Author Archives: Chris Cook

Are You on Track to Meet Your Year-End Goals?

Woman Jumping a Track Hurdle

Here are 5 steps to make it happen.

Last month, I read a blog post by my high school classmate Bruce Johnson titled “How to Craft a 100-Day Plan So You Finish This Year Well.” He’s a very smart guy who, as he puts it, has “a business growth coaching, consulting and executive education firm that helps business owners and entrepreneurs like you become great at building a business that’s designed for maximum growth, impact and profitability.”

His post got me wondering what I could do to boost the year for Capiche—my own coaching and consulting firm. I read Bruce’s steps and realized that not only could I do these for my own business, but also that I could help other businesses implement these steps for their success.

I encourage you to read Bruce’s post. I’ve outlined his steps below and added some of my own ideas for #5: Set Yourself up for Success for Next Year. Have a look.

1. Be Clear on Your Starting and End Points.

It’s October. January is less than three months away. What is realistic? What is most important? Focus there. As Bruce reminds us, “Don’t limit your targets/metrics to just revenue. Pick three to five metrics for you and your team.”

2. Go for the Low-Hanging Fruit First.

Seems obvious. We have long- and short-term plans and tactics, and while we need to be working both, at year’s end, it’s okay to hit the short-term plan hard. Typically, this means re-igniting relationships with current/recent clients vs. reeling in that new client.

3. Double the Speed.

I love Bruce’s analogy of the two-minute warning in football or that last leg of the track race. You don’t slow down because the event is almost over—you put it into overdrive to come out ahead. Do the same with your business tactics.

4. Calendarize Your Tactics.

Calendarize? Really? Bruce, is this even a word?! (Just kidding. I looked it up. It is.) In other words, set dates and hold people—including yourself—accountable. It’s easy to blow something off when there’s not a deadline. Time is short. Calendarize every step toward your goals.

5. Set Yourself up for Success for Next Year.

Bruce mentions things like a new marketing campaign, a new product, a new technology issue or capability, hiring or training some new talent, researching a new market or redesigning a new website with new capabilities.

Here are a few other ideas you can accomplish this year to set yourself up for success in 2015:

  • Revisit your organization’s mission, vision, values and purpose. Do your mission, vision, values and purpose still make sense? Do they ring true? If not, it’s time to get clear on what you DO hold true and how you want your business to move forward.
  • Do a brand assessment. Check in to see if you are in alignment with your brand. Are you living your brand? Do all your business decisions align with your brand? Does every action and communication align with your brand? If not, it’s time to get a clearer definition of your brand, which will guide you toward a more focused business strategy.
  • Conduct a perception survey to determine how others view your organization. Talk to key stakeholders (clients, customers, suppliers, vendors, influencers, and your in-house team). Use this information to chart where you are now vs. where you want to go in 2015.

Let Capiche help you with any or all of the three strategies listed above. You’ll be delighted how these simple actions will craft a winning strategy for 2015.

I’ll sign off with Bruce’s signature closing . . . “To your accelerated success!”

Thursday
09
October 2014
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Mt. Ashland Creates Its Brand from the Inside Out

Mt. Ashland

Why Your Culture Comes First

Your culture is your brand; your brand is your culture. The two are one and the same—inextricably intertwined. It’s where marketing, positive psychology and innovative business practices intersect. And it’s the common denominator in successful companies. Virgin Atlantic, Apple, Google, Harley Davidson, BMW and Autodesk all have strong brands and strong cultures, and all are wildly successful. I’ll bet you can name one or more in your industry.

Anyone who has been through a branding process knows the hardest part of branding isn’t coming up with a logo or tagline. It’s getting to your company’s DNA (what is at its heart)—its values, vision, passion and purpose. That’s your culture. When you get to that, you can create your brand.

Yes, this is a revisit of a previous blog post, but it’s a topic that’s particularly important to me now. It’s more relevant than ever as my Mt. Ashland—and I say my because I am a season pass holder, a board member and chair of the Community Outreach Committee—begins its 51st year with a rebranding.

Here’s an outline of what we are doing and best practices you can use in your own organization:

1. Define Mt. Ashland’s DNA.

What this means is we have defined its culture, values, vision, passion and purpose. It is real, honest and yet still a little aspirational. This is important because a brand must be rooted in reality with room to reach toward the future. Clearly defining an organization’s culture is the first step in building a brand.

2. Bring the brand to life with words.

What are your key messages? How do you communicate values, vision, passion and purpose? These words will shape all communication and will serve to be a barometer for each and every business decision. Because Mt. Ashland says it’s a steward of the environment, it will look for ways to reduce energy use and landfill waste as well as protecting the Forest Service land it operates on.

3. Create a visual identity with graphics, colors, photos and video.

Thanks to an in-kind donation from Lithia Auto Stores, we are working with their world-class marketing team. They have taken on the graphic design element of rebranding. We saw the first logo design suggestions yesterday—amazing!

4. Live the brand.

This is the hardest part. This is where most organizations fall short. Creating and embodying your unique company culture is how you answer the phone. It’s how you interact with others on the team and everyone who comes into contact with your organization. It’s whom you hire. And it’s how you bring them on board. It’s what you base EVERY business decision on.

Medford Mail Tribune Article on Mt. Ashland

Click here for a recent Mail Tribune article on this topic.

Building the culture/brand is everybody’s business, and companies that understand that have a real advantage. That’s why it’s crucial to engage your employees in your branding process, asking them to help define your values, vision, passion and purpose. Getting their input and buy-in is critical to the success of your brand. You all need to get behind the same values, vision, passion and purpose. It’s vital to creating a cohesive, productive and engaging workplace.

You will also be asking all your constituents to weigh in on what defines your company DNA. This means clients, subcontractors, other team members and influencers. Asking and listening to your constituents (and employees) is a natural way to build trust and take your relationships to the next level. This is marketing and management brilliance.

Mt. Ashland accomplished this with a community survey that was distributed widely and completed by more than 1,200 area residents. Mt. Ashland is listening to the public and making adjustments to the ski area based on their input. The aspirational part of the DNA is based on satisfying public desires for the ski area.

Good to Great and Tribal Leadership Book CoversThe realization that happy workers drive business success is sweeping the world, and the research keeps growing. Researchers at Harvard, University of Pennsylvania, University of California at Riverside and Oxford University are leading the pack. Bestselling management books Good to Great and Tribal Leadership credit a shared company vision and purpose. A company with a vision has a higher purpose beyond just money, profits or being number one in a market, and this important element separates sustainable profitable companies from the rest.

Are you seeing a connection? The “great” companies build their brands around their values, vision, passion and purpose, which guide the company’s culture. The two are inextricably intertwined.

When your people are living your brand, their personal values are in synch with the company’s. They are happier and more productive—and they are your best ambassadors. Involve them from the start, get clear on values, vision, passion and purpose, walk the talk, and enjoy your success!

If you are ready to get going on your company culture and brand, give me a call at 541.601.0114 or email me at chris@capiche.us. Let me help you uncover your own unique culture and brand to propel your organization forward. And let’s have a great time doing so!

Wednesday
24
September 2014
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Bad for Business: Where Business Schools Went Wrong

MBA Student at Business School

The golden era of the business school has ended. We’ve gone from a time when MBA programs were regarded as prestigious, pragmatic and even more selective than typical graduate programs to one where they’re something of an embarrassment.

Why? Warren G. Bennis and James O’Toole (authors of the Harvard Business Review article “How Business Schools Lost Their Way”) believe it’s because MBA programs have made decisions that are bad for business—both their own and that of the larger world.

By myopically focusing on scientific research, business schools are neglecting the needs of their students and ultimately failing their alumni.

This primarily shows up in their choice of faculty. Instead of hiring professors with experience in the business world, they are hiring academics whose knowledge is limited to the theoretical realm. Worse, tenure-track professors pressured to publish and conduct research end up focusing more on their careers than their students.

What students miss in this equation is the real-world knowledge and insights that help them navigate the situations they will confront once graduated. Subsequently, MBA alumni are floundering when faced with the complexities inherent to real-life business situations.

Real business is messy, confusing and morally ambiguous at times. It’s impossible to replicate these nuances in a laboratory setting, and faculty whose only experience lies in reading financial analyses and erudite studies rarely grasp what day-to-day activities are like on the ground.

Not only do today’s MBA graduates lack the skills they need to succeed in the corporate world, but they are not exceling as leaders or even securing decent jobs. Furthermore, they possess little understanding of business ethics, causing them to make dubious decisions that put their organizations, people and society at risk.

McGill University professor Henry Mintzberg blames the irrelevant MBA curriculum. Bennis and O’Toole believe the curriculum is merely a symptom of the larger disease.

The authors fault what they call the scientific model for treating business like an academic discipline instead of a profession. Students get lost in a maze of multiple regressions and economic analyses, and they aren’t equipped with the skills to map theory into practice.

Business is also a multidisciplinary field, encompassing everything from mathematics and economics to psychology, sociology and philosophy. Treating it as a solitary major does a disservice to their students.

The recent tilt toward the scientific model of business education may be a well-intentioned but misguided overcorrection of the early 20th century emphasis on job training. More akin to trade schools, these institutions were poorly regarded by both academia and business.

In 1959, reports issued by the Ford Foundation and Carnegie Foundation exposed these business schools for the inept institutions they were. Motivated by the demand for strong leadership during the postwar boom, both foundations offered grants to beef up business school research programs and credentials.

Chasing grant funds and credibility, business schools forgot about the deeper wisdom that comes from practical experience. After first experiencing a rise in substance and prestige during the sixties and seventies, business schools began their decline in the mid-eighties.

Rather than integrating practica and internships in which students can gain on-the-job experience, contemporary MBA programs set up hypothetical lab simulations to gauge how students will react in those kinds of situations. This is pretty silly when you consider how easy it is to set up an internship at a local business and how valuable it is to the student, the business and the institution’s town and gown.

By overemphasizing research and hard facts, business schools are overlooking emotional intelligence, the humanities and ethics—all areas, it turns out, vital to wise decision making and leadership. Qualitative may actually be more valuable than quantitative when it comes to stepping foot in the office.

That’s not to say business schools should eschew scientific research altogether. It just needs to be counterbalanced by relevant real-world experience.

There are exceptions, of course. Flagship institutions like UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and Harvard Business School integrate case studies as well as rigorous research into their curricula.

Former University of Dallas provost Thomas Lindsay astutely states, “[S]tudies showed that executives who fail—financially as well as morally—rarely do so from a lack of expertise. Rather, they fail because they lack interpersonal skills and practical wisdom; what Aristotle called prudence.”

Before Enron and other corporate scandals, business students spent only 5% of their time developing their moral capacities and the rest of their time on wealth maximization, says Lindsay. The Dallas business school attempted to reverse that formula by introducing a series of ethical exercises paired with liberal studies coursework.

As enlightenment spreads from business school to business school, perhaps the MBA will experience a renaissance, and we’ll enter a new golden era—one that deftly balances research, teaching, pragmatic experience and the humanities to graduate a more astute, empathetic and inspiring leader.

Wednesday
10
September 2014
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The Top 4 Employee Needs to Fulfill for Greater Happiness and Productivity

Business Leader Inspiring Employees

If you’ve been following this blog and other science of happiness research, you already know achieving employee satisfaction is key to creating a sustainable and productive workforce.

It’s simple, really. More satisfied employees = happier employees = more engaged employees = more productive employees = a mutually beneficial equation for everyone.

A 2012 Gallup meta-analysis of 263 research studies conducted across nearly 200 companies revealed that highly engaged employees translates into significantly more dollar signs—22 percent more, roughly. The Q12® report, titled “Relationship Between Engagement at Work and Organizational Outcomes,” found a 0.42 correlation between engagement and performance. Organizations whose employees ranked in the top half for employee engagement were almost twice as successful, and those in the 99th percentile showed quadruple the success rate over those scoring in the 1st percentile.

So how do you cultivate that employee engagement? Tony Schwartz and Christine Porath explore this question in “The Power of Meeting Your Employees’ Needs” at the HBR Blog.

According to the article, a 2013 Harvard Business Review survey of 19,000 people suggests meeting the following four needs is the secret:

Delivering Happiness Frameworks1) Renewal (physical). Employees are encouraged to take breaks to stretch, exercise, get fresh air or even power-nap. They return feeling rejuvenated and energized, ready to barrel through the next big task.

2) Value (emotional). When staff members feel valued by their coworkers and especially their supervisors, they are more motivated. We explore this formula extensively in our blog posts on The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People (Part 1 and Part 2).

3) Focus (mental). Employees who are bombarded with distractions, competing deadlines and inane meetings lose focus and clarity about their priorities. Organizations that give workers greater control over their own schedules so they can carve out focus time for intensive projects will see a corresponding rise in productivity.

4) Purpose (spiritual). Feeling part of something larger and more important than one’s self is crucial to employee happiness. Tony Hsiesh testifies to the significance of this factor to Zappos’ success in his book Delivering Happiness: A Path to Passion, Profits, and Purpose (see the Happiness Frameworks sidebar, graphics courtesy of the Delivering Happiness website).

The more needs met, the more exponentially engaged employees will be. Satisfy one need, and employees will be 30 percent more focused, 50 percent more engaged, and 63 percent more likely to stay with the company. Satisfying all four results in employees who are 125 percent more engaged than those whose needs are not being met.

The following graph (courtesy of HBR.org) illustrates the remarkable correlation between satisfaction of these four variables and performance.

Effects of Meeting Employees Needs Graph

Daniel Pink’s research backs up these findings. According to Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, people need these three things to feel motivated: 1) autonomy, 2) sense of purpose and 2) ability to master their endeavor.

Pink discovered that employee drive goes far deeper than dollars. Offering rewards like monetary bonuses actually decreases motivation in the long run because it depletes the intrinsic motivation derived from the work itself. The carrot wears out quickly, and it becomes the goal of the work rather than the actual process. Businesses would do better to ensure the work itself is gratifying.

Organizations that invest in cultivating employee happiness and engagement by meeting their primary needs wind up healthier, happier and ultimately richer.

Chris Cook can help your company get started on that path. Contact her at 541.601.0114 or chris@capiche.us to chart a course toward your brighter future.

Wednesday
27
August 2014
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10 Ways to Practice the Negative Approach to Happiness: Part 2

Hill at Sunset: Contemplation

Taking the Negative Approach to Happiness

Here we pick up from our last article on practicing the negative approach to happiness. To recap, Part 1 offered the following tips on finding happiness through the back door:

  1. Be Vulnerable
  2. Humiliate Yourself
  3. Imagine the Worst-Case Scenario
  4. Don’t Think Positively
  5. Give up Hope

Below are the next five steps on your backwards path toward happiness:

1) Realize It’s Okay to Not Be Okay

Pretending everything is copacetic when you’re feeling otherwise is another form of counterproductive suppression. Therapeutic modalities such as radical acceptance therapy teach us to soften ourselves to pain, grief and anxiety. Resisting these feelings causes our bodies to tense and our stress levels to spike, while letting down our guard and allowing the pain to wash over us helps us heal our wounds. Author of Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha, Tara Brach defines radical acceptance as “the willingness to experience ourselves and our life as it is.” Accepting reality and facing it head-on will deepen your authenticity and ultimately happiness.

2) Embrace Failure (or, as I like to frame it: fail forward)

Learning to embrace our failures with levity, humor and ingenuity helps us leap over speed bumps that could easily become obstacles. When we feel shame for our shortcomings, when we lament failing to meet a goal, or when we succumb to feelings of defeat, we lose the precious opportunity to glean wisdom from our failures. By accepting and even celebrating our failures—as in the invaluable Museum of Failed Products created by retired marketer Robert McMath—we can stumble upon the kind of happy accidents that lead to scientific breakthroughs and galvanizing creative sparks. Robert McMath and Thom Forbes write about this phenomenon in What Were They Thinking? Marketing Lessons You Can Learn from Products That Flopped.

3) Let Go

The control freaks among us will have difficulty with this lesson, but once we recognize that it is beyond our power to control the universe, our anxiety will drift away like a leaf on a stream. Attempting to make ourselves secure escalates our feelings of insecurity. Countercultural philosopher Alan Watts calls this the law of reverse effort or the backwards law: trying to make everything right often causes things to go wrong. Watts writes, “When you try to stay on the surface of the water, you sink; but when you try to sink, you float.” Security is an illusion. It is only when we acknowledge that insecurity is an inevitable aspect of life that we cease to fear it.

4) Practice Calm Indifference

Stoicism, Buddhism and mindfulness meditation all call us to examine our circumstances with calm indifference. According to the Stoics, it is not certain people, events or situations that cause suffering and distress but rather our beliefs about them. When we judge a person irritating, an event tragic or a situation stressful, we make ourselves angry, sad or anxious. If we suspend judgment, we can respond more objectively to the situation. Guided by reason (Stoicism), compassionate detachment (Buddhism) and intentional focusing of our attention (mindfulness meditation), we can gain an inner tranquility amidst life’s vicissitudes. Philosopher and scholar of Stoicism William Irvine describes this inner tranquility as a “state of mind … marked by the absence of negative emotions, such as grief, anger and anxiety, and the presence of positive emotions, such as joy.”

5) Contemplate Death

We spend 99.99% of our waking lives trying to ignore it. We tuck the thought of it away into our subconscious, pushing it down every time it bulges through the carpet of our consciousness. We practice systematic denial of it until the moment when it is no longer possible to deny: one day, we will die. As we know from our initial post on The Antidote, suppressing our fear of death only makes it more prevalent. So how are we to cope with the terrifying inevitability of death? Meditate on it. From the medieval tradition of memento mori to Mexico’s Day of the Dead, cultures that reflect on death—both their own and that of their loved ones—feel less fear and anxiety around the subject. If you live your life with a tender awareness that it is fleeting, you will make decisions with greater wisdom and purpose. You will have fewer regrets at the end, and such a life will have been a richer, more fulfilling and ultimately happier one.

Wednesday
13
August 2014
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10 Ways to Practice the Negative Approach to Happiness: Part 1

Making Grass Angels


“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” —Leo Tolstoy


Living the Negative Approach to Happiness

Our last post explored the counterintuitive notion that the path to happiness may be more circuitous than we think. As we try to grasp the vision of happiness before us, it vanishes before our eyes. According to Oliver Burkeman’s The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking, we may have better luck achieving happiness if we tiptoe up to it from behind.

Below are the first five of 10 ways you can begin to practice the negative approach to happiness in your everyday life.

1) Be Vulnerable

People who brace themselves against vulnerability not only shut off their painful emotions but also their joyful ones. To open ourselves to the possibility of happiness, we have to become vulnerable to the full spectrum of emotions.

Shame researcher Brené Brown writes, “In our culture, we associate vulnerability with emotions we want to avoid such as fear, shame, and uncertainty. Yet we too often lose sight of the fact that vulnerability is also the birthplace of joy, belonging, creativity, authenticity and love.”

In the course of her interviews with hundreds of subjects, Brown discovered one of the distinguishing characteristics of the happier people was their willingness to be vulnerable. Learn more about how to put this principle into practice in Brown’s audiobook The Power of Vulnerability: Teachings on Authenticity, Connection, and Courage.

2) Humiliate Yourself

“Excuse me, I just got out of a lunatic asylum. Can you tell me what year this is?” This is one example of a shame-attacking exercise clinical psychologist Albert Ellis used to send his clients onto the streets of Manhattan to practice.

Ellis, voted the second-most influential psychotherapist in history (after Carl Rogers and ahead of Sigmund Freud), also proposed an exercise in which the subject would call out the names of each station as the subway passed through them.

People terrified of public humiliation (pretty much everyone) find these exercises frightful, but those who practice them come out feeling surprisingly liberated. What they discover is the reality isn’t nearly as awful as they expected, and this empowers them to overcome fear in other aspects of their lives.

3) Imagine the Worst-Case Scenario

Ellis contended that nothing could ever be absolutely terrible because it could always conceivably be worse. By encouraging his patients to imagine the worst possible scenario, he enabled them to transform infinite fears into finite ones.

This is precisely the sort of negative visualization that has been practiced by Stoics since the third century BC, when Zeno of Citium founded Stoicism in Athens shortly after Aristotle’s death.

Stoics call this act “the premeditation of evils.” By continually acknowledging the possibility that we may lose all that we cherish, we magnify our appreciation for those very people and things.

This practice reverses the hedonic adaptation effect that causes us to lose pleasure in things we have become acclimated to (one reason the wealthy are not as happy as we might think).

It makes us treasure our loved ones all the more deeply and buffers the shock should the terrible scenario we imagine come to pass. Negative visualization also induces calm and robs anxiety of its power over us.

4) Don’t Think Positively

We already know from the research presented in our last post that positive thinking can backfire and cause lower self-esteem.

Anxiously hoping for the best outcome also requires constant reassurance that this positive outcome will occur. It tells your subconscious that its failure to occur would be disastrous, thus intensifying your anxiety.

When you expect the positive, you are not prepared when bad things happen, and this makes a bad situation worse.

5) Give up Hope

When you hope, you cease to act. This is why environmental activist Derrick Jensen rails against hope. It wasn’t until he gave up false hopes of a magical cure for the impending destruction of the planet that he was finally freed from the paralyzing fear that prevented him from acting.

By accepting responsibility and taking action, we play a role in effecting the change we once hoped for. This is crucial to our sense of living authentic, happy lives.

Stay Tuned

In our next post, we will share five more secrets to practicing the negative approach to happiness.

As always, you can reach Chris at 541.601.0114 and chris@capiche.us.

Wednesday
30
July 2014
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The Path to Happiness May Be . . . Backward?

Contemplative Girl at Forest Bridge with Stone Path over Creek Diptych

You know those days when everything seems to go wrong? When you tell yourself you are not going to trip on that extension cord, you are not going to mention that painful topic to your friend, you are not going to burn your hand on that pan you just pulled out of the oven—and then you do all three simultaneously?

There’s a scientific explanation for this phenomenon. Harvard Professor of Psychology Daniel Wegner calls it ironic process theory, and it has to do with the backfire effect of thought suppression. Ironically, trying to quash a specific behavior or thought tends to trigger that very action or thought.

The preposterous blunders that riddle the plots of sitcoms and screwball comedies may have a basis in reality, after all.

The White Bear Challenge

“Try to pose for yourself this task: not to think of a polar bear, and you will see that the cursed thing will come to mind every minute,” Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote in Winter Notes on Summer Impressions over a century and a half ago. Wegner confirmed this hypothesis in white bear challenges conducted at Harvard’s Mental Control Laboratory.

Wegner uses the term “the precisely counterintuitive error” to describe the experience of being irresistibly drawn to the result we’re seeking to avert.

Edgar Allen Poe calls it the “imp of the perverse,” and it also accounts for those strange, self-destructive impulses we experience when in proximity of danger, such as being tempted to leap off a cliff or unlatch the car door while hurtling down the freeway.

Metacognition Malfunction

Wegner traces the cause of this phenomenon to a malfunction in our metacognition process. Thinking about thinking is a handy talent, but it can short-circuit when we apply it to thought suppression.

Like a self-reflexive programming script that gets stuck in an infinite loop, the self-monitoring process dominates our consciousness. This means we constantly think about the thought we are trying not to think about as our brain reminds us not to think about it.

The Power of Suppression

Practicers of reverse psychology, advertisers and romance novelists all understand the power of suppression. Tell someone not to do something, and they’ll be tempted to do it—even if the thought never occurred to them before.

Experiments reveal that grieving individuals who try to suppress their grief take longer to recover from loss. Subjects told to repress sexual thoughts show higher levels of arousal than those told not to suppress such thoughts. The hearts of anxiety disorder patients beat faster when they are listening to a relaxation tape. When two groups of people are told about the same unhappy event, the group told not to feel sad ends up feeling worse.

The Antidote

What does ironic process theory have to do with happiness? Journalist Oliver Burkeman argues that it could hold the key to a counterintuitive approach to happiness. Drawing on several millennia’s worth of philosophy, religion and science as well as his own international adventures, Burkeman explores this theory in The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking.

Quoting John Stuart Mill (“Ask yourself whether you’re happy, and you cease to be so”), Burkeman suggests we can only glimpse happiness in our peripheral vision—never directly. Just as looking at the sun can blind the viewer, seeking happiness through get-happy-quick schemes not only fails to produce it but may even result in greater misery.

Where Positive Thinking Goes Wrong

The cult of positive thinking (different from the scientifically based positive psychology movement) that has dominated the self-help shelves for decades may be causing more harm than good.

Research shows that daily affirmations can escalate self-critical thoughts among those with low self-esteem. This is because we tend to reject messages that contradict our sense of self, according to self-comparison theory.

In The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain, neuroscientisit Tali Sharot writes that optimists—while healthier and happier—may not be as grounded in reality as pessimists, overestimating the degree of their control over circumstances.

Barbara Ehrenreich even goes so far as to suggest that the corporate pressure to be yaysayers instead of naysayers helped trigger the recent Global Financial Crisis in her book Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America.

The Benefits of Negative Thinking

Burkeman posits that continual attempts to suppress negative feelings such as insecurity, fear of death, uncertainty, failure and sadness may be a primary cause of unhappiness.

Surprisingly, the path to happiness may lie in not only acknowledging but actively embracing these negative feelings, thus sapping them of their destructive power.

In our next post, we will explore actions you can take to practice the negative approach to happiness.

Wednesday
16
July 2014
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Blue Ocean Leadership: 4 Steps to Boosting Employee Engagement

Surfer on a Blue Ocean Wave
There are half a trillion reasons why every American should care about employee disengagement. They’re called dollar bills, and that’s how many the US economy loses annually because of the 20% of discontented employees who undermine workplace productivity, according to Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace report.

That counterproductive 20% is abetted by the 50% of apathetic employees who simply punch the clock and then count the minutes until they can punch out.

What about the remaining 30%? Those are the lonely few who are dedicated to doing the best job they can.

And why do you think one-fifth of the American workforce is so discontented? You guessed it. Poor leadership.

Blue Ocean Strategy

INSEAD professors of strategy and management; codirectors of the Blue Ocean Strategy Institute in France; and Blue Ocean Strategy authors W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne offer some fresh ideas about how to reinvigorate the dispassionate 70%. They wrote about their findings in the May 2014 issue of Harvard Business Review.

Originally designed as a marketing model aimed at converting noncustomers into customers, Blue Ocean Strategy translates surprisingly well to the workplace. Viewing leadership from this new perspective, Kim and Mauborgne realized the fifth of disengaged employees represent the leaders’ noncustomers. That’s when they decided to apply their marketing strategy to building employee engagement—with stellar results.

Think about leadership as a service employees either buy or don’t buy. What can turn those non-buyers into loyal customers?

3 Leadership Approaches

According to the authors’ hundreds of interviews with managers and employees over the past decade, the following leadership approaches can help trigger the conversion.

1) Focus on acts and activities.

Instead of worrying about what kinds of people leaders should be, concentrate on what actions they can take to boost employee motivation and productivity. Actions are not only easier to change than personality traits, but they are also more measurable.

2) Tap into market realities.

Translated to the workplace, this means asking employees what leaders are doing wrong as well as what they could start doing to inspire employees to thrive.

3) Distribute leadership across all management levels.

Often organizations focus on executive leadership, but it’s the middle and frontline managers who tend to know employees better. By distributing leadership responsibilities across the top, middle, and frontline managers, organizations can access a deep well of often-untapped talent, thus enhancing engagement across the organization.

4 Steps to Stronger Leaders and More Engaged Employees

1) Recognize your leadership reality.

You have to understand where your leadership stands before you can plot a strategy for improvement. By using analytic visuals called As-Is Leadership Canvases, organizations can assess employees’ perceptions of how the top, middle, and frontline managers spend their time and energy. A cross-section of 12–15 respected managers leads this companywide conversation, with three subteams each focused on a different level of leadership. The team then compiles Leadership Profiles after a month to six weeks’ worth of interviews. These profiles identify the 10–15 dominant leadership acts and activities at each level based on how frequently they were mentioned during the interview process. The As-Is canvas charts these factors on the horizontal axis of the grid, while the degree to which leaders practice them is registered on the vertical axis. Typically, 20 to 40% of the acts managers tend to practice offer little value to employees, while on the flipside, 20 to 40% of the acts employees consider valuable are underpracticed by managers.

2) Develop alternative leadership profiles.

Once the team understands what managers are doing poorly as well as what they could be doing better, they can visualize positive alternative profiles. The team looks for cold spots (time-consuming acts that yield few benefits) and hot spots (actions not currently being taken that have the potential to energize employees). A second round of interviews is conducted to create the Blue Ocean Leadership Grid featuring these four areas:

a) Eliminate wasteful acts and activities.
b) Reduce not terribly beneficial acts and activities.
c) Raise existing beneficial acts and activities.
d) Create new beneficial acts and activities.

This grid is used to draft two to four possible To-Be Leadership Profiles.

3) Pick To-Be Leadership Profiles.

These aspirational leadership profiles are then presented at a “Leadership Fair” by the subteams. Participants include top, middle, and frontline managers as well as board members. The original senior team presents the As-Is canvases, establishing the need for change. This is followed by the subteams’ presentation of the To-Be profiles for each management group. The attendees vote on their favorite leadership profile, and the senior executives then ask attendees what prompted their votes.

4) Institutionalize new leadership practices.

The selected To-Be profiles are distributed to the top, middle, and frontline leaders, and meetings are held to discuss the actions that should be eliminated, reduced, raised, and created. Monthly follow-up meetings document employees’ feedback on their managers’ progress toward the new profiles. This routine check-in reinforces the desired changes and encourages accountability.

Fair Process

The principles of fair process—engagement, explanation, and expectation clarity—govern the four steps of Blue Ocean Leadership. Employees and managers at all levels feel ownership in the process, thus overcoming resistance to change and creating a sense of buy-in. Crucially, fair process fosters trust across the organization.

Get Started

Are you ready to try out Blue Ocean Leadership at your organization? Contact me at 541-601-0114 or chris@capiche.us to start the conversation today.

See the Blue Ocean Leadership website for more details.

Wednesday
02
July 2014
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The 5 Languages of Appreciation: Motivating Employees by Developing a Culture of Appreciation (Part 2)

Happy Employees Shaking Hands

In this post, we pick up the conversation about Dr. Paul E. White and Dr. Gary Chapman’s The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace begun in our last post.

The 5 Languages of Appreciation

Words of Affirmation

This is the most common form of appreciation expressed in the workplace, and it is especially important to practice with individuals whose primary language of appreciation is verbal praise.

Here are a few ways to apply words of affirmation in the workplace:

  1. Praise individual employees for specific accomplishments.
  2. Notice and affirm personal character traits.
  3. Focus on positive personality traits that benefit the workplace.

When you praise positive behavior, the employee is more likely to repeat that behavior.

Praise and recognition can be public or private; introverted employees may prefer a quieter approach, while others will feel most appreciated when praise is shared in front of coworkers.

Individual, one-on-one expressions of appreciation are the most valued and thus the most effective approach. Sending emails or texts thanking an employee for a particular project or praising a specific characteristic are also effective. In a world where nearly all written communication is digital, handwritten notes can be especially meaningful.

Quality Time

If an employee’s language of appreciation is quality time, she will respond positively to the following actions:

  1. Offer your undivided attention, like so:
    • Maintain eye contact while talking.
    • Don’t multitask.
    • Listen for thoughts and feelings.
    • Affirm those feelings—even if you disagree.
    • Observe body language and respond accordingly.
    • Don’t interrupt (the average person listens 17 seconds before interrupting—try to beat that record).
  2. Find opportunities to create shared experiences.
  3. Engage in small group dialogue.
  4. Be in close physical proximity while accomplishing projects.

Working side by side on a shared goal creates a sense of quality time, even if you are working independently.

Physical presence isn’t enough to create a sense of quality time, however—you need to be emotionally present, too.

Acts of Service

For those who value acts of service, actions speak louder than words. Here are several ways to express appreciation to those who fall into this category:

  1. Ask if they want help.
  2. Offer your service voluntarily.
  3. Cultivate a cheerful attitude while helping out.
  4. Do it their way (you want them to feel the task is done “right”; otherwise, the service could backfire and make them feel they’d be better off doing it themselves).
  5. Complete what you start so they’re not left with an unfinished task (or warn them in advance that you can only help with a portion of the project, asking if they still want your help).

Receiving Gifts

A thoughtfully chosen gift suited to the individual can have an enormous impact on people whose primary language is tangible gifts. On the other hand, a poorly selected gift can give offense.

We are not talking about raises or monetary gifts; it has to be personal to the individual for it to be perceived as an expression of appreciation.

Here are a few tips on gift-gifting:

  1. Reserve gifts for those who list gifts as their primary or secondary language as gifts will likely have little impact on others.
  2. Give a gift the person values.
  3. Gifts are not always a thing; it can also be an experience like tickets to the theatre or a favorite sporting event.
  4. Time off from work can be a greatly appreciated gift.

Physical Touch

While there can be appropriate expressions of physical touch in the workplace—a friendly high-five, pat on the back, handshake, fist bump, hand on the shoulder or hug during a personal tragedy—this appreciation language is the trickiest to apply in a work environment.

The interpretation of touch varies widely according to individuals, the organizational subculture, and a person’s history with abuse. The risk of physical touch being perceived as sexual harassment is high in a culture where touch has been so highly sexualized.

Our research reveals that touch is the least important language for the workplace setting. Individuals who may have a primary language of physical touch in their romantic relationship may have an entirely different language in the workplace.

For those who do value touch as an expression of appreciation, however, affirming, non-sexual touches can be important.

The safest way to tell whether touch is an appropriate form of expression for that individual is to observe the employee’s behavior to see if he uses physical touch as an expression of appreciation to others. If a person stiffens in response to touch, that’s a good indication they are uncomfortable being touched.

3 Ways to Discover a Person’s Primary Language

Three-quarters of people intuitively express appreciation in their own language. This raises two significant points: 1) you can usually guess a person’s language of appreciation by observing how they express it to others and 2) just because you convey appreciation through your preferred language does not mean the recipient will feel appreciated. If you do not share the same language, the expression will fall on deaf ears.

To informally assess a person’s language of appreciation:

  1. Observe their behavior.
  2. Listen to their requests.
  3. Notice what they complain about (this usually reveals emotional hurts related to their language of appreciation).

MBA Inventory

Chapman and White developed the Motivating by Appreciation (MBA) inventory to help individuals and organizations assess employees’ languages of appreciation. It costs $10 to take the standard test, but you will get an access code for free with your purchase of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.

After completing the MBA inventory, you will receive a report detailing your primary language, secondary language, and least valued language. The report also contains an action action checklist that others can reference as they learn how to express appreciation to you.

Individuals may wish to take the MBA inventory and then forward the report to their supervisors to open the lines of communication about appreciation.

Even better is if an organization decides to embark on an assessment process together. I would be happy to help facilitate the assessment and implementation process. If you are interested, give me a call at 541-601-0114 or email chris@capiche.us.

More Details

Visit the Appreciation at Work website for a list of resources, assessments, training tools and videos on the research presented in The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.

Your Results

If you take the MBA inventory, tell us how it goes! We’re eager to hear how communicating appreciation plays out in your workplace and life.

Wednesday
18
June 2014
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The 5 Languages of Appreciation: Motivating Employees by Developing a Culture of Appreciation (Part 1)

Circle of Happy Coworkers

We’ve been exploring how understanding people’s primary love languages can help us develop stronger relationships in both our personal and professional lives. Now it’s time to examine those principles specifically in the context of the workplace.

For years, Dr. Gary Chapman had been wanting to apply the concepts developed in The 5 Love Languages to the workplace, but it wasn’t until he met psychologist and organizational consultant Dr. Paul E. White that he knew he’d found the right coauthor for this project. Their research culminated in The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People.

The Value of Appreciation

7 Habits of Highly Effective People author Steven Covey argues that psychological survival—feeling appreciated, understood, and affirmed—comes second only to physical survival in human needs.

Even so, employers who are myopically focused on the bottom line may not recognize the value of cultivating appreciation in the workplace. As we’ve repeatedly discussed in this blog, however, the recent wave of scientific research on happiness teaches us that investing in employee happiness, job satisfaction, and strengths yields higher profits and productivity, making this a win-win goal for everyone at the organization.

Why People Leave

A four-year study conducted by one of the leading exit interview firms reveals that managers could not be more wrong about the reasons employees leave. As many as 89% of managers believe employees leave their company for monetary reasons, but the fact is only 12% reported money as their cause of departure. A staggering 88% of employees said they left for other reasons—the number one cause being not feeling valued.

This is not an unusual phenomenon. Nearly 70% of US employees reported to Gallup that they receive no praise in the workplace. This lack of recognition creates a climate of discouragement and makes it difficult for organizations to retain quality employees.

According to research, employees favor recognition by supervisors over colleagues by a 2:1 margin. When that recognition is withheld, emotionally starved employees may start looking elsewhere for fulfillment.

The High Cost of Turnover

It is estimated that the cost of labor turnover on the US economy is $5 trillion a year. The loss of productivity, eroding morale, and time involved in hiring and training takes a hefty toll on an organization, especially when turnover is frequent. Far more cost-effective would be to invest in the people already there.

Managers’ Concerns

Employees who do not feel emotionally supported by their supervisors are far more likely to experience burnout. Employee turnover not only damages morale but also the financial health of the company.

In polling organizational leaders, White and Chapman discovered that managers’ five greatest concerns about employees are:

1) employees getting discouraged

2) employees experiencing burnout

3) employees feeling overwhelmed

4) the organization losing the positive culture built up over the years

5) managers not knowing how to encourage employees with limited financial resources

Developing an environment of appreciation helps combat all of these concerns.

Authenticity Is Key

Retaining your best employees begins with genuine, individual expressions of appreciation in the employee’s preferred language. Efforts to express appreciation must be specific to that person.

Authenticity is key. That’s why attempts to institute a companywide recognition policy often backfire—if expressions of gratitude are obligatory, employees will perceive those gestures as insincere, sparking resentment toward both their managers and the organization.

Culture of Appreciation

Establishing a culture of appreciation is a different story. By encouraging everyone at the company—supervisors and coworkers alike—to express gratitude and respect through the individual’s primary appreciation language, employers can boost job satisfaction and subsequently retention and productivity.

Stay Tuned

In our next post, we will examine the five languages of appreciation in detail: 1) words of affirmation, 2) quality time, 3) acts of service, 4) receiving gifts, and 5) physical touch. We will also share tips on how to gauge a fellow employee’s language of appreciation—and look at tools you can use to help cultivate a culture of appreciation at your workplace.

More Details

Visit the Appreciation at Work website for a list of resources, assessments, training tools, and videos on the research presented in The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.

Wednesday
04
June 2014
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