Why Your Company Needs a Holiday+ Celebration

Let’s start with the “what” before I explain the “why” you need to hold a special event this time of year.

Your options to recognize employees during the November/December holidays, OR wrap-up the year’s results, OR kick-off goals for the new year will depend:

  • on what you’ve done in the past and whether you want to continue it or try something new & different. If you’ve never held an holiday, year-end wrap, or new business year launch event, maybe it’s time.
  • on what employees might want to do. (Have you ever asked them?)
  • on what makes sense based on your workplace culture, leadership (in alignment with or in spite of the prevailing culture), and available resources (budget, scheduling, venue, etc.).

Once you decide to acknowledge your employees for whatever purpose fits best, it’s time to decide on what, when, and where. (With hospitality staffing issues, don’t wait too long to book your on-site catering or off-site venue this November through January.)

Here’s why celebrating your employees now – or any time – matters.

According to one of the best leaders I had the privilege of working with:

“Everyone wants to be part of something … everyone wants to feel that they are valued, that they made a difference. To the degree we can celebrate our people, that’s our greatest weapon, our greatest tool.” Bob Wood

Employees feeling valued … isn’t that what you want as an outcome of your holiday or year-end event?

If you’re looking to make it truly special, consider a session of LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® that engages your employees in a uniquely fun, memorable, and stress-free way.

Some may scoff at the idea of playing with LEGO® bricks in a work-related situation, yet research has found play is important to mental health, regardless of age.

“Play isn’t just about goofing off; it can also be an important means of reducing stress and contributing to overall well-being.”[Jennifer Wallace, “Why It’s Good for Grown-Ups to Go Play,” The Washington Post, May 20, 2017

That’s why I recommend a LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® experience for your employees as part of your holiday or year-end event. As a certified facilitator, I’ve seen the power of LSP in enabling teams to strengthen their connection to each other. They appreciate – and enjoy – the opportunity to engage in play at work in way that’s fun but not frivolous. (Email me to explore how you can build a meaningful and memorable event for your employees with LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®.)

Regardless of how you choose to celebrate the season with your employees, make it a worthwhile event where people enjoy themselves and feel valued.

[Image: Baustin Curtis from Pixabay]

Engagement Marketing Training & Development

An Engaging Journey on the Impact Revolution Channel

It’s happened. I’ve reached the point when I’m invited to speak on podcasts whose hosts are much younger than I am.

Does this make me feel old?

Surprisingly, no. It makes me appreciative of how much business experience I have to share. Keeping a positive mindset, I prefer to think of it as “sharing my experience” rather than “providing a historical perspective.”

All kidding aside, I’m flattered that younger business professionals are interested in my career journey in internal marketing for employee-customer engagement.

I’m especially encouraged by this next generation of leaders that understand the value and need to foster a positive workplace culture.

Case in point: Yoshi Garnica, CEO of Agile Mind Lab, whose work is focused on helping leaders apply what’s needed to create and sustain a “human-centered culture” that promotes meaningful work for employee well-being, productivity and success. Yoshi hosts the “Impact Revolution” channel where experts and entrepreneurs share successful business practices.

As a recent guest on his show, we talked about how I found my passion for employee-customer engagement and how it resulted in my creating a marketing and facilitation business without a formal education in either field. (Hint: it takes committing to continuous learning, lots of practice, and seeking guidance from mentors; i.e., proactive professional development.) We also covered “lessons learned” that starting solopreneurs can learn from.

Listen to this engaging 30 minute conversation here:

Customer service

“We want your business, not your bad mood”

Facts of life for business:

1: No business has an unlimited supply of employees and customers.
2: Recruitment and retention of both employees and customers are necessary for business survival.
3: Cultivating good employees is as important as cultivating good customers.

However, when good employees are subject to rude and demanding customers, it’s time to let those customers go.

That’s exactly what one business owner did. He was compelled to write the following in response to rude and unruly customers who made a scene at his new steakhouse restaurant shortly after it opened. (The following is cited with permission and minor editing for clarity and space.)

We are a new business – learning and adjusting.

We are not perfect; we are and will make mistakes.

This does NOT give you the right to berate us, scream at us, call us names …

As this business’s primary owner, I will protect and defend my employees – to work in an environment where they feel comfortable and safe.

As this business’s primary owner, I will admit when I am wrong or my employees are wrong and we made a mistake.

I do not want people to pay for food or an experience they did not enjoy. You want a refund? All you need to do is ask.

As this business’s primary owner, a fellow human being, and someone who cares and loves his community and wants it to be a great place to work and live, I cannot believe how inhumane people treat others.

I will personally kick you out of this business if you are unable to treat people like people. You will leave and not be allowed back.

We have customers SCREAMING at employees because we ran out of milk.

We have customers BERATING our employees because we don’t give free bread.

If you are so upset we ran out of milk, and we sincerely apologized for the inconvenience but you still find it necessary to be a jerk – you are gone.

If you walk in here expecting free bread when we NEVER offered it, and you can’t stop complaining about it and decide to treat our staff rudely because of it – you are gone.

You don’t walk into a grocery store demanding free food.

You don’t go to a gas station demanding free gas.

Grow up or go elsewhere.

It’s ok with us.

We want your business, not your bad mood.

Regardless of your experience, we welcome your good or bad or scathing review.

HOWEVER, if you choose to act like a child, a jerk, even an $&@@&$@, we are going to remove you. You are not entitled to treat our staff like you most likely treat everyone else.

If anyone would like clarification on our policy for treating employees with basic decency, you can call either restaurant to speak with me personally; you can also talk to me about your experience. If it’s good, great. If it’s bad, then we need to learn how to adjust and fix it going forward.

Thank you,
Richard Austin, President – Bella’s Sicilian and Bella’s Steakhouse.

Note: Austin’s restaurants are based in Geneva NY, and my husband and I have enjoyed dining in Bella’s Sicilian Ristorante when visiting the Finger Lakes region.

As a long-time employee experience advocate, I applaud Austin publicly defending his employees in this situation. It speaks highly of the culture he has created in his business, and it’s why my husband and I will continue to support his restaurants.

[Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash]

Leaders, Business Owners: Now is the Time to Do Something Intentional and Impactful

If you care about your employees, now is the best time to show them.

We’re in the midst of “The Great Resignation,” also known as the “The Great Awakening,” in which millions of people are quitting their jobs or striking for better work conditions. Not only has the pandemic lead to job and career burnout, it’s given people the time and impetus to re-assess their work options.

This assessment and self-exploration process includes people asking themselves two critical questions:

  • Do I find meaning and purpose in my work?
  • And does my employer value what I do?

For those fortunate to answer “Yes” to the first question, a “No” in response to the second question can be a deal breaker as doing meaningful work doesn’t ensure employees’ continued commitment to what they do when they don’t feel valued by their employer. 

Everyone needs to know that their work matters AND that they matter

Ideally, employees’ value should be embedded in a safe workplace and positive company culture that also honors them in special recognition programs, celebratory milestone events, Employee Appreciation Week, etc.

The months November through January, however, offer a unique opportunity to acknowledge employees’ collective contributions in sustaining operations and serving customers – especially in these most challenging times – as part of holiday festivities, a year-end wrap up, or new year kick-off.

These quotes sum it up best:

“In this tight job market, the last thing a company should do is forget to show appreciation. That’s important all of the time – and especially during the holidays … The holiday celebration is a worthwhile investment that will impact your company’s morale and, ultimately, its bottom line. It shouldn’t be trivialized.” Tina Hamilton, founder, myHRPartner, Inc. [Learn more in her article, Creative Ways to Celebrate Holidays in the Workplace.]

“What’s one thing you’re going to do to signal to people that you value and appreciate them for their efforts and making progress?” Christopher Littlefield, founder, Beyond Thank You

How will your employees know they’re valued this season?

[Image credit: photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash]
Engagement Training & Development

Boss’s Day 2020 – Appreciating the Best and Worst Bosses

Seeing the selection of Boss’s Day cards for October 16th reminded me of the bosses I previously worked for who ranged from great to toxic. [See my suggestion below for observing Boss’s Day this year.]

I had the privilege of working for a few executives I highly respected. I also worked for execs who were inept, inconsistent, immature, and egotistical to the point of being intolerable.

Along my journey in the workplace, I did my best to practice the positive traits of the best bosses and avoid the negative behaviors of the bad ones. They all taught me how much influence those in charge have on engaging employees to do their best or causing them to disengage over time.

The Best Bosses taught me the value of working effectively with employees. Through their attitudes and actions they demonstrated:

  • honesty, transparency, and clarity in communicating what was happening in the organization and how it impacted people’s work
  • fairness in their dealings with employees by showing no favoritism
  • support for employees by providing the tools, training, and trust to do their jobs.

The Bad Bosses taught me the behaviors that frustrate employees and lead to a toxic work environment:

  • treating employees as minions whose function was to bolster the boss’s ego
  • assuming employees have no life outside of work and are available to be called upon 24/7. (The mantra of one boss could have been “Lack of planning on my part will constitute a constant emergency on your part.”)
  • assigning employees projects without all the proper information and/or support needed to accomplish them.  (I experienced this situation because one boss was into power trips. Another couldn’t make up his mind on what he wanted and waited until the project was near-completion. Then he’d shift gears so my team would have to start over – wasting precious resources in the process.)

I don’t know if anyone is ever fortunate to work with only the best bosses or cursed to work with only nightmare bosses; most likely it’s some combination. Regardless, each has something to teach us about what works and what doesn’t in managing and leading people.

How to Observe Boss’s Day 2020

COVID-19 restrictions and working remotely may preclude the usual celebration of taking the boss to lunch. If you’re fortunate to work for someone worth acknowledging on Oct. 16th, let that person know you appreciate working with her/him/them and offer specific feedback that compliments and reinforces why you like being part of that person’s team.

If you work for a bad boss, consider observing Boss’s Day discretely by updating your resume. It might turn out to be the best gift you give yourself.

[Photo by Ben White on Unsplash]



Acts of Employee Engagement Needed Now

I was recently reminded of a practical and low-cost way to help keep employees engaged in this stressful time. Surprisingly, I found it in an article written last year before the unthinkable happened.

  • It’s easy and something everyone can do — bosses, business owners, co-workers, colleagues, partners; i.e., anyone you work with.
  • It can be used with any employees, regardless of whether they work remotely, at a company locale, or combination of the two.
  • And it’s applicable anytime it’s appropriate, not just during this pandemic.

Here it is:

“Tell someone how grateful you are that they took something annoying off of your plate, stepped up when you needed them, or just made work a little better.

Whatever it is, be as specific as possible. It might feel small, but this tiny nudge towards gratitude is incredibly powerful. It will ripple throughout your organization. And it will make work better for you and for the people around you.” Laszlo Bock, CEO and author

In the past several months we’ve witnessed heart-warming and well-deserved expressions of gratitude to people on the front lines of the current crisis. Similarly, we can extend simple, sincere acknowledgment to the people we work with and for. And we can do the same with our family, friends, and neighbors.

Note: the excerpt above is from Laszlo Bock’s “Your Culture Will Make or Break Your Business, a worthwhile read.

[Image by Diego PH on Unsplash]


“Don’t Waste This Crisis: How Strong Values Improve Strategy” – Guest Post from Matthew Fenton

[Note: I’m pleased to share this timely post from Matthew Fenton, a Chicago-based marketing professional and founder of Three Deuce Branding that specializes in brand clarity. Here he offers a fundamental strategy to uncover the brand values a business needs to survive and thrive in these challenging times. More on Matthew’s work can be found at the end of this post.]

There’s a question that’s asked far too rarely as we develop brand and business strategies. It’s simple but extremely powerful, since it shapes everything that you’ll do as a team or organization.

The question: Who do we want to be?

It’s challenging to lead an organization in the best of times. In a time of scarcity – like the one we recently, abruptly entered – it can feel impossible.

But navigating difficulty is one of the roles of a leader. As FDR said, “A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.”

Matthew Fenton
Matthew Fenton

I’ve been working with my clients to answer questions like “How can we serve our consumers in new ways?” and “What trade-offs must we make to get through this?” You’ve no doubt asked and answered similar questions. At some level, these are questions about what we value.

Think for a moment about the choices recently made by your teams, your leadership and your organization. Which choices are you most proud of? What values do these choices reflect? Take a moment – right now – to make note of these. We’re going to come back to this.

Our values are being tested, which is to say this is an opportunity for personal and organizational growth. So don’t waste this crisis. It brings the opportunity to rethink, reorder and solidify what we value – and who we want to be.

Brands Are Already Showing Us Who They Are

For years, brands have fallen all over themselves trying to convince us that they’re values-based and purpose-driven. Now we get to find out who was serious.

Some brands are failing miserably. For example, a brand I’d never heard of, Parlour H, took the opportunity to start spamming me with hair-care tips for the quarantine. Timely, yes, but also wholly unrequested. Parlour H, is this really who you want to be?

To be fair, there have also been plenty of examples to the good. Companies have repurposed manufacturing facilities to make respirators, ventilators, hand sanitizer and masks, or are donating goods and services within their communities. Major brands have earned the most PR, but I encourage you to look for examples of local businesses who are doing the right things. You won’t have to look too hard.

These businesses should be applauded today and remembered when this is all over. By taking positive action, they’ve shown us who they are (and who they want to be).

“Brand” Values Are Actually Personal

When I ask, “Who do we want to be?” I’m deliberately using the first-person plural. I’m talking about people, not brands.

Brands are sometimes seen as these detached entities that sit between a company and its consumers. But companies that rely heavily on front-line personnel – such as restaurants, retail and service providers – know that their people are the brand. (One potential positive outcome of this crisis is that front-line staff will be viewed not as cost centers, but as value creators.)

There’s been a lot of talk about brand purpose and values in recent years.  And, yes, you may associate a certain brand with certain values. But let’s be clear – brands don’t choose their own values. How could they?  Brands aren’t sentient beings.

A brand is simply the collective intent of the people behind it.

As Jim Stengel has said, “A brand is simply the collective intent of the people behind it.” As brand leaders, we decide which values our brands will exemplify.  This means choosing some things and not choosing others. Whenever a brand makes a move, remember that there’s a team of people that made it happen.

Also note that I’m asking, “Who do we want to be?” and not “How do we want to be perceived?” That’s because the latter question allows for the possibility of faking it.  nd you can only fake it for so long before the jig’s up.

This is one of the areas where old-school thinking on branding – that brands are “costumes” that are easily changed, or “shields” that hide our true inner workings from the world – falls tragically short in practice. In branding, as with people, we reveal who we are by what we do, not by what we say.

Your brand is not a shield between your company and your consumers.

Where Values Fit Within Strategy

My positioning and strategy workshops always include at least one module rooted in values. During these modules, there’s a noticeable shift in the energy in the room. People aren’t thinking about tasks to execute or positions to claim; they’re thinking about what they could be and do, as a team, pulling together.

Asking questions like “Where will we play?” and “How will we win?” are absolutely necessary to crafting a successful strategy. But if these aren’t guided by a clear sense of who you want to be, the answers may lack cohesion and grounding.

In short: Your values should outlast any strategic or tactical decisions. So ignoring your values while crafting strategy makes zero sense.

This is to say that your values are a necessary part of the diagnosis that precedes any smart strategy. You’re establishing a core aspect of your worldview: “This is who we are and what we stand for. This is what we won’t sell for any price.”

The Strategic Process

Getting (Back) to Your Values

So as you consider how you’ll lead your way out of this crisis, start with the values you and your team truly live and embody. Ask questions like:

  • In our response to COVID-19, what decisions did we make that we’re particularly proud of?  What do those decisions say about our values?  (Refer to the notes I asked you to make at the top of this piece.)
  • In our company’s history, what are some stories that we’re particularly proud of? Think about both “diving catches” and “everyday wins.” What values do these stories exemplify?
  • What core values do you personally bring to work?
  • What core values would you want your children to exemplify when they begin their careers?
  • If we were to start another business tomorrow, in a completely different line of work, what values would we take with us? (I borrowed this question wholesale from Jim Collins.)
  • What values (as opposed to traits) would you like to demonstrate to customers, clients, partners and each other?

You can answer these questions individually or in small groups. Then share the outputs, with an eye toward both sensible clusters and intriguing outliers. The end goal should be to align on a small set of core values. In practice, this means about three values, and never more than five.

If, like many companies, you already have a Values Statement, this crisis presents an opportunity to revisit it. Which values did you really stand on during this time? Which might be improved or replaced?

When you’ve answered the question of “Who do we want to be?” you’ll have a powerful set of boundaries for the rest of the strategic process. You’ll instantly discard some avenues, since they don’t get you closer to who you want to be. (In some cases, you’ll find yourself saying, “That’s a great idea, but not for us.”)  Other avenues will elevate in priority immediately.

Most importantly, you’ll set down markers for how you behave within your walls – which will greatly shape how you’re perceived beyond those walls.

When we respond to major challenges, we often reveal who we truly are. But we can also transcend old limits and grow new strengths.  During this crisis, I’ve been inspired by numerous examples of generosity, creativity and resilience. I’m sure you have too.

So, again: Don’t waste this crisis. Make decisions that Future You will be proud of. Identify the values that drove those decisions. And ensure that those values live within your organization for years to come.

Please reach out with questions about (re)defining your values or resetting your strategy. I’m happy to help.

About Matthew Fenton: Matthew is a former CMO who helps brands to focus, grow and win. Since founding his consultancy, Three Deuce Branding, in 1997, he’s helped hundreds of brands to achieve “brand clarity.” His consulting services and speaking engagements help brands to focus on what matters through positioning, strategy and ideation. Contact Matthew here. He’s based in Chicago.

Copyright 2020 – Matthew Fenton. All Rights Reserved. 


Customer service Engagement

Beware of “Askholes” & Others Who Won’t Listen

Understandably, people who ask for advice may not always follow it. But how they listen and respond makes a difference in the outcome and its impact on others. This includes frustrating encounters with “askholes” — people who constantly ask for your advice, yet ALWAYS do the complete opposite of what you told them to do” [Urban Dictionary] — and those who ask for advice only to dismiss it.

Ignoring valuable suggestions from reliable sources can negatively affect the workplace. Read on to learn more.

Example #1. When the consultant voice doesn’t matter

A colleague of mine shared the following experience.
     I was called in to consult with an IT organization to facilitate the initial sessions on a massive change and reorganization. People were not being forced to join the new organization — they came by choice and interview. During the first session, an employee who worked in network security stood up and said “I don’t support any of this and will work to stop it.” I was able to address the employee’s disruption temporarily and he sat down.
     When I later met with the IT leader to discuss this serious issue, he made light of it saying, “People say things like that during changes. It’s no big deal.” I told him it IS a big deal as the network security specialist accepted this job in the new organization by choice and said he will do everything to stop the change. Still the leader seemed unmoved. Finally I said, “I am telling you that you better check into what he is doing to the network. This is serious!!” He did and found out that the network security specialist was taking steps to subvert it.
     When you ask a trusted consultant for an opinion, at least check out what they are saying. This wasn’t the first leader to initially dismiss my concerns only to find out the situation was very serious.

Example #2. When the employee voice doesn’t matter 

A service-based organization implemented system changes that frustrated both front-line employees and customers. Fortunately, loyal customers were patient and empathetic as staff struggled to adapt. Several customers also politely shared their concerns with employees to be communicated upward. But staff feedback was routinely ignored to the point that employees resorted to asking customers to complain directly to management as senior leaders were more likely to respond to customer complaints.

As a result, customers were made aware of management not listening to employee feedback which lead customers to rethink their perceptions of how the organization was run. It’s why I remind leaders, “The way your employees feel is the way your customers will feel, and if your employees don’t feel valued, neither will your customers.”

How’s your willingness to listen?

I realize not all suggestions and advice should be heeded. But ignoring outright the input of peoples’ experience and expertise is not only frustrating to those with something to say, it can lead to their disengaging with you.

Asking for advice is only half the battle. How you respond puts your professional credibility and workplace engagement at risk.

[Image by Christine Sponchia from Pixabay.]

Engagement Marketing

Strengthening Your Company’s Brand from the Inside-Out – Podcast Interview

What a joy to be a guest on the “Profitable Happiness™” Podcast, hosted by bestselling author and musician, Dr. Pelè, who focuses on workplace happiness as a key to success.

In our engaging 30 minute conversation, we talk about what lead me to bridge marketing and human resources with internal marketing to create a positive workplace culture that values employees and customers. We also discuss interesting issues such as how to identify happy workplaces, how to save money on outside consultants, and how to have a positive impact in a toxic environment.

Listen here for our conversation on Internal Workplace Wellness Marketing.

To learn more and listen to Dr. Pelè’s other interviews with “successful workplace happiness experts, executive coaches, and entrepreneurs, check out his website.



True Confessions: I’m Tired of Employee Engagement

I started working on employee engagement long before the “e” word came into vogue, and I’m tired of it. Here’s why.

Overused as a business buzzword, the term “employee engagement” has become meaningless. It gets talked about in executive suites and management meetings, yet few companies actually do anything about it because too much effort is required to change a culture that needs fixing and artificial attempts in a cultural vacuum only make the situation worse.

As a result, I’m just plain tired of:

  • the endless rhetoric and discussions that go nowhere
  • the naysayers who don’t think engagement matters
  • executives frustrated with engagement because it’s not a quick fix.

Employee engagement 1.0 and beyond
When I started Quality Service Marketing more than 30 years ago, my work involved helping clients gain employee commitment to marketing and organizational goals. Managers wanted to know how to get employees motivated and willing to work with them to take care of customers.

Engagement’s scope has evolved since then to recognize that employee and employer each bear responsibility for it. Employees need to show up to work ready, willing, and able to do their best, and employers need to provide a workplace where employees are respected, trusted, and eager to do their best.

Work and workplace expectations have also changed. Employees want meaningful work with flexibility and fair pay. And while some companies proactively engage them as valuable partners, too many still consider them as labor to be manipulated in response to short-term market pressures.

That’s the main reason I’m frustrated with employee engagement. We haven’t fully transitioned from the industrial age of management control over employees-as-commodities to a better model of management with employees-as-respected-partners sharing in responsibility and ownership of results.

Not ready to give up
Despite my frustrations, I’m encouraged when I meet with employees who tell me how great their employers and workplace cultures are. Ditto when I hear and read about successful organizations where employee-care is as important as customer-care.

Despite the clueless-in-charge, there are still leaders out there who value their employees and genuinely want to do better with and by them. So I’m not giving up – because people matter and they deserve better.

[Image credit: photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash]