How do I: Manage Up? Don’t! Do this, instead.

Many of my blogs are triggered by someone asking a question.  That’s the case with this one, as well.  In this situation, a friend is adjusting to some leadership changes in her organization.  My short answer to the question “How Do I Manage Up”? is DON’T.  That is the wrong question.  The better question is How Do I build and/or strengthen my relationship with my manager?  We can boil the answer down to a handful of key principles.

Have a conversation

Maybe you have a new manager or a new job or maybe nothing has changed and you work in a business as usual world.  It is never the wrong time to engage your manager in a conversation about how you two can work (more) effectively together.  But before you begin that conversation, conduct a mini self-assessment by asking yourself a few questions:

  • How do I think the relationship is going?
  • What is working well for me? 
  • Am I delivering at or above my manager’s expectations?  If not, why not and what should I change?
  • Do I need help with some part of my job? 
  • If there was one thing the two of you could change about your relationship, what would it be?

The purpose of this exercise is for you to enter the conversation with a clear understanding of how you feel about things and what, if anything, you want as a result of the conversation. Once you are ready, it’s time to schedule that discussion.  Some starter topics you can use include:

  • How do you (Ms./Mr. Manager) think things are going?
  • Are you comfortable with how we work together? 
  • Do you think we communicate effectively?  If not, what should we change?  Is it a mutual adjustment or do I need to take the lead for any changes?  Can you share one or more examples so I really get it?
  • Is there anything about the way we work together that you want to change? 
  • If there was one thing you could change about our relationship, what would It be?


This is not a post about Active Listening.  That is a subject unto itself.  But that is what you need to do to make the conversation with your manager worthwhile and productive for both of you.  So here are a few tips (without getting into the details of active listening):

  • Hear your manager out before responding – especially if she is offering some constructive feedback as part of the discussion.  The most common active listening mistake people make is to start preparing a response as soon as the other person says anything less than flattering.  It is normal but you have to suspend that behavior if you want to maximize the benefits of the conversation.  Otherwise, you run the risk of not really hearing everything she has to say.
  • Ask clarifying questions if needed.
  • Ask for examples to illustrate the point(s) she is making.
  • Play back what you have heard in your own words.  This allows you to confirm you have understood correctly.  It can also be a “feel good” moment for your manager as it confirms she has communicated effectively with you.
  • Don’t feel that you must respond in the current conversation.  If you have learned something surprising, it is absolutely OK to say something like “Wow.  I didn’t know that or I didn’t see it that way.  I’d like the chance to reflect on your point and discuss it further in a follow up meeting”.
  • If the conversation leads to a realization that you need some help, ask for it. 

Agree on Next Steps

Now that you’re in a dialogue, agree with your manager about what next steps (if any) are appropriate.  What are your individual and shared expectations going forward?  Who will do what? And by when do you expect to check in with each other again on the action points?  I like to send my manager a simple email following this kind of conversation.  The purpose is to assure there is a clear, shared understanding of the discussion and what the next steps are.

Follow Through

If you have agreed on some changes, make sure you do your part of to follow through. The conversation is a starting point in building that relationship.  By delivering on the commitments you made in the conversation you demonstrate you care and are investing in strengthening the relationship.  Following through also builds trust.  I don’t know anyone who says they don’t need more trust in their work relationships.

A Few Additional Tips

No surprises.  You have likely heard this before but it bears repeating.   Don’t let your manager be surprised – by either good news or by a screw-up.  We all make mistakes.  If you’re involved in a mistake, be the one who lets your manager know it.  It is far better for you to report the situation than it is for your manager to be surprised by someone else telling her.

Own the mistake.  It is one thing to report a problem before she hears it elsewhere.  It is another thing to own the problem.  If you are a manager, yourself, maybe someone on your team made the mistake.  Accept responsibility as the manager of that person. 

Have a solution. 

Ideally, when you inform your manager that there is a problem, you can also present a solution.  If you can’t or don’t know how to correct the issue, ask for thought partnership.  But don’t let your current inability to fix it on your own delay letting your manager know what is happening.

Final Thoughts

Building and maintaining a productive relationship with your manager is not a one-off event.  Leverage your investment in the conversation to keep the lines of constructive communication open.  And if you are a manager of people, encourage your folks to do the same with you.  We’re all in this together and it’s a lot more fun to succeed together than it is to be frustrated or unhappy together.

Somers HR Solutions  is an independent consultancy dedicated to helping business leaders and their teams diagnose and solve people management challenges.  Managing Partner, Ken Somers, is especially adept at coaching HR Business Partners and business leaders to enhance their organizational impact.  He is passionate about delivering “answers for the real world.”

Ken’s career spans more than 40 years as both an HR practitioner and executive leader.  In addition to his domestic experiences, he has lived and worked in Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, India, and Malaysia.  Ken completed his most recent assignment as the interim country head for an insurance company’s back office operation in Poland.  Ken’s vast international experience enables him to bring a multicultural and multi-generational perspective to solving client challenges.

If you found this blog useful and/or if you can use some help in addressing a people leadership challenge, contact me at:

+1 508-507-1207 or ken@somershrsolutions.com

Work in the Next Normal – Some Key Considerations

Like many of you, I have followed the never-ending flow of opinions and guidance about reopening business as COVID (hopefully) recedes.  My objective here is to boil much (but not all) of the public material down into 3 key categories:

  1. What does this mean for individual employees?
  2. What does it mean for managers of people?
  3. What does it mean for companies?

And I will divulge my own bias.  I believe hybrid will be the “dominant strain” of the next normal.


Businesses now need to understand their employees at a deeper level than previously. In many ways, understanding the WHOLE person is far more important than it ever was.  Parenthetically, I have to point out that businesses have a unique opportunity to dovetail thinking about where work gets done with your Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion strategy.  But I won’t digress on that point other than to plant the seed in your heads.

Let’s take two hypothetical but very plausible employee examples:

Elliott has been with his company for about 8 years and has established himself in the firm. Demographically, Elliott is at the point where he owns a home in the suburbs of a major city and has a couple of kids. Prior to COVID, he commuted to work in the city each day.

Deborah was hired into the company during COVID and has never been in the main office.  She is in her mid-20’s and lives in a downtown apartment which she shares with roommates.  She lives in an urban setting for easy access to work, entertainment, and public transportation.  As a new employee, she is still working to establish herself with her manager and colleagues.  Being 100% remote has made it a challenge to learn and adapt to the company’s culture. 

  • It should be obvious that Elliott and Deborah have quite different work-related needs.  Elliott is more likely to have a space at home where he can concentrate on his work.  Deborah, as an urban professional in a shared apartment, is more likely to be using an ironing board or the kitchen table as her office space than a desk behind a closed door.
  • Elliott knows who to call without thinking when he needs insight from a colleague or has to collaborate on a project.
  • Deborah is still trying to figure out who to call when she needs clarification for a project.

I could continue but you get the point.  Elliott and Deborah have different needs.  Think about it:

  • Who is more likely to be getting the kind of mentoring and cultural guidance everyone needs to be successful?
  • Who is more likely to benefit from what used to be routine office coffee machine chit chat?
  • Who NEEDS to be in the office with other people?

Here, I want to introduce the concept of SYNCHRONOUS and ASYNCHRONOUS working.  Millions of people have made a PLACE shift over the past 15 or so months.  But a substantial subset – perhaps a majority – have also made one or more TIME shifts.  Since we know Elliott has a couple of kids, it’s quite likely he has been involved in some home-schooling these past months.  With his tenure and an existing network, Elliott can probably do some of his work when his kids are busy with other activities.  He can work ASYNCHRONOUSLY – in other words, he can work WHEN he is able to and not necessarily when others are working.

Deborah, being new is still learning how to get stuff done.  She is more dependent on access to others at the same time she is working on an assignment.  Deborah has a higher need to work SYNCHRONOUSLY – when others are available.

The science of work behavior tells us that behavior is the product of 3 drivers:

  • Achievement – mastery of one’s work.
  • Affiliation – relationships and a sense of belonging.
  • Power – the ability to influence.

Before you stress out about a return to the office in a hybrid environment, you can ask yourself 4 questions.  These require some introspection, but the answers will help you to determine how YOU should react to a return to the office and help you consider what you can do about it:

  • What do I want (or need) my routine days to look like?
  • What stresses me out?
  • How does my boss define success – now?
  • What do I value?


To successfully shift to a hybrid work environment, managers need to do something most have never had to even think about before – designing hybrid work with ongoing human considerations – not just one-off situational ones.  Hybrid will not be about making an accommodation for Elliott if he has to take one his kids to the doctor.

Although I previously didn’t use the term, the discussion of Deborah and Elliott’s situations are really about factors that influence their productivity.  As we think about how to make work productive in the next normal, we need to consider and optimize the balance between the 2 dimensions of PLACE and TIME.  Where and when work gets done.  And does the work in question need to be done synchronously or can it be accomplished asynchronously.  Individual employees come at these questions from their own perspective.  Managers of people will need to understand those employee considerations AS WELL AS their own needs that are unique to their circumstances. 

Managers have their own drivers of productivity.  Put aside the fact that most managers are now working managers with their own delivery responsibilities, the people dimension of a manager’s role typically involves:

  • The need for regular communication with team members
  • Conversation
  • Debate over access to resources
  • Mentoring
  • Coaching
  • Etc.

A prime responsibility of any people manger is therefore, one of coordination.  For a people manager, time is usually more important than place.  But in this case, the time normally needs to be synchronous. 


Questions companies need to think about include:

  • What is the nature of my business?  Does it involve a lot of direct customer interaction?
  • Are those interactions normally face to face?
  • What do my employees really need?
  • What do my employees want?  Will they be happy with 3 days/week in the office or will they, like the folks at Apple stage a quiet but sobering revolt?
  • What does hybrid look like?
  • And how do I accommodate the hugely different needs of a Deborah or an Elliott?

I’m not going to suggest answers to these questions.  What I do want to do is plant seeds with you on how to start figuring out the answers to these and other related questions.  First and foremost, companies need data.  And don’t assume you already know.  The world has changed a lot and more than most realize over the past 15 months.

Research clearly shows the best way to get data on what employees need and want is to conduct an anonymous, third party survey.  I want to stress the 3rd party dimension of this.  I can almost guarantee your participation rates and the candor of the responses will be better if a 3rd party conducts the survey. 

Second, once companies have data, they need to define the hybrid culture they want to achieve.  For our purposes, culture means the shared values and shared norms of behaviors and attitudes.

Next, companies need to upskill EVERYONE (and especially managers) on the behavioral tools people will need to succeed in the Next Normal.

In doing that, companies need to address the HOLISTIC hybrid environment.  That means paying attention to and adjusting:

  • Structures
  • Processes
  • People
  • Rewards

And certainly not least, give managers the tools they need in their roles to be effective at leading hybrid teams.

So, wrapping it up:

  • Hybrid is here to stay.
  • Individuals need to assess what is right for them and their unique needs.
  • The front-line manager’s job is and will be harder than ever as we define the next normal.  Companies need to invest in building managerial skills and techniques to help them and their teams succeed as a next normal emerges.
  • Companies have a lot to figure out and need to do it quickly.
  • And lastly, don’t expect the first set of solutions to be the final version.  It is an understatement to say we live in volatile times.  Successful people and companies will need to iterate these answers until some level of equilibrium is achieved.  And then – something else will probably happen.

If you found this blog useful and/or if you can use some help in addressing a people management challenge, contact me at:

+1 508-507-1207 or ken@somershrsolutions.com

Vaccinations Are Here! – What You Need to Know to Drive Your Business

Vaccinations Are Here!  – What You Need to Know to Drive Your Business

Welcome to our second post in the series on Common Sense People Management for Small to Medium Businesses

Return to “normal” planning

As we write, the pace of vaccinations is accelerating and some optimism is returning but new infections and hospitalizations are starting to creep upwards making “return-to-normal” planning more complex.  The key message is that despite near universal COVID-weariness, this is not over yet.  So, let’s address some key management planning principles.

  • Keep your options open as long as possible.  The states are in the process of lifting restrictions, but we urge caution.  In this changeable environment, by not committing to a specific set of actions or a particular operating environment, business owners can avoid creating unrealistic expectations and/or disappointing employees and customers.  You will never have perfect information you need but wait until you have enough to confidently implement your plans.  Think through various “what if” scenarios and pull the trigger on the best fit solution when the time comes.
  • Are your front-line managers prepared to lead?  If your business depends on front line managers for day-to-day supervision, evaluate if they have the tools, knowledge, and mindset to lead in the new environment?  If not, what are they missing and how do you “skill” them up to be prepared? For example, several of the major global consultancies are urging their clients to adopt more flexible people management practices.
  • What Google (or Amazon or Facebook, etc.) does may not be the right answer for your business.  Many of the technology giants have declared permanent partial or full remote work.  That may or may not be right for your business.  And remember, the tech giants generally have a vested financial interest in promoting more and more use of technology solutions.
  • Managing a Hybrid workplace is more complex than seems on the surface.  While we will devote an entire post to “Hybridity”, a few comments are appropriate here.  A hybrid workplace can seem attractive on many levels.  It can allow a business to reduce its real estate costs and lower its carbon footprint.  But having your team in the same place at the same time (co-location) delivers smoother coordination, informal networking, and greater face to face collaboration.  Power and influence will be affected by one’s skill and comfort level in navigating a hybrid work environment.
  • Every business has a culture – what do you want yours to feel like as you go forward?  Even if you have never thought about, your business has a culture.  The smaller the business, the more likely the culture is a direct reflection of the owner(s).  What values or operating principles do you want your people to embrace in the new normal?

We close this post with a few critical Q’s & A’s about vaccinations:

Q:  Can employers require employees to get vaccinated?

A:   Generally, yes.  According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance from December 2020, employers may enforce this requirement since a vaccination is not considered a medical examination.  However, the EEOC went on to say that employers must include a procedure for employees to request an exemption or a reasonable accommodation.

Q:  What should an employer consider when deciding about mandated vaccinations?

A:  First, employers need to ensure they are following federal, state, and local guidelines on vaccinations.  This will help identify what you can do and what you cannot.  Beyond this, the nature of the business is a determining factor.  For example, childcare operations may determine that vaccinations are mandatory due to the increased risk of exposure.   On the other hand, if you are a distributor or a transportation company with no direct customer contact, vaccinations are likely to be a lower priority.

Q:  Do I need a vaccination policy?

A:  We believe the answer is yes.  Your policy should clearly explain whether you require or encourage vaccinations.  If you elect to mandate vaccinations, you should state the reasons why.  Depending on the nature of your business, protecting fellow employees and customers is a reasonable example.

Q:  What is a reasonable accommodation if one is needed?

A:  A reasonable accommodation may include some or all of the following actions:  remote work, an isolated working arrangement, continued masking coupled with social distancing in the work environment.   However, remember, an employer may not be required to provide an accommodation if doing so creates an undue hardship.  Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) an undue hardship will cause the employer significant difficulty or expense.   This is a tricky area and employers need to consider each accommodation request on the unique facts and circumstances as well as the particular job and workplace.

Disclaimer:  We are not lawyers and the information provided in this and future posts should not be considered legal advice.  We urge you to consult with your attorney before taking any actions that could expose you and your business to legal actions – however, well-intended those actions may be.

Ken brings more than 40 years of Human Resources and line executive and practitioner experience to his client relationships.  In addition to the United States, he has lived and worked across multiple industries in 6 countries (5 in Asia and 1 in Europe).   As a consequence, there are very few situations that he has not previously navigated with his clients. 

Ken is widely acknowledged for quickly establishing trust and critical thought partnership.  This essential trust is attained through his naturally engaging style, a focus on practical solutions, and the use of some well-timed humor.  After all, at times, coaching conversations can be challenging.  As an exceptionally good listener, Ken demonstrates vulnerability with his clients and expects the same, in return. While he tries to make the coaching process a pleasant experience, there is business to be done and Ken partners with clients to keep a laser focus on progressing through the cycle.   

His coaching assignments typically involve the use of a proprietary 360 tool that delivers a comprehensive and holistic view of how the client enables or inhibits organizational results.  An underlying premise is that the specific context in which the client operates matters.  This tool and the subsequent discussion about the results yields a specific and attainable set of objectives that Ken and the client partner to achieve.

While Ken has worked with many different kinds of functional leaders, he has a particular passion for helping HR practitioners who are committed to increasing their organizational influence and impact. As a consummate networker, he can draw on resources and solutions literally from around the planet.

Ken earned a BA in English Literature and an MBA from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He lives with his spouse and their 11-year-old puppy in Bloomfield, CT.  Time zones and travel (when COVID is better controlled) are routine challenges that are easily overcome.

Ken has helped executives and their teams by:

  • Coaching leaders and managers on soft skills e.g., empathy, active listening, emotional intelligence to improve their effectiveness and focus on personal growth.
  • Working with managers to develop stronger prioritization and delegation skills and habits to reduce stress and attain greater work/life balance.
  • Coaching executives on communication style and presentation skills to build their reputations and enhance career growth.
  • Working with women leaders to enhance their executive presence and overcome the challenges associated with the Imposter Syndrome. Text Box: Contact Ken at ken@somershrsolutions.com or by phone at +1 508-507-1207 to explore how he can help your HR and business leaders create greater value for your organization.  Visit his website at http://somershrsolutions.com
  • Developing leadership team cohesiveness to drive business growth and agility.
  • Leading strategic offsites to align & motivate executives and to develop plans to respond to challenging business realities.

Comp360, LLC is a trusted advisor and partner to dynamic organizations in need of pragmatic and problem-solving guidance on Total Rewards programming that will enable attraction and retention of a talented and stable workforce.

Marc Kroll, Comp360’s owner, is a compensation consultant seasoned in the design, formulation and implementation of total reward strategies and variable pay plans across multiple industries, including service and manufacturing environments.

He has engaged and collaborated with executive management and employee teams to drive consensus on a variety of pay, benefits and performance challenges. These have ranged from compensation strategy formulation to full-scale implementation of business-based rewards programs, inclusive of sales, management and executive pay and benefits.

His career spans four decades during which he has led compensation groups both for corporate entities as well as privately held organizations. This experience and expertise enable him to assist a variety of clients with a wide range of operational challenges and work cultures.

Experienced in both profit and non-profit sectors, Mr. Kroll brings a broad perspective and in-depth knowledge to clients as they determine their pay and benefits vision and tactics.

Mr. Kroll has also served on the faculty of the Fairfield University (Dolan School of Management) as an adjunct instructor teaching performance management and compensation. He is also Assistant Chair of the Pension Committee for the Town of Woodbury, Connecticut.

Although Comp360’s focus is Total Reward Program design and delivery, we also offer:

  • Benefits Benchmarking
  • Performance Management Integration with Compensation
  • Focus Group Design and Execution
  • Communication Strategy and Training for program rollout

Contact Marc at mgkroll@earthlink.net or by phone at 203-228-0239 to learn more about how Comp360 can help your organization increase return on your Total Rewards investment.

Analytics and Human Resources Leadership of the Future

I recently had the fun opportunity to participate in a panel discussion about HR Analytics and how it is reshaping the future of the Human Resources profession. I was the designated practitioner on the panel and my role was to keep us grounded in the realities of leading HR functions on a day-to-day basis.   This panel was part of the recent and exceptional HR Hacking Global Conference.  You’ll forgive me when I give this shout out to Enrique Rubio for the fabulous job he did in organizing and implementing this extraordinary program which drew over 20,000 HR practitioners across the planet.

One of the panel attendees posed an interesting question.  He asked if the HR leaders of the future need to come to the job with an Analytics arrow in their quiver of talents.  Although the question was not asked as if an Analytics background is a pre-requisite for future HR leadership, that was the subtle suggestion.

We, on the panel, had a brief but useful chat about the pros and cons.  If you’ve read any of my prior posts, you probably already know that I asserted that an Analytics background will be helpful but not a requirement.  My arguments were simple and to the point.

  • The role of the CHRO (or equivalent) is far too broad to be defined solely by an Analytics background.
  • Successful CHRO’s assemble direct report teams that bring with themselves (or have within their structures) the range of HR capabilities needed to steer a contemporary HR function. If they don’t, they have a bigger problem than a lack of personal Analytics capabilities.
  • While high impact CHRO’s of the future will absolutely need to draw upon Analytics expertise, it’s more important that they:
  • Are reasonably numerate – you can define reasonable any way you wish but, in this context, I think it means they can understand the data and the implications of the data
  • Are plugged into the business and understand both current and anticipated business challenges
  • Because of the preceding two points, know the right questions to ask and then actually listen to the answers
  • Can interpret the knowledge and insights of their Analytics team to paint a story that will resonate with other business leaders

We are blessed to have a number of great academic thinkers who are helping to shape the future of the Human Resources profession with their ground-breaking work.  Since I was the designated “reality guy” on our panel, I asserted and remain convinced this is all great stuff.  I loved having a Business Intelligence team in my last corporate gig – and I learned a lot, thanks to my team.  However, in order to lead the human capital dimension of a business in 2021 and for the foreseeable future, I believe the most senior members of any HR leadership team need to be strategic influencers.   The ability to understand and deploy Analytics is but one tool they will use to achieve that status.

What do you think?  Please share your thoughts.  I especially welcome thoughtful disagreement.