Demanding Jobs with Little Agency

November 8, 2018

The World Health Organization reports that the United States is among the most anxious nations on the planet. Our current political climate certainly contributes to this distinction, but much of our stress stems from feeling a lack of agency on the job.

Agency is the capacity to act independently and make our own free choices. This sense of agency is tightly connected to a sense of ownership. If we feel a lack of agency on the job, it can show up as not being fully engaged, holding back on challenging assumptions, and withholding the important creativity and problem-solving abilities we were hired to demonstrate.

Increased anxiety and stress are huge problems for businesses and the government. According to the American Institute of Stress, U.S. industries lose nearly $300 billion a year—or $7,500 per worker—in employee absenteeism, diminished productivity, employee turnover and direct medical, legal and insurance fees related to workplace stress.

“While it may seem obvious that hard-charging white-collar workers are under stress, studies show that blue-collar workers—line cooks, factory workers, practical nurses—are even more vulnerable,” according to Ellen Ruppel Shell, author of The Job: Work and its Future in a Time of Radical Change. “This is because of what Ofer Sharone describes as the toxic confluence of high demand for their efforts and low control over their working lives.”

This high demand for ever-increasing productivity in a 24/7 always-on workplace combined with little control and freedom over the tasks makes for an unhealthy environment.

“Demanding jobs do not necessarily make us sick, but demanding jobs that give us no agency over what we do or the way we do it are quite likely to,” says Shell. “For growing numbers of Americans—no matter how successful—these pressures have transformed work from a source of satisfaction and pride to an anxiety-ridden bout of shadowboxing.”

So how much of this lack of agency should be blamed on the employer and how much on the employee? This is not easy to answer, but clearly there is responsibility in both.

Leaders and managers in organizations need to consider how much freedom and control they actually provide individual employees. For example, is the task well-defined with a clear understanding of what the deliverable should look like and when it should be completed? Yes. But are the steps regarding how it should be completed and delivered also predetermined yet perhaps not clearly communicated? This can undermine agency.

And how much overall tolerance is there for risk taking and trying things in a different way? If you find yourself hearing (or saying) “That’s not how we do things here,” you may find little tolerance in your organization, and this lack of tolerance also undermines agency.

Employees also have a role and they need to consider when and how to step into agency—even when they may not feel they have the right to do so. Obviously, when you’re new to the job, it’s important to first understand the established rules, norms, values and organizational culture before you can fully express agency. Many of these may actually be the culprit.

Demonstrating agency means taking responsibility and ownership when it’s clear no one else has and yet needs to happen. It means pushing back on standard operating procedures when you see the faults, have a better solution and know how to communicate and implement it. And it means requesting more control or freedom over the work when you can provide clear and compelling benefits. These not only demonstrate agency, but also leadership potential.

It often takes courage to demonstrate agency. When unsuccessful, challenging assumptions or making mistakes can sometimes damage your reputation. Tread carefully but proceed boldly.

By carefully choosing when and how to use agency, you may find you can have more success than failure. You will have more freedom and control on your job. You will reduce your overall anxiety and stress. And you will likely feel more fully engaged. All of this is good for you and your organization.

Focused Attention Through Intention & Discipline

October 10, 2018

In this age of intensified distraction, it’s hard to find time and space to concentrate on one specific thing to any significant degree. Yet if you want to be more productive, you need to focus, which requires both intention and discipline.

Productivity means different things to different people, but we all know what we need and want to accomplish. It just seems we are often stymied in our attempts due to the hyper-connected world in which we live. The solution is to deliberately manage your attention.

Take a look at just a few of the distractions in our workday:

  • We look at our cellphone on average 80 times a day (Millennials 150 times each day!)
  • We check email on average 88 times each day (11 times per hour)
  • Two-thirds (67%) of surveyed employees say they check social media while at work
  • Some 58% of surveyed employees want more privacy in the open office environment
  • And 54% said the open office environment is too distracting to concentrate

Even with the best of intentions, this combination of technology and environment make it difficult to focus on any given task. It should be no surprise then that the best way to manage our attention in order to concentrate is to first turn off all alerts (text, email, news, etc.) and create a quiet space where you won’t be interrupted.

Take Charge of Technology

With regard to technology, this means mustering up the discipline and courage to deliberately turn off all those alerts on both your computer and cellphone. It also means resisting the urge to constantly check email, news sites and social media. I know FOMO (fear of missing out) is intense, but I suspect you are currently unable to accomplish all that you want. Isn’t that more important than knowing the constant status of your virtual friends and followers?

Enter the Best Environment

If you work in an open office, this can be a challenge, but there are things you can do to make the best of it, such as using noise-cancelling headphones. You can also alert your colleagues of your intention to have “focus-time,” and that you would appreciate not being interrupted. Use a simple sign on your desk or cube to signal when you want this.

Ultimately, it’s up to you to declare your intention and develop the discipline in order to deliberately manage your attention.

According to Chris Bailey, author of Hyperfocus: How to be More Productive in a World of Distraction, directing your attention toward the most important object of your choosing—and then sustaining that attention—is the most consequential decision you will make throughout the day. Ultimately, you are what you pay attention to.

Bailey calls this attentional space the amount of mental capacity you have available to focus on and process things in the moment. He suggests the most important way to begin is to divide your tasks into the quadrants below. The bulleted items are mine; yours may be entirely different.

Intention-Setting Rules

With regard to intention, Bailey recommends three intention-setting rules:

  1. The Rule of Three: Everyday choose three things you want to accomplish by the end of the day. Keep these very visible, such as on a white board. You can also choose three things you’d like to accomplish each week.
  2. Most Consequential: Determine which of the three is most consequential by separating them into the four quadrants: necessary, purposeful, distracting and unnecessary. Out of the necessary and purposeful lists, which has the potential to set off a chain reaction?
  3. Hourly Awareness Chime: Have a chime on your watch, cellphone or computer remind you to check in to see which quadrant you are in at that moment and whether you are following your intentions. (I know this is counter to “turn off your alerts” mentioned above, but this is important and purposely distracting for the right reason.)

By following these intention-setting rules you will go a long way to accomplishing more because your intention drives your attention.

When it comes to discipline, you will need to find the motivation to keep this method of operating present in your life. Take three weeks and implement it every day so it becomes a habit. Then reflect on whether this has made you more productive or not. Perhaps enlist your supervisor to provide his or her perspective and to keep you motivated and engaged.

You will likely need to alter your current behavior and show up differently. And while your colleagues may at first mock or sneer at what they may perceive as “anti-social” behavior, they will ultimately respect you for your ability to provide the boundaries necessary in helping you bring your best self to the workplace environment.

Be intentional about where you direct your attention so you can be more productive and reach more of your goals.

Your Role in Job Satisfaction

June 14, 2018

Graduation season is upon us and college graduates are seeking to put their newly acquired knowledge to work by building skills and experience in order to pay off student loans, establish careers, and begin an enduring and satisfying adult life.

Much of overall satisfaction with life comes from our relationships with partners, family and friends. But when we spend 40 years or more in the workplace, we should seek to find careers that provide not only a decent salary, but also fully engage us to bring out our best.

Regardless of the type of work, we each need to take individual responsibility for job satisfaction because—much like managing our physical health—it’s too important and impossible to outsource to anyone else.

It takes many things to find fulfillment at work, but they likely fall into either intrinsic or extrinsic rewards. Intrinsic rewards are those that you feel because you are fulfilled merely by the work itself. You need nothing or no one to provide you with any accolades or financial compensation for doing the job. Extrinsic rewards are those where you are given something by someone else. This could be in the form of financial incentives or in recognition.

In Necessary Dreams, author Anna Fels writes that feeling fulfilled at work requires two things: mastery and recognition. She says mastery is about expertise and the sheer enjoyment you feel when you do something you value really well. It provides meaning and satisfaction. The effort and reward are both internal.

As I wrote about in a previous post, Daniel Pink, author of the book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, says the key to tapping into intrinsic interests is through autonomy, mastery and purpose. These are three things that you alone are responsible for. If they are not found in your current role, it is your responsibility to find ways to get them. This could mean helping to redefine your role, taking on more responsibility, delegating things off your plate, or changing departments or companies if necessary.

The important thing to remember is that your supervisor is not going to provide you with the intrinsic motivation you may be seeking. And, for those of you just beginning your careers, you will likely need to be patient, since autonomy, mastery and purpose are unlikely to come in your first job. Just be certain you are on a path that will enable you to reach these intrinsic rewards as you grow in your chosen career.

The second essential element for workplace fulfillment, according to Fels, is being recognized for what you do. Recognition is an extrinsic reward because it comes from outside of you. Someone else needs to recognize you. All too often, companies think of extrinsic rewards as confined to high salaries and generous benefit packages. More enlightened organizations see the importance of things like flexible work hours, fairness in hiring and promoting practices, the ROWE (Results Only Work Environment) human resource strategy and unlimited vacation time as extrinsic rewards. These are all ways companies can demonstrate that they recognize employees as important and valuable partners.

Perhaps the easiest, cheapest and most important form of an extrinsic reward, however, is the simple acknowledgement of the good work an employee has done. Simply stating aloud appreciation for a job well done does wonders for fulfilling the recognition element. This shouldn’t take the place of promotions and salary increases, of course, but it should definitely be a part of the mix. And it should be done regularly.

This recognition should be done face-to-face whenever possible and it needs to be sincere. It is also best—when appropriate—if it can be done in public. Nothing boosts engagement, morale and overall job satisfaction more than this simple human interaction.

You may ask: If this extrinsic reward comes from outside of you, how is it then your responsibility for achieving job satisfaction? It turns out that you can do a lot to help encourage extrinsic rewards. Regardless of your role, you have an obligation to communicate what it is you need from your supervisor and from your organization in order to succeed.

If you need more feedback, be sure you let them know this. If there are things beyond feedback that will further motivate you, let your supervisor and leadership throughout the organization know this as well. You will likely be speaking for many of your coworkers as well. This is information that will benefit you as well as the entire organization.

Whether you’re a recent college graduate or have been in the workforce for a while and frustrated you are not finding job satisfaction, perhaps it’s time to assess the intrinsic and extrinsic factors. Determine which it is and then work on doing your part to get what you need in order to improve your satisfaction. Don’t expect or wait for others to do what is yours to do.

The Mid-Life, Mid-Career Slump Remedy

April 26, 2018

Milestone birthdays often serve as a reminder of the persistent passage of time. Whether it’s turning 30, 40, 50, 60 or beyond, reaching each decade threshold is a time to take stock of where we’ve been, what we’re grateful for, and where we still want to go.

And these milestones can either bring about dread or light a fire under us. For example, there’s a huge increase in the number of first time marathon runners who are age 29, 39, 49 and 59. Perhaps for many people running a marathon is an early bucket list item to check off before entering their next decade.

As I wrote in a previous post, happiness often increases after we reach middle age. This U-bend curve of well-being suggests that our happiness quotient continually declines from our early twenties until our mid-forties whereupon it then begins to rise well into old age. Little wonder since the mid-forties is when people are often heavily invested in demanding careers, raising teenagers and helping their aging parents.

By the same token, many people reach a career slump in their work when they are in their mid-forties and about halfway through their most productive working years. This slump can be attributed to many factors such as individuals are not seeing as many advancement opportunities, they no longer have the right level of challenge and satisfaction in their work, or they are no longer stimulated and simply working for a paycheck.

In the same way buying a sports car or starting an affair may not be the best choice in a mid-life crisis, so too might simply finding another job may not be the best choice if you’re in a mid-career slump.

Whether it’s entering a new decade of life or simply reaching a crossroads in your career, it helps to first take stock of where you are. This could include assessing what you’ve accomplished so far, how satisfied you are at this point in your life, and acknowledging what—if anything—is holding you back from reaching more of what you want.

Warren Buffett suggests when you reach such a mid-life slump, it’s worthwhile to make a list of your top 25 goals for the rest of your life. Then look at this list and circle your top five that are your absolute highest priority. Next, immediately begin planning how to achieve those top five goals and don’t even look at those other 20 until you achieved all five. By focusing on and achieving a few important things well is far more likely to move you out of a slump of many half-hearted and/or half-completed projects.

Daniel Pink, in his book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, suggests other ways to combat a mid-career slump. These include:

• Develop a mid-career mentoring program in your organization. This is a recognition of the U-bend curve of well-being that is something we are all likely to encounter. Making this a formal program will enable more experienced employees to offer strategies for dealing with the inevitable slump. Peers can provide camaraderie and support. And having others share how they were able to inject purpose into their lives can be inspiring and motivating.

• Mentally subtract positive events. To do this, you first think about something positive in your life—your marriage, birth of a child, major achievement. Second list all of the circumstances that made that possible, such as a seemingly insignificant decision of where to eat dinner one night or a class you enrolled in on a whim or the friend of a friend who happened to tell you about a person or job opening. Then remind yourself that life did go your way. Serendipity happens.

• Write yourself a few paragraphs of self-compassion. By nature, most of us are overly hard on ourselves. We are all too likely to focus on our faults and where we fall short. Scarcity rather than abundance. But we should also take time to acknowledge our strengths and be compassionate in the fact that—as human beings—we are all perfectly imperfect. By writing this down and owning it, we are more likely to internalize it and accept it in a healing manner.

No matter where we are in life or in our career, we are on a journey. And on this journey we celebrate accomplishments and suffer setbacks. How we respond to the inevitable mid-life and mid-career slumps depends on our resilience and our ability to remain mindful of our long-term goals and priorities. The remedy for these slumps is within your grasp.

The Gift of Being Heard

March 1, 2018

In this age of extraordinary technological advances and accelerating change, our ability to effectively communicate has diminished severely. This is partly because we are not equally focused on sending and receiving messages. And we don’t listen in a way that demonstrates that the other is being heard.

Despite the many powerful ways we have to connect, our ability to do this well has suffered. Think about how often you text when you really should talk. Or you choose email when you should call because your message requires some back and forth discussion.

Every new technology has to find its ideal purpose and this usually takes some trial and error. Remember when people faxed in their pizza orders? Just because we can text or email, doesn’t mean we should use them constantly and expect success in our communication.

As I wrote in a previous post, these “asynchronous communication vehicles have become the default way for far too many of us to interact with others.” Texting, emailing, and tweeting are all very effective for sending information. But when it comes to topics that are sensitive, require establishing trust or back-and-forth discussion, using the phone or meeting face-to-face is best.

We have become so focused on sending our perspectives, thoughts, feelings, selfies and the latest emojis that we are no longer as receptive to the other side of the communication equation: receiving. While we may feel confident that the content of our message was received, perhaps not the full sentiment.

However, when we can equally focus on the receiving end of a message, we can begin to engage in meaningful dialogue. We can enable true reciprocity. We can immediately see and/or hear the impact our message had on the receiver. And we can immediately respond in a way that effectively continues to move the conversation forward.

When you experience a communication breakdown in a message you initiate, it could be due to the receiver being confused or misunderstanding your intention because you’ve chosen the incorrect medium. If the receiver of your message can’t accurately interpret what you intended, the communication can fail—often miserably.

One reason is that we make a lot of assumptions in our interactions with others, and these assumptions often get in the way of successful communication. With texting and emailing, assumptions are more challenging to combat due to the fact that verifying them requires more back and forth that can seem to slow down the conversation. The nuance of effective communication—even for the most gifted writers—is often missing in text-only communication.

Being a good receiver in communication means you provide the sender with the gift of being heard—very difficult to do via text and email.  And this gift is all too rare these days. If you are able to give it to others, you will be appreciated and likely gain respect from your colleagues and affection from your family and friends.

One of the benefits of calling or talking face-to-face is you can immediately check on assumptions in order to eliminate any anxiety or confusion. You are also likely to pick up non-verbal clues based on tone of voice, facial expressions and body language that can help you determine whether there is congruence between what is being said and how they look and act when saying it.

Don’t underestimate your intuitive power of reading the sender of the message. You are able to pick up many things above and beyond the words. And this is missing in your texts and emails—no matter how many emojis and photo attachments may be included.

Communicating better requires you to become a better listener. This means really focusing on what the other person is trying to communicate. Whenever possible, ensure discussions that warrant it are face-to-face or by phone, and then provide the other person the gift of being heard.

A Return to Civility

December 16, 2017

So much of what is currently wrong in the workplace, government and our society can be linked to people simply not acting civil towards each other. Perhaps if we were a bit more courteous and polite it would lead to greater productivity, health and happiness.

In the workplace, this lack of civility shows up when we compete with coworkers rather than collaborate; it is seen when we act in a passive-aggressive manner to feign support for others and their ideas when, in fact, we have no intention of following up; or in stonewalling when others request something that is clearly important to them yet not to us.

As an organization development consultant and leadership coach, I find one of the most common forms of dysfunction is the inability of people to work together in a civil manner. Behaviors that diminish civility include both those that are intentional such as those mentioned above as well as unintentional. Such unintentional behaviors can include the failure to actively listen, an inability to believe that what others are doing is the best they can, and a lack of accountability that is endemic throughout many organizations.

“In America, we’ve got to learn how to disagree without demonizing each other,” says Pastor Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life. Though he may have been speaking metaphorically, the fundamental principle is the idea that people can still work together even if they do not always agree with each other’s point of view.

Look no further than the dysfunction in our federal government with Congress unable to even have a constructive conversation with members on the other side of the aisle in order to produce bipartisan legislation that is in the interests of the nation as a whole.

This lack of civility currently shows up in so many ways both within the workplace and elsewhere in our lives.

  • Meetings that have no clear agenda, feel like a waste of time, or have no clear action plan afterwards. Could we instead enable attendees to be interested and engaged by encouraging their passion as well as respectful conflict?
  • Talking over another instead of really listening to what the other has to say. What if we allowed the space for true give and take dialogue where people actually felt heard that could then give way to greater understanding?
  • Email messages that clutter our inboxes because they are rambling, incoherent or too long to be read quickly. What if we consistently specified our intention in the Subject line of our message and followed with a straight-forward request or statement that could be quickly read, acted upon or discarded?
  • Text messaging that attempts to communicate, but often leads to misunderstanding or confusion regardless of the number of emojis being used. Instead, what if text messages were used for simple requests and comments rather than a replacement for conversation with real emotions?
  • Tweets that attempt to communicate something simple to many people, yet often lead to sensationalism and/or obfuscation. What if we used these 128 characters only to direct attention to something meaningful where it can further illuminate or clarify?
  • Social media that in so many ways leads to anti-social behavior. Recent research suggests that social media often leads people to becoming more isolated. Rather than accumulating “likes” in the virtual world, what if we connected in the real-time, physical world with those we consider friends?
  • Turn signals are still the law of the land and yet motorists rarely use them anymore as if it is no longer important to indicate our intention to those who share the road. What if we again used this simple mechanism to specify our intention in order to reduce accidents as well as frustration on the road?
  • Eye contact with others tends to make many of us nervous, yet not making such contact only further separates and divides us. What if instead of making assumptions regarding other people, we were able to connect with them by simply smiling, making eye contact and saying hello?

None of these items acted upon individually will make our world more civil, yet if each of us chose to practice a little bit of kindness and compassion towards one another both in and out of the workplace, I suspect it would catch on and begin to make a difference.

Call me Pollyannaish, but I truly believe that the only way to combat the destructive forces that are preventing us from getting along are to choose to be more civil with each other. Let the spirit of this holiday season continue into the new year by making one of your resolutions to be more civil with other people.

Workplace Loyalty: A New Paradigm

August 3, 2017

Once there was a time when companies provided their employees with the security of lifetime employment. There was also a time when employees remained on the job despite opportunities to go elsewhere.

That relational dynamic has certainly changed as many employers moved towards outsourcing, automation, and—for all too many—a focus on increasing shareholder value over employee engagement and customer satisfaction. Many employers are no longer loyal to their workforce so it should come as little surprise that employees are not loyal to their companies.

It’s time for a new paradigm with regard to workplace loyalty. This is one where both employee and employer do their part to encourage greater loyalty. Employees should first and foremost be loyal to themselves, and employers should recognize that company loyalty can and should remain long after an employee leaves.

“Loyalty to self and company need not be either bound by employment or mutually exclusive,” writes Lee Caraher, author of The Boomerang Principle: Inspire Lifetime Loyalty from Your Employees. “Loyalty is a two-way street, and unless a company can prove to employees that it deserves their loyalty, it isn’t coming. Frankly, the business world has taught us all that we need to be loyal to ourselves first if we don’t want to be caught on the wrong side of a downsizing.”

This reminds me of the flight attendant’s advice before take-off: “Be sure to place your own oxygen mask on before assisting others.” To be your best self for others, you must first be your best self for yourself. And to truly love another person, you must first love yourself.

An example of this loyalty to self in the workplace can be simply recognizing when you are no longer fully engaged in your work and doing something about it. Options may include: 1) Determine and act upon what is within your power to change in order to become more engaged; 2) Have a discussion with your supervisor to determine what he or she can do to enable your higher engagement; 3) Seek other opportunities inside or outside the company where you can bring your best self to be fully engaged.

This self-loyalty has to do with being accountable for your part in the lower engagement you may be experiencing, and doing what is necessary in order to raise it. You are much more likely to be loyal to your company if you feel engaged in your work, and you can impact this.

At the same time, employers need to recognize that employee loyalty must be earned rather than assumed. Employers need to encourage workers by doing what they can to enable their full engagement.

And Caraher says employers need to let go of the old workplace loyalty notion and replace it with a mindset that employees can be loyal throughout their lives, whether they continue to be employed at the company or not.

The idea is that even ex-employees can be important ambassadors for your company and become partners, clients, customers, and referrals for all of those as well as potential new employees. Perhaps most importantly, if your former employees feel they were treated well while employed at your company and especially during their exit from it, they may very well end up coming back to work there again.

As the notion of workplace loyalty continues to evolve, it’s important that both employees and employers do their part to make it work. Loyalty should not be assumed or taken for granted, and it requires effort on both parties to continue.

Working Smarter in the Age of Distraction

July 19, 2017

We live in a world of constant distraction. The internet, text messaging and social media all play a part in this distraction and yet we willingly choose to let these interruptions keep us from fully engaging in our lives.

This is true not only in our free time, but in our workday as well. Employees are often getting sidetracked from the task at hand thereby undermining overall productivity.

According to a 2012 survey by Salary.com, one of the biggest culprits is internet surfing. The survey interviewed 3,200 people and found that more than two-thirds of employees regularly spend time surfing websites unrelated to work.

Specifically, 64 percent of employees say they visit non-work related websites every day. Of this group, 39 percent spend an hour or less per week, 29 percent two hours per week, 21 percent five hours per week, and three percent said they waste 10 or more hours each week doing activities online that are unrelated to their job.

Unsurprisingly, social media is the biggest destination for this distraction as the most off-task websites were Facebook (41 percent) and LinkedIn (37 percent). A full 25 percent admitted to shopping on Amazon during work hours.

While this is disturbing, it’s important to remember that not so long ago employees were mindlessly playing Solitaire as a way to escape and avoid working. Before that, personal calls, extended cigarette breaks, long lunches, and water cooler gossip kept employees from being optimally productive.

Respondents from the survey said the number one reason for this slacking at work was that they don’t feel challenged enough in their job. This was followed by they work too many hours, the company doesn’t give sufficient incentive to work harder, they are unsatisfied with their career (might explain why they are on LinkedIn), and they’re just bored.

Based on these justifications for internet surfing, it seems both employers and employees need to find ways to reduce this distraction and begin working smarter. So let’s take a look at each of the reasons individually.

Employees don’t feel challenged enough in their jobs

Underutilized resources are a problem that employers need to recognize and quickly correct. Granted some tasks are not very challenging and perhaps boring, but every job should also have opportunities for learning and developing new skills that can be stimulating and help raise employee engagement. Employees should make known where their interest and aptitude match an unmet need within the scope of their current position, and employers should provide opportunities for every employee to grow beyond the current position.

Employees are working too many hours

This seems like a lame excuse as if just being in the office means you are “working” too much. If employees can work smarter by being more productive during the workday and avoid distractions, it won’t be necessary to work too many hours. Employers need to own their part as well by implementing ROWE (Results Only Work Environment) as a way to measure productivity by results rather than simply the time employees are seated in their cubicles.

Company doesn’t provide enough incentive to work harder

The word “incentive’ may be code for an extrinsic reward in the form of compensation. While this could be the case, employees should take responsibility by demonstrating greater value in order to receive a promotion or raise. Employers should also find ways to incentivize employees with both intrinsic (corporate values, teamwork, etc.) and extrinsic (recognition, bonuses, etc.) forms of engagement.

Employees are unsatisfied with their career

The distraction of internet surfing during work hours should be a sign that you as an employee should take ownership of your situation and do something about it. If you are unsatisfied in your current position, you might consider applying for another opportunity either inside or outside of your organization. This may require further training or perhaps informational interviews about an entirely different career. Employers should also be on the lookout for dissatisfaction among employees by checking in regularly and providing them with the direction and support needed to keep them engaged.

Employees are bored

This also is about engagement as a fully engaged employee is not likely to be bored. Employees need to apply themselves and take ownership of what they can do within the scope of their job to make it interesting. Employers can also ensure that boring tasks are distributed among all employees so no one person is stuck doing something boring all day and every day.

The distractions are not going away and I suspect if the same survey were done today we would see an increase in all of these numbers. How we respond to these distractions is what matters.

Working smarter means employees take responsibility for optimizing their time at work and not wasting it being unproductive. Working smarter means employers provide the opportunities and support so their people feel appreciated, stimulated, and adequately incentivized to give their best.

While there will always be opportunities to escape from the task at hand, it is up to both employees and employers to find ways to encourage higher engagement so that distractions are less enticing to begin with.

The Value of Organizational Values

July 6, 2017

In personal relationships we tend to choose others who share our values—regardless of whether they are friends or romantic interests. This is because values help define who we are and what we stand for. When this is shared between yourself and another, it provides the foundation to maintain a solid relationship both can depend on.

In politics, Democrats and Republicans might make a lot more progress if they were to identify and build upon what values they share in common. Our representatives in congress should seek out and build upon what their constituents share in common with the constituents of other representatives in order to make progress. The process of differentiating oneself from one’s opponent may work well in campaigning, but it is detrimental to effective governing.

In any organization, values define what it stands for, how it makes decisions, conducts business and the type of people it seeks to attract—customers, partners and employees.

All too often I see an organization’s corporate values clearly displayed on a website, but not truly embraced in the way its people function. This is not only bad for the bottom line, it’s bad for attracting the right talent.

Core values should support the company’s vision and shape the culture. That’s because values are the very essence of a company’s identity, its principles and beliefs. These values should not be defined in haste nor should they be so generic or fluffy that they don’t really mean anything.

The best values are those that are unique and demonstrated so often that they are embodied rather than simply memorized.

Core values can be an important differentiator and build a more solid brand. They can:

  • Enable better decision-making with regard to partnerships, employee engagement, quality standards, customer satisfaction, etc. The more values are integrated into the decision-making process, the easier it is to make hard choices.
  • Educate partners and customers so they are able to invest in an organization that is aligned with their own values. Social media is building brand awareness like never before and, with so many options, today’s consumers will choose products and services from those companies who they can identify with most closely.
  • Help recruit the right employees because they can see that these corporate values are congruent with who they are as individuals. This alignment is becoming increasingly important as Millennials are seeking much more than a paycheck in their careers.

Placing an emphasis on core values will improve every aspect of business, but only if these values are meaningful, fully demonstrated and embraced by every employee. Make an effort to ensure your organization’s values are the right ones and that they are more than mere words on a website.

Magnetic Leadership

June 2, 2017

For companies to thrive they need great leadership. So how do we define great leadership and what are the behavioral traits of a great leader?

In his best-selling book Good to Great, author Jim Collins wrote about what he called Level 5 Executive leaders who build enduring greatness through the paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will. He describes these Level 5 leaders as both modest and willful, humble and fearless.

“Level 5 leaders look out the window to apportion credit to factors outside themselves when things go well,” writes Collins. “At the same time, they look in the mirror to apportion responsibility, never blaming bad luck when things go poorly.”

What the business world needs more than ever now are Level 5 leaders. It needs men and women who understand how to attract and grow talented employees. Their focus should be on people before products and profits. Customers and shareholders will be satisfied only when employees are fully engaged and optimally performing.

In Roberta Chinsky Matuson’s book The Magnetic Leader: How Irresistible Leaders Attract Employees, Customers, and Profits, she defines seven irresistible traits of magnetic leaders. These are authenticity, selflessness, strong communication, charisma, transparency, vision and resilience. Matuson also provides important questions to ask yourself in order to strengthen these traits.

Authenticity

Authenticity requires admitting you don’t know everything, being truthful and sharing your backstory. To increase your authenticity, ask yourself:

  • Do I bring my whole self to work or do I leave parts at home?
  • What have I done within the last week to build trust?
  • How often do I share my backstory with employees and prospective candidates?

Selflessness

Selflessness requires the humility to focus on another’s success. Strive to be more of a servant leader and ask yourself:

  • Are people following me because of what I can do for them or are they doing so because of what I can do to them?
  • Do I take more than I give?
  • What have I done today to put others before myself?

Strong Communication

Strong communication means focusing as much on the way you say something as you do with the words you choose. Consistent communication is directly connected to higher employee engagement. And strive to become a better listener. Ask yourself:

  • Am I fully present when people speak?
  • Is my communication clear or is it a bit cloudy?
  • How often have I reached out to team members in person, on the phone or via e-mail or Skype this week?

Charisma

Charisma means as a leader you are able to influence and inspire others. It is often defined by those who exude confidence and express positivity. Ask yourself:

  • Do I genuinely like being around people?
  • Do I express my ideas in a way that exudes confidence or do I radiate self-doubt?
  • Do I expect people will do their personal best or do I believe most people will merely look to get by?

Transparency

Transparency is linked to candor and this requires trusting others as the only way to build and sustain relationships. To increase your transparency, ask yourself:

  • How often do I filter what I tell people?
  • How frequently do I shield information from others for my own benefit?
  • Am I being transparent or a bit murky?

Vision

Vision is about seeing the bigger picture and then painting it for others to see. In order to assess where you are on vision, ask yourself:

  • Am I focused on everyday tasks or long-term outcomes?
  • How often do I take time out of my day or week to think about the future?
  • Who in the organization has potential that is not being realized and what can I do to help unleash that potential?

Resilience

Resilience is about the ability to carry on in spite of a hopeless situation. It is about the grit that enables one to get back up after falling down. To further build this resilience, ask yourself:

  • Do I take responsibility for my failures or do I place the blame elsewhere?
  • Do I pick myself up quickly after a failure and move forward?
  • Do I play it safe to avoid failure or do I take risks so I can grow?

Often it is the questions that matter most. The best questions can help us to understand and grow. Asking and answering honestly to the questions above can help determine how you measure up in order to assess your own magnetic leadership.

In the conclusion of her book, Matuson describes management as a destination while leadership as a journey. She writes that “the way you choose to lead matters more than your intentions, and that every day is a new opportunity to lead in a way that is memorable for the right reasons.”

Great leadership embraces the notion of continuous learning and growth. To be a magnetic leader, seek to become more of who you are and embrace these seven traits.

March for Workplace Health & Viability

April 20, 2017

The March for Science will be held in Washington, D.C. and more than 500 communities around the world on April 22, 2017. This coincides with Earth Day and it’s hard to believe that in the 21st Century there is even a need to demonstrate support for something so fundamental as the planet we live on and the very foundation of principles which have enabled us to thrive.

“Science should neither serve special interests nor be rejected based on personal convictions,” as stated on the organization’s website. “At its core, science is a tool for seeking answers. It can and should influence policy and guide our long-term decision-making.”

With the recent downfall of Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly due to the disclosure of a series of sexual harassment allegations against him, perhaps some of his viewers may be more skeptical of the moral superiority of popular talking heads such as him. Maybe they will rethink whether tuning in to hear one person’s opinions will lead them to the truth better than research-based proven scientific facts. As much as we may want easy answers to complex issues, they won’t come from any one pundit, commentator or so-called analyst.

We live at a time when we celebrate science fiction more than science. Although Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos series is making inroads, it’s the fictional Star Wars, The Avengers and The Hunger Games where people spend their hard earned money and precious leisure time. As a nation we honor the achievements of athletes, musicians and actors far more than we do those of scientists, mathematicians and physicists. And they are paid a lot more as a result.

The fact is we over value entertainment and under value education. No wonder so many children when asked what they want to be when they grow up no longer say a doctor or fireman, they say they want to be rich and they want to be famous.

Actor Jim Carrey once said: “I think everybody should get rich and famous, and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.”

In the workplace we see the effects of this focus on shortcuts and quick fixes in the form of growth at the expense of actual value. According to a 2013 McKinsey survey, more than half of corporate executives said they would pass on a viable project “if it would cause the company to even marginally miss its quarterly earnings target.” These leaders are so afraid of shareholders that they dismiss what they believe to be in the best long-term interests of the company’s profitability because they are measured simply quarter to quarter.

This is crazy, of course, and it is not sustainable. Douglas Rushkoff, author of Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus, says this is a tornado of technological improvements that has spun our economic model out of control and humanity as a whole is trapped by the consequences.

As an example, Rushkoff writes about robotic ad-viewing programs or bots that are now used by some unscrupulous companies to raise their pay-per-click advertising revenue. These bots are often run secretly on our computers in the form of malware and, as a result, advertisers were projected to lose $6.3 billion in pay-per-click fees to imaginary viewers in 2015.

The irony is that these malware robots watch ads that are monitored by automated tracking software tailoring every advertising message to suit the malbots’ automated habits inside this personalization of a feedback loop. No human eyeballs may ever see or respond to the ads. No value is created and yet billions of dollars are made.

While many corporations are focused on short-term growth and profitability at the expense of long-term and sustained value, their employees are contributing to this as well.

Employees contribute to this, when they seek to:

  • Accomplish individual objectives though they may be in conflict with the collective goals of the workgroup or company.
  • Look busy multitasking rather than move important things forward by taking on the challenges of critical thinking.
  • Efficiently empty our email inbox rather than doing what’s more important yet may not yield tangible results as quickly.
  • Ask for promotions based on how we match up to our colleagues rather than on our own competence and capability.
  • Simply follow along and remain “under the radar” rather than push back and risk retribution when we know better.
  • Respond to constant disruptions with the dopamine hit of “likes” on social media instead of staying focused on the laborious job-related task in front of us.

The workplace should be one where all workers seek to provide sustainable value. CEOs and employees should all be motivated and compensated for delivering products and services that meet or exceed customer expectations. Rather than focus on short-term profitability, the goal should be long-term value. In this scenario, shareholders will continue to receive their return on investment, yet over a longer period of time. Think Berkshire Hathaway rather than Facebook.

Our current economic model for publicly traded companies that demands quarterly profits at the expense of longer term viability may no longer be relevant. Instead, we need to focus on doing what’s right rather than what’s expedient.

And we cannot rely on pundits in the political or financial realms to provide us with quick and easy answers. Instead, we should seek the continually evolving, research-based, peer-reviewed nature of scientific experimentation to understand how to improve our workplace and our economy. March for science. March for truth. March for workplace health and viability.

Leader as Storyteller

December 12, 2016

Let me tell you a story. Nothing perks up an audience like those few words because we are wired for story. It is in our very DNA as we have told and listened to oral stories from the very beginning of human history.

Stories are also the most entertaining and effective way to convey information and persuade others in business because they create an emotional as well as an intellectual connection. This emotional component is important because it is what stimulates us and keeps our attention.

Although we may think we are purely rational in all our business dealings, the truth is we regularly make decisions based on our feelings and only justify them through logical explanations. Advertising has long relied on the fact that we rely more on our emotions than information in order to make brand decisions. One could certainly argue we increasingly choose our elected officials based on emotion rather than factual information.

Without an effective story that has both an intellectual as well as an emotional component, it’s difficult to stand out or make a lasting impression.

Think about the number of times you’ve been in a conference room where the speaker runs through a slide deck with numbers, words, images, data, charts and graphs in order to convince you of something. Does it make you sleepy just thinking about it? No wonder so many welcome the distraction of our cellphones.

If instead the speaker would begin by telling a compelling story that appealed to our emotions and also drive the main message, the slides could merely be used as a way to further justify the point. In this way, the story engages the audience in both the head and heart.

Consider how effective storytelling is used elsewhere:

  • Newspaper, television and radio news stories so often begin with an individual’s story to explain a larger issue and demonstrate its effect.
  • TED Talks would not be nearly as effective were it not for storytelling because the speakers draw us in by telling a personal story to convey a universal truth.
  • Every U.S. President since Ronald Reagan has highlighted an individual citizen’s story and included him or her in his State of the Union address in order to put a face to an important issue or policy.
  • Think about any great speaker you have heard and how, more than likely, the speaker told a compelling story that pulled so effectively at your heart-strings.

“This is because stories do much more than entertain,” says Paul Smith, author of Lead with a Story. “They actually engage your audience’s brains, creating an experience in which they learn a lesson, share a belief, and envision results as if they were there.”

In his book, Smith provides 21 of the toughest leadership challenges with stories to help navigate each of them. The book also identifies six key elements that are integral to help turn a good story into a great one. These elements are metaphors, emotion, realism, surprise, style, and how to put your audience into your story.

As a leader, you need to use storytelling as a way to rally the troops and convince others of your ideas. Stories enable your audience to relax and be entertained while you persuade them. Stories enable the speaker to connect with others, building trust and establishing rapport. And effective stories have a way of leaving a positive impression on the speaker and on the speaker’s message.

In Tell to Win, author Peter Gruber says the ability to tell a purposeful story that can truly be heard is increasingly in demand. “Moreover, in this age of acute economic uncertainty and rapid technological change, it’s not the 0’s and 1’s of the digital revolution, but rather the oohs and aahs of telling to win that offer the best chance of overcoming fear or compelling listeners to act on behalf of a worthy goal.”

No wonder some forward-thinking business schools like Notre Dame and DePaul University have added storytelling classes to their management curriculum. And companies such as Kimberly-Clark have held two-day seminars to teach its 13-step program for crafting a story. 3M is now using “strategic narratives” rather than bullet points. Procter & Gamble hired Hollywood movie directors to train senior executives on storytelling techniques.

So rather than fill your slide deck with emotionless data, tell a story that begins with a compelling challenge, then engage your audience with a struggle to overcome, and finally provide an eye-opening resolution that calls them to action.  As a leader, the more you are able to incorporate good storytelling into your communication, the more effective you will be at convincing, inspiring and motivating your people.

 

Passive-Aggressive Behavior at Work

November 26, 2016

Effective communication is important to every successful organization because it enables the dissemination of information needed by employees to get things done and it builds relationships based on trust and commitment. Both are equally important.

In the workplace, effective communication can increase efficiency and productivity, enhance employee engagement, and decrease turnover. Conversely, ineffective communication can undermine efficiency and productivity, decrease engagement, and increase absenteeism and turnover.

As an organization development consultant and leadership coach, the challenges presented to me by clients very often come in the form of ineffective communication, and more often than not this has to do with some passive-aggressive behavior. It seems this is all too common in the workplace and is undermining our ability to communicate effectively.

I grew up in the Chicago area and I’ve now lived in Seattle for more than 30 years. While I have fully adapted and embraced my life in Seattle, I am continually confounded by the often polite yet oftentimes insincere behavior of people I encounter. It may be of little surprise then that three of my closest friends are also transplants from the Midwest where direct and blunt communication is more common.

Seattleites are often referred to as nice, but not necessarily friendly. A driver will sometimes come to a four-way stop at the same time as others and not simply yield to the driver on the right, but insist on waiting for the other person to go—regardless of their position. Then they complain about traffic congestion. Or people who agree to join you on a hike or other activity decline at the last-minute knowing full well they didn’t want to go in the first place, but wouldn’t say so.

In the workplace, passive-aggressive behavior shows up in many forms such as: committing to action items and then not following through; acting friendly with coworkers and then speaking about them negatively behind their backs; speaking publicly about the benefits of collaboration across the organization yet covertly maintaining a silo mentality.

Passive-aggressive behavior is often a way for people to get their emotional point across without having healthy conflict, according to Annie McKee, founder of the Teleos Leadership Institute and coauthor of Primal Leadership. It can also be due to their inability to communicate or deal with conflict effectively.

McKee suggests recounting how some of your previous interactions have played out and explaining the impact they have had on you and perhaps others. If it’s feasible, show how that behavior is working against what he or she cares about, such as achieving the organization’s goals. However, whatever you do, don’t accuse the person of being passive-aggressive as this will only make him or her defensive.

Specifically, McKee suggests the following for how you can deal effectively with passive-aggressive behavior:

  1. Consider what’s motivating the behavior – Ensure that their assumptions are accurate.
  2. Own your part – You likely share some aspect of the blame, so admit it.
  3. Focus on the content, not the delivery – Don’t get caught up in the emotion.
  4. Acknowledge the underlying issue – Read between the lines; all is not what it seems.
  5. Watch your language – Do not label or judge, but explain the impact their behavior is having on you.
  6. Find safety in numbers – Inquire how others’ comments may have impacted them.
  7. Set guidelines for everyone – Make it clear about who’s responsible for what and maintain accountability.
  8. Get help in extreme situations – When necessary, recruit others to help you move forward with someone in a position of greater power.
  9. Protect yourself – Don’t disregard your own work and avoid contact with this person if at all possible.

Both the person behaving passive-aggressively and the person responding to it ineffectively can be viewed through the lens of emotional intelligence. Navigating relationships effectively when under stress requires maintaining an understanding of what one thinks, wants and feels in relation to the other, along with being able regulate one’s behavior and demonstrate empathy while in those situations.

Dealing effectively with someone who behaves passive-aggressively, therefore, requires you to rely on your ability to really know and control yourself while also showing concern for the other person.

Passive-aggressive behavior is at odds with the effective communication necessary for trust and commitment in successful relationships. You can do your part to lessen the spread and severity of those who behave this way. When more of us engage in a healthy response to passive-aggressive behavior, the less we will feel and see its impact. And this will result in helping to raise effective communication in the workplace.

The Value of Thought Diversity

September 29, 2016

As much as we have learned the importance of diversity in the workplace, it is often focused on gender, race and ethnicity. Thought diversity is more subtle, but just as important. That’s because our thoughts are guided by where we focus our attention and, all too often, we seek the comfort of confirmation rather than the anxiety of challenging our assumptions.

This deficit in thought diversity is limiting our overall understanding, undermining the ability to truly connect and collaborate with others, and detrimental to the creativity necessary for solving the most challenging problems.

Think about how:

  • Our family, friends and acquaintances are made up primarily of people who share and reaffirm our individual identity of who we are and what we believe.
  • Our neighbors likely share a socio-economic demographic that continually reinforces our perspectives directly based on our geographic point of reference.
  • Our individual news feeds are chosen to maintain rather than challenge our perspectives on the economy, politics, entertainment, environment, and other subjects.
  • Our social networks are filled with those who align with our unique views and opinions, enabling more “follows,” “likes,” and “shares.”
  • Our entire digital footprint is making it so advertisers can provide us with information tailored to what they believe we want and limit our attention from going elsewhere.
  • Our workplace, though there may be some diversity in race, gender, ethnicity, age, ability and/or sexuality, it may not be a place that encourages diversity of thoughts, opinions or perspectives.

Too often a hiring manager and HR partner—after first singling out candidates who possess the necessary skills and experience—look for the one who fits the corporate culture, which may unfortunately lead to groupthink. This cultural fit may actually undermine the ability to bring about diversity of thought.

The Difference

In his book The Difference, University of Michigan economist Scott Page describes a unique way to hire people to maximize diversity of thought within an organization. In the study, three candidates interviewed for two vacant positions on a research team. All candidates were asked the same 10 questions: Jeff correctly answered 7 of 10, Rose 6 of 10, and Spencer 5 of 10.

table

Many organizations would hire Jeff and Rose because these two candidates garnered the highest cumulative score. Another reason is that HR managers spend a lot of time and money-making sure that their people all think the same. They value “consistency and efficiency over individual flair.”

If the hiring manager and HR manager, however, spend time examining which questions each candidate answered correctly, they will notice that Spencer, the lowest overall scorer, correctly answered every question that Jeff, the highest scorer, incorrectly answered. As such, Spencer presumably brings a different way of thinking to the organization—and quite possibly more value.

Thought diversity at work is vital as it enables out-of-the-box thinking to bring about creative solutions to 21st century challenges.

Some companies use the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator, four-color personality test or other 4-grid assessment in order to identify and differentiate employees as this helps each person to understand the benefits and drawbacks in each type. The larger lesson is that there is wisdom when all four types or colors are represented as it can help bring about diversity in thought to arrive at the best solutions.

Encouraging Thought Diversity

Diversity of thought can come in many forms, and it needs to be encouraged in the way organizations both hire and manage their workers.

Thought diversity places the focus on an individual’s mind, which is influenced by his or her experiences, culture, background and personality. It is not rooted in opinions, but in thought processes and problem solving abilities.

The primary benefits of thought diversity include:

  • Reduction in groupthink because different perspectives encourage everyone to bring their own perspective based on their unique background and personality.
  • Creative tension that enables fresh ideas and out-of-the-box thinking, which can sometimes be messy, but ultimately leads to new insights.
  • Increased employee engagement as everyone feels that their opinion and ideas matter, and that they have value in reaching the best solutions.
  • Attracting Millennials who are looking to join those organizations that foster an inclusive culture where they can be most successful.

Thought diversity should be included in every organization’s diversity initiatives. It makes sense when choosing who to hire and it makes sense in how to manage employees. When people are actively encouraged to present different perspectives and ideas to challenge assumptions and the status quo, that’s when you’ll see new insights, innovation, collaboration, and the very best of teamwork.

Lifelong (Workplace) Learning

August 25, 2016

It’s nearing the end of summer and time for the kids to go back to school. September should also remind us that lifelong learning is vital in order for each of us to stay relevant at work and vibrant in life.

Whether you are just beginning your career, a mid-level manager or a seasoned leader, everyone should embrace lifelong learning—through formal continuing education, independent study, or deliberate behavioral adjustments. This will keep you moving forward at work and elsewhere.

A Fast Company article a couple years ago titled You’re Probably Making These Five Mistakes at Work pointed out the commonality found in people who may be limiting themselves in their careers. These mistakes are:

  1. Handling upsets poorly
  2. Failing to self-promote
  3. Thinking “me” instead of “we”
  4. Not asking for feedback
  5. Declining to take on new roles

It’s interesting to note how each of these may seem insignificant or you may even feel it contradicts how to be successful in your particular workplace, but for me, they all resonate with wisdom. Each has an element of maturity in them. Each of them points to a particular skill set such as emotional intelligence, courage, humility or communication.

The good news is that all of them can be corrected with a little bit of practice and discipline. This correction is certainly not rocket science, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t take significant attention and focus. It can be especially helpful to have a mentor, supervisor, HR partner or colleague to help keep you on track and measure your progress.

Meanwhile, Marcel Schwantes conducted a LinkedIn survey last year prior to writing an article for Inc. Magazine titled 8 Mistakes Managers Make, According to Their Employees. He compiled the list after posting the question: “What is the one mistake leaders make more frequently than others?” The results came in from around the world where he states many employees felt distressed and disengaged. These eight mistakes represent how they “suck the life out of their teams.”

  1. Micromanaging
  2. Leading from a position of power or ego
  3. Not listening
  4. Not valuing followers
  5. Failing to grow themselves as leaders
  6. Lacking boundaries
  7. Not providing or receiving feedback
  8. Not sharing leadership

A great deal of avoiding these mistakes begins with self-awareness and understanding how your behavior is impacting employees. Learning the “soft skills” mentioned above can also be especially helpful.

Sometimes a leader can receive candid 360-feedback that is highly instructive in highlighting concerns. Corrective action can then be taken either independently or with the help of an executive coach. Other times it may take the form of a more heavy-handed directive from another senior leader, superior or HR representative in order to elevate the importance of correcting these mistakes.

Regardless of how you learn about your own mistakes, the importance is in whether or not you choose to change. Changing one’s behavior is not necessarily easy as it takes effort and constant attention.  Much can be learned through articles and books, mentoring and coaching, as well as trial and error with continual adjustments. The change may come about very slowly, but I am certain correcting these mistakes will help you in your career.

Learning begins with awareness and accepting that there is room for improvement. Once you can identify what may be holding you back from being most effective, it is time to identify an achievable goal towards the desired change and build a plan for achieving it.

Lifelong learning means you will never truly graduate, but only continue on your quest toward personal and professional excellence.

Reducing Office Politics Through Soft Skills

June 30, 2016

Admitting you don’t know the answer. Apologizing when you’ve made a mistake. Putting yourself in another person’s shoes. Not speaking poorly about someone behind their back.

These are things we learned as children and know we should practice as adults, yet because many of us don’t, our workplaces are unhealthy and prevent us from being more productive. Traits like empathy, transparency and clear communication are often missing and make for a corrosive work environment where office politics has become an accepted standard element of corporate life.

In a recent Harvard Business Journal article How Facebook Tries to Prevent Office Politics, author Jay Parikh describes that from the very beginning of the social media juggernaut, they wanted to be more thoughtful in all their interactions to avoid letting “office maneuvering poison work life.”

Parikh, global head of engineering and infrastructure, offers five tactics Facebook discovered to keep their culture healthy and productive. These all include elements of trust, transparency, curiosity, and are focused on the soft skills so vital to effective workplaces.

“We equip our employees with the communication skills needed to be empathetic and to solve these issues in constructive ways,” writes Parikh.

Some examples of ways Facebook reportedly encourages employees to avoid the trappings of office politics include:

  • Make “escalation” legal so skip-level meetings are actually encouraged to ensure everyone is on the same page. This has enabled them to help uncover areas to improve, build greater engagement and establish cross-team collaboration among other things.
  • In the hiring process, interviewers need to document feedback on the candidate that everyone on the hiring team can see only after they have submitted feedback of their own. This keeps everyone accountable and prevents personal bias in decision-making.
  • Performance evaluations include twice annual 360-degree reviews to ensure assessments are fair and prevent favoritism or unwarranted punishment to take hold. HR partners have access to the information so no one person can inhibit another’s potential within the company.
  • When an employee does claim politics is to blame for a decision, their manager or other leader seeks clarification to get at the root of the concern. By reducing assumptions, everyone is encouraged to be accountable and to fully understand the other’s perspective. Oftentimes, politics isn’t the cause so much as misunderstanding.

All of these examples in theory can be helpful in building a more engaging, productive and enjoyable place to work. If Facebook is truly practicing these behaviors, I suspect this is an important reason for their rapid growth as well as their ability to retain and motivate high-caliber employees.

More organizations should encourage practicing behaviors that include empathy, transparency, curiosity and clear communication. When all members of the leadership team are actively embodying and demonstrating these behaviors, it sends a strong message that it is more than an external public relations message and integral to the values that the company stands for.

Leaders who courageously embrace attributes to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people will send a strong and clear message on what behaviors are rewarded throughout the company. Then and only then will other employees see the wisdom in following along.

And the result will create a healthier workplace where office politics don’t impede optimal productivity and all employees feel more engaged.

Achieving Work-Life Balance

April 13, 2016

One of the biggest reasons for stress is the inability to find balance in our lives. Perhaps the focus on seeking work-life balance frustrates many of us because the equation is all wrong.

Work is not simply one thing. It may be intellectually stimulating, but may not provide any physical stimulation and in fact may be counterproductive to good health. Or your job may be physically exhilarating, but not provide any emotional satisfaction. Perhaps it does satisfy your heart, but it doesn’t lift your spirit.

Even the notion of when we are at work has changed because technology enables and employers expect us to be within reach all the time. Gone are the days when doctors, IT professionals, and firemen were the only people with pagers to make themselves immediately available. Smartphones enable us all to be “on call.”

It’s clear that work and life are no longer separate the way they used to be and this undoubtedly adds to our stress. However, there are ways we can find balance and reduce the stress.

Let’s first acknowledge that work is an integral part of life, and the more you try to separate it from family life, the more frustrated you may become.

There are also four component parts in each of us: body, mind, heart and spirit. Each of them are equally important and, for balance, should be fully integrated in our lives—both in work and separate from work.

Body – This is your health and well-being nourished through physical activities that bring you energy and vitality. It includes the fuel you ingest to stay fit and healthy, and the rest you get to be at your best.

Mind – This is the mental and intellectual stimulation you need to keep you engaged. For many, this is where you are focused while at work, but perhaps not entirely. You may also have or should have hobbies and other pursuits to keep you cognitively stimulated away from work, which may ultimately result in you being more engaged while at work.

Heart – This includes the people and activities where you experience the highs of love and joy as well as the lows of sadness and despair. It is our emotional selves that are every bit as present at work as they are everywhere else in life—only some may want to deny this. Every relationship, both at work and away, requires that our emotional selves to be present.

Spirit – The spirt is perhaps the least tangible and understood of the four as it can be the people, activities, groups, communities, religious practices, time in nature, meditation or many other things that put you in touch with something greater than yourself. It is no less valuable than the other three and requires our attention.

Each of these components is important in order to find balance and reduce stress. In fact, if you feel stress in your life right now, it is likely that one of these areas is being neglected. Figuring out which it is and then filling it will help.

So, you may be saying I don’t have time for the body or spirit. My life is too busy to workout, eat right or get enough sleep. Oddly enough, perhaps you do make time to binge watch Netflix while eating fast food late into the night. And you may say the spirit part might be important, but you’d rather watch sports than go to church, volunteer at a food bank or take a walk in nature. That’s certainly your choice, but it’s not that you don’t have time. You don’t make time.

We have always had 24 hours in each day, but the advent of electricity enabled us to stay awake much later resulting in a reduction in the amount of rest we get. The invention of the TV enabled us to passively watch instead of actively read reducing our intellectual stimulation. And the availability of email and social media reduced our actual face-to-face interaction, which cut back on opportunities to connect more deeply and emotionally.

Rather than seeking more waking hours in the day, rethink how you spend them. If you find your spirit bucket is the one that is empty, making time for a quiet 30-minute walk by yourself can help. You may complain that this is not “productive” and therefore you run instead. But this is counterproductive. While it may help fill your body bucket, your spirit bucket will remain depleted.

Spirit is probably the part that is most difficult to quantify and easiest to ignore, and maybe it becomes more important the older you get. Whether you are young or old, your ability to nurture the spirit will enable you to become more calm and centered to handle stress.

The body needs exercise, the right fuel and plenty of rest in order to function properly. We can’t innovate and imagine if our brains aren’t stimulated by what interests us. The opportunity to regularly connect deeply with other people at a heartfelt level is equally important. And our ability to unplug and be alone with our thoughts is vital to the soul.

To achieve work-life balance, seek to nurture the four component parts of your being. When these are equally tended to, you will find balance both at work and in life.

Leaders Who Ask For Help

March 18, 2016

In my work as a leadership coach I regularly encounter senior managers and directors who desire to become leaders, but many fail to understand that the leap is much more than a title, salary and corner office.

Leadership isn’t so much appointed as it is earned through your management track record and, perhaps just as importantly, the soft skills you demonstrate.

Soft skills include the ability to communicate clearly and effectively, inspire people to deliver their best, organizational savvy, courage to make hard decisions, and the ability to admit you don’t have all the answers. This last one means demonstrating humility and often runs counter to what we expect in our leaders.

“In a culture of scarcity and perfectionism, asking for help can be shaming if we’re not raised to understand how seeking help is human and foundational to connection,” writes author and researcher Brené Brown in her book Rising Strong. “But the truth is that no amount of money, influence, resources, or determination will change our physical, emotional, and spiritual dependence on others.”

None of us have all the answers and the strongest leaders are those who not only acknowledge this to themselves, but demonstrate it to others. As much as we may be seeking a single person to have all the answers and take care of everything, the reality is no one person can do this.

However, we live in a culture that presents it that way. Think about sports and how despite the need for total team effort, the media presents Payton Manning and the Denver Broncos or Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers. NBA match-ups are promoted as LeBron James and the Cavaliers versus Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors.

Taking nothing away from the leadership these talented athletes demonstrate, we discount and denigrate the efforts of those around them who contribute to victories. We give too much credit to the individual athletes when they succeed and lay on too much blame when they fail.

In the more serious arena of politics, this lack of humility and the leader’s inability to rely upon others can be much more troubling. When a leader claims he or she has all the answers, beware because this can mean a lack of self-awareness, extreme egotism, narcissism and will likely lead to destructive and even catastrophic decisions.

When Republican presidential front-running candidate Donald Trump was recently asked by host Mika Brzezinski on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” who he would rely on for help with foreign policy, he said:

“I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain. I’ve said a lot of things … I speak to a lot of people, but my primary consultant is myself, and I have a good instinct for this stuff.”

Despite no experience in domestic or foreign policy, Trump is essentially saying we should take him on faith. He says he’s smart and he can figure it out. In this bizarre political season, vetting potential leaders of the free world should demand more than this.

In the corporate setting, those leading from a cool and professional distance are unable to make sound decisions because, like all of us, they have blind spots and areas where they are simply deficient. When these leaders refuse to ask for help they risk alienating their people and make bad decisions.

The difficulty with asking for help is because it is emotionally risky and may expose our uncertainty. This is, however, the exact vulnerability necessary for us to fully connect with others. Without the courage to risk opening up and being seen, there can be no connection.

Just the other day I spoke with a leader who described the most powerful and important day in his career. It was at an off-site where they were discussing the importance of trust. When it was brought up that there was a trust problem in the organization, he invited feedback as to whether he was someone who could be trusted. The answer came back negative.

Without becoming defensive, he asked for examples of why this was the case, and in front of the entire group he listened with an open mind and open heart. He invited follow up conversations with each of the individuals who spoke up in order to learn from them and to express his perspective. Later he came to find not only did these individual relationships improve, but so did trust, his satisfaction at work and his overall growth as a leader, culminating with a promotion.

The ability to courageously expose our vulnerability and ask for help is the very thing that builds our leadership capacity. Demonstrating humility that runs counter to the image we’re trying to live up to facilitates an important connection to those we want as followers.

Expecting leaders to be anything other than emotionally vulnerable and imperfect human beings is detrimental to our institutions and our very livelihood. Instead, let leaders risk exposing their ignorance in order to raise their competence and connection with those we want them to lead.

Millennials as Managers

February 4, 2016

Millennials now represent the largest generation in the U.S. workforce. These digital natives are often described as confident and tolerant as well as entitled and narcissistic. What does this mean in terms of their effectiveness as managers in the workplace?

Stereotypes of the 54 million working Millennials include: lack of experience, immaturity, no long-term vision, too focused on their next career step, and they struggle with people skills. These were no doubt similar to the stereotypes associated with Generation X, Baby Boomers and even Traditionalists when they first entered the workforce.

People born into each generation are roughly sorted as: Traditionalists or Silent Generation (1927-1945), Baby Boomers (1946-1963), Generation X (1964-1979) and Millennials or Generation Y (1980-1999). The values and work ethic of each can vary immensely.

Every generation seems to have an opinion about those who follow or preceded them. Baby Boomers were born at a time when the economy was booming after World War II. No surprise then that those of Generation X often describe Baby Boomers as optimistic and workaholics. And Boomers describe Gen Xers as skeptical and self-reliant.

Typically, the previous generation believes the up and coming generation has it so much easier than they did, though it could be argued just the opposite.

The reality is that the members of each generation continue to evolve both as individuals and as a group. And all the generations need to learn to coexist—rather than discount each others’ differences, find ways to complement these unique perspectives.

Like the generations that preceded them, Millennials face challenges in being seen as competent managers of other people. In their book Millennials Who Manage, Chip Espinoza and Joel Schwarzbart conducted research to determine the biggest challenges Millennials face in the workplace. These challenges are listed from most to least frequently mentioned.

  • Lack of experience
  • Not being taken seriously
  • Not getting respect
  • Being perceived as “entitled”
  • Lack of patience
  • Getting helpful feedback
  • Understanding expectations
  • Miscommunication with older workers
  • Rigid processes
  • Proving value
  • Understanding corporate culture

Though this is a long list, it hasn’t prohibited Millennials from becoming competent workers and effective managers. In fact, as the Traditionalist and Baby Boomer generations move further into retirement, Millennials will be taking on more and more management opportunities.

So what can Millennials do to further overcome these challenges and become better at managing people older and more experienced than themselves?

Espinoza and Schwarzbart provide a number of recommendations. Though I can see all of these being useful in any management scenario, they may be especially suitable for Millennials managing workers who are older and more experienced. When managing workers older than themselves, Millennials should:

  • Know What They Don’t Like
    Demotivating factors are not necessarily the opposite of motivating factors. For example, a demotivating factor could be a manager who micromanages others, which may very well trump a number of motivating factors meant to encourage engagement.
  • Understand What Does Motivate Them
    Though it’s dangerous to link everyone within a certain generational category, keep in mind that what motivates one employee is not true for all others. For instance, a Gen X employee may more likely have an independent streak and be not nearly as interested in team building events as Baby Boomers or Millennials.
  • Seek Their Input, Learn from Them, and Encourage Mentoring
    The lack of experience in Millennial managers can be offset somewhat by showing reverence to the wisdom of other generations. This doesn’t mean capitulating authority as the boss, but simply encouraging a dialogue for you to learn and others to feel respected and valued in their respective roles.
  • Communicate
    An open channel for communication is essential in any successful business. Though Millennials may seek more frequent feedback than other generations, it is important to maintain a regular practice of give and take rather than await the dreaded and oftentimes detrimental annual performance review.
  • Be a Leader, but Don’t Overdo the “Boss” Thing
    Just because you have the job title, doesn’t mean you can bully others or force your employees to do their work effectively. True leadership is your ability to inspire and influence others so people you manage choose to follow your direction.

A multigenerational workplace has many challenges, and yet every generation seems to be especially challenged by both effectively listening and sharing information. Perhaps these two areas are where the focus for growth and learning can be best accomplished.

And when you think about listening and sharing information, it’s clear that trust is inherent in both. Perhaps building trust among the generations will see the widest and most effective intervention for helping them all to work together better.

As a Millennial manager, you have the opportunity to effectively lead your team by making a concerted effort to foster trusting relationships where listening and sharing information is both modeled and rewarded. Appeal to all the generations and be the change agent to lead us in the 21st Century.

10 Tips to Improve Your Relationship with Your Boss

January 8, 2016

People use Google to search for information on everything from local weather to “what happened in Paris” shortly after the terrorist attack. And sometimes people search random things they’re currently thinking about with the hope they’ll find help.

“I hate my boss” is currently typed into Google’s search engine about 1,600 times each month in the United States. This must represent only a fraction of those who say this out loud to their spouse or friends each month.

In fact, a Gallup survey of more than 7,000 US workers found that half of them had left a job at some point in their careers solely because they could no longer put up with their manager, thus proving the adage that people join a company based on its reputation and leave it due to a boss.

No matter where you work, your boss has a great deal of control over your destiny and it’s important that you do all you can to nurture this relationship. The idea of managing one’s boss should be taken very seriously.

Communication is often at the heart of a poor relationship between a boss and subordinate as this can quickly lead to a lack of respect and trust. But it could also be due to many other factors that are both within and outside of your control.

The most successful relationships are those where bosses and employees really get to know one another, says Piera Palazzo, senior vice president of Dale Carnegie Training.

“That’s different from years ago, when you weren’t supposed to ask any personal questions,” says Palazzo. “Those lines are blurred now, people want you to care about them, particularly if there’s something going on in their lives that might affect their performance.”

In my work coaching individuals, the discontented relationship with a boss is a common concern. So often my help begins with working on communication—both speaking and listening. This includes clearly stating what you need from your boss in order to be successful, and actively listening to what is said and not said, or reading between the lines with written messages.

Like so many challenging relationships both in our personal and professional lives, poor communication often takes center stage. And if you put the cause of the problem entirely on the other person, you are clearly not taking responsibility for your role in the challenge.

So what can you do to improve this? Here are 10 ways to improve your relationship with your boss:

  1. Ensure clear expectations. Nothing can derail a boss-employee relationship more quickly than unclear expectations. You should drive your one-on-one meetings and be certain you are crystal clear on what you are expected to do.
  2. Know how to best communicate. Don’t assume your boss has your same communication style. Determine the best time of day, day of week, email, etc. to communicate. Keep your boss informed well in advance to minimize surprises.
  3. Demonstrate your value. Don’t be afraid to challenge assumptions and offer your own ideas, but do it respectfully. And when you are in conflict, take it as a sign that one of you knows something the other doesn’t, or that one of you is looking at the situation from a different perspective. Then bring that to the surface to bridge the gap.
  4. Get to know your boss personally. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that your boss has friends, family, and a personal life with passions just as you do. Be curious and show an interest just as you would with your other co-workers.
  5. Make your boss look good. Don’t suck up, but don’t push back either. This doesn’t mean you should be disingenuous; instead be authentic, respectful and professional. The level of professionalism you demonstrate not only benefits you, but also reflects highly on your boss as a leader of others.
  6. Put yourself in your boss’s shoes. A little empathy goes a long way and it shouldn’t be discarded when it comes to those above us in the organization. Try to see things from his or her perspective when you don’t agree with a decision.
  7. Ask for feedback. If something is not going especially well or you feel you aren’t clear on how your performance stacks up, ask about it. Don’t wait to be surprised in the annual performance review.
  8. Ask for help and advice. Determine whether you need direction, support, both or neither, and let your boss know. This is one of the most important aspects of managing and being managed by someone. And like all of us, your boss will appreciate being asked for his or her opinion.
  9. Stay above gossip. This is detrimental to employee engagement and especially your career advancement. Stay clear of those who engage in it.
  10. Know when it’s time to move on. You can learn a great deal from a bad boss, but if he or she is derailing your morale that’s impacting your performance, it may be time to look for a new job either inside or outside of the company.

And if it is time to look for a new job, be sure you know what it is you’re looking for in an ideal boss. Then learn all you can about your potential new boss during the interview. You don’t want to leave a bad boss and then run into another one, or you may have to take a lot more responsibility for it not working out this next time.

I recently learned that when choosing where to attend college, high school seniors should spend a lot more time interviewing professors in their field of study rather than relying on the university’s reputation alone. This relationship with the professors is often a better indicator of the true value you will derive from your educational experience. The same could be said for your boss in the workplace.

It’s ultimately about building a strong relationship just like any other. It takes time to establish rapport, instill trust, and find a common understanding for how to work together well. And this is your responsibility. It’s vital to work on this so you can be fully engaged and bring your best self to the workplace.

Raise Employee Engagement via Encouragement

September 8, 2015

Despite his best efforts, your employee misses a critical deadline and an important business outcome is in doubt. How do you respond?

This situation is something every manager or leader faces at some point.

Will your response depend on the individual employee or on how well you have been informed throughout the process?

Obviously, many factors weigh into your response, but your gut reaction is to either attack the person or attack the problem. And these two reactions can result in very different outcomes.

Those who attack the person may find that this employee can never adequately escape from your perspective that he has let you down. And this can be detrimental to both the employee and the organization.

Those who attack the problem may find that this can keep the employee from taking it personally and hopefully learn from the experience. It can also nurture the relationship you have with the employee and likely raise his engagement going forward.

Encouragement can raise employee engagement like nothing else. I’m not suggesting you say only nice things, but you can choose to encourage the positive and let the negative speak for itself.

Throughout much of business, there tends to be a laser focus on problem solving, which is to seek out what is wrong and find a way to fix it. A counter notion is appreciative inquiry, which is about focusing on what the organization is doing well in certain areas and find a way to replicate it in others.

Too many organizations focus exclusively on problem fixing that never relieve the employee or the organization from creating the problems. That’s because it is all too easy to find problems and fix them without really changing anything to keep them from happening in the first place.

Appreciative inquiry, on the other hand, is about recognizing what results in positive outcomes and spreading it around the organization. Often used to bring about strategic change, appreciative inquiry offers an alternative perspective that encourages rather than discourages, that builds up rather than knocks down, that spreads rather than eliminates.

In a recent front page New York Times article, this notion of positivity was focused on the Seattle Seahawks. Led by head coach Pete Carroll, the football team is having a great deal of success in part because he encourages his players rather than beats them up over miscues.

Remaining positive despite interceptions, dropped passes, missed tackles and even game losses has been instrumental to getting the most out of so many of the Seahawks’ late round draft picks and undrafted players. It has certainly played a part in their back-to-back Super Bowl appearances and expectations for returning again this year.

In the same way this positive philosophy is rare in the National Football League, it is also rare in business. That needs to change if an organization wants to be about collaboration, innovation, continual learning and success.

Collaboration requires trust that an individual will not be attacked for doing his or her best—unless, of course, this becomes a pattern rather than an exception. Collaboration requires taking risks and making ourselves vulnerable. That cannot happen if we’re running scared of making mistakes for fear of reprisals.

Innovation means trying new things and coloring outside the lines in order to find solutions. This won’t happen if we are avoiding experimentation for fear of personal repercussions. Out-of-the-box thinking can’t be based on fear, but requires a nurturing atmosphere to foster creativity.

Continual learning is required for organizations to thrive in the 21st century. This means constantly attacking what (not who) is wrong and find ways to fix or do it better. It requires allowing for mistakes, miscues and failures in order to find the best sustainable solutions.

Success is a road paved with failure goes the old saying. There can be no success if we don’t acknowledge our failures, learn from them, and move forward. Acknowledging these failures can be done in a positive light that encourages participants to own up to their part or negative where people hide or blame others.

Author and management consultant Peter Drucker once said: “The task of leadership is to create an alignment of strengths in ways the make the system’s weaknesses irrelevant.”

If this is not focusing on positive rather than negative, I don’t know what is.

Next time your employee makes a mistake, misses a deadline, or falls short despite his or her best efforts, use encouragement. You will find that, in the long run, this will bring about better performance and raise overall engagement.

Futility in Infrequent Feedback

July 16, 2015

Most annual reviews are dreaded both by those giving and those receiving them, yet they are a mainstay in the corporate world. This is because annual reviews can help people stay on track to meet individual, workgroup and corporate goals.

One of the problems is that annual reviews often feel contrived. Typically too much is riding on them because the feedback is focused on past failures, shortcomings and mistakes rather than corrective actions, training opportunities and future success.

As a result, it’s difficult to deliver constructive feedback on performance without the recipient taking it personally.

In many cases, an annual review is the only communication between a supervisor and an employee specifically related to performance. There in lies the problem. Communication about performance should be given much more often, and it should be given in ways that are supportive and instructive.

Feedback in the form of a 360 report can be helpful as it provides a more balanced perspective that includes the boss but other leaders, peers, direct reports and sometimes clients or customers. The sum of this report can make it easier to receive feedback because it represents how you show up in the workplace.

The great leadership coach and best-selling author Marshall Goldsmith in his book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There suggests getting four commitments from those providing feedback for a 360 report. These four commitments are:

  1. Let go of the past
  2. Tell the truth
  3. Be supportive and helpful—not cynical or negative
  4. Pick something to improve yourself—so everyone is focused more on “improving” than “judging”

When these commitments are kept, 360 results provide an accurate and objective perspective of the individual from which he or she can use as a guide to confidently continue doing what they do well and initiate behavioral change where necessary.

The biggest problem with feedback, however, is that it focuses on the past and rarely on the present or future.

In addition to feedback, we should also provide feedforward to encourage a more positive and dynamic focus on performance improvement. Feedforward is different from feedback in the following ways:

Feedback                                                      Feedforward
Past                                                                Future
Revisit failure                                                Envision success
Who you are (or were)                                 Who you can become
Can be difficult to give                                 Easier and satisfying to offer
Often taken personally                                 Received as supportive and instructive

Goldsmith offered many leaders the opportunity to participate in feedforward sessions where they were asked to play two roles: one who provides feedforward and one who receives feedforward. This was an experiential exercise where the participants did not even need to know each other because it was based on specific behaviors all of us can relate to.

Here’s how his Feedforward Sessions work:

  • Pick one behavior you would like to change, a change that will make a significant and positive difference in your life.
  • Describe the behavior to a fellow participant. This is done face-to-face. Example: “I want to become a better listener.”
  • Ask the participant for feedforward. Specifically, two ideas to help you achieve the change you seek in your behavior. (If participant knows you, he or she should not give any feedback about the past. It should be focused entirely on the future.)
  • Your job is to then listen attentively and take notes. Do not comment on, critique or even praise the suggestions in any way. Just pay attention.
  • Thank the participant no matter how good, bad, redundant or unhelpful the suggestions may be.
  • Ask the other participant what he or she would like to change. Repeat the process with you now providing feedforward suggestions.
  • Repeat this process with as many others as possible.

Participants report this exercise to be very positive and even fun. What’s truly great about it is that people feel as if everyone is in service of helping everyone else. It is not competitive, but truly collaborative. Goldsmith describes feedforward and the value of it in this article.

A similar idea is in clearness committees from the Quaker tradition, which provide a process of discernment whereby members assist one who has a difficult concern or dilemma by simply asking honest and open-ended questions. These questions are not leading questions or meant to challenge assumptions, but simply to help the individual find clarity in his or her own answers from within.

It can be difficult to ask such simple questions because we are wired to focus on offering advice and solutions. However, what we often need is simply someone to truly listen and help us in finding our own answers.

Feedforward sessions like clearness committees offer the opportunity for active listening and truly supportive attention. They provide a safe and helpful setting in which people can often gain insight into what they want to change or answer.

Regardless of the process, don’t wait for an annual review to best manage your direct reports. While feedback can be helpful, be mindful of the fact that focusing on the past and on failures or mistakes can only go so far. And don’t save it all up for a once a year opportunity.

Don’t let the futility of infrequent feedback undermine your ability to help your employees improve their performance.

Instead, help them achieve performance goals by being more proactive: take corrective action in the moment, catch them doing things well and acknowledge it, support them as they take on new challenges, and regularly communicate with them to ensure there are no surprises at the annual review.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/1752089487″>Success is ours!! :-)</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a>

Values-Based Recognition for Employee Retention

July 2, 2015

Retaining the best employees is difficult, especially when the economy is on the rise and new opportunities are opening up all around. But keeping your talent is essential if you want to remain competitive.

In the 2015 Employee Recognition Report published by SHRM and Globoforce, employee turnover/retention is the biggest challenge now facing HR leaders. Not surprisingly, employee engagement is a close second. Some 40 percent of all companies surveyed said the loss of personnel was a top concern. Another 29 percent were stressed about finding replacement talent.

Why do employees leave companies: higher salary, better benefits, a shorter commute? There’s a saying that people join a company due to its reputation, but they leave because of their manager.

Perhaps it’s the rise of the notion of free-agent nation with each of us looking out only for ourselves rather than the company as a whole. Maybe it’s generational as there are now more Millennials in the workforce than Generation Xers or Baby Boomers.

Research conducted by Marshall Goldsmith for Accenture found that when high potential leaders were asked why they would stay in their own company versus taking a better offer elsewhere, the answers were never about money. They were always about happiness, relationships, following dreams, and meaning.

I’ve worked for some successful start-ups that had a laser focus on customers, with employees coming in a very close second. Once these companies went public, however, shareholders took over the second if not the first spot. And the top two were the only ones that got attention.

According to the SHRM/Globoforce report, lack of recognition at work is one of the most cited reasons why employees leave their jobs. Employees feel their contribution in achieving the company’s goals are not valued by their peers or manager.

Why don’t we celebrate success? Why don’t we congratulate our peers and our direct reports for their work? The simple act of saying “thank you” or “great job” has somehow become difficult to get out of our mouths.

Many companies are taking steps to address this more formally by implementing specific recognition programs because frequent and immediate recognition have been found to increase employee engagement and reduce turnover.

However, unless these recognition programs are aligned with a company’s values, they will have little effect. Values-based recognition seems to make employees feel they are valued and their contributions are fully appreciated.

And while more than 80% of large companies offer some kind of formal recognition, values-based recognition is still practiced by only a little more than 50% of these companies—though it is on the rise. And with good reason.

In the SHRM/Globoforce report, recognition was perceived to positively impact engagement for 90 percent of respondents practicing values-based recognition versus just 67 percent for non-values-based programs. Retention was also directly affected with 68 percent of values-based programs perceived with a positive impact versus just 41 percent for non-values-based programs.

With your company’s values as a guide, link your recognition programs directly to them in order to reinforce their importance and encourage employees to practice behavior that you want your company to represent.

This will not only enable you to hold on to your best and brightest employees, but also make everyone more engaged, which can boost productivity. Values-based recognition will also attract new job candidates looking for companies that demonstrate their core values in the way they treat employees.

So consider skipping bagel Fridays, the monthly pizza party or generic birthday cupcake each month in favor of specific, timely and frequent recognition that is deeply tied to your company’s core values. This will encourage your employees to stay and be more engaged than just about anything.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/5954679540″>Retention and Engagement</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a>

Power Napping for Increased Productivity

June 4, 2015

It’s early afternoon and the yawning begins. That’s when many of us reach for an energy drink or another cup of coffee, both containing caffeine—the most-used drug in the world.

What if instead we actually accepted what our bodies are telling us? We’re tired and we need rest. It’s that simple.

Research shows that when we’re tired we get into more disagreements, not just because we’re less patient, but also because we are less able to read other people. And caffeine doesn’t help.

The solution is a nap. Don’t laugh. Power napping could be the best way to increase creativity, enhance decision-making, promote better understanding, and improve overall productivity.

Unfortunately, many of us have a mindset that napping is slacker behavior. Many napping misconceptions exist, including:

  • We associate afternoon drowsiness to having eaten too much at lunch. Blaming your “post-lunch dip” on the meal is silly. If the mid-day meal makes you drowsy, then why doesn’t breakfast? You’re tired because you’ve been awake for seven or more hours and your biology calls out for rest.
  • We have a biological need for rest that is just as strong as our need for food and water. Productivity suffers when we’re tired because there is less blood flowing to areas of the brain that are critical to thinking. Our long-term memory also suffers.
  • Many believe that if you take a nap you will wake up feeling groggy, or it will disrupt your nighttime sleep cycle. This is true if you sleep too deeply, but power napping requires waking before descending into a deep sleep.
  • The biggest reason we frown on the idea of napping is the pervasive belief that hours on the job is equal to hours of productivity. While this may be true on the factory floor, most of us do jobs that require quality thinking, which is directly tied not to our time in the office, but our overall energy level.

David Dinges, a professor and sleep scientist at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, says a short nap can help maintain your energy level and, the older you are, the less time you need for a nap to be beneficial. Twenty minutes can provide an enormous boost to our mental acuity.

The best time to take a catnap is between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. according to MayoClinic.com. This is when your energy slump is most likely to occur and the nap is far enough away from your nighttime slumber to interfere.

Sleep researcher Sara Mednick in her book Take a Nap! Change Your Life says twenty to thirty minute naps have been proven to:

  • Boost productivity
  • Increase alertness
  • Quicken motor reflexes
  • Raise accuracy
  • Heighten perceptions
  • Strengthen stamina
  • Improve decision-making
  • Elevate mood
  • Enhance creativity
  • Bolster memory
  • Lower stress
  • Reduce dependence on drugs and alcohol
  • Less the frequency of migraines and ulcers
  • Promote weight loss
  • Minimize the likelihood of heart disease, diabetes, an cancer risk

Companies like Google, Cisco, P&G, AOL and others able napping on the job by providing Energy Nap Pods in their offices. These futuristic capsules furnished with reclining leather couches that tilt so your feet are higher than your heart to improve circulation, and designed with dimmed lights and ambient sounds to lull you to sleep. Twenty minutes later, a gentle vibration wakes you feeling refreshed.

Other companies outsource napping to local spas where employees can recharge in private rooms. Sometimes simply providing a quiet and private space is all that is necessary for one to take a break.

If it’s simply impossible for you to take a nap at work, there are still ways you can improve your productivity during the day without resorting to caffeine. Most importantly, take a break from what you’re doing to refocus and recharge.

You can also keep your most creative and important tasks for the morning hours and leave more mundane tasks during the early afternoon. It’s also important to stand up from your desk every so often and walk around. Exercise, take a walking meeting, and get outside for some natural light and fresh air.

Each of these will help you be more productive in the afternoon even if you can’t get in a nap.

But if there’s any way you can incorporate getting a quick nap as an alternative to a quick jolt of caffeine at mid-day, you may find it will make you much more productive in the long run.