Thursday, December 10, 2015

Almost 69% employees are disengaged at work (2014 study)

According to the latest research, most employees couldn't give a rip about their workplace. What a waste of talent, a waste of lives. The best companies have talented employees working on an important mission who feel valued, and a transparent top management. What has gotten lost in the last few decades is sharing real power with employees. Read Great Work for my insights about how to create an awesome workplace.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Finding your calling (cont): Taking on your heart-break

Ask, “What does the world need from us now?”

Excerpted from Great Work

That said, how your calling manifests in the world tends to change over time. The world changes and what it needs from you will change as well. At least once a decade, Marsha and I had to reinvent our business. It would usually take a year or more to explore the question, What does the world need from us now? For a decade we tried to make workplaces more humane through empowerment and organizational democracy methods like self-directed work teams, but we could see that trend waning and I got the sustainability ‘bug.’ So we switched to sustainability for the next decade, until we realized they were really two sides of the same coin. Empowerment was social sustainability inside an organization. I had been working on sustainability all along; I just didn’t know it.

If I look at the mass I will never act.
If I look at the one, I will.

—Mother Teresa, Saint and the founder of the

Order of the Missionaries of Charity, a Roman Catholic congregation of women dedicated to helping the poor

In 2013, after over 23 years in business, I felt as if sustainability in organizations had reached a tipping point. The Wall Street Journal was talking about it; the largest businesses in the world were pursuing sustainability at least to the extent of publishing sustainability reports. They were now pushing on their suppliers. Research was showing that companies focusing on sustainability had better stock prices. The traditional interests in profits were aligning with the needs of the world. It was time to find another leverage point in the system.

So now I’m focusing on getting sustainability embedded into the school system, a field called Education for Sustainability. Again, I had to struggle with my role. I wasn’t a schoolteacher; I didn’t even have my own children. I wasn’t well positioned to influence the public school system. But after a year of poking around, I have found a way. So now I’m onto Sustainability Calling 3.0 after gathering around me compatriots who fill in my weaknesses.

So this is what it may be for you. Find something you care deeply about and poke around until you find your role in solving that problem. I promise you, it’s there.

We [the Chinese] would be outraged if people were killing our pandas,
we should be just as upset with
what’s happening to rhinos and elephants in Africa.

—Yao Ming, former basketball star,

now WildAid Ambassador fighting poaching[i]

You don’t have to be an adult to do this inner work. Angela Maiers, educator and founder of the burgeoning Choose2Matter movement, has her students map their “heart-break.” She instructs them:

Do not follow your heart to find your passion and purpose. Instead follow your heartbreak . . . Finding your passion; surrendering to your heartbreak is really about finding what really moves you.[ii]

This thinking has led to a string of inspiring stories about children that have been highlighted in such media as NBC Nightly News and Parenting Magazine:

  • Christian Golczynski, a teenager still grieving the loss of his father during the Iraq war, started A Soldier’s Child Foundation that gives out holiday and birthday gifts to other children who lost parents during active duty.[iii]
  • Vanessa Segaline, while a Girl Scout, started a food bank for pets.
  • Ten-year-old Abigail Lupi discovered many elderly in nursing homes don’t get visitors so she serenades them with her lovely voice.[iv]
  • And of course, Malala Yousafzai, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize at age 17, puts her life on the line to support the rights of Pakistani girls, and then of all children around the world, to go to school.

If kids can take on their ‘heart-break’ and make a difference, perhaps more of us grown-ups should too.

[i] Ming, Yao (4 September 2012) Yao Ming Blog: Yao’s Journey to Africa. WildAid. Retrieved from

[ii] Davis, Vicki (November 11, 2014) “Social Entrepreneurship: 7 Ways to Empower Student Changemakers” Edutopia.

[iii] NBC Nightly News () Making a difference.

[iv] Cooper, Andrea (n.d.) “8 Amazing Kids Who Make a Difference. Parenting Magazine.

Friday, August 7, 2015

The most common mistake managers make when forming a team

Vagueness isn't empowerment 

[This is excerpted from Great Work stock photo
I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen managers form a team without a clear understanding of what they are asking for. Out of ignorance or laziness, they ask for recommendations, not decisions. And because they weren’t clear at the outset about the criteria their recommendations should meet, the teams spend hours going down rabbit holes and then when they present their best ideas to the manager, the manager says, ‘You can’t do that!’ It’s no wonder employees tend to be suspicious of these teams.
The solution to this is for the manager (or group that is chartering the team) to spend a significant amount of time beforehand, clarifying what they need and expect. Some managers think that this is disempowering, but it is exactly the opposite. Constraints promote creativity. Clear boundaries promote innovation. 

Answer these questions before launching any new team

When I facilitated this Team Launch process with managers, I would ask them to set aside four hours. They were always shocked that I would ask for that much time but usually at the end, they would be surprised to see how little they understood about the task they were requesting.
Answer these questions in this order:

Why: Why are you forming this team? What’s in it for the organization and for the members themselves?

What: What do you need them to do? What would success look like? Create a set of boundary conditions; if they come up with a solution that fits inside that ‘box,’ that they can decide, not just recommend.

Who: Who needs to be on the team for this to be successful? Don’t forget to think of people outside the organization. If this is a one-off project, it may be wise to hire a facilitator who has a process for completing this work.

When and Where: What are milestones and deadlines when they should communicate with you. Is this during work hours? What is the scope of the work (eg, just your building or the whole division)? Where can they meet?

How: What tools or resources are available to them? Do you have a set of steps or a process that you would like them to follow? 

Probably the most important element of this whole process is the boundary conditions. The team will then know what they have the power to decide and what they need to ask for permission to do.
Once you have these answers in writing, call the first team meeting and go over them with the team members. So often, I’ve heard team members say, ‘This was great! We should start all new teams this way.’

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Finding your calling (cont): Everyone can make a difference in the world

This is excerpted from GREAT WORK.

In the last blog post I talked about finding your calling by discovering those passions that have stayed with you your entire life. 
You can often weave those into a calling. 
However some callings make a bigger difference in the world that others.

Chapter 1 was intended to help you find your calling based on fit: what do you find interesting and what do you love to do?

But happiness, as I explained in Part 1, also comes from having a purpose larger than yourself, a task that is challenging and that drives you to deepen your competence over time.

Many careers and callings could fit this bill. Some parents feel their calling is to raise well-rounded and responsible citizens. Teachers work to bring out the talents of their students.

But if you really want a challenge, try saving the world. Oh, my, does it need it!

Of course, no one person can save the entire world. But there is a piece of the world’s problems that you are uniquely positioned to solve. In the end, people want to know that their lives mattered. Each generation has its primary challenge. So let’s examine what it means to make a difference and how to find your unique role in saving your little piece of the planet.

The thing to do, it seems to me, is to prepare yourself
so you can be a rainbow in somebody else's cloud.

Somebody who may not look like you.
May not call God the same name you call God - if they call God at all.

I may not dance your dances
or speak your language.
But be a blessing to somebody.  
Maya Angelou, American author, poet, dancer, actress and singer.

Wanting to make a difference makes a difference!

Before I started AXIS Performance Advisors, I was a director of a small national training company. The president, Alan, wanted to update the vision and mission. So he shared with me what he had written. I can’t recall exactly what it said, but it was basically, “We exist to create quality and profitable training programs for the utility industry.”

I told him that didn’t seem the slightest bit inspiring. “It sounds like we are basically in business to make you money. No offense, but that is not what brings me to work. Training is just a means to an end. What gives me juice is to make a difference in someone’s life.”

I am driven by two main philosophies:
know more today about the world than I knew yesterday
and lessen the suffering of others.
You’d be surprised how far that gets you.

—Neil DeGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist/cosmologist
and science communicator

I went on to tell him about a young woman I coached briefly. She was petite, soft-spoken and desperately shy. Unfortunately, she was going to have to give a presentation to a national trade association of her peers where we couldn’t count on her even having a microphone. And each time she started her presentation, the moment she made the slightest mistake, she covered her face with her hands and turned to the screen. She and her teammates were leaving for the conference in a few days.

So I started coaching her. “Turn around! Keep going,” I demanded from the back of the room as she struggled through her presentation. I took her outdoors into a large field and had her give me her presentation as I walked backward away from her. “I can’t hear you! Use your diaphragm.”

I shared my best tricks for managing nervousness in presentations: what not to eat or drink, how to control what someone says introducing you so it’s easy to get started, how to engage the audience as if you’re having a conversation, and how to move your body to expel excess energy.

She was improving but I had to be sure she could handle the inevitable distractions at the conference. “It can be hard to keep your focus when people get up and walk out,” I warned. So we simulated a conference setting. We got about a dozen people from her department into a room set up conference-style and they were directed to be disruptive. A minute or two into her presentation, a pile of books hit the floor. Then someone simulated a coughing fit, and others in turn stood up and walked down the center aisle as if to leave. She finally handled these distractions reasonably well.

Time was up; they had to leave, so I wished her and her team well and crossed my fingers.

To make a long story short, she nailed her presentation. Her poise surprised her team as well as herself; and her content was well-received. She came back a different person. No longer meek, she had found her voice.

And I knew I had made a lasting difference in her life. She would never be the same. She’d carry this new self-confidence the rest of her days.

How can my work make me a better human being
and make a better world?

—Dr. Govindappa Ventkataswami, founder of the Aravind Eye Clinic

“That’s why I do this work,” I told Alan. “I want to make a difference in people’s lives.”

In the end, he rewrote the vision, “Helping people make a difference,” recognizing that as a training company, we wanted our participants to learn how to make a difference in their organizations through our training.

On the face of it, that doesn’t sound like much. But it transformed our business. Suddenly sales representatives had a story to tell, not just products to sell. They could tap into the emotions and aspirations of their clients. We often referred to the vision in meetings: “Will this really make a difference?” It coalesced everyone from the receptionist to the trainers, the sales people and top management. We all shared a common vision. And I don’t think it was coincidence that we started to become more profitable.

So wanting to make a real difference in the world or in people’s lives can improve the image and productivity of your organization.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Finding your Calling

How many people do you know who…
…love what they do,
…think their boss and coworkers are great,
…believe they are making a meaningful difference
 in the world and
…feel like they are they are deeply valued for their talents?
Not too many?
What a waste! A waste of time, of life’s energy, of talent, and of missed opportunities to solve the problems of the world. We spend most of our life on this earth working—whether in a paid position or not. Unfortunately:
·      Many people struggle to discover their GREAT WORK, their calling or life’s work that brings meaning and joy to their life.
·      Many people work in organizations that haven’t been designed for GREAT WORK. Instead, they are soul-sapping and disempowering.
·      Many people work under managers who don’t know how to lead people to GREAT WORK.

where you love what you do and
are making a meaningful difference in the world,
while your organization is designed and managed
to support these two goals.

I've recently release my latest book,  GREAT WORK. It is organized around 12 principles you can use to guide your life and your workplace. Here is an excerpt from the first part called Find Your Great Work. Don’t waste another minute of your life doing soul-sapping work!
It’s a shame that some people haven’t found their calling, that special fit between who they are, what they care about and what the world needs.
Too often, working is soul-sapping, not soul-giving. Sometimes, people take jobs just for the money and find that it depletes their energy for life. I’ve had a job, a career and a calling and they are all quite different. When I had a job, I wanted to minimize the amount of energy I expended there so I could go home and live my life. What a waste of 8+ hours a day.
Then I had a career. I had a sense of where I was going and was using some of my skills. But still there was a big gap between some of my values and the industries I worked for. I was a divided-self.
Then I got a calling and suddenly my life, almost the entirety of it made sense. I was working on issues I cared deeply about and my skills and gifts were a unique asset to carrying out that mission. It felt as if everything I was—my values, my passions, my skills, my interests—wove together into a rope that drew me forward. 
One of the most powerful things you can do to find your calling is to catalog your passions.

Catalog your loves

When I was two-and-a-half years old, my parents were building a house and my mother asked what I wanted as wallpaper. I described an out-of-doors scene with butterflies, birds and flowers. I wanted my room to become a mural of nature so that when I was forced to nap, I could pretend I was outside. Unfortunately those murals weren’t invented a couple decades later, so what I got was a disappointment that I’m sure my mother never understood. But that was the first marker of one of my life-long loves, a love of nature.
When I was in second grade, I tried to help a friend who probably had dyslexia. No one knew what that was back then, but I became fascinated with how to get what was in my head into hers. And later, as a teenager, I taught horseback riding as a way to develop self-esteem. Here was my second love, a love of teaching.
I was probably eight years old when I was playing Old Maid with my best friend. If you haven’t played the card game, the objective is not to get stuck with the Old Maid at the end of the game. Nice metaphor, huh? I knew that I didn’t like the feeling of losing, but I also didn’t like winning because then my friend would be sad. So I took the Old Maid out of the deck and sat on it so no one would lose. Enter my passion for win-win relationships and collaboration rather than competition.
That little horseback riding business and the influence of my father made me curious about business. And I remember loving science in high school. These weren’t exactly in the same category as my loves, but they set the context in which I would love to work.
Just with these few vignettes, it should be obvious why I was drawn to working with highly empowered workplaces and self-directed teams. (Remember the Old Maid?) And when the field of sustainability came along, it wove together for me all the things I loved into a strong rope, a calling that pulled me toward it: my love of nature, my interest in science and business, my talent for teaching and writing. Bing! Bing! Bing! A trifecta! I got to protect the thing I loved (nature), play with concepts that interested me (science and business) and apply my favorite skills (teaching and writing) at the same time. Bliss!
I believe that each of us has certain themes that like threads, get woven into our lives early on and extend for all of our life. If you can identify those themes, those threads, and then weave them together into a career, they become like a rope pulling you along your ‘right path’ to completing your life’s work.

When I look back over my life it's almost as if there was a plan laid out for me - from the little girl who was so passionate about animals who longed to go to Africa and whose family couldn't afford to put her through college. Everyone laughed at my dreams.
 I was supposed to be a secretary in Bournemouth.
Jane Goodall, chimpanzee researcher and advocate

How to get a copy of GREAT WORK

Paperback ($19.99. Get 20% off for a limited time)
eBook of just Part 1: Find Your GREAT WORK.  ($2.99)

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The third edition of The Business Guide to Sustainability is now available

The third edition of The Business Guide to Sustainability is now available for preorder. So much has changed since the last edition--including sustainability now being a household word. So it was time to give the book an overhaul. It's filled with new stories, tools and updated data. A few of the chapters needed a complete rewrite because the world has moved forward so far. Yippee, boy was that satisfying!

This is the cover for the second edition;
even I don't know what the new one looks like!
The first edition won the American Library Association's Choice Award for best academic titles. We certainly don't expect that again, but at the time, the S-CORE assessment included in the book was a ground-breaking tool to demystify sustainability.

We updated it with the help of a number of Bainbridge Graduate Institute grads. A big thanks to them! Marsha and I wouldn't have undertaken it without them!