Corporate America’s Missing Ingredient

empathy

There’s something missing in Corporate America, but it’s not what you think.

Technology gives us the opportunity to work remotely and scale businesses.

Outsourcing labor multiplies growth while saving massive amounts of time.

Investors provide the resources to transform a hobby into an empire.

But the one thing that retains the top talent worldwide is: empathy.

In a broadcast-driven society, rarely do people put themselves in other’s shoes.

Managing egos and customizing messaging is the difference between success and failure.

Here’s why:

Even with the best technology you still need people to run it. Salaries are competitive, social impact is rampant and perks are plentiful. Therefore how you treat people defines their company loyalty.

Take for instance managers. The top reason most people leave their jobs is because they feel disrespected or undervalued. Simply viewing the impact of your decisions from the receiver’s point of view makes all the difference in the world. Most managers are ill-equipped to lead others. Just because you’re a great widget maker doesn’t translate well to a manager of widget makers.

Empathy is a learned skill (although it can be argued some have a higher ceiling than others). Kids are taught at a young age to think about how their actions affect others. Somewhere between preschool and adulthood that lesson is forgotten. Money and power corrupt our ability to serve.

Personally I’ve witnessed many conflicts started because of a failure to empathize. The same reasons countries go into war on a macro-level happens to co-workers at a micro-level. Stress has a tremendous drain on productivity and the majority of it can be avoided by showing empathy.

The downgrade of soft skills will only continue to get worse and at the core of the deterioration is a lack of empathy.

Empathy is not something HR can teach or a motivational speaker can inspire you to do. It takes making a commitment to servant leadership. Stop thinking positional leadership puts you on top. Instead understand supporting others from beneath actually pushes them to reach their fullest potential.

Will you do your part?

The X-Factor For Employee Retention

x-factor

I admit I believe in work-life separation, but even an old dog can learn new tricks.

Being a corporate newbie (former FT entrepreneur) I can relate to that Scrubs episode where Dr. Kelso stepped one foot out the hospital and started whistling like he had no cares in the world.

Am I heartless? Far from it. But as I moonlighted as a contractor I walked into companies as a hired gun. I enjoyed getting to know people, but subconsciously I never mixed business with personal. It’s my way of keeping boundaries.

But now being an employee I’m starting to see things differently. I’ll never be that guy who grabs a drink after work with co-workers for 2 reasons: 1) I want to see my kids and wife as soon as work is over 2) I don’t drink. It’s not something I’m against, more so a different time in my life.

Yet what’s changed for me in the past month or so is my view towards friends at work. I’m completely fine with putting my head down, banging my work out and leaving unnoticed. But something happened along the way…

My role at work is to support our employees (online tutors). It happens over Zoom (video conferencing) weekly. Ironically I wasn’t taking the same approach to work relationships, but my shift in behavior has made me re-think work.

Maybe it’s the remote environment of the company I work for, but outside of compensation who you connect with at work is the X-factor of retention. This is a quality, not quantity issue. You can bond over work projects, but the natural foundation of a true friendship is built over common interests and reciprocity. Effort alone guarantees nothing, but without it you’ll get nowhere. The interest has to be mutual.

Honestly I’ll never be that guy who calls his work friends his best friends, but knowing there are more than a handful of people at my company I am interested in connecting with outside of work is a huge step in the right direction for me.

So where do you fall on the friends at work spectrum?

Why Industry Experience Is Overrated

previous_experience

If you think you didn’t get hired at your last interview because of lack of experience, you’re wrong.

Lack of experience is a strike against you, but if that employer didn’t see potential beyond your resume you wouldn’t even have an interview in the first place.

Your resume is like a Driver’s License. It qualifies you for the job, but you have to prove your value to the company in-person.

In fact sometimes industry experience can be a bad thing. For example if you were at your previous job for 10+ years and didn’t know anything else, how adaptable and flexible can you really be moving forward?

In my current role as a Faculty Manager for an online test prep/academic tutoring company I was on the outside looking in. The tutors I manage remotely know way more about the SAT/ACT than I’ll ever care to know. So when asked if I had any experience in the education space during my interview, I responded by focusing on my strengths for the position.

Since I am managing tutors, not teaching students, I talked about leading people. As for former youth pastor I dealt with parents of teenagers (most clients are high school students). As an entrepreneur I am organized and specialize in time management (managing programs and learning the system is 50% of the job for our tutors). Knowing the technical skills of high school academia is irrelevant for me. As long as I can prove I can get the results from the tutors I add value to the company.

My situation may not suit yours, but my point is simple: know thyself.

Self-awareness is the most important trait of any leader. Know what you’re great at and also what you suck at. Most jobs ask you to multi-task, but within those responsibilities there are priorities. Nail those and now you have leverage.

Selling yourself is having confidence in your abilities and knowing who you are. Every time you decide to pivot careers you’re at the same place. You will switch careers frequently for the rest of your working life so get used to it.

An employer notifying you didn’t get the job because of lack of experience is a scapegoat. What they really meant is they don’t have the confidence that you can get the job done despite experience. If you understand that going in, you’ll focus less on what you don’t have and leverage your strengths to the fullest.

Don’t use lack of industry experience as an excuse. It’s only one if you choose it to be.

The Hiring Dilemma: Talent vs. Change

wall-e -eva

Think you can change someone while dating them? You’re wrong.

But in the corporate world for some reason hiring managers think they can.

Sorry, but minus the resume and experience you are who you are.

For instance, leadership skills can be taught, but that doesn’t make you a leader.

Maybe it’s the ego of the manager who thinks people can be molded, but intangible skills such as empathy, communication and taking initiative come attached (not sold separately).

If people get hired for competency, yet fired for character issues – the focus during interviews needs to change.

Back in 2008 when the recession hit, the first thing to go was training and we’re still suffering for it. But some things just can’t be bought (or taught).

I manage tutors remotely via video conference and even though academic improvement is what parents pay for it’s engaging personalities that breed results.

Take opposite ends of the spectrum examples using characters from Disney’s Wall-E: Eva (heart) makes emotional connections while Wall-E (head) goes for logical transactions. Who would you rather be your tutor?

In this teacher-student context the adage “they don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” rings true. The receiver needs to feel a genuine interest from the giver. If he/she doesn’t, all information is lost.

In roles that require frequent human interactions the “engineer” type will always lose. On the other hand people with dynamic personalities are both charismatic and build confidence in those around them.

The moral of the story for companies is regardless how much you invest in training, attitude and refined soft skills are nearly impossible to teach. Content acquisition is overrated (plus abundant).

Interviewers need to focus more on “how” a candidate communicates an answer vs. “what” they actually say. Active listening is crucial at this stage.

Talent is inherently innate…and all the money and resources in the world can’t change that.

How To Manage A Remote Workforce

managing-virtual-workforce

Most people would love the option of working remote, but what about managing a remote workforce?

It’s hard enough to manage people in the same location, but doing it remotely will test your creativity and leadership ability.

The book Remote gave me a deeper understanding of why remote work can be beneficial, but currently I have the challenge of managing a team spread out across the country. Here is what has worked over the past 3 months:

Trust – If there’s one scenario where micromanaging will destroy you it’s managing a remote team. Telecommuting lives and dies on trust. Give it to receive it. Be clear about the objectives, but offer autonomy for how to get there. Most companies make the mistake of hiring based on experience and skill set whereas attitude and motivation determines which workers are elite. Working remotely is the perfect hybrid between corporate and entrepreneurship. To take it a step further, if all managers were trained to lead as if their team wasn’t on location (even if they are), performance would skyrocket.

Connection – Avoiding commuting and parking is beneficial, but feeling isolated is downright scary. The most overlooked aspect of working from home is the lack of social interaction. It’s near impossible to replicate a virtual water cooler, but you have to try. Communication platforms such as Slack are step in the right direction. The key here is building community. That normally happens outside of work, so encourage employees to develop relationships informally, even set up the connections for them. As their manager, you’re the bridge to the company. Tying remote teams to something bigger than them is essential. Think outside the box and get suggestions from your team to form stronger bonds.

Feedback – It’s not abnormal to not talk to your boss daily, but managers of remote teams need to over-communicate or risk strayed performers. Without clearly defined markers, there’s no absolute way to measure progress. If you think managing people is difficult, it’s much more daunting when they live thousands of miles away. Leading a remote team is high-maintenance, but if done right the global talent you can amass is far greater than the limits of a morning commute. Make a note to email almost daily (depending how many are on your team) and meet via video weekly. Providing direction goes a long ways towards overall success.

So far the short journey has been extremely enjoyable. If you love developing people, the nuances will reveals themselves over time. Keep an open ear, communicate frequently and create a sense of belonging. Scaling leadership isn’t easy, but it’s the wave of the future.

What You Shouldn’t Offer Millennials As A Perk

working-home-alone

Remote work.

What? Flex time, yes. Working full-time from home, no.

Believe it or not Millennials desire to connect relationally more than any other generation. They tend to prefer virtually, but putting a Millennial at home takes him/her out of any opportunities for interacting face-to-face.

If Millennials are perceived as poor communicators, why would you want to make it worse by eliminating social situations?

Take it from an entrepreneur himself, working from home can get lonely. Instead of complaining about other co-workers not getting their work done, you can only vent alone (occasionally talk to yourself…at least I’ve heard). Lifestyle entrepreneurs desire solidarity and freedom, but it’s not for everyone. Traveling for vacation is much different than waking up at work.

Workplace culture has overtaken following your passion. Without a shared physical location it’s nearly impossible to create culture (unless you’re a 100% remote company). Millennials love to collaborate, therefore working in close proximity breeds socialization.

There’s a downturn in entrepreneurship of Millennials for the simple fact: it’s lonely (risky too). Millennials love to consume and that’s where the steady paycheck comes in. Companies offering career development programs shouldn’t worry about Millennials leaving. Your 20’s are a time of career exploration and companies can address this by providing long-term on-boarding programs (structured like an internship) comprised of: mentoring, cross-departmental training & soft-skills workshops. Do that and retention rates will skyrocket.

Stereotypes of any grouping are a place to start, but never the place to finish. Millennials get a bad rap on many issues (some deserving), but if you really understand their values and motivations you can focus on their potential and strengths.

Perks are meant to improve engagement which results in increased productivity. Don’t make the mistake of offering working from home to Millennials or else you’ll become a former employer soon.

 

Why Routines Should Be Mandatory

daily routine

People ask me all the time, “What’s the biggest difference between having a boss versus being your own?

Besides a steady paycheck, my response is: a lack of routine.

Parents stress how children need routine and structure to survive (it’s true I have 2 kids under 3 years old). But what works for kids also works for adults.

If you work for a company your routine is taken care of during the day, but if you’re an entrepreneur or even work remotely it’s up to you to set a routine.

I’ve been on my own since 2007 and through much trial and error here’s what works for me:

Morning workouts – I try to exercise 5 times a week in the mornings between 6:30-8:30 AM. I don’t consider myself a morning person, but with 2 kids I don’t have much of a choice. Since I’m up anyway, I force myself to go to the gym regardless of how I feel. It’s become my morning coffee and when I don’t stick to this routine I literally get cranky and feel lethargic.

Task time – I know I do my best work from about 10 AM-2 PM. As much as possible I try to find a quiet place with minimal distractions and accomplish as much as I can. Since I’m a pretty organized person I schedule everything into my phone with alerts so I don’t have to think about what to do next. This uninterrupted time is when I plan my workshops, speeches, marketing, etc. Protect this time, it’s necessary.

People time – Around mid-afternoon I usually hit a wall, so meeting with people, Skype or phone calls are scheduled between 2-5 PM. Conversations energize me, so whatever creative juices I am lacking usually get rejuvenated through interactions. Of course sticking to this schedule isn’t mandatory, but over time you pinpoint what flows best for you and go with it.

Routines promote productivity. Without them distractions will rule your life. I’m a planned person, but don’t consider myself Type A. The nice thing about routines is they can change. Tinker with them to see what works best. What matters most is to have them.

Routines are like boundaries. They determine what is useful and help us decide what to say yes and no to. That’s why they should be mandatory.

The Future Of Leadership

george-jetson

You may think this is about a new type of leadership, but it’s not.

The future of leadership has more to do with “where” than “how.”

It’s remote.

Flex-time or working from home is here to stay for many reasons: less distractions, no commute and becoming new parents. But the heart of remote leadership lies in trust.

Think about it. What people hate is being micromanaged. That usually happens when your boss is “looking over your shoulder” expecting you to do the work a certain way.

Working remotely completely diminishes that. Responsibility and self-discipline becomes a two-way street. Bosses need to be clear about what needs to be done. Workers need to make sure tasks are accomplished.

Being stuck to a location limits your talent community and allows for two extremes: micromanaging and hands-off leadership. Neither are beneficial for the company.

Not being in the same physical space forces both sides to focus on what matters: finishing the work while leaving out what doesn’t: how it’s being done.

A great way to test out remote leadership is at your office before you make the transition. Working remotely saves time and money, but most of all it provides what we all want more of: autonomy.

Are you a part of the future?

How Lifestyle Has Changed The Job Market Forever

lifestyle

Lifestyle matters.

Not only that, but it’s a driver. Let me explain.

Work-life balance isn’t achievable unless you start viewing your professional and personal life as one. If you’re unhappy at work, you’re going to be unhappy at home (same goes for vice-versa). Therefore the biggest “perk” you can receive is flexibility, also known as control of the way you spend your time.

Use Millennials as an example. One of their most treasured entities is travel. There’s not one particular destination that is preferred, instead work “book-ends” vacations.

Having kids may limit the frequency of trips, but the focus of time-off shifts to family. Ideally school and work schedules coincide to maximize time spent together. On the other hand, if you’re married to your career, you’re better off being single these days.

In both examples above there is one constant: lifestyle. As so beautifully stated in Flexibility: The New Definition of Success,  the meaning of work now is to: support your desired lifestyle.

Smart companies get this. You can give people all the perks in the world, but if they don’t have autonomy (otherwise known as trust), they’ll eventually leave to find it.

Lifestyle has even caused a seismic shift in entrepreneurship. Scaling, growth and more profit aren’t assumed goals anymore. More families are starting businesses simply to provide a means to survive together. The term lifestyle entrepreneur shouldn’t be looked down upon anymore because the rules of being an entrepreneur have changed.

In previous articles I cover remote working quite a bit because it supports the shift to lifestyle as a motivator. Just like company culture can be more important than landing your dream job, lifestyle is no longer a means to an end, but an end in itself.

 

The Death Of The 40 Hour Work Week

workaholic

Have you ever wondered when the 40-hour work week became the norm?

Traditions don’t always stand the test of time (just ask the church) when purpose is lost.

Just because you work 9-5 doesn’t make you productive. This is what matters: getting stuff done. If you can accomplish the same amount of work in 30 hours vs. 40 hours shouldn’t that be rewarded?

People should be judged on the outcome, not the process. Companies who crack down on their employees by banning social media at work are ridiculous. I’m not condoning “online chatting” on the job, but who cares as long as they get their work done?

Think back to the last time you worked for a micromanaging boss. Did your performance thrive of suffer? How about company loyalty? Morale? You get the point…

Today, we have choices. Finding a job isn’t easy, but more people quit now because they’re not “happy” or “fulfilled” than at any other time in history. Companies recruit talent with perks more than salary now because lifestyle matters.

Yes, paying the bills is important, but being miserable at work literally sucks the life out of you. That’s why flex-time, remote working and paid vacation time are at the top of the list for most wanted rewards.

Your paycheck supports your way of life (not the other way around). Companies need to figure that out or suffer the consequences of high turnover. That doesn’t mean you offer free food (although that doesn’t hurt) and enable entitlement, it just means focus on: outcome & culture.

What if the mandate was a 4-day work week with an optional 5th day if you don’t finish your work? My bet would be most people would work a lot harder to have a 3-day weekend.

Salaried jobs have become ridiculous, some demanding 60+ hours weekly. There aren’t any badges handed out for working the most hours. In fact, if you need to work that long maybe you’re set up to fail.

Too many hours spent at work is playing with fire. It’s risking burn-out and disgruntled workers. Culture has as much to do with employee health, as core values and mission statements.

Maybe the problem is we’re measuring the wrong things. Are you more concerned about being busy or productive? The answer to that question affects your bottom line greatly.