Friday, December 24, 2010

Take the Time to Appreciate

As the holiday season is here, it’s important to take time to reflect on the people in our lives – family, friends, and co-workers – and truly appreciate the things they do for us; whether they are big or small. The positive impact others can have is undeniable, and far too often we neglect to say thanks or express our gratitude.

Appreciation is an important component of building positive relationships. It is not only the third component in our Let’s CHAT! coaching model, introduced in previous posts, but it’s also a key factor of employee engagement. Including appreciation into these models helps remind employers and employees to take the time to be grateful for the contributions and commitments of others, rather than focussing solely on the negative or areas that could use improvement.

Take a moment to reflect on who in your office (or life) has helped you. Who’s an un-sung hero in your workplace that could use some appreciation?

See for some ways to say thanks this season and throughout the year.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Hope – The Centre of Career Flow / The Message of Christmas

In preparing to write about “hope,” I googled the term. Perhaps not surprisingly, the first “hit” was Wikipedia – it’s worth a quick read. (As an aside, the second “hit” was a beautiful mountain community about an hour away from our head offices – Hope, BC :-)).

In the Wikipedia definition of hope, reference is made to belief in positive outcomes, spiritual grace, agency, and pathways. Very recent research has found hope to be an even better predictor of academic performance than intelligence, personality, or previous academic achievement. My own research demonstrated “optimism” (sometimes defined as having both hope and confidence) to be the best predictor of both career success and job satisfaction. Spencer Niles and Norm Amundson, my co-authors of Career Flow , placed hope at the centre of the model underpinning Career Flow. In other research, hope has also been linked to physical, emotional, and relational healing.

Clearly, hope is important across life arenas, so how can we strengthen it? Diverse professionals (e.g., teachers, nurses, pastors, counsellors) recognize that treating people holistically is important (i.e., instilling hope takes the whole person into account). Hope is also connected to the notion of “worth” – Amundson and others refer to this as “mattering.” Hopeful people know they matter – and this has been affirmed by others in their lives.

Hanukkah was celebrated earlier this month and Christmas is coming at the end of this week. Both spiritual celebrations are linked to hope. Rabbi Moshe Goldman, chaplain at Laurier University, says, “There are all kinds of social pressures that Hanukkah teaches us about. It teaches us about hope, not giving up, not settling.” The Christmas message, too, is centered on hope – the hope of a baby born in poverty but destined to save the world.

What gives you hope – the hope that is central to your career, your health, your faith, and your relationships? For some people, it’s taking time to look back before looking forward – reflecting on accomplishments. For others, it’s setting the past aside and looking ahead to a brighter future – actively working toward goals and dreams. Aristotle said, “Hope is a waking dream” – to bring your dreams to life, consider developing a vision board of words and/or pictures to keep you focussed.

John F. Kennedy cautioned, “We should not let our fears hold us back from pursuing our hopes.” Try to make time this holiday season to reflect on your dreams, the fears that are holding you back, and a strategy to keep hope alive in 2011.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Gift of Help!

A willing helper does not wait until he is asked
~Danish Proverb

Last week we introduced the Let’s CHAT! model with a brief overview of the first step – Communicate. This week we’ll focus on step two – Help.

Within the Let’s CHAT! model there are two components to Help. The first is What help do you need? The second is What help can you offer? In our experience, individuals tend to focus on one or the other – making “Help” a one-way arrangement.

Think about what’s on your plate or “to-do” list right now. What help do you need? For some, the first step will be to ensure they are willing to seek assistance. Karen Rowinsky wrote an interesting piece on why people are reluctant for ask for help. She noted that some people fear appearing incapable while others believe that everyone else is busy too and, therefore, won’t really have time to help. Read more at: Everything you want to know about help

While thinking about what help you need, also reflect on what help you can offer. Who in your life might need some help – especially this time of year? Perhaps pay special attention to those who might need help but be reluctant to ask. Don’t wait for them to get up the nerve to ask. . . think back to Rowinsky’s article, asking for help can be difficult for many people. Think of offering help as the best you can give this year.

To learn more about Life Strategies’ e-course on the Let’s CHAT! model, see

Monday, November 29, 2010

Communication is Key!

The single biggest problem in communication
Is the illusion that it has taken place.

~ George Bernard Shaw

Effective communication on your team, with co-workers and supervisors, as well as your clients, is imperative for successful working and coaching relationships. The Let’s CHAT! coaching model helps to not only facilitate open communication, but also to build empathy, foster appreciation, and prompt a commitment to action. The components of the model are: Communication, Help, Appreciate, and Take Action. Coaches using this model will engage in conversation beginning with Communication and working through to Take Action.

In this blog we’ll consider the first step of this model: Communication.

The focus of communication is to convey/receive a specific message to/from another individual (e.g., performance evaluation, team update). Communication will occur only when the message has been successfully transmitted by the sender and understood by the receiver. This may require a bit of back and forth between the sender and receiver – remember communication is a two-way street. Effective communication requires active engagement in conversation by both parties. Receivers should always be respectful, refrain from interrupting, and listen intently in order to truly hear the message which is trying to be communicated.

As information can be transmitted verbally (i.e., spoken words) and non-verbally, it’s important to be aware of body language cues (e.g., arms crossed may indicate frustration or not being open to new information). Ask probing questions to get to the underlying issue or to clarify points.

To learn more about Life Strategies’ e-course on the Let’s CHAT! model, see

Monday, November 22, 2010

Stress . . . What does that even mean?

It seems that in every conversation we’ve had lately, the phrase “I’m stressed” comes up. It may not be the primary point of the conversation . . . but it’s generally an underlying message. If you’re feeling stressed, especially as the holiday season approaches, it may be helpful to take a moment to sort out what that really means to you . . . and to assess whether or not the amount of stress you’re experiencing is manageable over the long term.

If you're feeling overwhelmed by stress, consider looking outside yourself for help. To get you started, here are 10 resources:

1. The Government of Canada provides good background information on stress at:

2. Dr. Gabor Maté’s book, When the Body Says No, is a fascinating read

3. The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook (6th ed) has been useful to many

4. Our own book, That Elusive Work-Life Balance, is available through our online store (print / pdf)

5. Community recreation centres, gyms, or fitness programs can release stress through activity

6. Seek spiritual solace through a local church, temple, mosque, or synagogue

7. Get checked by your physician – rule out any medical reasons for how you feel

8. Work with a coach to make positive changes in various aspects of your life

9. Complete an assessment. Tools like the Occupational Stress Inventory can help pinpoint what’s working and what’s not.

10.See a counsellor. Most communities have free mental health services and your workplace may have an Employee and Family Assistance Program.

Life Strategies supports individuals in person or over the phone. Contact to discuss appointment options for counselling, coaching, or completing the Occupational Stress Inventory or another assessment tool.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Productivity for Working Moms: Where to Start

Being a mother is unlike any other job out there. It is a continual juggling of running a household and attending to the needs of everyone in our care. Throwing a career into the mix is like throwing accelerant onto a fire, without careful tending something is bound to get out of control. Some moms can do it and make it look easy, yet others are struggling to get out of bed in the morning for fear of what the day will hold. What is Supermom's secret? Productivity. When you google "productivity + working moms" you will get overwhelming lists of productivity tips, but where do you start? How do you go from inefficient to a productive working mom with time to spare? Is it possible to find work-life balance? I am here to tell you, "Yes it is!"

I have been a working mom for over six years. The moment my first child was born I had a full-time job as a "Mother." I have worked outside of the home and from home, all on top of that full-time job of mothering. Being at work or at home comes down to a basic equation of the ratio between inputs to output. A good productivity ratio will contribute to the work-life balance that you crave. To keep this post manageable I will focus on productivity at home vs. productivity at work. I believe if you are productive at home with time and energy to spare, it will spill over to your productivity at work as well.

In the world of running a household, inputs are what you put into your work, namely the time, energy, and resources/money. Output is your results, that is to say, the value or quality of your work. On top of that ratio is the outcome: how you feel when the day is done.

Over the past few months I have been studying about psychological assessments. As I thought about how to increase productivity, I realized that all problem solving begins with identifying potential issues. I have created an informal, non-standardized assessment to help you become aware of your productivity issues.

Step 1: Make a List

Write down all the responsibilities and tasks that take up your time on a lined piece of paper. It may look something like:
  • cooking
  • cleaning
  • laundry
  • grocery shopping
  • talking the kids to school
  • volunteering in the community
  • helping the kids with homework
  • watching TV
  • yard work
  • walking the dog
Step 2: Rate your Outputs

Rate yourself on how well you are doing at staying on top of these areas by writing beside each item whether you are: doing very well, getting by, or not keeping up. Don't get hung up on my terms; just rate yourself however you are comfortable.

Step 3: Rate your Inputs

Specify next to each item how much time and money/resources you put into doing each of these tasks. Also indicate how much energy you put into it, either: lots of energy, some energy, or no energy.

Step 4: Rate your Outcomes

Think about how much you enjoy doing these tasks by writing beside each item whether you: love doing, tolerate, or detest with a passion. Also indicate how you feel once the task is done: exhausted, relieved or no sweat.

Step 5: Evaluate your List

You should be starting to see the problem areas that are sucking your time, your energy, your resources, and the joy out of your life. Considering all these things, choose the items on your list that are not that important to continue doing and which ones you can delegate. By delegate I mean enlist the support of your partner or kids, or outsource to someone who can do it for you.

Step 6: Take Action

I can already hear you saying, "I don't have the money for outsourcing." As a working mom you know better than anyone else the value of your time - your employer may put a price tag on it, but think of it in these terms: you can always earn more money, but you can never earn more time! Your time is precious. Many people in your life need and cherish your time.

Look at your list again and choose at least one item to research. How much would it cost to outsource things like: your laundry, weekly house cleaning, mowing the lawn, or walking the dog. There may be a high school student across the street that would love to earn some extra money, or a stay-at-home mom that is considering a laundry business to help out her family financially. If you don't know anyone personally who you could outsource to, ask your friends for recommendations. I have found great recommendations from Facebook, and sites such as Craigslist and Kijiji.

After you decide what must stay and what responsibilities can go, you can start coming up with solutions to deal with what is left; what only you can do. This is where everyone's top productivity tips come in. It may take some trial and error to figure out what will work best for you and your family, but identifying the areas where you are unproductive or inefficient is the place to start. Congratulations, you are now on the road to becoming Supermom!

Miranda is one of the newest members of the Life Strategies team. Aside from juggling her Mom and work responsibilities, she's a blogger that shares her practical experience on her personal blog. Miranda recently won the Shapeover Challenge and became a Reitmans Fashionista. Read more...

Monday, November 1, 2010

Leading Through Transformational Times

Reflecting on my last post, Surviving in Transformational Times, it seems that an essential element for survival is the emergence of a strong leader. What makes someone a strong leader? What do they need to do? How can they support their people?

Not all leaders are created equally – there are different types and styles; each with their own strengths and challenges. According to John Gardner, “the first task of a leader is to keep hope alive,” and that’s exactly what transformational leadership does. Leaders with this style have integrity and a clear vision; they encourage, support, and inspire others (see for full details).

There’s a difference between leaders and managers. Good leaders aren’t always effective managers and vice versa. According to the Mind Tools article, good leaders focus on inspiring others and providing vision (i.e., transformational leadership activities), whereas mangers focus on the details and logistics of implementing that vision (i.e., transactional leadership activities).

For helpful tips on leadership and supporting individuals see 10 Tips for Supporting People.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Learning from Diversity

On the West Coast of Canada, we are surrounded by diversity. I live in a village just an hour from Vancouver – our community is rural, much of the local work is agricultural. Some of our neighbours have lived here for generations; others have recently arrived from India, Viet Nam, Mexico, or China. There’s a Vietnamese Buddhist Monastery on the corner of our street and the first Mormon Temple in BC nearby. Along with countless Christian churches, a Sikh temple is also an important spiritual centre for many members of the community.

Sadly, however, members of each of the ethnic communities tend to live in isolation. Although children attend the same public schools, many other community activities tend to be less integrated. Of course there are a few intersections – for example, the produce market that I shop at has an extensive selection of ethnic foods from India, Mexico, and Germany. However, even most workplaces are quite homogenous – resulting in many local residents never learning to speak one of our official languages (in the West, more typically English than French).

Within the Life Strategies team, we speak and write about diversity and have developed tools to support diverse workplaces (e.g., or We teach courses on Managing Diversity, Understanding Diversity, Global/International Careers, and The Immigrant Experience and have a multicultural specialist stream in our Career Management Professional Program ( It continues to amaze me, however, that the students we attract to those courses tend to be those who themselves come from minority cultures, have immigrated to our area, or are already working with immigrant clients. It’s difficult to reach “mainstream” students...

The 4 Stages of Learning Model reminds us that we simply don’t know what we don’t know. Therefore, until we experience the benefits of diversity at a personal level, we likely won’t choose to learn more about it or advocate for more inclusive workplaces or communities. I’ve recently returned from attending the Jiva conference in India – Jiva means “life” - the photo on this blog is me arriving by auto-rickshaw on the first day of the conference. The conference was co-sponsored by the Promise Foundation in India and the International Association of Educational and Vocational Guidance. There were 442 delegates from 32 countries – many of them knew nothing about Canada, just as I humbly realized I knew very little about most of their countries.

On our return from India, we visited the World Expo in Shanghai, China, with contributions from more than 242 countries and international associations. Think about that number! Gerry and I have visited, lived, or worked in only 55 countries (and, that’s quite high compared to most people we know). In 3 days, it wasn’t possible to visit more than a few of the pavilions, but we learned much about countries and cultures that we knew little about before. As a result, we’ve been inspired to add Kazakhstan to our future travel list – their pavilion was great! can you learn from diversity? First, I encourage you to put yourself in a position of being a minority. Take opportunities to travel (and don’t stay only in Western hotels or all inclusive resorts – mingle with the locals!). If travel isn’t feasible, eat at ethnic restaurants, attend cultural events or festivals, read books (I’ve just finished Echlin’s “The Disappeared” about Cambodia), or take a course that will help you better understand the amazing gifts that diversity brings to our lives in Canada.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Value/Goal Alignment - An Important Component of Employee Engagement

Some of our recent entries have introduced factors from our model of employee engagement – Appreciation, Contribution, and Commitment. The remaining factor – Alignment – relates to the need for workers to align their values and goals with the organization.

A wide range of career development literature exists which outlines the importance of connecting personal values with organizational values. The popular Wheel framework (Amundson & Poehnell) lists values as one of eight factors to consider in career decision making. As career practitioners, we are very aware of the importance of values when it comes to career “fit.” Whether through formal standardized “tests” or informal checklists and card sorts, we encourage clients to reflect on their values and ensure their work (i.e., specific job/tasks) and/or their industry or employer of choice will share those values. Or, at least, not impede on those values to any great degree.

Alignment of personal and organizational goals is just as important. As individual workers, we set goals for our careers – from wage increases or promotions to achievement of educational goals or industry certifications. Do we ever consider, however, whether those goals make sense when aligned to what our organization is hoping to accomplish? For organizations, this notion of alignment is often called goal cascading – goals are cascaded down from leadership to management to department, to work teams or units. From an employee engagement perspective, however, it’s important to take one more step – checking in with individual employees to ensure that they each understand how their jobs align with organizational goals.

Consider your organization’s future goals, vision, or strategic direction. Is there alignment with your personal and professional goals? If not, explore any disconnect. While you may be able to influence your organizations’ goals, if you don’t find sufficient alignment it may be time to examine whether or not your personal and professional goals can be met within the context of your present workplace. Organizations benefit from engaged employees – if there isn’t alignment between you and your organization, it will be increasingly challenging to stay engaged. You may need a better understanding of your organization’s goals and direction in order to get excited and buy-in. However, if the new direction simply isn’t a good fit for you, it may be time for a gracious exit. Either option is good career management.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Surviving in Transformational Times

Career practitioners in BC are experiencing transition, just like the clients they serve, due to changes in funding to career service centres, where many practitioners are employed. Contracts are ending and without funding renewal, many programs/businesses are shutting their doors. As such, practitioners themselves need to adapt to survive in the new framework. But adapting isn’t an easy task, and in changing times, it’s difficult to know what needs to be done and what skills are necessary to be successful.

It’s important to remember that, “change always comes bearing gifts” (Price Pritchett). For career practitioners, this transition has sparked a renewed commitment to professional development and professionalization of the field through certification (i.e., BCCCDP). It has also spurred strategic partnerships and alliances among existing organizations seeking shared contracts under the new framework.

However, more importantly, these changes have highlighted the value for career practitioners to “practice what they preach.” To be planful and open to new experiences, to engage in networking and learning opportunities, and to face change with an open heart; all concepts of Krumbotlz’s Planned Happenstance Theory, an emerging career theory practitioners use with their clients.

The forthcoming publication, Leadership Lessons for Transformational Times by Life Strategies’ Deirdre Pickerell and Roberta Neault, will engage the reader in examining leadership beliefs, experiences, and goals, as well as support leaders and managers through change, regardless of the sector.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Commitment in the Workplace

In previous blogs we’ve highlighted appreciation and contribution, but why include commitment as an element of career engagement?
These two quotes speak to the importance of commitment:
“Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes... but no plans.” --Peter F. Drucker
"Individual commitment to a group effort -- that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work." --Vince Lombardi
Several weeks ago our blog talked about appreciation and it’s important for leaders to understand the relationship between appreciation and commitment. It appears that employers, rather than employees, are tasked with the job of appreciation. Employees need to know that their employer will go to bat for them and respect their well-being. However, workplace commitment expands on the concept of appreciation in that it is a two way street: not only do employees need to know their employer is committed to their well-being at work, employers want to see examples of workplace commitment in employees.
Gone are the days when employees would spend their entire working life with one employer. Does it follow that employees are less committed to their workplace than their predecessors, or are other factors, like corporate downsizing or sluggish economies, to blame? The answer is not clear, but what seems apparent is that an individual’s commitment contributes to the success of a company. In return for a regular paycheque, benefits, appreciation, professional development, opportunities to succeed and positive working conditions, it seems only fair that a worker commit themselves to the success of their workplace.
What comes first the chicken or the egg, employer commitment to their employees or vice versa, I’m not sure of the answer. What do you think?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Your Contributions Matter

In our last blog you read about the role of appreciation in employee engagement, I’d like to introduce you to another component of the Life Strategies’ Employee Engagement model: Contribution. Engagement means being involved and invested in the future or organization. It’s about actively contributing to making your organization more successful. In light of this, organizations need to show employees how their contributions are linked to corporate successes.

Engagement is much more than just contributing through your regular work duties; it’s how involved you are with the “bigger picture.” Consider the following:

  • Are you an individual who actively contributes to shaping the organization?

  • Are you solicited for feedback on the direction of the organization?

Effective contribution is a partnership – good employers provide opportunities to get involved and good employees avail themselves of those opportunities. In return, employees get opportunities to cross train, take on stretch assignments, and explore other opportunities within the organization.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Appreciation Makes a Difference!

Appreciation is a core component of two of Life Strategies’ models: Employee Engagement and Let’s CHAT! (a coaching tool). The element was embedded into both models for very similar reasons – many people today feel underappreciated...and appreciation does make a significant difference. According to the Bully Free at Work Blog, Appreciation is one of the top 3 things that leaders can do to minimize the impact of a disrespectful workplace. An article from reported a US Department of Labor survey indicating that 64% of people who had left their jobs said they’d left because they didn’t feel appreciated. The same article reported a startling stat from Gallup – 70% of those surveyed said they received “no praise or recognition in the workplace.” No wonder so many leave!

Let’s CHAT! is an acronym for Communicate, Help, Appreciate, and Take Action. When I developed the Let’s CHAT! model to help managers and supervisors with coaching conversations, it was to respond to some of our corporate clients’ in-house surveys indicating that a significant number of employees felt unappreciated. However, there was considerable pushback from managers and supervisors who found the “appreciation” step of the process awkward and forced – they asked if they could replace it with “Analyse” instead. It’s so much easier to engage in problem-solving conversations with our colleagues than it is to show authentic appreciation! Therefore, we stuck to our original model and left appreciation intact. Years later, in Deirdre Pickerell’s research on employee engagement, we weren’t at all surprised to see Appreciation surface as a fundamental component of engagement, also making a significant contribution to employee retention.

Looking for creative ways to show your appreciation? Here are 80 to get you started!

Interested in reading more? Consider Dr. Noelle Nelson’s book, The Power of Appreciation in Business.

Still looking for more? Join me in a one-week e-course to learn more about the Let’s CHAT! model, beginning November 17, 2010. Let’s CHAT! will also be a component of our 3 day leadership training (Keeping Employees Engaged During Business Transformation ) beginning October 20, 2010. To learn more about employee engagement, join Deirdre for a 2 week e-course beginning October 27th (Career Management at Work: Keeping Employees Engaged).

Friday, August 27, 2010

Can You Choose the Perfect Career?

Many high school and even college students feel the pressure of deciding what to do with the rest of their lives. They may have dreams of a six figure salary and a job they absolutely love, but how do they get there from here?

Once a decision is made many people will find life getting in the way of their career goals; many people start their careers with high aspirations and find that financial or family obligations result in a shift in career focus. Lots of current career development theories (e.g., Happenstance, Chaos) acknowledge the impact of unexpected life events.

I have learned over time, and by trial and error, that circumstances have often dictated my career options. Another career theorist, Linda Gottfredson, acknowledged limits on career opportunities (she called this “circumscription”) and the compromises that people make as they juggle work with their other life roles. My folks believed that if I wanted a university education I would have to fund it myself. As a single mom I found myself having to support a family on very little income. Have I made poor career choices over the years? Absolutely! However I have also had some wonderful career opportunities.

In my musings about my meandering career path I’ve come to understand that it wasn’t reasonable for me to expect the perfect job. It has been about deciding on the most important things in my life and working from that point. For much of my working life my family has been the centre of my life and my jobs had to fit. In fact, my education was completed at a community college in alternating years with having children. I then I ran a home-based business when my children were very young.

Years later, as an Executive Director, I interviewed scores of applicants for a variety of positions. I met a few young people with clear career goals and enough enthusiasm and drive to ensure career success; however, most were like me...doing what it takes to get the job done, whatever that job may be for that particular person. That sounds an awful lot like career success to me! Life Strategies can help you navigate your career path. Call 604-856-2386 for more information.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Building Cultural Competency...Right in Your Own Neighbourhood

Managing diverse workplaces is a hot topic these days. To address skill shortages, we’re increasingly dependent on immigrant workers – and, for the first time ever, we have four distinct generations working within many organizations. Much money and time has been invested in helping organizations to recruit and retain diverse workers – the SEED toolkit that we developed last year is one example of a comprehensive project with that focus. The toolkit is freely available at:
However, a big challenge with embracing diversity is simply that we don’t know what we don’t know. In the Cultural Diversity Yearbook, part of the SEED toolkit, is full of ideas for embracing diversity at work.
The picture I’ve inserted here looks like it might be from one of our trips to Asia, doesn’t it? A beautiful Jade Buddha is being admired by visitors, some of whom have travelled quite a distance to see it. If you could hear the sounds, the major languages are Chinese and Vietnamese – no English. You’d smell incense mingled with Pho, a Vietnamese soup. Many visitors are drinking bubble tea. There are only 4 Caucasian visitors out of several hundred in the plaza – Gerry and I, and two men with their Asian wives and families.

What may surprise you is that this photo is from the corner of our quiet street in the village of Aldergrove, in the middle of farm country just an hour outside of Vancouver. A Buddhist monastery purchased the United Church building and property and, within just one month, converted it to a temple. The
Jade Buddha for Universal Peace is only temporarily on display – if you can get to Aldergrove before Sunday, August 15th, it’s well worth a look!

As I sat at my desk earlier today and looked out my office window, a South Asian woman was standing on her front lawn bowing to the East in the early morning light (different culture and different faith from the Buddhists on the corner). Last weekend, about 8,000 Christian youth attended “Rock the River” just a few kilometres west of here. We took our grand-daughters to the Chilliwack agricultural fair last Friday, too!

Without straying far from home this summer, what cultural events can you attend? Once you’ve explored a bit, consider celebrating the diversity within your own workplace – a cultural potluck can be a wonderful start! The
Cultural Diversity Yearbook, part of the SEED toolkit, is full of ideas for embracing diversity at work.

Interested in learning more about the SEED toolkit and other workplace diversity resources? Join us online for one week beginning September 22 for our Managing Diversity e-course!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Is Face-to-Face Learning As Good As Online?

Some of our Life Strategies Ltd. staff recently attended a webinar titled Online Effectiveness: Making Your Case. In this session panellist presented on how to structure and market online programs, with a lot of the discussion centred around getting students and faculty to buy-in to the value of online learning. It seems that providers of online education, such as us, constantly have to make a case for the quality and rigor of online programs.

One of the panellists suggested that we may need to reverse our thinking about online learning to consider if face-to-face is as good as online? It’s not fair to assume that just because a course is online, it’s of lesser quality. Students need to look at the format of the program (e.g., is it facilitated online learning, independent study, webinars, blogs), the content and depth of the program, and who the instructor/developer is. Also, consider how grades are allotted (e.g., assignments, discussions, exams, or are they provided at all). All these factors play a role in the quality and rigor of online programs.

In addition, students need to do their homework and figure out if online learning is an appropriate fit. Life Strategies Ltd. has an online readiness quiz ( Take a look and see if you’re ready for online learning.

Lastly, reflect on what type of student you are. If you learn better in a traditional classroom setting then try mixed-mode courses which incorporate the best of both worlds. Learning works best when you’re engaged in the discussion and activities, whether it’s online or face-to-face.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Hello - Goodbye - Let's keep in touch!

The job market isn’t always a friendly place for recent university graduates and as a recent graduate myself, I can attest to this fact. I can relate to the struggle of trying to become situated in the work world while still holding on to the ideals of school – e.g., doing something you love, related to something you studied. Sometimes we may wonder why we are in a job seemingly unrelated to all those years of study. This can make the transition from university to the workforce difficult, jarring even. Although a university education prepares us for the specific field in which our interest resides, we cannot rely on the increasingly outdated conception that a B.A. is a guaranteed ‘in’ to a job in that field. Continual upgrading is a crucial benefit; for example, being a certified Personality Dimensions facilitator gives you an edge over other graduates.

Although I’ve only been at Life Strategies a short time, I’ve greatly enjoyed being here and can see it as a phenomenal foundation for my career. It has given me unique and invaluable experience that I would not have found elsewhere, even though on the surface it is not exactly what I had studied in university. More importantly, working at Life Strategies has given me the opportunity to see how my education and career choice interrelate so harmoniously. That being said, being accepted into grad school to complete my M.A. was an opportunity I could not pass up. I will be going to Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario to complete my Master’s in Sociology, with a focus on Internationalization, Migration, and Human Rights. Recently I have been given the task of researching diversity in the workforce. The research has reassured me that I have made the right decision to pursue my education at a higher level. Yet is has also shown me again that so many of my interests are deeply embedded in organizations such as Life Strategies.

Whatever opportunities come your way, take them!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Roast Beef

"A young woman wanted to cook roast beef for dinner but had never done so before, so she called her mother to ask for instructions. Her mother told her to cut a chunk off both ends of the roast before placing it into the roasting pan. The roast beef turned out wonderfully. The next day the woman called her mother again and asked "Why is it so important to cut the ends off the roast." The mother thought for a bit and replied "I'm not sure, but that's how my mother taught me to cook roast beef, we'll need to ask grandma next time we see her." Several days later the woman and her mother visited grandma and asked her why it was so important to cut the ends of the roast off to ensure successful roasting. The grandma replied with a smirk, "because that's the only way I could fit it into my roasting pan".

We so often do things the way we do because that's how we've always done them. We're not quite sure why we do things that way...but it must be the "right way" because that's how it's always been done.
Perhaps there are other options that make more sense for the ways things are today.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Fitting Learning Into Your Life

Most everyone understands the importance of engaging in lifelong learning. The world of work is incredibly fast paced resulting in the need to keep up with advancements in technology, changes in business focus, new funding opportunities, and the need to maintain certifications / credentials – the list likely goes on and on. In reality, however, it can be exceedingly difficult to incorporate learning into already busy lives; juggling work, family/friends, community, and health can be challenging enough without the added stress of “getting to school.” Perhaps engaging in lifelong learning would be easier if we took a more creative approach to the notion of “learning.”

Learning can occur anywhere, anytime – it isn’t just about driving to a local community college to take a course or meeting co-workers at a company-sponsored training event. Even universities recognize the importance of offering a wider range of options for adult learners; I’m, for example, completing my PhD in Organizational Systems via a distributed learning model…there is no need for me to visit the university campus. Learning can also be informal such as reading, sharing technical tips with colleagues, and attending lunch ‘n learns.

Here are a few tips for fitting learning into your life:

§ Keep a reading box – journals, magazines, and books can be popped into a basket or box and grabbed when time permits or the mood strikes. Fill your briefcase before a road trip or flight

§ Form a topical discussion group – meet with team members and/or colleagues for weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly sessions, perhaps over lunch or coffee. Rotate who is going to share an item learned relevant to their work

§ Share a tech tip – come to each staff meeting with a technical tip (i.e., did you know CTRL+Z is a keyboard shortcut for undo)

§ Take a short e-course – we recommend for inexpensive, quick, self-paced training. With over 830 courses ranging from web development and digital photography to MS Office and Adobe there is something for everyone

For more formal education (i.e., college-level courses, certificate and degree programs) don’t overlook the benefits of distance education – it can easily fit around other life activities and, in some cases, can offer a better educational experience than face-to-face training.

Most importantly, remember that

Learning is a treasure

that will follow its owner everywhere

~Chinese Proverb

Friday, July 2, 2010

Rain Rain Go Away – Thriving Through Difficult Times

Although the West Coast of Canada is well known for it’s rainy days, by July we’re usually basking in the sun. Unfortunately, we’re currently under siege with April-type showers and it’s beginning to get hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Will the rain ever stop? Will we ever get a stretch of sun for longer than one day?!

With work, visualizing an end to a particularly difficult or busy time can also be a struggle which can impact the engagement of your team members and overall company morale. It’s especially important in times such as these for team members to band together, support each other, and collectively rise to the challenge. Be sure to recognize the challenge at hand and distribute work to those most well-suited. Planning and prioritizing are essential to ensure what needs to get done is getting done, no balls are being dropped, and work-load isn’t overwhelming the team.

Difficult times can be due to one large challenge or lots of little ones that just never seem to end. At Life Strategies Ltd. we often use “ticky” contests to keep track of those smaller tasks we get off our plate and give us a sense of accomplishment. At the end of a specified period, the one with the most tickies wins!

Remember, when the skies clear and the sun emerges, don’t forget to reward you team. It’s the perfect conditions for a summer BBQ.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Social Media in the workplace

I recently had the opportunity to attend a conference about the use of social media in business. For many of us using social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) is a huge leap from the communication style that we are familiar with. Recent studies illustrate the importance of becoming educated in the use and benefits of social media.
“If you’re not tweeting about your business--someone else is. If you’re not setting your own business message on Twitter--someone else is. But more importantly, if you’re not listening to what your customers (and potential customers) are saying on Twitter--someone else is.”
Employers everywhere are using social networks to screen job candidates, so be sure that what you post online about yourself isn’t going to impact you negatively in the future. In a study conducted by Harris interactive for, 45% of employers questioned are using social networks to screen job candidates and 35% decided not to offer a job to a candidate based on the content uncovered on a social networking site. Over 50% of employers said that provocative photos were the biggest factor contributing to not hiring a potential employee. 44% of employers pinpointed references to drinking and drug use as red flags.
Have you defined who gets to use social media in the workplace? Be aware of how much time your employees are spending on social network. Consider how much bandwidth is wasted by employees downloading from YouTube, or the security challenges that you face from browsing infected pages.
According to a study by information security consultancy Global Secure Systems and the organizers of the Infosecurity Europe trade show, the use of such sites is costing U.K. business an estimated $12.5 billion per year in terms of reduced output.
About 64 per cent of U.S. companies deny their employees access to sites such as Facebook, MySpace and Bebo, according to a survey by Clearswift, a London, UK-based provider of content security. In addition, 14 per cent have had to discipline staff for data loss and seven per cent for posting inappropriate content on social sites, but only 36 per cent have a policy covering such usage.
It’s probably well worth our time to investigate the benefits and risks associated with the use of social media in our workplaces.
-Thanks to Mark Fancourt-Smith of Fasken Martineau for some of this information, and for a really interesting presentation on “Tips to avoid a risk management nightmare...”

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Community Connection

Building a sense of community is an import aspect for small businesses. Life Strategies Ltd. recently relocated to Aldergrove, BC – a smaller community than which it was previously located. Although much of the business is conducted remotely (e.g., e-learning training options), the team recognizes the importance of face-to-face consulting and training. To connect with local businesses and service providers we will be hosting an open house on June 8. It’s a great opportunity to get together, develop a sense of community, and promote pride in our team and business.

If you’re a small business, there are many ways you can get involved without organizing an event yourself. Join a local business association or get involved with a local charity, sports team, or community group. Keep an eye on the local paper for events which may be a good fit for your company.

Although we live in a global marketplace where business can be conducted miles from your actual location, investing in and promoting local business will keep your community, your business, and your employees thriving.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The ongoing battle to find more time...

Many of us lead very busy lives...we attempt (and many succeed) to balance work, family, hobbies, community, and school. There are many like me, however, who struggle to find more hours in the day and days in the week to accomplish all we set out to do. Too many times I get to the end of the day and am perplexed at how little I managed to is like my to-do list is hijacked and, I know I’m not the only one! A Google search on “time management” resulted in over 9 million hits – many of the top focused on time management skills and resources.

Time is Julie Morganstern (1998) put it, “Time is measurable, and we all get exactly the same amount - 24 hours, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.” Given this why do so many seem to struggle to manage time? Perhaps it is because we approach it from the wrong direction – what if, instead of trying to manage time, we learned to manage ourselves?

A good first step in is to analyze how or what seems to fill your day. Take a moment (assuming you can find one) to ask yourself:

  • How do you manage your work day now?
    o What’s working and what’s not?
    o What time of day are you at your best?
  • What things are you juggling?
    o Work
    o School
    o Family
    o Other
  • What hinders your ability to manage your day (time) effectively?
    o Constant interruptions
    o Inefficient workspace
    o Shifting priorities / deadlines
    o Disorganization
    o Inability to say “no”

Once you have a better sense of what is negatively impacting your day you can look for solutions.

  • If you are struggling to efficiently plan and prioritize projects/tasks
    o Ask for help
    o Read a book on time management, setting priorities, or even goal setting
    o Participate in a workshop
  • If disorganization and inefficient workspace is a problem
    o Take time to clean and organize your office/workspace
    o Develop a filing system that will make sense for you!
  • If you are constantly interrupted by phone calls, emails, visitors
    o Institute a “no-email” policy – many organizations are instituting email-free zones (i.e., no emails between 10am and 2pm daily)
    o Turn your phone off for an hour or so each day
  • If priorities and deadlines keep shifting
    o Ask for help / clarification...engage your team / manager in how to best prioritize work load

Know your PRIME TIME and plan schedules and projects accordingly

  • Work on complex projects when creativity and concentration are at peak
  • You’re motivated and at your best
  • Leave less demanding activities for low energy times

Most importantly, remember:

Time is free, but it's priceless.

You can't own it, but you can use it.

You can't keep it, but you can spend it.

Once you've lost it

you can never get it back

~Harvey MacKay

Monday, May 10, 2010

Macleans magazine reports that the top rated employers in Canada provide parental-leave top-ups, tuition subsidies, flex hours, tele-commuting, job sharing, and occasionally the opportunity to make their own hours, judged on output instead of physical hours (October 19, 2009).
Experts say that appreciation and opportunity for growth and development are the most important factors in job satisfaction. It’s really not about the money.
Interestingly, the summer 2009 edition of Fibromyalgia Aware states that the accommodations listed above are precisely what persons with disabilities require to be active in the workforce (p24).
As a career community we have been researching and studying diversity in the workplace. There are programs to educate employers and employees about promoting diversity in the workplace; however, I wonder how often disabilities are considered to be a type of diversity? Are workplaces prepared to make accommodations? Are folks with ALL types of diversity being welcomed into the work-place and being given the opportunity to grow and develop?
I have a disability and am fortunate enough to have an employer who provides the opportunity to work from home and to determine my own hours. Such flexibility and understanding helps keep me engaged in my work, and provides me with a sense of satisfaction.
When Sigmund Freud was asked what he considered to be the most important characteristics of an emotionally healthy adult, he answered simply, “To love and to work.”

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Fat Free is the Way to Be

With the spring upon us and summer looming, cutting down on fatty food and getting fit becomes a focus for many of us. In the workplace another opportunity presents itself for trimming the fat - our writing. Far too often we write without adhering to the KISS (keep it simple, stupid!) principle. This results in writing full of fluff and fat. In the business and technical setting, writers should strive to be clear and concise; oversized documents aren’t desirable.

A careful review of your writing after composition with a fat-free lens can cut out those unwanted pounds. Ask yourself “who cares?” You should only be including information which is relevant to the reader; anything else is simply excess. Utilizing numbered/bulleted lists or tables can cut down on words and provide brief representation of content.

For tips and strategies to put your writing on a diet, see the Fat Free Writing Series[1] and Fat-Free Writing or How to Eliminate Wordiness in 10 Easy Steps[2]

Remember, just like any fitness plan, cutting the fat from your writing takes time, dedication, and practice. Keep yourself engaged in your work by striving to improve your writing. It’s a skill that will carry throughout your career.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Marketing Yourself

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been busy in my personal life prepping my condo to sell. Some things my realtor and I have done to market my condo include:
1. De-cluttering and packing away anything that doesn’t need to be on display.
2. Sweeping up the leaves on my patio to highlight one of the condo’s best features.
3. Approving marketing flyers.
4. Uploading the details of the condo to an online listing service.
As I have marketed and branded my condo as a great place to live, I started thinking how can these strategies be transferred to marketing and branding one’s career? Some effective strategies might include:
1. Developing a 30-second elevator statement. In 30 seconds or less be able to tell someone who you are, what you do, your strengths, and your goals.
2. Highlighting your best work features. Know your strengths and ensure the people you work with know your strengths and what you enjoy working on.
3. Developing, or updating, your resume, cover letter, and career portfolio.
4. Networking at face-to-face events or through online social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
Marketing yourself at work and in your career is one effective technique to stay engaged. Even if you’re not looking for a new job, marketing yourself can help you to move up in your own company or focus on projects best suited to your strengths.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

New Beginnings

It’s officially spring…a time of endings and new beginnings. William Bridges introduced a transition model that involves 3 different zones…an ending, a neutral zone, and, finally, a new beginning. This is a good time of year to reflect on what each of those zones holds for you.

In Canada, April marks the beginning of a new fiscal year for our government (which, within Life Strategies means an end to several of the government-funded research and development projects we’ve been working on). It’s also the end of the university term – with lots of end-of-term projects and marking but also a chance to look ahead and prep for the new term beginning in a few weeks.

In our gardens, we’re seeing new buds on trees and fresh growth poking through the ground. In front of our new Life Strategies offices we were delighted to see the spindly trees out front erupt with gorgeous pink Magnolia blooms – like a reward for surviving a long and busy winter.

To successfully move on to something new, however, requires attending to all the tasks associated with closure and completion of projects. It’s easy to get excited about new beginnings and ignore those final pieces that wrap up the past season, life stage, or contract.

Within the Life Strategies team, we sometimes engage in “ticky contests” at such transitional times. In our ticky contests, we earn points for completing items on our To Do lists – each task, no matter how small, earns a ticky. Everyone benefits by having the weight of endless to do items finally removed from their shoulders – and all get rewarded (usually with gift certificates); the person with the most tickies, of course, gets doubly rewarded – a shorter “to do” moving into the new season as well as the biggest gift certificate!

The neutral zone is a time of reflection, regrouping, and redirection. It can be an exciting time as old projects are tidied up and new possibilities are considered. However, it can also be a confusing time, with less certainty about schedules and expectations in the months ahead.

Within the Life Strategies team, after extending Amanda Pereira’s contract for 3 “new beginnings,” we’ve now said “au revoir” (the French version of “until we meet again, rather than a more permanent “goodbye”). We have been working full out for the past year and are very much looking forward to a slightly quieter spring and summer for consolidating some of our in-house projects as well as beginning several new external ones. In his work on Flow, Csikszentmihalyi wrote of the importance of matching skills to challenge; in my own “flow” research, I’ve added “resources” to the skills side of the equation – Flow occurs when challenges are carefully balanced to available skills and resources. We can use the neutral zone to replenish resources and re-energize, ready to face new beginnings with energy and excitement.

As you reflect on your own transitions this season:
  • What still needs your attention and energy?
  • What needs closure?
  • What needs to be completed before you can move on?
  • What is happening for you in the neutral zone that sometimes comes with springtime?
  • Have you taken the chance to re-energize over this Easter long weekend?
  • Looking ahead, is there something you need to do to prepare for the upcoming season?
  • As you enter a new beginning, what excites you?
  • How will you keep your energy up?
  • What resources will you need, personally and professionally, for a successful transition?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Olympic-Themed Activities

The Olympics officially starts today. Life Strategies Ltd. is lucky enough to be located just outside of Vancouver, close enough to feel the excitement that the games are producing amongst locals. Fiona already mentioned our attendance at the torch relay that came through Aldergrove at the beginning of the week as just one of the things we’ve done to capture the spirit of the games. Our team was also lucky enough to get our hands on the infamous Olympic red mittens which we’ve been sporting throughout the Lower Mainland of BC.

Even if you’re not able to make it out to any Olympic events or get your hands on any Olympic merchandise, you can definitely still capture the Olympic spirit in other ways. Below I’ve included some Olympic-theme suggestions for your workplace:
  • Host an Olympic pride day at your work by having staff dress in your national colours
  • Organize an international potluck to reflect the international nature of the games
  • Post your own Olympic medal tally or arrange Olympic event viewings for staff to keep them in the loop
  • Coordinate an employee winter sporting event to get staff active
  • Raffle off Olympic-themed items as prizes (These don’t have to be the official Olympic merchandise – use items that reflect your national identify, sport, or the Olympic colours)
  • Fundraise for local sports teams to give back to the community

Friday, February 5, 2010

Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics and Employee Engagement

Life Strategies Ltd. is located in Aldergrove, BC which is just outside of Vancouver; and next week Vancouver is hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics. One Olympic tradition is the Torch Relay. The Torch Relay began on October 30, 2009 in Victoria, BC and will be making its way through Aldergrove, BC on February 8, 2010. As Life Strategies is new to Aldergrove we are excited to be joining together as a team to go out to watch the Olympic Torch make its way through Aldergrove and then enjoy a potluck lunch together afterwards.

Team building activities, such as the one mentioned above, are a great way to improve employee productivity and keep employees motivated. Taking a team building activity out of the office is also an effective way to reduce distractions and any office politics as well as bond closer team relationships[1].

If your team is living in the Vancouver area, there are many Olympic related team building opportunities you can participate in. While attending Olympic sporting events may be a budget buster for most companies, there are many free activities you can do as a teambuilding activity. For some free ideas visit


Friday, January 8, 2010

The Importance of a Cover Letter

I’m currently working on a variety of career resources; one of which is a guide on developing cover letters. Here I will share what I’ve learned while developing the cover letter resource.

One commonly asked question is “why do I need a cover letter?” or “isn’t my resume enough?” I’ve found that a cover letter is a great way to help get you your dream job to increase your engagement at work and can be a great value add in addition to your resume. Your cover letter should be used as a way to show your personality to potential employers.

In the first paragraph of your letter start with a catchy phrase and avoid using something generic such as “I’m submitting my cover letter and resume for consideration for the ____ position. [1]” Use this paragraph to speak about why you want the job, how you heard about it, and why you want to work for the company. In the second paragraph list your skills, knowledge, accomplishments, and abilities. Be sure not to repeat what is already written in your resume. In your final paragraph, thank the person reviewing the cover letter, mention a time you’re available for an interview, and provide your contact information.

In terms of style and formatting, keep your cover letter consistent with your resume. If you’ve used a specific header in your resume, use the same one in your cover letter. Also, try to keep the font size and colour consistent with what you’ve used in your resume. Print your cover letter on white or a slightly off-white paper[2].
A cover letter is an important piece of the job search. Be sure to devote a respectable amount of time to writing your cover letter as you would to developing your resume. The cover letter is often the first thing an employer or hiring manager will review so it’s important to put your best foot forward with your cover letter.


Thursday, January 7, 2010

Book Review: The Power of Inclusion

Title: The Power of Inclusion: Unlock the Potential and Productivity of Your Workforce
Authors: Michael C. Hyter and Judith Turnock
Rating: 3.5 stars
Available: To purchase online and at various book stores.

With constantly advancing technology and increasing globalization, employee performance is what distinguishes top performing businesses from the rest. Hyter and Turnock highlight the aristocratic approach that many organizations take when deciding which employees are worthy of investing in, exclusively providing select employees with opportunities for advancement. They go on to explain how most management teams hire employees with characteristics similar to themselves, and solely focus training and development on those who they have deemed “high potential” employees. In a business world that is said to promote “equal opportunity” these common practices undoubtedly perpetuate inequality.

The authors make a business case for an inclusive model of human resource management. They detail how the people who are most successful in the workplace achieve their level of success because of the attention and amount of investment management has provided for them, not because they had more potential than any other employee. Subsequent chapters go on to explain how businesses can create an inclusive culture, concentrating development opportunities not just on the select few, but giving those same benefits to everyone; this will help them unlock the potential and productivity of their workforce.

What stood out most for me was the section in the concluding chapter that highlighted assessment and evaluation guidelines to measure progress and results (p 230). The criteria include:

  • Increased breadth of recruitment

  • Increased internal sourcing and advancement

  • Increased diversity across the board

  • Reduced turnover

  • Improved employee satisfaction

  • Improved customer satisfaction

  • Increased market share

I also liked the index that highlighted important terms and topics, and the case studies weaved throughout the book which provided relevant information on real experiences.

What I disliked about this book was that it seemed to focus on medium to large sized businesses. Also the turnaround time for measureable impact of the strategies proposed is fairly long. I think it would have been helpful for the authors included smaller, achievable goals throughout refurbishing process.

Lessons Learned
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket; equal opportunity includes providing every employee with training and development opportunities equally.