Focused Attention Through Intention & Discipline

October 10, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Take Charge of Technology

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

Enter the Best Environment

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

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

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

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

Intention-Setting Rules

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

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

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

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

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

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

Men Abusing Power vs. Men Manning Up

September 28, 2018

The allegations against and removal of powerful men in entertainment, politics and the media has sparked increased attention on the issue of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace. Men abusing power in the workplace isn’t new, of course, but other men manning up to defend women seems to be especially lacking.

The unfolding drama that is Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court is reminiscent of the Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill hearings 27 years ago. That event was followed by the so-called “year of the woman” in 1992. But little has changed with regard to the way many men in power treat women.

Yes, the recent #MeToo movement created a stir and helped remove powerful men such as Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly from Fox News, Travis Kalanick from Uber, Charlie Rose from PBS and CBS, and Harvey Weinstein from The Weinstein Company. Most recently, comedian Bill Cosby—once referred to as “America’s Dad”—was sentenced for three to 10 years in prison for his sexual misconduct.

On the other hand, comedian Louis C.K., who admitted to sexual misconduct of five women and fallen out of favor, has recently staged a comeback. Charlie Rose reportedly was in discussions with regard to starring in a show where he would interview other high profile men brought down by the #MeToo movement. And, of course, the current President of the United States has been accused of sexual misconduct by 22 women, yet continues to serve.

In any workplace, as long as there is a huge imbalance of men to women in leadership positions, a lack of equal pay for equal work, and the minimizing of sexual harassment claims, we cannot have a safe, equitable and thriving work environment.

According to a recent poll conducted by Pew Research Center regarding sexual harassment in the workplace, of the 6,251 people surveyed, a majority of men (55%) and nearly half of women (47%) said that “the recent developments have made it harder for men to navigate workplace interactions.”

But when it comes to sexual misconduct in the workplace, it shouldn’t be difficult to navigate workplace interactions. It is simply about respect and treating others the way you would expect to be treated—regardless of gender.

The Equality Act of 2010 defines sexual harassment as “unwanted conduct of a sexual nature which has the purpose or effect of violating someone’s dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them.” This includes indecent or suggestive remarks, unwanted touching, requests or demands for sex and the dissemination of pornography.

Though there may be some cases of misunderstanding, the bottom line is demonstrating basic respect for the other person. It’s about putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. And treating women in the workplace no worse than you would treat your mother, sister or daughter.

As someone who regularly encourages men and women to tweak their behavior in order to show up as better leaders, I know changing behavior is difficult. It takes concentrated effort that needs to be continually monitored and applied. Changing behavior also takes a network of others to make the most progress as well as maintain accountability. This network of other people can encourage positive steps and attest to whether there’s improvement or not.

And this is where other men come in. If there is sexual harassment in any workplace, it seems unlikely that no other male colleagues are aware of it. And because far too many men look the other way or fail to speak up, sexual harassment continues unabated in many of today’s workplaces. In the same way women are reluctant to speak up for fear of repercussions with regard to their careers, so too appear to be many men.

It takes courage to stand up to a bully. It takes courage to speak out against a fraternity of colleagues. And it takes enormous courage to call out one’s boss. But by not speaking up, standing up, and calling out sexual harassment, you are complicit in its continuation.

We live at a time far removed from a “Mad Men” workplace, but until all men begin to hold themselves, their colleagues and leaders accountable, little will change will be made for bringing true equality for women in the workplace.

As Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono said recently with regard to men in this country: “Just shut up and step up. Do the right thing for a change.”

Your Role in Job Satisfaction

June 14, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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.

Social Media’s Impact on Workplace Communication

March 24, 2017

The Internet age has led to enormous changes in the way we communicate in virtually every aspect of our lives. Social media lets us connect with others in a way that was previously unheard of. With a smart phone in hand, we can now access anyone and anything around the world at any time.

But do these technology innovations mean we are experiencing improved communication?

Wael Ghonim, aka the “Google guy,” who used Facebook to help launch the revolution against the Egyptian government in 2011, said that “if you want to liberate a society, all you need is the Internet.” Years later he explained that while the Arab Spring revealed social media’s greatest potential, it also exposed its greatest shortcomings. “The same tool that united us to topple dictators eventually tore us apart.”

In his TED Talk, Ghonim discussed five critical challenges facing today’s social media in the political arena. He explained the most critical of these is that our social media experiences are designed in a way that favors broadcasting over engagements, posting over discussions, and shallow comments over deep conversations.

“It’s as if we agreed to talk at each other instead of talking with each other,” Ghonim said.

While emailing, texting, posting, blogging, and tweeting enable us to send out messages, they don’t necessarily enable the opportunity for give-and-take conversations. Today’s social media doesn’t encourage meaningful dialogue where we engage enough to bring about greater understanding. It’s still, for the most part, one-way communication: sender to receiver.

Not that this is necessarily bad in and of itself, but it is limited and may undermine our ability to truly connect and understand one another.

Workplace Communication

Today’s social media experiences can’t help but spill over from our personal and political lives into the workplace, and this is where I am concerned. Without the exchange of meaningful dialogue, we are unable to maximize our ability to collaboratively solve problems and innovate with new products and services. Sending messages only in one direction isn’t effective communication.

This degradation in communicating can show up every aspect of our lives, including the workplace. Examples include:

  • Failure to actively listening when the other person is speaking
  • Being too concerned with what we want to say rather than fully hearing and understanding what the other person says, and what is left unspoken
  • Not ensuring our overall physical behavior that includes tone of voice, facial expressions, eye contact, etc. are congruent with and supportive of our message
  • Not making our intention clear so there is no misunderstanding in what we say
  • Using the wrong medium to communicate our message (e.g., using email instead of face-to-face; using the phone when video conferencing would be better; using text messaging instead of a phone call, etc.)
  • Demonstrating that we are listening, yet not ensuring the other person is feeling heard

Some research suggests that only 7 percent of communication is conveyed by the spoken words. The other 93 percent is conveyed by tone, inflexion, and other elements of voice as well as by body language, movements, eye contact, etc. When communicating is conducted by any other method than face-to-face, a serious drop-off in understanding and learning will result.

Knowing how little the words alone can enable true communication should be a warning sign that the medium really does impact the effectiveness of the message.

Workgroup Effectiveness

Researchers from Google’s Project Aristotle concluded that understanding and influencing group norms were the keys to improving Google teams. They determined that the right norms could raise a group’s collective intelligence, whereas the wrong norms could hobble a team, even if all the individual members were exceptionally bright.

The two behaviors all good teams generally shared were: 1) members spoke in roughly the same proportion, a phenomenon the researchers referred to as ‘‘equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking,” and 2) members had high ‘‘average social sensitivity’’ or they were skilled at intuiting how others felt based on their tone of voice, facial expressions and other nonverbal cues.

This means the group norms of taking turns speaking and listening with empathy were the most important factors for improving team outcomes. These are also fundamental to successful communication.

While social media continues to influence every aspect of our lives, it’s important to remember the limitations of it with regard to effective communication. In the workplace, this means choosing the right medium to convey the message, ensuring there is an appropriate feedback loop, and responding to the feedback in a way that results in true understanding.

With that, I encourage your thoughts on social media’s impact in your workplace.

Courage in a Time of Uncertainty

December 30, 2016

In the face of these uncertain times, it is necessary for each of us to be brave. Though it is easier to simply follow along and protect what we currently have, we also need the courage to stand up for what is right and risk being vulnerable.

So many of us have been duped into believing social media enables us to actively write our individual history instead of actually living and sharing in a collective history. As much as we think we are freely choosing what to engage in, we are often being led by others with a financial or power incentive to make us follow along.

Politicians appeal to our worst fears and increasing insecurity in order to move their particular agenda forward. Hope and dreams are out; fear and uncertainty are in. Democracy has become more about getting a larger share for oneself rather than growing the collective pie.

This way of thinking leads to blaming another demographic for our own misfortune as it is easier than taking responsibility and doing something about it. Our nation of immigrants has somehow lost sight that this is our strength, and that regardless of where you were born, your color or creed, you have an equal opportunity to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Perhaps this is due to thinking we should all have equal opportunity rather than equitable opportunity. If this were about equity, then those who need more assistance would get more, and we would all see this as fair. Of course, this would require accepting that we are all, as American citizens (regardless of our heritage), equal in deserving opportunities.

In what is rapidly now being referred to as a post-truth world, many knowingly accept fake news from anyone and anywhere because they believe respected journalistic institutions are also fake. Somehow all news is considered equal because all internet voices are equal. Though verified factual information stands in stark contrast to ignorant opinions—because everyone has a megaphone—these are treated equally. Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one, and the internet means we all own one.

Without a Walter Cronkite, who people once took comfort in telling us the truth, we can now choose any individual to tell us the personal truth we want to hear. Many people are no longer concerned with what is really true, but rather what is true for their current point of view. Confirmation bias runs rampant as they don’t want to debate the issues, but only reinforce their narrow perspective of what is currently true for them.

In the face of this, courageous leadership is absolutely required and we shouldn’t be looking for others to demonstrate it. We should seek this in ourselves.

In the same way the internet has leveled the playing field for our voices, we can all become leaders in our own communities by standing up to injustice in the real world. When we witness intolerance, racism or random acts of violence, we should immediately stand up against it.

This means standing up for individuals who are marginalized whether in the workplace, at school, or simply standing in line at a grocery store. When we witness an ignorant xenophobe oppressing others, it is up to each of us to stand up courageously and denounce it. We can no longer accept that staying on the fringe is okay just because our own lives are currently safe and comfortable. “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people, but the silence over that by the good people,” said Martin Luther King, Jr.

Courageous leadership is about getting outside of your comfort zone and risking to be vulnerable by defending what you stand for. Somebody once said life begins at the edge of your comfort zone. I believe we need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Though hatred and mistrust are rampant in our society, we need to denounce hateful actions and encourage bridge-making. We need the patience and compassion to first understand others before seeking to be understood by them. We need to recognize our own personal hypocrisy before we attack others. To move forward in restoring trust and compassion, each of us must take a long hard look inside ourselves before blaming others.

Leading with courage means fully acknowledging oneself—including our bias, limited perspective, and overall ignorance—before seeking to influence others. Rather than build walls to divide ourselves and other like-minded people from those who are different, we should bravely seek to find common ground and better understanding.

Lead with tolerance and compassion. Assume that everyone is doing the best they can for themselves and for their families. And be the leader of the change that you want to see in yourself and others.

Reducing Office Politics Through Soft Skills

June 30, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Achieving Work-Life Balance

April 13, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Compassionate Leader

April 2, 2016

The current tenor of the Republican presidential campaign has got me thinking about the lack of compassion expressed by our so-called leaders. It wasn’t that long ago when George W. Bush campaigned using the phrase “compassionate conservatism,” though you might argue he never really governed that way.

For some reason the term compassion has become divisive and reserved for discussion of those who have fallen through the safety net and only the “truly needy.” It’s as if compassion should be conveyed only as a last resort and for a small minority of us. The fact is we all need compassion at some time and we should all feel compassion for others when they need it.

“Compassion is not weakness, and concern for the unfortunate is not socialism,” said Hubert H. Humphrey. I hope we haven’t gotten to the point where there’s no room for compassion in our capitalism.

Whether in politics or business, leaders who demonstrate compassion are more likely to connect with and gain lasting followers.

Feeling compassion in the workplace means staying in touch with your own feelings as well as those of others, which can result in more accurately understanding and navigating all your workplace relationships. Compassion is a leadership trait that should be demonstrated by leaders at every level within an organization.

That’s because research has shown that those who experience compassion in the workplace feel more positive emotions and are more committed to the organization. When bad news is delivered compassionately, workers are more likely to remain supportive of the organization. And when you act with compassion at work, you can increase your satisfaction and lower your overall stress.

Compassionate leaders put people before procedures, they courageously say what they feel, and they lead with sincere and heartfelt consideration for others.

Perhaps the most important tool of compassion is empathy, which is the ability to understand what someone else experiences and reflect that understanding back to them. Empathy is also a vital component of what it means to be emotionally intelligent.

According to Brené Brown, Ph.D., author of Rising Strong, the prerequisite for real empathy is compassion. You can’t respond to someone empathetically unless you are willing to be present to their pain, which requires compassion.

“It’s important to note here that empathy is understanding what someone is feeling, not feeling it for them,” writes Brown. “If someone is feeling lonely, empathy doesn’t require us to feel lonely, too, only to reach back into our own experience with loneliness so we can understand and connect.”

But don’t confuse empathy for sympathy. As Brown further explains, when someone says, “I feel sorry for you” or “That must be terrible,” they are standing at a safe distance. Rather than conveying the powerful “me too” of empathy, sympathy communicates “not me,” and then adds, “But I do feel for you.” This does not have nearly the impact empathy provides.

For you to demonstrate empathy inside an organization, you must have the foundation of compassion.

Being compassionate doesn’t mean taking on and solving other people’s problems. Nor does it mean you have to agree with the actions that got the individual into a particular situation. And being compassionate doesn’t mean you don’t hold the individual accountable.

What compassion does mean is noticing another person’s suffering, connecting with him or her both cognitively and emotionally, and then responding in a caring and proactive fashion. You can be compassionate by agreeing to disagree, yet still hold the person accountable.

In this way your compassion helps the individual, the organization and yourself.

I’d like to think we’re seeing an increase in compassionate business leaders who sincerely value the welfare of their employees, customers and surrounding community. This kind of leadership will lead to more engaged employees, satisfied customers, a healthier community and ultimately greater shareholder return.

Thanks Giving to Employees

November 19, 2015

Aside from the Thanksgiving meal, football games and holiday shopping, this is the time of year when we are thankful. We pause to remember that it is really the people in our lives who make living so precious, and we ought to show our appreciation.

While this is certainly important in our personal lives, it should not be ignored in the workplace. As I’ve written about previously, thanking employees is one of the easiest, cheapest and most beneficial ways to raise engagement. Yet it isn’t done nearly enough.

Employees are still leaving jobs as often for not being appreciated as they do for higher compensation.

And though many managers may believe their employees should be happy with a paycheck, those companies using social recognition programs are making measurable impact on employee engagement and retention. And social recognition is really more about the praise than it is the prize.

That’s because recognition is more than incentives. While incentives focus on the expected reward for achieving desired results, recognition is more about the surprising reward due to the outstanding effort to achieve results. Incentives are typically an extrinsic reward while recognition is more often an intrinsic reward.

Employees can spot empty gestures and these may even be counterproductive. However, when social recognition includes genuine gestures that take into account employees’ specific needs and perspectives, those employees will thrive providing bottom line results.

“Recognition can and should be planned and executed in a company like any other management practice with the potential to drive bottom-line results, and therein lies the opportunity for competitive advantage,” write Eric Mosley and Derek Irvine in their book The Power of Thanks. “When you elevate recognition to the level of other strategic practices, you create a fresh competitive advantage, one that is uniquely tailored to your company’s culture, goals, and strategy.”

Social recognition earns the support of executives because it engages them where they live: the realms of competitive advantage, high performance and profits.

According to a 2007-2008 Global Workforce Study, Towers Watson found that a 15 percent improvement in employee engagement correlates with a 2 percent improvement in operating margin. Further, Aon Hewitt’s 2013 study showed that for every percentage point increase in employee engagement drives a 0.6 percent growth in sales.

These are tangible bottom-line results from the intangible benefits of social recognition programs. But that doesn’t mean it comes without a financial investment. According to studies such as WorldatWork’s Trends in Employee Recognition, the budget for social recognition programs is typically between 1 and 2 percent of payroll.

Therefore, adequately funding such a program may require companies to reallocate dollars from merit increases, annual bonus pool, or even those individual department dinners and ad hoc events. But pooling this money to fully fund a well-planned and well-executed recognition program will pay bigger dividends beyond the usual high achieving individuals.

In their book, authors Mosley and Irvine provide a blueprint for initiating a successful social recognition program that include the following essential elements:

Sponsorship – All top executives must commit to the social recognition implementation because it elevates the program to a strategic status. This means it gets the constant attention and support in messaging, applying resources, and keeping it at the forefront of all company initiatives.

Design – Like every strategic initiative, the design of social recognition programs must include clear goals and objectives, metrics for measuring effectiveness, and stakeholder feedback. You must keep everyone informed as you rollout and adapt the program as needed.

Reach – Social recognition programs need to be integrated with other HR and company goals, involve as many people as possible, and ensure you calibrate awards to match achievement. Don’t limit your recognition to the same 10% who are over achievers already; instead, find ways to raise the engagement of the middle 70% of your employees with more frequent and meaningful rewards.

Adoption – The effectiveness of any strategic initiative requires quick and mass adoption throughout the organization. To do this means ensuring you educate, engage and excite when launching your social recognition program. Give it the care and attention it deserves to launch and stay relevant.

Rewards – Make the rewards as unique as the people they represent. While cash is always nice, consider gift cards because they are more likely to be remembered and used for something other than paying bills. And provide your people with a choice to make rewards most effective to each individual.

Thanksgiving is the time of year when we should be thankful. This year, remember to give thanks to your employees through a well designed, fully implemented and on-going social recognition program. It’s good for engagement, retention and the bottom-line. It will also make them feel appreciated.

Misguided Notion: Pursuit of Happiness

August 6, 2015

“The Constitution only guarantees you the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.” — Benjamin Franklin

Most parents when asked will tell you that all they want for their children is for them to grow up to be happy. However, happiness is elusive and ephemeral. What makes us happy one day will not sustain us the next.

So much in life is transitory and we fail to accept that what we want, what brings us pleasure will continually evolve. Despite the fact that most of us claim our favorite foods, movies, music, books, etc. will remain consistent over time, research has shown that even our taste in these things change as we grow older.

A life in pursuit of happiness is like a life in pursuit of wealth—one of the results perhaps, but it should not be the focus. Instead, the focus should be meaning.

A for-profit company’s mission should not be about making money, but it should certainly be one of the results. Their mission statement should instead include something meaningful such as delivering a product or service that enables customers to do something faster, better or cheaper than ever before. If the company is successful, profits will result.

The same is true for individuals with regard to happiness. A meaningful life is one that is in some way in service to others or in something larger than oneself, and this will likely result in happiness because happiness is a byproduct of a life that has meaning.

“Feeling happy is not enough,” says Paul Shoemaker, author of Can’t Not Do: The Compelling Social Drive That Changes Our World. “People need meaning to thrive.”

“There is a tension between a meaningful and a happy life,” says Shoemaker. “They’re not mutually exclusive, but if you are going to tilt one way, tilt toward meaningful because, done with sustained commitment, a meaningful life can eventually lead to a happy life. I’m not sure about the other way around.”

According to research conducted by the Journal of Positive Psychology, there are key differences between a happy life and a meaningful life. These are:

  • Happiness is considerably more short-lived and fleeting than meaningfulness.
  • Happiness is largely present-oriented, where meaningfulness involves integrating past, present and future.
  • Having sufficient money to purchase objects of desire is important for happiness, but makes essentially no difference as to whether a life is meaningful.
  • Challenges may reduce present happiness but are linked to much higher future meaningfulness.
  • Happiness is linked to being a taker rather than a giver; meaningfulness is the opposite.

The research also found that those with a purpose—specifically meaningful goals having to do with helping others—rated their life satisfaction higher (even when they felt personally down and out) than those who did not have any life purpose.

Another study found that people who put the greatest emphasis on being happy reported 50 percent less frequent positive emotions, 35 percent less satisfaction about their life, and 75 percent more depressive symptoms than people that had their priorities elsewhere.

Feeling happy is not enough because meaning is essential to a valued sense of one’s purpose in life and in community.

The great leadership coach Marshall Goldsmith, author of Mojo: How to Get it, How to Keep it, How to Get it Back if You Lose it, says there are five things that really matter in the lives of successful people. In no particular order these are: health, wealth, relationships, happiness and meaning.

Goldsmith suggests that in order to find more happiness and meaning in your life, both at home and at work, you need to spend less time on activities that are simply surviving, sacrificing and stimulating. And you need to spend more time on activities that are considered sustaining and succeeding. These provide both short-term satisfaction (happiness) and long-term benefit (meaning).

Perhaps Victor Frankl, author of the best-selling Man’s Search for Meaning, said it best: “Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue. One must have a reason to be happy.”

Whether it’s finding your “Can’t Not Do” or your “Mojo,” meaning is essential. Meaning is required for sustained happiness. Change your focus from yourself alone to something bigger than you. Change from short-term satisfaction alone to include long-term benefit.

You will catch sustained happiness only when you attach meaning to your pursuit.

Values-Based Recognition for Employee Retention

July 2, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Power Napping for Increased Productivity

June 4, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charge Up Your Career & Life

May 22, 2015

Ever feel as if you have no control over your life? This is when you may feel you are a victim of circumstance, either at work or at home. It’s an awful time because you can feel helpless and powerless.

It may seem impossible to get out of this condition, yet it’s imperative for your sanity and overall wellbeing that you do. Taking back control means you no longer give your power away because you are stronger in who you are no matter the situation.

When you are in charge of your career and life, you are actively making things happen. You are not waiting for opportunity to knock, but instead doing the knocking yourself and fully engaging when those doors open.

It means springing back up when you get knocked down. It means using negative feedback to fuel your improvement. It means embracing the gift of resilience and understanding that your ability to continually get back up is an indicator of just how strong you are.

To have more control requires taking responsibility for your condition and doing the behavioral things necessary to maintain control. It means developing habits that help you bring your best self to your workplace and your life.

In a new book titled Are You Fully Charged?, author Tom Rath draws on recent research in health, psychology and economics pointing to specific changes you can make to take more command of your life.

Rath suggests you stop pursuing happiness and instead create meaning in your career, seek out more positive interactions in your relationships, and make deliberate, positive choices to improve your physical and mental health. By focusing on these three areas, he says you will be fully charged and at your best for work and life.

Three key conditions are necessary to be fully charged:

Meaning – Do something to benefit others. Ultimately, satisfaction in your career is not about money or status, but about the meaning it brings to your life. Being fully charged requires finding the nexus of your strengths, your interests, and what is needed in the world. Don’t let money or job title trump meaning.

Interactions – Create far more positive than negative moments with others. Research shows we need three to five positive interactions to outweigh every negative exchange. Invest in the wellbeing of the people around you and this will pay greater dividends than anything you do for yourself alone.

Energy – Make choices to improve your mental and physical health. Recognize that every time you put something in your mouth, you either add to or deplete your energy tank. Eat more fruits and vegetables, and fewer refined carbohydrates. Incorporate more movement by seeking the equivalent of 10,000 steps each day. And get more sleep each night.

The biggest changes for daily wellbeing begin with small steps. Don’t try to alter all your habits at once, but instead seek out little things you can do each day that will pay off in the long run. Here are some suggestions:

Meaning

  • Ensure that your life is meaningful by asking the hard questions with regard to how you spend your day. Is this the life that uses your talents in a meaningful way?
  • Stop the upward comparison. After a certain level of income ($70,000 or so), once you reach basic financial security, making more money is unlikely to produce greater levels of happiness.
  • Ask yourself how you can best combine your expertise and passion with something the world needs. Then figure out how to bring that to your life.

Interactions

  • Seek out opportunities to interact with co-workers by choosing to talk to them face-to-face rather than sending yet another email. Rather than updating your Facebook page, call your friend and have a real-time conversation. Better yet, set a date to see them in person.
  • Give others the gift of your attention. Listen fully and allow the speaker to finish before responding. Keep your cellphone out of sight so you are truly present with the other person.
  • If you must make an assumption, assume that others have the best intent. Look to find the good in others before anything else.

Energy

  • Rather than eat a sugary breakfast that may bring about a quick rush and subsequent crash, begin each day with a nutritious meal that provides continual energy throughout the day.
  • Find ways to incorporate regular exercise into every day with the goal of 10,000 steps or an equivalent amount of exercise. At first you may find this makes you more tired, but after a few weeks, you’ll be more energized than ever before.
  • Get yourself to bed each night early enough to get 7 to 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. K. Anders Ericsson’s landmark studies regarding elite performers, found that they not only had 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, but also, on average, slept 8-and-a-half hours each night.

Finally, recruiting a partner in this effort will help not only provide you with support as you navigate these new behaviors, but will likely ensure that you stick to it and are successful over the long run.

Energizing your career and life in these ways will lead to greater satisfaction and wellbeing. Invest in yourself so you can be your best at work and home.

photo credit: N00/14347784″>DSCF2180 via photopin (license)

Owning Up to Bias

April 16, 2015

Back when I was studying journalism in college, we were instructed to strive for objectivity. Our professors made it clear that because we are human and have unique perspectives, we were always going to skew a story in a particular direction. Regardless, the goal was to be unbiased.

The Fourth Estate had a lot more respect in those days.

Today, of course, journalism is no longer expected to be without an agenda. Opinion has somehow replaced fact as sacrosanct. In the age of the Internet and social media in particular, we can all choose to have our information (or infotainment) skewed just the way we like it to further reinforce our perspectives rather than challenge and expand them.

This limits our ability to find creative solutions to problems, work together cooperatively, and to make progress in business, politics and our communities.

Bias exists all around us otherwise we would see just as many women and people of color in leadership positions in business and politics. We also wouldn’t see such a disproportionate number of Black men detained, incarcerated and killed.

Two significant events regarding women occurred this week: 1) April 14, 2015 marked Equal Pay Day, or the date symbolizing how far into the new year the average American woman would have to work to earn what the average American man did in the previous year; 2) Hillary Clinton declared herself to be a candidate for President of the United States of America.

In a recent survey by Pew Research Center on “Women and Leadership,” some 80% of men and women said neither men nor women have leadership styles that make them more successful in business. In fact, about a third of adults (31%) said top female executives may be more honest and ethical than male executives.

Nevertheless, few women reach the top. Just twenty years ago no female CEOs ran Fortune 500 companies; today, 26 or 5% are run by women. In corporate boardrooms, things are a bit better as women represented just 10% of board members in 1995 and today about 17%.

Pew’s survey found respondents say they believe male executives are better than women at assuming risk, yet women are better at compromise. According to the study, men and women may believe female leaders are just as qualified as their male peers, but certain stigmas persist. Even in 2014, some 50% of women and 35% of men agree that many businesses aren’t ready to hire women for top executive positions.

The survey also revealed that 38% of all adults say they hope the U.S. will elect a female president in their lifetime, and 57% say it doesn’t matter to them.

The unending reports of African American men and boys fatally shot by police officers since the tragic event in Ferguson, Missouri last year is a reminder that we as a nation are still facing racism in law enforcement. And this week while visiting our nation’s capitol, I was constantly reminded of how slavery is a continual backdrop to our country’s history, and something we have yet to come to terms with.

Research into unconscious bias reveals that white referees call more fouls on African American NBA basketball players than on white players. And Black referees call more fouls on white basketball players than they do on Black players.

Though we live in a land of so-called equal opportunity where anyone can grow up to lead a company or become commander in chief, the reality is very different. Our bias is unconscious and it is ever present. Facing this and owning up to it is necessary before we can overcome it.

In a new book by Howard J. Ross called Everyday Bias: Identifying and Navigating Unconscious Judgments in Our Daily Lives, the author provides a formula for how to disengage from bias.

  1. Recognize that bias is a normal part of the human experience
  2. Develop the capacity for self-observation
  3. Practice constructive uncertainty by using PAUSE
  • Pay attention to what’s happening beneath the judgments and assessments
  • Acknowledge your own reactions, interpretations, and judgments
  • Understand the other possible reactions, interpretations, and judgments that may be possible
  • Search for the most constructive, empowering, or productive way to deal with situation
  • Execute your action plan
  1. Explore awkwardness or discomfort
  2. Engage with people in groups you may not know very well, or about whom you harbor biases
  3. Get feedback and data

Whether in business, politics or in our communities, it is up to each of us to admit that we are biased. It is not something we can escape from, but only something we can acknowledge and continually be aware of. This means questioning our perspectives and recognizing that the way we see things may not be as objective as we’d like to believe it is.

Don’t Underestimate Corporate Culture

April 2, 2015

Beyond salary, benefits, perks, and the nature of the work itself, a company’s culture is often the reason people stay in an organization. That’s because corporate culture—though not readily apparent or even easily defined—can make you feel like you are part of a team, that you belong, and that you are doing something important.

It can also do the opposite.

No matter where you work, part of the reason you’re there may very well have to do with the connectedness you feel with your co-workers. When this is strong, you are probably accomplishing a lot and feeling good about how you spend your working day. When it is weak, you are probably dreading each Monday morning.

Think of Twitter, Google, Apple, Zappo’s, Wegman’s, Whole Foods, Southwest Airlines, REI, Patagonia and Netflix. These are all companies with positive corporate cultures that share widespread brand awareness, strong financial performance, unrelenting customer focus, and a reputation that makes them a magnet for job seekers.

Corporate culture can best be defined as the shared values, attitudes, standards, and beliefs that characterize those in an organization. It is based on the beliefs and behaviors that determine how a company’s management and employees interact and handle their business transactions.

It is defined over time from the cumulative traits of the people hired, and rooted in the organization’s goals, strategies, structure and approaches to its employees, customers, vendors, investors and the larger community. You might think of your company’s culture as its personality.

The statement “culture eats strategy for breakfast” has often been attributed to the great management consultant Peter Drucker, who argued that a company’s culture would trump any attempt to create a strategy that was incompatible with its culture. Drucker compared company cultures to country cultures. Never try to change one, he said, but instead try to work with what you’ve got.

In the same way that a company’s products and services, leadership team, market conditions, competitive pressures, and other factors need to be considered in any corporate strategy, so too must the existing culture.

Corporate culture can either help or hamper an organization in its efforts to implement a strategy. More often than not, leaders underestimate the power of culture rather than embracing its power for helping them. Implementing a strategy that runs counter to or requires a huge shift in the culture can be disastrous.

Instead, you can leverage the corporate culture by ensuring it is aligned with your new strategy, latest company acquisition, or your incoming CEO. Each of these transitions can be successful if the cultural aspects of the change are considered along with all the other due diligence completed.

A positive company culture can benefit recruiting, employee motivation and retention, teamwork, reduced absenteeism, customer service, responsiveness to change, and bottom line financial performance.

Developing such a positive culture evolves over time and grounded in the employees you hire. Be careful and selective in recruitment and in every way you conduct business, and your culture will enable the organization to grow and thrive.

Hiring Well is More Important Than Ever

March 7, 2015

It used to be when hiring someone you needed to determine whether the person could do the job (skills and experience) and whether he or she wants to do the job (motivation). But that didn’t always result in getting the best people.

We now know there’s a lot more required to succeed in today’s workplace than your expertise and attitude. Experience, knowledge, skills, behaviors and attitudes are all important yet not easily distilled from current resumes, job applications, interviews and reference checks.

Most companies are looking for a particular set of skills and experience to fill a given need at the current time. But how can companies ensure whether a candidate can do the critical thinking necessary to resolve tomorrow’s challenges?

The white collar workplace has changed a lot in the last twenty years. It’s a lot less formal and much more collaborative. There are more demands, but also more freedom for how and where the work gets done. And technology has dramatically accelerated the pace of change.

Communication skills, critical thinking, collaboration, adaptability, creativity, emotional intelligence and the ability to continue learning are all critical to success. But these abilities are not easily distilled in the usual way we go about securing the right people.

Seek to understand which interpersonal behaviors will complement or combust in your existing culture. Determine whether a given candidate is right for the organization, but also whether the organization is right for him or her.

In How Google Works by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg, the Google executive authors explain how in the Internet Century the best method for hiring people is not the model used in corporate America, but in academia. Universities rarely lay off professors because they invest so much time in getting the right faculty by using committees.

Google doesn’t leave hiring people to the hiring manager, but instead charge this to more objective peer-based committees to determine whether the candidate is ultimately the right fit for the role and for the company.

In order to hire a “smart creative” at Google, everything about each candidate must be contained in a packet that committee members can digest in a matter of 120 seconds. Along with a resume and other documents, this packet contains reviewer comments and the “yea” or “nay” decision from the four to five Googlers who interviewed the person.

At Google, finding the right people is everyone’s job. Recruiters are there to manage the process, but every employee is responsible for recruiting.

Google’s Hiring Dos and Don’ts

  • Hire people who are smarter and more knowledgeable than you are.
  • Don’t hire people you can’t learn from or be challenged by.
  • Hire people who will add value to the product and our culture.
  • Don’t hire people who won’t contribute well to both.
  • Hire people who get things done.
  • Don’t hire people who just think about problems.
  • Hire people who are enthusiastic, self-motivated, and passionate.
  • Don’t hire people who just want a job.
  • Hire people who inspire and work well with others.
  • Don’t hire people who prefer to work alone.
  • Hire people who will grow with your team and with the company.
  • Don’t hire people with narrow skill sets or interests.
  • Hire people who are well rounded, with unique interests and talents.
  • Don’t hire people who only live to work.
  • Hire people who are ethical and who communicate openly.
  • Don’t hire people who are political or manipulative.
  • Hire only when you’ve found a great candidate.
  • Don’t settle for anything less.

A lot more should be done on the front end to clearly define what you’re looking for, so take the time to determine the ideal traits for the position. And widen the net beyond the usual channels to enable the candidate to find you.

“I will only hire someone to work directly for me if I would work for that person,” Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg recently told the audience at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. “It’s a pretty good test and I think this rule has served me well.”

Experience, knowledge, skills, behaviors and attitudes are all important and it is therefore vital to critically assess how the candidate measures up in each of these. And don’t restrict finding the best people to human resources or recruiters. Make hiring well the most important element in your organization to achieve optimal success.

photo credit: Needle In A Haystack via photopin (license)

Work Friends & Social Recognition

September 22, 2014

All of us want to feel valued for our contribution in the workplace. But there may be a disconnect between what employers think drive this feeling of being valued and what employees actually want and need.

It turns out that peer relationships can greatly impact our level of commitment and engagement. And the more friends we have at work, the more likely we are to trust co-workers as well as leadership.

Another area is in years of service recognition. The days of the gold watch or pin for various years of service no longer suffice as recent research has show that employees are more likely to be moved by emotionally-driven, social recognition.

These are the findings of research by Globoforce in a report called “The Effect of Work Relationships on Organizational Culture and Commitment.” The Fall 2014 Workforce Mood Tracker recently surveyed 716 randomly selected employees in the United States who were working in companies with at least 500 employees.

When we consider that most of us with full time jobs spend more time with our co-workers than we do with our families, we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of these relationships.

Among the research findings with regard to peer relationships:

  • 93% value the respect of work friends or colleagues and 63% of them find it extremely important or very important.
  • 74% claim to have a shared history and memories with co-workers.
  • 89% say work relationships matter to their quality of life, with more than half (55%) saying it is extremely important or very important.
  • Employees with friends at work are twice as likely to trust leadership than those without friends.
  • The more friends one has at work, the higher level of pride they take in their company as well as their co-workers.
  • The more friends an employee has at work, the less likely they are to leave. In response to: “Would you accept another job if it were offered to you?” those with no friends at work were 42% likely, while those with 1-5 friends 38% likely, and those with 6 to 25 friends only 30% likely.
  • Highly engaged workers: no friends 28%, 1-5 friends 37%, 6-25 friends 48%, 25+ friends 69%.

 

Clearly, having friends at work can directly impact trust, engagement, retention and overall quality of life.

When it comes to recognition, the survey also found that meaningful recognition matters, and when not tied in with co-workers can actually negatively impact the employee. Among the findings on recognition:

  • Employees feel more valued when peers participate in anniversaries. 70% vs. 24% feel more valued when celebrated with peers in addition to the company as opposed to the company alone.
  • Workers with peer-celebrated milestones are less likely to leave the company for another position. In response to the question: “Would you accept a new job if it were offered to you?” 74% said yes when there was no celebration at all, 66% said yes when celebration was with company only, and only 52% said yes when celebration included co-workers.
  • When employees report their last company milestone as “an emotional, moving or poignant experience,” they are significantly more likely to see that anniversary as positive and three times more likely to say it made them feel more valued.
  • Employees were more likely to report a positive experience when the formal recognition experience was tied to company goals and values. They were also three times more likely to say it made them feel more valued.
  • When asked what could make the milestone experience more meaningful, 65% said shared stories and memories, and 72% said they like the idea of including a retrospective of their career accomplishments.

 

Emotional anniversaries and recognition make employees feel more valued with higher pride, higher engagement, and are more reflective and likely to renew their commitment to the company.

So how do you encourage workplace friendships and provide more robust, meaningful recognition? Obviously, a friendly and welcoming workplace is more likely to encourage people to socialize. Specificity both positive and negative when providing feedback is extremely helpful. Also, you can encourage other’s opinions and viewpoints when determining policy decisions and workplace issues.

Peter Drucker once said “culture eats strategy over breakfast.” Staying on top of your company’s culture to keep it positive and aligned with your values will go a long way towards encouraging friendships and making recognition more meaningful. Never underestimate the power of your company’s culture.

A product called TINYpulse can capture anonymous feedback from team members to reveal insights, trends, and opportunities to improve retention, culture and results. Think of it like the old fashioned “suggestion box” only it can be done with quick online surveys directly pushed to employees. This will help keep them involved and encourage them to feel their opinions matter.

Finding ways to foster friendships as well as acknowledging years of service by including co-workers in the recognition will go a long way in making employees feel valued. And feeling valued is what will make employees more engaged, productive, and less likely to leave for another opportunity.

 

Organizational Health Key to Innovation

April 3, 2014

Is risk encouraged or discouraged in your organization? What happens when someone makes a mistake?

When I talk with a potential client with regard to his or her organization, these are questions I like to ask because they provide me with an indication of just how much of a learning organization it may or may not be. Peter M. Senge describes this concept in great detail in his book, “The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization.”

So much of organizational health is determined by how these two questions are answered because a healthy organization is one that knows calculated risks and mistakes are necessary in order to grow and prosper.

Risk is inherent in business and most businesses would never have started if their founders were risk averse. As companies get larger, control often increases to help maintain structure and order. It can also stifle risk and the resulting innovation.

Organizations that try to minimize mistakes are also likely to minimize innovation. Those that accept mistakes as part of growth, however, are likely to reap more innovation.

Innovation doesn’t have to be about creating the next iPhone: it can also be about finding new materials to minimize production costs, restructuring the workforce to be more efficient, or expanding into new and unproven markets.

Innovation requires being open to risk and allowing for mistakes.

So much of risk taking is the ability to make oneself vulnerable. Being vulnerable can often lead to criticism, ridicule and embarrassment. It can also lead to creativity and spur new ideas.

Vulnerability is all too rarely seen in our leaders. However, I believe it actually demonstrates great strength of character and brings about loyalty.

In Brene Brown’s book “Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way we Live, Love, Parent and Lead,” she discusses the importance of our ability to be vulnerable. She argues that this vulnerability is not a weakness, but instead a path to courage, engagement and meaningful connection. And vulnerability can spark a spirit of truth—and trust—in organizations as well as our families, schools and communities.

Vulnerability is what unites us as humans and, contrary to popular belief, when demonstrated by leaders, actually inspires us to follow them.

In her book, Dr. Brown has 10 questions that help uncover the health of an organization:

  1. What behaviors are rewarded? Punished?
  2. Where and how are people actually spending their resources (time, money, attention)?
  3. What rules and expectations are followed, enforced, and ignored?
  4. Do people feel safe and supported talking about how they feel and asking for what they need?
  5. What are the sacred cows? Who is most likely to tip them? Who stands the cows back up?
  6. What stories are legend and what values to they convey?
  7. What happens when someone fails, disappoints, or makes a mistake?
  8. How is vulnerability (uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure) perceived?
  9. How prevalent are shame and blame and how are they showing up?
  10. What’s the collective tolerance for discomfort? Is the discomfort of learning, trying new things, and giving and receiving feedback normalized, or is there a high premium put on comfort (and how does that look)?

These questions can be difficult because they will cause those answering them to be vulnerable. However, the process can lead to great insight and perhaps fundamental shifts inside the organization. Ultimately, discussing them with a large group could reap huge benefits and begin to help heal the organization.

One of my favorite quotes is by the wrier Anais Nin who said, “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” What if rather than holding back and keeping yourself from showing your vulnerability, you brought it forward? This would take great courage, but it would also free you from what holds you back and expand your life.

Is it risky? You bet. But there may be no better way to transform yourself and your organization to become healthy.  And a healthy you in a healthy organization will bring about needed innovation.

Three Ways to Increase Employee Engagement

January 27, 2014

Raising employee engagement should be the goal of every organization because engaged employees are more productive than those who are not.

Despite the fact that many companies are lavishing their workers with extravagant perks, overall employee engagement is still very low. Seventy percent of the country’s 100 million full-time workers are either not engaged or are actively disengaged.

Three ways to increase employee engagement include the freedom on how to do the work, the option to work on things that interest the individual employee, and the flexibility to work remotely at least part of the time.

A few years ago Netflix created their employee slide deck in which one of the seven aspects of their culture is freedom and responsibility. This includes self-motivation, self-awareness, self-discipline, self-improving, acts like a leader and others.

They found that as companies grow they are typically forced to add more processes and procedures in order to manage the increasing complexity that comes with more employees. These processes and procedures, however, lead only to short-term benefits and often drive the highest performing employees out of the company.

Netflix instead attracted high value people with the freedom to have a big impact, demanded a high performance culture, and provided top of market compensation. So instead of a “culture of process adherence” they have a “culture of creativity and self-discipline, freedom and responsibility.”

As I wrote in a previous post, this freedom takes great courage and faith that your employees will be responsible and accountable for getting things done.  So far, this seems to have paid off for Netflix.

The second area that can help boost employee engagement is enabling workers to follow their interests and passions. This could be similar to what Google provides in “20% Time,” where employees can choose to work on a project or concept that intrigues them to stir innovation. Though not official, there are reports that Google has done away with 20% Time, even though it produced such profitable ventures as Gmail, Google News and Adsense.

The idea of giving employees this freedom is not new as 3M was exploring the use of 15% time for this purpose as far back as the conservative 1950s. Well-known and profitable products like Post-its and masking tape were invented out of this.

There is even a 20-Time in Education that allows students 20% of class time (one day each week) to work on and explore a topic of their choice. Since the world is becoming more interconnected and collaborative, it seems natural to enable learners to begin working in this way before they need to earn a paycheck for it. This means teaching students to be autonomous learners who can guide their own career and discover how to most effectively contribute to a team.

Finally, there is the notion of creating a culture of openness that enables employees to choose not only how they do the work, but also from where.

Nearly 30% of employers now offer telecommuting as a way to improve staff retention rates, and nearly three-quarter of employees say flexible work hours would cause them to choose one job over another.

But is the ability to work remotely really the complete answer?

Gallup recently found that employees who worked remotely ended up working longer hours and were slightly more engaged employees. They found that 32% of employees who worked remotely engaged, while only 28% of those employees working on-site were engaged.

However, it turns out that there was a point of diminishing returns for remote workers. Those spending 20% or less of their time working remotely were found to be the most engaged (35%) and had the lowest level of active disengagement (12%). Working remotely began to decrease engagement levels, however, with more time spent away from the workplace.

There should be a balance between face-time with other workers and flexibility for how the work gets accomplished.

Dave Coplin, chief envisioning officer at Microsoft, in an entertaining look in this RSA animated video, discusses how technology can be part of the problem as well as a potential solution.

Among other things, Coplin says that social networking has changed how we work in that we are now sharing just about everything versus previously when we were sharing only what we chose to share. This sharing inevitably requires a great deal more trust not only in our selves but in each other as well.

The idea of providing employee perks to encourage workers to stay at the office longer can initially attract employees, but giving benefits that stir innovation and lasting employee engagement needs to appeal more to people’s intrinsic motivation.

This means providing people with the freedom on what the work is, how it gets done and where to do it. Accompanying this freedom also requires a degree of trust, responsibility and accountability.  And that’s a formula for increasing employee engagement.

Happiness Through Work

December 17, 2013

Social scientists have boiled down Americans’ level of happiness to three major sources: genetics, events and values. The first two are largely out of our control, but the last one is where we have a great deal of control with which can ultimately determine our happiness.

According to a University of Chicago’s General Social Survey of Americans conducted since 1972, it found that about a third of Americans reported they are “very happy,” about half say they are “pretty happy,” and 10% to 15% report being “not too happy.” And these ratios have stayed about the same over 40 years.

In a recent New York Times opinion piece titled “A Formula for Happiness” and in similar content on a YouTube video, Arthur C. Brooks explains how research has determined that 48% of our happiness is inherited and another 40% is based on events that have occurred in the recent past. Much of that may be beyond our control. This leaves just 12% that can help us alter our happiness quotient.

Many people may think there is direct relationship between money and happiness. And this is generally true for the poor.

But Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman found that once people reach a little beyond an average middle-class income level (about $75,000), even big financial gains don’t bring about much more, if any, happiness.

So that brings us to the 12% of which all of us have some control over our happiness. And this is in our values.

According to Brooks, these values come down to four things upon which we have a great deal of control. These are: faith, family, community and work.

Faith does not necessarily mean being religious, but is more about the interior or spiritual life. Family is obvious, but may require a new perspective with regard to how integral these people are to our overall happiness. Community means cultivating important people into our lives and being charitable. This includes the friends we choose to associate with and how generous we are to those outside of our immediate family.

And then there is work.

“Work can bring happiness by marrying our passions to our skills, empowering us to create value in our lives and in the lives of others,” says Brooks. This secret to happiness through work is what Brooks calls earned success.

“This is not conjecture; it is driven by the data,” says Brooks. “Americans who feel they are successful at work are twice as likely to say they are very happy overall as people who don’t feel that way. And these differences persist after controlling for income and other demographics.”

I should point out that Brooks is president of the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington, D.C. public policy think tank with an obvious free market perspective. Its mission is “to defend the principles and improve the institutions of American freedom and democratic capitalism.“

His perspective is that free enterprise is the right approach to reaching happiness through work. He says that if you want happiness not only for you but for others around the world, then you should work for free enterprise everywhere.

I won’t debate the potential political and economic argument here, but instead stay focused on the element of pursuing work that matters to you which can help determine your happiness.

What about you? Are you happy? Are you very happy? Is there something you can do to alter the values upon which determine your level of happiness?

Here at the end of another year, perhaps it’s time to take stock of where we are. Since our faith, family and community is ultimately under our control, it comes down to whether or not we choose to take responsibility for them or not. The same is true for work.

Do you believe you are creating value with your contribution at work? If so, the research says that you are more likely to be happy with your life.

As I’ve written about on a number of occasions, the work we do is a lot more than simply a paycheck and a way to provide for us monetarily. In our work, we have the opportunity to find fulfillment, a sense of purpose, and a reason for being that can ultimately help determine our overall happiness.

Don’t we owe it to ourselves to find and make ourselves happy by pursuing work that joins our passion and skills to provide value to us, and to the world?