Uncategorized

Is a “Thank You” too much to ask?
Is a “Thank You” too much to ask? 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

I’m a fan of the This American Life podcast. I rarely miss an episode.

In a recent episode titled “Essential,” they talk to a series of people whose jobs were deemed essential during the pandemic about how their experience working through COVID changed them.

As I listened, hearing these stories really reminded me of the importance of the work we do.

It also reminded me again of something I’ve tried to keep top of mind through the pandemic. We are all having very different experiences of this pandemic that are shaped by a lot of factors, including our jobs, our circumstances, and where we live.

There’s been so much emphasis on remote work, but the majority of employees haven’t had the luxury of working from home. They’ve had to show up to work in person every day. Some of them never got the choice to do otherwise because their job was deemed “essential.”

When you think of essential workers, you probably think of healthcare and first responders. They were at the very literal front lines of the pandemic fight.

There are also millions of people working in retail, production, manufacturing, food service, transportation, and so many other roles who also have had to show up each day in the face of significant risk.

The podcast explores their stories.

What these stories reveal should be a stark reminder for us as managers and leaders about our role and responsibility to our people. It boils down to a pretty simple truth.

The Experience of Being “Essential” 

Let me share a few quotes from the people interviewed for the podcast that really hit me hard.

This first quote is from a woman named Shelly Ortiz who was a restaurant server in Arizona when COVID hit. In Arizona, restaurant workers were deemed essential by the state so she either had to come to work or quit her job.

She talks about how the experience of working during COVID changed how she felt about her job. Her story also reveals the really terrible treatment that servers, specifically a female server in this case, are forced to endure from customers.

The pandemic apparently dialed up the intensity. Here’s how she described her experience with one customer.

“And it was just a reminder that like, I am not a human to her. I have never been a person to her. I am just someone out of her world that doesn’t deserve to be treated like a human being.”

I feel really fortunate that I’ve never been made to feel like this at work. Hopefully you’ve been as lucky.

While there’s a lot we could talk about in this story, it’s a reminder to me of the importance of treating everyone everywhere with kindness.

It’s also a reminder that the people who we pay the least in our organizations are often doing the hardest and most punishing work. They need more care and support from us.

This brings me to the second story I wanted to share with you from the podcast. It’s about Flato Alexander, a 61-year-old breakfast cook at a McDonald’s in Michigan.

The Unexpected Impact of Thank You Meals

Like Shelly, Flato never stopped working during the pandemic. He had worked in his job for years, and he enjoyed it. But things changed during the pandemic.

In this story, Flato shares his experience when McDonald’s announced in the spring of 2020 that they would give free egg McMuffin sandwiches to essential workers. They called them “Thank You Meals.” Overall, McDonald’s gave away 12 million free sandwiches.

You may or may not remember this. I didn’t. From the outside looking it, it seems like a really nice thing to do.

But, here is Flato sharing his take on it.

“They was giving it–giving free food away. If you got the audacity to waste millions of dollars on giving somebody some food, take some of that money and make a difference with one of us. You making a difference with other people, but you still ignoring your workers. So I didn’t understand it. I guess that was probably one of their shareholders meeting to come up with that idea.

“You scratching your head like, wow. No appreciation gets shown towards us. Show some type of appreciation towards the ones that’s doing some work. That’s what I mean. It’s not no jealous thing; it’s common sense. It’s like a show of unconcern.”

When the interviewer (the amazing Chana Joffe-Walt) asked him what it would have meant if the ownership or management had shown some concern, this is what he said.

“It would’ve meant a lot. It would’ve been a very touching thing for somebody to let you know that they have the slightest respect for your life and your livelihood. Because not showing—a sense of unconcern to people, it’s not a good feeling. It’s like having a relative that won’t speak to you. It makes you sad.”

The Lesson Is Clear

These stories left me with a heavy heart.

What they each really wanted was the same thing: to be seen and valued.

In Shelly’s case, her customer was not only not seeing her as a fellow human being, but the customer was actually making her feel like she had no value or worth. That is perhaps the worst thing you can do to another human being.

Flato, on the other hand, just wanted to be told that he mattered. In the end, it wasn’t that he wasn’t given a free sandwich when they were giving them to other essential workers that really hurt him.

Listen to his words again. “It would’ve been a very touching thing for somebody to let you know that they have the slightest respect for your life and your livelihood.”

The slightest respect for your life and your livelihood.

That’s a pretty low bar. And the leadership at his restaurant isn’t meeting it.

Regardless of what kind of team you manage or what kind of work they do, every person on your team has the foundational need that Shelly and Flato shared.

People want to be seen. They want to know they matter. 

So here are some simple tips for how to do that.

1. Say thank you often.

Your people show up and do the work every day. And every day, there’s a little voice in their head that wonders if any of it really makes a difference. As a manager, you can make sure they know that it does. Let people know that you appreciate them. Tell them that you are glad to see them. Thank them for showing up. It seems like a small thing, but it will have a huge impact.

2. Make time to be with your people.

I’ve shared the story many times about how my daughter taught me about the importance of time. When she was 7 years old, I asked her how she knows if someone loves her. Her answer was, “They spend time with me.”

There is no more powerful way to signal to your people that they matter to you than making time to be with them. That might be through one-on-one check-ins or team huddles. It could be setting aside time to record a video to send out to each person or a personal note. Invest your time in your people and they will reward you with their loyalty and effort.

3. Be kind to everyone.

Lead with kindness and compassion. One small act of kindness can transform someone’s entire day (or week). Every time we encounter another human being, we get to make a choice about how we will show up at that moment. Choose kindness.

And for those closest to you (like those you manage), be extra kind. Give the benefit of the doubt. Take care of your people, and they will, in turn, take care of you.

It’s really that simple.

When your people know that you care about them and that they matter, everything else becomes so much easier. Make this your priority as a manager, and you’ll be well on your way to having a high-performing team.

How to Quickly Build Connection
How to Quickly Build Connection 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

In 2012, I published my first book, Social Gravity, with my coauthor and long-time BFF, Joe Gerstandt.

We wrote the book to share what we had learned about the importance of networks and relationships to achieve important things in your life.

Joe and I met while working at a small, headhunting firm that made Michael Scott’s Dunder Mifflin in The Office look like a healthy, productive workplace. Our day-to-day work was hard and management was, at best, dysfunctional.

Fortunately, the owner of our firm believed in a work-hard/play-hard mantra so we had a lot of office social functions. These included golfing, happy hours, riding jet skis, and trips. So, in spite of the misery of our day-to-day work, it was easy to make friends.

This created the opportunity for me and Joe to meet and become friends. By nature of being the smarter of the two of us, Joe didn’t stay at this firm very long before moving on to another job, but we were connected for the long haul.

We shared a passion for making the work around us better, and together we tried to make it happen. We began by starting a couple of non-profit organizations. That evolved into speaking, writing, and hosting retreats together.

As I look back on all that Joe and I have done together, it’s pretty amazing. I’m not sure I would have done any of it had it not been for Joe. It was our relationship and connection that threw the sparks and gave us the confidence to go create and make things happen.

While my relationship with Joe has had a huge impact on what I’ve accomplished in my life, he’s not the only one. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of people who have propelled me forward or made me a better person throughout my life.

In fact, the older I get, the more aware I am that for everything I’ve accomplished that really matters in my life, I can point to a particular person or people who helped make it possible. There’s nothing that I’ve done completely on my own.

Our success is a product of not just our effort or talents, but also of the people who surround us.

Anyone who tells you they’ve accomplished great things all on their own is either delusional or oblivious to all the people who have supported and enabled them. We are interconnected and interdependent.

Connection matters in more ways than one.

Over the past year, there has been a lot of focus on the importance of connection in both our personal and work lives. Loneliness was an epidemic before COVID arrived, and it’s only gotten worse.

Our connection with other humans has very real consequences on our mental health and well-being. But there are so many other benefits.

When Joe and I wrote Social Gravity, we were making the case that having a big, robust network of relationships (what we called “your posse”) was perhaps the most powerful tool you could have if you wanted to do things of real consequence in your life.

That is as true today as it was when we started working on that book 15 years ago. A strong network gives you access to “social capital,” the resources and advantages available to you through your relationships with others.

As managers, teaching your team the value and power of relationships can help you amplify performance and innovation. When people are more connected, they tend to be more resilient and more creative.

In our book, Joe and I outline the six laws of social gravity. These laws provide the “how” to build a network of quality relationships. Rather than get into all the six laws here, I’ll share two recommendations that you can use right away to begin cultivating greater connection for yourself or your team.

1. Be helpful to others.

One of the most powerful laws of social gravity is “use karma.” As humans, we have a natural inclination towards reciprocity. In other words, we are driven to keep balance in our relationships with others. So, when someone does us a favor or is helpful, we are motivated to repay that favor.

The act of helping others creates a sort of natural bond between you. When you help someone else, it’s like making a karma investment in your network. The more you help others, the more they want to be helpful to you. And, as a bonus, helping others also feels good. It’s a true win-win.

2. Express gratitude to those who have played a significant role in your success and happiness.

Maybe the biggest overlooked opportunity to build connection is with the people you are already connected with. A network of relationships is like a garden. It requires regular and ongoing care and feeding.

If you aren’t working to actively stay in touch with people, the connection weakens with time. But, unlike gardening, it’s rarely ever too late to reconnect with people you knew in the past.

As we (hopefully) near the end of the pandemic, now is a great time to reach out to people and invest in those relationships.

One powerful way to do this is with gratitude. I invite you to do the following.

  • Reflect on your career (or life). Think about the people who played even a small role in supporting or encouraging you along the way. Maybe they referred you to get a job or introduced you to your significant other. Or maybe they had your back in a meeting when you really needed it, or they were encouraging when you struggled. Make a list of names.
  • Reach out and say thank you to each of those people. You can send an email, make a post on social media, send a text, or go old school and call them on the phone.

You’ll be surprised and delighted by what happens.

A few years ago, through a random conversation, the name of an instructor I’d had for a college class was brought up. I hadn’t heard her name in decades, but I instantly remembered the impact she’d had on me.

I decided to send her an email. The subject line was “Gratitude.” In the email, I shared with her the impact she’d had on me all those years ago and said thank you.

She responded to me quickly with a really lovely email, and we’ve stayed in contact ever since. I’d surely do her a favor should she ever need one, and I suspect she would say the same about me.

Make your list and reach out with your gratitude and appreciation. You’ll be glad you did, and your network of relationships will begin to grow immediately.

Happy connecting.

Related Reading:

 

Upcoming Course Information

My next online course, Managing in the Future of Work, starts September 13, 2021. Learn more by clicking here.

Campfire Conversations on the Future of Work
Campfire Conversations on the Future of Work 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Things are changing fast at work. Where, when, and how we work is undergoing a transformation that might be leaving you feeling unsettled and unprepared for what lies ahead.

With a recent Monster.com study suggesting as many as 95% of people are looking for new jobs, it’s time to think beyond “do we really need people back in the office?” In the midst of all the change lies a great opportunity if we can seize it.

To help you make sense of what’s happening and how to chart a course forward in this dynamic, new future of work, I’m hosting a series of virtual “Campfire Conversations. ” This is an opportunity to gather together to discuss these changes and challenges, how they are impacting us and our organization, and explore solutions together.

Campfire dates and topics:

  • Friday, July 30, 12 p.m. ET – Well-being at the Center of Work
  • Friday, August 6, 12 p.m. ET – How Management Must Change
  • Friday, August 13, 12 p.m. ET – Enabling Team Performance

Click here to sign up and learn more.

Self-Care is a Management Skill
Self-Care is a Management Skill 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

I didn’t get it.

When I heard people talking about self-care, it conjured up images of self-indulgent escapism. Self-care was going for a spa day or taking time for a guilty pleasure to forget about the challenges of life.

It didn’t feel like something relevant to me.

But I was wrong. Self-care is vital. In fact, it may be one of the most important skills we can learn if we want to thrive and be happy in our lives.

This seems to be the lesson that I have been repeatedly trying to learn since March 2020. It will be one of the permanent marks this pandemic will leave upon me.

When I don’t take care of myself, my ability to do all the things that are important to me diminish.

My work suffers. I don’t show up in the way I want as a parent or spouse. I lack energy for things I generally love to do. Joy becomes harder to find.

It’s not good.

I came face to face with these consequences last summer when I experienced burnout. A big part of how I got through it was self-care.

What is Self-Care?

While there’s a lot of different definitions you can find out there, I like to keep it simple. Self-care is the commitments, behaviors, habits, and actions you undertake to preserve and maintain your well-being.

When you are well, that means that you are happy, healthy and thriving in your life. It means that you can be your best and offer your best to others and to your endeavors. Well-being is what fuels our ability to live life up to our potential.

And when our well-being suffers, so too does our ability to show up in our lives in the ways we want and need to.

So, another way to think of self-care is as maintenance.

If we don’t perform regular, routine maintenance on our vehicle, it will slowly and predictably decline in performance until it finally breaks down. Self-care for us is the same.

Sure, we can get away without doing it for a while, but our performance in all areas of our life starts to decline until eventually, we break down.

This is what we are seeing all around us right now. Over the past 18 months, all of us have experienced some serious wear and tear on our well-being. And, unless you’ve been tending to self-care, you might feel like you are about to break down.

I know I did.

Self-care helped me get back up and running. But since then, I learned another important lesson about self-care. It isn’t a one-time event.

If you only change the oil in your car when it breaks down, you are in for a lot of future breakdowns and costly repairs.

It’s easy to get motivated to do self-care when you realize you’re burnt out or broken down. But, that’s a costly and painful time to tackle it.

The real work of self-care is the routine part. It’s committing to it on an ongoing basis to ensure you can be at your best in life and at work (and avoid the unnecessary breakdowns).

Why Self-Care is Vital for Managers

Managing effectively is hard work. Now more than ever.

As teams become more distributed, as pressure mounts to create more just and inclusive work experiences, as employee expectations of flexibility increase, the pressure on managers is mounting.

Take all this and multiply it by the fact that our collective well-being has been under constant threat for the past year and a half.

As a manager and leader, you need to be on top of your game right now. Your people need you at your best and unless you are invested in your self-care, you won’t have your best to offer.

They tell you to put your own oxygen mask on first in an airplane because if you don’t care for yourself first, you can’t help anyone else.

Self-care is your oxygen mask. You need to put yours on right now because your team needs your help.

How to Practice Self-Care

Now to the tricky part. There is no one-size fits all approach to self-care. What works for one person may not be ideal for another.

What I recommend is to find a framework of well-being that resonates for you and then use that to help you think about what commitments, behaviors, habits, and actions to take to maintain your well-being.

A few good frameworks you can peek at are WELCOA, Gallup, and the Center for Spirituality and Healing. There are others, but these are three good ones.

For today, let’s use the model from the Center for Spirituality and Healing as an example.

This model of well-being includes six elements:

  • Health – Are you caring for your physical and mental health?
  • Relationships – Do you have healthy, supportive relationships?
  • Security – Do you feel safe and free from threat and fear? Do you have a healthy relationship with money?
  • Purpose – Do you find meaning in your work and life?
  • Community – Do you feel part of and contribute to a larger community?
  • Environment – Are you living and working in spaces that are positive and supportive? Do you have a good connection with nature?

This model might not feel quite right for you. That’s okay. You can find one that does.

But, hopefully you can see that by finding a model like this, it can help you start to ask the right questions that lead you to the self-care practices. Having a framework like this to reference will help you maintain and enhance your well-being.

Exactly what that looks like will look a bit different for all of us.

What Self-Care Looks Like for Me

Since there is no single best way to approach self-care, it feels like the most helpful thing to share are a few examples of how I practice self-care. Perhaps it will inspire ideas for you to find your own unique approach.

Below are some parts of my self-care practice. Many have evolved over the past year as I’ve developed a deeper appreciation for the importance of self-care.

  • Get 7-8 hours of sleep nightly. One of the realizations I had recently is that when I’m feeling off, drained, stressed, or afraid to the point that it is affecting how I show up in my life and work, it’s almost always during times when I’ve not been getting enough sleep. When I am rested, I am 1000% more resilient.
  • Do at least 1 hour of exercise daily. Almost as important as sleep for me is to move my body every day–walking, running, yard work, or OrangeTheory.
  • Practice daily meditation. I’ve been a meditation dabbler for years, but on the heels of my burnout last summer, I committed to a daily practice of meditation. It has been a game changer for me.
  • Make time with family and friends. If you want great relationships in your life, you have to make time for them. Time is the currency of relationships. If you feel like you don’t have time for this, it’s time to reevaluate priorities in your life.
  • Learn something new. I realized that I spend more time teaching than learning, so I decided over the pandemic to finally start taking lessons to learn how to play the harmonica. I’ve always loved blues music so this has been something I’ve talked about for a long time. It’s both humbling and rewarding.
  • Take time off. Admittedly, I’m not as consistent on this as I want to be. I’m behind on this one, so I’m planning to do more of it in the upcoming year.
  • Watch some TV. I love watching good TV and sports. Getting immersed in a great story or game gives my brain the opportunity to let go and take some downtime.

When I am doing these things, I feel like I am fully powered up and strong. I feel like I can be present in my relationships and life.

This isn’t my full list but hopefully you get the idea. Your list will look different. The point isn’t what’s on the list, the point is that you have one and that it helps you feel stronger, healthier, and more energized for life.

What you practice for self-care will evolve and change as you do. The key is to stay committed to it and continually check-in on what’s working and what needs to change.

You Need Self-Care

Don’t fall into the trap of believing that self-care is only for certain people who need it, it’s for everyone. We all need maintenance. And our well-being is too important to wait on others to care for it.

If you plan to succeed as a manager and leader in the upcoming months and years, you are going to need to be on top of your game. There’s no way to pull that off without a commitment to self-care.

Do it for you. Do it for your people. Do it now.

Related Reading:

 

Upcoming Course Information

My next online course, Managing in the Future of Work, starts September 13, 2021. Learn more by clicking here.

What Really Matters?
What Really Matters? 1024 512 Jason Lauritsen

Last week, our community experienced something that you hope no community anywhere ever must. A car crash took the lives of four high school girls and left a fifth in the hospital in serious condition and a lifetime of healing ahead of her.

The community is reeling, trying to make sense of this tragedy. A mother of one of the girls who died is a friend of ours. In the past week, we’ve been to a celebration of life ceremony for the four girls and a funeral for our friend’s daughter.

It’s heavy stuff. We have been trying to make sense of how best to help and be supportive of our friend, her family, and the community. It’s hard to know. But we keep trying.

It has been a painful reminder of how fragile life is and how suddenly it can be taken from us. Anytime a senseless tragedy like this happens, it always prompts me to reflect on an important question.

What Really Matters?

We get so distracted by the minutiae of our lives. The small annoyances can occupy such large chunks of our attention. And, we allow our time to be washed away by our daily routines.

As we stood at the celebration of life ceremony, watching a video that had been created of photos and videos of the girls together and with their families, this question seemed extra poignant.

The answer for me this week was time with my family. Time with the people who I love most on the planet. That’s what matters.

So, my schedule changed. For the first time in so long I can’t remember, our entire family (including the 22-year-old) made time to go to the zoo together. And then on a separate day, we all went to see a movie together. Another morning, the younger kids and I went out for a hike together.

In the wake of this tragedy in our small community, I found a reminder to do what matters most. And while my heart still aches for our friend and my community, my heart is also full from being with my people.

What Really Matters?

This is such a powerful question. When you really sit with it for a while, it’s hard to escape the truth that we spend so much of our time on things that don’t matter so much–in life and at work.

It’s a question that prompts focus. It’s a question that cuts through the distractions.

It shouldn’t be asked only in times of tragedy or crisis. It can be equally powerful when you are trying to chart the path forward with your team at work. It is also powerful when you feel overwhelmed in work or in life.

Time is our most important resource. It is finite and non-renewable. Being intentional about how we spend it is, perhaps, one of the most important things we can learn to do if we want a happy, fulfilling life.

I hope that you can find a few minutes today or sometime soon to consider this question.

Because you really matter. And your time is precious.

feedback, feedforward
Moving From Feedback To Feedforward
Moving From Feedback To Feedforward 1024 512 Jason Lauritsen

I can still remember when I first heard about “feedforward.” It was in a presentation by Marshall Goldsmith at one of the first HCI Summits many years ago.

The concept sounded weird and a little gimmicky. But, it stuck with me.

At its essence, the idea was that while feedback was oriented towards criticism of past performance, feedforward instead provided suggestions for future improvement. People dislike criticism while they tend to more openly embrace suggestions that can be incorporated in the future. Simple enough.

While it seemed like a nice concept, I didn’t really do much with it after this first exposure. I still gave feedback the same way I always had.

Fast forward seven or eight years where I find myself at another conference listening to Marcus Buckingham. He again introduced the idea of feedforward. His approach was slightly different, but the idea was the same.  Suggestions instead of criticism.

The idea again appealed to me and this time I started experimenting with it with my team. And it seemed to work. While I was happy about the positive outcomes, I didn’t really understand why this was supposed to work so much better. I had been told my entire professional career that feedback was vital.

Yes, giving feedback was going to suck and often hurt. But, it IS “the breakfast of champions.” So they said.

To get ahead, you needed to learn to embrace the pain of feedback and try to figure out how to absorb it and learn from it.

I was skeptical that this “softer” feedforward approach might just be a way of softening the experience to feel better while losing the bigger impact. This was in spite of personally seeing the positive short-term results when I used it.

But then I found the neuroscience research that helped me understand why we have such a hard time with feedback.  Here’s a quick excerpt from my book describing one of the most interesting findings:

Recent neuroscience research suggests that our brain reacts to “social” threats similarly to physical threats. Perception of negative social comparison or being treated unfairly have been shown to trigger a brain response similar to physical pain. (Lieberman, Matthew D., Eisenberger, Naomi I. et. all, 2009) This would help explain why we tend to react defensively to critical feedback–particularly when we think it may be unjust or threatening to our social status at work. It’s a natural, biological response to avoid pain.

Our brain appears not to differentiate between social and physical pain. In other words, feedback can feel both psychologically and physically painful. No wonder we want to avoid it.

And to make matters worse, there’s research showing how we tend to overestimate our strengths while overlooking our weaknesses. Thus amplifying how socially threatening any critical feedback can seem. More threat, more pain.

This is why feedback is such an awful experience most of the time.

Work is frequently designed like a big social game of comparison to our peers. It’s a zero sum game if you want to advance. You need to be perceived as better than the people around you. Feedback will rarely feel non-threatening when you are playing such a high-stakes game.

Once I understood these factors, the true magic and power of feedforward finally revealed itself.

Criticism of past performance (which cannot be changed) creates a social threat response. This leads to an immediate defensive reaction as your brain and body try to find their way back to safety. When we are defensive, we can’t hear and process information constructively.

The approach of providing suggestions for improving future performance prescribed by feedforward disarms the social threat response. The exchange is oriented towards providing ideas for how the individual can improve or make a greater impact in the future. Not only does this reduce defensiveness, but it also creates autonomy for the receiver. They are in control and can decide what to do next.

Here are the steps I would recommend if you’d like to start experimenting with it yourself:

  1. Identify an opportunity for improvement. Think specifically about what happened and what kind of actions the individual could take to be better in the future.
  2. Request permission to provide some suggestions. This isn’t a requirement, but I’ve found that this step further enhances the effectiveness of feedforward. When we are asked first if we’d like suggestions, it further disarms any possible defensive response. “Hey Jason, I was thinking about our meeting this morning. I jotted down a few ideas for how I think you could get more traction with your next presentation. Would you be interested in hearing my thoughts?”
  3. Share one to three things that you feel would be helpful to them in the future. Providing some context for how these suggestions can help is good, but avoid any discussion of what they “did wrong” or “messed up.” If they open up and ask specific questions related to their past performance, provide observations but refrain from sharing judgment. Feedforward usually starts something like this, “When you are presenting an idea to a group, one of the approaches I’ve found to be successful is …”
  4. Watch for and reinforce evidence of progress. When you see the individual experimenting with or implementing suggestions in the future, heap on the praise and recognition. Before long, they’ll start coming and asking for more suggestions. Sidenote: when someone asks you for feedback, what they are really asking you for is suggestions for how to be better in the future.

There’s been a lot of focus recently on teaching managers to be coaches. If you have ever had the opportunity to observe a good sports coach working during practice or games, you have probably noticed that most of what they do is provide instruction and suggestions for how to perform better on the next play. They know that spending too much time criticizing past performance will just demoralize the athlete and doesn’t help them improve. Coaching is fundamentally about switching from feedback to feedforward.

Bottomline: Stop criticizing people for past performance that they can’t change and start focusing on giving them the insights they need to be better on the next play.

Want To Improve Performance Or Engagement At Work? Check Your Assumptions.
Want To Improve Performance Or Engagement At Work? Check Your Assumptions. 1024 512 Jason Lauritsen

Everybody has probably heard the old saying that goes something like this:

You know what happens when you assume? You make an ASS out of U and ME.

Despite first hearing this when I was a kid, I didn’t really understand the wisdom of this silly statement until many years later.

Our assumptions are a powerful force, particularly when they are about other people.

Parenting a teenager helped me learn this lesson. My oldest son Dylan was a good kid all the way through school. He did his school work, was generally kind and respectful, and stayed out of trouble.

But, he was a teenager. And like every person in their teen years (everyone reading this included), he had an abnormally high capacity for doing some stupid things and making irrational decisions. This is incredibly frustrating as a parent and I didn’t always handle things well.

Over time, I came to assume that whenever anything happened that seemed like it could be due to a bad decision on his part, that’s what it was. When something happened that could be his fault, I always assumed that it was.

If something got broken or a door was left open, I assumed he was at fault. And sometimes he was, but not all the time. My assumptions started to create strain in our relationship.

Thankfully, I recognized that I wasn’t being fair to him and if I didn’t do something, it may ruin our relationship. I needed to make some changes.

First, I started to apologize to him any time I let my assumptions get the best of me. When I overreacted or jumped to unfair conclusions, I said I was sorry and vowed to do better in the future. And, I tried to change my assumptions about him.

I started reminding myself more frequently that he was a good kid. This helped me get to an assumption that his intentions were usually good, even if his teen-aged brain sometimes corrupted those intentions into bad decisions or carelessness. I’d love to tell you that I became an ideal parent and showed up better in every situation, but that’s not true. I still made mistakes. I still let old assumptions sneak into my thinking.

But being aware of my assumptions and trying to manage them made me a better parent.

Assumptions at Work

This doesn’t only happen at home. Our assumptions about people profoundly impact our behavior and how we show up in our work.

The place where I have seen this most frequently over the years is in how we confront performance or behavioral issues as managers.

In my experience, when an employee isn’t performing as expected, it’s easy for our assumptions to run wild. The most common assumption that bubbles up in these circumstances is one that is born out of traditional management. It’s that a lack of performance is a choice the employee is consciously making.

I found it both amusing and troubling how often managers would show up in HR wanting to promptly fire an employee for underperforming. These managers were frequently hovering somewhere between frustration with and anger at the employee. As the managers described why they wanted to fire the employee, those stories often made it sound like the employee was actively and maliciously choosing to fail as a way to undermine them. In the most dramatic stories, the manager sounded as if they were under siege by the employee.

This is, of course, ridiculous. Employees don’t choose to fail. And most would do almost anything not to get fired.

But, the manager was operating on a different assumption that resulted in them seeing the employee’s underperformance as a hostile action instead of an opportunity to help.

That’s why in my book, I introduce a very different assumption we can make about employees. This new assumption is based on what I described above, that employees don’t choose to fail. I’ve never met someone who I believe wakes up in the morning and says to themselves, “I hope I fail today.” It sucks when we struggle at work and our boss is after us about doing better. I don’t believe for a second that anyone wants to be in that situation–regardless of how much they might dislike their boss.

What if we instead assumed that every human being’s natural tendency, or default setting, is to perform in the best way we know how? That given the opportunity, a person will always choose to be successful unless they are facing some sort of obstacle or challenge. 

  • How would that change how you approach a performance issue?
  • How would it change how you think about the role of a manager or leader?

Instead of wondering why an employee is choosing not to perform, we would instead ask what barriers or obstacles we need to remove to help the employee. In this way of thinking, a manager doesn’t have to worry about coercing the employee into performing better because she knows the employee would be performing if something wasn’t causing interference. Perhaps the employee isn’t clear on expectations or lacks some key knowledge or skill.

Imagine how this change in thinking would affect the relationship between employee and manager. It’s definitely more fulfilling to be in a relationship where the other person assumes the best of you and is committed to helping you succeed than the alternative.

Assumptions are a powerful thing.

Choose yours wisely.

Why Leadership Buy-In For Employee Engagement And Inclusion Is Elusive
Why Leadership Buy-In For Employee Engagement And Inclusion Is Elusive 1024 512 Jason Lauritsen

Reader Note: For those of you who subscribe to my blog, we have transitioned to a new tool for email delivery. Please let me know if you experience any issues. For those who may want to subscribe to this blog to receive new posts to your email box weekly, you can subscribe here.

I started my career in sales, selling copiers and fax machines. As a result, I’ve been through a bunch of sales training and have read a lot of sales books.

One of the things that is drilled into you in sales training is the difference between selling features and selling benefits. Oversimplified, features are what your product or service can do.  Benefits are how the use of the product or service creates value for you (the customer).

This is important because while features are cool, benefits drive our buying decisions. We buy things for what they can do for us or how they make us feel. We hire people to work for us, not for what they can do, but for how they can help us accomplish our goals.

While this may seem obvious as you read it, it’s something that most people get wrong when selling—even professional salespeople. We tend to emphasize the features of what we have to sell and often forget to even focus on the benefits.

For example, if you were trying to sell me a new smartphone, you would probably be tempted to describe to me the things your device can do (features). You might tell me about the size of the screen or the amount of storage the device has. You may describe the software that comes on the phone and the amazing camera it has.

That all seems reasonable, right?

But you don’t know why I want or need a new phone. You also don’t know how I use my phone or what things are most important to me. If I’m someone who primarily uses my phone to make calls, sends texts and read emails, the amount of storage on the phone and the fancy camera are of nearly no benefit to me. If all I want is a device that makes text easy to both read and type, then you haven’t won me over and I will likely not buy from you.

You’ve lost me because you didn’t connect what you were selling with what I want or need.

The best way to get someone to buy what you are selling is to show them how it helps them get what they really want or care about.

I spent part of last week with some corporate Diversity and Inclusion leaders. One of their shared challenges is getting executive leaders and/or middle managers “on board” with D&I programs and initiatives. As I listened to them talk about this challenge, it was clear that they are focused on selling the features of their work to these people.

Most D&I people can skillfully describe the impact of both diversity and inclusion. These features include better decision making and increased innovation among many more. In attempts to create buy-in, this is what they sell.

This echoes what I hear from employee engagement professionals as well. When it comes to engagement, we’re great at selling the features of engagement—increased loyalty and advocacy, better morale, more discretionary effort, etc.

But managers and executives have other priorities, regardless of whether we like it or not. They may listen to you describe the features of D&I or engagement or [insert name of other HR program] and even voice some agreement about the value you describe.

The problem is that can’t see how it’s going to help them get what they need or solve their most pressing problems. Executives are thinking about things like growing revenues or surviving new disruptive competitors. They want to look good to their shareholders and customers.

Managers are often just trying to survive. They are asked constantly to do more with less while keeping a stressed-out team motivated to work harder (and not quit) while keeping up with their own stack of work. Not to mention all the meetings. If they survive all this, they just want their team to hit their goals so they can look good to the higher-ups to possibly get a raise.

Unless you can show the executive how the work you are proposing will help them grow revenues, increase profits, enhance the brand, or any number of other things that are their priorities, you will never have their full buy-in.

The same is true for managers. Unless they can see how what you are selling is going to help them manage an already unruly and overwhelming workload, you might as well save your breath. To them, it just sounds like more work to pile on top of it all.

So, here’s what to do about it.

  1. Study the people you need to buy in. Find out what they really care about. Learn what their problems and pain points are. How do you do that?  Well, you can start with listening and observing them. You can learn a lot that way. I’d also recommend talking to them, if you can. Ask them about their priorities and challenges, whether they are related to HR or not.
  2. Start describing the benefits of your work rather than the features. Once you understand your internal customers better, you can put your work in context of the problems it solves and the value it creates for them. Talk about performance and enabling better outcomes for them instead of the features mentioned earlier.
  3. Focus on solving problems instead of converting the non-believers. When you implement solutions that demonstrate the value of your work, you earn the opportunity to explain why and how it worked. A good leader might argue with you about the conceptual merits of employee engagement, but they won’t argue with the results of your work if it helped them achieve what they truly care about. In fact, they will often want to know after the fact, how and why it worked. That’s when the buy-in is created naturally. Even the boldest skeptics can be won over through results.

The work we do is righteous work. But we must let go of our need for leaders to embrace it at face value. Instead, go prove that it works. They will jump on board when you do.

employee engagement definition
What Is Employee Engagement? It’s Time to Demand Better Answers
What Is Employee Engagement? It’s Time to Demand Better Answers 1024 512 Jason Lauritsen

One of the things that makes me crazy about the work of employee engagement is the sloppiness we allow around how we define and approach it. As I talk to leaders within organizations who are currently spending enormous sums of money on measuring and attempting to improve engagement, they struggle with basic questions like “How do you define employee engagement?” and “How does employee engagement drive your organization’s success?”

If we can’t clearly define this work and why it matters, how can we ever expect to make a huge impact, let alone be taken seriously? We have to do better.

Over the past year, I’ve been working out a conceptual model of employee engagement as an attempt to create movement toward a solution. That model is laid out in this post.

A Conceptual Model of Employee Engagement

Before I get into the model, let’s call out a few things about why things are such a mess today. Employee engagement isn’t a tangible thing. It is an invention of academics and consultants intended to help us make sense of the complex relationship between employees and their work.

Because “engagement” is a made-up construct used to describe abstract ideas, there is no universal definition of engagement. The closest we could come would be to agree upon a standard, but that’s not likely to happen anytime soon.

The challenge is that every consultant, researcher, and technology tool provider has a slightly different take on employee engagement. And they like it that way as it helps them differentiate their approach. This feels both confusing and annoying to anyone trying to actually engage employees.

This lack of clarity means that managers, leaders, and even HR professionals are often left wondering exactly what really matters when it comes to engaging employees. And the employees end up paying the price by living through an inconsistent and non-optimal work experience every day.

Today, I’m going to share with you some definitions and a model of employee engagement based on my research and experience. My intention in sharing this isn’t to sell you something or test out a new product idea I have. Instead, I want to help you think differently and better about employee engagement in a way that might actually help us bring more intention to our work.

What I share below is an evolving work in progress. I don’t proclaim this as the “right” answer but I hope to provoke conversation and debate that moves us forward in the quest to create work experiences that work better for humans.

What Exactly Is Employee Engagement?

Most commonly, engagement is defined as some combination of discretionary effort and intent to stay. In other words, an engaged employee gives me more effort than I pay them for, and they aren’t thinking about leaving me. Call me a skeptic, but I think these definitions were created to secure funding from executives rather than to drive the actual work. Who wouldn’t want more effort you don’t have to pay extra for or decreased turnover? I’m in!

Other definitions (including some I’ve embraced in the past) define engagement in terms of emotional or social connection to work. And while this may be true, it is incomplete because it does not capture the “why.” Definitions like these feel hollow to bottom-line focused execs because they sound squishy and disconnected from value creation and performance.

Here’s how I am defining engagement today:

Engagement is the degree to which an employee is both willing and able to perform to their potential.

Ultimately, engagement is about unlocking performance potential. Organizations exist to perform. Without this performance imperative, the organization need not exist. So, any model of employee engagement that isn’t directly tied to performance is inadequate.

Notice the use of the words “willing” and “able” in the definition. Engagement is a gauge of both conscious commitment to achievement and the degree to which an individual’s experience and environment are either enabling or hindering their ability to give their fullest efforts to their work.

Engagement is not, however, the “end all, be all” for performance. There are also processes related to talent and management, separate from engagement, that are equally important to overall performance.

 

Talent processes are responsible for finding people with the right performance potential and then continuing to increase that potential through ongoing development. If you fully engage subpar (or wrong) talent, you get subpar results. Engagement without talent will always lead to subpar results.

Management processes are responsible for ensuring that available performance potential is applied and aligned to achieve organizational success. When you unlock performance potential but use it in the wrong way or apply it to the wrong thing, you can still fail.

It’s important to note here that management processes are different from the role of a Manager. A manager will have responsibilities across all three of these processes.

The point of sharing this is to highlight that while engagement is critical, it’s not a silver bullet. Good employee engagement won’t make up for bad talent or management processes. They are interconnected.

Talent delivers performance potential. Engagement unlocks that potential. Management ensures that potential is applied in the right way.

How Does Engagement Work?

Based on my experience and research, I believe that there are three major variables in employee engagement:

  1. Satisfaction. This is the extent to which an employee’s experience of work exceeds their expectations.
    • Experience is the cumulative of an employee’s interactions with “work” over time that impact how they feel about their work and employer.
  2. Drive. Drive in my model is the degree to which an individual is motivated to achieve the goals and outcomes that are important to organizational success.
  3. Wellness. This represents the degree to which an individual’s core human needs are satisfied. When these needs are left unmet, it diminishes the individual’s ability to offer up their full potential.

I’ve always been a bit of a math nerd, so when I started working on a model, a math equation emerged. Please don’t take the equation literally. This equation is meant not as a simple calculation but as a conceptual model to represent the relationship between the variables.

Here’s how I believe engagement works:

SATISFACTION

At the heart of the equation is satisfaction. Satisfaction has gotten a bad rap as the early, not-as-sophisticated, version of engagement. Satisfaction is, and always has been, central to engagement. In this model, satisfaction is a measure of how your experience of work compares to your expectations.

The work of engagement is not only about shaping and creating employee experience; it’s also about managing and shaping employee expectations. In my career, I’ve seen very few organizations that do both well. When you have unrealistic expectations, even a great experience can leave you feeling unsatisfied. When you have lower expectations (for whatever reason), an average employee experience might feel pretty good. Positive satisfaction occurs only when your experience exceeds your expectations. Both factors are important.

It’s a lot like happiness. Happiness isn’t as much about what happens to you as it is about how you feel about what happens to you. The key to happiness lies in learning to manage your expectations. This is also true for engagement. Managing expectations is critical and often done poorly.

Employee experience is new language for us over the past few years, but it’s not new in actual practice. This is the area of the engagement equation that we’ve (as a profession of HR and leadership) been primarily focused on and where we’ve had great difficulty. At the heart of the issue is that employee experience today at most organizations was designed through a “work as a contract” way of thinking. Most modern work experience is designed for the primary benefit of the employer—to ensure that the employee is living up their end of the employment contract (psychological or otherwise). It’s a compliance-driven, “what have you done for me lately” experience.

The problem is that most of the research we have into employee engagement reveals that it is relational factors that most strongly motivate employees to greater contribution. Work is a relationship for employees. Things like feeling valued and trusted are always at the top of any list of engagement drivers along with other factors like appreciation and feeling like someone cares about us. Employees expect to be treated like they are in a relationship with work, not bound by a contract.

WELLNESS

Wellness is an often overlooked but critical variable to engagement. If I am sick, hungover, scared, distracted, tired, lonely, worrying about how I’m going to pay my rent or in any other way compromised, I cannot give my fullest effort to work. If I’m suffering domestic abuse at home or I’m trying to care for a dying parent without much support and resources, my ability to contribute at work is diminished.

Wellness is and should be about helping, supporting, and equipping employees to pursue a greater sense of well-being in their lives. It’s about equipping each person to navigate more successfully the complexities of being human, so that when they show up to work, they feel like a whole and well person, able to give their full effort and energy to the work.

To do this work, we need to develop a better understanding of core human needs. In 2017, I worked with colleagues Christina Boyd-Smith and Joe Gerstandt to develop a model of motivating human needs. The model was distilled from a host of research-based frameworks ranging from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to Carol Ryff’s Well-Being model and the Max-Neef model. I share it as an example of what a model for wellness might look like.

  • Authenticity: Living and being embraced as a whole, unique person.
  • Connection: Having quality relationships and intimacy with others.
  • Freedom: Having and exercising choice in our lives. Influencing our future.
  • Growth: Making progress towards a better version of ourselves. Moving towards our potential.
  • Meaning: Knowing our actions matter. Feeling part of something bigger than ourselves.
  • Safety: Feeling protected from danger or harm. Having a sense of security. Being free from fear.
  • Health: Maintaining a well-functioning mind and body. Managing our energy and balance.

When these human needs are met at the individual level, we feel a sense of well-being that enables us to be our best and give our best.

DRIVE

Drive is the third variable of engagement. While this is a complex aspect to unpack, this is where the “willingness” of engagement lives. Hat tip to Dan Pink for introducing this idea of “drive” into our thinking about employee motivation. I don’t use the word here to mean exactly what Dan did in his great book, but something in the same realm. It’s where purpose, meaning, and perceived impact lives. It’s about the degree to which I believe and can see alignment between my personal career goals and the goals put upon me by the organization. Even when I feel well and satisfied, if I am not motivated to move the organization forward, I may not be of much value. Motivation to perform is critical to unlocking potential.

There are a lot of motivational theories that could be applied or used as a measurement framework for drive (including Dan Pink’s). I’m not going to argue here for any model as that debate can wait for another day. The argument I am making is that motivation to perform is a core variable in engagement. Without it, your engagement efforts will fall short.

THE MATH

In the employee engagement model (equation) above, each variable multiplies one another. For those who aren’t algebra geeks, that means that while any largely positive variable can amplify the others, if any one of the variables goes toward zero, the whole equation goes toward zero regardless of how positive the other variables may be.

In other words, if do an adequate job of supporting wellness, satisfaction and drive within your organization, investing in dramatically improving one of the three variables should provide a boost to engagement overall. But, if you do a great job on two variables (like satisfaction and drive) but overlook a third (wellness), if employee wellness suffers it could have a pretty dramatic negative impact on engagement overall.

Each variable is critical to overall engagement. If any of them fail, the whole thing fails. And to succeed in engagement requires that we succeed in maximizing each variable.

This is only a model. It’s meant to help us think more deeply and critically about the variables involved and their relation to one another. One of my goals in the upcoming years is to design, collaborate, and support research efforts to move from a theoretical model to a validated, quantitative framework that could give birth to a standard that could work across industries. I hope you will join me on that journey.

For now, I just hope to provoke your thinking and some debate.

What do you think?

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

Engaging Employees from Inside Bad HR Processes
Engaging Employees from Inside Bad HR Processes 1024 512 Jason Lauritsen

When I speak to people about treating work as a relationship with employees rather than a contract, there’s a question I am commonly asked.

It typically sounds something like this:

“How do you make work feel like a relationship when you are trapped inside a bureacratic organization with archaic processes?”

This question is a great one because it describes the challenge (or more accurately PAIN) of so many managers and HR pros out there. It reflects a more fundamental question, “how do you make an impact when you can’t change the system itself?”

I feel the angst and frustration in the question. This question is so common and important, it seemed like a good idea to address it in a blog post.

To address this challenge, let’s focus on an example that many can probably relate to.  Let’s assume your organization still requires a traditional annual performance appraisal, the kind of process that culminates in a rating that triggers a merit increase amount. Regardless of how much is written about the flaws in this type of process, a majority of organizations are still using it.

If you want to unlock performance in your team by making work feel more like a healthy relationship, you will have to work around bad processes like this. Despite how broken or poorly designed your HR and management processes might be, it doesn’t have to be a barrier if you do the followings things.

1. Always think about the relationship first.

The first thought for any manager or team leader should be about maintaining and building healthy relationships with the people on their teams. Time is the currency of relationships, so if you aren’t spending time with your people in conversation about both life and work, start there. Nothing sends a clearer message to people that you value them than when you invest your time in them. This means regularly scheduled one on one meetings at the minimum.

Regardless of the process, one technique I highly recommend is the relationship test. In short, ask yourself how this process would go if someone you really cared about in your personal life (i.e. best friend, significant other, child, etc.) was on the other end. If it would likely be hard on the relationship, then you should step back and consider a different approach. For example, if you had to communicate some bad news to your significant other, would you do it in an email? Probably not. So, why would you choose that approach for people at work?

2. Invite your employees to help you create a better experience.

At the heart of what relationship means is that we do it WITH others. So, whenever you are asked to do something “to” someone else, it’s probably not a great process to grow relationships. The performance appraisal is a great example of this. The traditional appraisal is something we, as managers, are asked to do to the employee. Sometimes, we offer employees the opportunity to appraise themselves, but generally, it’s a one-way process.

To make these processes more human (and humane), we must find ways to involve the employee in the process. Invite them to help create ideas for how to make the process feel more positive and valuable. For example, invite employees into the goal-setting process to provide input and negotiate their goals on the front end. Another example might be to explore how you could use the one-on-one meetings throughout the year to check-in about progress on the appraisal.  You might even have conversations along the way like, “If we had to agree on a performance rating for you based on your work this year so far, what would it be?” This allows you to align and calibrate throughout the year to ensure no surprises when it comes appraisal time.

The more the employee feels they are able to participate in and shape the process, the less harmful it will be to the relationship.

3. Don’t be confined by the process.

This brings me to my last bit of advice. Just because the process exists doesn’t mean that’s where your work as a manager stops. I think it’s ironic that there’s so much talk lately about replacing the annual appraisal with a process of more regular performance check-ins. The reason it’s ironic is that a good manager doesn’t need permission or a new process to be conducting regular check-ins. The best managers are always doing this, regardless of process.

The bad process you are trapped inside is simply a compliance exercise. It should never represent your intention and practice as a manager or leader. Consider the advice I offer above and then ask, how can I hack or work around the process to actually improve team performance by forming better relationships?

I recently wrote about 5 ways to hack your performance process. That should get you started with some ideas. Treat the process as the “paperwork” you have to do to stay in compliance, but don’t let it dictate your approach with your people.

You are the solution. 

I am going to continue to crusade against bad, inhumane work processes. These processes need to change. If you can change out a bad process, please do it as soon as possible.

But, if you happen to be stuck with some bad processes, don’t let them stop you. Create a great experience for your employees in spite of them.