The Secret to Amping Up Your Productivity

A few years ago, when I was working in an office setting, I wrote a blog post about amping up productivity.  In hindsight, it’s not bad. But, having grown a little and experienced several different types of work environments since then, I’d tweak my suggestions a bit.  Back then, in the corporate workplace, I was noticing that every person I talked with said they were busy.  People were busy on projects, busy on phone calls, busy answering email and busy in meetings.  I gave this advice:

  • Successful leaders delegate.  Early in my career, a boss told me that in order to be promoted AND be successful I would need to delegate to my team.  Delegation is not just a way to pass along those work tasks we do not want to do.  Delegation is a way to  give tasks to the employee most adept at doing them and to whom it makes sense in the grand scheme of their work.  Delegation can be a way to teach staff who are developing their skills.
  • Focus on a message.  I once heard a speaker tell an audience to write the most important, immediate goal on a Post It note and display it on your computer monitor, or somewhere visible on your desk.  I’ve tried this and it really works.  Any time I got sidetracked in “busy work”, I would see that small reminder and it focused my attention.
  • Push back on false deadlines.  Numerous times a day people come at you with requests to do something.  Everyone has a deadline.  Most people say “yes”, then complain to colleagues that they are too buried to do the task.  When someone asks you to do something for them, negotiate your own deadline.  Speak up if you need to tell them how you prioritize the task compared to other things you have on your plate.  You’ll be surprised how many people build in cushion when they ask someone to help them.
  • Know that not all valuable work happens in front of your computer. This sounds crazy in today’s world, but it’s critical in order to have blocks of time where you can focus on a project.  If you are in front of the screen, you are tempted to answer email.  Find a conference room, chair on another floor, or space outside to get away for 30 minutes or an hour each day to focus .  Another option is to turn off the computer and hit “send calls” and remain in your office.

Now, for many people, these four tips are still valid.  Working smarter, and being productive, doesn’t happen by drinking a special potion.  I wish it was that easy!  What I missed in my earlier post is that we CHOOSE to be busy.  We choose to overload on tasks and to accept work that is not value added to the organization.  Today, in 2017, I would change the focus of how to actually be more productive at work.  It’s by actually choosing to do less work, thinking more, and finding creative ways to do it. 

The real action is not in the small tasks that we take to be more productive.  In fact, it’s really a question of whether each of us WANTS to be more productive.  Maybe we don’t.  The action is in the decision of whether we believe in our company enough to want to be engaged in the successful outcomes.  If we do, then taking steps to higher productivity become second nature.  If we don’t, then we’re making that choice of disengagement.

What do you choose?


Working Human: Happiness, Satisfaction and Engagement in the Workplace

Screen Shot 2016-05-10 at 2.40.13 PMWhere do you stand when it comes to thinking about the impact of happiness in the workplace?  Do you fall in the camp that believes that employers can make employees happy?  If so, what specific actions can they take to make the employee happier?  If not, do you think that employees are the only ones who can make themselves happy?  That leads to examining the idea that maybe it’s not about happiness at all.  What if it’s more about satisfaction or engagement?

These are the types of questions that HR practitioners and other business leaders are wrestling with in the workplace every day.  Enter the Globoforce WorkHuman conference to help us have a better understanding of the impacts of happiness, recognition, and giving thanks to our workforce.  I’m here in lovely Oralndo, Florida to participate in the 2nd annual WorkHuman event.  I have to tell you that as an invited guest, I would still tell you if I didn’t believe in the event.  In fact, I wouldn’t come.  This is one of those events where I can find lots to learn and many new business people to engage in discussion with on some fairly challenging topics.

We kicked off today with several general sessions that covered many of the questions in my opening paragraph.  Derek Irvine shared some statistics about companies who approach work from incorporating a more human experience.  According to Derek, “Companies that have succeeded with environment saw a 31% increase in productivity and their employees take 10x less sick leave.”  In addition, he challenged the audience members not to underestimate the power of a simple “thanks”, as that act can have a positive impact on engagement and discretionary effort.

The next session focused more on happiness and how it can impact our employees.  Harvard professor Shawn Achor shared research about the potential for person / employee to impact people around them.  Let me start by telling you that Shawn’s energy and passion for his topic is contagious.  I am always a little cynical, but he really spoke to the optimist buried inside me.  His research is showing that true happiness is not coming just by equating it with success because our brains are constantly redefining success.  He said that happiness comes when you are moving toward your potential and by helping others reach theirs.  It made me wonder if people can truly be happy if they aren’t moving toward potential? Can there be a stopping point?  I’m wondering if the phase of life you’re in can have an impact on this.  So many good questions arising from these sessions.

Obviously, events like this really make you think beyond the every day approach to work.  Stay tuned for more information from WorkHuman and be sure to weigh in with a comment if you have any ideas or opinions on happiness, engagement, impact or any ideas from the post.


The Chemistry of Employee Retention and Engagement

chemistryIn the January 2013 issue of Go Magazine, I read an article by Helen Fisher that caught my attention.  Ms. Fisher, author of The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love stated, “Your partner might not look so great at the breakfast table for the tenth year in a row, but if you see her on a seat in Mexico City, she’ll look amazing.”  The point is, that if you see a person in a different, more exotic locale, it can increase dopamine levels in the brain which cause you to feel happier and more satisfied with that person.

While the workplace is not about romance, it absolutely needs chemistry to keep employees engaged and on the job.  For companies or departments with low turnover over many years, you may begin to experience loss of creativity or engagement with the job, resulting in loss in revenue.  I wonder if we’ve run into a similar situation as the married couple that no longer finds each other as attractive.

Now, think back to those first few weeks or months on a new job, or of someone new joining your team.  Remember the feelings of:

  • excitement of meeting and working with new people
  • having your senses piqued by a new office or cubicle and new work “neighbors”
  • A jolt of energy from using your skills in a new and exciting way or having a team member who is ready to take on any challenge

See, much like romance, some of the same sensory perceptions are surely tapped with a new job.  The dopamine levels likely skyrocket during this time.  So, what happens over time?  Well, what is the old saying about familiarity breeding contempt?  If my line of thinking is correct, then the solution to employee engagement and  retention is variety and finding ways to keep creating opportunities to raise dopamine levels.

Variety and wellness?

Yes.  Chew on that.  Roll it around in your head a bit.  Are you, or your leaders, doing all you can to add those components?  Whether employee or leader driven, it seems that a major overhaul in location, job duties, or colleagues could be the variety and dopamine generator needed to drive higher creativity, optimism and yes, engagement.  Have team members switch desks.  Change up the job duties once a year.

But what if you can’t make a major change?  This brings me to your challenge.  What small efforts can a leader make to drive small dopamine increases?

  • Provide foods rich in dopamine like fruit.  A weekly fruit basket would be an inexpensive approach and fruit like bananas, blueberries and strawberries increase dopamine levels naturally.
  • Protein has an amino acid needed to stimulate dopamine production.  This means that having healthy, high-protein snacks available for employees can help the positive effects.
  • Encourage time to have physical activity.  Provide a wii, encourage employees to hit the gym before work or during lunch, or create a walking or workout challenge.

What if you can’t make all those changes in the workplace?  Well, start with you.  Start making the changes in your own lifestyle and gradually spread the good habits at work.


Pinterest and Employee Communication

So how is employee communication working for you?  Does your organization have it all figured out?  My guess is that answer is no. 

As we continue to focus on improving communication with employees in our organizations, we seek out resources and information on the topic.  Today I want to share some new infographics I found on Pinterest this week.  As the popularity of Pinterest continues to grow, there are more and more business resources found there.  If you haven’t signed up, give it a try.  For now, here are several interesting Pins:

Employee Communication Breakdown

The Story of Employee Engagement at Work

Why Communication Conflicts Occur



So how is employee communication working for you?  Does your organization have it all figured out?  My guess is that answer is no. 

As we continue to focus on improving communication with employees in our organizations, we seek out resources and information on the topic.  Today I want to share some new infographics I found on Pinterest this week.  As the popularity of Pinterest continues to grow, there are more and more business resources found there.  If you haven’t signed up, give it a try.  For now, here are several interesting Pins:

Employee Communication Breakdown

The Story of Employee Engagement at Work

Why Communication Conflicts Occur

The Burning Platform- How To Identify Truly Important Projects

As a leader, do you struggle to keep your team on track or are you able to guide them in a structured way in order to reach organization goals?  We’d all like to think we do more of the latter, but if that were true, we would have far fewer experts telling us how to do better with our teams.  The truth is, managing people is challenging.  It’s challenging because individuals are dynamic and have so many nuances in their performance.

They key I’ve found is to create a burning platform for change in order to ensure that each team member is going “all in” with me.  If you’re not familiar with the phrase, creating a burning platform is a way to describe the fact that many employees will not fully engage in any project unless you put a fire under them that causes them to change.  The “fire under their feet” must be great enough to give them no option but to change. The main steps of creating this fire are:

  • Knowing and communicating that there is a legitimate need for change.
  • Having a shared urgency that the employees either contribute to or have agreement about.
  • Assessing the opportunity.  Is there a revenue gain to be had or cost savings?  What are the goals of the organization?

Leadership works with employees to create the platform to motivate employees to want to reach the goals, then each leader should take a hard look at their team members.  What are the goals of the employees as individuals and do they align with the overall company goals?  What personal issues in an employee’s life can negatively impact their focus on the business goals?  If a leader can answer these questions about the team members, they will be more likely to be able to adapt the projects for the most successful outcome.

Once you create agreement on the need for change and assess the employee motivation and ability to step up, you can begin to identify the truly important projects that will aid in reaching the organization goals.  I once worked for a company where no matter how exciting a HR project sounded, if it did not align with reaching the organization goals, we did not do it.  It made prioritizing work very easy.

Do you set your team up for success?  What methods do you employ to inspire them to do their best work?  Share in the comments.



Talent Communities: They Call Me Bruce

Do you remember the relatively obscure song from the 80’s called “They Call Me Bruce” buy Rick Springfield? It’s a funny bit of lyrics about how everyone gets him confused with another singer of the time, Bruce Springsteen? You know, Springfield/ Springsteen, it’s close, right? Right.  Obviously I’ll do anything to throw in a Rick Springfield video….

As the song implies, using the right name for someone or something is important. Which brings me to Talent Communities.  Have you heard of them? They are all the rage, and in certain circles, they are the end-all-be-all to a talent strategy. The problem arising is in referring to job candidates as talent.

You (the organization) have to be compelling in order for someone to want to join your community. Andy Headworth wrote about the use of the word talent, as in talent communities, as the real problem. Do people want to be called talent? Andy proposed they do not.

My view of the word talent is not a negative one based in reality tv. In fact, if someone tells me I have talent at something I take that as a compliment. But I do agree with Andy that language used is very important in driving traffic to your organization. Talent community availability would not make me want to affiliate with an organization if I am a job seeker or if I am even a potential job seeker in that industry in the future.
Why not just call it community?

Another issue for me is considering why I would want to associate myself in the first place? Am I automatically included if I have applied for a job at your company? If you didn’t select me, depending on how that message is communicated (if at all), I may not want to be part of your little community.  The key is being able to answer those questions and to find a way to encourage engagement in conversation with your company.  In order to engage your potential candidates in an ongoing manner, several key steps need to be in place:

  • Have a strong command of the organization’s brand. This includes your outward facing activities with your clients and the way you relate to your employees. Does your organization know how to communicate this effectively? Is there anything positve to communicate? Don’t start outreach on a large scale until you have this key component in place.
  • Use your marketing skills. Who is your target demographic? Don’t just throw a bunch of darts at a wall, make precise and targeted attempts to reach the specific people in the industry who will be most likely to help your organization reach your business goals.
  • Re-visit your approach to people as often as your business strategy changes. Make sure your 1 year, 3 year, even 10 year strategy for the business matches the type of employee that will halp you continue to reach the organizational goals.
  • Hire a community manager and be ready to engage. Maren Hogan recently wrote about the different types of community theories and hit on why it’s important to spend time up front thinking the strategy through.  Do NOT start any kind of community externally, talent or otherwise, unless you are dedicating people’s time and skill to build and maintain it. I see many organizations create communities but not maintain engagement with the people that join. As a potential candidate, it’s a red flag. This can show that the organization is one that is quick to try new things but has no real dedication to follow-through.
  • Use predictive analytics to determine the behavior of potential candidates. Which ones are most likely to be ready to move to a new job? Which ones are likely to engage and participate for an extended period of time?

Focus your team’s time on what the single most important tool you want to use to engage with. Work at it.  Be deliberate. Make sure that using it supports your business strategy. Focus more. Give it time to grow as your team grows their knowledge in managing the conversation. Have specific outreach to find and engage new members.
After you have one mastered, or at least showing real ROI for the time invested, move on to add the next tool or platform.  What do you think?

Self-Development Can Lower Economic Anxiety

*Today’s post is sponsored by PeopleClues.  PeopleClues provides cutting edge behavioral assessments for business use.  The PeopleClues line of assessments incorporates modern, validated behavioral assessments in an easy-to-use online platform specifically designed for the commercial market. Highly affordable and requiring little or no training or expert interpretation, PeopleClues Assessments are used by thousands of companies around the globe to hire, train, and promote the right people for the right jobs. The ease of use, custom benchmarking, applicant ranking, and data mining capabilities make it the right choice for both large and small companies.


Each day seems to bring more disappointing news about jobs.  Just yesterday, Missouri announced that the jobless rate is inching back up slowly and is now 8.8%.  While it’s good that it has remained below 9% for five months, the fact that the creep is in the wrong direction is troubling.  Yesterday also brought the news that national employer Bank of America plans to cut over 30,000 jobs in the next couple years.  With news like this continuing to pour in each day, people remain tense about the jobs they have or about jobs they have lost.

One of the best ways to approach anxiety about the economy and the lack of security in jobs is to take action personally and embrace self-development.  This will give you new skills that you can use in the job hunt or in keeping an existing job secure.  It can help strengthen existing but weaker skills in order to increase your value to an organization.  The reason it works is that it can provide a sense of control when thinking about a situation that is very much out of our control.  This approach is also not just for employees who are more junior in their career.  In fact, it’s even more important for those established individuals who may not have thought about self-development in many years.

Moving Toward Self Development

  • Identify your skill gaps–  This can be challenging to do on your own, so reach out to several colleagues or trusted advisors who know you and will give you honest feedback on strengths and weaknesses you have.  If you’re an employer, you can reach out to providers, like PeopleClues, to provide the assessment tools you need to identify the skills your staff have and the ones that they can improve upon.
  • Research and determine what new skills are needed in the workplace–  As times change and technology and other factors impact skills needed to be successful in the workplace, you need to determine how this can affect your career trajectory.  This may mean you need to take responsibility for training yourself or you may need to find a class or expert to train you.  In the end, it will be time and money well spent if you’ve done your homework and selected a skill set that is truly trending for the future.
  • Get trained–  Find ways to get experience with the skill or skills you need.  Offer to use the new skill for free so that you can build credibility.
  • Find and mirror mentors–  Identify people who area already demonstrating their mastery of the skill you desire to have.  Most people are willing to teach others what they know when approached in the right way.

Giving career advice as my career, I’ve had occasion to have the conversation about taking charge of your own career and skill development many times.  The real key for me comes down to the person being open to learn from others.  People tend to enjoy showing you what they know and what they have expertise in.  They often take that a step further and share how they learned the particular skill, how they stay current and even resources of how to acquire the skill.