Harnessing Habits

The other day I happened to read two pieces that both touched upon habits.

The first was an article called Warning – Habits May Be Good For You from the NY Times.

  • a branch of successful marketing creates consumer habits, i.e. using Febreze.
  • some people think this is wrong, creepy, etc.
  • a nonprofit partnered with one such marketing company to promote the habitual use of soap in parts of West Africa, which saves a lot of little kids from dying.

Then I read a post called The Meaning of Life from the Positivity Blog.

  • we don’t have to go through life playing out the same old tired, automatic habits.
  • we can choose how to react, and therein lies our freedom.
  • it suggests working toward synergy and also doing what you love.

It was fascinating to read them on the same day because they’re so close to contradicting each other.  I think, though, that they both point to the idea that habits are powerful and can to some extent be controlled.

My takeaway is a whole bunch of questions to ask myself that I’ll also share with you:

  • Are you aware of your habits?  Habits of mind, relation to your environment, treatment of others, technology usage, verbal tendencies, etc.?
  • Is your organization aware of its habits, its automatic actions?
  • How are said habits serving you?  Your organization?  What would you change if you could?
  • How can we make positive change in personal or organizational habits?
  • How can we move beyond writing more policies and procedures to actually change our everyday experience?  Is this a logical place for Social Media to step in?
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Attitude and Hypothesis

Hot Air BalloonsToday’s Positivity Blog post points out that your attitude can absolutely change your experience of reality.  The author uses the example of a hot air balloon ride: passengers on the very same balloon ride will have very different experiences if one spends the whole time worrying about crashing and the other doesn’t.  Your reality is all about your attitude.

I didn’t see “bad attitude” vs. “good attitude” so much as “he thinks the balloon is going to crash and kill him” and “he does not think he is about to die.”

My question: are your “attitude” and your “educated guess about what the future will be like” the same thing?  I’ll spare you my chain of philosophical reasoning, but I’m thinking that in day-to-day life they’re very similar and that in extreme situations they diverge.  In any case, I think it’s hard to argue that your perception of what future is likely is entirely unrelated to your attitude.

I see a big opportunity here for management to help their employees have a positive attitude by providing evidence and assurance (two separate things!) that their future will be positive.  I’m sure this is easier said than done.  One idea: use the strategic plan (I know you have one!) to directly and intentionally show employees how they will continue to be supported, recognized, and provided with growth opportunities.

What messages are your employees receiving about the future?  What kind of a message is no message?  Are you inadvertantly working against your employees’ efforts to channel Polyanna?  How can you support your employees’ attitudes with evidence that the balloon won’t be hit by a meteor?

Management Suggestions: Communicating

One of my organization’s biggest strengths and biggest challenges is that we have a main office and several satellite sites.  This week I got a chance to talk to some satellite coworkers I rarely see, and it was fantastic to get to reconnect.  I spoke with one coworker in particular, largely about communicating with supervisors.

What I Realized:

  • When people work really really hard, they need to know that the people above them do also.
  • The wheels that aren’t squeaking still need you.
  • It’s easy to assume the worst in lieu of facts.
  • Face time, with people and at places, makes people feel better.

Management Suggestions:

  • Face time.  Make time for it.
  • Make sure that at least some of your hard work is visible.
    • If you’re at work at 10pm, make sure to send some emails then.  Time stamps are subtle and say a lot.
    • Share your to-do lists, projects, and finished products.
    • Take a moment (not an hour) at check-in meetings to report on what you’ve been up to too.
    • Make at least some piddling tasks a priority.  Fix that water cooler, address the lighting in that parking lot, help with that crazy landlord.
  • The line between trusting an employee and ignoring an employee has a lot to do with the employee’s perception.
    • Send a quick thank-you to the people doing a great job.  Acknowledge that you’re being very hands-off, and that you’re still there when they do need anything.
    • Have regular meetings and switch up the location.
    • Publicly recognize accomplishments, and not just the momentous ones.

What are some other suggestions or lessons that come to mind?  How else can management communicate effectively?

Transparency and “Good” Applicants

Many thanks to Lifehacker.com for starting a discussion on the apparently heated debate of résumé length.  I was surprised at how many different (and vehement!) opinions were out there.  Great points were brought up about the number of applicants and experience level.

My initial thought: employers should state what they’re looking for.  They post jobs and qualifications, why not post expectations?  It doesn’t seem difficult.  And why limit this to résumé length?  Wouldn’t HR’s job be easier if every company had a page of their website called, “How to be a good applicant” or some such?  Kind of like a twitter landing-page that Beth Kanter blogged about a couple of weeks ago, or email etiquette pages like ThanksNo.com (thanks again, Lifehacker!) you can refer people to.  

What would we call it – an applicant splash page?  Why be so secretive about the basics of our organizational cultures?  Do the benefits of such passive-aggression outweigh the potential benefits of increased transparency?  Would it help or hurt efficiency?  Would applicants like this or be irked by it?  Do some organizations already use one, and if so how is it working?

Nonprofit Competition

I just happened upon this Compensation Force blog post about benefits trends in the nonprofit sector in general.  I appreciate the blogger’s call to nonprofits to recruit talent!  Just because we’re willing to work for less money in order to not sell our souls doesn’t mean we’re not quality employees.  

She alluded to competition for this talent between nonprofits and for-profits, and more interestingly (and less directly) to competition among nonprofits themselves.  In my experience in nonprofits (granted, pretty limited to just a couple of years in Minnesota), it’s been intentionally non-competitive.  This is interesting because great employees definitely jump from organization to organization.  I’ve seen it a lot already.  We even sometimes joke about which organizations act as feeders for others.  

This leads me to re-think my perceptions of nonprofit competition.  It is there even if we’re unwilling to call it “competition.”  Yes, it has to do with salary, and yes, benefits too.  But I know there are other factors.  What are they?  What do nonprofits do to win the competition they stubbornly maintain is not there?

Top Three Supervisor Practices

I’ve been thinking a lot about program sustainability lately.  A big part of that is program management.  I thought it might be helpful to someone out there if I shared the Top Three things I really appreciate about my supervisor.  

1) She listens.  And she doesn’t just smile and nod – she asks questions and takes notes.

2) She doesn’t blame.  I don’t have to waste energy figuring out how to defend myself if I don’t do something perfectly.  I can spend that energy figuring out how to fix whatever went awry.  It’s one less thing to be stressed about and allows me to do my best work.

3) She asks for help when she needs it, and she helps us when we need it.  This sets a collaborative tone in our office culture.  We don’t just say we’re a team; we are a team.

To my supervisor, on the off chance she reads this: thank you.  

To everyone else:  Can you say the same about your supervisors in your life?  Can the people you supervise say the same about you?  Would you want them to?  What are the top three things you most appreciate in a supervisor?