What will they say at your awkward circle?

“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” – Jane Goodall

In my department, we have a tradition where we say goodbye to an outgoing employee by standing around in an awkward circle and telling stories about their time with the organization. Due to the large size of our department and how we’re divided into brand teams, there usually ends up being only a few close colleagues that share stories. It’s a really nice (and often hilarious) way to honour a colleague on their way out of the organization.

This past Friday, we had  an awkward circle for a colleague who had been with the organization for nearly four years – a lifetime considering the average tenure at my company is less than two years. In an unprecedented event, everyone (nearly 30 people) had a story to tell. It was so fascinating and inspiring to see the impact that one individual could make on such a large group of people.

And although there were some slightly inappropriate stories about drinking, most of the common threads woven through the stories were about my colleague’s strong work ethic, great sense of humour, and never-ending energy that enabled him to work hard and party hard. Nearly all of the people that reported to him said that he was one of the best bosses they had ever had. That is powerful stuff!

As I stood there (awkwardly), listening to the stories, I started to ask myself the question: “What will they say at my awkward circle?” This forced me to have a difficult conversation with myself about what kind of legacy I wanted to leave in this organization, and more importantly, what I needed to change about my actions and behaviours in order to make that future a reality.

What will they say at your awkward circle?

The Good Samaritan

I was on my way to work this morning when the streetcar stopped suddenly. I looked up from my book and saw that we weren’t at a designated stop – we had unexpectedly stopped in the middle of the road. The driver suddenly exited the streetcar, and I let out an annoyed sigh, thinking that the cables had come loose and that the delay would make me late for work.

After a few seconds, I realized that the driver had run across the street to help an elderly woman who had fallen off her mobility scooter. The fascinating part was that it was only after the driver started helping her, that other passers-by started helping as well. As many as three other people stopped to help the woman.

It was so inspiring to see such a selfless and courageous act on a Tuesday morning. Before I got off my stop, I told the driver, “I just want to tell you that what you did back there was really inspiring and courageous.” With that one act, the driver had restored my ever-dwindling faith in humanity and forced me to step out of my self-centred way of thinking.

The next time you see an opportunity to help someone in need, I sincerely hope that you take it! The impact of a kind gesture could end up being far greater than you can imagine.

Customer Service Lessons from the TTC – Part One

I’m going to use my favourite “love to hate” entity, the Toronto Transit Commission (the TTC), to illustrate some key lessons in customer service. For those who are unfamiliar, the TTC is “a public transport agency that operates transit bus, streetcar, and rapid transit services in Toronto, Ontario, Canada” (via Wikipedia).

Lesson #1: Put Yourself in Your Customer’s Shoes

This is a simple and fundamental rule of customer service, yet so many businesses seem to forget to or simply don’t apply it.

Anyone who has ever had the misfortune of taking public transit during rush hour knows what a wholly frustrating and unsatisfactory experience it can be.

CrowdedTTCSubway_BLOG(photo credit: George Pechtol)

One thing that annoys me to no end is when subway drivers brake suddenly and repeatedly during the ride. This is problematic because riders are packed into the subway like sardines and we often don’t have access to a handrail when subway is that full. The result? People who are already sweaty and cranky end up falling and tripping into each other.

That is simply not a pleasant experience, and it can easily be avoided by drivers putting themselves in their customers’ shoes. Remember that your passengers are not seatbelted into cushy seats, so kindly refrain from repeatedly slamming the brakes!

This customer service rule lends itself across small, medium, and large business across a wide range of service industries:

  • Coffee shop: examine if the cream, sugar, and lids are easily accessible after a customer picks up her order.
  • Clothing retailer: examine if your return/exchange policy is hassle-free.
  • Restaurant: examine if your website clearly displays your menu, address, and phone number.

When in doubt, put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Act and react accordingly!

Job Satisfaction Triangle

TripleConstraintTriangle

In my first marketing job, I learned about the Triple Constraint Triangle as it pertains to print production. The basic premise is that you can’t have them all. To have a brochure printed cheaply and quickly, it will be poor quality. To have a high-quality brochure printed quickly, it will be expensive. Finally, to have a high-quality brochure printed at a low cost, it will take a long time to ship. It’s a pretty straightforward concept with accurate real-life application.

Similarly, I believe that a similar model exists for job satisfaction. From my own experience and that of my friends and colleagues, I believe that 2 of the 3 attributes must be positive, otherwise job satisfaction goes way down, which results in lower engagement, productivity, and work quality.

JobSatisfactionTriangle_BLOG

One of my previous jobs initially scored 3/3 on the Job Satisfaction Triangle (JST):

  • My colleagues were amazing. We had a strong team culture that centred around “having each other’s back.” If someone needed help, they could easily pull in a couple of team members, either to brainstorm or put together 200 conference bags.
  • My boss regularly showed appreciation for my work and recognized the value that I brought to the team.
  • My work challenged and inspired me. I learned new things every day and had excellent relationships with clients. I also felt that my work doing provided value for our clients.

Somewhere down the line, my boss stopped being so warm and fuzzy. In fact, he became closed off and unsupportive. He stopped listening to and valuing my feedback. That was really tough to deal with, and there were days that ended in tears, but my awesome colleagues and fulfilling work continued to motivate me.

Somewhere else down the line, my work became more routine and administrative. It felt like I was solving the same problem, in different skins, over and over again. I was challenged by the volume of work, but not by the work itself.

With two of the three attributes in the JST in disarray, I was an unhappy mess. I became uninspired and less productive. I dreaded waking up to go to work. Most importantly, I decided my happiness wasn’t worth my paycheque. I started looking for jobs and gave my notice within 3 months.

Lesson Learned

If you are a manager, I urge you to take a step back and look at your direct reports’ jobs with the JST model in mind.

  • Do you provide feedback and support? Are you able to engage and encourage your staff?
  • Is the team culture positive and do members work effectively with each other?
  • Are their jobs challenge and inspire them to do great work?

If you answered (honestly) to “no” to more than one of these questions, then you need to be prepared to start hiring because chances are you’re going to lose some of your employees soon. It’s important that you, as a manager, are constantly aware of how well you’re doing in these 3 areas because they are strong indicators of job satisfaction, which affect engagement, productivity, and work quality. It is also worth mentioning that the JST model applies to most employees, but is especially true for high-performers, who are the most important resources to retain.

2013: A Year of Action

nike-just-do-it

Richard Branson (Founder, Virgin Group) recently posted this. As someone who is an obsessive list-maker, this really hit home for me. I can’t tell you how many half-written drafts and to-do lists are saved on my iPhone, on sticky notes (virtual ones on my MacBook and physical ones on my desk). As Mr. Branson points out, having lists isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It provides focus and direction… but, in many cases, can also cause procrastination. Writing it down gives us an excuse to walk away and come back to it “at some point” or “some day” because we have it recorded somewhere.

Enough of that.

I boldly declare 2013 to be a year of action. To stay committed to my goals by making them happen. To hone my writing by hitting publish instead of edit ad nauseum. To fight inertia and ride a positive wave of momentum… and being open to where it takes me. To not simply sit back and be inspired by the actions of others, but to do things myself that may inspire others. To discover what I’m truly, madly, deeply passionate about and pursue it with enthusiasm, focus, and determination. To take those small steps toward big goals with long journeys. To leave a positive legacy on this beautiful world. To be humble and grateful, always. 

Let’s do this!

The ROI of Pumpkin Carving

Walk into any workplace and ask, “What’s the ROI on carving pumpkins?” and you’ll probably hear choruses of, “It’s a waste of time!” and “We don’t have time for that!”. I don’t know when this became a trend in the business world (at least in corporate environments), but for some reason “having fun” at work is frowned upon.

As previously mentioned, I started a new job six weeks ago. It has been an exciting journey so far, filled with challenging learning opportunities. One of the neat things about work is that we have a Social Club. Made up of staff volunteers, this intrepid group hosts quarterly birthday celebrations, holiday events, employee milestones, and other fun outings. To take part, all you need to do is pay the club dues – $10.00 per month automatically deducted from your paycheque. As a testament to the club’s success, nearly everyone in the organization is a member.

The Social Club hosts an annual pumpkin carving contest, as part of their Hallowe’en festivities. All members are randomly assigned to groups, and given a pumpkin and 4 days to carve. Through this activity, I came to discover the ROI of pumpkin carving.

Creativity

I really feel that most workplaces and, indeed, most jobs don’t allow us to tap into and leverage our creativity. And before you say, “But I’m not creative!” – I must insist that creativity is not merely limited to the arts. I define it as a way of thinking beyond traditional boundaries and coming up with wildly different answers to the same question.

The pumpkin carving contest allowed us to exercise our creative bones in a healthy and productive way, and I’m willing to bet that many of us took that creative mindset back to our desks.

Teamwork

As a newbie to the organization, I really appreciated the opportunity to meet and connect with my colleagues. It was also neat to experience teamwork in a non-professional context because it revealed people’s strengths and passions beyond their job titles. One inspiringly crafty woman brought several ideas to the table – one of which we all unanimously decide on. Everyone pitched in to pick up and bring decorations, carve and clean the pumpkin, and painstakingly hot glue hundreds of candy corn pieces to our pumpkin.

It was remarkable to witness such a beautiful display of teamwork in action. We each brought our individual abilities to the table, and effectively played the role of leader or teammate as needed.

Positive Culture

To be honest, when the Social Club first announced the pumping carving event, I was skeptical – which means I had subconsciously bought into the idea that work ≠ fun. I didn’t think people would take it seriously, so I was surprisingly delighted to see the wonderful results.

How else would you describe a company culture that brings its entire organization together for Halloween fun other than “positive”? We had VPs and senior managers who enthusiastically participated. Although I’m sure some of us were dealing with difficult clients, complex projects, and looming deadlines, there was a sense of lightheartedness and fun in the air. And yes, these things are, paradoxically, often what’s most needed during stressful times!

Many of us spend at least 40 hours a day (and more likely closer to 50 or 60) at work. That’s a heck of a lot of time! Wouldn’t you rather spend that time with a company that genuinely fosters a positive culture?

Say “No” + Declutter

Tonight, I made the very difficult decision to un-enroll from my two Coursera courses. It has been barely over a week since the courses started, and I have only managed to watch the introduction/overview lecture for Networks: Friends, Money, and Bytes (which was fascinating). Between training for a half-marathon that’s barely 3 weeks away, increased responsibilities as a Sauder Business Club of Toronto Director, and starting a new job that requires a 2+ hour round-trip commute, I just don’t have enough hours in a day to make it all work. Rather than clinging on and then feeling like a failure when I inevitably renege on the commitment, I’d rather make the reasonable decision to say “no” now – under my own terms.

Additionally, my inbox is nightmarish right now, so I decided to de-clutter by unsubscribing to several Meetup and LinkedIn group emails. It will feel great to not have to deal with a burgeoning inbox and the guilt from deleting aforementioned emails without reading them!

If you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed, give these tips a try!

Coursera

This afternoon, I had a much-needed and long-awaited catch-up lunch with my former boss (twice!) and friend, Chris. We had delicious sushi at a little hideaway spot in Cabbagetown. We talked about my career transition and what new and exciting things had transpired at Actionable Books since my departure.

He also happened to mention this amazing learning initiative called Coursera. He said it was one of the best e-learning environments he’s ever used, which is huge coming from a professional development nerd like him! From their website:

We are a social entrepreneurship company that partners with the top universities in the world to offer courses online for anyone to take, for free. We envision a future where the top universities are educating not only thousands of students, but millions. Our technology enables the best professors to teach tens or hundreds of thousands of students.

Through this, we hope to give everyone access to the world-class education that has so far been available only to a select few. We want to empower people with education that will improve their lives, the lives of their families, and the communities they live in.

BOOM. How inspiring and wonderful is that? I’ve signed up for Networks: Friends, Money, and Bytes as well as Introduction to Mathematical Thinking (EEP!). I’m so stoked! I’ll keep you posted on developments…

The Value of Relationships & Showing Appreciation

Let’s flash back to 2008.

I had recently graduated with my Bachelor of Commerce degree and had lined up a campus recruiting position with one of the Big 4 accounting firms. With a job secured, I took the summer off – which involved a 3-week European trip to Italy, Greece, and Poland with my two best friends, a week-long California-Mexico cruise with my family, a trip to the Calgary Stampede with two of my closest friends, and a 6-week language/culture exchange in Montreal. Life was good!

In late August, I started my campus recruiting job. Although the job was very demanding (e.g. long hours, tight deadlines, multiple competing priorities), I savoured the challenge and loved the team that I worked with. I was on a 5-month contract since it was a seasonal position, but I was confident that I would be asked to stay on for longer and my manager had hinted as much.

Enter: Financial Crisis of 2008

It was December 2008. My contract was on the verge of expiry, and my manager regretfully informed me that they couldn’t extend my contract or hire me on as a full-time staff member due to a company-wide hiring freeze.

Needless to say, I was disappointed, but stayed optimistic. Without sounding arrogant, I knew that I had a strong resume and was highly employable, so I jumped into the job market with gusto. I quickly realized that I had severely underestimated the impact of the financial crisis. It was a huge blow to the ego to send out resume after resume without getting any calls back. Finally, after weeks of perseverance, I landed a Human Resources Administrator position with a small company specializing in resume writing. It wasn’t my dream job by any means, but it combined my HR education with my strong writing skills, so I was game.

The catch? It wasn’t set to start for another 6 weeks, and I had bills to pay, so I needed some temporary cash flow to tide me over.

Fortunately, I am very much a “relationship” person, meaning that I am very good with staying in touch with people and am careful to leave lasting positive impressions. In the summer of 2007, I was an HR Consulting Assistant with the HR Consulting Department at Central 1 Credit Union. While I worked there, I became addicted to the cheese scones served in the cafeteria. They were smooth, buttery, slightly sweet, moist, and delicious. I’m not exaggerating when I say I had a scone every day, and the cafeteria staff soon came to know me by name.

I worked with another summer student, Tiffany, who was also an HR major at UBC. She continued to work at Central 1 on a part-time basis during school after our summer contract. I stayed in touch with her and reached out during my job hunt in late 2008. She mentioned that the Marketing & Creative Services department at Central 1 needed a Marketing Assistant on a temporary basis to help them deal with an overflow of work.

I had, once upon a time, considered majoring in Marketing, so I was piqued by the opportunity and the timing seemed to work out perfectly. 6 weeks flew by quickly as I mailed out hundreds of magazines, analyzed countless Excel sheets, unpacked and sorted printer supplies, and other various tasks. It certainly wasn’t the most glamourous work, but the team that I worked with was top-notch and the environment was energetic and fun. Plus, I had unlimited access to the cafeteria cheese scones again. It became a running joke – I became the cheese scone champion and converted non-believers within the department into fanatics.

That said, I was eager to get on with my “career” and started my HR Administrator job at the resume company. A week into my role, I received a plain, brown-paper wrapped package couriered and addressed to me at my new office. I was baffled. I hadn’t given anyone my address and I certainly wasn’t expecting a delivery. I found this inside:

I was dumbfounded. The scones were still slightly warm. I discovered later that they had used the fastest courier delivery option available. I couldn’t say no to such a delicious and heartfelt proposition. Who could? A month later, I was the Marketing Coordinator at Central 1 Credit Union, where I stayed for over two years before moving to Toronto… But that is a story for another time!