Archive for the ‘blog’ Category
Abraham Maslow and Viktor Frankl both suggested that the person who loses their job is best-suited to find another means of keeping themselves active while in the process of seeking new employment, whether this be volunteering for a cause they believe in or working for free in an industry about which they’re curious. Quite often, the opposite occurs. The shock of getting laid off leads to a negative spiral of other collateral damage and this newly unemployed person becomes sedentary while their esteem plummets.
John Scott emailed me out of the blue not long ago and asked if I would be his mentor as he wanted to tell me his story of loss and redemption (a particularly good tale around Easter time). John came to my office and gave me the honor of allowing me to read his story below which touched me deeply. Because I thought it might be meaningful to those you know and care about, John is permitting me to share it with you. Hope you enjoy it. Maybe you can be Mr. Syracuse in someone’s life.
A Year and a Day
On February 22, 2010, I lost my job.
My 34-year career was evaporated in a mere 18 seconds. His words were so few, devoid of even a shred of sympathy or compassion, that they are impossible to forget.
“We’re making a change. It is what it is.”
It was so stunningly to-the-point that even the HR director was a bit taken aback. At least in Up In The Air, George Clooney told the departed a quick story.
“Anybody who ever built an empire or changed the world sat where you are now. And it’s because they sat there that they were able to do it. There’s a packet in front of you. I want you to take some time and review it. All the answers you’re looking for are inside those pages. The sooner you trust the process, the sooner the next step of your life will unveil itself.”
On February 23, 2011, I was offered a new job, and this week, I accepted that offer.
Over the past 366 days I had to make a decision; try to remain in the industry I had devoted literally my entire life to, or take the road less traveled. I thought about my former employer and the industry as a whole. It was a bleak economic time, and many decent people were finding themselves unemployed. The future for this industry is uncertain at best, as it continues a contraction that is precedent-setting. The decision was made: Reinvent.
This is not a heroic tale of a man gallantly facing the world, taking it on full steam ahead, and achieving victory. It was nothing like that at all. Over the preceding 366 days:
I lost a job.
I lost my healthcare.
I lost my home to the real estate bust.
I was denied unemployment by the Republic of California because of a glitch on one piece of paper. I never received a penny.
I applied for 411 jobs online. Not one response.
My former employer withheld my severance for weeks, for no reason other than “they forgot”.
One afternoon, I was sitting in the Opera Plaza Cinema in San Francisco with Emily, watching A Single Man. A regrettable choice of film, as this powerful, amazing and completely depressing movie was not the spirit-lifter I probably should have watched. There was no one else but us in the theater. We kept our phones on. About halfway through the film, mine rang. It was a hiring manager for a winery. We set up a time to talk later. I knew I wasn’t going to get the position. I had no experience in the wine industry, and a zillion winery marketing people were unemployed. It was over before it started.
The movie ended, the credits rolled, and I leaned into Emily and unleashed a waterfall of agony. She held me and rocked me like a baby, this inconsolable, broken, lost man.
There was one day I had 6 cents in my checking account.
An insurance company denied my application because I had a hernia in 1974. I wish I was kidding.
I had the most vivid nightmare I could possibly imagine. I dreamed I had died in a plane crash.
It seemed that everything that could go wrong, did.
Here’s what else happened over this year and a day: I reinvented myself, top to bottom. I reinvented my career, I tackled personal issues. I shed people in my life that were not good for me. I patched up by shattered heart, and spackled my facade to not just look , but to be… more authentic. I questioned everything.
I decided to do it all at once.
I traveled, spent time with family and friends, kept on the move, doing my work. I wrote about it all.
There is a man who is a key player in this tale. I’ll call him Mr. Syracuse.
One day, sitting with him and another good friend at a bar, I moaned about my lot in life, telling him about the 411 jobs, zero callbacks. He said, “Be in my office Monday morning.”
Mr. Syracuse allowed me to do some work for him for a while, in a business that I had never worked in before. Something happened after that experience – good things started happening. This simple act of kindness this man had extended to me made some of the inertia disappear. After I left his company, I got a consulting job. I did some freelance work. I was doing things to learn that ultimately, that I should not do them. I experimented, ad-libbed, and performed extemporaneous jobs and tasks. Some were not glamorous or thrilling, but they were necessary to keep afloat and build the empire I thought I could. Mr.Syracuse had started the ball rolling, and I will never forget it.
I told him the other night, “You know, I blame you for all the good things that are happening!”
He said, “I might have started it. You finished it.”
In these past 366 days I started a company. I secured a monthly retainer for 2011 with a media group to vlog for them. My voice is now heard on one of the top radio stations in America.
And this week, I signed the contract to a full-time position with a local university. I get to learn, read, play with websites, write syllabi, interface with instructors on course outlines. I get to learn and get paid for it.
I took a hike up Mt. Diablo this morning to watch the sun rise. A cinematic moment, yes- I like to mark moments with something memorable. I watched the sun rise, and I sipped a coffee, and looked down on my beloved Bay Area- this hotbed of the creative class, this place so beautiful and yet so tough; you have to want to be here, “they” don’t make it easy.
You have to be relentless. You have to play the odds. 411 no’s, each moving you closer to the YES. You have to stay the course you’ve charted, with all of the potholes and roadblocks and you have to understand that it’s going to be a freaking mess.
You have to clean up your messes. Because it is difficult, that’s the reason you should do it. Because it scares you, that’s why you need to try.
On this day, nothing is as it was. Everything has changed.
I’ll be moving soon, to a new home. I’ll have room to breathe, a place to call mine again. I have a new career path, education. I have fun little projects and little jobs to keep me completely, totally, busy.
This day, I got my life back, but it’s a whole new version of it. It took a year and a day, and it was pure hell, but I made it to The Other Side.
This is the end of this particular story, but it’s really just the beginning. I made it to the starting line, with a little help from people who I will always be grateful to.
You can do this in your life. Believe that you can. Ask people to help you, for you cannot go it alone. Question everything. Look ahead, not in your rear view mirror. Trust your gut.
Reinvent yourself. I’m cheering you on.
I’m a guy who took no English or writing classes in college and only one psychology class and now I’m writing self-help books on emotions (Emotional Equations comes out in January 2012 and PEAK came out in 2007). So, my process of learning about emotions and psychology has been self-taught over the past few years plus I’ve been lucky enough to have a laboratory with a company of more than 3,000 employees and almost 60 different business units. So, I’ve been able to test things in one place and see whether that odd idea is a best or worst practice.
In preparation for writing Emotional Equations, I dove into the deep end of the academic pool reading hundreds of psychological studies and books on everything from anxiety to the difference between happiness and joy to Charles Darwin’s theory on the origin of emotions. Here’s a list of my top twenty book recommendations for anyone who wants to go “swimming” with me (I have put an asterisk * next to my favorite in each category and I haven’t included Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning since it’s not primarily about emotions):
- Born to be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life (Dacher Keltner)
- Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth (Ed Diener and Robert Biswas-Diener)
- Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strengths of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity and Thrive (Barbara Fredrickson)
- Stumbling on Happiness (Daniel Gilbert)
- The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom (Jonathan Haidt)
- The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want (Sonja Lyubomirsky) *
- Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love & Wisdom (Rick Hanson with Richard Mendius)
- Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain (Antonio Damasio)
- Emotions and Life: Perspectives from Psychology, Biology, and Evolution (Robert Plutchik)
- The Emotional Brain: The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life (Joseph LeDoux) *
- What is Emotion? (Jerome Kagan)
UNCONVENTIONAL BRAIN/EMOTION SCIENCE
- Molecules of Emotion: The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine (Candace Pert) *
- The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter & Miracles (Bruce Lipton)
- The Spiritual Anatomy of Emotion: How Feelings Link the Brain, the Body, and the Sixth Sense (Michael Jawer and Marc Micozzi)
- The Spontaneous Healing of Belief: Shattering the Paradigm of False Limits (Gregg Braden)
PRACTICAL APPLICATION OF EMOTION THEORY
- Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions (Dan Ariely)
- The Art of Choosing (Sheena Iyengar)
- The Emotional Hostage: Rescuing Your Emotional Life (Leslie Cameron-Bandler and Michael Lebeau)
- The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less (Barry Schwartz)
- The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement (David Brooks) *
[Originally posted April 27, 2011 on The Huffington Post]
Executives execute. We don’t execute people as in life and death matters (although, sadly, we do “terminate” people when they’re no longer needed), but we have traditionally thought of business leaders as being emotionless technicians who just keep the trains running on time. But, timely trains didn’t make Southern Pacific or Santa Fe railroads into 21st century mega-corporations. In fact, the train industry missed its chance to expand into automobiles and airplane travel by thinking of their business a little too myopically. Maybe these train executives were a little too focused on the simple execution of being on time.
While execution is still a fundamental skill of the best executives, we no longer are purely executing mechanistic, industrial organizations. In this knowledge era, execution is all about people: how to harness and inspire the potential of those we work with. And, at the heart of people are our emotions, the mysterious internal weather that either propels or penalizes us. After 24 years of being a CEO, I’ve come to realize that the best amongst us are truly Chief Emotions Officers as we are the “emotional thermostats” for our organizations with studies showing that a typical leader has 50-70% influence over the work climate of their team.
There are three great pieces of empirical evidence that amplify this reality about 21st century leadership. First, Daniel Goleman has shown for 15 years now that emotional intelligence (EQ) represents two-thirds of the success of business leaders as compared to only one-third coming from either IQ or the leader’s transferable experience. And, yet, in 2010, less than 10% of the training and development dollars spent by America’s corporations went toward emotional intelligence or literacy training (often called “soft skills”). We know it’s important and, yet, we seem to be reluctant in investing in the skills to help our executives become Chief Emotions Officers.
Secondly, Dr Matthew Lieberman at UCLA has proven that labeling our emotions reduces the intensity of these emotions in such a way that it maximizes our cognitive abilities just at the time when we most need to use the prefrontal cortex of our brain for better reasoning and judgment. By being emotionally literate about what we’re experiencing, executives can sidestep the 10-15 point drop in IQ that often occurs for those who are barraged by having to make decisions during times of emotional distress. So, maybe being a CEO is less about being able to predict the times of trains and more about being an internal weather forecaster.
Finally, Harvard’s Nicholas Christakis, as well as a few other academics, has shown that our emotions are contagious. When we have the flu, our colleagues feel comforted that we stay at home in order not to spread the misery. Yet, when so many of us have caught the “fear” at work – especially in economically turbulent times – there’s no sane corporate voice warning us of the risks of how our emotions can spread and threaten the well-being of those in our organizational petri dish. The ultimate inoculation for fear is a great corporate culture and companies with great cultures have healthy psycho-hygiene. In other words, their leaders are emotionally attuned to what’s going on around them and they cleanse the company through transparent communication or other tactical means to help employees feel recognized and engaged.
Any executive worth their weight understands the principle of accrued interest. If you have a loan and don’t pay the interest currently, it accrues and can compound and over period of time. The cost of the interest can become staggering. This is an apt metaphor for organizational emotions that are not properly addressed in the workplace. Most companies – led by CEO’s who aren’t nearly literate about their own emotions – are actively disengaged in addressing the individual and collective emotions that are invisible predators of passion and engagement. From my own experience, I have learned the hard way. When I most have bottled up my emotions for extended periods of time, they have leaked out in other subversive ways that didn’t serve my purposes as CEO. And, yet, when I was most vulnerable and authentic in my emotional communication with fellow co-workers, ironically, I was told by these colleagues that I was more admired and they felt most comfortable to be all they could be at work.
[Originally posted March 28, 2011 on The Huffington Post]
Henry Ford complained, “Why is it when I need a pair of hands, I have to get the whole man as well?” Sorry, Henry, that’s how it works. My father, when he was in the midst of strenuous management-labor negotiations would say to me as a kid, “I love business, but the people side of business can be really frustrating.” As much as I love my dad, I see the fallacy in his thinking now that I’m no longer a young whipper-snapper. There is no people “side” of business. The most neglected fact in business is that we’re all human and virtually everything we do in the context of business can be distilled down to the emotions and whims of people, just like you and me.
Douglas McGregor, who wrote “The Human Side of Enterprise” fifty year ago, suggested, “Behind every managerial decision or action are assumptions about human nature and human behavior.” McGregor was the management guru who popularized Theory Y management, or the idea that people long for a workplace that allows them to actualize their greatest potential. Humans are trustworthy, motivated, and collaborative. Unfortunately, most of us come from the Frederick Taylor scientific management school of thinking. Taylor famously suggested 100 years ago that, “In the past, man has been first; in the future, the system must be first. The first object of any good system must be that of developing first class men.” I’m sure Henry Ford was a big Frederick Taylor fan. Theory X management is based upon the premise that men, by nature, are moldable and need to be trained because, left to their own devices, men are lazy losers. Have you ever worked at a company that had this kind of underlying assumptions about its people? What was the effect on the work climate over time?
The intersection of psychology and business is typically seen as being as congested, stressful, and emotionally barren as a peak commute traffic day on the LA freeways. But, thankfully, we live in an era in which neuroscientists are teaching us about the malleability of our brain and the emotionally contagious nature of our workplaces. We are not robots and, yet, when we’re treated as such, we can lose our passion for our work and our compassion for our fellow employees and customers. Yet, companies that create a healthy “psycho-hygiene” are able to tap into the full potential of their people. These companies evaluate their leaders not purely on financial results but on scales for both results and relationships, they create cultures of recognition knowing that positivity has a ripple effect just like negativity does, and they create a sense of purpose and meaning that helps employees feel that they’re motivated by an internal calling or inspiration as opposed to being a trained seal who only performs when financial incentives or awards are offered.
In sum, we’re finally starting to realize that organizations are purely the sum total of the relationships that make up that organization. The companies we admire are like the people we admire: resilient, authentic, personable, collaborative, ambitious, and humble. Daniel Goleman has proven that two-thirds of the success in business is based upon our Emotional Intelligence as opposed to our IQ or our level of experience. As we look for the next crop of future CEO’s, maybe it’s time for America’s corporations to start interviewing grads from the Psychology masters’ programs rather than the MBA programs.
2011: THE YEAR OF CURIOSITY
[Originally posted December 20, 2010 on The Huffington Post]
‘Tis the time of the year to reflect and project. I’m going to take my cue from the most famous management theorist of all time, Peter Drucker, who lived to the ripe old age of 95. This leadership guru incorporated two practices into his professional and personal life that I’ve decided to adopt in the new year.
First off, Drucker made it a practice of spending two weeks every year reviewing his work, a habit he picked up from his Editor-in-Chief when he was working for a newspaper in Europe. He would set aside this time to “review my work during the preceding year, beginning with the things I did well but could or should have done better, down to the things I did poorly and the things I should have done but did not do.” Simple idea, yet few of us practice this kind of self-reflection. I’m off to the beach for the next few days and, while I won’t spend two weeks on this, I will spend a few days doing an inventory of what I learned this year and how I can apply it in 2011.
Peter Drucker’s other practice – to adopt a new subject, completely unrelated to his work life, to study and master over the course of three years is an unadulterated form of curiosity. When I spent some time with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the author of the landmark book Flow, this summer, he told me that the most important trait for 21st Century innovation isn’t creativity, but instead it’s curiosity. Curiosity – that blessed alchemy of wonder and awe – is a quality that we all had as a child and yet, with time, most of us found ourselves on a narrower and narrower path.
For more than 60 years, Peter Drucker studied one subject at a time from Japanese art to Civil War history with the intent of mastering the subject. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it helped Mr. Drucker keep a facile mind and a youthful spirit into his mid-90’s. So, starting in 2011, I am going to take one subject per year and devour it – both mentally and experientially. This first year I’m going to tackle the sublime and geological magic of natural hot springs. Why and how were these created? Why do some smell so different than others? What are the health benefits or risks associated with using them? And, what’s the history of public bathing? And, as I will do in the future with subjects like Renaissance art or hang gliding, I plan to explore these subjects by literally diving in. So, in 2011, I will visit a different natural hot spring every month of the year. Iceland and Japan, here I come!!
Some of you may think this is silly. How can this be related to business leadership? One of the most sage pieces of advice I ever heard went something like this: “Great managers have great answers. Great leaders have great questions.” At the heart of great leadership is a curious mind, heart, and spirit. Today, business serendipity and profound innovation will come from seeing the metaphors and natural laws in one part of life and applying them elsewhere with a vision that less curious minds would never have imagined. See you in the springs.
“ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS….” – MY FAVORITE BUSINESS BOOKS
One of the most frequent questions I get asked is “What are your favorite business books of all-time?” That’s a tough question to answer. It’s sort of like “What’s your favorite color?” The fact I like purple doesn’t mean I’m going to buy a purple business suit, nor does it mean that you’ll like purple either. So, for the sake of categorization, I’ve listed my favorite business books by theme with a little info on my favorite in the category and then a list of great also-rans. Given the time of year, you’re welcome to forward this list on to your friends and family as part of your wish list so that you can continue to be a business gladiator in 2011.
LEADERSHIP: James MacGregor Burns’ landmark Leadership outlines the difference between transactional and transformational leadership better than any book I’ve ever read.
Others: Leadership is an Art by Max Dupree; Tribal Leadership by Dave Logan, John King & Halee Fischer-Wright; On Leadership by John W. Gardner; Authentic Leadership by Bill George; Leading the Revolution by Gary Hamel.
PERSONAL MASTERY: Peter Drucker is the most prolific and persuasive business writer of all time and his classic The Effective Executive is a perfect gift for the young person entering the workplace or those of us who are a little older and want to brush up on our habits.
Others: Working with Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman; How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie; Are You Ready to Succeed? by Srikumar S. Rao.
ENTREPRENEURSHIP/SMALL BUSINESS: I started my company in 1987 and Paul Hawken’s Growing a Business was my bible for understanding the similarities of planting a garden and growing a small business.
Others: The Great Game of Business by Jack Stack & Bo Burlingham; Small Giants by Bo Burlingham; Rules for Revolutionaries by Guy Kawasaki; The Monk and the Riddle by Randy Komisar.
PURPOSE/MEANING: Simon Sinek’s Start With Why has become a recent hit helping to remind us that life and business isn’t as much about the how or what, but it’s essentially about the “why.”
Others: Meaning Inc. by Gurnek Bains; The Hungry Spirit by Charles Handy; Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl; Business as a Calling by Michael Novak.
CORPORATE CULTURE: Southwest Airlines has proven over 40 years to have the most resilient and evolved culture of any organization so it’s not surprising that The Southwest Airlines Way by Jody Gittell Hoffer would be my favorite in this category.
Others: Nuts by Kevin Freiberg & Jackie Freiberg; First Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham & Curt Coffman; The Service Profit Chain by James L. Heskett, W. Earl Sasser & Leonard A. Schlesinger.
CUSTOMERS/MARKETING: Here’s an offbeat psychological choice — Paco Underhill’s Why We Buy helps get inside the head of your customer to understand what makes people tick and how do we make decisions.
Others: The Experience Economy by B. Joseph Pine & James H. Gilmore; Made to Stick by Chip Heath & Dan Heath; A New Brand World by Scott Bedbury & Stephen Fenichell; Loyalty Rules by Frederick F. Reichheld; Selling the Invisible by Harry Beckwith; The Purple Cow by Seth Godin.
CONSCIOUS CAPITALISM: Firms of Endearment by Rajendra S. Sisodia, David B. Wolfe & Jagdish N. Sheth makes the most compelling argument I’ve read about why thinking systemically about your business and the broader stakeholders is both smart for business and good for the world.
Others: Good Business by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi; Mid-Course Correction by Ray Anderson; The Ecology of Commerce by Paul Hawken; A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Building a Great Business by Ari Weinzweig.
HAPPINESS: A few years ago, this wouldn’t have been a business category but it’s now the most popular genre of book and employee and customer happiness is on the lips of every CEO. Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness is about as good as they come — relevant to our personal lives as well as how we make people happy in business.
Others: Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh; Maslow on Management by Abraham H. Maslow; The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky; Positivity by Barbara Fredrickson.
Happy Holidays to all of you!
GETTING MORE MOJO FROM MASLOW: In Order to Survive the Struggles of the Economic Recession, We Need to Reframe Difficult Business Experiences as Opportunities to Find Meaning in Our WorkWednesday, November 24th, 2010
Viktor Frankl, the Austrian psychologist who was imprisoned in a Nazi death camp and wrote the influential tome Man’s Search for Meaning once lamented, “People have enough to live by, but nothing to live for; they have the means, but no meaning.” This is a predicament of modern man. Once we’ve addressed our basic needs in life, what do we strive for?
Modern man is a worker bee. To us, business means busy-ness. We work 25 percent more hours per week than we did a generation ago, not counting the time we spend e-mailing colleagues from home or while we’re on vacation. As we toil away to keep up with the cost of living, we often fail to recognize the high spiritual price we pay for being more focused on means than meaning. But why? Research shows that this approach can be counter-productive. Gurnek Bains, lead author of Meaning, Inc: The Blueprint for Business Success in the 21st Century, says that meaning directly drives employee commitment and engagement. Industry-leading companies like Google, Genentech, and Southwest Airlines—which regularly appear on lists of great places to work—have learned that the key to raising performance levels is to create a sense of real meaning for employees. “This has a tangible and demonstrable impact on business results. Now that other forms of competitive advantage have become commodities, creating a sense of meaning for people will be what makes the difference for most companies in the future.” It is critical, then, to transform the economic challenges of the recession into opportunities for us to understand and infuse meaning into our work.
When I started my company, Joie de Vivre Hospitality, nearly a quarter century ago, I decided that the name of the business should also be its mission statement. Joie de Vivre has since grown into America’s second-largest boutique hotelier, based on our commitment to “Creating Opportunities to Celebrate the Joy of Life.” We distilled our credo into a two-word mantra, “Create Joy” which is stamped into the blue rubber bracelets that all new employees receive during orientation and that many veteran staffers routinely wear.
But one learns the difference between a glorified mission statement and a belief system that guides behavior when a company faces a “once-in-a-lifetime” economic downturn— and, really, we’ve faced two of these in the San Francisco Bay Area in the past decade. In late 2001, I was struggling. I had 1,000 employees, and I didn’t know how I was going to make payroll. The combination of the dot-com crash, 9/11, and a worsening economy had put Joie de Vivre at risk. One afternoon, I walked into a local bookstore in search of a business book that would help ease my financial pains—or at least give me a clue about how to survive. I quickly realized that what I really needed was some serious personal guidance. So I moved from the Business section to the Self-Help section of the bookstore (conveniently located next to each other), where I reacquainted myself with Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory, one of the most famous psychological concepts to explain human motivation.
I suppose that a guy who names his company “Joie de Vivre” should naturally gravitate toward self-actualization. Maslow is known as an early leader in the human potential movement; he believed that psychology was too obsessed with our worst behaviors when a lot can be learned from our best practices. He first popularized the axiom, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail,” aptly describing his peers’ over-emphasis on neurosis in the mid-20th century. Re-reading Maslow helped me to see one of the most neglected facts in business: the fact that we’re all human. And, no matter what our role—CEO, line-level employee, customer, investor— in a particular business is, we each have a hierarchy of needs that determines what’s important to us. Late in his life, Maslow started applying his hierarchy of needs to organizations and businesses. Unfortunately, he died in 1970 at the age of 62 before he could closely examine how his theory might shift from the individual to the collective.
During that downturn nearly a decade ago, I started “channeling Abe” to see how I could apply his theory to my company. I figured the worst that could happen is we’d go bankrupt, so why not learn something along the way? I distilled the Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid from five to three levels, or key themes, which make up what I call the Transformation Pyramid: survive (safety and physiological); succeed (esteem and love/belonging); and transform (self-actualization). These themes aren’t just relevant in business; they’re fundamental in life. I looked at how to apply them to the three most important stakeholders in Joie de Vivre: employees, customers, and investors. For the purpose of this blog, I’ll focus on employees.
Maslow concluded that individuals’ deepest motivations sit at the top of the pyramid—and take on an inspirational quality. For example, in his research on people’s relationship with their work, he asked dozens of nurses, “Why did you go into nursing?” “What are the greatest moments of reward?” and “Tell me a moment so wonderful it made you weep or gave you cold shivers of ecstasy.” The nurses answered by describing peak experiences that were virtually life-altering. Nurses who were most able to express a peak experience seemed most “called” by their work.
In A Simpler Way, Margaret Wheatley and Myron Kellner-Rogers wrote, “People do not respond for long to small and self-centered purposes or to self-aggrandizing work. Too many organizations ask us to engage in hollow work, to be enthusiastic about small-minded visions, to commit ourselves to selfish purposes, to engage our energy in competitive drives. Those who offer us this petty work hope we won’t notice how lifeless it is … when we respond with disgust, when we withdraw our energy from such endeavors, it is a sign of our commitment to life and to each other.” Maslow helped me understand that my Employee Pyramid was defined by money (survive), recognition (succeed), and meaning (transform).
We all have basic needs that need to be met, and our work compensation package is the means to that end. But Gallup has shown in multiple surveys that money is not the primary reason that people leave a company (in fact, it usually comes in fourth place). People join a company, and they leave their boss. Recognition, which addresses people’s success needs and usually taps into one’s sense of social belonging or esteem needs, is what creates loyalty in the workplace. But money and recognition are external motivators for doing any job. Those who are engaged in something they’re passionate about—such as the nurses Maslow interviewed—have transcended the bartering relationship that defines most relationships between employer and employee. They have tapped into an internal motivation that fuels them. They are inspired by what they do. They have moved from just focusing on the tasks they do each day to imagining the impact of their work. As they become more aware of that intangible we call meaning, employees move to the transformational peak of the pyramid.
Most companies get a little lost in the ether at the top of the pyramid, because it’s easier for bosses to “manage what they can measure,” and it’s simpler to do a benchmark compensation survey than to try to gauge meaning. Someday we may have a “Corporate Meaning Index” just like we have a Dow Jones stock index, so that we can quickly scan who is playing at the top of the pyramid and who isn’t. In studying my own company and dozens of other meaning-driven businesses, I’ve come to realize that workplace meaning can be dissected into meaning at work and meaning in work. Meaning at work relates to how an employee feels about the company, their work environment, and the company’s mission. Meaning in work relates to how an employee feels about their specific job.
I believe that meaning at work is far more important than meaning in work. When employees believe in the work of the company, the whole Hierarchy of Needs is satisfied. Those employees clearly have their basic needs met because they have confidence in the financial stability of the company, which means they have job security. Believing in the company’s mission also typically creates deeper alliances among employees because the sense of being part of a connected crew and the pride that comes from group success satisfy our social or esteem needs. Finally, their self-actualization needs can be met by feeling that we are part of an organization making a difference in the world, plus there’s a halo effect that may render the work they do day-to-day even more meaningful.
One of the most profound decisions I made during the depth of that last downturn was to start managing the business based on meaning and to start measuring meaning in various ways, from asking questions on biannual work-climate surveys to querying line workers in monthly staff meetings, “What’s the best experience you’ve had in the past month here at work?” The question I really like to ask our employees goes something like this, “Most of us think of our job in terms of ‘What am I getting?’ What if you asked yourself daily, ‘What am I becoming as a result of this job?’” Helping our employees reframe their work, changing their tasks to make their jobs more meaningful, and creating a democratic culture in which employees help define our business strategy has helped Joie de Vivre’s turnover rate drop to one-third the industry average. We were recently crowned the “second best place to work” in the San Francisco Bay Area, a remarkable feat for a service company that’s full of people cleaning toilets in a region full of high-tech companies famous for plush corporate campuses.
I learned quite a bit about meaning in business during the last downturn, but this downturn has been full of lessons, too. During the dot-com bust, my desire to learn tended to be organizational, but the worldwide Great Recession has led to more personal lessons. I’ve found myself on an emotional roller coaster the past couple of years. I’ve had five friends or colleagues commit suicide, primarily due to stresses at work, and I’ve seen countless companies in the travel and design industries dissolve under the pressure of this relentless economy. My greatest epiphany resulted in a series of what I call “Emotional Equations” (also the title of my next book, due out in 2011) that help remind me how the world works. The most profound equation that I’ve used for myself and for the managers in my company has been despair = suffering–meaning. I learned this from reading Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning.
As teenagers, we learned algebra and found there were constants and variables in an equation. That’s true in life, too. The constant in a concentration camp, or in a recession, is suffering. There will always be suffering. Yet, the variable in life is meaning: How do we find a sense of meaning, even in the most difficult times? This is a question that I’ve asked my employees and myself, because if you can find meaning in the rubble, you will lessen your despair. That’s how this equation works: more meaning equals less despair. Yet, most of us in a difficult time put our attention on the suffering. Life and business are all about where you place your attention. If Frankl can live through a death camp by rediscovering the importance of meaning in our lives, we can live through a painful recession by reframing difficult economic experiences.
CAN BUSINESS BE ENLIGHTENED?
[Originally posted Nov. 8, 2010 on the Huffington Post]
A half-century ago, few would have suggested that the world’s companies might have a bigger impact on the planet than would the various governments of the world. But, today, there’s no doubt that business — for better or often worse — impacts our lives in more and more profound ways, whether it’s how we communicate with each other in the digital age, whether we are surrounded by pollution, or how we look for global solutions to an ever more connected world. Consciousness and commerce need to feel less and less like an oxymoron.
Recently, I had the good fortune of leading a five-day global teleconference with nearly 14,000 registered listeners from more than 100 countries as 40 different worldwide business leaders and academics talked about how an enlightened business community can make a difference in the world. If you’re interested in learning more, all of the audio is free if you register here. This blog is meant to be a guide to the four key themes that arose from the varied speakers: Great companies have great purposes; Be conscious about your culture; Harvest leaders; and Think bigger than your company.
Someone once said, “our purpose in life is a life of purpose,” and this applies to companies also. One of our esteemed speakers said that the best companies think of themselves as “purpose maximizers” rather than “profit maximizers,” as with a noble and magnetic purpose you are more likely to create sustainable profits. Another suggested some great legacy companies like Hewlett-Packard became truly transformative when they moved from a place of thinking of how they can be the best in the world to being the best for the world. All of this brought me back to Peter Drucker‘s profound management question, “What business are you in?” That’s a question that every leader should ask their people. The first time you answer it, your answer will be obvious, but by the fifth time you repeat the question, it is likely that you will have uncovered your purpose or corporate essence and this is far more important than coming up with a catchy marketing slogan (which is how most companies try to prove to themselves and the world that they have a purpose).
Secondly, a common theme that many speakers suggested was that corporate culture is an essential part of company vitality. Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh surmised that a company’s culture is its brand in today’s more transparent world. And Monika Broecker, who founded the School of Personal Growth at Google, suggested that the best companies know that corporate training is just a disguise for personal development. An enlightened business recognizes that their internal eco-system is like a pond. Stagnant ponds smell and it’s hard for anything to live there. Healthy ponds have a flow of new water coming in and they create an environment where things grow. Ponds are also an apt metaphor for the ripples that are created when a stone is thrown. The most prevalent and contagious ripple in most companies today is the emotion of fear, yet a healthy culture dispels fear. So, if you want to inoculate your company against the debilitating effects of fear, invest in your culture.
Thirdly, everyone agreed that the leaders we breed today are different than the command and control generals of the past. We’re looking for conductors today who are more adept at the nuances of bringing out the best in an orchestra. If the most neglected fact in business is that we’re all human, it’s not surprising that emotional intelligence was outlined as the most important quality of leadership today. The ability to empathize and understand the other is progressively more important in this small world we live in. Authenticity, transparency, and humility were also qualities that emerging as more important for leadership in this century than the last. Anne Mulcahy‘s rein as CEO of Xerox, which she took over when it was very troubled, and her succession planning to help make Ursula Burns the new CEO a few years later shows the importance of healthy and effective leadership when a leader realizes their most essential task is to create the next round of leaders in their organization.
Finally, Richard Barrett suggested that companies are starting to realize that “a business is a wholly owned subsidiary of society, and society is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment.” Social responsibility needs to be intrinsic within the mission of a truly conscious business and reflected in everything it does, rather than just grafted on for marketing purposes (which sometimes can be the case with Corporate Social Responsibility programs). Companies and leaders are role models — not just with the business community — but in the broader world. And, when any of us thinks of ourselves as a role model — whether that’s as a parent being observed by their kids or a leader under the microscope of their followers — it creates a natural stepping up of how we carry ourselves and what we expect from ourselves. If individual business leaders are willing to approach their work with this level of consciousness, we may actually experience a more enlightened business community with great collateral benefits to the world.
ANNOUNCING PEAK CONTEST WINNER
Belinda Ricketts from Dibert Valve & Fitting Company is the WINNER of the PEAK Contest. As her prize, she chose to consult with PEAK Master Facilitator, Sue Funkhouser, about ways in which to further activate PEAK in their organization.
Below was her submission. After talking with her, the extent to which her company has embraced PEAK inside their small organization is quite impressive.
Being “Peak’d” is all about recognizing someone’s intangible value to company and the people around them. Sam Dibert, the owner of the company was the first person to be “Peak’d” with the banner and personalized gifts. For example, Sam is an avid outdoorsman, received fishing lures, hunting items and several bags of his favorite candy, black licorice.
“Peak’d” is a take-off on Punk’d . According to Wikipedia, Punk’d is an American hidden camera practical joke television series that first aired on MTV in 2003. Being “punk’d” referred to being the victim of such a prank.
The Company’s Journey to the PEAK:
1. The company spent two days (different employees each day) immersing themselves in PEAK principles.
2. The company recently started distributing a newsletter entitled Peak Times . The header showcases both the associate and customer pyramid. Additionally, each newsletter highlights a customer who has moved up the pyramid.
3. Belinda puts a monthly PEAK question on the office staff time sheets. For example, “What is the top level of the employee pyramid?” Correctly answered timesheets go into a drawing. One winner is drawn each month and receives a gift bag which includes goodies from their personal favorites list.
A little bit about Belinda:
Belinda is truly a PEAK Evangelist. She believes that people want to do their best and it’s her job to help them do that while recognizing their efforts. She said, “I love shopping for personal favorites that I can give out as rewards for our monthly PEAK contest or our “PEAK’d”.
A little bit about the company:
Dibert Valve & Fitting Inc. has been an authorized supplier of Swagelok® products to Virginia’s industry since 1956. Their business objectives are to provide consistent unmatched product performance with product readily available to industry. They have 22 employees spread in their Richmond and Norfolk offices.
Enlightened Business Summit: 40 free recorded interviews with world luminaries to help your business thrive
If you missed any of the Enlightened Business Summit, it is not too late! You can still listen to all of the interviews…for free! Simply click here to register and gain access to all 40 recorded teleconference calls. Listen at your leisure and capture the inspiration!
Here’s what people said about the Enlightened Business Summit:
“WOW, my view of career, success and money has truly shifted”
“An amazing group of inspiring experts in the area of conscious business”
“Groundbreaking insights and inspiration for action…for the marathon of the 21st Century enlightened leadership”
“Synergy and co-creation leap from every session, giving us great hope for a thriving future”
I’m very excited that in a couple of weeks I will be emceeing one of the largest business teleseminars in history entitled the Enlightened Business Summit. I was asked to co-curate this five-day event (Oct. 25 to 29) all of which is free and accessed purely by your phone. I am thrilled with the line-up of speakers we’ve gathered from notable business leaders such as Tony Hsieh from Zappos, John Mackey from Whole Foods Market, Casey Sheahan from Patagonia, Shai Agassi from A Better Place, and George Zimmer from the Men’s Wearhouse to best-selling authors including Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi (Flow), Tim Ferriss (The Four-Hour Work Week), Marcia Wieder (Dreams are Whispers from the Soul), Keith Ferrazzi (Never Eat Alone), and Bill George (True North). I will be interviewing most of the 40 speakers, and participants will have the opportunity to ask questions during the calls. The teleconference format also allows for conversations among the thousands of participants during many of the sessions. For those who love the line-up but don’t have time, you can also register and then buy the recorded audio program. Toward the end of the summit, we will announce that I will be leading seven weeks of PEAK Leadership phone trainings starting on November 3 (and the first two weeks are free).
To learn more, please register at the Enlightened Business Summit website. I won’t see you there, but I certainly hope to hear you on one or more of the calls!