You Don’t Know Someone Until You’ve Walked In Their Shoes

Who says all the cool random conversations have to happen in the office? A technician came to change my gas meter the other day to swap out the old one with a new smart meter which will allow the company to take a reading without having to come by my house. I thought that was pretty cool. When he rang the bell and I answered, he asked if I went to Penn State because I was wearing a hoodie that said it. I answered no, but that my brother had attended the university. As it turns out, the technician attended Penn State for 3 years and then went into the military, serving overseas as well as here in the States. And while he is no longer part of active duty, he is part of the National Guard.

His military service started a really interesting conversation about politics, war, civilian life, racism, and community influence. It was great to hear his about his experience in the military and how it was different for him as a minority. In fact, all of his responses and opinions on the topics we spoke about were fascinating to hear and I was very thankful that he shared them with me. And I did thank him for his service to our country.

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Before passing judgment, try walking in someone else’s shoes.

I was reminded of a valuable lesson after my conversation with him. And that is that you really don’t know and cannot understand what someone is experiencing unless you walk in their shoes. As human beings we have our own opinions on things and we don’t always agree with others. That doesn’t mean the other person is wrong, an idiot, uneducated, or stupid. It just means that they see the world in a different way than you do.

I recently watched a film called “Citizen Soldier”, and the story was about a group of soldiers in the Oklahoma Army National Guard’s 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. I found it interesting because these were soldiers that had regular full time jobs, trained for 40 hours a month, and were sent into Afghanistan and into combat. After watching the film, I had my own reservations and questions, and this tech was able to clear them up for me.

It’s really easy to sit on a perch and pass down judgment on everything you see around you or what’s fed to you by the media on television or online. Social media has given everyone a megaphone to share their opinions in an open forum regardless of understanding situations. People just don’t listen anymore before they speak. And this leads to landslides of negativity that you see in your feeds every day. The “glom on” effect is just rampant.

It’s not wrong to have an opinion. It’s better if you have one. But before you choose to share your opinion about someone or any situation that you haven’t fully experienced, try speaking with someone that has.

Self-awareness And Success. It’s Important to Know Who You Are.

While I’m a big advocate of flexible work locations, one of the advantages of going into an office is the opportunity to have cool random conversations with people, and I love those. I recently had a conversation about self-awareness, which lead to the thought about how important it is for success.

What exactly does it mean to be self-aware? According to Psychology Today, self-awareness is defined as “the accurate appraisal and understanding of your abilities and preferences and their implications for your behavior and their impact on others.”

While the importance of being self-aware seems fairly obvious, it’s not something that the majority of the world has mastered. Jeff Kauflin writes that “95% of people think they’re self-aware, but only 10-15% truly are,” and that “people who are more self-aware tend to perform better at work, get more promotions and lead more effectively.”

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Do you know who you really are?

If you’re self-aware, you know what you’re good at, what makes you happy, and basically what kind of person you are. Understanding this is key to putting yourself in the best possible way to succeed. Not only will you be better at evaluating opportunities that come your way, you will also be realistic about goal setting. Being more self-aware means that you’ll have a real and true understanding about how people view you.

There are a couple of ways that will help you become more self-aware. One is to go and experience new things. You don’t know that you don’t know, and you can’t say that you like or dislike something if you’ve never experienced it. My friend Jay Mandel recently said this in a blog post and it resonated with me, “The quest for mastery can help you define and refine your reason for being, your purpose”. I believe the journey of mastery plays a big part in achieving self-awareness.

Another way to become more self-aware is to make some really good friends. We all have friends that we consider to be good friends, but how many of them can give us criticism and get away with it? We all need an honest friend that can tell us what we don’t want to hear when it’s needed. If you’re someone that that doesn’t need this, then I would say you’re not very self-aware.

Obviously self-awareness is not the golden ticket to success, but it’s a good start. How self-aware are you?

A Good Corporate Culture Isn’t About Physical Things

It seems like every organization is challenged with creating a good corporate culture. But what I’ve found in my experience, is that the word “culture”, just like “agile”, is increasingly misunderstood. Organizations associate the word “culture” with “environment”, and that’s correct, but that’s about where the understanding stops.

The easiest change to make is in the physical environment, and that’s what organizations look to first. They add all of the things that make it look like working there would be a cool place to be. Ping pong and foosball tables, scooters, beanbag chairs, free coffee and snacks, colorful offices and open work spaces. But is that enough? I personally don’t think so.

If you want to know if your company has a good culture or not, ask the employees about why they like working there. Be wary if the answers point to all the physical changes, because those never last. But to be honest, I don’t think physical changes would make it into many answers to begin with. Being able to take a break to play a ping pong game or scoot around the office is nice, but those moments are temporary.

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The allure of playing ping pong during breaks goes away after a while.

A good corporate culture invests in what the employees find valuable. You would think that a good company would already have these values in place as an organization. Organizations should want to know what employees find valuable because they should invest in those that are willing to stick around. “Choosing someone within your team to develop into a future superstar has typically been a successful investment for everyone”, says Mandy Gilbert, Founder and Chief Executive, Creative Niche.

It’s easy to cop out and send out a loaded survey asking employees if they think the open spaces look cool and if they like the new standing desks they all have. Who would say no to that? But I think you have to dig deeper to find what really motivates employees and what drives their decision to leave or stay, work hard or phone it in.

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Career conversations, mentors that take interest, transparency and valued feedback are what employees crave from corporate culture.

I read a blog post recently by Matthew Biggins titled, “Collapse of the Corporate Office”, and it was a great read on how the workplace has changed. Embedded in the blog is a video created by Vox on how open offices have changed over the years, and not necessarily for the best. In all the years of iterations, we forgot what really makes open spaces work. My takeaway was this, instead of using gimmicks and short cuts, try actually creating an environment where people want to come to the office instead of being forced to. If you create an environment that employees actually want to be a part of, they’ll come and they’ll be engaged. And better yet, they’ll brag about why they like working for your company. My guess is that it won’t be because of the scooters.

Culture is not a one size fits all sort of thing, and companies that can find a way to be flexible in how they can create an environment that keeps employees motivated and productive will find success in retaining top talent. The answers go deeper than video games in a lounge. Need some suggestions? Try real career paths with equal opportunities for advancement, flexible working arrangements, real 360 degree evaluations, being transparent and open to feedback, and combine those with competitive salaries. I know I’d take those over my fancy, motorized standing desk. Let’s face it, a ping pong table is not going to keep your talented employees from seeking out other options, but a good corporate culture would.

How Can You Be Different?

Hearing Keaton Jones’ story is troubling. The cool thing is the support that he has received from just about everyone. We shouldn’t be made fun of for our differences. Our differences make us unique, help us stand out from the crowd. Our differences make us stronger. So it’s really sad to see someone being bullied because they’re different.

Keaton’s story should prompt you to take action, but what kind of action should that be? It’s easy to get mad and angry at those that treated this kid this way, but in the end hate will just lead to more hate.

The action that you should be moved to take is how you can change yourself to be different. Can you be different in a way that people can see kindness? How can you be different in a way to stand up for others that can’t stand up for themselves?

At a time when a trend will soon be to make resolutions for the New Year, maybe we all can resolve to be different for good.

Why Do We Value Hype Over Substance?

They’ve been dominating the news feed for what feels like forever now. People who I won’t name because I’d just add to the attention that they crave so much. One guy claimed that he could be Michael Jordan in a one on one pickup game on one leg, and the other… well… all you need to do is follow his Twitter feed if you want to know what it’s like to live in a real life land of make believe.

I bet that if you didn’t know who I was referring to and all you had were those two descriptions, you’d probably walk away from them and not waste your time. But sadly it’s not the case. The first gentleman is now a recognized media personality (whether we’d like to admit it or not) and now a successful businessman and the other is the leader of what I feel is still the greatest country in the world (at the moment of this writing). People bought into hype over substance, and they continue to do so.

And it’s not just in the world of entertainment, although it seems that the line between entertainment and reality are blurring dangerously close nowadays.

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People that are all hype rarely come through and are always full of excuses.

I was told a while back that when recruiting, to make personality and boldness a priority when evaluating candidates. What ever happened to prioritizing skillsets and evaluating whether or not we thought a candidate could actually get the job done? In one particular case, it was unfortunate to see a candidate rejected because they were “too quiet”, even though they had the strongest skillset for the position. Needless to say, the hiring team experienced the ramifications of going with hype over substance.

Unfortunately this happens all the time. The people that get noticed and all the chances are those constantly beat their own chests and brag about all the things they done. They name drop and always have “the best” stories to tell and always have “the best” ideas. They like to direct people without taking on any real work and they never take responsibility. They tend to overpromise but underdeliver and when they do they always have some sort of excuse. Things are never their fault.

Even if they ask you for your opinion they’re not really listening to you, but just waiting for you to stop talking so that they can give you theirs. They only want to do things their way. If you were to take a closer look at their history, you’ll find that they really haven’t done much either, but are good at embellishing the little they have done. But yet these people are labeled as “the talent” and “rock stars” and “future leaders” of the company.

One of my managers from a long time ago told me that “those that know why will always manage those that know how”, and at the time I completely disagreed. To me the statement didn’t make sense. How can someone lead, without knowing how to actually do the work? Well sadly, now I know. We like to value hype over substance, and I would love to know why. Do you have any suggestions?

What do Employees Need to be Motivated?

When I commute to the office in the morning, traffic gives me the time to think. I know that this must sound pretty ridiculous but sometimes I welcome that. But as much as traffic gives me time to think, I don’t look forward to sitting in traffic. I don’t want to sit in traffic.

But while in traffic I tend to think about a wide range of things, but today it was about employee motivation. And so I asked myself the question, what motivates me as an employee? Is it schedule and work location flexibility? Is it a good relationship with my manager and coworkers? Is it meaningful work? Or is it financial?

Do you know what motivates you as an employee? Before you answer, I suggest you read “How Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs influences Employee Engagement”, by Steve Smith. I would also suggest that managers read the article as well, it just might help keep your talented team members from leaving.

Curious to hear your thoughts and feedback, what truly motivates you as an employee?

Why Goals Should Have Measurements for Success

I ran my first marathon last year in New York City, and at the time my goal was just to complete the race. The time it took didn’t matter, I just wanted to cross the finish line. While I’m proud of myself for completing the goal that I had set for myself, I didn’t really have any measurements for success.

I know that completing the marathon could be seen as a success, and I would agree with that. I’m very happy and proud to have finished it. But I think success, or a win, should be seen as something beyond the goal. To me, having measurements for success take you beyond completion of your goal.

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How do you measure the success of your goals?

I tend to think we make goals broad and general so that they can be achieved. And I can’t argue with that. If you set goals that are unattainable, all you will ever know is failure, and that is not very motivating. On the other side, if all you have is your attainable goal, you’ll most likely only do what’s necessary to attain that goal, when you could have gone so much further.

Nick Saban, the head coach of Alabama’s top ranked college football team, has an incredible track record of keeping his teams at the upper echelon of the sport. And in college football, that’s really hard to do. Coaches are tasked with keeping their teams motivated at all times, even against teams that aren’t as talented on paper. That’s a hard task, and Saban has found a way to do it consistently. I absolutely love this quote below from him:

“It’s not human nature to be great. It’s human nature to survive, to be average and do what you have to do to get by. That is normal. When you have something good happen, it’s the special people that can stay focused and keep paying attention to detail, working to get better and not being satisfied with what they have accomplished.” ~ Nick Saban

So after the marathon last year, I made another goal, and that was to run all of the New York Road Runner borough races. To be honest, I wanted to complete those races in the same calendar year so I could take a photo of the medals. That’s the photo geek in me. But along with that goal I also set a success metric, and that was to finish the races with an overall faster average time than last year.

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Accomplished the goal of taking this photo, but the success was completing the races faster than the previous year.

The measure for success motivated me to take my training and workout more seriously. But it made me committed to the process, which I had to keep all year long. Sure some sacrifices and tough decisions were made, but in the end it was worth it and I’m a better and faster runner because of it.

Goals with measurements for success will help you to achieve more than “just getting by”, if that’s what you want in the first place. What are some goals and measurements for success that you’ve set for yourself?