"company culture"

Fri 10 January 2020
When an employee mentions to his manager that he has received an offer from another company, how does the manager, and the company for that matter, typically respond? Often, they will respond with a counteroffer to keep that employee on the team.
Why?
Because the expense of having to pick up the pieces of where that employee left off is substantially higher than the expense of paying them more.
But…
What if we lived in a world where money wasn’t the only factor for choosing whether to stay in a job or accept a new role?
What if we discovered that there is another factor that plays a HUGE role in whether or not people stay or go? 
Most business roundtables and experts will say “you must invest in your culture!” What does that even mean? Does it mean providing lunches and ping pong tables at the office? Maybe.
Company culture is the combined makeup of how each individual employee feels about their work, whom they are doing that work with, and how attached their identity is to the work they are doing at that company. Company culture is the way that each employee feels when he/she comes to work.
You can’t force employees to feel a certain way, but you can create environments and opportunities where ideally, your people are creating deeper bonds with each other. When deeper bonds are built between people, a chemical in our brain called oxytocin fires. Oxytocin is why we feel good being around other people we like. 
When oxytocin is consistently firing when we are around our co-workers, our desire to not lose that feeling is high. Essentially, we, as humans, can form a chemical dependency to a group of people we enjoy being around in which money cannot easily persuade us to leave.
If people are using words like “we” and “us” vs. “you”, “they”, and “I”, that is a good start. But are there is 1 strong way to boost company culture.
Carve time for employees to have intentional one-on-one conversations with each other (can be about work or not about work).
Why can this activity be so powerful and impactful to the company? 
This activity creates an environment for deep relationships. When deep relationships are formed between people, oxytocin builds between those people. When people have oxytocin with their colleagues, they desire to be around those people that make them feel good.
Does it have to be one-on-one or can it be in a group?
It is best to be done one-on-one because people are less likely to be vulnerable when more people are around. Vulnerability is the key to building trust and trust is required for oxytocin to build. To make an example, think about holiday parties (or any other corporate gathering) – are people comfortable having deep, intentional conversations or are the conversations about the weather, sports, work, or any other surface-level topic? Typically, it is the latter. When people are one-on-one, they feel more comfortable opening up to each other.
Is it possible to provide a structure that leads to deep relationships?
Yes. 2 things are critical to this. First, people that are meeting with each should have aligned Work Orientation. Work Orientation is how you view your work and is a spectrum between “job”, “career”, and “calling”. When people share Work Orientation, their likelihood of getting along in these relationships is much higher because their value systems are aligned.
Second, these conversations should be focused on discussing the past, not the future. When we discuss the future, we are more inclined to embellish our goals and less likely to share our past vulnerabilities for fear that our past mistakes will not be consistent with our future goals. When we discuss the past, we can focus on the missteps we have taken and how we have learned from them. 
To build trust, you must be vulnerable first, not the other way around.
How can I measure if deep relationships are being built?
You can assess your employees’ engagement levels. If engagement rises, you will know that employees’ level of connectedness to the company culture is growing. 
How often should people be meeting?
It can be once per month for an hour each meeting. This intentional time away from work and focused on another person can create bonds that last a lifetime.
Should people switch up whom they are meeting with?
Yes. Variety in these relationships helps further intertwine employees so then they are consistently building deep relationships with multiple people. As long as the relationships formally last for at least 6 months, that should be plenty of time for people to get into rapport and continue that relationship.
In conclusion, creating environments in which colleagues are building deep relationships with each other can increase oxytocin firing in their brains when they come to work and subsequently increase the alignment of their identity with the company’s culture.
If you are interested in learning more about research on mentor relationships for companies, check out ambition-in-motion.com/companies.

Thu 23 January 2020
Most companies are interested in increasing the engagement level of their employees, improving retention, and growing the productivity levels and likelihood of collaboration of their teams and implementing mentor programs is garnering popularity as a catalyst for these outcomes.

The next steps is to think about how to best match participants in this mentor program together. This is a commonly overlooked aspect to mentor programs but has a critical impact on the success of the program.

Without a proven system for matching people together for mentorship, your mentor program is not likely to succeed.

Why is the match so important?

Mentorship is a relationship-based activity between two people. If the two people matched in a mentor relationship are not compatible, forcing the relationship to work is going to create resentment among both parties.

This would be like being put into an arranged marriage by your parents with somebody you hate but as opposed to having parents (who will always be your parents and you can’t get rid of) who put you together, you have your company…which you can leave…creating the opposite effect of what a mentor program was meant to accomplish.

Common Pitfalls

1.       Matching people based on years of experience
2.       Matching people based on status in the company
3.       Matching people based on area of expertise

These are great secondary factors for matching people together for mentorship, but if they are the sole basis for matching people, our research has indicated that these relationships have an 18% likelihood of lasting 6 months and being considered both productive and quality by both participants.

Why?

None of these factors consider who the individual is. Mentorship is a relationship-based activity. One’s years of experience, status in the company, or area of expertise say nothing about who an individual is. All it says is what they have accomplished.

If your mentor program matching methodology in only about what somebody has accomplished, your only incentive to both participants is the transactional outcome of achieving that experience, gaining that status, or learning that skill and once that outcome has happened the relationship is over…or if the outcome doesn’t happen within the expected time frame of both participants the relationship fizzle’s out because the participants didn’t get what they were looking for.

Work Orientation is critical to matching people for successful mentor relationships.

Work Orientation is how you view your work. Some people view their work as a job, while some view their work as a career, while others view their work as a calling. Work Orientation is fluid, meaning it can change throughout your life. There is also not a right or wrong Work Orientation.

When Work Orientation is aligned for matching people together for a mentoring relationship, the likelihood that the relationship lasts for 6 months and is considered both productive and quality goes from 18% to 72%. 

The point: what motivates people at work has a huge impact on the advice they give in a workplace mentor program and the insight they want to learn.

If you are interested in learning your Work Orientation, go to https://ambition-in-motion.com/ and complete the 1-minute Work Orientation Assessment and your report will be sent to you.

Fri 31 January 2020
The marketing team is frustrating the engineering team which is frustrating the sales team which is frustrating the customer service team which is frustrating the accounting team…and all of these frustrations frustrate the executive team.

Maybe frustrated is too strong of a word…but the current meeting structure between teams is not working as great as you would like.

You might have thought about the idea of implementing a mentor program to help increase connectivity between teams but thought to yourself “We are growing too quickly and don’t have the time to implement a mentor program.”

This article serves to challenge that notion.

A man was hired to cut down trees. On the first day he cut down 6 trees. On the second day he cut down 5 trees. On the third day he cut down 4 trees. By the end of the week, he was only cutting down one tree per day. He went to his boss and said “I don’t know what is going on with me! I must be getting weaker.” His boss replied, “When was the last time you took the time to sharpen your axe?” The man was confused. He responded “I don’t have time to sharpen my axe. I need to spend my time cutting down trees.”

Implementing a mentor program at your company, especially if it is growing at a fast pace, is like sharpening your axe. 

When a new employee doesn’t build a strong bond with another employee within the first month of starting their role, their likelihood of being retained past 1 year and having a high level of engagement diminishes significantly. 

This relationship is NOT the relationship they have with their direct supervisor.

Why?

Because the relationship between a supervisor and direct report is one of expectation. Both parties have expectations for each other. When two people have expectations for each other, the likelihood for vulnerability between those two people diminishes substantially. When there is no vulnerability, there is no trust. When there is no trust, oxytocin can’t form in our brains and when oxytocin can’t form in our brains, we don’t receive the happiness we feel when we are surrounded by those that we do have oxytocin with.

The point: the bonds that cause people to stay at a company beyond 1 year and be highly engaged at work need to form outside of their boss to direct report relationship. 

It can be with somebody within their own department, but for this article, we will focus on the benefits of matching people together for mentorship across departments and how people with different backgrounds can increase their engagement, productivity, and collaboration at work.

People build strong bonds with each other for mentorship when their Work Orientations align. Work Orientation is the measure of what motivates us at work. Some people are job oriented, some people are career oriented and some people are calling oriented. 

There is a 400% increase in the likelihood of facilitating successful mentor relationships when Work Orientation is aligned.

The reason is because people inherently try to empathize with others when they are in a mentoring relationship. But, when 2 peoples Work Orientations are not aligned, the advice, questions, and insight will not be received in the way the other expects or wants to hear. For example, an issue a career oriented person might face is feeling like they aren’t learning new skills. A job oriented mentor might ask, in their attempt to be empathetic, “Are you getting paid well? Are you getting enough time off? Is your work stressing you out?” The career oriented person might answer yes to the first two questions and no to the last question but still feel unfulfilled because their problem isn’t with pay, time off, or work stress, it is with the lack of opportunities to learn new skills, an issue that might not be considered an issue for a job oriented mentor. 

This is just an example, but in this, both people are left feeling unfulfilled from that mentor experience.

When Work Orientation is aligned, peoples attempts at empathy are more well-received and both parties feel greater connectedness to each other.

What makes Work Orientation so unique is that this measure goes beyond status within the company, years of experience, or area of skill or expertise.

What this means is that people can be matched together across departments, years of experience, or status within the company while still having a high likelihood of having a successful mentor relationship.

In fact, this type of mentorship does an amazing job of creating collaborations between teams. It is difficult for the marketing team to understand what the engineering team is going through which is difficult to understand what the sales team is going through which is difficult to understand what the customer service team is going through (and so on so forth throughout your company). 

By creating mentor bonds between people across departments, you are able to foster relationships that don’t have expectations. This leads to empathy and vulnerability which leads to trust, which leads to oxytocin which leads to greater levels of engagement and collaboration at work. When somebody on the engineering team complains about the marketing team, an engineer who is in a mentoring relationship with somebody on the marketing team can squash that issue and convey what the marketing team is going through as opposed to letting that complaint fester and grow deeper into the minds of the engineers.

Fri 20 September 2019
A couple of years ago when I was interviewing companies, I would ask a similar question in all of my interviews.


Me (in an interview): “So tell me a little about your company’s culture?”


Recruiter: “Great question. We have a very youthful and innovative culture here at                company. We have casual Fridays and an annual philanthropic event that many of our employees participate in called                        .”


Me: (not trying to pry or insult) “ahh, thanks for letting me know.”


What I really wanted to ask was ‘what the heck does that even mean?’ In defense of the recruiter, that is a very difficult question to answer.


To understand why that is a difficult question to answer, let’s dive into what organizational culture is. According to study.com:


“Organizational culture is a system of shared assumptions, values, and beliefs, which governs how people behave in organizations. These shared values have a strong influence on the people in the organization and dictate how they dress, act, and perform their jobs.”


So, according to the recruiter that I interviewed, she kind of answered the question. Although, it didn’t really help me as a college student who at the time had no preconceived notion of what organizational culture was. The recruiter telling me about her youthful and innovative culture tells me that the company is trying to adapt to the changing future. Her telling me about casual Fridays tells me how the employees dress on Fridays and the philanthropic event tells me how some of the employees act during that once a year period when the event is going on.


But what about the shared values, beliefs and assumptions? How am I supposed to create a picture of what a company’s culture is like without this information?


To play devil’s advocate, if people know about casual Fridays, but think that it is a joke or would rather not change their dress routine for one day of the week, how pertinent to the culture of the company are casual Fridays? If there seems to be a trend that the people who participate in this annual philanthropic event get higher bonuses (maybe because the owner, president, or board started this organization or is heavily invested in this organization), is it really optional and (if it is perceived as not optional because those who don’t participate in the philanthropic event tend to not get bonuses) does it really contribute to the culture of the company? If the only reason the recruiter described her company’s culture as youthful and innovative because she recently hired a bunch of recent college graduates and the term “innovative” tends to attract young people, is the culture really energetic and willing to try new things that shape how business is done in the future? These are hypothetical questions, but questions nonetheless that I am still left wondering as a student interviewing a company (that I don’t feel comfortable asking for fear of insulting).


The reason why asking the recruiter what her company’s culture is like is a difficult question is because it is her opinion.


Organizational cultures are not universally good or universally bad for every person. Just because two organizations have the exact same activities (i.e. casual Fridays and philanthropic events) doesn’t mean that those activities are received the same way at each company by the employees. Some employees may hate those types of activities while other employees may love them and an employee’s love or hatred for doing an activity may depend on who they are doing that activity with (i.e. their colleagues).


Just because a company writes on its website their values and beliefs, doesn’t necessarily mean that the employees share them.


When hired, every person enters the hiring company with a set of values and beliefs. That individual has an influence on the overall culture, but will ultimately have to adapt their values and beliefs to that of what already exists at the company. The individual can either fight those values and beliefs by not seeing how their values and beliefs can be fulfilled through the company or they can buy into the culture of the company.


Many employees for a company fall in between these two choices because they have not taken the time to think about their own values and beliefs and how they pertain to the company in which they are working. Many employees accept their job for what it is without acknowledging or appreciating the little things their company may be trying to do to make their work more enjoyable.


Ultimately, it is up to the individual applying for the job or as an employee within the company to decide what the company’s culture is like. It is up to this individual to understand their own values and beliefs and see how those values and beliefs are being fulfilled by the company. If this understanding can be developed by all or at least a majority of the employees within a company, organizational culture can thrive.

Mon 6 April 2020
As remote work grows in popularity, the need for keeping individuals in-tune and engaged in the company culture increases substantially.

Remote work removes many of the inconveniences associated with going into work like commutes and distractions, but it takes away a key component to what makes company culture…connection!

This article serves to show a key way companies can go about maintaining and even improving the level of connectivity between employees as their work location becomes remote.

Before jumping into suggestions on maintaining and growing connectivity of employees as their work location becomes remote, let’s observe how employees connect in an office environment.

In our research on facilitating horizontal mentoring relationships for employees, we have learned that 68% of engaged employees that don’t work remotely believe that there are communication barriers between them and other employees. This is a critical statistic because this shows that even engaged employees feel that they are silo’d off from other employees, even if they work in the same office. 

Reframing this point, most people don’t know what their counterparts in other departments do for their work and the conversations they do have are typically superficial (e.g. sports, weather, fashion, family).

As more people begin to work remotely, this is going to get worse because employees are going to lose the little interaction they do have with each other. All communication is going to be work related and the emotional identity employees have of being a member of the company will soon fade.

Just to be clear, the emotional identity employees have of being a member of the company is the company’s culture! Once that is gone, there is no more culture!

One key to keeping remote employees engaged in the culture of the company is to set aside time for employees to have intentional conversations with each other.

These conversations are not superficial while also not completely about work. These conversations are free from the workplace hierarchy (e.g. title has nothing to do with what is and isn’t shared in these conversations). These conversations provide a platform for employees to share what they are working on with another employee, learn obstacles the other person is facing, ask clarifying questions that they don’t normally ask or get asked, and identify ways to find breakthroughs at work – emotionally, operationally, mentally, or physically.

These relationships create empathy between employees. These relationships breakthrough communication barriers between employees. These relationships build a greater sense of identity employees have with the company. 

This is called horizontal mentorship.

Optimal horizontal mentorship means:

·        Pairing employees together based on shared Work Orientation – or their shared workplace value system.
·        Providing meeting agendas to drive the conversations towards building rapport and being vulnerable.
·        Collecting feedback and learning what tangible outcomes were created every few months from meeting.
·        Switching mentor pairings every 6-12 months to continually build a web of connection between employees.
·        Everyone participating is willing to be open-minded enough to learn from somebody else regardless of their age or experience, willing to ask questions, and willing to share past mistakes.

When horizontal mentorship is implemented optimally, all employees, especially remote employees, feel a greater level of connectivity and identity with their company.
Mon 27 April 2020
When a company implements a new employee-to-employee horizontal mentorship program, this can feel like a big first step towards progress! However, impactful mentorship is not Field of Dreams; just because you built it, it doesn’t mean that employees will see ‘magical’ changes overnight. It takes more than a basic mentorship program to develop engaged employees and achieve the desired goals you have for the mentor program and the company as a whole. 


This article offers my perspective on the importance of semi-structured meeting agendas as a driving force for effective, impactful mentorship, regardless of the personalities of the people participating.


Our conventional wisdom tells us that “if two people are extroverted, they are naturally going to hit it off. Structured meetings will just get in the way of natural conversation!”


This conventional wisdom is wrong.


Extroverts get their energy from being around other people. We expect two extroverted people to have an easy path to conversation, but this doesn’t account for a key issue: how productive is what they are discussing? Is their discussion casual, like sports, weather, or family? Or, is their discussion about the obstacles they are facing at work and having a dialogue about how to make their work more productive and personally fulfilling?


People may be able to gain value from any conversation, true. But, more likely than not, these casual conversations are superficial and not particularly substantive. The reason for this is because people feel comfortable discussing things that they either see on a daily basis or that they don’t have control over but are generally interested in. We are used to these conversation topics. When anyone ever asks, “how are you doing?” it is typically followed by these superficial talking points. 


Casual conversations are low risk, low reward. Few people have revelations when discussing whether the Lakers will make the playoffs. These conversations are comforting and valuable, but they are simply no substitute for challenging discussions and self-reflection. 


On the flip side, deep conversations are rarer for a reason. Talking about work obstacles and challenging your fears about what’s possible in your professional career is uncomfortable! We are forced to be vulnerable. These conversations do drive profound outcomes, but without an agenda keeping people on track, we can unintentionally deviate back to those comfortable, superficial topics.  


Falling back to comfortable conversation isn’t just a risk for extroverted people; introverts can face their own challenges during a mentorship program. One might assume “if two people are introverted, they can figure out a mentor meeting without an agenda. They are professionals and their introversion will make them more comfortable.”


Again, this conventional wisdom falls flat. Ask introverts if they would feel comfortable with this and most will say no. This is typically the assumption extroverted people have about introverted people.


The issue is that the people that are most interested in starting company-wide mentor programs are typically extroverts. Introverts just typically don’t share that same type of self-sustaining drive for more social interaction; they recharge their ‘mental energy’ in different ways. 


But, this doesn’t mean that introverts are disinterested in mentorship!


Instead, when an introvert participates in a mentor program, they might be more likely to have some anxiety or skepticism about meeting somebody they (typically) have minimal interaction with. They need to feel confident and come to the meeting with a plan: How long is the meeting? What are the topics for discussion? How can they be sure that this meeting will be impactful to them? 


Meeting agendas accomplish this goal. Meeting agendas give introverted people the safety net of a plan of action. They know that the discussion will be meaningful, that the conversation won’t be open-ended without a set end time, and that the other person (their mentor) shares this plan.


Implementing a mentor program is a huge first step towards building a stronger, more positive company culture and breaking through communication barriers.


But just having a mentor program doesn’t mean that the company is accomplishing their goals. Improvement takes active effort; the communication barriers and dysfunctional turnover are not going to magically disappear overnight. Employee engagement and positive company culture doesn’t appear by flipping a switch.


Unfortunately, many companies start (and end) these efforts with the idea of “let’s start a mentor program!” and simply call it a day. They might ‘match’ employees, but randomly. They might give suggested topics, but not meeting agendas. Instead of creating an impactful mentorship program for their company, they simply checked another box for their year-end review and assumed the benefits had already materialized. 


Providing mentor meeting agendas is one very important piece of building a strong, thriving employee horizontal mentorship program that connects with every employee, regardless of personality. 



Mon 11 May 2020
Engagement has become a popular metric for measuring satisfaction of employees, productivity, and, to an extent, the health of a company’s culture.
But is engagement a truly accurate metric for measuring satisfaction of employees, productivity, and company culture?
Engagement has clearly shown a correlation to greater productivity and workplace happiness, but how accurate is our method for measuring workplace engagement? Are their leading indicators that might serve as a better metric for how engagement will change?
This article outlines some of the issues with solely measuring engagement and identifies some additional metrics that may provide stronger evidence for when engagement is volatile or calm.
The three issues with only measuring engagement are as follows:
1.Engagement can change in an instant
When an engaged employee becomes disengaged, it is often instigated by one event rather than by some extended sequence of events over time. Most people enter a company excited to get to work and get started, thus are highly engaged. But as they spend more time with the company, they get to know more people and become more accustomed to the workplace. They formulate ideas and expectations about who their coworkers and bosses are and how they are expected to act, and these expectations are compared and contrasted with their own internal compass for how the workplace is expected to operate. 
But, when this new and engaged employee is confronted by someone strongly deviating from the expectations in a negative way, this negative event can muddle their expectations and disengage the employee. 
This is more than simple conjecture; I’ve heard this same story again and again. For example, a friend of mine works at a company where 1 employee (Director) became frustrated at another employee (Accountant) because the accountant consistently asked the director to redo his expense reports. The director’s frustrations stemmed from the fact that it took him 15 minutes to redo the expense reports. In all fairness, there were mistakes, but the director thought that they were immaterial and insignificant.
So, the director goes to other people in his department to share what a pain in the butt it is to redo the expense reports. He subtly inserts his frustrations into conversations to see if anyone else can relate. If somebody bites, they enter a conversation and begin venting their frustrations about the accountant.
The issue is that word travels fast. The accountant learns about these conversations and doesn’t feel comfortable approaching the director with his thoughts or feelings. He is then posed with the question, “does he do his job properly or not because he knows the director is going to complain?”
The accountant learns about his treatment and switches from engaged to disengaged in an afternoon.
2. Work status changes can temporarily impact engagement away from the average
Similarly to starting a new relationship, there is usually a brief ‘honeymoon’ period when taking up a new role or position. Whether it’s a promotion or a new job altogether, taking over new responsibilities feels awesome at first. We feel eager to learn new things, jump on tasks that need to get done, and are open-minded to the feedback we receive.
Within the first 3 months of starting this role, our engagement is artificially elevated because we are “drinking from the firehose”. There are so many amazing opportunities and interesting new responsibilities that it would be difficult to not be engaged.
If a company measures engagement every 6 months or once per year and their survey includes people within those first 3 months of starting a new role, the results are likely skewed positively. If leadership is relying on this information to make informed decisions about how to best manage their team, they are going to be relying on falsely inflated engagement scores which diminishes the need to positively develop the company. Why provide new activities for their employees when engagement is already high when instead, you could double-down on quotas and operational goals and try to squeeze some extra productivity from their “highly engaged” workforce? 
If the engagement numbers are skewed, this type of scenario could put engagement and workplace morale into a tailspin. These artificially engaged employees might become overworked. And when they leave the honeymoon stage and revert back to the mean, their dwindling engagement could reach a critical threshold because leadership pushed when they needed to support. 
3. Daily engagement measures lead to survey fatigue
Some companies may claim they eradicate the first two issues because they measure engagement daily.
However, this approach brings a new problem: survey fatigue. If employees are asked the same questions every single day, they are going to grow accustomed to consistently responding a certain way, regardless of the underlying truth. Instead of capturing their engagement, we are simply building a pointless ritual into every employee’s day: the daily survey that only truly measures how quickly they click the “moderately engaged” button.  
In this case, gathering more data does not mean necessarily gathering better data. The previous two issues, 1) engagement can change in an instant and 2) that work status changes can artificially inflate engagement are very much still a concern. In fact, daily measurements might be worse than 3 or 6 month measurements because the daily habitual answers could override honesty right up until that event that “flips” the engagement switch. 
However, there isn’t all bad news about measuring workplace engagement. As mentioned earlier in this article, there is a direct correlation to productivity and work satisfaction when engagement is high.
There are leading indicators that can help companies better understand whether or not engagement is susceptible to change.
The leading indicators our team has identified are 1) Communication Barriers between employees and 2) Dysfunctional Turnover.
We define communication barriers between employees as the lack of understanding for the obstacles another employee faces, and we define dysfunctional turnover as turnover from employees that do great work and are engaged but are susceptible to leaving because of something going on in the company (e.g. not due to personal events).
Our team has identified that 68% of engaged employees believe that there are communication barriers between themselves and other employees at work. This is critical to understand because it means that people are forming assumptions about others’ work, but only rarely get chances to find out if these assumptions are based in fact. When employees don’t understand the obstacles faced by their coworkers, they form assumptions about what other employees do. These assumptions can create a lack of empathy, and this lack of empathy creates a high susceptibility for them to become disgruntled and disengaged by someone else’s actions in coordination with their assumptions.
If you can understand how many of your employees experience communication barriers at work, you can begin to gauge how quickly engagement might change.
Dysfunctional turnover also involves communication, but as opposed to the focus being on what other people are doing outside of an employee’s control, it involves the communication an employee receives for their specific job function. When employees feel like they are not getting adequate feedback or communication from their boss, they are susceptible to becoming disengaged. Employees are also susceptible to becoming disengaged when they don’t perceive that their colleagues respect the work they do.
Measuring dysfunctional turnover is not the same as measuring the TIS (Turnover Intention Scale) as the TIS asks for feedback on pretty black and white statements like “I don’t envision myself working for this company much longer.” We measure dysfunctional turnover via factors like communication quality with colleagues and bosses during multi-person tasks and their perception of the respect they receive for the work they do.
In essence, engagement metrics do have a lot of value, but measuring engagement only shows where engagement is at now, not where it will be. Measuring leading indicators like communication barriers between employees and dysfunctional turnover can provide a lens into where engagement is going.
 

Fri 1 November 2019
Initial publishing in Forbes.

One of the most important ingredients to career success today is building powerful support relationships with helpful mentors and sponsors. These are individuals with whom you develop mutually-beneficial relationships that can open critical doors for you, offer helpful guidance, and share strategies that will catapult you forward in your life and career.


But just how do we find these mentors and sponsors? I’m asked this question virtually every week by young professionals and seasoned ones as well. I’ve found that there are productive ways to build mentoring relationships, and unsuccessful approaches that fail to generate the results you hope for.


To explore more about this topic, I connected recently with Garrett Mintz who knows a great deal about the life-changing power of mentors. Mintz is the founder of Ambition In Motion which focuses on kickstarting mentorships that help build fulfilling careers. Mintz’s vision is a world where the vast majority of people are excited to go to work and feel that their expectations meet reality when they are at work. His focus is on helping companies build intentional mentor programs within their organizations. Mintz and I recently co-delivered a one-hour training program on How To Network In An Authentic, Genuine Way To Find Great Mentors


Mintz shares below about his own life transformation from teen drug dealer to business founder, and how to build successful mentorship relationships:


Kathy Caprino:
What is Ambition In Motion and why did you found this organization?

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Garrett Mintz:
At Ambition In Motion, we believe that there are two key stakeholders in achieving a mission of fulfilling work for professionals: employers and employees. If we can help employers gain a better understanding of their people and culture and provide them with simple steps on how to manage their people in a way that works with that culture, we can help them increase engagement and retention.


And if we can help employees increase their professional drives and goals throughout their lives, we can put them in the best position to be engaged and fulfilled at work.


Caprino:
How did you get involved in this work? What was your path to this?


Mintz:
I got involved with Ambition In Motion because I recognized that there was a huge problem with the way people view their work that prevents them from experiencing success. When I was a sophomore at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University, I kept noticing so many of my older friends were in prestigious-sounding jobs and were paid really well, but they hated their work. They kept referring to work as “going back to the grind” or that they were “dreading Monday” and I thought to myself, is all of this “success” a façade? Is it impossible for people to be excited about their work?


In addition, I got involved in this direction because I’ve lived personally and witnessed how having mentors in our lives can transform us.


As a bit of backstory, from age 15-19, I engaged in dealing drugs. At the end of my freshman year, I was arrested in an undercover operation by the Indiana University Police Department. I received 5 felony distribution charges and was expelled from school. I had no idea what I was going to do with my life.


Before that experience, I believed that success would come through my attending college, getting good grades, and landing a great job, and somewhere along those lines I would “find myself”. Well, nobody that I had ever known (whom I considered successful) was a drug dealer, so I either had to accept being a failure or redefine my definition of success.


I chose the latter and have never looked back. After getting in trouble, I enrolled in a program called At The Crossroads which exposed me to the power of mentorship, both personally and professionally. I then landed my first internship after sitting next to a man on an airplane who wanted to take a chance on me and hire me (even after hearing about my past) because of the strong impression I made on him.


After completing At The Crossroads, I got extremely lucky. My felonies were dropped to a misdemeanor conviction, I was re-enrolled at Indiana University, and I was accepted to the Kelley School of Business.


I had lost everything but found a way to get back on track, and on the way back I learned that it is all about the journey, not the destination.


My first step on this path to launching Ambition in Motion was facilitating mentorship between students and alumni so then I could help students gain the confidence to challenge their preconceived notions about how they viewed work. I focused on helping them identify, through educating themselves, a new path in which their expectations for fulfilling work could meet reality.


Caprino:
What have you learned from facilitating all of the mentorships that you have? 


Mintz:
First, and probably most surprising, is that there is very little correlation between successful mentorship and career interest alone.


Just to be clear, successful mentorship in my view is where the student and mentor find the relationship productive and successful. The mentorships I connect young people with involve at least three conversations over a three-month period and the individuals often stay in touch after the formal program is over. The student or young professional achieves his/her goal by the end of the period, and overall they find the relationship engaging and mutually beneficial.


So many mentor programs are setup where there is a big list of professionals from which the student is required to choose a mentor. Most students choose people who are in jobs they desire or certainly fields they aspire to enter. The challenge with this approach is that even if your dream job is to be a financial analyst at JP Morgan Chase, and you connect with a financial analyst at JP Morgan Chase to be your mentor, this isn’t a guarantee for successful mentorship.


What I’ve learned is that when you can find a mentor who is aligned with your desired work orientation, the likelihood of a successful mentorship relationship is greater, even when the fields of the mentor and mentee are very different because you both have shared motivations as it pertains to work. 


From our team’s research, work orientation is about how you view work and what you wish to get from it. The three dimensions of work orientation that we’ve uncovered are:


Viewing work as a job:
High focus on how your work can afford you the life you want to live outside of work


Viewing work as a career:
High focus on professional growth


Viewing work as a calling:
High focus on personal/professional mission alignment


Few people are firmly in just one dimension of this spectrum and few people have the same work orientation throughout their lives (because your work orientation can change based on the task you are working on and your stage in life).


We hypothesize that a big reason for less than satisfying results in a mentorship relationship is that mentors are going to mentor based onwhat they would have wanted to know when they were a student. If work orientation is not in alignment between mentor and mentee, it doesn’t really matter if the mentor works at a student’s dream company. The relationship likely isn’t going to work out or deliver successful outcomes for the mentee.


Caprino:
How can we find great mentors, and then become great mentees?


Mintz:
The first step to finding a great mentor is being open to the idea of having a mentor. Getting a mentor doesn’t mean that you are weak or that you are incapable. In fact, it says the opposite. It shows that you have more to learn and that you are open to learning.


Unfortunately, vulnerability gets a bad reputation (I believe the direct translation of vulnerability in sign language means “weak in the knees”), but I would argue that vulnerability is the component that is most likely to attract mentors. People want to see those who have or are facing tough times succeed. It helps others relate and it also goes counter-culture to the notion that “everything has to be going fantastically well when speaking with others.”


This is part of the reason why I share my story of my drug dealing past with people. It makes it easier for others to relate to me. When an individual can see someone who’s dealt with very hard times and found a way to overcome those challenges, that is when the drive for mentorship thrives.


We become great mentees when we nourish these relationships by having regular conversations and continuously sharing our vulnerable spots and our commitment to growing.


Caprino:
Can this information apply beyond mentorship?


Mintz:
Absolutely! In fact, after we started noticing the trend of successful mentorship being tied to aligning work orientation, we thought to ourselves “could this lead to increased retention and engagement at work?” and this is what we are working on now.


If we can help employers gain a better understanding of their people and culture through helping employees identify their desired work orientation, then provide employees with simple steps to manage their people in a way that aligns with their orientation, we can help them increase engagement and retention. And by helping employees gain a deeper understanding of their own professional drives and goals throughout their lives, we can help put them in the best position to be engaged and fulfilled at work.


Caprino:
How have you seen company culture fit in with doing work we love and will thrive in?


Mintz:
Company culture is not ping pong tables and meditation rooms. Company culture is how you experience the work you are doing and the people you are doing it with. When it comes to work orientation, there is not one right or wrong orientation. Some people I have spoken with mention that they only want people on their team who view their work as a “calling.” But I would argue that having a diverse workforce is essential to a thriving company culture.


For example, people who view their work as a calling are typically most resistant to corporate change and people who view their work as a job are most receptive to corporate change. If you understand what motivates your people, you can manage them in ways that make them feel valued.


On the flip side, as employees, if we can feel like our company cares about the things we care about, we are much more likely to be engaged. If you don’t like the way your coworkers, managers and leaders view work, that is probably a sign that it’s time to look for a different employer.


In short, whether it’s in landing great mentors who can support your growth, or pursuing great jobs at organizations you would be excited to join, understand what matters to you most and what you value in terms of fulfilling work, and keep those values a top priority in all you do.


For more information, visit ambition-in-motion.com.

Mon 18 May 2020
I recently wrote an article about the importance of mentorship for executives, and I wanted to write another article specifically about why HR executives should have mentors.


If anybody has ever seen the American version of The Office, they may associate HR with Toby. If you haven’t seen The Office, Toby is a well-intentioned HR professional but is hated by Michael Scott, the branch manager. Their acrimonious relationship is because Michael perceives Toby as the “killer of fun” or put another way, the killer of innovation and new ideas.


We watch the show from Michael’s perspective because he is the boss and the main character, but let’s take a second to put ourselves in Toby’s shoes.


Toby is an HR team of 1 where he has to manage all of the HR functions of the entire branch. If Michael comes up with an inappropriate, or even illegal, idea and Toby doesn’t step in to stop it, the company could get sued and Toby is at fault. For comedic relief, we laugh at the antics and the angst between Michael and Toby. 


But if we put ourselves in Toby’s shoes, I think the dilemma becomes clear. How do we handle novel HR scenarios and issues without having the experience and information necessary to be sure we are choosing the right action? 


After interviewing over 50 HR executives in the past 3 months, I have learned that most companies have more HR projects that their HR team can possibly handle. Their work turns into a process of constantly taking care of what is most pressing right now while deferring an ever-growing list of lower-priority tasks for a later date “when things calm down”.


HR executives must understand what’s going on within their own company while also monitoring other companies to assess how they are doing to see if they are falling behind in any way. 


HR teams can end up isolated from other the broader HR professional network, save for the occasional SHRM conference or HR networking event. This lack of professional connection can be an obstacle to handling all of the work thrown at HR executives. An experienced network of like-minded colleagues can greatly improve your work and can help you avoid the emotional toll of not having somebody you relate and connect that can console you on how to balance the load of everything being thrown at HR executives.


So, why should HR executives have mentors?


1. Learn about what other HR executives are doing


If you are getting your guidance on what innovations you should consider pursuing at your annual SHRM conference or planning organizational changes and innovations years in advance, you are probably reacting to old advice. For example, let’s say you find a promising new Learning Management System at a conference in August. It seems valuable so you bring it up to your HR team in September, and you focus on ironing out all of the kinks in the plan before presenting the idea to the other company leaders. Now it’s December. But, budgets are approved for January in November/December meaning that now you are waiting until the following January for implementation. Now, your innovative idea from 18 months ago is finally being implemented and it’s already a bit out of date. 


With a strong network, a fellow HR executive mentor could have informed you about the Learning Management System back in March. You could have brought the idea up to your team and ironed out the kinks in preparation for the conference in August and been ready to implement it by the initial January. You’ve just cut your time-to-implementation time by half from 18 months to 9. 


2. Expand your network to other HR executives who can relate


When people don’t know each other that well, they have a tendency to only share the good things in their world – e.g. “My company was listed in the top 100 places to work”, or “we have made 30 new hires in the past month and are growing exponentially.” These conversations are pervasive at conferences or networking events. Brag fests and casual banter are fun pleasantries, but no one should mistake these for the deep, meaningful conversations that drive innovation and professional development. 


A fellow HR executive mentor from outside of one’s own company allows you to open up, share, and relate to another executive that shares your mindset, but has their own experiences. These connections, and the vulnerable conversations that occur in these mentorships, make HR executives not only better at their jobs, but most importantly, happier at work. 


3. Get advice on how to handle unfamiliar scenarios


The world changes all of the time. People are not antique toys that can be put in plastic boxes and held in place until they retire. There are actions and reactions that HR executives cannot control, and when uncertain situations strike, you have decisions to make. Here’s the most important decision: do you keep it to yourself and try to handle it alone for fear that asking for advice will make you seem ineffective at your job? 


A fellow HR executive mentor might have faced that type of situation before. At a minimum, they can ask relevant questions and share their thoughts based on what they have experienced before. And at best, they can share their wisdom and help you find the key to solving the problem. 


As an HR executive, you are whom your company turns to when they have an HR question, regardless of whether you know the answer. Mentorship provides HR executives with their own team of informal advisors, and a fellow HR executive mentor makes life easier because they provide balance, insight, and perspective that you cannot find from your current network. 

Mon 1 June 2020
Employee engagement is an extremely valuable metric for understanding your team. Engagement is strongly correlated with productivity, so if you are not measuring your team’s engagement, now is a good time to start. This data can tell you how your team feels about their work, offer potential insight on what you can do to make them more happy and productive, and give you some idea of whether or not your employees are likely to leave the job in the near future.


But, the issue with measuring engagement is that it is a lagging metric. By the time you identify that a certain department or team in your company is becoming disengaged, it is likely far too late. Re-engagement is very difficult; they may already be working on their way out and are unlikely to be willing to give management the benefit of the doubt by putting aside their frustrations. 


The first step towards avoiding fully disengaged employees is determining when they are most susceptible to becoming disengaged.  


We call this measure Engagement Volatility, and we use this to understand when employees are likely to be most significantly affected by a negative event at work.   


Many employees fully support and enjoy the company culture and really do enjoy their jobs. For these employees, it takes a lot to shake their confidence in the company.


There are also other people who may respond favorably to an engagement assessment today, but their beliefs in their work or company aren’t nearly as firm.


High-volatility employees can become disengaged in an instant. Whether from reading an email that seems passive-aggressive, realizing the bonus structure or compensation plan seems unfair or being forced to switch their work project or style, employees with high volatility can quickly become disenchanted with their company when dealing with frustrating events at work. 


My team and I at Ambition In Motion identified two key metrics for determining engagement volatility: communication barriers and dysfunctional turnover intentions.


Communication Barriers


Communication barriers represent the lack of understanding among employees about what other employees do for their work. For example, let’s say that John in accounting frequently must interact with Jane in sales to handle some customer accounts. How well does John actually understand what Jane does? If these two employees don’t understand each other’s work, there are communication barriers that can impact their work relationship, productivity, and engagement volatility.  


Communication barriers don’t necessarily tell us that the two people don’t like each other. It just means that they don’t understand what the other person does for their work and the obstacles they face.


How does this lead to engagement volatility?


Communication barriers force people to formulate assumptions about what other people do. These assumptions then lead to a lack of empathy and understanding, especially during frustrating work events. When a small miscommunication about some work task blows up, this creates an opening for people to become disengaged. It creates an opportunity to feel like they are getting taken advantage of or that the grass could be greener on the other side.


For example, let’s go back to John (accounting) and Jane (sales). John sees that Jane spent $200 on a lunch with a client and thinks to himself, “who spends $200 on a lunch?!?!” He is certain that he could have made that same sale and only spent $100 on lunch, but instead, he has to adjust budgets to fit this extra expense and his frustration grows. By discounting all of the work and skills necessary to be a great salesperson, he begins to assume (likely incorrectly) that he could do her job. This subtle frustration can grow, leading John to bring up Jane’s work ethic in casual conversations with people at the office to learn their thoughts. Once he finds somebody that happens to agree with him, it confirms his belief that he could do her job, and now he feels frustrated that she is getting bonuses and commissions on sales he is certain could have easily made. When Jane, unknowing of John’s frustrations with her, emails John, he responds passive-aggressively. He assumes that Jane knows he is frustrated and considers her lazy and inefficient. Meanwhile, Jane has no clue why his emails have become so strange, and her frustration with her work environment begin to simmer.


And the domino effect goes on and on from there…


Our team identified that 68% of engaged employees still feel communication barriers between themselves and other employees at work (e.g. they feel they don’t understand what other people do for their work). Even engaged, productive employees encounter these frustrating events, and these can lead directly to high engagement volatility. 


Dysfunctional Turnover Intentions


There are 4 types of turnover for employees at work: variable, invariable, functional and dysfunctional. Variable, invariable, and functional turnover are types of uncontrollable turnover. They are based on factors outside of a company’s control – e.g. a spouse getting a job in a different city and the employee moving with their spouse, the employee being bad at their job and getting fired, or an employee receiving an offer for significantly more money from another company and the current employer being unwilling or unable to match the salary. 


Dysfunctional turnover is the type of turnover a company can control. Dysfunctional turnover is based on two key factors: the clarity of their job responsibilities and purpose within the company, and their perceived respect level from their colleagues and supervisor(s).


When employees are unclear about what they are doing or why they are doing it, they are highly susceptible to becoming disengaged because the work becomes purposeless. They have no idea if what they are doing is correct, and they have no idea about how their work plays into the larger picture of the company. Lack of purpose and value at work drags down engagement and productivity.


70% of employees avoid difficult conversations (like asking for clarity on their role or task) with their boss, colleagues, or direct reports, according to a Bravely study. Essentially, people fear or feel uncomfortable asking for clarity. This contributes to their engagement volatility and if the “what” and “why” of their work isn’t clarified quickly, they could become disengaged.


The perception of respect is the other critical factor to dysfunctional turnover intentions. When employees don’t feel respected by their colleagues or supervisor, they will have high engagement volatility. 


The perception of respect is the key. 


To be clear, respect is important, but the effects are not directly based on whether or not colleagues or supervisors actually respect the employee’s work. It is based on whether the employee perceives that their work is respected. If they don’t feel like they are appreciated for their contribution or that the feedback they receive is sincere, they quickly become disengaged.


Solution


One way to better understand your team’s engagement volatility is by sending your team Ambition In Motion Engagement Volatility Assessment. It takes roughly 5 minutes to complete and can provide great insight into your team’s likelihood of becoming disengaged. You can break it down by department so you can better understand if there are some departments that have higher/lower engagement volatility than others.


Once you understand your team’s engagement volatility, you can work towards identifying what steps you should take to ease your team’s volatility and stabilize your employee engagement.


One great way to accomplish this is by implementing a Horizontal Mentorship Program. Horizontal mentorship helps your team break through employee communication barriers, improve clarity of your employees’ roles and responsibilities, and build empathy and respect across your team.

Mon 8 June 2020
A shift is taking place in management. Today, more people are working remotely than ever before. Managers that are (usually) staunchly opposed to letting employees work remotely are being forced to let down their guard and take the chance. But once people are allowed back into the office, will these managers still be open letting their employees work remotely?

 

As we all adjust to these changes in work, this article will help by sharing some tips that professionals can leverage with their supervisors to continue to work remotely, even after things start going back to normal (a term used loosely).

 

The biggest hurdle most managers face when it comes to allowing remote work is trust. Managers may be hesitant to admit it, but they convey this information in their word choice and explanations.

 

For example, I interviewed a professional who commutes 3 hours every day to work. 3 hours every single day! He knows he can be just as productive at home as in the office. But when he brought this up, his manager dismissed the idea, responding, “we allowed one person to work remotely one time and it completely backfired.”

 

Managers that don’t fully trust their employees often cite one-off events they’ve heard from other colleagues to ‘inform’ their decisions for managing their employees. 

 

These divisive, stubborn decisions are based on a limited sample set with a completely different set of people! Why do they do this? Their answer often boils down to fear of “getting burned again”. The simple fact is that people are inherently resistant to change. Until the pain or pressure overcomes this resistance to change, they will continue to choose the familiar path (i.e. inaction) over uncertain outcomes that require action. Their risk-averse approach can lead their direct reports to think that their manager is prioritizing their own comfort over taking a chance to give their employees flexibility. 

 

This is human nature! 

 

The best managers override this natural tendency. Unfortunately for many people, their manager may not share this open-minded approach to work.

 

Here are some tips for building trust with your manager so you can eventually stake a claim that you deserve to work remotely.

 

Be open about your obstacles

 

Vulnerability is a powerful way to build trust with your manager. If your goal is to work remotely full-time (except when necessary) but your manager opposes it, be open about the obstacles you will face working from home. Let’s be fair: these choices do have potential downsides. An honest assessment is a powerful tool for tempering your manager’s fears. If your pitch pretends there are zero downsides to remote work, you will be leaving the manager forced to come up with their own assessment of downsides because we all know that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  

 

They will begin making assumptions about your capabilities and how working remotely will affect your productivity. And if they started out skeptical, their assumptions are going to draw from this pessimistic outlook and distort reality, thus dashing your hopes of remote work.

 

By being open about the obstacles you face working remotely, you build trust. You work together with your manager to brainstorm what the obstacles are and how you can overcome those obstacles. You empower your manager to be on your team and empathize with you. You flip the script and the manager becomes a teammate instead of the barrier between you and your goal.

 

Pro tip: Dr. Robert Cialdini in his book Pre-suasion discusses the best way to deliver obstacles. He mentions that if you are going to deliver an obstacle or a weakness, that you should follow it with the terms “but”, “yet”, or “however” followed by reasons you can overcome that obstacle or weakness. From a psychological perspective, it forces the listener to focus on the last thing you said, not the obstacle itself. For example, “Working at home will definitely have distractions like the television, but I have turned my second bedroom into an office strictly for work and that will help me separate me from the rest of the distractions in my house.”

 

Share your motivations

 

Why are you interested in working remotely? If you don’t share this, they may assume that you are up to no good. I learned some insight from a body language expert that I believe is relevant to this situation: you build trust with your hands. If somebody can’t see your hands (e.g. one was behind your back), the biological and instinctual assumption is that the hand is hidden for nefarious purposes. 

 

When you don’t show your hands, or in this case, the motivations behind why you want to work remotely, the natural assumption a manager may have is that you hid them for a reason. 

 

Everyone has reasons for the actions they take, even if they aren’t immediately apparent. Showing that your motivations are reasonable and sensible is critical to your manager being open to supporting your goal of working from home. 

 

A quick note on this, your motivations should be mutually related. If we look at the example earlier in the article about the guy commuting 3 hours every day for work, that reason alone will probably not move the needle for a manager. The reason is that it only provides benefits to you and not to your manager. Instead, if you can say that you could work more effectively and be even more productive, but that the 3-hour commute can drain your energy. This provides a clear, mutual benefit to the manager – greater productivity from their employees.   

 

 Create fail-safes 

 

Fail-safes are self-imposed regulatory guidelines for you to follow while working remotely. These provide indicators showing how productivity has changed compared to working at the office. Fail-safes provide your manager a clear metric they can use to decide whether to pull you back in. The manager’s fear is that if she allows you to work from home and your productivity falls then it will be difficult to have that conversation with you. This difficulty could lead to you getting fired or quitting, which your manager definitely does not want to have happen. 

 

Fail-safes allow your manager to look at the data, consider your output and self-imposed guidelines, and make a case for whether remote work is effective without letting their emotions or biases influence the decision. It is just data; either you hit your goals, or you didn’t.

 

Part of these fail-safes should incorporate the communal component of being physically present at the office. Some managers may not be concerned about your productivity but instead are concerned by the impact it may have on the team dynamic and company culture. One of your fail-safes should address how you will schedule regular, frequent conversations with colleagues, both in and outside of your department. These conversations should be about the obstacles that you and your colleagues are facing without being explicitly work-related. These types of conversations are the foundation of horizontal mentorship, and you would be creating your own network of horizontal mentor relationships within your company.

 

Ultimately, you may find out that working remotely doesn’t work for you. But for some people, it makes a massive difference on their productivity and their emotional health. If you follow these 3 steps, you should be able to make a strong case for why you should be allowed to work remotely.

Mon 13 July 2020
As a leader, your goal is to empower your people to operate optimally and enjoy the work they are doing. One key skill for achieving that goal is the ability to promote active listening and communication among your team

In the past, managers tried to get their teams to listen by micromanaging, providing constant reminders, and having frequent check-ins. All of these nit-picky activities cost time and energy for everyone involved.

As it turns out, it really doesn’t pay off. Instead, they ended up with a culture of mindless rule-following and stymied innovation. Those cultures are predicated on “what has always been done in the past.”

In these scenarios, leaders stress out because they perceive their teams’ lack of performance as a lack of listening, both to leadership and to each other. However, what happens, in reality, is that the culture of “do what I say” creates employees that are trained to not speak openly about problems and solutions with the team when the boss doesn’t allow it. It’s not that they can’t think on their own; they choose not to for fear of rejection or repercussions. 

How can you tell if you are building this type of repressive team culture?

Ask yourself, how often do your people challenge your ideas? Do they ever question you face-to-face?

If the answer is minimally or never, you are building a culture that stymies listening and communication, and subsequently, leads to loss of innovative thinking on your team. 

If this sounds like your team, fear not! You are not stuck in this position forever! You can start making progress today on improving your team’s cohesion, listening skills, and innovation. 

Humans are social animals by nature. That makes us perceptive, and we react to what we are sensing from the people we are around, even if we don’t consciously acknowledge it. 

We can learn from other highly social animals as well. For example, a few weeks ago my dog Sunni was recently attacked by another dog. 

After getting attacked, my fiancé, understandably, was nervous taking Sunni to the dog park. While my fiancé wanted Sunni to play and exercise at the park, Sunni seemed too anxious and refused to get more than a few feet away from her. Sunni could sense her nerves and blatantly disobeyed her requests for Sunni to go and play. Even though Sunni could probably tell my fiancé was saying to go play, she picked up on her owner’s anxiety and chose to ignore the commands and stay close.

The point is that just like Sunni picks up on her owner’s feelings and responds accordingly, your people will pick up on your feelings and respond to those, even if what you are saying is different.

Unfortunately, you can’t just order your people to “come up with innovative ideas” or ask them to start questioning your decisions. Feelings and body language are much more powerful than words. If your people don’t sense you are being authentic when you ask to have a more open, inclusive, innovative, and attentive culture, the message will fall on deaf ears.

Your people can tell when you are stressed out, and your stress doesn’t make them work any faster or better. In fact, it is likely to make them worse because, as a leader, your stress is shared with the team. Your people may not respond or act the way you want them to because their fear of stressing you out even more, all of which creates a feedback loop chock full of stressed-out bosses, unproductive employees, communication barriers…which unsurprisingly makes you more stressed.

The best remedy for this is vulnerability

Share with them what is on your mind and what concerns you may have. Nine times out of ten, fear of the unknown outweighs the fear of the known. When you keep it to yourself, and your people sense you are stressed, they will come up with their own thoughts on what might be stressing you out, which is its own novel source of stress.  

When you make your concerns and stressors known, you invite others to empathize with you and help you rally around the problem at hand. 

If you are vulnerable with your people, they are much more likely to reciprocate and be open with you. Your understanding of their challenges will help you build empathy for their work. 

Eventually, your people will build a greater understanding of why you are saying what you are saying and more willing to ask you questions if they are confused. Empathetic, effective communication is the key to building a strong team, and vulnerability will help you build trust and listening skills all across your team.

Mon 20 July 2020
Change in your business is inevitable.

Whether impetus for change is internal like a new business insight that causes you to move in a new direction, or external like a global pandemic that forces you to rethink the way you do business, change always happens.

As a leader for your business, you may find that adapting to change seems easier for you than it is for your people. This could be due to you having a higher risk tolerance than your staff or that you were part of the decision for the change while your people are asked to follow along after hearing about it from you or somebody else second-hand.

Regardless, the key point is that change happens and some people will handle it better than others. While this process can be tough, what is important is that the people that are able to change with you, will also be able to grow with you.

According to ClearRock Inc, 70% of change initiatives fail to achieve their basic goals. 

However, if you can get the right people around you, people that are willing and able to change with you and be happy about it, you are significantly more likely to successfully navigate this change.

This article sheds light on an effective way to enact change in your company while maintaining culture.

In 2003, Evan Williams sold blogger.com to Google. Blogger was one of the first dedicated websites for what we know as the blog today.

By 2004, Evan was already cooking up new plans and finding ways to change the game. He asked, “What if we could implement blogs, but with audio?” and began working. He called this new company Odeo. 

This was a brand new medium for media consumption and Evan thought he had another big opportunity on his hands. But in 2005, something big happened that would change his world forever.

In 2005, Apple decided that they were going to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into a new form of media that was strikingly similar to audio blogs. This surprised Evan Williams because at this moment, these “audio blogs” as Evan referred to them barely had any traction.

Apple called this component of their business “podcasts”. 

While Odeo started garnering some traction, it was definitely not a market leader and when Apple flooded the market with podcasts, Odeo was left to fend for the scraps.

Suddenly time was running out for Evan. He was backed into a corner, hemorrhaging funds and rapidly approaching a decision he was loath to consider: closing the company. That’s when he made the bold decision to do something interesting.

Evan decided to be vulnerable.

As opposed to telling his team that everything would be okay and to keep pushing in the direction he knew was a losing battle, Evan was open and honest.

As opposed to just him and his executive team determining what to do next, he involved his entire team to be a part of the solution. 

Their initial idea was to have a hackathon where all of their employees could work individually or in small groups to come up with ideas about how they could pivot and transition. The hackathon was a success and they were able to scrape some good ideas from the event (alongside some team-building for good measure). 

Two of Evan’s employees, Biz Stone and Jack Dorsey, came up with this idea leveraging their prior experience with Evan at Blogger. As opposed to long, free-form blogs meant for longer reads, what about a blogging site built around short text snippets that people could skim? 

As they began testing the idea, it took off in popularity. They were able to get famous celebrities on the site by providing a way for these celebrities to get their message out to a wide audience without the barriers of traditional media. 

This hackathon idea became what we know today as Twitter.

Evan Williams was able to transition the majority of his Odeo team to fully focus on Twitter. He successfully accomplished this because he was vulnerable with his team and allowed them to be a part of the decision-making process, thus ensuring that every member of his team had buy-in for the tough work ahead. 

To recap: 

·        Change is inevitable
·        Effectively implementing change is hard
·        Some people handle change better than others
·        To maintain your culture through the change, be vulnerable with your team
·        And include your people in the decision-making process

Coming to this conclusion isn’t easy. As a leader, it requires admitting that you may have made a mistake and that you may not know the best path forward. Having a fellow executive mentor can help unlock your vulnerability and improve your performance as a leader. Executive Mentorship isn’t a group of executives meeting afterhours to discuss work and it’s not coaching either. An executive mentoring relationship is a 1-on-1 relationship with another executive who can relate to your situation, help you understand your weaknesses, and provide a safe space for you to be vulnerable.

Thu 20 August 2020
As a business leader, you are expected to be many things, but being a mind reader is not in your job description. You are not expected to know what is going on with your people at all times of the day and what’s going on in their heads from day-to-day.

But you are expected to have at least some sense of what your people are going through and how they are generally feeling about it. When you are out of touch and out of sync with your team, you risk losing your best people and not having any clue as to why or how you could have fixed things.

You may think to yourself “I know what is going on with my team and don’t need any help with this.”

The data suggests that this is most likely not true.

My team and I at Ambition In Motion facilitate mentor programs for companies and organizations to help improve their team’s communication. One of the key findings we have discovered is that 68% of engaged employees believe that there are communication barriers between themselves and other employees or departments at work – this issue affects everyone, including senior leaders and managers, and there are even greater reports of communication barriers from disengaged employees.

The point is this: if you are a senior leader at a company or a business owner, look around at the people you work with. Which of them do you think are engaged versus disengaged? The answer may surprise you.

If you think everyone is engaged, the chances are that you are mistaken (unless it is a one-person business). If you know people are disengaged and do nothing about increasing engagement, why risk letting those disengaged feelings grow stronger?

The data from Gallup clearly shows that disengaged employees are half as productive compared to engaged employees. That’s doubling your losses on lost time. Shoot, even if you increase engagement by a small amount, that could lead to a 20% increase in productivity from those that are disengaged.

This article is not meant to point out how blind you are in terms of your people. But it is meant to open your eyes a little bit and showcase one low-cost high-reward action you can begin doing today that will help you avoid your best people leaving.

And by the way, I am not immune to these mistakes either. I had to learn these lessons the hard way.

To showcase this, I will share the story of the first full-time hire I made. The first full-time hire I made was a brilliant developer who was getting his PhD in complex systems. He was the president of the technology entrepreneurship club at his university, and he and I had a prior relationship before I hired him. He also came highly recommended by multiple professors and previous employers. In short, he was a fantastic addition to the team. 

He also told me that he was leaving his PhD program because he didn’t like his advisor and wanted to join a startup (like Ambition In Motion).

The hire seemed like a perfect fit and when we first started, we made some incredible progress on our technology.  

Things were going smoothly until about 6 months in. I was noticing that he was getting less work done, so I asked him about it. He acknowledged my request and said that he would improve and so I took his word at face value instead of digging deeper. 

What he didn’t tell me was that he didn’t actually end up leaving his PhD program. He had a change of heart and didn’t want to let me down by telling me. So he held it back thinking that he could manage both at the same time.  

Eventually, we had a discussion and he told me. Fortunately, he recommended a friend that was helping with the code and we brought him on to pick up my original developer’s lost production.

My issue was that I had no idea what was going on with my lead developer. I initially felt betrayed; it just hurt a bit knowing that he didn’t feel comfortable sharing this big decision with me. If you are a seasoned executive, you might think that it was naive of me to not require a formal letter indicating he had left his PhD program. That might have alleviated that issue, but it also would have completely warped the trust we were developing at the beginning of the relationship. And more likely than not, another issue would have come up down the line and a similar result would have occurred.

I eventually realized it was my fault. Not that I didn’t ask my original developer for a formal letter declaring he was fully on-board, but that I never asked about him and what was going on with his world. And because I didn’t ask about him, we had fewer opportunities for him to dig deeper with me. We can point fingers and try to allocate responsibility all we want, but we can only control our own actions here and I should have done more.

After facilitating thousands of mentoring relationships, I have learned that the key to building trust is vulnerability and I believe that this holds true in work relationships as well.

When I was onboarding this new developer, I decided to do something different. At the end of all of our weekly one-on-one meetings, I schedule 10 minutes for vulnerability where both of us share something that is making us feel vulnerable that week. 

The result: we have been working together for over 2.5 years and have an incredible relationship. As a startup, we have made huge pivots, performed massive rewrites on our code, adapted our business model, and overall have really gone through some stressful situations. But, in the end, I still feel extremely in-tune with what is going on with his world and I think he feels extremely in-tune with what is going on with mine. Oh, and on a quick final note, we’ve never met in-person. 

I schedule these vulnerability exercises with everyone on my team during our one on one meetings, and so far, I haven’t had anyone quit since I started doing them (knock on wood!). However, I have had many hard conversations with people on my team and helped brainstorm solutions for tough problems so my team can live the life they want to live while also getting the work they need to get done accomplished. 

Prior to scheduling these vulnerability exercises, I rarely had these kinds of hard conversations. And that led to everyone on my team pretty much just telling me what they thought I wanted to hear. That works right up until they quit and I was left questioning what went wrong.

I am not saying I know everything about managing people, but I can definitely say that scheduling time for vulnerability in one on one meetings has had a massive impact on retention and productivity of my team. 

You may think to yourself that this can’t scale. And for you, it can’t. But if you integrate this technique across your whole team during their own meetings, it absolutely can. You can facilitate horizontal mentoring relationships between your employees and they can practice this technique in their one on one meetings. However, for this to happen, you must set the tone at the top and be willing to be vulnerable yourself.

Overall, if you want to avoid your best people leaving, be vulnerable with them and encourage them to be vulnerable with you. If you don’t know what’s going on with your team, you are missing opportunities to build deep, meaningful, and productive relationships.

Building Mentor Connections Through Work Orientation

Kickstarting Mentorships For Fulfilling Careers