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.

Sat 23 January 2021
The goal of a 360-degree assessment is to identify blind spots and vulnerabilities in your professional skillset. By getting feedback from your colleagues and comparing their perspectives to your self-assessment, you can get a deeper understanding of your work performance. 

There are generally 3 outcomes from a 360-degree assessment: 1) somebody has underestimated their abilities, 2) somebody has overestimated their abilities, or 3) somebody is self-aware about their abilities. There are ten other articles addressing the two other possible outcomes of a 360-Degree Assessment available here:

Self-Aware - People Management, Innovation, Leadership Ability, Communication Skills, and Financial Management

Overestimating -  People Management, Innovation, Leadership Ability, Communication Skills, and Financial Management

Understanding Underestimating your Abilities for 360-Degree Assessments

When somebody has underestimated their abilities, they are essentially giving themselves a lower score for whatever category is being measured compared to their colleagues’ score of them. At first glance, this may seem like a positive thing: “If my colleagues believe that I’m better than my self-assessed performance, then I must be doing pretty well!” This is partially true, but this article will shed light and provide examples of how underestimating your abilities can be an opportunity for improvement.

When my team and I at Ambition In Motion facilitate mentorship programs, we also include our 360-Degree Assessment (and its report) to each participant. We’ve found that our members use these insights to reveal the areas most in need of improvement. This has helped members identify the best course for professional growth and helps provide a major launching pad for helping them open up and be vulnerable in their mentor relationships.

The 5 core areas we measure in our 360-degree assessment are People Management, Innovation, Leadership Ability, Communication Skills, and Financial Management.

This article is one in a series of articles focused on why underestimating one's score on a 360-degree assessment report based on the 5 core areas listed in the paragraph above is not necessarily advantageous for one’s career.


Innovation is a critical skill to possess in any working environment, even (and probably especially) if your role requires you to follow strict protocols and procedures. Innovation stretches across one’s willingness to pursue new activities or actions that can drive different results, ability to incorporate others in the innovation process, and propensity to challenge conventional thinking.

If you gave yourself a lower score on your ability to innovate than your colleagues then that could indicate a lack of confidence, a lack of communication, or lack of feedback.

Lack of confidence

When people rate themselves lower than their colleagues in their innovation, it might be because they feel that they just aren’t innovative. For example, one of the colleagues I worked with in the past frequently said things like “I’m not techy” and “I’m not innovative”. This left me a bit surprised because, from my perspective, her innovative approach to our workplace was self-evident! Before working with us, she was a stay-at-home mom who volunteered with multiple nonprofits and taught yoga, and in her mind, she just assumed that people like her weren’t innovative and that’s just how it goes. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Shoot, the reason why our 360-degree assessments and associated reports have improved so much since we first started providing them is that she was willing to challenge the status quo, ask tough questions, and pursue useful solutions. The point is that oftentimes we underestimate our ability to innovate because we are conditioned to believe that our backstory or the role we are in isn’t conducive to innovation; this simply isn’t an accurate assessment of our own potential. If our colleagues believe we are innovative–more innovative than we believe ourselves to be–then clearly, we are doing something right and our colleagues see something in us that we may not see in ourselves.

Lack of communication/feedback

The other reason why people rate themselves lower than their colleagues in their innovation is because of a lack of good communication or feedback. Essentially, they simply have no idea that what they are doing is innovative, or that their work helping others in the business has led to consistent improvements. When people don’t have an understanding of why their actions were helpful to another person or a client, it can be difficult to comprehend whether or not one’s actions are innovative.

A few solutions to help close the gap in one’s innovation is to journal and write down all the new and different things you have tried over the past year (even if they didn’t work). You must give yourself credit just for trying because trying something new (even in failure) is an act of innovation. Give yourself permission to keep trying new things, even if you can’t fully predict their impact (and oftentimes no news is positive news!).


The eternal counter-argument to this is “I just set the bar really high and I feel like I am not where I would like to be in this area.” If that is the case, then you are not effectively communicating your standards to those you work with. If your colleagues don’t know your standards, then they can’t properly assess your abilities in relation to those standards.  

Overall, the goal of a 360-degree assessment and report is to identify the gaps and blindspots one may have so then they can improve their performance. The goal is to be self-aware, thus enabling you to work towards excellence in each area. Underestimating your performance might feel good at first because it shows others think highly of you, but continually failing to meet your own expectations means that you risk burning out or losing engagement. So, try being honest with yourself and setting honest goals. Professional growth is a slow process that takes dedication, consistency, and honesty, but by following the path, we are all capable of becoming our best selves.

Fri 29 January 2021
A 360-degree assessment is a unique survey that uses input from self-assessment and from colleagues’ assessments to understand a professional’s strengths, weaknesses, and blind spots. By gathering feedback from your colleagues alongside your own perspective on those same questions, we can get a deeper look at how your self-perception compares to the way your colleagues see you. 

With this data, we can break down the results of a 360-Degree Assessment into three outcomes: 

1) Somebody has underestimated their abilities (self-rating lower than colleagues’ ratings), 

2) Somebody has overestimated their abilities (self-rating higher than colleagues’), 
 3) Somebody is self-aware about their abilities (self-rating matches colleagues’).

This article is going to address some possible problems and solutions that might arise for people who are self-aware of their abilities. This article is part of a series I’m writing about Ambition In Motion’s 360-Degree Assessments and how their results should be interpreted. There are ten other articles addressing the two other possible outcomes of a 360-Degree Assessment available here:

Overestimating - People Management, Innovation, Leadership Ability, Communication Skills, and Financial Management 

Understanding Self-Awareness for 360-Degree Assessments

When somebody is self-aware about their abilities, this means that they gave themselves a similar score as the score their colleagues provided on the same skill. 

Initially, self-awareness may seem to be a cut-and-dry positive outcome but looking a bit deeper reveals some potential issues. After all, the goal of a 360-degree assessment is to identify blind spots and close the gaps between one’s self-perception and the perception of their colleagues. However, we find that there are opportunities for growth within a self-aware 360-degree assessment report and this article will review those opportunities.

At Ambition In Motion, our 360-Degree Assessment has 5 core components: 

a.                People Management
b.                Innovation, 
c.                Leadership Ability
d.                Communication Skills, and 
e.                Financial Management.

While self-awareness is likely the best outcome relative to the other two possibilities, I’m next going to explain how you can leverage self-awareness to grow as a professional and identify blind spots in your professional perspective. I’m going to show why self-awareness on your 360-Degree Assessment is more than just a pat on the back, even if you and your colleagues share similar views on your performance. 


Innovation is a critical skill to possess in any working environment, even (and probably especially) if your role requires you to follow strict protocols and procedures. Innovation stretches across one’s willingness to pursue new activities or actions that can drive different results, ability to incorporate others in the innovation process, and propensity to challenge conventional thinking.

If your score was self-aware with your colleagues, it can mean that you gave yourself a high score and your colleagues agreed or you gave yourself a low score and your colleagues agreed.

Self-Awareness but poor performance

Innovation is an interesting component to work with because there is a relatively wide gap between being innovative and others knowing that you are innovative.

The reason for this is because innovation is time-intensive, difficult, and requires persistence. And to put it simply, not everyone is willing to put in the work needed to innovate.

For this reason, if we choose to stick with a problem and try to identify a better solution, sometimes we can ostracize ourselves from others because we may fear that they won’t be as motivated as we are to focus on identifying the solution. 

If this is the case, others have no idea that what we are doing is innovative.

Another common characteristic of those that are innovative is humility. Innovation is a never-ending pursuit. Because of that, many people who are innovative at heart will rate themselves low on innovation. Instead, they may focus more on where they want to be rather than where they are now.

You may be on the other side of this coin where you actually don’t believe you are innovative. You might think that you don’t invest the time, hard work, and persistence necessary to come up with innovative solutions at work. This could be because of lack of opportunity, lack of knowing what to do, or just lack of interest.

If you lack interest in being innovative, there probably isn’t much here that is of interest to you. And that could be totally fine because some roles don’t require constant innovation. Instead, these types of roles demand consistency and perfection for crucial, yet repetitive, tasks. And this type of work can allow the person to live the life they want to live outside of work and not have to invest their limited time on the next big breakthrough.

But if you feel like you lack opportunities or are unsure of what to do, becoming more innovative starts with you putting in the effort. Take a moment to jot down all the components of your work that frustrate you or your colleagues. Imagine an ideal world where your boss immediately implements your ideas and gives you the budget to follow through – how would you alleviate those frustrations? Once you have identified the ideal version of the solution, take a step closer to reality and think about how that idea or an idea similar to that idea and achieves a similar result could be done on a minimal budget. Once you have identified the minimal budget idea that would minimize frustrations, take one more step closer and think about how that idea could be implemented in a way that has minimum impact on the way your team or boss does their work. Finally, now comes the part where you must take a chance: testing out your idea. You should (usually) ask your boss for permission if you feel it is required, but the dirty little secret here is that the preferred method is just taking the plunge and going for it. Most change initiatives are met with reflexive resistance, and sometimes you will need to be decisive to innovate. If it works you are a hero and if it doesn’t, what is the worst that could happen? If you think the worst thing that could happen is really bad - like getting fired or hurting somebody, ask for permission. But if the worst that could happen is a lecture about why you shouldn’t have done that, I would give it a shot.

Once you start getting into the practice of innovating, invite others to join you in the innovation process. By including others, you empower them to be innovative and build upon your shared experience and perspective, reducing the chance that a blind spot will turn your innovative ideas into creative disasters. As an additional benefit, humans are social creatures, and collaboration makes the team more supportive of innovative thinking.

One example of this was when I studied abroad in China. I have always been fascinated by business and entrepreneurship and I loved (and still love) to discuss entrepreneurship with my friends (and really anyone who was willing to engage with me in conversation). Many of my friends that I studied abroad with in China had wealthy parents who had expat friends living in China. My friends knew that these expat friends were going to talk about business and entrepreneurship when they took them out for dinners. So, when my friends attended those dinners with these expat venture capitalists and entrepreneurs, I was the friend they invited to tag along because they knew that I would chat about entrepreneurship with them. 

The point of this story is that what you put out you receive back (law of attraction). If you put out that you are interested in innovating on components of work that are frustrating, others will approach you to innovate AND consider you a more innovative person.

Self-Awareness and high performance

If you gave yourself a relatively high score for your innovation and your colleagues agreed with you, that is great, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that there isn’t room for growth.

People can only base their perception of somebody or something based on what they have already experienced. If they are used to work styles that aren’t conducive to innovation, they might have an overly generous view of your own innovativeness. That is not to say that your actions aren’t innovative, but it does mean that you should question and challenge yourself to see if you can be more innovative.

Innovation is not a destiny, it is a journey. To convey this point, I like a story Tony Robbins has shared. Tony Robbins is a popular motivational speaker and at one of his events, one of his attendees mentioned to him “In 3 years, I am going to be where you are at!”

Tony’s response was “That may be true, but when that time comes you will be where I was 3 years ago!”

Overall, having a self-aware response on your 360-degree assessment report isn’t a free pass to give in to stagnation. It simply shows that you and your colleagues are on the same page. But, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for improvement. The implications from having a self-aware score are not wholly positive or wholly negative. Instead, it is a snapshot of your current performance which can help you make informed decisions about where you need improvement. As long as you possess an open-mindedness about making improvements and are willing to measure whether the new changes worked, you can ensure that you are on a positive track towards continual growth and improvement.

Sat 20 February 2021
A 360-degree assessment helps you understand your professional performance by having both you and your colleagues assess your abilities across several key skills. 

The goal of a 360-degree assessment is to identify blind spots and vulnerabilities in your professional skillset. By getting feedback from your colleagues and comparing their perspectives to your self-assessment, you can get a deeper understanding of your work performance.  

There are generally 3 outcomes from a 360-degree assessment: 1) somebody has underestimated their abilities, 2) somebody has overestimated their abilities, or 3) somebody is self-aware about their abilities. 

This article is going to address some possible problems and solutions that might arise for people who have overestimated their abilities. This article is part of a series I’m writing about Ambition In Motion’s 360-Degree Assessments and how their results should be interpreted. There are ten other articles addressing the two other possible outcomes of a 360-Degree Assessment available here:

When somebody has overestimated their abilities, they are essentially giving themselves a greater score for whatever category is being measured compared to their colleagues’ scores of them.

At first glance, this can sting because you are essentially learning that your perception of yourself is greater than your colleagues' perception of you which may cause one to think “I must not be as good as I think I am” or “My colleagues must not realize all of the things I do to be strong in this area.”

For most people, the answer is somewhere in the middle. 

When my team and I at Ambition In Motion facilitate mentorship programs, we also include a 360-Degree Assessment and report to each participant. We do this for two reasons: 1) these reports can help reveal opportunities for growth in one’s professional skill set, and 2) deep self-reflection is a major launching pad for fostering vulnerability in a mentor relationship. These two components are crucial to developing strong, valuable mentor relationships. 

The 5 core areas we measure in our 360-Degree Assessment are: People Management, Innovation, Leadership Ability, Communication Skills, and Financial Management.

Next, I’ll explain the significance of each of these categories, and then suggest ways that someone can learn after finding out they are overestimating their abilities in each category. This should be an opportunity for growth and understanding, not a time to be defensive and stubborn.


Innovation is a critical skill to possess in any working environment, even (and probably especially) if your role requires you to follow strict protocols and procedures. Innovation stretches across one’s willingness to pursue new activities or actions that can drive different results, ability to incorporate others in the innovation process, and propensity to challenge conventional thinking.

If you have overestimated your innovation score, that means that either you gave yourself a moderate innovation score and your colleagues gave you a low score or you gave yourself a high score and your colleagues gave a low to moderate score.

You gave yourself a moderate score

You may think that your work doesn’t require you to be all that innovative. You gave yourself a moderate score because perhaps you think you do your work adequately and that you try about as many new things as anyone else at work does. 

What you might not have realized was that your colleagues don’t view you as someone willing to try new things or take an innovative approach to your work.

They may perceive you as somebody who is comfortable and either unwilling or disinterested in pushing the envelope because of that comfort. However, comfort is the enemy of innovation. All things considered, it’s pretty tough to maintain that comfort and also focus on making important changes at the same time. Innovation requires being willing to try something new at the expense of comfort now.

As humans, we constantly seek comfort and our ability to innovate allows us to be more comfortable.

But comfort also leads to boredom, stagnation, and eventual decline.

By conveying to your colleagues that you aren’t innovative, you are communicating that you aren’t willing to try something new today so you can be more comfortable in the future. In this case, that future comfort could mean that your team has finally mastered a new tool that takes care of their most tedious tasks, or it could mean that a bold company culture initiative finally begins showing its positive effects after a rocky start. 

Instead, you are communicating that you are going to ride out this comfort wave until you retire, or until you become uncomfortable (e.g. you get fired, your company declines in business, or you quit because of boredom). 

The issue with communicating this to others is that you are inadvertently contributing to a stale, uninspired culture. If you are riding out this comfort wave, others may think “I am going to ride out this comfort wave too.” And once everyone at your company is too comfortable, eventually, another company that is willing to innovate is going to come along and run you out of business (e.g. Blockbuster) forcing you to be uncomfortable and have to start innovating again.

Essentially, I am writing that by neglecting your ability to innovate, you are being a freeloader on your company’s culture. You also aren’t exercising your “innovation muscles”, which leaves you less equipped to handle an uncomfortable situation when it presents itself. 

This even makes sense from a pure self-preservation perspective, even if you don’t care about making work more interesting or being better at your job. You should want to be more innovative at work because it encourages others to follow suit (and not be freeloaders themselves). This allows you to preserve the level of comfort you have with your job (because ideally, every person is pursuing some semblance of innovation at work), and also allows you to flex your “innovation muscles” and be prepared for the inevitable uncomfortable situations that will arise. It is really difficult to predict getting fired or facing a business decline (otherwise you might “pull a hammy” and go unemployed for over a year because your work and skill set has become obsolete).

You gave yourself a high score

If you gave yourself a high score for your innovation, but your colleagues gave you a low or moderate score, this almost always stems from a lack of effective communication.

People who are innovative tend to innovate on their own. Sometimes this is because a lack of trust (e.g. I don’t want others to find out what I am working on or I don’t trust that others will work as hard as me so I don’t share with them) or a lack of confidence with failure (e.g. if I tell people and it fails, people will think negatively of me).

If it is a lack of trust, why is that? Sometimes it requires some soul-searching and reflecting on some scars to get down to the root of this lack of trust. You could have been burned in the past by people that you relied on that didn’t come through for you. Or you could have had ideas stolen and others taking credit for your plans.

Once you have identified the reason for this lack of trust, ask yourself, have the people you are working with currently done anything to cause you to not trust them?

If the answer is no, then it is critical to separate those past scars from the current opportunity of people you get to work with.

The reason this is so critical is that people like being included in innovative processes. Your current circumstances are different from the past, and you need to be fair to the people around you. People like being included in the innovation process because innovating is like a super-fertilizer for fostering a feeling of purpose at work. There is this notion called the “IKEA Affect” in which people feel much more connected to the furniture that they build (like most of the furniture from IKEA) than the furniture that comes pre-made. When people feel part of an innovation process, they are much more likely to support the idea’s success and find greater satisfaction within their own work because they have found a new application of their skills and perspective. Finally, this also lets others know that you are somebody they can approach when they have an innovative idea or want to try something new.

The other big reason people overestimate their innovation score and score themselves highly is because of a lack of confidence with failure. This stems from the goal of perfectionism. Studies have been done on high school Valedictorians and their likelihood of achieving similar high marks in their careers. The unfortunate results are that Valedictorians rarely achieve similar high marks and accomplishments in their careers. The researchers theorize that the reason for this is the drive for perfection. Because these Valedictorians were instilled to be perfect from such a young age, it may stunt their ability to try new things because they don’t want to risk that “4.0 GPA”.  

Failure is a part of growth and innovation. There is never a perfect time to innovate, and there is never a perfect solution for our issues. However, the more things we try and sometimes fail at doing and sharing with others, the closer we will be to achieving a solution that improves on our current situation. As Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn says, “If you aren’t embarrassed by what you put out 3 months after launching it, you released too late.”

To be more innovative, the key is being willing to try new things to make your work more efficient and effective. Innovation is the process of taking temporary discomfort now to be more comfortable later. Incorporating others is critical to being more innovative. Alone, your ideas will only reach a fraction of your potential. But, your ideas with the feedback of others can make a monumental impact. 

However, one final concern is with gathering feedback. There is a critical mass to feedback, especially if you are soliciting feedback from a group. The more people you have in a conversation, the worse your feedback will be. This is caused by a combination of groupthink and the conscious and subconscious concerns people have about sharing in front of a group. To make this point, in a traditional classroom, roughly 10% of students will consistently raise their hands to ask or answer questions. Is this because only 10% of students have questions or know the answer? No. It is because others aren’t comfortable with bringing up questions or drawing attention to themselves in front of an audience. Or the cost of drawing this attention doesn’t outweigh the reward of finding out the answer. Therefore, get feedback from many people, but in smaller groups or individually. 

In essence, overestimating your abilities in these categories does not mean that you will forever be this way, but it does mean that there are opportunities for growth that you must tap into if you would like to improve. 
Tue 30 March 2021
I lead an Executive Horizontal Mentorship Program and part of what I do is facilitate group sessions where all the executives come together to share their insights, questions, and thoughts on a new topic each session.
Our most recent group conversation focused on innovation and how we would like to become more innovative with our work. As with most meetings, I lay out the topic, but the executives can take the conversation in any direction the group chooses.

I hypothesized a few ways I thought the discussion would go. I expected it to revolve around people management. We would discuss ways to be a better leader, how to foster psychological safety with direct reports, or how to improve a specific skill and perform their role better (all of which are great topics!).

Instead, many of the group sessions went in a very different direction when discussing innovation.

In this case, the conversation revolved around priorities, balancing our values, and discussing what we find most important in our lives.

An exchange between two executives sticks with me: one executive mentioned, “If I spent time innovating in my family life like I do my work life, I would be much happier and have greater balance.”

To which another executive chimed in: “If you ask me for my priority list, I would say family comes first, then work. But, if you were to ask me the amount of time and emotional energy I put into my work compared to family life, it wouldn’t even be close to a relevant comparison”.

A third executive jumped in to reply: “But our work allows us to live the family life we want to have. But, I will admit that I struggle to enjoy my family time when the majority of my focus and energy is on work.”

This was a really interesting and unexpected direction for this conversation to go. There is a shift in work mentality from the old school bragging about how many hours one has worked in a week (the notion of asking about or even mentioning how many hours one has worked in a given week indicates this). Instead of leveraging the response of “busy” as the default response to ‘how are you?’, the mentality is trending where family life is starting to be conscientiously prioritized above work.

Based on this group discussion, we still aren’t there yet. But the fact that this stemmed from a conversation on innovation shows where we are headed: there is beginning to be a conscious push to have more balance between work and home.

The overarching question that arose from the discussion is “can we innovate in our work in a way that reduces the amount of time and emotional energy required to get the same amount of work done?” AND, instead of replacing that time with more work, can we instead divert that time and mental/emotional energy to family? 

The open question here is: can this be done?

Based on the feedback from the executives in this group meeting, yes, it can be done. People become more efficient and effective in their roles all the time. Whether through new technologies or improved prioritization of time and tasks, improving the efficiency of both time and mental inputs for work can definitely be accomplished without sacrificing work quality.

The second question is: if this can be done, why do we fill that extra time with more work versus family?

There is a natural drive to keep pushing the needle forward; it manifests as a growing fear that if I am not working hard, the next person in line could be working harder and eventually take my spot. 

This drive also leads to a natural tendency for executives to not fully celebrate wins, and instead simply move onto the next task. When we don’t give ourselves credit for hitting a milestone, we rob ourselves of the deserved reward that we crave for getting the job done. And the people around you notice this: “If my boss can’t take a break to reward himself for a job well done, why would I deserve a reward?” This might be motivating for some people in the short term, but eventually, that kind of ambivalence to success drains the satisfaction in a job well done. 

Lastly, most executives justify more work as an effort to help their families live better lives. A perfect example of this is from the television show Breaking Bad. If you haven’t seen the show, Breaking Bad follows a high school science teacher who is recently diagnosed with terminal cancer. After realizing that he can’t afford the treatment, he decides to start cooking and selling meth to cover the cost. He justifies sacrificing his time, his emotional well-being, and even his morals into this endeavor because it is going to be “better for his family” (something he determined without their input!). Eventually, he comes to realize that he was lying to himself: it wasn’t about supporting his family; it was about his greed masquerading as providing for his family. I doubt many of your situations will end quite as dramatically, but I’m sure many will recognize some familiarity with that example. 

Most executives don’t want an outcome like this! The fact that they are consciously aware that they are spending too much time and mental/emotional energy on work and not enough time on their family is the first step to creating more balance.

So the third question is: what can executives do to ensure that their newly found time and energy doesn’t simply get used with more work?

Create Standard Operating Procedures around work and life

As executives, one way we grow our impact and scale our performance is by creating SOP’s (Standard Operating Procedures) for our team. So why can’t we do that for ourselves when distinguishing between work and life?

Oftentimes executives choose not to commit to this type of action because it “deters flexibility when emergencies happen”. And this is a fair point. But just like creating SOPs for a work team, you can build in caveats for emergencies. AND most executives know that this excuse is pretty flimsy: if there weren’t any SOP’s in other cases, inconsistency and quality control issues would be endless. 

Therefore, if we, as executives, don’t set SOP’s for when we are working versus when we are with family, then we are always working. Why? Because family time is a longer-term drive. There rarely are deadlines that occur with family time, but because work is typically filled with short-term deadlines, we prioritize those over the longer-term rewards from spending time with family. 

SOP’s help take the emotion out of the decision of how best to distribute your time. An SOP is like a computer; it will do what you tell it to do – no more, no less. If you are firm with your work and life SOP, you will not have to worry about circumstantial judgment calls. It either fits into your SOP or it doesn’t.

Devote specific time to family 

This is more like action 1A as it falls within the work and life SOP. Time with family is powerful. You could be doing absolutely nothing, but the fact that you are there with family is what counts. This sounds like an obvious point, but if it were so obvious, this article wouldn’t be relevant. It is easy to quantify work output and less easy to quantify family time output. You don’t earn “points” for attending your daughter’s soccer match or your son’s recital. You do it because it makes you happy. Even if you don’t have any plans on the docket for your family time, that isn’t an excuse for getting back into work during the time that you have already decided is for family. 

Devote specific mental and emotional energy to family

This is more like action 1B as it falls within the work and life SOP. Simply spending time with family is not enough for that time to be meaningful. Our executives clearly distinguished between both time and mental and emotional energy. If you are physically “with” your family, but you are mentally and emotionally “checked out”, can you really consider that time valuable?

Family time deserves as much mental and emotional intention as we are willing to put into our work. And it probably deserves more! 

If executives can begin to implement these actions into their lives, they will become substantially happier and aligned between their work and family time value system – at least according to our executives in our group meeting.

Wed 7 July 2021
Every year, PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) conducts a survey of over 5,000 CEOs to assess trends and forecasts based on what these CEOs are seeing in the marketplace.

PwC’s global chairman on strategy analyzed the responses to this survey and identified two key trends that leaders need to be preparing for in 2021 and beyond. The first is urgent innovation, the ability to make quick pivots in the face of data contrary to your expectations. The second trend is fostering an environment of innovation that builds teams that feel comfortable generating bold potential solutions, turning those into actionable plans, and sharing their results after testing. 

These concepts may seem like obvious goals that all leadership teams strive for, however, the reality is that most leadership teams struggle with empowering their teams for urgent innovation and the ability to empower their teams to be innovative.

This article is for people in those companies that tried new business ideas, regardless of whether they worked. Most leaders would agree that it’s important for their company to be innovative but struggle to empower their people.

Common things I hear from leaders are:

My team always comes to me (the leader) with problems but rarely with solutions,


I give my team complete autonomy, but they keep doing the same thing over and over again,


My team and I talk about being innovative all the time, it’s even in our core values, but we never find time to actually innovate.

When leaders run into these pitfalls and struggle to empower their teams, it’s usually for one (or both) of these reasons:

1.       Leadership didn’t provide sufficient context, and the team fails to focus on the problem that needs to be solved or on the desired outcome being created.
2.       Leadership failed at demonstrating psychological safety. You need to be willing to showcase your own mistakes and bad ideas in a way that invites others to share their own crazy, off-the-wall ideas.

The reason this article is titled Innovation with Bumpers is Better is because this approach is a simple way of solving both challenges from a leadership perspective.

Innovation with bumpers provides context to teams because it helps outline the problem being solved and the outcome being created.

For example, if you were to ask your team to cook you an entrée and stop there, that’s not enough context (i.e., too much autonomy). If you ask them to cook you an entrée after going to the grocery store, that still wouldn’t be enough because of the near-limitless combinations of ingredients your team must pick from. However, if you ask your team to cook an entrée from what’s available in your refrigerator now–that’s how you spark some creative solutions because there are a finite number of potential entrées your team could cook.

When you narrow down the problem scope and present clear context, it becomes much easier for them to innovate. The more open-ended your innovation process is, the less likely your team is to innovate because they don’t have enough context to innovate. 

Bumpers are the context clues you provide your team based on your own experiences in the market. You still leave some problem aspects open-ended, but you focus them on achieving a specific desired outcome because you are facing a specific problem that needs a solution.

Innovation with bumpers also provides teams with the psychological safety necessary to innovate.

A great example of this is the honeypot example. A Canadian power line company faces the challenge every winter of getting snow off their power lines. Their solution has been hiring a person to climb up the wire poles and shake the snow off the lines one-by-one. Not only is this process dangerous, it’s also extremely expensive. Insurance premiums from this work are enormous, plus the one-by-one nature of de-snowing each pole is extremely inefficient.

This power line company was very clear about the problem that needed to be solved (removing snow from the power lines) and the solution it wanted but left the team open-ended on how to solve this challenge.

A team without psychological safety will defer to leadership to generate ideas because they fear what their leadership might think if they share an idea that seems nonsensical or absurd. 

The reason this is called the honeypot story is because one of this company’s lowest level employees suggested putting honeypots on top of each pole and when bears smell the honey, they will try to climb up the poles for a snack and shake off the snow in the process. 

Take a moment to let that sink in…what an insane idea!?!? For a low-level employee to feel comfortable enough to propose an idea like that, it shows a LOT about their level of psychological safety within their team. 

And although the company didn’t end up using the honeypot idea, it did spark their eventual solution: hiring helicopters to fly by their power lines and using the wind from the helicopters to knock the snow off: a cheap, safe, and efficient solution. 

Psychological safety in innovation doesn’t mean that people feel comfortable when proposing the ultimate idea. It just means they feel comfortable proposing ANY workable idea and help narrow down what the eventual idea might end up being.

One of the best ways to build psychological safety on a team is with vulnerability. As a leader, being vulnerable shows your team the emotional bumpers and that you don’t always have answers to every problem. Vulnerability also shows your team that you have made big mistakes and had awful ideas before and that those ideas help lead to better solutions. In the early days of Amazon, they had to pack their boxes on the floor, and Jeff Bezos suggested that the team needs knee pads; psychological safety helped an employee to say “No Jeff. We need packing tables”. 

When I write “innovation with bumpers is better”, this means that if we can provide enough context and psychological safety to our teams, we are much more likely to empower them and build an environment of innovation.

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