Who Let the Dogs In? The Benefits of Allowing Pets in the Workplace

HR directors at many companies today won’t put you in the doghouse for bringing your pet to work—in fact, it’s encouraged. As far as nonfinancial employee perks go, you might even call it the cat’s meow.

Why? When employees bring their pets to work, it enables a better work-life balance—something that’s a key selling point to attract top talent in today’s market. It’s also been shown that this low-cost benefit can improve work performance, boost employee happiness, and aid in the long-term retention of star employees.

Let’s explore some of the benefits businesses have experienced when they made room for their employees’ four-footed BFFs.

1. Increased employee happiness. Pet owners know how it feels to return home from work to find their dog greeting them with a wagging tail. What if you could capture those feelings of love and acceptance when you arrived at the office? A pet-friendly workplace does just that.

Studies show gazing into your pet’s eyes releases oxytocin—the same feel-good hormone that helps new mothers bond with their babies. So, employees who want to boost their mood can spend a few minutes with their pet and return to their tasks relaxed, refreshed, and feeling better.

2. A better work culture. Oxytocin also increases trust and altruism—two highly desirable traits in a successful workplace—so having pets around can positively impact your work culture.

Additionally, in a survey of 200 human resource professionals and 1,000 employees, 70 percent said they believe pets improve working conditions. Specifically, allowing pets in the office can foster communication, openness, and teamwork.

3. A low-cost (or even zero cost) solution to increase employee engagement, satisfaction, and retention. Some HR directors will invest thousands of dollars a year in training, corporate retreats, or free snacks in the break room to keep employees engaged and onboard. But allowing employees to bring their dogs and cats to work could have the same positive effect as these other pricey perks, but with little to no cost. In fact, 53 percent of employees who worked in pet-free environments said they’d be more likely to stay if they could bring their pets to work.

4. A better work-life balance. From flex time to telecommuting, HR directors today look for ways to help employees achieve a better work-life balance. Dog owners especially may feel guilty about leaving their pet home alone for eight or more hours each day, and they often struggle to fit in walks or playtime with their pets when they do return home.

5. An effective recruiting tactic. HR directors reported that 65 percent of job candidates ask about pet policies during their interview, which implies that a pet-friendly workplace can be a potent recruiting tool.

Showcase your pet-friendly policy by posting pics or videos of your employees and their pets on your social media channels. You can even organize a lunchtime outing to the dog park with your staff and capture the antics on video to help spread the word. After all, if there’s one form of social media content that’s proven to go viral often, it’s funny pet videos.

6. A positive environment. With all these benefits, it’s no surprise that people view pet-friendly offices in a positive light. In fact, 70 percent of HR managers and employees polled say pets have an overall positive effect on a workplace.

Why Don’t More People Bring Their Dogs to Work?

Surprisingly, though, less than half of employees take advantage of their company’s pet-friendly policies. That number is slightly higher for the HR directors who make the policies; 75 percent of HR directors reported bringing their own pets to work on a weekly basis.

HR directors should make sure employees understand the policy for pets in the office and its advantages to encourage a higher adoption rate and reap even greater rewards from this popular perk.

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Corporate Perks: A Thinly Veiled Disguise

It’s no secret that there is a war going on… a tug of war to be exact. Companies are scrambling to find the best and brightest talent and many are failing miserably. One of the tactics used by many companies is to seduce candidates with profound and presumably attractive perks as a lure for employment. Further, these same tactics can be used as a retention tool with existing employees. In the short-term, perks are novel and with that may be considered interesting, but in the long-run, they are not the enduring enticement employers believe them to be.

Perks come in many shapes and forms and offer varying benefits. Some companies believe that free food, paid travel, and other offerings of the like are exactly what it takes to attract new talent and to keep the talent they have. Simply, this is not a solid long-term solution. What’s worse is when one company attempts to mimic a competitor’s perks in the hopes that they, too, can enjoy the same presumed successes and much to their chagrin it goes sideways and for good reason.

Company perks should be a reflection of the company’s culture and match the values of that specific organization. Since no two companies are alike, it’s an erroneous assumption to believe that what works for one company should work for another.

Give the people what they want

According to a survey conducted by Gallup, a sample population of job seekers were asked what matters most to them about a potential employer. The results of the survey revealed that the respondents were interested in a company’s mission, culture, growth, advancement opportunities, compensation and compelling statements as to why they should consider employment with one organization over another. Not a mention of free food, ping-pong tables or free haircuts was cited by anyone in this survey.

An article on Careertopia, supports the findings revealed by the Gallup survey. The articles goes on to state that the five things job seekers want from an employer are: career growth; work-life balance; fair compensation; great leadership; and alignment with a company’s mission, vision and values. Once again, perks were not mentioned as being an attraction factor.

The Millennials speak

In a different survey conducted by Gallup, they queried 1,700 U.S. workers to determine the attraction factors that appeal to the three employed generations. What the results of this survey revealed is that Millennials, who are presumed to be job hopping know-it-alls, are in actuality seeking out employers that cater to a generation thirsty for opportunities to learn and grow, to be managed by great leadership, to be engrossed in work that is interesting and which offers challenges, along with opportunities to advance their careers. Additionally, the survey results disclosed that a workplace with an informal and “fun” environment was not a high-attraction factor highly coveted by this generation.

Independent of the Gallup survey, Deloitte conducted a Millennial survey which revealed that compensation along with interesting work and work-life balance rose to the top of the results and what is most in demand by Millennials.

The Sandwich generation

For people born between 1965 and 1978, also known as Generation X, they too have stated what is important for them in the workplace. For this group, work-life balance rises to the top of the results. For this generation, the realities of managing parenthood along with taking care of a parent is becoming more commonplace with each passing year. To that end, having a flexible schedule that allows for care-giving is a big attraction factor. Further, Gen X has developed a reputation for being results oriented, problem solvers who seek out work opportunities where their feedback and opinions are welcomed. Free food, indoor putting greens and other perks of this nature were not mentioned.

The thing that really matters

As leadership scrambles around seeking out the next best shiny object to use in their recruitment and retention arsenal, they need to stop and revisit that which is already in front of them: their company culture. This one item is the biggest and best perk any organization can offer to potential and existing employees. This is what attracts and keeps needed talent. People seek out a culture that aligns with their personal beliefs. Servant leadership, 360 feedback, companies that take an interest in their employees’ well-being, opportunities to learn, good communication, respectful interactions, work-life balance, fair pay, and for job seekers, a shortened hiring processes and timely follow-through with communications all matter. All of these are indicative of an organization’s culture and what is being researched by job seekers and responded to by employees.

The irony is that the bells and whistles that many companies buy into are actually not what they need. People place more value on a relationship and a good work opportunity than they do a ping-pong table or free haircut. I guess the old expression is correct… sometimes people can’t see the forest through the trees.

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Give Employees The Gift Of Well-being

Undoubtedly, a sense of well-being is one of the precious joys of living. It’s foundational to who we are and what we do. This important underpinning sets us up for success… or failure.

As a business owner, I appreciate the well-being of my employees and understand the value of helping them stay mentally focused, for many reasons, including how well-being affects attitude which in turn affects productivity. There are a variety of ways which companies can contribute to employee well-being.

Pet-friendly Environment

I am a proponent of animal rights so with that, acknowledge the value of my pets and having them with me at work. The benefit of a pet-friendly workplace is becoming recognized by many companies, because the advantages outweigh the cons. According to researchers at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business, it was discovered that pets in the workplace actually create a buffer between stressful situations, boost employee morale and increase productivity. Further, in a separate study conducted by Central Michigan University, researchers found that when dogs were present at team meetings, people expressed a greater desire to collaborate and were motivated to find reasons to trust in their fellow collaborators. These are just two studies, there are many more that corroborate these findings.

Note, it’s also important to be sensitive to employees who have health issues or sensitivities to animals, so be cognizant of their needs before implementing a program of this nature.

Flex Hours and Remote Work

Acknowledging that your employees have a full life that includes activities outside of work is a reality smart companies recognize. For example, many people have personal obligations that may conflict with a work schedule of 8am to 5pm, but with some adjustments can still work a full day with different start and stop times.

Flex hours also accommodate individuals who may have special needs. It opens the door to people who may not otherwise have opportunity to be productive, contributing employees. As stated by Denise Tsukayama, Equal Opportunity Officer/ADA Coordinator for the City and County of Honolulu, “While flexwork / telework may be an effective reasonable accommodation for some employees with disabilities, more importantly these accommodations can broaden our efforts in fostering a diverse and inclusive workforce.”

Additionally, not everyone is a “morning person” and with that may have different high productivity times of day. Undoubtedly, all companies want maximum output from their employees, so understanding that all people have a different productivity cadence can save companies millions of dollars a year by simply adjusting employee work hours to coordinate with their high-producing hours.

Some jobs and projects are very focus intensive and with that may be more costly or timely for an organization. Having your employees full attention and focus riveted at these times, can be critical to the success and ultimately to the bottom line of the company.

Work-day Breaks

Workday breaks can offer your employees a short respite to regroup and refocus their energy. Workplace specialists (i.e., ergonomic specialists and organizational psychologists) believe there is a benefit to taking a short break prior to starting a long and complex project. The break gives people a chance to mentally close the work just finished and begin a new project with a clean slate. In terms of productivity, this is a way to jump start a new effort without having a prior work project still looming in the back of the employee’s mind.

Going out to lunch is an extended work-day break with its own set of benefits. In addition to offering a change of venue, this is a great time for a vigorous workout, a leisurely walk, or even a chance to run personal errands. Lunch breaks outside of work, allow people to decompress, listen to music, chat with a fellow walker, or interact with people outside of their place of employment. Companies can help make lunch breaks extra fun by incentivising employees with rewards for their dedication to maintaining a religious schedule of exercise and other activities.

Volunteer Days 

Allowing employees the opportunity to be contributors outside their organization is a wonderful way to encourage charitable service and giving back to a community that supports their employment. Volunteering empowers people to refocus on those less fortunate than themselves, perhaps, and allows them to take great pride in their efforts. It’s immensely gratifying to give back and knowing one’s company supports this outreach speaks fathoms about the organization. It can, also, help people to forge stronger bonds with their employer by representing their organization within the community and to work alongside leadership that may not have happened within the confines of the business walls.

These are a few examples; there are many ways companies can show their human side and understanding. It’s just a matter of making the commitment to support your employees and recognize they are your greatest asset and biggest business relationship. And as with any relationship that is for the long-haul, you will reap what you sow.

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5 Steps To Take Employee Engagement To Another Level

Why is employee engagement critical to an organization?

Many think “getting more employees involved” is the end game. That’s true, but for what purpose? To make every person feel like they are making a contribution? To make them happier? To make them more supportive of leadership?

If the purpose of employee engagement isn’t clearly defined, and a disciplined process to achieve that purpose isn’t established, the best that can happen is busyness and dysfunction. Employees are busy as hell but they are not acting in unison towards a shared outcome.

Employee engagement must be strategically driven. It must be THE vehicle to mobilize the employee body to execute the strategy of the organization together; consistently.

The employee group is the orchestra; the song sheet is the strategic game plan and values  of the organization.

And the desired behavior is EXECUTE AS ONE.

This 5-step process will increase engagement towards the achievement of shared strategic goals.

  1. Make engagement one-on-one. Effective engagement is leadership driven, not program driven by a centralized group like HR. Individual leaders must be held accountable for getting their teams more engaged around strategy and values. Unfortunately a tops down program is less effective than encouraging daily hands on involvement by leadership.
  1. Connect each function in the organization with the strategic game plan. This involves “drawing a straight line” between strategy and the deliverables every department is expected to produce. In practical terms, this means translating the relevant key result areas (KRA) of the strategy in terms of what they mean for every team. If “delivering dazzling service” is a strategic KRA, for example, it must be designated as a critical performance area for all functions in the organization and their roles must be explained in granular terms to ensure they are clearly understood.
  1. Define the role each person is expected to play in each performance area. In sales, for example, it could relate to focusing on building deep relationships with high value clients as opposed to flogging products at them to satisfy short term sales targets.
  1. For each employee, set 3 objectives which are “tight” with the specific roles defined and establish the mechanism to track results achieved. For sales, measuring client perception is necessary to evaluate whether the salesperson is actually building a deep and intimate relationship with them. Set an objective for each sales person – 75% of Roy’s named clients will agree that their relationship with him is “excellent” – and measure the result monthly. This is where strategy hits the ground and real engagement occurs.
  1. Review performance regularly. Leaders must sit down “eye to eye” with each of their team members; review the results of each objective set for them, and define an action plan to close any performance gaps.

Engaging employees effectively to help the organization achieve its goals requires the consistency and discipline of individual leaders working with each one of their team members day in and day out.

It’s brutal but required work if you want to take employee engagement to another level and standout from the crowd who rely on programs “handed down from above”.

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Purpose or Engagement? Is One Better Than the Other?

When you ask HR executives what it takes to succeed, many will stress the importance of employee engagement. They refer to a company’s need for employees who are excited about their work, who are motivated to do well, and whose goals are in sync with the objectives of the organization. Employee engagement relates to employee happiness, job satisfaction, and much more.

But even if employees enjoy their work and find it compelling, is that going to be enough to keep them working at your company for the long haul? Your team may share common goals, but that doesn’t necessarily speak to your staff’s need to connect to their work and identify it as something worth doing. Your employee’s experience might be missing a key component that would solidify their commitment to your company. That component is a sense of purpose.

How Purpose Differs from Engagement

While purpose and engagement share some attributes—namely, an employee’s commitment to the company—they are not the same thing. Both are important, but when they exist together within the employee’s psyche, they can really be a powerful combination.

CustomInsight, a leading provider of online HR assessment and development tools, defines employee engagement as “the extent to which employees feel passionate about their jobs, are committed to the organization, and put discretionary effort into their work.” Thus, employee engagement is tied closely to employee productivity and effectiveness, making it a critical component to success for your business.

Dale Carnegie Training reports that companies with engaged employees outperform those without by as much as 202 percent. A study of more than 1,500 employees, conducted by Dale Carnegie and MSW Research, also revealed that engaged employees exhibit enthusiasm and confidence while feeling empowered and inspired.

While employee engagement is a positive for companies, it gets even better when companies define and communicate their purpose. Purpose delves deeper than engagement—it’s the reason the company exists. It has to be more than simply making a profit; it should also encompass what the company does to fill a need and to make a difference. Purpose means having an impact on people—in most cases, the company’s clients and customers—and bringing a sense of satisfaction or fulfillment to those customers that reflects well on the company and its employees.

Employees who understand this purpose are more likely to contribute to the company’s success. They see themselves being part of a worthwhile goal and are thus more likely to work harder and with more enthusiasm to achieve that goal. In other words, employees are more likely to be engaged once they understand and buy into their company’s purpose.

Benefitting Through Purpose

Inc. magazine cites a survey from Deloitte, which found that 73 percent of employees who say they work for a “purpose-driven” company are engaged. In contrast, only 23 percent of employees identify themselves as engaged when they don’t characterize their company as “purpose-driven.” Additionally, more than 90 percent of leaders at purpose-driven companies expect to maintain or strengthen their brand in the next decade, whereas only about half of companies without that strong purpose expect to do the same.

The Inc. article stresses the need for companies to make their purpose clear to employees by establishing systems that are compatible with that purpose. As an example, let’s say your company provides financial services. You define your purpose as helping people improve their lives with financial security. To help achieve this purpose, you might set up free financial seminars or reach out to communities that are underserved. You set systems in place to support your purpose, and in so doing, you engage employees with a sense that they are helping people and doing meaningful work.

Purpose Drives Engagement

It’s clear, then, that purpose is essential to driving employee engagement. The terms “purpose” and “engagement” are not interchangeable, but they do go hand in hand. Purpose is the foundation upon which engagement is built. However, one is not better than the other. Without a sense of purpose, employee engagement may be short-lived, and without engagement, a company’s purpose will not be fully realized.

If you want to improve your employee engagement, start by defining your company’s purpose—better engagement will likely follow.

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The 4 Rules Of Employee Engagement According To My Dad

Sometimes life throws a curveball into the game, and it’s no more business as usual. My dad died seven months ago with the love of his life, my mom, at his side. He had a very long battle with Alzheimer’s, which had already changed him profoundly — and us, too. Now he’s at peace. In the fast few weeks, as my family faced the inevitable, we were constantly reminded of what kind of man he was: a true leader, fair and decent and genuine. Anyone who had the good fortune to work with him responded to that.

As I was developing my own knowledge base on what galvanizes talent into something called employee engagement, I was constantly struck by my dad’s example. Inspired by his example, his colleagues and teams worked harder, stayed later, treated each other better. They were never under any pressure to do so: My dad’s culture was not “my mission must be your mission.” His people did it because they wanted to. What motivated them: feeling valued.

Of course there was no way to measure this, but he had radar, forged from his own intelligence and experience. No surprise that it correlates with some of the best ideas on engagement out there now.

So here are four meaningful ways to measure employee engagement:

1) Stop pretending it’s about satisfaction. Ask what your people need and want from their employer. You are not selling something to them, you are collaborating with them — and you depend on their interest in collaborating back. So ask what your employee needs to stay. Don’t use a multiple choice, closed survey question to find out; allow them the room to articulate what they’re after. Again, this may be a disconnect related to our lack of imagination about the essence of an employer brand.

2) Ask appropriate and targeted questions. Here’s an obvious irony: Surveys take time out — from projects and tasks and the usual requirements of an employee’s day. Which means you’d best make it worth your employee’s while. Make sure you’re asking questions that are relevant to your employees and their work. There are an infinite number of possible questions to ask about engagement, but research is showing that perhaps a dozen are truly useful.

Consider the nature of each department’s work and the kind of performance it requires. If you are wasting their time on irrelevant questions, they might just decide to embark on a job search instead. And time isn’t what it used to be. A DICE survey found that in high tech, two-thirds of all workers believe they could land a better job in less than 60 days.

3) Don’t take your talent for granted. High performance comes from those who feel highly respected. Gallup found that as of January of this year, some 32.5% of workers are engaged in their jobs, but 51.9% are not. Worse, 15.7% are actively disengaged. So if your workplace is already struggling and it’s clear there are problems with performance, check your survey at the door. First, do some initial repair work to even get the car on the road. If you are already dealing with a disengaged workforce, throwing a survey at them that asks for tangible data on engagement will seem even more inauthentic – even tone-deaf — and only serve to send them on a search for greener grass.

4) Frame it in the positive. Two possibly undesired byproducts of an engagement survey: 1) that you reveal to the employee just how disgruntled he or she really is in the process of answering those questions, and 2) that the survey feels so non-transparent that it further disengages. But the goal of the survey should be clear to all — aka, transparent — that the employer’s intention is to improve the workplace, and support the workforce, in order to make them feel better about working as hard as they do. Present the process in the spirit of collaborative purpose and a generous workplace culture, not a standardized test, and you may just wind up with a great win-win.

Here’s to Dad, a sage judge of character, who would doubtlessly approve.

A version of this was first posted on Forbes.

Six Tips for Getting Real Answers From Your Employees

Ever since companies began to realize the link between employee engagement and productivity, customer relations and overall success, HR leaders have sought ways to measure and keep track of it. Employee engagement surveys seemed like an obvious solution: if you want to know if your employees are engaged, why not ask them? However, sending out a survey is not as simple as it sounds.

How do you know that your employees are answering honestly and not just saying what they think their managers want to hear? Do their answers reflect reality or merely perception? How do you get your employees to actually fill out surveys in the first place?

Design your survey process to get maximum participation and real answers with these six tips:

  1. Allow for anonymity

A key argument against engagement surveys is that employees won’t give honest answers anyways. If employees feel their job security could be on the line they’ll be more apt to answer positively, creating a situation in which at the surface everything seems fine. Making your surveys completely anonymous will give your employees the security they need to answer freely.

  1. Provide a reason

Instead of simply sending your survey out, to get high participation rates, you have to explain why taking time to fill it out will be worthwhile. How will it benefit/impact the way they work? For example, if you want to know what people think about your performance review process, explain that HR is considering new ways to make the process more effective and the results will impact the way their performance is reviewed in the future.

  1. Ask the right questions

Taking time to devise the right type and amount of questions is key. If you ask too many questions you’ll see a significant drop in participation and/or authenticity of your answers. Too biased and you may sway the respondents to answer in a certain way. To keep your questions as neutral as possible be conscious of your word choice. Leading questions can sway the reader towards a particular answer. For example, “Why are annual performance reviews burdensome for you?” The word burdensome already denotes a negative connotation for the reader, influencing their response.

Putting too many thoughts into one, or a double barreled question, can confuse them. For example, “Are the stretch assignments and leadership opportunities you’ve been given helpful for your professional development?” When in doubt it’s best to split them in two. At the same time remember that too many questions will make participants weary of filling out the survey and lead to less and incomplete responses.

  1. Include factors that can be validated

The perception and reality of workplace engagement can sometimes be very different. To ensure the validity of your survey results, research psychologist Palmer Morrel-Samuels suggests adding some elements which can be independently verified. When surveying a group of employees on their skill level, his team found that 76% believed their skills to be above average. As only 50% can be above average, the survey revealed a clear gap in actual and perceived skill level. When assessing managers’ ability to establish strong relationships, his team compared the responses they received with factors such as turnover rate to ensure validity.

Using the example of a survey about the performance review process, you may want to ask, “Do you feel the review process is easy and efficient?” However, the terms “easy” and “efficient” are subjective. You should also include data on how many hours and resources are spent on performance reviews each year. If your results indicated that most people believe your current process is difficult and inefficient and then you compare their answers with factors that can be validated: time and money spent you’ll have objective reasons why and a starting point for how to fix it. 

  1. Come up with an action plan

Employees will not see any need to respond honestly if they don’t see their responses make a real change in the way the workplace is run. To prove that participating in workplace surveys is worthwhile, you have to commit to making some sort of change, whether big or small, based on the results. After the survey is completed analyze the results and come up with a strategy.

For example, if you find that many people aren’t happy with the way performance reviews are conducted in your company, think about solutions that could improve the process. If people said it takes to long, try looking into HR tech that can limit the time it takes. If employees feel there isn’t enough follow-up, have your managers set-up post-review one-on-ones with each of their team members and provide training on how they can provide better feedback and coaching.

  1. Market your changes internally

However, simply coming up with a solution isn’t enough. You also have to market the changes you’re making internally and get the message across that their answers will make a difference. After your team has come up with a plan, share the results of the survey with the rest of the company. Make sure everyone is aware of the changes that will be made and how they’re expected to improve the work environment by announcing them at a company-wide all hands, within individual teams and by e-mail.

A version of this post was first published on

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6 Ways Leaders Can Excel at Engaging Employees

Much has been written on how organizations can engage their employees more successfully and create a competitive advantage. The advice offered tends to be of a program nature: company-wide initiatives promulgated from above that all functions “down below” are expected to participate in.

My thirty-three plus years of leadership experience suggests a different way of looking at how to “hook” every employee in the goals and strategy of the organization. People relate more to other people, not “corporate programs” offered by human resources or business planning.

This requires that every team leader take personal responsibility to see that the employees who report to them are pumped up and engaged. I didn’t wait for an “employee engagement program” to help. I chose to lead in a very specific way that led to turned-on employees and constantly improving performance.

Here are the simple things that worked and still work for me.

  1. Ensure every employee clearly understands the strategic game plan of the organization. They can’t contribute if they are hazy about what results are expected.
  1. Define the specific role of every person in delivering the strategy. This is where detail matters. Everyone needs to know EXACTLY what to do day-in and day-out to execute on the chosen company direction.
  1. Equip them with the tools to perform their responsibilities: training, systems and processes. A mundane point, perhaps (“Everyone knows this is important!”) but one that is often forgotten. It’s a basic hygiene factor for engagement. They won’t engage if they don’t have the fundamentals to do their job.
  1. Constantly – WEEKLY – let them know how they’re doing. Real honest feedback (and help to allow them to improve) is essential.
  1. Be in their workplace WITH them. If they know you are there to help them succeed they will engage with you on an emotional level which is what you need to move the yardsticks forward. People who intellectually understand and agree with what is required are motivated to DO something only if the are “all in” emotionally.
  1. Fight for them internally. Protect them from the internal politics and b.s. that gets in the way of them doing their job. If they know you have their back they will go the extra distance to perform.

Enhancing employee engagement requires individuals to emotionally connect with the goals of the organization and execute accordingly to achieve them. Look to leaders, not corporate programs to create the energy necessary to make it happen.


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How High Employee Turnover Hurts Your Company

High employee turnover hurts the business bottom line. It’s estimated that the average cost of a lost employee is 38 percent of the employee’s annual salary. Considering the average income in the U.S. is $50,000 a year, that’s a $19,000 per person. When employees leave, the ripple effect can be felt throughout the company. Lost knowledge, training costs, interviewing costs, and recruitment costs all add up, and companies cannot afford to ignore the long term implications high employee turnover has on the success of the business. As soon as an organization takes the time to consider high churn rates, it starts to focus its narrative on compensation, benefits, training, development, engagement, and morale boosting activities. This leads to a highly motivated and engaged workforce.

Today, it’s uncommon for an employee to remain at a company for more than 5 years. In a survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics it found that the average time an employee spent at a company in 2014 was three times higher (10 years versus 3 years) amongst employees between the ages of 55 and 64, than those between the ages of 25 to 34. Companies cannot prevent their employees leaving for the ubiquitous greener pastures; however, there are means and ways of preventing the inevitable. Factors such as lack of training, ineffective leadership, and employee communication can all pave the way to the exit door. Companies need to shift their focus to their employees in order to be successful in the long run.

1. Lack of training

Employee retention strategies begin right from when the new employee steps through the door. On boarding is an important process as it ensures employees have the necessary knowledge, skills and behaviours needed to become successful in the long term. By introducing them to the mission and the values of the company, new arrivals can adopt company wide practices quicker. When a company implements a successful on boarding program, they experience 54 percent greater productivity and 50 percent greater retention.

But on boarding is only one part of the employee training cake. Once employees have been through the on boarding, and familiarize themselves with the company, and their role, they may become disengaged due to lack of training opportunities. Employees today want to develop themselves into the best that they can be. They want to expand and polish their skills, abilities, and experiences. In a recent survey, it indicated that 40 percent of employees who receive poor job training left their position within the first year. Employees who feel restrained or get bored will eventually start looking elsewhere to fulfill their advancement needs. Well trained employees help increase productivity and profitability because training helps solve the potential performance problems of the job. Employees who are trained, develop more rounded skills to help them contribute more to the company.

2. Ineffective leadership

There is a long standing belief that employees don’t leave their jobs, but rather their managers. Leaders who do not create the right opportunities for their employees, don’t communicate with them, and don’t appreciate them often leads to a high turnover rate. Bad leadership can also be felt throughout the entire organization – only not in a good way. Corporate culture becomes a meaningless term where leaders claim it exists while employees shake their heads in frustration. There is a lack of clear, consistent communication from leadership to the employees. As a result, the office is run by rumour mill, politics and gamesmanship. Employees are uncertain of the company’s goals and objectives for success and they have no idea how they fit into that picture, or what their level of importance is toward making it happen. Employees who feel comfortable with their leaders, often feel more engaged and inspired. The right leader is someone who is able to inspire, motivate and coach their workforce. They often seek opportunities for their delegates and support them in their ongoing development in the workplace. When a company has good leaders, communication is daily and open. Every employee clearly understand the vision and the goals of the organization, and everyone has input into how they can be improved. Employees also feel that they are important and that their job matters within the company.

3. Lack of communication

Communicating with employees, empowering them and creating a culture for them to thrive are all fundamental parts to retention. When important decisions are made by the C-suite, employees and management are generally left in the dark. Lacking of answers deter top management from providing the information that employees need. Creating a structured communication process that informs, emphasizes and affirms the employee’s actions in the workplace all contribute to keeping churn rates low. Communicating is a skill that should come naturally, however it can be the hardest skill to learn. When managing employees, it’s important to keep all communication channels open). Being aware of the questions, concerns and fears that employees might have, and, pro-actively communicating answers will build transparency and trust, and lead to a keeping retention low.

As seen from the above, a certain responsibilities are on business leaders to solve. Once a business is able to overcome these challenges, it becomes difficult for employees to leave the organization. But without understanding there whether or not there is a issue to solve, its a good idea to determine how high your turnover is in the first place.

Turnover is calculated by dividing the amount of people who left the organization by the number of employees currently at the organization over a given period (usually a year).

(number of people who left ÷ people currently employed) x 100

For example: 7 people leave in 2015, and there is currently 100 people the organization.

(7÷100) x 100= 7%

7% turnover rate per year.

Here were the averages per industry (U.S) in 2015:

All Industries: 15.6%

Banking & Finance: 17.2%

Healthcare: 16.8%

Hospitality: 29.3%

Insurance: 10.4%

Manufacturing & Distribution: 13.3%

Not-for-Profit: 15.3%

Services: 15.2%

Utilities: 7.2%

According to a Gallup report, a good number a company should aim to achieve is 10 percent. However, this is based on Jack Welch’s performance management system of stack ranking, which today is seen as old and outdated (even GE is throwing it out). In reality, if 10 percent of the high performers are leaving, the business ends up having a serious problem. One of the first things a company can do to understand their turnover rates in more detail is to track it by a performance quartile. To do this, clearly track turnover by each quarter. Set clear and objective measures of productivity. And determine which employees are performing the best in each department.

Regularly check people’s engagement to understand how each individual is feeling towards their goals. Do this by implementing a bi weekly check in, where managers schedule a time for each one of their delegates to simply open up a continuous dialogue (1:1). By doing this, employees will feel more comfortable about expressing the way they feel in the workplace. When managers do this, they are able to understand the flaws in the team and act on them in a timely manner. This allows a company to become more agile and quicker to respond to business threats. What’s more, from the bi-weekly check in, business leaders can understand their weaknesses, and determine what drives disengagement.

When a company implements a tool, such as Impraise, it allows them to start an engagement survey quickly, which then can draw immediate insights into the current health of the organization. This allows them to understand where their employees may feel they need more clarification or better business practices.

This post was first published on Impraise blog.

Sustaining Us: How Organizations Are Evolving to Meet the Future Of Work

Recently, GE explained how it will deeply revise performance reviews — an often untenable practice which has plagued organizations, both large and small for decades.  Heavy with the burden of process and time, yearly reviews have long been the bane of organizations and managers. When the facts were thoughtfully considered, the value of these reviews simply wasn’t justifying the invested resources.

Most importantly, performance appraisals weren’t offering employees what they needed to guide behavior and develop — as the process siphoned time from their managers. Yearly performance reviews were no longer sustaining us, or the organizations in which we work.

The average life span of a company has decreased dramatically over course of the last century. (Nearly 50% of the Fortune 500 pre-2000 have disappeared or have been the subject of a merger/acquisition.) Many become other companies, which only serves to add to the challenges that employees must face. Organizations that endure, face the dangers of aging — which can include complacency and looming obsolescence. Sustaining an organization is no small feat. Leaders must balance a variety of priorities including a strategic vision and meeting the tide of change.

While contemplating this, I’ve realized that we’ve short-changed one critical part of that discussion — sustaining “us”. Contributors. People. Human beings. Here in the US for example, we work longer, but likely not smarter. We haven’t fully mastered the feedback employees require to be successful. We struggle to provide meaningful career paths to amplify contributor strengths. We sometimes miss the mark concerning that managers require training and support to help team their members thrive. We ignore the importance of re-charging as human beings — leaving countless vacation days on the table.

Things just don’t add up. Something had to give.

And it’s been us.

However of late, there is positive movement. There are organizations getting it right, who hold a strong belief that people are their organization. They intend to evolve in a manner so structure and processes can work with people — not against them. Once petrified, I see a glimmer in leaders who see the value of addressing the organization’s core people practices. Many are making the connection (see this from Google) and rolling up their sleeves to make changes. We are now actively discussing what comprises a healthy, supportive environment. I’m hearing increased chatter about psychological safety and the employer-employee exchange agreement.

With thoughtful decisions and a concerted investment in people — the relationship between employers and employees can shift in a way that will not only affect satisfaction and engagement — but creativity, innovation and success.

I’m watching with great anticipation to see what unfolds.

What is happening in your organization? Share your perspective.

This post was first published on LinkedIn.

4 Ways To Make Workplace Wellness A Culture Win

Here’s an idea for cutting edge talent management: workplace wellness programs. Implemented well, they’re mutual ROI meets wearable tech meets a deep level of employee engagement that reflects beautifully on employer brand. Not only can they enhance performance, but they show a genuine concern for employees’ well-being. And they’re part of one of my most basic adages: a happy employee is good for profits.

The American Heart Association found that for every $1 invested in workplace wellness, companies can receive up to $3 in return. But, like everything, there are right ways and wrong ways to implement workplace wellness programs. It depends on the company’s goal in adoption: how involved do you want to be? What’s the budget? What are the incentives and rewards?

Short-term benefits aim for mental clarity, higher productivity, morale and loyalty boosts, and all that. The larger goal of reducing healthcare costs and preventing injuries requires you build a wellness program that’s good for the long term.

But think about the culture of the workplace: if your employees are scattered all over the globe in different time zones, you’re either going to have to satellite physical fitness spaces in, create digital ones, or both. If you’re centralized, have some fun and create an amazing wellness and fitness center that gives employees bragging rights. And depending on the scope of the program, it can seem benevolent or big brother— is it opt-in or mandatory? Do employees get rewarded for participating?

Also essential: bring it up to date and make it tech-friendly. Here are 4 ways:

1) Provide wearable tech: It’s inexpensive, it’s personal. Wearables are booming. Some 13 million wearable devices will be integrated into corporate wellness plans over the next five years, according to ABI Research. The tech offers encouragement without seeming required, and apparently, 44 percent of US workers are already wearing it at work. Activity trackers can be linked to social wellness apps; customizable versions can create company-wide programs with events, competitions and rewards. Employees can monitor their own personal progress and make it social. Chances are, they will. There are versions with elaborate data tracking, from blood pressure to heart rate and beyond. Others include eating habits as well — offering recognition for making healthy choices. When it’s small and personal it doesn’t seem invasive. And face it: we all love gear.

2) Create occasions: If routine is the enemy of innovation, break it up by observing the myriad healthy holidays: get your employees on their feet on National Walking Day (the first Wednesday in April, when employees can participate by walking for at least half an hour). Create a “Fitness Friday” with allowable hours for gym, yoga, walking or running during the workday. Because we’re way past casual Fridays now, it’s much more fun to make them actually mean something. Also, adding a fitness component to an already busy workweek without allotting for allowable time will make it feel like an extracurricular drag. You may see a whole lot more participation outside work anyway, but don’t expect it.

3) Offer tangible incentives: Did I mention rewards? Incentivizing participation is key to driving and sustaining employee engagement. There are countless ways to do it, but ones that hit the wallet are certainly the sweetest, including discounts on health premiums, flextime or home days, gift cards (but watch that gold watch syndrome), healthy retreats — a great way to build in creative collaboration and team brainstorming between massages and yoga. Leaderboards, team goals, coaching consults —  you can build deeper engagement by polling employees on what they want in terms of recognition, and make it adaptable as opposed to one size fits all.

4) Measure its effectiveness: After a mid-sized bank in Illinois instituted a wellness program as part of its benefits package, it achieved 95% participation. There’s a point system, a whole range of activities and programs to choose from, and a close tie-in to healthcare and lifestyle changes. It’s expecting an ROI at the end of three years that will show measurable reductions in healthcare costs, lower absenteeism, and higher morale / productivity — saving between $1.50 and $3.50 for every dollar spent. It’s measuring the results annually in quantifiable terms, starting with baseline screenings for each participant, and measuring everything from health to productivity to insurance usage.

There are countless fitness apps that can be brought into a workplace wellness program; and it’s a great way to measure performance as well. The point is to make it part of your intentional employee brand. Also nice: having people that are shiny, happy, healthy representatives of your company. They tend to smile more. No matter how much we work on improving recruitment and engagement, there’s something about a company that lets you walk outside and kick a ball around during a meeting that just can’t be beat.

A version of this was first posted on Forbes.

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Culture, Brand, Engagement: How Benefits Support HR’s Three-Legged Stool

You know the old three-legged stool metaphor: you can’t sit down if one of those legs is off. In HR, that means culture, brand and engagement. All three are closely, intrinsically related; even more so given the new world of work. In the Deloitte University Press’ Global Human Capital Trends 2015 report, the news shows palpable gaps between perceived weaknesses in all, and the capability to solve them.

Among the findings, gleaned from more than 3,300 business and HR leaders:

  • 87% of organizations cite workforce culture and engagement as a top challenges.
  • 38% of respondents felt like they were “weak” when it came to helping employees balance personal and professional life/work demands.
  • 71% of those who responded stressed the importance of reinventing their HR, but only 42% said they felt actually prepared and ready to do it.

That last stat in particular is compelling, reflecting a hefty gap (30%) between perception and action. Not surprising: the radically changing world of work knows it needs to undergo an equally radical readjustment in HR. In terms of positive realignments, here’s one arena to consider: Benefits. Rather than a part of the basic HR operations, benefits are a deeply entrenched facet of company culture and brand, and a critical driver of employee engagement.

Brand Awesome

Successful organizations like Netflix make the connection between employer brand and HR — including benefits. Logically, a new breed of workplace needs a new approach to talent, so it created one. In terms of recruitment, it made sure to include its approach to benefits as part of the brand. In terms of firing, it turns a loss into a mutual gain: if someone is let go, a generous severance may help her regroup, retrain and further their career — which possibly means she circles back to the company with more training and experience (on someone else’s dime).

A Culture Of Benefits

Other Netflix innovations include flexible vacation time, an honor system policy on expenses, and an interesting take on perks: this is an organization that figured out that having grade-A colleagues (a.k.a. fully formed adults) is a better employee perk than foosball. Other realistic components include health care programs (such as those created by Jiff) that incentivize employees to use services that promote their actual health. Firms may also offer realistic avenues for improving financial wellness — such as reducing crippling student loan debt and investing with a conscience via a firm like SoFi. Offering these kinds of benefits isn’t the norm yet, but it’s helping to set a new standard, delineating a forward thinking, authentic culture that is clearly aligned to the new world of work.

Transparency Drives Engagement

The Deloitte study found that 78% of respondents believed culture and engagement are critical, but only 47% felt ready to put that into action. For that 31% gap, consider the Netflix severance concept, which uses HR strategy to replace taboo with transparency — and that, my friends, is a radical cultural shift. It scales the traditional, monolithic fear of losing ones job down to a normal hiccup (or not) in a modern career trajectory.

The change aligns with how millennial (and other) employees perceive working — as constant disruptions, possible even in employment itself. In Netflix’s case, it also means an authentic and open conversation in which both parties play grown-up. Virgin made a similar splash with its greatly expanded parental leave policy. Such instances foster engagement by allowing for the fact that yes, we are all human here. Things happen. Families happen. We will adjust — with you.

Lack of employee engagement has some heavy hidden costs, but they’re completely logical: engagement is part emotion, part function. If an employee feels as if they’re not being supported or acknowledged for their own emotional and functional expenditure on behalf of your company, then they’re going to spend less of that energy. But create a benefits program that recognizes that exchange, and is the figurehead of an authentic culture, and you drive and deepen engagement. Now, have a seat.

A version of this was first posted on Forbes.

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Five Tips for Building a Winning Employee Engagement Strategy

Employee engagement is central to any organization’s success. Engaged employees work to build the bottom line, come up with solutions to work-related problems and often act as evangelists for their companies. So developing a winning employee engagement strategy is beneficial across the entire organization. Most companies want to engage their workers – and have happy employees who are more productive and invested in their job. But few companies succeed.

Have you noticed that when you Google “employee engagement suggestions” you find an enormous amount of information? Sifting through the dozens of simple and generalized tips— starting health and wellness programs, offering snacks, and promoting a work/life balance—can be a challenge. So, I’ll make it easy for you. Here are five powerful tactics you can use to build that winning strategy. Ready?

  1. Establish Concrete Objectives at the Employee Level You’re already familiar with the importance of setting goals—all successful companies set goals—increasing the base profit margin by X percent, lowering the enterprise’s carbon footprint by such an amount by a particular year, etc. These big goals are essential for success, but they don’t necessarily motivate your employees. Engaging employees means breaking down company goals into smaller pieces and then creating targets they can see, strive for, and achieve. These objectives might be things like replacing disposable cups with reusable ones or increasing enthusiasm for a faltering project. The point is that giving workers purpose (which is a philosophy Southwest Airlines embraces) fuels their commitment to the enterprise.
  2. Ensure Your Strategy Is Easy for Employees to Begin  You’ve heard it said, even thousand-mile journeys begin with one step. Getting employees to perform the first action towards engagement is the most difficult part. Once they’ve started to engage, it’s easier for them to engage more and more fully. So any successful employee engagement strategy starts with a low entry barrier. Don’t expect anything large from your staff in the beginning. Let them begin with something small. They’ll work themselves up to larger, more challenging engagement tasks with time.
  3. Create Personalized Choices People won’t all be passionate about the same things. If your plan offers choices across different topics, your employees are more likely to try it once—and if they try once, it’s easier for them to engage more. Allow them to choose topics they value. It will make them feel more in control of their work environment and create a greater feeling of investment in your business.
  4. Produce a Bottom-Up Approach for Good Employee Engagement Typically, most of the problems companies face are solved from the top down. People higher up the chain of command analyze the problem, decide on a solution, and pass it down the ladder for those under them to implement. An employee engagement strategy must work opposite to this typical problem-solving method, which can be difficult for some companies. get used to. Workers must be the ones to develop a successful employee engagement strategy. They know their own minds— as management, you can only guess. A good employee engagement strategy starts with talking to the people who work for you, distributing survey results among not just upper management but middle and lower management. In turn, team managers can directly involve their employees in the strategy creation process.
  5. Communicate Frequently with Your Employees Your employees want to know that their voices are being heard. Any good employee engagement strategy incorporates this fact. Annual or semi-annual reports on employee engagement are simply not enough. Employee morale—and hence engagement—increases when people feel comfortable communicating with their managers on a frequent basis. And, when managers ask their employees about their feelings and opinions on engagement strategies, those workers are more likely to participate. Transparency is another important factor to consider. Google, for example, encourages its employees to spend time being creative outside of their regular workday cycles. This promotes imagination and inspiration, but it’s also a fantastic way to let workers incorporate their own interests in their daily work and drive engagement.

Create a Tailored Strategy to Realize the Results You Need

However, just knowing what has worked for other companies won’t necessarily help yours. The trick to creating a truly successful employee engagement strategy is to tailor it to your workers’ unique needs and issues. Start by surveying your staff and asking for their opinions, which can lead to an engagement strategy perfectly tailored to your company’s unique employee pool. 

Pull an Employee Engagement Strategy Together

Understanding the mindset that goes into creating a working employee engagement strategy, a bottom-up mindset, and knowing a few solid pieces of advice on what has worked for other companies, can help any business create a successful strategy. But don’t think that simply adopting all the elements that worked for other companies will work for everyone else— get your employees to pinpoint their desires for an engagement strategy, and create a tailored plan that meets those expectations. If you do? You will begin to see powerful results that extend across your entire organization.

A version of this was first posted on

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The Onboarding Experience Matters To Your Future Employees

We talked last week about the need for HR and leaders to be on the look-out for employee potential – a real-time alignment between the business’s needs, new employees in the onboarding and hiring process, and existing employees who may have unrecognized potential.

So it’s natural to go back and look at the first piece of the puzzle – onboarding – to see where companies can improve an employee’s first days and weeks on the job with the goal of creating long-term employee engagement and growth.

As with so much else in the world of work, long-term employee engagement tracks back to the right cultural fit. The 2013 CandE survey, which assesses candidate experience in at leading companies, found that nearly 50 percent of prospective employees looked to company materials to get a feeling for the company’s values, a good indicator of cultural fit.

So it makes sense to ensure the story you tell in your marketing materials, on your career website, and through the recruiting and hiring process should be consistent, values-based, and accurately reflect your company’s unique workplace culture.

Where this can break down, of course, is during the onboarding and hiring process, where employees are too often emailed a packet of intimidating forms to fill out and told to come back when it’s done.  Some companies take the additional step of providing videos describing how to fill out the forms, and still others gather new employees in a room for a day to fill out forms, ask questions, and get to know one another – creating a little ‘team’ which will then spread its enthusiasm into the company as people move to their departments to begin work.

I’d argue for thinking of the onboarding process as a team-building exercise rather than simply a time to get all the necessary forms filled out properly. For example, tech giant Red Hat brings new employees to its Raleigh headquarters for an intensive multiple-day program in which new employees are taken through the company’s brand book – its cultural ‘Bible’; introduced to a range of employee ambassadors, and given an iconic team-building tchotchke – a red Fedora. The company shows it cares from the get-go, not only explaining its brand and culture in between form-filling-out-sessions, but also branding the new employees as its own by providing with them with the beginnings of a Red Hat uniform.  In tech, you can go a long way towards making someone happy by giving them a good t-shirt, so the Fedora is clearly going the extra mile.  But it doesn’t end there: the company does challenging work, is very engaged with its community of users, and is growing rapidly, providing employees with opportunities not only for personal growth but also job satisfaction. The story plays out on, where Red Hat gets four out of five stars from current and past employees, and where one employee posted ‘Choose your own adventure’. Not bad.

But does all this front-work pay off in long-term employee engagement? It appears it does. The company has won Computerworld’s coveted ‘Top 100 Places to Work’ award and been recognized by Forbes as one of ‘America’s 200 Best Small Companies’.  The company is lauded for its workplace flexibility, its culture, the caliber of its employees, and its challenging, interesting work.

Maybe the most telling aspect of the story related above is how personal it is. The onboarding experience is a personal one, from the act of bringing people together, to the team building, to introductions to brand advocates.  New employees are treated as people from the outset, increasing the probability that they’ll be engaged immediately, and remain engaged, as they disperse throughout the company to their respective offices.

So the lessons of successful onboarding might include:

Focus on team-building: Group new hires in teams to begin to build teamwork, but bring the teams together frequently to reaffirm the company’s focus and purpose.

Make it as personal as possible: This is a great opportunity to learn more about the employee than was possible during the interview process. Assign each new hire a mentor to help the new employee make the transition into the company smoothly. The mentor can not only provide guidance on simple things – who’s the best person to go to find out about x – but can also suggest training that may help the newcomer fill in skills that will make his or her life easier.

Reinforce employer brand: Chances are the new hire was drawn to your firm by its reputation, including its brand. If you position your company as a cool place to work on the web and in marketing material, ensure that feeling is built into your on-boarding process.

Invite your employee to use their personal brand: This is also a good time to tell your newly hired employee where he or she can help reinforce the employer brand, and where opportunities exist to amplify employer brand with their personal brand. Note this isn’t appropriate for all companies or all employees; be thoughtful about this. I know many companies are still hesitant or do not encourage employees to engage in social media or branding. It’s still largely case by case.

Audit your onboarding process with check-ins: Don’t’ assume onboarding is a one-and-done thing. To make sure you live up to the promises you made to your new employee, check in regularly to ensure the onboarding experience is consistent with the employee experience. Use surveys, informal one-on-ones between HR and the employee, team building exercises and follow-on conversations with assigned mentors to ensure your new hire is still on a good path.

You get one chance to do onboarding right, so pull out all the stops to make it a transformative experience for the employee – then go back and do periodic checks to ensure everything stays on track. You’re building a company, yes, but you’re also building a team of employer advocates. My mom used to say anything worth doing was worth doing well. Do this well, and talent retention may just be less of a challenge.

A version of this was first posted on Forbes.

photo credit: Time Management via photopin (license)

Create A Vocabulary That Inspires Employee Engagement

It’s official. Employee engagement is the new black. I’ve been writing and thinking a lot about it lately, as have others. The very notion of how leaders and employees engage has slowly morphed away from ‘companies have to do this because employees want it’ to ‘companies have to do this even though employees don’t trust it 100 percent’. I’m not saying employees don’t seek engagement; I’m simply saying many have reasons to doubt corporate engagement programs as they stand today. We are still in a process of finding what really works.

This revelation came after I’d read a series of interesting articles and spoken with a few clients of mine who’ve been working on employee recruiting, retention, engagement programs. The clients are genuinely trying to connect with employees, for a number of reasons. But not all are finding it easy going.

Carina Wytiaz, writing in TLNT, The Business of HR, suggested a number of employee appreciation resolutions employers could adopt for 2014. Her suggestions speak to the human-ness of the relationship between employers and employees.  What stuck with me most was her recommendation that employers find a way to say ‘thank you’ for performance. It’s such a powerful thing, to thank someone from the bottom of your heart, to make it genuine. Unfortunately it’s not part of most big-company HR programs.

Then I came across a Fortune interview with the CEO of PepsiCo PEP -0.27%Indra Nooyi, who has adopted an extraordinary engagement strategy: she writes letters to the parents of her direct reports and thanks the parents  – the direct quote from the article is “therefore I’m writing to thank you for the gift of your son, who is doing this at PepsiCo, and what a wonderful job this person is doing.” There’s that phrase again – ‘thank you’ – uttered with power, wisdom and grace. Imagine being the parent and getting that letter, then calling your son or daughter, tears in your eyes. Nooyi’s empathy and ability to engage is definitely not taught in most management classes.

The article that really got me thinking was one was shared by a friend of mine on Twitter Judy Gombita in PRConversations. Judy’s interesting post deals with the nature of social engagement programs – asking employees to use their social channels for a company’s benefit as brand ambassadors. My sense is she’s concerned companies treat the process as a form of employee engagement. It’s a very in depth look at engagement, with quotes from leaders of top companies; it’s worth reading for its clarity and deep questions.

These three very different views of employee engagement led me to think we need a lexicon of engagement if we are to actually do engagement right. We need to use words that are simple, direct and unambiguous. And we have to really mean it when we say the words.

My vocabulary for employee engagement would start with these words and phrases:

Please.  This is one of the most powerful words in any language. It tells the listener you need them, you need their help, and it means something to you. Too few people use the word. If you want to engage with someone at a meaningful level, if you need help, you have to ask nicely, and you have to say please.  It’s not simply polite – it’s a social cue that tells the listener you are asking for their time, attention, and assistance.

Thank you. This was the #1 phrase in Carina Wytiaz’s column, cited above, and it is number two here only because in my mind it bookends the word ‘please’. It’s essential to thank employees for their efforts. Salary, perks, all those things are part of the employment contract; ‘thank you’ is a person-to-person recognition of effort. It’s an essential phrase.

Do you have a moment? This (or ‘Is this a good time?’) may not seem like an essential set of words, but asking people if it’s a good time to engage with them is more than good manners: it tells them you value their time and effort, and it lets them know you expect the same respect in return. There are times when command-and-control is necessary, but most of the time employers should think about meeting the employee in his or her context before pushing for employee engagement.

I understand. Make sure you really do before you say this phrase, because it’s fraught with meaning. But understanding where an employee is in his or her life, day, or job is critical for any employee engagement program to work.

Well done. It’s not every day an employer gets to say those words, but to my mind it is a more powerful statement than the ubiquitous ‘good job’.  People say that to their kids when they pick up the toys without being nagged five times; it’s not enough when you’re trying to communicate the truth of a job well done. I remember hearing that phrase from a former manager and feeling the glow of approval; it was a big deal.

Say things clearly, say what you mean, and be careful with language if you want to really engage with your employees. Get the words and sentiment right, and engagement will follow.

A version of this was first posted on Forbes.

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Employee Engagement Is A Leadership Commitment

It seems like so much of what I do these days seems to revolve around storytelling and brands. I thought it would be useful to look at employee engagement through the lens of the five Ws – who, what, when, where, why – and one H – how – to frame up how companies can do a better job of mastering employee engagement.

Employee engagement is center stage in HR and The World of Work right now for good reason. Engaged employees are better producers, they’re more committed to the organization, and they are in it for the relative long haul. One study in The Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology (yes I do read this stuff!) looked at the performance of bank employees over a three-year period.  Engaged employees were more committed to the organization, achieved better business outcomes, and achieved superior customer satisfaction. Interestingly, level of engagement was more important in achieving good performance than good performance was in creating better engagement. It’s a mind-bender, which is why the five Ws and one H might be helpful in charting a path to employee engagement.

Let’s Look at the five W’s and one H of Employee Engagement.

Who: From a leader’s point of view, the Who should always be about the employee. Engaged employees aren’t just motivated by money, status or power – they are motivated by shared values, trust, mission and purpose. To get the Who right you need to have great hiring practices, an evolved and compelling culture, and systems in place for mid-course corrections when an employee shows signs of disengaging. More importantly, you need to be a compelling and engaged leader, one who leads with emotion. Leaders set the tone for engagement in the workplace.

What: Engagement is emotional commitment to the organization and its goals. I have worked with successful, profitable startups which had crazy turnover rates. People loved the money and were jazzed to work for the brand, but after a short honeymoon period they didn’t care enough to stick around for more than a couple of years. Money and success are not directly linked to engagement; it’s the other way around, which is why so many cool companies lose their shine. Their leaders don’t take time to forge an emotional bond with employees.

When: Engagement starts before the employee signs the offer letter. Top candidates don’t want to work for just any company; they are looking for the right company. They’re not looking for free soda and a dartboard, they’re looking for a shared sense of purpose, challenging work, committed leaders and excited customers. This is why brand is so important, and why companies have to communicate their brand not just on the website but also on the jobs page, in social media, and among the candidate’s peer group.

Where: I think pretty much everything to do with engagement needs to be social these days, so where is the social channel(s) your employees and candidates frequent. If you’re a consumer brand, Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram are critical; if you’re a tech brand, look more closely at Google, LinkedIn, Twitter and even Tumblr. And don’t forget your website, Glassdoor, and your jobs site – all can be an instant barrier to engagement.

Why: People – especially Millennials – want to know why they should engage with your organization. They want to know why they should work for you, why they should care, why you’re a better bet than the competition. Be prepared to tell them, every day.

How: Engagement isn’t magic, it’s craft. Engagement is built by creating trust, which engenders loyalty. It requires open communication, clearly-articulated goals and unambiguous expectations. It demands shared values and well-understood reward systems. Engagement is a journey, not a destination. It’s work. You have to get up every day determined to be more engaged, a better leader.

Many studies have been done to try to get to the secret behind employee engagement. It’s not a secret, though. It requires emotional commitment on the part of leaders, a great culture, and constant maintenance. The payoffs are huge: happier, more productive employees, happier customers, better profits and business results. Resolve to master employee engagement. It’s a worthy undertaking.

A version of this was first posted on Forbes.

Recognize, Reward And Engage Your Multi-Generational Workforce

I was at the Genius Bar the other day soaking up the smarts and getting an introduction to the benefits of backing up data before updating to a new OS. As is so often the case at the Apple store, I found myself working with people from several generations. They seemed to be collaborating with relative harmony and purpose to ensure my data wasn’t lost forever, they seemed for the most part happy, and they seemed engaged in their jobs – from the store concierge (no, not a greeter, and not a Baby Boomer either) to the flight deck controller at the Genius Bar, to the Genius. Many leaders and HR pros are struggling to find a way to make multi-generational workforces mesh and be productive. The chatter is all about the changing workforce and managing generational “differences” or as I prefer to say “nuances”. We talk a lot about how each group has specific needs – Traditionalists, Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials. We talk about how generational differences often seem to polarize the workplace, and what to do about it. It’s sad to say, but I don’t see the same patterns in many corporate settings.

When will we finally be ready to walk the walk (less talk, more action already) about bringing people together? Where does being an authentic leader fit into this equation? Will focusing on data and generational differences truly help our current employee engagement crisis? Why are we still asking these questions?

The best leaders recognize these nuances and understand how to engage – and in my opinion – Champion the similarities (there are more than differences by the way) to engage. Here’s how today’s workforce breaks down for those who want a refresher or are simply data driven:

Traditionalists, the group born before 1945, are also the smallest group in the workforce today at about 12 %, according to Gallup. Born in the hard times of the Great Depression through WWII, this generation values is fatalistic. They value hard work. They view their relationship with employers as a responsibility. Most have retired, but those who’ve hung in may be seen as inflexible fossils by the rest of the organization. Their willingness to work hard may be paired with inflexibility. Fail to recognize their deep experience and you will be rewarded with a failure to engage.

Boomers, born into the relative ease and prosperity of post WWII through the mid Sixties, are the suburban generation, the Woodstock generation. They want to be valued as individuals (not unlike Millennials). They want to be needed. They think they deserve good fortune (again, not unlike Millennials), they’re generally optimistic, and they think things will get better although they may not want to take responsibility for actually making things better. They’re loyal as long as they feel involved but disengage rapidly when they think their contributions aren’t appropriately recognized and rewarded. Respect is a path to engagement with this group.

Gen X, a relatively small generation at 41 million, is sometimes called the Forgotten Generation. They are pragmatic, skeptical of leadership, and quick to disengage if they feel slighted. They demand work-life balance but reject rules. They want to do things their way and may not respect Boomers (selfish) but may have an affinity for Traditionalists, the Silent Generation, whom they view as sharing the curse of being overlooked in the workplace. Gen X is dangerously disengaged. They lack the optimism of the Boomers, share the fatalism of the Traditionalists, and dismiss what they see as the entitled attitude of the Millennials. To engage Gen X, leaders must give them the space to do it their own way, relax the rules a bit, and realize they’ll question every attempt made to engage them.

Millennials, a generation which accounts for about 77 million individuals, according to Pew Research, is roughly the same size as the Boomers (76 million). Millennials were told ‘Good Job!’ and “You’re so smart!’ by indulgent Boomer parents. They demand recognition for even routine tasks, want to know why before they do anything, and expect to be consulted on matters big and small. They see work-life balance as a birthright, value innovation and chafe at having to work with people they see as less bright, tech-savvy and social as themselves. They’ll be most engaged when working with people they think are smart, social and committed.

With so many disparate needs and motivators, what can leaders do to increase employee engagement? It’s really pretty straightforward:

  1. Recognize and reward people.Forget about what generation for a moment.A one-size-fits-all reward and recognition programs will fail no matter who you are dealing with. When you understand what motivates (or sets off) certain generational groups or individuals, you can tailor your response, build more effective teams, and adjust recognition and reward programs.
  1. Acknowledge shared needs. No one likes surprises; everyone craves respect; everyone wants to feel included in the forward motion of the organization; everyone hungers to learn, and we all need pretty continuous feedback. Build your culture on the shared needs of the multi-generational workforce and you’ll see fewer cracks in the foundation.
  1. Engage by creating a sense of teamwork that spans generations. There’s a place for everyone in the world of work. The work ethic of Traditionalists can inspire all groups. The optimism of Boomers can help all employees see the positives in the organization. The skepticism of Gen X will keep everyone honest. The enthusiasm and self-confidence of Millennials is infectious and inspiring if it’s channeled. Teams are made up of individuals with a shared goal; build your organization’s goals around a shared sense of work and responsibility, a sense of optimism, healthy skepticism, enthusiasm, and confidence in the organization’s mission.

It wouldn’t be real if I didn’t add that leaders need to build trust with employees by engaging at an emotional level. To manage multigenerational workforces, Recognize that the people who work for you are individuals with intrinsic human value. Reward excellence, and encourage and educate those who come up short. Engage by committing to shared goals, committing to building a great place to work, and sharing your sense of engagement with the goals of the organization.

A version of this was first posted on Forbes.

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#WorkTrends Recap: Building Strength-Based Organizations

A healthy organization runs on the idea that people should be respected for the unique strengths they bring to the table. A strengths-based organization takes this idea a step further and fosters an environment where employees are actively engaged in their work. This results in better productivity, retention and profitability in the long run.

On this week’s #WorkTrends chat, we were joined by author Josh Allan Dykstra as we discussed a better way to create strengths-based organizations. Although this concept has been around for more than a decade, most organizations have “false-started” on it. We explored why these “false starts” have happened and why it’s time to try a new approach. A truly strengths-based company is the competitive organization of the future.

Here are a few key points Josh shared:

  • If you align roles with what energizes people they will be intrinsically motivated to keep working.
  • The companies that intrinsically motivate employees are naturally the most successful.
  • There’s a difference between competencies and strengths. Finding the middle is key.

StrengthsMissed the show? You can listen to the #WorkTrends podcast on our BlogTalk Radio channel here. 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). Next week, on July 20, host Meghan M. Biro will be joined by Tim Low from Payscale to discuss how to put people first in compensation.

The TalentCulture #WorkTrends conversation continues every day across several social media channels. Stay up-to-date by following the #WorkTrends Twitter stream; pop into our LinkedIn group to interact with other members; or check out our Google+ community. 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.

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#WorkTrends Preview: Building Strengths-Based Organizations

A healthy organization is built and runs on the idea that people are respected for what unique strength they bring to the table. A strength-based organization runs on this idea and creates employees who are actively engaged in their work. This results in better productivity, retention and profitability in the long run.

Join this week’s #WorkTrends chat as we discuss a better way to create strengths-based organizations. Although this idea has been around for over a decade, most organizations have “false-started” on it. We will explore why this “false start” has happened and why it’s time to try a new approach. A truly strengths-based company is the competitive organization of the future – come learn more from author Josh Allan Dykstra.

Building Strength-Based Organizations

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Tune in to our LIVE online podcast Wednesday, July 13 — 1 pm ET / 10 am PT

Join TalentCulture #WorkTrends Host Meghan M. Biro and guest Josh Allan Dykstra as they discuss how to build better strength based organizations.

#WorkTrends on Twitter — Wednesday, July 13 — 1:30 pm ET / 10:30 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 an organization become more strengths-based? #WorkTrends (Tweet the question)

Q2. What are some ways to capitalize on individual strengths? #WorkTrends (Tweet the question)

Q3. In what ways can a strengths-based business outperform other organizations? #WorkTrends (Tweet the question)

Don’t want to wait until next Wednesday to join the conversation? You don’t have to. We invite you to check out the #WorkTrends Twitter feed, our TalentCulture World of Work Community, LinkedIn group, and in our TalentCulture G+ community. Feel free to drop by anytime and share your questions, ideas and opinions. See you there!

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Unleash Your Employees’ Super Powers

Make a list of five of your good employees. Not the stars, and not the laggards, but people who come in everyday, do a good job, and go home. (This applies to telecommuting roles too btw) Now take a look at that list, and take a minute to think about each of those five people. What percent of their potential do you think they’re delivering at work? 50%? 60%? 70%? Can you imagine them taking their performance up a notch or two?  What would that mean for your organization’s results?

It would mean a lot! So why not rethink employee engagement and retaining your talent that shows up every day?

Unleashing Career Potential Matters

Great leaders inspire people and find ways to unleash their hidden power. And from that, flows success. And satisfaction. And energy. And innovation. And profits. And a better workplace culture.

The key is to unleashing this potential is to reach people on an emotional, visceral level. To find their passion, what they love, what excites them, what turns work into something closer to play.

Locating Employee Power

Pick one of those five employees on your list. Schedule a talk with this person. Nothing formal like an employee review, but find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. Ask this person what they like most (or even loves) about their job, and what they like least (or even hates). Some people, for example, love social media and are able to use it as an amazing work tool. Other people consider it a chore and/or a distraction from the work they enjoy.

As they answer, look for growing excitement in their voice; watch the body language for signs of engagement such as leaning into you and increased animation in their face. Now ask about career passions, specifically for ways they intersect with her job, and for ideas on how to increase that intersection. What you are uncovering is untapped power and potential.

Tying In Skills And Strengths 

After the meeting, if at all possible tweak the job so that the focus is firmly (obsessively?) on what your employees loves and their passions. Cut out anything extraneous. Make it clear to that your employees own this new job description. This means if they fail maybe they are not truly cut out for this particular career choice. Am I really suggesting this? Yes. Just try it.

Of course, no job can be all passion/fun all the time, and all employees — even stars who roar into work every day — have to spend at least some time on stuff that’s a drag or boring. We’re not going to create a perfect world of work.  But we can get a whole lot closer. This is about unleashing that extra 10%, 20%, 30% that will cause employee (and your company’s) happiness and performance to soar.

Seeing Power Takeoff

Watch what happens with that first employee. I’ll bet you anything you’ll see this person reach new levels of performance, and quickly. Why? Because you’ve made this person a partner in their own work life. You tapped into what they love to do. And you’ve made concrete changes to a job that demonstrates your respect and commitment to your employee’s (and your joint) business success and career future.

And what really turns this into a twofer is that you’ve unleashed some of your own untapped power as a leader.

It’s all about passion. Always curious to hear your thoughts.

A version of this was first posted on Forbes.

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Cutting Back for Business Growth

We know that in all of our endeavors, we are at the center of all relationships. Regardless of how we interact with the world – as an entrepreneur, parent, or corporate executive, we have the personal power to influence our outcomes. If we want more out of business, we need to get focused on becoming more.

For me, creating something new is healthy. Sometimes, in order to create something new we have to eliminate dying or undesirable attributes.

We are either in a state of decay or growth.

If we are not growing, we are dying. This creation process is challenging as our tired and exhausted approaches have become routine. We begin to picture the non-performing situations of the past and adjust our actions with fear of the future. This subconscious process of our brain limits our potential, thus keeping us right where we are. Looking outside ourselves, we can see others limit their potential in obvious ways while we stay stuck in this continuum of un-producing pain.

Pruning is essential for successful gardening. We identify the undesirable parts of the plant and remove the branches and roots. The idea of pruning is necessary for growth. Removing dead or diseased parts allows for the plant to receive the proper flowering and fruiting. In horticulture or plant terms, the injury of pruning causes growth to occur in the branches, flowers, and fruits.

Naturally, external conditions will prune for us if we don’t prune ourselves. The trouble is, sometimes there is collateral damage to other people, buildings, sidewalks, or structures. How many times have you seen high winds take down dead wood branches and fall onto cars or sidewalks?

Without taking care of the pruning process, a tree can injure people in the process. Older, dead, wood branches will not stand the test of high winds and neither will we when life comes at us full-force.

We need to understand our environment and adapt and change with the abandonment of certain habits and routines. And in some cases, people.

We need to be confident making personnel changes that allow the company to flourish and grow. As the advancement of the engaged employee continues to take shape, we can learn from some of the best teams in sports for creating a competitive culture, a culture of performance.

As with any successful company, healthy competition and the absence of complacency drives personal performance. After all, if we want our companies to perform at the highest level, we must first get our people to perform at their best. One thing about professional sports is the focus on the internal employee achieving their personal best. It’s a competitive environment and sports teams are not afraid to make tough decisions with personnel. And because of this, players are engaged and willing to spend hours upon hours making themselves better for the good of the team.

Now think about a team celebrating a season in the final championship game. This picture in your mind is how they are motivated and rewarded, It’s not the money, it’s the smell of the grass at the bottom of a dog pile in a World Series win after a long year of hard work and dedication.

With the disruption of technology in our workplace and personal lives, we need to eliminate the old ways, ideas and concepts about what it means to be successful. As we grow in creativity, we can take risks with new technologies and interact with people and customers in new ways.

It’s challenging to unplug from our addiction to the old ways that provide safety and comfort for our business. We need to get back to our roots and believe in ourselves, in the creation of our own freedom and performance.

With alignment of teams, we can contribute more for the business in uninhibited ways. With the understanding and knowledge that we are creating value through our own creativity, we will then have the courage and confidence to innovate and be the best we can be at work and within our personal network.

It all starts with our growth. If we are growing and strong, we will feel less pressured to succumb to the demands and needs of the dependent world.

Pruning by definition can help increase the yield in flowers and plants. If you or your company is the flower, think about what pruning is necessary for you or your company’s increase in growth.

I will leave you with this question, what pruning will you do today for your growth? I would love to hear from you in the comments below.


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Employee Engagement: Every Leader’s Imperative

I had to call my technical support contact last month about a simple billing question. When I finally got a live person, after enduring five minutes of Yanni’s greatest hits, her boredom just radiated through the phone. I guess I caught her mid-yawn. When I told her about my issue she asked me to wait while she pulled up my records. The silence between was broken only by her quiet sigh. Then I said, “Thank you for your help.” And something amazing happened – she warmed up. She said, “You’re welcome” and we quickly got to the bottom of my issue.

The exchange was significant for two reasons. First, this was definitely a disengaged, disinterested employee. Second, when I expressed my appreciation for her efforts, she instantly became more engaged and her performance improved.

According to a recent Gallup poll, over 70 percent of American workers are either actively or passively disengaged from their work. This is a troubling statistic. Not only is the human cost immense, the U.S. economy takes a $370 billion hit from this army of the disaffected. The message is clear: leaders have to do better at building employee buy-in and job satisfaction.

Luckily there are new tools in the kit for accomplishing this crucial mission. Social media and enterprise tools can help a company build a workforce that feels empowered and appreciated. At its heart it’s about building community, giving people a sense of being part of something greater than just their job descriptions. Some of the exciting tools for accomplishing this include Yammer, Newsgator, Jive and IBM Connections among many others of course.

The goal with all of these is to give people a voice, a way to share their ideas and know they matter to the organization. It allows long-term employees to mentor new hires, sometimes across global locations where collaboration is needed. This builds strong internal relationships, boosts morale and improves the performance of both the mentor and the mentee. The mentor’s skills are refreshed, and she gains the satisfaction we all feel when helping someone. The mentee, of course, learns the ropes not only from a leader, but from someone who lives them every day.

These networks also enhance the flow of information — people can access what they need quickly and efficiently. They allow for personal expression in the form of communities based on shared passions and interests. All of these increase engagement as people begin to see their jobs as part of a larger, organic whole – the company – of which they are an important part. As people become more invested, their pride in doing a good job soars. The result, in addition to improved performance, is increased personal happiness and fulfillment.

The other piece of the puzzle is recognition. Yes, people will become more engaged and their performance will improve, but the organization must recognize this in concrete ways. We all thrive with praise and acknowledgement. When someone does great work reward them with public recognition, and a monetary bonus or a prize. It’s a great feeling to earn something extra, something tangible that can be shared with colleagues, family and friends.

To build an engaged and productive workforce, start by building social-media enabled connections and communities, and add a continuous program of recognition and reward.

This combination works. I’ve seen it. Why are these statistics so high still? 70%, Really? We can do better than this.

A version of this post was first published on


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Dee Ann Turner of Chick-fil-A Talks About The Evolution of HR

In this Corner Office article, Cyndy Trivella, Events Manager with TalentCulture, spoke with Dee Ann Turner, VP Corporate Talent with the iconic brand, Chick-fil-A. In addition, Dee Ann is the author of the acclaimed book It’s My Pleasure: The Impact of Extraordinary Talent and a Compelling Culture. They talked about the evolution of HR and the impact on how employment and culture, technology, employer branding, and the challenges associated with talent acquisition have all been affected. In keeping with our theme, this article will highlight the perspective and experience of someone who has made the move to the “corner office.”

Cyndy: I had the immense pleasure of speaking with one of the smartest people working in the field of human resources. Dee Ann Turner knows HR inside and out. She worked her way up the corporate ladder and learned great lessons along the way, which she has been able to incorporate into her current role as VP of Corporate Talent.

Cyndy: Dee Ann, you are certainly a role model for any person aspiring to become an HR professional. You’ve seen so much in your 30 years and with that the evolution of the HR function. When you compare hiring today versus 30 years ago, how has culture and productivity been affected by the practice of hiring people as contingent workers more so than ever before in our history?

Dee Ann: This shift to more of a “free agency” staffing model has been developing for over a decade. This has had both positive and negative effects on culture and productivity in the workplace. Culturally speaking, the use of contingent workers can help create an opportunity for the workforce to expand and contract based on work demands without impacting the job security of full-time employees. That scenario can be a positive for morale and the culture. However, the culture can be negatively impacted when a large percentage of work is performed by contingent workers unsure of their future. This can be particularly stressful to both full-time and contingent workers if they do similar work but hold a different employment status. Both parties become concerned about the perceived inequity. In the midst of the distractions inherent in these situations, productivity can suffer.

Communication of expectations is the key for both the contingent worker and full-time employee. The communication needs to address expectations of, not only, the contingent workforce, but of the full-time staff as well to dispel the concerns of inequity. Be sure that the contingent worker has some trade-offs for their flexible contract. An organization employing contingent workers should only expect full commitment to the work contracted, not necessarily the kind of commitment to the organization that a full-time employee exhibits. People are generally only as loyal to you as you are to them. A predominate sense of loyalty strengthens the culture.

Cyndy: Excellent points. There are definitely pros and cons to contingent hiring and it’s important that the company dispel rumors and perceptions. Again, drawing on your years of experience, what evolutions and advancements in technology and philosophy have been game-changers for HR in the past 10 years?

Dee Ann: Without a doubt the biggest technology game changers are the advancements in self-service benefits and data management, web enabled interviewing, the impact of social media on recruiting and branding, and robust applicant tracking systems.

Philosophical game changers include the rise of the millennial generation, which has impacted the company culture significantly from work hours to workplace design to dress codes and more, increased litigation and regulatory requirements, and adequate succession planning with the exit of baby boomers, and a less populous Gen X.

Cyndy: I agree. Technology is a real game changer for HR. I believe it reduces the administrative burden of the duties and allows HR to be the contributing department that it is. I’ve one last question. Let’s talk about one of my favorite topics… employer branding. What do you believe are the best practices for building an employer brand?

Dee Ann: The first step is to assess and understand the current employment experience. What’s good? What is not so good? What do employees tell others? How do employees advocate for the company? Where do employees find fault with the company?

Secondly, decide who you want to be as an employer. What is your key competitive advantage over other companies? What attributes do you want to define the employee experience at your company? How does the employment experience tie to the company brand, mission and overall organizational business strategy?

Thirdly, communicate who you are. Innovatively communicate in diverse ways who you are as a brand, organization and employer. Develop a message that even in just a few words communicates the opportunities you offer and what your employee value promise is.

Lastly, assess again what you have created. Measure the impact of the employment brand on attracting and retaining exceptional talent.

Cyndy: A very sound strategy, Dee Ann. More companies need to understand what’s working and not within the organization and find effective ways to eliminate inefficiencies or capitalize on the findings. Thanks for spending time with me and for sharing your perspective with us. Congratulations on the success of your book… well deserved!

Dee Ann: Thank you. It’s been an enjoyable conversation.

Be sure to catch the next interview with Brian Carter, author of The Cowbell Principle, at The TalentCulture Corner Office.

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10 Tips on How To Empower and Engage Your Employees

Always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers. Stephen R. Covey

The classic “my-way-or-the-highway” leadership style is no longer effective. Yes men and women who simply follow rules, policies, and procedures won’t produce strong results and lasting growth. As a business owner or manager, you know it’s vital to empower and engage your employees.

The more connected people feel with their work, the more likely they’ll a sense of ownership in your company. That sense of ownership leads employees to be innovative, customer service oriented, problem solvers who take pride in their work.

Of course, this doesn’t just happen by accident. It takes good leadership techniques to ensure that people on your team feel free to make decisions and take actions with autonomy. Here are 10 tips you can use to help empower and engage your staff.

10 Ways to Empower and Engage Employees

1. Give Them Opportunities to Demonstrate And Strengthen Their Leadership Skills

In order for empowerment to be successful, it has to be accompanied by confidence. You can’t simply tell your employees that they have the power and autonomy to act in the best interests of the company and its customers. They need to find and develop confidence in their own leadership and decision making skills. As the leader, you can do this by finding ways to let employees at all levels lead and make decisions. Eventually, you won’t need to direct them to take the lead.

2. Tell Them

Make sure that the language that you use doesn’t contradict your goal of creating a culture of engagement and empowerment. If you are used to using an authoritarian leadership style that might reflect in the words that you use. Be mindful of the tone and words that you use when addressing your team. Your words should tell them that you are sincere about the work environment that you want to provide and remember that “Employees engage with employers and brands when they‘re treated as humans worthy of respect.” Meghan Biro

3. Provide Regular State of The Company Updates

In order to act in the best interests of the company, employees need to be kept engaged with regular and candid updates on the current state of things, along with your vision of the future. This includes acknowledging areas of concern and struggle. Your team needs to know where things are going wrong in order to find ways to be proactive and improve areas of weakness. These regular updates will also keep everybody on the same page.

4. Encourage And Enable Personal Development

The more support you give your employees regarding their pursuit of their career goals and skill development, the more that they will trust that you have their best interests in mind. One way to do this is to give them the time and resources to spend on personal development.

5. Back Them up When They Use The Power You Give Them

If you pull the rug out from underneath employees when they act with autonomy, you will struggle to ever get them to believe your rhetoric on empowerment again. Now, this doesn’t mean that you can never step in and intervene if you believe a course of action is a mistake or redirect an employee who has overestimated the extent of their empowerment. It just means that care must be taken to ensure that the employee understands that the intervening action was taken in their and the company’s best interests.

6. Reward Successful Results And Recognize Good Efforts

When employees show initiative and take action to solve problems, keep customers happy, improve processes, or create growth, your recognition is what will encourage them to do the same in the future. When their efforts really make a difference, rewarding them is an appropriate action to take.

7. Give Them Space

Just like authoritarian language can undermine your message of empowerment, so can hovering and micromanaging. Give your team members space to do what they do best, and trust them to bring you in when you are needed.

8. Review And Revise Policies That Could be Hindering Empowerment

If your written policies don’t reflect your goal of creating a more empowered workforce, your employees may be in an uncomfortable situation. It’s difficult to heed verbal encouragement to act with autonomy, when written policy is full of mandatory procedures and admonishments to follow chains of command.

9. Help Them Pursue Career Tracks That Reflect Their Talents

It’s fairly easy to make employees who are doing well feel empowered, but what about employees who are struggling to find their footing. It is often these employees who need the most mentoring to make them feel  empowered and engaged, while still directing them to improve their performance. In many cases, a lack of good performance is the result of an employee being placed in a position that doesn’t allow them to use their talents, and they feel stuck. Encourage employees to take on roles and responsibilities that reflect their skills, even if that means transferring to another area, or changing path they joined your company to pursue.

10. Create an Environment Where The Possibility of Failure Doesn’t Create Fear

When people are given power to make decisions without checking in with their supervisors or running to a policy manual, great things happen. Sense of ownership increases, performance improves, and customers are happier. Unfortunately, another side effect of this is that people are going to make mistakes, and their efforts will occasionally result in failure. Failure in itself is painful enough for employees, make sure that you communicate that failure as the result of sincere effort isn’t going to be met with harsh criticism or penalty.


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The Devil At The Desk: Destructive Bosses

The onus is on leadership to improve employee engagement. It’s part of that magical workforce trifecta: a terrific candidate experience, a high level of workplace engagement, all resulting in retention. But what about when the leadership is toxic; when it’s more problem than solution? That’s a whole different ballgame.

We’ve all dealt with a boss or manager that just somehow turns everything into a losing proposition: Never satisfied, or mysteriously withholding the recognition we know that we — or our colleagues — deserve. Or do we? A certain click of engagement involves a clarifying moment when we ditch that, “maybe it wasn’t good enough” naysayer on our shoulder — so much a part of working for someone. It’s replaced with a sense of self-worth. Terrific. Nothing makes us like our jobs more than when our jobs like us.

But often with toxic leadership is that gray area between our gut and clear recognition that keeps us from knowing what we’re facing. Meanwhile, morale sinks and engagement fizzles. We may do a, “why should it matter” on ourselves, but we’d be wrong. It does. As a study by the Harvard Business Review pointed out, the social atmosphere created by a leader is contagious. Measuring engagement among high-level managers (HL) and mid-level managers (ML) and employees, the study found that the higher the engagement score among HL, the higher among ML and the higher among employees. And the contrary was also true: a low performing workforce with minimal engagement could be echoed right back up the line — to the source.

A friend and colleague of mine, Shawn Murphy (the CEO/Founder of the consultancy Switch + Shift), has identified the six key symptoms of destructive management. See which ones ring true for you. What follows are his categories with a little bit of interpretation by yours truly.

Blind impact. This leader is blind to his own impact: oblivious of the effect his actions, attitude and words have on the workplace, quashing any chance for shared optimism, consistently underestimating people’s value, and often unable to make the connection between their work and the direction of the organization.

Anti-social leadership. A leader who can’t build any sense of shared purpose or community among employees. Autocratic, possibly unable to trust people, he dictates rather than explains, withholds praise or credit, and generally makes people feel disconnected and used.

Chronic change resistance. AKA the stick-in-the-mud approach. This leader is unwilling — and unable — to spearhead a change that would help teams and organizations remain relevant. Alternatively, he adopts change too late in the game that it can’t have a fully beneficial effect, which leaves everyone feeling irrelevant.

Profit myopia. Blinded by any criteria for success except for the bottom line, this leader can’t see the forest for those little green dollars. He alienates customers and employees alike trying to come up with ways to make the shareholders happy and the margin a little fatter. This is a kind of personal pettiness that, if Harvard is right, will lead to self-protective behavior on the part of employees.

Constipated inspiration. Perhaps my favorite term (and a virtual clap on the back for this one, Shawn). This one is related to leading from a position of insecurity. A leader pays little to what her employees are experiencing, and therefore can’t see what motivates and discourages them. What follows is a complete lack of connection: a leader who has no sense of clear direction and knowledge of what she stands for, and a workforce that loses the ability to care.

Silo Syndrome. I remember reading a CEO’s candid admonition of his rather imperious peers: “No executive is an island,” he said. A leader who suffers from this syndrome is a non-leader: Disengaged in anything but his own role and responsibilities, and unable to view his employees as people with lives and their own expertise. No sense of optimism or collaboration can come of this.

What I appreciate so much about these breakdowns (particularly in terms of the issue of workforce and employee engagement) is that they represent a cross-section of behaviors that often go as accepted — the fussy, strange, distracted, distant, uncaring boss as a, “she’s just like that.” But once identified, they no long just seem like a status quo. It’s not business as usual to prevent a workplace from being a place of engagement. Not in this day and age.

A version of this post was first published on on 2/5/2016

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