leadership

Keeping Employees Connected (Without the Terrible Virtual Happy Hours)
Keeping Employees Connected (Without the Terrible Virtual Happy Hours) 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Whether it’s because your workforce is newly remote or because you can’t hold in-person meetings right now, you are probably worrying about how to keep your employees connected. This has been a common refrain in the conversations I’ve been having lately.

I’m excited that this is a top concern for organizations and leaders. It’s overdue. Even before the pandemic, it was debatable whether our employees were that connected. A move toward greater connection is a positive one that will yield benefits far into the future for both employees and employers.

Yours is probably like most organizations and has turned to technology to find solutions. Zoom meetings, virtual team huddles and happy hours, and video leadership briefings have all become routine. The good news from my seat is that it appears that employees, managers, and leaders are meeting more than ever.

But there’s some question about whether or not all of this meeting is translating into a true feeling of connection. In fact, the term “Zoom fatigue” has become pretty common. And it’s a real thing.

If you want to foster and accelerate a feeling of connection for employees, you can boil the secret down to this: meaningful activity.

When it comes to connection for employees, meaningful activity is crucial.

Let me back up for a minute to explain. In 2012, I published my first book, Social Gravity: Harnessing the Natural Laws of Relationships, which I co-wrote with my friend and collaborator, Joe Gerstandt. We wrote the book to equip people with the insights and tools they needed to build networks of authentic relationships as a pathway to achieving success.

Our journey to write the book began because people started asking us how we’d each cultivated such a big network of relationships. At first, we weren’t sure of the answer, but we were curious enough to try to find it. This led to years of work deconstructing our own experiences and comparing that against what research suggested about how relationships form.

In our research, one of the most powerful insights came from the book Achieving Success through Social Capital by Wayne Baker. Despite the sexy title, this is a powerful book. The big idea that stuck with us from this book involved meaningful activity.

First, I need to explain social capital in case you aren’t familiar with the term. Social capital is the value that we have access to through our relationships with others. This value can be both tangible and intangible. Being friends with the neighbor who owns every tool on the planet and will loan them to you because of your relationship is a tangible example. Another example right now might be knowing someone who has access to surplus hand sanitizer.

Intangible examples involve things like trust or support. Being able to reach out and ask someone for a favor or help, and knowing that they are likely to say yes, is a form of social capital. Having someone in your life who will always take your call and listen when you need a sympathetic ear is also an example.

Social capital only exists in relationships where people have created some real connection to one another. They have some level of familiarity, trust, and often shared experience. The more robust the connection, the richer the relationship likely is in social capital. But without that connection, social capital doesn’t exist.

For example, you might have a thousand friends on Facebook or followers on Instagram, but would any of them show up to help you through a crisis or to help you move? Maybe. But unless you’ve invested in building some real connection in that relationship, probably not. Social capital is what differentiates the kind of relationships that help you survive and thrive in times like these.

Here’s the catch that Wayne Baker highlights in his book: Social capital is an outcome. It’s not something you can grab or create directly. It’s like happiness in this way. Happiness is something we value and desire, but we can’t buy or create happiness directly. It’s a by-product of doing things that make us happy.

Social capital, according to Baker, is the by-product of participating in meaningful activity with others.

Social capital is the by-product of participating in meaningful activity with others.

This insight rang true for us at the time, and I’ve seen it work over and over for the past decade since. When we come together with others to do something we mutually care about, relationships naturally form.

If you’ve ever volunteered or served on a board or committee, you have experienced this. As you do the work, you come to know the other people through their work and commitment. You spend time with them and create a shared bond, often before you even know much else about one another. These shared experiences and mutual interests bond you together and create a strong connection.

The same thing can happen with a variety of types of meaningful activity from working together on a project at work to coaching your kids’ sports teams. Shared participation in meaningful activity is one of the most powerful ways we have to cultivate connection that will not only help get us through the pandemic but will last far into the future.

How Can We Use Meaningful Activity to Help in Keeping Employees Connected?

As we think about how to keep our employees connected in this more distributed working world, the magic ingredient is to add meaningful activity to social interactions whenever and wherever you can. Instead of just trying to create more opportunities for people to gather virtually, create ways for them to gather with purpose.

The more that purpose is connected to an outcome or to making meaningful progress toward a shared goal, the better.

To get your wheels turning, below are a few examples to consider.

Life-Hacking Groups

Many people are struggling with how to work most effectively from home. Some are wrestling with their health while others are struggling with focus. Some are having relationship challenges while others are trying to balance parenting with working. Each of these people is likely struggling to figure things out on their own, searching for helpful resources, and experimenting to see what works.

You could create some groups around these issues where employees could meet to discuss their common challenges and what they are finding most helpful. Perhaps you ask or challenge them to capture the best three to five ideas from each discussion to be written up and shared on the company intranet with all employees.

Creating groups around specific issues employees are experiencing can help them figure out what works.

Problem-Solving Teams

If yours is an organization where work has been disrupted in a way that leaves people with some slack time in their schedule, consider applying that time toward tackling organizational challenges. Look at the issues that are known problems but which never get addressed because of a lack of time and resources. If you aren’t sure what they are, send out a short survey to employees or just start asking questions. Soon you’ll have a bigger list than you can tackle.

Prioritize the problems and ask employees to volunteer to be part of a temporary team to discuss, research, and propose solutions to these problems. Employees of all levels can both find and add great value in a process like this. This approach likely requires some facilitation to ensure that the group is focused and that everyone has the chance to participate. You need to be committed to taking some action as a result of the recommendations. If there’s limited budget or resources, ensure they know that upfront so they can use that in their process.

Shark Tank-Style Innovation Challenges

Much like the previous suggestion, if there’s slack time to be used, put it to use finding and pitching new products or services. Employees closest to the customer often have a clearer sense of their needs than anyone and are passionate about solving for them. Give these employees the freedom to explore and propose solutions. By having them pitch the solutions at the end creates a competitive energy that will bond the teams together.

Peer Coaching/Mentoring

The idea of peer coaching and mentoring might be a new one to you; it’s an idea that is relatively new to me. But it seems like an idea that is ideal for this time where people crave both connection and support. In short, the idea is that two coworkers are paired together and asked to complete a series of conversations together. Each person asks the other a series of questions, documents what they hear, and feeds that back to them with some thoughts or suggestions. Then, they switch roles and do the same thing over again.

I came to learn about this approach through my colleague, Aaron Hurst, who’s company Imperative provides a platform to facilitate peer coaching. With or without his tool to help, the process is one that is rich in meaningful activity. The peer coaching process fuels the need for connection, learning, and problem-solving. You could use a simple version of this to facilitate weekly one on one chats for those on your team. All people need is the questions, some basic instructions, and the time to do it.

You can read more about peer coaching here.

Sharing Meaningful Activity Is the Key to Building Connection

My focus right now is to find and highlight the opportunities within the chaos that has been created over the past few months. One of those is that our collective desire for connection has never been more pressing or urgent. If we meet that need with the right kind of opportunities, those fueled by meaningful activity, the connection created in your team and organization will build a foundation that will impact your organization positively for years to come.

 

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Our Crisis of Trust at Work
Our Crisis of Trust at Work 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

As I’ve talked to leaders and managers over the past weeks, the two biggest issues on their minds have been supporting remote work and the “return to the office” plan. The general feeling I get from most I talk to is that they believe remote working is temporary, and they are expecting (or at least their leadership team is) to simply roll out some kind of plan that brings everyone back to the office relatively soon. A nice tidy return to normal.

Not.

Going.

To.

Happen.

The past two months have changed things more than you think. It’s laid bare some major issues that were already present in most workplaces, simmering just below the surface.

A storm is brewing. And I think it could be a pretty big one.

When offices started shutting down, it caused all kinds of chaos–particularly for managers and leaders who were firmly in the camp of “remote work could never work for us.” There was great concern about how to supervise these newly remote employees in order to make sure they were doing work.

Sure, there was also some concern for the employee’s wellbeing, but the broader concern was about productivity. People made jokes about employees watching Netflix, doing laundry, or parenting their children instead of working. Some organizations started making people log their hours. Others started hunting for ways to monitor if, when, and how much employees were working at home. They rationalized this as management and supervision necessity.

Thing is, none of this is about productivity. It’s actually about trust.

Trust at Work–Or the Lack Thereof

If your management team has spent much time worrying about if your employees are putting in enough hours or if they are actually working at home, you don’t trust your employees. If you did, you’d realize that they care about their jobs, and despite a bunch of new challenges, they are finding a way to get their work done. It won’t look like it has in the past, but they are getting it done.

Based on what I’ve been hearing from employers, that’s exactly what’s happening. Regardless of how well you are or are not supporting your remote employees, they are getting work done, often while caring for and educating their children and dealing with other big challenges.

The truth is that your ability to make remote work successful has less to do with technology or policy or process than it does how much you have trust in your people. Managers who assume the worst of employees and who have grown up in the “butts in seats” model of management are struggling mightily right now. Their employees always knew they weren’t really trusted but it’s now more painfully obvious than ever.

Managers who assume the worst of employees and who have grown up in the “butts in seats” model of management are struggling mightily right now.

Trust is always important to a successful working relationship, but it is vital when the relationship is “long distance.” If your organization had behaved in a way to earn employees’ trust before you sent them home, you are likely doing just fine with remote work. If you are struggling, that’s not good news when it comes to trust.

And the news gets worse. They probably don’t trust you either.

Up until two months ago, a lot of organizations had been telling employees that working from home, even for a day or two a week, was simply not possible. There were a lot of excuses made: security, technology, etc. It didn’t matter how much working remotely would improve the work-life for the employee.  The answer was always the same.

No.

Then along came a pandemic and within days, what was once impossible became possible. Remote work was enabled out of necessity and the charade was over.

Employees now know that working from home is not only possible but that they can make it work even when they are confined to their home or apartment with partners and children, even when charged with schooling their children at the same time. On top of that, they have learned that they may even enjoy working from home and find they actually be more productive over sitting in a cubicle.

Working in the office wasn’t exactly a paradise for everyone.  Remember, Gallup tells us we were only fully engaging about a third of our staff before this all happened. Being out of the office for a few months may have been a welcome respite for some.

You can’t blame the employee for being skeptical. If remote working is so easily possible despite being told the contrary for so long, what else isn’t true?

When their leaders send out the message suggesting it’s time to “come back to work” in the office, there will be skepticism and uncertainty. When the organization assures them that it’s safe and that they are taking every precaution, it would be hard to blame the employee if they don’t believe the message and push back.

From their perspective, leadership may feel less trustworthy than ever and they know that working remotely works. Why would they be asked to put their lives and safety at risk for no apparent reason other than “getting back to normal”?

A standoff is in the making. It’s a standoff born from our crisis of trust. 

Management doesn’t trust employees to work from home. And employees don’t trust management enough to come back to the office. Sure, employees can be forced to come back, but at what cost?

I am aware that this scenario is cynical and doesn’t represent every case. There are companies out there who have done a great job building and maintaining trust throughout this pandemic. For example, Twitter just made a big move to allow employees to make the decision about coming back to the office (maybe never). This is what trust at scale looks like.

But there are many more examples of the contrary. The violation of trust around the viability of remote working feels pretty minor compared to things like Uber using a 3 minute Zoom call to tell 3,500 people they no longer have jobs. Jobs are being slashed to save profit margins, inequity is being amplified, and people are watching. If trust wasn’t already lacking in these organizations, it is gone now.

This didn’t happen overnight. Trust has been on the decline around the world for several years. A scan of the Edelman Trust Barometer research reinforces that this isn’t a new issue.

Trust has been on the decline around the world for several years.

And the really inconvenient truth is that trust takes time (months or years) to build and seconds to break.

What Does All of This Mean About Trust at Work?

There are so many things happening so fast, that it’s been hard to know where to focus. My goal in writing this post is to help you focus on what really matters. If you aren’t talking with managers and leaders about trust and building trust with employees right now, move it to the top of your list.

Essential employees on the front lines need to trust that everything is being done to prioritize their safety and the safety of customers. They need to trust that you care about them more than a couple of extra dollars.

Work-from-home employees need to know that you trust them to figure out how to get work done. And that you wouldn’t ask them to put their lives or wellbeing at risk unnecessarily. Remote working isn’t going anywhere. It appears that we may be dealing with this virus into 2022. Even if it is resolved sooner than that, remote work isn’t going anywhere now that the people know what’s possible. A recent IBM study of 25,000 people revealed that 54 percent of those surveyed want remote work to remain their primary way of working. And 70 percent want it to at least be an option for them in the future.

It’s never too late to start building trust. Now is the right time.

While I’m not going to try to give you a comprehensive class on trust-building here, I’ll point you to one of the best resources available: The Speed of Trust by Stephen M. R. Covey. This book provides some of the most actionable insights into trust building that I’ve found including a list of behaviors that build trust.  Below are a few to help you get started.

  1. Clarify expectations. Uncertainty is everywhere right now. One way to remove some of that uncertainty and foster trust is to work with employees to outline and document crystal clear expectations for their job performance. Make sure your employees can clearly articulate not only what work product is expected of them, but also “how” you expect them to work in the home environment. If you have expectations for responsiveness or availability, those need to be very clearly communicated. Even if the employee disagrees with the expectation, making it explicit and clear will help preserve trust in the relationship.
  2. Listen first. Don’t assume you know what an employee is dealing with. Coach managers to do frequent check-ins where they spend much of that time asking questions and listening actively to what the employee says. A quick way to lose trust is to jump to conclusions about what an employee feels or what they need. To build trust, ask meaningful questions and really listen to what you hear. Then use that valuable insight to provide the support they need.
  3. Extend trust. This is one of the most powerful, albeit counter-intuitive, means of building trust. When you demonstrate that you trust someone, it makes them more likely to trust you in return. This reciprocal nature of trust has been proven through research and it works. My rule of thumb as a leader has always been to trust people more than they expect. In a vast majority of cases, the person responds by being even more trustworthy than I expected.

In my opinion, the organizations that are most effective at building and maintaining trust will be those that emerge from the pandemic and economic downturn in the best shape, positioned to thrive in the future.

 

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How to Shape the Future of Work NOW
How to Shape the Future of Work NOW 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

I’ve been struggling the past couple of weeks to write.

Every time I sit down in front of my keyboard, I feel conflicted. The range of issues facing people leaders and organizations varies so widely.

On one end of the spectrum are those employers whose primary challenge is supporting the employees who moved from an office environment to working from home. Their biggest issues revolve around supporting work from home, engaging remote employees, and maintaining culture in a virtual working environment.

At the other end of the spectrum are those organizations that employ those deemed “essential workers” in today’s world. Things are very different for those in this group. Issues of safety and wellbeing are paramount. While they may have a few people working from home, they have far more who are putting their health and lives on the line each day to show up to work. The problems of the first group of employers I mentioned sound like luxuries to them.

The day-to-day realities of these two groups are very different. What’s helpful to one group, sounds almost trivial to another.

So, I’ve been a bit more stuck than usual.

Then I realized there was one conversation I’ve been having over and over with people who work at organizations that exist in all areas of the spectrum. It’s a conversation about our opportunity to change the very nature of work through this moment in time.

I’ve heard people say things like “the rules are out the window” and “everything is being hacked.” These same people talk about how things under discussion for years, which would have taken months, if not years, to get done in the BC (before COVID-19) world, are now getting done in days or weeks.

Things that executives had always resisted and thought not possible are currently happening.

The common thread in all of these conversations is that a window for innovation has opened wide. How we work, when we work, what we do to support and care for those who do the work, and many other issues related to work have been completely disrupted. Those who lead and manage people are being confronted with challenges they’ve never encountered before.

New problems demand new solutions.

And while the future remains volatile and uncertain, one thing is sure: Normal as we knew it for work is gone. We can never go back to the way things were before. And why would we want to? For decades, employees have suffered through a status quo experience of work that was most commonly disengaging and unsatisfying. Why would we want to go back to that?

What lies before us, regardless of the challenges currently at hand, is an opportunity to completely rethink and reshape work in a way that serves everyone better: employee, manager, customer…everyone.

Normal as we knew it for work is gone.

But we need to move swiftly and with clear focus on what matters the most. From my seat, that means breaking and replacing inhumane processes with those designed for humans. We must take advantage of the open minds and lowered guards from those in power to usher in a new era of work that truly works for humans.

Here are a few thoughts and recommendations for where we can make the biggest impact.

The Role of the Manager

From its inception over a century ago, the role of management has been oriented toward control. Employers tasked managers with ensuring that the company was getting its money’s worth out of the dollars they paid to employees. Unfortunately, even as the nature of work has shifted dramatically over decades, the role of manager hasn’t moved with it. Historically, this has been a sticky problem. But things are different right now.

Never before have managers been forced to think about and care for employee wellbeing more than they do right now. If you manage essential employees, you have to be dialed into how safe or scared they feel at work. You have to pay close attention to how the stress is affecting them because it obviously impacts their performance. 

If you manage a newly remote team, avoiding conversations with your employees about how they are balancing their family obligations and other distractions could have significant consequences to both their work performance and commitment.

In this moment, managers must have a heightened awareness of the humans who are doing the work. Partly that’s because we are all experiencing our own human challenges. This is creating greater empathy. In addition, the consequences of not attending to these issues are highly visible. The role of the manager in today’s working world is to cultivate human performance. I write at length about this in my book, but the short version is that people have a natural inclination toward performance and growth. When we have what we need, and our paths are free of obstacles, we will find a way to succeed. 

Managers must have a heightened awareness of the humans who are doing the work.

A manager’s responsibility to her team is similar to the gardener’s responsibility to her garden: to ensure that those miraculous living things have what they need to thrive and promptly remove any obstacles that might get in their way.

The opportunity in this moment is to orient management practices around checking in with the human first. One powerful example is to redefine and structure manager checkins with employees. I wrote a post about how to do this a couple of weeks ago that you can reference for more detail. It’s also a great time to focus on the education of our managers and leaders about issues of wellbeing so that they can better provide support to employees as they need it.

Managing Performance

It’s no secret that performance management is broken. And it’s never been more clear that managing performance through a once per year appraisal is ridiculous at best. Given all the concern about maintaining performance while employees are either under duress, working remotely, or both, now is the time to introduce and bolster processes that are foundational to effectively managing performance. Start with the fundamentals.

Clearly Articulate and Regularly Calibrate Expectations 

Given how quickly things are evolving and changing right now, managers should be in an ongoing conversation with employees about expectations. Each employee needs to be crystal clear about not only where they should be focusing their effort right, but also what expectations exist about how they get their work done. The key to all of this is what I call the golden rule of performance planning: “If it matters, write it down.” These written expectations can then be validated and renewed on a weekly or monthly basis to ensure alignment and clarity.

Have Regular, Ongoing One-on-One Conversations

Managers holding one-on-one meetings with employees has always been important, but right now, it’s vital. When you don’t have the benefit of in-person drop-ins or hallway conversations, having a regularly scheduled forum to check in about performance is extremely important. Using a regular agenda of questions to guide the conversation is a powerful tool to ensure that this time is used in the most valuable way. Some examples:

  • What have you been most focused on since the last time we met?
  • What kinds of obstacles or challenges are you running into?
  • What can I do to best support you right now?
  • What are you planning to focus on over the next week/month?

Coach, Don’t Criticize

In every interaction with an employee, managers should be providing some appreciation. Everyone is adapting right now and doing their best. Finding ways to provide some acknowledgment of the effort into making this new reality work will go a long way. At the same time, be careful not to use feedback in a way that kills morale. Instead of criticizing an employee for something that may not have gone well or for a mistake that was made, try to think more like a coach. Talk with the employee to understand what happened and why they made the choices they did. Then, provide some recommendations and guidance on how to get a different outcome the next time they face that same situation. Orient coaching toward improving future performance rather than dissecting past mistakes.

If we can build these processes, approaches, and skills into how we manage performance through this moment in time, there’s a good chance these practices will become habit. They will inherently become part of how we manage going forward into whatever the “new normal” looks like in the future.

Unnecessary Policy and Practice

Given how suddenly the shift from in-person to a distributed, work-from-home work environment happened, many traditional rules and policies were relaxed or even overlooked to make it happen. The focus, by necessity, had to be on how to get the work done and how best to support employees through this transition. If you pay attention, you’ll notice that some things that used to get more attention and energy are now missing.

For example, how has expectations of dress code or working hours changed? How has the view on managing work time changed in the past two months?

Most organizations are rife with policies and practices that have no real value or purpose.

There are probably a host of ways that work is happening differently now than it was before this pandemic. The critical question to ask is “why?” Many of the policies that have gotten bent or broken in this transition may not have been needed in the first place. Most organizations are rife with policies and practices that have no real value or purpose. They were probably written into existence as a response to one bad experience (i.e., one employee showed up to work dress inappropriately, so we wrote a policy instead of dealing with the one person).

Use this time to seek out and identify the wasteful and unnecessary practices and policies that have been revealed. Pay attention not just to policy but also busywork (i.e., weekly reports that no one was actually looking at) and unwritten rules (i.e., leave your personality at home when you come to work). Now is the time to actively identify and destroy these things so as we create the new normal, it is free of this unnecessary and harmful baggage from the past.

Seize this Moment to Shape the Future of Work

While I wish the price wasn’t so tragically high, a powerful opportunity to change work for the better is at hand. For those of us who believe that work can and should be a fulfilling and nourishing experience for everyone who does it, this is a moment where we must take action. If you are a leader of people, then use this time to show what is possible. If you support those leaders, equip them with new tools to help them develop new habits and mindsets during this time.

What we do at this moment will shape work for the next decade. Let’s make it count.

 

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

EmployeeEngagement For You

It feels like the world has been turned upside down in the last few months.

As we try to adjust to our new realities, riding the daily emotional rollercoaster that is life right now, it can be hard to stay grounded.

In the midst of all of this, there are two things I try to stay focused on.

First is self-care. Now more than ever, we need to take care of ourselves. Get some sleep. Exercise. Journal, meditate, talk to people you love—whatever makes you feel less out of control. It’s hard to care for others if we are a hot mess ourselves.

Second, move toward something positive. Throughout my entire life, one thing that has always proven true is that the best way to free myself from fear or a feeling of being trapped was to take action. Even a tiny step forward can feel like liberation.

If your circumstances are feeling daunting or overwhelming, if you feel stuck in fear, find some small thing you can do that moves you towards something better.

Action is a cure to fear. Keep moving.

Jason

P.S. If your organization is taking good care of people, you should nominate your work for an Employee Engagement Award before May 22. It’s a simple process and great recognition. Click here to learn more.

Stuff You Should Read

We are all feeling unsettled and unsure right now. Our sense of safety and normalcy has been lost. Lives and jobs have been lost. And we fear losing so much more. With loss, comes grief. Read: That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief

As the new reality of remote working evolves, we need to keep our eye on mental health. Even before these unprecedented times, “Freelancers were 86 percent more likely than office workers to self-report depression.” Read: The Coming Mental Health Crisis as Remote Working Surges

Crisis can reveal the best in us. And it has in many communities around the globe as neighbors reach out to support each other. Will we carry this renewed sense of community forward with us at home and work? Read: Coronavirus Reminds Us What Functioning Communities Look Like

stuff you should hear

If you aren’t familiar with Esther Perel, that should work is a relationshipchange today. She is a renowned relationship expert who has been turning her attention to the workplace. She recently appeared on Adam Grant’s podcast “WorkLife” to discuss relationships and work. Listen now.

stuff you should watch

We’ve seen some really great and really poor examples of leadership recently in business, politics, and elsewhere. This powerful TED video from Simon Sinek helps explain the difference between good and bad leadership. It feels particularly relevant right now.

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What Your Employees Need From You Right Now
What Your Employees Need From You Right Now 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We have a complicated relationship with fear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Advice to Leaders Right Now

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

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

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

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

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

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

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

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

Go now. Your people need you.

 

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time, enjoy the content.

Jason

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

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

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

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

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

Relationship Skills Are the Key to Employee Engagement
Relationship Skills Are the Key to Employee Engagement 150 150 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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How to Improve Employee Engagement: The One Word to Remember
How to Improve Employee Engagement: The One Word to Remember 150 150 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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Are You an Employee Engagement Dinosaur?
Are You an Employee Engagement Dinosaur? 150 150 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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Asking for What You Want to Get More Employee Engagement
Asking for What You Want to Get More Employee Engagement 150 150 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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