What is one thing that you do better than anyone else? For some people, that may be easier to answer than others. If I asked Usain Bolt that question, I’m pretty sure he’d say that he can run faster than anyone on the planet. For most of us though, the question would prove to be quite a stumper. Try answering it for yourself. It’s not so easy, is it?
Granted, out of 7 billion people in the world, the odds of you being the absolute best at a particular something or other is pretty remote. But the point of the question is more general. What is it that you do really well? Probably better than most people you know? Knowing the answer to that question can help unlock levels of job satisfaction and engagement that you didn’t know existed.
Here are three steps you can take to understand the unique value you bring to your work and how you can stand out from the crowd.
1. Identify your strengths. Sounds pretty basic, huh? Well, it is pretty basic, but believe it or not, many people don’t have a good understanding of their strengths, weaknesses, or personality traits that help or hinder their success. Assessments such as the DISC, MBTI, Strengths Finder, or Marcus Buckingham’s newest StandOut survey can give you insight into what motivates you or how your personality preferences shape the way you perceive work experiences and “show up” to other people.
2. Understand the type of work or circumstances that best leverage your strengths and personality traits. One of my first “real” jobs was working for a popular Southern California fast food chain. I lasted one shift. The reason? My supervisor drilled into me the importance of following all the rules to the letter and corrected me whenever I deviated from them, yet he would go into the back of the kitchen and smoke a cigarette whenever he wanted (clearly in violation of the rules). I knew that I would never be happy working for a boss who didn’t display integrity in his actions. For me to be at my best, I need to be surrounded by people who have honorable values and strive to live up to those values.
One way to identify situations where you’ll thrive is to make a list of all the times where you’ve felt “in the flow” – those instances where you’ve been so absorbed in your work that you’ve lost track of time. What are the commonalities among those experiences? It might take a little digging and analysis, but you can probably find some themes running through those experiences. Perhaps it’s the type of people you worked with. Or maybe there was an element of problem-solving involved. Maybe it was the opportunity for you to use certain skills, like writing, teaching, or public speaking. Whatever the theme may be, it’s a clue to what really engages you and prepares you to take step #3 below.
3. Intentionally seek your “sweet spot.” Your “sweet spot” is that place where you find fulfillment in your work. You have two basic choices when it comes to identifying your sweet spot. The first is to leave it up to chance. You can hope that you stumble upon the type of job that is a good match for your personality and skills. Not a good option. The second choice is to actively look for situations that are a good match for what you bring to the table. Take what you’ve learned in steps 1 and 2 and apply it to your current situation. If you’re in a job that’s a complete mismatch for your personality and strengths, begin to put a plan together for how you can transition to something more in alignment with your natural gifts. If you’re in a job you like, but need a little more pizzazz in your work, map out new projects, tasks, or areas of responsibility that could benefit from the application of your strengths.
Discovering your strengths and learning how to use them in combination with your personality traits is an evolutionary journey. It doesn’t happen overnight and sometimes there is a lot of trial and error involved. However, taking a purposeful and introspective look into yourself and following these three steps can put you on the path toward finding a higher level of fulfillment and success in your work.
Randy Conley is the Trust Practice Leader at The Ken Blanchard Companies and his LeaderChat posts appear the last Thursday of every month. For more insights on trust and leadership, visit Randy at his Leading with Trust blog or follow him on Twitter @RandyConley.
Three years of a dismal economy has worn down a lot of people. While some people (about 20% according to most engagement surveys) have maintained their passion, a large majority have lost their mojo. Tired of a flat attitude and just going through the motions? Here’s a three-step process for jump-starting your work environment.
Rediscover your passion
Just about everyone has had a motivating work experience sometime in their lives. (If you haven’t, give me a call and we’ll talk.) For many of us though, that experience may have occurred long ago in the past. Your first task to jump start your work environment is to rediscover that passion. When was the last time you truly loved a job? Make sure it’s a real example.
The reason I’m asking for a specific example is because I want to find a time when you actually experienced the environment you’d like to recreate. Your past behavior is the best predictor of your future behavior. If you want to know what would create an engaging environment now, identify a time when you were engaged in the past.
Now, here’s the second part. What was it about that job that made it so great? Be a good detective. Don’t overlook any clue. (Here are a couple of possibilities I’ve heard from others if you’re having trouble identifying your personal motivators off of the top of your head.)
- My boss cared about me as a person
- My colleagues cared about me.
- The work was very meaningful
- It was a fun, collaborative environment.
- I had a lot of freedom and authority in how I did my work.
- The work was varied and interesting.
- I had a clear sense of what I was trying to do.
- I was growing and learning a lot.
- I felt involved and in the know.
Develop a plan
Now that you’ve got some data, it’s time to take some action. What can you do to build those components into your current job? Two cautions; don’t look outside yourself and don’t focus on what you don’t have. You are looking to re-engage yourself—not discover what is wrong with your present environment or what others should do.
Instead, think of ways that you can build more connectedness, growth, meaning, and involvement into your present job.
Work the plan
Your last step is to take some action this week. What can you do to reconnect with your boss or colleagues? How can you rediscover the meaning in your work? What steps can you take to provide some growth and variety in your work environment?
Happiness is a discipline
Taking action is one of the great antidotes for worry—and taking action in a positive direction is especially beneficial. (Don’t you feel a little boost already—just thinking about it?)
Shake the rust off of your positive attitude. Send yourself in the direction you want to go.
There is a classic fable about a man who approaches three laborers breaking and shaping rocks. The man asks the first laborer what he is doing. “What does it look like I’m doing? I’m breaking rocks,” the laborer replies. The man asks the second laborer what he is doing and he responds that he is building a wall. The man then asks the third laborer what he is doing and the laborer responds, “I’m building a cathedral.”
The three men are all doing the same work, but each with a different perception of its relative worth. Which man do you suppose is coming to work happier and more engaged?
The first man sees his work as a job, the second man sees his work as a task, but it’s the third man who sees his work as a worthy calling, because he is clear about the bigger picture and how his work connects and adds value.
And it is that man who, according to Blanchard employee work passion research, has more positive intentions about
- performing at an above-average level
- being a good organizational citizen
- using more discretionary effort on behalf of the organization
- remaining with the organization
- endorsing the organization and its leadership to others
In a new monthly column for Fast Company, Scott and Ken Blanchard look at the power of meaningful work and alignment. For leaders looking to rekindle a “cathedral” point of view in their people they suggest:
- First, remember why you got into business in the first place. Without an occasional reminder, sometimes it really can seem like the only reason the organization exists is to make money for shareholders.
- Second, connect the dots between an individual’s work and the organization’s overall goals. Make sure that individual tasks and roles are aligned to current initiatives by regularly reviewing what people are working on and how it is contributing to overall performance.
Helping people see and understand the meaningfulness of their work is one of the most powerful things you can do to create strong and powerfully motivated employees. To learn more about creating a sense of meaningful work in your organization, check out Scott and Ken’s new column at Fast Company here. To learn more about Blanchard’s research into employee work passion, follow this link to Employee Passion: The New Rules of Engagement or From Engagement to Employee Work Passion: A Deeper Understanding of the Employee Work Passion Framework
Who did you root for in yesterday’s game? If you didn’t happen to live in Pittsburgh or Green Bay, you probably had a decision to make. That process you went through—and your eventual decision, can teach you a lot about employee engagement. Give me a minute and let me explain.
Each year, the Super Bowl gives sports fans everywhere a chance to experience the process that employees go through when they are identifying whether a particular company is a good place to work or not. That’s because most people, unless they happen to live in one of the two competing team’s home cities, have a decision to make. Who to root for?
Because most of the people who are watching the game are not necessarily fans of either team before the broadcast, people have to evaluate the environment, compare it against their beliefs and past experiences, and then make an emotional decision that wraps it all up. For example:
- Big Ben and I both graduated from Miami of Ohio
- Because Mrs. Shumate, my second grade teacher liked the Packers
- Because Pittsburgh’s minor league baseball team plays here in Bradenton
- Because my daughter lives in Pittsburgh
- Because Packers are in same division as my team
And so everyone has to decide which team they’re going to root for. It’s the same process when an employee looks at a new work environment and decides whether it is a good place to work or not. For example, at work, people look at a variety of different factors in deciding whether a particular company is a good fit for them including:
- Pay and benefits
- Growth opportunities
It will typically be a combination factors, some logical and some emotional, but always individual and personalized because each individual looks at their work environment differently and makes a decision based on their own experiences. What is motivating for one employee is not the same for another.
So what’s a manager to do?
- First, recognize that everyone is different.
- Have conversations with your people.
- Ask them what motivates them and what creates a personally engaging work environment.
You’ll find out that the answers are as diverse as the reasons people have for choosing which team to root for.
To learn more about the process that people go through in determining whether a particular work environment is engaging or not, check out the white paper, From Engagement to Work Passion. It will show you eight of the factors that people typically look at and the process they use in deciding.
“Our study shows that emotion suppression takes a toll on people,” said Dr. Daniel Beal, assistant professor of psychology at Rice University and co-author of the study.
“It takes energy to suppress emotions, so it’s not surprising that workers who must remain neutral are often more rundown or show greater levels of burnout. The more energy you spend controlling your emotions, the less energy you have to devote to the task at hand.”
The research also found that customers who interacted with a neutrally expressive employee were in less-positive moods and, in turn, gave lower ratings of service quality and held less-positive attitudes toward that employee’s organization.
Are You Trying to Be Neutral?
What’s the culture like in your organization and what is your role in influencing it in a positive or negative direction. Sometimes employees want to stand outside of the fray, not getting involved. Their attitude is that they are neutral—neither acting in a positive or negative manner. But what type of signal does “being neutral” really send to fellow employees?
This research shows that being neutral is actually perceived as being negative. Take a more proactive approach to influencing the culture in your organization. Every person who joins a company, department, or team changes the personality mix. Don’t buy into the myth of neutral. Instead, actively promote a positive mood!
To read the entire article, Neutral Disposition at Work May Take Toll, check it out here at PsychCentral.
Your latest employee engagement survey results are in and now the hard work begins. If you are like most organizations, you’ve scored well in some areas—providing Meaningful Work, for example—and you’ve scored low in some areas—Growth opportunities and Collaboration perhaps. You sit with the results for awhile and think about what you can do to improve the situation.
For many leaders, the first inclination is to think about what can be done on a corporate-wide basis. But this would be a step in the wrong direction. According to research from The Ken Blanchard Companies, employee engagement is a personal affair and people see their environment differently—even when they are experiencing the same thing.
Here’s an example: All employees want a collaborative work environment to some degree. But the degree of contact that satisfies that need varies widely from person to person. For some employees, meeting on a quarterly basis feels like the right amount of interaction. For others, anything less than daily interaction can feel isolating.
How can you find out the right amount of collaboration your employees need to help feel connected? Ask them. Encourage your managers and supervisors to include a question about collaboration, or growth, or any other problem area that has come up on your survey in their next one-on-one conversation. Adding an employee engagement question or two into the discussion is a great way for managers to discover the diversity of experience among their direct reports and also begin to open the door for strategies that can help to improve each employee’s work environment going forward.
PS: To learn more about the Blanchard approach to improving employee engagement in your organization, check out the white papers Employee Passion: The New Rules of Engagement and From Engagement to Employee Work Passion. They can help to shed some additional light on the individual appraisal process all employees go through and also show you some of the areas to focus on.
Nearly 10 years ago when Marcus Buckingham first burst upon the employee engagement scene as a consultant at Gallup, he announced an important finding:
“There is more engagement level variation within companies, than between companies.”
This fact has largely been forgotten as leaders, consultants, and practitioners have focused more on measuring against industry benchmarks than on practical ways to create an engaging, high-performing work environment.
What Gallup found that bears repeating is that within any organization there are tremendous differences in the way people are experiencing their work environment. Some units in any organization will rank as best-in-class examples of high engagement, while other units within the same organization will rank among the lowest.
While identifying an engagement score at an organizational level is a good place to start, it is important to go beyond that initial number and look at what is happening within the organization at a department and individual level. That is where the richness and opportunity for change will be found. A systemic approach has a lot of merit for large organizational issues, but do not let that blind you to everything that can be accomplished at a department and individual level.
Systemically—senior leaders should focus on the areas that must be addressed organization-wide. These will usually be issues related to fairness (such as compensation and benefits) or growth (job opportunities and career advancement). What can be done at an organizational level to make sure that the company is treating employees fairly in both of these key areas?
Department level—unit leaders and managers should look at how they are implementing organizational objectives within their separate units. What type of sub-culture is being created? Also what can be done at a local level to connect employees to meaningful work, creating a collaborative work environment, or providing feedback and recognition?
Individual level—individual employees should look at their current work environment and ask, “To what degree am I engaged at work?” “What would create a more engaging work environment for me?” (For eight key components check out Employee Passion: The New Rules of Engagement.)
Everyone within an organization has a role in creating a high-performing, passionate work environment. Senior leaders, mid-level managers, and front line supervisors shouldn’t get caught in the trap of averages. Instead, think at a more local level when it comes to engagement. People are all experiencing the organization uniquely. Find out what that individual experience is and how you can help. And for senior leaders, check out Marcus Buckingham’s original piece on this concept from Fast Company —and be sure to check the date of publication. I think you’ll see that we might have overlooked something important.
Employee engagement is a popular topic these days and a whole industry has sprung up around helping managers identify people’s strengths, discover their motivations, and provide the tools and resources people need to succeed. The goal is to create a high-energy work environment where people want to come to work and be their best.
But do high employee engagement levels translate into better bottom line performance? Not necessarily. There is one additional component that has to be in place in order to drive bottom line impact. Read more…
Deciding whether a company’s work environment is engaging or not is a highly personal experience according to researchers at The Ken Blanchard Companies. In a new article for Chief Learning Officer magazine the researchers identify that employees experience their environment differently—even when they are looking at the same set of circumstances.
Take, for example, the idea of Connectedness with Colleagues, one of twelve factors identified in the research as contributing to a motivating work environment. For some team members, sharing updates on a monthly basis meets their needs for feeling informed and in the loop. For others, meeting anything less than once a day leaves them feeling isolated. If a group has a team norm of meeting once a week—a pretty standard practice—how do people from each camp feel about the team’s performance in staying connected? Chances are that members of the first group feel that that the team is excellent at connectedness because it communicates four times more than they personally feel is necessary, while members from the second group rate the team low on this aspect because it only meets once a week, which is less than what they are expecting.
So how does a leader deal with all of the different expectations that people have in the workplace? The answer is to see colleagues and direct reports as distinct, individual people with different needs and expectations. Here are three tips for getting started:
- Recognize that people have different needs, desires, and expectations. There is a tendency to believe that everyone perceives the environment the same and has the same needs and desires. The reality is that each of us sees things differently based on our beliefs and past experiences.
- Explore these differences. Build some time into your next one-on-one discussion to discover the degree to which your people are personally experiencing growth, autonomy, connectedness, and collaboration in the organization. For team members, include an agenda item to discuss these elements of an engaging workplace at an upcoming meeting.
- Look for early wins. While some factors will be best addressed at an organizational level, there are still many factors that can be addressed locally inside of a department or team. Identify what those factors are and how they can be addressed.
Employee engagement is a hot topic these days and there are a lot of ways to approach it. For leaders looking at improving overall engagement in their organizations, it’s important to keep in mind that the process is also intensely personal. To learn more about the Blanchard research on this topic, be sure to check out Employee Work Passion: A New Look at Engagement in this month’s Chief Learning Officer magazine.
In an article for the May issue of Chief Learning Officer magazine entitled The Leadership-Profit Chain, authors Drea Zigarmi and Scott Blanchard identify the impact of leadership behaviors on employee passion and customer devotion. Their research shows that organizations can’t treat employees poorly, put pressure on them, and then expect them to perform at high levels.
Sometimes organizations operate as though they’ve forgotten the human element of business, and that people have strong feelings about the way they are treated that translates into subsequent behavior. Zigarmi and Blanchard remind us that leaders need to see employees as more than just assets to be maximized.
5 Recommended Leadership Behaviors
For leaders looking to treat people right and provide employees with the direction and support they need to succeed, here are five ways the authors recommend getting started:
- Provide strong strategic leadership that includes setting an overall vision for the organization, coordinating the efforts of employees toward that purpose, and keeping them prepared to adapt to changing conditions as necessary.
- Identify and focus the organization on key strategic imperatives that have purpose for the customer or meaning for the greater community. People want to be a part of something bigger than themselves.
- Send consistent messages based on a clear vision and the type of culture the organization wants to create. Behaviorally define the values that guide the way employees interact with customers and each other.
- Identify employee needs and strive to meet them. Day-to-day leadership is the linchpin that drives the ways that employees engage with clients.
- Don’t make profit your only goal. Profit is a byproduct of serving the customer, which can only be achieved by serving the employee. Don’t fall into a trap of thinking that an organization can’t focus on both people and results. Organizations can focus on both at the same time and should.
If leaders create the right environment and engage in the right behaviors, employees will give their best to the organization. This leads to a greater sense of excitement and passion at work that leads to better customer service and retention.
You can access the full text of The Leadership-Profit Chain article here. Also be sure to check out the Key Factors Influencing Employee Passion which identifies 12 components of an engaging work environment.