What Today’s Top HR Pros Need To Know About Company Culture

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A couple weeks ago I watched a webinar on the topic of company culture (one of my favorite and possibly most frustrating topics). It was hosted by Sean Kelly, CEO of SnackNation, who was not only engaging but made some incredibly valid points.
As I was listening to the presentation, furiously scribbling notes and nodding my head in agreement, I couldn’t help but wonder…okay, this is great and all, and Sean, you’re absolutely RIGHT, but HOW do we do that here? How do we shift (or even begin to nudge) the culture of a corporate company that has struggled with this for decades?

For this webinar, Sean had surveyed several companies, asking pointed questions about culture and various factors surrounding it. Here are the 5 main discoveries that came out of his research:

1. Growth opportunities are directly linked to employee happiness.

Employees surveyed were three times more likely to be happier at work when they had professional growth and development opportunities. This was the #2 reason that people gave for remaining at a certain company (pay and benefits was #1). Sean was very clear about saying this isn’t just about promotions or better titles. This is about specific ways employees can expand their current skill set and make themselves better, more impactful assets to a business. He also mentioned performance reviews. The nature of the traditional review is that it looks backwards. It asks, what have you accomplished this year, and have you met your goals (because we all know that’s tied directly to any increase or bonus you’re going to receive). Instead of the review, we should be putting together growth plans that look toward the future, give employees a clear path of what’s ahead and how to get there. He also mentioned that SnackNation does Individual Development Plans, and I did a silent cheer because my boss just went through one with me. Not every millennial has the leadership, fast forward mindset, but the ones that do – this is key to keeping them working to the best of their potential.
2. Employees don’t get frequent enough feedback.

36% of employees get formal feedback once a year or less. This is hugely problematic, especially in a generation that demands it. Companies that create a culture in which feedback is encouraged are more innovative and learn from mistakes more quickly. When employees can be trusted to give and receive constructive feedback, it allows them to grow and evolve much more easily. We also need to realize that feedback is not solely on the manager’s shoulders; the onus must also be on the receiver. Come into meetings with questions and specific needs that they would like met.
3. Feeling challenged at work is highly correlated to increased engagement at work.

Challenged employees are better employees! Ask your team to come up with creative solutions on their own, even if you know the answer. This gives employees the opportunity to learn and grow on their own = challenged. Allow them the opportunity to set a few of their own goals, specific to their role and based on business need. They will likely be much more motivated to reach the goals they set for themselves as opposed to being told what goals they should achieve. If they’re asking for more leadership responsibilities, give them the opportunity to conduct a training or lead a lunch ‘n’ learn on a topic specific to their area.
4. The biggest perk/benefit people want but aren’t getting is flexible work hours.

This is something that comes up increasingly when we talk about work satisfaction, especially with the millennial movement. While there are certain businesses that cannot function with flex hours (due to operational constraints), the ones that that the option should strongly consider adding it to their list of benefits. Not an expected benefit, like health insurance or paid holidays, but an earned one. Employees that prove they can still get the job done, regardless of the actual hours spent in the office, are the ones that will value this benefit. In turn, the trust they feel by receiving a flexible schedule results in happier employees and better performance.
5. A strong culture is vital for increased retention.

If you haven’t already, survey your employees and have them rate the company culture. Make sure you define what culture is so they know what they’re rating. This can be pretty difficult to express, so another way you can do it is open-ended. Ask them to pick words or phrases they feel describe where they work and how they’re managed. Sean Kelly says that as CEO of SnackNation, he owned the responsibility of creating the culture. In a small business, it can be more impactful, where in large corporations, culture can be ambiguous. Either way, the leadership style of any company trickles down and creates the culture that employees either love or hate. And while we put much of the responsibility on our leaders, we as employees must take accountability too. It’s a collaborative effort that makes it work, and it’s never a perfect science.

Why millennials keep dumping you: an open letter to today’s management 

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You hired us thinking this one might be different; this one might be in it for the long haul. We’re six months in, giving everything we have, then suddenly, we drop a bomb on you. We’re quitting.
We know the stereotypes. Millennials never settle down. We’re drowning in debt for useless degrees. We refuse to put our phone away. We are addicted to lattes even at the expense of our water bill. Our bosses are not wrong about these perceptions. But, pointing to our sometimes irresponsible spending and fear of interpersonal commitment isn’t going to solve your problem. You still need us. We’re the ones who’ve mastered social media, who have the energy of a thousand suns, and who will knock back 5-dollar macchiatos until the job is done perfectly.

I’ve worked in corporate America, administrative offices, advertising agencies, and restaurants. I’ve had bosses ranging from 24 to 64. I’ve had bosses I loved, and bosses I didn’t. I’ve seen my peers quit, and I’ve quit a few times myself. Here’s what’s really behind your millennials’ resignation letter:

1. You tolerate low-performance

It’s downright debilitating to a high achiever. I’m working my heart out and every time I look up Donna-Do-Nothing is contemplating how long is too long to take for lunch. I start wondering why leadership tolerates this.
Is that the standard here? No thanks.
Fact: Poor performers have a chilling effect on everyone.

2. ROI is not enough for me.

I spent Sunday thinking about how I can make a difference to our customers. Now it’s Monday morning, what do I hear? Stock price. Billing. ROI. Suddenly, my Monday power playlist seems useless. I’m sitting in a conference room listening to you drag on about cash flow.
I was making more money bartending in college than I am at this entry-level job. You say I’ll get a raise in a year if the company hits a certain number? So what? I need something to care about today. Talk to me about how we make a difference, not your ROI report.

Fact: Organizations with a purpose bigger than money have a growth rate triple that of their competitors.

3. Culture is more than free Panera.

Don’t confuse culture with collateral. Yes, I am a cash-strapped millennial who really appreciates free lunch. But I don’t wake up at 6AM every day to play foosball in the break room. I’m not inspired to be more innovative over a Bacon Turkey Bravo.

I need to be surrounded by people who are on fire for what we’re doing. I need a manager who is motivated to push boundaries and think differently. Working in a cool office is really awesome. So is free lunch. But a purposeful culture is more important.
Fact: A culture of purpose drives exponential sales growth 

4. It’s ok to get personal
Treat me like a number? I’ll return the favor. This job will quickly become nothing more than my rent payment. I’ll start living for Friday and counting down the minutes until 5. After a few months of that, I’ll probably have a drunken epiphany and realize I want more out of my life than this.

Then I’ll prove your assumptions right. 8 months in, I’ll quit and leave. Or worse, I’ll quit and stay, just like Donna-Do-Nothing.

That’s not good for either of us. Here’s what you need to know:
I was raised to believe I could change the world. I’m desperate for you to show me that the work we do here matters, even just a little bit. I’ll make copies, I’ll fetch coffee, I’ll do the grunt work. But I’m not doing it to help you get a new Mercedes.
I’ll give you everything I’ve got, but I need to know it makes a difference to something bigger than your bottom line.

Signed,

A Millennial
The millennials are telling us what we already know in our hearts to be true. People want to make money, they also want to make a difference. Successful leaders put purpose before profit, and they wind up with teams who drive revenue through the roof.

(Originally posted on LinkedIn by Lisa Earle McLeod) 

Trust the journey

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“You’re still new to the game, and like everyone else, you have to recognize that the world doesn’t always do what you need when you need it to. While I am always 100 percent on your side, I can also see things from your bosses’ side of the table. They see you walking into the room with 9 months’ experience—which is everything to you—but from their perspective, it’s just a blip on the screen. You see yourself as a carefully crafted brand, while your boss sees you as a tool to help get her job done. You’ve reached a part of your journey where you have a broad vision for yourself, and your boss is looking at you through only a small window. She’s asking, “What can this person do for me, and how much is it worth to me?” She doesn’t see where you’re going or all the incredible strides you’ve made to get to this moment. Nor should she. You are slotted to fill a role inside your organization, and right now, the truth is that you’re replaceable. The slot exists for a reason. It represents a job that needs to get done. It existed as a role for someone to fill before you, and it will be there after you move on to something bigger and better.”
Chapter 7 truthbomb right there. This is so me right now it’s scary. I feel like in the past couple years, since I’ve gotten past the shiny new phase of the ‘first job out of college’, I’ve been consistently hankering for more. Bigger, better, more satisfying and meaningful work. So it’s created this terrible and undying career restlessness in me that has kind of rocked me. Do I want to be in this field forever? Is this REALLY what I’m meant to do or am I just sticking with it because it’s safe? But what happens if I want to switch gears entirely and I have no experience to back it up?

And even aside from all those freak-outs, it’s a very regular train of thought for me that I’m “behind” somehow. That someone of my age should be doing more, have more experience. Never mind all those people with 20+ years’ experience who have heartily disagreed. I still FEEL LIKE IT. Then I read the above excerpt from Shoket and immediately get brought back to earth.

This. Is. Normal. I’m supposed to be doing this kind of work, right now. Not forever. But right now, it’s ok. It’s building me into who I’m going to be someday, priming me for the role I’ll have. I think sometimes we get so hell-bent on wanting the big beautiful life that we forget we have to do the time to get it. Maybe not as much time as our parents did–I mean, come on, there’s technology now…ain’t nobody got time for that. But in all seriousness, this is a necessary reminder.

Even if the job isn’t amazing, or even remotely great, it’s serving a purpose. It’s not forever. And that perspective can be a huge blessing and propel you into some of the most unpredictable and challenging parts of the journey imaginable. I just gotta wait. And see.

Excerpt From: Shoket, Ann. “The Big Life.” Rodale, 2017. iBooks.

#SquadGoals

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So I’m on chapter five of The Big Life, and its titled #SquadGoals.

What a fitting description of life in 2017.

But it’s more than just T-Swift and her gang of gorgeous girls who have everything all the other girls want. It’s about the professional posse. The band of badass babes that make you level up in the working world. And as I read through Shoket’s summary of the Squad Members she lists, it got me thinking…hm, you know what? I think I actually might have some of these types of women in my circle RIGHT NOW. I just never thought of them as my Squad.

Here’s how she breaks it down:

“THE CONNECTOR Instead of saying, “Do you know so-and-so,” which can make people feel like a total loser if they have to say no, this chick says, “OMG—you should know so-and-so. I’ll introduce you.” And you know it’s not just empty chitchat, because she opens her phone and puts it on her to-do list right there in front of you. You love this woman for being so generous with her connections, but honestly, knowing you and making the right intros makes her look better too.

THE SUGGESTER Have you ever had lunch with someone and come away with a long to-do list of conferences you have to research, articles you have to read, and products you have to try? That’s the Suggester. She’d be exhausting if she wasn’t so smart and usually right.”

“THE SYMPATHY SISTER Everyone needs one chick in her squad who says, “Ugh, that is the worst thing I’ve ever heard. You poor baby. You deserve better.” She simply gives you permission to feel all the feels—which is not celebrated enough, IMHO.

YOUR PLUS ONE She’s the ultimate work-event wingwoman. It looks bad if you tote your boyfriend along to all your industry parties and networking cocktails. And your other friends just aren’t interested. Your Plus One comes with her own cred, and she knows how to strike up a convo with the power players who intimidate you and when to save you from the cling-ons who won’t … stop … talking.

THE INSIDER This woman is senior, celebrated, well known, and likes you! She’d be your mentor, if she had time for that kind of a formal arrangement. Instead, she’s someone you can email (sparingly) if you have a well-thought-out question or need a carefully researched connection request. She probably says you remind her of herself when she was younger—great! Total compliment!”

So I’m thinking through the various women I’ve come to know in my young career and life, and I’m delighted to realize, hey I actually have the beginnings of my own real life squad! How exciting!!

And as I read further I just keep realizing that although Shoket makes this Squad assembly seem just a tad prescriptive, I think most of the time this might just happen on its own. Beautifully and unknowingly and you recognize it in retrospect. That’s the way of things now…we make connections and have common ground without even having to name it that. And in doing so, we get a little bit smarter and might even make a lifetime friend. I know I have.

Seriously, how cool.

Excerpt From: Shoket, Ann. “The Big Life.” Rodale, 2017.

The big life

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So I just started reading this new book called The Big Life, by Ann Shoket. She worked for more than 15 years as the editor of Seventeen magazine, and now she switched gears to write a book about millennial women and our insatiable need to live a fulfilled, inspiring, powerful life. A big life.

The book is essentially a compilation of stories from women whom Shoket knew…friends, co-workers, friends of friends… She asks them what is their definition of their dream life. What did they aspire to when they were 16, and how has that vision changed now that they’re in their 20s and 30s. All these women are at different stages of their lives–single, married, kids, pets, working three jobs to pay rent and also holding high powered roles at huge prestigious companies. And yet each one shares the common denominator question…how do I get my big life? How do I have the things I’ve always dreamed of and still enjoy the here and now?

I’m only a chapter into it, but already my brain wheels are spinning. Mostly because the nagging question I’ve had for years is now front and center again…

What if you don’t get the BIG life?? What if your dreams as a teenager really do just remain that–dreams. What if your life is actually just about working–a good job that pays well, but doesn’t really light you up. You don’t love it, you actually don’t even like it, but you know it’s good experience. It’s what you need right now, to get to where you want to be someday. At least you think that’s where you want to be.

You get married to the good guy who loves and supports you, and you want to have the kids and the career. What if your passion, the thing that makes you glow and get excited when you talk about it, isn’t meant to be anything more than just that? Because sometimes that just isn’t real life. Real life might just be about working to make enough money that you can go home and enjoy the life you have there. Is that so bad?

I remember years ago, probably high school, and I had a plan-by-30. I was going to get my degree, get married, have a solid grasp on my career, and have kids all by the time I hit thirty. Well, I’m going to be 28 this year and I have all but one of those goals knocked off the list.

So does that mean I’ve accomplished my big life? Does it make me a bad person to say that my life has pretty much followed the track I thought it would, and I’m pretty ok with that? Or does it make me worse that I wonder what kind of big life I could have if I got into a job that actually gets me excited…maybe I don’t want to do HR for the rest of my life. Maybe I want to get into fitness or fashion, something in media…realms that actually truly interest me. Thing is, when I start to contemplate switching lanes, I get a whole heaping pile of self doubt dumped on my head. It’s unlikely I would ever be hired for those kind of jobs when all my resume has on it is human resources. Even if I might actually have the passion and interest for those jobs, that’s not enough if you don’t have the experience and the skills to land the gig. Ugh. And then I get sad and just stop thinking about it altogether.

I truly do feel that our generation has more opportunity and freedom to live our dreams than anyone before us. Yet that’s also what makes it equally as scary. Am I failing as a person if I don’t aspire to, hustle for, and eventually earn my big life?

The Itch

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They say that marriages can experience the 7-year itch. That time when husband and wife may not have the best of connection, and may be feeling like there’s better fish in the big wide scary sea.

I feel like jobs have an itch too. Except in my experience, it doesn’t come in 7 years. It comes in 3 months.

Ok, wait. This feeling is familiar. Do you remember me writing something similar to this last time I started a new job? I remember thinking, shoot…is this IT? Did I make a colossal mistake here?

And I started applying for jobs. I had a VERY wandering eye. And I hated that. I hated feeling like I was aimless and not giving my 100%.

But because of wisdom greater than my own, none of the jobs I applied for worked out. And so I remember having a very honest conversation with myself (and several with the people close to me, my family, my parents, my old boss) – I had to figure out how to dig in and make this work. I didn’t have to be there forever, but I wasn’t leaving now.

So oddly, magically, I remember being at the 6 month mark all of a sudden and realizing I loved what I was doing. I loved the people and the energy of the office, and I felt very NEEDED.

Fast forward to another few months, and the “itch” was back. Dang. I had a light bulb moment at work, which was later corroborated by one of my good friends there (who has also since moved on from the company)…she said, Court, it’s never going to change. This is how it will always be.

And that literally made my heart sink. I cried in my car that day, embarrassed that my boss knew. I told myself I would never cry in front of him. It was the realization that my time there was going nowhere and no matter how much I wanted it to change, I couldn’t be the one to do it.

So I made the decision to leave because I knew my very career depended on it. I need to get exposure and growth and have peers and mentors within my field that would keep my pushing forward.

I went through months of interviewing and waiting and wondering. Sweating. Feeling worthless because the opportunity fell through or someone else was chosen. It was the hardest test of my faith and patience to date.

And finally…finally, I got the job. A good job. With a good name attached to it. And I cried with joy because I was so happy. So relieved.

Here I am, now just over three months in, and I won’t lie. I don’t LOVE it. I’ve been very honest about that sentiment with anyone who’s asked, “so how’s the new job??”. It’s good. If good is even enough. It’s fine. Ugh, I hate that word too. I’m learning and I’m making mistakes, and I’m toughening my shell. I don’t need to love it, and that’s okay. I have days that are really good. I love those days. Days when I’m busy and get a lot done and feel accomplished. I’m not there consistently right now, thus…the itch.

I’ve confessed these feelings to my old boss before and she said she had the same feeling three months into her gig. But now she’s been there over a year and is working from home. Lucky lady.

I know I need to be patient. Talk to me again in another 3 months, 6 months, and see where I’m at then. Hopefully the itch will be gone….. Stay tuned.

 

4 Truths I Learned from Reading Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean In’

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  1. Being a leader is not the only way to make an impact

All too often we assume that the only way we will be able to make a difference in our organizations is by being in a position of leadership. A manager, director, VP…these are the titles we esteem and covet. They come with power, with authority, with more money.

Because isn’t that the end goal for most of us in business? To get to the top? Who sets out in their career and says, “no I’m just fine remaining at the ground floor for the next 40 years”? That’s because as a society, we’ve instilled in ourselves that moving up into bigger and better positions is the only way to truly contribute to the success of a company.

In her book, Sandberg wrote one profound line that really struck me — Leadership roles are not the only way to have a profound impact.

We need to get over this idea that women are only ambitious when they want to advance into high-power roles. Sandberg says that ambition is not the problem here…women are plenty ambitious. They just have different goals to put that ambition toward. Whether it’s raising a family, being involved in a charitable organization, focusing on health and fitness, or simply investing time in your own hobbies and interests, we must realize there are numerous dedicated, committed and hard-working people that make HUGE impacts in businesses, yet will never see the need to run them.

Sandberg says that “at a certain point it’s your ability to learn quickly and contribute quickly that matters…there is not perfect fit when you’re looking for the next big thing to do. You have to take opportunities and make an opportunity fit for you, rather than the other way around. The ability to learn is the most important quality a leader can have.”

2. Work-life balance is not a thing anymore

Sandberg talks about the disadvantage women have in this situation: work-life balance. She says that we assume men will be able to have both a successful professional life and fulfilling personal life. Yet if women try to do both, it’s not only difficult but near impossible. Everything we hear and read says that we cannot be committed to career and family and expect that both will thrive.

So why do we frame the issue as “work/life” — as if anyone would ever choose work over LIFE??? It’s a deceiving contrast. Instead, we have now come to this new norm of “work-life integration.” Thanks to technology and the rising abundance of remote jobs, it’s become easier than ever to ‘do’ work and life simultaneously. Just as many employers now expect their employees to be available after hours and answer emails and texts outside the office, they also need to offer the flexibility required for those same employees to maintain a good quality of life. Spending time with family, being able to go to the gym, (or simply getting enough sleep!) are all functions of high-performing, engaged and satisfied employees. When you feel good, you work better.

“Every job will demand some sacrifice. The key is to avoid unnecessary sacrifice.”

Which is a great segue into the next truth…

3. We don’t need to be superwoman (and we shouldn’t want to)

The myth of “doing it all.” Sandberg writes about it in chapter nine of her book. Some of you might be thinking, doing it all? Are you kidding me? I’m still trying to adjust to not being in school anymore — this whole adulthood thing is exhausting enough, why would I worry about doing it ALL?

That is precisely why I’m writing this to you now — hopefully before you encounter the mountain of work and wife and mom and kids and house and, and, and. Before you get to the point of looking at what seems impossible, or being scared out of your mind that you’ll screw up royally so much that you don’t even try. I’ll let you in on something… DON’T DO IT ALL.

Sandberg writes, ” Trying to do it all and expecting that it all can be done exactly right is a recipe for disappointment. Perfection is the enemy. Gloria Steinem said it best: You can’t do it all. No one can have two full-time jobs, have perfect children, and cook three meals and be multi-orgasmic ’til dawn…Superwoman is the adversary…”

We have to decide what matters and what doesn’t, and be a perfectionist only in the things that truly matter. We can’t spend time and energy on the things that really don’t need it. Facebook has a poster on the wall that Sandberg says she absolutely loves: Done is better than perfect.

Now, as a control freak and somewhat perfectionist myself, this is a tough concept to accept. I hold myself to very high standards, in work and in my personal life, and I want things to be perfect. To be right. But after a few tough lessons, I’ve realized that I don’t hold the capacity to do that 100% of the time. Something or someone always suffers. And then I beat myself up for not being able to juggle all the balls (and I really don’t have that many to juggle right now!). Nora Ephron had some great advice to us women who either are currently or will be trying to balance work and family someday:

“It will be a little messy, but embrace the mess. It will be complicated, but rejoice in the complications. It will not be anything like what you think it will be like, but surprises are good for you. And don’t be frightened: you can always change your mind.”

So instead, let’s just all admit to ourselves that we can be human. It’s too stressful to be Superwoman. I doubt she gets much sleep anyways.

4. The jungle gym is WAY better than the ladder

One of the most common metaphors for advancing a career is “climbing up the corporate ladder.” We’ve all heard it, maybe rolled our eyes at, or maybe secretly get excited and more motivated because we know our generation will be the ones to prove to everyone that we can scale that ladder faster and better than our forefathers.

But in chapter four of her book, Sandberg proposes a different metaphor for our careers: it’s not a ladder, but a jungle gym.

Ladders are limiting — there’s only two ways to go, up or down. But jungle gyms are much more exploratory. You can go right or left, up, down… there are definitely more ways than one to get to the top of that jungle gym. And that is why it’s such a fantastic comparison for our careers. Women (and sometimes men too) might encounter many detours during their careers — switching hours or schedules to accommodate having a family, and then activities of their family later on. They may make career changes, move laterally, or backwards. Better yet than the ladder, jungle gyms offer options. You can move around and still gain experiences and views without having to suffer the pressure or guilt of only moving up or down.

Don’t get me wrong here. I think many of us women truly want to move up in an organization and be successful because we have genuine goals that may only be realized once we attain that specific title. I know I am certainly guilty of that at this point in my career. So how do we get there when we may only have a handful of years’ experience under our belts?

Throughout her book, Sandberg talks frequently about ‘having a seat at the table,’ speaking up, and asking for what you want. She is a huge proponent of women having the self-confidence (not to be confused with arrogance) to say what they think. She says in her chapter on “Seek and Speak Your Truth,” that “communication works best when we combine appropriateness with authenticity, finding that sweet spot where opinions are not brutally honest but delicately honest.”

And in order to ask for what we want, we need to get comfortable being nervous sometimes. Instead of thinking, I don’t have the skills or qualifications for that, we need to say, “I want to do that–and I’ll learn by doing it.” (Sandberg p. 62)

[all quotes taken from Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In]