Ready, S.E.T., Empathize!

Although often used interchangeably, empathy and sympathy are fundamentally different. Empathy fuels connection. Sympathy drives disconnection.

Empathy–one of the five ingredients of emotional intelligence (EQ)–is relevant in diverse professions. It is the ability and willingness to sense others’ emotions, understand their perspectives, and take an active interest in their concerns.

The S.E.T. interaction (support, empathy, and task) can be very helpful in successfully demonstrating empathy. Support involves showing that you understand the person’s situation; empathy is acknowledging the person’s difficulty; and task requires moving to “let’s figure out how we can solve this”.

There are four (4) qualities of empathy:

  1. Perspective taking (the ability to take the perspective of another person)
  2. Staying out of judgement (not easy!)
  3. Recognizing emotion in other people
  4. Communicating

With this approach, you should be ready and S.E.T. to effectively empathize in the workplace. Give our 5 question Empathy Self-Assessment a go to find out where you are in your empathy development journey and what you can do to improve!

Emotional Intelligence: The Oxygen of Leadership

The technical skills that helped you get promoted into a leader/manager position does not guarantee your future success. As Marshall Goldsmith says, “what got you here, will not get you there.”

Moving into a leadership role requires a very different, complementary skill set. You go from doing to working with people to get things done. There is one key set of skills required. It’s called emotional intelligence. According to the Harvard Business Review, it accounts for nearly 90% of what sets high performers apart from peers with similar technical skills and knowledge.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence is defined as:

  1. The ability and willingness to understand and manage your own behaviors and emotions.
  2. Recognizing, influencing, and facilitating the behaviors of others.
  3. Helping people develop their unique talents and personal satisfaction.

Over the years, emotional intelligence (EQ) has evolved into a core leadership skill. Research from TalentSmart shows that emotional intelligence is the strongest predictor of performance. Leaders with a highly developed EQ are more likely to stay calm under pressure, resolve conflicts productively, and respond to people with empathy.

Emotional intelligence matters because leaders set the tone of their organization. An effective leader pours energizing oxygen into the work atmosphere. If they lack emotional intelligence, it has a stifling effect on the workplace resulting in lower employee engagement and a higher turnover rate.

The Five Ingredients of Emotional Intelligence

1. Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is your ability and willingness to understand your strengths and weaknesses and to recognize how your words, behaviors, and emotions affect you and your team’s performance.

2. Self-Management

Self-management refers to the ability and willingness to manage your words, behaviors, and emotions, particularly in stressful situations, while maintaining a calm and positive outlook. Leaders who lack self-management may have a hard time keeping their impulses in check. A key leadership responsibility is to keep the end goal in mind—that is to ask: “How will what I am doing or behaving affect people’s performance and satisfaction?”

3. Empathy

As a leader, “putting yourself into someone else’s shoes” is crucial to developing ideas and solutions, problem-solving, effective communication, and avoiding or preventing conflicts. When people feel understood they are more likely to voluntarily accept the leader’s influence. A leader who has mastered empathy is able and willing to:

  • Listen for understanding using additional questions and small encouragements.
  • Give corrective, praising, and inspiring feedback with respect and authenticity.
  • Build a productive work atmosphere that builds team competence, motivation, and collaboration.

4. Social Skills

Social skills are the ability and willingness to interact well with others. While it’s important to understand and manage your own behaviors, words, and emotions, you also need to know how to read a room. It is key to developing psychological safety in the workplace.

5. Leader Assertiveness

Leader Assertiveness refers to your ability and willingness to influence, coach, and mentor others and resolve conflict effectively. It’s about using the above skills to get stuff done in spite of setbacks—both structurally and interpersonally. A leader’s job is to be effective. It is not about being liked.

Boost your Leadership Skills with Self-Awareness

By Tierra Madani, CPHR, HR Consultant (Chemistry Consulting Group)


Self-awareness is a core capability for great leaders to develop. Successful leaders are aware of their natural tendencies and utilize this know-how to boost those tendencies. By definition, self awareness is an understanding of your internal state, which shapes the way you interact with others. As one of the components of emotional intelligence, there is much opportunity for growth in this area for any professional, especially those managing others. 

Be aware of the negative effects of low self-awareness, which can limit your effectiveness as a leader. One of the key indicators of having low self-awareness is being unaware of your personal blind spots that limit your behaviours, reactions and beliefs. This can lead to issues and conflicts in communication, work environment, morale, mental health and, in some cases, can result in a team member quitting or being dismissed. 

Are there leaders that embody low or high self-awareness in your organization? Is this something you are working towards in your own personal and professional development? It’s an ongoing and continual improvement process that can start at any time and is valuable enough to make it as part of your daily or weekly list of practices. Here’s a few tips on how to boost your self-awareness:

Tips on Boosting your Self-Awareness

  • Get to know yourself more

Understanding yourself is an important part of building your emotional intelligence. By definition, emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others, and your ability to use this awareness to manage your behaviours and relationships. 

  • Point out external factors

External factors are often a long list of factors, triggers and indicators that affect our perspectives and other’s perceptions. What are the external factors that affect you? Think about triggers or indicators that both negatively and positively prompt others’ behaviours towards you. Here, we must ask ourselves why we do the things we do and how do others respond to us? The evaluation continues from there in determining why you respond again and why you are reacting the way you are in a given situation. 

  • Gather feedback

We build our ability to show empathy when we are open to and ask for feedback. It is important in understanding how you impact others with how you show-up. Enlist the help of those you trust for feedback on how others may perceive you in certain situations and inquire further to gain a deeper understanding. 

  • Write it down

Situations may elicit a new insight you won’t want to forget, so write it down. This is the basis of continuous improvement and how we remind ourselves about our ‘aha’ moments and times when we handled something really well. Was there a time when you utilized something you learned about your self-awareness to improve an interaction? Keep a journal and have it handy to reference again. 

  • Keep an open mind

Stay open to feedback, be agile and check-in with yourself frequently. New situations can lead to new triggers you’ll need to add to your external factors list. You may also have an opportunity to gain more feedback during your team check-ins or during your performance review processes. Continue to get to know yourself more and never stop learning. 


Self-awareness is an essential trait of a great leader. You’ll see benefits as you take the time to evaluate yourself and the reactions you prompt around you and use that knowledge to improve your leadership skills. With greater self-awareness, you’ll be able to create stronger bonds with your team, make better decisions and to inspire others to do the same.

Balancing Long-Term Objectives with Short-Term Plans: A Practical Guide

Guest blog by Peter Krammer, Senior Partner of Okos Partners

Every plan, whether it’s a long-term strategic, yearly operating, or a defined-term project plan must be grounded in clear, measurable, long-term objectives. These objectives set the course of the plan. However, the plan’s success depends primarily on how you manage the short-term objectives, or action plans. This is a practical guide for how to balance the two.

What does “long-term” and “short-term” mean in a plan? What are the elements of both, and why can you not achieve one without the other?

Long-term objectives are a fancy term for goals; they describe the paths forward with defined endpoints and measures of success. Goals must be clear, concise and compelling as they are needed to engage a team and other stakeholders such as customers, other departments or teams, or even shareholders. Long-term objectives are definitive statements of your commitments. Once you make these commitments, you become accountable for them. 

Short-term objectives are the action plans that define the implementation path and determine the success or failure of the long-term objectives, and of the plan itself. Why do they determine success or failure? While there is no substitute for clever thinking when creating long-term objectives (and strategies), they are projections of a future state. People are notoriously bad at predicting the future, even with data and AI, and given the temptation to create “stretch goals” to impress stakeholders or investors, which then become commitments, things can get dicey when the future becomes the present. 

The action plans are the only work that actually gets done in a plan. Therefore, the only control you have in the outcomes, and your only opportunity to change course if your predictions are wrong, happens with the confines of your action plans. 

Action plans, being short-term, are the antithesis of predicting the future. They are practical, tactical, and if written correctly, no longer than 30-90 day projects. This coincides with our most accurate view of the future. If a particular action plan or project will take longer to complete, say 6-9 months, we recommend breaking this into shorter projects that can be more easily managed and kept on track. If the action plan is a year plus, it is most likely highly complex and merits its own plan with long- and short-term objectives. 

Action plan essentials include:

  • a project definition
  • the work that needs to be done
  • who the work is assigned to
  • the deadlines and milestones
  • the resources required to reach them (i.e., people, tools, and budget).

Every action plan must contain this combination of definitions, dates, accountabilities, and resources. This is so that the people responsible for the action plan understand clearly their mission.  

What does this mean to you as a leader? 

First, by understanding the clear distinction and relationships between these two vital management tools, you are able to clearly define and prioritize two critical leadership strategies: communication and accountability. 

Of course, the more open and clear the communication, the less confusion to contend with. And clear accountability is one of the bedrocks of engagement; everyone needs to know where they are headed. However, there are clear constituencies with differing interests in both of these factors when it comes to long- and short-term objectives. 

Regarding long-term objectives, the team shares accountability for reaching the goal, however it is the leader who is most accountable to and will be held responsible for the goal by stakeholders outside the team. 

Clear, concise and compelling communication of the direction and expected results rules the day with the team; they need to clearly understand the mission if they are going to commit to it. Beware of cloudy thinking and opaque communication to your team; you will regret it as soon as you publish the plan. 

Clear and concise (and probably not as compelling) communication rules the day with the other stakeholders; they need to know what you’ve committed to and are most interested in the results. Beware of over- or under-committing to stakeholders; your enthusiasm or sandbagging may not have the backing of your team. 

Regarding short-term objectives, your stakeholders are the team itself. As mentioned above, this is the work that needs to be done and this is where your communication should focus and focus on the team. As above, any lack of clarity will produce either shoddy results or heroic firefighting, both of which have significant negative impacts on engagement. And it is within the short-term objectives where the real accountabilities lie for the team. While the goal is important, the work is critical—if it does not happen, the goal is unreachable.   

When it comes to balance, a clear goal needs successful execution in order to be achieved, and every action plan needs a clear goal as a beacon and motivating force for the teams involved in completing it. For the leader, balancing these tools and strategically deploying them sets up the journey to success for every plan.

How’s Your Self-Awareness?

A key ingredient of emotional intelligence, self-awareness is the ability to recognize what you are feeling, understand your emotional responses to events, and recognize how your emotions affect your behaviors.

When you are self-aware, you see yourself as others see you and how your behaviors affect others. Want to know how self-aware you really are? Take our 5 question self-assessment to find out!

Multi-directional Accountability

It’s one thing to hold yourself accountable, but do you hold others accountable? Do you have the skill and the will or do you play the blame game?

By others we mean your team members, managers and leaders, too! Accountability is multi-directional.

First off, let’s start by defining accountability. Accountability is having the competence and motivation to follow through on promises and commitments. Set your team up for success by encouraging a culture of accountability tailored to your organization’s specific structure and goals.

Holding everyone, at all levels of your organization, responsible leads to high accountability which creates alignment, encourages a safe space for interactive feedback (feedback, feedforward, and follow-up), and facilitates a healthy environment for learning and application. 

Envision a dragon boat. Everyone in the boat is going in the same direction and paddling in unison—in the exact same way, at the same time—that’s how they are able to move forward so smoothly. They are aligned. 

Aligned teams are accountable teams. 

We’ve all heard there is no “i” in “team”, but within a team there is the power of the “i”, the “we”, and the “us”. What does this mean? 

  • “i” contribute my best to the team. Which positively impacts the…
  • “we” — accomplish team goals. Which results in the…
  • “us” — a company that wins in the marketplace.  

Make a commitment to be accountable in order to achieve collective goals. This ultimately creates a sustainable system in which team members support and help one another.

Don’t be afraid to flex your leader assertiveness and adjust your leadership style to best align with those you’re working with and holding accountable.

Building a Culture of Accountability to Drive Results

By Tierra Madani, CPHR, HR Consultant, Chemistry Consulting Group

It seems we have all been feeling propelled forward these days as we turn the switch from ‘recovery mode’ to the ON button. As we get back to business, we are facing unique challenges within our working world that need to be mended before we turn our engines on to full speed ahead. 

One of the ways in which we can create a solution around these challenges is by bringing awareness to accountability.


HR & Communication Challenges in Today’s Workplace

The unique challenges we are facing in our workplaces can stem from how we are working; including environments that are hybrid, at the workplace and/or remote. Even before the pandemic, many teams were set up in this way just to a lesser degree for some. HR professionals and people leaders have been working in the background on bridging communication gaps and solving conflict that derive from these mixed workplace settings but adding the pressure that comes from picking up our pace has made it overwhelming. 

Broken links can happen anywhere within our organizations and our teams. Two key HR functions that require special attention right now are employee engagement and the onboarding of new hires. In today’s labour market experiencing nationwide staff shortages, our businesses are struggling to retain and engage top talent. It is critical that we look to address and follow-up on communication challenges such as reading between the lines, miscommunications, and different interpretations from a mix of online vs messaging vs texting vs in-person communication exchanges. 


Accountability as the Solution

Although we know it is literally impossible to be everywhere at once, for some reason there is this feeling of a superpower that remote work gives us where we are confident in our ability to communicate effectively everywhere we need to. Clearly this is one reason communication breaks down and the quality of our work is being negatively affected. Holding each other responsible to do things right and when we need them done by is the foundation of accountability, and therefore an effective solution to the challenges we are continuing to face. 

Let’s use employee onboarding as a challenge where accountability can help. 

Coordinating orientations and onboarding plans are no easy task, especially when done virtually or when the pressure of staff shortages doesn’t allow for much training time at all. Clearly communicating who is accountable to look after your new employee and when the responsibility is passed over to someone else. There is no accountability without clear expectations set, so that should be the priority from the day the employment agreement is signed. Determine the best method of communication to set expectations with your team, whether through a group email, a text message group, or a new Teams conversation. Also don’t leave your new hire in the dark and do your best to prepare them in advance of their first day. 

A little extra communication and time taken to clarify who is playing what role in the process is key to avoiding pitfalls. 


Leading and Supporting Accountability 

HR professionals and people leaders can lead and support accountability, but how and to what degree? 

Building a culture of accountability is a great place to start. Although it is not an easy task, there are several benefits of using accountability as a strategy which makes it worthwhile to take this step back from our fast-paced world to build a new and stronger foundation. By developing and promoting a culture of accountability at your organization, you’ll be improving employee engagement through trust, transparency, communication, teamwork and critical thinking in decision making. 

Use accountability to drive results through ownership, commitment to continuous improvements and resilience. Encourage more frequent performance reviews and/or project status reports throughout the year, instead of only focusing on this annually or semi-annually. Commit time to discussing your employees’ professional and personal development plans and what each of you will be accountable for as you look ahead. 

Behaviors vs Personality: Why it matters for TEAM SUCCESS

The terms “behavior” and “personality” are often used interchangeably. However, they are fundamentally different.

Behaviors are observable reactions to stimuli. They are visible actions or words that a person displays.

People behave fairly predictably. And every individual has their own behavioral style (e.g., how you react to stress is likely different from how your colleagues react to stress).

There are two fundamental characteristics of behaviors:

  1. Behavior is observable by others
  2. Behavior can be modified; you can control your behavior

Behaviors are perceived in different ways depending on the context in which they occur and the state of mind of the person observing.

Behaviors can be interpreted completely differently than what is intended (by the person exhibiting the behaviors). For example, you may think you are showing empathy while others may perceive it as placating.

The observations of others are key to understanding your behavior and its effects (positive or negative). This is because self-observation is not a common strength/ability.

At their core, behaviors are observable “doings”.

Personality, on the other hand, is a combination of values, views, set responses, patterns of thought, and characteristics. Personality is your complex inner world. It is who you are—your upbringing, your environment, your values, your social status, your beliefs, your traumas, etc. One can (and will) exhibit a different personality based on the context/environment.

In contrast to behaviors, personalities are unique. Others can observe parts of your personality (e.g., your behaviors, your opinions, your history, etc.), but these are all only part of your personality—a world that is largely hidden from others.

If one wanted to change their personality, they could not rely on others’ observations because no one can figure out, from the outside, what makes you who you are. Again, a fundamental difference between personality and behaviors.

Because of these fundamental characteristic differences, influencing others through behaviors has a much higher success rate than attempting to influence by way of personality.

At Vivo Team, we focus on behaviors. Why? 

Behaviors are task specific, easy to articulate, and easy to measure. We rely on The Video Test—active observation of a person’s behaviors so you can accurately describe them. Describing the behaviors is the starting point for a two-way conversation about an issue or problem in order to find a better way.

How does the focus on behaviors support and benefit teams?

When a leader makes a decision, it affects their entire team. Therefore, it is essential that leaders make behaviorally-informed decisions (i.e., decisions based on observable, documentable behaviors of their team members).

A good behavioral assessment enables proactive leadership. It helps a leader understand, beforehand, how people will react to the decision(s) they make, so they can manage, direct, and support their team members in the most effective way possible.

Alternatively, leading based on personality may result in labeling—the labeling of oneself and others. Labeling is limiting and we don’t want to restrain people.

So who wins this knock-out round? Behaviors or personality? If you lead based on behaviors, you’re sure to take the top prize.


Many thanks to: Peter Krammer, Senior Partner, Okos Partners; Dr. Jim Sellner – EVP, People Analytics & Talent Activation, Vivo Team; and Greg Basham, Executive Coach for their insights and contributions. 

Why you should care about people analytics in L&D

People analytics and learning and development (L&D) have become buzzwords in HR and the professional workforce. However, these buzzwords can be elusive. So, we took it upon ourselves to unpack these concepts. We sat down with Vivo Team’s EVP of People Analytics and Talent Activation, Dr. Jim Sellner, to discuss how people analytics in L&D apply to you, and why you should care. Check it out for yourself with our FREE Team Assessment! 


Question: What is people analytics in L&D?

Dr. Jim: MIT Sloan defines people analytics as: “a data-driven approach to improving people-related decisions for the purpose of advancing the success of not only the organization, but also of individual employees”.

To be more specific, Vivo Team’s people analytics focuses on Team and Leader Development Programs and Coaching, aka learning and development or L&D.

The term people analytics is used in HR to measure a wide variety of elements including: retention, time spent onboarding, attendance, etc.


Q: Why is people analytics in L&D important?

Dr. Jim: People analytics in L&D provides the data our clients require to measure the growth, development, and successes of their team and/or leader development programs and coaching. This is done in terms of behaviors and dollars (by measuring a decrease in the cost of lost productivity*). People analytics in L&D is highly accurate in diagnosing the effects of behaviors on teams. That’s why people analytics in L&D is so important!

*The cost of lost productivity, in simple terms, is loss of work/revenue/production caused by the unavailability of an employee for any reason in terms of dollars.


Q: How is people analytics used in L&D?

Dr. Jim: People analytics in L&D is a process to identify the need for training and the specific areas that need to be addressed first. Traditionally, in L&D, it’s called a training needs analysis. Within people analytics, the training needs are identified by the participants, and the algorithm builds a more accurate, detailed diagnosis.


Q: How does people analytics support leaders and their teams?

Dr. Jim: People analytics provides teams and leaders the tools to diagnose, analyze, predict, prescribe, deliver, and evaluate their learning and development efforts.


Q: How does L&D support a productive workplace people want to be a part of?

Dr. Jim: By including people in the diagnosis of what’s happening in the team dynamics. They identify the most important areas for improvement which increases the probability that they will be engaged in committing to making performance improvements—the WIIFM principle, What’s In It For Me?


Q: Specifically, can you describe how Vivo Team uses people analytics in their learning development program?

Dr. Jim: People analytics form the foundation of Vivo Team’s proprietary, award-winning VSR (Vital Statistics Report). Validated by the University of British Columbia’s Statistics Department, the VSR measures team effectiveness through the 6 key indicators of high performance (i.e., communication, interactive feedback, accountability, structures, emotional intelligence, and cohesion). These indicators provide leaders and teams the ability to diagnose, analyze, predict, prescribe, deliver, and evaluate their L&D efforts.


Q: Can you discuss the science behind it?

Dr. Jim: The science is a type of artificial intelligence (AI) that allows software applications to become more accurate at predicting outcomes without being explicitly programmed to do so. The algorithms use historical data as input to predict new output values.


Thanks for chatting with us, Dr. Jim!