Five Easy Ways to Build Positivity in the Workplace

 

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For the first time since Media Magnetism debuted in 2012,  I’m taking April off and putting this month’s column in the capable hands of  Rosalind Cardinal, aka The Leadership Alchemist. What makes Ros’ guest blog such a timely fit is that the world at large is currently awash in negative energy that not only foments distrust but also incites violence, jeopardizes global economies and causes many to view the future through a perspective of doom and gloom. While it’s a reality that nothing changes overnight, it’s the small, incremental steps we can each take on a day-to-day basis (including in the workplace) that can lead to a better – and more productive – tomorrow.

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Positivity in the workplace makes a real difference.

It not only determines a person’s well-being but their success as well. In fact, it does more than that. Positivity can also:

  • enhance team members’ ability to think creatively
  • help them cope with challenges
  • nurture their progress in their career
  • and aid them in getting along with others in the workplace

So how do we build a positive culture?

Martin Seligman, positive psychologist and author of the 2011 book Flourish, developed the PERMA model, which details the five elements that must be in place for us to experience lasting well-being.

P: Positive Emotion

E: Engagement

R: (Positive) Relationships

M: Meaning

A: Accomplishment/Achievement.

Let’s break each of these elements down further and see how they apply in the workplace:

Positive Emotion: As a leader, it’s essential you set a positive tone for your team and their working environment inasmuch as possible. One way to do that is to reframe the negatives that can and will arise at times. For instance: “We failed.” Vs. “The project wasn’t successful this time around, but we received valuable feedback that will make the next one more viable.”

Engagement: Rewards and incentives can be great motivators to keep a team focused on crossing the finish line when used correctly, but team members can also develop self-rewards of their own, even if it simply means getting a cup of coffee once they finish a section of a project. The key is to create a reward the team member will enjoy working toward.

Relationships:  Human beings are social beings, which means that we crave healthy, empowering relationships. Many studies show that people with a larger support network often outlive those without it by 22%! Devote at least 20-30 minutes a day toward relationship building. Visit a team member’s office during lunch, ask about their family, encourage them in their personal goals, and learn more about what they’d like to achieve in their career.

Meaning: People want to feel a sense of meaning and purpose in their day-to-day work life. We want to feel that what we does matter; that what we are contributing plays a central part in the ‘bigger picture’. Leaders therefore must empower their team members to see the deeper layers in their work. Revisit your company’s mission purpose and vision statements in a special meeting. How does each team member’s work relate to those statements? In what ways does each team member fulfill your company’s unique vision? Getting to the heart of it may very well be what your team needs to feel inspirited and encouraged.

Accomplishment/Achievement: We are naturally programmed to want to better ourselves. In doing so, we flourish and experience well-being. So how can leaders empower their team members and equip them with what they need in order to experience accomplishment and achievement on a regular basis? One way is to help facilitate their development. Connect employees with a training program that can up-level them. Introduce them to the appropriate connections within your workplace for the advancement of their career. Devote time regularly to reflecting on how you can help develop your team members and they’ll thank you for it.

When a leader focuses on building positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishment in the workplace, a positive culture will flourish, making for happier employees, a stronger team, and better work.

Ros

Rosalind Cardinal, known as ‘The Leadership Alchemist’, is the Principal Consultant of Shaping Change, a consulting practice in the field of Organisational Development and Human Resources. She has coached clients at Executive and Senior Levels in government agencies, private enterprises, and the community sector and is a sought-after speaker and expert at conferences and events. Visit her website at www.shapingchange.com.au to learn new strategies and game-changing ideas toward becoming a better leader and to download Ros’ free e-book on leadership.

 

Owning the Table

Cielito

A few months ago, my husband and I went to a favorite Japanese restaurant. The former owner – a dear friend – had recently retired so as to travel and work on his golf game. Since we had always enjoyed the food, the service and the ambience, we decided to check out how his successor was doing and have a mid-week lunch date. Although the server took our drink order immediately, it was sometime later before she returned to ask if we’d like some food to go with it. My own order arrived in a timely fashion and we both assumed my husband’s would be out next. Nearly 10 minutes passed. When she finally strolled by to ask how everything was, we asked about the still-missing order. With a shrug, she said she’d go check on it. Upon her return, she immediately threw the chef under the bus with the explanation that “He screwed up because we’re really busy” (which, rather obviously, they weren’t). When the order finally arrived – and after a long enough passage to suggest it had never gone in to begin with – it wasn’t even correct. All this time, the manager had made several strolls through the dining room; although he would likely have seen and heard what was going on, he never stepped up to remedy the problem. Suffice it to say, we won’t be going back.

We contrast this to quite a different experience we had this past weekend at Cielito, a delightful Mexican restaurant in downtown Santa Barbara (California). Not only was our server pleasant and attentive but over the course of our lunch we were checked in on by four other servers, both of the young hostesses and the eatery’s new owner – each of them genuinely interested in how we were enjoying our meal and whether there was anything else they could get us. In a nutshell, not only did every employee “own” that table but also clearly owned Cielito’s reputation as a “go-to” place for an enjoyable experience. Whenever future getaways include a trip to Santa Barbara, there’s no question where we’ll be headed for lunch.

So how does this correlate to your own business? If you’ve ever dealt with a snarky receptionist, a put-upon sales clerk, or a customer service rep who’s clearly in the wrong career, it impacts your impression of the entire organization and makes you disinclined to remain a customer. On the flip side, how many times has a store employee walked you to the correct aisle to find a particular item, wished you a great day or – if you’re a regular –addressed you by name?

Couple the interpersonal equation with the dismaying reality that despite the fact we’re living in a technologically rich wonderland where we can nimbly text someone 8,000 miles away, participate in chat rooms with total strangers, and share Instagram photos across a broad swath of social media channels, we have become increasingly starved for real-time face-time with fellow human beings. Such insularity subsequently breeds a mindset of spinning in a solo orbit – a potentially damaging scenario if what you project in the workaday world reflects poorly on the entity that employs you.

If we choose to define “communication” as 140 characters, emojis, and hashtags, we’re purposely choosing emptiness over the chance to connect on a deeper level, to empathize, and to not only let others know we have actually noticed their presence but that such presence has made a difference – even briefly – in our lives. It is a table ownership in which both sets of participants must be fully engaged in order for the experience to be memorable.

Scattered Thoughts With Intermittent Brainstorms

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If you want your business to stay viable, visible and competitive in the coming new year, it’s essential that your staff not only have a sense of ownership in that process but also be invited to show you what they’ve got in terms of untapped creativity and problem-solving skills. Unfortunately, it’s all too easy for a risk-averse manager to use “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” as an argument to discourage initiative. By the time the breakage occurs – sometimes irreparably – the chance is often lost to hear solutions that may have been floating in the hallways all along and yet were never actively solicited.

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Thinking Outside the (Suggestion) Box

If the drop-slot of your employee suggestion box is crisscrossed with cobwebs, it’s time to embrace a more interactive approach to feedback. Distribute questionnaires (with an option for anonymity) to gauge staff satisfaction levels with working conditions, procedures, policies, and perks/privileges. Demonstrate that you’re actually receptive to input by publishing the results in your company newsletter and using them as your talking points for the launch of a brainstorming task force. This strategy works well if the size of your organization precludes a full group meeting or if you’ve observed that workers are hesitant to speak out with suggestions for fear of rejection or reprisal.

Thought Bubble Diversity

Within any goal-oriented group – be it TV sitcom writers, nonprofit volunteers or corporate committees – there are typically four personality types: leaders, creative thinkers, analysts, and pleasers. If all the participants in your think-tank session are drawn from the same quadrant, don’t hold your breath for progress to ensue. Why? Because functionally they will cancel each other out: the leaders will grapple for power, the creative types will bounce off the walls, the analysts will scrutinize everything to death, and the pleasers – too timid to offend anyone – will assume the role of bobblehead yes-men. Likewise, if you’re exploring new ideas which will impact multiple departments, the reception to those ideas upon implementation will be a lot warmer if each division had a rep involved in the planning stages.

Forbid Podium-Hogging

What do brainstorming meetings and elementary school classrooms have in common? They are either a scene of cacophonous pandemonium in which everyone talks at once or a setting wherein a handful of know-it-alls dominates the discussion and intimidates the rest into silence. For a brainstorming session to be effective, you must not only brush up on Robert’s Rules of Order (http://www.rulesonline.com) but encourage full participation as well. To get the conversation started, make sure everyone has a clear understanding of The Problem. In other words, what, exactly, are they there to solve? Next, have each participant write down his/her solution to the problem on a folded slip of paper and put it in a bowl. Each “anonymous author” idea is then drawn forth and written on a whiteboard for everyone to see. Start with the first idea listed and ask each participant’s opinion regarding that idea’s merits and flaws. Set a timer so no one is allowed to hog the stage with a filibuster. Rebuttals and interruptions are not allowed when someone has the floor. Ideas that accrue a higher number of negative hash tags are erased. Once you have gone around the entire room, start the process again, gradually whittling down the list – and incorporating modifications – until you arrive at a solution that everyone can agree with.

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As energizing and empowering as these brainstorming techniques can be, however, an absence of sincerity – coupled with an unwillingness to compromise – is the quickest way to kill esprit de corps. Whether you’re requesting fresh ideas and then stealing them, trivializing contributions or ascribing value based on rank, or asking for input on a decision you’ve already made, it won’t take long for employees to start keeping their best thoughts to themselves or, worse, giving them to your competition.

Wherever you are in the world, here’s to a joyful holiday season and a spectacular 2016!

Office for One

P.S. Will this be the year you decide to go into business for yourself? If so, you’ll want to add Office for One: The Sole Proprietor’s Survival Guide to your wish list. Available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle, this indispensable resource is perfect for any entrepreneur who wants to go it alone without getting lonely.

 

 

Mrs. Shinn Makes a Spectacle

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Sad but true: Not everyone tasked with planning a corporate retreat, a class reunion or a charity fundraiser has the business acumen to generate excitement and actually make it a success. Some fall into the job by default (i.e., “You’re the most recent hire so you have to do the annual fill in the blank campaign”). Others are guilted into volunteering (i.e., “Don’t you care about the plight of endangered muskrats?”). Some see the title of “organizer” as a fast track to the popularity that has previously eluded them (i.e., “They’re finally going to know my name.”). Then there are those who shamelessly wrest command on the basis of their social clout; would anyone in River City, for instance, challenge the entitlement of Mayor Shinn’s wife to direct the Ladies Auxiliary Dance Committee?

All of these scenarios have one thing in common: If the person in charge has invested either too little heart or way too much ego, the event will probably fall flat.

Let’s start with corporate off-sites. Like a summons for jury duty, it’s always a mandatory event. And – like jury duty – “mandatory’ is not synonymous with “fun.” While it’s time spent away from the office, the work will continue to pile up in one’s absence and, thus, create a stressful return. Depending on the venue and duration, it’s time spent away from one’s family as well. This, in turn, disrupts the home-life routine and fosters grumpiness. Lastly is the question of why corporate off-sites are even necessary. According to the pricey facilitators brought in to run them, it’s all about team-building and the loopy premise that group hugs, tearful disclosures, and role-playing games will cause everyone to suddenly become besties when they’re back at the office. Seriously? I have yet to see this happen.

Even if your participants aren’t a captive audience and can exercise free will insofar as attendance, five critical considerations should go into the event planning process:

Incentive aka “What’s In It For Me?”

Your employees, classmates or prospective donors are more likely to embrace your vision if they can see a correlative benefit to their own lives. Will it provide them with exciting networking opportunities? Will they glean knowledge on how to achieve their goals? Will they be served an incredible meal? Will they feel better about themselves for supporting a cause that’s dear to their hearts? Never lose sight of the fact that your event likely has plenty of competition for your participants’ attention. If it’s something that’s going to take them away from their loved ones, cause them to miss another event scheduled for the same weekend, or require them to ask for time off from work in order to fly or drive, it will always be easier for them to RSVP with a “no” than a “yes.”

Affordability

The current economy has given rise to a whole lot of belt tightening. In the business world, the use of teleconferencing, webinars and podcasts has proven to be a cost-effective alternative to physically sending staff members out of town. If it’s daunting to think about paying for a large group’s transportation, lodging and meals, consider hosting a virtual event that takes place on a technology platform instead. For events in which prospective participants are paying out-of-pocket (i.e., a writers conference), be sensitive in developing a pricing package that is realistically within their reach. You might also offer an “early bird special” in which those that register by a certain date can do so for a lower fee.

Accessibility

A colleague of mine is skipping his upcoming college reunion. Although it’s a landmark decade – and, accordingly, a steadily shrinking alumni – the reunion committee chose a venue that is 75 miles from the closest airport and has no nearby hotels. Further, it didn’t put any thought into a formal, themed program beyond a no-host bar and just sitting around. In a nutshell, the only attendees that have thus far signed up are the committee members themselves (who didn’t want to travel outside the comfort zone of their home zip code). Whether your own event is scheduled for a few hours, overnight or a weekend, you need to address factors such as (1) how do participants get there, (2) where do they park, (3) is there a shuttle service, and (4) will the hotel offer a group discount.

Weather Or Not

I used to belong to a national writers group that held their annual conference every July. Unfortunately, there aren’t that many places in the U.S. that are particularly enjoyable that time of year. Nonetheless, quite a few events do get planned for June-August, the primary draw being that attendees with families can build a vacation around it without having to take the kids out of school. If it’s the peak season at your intended locale, it’s going to be more expensive. If it’s off-season, you can usually score some perks. And, of course, never schedule your event around or near a major holiday or three-day weekend where your attendees will have to contend with heavier traffic.

Feedback

If it’s going to be a recurring event (i.e., the annual Founders’ Day Social), it’s essential to find out what worked (i.e., the music), what didn’t (i.e., Mrs. Shinn’s Grecian Urn Tableau), and what everyone would like to see next time around (i.e., more food). Make it as easy as possible for participants to share their two cents. MailChimp.com, for example, lets you create a free, online survey without your respondents having to go find an envelope and a stamp. While backend feedback is useful for future improvements, it’s just as valuable to ask for input prior to an event’s implementation (i.e., “Where should we hold our first auction?”). If, however, you reject every idea that’s presented and, instead, go with whatever you wanted to do in the first place, don’t expect such decisions to be met with feelings of unmixed delight and esprit de corps.

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My savvy guest bloggers this month include:

How To Increase Employee Engagement on ‘Dirty Jobs’ – By Dana Barker Davies

Were You Born To Do Something Great? – By Marlon Smith

Reduce The Complexity When Franchising Your Business – By Brian Keen

The Science of Social Media – Better Engagement/Better Measurement – By Sam Reader

Help Wanted

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Back in the days when I worked in state government, I always viewed summer with a mixed sense of anticipation and dread. Summer was the season of interns, the season when the floodgates would open and spill forth dozens of cattle-call applicants in their late teens and early twenties. Although these positions were unpaid, it was management’s vision of a win/win scenario: the interns would get work experience to put on their resumes and the rest of us would get a cadre of malleable minions to do the filing, open mail, stock supplies, and run errands.

While now and again we’d delight in finding a true gem who had the skill sets, initiative, and leadership qualities that could one day translate to a full-time job with us, the majority of them were clearly not the sharpest knives in the drawer. Among them:

  • The one who threw out any mail that personally didn’t look interesting to her. (She asked me why we never got fashion magazines or People.)
  • The one who filed all the travel claims under “S” for “someone who took a trip.”
  • The one who took over an hour to deliver a file to an office located on the same floor. (If we had traced his footprints, they would have looked like Billy’s from a Family Circus)

As the saying goes, good help is hard to find. Bad help (which is worse than no help at all) can take years off your life, cause costly mistakes and jeopardize your reputation. While government agencies and nonprofits have no problem doing shout-outs for extra pairs of hands, a lot of sole proprietors I’ve known over the years are not as willing to admit they’re getting overwhelmed. A part of it, I think, is that they want to maintain the image they’re completely in control (albeit exhausted to the point of collapse). They’re also cognizant of the reality that in the length of time it takes to train a helper how to do something – or correct how the helper did it totally wrong – they could easily have just done it themselves.

Whether you’re looking to go the intern route for short-term projects or planning to one day expand your small business and put out the call for prospective employees, it’s critical to have a clear sense of what you want, how much supervision you want/need to provide, and what the participants can potentially gain from the experience of working with you. The more “ownership” they feel they have in the process and the outcome, the more pride they’ll take in paying attention and doing their assignments well.

These same elements apply to situations where you’re subcontracting with local vendors to provide services (i.e., catering) or outsourcing product-oriented tasks (i.e., assembling goods) to an off-site team an ocean away and with whom you have no physical interaction or quality control mechanism. While you may have the highest trust that everyone is doing what they’re supposed to, the bride whose flowers aren’t delivered on time or the client who receives 500 logo key chains with the company name misspelled isn’t going to mad at your helpers; they’re going to be mad at you for allowing that mistake to happen in the first place.

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Here’s the lineup of my guest contributors this month:

Take the Sting Out of Stress When Moving Offices – by Zachary Rook

And, Or, But – How to Handle Objections – by Julie Garland McLellan

How To Design a Marketable Signature System – by Ling Wong

Using Lists to Draw Web Traffic and Media Attention – by Mickie Kennedy

One Size Does Not Fit All

 

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In my line of work, I often hear from authors who have written a novel, memoir or theatrical production and want my advice on how to adapt it to a different medium, typically a screenplay. The rationale behind this isn’t just that movies represent the gold standard of fame and fortune; it’s the perception that if an idea is really spiffy, it should be able to shine in multiple venues.

Hollywood, of course, is replete with examples of why this isn’t true. How many times, for instance, have TV shows that were popular in their heyday been expensively repackaged for the silver screen, only to flop miserably? Likewise, how many adaptations of your favorite books have turned out to be a disappointment because the director’s vision wasn’t the same plot that played in your head while you were reading? And who among us doesn’t have a friend or family member who pens hilarious emails but would be a total deer in the headlights if s/he were encouraged to pursue a career in stand-up comedy?

How can these variations fail, people wonder, when the source material had so much going for it?

Individuals and organizations tend to view media outlets in a similar, one-size fits-all context. Because these entities are all in the business of promoting products, services and events, it’s not uncommon to assume that their procedures, timeframes, expectations and rules of etiquette are interchangeable. The small business owner who is accustomed to submitting newsy notes to a weekly newspaper on Monday morning for publication in that Thursday’s edition is, thus, thrown for a loop to discover that magazines and trade journals have lead-times of several months. The bloggers whose comfort zone has always been a casual chat with virtual fans may be daunted by the inherent structure of doing a live show, despite their familiarity with the topic. Even something as commonplace as email – a ritual that most of us take for granted – is foreign turf to those who have never learned how to type nor mastered the skills to type particularly well.

The fact that today’s media opportunities can arrive in any size, shape or format makes it incumbent upon you to stop clinging to yesterday’s outdated practices. When the chance to tell the world who you are comes knocking on your door, your ability to respond with confidence, flexibility and professionalism will dictate how smoothly the experience flows and whether you’ll be contacted again in the future.

Suffice it to say, the latter scenario is often based on the spin-off value of what you represent as an entertaining, informative and reliable commodity. It’s not so much how many names and phone numbers of media personnel you have in your office Rolodex but how many of them have your contact information on file. On many occasions, for instance, I get calls from newsletter and magazine editors who suddenly have a spot to fill as the result of another writer missing a deadline or delivering a story that just doesn’t click. Having already demonstrated my ability to write material that resonates with their readership, I’m among the first people they think of to come to the rescue or to liven up a slow news day.

That same strategy is essential in fostering mutual trust with your own media contacts. Be the person they know they can rely on to consistently give them what they want, including fresh ideas for what they may not even have thought they want yet. In the words of Mickey Spillane, “The first page sells your book. The last page sells your next book.”

Never give them a reason to stop reading…and anticipating.

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Here’s the line-up of this month’s guest bloggers:

Why Old-Fashioned Media Still Rocks – by Dr. Neryl East

Event Safety and Risk Assessment – by Mike James

Calming the Crisis, or Fueling One? – by Philip Owens

Releasing Your Project at the Perfect Time – by Alijah Villian

Un-Googling the Art of Online Ads – by Ben Bradshaw

Shutting Down the Whinery

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It’s a fact of life that (1) we don’t always get what we want and (2) it’s only natural to want to kvetch about it. Consider, for instance:

  • The book publisher who rants that all of her authors are back-stabbing her.
  • The graphic designer who laments that the cute guy from Starbucks with whom she had a perfect first date hasn’t called her back for a second one.
  • The small business owner who trashes his competition for holding a sale two days ahead of his.

These individuals are entitled to be paranoid, weepy, angry, disappointed, or even confused about the hand they have been dealt. Catharsis, as they say, is good for the soul. Unfortunately, it can be detrimental to your brand and to your reputation if you take your venting to the cyber-highway without considering potential consequences. This is especially critical for the self-employed (many of whom operate without any formal media policies) wherein the zeal for instant and widespread visibility oftentimes overrides good judgment. Even if you’re sensitive to such issues yourself, is discretion the watchword of everyone on your team? As an example, a colleague is currently dealing with the fall-out of an intern whose FB post – “I hope I get a cool job out of the merger” – precipitated the corporate news being made public.

As of this writing, the United States Census Bureau estimates that Planet Earth is now inhabited by over 7 billion people. Research further supports that over 25 percent of these people have access to the Internet. Staggering numbers, yes, but really not that hard to absorb. On any given day, I’m pretty sure that at least half the content wafting into my personal and business email accounts is generated by entrepreneurial spammers promising to share their inheritance, get me in on a ground-floor investment, or turbo-charge my sex life. While our mailboxes – both the traditional and the electronic versions – have always been subject to unsolicited intrusions, the accessibility of today’s social media networks has created a ‘global scattergun’ approach to sharing information, not all of which is necessarily welcome, useful or even appropriate.

The inability to separate personal content from business content is illustrative of a growing belief that there’s no such thing as TMI. And it’s not just today’s youth who are guilty of being immature; the trio of individuals referenced at the beginning of this blog are all over 40 and, frankly, should know better. The fact that social media sites are figuring so prominently in employee background checks, online shopping and story research by reporters should be a prevalent red flag if you’re ever tempted to uncork all of your woes and those bottled up emotions and splash them all over a public forum.

At the end of the day, would you really trust someone to handle your company’s needs/secrets/finances – or, for that matter, to even show up for a live interview – if s/he has such an open-book history of recurring meltdowns, vitriolic ramblings or anxieties about self-esteem? Your public persona – the one that relies on sales, favorable PR and customer goodwill in order for you to make a living – calls for an artfully scripted approach that doesn’t deviate from the bottom-line message and skill sets for which you want to be admired, trusted and respected.

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Here’s the lineup of this month’s blogs by my guest contributors:

Communicating with Color – by Jeanette Chasworth

Five Strategies to Succeed as a Green Business – by Shel Horowitz

Warning: Old Fashioned Fundraising Methods Can Kill Your Non-Profit – by Amandah Blackwell

Finding the One – by Nicole Reaney