management

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

I didn’t get it.

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

It didn’t feel like something relevant to me.

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

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

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

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

It’s not good.

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

What is Self-Care?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I know I did.

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

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

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

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

Why Self-Care is Vital for Managers

Managing effectively is hard work. Now more than ever.

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

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

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

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

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

How to Practice Self-Care

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

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

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

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

This model of well-being includes six elements:

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

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

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

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

What Self-Care Looks Like for Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Need Self-Care

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

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

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

Related Reading:

 

Upcoming Course Information

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

[Video] What if your team (and you) don’t want to come back to the office but you have no choice?
[Video] What if your team (and you) don’t want to come back to the office but you have no choice? 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

What do you do if your organization has decided that everyone is coming back to the office and your people don’t want to come?

And what if you feel the same way?

One of the most challenging times to manage is when you get stuck between a company decision (that you may not agree with) and your people.

It’s not an easy thing to navigate, but there is a path through it.


Upcoming Course Announcement

I’m excited to share that registration for my Managing in the Future of Work online course is now open. The next class begins on September 13.

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

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

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

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

Nobody wants to be that boss. 

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

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

You will make mistakes. 

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

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

You Will Make Mistakes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No judgment. 

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

Begin Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Related Reading:

Managing Through Love

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

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

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

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

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

Distributed = greater management complexity.

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

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

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

 

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

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

Organizations have adapted in some pretty compelling ways. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Management

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

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

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

Management Needs an Upgrade 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Problem with Performance Management

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

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

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

This model of management is outdated and dangerous. 

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

If management would just get out of the way. 

Employees Are Not Machines

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Production to Cultivation

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

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

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

It was boring, mundane work. 

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

For farmers, this work is called cultivation. 

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

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

The plant does the rest. 

Approaching Management as Cultivation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The new operating system of management must be cultivation.  

The Cultivation Mindset

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

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

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

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

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

Let me frame this up in another way.

The Assumptions of a Cultivation Mindset:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Related Reading:

The #1 Management Imperative for 2021

3 Simple Tips for Managing Remote Employees

Why Performance Management Still Sucks

3 Questions to Increase Your Impact as a Manager

The #1 Management Imperative for 2021
The #1 Management Imperative for 2021 1080 540 Jason Lauritsen




Well, we made it. We’ve turned the page from 2020. After last year, surviving the year feels like a milestone to celebrate. We certainly toasted the end of the year at our house.

Now a new year begins with at least the promise that the end of this pandemic-fueled era of disruption is on the horizon. There might be a light at the end of this long, dark tunnel.

However…

Many of the problems that plagued us in 2020 did not vanish at the stroke of midnight on December 31. COVID is still ravaging the planet, and our lives are far from any vague memory of what “normal” used to mean.

The experts tell us we are closer to the end than the beginning, but the toughest stretch is likely still ahead of us. Not only will it be months before vaccines are distributed broadly enough to have any dramatic impact, but there’s also this issue of a trailing mental health catastrophe that’s likely to unfold like a slow-motion train wreck.

Depressing, I know. But as leaders and managers of people, we need to step into this year with our eyes wide open to what’s happening around us.

Many of us are now entering the long dark winter that will confine us to our homes as the snow, wind, and frigid temperatures amplify our isolation from others. No socially-distanced driveway gatherings for a while now. The post-holiday months are going to be hard on us all.

That’s why it’s imperative that for 2021 (starting right now), we focus on cultivating and expanding our capacity for compassion.

Resilience and Compassion

As I wrote about in my 2020 reflections post, compassion was a key ingredient for me to beat my burnout last year. Learning about compassion and how it differs from empathy opened my eyes to how important and valuable it is for the road ahead, particularly as managers of others.

There’s been a lot of focus lately on resilience—specifically on helping our employees be more resilient in facing challenges and crises. While I think there is an enormous benefit to learning the skills of resilience long term, I don’t think it’s enough.

Resilience is simply defined as “the ability of a person to adjust to or recover readily from illness, adversity, major life changes, etc.” In more crude terms, it’s the ability to take a punch in life and stay in the fight.

This is an essential quality to possess as a human being. The more resilient you are, the more capable you’ve proven yourself to navigate and survive the challenges of 2020.

We could probably all benefit from developing more resilience. That said, I have concerns with organization’s current obsession with employee resilience.

First, it reflects the organizational bias to “fix employees.” We have a legacy in management to assume that when things don’t go well with an employee, it’s the employee’s fault. They don’t have the work ethic, discipline, or self-motivation. If we can fix what’s missing or broken in the employee, the problem will be solved.

The conversation about developing resilience feels similar. If we teach employees how to take a punch more effectively, we don’t have to worry about how often or how hard they’re getting punched.

I know—that’s a pretty cynical take on it. But, I don’t think it’s too far off for many organizations. And that’s not the only challenge.

It’s also really challenging to learn how to take a punch when you are under a constant barrage of punches. Building resilience isn’t easy or straightforward. It requires time and space for learning, reflection, and practice—things hard to come by when you are overworked, burnt out, or just stressed to the max as many of our employees are right now.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t teach our employees the skills and mindsets they need to become more resilient. This is absolutely a good thing to do that can have significant long-term benefits. But, it’s not nearly enough or fast enough. Particularly for those who are struggling the most.

Compassion is The Key

What people need more than resilience when they are facing difficulty is help. When someone is getting repeatedly punched in the face, encouraging them to keep fighting isn’t nearly as useful as making the punches stop or helping them get out of the way.

As managers and leaders (or even peers), the best way to support our people during turmoil and chaos is by cultivating compassion.

According to Hooria Jazaieri, Ph.D., compassion is a mental state or orientation toward suffering that includes four components:

  1. Bringing attention or awareness to recognizing that there is suffering
  2. Feeling emotionally moved by that suffering
  3. Wishing there to be relief from that suffering
  4. A readiness to take action to relieve that suffering

In other words, compassion is recognizing when someone else is struggling, caring that it is happening, wanting it to stop, and doing something about it. As managers, particularly right now, this is what we are called to do for our people.

“Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”
-Theodore Roosevelt

How to Be More Compassionate

As described by Dr. Jazaieri, compassion is a muscle that can be developed and strengthened with practice but which can also atrophy with lack of use. This has definitely been true for me.

I’m no expert on compassion; it’s a journey I’m on personally and professionally. But through my journey, there are insights I’ve gained that may be beneficial to you. In addition, there are a plethora of resources and training available to find and tap into if you go looking for them.

1. See beyond the behavior

For me, one of the things that I’ve learned is to practice a mindset of curiosity about others—particularly when their behavior doesn’t make sense to me. I’ve learned to remind myself that everyone is dealing with a great deal of uncertainty in their lives right now, regardless of who they are.

Uncertainty can be scary, and fear causes people to behave in various ways, some of which aren’t helpful. My challenge is to see beyond the behavior to recognize the suffering or struggle of the person. It helps me find a deeper feeling of care for them and a concern about what I can do to help their world feel less uncertain.

In general practice, this requires us to be more mindful of how we respond to other people’s behavior, particularly those who rely on us for leadership. It’s tempting to blame and judge an employee for their behavior (e.g., joining meetings late and unprepared). This leads us to show up in a way that isn’t helpful and likely to make matters worse.

Instead, lean into curiosity. Engage with the employee to ask questions about why they are late for meetings. You might discover that the meeting time coincides with when their three children are all supposed to log in to school in the morning, making it nearly impossible to make the meeting on time.

Your judgment or criticism won’t help them resolve this tension. But, your help and coaching might. Seeing beyond the behavior isn’t always easy, particularly when you’re under a lot of pressure and stressed yourself. But, it’s what your people need from you.

2. Get to know your people

When a close friend or family member behaves in a way that doesn’t make sense or is inconsistent with who they are, we don’t rush to judgment and blame them for their behavior. Instead, we ask, “what’s wrong?” or “what’s going on?”

Because we know them and have a bond with them, we assume that if they’re behaving in a way that seems counter to what we would expect, there must be something happening around them that’s causing them to act this way. We don’t assume a flaw in them as a person.

The better we know our people and the more we build a strong and trusting relationship with them, the more likely we are to show compassion when they’re struggling. It’s easier to ignore the suffering of a stranger than someone close to us.

To do this will require the investment of time. Time is the currency of relationships, and there is no shortcut. To build a better connection with your people will require that you make more time to be with them both formally and informally. When you’re together, ask questions to learn what’s most important to them and what they care about most.

3. Help until it hurts

One of the most critical parts of compassion is that it requires action. Not only must we recognize the pain and struggle in others, but we must care enough to want to take action to make it stop.

Today and for the indefinite future, we exist in a sort of limbo at work between the way we used to do things and how we’ll do things once the pandemic ends. In this limbo, people are being asked to work in circumstances they have no control over (e.g., at home while schooling children or dealing with layers and layers of safety precautions that make everything harder and slower).

They weren’t prepared for this. Neither were you. And, it’s not permanent.

Helping your people survive and make it to the other side of this limbo is probably calling on you to do things you feel you “shouldn’t have to do.” As managers, if you’re doing it right, you are more deeply involved in people’s lives than ever before, and that may be uncomfortable for you. Here’s my advice:

Get over it.

What we “should” have to do went out the window when COVID showed up. There is only what our people need right now. What they need is our help and support to get through an unprecedented time of disruption.

Among the most critical things within your control is to ensure your people know exactly what’s expected of them in terms of work performance. By making that crystal clear, you remove uncertainty so your conversations with your team can focus on what they need or are struggling with to meet those expectations.

Compassion is The Key

Let’s all hope that by the end of 2021, we are living in a post-pandemic world once again. Until then, we still exist in what could be thought of as overtime for 2020. None of the problems that existed at the end of last year have gone anywhere.

While we wait on the vaccine to do its thing, we can focus on injecting our teams and lives with a different sort of remedy. Becoming a more compassionate human and manager will help us see each other more fully and reach out to help when we need it.

3 Simple Tips for Managing Remote Employees
3 Simple Tips for Managing Remote Employees 1000 668 Jason Lauritsen

Regardless of when this pandemic ends (which feels like never to me right now), the way we work will never go back to how it was before.

Sure, offices will open and some people will return to their cubicles, but many won’t.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned about work over the past several months, it’s that work can be done successfully well beyond the walls of the office—sometimes even better.

What this means for how organizations and leaders decide to change policies and reshape office environments is yet to be sorted out. But there is one thing for certain.

We are going to be managing employees who we can’t “see” in the office every day for the indefinite future. Remote work is never going away. In fact, as remote work expert Laurel Farrer put it this week as we discussed this topic as part of a panel, “soon we won’t even call it ‘remote’ work anymore. It will just be ‘work’.”

So, while it may take a while to sort out what this all means in the big picture, there is one thing we can focus on right now that will have an enormous impact on our teams and their ability to perform: We need to get really good at managing remote employees.

Why Do We wonder?

Over the past week, I fielded a survey of several hundred managers asking about their biggest challenges or questions related to managing virtual teams. There were a lot of great insights in the responses (more on that to come).

One group of responders took me back to the days when we used to gather around conference room tables to discuss employee engagement concerns. The challenge they raised sounds something like this:

“It’s hard to know how my team is doing/feeling/working when we are all remote.”

I get it. If you’ve only managed people in person at a traditional work environment throughout your career, you’ve likely come to rely on your ability to observe people around the office as a way to get a “feel” for how they were doing.

So, when you can’t see your people every day, it feels like you are somehow powerless to know what’s going on.
Ironically, this same conversation used to happen around that nostalgic board room table long before “pandemic” was a common word in our vocabulary. Even when we could see our people every day, leaders would find themselves together wondering about how employees were really doing, how they felt about what was happening at work.

My guidance to them then is the same as it is today.

Tips for Managing Remote Employees

Feeling like we don’t have a good handle on how our employees are feeling isn’t a new problem. Remote working arrangements have just made it feel more acute and painful.

Not knowing is definitely problematic. It leads us to make assumptions, and that’s never good because we rarely assume the right things.

If we remember that work is a relationship for employees, then perhaps we can learn from other relationships in our lives where this same issue arises. I’ll use my wife as an example.

On top of trying to survive a pandemic, my wife is running a campaign to be mayor of the suburban community where we live. She’s got a lot going on. Running for office is the equivalent of a giant popularity contest. Being in it requires thick skin and an ability to keep things in perspective.

Angie does a pretty good job of this, but I know there are times when it’s hard and she’s struggling with the stress. But, I don’t always know exactly when. And despite knowing her better than any other human on the planet, when I make any assumption about how she’s feeling, I’m almost always wrong.

When I act on those wrong assumptions, it has sometimes even made things worse. Piling more stress on top of what is already a big pile. So, I try not to assume.

Instead, I do what we should all be doing more often. That brings me to my first tip.

Tips for Managing Remote Employees #1: ASK

When we are wondering about how someone else is doing, we don’t need to make assumptions. We can ask.

This is true for our personal relationships—our significant others, parents, children, friends, neighbors, etc. It’s also true for our employees.

It used to drive me insane when I’d meet with my executive teams and they’d start to speculate about what employees thought about certain things or how they were feeling about others. I am sure they got sick of me saying it, but I used to point to a wall where employees were working on the other side and say, “We don’t need to spend time wondering about this, we can go ask them. They are right over there.”

Perhaps the most fundamental skill we need right now as we try to adjust and adapt to managing in this new distributed and virtual environment is the ability to ask meaningful questions.

Consider questions like:

  • On a scale from 1 to 10, how’s your stress level right now?
  • What makes work hardest for you right now?
  • How do you feel about your work from home set up?
  • What was your biggest win this week—with work or just in general?
  • How can I help make your work day less stressful?

The key is to ask questions that get the employee to reflect and talk about what’s really happening for them. One of my friends shared with me that her boss’s boss recently asked her, “Are you having any fun?” This unexpected question caused her to really pause and reflect on how she’d been approaching her work.

Asking good questions is vital, but it’s not enough by itself. Hence, my next tip.

Tips for Managing Remote Employees #2: LISTEN

Sounds pretty simple, but don’t be fooled.

In the survey results from last week, a number of people lamented about the inability to observe body language when interacting with direct reports and others in the office.

This is certainly a real issue when working remotely. It makes it that much more critical that we pay attention to people and listen to what they are (and aren’t) saying.

I’m not going to give you a lesson on active listening because you’ve likely heard it before (if not, Google it and you’ll find loads of great resources). But, I will offer up a few key suggestions.

  1. Do not multitask. It’s so tempting to check emails while on a video call or meeting. Don’t do it. Shut down any other open windows, applications, or tasks and focus on the person in front of you.
  2. Take notes. Write down what you are hearing and any questions that arise in your mind. When you ask good questions, you should get interesting responses. Writing down important details means you don’t have to try to remember them or hold them in your mind. This frees you to pay attention to not only what’s being said but how it’s being said. Is there trepidation or anxiety behind those words?
  3. Ask the follow-up question. The first response is often the least helpful. Learn to say things like, “tell me more about that” or, “why do you think that is?” The second (or third) question is often when you get to the most important insights.

If you really listen to your people, they will share with you what’s working and what’s not. They will share their challenges with you. They will tell you where they need help.

Which brings us to the last tip.

Tips for Managing Remote Employees #3: ACT

When you ask good questions and really listen to the answers, you should end up with a list of things that you can help. But, that list only matters if you take action.

You don’t have to solve every problem or address every need in the moment. But, you do need to do something to help.

When you take action to support your employees after they’ve shared a problem with you, it builds trust. The more often and consistently you do it, the stronger your relationship will become. They will begin sharing more important concerns with you.

Over time, you won’t have to work as hard at drawing out the issues because your people will know that you care and will help whenever they have a challenge in front of them.

Remote Management Impact in Three Words

This isn’t a new idea, just a refresher of a tried and true approach. Managing and engaging people remotely requires that we get the fundamentals right. There’s nothing more fundamental to fostering a positive relationship with your people than these three words:

Ask. Listen. Act.

These three steps taken regularly and with good intention will help you keep your people engaged and productive through the uncertain and changing times ahead.

P.S. One of the biggest challenges managers identified for managing remote employees is keeping them connected–to each other, to the organization, and to them as their manager. So, with my friends at Waggl, we decided to crowdsource some solutions.  If you click this link, you’ll be asked to share what’s been working for you to keep you feeling connected as a remote worker. You’ll also be able to see and vote for the best ideas submitted by others. Check it out now.  

Employee Engagement for You: September 2020 Edition
Employee Engagement for You: September 2020 Edition 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Employee Engagement For You

The honeymoon is over.

That’s actually both a terrible and perfect way to describe where we are right now. The past six months haven’t felt anything like a honeymoon, but they may end up feeling that way in hindsight someday.

When everything changed in the spring, we buckled down and adapted because we had no choice. We dialed up safety precautions. We closed offices and sent people home.

And then the waiting game started. It’s only a matter of time before this is over, we thought.

We are still waiting. And it’s looking like the wait might not be over for a long while. While we wait, the strain of this new working world is starting to break us down.

Employees, who largely stepped up in the early days of work from home, are starting to feel the fatigue and strain. I spoke to an HR leader yesterday who said they’ve seen productivity start to fall and more people calling in sick than ever before.

The challenge of managing and engaging a remote and distributed team is not going away. It’s a reality we must not only face but embrace.

The good news is that the fundamentals are the same. The bad news is that we often weren’t great at the fundamentals before this happened.

If you want to take steps to ensure your employees stay engaged, here are the two actions to take now.

  1. Ask employees about their experiences (through surveys, focus groups, conversations, etc.), listen intently for what they need, and where there are gaps, fix them. We don’t need to guess about what employees need to feel more engaged—we can just ask them.
  2. Ensure manager/employee one-on-one meetings are happening with frequency. There is no more powerful tool for employee engagement than an effective one-on-one meeting. A great one-on-one is scheduled, frequent, and valuable for the employee. Put a focus on appreciation and coaching to maximize the value.

If you do nothing else, put your energy behind these two things. This journey is far from over. Stay focused and keep going. You matter.

Until next time,

Jason

P.S. What is the biggest challenge you are facing with managing remote employees? Hit reply right now and tell me about what you’ve found the most difficult.

Stuff You Should Read

If you want a condensed, useful article with some good advice for how to manage remote teams, here’s one I recommend. Lots of good advice in a small package. Read: 12 Tips For Managing a Remote Team (And Loving It).

This past week, the ADP Research Institute, which is in part led by Marcus Buckingham, released some new data on workplace resilience. The full report breaks down how they measured workplace resilience (including the 10 factors that their research suggests are drivers of it) and the key findings of this research. It’s a unique and interesting perspective on the topic with some surprising findings. Read: Workplace Resilience Study.

My advice lately has been to avoid jumping to any conclusions about what work is going to look like post-pandemic. We are apt to misinterpret signals and assume greater significance in some trends than they deserve. This brought to mind one of my favorite business books of all time, The Halo Effect. It will change how you think about business (and how you read business books) forever. Read: The Halo Effect.

stuff you should hear

What if we randomly selected who we promoted into management? That’s the question I was left Headphonespondering after listening to this recent episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast. It will challenge you to think differently about a few things. Proceed with caution. Listen now.stuff you should watch

You know that interview question, “What three people, living or dead, would you most like to have dinner with?” This month, I got to have a conversation on my webcast with one of the people who is on my list, Gary Hamel. It was a highlight moment of my career and he really delivered the goods in our conversation. Watch: My Conversation with Gary Hamel.

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Employee Engagement for You: July 2020 Edition
Employee Engagement for You: July 2020 Edition 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Employee Engagement For You

When I feel overwhelmed or stressed, my go-to strategy to find my way back to feeling calm and centered is gratitude.

That allure of comfort is powerful. But that path leads nowhere. The old normal is gone. And good riddance. We can do better.

As I write this today, I’m feeling a bit of both. And, while I’ve got a lot to be grateful for in my life, I want to specifically focus on you.

I’m grateful that you allow me to visit your inbox. I’m grateful that you care enough about making work better to spend some time reading and thinking about how to make it happen.

And, I’m really grateful for your support. It means a lot when you show up for a webcast, forward my post to a colleague, or send me back a note.

Thank you. Sincerely. I am grateful for you.

The work you do matters and I’m so appreciative that you allow me to join you on that journey.

(Yep, I feel better already.)

Until next time,

Jason

P.S. I’m doing a cool webinar series with my friends at Limeade on how well-being drives performance. If you are interested, you can check it out and sign up here.

Stuff You Should Read

starAs we attempt to navigate the possibility of permanent remote work within each of our organizations, we should understand the implications of any decision we make: all remote, no remote, or hybrid. This article from the CEO of an all-remote organization can prompt you to think about aspects you may not have yet considered. Read: Hybrid Remote Work Offers the Worst of Both Worlds

starWe must pay close attention to issues of equity and inclusion as we chart what work looks like in each organization moving forward. We have the opportunity to close many gaps but we can also make things worse if we aren’t very intentional in what we do. This HBR article highlights some examples of where things can go wrong and what to do to prevent it. Read: Why WFH Isn’t Necessarily Good for Women

starRemote work or not, the challenge to engage your employees remains. This post by Nir Eyal outlines the concept of “Unconditional Positive Regard” which resonates with me both as a good personal practice and a framework for how to treat employees at work. Read: The Surprising Benefits of Unconditional Positive Regard

stuff you should hear

HeadphonesWhat if we randomly selected who we promoted into management? That’s the question I was left pondering after listening to this recent episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast. It will challenge you to think differently about a few things. Proceed with caution. Listen now.stuff you should watch

Few things are more vital right now than trust. Trust is difficult to address both at work and in our personal lives. So, who better to provide us some clarity on the issue than Brené Brown? This video is one of the best twenty minutes you can spend to understand and take action to build trust.

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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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