Engagement Training & Development

Considering Major Organizational Change? Listen Up!

“Executives who initiate strategic change without engaging managers in the process disrespect them by dismissing their work and institutional knowledge.

While organizational change isn’t easy, it doesn’t have to be made more painful by those in charge.” Sybil F. Stershic

Those in middle and front-line management who are most affected by change are more than willing to share their ideas on how to best to minimize disruptions and help employees adapt.

Ignore them at your peril, unless you’re looking for an expedited path to disengagement and turnover.

[Image source unknown.]


More than just-for-fun: how playing leads to better understanding

It’s true:
“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a lifetime of conversation.”  [attributed to Plato]

This was confirmed in feedback from a group of professionals for whom I recently had the privilege of providing a LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® workshop.

This special session was designed to bring a small group of department managers and supervisors together, who work in the office and/or remotely, to connect and better understand each other in a safe, engaging way.

Verbatim comments included:

“It got me to think internally about my role and growth but also add an extra value and appreciation for my team, their roles, and talents.”

“It helped to connect with co-workers and see how they thought. To see them interact with one another and think alike was very positive.”

“Today’s session helped me experience the team’s unity. We all had different ideas, thoughts, but we were all joined in a single purpose and this is to serve our community.”

As a LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® facilitator, I find it gratifying to witness the group’s progress from their initial reactions about playing with LEGO® bricks at work -ranging from skepticism to amusement – to their full immersion in the process of shared understanding and unexpected joy in the process.

[Photos by Sybil F. Stershic]


A Powerful Way to Strengthen Team Culture

In today’s remote and hybrid work environments, how do you maintain connection and camaraderie among employees? How do you strengthen team culture and reinforce the message “We’re all in this together?”

One of the best ways I found to do this is to bring people together in-person, in small groups of 6-10, to safely explore and share their experiences as team members in an immersive and impactful way. As a facilitator, I’ve witnessed the power of such an experience that builds better understanding among employees using LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®.

Unlike the traditional approach of employees sitting around a table listening to a few colleagues while someone takes notes on a flipchart, LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® enables 100% participant engagement and creative articulation of ideas. It engages small groups in individual and collective discovery as they build and share models using special LEGO bricks. And in its own unique way, it answers the question:

How can I know what I think till I see what I say?” (quote attributed to Graham Wallis and E.M. Forster)

What’s most gratifying is how participants are astonished by and appreciative of this shared experience that enables them to re-energize their feelings about work in a focused and fun way.

I love the following quotes which help illustrate the workplace benefits of a facilitated LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® session:

Better understanding and alignment among team members

“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a lifetime of conversation.” Attributed to Plato

“Leaping into the unknown when done alongside others causes the solid ground of trust to materialize beneath our feet.”  Daniel Coyle, author of The Culture Code

Better collaboration and innovation

“Remote work makes it all too easy to default to ‘nothing but business’ mode. But genuine interaction, playfulness, and fun are important for collaboration and innovative thinking. You can always tell when teams are joyful in their work: The quality of the work is better.” Jenn Maer, former Design Director IDEO

“As well as providing much-needed stress relief … play can end up being counterintuitively, very productive. We can make interesting, new connections between ideas when we allow ourselves to loosen up from our regular goal-driven, laser-focused, instrumental approach.” Martin Reeves and Jack Fuller, Boston Consulting Group

Reinforced employee value and empowerment

“Fun is an exhale that people experience when they’re seen, valued, and empowered … we have to recognize that fun is the expression of lots of other important foundational investments in our team that enable people to show up whole, human, and valued.” Amber Naslund, LinkedIn Enterprise Sales Leader

“Shared understanding is what empowers us more than anything.” Chris Hadfield, Canadian astronaut

In our post-pandemic “next normal” world, employees need to re-connect in a memorable and meaningful way. Let me know when you’re ready to make this happen with LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®.

You’ll be amazed at how well it plays out for you and your team.

[Image credit:  Adithya Rajeev from Pixabay]

When Your Boss Deserves Thanks (+What to Do When Your Boss Doesn’t Deserve It)

The following excerpts, shared with permission, are from a business column written by HR pro Tina Hamilton, CEO of myHRPartner Inc. While the complete article also contains tips on how employers can thank employees, I was struck by the reminder that workplace gratitude shouldn’t be limited – it also applies to employees thanking their bosses.

If you’re fortunate to work for someone you respect, it’s appropriate to express authentic, sincere gratitude (no suck-up Eddie Haskell here):

“Employees: how often do you thank your business owner, CEO or supervisor? What would you thank them for? Here are a few ideas that illustrate that it doesn’t need to be complicated.

-Thank them for your job. Have you ever done that: Authentically thank them for the opportunity to work at their organization: ‘Hey, Jan, I wanted to take a moment to thank you for employing me here and making me part of this team. I really am grateful.’ Imagine the impact of those words spoken sincerely.

-Spell out why you appreciate your supervisor for no reason other than to appreciate them: ‘I want to take a moment to thank you for being a great boss. You make work so much more enjoyable.’

-Thank them for allowing you to work from home, to take time off, for being flexible and so on. Do it out of the blue for no special reason and with the expectation of nothing in return. Of all the words we hear in the workplace, the two words ‘thank you’ are more meaningful than you can imagine. Bosses rarely receive the thanks that they deserve for all that they do.”

Here’s what Tina has to say if you find yourself working for someone undeserving of appreciation:

“I would not be doing my job if I did not acknowledge that some of you are reading this and thinking, ‘Ha! I would never thank my boss. He/She does not deserve it for the way they treat us, manage us, take advantage of us,’ fill-in-the-blank. I acknowledge your sentiment. Sadly, your situation is too common. It’s fair to feel ungrateful and undervalued as a result.

See it as an opportunity to evaluate if a solution exists. If your work situation is a lost cause, strongly consider making a change. There is no need to wallow in misery when the job market is saturated with open opportunities. If you have ever thought about making a move, this is the time to do it. Maybe then you can feel thankful again. You deserve to. Everyone does.”

[Well said, Tina. Thank you!]

[Photo by Paul Hanaoka on Unsplash]

How Marketing Makes Its Work More Difficult

I often hear marketing staff commiserate about how they struggle to get respect and buy-in for their programs. Several reasons account for this:

  • given its work with advertising agencies, media firms, and incentive and premium providers, marketing is primarily associated with creative (aka “fun”) processes to promote the brand
  • marketing teams typically work within functional silos such as research, market development, brand identity/management, marketing communications, etc.
  • marketers neglect to educate others in the organization on marketing’s fit in “the big picture” and how everyone’s individual and collective actions impact the brand.

Just because the Marketing Department is on the organizational chart doesn’t mean people know what it does and why it’s important

It’s hard to be taken seriously when people dismiss marketing as necessary “fluff.” By not taking action to correct this misperception, marketers make their work more difficult and compromise marketing’s effectiveness as every employee in the organization (not just those in the Marketing Department) play a role in delivering the brand promise.

From awareness to action: the missing link

What’s missing is marketing marketing’s purpose and role in the organization — not for its own glory or credit, but for strengthening its internal relationships and integral connection to the bottom line. Marketers have the requisite knowledge and skills to communicate marketing’s value, yet they’re so busy taking care of everyone else’s marketing needs that they neglect their own.

The solution isn’t difficult or complicated. It’s a matter of intentionally and proactively educating employees about marketing is, what it does, and why it matters to the organization by:

  • increasing awareness and visibility of marketing’s various roles as brand promoter and steward … collector and interpreter of market/consumer insight … product/service/brand communicator … customer advocate … etc.
  • increasing the perception of marketing’s value to the success of the organization
  • and strengthening relationships within the organization in the process.

Marketing marketing’s value is not a once-and-done campaign. It’s an on-going strategy that’s needed to build and maintain mutual understanding and respect between marketing and the rest of the organization.

Unless, of course, marketing is okay being known as the “Department of Fluff.”

[Photo by Steve Johnson 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]



Exploring the Work-from-Home Experience & Its Out-of-Office Toll

Employees who are used to working in an office environment have undergone an abrupt change to working from home the past several months due to COVID-19. Curious to learn how they were handling the absence of in-person communications, collaboration, and teamwork, I reached out to colleagues (executives and professionals in a variety of organizations where working from home is not the norm) to understand their experience.

Here are the qualitative highlights compiled from more than a dozen responses.

Describe your experience about working from home since COVID-19 impacted your workplace.
Similar to many articles exploring the pro’s and con’s of working from home, my colleagues confirmed it’s a “mixed bag” and a “means to an end.” They appreciate the convenience and time-saving of not having to commute, and many are grateful to have the opportunity to continue working. At the same time, they’re frustrated with distractions from other family members confined at home, insufficient and/or inconsistent bandwidth, and fatigue from meeting virtually.

“The lack of personal engagement has created more challenges than I would’ve guessed. I underestimated how much I benefit from organically ‘talking something through’ – the benefits of speaking out loud and receiving real time feedback.”

“Having always had a lot of interaction with others in the office, I now have to make an effort to keep this collaboration going.”

What stands out for you about working remotely compared with working in your office location with fellow employees?
Most notably, respondents commented on missing personal interaction.

“Emails have doubled or tripled as a result of not being able to casually talk to others in the office. And the virtual meetings are more tedious than those around the table.”

“Our work has intensified and what stands out most for me, as CEO, is a lingering concern about staff burnout and my inability to intercede. Working remotely reduces the opportunities to ‘check-in’ on staff and make sure they’re doing okay.”

“Working from home takes a lot more effort to stay connected. While in the office chats occur naturally, I now have to pick up the phone or setup a virtual meeting to run ideas by somebody or just chat about the weather. It’s easy to lose contact with an introverted person and difficult to find out how somebody is really coping with this new normal.”

What are you most looking forward to about returning to your workplace environment?
The act and impact of being with other employees is a major theme. Being together feeds the energy of working as a team.

“I am most looking forward to the sense of team momentum. I know we can all knock out our work independently but that feeling of striving and progress is different when we can’t work as a true team.”

“Collaboration! Seeing somebody in person and not through a screen.”

“I look forward to the camaraderie of my colleagues.” 

Takeaway: the Energy Toll
While coping as best they can under the circumstances, people who prefer the office environment find that working from home requires more emotional energy to connect, communicate, and collaborate with others. They look forward to returning to their respective workplaces to regain the strong sense of teamwork and esprit de corps that happens when being together.

Note: Special thanks to everyone who took the time to share their working from home experiences for this post.

[Image by You X Ventures on Unsplash]


Pathetic Tales from the Clueless in Charge

Incredulous but true. Here are several examples of the absurd-in-action from the executive suite.

  • A colleague who works in sales shared that her employer is undergoing massive changes and consolidation. Besides reducing staff and increasing the remaining employees’ workload, management also lowered sales commissions while raising sales goals.
  • At a staff meeting the head of a small organization announced the company was outsourcing its IT work — without having first told or consulted with the person responsible for the in-house IT function.
  • A CEO invested in a senior management team retreat where everyone, including the CEO, committed to agreed-upon behaviors to improve team efficiency and effectiveness. Several months later, the team found that everyone except the CEO was living up to their commitments.
  • The president of an well-respected ad agency called a staff meeting to announce a “merger of equals” with a firm that was much bigger and actually acquiring the smaller agency. It was news to the staff including several of the agency’s senior partners who had not been told their agency was being shopped. It was also news to the retired CEO and founder who kept an office and secretary in the agency but was out of town when the meeting was held. He learned of the deal when it hit the newspapers.
  • A CEO, who complained about wasting time in a company-wide email, made everyone wait for him on an all-hands call before cancelling it 25 minutes later. While he never acknowledged his actions (contrary to his pet-peeve), he continued to complain about employees wasting time.
Call the executives/decision-makers in these situations by whatever words fit: clueless, unrealistic, inept, [fill-in-the-blank with your own description]. Whatever you choose to describe them, they are also major contributors to employee frustration, disengagement, and burnout.
Engagement Training & Development

Let Employees Out of the Bubble for Better Collaboration

Whether getting together in person for problem-solving, planning, or idea-sharing, many employees are thrilled with the opportunity to engage in active discussion when management is truly interested in their input.

I’ve seen the positive impact of these employee gatherings first-hand in my work as a facilitator and trainer. Individual, team, and organizational benefits of effective in-person working sessions include:

  • expanded internal resources through networking and relationship-building with co-workers
  • reduced silos via interdepartmental communication and teamwork
  • enhanced organizational capacity through shared learning, idea-exchange, and renewed focus around a common purpose.

Bringing together employees from different areas of a large organization may incur travel costs compared with lower-cost alternatives of webinars and teleconferences. But the benefits and overall value of connecting employees make a well planned face-to-face gathering a worthwhile investment.

Employee feedback

Here’s what employees say about their experience in these sessions from actual meeting evaluations:

  • It’s good to get out of our bubble and look at the big picture.
  • It was an excellent open forum to bounce ideas off of other employees.
  • Brings together what we’ve been trying to accomplish and articulate in a cohesive, common platform.
  • It provided a sense of team and togetherness.
  • Excellent opportunity to exchange ideas. We’re all in the same boat with common goals.

Want better collaboration and engagement?

“Regardless of how tech-savvy you may be, face-to-face meetings are still the most effective way to capture the attention of participants, engage them in the conversation, and drive productive collaboration.” – Michael Massari


Keep This in Mind When You’re Planning to Restructure

The Reorganization
by David Zinger

They moved us,
yet we were not moved.

They changed us,
yet we remained the same.

Boxes on pyramidal charts
yanked off the shelf
like Cheerios from a grocery store.

They morphed us
into a matrix.
Duties reassigned as we searched
for our coffee mug that failed to move with us.

They pushed.
We stiffened.
Memos menaced as washroom whispers hissed.

Bounce back.
Start over.
Invite us.
Involve us.
Trust us.

We move together,
not chess pieces at war
checking each other into corners,
we play on the same board.

– From David Zinger’s book of poems on workplace engagement, Assorted Zingersillustrated by cartoonist John Junson.