Monthly Archives: April 2011

Hello, I Must be Going – Employee Engagement in a Recovering Economy

I was surfing YouTube the other day and somehow came across a clip from one of my favorite Marx Brothers movies, Animal Crackers.  The scene is Groucho Marx as Captain Spaulding returning from a long “out of location assignment” carried into the “home office”.  Groucho’s character has been off in a foreign land with none of the comforts of his normal living arrangement. Upon his return to a lavish but transparent party to welcome him home he breaks out in song as only Groucho can do….  

“Hello, I must be going,
I cannot stay, I came to say, I must be going.
I’m glad I came, but just the same I must be going.
I’ll stay a week or two,
I’ll stay the summer thru,
But I am telling you,
I must be going.”

That humorous scene from Animal Crackers (circa 1930) started me thinking this could soon be the outcome for some employers.  Employees will return from an arduous project or assignment, and because they have not felt engaged with their company, will quickly decide that they cannot stay and “must be going”, likely to a competitor.  For those too young to recall this scene (that ultimately become Groucho’s theme song), here’s a short YouTube version.

The past two plus years of economic troubles have created a perception that companies needn’t worry about employee turnover and retention. The current thinking in some companies suggests that because of layoffs and downsizing all around, employees have stepped up, absorbed additional duties, and are satisfied with just having a job.  Recent articles in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal suggest that within the general employed population, there exists a desire to find other employment. These reports are reinforced with a survey by the human resource consulting firm Hewitt, which reported 50 percent of the U.S. workforce will “consider” or “actively look for” other employment as soon as the economy improves.  I’ve been on other webinars that suggest the number is far north of 50%. 

It doesn’t have to be this way.  I believe that enlightened corporate leaders emerge in times of economic distress.  Any corporate manager (note that I didn’t use the term leader) that believes that their employees are fungible assets and neglects the chance to engage them as the fabric of client satisfaction and revenue realization in tough times is short-sighted and creates an opportunity for a competitor with better employee engagement practices to leap-frog them in their industry.  

There are many things that an enlightened corporate leader can do to continue to engage their staff that has little corporate investment and here is a short list of a few

  • Communicating the company’s strategy and goals and providing a monthly dashboard for general distribution is a good first step. 
  • A sense of community makes a difference. Mitchell, Holtom, Lee, Sablunski, and Erez found that employees stay at jobs when they feel a sense of fit and connection with their coworkers, job, organization, and community.
  • Recognition for work and results well done is an opportunity to celebrate with the entire team and others not on the team for them to see what success looks like and create a yearning to be the next team recognized.
  • Development plans with teeth that support learning and development that can be leveraged for both greater client billings and individual career growth 

Employee engagement in times of economic uncertainty can demonstrate the company’s commitment to treat their employees as individuals and not simply fungible assets.  The marginal added cost of training and the no-cost communication from leadership teams can help to maintain the company’s most precious resource, their people.

Absent this behavior, some employers might be soon hearing…” Hello, I Must be Going” sometime soon.


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Smiles and the Virtual Office – Are Your Smile Muscles Atrophying?

I’ve discovered recently that I smile less now that I work virtually more of the time.  I was never a person that awoke each day determined to smile all day, but my smile frequency has clearly attenuated over the past few months.  Social media, email, blogging, and networking have been a wondrous communication spectrum with tons of information banging at my LCD screen throughout the day and night, but it doesn’t often cause a smile.  I’m concerned that my smile muscles may be atrophying. 

We have been visiting with a friend who has a 4 month old son and hang out with him when she needs time to be an adult.  This kid is a Human Smile Meter.  If I look at him or call his name, the sound causes him to peer in my direction.  But if I smile while doing this, he instantly gives me an ear to ear smile in return.  I now have access to a smile meter to help me exercise those lazy smile muscles back to full strength.

This has started me thinking of how many others may be suffering from this virtual-work smile apathy syndrome.  We often smile in our on-line communications by including a smiley emoticon.  Can you think of a time when you entered that emoticon and really weren’t exhibiting the accompanying smile?  I just read an article in the Washington Post that I find incredible but makes the point that we must not smile as much these days.  When getting a driver’s license in Virginia, you are not allowed to smile for the picture.  Apparently the agency is developing facial recognition software that compares your face over time to prevent fraud or other illegal practices.  This implies that you will be caught not smiling sometime in the future and that would mess up the recognition software.  So there you have it, a government agency banning smiles since we smile so little.  If you think I’m kidding, here’s the story, it actually generated a real smile for me when reading it.  I’m now searching for a webcam application for my laptop that would forbid me from tying a smiley face if it detects that I am not smiling.  If one doesn’t exist, anyone reading this with any technical ability might have a new product launch in their future.

I have adopted a new smile posture when out in public, smiling at more and more people.  The results are almost 100% that a smile is returned.  It can’t be that my face is so amusing or attractive to generate that return smile.  It must be the surprise that someone would smile at them for no good reason other than to create a happy thought.  Imagine the good feelings I could unleash in a short 30 minute walk around town.  I must try this once I can get my smile muscles back in shape for that challenge!

Take a few minutes the next time you are in work or out in public and try smiling at people.  If working remote or virtual office, exercise those smile muscles during the day.  The days are too long already and the lack of a smile quota will make them seem that much longer. This cute little innocent 4-month old boy has taught me what I seem to have forgotten, that smiles are always welcome and usually returned.  

Mother Theresa stated this best: “Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing”.  Plus it’s the most inexpensive way to change your looks.

This 🙂 is Real – Trust Me 

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Posted by on April 19, 2011 in LinkedIn, Networking


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Social Capital – Affluence and Influence through Social Networking

My concept of Social Capital has evolved significantly over the past few months.  I have an extensive and far-reaching network at CSC, with many trusted colleagues and many of them have become lifelong friends.  It was an environment that was resilient to organizational changes.  It was nurturing and full of reciprocal behaviors that drove active learning and a powerful set of virtual teams. 

In the past few months, I have been exposed to a number of social networks that have provided significant social capital. A few months ago, I had a mere skeleton of a profile on LinkedIn and had not made any effort to establish or expand my network.  From a few baby steps a few months ago, the social capital of my networks has exploded.  I am experiencing the wealth and influence of being a contributing member of an expanding set of networks that includes my dear friends at CSC at the core, and now includes many others that I have not met before, and may never actually met in person. 

Farming and harvesting these social connections has increased the social capital of my network, and I believe that those that are new connections to me have gained added social wealth and influence as well.  This is an abundance, not a scarcity wealth system.  As I gain social wealth, it doesn’t come at the expense of someone else; in fact both of us gain wealth in the expansion of our collective networks.  And that wealth grows at a non-linear positive rate.  Early on, I was inviting people to join my network.  Now that I have established a fairly “rich” network, I am receiving invitations from others that may be from a distant past relationship or someone completely new.  Imagine how fulfilling it is to be a part of a social fabric that continues to gain wealth and influence as we collectively grow together.

In a previous blog, I spoke of Trust and its value in driving Results, Profits, and Values.   I now believe I can expand on that discussion since the core of social capital is trust.  My CSC friends exhibit “thick trust”, and using my “invest in trust approach”; I have a “thin trust” with many more connections.  The challenge will be to continually move those with thin trust to thick trust and replenish the thin trust pool with more new connections.   Those with thin trust are expected to engage in reciprocity, doing for others not with any immediate expectation of repayment. This kind of thin trust is especially valuable, since it lubricates social interactions and moves the total social network to a more trusted and therefore wealthier state. 

I challenge you to invest in your current social network, and further challenge you to stretch into the unknown and seek to expand that network.  My experiences to date have shown that you and I will gain social wealth and influence from the commitment.

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Posted by on April 11, 2011 in LinkedIn, Networking


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Action Plan for Healthy Leadership

How many of you think that you can get by with one hour less of sleep? Working through lunch equals one more hour of productivity, right?  Although these lifestyles may appear to work in the short-term, they are not sustainable standard practices. Even in small amounts, sleep deprivation and lack of work breaks significantly undermines your capacity for focus, analytical thinking, and creativity. Think about these suggestions and try at least one and see if you gain more productivity and creativity.

  • Schedule uninterrupted work periods: I’ve read research that shows we can manage our attention and achieve more when we work in uninterrupted sprints, rather than marathons. Once a day, schedule an uninterrupted period of 60 to 90 minutes. Try getting in a bit earlier than everyone else and promise yourself that you will resist the typical “good morning” chit chat that shaves time off of your most productive time of the day. Post a do not disturb sign on your door for a certain period each day (particularly first thing in the morning). When you can, focus on one task at a time and work until they are done. Give yourself a gift of an energy break for getting these tasks off the to-do list.
  • Take an energy break Get up and take a 5- to 10-minute energy break, do something completely different: take a walk, or talk to that friend that might have been the “good morning” distraction earlier. When I was working at Bell labs in Holmdel, the building seemed designed for just this since the entire outer frame was glass with corridors along the glass frame.  A loop around the building was refreshing while getting daylight and seeing the outdoors.  Any building can appear like this.  Walk the stairs and walk outside for 100 yards.  That’s all it takes to get that much-needed energy back in your stride. Colleagues will come to appreciate that when they do talk with you, they get your full, undivided attention, instead of the body signals that you really want to get back to your focused set of tasks.
  • Take a lunch break: This is your big energy break.  Even if it is only 30 minutes, get some low-fat nutritional lite meal items and move around. When you eat, take small bites and actually notice and savor your food as you chew and swallow.
  • Work hard at play: Play lies at the heart of our capacity to imagine and invent. I’ve read articles on the neuroplasticity of the brain that shows that you can build new neural pathways and slow the negative impact that stress and aging can have on your mental abilities.
  • Setting aside time to learn:  With work so intense; Covey’s Sharpening the Saw principle may never happen.  Learn a new skill for your role or future role such that you will be more efficient now and more capable of moving your career to your new destination. I’ve done this recently and it so refreshing to not just have new skills, but knowing that you can still bear down and acquire significant new game changing competencies.  Or simply practice a long-lost hobby, such as art, the piano, or needlepoint—all of these can boost your long-term mental agility. If you make this fun, powerful endorphins will be released in your body, which promote wellness and the kinds of positive emotions and energy that are the foundation of optimum performance.
  • Meet with colleagues when you don’t need anything from them: Build that relationship and listen to them.  Shift your focus from self to them and open yourself to different views and opinions.  One new idea can be a great leaping off moment for the rest of the day.  Your colleague may gain from talking through a tough task as well.
  • Sleep: Go to bed an hour earlier. Wind down at least an hour before and do not check e-mails just before going to sleep, unless you want to be twisting and turning most of the night trying to respond in what should be a resting sleep state.  If you are having trouble going to sleep or staying asleep, checking emails as extra productivity is counterproductive when trying to return to sleep.  Not sure what your email backlog is like, but not many of mine are uplifting enough to provide the peaceful state of mind allowing restful sleep.

Come back to me with your ideas on how you have made significant gains in well-being and productivity.  As I said before, I learn at least one new good idea from every interaction

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Posted by on April 5, 2011 in Fitness, LinkedIn


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Student Choices and Real World Perception – Not Always Aligned

As a Rutgers alumnus, I have Targum, the Rutgers Student newspaper, delivered to my email account.  Upon awakening early on April 1, I scanned the banner thinking it would be the Mugrat ( Targum spelled backwards) as it often was when I was a student.  Back in those days, the Targum editors had a wonderful sense of humor on April Fool’s day, writing believable stories that were really good jokes.

Disappointed that the banner was not the Mugrat, I read on to find that the students indeed retained a sense of humor when the lead article was Snooki  was paid $32K to “perform” at Rutgers.  What a laugher.  Then the Star Ledger arrived, a quality NJ newspaper that doesn’t display a sense of humor, and ¾ of the front page was “Snooki U”, Rutgers pays 32K for her to perform!

I am a proud Rutgers alumnus, with all three of my now grown children as RU alumni. Over the past few years, the red RU logo has been appearing on many more car windows, store fronts, with people wearing Rutgers clothing out and about.  Refreshing to see one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in the country claiming its right to brand itself so boldly.  Then this happens. 

To put this in perspective, Snooki’s appearance fee was paid from a portion of the mandatory student fee, and as such is controlled by a student governing body, the Rutgers University Programming Association (RUPA).  The university has no control over how the students choose to spend their own money, and does not censure the students’ decision.  The Rutgers administration should be applauded for taking this hands off approach that allows students to be the final decision makers on what experiences they want to have on campus. 

While the Rutgers administration should remain blameless for this decision, the students deserve a much sterner review of their decision.  Perception is reality to most people, especially to the NJ populace that has experienced tough talk and difficult actions from our governor during the current fiscal crisis.  Nerves are bare to how scarce funds are allocated.  Organizing a kegger at a frat or an off-campus apartment might not be the best judgment, but it doesn’t hit the headlines, and doesn’t impact the image of a University that has worked so hard over so many years to be recognized on a national scale. “Snooki U” has now replaced Rutgers University in the minds of many people who don’t understand the enormous contributions that Rutgers has made in the fields of business, science, and the arts, and to the students and alumni that have gained personal and professional success from the challenging programs.

When I was on campus (actually I was a commuter who didn’t have the money to have housing), a number of my friends and new peers ran for office in the then Commuter Council.  Just as the RUPA was provided funds from the student fee, the Commuter Council received our portion of that budget.  I can’t tell you today that every decision we made would have cleared the hurdle of whether the money was well spent, but we never considered any program that would harm our proud Rutgers image. 

We should expect more from today’s students.  They are constantly exposed to multiple media sources including the instant social media of Twitter and Facebook.  You would then expect their decisions to be made with the understanding that each one is instantly viewed by anyone that cares, and then gets retweeted to many others that may never have cared.  Every decision, every action needs to stand the scrutiny of their peers and the surrounding community, in this case the tax payers of NJ, and all those who call Rutgers their home.

This commentary is not meant to “censure” the freedom that all student deserve to have as members of an academic community.  It is a call to action for those same students to better understand the impact of their actions.  Just as putting a partially nude drunken kegger picture on Facebook right before an employer interview is not good judgment; paying Snooki $32k to perform at Rutgers is the same poor judgment.


Posted by on April 2, 2011 in Rutgers


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