Category: Leadership

Business Support, Consulting, Leadership, Strategy

Invest in the Infrastructure

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Businesses can learn lessons from the past three US Presidents. If you invest in the infrastructure, it supports everyone and supports business growth. President Obama invested in the banks, airlines, roads, and social safety net for citizens President Trump invested in public health, mental health, and immigration and border security. President Biden has invested in roads, transportation, green energy futures, and the economy. Regardless of your political ideology, there’s a common thread here about how investments in infrastructure are keys to sustainability and progress.

For businesses, investments in infrastructure are critical to maintaining the health of any company, supporting your employees, and being strategic about your performance and goals. Companies who take their eye off of their infrastructure will find themselves with a crumbling foundation that will erode performance and culture. Each business should spend time focusing on some key areas that will provide a strong foundation for economic growth.

When I talk about infrastructure, I am referring to the areas of keeping the business operating and successful. These areas include human resources, finances, information technology, data, collection and reporting, marketing, customer experience and support, and board, investor, and partner relationships. For businesses with the resources to have staff in these key areas, there is an easier time managing the infrastructure, as long as the staff is confident to do so. For small businesses, they often have to make decisions where to invest in the infrastructure while investing in service delivery. Finding a balance between the two is hard, but necessary. When your resources are limited, this is a Sophie‘s choice scenario. The investment decisions you make will have a cause and effect on your business. How you secure and invest in your company infrastructure will determine your success. 

The infrastructure list I provided is long. If your resources are limited, you may not be able to invest in all areas simultaneously. You will have to make some choices on three to four infrastructure areas to invest in year to year. This is where your business must be strategic in its decisions to maximize success. 

For many, the three key areas that are critical are human resources, finance, and information technology. For others it may be human resources, finance, and marketing. I would argue the three key areas are finance, client experience, and board, investor, and partner relationships. This may surprise you because I often talked about the importance of employee support. I would agree and say my number four is human resources, although I have my own issues with Human Resources, but employee support is important. I digress the reason why I believe finances, the client experience, and board, investor, and partner relationships are more important is because without the financial resources, your impact is limited. When I am asked to consult to support a company with infrastructure improvement, my first conversation is around current revenue and new revenue opportunities. Therefore, when I see the budget the puzzle becomes more clear. Many do not have a plan for revenue diversity or new opportunities. I found a clear correlation between the lack of revenue and a crumbling infrastructure. 

Once I understand revenue, debt, and contracts, I move on to understand how they are investing in their infrastructure. Where are they strong and weak in the areas of human resources, finances, information technology, data, collection and reporting, marketing, customer experience and support, and board, investor, and partner relationships. Lastly, what are the company goals and where do they want me to focus my energy? How can I lend my expertise to help them move their needle on business growth and impact?

If you are struggling with your company’s infrastructure, reflect on the questions below.  

  • Are all of your business licenses and contract deliverables in compliance? 
  • Are you in compliance with both your city, county, state, and federal requirements?
  • Are you current on your billing? 
  • How are you on your accounts receivable aging?
  • Are you in compliance with the department of labor standards and HR practices?
  • Do you have the right business tools and place to manage your compliance and run your business?
  • Do your employees have the right business tools to do their jobs?
  • Do your employees feel supported?
  • How would you describe your company culture?

If your company is struggling, there still may be time to turn things around. Having strategic conversations at the executive level, with investors, and with your board and employees is a great beginning to identify your opportunities and risk. Once you have some information, you can start putting together a strategy to make improvements to your infrastructure. The hardest part is allocating or finding resources to execute your strategy.

If your company needs additional guidance or support, contact us at Pensivetastic. Let’s collaborate to define your path forward. We’ll help you get there. 

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Consulting, Human Resources, Leadership

You Have Employment Options

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While companies search to hire exemplary employees, when they get them they don’t always support them in the way the employee needs. Employees seeking to reach exemplary status at work must make significant long-term sacrifices to be recognized for their achievement. These sacrifices are at the ongoing detriment to their personal lives. Is being an employee and the sacrifice worth it? 

I can not answer that for you. This is a personal decision. You must weigh the pros and cons of your personal and professional values, need for boundaries, balance, and support to reach your own decision. I can share that reaching exemplary status at any company is hard to achieve and may not be what you imagine when you reach your destination. 

Parents, caregivers, grief and trauma survivors, those with health ailments, and many others struggle balancing personal and work responsibilities. When your personal and work responsibilities start to become too much or can become a conflict, your performance at work suffers. Personal and work stress is normal. When you add personal and work trauma, the overwhelming feeling becomes unbearable. Seek counsel, therapy, and support from professionals and other who are in or have been in a similar situation. It does help manage the stress. 

I encourage you to talk with your supervisor about your personal responsibilities and how they are conflicting with work. I would not recommend that you talk to HR first or at all. A supervisor or company that values its employees will attempt to give you grace or help you with resources to better balance your personal responsibilities. Companies that focus solely on your performance issues knowing your personal responsibilities do not value their employees. It will be evident when they do not give you much or any grace. When HR gets involved, you can be assured they are beginning to move you toward the exit. 

Regardless of your status, be mindful of your personal time off (PTO) and FMLA availability. I always encourage people to bank as much PTO time as possible so that when family emergencies arise you have leave available so you have the time to focus on your family responsibilities away from work. When you are out of PTO time, you might want to think about whether this is the time to focus on your personal over professional goals. You might want to contemplate how to move forward with your company especially if they’re not giving you grace. Consider carefully how you ask for and use FMLA. 

You’re probably asking what other alternative exists outside of employment. There are different types of employment statuses that will help you enforce boundaries between personal and work responsibilities. There are temp and temp-to-hire positions that allow you to feel out company culture prior to taking on all employee responsibilities. Another option is contract work such as day labor, seasonal employment, and consulting opportunities with companies who prefer an outsourced model to an employee model. These opportunities may be part-time or full-time. Some pay at a hire rate and allow you more flexibility with your personal commitments. 

There are positives and negatives with any work tenure. The work may not provide you any PTO leave or employee benefits. You may have to find and pay for your own employee benefits through the marketplace. When you are sick and miss work, you will not be paid so you will need to plan financially. However, opportunities with higher pay can offset the costs for sick days and health benefit costs. You may be able to negotiate health premiums costs in your contract work. 

A sustainable long-term work commitment is hard especially as you age. While still an option, the current employment trend no longer sustains longevity with one company. Longevity  in sectors or with subject matter leverages you as an expert and a seasoned professional. Achieving sector or subject matter expertise may be a more achievable goal given your personal responsibilities and available resources. 

Whichever path is right for you, go forward with open eyes and heart. Consider all opportunities presented to you. Experiment to find what works best for you and your career path. You may not be able to control what’s next, but you can be strategic in your next move. 

If you need additional guidance or support in your journey, contact us at Pensivetastic. Let’s collaborate to define your path forward. We’ll help you get there.

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Consulting, Leadership, Marketing, Strategy

Hey, What’s Your Story?

Storytelling

We all have a story. A journey to share that charts our path from past to present. Sharing our story is vital to crafting and selling our personal brand and building goals for the future. Well, businesses have to tell their story to elevate their company brand. Sharing your company history and future vision helps businesses connect with customers that share their ideals. How does your business craft a story that resonance with customers? It’s not unlike crafting your personal story. 

Personally and professionally, our need for storytelling is powerful and built into our history as a species. Storytelling originated with visual cave drawings before shifting into an oral method. Stories continue to be passed down orally by each generation, often in camp stories and songs. In our modern history, stories take many narrative forms, including spoken, written, printed, and typed. These stories transcend blogs, books, the internet, movies, sung, and TV.

One of the keys to storytelling is understanding your essence, the core values that define your brand. A well-known proverbial expression created by William Shakespeare is “To thine own self be true”. It was written in his masterpiece Hamlet. This expression means ‘be true to yourself”. As with your personal story, there is always an evolution to your business story. Spending time understanding your business journey and values is vital to future success. 

  • Why do they exist? 
  • Has your mission or vision changed? 
  • What makes your business unique? 
  • What makes your business stand out from its competitors? 
  • How can your business better the world? 
  • What philanthropy are you putting into the world that can make your brand stand out?   

So what’s the story your business wants or needs to tell? Your business story has a motivation or purpose to carry your brand, leadership, and employees forward. It is essential to stop, reflect on your path, and find a new way to tell your updated story. Journalists have a process to address the fundamental questions that define every story. The Five “W”s are the foundation of crafting any story. 

  • Who?
  • What?
  • Why?
  • Where? 
  • When?

In addition to the Five “W”’s, add how. I recommend focusing on the How and Why to start your story. 

  • How did you get here? 
  • How will you move forward?
  • How is it possible to move forward successfully?
  • Why are we in business?
  • Why did we start? 
  • Is why we started the business resonating and essential to our messaging today?
  • Why and how are we critical to our customers?

These are the most important questions to get to the core or heart of your value. You must understand your business motivations, purpose, and vision to craft an authentic story that will resonate with others. It takes time to get to your story. Keep it simple. Test your message before going public. Make sure it resonates in the way and conveys your intent. Creating or changing messaging is a journey, not a destination. 

If you need additional guidance or support in your messaging and branding, contact us at Pensivetastic. Let’s collaborate to define your path forward. We’ll help you get there.

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Consulting, Human Resources, Leadership

It’s Time to Make Space

Making space

It's time to make space for something new. That is easier said than done. How and when to make space seems like a mystery. There is a belief that you make your destiny. One should pursue goals and proactively seek the next opportunity. What happens when, despite your openness and networking, nothing new comes? Waiting can be like a prison sentence. Watching others around you achieve success while you remain idle or stuck carves away at your soul. I read an article that said sometimes you need to quit what you’re doing to make space for something new. 

Making space for something new means being open to new possibilities. You never know when something new might come. While walking away might be the solution, it can be trauma-inducing. For many, walking away is entangled in fear-based tropes like “waking away is giving up”, “giving up is failure”, “quitting is not an option”, and “I’ve worked too hard to walk away”. These seemingly benign statements are not. It is self-sabotage meant to keep you in your current station. Taking a risk on a major life change without a plan or safety net is not recommended. However, if it affects your physical or mental health, consider changing before it's too late. Also, if those around you express concern, listen to them honestly and consider their concern a warning.   

The COVID pandemic changed the world. The events leading up to and during the pandemic affected me. As the pandemic ended, the world returned to the past, but there was a rift. We’re divided politically, about returning to the workplace, and our needs and ideas for supporting each other. We’re all caught in this rift. There are a few solutions, but doing what we used to do is not good enough. 

Like many, I have been changed. My perspective shifted both personally and professionally. How I view the world has altered, my priorities redirected, and I’m more intentional about my career. My soul was screaming for change and demanded something new. Therefore, I made a life change with a plan and without having a safety net. 

I had been trying to control my destiny for some time, but my attempts to design a path with a safety net never materialized. A friend even took me to a psychic for answers. Nothing materialized in all my grasping for answers, no matter who I talked to or the opportunities I explored. When I took the risk and quit to make space for something new, the universe revealed its plan. Space opened and a path appeared. My phone started ringing with opportunity. It was scary. 

I’ve written other blog posts about ego versus intuition before. When you minimize your ego and are self-aware enough, your intuition has the space to be your cardinal north. If your intuition begs for change, follow your gut, and take the risk. There is a life lesson for you around the corner. The change was placed in your path and meant for you to walk into it. Be brave and move on. The risk is not knowing, but that is part of the lesson. You are worth the risk. It is an investment in yourself. Respect the reverence of your past as you walk into your future. Become the authentic you. Find time to make space for something new.    

If you need additional guidance or support, contact us at Pensivetastic. Let’s collaborate to define your path forward. We’ll help you get there.

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Consulting, Human Resources, Leadership

End the Ego Jousting

Being Challenged

It's time to put an end to the ego jousting. Everyone has been challenged and challenged by someone else in their life. Children do it all the time, starting at two years old. They challenge the world around them and push their environment to learn their relationships and boundaries better. It is part of who we are as humans. As you grow older, your ego starts to lead in this area as a way to find and carve your path forward. Being challenged and challenging others is a great learning tool when done healthily. When not in a healthy and safe environment, it can trigger trauma effects and push people away. 

Your ego is part of your neuro-physiological system. It helps protect your self-image and self-worth while creating your self-concept. When your ego can get in the way, your concern for yourself overrides the reality of what may be happening. Your ego creates a distorted sense of reality or perception. You may have been part of a conversation where someone believes one thing while the reality or everyone else heard something different. When this happens, it is your ego trying to take control of the situation and protect your self-worth or self-time. That can be good. When this happens more frequently than not, this is not a good or healthy situation. When our ego leads, it erodes work success, relationships, and general happiness. 

Being challenged is the harder of these two examples. When done inappropriately, I call this ego jousting. Often, it’s two egos fighting for dominance until someone is finally beaten down. It is done to make one person feel superior to another. It always seems personal even in a professional setting. I usually see this when someone exudes their control and demands to be right. It comes across as a novice leadership skill due to its perception as petulant behavior. In its simplest form, it is a lack of communication and understanding. The goal is to communicate better and arrive at an understanding. 

When being challenged, first do your deep breathing and not react negatively, even if that is the other person's behavior. Two people cannot ego joust if only one ego is willing to play. As a leader, your role is to diffuse the situation. Next, ask open-ended questions like “Can you tell me more?” or “Can you provide me more context?” Open-ended questions begin to diffuse the situation.

Keep asking open-ended questions until you feel the temperature lower and a healthy dialogue can continue. If this doesn’t happen, you may be asked or need to ask, “Why?”. Articulating your why and then asking it back may scare the horse of the ego jouster. They may start another attack run. That’s ok - stand your ground. They might say, “Why do you need to know that?” or “Why does that matter?” or “What do you mean by Why?”. You can find common ground in answers to the why. 

Calmly let them know you are trying to understand them better. Once they rattle off an answer, probe some more. After several answer attempts, you may hear something that resonates with you or help you better understand the situation. Parrot back what you heard them say. “Thank you. I want to make sure I understand. What I hear you say was…?” You will either get an ah-ha moment or they will say that’s not what they said. If it’s the latter, simply find a moment to interject what they said to you again. “Do you realize you just said the following…? Was that your intent?” These questions start to slow the conversation. If the other person still insists on an ego joust, you may have to agree to disagree and move on. If it doesn't, it sounds like someone needs space away from the table to calm down and reflect on the conversation. End the conversation and agree to pick it up later. 

Challenging others has a similar dynamic. It takes patience and care for the giver to establish a healthy conversation. When done in an authentic, curious, judgment-free way, the receiver is a willing participant in the conversation. When the dynamic shifts, the receiver feels judged, unsafe, and may shut down. It stops learning or growth for everyone.  

Being challenged and challenging others can be a great learning tool for adults. When challenged appropriately and safely, growth happens, new skill emerges, and experience is gained fondly by the receiver. It opens the eyes of the person on the receiving end to new possibilities. When used inappropriately, growth doesn’t happen. The receiver feels smaller, unsuccessful, and only learns that the giver is not supportive. When an adult is unsupported, growth happens slowly, if at all. 

If you are still struggling or need additional guidance with your business, contact us at Pensivetastic. Let’s collaborate to define your path forward. We’ll help you get there. 

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Consulting, Leadership

Get Off the Hamster Wheel

Stress

How are you doing? Better yet, how are you feeling? If you answered ok or fine to either of the questions, you are not being honest with yourself or lack a true moment of self-awareness. Give yourself a moment to pause. Take this opportunity for some self-care. Stop everything you’re doing. Now close your eyes. Focus on your breath. Inhale a nice deep breath in and exhale out. If you need, take a couple more slow cleansing breaths. Next, settle your mind for a second. Push all thoughts to the side - clear your mind. Keep breathing. When you’re ready, open your eyes. Finally, ask yourself quietly, out loud, or internally, how do I feel today? You should get a clearer response. Are you surprised by the answer? I’d be surprised if you weren’t. So what are you going to do about the stress? 

Like many people, you probably feel stressed, overworked, and underappreciated. We all feel like that sometimes, and we can usually shake it off. What happens when you can’t? How do you cope with the long-term effects of the constant stress, anxiety, and expectations of work and personal life? In the short term, we usually find ways to cope and navigate the immediacy of our work and personal lives.  Our coping ability erodes when the stress continues and becomes a long-term situation. We continue to follow our daily routines with a little focus on self-care to get through the day. When the stress is long-term, things rarely change in our routine, including stress. You have to break the pattern for things actually to change. The reason most people don’t break the pattern is a failure. They believe that changing the pattern is a sign of failure and weakness. Well, that may be true. It’s an issue of comfort, routine, and feeling stuck in a pattern you can’t escape. When the comfort and pattern of continuing to do the same thing are easier than the looming stress of stopping. You, my friend, are on the hamster wheel.

I jokingly call that feeling of feverish exhaustion, unending stress, and caffeine-fueled adrenaline driving need to continue as “being on the hamster wheel”. It’s the feeling of running with no end in sight, feeling like you’re not making any headway, and not knowing how to stop. We all have been there. Some are still there and are constantly in that state of anxious panic. I’m telling you to “get off the hamster wheel”. 

We can not avoid stress in our life. We get it from both our personal and professional lives. Managing it is a real challenge. When you can’t balance it or have an imbalance of stress from one side or the other, our natural inclination is to power through. Powering through is a short-term solution. The stress has to end to let your nervous system recover. When you are in this state, your nervous system is in flight or fight mode. When you do, your body doesn’t know how to cope as it thinks you're being attacked. You can not power through long-term. Your body can not stay in this state for long periods. When you do, this triggers long-term issues with your health. If this is you, how will you let your body heal and come down off the stress so it doesn’t think it's being attacked? 

There is a healthier way. Finding harmony is hard work. Acknowledging when you will have stress, communicating it to others, announcing it has a deadline, and letting your body get the reparative rest it needs to reset itself is vitally important. How do you do this? It is all one word some people do not like: boundaries. You have to establish boundaries in your personal and professional life. Start small. For example, boundaries on communication methods and times, preferences of work, time commitments, and the need for healthier behaviors. If no one has told you today, you must eat and go to the bathroom many times daily. Work or personal commitments should not interfere. These are necessities of self-care. That is an easy boundary to set. Declare it to others, say no when it is an impediment, and stay firm in your decision. After a while, you will reap the benefits and find your perspective changed. 

So what’s next? How are you using your time to foster your self-care? How do you make healthier eating and activity choices? If you are not an avid exerciser, do something - anything. I like to stop, walk in the park during sunset, and people-watch while listening to music. It’s just me and nature. Also, rediscover your hobbies. Find a new one or restart a hobby. Stress robs us of our joy. Find any opportunity to bring joy back into your life. You’ll be glad you did!

If you are still struggling or need additional guidance with your business, contact us at Pensivetastic. Let’s collaborate to define your path forward. We’ll help you get there. 

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Consulting, Culture, Human Resources, Leadership

Pros & Cons of Feedback

Feedback Bubbles

Politician Frank A. Clark declared, “Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man’s growth without destroying his roots.” What is relatable about Franks's quote is why many struggle with feedback. While Feedback is fickle for many, it is recognized as an important tool for growth. How can feedback nourish growth without buckling the foundation growth is built upon? Let's discuss the pros and cons of feedback. 

Feedback is the formal or informal information exchange regarding performance, skills, or teamwork. Formal meaning as a company-sponsored performance review. Informal means during an unstructured conversation or after an event where performance, skills, or teamwork was not perceived as excellent. Its official dictionary definition, related to psychology, is the “knowledge of the results of any behavior, considered as influencing or modifying further performance.” Feedback is a tool to help someone move from one stage of understanding and skill to another. When done right, feedback can be a pleasant and welcome experience. The challenge is that feedback alone can not move the needle. It must be accompanied by knowledge, skill, and aptitude tools to move the improvement needle. When done effectively, feedback improves workplace communication and performance. Leaders will express that feedback is a necessary part of the growth process. Impactful growth comes from effective feedback, commitment to improvement, and appropriate development opportunities. 

Employers believe they must immediately provide feedback. Often reflection can be its own teacher. Negative feedback rarely achieves growth. Psychologists say that people will only hear negative feedback in a conversation regardless of the positive provided. Carl Jung, the Swiss Psychiatrist and Psychoanalyst, said, “Knowledge rests not upon truth alone, but upon error also.” Employee wants truth, but not at the expense or threat of their mental health or job tenure. According to Buddha, the South Asian Religious Leader and Teacher, “Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill.” Here is a case where words matter. It underscores how you approach the conversation also makes a strong impact. Why do employees feel that feedback is bad? 

A challenge arises when feedback and advice are included in the same conversation. If you look at the definitions for advice and feedback, they are different. Feedback is “a reaction or response to a process or activity.” while advice is “an opinion or recommendation offered as a guide to action, conduct, etc.” When feedback and advice are married into the same conversation, it confuses both parties and makes the receiver feel more vulnerable. The conversation leans more personal instead of objective. When it feels more objective, it provides more opportunities for reflection. 

I have participated in the giving and receiving end of solicited and unsolicited feedback at work. Whether delivered intentionally or haphazardly, feedback is rarely received well when unsolicited, not asked for, given, or done voluntarily. Unsolicited feedback within the performance review structure is stressful, awkward, and unsatisfying. Heavily negative feedback is perceived as critical and accusatory. Even if the conversation was solution-oriented, it was mostly one party providing possible solutions, making the conversations weighted and uneven. Where the conversation was overtly positive, it felt insubstantial. Each party felt cheated with nothing tangible or new to work towards — the good news resulted in a nothing experience. 

Employee development will be more successful if feedback is solicited instead of unsolicited in the work environment. Employers should permit and find opportunities for employees to request solicited feedback as they need or want it. There has to be a better way to provide and structure feedback where both parties find it a rewarding experience. 

Contact Pensivetastic today to discuss and collaborate on a path forward for your company. Supporting you is what we do. We’re here to help you get where you want to go.

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Business Support, Consulting, Culture, Human Resources, Leadership

Future of Employee Support

Feedback Hands

My continuous conversations with colleagues and friends expressing their discontent with company culture and employee support are increasing. From major corporations to small nonprofits, employees struggle with workload, work stress, being overwhelmed, underappreciated, feeling burned out, and lacking daily support. These dedicated employees are struggling with the words to describe how they feel and what they need. They all agree they need to feel more supported as an employee. What’s the answer - they have no idea!

Something shifted during the COVID pandemic. Both companies and employees have changed, but they are not on the same page. Some call it a mental health crisis. I believe it is more than that! Employee needs have exponentially evolved. Employees need more grace, patience, freedom, and space to do their jobs holistically. Employees are voicing their struggles, but companies are not listening, and those who are listening do not have the right resources to help. To recruit and retain employees, companies must support employees daily in all aspects of their life. Whole jobs need whole people. Valued and happy employees are productive employees. Culture and value are not solved with free lunch once a month or the random “Atta Boy!”. 

Employees do need support every day, but different support every day. Companies historically have tasked this to Human Resources or the People and Culture department. Unfortunately, Human Resources or the People and Culture department fails to provide holistic employee support. It is not their fault. The model for HR was designed in the 1700s as a pro-business model to increase employee productivity. The model never factored in employee wellness and culture needs. The model needs to be improved. 

Employees' needs have significantly changed and are more complex than ever. There is a chasm between what companies provide and what employees need. This chasm is where expectations, good intentions, hope, resources, referral, and follow-up fall into. It’s a deep well of misunderstanding and missed opportunities. As previously discussed in our blog article “HR and Culture”, HR should not be the gatekeeper for culture.  Managing culture is everyone's responsibility, but it does need to be stoked like a fire. It is more complex than only focusing on diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility. The work is hard to repair and get right. 

I propose a radical shift in how we perceive and allocate resources to support employees. HR has a critical role, but can not be the lone support. HR should be one of several sources in a company to provide employee support. There needs to be more than one department to support employees. These new departments must be equipped to offer the necessary resources required to effectively and wholly support employees. HR has a role to play and we need to let them play it well rather than continue to add to their responsibilities. New departments must be developed to improve retention, culture, and wellness outside HR. These departments should not be allowed to take punitive action against employees - that is the opposite of support. When employees struggle, they should be acknowledged, respected, and lifted up with the support they need. Listen to the employee as they express their situation and needs then wrap compassion, empath, and resources around them. 

As industries and employee change, rarely at the same rate, employee support will shift to meet the demands of the change model. This shift is a large commitment to research, implement, experiment, and evaluate what works for all employees. Some companies are experimenting and finding moderate success. Once you find what works best for your employees, the next shift will begin, and you will need to revisit your support model. It is a living, ever-evolving, and collaborative model. Small companies will need help achieving the long list of employee support needs and this level of engagement. Even small businesses need to think about employee support outside the bounds of human resources. 

We would love to hear from you about your needs for support at work or how your company is evolving its employee support. Contact Pensivetastic today to discuss and collaborate on how we can support you while you do what you do best. We’re here to help you get where you want to go. 

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Culture, Leadership

Leaning into Authenticity

Authentic

Leaning into authenticity can be challenging for leaders. Leading a journey and not a destination. Finding who you are while leading others and navigating the expectations of others is a hard journey for anyone. Let's dig into authenticity a bit more.

Brene Brown says this about authenticity. 

“Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It's about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.” 

Like Brene said above, leading authentically takes daily practice. To suppress your ego, be present, and be brave enough to engage with another consistently is hard. Showing vulnerability and connecting on a deeper level builds trust and strengthens relationships and partnerships. Connecting with someone while making them feel seen and heard is really hard work. Isn’t that what we all want? 

When attending “networking events, asking someone what they do for work is common. It provides an opportunity to connect with and learn about another person. It offers a quick assessment of whether a partnership could evolve. A standard business practice way more common before COVID. I have had some inappropriate encounters at networking events that have colored my view on networking events. While at an event, one engages in civil conversations with friends and colleagues. Your friends and colleagues will introduce you to someone new and often step away. The new person and you engage in pleasantries until the conversation about work presents itself. You both take a moment to share something about your work. You learn something new and collectively decide to move on or continue the conversation. It’s business speed dating! 

On numerous occasions, while sharing about my work, this new person, suddenly disinterested, turned around and walked away before I was finished. Rude, right? It has happened repeatedly and so frequently that I have stopped counting. I’ve never understood how this behavior is acceptable in any setting. It certainly is not a leader displaying a growth opportunity to someone else. 

Anyway, what I took from these experiences was the devaluing of others. Their actions showed me I was not seen, heard, valued, or respected. Somehow these traits have consistently crept into practice in many company cultures. The connection, authenticity, or vulnerability in the situation above was one-sided. One person, myself, decided to be authentic and vulnerable, but it was without reciprocity. A connection can not happen alone. Encounters require reciprocity, where both parties must participate, whether personally or work. 

The most important part of authenticity is vulnerability. You have to be vulnerable and sincere to be authentic. Vulnerability is defined as “the quality of being easily hurt or attacked”. It derives from the Latin word, vulnus, for "wound,". Reflect on that - vulnerability originates from the word “wound”. To open yourself up and be vulnerable, you are leading yourself to the possibility of being wounded. This is why some perceive vulnerability inaccurately as a weakness. People avoid and protect themselves from feeling vulnerable when perceived as a weakness. However, vulnerability is not a weakness. It is the core of our emotions and feelings. When we prevent showing vulnerability, we prevent experiencing our emotions. Our attempts to avoid shame, embarrassment, and sadness eliminate our experiencing love, belonging, joy, and empathy.

It is trendy to say, “bring your authentic self to work”. The reality is that most people don’t bring their authentic selves to work out of fear. Employees bring who they think they must be to portray success based on the company's cultural norms. When companies say to bring their authentic self to work, but course-correct their employees' authenticity, it creates major cultural misalignment. Why do leaders correct authentic employees at work? Many leaders say employees need to grow and evolve with the company, but companies grow at a different rate than employees. The definition of grow is “to increase by natural development”. Natural development means that growth happens organically and can not be forced or requested on demand by companies. Growth is a partnership between employees and the company. The employee should have more say in their development path with the permission to decline development that is not right for them.  

Job satisfaction survey statistics vary among workers and researchers. Some surveys say job dissatisfaction is as high as 35% with 60% of people wanting to leave their jobs in 2023. That’s a significant loss in institutional knowledge. Some leave for money, but many leave due to culture. What do you do when employees struggle to “fit in” or are “unhappy”? Do you have an inclusion conversation (“How can we make your experience better?”) or a career-counseling talk (“It looks like you’re not happy here. Maybe this isn't the place for you.”) 

What happens when you show up authentically, but the company doesn’t like the authentic self who showed up? It is clear to employees when you are not “welcome” at work. It drains you of your day. As humans, we intrinsically feel what is not said. When you no longer meet others' perceptions, they signal you are not valued. This is when employees quickly learn to be inauthentic at work. They show the company what they need to be successful until they leave the organization. 

No employee wants to be the “other” - ever. Company cultures do not value “others”, those out of step, or with non-traditional points of view. Company culture through actions signals when you are not appreciated, who you are is wrong, or what you do is not in line with the company norms. Employees referred to HR or management are counseled, possibly reprimanded, written up, sent home, or jobs threatened or terminated. Why are we counseling employees on their authentic behavior? Why can’t the culture embrace all employees and work within the available resource without conjecture?  

Employees are authentic only when psychological safety is achieved full-time in a company. People thrive when spaces are always inclusive, authentic, and supportive. When spaces are only part-time or minimally supportive, this breeds massive cultural misalignment. 

Authenticity and safety must be felt and served by all employees from top to bottom. Instead of faking authenticity, be vulnerable every day to every person. Let others know when you are struggling. Show support for those struggling. Let them know that you hear and see them. You support them when they are ready to talk or need to be uplifted. Say it only if you mean it. If you can not say it, show them some empathy. If you can not do that, tell them you are not in the space to support them today and exit. That is authenticity. 

Consider these questions when reflecting on vulnerability.  

  • Are you leading authentically? How do you know? 
  • When are you not authentic with your employees? How can you change that? 
  • Where are compassion, empathy, and authentic engagement happening daily with your employees? 
  • How do you build on your authentic moment to improve your culture? 
  • If culture is what you say and do daily, how can authenticity and vulnerability guide you to new cultural norms? 

Forging carbon-copy leaders is where many leaders fail. The holy grail is mentoring others to lead authentically without making them a carbon copy of your leadership style. Guiding others to find their authentic leadership style is the best gift you can give to another. It’s also a fantastic legacy to leave.

Contact Pensivetastic today to discuss and collaborate on a path forward for you or your company. We’ll help you get there.  

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Culture, Human Resources, Leadership

HR & Company Culture

Source: marekuliasz / shutterstock

If you have not read the blog article “Words matter, but…”, I recommend you stop and read it first. You might also be interested in the “Because I’m the…” blog article. This article on HR and Company Culture is a companion piece to that article.

Leaders frequently express their opinions about the relevance and effectiveness of Human Resources (HR) departments. Whether filling open positions, onboarding new employees, coordinating and providing information on employee benefits, or monitoring company policies, HR plays a vital role for many companies. These activities are central to the success and growth of any company. That is not a debate as part of today’s article. Today, we will discuss the growing debate about the efficacy of HR in supporting employees and company culture.

Crucial Learning published the results of a study they conducted in April 2022. Amongst its many finding, the study discovered that when employees have concerns, they prefer to turn to anyone else rather than talk with the HR department. Only 9 percent of respondents believed their HR leader would proactively advocate on their behalf, while another 37 percent believed HR is more concerned with advocating for the organization. These respondents stated they were hesitant to speak with HR about sensitive issues. If HR departments are effective, why are employees not using them entirely? We are seeing more significant shifts in how employees need support. These shifts are widening the chasm of change required in the HR model. HR no longer meets employee needs and is a disservice to company culture. HR departments fail to define, manage, and cultivate company culture. In fact, the current HR model is where culture dies. 

Each company pays for HR employees to manage HR activities, protect the company from employees, and protect the company's written values and culture, not employees' wishes. When push comes to shove, HR is paid to always side with the company. When enough employees feel the weight of HR, they feel the isolation and defeat by the company. They learn that HR provides information, but lacks employee advocacy and support. This is when employees consider leaving the company. 

If HR does not represent the employee, why does a company’s culture need a gatekeeper? Company culture is more than just the role of HR staff. It is everyone's role to define it, keep it alive, and grow it. Hopefully, we can agree to that! Company culture should be defined by all employees, not just those at the top. Why is the current model failing? Let’s understand the history of HR. 

The HR concept started in the mid-1700s. HR is the strategic approach to effective and efficient people management in a company. Its purpose is to help a company gain a competitive advantage over its competitors. In service of an employer's strategic objectives, it strives to improve job efficiency. Nothing in the definition above says that it was designed to make employees safe, protected, feel like they belong, or are financially successful. The model of HR was built on a company-centric model. It was designed to expand its influence over employees and maximize employee performance, making the company more profitable. 

Workplaces can be employee friendly, but can rarely be employee-centric. One lasting example of the HR department's ineffectiveness is the ongoing struggle against discrimination in the workplace. From age, gender, and racial disparities in hiring and pay to sexual discrimination in the workplace, company-sponsored HR departments protect their brand reputation, not employees. The concept of HR was designed to help companies maximize profits. Companies will never make employees feel like a family or make work a fun and productive environment. As the HR concept gained traction, the earliest authenticated and recorded labor strike in the United States happened in Philadelphia in 1786. Philadelphia printers went on strike and achieved a minimum wage increase to $6 weekly. Not long after, in ​​1792, the first local craft union was formed for collective bargaining by Philadelphia shoemakers. This started the labor union movement. 

A labor union is an organization of workers to empower employees to ensure a fair and equal return for provided labor. Although the first union was formed in 1792, it was not until 1935 that unions were officially established into law. The National Labor Relations Act was passed by the 74th United States Congress and signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935. It still is the foundation of United States labor laws today. These laws guarantee the right of private sector employees to organize into labor unions, engage in collective bargaining, and take collective action such as strikes.

Unions protect employers against an employer. They have historically been responsible for attaining better wages and benefits, improving working conditions, improving safety standards, establishing complaint procedures, developing rules governing the status of employees, and protecting and increasing workers' bargaining power. Employees safeguard their interests against retaliation by employers. In September 2011, an archeological investigation found evidence of a shipyard constructed during the reign of Trajan (98 – 117 AD), indicating the existence of a shipbuilders guild. 

Similar to the discussion about HR departments, there is a debate for either side of the labor union argument. Labor unions are pro-employee, while HR is pro-business. If you believe neither is the solution, what is the evolution of employee support? 

Neither HR departments nor labor unions can establish or control company culture. Culture is created organically. Like a myth, culture has to be believed in and supported to be effective. Creating unity and compromise between words and actions that are inclusive of all parties is hard work. What can your company do when the culture is misaligned? 

  • Create a Safe Space - Set the stage by creating a safe space to move the company culture in a healthier and more supportive direction. Allow all voices to sing without retaliation. Learn more about creating workspaces that protect psychological safety. 

 

  • Allow for Honest Discussion - Engage your employees in an open and honest discussion about the perceptions and contradictions of your company culture. Listen openly, be available to all issues put forward, take notes, show gratitude to issues raised during the discussion, and do not make any promises. 

 

  • Collaborative Internal Research - Deep dive into employee perceptions of your culture. Continue the conversations - have a series of healthy discourses to understand better the conflicts encountered. Create a written and anonymous survey of employees, board, and volunteers. Make sure you are getting different perspectives to understand everyone's impact better. Take all comments as the truth, then find opportunities for change. 

 

  • Gather Your Data - Gather all the results from the discussion and the written survey into one report. Where changes have the results highlighted? Do you need more data? Repeat these steps above if you need more clarity. 

 

  • Analyze the results - What are the survey results (data) saying about what employees see as a misalignment? From this feedback, how do you see misalignment between your culture, values, and mission? Your values may need a refresh. Employees should be more involved in crafting your company values and cultural norms and with less input from your board or c-suite. Employees breathe life into culture daily – not your board of directors. 

 

  • Develop a plan - Focus on finding more alignment between your written documents and your daily actions. What do you do that is healthy and not part of your values or policies? You should include them in your next update. What are you doing that is the opposite of your written policies? Change your written policies. The draft and final plans should include a timeline and budget. This is not a one-time plan, but a living document. 

 

  • Get More Feedback - Discuss your draft action plan with employees, the board, and volunteers. Ensure all misalignment opportunities have been identified and addressed before implementing your final plan. 

 

  • Foster Buy-In - Once the plan is finalized and approved by your board of directors, get buy-in from your employees before implementation. Dialogue on collectively moving the plan forward in a healthy direction where everyone is involved. 

 

  • Train to Your New Model - Train all staff on your collective decisions and how to foster healthy dialogue to keep each connected and other accountable. 

What about accountability? Culture and accountability are everyone’s responsibility. Healthy accountability is a growing experience for everyone. Accountability, for the sake of accountability, is unhealthy. HR is not solely responsible for accountability or culture. Both should have their independence. Consider establishing an independent commission or committee of elected employees, board members, and volunteers who will monitor the final plan's implementation quarterly, evaluate its progress, and identify new misalignments to improve future plans. I would consider not including the CEO or HR in this group, but maybe it should be led by the Board of Directors or an impartial consultant.

There is much to consider when deciding how to shape your company’s culture. The most significant consideration in creating employee safety and support is redefining your company culture. Companies like Google, Apple, and META have done the work to develop and maintain a healthy culture. Still, in this changing climate, they are struggling significantly to keep up with the changing needs of employees. Culture is a long-term impact project and does not have many short-term gains. A company can lower attrition, attract future employees, and grow its business if cultural changes are done correctly. 

Contact Pensivetastic today to discuss a path forward for your company. We’ll help you get there.  

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Consulting, Culture, Leadership

“Because I’m the …”

"Because I'm the ..."

Have you been in the room when and on the receiving end when a leader says, “Because I’m the ... [insert title here]”? I have experienced both occasions. I am stunned each time that phrase leaves a leader's lips. When voiced, it reeks of immaturity. It is a statement steeped in power and control that unravels goodwill and destroys relationships. I have never understood why leaders think this is effective. What’s the purpose of exuding your authority and power by lashing someone with your title? 

It is said more frequently than leaders like to admit. Whether spoken in person, dictated virtually, or used in an email, this tactic has no good purpose. It is an outward and obvious signal of the leader's frustration about the circumstances. It negatively shuts down and ends the conversation. When used, it’s a very irritating response and alienates the receiver immediately. This tactic does not foster healthy communication, promote healthy dialogue, or emphasize respect for others. 

All leaders must make missteps to grow in their leadership journey. This behavior is frequently attributed to new or inexperienced leaders with upgraded roles or responsibilities and entering a different power dynamic. It is a lesson taught to inexperienced leaders by other leaders. To make an impact quickly, the new leader will make these statements to show others they are in control. This phrase breaks down team dynamics, often leading to poor long-term results. 

Experienced leaders often perform this tactic for the same reasons as new leaders. When they do it, it is the most disappointing. It does not give leaders the gravitas they think it does. When said by experienced leaders, they present themselves as petty and egotistical. It is a micromanagement technique that signals the leader distrusts their team. It signals to the receiver that they are inconsequential and that this person, topic, or situation is beneath the leader. It is weaponized to create and perpetuate toxic company culture and puts unhealthy leadership behavior on full display. It purposely makes others feel smaller. The unintended consequence is that staff start to distance themselves from the leader. It is noticeable as the company experiences staff turnover and decreased performance as the team stops following their leaders. I have never seen it positively affect a conversation or relationship. 

Why do leaders think this tactic is effective? 

It is never an effective tactic to use in any situation. This tactic perpetuates the company culture's power struggle by dividing “Us” from the “Them” - lengthening the separation between management and non-management staff. It erodes the leader's brand and leadership potential. It signals fear and manipulation as the principal leadership drivers. This tactic does more harm than good, no matter the circumstances it is wielded. 

Why is this an intentional strategy leaders continue to use? 

  • It is a learned behavior passed down like trauma. Someone did it to the leader so they do it to others. We all learn by example. 
  • Leaders who do this may be unaware of their behavior. They may need to be made aware of their behavior and a compassionate course correction. 
  • Leaders purposely do this to control others; they may dislike sharing power and responsibility. When they exude power, they believe that moving forward quickly is easier than giving others the space and time to discuss issues and foster relationships. It’s another attempt to micromanagement the situation. 

What should leaders do instead?

When you are feeling challenged, listen more. Embrace normalizing challenging conversations with staff with other points of view. Learn by asking questions to understand the circumstances better. Consider some of the following questions:

  • I would like to hear more about your point of view. Please share more of your thoughts with me. 
  • How can I provide more clarification, guidance, or support to you?
  • How can I help you achieve the set direction? 
  • Do you have the resources you need to move forward? 
  • Is there something you need that will help us move forward together?
  • Can something be clarified in the vision or task so we can move forward? 

Asking open-ended questions signals a leader with empathy and compassion who fosters cooperation and team building. It is the opposite of using fear, manipulation, and control. It is a relationship builder and not a relationship destroyer. 

Power struggles always negatively impact your company culture. When leaders use statements that demand power, it erodes trust every time. When used too often, trust disappears, culture degrades, and relationships become impossible to repair. 

Culture is what you do, not only what you say. Leaders who create frequent contradictions in written messages or policies, during company conversations, or between their behaviors and actions are the reason for cultural misalignment. These contradictions become the employees' dominant experience. Thereby, the employee internalizes the contradictions as the unspoken definition of your company culture. It creates a misalignment in company culture between what you say and what you do. You can read more about the impact on culture in the “Words matter, but…” blog post. 

Everyone deserves a chance to learn, reflect, and grow eternally with grace, patience, and understanding from others. Everyone is human, everyone makes mistakes, and everyone is a leader. Therefore, leaders make mistakes. Leaders can make mistakes as often as they need to become better leaders. Failure is often the best teacher. Allow leaders to make mistakes and grow from them without persecution (unless they break the law).

How will you learn and grow in your leadership today? If you need additional guidance, contact us at Pensivetastic. Let’s collaborate to define your path forward. We’ll help you get there. 

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Consulting, Culture, Leadership

Words Matter, But …

Words Matter, but

Google “words matter,” and your search results will fill with articles, research, and podcasts. Language is important, and clearly defining your intention can mitigate future challenges. Leaders tend to focus on the messaging - what we say matters. 

In speeches and marketing, words matter. Positive words can inspire, change someone’s direction, and unify. When focusing on the intention of our message, something special happens. Unclear messaging creates chaos, confusion, and conflict. 

Many companies work hard to define their message, policies, and values. They spend much time wordsmithing language to find the perfect vocabulary to represent their company culture and brand. It is a good marketing tool for the website and potential employees. It brings in new customers and can endear people to a brand. In these instances, words do matter. 

What happens when all those words become a deception? When your company’s culture contradicts your messaging. When employees express frustration or push back against the dominant culture. While words do matter, actions speak louder than words. 

Your company culture is not defined by what you put on paper. It is the embodiment of what happens every day. The words in each daily conversation or company meeting; the contradictions of your decisions; the actions of your human resource department; the positive and negative reinforcement of all leaders; the inequality of performance appraisals; the communication or lack of in expressing your vision; or the way you pivot your business model. When the company's actions contradict your written words, employees believe your actions. Period - Full Stop! 

You can refer to the written policy or values all you want, but if you do not breathe life into them daily, they are just words. Culture is a living organism. It grows and changes in space between words and actions. When words fail - actions speak the truth. In many ways, the action becomes the primary vessel for communicating and expressing culture. In these instances, words do not matter. 

Employees always see through your company’s contradictions. It frustrates them. They want you to practice what you preach. They see the contradictions between your words and actions and perceive them as lies. When employees begin to ask questions or challenge leadership decisions, it is because of your contradictions. This is not always a commentary about leadership. It is a reflection of your declining company culture. Sometimes, it’s a combination of the two. 

Contradictory department culture happens as a way to correct broken or unfair company culture. It perpetuates an “Us” versus “Them” culture. It allows departments to have their own culture that contradicts the company culture. What happens when the culture is divided? When this happens, company culture needs a reset. This means many leaders listening to each other, employees listening to each other, and leaders and employees breaking down silos. The goal is to find common ground and a way to course correct. 

What can companies do to turn the tide? Recently, in a conversation with a couple of  leaders, we talked about how easy it is when decisions, operations, and community collaborations are black and white. I burst their bubble by explaining how life is all about the gray areas. First, companies need to spend more time in the gray area between words and actions to understand better how these gray areas affect the company   culture. Next, communicate the intentions of your written policy. What does the policy mean, and how does it improve your culture? Policies are no longer just business decisions. The employees demand to understand the impact on their lives. Then, Dialogue often - company-wide - about how the little things contribute to your identity and why it’s important to a supportive culture. Finally, listen, ask for feedback from all company employees in person and in writing, and then take action based on the feedback. Since accountability for all companies, employees, and leaders is important, tell your employees what can be improved quickly, what items will take time, and what items may not change.

Finding a healthy balance between words and actions is hard work. It is a long-term business challenge. Keeping the cultural living organism alive must take consistent and constant reflection. It is the role of every company board member, leader, employee, and volunteer. 

If you need additional guidance, contact us at Pensivetastic. Let’s collaborate to define your path forward. We’ll help you get there. 

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