Posts

Image by Tom Kawila

5 Essential 2021 Workplace Soft Skills (And How to Recognize Them)

Yes, workplace soft skills still matter. In fact, amid our ever-changing “new normal,” the intangible qualities that focus on behavior, personal traits and cognitive capabilities are more in-demand than at any other time in the modern workplace. They are also more challenging to recognize.

According to Deloitte, 90% of organizations are redesigning roles and teams. Perhaps no surprise, traits like adaptability continue to be in high demand as businesses adjust their operations to embrace remote work and other hybrid workplace models. At the same time, many job seekers are looking to make career transitions. Along the way, they’ll leverage the transferable, people-centered capabilities they currently possess.

In other words, we’ll soon be looking at a perfect storm for soft skills. Companies will covet them while candidates market themselves and their mastered soft skills to the best employers.

Top 5 Essential Soft Skills for 2021

So which workplace soft skills do employers require now? In our near-future of work, which soft skills will candidates need most to succeed?

Self-Management

The recent swing toward more autonomous working environments has changed everything. In the process, self-management has become one of the most in-demand — and marketable — soft skills. From everything to task ownership to time management, and self-motivation and the ability to set boundaries, this skill is a must-have in the workplace. A person who self-manages well also significantly reduces the risk of WFH burnout and Zoom fatigue.

Communication Skills

Good communication isn’t all about how we talk to others; it also involves active listening and the ability to keenly observe as well. Candidates must not only be articulate, but they must also be able to “see” beyond the spoken word and notice unproductive behaviors and patterns. Employees with expert communication abilities also tend to mitigate problems before they become a crisis and focus on collaborative solutions when they’re needed most. 

Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence (or “EQ”) is the ability to gauge and manage your own emotions while building productive relationships. EQ influences how well employees interact with one another — especially in remote or hybrid working environments. EQ also helps us increase performance, manage stress and conflict, and show much-needed gratitude. In a world of work where much of our communication happens via one-dimensional, tone-deaf text rather than in-person conversations, EQ will remain a top workplace soft skill for some time. 

Empathy

At one time, we didn’t associate empathy with the workplace. However, since we are now invited into everyone’s homes every day via Zoom, empathy is among the most sought-after soft skills. Especially when combined with a high level of emotional intelligence, empathy helps us read people and situations. When an employee has mastered empathy as a soft skill, they better exhibit adaptability, find it easier to build trust and connect quicker with remote team members. 

Self-Awareness

The mother of all soft skills, self-awareness, allows us to identify and develop the skills we may be lacking. Those with self-awareness pay attention to how they show up in different situations, especially during digital communications (like all those Zoom meetings). They ask for and are interested in and open to feedback from colleagues and leaders. Most importantly, they’re interested in personal and professional growth, achievement and contribution levels. 

How to Recognize These Five Workplace Soft Skills in Candidates

Candidates may not always be aware of their own soft skills. Or, especially during a virtual interview, they may not know how to articulate them). But savvy hiring teams can learn a lot during the application and interview process — virtual or traditional. 

For example, when a candidate completes an assigned, interview-related task on time and conveys their accomplishment to the recruiter, that’s a sign they have mastered self-management and communication skills. Similarly, candidates who give their former teammates credit while understanding how difficult it can be to remain productive during the pandemic display emotional intelligence and empathy. And those who display a passion for growth within a given role and as a member of a team — while understanding how they’ll need to adapt to fit into this new role — demonstrate acute self-awareness.

Want to truly assess mastery of the soft skills most important to your team or company? Be sure to leverage the many behavioral and situational tools available. 

For example, ask candidates to tell stories about how they handled various scenarios. Of course, don’t just rely on the candidate’s ability to serve as a storyteller. So ask the candidate’s references for insights on their workplace soft skills. For example, ask the reference to describe how the candidate handled specific situations involving stress and deadline-related pressure. To keep the conversation balanced, ask how they successfully rose to challenges and met opportunities to collaborate or lead.

Leverage Available Digital Resources

There is no doubt: Emerging technologies have helped us thrive during the pandemic. So why not take advantage of the many digital tools that have been developed and fine-tuned during the pandemic to better assess soft skills in candidates:

  • Video-based interview platforms that capture a candidates’ emotional nuances. We’ve found that reviewing videos after the initial discussion can reveal even more than noticed during the first couple rounds of interviews. Specifically, that review can provide hints that a candidate hasn’t quite mastered a specific soft skill. 
  • Virtual reality (VR) assessments can immerse candidates in a simulated world of the job and working conditions. These VR platforms help crystallize an excellent candidate experience. They also have tremendous recruiting advantages; some have increased work efficiency in industrial settings by 60%.

Recognizing Workplace Soft Skills: A Soft Skill of Its Own

A quick look at an application, resume, and LinkedIn profile will tell you most of what you need to know on the technical and professional side of the hiring process. We’ve all gotten pretty good at that side of the equation.

But screening for these five workplace soft skills is a skill all unto itself. By taking the time to master this skill, however — and by learning how to recognize the most in-demand soft skills for 2021 — you’ll help secure the best possible candidates for your company.

 

Frank McKenna

[#WorkTrends] Unmute Yourself! How Remote Workers Can Self-Advocate

As an isolated team member, how do you sustain an effective communication chain, stay productive, and get what you need out of your employer? How do you unmute yourself?

For many, the coronavirus crisis has meant working conditions they could not have anticipated. Now, collaboration and face-to-face contact — once common practice — are non-existent. We can no longer lean over the cubicle to ask a quick question. An experienced co-worker, assistance from a trusted colleague, and feedback from a manager can be hard to find. Today, we go it alone, working from home. 

Which means we must put ourselves in a position to get what we need from our employer. We need to find a way to be seen — and heard. For that to happen, we must first hone and then leverage finely tuned communication skills. Skills we may not have previously mastered.

I wonder: How many of us are genuinely comfortable advocating for ourselves? 

Our Guest: Rachel Druckenmiller, Wellbeing Expert at UnmutedLife

Our guest on this week’s episode of WorkTrends is Rachel Druckenmiller, a wellbeing expert recognized as the No. 1 Health Promotion Professional in the U.S. and a national thought leader in the field of employee engagement. When I asked why more people aren’t speaking up and advocating for themselves during these trying times, we jumped right into this timely topic. Rachel’s answer was enlightening:

“We thought this was all going to be over by now. Then we thought, ‘Oh, we’ll have Easter. Then Thanksgiving.’ Now we’re realizing, ‘No, this is gonna be a long haul.’”

“So the important thing is to step back and recognize that we’ve been in chronic fight or flight mode — an acute response that puts us in a reactive part of our brain. And we stay there. Not just because of pandemic fatigue, but because of the climate crisis, political, social, and racial injustice, and work demands and homeschooling.” Rachel went on to add for people working from home, the timing couldn’t have been worse: “We lost our outlets and social connections. We lost a method of release.” 

“We stopped speaking up.”

Combined with the prolonged trauma many of us are experiencing, this form of self-silencing, Rachel told us, can have a negative impact on each of us. “It ends up being a host for emotional, relational, mental health challenges like depression and loneliness, marital problems, eating disorders, low self-esteem, and more.”

Learning How to Unmute Yourself

Rachel used an interesting analogy to help us learn how to unmute ourselves…

“In the wild, a gazelle is getting chased by a tiger. The gazelle gets caught. So now, it will play dead. The gazelle will go limp; it will try to trick the tiger into thinking that they’re already dead. Often, the tiger will leave. The gazelle will get up and shake it off. And when they do, they release all that negative energy. They feel new again.”

Rachel went on to say: “Animals in the wild release energy, and humans don’t. We compound it. We have one stress, and we never resolve it. Then we take on another stress, and we never resolve that one. Eventually, the body has to do something with all that stress. We need the release. We need to speak up!”

I mentioned to Rachel that leaders also need to help with this release. They must step up in an emotionally intelligent way and intentionally interact with their people. Leaders must serve as, or provide, a form of release. Rachel agreed, “In times of crisis, what followers need most from leaders is trust, compassion, stability, and hope. To do that, they must ask for feedback, then act on what was said.”

Leaders as Release

Rachel went on to say the leaders who provide this form of release — that enable us to unmute — are highly valued. We rate them as the most likable, approachable, and trustworthy.

Our conversation only got better from there. We discussed practical methods of releasing unwanted energy, increasing self-awareness, and how to be your own advocate by taking action. 

I thank Rachel Druckenmiller for joining me on the #WorkTrends podcast this week. I enjoyed every minute… and you will too. Listen in!

 

Find Rachel on LinkedIn.

 

Editor’s note: We’ve updated our FAQ page and also our #WorkTrends Podcast pages. Take a look!

Photo: Anika Huizinga

How to Stay Productive During the COVID-19 Crisis

Remote work isn’t new. In fact, working from home been on the rise since 2010. But this new decade brought with it COVID-19, triggering a complete paradigm shift for remote work, school and life — worldwide. As a result, how we communicate, learn, teach, and conduct business has changed. And staying productive has become a challenge all it’s own.

Back in April, FlexJobs reported more than half of all Americans were working from home. Since then, 65% said their productivity increasedIn June, Stanford reported that 42% of the U.S. labor force was working from home full-time, signaling a return to the office for many. But in July, COVID-19 cases soared by more than a million globally. More than half of all states in the U.S. that reopened (or planned to), closed in an effort to curb the virus. Given this ever-evolving context and data, we soon knew it would be a tough summer. 

How Do We Stay Productive?

Now that we roll into the fall, families and students grapple with how to return not just to school, but to some sense of normalcy. At the same time, organizations struggle with re-entry to the workplace. While Twitter says they’ll begin reintegrating employees into their offices soon, major companies like Amazon have decided to remain remote until the end of 2020. Google and Facebook have announce their employees will work remotely until mid-2021. 

So amid this ongoing crisis and uncertainty, how exactly do we keep stay productive? In the workplace, how can we find the balance between completely safe and fully engaged?

For many leaders, these seven strategies now serve as a roadmap that helps teams stay productive during the COVID-19 pandemic…

1. Focus on Priorities

Location shouldn’t matter as long as the work gets done, especially now. Employees should think about what work needs to get done, in what order, and how they should tackle that work. Managers, on the other hand, should think about the work that must be produced today while keeping an eye on what’s on the horizon. Combined, this strategy helps set realistic priorities while reducing stress and burnout.

2. Boost Communication

For a remote workforce to be successful, strong communication is key. So managers must integrate communications technology like Slack, Trello, Basecamp, and Zoom. By leveraging these tools effectively and in a balanced manner (no Zoom calls at 6:15am!), managers can easily check-in with employees – perhaps even more often than they did when sharing an office. The win-win: this boost in communication builds even stronger working relationships across the organization.

3. Adopt New Approaches

As the world of work changes, managers must change their approach. True, we’re no longer in the same office. But that doesn’t mean we can’t continue to build mutually-beneficial, one-on-one relationships. One example is making remote work feel more human. Other approaches range from more informal meetings (just to connect), to co-created checklists and to-do lists (to build autonomy). Bottom line: The same rigid approaches to work we used to rely on may not work well now.

4. Set Clear Expectations

Clearly stating expectations and setting common goals is more important now than ever. Just as vital: A clear of understanding of how work will be measured. This will help ensure everyone understands what productivity looks like. At this time, being autocratic may not be the right answer. So welcome input and questions. After all, when managers encourage curiosity it naturally empowers each of us to do good work.

5. Offer Respectful Radical Candor

Managers and leaders must lead by example. So, no more excuses to others — or ourselves — as to why we can’t get work done. To excel, we must be honest about why we can’t be efficient during these times. Let’s accept responsibility and ditch the lies to hack productivity. Let’s consistently offer respectful radical candor. We can then co-create solutions to the challenges we face. By working together, we can overcome whatever keeps us from being productive.

6. Use Stress to Your Advantage

Not all stress is bad stress. Some stressors actually motivate us to better maintain our focus, stimulating a better work performance with goals and deadlines at the forefront. Of course, sometimes stress becomes too overwhelming. When that happens, take a deep breath. Refocus on the highest priorities. Where possible, reset expectations. By focusing on an employees strengths rather than what feels like a weakness during stressful moments, managers can help reduce the bad kinds of stress. And use the good for good.

7. Employ Empathy

Remote work has always meant a flexible work location, work schedule and dress code. But now, empathy plays a role in flexibility. Today, many of us must think about the pressures of working from home. We must integrate family responsibilities, distance or hybrid learning for children, and other life commitments. Showing empathy, and specifically knowing what each of us might be going through during the COVID-19 crisis, helps maintain – and even improves – our work culture.

Leverage these seven strategies. Help team members and leaders stay productive. Enable a positive company culture. Do it well, and you’ll help everyone feel more at ease during a complex time.

Alphacolor

The Power of a Purposeful Hashtag: #WorkTrends

If we’ve learned anything over the past decade, it is the power of a hashtag…

#WorkTrends has been on quite an adventure. Over the past 10 years, TalentCulture’s signature podcast has introduced us to great minds in the HR space. We’ve produced over 700 episodes — packed with insights, future-casting and anticipated trends.

We’ve had an incredible range of guests on #WorkTrends, from CEOs to technologists to practitioners, psychologists, data mavens and more. They’ve given us unparalleled perspectives and wisdom on so many subjects — leadership, recruiting, management, recognition, strategizing, coping, thriving. How, where, when, and even why we work is ever-expanding — and we’re proud to say our savvy guests predicted every pivot, and every moment. 

In our episodes and in our Twitter chats, we’ve heard some groundbreakers I’ll never forget. Listing the many names would take pages and pages, so to all our guests so far I’ll just say this: Thank you for gracing the #WorkTrends stage with your presence and your brilliance. 

And now it’s time to expand these amazing discussions… it is time to release them into the world.

The Power of Change

Even before the massive changes of 2020, TalentCulture was planning our own set of changes: a new website, an expanded community, and a new way to bring #WorkTrends to our growing audience. We recognized that in today’s business world, we’re connecting across digital space more than ever before. And we realized there isn’t a better time than now to broaden our discussions. 

So we’re inviting everyone to join the #WorkTrends conversation beyond Twitter — and across more social media channels. We’re taking #WorkTrends to LinkedIn, Facebook, Google and beyond. Of course, you’ll find the same dynamic conversations about key work topics and all the issues that matter. Instead of exclusively through a weekly Twitter chat, though, #WorkTrends will be an ongoing discussion.

We believe the world of work is limitless: it’s a wellspring of energy and engagement. And to honor that, we’re opening the gates. 

The Power of a Purposeful Hashtag

#WorkTrends is now a legacy hashtag. It’s become a classic that represents all the best minds and conversations. We’re excited to watch it grow wings — and move across time zones, borders, and barriers. So please join us. It’s going to be another wonderful adventure!

Be sure to tune into our weekly #WorkTrends podcasts and recaps. And to learn even more about how we’re growing the podcast, check out our WorkTrends FAQ page.

As always, thanks so much for tuning in and being a member of this amazing community. You #inspire me — every day!  

Photo: Danielle MacInnes

10 Tips to Stabilize Employee Experience During the Pandemic

In an outlook where the future looks bleak, only true leaders guide their team through the storm and come out stronger on the other side. And only the best leaders will focus on employee experience during that storm.

That leader needs to be you.

During an unprecedented crisis such as COVID-19, your leadership becomes even more valuable. With so much uncertainty, your employees will look to you now more than ever for stability.

How Can You Maintain a Positive Employee Experience?

Here’s how you can provide stability for employees while keeping your business operating at maximum efficiency…

1. Foster Transparent Communications

During times of crisis, transparency becomes essential. If your employees think your business is in trouble, they’ll feel anxious.

As the person in charge, you need to keep everyone in the loop. That means sending regular updates about how the business is doing, what problems you’re running into, what you’re doing to deal with them, and more.

2. Keep Communications Positive and Hopeful

Since employees will be expecting to hear from you often, make sure any communications you send out don’t make your employees feel anxious any further.

For example, if you have daily or weekly meetings, start them off by talking about successes within the company. After all, recognizing your employees’ efforts becomes even more important during times of turbulence. And those people and teams recognized will certainly appreciate being recognized, a key aspect in improving overall employee experience.

3. Offer Ways for Your Employees to Relieve Stress

Since the lines between the office and home have become blurred, it can be a smart move to provide your team with ways to relieve stress such as:

  • Providing your employees with additional time off and breaks if needed.
  • Setting up team virtual game nights or remote “after-office” clubs. (That said, make sure to be considerate of parents and others who may not have the same flexibility with evening get-togethers.)
  • Encouraging your team to talk to each other about how they’re handling all the changes. Make it easier to share how colleagues in similar positions are managing — what’s working, what’s not.

Happy employees tend to be better at their jobs. Helping your team relieve stress shows them you care, and it can foster in-office ties.

4. Adjust Your Internal Processes to the “New Normal”

Nothing is the same as it was months ago, so the internal processes that help you deliver products/services and accomplish tasks also need to adapt to the new normal.

For example, now might not be the best time for performance reviews as few people may be thriving during the pandemic.

5. Be Empathetic and Patient with Your Team

The pandemic and near-global quarantines have had a massive impact on most people’s mental health. One of the key reasons is that a lot of employees don’t know if they’ll have a job in a month or two.

On top of being transparent about how things are going within the business, you also need to be patient with your team. Few people are performing at 100% now, so empathy is key.

Don’t simply assume you have empathy. Chat with three to five trusted people for their honest feedback and ask if they perceive a sincere effort to accommodate the team.

6. Ramp Up Employee Feedback

Although you may know your industry inside and out, your team probably has insights that you might not have considered.

If you want to stay ahead of the curve, encourage everyone who works for you to come forward with any feedback they might have. The best way to do that is to provide multiple channels for inbound feedback.

7. Set Up New Channels for Inbound Feedback

Some examples of the types of channels you can set up to encourage employee feedback include:

By providing multiple channels, you increase the chance employees will share concerns and also information about protocol violations.

8. Promote New Safety Protocols

If part of your team isn’t working remotely, then it’s your job to enforce security protocols.

That means giving your team all the information they need to perform their job safely without adding to their stress levels.

So don’t make it sterile and forgettable. Promote your safety protocols in a fun way that’s “on-brand” and will click with your employees.

9. Help Your Team Recalibrate Expectations

Although it’s your job to ensure that employees don’t feel anxious, you also need to be forthcoming about what the pandemic might mean for the employee experience now and in the future.

Some companies are putting off raises others are cutting hours, and more. Being transparent about what the business is going through will help your team keep their expectations in line.

Your team will have the confidence to adjust if they see a transparent management that is doing everything to keep the ship afloat. And that confidence will become a huge element in their employee experience.

10. Recognize the Small Things

Now more than ever, your employees need to know that you recognize the work and effort they’re putting in.

Without people showing up to work every day (even if it’s from their living room) your company wouldn’t survive. By fostering an environment where hard work is recognized and praised, you can help your team weather the storm.

Your Leadership Can Make the Biggest Difference

No industry is coming out of the pandemic unscathed. So how good your footing is after everything is said and done will depend on the level of stability instilled into your employee experience during these times.

By fostering transparency, encouraging employee engagement, and by being more empathetic, you can ensure that your team knows you’re on their side.

Photo: Drew Beamer

New Research Indicates Desire for Recognition, Feedback

In the past several months, many companies have modified their performance programs. From streamlining their review processes to running more frequent pulse surveys, organizations around the world are seeking to make changes that will ultimately boost employee performance and productivity.

Our company, Reflektive, sought to measure these changes with a performance management survey. In June we reached out to 445 HR professionals and business leaders, and 622 employees, to understand the current state of their performance programs. We compared these results to a similar survey we ran in 2018. Our 2020 Performance Management Benchmark Report uncovered meaningful performance management trends over the past two years, as well as insights into the current state of work.

Formal Processes of Performance Management Consistent Since 2018

A surprising observation was that the formal processes of performance management have not changed significantly over the last two years. Nearly half of reviews are run annually or less frequently. Forty-six percent of respondents use descriptive performance ratings, such as “meets expectations.” 

People Analytics Present Big Opportunity

The survey also found that only 50% of HR and business leaders are using people analytics to predict performance and turnover. What’s interesting is that most leaders believe that people analytics has become more important, however they’re still not utilizing this technology to inform strategic people decisions. This gap can really impact workforce planning, as organizations struggle to fill needs when employees depart.

Employees Desire More Communication and Transparency from Companies

The employee survey results revealed that workers seek more communication to stay informed and engaged at work. Nearly half of respondents desire more consistent communication from leadership, and 37% said more consistent communication was needed from colleagues. 

In a similar vein, we found that employees sought more transparency from their employers. Only 19% of employees believed that their organization was transparent about upward mobility. Twenty-one percent said their company was communicative about salary freezes, and the same percentage said that their org was transparent about potential pay cuts. Employees are cognizant of the pandemic’s economic toll, and would like their companies to be honest with them about the business impact.

Employees Seek More Feedback and Coaching for their Growth

Another interesting insight we uncovered was that employees want more from their performance programs. Specifically, they’re looking for increased coaching, dialogue and recognition from their managers. Since 2018, there’s been a 3.2X increase in the percentage of employees that desire recognition. We also observed a nearly 90% increase in the percentage of employees that desire formal feedback conversations monthly or more frequently.

A performance bright spot was the manager-employee relationship. Over 80% of employees surveyed said that they are having 1:1s with their managers. Additionally, 80% said that these meetings were productive. This data was really uplifting to me, since driving alignment and communication can be tricky when everyone is working remotely.

However, we did identify a major communication gap: only 20% of employees reported that they receive weekly feedback. So it appears that managers and employees are talking regularly about ongoing work and projects, but employees still aren’t receiving the coaching that they desire. This represents a huge opportunity for managers — they can benefit from training on how to ask important questions, and how to provide valuable feedback on a more regular basis. Performance management technology — including feedback prompts and 1:1 tools — can help drive productive coaching conversations too.

Getting Feedback Remains Challenging for Employees

One interesting discrepancy between leaders and employees was sentiment around initiating feedback conversations. Only 14% of HR professionals and business leaders felt that employees weren’t empowered to initiate feedback conversations. However, 30% of employees — or over 2X the percentage of leaders — felt that they weren’t empowered to request feedback. This discrepancy indicates that HR teams and leaders are overestimating employee comfort with feedback processes. Employee training on giving and receiving feedback, and an easy-to-use feedback tool, can help fill this gap.

Executives and Employees Remain Optimistic for the Future

While sentiment and outlooks are continuously evolving in 2020, both executives and employees remain optimistic about the future. Specifically, executives anticipate more investment in technology (35% of respondents) and more efforts to boost engagement and retain employees (29% of respondents). 

Employees anticipate that six months from now, it will be business as usual (34% of respondents). Additionally, 26% expect to have learned new skills, and 25% believe they’ll feel proud of their accomplishments. Despite the many headwinds that they’re facing, employees feel that they will come out of 2020 stronger and more prepared for the future.

As employees, HR teams, and executives navigate the ever-changing environment, agility and resilience will be crucial. The ability to work productively in different environments, and collaborate cross-functionally, will be highly valued. Companies that maintain engaged and productive workforces will be the success stories of 2020.

This post is sponsored by Reflektive.

Photo: Christina @ wocintechchat.com

The Power of Check-Ins: 7 Proven Strategies

A large component of any work culture is how managers assess and review employee performance and chart progress. Given the remote and hybrid nature of so many workplaces today, the approach is evolving — from top-down, unilateral, formal reviews to more dynamic and continual conversations. We’re seeing an increasing need for transparency and authenticity, and for recognizing how important it is for managers to reach out to employees — not just around a series of tasks accomplished, but around overall contributions to the organization and their own sense of goals and performance. Check-ins enable managers and employees to do just that. They create a framework of interaction and communication through a continuous cycle, and are proving far more effective than traditional reviews. They’re becoming a hallmark of modern talent management, and for good reason. 

Done well, check-ins build a dynamic relationship between manager and employee that increases engagement, enhances employee experience, and organically aligns employee and employer goals. But they need to be conducted not as check-ups, but as two-way interactions focused on trust as well as growth. 

The Value of Trust

For those already doing them right, check-ins with employees are focused on growth, albeit in small doses. It’s not hard to connect a cadence of conversations that include feedback, advice and dialogue to the development of our employees after all. But trust is just as key: all successful relationships are built on trust, especially in today’s workplace. It’s human nature to reject feedback and advice from someone we don’t trust, and that extends readily into the workplace. Without trust, the check-in process would fail before it started.

As with any other HR strategy there are best practices for conducting check-ins, whether from home or the office. Recently I sat down with TalentCulture’s Meghan M. Biro to level-set on seven critical factors that can standardize your check-in strategy — without diminishing either responsiveness or flexibility:   

Approach: Check-ins are not about a top-down, unilateral approach. While the role of managers has always entailed authority and supervision, when it comes to check-ins, managers need to scale back that dynamic. 

Replace the reflex to be assertive with a focus on the employee. Truly understand what makes them tick; this means listening to their thoughts, opinions and concerns and acting on them. Research by the Harvard Business Review shows that the more you listen to employees, the better they think you are at giving feedback, and so the more likely they are to trust what you say. 

Purpose: Check-ins embody a shift in purpose. They depart from the static occasion of traditional reviews to setting up a highly effective and ongoing dynamic geared to building trust and fostering growth. 

Dave Ulrich articulated the shift in his book, Victory Through Organization: “The foundational assumption is that feedback is not a leader’s side-responsibility; it is the leader’s primary work.” Instead of thinking of a check-in as an isolated moment or a mini-performance review, consider it a touchpoint on the employee lifecycle; an interaction that’s part of an ongoing conversation. 

Frequency: Establish a cadence of check-ins that adapts to the circumstance, the context, and the nature of your work culture. Pre-COVID, our advice was to conduct check-ins around every 4 to 6 weeks. But these are uncertain times — and they call for increased communication that’s aligned and consistent with the organizational message, culture and values. The bottom line is that you can’t overcommunicate. 

Your check-ins can take various forms, from a regular update focused on clarification and feedback; to a more comprehensive appraisal of performance (emphasizing personal development and employee contribution); to a marker of key events, such as onboarding, a promotion, a secondment, or even the shift to remote. But don’t do away with ad-hoc check-ins either. Employees and managers should be able to simply initiate a check-in regardless of whether it’s on the calendar. 

Approachability: Both parties should remain open and responsive within the context of a check-in. But that hinges on successfully building that foundation of trust: trust must be in place first in order for both parties to commit effectively. For managers, that means creating a sense of trust in the first place. Two simple ways to build trust: first, make it clear that either the manager or the employee is free to request a check-in at any time, for any reason — whether a formal discussion or a quick catch up. Second, whatever is covered, make it a conversation, in which you combine a review of tasks with questions about overall state of mind, and give the employee plenty of room to answer. Listening to your team members reinforces the fact that check-ins are not an exercise in powerplay, but on the contrary, a forum for two adults to meet on equal terms. 

In my discussion with Meghan, she pointed out the value of flattening the expected hierarchy: “For employees who may be used to taking a passive role in their own professional development, check-ins change the game. Instead of receiving advice and feedback, they get to play a lead role in assessing and guiding their own development.” This means it’s incumbent upon employees to not just discuss how the work is going, but also focus on the direction they want to be heading in, and the skills they need to get there.This dynamic empowers employees, strengthening their performance and loyalty. 

Addressing the whole person: The manager needs to continually remind themselves that the check-in is not just about the job at hand. It’s not about a singular project. It needs to happen with an eye on the bigger picture, and the employee as a whole person, particularly right now. As well as addressing an employee’s performance and contributions, use the check-in time to reinforce a sense of social connection and foster the essential relationships we all need and depend on to work. 

Go beyond this, addressing any safety concerns the employee may have, which are so common as we navigate the minefield of COVID-19. Discuss the future in terms of a trajectory, not a fixed point, including what kinds of skills and behaviors need to be developed and supported. And use deeper questions to address aspects of wellness and health. Employers have a duty of care, and the more we all experience the integration of work and life, the more check-ins can play a helpful role.

Language: This is not just a matter of tone; it’s also a matter of clarity. Managers in particular need to focus on how to clarify and improve their language during check-ins, and be accountable for what you say as well as how to say it. What’s come to the fore during the shift to remote as well as the increased pressure on essential workers is that we need interactions that convey a clear perception of what is expected and how we are performing. 

That should seem a simple matter, but the nature of remote and hybrid working is that we’re communicating across multiple channels that may not deliver the same way as face to face. As Meghan pointed out, “Tone and language are more important than ever, and they’re harder to get right when we’re working virtually.” Managers should purposefully practice conducting check-ins until they’re comfortable enough that the action becomes a habit. 

Measuring the change: Effective check-ins offer two dimensions of measurable  impact over time. There’s the personal impact, or developmental path, and a business impact, or performance/contribution. Managers and leaders have a duty to effectively enable the workforce to achieve a high-high combination, in which both aspects see growth:

We’re been witnessing a sea change in how we work for a while. We’ve seen a shift to teams as the essential unit of operations, as opposed to individuals collected under a supervisor. We’ve seen a new emphasis on democratizing data. Further, there’s been a marked increase in the ability to work remotely. All have raised the bar on what constitutes a great work culture. The situation we find ourselves in now has put the onus on better communication overall, including how we provide feedback to employees, and even whether or not “providing” is the right term. We’re seeing the fruits of allowing both parties to be actively involved in feedback and reviews, and we’re seeing the benefits of grounding these conversations in trust and framing them as a continuing cycle rather than a rare event. 

Check-ins are a powerfully effective tool for inviting employees to own their own growth and contribution in your organization. They provide a means to build and maintain better manager-employee relationships, align around shared goals, and turn the workplace into a high-performing, engaged community.

This post is sponsored by MHR International.

Photo: Markus Winkler

Speaking Emoji: The New Language of Working

Emojis are both a language and a technology. Cultivate’s recent study into just how we use them shows how creatively we’ve adapted to this hybrid form of communication. In just over 20 years, emojis have evolved from the province of teens to an accepted part of business conversation. Influenced heavily by the presence of Gen Z and millennials, emojis have become a standard way to communicate — faster, more effective, and also, enabling us to communicate with more empathy

After 6 months of studying communications over Slack at four enterprise companies — including a total of 83,055 messages that used 101,134 emojis, Cultivate found some interesting trends. 30% of messages used Thumbs Up, while 27% used Mask Face

Emoji usage also differs by company: each has their own visual vocabulary based on company culture. And each generation has their preferences. Baby boomers enjoy receiving business texts with emojis, but only in the right context. Gen X appreciates informal channels like Facebook that can still be written professionally. Clearly, the majority of Gen Y (millennials) are obsessed with emojis and quick, digital-first communications like IMs or DMs. And Gen Z loves video formats, apps and mobile-only approaches with filters and emojis. 

In terms of how we use emojis, 16.3% of ad hoc requests were most typically answered with Thumbs Up, 1.31% with Okay Hand and 1.29% with Coffee.  14.64% of responses to completing tasks were followed by the highest-ranking Thumbs Up emoji and 1.13% were followed by the lowest-ranking Prayer Hands emoji 1.13%. 

The study also found that managers speak their own language: the top five emojis used by managers were different from the top five used by employees. The top emojis used by managers include Thumbs Up (in 4.63% of messages), Clapping (in 1.80%), Party Popper (0.88%), Smiley Face (0.53%), and Heart Eyes (0.39%). The top used team member emojis were Check Mark (in 1.83% of messages), Heart (1.35%), Laughing Crying (1.23%), Eyes (0.64%), and Heavy Plus Sign (0.54%).

Moreover, Cultivate found that managers and employees each tend to stick to the same emojis. As a language, emojis create a sense of connection — no matter the age or rank. And they add a personal touch along with a business personality that sets the tone for the work culture. 

Emojis also offer context to a message by bridging understanding with a reaction/emotion, especially for women, as recent research done by psychologists at Southwestern University found women tend to use twice as many emojis as compared to men. They use more emojis in particular to communicate and express emotions to family, friends and colleagues. Of course it depends on who we’re emoji-ing: you may not want to throw a line of crazy faces to your manager in an email. Then again, it might garner a Thumbs Up.

Photo: Franceso Gallorotti

Motivating Your Remote Workforce: Best Practices

Before any of us had even heard of the coronavirus, the remote workforce was already expanding. In fact, according to Global Workplace Analytics, it’s been growing about 10 percent every year for the past decade. But with our current situation, more and more of us are being pushed into remote work faster than ever. In fact, a recent Gartner survey found that 74 percent of CFOs anticipate taking previously on-site employees fully remote in the aftermath of COVID-19.

Remote work has long been a point of contention. For those who haven’t had the option, it sounds almost too good to be true. Meanwhile, those who do work remotely are quick to point out that there’s a big difference between a day in a home office and a day off. Turns out there are valid points on both sides. Remote workers do enjoy perks like increased flexibility and time saved by not commuting. However, research has found that remote employees work an average of 1.4 more days per month than their office-based counterparts. That adds up to three additional weeks of work per year! While remote work can increase productivity, it often leads to consistently long hours, which can have an adverse effect on mental health. That’s just one reason why managing a remote workforce can be a challenge. You need to inspire and motivate your team to do more than just their best work; you need to motivate remote employees to take care of themselves too.

Burnout is real. Even before this crisis, 29 percent of remote employees said they struggle with work-life balance, and 31 percent said they have needed to take a day off for their mental health. To really manage, motivate, and protect your most important asset — your people — consider these four suggestions.

Communicate Frequently and With Purpose

Working remotely, employees often feel disconnected. If they don’t receive information from leadership, they turn to other sources, formal and informal, and that can cause confusion and even panic. It’s important to ensure that the entire organization — onsite, on the road, or at home — understands the priorities of the business and exactly where they fit in. Creating a clear roadmap helps employees understand the ultimate goal of their work, making them more productive and reassured that their efforts contribute toward a positive outcome. Gartner Research highlights this as one of the most important parts of a remote work strategy.

That said, good communication goes both ways. Successful companies have leaders who embrace a culture of collaboration and continuous learning; one where listening means giving consideration and adjusting to the thoughts of subordinates, peers, supervisors, and across departments. When employees across an organization agree that there is something to be learned from everyone in the room (even if it’s a virtual room), you can surface more diverse perspectives, foster more effective communications, and achieve greater goals.

Establish a Routine

For my team at Skillsoft, one of the ways we’ve managed to stay connected is by making standup meetings and check-ins part of our daily rhythm. This gives teams more opportunities to communicate and has been key to providing a sense of normalcy even in these not-so-normal times.

Furthermore, Harvard Business Review emphasizes how important it is for weekly routines to include more than just tactical work. Make sure you also prioritize rituals that focus on social connections, whether it’s a virtual welcome lunch for new hires or a Friday afternoon snack break. This will help you maintain the cadence and culture of your organization.

Of course, it’s key for managers to be available to their teams for emergencies. But, they should also address the need for rest, lunch breaks, and “shutting down” for the day. Clearly communicating this across your team will help level-set and establish a routine that’s more holistic, including work time and downtime. These natural breaks will keep days from fading into one another, a complaint we’ve heard a lot of in recent weeks.

Be There for Each Other

It’s so easy to feel alone right now. Being entirely remote can add stress, regardless of a person’s role or level in the organization. Leaders can often feel that the fate of the company rests solely on their shoulders, but they need community just as much as everyone else. We all need mentors. We all need people who can give us a “reality check” and help us rationalize.

This kind of culture can’t be fostered overnight, but it’s crucial for businesses to begin to build a supportive, collaborative environment as remote work becomes more common. In fact, Forrester Research highlights culture as one of the most important elements of a successful work from home strategy. Employees that feel they can bring their whole selves to work, who feel that they are on a team that supports and represents them, are more likely to feel motivated and get more enjoyment out of difficult tasks, according to research from Stanford psychological scientists Priyanka B. Carr and Gregory M. Walton.

Pay attention to — and course correct — any challenges that arise. For example, according to research from A. Joshi and R.S. Gajendran, virtual communication can sometimes discourage team members from speaking up. But, when you establish your work environment as a place for open collaboration, this hesitation tends to fade. Strong virtual teams are built on a foundation of trust. Start from a place of shared humanity and send your team a message of solidarity: we’re all in this together. When employees feel a sense of comradery and belonging, the impact can be incredible.

Stay Positive

We’re living — and working — through a time of uncertainty. But it’s important to stay optimistic and supportive in all your interactions. Think about some of the silver linings. Personally, I’m thankful for the extra time spent with my family. Working from home has given us opportunities we otherwise wouldn’t have had: catching up over lunch, doing morning workouts, and spending evenings cooking together.

Working from home also offers workers and managers alike an incredible chance to broaden our horizons and push ourselves toward new goals. Companies that tap into the power of learning will see increased engagement going forward. Motivate employees to embrace this time; make learning core to your company’s culture. When employees are given the resources to engage with information they truly care about, they will develop competencies and confidence that can be applied throughout their experience – both on the job and in their lives.

Businesses that adhere to these four simple tenets of leadership will quickly realize that it really comes down to one basic principle: be human. During this time, the best thing we can do is demonstrate empathy, compassion, and concern for each other. Embracing genuine understanding and positivity is the best course in times of uncertainty. You’ll reap the benefits and so will your team.

This post is sponsored by Skillsoft.

Photo: Bernard Hermant

Connecting During Crisis: Engaging Your Frontline Workforce

Over the last few months, there’s been a lot of talk about the current situation of forced remote work and its impact on employee collaboration, productivity and engagement. This is a legitimate concern and one that I myself, as a CEO, am tackling. But the discussion has largely been focused on desk-based employees, who typically sit in front of a computer and can perform their jobs from anywhere in the world as long as they have a laptop and WiFi connection.

Frontline workers, however, are in a completely different boat. They don’t sit in front of a computer all day; they often work long shifts (sometimes 12 hours or more); they’re the first and last points of interaction with customers. Most importantly, frontline workers aren’t accustomed to interacting and communicating with their managers and HQ leaders via face-to-face meetings.

With COVID-19 leading to country-wide lockdowns and social distancing rules, the entire world is dependent on frontline workers for essential services, such as stocking groceries, shipping online orders, providing healthcare and transportation. That means longer work shifts, more uncertainties about their roles and more stress for frontline workers. As this happens, staying informed and getting regular feedback will be essential to navigate through these uncertain times.

Subpar Onboarding Experience Can Prompt Early Turnover

According to a recent article on the Muse, companies like Kroger, Unilever, GSK, Wells Fargo, UnitedHealth Group, Instacart, Deutsche Bank and Asana are still continuing with their hiring plans amidst the current crisis. This is due in large part to the fact that these businesses provide ‘essential’ services and goods. But what happens once these frontline workers are hired? What will their onboarding look like? How prepared are HR teams to digitally adapt their onboarding processes?

When we asked HR professionals to cite their biggest challenge with onboarding remote and distributed employees, the top two responses were ‘making them feel like part of the team’ (17 percent) and ‘providing clarity and context about role expectations and career growth’ (17 percent). Following close behind, 15 percent cited ‘integrating into company culture’ as the biggest challenge, while 13 percent struggle to establish communication norms. If you look at these responses, it’s clear that onboarding plays a major role in employee satisfaction, career development, fulfilment, engagement and retention. But for most employees, being able to physically interact with managers, colleagues and leaders can go a long way in making them feel like part of the team and forge relationships with coworkers. So, if virtual onboarding sessions are too drawn out, dull, uninspired, new hires could end being early leavers.

Turnover is not a new problem for organizations. Early turnover, however, is even more troublesome, with 20 percent of employees leaving with their first 45 days of employment. Our study’s findings indicate that HR teams, who are faced with onboarding thousands of employees virtually, could see an increase in early turnover. And the culprit could very well be HR’s inability to virtually onboard new employees in a way that’s just as informative, interactive and engaging as it would be if it were conducted in-person.

More Direct Feedback Supports Better Job Stability

As our study found, it can be tough to communicate and engage with remote and distributed workforces. For example, a mere 8 percent of the surveyed HR professionals said they keep a regular cadence of one-to-one meetings with remote workers, while only 12 percent commit to a communication charter. On top of this, 15 percent of HR professionals said they struggle to provide regular feedback on performance and career development.

These findings are troubling for a few reasons. First, frontline workers are currently being pushed to the limits. As the pressure mounts, it will be more important than ever to provide a safe space for frontline workers to vent their frustrations, voice their concerns and ask important questions related to their roles and responsibilities. But if their managers and HR teams don’t make themselves available for these one-to-one conversations, you can bet it will manifest itself in lower productivity, less cross-team collaboration and potentially worse performance. So managers need to carve out time in their schedules and virtually meet one-to-one with their teams on the frontline. Even if it’s a 10-minute check-in twice a week, this could help frontline workers feel less stressed and get clarification about their role and tasks. The more clarity they get, the better they’ll perform their jobs, which will lead to better customer satisfaction, loyalty and future sales. While these are positive outcomes for the businesses that employ frontline workers, it will also help frontline workers prove their value and maintain job stability during unstable times.

Digital-First Culture Engages Frontline Workers

According to Stephen Redwood, principal at Deloitte Consulting LLP, “At digital-first organizations, people, processes and structures are all focused on optimizing digital so companies can be more productive.” I agree wholeheartedly. And this is especially true for frontline workers, who rely on mobile devices, communications apps, productivity apps and collaboration apps to stay connected, get relevant updates about the business and their roles, schedule meetings with their managers, among other things.

What does a digital-first culture look like? For one, it’s one that isn’t reliant on face-to-face meetings. For example, companies with a large number of frontline workers should hold virtual all-hands meetings twice a week at least. Reserve one of the two weekly all-hands meetings solely for Q&A with the staff. Let your frontline workers ask any questions they want — be it about how the coronavirus outbreak may impact job stability (i.e. layoffs, furloughs), plans for hiring, or anything else. Don’t make the virtual all-hands meetings excessively long — keep them to 30 minutes maximum so that you can keep your frontline workers engaged, without interrupting their work too much.

Another way to help frontline workers integrate with the company culture (especially in the midst of a crisis) is to have managers share a weekly message of motivation. By posting this type of message into designated Slack channels, teams can start their days with a positive attitude and still feel a sense of connection to their fellow colleagues, teams, managers and leadership.

To make a digital-first culture work, it has to come from the top down. Leadership needs to believe in the value of digital tools for driving employee collaboration and engagement. Beyond that, getting buy-in from the C-suite will require proving how digital tools will help maintain business continuity, increase customer satisfaction (and repeat purchases) and drive revenue growth.

Photo credit: @visuals

Make Remote Work Feel Human

The shift to remote work has created a watershed moment, albeit under unprecedented circumstances. What passes for normal right now for many involves WFH — working from home, while juggling pets, kids, bandwidth, technology, worries, and a constant blur of work and home. This is not what we meant by improving work/life integration for the future. Yet here we are.

But I’m seeing leaders step up to the plate in amazing ways. I’ve talked to CMOs, CEOs and executives who are facing the responsibility of remote leadership with incredible grace, compassion and ambition — to ace this new reality and bring out the best in their people. They’re providing emotional, logistical, educational and technical support, and factoring in the importance of employee experience. And given that we’re experiencing work in a virtual space, that means finding ways to brighten up the workday.

So let’s get real and bring some fun into the virtual workplace. Try these approaches to lighten up your remote meetings:

Practice Intentional Interruptions

The imposed monotony of video conferencing is starting to be a thing: we’re seeing tutorials now on challenges unique to remote working, such as how to combat Zoom fatigue. Building interruptions into remote meetings on purpose can provide a welcome reprieve and work as an ice-breaker. If you’re on an hour meeting, schedule a five-minute break so people can get up and stretch, get a snack (working at home is big on snacks), take a bathroom break, or just switch gears for a moment. Make it clear: this is a break.

Create Virtual Water Cooler Sessions

Launching into long video meetings does little to reduce the sense of social isolation that can come with remote working. We are social beings — we get energized from interactions — but digital interactions deliver a lot less than face to face. So create a water cooler session and make the talk spontaneous (leave work off the table). Some ideas gaining traction in the remote workplace now: brown bag virtual lunch hour; half-hour highlights jams to share something that happened in the week (again, not work-related); online game sessions; book clubs; kitchen table hangout rooms. These should be by choice, not mandate, or it will just feel like more work. And one hint: don’t try to bring people together with a remote happy hour. According to the Wall Street Journal, as the novelty of remote work wears off, it’s going to take more than scheduled virtual cocktails to keep us engaged.

Let Kids Crash the Meeting                                                             

Why is it more comforting to not have to banish our kids from the room when we’re on a work call? There’s nowhere for them to go. We’re on lockdown, schools are closed. Some 98,000 public schools and at least 34,000 private schools in the U.S., have switched to remote learning. That accounts for nearly 50.8 million public school students and 5.8 million private school students.  Balancing work and parenting is never easy. Now? It’s a whole new ballgame. But we’re all working together in the same location — and instead of pretending they don’t exist, it’s far better to embrace these times. So let the kids crash the meeting to say hello. It’s great for them to see other kids and see a bit of what their parents do. Think of it as a very informal “take your kids to work” day. It’s also great for us to see we’re all in this together. Consider a round-robin to say hi to each others’ kids. Then get your team back to focus on the work at hand.

Bring Your Pets to Work 

Instead of hiding the pets, show them. Pets can reduce stress levels and provide tactile connection we’re not getting during social distancing. And they remind us to see the humor in all of this. Witness Illinois meteorologist Jeff Lyons, who decided to make his cat Betty part of his daily broadcast on Channel 14. A district sales manager has been declaring his dog employee of the month for years now, with endlessly popular posts. Create a social campaign to share your pets — and if possible, bring them to the conference. We may as well give into a little playful subversion here: who hasn’t wished they could bring their dog to the next team meeting?

Invite a Goat

Another way to break up the monotony of seeing the same faces in the video call: invite a special guest to the meeting — in this case, a farm animal. A California animal sanctuary, Sweet Farm, was looking for a new way to drive revenue and stay true to their mission. They came up with the idea of Goat 2 Meeting. (Yes, it’s a pun.) For a fee, you can invite a goat — or a llama, sheep, turkey or cow — to make a cameo on a live video call. It’s a great way to break up the same-old-same-old and get your team smiling. 

If we can give our employees a way to reduce their stress and anxiety for a moment, we’re helping. And this is the time to get creative and give your remote work culture a boost. Consider creating team Instagram pages with weekly challenges. Set up video conference yoga and exercise classes. One team I know swears by IG live dance classes with the irrepressible Ryan Heffington. Offer learning labs and plenty of opportunities for training: we’re hungry for knowledge now — as we see on our #Worktrends podcasts every week. Do quick check-ins via chat and text. Connect teams with volunteer opportunities. 

There are endless ways to bring some fun — and meaning — into the remote workplace experience. And whatever we can do to ease the burden and make work easier, we owe it to our employees. When we’re through this and we’ve returned to whatever the new normal we’ll have, we’ll all remember how we solved the problem of isolation as we worked remotely, whether it involved a llama, a toddler, a terrier, or a dance party.

Photo: Petri R

Continuous Listening: Moving Beyond Standard Practices

The second in a two-piece series on Continuous Listening. 

In Part One of my series on Continuous Listening, I looked at the flaws of taking a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to an employee’s development. Continuous Listening and asking the right questions can play a key role in recognizing milestones along each employee’s individual journey, and evaluating their engagement. 

The second part of this series looks at how to move beyond standard practices in order to craft engaging, long-term, and productive employee journeys and ultimately business success for all — and use the Continuous Listening strategy to tackle the challenges now facing our industry. And it’s important to note the value of feedback, as it contributes to the roadmap aimed at improving the organization.  

Applying Continuous Listening strategies before exploring suggestions for decision-makers can greatly improve outcome, and help explore various ways to address a number of HR challenges:

  • HR’s employee insight is segmented. Information is siloed based on the different HR tools used in various milestones, each tool having its own task and interface. Sharing between existing application tools is usually complex and information tends to stay within the boundaries of departments. 
  • Insight is collected from a limited number of sources. This limits HR’s ability to see the big picture and creates a disjointed employee experience. For example, some collection tools are only focused on one feedback channel instead of a combination of direct, indirect and inferred channels. As a result, HR can miss the broader view. 
  • Not enough data types are gathered. HR teams can gather transactional data on existing processes thanks to tools such as applicant tracking systems, HRIS tools, and learning management systems. Who was hired? Into what department? When was the start date? With some advanced analytics, this information can be transformed into predictive models indicating who should be hired in the future. Though sophisticated, these systems miss the heart of the employee experience as they fail to tap into the thoughts and feelings that bind employees to their jobs. Transactional data will never provide insight about personal views and cannot answer questions like: “How engaged is the employee?” or “How loyal do they feel to the brand?” “Are they committed to the mission or just the paycheck?” “What are their long-term aspirations?” Thus, it makes sense to use tools that also focus on evaluative HR processes such as 360 feedback, performance reviews, training evaluations, and engagement surveys. 
  • Most data analyses do not address an employee’s evolution. Data is collected at specific intervals and analyzed with particular timestamps, but understanding how an employee’s data has evolved over time may offer a clearer perspective of the processes that this employee has gone through with the organization. This highlights effective HR interventions to reach higher employee engagement, retention, and success. 

Moving Forward 

Continuous Listening encourages multi-directional communication among employees, managers, administrators and executives. It is designed to work in conjunction with other listening tools deployed at milestones such as performance reviews, annual engagement surveys, training programs, and mentoring programs. With it, HR can compile a more comprehensive picture of the attitudes, feelings, and intentions of the workforce. 

Organizations that are serious about optimizing the engagement of their workforce should look beyond a one-size-fits-all approach, and instead pursue a measurement strategy that incorporates:

  • Gathering evaluative feedback during milestones.
  • Collecting data between events aligned on topics relevant to employees and business goals.
  • Integrating the milestones and Continuous Listening data with fluid, real-time feedback processes to gain a comprehensive and evolving picture of workforce issues. 

Solving a Turnover Problem

Continuous Listening can help solve problems feedback can’t handle alone. Take the example of a large software engineering firm in Silicon Valley: it was experiencing a 50% higher turnover rate among employees who had been there for three or four years. The traditional milestone approach using HRIS data flagged the increase in turnover, but failed to provide any meaningful insight as to its occurrence. An evaluative feedback survey, delivered annually, showed that no one in the cohort had been promoted to a managerial position in the past 18 months. The business unit had adjusted the promotion criteria, delaying qualification by another one or two years to ensure stronger competencies among those being promoted. 

A combination of HRIS data, annual survey results, and Continuous Listening surveys revealed that employees were outraged at the policy changes, and had started looking for jobs elsewhere. Additional results from Continuous Listening surveys illustrated the fact that the 50% who remained were given development experiences and discretionary time to work on special projects — i.e., meaningful incentives to stay despite the prospects of delayed promotion.

These approaches provided substantially different data that, when viewed independently, provided weak explanations for the turnover. But through a holistic strategy, the bigger picture became clear. Using Continuous Listening provided insights earlier, giving leaders the opportunity to intervene sooner.

Feedback Approach Information Uncovered Available Leadership Actions 
Transactional 

Annual Turnover Report from HRIS turnover data 

Turnover is 50% higher. Investigate by launching a survey or conducting interviews.Backfill positions with experienced hires.
Transactional & Evaluative 

Annual Turnover Report

Annual Turnover Survey

Turnover is 50% higher.No one in the 3 – 4 year cohort has been promoted due to a policy change. Create an internal marketing campaign to encourage employees to stay.Change the policy.

Provide incentives to stay.

Continuous Listening 

(Transactional & Evaluative)

Annual Turnover Report

Annual Turnover Survey

Continuous Listening Surveys

Turnover is 50% higher.No one in the 3 – 4 year cohort has been promoted due to a policy change.

After learning of the policy change, outraged employees started looking for other opportunities.

Explain why changes are necessary.Let employees know leaders hear their frustration.

Fund new development events. 

Provide discretionary time to those who stay to work on special projects.

Feedback Matters

Without Continuous Listening efforts and the adoption of innovative technologies, information gaps can grow, increasing risk and uncertainty for decision-makers and the company. Further, effective listening allows leaders to stay informed about workforce perspectives, and it encourages employees to communicate their needs, satisfaction, frustrations, and other points of view in a healthy way. 

The journey begins when HR professionals develop and implement a comprehensive listening strategy across the employee lifecycle. By listening to employees, HR will develop a continuously evolving stream of data to support critical business management decisions. Through understanding which questions to ask and which tools to employ, HR professionals may properly listen and respond to needs. Moving beyond the one-size-fits-all approach enables organizations to craft engaging, long-term, and productive employee journeys — ultimately predicting positive or negative changes before they are likely to occur, thus driving their business toward success.

 

Photo: PCM

Continuous Listening: How to Strengthen Employee Communication

This is the first in a two-piece guest series on Continuous Listening. 

Human Resources departments own many responsibilities that directly contribute to the overall success of a company. According to Sari Levine Wilde, managing vice president of Gartner, “The businesses that are successful today and in the future, will be those that win when it comes to talent…This means helping employees build critical skills and developing employees into leaders.”  One of the burning questions today is how we can achieve that mission. 

Howard Moskowitz, a psychologist in the field of psycho-physics and a renowned market researcher, was hired by PepsiCo to determine the optimal quantity of artificial sweetener for a Diet Pepsi product. He faced a similar challenge, as mentioned by author Malcolm Gladwell in his TED Talk. With the aim of maximizing sales, Moskowitz conducted empirical tests, which provided unexpected results. He examined the data and concluded that there was no such thing as a perfect Diet Pepsi! Due to the multitude of variations between human tastes, Moskowitz found that the best option to maximize the number of sales was by offering a collection of lower calorie flavors along the scale of taste. 

Returning to the HR dilemma, a one-size-fits-all approach to HR is guaranteed to overlook the needs of many employees. More specifically, each employee journey is unique and thus HR must find ways to observe, tune in, and adapt to address individual employees in a more personalized manner.

Disjointed Employee View and Continuous Listening

In order to understand employees and their level of engagement when it comes to business goals, HR must continually gather information by asking questions and listening to employee responses. These standard HR processes currently serve as milestone events for gathering data, but with so many aspects of the employee lifecycle to monitor, it can be difficult to build a comprehensive view of the culture, engagement, retention, and success of employees. The process of data collection is usually transactional, though sometimes there are opportunities to gather evaluative information as well. In this respect, many challenges that HR professionals are faced with when attempting to gather this comprehensive data can be addressed by a strategy known as Continuous Listening. 

Continuous Listening is a methodology grounded in the philosophy that feedback matters all the time — not just once a year during a performance review, or once a year during an engagement survey. Feedback matters even after employees leave an organization and unofficially serve as alumni ambassadors for your brand. It matters because every employee has a unique journey that begins with a handshake and a contract that says, “We will do this for each other.” 

HR organizations that begin gathering evaluative feedback from employees during such milestones will gain valuable insights that leaders can use to better manage the workforce. An added benefit is that once in place, this feedback process can gain further traction as employees witness leaders responding to their feedback. This reinforces more open lines of communication, which is a recipe for future success. For every milestone along the  employee journey milestones, here are some sample evaluative questions that HR should be asking in order to enrich the information that is later provided to company leaders: 

Employee Journey Milestones Sample Evaluative Question 
Recruiting Would your employees recommend your organization to their professional network? 
Onboarding Do your onboarding processes achieve the cultural immersion and integration you need? 
Development Is your development process providing the right knowledge and skills to drive successful employee outcomes in meeting the needs of tomorrow?
Performance Management Is the performance management process identifying, recognizing, and rewarding talent? 
Engagement How much do you really know about your employees’ experiences? Are your efforts encouraging or destroying employee goodwill, motivation, and engagement? How often do you measure employee engagement? Once every two years? Annually? Bi-annually?
Promotion & Career Growth Are you identifying employees with strong potential and directing them toward leadership positions? Is your leadership pipeline full enough to meet resource planning goals?
Compensation & Benefits Is your compensation and benefits plan competitive? Is the plan sufficient to keep high-value employees engaged?
Retention Do you know what motivates your employees’ decisions to stay and grow with your organization, and what motivates them to seek opportunities elsewhere? Are you systematically collecting the data needed to analyze and improve the employee experience from hire to retire? 

Feedback matters because whatever the expression, it contributes to the roadmap aimed at improving the overall organization. By implementing a Continuous Listening strategy, we can begin to explore how to best address specific HR challenges. For that, stay tuned for the second piece in this series. 

 

Photo: Utsav Srestha

#WorkTrends: Email Still Matters: Etiquette for Today’s Users

Here’s a term for you: email brick. It’s that dense blob of text in an email that starts at the top and doesn’t come up for air until the end. No line breaks, paragraphs or bullet points, and often, no readers. We tend to avoid reading those emails, eyeing them warily and opting to get back to them later. Much of the time, we don’t. 

When #WorkTrends host Meghan M. Biro got to talking with email etiquette expert Bruce Mayhew, it was soon apparent that we’re emailing each other all wrong. Bruce is President of Bruce Mayhew Consulting (BMC), a corporate trainer, executive coach, expert on productivity and generational differences, and passionate advocate of emailing better.

90% of our communication is done by email, and the email brick is just one of many sins we commit. Others include incoherent subject lines, putting the main idea down at the end of the message and, on the receiving end, answering emails too quickly. On that last point, Meghan asked for a best practice. “I could spend three hours a day in constant communication back and forth, just trying to do the right thing and respond,” she said.

Don’t do it, Bruce answered. “If you train your audience that you respond to an email in 10 minutes,” they will start expecting it every time. “You end up playing Whac-A-Mole with your inbox.” Our time management gets derailed along with other priorities, too.

Problem is, we learned to write and then learned how to email, he noted, and these are very different forms. He shared three simple tips for writing emails worth opening: put your main point in the first sentence, use bullet points, and write a clear subject line with enough information to indicate exactly what’s going on in the message. 5-7 words usually does the trick he said. Don’t start with “Hey, quick question.”

The underlying reason to clean up our emails isn’t just housekeeping, it’s trust. Sending emails that hit the sweet spot boost personal credibility, he said. They set up a positive feedback loop faster than you can say dopamine high. The next time we see an email from the conscientious sender, we open it. We look forward to it, thinking this person knows what they’re talking about — which goes miles in improving that relationship. 

“Email still counts, and it’s the way we’re all communicating,” Meghan reminded the audience. Time to practice those bullet points.

Listen to the full conversation and see our questions for the upcoming #WorkTrends Twitter Chat. And don’t forget to subscribe, so you don’t miss an episode. 

Twitter Chat Questions

Q1: Why are we failing at email etiquette? #WorkTrends
Q2: What techniques can help us write better email? #WorkTrends
Q3: How can leaders help employees get better at emailing? #WorkTrends

Find Bruce Mayhew on Linkedin and Twitter

The Journey of Boomerang Clients

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
—Arthur C. Clarke

No business likes losing clients, but it happens from time to time, and sometimes the reasons are unknown to us. Some clients will be forthright and give a reason while others quietly walk away. And sometimes a client leaves and well … we’re glad.

Sometimes the reason a client leaves is something I call the “False Glitter Effect.” What this does is hoodwink people into believing something is true when it really isn’t, thus casting a seemingly hypnotic trance over them. It gives people unrealistic expectations based on marketing propaganda versus reality. In some instances the False Glitter Effect leads customers to a place of frustration and disappointment.

It can strike in different ways at unexpected times, including when people are shopping around for a new or replacement product because they erroneously believe it’s something they need but don’t currently have. It can also present itself when people aren’t shopping but come across something that “sparkles” and catches their eye. And there will always be peddlers selling wares that are “the best thing to come down the pike” and that only an “intelligent consumer” would consider. Who doesn’t want to be labeled as intelligent?

The unfortunate part is that customers may already have what they need with their current product and not know it. In the case of a first-time product, people may not have anything to compare it against, so if the product looks shiny and sparkles, it must be precisely what they need … right?

Often when people believe some specific “something” is their ideal option, they can be preyed upon by sellers who will tell them exactly what they want to hear. When consumers don’t understand the full bounty of what a product offers, and how to use it to its fullest capacity, they have done themselves a disservice.

Exhibit A

Here’s a case in point: Our company had a long-standing staffing client who left for a software provider that it believed offered a better report generator. We subsequently learned this client assumed that the formatting, level of detail needed and the robust nature of what it required was not going to be possible with our software.

The fail here is that everything it needed in a report was right at this client’s fingertips. We know this because, after four weeks of using the new software, the client canceled the new contract and returned to our company. They had been sold fancy marketing fiction by this other provider. In addition to the reporting not being as functional as promised, there was a lack of necessary performance with the software that created many other problems.

Incredibly, the software had an appalling lack of basic functionality, including missing an online employment application, which should have been an immediate deal-killer. The client could have investigated other vendors, but upon due consideration and realizing the grass isn’t always greener, it decided to return to our organization and build a dialogue around its concerns.

Needless to say, the client was happy to learn what it previously didn’t know about our software’s functionality, and it’s now using it in a more informed and productive manner. Despite numerous attempts at creating open lines of communication that would have educated the client on existing functionality, we failed to connect. In reality, the situation was an easy fix and one that a dialogue would have solved had the client engaged with us; it would have saved a great deal of frustration and thousands of dollars.

Price Vs. Value

Price and value are often perceived as being the same thing, but in actuality they generally aren’t. Price is the ticket cost of the product purchased. Value, on the other hand, is the worth and usefulness the product brings as a solution to you and your organization.

A high ticket cost doesn’t always mean you’re getting a better-quality product, and likewise a lower ticket cost doesn’t always denote poorly made. This is why you need to consider both. When assessing value along with your budget to make a purchase, it’s critical to understand whether the intrinsic value for you is in accordance with your needs and whether the price tag is affordable. A thorough understanding of how the product will perform and solve problems for you should be the driving force in your buying decision.

Exhibit B

Another recent boomerang client returned to us after three months. In this case, the owner of the returning client is friends with the principal of a competitor’s software product. The lure here was that the friend’s product was new to the market, so a “friends and family” discounted price was offered. What the owner didn’t evaluate was the intrinsic value this new software would bring to her unique business.

The end users quickly discovered the software did not satisfy the requirements of their day-to-day processes. Initially they believed the new software interface had a more appealing dashboard layout, along with stronger search capabilities in social media and within the database, but they soon came to learn it lacked overall functionality when compared with the capabilities of my company’s software.

Additionally, they were told that career center updates were included in the contract cost, but a few months later discovered they would need to pay extra for this enhancement. Upon their return to us, we discussed the motivation for them to have initially left and what we needed to know about their business to partner with them adequately again. To their amazement, much of the functionality they believed didn’t exist with our software actually does.

In this instance, employee turnover had led to the client having a group of new users who were not briefed on the software’s functionality, leaving them with limited skills and knowledge on how to properly use it. We now have a partnership that involves two-way communication so we can understand their needs and address them as necessary.

Communication is Key. Building Relationships Is the Goal.

Consider your personal relationships and the people you like and respect. Business relationships are built on these same fundamentals, and at the crux of strong relationships lies open lines of communication.

One of the best ways for software buyers — and any consumers, for that matter — to get the most out of a purchase that comes with customer support is to stay in touch with their provider. Ask questions often, and if you’re unsure about any element of the functionality, seek out answers. Misunderstandings, miscommunications, lack of communication and assumptions can ruin a B2C relationship quickly. The only way to have great communication is to build a solid rapport and develop respect for each other’s business.

Developing a partnership based on trust and open communication will get you into the fast lane to find the real understanding of what you need to know. Without a doubt, communication is the key that avoids misunderstandings and ushers in trust.

What We’ve Learned

As with any relationship, be it personal or professional, good communication is at the root of understanding and satisfaction. Both businesses and consumers need to break out of their traditional roles of provider and purchaser. This type of relationship actually works against longevity, equality and long-term success. Instead, consider building consultative partnerships to bridge the gap and develop better working relationships. This holds especially true when you’re purchasing a mission-critical piece of software for your business.

If a client leaves you for undisclosed reasons, it behooves you to ask lots of questions and conduct formal exit interviews. As in the case of the clients mentioned in this article, you may be able to salvage those relationships and discover the reasons behind their desire to go with a different provider. Clearly if we had better lines of communication with these clients we would have understood and addressed their issues and saved them a great deal of time and money.

The lesson for us and our clients is a simple one: Developing enduring partnerships and relationships with strong lines of communication is where the real partnership magic lives.

This post is sponsored by SmartSearch.

The Results of a Remote Work Experiment

Remote work has always been a heavily debated topic, especially among HR professionals, who frequently face challenges that relate to employee productivity and development. There’s pressure to figure out how employees can achieve peak performance, and how managers can enable productivity.

At Bynder, we’re always looking for ways to spark creativity and enhance productivity, and this past summer was no different. For the second year in a row we held a global Remote Week, where we closed all of our offices and encouraged employees to work from anywhere. Bynder launched its first Remote Week for two reasons:

  • To encourage employees to actually use their benefits, and not be afraid that management will look down on them for doing so. Benefits like unlimited vacation time and the ability to work from home look great on paper, but there’s a hesitancy (especially in the U.S.) around actually using them.
  • To test the power of our tech stack, and learn more about how collaboration within Bynder works and what we can do to make working remotely an even better experience.

Bynder is a global company, with more than 350 employees spread across seven global offices. From Amsterdam to Boston to San Mateo, our company is connected around the clock. Working remotely has always been a part of our culture, but for the most part, our employees tend to work out of our offices. Nearly 60 percent of our employees reported that working remotely was not a part of their regular schedule.

After a successful first edition of Remote Week, we knew it was something we should try again, while taking into consideration the lessons we learned. For example, our employees missed having spaces to meet, so this year we partnered with WeWork to offer a place they could go to meet with co-workers.

This year our employees worked from all over the place. One employee said Remote Week allowed him to rediscover Amsterdam, as he was always in search of new spots to work from. Another felt it was the perfect opportunity to schedule visits and meetings at clients’ offices.

After running a company-wide experiment and survey, a few key takeaways emerged. The reality is there’s never a great time to be out of the office, especially at a fast-growing company. But that doesn’t mean employees should feel chained to their desks. Some people work best when surrounded by lively co-workers, while others prefer a quieter space. Embracing remote work is more than just telling your employees to work from home. There needs to be a structure in place for them to do so, and employees should feel encouraged to utilize the benefits that are offered to them.

Employees Felt Happier and More Productive

Seventy percent of our employees said they felt happy and relaxed when working from home during Remote Week, and nearly 40 percent said they felt more productive and focused. Those who felt more productive cited the quiet of their home and the flexibility to get things done as major benefits. For some, the office is great for collaborative tasks but too noisy or distracting for work that requires more focus.

This is one reason why workplace flexibility is so important — it’s about acknowledging that not everyone works the same way, and about finding solutions to help maximize everyone’s productivity. Sometimes you need to take a walk to ignite that creative spark and get your best work done.

Commuting Causes Stress and Wasted Time

An overwhelming number of our employees felt one of the best benefits of working remotely was that they were able to save time and money by not commuting. To many, the daily commute is an anchor on their work day, causing stress that hinders productivity — when really it should be a time to mentally prepare or debrief from the day. Our employees felt that when they didn’t have to commute, they saved hours that could be spent catching up on work, enjoying a personal hobby or being with family and friends.

Communication Is Key

As one of our employees put it, “Communicate. Overcommunicate. People can choose what they take away, and it’s better they have too much information than not enough.”

A sizeable number of our employees felt the key to building trust with team members was to communicate and be readily available. This is where the tech tools we’ve implemented at Bynder come in handy. When we asked our employees what tools they found useful to communicate, 88.5 percent cited Zoom, Google Hangouts and Slack. These are all tools that Bynder provides employees for daily use, which demonstrates how important it is to invest in tools that enable effective communication. Our employees also felt daily virtual meetups and regular check-ins were essential, and served as an alternative for the invaluable face time that usually occurs in the office every day.

A Number of Employees Missed Their Co-Workers

A good number of employees stressed the value of face-to-face communication, and felt that no tools can fully replace actually being in a room with someone. A number of employees said they missed seeing their co-workers, and felt that it was useful to be in the same room as someone when working through technical issues or brainstorming ideas. In fact, during Remote Week, 54 percent of Bynder employees actually met with colleagues in person, and 11.5 percent met with clients.

Anticipating Employee Needs Is Important

A full week of working remotely isn’t for everyone. In fact, some of our employees didn’t like working remotely. But that’s the point of offering flexible benefits — it’s all about anticipating the needs of employees and recognizing that what works for one person won’t always work for another.

Our developers are an example: One of the things they missed the most was dual monitors that were available to them in the office, but not at home. On the other hand, our sales and marketing teams had a much easier time adapting to remote work.

Ultimately, some employees thrive in an office environment, while others prefer the peace and quiet of their home to get certain tasks done. With 53 percent of Bynder employees never working remotely on a regular schedule, Remote Week either upended their workflow and pushed them out of their comfort zone, or allowed them to evaluate the way they work.

The reason we asked our employees how they felt about Remote Week is to make sure that we always strive to be better. Implementing change starts from the top, so it’s important that our leadership is as prepared as possible. While we offer all of our employees the ability to work from home, we know there needs to be a structure in place, and that’s something we’re prioritizing here at Bynder.

As we build out our remote-work policies, we’re making sure that they go beyond every individual feeling prepared. We’re going to make sure that our teams, as a whole, have what they need at their disposal. From our developers to our marketing department to our sales team, we will take different needs into consideration as we work to build out a more robust remote-work policy.

What Soft Skills Do Employers Want?

Most jobs have specific requirements. But beyond technical skills, employees also need more general soft skills to get the job done. According to the Job Outlook 2018 Survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, problem-solving skills and the ability to work in a team are the top two soft skills that employers seek in job candidates, followed by written communication and leadership skills.

Why do companies rank these skills so highly? Let’s take a closer look at the most important soft skills.

Problem-Solving

We hire people to solve problems, so it’s no surprise that problem-solving is at the top of the most-wanted skills list. Problem-solving involves critical thinking — the ability to ask the right questions to define the problem, then examine the evidence and analyze various solutions to choose the right course of action.

Millennials are the largest generation in the workforce, but according to a recent study by MindEdge, a Waltham, Mass.-based learning company founded in 1998 by Harvard and MIT educators, many millennials lack critical thinking skills.

“It is no longer enough to have a specific set of technical or discipline-specific skills, but rather we must foster broader critical thinking to address the challenges that lie ahead for all of us,” according to Dr. Jennifer L. Schneider, the Eugene H. Fram Chair in Applied Critical Thinking at Rochester Institute of Technology.

But like muscles, critical thinking can be developed. “Critical thinking is a skill that can be learned through practice of the fundamentals — for example, information literacy, integrative problem solving, design and innovation.” Learning how to read and analyze information, then taking a creative approach to solving problems will often result in better solutions.
However, she says, it’s important for employers to allow workers to ask questions and give them room to make mistakes.

Teamwork

Teamwork is an umbrella term that includes trust, active listening, asking for and giving help when needed, shared responsibility, accepting the strengths and weaknesses of others, resolving conflicts and constructive criticism.

As work becomes more collaborative, employees must be able to embrace a variety of opinions and viewpoints. And as the workplace itself becomes more diverse and inclusive, employees’ ability to work well with others is crucial to an organization’s success.

Gone are the days of the superstar, and companies are learning that workplace silos and turf wars are detrimental to employee engagement levels and the company’s bottom line.

Written Communication

Employees at every level need written communication skills. From sending and responding to emails to writing reports and other documents, the ability to write effectively — and also to understand what has been written — is a necessary skill.

Employees must communicate with co-workers, bosses and subordinates in addition to clients and customers, and even the public at large. And before an employee even secures a job, they need to submit a polished resume and application letter.

Employees are brand ambassadors for their companies, and their written communication is a reflection of the organization. Grammar, spelling and punctuation errors reflect badly on the company.

Leadership

Companies need more than just workers. They also need people in the succession pipeline: future leaders. Potential leaders need to possess all of the skills listed above, but they must also be able to motivate others, delegate tasks, manage conflicts and exhibit emotional intelligence.

“The numbers on a balance sheet will change, the stock price will fluctuate, but an emotional connection will resonate long after the statistics fade,” says Susan Kuczmarski, head of the Kuczmarski Innovation consulting firm and co-author of “Apples Are Square: Thinking Differently About Leadership.” “Contrary to popular belief, it is not financial reward that inspires greatness — leaders find a way to connect with others and inspire the ability each of us has.”

In the past, she says that leaders who expressed themselves emotionally were considered weak. “However, the new leadership paradigm asks you to contribute your total self, express yourself emotionally, show enthusiasm and concern about others — to express you really care.”

Driving Employee Engagement Will Drive Your Client Engagement

Happy employees lead to happy clients. Knowing that, why do so few companies focus on employee engagement?

At my company, we prioritize employee engagement for two reasons: First, disengaged employees are less productive at work, lowering the quality of deliverables and harming the company’s culture and reputation; and second, disengaged employees present themselves poorly to clients, creating negative impressions and reducing conversions.

To avoid a destructive company culture and disappointed clients, leaders should focus more on engaging their employees. Not only will this lead to greater efficacy and efficiency in the workplace, but it will also bolster client engagement and, by default, company success.

The Perks of an Engaged Workforce

A company that wants to foster employee engagement — and benefit from it — must engage all its people, not just the client-facing ones.

Engaged employees bring energy and innovation to the office — working harder, thinking differently, and investing more in their jobs as result of this stimulation. As a result, they’re able to solve complex problems with creative solutions, producing more revenue and outpacing their disengaged competitors.

Simply put, an engaged workforce renders a more successful company. There’s a direct correlation between employee satisfaction and client satisfaction. When employees are more positive and helpful in their interactions, this positivity translates to clients, driving stronger service and building better relationships. And clients reward this good service with repeat business and by spreading brand awareness — through either word-of-mouth advertising or posting online reviews.

What Leaders Should Know About Engagement

Though compensation is a primary way to create engagement, money isn’t everything. According to Gallup, while 54 percent of disengaged employees would leave their jobs for a raise of less than 20 percent, only 37 percent of engaged employees would do the same.

By treating each employee as an individual rather than as a cog in a machine and listening to what they value, leaders can better understand their employees and their individual needs and preferences, creating engagement outside of compensation. Mangers can then customize ways to engage employees within the company or provide the resources that can bolster an employee’s own engagement practices.

My company, for instance, encourages employees to hone in on and maximize what makes them most happy and most productive. While for me that may be flexibility, for others that might be the ability to work in different locations around the world. Others value the ownership they have on specific projects, the educational support or wellness perks they receive, or the time off our company offers. It’s all about preference.

More than salary, leaders should focus on company culture as an effective engagement strategy, and they can do this by following these three strategies:

  1. Schedule Frequent, Transparent, and Direct Conversations with Employees

Transparent leaders discover and solve employee problems more quickly, with 70 percent of employees being more engaged when their leaders regularly update them on changes in company strategy or goals. What’s more, effective communication can also reduce the impact or pervasiveness of individual problems.

While many employees may be afraid to approach their managers and talk things through spontaneously, leaders who arrange opportunities to sit down with employees one-on-one often find these opportunities are a great way to understand and address any issues or needs. Don’t beat around the bush during these meetings, though. Get the answers you need by asking the right questions: What keeps your employees engaged? What do they love about their jobs? What would make them love their job more?

It all boils down to frequent and direct communication, because the more you talk openly with your people, the better you understand what’s going on with them.

  1. Remove Barriers That Make Life Harder

While communication is the first step to understanding employee engagement, realize engagement largely hinges on giving people the tools and structures they need in order to flourish.

The larger an organization becomes, for example, the more convoluted workflows get, which can lead to worker frustration. To assess these workflows and how exactly your employees are affected, you can take inventory of the most necessary processes, break down unnecessary silos, or automate what can be automated. Making life easier for employees is a quick way to engage them.

If some employees don’t like a specific workflow or feel overworked given the way their roles operate, you should first discuss these barriers with them, then explore options that can make everyone work smarter and, finally, budget to accommodate that change.

  1. Acknowledge and Support Personal Goals

A company culture of engagement should account for both today and tomorrow, as few employees want to stay in the same role forever. Many of today’s workers aren’t wedded to a particular company, with only 13 percent of Millennials believing that they should stay at a job for at least five years before leaving. Acknowledging personal development goals and providing educational opportunities to help employees grow is essential to not only engagement, but also retention.

You must recognize that turnover is inevitable, but employees who feel valued and respected, achieve good work-life balances, and are more engaged in their jobs are more likely to stay. Not to mention that at an average hiring cost of $4,000 for a new employee, it’s far more expensive to hire than it is to retain top talent.

Employees want to perform at high levels, but companies don’t always make it easy for them to stay engaged. Opening up communication, building stronger interpersonal relationships, giving workers the tools they need to succeed, and creating opportunities for satisfaction inside and outside the office are great ways for leaders to promote engagement. Your devoted workforce will reward your efforts with higher client satisfaction, stronger revenue, and a happier culture. Who wouldn’t want to work at a place like that?

Photo Credit: Dr Carr at ISU Flickr via Compfight cc

Creativity Managed: 3 Strategies for Leading Creative Teams

Creativity is only as good as the vision it’s funneled through, and a strong leader is the key to that vision’s viability. That’s what Ed Catmull, president of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios, suggested in his 2014 book, “Creativity, Inc.” — an insightful and inspirational work.

Founders and executives innately know that they must lead with confidence and acumen. Still, many of them stumble on the path to nirvana. From bad hires to wishy-washy decision-making, leaders who don’t overcome their challenges doom their people to a lengthy stint in team purgatory.

When our company set out to dismantle creative barriers and strive for team excellence over ease, we used Catmull’s strategies as foundational tenets and helped our people capitalize on their diverse personalities and skill sets. Our journey boiled down to building a team dynamic around two core principles: hiring great people and practicing candid leadership.

Who You Are

Unearthing employees who are true gems takes time and effort, but it pays off in the end. We take extreme care in hiring only the best fits for our company culture. If an otherwise qualified candidate won’t mesh with our team dynamic, we would rather say “no” than risk bad results. As bosses, we’ve all ignored red flags about drama queens or kings, only to kick ourselves later.

By focusing on how new hires will integrate seamlessly into the office climate, you can avoid costly employment errors that only harm the team’s efficiency. Every team has its own rhythm, and putting the wrong instrument into the mix — even for a short amount of time — can be very disruptive.

What You Say

After putting the right people in the right positions, a leader must guide them with candor and respect. In fact, Catmull calls candor a “secret weapon,” meaning that frankness doesn’t equate to flying in hot to every meeting with an agenda or a directive. Instead, use it to set the tone so that when something is important or time-sensitive, your team understands it’s a priority.

Our company quickly learned that authentic conversations promote high-level engagement among our employees and foster more productive meetings. Moreover, transparency puts everyone at ease, allowing ideas to bloom and issues to be resolved quickly and concisely. By taking the time to get to know your team members and allowing them to get to know you, you ensure that everyone’s perceptions will be realistic and that no one will feel patronized by an uncommunicative boss.

 

Lead With Passion and Purpose

You can empower your creative team using these three strategies:

1. Make it personal.

When directing your vision, find a way to truly speak to your teams so they know how they impact the overall success of the company and its projects.

As Catmull notes in one of his chapters, Pixar has taken the concept of communication to an exciting level. Its film studio’s “Notes Day” allows everyone in the organization to spend an entire day evaluating how the company can operate more effectively. This process builds a personal connection between Pixar employees and everything Pixar puts its name on. 

Although most businesses can’t take a full day to work on process improvement like Pixar, they can modify and implement this concept on a smaller scale. Our company hosts biweekly show-and-tell meetings so that we can display our work to others. These meetings instill pride in individual contributors and reveal opportunities for dynamic growth.

2. Be decisive.

Resilient leaders help employees own the choices they make, which encourages them to take bold, smart, and effective steps.

Our system is simple: We start every day with a quick meeting — called a “daily” — overviewing mission-critical items. These dailies make everyone aware of what’s happening in the organization and hold teams accountable for the changes they want to see in their respective departments. They also ensure that there’s not a lot of time for an important decision to sit on the shelf. Even if we make a wrong decision, our resiliency gives our company greater flexibility. We can quickly pivot and move in the right direction, opening the door to time, budget, and opportunity.

3. Show that you listen.

Employees who feel heard have higher levels of job satisfaction and can uncover ways for your organization to evolve. Listening isn’t always easy, especially for leaders who feel stretched. But just as soliciting feedback can show customers that you care, so can devoting some time to your team members.

When we have feedback meetings and postmortems, the collaboration doesn’t stop there. We take a deeper dive into each department’s needs and functions and lean on our teams when overcoming challenges and solving problems. Moreover, we don’t rely solely on annual performance reviews to measure our employees’ happiness. In addition to these reviews, we conduct regular check-ins, sitting down with each individual at least twice per year.

“Creativity, Inc.” helped us evaluate our own teamwork gaps and catalyze the drive of our passionate and talented employees. By taking the time to not only read some of Catmull’s advice but to also investigate your own creativity processes, you may quickly find that building bridges over those chasms is simpler than you thought.

Photo Credit: Twin Group Flickr via Compfight cc

Purpose Drives Productivity: 5 Steps to Optimize Communication for Your Workforce

The pointless 9-to-5 grind is dead. Today, people need a purpose in their work. They want to be part of something, and our corporate communication needs to reflect this — to actually reach the people.

Unfortunately, our communication skills have yet to catch up with the times, and present-day organizations simply do not communicate effectively. Just 17 percent of workers strongly agree that all levels of their companies practice open communication.

It’s not the “what” of the information anymore, but the “why.” Workers aren’t satisfied with being told what to do without reason, and employee engagement separates good organizations from great ones. People want to know what we as leaders are trying to achieve, how they fit into that objective, and why they should care about the work. We must care about our employees; otherwise, the employees won’t care about us or what the company needs in return.

In an environment where employees need more than a paycheck, the question becomes: How can we ensure we’re communicating well with our team members?

Switch the Strategy

Employees don’t need to be plugged in to everything that happens in executive boardrooms. They simply want to feel included in the direction the company is heading. And even when we offer that information, workers still often feel like they’re left out of the loop because our communication methods don’t deliver information effectively.

The solution to this dilemma starts with reach. As diverse as workforces are today — even in seemingly homogenous departments — failing to reach employees is one consistent factor causing challenges. People of different ages, races, job descriptions, and leadership levels all check their phones between meetings, after completing tasks, and on their breaks. Our smartphones are always in front of us. Nevertheless, employers are still trying to drive employees to company-created destinations, like blogs and HR portals, to get the latest information. Why fight the mobile monolith when we can use it to make work better for everyone?

Providing simple push notifications or other communications directly to smartphones ensures that every employee stays in the loop and allows us to target specific messages to specific groups of employees. A notice to the sales team about upcoming priority changes, a quick update to the developers on the progress of a hardware change, or a companywide ping about the progress of a charity effort — all of these can be communicated effectively through mobile and ensure no employee feels left out.

Here’s the greatest part: employees can respond in real time. This includes mandatory responses like approvals, as well as engaging responses like a simple like or comment.

Making Mobile Work for Everyone

Now that work is less about the office building and more about shared goals, mobile communications are a critical component of keeping teams moving in the same direction. Here are five ways to ensure those lines of communication are utilized effectively:

  1. Don’t use a desktop strategy. Mobile phones are not desktops — after all, the age of the desktop is long gone. We don’t need to limit ourselves to strategies that would work the exact same way on a desktop computer. Think about how your organization operates, and recognize opportunities for mobile to enhance your existing communication capabilities.
  2. Buy it, don’t build it. Mobile apps are costly to build and maintain, and they’re often short-lived. Why should we drain our resources keeping up with app trends when all we really want is to communicate better across our organizations? Finding a company that can do the heavy lifting for us will allow leaders and teams alike to get back to work.
  3. Keep it short.We all spend a lot of time on our phones, but rarely all at one point in the day. No mobile communication strategy should require lengthy time commitments — that would defeat the entire point of convenience. Keep updates short and sweet, and make it easy for people to take action (e.g. on workflows) right on their phones.
  4. Get executive buy-in. If leadership doesn’t outwardly care about a mobile-first strategy, employees won’t care, either. Shifting to mobile communications means starting with non-mobile ones, and we need everyone in leadership to be seen as early adopters of these changes. Think of the change as more of a cultural shift and less as a technology shift.
  5. Work with what already exists. Our team members all have phones — we don’t want company-provided ones, and we certainly don’t want a bunch of side-loaded company software bogging down the ones we have. Security is important, but that doesn’t mean we need to own everyone’s phone. Focus the mobile strategy on reaching everyone; allow them to communicate with one another. IT will learn to live with it.

Making things mobile isn’t about moving existing workflows and company news to a smaller screen. It’s about enhancing existing communication practices and keeping everyone on the same page. If we all take these tips, we can make mobile the new, powerful tool in our arsenals so our employees are always aligned with the mission — and with one another.

Photo Credit: harisahmedchicago Flickr via Compfight cc

Employee Advocacy = Engaged Employees

A great work environment with happy employees is the start for creating sincere and enduring employee advocates. When people experience a wonderful culture in action and believe in the reputation of their company, they become your most effective spokespeople.

Why Does it Matter?

There is a lot of research out there that supports the direct correlation between employee satisfaction and its impact on customer satisfaction.  When employees are engaged advocates, they will go the extra mile for the customer, seeking out alternate and better ways to deliver service that amazes and delights. These employees don’t mind spending extra time with a customer to ensure their complete satisfaction, has been met, and are more likely to set achievable expectations for customer service delivery and timing.

Additionally, employee advocacy humanizes your brand. It puts a face to the brick and mortar of your business and allows people outside the company to better identify with your people-driven mission. It’s like word-of-mouth advertising… a very powerful weapon in the war for customer satisfaction and their dollars.

What’s in it for Employees?

Empowerment allows employees to become stakeholders by having them take part in decision-making processes. This empowerment enables them to take responsibility for their role and manage their behaviors and outcomes.  A culture of trust allows people to do their job, autonomously. Employees want to create their own successes, and with that find greater satisfaction in themselves and with the culture around them.

Feedback is a powerful tool in the workplace. It enables people to see how they contribute to the bigger picture of the organization. It’s important for each employee to see how her specific role impacts the organization. Show employees, directly, how their work is improving customer retention, profitability, or the metric that is most closely related to their position. This will motivate them in their jobs, in attainable goals, and increase their engagement.

Skills and knowledge training provides the growth and expansion employees need to keep improving and advancing in their careers. Challenge them to find learning opportunities that can be applied to their jobs and allow them to put this new-found knowledge to work. The empowerment and satisfaction they can reap from this experience will encourage them to look forward to future learnings to continue growing their skills and knowledge.

Collaboration across an organization opens the door to team spirit and engages people at a more root level because they believe every employee is approachable for conversation. Being able to collaborate on projects with colleagues will increase employee engagement, and make the projects more satisfying and effective allowing employees to ideate, give peers feedback and bring solutions to the forefront. In other words, to take ownership.

Why You Need Advocates

Employees who are advocates for their organization cast a wider net not only inside the organization but externally, as well. They reach a larger audience and position themselves as the voice of the organization. They will increase your brand engagement with potential new customers and employees, which from a monetary value, can save companies dollars in advertising and marketing promotions. As engaged employees, advocates are tremendous agents and defenders of your company’s reputation, again positioning themselves as a voice for their employer. Further, research has shown that employee advocates can increase the stock value of organizations by over two and a half times versus organizations that do not support employee advocacy and engagement.

Creating Advocacy

Focus on your culture to understand how employees view the company. To truly understand how successful an advocacy program will work, you first need to understand what people are thinking. If you guess you may guess wrong and that could produce a myriad of consequences. Leadership needs to have the courage to ask, “What do you like and dislike about working here?” This information is gold to the wise employer. With this in hand, set out to better understand what your employees are seeing and that may even include how they view the leadership within the organization. Be prepared to leave your ego at the door, as the feedback may be a wake-up call for management, but if the goal is to create a better workplace, recognition of what works and what is failing miserably must be addressed.

Communication is key here. Employees are inspired by leadership that is open and authentic with communications. Strong leadership that has a clear idea of the company’s direction will be viewed much more favorably than a waffling leader that is out of touch with the company’s mission. When communications flow back and forth between leadership and the employee population, the likelihood of misunderstandings and mistakes lessens.

Measure the results. Whenever possible, track the metrics that will gauge the outcomes of employee advocacy. For example, if increased customer retention is the goal, design a program to determine what a successful outcome will be. Communicate this goal to your employees, then provide them with the resources and opportunities to explore and expand on their knowledge and skills in support of the goal. By tracking the data, you can adjust how you communicate and incentivize your employee advocacy initiatives for future goals.

Trust and Opportunity

Organizations need to believe in their employees and want to help them to promote the organization, but first they need to give them good reasons. Pressuring them rather than encouraging them will not work. Advocacy needs to flow naturally for it to be believable. Leadership can, however, empower employees with knowledge and tools to promote the benefits. With a minimal amount of direction, companies can offer opportunities for employees to exercise their bragging rights in a public, social way. I know of companies that had business cards printed for each employee so if that person was interacting in a social setting and felt the opportunity was right, they could hand their business card to potential new customers and even use it as a referral card for job seekers.

Of course, having a set of “Do’s and Don’ts” is helpful so employees understand what would fall outside the parameters of advocacy. No organization can tolerate proprietary information being shared with people outside the company, so establishing parameters that address items such as this, is important.

The Dividends

Essentially, the value of having employees who act as brand advocates offers a value next to priceless. What better way to market your organization, espouse the features of your products and spread the word in a social manner that is much less expensive than traditional marketing and advertising.

To me, employee advocacy is when employees look forward to pitching the benefits of their organization and do it because they’re excited and energized, not because they’re specifically prompted by management. What sets these advocates apart from other employees is they’re engaged with their employer and find their workplace environment a satisfying atmosphere where communication and opportunity to grow and collaborate occur with consistency.

And most importantly, organizations need to give employees a reason to advocate for the company. An engaged employee advocate is the best bet you have for increasing customer satisfaction, and to experience business prosperity in an organic manner that is natural and unprompted. And the best aspect is, it’s one of the best methods for retaining valuable talent and attracting more of the same.

Photo Credit: martinlouis2212 Flickr via Compfight cc

Managing Your Talent and Business Alignment

Good business leaders recognize the value in a good hire, but often times don’t appreciate that one key individual can add to or deter from a company’s overall business plan. Consider a new Chief Technology Officer versus a sales executive within the same company. Most people would immediately acknowledge the CTO’s position as being the most pivotal and in large respect, it is a critical position and one that should be occupied by someone who can elevate the company’s technical advancements. So let’s consider the sales executive’s role.

The sales executive’s role is probably one of many like it within the organization, but sales executives often times serve as the face of the company and represent the organization externally in different capacities, not all of which are sales. These individuals may be members of a local organization where they provide volunteer time and may even sit on the board of another organization. This is a very visible representation and one where the sales executive is speaking on behalf of the organization in a business capacity. Given this, would you consider this role less important than the CTO’s? Maybe or maybe not, but each position yields a different ROI, so there needs to be a different approach in regards to specific talent management practices and how they impact the company’s overall business.

Everyone is a Contributor

One thing is for certain, hiring new employees and training existing ones should be aligned closely to the business imperatives of the organization. As businesses grow, expand their services, establish a footprint in other areas around the Globe, or simply tweak their existing products and offerings because of upgrades or enhancements, due consideration of the employee population should be included in the mix of your business strategy. A hard look at your current business and what your projections for company growth and expansion of products and services will look like in five years and beyond will impact the people you hire and train today.

Understanding the impact of each division, department, team and individual should not be a siloed evaluation. All parts and pieces are links in a chain that make up your company’s foundation. When one is weak, the strength of the other links becomes compromised. It may not be apparent immediately, but over time you may experience problems in customer service, low production numbers, disconnects with prospects, high employee turnover, all of which can lead to downturns in revenue or profits. When this occurs, a prompt investigation into all aspects of your business, including who and how talent is sourced and brought into your company should be considered, as this may be where the root of the problems are based.

Being on the Same Page

There are times when leadership can be so focused on particular outcomes of their business that they fail to acknowledge other important factors, such as what recruiting tactics are used to source and qualify people to advance and align with the organization.

One overlooked item is assuming that the recruiting team is informed and up-to-date on company goals and any subsequent changes to the short-term and long-term business imperatives. Are the job descriptions indicative of what skills and experiences are needed to build the foundation for the future? Do the hiring managers understand what they need to evaluate when considering people to fit the current role and how the candidates’ skills will impact the future of the role? Is everyone aware of the company’s direction and where the company needs to be in five years? Ten years? Do they know what the success profiles are for each position? These are all questions that must be answered before they can fully execute in accordance with the company’s plans.

Employee training is another area that can be out of sync with a company’s business imperatives. Even talented contributors need training, if for no other reason, than to be kept up-to-speed with the implementation of new technologies, policies, products and services. By offering training, employers stand a much better chance to retain desirable employees, as well as determining who is open to learning and embracing the company’s evolution. Keep in mind, training is an investment into your most precious asset… your employees.

Ultimately, communication is going to drive much of what your employees know or don’t know about the company’s short- and long-term business objectives. Leadership needs to decide what kind of info will be shared, with whom and why, as well as present that info so it’s understood by all people receiving the message and resonates with each person’s level of understanding. The obvious conclusion is to assume the mission, vision and company’s values are well understood by all and are unwavering, so when making adjustments to the business plan, this understanding helps drive the point home and makes adoption of the plan easier.

Reducing Risks and Other Factors

Talent management is more than having a succession plan. It’s understanding the value each position offers and capitalizing on that value in the present with eyes towards the future. Also, external factors such as demand, the market cost to fill certain positions, the economy, geography, Visas, etc. will also impact the alignment of your talent and company-wide business strategy. Items to consider include, but are not limited to:

  • Your current employee pool… what new skills do they need and how can you get them to the skills level your business needs with a shorter time-to-productivity
  • Bringing new talent into your company… do the job descriptions fit the current need with skills to build towards the future
  • Anticipating issues with hiring the right people for the jobs your organization will need to sustain your future business
  • Ensuring everyone on the leadership team is onboard with understanding how the present and future of the business hinges on the alignment of talent to the business plan

There are many answers you need to uncover to truly understand the importance of how talent acquisition and your business strategy should be closely aligned; the list above is only a starting point. Keep in mind, the goal should always be to reduce risks and manage the factors within your control and it begins with a shared vision.

Photo Credit: Web_Service Flickr via Compfight cc

Leaders, Choose Your Words Carefully

“I would like to take a moment and make something clear to everyone. I do not expect, nor do I want, any of you to miss or sacrifice important family obligations for work. . . In fact, I will go so far as to say that if I find out that you are working with me while missing important family responsibilities, it will disappoint me greatly.”

These excerpts are from a 2014 internal memo (recently gone viral) Vice President Joe Biden sent to his team members.

The language he chose is precise and particular. Biden warmed the heart by addressing the note to “My Wonderful Staff,” and signed off with a sincere “Thank you for all the hard work.” He stressed how important it is that his valued employees maintain a healthy work-life balance. And he owned this directive, by clearly stating how personally disappointed he will be to learn after the fact that an employee has missed a crucial family moment because of work.

He also included a very detailed list of what he considers “family obligations,” including birthdays, religious celebrations, and graduations. This information was so valuable to his team—since most of us, especially when we’re swamped, will “grade” family obligations on a sliding scale from “critical” to “OMG I simply can’t take a day of just for that!”

Why Language Matters 

We know that spending too much time at work (or working at home) can lead to unhealthy, unproductive teams. But do we understand the impact of language? Poor choices of words, especially coming from company leaders, can affect employee morale, productivity, and health.

Let’s take a look at a couple of scenarios, from the employee’s perspective, where poor word choices can have powerful effects:

Scenario #1: Heading into an important meeting you’ve spent weeks preparing for, your manager turns to you and says, “Let me do the talking. You can take notes.”

Result: You immediately feel demoralized. It’s clear your manager doesn’t fully trust you, and in turn, you begin to doubt yourself.

Scenario #2: Your boss is annoyed because there was a simple error in one of your monthly reports. Mistakes happen. But, your boss expects perfection. “Why can’t you be more like Tony?” he says, “He would never allow something like this to slip through the cracks.”

Result: Aside from feeling hurt by this overreaction, your boss has now turned the tables on poor Tony as well. You are envious of him and resent the implication that he’s better than you. Your boss has created team divisions, and you no longer work as well together.

Scenario #3: Work has been extremely stressful, and you’re having issues with a coworker. You talk to your manager about it, hoping for a resolution. Instead, he trots out the old line “You know, with the economy the way it is, you should feel lucky to have a job! Try harder to work it out on your own.”

Result: When a manager doesn’t offer help and reminds you that you should be grateful to have a job, it essentially tells you that you’re not worthy. Communications like this erode corporate loyalty and build resentment.

Turn the Negatives to Positives

Words can hurt. But leaders can use positive language to create an environment of trust, a place where employees feel safe and valued. Here are some tips to help you turn negatives intto positives:

Be attentive and respectful. Be present when an employee requests a one-on-one with you. Don’t check email or text. Actively listen to what they’re saying, and if you don’t agree with them, keep your emotions in check. Suggest a follow-up discussion and craft your response in a way that benefits you both.

No matter how stressed you are, don’t explode over every mistake. Your employees aren’t robots. Unless these errors are a running trend, mention it, but resist using language that will humiliate or make your teams fearful. If you don’t, you’ll end up with a resentful workforce without the self-confidence to help your organization grow.

Use positive language even in a negative situation. Have a less than stellar team member? Let them know that their behavior is unacceptable, but don’t take this opportunity to belittle and berate them. Be firm, but respectful. Instead of focusing on the negatives, highlight good things they do bring to the table. Never use insults, and allow them some time to have the floor to explain.

Vice President Biden’s memo made his team feel valued, trusted, and secure. By choosing your words carefully and bringing out the best in your teams, you will have a happy, healthy, loyal and productive workforce.

This post was first published on Entrepreneur.com

Biomimicry in Teamwork

A lot has been written about biomimicry and the inspiration that product designers get from studying nature — the skeletal structure of a flying squirrel informing the design of drones or the layered butterfly wing to help create optical coatings for displays.  But I have recently been thinking about how interpersonal relationships also mimic the animal world (beyond the fact that homo sapiens are technically animals).  In our business relationships, especially in our teamwork where conflict is common, how do we resemble members of the animal kingdom?  Specifically, I’ve identified the five most common animal defense systems that I’ve seen in the workplace (including my own) to help identify defense triggers. By better understanding ourselves and each other, we can better react to perceived threats and leverage our natural abilities to overcome conflicts and work better as a team.

I’ll start with the disclaimer that these animal analogies are not flattering. Just like the circumstances in the wild that trigger defense mechanisms, life and teamwork can be messy.  They are meant to elicit some introspection and a renewed commitment to conflict resolution so each team member can bring their strengths and work together.

Cobra: I recognize that I often act as a cobra. This snake is well known for the flare up — when threatened, it can rise up and make itself look bigger to scare away would-be predators.  In our relationships, this shows up as verbal defensiveness and a posture change.  In a business setting, people who mimic cobras often change their posture stand and speak loudly to exude confidence, and often interrupt others.  Their emphatic statements might be so persuasive they parade as facts.  At their best, they provide passion, clarity and a sense of mission to their team.  At their worst, they can be bullies or manipulators.  They do all of this in order to put the idea forward more aggressively when others object, and can become dogmatic.

If you are a cobra:    When you feel like you need to be bigger, louder, or more aggressive, consider instead the power of gentle persuasion and the need to listen completely to the other side before reacting out of impulse.

If you are working with a cobra: As a cobra, I respond well when teammates push back with new data points and different perspectives. I would encourage colleagues not to let the scary hood or confidence dissuade them from presenting an alternative views.  Cobras can be poor (or incomplete) listeners and need people to tell them the truth and help them refine their gut feelings (which trigger the defense mechanism) to help others see their perspective without feeling threatened.

Turtle:  The turtle has been immortalized in folk tales as a slow-moving, methodical animal.  An animal who wears his defense mechanism on his sleeve, literally.  When threatened, the plodding animal gives up any forward progress, to recess into his shell and hide until the threat has passed.  I have seen this pattern many times in my colleagues or team mates, a slow-and-steady person, who only agreed to change on a step-by-step basis and will retreat into their shells until everyone can just agree and get along.  As turtles don’t need facts to retreat into their shells, they might not even be able to articulate in words what threat is perceived and what might result from the threat.  At their best, they provide a comprehensive, well thought out plan and long term direction.  At their worst, turtles procrastinate deadlines and decisions, which stalls progress and can delay results.

If you are a turtle: When you feel the temptation to retreat, assess the real threat. Consider the consequences of the worst case scenario and the benefits and drawbacks of making a change. Consider talking to someone who has a bolder approach for their advice.  The goal is to determine if there is a way to step out of your comfort zone and start the changing process, or if the threats must be resolved before you leave your shell.

If you are working with a turtle: I have found communication to be key to effectively team with a turtle.  It is important to be proactive with the turtle before the defense mechanism is triggered by a complaint or concern. Break down the larger projects and priorities into their pieces, showing the step-by-step processes and how to mitigate risk along the way. Clearly outline roles, responsibilities and decision makers so the turtle knows who to connect with if questions and or suggestions arise.

Electric Eel:  The electric eel is ready with 600 volts of electricity to dole out to any would-be predator.  There is no negotiation or posturing.  There is no hiding.  There is only attack.  I have certainly worked with many eels.  Eels are sharp — armed with data, analysis, and opinion, the eel can unload on anyone who disagrees with them with a current of logical arguments and justifications.  They can have a tendency to belittle others, leaving them writhing on the ground after an encounter.  At their best, eels are knowledgeable and persuasive. At their worst, they use the threat of retaliation as a deterrent to keep people from disagreeing with them, often unwittingly.  Gliding along in their own “everyone agrees with me world,” they may not know that people are not being honest with them or alerting them to potential issues.

If you are an eel: I would encourage you to balance your initial approach with a committed desire for long-term relationship.  Think about the person, not just the power you have.  You might win the argument with a co-worker and force others into submission, but that isn’t good teamwork.  Remember that the focus of your energy should be positive encouragement, not disparaging comments.  Make sure you wield data, not shame.

If you work with an eel: Make sure you do your homework.  Know your stuff and be prepared for a sting.  Dig into the data with them, which might help get the eel on the same side of the negotiating table with you, rather than see themselves in an adversarial role.   And if you get stung, there are several approaches to take, but the one that will lead to the most respect is to stand up for yourself.  It may be extremely hard, but the bravery it takes to say “that’s not okay” and “here is how you should have responded,” can take the amperage out and put you back at a power parity with your eel colleague.

Sea Cucumber:  This very strange animal has an unusual defense mechanism: it surrenders.  The highly pliable organism can break itself into pieces, sacrificing body parts (including organs) to a predator until the predator is preoccupied and the sea cucumber (or what is left of it) can get way.  It wants to end the conflict as soon as possible and retreat to where it can heal.  In the workplace, these are often the soft spoken colleagues who are less likely to take a contrary (and never a combative) view with the group.  They are eager to please and just want everyone to get along and mind their own.  The problem with this approach is that their valuable perspectives are never shared, which does harm the team and empowers more aggressive colleagues. At their best, their empathy and willingness to pitch in can help the team complete tasks. At their worst, they can be an easy target and take the brunt of bullying.

If you are a sea cucumber: Think about how you can best engage and give your ideas without having to sacrifice yourself. Have confidence that the team deserves your participation. Also, consider that the relative costs of speaking up in the moment is more effective and valuable than having to nurse wounds or regrow body parts later.

If you work with a sea cucumber: I find speaking with reclusive teammates is most beneficial   in a 1:1 or smaller setting. If I see that a colleague has taken a brunt of tension-filled meeting and not spoken up, I try to draw them out of their tendency of self-sacrifice to encourage them communicate their ideas and perspectives.

Grizzly Bears: One of the few animals with no natural-born predators, I think we can all learn from the grizzly bears to be a more effective team.  Unarmed, even a clever human can’t beat the bear.  She doesn’t have to inflict, hide in the woods, or rise up to scare away people to stay alive, because she is capable of all of those things.  She doesn’t have to be defensive, because she has power.

How we can be more like Grizzly Bears: We shouldn’t lead with our defense mechanisms, those are there to protect us at the expense of others – the exact opposite of teamwork. We should strive to be our true, higher selves by using our defenses for good so the best ideas come to the forefront.

By recognizing our own biomimicry characteristics, we can combine our natural strengths to harness the confidence of the cobra, the thoughtfulness of the turtle, the healing powers of the sea cucumber, and the knowledge of the eel. By leveraging our defensive tendencies into powerful tools, we can be a team of grizzly bears — working together to influence others, to excite change, to achieve greatness.

Photo Credit: The_Nothing Flickr via Compfight cc

How Employee Communication Impacts Culture [Webinar]

We need to talk — about communication. We all know communication is key. In fact, it’s never been more important. The new World of Work is continuously connected but often across generations, locations, media platforms, intra and inter-webs, and social and mobile. Communication has simply never been more of a critical skill. Good or bad, it drives organizational culture more than ever.

We’ve all been there, felt the galvanizing impact of a brilliant presentation; the drag on everyone wreaked by a maze of emails. The toll of head-shaker moments in a meeting, the fist-pump after a meaningful conversation. The effect is profound and direct. Unlike some other systems in the workplace, how we communicate — among leadership, employees, partners, candidates or other key audiences — has an instantaneous effect.

So I’m thrilled to be part of this webinar, How Employee Communication Impacts Culture, offered by my friends at CultureIQ. It’s free, on-demand, and packed with savvy insights and workable strategies on taking a hard look at your organization and finding powerful ways to make it better. You’re going to want to be in on this hot topic. Register today —and mark your calendars for October 13, 2016, at 10 AM PST/1 PM EST.

I’ll be talking to the CultureIQ team about how to:

  • Audit your organizational communication tactics, and glean what’s working and what’s not
  • Spark better communication techniques on all levels of the organization
  • Curate the best, most effective communication tools across the board

Communication Makes or Breaks Culture

Today we communicate faster and across more channels than yesterday, and tomorrow it’s going to be even faster and more complex than it is today. That means the effect of communication on culture is just as constant. And its vital importance in the workforce should never be overlooked. Among millennials, 47 percent report that open and free-flowing communication is a key factor in their staying in a job for more than five years, according to Deloitte’s 2016 Millennial Survey. Among those who leave within two years, 26 percent cite poor communication as a reason.

Shape your communication to inspire trust and engagement, to be consistent no matter which platform you use, to grow connection and build relationships — between leadership and employees, across teams and departments, into audiences and markets — and your culture will thrive, along with the people in it. I know you hear me on this. So tune in to this exciting webcast on How Employee Communication Impacts Culture, and let’s talk about how to do it right.

This post is sponsored by CultureIQ.

Photo Credit: MBA Lounge Flickr via Compfight cc