Why Street Workers Need to Add the “People Component”

By Carolyn Vreeman | June 17, 2019 | 

Our street is under construction.  In three months, they say, it will be a totally new, wonderful, perfectly working street that will solve all of the neighborhood’s water problems (OK, they didn’t say it would solve ALL problems, but…)

We have had workers of all sorts pound on our door at 7:00AM asking us to move our cars.  We have had panicky neighbors at that early hour asking if they can park in our driveway for an hour while they figure out how to get their morning tasks done before work.

We lost cable for two days – and being a “work from home” family, that was tough:  meetings had to be rescheduled and even the library was full of patrons when we needed it most!

All day long, we hear beeping – vehicles backing up.  I hear it in my sleep now…beep, beep, beep….

Getting to and from our house is sometimes impossible by car and parking options are slim.

And the DUST…is everywhere.  EVERYWHERE!

The workers are perfectly nice, hard-working, I-want-to-bring-them-a-beer sort of folks.  Their job isn’t to think about the people impact.  Their job is to get the work done, and do it as safely and efficiently as possible.

In a perfect world where this project has a “people component,” a team would plan for the impact on the families.  They would seek to understand the possible challenges each family would face, and would work with representatives of the neighborhood together to develop a solid plan to mitigate these challenges.

Below are some examples of what an Organizational Change Leader or “People Leader” would probably do in a project like ours:

  1. Each family would be provided a rough timeline for the project so they can see what’s completed and what’s coming next.
  2. The Association Board (neighborhood leaders) would be utilized to proactively plan for possible inconveniences or challenges for the project.
  3. The project team and Association Board would coordinate with the cable, internet, and phone companies and other utilities to ensure that the impact, if any, is explained, planned for, and short in duration.
  4. Each family would receive a list of “what to expect” and basic recommendations:  “There will be dust and loud beeping sounds…we recommend you close your windows when possible.” “You may need to move your car into a temporary parking spot:  Here is a map of parking areas that are authorized during this project.”
  5. Families would have a number to call to ask questions- where they would get real, up to date information about the project quickly.
  6. If cars need to be moved or couldn’t be parked in the driveway, families would be notified in the evening, perhaps by postcard in their door or text…or both.  Then, a knock on the door in the morning would serve as a reminder.
  7. Notification and update messages about the project would be shared on the neighborhood Facebook page.
  8. Homeowner calls with the project team would be scheduled at regular intervals to discuss the project plans and provide risk management where necessary.  These calls would share information about the project and provide opportunities to receive feedback and answer questions from the people in the neighborhood.

Of course, these are just a few ideas of what would work in our neighborhood, and we all know each neighborhood is slightly different and might require a slightly different approach.  It would, however, be a better experience for the homeowners (us!) if some of the activities listed above were put into place during this project.

What other ideas do you think would help the homeowners (People!) prepare and live through a project like this?  

Advertisements

Leadership lessons from “The Ball That Did Not Like to Bounce.”

A Leadership Lesson from George

This is a story about culture, and about the barriers successful leaders break through to challenge what we know and become what we hadn’t dreamed possible.  No, I am not giving you the cliff notes from my husband’s children’s book, The Ball That Did Not Like to Bounce here, but I do want us to think through the concept of the journey to be the unique you that is introduced in this book.  I also want to ponder how culture, leadership, and unconscious norms make this journey even more challenging. Perhaps we can learn together and you can use these thoughts when you read the book to your kids or grandkids to share the lessons.

See, every day, we are told by someone that we should be something like them.  As parents, it’s what we’re supposed to do: raise children who follow our rules, contribute to the community, and are like us.  Our extended family, society, and organizational rules also indicate to us what is acceptable, expected, and “normal.”

George is a rubber ball.  He doesn’t like to bounce.  He knows he’s supposed to.  We all think he should. 

We follow the rules established to maintain order, societal norms, status quo.  We expect everyone to follow those rules because, frankly, they should, right?  It’s how we live.  It’s what we do.  We don’t think about it.  It just is.

Many people aren’t ok with that.  More and more, we are integrating cultures and expectations and skills.  We are asking why we do things.  We are embracing differences but only within our own boundaries.  We are challenging the status quo more and more, but we continue to silently and without effort- unconsciously- encourage what we have always known;  the status quo.

George from The Ball that did not like to bounce

George should bounce.  It’s tradition.  It’s what his family has done for many years.  It just IS.

People in Spain eat lunch at 2:00 PM.  Spanish eat the meal that is like an American dinner at lunch.  They eat apples or cheese slices for dinner.  It’s their tradition.

Americans work through lunch and eat pasta for dinner at 6 or 7 PM.  It’s their tradition.

When we want to create a workforce that values differences, we have to take into account these every day traditions and determine if they are helping us or hindering logic and creativity.

George doesn’t like to bounce.  He likes to roll and fly.  He is compelled to be different.

We all are compelled to be different and unique.  We are talented in a thousand different ways, each of us.  We are what make families and teams and organizations amazing.  Our unique thinking brings us to new levels.

George journeys to find his true George.

Smartly, we all have a journey that is unique to us.  We don’t follow in our parents’ footsteps, we create our own paths.  We make our talents work for us.  We become the best gift of US to the world around us, but it’s not easy.  It doesn’t happen without disappointment, anger, frustration, loneliness, and fear.  It happens because of all of those things.

George finds those who welcome him in a bowling alley.

They aren’t like him.  They don’t look like him – they aren’t rubber – but they understand him and celebrate him.  He feels validated and encouraged to be HIM in all of his uniqueness.

George’s journey has a sequel…not written yet, but we know this isn’t the end of his journey. As adults, we know this isn’t a one-time-in-life journey.  This is an experience for all of us that we build off of throughout life.

We seek those who celebrate us, who encourage our uniqueness and welcome our awesome talents.  We seek those who make our differences valuable and look for opportunities to help us achieve our true potential.

George tells us about his life journey.  As adults, we all know that this journey is ongoing, it shouldn’t end.  We should always be exploring and celebrating our uniqueness and finding and loving others for theirs.

As leaders, we know our goal is to support, value, encourage, and empower people at every stage of their journey, even if we know their time with us is short-lived.  We help people become their best, unique version of themselves, and when they aspire for greatness, we mentor them to be great.  When they aspire for sameness, we mentor them to be great.

So, help me think through this topic:

As you think about sharing this message with kids, what answers do you think you will need to have ready? 

What questions will go unanswered or be tough? 

What different questions will adults have?

Buy your own autographed copy of The Ball That Did Not Like to Bounce at www.brandonvreeman.com. 

 

See, every day, we are told by someone that we should be something like them.  As parents, it’s what we’re supposed to do: raise children who follow our rules, contribute to the community, and are like us.  Our extended family, society, and organizational rules also indicate to us what is acceptable, expected, and “normal.”

George is a rubber ball.  He doesn’t like to bounce.  He knows he’s supposed to.  We all think he should. 

We follow the rules established to maintain order, societal norms, status quo.  We expect everyone to follow those rules because, frankly, they should, right?  It’s how we live.  It’s what we do.  We don’t think about it.  It just is.

Many people aren’t ok with that.  More and more, we are integrating cultures and expectations and skills.  We are asking why we do things.  We are embracing differences but only within our own boundaries.  We are challenging the status quo more and more, but we continue to silently and without effort- unconsciously- encourage what we have always known;  the status quo.

George from The Ball that did not like to bounce

George should bounce.  It’s tradition.  It’s what his family has done for many years.  It just IS.

People in Spain eat lunch at 2:00 PM.  Spanish eat the meal that is like an American dinner at lunch.  They eat apples or cheese slices for dinner.  It’s their tradition.

Americans work through lunch and eat pasta for dinner at 6 or 7 PM.  It’s their tradition.

When we want to create a workforce that values differences, we have to take into account these every day traditions and determine if they are helping us or hindering logic and creativity.

George doesn’t like to bounce.  He likes to roll and fly.  He is compelled to be different.

We all are compelled to be different and unique.  We are talented in a thousand different ways, each of us.  We are what make families and teams and organizations amazing.  Our unique thinking brings us to new levels.

George journeys to find his true George.

Smartly, we all have a journey that is unique to us.  We don’t follow in our parents’ footsteps, we create our own paths.  We make our talents work for us.  We become the best gift of US to the world around us, but it’s not easy.  It doesn’t happen without disappointment, anger, frustration, loneliness, and fear.  It happens because of all of those things.

George finds those who welcome him in a bowling alley.

They aren’t like him.  They don’t look like him – they aren’t rubber – but they understand him and celebrate him.  He feels validated and encouraged to be HIM in all of his uniqueness.

George’s journey has a sequel…not written yet, but we know this isn’t the end of his journey. As adults, we know this isn’t a one-time-in-life journey.  This is an experience for all of us that we build off of throughout life.

We seek those who celebrate us, who encourage our uniqueness and welcome our awesome talents.  We seek those who make our differences valuable and look for opportunities to help us achieve our true potential.

George tells us about his life journey.  As adults, we all know that this journey is ongoing, it shouldn’t end.  We should always be exploring and celebrating our uniqueness and finding and loving others for theirs.

As leaders, we know our goal is to support, value, encourage, and empower people at every stage of their journey, even if we know their time with us is short-lived (as many young aspiring talent look to a variety of challenges and experiences and move swiftly through organizations).  We help people to become their best, unique version of themselves, and when they aspire for greatness, we mentor them to be great.  When they aspire for sameness, we mentor them to be great.

John Maxwell talks about the difference between a duck and an eagle.  A duck is committed to how things are now.  An eagle soars to make things different.  Both are valued, and both need a leader’s understanding, direction and support.

So, help me think through this topic:

As you think about sharing this message with kids, what answers do you think you will need to have ready? 

What questions will go unanswered or be tough? 

What different questions will adults have?

Buy your own autographed copy of The Ball That Did Not Like to Bounce at www.brandonvreeman.com. 



Why “Lean In” Might Need a Reboot: MEN.

I’m starting my fourth Lean in initiative next week and wanted to update the kick off presentation that includes the number of women in leadership positions.  Turns out, I don’t have to update the deck:  Key findings from the 2018 Women in the Workplace report indicates that since 2015, the first year of this study, corporate America has made almost no progress in improving women’s representation. Some reports show a 1-2% increase in women in leadership positions in 2018 – an increase, yes, but I wouldn’t call that progress.

After meeting Sheryl Sandberg in 2013 and participating as a member of a Twin Cities MN Lean in circle, I was encouraged by the conversation and empowered by the results I saw women achieve through boldness and courage. I believe in this initiative, and I believe good has already resulted from these groups, but I believe something is missing – a whole lot of something…or someone.

Since my first Lean in Circle was formed – all women- it became entirely clear what problems lie ahead with this initiative.  Half of the population is missing from the discussion!

Men want to be involved.

During an event hosted by the City of Minneapolis’s Lean In Initiative, the 29% Club, a Director asked what he could do to support and promote confidence and leadership for women.  This was a brave question to ask, and as I networked throughout the event, I noticed that men were visibly uncomfortable.  They wanted to be supportive but really didn’t know how to fit into that role!

At Hennepin County, as the Chair of Lean in Hennepin, I advocated and encouraged men to be “at the table.”  Eventually, men (including executives) attended the sessions and at times facilitated the discussions.  They wanted to join the conversation and share their knowledge.

Men in leadership positions,  what can you do to support women in the workplace?  Listen to them.  Don’t talk over them.  Don’t interrupt anyone.  Encourage her to speak up, ask for her ideas, realize that she has a different leadership style than yours – often more participatory or collaborative and less directive – and teach her what you know, especially if it’s related to finance and budgeting.  Don’t look to clone yourself or what you know, look to create an astonishingly awesome team together…one that you’ve never experienced before.  Join LIFT and learn together.

Take on some of the office tasks and the home tasks.  Be a partner and be aware of what traditional roles we play every day that actually limit our ability to build and develop great teams – and change the script.

If you’re talking to one partner, the other partner isn’t listening.

In Sheryl’s book, Lean In, she talks about “making your partner be your partner.”  She says women are more likely to take on more of the housework at home (and in the office as well!).  If women are talking about how to do less housework yet haven’t engaged their partner in the discussion, the story is only half told and therefore not likely to be successful.

Often I talk with married friends who agree to take on the cooking, cleaning, laundry and childcare if the husband will cover lawn care and “fixing stuff.”  I ask them to do the math – how much time are they spending on daily chores compared to their significant other?

Now think about what that looks like in the office as women are more likely to take on cleaning and party-planning there, too.  And most of us put on make up and do our hair. You get my point: Let’s do the math – how many hours are spent doing things that are important but could be better divided out as partners equally – as a team?

If we change that equation, we are asking our partner to change their behavior which, as one person reminded me in a Lean In workshop that I led, may go against their culture, tradition or religious practices!  And what’s the value in doing that for them?  Read on…

It’s a win-win, but it can feel like a win-lose if we are short-sighted.

Many of the men I have talked with about this topic understand the value in having women leaders at the table, but they also feel that adding 50% of the population to the next level applicant pool seems alarming.  Will it cost them their promotion?  It might, but for years, it has also cost their grandmother, mother, sister, wife, and daughters the ability to become their very best and get paid their worth.  It’s greater than their promotion – it’s a chance to change the future for all genders.  That’s pretty cool.

We’re starting the conversation and inviting all people.

If you’re in the Twin Cities area and want to join the new Lean In initiative for all genders called:  LIFT (Leaders in Flight Together), sign up here.  We will meet the third Thursday of every month starting April 18th.  Mark your calendars, join us, sponsor us, believe in us.  We’re intending to achieve more than 1-2% in 2020 and we know we all can do our part to make our future better.  You can create this reality with us.

Want to follow LIFT?  Follow us on Linked In and Facebook.  Welcome!

Don’t Leave before you Leave

Yesterday, I had a few meetings to reconnect with people who inspire me and who I had worked with in previous contracts or employment.  We discussed a number of challenges, but the one common thread that continued to unravel throughout the day through different facets and perspectives was this: don’t leave before you leave.

You’re not retired until you retire.

One manager shared her frustration with people who were near retirement and didn’t want to learn new technology.  She shared that she was in a room of employees when one person argued that he was two years from retirement and shouldn’t have to learn to use new technology.  Her brilliant comment, “You’re not going to be retired at work and collect a paycheck.”  The younger employees clapped.  She pointed out that we need valuable, growing employees at every stage of their lives of employment and if you believe that you don’t need to learn new things when you are near retirement, you may be limiting your own talents.  We all know that you CAN teach an old dog new tricks – if they want to learn them.  And you’re only as OLD as you feel, right?

Legacy Plans work

Another manager I met later in the day talked about retirement-age employees who established legacy plans and devoted their last years of employment to completing one big project.  Some of them spent over 50 years working in this organization!  Over 50!This project has lasted for years – and the employees refuse to retire until it is live.  The manager said, “They will be here until the project is successful no matter what.”

I laughed because the work I did with these employees was to introduce and encourage legacy planning.  I never considered the challenges that might arise from true legacy dedication, but the engagement of this project team and these employees is top notch.  The manager was more concerned about this project “stealing” from their earned retirement!

Then, there are those in between

I have coached the “in-betweeners.”  I have been an “in-betweener,” and my final meeting of the day was about the “in-betweeners.”  These are the people who are miserable at work.  They go to work every day with dread or blah yet for reasons they hold dear to their hearts, they cannot give up.  They cannot leave.

Many of them are like the legacy builders and just want to see the end result of their work.  Sometimes they have fear that the work will fall apart without them.  Sometimes they have fear of failure.  Sometimes they just don’t want to give up.  Regardless, they leave before they leave.  They are shells of themselves, not focused on anything important and certainly not working toward their true potential.  And yet, they won’t throw in the towel and say goodbye.  Often, they won’t even explore other employment or job roles.  They will just “be.”

Life’s too short to just “be.”  Life’s too exciting to be just “blah.”

When it’s right to stay

It’s always confirming to hear reports of engagement.  What really gets employees to be a part of life at work?  Touching base with other leaders throughout the day and hearing their conviction to engaged employees confirmed for me once again that people will be more engaged and motivated when they feel competent in their skills, confident in their roles, connected to their teams and the organization, and are convicted to the purpose of their team’s work – and, in many cases, their own legacy.

One manager talked about an employee who was ” blah” and became “WOW!” through hard conversations and openness to feedback.  She needed the right work, the right support, and the right purpose.  Once that was established, the employee and manager  soared.

Another manager shared his own challenges with being engaged as a leader – that he was challenged with his own conviction and had to take time to realize that his challenges were not related to the engagement of the teams, but rather his own dedication and alignment to the vision of the work.  He established his own game plan to address misalignment to the vision and reengage himself in true leadership.

As I walked from building to building during the day meeting with one leader after another, each manager pointed out the “people impact” my work had achieved in the short time I was there.  I was inspired not because of the work I left behind, but by what they carried on and applied to other projects when I wasn’t with them, and how they put their leadership egos aside to truly become the leaders that made their teams flourish with record productivity and engagement.

They were working every day with purpose:  to create an environment where employees believed it’s right to stay and do their best whether they are retirement age or in-betweeners.

 

Debunk the myth: you don’t have to lead to achieve great success.

You don’t have to lead to achieve success.

You don’t have to be a leader to achieve success.

You don’t need a lofty title to achieve success.

You don’t have to climb the career ladder step by step, rung by rung, to achieve success.

Lately, coaching sessions and general conversations with leaders have rounded to a dramatic realization: we have missed the mark. Lives of learning that the most successful people are at the top of the organization have tainted our vision of happiness at work, and it’s starting to catch up with us.

Imagine that you have a 5 or 10 or 20 year career working to be the boss and then the boss’s boss and so on. One day, you realize that you are not fulfilled. You realize that you don’t want to be a leader: you want something else. You ask yourself, “If I am not a leader, if I give up this leaderly ladder life, can I still achieve success? If so, what does that look like?” Or even worse, “If I take a non-leadership role, am I a failure?”

No, not a failure. Now is the time to redefine your life goals and focus on the big picture by internalizing the following points:

1. Many people have had life-long, fulfilling careers doing what they love, regardless of the title.

I worked with hundreds of teams, and the most successful teams have as much respect for their janitor as they do for they CEO. If you enjoy leadership, become a leader. If you enjoy doing the work, do the work. The most valuable contribution you can make for yourself and your team is to find what makes you tick and do that.

2. You are not trapped.

So often I hear clients talk about feeling trapped in their position and the “Ask me if I am a tree” joke comes to mind. You are not a tree. You are not designed to live your entire life in one space. Leave. You may have to take a pay cut (about 50% of my clients do), but there is no price tag on loving life. We all land on our feet once we work toward our passions and stop allowing societal pressures, like the career ladder, limit our options.

3. Stepping out of a leadership role to be YOU is leaderly.

We forget that some of the best leaders lead from the heart and are sincerely, whole-heartedly understanding the needs of themselves…and then others, reconciling that these are one and the same. If you realize that your position is not YOU, moving on will inspire others to realize their true potential as well.

4. A person with a title is not always a leader.

I won’t forget one of my favorite conversations with a leader about titles. To paraphrase a lengthy conversation, this leader said, “I have had the title of Supervisor or Manager for nearly 30 years, but I don’t lead my teams. They lead the work and I help them be successful. The title is meaningless, it’s the relationship and respect that matters.”

Some people have the ability to be good leaders. Many people do not and many people desire not to be leaders but feel it is their only option for advancement.

If you’re not motivated by helping others achieve their success as individuals and part of a team, that’s just fine. More and more positions are being created currently that allow you to be recognized for great work as part of a team rather than placing the best workers in positions of leadership that don’t fit their skill set just to “keep them.”

Find (or create) a position that allows you to be you. You deserve it.

We don’t have to be leaders to achieve success.

Once you do what you love and realize the unlimited options available to you outside of the career ladder, you will write back to me about how good it feels to breathe again, now that you’ve removed yourself from the space that didn’t lead you to YOU.

Even if you’re not a writer, you will want to share your story with others.

Breathe. You are not a tree.

Employee engagement: the song is changing, have you noticed?

Day after day, we sing the same song…over and over again. Then, one day the song changes yet people continue to sing the same outdated song over and over again.

Is this the case with Employee Engagement? Will it be the case in our near future?

We offer programs and activities and action plans and recognition events to enhance employee engagement, understanding that our problem is a lack of engagement.

What if that’s the old problem, not the current problem, and certainly not the future problem?

What if with our passionate, energetic, younger employees (millennials and younger), we are experiencing the opposite problem? At first, I called this problem “over-engagement” and then I laughed at my label. If we consider people who are forward-thinkers, community builders, doers, innovators, technologists (in every aspect of their lives), and purpose-driven with passion for creating a new and better world “overly engaged,” we’ve got a society that holds back the greatness of people – that is established to actually limit engagement and not promote it.

When I consider what the millennial and younger generations bring to the world of work, I call that engagement. I call that passion. I call that community building, and I call that hope.

Our focus for these folks should not be how to engage them in the workplace, but rather how to guide, support, coordinate, and lead their energy, passion, and talents to do really great things together.

That means taking a good look at employee and workplace policies that will limit the creativity and energy these folks bring to the table. The world is their office…any time.

That means taking a good look at the role of leadership in organizations. What behaviors will leaders expect, reinforce, and foster within and amongst their team members.

That means taking a good look at hierarchy and organizational alignment. Are the benefits of this organizational infrastructure still realized or are they outdated and limiting to new ideas, creative thinking, and teamwork?

That means taking a good look at culture. Inevitably, these new employees will change your organization’s culture. Are you prepared to manage these changes or are you willing to allow them to manage themselves?

For years, we have been singing the tune about disengaged employees. When the song changes, will you notice? Will you be ready?

What have you done to really, truly create an environment where employees feel valued, are confident in their skills and talents and how they contribute to teamwork, and have the autonomy to make responsible decisions to manage their work and their life? Leave your tips in the comments below.

visit my website at http://www.vreemanconsulting.com

The Homeless Encounter in Seattle

“Let’s run, Mommy!”

We are in the heart of Seattle on a long overdue family vacation. It’s our final day of touring the City, and we’re beginning the mile walk from the water to the science center. After two days of hearing our four year old complain of tired legs, I was ecstatic that she wanted to run and skip up the ascending streets ahead (a much better option than the piggy-back rides we’d been doing).

She and I ran from the rest of the family, looking back here and there until they were so far back that we couldn’t see them anymore. We stopped at a corner to check navigation and take a breath, and two men asked us if we needed directions. “Head North to Fourth,” they said and we skipped across the road following their lead.

Soon, I noticed that we were passing people with developmental disabilities and recognized the familiar odor of homelessness.

We stopped to admire the painted piano on the sidewalk, daring each other to play a song. As we were moving to sit down, one of the men asked if he could play for us. He started playing and singing a Billy Joel melody. I watched my child sway to the music and smile.

I looked around me. At one time, this scenario- this street in an unfamiliar city with my precious child to protect- would have scared me. I would have run or at least walked briskly out of fear. Instead, words echoed in my head as tears came to my eyes, “they have talent; they are amazing people.”

As a social worker for 17 years, I learned the most valuable lesson from helping homeless people, hearing their stories, and getting to know and understand them. I learned that all people, ALL people, have something amazing to offer the world around us.

I remembered the man during the recession who lost his Fortune 500 accountant job and was found badly beaten in a park by his house and brought to shelter who later, with my help, went back to work. I remembered the battered women I helped find shelter with adorable young kids and the mentally and developmentally challenged people I helped begin a new life that, in some cases, was very similar to the Seattle residents I saw on that street. I remembered the talent that I found within them.

And on this day, on this street about half a block from the mental health center, I appreciated the gift this man was pouring into my daughter who later exclaimed, “He was beautiful! That was the most beautiful song I have ever heard!”

He let me take a picture and we thanked him profusely (high five and fist bump) before we ran off to be reunited with the rest of the family. (We literally ran off with him shouting, “Why are you running?” To which I answered, “She wants To!”)

This is a photo and memory that will guide us and remind us that all people have gifts to offer the world around us. It was a great lesson for my daughter and a much-needed reminder for me and hopefully you, too.