Hi I’m Flexadaptmilling. How are you?

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Every year new words are added to our lexicon- either formally added to the dictionary or adapted as part of our slang. I am searching for the word that describes the state we are currently in. Something that combines our new flexibility requirements given the corona virus. The adaptability demanded in the light of our social justice uprising. The treadmill reality of 22 weeks of working from home. So in the spirt of Frindle (a children’s book by Andrew Clements where they invent the word Frindle) I introduce to you the concept Flexadaptmilling with its good, its challenges, and its lessons. 

Flexibility: Bend and break. There have been some pretty amazing changes to our workplaces that without the corona virus wouldn’t have happened- or at least wouldn’t have happened at this pace. Suddenly every job can work from home. No one needs a flexible job arrangement to allow them to pick up kids, bring meals to parents, or to create a personal swing shift working schedule. I have had  3x the number of homemade dinners with my family than we’d have in normal times. Bending our assumptions has been healthy for our culture. But it also has it’s challenges. Zoom is a great tool. But it limits your ability to read the room and really see people, which impacts our discussions and can deter some voices. There are days when my steps are in the 100s – a far cry from 10,000 steps as I spend hours sitting in front of my computer in my small office. As an intense iterator it is hard virtually white board without glitches or delays. My takeaway is bend my thinking and take breaks for my body. Without a commute I have no excuse not to get up early and workout. Taking a Zoom call outside is a good idea. Blocking off a lunch hour to have no meetings and change my scenery is good for my mental health.

Adaptability: Thinking and rethinking. I am invigorated and sometimes exhausted by the new level of energy and interest in racial justice and DEI at work these days. The fire has been burning for years but now we have community, leadership, and student interest in taking action. I am inspired by my son and his friends and their social activism. I am proud of my organization for our commitment to health equity and equity for associates. I am thrilled that instead of asking (begging) to integrate DEI into leadership curriculum as I’ve had to do in the past I now have complete support and a heightened expectation for delivery. Opening our minds and hearts can only make us stronger. It is also tiring. There is a wave of white guilt  motivating action at a pace and speed that may not be sustainable. There is a pent up demand that is overflowing from associates. We want to work quickly, ensure sustainability, and be inclusive which, like the program management triangle, can be hard to balance. My take away is to use what I know and seek what I don’t. The “I” in DEI is for inclusion – we need the commitment and collaboration from every function to examine, question, and rethink our systems and structures. No one person or plan can undo hundreds of years of systemic racism. Tried and true tools like aligning to the organizational strategy, creating clear execution plans and timelines, and measuring progress are critical in this work. The “D” and “E” mean we must check assumptions, push against biases, and ensure we don’t settle for tried and true decisions but instead engage and reflect our full community.

Treadmilling: New ways of moving. As we prepare to go back to another semester of distance learning, continue our prolonged work from home, and manage social distancing there are time when our days feel like a rinse and repeat. What’s been exciting to see how technology really can personalize learning.  I’m inspired by my educator friends and how they are shaping their craft in this new world. I have loved pop up Zoom calls with friends and family from across the world that never happened before.  Then there are times when our social limits are tiring. As an extreme extrovert it does not fill my bucket to be home 100% of the time. I have a sophomore and college freshman who both want to be safe, be social, and be active in their sports. At my worst I pout over feeling like Bill Murray in Ground Hogs Day. My takeaway is control the controllables and enjoy the ride.  @Janice Payton told me having children would be the best IDP I ever had. She was right. Our current environment is my new IDP.  I have to remember I can only control what I can. Instead of resisting or fretting, do what I can and let go of the rest. Setting daily goals both personally and professionally has been a big help to see that it may be a different ride at a different pace but there can still be progress.

I love the term “Corona coaster” to describe the ups and downs of our current reality. In discussions with friends we were struggling to describe both the emotions and actions we are taking everyday. It’s not just being flexible. It’s being flexible while we adapt our systems, structures, and thinking. It’s feeling like we’re on a treadmill and not making motion but then looking down and being impressed with our miles. My description of this concept is Flexadaptmilling and I am working on embracing its good, its challenges, and its lessons. 

 

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COV19 Tips: Be Caring, Observant, and Vulnerable

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This has been a crazy week. I think everyone’s work and home life has been infected with COV 19 planning and discussions. This is when it is hardest to be a leader – when things are unsettled, uncertain, and constantly shifting. It is also when our teams need us most. We need to balance business continuity, customer delivery, and employee needs on a daily if not hourly basis. In times like this I always go back to one of my favorite change mantras: move your energy out of what you can’t control and focus on what you can control and influence. And while this week has been long, hard, and frustrating there is still a lot we can control. Here are 19 tips to help us focus on being Caring, Observant, and Vulnerable to help your team navigate the COV crisis.

Be Infectious with CARE through:

(1) Your words. Your words have a megaphone in times of stress. So what you say and how you say it matters a lot. It’s ok to be stressed -it’s not ok to take it out on your team.

(2) Your flexibility. With school and daycare options in flux for families, how can you be flexible with work hours, deadlines, and/or assignments? Working from home does mean working -and people will work harder and more effectively if you help them with options.

(3) Your kindness.  The wise words of Maya Angelou were never more true than at times like this: “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.”  Let people know that you care about them as people not just associates.

(4) Your trust. Your team may all be working offsite, even offline. How will you manage their productivity? By assuming they are all doing the right thing and treating them as such. Giving and showing trust pays dividends and builds loyalty.

(5) Your time. The most strategic leaders spend 80% their time on and with people. Now that people can’t grab you in the hallway for a quick question or drop in to show you their project, can you have online office hours?  Can you extend your 1:1s to allow time for those extra questions and high touch time?

(6) Your selfcare. We all know the airplane tip put on your own oxygen mask first. This is hard stuff. Be sure you are getting the sleep, exercise, nutrition and balance you need to be there to support your team.

OBSERVE the Health of Your Team By:

Listening. We all handle stress differently. You can hear what’s on their minds by what your team asks. You can learn more by asking them follow up questions.  You can help lighten the worry burden just by listening.

Checking non verbals. It’s a lot harder to pick up on non verbals online. Yet if you tune in you can observe the pauses, the eyebrow raises, the wide eyes. Again stop and check in – help them to articulate those non verbals into words and recommendations.

Seeing Waste. One of the few upsides of this current climate is we have to be focused. What are we not going to do — and is there are reason we ever did it? What can you delegate or delete to help you be focused on that’s really important?

Doubling Recognition. Who on your team is stepping up without being asked? Who took the step of learning a new technology tool to make a remote meeting smoother? Every day you are out of the office, make sure the team know you see their actions and appreciate them.

Being Openminded.  Most associates today want more flexibility. What can you learn from a required work from home that could become how we work? What meetings/projects worked when you delegated them? Allow this to be a pilot for you and your team to reimagine how you work effectively together.

Checking Attitudes. COV19 is dangerous if you have cancer- and I mean a cancer on the team. What you permit you promote, so don’t permit negativity or a lack of engagement.

Let COV19 Make You VULERABLE to 

Honesty. Things are changing at in every sphere quickly, and often in an uncoordinated way.  Being honest about what you know now and hope to know soon is healthy for you and your team.

Fear. What happens if we lose a customer account? What if our suppliers can’t meet our deadlines? These are reasonable fears- and sharing them with your team allows them to help you think of new ideas and responses.

Imperfection. It is unlikely everything will go smoothly over the next few weeks. Embrace it. Talk about it with your team. Show that you can pivot, learn, and ask for their help in doing so.

Failing. A ball will drop. It’s just going to happen with this much change. So name it when it happens. Own it. Talk about what you learned and ask what the team would recommend you do differently next time.

New Perspectives. Challenge yourself to use fresh eyes in this new way of working to ask what’s going well? What needs more focus? Where should you spend more of your attention? Invite feedback from customers, stakeholders and teams to help widen your perspective.

Development. What one thing can you commit to learning while you are working at home. Is it being more focused in 1:1s?  Is it being present during meetings? Is it taking 15 minutes a day to read/listen to a new blog/Ted Talk/audiobook?

Your shadow. How you show up now matters. A lot. Leverage your strengthens to cast light on the team.  Reflect on your blind spots and focus on them. Challenge yourself on your development areas and ask the team to help hold you accountable.

COV19 is a respiratory illness. To combat the mental and emotional challenges your business are facing you need to breathe deeply. We need our teams to feel closely connected during social distancing. And we cant afford to quarantine leadership. Let’s all double down on caring, observing, and vulnerability as antibodies we want to spread regularly.

 

Safe Water vs. Shark Tank Innovation

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Our vision at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota is to be the customer’s first choice by reinventing ourselves and the healthcare system.  I blogged earlier about the culture work that we have undertaken to support our new vision and strategy because we know that culture eats strategy for lunch. We also know that today something is getting in our way of being more innovative. I was asked by our executive team to look into how we can drive innovation in the organization. The easy thing to do was a Shark Tank event. That idea had been raised a number of times. Many of the executives called my project the Shark Tank project. But innovation is complex, not easy, and as Mark Cabaj said, in complexity there is no silver bullet, only silver buckshot. In other words if we focus on a Shark Tank bullet we might miss the opportunity to look at multiple approaches to hit our innovation target. To understand innovation we first need a deep dive on the problem statement, to swim around how might we address the problem, then create safe waters for people to build their innovation sea legs.

Deep Diving a Problem Statement.  The first thing I wanted to do was to ensure the problem statement was identified by a diverse, cross-functional group of associates. I got a list of names from across the organization and we spent two hours determining what we needed to solve for. We reviewed survey data, benchmarking data, then used an issue tree to brainstorm. If the issue (tree trunk) is a lack of innovation, what do we see as the impact (branches) and what are the causes (root causes)? The team came up with two powerful ideas to focus on:  We are fail safe not safe to fail, and people aren’t clear on what it means to be innovative.  In other words we focus on perfection not iteration, and our strategy has bold ideas and people aren’t sure how they can impact it in their everyday work. Taking the time to understand our problem was time well spent and got some great ideas flowing.

Swimming with “How Might We.” How Might We thinking is the core of any human-centered design session. So in our next meeting we broke into two groups, thinking about how we might address the root cause issues we identified. After coming up with a long list of possibilities from multiple perspectives, we decided we wanted to focus on helping everyone see themselves as innovative by explaining and expressing innovation as both incremental and transformational. We also decided we need to focus on the importance and value in learning if we want to increase risk taking and innovation. Great how might we sessions generate wild and crazy ideas – and help you diverge and converge on some things that you can do to make the change you seek. The team was clear- they don’t want a big splash – we want a constant flow of communication, tools, sessions, and discussion around this topic.

Building Innovation Sea Legs. In our final session we did a session around visualizing success. We used a story boarding  approach to draw on big flip charts what we want to see in the future. It’s not about art – it’s about engaging the creative side of our brains and expressing things universally. The team had some awesome visuals that I shared with the executive team. And guess what. Not one of them was a shark tank. Because if the problem is understanding innovation, gaining confidence with risk, and celebrating learning,  a shark tank doesn’t solve for those things. In fact our specific recommendation was to create safe water for innovation, not a shark tank. Safe waters mean defining what associates will know, see, and do around innovation – a visual that breaks innovation down, a communication campaign around how innovation is part of our values and our strategy. More importantly new expectations and opportunities for managers to model and encourage innovation. We want more storytelling from executives on risks they took, where they failed, and what they learned. We want leaders to ask in a post mortem what risk did you take and what did you learn so that it is an expected part of every project. Embedding these changes is a lot harder than a one time event, but we are also confident this it is the way to build waves of success.

We also know that reinventing healthcare will only happen if we can unleash the ideas and talents of our associates. I have asked our ARGs (Associate Resource Groups) to see if they can help us in the next phase of innovation through their events. The more voices and actions we can show around innovation -big and small- the better the chance we have of change. Innovation can’t be done in one big bite. Or from one person. As the Shark Kevin O’Leary says, “Nobody has a monopoly on good ideas.”  We want to build a big stage where everyone can win – all associates, and all our customers. If we do we have a great chance of achieving our mission and reinventing both our culture and healthcare.

Culture Is A Verb: Just Do It

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Culture is critical. It differentiates companies, it creates energy and excitement, and it builds identity. In other words culture is a verb- it is what people say, do think, and feel. Yet too many culture initiatives are built with a noun mindset. What person will lead the training  and communication plan? We can change our workplace if we paint the walls or add a foozball table. We can copy that thing our competitors have that seems cool. Just Do It are three little words – but they are the summation and expectation of action that define Nike. So how can you “do” culture? Make it personal. Be Intentional. Commit completely.

Make it personal. There is no better way to change a culture than to change yourself. If you know that accountability is an issue at your workplace and that the lack of clear goals is impacting business results and engagement then be the change you want to see. Create goals for your team. Publicize them. In meetings use a RACI to confirm the roles people are agreeing to. Let go of your noun mindset – What are other people doing? I haven’t seen that anywhere else here. I should wait until something is rolled out officially across the organization. These are culture killers. Culture consultants and culture trainings/framework help us set a clear, common course, But unless you get in the blocks and run, you can’t win the culture race.

Be Intentional. The best (worst!) example of the disconnect between culture and action is perhaps Enron. Their vision and values statements begin with
“As a partner in the communities in which we operate, Enron believes it has a responsibility to conduct itself according to certain basic principles.” We know that they ended bankrupt, morally and financially. Being intentional about connecting culture and action comes down to what you permit, and what you promote. The action of promoting the jerk who gets great results by running over others is a culture killer. The inaction of addressing the leader who is disrespectful to women is a culture killer. No noun excuses- we have to be willing to let go of that person, close that place, and remove that thing if we are serious about the culture we are building. Hold up a culture mirror and say does this person, decision, policy, practice, etc, reflect who we want to be? We do a good job with promoting our culture on internal and external media.  We need to ask would we hashtag what we permit.

Commit Completely.  Thinking about culture change is like preparing for a marathon. It is a daunting. You can’t see the end. We know that we won’t all get to the same mile markers at the same time. Yes. So just do it. Make a run at changing your culture by committing completely and honestly. Acknowledge that it’s hard work and requires us all to think and act differently. Discuss that letting go of the known for the unknown is scary. Reward those that start, those that stumble but continue, and everyone who gets on the course. Culture killers are the people that nod along in the meeting and go back to their desk and work and act the same old way. The executive offices that are on a locked floor when you just announced an open door policy. The flex time policy that is actually inflexible for most peoples’ jobs. To win at culture and marathons you can’t be a spectator – it’s daily drills, long roads, and bumps and bruises that take you to there.

Culture differentiates companies. Everyone knows Just Do It and knows what is means. It resonates because it is focused on personal, intentional action,  Culture work is all about the verbs- it is what people say, do, think, feelPeople, places, and things matter — but getting caught up in a noun mindset can’t spark change. Instead go do culture by making it personal, being intentional, and committing completely.

Update IDPs to Integrate Deliverables and Passions

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Development planning should always start with needs of the business. It is also key to look at the employees’ current skills and future interests.  We also know creating  a written plan is proven to increase the likelihood of acting on the plan. But this skeletal approach to development planning lacks the heart and soul of developing the full person.  I believe it’s time to update our concept of individual development plans (IDPs). Let’s shift IDPs to focus on integrating deliverables and passions in our personal and professional lives.

Integrating Work and Life: One of my least favorite questions is “What is your aspiration?” I will never forget when I was asked that question by our company president. I remember that my very first thought was, ‘I want to be a good mom.’ Then I thought, ‘Can I say that? No that won’t be acceptable. I better say I want my boss’s job.’ What was intended to be an engaging conversation became disheartening. It is perfectly reasonable for the president to expect a work related answer. It is also perfectly human to have multiple, sometimes competing, priorities that would be more insightful to discuss. What if we replaced “What are your career goals in the next 3-5 years?” with “What personal and professional milestones would you like to celebrate in 5 years?” Imagine how powerful it would be to have that insight and how rewarding it would be for employees to know you want to invest in their full life success. This new question also opens a discussion about  transferable skills and on the job learning. It may be hard for your finance manager to get exposure to online consumer behavior at work but easy to tap into through her gig job. It also opens up on the job learning to include volunteer jobs as well as our day job.

Deliverables vs. Door Signs: What if I had answered, “You know the first thing that popped into my mind is I want to be a great mom- which makes me really proud. I also want to continue to grow my career here and am particularly excited about integrating innovation and engagement in our HR practice.” It still doesn’t answer what I want the door sign on my office to read, but it tells you what deliverables excite me, which frankly is a lot more valuable. In our VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) we talk about needing change agility and adaptability but focus development on climbing an org chart. We know that 85% of jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t been invented yet – which makes “the ability to gain new knowledge more valuable than the knowledge itself.” Identifying experiences that expand learning agility, organizational relationships, and problem solving skills provides both a richer and more realistic approach to employee development.

Passion vs. Plans: “Every day the spirits of millions of people die at the front door of their workplace.” This is the opening sentence of the Workforce article “Focus on Employee Passion Not Employee Engagement.” The article goes on to say that according to a recent survey from Deloitte, only 20 percent of people say they are truly passionate about their work. Their research found that passion is impacted by 12 organizational factors, job factors, and relationship factors. Instead of asking our employees to write up a development plan, what if we started by asking them to assess how well we are stoking their passion? Through a discussion about topics such as perceived autonomy, goal clarity, and connectedness with their leader we can get to the heart of what is impacting their passion and work together to refuel it. If I had been brave enough to share my true aspiration, and the leader had said he would love to hear more about my kids and my ideas about connecting engagement and innovation, it would have been a home run conversation.

Development planning is, and must be, a business exercise. Understanding the skills we need in the future and helping our team develop them is critical. Most development planning practices successfully outline what steps are needed. Unfortunately, most of those same plans are out of step with what employees want for their development. Asking questions like, “Here are the top organizational priorities. I am interested in knowing how you want to help us deliver them,” creates insights, excitement, and a sense of belonging. Let’s shift IDPs to focus on integrating deliverables and passions in our personal and professional lives. This will make them more valuable – and actionable- for our organizations and our employees.

 

 

 

 

The Problem With Our Problem Solving

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We spend a lot of time at work in meetings solving problems. Our team meetings often allot 15 -20 minutes to discuss the problem, brainstorm up solutions, and agree on a delivery date. We march back to our desks and jump into execution mode.  What if we turned our problem solving approach on its head- and even more importantly on its heart? Human Centered Design doesn’t start with time or an agenda. It starts with identifying who are we solving this problem for. IDEO is one of the most famous human centered design organizations, and their Human Centered Design approach has three phases: an Inspiration Phase to understand needs, an Ideation Phase to distill what you learned, then an Implementation Phase bringing the solution to life.

Be inspired by the problem. Our traditional problem solving spends the least amount of time here – but if we jump right to a solution how do we know it solves anything? Right now I am working on the problem of transition for many of our central services leaders during our merger. I have experience (unfortunately!) in this situation from my past, so an easy and efficient solution would be to cut and paste my last approach to my current company. The next stretch I could take is to consult with my HR peers – internal, external, best practice – and identify tools to apply.  A human centered design approach means actually observing and interviewing our managers to find out what they want. We have attended staff meetings, met with leaders one on one, and made notes as we walk around our building to identify what we need to solve for first. Our initial list of problems includes lack of communication to and from managers, uncertainty on how to retain employees, and a desire for clear process.

How Might We Ideate? When we follow a human centered design process, we have to stay in a learning and curiosity mode.  For many of us suspending our inner knower is a challenge, and even if we patiently moved through inspiration, our solution engine is revved.  It is easy to take what we heard to validate what we know how to do or want to do. But this stage is about still understanding the problem, not landing on a solution.  The phrase “How might we..” is a helpful way to keep the funnel open. We asked the question “How might we address the lack of communication?” Part of the exercise is putting some crazy ideas on there.  We could have a communication contest. We could ask the new CEO to call all managers. We could post all the answers we have in the cafeteria. One of our how might we’s lead us to informal coffee sessions with leaders and our HR team to have a safe forum to ask questions, confirm answers, and practice/discuss how to communicate to employees.  It is also key in this stage to prototype and test. Try something and validate if it is or is not a solution. We were sure having one of our senior leaders speak at an all employee meeting would be viewed positively.  It wasn’t. But it was a good takeaway on how the leader prepped and what people infer.

Implement a Success. Now that we have observed and interviewed, ideated and tested, we are finally ready to implement. Keeping our focus on the needs of the end user throughout the process should give us high confidence that the solution is actually what people need. Check out this link for a great video that summarizes the IDEO process and a real solution you’ve likely seen in your day to day life. In our case we implemented several different communication approaches to try and address as many of the gaps as possible. The key theme- make it informal, two way, and authentic.

There is a real problem with the way we solve problems today at work. HR has the opportunity to be leaders in the area of human centered design. Teaching and bringing this approach to both our functional projects and our business challenges has the opportunity to uncover all kinds of cool new ideas and solutions. So break free from your meeting mindset and focus on inspiration, ideation, and implementation to create something amazing.

 

Laughter Should Be Your Engagement Survey

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Think about the time and effort you currently put into your engagement survey. The hours reviewing questions, creating distribution lists, developing communications, executing the survey, and of course, action planning. What if I told you that listening for laughter in the workplace is an easier and more authentic way to get the pulse of your organization? Best selling author Dan Schawbel says engagement can be boiled down to four measures: happiness, purpose, belonging and trust. Laughter is a great way to measure each of these elements. So let’s engage in laughter.  

Happiness and Purpose. Wharton Professor and co author of Option B, Adam Grant, has a Ted Talk called Faking Your Emotions at Work. We all know we have to manage our emotions at work – keeping our cool under pressure, or smiling politely in meetings while that marketing guy drones on and on. But if we do this all day, it can be draining. Grant say, “It seems like the easiest way to cope is to tell yourself, ‘Well, this is just my job. I’ll pretend to be this person in this role when I’m at work.’ That’s called surface acting. It’s wearing a mask that you take off at the end of the day. It feels like the simple way to distance yourself from the role. But it creates a sense of being inauthentic, which can take a real toll.” Instead Grant challenges us to take the opposite approach. Tap into your emotions and ask yourself,  How can I make my work more meaningful? How do I find a sense of purpose in my job? Instead of being disconnected, be objective about your role and contributions. What do you love? What are you passionate about? Take off that mask and make real connections with your team.  When we play together, we stay together — and feel stronger connections. When people have tapped into their happiness and purpose you will see increased energy, creativity, and commitment—and laughter.

Belonging. Social science researcher Brené Brown defines belonging as “the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us.” She also says we know we truly belong “when we can present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world.” In Gallup’s article How to Bring Out the Best in Your People and Your Company, author Jake Herway states, “an organization full of employees who believe they belong is an organization full of employees who feel purposeful, inspired and alive — in other words, engaged. And these engaged employees are more productive and better performers.” When teams can joke about shared experience or problems they have created a social connection. So rather than asking in a survey “do you have a best friend at work?”, listen for laughter to gauge belonging.

Trust. In the Speed of Trust, Stephen Covey states that trust is rooted in credibility.  We earn credibility when we can laugh at ourselves. Trust also requires us to be self aware. Understanding how your actions are either trust builders or trust busters is a critical leadership trait. The stories you tell and the jokes you laugh at are barometers on whether you trust others, trust yourself, and/or are worthy of trust. Trusting environments invite us to be vulnerable, and when we feel comfortable, we are comfortable taking risks. When people laugh, they are in a relaxed state. They are open to new ideas because they feel safe. When we share laughter, we trust each other. And laughter deepens our trust.  As employee engagement expert David Zinger says, the shortest distance between two people is often a good laugh.  So listen for the speed of laughter to gauge your organization’s speed of trust.

Researchers found that by the time the average kid reaches kindergarten, he or she is laughing some 300 times each day. Compare that to the typical adult, who laughs 17 times a day.  Perhaps now that we’re all grown up we think we are way too busy to have fun. But studies show laughter allows our minds to juggle and connect concepts in a way that rigid concentration does not. We talk a lot about employee engagement, but really there is nothing fun in most engagement surveys. Laughter is a great pulse check for happiness, purpose, belonging and trust. So think about how you can engage in laughter in your workplace.

Encourage Courage

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I was at the Good Leadership Breakfast this month, and the host was talking about an award that her family created – the Courage Award. It was a travelling trophy awarded to the family member that did something brave that week. I was struck by the power of that idea and started to imagine the impact of encouraging courage at work. Dictionary.com has three definitions of courage: (1) the power or quality of dealing with or facing danger, fear, pain, etc. (2) the courage of one’s convictions, the confidence to act in accordance with one’s beliefs. (3) take one’s courage in both hands, to nerve oneself to perform an action. There are some simple yet powerful things we can do in HR to encourage courage at work that will  help people face their fears, act confidently on their convictions, and take action.

Face Your Fear. Change in our personal and professional lives is a constant. So how can HR help our employees and leaders cope more effectively? It starts by acknowledging this reality. When working through a big change, like a spin off or layoff, or a smaller change, like a new benefit plan or PTO policy, talk about fear. Encourage people to discuss their concerns and worries, and help brainstorm solutions and options. Really listen to what you hear and be brave enough to respond. Be willing to change a plan or policy based on new information. Don’t be afraid of – or limited by – timelines and deadlines. Have the courage to do the right thing so that the project is done right.

Act on your convictions. Being an HR manager is a hard job. You wear a lot of hats ranging from coach, to project manager, to strategist. One of the most important hats you wear is as the conscience of the company. You have the unique position of hearing both what employees think and senior leaders are planning. And both parties are counting on you to serve as a bridge to the other. So listen, learn, and act. If you believe that the new values senior leaders are working on won’t resonate, speak up. If your gut says it’s the wrong time to launch an engagement survey, don’t do it. If you ever see sexist, racist, or otherwise disrespectful behavior or language – call it out. As Gloria Steinem said, “Whenever one person stands up and says this is wrong, it helps others to do the same.” Be the model of acting on your convictions for the organization – and help both employees and leaders learn how to follow your example.

Take Action. Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.” A powerful way that HR can take courage “in both hands” is to focus less on communication change plans and more on change action plans. Work with teams to understand what is important to them. What actions help them achieve or preserve those things? How will they measure their progress? Celebrate their success? It is easy to have a talking head, senior leader video tell the organization about the benefits of a big change. It is impactful to understand the WIIFM from the employee and managers’ point of view and to help them to take action to achieve what’s in it for them.

The third Tuesday of October is National Face Your Fears Day. Consider making this an event in your workplace. Ask people to share how they overcame a fear or to discuss a fear they are struggling with. Create a Courage Award that you give every October to encourage courage at your workplace. But don’t stop there. Remember that courage is composed of big and small things every day. Most of the time these acts are invisible, but it’s time we shine a light on these examples. There are some simple yet powerful things we can do in HR to encourage courage at work that will  help people face their fears,  act confidently on their convictions, and to take action.

 

Are Your Values Valuable?

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Every company has a set of values. They are the norms that describe what is important to the organization, and the behaviors that are encouraged and rewarded. Some of these values are what you see on the walls of the building- but often there are different values playing out between the walls. The new CEO at Uber has just rewritten their values, dropping  “hustling,” “toe-stepping,” and “principled confrontation” and replacing them with, among others, “We celebrate differences” and “We do the right thing. Period.” Or perhaps you are on your second or third iteration of your company’s values, leaving your employees skeptical that you really know what you stand for. If your company’s values include integrity, commitment to customers, or teamwork/trust you’re in good company-According to the Booz Allen Hamilton and Aspen Institute’s Business and Society Program researchers, 90% of companies reference ethical behavior/integrity, 88% mention commitment to customers, and 76% cite teamwork and trust. As my CEO, Ann Fandozzi, says, “I’m pretty sure our competition’s values aren’t we have no integrity so come work here. If your values don’t differentiate you, then they aren’t valuable.” Yet values do matter. According to a global survey by HR.com, one of the top 5 drivers of employee engagement is alignment between your personal values and your company’s values.  At Abra we are on a quest to create values that mean something to our team, to our customers, and to the way we do business.  We are getting great input, feedback, and buy-in as we work to create not just new values but a new way of leading our teams and our business.

Values and teams. It is ironic that the two most common approaches to creating values is either to hire an external consultant or to have a small group of executives pen them.  If values are our guiding principles, then we believe our employees should lead the way. When we began this journey, I spoke to the executive team and said for this to resonate across the organization, our values must come from voices across the organization. We are a national, production-driven organization, so this is not an easy task. But we partnered with the leaders across our stores and organized short focus groups. When we couldn’t pull people together, we took our notepads and talked with employees at their workstations –in the paint booth, next to a car, at the front desk. We asked 5 questions:

  • What do you like best about working at Abra?
  • What makes you proud to be an Abra employee?
  • What makes Abra unique?
  • How does a satisfied customer talk about Abra?
  • What does Abra need to do to become the Employer of Choice?

Over the course of 5 months we collected 90 pages of notes from over 300 employees. We are now going through this feedback and extracting the essence of what our employees said. We are not editing or changing their words – just summarizing.  The nuances and examples our teams shared are the heart of what they value- and will be reflected in our final summary.

Values and Customers. My family likes Panera. They have a great selection of healthy foods, and the quick food vs. fast food environment quells my mom guilt. We love our Panera because of Justine. Justine always greets our family with a smile, remembers my kids’ orders, and engages them in small talk.  To engaged employees, the organization’s success is personal. It matters. It’s a reflection of them and what they believe in, who they are, how they show up in the world. In a service industry, the customer’s experience IS your brand, so your company values should also reflect what is important to your customers. We are reviewing our customer survey data to identify common themes from our customers and our employees. We want our values to be our brand – but more importantly we want them to be our Justine –the essence of your experience with us.

Values and Business. Identifying the values is the easy part. Creating the process to integrate these values into the way you conduct business is hard. There are some obvious places to start – interview guides, recognition, and communication. These steps are critical, but if you want to see a great model of building your business around values, look at Zappos. All Zappos’ employees spend their first three to four weeks manning phones in their call center. This training helps new hires learn the business, but it also provides an internal resource for the company.  Zappos does not hire temps during the busy seasons – all employees are expected to sign up for shifts in the call center during the busy seasons. For employees hired directly into the call center, once you complete your four weeks of training  you are offered $3,000.00 to leave the company.  Not stay- leave. The Zappos’ philosophy is if you haven’t committed to the company and the values, then you should leave. Think about what that could look like – and say about – your company if you did something similar. Powerful.

The article Ban These 5 Words from your Corporate Values Statement recently appeared in the Harvard Business Review.  (1) Ethics and Integrity -as discussed, those are table stakes. (2) Collaboration. As the author says, if your employees aren’t working collaboratively, listing it as a core value isn’t the solution. (3) Authenticity- that should not be an aspiration, it should be a reality. (4) Fun- if you have to claim you are fun, you probably aren’t. (5) Customer-centric- all of us in the for profit sector best be customer-centric. Dig deeper and do the hard work to really understand what is important to your employees and your customers. Take an honest look at your business model and ask if this aligns with what our employees and customers value? Join me on a quest to create values that mean something to your team, to your customers, and to the way you do business.