Driving through the Colorado mountains on a road trip recently I started reading a book I got in the mail from amazon. Usually during downtimes, like being a passenger in a car, I’m compelled to find some way to make good use of my time. The demands of being a working mom have taught me that I don’t have the luxury of “downtime”. I started the book with the idea that the focus would be on time management, efficiency life hacks, organizational tips etc. All those things that self-help books tend to dig into. So when I started reading I was left a little surprised. The entire book was based on well-being and self-care.
The book starts with a challenge to take an honest and critical self-assessment of your well-being. I thought, I eat pretty healthy, I get decent sleep, I exercise. But here is the thing: whole well-being is more than this. I dug a little deeper. Maybe my self-care was only scratching the surface. Did my mind and my body need more? Was I actually holding myself back by believing the narrative that I am too busy for self-care?
In the “The Power of Full Engagement” Jim Loehr and Tony Swartz initially looked at well-being through the lens of professional athletes. Our culture values busyness and constant movement. A professional and life marathon basically. But here is the thing: even a professional marathon runner needs a break. And in fact the very best and elite athletes understand and practice intentional and even ritualistic disengagement in order to be fully engaged when most needed. Instead of a marathon maybe we have to see our life as a series of sprints with equally intense moments of disengagement and rejuvenation.
The book frames this idea through energy management in four key areas that build on each other: physical, emotional, mental and Spiritual. They argue that to be fully engaged we must have frequent and intentional disengagement that tap into each one of these areas with one building on another. I realized my definition of well-being had been so narrow as to only focus on the bottom of the pyramid. Perhaps this is why I never really felt fully rested or fully present in my relationships. This was a jarring truth. I took pride in building meaningful relationships. I even have on my resume that one of my skills is building relationships.
The lie I was telling myself that I had to constantly be productive and that meant I was performing at my best was preventing me from moving beyond physical self-care to emotional, mental and spiritual. And one of the impacts was not being fully engaged with my colleagues, my husband and even my daughter. This showed up in a surprising way when I took my daughter to work one day. The first thing she did was climb up into my chair, pick up the phone and start typing. Here was my mirror and I didn’t like what I saw.
Loeh and Swartz go on to more precisely define each of the four areas as well as rituals that lead to being fully engaged in each one. What I ultimately took away was we have to disengage in meaningful and intentional ways in each of these areas to be our best at work and at home. This is also highly individual. Maybe this means actually working out less or taking an inventory of your values or, dare I say, drinking less coffee. While I am starting to find clarity in what this means for me I know for certain that to show up and be who I want to be I can no longer buy into the myth that being busy means I am performing at my best.
Loehr, J., & Schwartz, T. (2005). The power of full engagement: Managing energy, not time, is the key to high performance and personal renewal (1st Free Press trade pbk. ed.). New York: Free Press Paperbacks
Immigration and National Identity
Honorable Gregory J. Donat, Senior Consultant, Grays Peak Strategies
Liberty Fund was founded in 1960 by Pierre F. Goodrich, an Indianapolis lawyer and businessman, to the end that some hopeful contribution may be made to the preservation, restoration, and development of individual liberty through investigation, research, and educational activity.
Earlier in June, I was fortunate to attend a Liberty Fund Colloquium in Santa Fe, New Mexico entitled, “Immigration and National Identity”. The purpose of such Liberty Fund programs is bringing together a small group of people from academia and professional fields to conduct a Socratic roundtable discussion exploring human liberties. The Liberty Fund has held over 3,000 conferences using this format. These conferences are by invitation only, and have an interdisciplinary focus. The purpose is neither to convey a particular doctrine nor to reach any consensus. Rather, it is to provide a forum for a dialogue among active minds in pondering the ideas that have shaped civilization in general, and free society in particular.
The colloquium in Santa Fe considered the historical, economic, and cultural impact of both legal and illegal immigration. It was from the viewpoint of the country receiving immigrants, the country sending the immigrants, and the immigrants themselves.
The United States was created by immigrants settling the Atlantic coast and wave after wave of immigrants after that to the present day. One important attribute of American culture is the process of assimilation into the existing culture and the input into the evolution of our culture. The economic impact to the US has been significant in the short term and the long term. The influx of low skilled workers was a boom to the economy – and kept prices low to consumers and created increased growing of markets. The sending nations often suffered themselves due to loss of motivated workers and a “brain drain”. The immigrants themselves tend to excel particularly in subsequent generations. Our history was a series of recruiting low skilled workers in good times and limiting immigration in hard times. The physical expansion of the United States from the Atlantic to the Pacific as well as the economic growth to the Super Power status we hold today was created in large part on the backs of immigrants.
The United States is now confronted by a wave of immigrants from Mexico and Central America. The beginning of the current wave began as migrant farm workers often admitted legally as braceros.
The readings for the Colloquium presented the wide range of alternatives and opinions from a global economic world without borders; to the other extreme of closing the borders and decreasing the number of illegal immigrants coming into the United States. The fundamental question is “what is our goal in regard to immigration?” Do we consider refugees and those seeking asylum together with those seeking freedom and opportunity; or do we only admit those with the skills and talents we need. One of our primary criteria now is “family reunification”, but that is also open to debate. No one is content with the current status, but there is no clear path to the future.
The Liberty Fund program and readings from leading experts lays out the truly difficult choices America and all nations must address in our rapidly changing world.
Engaging Millennials in the Workforce
Part One - From the perspective of a Millennial entering the workforce - Addressing stereotypes and sharing the values that motivate.
Natalie Lillie, Intern, Grays Peak Strategies
“Millennials no longer work for you; they work with you,” says Jeff Fromm, Forbes contributor and millennial marketing consultant. This phrase coined by Mr. Fromm encompasses how Millennials contribute and improve team and company dynamics; they are slowly but surely shifting the culture of the workplace to ultimately reflect their values, both domestically and globally.
We’ve all heard the wildly disappointing stereotypes about this generation: “millennials are so lazy,” “millennials are too self-absorbed,” “millennials only care about themselves,” etc. Sadly, as this happens far too often, the unfavorable actions of a few have tarnished the reputation of the entire generation.
On the contrary, Millennials are an exciting, revolutionary, transformative, and fun group of young people that are eager to be a part of a team in order to influence the overall growth potential. In both my personal experience and according to my research, there are two main values that strike a chord in my millennial heart.
1. Having a Purpose
Millennials need to feel like the work they’re doing, the work they’re investing themselves and their time in, is worth it. They like to feel challenged and will throw themselves into a project if they feel like it tests them. Millennials view work as an entity that either ignites a fierce love of the work or catapults them into the next phase of their career, all the while changing them for the better. Millennials actively look for ways to transform the work place and infuse energy into the space, and I think Optimal Foraging Theory equates to Millennial functioning: translating this biological theory into a social one, Millennials care about maximizing their energy efficiently in order to yield richest benefits possible, and meaningful work yields the best work out of Millennials.
Millennials have always been about teamwork – we’ve always been about boosting each other up, inspirational collaboration, and pooling diverse ideas, thoughts, and skills together. As they’ve grown up with the Internet and social media at the tips of their fingers, Millennials aren’t used to being alone. They thrive in teams and group projects when they not only connect with the work, but care about the people they’re working with.
So, what does this mean, and how can we translate this into the modern-day workplace to cultivate the most productive and positive space? It means that the workplace/the office/the company/whoever is in charge needs to be more than a boss – they need to be a coach, and they need to be a leader. Networking and building relationships have been engrained in Millennial minds, and that idea manifests itself in the fact that a millennial, more often than not, is a “people person.”
With more Millennials than ever in the workplace, and more arriving every day, in order to yield the most positive company culture and results, there are two important notes to remember: 1) emphasize to Millennials how the work they’re doing is meaningful, and 2) make sure Millennials like and feel motivated by relationships with their co-workers and colleagues on team projects (and vice versa, of course!).
Part Two - Thoughts from my recent Multi-generational discussion on this topic. Strategies and Ideas for everyone involved.
Maureen Leif, President, Grays Peak Strategies
This past week I traveled home to Indiana to present at their state conference on how to lead a multigenerational workforce. It was such a fun group of attendees and we had representatives from the Silent Generation, the Boomers, Generation Y, and Millennials. We started off the session asking them to help us create a Word Cloud on their impressions of working with a multi-generational workforce. The most common word response was “Difficult”. I understand this response and the tension that can be created from having different generations in one organization. However, by having an understanding of the different attributes of the generations and by leading to the strengths they each bring to the table, you can bring all the generations together to work and live in harmony.
In a study, CFOs were asked, “In which one of the following areas do you see the greatest differences among your company’s employees who are from different generations?” The responses: Communication 80%, Adapting to Change 26%, Technical Skills 23%, Cross-Departmental Collaboration 14% and No Differences 7%. In our training we discussed ways to ease the tension between the generations and some of the advice included the following:
- Do not dwell on generational differences
- Provide opportunities for employees to get to know each other personally
- Focus on Collaborative Relationships- encourage debate/discussion
- Understand your generational differences and your staff makeup
- Preferred Methods of Communication
- What matters to your employees
- Cross-Generational Mentoring
- Studies show that colleagues learn more from each other than formal training
There seems to be a natural evolution to most things. Technology progresses, attitudes change, people adapt and it starts again. The problem is that it does not always happen at a pace we can predict, and especially in public sector work. We are often dealing with methods and technology that are not commonplace to a younger generation. In this workshop, the participants were interested in how to get Millennials to engage in the kinds of work that is still needed in the Child Support environment, but does not really come easy or naturally to this generation. The Millennials in the room were clear, they have the desire and the intellect to do whatever is needed, but there just needs to be recognition of the fact that what may seem simple and second nature to a previous generation might be completely foreign to them. The example given was customer service over the phone. There was a recognition from the Millennials that this was an important task, and they were willing to do this, but the managers needed to understand that they did not grow up talking on the phone, and may not have the level of comfort needed to be effective at this work. I came away from this workshop, like I often do, learning as I was teaching. As my colleague, Natalie points out in her article, and as I experienced in Indiana, they want to be engaged, and they want to make a difference. It is much more about the impact of the work than it is the methods or skills employed to do the work. It may be the Millennial generation that is reminding us of this, but I think everyone we work with probably feels this way to some extent. We spend a lot of time thinking and talking about the difference and the impact of Millennials in the workforce, and they have grown up with a completely different base of skills and technology. But in the end, we all want to do work that makes an impact and we all want to have the opportunity to grow and to learn. So maybe it’s not that we need to make a special effort to engage Millennials, maybe the experience of working with Millennials will help us all make a more meaningful connection to our work.
- Fromm, Jeff. "Millennials In The Workplace: They Don't Need Trophies But They Want Reinforcement." Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 15 Mar. 2016. Web. 03 July 2017.
- Kruse, Kevin. "How To Harness The Power Of A Millennial Workforce." Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 11 May 2017. Web. 03 July 2017.
- Lastoe, Stacey. "And This Is Why Millennials Get Such a Bad Rap." Free Career Advice. The Muse, 21 Mar. 2016. Web. 03 July 2017.
- Now, Prosper. "The New Millennial Values." Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 10 July 2012. Web. 03 July 2017.
- "7 Ways Millennials Are Changing the Workplace for the Better." NBCNews.com. NBCUniversal News Group, 29 June 2017. Web. 03 July 2017.
The Top Five Lessons I learned My First Year in Business
Maureen Leif, President, Grays Peak Strategies
Having a new business is somewhat like having a new baby. I don’t mean to undermine the significance of having a baby, I have had three and two are teenagers now. But like having a baby, starting a business sometimes keeps you up at night, it needs constant supervision, it’s hard, sometimes you feel overwhelmed and feel like you are doing it all wrong. However, when it looks up and smiles, you burst with pride and love. We became incorporated in 2015, but it took me another year to jump off the cliff and leave my beloved position at the Colorado Judicial Branch. I launched Grays Peak Strategies in June 2016 at the National Council of Child Support Director’s conference in Iowa. I left that conference feeling so supported and confident that I had made the right choice. I have been asked many times since Iowa how it is going and my frequent response is to be honest and say some days I feel like I am standing on top of Grays Peak yelling (in a very dramatic voice) “I am on top of the world!” and then other days I have pondered, “What have I done”. As I write this almost one year since Iowa, I am so excited about the future and proud of what my team has accomplished. I have reflected and here are my top 5 lessons of the first year in business.
Everyone wants to think of themselves as brave. There have been times however, when I felt scared and unsure. I have occasionally missed the comfort of knowing my job inside and out. By finding the courage to acknowledge my fear, I feel like I could overcome some of it and move forward to build the confidence I needed to take on daily challenges. This uncomfortableness in not always knowing what I am doing, is turning out to be the best part of the job! It has brought about some unique business offerings and creative business solutions. I thrive on trying to think outside of the box, but sometimes you must be brave to do that. If you surround yourself in life with people that are true supporters they will give you the strength to find you’re brave. I could not do this alone, I have a team and they give me the strength I need.
I admit that I am not always the most patient person and in business I have had to learn that patience is a virtue. Most of the work we do is in support of State and Local agencies. The people we get to work with are amazing, but the path to getting the work can be long and winding. From figuring out the different registration requirements for each opportunity, to working through proposal requirements and crafting a response that makes sense, there can be a lot of time passed between the idea and showing up for work. If we are fortunate to be awarded the work, we need to often fit our project priorities in with many other competing projects demanding the attention of the people we are there to serve. It’s hard sometimes as we all like to keep things moving and see results fast. But I find that patience is derived from keeping the focus on the end goal, and trying to end each day knowing we have done our best work.
There are some serious road blocks for small companies to get started. There are Request for Proposal requirements requiring years and years of company experience, there are requirements for references that are difficult to obtain when you are a new business, there is bureaucracy in obtaining Women Owned Business status, and the list goes on. Harvard Business Review described resiliency as the “ability to recover from setbacks, adapt well to change, and keep going in the face of adversity” Call it stubbornness or call it resiliency, but our team refuses to believe that there is not a way to overcome these barriers.
We have had to be adaptable and flexible in our approach. We are fortunate that we have partnered with some amazing people and companies who believe in us and our mission. Owning your own business takes a mental toughness I did not know I had. The experience has also given me resiliency in my personal life and modeling resiliency to my three daughters.
I have said something a million times over the last year and that is, “I learn something every day.” I have made mistakes. I have had accomplishments. I have learned from both. I know that my skill sets are not all encompassing, and that my number one job as President is to surround myself with smart and passionate people that do not all think like I do and then listen.
This is the most important lesson. It does not take owning a business to learn or know this, but what an important reminder that in everything, including entrepreneurship, we must just be ourselves. The whole reason I wanted to go into business is that I can bring a creative and fresh perspective to agencies and courts in reaching their goals. So, to try and mold my business approach to look like other businesses in the industry did not feel right. It took a long time to even name the company Grays Peak Strategies. For me, it had to reflect what I am passionate about and what I want to accomplish in my work. I want everyone I work with to feel that feeling of amazement of standing on top of their personal mountain peak. The story of how we came up with the name can be found at this link.
When I left a job I really loved at the Judicial Department to start Grays Peak Strategies, I did not want to just do any type of work to stay in business, I committed to ensuring that I stayed true to doing work I am passionate about and with people that inspire me. There is nothing more inspiring than working with people that are passionate about what they are doing and do not mind having a little fun in the process. I like the idea that our work, although hard, can bring great joy. We can have serious goals and objectives, and yet find ways to make the work fun, creative and exciting. As leaders, it is our job to inspire and I may be biased, but I tend to be inspired by people that don’t take themselves too seriously. That is one reason that Grays Peak Strategies is hosting a 1st Annual Trek to the Top on August 19th where we will guide and assist friends and family on a hike to the top of Grays Peak with a BBQ cookout to follow. Check out this link for more information and to sign up! It’s going to be a challenge, but trust me it will be fun and there is nothing better than standing on top of a 14,270-foot peak overlooking the Colorado Rocky Mountains!
So, rather than an article titled, “The 365 Lessons I have Learned in my First Year of Business” which only my mother would read all the way through, I am focusing on my top 5 lessons: be brave, be patient, be resilient, be yourself, and have fun. I think whether you own your own business, run an agency, lead a team, or are an individual contributor these are good reminders for us all.
 Andrea Ovans, “What Resilience Means, and Why it Matters” Harvard Business Review, January 5, 2005, https://hbr.org/2015/01/what-resilience-means-and-why-it-matters
The Power of Empathy
Maureen Leif, President, Grays Peak Strategies
I sat with my mom as her Dr. came into to explain how the biopsy was going to go. I anticipated that the Dr. would talk quick and we would be confused or maybe even overwhelmed, and that if we had any questions we would have to ask quick. He shook our hands, and to my surprise he talked clearly, slowly and used normal language. He stopped several times and asked if we had questions. What surprised me the most was that he was empathetic and caring. He cared about us as people. He has done this procedure thousands of times and yet he made us feel like this was the most important appointment he had. As I left, I was reminded that how Dr. Mencini treated my family today was how we should treat our parents involved with the child support and court systems.
The child support system is full of acronyms and legalese language that can be confusing and overwhelming to parents. Like the medical field was to my family, we are discussing stressful and life altering events and facts that can’t really be changed. Child support impacts, children, money, relationships, and employment. These are often of the biggest stressors in life. Empathy means listening, being open, and displaying understanding. We may not realize it, but we can make a lasting impact and difference on the outcome of a case by treating our child support clients with empathy.
There are some easy ways that child support and court personnel can display empathy. Have you ever been in an appointment where they spend more time looking at their computer than looking into your eyes? How does it make you feel? In the medical field, “Many studies have documented lower patient satisfaction when physicians spend more time looking at the computer and performing clerical tasks,” Dr. Susan Hingle, a professor of internal medicine at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine wrote. So as long as the Dr. is good at what they do, does it matter how the patient feels? Yes, “Patient satisfaction can affect health outcomes via adherence to the care plan”[i]. This same analogy can be used in what we do with working with parents at the courts and at child support offices. If the parties that we work with feel valued, understood, and that they system is fair they will be more likely to comply with the orders. When they comply with orders, they not only benefit, but so do the children in our caseloads.
It is important to train our staff on empathy. It is just as important to customer service, as how to use the computer system. In a recent training on customer service that we put on we not only trained the child support workers on how to exhibit empathy to the clients, but also to each other. It is important for self-care and job satisfaction when we all treat each other with empathy and understanding.
There are other easy ways to increase empathy into our work. Listening sounds easy but it can truly be an art. Try to be present and make eye contact. Active listening means trying to validate someone’s perspective during a conversation. Make a human connection with the person, ask them a personal question and let them know you see them as a person and not a case number. It is also important to examine our own attitudes. Our work is hard, and sometimes emotionally taxing. Just know that when you make that effort you are impacting families in a real concrete way. I was reminded of this the hard way - My mom’s diagnosis turned out to be breast cancer. Although we are frightened and overwhelmed, we also feel like we are cared for and that Dr. Menicini is going to be there for us during the fight ahead. This emotional experience has reminded me that it is not cutting edge technology or anything fancy that matters, at the heart of it, it is human connection and empathy for your fellow man.
 Bruce Japsen, “For Every Hour with Patients Doctors Spend Two Record Keeping” (2016, September 6) https://www.forbes.com/sites/brucejapsen/2016/09/06/for-every-hour-with-patients-doctors-spend-two-record-keeping/#13a94a122950
5 Steps to Running a Fun and Effective Meeting
Maureen Leif, President, Grays Peak Strategies
“I walked out of the meeting with a smile, motivated and excited to get working on the project”…. Or “I walked out and wanted that hour of my life back.” If you are in charge of the meeting, you get to help decide what people’s mindset it after they leave your meeting. The gооd nеwѕ is that there are 5 easy steps to help ensure you have a meeting that people will want to come back to. When done wеll, a structured meeting саn bе a valuable tооl for pushing your tеаm’ѕ progress forward. You are the leader, so ensure you have a set agenda, gather feedback ahead of time, invite the right people and manage to the clock.
Tips for your successful meeting
1. Sеt a gооd еxаmрlе frоm the ѕtаrt
If you wаnt еnеrgу and еngаgеmеnt frоm уоur organization, you nееd tо іnсludе those ԛuаlіtіеѕ whіlе they wаlk thrоugh thе conference rооm doors. Wе аrе еxtrеmеlу еmраthеtіс сrеаturеѕ. Wіthіn a tenth of a ѕесоnd, уоur tеаm gаugеѕ аnd mirrors your mood and еnеrgу lеvеlѕ. Thеу lооk to уоu fоr clues аbоut thе tone of the mееtіng. If you hаvе a dаrk сlоud over уоur head, the еnеrgу іn thе rооm ѕіnkѕ аnd thе meeting drаgѕ. If you are роѕіtіvе аnd energetic, thе meeting will be more lіvеlу and productive. Start the meeting off with a smile!
You tоо are wіrеd to рісk up on thе еnеrgу levels of оthеrѕ аnd mirror thеm bасk. Don't lеt аnу nеgаtіvіtу ѕwау уоu from уоur assertive ѕtаtе. Stау fосuѕеd. If уоu want еmрlоуееѕ tо be frіеndlу, uрbеаt аnd еngаgеd, уоu hаvе tо be friendly, uрbеаt, аnd engaged. Lеаd wіth your body lаnguаgе аnd tоnе.
2. Mаkе a connection with еvеrуоnе іn the rооm
Some people have a hаbіt of ѕtаrtіng mееtіngѕ bу rеаdіng thе аgеndа. Evеrуоnе else tilts thеіr heads down to fоllоw аlоng, nоt mаkіng eye соntасt and сеrtаіnlу nоt соnnесtіng. Thе роіnt оf mееtіng face-to-face іѕ tо, well, mееt fасе-tо-fасе.
Mаkе it a рrіоrіtу tо buіld and mаіntаіn rарроrt ѕо that you саn foster соllаbоrаtіоn. Rеаdіng аn аgеndа ѕhоuldn't be your mееtіng ореnеr. It doesn't hаvе to bе a lоng monolog, juѕt a few ѕеntеnсеѕ about whу everyone is tоgеthеr and whаt you hope tо accomplish to set the tone. Start off with something interesting, a hook so to speak!
3. Remind every оnе of your greater mіѕѕіоn
Dоn't gеt ѕо fосuѕеd on thе minutia оf a mееtіng that you fоrgеt tо ѕtер bасk and see thе bіg рісturе. Remind еvеrуоnе thеу are working tоwаrdѕ a hіghеr рurроѕе аnd nоt juѕt сlосkіng mееtіng mіnutеѕ. Hоw does this mееtіng fіt іntо the оvеrаll vision? Hоw wіll this hеlр the соmраnу? How will it bеnеfіt thе tеаm? Hоw wіll thе discussion mоvе things fоrwаrd? Yоu will get more engagement іf еvеrуоnе ѕееѕ the bіggеr picture and buys into the vision. Millennials especially need to feel they have a purpose, so give them that chance.
4. Provide асtіоn ѕtерѕ
Before еvеrуоnе ѕсаttеrѕ tо their nеxt appointment, make ѕurе thеу knоw their next асtіоn steps. Rаthеr thаn delegating оr rеаdіng оff whо is іn сhаrgе оf dоіng what, аѕk еvеrуоnе іn the room to say a fеw wоrdѕ аbоut whаt they аrе реrѕоnаllу responsible fоr. Thіѕ hеlрѕ make ѕurе еvеrуоnе іѕ оn thе ѕаmе page and gіvеѕ уоu аn орроrtunіtу tо lіѕtеn аnd observe. Pay аttеntіоn tо what thеу say and hоw thеу ѕау іt. Hаvе thеу "bоught іn" tо thе іdеа? Iѕ thеіr body language congruent with whаt thеу аrе saying? Thіѕ іѕ уоur сhаnсе to dо ѕоmе pre-emptive damage control.
5. Acknowledge successes
Rесоgnіtіоn is аn іmроrtаnt раrt of buіldіng a роѕіtіvе сulturе. It's еаѕу tо gеt саught uр wіth dеаdlіnеѕ аnd think thеrе wіll bе high-fives and grоuр hugs whеn еvеrуthіng іѕ done, but thаt rarely hарреnѕ. Onсе оnе іtеm іѕ соmрlеtе, another is right around thе corner.
Recognition and praise should be оn your mental сhесklіѕt fоr еvеrу mееtіng. Yоu can always find ѕоmеbоdу dоіng ѕоmеthіng rіght. Juѕt mеntіоn іt. Sауіng, "I lоvе thе gо-gеt-'еm аttіtudе Jаnісе!" оr "Thаnk you for уоur thоughtful contributions tоdау Charlie," саn gо a lоng wау. It's іmроrtаnt to lеаvе the meeting on a positive nоtе.
Take your responsibility of leading meetings seriously. Challenge yourself to exceed the group’s expectation and have them leaving your meeting with a smile, motivated and excited to get started.
Collaboration is More Than Just a Buzz Word
Maureen Leif, President, Grays Peak Strategies
Col·lab·o·ra·tion is by definition the action of working with someone to produce or create something. It is not working on the same project separately. It seems in the world that we operate today that collaboration is more than a “nice to have”, but a “must have”. It always sounds so easy on paper, yet it can be complex, difficult, and frustrating. I had the good fortune of being able to attend a Partner Forum in Lansing, MI recently co-facilitating a conversation about collaboration with a hundred of their best child support professionals. The goal of the morning was to inspire them to think about collaboration differently, to be open to new ideas on how to collaborate and to exchange ideas and strategies about how to bring about better collaboration. I took it on as a personal goal to inspire them, however I also left the beautiful Michigan Hall of Justice inspired.
Having a shared vision for the group is the starting point for any collaboration. Do not assume that everyone in the group is going where you want to go, ask them. It is a lot easier to pack for a trip if you know where you are going. Do not discuss the vision once and then move on, talk about the vision early and often. If the group hits a stall start with figuring out if there has been a shift in the vision.
The strategies that we talked about revolved around the most common obstacles to effective collaboration: time, turf, trust and communication.
Time – Any collaboration has to be given adequate time and attention. In-person meetings can be time consuming, but incredibly effective if handled right. Assess if your meeting needs to be in person, set the agenda and circulate ahead of time. Respect for each other’s time is crucial to making the partnership work.
Turf – Ask yourself and the group if you have invited the right people? Have you ever been to a meeting where a few of the people do all of the talking? If no, you are lucky and can skip ahead. For the rest of us, ensure that everyone has a voice in the work. This will go a long way in getting buy-in and long term commitments to the overall project. Assess whether you could use an effective facilitator who is leveling any disparity of power (or perceived disparity of power).
Trust – Make sure the agenda is clear, and that people can trust that the purpose of the meeting has been stated, and that the decisions made will be honored. Trust needs to be evident among the leadership, it needs to be demonstrated in how work is done, how words are spoken, and how the results are accounted for. People need to also trust that they can share ideas without negative consequences.
Communication is key to almost everything we do and collaboration is no exception. I suggest that you take a pulse from the collaborative group on how the meetings or work is going. Be creative in new approaches to collaboration. There are a whole set of free online collaboration tools that can make distance collaboration a lot more fun and appealing than email too! Yes, I said free. If the group energy is lagging introduce new meeting styles like liberating structures (www.liberatingstructure.org) or something similar. Invites guest speakers to bring new ideas or perspectives to the group. One participant had a great suggestion that all too often we speak in lingo and acronyms. When meeting with your stakeholders and outside partners ensure that you take the time to be clear, and to use language that is inclusive and understood by everyone.
As you build a collaborative partnership, or make a conscious effort to be collaborative in your projects, remember to celebrate your successes along the way! One energetic woman in our group in Michigan suggested stating the meeting off with listing off the positives… what a great idea! Let everyone know what’s going right and build on that. Child support professionals are incredibly passionate people so tap into that and ensure that you are celebrating the diversity of perspectives. These celebrations will be a good use of time, help expand turf and encourage inclusiveness, build trust and encourage open communication.
If you would like us to help you build a strategy for Collaboration, contact us.
4 Steps to Creating More Positivity in the Workplace
Maureen Leif, President, Grays Peak Strategies
I had a difficult time last June turning in my badge and saying goodbye at my last job at the State Court Administrator’s Office in Colorado. I knew it was time to strike out on my own and take a leap of faith in starting a business, but it was still heartbreaking to walk out of the building for the last time. The job was incredible, I was able to use my brain and make an impact on policies for families and children and almost every day was fun. Is it wrong to have fun at work? Is an office filled with laughter and comradery mean people are not getting their work done? I argue that offices that are filled with positive energy are the most productive and efficient and that as leaders it is our job to create a positive work environment.
A recent study published in the Harvard Business Review shows that happier employees are more productive, innovative and help to create a work environment that your competition would be envious of. There are increased demands on employees and the stress can take a toll on their health and resiliency. There are small and inexpensive things that we as leaders can to do increase workplace positivity:
- Say Thank You
- Create Opportunities for Personal Growth
- Foster Creativity
- Celebrate Success
Just as important events should make an appearance on your calendar, so should time to practice thankfulness and appreciation. Take 10 minutes each day to find something to thank someone for. Did someone stay late, go the extra mile, or did they help a co-worker? It is great to recognize people publicly in the quarterly all hands meeting, but sending a quick email out frequently to thank people will pay dividends. Everyone wants to be appreciated and recognized, it is motivating and assures people that you are paying attention to what they are doing. Millennials have taken credit for appreciating training and personal growth opportunities, but everyone wants a chance to learn new things and have an opportunity to expand their horizon. Bring in outside trainers to help staff with leadership development, time management, customer service or other skills that are transferable among divisions. What about setting up an internal site visit program where people have a chance to sit with a colleague in a different division for part of a day and learn a different piece of the business? Make sure to give it a jazzy name and think outside the box. The two colleagues could give a report out at the next meeting about what they learned, or write a newsletter article. Which leads me to my next thought for creating positivity and that is to foster creativity. Allow team members to express ideas and be creative. It may allow for inefficiencies to be pointed out or it may lead to an idea for process improvement that nobody had thought of yet. When a person expresses an idea, your first response is ALWAYS, “thank you for bringing that to me, I like that you’re thinking about these ideas!” Are there projects on your to-do list that you could share with team members who are trying to stand out? Give them room for expressing themselves and foster creativity and stand back because there is magic to behold!
New employees often have a fresh set of eyes and should be encouraged to provide feedback and ideas. Mentorship programs are valuable and are not only a great on-boarding initiative, but even for seasoned employees can create a sense of friendship and teamwork leading to office positivity. Provide mentors and men-tees with additional training opportunities and a feedback loop where they can share their experiences with the team. Often just getting to know a team member on a personal level can lead to increased job satisfaction and the sense of being part of the greater mission. If you do not have time to oversee this program, refer to paragraph above and ask if there is a team member who would like to take a stab at building a mentorship program *again use a jazzy name.
All of this leads to the concept of celebrating. You know the situation where everyone has pitched in and worked tirelessly on something and before the ink is dry on the final report, the next high stress deadline is looming. I promise you that you have 15 minutes to take time to celebrate your success. The appreciation, recognition, and positivity that comes from celebration of success will lead your team right back to the top. Go person by person and say their name and say one personal compliment. “Jim, the way that you took those graphs and made them fancy was amazing, Joe you made the editing look easy, Jill, you stayed calm when things got tense and were a great teammate.” See that was not too bad and it was free.
To recap, do not fear fun, embrace it and be a leader who smiles and encourages fun, creativity and celebration of success. You will have more fun coming to work and your teammates will be happier, healthier and more productive and in the end make you look better too. Contact Us and we can help you come up with strategies to create a more positive workplace.
 “Proof that Positive Work Cultures are More Productive” By: Emma Seppala and Kim Cameron, Harvard Business Review, December 1, 2015 https://hbr.org/2015/12/proof-that-positive-work-cultures-are-more-productive
Onboarding can be the Key to Employee Satisfaction and Retention
Maureen Leif, President, Grays Peak Strategies
Hiring the perfect candidate is difficult. First you need an updated and meaningful job description and particularly in the Public Sector where responsibilities tend to shift over time, that is harder than you would think. Next comes the marketing and with millennials now making up such a large portion of the candidate pool, we need to diversify how we market on social media. Finally, you find yourself pouring over the resumes looking for the right candidates to bring in for an interview and I know most of the time that involves multiple interviews with multiple people. So, you find the candidate, hire them and then give yourself a pat on the back right? Not so fast. You’ve invested all this time and energy getting the right candidate and now your job is to provide a welcoming and positive experience for those employees with a strategic and organizationally adopted on-boarding process.
On-boarding is an important piece of giving new employees a good impression of the organization as well as assisting them in being able to learn how they can contribute. On-boarding also contributes to employee retention and overall job satisfaction. It is defined as a process in which the employee is given the information and skills to become an efficient contributor to the organization. This process effectively acclimates new employees to the correct skills, behaviors and office culture so that employees feel welcome and are able to understand how they fit and in how they can directly contribute their skills and talent to the performance outcomes.
For example, in child support program reviews, one of the themes that often appears is the importance of understanding how the work done by an individual in one unit directly impacts the entire child support process. New employees need to gain an understanding about the entire process of a child support case and why each piece is critical to the overall success. In child support cases, if one does not interact with the actual parents on a case, it is easy for a worker to loose context and not have a complete picture of what positive outcomes for a family child support can contribute to. On-boarding should involve shadowing co-workers from other departments to gain a better world view of a case. When I worked as a Child Support Attorney, It was often a common practice to provide opportunity for caseworkers to observe court and this also assisted staff in having a more complete view of the process.
There are several key points to consider in developing an on-boarding process:
- Leadership (Director, Managers and Supervisors) must be involved with the development and support of the on-boarding process
- Standardized on-boarding practices should be in place across the organization
- Involving all areas of operation for design, development and delivery of on-boarding process increases buy in and ensures it is carried out effectively
- Develop an office-wide tool/checklist for new managers to follow with new employees
- Develop interdepartmental communication protocols
- Implement continuous evaluation of your training program and on-boarding process to ensure they are current and effective
- Implement coaching or mentor network for new employees
- Evaluate new on-boarding processes with follow-up interviews and survey with new employees, make necessary changes based upon feedback
- Compare baseline employee retention rates with post implemented on-boarding rates to assist in getting a return on investment figure for plannin
Think back to your first day on the job. For many of us, after filling out some tax paperwork, and possibly meeting a few people who sit near us, we were left to our own devices. Maybe there was training at some point, depending on the job. Imagine how much better it could have been if there was a process in place designed to make you feel welcome, informed and part of the overall team? While getting a new job is most often a positive thing, it can also be very stressful, and a good on-boarding process can help alleviate that stress, and provide you with a more prepared and engaged workforce.
Need help devising an on-boarding strategy that works for your organization? Contact us and we can help you come up with a process that makes sense and achieves results.
The Power of Connection
Brenidy Rice, Court Programs Analyst, Colorado Judicial Branch
Recently Grays Peak Strategies had the opportunity to work with MAXIMUS and their staff at the Baltimore City Child Support Enforcement Office. For this project we were asked to deliver an innovative, fun and energetic customer service training to raise the bar for their staff. I had the privilege of being creative with my co-trainer, Maureen Leif. We spent months brain storming ideas and developing a plan of how to deliver the best training possible. When people typically think about training, the image of a dry lecture with half-asleep students comes to mind (or everyone on their phone). Fortunately, Maureen and I had the same vision of an interactive and exciting day where there was an exchange of ideas and best practices rather than a stale one-way lecture. Because training should be fun and maybe even an incentive.
Whenever I am planning a training I like to visualize a funnel. I start at the top with the largest amount of information and number of ideas and then work my way to the bottom to fine tune the focus of the material and approach. Planning for this training seemed to neatly follow my imagery but what was surprising to me was what ended up at the end. Maureen and I spoke to several key leaders about what they wanted to see in this customer service training. They gave us really great recommendations to build on and develop. We also spent time talking about context as an influence to high quality customer service. We heard from leaders from MAXUMUS that the Baltimore office had experienced a lot of change in a short period of time including changes in leadership. Any change, even good change, requires energy and can take a toll on people. So we asked ourselves, “What if we use part of the training to allow them to talk about their passions and the importance of self-care?”. What?!? How is this related to customer service? What will they think? Will they stand up mid-training and leave? Well, we took the risk. We took the risk to go off script a little and tune into the people.
We arrived in Baltimore the day before the training and spent the evening going over our outline and filling in the last of the details (over crab cakes and oysters of course). Having trained many years, the one thing I have learned is to be flexible. Being flexible means changing mid-course if necessary to make sure the audiences’ need are met. We were ready. We had our plan and backup plans.
One thing was immediately obvious when Maureen and I started the training. These people had passion. They believed in what they did and genuinely wanted to help people. Their energy was infectious. They dove deep into each discussion even when it meant disagreeing with each other.
Now for the risky business: active listening. Why was this risky? Well, because instead of defining active listening and then using bullet points to further describe the key characteristics of active listening…we asked them to do it. We asked people to get in groups of four and one person in the group was assigned to speak for one minute, uninterrupted, about something they are passionate about. The role of the other three group members was to listen. Just listen. The room came even more alive for that minute. People shared openly about their passion for comic books and creating community through gaming, mid-wifery and real estate.
So how is this related to customer service? One woman shared her passion and love for her home country’s food. She loved and missed authentic Caribbean food. It just so happened that earlier in the training this same person had a strong disagreement with another person. This person, that disagreed with her earlier, exclaimed he never knew how much she loved Caribbean food, and then said, “I’m going to remember this the next time I see you.” This is why connecting to others is at the very heart of high quality customer service. One minute of connecting to someone through listening to their passion extends to understanding, patience and compassion when conducting business.
So the next time they disagree on a professional manner, perhaps they will work together from a different place to resolve the issue that then extends to improved problem solving and resolutionwith the customer. This is powerful connection. And it took one minute. Training is an investment in your organization by investing in people. I am convinced the return on this investment is significantly more when we focus on personal connection.
Advancing the Conversation on Women in Leadership
Maureen Leif, President, Grays Peak Strategies
I am the oldest of three, born to a Judge and an artist. When my youngest sibling was born, he was the first boy in the family. At the hospital some of my dad’s friends said, “now you have a law partner”. My dad said, “I already had two” referring to my younger sister and me. I was fortunate to have this kind of support from my parents, and as a result of their guidance, and the guidance of many great teachers, coaches and other adults in my life, I gained confidence looked for opportunities to be a leader. However, during my tenure in college or law school the topic of women in leadership was not something that I ever heard about being discussed or studied. So how do young women who may not have the support or influence I had become leaders? How do we support women in leadership roles to thrive and succeed? In the past seventeen years of being in the workforce the topic has thankfully become more mainstream. There are people discussing it and studying it, and addressing this need.
Recently I was asked to coordinate a workshop on Women in Leadership to take place at a Child Support Conference. Child Support is a field with a lot of women in leadership roles, and this seemed like a great place to have this discussion. In preparation for this session, I have been reflecting on my own story. I have spent time discussing these concepts with successful women, listening to TED talks, listening to podcast, and reading a lot of articles. I have become interested in women’s experiences, how they’ve overcome obstacles, how they find balancing of motherhood, and how they have stuck with their vision. In having these conversations, I am learning a lot from not only the women in leadership roles that I admire, but I have learned a lot about myself. Everyone defines success differently and there is not one path to success. This is true and in my mind it has come down to three top themes:
1. Be Authentic. You don’t have to pretend you are someone you are not. Do what you are good at and do it your way. Successful women in leadership roles lead their own way. When someone expends time trying to pretend that they are something that they are not they often come across and disingenuous. Being genuine, authentic, and self-aware are major components of having emotional intelligence and having emotional intelligence is the key to being a good leader. Daniel Goldman wrote in one of the most enduring Harvard Business Review’s articles, “What Makes a Great Leader“….”emotional intelligence is the sine qua non of leadership. Without it, a person can have the best training in the world, an incisive analytical mind, and an endless supply of smart ideas, but he still won’t make a great leader.”
2. Be Brave. Sometimes we are too scared to make a change. It is easy to settle into security. However, think about the times you have experienced great personal growth, it is usually centered around some great challenge. Step out of your comfort zone and push yourself. The key for me on this one is to surround myself with supporters who encourage me to be brave. My successful friend and mentor, Stefanie Jones, President and Founder of Feed Media pushed me for years. So after 11 years I decided to leave the Judicial Branch. I decided it might never be the perfect time and if I was not brave and go out on my own now I might never do it. So this June after a lot of contemplation I started my own consulting company Grays Peak Strategies. I am lucky to have surrounded myself with some incredible colleagues who are also being brave with me! Today I opened a fortune cookie that said, “You will never need to worry about a steady income”. I hope that it was right, but either way, I am proud to have been brave.
3. Be Different. This one makes me think of my three daughters. I recently asked my 14 year old twins if they could run something to the neighbor’s house. They were too embarrassed. I joke with people that they are embarrassed just to exist. I get it, I was probably like that at 14 too, but I desperately want to teach them that it is ok to be different. Many successful women that I know got that way because they were able to differentiate themselves from the crowd. They try new things and take risk. Build your personal brand and remain true to that brand.
If I could add a 4th it would be to have fun. Let us be hard workers and be the best that we can but also know that life is short and having a little fun in what we do every day will make our lives that much more enriched and meaningful. In reflection, these secrets aren’t really secrets at all. Occasionally we need to take time to reflect on our vision and our personal brand. We need to ensure that we are where we want to be and who we want to be. If not, change it. We have to give ourselves, our colleagues, mentees, and daughters permission to be authentic, brave, and different. In case you were wondering, my sister and I both became lawyers and my brother became a writer and producer in Hollywood.
 “How Emotional Intelligence Became a Key Leadership Skill” Harvard Business Review. By: Andrea Ovans, April 28, 2015. https://hbr.org/2015/04/how-emotional-intelligence-became-a-key-leadership-skill
Creating a Culture of Optimism in Your Office
Maureen Leif, President, Grays Peak Strategies
If уоu talk аbоut орtіmіѕm, you will find no shortage of quotes, clichés, proverbs or stories to guide уоu. Орtіmіѕm is the original Amеrісаn drеаm. Have you ever had a period of time in your job where you felt like everything was right and hopeful? Why did you have those positive feelings? Were you connected to the mission of the organization, felt like you had purpose, felt valued as a whole person, or all of the above?
Studies have shown that optimistic people heal faster, perform better, live longer and rероrt more hарріnеѕѕ аnd fulfіllmеnt in thеіr lіvеѕ. Likewise, optimistic еmрlоуееѕ wоrk harder, longer аnd with a mоrе іnnоvаtіvе spirit. Oрtіmіѕtіс сuѕtоmеrѕ bеlіеvе in the vаluе оf what уоu аrе ѕеllіng, аnd are more satisfied with the purchase or experience.
So how can you cultivate a culture of optimism in your organization? Culture іѕ simply the unwrіttеn ѕеt оf rules within уоur organization. The first thing to understand is that optimism is a choice we can all make. It can be an easier choice if you are making your goals, and things are going well, but it is an even more important choice when things are challenging. Optimism is not a reflection of what is happening, rather, it is a reflection of what you believe CAN happen. It is belief in the people around you, belief in the mission, and belief that you can and will be successful. Here are some strategies to put you on the path to creating an optimistic culture.
- Lеаd by еxаmрlе. Show the people you work with that you believe in the mission and goals of the organization, and make it clear that you believe in a positive future and in success in meeting your goals.
- Check in with your team members often and ask questions to understand obstacles or stressors that going on. Do not be afraid of eliciting negative feedback. This feedback is valuable and can help you prioritize your efforts in getting that culture of optimism back. Practice saying, “Thank you for telling me this”.
- Take action on the issues at hand. Understanding stress and obstacles is important, but addressing them is critical. You can’t solve everything, and some solutions take time, but let the people around you know you not only heard them, but you are working to do something.
- Highlight success and celebrate accomplishments. It can be difficult to take your attention away from problem areas, but paying attention to success and celebrating accomplishments will help the entire organization focus on the positive, and put issues and challenges in perspective.
- Foster transparency. Employees who are nervous and operating under suspension of what is happening within the organization lack trust. Lacking trust will lead to decision making that is fear-based and often times will not be beneficial to the organization. If you do not know the answers to their questions, practice saying, “I know this is important to you and I do not know the answers at this time”.
- Personalize your interactions. Employees are whole people. They have personal lives and understanding and getting to know them on that level builds trust and increases optimism. Foster team building opportunities and manage teams to their strengths and interest. For example, if you have creative team members, let them use those skills to work on a marketing or outreach plan. If you have people that like to write, have them write an article for the agency newsletter. Practice saying, “What is your dream”? Help your employees find purpose and make sure that you are clear on your own purpose.
Studies show that optimism is one of the characteristics that aligns with overall satisfaction of life. Optimism means that you believe that your future is bright and you have things to look forward to and you feel positive about the direction you are headed. Likewise, an optimistic work culture means that people are satisfied in the direction the organization is headed, feel positive about the future and have trust in the team. Optimism is fundamental to our personal well-being and to the well-being of your organization. In our personal lives, optimism builds resilience against stressors and improves overall health. Likewise, an optimistic culture at work improves the health of the organization and puts you in the position to be innovative, forward thinking, and creative.
Following these strategies can put you on a path to creating an optimistic culture at work. GPS can help you tailor an approach specific to your organization, your goals and the successes and challenges that make up your day. Contact Us for more information and ideas.
Articles previously published on Grayspeakstrategies.com can be found at THIS LINK in our Articles Archive
Archived Articles include
- Attracting and Hiring Millennials as workers in Government Agencies
- Compass Guiding Principles of Change Management
- Six Strategies to Ensure Implicit Bias Isn’t Impacting Your Outcomes
- Servant Leadership
- An Ounce of Premortem is worth a Pound of Success
- Networking and Letting Go of Fear
- Access to Justice; an issue that resonates from Hong Kong to Indiana and all points between
- Child Support Problem Solving Courts, The Colorado Experience
- Warning! Communication Challenges Ahead
- So you want to start a Problem Solving Court...
- Project Management: Where Common Sense Goes to Die