May 11, 2018

Listening to Your Employees: Future-Proofing Your Company

Much of a company’s growth depends on its employees, yet many employers still make the mistake of focusing solely on customer feedback and neglecting the voices of their own staff. For a business to be successful, everyone from entry-level to top management should feel acknowledged and appreciated.

Part of establishing a healthy relationship with your employees involves communication. Ignite Succeed previously mentioned that more than half of workers feel underappreciated, and the best way to remedy this problem is to spend time with them. It’s important to listen to what people have to say because it gives you ideas on how to manage them better. Each employee is different, and therefore has to be approached in a specific manner. If leaders can help each of their employees grow as individuals, there’s a high chance for the company to achieve its business objectives.

While it’s a must for business leaders to develop communication skills, companies should also consider how employees interact with one another. Forbes columnist Blake Morgan wrote about the importance of communications training, and stated that it can help employees control their emotions and think about other people’s feelings. Communicative workers can effectively connect with each other every day, be it through a simple morning greeting or in meetings. When miscommunication happens even between two employees, it can create a ripple effect in the workplace so it’s just as important for followers to develop their communication skills.

Of course, keeping communication channels open also helps every worker stay on the same page. Employees need to clearly understand the company’s vision so they will know what they can contribute toward its realization. Misguided work performances can cause confusion and tension. It can also create communication silos, which Business News Daily describes as different departments focusing on their own objectives and refusing to collaborate with others. If a frustrated employee vents out their frustration on social media or to a customer, it can be detrimental to the company’s reputation. Hence, all parties should be aligned in terms of the firm’s overall goals for the future.

This inevitably includes initiating change in the company. For a business to grow, it should learn to adapt to trends. For instance, many traditional retailers have shifted to an ecommerce model, because a lot of potential customers can be found online. In fact, many businesses are acknowledging the pros of having a strong digital brand. The digital landscape changes often, and only the most competent companies can keep up and ensure their relevance. Ayima shared a roundup of digital trends for April, showing that tech giants like Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram are introducing major updates. Because of continuous advancements, digital marketing departments have a lot of studying and adjusting to do. These may seem like trivial changes, but for businesses trying to make it big in the digital world, they might mean the difference between succeeding and tanking. And for companies that need to constantly adapt, it’s vital for everyone to listen to each other, or else the transitions could go horribly wrong.

An open working culture is a sign of a healthy company, and leaders that take the time to listen to their employees are essentially future-proofing the company. This ultimately means that workers who are well cared for and receive plenty of motivation are bound to lead the company to greater heights.

May 2, 2018

3 ways managers can reduce employee stress

At a local meeting of human resources professionals last month, I talked briefly about the links between workplace stress and employee disengagement. It is incredible when you realize that in the U.S., the combination of these two conditions costs companies nearly a TRILLION dollars annually. Yep, a trillion dollars annually. That’s lost productivity, sick days, employee turnover, and more.

I can absolutely think of places where I have worked that had both high levels of stress and disengaged employees marking time, just begging for the day to end. It’s oppressive to work in a culture like that. I remember dreading to go to in the morning. I remember having difficulty shaking off the negativity when I got home at night. And I remember the mingled feelings of relief and joy when I found a new job.

That’s no way to live. As a manager, there are things you can do, even in difficult cultures, to ensure that your employees are not just marking time until they find that next job. Three things employees will tell you that they need from you to help them engage are:

  • Talk to me. Every employee, every person, wants to feel like they matter. Making sure they do is an important job for a manager. If I asked you right now, would you know the birthdays of your immediate reports? Their work anniversary dates? Would you know what they do at work that makes them fulfilled? What they do that they would really like to pass on to someone else? What they consider to be their strengths? Their weaknesses? Would you know if they are struggling with something, whether it is personal or professional? If you do, you learned most of that by talking to them. And I guarantee your employee knows you care.
  • Motivate me. Yes, you can motivate employees. Sure, they need to develop and demonstrate self-motivation. I hope you know your employees well enough to recognize it that lags, because that is something you want to talk about. Aside from that, employees are also motivated externally. A few, and only a few, are motivated by money, or more specifically, by getting ROI. Others are motivated by having power, while some want the ability to serve others. Some people are absolutely motivated by their surroundings and having positive experiences. Then there are those who are lifelong learners and thrive on knowledge. Finally, there are those for whom structure, process, and systemization are what it is all about. If you talk to your employees enough (see #1), or observe the kind of environment they establish for themselves, you’ll see these different motivational values come into play.
  • Make a plan with me. A key factor in workplace stress is job security. That means a lot more to employees than just knowing that they aren’t about to be fired. It also means knowing that they have a way to grow: skills, experience, and financially. As the manager, it’s your job work with your employees to develop their career path. This means knowing their hopes, their dreams, their aspirations. And to do that, I refer you back to item #1.

I hope you caught onto the fact that connecting with your employees is about the best stress reliever there is. Connection to their manager, their co-workers, and yes, the company and its mission is key to bringing down stress levels and raising up levels of engagement.

Increasing employee engagement and reducing workplace stress are two ways we work with companies. We do that by building more self-aware leaders which in turn makes stronger leaders and managers. Does your company need some help?

Susanne Dalton Dupes is a training and communications specialist and co-founder of Ignite Succeed. You can Susanne by phone at 865-896-9665 or by email at

April 27, 2018

A Conversation with Women: Keys to Success

By: Dr. Trish Holliday

Starting a conversation about how women can take charge of their future in this complex and ever-changing world is inspiring to me as I coach many women who have yet to define themselves and their own goals. The BE SAY DO model offers a simple framework of taking charge of your own trajectory. Within each component of the model, there are explorative questions to reflect on how one can BE more authentic, SAY words that communicate with clarity and purpose, and DO actions that drive effectiveness and excellence.

When women come together to dialogue about how to influence their own individual success accompanied by generating energy around the idea that “women championing women” can create an “all boats rise” effect. The BE SAY DO model is a simple way to take ownership of your own journey and career. There is a collective impact for women when we can come together, build, and produce ideas followed by action. By studying the definition of collective impact, we have the opportunity to learn and apply the core principles of success within our own careers and together as professional women.

According to the Collaboration for Impact, collective impact is a framework to tackle deeply entrenched and complex social problems. It is an innovative and structured approach to making collaboration work across government, business, philanthropy, non-profit organizations and citizens to achieve significant and lasting social change. What if we were to take this definition and overlay it on a discussion about women and keys to success for the professional woman? John Kania and Mark Kramer stated, “We believe that there is no other way society will achieve large-scale progress against the urgent and complex problems of our time, unless a collective impact approach becomes the accepted way of doing business.” The BE SAY DO model supports the idea that with collective impact we can achieve more and with more.

The first component BE, focuses on your authenticity as a professional woman. Some of the deepening questions that assist women in reflecting on this idea of authenticity are: 1) Who am I in my work environment? 2) How do I show up authentically? and 3) Do you feel you are being yourself at work and comfortable being the “authentic” you?

The second component SAY, explores how you communicate in the workplace? Some of the deepening questions that help to reflect on this idea of communication are: 1) What is the story you share about yourself? 2) What is the importance of word choices in describing situations, and experiences? 3) How can communication elevate or deflate your presence within a community/group? 4) In meetings, do you most often contribute to clarify a point, introduce new thinking, or are you reserved? and 5) What are ways you can strengthen your own personal influence through what you say and how you say it?

The third component DO, emphasizes the importance of action. Sheryl Sandberg states, “Careers are a jungle gym not a ladder. There is no perfect fit when you’re looking for the next big thing to do. You have to take opportunities and make an opportunity fit for you, rather than the other way around. The ability to learn is the most important quality a leader can have.” Dorie Clark, author of Reinventing You, asks, “Are you where you want to be professionally?” Both the statement by Sandberg and the question by Clark offer the opportunity to deeply consider whether our actions are helping to promote ourselves or hindering opportunities for growth. How are you actively seeking to sharpen your expertise and gain new information to enhance your role?

It is my hope that this conversation will disrupt our normal way of being, saying and doing, and become an invitation to consider new possibilities as we strive to BE authentic, SAY words of purpose and with clarity, and DO actions that demonstrate intentionality, commitment and excellence. I think if we as women can work together, lift one another up with support and encouragement, and focus on our collective impact, we can rise together and IGNITE WOMEN LEADERS!

March 3, 2018

Three “Ts” that will connect you and your employees

Like most employees, when I was working for other people, there were some very specific things I needed so that I felt connected and valued. Of course, I wanted to be paid appropriately, but money wasn’t a top driver for me.

For me, and maybe for you, it was that relationship with my manager. I had a manager once who never appreciated anything I did and usually would take credit for my work. I couldn’t leave that job fast enough.

I was also lucky enough late in my career to have an outstanding manager who taught me a lot and always made me feel valued. She did that by always following the three T’s that make employees feel connected.

Talk, Thank, and Trust

Talk regularly: Managers who are most effective have ongoing dialogue with their employees. They create conversations that draw the employee in, engages them in creating success, and makes a strong human connection. When I only really talked with my manager during the annual performance review, my connection to mission success was far from what it was with the manager who created frequent conversations.

This is not the passive open-door policy where I could come to them if I wanted. No, strong managers actively seek out employees for dialogue specifically to create connection. Are you talking to your employees regularly?

Thank them often: There’s nothing worse than being left in limbo land about your performance. Particularly when you have put in extra time and effort, have stretched to learn new skills, have taken on new responsibilities, or have stepped up in a crunch. We all know that job demands have grown as work forces have dwindled. That makes saying thank you to employees more vital than ever. Showing appreciation is a simple, but powerful act.

If you only have a couple of tools in your manager’s tool kit, be sure that showing appreciation your employees on an individual basis is one of them. Think about how you feel when someone appreciates you. It’s good, right? OK, pass that feeling along. It will deepen the connection with each of your employees. Are you saying “thank you” enough?

Trust them: Have you ever worked for a manager, or a leader, who wanted to show you “the right way” to cross your T’s and dot your I’s? You know, those micro-managers who don’t trust anyone but themselves to get the job done “right” (right=their way). The lack of trust there is pretty oppressive, isn’t it. But that’s not the only way managers and leaders kill trust.

Another equally important trust killer is never letting an employee stretch, take risks, and innovate. Encouraging employees to stretch and grow, and being open to their ideas for new ways, more efficient ways, even more fun ways to do their jobs is a tremendous way to grow connection with your employees. Are you encouraging your employees to stretch and grow, without constantly watching over their shoulders?

Try It

When you surround your employees with regular Talking, authentic Thanks, and encouraging Trust, you will be amazed at the connection you will build.

We challenge you to intentionally employ these three T’s over the next 30 days. Let us know if you begin to see a difference in how your employees respond to you.

And, as always, let us know if we can help.

February 3, 2018

Are You Listening Fast Enough?

How long has it been since you were having a conversation with someone and suddenly realized you had no idea what they just said to you? 24 hours? Five hours? Five minutes? It happens to all of us.

There is sciencey stuff to explain it that we always share in our communication training. Our brains simply process words faster than we can speak them. In fact, the differential is about 75%.

Yikes. Our brains have lots of time to wander around while we are talking to each other. That’s why the ability to listen attentively is such a critical part of communication. How much of your work depends on you listening to someone, or someone listening to you?

If you are a manager, being a good listener is hugely important. A recent Gallup poll shows that 65% of employees don’t feel appreciated at work. 65%!! One way to fix that is for managers to learn to listen in a way that make employees feel heard.

We listen differently

In addition to the brain stuff, communication preferences also affect listening. Some of us prefer to talk and think at a faster pace than others do. For me, I’m a doer. I’m all about bullet points and making quick decisions and moving on to the next challenge. I use fewer words, and need to hear fewer words. My husband is quite the opposite. He’s an analyzer. He wants a slower pace so he can process. Quite often, our conversations result in me getting impatient or being short, trying to move things along. That doesn’t mean I’m not interested in what he’s saying (well, mostly); it just means we are processing at different speeds.

Listening tips

Respecting other people’s communication preferences is one way to improve our listening skills. Following are three tools you can use to listen more attentively.

  1. Make eye contact: When you are looking someone in the eye, you are more focused on them. Plus, you are also reading their facial expressions, which are a big part of communication.
  2. Ask clarifying questions: Help your brain not only process, but also store information. Asking clarifying questions focuses your brain by putting it in the mode of information retention.
  3. Summarize, paraphrase or rephrase: If your brain is actively working on synthesizing the information you’re hearing, it’s more likely to stay connected to the speaker.

A lot goes into effective communication. Speaking and listening are equally important. Using these tips, and learning to read behaviors, can help you equalize speed differences. At Ignite, we spend a lot of time training on this topic. Let us know if your organization could use some help.

January 2, 2018

Three Keys to Build Trusting Workplaces

We all know it. We are living in highly polarized times, where skepticism and cynicism are coming more naturally. The problem is, polarizing ideas don’t stay in the newspaper or on TV.  If we let them, they become part of our psyches and go with us wherever we go, including into our workplaces, our team meetings, and our individual interactions with colleagues.

Over the holidays, as many of you probably did, my family came into a couple of close calls with the political tension. Fortunately for us, no heated arguments erupted because in each case, someone on at least one side of the potential conflict displayed the following three critical behaviors that enabled the conversation to continue in a space of trust.

  1. Be Aware: Each of us have different opinions, different thought processes, and different beliefs.  They are all based on our personal experiences, including our successes and failures. We all see different shades of gray, or sometimes strictly
    black and white, when it comes to the conflicts that are swirling in current events. It’s never just about the words being spoken. It’s always about the extra stuff we add to the words and the “facts.” Be aware of what you are bringing to the table with yours.
  2. Listen to Understand: When you know your “stuff,” you can have self-aware conversations that allow you to stay more open to what the “other” has to offer. When you actually focus and listen to what the other person is saying, how they are saying it, and look for “why” they are saying it, you can begin to understand where they are coming from. You don’t have to agree with them; you just have to recognize that their experiences, their beliefs, and their intentions are different from your own.  Different –  not good or bad.
  3. Be Tolerant: When you can listen to understand, you can learn to have tolerance for ideas that are different from your own, motivations that are different from yours, goals and dreams that are different and are being affected by the conflict. Then, you can work to keep trust by tolerating differences, which are in fact the flavors that keep life interesting.

Using these behaviors in the workplace will allow you to back away from polarization to more trust-based communication. Understanding yourself allows you to be more open and transparent with others. Openness enhances trusting individual relationships and, as a manager, helps you to build stronger, more effective teams.

October 25, 2017

What if your employees aren’t listening?

Tell me if you’ve had an experience like this: You thought you gave your employee (or your significant other) clear and explicit instructions on something that needed to get done. And yet, the task didn’t get done the way you needed it to, or didn’t get done at all. Weren’t they listening? Or could it be that perhaps you didn’t communicate effectively?

With communication, there are so many things that could have come between you, the sender of the message, and the employee/significant other. All that stuff in between is called noise.  If you think about two tin cans connected by a string, noise is all the stuff that puts kinks in the string.

There are specific things you can do to reduce the noise so that people can hear you better. Here are three.

1. Use the full spectrum.  Professor Albert Mehrabian showed us that in fact only 7% of any communication is “the words.” The remaining 93% is split between our body language (55%) and our voice (38%). When you communicate in written form, you open your message up to lots of misinterpretation because of all that you leave out.

2. Adapt to them.  Each of us has a way that we prefer to communicate. Some like fast, short messages that are focused on the task.  Others like messages that are more feeling, more descriptive, and warmer.  When we don’t adapt how we communicate to the other person’s preferences, we run the risk that they tune us out.

3.  Anticipate. People have varying perspectives on issues, depending on what the value, and what they have experienced in life.  When you communicate, you have to anticipate how the other person’s perspective will color the message you are sending them.

These three things are a starting point. Communication is a huge issue and it is fundamental to positive human interaction. It is at the heart of success in any field. That’s why we focus so much of our leadership development on the many aspects of communication.

Check out our trainings and workshops to see if what we provide will enhance an area that you have identified as needing development.

September 19, 2017

Ch-ch-changes (David Bowie)

“Turn and face the strange” as David Bowie sings in his song “Changes”. Now a days, change is the norm – so how do we deal with it – especially if you don’t agree with it? One of the “old school” answers would be to “suck it up and deal with it”, but there are better solutions to dealing with change. Be seen as a leader that can exhibit these traits and you will have a team that follows you!Hand holding the word change

  • Give it some time – change grows on us and sometimes our perspective changes if we have time to think about it
  • Ask for more information – NOT questioning the change – explain upfront WHY you are asking for the info
    • understand it so you can explain it to others.
    • understand the why so that you can feel ownership
  • Do NOT assume anything – a dangerous position. Some questions to ask yourself*
    • What assumptions am I making abut myself?
    • What assumptions am I making about others?
    • What am I assuming from the past that may not be true now?
    • What am I assuming about what’s impossible – or what is possible?
  • Recognize the source of your concern
  • Once you understand the change, influence the outcome if possible
  • Implement the change

    * from Change Your Questions Change Your Life by Marilee Adams

September 5, 2017

A meeting or a team — where are you headed?

As you walk out your door, which would you say to your colleague or assistant? “I’m going to a meeting about the anniversary celebration” OR “It’s time for my anniversary celebration team meeting”?

WhPhoto of a successful teamat difference does it make, you ask? The words may sound innocuous to you, but they communicate a lot. There is a big difference between attending a meeting and being part of a team. At least I hope so.

In the first instance, it’s all about some third-party activity, that thing you have to do, that meeting.  But in the second instance, you acknowledge personal involvement — you say you are part of a team.

Projects can live and die based on the level of commitment of the project team members. You can walk into a meeting with the intent to check off a “to do,” perhaps trying to avoid getting any additional action items assigned to you. OR you can walk into a team gathering determined to do your part to ensure success for the team.

Words are important. They reflect mindset. They set tone. They power success … or failure.

I know.  I’ve gone to a lot of meetings. I’ve worked on lots of teams. The feeling in the room is absolutely different when people gather as a team. It’s palpable.

Look at your calendar.  How many meetings do you have to check off today?  How many opportunities do you have to meet with effective teams?

April 26, 2017

No More Silos

Few things hold back success like the silos that form throughout an organization. You’ve experienced this somewhere along your path, I’m sure. A team meets and everyone in the meeting has their own agenda. Time is wasted as each person spends time jockeying for their own department or group.

What they should be doing is focusing on the success of the team or group that they are currently meeting with, not defensively butting heads. In the case of a management team, when they walk through the door into a management meeting, they should immediately put on the hats of organizational leaders and check their departmental hats at the door.

For leaders, especially, it is about figuring out who your team #1 is (the team you are meeting with at that moment) … and let’s hope that is the team that is focused on steering the ship. When you can expand your view from “my department” to “our organization,” and keep your focus there, you dramatically increase your opportunities for success.

We train women leaders to be able to shift their focus as the situation requires. It’s a critical key to leadership success.

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