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How (and Why) to Check in With Your Employees Now More Than Ever
How (and Why) to Check in With Your Employees Now More Than Ever 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

If you are like most people, you are concerned about how the current situation is going to affect those closest to you.

My two youngest are out of school and are trying to make sense of everything that’s happening. It must feel strange and out of balance to them. My priority is making sure they feel safe and loved.

My oldest son is experiencing disruptions with both his college schedule and his job. He’s stuck here in a house for long periods of time with his parents and younger siblings. Regardless of how cool his parents are, it’s not exactly how he imagined spending spring.

My grandparents are confined to an apartment in a small assisted-living facility without being able to have coffee with their friends who live in the neighboring apartment. I know they are struggling with the isolation.

Every single person we know right now is worried about something that’s happening. That includes every single one of your employees.

We need to stay connected to one another. We need to talk about things. We need to ask for help. We need to laugh together.

We need to check in on one another.

Talk to Your Employees

For anyone who supervises others at work, it’s important that you take the time to talk to your people about what really matters right now. Call it a check-in, a one-on-one, or a video chat, but just do it. Frequently.

With all of the chaos and uncertainty around us and the pervasive talk of economic challenges ahead, employees will be looking to you for reassurance and support as their manager. It’s in moments like these that it’s valuable to remind ourselves that work is a relationship for employees. And with all this uncertainty, it’s natural that they may be worried about the status of that relationship.

It’s on us as leaders to step up in this moment to create as much clarity and stability as we can.

Now is a good time to remember the relationship test. If you aren’t a regular reader of the blog or you want a refresher, here’s a longer post about the relationship test. In short, the relationship test is a reminder to treat the people we work with with the same care and intention as we would anyone in our life who is important to us.

For example, let’s say your employee is also your daughter. When you check in with her, you’d ask “How are you feeling?” or “Is everything going okay?” If she were struggling with something, you’d dedicate your time and attention to figuring out how to help her through it. Only once you’d gotten through that and felt confident that she’s okay would you even inquire about work.

If she’s feeling scared or facing a personal crisis, a question like “How are you coming on that deliverable?” or “How much time were you able to work today?” seems pretty shallow and insignificant.

The relationship test challenges you to mentally replace the person on the other end of any interaction you have with your team with someone you really love and care about. If you find that it makes you pause, then you probably need to reconsider your approach or intentions.

The bottom line is that we need to be checking in frequently with everyone right now. Your employees should be a priority.

What a Good Check-In Looks Like

When you are checking with people right now, focus on three simple things.

1. How is the human?

When you check in with your daughter or best friend, you start with something like, “How are you doing?” You want to know first that they are okay. And if not, that’s where you spend your time.

With employees, it might be helpful to use a bit more structure to the question than “How are you?” I’ve been experimenting with 3H check-in lately, and it has opened up some excellent conversations.

The 3H Check-in

  • How’s your head? How are you holding up mentally? What is most worrisome or distracting to you?
  • How’s your heart? How are feeling? What emotions are you experiencing? Where are you finding positive emotions right now?
  • How’s your health? Have you been taking care of yourself? Are you moving your body each day? Are you caring for your (and your families) wellness?

If you haven’t had conversations like this with your people in the past, have some patience as this might take some getting used to.

As you get better at it and it becomes more comfortable, you might want to consider using a 1-10 scale when you do a quick check-in. Saying your head is “4” is far more powerful than simply saying “I’m okay.”

Once you’ve talked about the human side of the experience right now, it’s appropriate to talk about work.

2. Is the work you are doing aligned with what’s needed most?

In most organizations, it feels like everything has gotten tossed upside down in the past two weeks. This has been confusing and disorienting for many employees and managers. What mattered most a few weeks ago, might not matter as much today. And something that didn’t matter much is now very important.

This means that as leaders, we need to help our employees recalibrate their work. Just this week, I’ve talked to a few people who have said that their biggest challenge right now is that they don’t know what to be working on.

Performance Check-In

  • What are the top three priorities/projects you are working on? In other words, what are you working on and how are you deciding what to work on? Find out if a person is clear on what to work on and what matters the most.
  • What are you most uncertain about right now? Where do you have the biggest questions related to what’s happening at work right now? It’s likely that some of their questions might be the same as yours, and you may not have answers. But it’s better to call those out and talk about them, admitting that you don’t know, than to leave those questions unaddressed.

Through this conversation, your goal is to help the employee find greater clarity about what he or she should be focused on in the day-to-day. It should also help the employee to understand how to make decisions about what to work on next if unsure.

In this conversation, it’s also important to acknowledge the challenges that newly remote workers are likely facing, particularly if they are tackling the schooling of their children at the same time. These employees might be struggling with the demands on their time and how to prioritize.

Keep in mind, particularly now, that the goal of performance management is the work output, not the number or quality of hours worked. By helping employees focus on what matters most in terms of work output, they can use the hours they have for greatest impact. If they can get 80 percent of their work done in half the time right now, that’s a win–particularly if they are working on what matters the most first.

3. Do you have the resources and support you need?

No employee check-in is complete without asking the employee what he or she needs to be successful. This is particularly important now.

In the past week, you have changed where people work, how they work, with whom they work, and maybe even when they work. That’s a lot for anyone to adjust to in such a short period of time. In my own experience, learning to work in a home office effectively took months, if not years, to figure out. That was in much less stressful times.

The process requires a lot of adjustment and adaptation. During that process, employees will need increased leadership and support from you. Below are a few questions to help you check in with the employees on what they need.

Resource and Support Check-In

  • What is your biggest work challenge right now? This single question should help you zero in on what issue needs the most attention. Pay close attention to the answer because it will tell you a lot about where the person needs the most support.
  • What tools or resources would make work easier right now? Depending on the situation, the answer to this question may range from protective gear to technology tools. You may not be able to fix or address their needs immediately, but by understanding the request, you can work on a solution.
  • How can I be most supportive to you? How often do they want to hear from you? What kind of information and feedback do they need? What kind of flexibility can you create for them?

The point here isn’t that you can magically fix everything. But you need to know where the issues and challenges are so that you can fix those you can and help them navigate around those you can’t.  Just having the conversation will create a sense of progress and control for both you and the employee.

Final Guidance

Stay close to your people. Use these questions to create meaningful conversations. When the chaos passes, you will emerge from this a stronger leader with a team that is loyal to and trusts you at an entirely new level.

A reminder: This is new terrain for all of us. It’s something none of us has seen or managed before.

I’m struggling to find the balance between working from home and managing my kids’ school day at the same time. I’m doing okay, but I’ve also worked from a home office for years, so I had that advantage going in. It’s still tough.

Every person you encounter is trying to figure out how to adapt in their own way. Some are struggling, some are managing it well, some are in denial that any of this is happening. As a leader, this is our moment to practice patience, grace, and forgiveness.

This is going to be messy as we find our way through it together. Be quick to forgive when others make mistakes or fall down; they are doing their best. Help them recover and then ask how you can help them going forward. This is not a time for judgment.

Your people need the best of you right now. Be there for them. Support them. Give them your time.

You can get your people through this.

 

If you’d like more content like this to arrive in your email box weekly, you can subscribe to this blog by clicking here.

What Your Employees Need From You Right Now
What Your Employees Need From You Right Now 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

For the amount of talk and training and coaching we’ve deployed over the years about change, you’d think we would be better equipped when big changes show up.

Maybe nothing would have prepared us for the collective gut punch that we are all experiencing right now.

I know that I certainly got knocked off balance by this thing. It’s hard to find your balance when things are shifting so quickly and dramatically all around us.

As I’ve been talking with people this week, one of the common themes has been “how can I help people through this?” And this is a really important question—particularly for employers. Here’s why.

Unless you are completely isolating yourself from the news right now, it’s hard not to feel afraid of what’s coming—virus, economic downturn, etc., etc., etc. Good news is hard to come by.

There’s a lot of fear out there. I published a post earlier this week titled “I’m Scared Too” to share my own feelings about what was happening and to provide some guidance on how to step forward in spite of the fear. When I wrote that on Monday, I was pretty unsettled and my emotions were pretty raw.

I felt compelled to write about what I was feeling as a way to model what it looks like to put your emotions into words as a way to process and move through that emotion. My hope was that maybe it would nudge others to talk about their own feelings as well. Writing that post was healing for me and it helped me engage more fully with the new reality we are facing.

The reaction to my post was interesting and informative to me. There was one thing that really stood out in the reactions I received.

We have a complicated relationship with fear.

Some people I heard from were grateful that I had talked about my own fear as it helped validate how they were feeling.

Others, mainly my friends, reached out with a message: “Are you okay?” For those who are concerned, yes, I am very okay. I didn’t realize that admitting my fear would trigger this reaction. It feels good to know that people care. These messages also hinted at something else I noticed this week.

There are a lot of us, particularly the dreamers and entrepreneurs and “change the world” types, who have adopted a belief that fear is a bad or toxic emotion. I even have a plate displayed in my office (that I painted) that says “No Fear.”

To illustrate what I mean, I’ll share that one friend, after reading my post, said to me these two things: “Fear is the worst response” and “fear keeps us from living.”

It came from a good place, but I think it’s dangerous to talk about fear like this—especially right now. The “no fear” culture isn’t about fear, it’s about courage. And we need to be very careful with our language right now.

According to a Smithsonian Magazine article about the brain’s reaction to fear, fear “is a fundamental, deeply wired reaction, evolved over the history of biology, to protect organisms against perceived threat to their integrity or existence.”

It’s a natural human response that’s meant to help ensure our safety and survival. Fear isn’t good or bad. Telling someone not to feel fear isn’t helpful. What we need not isn’t an absence of fear, but rather an abundace of courage.

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”—Nelson Mandela

Acknowledging our fear is okay. In some cases, you must acknowledge it as a way to move past it. To move past it, we need to feel a sense of control.

Back to the Smithsonian article: “That perception of control is vital to how we experience and respond to fear. When we overcome the initial ‘fight or flight’ rush, we are often left feeling satisfied, reassured of our safety, and more confident in our ability to confront the things that initially scared us.”

Once I wrote and published my blog post on Monday, I went to work on planning for two things:

  1. The safety and health of my family.
  2. The sustainability of my business.

This has involved some reading and education; conversations with my family, friends, and colleagues; and writing down some plans. The future is uncertain and that feels scary, but through these steps, I’ve found my way to a greater sense of stability and wholeness in the past four days. The fear isn’t gone, but I’m managing my way through and past it by taking purposeful steps forward, controlling the things I can.

My Advice to Leaders Right Now

As leaders of people, managing through the fear is our most important task right now. People are uncertain and afraid. Start with acknowledging the fear and validating that it’s natural to feel that way. This starts with you.

If you feel stuck or paralyzed right now, uncertain what to do next, that’s likely the fear. Being afraid is okay, but we can’t stay here. People depend on us, so we have to find the right next step. And don’t worry; there is no perfect next step. This is new territory. Do the best can, erring on the side of caring for yourself and your people. If you make a mistake, just back up a step and try something else. That forward momentum will help alleviate the fear. I promise.

The main thing right now is to find ways to help create a sense of control for your people. Give them agency in this experience so that they too can feel that sense of forward momentum that moves us out of and past the fear.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  1. Communicate and educate like it’s your job (it is actually). Don’t assume what people do or don’t know—whether that’s about the virus, prevention strategies, how to work remotely, how to maintain social distance, etiquette for video meetings… Things are moving and changing so fast that I’m sure you are overwhelmed. Imagine how your people feel as they are even further removed from the decision-makers. You literally cannot over-communicate in times like these. When city and state leaders are holding daily press conferences to keep the general public updated, your frequency of communication needs to be even higher than that. Consider daily team meetings, daily one-on-one check-ins, regular email updates/briefings on anything that’s new or changing, etc.
  2. Recalibrate performance expectations. As we shift to work from home or different operation schedules, it’s time to step back and focus on what matters the most right now. Things that may have seemed important two weeks ago may not matter as much today. Spend time with your people to talk through their performance objectives and projects. Identify what is critical now, what is less important, and what can be put on hold for the time being. Also discuss and clarify behavioral and communication expectations. For example, in a remote working environment, how are we going to communicate? What kind of response time expectation should have of one another? As an example, with my teams in the past, we’d agree that email is for things that need a response in one or two days, instant messaging (like Slack) is for a quick question, and text is for things that need urgent response. The more clear you are in expectations, the easier the transition will be.
  3. Allow maximum flexibility (and grace). In this unprecedented time, people are trying to juggle things they’ve never encountered before. Kids are out of school, and  for some, there is an expectation of parents to “homeschool.” People who never have before are working from home. Self-quarantine has us isolating from family and friends. Our routines and lives have been disrupted in more ways than we can count, and it happened overnight. As leaders, we need to help people find their footing and establish a new normal. This is going to require learning how to manage a work/life mashup that most never wanted and didn’t choose. Now is the time to both allow and encourage as much flexibility as possible in terms of both how and when work gets done. Provide tools, resources, and support to people as they navigate this. And, perhaps most important, extend grace to your people. Help them understand what the mission-critical work is that must get completed, and then allow them some wiggle room to sort out their life. Be generous and forgiving. Now is not the time to be worried about how many hours people are working. Just ensure that the critical work gets done over the next few weeks. Then, you can begin to craft the new normal.
  4. Make wellbeing a part of everyone’s job. In stressful times, it’s easy to stop doing the things that help us stay well and healthy. We eat and drink more, we sleep less, we stop exercising (no time!), etc. On top of that, social distancing means we are likely to start feeling more isolated and disconnected. In a health crisis, allowing your wellness to suffer is perhaps the worst thing you can do. We can make ourselves less vulnerable to illness by investing time in our wellbeing. But your people may not feel like they can allow themselves time for wellbeing activities unless you make it part of their job. Give them instruction to set aside at least 30 to 60 minutes a day for some kind of physical or mindfulness activity. Encourage them to schedule a 30-minute check-in with a colleague or friend at least a few times a week. (My wife and I have started scheduling virtual happy hours with friends.) Investing a couple of hours a week to support the wellbeing of people is an investment in the quality of all of the other hours of the week.

Use the fear as a wake-up call. To emerge from this crisis as whole as possible, we need to take action now to help our people through it. Fear isn’t the problem; it’s a signal that action is required.

When this is all over and the pandemic has passed, people will remember how their organizations and leaders showed up. Did you prioritize their safety and wellbeing, even when it wasn’t easy for you? Or did you wait, leaving them in their fear not sure what to do next?

Those companies and leaders who step up now will emerge from this crisis stronger and with more loyal, committed employees than ever before.

Go now. Your people need you.

 

If you’d like more content like this to arrive in your email box weekly, you can subscribe to this blog by clicking here.

I’m Scared Too
I’m Scared Too 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

Last Monday morning, I sat across the breakfast table from a friend talking about how the media was creating panic over the coronavirus.

Early last week, I kept saying things like “I’m glad I don’t get a breaking news update every time someone dies of the flu or cancer like I do for this virus.”

That feels like a lifetime ago.

That same friend is now in self-quarantine due to possible exposure last week.

Looking back now, I’m embarrassed about how ill-informed and short-sighted I was. I was wrong. I should have been paying closer attention to what was happening in China and Italy. Hindsight….

As I tried to educate myself about what was happening and others smarter than I am helped to educate me early last week, the severity and dire nature of what was coming became clear. This is dangerous and it’s not like anything we’ve seen before.

We are still at the beginning. It’s going to get worse. Much worse.

And I’m willing to admit that I’m scared.

Over the past week, it’s been interesting and troubling to watch our behavior as this has unfolded. Most of us have never lived through anything like this, and no one seems to be prepared.

Like me, most people seem to start with some form of denial. “This isn’t that big of a deal.” We blame the media for creating panic. But they were doing their best with an unbelievable story. This isn’t their fault. And those early warning bells are likely to look pretty justified before this is all over.

While it seems that many people are starting to come around to the gravity of what’s happening, it scares me how many people still seem to be in denial, particularly some of our more irresponsible leaders. This is real, and it’s happening at breakneck speed.

If you are paying attention to the news as it unfolds, it’s hard not to feel some anxiety.

I’m worried about the threat this virus poses to our elderly and immune-compromised population. Selfishly, I’m worried about my parents and grandparents. I’m also worried about your parents and grandparents and anyone else at the highest risk.

I’m worried about how this is going to impact people who depend on the ability to go to work every day to early their hourly wage. When those businesses close or the schools close, and they have to stay home with kids, they can’t earn money to pay their bills.

I’m worried about the kids who don’t have a safe place to go during the day because schools are closed. And the kids who depend on the school to get at least two meals a day.

I’m worried about how this will impact my business and the businesses of so many others.

Yes, I’m scared. You might be too.  It’s okay to feel scared. And it’s important that we acknowledge and talk about it so it doesn’t consume us. By acknowledging our emotions, we can take positive steps to ensure that we are caring for ourselves and those around us appropriately.

Angie and I spent most of the weekend talking about what this means for us and for our community. We started putting a plan together for our family. We talked a lot about how we can help and lead in these crazy times.

Many of you are in positions of influence and leadership within your organization. Others are looking to you right now for leadership and guidance. They are uncertain and scared, and they don’t know what to do.

You’re probably facing some really challenging decisions in both your organization and your life. While I don’t have any special insights into how to navigate through a pandemic, there are a few things I’d like to offer up here that might be helpful as we work through these uncertain times. I am reminding myself of these same things right now.

  1. Focus on self-care. We can’t care for others if we aren’t taking care of ourselves. Get some sleep, get some exercise, pay attention to what you are eating and drinking, meditate if that’s your thing. To lead ourselves, our families, organizations, and communities through this uncertain time, we need to be strong. Healthy bodies are also more resilient bodies when it comes to illness.
  2. Educate yourself. Knowing more about this pandemic won’t likely make you feel better about what’s coming. But as long as you use sources like the CDC, Johns Hopkins, and reputable news outlets, you’ll at least have a foundation of information on which to make decisions.
  3. Up the communication, by A LOT. Over my entire career studying employee engagement, there is one common theme. We don’t communicate as often or as well as employees need. And this is during good times. In crisis and times of great uncertainty, your people need open communication with you more than ever. Unfortunately, our instinct during times like these is to slow down, create more formal communication, and make sure the message is “right” (whatever that means). Yes, it’s important you spend time thinking about what and how you communicate in times like this but also realize that minutes and hours matter. People don’t always need you to know the answer, but they want to know that you are thinking about them, you will keep them updated, and you are on top of what’s happening. Consider your own experience. Would you rather hear “We don’t know all the answers, but here’s what we do know” or silence? Silence in times of uncertainty fosters fear and further uncertainty. Just remember that when we know what’s going on, we tend to assume the worst. Yhe moral of the story is this: Whatever amount of communication you are doing with your team right now, multiply it by four or more. No one is going to get angry with you for over-communicating.
  4. Maintain connection.  Social distancing and isolation are going to be the new norm for a while. We need to remember that we all have a fundamental need for human connection, so as we are removed from the places where this happens naturally like the workplace, we need to replace it somehow. Google Hangouts and Skype provide video resources for free so long as you have an internet connection. Set aside time each day for calls, texts, video chats, or however you prefer to communicate. You also need to consider this for every member of your team or employee. How are you going to keep your people connected if you send them home or have to shut down?
  5. Just take the next step. There is no playbook or best practice for what’s happening right now. That can lead to paralysis of what to do for your organization or family. The thing is, you don’t need to have the whole plan worked out to do the next right thing. Do you send people home to work or not? Do you close your business or not? Do you keep your kids home from school if they haven’t closed? Make the best decision for today or this week based on what you know right now. But also realize that things are changing fast and as you get more info, a different decision might be warranted.
  6. Think about community. Much of the anxiety I’ve felt over the past few days has as much to do with my concern about the broader impact of this pandemic on our community as it does on our family. If we are to minimize the damage of this unfolding crisis, it requires that we all think beyond ourselves. The choices we make today will have important ripple effects on how life looks for us all over the next few months. As you contemplate what you do individually or with your team, try to consider all of those who might be impacted.

It’s important that we lean on and support one another as we navigate these uncertain times. Talking things through is important and helpful. If you want to talk or would like help thinking through some decisions you need to make, reach out and I’ll make time for you.

We are in this together. And we’ll get through it together.

 

Here are some resources that I’ve found helpful over the past few days:

 

Employee Engagement for You: The Latest News March 2020
Employee Engagement for You: The Latest News March 2020 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

According to Scott Berkun, innovation is significant positive change.”

In case you haven’t noticed already, I’m trying something a little different with my emails lately. It felt like we needed some innovation to bring more value to your inbox.

Today is my first attempt at a new monthly newsletter format to share with you some resources that I find both important and interesting. My goal each month will be to share some articles, podcasts, and videos that can help us engage employees (and sometimes ourselves).

I hope you like it. Send me a note to let me know if this format feels like significant positive change. Love it, hate it, don’t care, whatever, I always love hearing from you. Just hit reply and talk to me.

Until next time, enjoy the content.

Jason

The fastest way to improve the work experience is to start with what you can control. Try some things with your team to find out what works, then share your story with others. This article provides some great ideas on where to start. Read: Nine Ways to Make Your Workday Better

Bad attitudes and toxic behavior can ruin a team or an office. Research has shown that negative emotions are contagious, but so are positive ones. To be a better manager, we need to understand “emotional contagions” and how to use them to our advantage. Read: Faster Than a Speeding Text: “Emotional Contagion” at Work.

Over the years, we’ve debated the link between compensation and engagement. But some recent research suggests that for our lowest paid employees, compensation may be far more important than we ever considered. Read: The key to lower suicide rates? Higher minimum wages.

Spending any time with Brené Brown content will make you a better human being. In this podcast conversation with Krista Tippett, she discusses her research on belonging. It touches on everything from vulnerability and authenticity to fear and spirituality. There are some profound insights to be found here for both life and the workplace. Listen now. 

Nataly Kogan, author of Happier Now, is on a mission to remind us to celebrate the women in our lives on March 8, International Women’s Day. I’m in. I hope you feel the same. She explains more in this short video.

How Do You Repair Your Relationships?
How Do You Repair Your Relationships? 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

Among all the skills that are important to building great relationships, one of the most important is repair.

It’s also one of the most overlooked.

I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve never thought of repair as a relationship skill. I don’t know that I ever had until I started doing research into how great relationships work.

Repair is what we do when we have a fracture in our relationship in order to ensure that it doesn’t become a full-on break. I’ll give you a few examples.

Repairing Relationships Before They Fully Fracture

When my oldest son Dylan was in high school, he (like most teens not excluding myself at that age) had developed quite the capacity for doing dumb things. Thankfully, he didn’t do any colossally dumb things. His specialty was the frequency of small ones.

This led to an expectation on my part. If something happened that could even possibly be linked back to one of his bad or thoughtless decisions, I assumed he was to blame and would often react accordingly.

I remember clearly one day when I made one of these assumptions. I don’t remember what happened, but I do remember going off the handle, accusing my son of being responsible and doling out some immediate consequences. He stormed out of the room and the moment ended.

Shortly afterward, I discovered that he hadn’t had anything to do with this particular incident. He was innocent. My reaction was based on his track record, not what actually happened. I could probably have justified my reaction by telling myself that I wouldn’t have reacted that way if not for all the other stuff he’d done. Thankfully, that’s not what I did. Instead, I apologized. I told him that I was sorry and that I had been unfair. I told him he deserved better than that and that I’d do better in the future.

He accepted my apology and the fracture I’d caused in our relationship and his trust in me was repaired.

I wish I could tell you that this was the only time I’d overreacted with him. It wasn’t. But each time it happened, I went straight to him with an apology.

Over time, he actually learned to do the same thing. When we had to enforce boundaries or tell him no on occasion, he was prone to overreaction. To his credit, once he calmed down, he’d come find me and/or his mother and apologize for how he reacted.

This ritual of repair was really important to us surviving high school together while maintaining a positive and supportive relationship. I shudder to think what our relationship might have looked like had we not been committed to this.

Repair Your Relationships at Home

My wife and I have a similar process for repair.

When we have arguments, which thankfully don’t happen often, it feels awful for both of us.

What we discovered over the years was that regardless of how much we disagree or how frustrated we were in the moment, there was only one right next step to take. A hug and an “I’m sorry.”

Before you go all “why are you always saying you are sorry?” on me, pump the brakes. In both of these cases, an apology is necessary.

Regardless of the argument we are having. Regardless of whether or not I am right (which my wife will tell you is very rare). And regardless of how justified I feel about my position on whatever the issue, I am sorry that I’ve made the person I love most in the world feel bad or hurt.

I’m also sorry that I wasn’t somehow able to approach the issue in a way that avoided the argument.

And I’m sorry that our relationship fractured in even a tiny, temporary way.

When we hug and say we are sorry, all of the tension and anger and frustration evaporates. It resets and grounds us in the strength of our bond. From there, we usually find it pretty easy to resolve our difference.

Another ritual we have is checking in with each other in a formal way. Since we are both committed to keeping our relationship in a good place, it only makes sense to sit down on occasion and really talk to one another about the relationship. This shared commitment and investment of time ensures that whenever something happens that doesn’t feel right to the other person, we can talk it through and address it.

The more I began to understand and recognize the skills of relationship repair, the more I realized how vital they are to sustaining any relationship over time.

I also began to realize how much of a gap this is for relationships at work.

When I reflect back on my own work experience, the consequence of the absence of repair is so clear. I could share with you multiple stories of relationships with bossed and peers that may have started positive or neutral but slowly degraded over time.

The Absence of Relationship Repair at Work

Here’s how it happens.

A snide comment in a meeting plus a short and seemingly critical email compounded by a perceived lack of support piling up over time. One tiny fracture after another going unacknowledged, unaddressed, and unrepaired.

Then one day it breaks.

Things are said that can’t be unsaid.

Actions are taken that can’t be undone.

And the course of your career is changed.

It’s all so unnecessary. If only we learned how to repair our relationships.

Granted, both parties need to be committed to the relationship in the first place. I think in most cases, people would rather be in positive relationships with their manager and coworkers than the alternative.

When we don’t practice repair at work, our relationships at and with work die the death of a thousand paper cuts. It’s slow and painful, and such a waste.

What Does It Look Like to Repair Your Work Relationships?

What does repair look like at work? Below are a few skills and approaches you can and should practice if you want to improve your work relationships.

  1. Commit yourself to having better relationships. To have the kind of relationships at work that make work more fulfilling and rewarding, you have to fully commit yourself to it. This means investing time with people. It also means being willing to do the uncomfortable and inconvenient things necessarily to repair relationships when they go off course.
  2. Apologize when you do damage. We all make mistakes. Sometimes, we inadvertently hurt someone’s feelings or offend them. Say you are sorry and mean it, even when it wasn’t your intention to cause any harm in the first place. Beware that your ego will tell you that you don’t need to apologize because you didn’t do anything wrong and you certainly didn’t intend any damage. But if you care about relationships, do it anyway.
  3. Have the conversation. When someone does something that bothers or offends you, go talk to that person. I’ve had several people confront me at work about things I’ve said in a meeting or over email. In most cases, the way they took my comments was not what I intended, so I was thankful for the opportunity to clarify. In a few cases, they had taken it exactly as I had intended, and it triggered a conversation that allowed us to clear the air and make some amends to move forward. By taking on these conversations, we head off lingering resentment and the lasting damage to a relationship that can occur.
  4. Check in with the people who matter. This is among the many reasons that regular one-on-one meetings between managers and employees are so important. These conversations provide opportunities for repair.  To take full advantage of that opportunity, managers should do two things when they check in with employees. First, ask for feedback. A question like, “What can I do to be a better manager for you?” invites the kind of feedback that will help identify where fractures in the relationship may have occurred. Second, provide feedback when an employee does something to fracture the relationship. One of my favorite bosses once had to do this for me. I had publicly criticized one of her decisions in a meeting with my peers, and it had gotten back to her. She confronted me about it and explained that if we were to have a positive working relationship, we need to disagree privately but support each other publicly. It was a great learning experience for me.

The quality of our relationships drives the quality of our lives. If you want to be happier and more fulfilled at work and home, be committed not only to having relationships but to ensuring that you do the work to repair and sustain those relationships you value.

 

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Relationship Skills Are the Key to Employee Engagement
Relationship Skills Are the Key to Employee Engagement 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

Years ago, I was lucky to somehow find and read the book Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott.

The title alone was enough to pull me in. Crucial conversations is one thing, but fierce? That’s next level.

What I thought I was going to find were lessons on how to have different or better conversations. And, while there is some of that in the book, it’s soooo much more than that.

Having read it several times now, it doesn’t even feel adequate to call it by its title. The book is really about equipping you with the mindsets and tools to show up fiercely in your life. More specifically, it equips you with the mindsets and tools to navigate the moments in your life and career that feel scary and high stakes.

The moments that really count.

Fierce is about stepping into these moments, not without fear but with courage and vulnerability. What this book first helped me realize is that to get to what I truly wanted in life, I had to travel through these challenging moments not hide from them.

I learned in this book how to have really meaningful conversations with people that dive toward what really needs to be talked about.

I learned that the conversation I am most afraid of is almost always the most important one to have because the peace or happiness or resolution you desire most is on the other side of it.

The conversation I am most afraid of is almost always the most important one to have because the peace or happiness or resolution you desire most is on the other side of it.

I learned that my perspective on anything is colored by my own experience and what I am surrounded by. This means that someone else with different experiences and context can look at the same thing and see something different.

I learned how to create clarity about decision making in any group I happened to be a part of.

In retrospect, this book set the foundation for me to show up more fiercely and authentically in my relationships with others. The benefits for me over the years have been immeasurable.

This has been on my mind a lot lately. Here’s why.

In order for an employee to be fully engaged at work, they need to feel that they are in a healthy, positive relationship with work.  This relationship is impacted by many things in their day-to-day experience of work, but few factors have a bigger impact than their relationship with their manager and coworkers.

When viewed through this lens, our ongoing struggles to break through on employee engagement might have less to do with work processes and more to do with a gap in our relationship skills.

Our ongoing struggles to break through on employee engagement might have less to do with work processes and more to do with a gap in our relationship skills.

When I started speaking and writing about work as a relationship, I was pretty optimistic (and maybe a little naive) that this insight alone would help us really move the needle on engagement. I thought that if I could just get managers and leaders to see work as a relationship with the employee, then they could start using all of their relationship skills to improve things right away.

After all, by the time you start managing people, you’ve been navigating relationships for a decade or two.  That’s a lot of relationship experience to call upon.

But…

This makes a huge assumption that we are generally good at relationships outside of work. I have come to realize that this just isn’t true.

Our divorce rates aren’t pretty historically. And there’s been a lot of discussion recently about a “loneliness epidemic.” According to one study, two in ten adults in the US and UK “say they always or often feel lonely, lack companionship, or feel left out or isolated.”

These are just two data points suggesting that perhaps we have room to improve in the relationship department.

I’m coming to understand that our quest to solve employee engagement isn’t really about work. It’s about our lack of skill at having great relationships with others.

If I don’t have the tools or ability to foster a great relationship with my significant other or child or closest friend, then how likely is it that I can do it at work with people who I likely don’t know (or honestly care about) at the same level?

This has hit home for me over the past couple of years. A few of my close friends and family had to navigate some really tough circumstances–divorces, loss of a parent, physical illness, and more.

One of the things I realized in reflecting on being with these friends on this journey was how often I’d been with them (individually) and yet either avoided talking about the things that really mattered or shied away from asking a question that felt really important. Instead, we’d drink our beer and talk about work or sports, then go our separate ways.

I wish I had done better.

Even as someone who’s been studying and teaching relationship skills for years, I wasn’t showing up in these moments.

I wasn’t being fierce. I had to re-commit myself to those lessons I’d learned many years ago. I needed to ask the questions that felt a little scary because the conversation that follows are where amazing relationships grow.

I continue to work on it.

The reason I share this is that creating, building, and maintaining the best kind of relationships requires intentional efforts and knowledge of how to do it. When we do it right, the resulting relationships are powerful and fulfilling. It helps us satisfy our almost primal need for belonging and connection with others.

This feels like a tremendous opportunity for those of us who lead teams or are responsible for employee engagement efforts.

  • What if we deeply invested in our own abilities to form and foster great relationships as a way to give that gift to and model it for others?
  • What if we focused our efforts on teaching and coaching people in the skills and mindsets they need for better relationships?
  • What if we cultivated, celebrated, and rewarded relationship skills as our primary focus?

The role of the workplace is changing. It’s consuming a bigger chunk of our lives and identities all the time. Let’s seize this moment to make work a place of transformation, not just for how you do work, but how you live life.

Let’s seize this moment to make work a place of transformation, not just for how you do work, but how you live life.

When we equip not only managers and leaders, but all employees, with the tools to form and maintain healthier relationships, we not only unlock greater engagement and performance at work, but we also send positive ripples throughout their lives.

  • Better communicators at work are better communicators at home.
  • Learning to trust at work also helps you learn to trust outside of work.
  • Embracing the value of diverse opinions at work may just help you survive and navigate successfully in an increasingly polarized society.
  • Becoming skilled at seeing others fully and expressing authentic appreciation will transform any relationship.

We’ve been scratching at the surface of this work for years without fully committing to it. It’s time for us to go all in.

I’m working on what this looks like from my end. What does it look like for you?

 

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My Birthday Wish for 2020
My Birthday Wish for 2020 1080 810 Jason Lauritsen

Today is my birthday.

As a kid, birthdays feel like such a big deal. Everyone seems to know it’s your birthday. There are parties and gifts. They even make it a big deal at school.

Everyone seems to be nicer to you on your birthday.

There’s also the birthday tradition of blowing out the candles on your cake—a tradition both magical and potentially humiliating (no one wants to be the kid who doesn’t get them all out).

The magic is in the birthday wish.

Being invited to make a wish is so cool when you are young. Wishing is without boundaries; it’s a creative space where you can ask for whatever you desire the most. A wish is a peek into what is important to us—what we long for the most.

Making that wish was always fun and exciting.

I don’t think I’ve been wishing enough lately. Today feels like a good day to do something about that.

Since it’s likely that my family will present me with a candle to blow out at some point today, I decided to make my wish now.  And, unlike when I was a kid, I’m going violate protocol to share my wish with you because I’ve found when you share your wishes with others, they are far more likely to come true.

Wishes can become shared vision, and that can shape our actions and decisions. When we share our wishes with others, they become more possible.

My wish is a big one and it’s connected to my work. Actually, if I’m totally honest, I had two birthday wishes. As a lifelong San Francisco 49ers football fan, I was really hoping for a Super Bowl win for my birthday. We didn’t light any candles at our party on Sunday, so I’m blaming that (and a brilliant performance by the Kansas City Chiefs) for my first wish not coming true.

My second wish is less selfish.

I wish for a day when two things are true.

First, I wish for a day when anyone who goes to work to earn a paycheck can earn a living wage by working full-time in one job. If you aren’t familiar with what a living wage is or why it’s important, you are lucky. Living wage is very different than minimum wage. Living wage is what it sounds like: the wage you need to live (survive might be a better word). It’s enough income to allow you and those dependents who rely on you to maintain a standard of living that prevents you from falling into poverty.

Today in the United States, there are far too many people who work really hard, many times in multiple jobs, only to fall short of having enough money to pay for the basics (food, shelter, basic care needs, etc.). Despite their best efforts, they aren’t able to earn a living wage.

Here’s a quote from Martha Ross at the Brookings Institution from a recent issue of the Wall Street Journal:

“Despite a recent uptick in wages and a low unemployment rate, tens of millions of Americans earn barely enough to live on.”

Given the incredible economic opportunity in this country, it’s heartbreaking that so many people have to face reality. This isn’t an easy or simple problem to address, but I believe it can be solved. And I wish for a day when it will be.

The second part of my wish is that everyone who “goes to work” each day, whatever that looks like, leaves at the end of each day/night/shift feeling more whole and not less. Far too many people today leave work each day feeling overlooked, unappreciated, frustrated, stressed, silenced, even abused. This has dire consequences far beyond work.

When this is the case, workplaces are sending people back into their lives depleted, depressed, and sometimes angry. This has ripple effects because these same people are parents, spouses, friends, and neighbors. When work is depleting you, it’s those important relationships outside of work that usually bear the brunt of it.

Below is an excerpt from a wonderful 2010 article titled “How Will You Measure Your Life?” by MBA Professor Clayton Christensen in the Harvard Business Review that describes this same issue through a different lens:

“I tell the students about a vision of sorts I had while I was running the company I founded before becoming an academic. In my mind’s eye I saw one of my managers leave for work one morning with a relatively strong level of self-esteem. Then I pictured her driving home to her family 10 hours later, feeling unappreciated, frustrated, underutilized, and demeaned. I imagined how profoundly her lowered self-esteem affected the way she interacted with her children. The vision in my mind then fast-forwarded to another day, when she drove home with greater self-esteem—feeling that she had learned a lot, been recognized for achieving valuable things, and played a significant role in the success of some important initiatives. I then imagined how positively that affected her as a spouse and a parent. My conclusion: Management is the most noble of professions if it’s practiced well. No other occupation offers as many ways to help others learn and grow, take responsibility and be recognized for achievement, and contribute to the success of a team.”

Work can be an experience that fills us up and makes it whole. I’ve seen it. I’ve lived it. It’s possible. There is nothing about work inherently that requires it to suck or to feel like a burden. These are choices made by leaders, managers, and people every day.

We can do better. If you are in management or leadership, your hands are already on the wheel to steer the experience of others in a more positive way. But we all play a role.

Every day, we should think about the impact we make on those around us. Even when the work environment isn’t the best, we can challenge ourselves to be part of making it better instead of becoming part of the problem. Be a light in the darkness. Be the first ripple of positivity that might become a wave.

What would it look like if work was a common source of joy in the world? I’d love to find out.

There it is. Jason’s Birthday Wish for 2020. Thank you for indulging me in this exercise. Just writing this has fanned the flames of hope inside of me that maybe, just maybe, this is indeed possible.

As I wrap this up, I’d urge you to spend a little more time wishing (and dreaming). Allow yourself some moments to envision a future filled with the things that matter most to you. Give yourself permission to play around with ideas that have no boundaries or limitations.

Then when you are ready, share those wishes and dreams with others. You might find that you are closer to your wishes coming true than you think.

 

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how to improve employee engagement
How to Improve Employee Engagement: The One Word to Remember
How to Improve Employee Engagement: The One Word to Remember 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

When we realize that our team isn’t engaged, there’s a lot of advice out there for how to improve employee engagement.

More recognition.

More development.

More flexibility.

More autonomy.

More pizza and beer and ping pong.

More, more, more.

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of factors that link to employee engagement.

Where should you start with your team?

How to Improve Employee Engagement: Getting Started

When I first had the opportunity to manage people, I remember the weight of feeling like I should always know what to do for them. They hired me to be a manager, so surely that meant I had the answers.

I didn’t.

So I read a lot of management books. I studied other managers to see what they did. I took advantage of every management training opportunity I could find.

And yet, I still wasn’t getting it right. This came to a head one day when one of the people on my team who I trusted the most came into my office, sat down, and said to me, “You are being a real a**hole lately.”

On some level, I’m proud of the fact that she felt like she could be that brutally honest with me. I had done something right. But I soon discovered I was doing a lot more wrong than right.

Don’t Manage by Assumption 

All of the reading, training, and observing I’d done equipped me with lots of ideas on how to best manage my team. But when choosing which one to use, I would lean on my assumptions about what my people needed or wanted.

I was often wrong.

When I was called out by my team member, it jarred me. I was clearly failing as a manager. So I did the only thing that I could think to do. I started asking questions.  I wanted to understand what I was getting wrong. I wanted to understand what my team needed that I wasn’t providing. I wanted to know how to be better.

It worked. I ultimately (it was a process) became a much better manager and leader. And, the thing that made that possible all boiled down to one word.

ASK.

In hindsight, it seems so obvious. But it’s a harder lesson to learn that I would have ever expected.

All You Have to Do Is Ask

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat with executive teams as they debated over what they should do to improve employee engagement or performance, observing how comfortable they were making decisions based on their assumptions about employees.

At some point in that conversation, I would interject and say something like, “You know, we don’t have to assume what employees want, we can go ask them. They are literally right over there.”

In the employment relationship, just like any relationship, assumptions are dangerous. They are also unnecessary.

If you want to know how to improve your relationship with your employees or customers (or friends, spouse, or kids), you don’t have to assume.

ASK.

They will tell you.

When they do, listen carefully. Then ask even more questions to understand better.

Take Action

DO SOMETHING to show that you care and that you are really listening–and then take action on it

If you want to improve employee engagement, happiness, performance, or any other factor for your team, ask them for some ideas, pick a few good ones, and make them happen. It’s that simple.

When I led the Best Places to Work team at Quantum Workplace, we were often asked if there was one common practice that we found in every organization with an award-winning culture. And the answer was simple.

Best Places to Work regularly ASK their employees for feedback about their experience, they LISTEN to that feedback to identify where changes were needed, and they TAKE ACTION on those things. This isn’t something they do once in a while. It is part of their DNA and how they manage people.

It truly is that simple. And it all starts with one word.

ASK.

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Related Articles

Are You an Employee Engagement Dinosaur?

Asking for What You Want to Get More Employee Engagement

We Need to Stop Saying that 66% of Employees Are Not Engaged

 

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Your Judgment of Others Is NEVER Helpful
Your Judgment of Others Is NEVER Helpful 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

The new year is here.

As I reflect on 2019, I can see that it was a year of contrasts.

For me, it was a pretty amazing year. My wife and kids are healthy and thriving. Angie and I celebrated our 15-year anniversary. My business is growing. Angie’s campaign for mayor of our community is off to a successful start. Things inside our family bubble lead me to feel grateful, lucky, and blessed.

But 2019 was also a year that brought challenges to those who I love and care about deeply. Divorces (so many divorces), addiction, relapses, deaths of parents and children, serious health issues, layoffs—and the list continues.

My friends and family weathered (and are weathering) some pretty serious storms over the past year.

Through it all, one thing became really clear to me: I tried to empathize with them, but the truth is that I haven’t been in their shoes. I don’t know what a divorce with children involved feels like.  I don’t know what it’s like to experience addiction. I’m fortunate to have never lost a parent or child.

I can’t really understand their journey and what it feels like.

Passing Judgment Is Easy—But It Is Ignorant

At times, the behavior of some of these people didn’t make sense to me. I didn’t understand the choices there were making as they navigated their crises. It was easy to pass judgment on their behavior.

My judgment doesn’t help; it only hurts. And it’s ignorant. I don’t understand what their reality looks like to them. I can’t understand their mindset in a particular moment. Because I haven’t been there.

What I was reminded of this year is that when it comes to our relationships with other human beings, whether they are close relationships or not, there are a few constants.

  1. Everyone is having an experience of life that is different than yours. They may be in trauma. They may be struggling. They may be having a crisis of confidence. They are dealing with things you likely can’t understand if you haven’t experienced them yourself.
  2. Judging others never helps. What you might have done or decided in a similar situation is irrelevant because you cannot understand another person’s reality.
  3. By seeking to understand what others are experiencing, you can grow. When we acknowledge that we can’t fully understand the experience of others, that should lead to curiosity and a desire to learn. In some small way, I’ve learned something about loss and addiction and relationships this year through conversations with my loved ones as I try to understand their experiences. This is an area where there is always room for growth, and I will continue to try to do better.
  4. When in doubt, provide as much love and support as you can. No matter how much I want to solve someone else’s problem or take away their pain, I cannot. And when I try, it often backfires. The best thing I can do for others is to love and support them without judgment, knowing that they may be struggling against something that feels insurmountable. Being there to say, “You’ve got this,” and showing up even when they don’t is what matters.

These are some powerful life lessons for me. While I wish I could have been reminded of these lessons in a way that caused less turmoil for the people in my life, I am grateful for the opportunities to learn.

Work Relationships Matter Too

If we want to have better relationships in 2020, these lessons are a great way to make that happen. And this isn’t just for life outside of work. When we remember that work is a relationship for each employee, these four things take on specific meaning for leaders and managers (and coworkers).

Assumptions and judgment are two of the biggest obstacles to forming great relationships. As a manager, there is so much you don’t know and can’t understand about the people entrusted to your leadership. Instead of making assumptions about people and assuming we have them figured out, adopt a mindset of curiosity, seeking to gain a deeper understanding of your people. You will learn and grow as you become a better manager.

And #4 above is just as true for managers as it is for friends, spouses, or family members; when in doubt, offer love and support. Your people already have plenty of judgment to deal with everywhere else in their lives.

There are fewer more powerful words than this:

“You’ve got this. And I’m here to help.”

 

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Employee Engagement Happens in Moments
Employee Engagement Happens in Moments 1080 737 Jason Lauritsen

Something really weird and awesome happened to me this morning.

Knowing I had a busy day of calls and meetings today, I decided to sneak into the gym for a quick run on the treadmill before the day spun away from me.

Before I share what happened next, a bit of context: Despite being a natural extrovert and preaching the importance of relationships everywhere in our lives, I am a standoffish loner at the gym. I make it my business not to have interpersonal interactions when I’m there.

This may stem from an awkward locker room experience many years ago or perhaps it’s just that I’m very focused on why I’m there (and it’s not to make friends). Regardless, I stay to myself when I’m working out.

Today was no different. I jumped on the treadmill, dialed up a podcast to feed my brain while I ran, and cranked it up. Before long, I had three solid, sweaty miles finished.

At some point during my run, a woman got on the treadmill next to me and started her workout. I didn’t pay much attention beyond the fact that someone was there.

As my run finished and I reduced speed to walk and cool down, I noticed the woman next to me turning toward me. Typically, this would raise some dread inside of me. I just want to be left alone at the gym.

But when I looked over at her, she extended her arm and made a fist. She was giving me a fist bump. I bumped her fist and then she turned back to her run.

What?

I don’t know this woman (at least I don’t think I do). But, for some reason, she decided to acknowledge the completion of my run today. And it was awesome.

I smiled and felt proud of my accomplishment. And then I went on with my day with a little extra energy in my step.

I don’t know why she did it. Maybe she does it all the time. Maybe she’s a personal trainer. I don’t know and I don’t care.

What I know is that simple moment of acknowledgment and connection mattered to me. It took only a few seconds. It cost nothing. And yet, here I sit writing about its impact.

This is a great reminder of the simplicity involved in creating a positive work experience for the people around us. We tend to assume that a solution to employee engagement has to be complicated or grand or involve a survey and technology.

That’s not the case. It is often as simple as taking a moment of time to acknowledge those around us. To offer a signal that we see and appreciate each other.

  • When is the last time you gave someone an unexpected fist bump or high five?
  • When is the last time you sent off a quick note to someone you work with just to acknowledge that you notice and appreciate all they do?
  • When is the last time you said thank you to the people who make your life easier at work?
  • When is the last time you said hi and smiled at someone you don’t know at work (or anywhere else)?

Those little moments can carry enormous positive impact.

Next time you are wondering how to improve engagement on your team, remember the fist bump and keep it simple.

 

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