Author: MarlaGottschalk

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, who specializes in work survival strategies, corporate culture and organizational change. Her goal is to blend the disciplines of psychology and business to help 21st century employees and organizations excel.

Is Loneliness a Growing Factor When We Work Remotely?

 

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To be honest, I’ve really never been a “joiner”. In college, I didn’t feel the need to belong to clubs or pledge a sorority to feel connected. (I landed with a few grad students in Psychology my senior year and that seemed enough.) When I worked in an office, I continued to enjoy conversing with other like-minded individuals on a regular basis. Meetings never seemed a chore — as discussions of challenges and up-coming projects somehow ticked a box for me. (It was the debate that I relished really.) However, even knowing my past habits — I never dreamed I’d miss face-to-face discussions, as much as I do.

I’ve been working remotely for years now — and I’ll freely admit it has its lonely moments. Certain aspects of working from home are fantastic. But, somehow all of the journal articles, posts and projects aren’t the same without a work group nearby.

I often wondered if my coaching clients who work remotely, felt the same. Turns out, many of them do.

This week I had the chance to read an eye-opening piece at Slate, concerning the stigma associated with an admission that we feel lonely (even if only from time to time). In it, the author describes the immediate inclination we have to connect loneliness with being “less than” (or dare I say “loser”). That has to stop. Because, it’s simply not true. Research completed by MIT Sloan, has explored this concern as applied to our work lives, discussing the isolation and lack of visibility that may come along when working remotely. The negative by-products of working remotely won’t affect all of us, as we are individuals — however, potential issues should be on the radar.

Discussions are incomplete if we fail to address the common by-product of occasional loneliness. Even with all the available social networks, we need to feel real connection — not simply increase the amount of ambient chatter.

I have a couple of ideas for this. I’m sure we’ll uncover a number of other strategies. Here are a few for starters:

  • Check in frequently. Make a concerted effort to speak with someone in your office daily. Whether this is your manager, mentor or colleague — this will help retain a sense of belonging.
  • Visit your home office. Even if you are fully enjoying your remote work life, make plans to visit your home office as time and travel allow. If you are already feeling disconnected and you are within a reasonable distance, get there once a week. If possible, attend meetings that reinforce how you, and your work, fit into the larger picture.
  • Facilitate “on-site” sabbaticals. If you are affiliated full-time, you might consider spending a couple of weeks a year at the home office. Beyond the challenge of organizing proper a work space, this could allow far-flung colleagues to interact in-person for an extended period of time. This could do wonders for both team-building and strategy concerns.
  • Join a co-working space. Co-working is the perfect solution if you miss the “goings on” of office life. Most cities have at least a couple to choose from, so visit them and get a sense of the vibe. A friend of mine owns The Watercooler in Tarrytown, New York. I can attest that it is a bastion of “connectedness”.
  • Schedule “meet-ups”. With differences in location and time zones, in can be difficult to get on the same schedule. This limits communication and a feeling of being connected. Identify a time of day, when you know you can intersect “time-wise” and speak — and hopefully a ritual will develop. You could also investigate an “always on” virtual workroom, with a tool such as Sqwiggle, that facilitates spontaneous communication.

Do you work remotely? Share your strategies to limit remote loneliness here.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto. She is also serves as an Influencer at LinkedIn.

The Epic Fail: It Happens to the Best of Us

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I’ll have to admit, after seeing the above photo plastered across social media — I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the unfortunate employee (intern perhaps), who left the less-than-period-proper water bottle on the set of Downton Abbey. I also thought this might be a great time to have a brief refresher on the topic of workplace mistakes.

A few thoughts:

  • It happens to the best of us. As the above photo attests, even consummate professionals have their moments. In many cases we are too tired, stressed or rushed to do our best work. (A classic work life scenario.) If we can learn anything from this, it is to pace ourselves and recognize when we are fading.
  • Have the courage to own it. Have you ever had a discussion with an individual who just would not admit they had anything to do with a snafu? Do you recall just how frustrating that was? Many of us feel that we must be perfect at all times — and this is entirely unreasonable. (We cannot prevent re-occurrences if we do not understand what really has happened. Remember this the next time around.) It’s human to make a mistake. However, the first person you must forgive is yourself.
  • If possible, turn things around. After the shock of the moment has passed, if you can possibly see the humor (or an opportunity) in the error — change the vibe completely. In response to their error, the folks at Downton published this photo, recognizing that indeed they are not perfect — while making the most of the moment to draw attention to a worthy cause.

How have you handled work life mistakes? Share your strategies.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto. She is also serves as an Influencer at LinkedIn.

Photo: @DowntonAbbey

The Power of 3

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In the design realm there is a well-known phenomenon named “The Power of 3″. It prescribes that when you desire to make an impact with color or pattern, it’s best to repeat them. The rule has been applied to other arenas as well — think of the “Rule of three” as applied to writing, the “Rule of thirds” in photography — or even the magical combination of the The 3 Tenors.

In work life, the power of 3 might help us to become better change agents. When contemplating change, we (as human beings) require multiple exposures to a new idea or path before it is finally woven into our work lives. (I believe this protects us on some level from charlatans and fads.) Time and time gain, I’ve seen worthy ideas posed, yet it  can take time and considerable energy for the bulk of the message to be absorbed. Often the moment for change is lost. (In fact, researchers who pose amazing theories often move on to new horizons, before we entirely catch up.)

Could we utilize the “Power of 3″ to make those changes come to life in our own workplaces? When you do have an idea that warrants attention — let’s ensure that it has real impact. Here is one “tripod” of potential influence to consider:

  • Recognize the emotional response. You’ll know when this happens to you — the light bulb switches to the “on” position. You realize you are “on to something”. Inspiration has found you. You might think to yourself: “I do this and it works for me. Would this work for others?”, or “I used to do that, and I stopped. Now things are much, much worse. Is there a correlation?” Own those moments and offer them the deference they deserve.
  • Start the conversation. Express your idea (yes, out loud!) to someone else. Get feedback. Make improvements. Craft a meaningful conversation around the idea. Add a bit of research to round out your “platform”. (I think Nilofer Merchant’s TED Talk, about our penchant for sitting, represents this perfectly in less than 4 minutes! See it below.)
  • Capture the idea for others. Offer your idea a beautiful visual mechanism — so that your idea can continue, and be shared by others. Find the vehicle that best communicates your vision. You can explore great methods to grow its impact, such as Prezi, Ignite or Slideshare. You may even want to write a brief TED style talk.

Don’t rest until you’ve harnessed all 3 elements. Hopefully with this trio on your side, your ideas can take flight.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto. She is also serves as an Influencer at LinkedIn.


Photo: Don Bodio

I’m Glad I Took That Vacation. Take Yours.

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I’ve always been a “staycation” advocate. Alright — I’ll be entirely honest, I really love to hang out in my home office and work. Personally, I have found that vacations away from home, can actually become stressful. There are routes to to decipher, planes to catch, maps to re-fold, thunderstorms (and hail) to contend with and new routines to master. (Might I add, leaving my trusted coffee maker behind).

However, these are not satisfactory excuses. We all need a break. We likely feel this deep in our bones.

Whether you can devote an entire month, a couple of weeks or just a couple of days, a break should become a priority. (Preparation is important.) Even if you qualify as a die hard “staycation” addict — there are advantages to planning a vacation away from your usual milieu.

Here are just a few:

  • You’ll catch a glimpse of you. Somehow when your surroundings shift, you become “louder”. (What is that inner voice muttering?) With the ambient noise of your work life absent, you’ll hear yourself much more clearly. Trust me, your work will benefit from this kind of clarity. Knowing yourself is step one toward a healthy, and productive work life.
  • Nature can take over. I am officially obsessed with changes in scenery. A new scene through my viewfinder, provided by the power of mother nature — recharges my mind (and soul) in a manner that I cannot even begin to describe. This time around I requested “a room with a view” (and got one) — Grand Traverse Bay was a breathtaking part of my morning routine. Work rarely entered my mind.
  • Your metrics shift. It may take a couple of days to get into the groove — but, once over the hump — your days will be measured in a very different manner. The places you’d like to visit and the people you haven’t had the time to really connect with in ages, become your focus. Other priorities do begin to fade.
  • Time slows. For the first time in quite a long while, the passage of time wasn’t quite as fast. Time away from work allows you the luxury of savoring the moment. My only regret? I wish the break lasted just a tad longer. Next year I’ll be sure to make the effort to extend the time frame.

I would love to hear your vacation experiences. Share them in comments.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto. 

Photo Credit: M. Gottschalk – Chateau Chantal Winery & Inn, Traverse City, Michigan, USA.

Making Sense of Your Metrics

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Most of us utilize metrics in one form or another. For better or for worse — they often become the focus of our day-to-day behavior. Monitoring metrics can be vital. However, when metrics begin to conflict with core values and long-term sustainability, it’s time to take a second look. Unfortunately, metrics can develop a “darker side”, that can spell trouble for your team. As reflected in this post at HBR, “…the wrong performance metrics will undermine good intentions every time.” In that regard, consider how your team utilizes them. Do the metrics you monitor offer the information your team requires to move forward? Are they pulling their weight?

Metrics should reflect key facets of performance, while supporting both mission and vision. However, in some cases, they can fail to help us identify developing issues. Recently, I spent time with an organization that was grappling with metrics that did not offer a complete vantage point to help them evolve and gain market share. While they kept a close on eye on sales data and leads funneling into their system, there were relevant performance criteria not captured in monitored metrics. (Here, late project changes occurring months after the original contract.) When they pulled back “the curtain” of sales performance, it was clear that this information had not been actively acknowledged. As such, the team was not alerted to the pattern of costly fixes down the line.

An oversight such as this develops when performance effectiveness is not fully considered as metrics are chosen and developed. Identifying facets of successful performance must occur first — then the metrics to parlay that information are identified. We often become comfortable with aging or incomplete set of metrics, because they are available. However, these choices are critical, because ultimately what is measured — is valued organizationally.

The simple act of choosing a metric can ignite a cascade of behavioral expectations, which may or may not contribute team success or the benefit of customers. (For example the goal of closing sales quickly or monitoring the length of a customer center call, etc.) Furthermore, if metrics are chosen without considering the impact upon product or service delivery systems, serious ramifications can arise. (More on metrics and “performance perversity” at the VA, here.)

Reviewing the usefulness of your metrics at regular intervals, is key. Ask these questions:

  • Are metrics robust? Ideally, a set of metrics should represent the dynamic nature of the work that you complete. Ensure that all facets or your work are represented and that your collected numbers offer a broad view.
  • Are they “change worthy”? As discussed here, data is often prevalent — but insights are rare. We might collect endless numbers (at a high cost in both time and resources), which actually offer few clues as to help us improve. Remember that data and metrics are two very different things.
  • Do your metrics direct behavior? Metrics are only as useful as the behavior they energize. When considering a metric, reflect on its power to truly impact behavior across functions. Be wary of “Vanity Metrics“, that can pack a powerful marketing message — yet do little to guide behavior.
  • Are the metrics meaningful? While information needs to be readily availableit also must must capture something vital about your organization. For example, do metrics help your team connect with their work?
  • Where are metrics focused? “Lagging” metrics report on states that have already occurred (lost customers, for example). “Leading” metrics, on the other hand, might help predict a developing problem and offer an opportunity to change a process mid-stream.
  • Are the metrics dynamic? Metrics should evolve with the changing focus of your team. (You might utilize the 80-20 rule; where 80% of your metrics represent your current focus, 20% represent areas of needed future performance emphasis.) Outdated metrics can “muddy the waters” and cause a good deal of confusion concerning valued behaviors. Metrics can have an “expiration date” — when they lose their value to promote performance excellence.

Other considerations:

  • Avoid the “single number” emphasis. Any construct worth measuring (such as sales effectiveness or customer service), is likely multidimensional. Ensure that your metrics reflect this.
  • Consider who utilizes the numbers. The heaviest, most demanding users must be carefully considered when developing metrics. Discuss the needed information required to monitor the health of a department or function, frequently.
  • Measure what matters, yet ensure they are easily understood. Metrics can become complicated quickly — but ultimately must be easily grasped. Your metrics should be informative and allow you to explain the crux of your business easily.
  • Refine them. No single metric is a perfect representation of performance. Attempt to factor out “white” noise, that might limit real-time use. You might also consider combining leading indicators to form a clearer picture of performance.
  • Share them. Metrics can help motivate others within the organization — so share the numbers with those whom might benefit the most. This will help team members align with the larger goals of the organization.
  • Add a qualitative component. You cannot measure something that is completely out of your purview. Keep abreast of developing areas that affect performance and ensure you have a handle on the leading edge.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto. 

Photo Credit: londondailyphoto.blogspot.com

What We Can Learn About Leadership From Comcast’s Nightmare Customer Service Call

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Wow. Don’t get me started. My son has just spent the last 4 weeks trying to force Comcast to keep their promises to him. As a recent college grad, money really matters — and they really couldn’t care less. Getting his business was the only goal. Keeping him as a customer going forward — well that seems to be a message entirely lost on them. If he had another viable choice for high-speed internet (he’s a gamer), he we would take it. Immediately. He cannot stand them.

To tell you the truth I thought my family’s collective experiences with Comcast were simply random. (We recently discovered that we were being charged for a year’s worth of a router we did not have on premise.) However, after doing a bit of digging, I’m now convinced there may be serious problems lurking there. This week, Comcast’s darker side was fully exposed in a viral call center exchange that really is more than unbelievable — it’s ominous. Comcast, is now one of the two most hated companies in the country. As a leader, I would be very, very concerned.

We can learn from their uproarious blunder. In particular, quite a lot about leadership. Here we go:

  • Don’t close your doors. Ultimately, this rarely occurs within an organization where positive leadership has a strong, visible presence. This isn’t one incident, there is a pattern here. Yes, you may be an industry monolith. But that doesn’t absolve you of the responsibility to be front and center — driving home key messages that will sustain your business long-term. Don’t lock yourselves in an office — light years away from your customers.
  • Talk is cheap, but your actions really speak. I don’t think the mission of Comcast is “Irritate Customers Beyond Belief”. However, the behavior of the company is certainly communicating that message to us. Communicate the mission/vision within your organization completely. If not well understood, everyone will have their own ideas. Leaving something so critical to chance is very, very unwise.
  • Listen, listen, listen. Then listen again. Do you recall when customers would be required to wait all day to have someone hook up their service? Comcast adjusted this policy (and even offered $20 if they didn’t hold up their end of the bargain). Talk to your customers often. Are service plans confusing? Is your pricing structure likened to hieroglyphics? Do you fail to reward long-term customers for their patronage? Be aware.
  • Your people are a reflection of your brand. How did that call center representative come to believe that he should never, ever allow a customer leave of their own free will? I’m sorry, your employees often reflect leadership’s take on customers. He thought that was OK. It wasn’t.
  • Your company is at risk. When leadership fails to communicate the very core of a service organization’s creed (which would include exhibiting basic respect toward customers), it shows something vital. That, at the end of the day, you may not really care. That undoubtedly spells trouble for your business when viable competition shows up…and of course, it undoubtedly will.

What advice can you offer Comcast? Sound off here.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist, speaker and coach You can also find her on Twitter and Linkedin.

Want to Launch Your Career? Try These Strategies

 

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With all that is written about how organizations are evolving to engage today’s employees, I can’t help but think about the opportunities that we have as contributors to transform those very same organizations. Our own actions shape our careers, and the fact remains that workplaces are built upon a two-way partnership — where both employers and employees contribute to eventual success.

I would venture to say, that the dynamic between the two becomes more vital with each passing day. Yes, the door swings both ways.

To consider this, we should examine the unspoken “organizational contract” that we make with our employers. What should we (as employees) do to maximize our contribution? I’ve talked to supervising managers (from sales to consulting) to get a handle on the attributes they often see in their high potential contributors.

Here’s a list based upon that feedback:

  • Strive to be industry savvy. If your are not keeping up with the current  “hot buttons” in your industry, you are probably letting yourself and your employer down. The internet offers endless possibilities to tackle industry specific topics. (You can have a brief chat with an in-house expert as well.) Get up to speed as quickly as you can.
  • Bolster your level of business acumen. Not sure how your role affects the bottom line? What your boss really does? Do you understand exactly how your organization makes and loses money? Devote an hour a week to develop this business “muscle”.
  • Take a broader view of your work. When completing an assigned project, try not to simply just check off tasks on your “to do” list.  Always focus on the end-user — whether it is an outside client or someone within the organization. How can you craft your work so it becomes more valuable to them?
  • Work with a sense of urgency. High potential employees see the necessity to build a clear road map and stay on task. As one Senior Vice President described, “They get up in the morning, have a plan, and want to accomplish their goals”.
  • Ask about company initiatives. Be as concerned about your organization as you would like them to be about you. Inquire about current challenges and initiatives. Offer help where appropriate — you’ll be the better for it.
  • Know your fellow team members. Are you assigned to a team? Being a team member is an art form — and an important part of work life today. So, do your research. You’ll be more invested in your team if you know the backgrounds of your fellow team members. If you have a tendency to “turn off” opposing opinions, you may look at things quite differently, when you know a little more about the source.
  • Don’t play the career comparison game. Career progress is an individual process. It may be frustrating when a fellow employee climbs the career ladder more quickly than you — but there may be a perfectly good reason. Don’t “abandon ship”. Trust in your value, and have confidence that you will also excel.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist, speaker and coach You can also find her on Twitter and Linkedin.