Career And Leadership Skills

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How to Keep Employees Happy and Motivated

jumping with joy

jumping with joy

Six months after I started my first job out of college as a software engineer, I was “invited” to my first ever performance review. My boss told me it was an opportunity to get 360 feedback from him and a few colleagues about my strengths and the areas of my performance I could improve. As I sat down in the meeting room with members of my team, I was nervous to say the least.

Verbatim, here is what they said: I was “a positive person that brightened their days,” “diligent and hardworking,” and a “valued member of the team.” I was given a 4 out of 5 for performance. One colleague said that I sometimes “talked too loud on the phone in the open office,” and my boss said I needed to “review the code I wrote more carefully before submitting because I left out two semicolons in the last draft.” (Oh my!)

If my son–who is now only two years old–gets a review like this at his first job, I’ll be a proud mom taking him out to dinner to celebrate! Unfortunately, for myself, my brain had the all-too-common response. I ignored the positive and focused squarely on the negative, feeling discouraged. Why did I only get a 4??

Now as a positive psychology researcher, I better understand the brain response that lead to this reaction. Our brain’s negativity bias is so strong that negative thoughts significantly outweigh the positive. A number of studies have found that negative thoughts are three times more powerful than positive ones. So, if you find yourself ruminating on something negative someone said or did, know that you’re very normal. But this brain response harms performance.

Common wisdom seems to suggest that the best path to success is to identify all that is broken and fix it. We are now seeing there is a significantly stronger path that is better at fueling performance and business outcomes. Identify what’s working and leverage those strengths and skills to create greater success. The reason is that when we consciously focus on successes and solutions, we prime the brain to be in a positive state. Studies show when our brain is optimistic, it fuels business outcomes including increasing sales by 37%, productive energy by 31%, and chances of promotion by 40%. At no point do I advocate ignoring the negative, but a concerted effort to reorient the brain to the good often pays dividends in business and beyond.

This research has implications far beyond the performance review. My research colleague (and husband) Shawn Achor and I have now worked with more than half of the Fortune 100 companies, as well as schools and other organizations building positive organizations. In our research, the teams that experience high levels of success are also those that consistently focus on strengths, successes and solutions, big and small.

And the impact is measurable: A manager began focusing his team on all that they were doing right by praising one new person each day in a small way, and this practice increased the entire team’s productivity by 31% in three weeks. Celebrating success breeds success.

Whether you’re a manager or in an entry level position, focusing other people’s attention on the meaning embedded in the work, the things you’re grateful for, and the ways people have been good to you does good for those around you.

The Positive Ripple Effect

Research shows positive information spreads further and faster. In an outstanding research study, Jonah Berger, professor of marketing at Wharton School of Business, and Katherine Milkman from the University of Pennsylvania used a computer program that scanned 7,000 articles from The New York Times over a three-month period to distill what characteristics led to certain articles being included in the “most-emailed” list on the newspaper’s website.

The researchers controlled the study for variables including article placement, author gender and popularity, and the length and complexity of pieces, and found that the articles that evoked emotion were shared more often than those that evoked none—but even more importantly, the arousing, activating positive pieces were more viral than anything else.

They found that the ones that were most shared were stories that made you feel high levels of positivity, including emotions such as happiness, joy, elation, and awe.

What that means is that if we start talking about the positive, in a way that makes others feel good, that can tip the culture at work from negative to positive in a meaningful and lasting way.

Get Others Involved in the Practice

One of the best examples I know is the story of a judge from Nebraska, who said
her colleagues were disconnected and grumpy. They were always complaining about the work and each other. She secretly posted a gratitude board at the office and provided markers and Post-it notes.

Later, she told me she watched as colleagues stood in front of the board, sipped their
coffees, and talked about the gratitudes that had been posted. She secretly snapped some pictures of people bonding in front of the wall and posted them on the board the next day with a note that simply said, “The bonding I see all around me today is my gratitude.”

The story of the gratitude board spread to other government buildings, and three additional departments made them too.

Beyond a gratitude board, there are lots of ways to operationalize gratitude to create an active cycle of positive behavior and reinforcement. Here are some examples:

  1. Ask people to post their gratitudes on the board.
  2. Have them snap pictures of themselves holding index cards with their gratitudes written on them.
  3. Encourage them to post the photos on social media.
  4. Have a different employee each day share his or her gratitude with the team during the morning meeting.
  5. Showcase some of the “praise” gratitudes during team meetings.
  6. Have a volunteer from the design team create an infographic, with the organization’s logo, that focuses on the scientific value of practicing gratitude to share with the company.
  7. Tweet out one gratitude from the wall each day to the wider network.
  8. Make a video to share the story of the creation of the gratitude wall and its impact to present at an organization-wide gathering.
  9. Ask a few marketing associates to record reactions on camera from people after seeing their names and contributions mentioned on the gratitude board. Put together a short video to share.
  10. Feature the story of the gratitude board in the company newsletter.
  11. Start each month with a fresh board and a new theme, such as “my coworkers” or “the difference we make together.”

By taking even just a handful of steps like these, you have the power to shift the culture at your office to more optimistic, empowered territory. You could change the board’s theme from time to time. For instance, next month it could feature “how your colleagues have made your workday easier recently” for people to share those stories.

As for performance reviews, based on the research, a number of our clients, including Facebook, got rid of these annual traditions, and instead focused on creating a more steady stream of feedback–anchored in positive, meaningful information. This helps fuel employee performance, instead of leaving them stuck at “4” (whatever that means!), and lessens the detrimental impact of inevitable negative information. It’s the kind of work environment I hope for my son, when he is old enough (and off the family payroll!)

For more research and ideas to start your day off on a positive note, Shawn and I invite you to join us for our Wake Up & Inspire Happiness Video Workshop, based on our new PBS program INSPIRE HAPPINESS airing nationwide.

About the Author

Michelle Gielan, national CBS News anchor turned positive psychology researcher, is the best-selling author of Broadcasting Happiness. She is the Founder of the Institute for Applied Positive Research and is partnered with Arianna Huffington to study how transformative stories fuel success. She holds a Master of Applied Positive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania and is an Executive Producer of “The Happiness Advantage” Special on PBS and a featured professor in Oprah’s Happiness course.

How to Avoid Mid-Career Doldrums: Rediscover the Joy of Learning

rediscover_the_joy_of_learning

rediscover_the_joy_of_learning

If you’re an experienced professional, once-exciting work can start to feel like a daily grind. You know your job inside and out, few things about it engage you, and fewer yet offer inspiration to perform at your best.

This slump can be especially dispiriting if you love your organization and are invested in its success. Jumping ship—possibly the quickest way to shake things up—isn’t really an appealing option.

We spend so much time at the office or working after hours, that job unhappiness can easily affect our non-work lives, too. If you don’t think you need to make a change for yourself, consider doing it for your loved ones.

From professional development to personal growth

What if I told you that going back to school for even a couple of days could give you just the boost you need? I am not talking about college or an advanced degree—you probably have those already—but simply attending a professional development course can provide you with the ideas, tools, and techniques that can help you rediscover your passions and purpose and ways to achieve them.

Some professions require continuing education for its members to keep in good standing skills-wise and legally. Medical doctors, school teachers, architects, and even hairstylists, among others, all take a number of classes a year to maintain their licenses. Sure, these classes tend to be more skills-focused and cater to highly specific professions, but they also provide less tangible benefits like staying connected to a professional community, learning from experts in the field, and keeping abreast with the latest advances and best practices in the profession.

Making a time investment in yourself

In fields where licensure is not required, professional development is often an afterthought or a “nice to have,” and, if unaddressed, can lead to deepening job dissatisfaction. Business is one of those fields. As a mid-career executive or senior manager, you are probably thinking that you can’t afford the luxury of time to invest in your own professional growth. You may go to industry conferences or networking events when you can or when you have to, but these activities are not designed to re-ignite your passion for your work or equip you with enhanced tools and techniques to be more effective.

Executive education, on the other hand, is a way to cultivate the skills and the mindset you need as a mid-career professional to continue to do the job and the work you love.

Course content can range from general management subjects to more specific topics like law or digital marketing or international trade. The course material is developed and presented by knowledgeable faculty who give you the latest insights into your field.

Your fellow learners are people who bring the same level of experience to the conversation, giving you the opportunity to learn from peers in other industries. And last but not least, being out of the office for a couple days and away from distractions, can be incredibly refreshing.

Rediscovering your purpose

As the associate dean of Executive Education at MIT Sloan School of Management, I am in the fortunate position to be exposed to all the great learning and ideas in our executive education programs. We have over forty to choose from, but it’s impossible for me to attend anonymously. Yet, getting fresh ideas and new perspectives are important to me, so I also look further afield to find that inspiration.

This is why I find attending conferences and workshops like FRED Forum fulfilling, rewarding, and highly inspiring. FRED Forum is an annual event that brings together leading innovators and senior executives responsible for developing leaders from the business, education, social and government sectors. I make a point of attending it every year, and each time I leave with a lot of new ideas and the energy to implement them as soon as I get back to my office.

Last year’s theme was Purpose. On the first day of the conference, Richard Leider, a renowned executive life-coach and author, guided us through a workshop on how to identify and articulate our individual purpose in life. An interesting experiment in self-reflection, it was no small task by any measure. While each person’s purpose is a deeply personal matter, Leider pointed us in a general direction of leading a meaningful life by growing and giving, as people and as leaders in our fields. Of course, having a clear purpose does not guarantee that you will succeed, but striving in the right direction will get you closer to leading a fulfilling life. Leider returned to FRED this year, along with an array of equally impressive speakers and facilitators, and the amazing community of leadership development professionals and business leaders.

Choosing what’s right for you

Just like picking the best college to attend, finding educational experiences later in life that are meaningful and effective for you personally is key. Granted, events like FRED Forum or TED conference tend to be about big, inspirational ideas, and if that’s not your thing, there are many more practical options out there. Executive education could mean anything from classes at your local business school or university up to travelling to one of the top schools that you wouldn’t have thought to attend—but now, with executive education, you can! And if you’re lucky enough to have one of these schools right in your city—don’t wait, check out their calendar and sign up.

Some people have found such an oasis in MIT Sloan and keep coming back year after year, either taking classes or working toward an Executive Certificate—a popular option for professionals who are committed to lifelong learning. Others we know like to sample across a whole range of offerings. (Of course, they always tell us that ours is the best!) Whichever route you take, continuing your professional growth through education will always keep your thinking fresh, make your day-to-day more exciting, and make you a nicer person to be around.

Peter Hirst leads the team of professionals who partner with clients and faculty at the MIT Sloan School of Management to develop, design and deliver innovative executive education programs for individuals and companies. Here are 7 books that the faculty at MIT Sloan recommend.  

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Unhappy at Work? How to Tell Your Boss

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I had it all — a great company, terrific coworkers and a short commute. The only problem was I really didn’t like my job. I spent most of my day alone, crunching numbers for data research. There was no creativity and little human interaction. I wasn’t happy, but I labored on, dejected and frustrated. One […]

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Why Curiosity is so Important in Your Career

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The legend has it that when humans discovered the potato plant, many died because of it. They have eaten the fruits and leafs of the plant which turned out to be poisonous. Sad and angry, they gather all the potato plants (fruits, leaves, roots) they could find and set them on fire to wreck this […]

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I got an opportunity to work for one of the best companies in the world. It’s an opportunity that I can’t pass up. Challenging myself is a big part of my work happiness. So when a headhunter emailed me in LinkedIn and asked if I was interested in working at USAA. I said YES! The […]

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Last month I was talking with a client and we weren’t seeing eye to eye. I wanted them to try some new ideas because I wanted to see if we could improve our results. They were resistant. I don’t want to give too much detail away, but we hit an impasse. Of course we stayed […]

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