Tag: Leadership

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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Consulting, Leadership, Strategy

“Kill ‘Em with Kindness”

Kill_Em_With_Kindness_(Official_Single_Cover)_by_Selena_Gomez

Hopefully, you know of the actress, advocate, celebrity, and singer Selena Gomez. For those who are not Selena Gomez fans, find a millennial - they will help get you on board. There is a terrific song on Selena’s Revival album called “Kill ‘Em with Kindness”. It’s a set of poignant lyrics tied to a catchy beat. I recommend listening to it and adding it to your exercise playlist.

This simple song starts with a firm declaration:

          “The world can be a nasty place

          You know it, I know it, yeah

          See, we don't have to fall from grace

          Put down the weapons you fight with

          And kill 'em with kindness…”

So far, so good? Although, if you’re in a fight, please don’t surrender your weapons. I digress. 

She continues the song with these impressive statements. 

           “We're running out of time chasing our lives

           Every day a small piece of you dies

          There's always somebody you're willing to fight, to be right

          Your lies are bullets, your mouth's a gun

          No war and anger was ever won

          Put out the fire before igniting

          Next time you're fighting

          Please, kill 'em with kindness”

I was stunned the first time I heard this song. Let's face it, deep-meaning-dance songs are not a genre. If so, I would be a devotee. This section of the song speaks to me the most. In our overly busy lives, it can often feel like a little piece of us dies every day. I mean, we do get older daily, so it’s technically accurate. 

The song was written about treating haters with kindness. It was inspired by the hate Selena received on social media during a trip to Mexico. Pictures of Selena on a beach surfaced online and she was body-shaming by media outlets and social media. 

Selena Gomez expressed the inspiration behind the song. 

"You have to wake up with yourself every morning, and people are going to give you their worst, and it's so easy to be mean. I'm Latin; I can be mean, real fast, if I want. But I don't feel good about myself, and I think people need to hear a message like this. I do know that deep down in my heart that I have to believe that we can love each other and always be kind no matter what it takes in us. I believe that we can do that, no matter what."

We can all agree there needs to be more songs about putting haters and bullies in their place. A long line of amazing artists has rallied against the bullies and haters in music. You can Google them. Make sure you support them. 

There is one line in the song that Selena repeats several times that I want to address. It's an important statement for reflection. The lyric is, 

          “There's always somebody you're willing to fight, to be right.” 

That’s powerful. This song is not just about taking the high road when angry. It is also about checking your ego. Ego is “a person's sense of self-esteem or self-importance.” The ego is the “I” or self of any person. The thinking, feeling, and willingness, and distinguishing of a person's self from the selves of others. We all have moments in our careers when our hubris gets out of control. Whose ego hasn’t gotten in the way? It is human nature. Here are some questions to help you reflect on the impact of your ego on others. 

  • When does your ego go too far? 
  • When your ego is in the way, how do you regulate it? 
  • What mechanisms do you have in place to put your ego in check? 
  • How do your leaders and employees react when your ego makes demands on them? 
  • How do you apologize to your leaders and employees when you lash them with your ego?

Our ego gets in the way as leaders when we wage war during a simple battle. I suspect it is as Selena said when “…you're willing to fight, to be right.” Is waging wars with others over being right the sword you will fall on? How often do you fight to be right? Do you always have to be right? Is that what’s important? We should not war all the time. If you are, then you’re not listening enough. Conversations are not a competition outside a courtroom. Fighting to be right is just another version of perfectionism. 

I recommend Selena Gomez’s advice. Stand up to the bullies and haters, kill them with kindness, and release your ego. When do you “Kill ‘Em with Kindness”? Michele Obama always says, “When they go low, you go high”. In situations where there are egregious bullies and haters, it is excellent advice to go high and kill them with kindness. It is hard to go high when you are being attacked. However, speak up! Label the bully's and hater's behavior publically. Let them know that you see them and the unnecessary and unprofessional behavior they bring to the table. Their words are not tolerated. When picking your battles, you often must let the microaggressions float by you to move forward. It is professional to smile, excuse yourself, and quickly remove yourself from the situation. Don’t continuously put yourself in unhealthy situations. Your mental health and reputation deserve better. 

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

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Leadership, Strategy

Finding the Strategic “Yes”

Business team celebrating a triumph with arms up

The Strategic “Yes” is a series of thoughtful questions aimed at converging your decision point with your company strategy and aligning it with the voices of your leaders and employees. In my career, I’ve participated in numerous conversations with leaders and decision-makers as they recounted how they arrived at their decision points. For the majority, their decision was based on thorough research and following best practices. While those are essential steps of due diligence and noble pursuits, there is an additional recommended guidance to finding the Strategic “Yes”. Using these Strategic “Yes” questions allows your company to continue its vetting process toward a healthier decision. When asked how you got to your Strategic “Yes”, you can detail your full due diligence journey to make your board, investors, partners, and employees more comfortable about the forward direction.First, we must talk about the Always “Yes”. Many articles have been written about positive and negative uses of the Always “Yes”. The Always “Yes'' philosophy (saying “Yes” to everything) is toxic positivity. This movement can dismantle company culture. For new companies, the Always “Yes” can bring remarkable success and help to refine the company strategy. Once your company has matured, the Always “Yes” will begin to damage your company’s soul, culture, and maybe reputation. Doing your due diligence and saying “Yes” strategically is critical to your credibility as a successful leader and building a healthy company culture.

Next, I have a question for you. Are you comfortable saying “No” to others? Saying “No” is not hard to do. Go ahead - say “No” out loud - right now. See! Saying “No” is not hard. It is a crucial part of growth and reflection. So why are you reluctant to do it? Don’t let the fear of the “No” cripple your truth or dismantle your company culture.

Many employees are challenged against saying “No” by leaders. Leaders still think “No” is a negative strategy from others to derail or reject their plans. Leaders rarely reward a “No” or acknowledge it consistently as part of a company decision-making conversation. I can count on one hand the times I said “No”, it was proven correct, and was praised by others.

All leaders must let the “No” be voiced in meetings and not silenced. Once the “No” is given a voice, it creates an open space for dialogue about how to move forward. Leaders should not let the “No” be heard, pretend it didn’t happen, and move on with the agenda or decision. Let the voices speak their truth with our censure. Open dialogue is part of your diligence.

For some, saying “No” at work is an impossible feat. Navigating company politics, company culture, and the politics of your role can make saying “No” or even disagreeing with leadership a death sentence. When leaders shoot down a vocalized “No” without listening and engaging in a complete discussion, this signals to employees that the company culture is a farce. Your actions speak volumes about and do more to represent your company culture than any of your written values, policies, or DEIA statements. The silencing of “No” perpetuates a groupthink mentality. Company culture prays at the alter of group think. Groupthink mentality forces contrary employees into an Unwilling “Yes”. Unless your company has a robust rock-solid culture where all employees are heard, respected, and valued always, groupthink is a manipulative and retaliatory company practice fostered by company leaders.

A homogeneous group can only innovate with agitators, architects, disrupters, and visionaries voicing their contrary opinion often and having safe forums to be heard with open dialogue. The perception and unhealthy response to going against the grain signals agitators, architects, disrupters, and visionaries their success or tenure at the company is tainted. When employees don’t feel safe and that their voice is protected - they leave. Silencing contributes to the turnover and loss of great talent and institutional knowledge. The company culture erodes as this becomes a consistent company practice, perception, unwritten rule, or policy.

You can not say “Yes” to everyone, every partnership, and every decision. This is unhealthy for the organization. Leaders must say a Strategic “Yes” to grow the organization. How do you get to a Strategic “Yes”?

Below is a guide to get to a more Strategic “Yes”. Does this:

  • align with your mission?
  • align with your strategic plan?
  • make sense for your organization and its current product and service delivery?
  • allow your organization to start a new business unit, grow its capacity, or scale healthily?
  • move your company closer to achieving your vision, big goal, or healthily pivot the business?

I refer to “healthily” for you to consider how this decision will impact your bottom line, leaders, and employees. It should work for everyone. Consistently practicing a Strategic “Yes” takes practice. It is hard work - put in the effort. It will change your company and evolve your leadership style. If your answers to the above questions are not a “Yes” in the majority, this is not a Strategic “Yes”. You are not being strategic in your decision and might be a Strategically “No”! After performing this full due diligence, you may have more in common with the Strategic “No” than you realize.

Finally, besides the guidance above, do a gut check, smell test, check in with your feelings, or consult your intuition - whichever resonates with you. If your gut screams “No”, please listen to its cries. Don’t ignore it - reflect on what makes you uneasy. Sometimes to get to a true answer - you need some distance. You must re-evaluate if your intuition and Strategic “Yes” are conflicting. If that is the case, take the time you need to reflect. You should trust your gut instincts - that inside guiding voice - to aid you in getting to a Strategic “Yes”.

If the conflict continues, especially when your inner voice is a loud “no”, walk away. Walking away can be temporary. It may be the wrong partner, time for your company, or it could damage your employees and culture. There may be a similar opportunity in the future that will be a better fit and a true Strategic “Yes”.

Use this Strategic “Yes” guidance, consulting your intuition, and balancing those with the other voices at the decision-making table. If you are still struggling or 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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