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]

I Don’t Need to Have the Answers

… as long as I have the right questions.

That’s one of my most important tasks as a facilitator: to carefully select the “right” questions. These are thoughtful questions that engage all participants in purposeful discussion leading to outcomes such as resolving a problem, getting everyone on the same page, setting strategic priorities, identifying resources and next steps, etc.

“Most facilitators spend considerable time looking for and thinking about a question for a particular situation with a particular group of people.” Dorothy Strachan, facilitator and author of Making Questions Work. 

That’s why I put much effort and energy into building a toolkit of engaging and focused questions – collecting them, adapting them, and coming up with new ones. It’s one of the most challenging and rewarding aspects of my work.

My clients are smart 

I learned that the groups I work with have the answers – they just don’t know it. My role is to come up with the best questions and guide the process that enables clients to uncover the answers they need to get unstuck and move forward.

Sounds simple, but it’s not. I feel a tremendous amount of pressure to come up with the most appropriate questions for each group. Given the answers are unknown until participants ponder the questions, their answers cannot be presumed or predicted in advance. So the stakes are incredibly high in choosing the right questions and creating a psychologically safe space in which to pose questions that:

  • frame the issue(s)
  • provoke thought
  • provide focus and clarity
  • prompt creative thinking
  • foster idea-exchange and development
  • encourage the sharing of relevant experiences that help people learn from each other.

Coming together to address carefully chosen engaging questions, reflecting on them, building on one another’s responses, and reaching resolution is most important for the participants … and most satisfying  for the facilitator.

“I asked, ‘What would you like me to do when you feel stuck?’
She said, ‘Do what you do best. Ask questions. Help me find an answer.'” Peter Drucker

[Image credit: Pete Linforth from Pixabay]
Engagement Musings

Worried Much These Days?

Unlike MAD Magazine’s “devil-may-care” poster boy, Alfred E. Neuman – described as “someone who can maintain a sense of humor while the world is collapsing around him” – many people I know are worried. They’re worried about COVID’s resurgence, especially as flu season approaches, in addition to feeling stressed over continuing political and environmental issues.

I’m worried about my friends and family members who feel this way. And although the music video is entertaining, suggesting to people that they “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” is insulting.

What helps me cope is to try to maintain a sense of perspective about worrying itself.

“Worry is a by-product of feeling powerless. We fear the unknown and are frustrated that we can’t do anything about it. We also want to influence daily events, but some things are beyond our control. The key is to face that reality and go with the flow. Most things that we worry about never come to pass … In fact, in most cases, worrying is a lot worse than the actual outcome.” – Frank Sonnenberg

Please know it’s not my intention to make light of or dismiss the seriousness of dealing with anxiety issues. I’m just sharing what helps me cope, and here are some of my favorite quotes on the subject:

“We suffer more often in imagination than in reality. – Seneca

“Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow.” – Swedish Proverb

“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.” ― Corrie Ten Boom

“If the problem can be solved why worry? If the problem cannot be solved worrying will do you no good.” ― Shantideva

“If you want to test your memory, try to recall what you were worrying about one year ago today.” – E. Joseph Cossman

A sense of humor (ala Alfred E. Neuman) is also helpful.

“[One fellow] worried so much that he decided to hire someone to do his worrying for him. He found a man who agreed to be his hired worrier for a salary of $200,000 per year. After the man accepted the job, his first question to his boss was, “Where are you going to get $200,000 per year?” To which the man responded, “That’s your worry.” ― Max Lucado

Besides a sense of perspective and humor, check out this helpful article on coping tips this season.

[Image: Alfred E. Neuman, created by Norman Mingo for MAD Magazine]

What I’ll Miss Post-Pandemic

I’m feeling a bit unsettled as we ease out of pandemic-related restrictions. All of a sudden it seems my work and social calendar are filling up with in-person meetings and meals with friends, colleagues, and clients. With more people fully vaccinated (including me), I’m cautiously excited about having a busier schedule with more than just Zoom meetings.

Who could have imagined the many mundane things we took for granted before the pandemic? Activities like being together to share birthdays, graduations, weddings, anniversaries, and memorial services … attending concerts, plays, sporting events, museums, and conferences … planned and impromptu get-togethers for coffee or lunch or dinner … handshakes and hugs (especially hugs!).

“A crisis can be very clarifying. When you have emerged from a crisis you learn to cherish what really matters.” Scott Cochrane

While we’re fortunate in the U.S. to say “Good riddance!” to the worst of the pandemic, I find there are some aspects of the past 15 months that I’ll actually miss. Here are a few of them (in no particular order):

  • a renewed sense of respect for front line and essential workers like grocery/convenience store/drugstore clerks; healthcare professionals; delivery and truck drivers; etc.
  • a greater appreciation for nature’s restorative benefits
  • people proactively reaching out to connect with others near and far to check on their wellbeing
  • self-acceptance that it’s ok to say you’re not ok
  • increased awareness of the importance of mental health —  the impact of anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues that emerged and/or deepened during the pandemic, along with the need to de-stigmatize them.

I sincerely hope these will not disappear during and after our recovery.

What about you? What part of pandemic life will you miss?

[Image credit: photo by Thomas Kinto on Unsplash]
Engagement Musings

Time for a Play Date with Your Inner Child

The arrival of spring combined with advent of mass COVID vaccinations is the perfect time to refresh ourselves as we emerge from our winter cocoons and quarantines. This year in particular, it’s also the perfect opportunity to safely indulge in a little fun with a re-visit to one’s inner child. Here’s why:

“We’re living in a world that’s more conducive to anxiety than playfulness … Play offers a reprieve from the chaos, and it challenges us to connect with a key part of ourselves that gets lost in the responsibilities of adulthood, especially during a crisis.” Kristin Wong

Here are several play date ideas for you to safely engage your inner child:

  • read a favorite story book or book of poems from childhood
  • weather permitting, roll down a grassy hill … look for four-leaf clovers in a green field … play hopscotch …
  • share favorite childhood memories with friends (and they don’t even have to be the ones you made the memories with)
  • dance to the music of a favorite band or recording artist from your youth
  • bake a family favorite cake or batch of cookies
  • draw pictures with crayons or color in a coloring book [Remember the scent of opening a fresh box of Crayola crayons?]
  • build with clay, LEGO® bricks, or other building materials
  • read comic books or race Hot Wheels® or Matchbox cars
  • watch your favorite childhood cartoons or movies [I love that I can now watch an hour of Bugs Bunny & Friends on Saturday mornings!]

Whatever your inner child decides to do, be playful … whimsical … let your imagination take you wherever it leads … Just let go and enjoy.

“What all play has in common is that it offers a sense of engagement and pleasure, takes the player out of a sense of time and place, and the experience of doing it is more important than the outcome.” Stuart Brown

[Image by Gustavo Rezende from Pixabay]



Favorite Quotes on Pandemic-Related Changes in the Workplace

Last year’s disruption by COVID-19 led to copious content on its impact on the workplace discussing how leaders could navigate, cope, innovate, sustain and/or continue to grow in anxious and uncertain times.

As an advocate for a positive and engaged organizational culture, I was fascinated with the discussions and resulting responses to the pandemic. And I’m excited that aspects of the workplace have actually changed for the better. Here are some of my favorite quotes that reflect these changes.


“While no organization has the exact answer yet (that we know of), many are seeing the office of the future as a meeting place for collaboration, connection, and innovation and much less as a heads-down cubical farm for individual work.” Aaron De Smet, Laura Tegelber, Rob Theunissen, and Tiffany Vogel, Overcoming pandemic fatigue: How to reenergize organizations for the long run

“If there’s a silver lining to crisis, it’s that it shakes up structure … Many teams have seen people across functions step up and speak up with effective results — and now that they’ve found their voices, taking them away would be both difficult and wrong. Leaders and teams alike need to learn a new style of collaborative decision making.” Lolly Daskal, How to Prepare Your People for the New Normal

Employee wellness

“This crisis has presented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reinvent the workplace. Things that might once have seemed impossible have proved surprisingly workable … Focusing on well-being and social connectivity will serve [an] important purpose: helping employees to recover faster from what, for so many people, has been a traumatic, painful, and stressful period. And that is not only good for business—it is good for people.” Adriana Dahik, Deborah Lovich, Caroline Kreafle, Allison Bailey, Julie Kilmann, Derek Kennedy, Prateek Roongta, Felix Schuler, Leo Tomlin, and John Wenstrup, What 12,000 Employees Have to Say About the Future of Remote Work

“In unprecedented, rapidly changing situations, play is a critical capability. As well as providing much-needed stress relief – how many of us are currently working from dawn to dusk? – 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, We Need Imagination Now More than Ever


“This is a time for leaders to try to invoke or provoke a degree of reflection, spending the time to talk about a shared sense of purpose and core values while also spending the time to emotionally check in. In fact, it will have the dual benefit of helping people move past the present suffering and begin to envision and create their new future together.” Richard Boyatzis interviewed in Psychological safety, emotional intelligence, and leadership in a time of flux

Better Workplace Culture

“… companies are waking up to the need for greater empathy and compassion to create a workplace that can unleash the full potential of their people even beyond the crisis … introducing new, more human-centered principles that truly put talent and people at the heart of organizational success. [These principles] all have one thing in common: a vision of successful organizations that are intensely human, nurturing the very best elements of emotion, creativity, human connection, and empathy and inspiring emergent leadership at every level.” Aaron De Smet, Laura Tegelber, Rob Theunissen, and Tiffany Vogel, Overcoming pandemic fatigue: How to reenergize organizations for the long run

[Image by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash]

What R-R-Resonated with Me in 2020

Like most people, I’m looking forward to putting 2020 behind us.

Reflecting on the year, I noticed many words starting with “r” used to describe the pandemic’s immediate, near- and long-term impacts. Here are the r-words that most resonated with me and why.

  • Response and recovery
    How healthcare professionals, scientists, leaders, and communities acted to help those affected. How business and educators adapted/adopted technology to enable people to work and learn virtually. People who also helped include manufacturers who revamped their facilities to make sanitizer; volunteers who made masks; mental health experts who made themselves available for counseling; restauranteurs and volunteers who provided food for people on the front lines and those in need. [This list is not exhaustive.]
  • Recognition 
    How people celebrated the heroic efforts of healthcare workers, “essential” front-line workers, food service, and others who continued to serve while at risk themselves.
  • Reset, reframe
    Coming to grips with the situation and putting it in perspective. Like other major natural and man-made disruptions that significantly change our behaviors and priorities (e.g., earthquakes, fires, epidemics, wars, etc.), COVID-19 is a societal reset that will affect how we live and work.
  • Resilience
    This is our ability to face adversity, bounce back from it, and learn and grow from the experience. I’m continually amazed how people manage to cope and adapt. Getting through a traumatic situation involves persevering and building on what works and what doesn’t.
  • Renew, reimagine
    Changes in how we live and work in response to the pandemic created opportunities to re-think how we live and work.
  • Reality
    The need to be realistic while trying to be positive also resonated with me as turning the calendar page to a new year doesn’t mean an automatic refresh.

“We are in this for the long haul. Expecting that a single day will come when we are liberated from the stresses and challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic will, sadly, be an exercise in frustration. We will likely never go back to the same “normal” in which we operated in January of 2020.” Beth Steinhorn, Redefining Leadership: Finding Balance in Recovery and Renewal

Ready to move forward
It’s too early to predict what the world will look like post-pandemic, except that we are profoundly changed. I’m hopeful that at some point we’ll experience the eventual return of in-person collaborative meetings that co-exist with virtual ones; unrestricted in-person dining; attendance at cultural, entertainment, and sports venues; group celebrations; and handshakes and hugs — especially hugs!

I wish you all a better, safer, and more sane New Year!

[Image credits: Goodbye 2020 by Immo Wegmann on Unsplash. 2021 Stay healthy by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.]



Engagement Training & Development

“Hands down, face-to-face is the best” (pun intentional)

Confession: I have as much fun talking about LEGO® bricks as I do working with them.

I actually use these colorful plastic building blocks in team development as a Certified Facilitator in LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® (LSP) – a novel approach that enables participants to “think with their hands and listen with their eyes.”

I had a special opportunity to share why I find this hands-on method so powerful with fellow LSP facilitator, Peter Tonge, host of “LSP – Face-to-Face,” a podcast produced primarily for the global LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® facilitator community. Peter is a member of the Brickstorming team whose founder, the brilliant Kristen Klassen, trained me in LSP.

In our conversation we discuss some of my favorite early participant LSP models (shown here in this post) to illustrate the power of LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® in people’s hands. I’m amazed how deeply participants engage in individual and collective discovery as they create and share their models with each other. That’s why this hands-on approach must be held in-person — LSP’s potent immersive experience cannot be duplicated in a virtual setting.

One of my takeaways from our discussion was this insightful quote from Peter, “The [LSP] Method doesn’t require it to be complicated. The Method requires it to be thoughtful.” This quote ties in with why I cite the single grey brick as one of my favorites. Take a listen to learn more, including what the models included in this post mean.

A special thank you to Peter for allowing me to post our conversation here.



“Hi, this is a truly candid auto-reply you wish you’d thought of first”

“Find lightness and humor in each day. There is a lot to be worried about, and with good reason. Counterbalance this heaviness with something funny each day …” Margie Donlon, psychologist

This is why I’m sharing this post from Vu Le, a respected nonprofit professional, writer, speaker, and founder of Nonprofit AF. I love his bio that says, “Vu’s passion to make the world better, combined with a low score on the Law School Admission Test, drove him into the field of nonprofit work, where he learned that we should take the work seriously, but not ourselves. There’s tons of humor in the nonprofit world, and someone needs to document it.”

Fortunately for us, that someone is Vu. Here is his post, shared with permission, and abridged for space. Enjoy!

Honest email auto-replies you can use during these challenging times by Vu Le

Hi everyone. The past few months have been ridiculous. If you’ve emailed me, you literally got this auto-response back:

“Hi. This is an automatic reply. Due to parenting and homeschooling two small children, I will be slow to respond to emails. And I’ll be honest, I may forget to respond completely. If something is urgent, please call or text me. Thank you. Vu.”

This has actually been extremely helpful to have in place, as folks have been a lot more understanding when they hear from me three months after they email. Things are not normal. We all need to be a little more honest with one another in our communications. With that in mind, here are some auto-responses I drafted to serve as inspiration for you all. Feel free to adapt them to suit your needs:

General: “Hi, thank you for your message. This auto-response is to let you know that due to the pandemic, election anxiety, and other factors, it may take me some time to respond if I ever get around to it. If you need immediate assistance, I hope you find it somewhere.”

For parents of small children: “Hello, this is an auto-response. I am a parent with small children, so I am constantly exhausted and frazzled and it may take some time before I get back to you. My kids are a joy and it is so wonderful to get to spend so much time with them. It’s like getting to eat your favorite ice cream! But a whole gallon of it! Every day! If something is urgent, it’s best to call me, but keep in mind that there will be screaming and crying and the smoke alarm might go off during our chat because Chloe might be trying to set the couch on fire again. I look forward to a conversation with an actual human adult, so please call me! Especially if you understand these new ways that kids are being taught how to do second-grade math!”

For exasperated BIPOC folks: “Hi, this is an auto-reply letting you know that as a [Black, Indigenous, woman of color, etc.] I am exhausted by the relentless assault on my safety and chance at happiness these past four years, and also since always. It might take me a while to get back to you because I’m tired of fighting and deserve a break so I am just going to be growing hybrid flowers on Animal Crossing New Horizons and making them into hats. If you are white, especially if you are a cisgender straight white dude, here’s my Venmo and Cash App so you can pay for some of the emotional labor I’ve had to do to educate you about various stuff over the years.”

For grantwriters putting up with BS: “Thank you for emailing me. This is an auto-reply. I will get back to you as soon as I finish these 18 grant proposals that for some reason are all due next week. Despite the pandemic and the threats to our communities, many funders continue to operate as if things are completely normal. Which is why I still have to answer inane-ass questions like ‘please explain your organization’s history, mission, vision, values, evaluation strategies, and recent successes in 100 words or less.’ Thank you for your patience…unless, you’re one of these funders who are forcing nonprofits to waste our time, in which case, screw you. (Haha, just kidding. You know, grantwriter humor and all. Please give us money!)”

For nonprofit directors: “Thank you so much for your message. This auto-reply is to let you know that I received your email and that I will get back to you as soon as possible. However, right now we are dealing with multiple challenges, including cashflow issues, Zoom fatigue, and general stress and chaos. Half the team is gone due to furlough and layoffs. Also, since the office has been empty, there is a mice infestation that started attracting rattlesnakes. Thank you for your understanding. If you would like to donate to our Rattlesnake Relocation Fund, please click the donate button on our website.”

For overwhelmed DEI consultants: “Hi, this is an automatic reply. If you are contacting me for a training or facilitation on undoing racism, advancing equity, etc., there is a 6-to-12-month waiting period. Y’all should have done this way before it was popular to do so. Feel free to contact another consultant, or else let me know you want to be on this waiting list. Meanwhile, use this time to find money, because this is exhausting for me so it’s not going to be cheap for you.”

For existentialists: “This is an auto-response. I will try to get back to you as soon as I can. But what exactly is the point of doing so? Life is a loose collection of primal screams echoing in the Void. As Heinrich Böll once said, I am a clown…and I collect moments.’ Are we not all clowns putting on the makeup of professionalism, collecting moments of productivity and meaning to display in gaudy curiosity cabinets for other clowns to gawk at? Your email and my response are nothing but a series of ritualized actions to distract us from the horrors of inevitable oblivion.”

Thank you, Vu! You can read more of his posts at Nonprofit AF. [Image by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash]





Customer service Engagement

Important Reminder for All Employers

It’s been several months since COVID-19 disrupted and changed the workplace. Regardless of where your employees now work – whether from home, at your place of business, on the road, or some hybrid approach – the following still applies.

“The way your employees feel is the way your customers will feel.
And if your employees don’t feel valued, neither will your customers.”     
– Sybil F. Stershic

[Image by jessica45 from Pixabay]