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Crickets–Why Acknowledgement is a Contribution

I took on my own stretch assignment at work, offering to lead two Working Out Loud Circles.  In these circles, the participants are learning about making contributions.

In my own words, contributions, in this context, are things you can do that just plain make you a better person to work with, and be around.  I found it extremely helpful to see ten contributions summarized in Week 8 of the program.

As I thought about my own practice of the ten contributions, there was one that was similar called “offer attention” but I coach others more overtly to contribute in a way just as important as the others—Acknowledgement.

So what do I mean?

How many times have you called someone, or sent an email, or a text message—or all 3—and never heard anything in return?  The kids call this getting ghosted when a friend does it to you.

Casper.  At work.  Who would’ve known?

How many times have you contemplated, seemingly for hours, about how to send the right message, with the right words, to someone else, like a boss?  Then, when you finally muster the courage to hit the “send” button, you wait with nervousness, wondering what he/she will think, or say, in return.

And you wait.  And wait.  And wait.

Nothing.

And then the doubts start to enter your mind.  Did I piss him/her off?  Did I over extend my boundaries?  Did I make a fool out of myself?

You check your email box, hitting “send/receive all messages”.  It’s like you’re now borderline crazy.

And still nothing.

If you’ve been there, you’re not alone.  But the remedy is very easy.  It’s called acknowledgement.

Just acknowledge that you got the message.  You don’t even have to craft a lengthy response.  How about this:

“Thanks for the note, I’ll take a look.”

Or

“I appreciate that you reached out.  I can’t commit to anything at this time, but will consider your ideas.”

Just…say…something.

From my experience, people that practice this simple contribution are more engaged, more inspiring, and establish authentic connections more often than people that just ignore the message.  Do you want people to play the sound of crickets to their friends after sending you a message as a mockery to your impending blow off, or do you want to practice making a small contribution to another person just by telling them you acknowledge that they reached out to you?

Take 60 seconds and acknowledge the other person—you’ll never regret it.

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Have You Lost Your Curiosity at Work?

I get energy from curious people at work.  It seems that from my experience, curious people can typically help you get things done in a better way.  Curious people ask the question “why?” multiple times until they understand the root cause of something.  Curious people respond when you ask them for feedback on what could get better.

But what happens when your workforce seemingly has lost its ability to be curious?

Curious people ignite the flame of critical thinking and problem solving; not-so-curious people can extinguish that flame.

For me, lack of curiosity typically relates to general apathy.  In the workplace, that could mean not raising your hand, or letting someone else raise their hand, or just going through the motions.  Your calendar may be full from 8-5, but logging into that conference call to have your name show up in the panel that you were there—even though you didn’t contribute anything to the meeting—makes you feel busy.

It can also point to another sign—that you are too comfortable.  This happens after years of steady employment where you’ve been allowed to just go through the motions, show up when you needed to show up, but nothing externally or internally is creating a sense of urgency to do anything different.  Perhaps you tried at one point but became de-motivated when things didn’t work out the way you envisioned them to.

One flaw in all of that is that it assumes that motivation can only come externally—from someone or something other than yourself.  The boss passed you over for a promotion.  The Department reorganized you into a new area.  The company decided to continue to invest in the legacy technology that you’ve worked on for decades, so you should be set.

I think there is too much risk to behave this way in the workplace.  Leaders are searching for curious people as it demonstrates a different level of engagement.  Leaders what to know how to make things better, and curious people are motivated to contribute to that outcome.  And finally, leaders need curious people.  Without them, something externally will disrupt the situation, without a doubt.

Curiosity equates to motivation.  Motivation equates to making things happen on your own terms—not the boss, the department, or the company.

I’ve learned this perspective over time and through experience.  I observe people across the entire spectrum of curiosity and motivation.  Re-framing to putting things on your own terms, and taking control of your own motivation and curiosity can not only lead to a happier work life, but one that has a higher potential of success and satisfaction.

Bloom Where You Are Planted

My mother said this often and had incredible resiliency coupled with an unwavering focus both on moving forward and not dwelling on the past.  In fact, if something bad happened to you, she’d give you license to be upset for 24 hours, and then, in her mind, you should be ready to “move on”.  She was very consistent in her approach, whether it was dealing with one of her seven children, or the cancer she died from 16 years ago.

These traits are somewhat unique from my own self observations and those of other people.  Mom had the perspective that bad things will happen to good people, but it was more about what you did about it than commiserating about why.  My college friend Bob Bell was injured when we were freshman and became paralyzed.  He ended up writing a great book on the topic, and I remember someone in an interview asking him “Why do you think this happened to you?”  His response: “Why the F* not me?”

At work, many of us have been through some significant challenges with reductions in the workforce.  These initially are devastating –I know personally—and leaving on someone else’s terms is devastating.  I remember one leader lucky enough to leave before “the date” saying that leaving on his own terms was the most difficult decision he’s ever made.  At least he was in control, and I remember questioning and being angry about his use of the word “difficult”.

Difficult is having to tell your family you’ve lost your job–leaving them speechless–except the 9 year-old who asks if you are going to lose your house.

Others, in organizations that have provided job stability for decades, do not even have context that employment is fragile for many of us.  To some of those folks, getting reorganized into something they don’t want to do—and keeping a job—is like the end of the world.  To them, laid off people would say, “at least you still have a job.”

Each of us has our own context and perspective about a given situation.  But in all contexts, it’s about adapting, overcoming, and making the next steps be on your own terms.  Simply put, moving on.

When we experience some difficultly, whether it is a layoff or a reorganization, fundamentally we all still need to decide for how long we want to analyze and dwell.  Mom would apply the 24 hour rule and recommend that we get on with it and ground ourselves in the reality that this is where we are planted–right, wrong, or indifferent.

What holds us back?

Well, blooming forces us to take action and be creative, which is hard and scary.    It forces us to eliminate excuses and complaints, which makes us vulnerable.  It forces us to reach out to our networks and ask for help, which can be embarrassing.

Someone close to me lost their job about a year ago.  Just recently he accepted a position to teach a college course, something he likely would have never have had the chance to do without the job loss.  He told me that was the best news he’d heard in 52 weeks, and was always something he wanted to do.

Me?  I can’t believe that 9 months later, I’m in my dream job.  It took a lot of support and help to get here.  To those that supported me, I’m forever grateful, for all of it–the phone conversations, the text messages, the coffees, the lunches, the LinkedIn messages, and the hugs.  I’ve vowed to help anyone I can—day or night—who needs help with job transition and networking.

Mom, I’ve “moved on”.

Seeds can be planted and flowers can bloom in the least expected places.  Bloom where you are planted—you are in control, it just sometimes doesn’t feel that way initially.  But you are.

What is the Business Problem You Are Trying to Solve?

business problem

A friend of mine was telling me a story about how he had a project that had $100,000 left in its budget.  He and his team wanted to use it up, since the norm was if you didn’t use it, your budget would be cut by that amount the next year.

Sound familiar?

I asked what they wanted to spend the money on.  He said, “USB video cameras.”

Then, I asked, “why?”

“Because we’ve rolled out a video capability to the company.”

Interested, I continued my questioning.  “But don’t the laptops people use (and the company has already purchased) have a video camera already built in?”

“Yes, some of them do.  We want to buy cameras for those laptops that do not already have a camera and to create a spare pool.”

Good recovery I thought, but I wasn’t quite done, so I asked “But isn’t everyone already on a list to get a laptop refresh, where they all eventually will have a laptop with a built in camera, making these USB ones obsolete?”

“Well, yes,” he said.

I was intrigued because I kept hearing about people putting a piece of tape or a post-it note over the laptop camera for fear they might be accidentally captured on video when they didn’t want to be, so further investment in it raised some red flags.

“Do you even know if people use the video feature?  What’s the data tell us the usage patterns are?  How many video sessions are you doing in a day?  What are you going to do with all the cameras after the laptop refresh?”

I admit I was Feeling like Tom Cruise questioning Jack Nicholson in the movie “A Few Good Men”.  He was at his breaking point.

“No.  I don’t know any of that.  No usage data.  No trend analysis.  No strategy post rollout.  We just thought we should buy the cameras because the budget had room,” he said.

Needless to say, he didn’t buy the cameras.  No business case, no understanding of the business problem he was trying to solve, and no data.  Common  sense prevails.

I think generally, most good intentioned people are action oriented.  While not a bad thing, I think sometimes we make decisions without all the inputs.  Other factors and incentives drive us to do things that perhaps we wouldn’t do in our own personal lives, but at work we can ignore some common sense questioning that can get us in trouble.  If we all treated our work, or work decisions, like we were the owner of the company, my feeling is that different decisions would be made.  I think it’s always a good exercise to stop ourselves and ask what business problem we are trying to solve.

In that context, we might just make different decisions.

Your 2015 Leadership Wake-Up Call

As we think about how we make authentic leadership impressions  with each other, and the teams we lead, many people I talk to have used the same tools throughout their successful career.  Recently, I was talking to a great leader, my friend John (it’s actually his real name) and was asking him questions about how he goes about connecting with his broader team as President of his company.  John very quickly pointed to some good, solid tools out of his leadership tool belt:

  • Manage by walking around. John makes it a point to know each person’s name, and enjoys the personal connection realized by physically walking the floor
  • Open door policy. He makes it a point of setting aside certain hours where employees can come into his physical office and talk 1:1

As John’s workforce makeup changes from the Baby Boomer now to the Millennial of tomorrow, will those legacy tools be enough?  Will the new workforce be able to relate to John?  In short, can John stay relevant as a leader if he doesn’t modernize his tool kit?

In my role as a reverse mentor, I’ve helped executives like John realized that the tools of yesterday, while valuable, might not scale and be relevant to the workforce of the future.  By now you should have a solid understanding that the workforce of tomorrow has different needs from leadership than the workforce of yesterday.  As a result, leaders must evolve their tools to stay relevant.  That’s the wake-up call.

How to “wake-up” in 2015:

  • Keep what works, with a twist. Ask your team while walking around or during your open door 1:1 meetings about this and what they would suggest you try.
  • Commit to one new and different way to work. Talk about what you are going to try and do differently, and ask for feedback.  For example, “I’m going to start a monthly blog to share with the team.  Let me know what you think and what others are saying about it.”
  • Ask for feedback via a communications survey and personally read all of the responses. This will get you tuned into whether or not your workforce needs are changing in respect to leadership connections.

Recently, I read a blog authored by an executive I have worked with in the past.  He had even tweeted the link to it!  A couple years ago, blogging and tweeting were nowhere in this leader’s vocabulary.  Seeing that leaders are capable of evolving how they engage and inspire their teams was very humbling to me.

He “gets it”.  Do you?