Holiday Lay-Offs, How to do the Unthinkable


The holiday season’s focus is dominated by positive distractions, but once in a while you may find yourself grappling with the crushing reality of corporate layoffs at the end of the calendar year. If you care about your organization and employees, even when layoffs are the right or only thing to do, we hear our inner voices asking ethical and operational questions. The experienced manager will handle “poorly timed” layoffs with the mature calm of a professional voice-over actor describing the hunt of a leopard chasing down a deer. For the less experienced, they will feel like a deer wearing a leopard costume. Here’s my “How To” guide for making a tough situation a teaching moment, a barometer for talent, and less painful for all involved.

Team Alignment

Our careers take us down all sorts of unexpected paths, and it’s common to have managers in the world of business who have degrees in Art, History, and Sports Therapy. These talents have never had the themes of “Shareholder Wealth” pounded into their thought process and might struggle with strategy and tactics designed for this role. As their leader, this is your responsibility to make sure they understand this bedrock of corporate management. Additionally, if we can directly connect layoffs to the benefits of customers, we should do that too. Either way these conversations need to be had behind closed doors while in front of the team. Get everyone’s fears and misconceptions out in the open. Once everyone is on the same page they will be mentally ready to digest the next steps.

Practice the Conversation

How do you breakup with someone who loves you? You interviewed them, hired them, trained them, they stayed late for you, and they helped you achieve personal and professional goals. You like their personality. Crap. YOU REALLY CARE ABOUT THEM! Dare I say, love them? These conversations need to be practiced with a script of bullet points explaining “Why” this is happening and “What” is happening next. The conversation, as painful as it can be (sometimes), must be professionally respectful and brief. Work with leadership or a human resources teammate to develop talking points, but practice delivering the news out loud. Your shaky voice will benefit from saying the words and getting more comfortable with this new reality.

Team Support

You should be able to gauge where managers stand on the spectrum of comfort during the prior two steps. Once you have identified the managers who are really affected by having to deliver this news, support them by conducting a few of these conversations along-side them. Intuitively decide how much of the dialogue should be shared based on physical cues (damp eyes, twitching hands, pale face, etc.). Take control of the conversation if it goes off the rails. Afterwards, take a moment to review what just happened; identify how the manager feels, calm them down, and ask them how they could have improved. Praise their efforts and gently make suggestions to help the receiver of the message. This is actually a very calming exercise that refocuses both of you for the next conversation.

Team Review

A day of this can be emotionally draining. It’s not rare for the remaining employees to go grab a drink at a nearby bar with those same victims of the circle of business. Sometimes managers will slink away from their desk to have a private moment in their car. Before everyone goes in separate directions it’s important to collectively depressurize by reviewing what just happened. In a team review you should ask out loud:

  • How did it go?
  • What conversations were hardest?
  • How are you all feeling?
  • Leader: Express your gratitude
  • Does anyone need to talk one-on-one after this?

These questions will most likely sterilize the raw emotion of the moment, and allow people to find a healthy perspective to grieve towards (including leveraging internal resources for help).

Guilt Management

In this digital age résumés share the spotlight with LinkedIn endorsements and public recommendations. If you really do care about these people there are more options than ever to help them find the next opportunity or connect with people who can do likewise. Although some companies have strict human resources policies regarding employment verification processes that ask about employee performance, you still have a right to do what’s best for yourself. Just like a company.

P.S. – I’ve had my fair share of corporate Holiday lows. This scene always makes me laugh. No matter what side of the conversation you’re on, hang in there! There’s a lot of opportunity out there for you in this amazing country.

How to Grow a Third Arm


How much more productive would you be with a third arm? I have a formula for one! Fear not, it doesn’t involve psychedelic mushrooms and vodka (a disappointment for some). It involves tactful trust and developmental delegation.

This could be you! Well, sorta.

This could be you! Well, sorta.

Investing in others is a scary thing, especially when you are trusting them to handle something precious to you. But think about making your life and job EASIER and all of the benefits that come with MORE TIME. Before you can develop anyone you need to develop yourself. Start thinking positively about the benefits of teaching someone to do the more basic tasks within your scope of responsibility.

Simply put, attempt to categorize all tasks into two columns: “No Mistakes Allowed” & “Mistakes Tolerated.” The first column must stay within your direct control as we cannot afford a problem there. The second column is where we start considering which tasks could be shared as a learning experience with an emerging talent. Maybe it’s 1 task, possibly 3? Choose a total that offers a meaningful return on your investment in terms of time. Identify the skill needed for the task and then seek out your third arm.

  • Manage Payroll – Detail Oriented, Accounting Skills, Time Management
  • Organize Meetings  – Communicator, Collaborative Personality, Tech Savvy
  • Attend Meetings for You – Professional, Listener, Understands Inter-Office Politics
  • Project Management – All of the above!

Scan your roster of dedicated teammates and find the match between skill and ability. The most important step in this process is to directly ask your targeted teammate if they are eager to “learn more about the environment” or “learn more about the next level of management?” It’s critical to capture the right attitude, and this starts with an up front commitment between both of you to teach and learn with the proper spirit. Even when you find the right attitude you still might not know if you’ve matched the right person to the right task, but this is part of the cost to growing extra extremities. You WILL MAKE MISTAKES, as will the teammate you choose. But that’s OK! You gave them tasks that can be corrected if mismanaged. When mistakes are made, you will flip the “Teacher” switch and live up to your end of the bargain (developing your talented third arm).


Let’s review the benefits of pushing through this initial investment of time to delegate and develop. You are rewarding an eager teammate with the chance to enhance their contribution to an environment they care about. The reward of mentorship is gratifying, appreciated, and has no hard cost. These efforts are often public and the entire team sees your efforts to reward talent with attention, a leader’s greatest currency. Finally, look at all the time you stand to gain (or invest elsewhere)? Let’s assume that managing payroll takes 3 hours a month, organizing meetings takes 2 hours a month, attending meetings in your place takes 8 hours a month, and managing projects takes 10 hours a month. You stand to get 3 to 23 hours a month to reposition within your job scope.

What would you do with 23 freed up hours given your current workload? What would you do with your third arm? How about a “High-15?” Slap-Slap-Slap!

Sneakerheads or Science? The Footlocker Billion Dollar Formula!


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The mens athletic footwear industry is experiencing a period of strong and rapid growth as men expand their wardrobe with a variety of colors to satisfy the trendiest metrosexual, and collectors scoop up limited edition designs and “retro” styles for personal storage or resale on eBay. But how did we get here?

Footlocker shared its latest business results this past May by announcing to shareholders that sales improved 14% to $1.87 billion, bolstered by a same store sales jump of 7.6% (a huge metric in retail). Is this just a bunch of Sneakerheads gobbling up all of the goods? NO! It is retail science at its finest.

Let’s take a look at some of the strategies used by Footlocker to glamorize and accessorize their in-store experience and products. The most noticeable tactic is what I call the “Museum-ication” of the product. When you walk into a Footlocker store you are immediately greeted by new styles under glass. Think of the Hope Diamond at the Smithsonian, under glass and highlighted by just the right lighting. That’s what we’ve got here. Talk about creating value. It’s a beautiful way to celebrate the product’s excitement factor, whether it be a brand new product or a limited edition product.

Glamorous Footwear

The next tactic is what I call “The Mannequin.” Not all men have the patience or skill to piece together a trendy outfit featuring a theme from head to toe. Footlocker aims to make this process a lot easier for all customers. A gentlemen looking to spruce up his gear can walk into Footlocker and simply buy “The Mannequin”, a preassembled option of outfits centered around a specific sneaker’s design cues. The boost in sales results isn’t just due to a handful of t-shirts, as they have a TON of clothing options. These options are brand specific, so the Nike shirt matches the exact pattern in the Nike shoe. It’s a fashion alley-lop that results in fast-break cross-sell momentum.

Matching Display

The final tactic I will highlight is what I call “Showtime.” This is the use of lighting to create more excitement and value. Typically, when I think of lighting techniques I think top-down, from the ceiling. But this technique leverages the reverse, bottom-up lighting, to make the product pop off of the shelves. The shelf is broadway and the lighting celebrates the star of the show: a $180 pair of Air Jordans!

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When the mens athletic footwear industry makes headlines about Christmas product releases that garner long lines sleeping outside of mall entries, I sense competitors in the footwear industry roll their eyes at the obsessive and unexplainable phenomenon of the Sneakerhead. The evolution of the Sneakerhead consumer is one born from the science of creating value and demand. Regardless of targeted demographics and product niches, take a look at what some of the competitors are doing and you’ll see and sense a major difference in environments. The picture below is from The Walking Company store in the same mall as my Footlocker photos. It’s a different product and a different vibe. It wouldn’t make sense to transfer every Footlocker product display tactic to The Walking Company’s floor, but some of these ideas display a creative effort that clearly does not exist outside of Footlocker. Bravo! The sneakerhead seems more and more like a well-timed creation.

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Managing Rumors – 101



One of the hardest things for managers to do is manage rumors. When was the last time someone approached you to share a rumor that made you feel uncomfortable and threatened the ebb and flow of your business? Even if you are a member of a strong corporate culture where health and wellness is advocated and supported, concerning rumors will pop up randomly to test your managerial acumen. What do you do as a manager when someone brings a rumor to your attention? Below is my 4-Step method of managing rumors.

“I heard that Melissa was hung over at yesterday’s meeting.”

“I think Jennifer is using funds from the incentive plan to buy gifts for herself.”

“Someone said Ted smelled like weed when he got to work.”

1 – Listen

This seems obvious, but what isn’t so obvious is the idea that listening involves patience. Patience is key when presented with a rumor, as the application of patience can negate the temptation to overreact. The worst thing you can do is take action in the form of a knee-jerk reaction. Sometimes the rumor will elicit an emotional reaction from oneself. Who wouldn’t feel a sense of anger if you felt like an employee or teammate you trusted violated that trust and placed your team or department in a compromising position with your internal and external clients? When someone brings a rumor to your desk, ask questions to learn as much as you can about the situation. Specifically:

  • Who is the source of the rumor, and is the source/messenger credible?
  • What could that source’s political/personal agenda be?
  • Are there clear details around this rumor, or witnesses to the behavior?
  • Set the expectation that you will address it, and gain a commitment to keep it private.

“The Office” captures rumors at their worst!

2 – Investigate

Once you have the rumor reported and you have had the opportunity to ask questions about the source, potential agendas, and meaningful details you must gently and quietly validate or invalidate the rumor. A tactful approach is key as the simple mentioning of a rumor, true or not, can fan the flames and unintentionally validate it without evidence within the environment. Try to steer your investigation towards peers that you can trust to “discuss and forget.” What you want to do is find answers to the following concerns:

  • Is there enough information to act on the rumor?
  • Does the available information allow you to effectively discuss it with the subject?
  • Is there enough information and/or witnesses documented to take employment action (termination, counseling, etc.)?
  • If true, does the subject’s action put anyone’s safety at risk or compromise the pursuit of individual and team goals?
  • Review the subject’s individual performance to find any correlation with the timing of the report and results, and seek out erratic fluctuations with results or behaviors (attendance, etc.).
  • What does the source of the rumor have to gain, if anything, from the mere existence of the rumor?


3 – Communicate

If you are able to collect a lot of data and there are enough witnesses to determine that specifically clear policies have been broken and the organization’s safety has been placed at risk, “Step-4” (below) doesn’t matter because you have the ability to terminate. But rumors don’t often come with the luxury of validation. We seek high and low for more information, often in vein. Hence the essence of a rumor. Most of the time you won’t be able to collect any additional information about the rumor during phase 1 and 2 of my 4-step process.

What do we do? The healthiest relationships revolve around honesty and communication. If there were a potentially damaging rumor about YOU, wouldn’t you want a trusted peer to share its existence with you? I would. Find a private place to sit down and introduce the concern by preceding that “I don’t see any evidence to suggest that what I have heard is true, but I want to be fair and communicate what I heard the other day. Someone approached me and shared a rumor that you…” The goal of this interaction is:

  • Provide an opportunity for the subject to explain, if necessary or possible, the existence of the rumor. This interaction could prompt a confession (which is healthy for everyone), or it could provoke a sense of rage and discrimination (which we cannot prevent, but we must accept the task of managing this as part of our role as leaders). Be prepared.
  • Open the door for future communication.
  • Present the situation honestly by admitting you investigated and found no evidence, or share the evidence you have found for open discussion.
  • Remind everyone of the policies in place to govern safety and performance.
  • Privately log the communication.
  • Scare someone straight, in case the rumor is true but cannot be proved.

4 – Observe

We have planted the seed that something might or might not be happening, and now we sit back and observe behaviors. The examples of rumors I provided above (theft, alcohol abuse, drug abuse) are behaviors that typically don’t occur once and then go away. These behaviors are often exhibited consistently over time, and you should expect to see evidence to validate the rumors if they were in fact true but difficult to corroborate. When these rumors become reality down the road you will have already documented an interaction regarding awareness of the potential issue, and you will have already set the expectation that the behavior described in rumor, true or not, is undesired.

If the rumors were ultimately unfounded you will have to gauge what impact has developed as a byproduct of sharing the rumor with the subject. Is the subject resentful? Is there a cloud of mistrust hovering over their desk? Have they changed the way they interact with teammates and clients? Some people will understand that you are doing your job as a manager and you have to address discerning reports. Others will hold a grudge and assume you are “out to get them.” You cannot control how people feel. You can only influence those feelings to varying degrees. Accept that once you have put your best foot forward, if they still hold resentment, then the subject must develop the ability to understand roles and perspectives outside of their own scope of view. This is difficult to do, and some people really struggle to do it. Maybe that will be my next blog subject?