How Can You Rapidly Fit In To A New Culture?

This is a question everyone must confront at some time, whether you’re a recent grad accepting your first career position or you’re a seasoned professional making a move after 20 years with the same company. What can you do to rapidly engage with the new culture? The following five principles will take you a long way toward success.

  1. Do your homework to ensure a natural fit between you and the culture.
  2. Demonstrate a consistent positive attitude.
  3. Work hard.
  4. Make your boss’ priorities your own.
  5. Cultivate positive relationships.

Do your homework to ensure a natural fit between you and the culture. The single most important thing you can do to fit in involves knowing yourself and learning about the company before you even get a job offer.


During the recruitment and selection process, you must make a determination about the natural fit between your values and style and the company’s values and style. You should look for a situation that requires the least amount of change on your part. You’re in a good fit when your natural style just happens to be what works in the culture. The more you have to change to fit in, the more difficult it will be.


Invest the time to clarify what’s important to you, and what your natural style is. During the interview process ask questions that will help you make a determination about your natural fit with the culture.


Demonstrate a consistent positive attitude. I realize this appears to be a platitude, but it’s not. Positivity matters, and it’s visible on the surface. It’s one of the first things people notice about you, and first impressions matter a lot. Because positivity is contagious, you’ll have a positive impact on the workplace, which means you’ll be adding value right away.


Work hard. This is another apparent platitude. But once again it’s immensely important. Everyone appreciates hard work and it’s very visible. It increases the amount of value you’re adding. If you work hard and you have a positive attitude you’ll immediately earn a positive reputation in your new organization.


Make your boss’ priorities your own. I’m indebted to one of my mentors, Sigi Brauer, for this insight. This is about adding value. Value, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Demonstrate a sense of urgency in moving forward those things that are important to your boss. Again, it’s extremely noticeable, and your boss will sincerely appreciate it.


Cultivate positive relationships. Unless you cultivate positive relationships, you won’t fit in rapidly, and you might not ever fit in at all. The topic of cultivating positive relationships has filled many books, so I’m just going to emphasize a few basics.

  • Build trust. Be open and honest. Deliver on your commitments. Act in accordance with the following principle, articulated by Jim Meehan: “I mean you no harm. I seek your greatest good.”
  • Get to know people, and invite them to know about you. Learn what’s important to them, both personally and professionally. Take the time to inquire about their weekend, their vacation, and their family.
  • Celebrate their successes and milestones, both personal and professional.
  • Find ways to be help them, to make a positive difference in their lives.
  • Ask them for help. This might appear counterintuitive at first, but it’s very effective. Find ways in which they can help you. This demonstrates that you see the value they can add. It’s a form of recognition. It actually causes them to like you more.


To summarize, if you do only these five things you’ll maximize your ability to fit in and achieve success in your new organization:


  1. Do your homework to ensure a natural fit between you and the culture.
  2. Demonstrate a consistent positive attitude.
  3. Work hard.
  4. Make your boss’ priorities your own.
  5. Cultivate positive relationships.


Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.


Larry Sternberg

Were You Fired Recently?

Some people never have to go through this experience. I’m not in that category. Getting fired is a painful, frightening, embarrassing experience. I don’t have any magic words to make you feel good about it. But I do want to encourage you to embrace it. Like any major loss in life, it happened. Embracing it doesn’t reduce the pain or sadness, but it does open you up to personal growth and wisdom. It does help you move into the future.

I once worked with a guy who told me – proudly – that he had been fired from his two previous jobs. He explained to me that he was not a quitter. He was completely determined to figure how to succeed. For him, giving up was not an option. If you wanted him off the job, you’d have to fire him. As his teammate I knew I could rely on him to give 100% every single day.

That conversation changed the way I thought about being fired. And subsequently it really helped me when I found myself working for a restaurant company and not succeeding in my role. I was a terrible fit for the culture. I told my wife I was not going to give up. It was extremely stressful. Every week I tried a new approach, but I couldn’t find the solution. Several months later, when the president fired me, I was enormously relieved. Although I’m not proud I didn’t succeed, I am proud that I didn’t give up.

Almost every person I know who has been fired finds a better job. And here’s why. What is the likelihood that the job you just got fired from is absolute best job you could find? There’s almost always a better job out there for you, but you’re rarely looking for it. When you’re forced to look, you find. This knowledge is of no help emotionally when you’ve just been fired, but it can help you embrace the situation.

Here’s my final piece of wisdom. At the time of being fired, you can’t tell whether it’s a good thing in your life or a bad thing. It certainly feels like a bad thing. But it’s only in hindsight that you can tell whether it was good or bad. It depends on where it leads you in your life’s journey. I know several successful executives who would tell you that being fired from a previous job was the best thing that every happened to them professionally.

Being fired is painful, and it might well kick off a very difficult period in your life. I encourage you to embrace it all – both the pain and the possibilities. Ask yourself what kind of person you want to be in this situation. Despite the pain, it can be a growth experience.

Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear your stories about moving on after being fired.

Larry Sternberg

Do You Feel Trapped In Your Job?

There are too many people who don’t like their jobs. Almost every day is a bad day. This increases stress and anxiety, which has a negative impact on physical, mental and emotional health. In many cases, these people bring stress and negativity into their homes, which negatively impacts their family and friends. If you don’t like your job, if you’re frequently experiencing bad days, if you feel trapped in your job, this post is for you.

I firmly believe that organizations and supervisors should be intentional and aggressive about creating a culture where people feel valued, significant and fulfilled, a culture where people truly look forward to going to work. HOWEVER, I also believe that each of us must take responsibility for the outcomes in our lives. Your life decisions have put you in your current situation. You might feel trapped, but you’re not trapped.

I encourage you to answer the following question, “Why do I stay in this job?” Here are a few common answers. “It’s the highest paying job I can find.” Or, “It’s a necessary step to get to my career goal.” Or, “It’s a meaningful mission. I’m really making a difference.” It doesn’t matter what your answer is, but be honest with yourself, why do you stay?

Next ask yourself, “What’s this costing me? What’s it costing my family?”

The final question is, “Is what I’m getting out of this job worth the cost?”

If the answer to the last question is “No,” change something external. Change some aspect of your current job or start looking for another job, a job where you’ll look forward to going to work, a job where you have no problem saying that what you’re getting out of it is worth the cost.

However, changing jobs involves great risk and often great cost. You might not be ready for a life decision like this. You might decide that at this time it’s best for you to stay in a job you don’t like. That’s 100% okay, BUT in that case I encourage you to change you’re thinking. You’re not trapped if you’ve made a conscious decision to stay in the situation.

Embrace the situation and remind yourself that you’ve decided to pay this cost in order to receive the benefits and outcomes you seek. Stress is caused by resistance to what is. I know this isn’t easy, but you can make a commitment to work on it.

Here’s a very practical call to action. When you leave work after a bad day, and your friend or significant other asks you, “How was your day?” – DON’T ANSWER THE QUESTION!!! Answering the question will cause you to create more stress for you and those in your company. Be aware — in that present moment nothing bad is happening to you. Don’t let today’s events poison your evening. Say this instead: “Let’s not relive those events. I’d rather focus on having a great evening with you.” Then, of course, have a great evening.

For the record, I’ve experienced both situations. I used to practice law. I made good money but I wasn’t fulfilled. After a long period of introspection, I decided to make a career change, which required a substantial pay cut. I got into a career I loved, and I’ve never had a moment’s regret about that decision.

Subsequent to that, I had a job where I traveled 200 plus days per year on business. I hated the travel, but I loved what I got to do when I arrived at my destination. I had to constantly remind myself that the unpleasantness of the travel was part of the cost for me to do what I loved. I’ve never regretted staying in that job.

If you’re feeling trapped in your job, change something. Change some aspects of your current job or look for another job. If you’re unable to change something external, change something internal. Change your thinking. You’re not trapped if you consciously embrace your situation.

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

Is There An Alternative To The Employee Engagement Survey?

Employee surveys have been around for a long time. The current terminology is “employee engagement survey.” Years ago we called them “employee opinion surveys.” The goal of these surveys is to improve the organization.

The macro process is almost identical in every organization. First, the survey is administered, which involves a campaign from HR to maximize participation. A campaign is necessary because employees generally don’t look forward to participating. The results are analyzed and presented to the company. Managers and executives generally don’t look forward to this step. It’s often painful, but it’s considered necessary for improvement. Then, based on the results, strategies are initiated to improve the organization as measured by the next survey, and then the cycle repeats.

Lately, I’m reading more and more articles pointing out that all this activity isn’t resulting in measurable organizational improvement. This is analogous to the current trend questioning the value of annual performance evaluations. Many organizations are demonstrating the courage to quit doing traditional performance evaluations. Perhaps we should question the value of these very costly employee engagement surveys. Appreciative Inquiry (AI) presents an attractive alternative to the current engagement survey strategy.

Here is a quotation from the Appreciative Inquiry page in Wikipedia: “Appreciative inquiry (AI) is a model for analysis, decision-making and the creation of strategic change, particularly within companies and other organizations. It was developed at Case Western Reserve University‘s department of organizational behavior, starting with a 1987 article by David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva.”

Cooperrider and Srivastva recognized that the kinds of questions one asks control the kinds of answers one receives. Engagement survey questions typically focus on what’s wrong, asking employees to think about deficits, deficiencies and problems. This results in a certain snapshot of the culture, and not a very uplifting one. But is it an objective snapshot? What would happen, they wondered, if we asked a qualitatively different set of questions? What kind of snapshot would we get if we asked employees what’s right about the organization? What are our strengths? What are we proud of? What accounts for our most meaningful successes and high points?

Depending on the set of questions, you get two very different snapshots of the organization. To me, it doesn’t make sense to ask which is more accurate. They’re both accurate. To me, the important question is which is more helpful in bringing about meaningful improvement?

Vince Lombardi, legendary coach, answered that question years ago. He rejected the common wisdom that reviewing and analyzing unsuccessful plays was the best way to improve team performance. He realized that it was much more effective to analyze successful plays and think about how to create more of them. He was doing Appreciative Inquiry before there was a name for it.

The goal of this post is to make readers aware of Appreciative Inquiry (AI) and to encourage investigation and learning about how the application of AI can contribute to individual and organizational improvement.

Thanks for reading. As always, I welcome your thoughts.


Larry Sternberg

How Can You Improve Your Coaching ROI?

As a leader you’re responsible to help your direct reports improve their performance. A big part of that involves coaching. Unfortunately, the term “coaching” has taken on a negative connotation in many organizations. To mention that a person is receiving “coaching and counseling” is, sadly, not a good thing. That’s because “coaching and counseling” is now a euphemism for “disciplinary action”. This post is not about how to discipline.

Did you compete in sports when you were in school? You expected to receive coaching. You wanted to receive coaching. This post is about that kind of coaching, the kind of coaching that actually helps people improve their performance. Coaching requires an investment of time, effort and money. What practices give you the best ROI?

First, in order to improve someone’s performance you have to understand what you have to work with. Begin by learning the answers to these questions: What are that person’s strengths and weaknesses? What are his or her character traits? What do they naturally do well? Here’s a hint when assessing someone’s potential — there’s a difference between room for improvement and potential for improvement.

Counter intuitively, a person’s greatest potential for improvement lies in building on areas of strength. However, way too often coaching focuses on efforts to improve areas of weakness. Asking a person to perform behaviors they simply don’t have in their repertoire actually makes performance worse. Why? Because aptitude matters, that’s why.

For instance, if a person isn’t good at telling jokes, coaching them to tell a joke at the beginning of a speech won’t improve their performance. In all likelihood they’ll tell it poorly, people won’t laugh and it’ll make things worse. If you’re the coach here, you should ask yourself, “To what end do I want this person to tell a joke? What outcome will that accomplish?” Let’s assume the answer is, “To establish rapport with the audience.” A great coach will help the person identify a different way to establish rapport, an approach that involves behaviors they can do naturally. Find ways to work around weaknesses. Find ways to make weaknesses irrelevant.

Great coaches focus on specific recommendations rather than talking in generalities. For instance, instead of saying, “You have to be a better listener,” a great coach might say, “When the prospect is talking, don’t interrupt. Take notes if you can.”

Great coaches invest more time reviewing successful performances rather than reviewing failures. If you want to learn more about failure, study failure. If you want to learn more about success, study success.

Don’t confine your coaching feedback to annual or semi-annual reviews. Give people frequent, candid feedback. Coaching is an ongoing, every day responsibility. Don’t shy away from tough conversations.

Of course there’s much more to coaching than can be addressed in this brief post. But if you follow these five guidelines you’ll improve your coaching ROI.

  1. Understand what you have to work with. Don’t ask people for behaviors they don’t have in their repertoire.
  2. Focus on building strengths rather than eliminating weaknesses.
  3. Review successful performances to learn how to repeat those performances.
  4. Provide specific rather than general recommendations.
  5. Provide frequent, candid feedback in real time.

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

11 Surefire Ways To Prevent Learning And Growth

Lately I’m seeing a lot of talk about the importance of developing future leaders. But I’m also seeing a disconnect between what people say and how they behave in the workplace. This post expresses my perspective on this disconnect. Here’s how to prevent learning and growth.

Please note that these items are not in order of importance. They’re merely in the order they occurred to me.

  1. Allow your employees to stay inside their comfort zone. Don’t let them advance too rapidly. Avoid giving them new responsibilities until you’re absolutely sure they will not fail. Go slowly.
  2. Stay inside your own comfort zone. Don’t set goals that require too much stretch. Don’t take unnecessary risks.
  3. Don’t empower employees to exercise initiative to solve a problem or improve your operation. Make sure they have to seek your permission first. You need to know what’s going on, after all. And your judgment is better than theirs.
  4. Make sure things are being done your way. Life is easier that way. If you do let people try things, make it risky for them. Make sure they know that they’ll be held accountable if those new things don’t work out.
  5. Discourage them from challenging the status quo or disagreeing with the opinions of the organization’s leaders (most particularly you). Expressing contrary opinions confuses other employees and undermines alignment.
  6. Don’t involve subordinates in making important decisions. Making those decisions is your job. Involving them just slows things down. Either you’ll have to spend time discussing ill-advised ideas, or even worse, their ideas might be better than yours, in which case why do they need you? Better not to involve them.
  7. Focus on what’s wrong with people rather than what’s right. Everyone has things they should work on. Make people work on their weaknesses. Make sure your coaching focuses on what they’re doing wrong. People need to accept constructive criticism.
  8. Invest most of your coaching time working with your worst performers. Everyone knows that a team is only as strong as its weakest players.
  9. If someone is doing an excellent job, discourage them from seeking a transfer or promotion. You could lose an excellent player, and you’d have to train someone new. It’s best for the business to keep them in that position. And it’s certainly easier for you.
  10. Make sure people know they’re accountable for their own growth and development. Advocate for a “self-development” culture, which relieves you of that responsibility, thus freeing you up to focus on more important aspects of your job.
  11. Make sure people know that if they don’t have a solution, asking for your help does not reflect well on them. You need people who bring you solutions, not problems, right?

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts. If you’re on the receiving end of these kinds of practices, I’d love to hear how they’ve affected you.

Larry Sternberg

Will You Please Quit Checking Your Phone Constantly?

These days it’s becoming more and more difficult to be a good listener. We (I include myself) always have our phones out, and we’re always checking briefly for incoming texts, tweets, emails, etc. Recent research suggests that just having your phone visible affects the conversation, and that people experience anxiety when they’re separated from their phones or can’t answer an incoming message. To read the research click here.

Many readers will rationalize this behavior, stating that briefly checking their phones does not detract from listening. But it does, and it impacts your relationship.

Remember, your relationship with another person is shaped by the way you respond to that person. Constant phone checking sends a message about how important (or unimportant) the person or the conversation is to you. Suppose your best customer stops in for a serious conversation. While she’s talking are you checking your phone? No. Suppose your CEO stops in to speak with you. Are you going to check your phone? No. How would you feel if your doctor checked her phone during your examination?

I understand that there’s a difference between casual conversation and other types of conversation that carry more significance. For instance, if you’re just talking about yesterday’s sporting event, it seems acceptable for both of you to check your phones. But if that same person is pouring his heart out about the recent terrible diagnosis of a loved one, please control the urge to check your phone.

My call to action here is to consciously, intentionally practice separating ourselves from our phones so that we don’t experience phone separation stress. When we’re in a meeting, let’s agree not to check our phones. This will free us to be in the moment and create the opportunity to engage in meaningful, human conversation. I think we’ll find that the world does not quit turning on its axis.

Here’s a great example. I have a friend whose social group gets together frequently for dinner parties. At the beginning of the evening they all put their phones in a basket and don’t retrieve them until the event is over. That’s a commitment to be in the moment with their friends. The more we do things like that the easier it gets.

I’m making a commitment to do better at this.

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

What Does It Mean To Be Successful?

Wow! This is a challenging and nuanced philosophical question. The answer will be profoundly personal and therefore different for each individual. Moreover, as we gain wisdom, as our perspective evolves, the answer might well change. So we’re all well advised periodically to reflect on this question. The struggle to find the answer will likely generate more value than the answer itself.

You might find it helpful to think about success in the context of the various roles you inhabit, for instance: leader, parent, friend, significant other, community member, etc. You don’t need to focus on all roles. Just pick the ones you wish to think about.

Here are some questions to stimulate your thinking.

  • What kind of person do I want to be?
  • What’s important to me?
  • In my heart-of-hearts what do I value most?
  • What do I want to accomplish?
  • What do I stand for?
  • What example do I want to set?
  • What values do I want to embody?
  • What positive difference do I want to make in the world?
  • What do I want people to say about me at my funeral?
  • In terms of the time I invest in various activities, what’s the ideal balance for me?
  • What do I want my legacy to be?

If you devote your life to a cause you deem worthy, but you don’t achieve your goals, are you a success? If you achieve your goals, but were dishonest in your approach, are you a success? If your art isn’t appreciated during your lifetime, are you a success? The answers are up to you and only you.

We’re always in the process of becoming. Are you doing what you wish to be doing? Are you becoming the person you wish to become? If so, I’d say you’re on the path that’s right for you. In my book, that’s success.

Thanks to my friend Cydney Koukol for suggesting this topic.

And thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

How Do You Keep Your Talent Bench Engaged?

When I use the term “talent bench” I’m referring to both internal and external people. Externally, people in this group are those you’d like to bring onboard when you have the right position. Internally, these are people you’d like to promote or transfer when the right position becomes available. While I’m happy to share my thoughts on this topic, I have no doubt that readers can share best practices beyond my awareness.

The people on your internal talent bench are the employees most likely to be recruited away. So you must be proactive in your efforts to keep them highly engaged. Here are some practical things you can do.

  • Invest one-on-one time with them and build close relationships, both in and out of work. Make sure they have no doubt that you truly care, and that you seek their greatest good.
  • Tell them clearly that you see their potential to grow and add even more value. Emotionally re-hire them from time to time. What’s emotional re-hiring? Click here.
  • Ask them what their career aspirations are. If their aspirations are in line with your thinking, collaborate with them on a career development plan. Share that plan with your supervisor to ensure support.
  • If you see them as a future leader, find “limited leadership” opportunities where they can improve a process, or lead a project of some sort. You have to be opportunistic here. Most of these opportunities cannot be anticipated and put into a plan. You have to notice them as they occur.

And let’s be honest. Despite your best efforts, another organization might have a career opportunity for them that you just don’t have at this time. If they take it, consider it a graduation. Celebrate the fact that you helped prepare them for that career move. Maintain a good relationship with them. If you do this, you might well be able to bring them back when you have the right career opportunity. At the very least, they’ll continue to speak favorably about you in the community.

If you build a reputation for developing people and preparing them to move forward in their careers, you’ll attract more high potential people to your team.

Regarding your external talent bench, I have a client who’s a genius at keeping them engaged. So here’s what I learned from them.

  • Be proactive about identifying people to put into this category. Solicit nominations from your top performers about the best people they’ve worked with. Sometimes you meet a candidate you like, but you don’t have something for them. Put them on your bench.
  • Have someone from HR call each person and ask them whether they’d like to be in this group. If so, collect career history and other information that will help the company know when they might have an opportunity for that person.
  • Have Human Resources or some other team write a periodic newsletter for the talent bench group, keeping them informed about company developments, and letting them know the company is thinking of them.
  • Have someone link in with each person, so you can stay current on their professional journey.

I hope I’ve stimulated some thinking on this topic, and I hope you post a comment sharing best practices you’ve done, seen or heard of to keep your talent bench engaged.

Thanks for reading. And thanks to Christie Calkins and Heath Stukenholtz for suggesting this topic.

Larry Sternberg

How Are You Building Your Talent Brand?

Julie Campbell recently posted an excellent article entitled, “90 Days at LinkedIn: What I’ve Learned About Talent Brand.” She points out that a Talent Brand goes way beyond perks, and must be carefully and intentionally crafted over years. Talent Brand, she says, “… is rooted in everything the company does and is the foundation by which new employees are brought on board.” It’s “… what a company does to create employee opportunity and to make a difference in the community and in the world.”

It seems to me that the concept “Talent Brand”, as she describes it, overlaps a lot with the concepts of company culture and mission. However, I don’t want to engage in a semantic dispute. I heartily support Ms. Campbell’s points, and wish to add to the conversation.

In terms of a Talent Brand, do you view your organization through the eyes of your constituents? Here are some questions you can ask:

  • How do we want our employees to see us? What do we want them to say about us?
  • What do we want our community to say about us?
  • What do we want customers to say?
  • How do we want possible job applicants to see us?

I believe that how people see you and what they say about you – that’s your brand.

If you have clear answers to those questions you can identify areas for improvement. If you have clear answers to those questions an individual can make a high quality judgment about whether he or she would be a good fit for your organization.

Ms. Campbell asks this important question: “Where is the company investing in talent?” I believe talent investment should begin with selection.

Have you invested the time and money to understand the talent profiles of your top performers? Do you invest in scientific assessment to identify candidates who not only will perform with excellence, but also will thrive in your culture?

In terms of your Talent Brand, I believe that nothing is more important than selection. If you don’t invest the time and money to get the selection right, your subsequent investments in training and development will not bear fruit.

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg