Thursday Thoughts No. 7 (9/16/21)


Culture is a vital facet in a successful business and a successful community.

Back in 2003, I was stationed in Baghdad, Iraq as a military police officer. We were three months into the war and my squad was working in an Iraqi Police station on the northeast side of Baghdad. Our police station was decrepit with broken panes of glass in the windowsills, cigarette butts piled in the corner on the blackened floor, and no flushing toilets. On this particular day, I was sitting in the front of the station taking complaints from Iraqi citizens. During one of the quieter moments the female interpreter, Nada, said, “The reason why the Iraqis are not behaving is that they don’t know how to respond to freedom. Under Saddam’s dictatorship, they would lose their life or limb for infractions. Now they can loot, drive down the wrong side of the street, slight their neighbor, and barely anything happens.”  I had an epic epiphany at that moment. We, as Americans, couldn’t possibly comprehend the Iraqi’s emotions, thoughts, and the fallout that occurred after liberating Iraq. The saying that “culture eats strategy for breakfast” not only existed in Iraq but the native culture killed our foreign policy—both in Iraq and Afghanistan. One could say that the same thing happened in Vietnam. Our inability to empathize and develop policies that directly correlate with the centuries-old culture left us unable to make the impact we hoped for. Our democratic values and ethos aren’t a match for the complexities of the middle east.

As a new leader, do you fully understand the culture in your workplace? What about a seasoned leader, is your workplace culture the same as you envision it to be?

This week, new research revealed that Instagram is toxic for teen girls and their mental health. Additionally, Facebook tried to make its platform a healthier place but it got angrier instead. Both are negatively impacting the social media culture. What are they going to do about it? There could be societal and workplace nuances pulling your operating culture away from your envisioned culture. When was the last time you checked your organization’s cultural pulse?

Misunderstanding culture can ruin progress. Inability to empathize with your employees and understand their intricacies can diminish trust.
Culture is a fragile entity within a working environment. A change in procedures, employees, leadership, or the environment around us can cause the culture to fluctuate. As a principal, I saw how the pandemic drastically affected our school’s culture. It was disheartening and tragic to witness our community complain about one another. Tensions caused discontent. Misinformation and assumptions divided the workforce. To combat the change, I utilized several tactics to retain our culture, to provide support, and to create lasting memories even though we weren’t face-to-face. The results created a community of understanding and buy-in, which enabled the staff to work together and focus on their priority―student learning.

Is your culture really as good as you think it is? Are you asking the right questions and looking at the correct indicators to make sure your envisioned culture and your operating culture are consistent? What suggests they are out of whack.

Action steps:

Keep an eye on your culture. Check in often with all of your employee levels and be fully present. Look past the “please-the-boss” facade and see what your employees see.

Don’t ever settle when hiring.  You’ll gain a reputation for hiring the best and your employees will appreciate the fact that they work with the best and they are the best.

Make sure you’re not blind to a slowly declining culture. Sometimes the change is so subtle we don’t notice it happening. An outside perspective (consultant) can be a vital asset for this action step.

Be a part of the positive change. Lead by example―treat everyone with respect and dignity. Do not gossip and vent at work.

Purposefully plan events to bring your employees together to create a sense of belonging and use that opportunity to grow as a team. A greater sense of belonging equates to greater productivity.

Are you asking yourself, “How do I do this?” I can help!

Thursday Thoughts No. 6 (9/9/21)

Workplace Resistance

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Resistance is real. It can flip a workplace culture, it can change the dynamic of a community, and it can stall progress. Change and growth in the workplace is a necessity. Without continuous growth, your organization will be left in the dust. See last week’s newsletter on Courage. Unfortunately, resistance can slow or even reverse growth and improvements. 

There are many kinds of resistance but these are the major types:

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Confusion Resistance:

This resistance isn’t always intentional. To a leader, it may appear as though your employees are resisting the latest initiative or change. It may be, however, they don’t understand the “why” or your expectations. Make sure you slow down when introducing changes so that the employees can fully understand the value and buy into the changes that are occurring. Educate, support, and keep the stakeholders informed of changes.

Passive-aggressive Resistance:

This is a cultural issue. First, have a meeting with the passive-aggressive individual(s). Find out where their resistance lies, what their misconceptions are, how you as a leader might not have been clear or explained the value behind the change. Find a way to move forward in a positive and professional manner. Be clear with your expectations that passive-aggressive behavior is NOT ok in the workplace. Regular weekly check-ins with employees might proactively diminish this passive-aggressive behavior.

Toxic Resistance:

This roots back to the hiring process. Make sure you’re asking the right questions, hiring the right people for the right job, and always do your reference checks—preferably calling a few people not listed on the individual’s reference list. Toxic individuals often don’t change even with interventions so document, coach, and work with these employees. Be careful of confirmation biases and the slow, virtually unrecognizable shift into workplace toxicity. Sometimes you don’t even know how bad it is until the employee is gone. 

Sabotage Resistance:

Red flag! Immediate action is required, drop everything, and get to the root of the problem. This fire needs to be contained! Sabotage resistance can come in the form of an individual trying to undermine you, undermine the change, or undermine the business. They can chase away your most valuable employees. 

Taking proactive steps to diminish resistance is profoundly cheaper than reacting to resistance. Be sure to spend time and energy on the front end to avoid costly measures after implementing change. Keep in mind that most, if not all of your employees, want to do a good job and they want to improve. They may be resistant to the way the change is delivered rather than the change itself. Often, when you give people the what and the why/so that, and leave the “how” to them, they are more likely to have buy-in. 

How to proactively avoid resistance:

  • Brainstorm possible fallouts before implementing change.
  • Speak to your various stakeholders to avoid pitfalls and to inform them of the improvements.
  • Get your middle management, team leaders, and other important voices at the table to be spokespeople and cheerleaders for change.
  • Create a supportive culture once the change is implemented.
  • As always, listen and empathize with your employees. If they’re on the front lines and the change impacts their job, they need to be heard. Go slow to go fast.

Are you asking yourself, “How do I do this?” I can help!

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Thursday Thoughts No. 5 (9/2/21)

Choose Courage 

“Courage is not the absence of fear. It’s the judgment that something else is more important than that fear.” Ambrose Redmoon

Ah, yes. Courage. Courage to fight for the mask mandates and vaccinations or courage to fight against them. Courage to be kind through adversity (wink wink). Courage to help with hurricane Ida. Courage to offer Afghan aid. Courage—it’s everywhere. 

How courageous are you when it comes to your business? You have the ability to be an industry influencer. Are you there yet? We’ve all seen the comfort zone graphics, but have you ever thought about how that applies to your business and your industry? If you’re not learning, innovating, and choosing courage then you’re losing ground and fast. Think of Netflix. They went from sending DVDs in the mail to live-streaming. They had the courage to adapt and change. Apple had the courage to remove the keypad. That was one heck of a courageous move and it worked! On the flip side, complacency kills: Blockbuster, Sears, ToysRUS stayed in their comfort zones.

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Your deliberate courage AND that of your employees have the ability to change the world around you. I’ve been told time and time again how courageous I was to quit my principal job to move into business consulting. With that courage has come incredible growth, re-energizing passion, and so much fun! My desire to help business leaders innovate and influence through courage is at an all-time high. Great things can happen when you take the leap.

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How to choose courage:

  1. Encourage innovation, celebrate mistakes, and learn from those mistakes. Growth occurs through adversity.
  2. Block off time to reflect throughout the week. What can you do better? Where are your inefficiencies? What have you tried? What worked? What hasn’t worked? Where are other businesses within your industry headed? Can you beat them? Do you have a trusted advisor to help you with these questions? Why not?
  3. Listen earnestly. Ask your employees for their great ideas. 
  4. When trying something new, define the metrics and celebrate small and big successes.
  5. Stop talking and start doing! 

Are you asking yourself, “How do I do this?” I can help!

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Thursday Thoughts

It’s an Employee’s Market

Akin to the housing market, which is currently in the seller’s favor; our employment market is in the employee’s favor. 

Blackberry, Blockbuster, and Kodak have one thing in common―they weren’t future-ready. The businesses didn’t listen to the diversification of thought and their fate was the same as the dinosaurs. As workplaces reassess whether or not to bring their employees back in person, keep in mind that this might be the evolution of the workplace indefinitely. 

It is important to point out that remote work is ideal for some roles and some are done better in person. Defaulting to one extreme or the other invites problems. Especially when 90% of employees want flexibility in when and where they work according to Ernst and Young. Additionally, a University of Chicago study found that roughly 40% of Americans surveyed who were working at home said they would look for another job if their employer forced them to return to the office full time. 

Be careful with your workplace productivity biases. Prodoscore Inc. found employees were overall more productive and worked longer hours in 2020 than in 2019. Additionally, workers feel between 11% and 19% more comfortable taking risks when they are hybrid or fully remote.

Lastly, note that 82% of employees feel HIGH ANXIETY about returning to work. If you are reintegrating into the office, make sure to create buy-in and continue to be empathetic. 

How to thoughtfully bring back your employees:

  • Most importantly – treat them as professionals. 
  • Interview and celebrate what did and didn’t work, and what would be effective going forward. 
  • Ask employees to reflect on when their performance was at its best. When people are asked to highlight their strengths, they go on to deliver higher levels of performance and exhibit more zest and excitement for their job.
  • Offer mental and emotional support. Suppressing emotions reduces employees’ resilience. 
  • By communicating and working with your employees, you will gain respect and employees will be proud to work for you.
  • Don’t reward people for their presence but rather on the work itself.

How to foster community and belonging while staying remote:

  • Set up specific zoom protocols. You can make zoom entertaining and interactive. This could look different for each team. Raise hands, make a funny noise when it’s your time to talk, do a little dance when they have something to say, have a super-secret handshake when you agree with an idea. The list is endless. Learn how to integrate play, fun, and joy into your technology. It is not a waste of time, it is a community-building endeavor that will create more buy-in and reduce zoom fatigue.
  • Get off the computer and use conference calls, if necessary. How many times have your great ideas occurred while moving around? MANY! Think about that morning run or the lunchtime walk; chances are you were innovating.
  • Set up meeting times with small groups to harness creativity and collaboration. If you fear losing the spontaneity of creativity, then explicitly set up times for your teams to meet in person. Don’t just say, “You have to be in the office every day.” Passing someone on the way to the break room doesn’t scream “CREATE!” like you’re hoping it will.
  • You could always develop an office of Sheldons…

Key takeaway: Inspired by great leaders, people contribute their best to your team’s success even when no one is watching. ~ Christopher Kolenda

Dear Educators,

I know many schools have opened. As our local district is gearing up to start next week, I wanted to send this out to everyone in education.

Dear Educators,
We trust you. We honor you. We are grateful to you. We respect you. We appreciate you. We love you.

You selflessly give of yourself every minute of the school day putting student interests first.

You are no longer just an educator. You are a parent, therapist, nurse, tech expert, safe place, subject matter expert, and many MANY other things all wrapped into a wonderful human being.

Even amid the Covid anxieties, the political divide, the mask madness, we know that you will educate first, keep your self-interests to yourself, and protect our children from society’s ailments.

At the same time, you will teach students how to be empathetic, open to other’s opinions, and how to be civil citizens.

You are optimistic, anxious, eager, and ready for this school year.

Your huge hearts are ready to fully love and engage with the many students that will walk through your door this school year.

We know that you care, that you inspire, that your passion will resonate through to our children.

You are doing what many couldn’t dream of doing. You are bestowing the greatest gifts onto our most precious commodity. You are holding our future in your tender embrace.

You are gearing up for the first few weeks of school when you know your voice will be hoarse, your body will acclimate to the daily grind, and you are adjusting to whatever mandate, protocol, or safety measures your school has in place. And you will do this without complaint.

You are our local heroes and our community role models.

When the days get short and the skies are dark, we are here for you.

When you feel like you can’t do it anymore, we’ll be rooting for you.

When you think no one cares, know that we’re your biggest fans.

With all our love and best wishes. Go forth and be awesome.