For those of you who have thought about writing a book, but haven’t taken the plunge, let me share with you some of the emotions involved. I’m excited, sure, but that excitement is also mixed with nervousness, anxiety, stress, and, if I’m really honest, a healthy dose of undiluted, raw fear.
It’s like the first time I was on a terrifying rollercoaster in an amusement park. The ride up is like the writing and editing process, a slow ascent without fully realizing what’s about to happen. But then things change. Before your book is released, things shift, just like that feeling on the rollercoaster when you’ve crept up and up, the gears grinding, the wheels churning. You’re perched on the precipice, knowing what’s coming, knowing the drop is imminent, your stomach tightening involuntarily, your teeth gritting together.
I suppose that I should be somewhat okay with all of it. After all, each time I write an article whether here or on other sites, I’m exposing a part of me.
But a book is more permanent. It’s like putting a part of myself out into the world, wholly vulnerable and unable to get it back.
Let’s face it: I watched my wife deliver our child and did all I could to support her, but I wasn’t the one in agony.
Now I am.
It’s both an exhilarating experience and a horrifying experience. It’s like nothing I imagined.
From what I now know, and whether this book takes off or sells only two copies, I have a newfound appreciation for authors and for those who put their creative talents on display over and over again. It’s not easy.
And so, if you find yourself friends with an author, I suggest you buy that person’s book. If your friendship isn’t worth the price of the book, then back out of the friendship. If it is, read the book. You’ll get a glimpse into the mind and heart of the author. After all, a good friend is one that grabs your hand for the ride, screaming with you on the way down, not at you from below.
I hope that you join me on the ride.
*If you do order, keep your receipt. You’ll see why in another note soon.
Do you survey your employees but ask the wrong questions?
Is corporate engagement one of your goals?
Widgets, FTE’s and Assets
What I think I love most about Rodd Wagner’s new book WIDGETS: The 12 New Rules for Managing Your Employees As If They’re Real People is his clear, unambiguous writing that calls it like he sees it. He upends common practices and wisdom, throwing out what you know and replacing it with what just makes sense. Our conversation is likely to change your position on a few subjects and have you rethink your practices. It did for me.
Why did you call the book “Widgets”?
If you spend enough time at enough companies, the bad terms used to refer to people start to accumulate. “Human capital.” “Full-time equivalents” or “FTEs.” “Headcount.” “Aprons” at a home improvement store. “Blue shirts” at Best Buy. I could barely contain my shock when leaders for one temporary staffing firm referred to the people they place as “inventory.” And the department responsible for people? In most companies, it’s called “Human Resources.” At one company, a mass layoff is called a “resource action.”
These are euphemisms, and euphemisms are most dangerous when used to refer to people, because they make it easier to disregard that we are talking about someone’s son or daughter, brother or sister, and they deserve the respect and dignity of being referred to as people. I used the title “Widgets” to take a hard whack at these bad habits and all the dehumanizing practices that flow from that perspective.
“Your people are not your greatest asset. They’re not yours, and they’re not assets.” –Rodd Wagner
What is wrong with many employee engagement efforts today?
Employee engagement is in a rut. It’s become hackneyed. It’s routinized.
Commission a survey. Beg people to participate. Get the results back. Distribute scorecards. Train some trainers; unleash them on the company. Cajole the CEO into using the word “engagement” in his next speech. Ask managers to do some team sessions, which maybe half will do before tucking the forms in a desk drawer. Leave the way managers are selected, coached, supported, and held accountable untouched. Let the executives feel good that they checked the employee engagement box. Go quiet for 9 or 10 months until it’s time to start the Sisyphean cycle all over again. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
But the most pernicious problem with engagement initiatives today is the way some consultancies and companies talk about the people who are neglected and, when the survey comes around, tell the truth. So-called “disengaged” employees are vilified, their motivations and character questioned. They’re said to be “more or less out to damage their company” or trying to undo what the more “engaged” accomplish. Our research contradicts these assertions that those who are most frustrated are some kind of “cancer” inside the organization.
Of course, recognizing that they will be suspect if they give low marks to their company, many employees have realized it’s career suicide to tell the truth. So they don’t. Who would under those circumstances? “Just mark five to survive,” one admin advised her colleagues. In many places, it’s now difficult if not impossible to even get a true measure of engagement. That’s the mark of a fundamentally flawed and broken system.
If an employee does not give high marks on a survey, look first at the manager, not the employee.
Getting inside their heads is your first rule. It’s individual; it’s unique; it takes up significant time. And yet, it’s the most important of all. Would you share why this rule is the first?
I’ve been fielding and analyzing employee surveys and other data from more than a decade-and-a-half. Every time I plot the numbers on a new study, the first thing that strikes me is the massive range in individual responses. You simply cannot predict how a person will feel about his or her job based on generation, age, gender, race, tenure, industry, company, or any of the other group statistics that are used so often to stereotype employees.
Engagement is an individual phenomenon. Everything – how much money people want, what they consider a cool place to work, how they like to be recognized, what they envision for their future – is unique to that person. Therefore, applying all of the other New Rules depends on first understanding that one person and responding to his or her personality and ambitions. This is the reason that every good piece of research on employee engagement finds that a person’s direct supervisor is one of the key players. That manager is in a unique position to know the employee well and match him or her with the resources and opportunities inside the company.
“When recognition is common, employees develop resilience against adversity.” –Rodd Wagner
Having a best friend at work appears in most surveys, and we repeatedly hear that it is critically important. You argue otherwise. Help us understand.
First, asking about friendships – particularly sticking your nose in an employee’s “best” friendships – is quite intrusive when the relationship between company and worker is increasingly transactional. One week you’re asking about their best friends, the next week you’re sending a few thousand of them home with severance packages. So if they either had best friends at work or were the best friends of someone still there, you’ve opened yourself to some well-founded criticism that you abused their trust.
More important, in the studies my teams and I have conducted, the “best friend” concept does not hold up well in driving results compared with more
business-related questions such as trust in leadership, perceived future of the company, and collaboration. Asking about those is your business and is better connected to your results than asking what The Washington Post once called a “high school” popularity question.
“Transparency tells people you trust them and you can be trusted.” –Rodd Wagner
“Want to grab a cup of coffee and chat for a minute?” I asked.
We sat down at a table with our coffee. I’m not one to waste much time and jumped right to the issue.
“What’s up? You are clearly down. Why? What’s going on in your life?”
“I don’t know. The Preds lost last night.”
I knew him well enough to know that his hockey team losing a game was not the cause of his change in attitude. Here was a guy who would regularly bounce off of walls with his energy.
I didn’t even need to say anything. He could read skepticism in my face. If he missed it, I would recommend he check his vision.
“Ok. I just feel unappreciated at work. I turn something in, and I just get overloaded with more and more. Every once in a while, a little recognition would be nice. Maybe a bonus? Heck, even a beer would be cool.”
Appreciation. It’s what William James says is the greatest human need.
Stay at home moms (or dads): you know what this is about more than most. Thankless chores. Constant demands. And the world shows little respect for your efforts.
“I praise loudly. I blame softly.” -Catherine the Great
There are many reasons you may be unappreciated at work.
Here are a few:
You’re not doing a good job.
You’re boss doesn’t realize the work you are doing.
Your boss is overworked and overwhelmed.
Your boss is a jerk.
Your boss isn’t skilled in recognizing others.
Your boss has childhood issues and needs therapy.
I shared with my friend some ideas for him to consider:
You should change your perspective.
More work may equal appreciation. Your boss may be recognizing your good work by giving you more work. He may not be expressing it in the way that you want to hear it, but for some people this is how it works. More work = great job! When you think of it that way, you may find ways to utilize this for your benefit.
In my very first blog post, I shared the unique way I grew up. Instead of filling our home with things, my parents filled it with people.
Our childhood home was always open. There was always room for one more person at the table. We had countless people live with us of all nationalities, backgrounds, and religions. Some would stay a night, but most would stay months. A few stayed for years. Most of our adopted family members arrived with serious needs and issues from drug addiction to abuse to serious psychiatric needs.
As I reflect on Mother’s Day, celebrated on Sunday May 11, I think about the lessons I learned from my parents. And, just as my mom prefers to give to others more than receiving gifts, I thought I would share that spirit and pass these lessons on. Today I honor her with more than flowers by sharing her wisdom.
1. Personal power is more important than positional power.
As I reflect on my childhood, I cannot think of a single time that my mom used her “positional” power as parent. But she always used her personal power, her persuasion, and her personality to influence. Anything I learned about how to relate to people started by watching her in action.
Even today, my mom is never interested in titles or your position. She is interested in you. What is your story? What are your talents? What are you doing for others?
Leadership is not a position. It radiates from within. -Skip Prichard
2. Giving to others will always make you happier than receiving.
Yes, we’ve all heard that it is better to give than to receive. But why? Mom taught me that happiness is always rooted in service to others. I’ve seen people with depression improve dramatically when they serve others.
Mom was always happy, always singing, always sharing. And that may be because she was always giving—to us, to friends, and to all of the people she met each day. Our house was always full of people in need, and so the opportunity to give was always present. She is still the same way today as she was then.
Leaders give of themselves more than they take from others. -Skip Prichard
3. The spiritual is more important than the temporal.
Some things are temporary, fleeting, lasting but a moment. Other things are forever. Make sure you are spending time on what matters in the long run. One of the very few rules I can remember was this: If you needed a place to stay, you were welcome to stay as long as you needed. But, you were required to attend church with the family. There is something powerful about connecting to forces greater than you.
One of the verses she would share with me was Colossians 3:2: “Set your affection on things above, not on things of the earth.”
Here is one story my wife recalls about my mom: Someone was staying in the house and she was learning a new skill for a job: How to cut hair. As I recall, she was somewhat troubled and my mom was counseling her. Mom volunteered to let her practice her newly learned skills. The girl transformed her hair, butchering it on one side. Instead of anger, my mom graciously turned to her in love. As she poured love on this girl, she taught us all what really matters.
Leaders realize what is forever and what is fleeting. -Skip Prichard
If you broke something—even something precious to her—she didn’t care much. Sweep it up, throw it out, and it was long forgotten. But, if your heart was broken, she spent as many hours with you as you needed. She would agonize with you. If you were broken in spirit, she would encourage and lift you out of a dark place. She still does.