eliminating a punitive culture will increase the speed of change and make everyone’s lives much nicer. Assigning the right people on the team and using a proven change process and discipline gives you a significant advantage for bypassing resistance to change.

Is it possible to consistently hire top performers? YES. Is it possible to create high-performing teams? YES. Can you create change that creates a sustainable culture of trust, engagement and speed? YES. How costly are the missteps you are taking?

Carl Nielson is a talent strategist serving global and mid-cap market leaders & high-growth small businesses. Carl’s passion throughout his career has been to co-create sustained improvements in workforce performance.

DISCOVER ★ ENGAGE ★ ADVANCE ★ PERFORM – coaching organizations for breakthrough performance

☛ NEW for 2017: Execution Leadership for Project Managers,
☛ Talent Management Strategist Blog:

● Leadership development and executive coaching
● Talent assessments for job matching and development
● Organizational diagnostics
● Team engagement programs
● High-potential talent development
● Leadership team effectiveness
● Change management tools and strategies
● Job competency mapping, selection and job-talent matching (hiring the right talent)
● Mergers and acquisitions
● Outplacement services

Applications: Cost reduction, revenue growth, increased market share, engagement, talent selection and management development.

Assessments: DISC, TriMetrix, TriMetrix HD, TriMetrix EQ, TriMetrix Sales, Stress Quotient, 360 Feedback Surveys, Organizational Surveys, Emotional Quotient, Job Benchmark survey.

To schedule an information call with Carl Nielson, go here.

How to Handle Transition from Peer to Boss

March 23, 2017

Legal Liability,Termination, Tolerationby Carl Nielson (connect with Carl on LinkedIn)

Being promoted over your coworkers is a tricky situation. It’s important to get off on the right foot with your former peers and to make the transition as smooth as possible. You also need to realize it is a new team now with a new manager.

Ideally, the team will learn about your promotion from someone above you. But if you have to make the announcement yourself, be modest with the wording. This isn’t the time to toot your own horn. Don’t let people make assumptions about what your new relationship will be like — show them. Meet with each team member one-on-one. If you competed with a peer for the job, pull them aside to say you value their contributions. Take a specific action to back up your words, such as assigning them to an important task. And don’t introduce any sweeping changes right away. No matter how good your plan is, plan changes to go into effect once you’ve established your credibility as a manager.

For any new manager, speed to optimum performance without missteps is desired. A highly effective strategy is to bring in a facilitator to conduct a new manager assimilation exercise. This includes upfront team assessments and other prep work by the consultant. The goal of this exercise is open dialogue with the team, building of trust and avoiding the Forming, Storming, Norming Performing new team phases (Bruce Tuckman, 1965) that most teams experience when left on their own.

A state-of-the-art new manager assimilation program uses as its framework the work of John Gabarro, a professor of Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management at Harvard Business School. In his book, The Dynamics of Taking Charge, Gabarro reported five distinct phases of management integration. The first two phases, called Taking Hold and Immersion, are focused on orientation and learning. Without intervention, this can take up to 18 months. A New Manager Assimilation Program is designed to shorten that time frame considerably to allow the new manager to arrive more quickly at Phase 3, Reshaping, in which he/she begins to implement his/her own business strategy.

To learn more about what is included in a new manager assimilation program go here.

Partially adapted from The Harvard Business Review Manager’s Handbook: The 17 Skills Leaders Need to Stand Out

Is it possible to consistently hire top performers? YES. Is it possible to create high-performing teams? YES. Can you create change that creates a sustainable culture of trust, engagement and speed? YES. How costly are the missteps you are taking?

Carl Nielson is a talent strategist serving global and mid-cap market leaders & high-growth small businesses. Carl’s passion throughout his career has been to co-create sustained improvements in workforce performance.

Eliminate Meeting Mayhem

March 2, 2017
The cost of one one-hour meeting with six manager or professional technical attendees ranges from $600 to $1,500. Add in the cost of facilities and it is likely 25% higher. That’s just one hour, one time. To convene a group meeting, here are best practice suggestions for anyone leading or participating in the meeting:

Prior to the Meeting

  • Always publish an agenda prior to each meeting or ask for an agenda prior to accepting the invite to attend.
  • Ideally collect and publish agenda items and required reading within the Calendar appointment item.
  • Send out pre-meeting reading requirements one full day in advance. Any earlier and it will be lost. Any later and it will likely be read in the meeting.
  • Review all required reading of published details prior to meetings.
For the pre-meeting agenda and at the beginning of the meeting:
  • Label agenda items as Inform, Request for Input or Request for Decision.
    • Inform – the owner will inform others, providing facts and decisions made.
    • Request for Input – the owner will provide background information (establish focus) so that the leadership team can provide input.
    • Request for Decision – the owner will present adequate summary information and if necessary guide the leadership using the full 5-step conversation model to reach consensus on a decision. Discussion is allowed and encouraged to satisfy any needs for information.

Control the meeting

  • As a first item, review the agenda and ask participants to amend as needed. (Establish Focus for the meeting)
  • Inform items need to be quick and in summary format. Handle detailed informs with one-page bulleted handouts or offline via email updates.
  • Consistently apply the ‘5-step coaching model for managers’* to meeting management.
  • Keep participants within the flow of the five steps and recognize when a circular flow (step backward)is needed. Be aware of what step you need to be on.
  • Use meeting time for exception-based discussions.
  • Use consensus agenda items to approve or accept recommendations that don’t need discussion.

Carl Nielson is an executive and team performance coach. In addition to one-on-one coaching, Carl delivers in-house development programs for managers, teams and high-potentials. His latest initiatives include Leadership Acceleration Program for High-Potentials, Execution Leadership for NPD and IT Project Managers and *The Coaching Clinic for Managers. Carl also provides highly interactive team workshops including  Communication and Collaboration Skills for Teams using DISC and other assessments.

*The 5-step coaching model for managers is ideal for meeting management and uses the following coaching conversation flow:

  1. Establish Focus
  2. Discover Possibilities
  3. Plan the Action
  4. Remove Barriers
  5. Recap

To learn more, schedule a convenient information session with Carl, go here.

Leadership Skills: Empathy for Your Team

February 16, 2017


Show Empathy for Your Team

Empathy—the ability to read and understand other’s emotions, needs, and thoughts—is one of the core competencies of emotional intelligence and a critical leadership skill. It is what allows us to influence, inspire, and help people achieve their dreams and goals. Empathy enables us to connect with others in a real and meaningful way, which in turn makes us happier—and more effective—at work.

But it’s not that simple, is it?

There’s no doubt that people want to feel appreciated and listened to at work. As a leader, it’s your job to create an empathetic environment where everyone feels valued. Here are a few simple things you can do to show empathy for your team:

  • Observe, listen, and ask questions. Stop assuming and “telling” that you know what people are thinking and feeling — you probably don’t. There’s always more to learn if you’re quiet and curious which is counter to the behavioral traits rewarded in other aspects of leadership.
  • Stop multitasking. If you’re writing an email to one person while talking with another, neither one is getting the best of you –  and whether you are aware or not, it is extremely rude and disrespectful. Put your phone down and give your full attention to the person in front of you.
  • Don’t give in to distractions. There’s always a deadline looming, a crisis to deal with, or an annoyance to put to rest. It’s important to slow down and take a step back from all of this stress. Practice mindfulness, and encourage your employees to do the same. Let them know it’s OK to take some time for themselves.

Adapted from “If You Can’t Empathize with Your Employees, You’d Better Learn To,” by Annie McKee

A Little Interview Prep and Practice Can Help Determine If Sales Candidates Will Be Successful

December 10, 2016

According to Will Brooks, COO of The Brooks Group (a leading corporate sales effectiveness training firm), the single biggest challenge in hiring salespeople is that it is both logical and emotional in nature.


The false-logic challenge is that having someone in place is better than having no one at all. This is a false position based on what we know a bad sales hire typically costs you:

  • Wasted leads and lost opportunities
  • Customer and prospect alienation
  • Loss of goodwill in the marketplace
  • Poor image and reputation
  • Morale problems caused for other salespeople
  • Lost time and energy in hiring, training and retaining
  • Delivery and customer service problems
  • Picking up the pieces after the failed rep has left

The emotional challenge lies in the danger of hiring someone you like regardless of any verifiable level of competency. Couple this with the often-used mirror test hiring strategy (the method of being able to fog a mirror and you have the job) that many companies use and you can imagine the merry-go-round of problems. It is time to get off the merry-go-round – unless you are enjoying the ride.

You’ve heard the advice. Using thoughtful and thought-provoking sales interview questions is a way around to identify the best candidate as well as remove candidates from the running. So, based on common themes across hundreds of TriMetrix HD “outside sales” job benchmark profiles (more about TriMetrix below) we’re offering a list of sales interview questions you can use to determine if your next sales candidate is a fit for your organization, your product, your team and your culture. Using these questions will help. Using these questions and administering the TriMetrix HD Talent assessment will significantly improve your sales hiring.

Suggested Sales Interview Questions

What are your longer-term career aspirations?
[Getting to know the candidate,  achievement orientation]

Give me an example of a time when a manager provided you feedback you didn’t agree with. How did you handle it?
[Is the candidate coachable?]

How would you start working a territory from scratch?
[Planning and Organizing skills]

Walk me through your process for developing a prospecting plan.
[Planning and Organizing skills]

What’s more important: planning or action?
[Balance of planning and action]

Walk me through your sales process of choice.
[Sales Strategies]

What was the last sales book you read?
[Continuous Learning]

How do you evaluate the best way to invest your time in a typical day?
[Self Management]

What expectations do you have of your manager?
[Manager – Subordinate relationship preferences.]

Describe the ideal sales team you’d like to be a part of.
[Teamwork skills]

Where specifically do you need to grow your sales skill set?
[Sales Strategy knowledge]

Where do you see the world of sales prospecting going? What’s the best place to find {buyers in our market}?

How do you differentiate yourself personally?
[Self-Awareness, knowledge of strengths]

What separates a top sales performer from everyone else?
[Knowledge and focus on continuous improvement]

Knowing what you know now about professional selling, what advice would you give yourself at the beginning of your career?
[Self-awareness, continuous improvement attitude, personal accountability]

What’s more important to sales success: selling skills or interpersonal skills?
[Which does the candidate prefer using. Are they disciplined or like to wing it and rely on their winning personality.]

Walk me through your process for preparing for a face-to-face call.
[Organized use of systems and procedures to be efficient and effective]

What have you found to be the most effective way to open a face-to-face sales meeting?
[Sales strategy]

Give me an example of a time that you completely mismanaged your first face-to-face meeting with a prospect. What did you learn from it?
[Awareness, Coachabilty and Continuous Learning]

How do you go about crafting a recommendation for a prospect or customer?
[Organized practical thinking skills]

What role does sales team alignment with the bigger organization play in the overall success of the sales team?
[Team player, them vs us mentality, big picture understanding]

What makes a world-class sales manager?
[Answer will be based on past experience with good and poor sales managers.]

What’s more important: profitability or volume?
[Profitability is connected to value selling. Volume is connected to speed and discounts.]

What tools do you use to learn about a prospect before making contact?
[Sales strategies]

Describe your biggest success as a salesperson.
[Understanding the candidates work experience, depth, resume.]

Describe your biggest setback as a salesperson.
[Understanding the candidates work experience, depth, resume.]

Describe a time you lost a longer-term customer. What happened? How did you handle it?
[sales strategies]

What’s more important: being decisive or slowing down to pay attention to detail?
[It is the extremes that will derail a sales person. Too slow, worried about making mistakes or being too impulsive. Both are sales killers.]

Describe a time you had to over-service an account that didn’t mean much commission to you personally. How did you handle it?
[Sales strategy]

How do you handle situations when a prospective buyer insists you cut your price?
[Sales strategies]

Holding out to find a candidate that is a “best fit” for the position will benefit you and all of the candidates, and will result in an employee who is successful.

To further assess a candidate, as well as the available position, look no further than the TriMetrix® Assessment System (a unique four-science assessment to identify the talents of your applicants, define the job’s talent requirements objectively and train, coach and develop internally). We also offer the Sales Strategy Index, a sales strategy assessment, sales DISC assessments and personal motivators assessments  for use in the hiring process and to supplement internal training programs. Let us share more about these powerful sales hiring tools by completing the inquiry form below.

The Nielson Group offers best-in-class solutions to define jobs, assess talent and develop people for high performance across your organization. To learn more and discuss your specific needs, send us a note by filling out the form below:

Which Competency Model System is Best for My Company?

October 4, 2016

Many competency model systems are too narrowly applied for the value, amount of work and expense. I found one offering meets all of my requirements for cradle-to-grave talent management use, high manager acceptance and engagement, amount of work required and cost/value for what you get.

According to Talent Management Magazine’s article on December 3, 2015 by Jim Graber, “Competency models allow leaders to implement a systematic approach to all facets of talent management.” Perhaps you’ve put your own preface to that statement: “In an ideal world.”

Here is my list of applications (wants and needs) for a valid and reliable competency model system:

  • Highly effective for the industry, company and jobs I’m supporting.
  • Reduces subjectivity and measures what it is suppose to measure.
  • Development of a job posting that attracts the right talent.
  • Eliminates the redundancy and necessity of job descriptions.
  • Ability to use a complimentary assessment for assessing applicants for the open position.
  • Ability to generate a Gap analysis automatically between an applicant and the job benchmark (job’s competency model).
  • Ability to generate a candidate comparison report of best candidates from the pool of finalists.
  • Provide the hiring manager and the new hire with the key accountabilities for the role, a talent report and gap analysis, along with a professional development plan and specific talent development goals as part of the onboarding plan.
  • Provide managers with tools that make it easy to have a laser-focused performance management or professional development discussion with their employees.
  • Provide employees with the “what” and the “how” to be successful.
  • Support objective “job fit” discussions when superior performance isn’t possible.

A competency model that doesn’t fulfill every one of those requirements isn’t acceptable.

What I Found.

TTI Success Insights (TTISI), a global assessment company, developed a competency model system several years ago and received a patent for its unique and highly reliable approach. That means no other firm offering competency models can copy it.

I’ve been using this system for over ten years in partnership with HR executives, HR business partners, C-level executives and department managers. If it didn’t meet all of my criteria I would have dropped it long ago. Instead, the most rewarding aspect of TTISI’s competency model system is the high level of engagement and adoption I receive from managers.

Managers intuitively and quickly recognize useful, value-added tools vs. time-wasting, low-validity or low-value tools. I find managers are advocates after completing and using just one job benchmark. Even better, the manager becomes a strong advocate for the system to other managers. As a customer-centric HR-geek, that has always been my number one measure for customer value: do my clients recommend the tool or strategy to other managers.

Consider what your Voice of the Customer rating is for your talent management system and specifically your job competency modeling system. If managers love what you are providing, the adoption rate is high and sustainability of your talent management strategy practically goes on auto-pilot. When was the last time you had a manager come to HR and beg for an exercise in writing job descriptions? Never. Is your current competency modeling system having to be pushed by HR and seen as too subjective or flawed by managers; or are your internal clients demanding it in their organizations?


In fact, managers that have leveraged the system demand its use for ongoing hiring. At a time when your Talent Acquisition folks (aka Recruiters) continue to be rewarded for “time-to-fill” off of an antiquated job requisition system, hiring managers have a way to inject “quality” into recruiting and hiring process.

Employee engagement, performance management and professional development

Experienced employees who are provided the opportunity to use the system consistently state “This has been the best performance discussion I’ve ever had in my entire career with my manager.” and “For the first time in my career, I feel like I know how to pursue and achieve the next level for my career.” New hires maintain that new hire excitement well past the honeymoon period.

From hiring to performance management to high potential development, TTISI’s patented process for competency modeling along with their talent assessments is a clear talent management program differentiator.

I realize this article sounds like a PR article. I encourage you to use the requirements list above to compare different competency modeling systems you are considering. Invite your internal clients (managers) into the evaluation process. And feel free to call me if you have questions about the TTISI patented process for competency modeling.

Need more information about TTISI’s patented competency modeling system (we call it a job benchmark)? Contact Carl Nielson at 972.346.2892 or email him at

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