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Virtual Meetings
Top 5 Virtual Meetings WORST Practices (and How to Fix Them)
Top 5 Virtual Meetings WORST Practices (and How to Fix Them) 1080 540 Jason Lauritsen



At the end of last year, I created a fun survey to invite people to share their biggest frustrations with virtual meetings at work. It was an invitation to vent, complain, and let it all out.

Eighty of you took the opportunity to share your biggest gripes. And thanks to my friends at Waggl, who allowed us to use their technology, not only did people share their issues with virtual meetings, they got to see the responses from others and vote up those that resonated the most strongly with them.

In all, there were over 600 votes cast to help us narrow down the worst practices of virtual meetings. Today, I’m going to share the results with you to motivate you to be both a better meeting host and participant in the future.

Then, I’ll share a few tips on making your virtual meetings more effective and less terrible in the future. Perhaps one of the nasty legacies of 2020 that we can leave behind is awful meetings.

5 Worst Practices for Virtual Meetings

Below is a list of the most commonly cited challenges and issues people shared about their experiences with virtual meetings. Each of the five represents my best effort at summarizing a common theme in responses.

I’m also sharing a few snippets of actual responses to help you feel the pain and frustration that accompanied each. And there is plenty to go around.

As you read, it might be helpful to remember that meetings generally sucked before they were forced to become virtual. The move to virtual seems to have amplified the bad stuff and stripped out some of the good.

Without further ado, here is the list.

1. Multitasking

This one really annoys people. If you’re going to have a meeting, be at the meeting.

“Meetings need to be more alive and human, and I don’t want to be on another Zoom call where people are bored and multitasking!”

“It’s too easy to sit back, let others do the talking, stay off video or stay on mute, and let the meeting happen. If you’re important to the meeting, show up ready to contribute.”

“People who are obviously multitasking during a meeting are bad—talking, typing, eating, cooking, showering, you name it. But, people who forget or choose not to mute themselves and then go about multitasking in the loudest way possible are the worst!”

2. Too many meetings

It’s one thing to have bad virtual meetings. It’s another thing to be stuck in terrible virtual meetings all day. People complained that one reason there are too many is that meetings are being overused. When in doubt, schedule a meeting. Oof.

“Much like in-person meetings, sometimes it could have been an email or a phone call. We don’t need to look at each other all the time!”

“If you have an open block visible on your calendar then we MUST have a meeting so I can consume all chances of productivity!”

“Back to back to back meetings all day…”

“[We] don’t get the side conversations like before. If you just want to quickly connect with someone, it turns into another meeting.”

3. Tech fails

Virtual meetings can’t happen without technology. And I’m grateful that we have it in a time of pandemic-required isolation. But, with technology comes technology snafus—both on the part of meeting planners and attendees.

“People who don’t take the time to learn the platform so you spend the first seven minutes troubleshooting.”

“People blaming technology when it is really a user error.”

“People who forget they are not muted and say things they shouldn’t.”

“People not muting themselves when they aren’t talking and making noise (sometimes carrying on conversations with others who are in person with them or on their mobile). We should know better by now!”

“It’s always a challenge to be heard (without my kids chit-chatting in the background) and to hear (without blowing an eardrum using my headphones), but the WORST is when someone figures out the worst possible combination of audio options and has the Feedback of Doom. Kill me now.”

4. No facilitation or structure

While this is not a new issue, moving meetings to a virtual setting seems to amplify when a meeting lacks an agenda or purpose. It also feels more acute when the person leading the meeting doesn’t guide the discussion.

This lack of facilitation and structure manifests in many different (and annoying) ways. From people speaking over one another to poor time management, it’s a problem.

“When there isn’t a clear agenda or the meeting could be solved in an email or assignment.”

“It doesn’t necessarily bother me when participants are a couple of minutes late, but when the meeting organizer is on time but then starts the meeting 10 minutes late to wait for others, it’s a pet peeve. Then the meeting runs overtime unnecessarily.”

“People talking over each other and nobody hearing anything.”

“Seems our meetings are less focused. I appreciate the check-ins, but let’s also make progress on something. It’s hard to not tune out when we’re on the 823rd canned self-care lecture. If it were genuine that would be helpful, but it’s not so let’s move on.”

5. Hiding (e.g., not turning your camera on)

This last worst practice is unique to virtual meetings. If it’s a video meeting, people hate it when you don’t turn on your camera. Which makes sense, I suppose, since you couldn’t hide your face if you were meeting in person (or at least it would be very weird).

“People in meetings who don’t or won’t turn their camera on”

“The folks who reluctantly turn on video, but make sure the camera is only seeing the top of their heads.”

“People who do not turn on their camera when others do. I certainly understand the argument for those who do not have good working conditions or have to get WiFi from a parking lot. But for colleagues who I know are at home in a normal environment, it’s frustrating when they don’t engage visually—ever. I find that it impacts the cadence and overall “feel/vibe” of the conversation when you can’t see their expression. Not all meetings have to be video but when they are, everyone should be on.”

How to Fix your Virtual Meetings

I hope that your meetings aren’t as painful as some of these sound. But it sure feels like there’s much room for improvement in how we meet virtually.

Now, let’s turn our attention to what to do about these issues. Here are some tips to help you create better meetings for your team this year.

1. Make sure you need a meeting before you schedule it.

Since the pandemic struck, our default setting has been to schedule a meeting for everything. It feels like the right thing to do since we don’t see each other in the office.

This has to change.

Meetings aren’t bad. But, too many meetings or meetings with no clear purpose are. Before you schedule a meeting, hit the pause button and ask yourself a few questions:

  • Is a meeting really necessary?
  • What is the purpose?
  • What needs to be accomplished?
  • Is live discussion needed?
  • Is there a good alternative? Could an email or a quick phone call do the job?

Instead of more meetings, we need more meaningful interactions. Change your default setting to “schedule a meeting only when necessary.” When you have a meeting, make it an engaging and positive use of everyone’s time.

2. Have a plan

Meetings are expensive. If you do the math to calculate the number of dollars invested in each meeting in both the salary of those at the meeting and the opportunity cost of other productive work that cannot happen during the meeting, it’s real money.

That kind of investment warrants that time be invested in planning how the meeting will be used. Before scheduling a meeting, you should be able to clearly articulate the purpose and objectives. You should also be able to clearly describe what outcomes will be achieved.

Only once you’ve achieved this clarity should you decide who should be invited. Ask yourself these two questions:

  • Who needs to be there to achieve our objectives?
  • What role do you expect each person to play?

As you could hear in the responses above, the worst meeting is one where you aren’t clear why it’s happening or why you’re there. Meetings like this are a result of a lack of preparation and intention.

A little planning will go a long way toward making your meetings more effective, engaging, and productive.

3. Use an Agenda of Questions

When you’ve planned your meeting well, creating the agenda is simple. But, not all agendas are created equal.

One suggestion from Steven Rogelberg, author of The Surprising Science of Meetings, is to use questions to frame your agenda. What questions need to be addressed or solved to accomplish your meeting’s objectives?

Using questions feels more dynamic than traditional agendas that read like to-do lists. Questions also help clarify exactly what needs to be discussed in the meeting to help with focus.

4. Set the Stage in Advance

Prior to the meeting, share the purpose, objectives, and agenda with all attendees. If preparation is required, be very specific in terms of what needs to be done and why.

In addition, use this communication as an opportunity to establish expectations or protocols for your meeting. Be explicit and detailed. Use the general rule, “If it matters, write it down.”

Here are some examples:

  • The meeting will begin on time. If you are going to be late for any reason, please join when you can.
  • This is a “camera on” meeting. Come as you are, but be prepared to have your camera on and be fully engaged.
  • Find your mute button and use it. When you aren’t speaking, please mute yourself so you aren’t distracting from who is speaking.
  • Please limit distractions during the meeting. Out of respect for your calendar, I’ve only scheduled 30 minutes. If everyone is focused and engaged, we should be able to avoid a follow-up meeting.

Setting the stage in advance makes it infinitely more likely that attendees will behave as expected and the meeting will be productive.

5. Facilitate the meeting.

Notice that I didn’t say “lead” the meeting. Great meetings don’t require leaders; they require facilitation.

To facilitate, by definition, is “to make easier or less difficult; help forward (an action, a process, etc.).” That’s what most bad meetings, virtual or otherwise, are often lacking—someone to help move things forward and make things less difficult.

If you called the meeting, this role either falls to you, or you need to designate someone to facilitate. Here are some tips for effective facilitation:

  • Set the ground rules up front for how the meeting will work (video on/off, mute buttons, how to get the floor to speak, proper ways to use chat, etc.)
  • Actively include all voices. This will likely involve calling on people and asking for their input or thoughts.
  • Step in when necessary to keep things moving. If someone is talking too much or going off topic, it’s on you to step in and get things back on track.
  • Keep your eye on the clock. Start and stop when promised.

6. Make tech your friend.

The amazing technology tools we have should help us create great virtual meeting experiences. But that requires our participation.

First, we have to know our tools and how to use them. If you’re using a new tech feature for a meeting, practice in advance to ensure you know how to make it work.

If you haven’t already, set clear expectations for your team and others who attend your meetings in terms of technology familiarity and proficiency. If people need training or coaching on it, make it happen.

That said, the fact that there are still so many people who claim a lack of proficiency in video meeting tools is unacceptable. If you had someone who refused to learn how to use any other piece of technology that was critical to doing their job effectively, how would you handle it?

It’s time we draw a line in the sand. It can no longer be okay to say you don’t like or are intimidated by the technology. That ship has sailed. Figure it out or find a role where you don’t need to use the technology. No more excuses.

2021: The Year We Fixed Meetings

Maybe that’s a little ambitious based on how many bad meetings are happening today. But we can make a big jump. Transforming a bad meeting into a good one can happen quickly with the right intentions and skills.

At the very least, let’s make a resolution to have fewer meetings in 2021. And when we do meet, let’s make it count.

That’s a resolution worth keeping.

The #1 Management Imperative for 2021
The #1 Management Imperative for 2021 1080 540 Jason Lauritsen




Well, we made it. We’ve turned the page from 2020. After last year, surviving the year feels like a milestone to celebrate. We certainly toasted the end of the year at our house.

Now a new year begins with at least the promise that the end of this pandemic-fueled era of disruption is on the horizon. There might be a light at the end of this long, dark tunnel.

However…

Many of the problems that plagued us in 2020 did not vanish at the stroke of midnight on December 31. COVID is still ravaging the planet, and our lives are far from any vague memory of what “normal” used to mean.

The experts tell us we are closer to the end than the beginning, but the toughest stretch is likely still ahead of us. Not only will it be months before vaccines are distributed broadly enough to have any dramatic impact, but there’s also this issue of a trailing mental health catastrophe that’s likely to unfold like a slow-motion train wreck.

Depressing, I know. But as leaders and managers of people, we need to step into this year with our eyes wide open to what’s happening around us.

Many of us are now entering the long dark winter that will confine us to our homes as the snow, wind, and frigid temperatures amplify our isolation from others. No socially-distanced driveway gatherings for a while now. The post-holiday months are going to be hard on us all.

That’s why it’s imperative that for 2021 (starting right now), we focus on cultivating and expanding our capacity for compassion.

Resilience and Compassion

As I wrote about in my 2020 reflections post, compassion was a key ingredient for me to beat my burnout last year. Learning about compassion and how it differs from empathy opened my eyes to how important and valuable it is for the road ahead, particularly as managers of others.

There’s been a lot of focus lately on resilience—specifically on helping our employees be more resilient in facing challenges and crises. While I think there is an enormous benefit to learning the skills of resilience long term, I don’t think it’s enough.

Resilience is simply defined as “the ability of a person to adjust to or recover readily from illness, adversity, major life changes, etc.” In more crude terms, it’s the ability to take a punch in life and stay in the fight.

This is an essential quality to possess as a human being. The more resilient you are, the more capable you’ve proven yourself to navigate and survive the challenges of 2020.

We could probably all benefit from developing more resilience. That said, I have concerns with organization’s current obsession with employee resilience.

First, it reflects the organizational bias to “fix employees.” We have a legacy in management to assume that when things don’t go well with an employee, it’s the employee’s fault. They don’t have the work ethic, discipline, or self-motivation. If we can fix what’s missing or broken in the employee, the problem will be solved.

The conversation about developing resilience feels similar. If we teach employees how to take a punch more effectively, we don’t have to worry about how often or how hard they’re getting punched.

I know—that’s a pretty cynical take on it. But, I don’t think it’s too far off for many organizations. And that’s not the only challenge.

It’s also really challenging to learn how to take a punch when you are under a constant barrage of punches. Building resilience isn’t easy or straightforward. It requires time and space for learning, reflection, and practice—things hard to come by when you are overworked, burnt out, or just stressed to the max as many of our employees are right now.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t teach our employees the skills and mindsets they need to become more resilient. This is absolutely a good thing to do that can have significant long-term benefits. But, it’s not nearly enough or fast enough. Particularly for those who are struggling the most.

Compassion is The Key

What people need more than resilience when they are facing difficulty is help. When someone is getting repeatedly punched in the face, encouraging them to keep fighting isn’t nearly as useful as making the punches stop or helping them get out of the way.

As managers and leaders (or even peers), the best way to support our people during turmoil and chaos is by cultivating compassion.

According to Hooria Jazaieri, Ph.D., compassion is a mental state or orientation toward suffering that includes four components:

  1. Bringing attention or awareness to recognizing that there is suffering
  2. Feeling emotionally moved by that suffering
  3. Wishing there to be relief from that suffering
  4. A readiness to take action to relieve that suffering

In other words, compassion is recognizing when someone else is struggling, caring that it is happening, wanting it to stop, and doing something about it. As managers, particularly right now, this is what we are called to do for our people.

“Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”
-Theodore Roosevelt

How to Be More Compassionate

As described by Dr. Jazaieri, compassion is a muscle that can be developed and strengthened with practice but which can also atrophy with lack of use. This has definitely been true for me.

I’m no expert on compassion; it’s a journey I’m on personally and professionally. But through my journey, there are insights I’ve gained that may be beneficial to you. In addition, there are a plethora of resources and training available to find and tap into if you go looking for them.

1. See beyond the behavior

For me, one of the things that I’ve learned is to practice a mindset of curiosity about others—particularly when their behavior doesn’t make sense to me. I’ve learned to remind myself that everyone is dealing with a great deal of uncertainty in their lives right now, regardless of who they are.

Uncertainty can be scary, and fear causes people to behave in various ways, some of which aren’t helpful. My challenge is to see beyond the behavior to recognize the suffering or struggle of the person. It helps me find a deeper feeling of care for them and a concern about what I can do to help their world feel less uncertain.

In general practice, this requires us to be more mindful of how we respond to other people’s behavior, particularly those who rely on us for leadership. It’s tempting to blame and judge an employee for their behavior (e.g., joining meetings late and unprepared). This leads us to show up in a way that isn’t helpful and likely to make matters worse.

Instead, lean into curiosity. Engage with the employee to ask questions about why they are late for meetings. You might discover that the meeting time coincides with when their three children are all supposed to log in to school in the morning, making it nearly impossible to make the meeting on time.

Your judgment or criticism won’t help them resolve this tension. But, your help and coaching might. Seeing beyond the behavior isn’t always easy, particularly when you’re under a lot of pressure and stressed yourself. But, it’s what your people need from you.

2. Get to know your people

When a close friend or family member behaves in a way that doesn’t make sense or is inconsistent with who they are, we don’t rush to judgment and blame them for their behavior. Instead, we ask, “what’s wrong?” or “what’s going on?”

Because we know them and have a bond with them, we assume that if they’re behaving in a way that seems counter to what we would expect, there must be something happening around them that’s causing them to act this way. We don’t assume a flaw in them as a person.

The better we know our people and the more we build a strong and trusting relationship with them, the more likely we are to show compassion when they’re struggling. It’s easier to ignore the suffering of a stranger than someone close to us.

To do this will require the investment of time. Time is the currency of relationships, and there is no shortcut. To build a better connection with your people will require that you make more time to be with them both formally and informally. When you’re together, ask questions to learn what’s most important to them and what they care about most.

3. Help until it hurts

One of the most critical parts of compassion is that it requires action. Not only must we recognize the pain and struggle in others, but we must care enough to want to take action to make it stop.

Today and for the indefinite future, we exist in a sort of limbo at work between the way we used to do things and how we’ll do things once the pandemic ends. In this limbo, people are being asked to work in circumstances they have no control over (e.g., at home while schooling children or dealing with layers and layers of safety precautions that make everything harder and slower).

They weren’t prepared for this. Neither were you. And, it’s not permanent.

Helping your people survive and make it to the other side of this limbo is probably calling on you to do things you feel you “shouldn’t have to do.” As managers, if you’re doing it right, you are more deeply involved in people’s lives than ever before, and that may be uncomfortable for you. Here’s my advice:

Get over it.

What we “should” have to do went out the window when COVID showed up. There is only what our people need right now. What they need is our help and support to get through an unprecedented time of disruption.

Among the most critical things within your control is to ensure your people know exactly what’s expected of them in terms of work performance. By making that crystal clear, you remove uncertainty so your conversations with your team can focus on what they need or are struggling with to meet those expectations.

Compassion is The Key

Let’s all hope that by the end of 2021, we are living in a post-pandemic world once again. Until then, we still exist in what could be thought of as overtime for 2020. None of the problems that existed at the end of last year have gone anywhere.

While we wait on the vaccine to do its thing, we can focus on injecting our teams and lives with a different sort of remedy. Becoming a more compassionate human and manager will help us see each other more fully and reach out to help when we need it.

Reflections and Learnings from 2020
Reflections and Learnings from 2020 1080 540 Jason Lauritsen



While this has felt like the longest year in recorded history, the end of the year sort of snuck up on me. Thankfully, it’s because I’ve been busy with work. But that means I’m behind on my end-of-year planning efforts. 

One of the things I try to do each year is reflect upon and process the past year. What went well? What didn’t go so well? 

What did I learn? 

Given what’s happened this year, that last question feels like the most important one to me. Because in a year of struggle and turmoil and disruption we were forced out of our comfort zones in dramatic ways. 

Being uncomfortable is a bad feeling. But, it is in discomfort that our growth is accelerated. And I know that’s been true for me this year. 

Today, I’m going to share my reflections on 2020—specifically, what I learned. This is the kind of writing I’d normally do in my journal to help me gain clarity. But given that we’ve all experienced so many similar challenges this year, I thought it might be valuable to share my reflections with you. 

My hope is that you’ll find something useful in these words and maybe be inspired to share some of your own learnings as well. 

Here we go. 

2020 Lessons and Reflections

What follows is a bunch of journal-style reflections. 2020 was doozy. 

So, what did I learn? 

I am more fragile than I thought. 

As a by-product of the innumerable privileges I’ve enjoyed my entire life, I’ve never doubted my ability to navigate through challenges. I’ve always thought of myself as being inherently resilient. 

But as things unraveled early in the year, it affected me in a way I couldn’t have imagined. Yes, when the pandemic hit, I sprung into action trying to pivot and create value in the disruption. But, underneath that shield of action was fear. 

As an entrepreneur and the primary provider of income for my family, the gravity of what was happening was intense. When paired with what felt like chaos everywhere, fear really started to take hold. 

I mistook action and busyness for self-care, and as a result, I suffered burnout this summer for the first time in my life. I wrote about my journey here, and in hindsight I’m grateful for the experience. It has helped me find a level of compassion and understanding of mental health that will shape my work and life forever. 

The experience also reminded me of the critical nature of self care, mindfulness, and connection. Without some really important people in my life, it may have taken me a lot longer to address my burnout.  

Fear is powerful. 

There have been a lot of times in 2020 when my faith in humanity felt like it was being fractured. Whether in response to the pandemic, Black Lives Matter protests, the U.S. elections, or any number of other things, it seemed everywhere I looked there were people behaving in ways that I simply couldn’t wrap my head around. 

One of the things that fuels how I show up in the world and in my work is a fundamental belief that most people, at their core, are good. But at times this year I found this belief hard to hang on to.

The thing that ultimately helped me not abandon this belief was a reminder that people everywhere are afraid. And we’ve spent the last four years in the United States under the leadership of a president who knows only one motivational tactic: fear. 

People were already fearful for a variety of reasons before COVID got a stranglehold on us and from there it only got worse. When we’re afraid, we’re not our best selves. I know I’m not. Decent people sometimes behave in really bad ways through fear. 

This doesn’t in any way excuse the behavior. Bad behavior is bad behavior, hard stop. When you behave in a way that harms or diminishes other people or threatens their safety or freedom, you should suffer consequences. 

The lesson for me was to remember that people are afraid. And that helps me find some compassion and challenges me to search for understanding and solutions where there had only been judgement before. 

Judgement demands punishment.  

When I was working my way through my burnout, one of the things I realized had led me there was that I’d been caught in what I now describe as a “judgement vortex.”

When I looked around and saw so many people behaving in ways that made little sense to me, a narrative about that person started running in my head. My judgement of others was harsh and unforgiving. 

Thankfully, I didn’t do much externally with that judgement. So, I just held it inside. 

During my retreat this summer to start tackling my burnout, I ended up listening to a Brené Brown podcast conversation with David Kessler, the author of Find Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief

In it, one of the things David shares is that psychologically and emotionally, judgement demands punishment. When we pass judgement on someone else, either they need to be punished for their transgression or we take on the punishment for making that judgement. 

This was an epiphany to me. Judgement comes with a price and I was racking up a lot of debt in my vortex. Letting go of that judgement and replacing it with something else was critical to getting myself back to feeling whole again. 

The tactic I used (and continue to use) is that when I’m confronted with behavior that would typically trigger judgement, I have tried to instead make it a reminder of how important it is that I be the change I seek. These moments now act as a call to action rather than a passing of judgement. 

It’s not easy and I frequently lapse, but it’s helped me a lot. 

Less Empathy, more Compassion

Another podcast I listened to during my retreat was an interview with author Rutger Bregman about his new book, Humankind: A Hopeful History. Right at the moment where my faith in humanity was most fragile, his message started to reel me back in.  

I ordered the book and dug in. There is so much goodness in this book, but there’s one thing in particular that really stood out and has stuck with me—and it has to do with empathy. 

Typically, the advice for combatting judgement is to develop empathy. Empathy is having a moment right now. I’ve been riding the empathy train for quite a while. 

That’s why the advice in this book really stopped me.

“Temper your empathy, train your compassion.” 

I’d never deeply considered the differences between the two. Both demand an understanding of the other. Being curious and seeking to better understand others—who they are and why they do what they do—is a vital ingredient to both.  

The difference is at an emotional level. Empathy is “feeling with.” Compassion is “feeling for.” 

In the book, Rutger shares some research where they showed that having empathy for others, particularly those who are suffering or in need of support, often leads you to having negative feelings and increased pessimism. Not exactly what you’re needing if your goal is to help. 

Compassion, on the other hand, fuels more positive and constructive emotional responses. The way I’ve come to understand it is that both require an opening of your heart. One requires you to take on the feelings of others (empathy) while the other invites you to share what’s inside your heart (compassion). 

None of this is to say that empathy is bad or that you should stop having empathy. Empathy is a powerful tool that we should cultivate. It’s just that in some circumstances, taking on the pain of others is counterproductive when our goal is to help.  

This bit of insight helped me start to rectify how to feel about my own privilege and good fortunes in this time with those who are struggling so mightily. When I leaned into empathy, it led to feelings of conflict, which got me stuck. 

When I made the pivot to compassion, it helped free me to move forward, holding gratitude for my own circumstances while being motivated to take action to help others who need it.  

Scarcity vs. Abundance

I’ve worked hard in my career to cultivate what I call an “abundance mindset,” particularly in my business. What that means to me is that there’s plenty of opportunity to go around. 

As a result, I don’t worry about someone else popping up in my space to do similar work to what I do. I also don’t mind highlighting the work of others who do similar things to me because there is so much work to be done. 

There is plenty of opportunity if you can find your way to it. But when COVID struck and my fear started to grow, I fell out of abundance mindset into a scarcity mindset

As a speaker, March and April of this year were pretty scary. Every event for the next six months was either cancelled or postponed. People who host and manage events were freaking out and all conversations about future speaking work came to a screeching halt. 

There were a lot of ways to react to this. Mine was fueled by a fear of what this might mean for me and my business. My scarcity mindset led me to conclude that the speaking business was likely gone for the next year—maybe two. 

Time to pivot.

But, once you settle into a scarcity mindset, everything starts to look treacherous. I started making assumptions and determinations about other areas of my business as well—assuming that either the economy or the virus would take away all opportunity.  

Pivot, pivot, pivot. 

This meant that I stopped scanning the horizon for opportunities in these areas. And worse, I stopped trying to find the opportunities that might be out there. 

By stopping, I was essentially manifesting my own disaster. 

At the same time, I had some projects in motion, so I kept myself busy. But busyness isn’t progress and things were looking scarier to me by the week. 

Scarcity mindset is a dangerous place to be. The road ahead kept looking more daunting and the pressure kept mounting. All while I tried to distract myself with loads of work.  

Pile this on top of a judgement vortex and you get burnout. At least that was the recipe for me.  

In hindsight, what I just described to you was a reality that existed only in my mind. I am blessed and have privilege everywhere around me. Opportunities never left me, I just let my fear overtake me. 

The speaking business did dramatically slow down for a time, but then it started to pick up again with virtual conferences and events. There were opportunities to be had, but I couldn’t see them. This was another thing that needed adjustment during my retreat this summer. 

A big part of what helped me pull out of this were conversations with trusted friends and colleagues. Talking things through made a huge difference. 

Turning the Page to 2021

2020 was a year of growth. Discomfort fuels learning and that couldn’t be more true for me. This long diatribe only captures a fraction of what I learned. I also took up the harmonica in a serious way. Plus, I rode shotgun as my wife poured her heart and soul into a campaign to be the mayor of our community only to come up a few percentage points short.

I’ve grown as a husband, parent, and human being. I’m largely proud of how I’m emerging from 2020 (albeit a few pounds too heavy with some ailing joints). 

While 2021 is likely to be another year full of challenges and disruption, there’s one thing I’m sure of: the way we emerge from this is up to us. The future is still being written and we have a big role to play in how this chapter ends.  

I, for one, am motivated to play a bigger role in 2021 fueled by my growth in 2020—powered by compassion and abundance.

I’ll close with one of my favorite quotes, first shared with me by my friend and co-conspirator, Joe Gerstandt: 

“We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims.”

-R. Buckminster Fuller

The Right Way to Support Employee Productivity
The Right Way to Support Employee Productivity 1080 540 Jason Lauritsen

Given where we find ourselves at the end of 2020, it’s not surprising that one of the biggest concerns being discussed by managers and leaders everywhere is employee productivity.

Whether your work requires you to be face-to-face with customers or patients or it confines you to a home office, there are more stressors and distractions to deal with at work today than ever before.

And as we settle into the cold winter months with pandemic trend lines pointed in the wrong directions, there’s rightful concern about employee wellbeing. An already tenuous situation is about to get worse.

With all of this happening around our people, it’s not out of line for you to be concerned about how to maintain performance levels.

So we ask, “How do we maintain employee productivity?”

This question worries me. Not so much because of the intent behind the question, but rather the use of the word, “productivity.”

Like many of the words we use in the context of work, this one is a little unclear and comes with a lot of baggage.

Productivity is one of those words that is a holdover from management’s origins in the industrial revolution. During those times, the primary job of management was to extract every bit of useful work effort out of each employee’s time on the clock.

The goal of productivity was to maximize the value that could be extracted from an employee. To maximize the return on investment in the employee’s salary.

While this made sense and was incredibly effective during a time where most work was done in factories on lines, some still use the word today to mean the same thing: to get as much work out of the employee as possible.

But, work has changed. A lot. And this way of thinking about productivity is part of what’s contributing to our current crises and leading so many people down a path to burnout.

Not THAT Kind of Productivity

There is an alternative. It reveals itself most clearly when we think about what a productive day looks like in our own lives.

Take a minute to think about the most productive day you’ve had in the past month. What happened on that day that made you label it as productive? How do you remember feeling that day?

For me, it was a day when I had a clear picture of what needed to be accomplished and completed everything in a way that felt good. At the end of the day, I felt accomplished and gave myself permission to unplug as a reward.

Your own experience may have been a day without meetings or distractions. It might have been a day when you made progress on a meaningful project you’d been putting off.

When we think about our own productivity, we think in terms of how well we are able to use our time to get done what really matters. That’s very different from the industrial definition.

No one gets to the end of the day and thinks, “Wow, I was really productive today because I literally can’t give any more effort to the company.”

As we think about how to help our people to be more productive, we need to be very clear about what we are talking about. Here’s a simple way to break it down:

In today’s world of work, productivity shouldn’t be about maximizing the value that can be extracted from employees—it’s about helping the employee most effectively and efficiently accomplish their performance objectives.

What does productivity require?

To understand productivity, we need only to examine our own experience of when we feel productive. There are some common ingredients required.

  1. Clarity about what matters and what needs to get done. Productivity isn’t about getting more work done. It’s about getting the right work done. This requires crystal clear goals and objectives. It also requires that the employee understands what is most important and why so they can prioritize completing tasks effectively. Defining expectations is doubly critical for employees working from home because they need to know with confidence how much is enough so they can maintain some balance. Otherwise, fear fueled by the uncertainty of our current world will drive them to work until they crash.
  2. Visibility to progress and impact. Part of what makes work feel unproductive is feeling like what you are doing isn’t moving things forward or making a difference. If employees are clear on what’s expected and what matters, the next thing they need is a way to know that they are making progress. This could be as simple as submitting a finished project, but in other cases it requires feedback and recognition from a manager or their peers.
  3. The resources and support needed. Nothing kills productivity faster than trying to get work done and finding that you lack what you need to do it. To head this off requires a conversation when setting expectations to anticipate and plan for resource needs. It also requires ongoing check-ins from managers to inquire about needs to ensure they’re being met.
  4. Remove obstacles. We are often our own worst enemy when it comes to supporting employee productivity. The fastest way to identify obstacles is to simply ask your people what’s the biggest challenge they face in feeling more productive each day. The most common thing you are likely to hear is meetings. Most meetings are kryptonite to productivity. I’ll be writing more about this soon, but for now, resist the urge to add meetings to your team’s schedule. Be very clear about the purpose and intention of any meetings you schedule and only include those who will get real value from being there.

Productivity and Employee Engagement

When we get clear about what we are trying to accomplish with productivity, it becomes clear that this conversation is really about employee engagement—at least in the way I define it, which is the degree to which employees are willing and able to perform to their potential.

The bottom line is that if you are doing a good job of managing and engaging your team, productivity will happen. There’s nothing new or magical we need to learn to support productivity, we just need to focus on doing the fundamentals (like those I just outlined) that we should have been doing all along.

Winter is Coming
Winter is Coming 1080 718 Jason Lauritsen

For those of you who aren’t Game of Thrones fans, this title probably seems silly to you. An observation like this certainly isn’t going to earn me a job as a meteorologist any time soon.

But, if you are a GoT fan, you know these three words represent a warning. When the words “winter is coming” are spoken in the fantasy world of GoT, the implication is that you’d better get ready because bad things are imminent.

These three words have been on my mind a lot lately.

This year has been brutal on so many fronts. No one has escaped its effects. Sure, the gravity and severity of the impact has not been evenly distributed, but everyone has been touched.

And I understand why so many people are ready for this year to be over; in a normal year, when we hit January 1, we get to push an imaginary reset button.

On January 1, everything feels possible (after your hangover passes, of course). We put the previous year behind us and look to the future with hope and possibility in our eyes.

This year, I’m going to learn to play the guitar.

This year, I’m going to lose 20 pounds and run a marathon.

This year, I’m going to spend more time with my kids.

This year, everything is going to get better.

But, we are not living in normal times.

Just a couple days ago, my daughter exclaimed, “I can’t wait for 2020 to be over.”

I’ve been hearing that a lot from people. And, it worries me.

My fear is that a lot of people are just trying to survive the year and hoping that when the new year arrives, everything will somehow get better.

Just make it to January 1 and things will get better.

I sure wish that was true. But, we know it’s not.

If we have the courage to look around us with eyes wide open, we can expect that as 2021 arrives, the pandemic may very likely be at its most devastating point globally, systemic racism and inequity will have gone nowhere and large groups of people will still resent the fact that it’s even talked about, and the economy is likely to feel uncertain at best.

A big chunk of the country will be trapped in their homes due to freezing weather, isolated from friends and family when they need them most. And, take it from someone who’s grown up in the Midwest—those first couple months of the year can feel LONG even in the best of times.

Depression and mental health struggles are going to be a primary concern for everyone.

The reality that we must face is that 2021—at least the first half of the year—may feel more challenging than any point in 2020.

I know, I know. Thanks for the uplifting post, Jason.

My point in writing this isn’t to depress you. It’s a call to arms. It’s a reminder that we need to prepare ourselves for what’s truly ahead (and not a pipe dream about a suddenly better 2021).

In Game of Thrones, the phrase “winter is coming” refers to an existential threat that would come from the north to devastate and destroy everything—literally. The main defense against this threat is “the wall,” which is literally a giant wall (think Hoover Dam) protected by armed guards.

The wall is the last line of defense between life as they know it and their demise.

Managers, owners, executives, and HR leaders—you are the wall. You have an obligation to see what’s coming and help equip your people to survive.

Succeeding in this task has vital consequences that reach far beyond helping people do their jobs. It’s about helping them stay whole and healthy so they can do the same for their friends, families, and neighbors.

It’s an awesome responsibility and opportunity to truly impact your people.

So, What Should You Do?

2021 is going to be hard but we can be ready. Hard experiences only break us when we aren’t prepared and lack support.

There are a few things you can start doing now to have a big impact on how next year goes for you and your team.

  1. Confront reality.
    Help your people prepare mentally for what’s coming by engaging in conversations with them where you help them understand what lies ahead. It doesn’t help you or them if they have a false sense of hope about how things will look come January. I’m not suggesting you be a radical pessimist or dream crusher, just that you talk about reality (using real data and trends) to help each person gain perspective that we aren’t anywhere near the finish line yet. In these conversations, reinforce that while it will be hard, you are in it together and will get through it together.
  2. Create a plan.
    Given that we have a pretty good idea of what the first half of next year is likely to look like, we can plan for it. And, more importantly, you can help your people plan for it. I find it most helpful to start with planning for the worst case scenario.For example, if we assume the pandemic will be worse by early 2021 and we’ll all be confined to our homes, schooling our kids from home, and unable to see the people we love outside our home in person, what are we going to do to make it through? What’s your plan for:

    • How to stay connected with friends, family, and co-workers
    • How to stay healthy and well?
    • How to keep your family/household/roommate situation positive and healthy?
    • How to maintain a balance between work and non-work time?

    Having a plan helps even challenging things feel manageable. And, the reason I like to plan for the worst is that the worst rarely happens, which means whatever does happen will feel a lot easier to navigate.

  3. Start talking about mental health now.
    There are already some alarming signals indicating that our mental health is suffering. Whether it’s anxiety, depression, burnout, or a host of other issues, caring for our mental health in the upcoming year is going to be a primary challenge we must face with our people.The most important thing you can do right now is start talking about it. By talking about it or even sharing your own struggles, you remove the stigma and make it easier for your people to share.Also, make sure your team has resources easily available should they need them. This could mean creating a one-pager with info about the company’s EAP program, helpline numbers, online resources, etc.
  4. Embrace the holidays.
    Encourage people to take time off, unplug, and enjoy some downtime in December. Make it clear you encourage this and create a plan with people to truly get away from work over the holidays as much as they can to rest, and recharge—whatever they need to feel somewhat restored. They will follow your lead on this, so do the same for yourself.

Winter is coming. And it is going to be challenging, particularly for those who are responsible for helping others find their way through it while keeping up their performance at work.

It is likely to be hard, but we can be prepared. Start now.

Your people need you, perhaps more today than ever before.

3 Simple Tips for Managing Remote Employees
3 Simple Tips for Managing Remote Employees 1000 668 Jason Lauritsen

Regardless of when this pandemic ends (which feels like never to me right now), the way we work will never go back to how it was before.

Sure, offices will open and some people will return to their cubicles, but many won’t.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned about work over the past several months, it’s that work can be done successfully well beyond the walls of the office—sometimes even better.

What this means for how organizations and leaders decide to change policies and reshape office environments is yet to be sorted out. But there is one thing for certain.

We are going to be managing employees who we can’t “see” in the office every day for the indefinite future. Remote work is never going away. In fact, as remote work expert Laurel Farrer put it this week as we discussed this topic as part of a panel, “soon we won’t even call it ‘remote’ work anymore. It will just be ‘work’.”

So, while it may take a while to sort out what this all means in the big picture, there is one thing we can focus on right now that will have an enormous impact on our teams and their ability to perform: We need to get really good at managing remote employees.

Why Do We wonder?

Over the past week, I fielded a survey of several hundred managers asking about their biggest challenges or questions related to managing virtual teams. There were a lot of great insights in the responses (more on that to come).

One group of responders took me back to the days when we used to gather around conference room tables to discuss employee engagement concerns. The challenge they raised sounds something like this:

“It’s hard to know how my team is doing/feeling/working when we are all remote.”

I get it. If you’ve only managed people in person at a traditional work environment throughout your career, you’ve likely come to rely on your ability to observe people around the office as a way to get a “feel” for how they were doing.

So, when you can’t see your people every day, it feels like you are somehow powerless to know what’s going on.
Ironically, this same conversation used to happen around that nostalgic board room table long before “pandemic” was a common word in our vocabulary. Even when we could see our people every day, leaders would find themselves together wondering about how employees were really doing, how they felt about what was happening at work.

My guidance to them then is the same as it is today.

Tips for Managing Remote Employees

Feeling like we don’t have a good handle on how our employees are feeling isn’t a new problem. Remote working arrangements have just made it feel more acute and painful.

Not knowing is definitely problematic. It leads us to make assumptions, and that’s never good because we rarely assume the right things.

If we remember that work is a relationship for employees, then perhaps we can learn from other relationships in our lives where this same issue arises. I’ll use my wife as an example.

On top of trying to survive a pandemic, my wife is running a campaign to be mayor of the suburban community where we live. She’s got a lot going on. Running for office is the equivalent of a giant popularity contest. Being in it requires thick skin and an ability to keep things in perspective.

Angie does a pretty good job of this, but I know there are times when it’s hard and she’s struggling with the stress. But, I don’t always know exactly when. And despite knowing her better than any other human on the planet, when I make any assumption about how she’s feeling, I’m almost always wrong.

When I act on those wrong assumptions, it has sometimes even made things worse. Piling more stress on top of what is already a big pile. So, I try not to assume.

Instead, I do what we should all be doing more often. That brings me to my first tip.

Tips for Managing Remote Employees #1: ASK

When we are wondering about how someone else is doing, we don’t need to make assumptions. We can ask.

This is true for our personal relationships—our significant others, parents, children, friends, neighbors, etc. It’s also true for our employees.

It used to drive me insane when I’d meet with my executive teams and they’d start to speculate about what employees thought about certain things or how they were feeling about others. I am sure they got sick of me saying it, but I used to point to a wall where employees were working on the other side and say, “We don’t need to spend time wondering about this, we can go ask them. They are right over there.”

Perhaps the most fundamental skill we need right now as we try to adjust and adapt to managing in this new distributed and virtual environment is the ability to ask meaningful questions.

Consider questions like:

  • On a scale from 1 to 10, how’s your stress level right now?
  • What makes work hardest for you right now?
  • How do you feel about your work from home set up?
  • What was your biggest win this week—with work or just in general?
  • How can I help make your work day less stressful?

The key is to ask questions that get the employee to reflect and talk about what’s really happening for them. One of my friends shared with me that her boss’s boss recently asked her, “Are you having any fun?” This unexpected question caused her to really pause and reflect on how she’d been approaching her work.

Asking good questions is vital, but it’s not enough by itself. Hence, my next tip.

Tips for Managing Remote Employees #2: LISTEN

Sounds pretty simple, but don’t be fooled.

In the survey results from last week, a number of people lamented about the inability to observe body language when interacting with direct reports and others in the office.

This is certainly a real issue when working remotely. It makes it that much more critical that we pay attention to people and listen to what they are (and aren’t) saying.

I’m not going to give you a lesson on active listening because you’ve likely heard it before (if not, Google it and you’ll find loads of great resources). But, I will offer up a few key suggestions.

  1. Do not multitask. It’s so tempting to check emails while on a video call or meeting. Don’t do it. Shut down any other open windows, applications, or tasks and focus on the person in front of you.
  2. Take notes. Write down what you are hearing and any questions that arise in your mind. When you ask good questions, you should get interesting responses. Writing down important details means you don’t have to try to remember them or hold them in your mind. This frees you to pay attention to not only what’s being said but how it’s being said. Is there trepidation or anxiety behind those words?
  3. Ask the follow-up question. The first response is often the least helpful. Learn to say things like, “tell me more about that” or, “why do you think that is?” The second (or third) question is often when you get to the most important insights.

If you really listen to your people, they will share with you what’s working and what’s not. They will share their challenges with you. They will tell you where they need help.

Which brings us to the last tip.

Tips for Managing Remote Employees #3: ACT

When you ask good questions and really listen to the answers, you should end up with a list of things that you can help. But, that list only matters if you take action.

You don’t have to solve every problem or address every need in the moment. But, you do need to do something to help.

When you take action to support your employees after they’ve shared a problem with you, it builds trust. The more often and consistently you do it, the stronger your relationship will become. They will begin sharing more important concerns with you.

Over time, you won’t have to work as hard at drawing out the issues because your people will know that you care and will help whenever they have a challenge in front of them.

Remote Management Impact in Three Words

This isn’t a new idea, just a refresher of a tried and true approach. Managing and engaging people remotely requires that we get the fundamentals right. There’s nothing more fundamental to fostering a positive relationship with your people than these three words:

Ask. Listen. Act.

These three steps taken regularly and with good intention will help you keep your people engaged and productive through the uncertain and changing times ahead.

P.S. One of the biggest challenges managers identified for managing remote employees is keeping them connected–to each other, to the organization, and to them as their manager. So, with my friends at Waggl, we decided to crowdsource some solutions.  If you click this link, you’ll be asked to share what’s been working for you to keep you feeling connected as a remote worker. You’ll also be able to see and vote for the best ideas submitted by others. Check it out now.  

Employee Engagement for You: September 2020 Edition
Employee Engagement for You: September 2020 Edition 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Employee Engagement For You

The honeymoon is over.

That’s actually both a terrible and perfect way to describe where we are right now. The past six months haven’t felt anything like a honeymoon, but they may end up feeling that way in hindsight someday.

When everything changed in the spring, we buckled down and adapted because we had no choice. We dialed up safety precautions. We closed offices and sent people home.

And then the waiting game started. It’s only a matter of time before this is over, we thought.

We are still waiting. And it’s looking like the wait might not be over for a long while. While we wait, the strain of this new working world is starting to break us down.

Employees, who largely stepped up in the early days of work from home, are starting to feel the fatigue and strain. I spoke to an HR leader yesterday who said they’ve seen productivity start to fall and more people calling in sick than ever before.

The challenge of managing and engaging a remote and distributed team is not going away. It’s a reality we must not only face but embrace.

The good news is that the fundamentals are the same. The bad news is that we often weren’t great at the fundamentals before this happened.

If you want to take steps to ensure your employees stay engaged, here are the two actions to take now.

  1. Ask employees about their experiences (through surveys, focus groups, conversations, etc.), listen intently for what they need, and where there are gaps, fix them. We don’t need to guess about what employees need to feel more engaged—we can just ask them.
  2. Ensure manager/employee one-on-one meetings are happening with frequency. There is no more powerful tool for employee engagement than an effective one-on-one meeting. A great one-on-one is scheduled, frequent, and valuable for the employee. Put a focus on appreciation and coaching to maximize the value.

If you do nothing else, put your energy behind these two things. This journey is far from over. Stay focused and keep going. You matter.

Until next time,

Jason

P.S. What is the biggest challenge you are facing with managing remote employees? Hit reply right now and tell me about what you’ve found the most difficult.

Stuff You Should Read

If you want a condensed, useful article with some good advice for how to manage remote teams, here’s one I recommend. Lots of good advice in a small package. Read: 12 Tips For Managing a Remote Team (And Loving It).

This past week, the ADP Research Institute, which is in part led by Marcus Buckingham, released some new data on workplace resilience. The full report breaks down how they measured workplace resilience (including the 10 factors that their research suggests are drivers of it) and the key findings of this research. It’s a unique and interesting perspective on the topic with some surprising findings. Read: Workplace Resilience Study.

My advice lately has been to avoid jumping to any conclusions about what work is going to look like post-pandemic. We are apt to misinterpret signals and assume greater significance in some trends than they deserve. This brought to mind one of my favorite business books of all time, The Halo Effect. It will change how you think about business (and how you read business books) forever. Read: The Halo Effect.

stuff you should hear

What if we randomly selected who we promoted into management? That’s the question I was left Headphonespondering after listening to this recent episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast. It will challenge you to think differently about a few things. Proceed with caution. Listen now.stuff you should watch

You know that interview question, “What three people, living or dead, would you most like to have dinner with?” This month, I got to have a conversation on my webcast with one of the people who is on my list, Gary Hamel. It was a highlight moment of my career and he really delivered the goods in our conversation. Watch: My Conversation with Gary Hamel.

lightning icon
Please Don’t Fake It (The Authentic You is Worth the Work)
Please Don’t Fake It (The Authentic You is Worth the Work) 700 468 Jason Lauritsen

Last week, I opened the weekly email from a thought leader I really admire, Marc Effron. Marc is probably best known for writing the genius book, One Page Talent Management.

I first crossed paths with Marc in 2006 when we were both speaking at the same event. We were both corporate HR execs at the time. From the beginning, I knew this guy was the real deal. 

And, I’ve been following his work ever since. His company, Talent Strategy Group, consistently publishes great content—much of it oriented towards blowing up status-quo thinking and replacing it with what really works.  

I’m a fan. Clearly. Which is why I was so disappointed to find an article in his newsletter titled, “Why the Fake You will Outperform the Authentic You (and how to fake it).” As I read it, I just sighed and thought to myself, “not you too, Marc.” 

For some reason, it’s become popular over the past few years to push back against the idea that we should bring our authentic selves to work. Adam Grant, another person I admire greatly, wrote in 2016, “Unless You’re Oprah, ‘Be Yourself’ Is Terrible Advice.” Thankfully, his view of authenticity seems to be evolving

My colleague Joe Gerstandt and I have been researching, writing about, and teaching authenticity for over a decade now, which is why I’m so baffled that we continue to get the concept of authenticity so wrong. 

Here’s an excerpt from Marc’s article: 

“At least once a month, I show a decidedly fake version of myself to very important people who have paid handsomely for my services. The fake me may show up in a client meeting, an executive education session or during an important speech. My clients don’t know that it’s the fake me and they don’t care. They simply want a great outcome for their organization.”

I bristled at the use of the word “fake” here. In 2020, we live in a time when literal “fake news” floods our social media accounts daily. Fake in today’s world means “intentionally misleading” or “lies.” 

As authors and thought leaders, we often use words that trigger emotional reactions that we hope will get you to click our email or read our post. That’s part of the marketing game. But, in this case, Marc’s use of the word fake here goes beyond a marketing stunt. It’s harmful. More on that later. 

More for the article: 

“You might consider yourself to be a genuine leader and can’t, or find it fundamentally distasteful to, imagine not being your “authentic” self at work. This is because many people like to believe that their authentic self is a carefully thought-through, practiced and shaped version of who they want to be. In reality, the authentic or genuine you is likely an artificial construct your brain has created – a big bundle of confirmation bias based on your intelligence and core personality and how both have interpreted your past experiences.

The genuine you is a constraint on your success if you believe that your success is derived from it. Once you stop worrying about being the genuine or authentic you, the more you can be the adaptable chameleon that succeeds in more situations. That sometimes fake you (if done well) is guaranteed to be a higher performer.”

Ugh. This almost reads like a moralistic argument for “the ends always justify the means.” And, maybe that’s the point. If you aren’t reading this carefully and thinking it through, this section could easily be interpreted in a lot of harmful ways:

  • Do whatever it takes to get ahead, even if it makes you feel like a fraud. 
  • As long as you succeed, then “faking it” is worth it.
  • It’s okay to make things up and pretend to be someone you aren’t, so long as it gets better results. 
  • You will never have an authentic sense of self, so why both looking for or protecting it? Just make it up as you go and become something new in every situation. 

I hope that’s not what is being argued here because that would be a deeply sad and troubling reflection on what gets rewarded and promoted in business and society today. And maybe that’s the point of the article, to shine a light on how the entire system is designed to reward faking it. 

When I peel back the packaging of Marc’s suggestions as “faking it” and just look at the meat of his recommendations, I am not arguing that it’s bad advice. But, I’m suggesting that regardless of what’s comfortable for you or what’s in your natural style, you can learn skills to better promote your ideas, make friends, and show ambition without having to feel like you faking it. 

That’s why this article bothers me so much. At the very least, it reveals how poorly we understand and have defined authenticity. And that’s too important for me to let it slide.

Based on the work Joe and I have done over the past decade on authenticity, here are two critical things that Marc’s argument misses: 

1. Authenticity is a journey. 

One thing that Marc and I can agree on is that there is no single “authentic you” within any of us. As humans, we are constantly evolving and changing. Being authentic is the work we do to gain a deeper understanding of ourselves, come to terms with who we are, and then show up in the world in a way that aligns with that. 

Marc is correct that while many assume they’ve done the work to live authentically, that’s just not the reality for most people. The journey of authenticity is challenging and not everyone has the know-how or willingness to take it on. 

Where Marc and I part ways is in what to do about it. Marc suggests that since you probably aren’t authentic, just fake it. While this may get you ahead in cut-throat corporate environments (and probably national politics), it’s harmful advice for most people in terms of overall wellbeing and happiness. 

In “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying,” author Bronnie Ware, a former palliative care nurse who cared for elderly patients at the end of their lives, wrote that the single biggest regret her patients expressed at the end of their lives was this: 

“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” 

In other words, I wish I’d lived a more authentic life. While authenticity may not always be the fastest path to promotion, it won’t leave you on your deathbed wondering why you squandered so much of your life trying to be what others wanted you to be.

2. Authenticity includes your intentions.  

One of the biggest things people misunderstand about authenticity is that it’s not about doing or saying whatever you want without consequence. That’s not authenticity. That’s radical individualism. 

The model Joe and I teach of the journey of authenticity starts with self-awareness. And it’s not the traditional self-awareness work like understanding your personality, strengths, and behavioral style. Those things are important, but they’re just the start. 

The more important work lies in discovering and defining things like our values, purpose, intentions, and aspirations. In doing this work, we gain greater clarity about who we are today, but also who we aspire to be on our best days and in the future. When we are clear on these important things, it helps us make intentional decisions about our behavior. 

At work and in our lives, we make compromises and adaptations all the time. If it’s important to preserve a relationship with someone else, we may pause to consider how we are going to say something to another person if our words might hurt them instead of just letting it fly. We may end up saying it in a way that doesn’t feel as natural to us, but protects the relationship. 

As Marc illustrates in his piece, there are times when we have to adapt our behavior in order to authentically represent our values and intentions. You shouldn’t feel like you are faking it when you do this because it’s in integrity with who you are and who you intend to be.

It’s when we aren’t clear on what really matters to us, the winds of corporate politics and bureaucracy can blow us far off course until we wake up one day and wonder how we became a person we don’t even recognize anymore. Without committing to authenticity, you can easily fall into a pattern of faking it so much that you lose any self of who you really are. I believe this is a major contributor to things like burnout and midlife crises.  

Authenticity doesn’t mean no compromise or adaptation. It means that we make those choices with intention and purpose. Here’s a simple example from my work. My favorite dress code for work is jeans (or shorts) and a t-shirt. That’s how I feel most comfortable. If you saw me working around my home on any given day, that’s how I’d be dressed. As a keynote speaker, some would argue that for me to be my most authentic self on stage, I should dress in jeans and a t-shirt. 

But, this perspective overlooks the fact that one of my most important values is impact. I deeply care about the effect of my speech on the audience. And since I speak to corporate and business leaders most often, I know that many people in that audience expect an expert keynote speaker to wear a suit on stage. And, if those people saw a guy walk out on stage in jeans, they may wonder, “Where’s his suit? Is this guy legit? Is he really an expert?” 

Sure, I may be able to overcome those objections during my presentation, but I don’t want to waste those precious few minutes I get with my audience to make an impact over a pair of jeans. Marc would argue that I’m being “fake.” He’s wrong. That suit is an authentic representation of my values and aspiration. There’s nothing non-genuine about it. I’m not faking it. 

We change, grow, and evolve as people over time. The journey of authenticity embraces that change and brings a greater intention to it. When we try on new or less comfortable behaviors in service of our aspirations or values, it’s a step in our evolution as an authentic person. We are all going to be faced with making sacrifices and compromises throughout our lives. When we are living in authenticity, we can navigate these things with a clear sense of what is aligned with who we are and what isn’t. 

Don’t Fake It

The ironic thing is that if you adopt a broader view of authenticity as I’ve described, you may end up making some of the same behavior adaptations described in Marc’s piece. But instead of it being an opportunistic and perhaps morally questionable choice by faking it, it’s a choice in service of your values and intentions. It is the authentic you.  

Here’s my plea to you. 

Regardless of how much you want to get ahead or be accepted or find a little more success, don’t fake it. Instead, commit yourself to the journey of authenticity. Do the work to get clarity about who you are and what you want from life. When you can make authentic decisions and choices in your life and career based on this work, your life will be more meaningful and fulfilled. 

And at the end of it all, you’ll be able to look back and say, “I did things on my terms. I’m glad I didn’t fake it.” 

Burnout and Putting Me Back Together Again
Burnout and Putting Me Back Together Again 1080 608 Jason Lauritsen

About two weeks ago, I wrote about my realization that I was suffering from burnout. The response to the post was both affirming and concerning. 

Affirmation came in the form of messages and comments signifying I wasn’t alone. Others saw themselves in my situation. They were feeling the same exhaustion and lack of joy. In those affirmations was born my concern. 

I’ve spent the last two weeks writing and speaking openly about my burnout and how I found my way through it. The more I talk about it, the more I hear from others who are suffering from something similar: burnout, COVID fatigue, stress, etc. 

As a result of what I’ve heard, I feel like I need to share what’s happened since I wrote that post. I took some very intentional and specific actions to get back to feeling like myself again and it’s had a dramatic effect. 

I’m a bit reluctant as I write this post for a couple of reasons. First, I’m in no way an expert on burnout or mental health. I’m only an expert on sharing my story and what I’ve learned from it. 

Second, I have found quickly that there are many different manifestations and intensities of burnout. My hunch is that mine was pretty mild and that I caught it relatively early, but I don’t know. 

Finally, I’m cognizant of the enormous privilege and advantages I have at my disposal. I am lucky. I have more flexibility (I work for myself), support, and resources than many do. Please know I am aware of this and that your situation may look a lot different than mine. 

I’m going to share what I did because it was incredibly healing for me. I literally feel like a different person today than I did when I wrote that blog. I’ll also share what I took from the experience as learnings. My hope is that something in there will be helpful to you or perhaps someone you know who might be stuck where I was.  


My Retreat

As I began to realize how worn down I felt, a friend of mine suggested that I take a few days and really unplug. Unplug from work, from tech, from the news. She suggested spending time just breathing and doing things like watching the sun rise and set. 

It sounded right to me, so I scanned my calendar and found four days where I had very little scheduled and anything that was scheduled could be moved. I blocked them off. 

When I told my wife about my plan to unplug, she made a suggestion. My parents were going to be gone for a couple of weeks camping, so why not go to their house to have some real time “away” from everything. That’s exactly what I did. 

Two days after I posted my blog, I packed my car and headed to my parents’ empty house. Ironically, while so many are struggling with social isolation right now, what I needed was some true time alone. 

Over the course of those four days, I had a few priorities. 

DISCONNECTION  I didn’t check email. I didn’t watch any news. I unplugged. The only people I talked to during the entire four days were my grandparents, who live in an assisted living facility near my parents’ home. Visiting with them in-person was good for the soul. In the evenings, I’d kick back and watch a movie I’d been wanting to see. 

SLEEP  I felt exhausted heading up there. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t been sleeping. My Fitbit would have told you that I was getting about seven hours of sleep per night even as I was burning out. It wasn’t enough. Over my four nights away, I slept 9.5, 9, 9, and 8 hours respectively per night. My batteries were clearly run down.

SELF-HELP PODCASTS  The week before I left, a friend who had navigated through her own experience of burnout mentioned how much the Brené Brown podcast, Unlocking Us, had helped. I took her advice and binged a bunch of episodes along with several from the Dan Harris podcast, Ten Percent Happier. These were exactly what I needed. It was the closest thing I could get to some counseling or coaching as part of this experience. It was a reminder that just because you heard something or knew something at one point doesn’t mean you don’t need reminders and refreshers. One would think I should know that. Regardless, these podcasts and a few other random episodes from other sources gave me the tools I needed to reset my mindset. 

JOURNALING  Each morning, I spent about 30-45 minutes journaling. I use a technique for journaling where I decide in advance how much space I’m going to fill in my journal and then I write, without stopping, until it’s full. This part of the process was vital to pouring out my thoughts and making sense of what had been going on inside my head. By putting in the self-help content early, I had a lot to process and sort through over four days. Other than sleep, journaling was probably the most vital part of healing.  

EXERCISE  This is admittedly a regular part of my self-care routine. I run between 20 and 25 miles per week during the warm months. While on retreat, I kept up my running but also mixed in some long walks as well. Exercise alone isn’t enough for me, clearly, but it’s an important element. 

MEDITATION  Each morning, I spent 15-20 minutes meditating. I am still largely a meditation novice, but I love it and find it extremely valuable. I use the Calm app for guided meditations. 

Beyond these things, I allowed myself a lot of open space to do whatever felt like the right thing to do. One day, I went for a sight-seeing drive and listened to a podcast. Another day, I went for a meandering walk around town. Just the feeling of being off a schedule allowed some of my stress to ease. 

When I returned home from the retreat, I felt like a different person. I’d been able to isolate some really problematic mindsets and reset them to a more positive place. Plus, I felt whole and rested. I had energy and the joy had returned. I am not overstating this. It was transformative. 

What I think I learned

As I’ve had time to think about how I ended up in need of a retreat and how the retreat restored me, I’m going to hang on to a few things to hopefully help me prevent this from happening again in the future. 

  1. Retreats are powerful. The word retreat is defined as “an act of moving back or withdrawing.” That’s what I needed and it feels like what a lot of people need right now. We need to move back from the front lines of our lives, even if it’s just for a few days. When we move back and get away, we are able to get out of the busyness and see our situation from a different perspective. Creating space for retreat is incredibly important and valuable. 
  2. Ongoing self-care is vital, and exercise alone isn’t enough. I think when the crisis took hold in March, the adrenaline of needing to adapt and respond carried me through several months. I suspect that my exercise and sleep routine actually helped me stretch out how far that carried me, but I wasn’t tending to my mental health, and eventually I broke down. Going forward, I have a plan to be as disciplined about my mental health self-care as I am about my physical health. 
  3. We all need help in getting and staying well. I am fortunate that I have friends (and a badass wife) who provided me with suggestions and ideas for what I needed to do. I’m also grateful that I opened myself back up to some self-help content. My learning style responds really well to self-help, but it could have been counseling or coaching instead. The point is, it’s hard to climb out of a rut without some help. It’s also much easier to recognize and avoid the rut in the first place with help. 

As Paul Harvey used to say, “That’s the rest of the story.” My hope is that maybe it will be useful to you, someone you care about, or maybe in thinking through how to support your employees right now. 

And, if you are curious about what the mindsets were that needed a reset, the short version is this: I needed to replace judgment with empathy and scarcity with abundance. If you want to talk more about that, reach out and ask.  

Take care of yourself and those around you. We’ve still got a long way to go.  

working human
Employee Engagement Essentials Post-COVID
Employee Engagement Essentials Post-COVID 1000 555 Jason Lauritsen

I originally wrote this post for my friends at Workhuman. I asked their permission to share it here as well because I thought you might find it valuable. If you’d like to view the original post, you can find it here:  https://www.workhuman.com/resources/globoforce-blog/employee-engagement-essentials-post-covid

This week, all over the U.S., schools are reopening and millions of kids are heading back to the classroom. As educators and parents navigate their way through this process, there are big questions to be answered.

Don’t worry, this isn’t another post debating school openings. Rather, as I’ve been both watching and experiencing this process personally, it struck me that the challenge of school reopening isn’t too different from what organizations are wrestling with in terms of what the “workplace” looks like post-COVID.

At the heart of both issues is the reality that we are living through a global pandemic that no one was fully prepared for. The past several months have produced change at a pace we’ve rarely experienced. We’ve all been knocked off balance.

As we look to the future for both schools and our organizations, one thing is for sure – the future won’t look anything like the past. Too much has changed and there are too many new forces in play now. But not everything has changed.

The key to success on the road ahead is identifying the important things that have stayed the same and keeping sight of those as you navigate the key changes. Here I unpack what’s changed and what hasn’t for organizations that want to continue to engage employees through and beyond COVID.

What employee engagement essentials haven’t changed?

Let’s begin with two things that haven’t changed and likely never will for employee engagement. I like to call these the fundamentals. No matter how much the world changes, there are core needs employees need satisfied to stay engaged in their work. These were important before COVID, they are vital now, and they will continue to be critical in the future.

Communication

Communication is an essential ingredient to employee engagement and should stay at the heart of any effort to improve engagement and performance.

But I’m not talking about sending more formal email updates or posting memos on the company intranet. To drive engagement, communication is about creating greater clarity and reducing uncertainty for each employee.

The importance of communication can be summarized in three words: uncertainty kills engagement.

Uncertainty is dangerous because of how our brains have evolved to keep us safe. The fight-or-flight response means that our brains will frequently interpret an unknown stimulus as a threat and will trigger a response that preserves our safety. This helps us stay alive. If you are walking through the woods at night and hear a sound you can’t identify, it’s not bad to have a fear response and do what you need to do to stay safe (run, turn on a flashlight, etc.).

The problem is that the brain isn’t particularly discerning about the type of unknown stimulus. It generally reacts to that uncertainty in the woods in a similar way as it does to uncertainty at work. When we are uncertain, our brain fills in the details in a way that creates a fear response to help us find safety.

This is what makes uncertainty in the office really dangerous to engagement. Think back to the last time your boss requested an impromptu meeting with you and provided no explanation. You likely had at least a flash of anxiety or panic as you imagined all the negative things that might have prompted the request (“OMG, I’m getting fired”). Or maybe you started racking your brain for what you may have done wrong recently.

When we don’t know what’s happening, our mind creates a story that is often much worse than what’s actually happening. It’s our brain’s way of preparing us for something bad to happen so we can protect ourselves. We don’t need to be prepared for unexpected good news, so the default setting when we fill in the details is the worst-case scenario.

This is what makes communication so important. The key is to keep ongoing, two-way communication happening at all times. This includes manager check-ins, team meetings, senior leader forums, and employee surveys. Any activity that identifies areas of uncertainty for employees and attempts to replace that uncertainty with clarity is engagement communication.

If you want to fuel engagement today and in the future, invest more time and intention on communication to combat uncertainty.

Appreciation

Nearly twenty years ago, Don Clifton and Tom Rath from Gallup published the book, “How Full Is Your Bucket?” This was in response to a finding in Gallup’s employee survey data that 65% of employees reported receiving zero moments of positive recognition in the previous year at work. That’s two-thirds of employees who said they showed up to work every day for a year and no one ever offered up even a simple “thank you.”

On my optimistic days, I want to believe we’ve gotten better at this over the past two decades, but my experience suggests that any gains we’ve made have been small. Far too many employees still feel undervalued and unappreciated at work. And this was before the new era of remote and distributed work ushered in by COVID.

If we weren’t expressing enough appreciation to one another when we were in the same physical space together, this won’t likely improve when we are physically apart. This is a problem because we know that feeling valued and appreciated are drivers of employee engagement.

To meet this challenge, we have to think more broadly about how to create moments of recognition and appreciation. Employees should experience acknowledgment and appreciation from their manager through regular check-ins and one-on-one meetings. But co-workers can also play an important role. If you want to make huge leaps in helping your employees feel more appreciation, there are two places to focus.

First, you need to make appreciation and recognition a part of how you do things. This might mean having “shoutouts” as part of your team meeting agenda. It could also mean implementing a technology tool to enable peer-to-peer recognition and make it easy for all employees to share and receive. The other key is to teach people how to show appreciation. If we were naturally great at it, this wouldn’t be such a huge issue. Simple training, guidance, and role modeling have a big impact. The more people see and experience genuine appreciation, the more likely they are to pay it forward.

How has employee engagement changed post-COVID?

While the core drivers of engagement, like the two just outlined, haven’t meaningfully changed, there are some essential factors that have. These are not necessarily new considerations, but rather some factors that have been elevated in importance based on external forces.

Flexibility

A number of years ago, when I was involved in Best Places to Work research, we conducted some exploratory research to check our assumptions about what was most important to and valued by employees in their job. The results surprised us. Flexibility emerged as one of the most highly valued elements of the work experience.

Employees’ desire for greater flexibility isn’t new. Some organizations (pre-COVID) even used flexible work arrangements as a competitive advantage in attracting talent. This was effective because so many other organizations were telling employees that flexibility considerations, like working from home, were not possible.

Now that employees know what’s possible, there’s no going back. Employees now know that it was never a matter of it not being possible, it was that leadership didn’t trust them. Employees have proven that they can be productive away from the office, even at home under really hard circumstances.

Notice I’m using the phrase flexibility, not “work from home.” What’s changed isn’t necessarily that everyone wants to work from home. When the dust settles and it’s safe to go back to the office, the key question isn’t “do we or don’t we?” Instead, the opportunity will be to step back and, with feedback from your employees, to redesign how, when, and where work best gets done.

If your organization values having people physically together, work with employees to imagine and create a workplace experience that employees crave. Create a place where they want and prefer to be. Then you can give them the freedom to choose.

The bottom line is that post-COVID, if you intend to limit or dictate when, where, or how an employee does their work, you had better be able to defend that with a clear and legitimate business reason. Leader and manager comfort or preference won’t cut it.

Safety 

This may seem a bit obvious, but I don’t think it can be understated how important safety is in terms of an employee’s experience of work. When we don’t feel safe, that same fight-or-flight fear response that interferes with communication also causes all kinds of other issues (both psychological and physiological) that are detrimental to our ability to do our best work.

While Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs clearly illustrates the vital importance of safety, most organizations have not focused on this area unless they rely on manual labor to create value.  Even the concept of “psychological safety,” which has become popular recently, is relatively new.

COVID has reminded all of us how fragile our sense of safety can be. Even if we cared about safety in the past, most of us took it for granted, particularly at work. Going forward, feeling safe is now a primary consideration. It is essential to our ability to be at our best and engaged fully in our work.

To foster a feeling of safety at and about work, remember that safety is intertwined with trust. When you consider the people in your life with whom you feel the safest, it’s likely people who you also trust the most completely. You know they have your best interests at heart, would never do anything to intentionally harm you, and would do everything in their power to protect you from harm.

For employees to feel truly safe at work, they need to believe the same to be true about the people who employ them. Not sure where to start? Ask your employees. They will tell you what’s working and what needs work. Take that feedback and do something about it. Over time, they will develop deep trust that whatever needs to be done to keep the workplace safe (and otherwise functioning well) will get done.

More human employee engagement post-COVID 

The common theme running through the four factors highlighted here is a deeper understanding of and connection to the core needs of the human being who’s doing the work. COVID forced us all to stop and take some account of what really mattered as organizations. At the top of that list was making sure our people were OK.

Employers are more intertwined in people’s lives than ever before. This is both an invitation and a wake-up call. We’ve learned that our people are resilient, capable, and committed. We’ve learned that work can get done in ways we didn’t recognize before. And we’ve been reminded that our employees are people who are also spouses, parents, children, and community members.

When we put the employee at the center of how we design and manage work with the focus on how to enable them to do their very best work in the context of their often complicated lives, everyone wins.