employee experience

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

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

It’s also one of the most overlooked.

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

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

Repairing Relationships Before They Fully Fracture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Repair Your Relationships at Home

My wife and I have a similar process for repair.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Absence of Relationship Repair at Work

Here’s how it happens.

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

Then one day it breaks.

Things are said that can’t be unsaid.

Actions are taken that can’t be undone.

And the course of your career is changed.

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

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

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

What Does It Look Like to Repair Your Work Relationships?

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

The moments that really count.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wish I had done better.

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

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

I continue to work on it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Today is my birthday.

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

Everyone seems to be nicer to you on your birthday.

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

The magic is in the birthday wish.

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

Making that wish was always fun and exciting.

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

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

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

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

My second wish is less selfish.

I wish for a day when two things are true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

More recognition.

More development.

More flexibility.

More autonomy.

More pizza and beer and ping pong.

More, more, more.

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

Where should you start with your team?

How to Improve Employee Engagement: Getting Started

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

I didn’t.

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

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

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

Don’t Manage by Assumption 

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

I was often wrong.

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

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

ASK.

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

All You Have to Do Is Ask

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

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

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

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

ASK.

They will tell you.

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

Take Action

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

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

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

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

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

ASK.

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Related Articles

Are You an Employee Engagement Dinosaur?

Asking for What You Want to Get More Employee Engagement

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

 

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

Something really weird and awesome happened to me this morning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those little moments can carry enormous positive impact.

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

 

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Are You an Employee Engagement Dinosaur?
Are You an Employee Engagement Dinosaur? 1080 810 Jason Lauritsen

This week, I somehow found myself in a conversation with a colleague about breaking the habit of putting two spaces behind a period when I type. Since he is roughly my age, he understood this challenge completely.

For some of you reading this, the idea of putting two periods beyond a sentence when you type sounds completely ridiculous (who would ever think that’s a good idea?). For others, this may be the first time you’re being confronted with the fact that you are doing it wrong.

I’m not here to argue over the right number of spaces behind a sentence; that has been decided. It’s one.

But, as we talked, I referred to myself as a dinosaur for using two spaces. Granted, I am a dinosaur in recovery (notice the single spaces in my post today…), but that left me pondering something else.

Employee engagement is a concept that we’ve been wrestling with for about 30 years now. And we know a lot of stuff today that we didn’t when we first started. Which begs the question: What are our “two spaces after a sentence” ideas in employee engagement? What beliefs or practices are we stuck in or do we defend, that just aren’t relevant or effective given what we know today?

I think there’s a few. So, I’ve thrown together a shortlist for you. If you recognize yourself in any of these, it’s time to rethink your position.

Signs You May Be an Employee Engagement Dinosaur

1. You think that employee engagement has to involve a survey

Employee engagement was created as a concept to help us measure and understand the human factors in the workplace that are hard to isolate but have profound effects on how we perform at work. The most efficient and effective way to measure engagement has historically been an employee survey. The survey results gave us something concrete to work with as we try to understand something as abstract as human behavior and emotions. As a result, an entire market of employee survey providers emerged to offer tools, expertise, and consulting to help employers survey their employees.

This practice has become so common that many have come to assume that to work with employee engagement has to involve a survey. The reality is that while a survey can be an effective tool for measuring employee engagement, doing the work of employee engagement isn’t about a survey. Instead, it is about creating an environment and experience of work each day that fosters individual performance. It’s about management practices and technology. It’s about culture and work processes.

It’s about far more than a survey. And if we are to make progress, we have to approach it far more broadly and proactively.

2. You think that HR “owns” employee engagement.

If you are spending any time trying to decide who “owns” employee engagement, you might be a dinosaur. This is a wildly unproductive and unhelpful debate and discussion. Every experience an employee has with and through work has the potential to affect their level of engagement. No one singularly owns employee engagement and everyone plays a role in it. When we say that HR or Corporate Communications owns engagement, it sends an unintended message that no one else needs worry about it.

That doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be people or departments who will play specific roles related to employee engagement. HR might have the responsibility for measuring engagement or providing training.  Executives may (should) have the role of setting a strategy and expectations for employee engagement. But everyone should understand that they have some role to play in both their own and others’ experience of work.

3. You believe there is one right way to approach or create employee engagement.

This is perhaps the most vivid example of “two spaces after a period” thinking about employee engagement that I commonly encounter. Executive leaders and consultants are particularly prone to this way of thinking. It’s fueled by a variety of mental biases but most potently the halo effect and the fundamental attribution error. Here’s how it happens.

We work at an organization where we are involved in creating or bringing to bear some kind of solution related to employee engagement. Maybe it’s implementing the Gallup Q12 survey or it’s implementing a particular management training program. Sometime following the implementation, the results of the organization improve or something else positive happens. We take this as indisputable evidence that our solution was effective and become convinced that it would work elsewhere. This is best practice thinking.

The problem, of course, is that it’s really hard to isolate the impact of specific programs or know exactly what caused the positive outcome. In addition, what works in one culture or context, doesn’t necessarily work in another. I’ve seen the same approach appear to be really effective in one company and fail in another. We have to recognize that there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to engagement.

If you are feeling like you might be a dinosaur, it’s okay. You can still make some progress. It’s never too late to shift your thinking and approach. Despite almost 40 years of putting two spaces after a sentence when I typed, I’m actually getting pretty good at only using one. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s possible. We can all catch up.

 

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Belonging Is an Act of Courage
Belonging Is an Act of Courage 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

Where in your life do you feel a real sense of belonging?

That question on the surface feels like a pretty simple question to answer. And it’s easy to assume that almost anyone you ask would have an answer to this question.

Over the past year, I’ve spent a lot of time with this question, and I now realize that it’s far more complicated than I thought.

Belonging is a concept that is increasingly sneaking into our conversations about employee experience and well-being in the workplace. It has its roots in psychology. It’s one of those concepts, like many we use when talking about the human experience, that isn’t particularly well defined or understood yet.

And yet, it’s a concept that has deep emotional significance for most people. We may not be able to describe exactly what it is, but we know the experience when it happens. It’s the kind of experience we want more of, as much as we can get, but it’s often as hard to find as it is to define.

Part of the reason that belonging has such resonance with us is likely because the absence of belonging can be so painful. Let me offer you another question to ponder.

When was the last time you felt excluded, particularly when your desire to belong was strong?

Sadly, it’s far easier to think of answers to this question than the first. I’ve become convinced that we are facing a crisis of belonging, not just at work, but across our society. We are starved for and craving a deeper sense of belonging. And it’s not just one particular group or segment of people who are feeling this.

Two Major Insights Into Belonging

I have facilitated two separate retreats this year where we exploration belonging in an attempt to understand it more fully. I’ve come away from that work with two major insights.

First, we need to dive much deeper into belonging to understand what it is, how it works, and how we can foster it in all areas of our lives.

There has been some work done in this regard, but there’s much left to do. As I’ve explored this with colleagues and friends this year, questions emerge that highlight our need for a deeper understanding of this concept. For example:

  • Can you only belong to another person or group?  Or can you also belong to a place or experience?
  • Can you belong to yourself? If so, what exactly does that mean?
  • What role does belonging to or accepting one’s self play in the ability to belong to others?
  • Are belonging and exclusion opposites?
  • Can belonging exist in a group without some degree of exclusion? In other words, is exclusion a necessary ingredient to belonging?

These are not easy questions when you start putting them into actual application in your life or at work. And yet, they are questions we need to wrestle with until we find answers.

My second insight is that belonging is an act of courage.

While there are a lot of definitions out there for belonging, here’s how I’m defining belonging today based on both my experience and reading: Belonging is a feeling of unconditional acceptance.

Belonging is a feeling of unconditional acceptance. 

The place where I feel the greatest sense of belonging is in my marriage. Angie accepts me fully through our entire range of experiences together—when I’m at my best, and more importantly when I’m at my worst. It’s a rare and unique experience that has been incredibly powerful and important in shaping the quality of my life.

I think this definition also works when we talk about belonging to ourselves. The work of unconditionally accepting who we are is not easy and it’s a lifetime of work. I usually describe this as our journey to authenticity.

The real magic of belonging happens when we both belong to ourselves (i.e., we are fully authentic) and we belong to others simultaneously.

There Is a Catch to Belonging

But here’s the catch: To have the opportunity to experience belonging requires that you reveal yourself fully. It requires vulnerability, and as a consequence, it is an act of courage. This is true for both the individual and the group.

Belonging requires vulnerability, and as a consequence, it is an act of courage.

As an individual, to be unconditionally accepted as we are requires that we reveal who we are. The danger is that you can’t be fully accepted before you are fully revealed. It requires a leap of faith, an act of courage, before you can receive the reward. And the reward is not guaranteed.

If you are part of a team of mostly Christians, revealing you are Muslim or atheist might be met with acceptance but it also may not. The same could be true for being liberal in a conservative company. Any time, you reveal something about yourself that feels unique or different, there will be a risk. Even when you are pretty certain the group will accept you regardless of these things, it’s still a risk when you fully reveal yourself.

Belonging to yourself truly is perhaps one of the hardest and bravest acts there is because we live in a world that sends you signals all day every day that you are somehow not enough.

And when you unconditionally accept someone else, it also involves risk and vulnerability. What if they don’t accept you back? What if their beliefs are completely different than yours? What if who they are fundamentally conflicts with who you are? These are not easy circumstances to navigate, and they make the act of acceptance far more challenging. Extending belonging to others requires courage.

This insight that belonging is an act of courage helped me understand why the work of creating belonging is both so challenging and so important. The irony is that, as in most cases, the courage required is repaid a hundred times over in most cases. But, we’ve got to take that step.

The work of creating belonging is both so challenging and so important.

Here are my requests of you:

  • Experiment with revealing more of yourself to others as a way to explore and understand how belonging works.
  • Ask the people in your life about their experiences of belonging and exclusion and how it affected them.
  • Work on ways that you can extend a more unconditional acceptance to those who you live and work with.

We can be the solution to this belonging crisis together. We just have to muster the courage to do it.

 

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Asking for What You Want to Get More Employee Engagement
Asking for What You Want to Get More Employee Engagement 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

I’m not sure when I first learned it. And it’s baffling to me that I even need to. But it’s been one of the most useful lessons I’ve ever learned.

Here it is: You are far more likely to get what you want when you are willing to ask for it.

It seems so simple and obvious, and yet we often don’t do it.

I have the experience frequently in my own home. My wife passively mentions something or poses it as a question to me, seeming to indicate that whatever she’s asking is simply a suggestion or thought.

But in reality, she’s decided already that this is what she wants. She’s just hoping I understand.

I don’t know why she does this because when she tells me what she needs or wants, there’s a nearly 100 percent chance that I will make it happen. And that’s why I usually respond jokingly, “Just tell me what you want me to do; I’m good at following orders.”

She’s not the only one who does this. We all do it.

We don’t ask for the assignment or desk or raise that we want at work.

We don’t tell our spouse where we’d really like to go for dinner or what we truly want to do for our birthday.

We allow our accountant, personal trainer, contractor, or [insert any other person you pay to do work for you] to treat us or do work for us in a way that doesn’t exactly meet our needs or make us happy.

Why do we do this?

My hypothesis is that we are trying to be nice or polite. Maybe we are afraid of saying out loud what we want because we may not get it.

Either way, we need to stop it.

When we don’t ask for what we want, there’s a very slim chance we’ll ever get it. When we do, it’s a lucky accident.

Do you really want your happiness and success to be determined by accident? I hope not.

By simply asking for what we want, we make it wildly more likely we’ll get it. Worse case, you don’t get it, and you’re no worse off than you would have been otherwise.

This is particularly powerful when it comes to our relationship with other people. My experience is that most people actually prefer to know exactly what you want or expect of them. And once they know, it’s surprising how often they will come through for you.

This lesson applies to all areas of our lives. And I think it’s a great insight to apply to our efforts to create more employee engagement at work.

As an employee, get in the habit of asking for what you want. If you’d like a more flexible schedule, ask for it. If you aren’t clear what’s expected of you, ask for more clarity. If you’d like more opportunities to demonstrate your talents, ask for it. If you want a raise, by all means, ask for it. Want that promotion, ask for it. Worse case, you’ll learn what you need to do to make yourself more qualified to get the job in the future.

As a manager, help your employees know exactly what is expected of them. Your people want to be successful, and they want you to think well of them. So tell them what you want and what they need to do to succeed. Trust me; they really do want to know. Frankly, you want the same thing from your boss. When you create that kind of clarity, you will be shocked by the impact it creates on their performance and satisfaction.

When employees and managers are willing to ask for what they want, a lot of the mystery and uncertainty disappears from the work relationship. This doesn’t mean that everyone will always get what they want, but at least we will know what everyone expects. And when those needs aren’t met, we’ll be far more likely to know why.

Ask for what you want.

What do you have to lose?

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banning employee feedback
Should Employee Feedback Be Banned?
Should Employee Feedback Be Banned? 1080 721 Jason Lauritsen

For most of my adult life, I have bought into the conventional wisdom that feedback is critical to performance and growth.

As individuals, we are taught to embrace feedback and treat it as a learning experience. As managers, we are told that giving feedback is part of our job. 

Those of us who work on the design of work have been trying to figure out how to make feedback more frequent and effective within the organization.  

I’ve talked more about feedback in the past year than nearly any other topic. And one of my most popular posts of the year had to do with, you guessed it, feedback. 

But what if everything we’ve come to believe about the necessity of feedback is a lie?

To be clear, I’m talking about the kind of feedback we all dread. It’s the critique and criticism offered by others about our past performance—the many ways we could have, should have, or might have done something differently in a way that other people think would have produced a better result. 

I recognize that feedback can be positive, but we typically use a different name for that. We call it recognition, appreciation, or acknowledgment. I’m not including that in my use of the term here.

I’ve been wondering—is feedback really necessary?

What would happen if we outlawed feedback in our organizations?  

If conventional wisdom is correct, everything will come crashing to the ground. I don’t buy it. 

In fact, I suspect that if the threat of feedback was removed, we might all be happier, less stressed, and more creative. I think our performance would probably improve. What if the very thing that we’ve come to believe is a prerequisite to performance is actually hurting it. 

I know, I know. This probably sounds a little crazy. But hang with me for a minute. Let’s imagine together what an organization without feedback might look like. 

The Zero Feedback Environment

To reiterate, we are outlawing the communication of criticism or critique on another’s past performance in any way. That’s what we are calling “feedback.” This does not mean we can’t communicate about performance; it just means we have to do it differently.  

What would be the major implications of creating an organization like this? Here are a few I can of.

  1. We’d have a lot more conversations about goals and expectations.

In my experience, a lot of feedback is provided when someone (i.e., a direct report) fails to live up to another person’s (i.e., a manager) uncommunicated expectations. This is what makes performance feedback often suck so much. It feels pretty unfair to be given feedback about something you weren’t even aware was an expectation.  

When feedback is outlawed, the manager would need to spend more time getting clear about expectations and goals. This clarity should allow the individual to more clearly understand when they are or are not meeting expectations without needing criticism from managers. If it doesn’t, then the expectations are probably not as clear as they should be.  

  1. We’d have to trust people more. 

So much of what we’ve been sold about feedback is that it’s necessary to motivate performance improvement. The thinking goes that until you are told what you did wrong, you won’t be motivated to get better. In a zero feedback environment, we’d had to trust that people are motivated to meet and exceed their expectations without criticism. We’d have to assume that people are doing their best, and when they fall short of expectations, they probably just need a little support. They don’t need criticism; they need help.   

  1. We would need a new mindset. 

In a feedback culture, our default is to look at our environment and the people in it through a critical lens. What could or should they be doing differently? This leads to a lot of judgment based on our own beliefs and perspectives.

When we remove feedback, looking for what’s wrong isn’t useful. That becomes replaced by looking for what’s possible. Instead of seeing people for what they didn’t do, we’d need to see them for what they are capable of. 

  1. Suggestions would replace criticism. 

When we can’t criticize past performance, but we still want to help improve performance, what can we do? We could start by offering suggestions and ideas that might help. That’s what the best sports coaches do. They don’t waste time criticizing what you just did wrong; instead, they offer up some tips for how to get a better result on the next try. Some have come to call this approach feedforward

My guess is that in a zero feedback environment, people would become more open to receiving and even asking for suggestions. When you don’t have to worry about being criticized or made to feel like you failed, your mind becomes far more open to hearing ideas from others for how you might become better. 

Where’s the Downside?

The more I’ve thought about this, the more convinced I become that feedback may not be necessary. Using feedback is a choice we make that might be having a lot of unintended negative consequences. 

What if we could eliminate all the angst and defensiveness that feedback creates? What if a zero feedback culture could amplify performance and make the work environment feel more energizing and positive?

It seems like it might be worth a try. 

 

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employee engagement and gallup poll
We Need to Stop Saying That 66% of Employees Are Not Engaged
We Need to Stop Saying That 66% of Employees Are Not Engaged 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

When we talk about employee engagement, one of the most commonly cited statistics comes from Gallup. I’m sure you’ve seen it: Only 1/3 of employees in the U.S. are engaged according to Gallup’s Q12 measure. That number is a more shocking 17% globally.

That also means that somewhere between 66% and 83% of employees are either “not engaged”—or worse, “actively disengaged” based on Gallup’s methodology.

It sounds pretty dire.

But I don’t care what Gallup says.

This is cited so much to create panic. The house is on fire, and we’re standing around watching it burn. We need to DO SOMETHING!

I’ve been guilty of using the same stat for exactly that reason. To get people’s attention. To jar them awake.

But there are some real problems with using Gallup’s data this way when making the case for change.

We Are Looking at the Employee Engagement Data Incorrectly

It is reasonable to debate whether Gallup’s measure of engagement is the right one. Yes, the Q12 is one of the most well-known and certainly one of the oldest measures of employee engagement. But that doesn’t make it the right one. We can (and should) argue over whether only a third of employees are engaged. The Q12 is one among many ways to measure engagement. And, there is contrary data available from other sources.

But even if you question whether the Q12 is the best way to measure employee engagement, the important thing about their data is that Gallup has been measuring engagement the same way for over 20 years. The consistency of the measure is the more important factor when looking at it.

Instead of fixating on employee engagement levels, the more significant finding in Gallup’s data is that the results have only nominally changed over the past 20 years. This strongly suggests that despite all of our efforts, the employee’s experience at work hasn’t dramatically improved in the past couple of decades.

That is what should concern you. And it should wake us up to the reality that what we’ve been doing around employee engagement isn’t cutting it. We need to fundamentally rethink how we design work and the daily experience of work to better enable employee performance and happiness. What we’ve been doing and the changes we’ve made so far aren’t adequate.

The Language of Gallup’s Model Is a Problem

The second big issue with the Gallup data is that the language of their model is misleading and problematic.

In Gallup’s model, an employee can only fall into one of three categories: engaged, not engaged, and actively disengaged. I don’t know about you, but my own experience with work has always made it hard for me to swallow that there’s only a small line that separates engaged from disengaged.

Engagement is a product of human emotion. It’s driven by how we feel about work. We don’t experience emotions as a polarity. That would suggest that we have emotional switches like those we use to control our lights. You are either happy or not, angry or not, in love or not.

You don’t need a PhD in psychology to know how ridiculous that is. Emotions happen on a spectrum. You can be wildly happy, sort of happy, or a little happy. You can be a little angry, very angry, or in a blind rage. You get the picture.

We need to stop talking about engagement like an on/off switch.

And yet that’s what Gallup’s data seems to suggest: a minority of our employees are switched on and a bunch more are switched off. That’s just not how it works.

When we talk to our leaders about our engaged versus our disengaged employees, it paints a picture that isn’t helpful. Engagement exists on a spectrum, just like every other factor driven by human emotion. The goal isn’t to move you across an arbitrary line so we can give you a new label (“Congratulations, your engagement survey score improved by 0.2%, which means you are now engaged!”). Our goal should be to help everyone have an experience of work that increases their positive emotions about work to improve engagement.

Labeling people in the workplace is almost always a bad idea. We need to be far more careful about the labels and language we use when talking about employee engagement.

The Bottom Line on Employee Engagement

Let’s stop saying that two-thirds of employees are disengaged. Yes, we need to do better at engaging employees, but the story is far more complicated and nuanced than that. Both our understanding and our language needs to reflect that complexity if we are to move the needle.

Stop labeling people as “engaged” and “disengaged” or “not engaged.” Better yet, stop labeling people. Labels aren’t helping. Focus instead on understanding each employee’s experience and making it better.

Pay more attention to the trend lines. Gallup’s trendline is important because it shows us making little progress and that change is clearly needed. If you measure engagement internally at your organization, the same is true for you. Don’t worry about the labels, focus instead on whether your trendline is moving in a positive direction.

Be thoughtful about how you use data and statistics. The shock factor might seem valuable in the moment but think about the ripple effects that message may leave behind.

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