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Spark of Magic With a Touch of Madness

Once upon a time, long ago in a land far, far away…

It’s a classic start of the most mesmerizing stories that once seemed so real to us. What would you have done with your three wishes had you found Aladdin’s magic lamp? Come on, I know at some point in life you thought about it.  And if not, you probably bought a lottery ticket and dreamed of the thought of winning 30 million and all your dreams that could come true.

Ringing in the New Year

A new year means 365 new chances! Many of us take the time to overthink the old year and make up the balance. What were my successes, did I make my targets, am I satisfied, and what should I do different? At the same time, we develop a plan for the year ahead of us. What are my goals and targets, how am I going to achieve them, and what can I do to help others achieve theirs? Maybe you even have dreams you always wanted to make come true but felt out of reach before now.

What does it really mean to you to make the year count or even your life count? That’s a very personal thing, of course, but I would love to take you on a quick journey through another one of my brain spins.

For me personally, it’s important to make every day count. And it’s often in the little things.  Despite the fact I’m a leader, I love the value of entertainment and humour to make everyone get a little bit closer to themselves and help them stay away from outside distractions that often ruin their happy vibes. Staying close to yourself helps to connect to others. Whether it’s dancing at the desk, playing a round of request songs, and teaching others basic dance moves at the office, or making people see that little sparkle of light in a dark and shitty day. Not passing by their true emotions but helping them stay close to themselves and changing their perspective on that rough moment or experience.

Embracing Your Inner Child

I think it’s incredibly important to hold on to your inner child and to follow your dreams! A spark of madness and a rich imagination are valuable tools to make a difference, not only for yourself, but it’s an amazing way to impact others. You only get one spark of madness in this life. It’s so easy to get lost in this world without it so you have to maintain it.  Never lose your inner child, never lose your enthusiasm, and never lose your curiosity!

One of my most favorite quotes covers it all:

“The secret of a genius is to carry the spirit of young child into old age.” –  Aldous Huxley

A child is in touch with its aliveness. There’s a level of innocence that’s hard to hold on to as we “mature”. A child will dance naked and not think “I’m fat”.  They will sing and not think, “I wonder if I’m off key”. They will love you without conditions.  Living through the eyes of a child is just pure freedom. They are so in touch with their divine, their essence, their soul. It’s something special if you can carry this into an old age, because everybody deserves a spark of magic.

Keeping that Child Alive

We often worry too much about what others think of us, inciting unnecessary fear.  It creates boundaries that block our road to give our very best,  and leads to overthinking amazing ideas and beating down great enthusiasm. Do expectations really change?   Well, I guess to some degree they do.  I think it might be frowned upon if I dance around naked through the office tomorrow, but at the same time, there is so much room to be met in the office.  I stay close to myself and, at the same time, bring others closer to their true selves.  I encourage them to enjoy every moment to the fullest and inspire them to really go for it.

In the end, all that’s going to matter is the influence that you had on other people’s lives. Having an impact and being appreciated for it is the foundation of everything we do. We are all on a separate journey! But in the end its going to be about who you where as a person, how you lived your life, how you encouraged and impacted others.

“History is being read, but it’s also being written by people with imagination.” – Les Brown

Yet another strong quote that outlines the importance of holding on to your dreams and keep that spark of magic going. Part of the magic is determined by how much you believe in yourself. Walt Disney once said, “if you can dream it, you can do it”.   There is so much truth in his words. Even if you won’t get there today, you are going to be closer than you were yesterday. Keep going step by step. You might find the first step to be the hardest, but remember that you are never alone. If I can help you to keep your spark going, know where to find me.

Don’t you ever wonder if it’s all just a dream? Make the best of it and you will live happily ever after…. Wishing you an amazing 2021.

Virtual meeting

The Virtual Party

I think we can all agree that 2020 has been a unique year. With the New Year just around the corner, the typical excitement of ringing in a new year, full of opportunities and hope, has been replaced with the reality that 2021 is bound to start with uncertainty and growing anxiety.  Currently, many businesses are closed with no re-open date.  Many people find themselves unemployed or working remotely from home.  Initially, most found the idea of working from home enticing, cutting out the commute, more time to balance work-life situations.  Although it sounds ideal, working from home is actually tricky. The usual problems of working remotely (lack of structure and routine, no designated space to work, constant interruptions, etc.) can be managed. Still, some issues require outside influences to execute properly.  Specifically, I’m talking about keeping your team feeling like a team and not individual employees working from their home silos.

Is Technology The Answer?

I’m confident that the amount of Zoom meetings has increased exponentially since the Covid pandemic began.  Although technology is an excellent addition to our work environment, it doesn’t replace human interaction.  As Peter F. Drucker said, “The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.”  It’s difficult to read that non-verbal communication from your computer screen.  If you can get a video meeting off without any technical or equipment difficulties, it can be useful. Still, it isn’t the same as sharing a cup of tea or coffee during a break or being physically present to support each other.  Video meetings do have their place, and they can save windshield time for people having to commute to one center for a face to face.  Unfortunately, for the foreseeable future, face to face meetings are out of the question. So how can we use technology while still maintaining the team environment and camaraderie that we come to expect from a well-functioning team?

The Virtual Celebration

This last weekend we attended Jeffrey’s virtual Christmas party for his Fire Department colleagues.  We weren’t sure if it would really provide a party atmosphere if everyone were remotely logging in, but we donned our Christmas sweaters (yes, we are those people), and the virtual Christmas party began.  Everyone received an ample supply of snacks, three sample wine bottles, and three kinds of cheese per package.  The night started with a greeting from the chief, followed by a wine tasting.  The tasting was to last an hour – I thought that would be a little dry (no pun intended), but it was so interesting and entertaining.  Then the group played some trivia and continued to visit.  While we were all on the video party, we were also chatting with each other on our phones, allowing for smaller side conversations as you would have at a live event.  I’m not sure what about the night made it so real.  It certainly wasn’t the same as a normal Christmas party, but I think it was as close as we could safely get during this crazy pandemic. Above all, it was a fun night!

Team Building is More Challenging

The virtual Christmas party organizers did a great job of combining the virtual with the traditional celebration so that everyone was included, celebrated, and felt the team connection they have come to know. This Fire Department has struggled this year to have their routine practice and education sessions due to the Covid restrictions.  As with most teams this year, the pandemic can lead to a disconnect among the team. Although this is an example of a Christmas celebration, it’s importance for team building cannot be overstated.

It can be challenging on a good day to keep your team motivated and collaborating effectively.  This global pandemic has added a new twist to the game.  Not only are we struggling with distance but increased personal demands as we navigate the ever-changing restrictions placed on all aspects of our lives.  Does it mean your team has to suffer?  I don’t think so.  It just takes some creative thinking and more intentional communication and organization. Events like the virtual Christmas party shouldn’t happen only once a year. Indeed no one expects a party regularly, but connecting on a personal level needs to happen more intentionally now that people are working remotely.  Now, more than ever, we need to have the support of our work family.

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Changing Employee-Experience One Teabag at a Time

The other day I saw a quote pop up on Linkedin, If I recall correctly, it was one from Simon Sinek, and part of it said the following “life is beautiful because of the people we meet,” and I couldn’t agree more. So I try to squeeze the wave of thoughts that reading those words released in this little blog to tickle your minds. It is the people in our lives that give it meaning, make it valuable and worth living. Who else would you learn from, and who else would you share all your amazing experiences in life with. Can you imagine being all alone?

Basic Human Needs

Human beings are incredibly complicated and predictable at the same time. That’s what fascinates me about human behavior. Even though there are exceptions, the majority of our society uses the same strategies and patterns to make their everyday moves and decisions.

We all share a need for appreciation and acknowledgment, and we want to grow and develop. In addition,  we all desire a level of certainty and security. Although people have the same basic needs, we all seek them in different ways, moments, levels, and forms. We look for them in other people or situations. In the end, we are still unique.

Appreciation and acknowledgment are something very delicate. But by saying good morning, you can never go wrong.  Saying “good morning” tells people, “I see you and respect you.”  Another common way to get appreciation and acknowledgment is the use of social media. We share parts of our personal journey through life, things that happen to us, and something we experience. In return, people share our stories, like them, or even love them. In some cases, it can lead to new jobs or opportunities.

Nothing replaces human contact. Even in the middle of a global pandemic, there is so much value in being able to look someone in the eyes or to share your smile when someone feels a little down or just as a token of appreciation.

Developing Relationships

You hear it everywhere around you, “We tend to get caught up in life” or “life goes by so fast.” It’s a summary that describes the urgency of valuable inter-human relationships. Meeting new people means getting to know new people. Something that is, of course, extra hard during the current Covid19-restrictions all over the world. Never the less we need to keep going; we need to be a little bit more creative and leave the well-worn paths.

The importance of getting to know people is very relevant to the work floor too. Knowing your staff is one of the most important things there is. Getting to know them takes time and effort. But if you are willing to invest that and you really listen to your employees, truly try to understand them, you can make a difference.  Because when you know them, you know which buttons to push to coach them and guide them to become the best version of themselves under all circumstances.

The Tea Bags

People that know me know I’m not really a coffee drinker, but I will take a good cup of tea any time of the day!  That brings me to a good story about the connecting value of a cup of tea. It was at the end of my first year working as a manager at GVB public transit in Amsterdam. Managing a team of tram drivers and service staff members in the city of Amsterdam came with challenges. My staff members were often on the road, moments of contact were often short and usually about their adventures during their rides (basically to let off some steam). These visits were important but too short to build a meaningful work relationship and to help get them out of their own heads during their busy schedules.  Then I figured out the value of a teabag!

My favorite Dutch tea brand Pickwick is not just any teabag.  They have a wide variety of amazing tea flavors, and no, I’m not (yet) sponsored for writing this in my blog. But what makes me an even bigger fan is the little label on the end of the string attached to the teabag because they contain questions. And I can hear you think what’s so exciting about those questions? Well, they make you feel; they are an amazing tool to connect to yourself and other people.

I remember putting the jar of teabag questions on my desk. I made this plan when staff members walked in to blow off some steam, ask a simple question, or just a visit, I would draw a question. The first person I asked laughed hard and told me she wasn’t going to answer the question. But she did ask me the question back.  As I was answering, I was kind of disappointed, not knowing that two hours later, she would walk back into the office to answer it anyhow. I was happy and thought I was on to something. The value of this little teabag was more significant than I could ever imagine. It changed how I connected to my staff members in a natural human way and got them out of their busy work bubble.

Ironically enough, the labels on their corporate teabags don’t have the questions and just show their plain logo. A missed opportunity if you ask me because the work floor offers such an amazing stage for some good conversations. And it gave me, as a manager, an important tool to approach leadership from a different perspective opening my eyes, allowing me to connect with my staff members on a different level.

When did you connect with your team for the last time? What do you do to get to know your staff?

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Why Does Accountability Matter?

Acknowledging our mistakes is a sign of strong character. It is a primary component of accountability and is essential for effective leadership.  Accountability isn’t the same as responsibility, although the two terms are often interchanged.  We all have responsibilities at work, the tasks that make up our job.  Responsibility can be shared, divided up amongst team members.  Accountability, however, belongs to only one person.  It is what happens after an incident and how you respond and take ownership of the results.

Accountability is essential for building trust in the workplace.  If staff are worried about getting thrown under the bus or are unsure of their leader’s support in the event of an incident, they are not going to exude creativity. They will work for the company but not with the energy and passion that they would if they know that mistakes won’t end their career with the organization. Obviously, I’m not talking about repeatedly making the same stupid mistake but rather the kind that happens on occasion.

Why Is It Important?

Despite the importance of owning our mistakes, and the fact that every human makes them, it becomes more evident that so many people in positions of power are not accountable themselves.  How many of us have worked for a manager that never had our back?  Or that took credit for success but was quick to blame when something happened? Everyone knows this scenario – the real question is, how are these individuals put in any position of influence?

There are so many reasons that businesses benefit from accountable leadership.  Not only can accountable leaders quickly identify problems, but they can find solutions just as fast.  Just like other characteristics of good leadership, the other members of the team will follow suit.  Accountability will inspire accountability.   It also breeds trust and loyalty, both of which increase productivity.

When Accountability is Lacking

Of course, you can’t discount the consequences of no accountability.  When the blame game starts with management, it festers among the team.  This will no doubt create division among the staff. There are those that will accept the blame, those that will fight back, and those that will become one of the brown-nosers to the boss in hopes of avoiding the blame.  Either way, division of the team occurs.  I have seen it happen to the best of them.  Naturally, productivity declines, as does loyalty to the manager and the organization.  Whether it’s the blame game or lack of leadership, employee engagement is sure to decrease.

Lack of accountability also affects the customer experience.  Due to its profound effect on employee engagement, it will affect the way the employees treat customers.  This will lead to first-time customers not returning, regular customers not returning, and those that do leave negative reviews.  We all know that more people complain about a bad experience than shout out about the good ones.

How To Encourage It

Bent tracks

Two approaches are often taken when someone shirks accountability.  One is to ignore the problems, and the other is to remove the person from their team. Realistically, neither approach is ideal.  Ignoring the problem will likely make it more significant or recurring, and you don’t want to terminate someone or shuffle them if they have the potential to be an asset to the team.  First and foremost, lead by example.  Again, accountability inspires accountability.  Make sure that your staff has the tools and equipment needed to do their job efficiently and effectively.  Ensure that there is a continuous feedback loop.  Too often, feedback only happens when something goes wrong, but it’s essential to have feedback when things are going well.

Most importantly, provide them with an environment that makes it easy to own their mistakes.  Working in a safe environment encourages creativity and productivity.  We learn more from our mistakes than our successes, as it’s our mistakes that keep us growing.

Stress

Trauma At Work

How Does Trauma Happen?

A few years ago, if you asked me about trauma in the workplace, I would have thought of a major incident akin to the planes crashing into the Twin Towers or a disgruntled employee opening fire on colleagues.  Fortunately for all of us, these major types of traumatic events in the workplace are rare.   More often, trauma is caused by working in a persistently toxic work environment.  This type of toxicity is costly to the individual as well as the organization.

Unfortunately, I worked in a toxic work environment for the past two to three years.  It wasn’t always toxic.  In fact, it was one of the best places I had ever worked until management at three levels changed in rapid succession.  When circumstances afforded me the opportunity, I finally left the organization.  The choice came with an enormous amount of guilt – guilt that I was leaving the patients that meant so much to me, but even more was the guilt for the work-family that I left behind.    I had spent the past two years fighting for my team at a cost to me professionally as well as mentally and emotionally.  By the time I left the organization, I was damaged and truly felt like a failure.  I was unable to successfully lead my team through some very difficult times and, after twenty years of service, felt like I had been dishonorably discharged without actually being fired.  Feeling completely defeated and like I had let my work family down, I walked away.

There were many factors that contributed to the hell that I called work.  First and foremost was the lack of leadership at the managerial level.  Bullying behavior was not only supported but encouraged by the management.  This created a work floor with snitches that were more than happy to report any infraction, regardless of how small, to the manager.  She then took great pleasure in belittling staff, yelling, threatening, and emulating basic bullying behavior.  Bullying alone can contribute to a toxic environment, but when coupled with narcissistic, manipulative, and condescending management, workplace trauma is guaranteed.

Cost to the Organization

The trend in recent years is organizations asking more from their staff with fewer resources.  While organizations may feel this increases productivity, it actually increases stress among the team, causing symptoms of depression, anxiety, and social isolation leading to an increase in sick leave.   In fact, it’s estimated that 60% of sick leave is due to stress-related illnesses, in turn, having a significant impact on the bottom line.  A study in Canada showed that unaddressed mental illness in the workplace costs businesses more than $50 billion in lost productivity each year.  Interestingly, a third of managers have no formal support or resources to support their employees.

Eventually, as in my case, when employees are given the opportunity, they will leave the toxicity.  Staff turnover is challenging, but it is also incredibly expensive.  For every employee that leaves, someone new must be recruited and trained to fill the position, not to mention the lost productivity during the transition period.  The cost of one employee leaving an organization is upwards of $20,000.

Cost to the Employee

Repeated exposure to a toxic work environment can cause a variety of issues.  According to clinical psychologist Dr. L. Michael Tompkins, bullying in the workplace can be emotional abuse and can cause the symptoms and/or diagnosis of PTSD.  Employees can experience a loss of problem solving ability , may be poor at making rational decisions, and may take risks that they normally wouldn’t and consider it normal behavior.  Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to hear of suicide as a result of repeated exposure to a toxic work environment – the ultimate cost to the employee.

So Now What?

When CBC News published an article in November 2019, “Workplace Mental Health Programs Deliver Healthier Bottom Lines”, all I could think was ‘no kidding’.  We know that for every dollar spent on mental health in the workplace, the return is $1.62.  This makes great business sense.  But having worked in Primary Health Care for nearly fifteen years, my mind tends to focus on prevention.  How can we create environments at work that minimize the stress that creates the anxiety and depression that so many employees face?

Relationships Matter

A key to a healthy workplace is the relationships that are developed among colleagues and with management.  If an employee is absent, a caring, empathetic manager should reach out to see how they are doing, if they can support them in any way and to provide them the opportunity to remain an integral part of the team while they are off, if they are physically and mentally able to.   Employees are the most critical asset that a business has and as such, need to be cared for.  Developing relationships with employees should remain a priority.

Education

Management must have the basic skills to lead their people.  They need to be trained to identify and manage trauma among their staff.  The key to mental support begins with transparent and supportive relationships between the manager and the staff.   This helps management with early identification of mental and stress-related difficulties.  Organizations need to invest in the mental health of their staff, going beyond the basic employee assistance programs.  Considering that we spend the majority of our day at work, it’s essential that everyone has a safe environment to work in.  Organizations should encourage the development of relationships between staff and encourage what I call the “work family”.  This allows for more support and increased resilience to stress.  Encouraging self-care such as ensuring break times, adequate lunch breaks, encouraging physical activity, and stress management are all ways the employer can help build on an individual’s resilience.  Empowering employees to develop and grow as individuals and as professionals only strengthens this resilience.

Organizations that invest in their employees and foster an environment that is safe, supportive, and encourages resiliency will find that the payoff is far greater than the investment.  Happy, resilient employees are more productive and will give 100% knowing that the organization has their back.

Productivity

4 Principles for Increasing Productivity

Want more productivity from your employees?  Read this…

Multiple things influence productivity on the work floor.  While there are external factors that are beyond the company’s control, there are many internal factors that can be manipulated on the personal and organizational levels. It is often thought that the internal factors affecting productivity rest solely on the shoulders of the employees.   In fact, management has a more significant impact due to their influence on their teams.

Employee Health

Investing in employee health results in staff that come to work mentally and physically prepared with an increased stamina and focus.  Regular exercise gets the blood pumping, increases oxygenation to the brain, and helps clear the mind.  Employees who exercise regularly will be healthier, more efficient, and in the end, more productive.  Investing in an employee wellness program is something every organization should aspire to.

Environment

In addition to encouraging personal health, the organization needs to provide a healthy environment.  Having a workspace with proper ergonomics will keep attitudes more positive, and people focused on work instead of aches and pains from a poorly arranged environment. The short-term investment of a proper ergonomic assessment will pay off in the long run with decreased time away from work to manage neck, back or shoulder problems, fewer WCB claims, and overall healthier employees.

Temperature is a factor that contributes significantly to productivity.  If the staff is too cold, they will spend time trying to get warm. Conversely, if the staff is too warm, they are sluggish.  Either way, temperature affects productivity.  The perfect temperature for the office environment is between 60-70 Fahrenheit or 15.5-21 Celsius.  Something to keep in mind, but out of our control, is the outdoor environment. Employees are likely to be more productive on bright, sunny days versus dreary, dull days.

Listening to music may also have a profound effect on productivity.  Music has been shown to improve mood, focus, and endurance. Playing music in the background may significantly improve productivity. Beware, however, if someone doesn’t usually listen to music, it may hinder their productivity.

Training, Equipment, and Systems

Regardless of their position within the company, all staff will benefit from training of some sort. Whether it is initial training to ensure they can do their job or ongoing training, employees must be encouraged to continue their professional and personal development.

A major factor in productivity is ensuring that the employee has the proper training and tools for the job.  Nothing is more frustrating than performing a task with the wrong tool.  Whatever the business, there are tools customized to the organization to reduce waste and increase productivity.  Even when trying to cut costs and maintain overhead, there is a point that some investment is necessary.  The cost of equipment upgrades will outweigh the loss of productivity due to substandard equipment.

Even with the right equipment in place, productivity can be stifled by inefficient workflow processes.  It’s important to review processes from time to time and change them as needed.  Ask for and reward employee input on a regular basis.  They often will have creative ways to improve workflow and productivity.

Employee Satisfaction

When employees are no longer engaged at work, their productivity declines.  Likewise, employees that are passionate about their job will work to their full potential.  Therefore, organizations that want to optimize productivity need to focus on employee satisfaction.  This is truly the core of Oteos.  Happy employees equal increased productivity resulting in happy customers, regardless of the nature of the organization.  Developing relationships, providing an ideal work environment, encouraging professional and personal growth, autonomy and empowerment and open, two-way communication are all methods of improving employee engagement.

In summary, if productivity remains the goal, then it is necessary to identify the factors that are affecting it.  It starts at the hiring process, and the expectations remain for the term of employment. That said, it is the organization’s responsibility to provide the right tools and environment to facilitate a continually improving rate of productivity and efficiency.

I challenge you to identify areas of improvement in your organization.  What can you do to boost productivity?

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The Ideal Work Environment

Creating that sought after workplace.

The workplace environment has a massive impact on our daily lives.  Whether we work at the organization or utilize its services, the environment in which people work impacts productivity and service.  We have all experienced the clerk that hates their job, and it comes through in every word they utter to us and every action during the encounter. Wouldn’t it be amazing if everyone loved their job and the environment in which they worked?  That is the true heart of Oteos –  to maximize productivity by improving the employee experience.  As Simon Sinek said, “Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first.”  So how does an organization foster an ideal work environment?

Everyone has a slightly different idea of the perfect work environment, but there are some basic components that make up a place that gives employees reasons to show up, enthusiastic and driven and to work hard for the organization.  The work environment includes the physical surroundings (location, facilities), the culture of the organization, potential for personal and professional growth and relationships between employers and employees, to name a few.

Lead By Example

First and foremost, leadership must lead by example.  When leadership lives the vision and values of the organization, it will resonate with the staff.  Management must be clear about the mission of the organization; it’s vision and the values. This is the foundation of the organization and must be at the core of every work encounter.   Leaders cannot act in a parental role of “because I said so,” nor can we expect our team to “do as I say, not as I do.”   This type of old-school thinking will contribute to resentment, breakdown in communication, and lack of respect for the leadership team.

Communication

Two-way communication is essential in a healthy work environment.  It contributes to the development of trusting relationships among staff and with management.  Too often, management utilizes one-way communication by way of providing information without seeking feedback.  Providing employees with a platform to safely express concerns and opinions is vital to improving trust and respect.  As important is then taking this feedback and actually doing something with it.  I once participated in a team cohesiveness survey after a major transition in the organization.  Management apparently did not appreciate our honest feedback. Rather than take that information and develop a plan to improve on the environment,  management expressed their displeasure in our responses and instructed us on how we should have answered the questions.  Nothing further was done to improve the team dynamics leading to a further decline in job satisfaction, increasing distrust of management, and a worsening work environment.

Using two-way communication not only engages employees, but it leads to an increase in collaboration and offers opportunities to reinforce the organization’s vision.  This ensures that everyone is on the same page and increases the ability to understand of the protocols and process that management is working with.

Bad Work Environment

Encouraging Growth

Encouraging personal and professional development among staff contributes to job satisfaction and loyalty to the organization.  There are numerous ways to provide this to employees.  First, ensure that every employee is appropriately trained and provided with the necessary supports to do their job well.  Beyond this basic need, support employees with continuing education within the organization and outside of it.  Meet with staff regarding growth – more frequently than the annual review- and help them develop a plan.  Address any skill gaps while reinforcing their strengths and identify areas for growth.  Support additional university classes, conferences, and any learning opportunities that will contribute to the growth of the employee.

Beyond professional growth is personal growth.  An ideal environment supports their employees in achieving a work-life balance.  We’ve all experienced challenging life situations, and inevitably they will spill over to the work environment.  Employees that practice good self-care and healthy living with good supports outside of the organization will be better equipped to handle the challenges that life throws at them.  Offering coaching, discounts for gym memberships, access to counseling (dietary, mental health, etc.), and encouraging the use of breaks and vacation time can all contribute to a healthy life outside of work.

Acknowledgment

A solid leader will learn how to appreciate and appropriately acknowledge their individual employees for their achievements.  This does not have to come in the form of financial rewards.  Acknowledging their achievements both privately and in front of others will encourage them to continue their excellence within the organization.  Make sure that you are genuinely recognizing the effort and not just complimenting them. Compliments stay with them for a minute, but a genuine acknowledgment of their effort and ability will remain with them long-term and make them want to continue their effort.

Organizations must take an active role and be intentional in creating a positive work environment. Not only will it increase productivity and creativity, but it will also decrease turnover and more importantly, keep unhappy employees from spreading their negativity amongst the rest of the team. Negativity spreads quickly, and this type of animosity causes your business to rot from the inside out.

As a business and a leader, how will you provide and contribute to a positive work environment?  As an employee or perhaps an informal leader on the team, how can you encourage a positive environment from the ground up? We would love to hear your thoughts.

Stop the Silence

Stop the Silence!

Stop the Silence – Keeping your employees engaged…

Research shows that communication is a vital component for a high-functioning organization that wishes to empower employees and thrive as a business, regardless of the industry. Unfortunately, there seems to be a misconception by many in management roles that employees that don’t speak their mind and who go along with the management’s direction are more valued than those that express themselves.  While these silenced employees may be perceived as easier to manage, the opposite is actually true.  Employers must provide a platform for employees to have a voice.  This not only keeps employees engaged but increases performance.  It promotes creativity and stifles groupthink leading to greater innovation.

Several years ago, my former organization was exploring a new health care delivery model.  This change was based on the Southcentral Foundation’s NUKA model of care that focused on patient-driven care.  Part of the initial stages of this process included sending a delegation to a week-long training at the Southcentral Foundation in Anchorage, Alaska.  My director, at the time, asked if I would be willing to attend.  Naturally, I agreed.  Who doesn’t want to spend a week in Alaska at the boss’s expense?  The experience was invigorating and ignited my passion for healthcare again.  Later my director confessed that the reason she invited me to participate was due to my outspoken nature.  She knew if she didn’t have my buy-in, she would likely have some push-back.  She also understood that I could be her biggest ally in the implementation process if I realized the benefits of the change. Instead of silencing my voice, she understood the informal leadership role I had on the team and used it to benefit the organization.

Unfortunately, many organizations miss out on the ideas and valuable input that employees have to offer.  I’ve never understood why, but some organizations intentionally silence their people.  Perhaps management feels it is easier to manage or control situations, or possibly the manager is treated the same from those in the next management level up.  Either way, this culture of silence is counterproductive and diminishes the organization’s opportunity for sustainable growth.

Although high-performing organizations promote a culture of open communication, recent research shows that the majority of employees fear speaking up and that those that did speak up were less likely to move up the ladder.  Research also shows that suffering in silence leads to adverse outcomes for the organization. It causes low motivation, disengagement, alienation, and, low morale.

The benefits of employee input are numerous.  Employees work on the front-lines and are most familiar with the products, customers, and processes.  This day to day exposure to the workings of the organization offers insights that those at the management level may not be aware of.  Coming from a healthcare background, I will use the nurse-doctor analogy.  The nurse spends twelve hours with the patient while the doctor may spend ten minutes. Who knows the patient better?  Not that the nurse knows better than the doctor, but they will know more about the patient’s symptoms and overall condition. Ultimately, the doctor makes the decision, but without input from the nurse, the doctor wouldn’t have all of the information to make the best decision.  Without input from employees, management will not have all the information required to make the best decisions for the organization.

There are multiple strategies that organizations can use to encourage employees to contribute their opinions. First and foremost is leadership modeling behaviors that encourage and support active two-way communication.  By reducing formality and power cues, the leader assumes a collaboration role rather than a dictator role, making them more approachable.  Avoid speaking to only those employees that you are comfortable with.  This alienates the rest and promotes favoritism, which, in turn, silences your staff.

Make asking input part of a daily routine and then actually do something with the information.  Twenty-five percent of employees do not share ideas or information as they feel that nothing will be done with it.  Maybe it isn’t valuable today, but it may be tomorrow. Assuming that employees will speak up on their own is a gamble.  Perhaps previous experiences or lack of confidence will stop them from presenting what could be an amazing idea.  By not asking for their input, you are essentially silencing them.

To encourage diversity in your cohesive team, bring up controversial topics, and encourage debate.  Do not nit-pick or demand a plan or data during the brainstorming phase.  Allow the team to be creative and follow-up with data to support their suggestions. These approaches encourage active dialogue and set the tone for a safe environment for honest communication.

Promoting a culture of recognition encourages continuous input from employees.  Staff that feels appreciated for the achievements will gain confidence within the company.  The more confident an employee is, the more likely they are to offer input.  Commend staff for their suggestions and for asking tough questions.  Finally, reward and recognize employees that offer input that contributes to successes.

In conclusion, cultures of dialogue not only result in more engaged employees but the bottom-line results that organizations strive to achieve.  When organizations utilize the full potential of their staff, it diminishes creativity and productivity.  Worse yet, silencing employees leaves untapped potential, and eventually, that potential will go elsewhere to an environment that appreciates them.

Even if you don’t intentionally silence your team, I challenge managers to look at their own behavior.  What can you do to encourage employee input?  Is there a behavior that you can change to stop the silence?