WORK LIFE BALANCE IN YOUR ORGANIZATION

iStock_000058043210_Small-806x300Every organization wants “A” players on its team.  Further, a company’s ability to get maximum performance from the minimum amount of staff is always a great challenge.  In the war for talent in the 1990’s, many companies embraced a variety of work-life balance initiatives to recruit and keep top employees.  While foosball tables, gyms, and onsite daycares may not be in vogue anymore, employers are still facing a new generation of workers with different views and expectations about work and life balance.   The lines between work life and personal life are not as clear as they used to be. 

During these lean times, it would be easy for management to take the position “my employees should just be thankful they have a job.”   While that may be the reality, it is also shortsighted.  Decisions made now will impact the long-term performance of your company, especially as we companies continue to pull out of the previous recession.  Studies consistently show that most companies only tap a small percentage of the true potential of their employees.  For years, forward thinking organizations having been experimenting with how to harness the potential of their teams through work-life balance initiatives.  For those innovative organizations, this often results in being named to “Best Places to Work” lists.  Interestingly, studies have shown that public companies named to these type lists have outperformed the overall market.

One example of a Mississippi firm employing these type initiatives is Grantham Poole, a sixty five employee public accounting firm based in Jackson.   The norm for years in the world of accounting has been for employees to slave away long hours during the long spring tax season which usually runs from the beginning of January through April 15th.  Recognizing that this can have a detrimental impact on both employees and their families, the firm tried a bold initiative last year to limit everyone to 45 hour work weeks and only 4 pre-specified work Saturdays during tax season.   According to one of the founding partners, Jim Poole, “we wanted to pro-actively improve the quality of life for our employees which has resulted in a more balanced and happier workforce.”  Poole acknowledged that the shift has not been easy and has taken a lot of commitment from the firm to try and create workflow that is more evenly distributed throughout the year.  Poole further noted that “we have been pleased with the results and believe that it is helping us attract and keep talented workers.”

As more jobs are based on intellectual know-how and service standards, creating win-win partnerships with employees will be critical.  Many pioneering companies in the work-life arena found that even though they were putting in good programs it still was not creating the intended results.  The problem is that work-life balance programs are not “one size fits all.”  It really involves a dual commitment from employees and employers.  I believe that successful companies should be creative and innovative in their work-life structure and in return expect employees to contribute maximum effort to achieving the company goals.  On a practical note, a best practice that is evolving is to make training courses relevant to both life and work.  Research indicates that strategies for time management, planning, etc. that can be taught from a whole life perspective significantly increase adoption and execution in the workplace.

For employers, these type work-life changes may mean breaking with years of habit.  As Grantham Poole demonstrated in tackling the longstanding tradition of working brutal hours during tax season, positive change can be made with winning results.  As your company is looking for that competitive edge, perhaps it is time to honestly think about the output of your team and the opportunities to improve performance and attitude with some bold work-life initiatives.

Companies that do will be best poised for the continued challenges of 21st century employment.

THE GIFT OF ENCOURAGEMENT

“How is it going today?”

“Fine.”

“How are the kids?”

“Good.”

“How is work?”

“Busy.”

How many times a day do we repeat these normal social interactions where we all affirm that everything is just fine in our lives.  While these are normal pleasantries that we all participate in, they do mask the reality that for most us – it is not Ok.  Whether it is aging parents, wayward teens, or our own health, marital, or economic problems, the reality is that we are all working through our own difficulties. I have learned that outward appearances do not always give the whole picture. Often just beneath the surface of success and togetherness are lives that are falling apart.

However, this stark reality creates opportunity for each of us. We all have the ability to reach out and offer a precious gift – the gift of encouragement.

I lost my father just as I entered my adult years.  While there are so many things I continue to miss about him, one in particular stands out.  He had a tremendous gift of encouragement.  It was if he had a special sense of when someone was hurting and in need.

Growing up, I could not understand why he would seem to linger and talk to strangers in a checkout line or out at dinner. Over time, I realized that in those moments he was sowing a seed.  He was offering what we all have to offer – a word of encouragement.  While he had his flaws like all of us do, I have particular admiration for how he recognized and used this powerful gift.

In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul describes various spiritual gifts that, by God’s grace, are given in the Body of Christ. One of the gifts he references is the gift of encouragement (Romans 12:8). God knows that we are a hurting people, and yet he gives us the ability to lift each other up.  Paul emphasized this point in his letter to the believers in Ephesus when he wrote “do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”  (Ephesians 4:29).

Recently, after a particularly difficult day, I was about to close down my computer when I received an email from a friend who just stopped to share a word of encouragement. There was no agenda or insincere flattery – simply a note to encourage me in my journey of life. Truly, it made my day. I was inspired to stop and think how often I take time to offer a sincere word of encouragement. Am I truly listening to hear what is going in the lives of others?  Am I pre-occupied with my needs versus being in tuned with the needs of others?  Do I have good intentions to encourage others but never really take the time to act?

As we approach Valentines Day this Sunday, may we recognize the true year round gift of encouragement that we all have the ability to give. May we have a sense of when someone needs a special word of encouragement and freely share. As ambassadors of Christ in the marketplace, may we be known for sincerely sharing this gift in a hurting world.  Happy Valentines Day!

LEADERSHIP RESOLUTIONS

The New Year brings a sense of renewal and change.  Studies show that almost half of Americans make New Year’s resolutions. Unfortunately only about 10% of those will actually achieve their goals. As you might imagine, resolutions to improve health and finances rank at the top of the wish list.  One of the key ways to achieve resolutions is to let them become a habit.  Psychologist Williams James noted, “All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits.”  While it is frequently said that it only takes 21 days to make a new habit stick, my review of the scientific literature on the subject indicates that it takes our brains closer to 60 days to actually rewire around a new habit.  As we enter 2015, here are a few leadership ideas to consider making a habit.

Just Say No

It’s tough to say no.  We might offend someone or miss an opportunity.  A friend of mine describes the need to “chase shiny things” versus staying focused.  However, great leaders know that the ability to say no is critical.  As Gandhi said, “A ‘No’ uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a ‘Yes’ merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble.”  Leadership expert Tony Schwartz similarly emphasized, “Saying no, thoughtfully, may be the most undervalued capacity of our times.” We have more options than ever and countless opportunities vying for our attention.  It is more important than ever to be purposeful about what we say yes to.  However, this is no easy task.  We often have to say no to many good things.  However, unless we say no to the “good” then we will never be able to focus our time, talent, and energy on the “great.”

Show Appreciation

Studies have shown that for knowledge workers, money alone is insufficient to motivate performance.  Dan Pink summarized this research in his book Drive and noted that workers are best incentivized by creating an atmosphere of autonomy, mastery, and purpose.  In addition, I believe that people need authentic and genuine appreciation.  As I interview employees in organizations, I am amazed at the number of them who have never been shown appreciation in any form.  Appreciation is like a gift.  There is no reason as a leader to be stingy with this gift.  Whether a subordinate, co-worker, or a boss, I highly encourage people to get in the habit of showing appreciation.

Follow Up

I believe one of the most difficult aspects of leadership today is living by the motto “say what you are going to do, and do what you say.”  As I was beginning my career, a wise businessman told me that if I would do good work, return phone calls, and do what I said then I would always have plenty of work to do.  I believe there is great truth in his advice.  As leaders, we need to make a habit of being excellent at follow up and execution.  In addition, if you have people that you are delegating to then you need to be very intentional about follow up.  One of my early mentors kept a legal pad where he wrote down every promise someone gave him regarding delivery on a project or task.  If you missed a deadline, you could expect an immediate phone call from him.  My observation was that his team knew that when they were assigned a task and deadline that he meant it.

I hope these ideas will be an encouragement to you to be the best leader you can be in 2016.

ELEVATE: HELPING OTHERS BE THEIR BEST

Paul Simon, one of my favorite musical artists, penned a song, I Am A Rock in 1965.  The song about a recluse repeats the chorus, “I am a rock, I am an island.”  I think about this song a lot because we tend to forget that achievement in life is rarely a solo act.  We aren’t islands.  We all stand on the shoulders of those of who preceded us and helped us along the way.

Are We Independent or Interdependent?

Herbert Hoover, the United States’ 31st President, emphasized our country’s “rugged individualism.”  He believed that the U.S. faced a decision between “the American system of ‘rugged individualism’ or the choice of a European system of diametrically opposed doctrines — doctrines of paternalism and state socialism.  He said, “The acceptance of these ideas meant the destruction of self-government through centralization of government; it meant the undermining of initiative and enterprise upon which our people have grown to unparalleled greatness.”  It is interesting that over 85 years later, the U.S. still debates this choice.

Regardless of your political views on this point, there is no denying that the emphasis on individualism and a “frontier mentality” runs deep in our culture.   These concepts are related to the “American Dream” – the idea that each of us can have upward mobility through hard work.  James Truslow Adams coined the term “American Dream” in his 1931 book Epic of America. He stated, “The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.”

I describe these cultural patterns because it is easy to take them for granted and not realize the impact on our thinking and our lives.  While there are many positive aspects of these ideas, we sometimes fail to understand their limitations. We can’t lose sight that the greatest successes in life are made with and through people.  Great achievements in life are never solo endeavors.  Sometimes we forget that.  We can be like the turtle on the fencepost.  As the story goes, when you find a turtle on top of a fencepost, “You know he didn’t get there by himself, he doesn’t belong there, he doesn’t know what to do while he’s up there, and you just want to help get him down.”

In reality, our success in life is linked to the lives of other people (whether we recognize it or not). There is a great expression that we are standing on the shoulders of giants.  This quote was first attributed to 12th century scholar Bernard of Chartres, who used to say “we are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, so that we can see more than them, and things at a greater distance, not by virtue of any sharpness of sight on our part, or any physical distinction, but because we are carried high and raised up by their giant size.”

The late Zig Ziglar had a wonderful quote he often repeated that “If you help enough people get what they want in life, you will get what you want.”  This was not a manipulative idea; instead, it is one that recognizes that, by serving others, we truly are helping ourselves.  When we can walk in humility and realize that our success in life is not just the result of our own hard work, but the help of many others along the way, then we are on our way to being a true leader.

Elevating Others

Once we recognize that success in life is not a solo act, then we can begin to consider the importance of building up others to create a great team.  An organization with high performance teams will go further, faster.   Teams are built on a foundation of trust.  One of the ways to build trust is to invest yourself in the lives of others.  What does this mean?  It means that you help other people elevate and achieve their goals and objectives.   Unfortunately, this is rare.  We are typically so caught up in the tyranny of the urgent of our own matters that we don’t stop and consider the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of others.   Think about it – do you really know what your colleagues are seeking out of life?  Do you know what motivates them to get out of bed in the morning?  What would be the difference if you did?  By taking the time to understand your colleagues hopes and dreams, you are investing yourself in their lives.

I have experienced the benefits of others investing in my life first hand. After earning my law degree, I launched into the practice of law which I enjoyed; however, I felt like my true calling was to use my business and legal training to be a strategic advisor to companies.  I knew for several years that I wanted to make this transition, but I was stuck.  I could not seem to make the switch and clung to my law career like a child holds onto a favorite blanket. I would not let it go.  Two people helped me better understand my motivations, clarify my path, and make this next step in my career.  One was Dr. Carl Hicks.  Carl helped me gain a much deeper understanding of myself.  Carl is an expert with the Birkman® assessment tools and used them to help me clearly see my deepest motivators as an individual.  Through his example and encouragement, I realized that I could make this transition.  He coached and encouraged me along the way.  For that, I am forever grateful.

I also was encouraged by my friend and colleague Andy Wimberly. Andy made a successful transition from being a well-established financial advisor to an executive coach.  As he says, “it took me 15 years to become an overnight success as a coach,” but his example and encouragement reinforced my confidence.  Both Andy and Carl reached out and helped me help myself.  They challenged me and created accountability.  They would not let me just “talk the talk” about change, I had to “walk the walk.” They shared and continue to share their wisdom and life experiences with me. I use the examples of Carl and Andy to illustrate the point that there is a significant impact of helping others be their best.

The Rewards

There are both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards for investing yourself in helping people to be their best.  You will find that when you help others elevate that you feel better about yourself.  I write a weekly column on leadership.  I have interviewed hundreds of leaders for this column and one of the standard questions I ask is “What is your proudest moment as a leader?”  By far, the most frequent response I get is the satisfaction that comes from seeing others develop and move on to achieving great things.  There is typically no direct financial reward for these leaders for that kind of success.  However, by watching others succeed that they had invested in, they were able to know that their investment paid off.  They could see the fruit of their efforts.

Ralph Waldo Emerson noted, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, and to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” I also like Benjamin Disraeli’s statement, “The greatest good you can do for another is not just share your riches, but to reveal to him, his own.”  I hope that you will consider whether you are being the kind of leader who is elevating others to help them reach full potential.

Creative design from the South

Get in touch with us!