Are you part of a culture of intimidation?

You may be thinking, “Me? I’d never be a leader in an organization whose culture was intimidating! I’m a nice person!” Unfortunately, organizational culture and habits have a tendency to creep, if we’re not careful. There may be some ways in which you and other leaders contribute to people feeling constrained and bullied. You’ve just been too busy or narrow in your focus to recognize it. What are the symptoms of subtle intimidation?

Fuzzy accountability, blame and consequences that don’t fit. People aren’t exactly sure what they should be doing or what boundaries exist for their work. Expectations are unclear or inconsistent from one day to the next or one leader to the next. When things go wrong, the finger gets pointed, and the consequences don’t seem appropriate given the mistakes that were made.

Intense focus on what’s going wrong. Time, energy and emotion are invested in communicating about the problems and errors, and little is said about what’s working. Employees keep their heads down and hope for the best (or at least that they’re not the ones in the wrong this time). Sometimes negative feedback is delivered indirectly, such as jabs disguised as jokes.

Intermittent, inconsistent communication. Employees hear different messages from leaders, if they hear much at all. There is no context to what is communicated, so people don’t understand the importance and priority of the message. Confusion is common, and solutions are imperfect, since people don’t have access to necessary information.

Delegation is usually “swoop and poop” or micromanaging. Lacking the time (really, it’s commitment) to delegate appropriately, leaders plop projects in people’s inboxes, give direction via short, curt email or only half-delegate and then hover to make sure the work is getting done right.

Leaders don’t want feedback. Leaders may say they want critical feedback, but employees understand that this would come with grave consequences. “Remember Joe? Well, he criticized the boss and got canned.”

Leaders give feedback indirectly or vaguely. Often the person who needs the feedback is the last to know, as people discuss Sue’s problem with everyone but Sue. When leaders give feedback to their direct reports, they beat around the bush and don’t connect the dots between the direct report’s behavior and its impact. This leaves employees wondering what they did in the first place and uncertain about where they stand with their boss.

People create silos for support. To protect themselves or to gain power, people develop a group of allies within the organization. “You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours.” Invisible silos of alliances exist and everyone knows who is in whose camp, even if it is not openly acknowledged.

If even one of these statements ring true, it’s time to take a stand and promote change. Start by modeling effective listening and openness yourself. Like everyone, you are not fully aware of the impact of your own behavior. Seek information to decrease your own self-deception. Then find like-minded people within the organization and ask, “Is this culture one that enables us to meet tomorrow’s challenges and achieve necessary results?”

Work together to build a safe, healthy and productive culture that allows people to fully engage in the organization’s mission and make a difference. Good intentions won’t change anything. As Mae West said, “An ounce of performance is worth pounds of promises.”

Have a question about this topic or want some input from Humanergy? Contact us!

Photo courtesy of stock.xchng

Most rules are unnecessary and some are really dumb

Let’s just clear this up, for those of you who are rule followers: Yes, there are a few rules that organizations need in order to comply with the law and create necessary structure and standards. Other than a scant supply of dictates, what more do you really need? (Even Moses came back down the mountain with only 10 commandments!)

The whole question of rules was reinforced by a blog called “What Every Manager Should Know About Managing Gen Y.” It advised leaders to create ‘Gen Y-friendly rules.” In fact, the authors recommend that you review all rules that people seem to try to work around.

Better yet, put all rules on the chopping block. Start with these:

Rules you can’t or won’t enforce. If people are breaking a rule right and left, ditch it. Either it’s impossible to enforce or the organizational will isn’t there. Lack of enforcement promotes cynicism and apathy about rules in general, even the ones you really need.

Rules that upper management folks break. If rules apply to some and not to others, get rid of them. Selective enforcement of the rules contributes to a toxic work environment.

Rules that don’t help you achieve your goals. We could insist that all of our staff maintain X hours of office time. We don’t because we realize that time in the office has little, if any, relationship to our goal – delighted clients. Keep your eyes on the prize and only create rules that are necessary for achieving it.

Rules that are micromanagement in disguise. Rules that tell people what to do and how to do it should raise alarm bells. Instead of dictating the “whats” and “hows,” only require that people orient towards the right goals and adhere to your ethical standards. Then let them exercise judgment and creativity in their work.

There are some pretty outrageous rules out there, if online postings are to be believed. Even if your policies don’t include a requirement that you give 2-weeks’ notice before dying, you may want to review your list. There may be some oppressive or just unnecessary rules that are doing your organization more harm than good.

Lots of rules may be an indicator that you’re spending way too much time on the activity of work – what you will DO. When your focus in on what you will ACHIEVE, you need fewer rules. Organizations can’t dictate their way into success – that requires an unrelenting focus on where you’re going and the crucial few non-negotiable rules that will help you get there.

Have a question about this topic or want some input from Humanergy? Contact us!

Photo courtesy of stock.xchng

Do you have leadership presence?

You recognize it instantly. People with leadership presence exude an aura of command, a confidence that they are in control of themselves and the situation at hand. It’s different from charm or charisma, though they may be very engaging qualities.  Leadership presence can be high in people who are extroverts or introverts, so it is not necessary to be the most talkative person in the room.

George S. Barrett, CEO of Cardinal Health, in an online New York Times interview, talked about the importance of people believing in their leader, and trusting the competence and judgment of the person at the helm. He articulated leadership presence as a combination of doing the right things and forging a connection at a human, fundamental level.

What qualities make you a leader with presence, one with an aura of command?

Confidence. Leaders with presence use language that is strong, positive and based on facts.  They are calibrated about what they know and don’t know.  Because of that calibration, they don’t oversell themselves or their ideas, and are not falsely humble. They are a visible, passionate force within the organization.

Vision. Leaders with presence have a strong clarity of purpose, a compass that guides not only what the organization does, but why. They share this vision widely and engage others within the organization in shaping how the vision will be realized.

Strength under fire.  Even in the most arduous circumstances, leadership presence requires self-control and poise. Leaders with presence are grounded in the facts, and do not allow emotions to skew their perspective about what is important. They remain focused and responsive to changes around them and are not afraid to make the tough calls when necessary.

Judgment. Leaders with presence use judgment to achieve excellence. They establish mechanisms for accessing the critical information needed to understand the current reality and predict the future. Like good chess players, leaders with presence think 1, 2 or 3 moves ahead in terms of strategy. They focus only on what’s most important and are prepared with contingency plans for both the foreseeable, as well as the unpredictable, future scenarios.

Learning. Leaders with presence are continual learners. They gain insight first and foremost by listening and asking the right questions. They are disciplined in their efforts to better understand themselves, their people and the world around them.

Humility. Leaders with presence recognize that they don’t know everything and actively ask for help when needed. They admit mistakes and take action to ensure that they are not repeated.

Engagement. Leaders with presence create space for people to own their work and express their passion, thinking and creativity. At the same time, they ensure that people know what results are needed and why and provide the necessary support and accountability.

Image. Leaders with presence project a professional image through appropriate dress, grooming, behavior and language. They freely express their own unique personality within these boundaries, and are comfortable in their own skin.

Leadership presence is an intangible that can be readily observed, and difficult to achieve. The payoff is that leaders with this aura of command can more easily create a work environment where people relax, engage and confidently take action themselves. Without this intangible, others in the organization may feel anxious and uncertain because of the leadership vacuum. Assess yourself today and begin addressing the gaps in leadership presence, so that you can earn the respect and trust of your people.

Have a question or want some input from Humanergy about this topic? Contact us and we’ll get right back to you!

Winning hearts and minds

Although typically thought of as a military strategy, leaders in other organizations must also win the hearts and minds of their people. The reality is that if you lose your people’s hearts and minds, then you will have lost their passionate engagement in the organization. They may still show up, but they will not devote their full emotional and physical energy to the job at hand. How do you win hearts and minds?

Speak directly. Like Voice of America, the U.S. government-funded radio broadcasts during the Cold War, you need a direct way of communicating with the organization’s people. Not all messages need to come directly from the top leaders, however mission-critical communications must. Use email or telecommunication to make it more feasible.

Make your message clear. Think about the one or two take-aways you want people to remember. Then plan carefully to ensure that your message is unmistakable. Use plain language, and keep it brief. If people need to take action, make the next steps unambiguous.

Challenge disinformation. You may not encounter an active counterinsurgency, but rumors and misinformation are probably inevitable. Don’t wait for rumors to die out on their own. Address  inaccuracies and falsehoods that surface, so that people don’t get distracted or confused.

No platitudes. In the end, hearts and minds are won by what you do, not what you say.  Listen. Provide a balance of challenge and support. Share decision-making. Encourage innovation. All of these efforts make a real difference in people’s work lives and build loyalty, engagement and satisfaction.

Don’t rely on charisma. Personal charm is important, but not sufficient. Humility, integrity and honesty are the foundational keys to keeping people on board for the long haul.

You may not be waging a war, but you do need to attend to the hearts and minds of the organization’s people. The payoff? Folks who not only are dedicated to their work, they also have enthusiasm and zeal for the work that is unmatched by your competition. That’s a battle well worth winning.

Have a question or want some input from Humanergy about this topic? Contact us and we’ll get right back to you!

Are you a Charlie?

toolbeltCharlie, a retired engineer, is Humanergy’s on-call handyman. And he is so much more than that. Charlie can fix anything. Even more impressive than his multitude of abilities is his total commitment to our organization. From day one, Charlie has taken ownership for our physical spaces and our organization’s people.

Charlie doesn’t wait for us to generate a list of to-dos. If he sees something that needs addressing, he takes care of it. He anticipates problems and points out opportunities for more effective use of our resources, such as ways for us to be more energy efficient.

One weekend, an employee dropped by the office with her husband to retrieve her glasses. Charlie happened to be driving by, noticed an unfamiliar car in the lot, and drove in to investigate who was on the property. His commitment to his job isn’t constrained by the day of the week or the nature of the task.

Charlie also nurtures Humanergy’s people. It isn’t unusual to come in to find that Charlie has left us a basket of tomatoes from his garden or candy on Valentine’s Day. When one team member’s child came down with the flu, Charlie delivered a care package of treats to her home.

What can we all learn from Charlie?

Commit. Charlie has committed himself 100% to the organization and its success. While he is not here every day, and isn’t even an employee, he takes ownership for Humanergy’s mission.

Do it because you love it. Charlie has a passion for what he does and who he does it for. He’s here because he cares, not because he needs the work or the money. (As you can imagine, Charlie is in high demand – everyone wants him as their go-to guy.)

Pitch in. Whether it’s in your job description doesn’t matter. Be the person who’s willing to do what it takes.

Make it personal. Share some of your private life and connect with others on a personal level. Remember birthdays, offer support during trying times and never forget that coworkers are people too.

Be yourself. One of Charlie’s best attributes is his authenticity. He is a “what-you-see-is-what-you-get” guy, and there’s a direct relationship between his values and his actions.

How can you help others find their “inner Charlie?” If you’re a leader, model Charlie’s attributes. After all, if you don’t take ownership, others surely will not. Allow people enough latitude in their work to make decisions and apply their skills to the fullest. Feed their strengths and encourage their individuality. Help them connect the dots between their future and the organization’s. You’ll be rewarded with a more creative, self-sufficient and dynamic team and a lot more enjoyment at work.

Every organization needs at least one Charlie. (Sorry, you can’t have ours. We don’t give out his name or his phone number!)

Have a question or want some input from Humanergy about this topic? Contact us and we’ll get right back to you!

Weeks Peaks and other great ways to celebrate daily success

sparklerFriday evenings are wonderful. We’re usually taking a  breather after a hectic week. We’re enjoying a little time with friends and families. And for those of us lucky enough to be associated with Humanergy, we get to read Weeks Peaks!

Weeks Peaks is the creation of Karen, our fabulous business manager. Each Friday before she leaves for the weekend, she sends out an email that contains bullet points of news – rave reviews from a client, personal milestones, funny stories – anything that is significant in the life of our Humanergy “family.”

Weeks Peaks aren’t hard to put together. Because Karen’s the hub of our office, she is privy to the news of each day. When something notable occurs, she types that into her staged Weeks Peaks draft in Outlook. That makes constructing the email easy, since she doesn’t have to remember the highlights from the week. Most Weeks Peaks are about 7 bullet points – so no major creative writing is required.

For many of us, opening our email at 6:00 p.m. on a Friday is the highlight of the week. We look forward to it, even create rituals around it. We leave the family in the other room, sip a comforting beverage of our choice and settle in to revel in the stories of the week. We stay connected, learn more about each other and feel part of something meaningful, even if we’ve spent the whole week with clients away from the office.

How can you find ways to share and celebrate regularly, without making it an onerous task?

Ahhh….can’t wait for Friday!

Have a question or want some input from Humanergy about this topic? Contact us and we’ll get right back to you!

Want innovation? Maximize employee engagement

team-with-keyAn article by Krisztina Holly and Jim Clifton in Business Week recently postulated that the answer to our economic woes is to inspire and empower employees to innovate. They  challenged leaders  to stop focusing on layoffs and unemployment and start paying attention to the people who are still there – to boost employee engagement.

There’s no one way to nurture people’s investment and engagement in your organization. There are a set of best practices that keep people growing, thriving and bringing their best ideas forward.

Invest in people. Encourage employees to be curious, take ownership for their work, gain new skills and fulfill their purposes in life. You don’t have to spend lots of money to do this. You do have to open the lines of communication, share responsibility and actively nurture your people.

Build relationships. Foster respectful relationships among employees at all levels. First, get real about the quantity and quality of your relationships, and take steps to connect with people. If you don’t have positive relationships with others, those you lead probably won’t either. Create an environment that values the big things, like honesty and integrity, and the small things, like manners and kindness.

Communicate well and often. Practice being a sponge – focusing more on listening and really understanding what others have to say. Communicate in ways that help others understand: Use plain language, share all that they need to know and check to be sure that you both “see the picture” in the same way.

Be open to feedback and willing to change. We all love feedback when it’s positive. Work on soliciting feedback regularly and encouraging people to tell the whole truth. Manage your emotional reaction to feedback, but don’t stuff those feelings under the rug. Most importantly, be humble enough to know that everyone has stuff that needs to improve. Take action to build on your strengths and manage your weaknesses.

These four bullet points are stuffed with best practices. Here are 3 simple steps to zero in on one area and make meaningful change:

1. Pick a focus. Make it practical and tangible, such as I will ask 3 open-ended questions each day or I will ask for feedback 2 times per week.

2. Post it where you will see it (e.g., post hard copy near your desk,  use electronic reminder, etc.).

3. Track how often you do it.

After a few weeks,  evaluate your progress and its impact on your performance. Repeat the process, so that you’re continuous improvement.

Innovation is the fuel that will keep your organization running. Create the right conditions for employees to maximize their brilliance and originality, and you’ll have enough energy to power you through any crisis.

Have a question or want some input from Humanergy about this topic? Contact us and we’ll get right back to you!

The lost art of appreciation

CB065332“Thanks.” “That was excellent work.” “I really liked it when you….”

We don’t say these words often enough. Maybe it’s the overdrive mode that most organizations are in these days. What we’re missing by not sharing genuine appreciation with others is a key to employee motivation. Showing gratitude and giving positive feedback isn’t the only way to motivate, but it can be one of the easiest and most enjoyable.

We recently stumbled into an opportunity to appreciate each other at Humanergy. A couple of years ago, we started exchanging “white elephant” gifts during the holidays. A “white elephant” is that thing that’s been sitting in your basement or garage that you’ve been meaning to get rid of, but you don’t really think anyone wants it. Maybe you’re even embarrassed to admit you have it.

One of our staff gave a fellow employee a “beautiful” rope necklace embellished with a dozen Southwestern figures, like a coyote, cacti, sombrero and snakes. The nicest thing we can say about it is that it is unique.

The receiver of this gift quickly transformed it into a talisman for our Humanergy team. We each picked a figure to represent ourselves, and the necklace was passed from person to person when we noticed something good. To document our appreciation, we started using a journal which travels with the necklace.

A typical journal entry might read, “To Karen, the green cactus, for outstanding detail management and customer-centric thinking on the ABC project. From Christi, the sombrero.”

What started out as a fun gift exchange has been transformed into a way to communicate about the great things that are happening at Humanergy and each person’s contributions.

The fun factor cannot be ignored here. The journal alone would have been satisfying, but the quirky necklace adds a bit of spice and personality. (And, yes, some team members have been spotted wearing the necklace around the office from time to time. So far no one has been brave enough to wear it elsewhere.)

Sharing appreciation feels magnificent. We just can’t figure out who’s enjoying it more – the people receiving the heartfelt thanks, or the people giving them.

You don’t need a funky necklace. Look someone in the eye and share your specific, meaningful gratitude. You’ll both feel wonderful. And you’ll get back to work smiles on your faces.

Have a question or want some input from Humanergy about this topic? Contact us and we’ll get right back to you!

Is your organization a great place to work?

happysunWhat response would you get if you asked employees how it feels to work at your organization? “Not bad” or “depends on the day” might be among the answers. Humanergy recently asked its employees what they thought, and their unanimous response was, “This is a great place to work!”

Okay, we are a very small business. We don’t have hundreds of employees. Maybe you’re thinking, the more employees, the more likely you’ll have disgruntled ones. Maybe.

We think that building and nurturing a great place to work can be a reality, no matter what the size of the organization. We cultivate our positive work environment through four fundamentals:

Be transparent. We say this a lot, and it bears repeating. We value and practice open communication. As a team, we share everything from financial data to vacation stories. We share personal struggles and work challenges. When good things happen, we celebrate together. One employee noted in our recent survey, “I know I can speak frankly with my team and they can speak frankly with me.” Another said, “[Open and honest communication] takes work and is a conscious choice.”

Share the same big picture. We have a set of goals called our TrueSuccess. One of these goals is to make a real difference in the world. Rather than being lofty and unrealistic, the aspiration to make a difference keeps us grounded on what is really important. We approach each phone call, coaching session, email and meeting with the right attitude. We walk away from each encounter asking, “Did I do my best to make a positive impact on that person? What could I do better next time?”

Think and act like owners. We’ve evolved from a two-person partnership to a group of people who make decisions that are in the best interests of our clients and the company. The owners consistently encourage all employees to “think and act like owners.”  They’re not just saying the words. They know that each person’s actions do impact the organization’s outcomes. All employees are empowered to seek input as needed and make decisions that are supportive of the greater good. Goodbye, bureaucratic minutia! Hello, great decisions!

Make good stuff better. Feedback, feedback, feedback. Our success is built on improving as individuals and as an organization. We give immediate feedback and resolve conflicts right away. We use a “24-hour” rule, which means that issues need to be communicated directly to the person within 24 hours. This minimizes distraction, resolves issues and allows everyone to move forward. We regularly acknowledge successes, growth and performance gaps. One Humanergy employee noted in the survey, “We have high standards of performance because our clients have high expectations.”

Oddly enough, we don’t talk a lot about issues of morale and organizational climate. Maybe Dwight Eisenhower was right when he said, “The best morale exists when you never hear the word mentioned.” We focus on the fundamentals, and periodically seek formal feedback on how we’re doing.

Ready to make your organization a great place to work? Start by finding out what your people think now. One low-cost resource is, but there are lots of user-friendly options for surveying staff. Want tips for where to begin? Just email Humanergy at

Have a question or want some input from Humanergy about this topic? Contact us and we’ll get right back to you!