If technology was intended to free up our time, decrease our stress levels and allow us to automate repetitive tasks, how did it become so distracting?
In an effort to free ourselves from a highly administrative environment and allow us to work on a more strategic HR focus, what we’ve actually done is introduce more ways that we can be pulled into busy-work and away from our goals.
Not only are we getting distracted individually by all of the technology that surrounds us, but we also find ourselves distracted organizationally as we agonize over which technical solution we should be using.
The Sum of our Devices
No matter who we are, we’re all struggling with the same personal distractions and, over time, they’ve become more and more pervasive.
A distraction used to mean the phone ringing or an occasional drop-in from a colleague while we were in the middle of an important task. Today’s distractions, unlike a person or a phone call, are constantly hovering around us. That little red notification circle, a small ping, the quiet vibration of your smartphone, or the sliding notification in the top corner of your computer: all follow you around on every device and quietly demand that you address them.
The issue with these seemingly innocent notifications is that, over time, the attachment to our devices and their continual demand for our attention has tapped into our neuropathways and high-jacked our dopamine loops.
An Information Addiction
According to some research, rather than causing pleasure in our brains, dopamine is now causing us to continually seek out information in anticipation of finding it. This is why the allure of a mysterious notification is too much for us to resist.
In an article for Psychology Today, Dr. Susan Weinschenk, Ph.D. explains that, “with the Internet, Twitter, and texting, you now have almost instant gratification of your desire to seek…It’s easy to get in a dopamine induced loop. Dopamine starts you seeking, then you get rewarded for the seeking which makes you seek more. It becomes harder and harder to stop looking at email, stop texting, or stop checking your cell phone to see if you have a message or a new text.”
Breaking the Check Reflex
So how do you address the addiction? A practical way to reduce the desire to check every single message that comes our way is to adjust the notification settings on all of your devices.
Schedule out blocks of time on each device where no notifications of any kind come through, so that you can focus on the tasks at hand and not get tempted by every little ping. While it may seem like a small change, it’s an important step in taking action towards the continual pull to check, and check, and check yet again.
The Burden of Outdated Tech
Now, let’s widen our focus, to look at two of the more distracting impacts technology can have effects technology can have on your organization as a whole. The first is the point at which a particular piece of technology requires human intervention in order to perform properly.
Think back to a time when you were with an organization that had a legacy system in place, one that was forever being “patched” together with other systems in order to function correctly. These are the systems that don’t meet the reality of the business needs today, and employees have stepped in to create work-around solutions in order to simply get the job done.They become so burdensome, that organizations start to hire more and more staff to compensate for the lack of productivity; paperwork and hard files start to become necessary backups, and additional administrative tasks are added just to keep things flowing properly.
All of this starts to happen when the root of the problem is an outdated piece of tech, and everyone becomes distracted with bandaid solutions, as opposed to focusing on doing great work.
The Cost of Cutting Edge
The second way that technology can be operationally distracting is due to our propensity to try and implement everything, at once, all the time. This simply does not work. With so many platforms and technical solutions available to HR leaders, it can be very tempting to try and implement the latest and greatest in your organization, but this often proves to be more of a distraction than an improvement.
So how do you decide which platform, piece of technology, or upgrade you should consider? You can start by asking yourself the following questions:
Will it allow me to do my job, the way I need to do it?
Can I perform real-time talent management?
Can I identify high performers and support learning initiatives?
Can we actively monitor the sustainability of our efforts?
Can we do it digitally?
Does it meet the needs of the business today?
Before you make a quick decision to invest the time, money, and resources to implement today’s most advanced platforms or tools, make sure it’s what the business actually needs.
Mastering Your Mindset
Above all else, the key to thriving in an age of distraction, is rooted in your mindset. This means making a conscious effort to block out any low-value distractions or “seeking” behaviours—like checking those notifications.
In an article written by Mark Murphy, a contributor for Forbes and founder of Leadership IQ, “the average person checks their email about 15 times per day” and the time and productivity cost of these distractions can add up very quickly.
Taking this one step further requires blocking out time in your schedule for focused, deep thinking, and intentional work. This time can be for working on innovative solutions to your sustainability programs or to connect one on one with employees to find out how they are doing. It can also be set aside to focus on the strategic initiatives you are putting together in order to attract and retain top talent across the country—people work, connecting work.
Purpose Provides Peace
When you are purposeful with your time and consciously focused on what you need to do in order to achieve successful outcomes, the thrill you get from checking a notification will start to fade in comparison to achieving a meaningful goal.
Finally, being mindful about how your goals are achieved is another important factor to consider. Remaining focused on achieving an objective is one thing, but it doesn’t have to be done with the same piece of technology that everyone else is using, simply because they are using it.
Take a realistic look at how your organization functions best, identify what it’s true needs are and what kind of support each employee actually wants . Then, with criteria in hand, you can take a look at the options—ones best suited to fulfilling your company’s needs, right now, in the right way.
Nicole Girouard is marketing director for the Dynamic Achievement Group—powering excellence through mindset, culture and leadership.
Donna Wilson has held executive level positions since 2001 in both the public and private sectors. Having always given her best, she also served on the Olympics Organizing Committee. Most recently, she transitioned into a new role as vice president of people, performance and Lower Mainland Medical Laboratories at Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA). Prior to this she was senior vice president of people, community and strategy with Lifelabs, where she was responsible for leading their HR, labour and government relations and corporate social responsibility initiatives.
Why did you choose HR or how did it choose you?
When I was at university, I thought I wanted to be a teacher. However, after a short practicum, I realized that I wanted to work with people, but in an office environment. This drew me towards human resources. I didn’t know a lot about HR at the time and my interest really evolved based on my interest in the human mind and related behaviours. I took psychology in University and working with people and people behaviours was important to me.
What was the breakout project or thing you did to really accelerate your career?
I have a couple of key moments that taught me a lot early in my career. After university, moving through from administration to a professional role was the first break. I started as a member of a team at BC Hydro that was implementing a new job evaluation plan. That project helped me get great exposure across the organization and allowed me to get exposed to a wide variety of roles.
A second break was moving from management to working for the BC Nurses Union. Four years working on the union side of employee issues gave me great insights and appreciation for health care issues and labour relations. Following this, I shifted into a management role in labour relations with Canadian Airlines. These experiences really taught me the value of having an open mind and how we need to treat people fairly when resolving workplace issues.
A third break came when I moved into customer service in a senior operating leadership role. Being the operating manager was hugely impactful for my career. I could see the impact HR had on the business. I could see when HR came in and helped, but also the impact of HR programs that didn’t meet my business needs. This helped me become a better HR leader.
What advice do you wish someone had given you earlier in your career?
If you have a chance to run an operation outside of HR, take it. That is the experience that allowed me to transition into an executive role. The strongest HR and executive leader is someone who understands how the business runs. The sevens years where I ran the community customer services taught me a lot. Dave Mowat, CEO of Vancity at the time, took a leap of faith based on my understanding of how business works and provided me my first chance to run the HR function at the executive level. I now look for people who have combination of HR and business leadership experience when I fill my most senior HR roles.
What do you think is the greatest emerging opportunity/challenge for HR professionals?
HR is now an expected part of the senior business discussions and decision tables. I see lots of room for specialization in the HR function, but creativity in the area of total rewards is probably the area where you can truly stand out. Business needs to know how to attract and retain talent in a changing or tough market.
As an HR professional, having the ability to work with numbers is a huge asset. You don’t have to be an accountant, but numerical orientation really helps—especially, as businesses try to do more with less cost. They need creativity from HR.
Linked to attraction and retention of talent, ongoing talent management and succession planning are emerging as key strategic roles for HR. Finally, an HR professional should never underestimate the value of highly refined communication skills.
You had opportunity to be part of the executive team for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. What was it like to be a member of the games?
There were some very hard moments. When we were just ready to launch the games, we suffered the loss of an athlete’s life. This was traumatizing. HR had to mobilize trauma counsellors out to the site and they stayed through-out the rest of the games. HR had to really dig in and help.
This was a “greenfield” opportunity to develop and build an organization from scratch. Set up for what works well in your region is really left up to the local organizing committee. The level of creativity needed, and the limited time we had to complete our plans, led to a mantra of “best for us” when we were looking at ways to build the programs needed by the project. Because we were a project our, programs needed to have immediate return—we could not have a 10 year ROI.
Most everyone had a passion for the purpose of the organization. So it made it easy to hire as you had your choice of good talent. We created values/vision and mission for the games, which was really exciting. These set the stage for how we would identify who would be part of the games and how we would approach them.
Our values were Team, Trust, Excellence and Creativity. At all levels in the organization you were hired for alignment to those values. Decisions were made to ensure we were seen to live our values—an example was deciding that everybody (volunteers and paid employees) would wear the same colour jacket. This came out of the fact that we were a team and values driven organization.
Drew Railton, CPHR is managing partner, Western Canada for Caldwell Partners.
Hemingway once said, “When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.”
Unfortunately, it is hard to disagree that truly listening to people is a lost art form. Too often, we are moving onto the next meeting, distracted by our smart phones, or caught up in the next task. Here, but not “hearing,” we can not live in the moment. As a result, we are missing opportunities to not only be present for the individual who is speaking, but to act on what is being said.
With this issue of PeopleTalk focusing on mental health, how does failing to listen—and to act—affect those wrestling with mental health issues? Let’s explore two programs: one to build listening skills, the other built by a skilled listener who saw a need to better support individuals struggling to cope with stressful critical incidents.
(Em)Powerful, Curious Questions
The hallmark of an effective leader is their ability to ask questions—rather than giving advice—and then to listen to the answers. Managers give advice; leaders ask questions. Developing this skill will change your working relationships and empower employees to take ownership for their work (and even their thinking).
In a program called “Front Line Leadership”, leaders at all levels learn how to use powerful, curious questions. One example is changing simple yes/no questions to make them more productive.
“Is this an effective strategy for you?” so becomes “What makes this an effective strategy for you?” and “Is there more to be learned here?” opens up into “How can you double the learning in this experience?”
Powerful, curious questions have a number of salient characteristics; they aren’t attached to a particular path, they are open rather than closed, and they invite reflection. Ideally, they will set a mood of discovery and exploration.
Having asked good questions, good leaders will then make sure they listen effectively. Great leaders have the unique ability to listen to others without imposing their own thoughts. Instead, they focus their attention on what the person is saying and reflect back what they have heard without changing the meaning.
Active Listening in Action
The concept of active listening is well known. Here’s a simple example, followed by three active listening steps, to illustrate the concept:
“I didn’t feel like the cruise vacation lived up to the hype in the brochure. Neither the meals nor the cabin service was as good as promised. The local attractions and merchants, however, were inspiring and friendly.”
Reflecting Content: “To paraphrase, the cruise’s meal and services weren’t to your expectations but the local attractions and people met or exceeded your expectations.” Reflecting Feeling: “It seems that you feel both disappointment and excitement about your trip.” Reflecting Meaning: “You seem to have mixed emotions regarding the trip in its entirety.”
This simple approach by a leader helps the person focus on their situation and helps them to own and accept their own feelings. It is an important part of effective listening because words often have different meanings for different people and because many of us often become blinded by—or blind to—our emotions.
Responding in Kind
There are 5 keys to mastering a reflective response:
Listen for the basic message (content, feeling and meaning expressed by the speaker);
Look for confirmation of non-verbal and verbal cues when restating content;
Do not add to the speaker’s meaning or feelings;
Do not take the speaker’s topic in a new direction; and
Always be non-judgmental and non-directive.
A Case Study in “Resilient Minds”
Leadership level listening is often even more critical outside of a corporate environment. As to the impact of that leadership level listening in action, we can all think of examples from our own lives, and one in particular stands out for me in light of our mental health focus.
Lt. Steve Fraser has spent 20 years listening to his colleagues and direct reports. Over the course of his career as a firefighter with Vancouver Fire and Rescue, he has made it his mission to be present for those struggling to cope with traumatic incidents. He has built a reputation within the department as someone who will listen, and is regularly approached for his leadership and guidance. This is a guy who makes himself available; I’ve attended social events with Steve and have witnessed him taking calls from distraught firefighters who need to debrief after a difficult shift.
Steve did more than listen—he acted. He heard what was being said and had the courage to do something about the crisis of mental health he saw occurring in the fire department. In partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) and his 40-person Critical Incident Stress Management Team, he built a program called “Resilient Minds” to equip those struggling with the tools necessary to cope.
As a result of his efforts, he was awarded the prestigious Firefighter of the Year award in 2017. More importantly, the program he helped build has been rolled out on a provincial level—with over 1200 firefighters benefitting to date.
Call to Action
According to the CMHA, by age 40, about 50 per cent of Canadians will have, or have had, a mental illness. Let this serve as a call to action for those who are in a leadership position to continue building their listening skills and making a positive difference for people by acting on what is shared. Programs like Resilient Minds and people like Steve Fraser have shown us what is possible when we take time to listen—and act.
Peter Saulnier, CPHR is a partner and Howie Outerbridge is vice president of client solutions with LoganHR, a full-service career transition, compensation and talent management firm and member of VF Career Management. For more information, visit LoganHR.com.
One of BC Hydro’s priorities is supporting mental health in the workplace, and ensuring that a holistic view of health is woven into the overall workforce strategy. BC Hydro is raising awareness about mental health amongst employees and wants to ensure that managers feel well equipped to support their employees. BC Hydro is ensuring that their leaders understand the role they play in creating a psychologically healthy working environment. With this in mind, they have made the decision to provide training to their managers around mental health and supports in the workplace. They will continue to rely on employee feedback to understand how their strategy is working.
BC Hydro had a number of objectives for their mental health training:
Build awareness about how to support employees facing mental health concerns, and the various supports available to them.
They wanted to ensure that the majority of managers had access to and completed this training. This meant training had to be easily accessible.
Ensure that managers have a common understanding of mental health, and their role in creating a safe workplace – by giving managers the skills and tools to recognize when an employee is struggling. Bring common language to the discussion of mental health.
Encourage employees to reach out for support and reach out early.
To meet their objective of ensuring the training was accessible to as many managers as possible, BC Hydro decided on 30 minute online training sessions. Their research suggested that it was more effective to involve more people in the dialogue, at least at first, rather than trying to go really deep with fewer people. Their initial approach to the training was as follows:
Researching what options exist for mental health training and understanding what the organization has done around mental health in the past.
Customizing the content to pertain specifically to BC Hydro.
Communicating BC Hydro’s focus on mental health to all staff.
Offering the training and amending training as necessary to respond to feedback.
To understand the context they were working within, BC Hydro worked to understand what their employees had experienced around mental health awareness in the past. For managers who had been at BC Hydro for many years, they would have had exposure to various forms of training, and BC Hydro was keen to build upon this experience. In addition, BC Hydro wanted to understand what training was available in the marketplace, and what would work best for their context.
BC Hydro’s Health and Recovery Team developed their own content through research, and also worked with their benefits provider, Sunlife, to revise some of their content and integrate it into what they developed internally. They customized the scenarios and revised the content to be less clinical. Stakeholders from the business, human resources and training all provided input into the content and structure of the course before it went live.
To ensure that their employee base was aware of BC Hydro’s focus on mental health, the Health and Recovery Services team worked with the Communications team to help spread the word. The communications campaign launched in May during Mental Health Week with the CEO writing an email to all employees about the importance of recognizing mental health in the workplace. Additional communications featured people profiles where employees shared their own stories about mental health struggles and recovery. Throughout the year, there has been monthly features on mental health that always link back to existing resources and supports like the Employee Family Assistance Program and this online training course.
Rolling Out Training & Incorporating Feedback
BC Hydro’s training for managers included:
What does mental health look like in the workplace?
How to pick up on signs that an employee might be dealing with mental health concerns.
What supports are available to an employee dealing with mental health?
Once a manager completed the training, they took an online quiz to gauge their understanding of the content. This also helped BC Hydro quantify how many people took the training. BC Hydro proactively sought feedback on the training they rolled out, and made changes as a result. The feedback is captured under lessons learned.
Currently, 418 employees have taken the training. A few BC Hydro employees chose to share their stories of mental health more widely. Having high performing employees share their story about struggling with mental health has helped bust myths about “who” has mental health challenges.
Through constantly seeking feedback, BC Hydro had a number of lessons learned during the rollout of the training:
People leaders are changing
BC Hydro realized that because people leaders are changing constantly, it is important for the training to be offered constantly, and having it readily accessible for new people leaders, or those needing a refresher, is helpful in ensuring its success.
Collaboration is key with other departments
BC Hydro found great success in working cross-departmentally on this initiative. As an example, the collaboration between the Communications Team, HR and the Recovery Team was critical in the rollout of the initiative. Also, in developing the course content, having a number of different reps from various parts of the business involved in testing the content was key to ensuring its relevance.
Offering the training beyond managers
Some of the feedback BC Hydro received from its employee base is that they wanted access to the training as well. They decided to extend the online offering to any employee who wanted to take it, while ensuring there continues to be a focus on ensuring managers take it.
Training is just one component
While the training is key to supporting managers to support their employees, it is also one component of a larger initiative, and needs to be supported with a variety of different tactics as part of an overall strategy.
Timing is everything
BC Hydro assessed organizational readiness prior to rolling out this training, and found that to roll this out successfully, the organization needed to fully embrace this and be on board.
BC Hydro will move forward with their focus on mental health as a priority in the workplace. They want to work to continue to build manager and employee resilience in the topic of mental health. One of their next steps is launching a campaign on mindfulness, and the practice of it in the workplace. They will also be working on how to address mental health concerns in a proactive way. Lastly, they will be building mental health strategies into other areas of their work.
Marli Penner, CPHR HR advisor, Northwest Community College Terrace, BC
Marli Penner, CPHR is an HR advisor at Northwest Community College in Terrace, BC. The primary areas of her role are employee benefits, disability management, wellness, and occupational health and safety. Working in post-secondary aligns with Marli’s commitment to lifelong learning with her desire to expand her knowledge to keep up with the rapidly changing HR environment. A board member for the Tamitik Status of Women, Marli is a new member of the Northern Advisory Council for CPHR BC & Yukon.
Awareness of the signs and symptoms of mental health conditions are critical for all members of a workplace: for managers to recognize these in their direct reports, for peers to recognize signs in their colleagues, and for employees as individuals to recognize the signs within themselves.
Being able to recognize these indicators enables employees to address mental health needs and seek out the support required, whether it be through an employee assistance program, an appointment with their physician or a meeting with their manager to address work-related issues that may be causing them stress.
Going hand-in-hand with awareness is the responsibility we all hold to support each other. As an HR professional, it is critical to be approachable and offer your employees someone to talk to confidentially when they need an outlet or advice—15 minutes of your time can go a long way.
Katie Gilson HR advisor, Challenge Disability Resource Group Whitehorse, YK
Katie Gilson is an HR advisor for Challenge Disability Resource Group. Prior to moving to the Great White North, Katie worked in training and development and recruitment at Sears Holdings Inc. and PetSmart in the US. Katie is happy to have found a home at Challenge DRG that combines her passion for people and training with a platform for issues that she believes in such as mental health in the workplace and inclusive hiring practices.
When the question of mental health is raised in the workplace our instinct is to say that positive mental health begins with “open communication.” While a culture of open communication is important, addressing mental health in the workplace starts with awareness. Preventative awareness and knowledge about mental health will empower employees to identify triggers, find solutions and highlight strengths.
Leaders need a high-quality awareness of what positive mental health looks like and how to spot potential problems. All employees can benefit from training on how to respond effectively when they notice a change in thinking, mood or behaviour or when someone discloses an issue.
When we make psychological health and safety a priority we start to remove the stigmas associated with mental health. Removing these barriers will hopefully allow an employee who is struggling to feel safe enough to be able to say “I’m not ok” thus opening the door for open, honest communication.
Sharlaina Bain, CPHR candidate HR consultant, Yukon Government Whitehorse, YK
Sharlaina Bain, BBA, Dip. HR, CPHR candidate is an HR consultant for the Yukon Government with a passion for corporate culture, employee performance and aboriginal development. She believes qualified HR helps to establish an inspired, productive and sustainable workforce by guiding management in succession planning, attracting, retaining and developing talent. Her ultimate goal is to assist organizations achieve their employment goals through the provision of great leadership, engagement and motivation for staff.
Peter Drucker famously declared, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” and the same holds true when addressing mental health in the workplace. Fostering an environment where employees feel safe to discuss or disclose mental health struggles creates a culture where inclusion, engagement, and employee retention reign supreme.
Focusing efforts and communication on the development of an atmosphere that de-stigmatizes mental health struggles will help foster a supportive and positive work space, enabling employees to function in a positive and productive way. Further, celebrating employee contributions, rather than fixating on societally- prescribed stigmas, will also encourage staff to seek help and promote recovery from mental health issues.
With increased attention to wellness and reports that one in three Canadians will experience some problem with mental health in their lifetime (Mental Health Commission of Canada), responsible organizations can no longer ignore the necessity of creating a culture of trust and support for their employees.
Gregg Taylor, CPHR president, Family Services Employee Assistance Programs (FSEAP) Vancouver, BC
Gregg Taylor, MA, CPHR is a workplace mental health expert with over 25 years in executive leadership, training and clinical counselling. He holds an MA in Counselling Psychology and is a proud to hold the CPHR designation. Gregg and his team at FSEAP provide services that result in healthy, resilient employees and positive, productive workplaces, providing counselling & work-life services for employees and their families, and evidence-based wellness practices for the workplace.
From my experience working with client organizations, the keystone is developing and implementing a clearly communicated, positive workplace strategy that addresses three key dimensions of workplace mental health:
1. Psychological health & safety identifying and addressing mental health risks and stressors in the workplace and proactively supporting employees who are facing personal challenges (EFAP programs, wellness committees, mental health awareness/wellness workshops, etc);
2. Mental fitness and resiliency practices providing support, resources and training for employees that embeds positive, pro-active behaviours that shift workplace culture; and
3. Positive leadership practices whereby senior leadership not only supports, but champions workplace mental health as a key company priority, and managers and supervisors are given the tools, time and training to learn and practice skills that empower employees and promote engagement, performance and wellness.
To be successful, these efforts must be accompanied by genuine care and concern shown by leaders, practiced by managers and experienced by employees.
Denise Lloyd, FCPHR founder and CEO, Engaged HR Victoria, BC
Denise Lloyd, MA, FCPHR is the founder and chief engagement officer (CEO) of Engaged HR, a Victoria-based human resources consulting firm that works with organizations across Canada to create great places to work. Denise is a leader who brings new ideas and innovation to the way HR contributes to an organization, and her solution-focused approach creates happy, healthy workplaces where employees experience fulfilling work and employers are proud of the environment they create.
There is no silver bullet that ensures our mental health in the workplace. While many factors have been attributed to good mental health such as open communication with your boss, flexible time off policies or having friends at work, our mental health, just like our physical health, is something that requires daily care and attention and looks different for each of us.
For some, it may be about having the ability to work from home for some quiet, focused time while for others it may be about having a lot of variety in their work assignments and work relationships.
Each of us has our own way of taking care of ourselves and the keystone may just be for the workplace to make sure that we are empowered and encouraged to take an individualized approach and do what works for us.
Is our workplace a comfortable place to be or is it a place where we dread arriving every day? If we don’t look forward to being at work, why not?
The most pervasive emotion that will detract from us having a pleasant experience at work is fear. We might not want to admit it and we almost never acknowledge it, but that is what makes it so sinister. If we think about it, fear drives almost everything we do.
To Motivate or Inspire?
Two commonly confused leadership practices are motivation and inspiration. They seem similar at first glance, but almost anybody would say that they would rather be inspired than motivated. When asked why, people say that the major distinction between the two is that inspiration is based in positive “internal” feelings like desire, excitement and admiration, while motivation seems to be based on “external” stimuli imposed on us. We could make an even stronger statement—all motivation is based on fear.
Resultantly, as well-intentioned as an offer of a bonus for better performance may be, (and it usually does result in better performance, thus allegedly proving its worth), there is an underlying assumption that most people want more money. Why? They are afraid of not having enough money. If this fear wasn’t there, the motivation would not have the same effect. Other forms of motivation similarly depend on some fear being present, and misguided managers take advantage of this fear, all in the name of “improving performance.”
Fear in a Finite World
So, what else are we afraid of and what causes the fear? One of the biggest causes is, as discussed in the previous PeopleTalk article “From Scarcity to Abundance: Leading the Mindset Shift,” the fear that there isn’t enough “good stuff” to go around. Fearing that there only a finite quantity of pay raises, praise, acknowledgement, jobs and recognition leads us to believe that we must be guarded and protect ourselves from our coworkers, rather than collaborate with them. In other words, “Whatever they gain, I lose.”
In Brene Brown’s book, Daring Greatly, she describes this fear as scarcity, which comes from three causes. The first is the common practice of using shame and finger pointing causes people to behave in such a way to avoid blame when things go wrong. Worse, people won’t take risks and do new innovative things for fear of making a mistake.
Second, there is very often an undocumented, but pervasive and well understood, code of performance by which everybody is informally measured. Individuality is not encouraged, but “towing the company line” is subtly endorsed.
Third, and perhaps the most sinister, is the tendency to withdraw when it seems dangerous to do anything new or risky or to even speak up with a suggestion. This has been widely described in terms of “disengagement,” but I am going to use the term “turtle.”
The Trouble with Turtles
In these days of global turbulence and uncertain economic conditions, there is an abundance of external environmental factors that can incite a fear response; herein lies the temptation to do what a turtle does when faced with what it perceives to be a danger.
We symbolically pull in our head, arms and legs, not only to protect ourselves, but also to make ourselves disappear so we can continue to exist without drawing further attention to ourselves. In this mode, we have very little trust in ourselves and in our environment. The reality is that such turtle tactics do not serve us or the greater goals of any particular organization well at all. After all, what can a tucked-in turtle really do? Unfortunately, the truth is, a “frozen” turtle can be a definite obstacle where team building is concerned.
Of Apathy and Innovation
This shows up in various ways, all of which detract from the efficient and pleasant operation of the enterprise. As people withdraw more and more, there is very little camaraderie and collaboration among co-workers. Social activities become scarce and, even when they are structured and organized, there is a palpable feeling of obligation to participate rather than willingness or desire.
More troublingly, innovation becomes almost non-existent. Innovation requires different points of view, differences of opinion, and possibly, heaven forbid, arguments. If people have turtled, they feel threatened by new ideas due to their fear about not enough recognition to go around, and even worse, they simply don’t care. The level of apathy becomes suffocating. Nobody responds to anything and leadership is perceived to be not listening or unwilling to accommodate anything that staff suggests.
Escaping the “Shell” Game
Leadership at all levels can do many things to great reduce the level of fear in the organization. Being as generous as possible with public recognition and tangible rewards for achievements that are consistent with the stated, known and accepted objectives of the organization has huge leverage in helping people understand that there is indeed enough recognition to go around. This lessens the fear. This also shows everybody what kind of behaviour and achievement gets rewarded so they can be more confident that what they are doing is acceptable. Again, less fear.
Distrust is at the core of most fearful situations, so anything that leadership does to enhance the level of trust in the organization will encourage people to “come out of their shell” and participate in whatever way they feel is appropriate to their level of satisfaction, comfort, personal success and the success of the group as a whole.
Doug Turner, MSc, MBA is a leadership and executive coach at True Balance Coaching.
It’s the time of year when we revel in the opportunity to get outside and enjoy the summer months.
Here are three walking meditations to explore and play with. Try these on your breaks to experience the great outdoors. Remember to be keenly aware, and walk safely!
1. Regular Pace Walking
Walk at a relaxed pace, and as your left foot touches the ground, say ‘left’ silently to yourself. As your right foot touches the ground, say ‘right’ silently to yourself. And so on. This keeps you mindful and present as you pay attention to syncing your words with your steps.
2. Shifting Awareness
Walk at a relaxed pace, and place your awareness on your breath for a short while. Anchor in the present moment by feeling your body breathing. Then shift your awareness to your surroundings (for example, place keen awareness on sounds, sights, smells, activity, etc). Shift your awareness back and forth between your breath and your surroundings.
3. The Very Slow Walk
If you don’t care who may watch you, try taking super slow small steps, synced with your breathing. As you take a step forward and your heel touches the ground, exhale. As you shift your weight forward on the same foot, inhale.
Walking meditation is a wonderful, mindful way of giving ourselves a break from our busy days. It’s a great way to bring more movement into our lives and a sense of relaxation and calm. You can even try doing this during your work day as you walk from place to place, meeting to meeting.
HR professionals are busy people! Capture these opportunities for mindful moments for yourself.
Wendy Quan, founder of The Calm Monkey, is an industry leader, helping organizations implement mindfulness meditation programs and combining change management techniques to create personal and organizational change resiliency. She trains meditators to become workplace facilitators.
If you’re like us, you’ve been hearing a lot about how important corporate culture is to attracting and retaining top talent. It’s worth paying attention to: did you know that misalignment with corporate culture is a key reason why employees will leave an organization? In fact, it’s such a critical aspect of employee retention that CHPR BC & Yukon devoted their entire Winter 2017 issue of PeopleTalk magazine to culture in the workplace.
In a nutshell, corporate culture can be described as: “the way things are done around here.” In this post, we’ll go over the five main elements that create culture and then show you how one company, WestJet, is leveraging it to become a top employer.
The Five Elements of Corporate Culture:
What do employees tell each other about about what happens in the organization? It’s the stories that circulate through the infectious grapevine that really give the signals to employees about what the organization cares about and stands for. Do employees talk exuberantly about the heroes’ reception their colleague received after closing a big sale? Alternatively, are there office legends about the boss’ over-the-top reactions to poor performance indicators?
Values & Beliefs:
You may think that this refers to the official corporate values that accompany the mission statement, but culture is often more likely to be shaped by the unspoken ones that are communicated through the organization’s actions. For example, your company may hold frequent charity drives to support a local shelter, thereby demonstrating their values of community involvement and giving back.
When you walk into an organization, what do you see? Employee pictures on the wall may signify an appreciation for the people that work there. Large personal offices and then rows of cubicles is likely a sign of a hierarchical culture where distance is kept between managers and line employees. A games room may indicate a social culture where interpersonal relationships are emphasized.
Behaviours & Norms:
This could refer to things from how people typically spend their lunch break (hopefully not at their desks!) to how they address or sign off on an email. We know one organization that agreed to limit their emails to three lines out of respect for everyone’s time, which demonstrates the fast pace at which employees are expected to act. Another company we know hosts wine parties for staff in the boardroom at 4pm on Fridays. Cheers!
What’s the vibe like in the office? It could be a friendly atmosphere where people are generally happy and get along. Maybe it’s fast-paced and everyone is working hard towards a shared deadline. Or, do co-workers operate with a sense of distrust, fearful that someone is watching their backs and ready to move in should they make a mistake?
WestJet: Leveraging Corporate Culture Creation to Sky-high Success
These five elements develop organically in any organization over time, and regardless if your business has actively analyzed its culture or not, it does have one and it is already impacting your employees. Let’s look at an example of a company that has leveraged their culture creation to sky-high success, WestJet.
Don Bell (a Founder) says “Everybody’s unique, embrace people’s personalities rather than turn them into robots.”: Not only does WestJet embrace their employees’ personalities, they respect that each individual has their own way of doing things, and in many cases, they let them run with it. WestJet values their employees’ individual contributions, and believes in their employees’ abilities and judgement.
Jokes are encouraged, in fact, there’s even a committee that writes jokes to amuse customers: Imagine what a fun and jovial climate this committee creates for staff and customers. WestJet wants everyone to have a good time.
Stories are celebrated and shared: WestJet has an official channel to encourage employee storytelling and shape the way staff think about and experience their company.
Employees all pitch in regardless of job title: Did you know that even the pilots help to clean the plane? It’s the norm for all WestJet staff to help – everyone is important, but no one is too important to pitch in. What a powerful way to communicate respect and equality.
“Kudos corner”: This is a place where employees come to praise their fellow “WestJetters” for a job well done. We can infer that WestJet values respect and collegial relationships amongst their staff
WestJetters – everyone is an owner: It’s a well-known fact that all employees have shares in the company. The model is simple: the better the staff do at their job, the happier the customers, the better the business, the better the dividends. Sounds simple, and it works. All staff are respected, all staff are invested.
So how does this affect WestJet’s ability to attract and retain talent? The airline has positioned itself as an employer of choice: WestJet has claimed to receive over 68,000 resumes in a year. They have also been ranked as a top employer in Canada by multiple sources. More importantly, WestJet reports a steady turn over rate (about 8 per cent in 2014). WestJet has been able to attract and retain employees by creating a culture that respects their employees and in turn benefits their customers.
Robin Turnill, CPHR is founder and CEO of Pivot HR Services. Prior to founding Pivot HR Services, she owned a private consulting practice where she provided strategic HR services to many large local clients in the health, education, utilities, gaming, and transportation industries.
Laura Johnson is recruitment and communications consultant at Pivot HR Services. She has a unique blend of human resources and communications experience, gained over the last 14 years in the private, healthcare, and non-profit sectors.
“In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”– Eric Hoffer
In this age of technology, organizations must deal not only with disruption and convergence, but the exponential speed of change.
Many businesses continue to operate like they are driving in a dense fog on a once familiar road. They cannot see their surroundings clearly, so they depend on their memory of the route, driving more cautiously as result to get them safely to their destinations.
Unfortunately, as with the business environment, the prior route has been altered to take advantage of time, technology and human needs, and the drivers of business become lost. They either continue until they are out of gas, pull to the side of the road, hit a wall or drive off a cliff.
If you think that is too dramatic, think about how, worldwide, well established companies which had survived and thrived for decades or centuries are disappearing. The S&P 500 Index demonstrates this best. Of the 500 companies making up the index in 1955, only 60 are still on the index as of 2017. That’s 88 per cent of successful businesses that are no longer part of the index.
Why Success Stories Fail
Why? Sticking to the road in the first place is the primary part of the problem. My contention is that much of the problematic metaphor above is generated by a failure to empower failure—to go off road and discover a new piece of a previously unknown map. Yes, accidents may be costly, but a willingness to fail is often invaluable, particularly when a new way process, purpose, product or service is the result.
In order to survive and thrive in this time of escalating technologies, organizations need to consider—and hold to—some of the new, and enduring, principles of organizational success:
1. Failure is the price of progress and needs to be embraced. The definition of failure within the organization should be clear. The inability to do one’s job due to lack of motivation, skills or proper direction is not an employee’s failure, but a managerial one, and is not the type of failure being addressed here. The failures that need to be empowered are those relating to new ideas or methodology—in short, things which if successful will move the company’s needle forward.
Imagine, for a minute, having a VP of failure as opposed to innovation. Not only would this be more accurate in most cases, such accuracy could be put to profit. Their mandate would be to fail quickly, smartly and help others do the same. Their doors would be open to anyone (employee, customer or vendor) with a suggestion or idea to keep the company innovative and agile. What might that do for a company?
2 . All businesses serve the needs of people. People want to get their needs and desires met, quickly, easily, and as much as possible, without pain or frustrations.
For a business to have optimum performance, it must be in sync with its employees, customers, vendors and its community. It needs to continuously ask, how can we do what we do better? Are my vendors still to adding value at the level the business needs? Is there a new or different vendor who can help us improve our product, service or delivery? Is the business hitting its engagement targets for employees and customers?
3. Once an innovative technological genie is out of the bottle, it stays out and improves. It changes the way we do things until, it too becomes obsolete. Whether businesses want it or not, people adapt and use the newest technology as it is offered to them if it fulfills their needs and desires. The adoption may not be immediate, but will happen in time.
For example, as an early adopter, when I tried the Internet in early-1990s, it was not worth my time and energy. Having to deal with modems, poor connectivity, limited information and the lack of speed, was not something that thrilled me, so I backed off. Today, much of my research, data storage and communications work is done via the Internet. Just as the Internet changed the way we deal with data and communications, so have new technologies changed, and will continue to change, the way we live and work.
The More Things Change
As a result, it is essential that HR professional provide the catalytic push to keep their companies asking the essential questions:
What impact will this new technology have on my business?
How can I use it to grow, keep and possibly strengthen my business?
How can I change and adapt in other ways to offset some of the impact?
What is on the horizon that could have an even bigger impact? (A great example of this is taxi industry. First, they were taken by surprise by UBER, then confronted by the AI-driven options of Tesla.)
Fail, Change, Profit
The pressure is on for companies to embrace and utilize the disruptive the technologies in their midst to secure their piece of the future—and their collective peace-of-mind. To do that, businesses need to prepare themselves first. This comes back to some core themes familiar to the HR professionals:
Build a culture that supports failure and thrives on change to support innovation and agility. This defines an engaged culture where failure resulting from new concepts and ideas are empowered, not punished.
Build your talent and knowledge banks. A business can no longer survive with what they already know. They need the policies and procedures to attract, identify, nurture, and retain talent that can learn quickly.
Companies have to think about their employee’s experience as an asset that can be re-deployed to strengthen the organization. A positive experience related in any of the multitude of online forums is never something you can demand, but always speaks volumes of the workplace.
The HR Challenge
Familiarity with the above themes are not enough. HR needs to step up their leadership. As the gatekeepers of organizations, HR might like to re-examine the functionality of the gate.
Ask the questions suggested in this article but focused on HR. For example, are policies conductive to hiring the kind of people we need? If we need forward-thinking employees, and one of our selection filters is a degree, we will not be attracting the next Anna Wintour, Steve Jobs, Michael Dell, Arash Ferdowsi, Bill Gates or Richard Branson.
If we do attract them, how do we retain them? What tools are being used to get to know them at a level that allows the company to meet their needs? Are there new tools, management techniques or courses we need to explore?
Here is an HR challenge then: What is within your control, that if changed might bring huge benefits to the organization? Do you need to get permission to fail at this? How do you get that permission?
Akeela Davis is a productivity, engagement and cultural strategist at Courageous Business Culture. Using Motivational Map diagnostic surveys, she co-creates solutions for optimal outcomes.