Corporate Culture

June 29, 2017

Walking the Talk

When Deb Schmitz and I headed to Atlanta for a business retreat in February, the last thing we expected to walk away with was an entirely new business. But as we worked with our coach, Laura West, to strategize plans for Mountain Laurel as well as our individual businesses, things began to crystallize. We didn’t know who we were because we were trying to be too many things at the same time.

Does that ring any bells for you? We were experiencing energy drain from trying to put our focus on too many objectives. You know what I am talking about if you are trying to be wife, mother, sister, daughter, charity volunteer, AND do your “job” all at the same time. It’s that multi-tasking thing we preach against.

So we decided to be the kind of leaders we want other women to be. We decided to take a big risk, merge our businesses, and really go for it. Because “going for it” is what we want you to do. Let’s face it, you will never think the time is right, or that you know enough. So, move forward anyway. Take that one next step that feels really scary to you, and then take another step.

That’s one thing we’ve been most proud of in the leadership boot camps we’ve been teaching. The women really start challenging themselves to be all they can be. And they are being really successful, getting promoted, getting elected, you name it.

So July 1, 2017, we are going for it, too. We are igniting our passions completely.

Go on this journey with us, won’t you? Look for your next email from Deb or me at Ignite.

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.

April 7, 2017

Is Your Workplace Laughing Enough?

We always had a copy of Reader’s Digest at home when I was growing up. The monthly publication had several humor sections, including my favorite, “Laughter Is the Best Medicine.”

There is a lot of wisdom in that title, especially in today’s workplace, where stress is a huge problem.  Do a mental look around your workplace right now. At any given time, would there be a larger percentage of workers smiling and laughing, or frowning, studious, or with knitted brows? Your answer tells you two things about your culture.

Companies that foster lighter cultures with real laughter in meetings and hallways are likely to have lower levels of stress. Two reasons why their stress is lower are:

  1. When people are laughing together, they are bonding. One measure of workplace stress is how much social support employees feel. When laughter creates bonding, it also creates social support.
  2. Laughter is recognized as having strong health benefits. The Mayo Clinic says that over the short-term, laughter causes you to take in more oxygen, which stimulates your heart and brain. It soothes tension in your muscles.  And it cools down stress responses. Over the long-term, Mayo says that laughter can improve your immune system, mood, personal satisfaction, and even relieve pain.

If we did one of our workplace stress assessments at your organization, do you think you’d find that your employees have plenty of social support? In other words, are they laughing enough?

Let me know if you want to find out for sure.

December 7, 2016

Three Ways to Turn Down the Stress of Mistakes

“Turns out, life’s a little bit more complicated than a slogan on a bumper sticker. Real life is messy. We all have limitations. We all make mistakes.”                  ~Judy Hopps, Zootopia

MComputer keyboard with "oops" on return keyistakes in the workplace can be the source of huge stress. They can slow down productivity, cause rework, and/or create conflict. And right now, as many organizations have to balance the crunch of year-end deadlines with the social demands of the holidays and the unexpected impacts of winter weather, opportunities for mistakes intensify.

Managing Mistakes

Following are three things companies can do to reduce the stress employees feel when mistakes occur.

1. Expect. Unless your workforce is totally robots, mistakes will happen. You can reduce employee stress by giving them tools, including processes and procedures, to counter mistakes that you can anticipate.

2. Accept. Create a culture that supports the idea of learning from mistakes rather than punishing for them.  When you can remove the fear, you reduce stress.

3. Learn. Pay attention to “mistake trends” like creating routine time binds. Departments or individuals put others in time binds when they are overly cautious or they fail to properly prioritize. Creating time binds sets the stage for increased levels of mistakes when people have to work too quickly and/or have to ignore checks. You create unnecessary stress when you reduce employee ability to provide quality work.

The organizational attitude about mistakes starts at the top. Is your “mistake culture” fear-based or learning-focused?

November 9, 2016

Does Your Company Encourage Strong Working Relationships?

Positive relationships with colleagues in the workplace have never been so imrelationshipskeytobusinessportant.  Those relationships are obviously important to effective teamwork.  But more than that, they are crucial to balancing workplace stress.  The level of social support, that is, having a supportive work environment, is one of seven factors we consider when addressing workplace stress.

A supportive environment includes both managers who communicate clearly and consistently and peers who are there to provide assistance when you need them. Additionally, a supportive environment flows down from the top, where leaders actually encourage positive working relationships and they willingly address unacceptable behavior.

Symptoms of Unhealthy Environments

In an environment that is not supportive, you see three specific symptoms:

  1. Conflict: Employees and managers alike avoid conflict.  In fact, you might see people walking down the hallways with their eyes downcast to avoid looking at people with whom they might have conflicts that need to be addressed.  You will see people skipping company events to avoid potentially conflicted situations.  And you will see leaders who refuse to address conflict and just let it fester.
  2. Cooperation: When environments are not supportive, you are likely to see the effects of silos where departments don’t support one another, or an atmosphere of “me” where people are focused on their own projects and achievements and fail to offer support to other team members even when asked.
  3. Frustration: High levels of conflict and low levels of cooperation inevitably lead to frustration. Progress is stilted, opportunities are withheld, and a general sense of annoyance permeates the workplace.

When an organization fails to ensure that employees have positive working relationships, there are high stress and disengagement levels.  As a result, productivity falls, turnover rises, and customer service and quality suffer. In this day and age, no company can afford that.

July 19, 2016

Is your culture impacting your customers?

Do you pay attention to the culture where you work? If you randomly called one of your customers right now, could you safely predict what they would say about how your employees treat them on a regular basis?Customer service survey

Culture of Innovation

If you have built a culture of empowerment and innovation, you likely could predict positive feedback from most customers. In a culture of empowerment and innovation, employees are free to:

  • put customers first in problem-solving
  • be creative in meeting customer needs
  • ask for support, knowing they won’t be judged for seeking help.

Companies like this build strong word-of-mouth, which results in both new customers and strong customer retention.

Culture of Fear

Then there is a culture that is top-down, closed, and fear-based (or some combination).  In this culture, employees are afraid to:

  • go off-script with innovative solutions
  • put customers issues above company guidelines
  • seek help, which might open them to criticism or worse.

Customers want timely, thoughtful resolution to issues as they arise. You can create a culture that provides that by building trust, providing open communication, and supporting employees with skill development and ongoing training.

Which culture does your company have, and how is that affecting your bottom line?  If you could use support in improving your culture, let’s talk.

April 23, 2016

Social Support and Stress in the Workplace 

According to the American Psychological Association’s report, Stress in America: Paying with Our Health, “One in five Americans (21 percent) say they have no one to rely on for emotional support.” Wow! Think about that.  Twenty percent of the workforce has no one they feel they can truly vent with when they have stress events in their life.

Given that, it is even more important for employers to provide an environment that promotes positive working relationships. It is equally important that employers address unacceptable behaviors, not just because they impact productivity and employee engagement, but because at least one in five employees are relying on them to do it, because they won’t or can’t.

When social support, specifically the lack of it, is an issue, three things happen:

Employees Avoid. They bypass people or events that could cause conflicts. This is not always a conscious act, but it happens nonetheless. When people are avoiding, then:

Cooperation Ebbs. When employees are avoiding, the ability of a team to work together to achieve goals is impacted. When goals don’t get met, then:

Frustration Ensues. Levels of upset or annoyance increase, which amplify feelings of stress. This can be a vicious cycle of growing stress, for the individual, for team mates, and for their families.

Does this situation exist in your workplace? If we are talking about 20 percent of employees, then you bet it does.  What are you doing to address this important element of workplace stress and employee disengagement?

March 2, 2016

Misery Loves Company, But Not Your Company

Tinypulse research confirms that “the type of culture employees work in, as well as how well they fit into that culture, has significant impacts on an employee’s likelihood to stay with their employer.”Photo of woman sitting at her desk with her head in her hands stressed out

When you think about that, it makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? When a company’s culture is broken, employees feel miserable. Misery is contagious, spreading at the coffee pot, over lunch, and even in meetings. But companies that get the components of a positive culture right are the same companies where employees sing their employer’s praises.

There are specific factors that contribute to a company’s culture. Let’s look at three of those.

1. Employees feels valued. The word “value” in this context has nothing to do with how much you are paying your employees.  It has to do with knowing each of your employees as people, recognizing their strengths and allowing them to use them, knowing what drives them and using that in how you recognize and reward them, and last, but never least, giving them respect (especially in how you talk with them).

2. Employees feel connected. There are a couple of pieces to this. Employees feel connected when they know how their specific job supports the company mission. They also feel connected when they are seen as whole people. The old thinking about separation between home and work life has to fall by the wayside for employees to feel connected.  Whether an employee is happy or miserable at home plays out in the workplace, consciously or unconsciously.  The reverse is also true.  When an employee is miserable, or even just dissatisfied at work, or if they love the place they work, that plays out in their home lives.

3. Everyone measures.  At the end of your day, how do you know if you were successful? Do you have standards or measures against which you check yourself (above and beyond anything that is monetary)? For example, if you  manage people, do you have a measure related to your employee’s job satisfaction?  They are your responsibility, after all, and their job satisfaction is your responsibility.

Do each of your employees have measures specific to their jobs that allow them to know they have had a successful day? Setting those measures is on you, in conjunction with each employee, because they are your responsibility. If you are depending on some annual, generic performance review measures, you are failing your employees.

So, if you manage people, how well are you doing in these areas?

February 4, 2016

Aspiration vs. Expectation: What managers need to remember

A balance of aspiration and expectationJudith Glasner, author of Conversational Intelligence, talks about how differently people react to two words: “aspiration” and “expectation.”


“Expectation” has negative connotations attached to it, Glasner points out, in that it becomes a bar by which we succeed or fail, as in “You failed to meet my expectations.”  The word tends to be closely associated with performance reviews and feedback sessions, which can focus on giving correction.


But “aspiration” has positive connotations. What do you aspire to be? What are your aspirations about this job, this project, this event? “Aspiration” is a dreaming, hopeful word that encourages us to reach further. It allows us to “what if” and to think big.

In his book on Masterful Coaching, Robert Hargrove, writes that he encourages CEOs and executives to declare an “Impossible Future,” an aspirational statement that captures something they dream or imagine could set their organization or even themselves apart from the masses.

Imagine if you gave your team, your employees, the opportunity to aspire, to dream, to really go outside the box.  What could they imagine? What could they achieve?

Aspiration is the underpinning of innovation. Expectation is the underpinning of sameness. Which is your organization is set up to foster?

January 15, 2016

Be a Great Manager: Say “No” to Office Politics

We’ve talked about trust, motivation, outcomes, and accountability as traits of a great manager. There is one more … when managers choose politics over productivity.great managers productivity

Jim Clift, Gallup CEO, says, “A manager with little talent for the job will deal with workplace problems through manipulation and unhelpful office politics.” He’s right. To get top performance, which creates high levels of productivity, managers have to be employee-focused. In previous articles, I have talked about the need for managers to:

  1. Build trust by recognizing the value of employees
  2. Know what motivates each employee
  3. Role model and insist upon accountability
  4. Solicit feedback and correct course to get results.

This last aspect of a great manager is equally important. Choosing to focus on employee productivity rather than office politics is a conscious decision. Managers who participate in “one-upsmanship” or “knowledge is power” or “divide and conquer” are working to enhance their own personal position.  And every time a manager makes that kind of decision, the result will be lowered productivity because these games disengage employees.

Employees see this as failure on two levels:

  1. Failure of a manager who cares more about themselves than either employees or the company
  2. Failure of company leadership for tolerating this behavior at the expense of the company (reduced engagement, productivity, and likely even customer satisfaction)

That’s why employee engagement is a full-company exercise. It starts with great managers who are employee-focused, but it includes the full spectrum of leaders working in concert with an eye always on staying true to the mission.

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