Archive for February 28, 2011

Appreciating the Survivors

I didn’t watch the entire Oscars telecast.  I lasted up until just after the Costume Awards. Yawn.  Boring.  Endless.  I did watch bits and pieces of the red carpet parade, made approving or disapproving snarky remarks as necessary to my dogs and caught the recaps this morning.  The forced banter and bad jokes were just too painful, and Anne Hathaway, while lovely, was just a tad too perky for me at 9 PM on a Sunday evening.

One thing I did catch live however was the appearance of Kirk Douglas. As my husband quickly googled “how old IS Kirk Douglas” into his iPhone (because of course it’s very difficult to watch live television anymore without an electronic gadget at the ready), we watched him make his way to the microphone to a standing ovation from the assembled glitterati.

Now granted, “show business” is totally unlike any of OUR businesses.  There are probably a million and one good reasons why the movie people clap and cheer for anyone who can survive in that world.  In that audience last night I’m sure we had self-serving clapping (“oh God, please make sure they show me on camera beaming and clapping in the audience”), being-one-of-the-crowd ovations (“I can barely stand up in this dress, but I better go along and participate in this standing ovation”), and true heartfelt applause (“I appreciate that this guy has been working in the movies since the 1940’s”).

But no matter the reason, I was still moved by the appearance of a survivor on that stage.

Someone who survived in a brutal and unforgiving industry for a number of years, no doubt through an extraordinary combination of talent, energy and determination.  Someone who provided inspiration to some of his family members follow in his footsteps.  Someone who has, no doubt, inspired countless others to follow their dreams or reach their goals.  Someone who, or so it appears, is thankful to have overcome health issues and is able to continue to be an active, vital and involved human being.


Remove the jewels and couture gowns and scrub off the expertly applied makeup in that room and you COULD have any other industry or business.  We all have survivors too – in our midst.  Every single day.

Remember to appreciate them.  And a standing ovation may be appropriate.

Talk is Cheap. Or Is It?

So often when we talk about communication in the workplace, we emphasize the need for leaders/managers to make sure they’re “talking with the troops.”  We bemoan the fact that employees lack they info they need to do their jobs, or we focus on the failure of company managers to communicate effectively in order to strengthen personal interactions, clarify info or instructions,  or speak honestly.    Poor workplace communication is often placed firmly in the lap of the top-brass, the leaders and even the line supervisors.  The emphasis seems to be ensuring that leaders are doing all they can to communicate at several levels – organization-wide, at the department level, within specific teams or with individuals.

But rarely do we seem to take the time to point out that ALL employees need to improve their communication skills within the organization.

Meaning what exactly?

Meaning that individual employees need to pay attention to channeling information back to their leaders when necessary and in an appropriate manner:

  • Gossip or chatting about rumors is not communication.  Whispered conversations in the 4th floor bathroom amongst a few team members does not equate to making sure a manager is aware of an issue or that s/he knows that employees desire clarification.
  • An anonymous note, written on a torn-out piece of loose-leaf paper is NOT an appropriate method for sharing a workplace concern with either the HR staff member or a manager.
  • Complaining about a team issue and focusing on generalities or personality-characteristics of a coworker will generally mean that the issue will not be viewed as a priority.  Bringing forth an issue with specific details, observed behaviors or violations – and sharing this in a thoughtful and professional manner – will ensure that the company leader is clear on what the complaint entails.


Remember the Fockers movies? All that talk about the “Circle of Trust?”  Of course organizations strive for that circle of trust – and that circle of communication.  It’s not, of course, top down only.  It IS a circle.

Talk.  Be Heard.

It’s priceless.


Business Advice from the Queen of Soul

Oh how we folks in HR love to talk about engagement.  Not the Royal Engagement of Will and Kate, but rather Employee Engagement (EE – with two capital Es, underscored AND in italics).  We read about it, we devise plans and strategies to increase it.  We fret over the percent of our employees who are either actively engaged, disengaged, or (horrors) actively disengaged.  Thankfully, many HR pros have now come to the realization that, contrary to our long-standing inflated sense of worth, we cannot motivate people – let alone motivate them to ‘be engaged.’

There are as many definitions of EE as there are people thinking about it.   The phrase and concept first came to the forefront in 1990 when William Kahn of Boston University published “Psychological Conditions of Personal Engagement and Disengagement at Work,” in which he worked to determine to what extent individuals used varying degrees of their selves (physically/behaviorally, cognitively and emotionally) in work role performance.  Over the years, ideas came and went – terms such as satisfaction, motivation and culture were often used interchangeably.  Companies conducted climate surveys, opinion surveys and engagement surveys of their employees. Consultants and survey companies hauled in boatloads of money.

Ultimately, in 2006, the Conference Board took a stab at clarifying and came to define EE as “a heightened emotional connection that an employee feels for his or her organization, that influences him or her to exert greater discretionary effort to his or her work.”


So what if you don’t believe in surveying people to determine their emotional connection to your company?  Or, more importantly, what if you don’t have thousands of dollars to invest?  What are some simple things that you can do to create an environment where, when all is said and done, your employees will give a crap?

In this case, I suggest taking a lesson from the songbook of Aretha Franklin.  The Queen of Soul, American icon and treasure, has done a lot more than inspire us with her musical legacy.  I believe she’s given us the KEY to fostering engagement in the workplace – – – –



Step 1:  Show Respect

  • Respect others by showing consideration for different ideas, viewpoints, philosophies, beliefs and personality-types.  Respect people regardless of their religion, age, physical ability… well, you get it.
  • Respect your employees by paying an appropriate wage for the work performed for your organization and by providing adequate and basic benefits.
  • Respect the abilities of your employees – after all, you DID hire them for their abilities.
  • Respect the fact that your employees are adults.  They were adult enough to find and accept a job with your company and you thought they could make a good decision then, right?  Respect their intelligence and don’t impose policies that appear straight out of a Dickensian workhouse.

Step 2:  Gain Respect

  • Spend time with people and get to know them as individuals.
  • Listen.  I mean REALLY listen.
  • Ask for their opinions.
  • Communicate and share information.  And it’s OK if you don’t know all the answers.
  • Be honest.

Step 3:  Maintain Respect

  • Be consistent in your actions.  Follow through when you say you will and handle problems and issues without dragging your feet.
  • Be positive and find ways to focus on the good in situations.  Being honest (see above) doesn’t mean sugar-coating or being a Pollyanna.  Just remember that most people would rather follow a leader with a positive can-do attitude than tag along after Debbie Downer.
  • Do the right thing – even when it’s a tough thing.


As she sings, Aretha suggests that the listener “find out what it means to me” – in other words – find out what respect means to the person wanting it.  Take the pulse of your workplace, observe and reflect.  Seriously ask yourself if you are showing, gaining and maintaining respect.  Before anything else occurs – THAT must be in place.  I think you’ll find that if you start with the right foundation, you can create the environment where your employees WILL have a heightened emotional connection.

Would the Queen of Soul put up with some of the typical nonsense that goes on in organizations?  My guess is no.  Rather she would tell you to ‘Think’ about it, go take care of business (TCB) and not let her add you to the ‘Chain of Fools.

A Lesson from the 30th President

“All growth depends upon activity.  There is no development physically or intellectually without effort, and effort means work.” Calvin Coolidge

So what are YOU doing today ?