A Tale of Two Workplaces

One of my earliest posts talked about how a previous employer seemed to have a disproportionate ratio of reprimands to commendations. Here’s a snippet:

In my time working here, I\’ve seen hundreds (thousands?) of reprimands. I\’ve seen a single commendation. That leads me to two possibilities. One, there really aren\’t any other staff members who deserve being commended for performing well (not likely). Or two, there aren\’t any supervisors willing to commend someone for doing well (quite likely).

Or maybe it\’s more benign, and the supervisors really don\’t know the power of a short note letting someone know that he/she knocked it out of the park.

Whatever the cause, it\’s a problem that needs to be addressed. Check out your own ratio. I don\’t think you should be praising your employees daily for every little action, but when someone really takes up the slack and goes above and beyond, then it really wouldn\’t hurt to show some appreciation.

A world apart

Fast forward to today, and things couldn’t be more different. The problem I’m running into lately is the paradox of choice–too many reward options means that fewer rewards are made overall. I’m working hard on not adding more layers of tools for commending employees in case too much choice ends up slowing down the process.

We’ve had one person that I can think of in recent months that received a reprimand. In that same period, we’ve given dozens of awards for exemplary performance to people who absolutely deserved every bit of the reward (both monetary and verbal/written).

Affecting the bottom line

When I look at overall company performance for the long-term, I see a trend there as well.

  • The company that focused on telling people how they were doing things wrong? They went belly up. Bankrupt. Out of business.
  • The company that focused on telling people how they were doing things right? Morale is high. This year is slated to be the best yet.

Some people will tell you the “little” things like that don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. I would counter that those “little” things are what great companies are made of.

Which of the two workplace examples do you identify with? Why?

Got a Minute? 9 Lessons for HR Professionals (Book Review)

9 lessons for hr professionals book coverWhen I received a review copy for Got a Minute: The 9 Lessons Every HR Professional Must Learn to be Successful, I had no idea I would enjoy it as much as I did. With dozens of real, personal stories embedded throughout the book that will make you laugh with delight and shake your head in disgust, this great book is definitely written specifically for HR pros.

The nine lessons

The nine chapters in the book focus on these major lessons:

  1. Accept that People will Say (and Do) the Dumbest Things
  2. Norms are Important for Leading and Managing Change
  3. Some Rules are Made to be Broken Continue reading

Asking Questions at Work-Better Questions Equal Better Results

real patriots ask questions carl saganIf you’ve never thought about the impact of asking questions at work in a better way, I’m going to help change that today. Consider the following list of questions you’d hear in the average day:

  • Why do we have to go through this change?
  • Why can’t we find good people?
  • When will that guy do his job right?
  • Why don’t they communicate better?
  • Who messed this up?
  • When is someone going to train me?
  • When are my people going to get their act together?

Any of these questions seem familiar? We’ve all heard a version of them at some point in time. The theme running through these questions is twofold. First, there\’s a definite negative connotation. Second, and most importantly, they are structured to place blame and accountability on someone else.

That’s not a winning plan.

If you’re trying to be successful as a leader, you\’re going to have to hold people accountable. Letting them ask questions like these is a surefire way to ensure that they never learn self accountability.

It doesn’t always fit, but the majority of the time questions that begin with “who, when, and why” are potential problems. In the examples above you’ll see that play out.

The point is to turn the questions around and find ways to hold yourself accountable for the results. Try starting the questions with “how can I…” or “what can I…” and you\’ll see that the responsibility immediately shifts from someone else to you.

You’re the one in charge of making the change at that point.

It’s a radically different mindset to ask questions like these. Why? Because you have to care. And you have to be willing to hold yourself and your people accountable for the results. It isn’t easy, but it’s worth it.

Here is the same set of questions rewritten with accountability in mind:

  • What can I do to make this change easier on others?
  • How can I help us find better people?
  • What can I do to help that guy do his job better?
  • How can I help to strengthen communication?
  • How can I make this right?
  • What can I do to pursue training?
  • How can I help my people be better at their jobs?

Foster a culture of accountability with your people and reap the benefits of stronger individual and team performance.

Finally, here’s a great example of how one company does this on a daily basis.

WD-40 practices the democratic principle of Accountability. To that end we ask every tribe member to own and act passionately on the Maniac Pledge. The pledge states: “I am responsible for taking action, asking questions, getting answers, and making decisions. I won’t wait for someone to tell me. If I need to know, I’m responsible for asking. I have no right to be offended that I didn’t ‘get this sooner.’ If I’m doing something others should know about, I’m responsible for telling them.” Source: WD-40

Challenge: Can you choose a question from the list above and put it into motion today? If so, which one did you pick?

Grow Young Professional Employees Who Create a Calm Company Culture

As a manager, it\’s important to create an environment in which all of your employees can thrive. You should strive to develop employees that are positive and proactive—from day one. For your young professionals, the most coddled generation in our nation\’s history, it can often be tricky to dance in the uncomfortable and very necessary space between walking on egg shells to avoid uncomfortable situations and instigating unnecessary conflict.

Here are a few ways you can work with your youngest employees to help them adopt and sustain a possibility-centered mindset so that they—and the rest of your employees—can do their best work.

Reframe Conflict

Let your young professionals know first and foremost that conflict is normal and that when it emerges, it\’s important to address it quickly. For the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors we usually associate with conflict often occur more when we are thinking about the possibility of conflict than when we are actually acknowledging and moving through it. Show your young professionals how to separate fact from fiction in the stories they create about the situations they find themselves in. Help them to give other people the necessary space to speak their perspective without getting defensive. And most importantly, help them develop the skills to focus on how to move forward with others in mutually-beneficial ways rather than rehashing old grievances.

Bring in Some Old-fashioned Forgiveness

When conflict occurs, it\’s important to keep your young professionals moving forward. The only way to do this is if they forgive all parties involved in previous problems—most of all themselves. Encourage them to see forgiveness as the act of unhooking from the story they created about themselves and the other people involved in the problem. Forgiveness is as much a choice as a practice. In addition to letting young professionals see the many health and performance benefits of letting go and moving on, help them to stay in the forgiveness zone by focusing on how they want to feel when they have forgiven…once and for all. Encourage them to recreate this feeling in their bodies until it eventually sticks and their dress rehearsal becomes their final performance.

Kill Fear Mongering

No employees work well when they live in fear. While you may think it\’s benign or perhaps even a good thing for a young professional to believe that a missed deadline could be grounds for termination, fear is a lousy motivator and it makes a really great performance killer. If young professionals direct focus toward speed at the expense of turning out a high-quality product, you might be training them to make underperformance acceptable and habitual. Let them know that you are there for them when they are having issues with an assignment, and encourage proactive, transparent conversations so that you can co-create solutions.


Alexia Vernon is an author, speaker, International Coach Federation (ICF) certified coach, trainer, and media personality who specializes in helping organizations recruit, retain, educate, and grow their young professional workforce. In her book 90 Days 90 Ways: Onboard Young Professionals to Peak Performance, Alexia demonstrates how to achieve the goal of getting new employees oriented, integrated and trained within 90 days of their employment. As a member of Gen Y and with her unique approach to talent development, Alexia has been featured in hundreds of media outlets including CNN, NBC, Wall Street Journal, CBS MoneyWatch, FOX Business News, Forbes.com, ABCNews.com, TheGlassDoor.com, and Mint.com.  To learn more visit www.AlexiaVernon.com and connect with Alexia on Twitter @AlexiaVernon.

Corporate Legends-Your Culture Weapon

Using Corporate Legends to Communicate Culture

We often hear that communicating organizational culture is an important task. However, most people fail to provide examples on how to do that very thing! I’ve been testing different methods for sharing culture (collecting touchstones, for one), but one of my favorite ways to share our corporate beliefs and values are through the “legends” within our organization.

What is a legend?

In this sense of the word, a legend is defined as a person who took extraordinary action to achieve a goal. The guy who drove 400 miles to support a customer’s urgent request. The team that brought 40 employees on board with 48 hours’ notice. The woman who, despite all odds, successfully navigated a corporate audit with a successful conclusion. Basically, it’s the people and actions that embody the high standards that your organization stands for.

What’s the purpose?

Sure, I can tell you what our corporate values are. I can even give you some generic idea of what they mean. However, human communication has a long historical basis in storytelling and traditions. Telling you about how one of our employees really embodies the spirit of our corporate values makes it stick in your brain that much better. If a similar situation arises, you won’t be wondering how to proceed. You’ll be able to recall the legend and what someone else did to achieve success.

How to get started

Start talking with the people who have been at your company for a while. Ask questions that are designed to dig into previous accomplishments. For example:

  • Can you tell me about a time someone went above and beyond the call of duty?
  • What was the biggest success this department has ever had?
  • Has there ever been a big innovation or breakthrough at the corporate or team level? What was it?

If you’re stuck with few examples, you need to get started capturing and communicating the legends that you have. Start reaching out to managers and ask them to share with you when one of their people has a successful project or does something that demonstrates excellence. It’s your job to take those stories and use them to encourage others to embody the same characteristics.

While there might be better ways to communicate organizational culture, using internal legends is fairly straightforward, it’s easy to get started, and it has an immediate impact on the people who hear them. Have a legend of your own? I’d love to hear it! Feel free to share in the comments below.

Company Success Stories-A Lesson from Clif Bar

Have you ever thought about company success stories? Most of us are captivated by the startup company “started in a garage and became a millionaire” type stories. I wasn’t looking for an object lesson, but I found one in an interesting place.

I snagged a Clif Bar to munch on before the Run for Kids 50k this past weekend, and as I read the package (I know, I’m a nerd) I was instantly transformed from a casual snacker to a believer in the Clif Bar mission (a little dramatic, but you get the general idea). Below is a slightly modified version of what is on the packaging of ever Clif Bar and package they sell.

You read it and tell me that you don’t feel some sort of connection on a deeper, personal level with the company and what they believe in:

In 1990, I lived in a garage with my dog, skis, climbing gear, bicycle and two trumpets. The inspiration to create an energy bar occurred during a day-long, 175-mile ride with my buddy Jay. We’d been gnawing on some “other” energy bars. Suddenly despite my hunger, I couldn’t take another bite. That’s the moment I now call “the epiphany”. Two years later, after countless hours in Mom’s kitchen, Clif Bar became a reality. And the mission to create a better-tasting energy bar was accomplished. Thanks, Mom!

Clif Bar has grown since 1990, and still the spirit of adventure that began on that ride continues to thrive each day. As the company evolves, we face many choices, yet we always do our best to take care of our people, our community and our environment. Gary – Owner of Clif Bar Inc.

Now, I don’t know about you, but we don’t sell snacks. We don’t have packaging (if you ever figure out how to package a Blackhawk instructor pilot’s services, please let me know!). So how do we share our own company success story with our employees and customers?

It all depends on your preferences. You can start using a new hire welcome letter. You can hold town hall meetings. Whatever you decide to do, don’t forget the importance of tying emotion into the story. Memories that are tied to emotions are more strongly embedded in the receiver’s brain. When you read the Clif Bar story above, you’re filled with a sense of pride and excitement at the struggles they faced and overcame.

Think about your own company’s story. Can you tell it in a way that makes people excited to hear and share it with others?