Are You in a Zombie Workplace?

Okay, it’s a little dramatic but it also brings to light a growing trend in the business world today.
Crashing economies, cutbacks, layoffs, and uncertainty leads people to become less engaged in the workplace.
Last year, I wrote about a Forbes magazine article that quotes a Gallup survey stating that over 70% of U.S. workers are less engaged in the workplace.
If that doesn’t shock you, it should!  If you are a small business owner with employees, it should also scare you.

Your Business is in Danger

Engaged TeamAs a business owner, you are especially vulnerable to the consequences of dis-engaged employees.  Teams grow divisive; managers treat employees badly; employees treat each other and customers badly; office theft goes up; productivity goes down drastically.
These people come and they go, they do the 9 to 5, they grow through the motions and do the minimum work to get by, and are not fully engaged.
Everyone loses.
LEADERS are to blame.
Everything Rises and Falls on Leadership -John Maxwell

Six Rules of Engagement

If you are a leader in your environment, here’s some things you can do to fix that and help prevent the zombification of yourself or your employees.
  • KNOW YOUR SELF – Too many times, people don’t realize THEY are the problem.  You have probably worked for a leader who blames lazy employees, ethnic, racial, or generational cultures, bad economies, and a myriad of other reasons for why things aren’t going well.  If you are a leader and your people aren’t following, YOU are the problem.  Fix it.
  • GROW YOUR SELF – This is how you fix it.  You can’t change them, you cannot change things like the economy or anything else beyond your control.  What you can do is change YOU.  Learn to become more optimistic, learn to develop the characteristics that you are seeking in employees.  When I was a manager, I used to brag about how I made a point of hiring people better and smarter than me.  That was so wrong.  I couldn’t possibly do it.  You attract what you are, not what you wish.  If YOU grow, you’ll find yourself getting the kind of people you desire.
  • KNOW YOUR PEOPLE– Connect with them.  It’s through relationships that people build trust, respect, and more like they are a part of things when they feel connected with you.  When you can answer the three questions everyone asks in virtually ANY kind of relationship, then you can connect and influence them and they will become engaged.  The three questions you must answer are:
    • Do you CARE for ME?
    • Can you HELP ME?
    • Can I TRUST YOU?
  • FOCUS ON THE STRENGTHS – Yours and the people you work with.  Focus on how you can best use the strengths they have to compensate for your weaknesses and help accomplish the company’s goals.  That’s what a TEAM is all about.
  • REWARD THE BEHAVIORS YOU WANT – Not a lot of people do this.  They spend more time rewarding they don’t like, but you want to spend time rewarding the behaviors you desire.  Empower people, trust people, encourage people to accomplish the things you want them to do.
  • TAKE IMMEDIATE ACTION – when necessary; which is not the same as impulsive action.  Don’t react impulsively, take the time to think about the appropriate response and then take the action now.  People will respect you more for taking considered, decisive  immediate action than if you hem and haw or you are impulsive.

What are some ways you have seen organizations engage their employees?

Find the Unique Sweet Spot

Stand out by being uniqueHow do you get to the point where you can truly embrace the weirdness, or uniqueness if you prefer, that is you?  This is a real solid challenge.  We know it is because you and I can look around us and see people who have no clue even that they are unique, let alone what that uniqueness is.  It is demonstrated in the way they jump on the latest fad as if they were missing the bus.  They line up for hours to buy the very latest iPhone or gadget, gotta wear the latest fashion, toss down the most recent popular drink, or try the latest adventure.

When I was in college I applied for a job as a bartender at a local bar.  When I told the manager I had no formal training, he waved aside with his hand in the air, and simply told me

read Playboy every month and learn the featured drinks.  That’s what these guys are gonna come in and ask for if they don’t want a beer!

That’s a great example of how the majority of people simply will allow themselves to be led around, told what to like, what to drink, what to feel, and what to do.  But you and I don’t desire to be that way; if you did you would have quit reading this several minutes ago.  So how do we escape the trap of being like everyone else and be who we really are?  Even more to the point, how do we do it in such a way that we add value to others and make a living and a life doing it?

Unique Awareness

Being unique, being weird, requires a special awareness of yourself that most others don’t have.  It means you need to spend time identifying and understanding your gifts, unlocking your passion behind them, and reflecting how to best use those gifts to add value to others.  See, we are all born with gifts that were bestowed upon us to be used to provide something unique in this world; something that only we can do.  That gift is designed to be used for a special purpose.  There is at least one someone waiting for us to come along and share that gift with them to make a difference in the world.  Some of us will directly influence a small number of people, maybe even one.  Some, like Zig Ziglar, John Maxwell, or Tony Robbins may affect thousands or millions.  The point isn’t how many but how you will influence them.  So, identifying those gifts and learning to maximize them is the first step in preparing yourself to make that impact.  That’s your purpose.

Applying Your Purpose

Find your unique youOnce you have identified your gifts, it is imperative that you learn more about them and how to optimize them.  You also need to learn the various ways in which your gifts can be used.  The emphasis here needs to be on ways to use your gifts that benefit others.  God did not give you a gift to use only on yourself; he blessed you so you can be a blessing to others.  You must find that one way to use your gifts that allows you to provide maximum benefit.  It will based, at least partially, on background and life experiences.  We do not go through life randomly, even if we did not navigate it.  Every job, every experience, no matter how unrelated, prepared us for that one way that we will have the most influence.  Don’t de-value what you have done in the past just because it does not relate directly to what you want to do now.  It was preparation.  It was shaping you and molding you into what you are to become.

Now the real hard work begins.  You have to do the work of actually applying it.  You have to spend time EVERY DAY developing and honing those gifts. This is the start of a perpetual journey of growth.  It never stops until you have reached the point of not being able to learn anything anymore.  I mentioned in a previous post about Teddy Roosevelt that when he died they found under his pillow a self-improvement book he had been reading.  Teddy knew that your entire life is a growth journey to challenge yourself to become more than you were yesterday.

Be a 1%er

That sounds overwhelming, but you can break it down into an easily manageable system.  Focus simply on growing yourself by 1% a day.  Committing yourself to being a 1%er means that over time you grow exponentially one day building on the next and at the end one year you have grown yourself OVER 365%!  Remember that: become a 1%er.

No Weaknesses

And let’s make this a little easier:  STOP WORKING ON YOUR WEAKNESSES.  Conventional wisdom has always told us to identify our strengths and weaknesses and then work to improve our weaknesses.  It is non-productive to focus on our weaknesses because if we work hard we can at best become mediocre at them; while at the same time we neglect our strengths and won’t prepared to get the most out of them.  Focus instead on your strengths and your gifts.  Overcome your weaknesses by finding others whose have strength where you are weak and team up with them to meet your goals.

The I in Team

That leads to the last point of this, which is what John Maxwell always reminds us of

One is too small a number to accomplish anything!

We are meant to be dependent upon others and work together to achieve great things.  None of us is as smart as all of us.  So while building upon your gifts you should also be building your team.  Find people who have character you desire and are ready to buy into the vision of what you want to accomplish.  Walk the path together and share the journey and share the treasures.  Start it by being truly unique.

And remember, UNIQUE and UNITE both begin with UNI, meaning one.  By developing your uniqueness and finding unique others, you can UNITE together to have a singular impact on this world.

A journey like that is worth starting today!

Follow your passion, not your pension – Denis Waitley

Action Plan

  1. Start identifying your unique gifts.  There are lots of tools to help you here.  Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and DISC are a good start, but look to other less scientific tools as well, such as Stand-Out by Marcus Buckingham and StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath.  I am also a big fan of the Fascination Advantage Test by Sally Hogshead. I have tried them all and find these three to highly accurate and consistent.  You may have to purchase a book for the access code to some of these, but it is well worth it.
  2. Think back to ways you have used those gifts in the past.  Which times did you find yourself getting the greatest results?  The greatest joy?  When did you get lost in the moment while using your gifts?  This will help you identify how you should use them.
  3. Plan and schedule your daily growth of those gifts.  Remember the 1%.

YOU Overboard

Is it possible to be too much you?  Is it possible to embrace your uniqueness – your weirdness – to such an extent to where your repel instead of attact?

Extreme Unique Personalities

unique look on Jesus in GodspellIn High School, I had a friend who was definitely unique and definitely embraced his weirdness.  His appearance even caught your attention.  He had brillo-like hair, similar to the actor who played Jesus in the movie Godspell.  When he got on a roll, his eyes had this wide-open, almost wild look to them.  He was funny and made a point to do crazy things.  Campaigning for class president in our senior year, he drove his moped into the gym and around the floor and then parked it next to the stage so he could take the podium for his campaign speech.  The audience loved it and he was overwhelmingly elected class president.

Too extreme?

Depends on your circumstance.

In an audience of high school seniors, it was perfect.   Not so popular with the basketball coach since he just drove a vehicle around on his freshly refinished hardwood basketball court.

Art Grindle and his unique way of selling carsIn the Central Florida area, there used to be car dealer named Art Grindle.  He would air commercials on local television showing some of the cars he had on sale, he would show a poster with the price of the car on it, get excited, and the scream “I’ll cut the price in half!” while he enthusiastically tore the poster down the middle.  Sometimes he would jump up on the car or car roof and do the same thing.  He made that mistake one time with a convertible.  You guessed it, fell right through the roof!  The driver bailed out and ran and Art just stood there sticking out of the roof and exclaimed “Look!  There’s a hole in the roof!  I’ll cut the price in half!

Too weird? 

Well, in used car circles some use the mantra of “anything that moves metal”.  Art was eventually elected to our state senate and served there for ten years.  In preparation for that, he toned down his on-air antics a bit.  Whether that helped him or hurt him is hard to say.

When Unique is Too Unique

I think you gauge whether your weirdness is too much based on several factors.

  • Your audience
  • Your purpose
  • The circumstance

I have seen many who choose to be unique or just plain weird and take it to the extreme.  They go for the polar opposite for no other reason than to stand out and be seen as weird or extreme.  This is self-serving; it typically has no other viable purpose than to attract attention.  When the focus is on you instead of on what you do and perhaps the different way in which you do it, then it’s not serving your purpose of making you stand out from the crowd; instead it makes you a pariah.

I am in no way suggesting manipulating people by forcing behavior.  Of course, I think going to the extreme just to go to the extreme is a little manipulative as well.

The idea here is to simply recognize how you ARE different and instead of hiding it celebrating it.  You still have to provide something of value to your client and you still have to perform when the time comes.

What do you think?  Is it possible to be too weird?  How do you know when you’ve gone too far?


A Negative People Morning

negative newsI don’t usually do this, but this morning I turned on the TV first thing and turned to the news.  What we were looking for was anything about the federal budget and possible government shutdown.  My wife, Sherry, works for the federal government and would likely be taking a break for a while if the government shuts down.  While she would eventually get paid, if it goes for any length of time that is income we don’t have.

On Facebook and other social media, where there never seems to be an end to the political experts anxious to share their opinions with you, there have been all kinds of commentary about this event and most of it negative.  It’s unavoidable as we live in a negative world.

Don’t Let Negative People Define You

But you and I, we are positive people.  We believe in keeping a positive attitude.  And in this negative world, even having a positive attitude can have a bad rap.  Over the years, I have read and listened to plenty of Norman Vincent Peale and many others who remind us and equip us to have a positive attitude in everything we do.  The negative clans are quick to attack this attitude as a head in the sand approach, or a Pollyanna note outlook on life, or looking at the world through rose-colored glasses.  According to them, we fail to face the realities of life; or at least reality as defined by them.

In truth, having a positive attitude is none of these things.  We don’t hide our heads hoping bad things will just go away.  We don’t ignore the challenges of this world or government shutdowns or bad economies or falling job markets.  We simply refuse to let them define our lives; we stay true to who we are, what we are, and whose we are.  Maintaining a positive attitude doesn’t mean we ignore the world; quite the contrary.  We see the world and we intend to change it!  And we start with ourselves!

Our biggest battle will be the negative people who surround us.  Make no mistake about it, NEGATIVE PEOPLE SUCK!  They just suck the life right out of you and your hopes and dreams.  And they will hammer their message at you continually trying to break you down until you think like they do.  You have heard that misery loves company?  Believe it!  They want you on their side.

avoid negative people, stay positiveDon’t be Anakan, be Luke!  Refuse to cross over to the dark side!

Getting Away from the Influence of Negative People

So how to do we avoid letting negative people impact our lives?  Ultimately, it’s going to rely on your will and desire to stay positive, but here’s a few things that will help.

  1. Stop watching the news!  I mentioned at the beginning that I almost never turn on the TV news in the morning.  It’s not that I am trying to ignore what’s happening in the world, it’s just that I don’t see the need to fill my mind with the full-force negativity of broadcast news.
  2. When a negative thinker starts to share their downer philosophy of life, don’t agree with them.  At the time, it will seem like the quickest and easiest way to get ride of them, but it’s not.  As soon as you agree with them, they think they have an ally and will be coming to you more often.
  3. Don’t argue with a negative thinker; you can’t win.  If you disagree, they want to engage in an argument and come up with more reasons why you should believe they way they do.  Negative doesn’t give up that easy.
  4. Don’t minimize their complaints either.  If you minimize it, they will simply try to come up with more reasons why they are right.
  5. Be sympathetic to what they are saying, but try to re-direct them more to the task at hand.
  6. Always be on a deadline.  “I understand how you are feeling, it must be frustrating.  Please excuse me, I need to focus on this project right now because I gotta have it done by the end of the day.”  The more that you can do that, the more leverage it gives you to excuse yourself away from those situations.
  7. Seek affirmations.  That negative input is going to impact you so you need to seek positive affirmations that are going to help build up your positive thoughts again so you can stay focused on your goals.

Action Plan

  1. Starting tonight, read or listen to something positive just before you go to bed.  Ideally, a self-affirmation script is key because it plants positive thoughts into the subconscious that burned in while you sleep.  It also gets anything negative off your mind before you put you head on the pillow.
  2. Starting tomorrow, read or listen to something positive immediately after you wake up.  Don’t turn on the TV; at least not yet.  Motivational recordings or books, or simply look yourself in the mirror and remind yourself that you are going to have a great day, that you will overcome any obstacles that get in your way, that you will love and care for your family and friends, that you will take care of all your big rocks on the day and add value to everyone you meet.
  3. Avoid the negative thinkers by focusing on the task at hand.  ALWAYS have something to do that requires your immediate attention.
P.S.  While people use the term Pollyanna negatively, as if to assert that being optimistic and looking for the good is wrong,  I have never had an issue with this.  Call me a Pollyanna, I embrace it gladly!

Networking – Not Connecting

It is inevitable, whether you like to be in groups or not, that for a small business to succeed you or someone representing you are  involved with some networking groups.  These groups are typically formed with the primary purpose of introducing people and collecting contacts and therefore, in theory, generating leads.  There are lots of these groups around pretty much anywhere you are; literally hundreds of them.  BNI groups abound, groups like WOAMTEC that cater to a specific gender or genre, community service clubs like Rotary and Kiwanis have networking aspects to them, chambers of commerce sponsor groups, trade associations create them, and sometimes just someone with a mind for a target audience will create them.

I have belonged to several over time and visited many others.  They all have the their advantages and disadvantages and most are at least a little productive eventually.  The biggest issue I have with most of them is that the participants really don’t know what they are doing and it becomes more of a mingling than a networking.  The fatal flaw is that you aren’t connecting, you are simply meeting and greeting.  Some of the common mistakes I see are:

  • business card poker is NOT connectingPeople who show up and pass out their business cards like they are dealing poker.  Sometimes they include some type of greeting but usually it is just their brief pitch.  The assumption that I am going to do business with you or refer you to anyone else just because I have your business card is a fatal flaw.  That’s supporting your printer, not connecting.

Keep the card in your pocket, I don’t want it.

  • Shooting for quantity of contacts over quality.  I have seen people come in, make a point of talking to every single person in the room briefly, collect cards, and rush out confident that they have done their job.  Like the example of passing out the cards above, you have done nothing to further your cause other than collect some additional names you will probably add to your list to spam until they get sick of it.  Again, not connecting.
  • The assumption that you are going to do business with anyone in the room.  Yes, on a VERY RARE occasion that may happen, but it’s not the purpose of your being there.  Think about it:  did you go to the meeting to buy from anyone there?  What makes you think they did?  The purpose of networking is not to do business.  We’ll talk about that purpose (connecting) further down in the post.
  • Relying on your “elevator speech” as the entire moment of contact with anyone in the room.  I am not a big fan of elevator speeches for this very reason.  In case you don’t know what an elevator speech is, it works off the theory that if you were in an elevator with someone you really wanted to contact you basically have 30 seconds to impress so you need to present a clear, concise summary of who you are and what you do.  It works off the assumption that if someone in the elevator or at a networking group asks you what you do they really want to know.  Chances are they don’t; they really want to tell you what they do.

Connecting – Not Networking

I have spent time going around to networking groups and pointing out these fatal flaws and proposing that they do something different.  If you tire of this merry-go-round that gets nowhere, why not try connecting instead of networking.  Connecting is all about building REAL relationships with people, not just acquaintances or business card collections. You make friends, not contacts.  And that’s what networking is really all about.  You don’t have to go anywhere new, you can still attend the same events, but your intentions, purpose, and approach are different.  The only thing that will change is you.

The idea is that you want to spend more time being interested than interesting.  At the heart of it, people want to know that you find them fascinating.  They don’t want to know that you have a new, revolutionary product or service; they want to know that you can help them, that you care about them, and that they can trust you.  Take this approach and in just a short time I believe it will amaze you at how things change for the better.  Better authentic relationships with people, leading to better referrals and increase in closings.  Just changing this mindset makes a world of difference.  As Dale Carnegie said,

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

Here are some tips to get started:

  • Be one of the first to arrive and the last to leave to maximize your contact time.  Budget your time so that you aren’t rushed.  Being hurried shows up in your attitude, your speech, and your body language.  No one thinks you care for them when you are in a hurry and you aren’t really connecting if you are in a hurry.
  • Set your goal before you walk in the door to focus on 2-3 quality contacts.  If you meet more, and your certainly will, then great.  But focus on actually initiating a relationship with 2-3 people where you are really connecting with them.
  • Ditch the elevator speech.  Marketing Guru Seth Godin says no one buys anything in a elevator.  Give short, concise answers to inquiries about you and quickly turn it around to ask questions about them.  You want them to talk the majority of the time you spend with them.  People who let other people talk about themselves are regarded by them as the best conversationalist in the world.
  • When you do talk, share more personal information than business information.  Real connecting with people happens on common ground and that is always personal.  You may find you went to the same school, at both natives to the area, have kids, etc.

Commonality makes connections.

  • Here’s the biggie: instead of looking for what you are going to get from each relationship, look for what you can give.  What can you do for them, especially if unrelated to your business.  Can you connect them with someone who can solve a problem you don’t address?  Perhaps they need a good medical specialist or are looking for a new church or a good place that serves authentic viking food.  How can you add value to them.  Ironically, when you do that you will eventually receive value in return.  It is really true, what goes around comes around.

Action Plan

  1. Think about your next meeting.  Pick two or three people you will focus on building a relationship with this week.
  2. In your conversation with them, find one thing you can do for them THIS WEEK and then DO IT.