Ask and Thou Will Succeed

February 12, 2020

In today’s workplace people are often reluctant to ask for the information they need to be most productive. Failure to ask could be explained for many reasons, but it needs to change in order for individuals as well as organizations to be successful.

Research shows that employees failing to share knowledge effectively costs Fortune 500 companies $31.5 billion every year! This lack of knowledge sharing can be due to: no clear methodology or forum, little to no examples demonstrated by leadership, the assumed expectation that we are supposed to know everything. Or perhaps it is due to the mistaken belief that the specific knowledge is somehow not available within the organization.

The knowledge and information we seek is very often available from our colleagues, but we assume it is not. Many companies have built up silos that restrict the very cross-pollination necessary to solve big problems. Some employees withhold knowledge and information because they believe it makes them more powerful. And many people are competing internally for resources, promotions, status, etc. But to what end?

When you reduce internal competition and increase cross-collaboration, the company wins. To encourage this, those who work effectively together should be rewarded rather than those who, for whatever reason, stand in the way. This seems like a no-brainer, but we can all think of many examples where it isn’t the case.

What needs to change? The most important thing is to create a culture where asking questions and asking for help should be celebrated rather than frowned upon. This means encouraging those who do speak up and ask for what they need. Leaders should set an example by asking more questions and demonstrating through their own vulnerability that they need assistance from others.

Amy Edmondson, professor of leadership and management at Harvard Business School, says leaders need to acknowledge their own fallibility, and model curiosity through asking lots of questions. Edmondson says to frame the work as learning problems instead of execution problems.

“It’s critical to understand that help rarely arrives un-asked for,” according to Wayne Baker, author of All You Have to Do is Ask: How to Master the Most Important Skill for Success. “In fact, studies have shown that as much as 90 percent of the help that is provided in the workplace occurs only after requests for help are made.” And research shows that people who regularly seek advice and help from knowledgeable colleagues are actually rated more favorably by supervisors than those who never seek advice and help.

It’s also critical to normalize mistakes. According to Baker, in the start-up world of high-tech companies, there is often the mantra of “fail fast.” The focus is on normalizing mistakes and viewing iteration as a necessity for continuous learning.

Many companies are looking for models to encourage asking questions and have adopted Reciprocity Rings, which are dynamic group exercises focused on the “pay-it-forward” principle. This enables people to get the information they need and solve problems, while energizing the group and creating stronger, more trusting relationships. Reciprocity Rings are used in the top business schools and corporations such as Deloitte, Dow, Goldman Sachs and Google.

No matter how your organization goes about encouraging employees to ask for what they need, it needs to happen. A company’s success depends upon its employees’ ability to efficiently ask for and obtain knowledge and information in order to solve problems. Creating a space that normalizes this behavior and breaks down the walls of information silos is critical for success of both individuals and their companies.

Playing the Infinite Game

January 3, 2020

Running a business over the long-term requires looking beyond what’s good for shareholders to see what’s best for all the stakeholders. This requires seeing business not as a finite game of winners and losers, but as an infinite game where you get to choose how to play.

In the past 50 years it seems corporations have become the center of our capitalist society. Many have lobbyists to steer governmental policy decisions and some organizations even take part in helping to write many of the bills in Congress. Large businesses are often viewed as a barometer of our economic health, with their financial returns considered more important than the employees who work for them and the very customers they serve.

And while fewer than 20 percent of Americans invest in stocks, it seems strange to associate the Dow Jones industrial average with the overall health of our economy.

The Economic Policy Institute reported that in 1978 average CEO pay was 30 times the average worker, and by 2016 it had increased to 271 times the average worker’s pay. In fact, average CEO pay has increased at a rate 70 percent faster than the stock market!

Perhaps our over-reliance on the health of our corporations, including quarterly earnings focused on meeting Wall Street expectations and on over-compensating our CEOs, is not the best way to judge the economy or the state of workers in our society.  

“In a free-enterprise, private-property system, a corporate executive is an employee of the owners of the business,” wrote Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman in 1970. “He has direct responsibility to his employers. That responsibility is to conduct the business in accordance with their desires, which generally will be to make as much money as possible while conforming to the basic rules of the society, both those embodied in law and those embodied in ethical custom.”

One wonders if maybe we’ve focused too much on Friedman’s notion of “make as much money as possible” and not nearly enough on the rules “embodied in law and those embodied in ethical custom.” Too often there seems to be more emphasis on skirting the laws or finding ways to circumvent them—not to mention little if any focus on ethical considerations.

In Simon Sinek’s latest book, The Infinite Game, he suggests we need to replace Friedman’s definition with one that goes beyond profit and considers the dynamism and additional facets that make business work.

“The responsibility of business is to use its will and resources to advance a cause greater than itself, protect the people and places in which it operates and generate more resources so that it can continue doing all those things for as long as possible,” writes Sinek. “An organization can do whatever it likes to build its business so long as it is responsible for the consequences of its actions.”

He suggests that to increase the infinite value to our nation, economy and all companies, the responsibility of businesses must be to: 1) advance a purpose, 2) protect people, and 3) generate a profit. Sinek’s order of these is deliberate and important.

Advancing a purpose is about offering people a sense of belonging and the feeling that their lives and work have value beyond the work itself. In protecting people, companies should operate in a way that protects the people who work for it and buy from it, as well as the environment in which they live and work. And though money is the fuel for a business to remain viable, it should be used to continue to advance the first two priorities.

In this infinite mindset, Sinek sees a longer-term focus beyond merely making money. It is a perspective that enables companies to remain viable because it focuses on its employees and customers—the result of which is making a profit. The object of the infinite game is not to win, but to continue playing. When you run a business, you don’t win; you continue to play.  

“Where a finite-minded player makes products they think they can sell to people, the infinite-minded player makes product that people want to buy,” writes Sinek. “The former is primarily focused on how the sale of those products benefits the company; the latter is primarily focused on how the products benefit those who buy them.”

Sinek points to companies like Apple, Patagonia and Four Seasons as examples of companies that have embraced this infinite game mindset. So are other companies once they brought in a new leadership perspective, e.g., Ford under Alan Mulally and Microsoft under Satya Nadella.

This longer-term infinite game focus provides an environment beyond profit, and actually extends closer to Friedman’s notion of capitalism. A renewed focus on conforming to basic rules of society—both laws and ethical customs—may ultimately yield an economic model that serves not only CEOs and shareholders, but also workers, customers and the environment.

Perhaps this would be capitalism at its finest and make it more viable in the long term. And if capitalism truly benefited all stakeholders, maybe socialism wouldn’t be gaining traction by so many younger people as a viable alternative in this country.

Leading Effective Meetings

December 9, 2019

Those in leadership positions spend more time attending and leading meetings than perhaps any other activity throughout the workday. But how effective are these meetings?

More than 55 million meetings are held in organizations every day in the United States. The annual cost of these meetings (based on the average salaries of attendees) is $1.4 trillion! That’s a serious amount of money and it’s worth questioning to what degree meetings are a good investment.

“Too many meetings,” was the number one timewaster in the office and cited by 47 percent of 3,164 workers in a study conducted by Salary.com focused on workplace time drains. Microsoft surveyed nearly 40,000 people about productivity and work-related practices, and found that 69 percent of workers globally and 71 percent of workers in the US indicated that meetings were not productive.

Are meetings necessary? Absolutely. According to Steven Rogelberg in his book The Surprising Science of Meetings, “I would hazard to say that there is no single investment that organizations treat so carelessly, with so little evaluation or drive to improve, than meetings.”

Rogelberg says the benefits of meetings include:

  • Allow attendees to interpersonally connect with one another, which serves to build relationships, networks and support.
  • An ideal venue to bring together ideas, thoughts and opinions—things that should help each person perform his or her job in a better, more coordinated and cooperative manner.
  • Enable leaders and employees alike to create a shared understanding that promotes efficiency and teamwork.
  • Build commitment to goals, initiatives and broader aspirations that may not be explicitly stated in any individual job description, and that employees can see that they are part of something bigger than themselves.
  • Bring individuals together as a coherent whole, which can then be more adaptive, resilient and self-directing.

Leading effective meetings is clearly important, but how? Many things can be done such as reducing the standard length of meetings from 60 minutes to 50 minutes, something Google and PricewaterhouseCooper implemented so attendees have time between back-to-back meetings. Keep the number of attendees to eight or fewer, especially when trying to solve a problem or make a decision. Remove the chairs and have a stand-up meeting to keep it short, or have a walking meeting when there are few participants to stimulate idea generation.

Brainwriting is a technique to use silence as a way to generate and prioritize ideas beyond the loudest voices in the room. Silent Reading is common practice at Amazon where a detailed six-page document is provided and read by all attendees at the beginning of the meeting, which can then lead to a deeper discussion than presentations provide.

Meetings should be effective, yet there are no clear guidelines most organizations provide and follow. With that, I submit Rogelberg’s “Good Meeting Facilitation Checklist” in his book. This includes:

  • Time Management
    • Keep track of time and pace of meeting
    • Acknowledge emergent issues that warrants discussion or new meeting
    • Keep conversation moving forward
  • Active Listening
    • Model active listening and asking good questions
    • Clarify and summarize where things are and people’s input
    • Listen for underlying concerns and bring them forward
    • Ensure note-taker issues, actions and takeaways are recorded
  • Conflict Management
    • Encourage conflict around ideas and manage so that it benefits decision-making
    • Invite debate so that people feel comfortable respectfully disagreeing
    • Deal with disrespectful behavior quickly through re-direction and reminding attendees of ground rules
  • Ensuring Active Participation
    • Actively draw out input from those who are not contributing
    • Keep any attendee from dominating the conversation
    • Keep side conversations at bay
  • Pushing for Consensus
    • Test for agreement and consensus to get a sense of where attendees stand
    • Be willing to take the pulse of attendees to ensure process is working
    • Know when to intervene assertively and when to let the process run as it is
    • Be an honest broker of the conversation at hand, and work to remain impartial

Putting to use the above checklist when facilitating can result in your meetings being much more effective. Don’t let your attendees see your meetings as a waste of time. Instead, lead effective meetings that reflect well on you and achieve the results you’re looking for.

Meetings Rule our World

October 28, 2019

As a coach and consultant, I regularly meet with clients challenged to find time due to other meetings crowding their calendars. Meetings rule many of our working lives and this requires we push back to make the best use of our time and to make meetings better.

If you find most of your workday is simply moving from one meeting to the next, you are not alone. Collectively, we attend some 11 million meetings each business day in America. Many of these meetings have no clear agenda, may not require our attendance, and some may not be necessary in the first place.

There’s no doubt some meetings are very important and need to take place with you in attendance. Your challenge is to ensure you participate only in those and find ways to avoid meetings that don’t make the best use of your time.

The higher you rise in an organization, the more your day will be filled with meetings. Therefore, you need to be selective by understanding the meeting’s purpose, determining whether you are the right person to attend, and ultimately whether this meeting is a priority for you right now given your role.

You may find it difficult to push back when you’re invited to attend a meeting, but it’s important that you do this.

When to Decline a Meeting:

  • You should decline when the purpose for the meeting isn’t clear well in advance. The meaning should make it clear why your attendance is necessary. That’s not to imply that what is discussed or decided is not important, but this information can be communicated back to you in the minutes after the meeting.  
  • You should decline when an agenda is not available ahead of time and it’s clear that one will not be used. An agenda helps you best prepare for what will be discussed. It also demonstrates that the meeting organizer has a plan and respects your time and attention.
  • You should decline if you’ve attended a similar meeting in the past from this organizer and found that your participation was not the best use of your time. This may require that you find or appoint someone to attend in your place.
  • You should decline if the meeting is likely to serve as primarily a data dump of information rather than a discussion. Insist that meetings be used for discussion and decision-making, so that you and other attendees stay engaged and feel valued.
  • You should decline when your attendance is not a priority for you in your role. This means you decline due to conflicting priorities. This is not saying the meeting is not important, only that it is not as important as your other priorities.

It should go without saying that how you decline a meeting will influence the reputation you’ll leave with the organizer. There’s obviously a polite way to say “no” and it is important to learn how to politely decline.

Ultimately, if you are able to decline effectively, you may help influence organizers to ensure that future meetings are conducted more thoughtfully. These meetings would include providing agendas in advance, carefully selecting the right people, using the time most effectively, and providing minutes following the meeting. Your ability to decline effectively may then lead to helping to improve meetings organization-wide.  

Astronomical Compensation at the Top

June 21, 2019

What happens when one person in a company or on a team is significantly compensated far beyond everyone else? Perhaps a superstar athlete or outstanding CEO should be paid a lot because of what they deliver. But what level of compensation inequality is appropriate?

While the pay for athletes is very public, corporations try to shield the total compensation given to senior executives for good reason. But as you’ll see, that is changing.

In the NFL the more a team pays an elite quarterback, the less is available for the other 52 players due to the salary cap. Russell Wilson, quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks and now the highest compensated player in the league, will command just under 14% of the Seahawks’ salary cap. (No team has won the Super Bowl with more than 13.1% of the cap dedicated to one player.)  At $35 million, Wilson makes about 17 times as much as the average NFL player.

Research conducted in the United States and around the world indicates that people are generally unaware of just how unequal CEO pay is in most corporations.

In the US, for example, people say they estimate CEOs earn about 30 times the average worker. In reality, as of 2012, the average CEO earned $12.3 million. That’s about 350 times the average worker’s income of $35,000. Is the top executive at any company worth 350 times more than its average worker?

How much do CEOs contribute to the bottom line?

Management professor Markus Fitza sought to find out. In a comprehensive analysis of thousands of corporations over nearly two decades, he found that only about 5 percent of the performance differences between companies could be attributed to the CEO. Fitza estimated that in addition to uncontrollable elements, such as fluctuations in the economy, about 70 percent of a company’s performance—which the CEO normally gets credit or blame—is a matter of random chance.

Others analyzed the same data using different statistical methods and found that the CEO effect might be as high as 22 percent. Regardless of whether the number is 5 percent or 22 percent, it may be hard to accept that the CEO is really worth his or her salary.

What about the larger impact of income inequality?

According to Keith Payne, author of The Broken Ladder: How Inequality Affects the Way We Think, Live and Die, those states and countries with greater levels of income inequality have much higher rates of the social and health maladies we associate with poverty, including lower than average life expectancies, serious health problems, mental illness and crime.

States like Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama have the highest levels of income inequality and rate weakest on the index of health and social problems. In contrast, New Hampshire, Utah and Iowa are the opposite.

On a global scale the United Kingdom, Portugal and United States have the highest level of income inequality and rate weakest on the index of health and social problems, while countries like Japan, Norway and Sweden have the lowest income inequality and rate best on the index of health and social problems.

“The inequality reflected in statistics like the Gini coefficient is driven almost entirely by how wealthy the rich are,” writes Payne. “If some economic genius were to come up with an innovation that doubled everyone’s income overnight, it would make the problems of inequality worse, not better as multiplying the income of millionaires would increase their wealth by a greater amount than doubling the income of someone earning $15,000 a year. Everyone would be wealthier, but inequality would grow that much more pronounced.”

About three-fourths of Americans believe CEO pay is too high, and nearly two-thirds believe it should be capped. And this is based on people believing CEOs were compensated 30 times as much as the average worker, not 350 times as much!

Beginning in 2015 corporations are required to publicly disclose the ratio of CEO pay to that of the average employee. Perhaps it’s too early to tell how much this more transparent dissemination of information will have on workers’ morale.

Research led by Bhavya Mohan found that when customers learn that a corporation has high inequality between the compensation for the CEO and average workers, they are willing to penalize the company by buying from a competitor with lower inequality.

Time will tell how this plays out and whether it results in average salaries rising to better offset CEO pay. Whether CEO salaries are capped, or corporations find a way to get astronomical pay more in-line with average workers, something needs to shift in order to reduce compensation inequality in the workplace.

Successful Givers are Otherish Givers

April 8, 2019

In every workplace there are givers, takers and matchers. Most of us are matchers, looking for something equal in return for what we provide to others. This reciprocity style is predominant because it is about overall fairness.

Adam Grant, organizational psychologist and author of the book Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, says that your reciprocity style can directly impact your ability to succeed. In his research, he found that givers are often found at the bottom of the success ladder, and also at the very top. 

It turns out the giver reciprocity style can be either detrimental or beneficial to one’s career.

This is because givers at the bottom may be so selfless that they are “too trusting and too willing to sacrifice their own interests for the benefit of others.” Givers at the top have found a way to be successful by becoming what Grant terms otherish.

While being a selfless giver is admirable, you may run the risk of burning out and developing resentment towards others. This can deprive you of emotional energy, which is vital to well-being. Selfless giving can ultimately become overwhelming without self-preservation instincts.

An otherish giver is someone who maintains concern for themselves as well as others. They genuinely care about helping people, and they want to achieve their own ambitions and interests. They don’t see these two perspectives in conflict with each other.

Being otherish means you’re willing to give more than you receive, but still keep your own interests in sight and using them as a guide for choosing when, where, how, and to whom you give. And there are times when you choose not to give because that time, place, method or person is in some way detrimental to you and your interests.

Empathy is the persuasive force behind giving behaviors, but it’s also a major source of vulnerability. According to Columbia psychologist Adam Galinsky, when you focus only on the emotions and feelings of another you can risk giving away too much. It is therefore important that you also take into account the other’s thoughts and interests in order to satisfy the other person without sacrificing your own interests.

In group settings, the best way to ensure givers aren’t being exploited is to get everyone in the group to act like givers.

Reciprocity Rings

One unique way to encourage all members of a group to act more like givers is the use of Reciprocity Rings, which is a face-to-face exercise where every individual of a group asks for and offers help. Because everyone is making a request, there’s little reason to be embarrassed or feel overly vulnerable. And when requests are specific and explicit, each participant provides potential givers with clear direction about how they can contribute most effectively.

In Reciprocity Rings people present meaningful requests and matchers are often drawn in by empathy. Takers are also likely to act like givers because they know that in such a public setting, they’ll gain reputational benefits for being generous in sharing their expertise, resources and connections. And if they don’t contribute, they risk looking stingy and selfish.

This random, pay-it-forward mentality may seem counter-intuitive to the way many organizations are currently run. But companies like Bristol-Myers Squibb, IBM, Boeing, Citigroup, Estee Lauder, UPS, Novartis and GM all use Reciprocity Rings to save time and money as well strengthen the community of participants, which increase overall engagement.

Using Reciprocity Rings will encourage more giver mentality in organizations, and this is beneficial to everyone. And givers acting more otherish enables them to be more successful.

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.

Organizational Resiliency: Failing Forward

March 13, 2018

Emphasizing strengths and minimizing weaknesses is common not only for individuals, but for organizations as well. A relentless focus on success is certainly easier and more enjoyable, but at what cost is the unwillingness to acknowledge and learn from our mistakes?

Every individual and organization regularly fails. It is inevitable and it is absolutely necessary on the pathway to growth. Far too many of us, however, refuse to learn from or even acknowledge these mistakes or misfires.

Yet those individuals who do accept and take accountability for their weaknesses and mistakes are much more likely to learn how to overcome them. And organizations who are able to see the value that comes from acknowledging them and being accountable for them are likely to become more resilient and thrive.

“To be resilient after failures, we have to learn from them,” write Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant in their book Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy. “We’re too insecure to admit mistakes to ourselves or too proud to admit them to others. Instead of opening up, we get defensive and shut down. A resilient organization helps people overcome these reactions by creating a culture that encourages individuals to acknowledge their missteps and regrets.”

Creating a culture that is not only willing to discuss mistakes and failures, but actively encourages the organization to open up and truly learn from them is one that is resilient. And this organizational resilience is at the heart of learning.

“When it’s safe to talk about mistakes, people are more likely to report errors and less likely to make them,” write Sandberg and Grant. “Yet typical work cultures showcase successes and hide failures.”

To highlight successes and hide weaknesses may make sense when individuals are applying for a job or organizations are trying to appeal to customers and shareholders. However, when it comes to effectively operating inside the organization, the need to acknowledge our failures and learn from them is profoundly important.

“Our observations have led us to believe that, just as individuals can learn to develop personal traits of resilience, so too can organizations develop a culture of resilience,” according to George S. Everly, Jr. in his 2011 article “Building a Resilient Organizational Culture” in Harvard Business Review.

“While human resilience may be thought of as a personality trait, in the aggregate, groups, organizations, and even communities can learn to develop a ‘culture of resilience’ which manifests itself as a form of ‘psychological immunity’ to, or the ability to rebound from, the untoward effects of adversity.”

Everly concludes that self-efficacy or the belief in one’s agency and the ability to be a catalyst for change along with optimism can form a powerful framework for building a resilient organization.

As one former Google executive explained to me, what they try to do at Google is rather than simply fail fast, it’s important to learn early and often. The anonymous quote comes to mind: Failure is not an option. It’s a privilege for those who try.

Organizational leaders must demonstrate to their employees that because failure is inevitable, it must be acknowledged and accepted. Failure and mistakes are only detrimental when they are repeated because learning did not take place.

Next time you make a mistake or fail in the workplace, make a point of publicly acknowledging it, then state what you learned and how you will ensure it won’t happen again. Though this will take courage and demand making yourself vulnerable, you will make it safer for others to do so in the future. You will also undoubtedly rise in your stature as a leader because you are doing what’s right for your professional growth as well as the growth of your organization.

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.

STEM Alone Won’t Be Enough

May 21, 2017

In education today there is a focus to deliver qualified graduates to take on careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Not only is this where the opportunities are today and likely in the future, but there is a tremendous shortage of qualified Americans to fill the number of STEM jobs currently available.

But a bachelor’s or master’s degree in a STEM field alone may not be enough. That’s because the ability to thrive in the workplace is more often dependent on interpersonal skills that have nothing to do with STEM. These soft skills may include things like cooperation, collaboration, communication, flexibility and empathy.

“Most good middle-class jobs today—the ones that cannot be outsourced, automated, roboticized, or digitized—are likely to be what I would call stempathy jobs,” writes Thomas L. Friedman in his book Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in a World of Accelerations. “These are jobs that require and reward the ability to leverage technical and interpersonal skills—to blend calculus with human (or animal) psychology, to hold a conversation with Watson to make a cancer diagnosis and hold the hand of a patient to deliver it, to have a robot milk your cows but also to properly care for those cows in need of extra care with a gentle touch.”

These social skills may have been taught or modeled at home, yet are sorely missing in many workers with STEM careers. Whether people have forgotten these skills or simply choose to no longer demonstrate them in the workplace, it is a problem.

As a consultant and coach working with a variety of people in STEM organizations, I can attest that it is not technical competency or business aptitude that is often missing in many workers. In fact, it is the interpersonal skills that are often frustrating directs, coworkers and supervisors, and hampering the careers of these professionals.

According to a 2013 research study by Oxford’s Martin School, 47 percent of American jobs are at high risk of being taken by computers within the next two decades.

“Nobody cares what you know, because the Google machine knows everything,” Friedman said. The future, he argues, is about what we can do with what we know. It is our humanity and our empathy that make us uniquely different from computers.

This humanity is something we should embrace and use to our advantage rather than downplay as insignificant. It is also the very best way to protect your livelihood from being shortcut by a computer taking over your job.

Showing up in the workplace not only with our technical expertise, but also with compassion for one another is important in order to thrive individually and collectively. This means actively demonstrating cooperation, collaboration, communication, flexibility and empathy. Only in this way can STEM professionals truly reach their full potential.

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.

Personality Assessments Best for Existing Employees

February 8, 2017

In my work as a leadership coach I often use personality assessments to better understand my clients, especially with regard to how they show up behaviorally in the workplace. This gives me a different lens from which I can often view their blind spots and leadership potential.

Placing people into one segment of a four-square grid or attaching a label to them is not necessarily informative on its own, yet such assessments can be instructive in understanding how an individual interacts with others. When used in conjunction with feedback from co-workers, supervisors, direct reports as well as in-depth conversations with the individual client, I am able to assess where they are and what they may need to work on.

These assessments can add a great deal of value in workplace communication, improving teamwork, overall leadership development and other areas with existing employees. However, when they are used in the hiring process, they can often be counter-productive.

With more than 2,500 different personality tests available and up to 60 percent of workers now taking them, this is a huge industry—estimates of up to $500 million and growing as much as 15 percent annually. And these assessments are subject to very little regulation, in part because they measure intangible concepts with hard-to-calculate qualitative evidence.

While the majority of these assessments are used for career development, about 22 percent of organizations now use them to evaluate job candidates, according a 2014 survey of 344 Society for Human Resource Management members.

Many of these personality tests purport to show an individual’s tendencies, but not an absolute truth. And this is where making decisions on who to hire based on such tests can be especially troublesome. Let’s say, for example, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (or MBTI) determines that a job applicant is an introvert and you’re looking to fulfill a sales position. Would you look only at extroverted candidates or would you accept the fact that introverts can also be very successful at sales, though they may go about it differently?

When compared to other hiring selection practices, personality assessments are among the least effective in predicting job performance, according to by Frank Schmidt, a management and organizations professor emeritus at the University of Iowa. Schmidt says these tests are useful only when combined with other measures such as cognitive ability or integrity tests that have a higher predictive validity.

In fact, personality tests were found to be only one-third as predictive as cognitive exams and far below reference checks with regard to whether an applicant will be a successful employee.

Nevertheless, McDonald’s uses an assessment and asks prospective workers to choose which of the following best describes them:

“It is difficult to be cheerful when there are many problems to take care of” or “Sometimes, I need to push to get started on my work.”

The Wall Street Journal asked industrial psychologist Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic to analyze questions such as these. He said the first item captured “individual differences in neuroticism and conscientiousness.” The second captured “low ambition and drive.” A prospective worker is then pleading guilty to being either high-strung or lazy. Which is McDonald’s looking to hire?

Kroger’s questions were far simpler: “Which adjective best describes you at work: unique or orderly?” By answering “unique,” said Chamorro-Premuzic suggests “high self-concept, openness and narcissism,” and “orderly” expresses “conscientiousness and self-control.” Kindergarten teachers emphasize to children that they are all unique in an attempt to boost their self-esteem. Twelve years later, when that student chooses “unique” on a personality test while applying for a minimum wage job, the program might read the answers as a red flag because nobody wants a workforce filled with narcissists.

According to a 2014 Aberdeen study, just 14% of organizations had data to prove the positive business impact of their assessment strategy when it comes to hiring.

Using any assessment, the hiring manager should determine whether the results of the test will be predictive of future job performance. If there is not a clear affirmation, then focusing on other more important elements of hiring should be considered.

Personality assessments have enormous potential when deployed to existing employees as they can provide self-discovery, improved communication, team building, and other benefits. With regard to hiring, however, such tests have little predictive validity, low reliability over time, and fail to measure what is important in doing a specific job.

Collaborator in Chief

November 11, 2016

The result of the recent presidential election means Donald Trump will become leader of the United States of America. However, I don’t recall him ever previously referred to as a business leader or any kind of leader for that matter.

While he is reportedly a successful businessman, he has absolutely no governing experience. Ironically, this was seen as an enormous strength rather than a weakness in this election. But business acumen doesn’t naturally translate into effective governing.

“Businesses tend to be dictatorships, where the edict of the CEO is carried out by an army of minions,” said Program Director A. G. Block of the University of California Center Sacramento. “Governance is a messy process where coalition-building is required and governors need to be good listeners willing to compromise. Goals also have social implications that business executives often do not consider when making business decisions. And their constituents in the business world—their stockholders—tend to be, for the most part, a homogenous group with one common goal: profits. As governor, the constituency is a varied mishmash with a variety of goals.”

The leader of the United States of America obviously cannot conduct himself like the CEO of a company. It is a unique leadership position that requires working collaboratively with others to protect and serve the citizens of the country. And our Founding Fathers ensured that the three branches of government provided the necessary checks and balances to keep a tyrant or dictator from taking over our democracy.

In a previous blog post I pointed out that Trump has demonstrated leadership qualities such as confidence, tenacity and negotiating skills. However, effective leaders also need to demonstrate integrity, humility, and the ability to inspire and motivate people. His performance in the presidential campaign provided few examples of integrity and humility.

His ability to inspire and motivate people certainly contributed to his success in bringing to the polls the disenfranchised voters who felt largely ignored by both parties. Yet it was his divisiveness that also brought out the worst in them rather than the best.

Though Trump can accomplish certain things without the help of Congress through Executive Actions, these can be easily overturned by his successor. This is exactly what he intends to do with many of President Obama’s Executive Actions. And this is no sustainable way to govern.

Important legislation can only be enacted with the help of Congress. And this requires collaboration. Though President Trump will have an easier time with an all-Republican Congress, he will no doubt face a great deal of opposition with many of the proposals he campaigned on from both Democrats and Republicans.

To be a successful President, he will need to collaborate with others rather than try to command and control them. He will need to learn the ability to compromise: to give a little in order to gain a little. Now that we are politically more divided as a country than ever before, this requires even greater collaboration skills.

It comes down to taking into account the importance of the tasks equally with the relationships. No one person in Washington will be able to accomplish big things without strong alliances with willing participants. And this requires the ability to collaborate successfully.

In their book Collaborative Leadership: How to succeed in an interconnected world, David Archer and Alex Cameron identified 10 key lessons for a successful collaborative leader.

1. Find the personal motive for collaborating
2. Find ways of simplifying complex situations for your people
3. Prepare for how you are going to handle conflict well in advance
4. Recognize that there are some people or organizations you just can’t partner with
5. Have the courage to act for the long term
6. Actively manage the tension between focusing on delivery and on building relationships
7. Invest in strong personal relationships at all levels
8. Inject energy, passion and drive into your leadership style
9. Have the confidence to share the credit generously
10. Continually develop your interpersonal skills, in particular: empathy, patience, tenacity, holding difficult conversations, and coalition building.

These lessons are just as important in running a country as they are in running a business. Reading over this list, I can’t help but think that many of these lessons do not necessarily come to mind with regard to Trump’s reputation as a businessman. If Donald Trump hopes to make progress on his campaign promises, he will need to find a way to collaborate effectively with the House and Senate.

Finally, leadership is not something one can be appointed to or elected to as it is something to be earned. True leaders are those who gain respect through their overall effectiveness combined with the way they lead their people. It is certainly about getting results, but it is also about the relationships that are inherently necessary in reaching those results. And those relationships require effective collaboration.

Thriving in the Workplace

October 28, 2016

We live at a time when employee engagement is especially low. Employees are dissatisfied, discouraged and disinclined to be optimally productive. This is bad for both employers and employees.

According to Gallop’s 2012 State of the American Workplace, 70% of American workers said they feel they are not engaged at work. This comes at a time when competitive pressures and the technological rate of change are ever increasing.

Engaged employees are those who work with passion and feel a connection to the work and their company. They have a positive relationship with the people they work around and to the work itself. They are also vastly more productive than those who are not engaged.

Disengaged employees may show up to work, but they lack the enthusiasm and energy necessary to thrive. Disengaged employees are pervasive yet most are not actively disengaged, which can be especially harmful to an organization. Nevertheless, it is this lack of engagement that really hinders organizations.

It also impacts the ability for employees to thrive. And without thriving employees, organizations can’t bring about the innovation and creative problem solving required to be competitive in the 21st century.

The solution is for employers to provide an environment suitable to engage employees and for employees to do their part to be engaged. This second part is just as important as no amount of incentives will raise engagement without the employee’s own involvement.

While it is possible to find and hire employees who are naturally inclined to thrive regardless of where they work, the workplace environment can certainly accelerate or hinder this.

Gretchen Spreitzer and Christine Porat along with their research partners at the Ross School of Business’s Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship found that thriving employees are those who are not just satisfied and productive, but also engaged in creating the future—the company’s and their own.

In their research regarding what enables sustainable individual and organizational performance, they found that thriving employees were 32% more committed to their organization and 46% more satisfied with their jobs. Not surprising, these employees were also less likely to miss work.

In order for employees to thrive, Spreitzer and Porat identified two components: vitality and learning. Vitality is the sense of being passionate and excited, which can spark energy in themselves and those around them. Learning is in the growth that comes from gaining new knowledge and skills, such as developing expertise in a certain area.

It’s the combination of the two components that is required because learning without vitality can result in burnout, and vitality without learning leads to work that is too repetitious and boring. It is also the partnership of the employer and employee to be actively involved.

To encourage vitality, employers should provide an environment that generates a sense that what employees do for them really makes a difference.

Employees should seek out organizations for whom they can get passionate and excited about as well as put forth the effort to actively participate. Vitality cannot come from outside the individual because it is intrinsic and, although it can be supported by the opportunities inside the organization, it must bubble up from within the individual employee.

With regard to learning, employers need to provide opportunities for employees to obtain new knowledge and skills. And employees need to maintain a growth mindset and choose to continue learning while on the job. No amount of teaching will lead to learning without a willing student who is ready and interested in gaining new knowledge.

Spreitzer and Porat further identified four mechanisms that can help create the condition for thriving employees. They are:

  • Providing decision-making discretion
  • Sharing information
  • Minimizing incivility
  • Offering performance feedback

This makes sense as these mechanisms are necessary for employees to feel empowered, knowledgeable, comfortable and self-aware.

And organizations can either encourage or discourage these mechanisms. To encourage them, they need to be more than HR policies or corporate value statements because it is a part of the corporate culture. To fully embrace these four mechanisms means everyone in the organization needs to adhere to them and they need to be reinforced each and every day.

Thriving employees need to feel that their contribution is making a positive difference, they are able to directly influence the results, they are free to speak openly even when they disagree with the status quo, and they are able to continue learning and growing in their career

A thriving workplace is one where both organizations and their employees take responsibility. This partnership is mutually beneficial. Organizations can attract and retain top talent while increasing profitability, and employees are more satisfied, encouraged, and inclined to be optimally productive. A thriving workplace is a win-win.

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.

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.

Learning Skills: Knowing vs. Doing

June 17, 2016

So often knowledge and skills are linked together as a single unit. And while there is certainly a strong link between what we know and what we can do, these terms need to be uncoupled in order to better understand them.

The knowledge we acquire is a direct result of our learning through school, reading books and trade journals, attending training programs and seminars, etc. Staying on top of the latest research and thinking in our professional domain is vital to becoming and remaining successful.

Skills are what we are able to do with this knowledge, yet it doesn’t necessarily follow from our knowledge acquisition alone. Theory and practice are different: just witness fresh college graduates joining the workforce. But it’s not only in newcomers where this shows up since skills, like knowledge, need to be continually developed in order for each of us to stay current.

Knowledge Transfer vs. Skills Training

So how do you learn and improve your skills? Is it wrapped up in training programs promoted as “skills training,” yet delivered for the most part as knowledge transfer?

When looking at how employees are trained, there is often a tendency to focus on knowledge rather than skills. The primary reason is tradition and convenience, and because it is much easier to present knowledge to a large group of people rather than set up conditions under which these people can develop skills through practice.

Training & Discretionary Spending

The amount of money companies spend on training is often a good barometer of economic activity— when companies are growing, they increase spending on training; when they are slowing down, they cut back. Training is the most discretionary of all corporate spending.  And the larger the company, the more likely it is to invest in training and development.

In 2012, according to the Association for Talent Development (formerly ASTD), US companies spent more than $164 billion on training and development. And according to the “2014 Corporate Learning Factbook,” US spending on corporate training grew by 15% over the previous year—the highest growth rate in the previous seven years.

This increase in spending on training is not only associated with growing economic activity, but also due to a skills gap. In fact, more than 70% of surveyed organizations stated this “capabilities gap” is one of their top five challenges.

Skill Practice Yields Learning

While knowledge can be fed into the brain to be stored and retrieved as necessary, skills need to be immediately practiced in order for them to be truly learned and retained. Today there is far too little effective skills training in the corporate world.

Skills training needs to be taught differently than knowledge training. The teacher needs to be less the “sage on the stage” and more of a “guide on the side.” Some examples include:

  • Programs and classes that are experiential where students actively practice a skill as a way to truly learn it. A particular skill is demonstrated by the instructor, then immediately practiced by students where they can be corrected as necessary. This can be done outside of the workplace where students can first gain competence along with confidence. Useful for improving public speaking or presentation skills, for example.
  • Executive Coaching is an excellent way to uncover issues or concerns, educate why they are ineffective, and then help change behavior through practicing new skills in the workplace environment. Beginning with the coach’s suggestions on alternative approaches, the client can then try out new behaviors in the workplace. Through reflection and direct feedback with corrections and/or modifications, the client can further refine practice of the new skill. Especially useful for improving communication, conflict negotiation, and increasing overall executive presence.

In their book Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, authors Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool discuss what they call “deliberate practice” where the focus is solely on performance and how to improve it. Whether it’s to become a grandmaster chess champion, a concert violinist, a professional golfer or a successful business leader, quality skill development won’t be found in a book, online seminar, or traditional training course. It will come through this deliberate practice.

According to Ericsson and Pool, this deliberate, purposeful practice requires:

  • Getting outside your comfort zone — “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” Neale Donald Walsch
  • Doing it in a focused way with clear goals and a plan for reaching them — “A goal without a plan is just a dream.” Dave Ramsey
  • Finding a way to monitor or measure your progress — “What gets measured gets managed.” Peter Drucker
  • Maintaining your motivation — “People say motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing. That’s why we recommend it daily.” Zig Ziglar

In the same way learning to play the piano requires music theory, it also requires continually putting fingers on the keyboard in order to enable muscle memory, among other things. We have to stop thinking that simply hearing, reading, or watching something will enable us to learn or improve a skill.

Skill development requires going beyond knowing to actually doing. It requires deliberate, focused attention that stretches us just beyond where we’re comfortable. It demands continual monitoring and adjustments. And the motivation to keep you continually moving forward.

Employee Appreciation & Gratitude

March 3, 2016

Happy Employee Appreciation Day! It’s now the third month of the new year and if you have not yet recognized the impact and value of your employees, do something about it today.

This annual holiday—celebrated the first Friday in March—is meant to remind companies to thank employees for their hard work and effort throughout the year. It is also meant to strengthen the bond between employer and employee.

Perhaps we need Employee Appreciation Day now more than ever because a recent survey found that 40 percent of employees say they had not been recognized at all in the past year. Recognizing employees is probably the most important step in raising employee engagement because it makes them feel more proud and happy with their jobs.

This is according to a new survey conducted by Globoforce last November. The survey, composed of 828 randomly-selected fully employed persons in the United States (aged 18 or older), had a margin of error of +/- 3.9 percentage points at a 95 percent level of confidence.

They also found that two-thirds of workers who were recognized in the last month felt more than twice as engaged at work than those employees who had not been recognized.

This strong correlation between high engagement and recognition means employees who are well-recognized have more drive and determination, better working relationships, improved personal standing and stronger connections to their company.

As I wrote about previously, organizations should give thanks to their employees through a well designed, fully implemented and on-going social recognition program. It’s good for engagement, retention and the bottom-line.

And while cash or gift cards are easy and generally appreciated at least in the short term, they don’t deliver the more important long term results. You can show appreciation to employees in many ways, but be sure it is sincerely presented and meaningful to the individual.

Here are some suggestions:

Be Specific
Rather than simply “great job on that report,” you might say, for example, “I really appreciate that you included the metrics on XYZ in order to emphasize the impact our products will have on the client’s account.”  The more you can tie your praise directly to the individual’s specific contribution, the more impact your appreciation will have.

Consider Giving Time
Perhaps our most precious commodity today is time. When possible, give your employee the gift of taking off the afternoon, a day, or several days to pursue a hobby, spend time with loved ones, or simply to rest and recharge.

Encourage Employees to Appreciate Each Other
Don’t relegate showing appreciation only to the boss. With apps like YouEarnedIt, Bonusly or TINYpulse, you can enable all employees to regularly provide kudos to each other in real time. This will create a more positive and healthy workplace where everyone participates in providing and receiving appreciation.

Express Gratitude
Sometimes it is not the tangible reward that makes us feel appreciated, but the simple verbal or written expression of thanks. And if you tell someone how much you appreciate them, you will likely find that you feel better having done so. That’s because showing gratitude acts like a hug: in the same way you can’t hug someone without receiving a hug in return, expressing gratitude works similarly.

Feelings associated with gratitude impact the dopamine in your brain, which functions as a reward neurotransmitter. Like a drug, experiencing gratitude results in a dopamine hit that makes you feel better.

This gratitude creates positive feelings, good memories, higher self-esteem, and a more relaxed and optimistic mindset. When taken together, these emotions can then create a “pay it forward” and “we’re all in this together” mentality throughout the workplace.

Gratitude makes people feel appreciated, it doesn’t cost anything, and it doesn’t require any special training to implement. All it takes is sincerity and a willingness to show appreciation to others.

Showing appreciation and gratitude for employees creates a better working environment, promotes more engagement and delivers better bottom-line results.

 

Reward Evidence-based Decision-Making

December 10, 2015

“Good judgment comes from experience; experience comes from bad judgment.”
                                                        –Mulla Nasruddin, 13th Century Sufi sage/fool

Success in business today requires many things. Perhaps most importantly, organizations need to embrace learning. And both the employer and the employee have responsibilities in this learning.

Employers should do what they can to engage employees and keep them intrinsically motivated to learn. And this learning must include the ability to be implemented otherwise it undermines the employee’s motivation as well as limits organizational improvement.

At the same time, employees should adopt a growth mindset so they continually achieve and learn as they navigate their careers. This means taking on new challenges, expanding their skills, and broadening their area of expertise. It also means challenging the status quo.

Here are two scenarios:

Bob discovers the new product his company is launching has a fatal flaw that may undermine its success in the marketplace. He double-checks his research and concludes it is correct. His company however discourages naysayers and, despite his certainty, Bob is concerned that speaking up will be detrimental to his career. He stays silent, the product flops, yet Bob’s career growth is preserved.

Nancy discovers the new project her company is rolling out will miss its target completion date. She double-checks her research and concludes it is correct. Because she works for a learning organization that encourages direct feedback, Nancy presents her findings, the project is given additional resources to complete on time, and it is a resounding success. Nancy is rewarded with a promotion and celebrated throughout the company.

Which company do you work for? Are you Bob or are you Nancy?

Organizations should encourage employees to challenge assumptions, speak directly about the “elephant in the room,” and take calculated risks when it’s right for the business. This theory must go beyond mere words in an employee handbook and extend into actual practice for how things get done inside the organization.

On his way to inventing the light bulb, Thomas Edison reportedly said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” That is a healthy perspective on reaching success and how learning is paramount.

The best companies perform a post-mortem on projects and products with the purpose of pointing out and learning from what went well and not so well. Too often, however, the lessons of what went wrong are not adequately documented and communicated, so the missteps are likely repeated.

Economists too often see people as highly rational in their decision-making and don’t take into account the irrationality of human beings, says Richard Thaler, professor of behavioral science and economics at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business in his book Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics.

“It is time for everyone—from bureaucrats to teachers to corporate leaders—to recognize that they live in world of Humans and to adopt the same data-driven approach to their jobs and lives that good scientists use.”

Here are some basic lessons in behavioral science Thaler suggests can make this possible in the corporate world. Observe, collect data and speak up.

Observe – This means seeing the world not as you wish it be, but as it really is. The first step to overturning conventional wisdom, when conventional wisdom is wrong, is to look at the world around you as it is.

Collect Data – People become overconfident because they never bother to document their past track record of wrong predictions, and then make things worse by falling victim to confirmation bias—they look only for evidence that confirms their preconceived hypotheses. The only protection against overconfidence is to systematically collect data, especially data that can prove you wrong. This is what proves especially difficult because we are so devoted to our hypothesis.

Speak Up – Many organizational errors could be prevented if someone is willing to tell the boss something is wrong. Thaler cites the tragic 1977 runway crash of a KLM flight because the second officer was too timid to speak up to the pilot, his boss. Culture, professional courtesy, and most of all fear keep people from challenging the boss, even when they know the boss is wrong.

“But we cannot expect people to take risks, by speaking up or in other ways, if by so doing they will get fired,” says Thaler. “Good leaders must create environments in which employees feel that making evidence-based decisions will always be rewarded, no matter what outcome occurs.”

In Thaler’s ideal organizational environment, everyone is encouraged to observe, collect data, and speak up. And the bosses who create such environments risk only a few bruises to their egos, which is a small price to pay for increasing the flow of new ideas and decreasing the risk of disasters.

It comes down to more humility in leaders and more courage in employees. When both are present, organizations can learn from their experiences and become more successful. And organizations should encourage more Nancys and fewer Bobs.

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>