Being Human At Work

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People are not tasks or robots. I’m still surprised when I meet people in the workplace who don’t believe that people are the most important part of their jobs.  Sadly, the people are a means to my end meme still dominates. Granted, many people are disengaged, burnt out and disempowered – and can’t summon up the energy to deal with diverse personalities and needs and intense organizational pressures and demands.

Most of the business world is still organized on the principle that a job is essentially an economic transaction.  Workers are being asked to do more with less –and faster than ever before. Employee head count is down and the bar for performance set higher. And managers still don’t seem to understand how to establish a workplace environment that view workers as people. An over reliance on the rational (we’re here to work!) and on emotions that don’t feed the human spirit (anxiety, mistrust, resentment, frustration) all contribute to the sense of exhaustion and disillusionment that many employees feel. Continue reading

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Engaging The Unengaged: Part 2

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In Part 1 of Engaging the Unengaged, I refer to the Gallup State of the American Workforce Survey that revealed that “America is largely a nation of working automatons, with most people not feeling emotional ties to what they do and sizable numbers actively seeking to sabotage their colleagues and managers.” 

I cited some astounding statistics (hopefully, not too many) that suggested the issues and causal factors underlying disengagement.  A major component contributing to engagement that explicitly and implicitly surfaced in the study was relational dynamics. In other words, “people skills,” which is the focus of this article.

Gallup places the spotlight on managers and leaders whose weak people skills fail to help others feel connected to their work and good about themselves. What are these people skills that not only relate to others, but to us as well?

At the risk of sounding overly simplistic, here are a few of the people skills that I find missing in many managers that directly affect employee engagement. Continue reading

Engaging The Unengaged: Part 1– Some Facts

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In his book Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul ) CEO Howard Schultz writes,  Like crafting the perfect cup of coffee, creating an engaging, respectful, trusting workplace culture is not the result of any one thing. It’s a combination of intent, process, and heart, a trio that must constantly be fine-tuned.”

Employee engagement is now a critical factor in moving employees to “go the extra mile” in terms of their work effort. However, studies suggest that businesses seem to be at a critical tipping point in their ability to maintain engagement over time.

An illuminating new Gallup poll found that only 30% of all full-time workers in America are involved in, enthusiastic about, or committed to their work. In other words, engaged – and  70% of  all U.S. workers are not reaching their full potential. According to the study, one significant causal factor for employee disengagement is that employee’s hearts are not into their work.  About 18% are “actively disengaged,” meaning they’ve gone beyond just checking out mentally and could even be harming workplace relationships and colleagues’ accomplishments through emotional contagion.

This goes to the essence of engagement –  “Employees are engaged only to the extent that they are emotionally available to be so,” which ties directly to their willingness to go the extra mile for their company. This may seem obvious, but it is not—at least not to managers who are still focused on conventional managerial tactics as the solution in their attempt to create engagement. Traditional managers tend to apply pressure when they perceive disengagement, ignoring the reality of emotions and their effect on people’s abilities to be engaged.

Depending on the emotions that are triggered at work, employees will either be less available or more available to be fully engaged in their work.  The feelings themselves determine the path that will be taken.   Emotions are always present…and until the emotional component is addressed, employees cannot fully engage. This is the major missing link in many efforts to engage or re-engage workers.  Too many organizations and managers still go to the old employee perks goody bag to solve long-term problems with questionable short-term solutions. This is not to say that these incentives are wholly ineffective, but without substantive changes in employee relationships and cultural environment, they offer little more than temporary distraction from deeper problems. Continue reading

The First Step In Leading Others Is To Self-Manage

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How aware are you of how you talk to yourself as you go about your daily activities? Typically, most of us are focused on what’s directly in front of us – and not aware of our internal narrative.

Last week, after speaking about the relationship between thoughts, feelings and behavior to a group of managers, one member of the group approached me and asked, “ I see how thoughts directly affect what I eventually do, that how I talk to myself will determine my behavior, but…how do I manage those thoughts that have negative consequences in my life?”

My first thought was how can I answer the question and stay on point with the discussion at hand – What makes a leader outstanding?  I recalled a conversation I had with a CEO who shared his belief that the key to leadership was understanding that self-reflection was not an end in itself – but an ability to process the difficult, challenging and complex.

The question – and my recollection of the CEO’s experience helped to remind me that the first step in becoming an outstanding leader is being able to manage one’s internal processes through self-reflection. Self-reflection is the key to understanding the relationship between our mindset  and our internal voice.

Everyone engages in self-talk .  We all have an inner voice, but most of us don’t pay attention to the contents of our inner narrative. Outstanding leaders do. For example, not only are they aware of the “data points” in a discussion, they are also tuned into their internal process and external behavior. In other words, they’re self-aware and able to witness their experience in the moment.

Ask yourself, how many times during the day do I stop to pause and mindfully witness my experience in the moment? What beliefs and assumptions am I holding that may be limiting my performance and affecting workplace relationships? How much am I in touch with my needs and values and are they being satisfied? How do I act when they’re not?

These questions along with our emotions, attitudes, desires, hopes and our interpretations of external experience are the key elements that form our internal process – our personal mindsets. Continue reading

Offer Something Extraordinary at Work – Genuine Listening

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“There’s a big difference between showing interest and really listening.”      Michael P. Nichols, The Lost Art of Listening

Genuine listening in most areas of life is uncommon. In the workplace it’s rare. We’re too busy – so we think. We’re distracted and fragmented.  Sitting down for a non-task oriented conversation feels like just another bit of pressure.  Too often we just engage in conversation (more like just convey information) so that we can tick off another agenda item on our endless to-do list and move on.

Yet in nearly every interaction I have with people in the workplace, listening is identified as the most important skill in building trust and relationships.  Most people I work with say they need to become better listeners and they definitely want to experience better listening from their colleagues.

Often when I ask groups, “When did you last feel like someone really listened to you and showed genuine interest,” most say they can’t recall. Sadly, too many say never.

So why are we such poor listeners? What stops us from really tuning into others? Continue reading