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Leadership Done Right: Yes Elon, Empathy Works

Some conversations stay with me. It could be something about the subject, the wisdom of the person I’m talking to, or the timeliness of the discussion. And sometimes, a random event triggers my recall. Case in point: The world recently watched a sad spectacle, as half of Twitter’s 7,500 employees lost their jobs when new owner Elon Musk stepped into his CEO role and promptly went on a firing spree. Apparently, he hadn’t received the memo from other successful executives that empathy works as a leadership style.

Twitter is obviously grappling with numerous business issues. But it’s stunning to think this company’s future depends on a singular person in a position of great power who simply decided to slice the workforce in half. And that was only his first week on the job.

Why Empathy Works

This behavior reminds me of a #WorkTrends podcast discussion I had with Gary DePaul, a brilliant leadership consultant, researcher, and author. We spoke in June 2021 — more than a year into the pandemic — when everyone was grappling with workplace challenges. The Great Resignation was gaining steam, and leaders were scrambling to redefine work life and organizational culture in ways that would keep talent onboard.

Over the course of our conversation, Gary explained what makes leaders effective in the long run. Among the qualities that give leaders staying power is (you guessed it) empathy. Seems like the opposite of Elon Musk’s approach, doesn’t it?

Whatever you think of his business acumen, Elon has never been an empathetic leader. It doesn’t seem to be one of his goals, to put it mildly.

This posture is already damaging his relationships with employees. And it doesn’t seem to be garnering trust among Twitter’s business partners, either.

Days into this acquisition, major advertisers like GM decided to put their Twitter budgets on hold and marketing strategists began advising clients to spend elsewhere. It seems Elon’s lack of empathy is already costing him dearly.

Empathy Works Because it Builds Common Ground

Will an empathy void ultimately matter to the success of this $44 billion deal? It probably depends on your view of the people/profits equation.

In our podcast interview, Gary made it clear where he stands, and I’m inclined to agree. Empathy is absolutely crucial for leadership. It’s also a necessary through-line for every organizational tier. Whatever your title, you won’t win the hearts, minds, or cooperation of your team members unless you make a genuine effort to connect with them on a human level.

Gary said that openly acknowledging your weaknesses as well as your strengths is a powerful way to break the ice. It doesn’t need to be complicated. For instance, at your next Zoom meeting, when you ask everyone to introduce themselves by sharing a bit of personal information, don’t skip yourself.

Empathy Also Builds Alignment

Self-awareness leads to humility, which in turn, leads to empathy. When you honor others’ right to be at the table, you can expect a better response from them. That’s the reason why empathy works.

Think about it. When you make an effort to connect with others, pay attention to them, and factor their input into your decisions, others will be drawn toward you.

But when your actions make it clear that your business revolves around you, why would your team sign-up for that? When you send a message that says you make decisions in a unilateral, top-down way, you inhibit the free exchange of ideas where engagement and innovation thrive.

No wonder we see phenomena like “quiet quitting” eroding modern work cultures. When people feel like it’s not worth the effort to work hard or go the extra mile, why should employers expect that kind of commitment?

The Elon Musk Twitter story still needs to unfold. But I think we’re already learning some valuable lessons. I believe Gary DePaul would agree.

Authority is best served with warmth. In other words, leaders should be willing to admit they’re going to make mistakes. They should also be willing to admit they’re on a learning curve — particularly when they’ve just taken over a company.

Anyone in charge of a team can and should work on their leadership style and recognize the importance of communicating with different types of people on their terms. (Hint: Maybe email isn’t the best way to deliver life-altering news.)

A Key Takeaway from Gary DePaul

Studying leadership is Gary DePaul’s career passion. When we spoke, his latest book was What the Heck Is Leadership and Why Should I Care?  It speaks to these core questions:

  • What does it really mean to lead?
  • What does this job really require?

Gary’s bottom line:  Leadership is a continuous, ongoing vocation. So if you’re heading into the corner office (metaphorically or not), don’t assume you’ve arrived. You’re just getting started.

 


EDITOR’S NOTE:

For more insights on leadership and other work-related topics, explore our #WorkTrends podcast archives. You’ll find a treasure trove of great guests and ideas.

Also, be sure to subscribe to Meghan M. Biro’s LinkedIn newsletter,  The Buzz On Work, her personal take on what’s happening at the intersection of people, tech, HR, and work culture.

Stop Overthinking a Culture of Gratitude. Show It Instead!

As we enter the season of gratitude, I have contemplated the importance of employers, managers, and leaders expressing thanks to their hardworking team members. We have collectively weathered a storm, and we’re not in the clear yet. No matter what the industry, things have been challenging. But how should we show our gratitude? What is authentic? What works?

With “The Great Resignation” and “The Great Discontent” affecting our organizations, retention is top-of-mind. Here is my gentle reminder: a little gratitude goes a long way in keeping employees happy and feeling valued.

Why gratitude is great

Gratitude in the workplace is often underrated. While some leaders are quick with a “thank you,” others are still under the impression that thanks are given with a paycheck. Research clearly illustrates that the right amount of gratitude can drastically impact the productivity, positivity, morale, employee retention, and success of a business.

The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, is at the heart of understanding gratitude. In his 2010 essay, Robert Emmons, the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, reveals why gratitude is good for our bodies, our minds, and our relationships.

“[Gratitude] has two components. First, it’s an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts, and benefits we’ve received. This doesn’t mean that life is perfect; it doesn’t ignore complaints, burdens, and hassles. But when we look at life as a whole, gratitude encourages us to identify some amount of goodness in our life,” Robert says. “The second part of gratitude is figuring out where that goodness comes from. We recognize the sources of this goodness as being outside of ourselves. It didn’t stem from anything we necessarily did ourselves in which we might take pride. We can appreciate positive traits in ourselves, but I think true gratitude involves a humble dependence on others: We acknowledge that other people—or even higher powers, if you’re of a spiritual mindset—gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.”

Gratitude is transcendent.

The act of gratitude clearly transcends any one part of our lives. It’s holistic in nature. Those who are grateful at home are likely to be grateful at work. But people aren’t inherently grateful or not. Like many things, it can be–and I would argue should be– practiced.

My thoughts have landed here: stop overthinking a culture of gratitude. Show it instead! It sure seems silly as a line item on an executive agenda: “Express thanks to employees.” Instead, be naturally grateful for the employees who have stuck through trying times. Show them gratitude–and not just one night at the fancy holiday party. Say “thank you.” Drop a note. Make eye contact and actively show appreciation for a job well done.

A recent Gallup analysis found that “48 percent of America’s working population is actively job searching or watching for opportunities. Businesses are facing a staggeringly high quit rate–3.6 million Americans resigned in May alone–and a record-high number of unfilled positions. And Gallup discovered that workers in all job categories, from customer-facing service roles to highly professional positions, are actively or passively job hunting at roughly the same rate.”

It is no secret that keeping employees happy is the name of the game right now. Retention has always been a hot topic among leaders, but it’s never been more important to engage employees and entice them to stay through authentic actions.

Get back to basics.

Say things like: Thank you! We appreciate you. We are glad you’re here. You offer great value to our team. Nice job on that project. Sound too easy or trite? It’s not.

Ask questions like: How would you like to be recognized? What makes a happy, productive workplace? A misstep is often to assume you know what resonates with people. Don’t be afraid to ask: take surveys or have open conversations about what feels good to hear or experience.

Ask people about their experiences alone and in groups. Also, find out how people are feeling. Are they scared? Tired? Upbeat? Hopeful? What general trends come to light from truly ASKING?

Create an environment that fosters gratitude.

According to HBR’s piece, “Building a Better Workplace Starts with Saying ‘Thanks’”: “Make time and space for gratitude. Many employees may feel ambivalent about expressing gratitude or appreciation publicly, so don’t force it. Instead, managers should make (physical or virtual) space and time for gratitude. For example, managers can create an appreciation wall or a dedicated Slack channel for employees to recognize others and give kudos. Managers might also start meetings with gratitude ‘check-ins,’ during which team members can express one thing they’re thankful for. When employees pin notes to the wall or participate in check-ins, they create social proof that encourages their ambivalent colleagues to do the same.”

Stop thinking about gratitude as an “initiative.”

Gratitude in the workplace doesn’t have to be expensive or overwrought with logistics. There are many ways to show appreciation and employee recognition that aren’t overtaxing or unrealistic.

Our friends at gThankYou publish an ongoing blog related to employee appreciation, recognition, and gratitude. One post that spoke to me was “The Magic of On-the-Spot Recognition.” It outlines many reasons to simply show gratitude “in the moment”–and it is simple, appreciated and, frankly, expected by younger generations.

“A culture of gratitude begins with a genuine heart and true feelings of thanks for those who make your business work every day,” shares Liz King, co-founder and CMO of gThankYou. “We have committed to sharing free resources to help leaders incorporate appreciation, recognition and thanks into the workplace all year long. It’s a wise business decision that also feels great.”

Other considerations for maintaining a culture of gratitude

Define happiness.

As with all goal-setting, the clearer the picture, the more likely you will succeed. Take the time to understand what happiness means in your organization, industry, and area of the world. This alone can put a damper on the “Great Resignation” or “Great Discontent.” Picture a happy workplace: what does it really look like?

Understand how to align the organization’s foundational purpose with daily actions.

This piggybacks on defining happiness. There should also be a deep-rooted connection between what the organization stands for and how it treats employees. What is this company all about? If it is focused on providing goods or services to better their customers or the world, are we treating employees just as well (or better)? If we thank our customers and partners, shouldn’t we extend the same courtesy to our employees?

The bottom line

Organizations, specifically leaders, MUST set an example of gratitude. We encourage you to not only take the time to say, “thank you” regularly but build tangible, effective ways to keep a gratitude culture thriving.

How do you foster a culture of gratitude? I’d love to hear your ideas–and so would your peers! Please feel free to contact me at ctrivella@talentculture.com.

 

3 Ways to Practice Empathetic Leadership with a Virtual Team

Toxic leadership is the main reason why employees leave their jobs. In order to become truly exceptional, those in charge must practice empathetic leadership.

Empathy is the ability to feel what another person is feeling. It is the ability to put yourself in the other person’s shoes in a big and meaningful way. It is to experience their emotions.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage your own emotions, as well as the emotions of others. Empathy is absolutely critical to emotional intelligence. But it involves more than just being able to recognize the emotional states of others. It also involves your responses to people based on this information. It’s important to put your emotional intelligence (EQ) to work, at work, in the form of practicing empathy.

Why empathy is important

We live in an era filled with information. Thus, without emotions and the ability to sense, understand, and respond to these emotions, any level of understanding and connection is impossible. In today’s business world, we have tools and methods for the efficient exchange of information, but these leave out a massive amount of what makes people human.

Research has shown that empathy is essential at work, and when it comes to remote work, the critical need for developing both emotional intelligence–and expressing it in the form of empathy–is imperative to its success. Plenty of studies show that when a workplace is capable of empathy, it increases happiness, productivity, and retention.

In fact, a telling brain-imaging study found that when employees recalled a boss that had been unkind or un-empathic, they showed increased activation in areas of the brain associated with avoidance and negative emotion. The opposite was true when they recalled an empathic boss. We know what often follows avoidance… increasing levels of disengagement, poorer communication, ineffective collaboration–and a high likelihood of resignation.

Practicing empathetic leadership can be further complicated when teams become virtual and hybrid–where on any given day some of your team members may or may not be in the office. Removing the crucial in-person interaction experienced in our traditional office environments just means we have to find different ways to more effectively lead our teams–ways that no longer rely on those small, casual, and by-chance episodes of social interaction. Rather, we must become much more deliberate in the practice of empathetic leadership.

How to be a more empathetic leader

1. See the whole person

As a leader of remote employees or distributed teams, it’s important to set an example. In any team, remote or not, it is crucial to be mindful and considerate of your colleagues as whole people. While this may sound simple, humans often are not great at considering things outside our immediate range of experience. Here’s what you can do to foster this in your team:

Actions:

  • Create regular virtual opportunities for your team to meet, both formally and informally, and encourage them to share more about themselves, their families, and personal interests. As a team, create and nurture an environment where it is encouraged to express a more personal side of yourself. More social communication of this kind is related to higher levels of trust in remote teams.
  • Demonstrate that you have listened and that you care by asking questions because you want to learn more. In addition to asking the other person questions, ask yourself questions like, “How would I feel or what would I do in this situation?
  • Use technology to infuse empathy into communication. One of the unfortunate downsides of online communication is that empathy often goes missing in these digital interactions, and digital tools are not the best for expressing human emotions. So if you and your distributed team can’t see each other in person and simply can’t wait on those organic interactions, technology based on psychometrics can fast-track the process and make digital more human again. There are plug-ins available that can help your team better understand how to work with one another so that collaboration is more meaningful and effective.

2. Assume positive intent

Remote work and the endless flood of information and online communication can easily lead to misunderstandings, turning what was supposed to be fast and easy communication into a source of frustration. Assuming negative intentions where there are none will soon crush a team’s dynamic. Developing your empathy skills will help you escape these negative emotions and work towards better collaboration.

Actions:

  • Work closely with your team or direct reports to get a good idea of their day-to-day experiences. By understanding how their workflows operate, you will get a good understanding of what may cause frustration.
  • Listen more. Encourage open communication between yourself and your remote team and its members, and focus on listening to what your employees are saying–not just waiting to speak. To be empathetic, you have to key in on what the other person is saying, both nonverbally and verbally. Emotions can be seen and heard. You can pick up on feelings based on what the other person says and how they say it, including their tone. Take this example shared by Founder & CEO of Gravity Payments, Dan Price. He recounts a life-changing interaction shared between him and one of his employees. And he says his biggest lesson was to listen to his employees.
  • Identify and challenge your biases. We are all biased. People tend to approach situations with preconceived notions. It helps people feel prepared for situations. It helps people to feel in control and more comfortable. But preconceived notions, assumptions, or biases make it difficult to listen fully. Work on identifying them and challenging these biases to improve empathy and become more inclusive of different perspectives.

3. Develop a safe space.

The highest-performing teams have one thing in common: psychological safety. It is the belief that you won’t be punished when you make a mistake.

Studies show that psychological safety allows for moderate risk-taking, speaking your mind, creativity, and sticking your neck out without fear of having it cut off—just the types of behavior that lead to breakthroughs or innovations. So how can you increase psychological safety on your own team?

Actions:

  • Approach conflict as a collaborator, not an adversary. When conflicts come up, avoid triggering a fight-or-flight reaction by asking, “How could we achieve a mutually desirable outcome?” Speak human-to-human, but anticipate reactions. Plan countermoves and adopt a learning mindset where you’re truly curious to hear the other person’s point of view.
  • Ask for feedback to illuminate your own blind spots. Open up for suggestions and ideas from your team and take time to reflect on them. If you create this sense of psychological safety on your own team starting now, you can expect to see higher levels of engagement, increased motivation to tackle difficult problems, more learning and development opportunities, and better performance.
  • Commit to developing a psychologically safe culture. Discuss shared “team rules” openly. Create a supportive environment and make a good example of yourself. Talk about challenges and tough issues that you are facing.

Conclusion

In the end, one of the easiest ways to practice empathetic leadership is to offer your support and tangible help. Sometimes, it is not enough to say, “I’m sorry to hear this.” Instead, say, “I’d like to help.” Or, “How can I support you?” Or, “What can I take off your plate?” Show that you’re willing to take time to do something for someone else. This demonstrates empathetic leadership.

Empathy in the workplace allows employees to better understand each other. When employees understand each other, they can better work together, and teams can be effective and productive. Leaders have the ability to empathize, and by empathizing they inspire others to be caring, and that trickles down. The result: healthier, more inclusive cultures and more productive teams.

To learn more about how you can fast track the improvement of emotional intelligence across your organization and build more engaged, higher-performing teams, visit www.eqeverywhere.com.

 

5 Key Traits to Consider When Assessing Leaders

For many leaders, the pandemic has been a trial by fire. New challenges have put the strengths and weaknesses of their leadership style under the spotlight. It’s no secret that the working world has changed drastically in the last year and a half. The pandemic has forced leaders and employees to adapt to new ways of working, often stepping outside of their comfort zones.

For better or worse, a lot of the changes are here to stay. What started as two weeks out of the office turned into a completely virtual work environment. Now, with offices reopening, leaders at all levels will need to adapt to a new hybrid workplace model.

To thrive in the future, leaders need to face new challenges head-on. To do that, they will need support. As businesses recover, leadership development needs to be prioritized. Leadership assessments are one of the most valuable tools in the development toolbox. Companies will need to rethink what they are assessing and explore new ways to build up their leaders for success. Here are five traits you should consider when assessing leaders in the post-pandemic world.

Empathy

Empathetic leadership is more important than ever. Leaders who are focused on supporting and empathizing with their employees can form better connections and understand the needs of their team. This means they are more likely to have engaged teams, making it easier to retain talent.

The pandemic had a huge impact on workplaces around the globe. We are now seeing a turnover tsunami. Part of the reason for this is employee burnout. Uncertainty, transitioning to new ways of working, and changing expectations all factor into burnout. Proactive, empathetic leadership can make all the difference in ensuring that employees want to stay with your company. When assessing leaders, measure emotional intelligence. Look at their ability to listen actively, understand employee needs, and engage in an empathetic way.

Adaptability and Flexibility

The way we work has changed and leaders need to be able to adapt quickly. The sudden move to remote work was jarring for many organizations. This is especially true for companies with a strong in-office culture.

A lot of the changes came with new technology as many companies’ digital transformation strategies kicked into high gear last year. The ability to adapt to new technologies is important, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle. Leaders also need to adapt and be flexible with the needs of their employees.

As of December 2020, 71 percent of employees that could do their jobs remotely were choosing to work from home. More than half of those employees would like to continue to work from home post-pandemic. As more workplaces move to a hybrid model, leaders need to balance the needs of employees with performance. There is no one-size-fits-all solution here. Evaluate leaders and potential leaders for their ability to navigate change.

Trustworthiness

When planning leadership development, measuring employee trust in leadership is a key metric for success. Leaders and employees both thrive in high-trust environments. Employees need to know that leadership has their backs. Leaders need to know that their employees are doing great work and driving results.

During the pandemic, leaders likely struggled with trust during the shift to remote work. In many cases, that trust was rewarded as productivity increased by 47 percent in 2020, according to a report by Prodoscore. As a leadership trait, trustworthiness is critical for helping employees feel empowered to do their best work.

Potential for Development

When assessing leaders, it’s important to know what your company needs and who is best suited to meet those needs. Knowing who can successfully lead in your company and setting them up for success is crucial. When succession planning, companies need to evaluate who will drive the company culture. They also need to determine who has the potential to lead at a higher level.

Tools like a 9-box performance matrix are useful when assessing candidates for leadership positions. Often, you’ll need to determine who does their best work as an individual contributor and who can be further developed. Know what works in your company and give your best candidates the coaching, tools, and training to be even better.

Proactive Thinking

The pandemic put a lot of organizations on their back foot. Nobody knew what to expect, or how long the pandemic would last. Many businesses had to react quickly to keep everything running. Collectively, we all learned the value of thinking pragmatically and proactively.

Leadership assessment, development, and succession planning need to be proactive. It’s no longer about what and who you need right now, today. Businesses need to evaluate how their priorities are shifting and who can help them meet their goals in years to come. When looking at leadership candidates and evaluating current leaders, determine if they are forward thinkers. Find out if their vision of the future matches the business’s long-term outlook.

I led the development of new succession planning and leadership development procedures last year at the start of the pandemic that really helped guide our company through the worst of it. By assessing leaders’ strengths and weaknesses, we filled in the gaps and made the transition to remote work less painful and more productive.

We learned that building a sustainable leadership group will get your company through trying times. We were able to find comfort in the uncomfortable by focusing on building the traits that drive our culture. As a result, we ended up with stronger leaders, more engaged employees, and increased productivity.

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.

 

Photo from Skypixel

Enough of the Red Tape: A Return to Common Sense

When is enough red tape and bureaucracy enough? Is it time to return to the days where common sense prevailed?

Don’t you just love the glossy annual report, no matter which company it represents? The financials change from report to report, but the descriptive material remains pretty much the same.

The company’s rosy impression almost always begins with its values, starting with Integrity and ending with People. Next comes the “meet the team” page, with the perfectly staged line-up of smiling senior executives. Then you’ll see the company’s promises to its customers (which bear a striking resemblance to the promises that friendly voice makes while the customer is on hold: “Your call is important to us. We place the customer front and center in everything we do.”).

Those annual reports look polished and perfect. Unfortunately, if you have a chance for a few off-the-record conversations, you’ll likely discover layer-upon-layer of frustrating, bureaucratic red tape. From an outsider’s point-of-view — this represents a complete lack of common sense. By “common sense,” I mean seeing things as they are and doing things as they ought to be done.

Or, said another way: To treat consumers and employees as you would expect to be treated.

The Impact of a Loss of Common Sense

Consider the global shipping company that brought me on to explore their surprisingly low Net Promoter Score (NPS) customer satisfaction rate. I was perplexed to find that the call center categorized every complaint as resulting from force majeure. Every single complaint. This made it impossible for customers to make insurance claims for damaged goods. I discovered that leadership evaluated the call center staff in terms of efficiency (time per call) rather than customer satisfaction. Clicking the force majeure button required the employee to fill out just one page, while any other option required three or more pages. Of course, they clicked force majeure.

Or how about the international company that required staff, before they could jump on a plane, to fill out a travel form for approval. Fair enough, you may say, until you learn that the form was set to auto-reset in 12 hours if approval didn’t come through. Slightly tricky, considering that most senior management works from Asia headquarters. With a 12-hour time difference, you’d stand better chances surviving Duck, duck, goose than getting your trip approved.

Lack of Empathy = Loss of Common Sense

Bureaucracy, red tape, and bad excuses have reached an all-time high. And with technology infiltrating every crack in every business — and now at home, too, piped straight into our home offices — something fundamental has vanished: empathy. Yes, I know: Empathy isn’t at home in the business world. Most executives tend to associate empathy with crying children and cupcakes. But don’t forget. Empathy is our ability to place ourselves in another person’s shoes and feel what that person is feeling. It’s sharing the customer’s pain when their case is labeled force majeure, or relating to your employee’s frustration when they still don’t have permission to travel to an important meeting scheduled for tomorrow.

In fact, I’ve come to realize that a lack of empathy typically means limited common sense within the organization. It leaves one wondering: Is this at all reparable? In the business world, can we restore common sense?

Time to Establish The Ministry of Common Sense

That’s what I wondered until, while working with Standard Chartered Bank, one of the world’s largest banks, I had a eureka! moment. One of the bank’s staff members told me: What we need is a Ministry of Common Sense. Her suggestion was pure common sense! The bank needed a place whose mandate was to receive internal issues — and solve them.

Two months later, Standard Charter opened its brand-new Ministry of Common Sense. It had its supporters, but it also garnered a lot of laughs. Who on earth would submit their common sense issues? Even worse, who would solve them?

Working in culture transformation for nearly 20 years, I’ve learned that we find solutions within the organization itself. The only thing required is a little kid to shout, “But the emperor’s not wearing any clothes!” People just need help removing their blinders and releasing themselves from their straitjackets.

For sure, they did at Standard Chartered. First in the hundreds, then in the thousands, common sense issues arrived at the ministry’s website. But it didn’t stop there. Solutions arrived, too. Employees ensured they provided every common sense issue with a solution, capable of almost immediately solving the problem. For instance, the person who received 800 emails a day and suggested the company remove the CC and Reply All functions from Outlook. Simple common sense. Email traffic dropped in half.

Or how about another company that set up a ministry, resulting in the company banning PowerPoint presentations. Wasted time dropped by 21% — and people actually began to talk to each other.

Not So Common

Through my work, I’ve come to realize: Common sense is not actually all that common.

I’m not saying that every company needs to set up a ministry of common sense. But one thing is for sure. Adopting empathy — seeing the world through the eyes of customers and other employees — is a huge part of the solution. By seeing the world from another point-of-view, you’ll be able to spot and remove one stupidity – and one moment of insanity – at a time.

You’ll be able to remove your straitjacket while rebuilding a strong company culture that puts employees and customers first. You’ll enable a return to common sense.

 

 

Named by Time magazine as one of the world’s most influential people, NYT bestselling author Martin Lindstrom’s latest book, The Ministry of Common Sense: How to Eliminate Bureaucratic Red Tape, Bad Excuses, and Corporate BS (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), is out today, January 19, 2021!

 

Clovercity

One More Look Back: #WorkTrends Top 5 Podcasts of 2020

While 2020 was a rough year for many people and businesses, there were opportunities for growth. Sometimes, all we had to do was listen… to the top 5 #WorkTrends podcasts of 2020, for example.

For many years, #WorkTrends has served as a place of learning within the world of work. 2020 was no exception, as we featured many of the top minds — and many of the best companies and products — that serve the talent community.

As you look ahead to 2021, we invite you to listen to the #WorkTrends conversations that resonated most during 2020…

5) Leading Through Uncertainty

The moment we all started realizing just how impactful the COVID-19 pandemic would be, Doug Butler of Reward Gateway joined host Meghan M. Biro to discuss how leaders can bring teams together and keep them working collaboratively — even when working remotely. In our fifth-most-popular podcast of 2020, you’ll hear solid advice that’s just as applicable today as it was in June when we recorded this episode, starting with how to encourage open, honest, clear communication.

4) The Human Impact of Data Literacy

The next most popular episode of 2020 featured Jordan Morrow, then Global Head of Data Literacy at Qlik. Jordan offered tremendous insight into why we’re not using data the way we could — or should. In this episode, Jordan shared the findings of a Qlik/Accenture report on the human impact of data literacy — and why globally we miss countless opportunities because we don’t better train our employees to use data.

3) The Empathy Gap

In the third most downloaded podcast of last year, Dr. Gleb Tsipursky, the CEO of Disaster Avoidance Experts, joined Meghan to discuss potential workplace disasters. Dr. Tsipursky is a noted consultant, cognitive neuroscientist, and expert on behavioral economics. And during his appearance on #WorkTrends, he noted that the workplace suffers from an epidemic of disengagement. Specifically, he points to one glaring disaster within company culture: a lack of empathy. Listen in!

2) The Myth of Employee Engagement

In our second-most popular post of 2020, Mark S. Babbitt, CEO of WorqIQ joined us to talk about why our approach to employee engagement has been all wrong and still is off-base today. In this episode, Mark noted that our view of this critical workplace topic hasn’t helped us move the needle one bit — engagement levels remain the same as they were in the 1990s. More importantly, he and Meghan talked about how to overcome the impasse.

1) Assessing Digital Skills for Hiring Now

Our top post of 2020 features Sean O’Brien, Senior VP of Education at SAS, who joined us to discuss how remote work — the most dramatic shift in the workplace for 2020 — has moved from a luxury to a necessity for everyday survival. Sean noted that remote working — with its technical, practical, and cultural challenges — also shifted the hiring process further into the digital sphere. Listen to this episode to learn about how digital tools are helping organizations hire effectively in this new environment!

As we look across these #WorkTrends episodes as well as our top five blog posts of 2020, we see clear proof that last year wasn’t all bad. In fact, opportunities for individual and organizational growth exist, even in the strangest of times. We invite you to take a few minutes to enjoy these insightful conversations. And, of course, join us for even more insights in the year ahead. Our goal: to make 2021 the best year yet in the world of work!

As always, thank you for listening to #WorkTrends — and for being an essential part of the TalentCulture community!

 

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.

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: Sharon McCutcheon

Promoting Diversity and Maintaining an Inclusive Culture

As the spotlight has brightened on racism. In response to recent miscarriages of justice, the emphasis on identifying racism within other aspects of life has also grown. As business leaders, it is vital to stand with the advocacy for change. Although oftentimes difficult, encouraging honest discussions around diversity and inclusivity in the workplace is crucial. 

For many, this conversation is not new. Dated ideologies and racist operations have influenced hiring practices regularly. Those out-of-date paradigms have also permitted a single race and gender to employ higher positions for decades. According to Fortune, high-ranking officials within 16 of the Fortune 500 companies are 80% men, and 72% of those men are white. In order to break this flawed mold and implement diversity, much work has to be done by industry leaders. 

The Advantages of Promoting Diversity and Inclusivity

Fostering a diverse and inclusive organization has many benefits such as increased profit, impressive talent acquisition, as well as the strengthening of employee bonds. Yes, conversations surrounding diversity and inclusivity can be difficult. However, this is the opportune time for leaders to disrupt archaic norms. And it is the perfect time to implement hiring practices that seek out brilliant talent from every background. 

So, what can business owners and leaders do to promote diversity and maintain an inclusive culture? With these advantages below, leaders across any industry can recognize the essential nature of workplace diversity. 

Financial Gain 

From a business standpoint, racial diversity in the workplace isn’t merely a perk. In fact, diversity is a necessity for competitiveness in corporate America. Not only do inclusive teams make better business decisions up to 87% of the time, but many consumers actively seek out organizations with diverse decision-makers. Additionally, these brands can also build stronger audience connections. 

Further, it is no secret that marketing a business can be difficult. However, inclusive marketing can be a different beast altogether. Within marketing, there is a heavy lack of cultural intelligence from brands, and this void can result in minimized profits as some audiences won’t purchase from you due to a lack of acknowledgment. Campaigns without cultural intelligence run the risk of coming off as tone-deaf or insensitive. They perhaps then result in public outcry, concluding in a company apology with a promise to “do better.” 

By investing in employees with different perspectives, lived experiences, and understandings of diverse markets, you can promote your business from several unique standpoints and gain a competitive edge. This allows a separation from competitors, and perhaps engagement from consumers outside of initial target audiences. Subsequently, you can net greater profits, while exhibiting your care for people of different races, genders, ages, sexualities, and identities. 

Expanded Talent Pool 

 For most leaders in the highly competitive business world, acquiring the best talent is priority. Exclusively employing talent of a particular ethnicity, age, or gender minimizes the talent pool you can choose from. With that said, having an organization run by one race or gender can only reflect narrow perspectives. That scenario, perhaps inadvertently, also demonstrates to the public that you don’t recognize a necessity for diverse opinions.

Hiring with cultural diversity in mind — which encapsulates race, culture, age, religion, sexuality, and gender identity — expands your talent pool. This expansion permits your organization to solely focus on what candidates can bring to the table such as: skill sets, experience, and creativity. By eradicating those subconsciously biased candidate limitations, you can prioritize and encourage mind-expansion and exploration for your company. This can equate to bigger, brighter innovations that may not have been otherwise explored. This eradication also improves your brand’s attractiveness and invites new consumers. 

As your organization flourishes due to new minds with intersectional inputs, your brand has the opportunity to convey a modern attractiveness that invites more talent acquisition, fortuitous business opportunities and more financially prosperous avenues. 

Better Engagement and Satisfaction 

As one can probably imagine, being a “token” person of color in the workplace isn’t fun. When employees work amongst others who look like them or share lived experiences, a workplace confidence is bred, thus inspiring collaboration, innovation and creativity to take place. 

Employees need their ideas, opinions and perspectives to matter. Likewise, employees want to work for a company that entrusts people like them who also actively advocate for positive change. When employees feel respected and valued, especially if they may have endured ridicule in the past, aspects of work like productivity, engagement, and overall satisfaction within the workplace is improved. 

This is vital because boosts in company morale and workplace culture only benefit your organization. Happy employees equate to enhanced production, which equates to higher brand attractiveness and in turn, increased company profits. 

Maintaining an Understanding Organization and Prioritizing Inclusion

In efforts to promote diversity within your organization, below are a few strategies to help start off the process of consistently seeking to be more understanding and inclusive.

Take an Honest Internal Look

How do you assess the current state of diversity within your organization? Analyze how many people of color you currently employ, as well as previously hired and sought out for recruitment. This can provide insight on the level of (or lack of) diversity. This data can also show any discriminatory biases that occur within your company, unknowingly or otherwise. 

Consistently Educate Yourself and Your Staff

There are many misconceptions around what discrimination looks like. So it is important to outline what words and behaviors are unacceptable at work. Teach your staff about micro-aggressions and what discrimination may look like to people of various, intersecting backgrounds. In addition to this, be sure to emphasize the impacts of discrimination, big or small, and stress a no-tolerance policy. 

Promote an Open Dialogue

In efforts to grasp difficult topics, learn from each other and get to know each other on a personal level. Encourage employees to unpack biases and/or racist tendencies. Emphasize how harmful it is to act on those beliefs. During these discussions, tread lightly. After all, you don’t want to offend employees, Nor do you want to force someone to discuss personal adversity.  

As industry leaders, this is your chance to spearhead positive change by implementing workplace diversity and inclusivity. It is important to note that no one has all the “right” answers respective to ending discrimination in the workplace. No one can tell you exactly how to eradicate biases. Nonetheless, these issues are serious. And organizations must diligently protect those at risk of enduring injustices.

Overall, focus on harmonizing the workplace by creating a safe and welcoming environment for everyone — irrespective of race, gender, age, sexuality, disability, identity, and/or religion.

Photo: Anete Lūsiņa

Five Takeaways During COVID-19 As a Working-Mom-CEO


I’m the founder and CEO of a 40+ person HR consulting business. My husband is a preschool teacher, and I have two kids — one going into her sophomore year of high school and my son who’s leaving for college soon. With offices and schools still closed, we’re doing all we can to navigate the uncertainty and make the most of our time together. 

Keeping Kids Engaged

My daughter recently learned that her high school is going completely virtual. When her school moved online in March, she loved day one, and was exhausted by day two. Then my husband and son’s schools both closed. Suddenly our family of four was all working from home. We’re fortunate that we have plenty of space. When I’m upstairs my daughter takes over the living room. Sometimes we trade for a change of scenery.

My son’s school struggled to organize online classes, and he ended up with little to do from the time COVID-19 hit until he graduated in June. Friends made up for the lack of a formal graduation by hosting a socially distant ceremony in their backyard. With no school work, we found chores to keep him busy and got him volunteering at our neighborhood food bank. 

Feeding a family of four — all of their meals from home has been a new experience since we used to leave the house at different times, and grab lunch at work or school. I’m keeping lots of healthy food and snacks in the pantry. We’re also cooking together more. Yesterday I made granola bars, while my daughter experimented with funfetti cake pops. Teenagers may disagree, but I’ve enjoyed slowing down and spending more time together.

Self-Care Helps Manage Uncertainty

In order to be there for your family, you’ve got to take care of yourself. Think about the instructions you get when you fly: put on your oxygen mask first, before helping others. I started 2020 with a new year’s resolution to do morning meditation and have experimented with affirmations too. Some mornings, I take a brisk walk to clear my head. 

A big part of my business is leadership development. When the pandemic hit, I had no idea if or when people would invest in training. Would this part of the business fail? Obviously no one was going to join a live workshop anytime soon. Fortunately, virtual workshops quickly became the norm. My worst case scenario did not come true. Nonetheless, periods of worry and uncertainty combined with constant change are exhausting. 

Routines keep us grounded, and no routines are more basic than eating, sleeping, and exercise. My number of steps dropped when I stopped commuting so now I’m intentionally walking once or twice a day. I’ve also given myself permission to be more flexible and less productive than usual. You can’t expect as much from yourself or others while the world is in turmoil, so give everyone some grace.  

Gratitude Makes You Feel Better

There’s research that gratitude can actually change your brain over time. Practicing gratitude makes us more appreciative of what we have. Start small by making a list of things you’re grateful for each night before bed. Or have each family member share what one thing they’re thankful for when you sit down for dinner. It can be as simple as fresh air, a new puppy, or your health. There are many ways to practice gratitude

My colleague from Milan and his wife were quarantined in different Italian cities during lockdown. All non-essential businesses were shut down, and there was no social life whatsoever. I commiserated with how hard that must be. He responded by saying that his grandfather had a much more difficult life during the war, so he never feels unlucky. What an amazing example of gratitude.  

Wait! I’m Still a CEO

With my family continuously readjusting to new routines, I’ve had to think creatively about what my team clients need right now. They’re looking for guidance on remote work and virtual meetings, clear communications, and tips to stay connected and engaged. People are also grappling with how to engage in anti-racist work following the killing of George Floyd. Leaders want to be empathetic while struggling to manage their own anxiety. Working parents need strategies to function while keeping kids safe and occupied. 

As a leader, I know it’s important to stay resilient and provide my team a sense of safety. We’re talking more often, checking in with each other. We’re inviting our kids and pets to online meetings, and hosting a Zoom celebration in place of our summer picnic. 

Perspective Taking

I’m staying focused on how I can help myself, my family, my team, clients, and community stay strong and get through this. I’m grateful that my loved ones are healthy and my company has so far weathered the storm. I’m encouraged because everyday I see people taking care of those in need ranging from small businesses to kids who won’t have meals while schools are closed. I know eventually this will pass and I think about how it’s going to make us stronger, more flexible, and more appreciative.

Photo: Bill Oxford

5 Ways To Foster Belonging At Work

What’s the worst thing an employee can say on any given day? How about, “I don’t belong here?” The schism that takes place when an employee doesn’t feel connected with the work culture can have wide-ranging impacts across engagement, performance, team dynamics and the bottom line. Companies need to ensure they cultivate a workplace where employees feel a sense of belonging, whether that workplace is in-office or remote. As much as we talk about the power of employee experience and the dynamics of employee engagement, we first have to address the primary need to belong. That sense of true connection is the foundation for how we feel about work — and indeed, how we work.

I’ve been having some really insightful conversations with Iain Moffat, Chief Global Officer of MHR International, about belonging. It feels right for the times we’re in right now. Some employees have been rapidly sprung out of the tangible community of the workplace and are now working from home. And some workforces are still in the physical workplace, but under increasing pressure as we continue to endure the pandemic and its fallout. But building a sense of belonging isn’t just a fix for now. It’s a powerful talent strategy that has long-term outcomes.

Iain and I agreed that building a sense of belonging needs to be part of any serious endeavor to build an exceptional work culture. We also both noted that while some organizations are surprised by how comfortable employees are working from home, it may be, ironically, because they’re home. So how can businesses provide employees with that same sense of being in the right place?

First, five key points on belonging and businesses:

  • Given the push-pull of working from home or working through the turbulence and challenges of COVID-19, belonging bolsters our realization that we’re in it together, no matter where we are. It’s been linked to improved retention and a far more successful employer brand. Employees who feel like they belong tend to invite others to experience that as well. 
  • We all need to feel like we belong — and when we do, there’s a marked increase in our engagement, overall happiness and health. In that sense, belonging is a benefit that should be part of the employer’s offering to employees: working with us, you will feel like you belong, and we will be intentional about that. 
  • In our consumer-driven society, belonging is more than just a feel-good. It’s a strong driver of brand alignment. When we feel comfortable with a brand, we tend to stay with it. We feel like it speaks to our values, our sensibilities. That loyalty easily translates into the workplace context: employees want to stay with their employer because they believe in the brand and are comfortable with its values and purpose. 
  • Belonging isn’t just a social component. It should be seen as a business strategy that considers and addresses the real needs of your employees in terms of safety, career growth, feeling a part of a work community, and balancing work and life.
  • A culture of belonging doesn’t aim to homogenize everyone into a shared identity, but rather fosters diversity and inclusion as a way of improving and enhancing a shared culture. There’s a big difference. You don’t need to steamroll over differences to find the common ground, particularly in the workplace.

Marshmallows, Spaghetti, and Teamwork   

That said, what does a culture of belonging look like? Iain provided a telling example of the complex dynamics of belonging in action: the marshmallow challenge, originally created by Peter Skillman — and the subject of a great TED Talk by Tom Wujec. In this collaborative training exercise, teams of four have a fixed amount of time to build a tower out of spaghetti and tape that can support a marshmallow. The team with the highest tower wins.

“What’s interesting about the challenge is the pattern of consistently high-performing and low-performing teams,” when you compare kindergarteners and business school graduates, he said. What I found interesting as well is that in general, the five-year-olds outdid the business school grads. 

The children walked into the challenge with no training or preconceived notion of how to work together. So they just did — “in short bursts of collaborative effort, prototyping to find the best solution,” as Iain described. “They have no pre-fixed view of how they should act in the group and no hierarchy. Instead, they just focused on how to solve the problem.” They worked inclusively, unconcerned with status or protocols. 

 But the business school grads got hung up on who would be in charge, wasting valuable time jockeying for position. “They acted in a way they think they should behave given their lengthy investment in an advanced education,” Iain said. “They focused on trying to come up with a single solution rather than collaborating, prototyping, trying and doing. They were held back by a set of assumptions of how they should behave.” Often they ran out of time, or built a tower that collapsed.

We’re not building spaghetti towers, to be sure. But we do tend to walk into work with a sense of hierarchy and how we’re supposed to behave. If, instead, we’re free to abandon our certain assumptions on status and protocols and just work together, we forge a new kind of teamwork that’s far more productive. A team in a culture of belonging can simply focus on the task and the output, and is comfortable enough to be open to each others’ ideas and relish the collaborative process. The overarching attitude is: “Let’s try it, if it doesn’t work, let’s try something else.” Without anyone in charge, there’s no agenda besides tackling the problem. Instead of being driven by ego, the team is driven by the energy of working together. Instead of feeling pressure to arrive at a perfect solution, the team has the freedom and confidence to prototype until they get it. 

Two factors changed the outcome for the business school grads, Iain said: “First, when someone with facilitation skills joined the business school graduates, they often performed better, as the group was organized around the task.” Second, “If the group received feedback on their performance, and had the time to reflect and then perform the task again, they outperformed by several hundred percent.” 

We have a remarkable opportunity right now to foster a sense of belonging within our workplaces. So many of us have taken the veneer off: we’re meeting from kitchens, we’re video conferencing with children in the background; we’re seeing each others’ lives. We’re seeing how important it is to protect employees working on the front lines or out in public, and how to include their perspectives in how we better safeguard our workforce. 

The climate of working during a pandemic has removed so many of the assumptions we bring into the workplace, and replaced them with a basic understanding that on a fundamental level we are people, working together. When you can build on that understanding by meeting one of our most fundamental needs — to feel that sense of belonging – it drives peace of mind, focus, productivity, collaboration and performance. In so doing, it fosters everyone’s success — that of the business, and that of its workforce. If you want to see how cohesive and collaborative your work culture really is, break out the spaghetti and the marshmallows. Then build on that until those towers are as high as they can be.

This post is sponsored by MHR International.

Photo: Jose Mizrahi

#WorkTrends: Building Trust In Uncertain Times

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

It’s safe to say uncertainty is universal these days. But how do we get past it and stay engaged in our work? Remember the T-word: trust. So I invited Iain Moffat, Chief Global Officer of MHR International, to #WorkTrends to share his best practices for building workplace trust during these uncertain times.

Iain said we need to be better listeners to be better communicators. And organizations really need to step up their game on this, and “address and communicate aspects around safety, the relationship, and the connected aspects of work,” he added. I wanted to know what else companies can do to enable their employees to trust them and feel trusted. 

Iain’s answer: make a conscious effort. Managers must regularly communicate, actively listen, and continue to work through the kinks of being remote and virtual. You only learn by doing, so start now. Treat trust as a collaboration. 

Here’s another straightforward way to build trust between managers and employees:  invest time in really checking in. Don’t just run a checkup. Regular check-ins can help employees stay motivated. Plus, it’s an opportunity to tackle deeper questions about where your organization is heading and how that employee fits into it all. Creating this sense of belonging can even lead to better employee performance. And besides, it makes everyone feel better.

We covered a lot of ground in this discussion, so I encourage you to have a listen for yourself. Got feedback? Feel free to weigh in on Twitter or on LinkedIn. (And make sure to add the #WorkTrends hashtag so others in the TalentCulture community can follow along.)

Twitter Chat Questions

Q1: Why do organizations struggle with building trust? #WorkTrends
Q2: What strategies can boost trust and a sense of belonging remotely? #WorkTrends
Q3: How can leaders overcome uncertainty and promote a sense of trust? #WorkTrends

Find Iain Moffat on Linkedin and Twitter

This podcast is sponsored by MHR International.

(Editor’s note: In August we’ll be announcing upcoming changes to #WorkTrends podcasts and Twitter chats. To learn about these changes as they unfold, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter.)

Photo: Nick Fewings

How to Perfect the Skill of Listening

Coronavirus has changed the way American businesses operate, to say the least. And from work-from-home mandates to reopening strategies to locking down again in the face of virus spikes, it’s taken a toll on effective communication in the workplace. 

Communication is a two-way street. But it’s not just about what we say. As the old saying goes, we have two ears and one mouth — so we ought to be able to listen twice as much as we speak. Or consider the inverse, as Ken Blanchard says: “I often like to joke that if God had wanted us to talk more than listen, he would have given us two mouths.” 

But in reality we aren’t listening very well, and it’s not new news. The Harvard Business Review published a famous article way, way back in 1957 about a study of manufacturing executives in Chicago: it found that listening is a much neglected skill. Benchmark research found that the average listener remembers only about 25% of what they heard, and that number has been repeated in many posts on why we can’t listen, time and time again. Flash forward more than half a century and for all the work on refining and clarifying our message, the weakest point of how we communicate is what we actually hear. Compound that by the fact that so much of our work is happening online and remotely, and it makes the listening part of communication even harder.

But we need to be better listeners, especially now. To be able to actually listen, take in someone else’s points and retain the information is not only better for whatever work process is going on at the moment. It also builds far more trust, promotes empathy, and forges a work culture of engagement and exchange. You can’t tout transparency if there’s no emphasis on listening, either. So here’s a refresher with eight ways to improve your skill at listening now, including some tips that will greatly boost the quality of remote communication:

1. Allow for Silence

Give the person speaking time to pause and collect their own thoughts as they’re talking. Everyone talks with a different style and pace. Some get nervous when they’re talking and tend to need to slow down and clarify for themselves before saying an idea out loud. Some may be broaching a difficult topic and try to circle around it. Listening requires patience and slowing down our own rapid-fire internal thought process: we think faster than we speak. Don’t try to fill in the silences with your own interjections. Let the speaker have the room and the time to say what they need to say.

2. Repeat Back in Your Own Words

Don’t respond to the speaker with your thoughts right away. That’s the default setting for listening, but it’s far more effective to restate their thoughts in your own words. It cements the fact that you understood it — and if you didn’t, they can clarify. For example, start with “I hear you saying that …” and reiterate carefully. Not only do you demonstrate that you are actually listening, but the speaker will, in turn, be more receptive to your point of view knowing you understand theirs.

3. Ask Useful (and Relevant) Questions

Asking useful questions can help you better understand what the other person is saying. To encourage further discussion, make them open-ended prompts that give them the opportunity to further elaborate. Try asking, “What do you think we should do about this?” Asking questions is not about controlling the conversation or pushing back on someone’s perspective. It’s about understanding.

4. Work toward Empathy

We all fear being judged as we talk. Make a concerted effort to truly understand and acknowledge how the other person feels; to put yourself in their shoes. By carefully reiterating their feelings as you understand them, you build empathy and set them at ease.

5. Do a Recap 

We may listen, we may hear, but do we remember? One highly effective way to recall a conversation is to recap what was said. Restate the point of the discussion, and list the action steps each party is going to do in response. This doesn’t need to be word for word, just an overview. And let the person who spoke weigh in, so they’re comfortable with your summary. 

Remote communication has its own set of issues and conditions, including how people behave, multitask, and receive information; and how technology can suddenly go haywire at the worst possible time. These three final tips will help: 

6. Have a Backup Plan for the Tech

Always have a Plan B when it comes to remote meetings and discussions. If the tech you’re depending on happens to fail for whatever reason, you can pick up the thread without a mad scramble. Many of us know the frustration of a 15 minute video call that turns into an ordeal of pixelated video or frozen presentations. Having a backup plan prevents the goal — communication — from being hijacked by tech problems. 

7. Use Names in Remote Meetings

During an in-person meeting, there’s no doubt as to who is speaking or whom they’re speaking to. Online meetings aren’t as clear. Use names when addressing people, and encourage everyone to refer to themselves by name as well. And when you are discussing the points someone made, reiterate who said them to keep everyone on track. 

8. Take Your Time  

Video meetings allow us to see each other but not always discern the nonverbal subtleties that are part of communication. Tiny delays are nevertheless long enough to prevent how we perceive each other’s expressions. Eye contact is altogether different: if we really want to look at someone’s face, we need to stare at the camera, not their face. But people don’t just speak with words. Take the time to consider what’s being said rather than jump in with a response. If you’re not sure of the intent, ask. Virtual is not the same as in the same room. 

Communication is a fundamental part of who we are. At the workplace, it’s critical to be able to listen well, whatever context we’re in. Blanchard encourages all professionals to master the art of listening, but I’d take it one step further: it should be considered a skill, like any other, and we should all endeavor to practice it, especially in these times. A little understanding can go a long way in terms of collaboration, trust, and productivity.

Photo: Ben Stern

#WorkTrends: Incorporating New Hires into Work Cultures

The big question: Can managers effectively integrate new hires into a company work culture when everyone is working from home? The answer is a resounding yes. But how?

To explore this question further, Meghan invited John Baldino to share strategies that can help businesses successfully hire and onboard top talent remotely. John is the president and founder of Humareso, an HR firm that’s helping organizations not only manage their talent, but better onboard new hires into the culture.

John stresses communication as a key component of any culture, but especially important for remote workplaces. Seasoned employees may have the advantage of familiarity, “but that’s not really fair to the new person coming in,” John said. Managers need to take an intentional approach to communication that isn’t just about the nuts and bolts of tasks at hand, as Meghan noted. It’s got to have plenty of room to be human and have real conversations. 

Where are the blind spots? Look at the camera, John said. Too many of us don’t know where to look, and that can make for very awkward meetings. And that’s as true for managers as for anyone. So we all have to make sure we’re comfortable with the tech. And don’t try to make eye contact, because it doesn’t translate on video. You’ll look like you’re not looking at the person you’re talking to. Just making sure the tech is up to date is important as well, and that’s every company’s responsibility. We all have to get more comfortable with the technology and being remote, Meghan said. It’s a steep learning curve, and we’re still on it. 

So much has changed in the process of hiring. Consider the old normal orientation schedules — which played an effective role in portraying a company’s culture. Now we need to deliver that via chat across managers and departments, said John. But you can’t glean the essence of a culture (let alone participate in it) in just a few days of Zoom calls, Meghan said. Build in the time to let it all sink in. And make sure your managers have the resources they need to support new hires, and can provide flexibility to accommodate the new work/life construct.  

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 do organizations struggle with onboarding? #WorkTrends
Q2: What strategies help bring new hires into the work culture? #WorkTrends
Q3: How can leaders better shape an onboarding strategy? #WorkTrends

Find John Baldino on Linkedin and Twitter

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: Paul Bryan

#WorkTrends: The Bigot in Your Mental Boardroom

WorkTrends has been focusing on diversity and inclusion not as buzzwords, but as actions. Meghan invited Elena Joy Thurston to the podcast to share her story. Elena is the founder and speaker of the PRIDE and Joy Foundation and has developed compelling best practices for improving workplace inclusivity. The conversation hit on a fascinating reality: we all have a mental boardroom and usually, there’s a hidden bigot at the table. 

So what exactly is a mental boardroom? “The boardroom is really about realizing what stories we all work from in our heads — our suppositions or assumptions,” said Elena. Acknowledging that, noted Meghan, helps us understand that everyone has their own biases, and we may not even realize where they come from. It may be hard to do, but self-awareness and reflection are the first steps: it takes critical distance to be able to see the roots of our own judgment. 

“I do the work by watching my own reactions,” said Elena. We need to be comfortable enough to work through our own emotions, and find the bias at the source. The more that can happen at the workplace, the more people can start to understand each other. 

Meghan concurred that bringing this unconscious bias to the surface will spark real growth in the work culture. Just a gesture as simple as making space for gender pronouns on an RSVP can help the LGBTQ community feel valued, for instance. Added Elena, when someone can bring their whole self to work and not feel judged, it’s so much easier to get our work done. 

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 do work cultures struggle with inclusiveness? #WorkTrends
Q2: Why are some workplaces hard for LGTBQ employees? #WorkTrends
Q3: How can leaders boost inclusiveness in their organizations? #WorkTrends

Find Elana Joy Thurston on Linkedin and Twitter

Photo: Diego Jimenez

#WorkTrends: Leading Organizations to Resilience and Diversity

No question: businesses and employees are going through a lot. The pivot to remote. Changing laws and regulations (sometimes overnight). Safety — and not just physical, but emotional as well. How should we best deal with the pressures of working amid brand-new and vexing circumstances? Get resilient, so instead of crashing from the stress, we bounce back.

Meghan brought Melissa Lamson, CEO of Lamson Consulting, to #WorkTrends for a timely meeting of the minds. Melissa offered best practices on how leaders can foster resilience among their workforce — and explained why diversity is so critical right now.

As Meghan noted, leaders are quickly learning “how to really lean in on the people side, to practice emotional intelligence and empathy and interpersonal skills” — and helping their businesses grow in understanding. And some of their strength is coming from admitting they don’t know it all. They’re willing to be vulnerable, and employees appreciate that.  

And as Melissa added, that kind of openness also helps leaders ask the right questions: “What is the best way to do this? How do we reopen the workplaces? How do we come back together in face-to-face collaboration? What does that look like? What kinds of guidelines and rules do we need to do this safely and effectively?”  

It’s really all about listening, said Melissa. Doing so makes it possible to tend to our company culture over the long-term, Meghan pointed out. Then, keep practicing what we preach  — open communication, honesty, transparency — to lead our organizations into a state of resilience. That’s going to be a key part of success going forward. 

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 do organizations struggle with resilience? #WorkTrends
Q2: How does diversity play into an organization’s resilience? #WorkTrends
Q3: How can leaders help increase resilience and diversity in their organizations?  #WorkTrends

Find Melissa Lamson on Linkedin and Twitter

Photo: Josh Calabrese

Empathy, Action: What HR Can Do Now

Recently I published an article on Forbes.com about the elephant in the room. It was one of those pieces I had to do. I had to go out on a limb and just say it

We talk about diversity all the time — and on TalentCulture we’ve published many articles on improving diversity and inclusion. One offered seven tips on “managing diversity” in the workplace, and included wisdom from people working on the front lines of diversity, including diversity and inclusion consultant and author La’Wana Harris and Amy Cappellanti-Wolf, CHRO at Symantec. The post listed ways to improve more than manage, including building pipelines to more diverse talent, and letting go of seeing diversity not as a state of being but a buzzword. The step that struck me the most was examining policies to root out systemic inequality. As Harris noted, “Workplace policies, systems and processes can disproportionately impact historically marginalized populations.”

Of course, she’s right. But what strikes me now is that she didn’t put it in the past tense then, and it wouldn’t be in the past tense now. Between that post and the article on Forbes is the better part of a year, and a lot has happened to say the least. We’ve witnessed the murder of African-Americans at the hands of police and learned of one in which she was killed in her house, in her bed, and by mistake. You don’t usually see me get into these kinds of details, but the circumstances are so shocking I think they bear repeating, and repeating again. And we’ve seen — and millions have participated in — some 21 days and counting of protests spurred by outrage. 

AI and VR: Tools for Fairness

The one piece of good news is that we are being forced to reckon with that elephant. And the elephant for everyone in HR is this: we can’t improve diversity with any kind of commitment and intent if we don’t first address racism. And by addressing racism, I mean working as hard as we can to undo it in our own workplaces. It means looking hard at what we produce and offer, and asking whether it’s helping or not. IBM recently put the brakes on its facial recognition program. As CEO Arvind Krishna said, “We believe now is the time to begin a national dialogue on whether and how facial recognition technology should be employed by domestic law enforcement agencies.” He went on to note that AI systems need to be subject to far more scrutiny regarding bias. And that’s something that’s come up again and again, in a hiring context, on this site.

Is that where we start? We actively celebrate technology on TalentCulture: we just wrapped the HR Tech Awards for 2020, and among the many innovations there’s certainly AI. Another innovation that came up recently is VR, and I had a fascinating discussion on a recent #WorkTrends with clinical psychologist Robin Rosenberg about how VR can help radically improve empathy among diverse work teams. The podcast focused not just on diversity but on work culture as a whole — but it’s the potential to decrease unconscious bias, microaggressions and intolerance that stays with me. If we can put on a headset and literally experience what that feels like to someone else, maybe it should be part of everyone’s training — make it a required component of onboarding or skill development.  

Undoing the Status Quo

Do I expect my clarion call on Forbes to have an affect? Perhaps it will. Sometimes a post goes viral for reasons completely beyond our control, as when I talked about emotional intelligence and leadership just when EQ was getting on our radar, or more recently, when I predicted the key trends we’d see in 2020. (I’m lucky to have great readers, and grateful.) In the trends article, I mentioned a shift to tending rather than managing our workforce, advocated for leaning harder on AI for recruiting so long as it was programmed without bias, and pointed out that more of us would be working remotely. But that was written well before the pandemic threw up all into a tailspin, or survival mode, or just home, before the nation exploded, and before it became clear that we tend to stay entrenched in our own status quo. 

But we can’t accept the status quo anymore, and this is the opportunity to snap out of it. I wasn’t surprised when 63% of respondents to our June 3 newsletter survey said they’d experienced racism in the workplace either directed at themselves (39.7%) or a coworker (23.8%). But I was shocked to find out that less than 5% had reported it. HR, I’m looking at you.

HR Has a Role to Play

So let’s have real conversations about the bias that may be stuck within our work cultures (conscious or unconscious). Let’s push back against complacency or just inertia when it comes to examining and improving workplace policies. Let’s keep asking the hard questions — we just ran a follow-up survey question this week, asking who is now having discussions about racism among their coworkers. I’m very interested in those results. I’d like to challenge the top innovators to find the best means to systematically detach AI from potential bias. I’d like to know who’s reviewing accounts of unfair treatment in their workplace, and having a new reckoning to set things right. 

In the end, every business will be better and more sustainable in the future if it works to be more equitable, diverse, and fair in the present. Knowledge is power, as we well know. And HR is a field that wants to evolve — and indeed, it can’t stop evolving. We’re made for this. So let’s get to it.

Photo: Bek Greenwood

Soft Skills: In Demand in the Corporate Space

With advancements due to automation and globalization, the outlook of employers has changed significantly. To know if a candidate is a right fit for their organization, they gauge their capability not from a degree, but from the attributes that they display — i.e., soft skills. 

According to a survey by Talent Q, 9 in 10 employers look for effective soft skills in the applicants. These abilities are critical in any environment that requires interaction and collaboration. They define the various attributes of personality that help us complete a job successfully, including how intently we listen to others, how empathetic we are towards colleagues, and how we approach a problem.  Among the most important soft skills potential employees should possess:

  • Communication skills — such as the ability to communicate effectively within teams and with clients
  • Interpersonal skills to resolve conflicts without hurting anyone’s feelings
  • Confidence — to be able to effectively present ideas
  • Teamwork and leadership skills— such as the ability to participate and lead within a team
  • Critical thinking and decision-making skills — to make strategic decisions despite uncooperative clients, tough deadlines, or issues within the team 

As well as:

  • Networking skills
  • Cultural Sensitivity
  • Flexibility

Soft Skills in the Age of Automation

In the past, employers hired candidates based on degrees, certifications, and domain-related skills. The competition was tough. With the introduction of automation in almost every industry, the competition has become even tougher: for some of these tasks, we are competing with robots. A McKinsey Global Institute report says that around 375 million jobs will be lost to robots by the year 2030, and two million jobs that require human skills will be created. 

Though automation is only here to make our lives and work easier, businesses are still in dire need of professionals with unique human skills. After all, bots can make transactions, but they can’t make deals. Despite the emerging importance of automation, job positions that require soft skills can only be filled by humans. We still need skilled professionals who use their emotional intelligence to make strategic, profitable decisions. 

Essential for 21st-Century Employers 

A study by Wonderlic found that  93% of employers consider soft skills ‘essential’ or ‘very important’ in their potential employees. Moreover, according to a report by  Burning Glass, more than a quarter of all skills mentioned in the US job postings (for even the most technical job roles) were baseline or soft skills. Further, according to Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends Report, 90% of organizations are undergoing a structural and cultural transformation in order to be more dynamic, connected and team-centric. And employees or candidates who can’t keep up with the changing requirements may not be eligible for growth-oriented, high-paying jobs. 

Can Soft Skills Be Taught?

In a recent trial aimed to find out if soft skills can be taught, soft skills training was offered at 5 factories in Bangalore over a period of 12 months. Researchers found a 250% increase in productivity within 8 months of the trial’s conclusion Employees or job candidates who want to develop their soft skills can work with various soft skills trainers who offer structured training or frequently conduct soft skills training workshops. At the corporate level, some employers are hiring a certified corporate trainer. It’s imperative in either case to ensure that the training addresses the given objectives. And as the demand for soft skills continues to increase, soft skills training is on the rise as a career choice as well: those with a passion and aptitude for training and coaching are finding that opting for a role as a soft skills trainer offers both high pay and a great deal of flexibility.

Today’s organizations need human professionals with uniquely human skills, or they can’t flourish. Employers should be proactive and analyze their organizational and employee needs, conducting soft skills training to fill in the gaps. It’s the best way to keep up in this changing corporate scenario. 

#WorkTrends: How Seeing People as People Changes Everything

When you think about your co-workers, what do you see? Do you picture mere objects who only exist to help you accomplish your goals, or do you see them as human beings?the shift book cover

This week on #WorkTrends, we’re talking to author Kimberly White. Her new book, “The Shift: How Seeing People as People Changes Everything,” tells a story about how changing our perspective on the people around us can have dramatic consequences on employee engagement, the quality of relationships and how we see the world.

You can listen to the full episode below, or keep reading for this week’s topic. Share your thoughts with us using the hashtag #WorkTrends.

 

What Does ‘The Shift’ Mean?

Here’s the big idea from the book: Can we shift out of a mindset where the only thing we care about is ourselves — and start thinking about what’s going on with other people?

White was researching a company that owned nursing homes. She didn’t have much experience being in nursing homes, but when she visited one of the facilities she was blown away. Every employee she encountered was completely engaged in their work, loved what they were doing and felt grateful to be there. “It was like being wrapped in a warm hug. It was so invigorating to be in an environment where everybody really cared about everybody else.”

She realized they had shifted their mindset.

“The shift is about changing from seeing people as objects to seeing them as people. Often we have automatic knee-jerk reactions to other people that are more like the way we react to objects than the way we ought to react to real people.

“If I have an actual object like a pen, it comes from the factory and it exists for me, for the consumer, to use. That’s what it’s for. If it doesn’t produce ink, if it doesn’t write smoothly, then I’m going to shake it to make it do the thing it’s supposed to do. I don’t talk to the pen and say ‘What’s going on, pen? How are you feeling today? Are you sad? Is that why you’re not producing?’ No, because it is just an object. It doesn’t have an internal life. It doesn’t have feelings. It doesn’t have reasons. Often, we find ourselves treating other people the same way.”

When we see people for who they truly are — the way we understand our best friends, our close family members or our children — our perspective is totally different. “If I were driving down the highway and somebody cut me off, and I looked over and saw that it was my beloved best friend, I wouldn’t think ‘Oh, what a jerk.’ I’d think ‘Oh, my gosh, what’s going on? What has happened in her life to make her drive this way? There must be some sort of an emergency.’

“Because in that case, her internal life and her reasons matter to me. When I see a person as a person, I see their internal motivations and the reasons for their behavior. When I see somebody as an object, I just see what they’ve done that bothers me. All I see is how their behavior is interfering with the stuff I’m trying to do, and I don’t give any thought to why they’re doing it, and what rationale and understandable reasons they might have.”

Powerful stuff, right? Can you imagine how different the world (and our workplaces) would be if we all did that 5 percent more?

How Can Leaders Encourage a Shift?

I asked White how leaders can build an organization where people value and respect each other. Her very first tip? “Leaders have to do it too.” They have to walk the walk and show that they care about employees. “The people who are on the ground floor of any enterprise deserve respect from their leaders,” she says. “So many initiatives fail because people don’t think their boss really cares about them as a person.

“Your employees do not exist just to do the job. They have their own backstories. They have their own perspectives. They have a lot of background, and hopes, and dreams, and fears, and insights. If you see that person as just an object, you’re missing out on all of that stuff. You can’t possibly be an effective leader if you simply don’t know what’s going on with the people.”

Amen to that!

Let’s continue the conversation. Join us on Twitter (#WorkTrends) for our weekly chat on Wednesdays at 1:30 p.m. Eastern, 10:30 a.m. Pacific or anywhere in the world you are joining from to discuss this topic and more.

#WorkTrends Recap: Kicking Off the You Matter Marathon

As Cheryl Rice, founder of the You Matter Marathon, shared with me before today’s show, the roots of her campaign to spread kindness and empathy started in childhood, where she felt an absence of belonging.

We have all been there, where we felt excluded by choice or by chance, struggling to fit in and feel we matter.

When Cheryl established the You Matter Marathon (which, by the way, has nothing to do with running!) years later, she channeled that childhood experience to make a difference for others. The idea came to her when a colleague gave her a simple card that said, “You Matter.” Cheryl herself became inspired by how one simple act transformed her outlook and started handing out her own You Matter cards.

When Cheryl decided to expand the kindness initiative by creating the You Matter Marathon last year, 14,000 people in 50 states and 59 countries shared almost half-a-million cards. Many companies, schools, and community organizations benefited from participating. This brief video highlights some of the people involved.

In this #WorkTrends chat, we talked about empathy and how relationships can improve by infusing an compassionate approach to interactions.

We also discussed the fact that doing positive things, even simple ones, is good for us as individuals (physically and emotionally). It’s also good for our organizations, with the potential to improve morale and productivity.

“We’re living in a world where people crave connection, yet feel more isolated than ever. Every one of us is here for a reason. We are all essential. We need, and are needed by, each other,” says Cheryl.

To get involved, go to the You Matter Marathon site to order your own You Matter cards. There’s also a Facebook group available at this link.

Here are a few key points Cheryl shared:

  • A feeling of belonging is critical to preventing conflict and tragedy
  • Face to face interactions matter, even though social media is so pervasive
  • People want, badly, to know that they matter
  • The benefits of giving, empathizing, volunteering are physical and psychological

Did you miss the show? You can listen to the #WorkTrends podcast on our BlogTalk Radio channel here: http://bit.ly/2zpnbxR

You can also check out the highlights of the conversation from our Storify here:

Didn’t make it to this week’s #WorkTrends show? Don’t worry, you can tune in and participate in the podcast and chat with us every Wednesday from 1-2pm ET (10-11am PT).

Remember, the TalentCulture #WorkTrends conversation continues every day across several social media channels. Stay up-to-date by following our #WorkTrends Twitter stream; pop into our LinkedIn group to interact with other members. Engage with us any time on our social networks, or stay current with trending World of Work topics on our website or through our weekly email newsletter.

#WorkTrends Preview: Kicking Off the You Matter Marathon

If you have ever felt isolated at work or in life, you know what a difference it can make to be reminded that you matter.

That’s exactly what Cheryl Rice wants to do through the 2nd annual You Matter Marathon, which starts today.

Cheryl started the You Matter Marathon (which, by the way, does not involve running) when a colleague gave her a simple card that said, “You Matter.” Cheryl herself became inspired by how one simple act transformed her outlook and started handing out her own You Matter cards.

When Cheryl decided to expand the kindness initiative by creating the You Matter Marathon last year, 14,000 people in 50 states and 59 countries shared almost half-a-million cards. Many companies, schools, and community organizations benefited from participating. This brief video highlights some of the people (and animals!) involved.

In this #WorkTrends chat, we will talk about how you can be involved in the You Matter Marathon. In addition, we’ll talk about empathy in general and how relationships can improve by infusing an empathetic approach to interactions.

“We’re living in a world where people crave connection, yet feel more isolated than ever. Every one of us is here for a reason. We are all essential. We need, and are needed by, each other,” says Cheryl.

She is right, and after today’s conversation I think we’ll all be inspired to make sure someone in our orbit knows “you matter.”

Join #WorkTrends host Meghan R. Biro and guest Cheryl Rice, Founder of the You Matter Marathon, on Wednesday, November 1, 2017, at 1 pm ET as they discuss how empathy can make a difference in the workplace and how simple actions — even two simple words — can make a difference.

Kicking Off the You Matter Marathon

#WorkTrends Preview: Kicking Off the You Matter MarathonJoin Meghan and Cheryl on our LIVE online podcast Wednesday, November 1, 2017 at 1 pm ET | 10 am PT.

Immediately following the podcast, the team invites the TalentCulture community over to the #WorkTrends Twitter stream to continue the discussion. We encourage everyone with a Twitter account to participate as we gather for a live chat, focused on these related questions:

Q1: How can showing empathy with co-workers improve the culture? #WorkTrends (Tweet this question)

Q2: What are the benefits of a kindness initiative within a company? #WorkTrends (Tweet this question)

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Like Flaming Sheets of Unfinished Music

And then I saw a post that read, “Entrepreneurs face a fiscal cliff every day.”

I nodded. Yes, they do. But I kept thinking about it more and more and realized what I already know from my own experience as well as that of millions of others: we all face a fiscal cliff every day.

Every single day. “We can go from boom to bust, from dreams to a bowl of dust,” as one of my favorite writers and musicians Neil Peart has penned. According to a recent report from the Corporation for Enterprise Development, nearly 44 percent of American households don’t have enough savings to cover their basic expenses for three months, in the event of a financial emergency like losing a job or paying for unexpected medical care.

From dreams to a bowl of dust

As working (or not currently working) professionals, whether we’ve been in formal leadership roles or not, we do our best to lead ourselves. We are responsible for our own development and growth, our own experience and skill sets, our own unique value and specialization, our own relevancy and marketability. We do our best to provide, to take care of ourselves and our families and our communities. But the marketplace is volatile, government policies are polarized and archaic, and many global enterprises quietly plan their own domination atop a trillion dollars in assets.

Never the twain shall meet

Economists agree that startups and new business ventures breed innovative sparks that sometimes catch fire and create jobs beyond the failing fire line. And yet, we still keep building businesses with like-mindedness in mind. Meaning, we hire those like us and those we like. Unfortunately like-mindedness breeds single-mindedness, which is a mental inbreeding of sorts. (This week during #TChat, where we talked about diversity of ideas and innovation, one participant referenced the financial crisis and unending recession as an example of what can happen in an industry that’s inbred. And it continues.)

That’s where think tanks come in. A group of smart folk from preferably diverse backgrounds create an organization that performs research and advocacy around things like social policy, economics, technology and culture. These are usually non-profits that try to remain as objective as possible in their methods and findings, encouraging politicians and captains of industry to apply them liberally, like salve on a burn.

I’d argue that sparks of business innovation start coming more from this kind of think tank mindset, from this “unlike-mindedness” of unique individuals bringing diverse ideation around product and/or service creation and advancement, marketing and customer service of the highest creative and responsive caliber – and ultimately the business sense to balance risk and fiscal responsibility to those who are part of the core team, and those who must grow with the business, which is what we want. These unique and highly specialized individuals will not only have sound IQ’s, but they’ll have higher EQ’s as well.

The more empaths the better, I say

However, diverse ideation needs rules of engagement – otherwise stuff may not get done. Milestones and deadlines and objectives must be met. True progress is the progression of application, adoption and adjustment. Otherwise, it’s a hot smart mess of questions and answers flying through the air like flaming sheets of unfinished music.

We compose our lives every day at the edge of the world, and the world of work – so let’s do try to make it a better one that works for us all.

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