Be a Yogi with Flexible Hours

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As a working mom I both love and hate summer. As a Minnesotan we survive winter by waiting for those hot steamy days and eating outside on patios. Then we survive summer by trying to navigate the chaos of having kids at home who need rides to games and activities while we are at work. What can we do as companies, leaders, and employees to stretch our thinking about flexibility over the summer and develop a muscle we can use all year? Blue Cross Blue Shield is piloting a summer hours program to help us test both our culture and our leadership muscle. The keys to our success will be putting the core tenets of yoga into our business practice: creating connection, sequencing movement, and centering on trust.

Creating connection. The origin is a Sanskrit word Yog meaning union. Yoga practices are designed to unite the body, mind, and energy to create a state of calmness. So before jumping on the mat, so to speak, we need to create connection. The most critical connections to test are, do your employees have clear goals and objectives and have you both agreed on how they will be measured. It is surprising how often we lead through assumption vs alignment. This is the perfect time to reconnect with your employees and do a mid year check in. We are halfway through the calendar year. This is the perfect time to spend 30 minutes with each employee and ask them what is their biggest accomplishment to date, what are their remaining milestones,  where do they need help and what are they most proud of. It is then key for you to share your feedback on their performance, their deliverables, and your priorities for the back half of the year.  It’s hard to be flexible if you don’t start on sure-footing- so help you and your team drive results by understanding what is expected. We recognize our summer flex program will give us the chance -and need- to improve this leadership muscle, which will make us stronger throughout the year.

Sequencing movement. Kriya yoga is based on the concepts of “to do,” “to act,” and “to react.” This method focuses on recharging the body with oxygen to enhance the mind. All yoga programs are made of a series of movements or flows that are practiced in a sequence. One of the criticisms we hear about work place flexibility is that it creates chaos. But if we take a systematic approach we can avoid that risk. Every team has workplace norms- the question is are they explicit and are they the ones you want. Pull your team together and ask what is working about the way you are working together.  Making sure you understand the current state before making a change is important.  Discuss your expectations around communication, response time, what should be on a shared drive, etc…, so that if anyone is out for any reason the team can do, act, and react appropriately.  Creating these norms will help our teams be more nimble and improve our efficiency year round.

Center on trust.  Anyone who has tried yoga knows it requires a lot of trust. Trust in your breath. In your balance. In your body. You have to let go and and just be to really get the most out of your practice.  Trust is tricky- and trickier still at work. When someone asks for flexible hours, many managers start with why not, what won’t work, or what’s too hard. Starting with trust means being honest. Yes Bill I have seen your work and it is great- I have every confidence you can deliver those results from anywhere. No Maria, I am concerned about your work and until I see improvements in X and Y, I don’t have confidence you will achieve the goals we have set. Both of these answers can help build trust.  A great Stephen Covey quote is, “Without trust we don’t truly collaborate, we merely coordinate, or at best cooperate. It is trust that turns a group of people into a team.”  Trust is always what makes someone a leader. You may prefer to know Bill is at his desk everyday or can be available every Friday afternoon, but if Bill’s performance is strong, trust Bill to get the job done Bill’s way.  In the research paper, Trust In Leadership Affects Employee Retention, by Jennifer Miller, it cites Spherion research on trust.  Employers ranked  employees’ level of trust in senior leadership as one of the top four indicators of employee engagement.  Unfortunately her research also found that 82% of employees don’t trust their boss. So what’s more important? Seeing Bill in his cube or seeing yourself earning his trust? We want trust to be the centerpiece of our culture so this pilot is helping us practice giving and showing trust in a meaningful way.

Launching our summer hours project has required a lot of flexibility.  We’ve worked with our operations teams. We’ve worked with communications. We’ve adjusted the timing. It may not be perfect, but we will learn. I am excited to be part of testing and pushing our norms. As an employee, I appreciate being trusted to manage my time and my schedule. As a Minnesota Mom, I am grateful that I can see my son’s soccer game this Friday. We will  see where our leadership and culture needs some stretching. The keys to our success will be putting the core tenets of yoga into our business practice: creating connection, sequencing movement, and centering on trust.

 

Give the Gift of Leadership

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The holiday season is upon us. Diwali has ended. Hanukkah starts Sunday. Christmas and Kwanzaa are around the corner. People are already in full swing on their holiday shopping. Black Friday deals are everywhere, and we set a spending record of $7.9 billion on Cyber Monday. But your mom always said, the best gifts are free. You don’t need a gold card, or gold, frankincense or myrrh to be wise this season. Wise leaders will be giving their presence, their time, and their appreciation.

The present of presence. All of us multitask, yet according to a Forbes article, 98% of us are not good at it, and multitasking actually decreases productivity by 40%.The truth is we cannot be present if we are not fully engaged with those around us. Were you listening when your employee said they had to leave early to check on their mom? Did you ask why? Did you ask how you could help? Did you ask the next day how she is? When we are truly present with others we hear and feel what is important to them and show them that they are important to us. To give the gift of presence, you will have to give up some of your screen time for real life connection time. Gift giving tips: (1) Shut off email and phones during meetings and one on ones and give your team your full attention. (2) Arrive 5 minutes early to meetings, and check in with people vs. checking your email. (3) Block daily or weekly time on your calendar to connect with your team in their space. Don’t bring your laptop- focus on asking, observing, and learning.

The gift of time. We tend to measure our time at work by the number of meetings, emails, and tasks we checked off our list each day.  These are often urgent, but not important distractions that fill our time but are not fulfilling. What if instead we measured our time at work by the number of people we coached, the new ideas we learned, and the recognition we gave?  Our teams regularly tell us in engagement surveys they want more information, more recognition, and more development. So, let’s give them what they want – your time and insights. Gift giving tips: To give the gift of time you will have to give up on getting to the bottom of your inbox. Don’t worry, it’s an impossible quest. Instead work on putting these 3 tips into practice: (1) Save time by setting team norms around emails. This is a great list of ideas to start with. (2) Block your lunch hour every day. Yup- everyday. Take different people on your team out to lunch and/or connect with peers at an electronic free meal. (3) Use team meeting time to inform and engage. Select a few key topics to cover and use 80% of the meeting for brainstorming, sharing best practices, and problem solving.

Packaging appreciation. As you write out your holiday cards ask yourself, when is the last time I gave a team member a thank you card? Small, regular signs of appreciation have the biggest impact on engagement and loyalty.  A sticky note that says “Your presentation was awesome and so are you. Thanks for making a difference on our team.” will stay up in someone’s cube for months and takes seconds to write. One of my favorite managers gave me a subscription to a scrapbooking magazine because she knew it was one of my hobbies. It probably cost her $20 and 15 years later I still appreciate her thoughtfulness. Gift giving tips: (1) Add recognition as a 5 minute agenda item to your team meetings. Encourage people to thank each other. (2) Buy a pack of blank cards and keep them on your desk. Commit to writing out at least one card a week. (3) Ask your team what kind of recognition is valuable to them – we all like to be recognized differently, so customize your gift.

Make this season merry and bright by giving your team the gift of your leadership. The investment you make in being present, giving time, and showing appreciation will come back multifold. The best part of giving the gift of leadership is you can give it every day, and it never goes out of style. So, give it, celebrate it, and enjoy it all year long.

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.

Engage Grief at Work

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July 21, 2015. I was leading a team meeting when my phone rang. It was my husband, so I picked up and told him I was in the middle of a meeting and asked if I could call him back. “No,” he said, “You’re going to need to step out. I have some bad news to tell you.” He told me that my dad had just passed away. In that moment I had to recompose myself, tell my team that I was leaving, and begin my journey of navigating the logistical, legal, and emotional process of losing a loved one. You suddenly find yourself a member of The Club No One Wants to Belong To, and wishing that you could go back and be more supportive and understanding of those who joined this club before you. Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant capture so many lessons learned in their book Option B. Here are a few lessons we can deploy at work to help employees who are grieving, that also improve engagement for the full team: acknowledge the elephant, build confidence, and be flexible.

Acknowledge the elephant. Western society doesn’t have norms on how to deal with grief. “How are you?” may be a polite greeting, but it isn’t a helpful one. As Sandberg says in her book, “I wanted to scream my husband just died, how do you think think I am? I didn’t know how to respond to pleasantries. Aside from that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?” We worry so much about saying something awkward or reminding our coworker about their loved one that we err on saying nothing. A good opener can be, ” I am so sorry to hear about your loss. I want you to know you don’t have to go through this grief alone. We are here for you.” Give the person the opportunity to talk about their loved one. After my dad passed, a coworker commented, “Your dad must have been a great guy. There were so many loving stories of him at his service. I’d love to hear more about his time in the Peace Corp if you’re up to talking about it sometime.” Showing a sincere, specific interest and giving the person the choice of how and when to talk about it builds gratitude and engagement. Inviting the elephant into the room allows the person to be authentic, and builds a trusting environment for the entire team.

Build Confidence. Losing a loved one shakes you to your core. You lose your center and have to rebuild.  When people return to work, it is important to help them find their new normal in the office. Before he/she returns, ask the grieving person how they would like their first day to go. Share with them what is on the team agenda and invite them to attend any and all meetings they feel up to. We are trying to be helpful when we say things like, “I’m sure you’re not up to taking on this project yet so I gave it to Mary.” Or, “I know you have a lot on your mind so you don’t have to come to the sales meeting.” What that can sound like to the grieving person is, “You clearly don’t have it together, so I don’t want to give you something you will screw up.” Find a project that uses the person’s skills to help accelerate his/her path to productivity.  Let him/her get some quick wins and show your appreciation. This same grace should be given to our high potentials in stretch assignments and our new hires/transfers joining the team. Showing that we are confident in people’s talent gives them the confidence to climb the learning curve and engages their hearts and minds at work.

Be Flexible. Business marches to a quarterly drum that seeks order and deadlines. But there is no one experience or timeline for grief. A key part of helping the grieving person re-acclimate at work  is setting an initial plan, then adjusting it regularly. When one of my employees had a stillborn, we talked about how she wanted to return to work. There were days when it was important for her to be at work, and there were times where working at home to crunch out some reports was the right thing to do. She knew I trusted her and I knew that offering increased flexibility allowed me to retain a valuable employee. We also revisited her workload on a regular basis. The team worked together to temporarily reorganize our work to help our friend have a successful re-entry while ensuring our commitments were met. Outcomes based goals are meaningful and motivating for everyone on the team, and help the team ensure the most important things get done. It also gives the grieving person the flexibility he/she needs to re-acclimate to the workplace.

Anna Quindlen wrote,”Grief is a whisper in the world and a clamor within.” We all have something clamoring within, that appears only as a whisper to others. Engage your team by acknowledging elephants, building confidence, and offering flexibility. This also creates a safe place for grief to reside and allows grieving employees to thrive.