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Photo: Andrik Langfield

4 Proven Techniques to Increase Employee Productivity

The main goal of any company, of course, is to be successful. And the level of employee productivity is one of the crucial factors that makes or breaks the success of a company.

Employee productivity represents the amount of work employees complete in a given time period. An employee who completes more tasks in less time is considered to be more productive. This higher productivity has a number of tangible benefits to a business, including:

  • Making it more profitable
  • Helping it grow
  • Helping it stay competitive on the market

Here are four great techniques you can use to increase employee productivity in your team:

Employee Productivity: The Kanban Approach

Kanban is a time management technique meant to help you track progress on your work, and keep an eye on tasks that are nearing their deadlines.

The practice originated in the 1940s at Toyota and represented a shift in production. Kanban (or lean manufacturing, as it was called back then), allowed Toyota to produce according to customer demands, as fast as possible. As opposed to producing vehicles to push them out on the market.

This practice would influence the creation of Kanban 70 years later. In 2007, David Anderson and Darren Davis developed the same idea of streamlining workflow and increasing productivity. They noticed that the scope of work is easier to visualize once it was presented on a whiteboard.

KISS: Whiteboard and Post-it Notes

  • The whiteboard represents your project
  • The Post-it notes represent your tasks
  • You divide the whiteboard into four columns:
  1. “Backlog” column | For all the tasks that you need to work on.
  2. “To-do” column | For the tasks with a specific deadline.
  3. “Doing” column | Tasks you are currently working on
  4. “Done” column | Tasks you have finished.

Define the task deadlines, assign each task to an employee, and have them move their tasks across columns, in accordance with the progress status of the task (“To-do,” “Doing,” or “Done”).

The approach with the whiteboard and Post-it notes is just an illustrative example. Alternatively, you can use Kanban-based software to track your project progress.

In any case, ensure your Kanban board is available to your employees at any time. This way, everyone will be able to see at a glance:

  • The progress status of each task
  • Who is working on what
  • Whether a task is nearing its deadline, indicating it should be a priority

By knowing all this, you’ll make work more organized, structured, and easy to track, directly increasing employee productivity as a result.

Time Blocking

Time blocking is a time management approach which mandates that all tasks have a predefined time frame and calendar slot during which employees will work on them.

Although its origins are said to exist as far back as calendars themselves, the earliest known user is said to be Benjamin Franklin. He used to take note of everything he did during the day, hour by hour. Blocking off times for chores, rest, relaxation and deep work. One could say he was the modern employer of the time blocking technique.

And today, hundreds of years later, it has proven to be a great technique to increase employee productivity levels on all types of tasks.

To implement time blocking, instruct your employees to:

  • List all their tasks, in order of priority.
  • Allocate a certain amount of time to each task. For example:
    1. First Task: 15 minutes
    2. Second Task: 45 minutes
    3. Third Task 3: 1 hour
  • Slot each task in a calendar. For example:
    1. First Task: 8 a.m. – 8:15 a.m.
    2. Second Task: 8:15 a.m. – 9 a.m.
    3. Third Task: 9 a.m. – 10 a.m.
  • Work on the tasks in the order you blocked time for them. Don’t spend more time on a task than what you blocked. As soon as the time block for Task 1 is up, move on to Task 2. Continue in the same manner until the end of the list.

The principle of this productivity-increasing technique is simple: all employees who make feasible time blocking schedules, and then stick to them, will be able to finish their tasks as planned and maintain full control over their time as a result.

The Eisenhower Matrix: Identify Priority Tasks

Productivity is not just about working fast, but also about ensuring enough time is spent on the right tasks — i.e., your priority tasks. One of the best approaches that can help you with that is the Eisenhower Matrix.

Its originator is Dwight D. Eisenhower himself. He was the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in WW2, the first Supreme Commander of NATO, and went on to become the 34th president of the United States. With his life of warfare and politics, Eisenhower was required to make tough choices under immense pressure. Countless sources credit him for creating a method that aims to achieve exactly that — to see your priorities and make informed, yet quick decisions.

And decades later, the Eisenhower Matrix expanded to become a time management technique that also helps businesses organize tasks in a way that lets employees easily recognize priorities.

To implement it, take 10 minutes each morning to go through the project tasks for that day.

They can be, for example:

  • Writing a marketing strategy for the new project
  • Preparing reports for the big client update meeting
  • Solving the most immediate bugs from the day before
  • Going through customer support analytics for the past quartal

Four Quadrants

Then, sort them into four quadrants, based on whether they are important and/or urgent:

  • First Quadrant (important: Yes, urgent: Yes) | The tasks you should work on first.
  • Second Quadrant (important: Yes, urgent: No) | The tasks you should work on when done with the tasks from Quadrant 1.
  • Third Quadrant (important: No, urgent: Yes) | The tasks you should delegate to someone else.
  • Fourth Quadrant (important: No, urgent: No) | The tasks you should most likely eliminate.

The Eisenhower Matrix is meant to help your teams focus on the day’s most important and urgent tasks. At the same time, it also helps them recognize which tasks they could delegate or eliminate, thus freeing even more time for their priority tasks.

And after the collective meeting, you can always instruct the teams to apply the Eisenhower Matrix to their own tasks for the day.

Streamline Meetings

According to an article in the Harvard Business Review, as much as 71% of senior managers find meetings to be inefficient and unproductive.

And yet, an infographic by AskCody shows that the average office employee from the US still spends over five hours on meetings. They also spend over four hours each week preparing for those meetings. Switching focus between different work wastes time and effort. Of course, this negatively impacts productivity. Which leaves employees feeling scatterbrained and drained.

To ensure this time is better spent, streamline meetings: 

  1. Create precise meeting agendas | Straightforward agendas will help you stay on topic, and hold shorter, better structured, and thus more productive meetings.
  2. Announce meetings at least a couple of hours in advance | This way, you’ll give your employees enough time to think about what they want to say or ask in advance, saving them the time they’d need to do so at the actual meetings.
  3. Limit meeting time to 30 minutes at maximum | Forbes even suggests implementing a 30-minute challenge that involves prioritizing topics better and selecting attendees more carefully in order to keep meetings from lasting more than 30 minutes.

Structure your meetings. Organize, schedule and track your tasks. Then watch your employee productivity soar.

Photo: Danielle MacInnes

10 Tips to Stabilize Employee Experience During the Pandemic

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

That leader needs to be you.

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

How Can You Maintain a Positive Employee Experience?

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

1. Foster Transparent Communications

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

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

2. Keep Communications Positive and Hopeful

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

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

3. Offer Ways for Your Employees to Relieve Stress

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Be Empathetic and Patient with Your Team

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

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

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

6. Ramp Up Employee Feedback

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

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

7. Set Up New Channels for Inbound Feedback

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

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

8. Promote New Safety Protocols

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

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

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

9. Help Your Team Recalibrate Expectations

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

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

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

10. Recognize the Small Things

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

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

Your Leadership Can Make the Biggest Difference

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

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

Photo: Christina @ wocintechchat.com

WFH Employees: How to Keep Them Safe

In some countries, as lockdown measures continue to ease, businesses are opening and employees are heading back to work. But some of us are still working from home — a policy that has become the ‘new normal‘ and may continue for millions of people, even in the wake of the pandemic.

Companies need to make sure their employees still feel safe and connected at home to avoid WFH burnout. Here are some effective ways to make physical and mental safety and employee well-being a top priority:

Let’s dive in!

1. Keep the Lines of Communication Open

When it comes to working remotely or working from home, communication is key. According to a Buffer survey, 20% of remote workers struggle with communication.

Providing several communication channels can enable the company and employees to stay in touch. An HR manager can run conference calls (both video or audio) to help bring teams together and keep them aligned on projects. One-on-one calls are more personal and can give employees a way to reveal any struggles or concerns.

Not only does communicating make employees feel safe and connected, but it also helps them feel valued — even when they can’t draw on the support of an office or workplace environment.

2. Adjust Company Policies

With the pandemic still raging, we’re not quite at “business as usual” yet. So, it’s crucial to adjust or revise company policies and continuity plans to better protect your employees and meet their needs. Flexibility is key: more than two-thirds of employees say at a loss of flexibility would convince them to find another job. WFH security guidelines can ensure that employees can use their own devices without worrying about their data getting leaked or hacked.

As you anticipate your business demands, use workforce management software to unlock your workforce’s potential and keep employees from feeling overwhelmed. Adjust your policies regarding benefits, pay, sick leave, and paid time off to fit the circumstances.

3. Provide Team Building Activities

Since working from home isn’t the easiest task for some employees, it’s important to help them manage stress levels and feel connected to each other. One effective approach is to strengthen teamwork at the same time with team building activities, such as icebreaker or informal video conference calls. Consider movie nights, or get-togethers to just talk about life.

 Such activities can help employees not only decompress, but build their sense of personal connection and trust. 75% of employers rate teamwork and collaboration as “very crucial” to strengthen employees’ work relationships and overall efficiency.

4. Promote Fair Workplace Practices

Make sure your WFH policy aligns with the company’s principles and maintains fair treatment for all employees. 54% of employees rank fair treatment as the second most valuable employer attribute, a strong factor in a decision to stay or leave.

Double-check that all employees have equal access to the company’s services, such as the devices they need to work remotely, such as laptops, internet connection, and cybersecurity. And extend sick or paid leave policies to employees even when they’re working from home. 

5. Reward and Recognize Employees

When remote employees feel valued and safe, they are free to be productive, and get their projects done effectively and efficiently. They may be working remotely, but they feel appreciated and acknowledged. Over 79% of employees who feel under-appreciated consider quitting their job — and this is going to extend to employees working from home as well. 

Build employee engagement with rewards and recognition — even just a note recognizing their efforts can go a long way.  

Whether your employees work from home occasionally or exclusively, it’s always important to make them feel safe. Support them, engage them, and you’ll see the results.

Photo: Ricardo Resende

Is Diversity Baked Into Your Hiring Process?

A few years ago, we were asked to help a market leader that was intent on changing its culture to be more creative and innovative. (Sound familiar?) The company was spending a million dollars on messaging and elaborate company meetings to help “get the word out” and create excitement for this new, transformative initiative.

But even as its leaders spoke eloquently about the need for change — even hiring a guru to guide their efforts — few process changes were made, and they were hesitant to reconsider the kind of people they hired. They talked of needing people who were “cultural fits” even as they held meetings in which they touted the need for cultural change and disruption.

Why traditional hiring practices backfire

The company’s hiring practices were similar to those we see in most organizations, perhaps even your own. After candidates were identified, an internal team of “high performers,” along with HR representatives, reviewed the applicants’ résumés to ensure they had the requisite experience. Unfortunately, this meant most applicant experiences were similar. The unintended result? A candidate pool with little experiential diversity.

But it didn’t end there. After “qualified” candidates interviewed with the hiring teams, they were ranked by the group. If any members of the hiring team had a concern about a person, those concerns were noted. Strong objections by a couple of group members, as a practical matter, were enough to give a candidate the boot.

Predictably, the least objectionable candidate — who typically looked, acted, and thought like other members of the group — became the team’s preferred choice.

If we want change, we need to expect challenges

When we asked the hiring team how the hiring process supported a culture of innovation, team members told us that their hiring criteria included experience in helping organizations change.

Pushing back, we asked the team to consider which types of people would contribute different and creative ideas. What employee characteristics would help the organization change? For instance, had they valued people who were:

  • Diverse in race, ethnicity, and background?
  • Rarely satisfied with the status quo?
  • Impatient and not always willing to take “no” for an answer without significant debate?
  • Disruptive, at times disagreeable, and willing to question authority?
  • Not easily managed?
  • At times, slow and hesitant to make decisions based on what was done last year? (Creativity takes time.)
  • Unwilling to go along just to get along?

 Their response neatly framed their hiring challenges:

“Why would we hire someone who is hard to manage, never satisfied, and always questioning what we do? We’re pretty good here, you know. If we hired people who we knew would consistently challenge what we learned yesterday, we’d never get anything done.”

We say we want change, but do we?

Yes, we say we want to change. We say we want creativity. We say we need diversity, but do we honestly believe it?

The truth is, even if we’re committed to recruiting more diverse teams, we’re often painfully unaware of how our hiring processes give preference to people who are more like us. As a result, we often allow the long-term effects of our biases, knowingly or unknowingly, to be hidden in our collective consciousness, in our culture. Over time, groups that cling to such processes tend to become more homogeneous, not less.

Even when we manage to hire authentically diverse teams — composed of different backgrounds, races, genders, ages, perspectives, and beliefs — we expect everyone to come together in a fabled “kumbaya” moment.

True diversity begins with intention

Recruiting a more diverse and successful team begins with intention. The kind of intention that’s required is more than a desire or wish. It’s a conscious, mindful choice based on a belief that diversity is critical to the team’s success. It requires that we create processes that are built for diversity. Our preference for people who look and think and act like us is strong and can only be overcome with a structured commitment to embrace people who often make us uncomfortable.

So, where should we start? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Start early. It’s easier to become diverse before biases have become ingrained in our hiring practices.
  2. Be clear on the type of people you hope to hire. Do they share your values? Are they competent? Good thinkers? Willing to change? Ready to speak truth to power? Confident? Good leaders? Having clarity is a necessary first step to building a successful hiring process.
  3. Recruit blindly. Superficial aspects of a person’s bio often outweigh an applicant’s talent or potential. The fix? Implement a blind submissions process — stripping away names, ages, and gender. Create a process in which people cannot “see” the applicants when initially judging their competence.
  4. Put more diversity, of all types, on your hiring team. The research on this is clear: a diverse hiring team will recruit more diverse members.
  5. Expand your personal and professional networks. Our personal preferences are affected by our experiences. For example, research shows that fathers with daughters are more likely to hire women. Having more experience with an unrepresented group makes their inclusion more likely.
  6. Confront bias when you see it. When we tolerate bias, we teach that it’s acceptable.

Learning to appreciate our differences — and to embrace diversity — is what ultimately fuels an organization’s competitive advantage. Only when people challenge us to think and act differently can we create the remarkable. So, let’s get to it.

Photo: Bill Oxford

5 Ways To Foster Belonging At Work

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

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

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

First, five key points on belonging and businesses:

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

Marshmallows, Spaghetti, and Teamwork   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This post is sponsored by MHR International.

Photo: ion dooley

#WorkTrends: Managing Down, Up, and Across: Best Practices

People always create the culture, especially at work. And when Meghan M. Biro and tech and workplace innovator Dr. Janice Presser joined forces on this week’s #WorkTrends, what emerged was a new compact for managing not just teams, but everyone we work with — including ourselves.

We can’t just consider dynamics as one-way, Janice noted. Managing relationships goes in three directions: “Up, sideways, and down,” she said. Employees can and should work on ‘managing their managers,’ but to manage up, managers need to understand what makes employees motivated to work first, explained Janice. “One motivator is power. Not power over people necessarily, but empowerment. And the other is affiliation.” As an employee, do you know what skill (and value) you have to complete a task —  and contribute to the team? More importantly, do you know who you need to report that task to?

No matter the direction, Meghan pointed out, and whether you’re managing a team, a report, or a boss, it can be like walking a tightrope. As Janice noted, the key is understanding exactly who you’re dealing with, and what makes them tick, and we can do that just as well with someone in charge as we can with a colleague or a report.

Not surprisingly, one of the most effective strategies for enabling employees to do well is to “get out the way,” said Janice, which is a matter of trust — a factor that needs to exist across the board. In terms of managers, however, they need to trust that their employees will each do their part to contribute to the bigger picture. After all, everyone lands in a particular career role for a reason. And one smart tactic for helping employees climb the ladder is to let them switch roles until they find their niche. “Just let people swap,” she said. It can do wonders in getting everyone to feel that “corporate love.” The approach doesn’t even have to be fancy, added Meghan: informally managing peer relationships helps “employees figure out who on the team will love doing that part of the work.”

As for managing across, there’s a foolproof way to reduce friction and resentment among your team. Be grateful for those doing their job so you don’t have to. We all have our unique talents. And in the end, love and appreciation will take us all a lot farther.

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

Twitter Chat Questions

Q1: Why do companies struggle with management issues? #WorkTrends
Q2: What strategies can improve how we approach managing? #WorkTrends
Q3: What can leaders do to help organizations improve how we manage? #WorkTrends

Find Dr. Janice Presser on Linkedin and Twitter

 

What Soft Skills Do Employers Want?

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

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

Problem-Solving

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

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

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

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

Teamwork

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

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

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

Written Communication

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

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

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

Leadership

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

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

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

Biomimicry in Teamwork

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: The_Nothing Flickr via Compfight cc

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.

Photo Credit: Phenom Apps images via Compfight cc

5 Ways Leaders Empower The Social Enterprise

We have all seen the power of social and community. People come together and the result is something unified and powerful and greater than the sum of its parts. I’m always inspired when I see the dynamic things a strong community can accomplish. It’s a force leaders must create in their enterprises. Community is about people communicating and bonding, pooling their strengths and talents to deliver amazing performance. To make it happen, leaders have some exciting new tools in the form of social media, digital networks and big data. The question becomes: how do I harness these tools to build the right kind of communities for my company?

Here are 5 steps to community building in the social enterprise:

1) Pick the right technology. Yes, the technological tools are dazzling, but communities at heart are about people. Don’t get blinded by the bells and whistles that many companies are selling. Stay focused on what you need to build strong communities that serve your company’s needs. Avoid anything extraneous. Basic is often best. Caveat: many start-ups and technology companies are filled with geeks who love to play with complicated new techo-toys, in fact they form communities around the tools.

2) Define your communities.  You want to build internal and external communities that include employees, customers, partners and stakeholders. Ask each group what they need and want in a community. Don’t impose, keep an open mind and respond. You want communities of purpose with clear objectives and benefits for all parties.

3) Let the information flow.  It’s frustrating for community members to be denied the information they need to thrive. Unless it’s truly crucial to keep private, be an open book with your information. This empowers everyone, and makes them feel a part of the enterprise. And it gives them the tools they need to brainstorm and innovate. Information is power.

4) Provide cultural support.   A lot of “old economy” companies have a hard time integrating new technologies – and the communities they enable and empower — into their organizational DNA. It’s no good to say you want thriving communities, and then pay no attention to them, or deny them the resources they need. Whether you’re an established enterprise or a start-up, make sure that your communities are supported and acknowledged. Don’t micro-manage them, you want to give them the freedom to create that special synergy that breeds innovation and results.

5) Measure what your communities accomplish.  There’s nothing touchy-feely about communities. I’ve talked with countless leaders who seem to have this perception at first. They’re about using technology to build unity, morale, performance and profit. Devise common sense measures that allow you track outcomes from your communities. If a community isn’t delivering value to the enterprise, it shouldn’t exist.

I’m passionate about communities for a simple reason: they work. When people are part of a thriving community of purpose, they feed off each other’s talents, feel connected to the company, and become committed to delivering great results. And communities are fun, lively places, digital and live forums that bring out our best selves. What’s not to love?

A version of this post was first published on Forbes.com on 5/26/2013.

photo credit:  статия от +Jeff Bu… via photopin (license)

5 Habits Of Leaders Who Create Workspace Culture

When I was a student (once upon a time I thought I was to be a clinical psychologist), and broke, and spending time in New York City (also about the time I decided I was not to be a performing artist, choreographer for my career after spending years here doing so), I used to make extra money volunteering for psychological studies at Columbia University. I arrived one day and was told to wait in a small room for the study to start. The room started to fill up with other people, also waiting, until it was jammed and people were sitting on the floor shoulder to shoulder. Things got testy, arguments broke out, there was jostling. After 45 minutes the researchers came in and announced that the study was over: they had been measuring how we reacted when we were crowded into a small space.

I love this story from my past because it perfectly illustrates the power of our environment to influence our mood and actions. Anyone who has ever worked in a fluorescent-lit, gray-carpeted cubicle wasteland knows exactly what I’m talking out. It’s depressing, deadening, and you feel like the bosses don’t really care about your comfort and wellbeing. That is no way to design a 21st century company. In this economy, talent is your most valuable asset. And talented people don’t want to work in a soul-killing office space. They’ll take their special gifts elsewhere, thank you.

Well-designed office spaces ignite creativity, create team collaboration, and drive peak performance. They show respect, lift our souls and make people want to dig deep and give their all. Your workspace is a physical manifestation of your leadership culture. Make it unique.

How can you make your space a dynamic part of your vision and mission, and a driver of success? Here are 5 habits and how to make this happen:

1.) Think urban. Cities are hotbeds of creativity and enterprise for a reason. People are social beings, and cities provide the perfect balance of inspiration, contact, and privacy. Provide spaces for all of these: kitchens are great places for folks to hang out and connect (and share ideas on current projects). Outdoor space gives a sense of freedom and possibility, and contact with nature is always enlivening. Cities surprise us with their diversity and spontaneity. Celebrate everyone’s idiosyncrasies by encouraging them to decorate their personal spaces with pictures, objects and toys that make them feel at home. The goal here is to create a buzzing microcosm of urban energy in your workplace.

2) Keep it moving. Sitting at a desk all day is a downer. It’s stagnant and unhealthy and breeds lethargy and eyestrain. Encourage people to move around, to take the stairs, to go out for a short walk. Have a yoga, stretching, exercise room. Have informal work areas, couches and chairs with plenty of nearby power outlets. Make conference rooms available to everyone for meetings, even one-on-ones and informal brainstorming sessions.

3) Play at work. Put in a ping-pong table, foosball, Legos and other games. They are great for building bonds, relieving tension, engaging in playful competition, and renewing our psyches. We all hit a wall at work now and then — a quick game can be the play that refreshes.

4) Bon appetit! Coffee shops like Starbucks SBUX +0.09% and Peet’s have become embedded in our culture and psyche. They are defacto town squares, places where employees can hang out, grab a bite, do a little texting, work, flirt, have fun, whatever – you get the idea. Consider creating one in your workspace. Design it to be comfortable, warm and welcoming. Serve healthy food at great prices. People love getting a good deal, and having a coffee shop at work makes everyone feel like they’re part of the bigger world. And work inevitably gets done over those mochaccinos.

5) One size fits no one. Some of the most talented people in the world are introverts who like to be left alone to work their magic. Other talented people thrive with almost constant contact and stimulation. You want to design a space that is yielding and flexible – and has room for all personality types to thrive. So while you’re creating a vital environment that encourages connections, make sure there are quiet spaces where talent can go and work in peace.

Great design nurtures talent. It’s as simple as that. Look around at your workspace. How can you make your culture a talent magnet?

A version of this post was first published on Forbes.com

Image credit: Google Inc. – Office Hamburg, DEU

Personality Types And Career Success

Every office is made up of different personalities with different strengths and weaknesses. For HR professionals, understanding these personalities is a key component of building successful teams, providing opportunities for advancement, and making other important personnel decisions.

But what role does personality actually play in a person’s professional development? Are some personalities more likely to be satisfied at work than others? Which personality types are more likely to lead more employees?

New data from the infographic below — compiled by Truity, developer of the TypeFinder® personality type assessment and other scientifically validated, user-friendly personality assessments — offers answers to these questions and more.

Some of the most interesting findings about personality type in the workplace include:

  • INFJs showed one of the smallest gender-wage gaps, with female INFJs earning 87 percent of what male INFJs earn.
  • ESTJ man were the highest earners of all type/gender groups at $75k.
  • ESFJs had the highest job satisfaction rating of all types.
  • ENFPs showed one of the largest gender-wage gaps, with female ENFPs earning just 72 percent of what make ENFPs earn.

Check out the full infographic to learn more about all the personality types in your office:

What do you think? Does personality type affect success and job satisfaction in your office?

#TChat Preview: Why Multi-Generational Leadership Activism Is In

The TalentCulture #TChat Show is back live on Wednesday, August 19, 2015, from 1-2 pm ET (10-11 am PT).

Last week we talked about how social networking and the job search pay off, and this week we’re going to talk about why multi-generational leadership activism is in.

Regardless of pop culture wisdom, every generation wants to change the world, and millennials are no exception. But every new generation’s flaws are also stereotyped and criticized by the mainstream media, to the point where it’s non-productive.

What if these very criticisms were the foundation for refreshing new leadership? The good news is they can be, if mentored and nurtured accordingly.

In fact, this isn’t the age to just mentor millennials. We can learn better ways to grow our own talent and leadership skills from different generations. Engagement is out. Activism is in.

Sneak Peek:

#TChat Events: Why Multi-Generational Leadership Activism Is In

TChatRadio_logo_020813#TChat Radio — Wed, Aug 19 — 1 pm ET / 10 am PT

Join TalentCulture #TChat Show co-founders and co-hosts Meghan M. Biro and Kevin W. Grossman as they talk about why multi-generational leadership activism is in with this week’s guests: Jon Mertz, thought leader, author and a Leader to Watch in 2015 by the American Management Association; and Danny Rubin, Millennial communications expert and author.

 

Tune in LIVE online Wednesday, Aug 19

#TChat Twitter Chat — Wed, Aug 19 — 1:30 pm ET /10:30 am PT Immediately following the radio show, Meghan, Kevin, and Jon will move to the #TChat Twitter stream, where we’ll continue the discussion with the entire TalentCulture community. Everyone with a Twitter account is invited to participate, as we gather for a dynamic live chat, focused on these related questions:

Q1: What new leadership skills do younger generations bring to business? #TChat (Tweet this Question)

Q2: Should leadership mentoring be cross-generational in business today? #TChat (Tweet this Question)

Q3: What are career development truths we all need to embrace today? #TChat (Tweet this Question)

Until then, we’ll keep the discussion going on the #TChat Twitter feed, our TalentCulture World of Work Community LinkedIn group, and in our TalentCulture G+ community. So feel free to drop by anytime and share your questions, ideas and opinions. See you there!!!

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HR Data Won’t Make You Less Human

With all the talk and rush toward people analytics (or talent analytics), there is some justifiable angst today that the H just might be taken away from HR – numbers will make everyone less human.

Everywhere we look, there’s a new article, webinar, conference or seminar imploring us to get with the program, that program being big HR data and the use of analytics in managing HR and the workforce. Analytics is being used across the board in HR, including talent acquisition, performance management, succession planning and more.

Is there a downside? By using data and analytics across HR functions, will HR and the people that make up HR become just machines, with no humanity, no compassion and no common sense?

No.

Not that there isn’t an opposing view to accompany the angst. Writing in Forbes, Liz Ryan goes all in on the inhumanity of analytics:

“A typical ridiculous, unquestioned business adage is “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” That’s BS on the face of it, because the vast majority of important things we manage at work aren’t measurable, from the quality of our new hires to the confidence we instill in a fledgling manager.”

Whoa – relax, Liz.

People are the backbone of any organization, and the most successful ones recognize that. It’s the reason talent management is such a hot topic and high priority now. Especially coming off the global recession, with top talent at a premium…the best organizations get this!

Liz goes on:

“Measurement requires stopping the action, getting outside of it and holding it up against a yardstick, exactly the opposite of the activity that would create products or ship them, make customers happy or move our business forward in any way…Measurement is our favorite CYA activity.”

That’s simply not true at successful organizations.

At successful organizations, the action doesn’t stop, the creativity doesn’t stop and the innovation doesn’t stop – the people in these organizations are on fire and they stay on fire, from top to bottom. The measurement is all about improving the business, and making the business better for its people…which will make the business better.

That’s a never-ending, iterative cycle that makes the organization better.

When leading HR industry analyst Josh Bersin claims that, through the use of analytics, “high tech companies now know why top engineers quit and how to build compensation and work environments to get people to stay,” he’s not saying numbers magically appear in some algorithm, get crunched and then get spit out. He’s saying that as part of an ongoing evaluation of an organization and the quest for improvement, this is an area that analytics can shine a spotlight on to improve how the organization betters its people management.

And the HR data comes from people. It comes from employees talking to and engaging with their managers, which comes about from smart executives working closely with and engaging their people managers. In successful organizations, it’s not about CYA and finger pointing – it’s about making everyone better – and making the organization better as a result.

Here’s another real-world example of a large, complex organization that has used people analytics to improve its operations, in conjunction with making its people happier, more productive and more fulfilled. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) employs many people to assist in the hiring of tens of thousands of applicants in it 29 agencies. People analytics was used to improve a wide range of talent acquisition functions – it led to a better allocation of resources, better candidates and improved communication between HR and hiring managers.  Analytics improved the morale of the people in HR and the people hiring candidates. And oh, by the way, the people applying for jobs now have a much better experience based on data provided by analytics. All this happened without stopping the wheel.

CYA? No. Organizational improvements? Yes.

As Bersin says, the geeks have arrived. But don’t let that scare you.

Most topics are not black and white. With all numbers and no people, HR can’t function. With just people and no data, HR is a lot less effective in doing the people part of its jobs.

While noted data scientist W. Edwards Deming is often credited with saying “you can’t manage what you can’t measure,” he also said “the most important things cannot be measured.”

Embrace analytics, even just a little bit. You’ll see how it can help the people side of your job.

 

Image: bigstock

Being Great Means Being Grateful

It’s Friday and you’ve probably had a long week and a long day. Maybe you’re ready to call it a week or you’re bogged down in how much work you’re going to take home for the weekend. Either way, NOW is the perfect time to experience gratitude.

It’s the ultimate win/win: we feel great when we experience gratitude and, when we share it, other people feel great too.

If you’re a team leader, valuing your team is an essential part of your job; our teams do their best when they know they’re valued and get regular feedback (and so do we). But if you’re human, you know it’s often more natural to focus on what needs to be done than on the progress we make each day and the qualities each person brings to the group.

Valuing people we work with isn’t just for team leaders. As team members, sometimes it’s easy to think we should be thanked but not give thanks. That’s worth rethinking because work is a team sport and our successes – and happiness – are intertwined. And feeling gratitude is an essential ingredient in happiness.

While studies show that 88% of employees found praise from their manager highly motivating and 76% found peer praise very motivating, we don’t need surveys to know that thanking someone for the work is a good thing to do – our own experience tells us that.

End your week and your team’s on a high note with simple actions.

1. Take the time to identify and celebrate successes with your team.

What did your team achieve this week? Whether they were crowning glories or small steps forward in a blizzard, acknowledge the progress and effort. If there’s still time in your day, pull the team together for an impromptu celebration of the week’s successes. It doesn’t have to be complicated – it’s the thought that actually counts here. (Avoid the temptation to clutter the feel-good-Friday with remarks about the work facing the team next week!)

2. Pause and consider the endearing qualities of each person on the team.

What are the unique business contributions or human contributions of each person individually? Set aside a few minutes before you leave the office to think about each person for a full 90 seconds to bring that contribution into focus. Now, enjoy the sensation of appreciation and affection that you get from this simple exercise. Repeat it for each member of your group; notice how your stress level drops and your happiness level increases as you progress. When you’ve covered everyone, you’ll be renewed and relaxed. The sensation of gratitude makes us happier, according to Harvard Medical School research.

3. Now tell each person that you appreciate him or her.

Take 15 seconds more and send a brief note to each person with your appreciation. It can be very specific or a general comment like, “Just wanted you to know how much I appreciate your contributions to the team this week and every week.” Whether you send it via email, chat or you use a nifty Workboard badge, it will feel at least as good to write as to receive! It’s an excellent way to close the day.

Let’s redefine what’s so great about Fridays.

About the Author: Deidre Paknad is currently the CEO of Workboard, Inc.  Workboard provides apps for managers and their teams to share goals, action items, status and feedback and to automate status reports and dashboards.

photo credit: bru76 via photopin cc

Virtual Workplace? For Real! #TChat Preview

(Editor’s Note: Looking for a full recap and resource links from this week’s #TChat Events? See the #TChat Recap: “Putting a Face on Remote Work.”)

Distributed workforce. Virtual team. Telecommuting.

Whatever term you use to describe remote work models, the concept continues to gain momentum in today’s business environment — and with good reason.

High-speed connections, mobile technology and cloud-based collaboration tools now make it easy and cost effective for people to “go to work” anytime, from almost anywhere.

XJyGYBut infrastructure and good intentions, alone, don’t guarantee that virtual organizations will be productive and profitable. So, what does it take? That’s the focus of  #TChat Events this week, as we look at why and how successful virtual teams really work.

And what better way to explore this topic than with an entrepreneur whose business is driven entirely by remote contributors? Our guest this week is Mike Hostetler, Founder and CEO of appendTo, a highly successful web engineering firm, powered by a far-flung workforce.

“Sneak Peek” Hangout: Trifecta of Awesomeness

To kick-off this week’s discussion, Mike joined me for a G+ Hangout, where he outlined the “trifecta of awesomeness” — three key reasons why the virtual workplace is taking hold:

What are your thoughts about how to build and manage awesome virtual organizations? This week, we’re seeking wisdom from the crowd — so share your ideas and opinions with the #TChat virtual community!

#TChat Events: Why Remote Work Continues to Rise

#TChat Radio — Wed, Jan 15 — 6:30pmET / 3:30pmPT

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Tune-in to the #TChat Radio Show

Our hosts, Meghan M. Biro and Kevin W. Grossman talk with Mike Hostetler about what it takes to create and sustain successful virtual workplaces. Tune-in LIVE online this Wednesday!

#TChat Twitter — Wed, Jan 15 7pmET / 4pmPT

Immediately following the radio show, Meghan, Kevin and Mike will move to the #TChat Twitter stream, where the entire TalentCulture community will join the discussion. Everyone with a Twitter account is invited to participate, as we address these 5 related questions:

Q1: What are the pros and cons of virtual workplaces?
Q2: How do remote work models affect employee and customer engagement?
Q3: What factors should leaders consider when creating virtual teams?
Q4: How can recruiters identify traits of successful remote workers?
Q5: How can we apply technology to foster virtual collaboration?

We look forward to hearing your ideas and opinions, as talent-minded professionals who care about the human side of business.

Throughout the week, we’ll keep the discussion going on the #TChat Twitter feed, and on our LinkedIn Discussion Group. So feel free to drop by anytime and share your questions, ideas and opinions.

We’ll see you on the stream!

Telecommuting: 5 Ways Companies Benefit

Last year, when Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer banned telecommuting for her employees, the decision stirred a vigorous debate about whether it’s valid for any business to let employees work from home.

As I see it, any organization can boost the personal and professional productivity of its workforce through telecommuting. And the more widely it is embraced, the better for the company.

Therefore, it’s a smart move to integrate technologies that make the work-from-home process smoother and more seamless.

Telecommuting Success: It’s More Than Technology

However, simply putting new technology into place and allowing your workforce to telecommute won’t make your business productive. Successful virtual work initiatives still require effective management. Leaders need to engage team members (as if they were physically at the office) and make sure they are kept in the loop, so they remain psychologically and socially connected, even when they don’t share a physical office space.

5 Key Business Benefits

But that said, when virtual work options are implemented appropriately, the advantages are abundant. For example, here are five major ways companies can benefit:

1) Morale: Happier employees get more done. In many cities, employees deal with a grinding commute, only to sit in an office where they interact very little with their coworkers. Whether the telecommuting arrangement is permanent or just a weekly flex day, the reduced travel and stress can provide a tremendous boost in employee morale.

2) Talent Acquisition: This can be a significant advantage in both large and small markets, because the best talent isn’t always within driving distance. This is certainly affected by the scope of the position, but businesses that don’t require day-to-day physical access to a shared office can benefit by finding the best candidates, regardless of physical location. Telecommuting lets companies choose from a much larger talent pool when it’s time to recruit for open positions.

3) Productivity: If you have ever worked remotely you probably know that you can accomplish much more when the conditions are right. At many offices, constant distractions mean less work gets done than the company desires. While face-to-face camaraderie may help employees build relationships, beyond small talk, there isn’t much that can be accomplished sitting in a meeting room that can’t be accomplished from a distance, using collaboration tools.

4) Flexibility: Trying to bring teams together in the same space and time isn’t necessarily easier because everyone travels to a central office. The technology that companies adopt to enable telecommuting allows teams to collaborate in real time from anywhere members are located. Participants can access teleconferencing, web conferencing and telepresence from almost anywhere. So when people can’t be in the same physical place, the meeting will still go on.

5) Adoption: I have said this for as long as I can remember: ”Eat your own dog food!” Any business that considers itself a high-tech organization should adopt tools, structures and processes required for successful telecommuting. What’s more, these capabilities should be  promoted as a way the workforce can achieve maximum productivity and work-life balance. Using this technology day in and day out can truly bring the organization closer. And the value of that connection can be priceless, as it translates to better selling, delivery and support of the solutions your customers need.

What other ways can organizations benefit from telecommuting? Does your company allow telecommuting? If not, why? Share your opinions and ideas in the comments below.

(Editor’s Note: This post was adapted with permission from an article written for and published in Commercial Integrator Magazine and republished by Millennial CEO.)

(Also Note: To discuss World of Work topics like this with the TalentCulture community, join our online #TChat Events each Wednesday, from 6:30-8pm ET. Everyone is welcome at events, or join our ongoing Twitter conversation anytime. Learn more…)

Image Credit: Stock.xchng

More Minds: How Diverse Ideas Drive Innovation

Is it me, or has 2013 been an extraordinary year for stories from the forefront of social business, leadership and organizational culture? For every new book I finish, it seems that 3-4 more find their way to my “must read” list. There never seems to be enough time to take it all in.

Among the books I’ve had time to complete, several have made a lasting impression. One of them is Ekaterina Walter’s Think Like Zuck: Five Business Secrets of Facebook’s Improbably Brilliant CEO. Of course, we all know another book that speaks to Mark Zuckerberg’s success. What more is there to say, right? Wrong.

Diversity of Thought: Rocket Fuel For Business?

Ekaterina looks beneath the surface of Facebook’s founder in an engaging assessment of why his company is so successful. Along the way, she uncovers something that many other leadership books seem to miss — the power of diversity in innovation.

I’m not just talking about demographic diversity. Don’t get me wrong — demographic diversity is absolutely vital to innovation, and organizations still have a long way to go in that regard. But since we know that diversity is strength, it makes sense to expand the classic business understanding of workforce “diversity.” This isn’t a counterpoint to the demographic meaning, but an extension of it. A flourish. An embellishment. In the same way that jazz performers rely upon flourishes to add unique depth and character to their music, diversity has the potential to elevate the business innovation process in unique and valuable ways.

How can leaders put this insight into practice? Here are three factors to consider:

1) Yin Needs Yang

In Think Like Zuck, Walter defines five “musts” for business success: passion, purpose, people, product, partnership. It was her thought-provoking chapters on people and partnerships that made me really sit up and start thinking about diversity, and why it’s vital.

Because of Zuckerberg’s passion and smarts, Facebook did well nearly from the start. But it didn’t go into orbit until Zuckerberg picked Sheryl Sandberg as his COO. Walter writes:

She had a completely different style from his. I think their differences are what make the Zuckerberg-Sandberg duo such an extraordinary team. They complement each other very well. What Mark lacks in experience, Sheryl brings to the table in abundance. When he doesn’t feel like stepping into the limelight, she steps in for him masterfully. The difference in age, as well as gender, contributes various perspectives and capabilities.

“Yeah,” I thought, “that makes a lot of sense. So why don’t more companies get this? Isn’t it obvious?” Nailing the point, Walter quotes Leslie Bradshaw of JESS3 (a social media firm that serves world-class companies like Nike, MTV, Samsung, NASA, Twitter, ESPN and Google):

In our partnership, Jesse Thomas is the yang, and…I have enough yin to balance it out. If you look beyond our personalities, the fact that our genders are different also adds diversity. The perspective I bring as a woman is very different from what he brings as a man, and that helps balance out the way we hire, the way we treat our employees, and the way we approach strategies when we execute for clients.

“Of course!” I shouted. (Luckily, I was alone. HA). Of course diversity allows you to do more — to think more, think differently, think better! It seems self-evident, really. Yet it can be incredibly hard to convince CEOs and managers to hire or involve people who are different from them. People who do things differently, who think differently. It’s a perceived risk. And it’s wrong. “Everyone needs to be talking about this” I insisted. I was pretty fired up — but with good cause, don’t you think?

2) It’s Proven: Two Brains (and Personalities) Are Better Than One

Inspired by Walter’s book, I dove into Hutch Carpenter’s article “Diversity and Innovation: Improve the Person, Improve the Idea.” Pacing back and forth, I searched for past threads that would push my current thought process forward:

A key aspect of the next generation of innovation is the ability to tap a much larger set of minds in pursuit of valuable ideas. The historic method of innovation relied exclusively on a designated few. (“So true!”) Diversity is the key element here. That is, engaging a broad set of different perspectives to generate something better than one could do individually. Cognitive and heuristics diversity — that’s what benefits innovation. People who see things in a different way, and bring a different practice to solving problems.

“Good, good, yes,” I thought, still talking to myself. “Of course — put people together, you get more ideas. Like one plus one, right?”

Not quite. Instead, we need to think one of this kind, plus one of another kind. Carpenter cites a study by Ron Burt of The University of Chicago, finding that “people with more diverse sources of information generated consistently better ideas.”

So. It’s not just about more sources. It’s about more more diverse sources.

3) E Pluribus Unum (Out of Many, One?)

Then I found out something totally cool. Are you ready for this? Group diversity leads to better innovation than a genius inventor working alone (or a group working in isolation) — even when that solo entity gets input from others. Although the “lone inventor” may come up with great innovations (okay, we’re all thinking Alexander Graham Bell) it’s less likely that will happen than with communities of diverse thinkers who freely explore ideas together.

It’s true: Zuckerberg didn’t work alone. And neither did Alexander Graham Bell. Facebook and the telephone may have been visions of “lone inventors,” but those visions became world-changing products only because Zuckerberg and Bell worked well with others who thought differently from them.

As Ekaterina Walter makes abundantly clear, Mark Zuckerberg, along with many others, has created a platform more powerful for letting our voices be heard than anything since the invention of the printing press. It’s the basis for social community on a grand scale.

Social Networks and Innovation: The Bigger Business Picture

Okay, then. So the tools are there to connect our diverse dots. Why not use social networks to create a new world of work? All of us, together, representing a spectrum of talents, personalities, styles, backgrounds, brains, ideas, experience. All of us focused on contributing to a common purpose. A diverse community — an orchestra, of sorts.

We could be riffing together like jazz musicians to create organizational cultures that are more responsive, resilient, energized, engaging and innovative. Diversity playing in unison isn’t only music. It can, in fact, inform the future of work.

What are your thoughts about the power of diverse thinking in the workplace? What’s the best business book you’ve read this year? And what did it teach you?

(Editor’s Note: To discuss World of Work topics like this with others in the TalentCulture community, join our online #TChat Events every Wednesday, from 6:30-8pm ET. Everyone is welcome at events, or join our ongoing Twitter conversation anytime. Learn more…)

(Also Note: This post is adapted from Forbes.com, with permission.)

Image Credit: Pixabay

How Good People Can Deliver Bad News at Work

Written by Sarah Colomé

Something has gone terribly wrong at work. (It happens.) You’re terrified about telling your manager. (That also happens.) Breaking bad news to your boss can feel like you’re the designated driver on girls’ night out — while it’s not easy, someone has to take the hit.

However, if you take a closer look at this situation, you may find it’s a blessing in disguise for your career.

Employers are looking for contributors who know how to think on their feet, adapt quickly and  communicate effectively. If you reframe a work nightmare by offering timely, useful, well-researched solutions, you’ll demonstrate that you’re not only a smart thinker, but also a doer with management potential.

So, when that moment strikes and you have to break bad news to the person who decides your fate, consider these three strategies:

1) Bring the whole story to the table

Rushing to squeal that the keynote speaker for your annual conference just dissed your company on social media isn’t going to improve the situation.

Before you make a move, consider your source of information. Is this a credible individual or channel? Repeating uninformed, disruptive information only adds to the chaos. Research the facts (quickly!) so you can provide decision makers with relevant context. Your extra legwork can help them make an informed choice about how to proceed.

Knowing details helps frame the situation, allows for a better decision making process and makes you look like a mature, level-headed colleague rather than an reactive tattletale.

2) Think and speak objectively

Taking sides and passing blame does nothing to solve the problem. Instead, you’ll only paint yourself in a negative and self-serving manner — the complete opposite of what you want.

While this doesn’t mean you should hide pertinent information you have about the problem, you also don’t need to wrap a particular person up in a bow and pin them to a bull’s eye.

Pointing fingers isn’t necessary to solving the immediate problem. If necessary at all, it should be set aside until a solution has been found. Focusing on the fixing the problem helps you avoid looking like you’re stepping on another employee to make yourself look good. Plus, you’ll protect your working relationships with all parties involved — including the idiot who ordered 200 bottles of pineapple juice instead of Pinot Grigio for the donor banquet. Besides, if someone on the crew is truly inept, their actions will speak for themselves.

3) Offer problem-solving options

Showing up empty-handed to announce bad news accomplishes nothing. You need ammo. Prepare to suggest possible next-step ideas, so you’re less likely to become the target of a manager’s negative reaction.

Your goal is to avoid adding more stress to a difficult situation, by being ready to offer viable options. Research alternatives that save time or money, and assess the likely outcomes, so you can help determine a workable plan of action.

But keep in mind that offering effective solutions requires more than just a Google search and a few thrown-together spreadsheets. No solution can be implemented without investing employee energy, so assess the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats for each path. This approach can help your manager avoid costly missteps — while simultaneously portraying you as a proactive, strategic thinker.

Delivering bad news is never easy, but reframing a negative work situation into a positive professional opportunity can be beneficial both for you and your company.

The next time someone accidentally sends detailed employee compensation data to everyone in your company, don’t fret. Get the whole story, be objective and come with a solution in hand.

Have you stepped up when there was a melt-down at work? How did you deliver the news — and did it help you grow in your career? Share your experiences in the comments area.

Sarah Colome (2)(About the Author: Sarah Colomé, M.S. is an educator, advocate and the SOARS Booking Director for A Long Walk Home, Inc. Based in Chicago, Sarah has traveled both nationally and internationally as a competitive collegiate public speaker. She teaches on topics related to social justice and diversity, health education, sexual violence and persuasive speaking. Connect with her on Twitter.)

(Editor’s Note: This post is adapted from Brazen Life, with permission. Brazen Life is a lifestyle and career blog for ambitious young professionals. Hosted by Brazen Careerist, it offers edgy and fun ideas for navigating the changing world of work. Be Brazen!)

(Also Note: To discuss World of Work topics like this with others in the TalentCulture community, join our online #TChat Events every Wednesday, from 6:30-8pm ET. Everyone is welcome at events, or join our ongoing Twitter conversation anytime. Learn more…)


Image Credit: Mugley via Flickr

Making Teams Work: Is There a Better Way?

For many of us today, teaming is an integral aspect of professional life. Yet, although we may see value in collaboration, many of us also struggle with various aspects of the team process.

Sometimes, issues arise from our self perceptions. For example, we may have reservations about sharing our opinions publicly, or insecurities about our ability to contribute effectively.

However, concerns also stem from inherent weaknesses in the teaming process, itself. Issues surrounding coordination and motivation tend to reduce a team’s effectiveness. For example, even when participants freely generate many valid ideas, those suggestions may be overlooked or underutilized. It’s no surprise that many of us become cynical about teams when our attempts to add value fail.

Cracking The Collaboration Code

How can we turn this around, so more of us are comfortable bringing ideas to the table, and confident that our efforts will make a difference? One possibility is to rethink the role of brainstorming, so teams focus on identifying and combining worthy ideas to formulate stronger solutions.

I have been involved with a variety of teams over the years. The “personality” of each group was truly unique — influenced by the dynamic of the selected members, the teaming process and the team leader’s experience. Some teams hesitated to cross or effectively challenge the opinions of those with seniority — a common problem. But in many situations, the real challenge wasn’t that individual voices were unheard. Instead, the root issue was that contributors’ ideas weren’t used wisely. In every scenario, as soon as this became apparent, that’s the moment when things went awry.

Often, multiple proposed ideas were worthy of exploration, but we were focused on choosing only one “winning” idea. This “either/or” decision filter is a potentially fatal flaw in the collaboration process. Instead, we should have focused on a different goal.

Insights From Collaborative Leaders

At some point, every team must move from generating ideas to assessing their value. The process used to evaluate those ideas is critical to the team’s overall success. So, how do we effectively address this challenge — the “we-have-numerous-great-ideas-but-what-do-we-do-with-them” issue? Here are several sources of insight:

•  Dr. Ed Catmull, President, Walt Disney Pixar Animation Studios:  In an interview with Harvard Business Review, Dr. Catmull describes how Pixar development teams routinely combine ideas to excel. It’s not necessary for one idea to “win” or “lose.” Instead, numerous viable concepts can be incorporated into a plan, a product or a process. This approach may lead to healthier outcomes. After all, game-changing products and processes often integrate multiple features.

•  Mike Krieger, Co-Founder, Instagram: At Stanford University’s Entrepreneurship Corner, Mike Krieger discusses his perspectives on the value of combining ideas when developing innovative solutions. In Krieger’s opinion, this integrative approach is the driving principle behind the best startup companies. Instagram is compelling evidence.

Three Ways To Achieve Better Results, Together

Of course, this approach may not be appropriate for all teams, or in every circumstance. However, it deserves consideration — especially when teams are struggling. To move the collaboration process forward, consider these three “ideation” guidelines from brainstorming best practices:

•  Share ideas sooner. Move beyond the requirement that an idea must be perfected before you share it. Allow colleagues an opportunity to develop your concept more fully.
•  Cut the cord. Strive to give up emotional ownership of your idea. Stay invested and serve as a guide, but allow the team to invest in it, too, so you can maximize its potential, together.
•  Nurture a different perspective. Stay open to pairing ideas that can produce a novel product or process. Expect the unexpected. Explore diverse combinations. And try not to jump to conclusions too soon.

What are your thoughts about combining ideas to collaborate more effectively? Have you tried this approach? What were the outcomes?

(Editor’s Note: This article is adapted from a LinkedIn Influencer post, with permission.)

(Also Note: To discuss World of Work topics like this with others in the TalentCulture community, join our online #TChat Events every Wednesday, from 6:30-8pm ET. Everyone is welcome at  events; or join our ongoing Twitter conversation anytime. Learn more…)

Image Credit: Stock.xchng

Should Work Be Fun? Really? #TChat Preview

(Editor’s Note: Looking for a complete recap of this week’s events and resources? Read the #TChat Recap: Fun Times! Work, Games and Culture.)

Work and fun — do they fit together? Or should we save good times for vacation and weekends?

Traditionalists might say that work is serious business. However, one of the most creative and productive minds of the Industrial Age seemed to think otherwise:

“I never did a day’s work in my life; it was all fun.”
-Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison

Learn more about Thomas Edison

It’s impossible not to admire Edison’s enthusiasm. But these days, with global employee engagement stubbornly stuck at 30% or less, companies everywhere are looking for ways to inject more of that spirit into their organizational cultures.

That’s why the principles of gaming are gaining appeal as a way to improve workforce commitment, development and performance.

But how can we create environments where work is naturally more engaging and enjoyable, without losing sight of business objectives?

That’s the topic we’ll explore this week at #TChat Events, with two innovators in workplace culture development:

•  Dan Benoni, Co-Founder & Product Director at Officevibe, a social employee engagement platform
•  Mario Coculuzzi, Eastern Canada Regional Director at Microsoft.

Dan and I spoke briefly in a G+ Hangout, where he suggested that successful approaches don’t focus on the work, itself, but instead focus on three essential human factors:

Also to help us prepare for the discussion, TalentCulture CEO, Meghan M. Biro, wrote a related article at Forbes.com. Read “5 Fresh Trends to Fuse Fun and Work.”

This topic promises to be great fun — and helpful, too. So please plan to join us this week to share your ideas and opinions about why and how game-oriented tools and techniques make sense in the world of work.

#TChat Events: Should Work Be Fun, Really?

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Listen to the #TChat Radio show

#TChat Radio — Wed, Oct 23 — 6:30 pmET / 3:30 pmPT

Our hosts, Meghan M. Biro and Kevin W. Grossman talk with Dan Benoni and Mario Coculuzzi about why and how “fun” can be an effective way to improve employee energy, drive and focus. Follow the action LIVE online this Tuesday afternoon!

#TChat Twitter — Wed, Oct 23 7pmET / 4pmPT

Immediately following the radio show, we’ll move this discussion to the #TChat Twitter stream for an open chat with the entire TalentCulture community. Everyone with a Twitter account is invited to participate, as we address these questions:

Q1: How often do you see healthy company cultures? Examples?
Q2: Why is engagement key to creating/maintaining a vibrant culture?
Q3: Can “fun” team challenges and other activities really help?
Q4: How can leaders improve employee well-being and retention?
Q5: How can HR drive adoption of recognition and engagement platforms?

Throughout the week, we’ll keep the discussion going on the #TChat Twitter feed and on our LinkedIn Discussion Group. So please join us share your questions, ideas and opinions.

We’ll see you on the stream!

Engagement As Energy: #TChat Lessons From #HRTechConf

“Employee engagement?”

She furrowed her brow and challenged our use of the term. And that’s when things got interesting.

Or maybe that’s when things got accurate. Historically accurate. Holistically accurate. Painfully accurate.

Meghan and Kevin LasVegas HRTechConf 2013 (2)“Why are we using that word? When employees meet each other in the hallway, do they ask each other ‘Are you engaged today?'”

All of us on the panel shook our heads and smiled. She continued, “No, they don’t. What we’re really talking about is improving individual and organizational energy, drive and focus.”

We all nodded.

The “she” in this story is Marcia Conner, collaborative learning thought leader, author and Principal of the SensifyGroup. She was one of five panelists at a very special “live”  #TChat roundtable in a jam-packed Peoplefluent booth at this year’s HR Technology Conference & Exposition in Las Vegas. (And by the way, thank you, Peoplefluent for hosting the event!) Others on this stellar panel included:

Employee Engagement: Why Should We Care?

TalentCulture at HRTechConfMy TalentCulture co-founder Meghan M. Biro and I gathered this panel of smart HR executives and industry influencers to look closer at employee engagement employee energy, drive and focus, which has become the holy grail of HR and business leaders, through every aspect of the talent lifecycle — from recruiting and onboarding, to continuous development and performance management.

Again we ask the question: Why? And why so much fuss over something so seemingly out of HR’s control? We’ve seen the dismal research results for years. We keep sharing industry jargon surrounding this issue. And yet most initiatives designed to improve the status quo haven’t moved the needle much, if at all.

Engagement — energy — whatever you choose to call it — is a problem that isn’t going away anytime soon. Nor is it likely to be resolved without continued awareness and dedicated effort. But there’s a lot at stake for those who crack the code, and that’s why the smartest employers remain focused on finding solutions.

So we shouldn’t be surprised that employee engagement is a top priority for all three of the practitioners on our panel. They recognize that emotionally connected individuals simply perform better, day to day. In turn, this increases productivity, improves performance, reduces attrition and boosts overall business results.

Employee Engagement: What Matters Most?

But clearly the best answers won’t come from a one-size-fits-all approach. We know that more emotionally committed employees invest more discretionary effort at work — and some individuals are more committed than others. It’s always been that way. A myriad of variables determine commitment. But if employers pay attention to the most important factors, perhaps commitment (and by association, energy, drive and focus) will improve. That’s the goal.

Meghanandfriend (2)All three of the practitioners on the panel shared examples of how they’re addressing key factors to influence engagement levels across their organizations. The initiatives range from community building, to culture immersion (at Buffalo Wild Wings, one restaurant at a time), to coaching and mentoring, to performance-specific rewards and recognition, to highly configurable collaborative communication platforms.

None of these ideas were lost on the TalentCulture community, as the #TChat Twitter stream lit up with questions and comments throughout the live discussion. It was truly an engaging meeting of the minds.

And that’s when Meghan and I suggested we focus all of that energy and drive into one grand, collective #TChat hug. A figurative hug of course — but a group hug nonetheless. C’mon, bring it in…

 

 

Want To Build A Business? Lead With Trust

If you could define business success, what would it look like to you? Would you focus on market share? Growth rate? Revenue? Profitability? Or something else?

At young companies, conversations tend to revolve around how to raise seed funding, where to invest capital, and how to compensate key contributors. Often, it seems that our perception of business success (or failure) largely revolves around money.

While it is true that a well-run company requires appropriate funding and sound financial management, I would argue that there is something even more vital to the sustained growth of any venture. It’s not something you can buy or sell — nor does it come prepackaged on a shelf.

I’m talking about trust.

Broken Trust: Good Examples Of Bad Behavior

From the Enron debacle to the Madoff scandal, stories of insider trading and fraud have captured headlines far too frequently. Our nation is losing faith in corporate leaders, and there’s a growing demand for corporate accountability and transparency.

The only way to turn this around is for those at the top to take responsibility and lead by example. We must create open, transparent cultures that promote accountability, integrity and honesty.

The truth of the matter is that employees need to know what’s going on in order to feel connected with their work and perform at their highest level. Staff concerns about the stability and the health of the company are a distraction that can erode trust, inhibit productivity and have a negative impact on the bottom line.

Creating an environment of trust goes far beyond releasing quarterly reports. It requires a daily commitment to transparency that’s infused into all aspects of business operations, and reaches all levels of the organizational chart. Most importantly, it requires team coaching and open communication across all functions, with management that listens and responds to constructive criticism.

Trust Is The Cornerstone Of Culture

Leadership legend, Stephen M. R. Covey said:

“High trust is a dividend; when it goes up you’ll find that everything happens faster and cost goes down. It’s that predictable.”

Although trust can take a long time to build, once we have achieved a state of trust, we often take it for granted. But the fact of the matter is that trust is at the core of the daily work activities that collectively make up company culture. As Deborah Mills-Scofield explains in the Harvard Business Review:

“Trust trumps everything. And everything flows from trust — learning, credibility, accountability, a sense of purpose and a mission that makes ‘work’ bigger than oneself.”

When it comes to trust, the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts. For example, many startups have created cultures based around staff perks like a ‘no vacation policy’ vacation policy, providing employees with top-of-the line equipment, offering flexible hours, and letting staff work from home. While benefits like these may attract and retain top talent, there’s also a higher mission. Companies that offer these unique self-directed work options are sending employees a message that says, ‘I trust you, and I trust your judgment in using these privileges.”

Earlier this year, HubSpot released its long-awaited Culture Code – a presentation that summarizes the organization’s nine core beliefs. The document is remarkable because it emphasizes that trust is at the center of Hubspot’s organization. Rather than creating binders full of company policies, HubSpot has created a simple three-word policy for nearly everything: use. good. judgment. From social media activity, to travel expenses, to sick days, HubSpot understands that a healthy company starts with trust.

The Trust/Time Ratio

Of course, trust is a two-way street. Not only is it essential for employees to trust management, but leaders must trust their teams, and feel confident in their ability to move the company forward.

As Stephen M.R. Covey explains in his book, The Speed of Trust, trust is the great liberator of time and resources. It’s also an essential condition for growth. He notes that “when trust goes up, speed will also go up and cost will go down,” and that “when trust goes down, speed will go down and costs will go up.” Therefore, he concludes that the speed at which you can grow a business is directly proportionate to the time that you invest in creating trusting relationships.

Leading By Letting Go

One of the most important lessons I learned as a CEO was the importance of trusting your team. As the leader of any organization, large or small, your primary job is to communicate the vision; give your people the information, tools and resources to move toward it; and then get out of the way. This frees your staff to be as productive as possible, while allowing you to focus on your responsibility to drive the company forward, strategically.

The truth is plain and simple: if you’re a leader who wants to grow a company, you must have faith in your staff to get the job done – without you hovering around their desks. It is impossible to innovate while being bogged down in the daily minutia of your company. Trust allows you to remove yourself from the details and create necessary space to focus on long-term growth.

Trust is a natural human instinct, yet we tend to over-complicate it when we try to apply it to the business world. The best way to create a culture of trust is to begin by being open and honest with ourselves and those around us. By committing to being transparent in all our interactions, we will gradually create a culture of trust around us. And as trust grows, we should expect to see business results follow.

How do create and sustain trust within your organization? What results do you see?

(Editor’s Note: To discuss World of Work topics like this with others in the TalentCulture community, join our online #TChat events every Wednesday, from 6:30-8pm ET. Everyone is welcome. Learn more...)

Image Credit: Pixabay

Showing Workplace Competition Who's Boss

“How will I stand out in the crowd?”
“Do I really have what it takes to succeed?”

These classic workplace questions cross everyone’s mind from time to time. No matter where our profession leads us — sales, engineering, consulting, service — we must continually navigate through a sea of highly qualified talent. As our careers progress, so too, does the level of talent that we encounter. (We all experience secret moments of panic.)

Knowing this, I’d like to pause for a moment and pose a different question: “Is the way we traditionally view workplace competition getting in the way of our career progress?” For many individuals, this could be the case. So, let’s take a look at common barriers and consider how to deal with them.

Put Professional Competition In Its Place

Competition can be healthy. It does have the potential to drive us forward to excel. But if the very thought of competing derails us, we have a serious problem. Ultimately, we must face facts. We are likely to cross paths with individuals that seem more capable or successful than ourselves. (We may actually covet their role or career.) However, the very notion of competition doesn’t have to evoke debilitating stress and self-doubt. We need to remember that successful career journeys are built by capitalizing on our strengthswhile maximizing the opportunities that we encounter.

To master workplace competition, we ultimately must deal with our own feelings (and issues) with the concept of competition, itself. Here are some suggestions:

7 Ways To Deal With Workplace Competition

1) Accept its presence. Competition is ubiquitous. No matter where your career leads you, there will be ample competition to keep you on your toes — and it is ever present. Try to become comfortable and make peace with it.

2) Recognize it’s not a “zero sum” game. Opt for an “abundance mentality.” Don’t take the stance that if someone else succeeds, you are doomed to fail. Another individual’s promotion or good fortune doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be left out in the cold.

3) Identify your “comparison other.” How you gauge your career has much to do with those against whom you measure yourself. Who are your role models? Choose individuals that motivate you and possess skills that you wish to emulate. (This is one of my favorite techniques.) Learn from your competition. Ask yourself: What are they doing right?

4) Be the “best of you.” We’re not required to be all things to all people (and shouldn’t feel pressured to do so). Instead, find a way to acknowledge your strengths and create your own brand. Find a niche that makes you indispensable — create value and build on this strength. Take control of your own career and find paths to showcase your own talent. You’ll find that you focus less on the paths of others when your work aligns with the best of what you have to offer.

5) Build alliances and collaborate. Network without staying too close to the cuff (Use the 70-20-10 rule here.) Spread your wings to develop depth within your workplace relationships — be the “linking pin” between other departments or functions and solve problems.

6) Get a mentor or a sponsor. Many successful people speak of a mentor that has either inspired or guided them. However, you also need a sponsor. This is an individual that will help you gain exposure and facilitate “stretch assignments” that test your abilities.

7) Be aware. There is no greater confidence builder than becoming your own advocate. Of course, there is a dark side to workplace competition. Watch for individuals who “fight dirty” and have an unhealthy relationship with competition. (Remember, there is no shame in protecting your own interests.) Document your accomplishments, if you feel it is necessary — and take credit when it is owed to you. If an environment causes you troubling levels of stress, seek a change.

How do you handle the pressure of workplace competition? What has worked most effectively for you and why? Share your thoughts in the comments area below.

(Editor’s Note: To discuss World of Work topics like this with others in the TalentCulture community, join our online #TChat Events every Wednesday, from 6:30-8pm ET. Everyone is welcome. Learn more…)

(Also Note: This article originally appeared as a LinkedIn Influencer post. It is republished with permission.)

Image Credit: Pixabay

Showing Workplace Competition Who’s Boss

“How will I stand out in the crowd?”
“Do I really have what it takes to succeed?”

These classic workplace questions cross everyone’s mind from time to time. No matter where our profession leads us — sales, engineering, consulting, service — we must continually navigate through a sea of highly qualified talent. As our careers progress, so too, does the level of talent that we encounter. (We all experience secret moments of panic.)

Knowing this, I’d like to pause for a moment and pose a different question: “Is the way we traditionally view workplace competition getting in the way of our career progress?” For many individuals, this could be the case. So, let’s take a look at common barriers and consider how to deal with them.

Put Professional Competition In Its Place

Competition can be healthy. It does have the potential to drive us forward to excel. But if the very thought of competing derails us, we have a serious problem. Ultimately, we must face facts. We are likely to cross paths with individuals that seem more capable or successful than ourselves. (We may actually covet their role or career.) However, the very notion of competition doesn’t have to evoke debilitating stress and self-doubt. We need to remember that successful career journeys are built by capitalizing on our strengthswhile maximizing the opportunities that we encounter.

To master workplace competition, we ultimately must deal with our own feelings (and issues) with the concept of competition, itself. Here are some suggestions:

7 Ways To Deal With Workplace Competition

1) Accept its presence. Competition is ubiquitous. No matter where your career leads you, there will be ample competition to keep you on your toes — and it is ever present. Try to become comfortable and make peace with it.

2) Recognize it’s not a “zero sum” game. Opt for an “abundance mentality.” Don’t take the stance that if someone else succeeds, you are doomed to fail. Another individual’s promotion or good fortune doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be left out in the cold.

3) Identify your “comparison other.” How you gauge your career has much to do with those against whom you measure yourself. Who are your role models? Choose individuals that motivate you and possess skills that you wish to emulate. (This is one of my favorite techniques.) Learn from your competition. Ask yourself: What are they doing right?

4) Be the “best of you.” We’re not required to be all things to all people (and shouldn’t feel pressured to do so). Instead, find a way to acknowledge your strengths and create your own brand. Find a niche that makes you indispensable — create value and build on this strength. Take control of your own career and find paths to showcase your own talent. You’ll find that you focus less on the paths of others when your work aligns with the best of what you have to offer.

5) Build alliances and collaborate. Network without staying too close to the cuff (Use the 70-20-10 rule here.) Spread your wings to develop depth within your workplace relationships — be the “linking pin” between other departments or functions and solve problems.

6) Get a mentor or a sponsor. Many successful people speak of a mentor that has either inspired or guided them. However, you also need a sponsor. This is an individual that will help you gain exposure and facilitate “stretch assignments” that test your abilities.

7) Be aware. There is no greater confidence builder than becoming your own advocate. Of course, there is a dark side to workplace competition. Watch for individuals who “fight dirty” and have an unhealthy relationship with competition. (Remember, there is no shame in protecting your own interests.) Document your accomplishments, if you feel it is necessary — and take credit when it is owed to you. If an environment causes you troubling levels of stress, seek a change.

How do you handle the pressure of workplace competition? What has worked most effectively for you and why? Share your thoughts in the comments area below.

(Editor’s Note: To discuss World of Work topics like this with others in the TalentCulture community, join our online #TChat Events every Wednesday, from 6:30-8pm ET. Everyone is welcome. Learn more…)

(Also Note: This article originally appeared as a LinkedIn Influencer post. It is republished with permission.)

Image Credit: Pixabay