What Wonder Woman teaches us about employee engagement

It might seem like Wonder Woman doesn’t have much to do with employee engagement. After all, the beloved icon uses bullet proof bracelets, the lasso of truth and super human strength to protect humanity (and rack up box office gold) while companies focus on employee engagement to improve productivity, reduce turnover and enhance results. However, given that Wonder Woman’s compassion, courage and commitment to doing what’s right truly saves the day, organizations can learn a lot from our superheroine about engaging their workforce. Lessons include:

  1. Operate with clarity and purpose – Okay movie fans, if you haven’t seen the film yet, spoilers are ahead. In this inspiring flick, Wonder Woman is clear her mission is to protect innocent people and stop Ares, the God of War, from destroying humanity. That’s something we can all rally around, right? Companies that have that kind of clarity about their mission, vision and values connect better with employees and generate stronger results. In fact, a Gallup Survey found that a 10% improvement in employees’ connection with the mission or purpose of their organization would result in a 12.7% reduction in safety incidents, an 8.1% decrease in turnover, and a 4.4% increase in profitability.
  2. Build strong teams – Despite her strength and smarts, Wonder Woman couldn’t have prevailed without the support of the rag tag team brought together to infiltrate enemy territory. (Plus there’s her future affiliation with the Justice League, where Batman, Superman and their brethren all work together for the greater good.) Super star employees are great, but super star teams are even better. Investing in training, leadership development and succession planning to help people reach their potential – something which ADP reports only a third of U.S. employees give their companies high marks in those areas – is a win-win situation.
  3. Embrace ethics – Wonder Woman had the choice of ruling as an all-powerful being with the villain, or staying true to herself but battling it out. She picked the second option, finding the inner strength and ethical fortitude to prevail. Companies that choose the ethical path, even when it can impact short-term profits, connect deeper with employees. For example, corporations like AFLAC, Accenture and Marriott International were recognized as one of the world’s most ethical companies which no doubt influenced their inclusion on Fortune’s 100 Best Places to Work
  4. Care about others – Her deep concern for others prompted Wonder Woman to plunge onto a battlefield to free a French town occupied by German soldiers during World War I. Companies that genuinely care about the communities and people they serve inspire greater employee loyalty. Many organizations are placing an increasingly higher value on corporate social responsibility. At National DCP, our community outreach effort focuses on health and wellness, hunger relief and sustainability issues and we’ve been rolling out an employee volunteer time off program. Some employees see corporate social responsibility as a key factor in choosing where they work; Horizon Media estimates that 81% of millennials expect companies to publicly pledge to be good corporate citizens.

As a kid, Wonder Woman was my favorite superhero/superheroine.  (Though she had some hefty competition from my close namesake – She-Ra, kick-butt cartoon goddess extraordinaire – in the 1980’s). In addition to being a positive role model and empowered character, it is gratifying to see how her behaviors can inspire better corporate cultures and employee engagement too.

How does your organization engage employees? Who is your favorite superhero or superheroine and how has that impacted who you are today?

Shift your career into “rock star” mode with four lessons from Taylor Swift’s dating life

career advice from Taylor Swift's dating lifeWant to shift your career into “rock star” mode? Consider taking lessons from Taylor Swift’s dating life. On the work front, the 26-year-old has been a star for nearly a decade, helped change the way Apple Music pays artists for streaming and earned $80 million last year with 2014’s top-selling album/tour – all at an age when over 32% of millennials are still living at home with their parents. Impressive accomplishments indeed, regardless of your opinions about Swift (full disclosure, I’m a fan so shake it off, haters). When it comes to her personal life, there is a goldmine of career advice to be gleaned. Four tidbits include:

  1. Capitalize on unexpected opportunities. Swift has been in the headlines a lot lately for her new relationship with British actor Tom Hiddleston (star of the television show Night Manager, Loki from the Thor movie franchise and a much rumored successor to Daniel Craig’s James Bond in case you are a pop culture neophyte). Much of the media hype is due to announcing the breakup from previous boyfriend Calvin Harris just a few weeks before she and Hiddleston were spotted canoodling in public. Timing might not be ideal in terms of public perception, but this DNA-blessed duo decided to go for it. The same is true in your career. If you get the opportunity to lead a highly visible project ahead of others in the corporate hierarchy, go for it. When the job of your dreams appears two years ahead of schedule, embrace the opportunity. Be willing to jump in and claim what your heart desires at work.
  2. Share your enthusiasm. At a recent company meeting, I was delighted to learn how strongly committed one of our Vice Presidents is committed to sustainability when he asked thoughtful, informed questions about that topic although it falls outside of his functional area. Last week, a Manager in Finance with a passion for corporate culture took the initiative to research and create a presentation about engaging employees using more open, collaborative workspaces that emphasized natural lighting. Both of these individuals were already recognized for their excellent work. Sharing their thinking about areas outside of their job description makes them stand out even more. Swift doesn’t hesitate to share the highlights of relationships via Instagram and Twitter, understanding that it makes her more authentic and forges a deeper connection with fans.
  3. Use setbacks as creative inspiration. The pop-country crossover star scored a slew of number one hits inspired by relationships that didn’t end so well. Some of your best career insights can arise from work-related challenges and upheavals. According to the National Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 10% of the population was unemployed at the height of the Great Recession in October 2009. In 2015, major companies like American Express, Microsoft and Procter & Gamble had large workforce layoffs. Bottom-line, the chances are good that most of us have already or will face an involuntary job loss at some point. While devastating at the time, the change can force you to take a fresh perspective on what truly floats your boat at work. In addition, think about the great bosses that you want to emulate and other supervisors that inadvertently taught you how not to lead others. How have those experiences impact your behavior and relationships at work today?
  4. Surround yourself with support. From supermodels and actresses to fellow songbirds, Swift has a tight-knit group of BFF’s known as her “squad” that offer support and camaraderie during romantic highs and lows. Creating and nurturing a network of supportive co-workers, allies and mentors is essential to thriving long-term in your career. Have lunch with people from other departments you would like to collaborate with more. Give advice to job seekers in your field. Reach out to connect with others you admire via LinkedIn. Thank the individuals that have helped you along the way and stay in touch.

No doubt Taylor Swift has many music and business milestones ahead, all while we continue to read about her affairs of the heart. What behaviors or events have helped shift your career into “rock star” mode?

Want an engaged workforce? Get better at giving thanks!

improve employee engagement by giving thanksBefore traveling to a foreign country, I learn the local phrase for “thank you.” Taking that simple step inevitably leads to great service, whether I’m trying to find the nearest Pilates class, attempt not to look like a dork (too late for that) while sight-seeing or  convince a chef to make the perfect egg white omelet.  The same is certainly true in business. If you are looking to improve employee engagement, expressing thanks goes a long way in creating a motivated workforce.

This became crystal clear to me recently while conducting focus groups with the employees of our $2 billion supply chain management cooperative. Our nearly 1,700 team members are dispersed between  headquarters, seven distribution centers and 32 trucking hubs throughout the U.S. No matter who I talked to, people felt a lot more motivated when their hard work was noticed – and the absence of gratitude lead to a sense of disconnection.

That should be a given, right? Especially if your momma taught you good manners. But sometimes people get so caught up in our non-stop, 24/7 world that they forget to think about how their actions (or non-actions) impact others. That’s why I am sharing three ways to get better at thanking the individuals you work with:

1) Say it when you think it. How many times have you thought someone delivered outstanding service, but didn’t take the time to tell them? Most of us aren’t former members of the Psychic Friends Network (the pinnacle of cheesy 1990’s infomercials), which means we can’t read your mind. Taking 15 seconds to say “we can always count on you to process our expense reports quickly” or “thanks for your hard work in helping our customer solve a problem with their delivery today” makes an impression. Especially when you serve in a supervisory capacity with that individual or the company overall.

2) Pay attention to the details. You can tell someone that they rock at work. But going into detail about the WHY – your idea for a product reformulation saved the company $400,000, the sales presentation you created over the weekend helped us land a huge account – makes the gratitude expressed more meaningful. This focus is effective in one-on-one conversations and also on a big scale. For example,  InterContinental Hotels Group, a former consulting client of mine, has a terrific employee recognition program called BRAVO that lets team members recognize their peers, direct reports, supervisors and just about anyone in the organization. The more specific information submitted about why someone deserves this honor increases the chance of people receiving national recognition and prizes.

3) Be proactive. Look for the shining examples of excellence around you and let the world know about it. My husband came down with a bronchitis-type sickness recently and given that it was a Saturday, reluctantly headed to the local drug store medical clinic for treatment. But the nurse practioner running the place was outstanding and turned out to be a lot more on the ball than his regular doctor. After telling everyone about his good experience, Justin realized he needed to be more proactive in getting her recognized. So he called the Walgreen’s branch, got the practioner’s name, and wrote a heartfelt thanks to their customer service department that no doubt will impact her annual review and hopefully more. Pause for a moment to do the same at work. Let those rock stars in the warehouse, IT, marketing, human resources or any department know that you noticed in writing and copy their supervisor in the process. Tell communications so these people can get recognized in the employee newsletter and Intranet site. Spread the thanks, and you’ll be amazed at how it boomerangs right around into happier people and a better place to work.

When is the last time you expressed thanks at work? What impact did it have on others?

Express Yourself: Why Bringing More Personality to Work Promotes Greater Employee Engagement

FullSizeRender sheRA pixWhether Madonna sang about it, or the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteed it, the freedom to express yourself resonates deeply with many of us. Like my 77-year-old mom, who laces her texts with pink hearts and kissy emoticons to express love or my buddies Rich and John, whose Halloween party costumes – ranging from ghosts from the Titanic to 1960’s flight attendants – can be legendary. But when it comes to work, many corporate managers balk at bringing their authentic selves to the office. However, here are three reasons why expressing your personality can actually promote greater employee engagement:

  1. Makes you more accessible. If you manage employees, regardless of whether it is three team members or 30,000, that authority can be intimidating to others. So can senior-level titles. Ever notice how people can clam up when the big boss walks into a room, worried about saying the wrong thing? Yet if your team isn’t sharing what is really happening in the business for fear of reprisals or looking bad, that hurts the company’s performance. Expressing your personality at work makes you more approachable. For example, Chief Operating Officer Gene Long is responsible for the national and international distribution activities for our $2 billion supply chain management cooperative. He’s a recognized industry thought leader and most of the company employees ultimately report to him. Instead of taking himself too seriously though, Gene diffuses tension by making funny, self-deprecating comments. His office features toy trucks representing all of the different fleets managed in his career and the day the Minionsmovie opened, he proudly wore a t-shirt with the animated characters to work. All of which makes him more accessible to employees and ultimately, more effective in his role.
  2. Gives employees “permission” to be themselves. Encouraging people to express their personality shows that you value them as individuals, not just for the job they perform on behalf of the company. With the U.S. economy approaching full-employment, people in high-demand jobs have more options than ever before. Especially when it comes to the 86 million millennials who will be in the workforce by 2020. They are driven by authenticity, as an employee as well as a consumer. Recognizing that as a positive attribute at work deepens one’s sense of loyalty and connection to the company.
  3. Creates a more positive, supportive culture. Getting to know the people you work with goes a long way in creating a collaborative environment. We kicked off the first-ever meeting of our Key Leadership Group (Directors, Vice Presidents and Executive Team) in April by asking participants to talk about a leader that has inspired them. Neil Degrasse Tyson, Sheryl Sandberg and Lou Gerstner were mentioned, along with Julia Child, King David from biblical times and one man’s adorable seven-year-old daughter who inspires him to be a better person each day. We learned something personal about each individual that created delight and a sense of connection. Honoring, encouraging and recognizing stories about team members who volunteer in the community, do something innovative at work, have an intriguing hobby and more is part of our internal communication effort because my company understands how it brings us all together.

Finally expressing yourself at work is great, as long as you keep it professional. Let’s say that you have a passion for magic tricks. Perhaps you express this subtly in your workspace décor, perform an act during the employee talent show or delight kids with a demo during “Bring Your Child to Work Day.” But you probably don’t want to start pulling pennies out of co-workers’ ears during a meeting on company layoffs or walk into a new business presentation with conservative potential clients wearing a top hat and cape.

BTW, I take my own advice here. During the 1980’s I gained the nickname She-Ra, Princess of Power, after the popular kid’s cartoon. My boss called me that one day at work last year and everyone had a good laugh. So I promptly hung a framed poster of the cartoon icon in my office to give anyone that walks by a chance to connect with an inviting conversation starter.

How do you bring your personality to work? What kind of impact has it had on others and your own career?