After reading a great article about increasing engagement by giving your staff the opportunity to grow and develop using their job with you to help them reach their NEXT job, I was reminded of a practice we had at a prior company which was similar, and also very successful in surprising, long-term ways.
We were not a tech company, but rather a scientific consultancy that started over 20 years ago. However, we broke a lot of rules and common practices when setting up and running our organisation. When we hired junior staff to come work with us, our clear expectation was that they would spend 2 or 3 years with us, and then most likely head back to graduate school or on to something else entirely. While working with us, we would expose them to many different disciplines and work activities, giving them the opportunity to learn broad skills as well as the unique specialities that came with each subject area. Usually people found their passion or niche within that 2-3 year time and if deciding graduate school was their next step, we would help them with reference letters, contacts at various programs, and send them off with a rousing farewell.
Of course we always hoped the best and the brightest would return to work with us after their graduate programs; we made it clear we always hoped they would check back with us first, and many did.
This strategy worked really well for us in so many ways. In addition to our talented junior staff, we welcomed back great higher-level staff we already knew and loved, and who were able to hit the ground running when they came returned. Because our work required and benefitted from working closely with academic researchers, those former staff who stayed in academia and didn’t return to work for us ended up many times collaborating with us on projects, as well as funding opportunities, research papers, and conference presentations. And also unexpectedly, these new professors also sent us their best students to begin their work lives before graduate school, and the cycle continued.
We have an active unofficial alumni group (of which I am now a member) which is impressive in scope and loyalty. I recently met with a small group of former and current coworkers 20 years on from when when we started, to catch up with our work and family lives. Needless to say, it was delightful, and these ties continue to link our lives and work opportunities, with new possible collaborations forming yet again at this meeting.
By expecting and planning for the long-term goals of our staff, not only did we create a network of talented scientists who continue to collaborate together, but also continue to help each other professionally and personally long after their working lives crossed.
When you help your staff grow and succeed beyond the bounds of your organisation, not only will they likely stay longer with you and contribute more when they are there, but they may also contribute in the future to your organisation and your life in delightfully unexpected ways.
Here is the great article I mentioned above:
Do you have fun at work? Do you laugh, do you play together with your coworkers now and again? How does that make you feel? Do you work any better as a result?
In my various businesses, we’ve been known to have a laugh or two, and appreciate that since we all work hard, we might as well enjoy ourselves just as enthusiastically. If you work in an organisation, it is important to make time to have a good laugh and enjoy your coworkers. If you are a freelancer, a sense of humour will get you through some of the more frustrating moments. Humour helps all of us become more fun to work with and more likeable to our coworkers and clients.
For some, work and play are very separate from each other. For others, work and play merge together as a matter of degrees. Is it merely the type of work you do, your lifestyle, or maybe attitude? Can some work be no different than play?
“Find a job you love and you‘ll never work a day in your life” – Confucius
I certainly believe that work can and should be fun. If you are lucky, you will enjoy the people around you and thrive in their company. Humor allows you to release some stress, and to connect with people an emotionally authentic way. Authenticity helps create trust, which can go a long way towards creating a positive working environment. Who doesn’t want that?
Creating and contributing to a positive working place where people are respected, feel safe to try new things, and are valued for the skills and values they contribute is an important part of workplace engagement and overall happiness. These values can and should be a part of any place people are working, no matter what kind of work they are doing.
See what you can do to inject a little more humour into your workplace, and enjoy your day and your work a little bit more every day.
Adjusting to a new culture
When I moved to France earlier this autumn (from the UK, and before that the US), I underestimated the various ways the different culture would affect my ability to ‘get things done’. I had moved to a new country before; I speak a little French; how hard could it be? Even with a great service that has helped us navigate a lot of the hurdles, we still found ourselves at the end of each day exhausted and wanting only to stare blankly into space. Each day, and then each week that passed, we kept thinking it would get easier, and some of it did, but there were always new challenges and we were exhausted by the effort it took to accomplish what seemed like the smallest things.
A psychologist who specialises in expatriation says that moving to another culture sends your brain into a ‘flight or fight’ response since everything is new, and you have to throw out all your preconceived auto-pilot skills to learn to navigate this new landscape. She says every day when you leave your apartment, you are going into battle, with an unknown outcome at every encounter. This heightened awareness of everything takes an enormous amount of physical energy and therefore it is exactly right that we felt exhausted each day.
Now that things have settled a bit, and I am more confident of the outcome each day, I realise that there are many things about moving abroad that are similar to starting at a new organisation or even starting your own business.
When you start working at a new organisation, you will encounter new vocabulary and new processes; also you’ll learn meeting protocols, conversational styles, the dress code, communication channels, and all those myriad unwritten behaviours! Every organisation has their own unique version of these and more, and how well you are integrated into the organisation can have a huge impact on your ability to ‘get things done’. Which of course is all tied up with your own personal sense of accomplishment, satisfaction, and well-being. You certainly don’t want to start each day feeling as if you are going into battle!
If you are starting your own business, you can be quickly overwhelmed by the number of things you feel you need to do and to know, and which one to do first. And you will be bombarded with advice and direction, much of which may not be relevant to you, but how do you even begin to sift through all that?! Again, a brand new landscape and fully exhausting.
So what to do? Here are a few tips I learned about moving to a new culture that I think fit really well to adapting to a new job or change in organisation:
Do you have other suggestions?? I’d love to hear them! If you are in charge of on-boarding new employees, what do you do to help your new staff gain confidence and not feel as if they are going into battle each day they come to work? What do you do to ease these transition stages? Let us know in the comments below!
Autumn is the time for new beginnings...
Since many of us grew up starting a new school year each September, the increasingly shorter days and crisper air are reminders of the time of year for new pens and colourful folders, fresh starts, and the sense of the possible. Remember how welcome your teachers made you feel? It is good to remember that feeling of anticipation for the possible future when your newest employees join your organisation. They too have that excitement and eagerness to do the best they can, and to get involved and be contributing as soon as possible. How can you help make sure that happens?
Onboarding can capture the magic of new beginnings
Except for my first retail job, one of the things I have rarely experienced, or practiced for that matter, is a really effective onboarding experience, (onboarding is the new way to say employee orientation, in case that term is unfamiliar). In my first job working for a small retail business selling hundreds of cheeses, I was flooded with a lot of information my first few days, but that was OK. I was obviously not going to be able to learn it all at once, and it was clear I was expected to ask questions. My training was really good, in measured doses, with supervision when needed, and I was able to contribute even a little from the first day. During a lull some days, the owner would teach us all something new, like how to cut a whole, unopened stilton (using an amazing wire cutter), or how to sharpen the different knives. And of course we had to taste everything in order to learn! (yes, I still love cheese, and for awhile I could identify over 200 cheeses by sight, smell and texture alone).
But after that, during a career of office-based jobs from small non-profits to large corporations, none of them provided what I would call an exemplary training and orientation process. From having busy or absent managers, to reams of dull paperwork to read through for 'background', to being thrown into projects with no explanation, it was always something to get through rather than a process of systematically learning the values and ways to do things in the new organisation.
In perhaps the worst of my onboarding experiences, my first 3 days of work in a large company were spent in an HR office filling out new employee paperwork (before computerised files), receiving and being told to read through several three-ring binders of corporate manuals, and then given long technical reports to help me 'get up to speed' on what would be my first project. I was in a large 3 person office by myself, and the main person I talked to each day was the guy bringing around the mail once in the morning and once in the afternoon.
In those pre-email days, our in-house communication memos and outside mail were delivered by a guy pushing a cart around the hallway. Instead of looking at a computer, imagine all your emails being printed out individually and delivered twice a day in stacks for you to read! I asked the mail guy loads of questions every time he came around, about how things really got done, and what some of the words meant that I was reading; that was how I learned he was a great source for understanding actual company practices as well as useful personnel gossip.
Not having any experience with good orientation processes, I didn't know there were better ways to become assimilated into a new job, only that mine had been fairly ineffective. Now of course there are numerous articles, books, courses and of course software packages to help you set up more systematic and successful onboarding practices. Since we know so much more about the effect of onboarding on long-term employee satisfaction, most organisations pay a lot more attention to the whole lifecycle of employee experience, including the very important first few days and weeks for a new employee.
Setting up a productive and effective onboarding process can enable your new staff to feel welcome, comfortable, able to understand your organisation values and practice norms, as well as to begin contributing from that very first day. Just like at primary school!
Linked below are a few examples of articles providing ways to ensure successful and productive onboarding. Have you had good or bad onboarding experiences? I'd love to hear about some of the good ones, and why it worked well. Share with us in the comments below!
Some links to check out
Plan for your new employee
This article focuses on developing a plan before your new staff arrives at your front door. Broken into three time periods: before the new staff arrives, the first week, and within 30-90 days, the suggestions for what should be covered during each time period provide a roadmap for organisations to consider. Some tasks may not make sense for your organisation; your orientation should always be consistent with your organisation's values and style. This is a useful place to get started.
What do new hires want? Infographic
This infographic provides a great summary of what new hires want when they start their job, and how you can help them believe they have joined the right organisation as soon as possible. "They want to learn how to do their job and the inner workings of your company. In short, they want to start doing meaningful work and contribute fast!"
Talk to your people
This article is about improving engagement in your organisation, and there is no better place to start than at the beginning: "Organizations can better engage their people by having a strong sense of values that people can align with. People accept jobs based on these values, and by the same coin, become disengaged when they feel they no longer align with or are unable to influence them. If you want to drive engagement, understand the reasons people join your company. Then, continue to keep a finger on the pulse."
Fun friday workplaces
Today's workplace photo features a cozy meeting room that softens a square, potentially bleak white room. Looks like a great space to work on your own, to collaborate with coworkers, and would be a great place to bring your newest employee to meet some of their colleagues. (photo from onoffice magazine)
Hope you've had a great week and make sure to take deep breaths this weekend! If you are in the US, happy Labor Day weekend!
As always, let me know if you have any questions, or post your comments below!
I read a couple of thoughtful articles this week that I’d like to share with you on the topic of healthy workplaces. Yep, that is one of those vague statements most organisations believe they have, or say they are striving for, but holistic efforts to actually address the full health of employees in the context of working is difficult to achieve. There are small nibbles around the edges: paying for gym memberships, ergonomic chairs, and sometimes healthy snacks.
In his article “Mindshift sets sights on understanding well-being in the workplace”, Bob Fox, publisher of Work Design Magazine, and the founder and CEO of the Washington, DC-area design firm FOX Architects, states:
“We are realizing that the way we work today is the root cause of a tremendous amount of sickness, disease, and other health-related issues, that, beyond affecting an employee’s personally, also reduce productivity, create performance issues, and are ultimately a significant cost to businesses today. And sometimes, the workplace is working against these employees. What we are realizing is that our increasing focus on attracting top talent; people and their performance are going beyond wellness, engagement, creativity and general productivity issues have more to do with our entire well-being. Our mental, physical, emotional, and social state is critical to our ability to perform well consistently; and the spaces where we work are influential in our success.”
There is finally a recognition that every person at work needs to be emotionally as well as physically healthy in order to do their work effectively and in a sustainable way. This clearly affects any organisation’s bottom line, from their ability to sustain product innovation to reducing staff absenteeism and turnover.
Not only do workplace practices and values (such as trust) help support the positive health of employees, the physical workspaces within organisations can also be aligned to improve well-being. In a separate article in Work Design magazine, Bryan Croeni, AIA, MA, LEED AP, director of B+H Architects’ Seattle office and cofounder of B+H Advance Strategy, describes the goal of creating office space, “that advances the social and cultural infrastructure necessary to create a sense of belonging and shared community”.
Given the decline of community in general in society, as well as the younger generation of workers showing a strong dedication to community and service, Croeni proposes that perhaps our offices can help move us towards reestablishing a sense of community in our lives. The article goes on to suggest that designers look at workplaces as the new village, with main street, marketplace, meeting halls, schools for learning, pubs for relaxing, and so forth.
These articles provide intriguing and positive perspectives that you might want to consider and attempt in your own workplaces. As always, if you want help or additional direction, don’t hesitate to get in touch!
Links to the articles
Bob Fox Article:
Bryan Croeni Article
Fun Friday Workplaces
As always, get in touch if you have any questions about any of the content here, or want to talk more about how I can help you with you brilliant organisation.
When the world is experiencing dramatic events on an almost monthly basis, we need to process and manage our responses to them. While it is not always relevant to our workplaces, sometimes the events hit too close to what we do and believe in to ignore, or to expect people at work to carry on as if nothing has happened.
So how do you deal with the emotional response to traumas in your workplace?
The linked article (below) by Michelle Kedem has some useful suggestions for how to get discussions started in your organisation, starting with this:
“You don’t have to take sides or have the perfect words. Acknowledging what people are going through and creating safe spaces for conversation goes a long way toward cultivating a workplace culture in which everyone on the team feel invested.”
Over time, I’ve experienced a number of dramatic events while employed at a variety of organisations. Sometimes, when there was no acknowledgement of the event or trauma, the individual conversations turned heated, repetitive, and sadly, sometimes hurtful. After the events of 9/11, there were months of intense internal conversations covering every topic under the sun, and it was exhausting. We have learned now to always acknowledge an event; sometimes it is appropriate to just let people vent a bit, or talk about where they were and what happened to them. Some people like to share and take action, others process on their own, or with non-work friends and family. It is important to always be reinforcing a workplace environment where people are respectful of others with differing feelings and opinions so that when these events arise, awareness of and respect for differences are already part of the culture.
There is no right way to respond to traumatic events, and no one should be required to to share their opinions or feelings at work. Providing official acknowledgement and a place and time to process emotions at work is healthy and useful for many of us. It is also part of allowing staff to be their whole true selves at work, complete with emotional robustness and weaknesses.
Allowing emotional responses to traumatic events is also important for those events that happen internally. When we had a suicide in one small company I worked with, we immediately brought in a professional facilitator, as we realised the leadership was not equipped to deal with the avalanche of feelings that cascaded through the organisation. Bringing in an outside facilitator not only acknowledged the importance of the impact of this event to all of us, but it also allowed the leadership to deal with their own feelings as well, and learn to help others over time. We provided time for people who wanted to attend a group session with the facilitator, as well as time for people who wanted individual session with this facilitator.
Whilst it is not an easy part of managing, spending time with staff processing through emotional events does lead to greater understanding, insights and empathy between individuals throughout your organisation. And hopefully that will make everyone healthier and more satisfied.
Here is the article:
Fun Friday Workplaces
In my second year of University, I joined a supper club in order to try to meet some new people. I joined mid-year, so by then all the table groups had formed, and the only space left was at a table of people who hadn’t really jelled into a talkative group. There were long painful silences each night. One of my dorm-mates sat at one of the other tables, and although he often dominated the conversation, he also managed to keep it lively, eagerly seeking out participation by everyone at the table. Eager to have more fun at my table, I quietly observed his methods in the hopes of trying to learn how he did it. I realised a lot of what he said was crap, really, but his running banter provided something for others to respond to. And by drawing in others by calling out their names, people joined in eagerly, keeping the conversations lively, once he provided a starting point.
As an introvert, the idea of trying to start a conversation at a table full of very quiet people seemed impossibly difficult, but on the other hand, sitting at a table night after night with a group of people who didn’t talk was pretty miserable too. So, one night I plucked up my courage and told a story about something funny that had happened in one of my classes. I can’t remember what it was about, but everyone listened and I think someone laughed. So I told another story, and asked questions to the group by addressing a couple of individuals by name, and eventually the group was talking, albeit a bit awkwardly. But there was also a sense of relief around the table, that not only was someone making the effort to have a conversation, but that maybe there was a way out of the endless quiet.
Before I went to dinner the next night, I thought of a couple more stories I could tell, and I did that on my way to dinner each subsequent night. And each night at dinner, I told another story, and soon someone else joined in, and because I do like a good laugh and generally am not shy about laughing out loud, our table got a bit louder, and slowly over a period of a week or so, our discussions became more fluid and it wasn’t always me who started the conversation. It turns out of course that there were some really interesting people at the table who had just needed someone to start the conversation, and take up the responsibility to make sure there was a topic or catalyst each night.
Eventually, we had our own fun table gang that I looked forward to spending time with each evening. I felt really proud when my talkative friend from the dorm eventually came and sat at our table, as clearly we were having a whole heap of fun that he didn’t want to miss. And his moving to our table actually precipitated a lot of other people moving around the table groups and mixing things up every night, because it had become clear there were a lot of really interesting people at all the tables and we all wanted the opportunity to spend time with each other. Which was the point of the supper club to begin with; they had just gotten stuck in the table group rut.
So I want to encourage you to remember that sometimes it is worth the temporary discomfort of pushing yourself out there a little bit, especially when the rewards can be so huge. My efforts could have flopped if no one laughed or engaged in conversation at my table, but since we were all there to meet people, the risk to me was pretty low, and the alternative to do nothing was pretty bleak. And the result was really amazing! We ended up not only gaining a whole group of people to enjoy who had been unengaged, but we also ended up changing the way the supper club was organised so that each member got more access to everyone else, and with a lot more fun on the way.
Never underestimate the power of your introverted skills to quietly create change in your organisation for the better, for everyone.
A few resources for Introverts...
The science explaining the differences between introverts and extroverts
Just say Dopamine or acetylcholine. Here is the link to the article:
The power of quiet selling
Using your introvert strengths to excel at selling, something we all need to do at some time for something, even if it is *only* the benefits of a specific holiday booking to our partner!
Leading as an Introvert
How to turn your strengths as an introvert into leadership strengths:
For more resources for and about introverts, please take a look at a few of my recent blog posts and the resources section of my website.
Fun Friday Workplaces
According to our first article this week by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, apparently most of us think we are good listeners, just like we all believe we are good drivers. Many of us have even been given instruction on how to listen actively: stay quiet whilst the other person is talking, nod appreciatively and say um-hm, give good eye contact, and state back what we think we heard the speaker say. All of which is a good start, and certainly better than interrupting, talking over someone else, and immediately rebutting with what we want to say that may or may not acknowledge what the speaker was trying to convey.
So, knowing all that, I found the article fascinating in its findings about what makes a GREAT listener. And I really enjoy the comparison of good listening to that of a trampoline: “It gives energy, acceleration, height and amplification.”
The other articles this week address mindfulness as a great tool for more perceptive and thoughtful listening, and how we are beginning to understand the lasting benefits of silence time for our brain health. Who knew?
Hope you enjoy these articles and as always, let me know what you’re thinking!
Great Listening, mindfulness and blessed silence
What GREAT listeners do
Great listening includes cooperative, positive back and forth conversations that support idea growth and development.
Here is the link to the article:
Listening can be enhanced by practicing mindfulness, in order to become more observant. Effective listening is about more than just using your ears.
Prolonged silence is good for brain health
I'll just cut to the chase here: "some recent research is suggesting that prolonged and repeated exposure to silence may result in improved health."
Fun Friday Workplaces
Since it is summer, hopefully you are getting some time out of the office (remember what I suggested last week?). These days, you can do at least some of your work from most anywhere, and so why not try to spend some of your time working outside. And remember, thinking and quiet time create brain health and also new idea generation. So, I'll just leave you with a photo of a quiet time outside. See you next week!
Sometimes it pays to lighten up a little. Every organisation has some down time at one point or another. If not, some downtime should be built in - particularly if you have all been working hard - in order to make sure you get some time together with your whole group to relax together and have a little fun. Your morale and spirits will all be boosted by the change of pace.
We had a tradition for awhile in one of my previous organisations: every time we submitted a big bid, we’d order pizza for everyone in the office. When we were a very small company (under 20 people), every big bid usually ended up with everyone working on it to get it out the door, from the accountant to the PhD scientist. Pizza for everyone made sense. We just had to make sure people washed their hands if they were working on the documents!
Once we got bigger, not everyone got involved in the bid preparations, so we stopped the big group pizzas except maybe when we won a big award, and then we’d do something for everyone. But we realised those little gestures of group effort and time for celebration had gone a long way towards pulling us together, so we created a few other activities for us to do in order to keep the bonds across the company in effect.
We had our annual Halloween staff meeting and party of course, where all staff change into costume before the late afternoon live-streamed meeting, and usually hilarity breaks out after a short attempt at trying to conduct a bit of business. We also started a few monthly Friday afternoon activities organised by our staff, in groups by hallway location. Since we tended to mix staff disciplines along the hallways, that ensured there were a variety of functions and skills in each hallway group. Some of the activities included: wine-tasting, where each office of 2-3 people hosted a different wine and we could wander down the hall to sample and learn about the wines; a similar beer-tasting activity; we had a hallway nerf bowling game; and there was a treasure hunt using obscure facts about various staff and company history.
Obviously you can come up with myriad other activities that resonate with your staff, and the point is to do something out of the usual together, and make it all about fun. Even better if you task your staff to come up with the ideas. Make sure there is no work and no hierarchies involved - just enjoy the range of talents and creativity of your staff, and see what fun happens!
5 Things you can do now:
Here are five ways to gather in the next month, with a few suggestions to get your started:
Fun Friday Workplaces
What kind of workplace do you have - is it corporate with many levels and and a long history, is more of a smaller, more informal start-up? Do you work in multiple locations or can you all see each other? Do you often talk to your clients face to face, or are the remotely accessed, or all on-line?
These factors and and many others affect the kind of communication you and your colleagues have with each other and with your customers. For example, your Internal Communication probably includes email, in-person meetings, perhaps instant messaging, conference calls, staff manuals, policy change memos. Your External Communication probably includes social media posts, email newsletters, press releases, website content, advertisements for new job openings, and so on. And those are just a few of the classic, easy to think of types of communication that happen in an organisation.
But what about hallway conversations? How do you communicate decisions that are made by one group in the organisation to another group? Who eats lunch together? How are your meetings conducted? Do you have remote workers - how are they integrated? Does everyone talk to your clients/customers, or only a few people? Do they get special training? Does anyone? When someone new starts working with you, how do they learn about all of the internal and external communication? How is it communicated to them? Does everyone in the organisation have the same rules and philosophy by which they communicate and behave? Is it easy to articulate?
When there are 6 of you in the organisation, you don’t even think about these things very often, you just do things. And as you grow, the new staff watch and see how you do your work, such as who checks in with what other person before implementing a new effort (or not!). The processes increase and as they repeat they naturally morph into repeatable behaviours, and so your culture - including how you communicate with each other and externally - begins.
Starting in the earliest days of your organisation, it is good practice to think about your core values when you implement your communication style. Every employee represents the organisation, so the best way for staff to understand and embrace the organisation’s style of communication is by making sure the style is true to your values. When your communication reflects your brand values, and everyone in your organisation can articulate those values, your new staff can quickly learn the right culture ‘code’ to doing their job successfully. If your external communication also reflects that same set of values, your customers will understand more clearly what you stand for, and know what to expect from you and your product or service.
Linked below are some great articles that address a broad range of ways you communicate in your organisation; let me know what you think.
Retention, voice, and making meetings for everyone
Communication is key for retention
Although this article focuses on employee retention, the strategies described are almost all based on clear and transparent communication both externally and internally.
Creating a company voice
This is a great description of how Slack tried to figure out how to empower their staff to speak consistently externally, and in doing so, clearly articulated what they stood for as an organisation.
Making meetings more inclusive for women, introverts & remote workers
This article gives some clear tips to make sure some of the possibly hidden talent in your organisation gets the chance to communicate equally.
Fun Friday Workplaces