This is Seth Godin live

Speaker Seth Godin

It’s not every day you get to see one of your heroes live.

Last month, I had the privilege of hearing Seth Godin live. If you are in marketing or communications, you know the name Seth Godin. Marketing guru, brand revolutionary, author of 18 best-selling books and changemaker. This is Seth Godin.

Screw E.F. Hutton. When Seth Godin talks, people listen.

In his opening keynote, Seth talked about the power of communication to connect people and culture. He said most organizations are at a crossroads. We are living in an age of distraction. We need to be telling human-centric, emotional stories to cut through the noise.

My favourite business mantra is “strategy eats culture for lunch” (Peter Drucker). You can strategize all you want, but if what you are trying to achieve goes against the culture of an organization, you will fail. And yet many leaders do not pay close enough attention to culture within their organizations.

Here were Seth’s insights on culture:

You can’t fake culture. Honour your past; define your future. Make symbolic changes, big and small. Have all oars in the water. Be humble, stay the course.

We are experiencing a revolution, and a renaissance for business communicators who will be key strategic advisers in the age of information.

This week’s #HappyAct is to find a hero and learn from them. Or you can adopt mine and sign up for Seth’s blog.

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The Gorilla glue of an organization

kid with capeEmployee engagement continues to be at an all-time low globally. According to Gallup’s 2017 State of the Global Workplace report, 85% of employees are not engaged or actively disengaged at work. The economic consequences of this global “norm” are approximately $7 trillion in lost productivity a year.

I’ve shared my own views about declining employee engagement before. In Love in the Workplace, I said a pay cheque is what makes people show up for work every day, but what they do with their time depends on three key things: the degree to which the work they do aligns to their passions and strengths, the relationships they have at work, and what I called the “negative quotient” or “piss off” factor–the degree to which negative factors at work affect their ability to succeed.

I believe that more than ever, but I think there is a fourth key factor contributing to low employee engagement, and that is undervaluing a key segment of employees, the unsung heroes of every organization.

This group is highly knowledgeable and experienced but usually not as well known to senior leaders. They may not aspire to move up the corporate ladder, but prefer to fly under the radar and do their work without fanfare, quietly coming in every day and producing, solving problems, sharing their knowledge and helping team members out of jams. They are the glue that keeps the corporate machine running smoothly.

They also serve another incredibly indispensable purpose—they set the tone for the culture of a company.

I’m very lucky to work for a company that has these unsung heroes in spades, but we need to do a better job of recognizing them.

In my world of corporate and strategic communications, data, metrics, employee engagement numbers and strategic alignment, and yes, culture are buzzwords that rule the day. Some leaders believe the most valuable use of their time is crunching numbers and spreadsheets.

I take a contrarian view. I think I provide the greatest value by doing my part to develop and promote a positive and people-focused culture, by helping and recognizing the people who are the Gorilla glue of my organization.

So to the Mirandas, Randys, Sandras, Donnas, Karens, Lillians, Elaines, Amys, Kristas, Andreas, Garys, Jessicas and all the other unsung heroes I have the privilege working with every day, thank you.

This week’s #HappyAct is to recognize an unsung hero in your life or organization. Feel free to share your message to them below.

Take the work happiness test

sign take the test

The average person spends 2,000 hours per year at work. Based on that staggering figure, it stands to reason that being happy at work is key to our overall happiness.

According to Harvard Business Review, there are three main things that contribute to happiness at work:

  1. Feeling like you are making a difference
  2. How hopeful you are about the future and the link between your work and your goals and aspirations
  3. Having positive work relationships

In Love in the Workplace, I shared the findings of one leadership expert, Mark Crowley who found a monumental shift in the drivers of happiness from time with family and hobbies to time at work. Crowley concluded “how satisfied workers feel in their jobs now determines their overall happiness with life. This monumental shift means that job fulfillment has become essential to people everywhere.”

HBR has a 24-question test you can take to measure your happiness at work. It gives you a summary report and tips on how to use your strengths and find happiness. It also shows your responses and happiness/satisfaction levels in comparison to other HBR readers who take the test.

I took it again this week. Like employee engagement scores, I find results for these kinds of tests can swing depending on your current state of mind. I scored Medium on Purpose and Hope and High on Friendship at Work. The test reinforced for me what I need to do to stay engaged at work and gave me helpful advice for making work a positive experience.

This week’s #HappyAct is to take the test to see how happy you are at work. How did you do? Leave a comment.

For more on happiness at work, read

How to be happier at work

Develop your emotional intelligence

Epic fails and lessons in writing from the school of hard knocks

Mark Zuckerberg

This week, on the 14th anniversary of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg shared a posted about his failures. He wrote, “Over the years I’ve made almost every mistake you can imagine. I’ve made dozens of technical errors and bad deals. I’ve trusted the wrong people and I’ve put talented people in the wrong roles. I’ve missed important trends and I’ve been slow to others. I’ve launched product after product that failed.”

There are many days when I feel like an epic failure as a writer (or mother, or wife for that matter). The other day I read something I wrote a year ago. It was crap.

Writing for someone else’s voice is probably one of the hardest things for a writer to do. I need to do this a lot in my work. Here are some of my epic failures in writing over the course of my career.

  • Assuming someone’s spoken voice is the same as their written voice. I worked with one leader who was personable, funny and engaging in person, but whose written prose was formal and stilted.
  • Creating a narrative that wasn’t the narrative of the person giving the presentation. I prepared a presentation once for a leader and weaved a theme through it that I thought would resonate with the audience, using references to popular culture. It fell flat because it was my narrative, not their narrative.
  • Not using enough stories in my writing and not digging harder to find stories. Everyone has a story.
  • Slipping into corporate puffery. If something I’ve written sounds like a company wrote it, not a person, I’ve failed at my job, and I have.
  • Being too wordy.
  • Not being able to convince people to use clear language; people will often default to language they are used to or think others want to hear.

Yes, I have failed miserably time and time again. But there is one thing that makes me happy. I’m in good company.

 

Attend a retirement party

Two women with drinks celebrating
Elaine on the right with her sister Lynn-Marie (also retired!) at her retirement celebration

I’ve attended a lot of retirement parties lately. Several years ago, my company announced a change to retiree benefits, and I think many of my friends and colleagues just decided it was time to go.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the retirement celebration of my BFF at work, Elaine Peterson. You may recall Elaine, since she’s been a subject of blog posts like Show your spirit, You Can’t Buy Happiness, but You Can Buy Chocolate and Play Hookey for the Day.

While some people like to quietly slip out, Elaine helped plan an entire week of retirement festivities with lunches, dinners, and an after-work fete at a local bar. Today, I’m taking her to Handel’s Messiah for her retirement present.

On Friday, I celebrated the upcoming retirement of my friend Beatrice, who told us that Empire Life was the longest place she ever worked. She stayed because she liked the people she was working with so much and the work was always interesting and challenging.

There are so many reasons why these celebrations are so special.

I enjoy hearing the incredible stories and contributions my colleagues have made to their organizations, often over the course of decades.

I love seeing the smiles and laughter around the room and how genuinely happy everyone is for the person retiring.

I like seeing former colleagues who made the leap years ago who came to honour the newest recruit to their ranks. Without fail, they look ten years younger and say they are busier than ever.

But most of all I love the warmth and family feel of these gatherings. Like it or not, work is a huge part of our lives. The people we work with become our family. And when one of our members leaves us to embrace a new, exciting chapter in their life, we celebrate with them.

This week’s #HappyAct is to attend a retirement or honour the work contributions of a special colleague. And to all my friends who have made the leap into retirement or are making the leap this year, I am so happy for you. Enjoy, and don’t look back!

The rise of incivility in the workplace

man sticking out his tongue at a phoneEarlier this month, I participated in Respect in the Workplace training at my work. It was excellent.

While there was a pronounced focus on harassment, timely given the Me Too movement and stories of sexual abuse and harassment out of Hollywood, there was also an important emphasis on respect and incivility.

Incivility in the workplace is on the rise. Both McKinsey and Harvard Business Review have published excellent articles on this trend and the hidden costs.

According to one study in 1998, 50% of workers reported they were treated rudely at least once a month. In 2011, the figure rose to 55% and 62% in 2016. That’s twelve times a year most of us experience some form of incivility at work.

What happens when we experience incivility in the workplace? We feel devalued, hurt, emotionally upset. It becomes hard to concentrate and focus on tasks at hand. It is emotionally draining. If it festers or the conflict worsens, the fight, flight or freeze response begins to override our ability to function. We disengage or we leave altogether.

Incivility results in lower productivity, higher employee turnover, and lower employee engagement.

What wasn’t addressed in the training was the root cause of this disturbing trend. Some may attribute it to Trump or social media. I believe the root cause is directly related to the amount of pressure and stress on employees to deliver results at all costs—often at the cost of incivility.

And here’s the scary part–none of us are immune.

A few weeks ago, I found myself speaking a bit icily on the phone to a colleague who had not communicated with me that they would miss a requested deadline. There was no phone call or email to let me know they could not complete the work, despite several attempts on my part to follow up with them.

Who in this case was disrespectful—me for adopting a clipped, direct tone (but hopefully still professional) to the conversation, or my colleague for not communicating with me in the first place? You tell me.

There is one thing I do know. People will always take their cue from the people at the top. Leaders must live, breathe and model respect and civility in the workplace if it is to be sanctified in the culture of the organization.

There is a nasty trickle down effect that occurs when a leader speaks or sends an email with highly caustic or sarcastic language to employees. It sends a message—it’s OK to act this way, when it’s not OK.

This week’s #HappyAct is to take a stand against incivility in the workplace. We all need to be leaders to make our workplaces happier, positive places to be.

Play hookey from work

Friends at the Kingston sign

It was our Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

For 10 years, my BFF at work, Elaine Peterson and I had talked about going for a patio lunch and not going back to work. We finally did it on Friday.

Now before you HR types get all bent out of shape, we did this with the full knowledge and approval of our bosses, and booked it as vacation time. Whatever points we lost on the spontaneity factor were more than made up for the excitement of looking forward to our afternoon of hookey.

Our first stop was Confederation Basin to put the “I” in Kingston. Earlier this summer, Kingston erected a new sign where tourists can take their picture. There may be no “I” in team, but there is an “I” in Kingston.

Then we headed up Brock Street to Atomica for a leisurely patio lunch. If you’re not familiar with the Black Dog Hospitality Group of restaurants in Kingston, which includes Dianne’s Fish Bar, Le Chien Noir, Harper’s Burgers and Atomica, they are a favourite of the locals.

We split a yummy caeser salad; Elaine had one of their signature pastas, and I had their Retro pizza. The best part about not being “on the clock” is you can relax and just take in your surroundings (a couple of drinks each helped too.)

For instance, as I was sitting on the patio, I noticed a statue of a beaver on top of the building across the street. I’ve probably walked past that building a gazillion times and never noticed that beaver before. We also watched a young couple next to us get googlyeyed and the guy at the end of the patio shovel his food in with his fork like it was a backhoe.

beaver statue

Two hours and two drinks later, we decided to wander down to Ahoy Rentals to go canayaking (a new term I made up after a couple of beers). We got sidetracked at Battery Park by the breakwater. I was telling Elaine how as a kid I would jump from rock to rock on the breakwater in Port Credit where I grew up, but how they put a fence up so people couldn’t go out on the rocks anymore.

In Kingston, there’s just a sign warning people to proceed at their own risk, so we proceeded. At the end near the lighthouse, we could see Elaine’s office. We texted her co-workers to look out the window to see us waving, but they were too busy working (hah!) We talked to a retired RMC professor who kayaked past us and waved to the boaters.

Woman at lighthouse

Since it was already four o’clock and we were thirsty again, we decided to pass on the kanayaking and headed up Princess Street to Barcadia, a bar with old arcade games. Elaine had brought some rolls of quarters, so we raced sports cars through the streets of Paris and Moscow, played baseball (I was the home run queen and beat her in the bottom of the eighth), Pacman and pinball.

It was too nice a day to stay inside, so we checked out some of the stores on Princess Street, then topped the afternoon off with a “It was just a dream” fro yo at Parfait.

While it was well after dark when I got home, in the old days, we probably would have gone into the wee hours of the night. Still, it was an awesome afternoon playing hookey, and on the plus side, we were both able to enjoy a beautiful weekend. This week’s #HappyAct is to plan an afternoon playing hookey–just don’t get caught!