Respect, Recognition, and Appreciation Matter. | Assessing Your Give and Take

Self-esteem can be pretty fragile.appreciation 4759535950_7bca6684c8_m

Each of us has the ability to pump up another person’s self-esteem or scar it.

A lot goes into developing and maintaining pride in ourselves, especially considering our personal and situational obstacles.

So we need to be caring.

Make others matter.

Most of us crave positive feedback. We want to know in concrete ways that our bosses and coworkers:

  • respect our talents, good intentions, and integrity
  • recognize the contributions we make to the success of the team and company
  • appreciate our efforts, kindnesses, and selflessness

Others want what we want. The question is: “Are we giving it?”

  • To everyone?
  • Just to people we like or who are like us?
  • To those we feel we need to “repay”?

The esteem we show to others is good for us. It’s how we create a bond that:

  • builds dependable relationships
  • helps coworkers try harder
  • develops confidence to overcome challenges
  • buoys up courage to take risks
  • creates community

In all likelihood, the esteem we show to others comes back to us in subtle and sometimes surprising ways.

Respect, recognition, and appreciation are equalizers. They say to the recipient, “I value you” for your:

  • skills and work quality
  • honesty and integrity
  • kindness and generosity
  • dependability and decency

Value is personal not positional.

None of us can do every job that needs to be done. Just look around where you live and count the number of things you can’t build, fix, or solve.

Then look around your company and count the number of jobs you aren’t qualified to do from the top of the organization chart to the bottom.

The only way all of us can live the lives we want is for everyone around us to do their jobs well. For that we all need to express our gratitude.

Assess yourself.

Consider the way you engage with craftsmen you hire at work or at home. Assess the amount of effort you put into expressing respect for their expertise, recognition of the challenges of the work, and appreciation for the outcome.

In my experience, a unique alliance forms, a strategic partnership, and shared engagement in the work where the results exceed the expectations of you both.

I recently accumulated a pretty long list of big and small jobs long overdue at my farm where the buildings were built from 1780 to 1900. The jobs ranged from releasing a frozen pocket door in the house to replacing light fixtures in the barn; from painting and repairing a large shed to replacing slates with shingles in the back of the house. There was other “little” stuff too.

Kirk, the expert in charge, is a one-time home builder, an inventor, and one of the most well-read people know. He took on my work solo because I was his last client in PA before moving to the mid-west.

There was nothing about this work that was easy. At every turn there were problem-solving challenges and surprises. It required:

  • electrical work and some plumbing
  • remodeling and construction
  • roofing, painting, and repair

Kirk says what he thinks, never sugar-coating anything. And he’s not a big giver or receiver of compliments. But he accepted my communicated regard for his expertise and willingness to help when needed.

I had been his customer before, so he knew that I respected him. Ultimately, he told me that he wouldn’t have taken on this wild array of jobs for anyone else. That was a gift for my self-esteem.

It was not about what I was paying him: It was about my respect, recognition, and appreciation.

 As you sow…

Treating people well is about recognizing their value and making that known. At work it’s easy to see our coworkers as just another pair of hands. Any time you treat others in a way that says, “You matter,” you are giving them a priceless gift which will, in time, come back to you.

Photo by woodleywonderworks via Photoree




Insensitive, Divisive, or Self-Serving? Taking on Problem Behaviors | “You” Power

You experience them. You may even mention them–things that are done and said at work that aren’t right.513020382_756c859892_m

We don’t do our jobs in a vacuum. We have to interact with others. The attitudes and behaviors of our bosses, coworkers, and customers contribute to the culture of the workplace. They make it  consistently positive, negative, or a bit of both.

So what happens when you see and hear insensitive, divisive, or self-serving words and actions that don’t sit well with you? Do you:

  • Keep silent (a signal of consensus)?
  • Report it to the boss or HR for action?
  • Complain to coworkers who feel as you do?
  • Take action in your own way?

The power to affect change comes from within you. It takes a plan and committed, sustained action. The power of “you” can be formidable.

“You” Power

We often think that only management can fix what’s wrong with a company’s culture, even  when they’re a part of the problem.

We may think that sexism, bullying, antagonism between labor and management, and an everyone-for-themselves performance mentality are behaviors we have to learn to live with.

Sadly, that’s why these behaviors continue and escalate.

We all have positive role models we try to emulate. Now it’s our turn to be that positive example at work,  one day at a time.

We can each contribute to turning negative behaviors around by:

  • Becoming a conscience for what is right
  • Setting an example by what we say and do

It’s not for us to get on a soapbox necessarily, but simply to intervene, one-on-one in most cases, to call attention to a more positive way to communicate and act.

Consider personal objectives like these:

1. ) Increase awareness of language and actions that have overtones

When you hear language that’s sexist or ethnically insensitive, suggest a more appropriate  choice of words to the individual speaking or writing. Suggest that certain assignments be balanced between women and men.

In the hurry of the workplace, some coworkers may not be aware of the stereotypes they are promoting through their speech and assignments. Serving as a conscience has real power.

2.) Refuse to gossip

There’s always news that spreads throughout the workplace, but much of it can be hearsay, personal, undermining, and counterproductive. When we listen to or contribute to gossip, we become its agent.

Each time we decline to participate and offer our rationale for why, we influence one or more coworkers. That may lead to some to gossip about us, but it sets the right example, furthers your cause, and may also counteract some bullying.

3.) Discourage “us” v. “them” attitudes

Blaming can become rampant in organizations. It can target employees (us) versus management (them), employees in one group versus those in another, or you versus someone who, you believe, has made you look bad. Nothing good comes from blaming.

If you  believe in personal accountability, as I do, then you can wield personal power by always owning the outcomes of your work, being unwilling to enter into the blame game, and expecting others to also own their work. When they don’t, that’s an opportunity for you to raise their awareness.

4.) Quell complaining and venting

If coworkers know you will listen to their complaints, they will continue to unload on you. If, when they start, you say you’re too pressed for time to listen or call attention to what they did to create the issue, they will likely stop.

A great many complainers fill their days dumping their load on anyone who will listen. If you reduce their audience by one, others may follow suit.

A matter of time

 Making a difference takes time. The more ingrained the insensitive, divisive, and self-serving behavior, the more difficult it is to change. You have it in your power to influence other people. Whether it’s one or many, it just matters that you do what you can to have an affect.

Every action you take has the potential to inspire someone else to follow your lead or tap into their own “you” power. What could be better?

Photo from F-2 via Flickr


Engaging Employee Minds and Hearts | Marketing Tools for Nonprofits

It’s special to write a post inspired by the new book by my friend, Sybil Stershic, a champion of the key role employees play in the success of any organization. Sybil gives voice to the intimate connection between marketing effectiveness and the engagement of employees who deliver on the organization’s promises.

Her first book, Taking Care of the People Who Matter Most: A Guide to Employee-Customer Care framed her message for business. This book, Share of Mind, Share of Heart: Marketing Tools of Engagement for Nonprofits, aligns marketing strategies with employee engagement essentials tailored to the challenges faced by nonprofits. The book’s concise principles and guide format will help you frame a plan. It’s rare to have a marketing guide specific to the needs of nonprofits. Sybil has filled the void.


It’s a downer when we murmur to ourselves at work, “My heart’s just not in it today.” It’s even worse when we realize we feel that way most days.

Explaining away malaise may be easier when we’re doing work that feels mechanical without an  “I’m making a difference” dimension.

What’s not so easy is feeling de-energized even when the work we’re doing, either paid or unpaid, fills an important human need in the community through a nonprofit organization.

I’ve been there myself. Years ago I worked for Head Start where my job included all of these duties: grant writing, coordinating volunteers and parent programs, supervising cooks and bus drivers, and schlepping government surplus food. Yes, there were many days when my mind knew how important the work was but my heart couldn’t overcome the weariness.

Nonprofit jobs are just as demanding today, maybe more so. Employees in nonprofits are the mission’s engine. Most aren’t there to get rich but to enrich. Nonprofit leaders need to recognize that their jobs include being in service to their employees.

The  essential link

Most nonprofit leaders face challenges to sustain their organizations, meaning they need to bring in the revenues that keep things going.

What too many leaders forget is that they need to invest considerable time and attention in their employees, the very people who are the real faces of the organization and the credible voices “marketing” the good work being done each day.

Sybil Stershic’s new book, Share of Mind, Share of Heart: Marketing Tools of Engagement for Nonprofits, provides nonprofit leaders with a fresh and practical approach to marketing their organizations with an inside-out strategy.

She starts by reminding us that:

Proactively marketing your nonprofit enables you to:

  1. create an effective presence in the marketplace that helps differentiate you from competing organizations, and
  2. pursue your mission through positive relationships with your stakeholders (consumers, members, volunteers, donors, referral sources, influencers, etc.)

Then she quotes marketing professor Philip Kotler who posits that: “‘marketing is supposed to build up…share of mind  and share of heart for the organization.'”

Further defining this concept, Sybil writes that:

  • share of mind “is about creating and maintaining public awareness of your organization”
  • share of heart “is creating and maintaining an emotional bond with people who are important to your organization.”

Leadership is the mission within the mission in successful nonprofits. Executive directors and all others managing operations need to balance their marketing outward look with an internal one.

The employee as marketer

Taking employees for granted or inadvertently making them feel that way invites an organizational downward spiral. It’s like shooting yourself in your marketing foot.

Sybil reminds us that:

Engaged employees stay for what they give–they like their work and are able to contribute, whereas disengaged employees stay for what they get–a comfortable job, good salary, and decent job conditions. Who would you rather have work in your organization?

She makes this essential point:

An “inside-out marketing” approach enables you to take care of …internal stakeholders so they can take care of your external stakeholders….”

Many nonprofit leaders then ask: “How do I do that?”

Sybil’s answer is straight-forward:

To gain employee and volunteer commitment and facilitate their engagement with an organization, internal marketing strategy is based on what I call ‘The Three Rs Formula':

  • Respect–ensure your staff members and volunteers have the necessary tools and support to do their work.
  • Recognition–catch them doing something right.
  • Reinforcement–continually support a mission-based, customer-focused culture.

She drives home her point writing:

The difference in how volunteers and employees are treated on a daily basis depends on the management style of the…people in charge. Are employees and volunteers recognized and respected for their roles in fulfilling the mission or are they considered disposable commodities?

Minds and hearts

Nonprofit employees are the faces and voices of the organization and its mission. They need to have their hearts and minds fully engaged to feel fulfilled.

Nonprofit leaders need to pay attention to what  employees need and listen when they provide  feedback, verbally or by their actions.

Marketing needs to be an organic function that starts with a strong internal message voiced by engaged employees. When the heart and mind work together, we can make big things happen.

Got a Problem? There’s a Career for That. | Taking Service to Heart

Real jobs are born out of need. They’re created to solve problems. Solve those problems and create a win-win situation: The business profits and the customer/client is satisfied.

The better we are at solving problems, the more career opportunities we create for ourselves.

Accidental discoveries

I had the misfortune last month of being hit broadside in my new car by a woman who ran the red light while I was turning left off a green arrow. I was not hurt (thanks to my Subaru Outback which deserves a pitch here) and, so far as I know, the other driver only minimally.

A car accident is a problem. In a flash people appear on the scene to help solve it. Others provide help later. Each of these people has a job and a career because car accidents occur frequently. They make a lasting difference when their caring shows. I learned a lot from them.

Police officer–He gathers information for the incident report and later the accident report. Part of his job is to be sensitive to the state of mind of the victims and to be as calming as possible.

Emergency Medical Technician–His/her role is to assess the condition of the crash victims,  provide medical treatment if required, and get a release if either party doesn’t want to go to the hospital. S/he too needs to be observant, patient, and positive.

Tow truck driver–Two tow trucks were required at the scene; my driver was a woman which made me smile. Her job was to get the wreckage off the road quickly and to let me know where the car was being taken. She too was pleasant, efficient, and professional.

Insurance adjuster–The adjuster is the insured’s representative with the other insurance company. His job is to record my account of the accident over the phone. He and the other driver’s adjuster make a determination of fault. The adjuster explains the process, advises on next steps, and also needs to be patient and calming.

Material Damage Adjuster/Appraiser–The appraiser determines what the insurance company will pay in damages. This job requires the ability to communicate these hard numbers with the claimant in a way that demonstrates the fairness of the final decision. Just like the adjuster, the ability to be both factual and caring is important.

Body Shop/Salvage Company Staff–Along the way, my car took a stop at a body shop for a more detailed damage assessment. Then it went to the salvage company that purchased it. The staff and owner were professional, sincerely commiserating with my misfortune.

Rental Car Manager–I got a rental from Enterprise where the young woman manager took the time to make conversation before explaining the terms. It turned out that she was eager to develop her leadership capabilities, so we chatted about that. (When I returned the car, I gave her a copy of my book and she waived the gas charge. Okay, I’d only used 1/8 tank over two weeks, but the gesture was lovely.) She treated me like I mattered as a person.

Car Salesman–I called the salesman who sold me the original Outback and left a voice mail that I’d need a new one. He called me at home to cheer me up. He immediately set aside a car for me. I knew I was in good hands.

For my accident case alone, there are nine jobs, representing nine different career paths, that had been created because people like me get in car accidents.

Each role exists to solve a piece of a big problem, helping accident victims deal with and recover from a scaring and costly experience.

Distinguishing yourself

What has struck me most about this experience was the seemingly effortless caring that each person demonstrated. Every person in my chain had a heart for service.

I know that not everyone with a service jobs “gets it” and I’m sure you have a horror story to tell. But, if anything, this accident demonstrated that when you’re in a job that solves a problem for people and you really care, your commitment to serve will motivate your best performance. Let that be you, okay?

Please remember: Stay off your phone while driving. No texting. Wear your seat belt. Be attentive! :-) Thanks.

Photo from @Doug88888 via Flickr

When the Job Fits, Wear It. | Discovering What Matters

Ask people what they hate about their jobs and they don’t hesitate to say things like: 

  • “The work is boring.”
  • “It’s a dead end.”
  • “My boss is useless.” 

Ask them what they like and they pause a bit, then say: 

  • “Well, I’m glad I have one.”
  • “I work with some nice people.”
  • “There are some good days.” 

We can do better than this. Actually, we need to do better. 

Why? Because our jobs are about us—who we are, what we bring, how we connect, and where we’re headed. 

A job is not a static thing. It’s a living manifestation of our actions. 

Discover what matters. 

On the surface a job looks like a compilation of duties, task, and requirements. When we only work on the surface, we fail to see what’s below. 

It’s a bit like swimming in the ocean without any awareness that beneath us there are colonies of species struggling to survive, wreckages waiting to be discovered, and mysteries of the earth’s formation. 

Every job we experience is an opportunity to discover what matters to us. That’s how we figure out what we need from each subsequent job to make our careers worthwhile. 

Not long ago, I met Donna, a personal care aid for the elderly. She worked at a church-run home that sadly was closing. She was losing her job and I was there to provide career next-step ideas and tools. 

Even though Donna was disappointed, she was upbeat. She’d worked all her life in service-related jobs—a waitress at various restaurants and a clearing person for individuals and businesses. She loved working, being busy, engaged with others, feeling energized. 

There were several good transition options for Donna, particularly setting up an actual cleaning services business where she could hire others as independent cleaning people to handle anticipated volume. Our meeting was going beautifully. 

Then I asked Donna how she felt about closing the door on her work with the elderly. Suddenly, her mood changed.

She told me that the previous day, she and the two other women who worked with her as a care team went to visit several of the residents relocated to a nearby facility. Then she started to cry. 

“What’s wrong, Donna?” I asked. 

She answered, “It was so hard going there and seeing that someone else was taking care of the people I took care of. It was hard for me to give them up.” 

Donna came to realize that her job wasn’t about administering medication, helping people dress and stay clean, or ensuring their safety. It was about that important the sense of personal fulfillment and connection that comes from doing for others. 

That core realization is something we each need to discover. When we do, our career path decisions are made easier. 

Find the right fit. 

We tend to understand what a job has meant to us when we don’t have it anymore. So if you want to jump-start your understanding of what matters to you, think about bygone jobs. 

Ask yourself: 

  • What work did I miss when I moved on?
  • Who did I miss and why?
  • What part of myself did I feel like I’d left behind?

Now consider your current job, and ask yourself: 

  • What’s the real reason I do this work?
  • What do I really need/want to get out of my job? 

Your answers to these questions can help you discover the jobs that truly fit you. If you don’t like your answers, that may be a signal that you need to make a change. 

These lyrics sung by folk singer, Joni Mitchell, in “The Big Yellow Taxi” remind us how important it is to discover what matters to us before we run out of time to fully incorporate it into our careers:  

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
‘Til it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

Please don’t let anyone, especially yourself, pave over your paradise.

Photo from Bonsailara1 via Flickr

Jobs with Baggage and What to Do About Them

Like it or not, we’re labeled by our jobs and the organizations that employ us. When we say what we do, people form an opinion based on job stereotypes. 

That can work in our favor when we have job titles like engineer, nurse, technology expert, or entrepreneur. More often than not, the marketplace buzz around those jobs casts them in a good light. 

Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. 

Your baggage claim 

Some job titles and the industries that assign them come with a not-so-stellar history. The titles themselves can make a job seekers blood run cold like: 

  • Car salesman
  • Insurance agent
  • Call center rep
  • Retail clerk 

Today there’s also baggage around jobs in banking, investment services, government, law, and the media to name a few. How we regard certain jobs depends on our individual experiences, values, perspectives, and knowledge. 

It’s easy to generalize and presume that anyone or everyone who works in a certain field fits a negative stereotype. As a result we’re likely to steel ourselves for a bad experience, often adopting an attitude that will provoke it. 

Negative brands around jobs and industries are difficult to break, especially when they have taken deep hold of the marketplace psyche for many years. 

Break the mold 

At some point in our careers, we’ll likely have a job that isn’t held in high regard because of its title. Our challenge is to turn negative perceptions into positives through our actions.

Recently, after driving my car for 14 years, I decided to buy a new one. I don’t do this often because I dread the whole dealing-with-the-car-salesman thing. Here’s what I was expecting: 

  • Pressure to buy more car than I needed
  • Back and forth negotiating, made complicated by the trade and/or financing
  • Not really getting the best deal
  • Fast-talking plus bait and switch promises
  • Being left hanging when I had questions after the sale 

I brought this baggage to the experience, something, Jeff, my salesman, had to overcome. So here’s what he provided: 

  • Patient listening and attention to what I wanted
  • Information about the best-fit model for me and its features
  • A clear statement about the sticker price and discussion about what I wanted to pay
  • An upfront trade price so I could decided if wanted to sell my old car privately
  • A meeting on the features while sitting in the model, resulting in a chance to get to know each other
  • A sense of humor, respectfulness, and advocacy (I didn’t want to be “sold” any warranty and undercoating extras, so Jeff kept that from happening.)
  • Availability to answer questions anytime after I’d taken the car home 

My experience with Jeff was so good that I talked to him a bit about the negative label that comes with being a car salesman. I learned that prior to this job, he and his brother had owned a couple of fitness businesses where he had developed his customer service skills, practicing his philosophy about dealing fairly and ethically with people. 

His view was that, since he enjoyed people and selling cars, he would be the kind of car salesman that broke the negative mold. Clearly there are many Jeff’s out there, and each one will gradually lift the negative baggage off the car salesman title. 

Lesson learned: The positive behaviors that we demonstrate in our jobs re-brand them. 

The power of one 

Shunning a job because the title comes with baggage makes no sense, particularly if it provides opportunity and growth potential that helps you build a satisfying career. When it’s your job, you own it. That means you put your stamp on it, making it represent the values, standards, and ethics that brand it positively. 

Jobs are about productivity and relationships. By adding value and delivering high quality service, you’ll showcase what a job well done really means. Each one of us makes a difference and there’s true power in that. 

Photo from via Flickr

Who’s Controlling Your Career? | The Downside of Kissing Up

Your best answer is, “I am.” Unfortunately, the common answer is often, “I’m not really sure.” 

That’s because we often don’t know how career growth happens. We’re told that the silver bullets are: 

  • Doing a great job with high performance appraisal ratings that validate it
  • Attending training and/or taking outside courses
  • Serving on teams and working on special projects 

Then, after we do all this stuff, someone in the next cubicle gets the promotion we wanted without doing much of anything. The boss just liked them. 

Kissing up can get you down. 

I’ve seen plenty of it, like employees slurping over the boss’s policy decisions, the good ones and the lame ones. 

I’ve seen the attention seekers who volunteer for any assignment, whether they have the chops or not. 

I’ve seen the flirts and buddy boys who flatter the boss or team up after work on the links or at local events. 

I’ve also seen how these moves help some take a career step forward, but I’ve mostly seen it backfire. 

Bosses can tell when we’re engaging them for our career purposes. Some bosses love being the center of our attention. It makes them feel important and powerful. Others are turned off.

Beware: When we shift our focus from making a difference through our work to polishing the boss’s apple, we set ourselves up for disappointment. 

Stay in control. 

When we’re hired, we’re given accountability for our work. We control what we achieve by delivering results according to standards. The boss controls whether or not we advance. 

This is the sticking point: We expect the boss to recognize our value and reward it with a next move we think we deserve. 

Once the boss knows what we want, s/he now has leverage. S/he can decide to give us what we want, deny it, or delay it.

Of course, not every boss is going to use knowledge of your career desires to manipulate you. But some will, either consciously or unconsciously.

 As an HR manager, I was aware of four high potential managers considered future executives. Two of them made plain to executive leadership that they were ready to become VPs. 

As opportunities opened up, the vocal two were made to wait for whatever reason. One had to wait several years, much to his public frustration. Interestingly, he ultimately became the company CEO.  The path is always someone else’s call.

Take the high road. 

Actually, when asked, we’re supposed to tell our bosses about our career aspirations. In healthy work situations, that knowledge helps good bosses work with us to manage our expectations, put together development plans, and position our next moves. 

The problem is that too many employees have their eyes on job titles rather than making a difference, growing their capabilities, building a portfolio of experiences, or innovating. 

It’s easier for a boss to block your next career move than it is to obstruct your impact. Your brand, your value, and your status are a function of what you get done. 

As one of a handful of women managers, I was often asked by executive management what my career goals were. They expected me to say I aspired to become a VP because there was a contingent who wanted me in that role. 

I told them, instead, that what I wanted was to be where I could influence executive decision-making. I didn’t care what my title was. I just wanted to be at the table where significant issues were being discussed so I could add my perspective. 

They gave me many of those opportunities because of my skills and knowledge. I was still asked about my interest in an executive post, but I declined. I knew that I had more impact as a thought-leader and saw that a VP title had serious limitations. 

Kissing up as the low road 

Your current job is one piece of your career. You own and control both to a large extent by the choices you make. Kissing up doesn’t help your career; consistently high quality performance does. That’s yours to control. 

Photo from Elaine Ross Baylon | Photography via Flickr