Owning Engagement in Your Workplace

We’re going on well over fifteen years of thinking about employee engagement in organizations.  And after years of surveying employees and rolling organizational results into a macro look at our country, the results today have not changed much from when we first started the analysis.  What we know is companies that lose disengaged employees often see the negative impact of having lower profitability and higher recruiting expenses.

From a company perspective, there are always things that can be done to reach out to employees and make them feel valued.  What has changed in the last fifteen years is using technology to bolster engagement by creating solutions to aid in stronger organizational connections.  These can include solutions to:

  • Encourage mentor relationships- Employees who feel mentored know that someone in the organization cares about their development and career path.  This mentor relationship also creates an outlet for continuous communication, and feedback, so that the employee has a strong connection point.
  • Communicate more, not less- Being transparent, even in economic downturns, builds trust with employees.  They will be more likely to hang in there for the long run.  Additionally, letting an employee know how valuable they are to the company is key.
  • Allow and encourage some fun in the work day- Fun at work = employees who don’t dread being there.  You don’t have to be playing ping pong or foosball all day at work, but definitely encourage a culture of being able to step away from the desk to chat and congregate.  It also means providing technology to make collaboration and sharing easier.  And beyond the technology, having senior leaders who will use and champion the technology so that employees feel compelled to use it too.

But it’s not just about the company driving employee engagement.  In many organizations, employee engagement is looked at as the relationship between the employee and the company.  In actuality, it goes far beyond this and is the relationships that an individual employee builds with colleagues and clients that truly indicate how likely the employee is to stay with the organization.  Engagement is also a set of behaviors an employee must embrace in order to make the connections that will be lasting.  So, what can you do as an employee to build that relationship?

Ways to foster your own engagement

  • Volunteer to do more
  • Be more active (in the group, the topic, etc.)
  • Look for ways to improve, then implement them
  • Take ownership for what goes well and where you need to improve
  • Get “fired up” and use your passion
  • Be loyal
  • Build trusting relationships

The take away for me is it’s about focusing on the relationship, not the individual inputs  and levers.

What do you think?  What would you add to the list?

How Advice From Leaders Early In My Career Almost Derailed Me

There is no shortage of articles that share stories of all the amazing things that former bosses taught the writer.  Maybe your former boss taught you to be resilient, bold, careful, approachable or accurate.  Maybe they were successful leaders, or maybe they were only mediocre.  Either way, we tend to try to look for the silver lining when remembering those people that mentored us.  The flip side is looking at bad bosses and the impact they have.  Again, no shortage of articles on this topic.  My take today will have a little different spin.  I’d like to think back to good bosses that did impart some not-so-valuable nuggets along the way.

I spent the first years of my career working for some amazing companies that truly had brilliant leaders.  I do credit them for almost all of my good business habits.  However, there were a few times that they gave me advice that could have helped derail my career, had I listened.  Here are five things the Traditionalist and Boomer leaders taught me early in my career that I was smart enough to ignore.

  • Work as many hours as possible-  I can’t tell you how many times in my twenties that someone older told me to always arrive before the boss and leave after the boss.  I’m not sure why, but I listened.  At first.  Then, I realized that not only did this make me quite tired, it didn’t equate to better performance or results.  Not one leader ever mentioned that they noticed I was doing this.  So, early in my career, I decided to focus more energy on creating great work product instead of putting in time before/ after the boss’ hours.
  • OT is a badge of honor– Related to the concept of working early in the morning and late at night is the idea that by putting in a lot of OT, you’re doing well.  Let me be clear, OT is NOT a badge of honor.  Like before, I fell into this time tracking trap too.  My first couple years, I was logging 500- 600 hours of OT a year.  Now, as a salaried employee I was not getting pay for this, it was just an exercise to see if I worked more than 40 hours per week.  Again, once I realized that this did not yield better results, I stopped.  I began to adopt the theory that I would work as hard as I could to produce a great result, in whatever time frame that took.  Often, it’s not requiring OT.  Sometimes it does.  I think this approach has been a much healthier one for me and certainly led to me being more engaged at work and at home.
  • Drink if the leader or client drinks- Maybe this was a 90’s thing, but looking back, I can’t believe this advice.  Early in my career, I had several leaders who told me this.  They said that even if I didn’t drink the alcohol, to order it to be polite to the host or client.  Now, I have the stance that as an adult, you do what makes you comfortable.  Believe me, if a client wants a drink, that’s fine.  It doesn’t mean I have to order one just to look cool.  Same with a boss.  On the flip side, if I want to order one, I will.  It really depends on the setting, the situation, the people involved and my own mood.  The point is not to let colleague or boss peer pressure you into ordering alcohol.
  • Always wear professional clothing-  When I first received this advice, it was quite specific.  Those were the days when business suits reigned and specifically, a skirt suit for women.  I found that wearing suits usually made me feel stuffy and quite unnatural.  I know some people love them, and that’s great.  However, I’ve managed to have a successful career with my altered approach.  I recommend dressing for the occasion.  At times I addressed or worked with people in manufacturing settings, I would dress more casually.  If the situation was a group of highly professional business people, a nice dress and blazer tends to do the trick.  Either way, the point is that I am not smart or full of ideas because I wear a suit.  As long as clothes are clean and pressed, go with what makes you most comfortable. For me, this even means wearing jeans and dressing them up or down.
  • Don’t get too close with anyone at work–  The idea that HR is an island and we are “nobody’s friend” stuck with me for years.  This likely meant I missed out on some really great relationships in my lifetime.  But, I’m not bitter.  I have learned in the past few years that being myself (professional when needed, fun when it makes sense) is the best approach.  I don’t mind clients getting to know me personally.  Many know my kids and what my family likes to do in our free time.  In return, I like to know about them too.  I care about their families, their dreams, their challenges, their health.  They are friends and business partners.  It’s a much more human, caring way to work, and I love it!

As you can see, I’ve tried to adopt my own approach to my work style.  Had I followed all the advice given to me, I definitely would not be where I am today.  So what about you?  Have you worked with some great leaders who gave any bad advice?  What have you hung on to and what have you cast aside?  Tell me in the comments.

How The Laws of Wealth Can Improve Your Management Game

I was looking for some summer reading.  Something that would challenge me, inspire me, and help me continue on my path to being a better leader.  Mission accomplished!

3d-bookWhether you’ve been a long-time reader, know me personally, or are just finding this blog, you’ll find that I am someone who likes to look to industries outside of the traditional HR arena when it comes to learning how to be a better leader.  For example, I’ve gravitated to science and design as places to look for inspiration on creating better leadership practices or people-relations experiences.  Additionally, as someone who has held high level HR positions that tied closely to the CFO and finance teams in organizations, the role of understanding the impact of finance on the people practices is equally important.

With that in mind, I found a new resource from the finance world for leaders and managers to use in their day-to-day people management.  To be clear and upfront, this is in no way a paid endorsement and I did not receive anything “free” in order to make this recommendation.  The source I’m sharing today is a new book by author Dr. Daniel Crosby.  If you’re not familiar with him yet, you should be.  Dr. Crosby’s book The Laws of Wealth is not only helpful as an individual striving to have better understanding of your personal finances and approach.  It’s a source that has components that can be used in managing people.

Dr. Crosby shares chapters dedicated to specific steps the reader can take to have a better approach to financial self-management.  These same steps can be applied to your role as a leader or manager trying to manage yourself and your team.   Let me share a few examples from Dr. Crosby:

  • You control what matters most- Over the last 20 years, the market has returned an average of 8.25% per annum, but the average investor has gotten just over 4% of that. The highs and lows of the market may be out of your hands, but how you choose to behave is within your power, and is just as important a driver of returns.
  • You cannot do this alone- Most people understandably assume that the greatest value offered by a financial advisor is, well, financial advice. Not so. Vanguard’s “Advisor’s Alpha” study shows that working with an advisor provides around 300 basis points of outperformance and that fully half of that value comes from behavioral coaching. Morningstar, Aon Hewitt, and Envestnet all have similar studies showing that hand holding trumps stock-picking when it comes to optimizing returns.
  • Trouble is opportunity- We are all familiar with the Oracle of Omaha’s admonition to be “greedy when others are fearful and fearful when others are greedy,” yet so few of us manage to successfully view a downturn as the opportunity it truly is. There is true joy (and riches) to be had in financial schadenfreude, so commit yourself to continue investing and even upping your savings when times are bad.
  • You are not special- Robert Shiller is fond of saying that “This time it’s different” is the most dangerous phrase in investing. While mania can carry a market for a time, the truth about what works long-term on Wall Street is pretty boring (think paying a fair price for a profitable company) and is unlikely to fundamentally change.
  • Forecasting is for weathermen- Famed contrarian David Dreman found that from 1973 to 1993, of the 78,695 estimates he looked at, there was a 1 in 170 chance that analyst projections would fall within plus or minus 5% of the actual number. The smartest people in the world don’t bother with the crystal ball. Said JP Morgan of the market’s future trajectory, “It will fluctuate.”

His themes of how we are not always in control as leaders, how we have to rely on others to be successful and have optimal results, how trouble is inevitable and the importance of managing well in a downturn, that we are not special and thus learn from each other, and that looking constantly into a crystal ball instead of real life is not the best way are all themes that hit home for me.

If those examples ring true for you, pick up The Laws of Wealth today.  Who knew that a finance-focused book could become the best summer reading you’ve had?  For more information, you can follow Dr. Crosby on Twitter @danielcrosby or find resources on his site Nocturne Capital.

Gen X Used to Feel Entitled Too- Did You?

generation-xSo, you think the Millennials invented the idea of feeling entitled?  Well, it’s not true.  No, other generations of young people have felt entitled.  I felt that way too.  Yes, Gen X has our share of dreamers and employees that were so eager to take on new challenges.  The difference I’m seeing is that when I was early in my career, I had older and wiser bosses who knew just when and how to put me in my place.  There wasn’t concern about hurting feelings with direct feedback.  They just did it.  They lived it.  I never once felt coddled.

I remember being twenty-seven years old and feeling like I knew it all.  I thought I knew better than my boss and I really believed I could “see the big picture”.  I just knew he was holding me back.  After all, I had a M.A. in HR Management and a few years of experience.  Why couldn’t he SEE how ready I was for a promotion?

Well, for starters, I didn’t put in enough time.  In my exempt role, I thought work could be left at the door when I headed for home.  Second, I didn’t do anything proactive to continue my learning in the human resources field.  No webinars.  No articles.  Nothing.  Third, I focused on administrative tasks.  I wasn’t stretching myself to think of the impact of my tasks.  Fourth, I had no idea what my boss really did.  To me, it looked like he was on the phone and in meetings.  How hard was that?

I remember the day I told my dad this boss was holding me back.  He gave me some great advice that I still embrace today:

  • Shadow your boss.  Find out what he really does and how he reached that position.  Watch for skills he uses to connect with people in the company and if he is successful, model those.
  • Come to work early and work late.  Learning how to do more than administrative tasks takes time and practice.  Back then, this meant many hours in the office.  Today, using technology, it’s easy to work early in the morning or late at night from the comfort of your home.
  • Keep educating yourself.  Always.  It’s not your company’s responsibility to do it all for you.
  • Volunteer to take on more challenging work without expecting money or title. Those will come in time.

Somehow, I made it to a more mature state of mind.  I like to think I grew up.  Not sure that it had anything at all to do with my generation, it was just more of a life lesson.

How did you progress through your career?  Did you experience any similar feelings?  What generation are you part of?

I’d love to hear all these answers (and more), so please jump over to my short, pulse survey on Generations and Leadership.  It takes 1- 3 minutes to complete and I really appreciate the feedback!

 

What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?

*from the dusty archives, but still relevant today…

Growing up, did you imagine yourself as a professional baseball player or firefighter?  Maybe you wanted to be a ballerina, movie star or princess.  As children, we all have dreams and fantasies of what we’ll be like as adults.  As we approach our teen years, we tend to start giving it more thought and consider being doctors, veterinarians, or other jobs we hear about.

When did you know what you wanted to be?

I heard a 23 year old young lady tell the story of how she went off to college completely unsure of what she wanted to do.  She couldn’t decide.  Now, at 23, she had dropped out to figure it out.  She was frustrated it didn’t just come to her.

Some people have a calling, some of us are told what our parents think we should become, and some just have to figure it out.  I am quite certain I had no idea what human resources was as I was growing up so it would not have been a career to consider.  It wasn’t until half way through college that I figured it out.

On the flip side

The other side of the coin is that maybe it’s better to never get settled into something to the point you get stagnant.  In the HR industry, there are so many options of how to use your skills that you can start out working in recruiting, move to compensation analysis, choose another job in benefits and wind up leading HR for a company.

So, how would you advise that 23 year old?  I’d tell her to:

  • Ask herself what she really loves doing, not for money.  Then, try to find a job that incorporates that, or skills like that, into a job.
  • Finish her education.  If nothing else, make sure to get a good general education.  It’s not so much about learning the subjects, it’s learning how to think and process information.  It’s learning how to organize and plan.  All good skills for many careers.
  • Job Shadow.  When in doubt, find several jobs that seem interesting and ask to shadow someone who does that job.

What advice would you give?  Share in the comments….

Elements of an Effective Coaching Relationship

As I write this, I am visiting Zhuhai, China, as a speaker at the HR Technology China conference.  You might assume that being at an event like this, all discussions are about technology and the tools leaders need to make managing the people in an organization a smooth, seamless function.  If so, you are only partially correct.  One of the things I love about working to better the people-experience in an organization is that no matter what part of the world I visit, the main theme remains around the “human” side of things.  Making connections between people remains a universal need. zhuhai

I my short time here, I have learned that the Chinese are:

  • Very proud people-  From speaking with Liu Jiawen, the Vice Mayor of Zhuhai Municipal People’s Government to Hua Fuzhou, President of the China Association for Labour Studies,  they communicate that the people of China, and specifically Zhuhai, are proud of their city and the culture it offers to it’s residents and visitors.  I have never felt so welcome anywhere I’ve traveled.
  • A hardworking people- The level of attention to every detail whether in a service role or in a thought leader role is the highest I’ve ever observed.  It’s not just about being at someone’s service either.  It’s the warmest feeling when people are working hard to ensure that you are comfortable and connecting.
  • An innovative people-  Everywhere I look, there are signs of innovation and creation.  The Chinese are demonstrating their commitment to making their cities more accessible as well as more sustainable.  In addition, they are focused on improving the technologies that keep the new ideas developing.

All of these things are important for any country, or organization, to grow and remain relevant.

Elements of an Effective Coaching Relationship:

The common thread I see from the pride, hard work and innovation is that there is constant coaching and reinforcement going on here.  More junior workers are being trained to enhance their skills.  They are taking cues and guidance from the more senior members of their team, and they are welcoming that coaching.  That leads me to the conclusion that an effective coach is only as good as the level of change the coachee is willing to accept.

I’ve written about coaching in the past from the perspective of what the coach can do to build strong skills or connect to the coachee.  Whether it’s in Coaching Made Easy or in Creating A Coaching Culture and the related Rules of Engagement, the focus has been on the relationship between the coach and coachee.  While some coaching relationships go on for years, others last only a short time or are for a specific reason. The coach and employee can negotiate the “why” of it all together.  Coaching is a voluntary arrangement. In order to be coached, the employee has to want the relationship and it has to be “at will”.

I challenge you to think about your own team and the leaders that you work with today.  Are you all focused on the pride you have while working together?  Are you elevating the innovation in your organization?  Finally, are you doing all you can to create that connection as people?  If not, now is the time to adjust.  Focusing on elements that bring meaning to the hard work you’re doing is the catalyst that will drive systematic, cultural change in your organization.  In turn, your business outcomes will be truly transformed.

Thank you to the Zhuhai, China labor delegation, China Star, Steve Boese and LRP Publications for hosting such a wonderful event and for making the learning possible.

5 Ways to Avoid Job Burnout

pg-job-burnout-signs-05-fullBlogging is interesting because sometimes you research and report, other times you give pure opinion.  Today is an opinion day, and it’s a fine line between doing that and becoming “preachy”.  The truth is that there have been times when I’ve been nearing job burnout during my career.  Face it, we all have those times.  It’s important to think about ways to head that off instead of waiting for things to get to that point.

One of the most stressful, and best, moves I’ve made has been working for myself.  I have to generate all the sales and then deliver to my clients.  That alone is enough to keep me up at night.  The strange thing is that as soon as I started working for myself in a position that fully aligned with my values, I began sleeping through the night again.  That had not been the case before.  I wondered what was different, because the workload and stress certainly was not less.

I came up with several things I had changed to make my working experience better for me.  I find these work, and I hope they work for you.

5 Keys to Avoiding Job Burnout

  1. Focus on your health- First and foremost, I learned that all the bad habits I had working for other people carried over to working for myself.  For example, I realized I am not good about taking breaks to eat lunch or a snack.  I’m bad about making time to exercise or even move around much during the day.  The first real change I made was to adopt a clean eating strategy.  This is not about weight loss or being on a diet.  It’s about telling myself every day that I mean something.  I’m important.  I don’t know why this has been such a revelation, but I feel that dedicating that extra time to cooking good food for myself instead of skipping meals has had so many benefits.  For a great guide to start eating clean, check out the Clean Eating online magazine.  There are some great meal plans to get you started.  Surprisingly, you’ll start to feel exponentially better within a week.
  2. Prioritize and purge-  We’ve all heard, ad nauseam, that we need to prioritize our workload.  Well, when you work for yourself, you are suddenly plunged into not having enough hours in the day.  Literally.  So, the only option was not only to prioritize my work, but to purge anything that didn’t align with those goals.  Looking back over the last 11 months I’ve been my own boss, I can see how beneficial this has been.  The main result is that I really feel less stressed.
  3. Reward yourself-  Sitting back and seeing all the companies that give employee recognition makes me smile.  For example, Globoforce is doing great things to bridge that gap for companies and employees.  I buy into this whole idea of making work “More Human” and as I’ve followed Globoforce and their efforts in this arena, it really makes sense.  The difference for me is that now, I’m the only person who can choose to recognize me.  At first, it seemed a little half-baked, but as I’ve started doing this, it really works.  I don’t have a regular schedule, and some weeks are more hectic than others.  I’m finding that even running out for a frozen yogurt in the middle of the workday is a nice way to treat myself.  The real difference is that now I am mindful that I’m rewarding myself.  Whatever the psychology, it works.  So….how are you going to treat yourself today?
  4. Make friends at work-  For years, working in HR, you learn that HR is no one’s friend.  Sure, I have managed to make a few over the years, but for the most part, working in HR you have to be a lone wolf.  Now that it’s just me at work, you’d think I have no hope.  Quite the opposite.  I’ve made a point to partner with industry colleagues who not only are smarter than me in many areas of HCM, I can rely on them to have my back.  What an awesome feeling!  For example, in this past year, I joined forces with some HCM colleagues in forming the HR Federation.  By having a trusted group of people, it’s amazing what it does for your psyche and your productivity.  Point being… get a friend!
  5. Take a retreat-  This is another tip I never bought into in my corporate life.  I boldly took my first retreat this past January and I cannot even tell you how many great things have come from taking this time.  Much like a reward for myself, I felt that as a working Mom, it would be selfish for me to go away alone.  I also travel for work, so taking a separate trip seemed unfair to my family.  I WAS WRONG!  I spent a long weekend at the beach by myself.  I didn’t keep the TV on.  I walked a lot.  I thought a lot.  I enjoyed eating alone and just observing the world.  The beauty of this was that I not only had time to be quiet and uninterrupted, I was able to make some major business and personal decisions because I finally made time to listen to myself.  For more about the benefits of a personal retreat, check out this HR Happy Hour episode I recorded with Laurie Ruettimann.  She also took a retreat this year and shares some great learning from her journey.

All these actions lead to a more human work experience for YOU.  Take a moment today and think about what you can do for yourself.  In addition, consider joining me at Globoforce’s WorkHuman event May 9- 11 in Orlando.  We’ll learn and practice even more ways of focusing on how to humanize the work experience.  Use discount code WH16TM300.

HR Can’t Be Strategic If They’re Busy Being Your Mother

noseI’ve been honored to work in the HR industry for twenty years.  Honestly, with all the perceived negatives, there are so many more great moments that make working with people worthwhile.  But, as I sit here as an analyst, conducting research surveys and interviewing HR leaders, I find it sad that we are not really moving the needle as much as we should.  Why?  Because organizations ask HR to be more strategic while making them take care of the unusual, mundane and sometimes gross aspects of people management.

Unusual?  Gross? Mundane?

Yes, HR leaders and their teams are still doing the “dirty work” that managers don’t want to handle.  Do you have an employee with body odor and don’t want to handle it?  Just go to HR and they will address it for you.  What about the employee that dresses inappropriately, showing just a little too much of their stuff?  Yes, just take that one to HR too.  Here’s one for you….employees rubbing boogers on the men’s room mirror?  Yes, even that can come to HR to address.  I know these may sound like things a parent would address with a child, but I assure you these are all very real in our workplaces.

I don’t know how the HR department became the keeper of all these great incidents, but I am ready to hear that the managers in the organization are stepping up to handle them.  Then, and only then, will your HR teams have time to actually work on strategic things to help drive revenue or support the business goals of the company.

What about you?  If you work in HR, are you still spending time on these issues, “mothering” employees and leaders, or am I just happening to get a lot of stories from the trenches that are not true?  I’d love to hear your comments….