Research Careers Blog

Open offices didn’t have to happen

Editor’s note: Barbara Hemphill is founder of Productive Environment Institute, Raleigh, N.C.

Estimates on time wasted by executives on searching for data ranges from 150 hours to six weeks per year. That means if an executive makes $200,000 per year, the company is spending anywhere from $16,600 to $25,000 per year, per executive, looking for lost information. Not only does it represent a dollar loss but a time loss as that executive spends 8 to 12.5 percent of their time just finding what they need to work.

The figures for employees underneath the executives are even more astounding. Studies show the average office workers spends anywhere between 25 percent and 35 percent of their time every day finding the information they need to do their job.

In a hypothetical organization with 1,000 workers, each drawing salary and benefits that together average $80,000 per year, the organization will spend $6 million on looking for information that should be readily available.

Research also shows that 80 percent of what we keep we never use, and the more we keep the less we use – because we don’t know we even have it, or we simply can’t find it.

Prior to personal computers, organizations had a personnel structure that ensured decisions were made about what needed to be kept. Executives had private secretaries. Departments had file clerks. Companies had file rooms, and file rooms had a records manager who was the keeper of the records retention program for the organization.

The pile-up begins

When computers showed up on everyone’s desks, support staff were deemed no longer necessary. When they left, so did the decision-making mechanism and the clutter began piling up. An administrator in a large Manhattan company shared that her company had ten floors with 1,000 file cabinets on each floor. In addition, there were banker’s boxes of full of files, and loose papers piled on desks and file cabinets. An evaluation of the problem quickly demonstrated unnecessary duplication of papers being filed. This same company was spending money to eliminate private offices and add filing cabinets, when the problem could have been avoided by simply eliminating the unnecessary files.

By nature, entrepreneurs and executives are not attuned to the issue of clutter. It seems a minor issue and employees being paid to organize their workspaces is not an efficient use of time and money. As a result, for the past several decades, clutter has been accumulating on desks, in file cabinets, in storage closets, and off-site. One IT manager said she used to look at her boss’s office and wonder how he could manage a company if he couldn’t even manage his own office.

Avoiding the issue

open officeWhen a major banking institution moves into its new multi-story building in Manhattan, their employees certainly won’t have any clutter. They also won’t have a door in their office, and most of them won’t have a desk. If they want to have a photo of their family in the office, they’ll have to lock it up every night, since they won’t have the same desk every day.

Company management says the setup will connect people face-to-face, raise energy levels and save money – by fitting more people into one space. People will learn to use headphones and talk more softly to enable privacy.

Other companies are doing the same. While researchers disagree about whether open offices foster communication or encourage distraction, the truth is the entire issue could have been avoided if executives would have started paying attention to the clutter that began accumulating in offices when Bill Gates put computers on everyone’s desk.

What can we learn?

If companies had paid attention to the paper accumulation decades ago, perhaps today we could still have offices with desks and doors, because there wouldn’t be millions of files stored that no one needs or uses.

While it’s true that open offices solve the problem of paper clutter, the clutter problem has merely been transferred from physical to digital. For decades, companies have spent millions of dollars on software for their employees but refused to invest in any training on how to organize the millions of files that are created daily. Now our computers and the cloud are filling up with clutter as surely as our desks and file cabinets have in the past.

As the familiar saying goes, “Those who don’t learn from history are condemned to relive it.”

Moving forward

While we can’t undo the past, we can certainly take steps to avoid repeating in the digital world the mistakes we made in the paper world. Here are five steps your organization can take now:

  1. Identify someone in your organization to take ownership for effectively managing information.
  2. Take a serious look in your office to see if there is a clutter problem you are ignoring.
  3. Create a user-friendly records retention program for your organization.
  4. Implement a training program to teach employees how to make decisions about what information they need to keep.
  5. Empower employees to eliminate unnecessary clutter by designating specific times for that purpose.

 

Posted in Employment Tips, Employment Trends, For Employers | Comment

Developing humility in 2016

Editor’s note: Edward D. Hess is a professor of business administration, author of Lear or Die: Using science to build a leading-edge learning organization and Batten executive-in-residence at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business.

Work Hard, Stay HumbleAs a new year begins, most of us are focused on the resolutions we’ve chosen to pursue. While 2016 is still relatively fresh, you might want to consider adding one (probably unexpected) goal to perennial favorites like losing weight or getting your finances in order: becoming humble. Why? Larger-than-life egos are quickly becoming liabilities, not the signs of strength and leadership they once were. Indeed, in what may first appear to be a paradox, ego’s mortal enemy – humility – is one of the traits most likely to guarantee success in the 21st century workplace.

In the tech tsunami of the next few decades, robots and smart machines are projected to take over more than half of U.S. jobs. The jobs that will still be safe involve higher-order cognitive and emotional skills that technology can’t replicate, like critical thinking, innovation, creativity and emotionally engaging with other humans. All of those skills have one thing in common: They are enabled by humility.

Skeptical? Ask yourself this: Have you ever met someone with a big ego who was really good at being open-minded? Really good at reflectively listening? At putting himself in another’s shoes? At playing well with others? At saying, “I don’t know?”

Clearly, if you want to be an effective leader – or even a successful employee – in 2016 and beyond, you are going to have to rein in your ego and become more team-oriented. And make no mistake: It won’t be easy.

We’re talking about self-work that’s never finished. For one thing, ego-based thinking is our brain’s default position – we naturally seek to reinforce what we already think we know. Also, we have to overcome a lifetime of cultural and behavioral big-ego conditioning. But if we’re to stay competitive in the Smart Machine Age, it has to happen!

Here are seven suggestions to help you improve your humility this year:

First, know that you’ll have to work against your brain’s natural inclinations. Quieting our egos actually goes against our very natures! Cognitively, humans are wired to selectively process only information that is confirmatory – and to selectively filter out information that contradicts what we know to be right. In addition, we’re lazy, self-serving and emotionally defensive thinkers who are driven to protect our egos.

However, the science is quite clear that high-level and innovative thinking is a team sport. In order to learn, adapt and succeed, we have to be willing to look closely at our mistakes and failures, to really listen to people who disagree with us and to allow the best thinking and best ideas to rise to the top – which requires humility! The good news is, when it comes to resisting your thinking’s natural defenses, forewarned is forearmed.

Seek objective feedback about your ego. You can’t troubleshoot your ego if you don’t have an accurate picture of what it looks like. Since this isn’t an area in which you can trust your own judgment, have the courage to get people who know you well at work and in your personal life to fill out a 360-degree review about you – one that focuses on your emotional intelligence and your behaviors concerning open-mindedness, listening, empathy, humility, etc.

Explain why you need honest answers. Emphasize how appreciative you will be if they are honest and that candor will not diminish the relationship. After receiving the data, evaluate it with a trusted other. Thank everyone who had the courage to give you honest feedback. Reflect on the picture you received and decide what you want to do with that data.

Change your mental model of what smart looks like. In the past, smartness has been determined by the size of one’s body of knowledge. Not knowing the “right” answer was – and often still is – a big blow to the ego. But today we already have instant access to all the knowledge we want, thanks to companions like Google and Siri. The new smart means knowing what you don’t know and knowing how to learn it, being able to ask the right questions and being able to examine the answers critically.

We are all sub-optimal thinkers. Only those of us who can graciously and humbly admit that we don’t know it all will succeed in this new world. So change how you keep score. Engage in collaboration, seek out feedback and ask for help daily. That will push you toward developing the humility and empathy you’ll need to win in the new game.

Learn to put yourself in others’ shoes. Research says one way to become less self-absorbed and more open to the experiences of others is to actively work on being more empathetic and compassionate. Thinking of how others helped you and saying “thank you” on a daily basis is a positive way to begin the process. Reflecting on the people who add joy to your life helps too.

Suspending judgment so that I can put myself in another person’s shoes has always been a particular challenge for me. My mind always wants to jump to a conclusion instead of really considering what the other person is experiencing, thinking, or feeling. Active listening has been an important tool in helping me learn to set my ego aside. When I remind myself to focus all of my attention on what someone else is saying instead of on formulating my own response, I find that my understanding of the situation grows – and often, so does the amount of empathy I feel.

Remember, you don’t have to fully agree with someone’s opinion or actions to still treat them with compassion. Disagreeing with humility still leaves the lines of communication open and allows teamwork to happen in the future.

Quiet your mind to stay in the moment.  Attention-focused meditation is a time-honored method of calming one’s inner self-intensity. Fully engaging with your current experience (as opposed to ruminating on the past or worrying about the future) enables you to maintain a balanced, healthy perspective. Staying in and responding to the present moment is also a powerful safeguard against ego-driven misunderstandings and misinterpretations.

Personally, I have found that meditation makes me more aware of my physical reactions – breathing and heart rate. I now know that when my internal motor gets running really fast I tend to revert to a “me” syndrome, and that I need to deliberately slow myself down so that I can exhibit more calmness and openness to others. I have come to understand that as a teammate and as a leader I don’t have to be right all the time or the center of attention all the time – but I do have to work with others to arrive at the best answer.

Stop letting fear drive your decisions. We often play it safe because we don’t want to look dumb, be wrong or fail spectacularly in front of our friends and colleagues. In other words, we’re afraid of making mistakes and bruising our egos. Being OK with being wrong is a necessary and important part of developing humility.

Fear of failure, fear of looking bad, fear of embarrassment, fear of a loss of status, fear of not being liked and fear of losing one’s job all inhibit the kind of learning, innovation and collaboration that’s essential for your long-term job security. To proceed more fearlessly into the future, you need to understand that learning is not an efficient 99 percent defect-free process – so mistakes have to be valued as learning opportunities.

The faster and better you are at turning mistakes into learning opportunities, the less likely it is that you will be replaced by some machine. Having an ego that’s not afraid to acknowledge mistakes, confront weaknesses and test assumptions is a reliable strategy for long-term success.

Grade yourself daily. There’s a reason why to-do lists are so popular: They work! Create a checklist of reminders about the need to be humble, open-minded, empathetic, a good listener or any other ego-mitigating quality you wish to work on. Make the list as detailed as possible. Review it before every meeting and grade yourself at the end of each meeting. For example, if you want to work on being a better listener, your list might include the following tasks:

  • Do not interrupt others.
  • Really focus on understanding the other person.
  • Suspend judgment.
  • Do not think about your response while the other person is still talking.
  • Do not automatically advocate your views in your first response.
  • Ask questions to make sure you understand the other person.
  • Ask if you can paraphrase what the other person said to make sure you heard them correctly.
  • Really try to understand the reasons the other person believes what they believe.

 

If you reflect and work on managing yourself every day, you will notice a difference in your humility-to-ego ratio. To start, I advise picking two behaviors you want to change. Seek the help of trusted others in creating your checklist and ask for their help in holding you accountable. Give them permission to call you out when they see you acting in opposition to your desired new behaviors.

The journey to becoming a humble person will not be short. It will take persistent hard work. And it will be a lifelong endeavor – not something that’s completed by December 31. But I firmly believe that you will find the journey to be liberating and fruitful.

With humility comes more meaningful relationships, better opportunities and of course, an increased chance of staying relevant and competitive in the Smart Machine Age. In that age, individualism and internal competition will be out, and teamwork will be in. Self-promotion will be out, and self-reflection will be in. Knowing it all will be out, and being good at not knowing will be in.

In short, humility will be needed to maximize one’s effectiveness at thinking, listening, relating and collaborating. You will need others to help you out-think a smart machine! Work on yourself starting now, so they’ll want to engage with you tomorrow. Honing your humility may be one of the most important New Year’s resolutions you’ll ever make.

 

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3 Questions for uncovering unconscious bias in the workplace

Editor’s note: Natalie Holder is an employment lawyer, speaker, corporate trainer and author of Exclusion: Strategies for Increasing Diversity in Recruitment, Retention and Promotion.

Diversity and inclusion have definitely grown up over the past 20 years. Studies have shown that diversity management tops the list of priorities that businesses will have in the coming years. Within the last 10 years, there has been an explosion of senior-level diversity officer roles in corporations, higher education and law firms. With all of these resources being put toward increasing diversity, why have most organizations not achieved the change they seek?

You might not have an answer because despite much societal advancement, there are reminders that people are treated unfairly because of their faith, how they look or how they sound.

Our silence might also be acknowledging that we do not know how to achieve the diversity we seek.

In the workplace, part of the issue is not knowing the difference between diversity and inclusion. Think of the high school lunch table as a metaphor for experiencing the distinction between the two.

cafeteriaDo you remember what your high school cafeteria looked like, sounded like and what it smelled like? You probably had a group of friends that you ate lunch with every day. Imagine that one day, you asked a different group if you could sit with them and they enthusiastically made room for you. However, after a few minutes at this new table, you noticed that you were not a part of the conversation. People were making plans for the weekend without asking if you would like to join them. When you tried to tell a joke, everyone stared at you dismissively. People talked over you and cut you off mid-sentence. While you were invited to sit at the table, you were not invited to engage at the table. Many organizations do a great job of recruiting for the diversity they seek, but fail to create inclusive environments.

Engagement is a measurement of a person’s inclusion in an organization and drives the overall quality of the human capital brought to the table.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs states that everyone has needs that must be met before they can reach a level of self-actualization. In the workplace, an employee’s safety and psychological needs are most likely taken care of because their jobs provide the financial resources for them to clothe and feed themselves. However, the difficulty in most workplaces starts with the social needs.

When you have friends and positive relationships at work, it creates a sense of belonging. Next is your esteem needs. Everyone has a need to have their work recognized by senior leadership. If employees never hear that they are doing a good job, they may doubt their work and themselves.

Lastly, if all your other needs are met, you may reach the level of self-actualization at work. Self-actualization is the point where you take initiative and solve the critical problems in your organization. When your social and esteem needs are met, you have the space, room and security to think about new and different ways to contribute to your company’s business goals. If one of these rungs on the ladder to engagement are missing, however, it could financially impact the organization. For instance, employee turnover is one consequence of not having engagement. If your organization had 75,000 employees, and 50 percent were women and non-white but saw a 3.6 percent attrition rate with this population, it would cost the organization $2.2 million if it costs ten thousand dollars to replace an employee.

So how and why does exclusion still take place when there are direct benefits to inclusion? Often, without even realizing it, people engage in micro-inequities that are driven by their unconscious biases. Micro-inequities are the subtle gestures, comments and interactions that make you feel included or excluded by another. It’s feeling ignored when you’re talking to someone and they glance at their watch when you make an important point. It’s being left off of an e-mail chain when you should have been included. Think of micro-inequities as the waves that threaten to erode your beautiful beach house that sits on wooden stilts. Over time, the waves deteriorate the wooden stilts, often in ways that are unseen by the eye.

While there are a number of ways to uncover exclusion and unconscious bias in an organization – and eventually eradicate it – the process may start with three questions:

  1. Is there a team member who would view my feedback as negative if I give them any feedback at all?
  2. Who on the team do I dislike working with?
  3. Which person on the team makes me say, “I am having such a difficult time getting to know this person?”

 

Most likely the person or people who surface in your responses are feeling excluded from your work groups.

In a training session for a large government agency, there was a senior leader who admitted that while he was committed to diversity as a cause, he was not putting his actions into practice with certain individuals on his team. He courageously admitted that he created a self-fulfilling prophecy where his favorite employees were excelling and the others, whom he did not connect with and had ignored, were struggling. Invitations to his afternoon coffee excursions to Starbucks were only extended to the people on his team that he connected to and liked.

Even those with the best intentions have difficulty tying their words to their actions. Creating an inclusive culture takes shaking our unconscious minds awake and questioning our actions.

 

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Top 5 barriers to diversity and inclusion in your organization

Editor’s note: Natalie Holder is an employment lawyer, speaker, corporate trainer and author of Exclusion: Strategies for Increasing Diversity in Recruitment, Retention and Promotion.

Twenty years ago, when most of us thought of diversity the prefix “bio” was attached to it along with visions of nature. Today, diversity has become big business for Corporate America and many organizations. The Glass Ceiling Commission found that companies had 2.5 times higher stock market performance when they invested in glass-ceiling related issues versus companies who ignored them. Racially diverse companies have 15 times more revenue than the least racially diverse, which explains why 40 percent of the companies with $5 billion in revenue have diversity as a focus in recruitment. However, many organizations feel stuck in their diversity mission, in part, because they do not know the difference between diversity and inclusion.

Knocking down hurdlesDiversity is like being invited to sit at a table that is already set; inclusion is being asked to partner with the host and help set up the table. Inclusion can be measured with the level of employee engagement in your organization, which drives the overall quality of your staff, and has a positive impact throughout the company.

Studies have shown that it is natural for people to create in-groups and out-groups, depending on similarities and differences. The more people perceive someone to be different, the less likely that they feel comfortable or trust them – thus putting them in their out-group.

Knowing the benefits of an inclusive work environment, why do some organizations still operate with a mindset of exclusivity, creating inclusion roadblocks that are difficult to overcome? Identifying these five roadblocks in your organization is critical to success for the 21st century business because when you knock them down your whole company will be better for it.

1. Informal mentoring

Formal mentoring pairs often have the best intentions, however, they rely on trust and shared interest being manufactured. However, informal mentoring is a self-selecting process where a senior leader has chosen to guide and care for the career development of a junior colleague. Trust and shared interest are inherent in the relationship. Informal mentoring is like a senior leader being obsessed with your success. Often, informally mentoring members of out-groups is difficult because unconsciously, we are more likely to be invested in someone’s career development and create opportunities for them when we can see themselves in a colleague. To challenge this natural inclination, think about the person who you feel adds the greatest diversity to your team and ask yourself, “When was the last time I invited this person out for coffee or gave this person feedback on an assignment?” If your answers are consistent with your answers for other team members who are comfortably in your in-group, then you are on the right track. If not, an outing for coffee or informal feedback are solid steps in the right direction.

2. Recovering from mistakes

Although everyone makes mistakes, how they are dealt with makes all the difference. Are you given a second chance or are you forever marked as the careless employee? Studies have shown that we have a greater tendency to blame external factors when our in-group members make mistakes, for example, understanding that a report was late because the printer was broken. However, when out-group members make mistakes, we attribute their mistakes to their personal flaws, that is, a broken printer is no excuse because there were ample days to complete the report. While an employer may be instilling good relations with one employee, she is potentially ostracizing the employee she chooses to penalize. When employees in out-groups notice that they are treated by the book while their majority counterparts are not, this creates an environment that says that discriminatory discipline is part of the unwritten rules of the workplace.

3. Bullying

Yelling, abusive e-mails and character assassinations are just some of the tactics workplace bullies use to usurp the power base in an organization. Bullies will target out-group members who seem vulnerable because they do not have strong informal mentors or allies. Managers should be concerned about and put an end to bullying because it can destroy a team and decrease work productivity.

4. Insensitivity

Organizations often do not realize how changes in their employee and client demographics may require a few tweaks to their social traditions. The jokes, comments and even events that were once held may have a negative impact on the talent who adds a new dimension of diversity to your office. Insensitivity can even become a source of workplace stress, which can result in burnout, low morale, drug use and violence. Ultimately, insensitivity can expose organizations to costly employment lawsuits. The manager who ignores complaints of insensitive conduct is just as guilty as the person who makes the offending comment or gesture.

5. Perceived underperformance

Kevin Costner’s character in the movie Field of Dreams was inspired to turn his farm into a baseball field when a voice told him, “If you build it, he will come.” People are influenced to act based on their beliefs, which create perceptions, which – whether false or true – become reality. When you unconsciously believe that employees in an out-group are less skilled, less qualified, or less talented, you consciously look for affirmation of these beliefs.

If you start a relationship from the premise that an employee is not going to succeed, more often than not, that employee will not succeed. Similar to how work styles can obscure a manager’s perceptions about an employee’s abilities, visible characteristics can also distract managers from truly valuing the employee’s work. Sometimes those who bring a dimension of diversity to the office might not be appreciated because their managers and coworkers are considering the person doing the work and not the content. When your subjective perception about how someone will work interferes with their objective performance, everyone loses.

Training and other strategic actions steps can move your organization in the right direction toward diversity and inclusion. Increased profits, improved reputation and employee engagement are just a few of the huge returns on your investment of time and resources when knocking down these five inclusion barriers.

 

 

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Taking a conscious approach to your hiring practices

Editor’s note: Magi Graziano is a speaker working in employee recruitment and engagement and author of The Wealth of Talent.

Application - approved hiring processMany companies – from mega-corporations to neighborhood markets – are still using outdated hiring techniques. Clinging to the ways of the past when constructing a workforce leads to high turnover, stagnant engagement from staff and quarterly reports in the red.

In some cases, it is as if they are staffed by a host of HR drones, these businesses are going about the practice of hiring in a completely automatic, unconscious manner. Solving the hiring problems of the 21st Century requires a spirited, connected system that makes selecting the right candidates for the job easy.

It requires a conscious hiring process.

The premise is that conscious hiring is the key to workforce optimization and engagement and employee retention, as well as an overall boost to your customer service efforts. Hiring consciously means awareness around the role, the purpose and outcomes required to successfully validate the roles existence and cost in the organization; as well as mindfulness about who the right type of person is for the role. With a conscious hiring mindset, all of these parameters are defined at the beginning of the search. It means making keen hiring decisions that are geared toward the organization’s strategic needs over and above the key words listed on the resume and the frenzy to fill the job fast.

When people are hired and on-boarded into an organization that they are philosophically aligned with and they are hired into roles that are a natural self-expression of their strengths and talents, simply said, they perform – and they perform well. When you open your hiring minds and take a conscious approach in your “people on boarding” methods, you ultimately streamline your operation: you optimize your workforce, maximize employee retention and engagement and begin to provide stout customer service.

Workforce optimization

When you look at hiring like you look at improving your running, tennis or golf game, it only makes sense to hire people who raise the bar and make everyone better in the process. High performers focus on doing the right things, achieving outcomes and depending on their role and interests, they focus on making improvements to products and the business. An optimized workforce means that the right people are focused on the right things. The right things might look like increased sales, operational efficiency, innovation, customer experience and sustainability, as these are the pillars of any long-term successful organization.

Employee engagement

There is tremendous chatter in the media about the lack of employee engagement in the workplace and a large emphasis in leadership circles on raising workforce productivity – both of which can be solved through a conscious hiring mindset. When the majority of people on a project team are high quality engaged workers; it raises the energy and output of the group, and when the opposite occurs, it lowers the energy and output of the work.

Most people are like sponges and those around them affect their work attitudes. Positivity breeds positivity, and so forth. Work production improves under the guidance of engaged, inspired and competent people; as opposed to when you unknowingly hire someone who is not competent, not engaged and their attention is bifurcated, you get a sub-par work product. It’s the law of physics.

Hiring is a tricky game. Most people know they must put their best foot forward in an interview; however they don’t know the impact they cause by being ill-equipped for actually doing the work. It is the business manager’s job to know and be aware of the impact and to head off these problems before they arise.

Employee retention

A conscious hiring program helps business owners streamline their hiring efforts and maximize hiring effectiveness because it begins with the end in mind. Before any advertising is done, or any recruitment begins the role is assessed and analyzed for a solid understanding of purpose and linkage to strategic outcomes. Often, too much time is spent with candidates who have spot-on resumes yet lack the fundamental traits to effectively execute the role; and in the end, neither the person nor the role deliver.

Organizations want to keep the right people – those people who contribute and move the business forward. When management focuses on developing their best people, evoking the best in them and shepherding them to the next level, they improve the retention of their high-potentials. Likewise, when management focuses on fixing and preventing errors, they create a culture of risk adversity and stagnation. Consciously hiring affords managers the time to focus on elevating the work challenges and opportunities for the right people, which leads to stronger employee retention.

Customer service

The customer experience improves when the person in the customer-facing role authentically cares about service delivery, is a proactive problem solver and has a natural talent at follow up and detail orientation. The experience one has when they walk into an establishment and the staff are standing around talking, while customers stand and wait is the same experience your customers have to endure when they call don’t feel served.

In sharp contrast, the organizations that match their hiring brand with their customer brand attract and onboard the type of people who deliver results for the customers that are consistent with what was promised when they signed up. When you match your company values to the values you look for in your service people, they naturally deliver in a manner that honors those values and your message and inn turn your service brand is strengthened.

When your company breaks free from the fetters of archaic hiring methods, turns on its brainpower and begins to recruit and hire in a conscious manner, it has an organization-wide benefit. Turnover drops, employee engagement improves, workforce productivity increases and your customers and clients are more apt to return and increase their business.

 

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Online training is the key to employee retention

Editor’s note: Patricia Fripp is creator of virtual training site www.FrippVT.com, San Francisco Bay Area, Calif.

Successfully tying your shoe laces; learning the Pledge of Allegiance, memorizing multiplication facts or the periodic table; conjugating irregular verbs in Spanish. What do these things have in common? They were all mastered through repetitive attempts. From a very young age, we began to achieve retention through repetition, and that strategy still applies for mastering new content and new skills in business.

However, when your employees attend a conference, a seminar, a board meeting, a class, etc., even if they listen carefully, take notes, study the handouts and relate the material to their personal experiences, they will not be able to recall all of the most critical and relevant points. Neuroscience research and experience indicate that with only one exposure to the material this is the governing reality.

online training word cloudAfter the in-person training, the next critical component for retention is reinforcement through repetition. Even the most skilled, artful and memorable trainers will impact an audience’s brains with very limited retention in one presentation. True retention comes from repeated exposure and practice of the skills that are taught, and that is why online training makes sense.

Why should you invest in online training for your company? Because you are a professional and you want your employees to be professional in their interactions with their colleagues, with your competition, with potential clients, with everyone they encounter as they represent your company.

No matter what your profession is, you are smart enough to know that the future belongs to the competent. True success comes to those who are more multifaceted in their competence; those who seek out relationships with others in other disciplines, in and out of their companies; those who are always ready and willing to learn something new.

The value of investing in online training cannot be underestimated. This is especially relevant to the person who makes decisions around funding of training and development. When companies invest in online training programs, they reap multiple benefits:

  1. An opportunity to demonstrate your commitment to the personal progress and growth of your associates in your workplace. Many younger associates will stay longer, work harder and be more committed to companies that help them learn skills that will last a lifetime.
  2. Ensuring that your capabilities keep pace with the current standards of others in the same field. Companies are always competing for the best available talent. However, most recruit the best they can find with the right attitude and then train for skills that are required.
  3. Many industries require continuing education credits for employees, and many online training programs qualify for continuing education certification. A continuing education program can lead to increased public confidence in individual professionals and their profession as a whole. When comparing individuals for promotion and new opportunities, those who actively seek professional accreditation have an advantage.
  4. Continuing education programs link employees who have similar job responsibilities. They may also connect employees to programs that help them discover new opportunities available to them within the company. Smart managers continue to communicate this message in their team meetings. Ambitious professionals realize that continuing education is a non-taxable fringe benefit. Employees of companies with multiple locations can study together and consider the friendship and comradery an amazing bonus.
  5. When you provide employees with access to resources, not only will they feel like they are gaining value from their relationship with their employer but they will also be empowered to develop their professional skills (e.g., lunch-and-learn programs that also offer continuing education).
  6. Funding online training will multiply the value of in-person training by generating employee practices that will produce tangible results. As this is usually a fraction of the cost of in-person training, more associates can benefit from the knowledge.
  7. Workforces in companies are often spread across a wide area, and it may not be convenient or financially sustainable to send representatives from each area to a conference or training. Some managers are incorporating segments of the well-prepared and well-presented content from nationally known experts into their staff meetings. Many small companies in Canada that provide company retreats build online training modules into their agendas. Again, this is an affordable way to learn from experts you would never be in a position to bring in.
  8. Employees can access the online training at times and in locations that are convenient and practical for them. As many online programs are very well produced and have a gamified feel to them, employees are more likely to watch on their mobile devices on their own time.

 

When your employees, your colleagues, your managers or executives experience presentations, it is important for them to have opportunities to revisit the training. The impact of having quality online training available cannot be underestimated.

Just like learning to tie shoelaces, being able to revisit those lessons through virtual online training can make all the difference in whether those skills are embedded and become skills that have a powerful and enduring impact for your company.

 

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Fear factory: Are you letting fear drive your leadership?

Editor’s note: Dan Prosser is the author of Thirteeners and CEO of The Prosser Group and BreakthroughSchool.com.

 
As iconic horror writer H.P. Lovecraft said, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” But here’s the harsh truth: No matter how much you plan, no matter how many rules you put in place, no matter how much risk you avoid, you’ll never control all the circumstances that influence your business. Never. And if you can’t learn to coexist peacefully with that truth, you’ll never live up to your full potential as a leader.

panic buttonToo many leaders live in fear of the unknown and of uncontrollable events in their business. The consequences can be devastating. There’s no faster way to turn good employees into cynical and nonproductive ones than to stress them out through your efforts to control the possibility of failure.

Fear spreads quickly from leaders to employees. It stifles individuals and groups, prevents productive risk-taking and turns engaged innovators into disconnected clock-punchers. Ultimately, the harmful side effects of fear prevent your company from effectively executing its strategy.

The future of your business exists only in your declaration. You must declare for something that doesn’t exist yet. Leading by fear is the antithesis of that. Fear holds you in place. You can’t declare for great outcomes because you’re afraid to take the actions necessary to achieve them. To shut down the fear factory inside your company, you have to gather your courage and take a close look at what fears are dominating the way you lead.

Here are five behaviors that indicate you are a fear-driven leader:

You value “not failing” above all else. Eighty-seven percent of all companies with a strategic plan will fail to execute it. That’s because those companies are pursuing the simplest yet most damaging strategy: the strategy to avoid failure.

You cling to old strategies simply because they’re familiar. Many companies that fail often appear to be operating under full sail. Yes, there’s lots of action happening in these organizations, but it’s usually the wrong kind of action. It’s what earned success in years gone by. Leaders at these organizations think that if a strategy has worked before then it’s got to work again – and that more of the same can only be better. They go out of their way to convince themselves that the old strategy is working – especially when it isn’t.

The difference between a rut and a grave is only about five and a half feet. Instead of digging themselves out of the rut they’re in, leaders who cling to old strategies end up just digging themselves in deeper when change occurs in the marketplace. Suddenly, they realize the competition has caught up or customers are starting to disappear.

You assume you (and you alone) “should” have all the answers. Fearful leaders often operate like lone wolves. They have to do everything themselves to feel confident it will be done correctly, and they resist considering (much less relying on) the opinions and recommendations of others.

This is like taking a test from memory when you have the option to use not just the textbook but the whole library. You’ll never know how talented your employees are if you think you have to have all the answers. Why not partner with your people to generate radical and revolutionary innovations for the future – a future that does not represent your fears of repeating the past? Let go of how you think it has to be and trust the process, allowing others to contribute ideas and get connected to your vision.

Your knee-jerk reaction to chaos is to do something – anything. Whether you’ve just learned of an unexpected drop in quarterly earnings, gotten bad news from a client or had a promising deal fall through, you’ve no doubt been faced with chaos, disorder or confusion. Did you remain calm and thoroughly assess the situation or did you panic, rush to judgment and act without thinking?

When you’re faced with unexpected chaos or anxiety (especially anxiety that implies you’re not equal to the challenge at hand), it’s easy to think, I need to do something right now. And so you lay off employees, switch to a new strategy, pull a product off the market or make some other move that makes you feel better in the short run that you did, well, something. But knee-jerk reactions made out of fear can have a long-lasting negative impact on your organization.

You find yourself constantly addressing symptoms rather than searching for root causes. When disruptive issues pop up in the workplace, the first thing we want to do is – naturally – snuff them out as fast as we can. Often, that’s because we fear not just the consequences of the disruption but also the damage that might occur to our own reputations.

However, treating only the symptoms rarely works. Most of the time, it just temporarily masks the real problem, which continues to damage workplace performance. As long as you’re addressing only the symptoms and allowing core issues to remain, similar problems will just show up somewhere else and you will go through the same exercise of pulling people in and talking through the problem (actually the symptoms) again and again and again.

If any of these behaviors seem familiar, fear may be holding you – and by extension, your organization – back from executing your strategy. Only by becoming aware of your automatic thought pattern about the circumstances you face (that you can’t do anything about) and by becoming unattached to the outcomes will you be able to get yourself, first and then your company, out of its rut, get your people engaged and connected and move ahead.

Becoming a successful top 13 percent company takes a leader with a high level of desire and a fearless willingness to lose everything (i.e., no attachment to a particular outcome) to produce breakthrough results. That requires changing one’s perspective, modifying one’s own thinking and behavior, and conquering well-entrenched beliefs and habits. Don’t make the mistake of believing that just because you’ve earned a leadership position you’ve finished working on yourself.

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How to engage employees with elevated communication

Editor’s note: Ascanio Pignatelli is founder of Apex CEO, a Los Angeles-based executive coaching and leadership group, and author of the forthcoming book Lead from Need.

CommunicationIn many ways, Adrian was a great CEO; hard-working and completely devoted to his staff and organization but it was not until he analyzed his CEO performance review that he noticed the blind-spot in his leadership: the gap between how he saw his communication and how his employees were interpreting it. Committed to becoming a better communicator and more effective leader, Adrian met with an old colleague Ivana, one of the finest leaders and communicators he had ever met. After scrutinizing his report for what seemed like an eternity, Ivana asked Adrian: “Why do you think so many of your employees believe you have a negative mindset and don’t communicate effectively with them?”

Adrian took a moment then muttered, “With all the stress it’s hard to always maintain a positive and enthusiastic attitude.”

Ivana nodded in agreement. “That’s true, being positive when stressed is a real challenge, however doing so will help lower your stress, increase your energy and make you feel a lot better. It will also help set the tone for your entire company.”

“I guess you’re right. I should probably be more positive.”

“More positive yes but the real key is to really listen to them. The most important part of communication is effective listening. Most of us are rather disengaged when we listen but if you can really listen to what your employees are saying you will be able to build more trust and rapport with them, resolve more conflict and connect in a deeper way.”

Ivana is right. Effective listening does two things: it ensures that the sender’s communication has been received as intended and it tells the sender that their communication has value. There’s an old saying goes, listening is love. Great listeners are masters at making those they are listening to feel important, and perhaps on some deeper level, loved. To really connect with your staff and make them feel valued you’ll want to move toward empathetic listening.

Disengaged listening

Have you ever had a conversation with someone you felt just didn’t get anything you said despite their involved contribution? You probably sensed their minds were completely focused on what they wanted to say next, and not on absorbing and processing what you were saying. Well, that is disengaged listening, and most of the time although we might be hearing what’s being said, our minds are actually busy thinking about what to say next. Disengaged listening isn’t just responsible for corrupting the communication that’s being received; it leaves the speaker feeling unimportant.

To escape the disengaged listening trap, the next time you are having a conversation with someone begin to notice when your mind either starts to wander from the conversation or is thinking about what to say next. The simple act of bringing awareness to how you listen will make you a much better listener and leave those you communicate with feeling valued.

Engaged listening

Engaged listening means listening without judgment, opinions or preconceived notions. Engaged listening creates a space for others to really express what they are thinking without them feeling like they are being judged. It also ensures they are heard, and that their thoughts and feelings are important to you. You can become a more engaged listener by asking empowering questions; questions that probe, seek clarity, focus on solutions and put the power to solve a problem or challenge into the other person’s hands. For example, “How might you accomplish that?” or “What’s another way of seeing that?”

There is a direct link between employee engagement and how much those employees feel their company values them. Organizations that have created a culture that values its staff by listening to them in an engaged and nonjudgmental way will find its members reciprocating the value and respect they feel by raising their energy and level of engagement while at work. You can become a much more engaged listener by acknowledging and validating the feelings other people express to you the same way Ivana did with Adrian.

Empathetic listening

This is the highest form of listening and will build strong ties with your employees if you master it. Empathetic listening is feeling what the other person is feeling through their communication. It includes deciphering body language, reading between the lines, listening for tonal discrepancies and looking for what’s not being said as much as what’s being said.

Listening at such a high level lets the person who is speaking know that you’ve captured their emotional experience. Although empathetic listening requires considerable focus, effort and concentration, with enough practice it can become routine.

Adrian worked hard at being a more positive and effective communicator. He became a lot less judgmental and shifted his focus from finding problems to finding solutions. Whenever his employees were upset about something he’d acknowledge and validate their feelings. And when they became stuck or frustrated, he’d ask them empowering questions to shift their perspective. He developed more rapport with them, and earned more of their trust, which left them feeling more valued, respected and connected to him. It didn’t take long after that for their own performance and engagement to increase as well.

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Should your company implement a shock report?

Your company has a culture that you are proud of. Employees are deeply engaged with the company mission and you believe your teams have strong leadership skills that lead projects to success. And yet, you’re finding it difficult to recruit for (and keep) senior staff positions.

According to a recent Wall Street Journal blog, “Why you should ask new employees what most shocks them,” you might want to consider implementing a shock report when hiring new employees – a tool that taps new recruits, asking what they found most shocking or astonishing after joining the company. The blog draws on a recruitment discussion with Chinese company founders in Shanghai that ask new recruits to fill out a type of shock report after a set period of time at the company – usually 100 days. The goal is to “capture the collective wisdom of first impressions before the organization’s culture begins to indoctrinate new recruits.”

I am newWhile the importance of gathering data and asking questions certainly isn’t a new idea in the MR industry, you might find it a bit puzzling that shock reports are recommended to organizations that already have a strong company culture. The reason? A strong culture often makes it hard for new leaders and ideas to find success in the company. In addition company pride – a common side effect of a strong culture – can also cause management to overlook internal dysfunction.

So the next time you are recruiting, make it a goal to ask new employees to observe subtle trends, emphasizing their role in taking the company to the next level.

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Why a big ego could be your downfall

Editor’s note: Edward D. Hess is a professor of business administration, author of Lear or Die: Using science to build a leading-edge learning organization and Batten executive-in-residence at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business.

Man towering over building Not so long ago, our culture really (really) admired people with big egos. We called them rugged individualists, fearless leaders, MVPs, visionaries and go-getters. We respected these confident and successful folks for (seemingly) having all the answers. They were all too happy to stand their ground and argue their point, and we saw this as a sign of strength and leadership.

Now, everything has changed. Larger-than-life egos are fast becoming liabilities. Indeed, in what may first appear to be a paradox, ego’s mortal enemy – humility – is one of the traits most likely to guarantee success in the 21st century workplace.

In the tech tsunami of the next few decades, robots and smart machines are projected to take over more than half of U.S. jobs.

The jobs that will still be safe involve higher-order cognitive and emotional skills that technology can’t replicate, like critical thinking, innovation, creativity and emotionally engaging with other humans. All of those skills have one thing in common: They are enabled by humility.

Skeptical? Ask yourself this: Have you ever met someone with a big ego who was really good at being open-minded? Really good at reflectively listening? At putting himself in another’s shoes? At playing well with others?

Clearly, if you want to be an effective leader (or even a successful employee) in our brave new workplace, you are going to have to rein in your ego and become more team-oriented. And make no mistake: It won’t be easy.

We’re talking about self-work that’s never finished. For one thing, ego-based thinking is our brain’s default position – we naturally seek to reinforce what we already think we know. Also, we have to overcome a lifetime of cultural and behavioral big-ego conditioning. But if we’re to stay competitive in the smart machine age, it has to happen!

Here are seven suggestions to help you hone your humility:

First, know that you’ll have to work against your brain’s natural inclinations. Quieting our egos actually goes against our very natures! Cognitively, humans are wired to selectively process only information that is confirmatory – and to selectively filter out information that contradicts what we know to be right. In addition, we’re lazy, self-serving and emotionally defensive thinkers who are driven to protect our egos.

However, the science is quite clear that high-level and innovative thinking is a team sport. In order to learn, adapt and succeed, we have to be willing to look closely at our mistakes and failures, to really listen to people who disagree with us and to allow the best thinking and best ideas to rise to the top – which requires humility! The good news is, when it comes to resisting your thinking’s natural defenses, forewarned is forearmed.

Seek objective feedback about your ego. You can’t troubleshoot your ego if you don’t have an accurate picture of what it looks like. Since this isn’t an area in which you can trust your own judgment, have the courage to get people who know you well at work and in your personal life to fill out a 360-degree review about you – one that focuses on your emotional intelligence and your behaviors concerning open-mindedness, listening, empathy, humility, etc.

Explain why you need honest answers. Emphasize how appreciative you will be if they are honest and that candor will not diminish the relationship. After receiving the data, evaluate it with a trusted other. Thank everyone who had the courage to give you honest feedback. Reflect on the picture you received and decide what you want to do with that data.

Change your mental model of what “smart” looks like. In the past, smartness has been determined by the size of one’s body of knowledge. Not knowing the right answer was – and often still is – a big blow to the ego. But today we already have instant access to all the knowledge we want, thanks to companions like Google and Siri. The new smart means knowing what you don’t know and knowing how to learn it, being able to ask the right questions and being able to examine the answers critically.

Only those of us who can graciously and humbly admit that we don’t know it all will succeed in this new world. So change how you keep score. Engage in collaboration, seek out feedback and ask for help daily. That will push you toward developing the humility and empathy you’ll need to win in the new game.

Learn to put yourself in others’ shoes. Research says one way to become less self-absorbed and more open to the experiences of others is to actively work on being more empathetic and compassionate. Thinking of how others helped you and saying “thank you” on a daily basis is a positive way to begin the process. Reflecting on the people who add joy to your life helps too.

Suspending judgment so that I can put myself in another person’s shoes has always been a particular challenge for me. My mind always wants to jump to a conclusion instead of really considering what the other person is experiencing, thinking, or feeling. Active listening has been an important tool in helping me learn to set my ego aside. When I remind myself to focus all of my attention on what someone else is saying instead of on formulating my own response, I find that my understanding of the situation grows – and often, so does the amount of empathy I feel.

Remember, you don’t have to fully agree with someone’s opinion or actions to still treat them with compassion. Disagreeing with humility still leaves the lines of communication open and allows teamwork to happen in the future.

Quiet your mind to stay in the moment. Attention-focused meditation is a time-honored method of calming one’s inner self-intensity. Fully engaging with your current experience (as opposed to ruminating on the past or worrying about the future) enables you to maintain a balanced, healthy perspective. Staying in and responding to the present moment is also a powerful safeguard against ego-driven misunderstandings and misinterpretations.

Personally, I have found that meditation makes me more aware of my physical reactions – breathing and heart rate. I now know that when my internal motor gets running really fast I tend to revert to a “me” syndrome, and that I need to deliberately slow myself down so that I can exhibit more calmness and openness to others. I have come to understand that as a teammate and as a leader I don’t have to be right all the time or the center of attention all the time – but I do have to work with others to arrive at the best answer.

Stop letting fear drive your decisions. We often play it safe because we don’t want to look dumb, be wrong or fail spectacularly in front of our friends and colleagues. In other words, we’re afraid of making mistakes and bruising our egos. Being okay with being wrong is a necessary and important part of developing humility.

Fear of failure, fear of looking bad, fear of embarrassment, fear of a loss of status, fear of not being liked and fear of losing one’s job all inhibit the kind of learning, innovation and collaboration that’s essential for your long-term job security. To proceed more fearlessly into the future, you need to understand that learning is not an efficient 99 percent defect-free process – so mistakes have to be valued as learning opportunities.

The faster and better you are at turning mistakes into learning opportunities, the less likely it is that you will be replaced by some machine. Having an ego that’s not afraid to acknowledge mistakes, confront weaknesses and test assumptions is a reliable strategy for long-term success.

Grade yourself daily. There’s a reason why to-do lists are so popular: They work! Create a checklist of reminders about the need to be humble, open-minded, empathetic, a good listener or any other ego-mitigating quality you wish to work on. Make the list as detailed as possible. Review it before every meeting and grade yourself at the end of each meeting. For example, if you want to work on being a better listener, your list might include the following tasks:

  • Do not interrupt others.
  • Really focus on understanding the other person.
  • Suspend judgment.
  • Do not think about your response while the other person is still talking.
  • Do not automatically advocate your views in your first response.
  • Ask questions to make sure you understand the other person.
  • Ask if you can paraphrase what the other person said to make sure you heard them correctly.
  • Really try to understand the reasons the other person believes what they believe.

 

If you reflect and work on managing yourself every day, you will notice a difference in your humility-to-ego ratio. To start, I advise picking two behaviors you want to change. Seek help in creating your checklist and ask for help in holding you accountable to that list. Give someone permission to call you out when they see you acting in opposition to your desired new behaviors.

The journey to becoming a more humble person will not be short. It will take persistent hard work. But I firmly believe that you will find the journey to be liberating and fruitful.

With humility comes more meaningful relationships, better opportunities, and of course, an increased chance of staying relevant and competitive in the smart machine age. In that age, individualism and internal competition will be out, and teamwork will be in. Self-promotion will be out, and self-reflection will be in. Knowing it all will be out, and being good at not knowing will be in.

In short, humility will be needed to maximize one’s effectiveness at thinking, listening, relating and collaborating. You will need others to help you out-think a smart machine! Work on yourself starting now, so they’ll want to engage with you tomorrow.

 

 

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