Photo: Norbert Levajsics

How to Work Productively During COVID-19

Working from home is a necessity for many of us right now. It’s a critical way to help flatten the curve, for one. It can also have its appeal even during this unprecedented, harrowing crisis that faces us all. But being productive at home even under the best of circumstances — without remote schooling, sick loved ones, relentlessly bad news, and economic turmoil — can be a challenge. 

Full disclosure: I have been working remotely since well before COVID-19; many of my colleagues do as well. We’re old pros at this (not really old, but you get the point). But even those who have been doing it for years know productivity is not just a robotic process. Sometimes we need to detach to refocus. Sometimes we need a better chair. So I collected some of the best practices for being productive and staying focused while you work at home. As we weather this pandemic — a sentence who among us ever thought we’d be writing — here are proven tips for boosting your productivity: 

1. Recognize these are not normal times.

The stress of great expectations can be crippling to our ability to focus right now. Anxiety is also a known productivity-crusher. My advice: acknowledge these are not ideal conditions to shift your operations to the home office / kitchen / kids’ room.  My colleague, Meghan, calls it the “new not normal.” We’re stressed and distracted and overburdened; we may be parenting and caregiving as we’re conference calling. Remembering that we’re all in this together, and there’s a great purpose to it all can be a powerful way to defuse that tension headache brewing as you try to conquer that memo.

2. Go with your flow.

Work with your natural flow of mental, physical, and emotional energy that happens in the course of a day. Everyone’s different. The friction of pushing back against fatigue uses way too much energy, and that’s energy you should be conserving to sit back down. So the next time you feel tired and sleepy, don’t ignore it. Your brain chemistry is saying it’s time to take a break. Like any organism, it can only run high gear for a while. After that, the ratio between potassium and sodium gets out of balance and that’s when you start losing focus. 

3. Take better breaks.

It’s not just the act of taking a break that’s key to productivity; it’s also the kind of break we take. You’ve just been facing a screen for three hours and then you decided (wisely) to get up and give yourself ten minutes. Where do you head? LIkely, to another screen. Too many of us turn to our smartphones and check in on social media. But that’s no way to rest our brains. If you take a microbreak from your computer screen, make it a microbreak away from any screen. Go for a walk, stretch, or meditate: even meditating for a few minutes can be extremely effective. 

4. Smooth out the distractions.

A professor of Informatics at UC Irvine found that distractions aren’t just momentary little hiccups: they can seriously detract from your ability to concentrate. It can take an average of 25 minutes to regroup after a 30-second jump to check Twitter, for instance. Repeatedly checking inboxes and social media also breaks the all-important flow state of creativity that’s required to successfully complete a complex task. Even taking a few seconds to answer a text can derail your focus and lead to errors. Given the digital array we’re all working on now, it may be hard to ignore the constant flow of communications from your co-workers. But if you have a project you need to attend to, consider signing off — at least for half an hour. You’ll get farther with it, faster.

5. Take a longer break.

Many of us have a crowded household and several needs pulling at us from all directions. It can feel as if you’re moving from conference call to homework table to snack making to the next meeting. Break that seamless feeling by going for longer breaks that take you entirely out of the routine. As well as microbreaks, make sure you get at least one macro break during your workday. A twenty-minute walk can increase the release of endorphins that naturally improve your mood and reduce stress levels. It’s also a great way to clear your head. 

6. Track your moods and energy levels.

Knowing how to pace yourself will come with time, but it’s worth it to monitor yourself over the course of a workweek. The goal is not just to work well over the duration, but also to avoid burnout — by not pushing yourself so hard you’re completely depleted. Take an average day (if there is one). Every hour, write down what you do, whether or not you were focused for the whole hour, your mood, and your energy level. Use a 1-10 scale for energy and mood — keep it simple. What interruptions happened, and how long did it take you to get back to working? When did you break to drink or eat? Then, repeat it the next day, and the next. You can also find a time tracker app, though the act of writing something down on paper has the added benefit of getting you off the screen. At the end of a few days or a week, gather the data. See what you’ve got.  

From those insights, see what small changes you can make to improve the low mood and low energy times. Might be more breakfast, meditation, a later lunch, a longer walk, more exercise, more water. And look at the high mood and high energy times and see if you can shift your schedule, so the toughest tasks are done at those times. Even minor adjustments can have tremendous results.

Finding our working rhythms in this time of crisis and anxieties isn’t necessarily the first thing that comes to mind. We may be more concerned with where we’re going to go, in a noisy apartment for the next meeting, or getting the Internet to go a little… faster. But what we learn now about our own work habits will last the rest of our careers. And you’ll always remember that during self-quarantine, you found out you’re really not a morning person — and you don’t need caffeine, or just the opposite. Taking care of yourself means taking care of your ability to get your work done, too. I wish you good luck and good workdays!

Photo: Joshua Coleman

Going Agile: Beyond the Buzz

“Agile” has been a buzzword thrown around Silicon Valley, startup conferences, town halls and HR department meetings for years now. Additionally, in the past several weeks we’ve heard “agile” again in large volume as companies rapidly try to adjust to remote work and the new realities we’re all living in due to COVID-19. While it’s true that adopting an agile mindset may be more valuable to companies than ever, it’s much more than successfully managing a quick transition from in-office to work from home. 

Though the idea originated way back in 2001, there still is not a widespread understanding about what agility really is, and how it can benefit organizations of all sizes — especially now. From addressing internal dysfunction to helping a business overcome competitive challenges, to coping in a world filled with VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity), embracing agility can give businesses the edge they’re looking for, ultimately transforming the way they work. 

For the transformation to be successful, however, agile has to be more than a buzzword. If it’s just showing up in memos, on Slack channels and PowerPoints or mentioned in passing at meetings, you are doing it wrong. To go from just saying or writing agile to actually being agile, you need to know where to start and what to watch out for. 

Here are four of the most common barriers experienced when trying to implement the agile mindset, and how to overcome them to become a truly adaptive organization — and thrive in these uncertain times:

If Agile Is the Answer, What’s the Question?

In my work as a Scrum Alliance Certified Agile Coach and Certified LeSS Trainer, I occasionally come across teams that want to be agile just so they can say that they are agile. I call this “agile for agile’s sake,” and it’s a big warning sign. Too often teams haven’t sharpened their focus enough before attempting to embrace adaptive practices. This can lead to confusion, frustration, and ironically, the opposite of agility. Another large warning sign is if you see heavy slide decks and best practices books popping up all over about how you’re going to become agile. They often mean that DDT (Deck Driven Transformations) is underway, as it is usually instituted by a large consultancy. When employees are still tasked to work through the controlled process of long development and feedback cycles for a project, then they are using up their valued time and resources, and a growth in documents contradicts what agile is all about!

Instead, figure out what agile will fix for your organization. It’s imperative to understand your own organization’s priorities – to know the why behind implementing agile – if you want your transformation to succeed. Otherwise, you’re just using a new buzzword, without any true meaning behind it.

Agile is an OS, Not an App

Another common pitfall I see are teams looking to jump on the “agile bandwagon” and expect it to be a quick and easy process. These are organizations looking to put a check mark next to “agile” and cross it off on its to-do list. We often see organizations “buying, unwrapping and installing” a popular, commercially available heavy framework or producing an internal over-engineered operating model that resembles a traditional model, spiced up with agile buzzwords.

But that’s not how it works. It’s not an app that you can simply download, install and be up and running on within moments. Agile is an Operating System – it will impact how everything is done (remember, the goal is transformation), and it can take some getting used to. 

Setting realistic expectations about what the agile framework is and is not, and how long it will take to transform into an adaptive organization is extremely important. Without this mindset, team members’ commitment to the transformation may wane, undercutting everyone’s efforts to evolve, as full, company-wide buy-in is necessary for success. 

Swim a Lake, Don’t Boil the Ocean

Another problem I’ve seen when working with companies looking to embrace agile is starting off too broad and shallow – looking to overhaul everything at once. Instead, I recommend focusing narrowly but going deep in specific areas, and then expanding, for example, like in Large Scale Scrum, where the idea is to descale an organization, in order to scale agility. The bigger the organization, the more important this is. 

To do this, identify a product or function where impact can be felt in real terms quickly. This is your best bet about where to start. Oftentimes, HR is a great department to include in an agile transformation. This is because HR policies are incredibly important, as it involves changing the way employees are treated.

It is interesting, however although maybe not surprising, lean companies are having a less painful experience adjusting to the unprecedented conditions we’re currently in, because being lean helps with adaptive-ness (agility), and it is based on the degree of organizational “descaling.”

Urgency as the Catalyst to Change 

Finally, in my experience, there needs to be a sense of urgency for an agile model to really take hold and thrive within an organization. The team must know and feel that something is fundamentally broken, and that embracing new practices and methods is essential to survival. Without the understanding that something must be fixed, the likelihood of a successful transformation is significantly lower. This is because those without a sense of urgency are resistant to change.

This is true from the top to the bottom of an organization. Without buy-in from the entire team, creating real change, real transformation is impossible. When it comes to senior leaders, getting them engaged and invested can make all the difference. 

Contrary to how you may have heard the word “agile” used previously, it’s not about cutting costs. That has never been the primary goal of being an agile company. Agile is about moving beyond the buzzword to become more adaptive and nimbler. This allows a company to transform the way it works fundamentally, innovate quickly and ultimately become more competitive. This ability to adapt and innovate has never been more important than it is today, where the entire fabric of work is changing with unprecedented unemployment and entire industries turned upside down by the pandemic. The businesses that can adapt fast will have an edge on those that are moving slowly: ultimately, the faster you can adapt, the more economically feasible your business is in our rapidly changing world.

Photo: Nick Kane

#WorkTrends: How to Make Your Work Culture Rock

What does a person do when the pressure is on them? That’s what NY State Governor Andrew Cuomo asked in his daily press conference on March 26. The same could be asked of our organizations. In her #WorkTrends conversation with workplace culture expert Jim Knight, Meghan M. Biro started by thanking everyone working today — particularly those of you in HR and management who are doing your best to keep your people safe. This is a transformation no one asked for — a sudden and mandatory shift to remote, to flexible schedules, to sitting in kitchens, to navigating new platforms and software, and to trying to virtually and digitally maintain the values of a workplace. What enables that to happen is culture.

Jim built his career as part of the Hard Rock International brand, creating award-winning training programs to catalyze learning and growth. He’s also the author of the bestselling Culture That Rocks: How to Revolutionize Your Company’s Culture

As he and Meghan started jamming on the concept of culture, it was clear they agree that culture is anything but a logo or a color scheme. “It’s always going to be about the people that are currently working in the business at that moment….at the core it starts with each individual with their own unique behaviors, and then when you put them together, if you’ve got similar values and shared experiences, that’s when the culture becomes more robust.”

Meghan pointed out that it’s often a challenge for organizations to find out who their rock stars are — and noted that we often know who the innovators and key players are “in our gut,” aside from the data. Jim added that often, the great ones may be flying right under the radar. Finding them is a matter of looking for those great qualities even before they walk in, and then giving them a culture that brings those to the fore, that celebrates those behaviors.“ Then you can keep them because frankly, they’re a bit in love. And part of that culture has to be wanting to help the world, support the greater good — and be larger than your product or service, both agreed. In other words, your culture has to rock — and that’s when you’ll see people lean into the pressure, take on the challenges, and truly lead.

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 many organizations struggle with creating a great work culture?  #WorkTrends
Q2: What internal and external strategies can improve work cultures? #WorkTrends
Q3: What can leaders do to help organizations improve their work culture? #WorkTrends

Find Jim Knight on Linkedin and Twitter

Photo: Siggy Nowak

#WorkTrends: The Power of Business Readiness

Meghan M. Biro sat down with Tim Minahan, the Executive Vice President of Business Strategy and Chief Marketing Officer at Citrix, for a frank discussion about being ready for anything in your business — including COVID-19. Meghan and our team at TalentCulture have been talking about crisis management and business continuity quite a lot — in another time we might even say business readiness is trending. But the gravity of what’s happening today has thrust the challenge into a whole new light. And what Tim pointed out will likely ring true for many of us: “The thing about unplanned events is that too few companies actually plan for them.”

Sustaining a business through an unprecedented crisis — whether a natural disaster or a global pandemic — requires foresight and frank assessments. It also takes more than thinking in terms of crisis management, Tim and Meghan agreed. To truly scale up, scale down, or simply sustain tremendous pressures takes being solidly prepared. As Meghan noted, “That’s when you really know you don’t have cracks in your company’s foundation, when you can turn around just like that.” What followed included some inspiring real-world examples of how businesses can make themselves ready — for anything that happens. And a few thru-lines to note here: employee experience has to stay front and center of the conversation, a flexible, work-from-anywhere environment is going to be key, and perpetual learning is going to be more important than ever.

This post is sponsored by Citrix 

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 many brands struggle with business readiness?  #WorkTrends
Q2: What strategies can improve our ability to navigate change? #WorkTrends
Q3: What can leaders do to help organizations improve business readiness? #WorkTrends

Find Tim Minahan on Linkedin and Twitter

Photo: Omar Flores

#WorkTrends: AI, VR, and the Internal Communication Revolution

We’re all suffering from both information overload and information under-load right now. As companies struggle to communicate with their employees and navigate a global health crisis, one thing is crystal clear: communication is rarely as clear and effective as we’d like it to be. In today’s workplace, it’s a challenge we need to overcome yesterday — even in the best of circumstances. But given what’s unfolding, it’s more critical than ever – and could even mean the difference between putting employees at-risk and keeping them safe. 

Meghan M. Biro brought internal communications expert Shel Holtz to #WorkTrends to talk about how to do it better. Shel has been involved in internal communications for decades — and recalled how he’d thought he’d invented the intranet for a moment back in the 90s. But fact is, he’s a pioneer who helps many organizations understand that communication is a whole new ball game now (one that’s not canceled). While countless organizations threw everything into their intranet, that was then. We don’t process or seek information the way we used to — and companies should take a lesson from media outlets.

As Shel said, “The intranet emerged during a day when people were surfing the web and it was new and interesting and fun. But these days people tend to be very task-oriented sitting down at a web page. Otherwise, they’re reading and engaging on their phones. You have to meet people where they are. If you think about the major media outlets… they have their website, but also the app, and a podcast, and they’re tweeting and letting people on Facebook know about the articles they’ve read. We have to adopt this kind of consumer-grade mentality around getting content out to people.”

That also means using technology to better communicate — AI helps drive talk-to-text and transcription apps, powers chatbots, and more. But it can also reveal trends and issues we may miss. Shel recalled a company diversity initiative involving internal referrals that wasn’t getting any traction among employees whatsoever. No one could figure out why. An AI tool was able to find the reason by sifting through all the discussions and emails — and the organization was able to course-correct, clarify, and make the program successful. 

Meghan pointed out that the key to assuring that AI doesn’t cause unease among employees is being upfront about it all. “If we’re being truthful, and transparent with our employees, they are going to appreciate this, and be more likely to adopt and adjust.” We all want a way to do our work better — and that includes how we communicate. But in the end, we can’t be operating behind a curtain, no matter what tools we use. It’s not just how we say it – or being “tool-centric,” as Shel added. It’s about what we say.

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 many brands struggle with internal communications?  #WorkTrends
Q2: What strategies can improve our strategic communication? #WorkTrends
Q3: What can leaders do to help organizations improve internal communication? #WorkTrends

Find Shel Holtz on Linkedin and Twitter


Photo: Constantinos Panagopoulos

#WorkTrends HR + Marketing: Employer Brand Superteam

Meghan M. Biro brought not one but two guests to the #WorkTrends podcast this week: Diane Adams, Sprinklr’s Chief Culture and Talent Officer, and Grad Conn, Sprinklr’s Chief Experience and Marketing Officer. The topic: what happens when HR and marketing really work together on talent strategies. In this case, the result is nothing short of alchemy. The two will be appearing at the upcoming HR Transform conference, later this year. “Creating a Winning Culture Where People Thrive Personally & Professionally.” The #WorkTrends audience got a taste of things to come.

Diane and Grad Conn talked about the approaches they’re using at Sprinklr to attract engage and retain top talent — which openly draws on the best of marketing and HR in order to build a workplace culture that people can be proud of — and are. They shared marketing strategies that cross over from customer engagement to candidate and employee engagement. Brand messaging takes on a whole new meaning when it has to do with the employer — but when your employees are on board, the benefits extend directly to your customers as well.

Diane talked about how they built a dynamic partnership between HR and marketing, establishing values for Sprinklr that drove stellar employee as well as customer experiences. She said, “We referred to it as The Sprinklr Way —  our foundation for how we live, how we work, and how the values of our employees and our company are then transcended externally to our customers. Happy employees, happy customers.” 

“People sometimes think of marketing as just an external function. But you have to sell to your own employees just as much as you need to sell to customers,” Grad pointed out.  

This was a conversation that hit home: employer brand isn’t just an idea, it needs to be a reality in every organization. In this era when your employer brand is only as good as the outside world’s perception, crafting an authentic and appealing culture is a smart business strategy. As Meghan noted, given today’s focus on crafting great workplace cultures, “it all makes sense.” 

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

Twitter Chat Questions 

Q1: Why are some employers losing ground at attracting and engaging talent?  #WorkTrends
Q2: What strategies can help organizations create a great workplace culture? #WorkTrends
Q3: How can leaders help their organizations better bring in and keep top talent? #WorkTrends

Find Diane Adams on Linkedin and Twitter
Find Grad Conn on Linkedin and Twitter

This post is sponsored by HR Transform.

Photo: Edwin Andrade

How Does Data Accessibility Impact Your Culture?

What do we love about the TalentCulture community? It’s a community of participants who understand the power of information and feedback. With that in mind, instead of talking about great surveys and the data they reveal to better our workforces and workplaces, we’re conducting one. We want to know how human capital management (HCM) and payroll technology are helping you — and what effect they’re having on your employee experience and workforce culture. So we created a short survey, all of 10 minutes or less, to find out. And we want you to take it. 

In the spirit of transparency, a quality we all value, we’re sharing the results with those who leave their email at the end of the survey. We’re pretty sure you’re going to want to know what this survey reveals. The questions were designed to find out how we’re using HCM and payroll digital tools, and to what extent organizations are making it possible for employees to access and manage their own data. Employee self-service tools (ESS) are on the rise, but how are we offering them, and which ones are among the most popular? We’re also looking at just what we’re doing on paper and what we’re doing within HCM and payroll systems — from pay stubs to work schedules, from assessments to benefits and training. 

This isn’t just a “do you use this?” survey. We wanted to find out more than just the what. We wanted to find out the how and the why. Did your workplace culture change when you started offering increased accessibility to data? How has it changed, and hopefully improved, the employee experience? What do you wish you could offer, but can’t? And if you can’t, what’s holding you back? We’re looking forward to your answers — and the more people that answer, the bigger the picture we’ll get. No matter what our expectations are, the data is what matters. Your data.

Thank you ahead of time for participating.

The TalentCulture Team

Photo: NeOn Brand

#WorkTrends: Great Expectations: Living Your Employer Brand

This month TalentCulture has been focusing on how people and companies can learn to do better. Nowhere is that more crucial than in the sphere of employer brands. We’re in an era now where companies don’t have full control over their brand: no matter how they present or package it, the outside world may have a wholly different take that outweighs the best intentions. But an employer brand isn’t just an academic exercise, as Meghan M. Biro noted on the latest #WorkTrends — even if that’s how many companies are approaching it now. 

To better clarify the link between employer brands and profitability, Meghan brought in Debra Ruh, a visionary in the field of employer branding. Ruh founded Ruh Global IMPACT, a firm that focuses on branding as well as digital marketing and global disability inclusion strategies (and more). She’s also the mother of an amazing daughter who inspired Debra to focus on the true essence of diversity, and why we need to embrace human potential right now.

We’re talking about intelligence when we haven’t even decided as a human species what that means,” Debra said.  “The human potential is there. We really need to rethink what we mean by that — and stop deciding that certain people don’t belong in the workforce.”  By doing so, she added, companies are shortchanging the power of true diversity — a proven driver of higher levels of innovation and performance. Witness companies like Amazon, Barclays and Atos, who are bringing people with disabilities into their workforce, and programmatically expanding their commitment to inclusion, with strong business results. By so doing, they’re also shifting the perception of what their brand truly stands for. They’re not just talking the talk, they’re walking it.

What’s key, Meghan noted, is understanding all the touchpoints involved in a brand, and who really controls it. The days of grumbling in public and getting a cease and desist are over — in a sense, the brand is now owned by those who perceive it. And its fate has more to do with that, and with the perception of market influencers, than the company itself. But our expectations are higher than ever, both agreed. “We want our brands — especially the brands that we work for — to stand for more,” Debra said. Tune into this great conversation to find out how to shift a brand into a desirable, authentic, diverse culture. And have faith: it’s never too late to course-correct.

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

Twitter Chat Questions

Q1: Why are some employers failing at becoming an employer of choice?  #WorkTrends
Q2: What strategies can help organizations become an employer of choice? #WorkTrends
Q3: How can leaders help their organizations live their employer brand? #WorkTrends

Find Debra Ruh on Linkedin and Twitter

Photo: Adi Goldstein

#WorkTrends: Why Companies Need to Value a Great Candidate Experience

Ever since the Talent Board started researching candidate experience, at least some employers have been paying more attention to improving the applicant’s journey. Applying to a company can unearth all sorts of issues — including what #WorkTrends guest Kevin W. Grossman calls the “black hole of candidate experience.” 

This was a tete-a-tete between two colleagues that insisted on keeping the conversation looking forward not back. To get out of the morasse of a bad candidate experience, companies are going to need to truly step up and place a higher premium on better CX — and we’re claiming that moniker to stand for all the candidates out there trying to connect with the employer of their dreams. 

Kevin, who’s a longtime TalentCulture Community friend and President and a Board Member of the Talent Board, dug into the Talent Board’s latest research report, including its good news: more candidates are happier about their experience overall and would be willing to increase their relationship with that brand, whether as an employee or a consumer (you can’t think of one without the other). But there was less-than-good news as well, including a vexing rise in the “resentment rate” — with candidates so disgruntled they don’t want anything to do with a brand anymore, whether it means applying to work there or using its products, or both. A big takeaway: in work, as in life, we really do put our money where our mindset is, and vice-versa.

Chief among common hiring infractions these days are the automated, generic, “sorry you’re not right for the position” messages, which are the wrong way to leverage technology, or not providing any responses at all — which Meghan noted was inexcusable for recruiters today. But the two focused on the positives, including brands getting it right, such as recent CandE award winners Walgreens and Kronos, and innovative ways employers are keeping the connection going with candidates. Frequent and well-considered communication, chatbots, feedback — it’s all good, they noted. And when it works, the value for companies goes well beyond a single happy hire.    

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

Twitter Chat Questions

Q1: Why are some employers failing at candidate experience?  #WorkTrends
Q2: What strategies can help organizations create a better candidate experience? #WorkTrends
Q3: How can leaders help their organizations value candidate experience? #WorkTrends

Find Kevin Grossman on Linkedin and Twitter


Photo: Razvan Chisu

#WorkTrends: The Journey to a Great Employer Brand

#WorkTrends host Meghan M. Biro sat down with employer brand expert Susan LaMotte to talk about the power of great employer brands — and why every organization needs to assess whether their own employer brand conveys the essence or the eh of the company. Susan, the Founder and CEO of exaqueo, has worked with an incredible range of organizations, from chicken dinners (Boston Market) to communications (T-Mobile) to education (Princeton University) to the empire-sized CVS Health. With all, though, she guides companies to get to their heart and soul. Anything less isn’t going to attract talent or engage employees, she noted.

Companies spend incredible energy and people power on marketing, but CMOs and their teams are focused on customers, Susan said. And forging a great employer brand takes focusing on employees — but using some of the same strategies: research and more research. Learning everything about employee’s values, needs, behaviors, life in and outside of the workforce is all a part of it, and so is enlisting everyone, every stakeholder, to be part of the effort. And the most important part of the employer brand? “Consistency,” Susan said. “On the marketing side, we look at the attributes of a product and then we settle on the strongest ones that are most important to our customers to build our brand on. We should do the same thing on the employer brand side as well.”

“You hear that, everybody?” Meghan said. “That is absolutely the word of the day.” 

The two discussed the importance of listening — how it’s too easy for executives to overlook complaints or concerns from employees. They talked about candidate experience as well — and agreed that the candidate experience, in fact, is part of the employer brand. “We’ve got this continuous sense that everybody is connected to the lifecycle, the brand, the outcome, the rest of the world,” Meghan said, underscoring that brand meaning isn’t static, but dynamic. It’s every interaction, Susan concurred, even from the first time a candidate hears your brand name: That initial contact “gives them a perspective,” she said. “You’re branding from the first moment.” And as leaders, she added, “that’s what we have to pay attention to.”

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 aren’t some brands better at discovering their employer brand?  #WorkTrends
Q2: What strategies can help organizations better create their employer brand? #WorkTrends
Q3: How can leaders shape a powerful, authentic employer brand? #WorkTrends

Find Susan LaMotte on Linkedin and Twitter

Photo: Utsav Srestha

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter Chat Questions

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

Find Bruce Mayhew on Linkedin and Twitter

Lindsay Henwood

U-Haul’s Nicotine-Free Policy: Fostering Wellness, or Cutting Costs?

If a company eliminates applicants because of an unhealthy behavior, are they fostering workplace wellness, or cutting healthcare costs? Are they promoting a culture of healthy employees, or discriminating against potential candidates? Or is it somewhere in between?

With U-Haul’s new smoke-free policy, workplaces across the country have to ask themselves where the policy falls.

U-Haul’s New Policy

On December 30th, U-Haul International announced that beginning February 1, 2020, it would implement a nicotine-free policy in 21 states without protections for smokers’ rights. As of February 1, it will become one of the first major companies to decline applicants who are nicotine users.

The policies will be enacted in:

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Nebraska
  • Pennsylvania
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington

According to the company, applicants in these 21 states can expect to see the anti-nicotine policy on their job applications. They will be questioned about their nicotine use and may be required to undergo nicotine testing in certain states before they can be deemed hirable.

The policy also covers e-cigarettes and vaping products. Any current U-Haul employees who are nicotine users will be grandfathered into the policy, offering nicotine cessation programs to assist them.

The goal of the policy, nominally, is to further U-Haul’s goal of promoting one of the healthiest corporate cultures in the United States and Canada.

Policy Implications By the Numbers

In Arizona alone, where U-Haul is headquartered, the implications of the policy are significant.

U-Haul employs 30,000 workers in the United States and Canada. In Arizona, it is one of the state’s largest employers, with a workforce of more than 4,000. It is also legal in Arizona to discriminate against nicotine users in the hiring process.

That might be good news for people exposed to nicotine, but not for applicants who use nicotine.

As of 2017, 15.6% of adults in Arizona smoked cigarettes, while 5.3% of adults used e-cigarettes and 2.8% used smokeless tobacco. Out of a population of roughly 7.1 million, that’s over 1.1 million adults who smoke cigarettes, 376,300 who use e-cigarettes, and 198,800 who use smokeless tobacco.

All of whom would no longer be eligible for employment with U-Haul — which is, again, one of the largest employers in the entire state of Arizona.

The Public Health Implications of Smoking

Of course, the public health implications of smoking and nicotine use are nothing to sneeze at. Nicotine is known to be a dangerous and highly addictive chemical, and it is by no means the only chemical associated with smoking. Cigarettes contain more than 5,000 chemicals, hundreds of them harmful to human health, including:

  • Arsenic
  • Benzene
  • Cadmium (a metal used to make batteries)
  • Formaldehyde
  • Tar

Smoking has been linked to 90% of lung cancer cases. Almost one-third of coronary heart disease deaths are the result of secondhand smoke. 

Nicotine itself is known to increase blood pressure, narrow the arteries, and contribute to hardening arterial walls, which in turn can lead to heart attacks.

It is, in short, one of the main preventable causes of death in the United States.

The risks are also high for anyone around secondhand smoke: people exposed to it are 25% to 30% more likely to develop heart disease.

Public Health, or Lower Healthcare?

U-Haul posits the policy as part of a shift toward corporate health and wellness, asserting that the shift toward a healthier workforce is an investment in the wellbeing of their team members. The policy, according to U-Haul, will help reinforce a wellness program that encourages workers to focus on four areas: health, fitness, nutrition, and mindset.

However, the company also noted that the policy was part of a continued effort to decrease healthcare costs.

Are There Cost Benefits? 

Workplace wellness is an industry with $8 billion in annual revenue in the United States. Almost half of all employers with at least 50 employees offer a workplace wellness program. Of those that don’t have a program, half have said they plan to introduce one.

The popular story among corporations and researchers is that these efforts reduce healthcare costs for employers. A 2010 review by a Harvard economist stated that wellness programs return $3 in healthcare savings and $3 in reduced healthcare costs for every $1 invested.

But is that actually the case?

Research by the RAND Corporation, including data from 600,000 employees from seven employers and 10 years of data from a Fortune 100 employer, found that wellness programs have little, if any, immediate impact on employer healthcare costs.

Generally, wellness programs have two components: lifestyle management (which focuses on employees with health risks such as obesity or smoking), and disease management (which focuses on employees who already have a chronic disease). Together, the two programs generate $30 in savings per member per month. But 87% of those savings came from disease management, even though only 13% of employees participate in disease management — compared to 87% participation in lifestyle management.

One might make the case that disease management can result from diseases caused by smoking, but U-Haul’s policy targets lifestyle issues and prevents nicotine users from being hired in the first place, thereby precluding their ability to participate in disease management programs.

In short, it’s hard to say whether U-Haul’s policy can save the company healthcare dollars in the long run.

Loopholes in the Policy That Penalize Workers

But what we can say is that the policy penalizes nicotine users, including those who are trying not to use nicotine.

The program as presented makes no exceptions for nicotine users who are trying to quit smoking. And while nicotine users can remain smoke-free, 30% of them do so with the aid of some kind of nicotine product.

What about quitting with nicotine-free products? That’s not as easy as it sounds. The FDA has only approved two nicotine cessation products that don’t contain nicotine: Chantix and Zyban.

And yes, nicotine replacement products and medicines do show up in nicotine screenings. Nor does the policy seem to differentiate between smokers and those with nicotine in their system due to secondhand smoke, or between cigarettes and nicotine products with a lower risk to bystanders, like smokeless tobacco.

Balancing Wellness and Fairness

Is the policy good for worker health? From the perspective of removing harmful substances from the workplace, yes.

Is the policy fair for workers? From the perspective of smokers and people with smokers around them, not so much.

That U-Haul’s policy lacks any differentiation implies that the company’s stance is a moral one more than a health one. Given that the healthcare cost benefits to the employer seem unclear, it begs the question: How much employers can force their own policy views to restrict the lives of their own employees?

It’s not a bad idea to discourage unhealthy habits per se. The issue is doing it in a productive and nondiscriminatory way. U-Haul’s broad policy is a bit unclear in that regard, so we’ll have to watch how this plays out.

The Key to Engaging New Hires: Psychological Safety

For those of us who are students of engagement and team-building, we know how key trust, communication and leadership are. But when Google ran two-year study into what makes teams successful, it unlocked a surprising key to high performance and fertile collaboration. Dubbed Project Aristotle, the presented five key factors of great teams: psychological safety, dependability, structure and clarity, meaning, and impact. Of all of them, the most fundamental turned out to be psychological safety.

Much has been made of each of the five factors — and certainly it’s no surprise that they all go into team success: they connect to all the values we associate with a high-functioning workplace, whether we use different terms or not. But psychological safety carries even more weight. Even among the cream-of-the-crop kind of hires that make it into Google, it mattered more than anything else. 

The professor who invented the term psychological safety is Amy Edmondson of the Harvard Business School — and even she was surprised by the results. “If you had asked me would psychological safety have been the big predictor of team performance at Google, I would’ve said, I don’t think so,” she noted in a recent podcast with HBR. “All those folks are going to be pretty able to take care of themselves, right? They’ve been told their whole life that they’re really smart,” she noted. 

But in the workplace, we need to feel safe about taking risks. We need to know that if we raise questions or concerns, speak up, offer our own ideas, or make mistakes, we won’t be punished or shamed for it: we’re safe. And you won’t be able to spark any kind of innovation or out-of-the-box thinking if your people don’t feel safe. That goes double for new hires — who are going to pick up on the workplace culture around them and follow the lead of their new colleagues. 

There’s no technology that results in psychological safety in this case, though there are plenty of apps and digital tools that can help support it. But this one comes down to how you shape and maintain your workplace culture. It’s not simply a matter of step by step on this one either: there’s a hearts and minds aspect to maintain as an emotional thru-line. But there are some key bases to cover as you create psychological safety in your own workplace:

Start With Day One

New hires usually walk in raring to go, and may be brimming with ideas and filled with questions. It’s incumbent on your managers to make sure those ideas and those questions are neither rebuffed nor ignored. Keep lines of communication open, whether remote or on-site, and establish a policy of frequent check-ins and welcoming input from Day One. First impressions count.

Get Leadership Aligned

The fact that Google’s own high-input, high-energy teams stressed the need for psychological safety points to leadership’s influence: in a place filled with ambitious employees, team and project leaders play a pivotal role in harnessing that ambition or inhibiting it. Leaders need to work to make sure teams are thriving individual by individual, or engagement – and performance — are going to suffer. But they also need to transmit balance and composure: during inevitable times of stress, it’s how leaders react that sets the tone for everyone — and new hires in particular are a sponge. Stay calm, stay positive, and stay clear — if at all possible. Your teams will pick up on that.  

Make Conversation

Managers bear much of the responsibility for the level of conversation among their teams — and discussion is vital to solid team-building. Here’s too, there are lines that should not be crossed: a new hire’s attempt to articulate a concern needs to be carefully listened to and respectfully responded to A meeting in which no one talks but the facilitator is deadly — meetings should be seized as an opportunity for energized discussion and exchange of ideas. Nothing does more for a team than being able to collaborate to solve problems or provide support for each other. Build time and space into the day to day for simply getting the chance to talk. 

Follow Through and Follow Up

Relationships are forged on a continuous cycle of exchanges and communications. As in the recruiting sphere, not responding to someone’s question, text, email or ping can have risks that go far beyond just a day of being out of touch. Newer hires, particularly younger millennials and Gen Z, are used to the immediacy of texts and social media; a delayed response from a supervisor, for instance, may be interpreted as ghosting, which may in turn be loaded with emotional implications. Psychological safety is defined as “a climate in which people are comfortable being (and expressing) themselves.” No one is going to stay comfortable if ideas are shared with no response. Managers and leaders need to make follow-through and follow-up a priority. Tools like Slack and other digital chat channels can help.

Encourage Controlled Risk-Taking

It’s not always possible to let your newest hires go out on a limb, but if you can provide that experience in a controlled setting, do so. Adrenaline and innovation can go hand in hand — and not just in the tech sector. The “Test fast, fail fast, adjust fast” approach (credit to Tom Peters for that chestnut) is something everyone in your organization should understand. The more opportunity for controlled risks that result in encouragement, not rejection, the better. The courage to take risks should be part of your workplace culture and viewed as part of a continuing commitment to develop your talent.

Google’s research upended the oft-shared assumption that it’s hard skills and a charismatic leader that push the envelope when it comes to performance. It’s also a reminder that there’s a business case to be made for psychological safety. Toxic workplace cultures have driven 20% of U.S. employees out of their jobs in the past five years. Further, when employees feel psychologically safe at work, there’s a 154% increase in the incidence of great work, and a full 33% decrease in the incidence of moderate to severe burnout. But the key to fully integrating psychological safety into your workplace culture is to make it normal — no one should be surprised that they trust leadership and each other, feel valued, and can safely express themselves. That should be the given.

Photo: Jopwell 



Measuring the Business Benefits of Flexibility: A Win for All Sides

As always, I’ve been following the trends that are really going to change the way we work. Among them: the need to continue evolving our concept of the workforce and the tools changing how, where, and when we work.

Generation after generation is moving closer to a completely digitally-enabled form of working. We’re now welcoming the first wave of Generation Z into our organizations. For these digital natives, tech is simply part of their world. It’s not a novelty; it’s not an “other.” Technology is fully integrating itself into everything we do. It’s reached the point where tech is advancing us well beyond the traditional boundaries of workplace and workday, allowing us to expand, scale, and ease up on the rigid definitions applied to how we work.

Tech is also unlocking a surprising key to engagement and productivity — flexibility. From the youngest working demographic all the way to senior leadership, we’re all learning that being flexible has tangible and mutual benefits. We don’t necessarily have to work in the same place, at the same time, or even five days a week to perform at our best. In fact, according to Citrix CTO Christian Reilly’s perspective on the recent ‘Future of the Working Week’ report (PDF), “A four-day week is not the only option for creating a shorter working week, and there is no one-size fits all solution. But it is the creation of flexibility and useful working hours that is key, in striving for a healthier work-life balance, and more productive output.”

Furthermore, the recent study by the Centre of Economics and Business Research (Cebr) (in conjunction with Citrix) spells out the benefits of flexibility by the numbers. The bottom line: flexible work models are a win. Companies that leverage technology to enable flexibility can better attract talent and increase employee engagement and productivity. They can also potentially boost the US economy by as much as $2.36 trillion a year. Yes, that’s trillion with a “T.”

Measuring the Business Benefits of Flexibility: A Win for All Sides 

An Untapped Pool 

Remote work enables companies to tap into new talent pools, filling their talent gaps with what’s called the “home force” — a great name for a potential goldmine of talent at a time when we’re greatly in need. In terms of a business case, tapping into this segment of the talent market has irrefutable benefits. The home force entails a whole range of experience and life stages:

  • upper-level talent who has opted for better work-life balance
  • new parents
  • parents trading off a year of office time for being home with the kids
  • caregivers with aging relatives

And those are just a few examples.

If you think this home-bound population comprises only a small segment of potential talent, think again. The Cebr survey found that more than two thirds (69%) of people who are currently unemployed or economically inactive would be encouraged to start working if they had the opportunity to work flexibly. That’s what drives a couple trillion in economic gains.

More than Just Balance

The Cebr study also found that 95% of the knowledge workers polled who are currently employed (again, these are not self-employed) would work from home 2.4 days per week if given the chance. 60– 70% of respondents would work from local coffee shops, shared workspaces and other locations at least one day per week. It’s more evidence that flexibility speaks to a desired sweet spot in our lives. It’s not enough to strike a balance between work and life — there’s simply too much happening in both realms to maintain a workable split.

Integration is another element to consider. It breaks the seams between each in a way that better fits our seamless, digitally-enabled ways of functioning in person and via digital workplaces, driving better employee experiences. There’s also a certain symmetry between the integration of the physical and digital world with the integration that flexibility creates between our work lives and our home. “The future of work is dynamic and decentralized,” said Donna Kimmel, Executive Vice President and Chief People Officer at Citrix. “And businesses that create flexible digital environments in which employees can access the tools and information they need to perform at their best, from anywhere at any time, can deliver it today.” It’s clear why the company helps customers to better guide, manage and automate through a unified, secure and high-performing digital workplace with intelligent capabilities, known as Citrix Workspace.

Gallup found that workers who spend about three to four days of the week working offsite are substantially more engaged in their jobs than traditional counterparts stuck behind desks all day. Cebr’s study broke down the numbers to show just why we all stand to gain — and given the factor of financial stress in our lives, it makes sense.

The study found that flexibility and remote working can save many billions:

  • 5.8 billion hours annually saved by employees not having to travel to and from work.
  • $44.4 billion in savings on commuting costs.
  • $107 billion a year back in the pockets of US workers, given the savings in cost and time.

Engage Them or Lose Them

If you don’t build flexibility into your job offerings, you may lose great talent who prefers to work for an organization that’s more flex-friendly. In a little more than ten years, the number of telecommuters (not self-employed) has increased by 159%. Among millennials, some 76% of them would take a pay cut of 3% or more for a company that offered flexible office hours. And the Cebr study uncovered further incentive for leaders bent on improving productivity: 93% of respondents said virtual/remote working would enable them to manage their time more effectively and devote extra hours to work tasks. Read that again: your employees want to spend more time working. Working remotely would enable them to do so.

Which begs the question: what if you don’t give them the chance? Someone else will. We’re still at 3.6% unemployment. It’s not unusual for a company to poach its competitor’s workforce, and not just on the executive level. Organizations are trying to offer all the bells and whistles. But if flexibility is off the table, you may not get to an interview — so it’s a best practice to build the capability to provide it.

Tim Minahan, the Executive Vice President of Strategy and Chief Marketing Officer at Citrix, pointed out that from a business standpoint, flexible and remote is a key way for leaders to not only expand the talent pool but also tap into their skills to “unlock innovation, engage customers and move their business forward.” I’d agree, and add that the operative word here is forward. Leadership consistently reports that a primary challenge is recruiting talent with the right skills — and flexibility eases some of that pressure. One of the top three constraints facing new businesses is being able to hire the right talent, according to 60% of SMB leaders surveyed this year. Usually, in HR, we reject the concept of a magic bullet. But in this case, if you’re looking for the magic bullet, flexibility and remote working opportunities may be it.

Creating an Environment That Encourages Women in Leadership

We all know that women can be — and are — badass leaders. Women offer new ways of approaching problems, bringing fresh energy and a different perspective. But even though gender diversity has been linked to greater revenue and profitability, companies are failing to put real muscle into achieving it.

The gap between what companies say about gender equality and what they’re actually doing about it is massive: A study by the IBM Institute for Business Value of data from thousands of companies found that even with the best of intentions, women fill only 18% of top leadership roles. Why? It’s largely because 79% of companies have failed to make diversity a priority.

A Necessity, Not a Perk

Companies that actively pursue gender diversity and encourage women to step up to leadership positions enter what I call a virtuous cycle: Having women in leadership roles leads to more women at the company, which in turn leads to more female leaders, which then attracts more female applicants — and so on. When junior female employees see women at the top, they feel inspired to strive for great heights too.

This virtuous cycle wins companies more than an increase in female leadership. Women in top positions can provide invaluable feedback on how other women might feel about your brand, guiding companies toward messaging that is more likely to resonate. This matters more than ever: Forbes valued the “female economy” at more than $18 trillion, with women driving as much as 80% of consumer spending.

Women in leadership positions also make your organization more attractive to employees of any gender, because people increasingly want to work for companies that are genuinely inclusive. That’s especially true for younger employees: Research from the Institute for Public Relations found that nearly half of millennials consider an employer’s diversity and inclusion an important factor in their job searches.

Recognizing the Hurdles

Creating a truly gender diverse and inclusive workplace is a leadership issue. It has to be a key component in the company’s policies and mission statements, and demonstrated through actions. But there also has to be an understanding of the way our culture has saddled women with significant hurdles that inhibit their promotion to leadership positions.

To begin with, women tend to be more empathetic. While this trait can make women powerful leaders, it can also interfere with their career advancement. During negotiations, for instance, women tend to empathize with the other party. They don’t necessarily hold firm to what they need or, in salary negotiations, fight for what they’re worth. This is widespread: Twenty-one percent of women are “very uncomfortable” asking for a raise — a feeling expressed by only 12% of their male counterparts.

Perhaps because of the different ways men and women are evaluated, women are less likely to apply for jobs or promotions unless they feel 100% qualified. Unfortunately, this means they’re filtering themselves out of jobs they aren’t perfectly aligned with but might actually be great matches for. Men, on the other hand, will give it a shot if they feel they meet 60% of the qualifications. Women also tend to have stubborn perfectionist streaks, which keeps them from moving forward unless something feels like an exact match.

This isn’t to say that women just need to behave more like men. Far from it: If women do try to fit a more masculine mold but that isn’t what they’re naturally like, they can come across as inauthentic because they’re not leaning into their zone of genius. Not only that, but these so-called feminine traits can be leadership superpowers. Everyone should work on their weaknesses, but we should also capitalize on our strengths — no matter how “feminine” or “masculine” they may be.

Empowering Female Leadership

Research indicates that only companies with a genuine, widespread cultural belief in gender diversity experience these benefits. In other words, companies that embrace gender diversity as a necessity rather than a nice-to-have and that actively encourage women to take on leadership roles have an edge over companies with more passive approaches.

Here are a few key steps to take to help your organization enter a virtuous cycle of empowering female employees to strive for leadership positions.

Establish Active Mentorship Programs

Mentorship programs make space for rising stars to access and learn from company leaders. The ideal scenario is female leaders mentoring other women: A study found that women tend to set more ambitious goals when they talk about them with other women compared with when they reflect on their goals alone.

Another way to benefit from mentorship programs is to offer mentorship to women outside your organization. When we began the Chewse Rising Leaders Program, our leaders held a monthly meeting or call with female leaders in the program. But because our company was very small at the time, we used “open source” mentorship as a way to broaden our network — and the network of our mentees. By finding female leaders and partnering them with mentors in our company, we were able to connect with women in different industries and expand the female networks on both sides of the mentor-mentee relationship.

Provide Self-Awareness and Diversity Coaching for Leaders

Women in the workplace are interrupted much more frequently than men are. To combat this and other visibility problems women encounter in the workplace, HR professionals need to teach leaders three things:

    1. Leaders need to learn to recognize when any employee — regardless of gender — feels unable to speak up.
    2. Leaders should then decide whether the conversation should happen in public or in private. Sometimes an encouragement to speak up (“Alex, do you have something to say?”) might be the best solution; at other times a discussion about why the employee felt unable to speak is healthier.
    3. Leaders need to establish that their company culture is one where no one should be interrupted while they’re talking and where everyone’s voice is important.

Invite Anonymous Feedback

All leaders should strive to provide a safe way for employees to share their experiences and ideas around gender equity. Frequent, anonymous surveys can be a great way to capture feedback and give people the ability to speak — although you should also solicit one-on-one feedback about specific events.

When you open the door for one-on-one feedback, you establish that sharing these experiences is something your company values. Supplementing that open feedback with anonymous feedback is a great way to make sure nothing is falling through the cracks.

Good leadership is about knowing when to offer which type of feedback opportunity. Either way, the more often you can create these opportunities, the more it will increase company-wide comfort and transparency.

Women in your company need to be able to meet and draw inspiration from other powerful women. Female-only or female-centric groups provide opportunities for women to candidly talk about the challenges they face and receive advice from others who may have dealt with similar issues.

Empowering female voices and female self-expression in the office isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s also smart business strategy. Companies need to recognize this and understand the internal hurdles women face when it comes to striving for leadership positions. HR professionals can effect real change by educating leaders and making space for women to connect with other women.

How to Hire Based on Values

A well-defined culture is the key to uniting your company and scaling to new heights, says author and high-growth company culture expert Brett Putter. Then why is hiring for culture fit so difficult?

Putter, who is the founder and CEO of CultureGene, a culture consultancy helping prepare startup and high-growth companies for scale, says your company culture is essentially the way your organization works. That means as you develop your business and it grows, your culture will change with it — making hiring for culture fit a tricky, if not impossible, task.

Hiring for well-defined values, on the other hand, is much more executable, Putter says. It’s also good business, leading to better employee retention, collaboration and productivity.

“When people are values-aligned they share much quicker, and the basis of the sharing is around the culture — almost the invisible way the company works,” he says. “We find that people get up to speed much quicker and we find that the root speed on their ROI is much quicker.”

We recently spoke to Putter about his company’s culture-development process and the power of hiring based on values.

Define Your Values

“If you ask any CEO to accurately define their culture, they can’t,” Putter says. “The reason for that is because it’s this almost-invisible, subconscious thing, for the most part, and it changes all the time.”

In his firm’s culture-development process, organizations start by defining their values, mission and vision — and specifically define values first. “Most companies make a mistake and they find the values, they put them up on a wall and tell their people to live those values,” he says. The problem, he says, is that people always interpret the same values differently, which can lead to significantly different decisions.

Instead, Putter starts by having companies taking their values and defining a handful of expected behaviors connected to those values. “That then allows the individuals in the company to understand how they should behave,” he says. “That then allows you to start interviewing and structuring interview questions against those specific behaviors, which are associated with your values.”

Hire Against Values

Prior to founding CultureGene, Putter was the managing partner at a London-based executive search firm, where he successfully completed executive-level searches for hundreds of companies.

When it comes to hiring for senior roles, Puttner says the candidate should be interviewed against your organization’s values first — before against specific skills and experience. “By and large from the CV you can tell if this person can do the job or not,” he says. “It’s more important to not waste everyone else’s time if they don’t fit the values.

CultureGene trains executives who are hiring to conduct the first few candidate interviews in pairs. One person asks questions and watches the candidate responses, while the second person takes notes and focuses on what he or she is hearing from the candidate. “At the end of that the two people get together and they score this person against the believability of those answers,” he says.

For hiring more junior positions at scale, a company can dedicate one person who will do a last-minute values check — after the hiring manager has identified a successful candidate — to ensure that person is a good fit for the organization.

Demonstrate Values During Onboarding

While CultureGene tailors the onboarding around the way each company works, it places a strong emphasis on demonstrating and communicating company values to new hires.

Putter recommends that the CEO begins the onboarding process if possible. “The CEO opens the onboarding and says, ‘This is who I am, I have an open-door policy, these are our values, this is what’s important to me,’ ” he says. Then, at the end of the week, the same CEO could say, “What questions do you have?” and reiterate the open-door policy that was expressed in the opening day.

Putter also encourages organizations to make an effort to incorporate their values into the onboarding process. For example, if prosperity is one of the company’s values, part of the process from the first day could be to share financials and the overall state of the business with the new hire.

The CultureGene process also requires every direct employee who is going to work with the new hire to write a 30-, 60- and 90-day plan that explains what they need to do to work well with the new employee over those periods and what they want to teach the new employee in that time.

“We demonstrate to the employee that’s joining we care about what you are about to achieve,” he says.

Which Comes First, the Culture or the Practices? The Chicken-and-Egg Problem in HR Tech

In the innovation and HR tech field, one of the common concerns we hear from people is that their culture might not be ready for new practices, processes or tools.

They say their employees simply wouldn’t be ready for the kind of transparency and personal responsibility that are central for virtually all modern collaboration platforms. This might include platforms for employee engagement, idea management or internal communication.

They often continue by saying that unless a culture shift happens prior to introducing these tools or related practices, they would be very likely to fail.

On the other hand, there are also people who see these practices, processes and tools as a way to actually create that change.

Let’s examine both sides of the argument. What does it take to shape culture and successfully introduce change to an organization?

Where Does Culture Come From?

To think about where culture comes from, we must first define what we mean by culture — which isn’t easy since there are probably as many definitions as there are leaders out there, none of which are perfect.

However, my favorite approach is to define culture as the collective way things are done in an organization, especially when the boss isn’t around.

There are a number of factors to consider:

  • The larger purpose and mission of the organization.
  • The collective values of the organization.
  • The personal values of each employee.
  • The formal processes and tools used by the organization.
  • The informal ways of working within the organization.

Let’s take a brief look at each of these factors.

Which Comes First, the Culture or the Practices? The Chicken-and-Egg Problem in HR Tech

The Purpose and Mission

Since there’s such a shortage of talent in most industries, talented employees can choose who they work for. This is especially the case for the most respected and influential people in each organization.

More often than not, these influential employees haven’t chosen the organization they work for based purely on factors such as benefits and compensation, as Daniel Pink argues in his book “Drive.” They often work for the organization because they believe in what it’s trying to achieve. Since others in the organization look up to these influential team members, they often follow suit and seek to help the organization achieve its mission, which has a big influence on how people behave.

The Collective Values of the Organization

Most organizations have core values that represent what they believe in. However, the values the organization has chosen and communicates to the outside world might not really reflect how it actually behaves.

A great example of this is the story of Enron. “Respect” and “integrity” were two of its core values, and it had a 65-page ethics manual elaborating how the company was supposed to behave.

Which Comes First, the Culture or the Practices? The Chicken-and-Egg Problem in HR Tech

However, the people in the organization, starting from the very top, chose not to act according to those values. They acted not based on respect and integrity, but on greed. Employees thus saw that kind of behavior as the way to succeed in the company and replicated it, which eventually led to Enron’s downfall.

So the collective values of your organization matter a lot, and they’re not just words. When your words and actions are at odds, it’s your actions that people will believe in and replicate.

The Personal Values of Employees

Just like the collective values of the organization, the personal values of employees affect behavior. These values can, and often do, also influence other employees.

Over time these individual values shape the larger collective values of the organization, which makes it crucial to choose employees with values that match your desired culture.

As Workday CEO Aneel Bhusri said in a recent episode of the Masters of Scale podcast, having a good fit between candidates’ personal values and your desired culture should always be a key factor in hiring decisions.

The Formal Processes of the Organization

The formal tools, practices and processes used by the organization also have a huge impact on the culture.

If you want your culture to be collaborative but most work and decisions happen individually, it’s quite unlikely that collaboration will thrive. It’s thus crucial that the tools, practices and processes that employees use daily are in line with the culture you want to create.

So if you’re looking to shape your culture to be more innovative, it makes sense to implement practices that encourage employees to innovate, be it via an idea-management process or a practice like Google’s “20 percent time.”

The Informal Ways of Working

If you have a problem with the office printer, the first thing you do probably isn’t to create a support ticket for your IT help desk. Instead you ask Alice for help since she’s the expert on that stuff.

And if it’s too difficult to get approval for new initiatives, the odds are that either you’ll become passive or you’ll find a way to implement the initiative even without permission.

All organizations have thousands of informal ways of working that have gradually become a part of the organization. These informal practices play a huge role in shaping the culture.

How Do You Shape Culture?

If those five factors define culture, how do you shape it?

It’s simple, really. You change those five factors to the direction you want to move and gradually people will adapt to the new norm, which results in the culture changing.

However, “simple” doesn’t necessarily mean “easy.”

Changes in your processes can have unintended consequences. It’s notoriously challenging to change people’s habits and ways of working. Your employees might not embrace the new values until they see management do so. They might even dislike the new values or mission and decide to leave.

There are plenty of practical challenges on actually making cultural change happen. The real question is “Where should we start?”

Which Comes First, the Chicken or the Egg?

Getting back to our original question, there are two basic approaches we can take to driving cultural change:

  • Start from the purpose and values.
  • Start from the processes, tools and ways of working.

Let’s look at each of them separately.

Which Comes First, the Culture or the Practices? The Chicken-and-Egg Problem in HR Tech

The Values-Driven Approach

Proponents of the values-driven approach call for clarifying the purpose of the organization and using that to identify core values that are critical for success.

We’ve heard plenty of talk about the importance of purpose and shared values for motivation and for organizational culture, and we’ve seen research to support these findings, such as the Two-Factor Theory.

The Action-Driven Approach

The other side of the argument is that values and a mission alone rarely result in anything concrete, even if people believe in them, unless they’re rooted in how the organization actually works.

Thus, the more vocal proponents of this approach say that changing an organization happens by collectively building new habits to replace the old ones, and that the important thing is to just get started.

Putting It All Together

The bottom line is that the argument between these schools of thought is somewhat artificial and academic. Yes, it’s hard, if not impossible, to act the right way before you have a purpose and a set of reinforcing values. And yes, you’ll never make change happen at large scale with just a purpose and a couple of values. But in real life you need both. You have to think about them together and you have to implement them together.

Just as with strategy and execution, values and actions are fundamentally linked. If the sides aren’t aligned or one side is lacking, failure is usually inevitable.

Of course, cultural change usually doesn’t — and shouldn’t! — mean that you need a 180-degree reversal of everything the organization stands for. It’s simply about making small adjustments to guide you toward achieving your mission.

So the next time you implement a new HR tech solution, ask yourself whether the tool is going to help you in your mission, and whether your culture should be changed to better accommodate the new tool achieve that purpose — and if so, how you plan to achieve that.

#WorkTrends: Why We Need More Humble Leaders

Nearly everyone has worked for an egomaniacal boss; by the end of this sentence you’ll be picturing yours in the back of your head. That’s hardly ever a pleasant experience, but it highlights what good leadership should look like, says Bill Treasurer, chief encouragement officer at Giant Leap Consulting and co-author of the new book “The Leadership Killer.”

On this week’s episode of #WorkTrends, Treasurer shares his experience in building successful leadership roles and culture, and why humility is the key to it all.

We also talk to Jonathan Richards, the CEO of breatheHR, who has a company culture pledge you can use to make your staff and values more impactful.

Listen to the full conversation or read the recap below. Subscribe so you never miss an episode.

Hubris and the First Rule of Leadership

Treasurer says the biggest risk to companies from their leadership is hubris, often called arrogance. It’s overconfidence mixed with an inflated ego that becomes a danger to itself and especially to the people that the person is leading.

“Most of us, by the middle of life, have worked with a leader that we wouldn’t care to work for again, and nearly always it comes down to the arrogance that that leader has,” Treasurer says.

Arrogance and that feeling of knowing everything without needing input or guidance from anyone else is often the root of many business problems, he says. This can include leaders who are incompetent, intimidating and ungracious. Treasurer says this violates the first rule of leadership: “Leadership’s not about the leader. It’s about the people being led.”

You’re in the Sandbox Too

Being humble and ditching the ego can help people achieve one very important aspect of leadership: Being a good role model for the rest of us and being someone we aspire to be like. That also means passing the “authenticity detectors” of people on your team or in a meeting, Treasurer says.

“They also have to play nice in the sandbox,” he says. “They have to be able to bring people with them so that people want to follow them. And that means not alienating people.”

Humility Sets the Team Up for Success

Much of Treasurer’s work involves creating leadership training that’s designed to build stronger teams and companies. He says he has learned a few surprising lessons, including about what people expect their legacy as a leader to be.

“When I do these leadership programs, I often will ask people at the beginning of the program, ‘What is it that you’re wanting to get done with your leadership? Like if you’re able to project out 20 years from now and you’re looking back to your career as a leader, what do you hope will have happened?’

“And the most common answer that I hear is that they have created other leaders. That they’ve left a legacy of pulling out the leadership in others,” Treasurer says.

He’s also heard the exact opposite, where someone says their personal experience and expertise is what the rest of the program attendees need to hear. That goes over about as well as “a big thing of stale cheese.”

Ask for the Best Way to Disagree

Not everyone is blessed with a truly humble boss, but Treasurer says you shouldn’t just throw your hands up if that’s the case. There’s a lot of arrogance in the world, and you’re going to run into it at some point. What you can do, he says, is start by establishing a personal relationship with that boss.

That relationship should be followed by learning what your leader’s goals are and what results they’re seeking. “That’s what leaders fixate on, and that’s what bosses fixate on,” he says. “And then when you see a behavior that you think is out of check, you should go to them and express to them how that behavior is impeding their results and connect it to their goal and goal attainment. And if their own behavior is, in fact, inhibiting their ability to get to their goal faster, then they’re going to pay a lot more attention.”

Be diplomatic and ask about the best way to provide feedback that you think will help, he says. “Say, ‘Give me some coaching. What’s the best way to disagree with you in a way that your ears will be receptive to it and not see it as disrespect?’ ”

Common ground requires coaching from your boss as well as the ability to help them be accountable.

Pledge to Make It Part of Company Culture

Treasurer’s thoughts on being a humble boss dovetail nicely with our discussion with breatheHR’s Richards about how companies can support their workforce by committing to establishing a strong culture. He says a company pledge can build a strong rapport with a workforce and even help them get behind leadership.

Taking a pledge to improve company culture is a way to start communication between staff and leadership. “So [leaders] should go out and listen to what their people are saying. They should ask some good questions and then just start listening,” Richards says.

Resources Mentioned in This Episode

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


#WorkTrends: The Evolved Executive

The way we work is leading to stressed-out employees, unfulfilled leaders and unhappy teams — and author Heather Hanson Wickman is adamant that there is a better way.

On this episode of #WorkTrends she tells us why she wrote her new book — “The Evolved Executive: The Future of Work Is Love in Action” — and why caring matters more than ever in the modern workplace. We also hear from a leader who is completely rethinking the way we work.

Listen to the full conversation or read the recap below. Subscribe so you never miss an episode.

Toxic Workplaces

Wickman says she spent more than a decade climbing the corporate ladder in an effort to achieve a level of success that she thought would ultimately be fulfilling. The journey, however, left her questioning, in a fundamental way, how organizations treat their people.

“Unfortunately what I found, along with a lot of good learning, was a world of work that was full of toxic management practices to keep us in control, to keep our egos alive, to keep status in place in a workplace where we were spending so much time just covering up who we are, covering up what we thought our weakness is, than we were actually doing our work,” she says.

Toward the end of her corporate journey, Wickman says, she started to see these toxic management practices increasingly affecting people in physical ways, such as migraines that sent people to the ER, heart conditions and severe stress reactions.

“I just came to this feeling and realization that the way that we’re working isn’t working anymore,” she says. “In doing some of the research early on for this book, I found a stat that said basically many workplaces today are as harmful as secondhand smoke, and that really sent me back [to realize] we have to do something dramatically different here.”

After taking some time to re-evaluate where she was in her career and what she wanted to do in her life and work, Wickman realized she wanted to be a part of designing a different way of work, helping organizations evolve through better leadership practices.

What’s Love Got to Do with Business?

“Most of our management practices that we use today really are still rooted in this old paradigm of command and control,” Wickman says. “If we dig a little bit deeper in that space, command and control are all based in fear.”

She says if we want to overcome common workplace fears and create a new fundamental experience in the workplace, we have to look in the opposite direction, and that’s where loves come in. “I think about it in terms of embracing love, the beliefs that foster love, practices that embody love and the words that really share love, is the magic for building organizations of the future,” she says.

Wickman acknowledges that the word “love” can carry considerable baggage for some people, so she says some managers successfully employ the concept as “care” or “joy” — caring about their team or finding ways to infuse joy into workplace practices. What’s most important, she says, is to pull away from practices that promote fear.

Creating Change

Wickman says that love in action isn’t a soft, gushy concept, but a real and difficult challenge that leaders need to meet head-on with real effort and policies. “It’s about freedom and autonomy,” she says. “It’s about human connection. It’s about growth.”

She says there are plenty of steps the average manager or the average employee can do, but first they must be willing to experiment together, test new ideas and iterate as needed.

The first step she suggests managers take is to find small ways to give power and control back to team members. “If you’re the average manager and you have five team members, is there a decision you run into this week that someone else can take on … and maybe learn something from the process?” she says.

She says another simple but powerful step is to block out time to actually connect with your team on a human level. “We get so bogged down with emails and just constantly in our office with the door closed, so put your computer away and go out and talk to your team members without any expectation of asking them to do something,” she says. “Just get to know them. What are their passions, desires and dreams? It’s truly amazing how a team can come together when they feel really valued and cared for by their manager.”

Resources Mentioned in This Episode

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

#WorkTrends: Is Your Team Really Motivated?

Gregg LedermanWhen it comes to employee management and engagement, a large body of research indicates that respect, purpose and relationships are more effective than money. So why are so many organizations still struggling to move the needle on worker engagement?

On this week’s episode of #WorkTrends, we discuss these issues —and a few creative answers — with author and employee engagement expert Gregg Lederman, who shares valuable lessons from his new book, “Crave.”

Lederman is a sought-after speaker, best-selling author and president of employee engagement at Reward Gateway, an employee engagement company. He is also the founder of Brand Integrity, a leadership development and employee engagement company. For the past 16 years he has worked with leading organizations to implement sustainable engagement solutions.

Listen to the full conversation or read the recap below. Subscribe so you never miss an episode. This episode is brought to you by our friends Reward Gateway.

A Management Problem

Lederman says he was moved to write his book after diving into the huge body of social science research on employee engagement going back to the 1930s. He started to realize that organizations were either not understanding the research or not deploying it in ways that optimized the engagement in the customer experience.

“It is not the employees’ fault,” he says. “This is a management issue. We have a management engagement crisis.”

Lederman argues that the engagement issue has more of an “energy crisis.” “Companies are buying the energy of their people, and they’re not getting it all because [the employees] are not as motivated and committed to doing what’s best for the company as they could be,” he says.

What People Crave

Lederman says that if you look at the engagement numbers from 2000, when Gallup started first polling on the issue, and compare them with 2018, they have changed by only about 4 percentage points. Meanwhile, he says, the amount of money companies are spending to try to fix the engagement issue is up 115 percent in the past five years.

“That is almost $8 billion spent last year to try to fix the engagement issues that we have,” he says. “Yet engagement is barely budging. The answer is in the book. It’s in the title, frankly — the reason people are not engaged at work is they’re not getting enough of what they crave.”

He says research is clear that motivation is intrinsic, rather than something we do to people, and that you can’t “beg for more or bribe people for it. People are going to decide each day whether or not they are going to tap into that intrinsic motivation and be more committed to the organization.”

Lederman has summarized the research into three concepts. The first thing that humans crave is to be respected for who they are and what they do. The second concept is purpose. “Help me see the purpose, the meaning, the impact of my work,” he says. And the third is relationships, particularly a worker’s relationship with his or her boss.

“You have to learn how to genuinely and very strategically capture and share successes and help people to see that what they do is important and that they matter,” he says. “When you do that, you’re not just showing them respect and helping them see the purpose, you are strengthening a relationship with them.”

10 Minutes by Friday

The subtitle of Lederman’s book is “You Can Enhance Motivation in 10 Minutes by Friday,” which hints at the simple ways he suggests for leaders to implement some of his ideas to boost engagement.

“At least once a month, take 10 minutes to stop, witness and share a success inside your organization of someone living your values, delivering your hospitality experience, doing something to drive your strategy forward — and connect that to a business result,” he says.

“There is a three-step process for how you do the actual recognition to make it strategic, but that’s it: 10 minutes a month if you want to be good. If you want to be amazing, and literally almost instantly become a better leader, challenge yourself to do it 10 minutes a week. It’s not easy, but that’s the 10 minutes by Friday challenge that our organization Reward Gateway is putting out there in front of folks.”

Resources Mentioned in This Episode

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

#WorkTrends: How Seeing People as People Changes Everything

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

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

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


What Does ‘The Shift’ Mean?

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

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

She realized they had shifted their mindset.

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

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

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

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

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

How Can Leaders Encourage a Shift?

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

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

Amen to that!

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

#WorkTrends: Culture Wins

Two out of three Americans hate their jobs.

That’s a crazy statistic, and it’s one we all want to be on the opposite end of. We want to love going to work — and we want everyone else on our team to love work, too.

This week on #WorkTrends, we’re talking to William Vanderbloemen, author of the new book “Culture Wins: The Roadmap to an Irresistible Workplace.” He’s helping us think through why culture matters so much and how we can all build better ones.

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

Work Is Family

I thought I could get through 5 minutes of an interview without bringing up the “M” word, but nope — we jumped into a conversation about millennials right away. Vanderbloemen points to the number of workers, by generation, who are available to work. There are a lot of baby boomers and millennials, and much fewer Gen Xers. As the Boomers start to retire, millennials are going to absolutely dominate the workforce. So their preferences about work are only going to become more important in the next 10 years, he says.

“Smart companies are starting to say, ‘What are the things we can learn about this generation? How can we build a workplace that matches them so we can retain them?’”

One thing that’s unique about millennials: They prioritize financial security, but are marrying and having children much later in life. So, Vanderbloemen says, “that means the people they work with are their family. And if they don’t like the people they work with or the place they work, they’re going to go find another family to hang out with.”

Millennials aren’t looking to stay at one organization for 20 years, but finding ways to retain millennial employees for just two years longer than your competition can lead to huge advantages for employers, he says.

Values Trump Fun

We’ve talked before on #WorkTrends about fun at work. So I asked Vanderbloemen: Does fun at work matter? His simple answer: Nope. “If I could rewrite my book, I’d have one more chapter titled ‘Culture Does Not Equal Fun.’ Work is work, and work is where you show up to get things done. A lot of people mistake a winning culture for a place that’s fun.”

When his company won a Best Place to Work award from Entrepreneur a few years back, he was surprised that they took home the top prize even though they had a simple office without bells and whistles like free food or foosball tables. Instead, his team focused on their values.

“We laid out nine clear values of how we function together,” he says. “We’ve hired around it. We’ve reviewed people around it. We compensate around it. We fired people because of it. And it’s created a sense of family. Now, is it fun when you all function the same way? Absolutely, but if fun is the target you’re going to be chasing windmills. Fun is a byproduct of a healthy culture, but it’s not the target.”

Vanderbloemen reverse-engineered his company’s culture to define his team’s core values — or what he calls “defining our kind of crazy.” One of those values is “ridiculous responsiveness.” He realized early on, when he was running his business from a card table, that clients were amazed by how quickly he got back to them. He realized that responsiveness set him apart from the competition, so he made sure to hire only people who were “almost maniacal about getting back to people right away.”

Defining your culture, he says, is all about asking this question: “When we’re at our best, what do we do that’s common to us but uncommon to other teams around us?”

Build a Business Case for Culture

Vanderbloemen has seen the impact culture can have on a team — and on the bottom line. When he was writing his book, he researched more than 100 companies with award-winning cultures. One thing they all had in common: they invest cold, hard dollars in culture every year.

So, how can HR pros make a business case for investing in culture? Vanderbloemen says HR teams have to shift the conversation away from spending and instead focus on how investing in culture will save the organization money and create fewer people problems.

“There’s nothing more expensive to a business than people problems,” he says. He points to one tech company that has two very similar competitors, but they’re much more profitable than those competitors. What sets them apart? They invest 5% of their revenue on culture.

“In the tech industry, turnover is rampant,” he says. This particular tech sector’s churn rate is about 38%. Once the company started spending money on culture, their churn rate dropped to 2%. “So, every year, four people leave instead of 76. That’s 72 vacancies they don’t have to deal with every year. By spending a million dollars on culture, they’ve retained people. They have momentum in their business, less turnover cost, less hiring cost and greater profitability.”

“That’s why we called this book ‘Culture Wins,’” he says. “It’s a way to win in the coming years.”

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

What’s the Role of Company Culture in the Gig Economy?

Company culture is a huge factor when it comes to recruiting and retaining employees and building an organization’s public reputation. But does culture matter for freelancers, consultants and contract workers in the gig economy — those who have a company of one?

Yes, says Marion McGovern, author of “Thriving in the Gig Economy.” “The whole culture thing goes hand-in-hand with your brand,” she says, even if you’re small. “Culture is what makes people resonate with your mission. If that’s true for big companies, why shouldn’t it be true for a small one? Even if you’re a company of one, you’re still in a community of clients and other people who can help you serve those clients.”

Whether you’re just starting out on your own or have been working solo for years, culture is still vital to the work you do. Here’s what you need to know about how culture works in a company of one.

Culture Brings Multiple Benefits

Large organizations focus on company culture because having happy employees makes them more productive. A strong company culture can also help a company sharpen its brand and stand out in its market, and a company of one can take advantage of these benefits as well. “If you believe what organizational experts say, culture is really the most important thing in defining a company and creating the best experience for your customer,” McGovern says. “Every company, even if it’s just your company of one, should focus on it.”

This can sometimes be a challenge, especially for freelancers or contract workers who left full-time employment because they didn’t want to be a part of corporate life anymore, McGovern says. But if you’ve made the choice and decided that being a company of one is your path, configuring a company culture will help you think about issues important to your business, she says.

Your Culture Communicates Your Value

When you set out on your own, you probably knew how you wanted to run your business. For many, that looks like wanting to make more money on their own or having more control over their time, McGovern says. But as the day-to-day reality of running a business set in, those ideas may have changed or gotten pushed aside as you worked to keep the lights on. Establishing values — for yourself, for the kind of work you want to take on and how you’ll do that work — will give you guideposts for your business and help you set a culture.

You likely have a good idea of your own values; they’re what pushed you to work on your own. For organizational values, look at what makes your company stand out, McGovern says — the “special sauce” that you add to get results for your customers. It might be collaboration, inquiry or creativity, for example. Whatever it is, it can serve as a stake for your company culture that guides how you work, the kinds of projects you take on an the clients you work with.

Scott Poniewaz, founder of Austin-based The Pony Group, is intentional about his culture of one. “When starting my freelance and consulting career, I knew that the area of marketing was crowded, so I needed to decide if I was going to be a scrappy growth hacker or develop my brand and persona around a more professional demeanor,” he says. “I went with the latter.”

While he works with many startups, his polished website design and “Fractional CMO” tagline communicate gravitas for larger, more established clients. His office space plays a role as well: “I easily could be in a hip co-working space, but instead chose a more professional office” in a building that’s home to banks, investment funds, title companies and lawyers, he says. “It’s not as hip, but it provides me the opportunity to attract and work with serious and well-funded clients.”

Your Company Is Part of a Larger Community

Just because you’re a company of one doesn’t mean you’re a single player. You’re part of a larger community, and having a strong culture will help you find partners, clients and connections that can build your business. “That culture matters not just to you but to the community that you are a part of,” McGovern says.

It can be helpful to go to your community — former co-workers, clients and colleagues — and get their input on the value you bring and how they see you as you define your culture. “It might feel awkward, like you’re fishing for compliments, but you’re fishing for competence,” McGovern says. Ask people what they would hire you for, what they think you do best, and what suggestions they have to strengthen and highlight your culture. “People buy from people. When you’re an independent, in essence, you’re selling yourself,” McGovern says.

#WorkTrends Recap: Why Fun at Work Matters

It’s official: Forced fun is over.

“Let people have the brand of fun that works for them in the context of their culture.”

That wisdom is from Nick Gianoulis, who’s known as “the Godfather of Fun” around his office. He realized years ago when he was planning an employee event that people are looking for ways to connect, celebrate and have fun throughout the work week — not just at huge after-hours company parties once or twice a year. He started The Fun Department to infuse a little fun into the work day.

On the #WorkTrends podcast, he shared how any leader can add more fun to work and keep employees engaged. You can listen to the episode below, or keep reading for a recap.


Create Shared Experiences

Here’s the big question: What’s the definition of “fun”? Gianoulis tasked an employee with answering that question. After months of research, the employee came back with bad news: There isn’t a universal definition of fun. Fun is different for every person. But, he found a common thread: People have fun when they share an experience together.

To create those shared experiences, Gianoulis and his team aim to figure out what’s fun for each individual, team and department. And they don’t force anything. “One of the really important elements of this shared experience is that it’s all-inclusive and nonthreatening,” he says. “Someone might just want to observe or cheer their team on. You let people participate at the level they’re comfortable with.”

Here’s an example: One of his clients found that a lot of the company’s employees like dance. Some people might love dancing, others might like watching “Dancing with the Stars.” At 3 p.m. every day, the company takes a dance break.

Follow the Laws of Fun

“‘The Laws of Fun’ sounds like an oxymoron,” Gianoulis says, “but there are some universal truths” to creating fun experiences for people at work.

First: Leaders have to buy in. “When leaders buy in, we’re successful 100 percent of the time. When leaders don’t buy in and we’re trying to force it from the bottom up, it’s only about 50 percent successful, and it might live in one area or department, but it won’t translate to the rest of the organization.”

Second: Remember the “Three Cs”: consistency, company time and compliance. Plan consistent activities. Gianoulis recommends a 15- to 30-minute activity once a month. Have fun on company time — not just after work hours. And make sure the experience is compliant with your overall company culture.

Think Small

Creating fun experiences at work doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. “We really promote doing things that are small, easy, organic and don’t require expert facilitation,” Gianoulis says.

Let’s say you want to have a company football game. Gianoulis suggests adapting football to a degree where everyone can play. He’d make it a 10- to 15-minute game, with props and supplies that cost less than $100.

“Employees don’t want these big, elaborate team-building events anymore,” he says. Instead, millennials are pushing for a more flexible culture that incorporates fun into everyday moments. And that’s good news for everyone, he says. “It doesn’t matter how old you are, everybody would like to have fun and flexibility at work.”

5 Proven Ways to Make Employees Never Want to Leave

Recruiting the right employees is a time-consuming and important process. Hiring the right people is critical to the organization achieving its goals. But what happens when a new hire shows up for work? How can you make sure your star candidate becomes a happy, dedicated employee who never wants to leave?

I’ve learned five keys to meeting new employees’ expectations and keeping them engaged on the job.

“How Can I Help” Leadership

Command and control is old-school; servant leadership is the new school of management. To improve retention, throw out old dictatorial practices and focus on how leaders help employees achieve their goals. Rather than tell people what to do, the servant leader looks for ways to remove obstacles that prevent people from succeeding.

As an executive servant leader, I dedicated at least 50 percent of my time each week meeting with people to understand how they did their job and what they needed to achieve their goals more effectively. I always took notes and made a point of following up to report on what actions I had taken as a result of their input.

In addition, every month I held “bear pit” sessions where I invited key employees from various functions to come together and “have at me.” They asked bold questions and I answered, unaccompanied by my support staff. To say that these sessions were grueling would be an understatement but I quickly learned how people were feeling in my organization and what was needed to enhance their engagement.

Regular Performance Feedback

Everyone wants to improve, and if employees don’t get constructive performance assessment on a frequent basis, they feel abandoned by the organization. They have no idea what they need to do to improve and as a result feel that no one really cares about helping them do a better job. Employees who don’t get feedback leave for an organization that has employee performance management hardwired into its culture. Show your people that preparing employees for future opportunities is a priority for leadership.

I held each of my direct reports accountable for conducting regular performance reviews with their reports; it was a key element in their performance plan and their annual bonus depended on how well they carried out the task.

Career Development Plans

Every employee needs a specific plan for how they’ll learn new skills and get exposure to new opportunities. Leaders are responsible for making sure every employee has a detailed career plan, including potential lateral moves that could enhance their long-term potential.

One way I measured a leader’s effectiveness: looking at how many of their employees moved around to new positions in the organization in order to expose them to new challenges. The effective leaders made it a priority to proactively move their people around; the mediocre ones never did and as a result had short tenure in my organization.

A Personalized Culture of Engagement

A culture isn’t created by corporate programs. It’s defined by everyday personalized acts of leadership. No two people can be engaged in the same way, hence the problem with a single engagement program that is forced to fit all individuals. Instead, a leader can create a personalized culture based on how they interact with each employee every day.

My calendar was full of one-on-one conversations with individuals in my organization. Those conversations made it fairly easy to understand how I could help them identify more strongly with the goals of the organization.

Fair Compensation

The most obvious way to retain employees is to satisfy their basic needs: pay and benefits. Without those fundamentals, it’s difficult to attract people through the recruitment process and to hold them if they take a position with you. You must be at least comparable to your competitors to play the game.

Standout organizations with incredible retention rates invest heavily to both discover individuals who align with their vision and values and to build a culture that encourages them to stay. The leader who wants to retain loyal employees makes it an everyday priority. Focus on these five practices and not only will your retention rates improve, your peers will look at you as the organization to watch in the field.