What I'd love to tell this DR is that he brings up the most bizarre things ever in meetings that leave most of us scratching our heads in amazement but I know I can't really tell him that. I know the feedback model focuses on action/behaviour rather than feelings so I'm trying to figure out how to define that behaviour.

For instance, our company recently announced "no merit increases until 2010" and I pulled the team into an impromptu online chat (we're all virtual) so that we could sort through any questions/concerns over that announcement. Most of the questions from the folks were reasonable:

- is it just this year or will we get another one like this next year?
- will they still honor the tuition assistance stuff?
- will we still get the 3% increase for obtaining our certifications?
- will our bonus structure be impacted?

This one DR though let loose with "I just hope that we do not see double digit income for this fiscal our expense."

I asked him to clarify with "I'm not sure I understand -- are you thinking that the company will post profits but they won't really be profits from clients so much as reduction of stuff from the ee's?"

His response was "If the company will post NOI profit at 10% or higher by the end of fiscal year, then I feel it's our merit increase that help to get there."

This DR is another of my "English as Second Language" speakers and in many of the group meetings we attend, he also expresses a great deal of hesitation and/or searching for the right words or how to articulate his thoughts.

Recognizing that I'm a high (through the roof) D, I have been hesitant to approach him with this because I don't want to be insensitive to his style (thoughtful, contemplative, precise) and give correcting feedback because it's not my style (direct, pointed, rapid-fire, etc.)

I also don't know that feedback along the lines of "When you pause and stammer while addressing a group on a conference call, minds start to wander and you don't come across as confidently as the subject matter expert that you are." The pauses and stammers are likely ESL by-products so can I really give correcting feedback in that regard?

The NOI comment in the "no raises" discussion was a bit perplexing though I believe I handled it fairly effectively (in terms of providing an answer) it just seemed to divert the whole conversation the group was having.

I can't quite put my finger on what it is that's so odd or bizarre. If I'm not able to pinpoint the behaviour, how can I address it with feedback?!

I know there's at least one other example of "What kind of goofy-ass rabbit hole do you have the group off chasing now?" but it was from a meeting that I was barely paying attention to (other fires to put out that required more of my attention while multi-tasking.)

My gut would say the feedback could be "When you go off-topic in meetings, it's distracting for the group and wastes time." My concern over that approach would be that he could easily (and almost rightfully) say that his NOI comment was on-topic in that it was a concern of his & the meeting was to address "questions AND concerns."

Should I just let it go?

FWIW, this DR actually applied for the manager position I ultimately got but he didn't make it past the HR screener person because of his lack of preparation (from what he told me) and his speaking style (from what I surmise/assume.) He's told me that he'd like to get into a different position within the company that involves more face-to-face contact with people instead of his current virtual / computer / telephone role. I'm planning to coach & mentor him on his public speaking and I've already given the whole team a big packet of interviewing tips.

I just cringe at the thought of this guy trying to interview or be in face-to-face situations with the stammering, pauses, bizarre rabbit hole statements, etc.

hchan's picture

In reading this post, I get a weird impression that you regard this DR with disdain. May be it's chemistry? Or may be it's just me.

Anyway, here are my thoughts:

- The stammering and pause: You are right that telling him the negative impact "you don't come across as confidently as the subject matter expert that you are" won't help much. His problem is probably not lack of motivation to change it, but inability to change it on his own. If you truly want to help him either on Public Speaking or on the stammering and pauses, consider visiting a couple of Toastmasters Clubs and listen to how people there give constructive criticism. They look for "opportunities to improve" rather than "weak points". A good critic will not pick on anything that they themselves don't know how to make it better.

There is no need to cringe at the thought of him trying to interview. He is bright enough to find himself a decent job in a foreign country despite the language barrier and discrimination, and he has the courage and motivation to seek advancement. He will do fine. There are a lot of employers who won't be bothered by his ESL quite as much.

- The NOI question, It is not really off-topic, it's just negative. If you cannot pinpoint what bothered you, you should let it go. You cannot give constructive feedback if you don't have a thorough understanding of why it matters. "You are annoying." won't fix the problem. Feedback is meant to help the employee improve, not to express our frustration.

Take a little time to ask yourself why you want to "coach and mentor" your directs. If it's to help them, then they come first, and you need to adapt your style in order to "serve" them.

That's what manager is... we are there not to boss them around, but to be bossed around tending to their needs and shortcomings. Not here just to tell them they are wrong, but to take responsibility in helping them get it right.

US41's picture

The sentiment about corporations posting profits while also denying raises, bonuses, and freezing promotions is a political one. It is not "negative." It is a fact that he feels resentful of the company asking him to sacrifice when his understanding tells him that the sacrifice is unnecessary. I would take it as a compliment that he trusts you enough to say this to you.

It is naive on his part, perhaps, to trust you with this as it is a little over-the-top for someone hoping to be promoted.

If you give feedback:

* Ensure you have been giving positive feedback, otherwise negative feedback just burns your bridge. Remember the ratio is 9:1 positive:negative.

* Give this feedback, "When you accuse the company of mismanaging your merit increase in order to post profits on an open conference line that anyone could be on, you look unprofessional and it hurts your chances for promotion."

That will help him tidy up his behavior without challenging his beliefs.

Frankly, I would also like an explanation as to why your company is denying raises when they are profitable. If your upper management or you have failed to communicate that effectively, you can expect this sort of sentiment and damaged morale among the workers.

Sounds like there is some feedback for you there as well about ensuring that you understand and can fully justify why your employees are going to be denied increases this year and whether or not the company posting a profit is a good measuring stick to determine if such action is needed.


asteriskrntt1's picture

I agree with US41.

I don't know how big your company is and how much merit increases amount to in real dollars. But we do know lots of executives get bonuses based on certain metrics, including stock prices. Earnings affect stock prices, so if you cook the books per se and announce good earnings, the people at the top get to skim.

I was also just reading of companies diverting research dollars and loans to pay dividends during the downturn, again to keep the stock prices up. Not cool.

Announcing cuts with no underlying basis is bad management.


jhack's picture

I agree that executive compensation schemes can create a disconnect between the interests of executives and those of all other stakeholders.

Keeping one's stock price up, however, is not inherently a bad idea. A low stock price makes a company an acquisition target, increase borrowing costs, and reduce the ability to acquire other companies.


RobRedmond's picture

Consider also that the board of directors hires officers to do one thing: increase shareholder wealth. If the stock price stays flat, then profit is meaningless. All activities of officers are intended to drive up the stock price.

The company doesn't engage in any activity to raise profits. The company engages in activities to drive up the stock price. If denying you a raise has that effect, then expect it. If giving out huge raises has that effect, then expect that instead. If dancing bears drive up the stock price, be prepared to don the costume when it is delivered.

Stock prices go up because of market purchases of shares and increasing scarcity. People purchase shares when they believe that they will increase in value to be sold later at a profit. Earning a profit can be one thing that causes them to purchase, but so can volume of trade of the stock, market share increases, layoffs, and all sorts of other activities.

Right now, companies are trying to show long-term potential by cutting expenses and making dramatic, public moves designed to show they acknowledge the need for planning for hard times and running lean.

You might consider communicating this fact to your employee. As suggested above, he clearly does not understand it.

-Rob Redmond

jhack's picture

In theory (, a steady stream of profit (or positive cash flow) will be reflected in a higher stock price. And, over periods of time greater than the quarters of which investment bankers are so fond, this model holds.

So there should be alignment between the interests of profit and share price. Unfortunately, management can jack up share price now at the expense of future performance. Hence the disconnect.

Large companies often fail to explain why they make decisions, and how they are managing the big three: Profit (and Loss), cash flow, and the balance sheet. These are interrelated, and there are likely good reasons for the decisions (although your direct may disagree with their goals or their reasoning).


ashdenver's picture

I apologize for obviously giving the impression that I hold this particular DR in disdain. I do not. He's is quite competent in his job and has extensive knowledge about the company, having been here 25 years. My recommendations for helping him overcome some of the stammering will include leading small presentations to our group and possibly our partner group with direct coaching on practice, practice, practice! I believe that by practicing delivering the content, the more fluid his speech pattern will become - if only for that one presentation. Likewise, I have also offered to participate in mock interviews with anyone on the team looking to transition into any other position. (I wouldn't mind mock interviewing for an external position if they trusted me enough with that information.)

Regarding the merit increases and the NOI question, our division is one of the larger divisions within the company but it is not the only group. We have divisions dedicated to both our smaller and larger clients. Additionally, we have divisions focusing on entirely different business segments. (We focus on employer solutions and our other major divisions in the US focus on car dealerships and stock market related industries.) Add to that, we have offices all over the world that do similar things for those other countries - different laws and regulations, different products entirely, etc. As such, our group of mid-sized employer services oriented products is just one piece of the much-larger whole puzzle.

Our database allows queries to be run and it's quite obvious to anyone willing to do the search that our sales are down about 20% over the same time last year. When sales are down, income is down. When income is down, the way to keep from going into the red (assuming there are no sales to be found) is to minimize costs. A penny saved is a penny earned.

On a fundamental level, I have no problem with the merit increase suspension. If anything, our mid-sized group will most likely post a loss for the year, however, the company as a whole may still post a profit simply from the other divisions maintaining profitability. If our group is taking the biggest hit in sales income, it's perfectly fair and logical (IMO) to ask our group to take the merit increase hit.

I will continue to think on ways to give feedback when the rabbit hole situations occur. (The other one was an instance where the DR led the discussion down to the nitty-gritty level when the meeting was designed to be the bigger picture level. Those types of things seem to be easier to address.)

asteriskrntt1's picture

Thanks John.

Always nice to see a CAPM refresher. :)

Now maybe I misread this and I certainly don't want to embarrass anyone but the concept that "If the stock price stays flat, then profit is meaningless. All activities of officers are intended to drive up the stock price." is ridiculous. If they did not care about profits, none of the companies would give earnings guidance to the market and none of the analysts following the stock would make earnings estimates. Meet or beat the estimate of profits and your price generally bounces up. Miss it and the price generally goes down.

Most stock pricing models are a direct correlation to dividend income. If there is no profit growth, there will likely be no dividend growth and the stock will likely remain stagnant or decline. I would like to see an interview with a CEO who says "I hope we don't make any additional profit next year."

That being said, every company has a slightly different mandate and definition of shareholder value. Shareholder value is created three ways - through capital growth, through dividends and indirectly through their capital structure (which in large part determines financial ratios and ability to raise more cash or take on debt to help the company grow). Showing continual strong profits creates value in the balance sheet which translates into more value in the stock. These are decisions the Board of Directors make about the company's capital structure and how they will build shareholder value.

The Board also determines stock price goals (a preferred trading range) as they desire a certain liquidity to their respective stocks (trading volumes). Some want more liquidity, some want less. They also have preferences as to the equity distribution and who they want to own their shares (institutional traders like pension or mutual funds or a wide base of individual investors). That is one reason why so many company split their stocks if the price gets too high.

Microsoft and Walmart have split their stock many times. Others, like Apple, have not (MS is currently trading around $20 vs Apple near $200). Last time I looked, Microsoft had a daily average trading volume of about 90 Million shares while Apple was about 30 Million. Microsoft chooses to keep its stock price relatively low, which gives it more liquidity.

Some, like Google or Berkshire, prefer creating singular value (they currently don't pay out dividends) through limiting the number of shares traded publicly (bigger demand, smaller supply), creating a higher stock price Google and Berkshire (and Microsoft, which did not pay out dividends until a couple of years ago) have a preference for keeping LOTS of current assets (again, part of their capital structure choices). About 3 years ago, Microsoft had $60 BILLION plus in current assets on the balance sheet vs the current levels of about $25 Billion.

Other companies like IBM prefer an upper-moderate trading range ($90-110) and pay out strong dividends. Again, part of the capital structure and shareholder value decisions.

We can also see how companies (banks and financial institutions) skewing financials and artificially inflating stock prices have done so well for executive bonuses but not for the economy. In light of this, if I was an employee who was being told my compensation was being significantly altered with no solid explanation, I would be plenty worried.

The bottom line is that good management means COMMUNICATE COMMUNICATE COMMUNICATE. Employees need not be ignorant plebes and have a right to know what is going on when their compensation is being altered. In fact, they have an obligation to find out what is going on. We call that good career management.


Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

Ashdenver -

For what it's worth, I didn't read a surfeit of disdain in your post at all. I sure see a lot of opinions about people's state of mind being suggested here... probably not a good idea.

I am trying to finish a podcast tonight, but if you all will allow me to post within twelve hours, I'll have a couple of thoughts.

BLUF: I don't think you're that far off, and polite feedback would work fine. I take as a basic assumption that some of what you share with us here is not going to be shared with him, insofar as you see us as being a sounding board. Just like when Mike and I share ideas, and say, "can you believe that....", or, "some guy just told me I'm an arrogant racist" (true story).

More soon.

Mark (he who must not have been seen in forever, but still lives in between two casts a week)

jhbchina's picture


As an ESL trainer in China for over 5 years, I'd like to know how you came to the conclusion that his English skills are a weakness. Does his emails, reports, and other written deliverables have significant spelling and grammar mistakes? Can you provide some information as to where he is located? After being with the company for 25 years, someone else would have noticed this too. Has anyone else either a client or team member made a similar comment.

Finally, going to ToastMaster is a great idea for improving more than just presentation skill.

I will be willing to help any way I can.

A former ToastMaster too ;-)


hyubdoo23's picture

Irony # 1: "Does his emails, reports, and other written deliverables have significant spelling and grammar mistakes?"

Irony # 2: "Has anyone else either a client or team member made a similar comment."

ashdenver's picture

Mark, thanks for the vote of confidence and understanding. This audience is obviously quite different from the audience I would have with my team/DR's.

JHB, there are mistakes in spelling and grammar when he submits written communications but no more so than any other DR (but then again, I have really high standards in that regard.) I came to the conclusion that his ESL was a likely culprit based on his speech patterns and accent. The accent tells me that he is likely a native Spanish speaker. The pauses, hesitations and searching for words that he does also seem to be common with some ESL folks. Not all ESL speakers have this issue. In fact, a good friend of mine is utterly fluent in both Spanish and English - so much so that she has no accent in either language and made a career as radio disc jockey where stammering and pauses would have ended her career. In this particular DR, though, it is quite noticeable and, I'm thinking, somewhat career limiting. At least in this company.

He used to be a realtor and in the right environment, I'm sure he'd do a fantastic job. Right now, though, in this English-only company, the stammering and searching for words seems to be holding him back. I happen to think it's a by-product of ESL because he IS quite knowledgeable about his subject matter. He just can't seem to find the right words and they're simple words, not complex technical jargon.

I wasn't pointing to the ESL aspect in a derrogatory manner. I was stipulating that the behaviour (stammering, finding the words) was likely the result of something that goes beyond what most of us deal with (us single-language speakers!)

jhbchina's picture

Hi AshD

"I wasn't pointing to the ESL aspect in a derogatory manner."

Not taken that way, just trying to help you get to the root cause of his speaking challenges. Is his writing mistake level much higher than other DR's in your group?

The symptoms you describe can also be observed by people that are just nervous when speaking in public or in large groups. Heck everyone experiences a time when they hesitate what they want to say, because they want to use the right word or phrase depending on their audience.

When I teach ESL, I tell my students, that language is about communication, does the listener understand the message clearly. You seem to understand him, and visa versa, so maybe he just has bad timing and says the wrong thing at the wrong time. That does need to be corrected.

Hope this helped.


Mark's picture
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Here are my thoughts.

First, I don't really care about the ESL issue...becuase it's not behavior. Let's not solve that problem only to have the behavior which caused us to address go unchanged. Thar's what managers have been trying to do for years, and it doesn't work, because we're not psychologists.

Maybe IT IS a function of his discomfort (relative to a native) with the language...but really, do we care? If in the end he no longer says bizarre things, English will still be his second language.

And further, it really doesn't matter whether it's ESL or anthing else. It's a completely reasonable job function to expect those in management roles (something to which this direct aspires) to be EXPERT communicators, regardless of language. The primary (because of frequncy) activity of managers is communication. Whether a manager is bad at it because he doesn't know the management language of the company, or doesn't know what capital planning is, or simply doesn't know the right words in his or her second language... that doesn't change the fact that he won't be effective. There is no requirement for a company to promote someone who cannot communicate persuasively simply because their failure to communicate - their primary activity! - is based on being born somewhere else.

The problem here is poor communication, in the eyes of the manager, Ash. She believes - and I agree, thus far - that this direct is either damaging his effectiveness and/or damaging the team's ability to perform well through ill-timed, ill-informed, and/or ill-spoken comments.

So, it's time for feedback.

"When you say X, I feel like you're taking a more "me" approach than a team approach. Can you think about doing that differently?"

"When you say that our bonuses are going to fuel profitability, that's not only not a team building comment, it's specifically disrespectful of our leadership, without specific knowledge. I dont' think it helps. Can you do that differently next time?"

"When you make these comments in team meetings, you may not realize it but it makes my job harder. How could you share your concerns with me differently?"

This is pretty simple stuff. Stop worrying about the why, and change the behavior that's not helping.

And yes, one on ones and positive feedback wouldn't hurt either.


ashdenver's picture

Thanks, Mark. That's *exactly* what I was looking for. I wasn't sure if the ESL should be ignored entirely (which it sounds like is the way to go) or if there was some specific need to tippy-toe around it. I will print out your feedback examples and keep them nearby during our O3s and Team Meetings for handy reference - so I don't panic in the moment. This is a prime example of why is such an awesome place!

[pretend I've asked if I could share something with you in this space & you've agreed]

Mark, when you cut to the heart of the matter, the High D in me really appreciates the directness and the attention you provide to the larger picture. Thank you for being you!

hchan's picture

My apology for misreading your original post. The way you commented on 2/9 (I've just seen it) has made me realized I must have misunderstood. Appreciate your taking that graciously.