Archive for January, 2012

Simple Inspiration, Simple Appreciation

I spent some time yesterday staring at my arm and writing down what I saw.

I know that probably sounds strange, so perhaps I’d better explain.  I recently signed up for a virtual writing class, something to keep me sharp and to teach me how to come up with new ideas whenever I feel the specter of writer’s block hovering just behind me. For this particular exercise, we were instructed to look at our arm and write whatever comes to mind. At first I thought, “Huh?? It’s my arm!” My arm, after all, has been attached to me since I was born. It swings into view on a regular basis. What could I possibly see that I hadn’t seen before?

Was I surprised!

The first thoughts that came to me were simple, shallow ones, generating words that I’m sure you would expect:  length, width, markings, color – the words that would describe the surface, what I can easily see when I glance at my arm.  “Hmmm, new freckle,” I thought to myself. “Need to keep a watch on that. And my hand is beginning to show it’s age a bit….” Those types of things.

Then something happened. I began to see my arm in a new way.

This was the limb that held my child as he grew up, that cradles my dog when she’s afraid. It helps me grab onto a tree and pull myself up a steep terrain when I hike and wraps around my husband’s neck to let him know that I care. My arm, over the years, may have changed in the way it looks, but it continues to give back to me in ways that I probably took for granted.

How often do we see our employees that way, the way I initially looked at my arm, as something that’s always been there but never really, deeply seen? Perhaps they’ve been working with us for a long time and we don’t really notice them as they were or as they’ve grown. If you were to really look at your employees – beyond the surface features like their tenure, skill, and ability – what would you see? What largely unseen—but deeply important—qualities do they have that, when you reflect on them, you appreciate and value, perhaps couldn’t or wouldn’t want to live without?

Take a moment and look at your employees with simple appreciation. What do they inspire that you may have overlooked?

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3 Ways to Create a “Stay Culture”

We hear a lot these days about employee engagement – how to make sure your employees are fully engaged with their work, with their team, and with their managers.  And it’s a noble and valuable thing that we remain focused on employee engagement. Examining how we, as organizations and leaders, are ensuring that our employees are engaged with their work is a vital step towards retention, productivity and innovation.

Still, regardless of how much attention we in HR pay to the issue, it continues to warrant concern.  A recent survey from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that only 52% of employees felt “plugged in” at work.

But, is that the end of the story? What’s going on with other 48%?

Years ago my husband worked for the CEO of a small company who had a mantra of sorts around employee engagement.  “You can quit or you can stay,” he would say, “but you can’t quit and stay.”  That phrase has stuck with me all these years.  So: what about those employees who appear to be staying and working and engaging, but, underneath it all, have at least a few toes already crossing the exit door’s threshold?  How do we identify those signals and, more importantly, work to create what I like to call a “Stay Culture?”

Here are the three clues I often advise others to look for:

  1. Connection – How connected is the work that your people are doing with what’s important to them? These days, more and more Gen Y’ers actively voice their opinions about the need for meaning in their work, for a sense of connection between what they do and what they value. You could be pumping out widgets, but if the end result is that those widgets are being used for purposes that speak to core values, then your employees’ connection to their work will be deepened.
  2. Contribution – How do you and your employees “show up” at work? (notice I said “at” work and not “to” work) This is less about the time on the clock – although a willingness to go above and beyond is often a sign of engagement – and more about stepping up to contribute in ways that go outside the job description. There is a balance, of course, but when you see your folks raising their hand to volunteer to learn about something new or taking on a leadership role for a project, this is a staying sign.
  3. Conversation – How many times do your employees strike up a conversation with you, trying to get to know you more, trying, in fact, to engage? How open and inclusive is your culture of feedback and engagement? Sometimes employees actually try to engage but are turned back. The reasons may be valid—deadlines, urgencies, customer issues—but we should pay particular attention to these attempts to reach out. Ignoring such attempts can easily result in employees who “quit and stay.”

There may be other factors that could be at play that help to create a “stay culture”. What have you experienced in your organization that helps to create an engaged “stay” mindset?

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Gearing up for Emerging Leaders – Three Important Things to Focus on

It’s in the ether. We’re hearing it in the news, reading about it in the newspapers, overhearing chatter in the streets. People are feeling more positive about this coming year. The jobs report had an uptick last week (with over 200,000 jobs created) and organizations are beginning to gear up for hiring and reorganizing to meet a growing economy.

I’m not a political or economic expert, but what I am able to do is notice what’s happening with my clients. There’s a slight and steady surge in preparing to lead new teams with new leaders—and that’s exciting! A new generation of leadership offers us all a new opportunity to embrace possibility for growth and innovation; it’s what our nation is all about.

And with this shift comes a need for focus.

The leaders who are emerging need our help to be able to take on the upcoming challenges of growing our economy and leading our organizations. Perhaps they’ve just graduated from college or they are high-performing, individual contributors ready to step into a leadership role. Either way, all emerging leaders need guidance and partnership to grow and learn how to lead in ways that enable and empower others.

Here are three important things that we should focus on to help our emerging leaders:

1)   Help them to become servant leaders. We know, and have had experience with, two types of leaders – the autocratic leader and the servant leader. Research and experience informs us that those who view their leadership as serving others – their employees, customers and stakeholders – are leaders who gain long-term and deep seated trust and followership. Servant leaders who view their work for the sake of others’ growth, development and empowerment will develop into the leaders who are able to shepherd their organizations through thick or thin, deliver news – good or bad – and secure the understanding and loyalty of those around them.

2)   Help them to empower others. If there’s one thing my experience has shown can guarantee an impact on organizations, it’s this – an empowered organization will get things done quickly and innovatively. Period. Once a leader has embraced letting go and empowering their team to make decisions and take action, their way of leading and their team’s way of working is boundless.

3)   Help them become conversational leaders. Conversations are at the core of building authentic relationships and, as a result, our emerging economy and growing organizations can benefit greatly from leaders who encourage and promote active, engaged conversations. I’ve observed organizations come through some really hard times unscathed due to the integrity, frequency and encouragement of conversations they held as an operating and behavioral norm. Leaders who embrace this notion are leaders who develop relationships with their teams and, as a result, pave the way for sustainable performance.

There are more things that we can model and embrace as leaders. If we start with these three, we are well on our way to developing a strong, cross-generational and emerging leadership capability. What other ways can you suggest?

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