One hundred thirty-nine days into 2016, I reflect on what I’ve accomplished so far this year…and what I’ve totally missed, arguably due to priorities that stack up for family, work, community organizations, kids’ sports, church groups and social engagements just to name a few. I at least know that it’s the 139th day because I have somehow managed to fulfill one of my New Year’s resolutions so far–taking a photo for every day of the year and sharing it to Flickr and Facebook. It’s been a rewarding habit to form because it has forced me to be more observant. Observant despite the demands that distract me (and all of you I’m sure) on a daily basis.
Yesterday I had a chance to practice my improved observation skills while attending the RESOLVE Conference at the NCAA Hall of Champions in Indianapolis. The purpose of this event was to unite Indiana executives and HR professionals for a common purpose: “achieving meaningful experiences for their employees.” While this focus lands right in my interest wheelhouse anyway, I especially appreciated that so many of the presenters shared personal stories and imagery in order to inspire ideas about improving company culture and employee engagement. As an unexpected bonus, I’m able to transfer many of these ideas into action items in my family life, too. In this post, I’ll share my five takeaways and how I hope to apply them to both ExactHire work culture and my personal life.
1 – Make time for learning
In your workplace, do you encourage individuals to continuously learn by reading business and personal development books, following blogs and/or participating in peer strategy groups? It sounds like a great idea, and if you’re like me you have the best intentions with an inbox full of messages marked “to read” or a never ending Goodreads list of bookmarked titles for future enjoyment. But unfortunately, the best of intentions often get saved for an appallingly rare Friday afternoon when I finally frantically take time to clean out my inbox or catch up on suggested blogs in my Feedly app.
Santiago Jaramillo, CEO and founder of Bluebridge, gave a presentation at RESOLVE that was about moving the smartphone from a device of distraction to a workplace differentiator. During his talk, I was inspired by an old photo he shared of he, his father and his brother building a tree house. He remarked that he read Robinson Crusoe at a young age and then resolved to build his own tree house. The story made me think about how likely my seven-year-old son will be to read Robinson Crusoe when he is a few years older. I decided that the prospect is pretty unlikely unless I more intentionally encourage the behavior now. The same holds true for your employees. Do you advocate for employees using work time to make time for reading, study, research and self-development?
I had the pleasure of seeing the prolific author John Maxwell speak at the HR Indiana Conference in 2015. One of his childhood experiences that he described was an epiphany for me, though admittedly, I still need to implement it in my own household. As a kid, his parents didn’t pay him for doing chores around the house. Rather, they paid him for reading books. Regardless of whether you measure by books, minutes or pages read, think about the potential impact that could have on a young person’s life…particularly if you choose some of the classics and other books that offer powerful lessons and insights! It’s a compelling strategy for rewarding the behavior you desire until it becomes a habit, and way of life for someone. A habit that sets one up for new opportunities for far-reaching success.
— FirstPerson (@FirstPersonBA) May 17, 2016
2 – Lead at every level
Throughout the conference, multiple speakers referenced the fact that U.S. employee engagement hovers around just 30%. And while the buzz word “employee engagement” has different definitions, I’ll suggest that it measures the degree to which one feels that his/her work is personally rewarding and impactful in a positive way to an organization. Being passionate about small business, I especially correlate employee engagement to the ability for one to see how his/her individual contribution affects the culture and bottom line, and to then be recognized for that contribution.
RESOLVE speaker Martha Hoover, owner of Patachou, Inc., espoused the importance of enabling leadership at every level of an organization. While there is generally a figurehead or group of owners/senior leaders at any company, having a culture that empowers all employees to lead some degree of change and innovation is an enviable advantage. Corporate culture has everything to do with whether employees will have the confidence and support to present and enact their own solutions to challenges in their areas and across the business.
Admittedly, I’m a compliance-oriented person and our household has a clear set of expectations and rules when it comes to what we will and won’t allow our kids to do. My husband jokes that I’m always acting like a “project manager” with regard to big initiatives affecting our home life, too. So when it comes to thinking about how I can teach my kids to lead at every level, it’s a good exercise that gets me out of my default mode. From challenging them to spend their pocket change responsibly to equipping them with opportunities to brainstorm how our family can stay healthy together, parenting is a leadership development exercise everyday!
3 – Wear clothes that fit
No, I’m not talking about your dress code…though I would encourage appropriately-fitting attire for any workplace, of course. Tiffany Sauder, President and founder of ElementThree, indicated during her RESOLVE presentation that a critical component of cultural authenticity is whether the organization’s leaders have adopted a culture that is supported by values that come naturally to those same leaders. Are the leaders wearing clothes that fit the image they are trying to present?
— Jessica Stephenson (@JessLStephenson) May 17, 2016
This idea was one of the most compelling points of the day for me. ExactHire is an amazing place to work for those who like wearing multiple hats in a fast-growth, people-oriented, small company. We have a great culture that has even more room to flourish as we scale; however, it’s time for us to get really intentional about where we go from here. While many of us have come from strong cultures at previous employers, we can’t always take what worked elsewhere and cram it into our daily work life expecting immediate success. We must call to attention values that are already present (even if not explicitly named yet) in all that we do. Then, we must integrate them into our client prospecting and support, internal messaging, behavioral interviewing, performance management, learning development and rewards programs.
The clothes must fit at home, too. As both a mom and a competitive person by nature, I unfortunately tend to compare myself to other families and examine the supermom-esque feats that other children are seemingly afforded.
- Why didn’t I spend hours making fondant-decorated Minecraft cupcakes for my son’s birthday?
- Why don’t I make it to my daughter’s preschool class every Thursday to do stations with all the kiddos?
- Why are there more clean clothes in laundry baskets than in dressers and closets?
- Why do I consider it a personal victory if I manage to clean the fridge only once per year?
But alas, the cultural clothes suggested by the above questions don’t fit me as well as I might like. Instead, I embrace the jeans that I can actually zip up and teach my kids to multitask and to be confident meeting new people and participating in lots of new experiences/organizations!
4 – Be radically different
During her session, Tiffany Sauder indicated that she wholeheartedly believed that today all products and services are commodities. If so, how will your organization differentiate itself amidst a sea of competitors with similar offerings? Be “extreme” she said. Coincidentally, the same idea of being radically different was a significant point in Martha Hoover’s presentation, as well. So, pick a few things that you will do in a dramatically unique way relative to others, and incorporate those activities or beliefs into your values.
Speaking of values, don’t pick vanilla, predictable cliches. That’s not to say that “trust” and “giving back” and “respect” aren’t admirable values…but make them yours if you use them. Further define them (or whatever values you select) so that they are unique and incredibly descriptive of your business, alone.
Reflecting on this session, I asked myself how my family might be radically different. Of the five takeaways in this post, this is the one that I struggled relating clearly to my home life. I don’t think our family is particularly unique in terms of what we value relative to our peers; however, this line of thinking did prompt me to consider whether our kids will grow up with a clear vision of “written in stone” core principles on which they can reflect as they face decisions as they mature.
Martha Hoover and her RESOLVE co-presenter, Matthew Feltrop, spoke of the recently formed Patachou Foundation which aims to serve wholesome meals to youth and educate them about healthy food choices and wellness. One of the educational activities is to provide children with conversation starter cards to model ideas for productive, engaging conversations with others. What a fantastic, yet simple idea. Not radically different, but perhaps radical in that today we must focus on it more intentionally in the age of smartphones; whereas, it used to happen more organically when I was growing up with fewer electronic distractions.
5 – Make culture accessible
If anything is clear about culture, it’s that you can’t force it to turn out a certain way. However, you can nurture its growth and nudge it in a positive direction by making it a central focus for your organization. Or, you can let it languish and risk a negative environment by ignoring it.
Given that the theme of RESOLVE was to create more meaningful employee engagement experiences, many of the presentations discussed culture at length. In particular, from a panel of senior leaders at a diverse set of locally-based businesses, came the notion that successful organizations will make culture more accessible by creating it, and then “giving it away.” My interpretation of that statement was that while owners and upper management need to foster and be attentive to the development of company culture, in order for it to flourish they must enable employees at all levels to participate in its evolution.
While the core values and principles of doing business may already be in place at your organization, in what ways do you empower your staff to decide how your daily work reflects and celebrates those values?
— Brittney Helt (@brittbeth85) May 17, 2016
A former co-worker once told me that while she was baking a cake with her young son, she thought he could be mixing the batter more productively. So, she tried to show him how to do it more efficiently her way. In response he commented, “Mom, there’s more than one way to stir batter.” Indeed. Sage advice for all of us.