Derek Irvine - Author Archive

A Guidebook for Building a Human Workplace (A book review)

By Derek Irvine

Recognize This! – No workplace would exist without humans. Why don’t we build more workplaces for humans?

Cover of book The Human WorkkplaceWhat does it mean to truly work human? The answer is as complex as humanity itself, but centers on enabling our people to bring the fullness of their humanity into the workplace for the benefit of their colleagues, their customers, the company, and the community. (To learn much more, including practical tips, be sure to join us at the annual WorkHuman conference, April 2-5, in Austin, Texas.)

A key part of making work more human is, of course, creating a human workplace. And now friend and repeat WorkHuman speaker Andy Swann has written the book on it – “The Human Workplace.” As the founder of Simple Better Human, a specialist agency that helps major organizations and global brands thrive, Andy knows what he’s talking about, defining a human workplace this way: “The human workplace is one that adapts, innovates fast, involves everyone, communicates, understands and acts in perpetuity. It creates relationships rather than transactions.”

There is much to consider when creating a workplace fit for humans, and Andy tackles them all thoroughly. The thread running through every element, however, is connection. A truly human workplace has connection at its heart. The need to connect with others, to a purpose and through action is a basic human need. Andy elegantly outlines these and other critical elements of connection, which I highlight below along with key quotations from the book to illustrate.

  • Purpose – Humans are wired to want to contribute to something bigger than themselves, to know we are having an impact on something of importance.

“The organizations of the future are no longer machines or systems, they are movements. To make a successful human workplace, you need to start a movement.”

  • Values/behaviors – Humans are also willful creatures. Restraining that will results in also restraining creativity, passion, and influence. Yet some level of control is needed in workplaces to keep humans from running amok. Defining clear parameters, along with what matters to organization success, frees people while offering necessary guidance. Most organizations have these today in the form of core values or similar.

“When people are unleashed to be amazing on their terms (within the parameters of the organization), their potential is unlocked.”

  • People/community – Humans crave connection. We see it in our family structures and in our friendships. Why would we ignore that need in the workplace? Instead, we should facilitate and foster it.

“Families are based on human relationships, not transactions. In a family, it matters who someone is, not just what they do … Valuing people as people reinforces the connection. It’s a balance of thanking, trusting, listening, and rewarding. It’s about a wider connected contribution, rather than a two-way exchange.”

  • Ability to contribute – A good deal of frustration in the workplace arises when people don’t know or don’t fully understand how their day-to-day efforts contribute in a meaningful way. Making valuable contributions and knowing that your contributions are valuable (and those are two different things) are both critical in a human workplace.

“Valuing your people is about valuing their contribution as part of the community, not bowing down in thanks because they show up. It’s a two-way thing. Contribution is exactly that and a condition of membership in the community.”

  • Continuous feedback – To know our contributions are valuable, we need feedback on it. Receiving feedback (and giving it) across the spectrum from constructive to positive and up and down the hierarchical chain helps us grow and develop.

“Every individual is in perpetual beta, seeking to develop and do their best work … In the community of a human workplace, feedback … is part of recognition. Recognizing the contribution, successes, and developmental needs of each individual, in order for them to participate fully in the community. When everyone is able to do that, the community benefits.”

  • Authenticity – Humans can detect sincerity as well as inauthenticity quite easily in most cases. Building and strengthening connections requires authenticity, trust, and fairness.

“Connecting people with the organization … needs to be authentic. Human workplaces are built on real connections and anything not done for the right reason will be recognized for what it is, because the power is with the crowd.”

What other steps can you take to create a more human workplace? These three themes run through Andy’s book, which is filled with case studies from organizations and people around the world:

  1. Simplify – Reduce complexity. What’s the minimum viable solution that removes distractions and unleashes human creativity and talent? “There is absolutely no valid reason to make things more complicated than they need to be.”
  2. Offer freedom and flexibility – Give people the space they need, in work style and in work location, to bring their full creativity to the fore – as long as they act within established guidelines and parameters. “The challenge for traditional organizations is how to force people to do their best work. The challenge for a human organization is how to enable people to do their best work.”
  3. Measure success – Be sure people take responsibility for contributions and outcomes. As Lee Mallon, founder of Rarely Impossible, says in one case study, “An organization’s legacy is not defined by their performance, accolades or profits but for the collective human moments that they create – the welcoming smile; a supportive colleague; the customer call that starts at 4:59 pm.”

In the New Year, what can you do to create a more human workplace – for yourself, your team and your organization?

A Little More Conversation, Please

By Derek Irvine

Recognize This! – Building relationships through conversations, appreciation and feedback is fundamental to the human condition.

Sincere words have a profound impact on a life.With apologies to Elvis, we need a little more conversation. Conversing together, sharing with each other, is a hallmark of what it means to be human. And yet, many of the interactions we have at work are action-oriented, outcome-driven, or meeting-based (and very few meetings in my career have fostered true interpersonal conversations).

If we want to make work more human, we need to facilitate more and better conversations – along the full spectrum of what it means to engage with other humans in a supportive and developmentally relational way. This may not always be easy, but it is simple.

Simply do a little more in these three areas to make your relationships at work more meaningful and more productive.

  1. Talk More – Start building strong relationships by reaching out and talking with others – engaging with them in meaningful ways and, critically, in ways that are meaningful to them. My team just completed a very interesting communications styles profiling and training session in which we each learned our own communication style based on our dominant brain preference. More importantly, we learned how to engage others more effectively by communicating with them based on their dominant brain preference. That’s the essence of both powerful communication as well as powerful connection – approaching from the other perspective first, rather than your own.
  2. Thank More – Once even a tenuous relationship is built through simple communication, step it up by looking for opportunities to sincerely thank the other person for who they are and for what they do. This requires us to pick our heads up out of our own work and busyness to notice more fully those around us, their own busyness, the contributions they are making, and the impacts they are having on ourselves and on others. The need to be seen, to be noticed, to be valued, to be appreciated is also a fundamental human need. Sincerely, specifically and meaningfully saying “thank you” is a great gift to others as well as a sure path to deepen relationships.
  3. Ask More – A strong relational foundation of appreciation also creates a level of trust to ask for feedback on how to grow, learn, develop, and improve. We all have areas where we are strong as well as areas where we can do better. Imperfection is also a part of the human condition. Acknowledging that no one is perfect (and neither am I), gives us the freedom to ask others for the feedback we need. And when we step out first to ask others for feedback, we also give them the psychological safety they need to give us the feedback we need to hear.

Openness with others (and honesty with ourselves) leads to more meaningful relationships. And our relationships with co-workers is one of the strongest drivers of a positive employee experience and to our sense of belonging in an organization. Being more open requires that we talk more, thank more, and ask more.

With whom do you have solid relationships at work? Who do you talk with the most? Who are you most comfortable asking for the perhaps hard-to-hear feedback? And who comes to you when they need to hear the same?

4 Tips to Move from Frozen and Fixed to Agile and Growing at Work

Everyone can learn and growBy Derek Irvine

Recognize This! – All humans have the capacity to grow, learn and develop but are too often held back by fear of failure. A growth mindset in an agile work environment is key to working more human.

I heard a fascinating podcast recently on applying the agile software development method to your family. (Here’s the TED talk version.) Our company applies the agile method to nearly every part of our business far beyond our software developer group, and I can see how it could easily apply in other areas of life, too. The agile method is all about continuous feedback – try, learn, deliver, iterate, try, fail, learn, deliver, and so on. Agile works because it keeps people focused on consistently moving forward.

This dovetails well with research and emerging thinking on how best to help our employees succeed. Changing the decades old performance review process is just one element of this shift in the workplace to a more continuous conversations model in which employees continually receive and give feedback across the full spectrum from constructive to praise. One of the foremost thinkers in this area is Dr. Carol Dweck with her “growth mindset” approach.

As Dweck explains in this TED talk and in her book, people with a growth mindset fail, learn, and try again. People with a fixed mindset fail and resist trying again. This can be particularly problematic with people managers who perceive their employees through a fixed mindset lens, rarely allowing employees to grow and develop beyond preconceived or early-established notions of skills and abilities.

Dweck speaks in terms of “the power of yet” (we may not yet have achieved the success we desire, but we’re on the path to it) vs. “the tyranny of now” (if I initially fail, then there’s no point to continue trying). If our intention at work is to help our people be agile, to continue to grow and develop, we must free them from the tyranny of now. Here are four tips to get started:

  1. Develop our own growth mindset – Practice an agile development model in our own work. Look for ways to perceive challenges and failure as opportunities to learn and move forward.
  2. Help managers change perceptions of others for growth – Per Dweck, look for managers who “embody a growth mindset: a zest for teaching and learning, an openness to giving and receiving feedback, and an ability to confront and surmount obstacles.”
  3. Praise wisely and reward process instead of results – Don’t recognize people for their intelligence or talent. Praise their process, effort, strategies, focus, perseverance, and improvement. Again, per Dweck: “…praise for taking initiative, for seeing a difficult task through, for struggling and learning something new, for being undaunted by a setback, or for being open to and acting on criticism.”
  4. Transform the meaning of effort and difficult from “dumb” to “helping neurons make better connections and become smarter.” Reward progress in an agile development model, regardless of the job role or function. What did you learn? How did you improve?

Ultimately, thinking in terms of agility and growth is a far more human approach to work – and life. As Dweck says (bold comments added by me):

“The more we know that basic human abilities can be grown, the more it becomes a basic human right for everyone to live (and work) in environments that create that growth, to live (and work) in environments filled with yet.”

There are many aspects to making work more human. I hope you can join us at WorkHuman 2018 in Austin, Texas, April 2-5, to learn more.

What kind of mindset do you have? What about your boss? Your organization?

2 Principles for Effective Performance Management

By Derek Irvine

Compensation Cafe logoRecognize This! – The next generation of performance management will be employee driven and focused on contributions. Social technologies are the tools that make it effective.

Across the landscape of companies redesigning performance reviews, there is a diverse range in the way those systems are designed and implemented. Yet regardless of the specific path chosen, the common thread is to streamline and make the evaluative process more efficient while also increasing validity.

At the same time, the big data revolution in HR has begun to provide a wealth of more information about performance events, in real-time and from different platforms. Performance management processes are beginning to take advantage of that trend, leveraging continuous conversations about performance and development.

As I wrote in a recent post on Compensation Cafe, social technologies and tools are well suited to take advantage of these changes in the performance management space.

Specifically, two features stand out among these next generation performance management approaches:

The first is that performance is largely employee-driven, the organization focused on providing the tools that facilitate goals, conversations, and feedback around performance. These tools help to establish both a cadence and continuous improvement mindset. The data provides insight on both current progress and future direction.

The second is the clear separation between discussions around base pay and merit increases (reflecting one’s core skills and abilities) and variable pay and bonuses (reflecting one’s specific contributions over the year). For the purposes of the latter, a majority of employees fall into a group defined by consistent performance (operationalized as having met at least three-quarters of one’s goals). The simplicity of the approach allows for much more focused and ultimately more developmental conversations.

These features balance the needs of individual employees to grow and meaningfully contribute, with the needs of organizational and compensation decision-makers. These approaches will be employee-driven, data-rich and process-light.

What tools is your organization providing to contribute to performance?

Recognize the Givers in Your Company

Compensation Cafe logoBy Derek Irvine

Recognize This! – Givers find energy when they give in self-protective and personally meaningful ways, and when they are recognized and reminded of how their contributions matter.

It’s not just about giving and taking anymore.

Recent research by Adam Grant and Reb Rebele shows that the type of giving matters – specifically whether you are a “selfless” or a “self-protective” giver.

The selfless types often give indiscriminately, without regard for their own limited resources or time. They can easily become overloaded with requests and are more susceptible to burnout.

Self-protective givers, on the other hand, focus on high-impact, low-cost giving aligned to their strengths and interests. They are more likely to gain rather than lose energy from their giving.

As Adam and Reb point out, positive giving spirals “free you up to focus on helping where you have the most impact – which replenishes your energy by reminding you how much your contributions matter.”

As I wrote recently on Compensation Café, that last bit reminded me of a conversation I had recently with a colleague:

He recounted [to me] something his spouse, a palliative care physician (and a fan of Adam’s work), had told him about giving in a healthcare setting: When you give, it is more than giving your time, resources, or even “capital” … fundamentally it’s about giving of your whole self.

Giving in self-protective and mindful ways, we all are more personally invested and find greater meaning in the help we provide.  When we are recognized for that investment and reminded of how our giving matters, we are rejuvenated.

Recognition plays an important role in sustaining the energy of givers, particularly as the level of personal investment and meaning increases. Through a strong culture of recognition, the organization is poised to benefit from the positive spirals of self-protective givers.

How does your organization support giving and the recognition of those givers?

Recognition as a Driving Force for Potential

By Derek Irvine

Compensation Cafe blog logoRecognize This! – Changes in the business world are rapidly accelerating. To keep up, companies will need to recognize more of potential and creativity, and less past performance.

Keeping up with the changing world of work is becoming more and more difficult. No longer just about the pace of change, leaders must now also react and respond to the complexity of interacting and overlapping changes.

As I wrote in a recent piece on Compensation Café, the profile of competencies required of all employees – and how organizations recognize and reward them – needs to change in order to keep pace. What follows is an excerpt from the original post.

The imperative for leaders is in the creation of a compelling vision and how to motivate employees around that vision. Unfortunately, those seem to be the skills that are lacking among high-potential (HiPo) employees in leadership pipelines. Recent research published in the Harvard Business Review found that nearly half of participants in HiPo programs are below average when measured on leadership effectiveness.

A portion of these findings might be explained by a “how/best” mindset that has traditionally guided organizational decision-making. Leaders seek out which decisions are the best and then how to implement them. Where data from past performance or best practice exists, that mindset is both effective and efficient. However, that same mindset presents a barrier in response to situations that are novel or uncertain, situations that require creativity in response to change.

To be future-proofed, organizations need to move away from the types of processes and structures that reward a “how/best” mindset and past performance. Instead, they will need to place more emphasis on how to identify and develop a broader range of employee attributes, including potential and creativity.

One way that business and HR leaders can shift the emphasis is through the strategic use of rewards and recognition. Not only will that contribute to a more positive employee experience overall, but social recognition can also provide leaders with the data on which individuals are being recognized for their innovation, their curiosity in solving challenging problems, and for experimenting with new processes.

Click on this link to read the full post on Compensation Café.

Encourage Talent Networks in Your Company!

Compensation Cafe logoBy Derek Irvine

Recognize This! – Research shows talent deployment matters more than the raw amount of talent. One effective strategy is to encourage talent networks through social recognition.

The war for talent is most often described in terms of a company’s ability to attract and retain employees with the highest levels of productivity and/or the most potential.

An assumption of that “war”- given that talent is a scarce resource – is that the company with the most talent will be successful. Recent research has tempered some of that assumption, taking a closer look into how talent actually relates to organizational success.

Summarizing some of that research on the Compensation Cafe, I wrote about how the “deployment” of talent matters much more than the raw amount of talent. Highly successful companies differentiate themselves from average companies by clustering their talented employees around critical functions and roles.

I went on to discuss some of the potential implications of that research. One explanation of why clustering is effective can be summarized as follows:

“Teams and networks of talent drive success. When talented employees are clustered around critical areas, there are more opportunities for those networks to grow, for collaboration to occur, and for relational ties to strengthen. If one talented employee can have a large impact on a core area, then the impact of a team of talented employees might be exponentially greater.”

These internal “talent networks” can be a critical factor in ultimately driving success, particularly when they are cultivated and encouraged through human-centered technologies.

Social recognition is one such solution that can help an organization to deploy its talent in networks, especially when paired with complementary practices like continuous conversations, coaching, and feedback.

Recognition moments themselves serve to strengthen the relationships and collaborations between talented employees, as they work across functions and areas to do the critical work of the organization. The data and analytics provided by a social recognition platform offer leaders visibility into these networks in real time. They can pinpoint where interactions and collaborations are having impact, through existing teams as well as less formal collaborations that would otherwise be hidden from view.

How does your company empower talented employees to connect and succeed?

What Workplace Studies Can Tell Us

Compensation Cafe logoBy Derek Irvine

Recognize This! – Experiments in the workplace can help show the impact of innovative practices, and provide insight into management philosophies.

Experimentation in the workplace isn’t necessarily a new idea. As early as the 1920s, studies have looked into the effect that various workplace changes, such as lighting and scheduling adjustments, could have on productivity.

Today, many companies and even municipalities continue to experiment, in pursuit of insights that can create a better workplace.

I recently wrote about the conclusion of one such study on Compensation Cafe. This study centered on a government-run nursing home in Sweden that had implemented a 6-hour workday, and the outcomes that stemmed from that change.

Studies like this reflect a delicate balance between two management philosophies.

As with earlier studies of the workplace emerging from the Industrial Era, an emphasis is on factors that can make workers more productive and positively impact the bottom line. But there is a shift as well in some of the outcomes, reflecting an employee-centric view that aligns to the philosophies of the Human Era. In these cases, policies are examined that have potential to improve the employee experience and well-being.

Workplace experiments can offer the opportunity to examine how outcomes related to each philosophy are weighted against each other, tracking the evolution of our thinking about work.

Take the outcomes of the experiment in Sweden for example. Researchers there found that 6-hour workdays were able to improve a whole host of outcomes related to employee happiness, health, and even productivity. Unfortunately, the changes were also reported as costly and difficult to implement, leading to skepticism about such practices among policy makers.

Perhaps the experiment in the nursing home was slightly ahead of its time, or perhaps we simply need to learn more about how to make human-oriented practices more sustainable. As I wrote in the full post on Compensation Cafe:

These experiments have shown that we can increase well-being and productivity, and that things like happiness can have tangible outcomes. As we build our collective knowledge across organizations and settings, we can solve for the remaining variables like cost and ease of implementation.

Much like some of those early experiments, findings may not have supported the desired outcomes, but instead offered insight that is much more valuable over the long run.

What are your thoughts about experiments like this and the future trajectory of the work experience?

The Benefits of Looking Back

By Derek Irvine

Compensation Cafe logoRecognize This! – Technology can help us look back at all we have done over the year, celebrating accomplishments and increasing our sense of meaning and belonging through work.

The year’s end offers an excellent opportunity to look back at all of one’s accomplishments. Not merely for the sake of nostalgia, taking time to review one’s own body of work reinforces the depth and meaning of connections that have been made at work.

But as I wrote in today’s post on Compensation Cafe, getting an accurate picture of one’s accomplishments over the span of 12 months is challenging.  It seems we have all gotten busier and the pace of change has sped up as well. So I posed the following question:

Do you remember everything you’ve accomplished over the past year? You might do fairly well with a couple of recent projects or especially big wins, but what about when you think all the way back to January and all the work that has occurred since then.

It turns out that humans have a poor track record of memory over time. We have a strong tendency to focus on recent events at the expense of ones that are older, for example, forgetting much of the work we actually did. Opportunities to look back have also largely been informal and unstructured, which can compound the challenge.

HR technologies, like social recognition, can help change some of that. A record of what one has accomplished can be created in real-time. That record can be easily integrated into continuous conversations between manager and direct report, or even shared more widely among peers to celebrate wins and progress.

Why is it worthwhile to bring more of this into the work day, especially around this time of year? Well, as I wrote in the full post:

Employees derive a sense of meaning and belonging through the work they do. At times, it comes through in how work contributes to a greater purpose or mission for the company. At others, it is about how people have come together to get work done, solve challenging problems, or delight a customer.

Recognizing what people have accomplished and which relationships were built is a way for companies to create a positive employee experience, and ultimately make work more human.

Have you set aside any time to take a look at everything you have accomplished over the past year?

3 Steps to Build a Positive Employee Experience

By Derek Irvine

Compensation Cafe blog logoRecognize This! – With a thoughtful approach, positive organizational strategies contribute to a better employee experience.

The impact of positivity in the workplace is a subject of some debate. Some point to its tangible benefits, but others are somewhat more cynical. While the truth may take some time to uncover, the ultimate impact may be attributable to variability in how positive organizational strategies and initiatives have been implemented.

As I wrote in this post on Compensation Cafe, creating a positivity-driven workplace typically follows some variation on one of two potential paths: “At one end of the spectrum: a fad-like approach to tick a box off the list. At the other end, a holistic approach to integrate positivity into the fabric of the business.”

The closer an organization can get to the latter, the more benefits they are likely to see from building a positive employee experience.  With that in mind, there are three main things to consider to successfully build towards a more positive workplace:

 

1. Focus on drivers that lead to the outcome of positivity. Too often, positivity is treated like a driver instead of an outcome. In reality, organizational practices and norms are the drivers that lead to a positive employee experience. Keeping the two distinct allows leaders to think through the relationships between those practices and positivity, and why those relationships matter to business performance.

2. Focus on long-term practices that tap into enduring aspects of human motivation. Positivity fads focus on quick-fixes that only lead to momentary benefits or unsustainable behavior change. Instead, HR and business leaders need to consider practices that are more durable, tapping into attributes that make work meaningful and create a sense of belonging.

3. Focus on aligning multiple practices into a cohesive strategy. A single practice, no matter how effective, set against a company’s current culture is unlikely to be effective in creating lasting change. Creating a positive work experience requires a set of practices and norms that reinforce one another, gradually creating culture shift that influences everyday work experiences.

 

Click here to read more from my full post on Compensation Cafe. Together, these steps can help an organization to create a more positive employee experience.

What has been successful for your organization in creating a better work experience?