You Had the Power All Along — Utilizing Listening Techniques to Strengthen Process


Taming the chaos of everyday work life can appear impossible.

“Re-mastering” how we work is often indicated. However, to make forward progress we must pause to listen to the heartbeat of the organization — then speak about problems openly. What is impeding the completion of your mission effectively? Are you deploying the needed changes to make that mission a reality?

In may cases, increased transparency can improve the strength of your process —  and this is dependent on one key skill — listening.

In the examination rooms at the Harbor-UCLA eye clinic, an organization “serving the under-served” , time was a precious commodity that couldn’t be tamed.  Backlogs of patients in dire need of surgical intervention were growing – and doctors were spending more time in the hallways of the hospital sifting through paperwork, than with the patients that needed their help.


Patients were literally losing their sight, awaiting intervention. For many, it would seem that the help would arrive too late. (See the story here:

Harbor-UCLA partnered with Toyota to help them listen more closely to their own environment (and employees) to identify process solutions. Toyota’s process, called the Toyota Production System (TPS), empowers employees who work in a specific environment to identify problems and quickly work towards solutions — so improvement is within their grasp. In essence, employees can serve as the innovators, unlocking needed potential

Developed in the 1940s, Toyota’s socio-technical system involves harnessing small, continuous improvements to shape high quality work. It works with what is already “right” within an organization — and involves employees to refine how the work is completed. It is a process that allows built foundations to be respected, yet allows for needed change. In my career, I began to notice that active listening often held the key to helping organizations improve. As a consultant, I was required to pay close attention to what was happening on a daily basis. But, the organization also needed to listen to their own environment. In this way, employees and their realm of expertise could facilitate unlocking untapped potential.

I found many organizations were already on board with this — listening to employees concerning both customers and processes — and acting swiftly regarding what they heard. Those that didn’t place value on this knowledge base, would likely continue to struggle.

Listening to the pulse of your own environment is critical — examining its processes and the ultimate effect upon the clients you serve. Does the way the work unfolds maximize talent or hand-cuff progress? Are obstacles being thrown in the path of employees attempting to contribute?

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Value an open, multi-functional conversation. There isn’t a single team that works in a vacuum. The quality of your work depends on the quality of communication among the teams that serve your clients, patients or customers. Ensure that the channels are wide-open.
  • Watch “hand-offs”. Delivery success often rests at the point where customers or processes move on to be served by another function. Examine how your team can make these transitions smoother. The strength of a relay rests on these moments.
  • LBWA. (Leadership by walking around) I’ve found that leadership can often inadvertently undermine progress once changes are instituted. The more leaders are removed from the work, the slower the progress. So — leaders must stay connected to employees and offer support.

Harbor-UCLA worked with Toyota and tamed time. They implemented simple, yet practical systems to help the clinic improve dramatically — allowing their dedicated staff to help more patients.

They made the commitment to listen to their own environment and improve.

With that, something precious has been saved.

Want to learn more about The Toyota Effect? Check out other videos in the Toyota Effect series here: The stories they tell are quite remarkable. Toyota works with all kinds of organizations, including non-profits — see the  TSSC site for more information.

I have written this post in partnership with Toyota. The opinions that lie within are my own.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is the Director of organizational Development at Allied Talent.  Their new tool, The Alliance Diagnostic examines how organizational culture supports entrepreneurial thinking and career growth.

Another Soft Skill We Forget: Self-Development Strategies

Crows nest 3mages

I’m deep into the current season of The Voice. It is the only television show that I watch on an actual television. (NetFlix and my computer screen usually win my attention. See one my favorite Voice contestants perform below.)

What fascinates me most about The Voice is how these individuals have managed to invest their energy toward a path that emphasizes their strengths. It’s a risky road for sure — especially in the capricious entertainment industry. However, the rewards are there. The most common outcome, especially in younger participants, seems to be an increased level of confidence in their own skills as a performer. (Winning is not the only valued outcome that emerges.) The mentoring relationship, critical to The Voice, of course — hones the strengths these individuals possess.

Ultimately, however, they must recognize their own gifts and seek a path to pursue those gifts. In the case of budding performers, it may have translated into seeking mentors in an established choir or building skills in a focused training experience of some kind. (Camps, singing at smaller events.)

Without this step, the journey cannot begin. As we are learning, developing “soft skills” can be a game changer for both work and career. Self-development ranks up there with a “chosen few”.

When we educate students or less established employees about the world of work, techniques to stoke self-development strategies are commonly neglected. Yet, another “soft skill” that could change the course of an individual’s career.

Becoming your own advocate — and owning this process — can be a huge advantage.

Here are a few ideas to rectify this situation:

  • Encourage Self-Discovery. This involves reflecting on key experiences to unearth perceived strengths, as they complete their courses or begin to amass organizational experiences. Often the signs of an emerging strength are subtle and overlooked.
  • Teach “conversation”. Handling important, yet difficult, conversations is a needed workplace skill. When broaching development needs/desires, less established employees may feel insecure to move forward and open the channel.
  • Discuss the range of options. Ultimately, taking responsibility for development is personal. However, if you are unaware of the range of development possibilities, this all becomes moot.
  • Encourage balance. We must balance our need to drive self development with the needs of the organizations. However, both are vital to a healthy career.

What are you doing to develop your own career? Share your ideas here.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, consultant and coach. She serves as Director of Organizational Development at Allied Talent, bringing the principles of The Alliance to organizations worldwide.


The Everyday Guide to Workplace Confidence: Work Hard & Yes, Feel a Little Entitled


Confidence — a very tough customer to master.

If you’ve ever stood tentatively in front of an audience or felt like an impostor after being praised or promoted, I would place a wager those nagging feelings were rooted in a lack of confidence.

When you consider confidence in the workplace, there are so many platitudes. However, few ring true. How do you truly “believe” in yourself, in the workplace moments that matter most?

That simply cannot be addressed by advice. But I’ve stumbled upon one perspective that truly hit home. In fact, it stopped me cold. It just made so much sense.

I don’t often read fashion magazines. Yet, when I visit my corner hair salon, I leave my phone at home and unplug. I thumb through Glamour, Vogue, Allure. (I tend to read the advertisements and columns, not the fashion editorials.) One column was by written in Glamour by Mindy Kaling. I do realize she is not a traditional writer, she is a television actress. However, she has managed to accomplish what few have in that industry.

Here is her thoughtful response to this question, posed by a nervous young girl at a speaking engagement: How did you build your confidence?

Her answer was direct and unapologetic.

It went something like this: Work very hard. Know your shit. Show your shit. Then feel entitled. (So sorry for the choice of words, they were hers.)

Confidence is rooted in mastery. In experiences. Confidence comes from building  feelings of self-efficacy in a wide range of situations. It requires mentorship, guidance and exposure. True confidence includes the notion that we are not entitled to rewards, simply because we desire them. Rewards come with time.

Confidence comes from working hard and learning from those around you. It requires patience and the belief that you can learn something from every person and every scenario. It is the deeper realization that you can handle the problems (and people) that stand before you.

Confidence is earned.

When you practice your craft — confidence is your entitlement. So, seek those experiences and “challenge assignments”. Develop a deep knowledge of your industry and its current experts. Master the competencies that you’ll need to advance.

Learn. Grow.

And then — yes, feel entitled to some measure of success.

Thanks Mindy.

That clears things up.

What are your thoughts about building confidence? Share them.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, consultant and coach. She holds the role of Senior Consultant at Allied Talent, bringing the principles of The Alliance to organizations worldwide.

I Didn’t Take That Vacation: Here’s What Happened


I didn’t have the opportunity to take a vacation this year. For some reason, the stars never aligned to make it happen. A few things contributed to the situation. I have a new role (along with my other commitments), and we are also renovating an older home. As you might expect, our resources have been diverted to goals such as staircases and a functional HVAC system. Then we just couldn’t agree on when and where to go. “Re-charging” just was not in the cards.

The outcome of my neglect feels very real. A little like pulling an all-nighter — with no desire to sit for the exam.

This is not a “good thing” — as Martha would say.

The research has shown that many of us fail to take time off, even when we have earned vacation days to do so. For some odd reason, we don’t like to admit that time off is necessary — or we fear we’ll look weak — or uncommitted to our work. This lack of attention to rest is costly in so many ways. I can only say, that if I’m representative of what it is like to not have a break, no one should skimp.

Sustaining “us” — is in part our own responsibility. We shouldn’t need to be reminded that we are important.

Here’s what has happened:

  • I’m observing signs of burn-out. Yes, I lack my usual level of enthusiasm for the tasks I normally love. I’ve coached myself to care, as the “Joy Factor” has taken a dip. That’s a sad commentary.
  • I’m losing my sense of humor, especially where work is concerned. I don’t laugh nearly enough — and laughing is vastly under-rated. We need these moments to off-set stress.
  • I’m a bit of a pain in the a##. I’m sure it has to do with the above. No further explanation needed. Sorry for the language.
  • Inspiration is waning. I require new sources of stimulation to stay at the top of my game. A change of scenery always does great things for me. We really shouldn’t expect to be at our best, after completing a year-long mental marathon.
  • I’m starting to fantasize about a new line of work. Now, this is simply ridiculous. However, I can easily see why many of us take these feelings as a sign that our roles are the problem. It’s not.

Here is what I’m doing:

  • I’m exploring my local environment. I’m unchaining myself from my desk and getting out there (cell phone muted). I’m stopping by the Farmer’s Market, and checking out the museums and gardens. Inspiration is really all around us.
  • I’m aiming to meet more people face-to-face.  I’m completely inspired by the career journeys of others. I’m making a point to visit college campuses this fall, to talk to students about their future work lives. (let me know if you’d like me to visit yours.)
  • I’m taking a series of shorter weekend trips. Nothing works like the real deal. Michigan is beautiful in the fall and I’m determined to see it.
  • I’m telling founders, managers and leaders to take their vacations (and to let everyone know). Nothing cements a needed change more completely, than a strong message that time off is a respected practice.

What are your strategies to take a break when vacations are impossible to schedule? Share your thoughts.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, consultant and coach. She holds the role of Senior Consultant at Allied Talent, bringing the principles of The Alliance to organizations worldwide.

5 Ways to Solve Workplace Problems (and Avoid Burnout)


Have a tough workplace problem that you just cannot seem to solve?


Quickly reaching the “burnout” plateau?

You might think that increased perseverance always pays off. But in fact, this doesn’t always do the trick. In many cases, we need to change the game plan to make progress.

Here are 5 strategies that I use to power through a tough work-related dilemmas:

  • Watch comedy. Getting the current issue off your mind and breaking the cycle of tension is key. Personally, a great situational comedy or stand-up routine works quite well. We’ve all heard of the benefits of a good laugh in regard to stress and overall mood. Laughing can certainly offer a boost to your work life as well.
  • Listen to a TED Talk. I find that listening to great speakers inspirational. Somehow when their ideas start to flow, my brain wants to follow suit. (I’ve probably started 10 outlines on various topics.) Start with the best of TED right here.
  • Talk. Discuss the problem with someone you do not work with. In many cases, those not in the midst of our worries can draw parallels to issues that they have already solved in the past — and you are the lucky beneficiary. Keep the details to yourself if they are sensitive, but share the gist of the problem.
  • Walk. Last year, I vowed to walk every day.  (For the most part, I’ve kept that promise. Although I’m working on deep winter options. ) Even a brief stroll around the block, can clear your head and help you change gears. Get out there.
  • Rest. Yep. Sleep on it. We can resolve all sorts of issues in REM sleep — and your current problem may end up on the docket. (See the research on REM sleep and creative problem-solving here.) Take advantage of your body’s natural defenses against chaos and turn in early. Then be sure to have your notebook handy.

What are your strategies? Share them here.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, consultant and coach. She holds the role of Senior Consultant at Allied Talent, bringing the principles of The Alliance to organizations worldwide.

Why We Hide From Feedback


We needn’t debate the power of feedback.

However, regardless of its potential to enhance both work and career — its full benefit is not always realized. One obvious reason? Individual differences. Some of us are naturally more receptive to feedback — others — not quite as much. I’ve worked with clients who were completely open to feedback and absorbed the content effortlessly. Others experienced great difficulty processing its content and applying it effectively to their work lives.

The differences that exist among us concerning feedback, are not often acknowledged or addressed. As such, much of value that we might gain from feedback is left on the table.

We cannot deny that our predisposition toward feedback — what we bring to the equation — is critical.

So, how might we understand differences in how we approach feedback? Researchers have been examining a multifaceted construct, aptly named Feedback Orientation which captures a number of key elements that collectively influence our receptiveness. These elements include, perceived Utility (Our beliefs concerning the usefulness of feedback to help us reach desired goals or outcomes), Accountability (The belief that we should respond to given feedback), Social Awareness (The tendency to utilize feedback to gain a picture of our performance through others, and Feedback Self-Efficacy (An individual’s perceived competence to interpret and respond to feedback appropriately.)

Where we fall on the continuum has broad implications for performance development. Those of us with high feedback orientation, are more likely to seek feedback, perceive its value, process it effectively and find avenues to apply the information to their work. Those lower in feedback orientation, are not as likely to embrace the elements of the feedback cycle.

While Feedback Orientation may be stable in the shorter-term, it can be enhanced longer-term by addressing its components. We can learn how to process and apply feedback more effectively. With this, we might then view the entire process more favorably.

A few things to keep in mind.

As a manager:

  • Acknowledge individual differences. Feedback is indeed valuable — however, we do vary in terms of our receptiveness. Get a read from your staff on how they feel about feedback, their past experiences and what they find valuable. Discuss what needs to be communicated and how it is shared.
  • Develop a culture of feedback. Employees are more likely to be open to feedback when the environment consistently supports feedback-seeking behavior. But, first and foremost model this. (Seek feedback from your direct reports and act on it.) In return, offer honest feedback accompanied by coaching whenever possible. This should be on-going, frequent and not reserved for formal appraisals. A supportive climate is critical.
  • Offer time to process. Everyone deserves the opportunity to think about feedback — whether positive or negative — before they respond to it. We’re more likely to utilize the feedback, if this is built in to the process. Organizations that value continuous learning are ripe to gain the most.
  • Facilitate application. Once work-related feedback is delivered, offer help for employees to process and apply it to their work lives. Develop solutions to keep your employee moving forward. Feedback should enhance development — not derail it. Don’t ever “drop the bomb” and retreat.

As a contributor:

  • Be mindful of your individual orientation. Pause and examine your overall attitude toward feedback. Do you believe that feedback can help you reach desired outcomes? Many of us under-value feedback for a variety of reasons. As a result, we can’t take full advantage of its merits. Be mindful of your preconceived attitudes toward it. Ask yourself — are you a “doubter” or “supporter” of feedback.
  • Monitor your resistance to change. Feedback sets the stage for needed change, including how we work. This can be difficult to process and affect, as we become attached to our patterns of behavior. Attempt to open your mind and realize that change can help your progress. Approaching your work in a new way, can lead to a positive outcomes.
  • View it as another tool. Feedback can allow you to assess your “invisible resume” and help gain a read on the impression you leave with others. Although this can be a challenge to process, it can allow you to capture information not picked up through other channels.
  • Seek a feedback “mentor”. Formulate a plan to respond to feedback effectively — and seek out help to make this happen. This will help build self-efficacy and the overall feeling that the information is useful. This “translation” step, is often overlooked.
  • Overall, strive to give feedback a chance. This does not come naturally to us — as we can perceive feedback as a threat. However, try not to abandon ship. Remind yourself that learning to receive feedback effectively, is a worthy skill that can be honed over time.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, consultant and coach. She holds the role of Senior Consultant at Allied Talent, bringing the principles of The Alliance to organizations worldwide.

One Simple Way to Offer College Students the Career Information They Need


“Out of the mouths of babes” — a saying that often holds true. As time goes on, we can develop perspectives clouded in convention and negative experiences. Things can seem very complicated, when in fact they are not.

If you desire a fresh solution, seek someone with a fresh perspective. In this case, a recent college graduate. (I’ve mentioned him previously. See his LinkedIn profile here.)

Now on to the larger topic: The need to impart needed career information to college students. As you know, most college students will never pass through the doors of their University’s career center. Many will land in career paths unsuited to them. Even more may end up in a very quick career dead-end.

Why? They didn’t have the required facts to make an informed decision.

So why the hesitation to inform them? (It’s not that.) Colleges and universities want to inform their students and go to great lengths to do so. The glaring problem is securing their attention. So — my recent grad offered a brilliant solution: At the start of each and every semester in survey classes in Psychology, History, Chemistry…etc, tell them.

Yes, simply tell them.

Spend a half an hour addressing career paths, work settings and how they can make that content area work as a career. Share insights concerning the highs and lows. Discuss educational requirements. Don’t wait for that timid Freshman to rally the nerve to speak to the professor after class, about a decision that will affect the rest of their working life.

Inform them. Right alongside the review of the syllabus.

You already have a captive audience. Take advantage of the opportunity.

Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, consultant and coach. She holds the role of Senior Consultant at Allied Talent, bringing the principles of The Alliance to organizations worldwide.

Please Stop “Improving” Things

WhyindexI hate it when people “improve” things for no apparent reason. Especially, things that really do not need improving.

It’s much like looking forward to that perfect blend of coffee at your local shop and it’s been discontinued for something new and “exotic”. I hate that — don’t you? (LinkedIn, WordPress you are right up there on my list of offenders.)

Change for the sake of change — really isn’t justified. Sometimes elements truly work well. (Maybe you aren’t aware of that, but they do.) So, take a moment to reflect upon that.

Rest a bit and enjoy your success.

It is really alright to be still for just a moment.

Disruption has its costs.

If you find you don’t have time for that process (because you are so busy changing things), at least be responsible. Ask customers what works for them. You may be completely surprised at what you might hear. I know, I’m usually surprised. It’s rarely what you expect.

So — stop showing off.

I already think you are great.

You can stop proving it.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, consultant and coach. She id the Director of Organizational Development at Allied Talent, bringing the principles of The Alliance to organizations worldwide.

What Happens When Leaders Don’t Care


I’ve just spent the last week with my family at an extended-stay establishment. We are in the midst of repairing our home as a result of water damage. This kind of thing happens all of the time, but it’s not a fun process. We’ve hobbled along with a microwave and a bathroom sink for about 5 weeks. (I can only compare it to camping in your own home without of the advantage of somores.)

Finally, we came to a point where had to clear out, board the dog and stay somewhere else. We were more than ready for a reprieve from the construction.

For obvious reasons I won’t mention the chain’s name. However, its parent company is one that has been an iconic brand for as long as I can remember. We were glad to be there — and likely should have taken advantage of our opportunity to relocate sooner. The staff was extremely accommodating, there were hot meals and it was oh, so quiet. No banging hammers or sanding going on.


Until we ventured out one afternoon and noticed a note on our vehicle, along with a sizable dent. Unfortunately — one of the hotel employees had mistakenly backed up into our vehicle. When the employee (who was very upset about what happened) later called to ask to settle without insurance being involved, I felt I should share what happened with the hotel’s General Manager. That was a monumental mistake.

I expected some sign of life — but instead “Crickets”.

As it turned out, she could not have given a damn. She had been alerted to the problem — and performed her corporate duty — informing us that she (and her brand) had no control over what happens in their parking lot.

She was professionally cold. She was dismissive. She was unmoved by the situation. She was quick to usher me out of her office.

Surprising, considering that her attitude was the polar opposite of the customer service creed the rest of the staff seemed to follow.

She was the anomaly. I get it. You don’t (or won’t or can’t) care. That was very clear.

The sad thing is she did have control over quite a lot — even if not over her parking lot. Yet she failed to make the most of it.
A few come to mind:

  1. She could have built upon the goodwill already initiated by her staff.
  2. She could have shown empathy and forged a long-term relationship.
  3. She could have explored why we were staying at her property and learned the story of her customers.
  4. She could have been a leader, ensuring that her customers were the priority — not corporate legalese.

After all was said and done, we stayed 3 more days at this establishment and didn’t hear a peep from her. Nary a note, or a kind word was extended.

So, all of the hard work of her staff (and they were wonderful), really won’t matter in the long run. Because we will never stay at one of their properties again. I did let corporate know — and she wrote a disingenuous note about how sorry she was for what had occurred and if there was anything she might do to call her. (Number given. Although she never even offered her card previously.)

Unfortunately, when leaders don’t care, customers don’t care either.

They walk away and never return.

That is a shame.

AlliedTalentindexDr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, consultant and coach. She holds the role of Senior Consultant at Allied Talent.

It’s the End of American Idol: I Won’t Downplay Its Impact


They’ve recently marked the end of the long-running show American Idol.

It was time.

However, it was more than the run-of-the-mill reality show. Its format augmented talent discovery by engaging us in the discovery process. A modern version of an old story we love to enjoy — the show allowed us to play a role in offering contestants the chance to change their lives and the face of music.

Some did.

How remarkable.

Whether you are still watching Idol today really isn’t important. (To be honest, I’ve opted to watch The Voice the last couple of years). It is the mechanism of talent identification that American Idol employed that mattered.

We have been exposed to artists (and genres of music) that we would have likely never experienced. At certain points during the show’s run,  I even became emotionally engaged with the process. (I stopped watching Season 3 after Jennifer Hudson was eliminated. Glad to see that she went on to meet her destiny.)

Yes, the process was far from perfect. However, we can learn from it. Moreover, I can’t help but think of how many talented contributors that function just under our radar, within our own organizations. How do we find them? How do we nurture their talent and align their gifts with organizational goals? How do we play an active role in that process?

The onus is upon us to do so.

I fear that much of what our contributors can bring, remains undiscovered. This because we haven’t developed the proper mechanisms to unlock their potential. That must change.

They deserve their moment.

How many moments are we missing?

Here is exactly to what I am referring. We might have missed this. Enough said.


What are you doing within your organization to identify and nurture talent? Share your strategies here.


Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, consultant and coach. She holds the role of Senior Consultant at Allied Talent and also serves as the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors.