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Jason

The Simple Way to Avoid Being a Bad Boss
The Simple Way to Avoid Being a Bad Boss 1080 608 Jason Lauritsen

While it’s been a long time since it first happened, I still remember the gravity of the responsibility I felt when first asked to supervise people at work. 

A manager has a profound impact not just on our experience at work but also on our life. When you get it wrong, there are real consequences for your people. 

How many times have you sat with friends and either complained or listened to someone complain about their boss? 

Nobody wants to be that boss. 

But the fear of being “that boss” can make it feel like you have to be perfect and not make any mistakes. And when you do make mistakes, it can feel risky to admit them.    

You are a complicated, emotional human being trying to manage other complicated, emotional human beings. That’s no easy task. 

You will make mistakes. 

One of the hardest things about being a manager is learning to balance that desire to avoid being a bad boss with the reality that mistakes are inevitable. 

The truth is that how we show up as a manager when we don’t get it right is just as important as getting it right in the first place.   

You Will Make Mistakes

After my burnout wake-up call last summer, one of the things I committed myself to as part of my well-being ritual was a daily meditation practice. 

One of the most powerful things you learn through meditation is to cultivate awareness. Awareness of the moment; awareness of how you feel; awareness of your thoughts. 

It sounds simple, but ask anyone who has tried—it’s much more challenging than it sounds. 

The benefit of cultivating this skill of awareness is that it allows you to be more present in your day-to-day experiences, allowing you to be more mindful of what you do and how you show up with others.  

One thing I learned right away about meditation is that you must let go of judgment in your practice. Mindful awareness isn’t natural for most of us, so meditation is a practice of trying and failing over and over again.

It can be easy to get frustrated if you don’t recognize that trying and failing is part of the learning. 

In nearly every guided meditation I’ve done, early on you will hear something like this:

“You may notice at some point that your mind has wandered and you’re lost in thought. That’s okay. It’s normal. Once you notice, just return to where you started and begin again.”

No judgment. 

Just validation that it happens and an invitation to return to your intentions and give it another shot. That’s the practice. 

Begin Again

As a manager, if your goal is to help others to do their best at work, support their well-being, and advance in their career, it will be challenging work. 

Managing is only easy when you’re doing it wrong. 

Becoming a good manager is like learning meditation. It’s not natural for most of us, so it requires lots of practice. And as you practice, you’re going to make mistakes.  

The list of mistakes I’ve made in my management career is long enough to be a book of its own. The goal isn’t to eliminate mistakes. They’re inevitable.

The goal is to cultivate an awareness of your actions as a manager so that you recognize when you’ve made a mistake.  

When you say the wrong thing. Or you shut down an idea before you’ve heard the person out. Or you avoid a hard conversation. Or you fail to set clear expectations.  

It’s what you do when you make mistakes that matters. This is where meditation guidance is valuable. 

  1. Recognize you’ve made a mistake. 
  2. Don’t judge yourself for making a mistake. It’s a natural part of the job. 
  3. Acknowledge your mistake. Apologize to the person if it’s warranted. 
  4. Remind yourself of your intention to be a good manager and what you learned through this mistake. 
  5. Begin again. 

Every time you do this, you’re not only becoming more skilled as a manager, but you’re also building trust with your team. When people know you will own up to your mistakes and make things right, it amplifies trust. 

Mistakes are part of the process. Don’t be afraid of them; embrace them and turn them into progress.

 

Related Reading:

Managing Through Love

The Other Side of Burnout – What’s Working for Me

How Much Should a Manager Know About Their Employees’ Personal Lives

[Video] Do You Have This Management Blindspot?
[Video] Do You Have This Management Blindspot? 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Over the past year, you’ve probably learned that when a team is “distributed,” it becomes more complicated to manage.

And we’ve focused a lot of attention on how being distributed out of a centralized office location has changed how we manage and work.

Distributed = greater management complexity.

But there’s a bigger lesson we should be learning.

Our teams have always been distributed, way more than we knew. And this distribution had largely been in our blind spot until now.

Ignoring it may be your downfall as a manager moving forward.

 

Managing Through Love
Managing Through Love 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

Dr. Vivek Murthy, the United States Surgeon General, recently gave the commencement address to the UC Berkeley School of Public Health graduates. 

In his comments, he provided some interesting and compelling advice to these graduates, most of whom are entering into a life of service through public health. Among his closing remarks, he said something that struck me:

“Love is the world’s oldest medicine. Your ability to give and receive love is your greatest gift and your greatest power. It is what will sustain you on every step of your journey ahead.”

Love is your greatest gift. 

Love is your greatest power. 

Not medicine, math, or science. 

Love. 

While he was speaking to newly-minted public health professionals, these words also ring true for anyone who takes up the mantle of “manager” of other human beings.

The Pandemic’s Reality-Check for Management

One of the silver linings of the painful journey we’ve been on has been that many managers were confronted with an uncomfortable reality check. They discovered that their people are actual human beings with lives outside of work that dramatically impact how they show up for their jobs.  

This is particularly true for managers who were abruptly forced to move from working in the office to working from home.  

Like it or not, they had to become aware of all the challenges and issues people were facing because these “life” issues were interfering with their ability to do their best at work. And, perhaps most inconveniently, managers had to face the reality that there is no real separation between work and life, regardless of how much we try to convince ourselves otherwise.

Managers were forced to care about their people’s lives beyond what they could produce at work. And, in many cases, they were forced to engage with their people in conversations about issues that stretched far beyond the traditional employee-manager relationship. 

What Happens When We Love Our People?

Of course, not everyone successfully managed this transition. Many did not, choosing instead to keep their head down and wait until things went “back to normal.” Then they could go back to ignoring employees’ real needs and pretending everybody’s fine. 

But for those managers who did make the transition, they discovered something powerful. When you invest in understanding and caring for your people and their needs, they will rise to the occasion, and performance will elevate.

To echo Dr. Murthy’s words, they used their power to give the gift of love to their people. 

When we love our people, we commit to understanding who they are and what they need to thrive. We listen to them more deeply. We prioritize their success above our own.  

When we love our people, we give them the gift of believing in them, often at a level beyond which they even believe in themselves. 

As a manager, love is your superpower—if only you chose to use it.  

4 Ways to Love your People as a Manager

If you’re still reading this, kudos. Talk of love at work is scary for a lot of people. Think of how many people you know who can’t even muster the words “I love you” for the people in their lives who mean the most to them. If that’s you, the good news is that you can fix it today. Right this moment. 

Tell your kids, spouse, best friend, significant other, family members—whomever you love—that you love them. And keep showing them too. Every day.  

Love is a renewable and endless resource. Giving your love to others will never deplete you. In fact, when you give love to others, it multiplies. It makes them feel more worthy of love and capable of loving. 

I think that’s likely part of the “power” of love that Dr. Murthy referenced, although I can’t speak for him. Our capacity to love is boundless once we learn to tap into it.  

Now, don’t get the wrong message here. It’s probably not a great idea to start telling your direct reports you love them—at least not right away. Freaking people out isn’t very productive. We’ll get back to this in a minute. 

What’s most important is that you show them love through your actions. If you aren’t sure exactly what that looks like, I’ve got you covered. Below are a few examples of what it looks like to demonstrate love for your people as a manager. 

Give people the benefit of the doubt and forgive quickly. 

I once had a member of my team who’d gotten tangled up in some office drama. She’d created some tension and hard feelings in the office to the point that some senior leaders were calling for her to lose her job.

When we sat down to talk about it, I tried to really listen to her experience of what happened. I asked some pretty hard questions about why she had chosen to behave the way she had. It became clear to me in our conversation that she clearly had no ill intentions and had just gotten carried away. 

She was heartbroken by the impact her actions had on others in the office. At one point, she broke down in tears. We talked through what had happened and where it went wrong. She understood and committed to learning from it in the future. 

Then, I gave her my commitment that I had her back and would support her 100% moving forward as long as she learned from this. She never got caught up in anything like that again and proved herself to be perhaps the most loyal team member in the office.  

Make sure they know that you love them.  

Okay, back to saying “I love you” out loud. You should definitely do this in your relationships with those you love. At work, it is probably a good idea to use different words (at least at first).  

Instead of directly saying “love,” use language to reinforce that you care about them and that you are committed to them. You can and should say “I care about you” and “I’m committed to your success here” and mean it. Yes, some people may be a little uncomfortable with those words on the surface, but deep down, it’s exactly what all of us want to hear from our manager. 

Saying this out loud to your people (or putting it in writing) does two things. First, it reinforces to your people that you love them. And, it creates accountability for you to show up for them in a way that strengthens these commitments. 

Invest your time in them. 

If you’ve been following me for any length of time, you’ve likely heard me talk about the lesson my daughter taught me when she was seven years old. I’d asked her one day how she knows if someone loves her. One of the first things she said was, “they spend time with me.” 

Time is the currency of relationships. Time is our most precious and fleeting resource. What we do with our time says everything about what we value and what truly matters to us. 

My daughter understood this truth even at such a young age. People who love you will invest their precious time to be with you. There is perhaps no more powerful way to show people you care about them than this. 

As a manager, if your calendar isn’t full of appointments to spend time with your people doing things that matter or are helpful to them, you should fix that.  

This doesn’t mean that you should smother your folks by micro-managing and constantly being up in their business. What it means is that you should have regular, dedicated time on your calendar for them individually each week. And, when they need time with you, you find it for them.  

Model Accountability

The most significant thing people misunderstand about loving your people at work is that they think it means avoiding the hard stuff, like having tough conversations or providing feedback when things aren’t going well.

It’s exactly the opposite. 

When our teenage son took actions that endangered himself and his future, as his parents, we had to take hard and heavy steps to hold him accountable for that behavior BECAUSE we loved him, not in spite of it.  

In any meaningful relationship, accountability goes in both directions. That means we must do the hard work to ensure our expectations of one another are clear and be willing to do hard things when things go off track. It also means that as managers, we’re accountable to each person we manage and that we accept that they should hold us accountable when we don’t live up to our end of the deal as well. 

Love requires mutual accountability. That accountability is the necessary fuel of healthy, trusting, and lasting relationships. 

Good Management Requires Love

We are entering a new era of work. 

We will be more distributed and separated by time and space than ever before. Trust can not be assumed—it must be earned. And, a new generation of employees will continue to rightfully demand a different kind of work experience; one defined by equity, inclusion, and community.  

This will require a different approach and mindset about managing and what it means to be a manager. If you want to thrive in this new era, start with love. If you can learn to love your people, you’ll be well equipped for the changes that lie ahead.

 

Related Reading:

Management, Parenting, and Love

Work is a Relationship, Not a Contract

How Much Should a Manager Know About Their Employees’ Personal Lives?

The #1 Management Imperative for 2021

[Video] Should We Still Be Shaking Hands?
[Video] Should We Still Be Shaking Hands? 1080 1620 Jason Lauritsen

I don’t know about you, but as more people get vaccinated, the world seems determined to make its way back to normal.

In some ways, this is comforting. But I’m feeling a little unsettled.

Amidst the terribleness of the pandemic, we were forced to stop and change things about how we live and work. In many cases, this was for the better.

I’m worried that if we aren’t thoughtful and intentional in the coming months, the positive things we’ve learned and gained will be lost.

I had an experience recently that brought this into sharp focus for me.

It involved handshakes.

I talk about it and what I think we are called to do right now in this video.

How Much Should a Manager Know About Their Employees’ Personal Lives? 
How Much Should a Manager Know About Their Employees’ Personal Lives?  1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

Over the past several months, I’ve been working hard to spread the message that what managers need to successfully navigate this new future of work is compassion. 

Compassion connects an awareness of the struggles and suffering of employees with caring actions to help them through it. It’s a big and important step beyond empathy, and I believe it’s imperative to support the well-being of others (and ourselves). 

Since compassion isn’t something you typically find in the standard deck of management advice, I’ve been getting some fascinating questions from people who are intrigued but slightly uncertain about its application in their organization.  

Recently, after a presentation I made about compassion as a new core competency of management, I received a question from an audience member that cuts to the core of why compassion in management feels uncomfortable for many. It also helps illuminate how we got to a place where so many employees are suffering through work experiences that more often harm their well-being and performance than help it. 

So, I’m going to share the question that was posed to me, along with my response. After you read both, I hope you’ll join the conversation and share your thoughts. 

The Question

While I agree that compassion ought to be front and center these days, and it’s important for managers to know what’s going on in their people’s lives, I guess I’m still struggling with how far that should go and would love to hear more from you about it. 

There are so many factors involved. From the comfort level of the manager and how experienced they are managing, to how comfortable people are sharing personal info with their manager (and all the baggage people tend to have from previous jobs when that didn’t go well), to keeping a level of professionalism and accountability to the work that needs to be done, to managers not overstepping scope to take on what should be another professional’s role (like a therapist). 

So, I’m curious what your thoughts might be on how to think about where to draw the line, or if you would suggest that there shouldn’t be one at all. 

My Response

Your concerns are the same ones that HR has been concerned with for as long as managers have existed. Where’s the line between knowing enough about your people and knowing too much?

In the way I approach this work, I start with the foundation that work is a relationship and that everything that happens at work should be seen through the context of relationship. When you frame your question through that lens, the answer to the question about how much a manager should know or how much an employee should share is…it depends. 

If it’s important to cultivating the relationship with that employee in a way that makes it easier and more fulfilling to do the work effectively, then it’s probably okay even if it goes past the traditional lines we’ve drawn (or what the manager is comfortable with). 

The heart of this issue is teaching people, both managers and employees, better relationship skills—compassion being key among those skills. 

When we teach people how to communicate more clearly, how to articulate expectations and demonstrate accountability, how to listen more actively, how to establish boundaries, how to trust and be vulnerable—then we don’t have to spend so much time worrying about how far is too far. The individuals will sort that out. 

They will disclose as much as is appropriate to make the relationship work in a way that meets both their needs. 

What do you think? How much do managers need to know? 

My argument is that we are due for an overcorrection. The past 100 years of management practice have been designed around what makes life easiest for the manager. As a result, we wrote policies and created norms about keeping the “personal stuff” outside of work boundaries. 

And despite how ridiculous that is in actual practice, we all played along. But then along came a global pandemic, and the charade was up. The fake walls between personal and professional came crashing down, and we realized that humans don’t compartmentalize like that. 

So, the old rules about what’s “work related” and how much a manager should know about an employee’s life outside of work are no longer relevant. It’s time to recalibrate.

If we equip managers and leaders with better relationship skills and give them permission to be compassionate and genuinely care about their employees, they will figure out the right balance.

When we start caring more about employee well-being than we do about managing risk, we’ll finally see the path to unleashing employee potential fully. 

And, if we over-correct a little and care too much, that’s probably not a bad thing. 

Do you agree?

 

Related Reading:

Relationships and Accountability

The #1 Management Imperative for 2021

Work is a Relationship, Not a Contract

Management Needs an Upgrade: The Cultivation Mindset

 

 

work-from-home post-pandemic work - group of colleagues walking in an office with masks on
3 Big Things You’re Getting Wrong about Post-Pandemic Work
3 Big Things You’re Getting Wrong about Post-Pandemic Work 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

We’ve officially entered the part of our pandemic journey where we can start planning for how our teams or organizations will work once this virus is under control. To wrestle through sorting out what changes to keep and which to discard as we try to find a new equilibrium.  

This is particularly true for teams whose employees have been working from home for the past year or more. The debate over whether to bring people back to the office or continue a distributed work-from-home strategy will only grow more urgent and heated over the coming months. 

As I’ve had discussions with people about this, I’m worried that there are a few things decision-makers are overlooking. Here are the big ones.

1. You aren’t really in control of this decision.

In the pre-pandemic world, organizations and managers might have been able to get away with requiring people to work in an office to satisfy their need to “see” people working or based on some misguided idea about how ineffective people are when working from home. That lie has been revealed.

People now know what is possible. They know they can work effectively from their homes, often even more effectively than in the office. They know that many of the limitations placed on where they worked pre-pandemic were not based on any real reasons beyond leadership preference or a lack of desire to satisfy employee preferences.  

If organizations force people into working in ways they don’t prefer, they will vote with their feet (or laptops) and leave. Your work-from-home employees have more job options today than before because they can work for anyone, anywhere—from their home. These same people are frequently some of your valuable and expensive as well. 

If you aren’t putting them at the center of the decision-making process about how you move forward, you are putting your team and organization at great risk. 

2. Put an asterisk next to any feedback where employees tell you that they love or hate “working from home.” 

I’ve been working out of a home office on and off for over a decade now. 

Pre-pandemic, working from home meant having an office or space in my house that served as my primary place to store my work stuff, take video meetings, or make virtual presentations. But, I also spent much of my week working from coffee shops or meeting people in person for coffee or lunch.  

I would get up early to do some writing or other focus work for a few hours before helping get the kids ready and off to school. Somedays, I’d head to the gym after that. Others, I’d move to a different couch to do more writing.  

I didn’t like working from home for the first few years because I was still approaching it using habits and mindsets I’d picked up working in offices my entire career. It took a few years to learn how to make WFH work for me. 

And when the pandemic hit, even I had some pretty significant disruptions to how I “work from home.” No more coffee shops. No more gyms. No more in-person coffees or lunches. And, no more travel to provide a change of scenery.  

Here’s my point. Those employees who were forced into working from home for the first time during the pandemic don’t have a complete picture of what working from home could look like without the shackles of pandemic restrictions. 

If you ask employees to provide feedback right now on whether they want to work from home or return to the office, you’re probably getting tainted data. What they’re reacting to is working from home during a pandemic versus working from the office before a pandemic. It’s choosing between two unequal options. 

Instead of obsessing about where people are going to work, it would be far more productive to investigate what people found valuable and satisfying about working from home, what they missed or craved about working from the office, and then marrying that up with the needs of the work and employee.  

3. Face-to-face interaction is important, but it’s not a justification for requiring people to work in an office. 

Just this week, I reconnected with a friend who was sharing with me how she’s desperate to get back into the office. She craves the face-to-face connections and random chats that only happen when we share a space. 

She hates working from home (during a pandemic) because she’s been stripped of all her face-to-face interaction. In her mind, working from home equates to isolation and loss of relationships. 

Years ago, when I was an executive recruiter, most of my clients and candidates were people I’d never meet face to face. I’d spend hours with them on the phone, but because of geography and the way my employer viewed this work, I didn’t have the opportunity to go see them in person. 

But once in a while, I’d have a project or a client in Omaha, where I lived. And I would try to meet with those people in person. What I learned was that even a short meeting in person completely transformed the relationship. It was as if our relationship got a trust injection. In fact, 20 years later, I’m still in touch with some of these people, which is not something I can say about the phone-only relationships I had. 

In his book, The Year without Pants: WordPress.com and the Future of Work, Scott Berkun describes how he took on managing a global team that had no office. One of the things that stuck with me about his journey was the importance and power he described of bringing that team to a common location for a week to work and play together. 

According to his account, that one week of face-to-face time together provided the foundation for them to work together exceptionally well the rest of the time despite being spread across geographies and timezones. 

Face-to-face time together matters. But that should not be a justification for requiring people to return to an office every day where they know they don’t do their best work (or that requires hours of commute time). 

Instead, in-person facetime together should be carefully and intentionally designed into the work experience for every employee and team, regardless of where they work. If we aren’t going to pay for as much office space, we can reinvest that money into opportunities for distributed employees to come together with a purpose.  

Also, for employees like my friend who equate working from home with isolation, we need to encourage and design social connections into how we work. I used to spend many of my lunches with colleagues even when we worked together in an office. Why wouldn’t we meet for lunch or coffee now? 

It’s not about Work From Home or Return-to-Office. 

We are getting trapped into debating and choosing between false choices. If the last year has taught us anything, it’s that our lack of imagination and courage constrained the way we were working pre-pandemic. These cannot be our excuses moving forward.

Instead of wringing our hands over whether to bring people back to the office or let them work from home, dig into what we’ve learned about how and where work can happen. Spend time with your people finding out what’s working, what’s not working, and together, envision what an optimal future might look like. 

The only thing limiting us today in reinventing work for the better is our ability to let go of the past and embrace that the future must be different. If we can be brave enough to keep exploring and trust our people, the possibilities are endless. 

 

Related Reading:

The #1 Management Imperative for 2021

How Has Employee Experience Changed?

Why Employee Well-Being is Vital to Work Performance

Management Needs an Upgrade: The Cultivation Mindset

 

 

Employee experience blog - woman holding compass and looking at mountains
How Has Employee Experience Changed?
How Has Employee Experience Changed? 1080 1350 Jason Lauritsen

I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time trying to make sense of things over the last year. 

So many things changed so quickly. It was disorienting. 

Very little has felt certain or settled. 

And maybe the one thing that has felt the most uncertain and beyond our grasp is, “what comes next?”

The future has always been uncertain and unknowable. It’s not been written yet. 

And now, change has accelerated. Old ways of doing things are shattered and lying in pieces on the floor. And the path forward seems to be both hopeful of better days and treacherous given the presence of violence, illness, and inequity that seem to be lurking around every turn.  

How do you make sense of what’s happening and what to do next?

This question has felt daunting as we’ve navigated decisions about school, socializing, youth sports, and even shopping. 

But, these are relatively small decisions compared to the decisions many of you are confronting in regards to your future workplace.  

As I’ve written many times before, there is no “back to normal.” Normal as we knew it is gone forever. And why would we even consider turning back? We’ve come so far and learned so much. 

A Resource to Help

Earlier this year, my friends at Limeade asked me to write an eBook that could be a resource to those struggling to make sense of how work has truly changed and what that suggests about how we move forward.

In the eBook, I rely on data and trends to paint a picture of some of the most critical ways things have changed for those responsible for creating the employee experience for others. 

You can download the full eBook here.  

In the book, I highlight and describe six disruptions from the past year that have changed employee experience forever: 

  1. The impossible became possible. 
  2. Executives were confronted with the reality that our traditional model of work is broken. 
  3. Our sense of safety was lost. 
  4. Employee experiences varied widely across and within organizations. 
  5. Equity and inclusion became urgent issues. 
  6. A mental health crisis is building, and organizations seem dangerously overconfident. 

Each of these six disruptions is supported by meaty data and real trends. When viewed together, they paint a picture of both possibility and threat. 

The future, though, has yet to be written. This is why I follow the trends with five suggestions for approaching employee experience today and moving forward. 

Download your copy here. 

My goal in creating this wasn’t to predict or prognosticate about the future, but rather to help you get a clearer picture of what’s happening to inform your actions moving forward. 

I’m personally bullish about the future of work. As long as people like you seize upon what we have learned and refuse to turn back, we can create a better, more equitable, and engaging future of work together. 

For those of you who prefer to listen over reading, I also did a recent webinar for Limeade where I shared the insights from the eBook. You can request access to that recording here. 

Please email me or leave a comment with your thoughts. 

  • Which disruption feels the most significant based on your experience? 
  • What other disruptions do you think were incredibly powerful? 
  • Is there anything I got wrong or left out?

Let’s seize the opportunity to create a better future together. It starts today. 

 

Related Reading:

Getting Smart About Employee Experience (Resources)

The #1 Management Imperative for 2021

Designing Employee Experience (A “How To” Series)

employee wellbeing discussion
Why Employee Well-being is Vital to Work Performance
Why Employee Well-being is Vital to Work Performance 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

There’s a lot of talk about employee well-being right now. 

Apparently, suffering through a global pandemic is enough to finally get us thinking about our well-being more seriously. The consequences of a lack of well-being have been laid bare over the last year.  

But employee well-being isn’t a new phenomenon. It’s been lurking in the shadows, affecting work performance for as long as the notion of “work” has existed. 

Today, my goal is to caution you against dismissing the emphasis on employee well-being as only being related to the pandemic. Instead, we must recognize it as an opportunity to re-tool management to improve both productivity and engagement moving forward. 

What is Well-being? 

Twelve years ago, I was hired to lead the corporate human resources team for a regional bank. To their credit, they’d been investing in employee well-being programs for years before I arrived. They even had a full-time wellness coordinator on staff (uncommon then) who was on my team.

I’ll be honest that prior to taking that job, I’d never really understood wellness programs. The most I’d brushed up against wellness in past organizations was through periodic health fairs at the office that seemed out of place to me.

This was something different. They viewed wellness as an employee benefit, a way to help the employee get or stay healthy. And the employees seemed to embrace it. I was intrigued. 

Workplace wellness programs at the time included things like steps challenges, weight-loss competitions, and programs to help you quit smoking. They often incorporated an outsourced Employee Assistance Program (EAP) hotline, but it seemed few ever used it. 

Employee well-being was almost entirely focused on physical health. And physical health is an important issue. But as we’re coming to understand now, well-being is so much broader than that. 

Well-being at Its Core

Well-being at its most fundamental level is literal. It’s about “being well.” The work of well-being is taking intentional steps to feel better (or less unwell) in all areas of our lives.  

There are a lot of different definitions and models of well-being out there. I like the ones used by The Center for Spirituality and Healing and WELCOA personally, but what’s more important than a specific definition is that you recognize what well-being feels like and how it affects your life.

What helped me finally grasp the importance of well-being at work was to focus on my own experiences when I was either feeling really well or really unwell in my life and how that affected my ability to perform my job. 

The most obvious experience we’ve all shared of unwellness is being sick. When we are suffering from a cold, COVID, or any other illness, our ability to perform at our best in any area of our life is diminished. 

Well-being and Performance

When we are ill, our body rallies its energy to power our immune response, which directs it away from other things. I know that I can’t think or concentrate with any effectiveness when I’m sick. At best, it takes me twice or three times as long to get things done. 

When we are physically diminished for any reason, our work suffers. Hungover, tired, hungry, or any number of other issues can cause us not to be at our best. 

A lack of physical well-being is probably the easiest to see and notice, which I think is why most wellness programs have focused there in the past. But, being unwell can have many causes. 

As we’ve heard a lot recently, mental health is a significant contributor to well-being. This can manifest in a bunch of ways, from anxiety to depression. Mental health and mental illness are just as serious and often more harmful than issues with physical health. 

I’ve written about my own experiences with burnout and how it disrupted my ability to be at my best in any part of my life—let alone work. When we don’t care for our mental health, it can have dire impacts on work and every aspect of our life. 

Hopefully, you recognize your own experience in some of this and relate to the stark difference between how you show up in life and work when you are well versus unwell.  

Why Well-being Matters

Please don’t get the wrong idea; well-being isn’t just about avoiding pain or suffering. It’s about recognizing that we all have core human needs as human beings that need to be met for us to be happy, content, and able to be the best version of ourselves. 

Being “well” means your core needs are met in a way that allows you to make choices about how to invest your time, energy, and talent.

Being “well” means you’re operating as a whole person with your full potential at your disposal. 

“Well” is an aspiration. And, it’s one that I believe all humans share. When our well-being is in a good place, it feels great. 

Well-being has come to the forefront now because the past year has introduced multiple threats to our well-being that almost felt like a coordinated attack. 

Illness led the news, but our safety and financial security also came under attack simultaneously. Relationships were strained, and unhealthy habits revealed themselves as a temporary solution to our anxiety. 

Life piled on the well-being challenges one after the other as if it were a contest to see how much we could handle before we break. Some of us broke. Many are on the verge of breaking.

This is where far too many people find themselves today.  

As a manager or leader, this should be alarming to you. Because as we know from our own experiences when we aren’t well, we can’t do our best work. 

While this has always been true, the consequences of not supporting our employees’ well-being are starker and more catastrophic than ever before. 

If you want a high-performing team who will stay with you through good and bad times, supporting well-being needs to move to the top of your priority list and stay there. 

How to Support Employee Well-being

While I’m not going to offer you a comprehensive guide here for how to manage and lead for well-being, what I can do is share with you a few foundational steps you can take to get started in the right direction.

1. Give yourself permission to care. 

Well-meaning HR departments for years have told managers to maintain their distance from employees. We were advised not to get too close to people because you need to stay objective when managing people.  

And, while this advice is meant to ensure fairness and avoid favoritism, the unintended consequence is that managers have kept people at arms-length, believing that they really can’t engage with the employee in any way beyond what is “work-related.” 

As I outlined earlier, much of what affects our well-being and ability to perform our best at work happens in the part of our lives when we aren’t working. So, as a manager who wants to help people be at their best at work, you have to care about and be interested in your employees far beyond work.

This doesn’t mean you need to become best friends with each of your employees. But, you should give yourself permission to care about them and their lives outside of work.

When you start to care for your people beyond just their work output, you’ll start asking different questions and having different conversations. Showing your people that you care is a significant first step towards improving their well-being. 

Just knowing someone cares about you is incredibly powerful. You can give that gift to every person you manage.

2. Abandon the “work-life balance” myth. 

One thing that has traditionally got in the way of organizations meaningfully addressing employee well-being is the myth of work-life balance. 

The whole notion of balance assumes you have two separate things to put on opposite sides of a scale and adjust until the scale balances. The issue here: two separate things. 

Work isn’t something separate from life, it’s part of it. The concept of work-life balance only became a thing when employees started to realize how much work sucked for them and how much of a negative impact it was having on their lives. 

So, organizations started talking about “balancing” work and life as a solution to this issue. Rather than fix the root cause (work sucks and it’s killing us, sometimes literally), we created programs to help people think about the non-sucky parts of their life—that stuff that we don’t call “work.” 

Work is part of life. And life comes to work with people every day. There is no separation to balance. There is only a human being in the middle of it who has needs and aspirations. When we refuse the myth of work-life balance, we can finally start addressing the root issues holding people back.

3. Learn compassion.  

At the beginning of the year, I declared that the number one management imperative of 2021 was compassion. Compassion isn’t a concept commonly discussed in management or leadership training, but it may be the vital missing piece to truly embracing our role in supporting employee well-being. 

At the heart of compassion is an awareness of the suffering of others and a desire to help remove or address that suffering. It’s a simple idea with profoundly powerful implications when put into practice.  

Hopefully, we’ve all experienced compassion from others at some point in our lives. If you have, you remember that experience of someone recognizing that you were suffering or struggling and offering to help you get through it. 

For me, it was the compassion of my wife and another close friend last summer who both recognized I was struggling and offered me the support I needed to heal from my burnout. 

Compassion starts with permitting yourself to care (see #1 above) and seeing the employee beyond just what happens “at work” (see #2 above). From there, it’s going to be about cultivating skills for recognizing people’s needs and challenges with a commitment to address them.  

To dive deeper into the skill of compassion, I recommend reading this resource: How to Foster Compassion at Work Through Compassionate Leadership

Well-being is the Future of Work

This has been a chaotic and often painful chapter in the evolution of work. But we’re standing at the edge of a brand new chapter.

The silver lining in this pandemic is that it shattered the status quo of “how work should be done” to reveal something that’s always been true: 

It’s about the people. 

Embracing the work of well-being is ultimately a fundamental re-thinking of how we design and manage work. Employee well-being starts with designing based on what’s best for the humans who do the work—not the organization. 

Those who recognize and embrace this shift now will lead the way forward and show what’s truly possible. And I believe they will be in a position to thrive wildly in the future. 

 

 

Related Reading:

Wellness 2.0

Why Wellness Programs Matter

How (and Why) to Check in With Your Employees Now More Than Ever

Sending My Kids Back to School Broke Me

management through the cultivation mindset
Management Needs an Upgrade: The Cultivation Mindset
Management Needs an Upgrade: The Cultivation Mindset 1080 794 Jason Lauritsen

The past year forced a lot of changes in the way work happens. When, where, and how we work was disrupted in a way that we’ve never seen before. 

Organizations have adapted in some pretty compelling ways. 

Safety was made a top priority through changes to the physical workspace along with new protocols, practices, and equipment. This was in response to a needed wake-up call because unless it was core to your business pre-COVID, safety (both physical and psychological) was taken for granted in too many workplaces despite being one of our most fundamental needs as humans. 

Technology capabilities that were once thought impossible to deploy were rolled out in days to enable remote working. An era of unprecedented work flexibility was born overnight. And this genie is not going back in the bottle. 

New communication tools and processes were put in place to help employees navigate the immense waves of uncertainty they were facing. This has resulted in more frequent and meaningful communication than ever before. 

And, perhaps most encouragingly, an investment in well-being programs has been deployed to help the employee navigate and survive these challenging times. Employee well-being has too long been overlooked and ignored. It took a global pandemic to finally wake us up to the reality that work performance starts with well-being.  

From my seat, these all look like an acceleration towards a better future of work. And my hope is that we’ll have the wisdom to build upon this progress as we emerge from the pandemic. 

There is one area where I fear we’ve not made as much progress: 

Management

That’s not to suggest that managers haven’t learned to adapt to this disrupted world of work. I’m sure many managers feel like they’ve had to change a lot throughout this past year. 

But, management wasn’t working all that well before the pandemic. Employee engagement has been atrociously low on the average for the past several decades.

And it’s not the manager’s fault. We’ve been trapped in an outdated model of management for decades. 

Management Needs an Upgrade 

Our model of management hasn’t changed that dramatically over the past hundred years. At its core, management is still viewed as the function that ensures employees are doing their jobs.

In other words, management is responsible for enforcing compliance with the “contract” of employment, whether that contract is formal or implied. The manager’s job is to ensure the organization gets its money’s worth out of the employee. 

The manager is aided by management and HR processes designed to assist in this compliance work: policies, performance appraisals, job descriptions, performance improvement plans, and more. 

When you step back and look at these processes using the lens of history, it becomes clear that there are some significant underlying assumptions built into traditional management practice: 

  • Employees will only perform up to their expectations at work if they’re made to do so through oversight and regulation. 
  • Employees are a means of production. They are the machinery that creates work products. 
  • Management’s job is to maximize these human machines’ production output to give the company the best ROI on its labor investment. 

If this sounds harsh, I get it. We’ve learned not to talk about people this way. Instead of human machines, we call them human resources. It sounds nicer. 

But, look back at the discomfort leaders had with sending people to work from home. 

Employees had been clamoring for more flexibility and permission to at least occasionally work from home for years. They were told it wasn’t possible. 

Then, the pandemic forced it into reality, and leaders openly worried about people not doing their work when they were at home, removed from their “management.” It was assumed that people would watch Netflix all day. 

There was little faith in the beginning that it would work. The assumptions of traditional management were showing themselves. 

The Problem with Performance Management

Another place you can see these assumptions show their faces is when an employee is under-performing. Traditional management leads us to conclude there’s something wrong with the employee. 

Typically, we assume they aren’t adequately motivated or focused. To fix the performance issue, you need to fix the employee. That’s why performance improvement plans exist. 

And, it’s why they are terribly ineffective. A performance improvement plan is more likely to break an employee’s spirit than to improve their performance. 

This model of management is outdated and dangerous. 

Work today in no way resembles the work that gave birth to this model. In today’s (and especially tomorrow’s) world of work, the things that create the most value are not only natural to humans but are things that we are intrinsically motivated to do.

If management would just get out of the way. 

Employees Are Not Machines

Employees are complex, living creatures who are capable of extraordinary things. 

When vast numbers of employees were sent to work from home, often while also managing caregiving or homeschooling responsibilities, they rose to the challenge despite the expectations to the contrary. 

People have proven that they can do good work—sometimes better work—when released from the burden of constant management oversight. 

Management is the operating system of your organization. It defines how work gets done. 

What we’ve seen clearly over the past year is that the current operating system isn’t compatible with the needs of modern work. 

It’s time for a new operating system starting with an entirely new set of assumptions.

From Production to Cultivation

As a kid growing up on a farm, I got put to work at a pretty early age. By the time I was 11 years old, I was being sent out into the field to do tasks like picking up rocks and, my least favorite, walking beans. 

At the time, walking beans was the most effective way for farmers to deal with weeds. Weeds grow far faster than the soybean plants in the fields, so they will choke out the beans and ruin the farmer’s yield if left unchecked. 

So, a small crew of us would walk up and down the long row in the fields, using a sharpened garden hoe or corn knife (think machete) to cut the weeds out one by one. 

It was boring, mundane work. 

Battling weeds is one of the many things farmers do to care for their crops. They also have to fight disruptive insects, add fertilizers, irrigate when there was too little water or tile when there was too much. 

For farmers, this work is called cultivation. 

Farmers start with the assumption that when they put a seed in the ground, as long as it has what it needs to grow (water, nutrients, etc.) and there aren’t any obstacles that get in the way of its growth (weeds, insects, etc.) that seed will grow and flourish into the best version of itself.

Farmers trust the plant to do what it is programmed to do in its DNA: grow and perform. The work of cultivation facilitates and enables the plant’s growth by ensuring it has everything it needs to optimally grow AND quickly remove any obstacles or barriers that might get in the way. 

The plant does the rest. 

Approaching Management as Cultivation

Just like the success of management, the success of farming is tied to the performance of living things. Certainly, humans are more complex than plants, but it’s hard to argue that we are just as programmed from birth for growth and performance. 

If you’ve ever spent time around young children, it’s impossible not to marvel at how they learn and develop simply by observing the world around them. 

Small children learn to communicate, talk, crawl, walk, and so much more simply through observation and genetic programming. We are born to learn, grow, and perform. It is in our DNA.

When our needs are met and our path is clear of obstacles, we can do remarkable things. And we all have a longing to be better, to move along that path being remarkable. We all have an innate desire to succeed. 

I’d ask you to consider if you’ve ever met someone who you honestly think wakes up in the morning every day hoping to fail, longing for the opportunity to let others down. 

I’m confident I never have. I’ve met people who have ended up in a self-destructive place due to years of unmet needs and brutal obstacles. But, no one who deliberately chose to end up in that place. 

Given the opportunity and support, I’d argue that every human being would choose success over failure every time. 

When we realize this truth, something becomes very clear. The farmer has the model of management we need. 

It’s been right in front of us the whole time. 

The new operating system of management must be cultivation.  

The Cultivation Mindset

The first and most important step to replacing our production-oriented management model with a cultivation management model is to replace the faulty assumptions about people and management laid out earlier.

Cultivation starts with an entirely different set of assumptions. I call these the cultivation mindset.

When we adopt a cultivation mindset, everything about how we approach and think about management starts to change. 

The cultivation mindset is built upon the core assumption that humans are naturally programmed for growth and performance. Managers should operate with the same confidence in this programming as farmers do for their crops. 

That means management’s work is to deeply understand the needs and obstacles of their people to ensure they’re creating an optimal environment and opportunity to perform.  

Let me frame this up in another way.

The Assumptions of a Cultivation Mindset:

  • Growth and performance is the default setting for all humans. 
  • When people have what they need and are free of obstacles, they will choose to perform and do the right thing.  
  • The role of management is to cultivate performance by meeting needs and removing barriers.
  • Cultivation requires a deep understanding of the needs and challenges of your people.
  • When there is a performance issue, it’s a failure of management. 

From these assumptions, you are likely to make different decisions about how you approach management and your role with your team. 

When you look at the research about what employees are clamoring for at work (development, care, connection, trust, coaching, etc.), it’s crystal clear that this is the type of management they are longing for. 

Particularly now, when our workforce is more distributed and dynamic than ever before, the need for cultivation has never been more urgent. 

This is why we created my Managing Virtual Teams course and why it begins with an entire module on mindset. Managing successfully going forward isn’t simply about learning a few new techniques.

It’s about adopting an entirely different way of managing. And that’s a huge opportunity. 

How we got here doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is what we do next. 

Cultivation is the key. You can start the transformation today.  

 

Related Reading:

The #1 Management Imperative for 2021

3 Simple Tips for Managing Remote Employees

Why Performance Management Still Sucks

3 Questions to Increase Your Impact as a Manager

A Great Tool for Creating Clear Expectations
A Great Tool for Creating Clear Expectations
A Great Tool for Creating Clear Expectations 1080 721 Jason Lauritsen

In my last post, I shared a story of the consequences that can occur when we aren’t clear on expectations within our work relationships. 

Having clarity within any relationship is vital, and it’s something that we all too often leave to chance. 

I also encouraged you to use the golden rule of management as a means to create clarity: “If it matters, write it down.” 

This is important and powerful—the act of committing things to writing forces clarity. 

But, what if you aren’t sure what matters? 

A life-changing tool.

Several years ago, I was lucky enough to connect with Christina Boyd-Smith

Christina is a coach for leaders and teams. I knew I would like her before we even met because her coaching practice is called Corporate Rebel Coaching. What’s not to love about that? 

Over the past several years, I’ve gotten to know and admire Christina. One of the things that I love most about her is that she is truly authentic, and she practices what she preaches.

I wish I’d had her as my coach back in my corporate rebel days, but I’m thrilled to know her now.

Christina introduced me to a process she created called a “Designed Alliance.”

The first time I experienced creating a Designed Alliance was when we kicked off a collaborative project together. 

It was a structured, step-by-step process of walking through some pointed questions that drove us to real clarity about the work we were about to do. It allowed us to move forward with confidence about how we would work together to ensure a positive outcome. 

I was instantly hooked. 

In asking her more about this process, she shared how she uses this personally throughout all parts of her life. They use it as a family when planning a trip. She uses it with her spouse when they are undertaking a project together.

And, she teaches and uses it in her coaching all the time so her clients can take it forward and use it in their work and personal lives as well. 

In essence, it’s a tool to help you focus on what matters and clarify your expectations around those things in any relationship—work or personal.

This process is essentially a list of questions to discuss to help you clarify your expectations about how you will work together and what success will look and feel like. 

Below is a link to download a pdf with instructions and the whole process, so I won’t cover the entire process here.

But, I do want to share a couple of my favorite discussion questions that it includes:  

How do you want it to feel between you and around you during this alliance?

This question is so important and one we rarely discuss. If we are going to do something together, how do we want it to feel? Are we both on the same page at this critical level? 

If you want it to feel easy and laid back while I want it to feel energized and fast-paced, we probably need to talk it through before we start and find some middle ground. 

How do you want to be if things go wrong?

Again, what a great question to discuss before things go wrong. Creating agreements in advance for these situations removes so much angst and tension.

There are a total of eight steps in the process, most of which involve questions to discuss. As you discuss them, you should capture in writing your agreements and shared understanding. 

You can download a pdf of the process from Christina’s site here.

It is a powerful process that I’ve used in both my work and personal life many times. 

But, not often enough. 

When debriefing how the project I described in my last post went wrong, I immediately knew that the outcome would have been entirely different if we’d created a designed alliance. 

All of the hurt and misunderstanding would have been eliminated before we even started. And, we would have had agreements in place for how to handle things when they veered off course.  

It was a powerful reminder of how potent the designed alliance process is. 

I encourage you to download the document and give it a try. It will change your relationships. 

Let me know how it goes. 

 

Related Reading:

I Broke My Own Golden Rule—Here’s What Happened

Clear Expectations = Great Relationships 

How Do You Repair Your Relationships?

Engagement starts with Expectations