Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Having a Stress-Less Christmas

As we struggle with shopping lists and invitations,
compounded by December's bad weather,
it is good to be reminded that there are people in our lives who are worth this aggravation,
and people to whom we are worth the same.

~Donald E. Westlake

The holiday season often seems like a great time to relax and unwind. Work tends to be quieter; there is a brief pause from the morning hustle of getting kids up, ready, and off to school; and many hope to enjoy the extra days off that come with the holidays. Unfortunately, Christmas can be one of the most stressful times of the year – a quick Google search of the “stress of Christmas” resulted in over 100,000 hits! In 2010, we put together 10 Tips for Surviving the Christmas Season; with just 5 “sleeps” until Christmas morning, they are worth revisiting.

Given the stress the season can bring, it may also be important to take a moment to review some stress management strategies; HelpGuide.org has a great list that is worth reviewing.

Remember to take time to enjoy the holiday; even if you don’t celebrate Christmas it can be a great time to focus on friends, family, and the joys that life can bring.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Pre-Employment Screening in the Workplace

Most employers and job seekers are familiar with the traditional methods for screening applicants (i.e., reviewing application forms, resumes, and cover letters, as well as conducting interviews, background checks, and reference checks); however, assessments can be a valuable addition to your screening process. Pre-employment screening assessments can help employers weed out applicants that either don’t meet their standards/requirements or don’t seem to fit well within the organization.

As there are numerous screening options available, we advise employers to follow Stephen Covey’s principle: Begin with the end in mind. Once specific assessment needs are clearly identified, tools can be selected to achieve those goals. Keep in mind that assessments for entry level positions may be different from those for managerial positions. Ensure you have a qualified test administrator interpreting results – someone who’s trained in assessment techniques and is equipped to use the test(s) you’ve selected.

A word of caution – assessments should be used in conjunction with other screening methods. Don’t base hiring decisions solely on assessment results but, rather, take a holistic evaluative approach integrating information from a variety of sources. A consultant can be helpful in determining which assessment will best fit your testing needs and how to integrate results with other screening methods.

One pre-employment screening assessment that Life Strategies Ltd. is excited about is the AMITAI Integrity assessment. It’s a computerized assessment, currently widely used in Latin America, which predicts an individual’s workplace behaviours related to loyalty, theft, bribery, credibility, substance abuse, and sexual harassment. What’s particularly innovative about this assessment is that organizations can set their own weighting and norms for each scale item. What this means is that if theft is a big concern for your organization, you can give it a higher weight leading to the theft scale contributing more to the overall integrity score (similarly for any of the measured factors).

We are currently researching the validity/reliability of the AMITAI Integrity assessment in North America, on behalf of the test publisher, HRD Global Solutions Ltd. Complete the assessment yourself to enter a draw for a $100 VISA gift card – click here for details. Interested in free credits for the validated assessment? If you’re an HR professional, manager, or recruiter, refer others to us (e.g., family, friends, colleagues); receive one credit for each of your referrals who completes the assessment – click here for details.

To learn more, or to get an access code for completing the assessment, email cassie@lifestrategies.ca

Let us know if you’ve used or have been asked to complete a pre-employment screening assessment. What was your experience like?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Celebrating the holidays

Christmas gift suggestions:
To your enemy, forgiveness.
To an opponent, tolerance.
To a friend, your heart.
To a customer, service.
To all, charity.
To every child, a good example.
To yourself, respect.

~Oren Arnold

Christmas is coming – just 26 shopping days left. As the busyness of the season approaches we thought it timely to conduct a brief survey on ways to celebrate the holiday season at work. We received some fabulous feedback – thanks to all of you who found time to respond.

Nearly all respondents (i.e., 96.5%) indicated their organization celebrates the holidays at work; most respondents felt it was very important (59%) with 11% indicating that organizations must celebrate the holidays. Although most respondents did report that Christmas was the specific holiday celebrated, most also noted how important it was to recognize that not everyone celebrates Christmas. Suggestions for being inclusive included taking a more general focus (e.g., winter solstice) and celebrating more holidays throughout the year (e.g., Chinese New Year, Diwali, Eid-al-Adha, Hanukkah).

There were numerous ways in which organizations celebrated the holidays – the top three selected were decorating the office (80%), holiday-themed staff party (80%), and supporting a charity (71%). The Life Strategies team does some decorating but always ensures we get together for a holiday-themed event which includes our families. This year we are going on the North Pole BC tour. We also support a charity every year . . . our team has a great time buying items from the World Vision catalogue. We’ve outfitted Canadian children with backpacks for school, helped families start businesses, and stocked medical clinics. If you don’t have a charitable project in mind, help our team make a difference by shopping through our World Vision catalogue. Other charities and organizations in need of support include the Lower Mainland Christmas Bureau, the YWCAs Adopt-a-Family program, or the Pan Pacific’s Annual Christmas Wish Breakfast

For more on the 10 ways to celebrate the holiday season at work, check out our latest tip sheet.

From all of us, at the Life Strategies team, we wish you a very Merry Christmas, a Happy Holiday season, and all the best for a healthy and prosperous 2012.

Friday, November 18, 2011

My Diversity Dream

Did you know that November is National Career Development Month in the US? As this year’s theme is “My Career Dreams,” the National Career Development Association (NCDA) held a poetry and poster contest open to students (i.e., Kindergarten through College/University). In reviewing the winning entries, the diversity of the individuals became clear; each person coming from a unique background, experiencing the world in a unique way, and expressing their career dreams just as uniquely. For example, Sarah Elder's entry showcases both Eastern and Western influences and a unique mode of expression (i.e., art).

This contest celebrated diversity and encouraged students to creatively explore their career paths. This prompted me to think about my diversity dream. Wouldn’t it be wonderful for diversity to be truly celebrated in the workplace, not just through contests aimed at students? What if diversity and multiculturalism was more than just “policy,” but actually a corporate value in action? What if employers truly recognized and supported the benefits that diversity can bring to the workplace (e.g., creative thinking and problem solving).

Although many organizations do take a strong pro-diversity stance and walk their diversity talk (see http://www.canadastop100.com/diversity/), many still struggle to successfully integrate diverse workers. My diversity dream, is for those same students who submitted entries into the NCDA contest, to be able to continue to express themselves and be permitted to bring their whole selves to work when they enter the workforce one day.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Giving Back

As we approach Remembrance Day and reflect on all that our veterans have done for us (and are still doing) it seems like a good time to focus on how we can each give back in some way . . . whether to our immediate circle of family or friends, or, in a slightly bigger way, to our community, region, country, or world. Just like a pebble dropped into a pond, the expanding ripples from even a tiny contribution can make an incredible difference.

Most of us are busy – in some circles, busy-ness is worn as a badge of honour, in others it brings sympathy, and in still others it’s abhorred. However, it really doesn’t serve as a good excuse for not finding a way to give back. You know the adage, “If you need something done, ask a busy person!”

Identifying a worthy cause isn’t much of a challenge either - local news stories, fund-raising campaigns, conversations with friends and colleagues, and personal reflection will likely surface 100 or more ways you could make our world a better place. Choosing one may be the real challenge – you can’t do it all but don’t let that stop you from doing something!

For several years now, I’ve adopted a personal philosophy of “tithing” my time as well as my income. Tithing is an ancient notion of setting aside 10% for others – in a Christian context, the money is considered to belong to God to be used to help others. Aside from churches, however, there are many organizations in Canada and abroad that rely on donations of time and money to do important work.

Statistics Canada is able to track trends of charitable donations through income tax records – only about 23% of Canadian taxfilers report making charitable donations and, sadly, that number is going down rather than up. This number, however, doesn’t represent the far larger number of Canadians who do report giving to charitable organizations (84%); it does reflect, however, that most people aren’t giving enough to be claiming their donations on their income tax forms. The Fraser Institute reported on percentage of income that Canadians donate to charity – at 0.73% it’s nowhere close to tithing (and is only about ½ of the US average). In tough economic times, giving money is challenging (the stats reflect that) – but some people find other creative ways to give back, perhaps by giving up a coffee or purchased lunch each week, carpooling to save gas, or donating empty bottles and cans to a local youth group’s fundraiser.

Giving your time, however, doesn’t need to have a negative economic impact on your personal finances. About half of Canadians 15 and older volunteer with associations or organizations (considerably less than those who give money to charities); a much larger number (84%) state that they’ve helped someone outside of their family – volunteers can offer direct support to friends and neighbours in need rather than
contributing formally through an organization.

Similar to the stats on charitable donations, though, the bulk of the volunteer hours are contributed by a small percentage of the volunteers – in fact, according to the most recent Statistics Canada report,the top 10% of volunteers contributed more than 50% of the total hours.

I personally invite you to join me in making our world a better place. Consider choosing one organization to financially support this year and one organization to support with your time. I’m confident that you will experience what most volunteers do – you’ll gain more than you give. Dag Hammerskjold, former UN Secretary General said, “You have not done enough, you have never done enough, so long as it is possible that you have something to contribute.”

Note: If you’re in the position of recruiting or motivating volunteers, you might find these tip sheets helpful, from a workshop on Volunteer Engagement that Jayne Barron and I facilitated this week:

Friday, October 28, 2011

Leadership During BC’s Business Transformation

BC’s career development sector is working its way through one of the biggest transformations in its history. A fundamental shift in service delivery and funding structure will see over 400 employment service agencies  replaced with 73 (read more at http://bit.ly/vjaJ5p, starting on page 20). As one might imagine, there is great debate about whether this means good things or bad things for our sector and, most importantly, our clients. For the moment, what appears to be certain is who will get the contracts (see the Government’s announcement at http://bit.ly/uTv2Jp). Everything else remains to be seen – the negatives and the positives.

While this is the biggest, this isn’t the first transformation of BC’s employment services I’ve witnessed in my 18+ years as a career professional. I left government services almost 10 years ago so, while I’m not immediately impacted by this transition, I’ve watched my colleagues and students struggle to identify what transformation means for their future.
John Kenneth Galbraith, a Canadian economist once said, “All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the sense of leadership.” Most would agree that BC’s Business Transformation is a major anxiety for today’s career development sector so, as leaders, where do we begin?

While I wish there was a quick and easy answer, where to begin likely depends on where each person and/or agency is at. Some elected to not participate in the RFP process, so have likely already begun to work through a shut-down process. Others submitted proposals, or partnered to submit, so will be transitioning into the new model or planning their own shut-down process. Drawing on two of the lessons in the book Leadership Lessons for Transformational Times a good place to start might be

  1. Make time for transformation – remember that change is the event and transition is the process;  each person on your team will acknowledge, accept, and move through a transition at a different pace. Give people the time they need to digest and create a vision for their future
  2. Deal with the tough stuff – don’t avoid the difficult and crucial conversations that will need to occur; ensure there is an opportunity for open and honest dialogue, whenever and wherever its appropriate
Interested in the other lessons? Join our webinar on November 22, 10am; learn more at http://www.lifestrategies.ca/docs/Leadership_Webinar.pdf

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Importance of Remembrance

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row

~ Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, Canadian Forces

With November around the corner, red poppies will begin to appear on the coats of most Canadians – a quintessential symbol of remembrance and a signal that Remembrance Day is approaching. In Canada, it’s customary to wear a poppy during the two weeks prior to November 11th. Do you wear a poppy? In a recent Life Strategies survey about Remembrance Day, 83% of respondents indicated that they buy a poppy. To learn more about the significance and history of the poppy visit the Royal Canadian Legion’s website for information on the poppy campaign and a link to the iconic In Flanders Fields poem, often recited at Remembrance Day ceremonies across Canada.

The majority of survey respondents indicated that they attend (54%) and/or watch on TV (49%) a Remembrance Day ceremony. Although not many reported visiting the legion (7%), 78% take the time to at least pause and reflect. That’s perhaps the most important aspect of the day – to pause and reflect. With the hectic pace of life nowadays, it’s important to take the time, slow down, remember, and be thankful.

Survey respondents indicated the top three reasons Remembrance Day was important were that they needed to remember those who suffered for our freedoms (83%), they needed to remember a family member or friend who served (65%), and they needed to celebrate our freedoms (58%). Sometimes it’s all too easy to think of Remembrance Day as just another day off, but it’s important to remember the purpose of this day.

So how can we keep the memory alive? Our survey respondents shared some tips including:
  • Never letting the memory fade by educating youth on the true purpose and value of Remembrance Day. Talking to your kids and connecting with the older generation can provide youth with personal connections to wars of the past rather than just dates and numbers.
  • Spreading information on Remembrance Day through special documentaries and interviews. Sharing stories is a great way to get the word out but also makes that all important personal connection.
  • Keeping Remembrance Day as a national holiday would ensure everyone is given the opportunity and time to remember. One individual suggested that perhaps we should also insist that businesses close their doors at least until after 11:00am so everyone can observe a minute of silence.
  • Advocating for soldiers (and veterans) providing the support they need upon return. Saying “thanks” to someone who served can go a long way. It doesn’t even need to be someone you know.
  • Attending or getting involved in the ceremonies (e.g., the band). Although it’s a solemn event, one individual suggested making the ceremony interesting by involving well-known figures and some “entertainment” value in order to engage those who otherwise wouldn’t watch or attend. A word of caution on this – finding a respectful balance between “show” and “ceremony” might be difficult.
  • Fighting for peace and remembering the victims of war. Remembrance Day isn’t only about looking back but also looking forward – what have we learned from the past? What can we do to help promote peace?
No matter why or how you remember, the important thing is that you do. Despite minor disruptions, we are very fortunate to live in the peaceful society that we do.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Appreciation in the Workplace

It’s almost Thanksgiving, so we conducted a brief survey about appreciation in the workplace. We appreciate all the thoughtful responses we got – clearly appreciation is alive and well which was encouraging to hear!

The good news was that a third of our respondents had been appreciated within the past 24 hours and an additional fifth of them had been appreciated within the past week or so (i.e., 55% had received appreciative recognition quite recently). Sadly, a few (about 10%) had to reach back a year or more to identify appreciation in the workplace – sometimes this was linked to a pay raise, performance review, or award ceremony but in other cases this reflected workplaces that simply weren’t recognizing the contributions of employees. One person said “Everyone is looking out for themselves right now, sadly.” Another listed 2006 (5 years ago) as the last time appreciation was expressed; still another wrote, “Can’t honestly remember when the last time was.”

When asked about the most common way to show appreciation, not surprisingly a simple “thank you” came out on top – 50% of the respondents selected this item compared to the next highest choice of letting management know (10%). However, the qualitative answers revealed a variety of approaches (so thank yous don’t become routine) – and many people emphasized the importance of individualizing appreciative feedback, both from the perspective of the sender (it needs to be specific and authentic) and the receiver (it needs to be personally meaningful).

Some people highlighted the personal touch (e.g., in person feedback or a hand written note rather than an email; customized gifts rather than generic gift cards; hugs; home-made food) – but responses were varied. Spa gift certificates were a common theme, as were lunches out, gift certificates for dinner ($100 seemed to be the most common amount for this item), chocolate, flowers, team events, and celebrations. The gift of time was always appreciated – whether time off for birthdays or after a busy project, covering for someone else to give that person a day off (one casual employee does this without compensation to give others a break!), or taking the team out for a special treat.

When asked about creative appreciation strategies, some unique ideas were shared. One organization has a “Cup of Awesomeness” (a golden cup on a beaded cord) that staff members pass to each other to show appreciation for a job well done. Another organization has a Treasure Chest, stocked with cards and small gifts that any employee can use to show appreciation to colleagues or suppliers. And, in one case, an employee’s parents were flown out for a surprise recognition dinner!

However, responses clearly indicated that what works for some doesn’t work for others – one person wrote, “Don’t offer food!! Some cultures keep offering food and you have to eat even if you are not interested not to upset them!!! – I truly hate that!” The consensus definitely was to individualize your approach – take time to learn how the person you appreciate would like to be acknowledged.

Aside from it just being a nice thing to do, respondents identified that appreciation contributes to increasing employee engagement (78%) and productivity (68%), reducing conflict (58%), and facilitating retention (55%). Showing appreciation also models a culture of respect. Some respondents cautioned, however, that appreciation can be a double-edged sword if it contributes to competition or some employees recognized that they aren’t been acknowledged as often or publicly as others.

Appreciation is a core element in both our Let’s CHAT! coaching / communication model and our Employee Engagement model . Don’t hesitate to connect if you’d like to learn more about either of these workplace tools.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Knowing What's Important

Things which matter most
must never be at the mercy of things
which matter least.
~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Our last newsletter introduced 10 Tips for Managing Time and Prioritizing Tasks; it included setting goals and rewards, investing time in scheduling, and making effective use of technology. All these tips will help you organize your day and successfully complete required tasks; with this blog entry I want to provide a tip for figuring out life’s priorities.

An activity we often use to help identify what is most important in life and where time and energy should be focused, first, is the Jar of Rocks. Google “jar of rocks” and you’ll get over 23,000 hits; one has some great images of this activity "in action." Other links describe the activity in fairly good detail and seem to credit a philosophy professor who shall, apparently, remain nameless; as an interesting aside, I’d never heard about the inclusion of beer . . . you’ll have to go to the link to learn more.

The point of the Jar of Rocks is that the big rocks, smaller rocks, pebbles, and sand represent your life’s priorities – the big rocks are the important things, smaller rocks less important, and so on until the sand which is the “small stuff”. . . that “stuff” everyone tells us not to sweat about. If you start with the sand, as so many of us do, there is no room in the jar for anything else. Instead, the key is to start with the big rocks – it is these important things that should be your biggest priority. For many, these include family, health, and self-care.

Take a moment to put together your Jar of Rocks – either figuratively by thinking about or writing down what represents your big rocks, smaller rocks, pebbles, and sand or, literally, by gathering the materials (a local craft store [e.g., Michaels] is a great place to get the necessary items) and putting together your jar. Place it on your desk or someplace where it will remind you to pause and make time for the important things.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Supervisory Skills: One Key to Workplace Success

We’ve just completed work on a supervisory skills framework and training guide for the Asia Pacific Gateway Skills Table. We’ve previously supported many organizations to develop their managers and leaders, and supervisors have a crucial liaison role to play – communicating management expectations to front-line employees and also communicating worker needs and concerns to the management team. Almost every measure of organizational success can be linked to good supervisors – they influence productivity, retention, employee engagement, workplace safety, income, and expenses.

In our research to populate a competency framework for supervisors, the skills clustered into 3 distinct areas – personal management, people management, and process management. Our research reinforced what we’ve experienced firsthand – good supervisors have their own “stuff” under control (i.e., they’re organized, productive, and have good communication skills – quite apart from their role as a supervisor). Some people that are good at managing themselves also have the interpersonal and people management skills to help others work well, too. With the first two competency areas under control, supervisors also need to oversee policies and procedures that contribute to safety, productivity, quality, and the ultimate success of their projects.

In mapping supervisory skills training across BC, we found countless workshops and courses that developed relevant skills – some embedded within sector-specific supervisory training programs and others available as stand-alone options. However, there wasn’t a simple “one stop shop” for supervisory training – an issue that’s been raised before in many other sectors.

If you’re in a role that involves supervising others, how did you learn how to do that? If your responsibility, instead, is to develop supervisors within your own organization, what resources are available to help them identify the competencies they need to do their jobs well? If gaps are identified, where and how can they learn?

Our own sector, career and employment services, is going through a transformational change at the moment. Within the next few months announcements will be made about which organizations will hold the contracts for government-funded employment services within BC. Many of the new centres will be larger than before, requiring a different level of supervisory competency. If you’ll be tasked with a supervisory / management role, are you ready? If not, we’re happy to chat with you about your needs and may be able to point you in the direction of some relevant training. Our book, Leadership Lessons for Transformational Times is a quick read that provides practical tips, too.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Back to school at TWU

Life Strategies is blessed to have a diverse team of consultants and staff. Laura Jensen, our 2011 summer student, shared a few a reflections on the diversity she experiences as a student at Trinity Western University.

I’ve been going back to school every September for as long as I can remember. Entering my third year at Trinity Western University, I am blown away at the diverse groups of people that surround me on campus every day.

Trinity Western University (TWU) is Christian Liberal Arts University in Langley, BC. There are countless denominations of Christianity present resulting in many different views and opinions on similar issues. As such, it can be easy to feel frustrated when talking with others; however, I’ve learned that disagreeing with someone’s ideas doesn’t presume a dislike or distrust of that person.

This concept doesn’t only apply to theological debates; there will always be people whose ideas differ from my own. Some of them will be stubborn about their ideas, expecting me to come to “their way of thinking” rather than us agreeing to disagree. When dealing with these strong-minded individuals, it is good to remember that the only person I can control in the situation is myself. According to Kathryn Munn, it is important to “make sure you are not the difficult person for them” [emphasis added]. Munn offers timeless advice for dealing with difficult people in the 2002 summer edition of Common Ground. Click here to read the entire article.

Although you might think a particular group of individuals are the same, Laura’s reflections highlight an important point: not everyone in a particular “group” will think, feel, and/or act in the same way. A first step in managing diversity appropriately is to avoid stereotyping. It’s important to recognize that diversity is a multi-faceted concept with multiple levels of complexity (e.g., age, gender, race, religion, socioeconomic background). Dealing with those who are different, and perhaps strong-willed occur not only between groups, but within groups as well.

Share your comments about the complexity of groups – how can you manage diversity without stereotyping individuals?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Returning to School: How to Prepare for Learning

Even though it may seem like summer has just arrived; the fall is looming with September just around the corner. For many children this marks the dreaded return to school; however, for adults, it can mark the very same thing. Recognizing that lifelong learning contributes to success at work, many adults will also find themselves returning to school or planning upcoming professional development.

If you’ve made the decision to engage in professional development, these tips will help you prepare for learning:
  • Reflect on your learning goals. Make your learning experience more meaningful and personalized by considering what you hope to accomplish and what it will take to ensure success.
  • Assess fit with your preferred learning style. Seek out professional development opportunities that work for you – e.g., if you thrive on group discussions but have selected a self-study program, this mismatch may negatively impact your learning experience.
  • Make learning a priority. Once you’ve decided to engage in learning, you’ll need to commit to it. Look at your life roles and responsibilities to identify what you can shift; determine what supports you need and who can help you out.
  • Get organized. Plan ahead and block out time in your schedule for studying. Pay attention to important deadlines and make space in your life to accommodate them.
  • Be open-minded. You’ll likely learn with people who have thoughts, feelings, and opinions which differ from yours. Interacting with and learning from diverse groups will enrich your learning experience.
  • Take orientation/information sessions. Many institutions offer orientations for new students to learn more about the school, the program, the instructor(s), and learning format. If you can’t find one, you may want to look for information on the website or schedule an appointment with a student advisor.

Although not all learning occurs in a formal setting (i.e., classroom), many adults feel anxiety when returning to “school.” Non-traditional ways of learning (e.g., online) can be a great way to re-engage with learning may provide a better fit with work/life roles. In our own LearnOnline programs and courses, we often have students who have been out of the traditional classroom setting for quite some time.

If you’re considering online learning, be aware that not all programs are created equal. Some are more self-directed whereas others take a facilitated learning approach. Our Online Readiness Quiz can help you assess whether you’re ready for learning in the online environment. For more tips on online learning success, see 10 Tips for e-Learning Success.

Interested in taking courses with us? Check out our back to school sale for discounts until September 2nd.

Share with us your own tips for preparing for learning? How do you know you’re ready?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Back to School: Accelerate Your Learning Success

I’m definitely a lifelong learner. I recall, as a preschooler, setting up my friends on apple crates, around a shiny blackboard that my Dad had painted for me to write on with chalk. I joined the future-teachers’ club in high school, then got a teaching degree in university. Now I teach university myself – and continue to learn from my students, colleagues, clients, and research projects (and, of course, from my kids and grand-kids!).

My third degree was in Educational Psychology, so I also know a bit about how people learn. It may surprise you to learn that not all “smart” people do well in school – nor are many of those who do excel measurably “smarter” than their peers.

So – why are some people so much more successful at learning than others?

Successful learners work to their strengths. They understand their own learning styles and, where possible, find learning opportunities that fit. For example, “morning people” may struggle at night school; on the other hand, “night people” may find it impossible to absorb anything from an 8AM lecture. Extraverts prefer learning with others, in an interactive community; introverts, however, typically prefer quiet environments with time to reflect before responding to questions. Auditory learners do well when they can listen (podcasts, and recording lectures instead of taking notes, can reap huge rewards). Visual learners, on the other hand, may benefit from charts, graphs, photos, illustrations, and mind-maps. Kinaesthetic learners learn as they “do”; practical workplace-based training, hands-on demonstrations, and making physical models facilitate learning success for these folks.

Successful learners also set goals. In formal education, most courses have learning objectives posted as part of the course outline. Strong students, however, also set specific learning goals of their own. These goals help them focus their energy and spend their time wisely. If marks are important, they pay attention to the specific grading criteria of the course and ensure that they follow assignment guidelines closely. They make use of the instructor’s office hours and check in early to ensure that their assignments are on track.

Finally, successful learners take care of themselves. They integrate lifelong learning (whether formal or informal) into their other life roles. They realize that they won’t achieve their learning goals if they burn out; nor will they achieve their other life goals if they focus exclusively on learning. They strategically give learning activities exactly the amount of time they are worth – no more, no less.

If you’re heading back-to-school soon, take time to learn how you learn – identify your learning style and strengths. Set specific measureable goals – and track your own progress. Build in rewards for achieving milestones and small successes – and structure your life such that lifelong learning is sustainable in the midst of your other important life roles.

Click here for a special Back to School offer for Life Strategies’ LearnOnline courses and in-house customized training.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Dancing with Digital Natives - Book Review

Dancing with Digital Natives is a new, and interesting, book edited by Michelle Manafy and Heidi Gautschi. It is a must-read for anyone interested in generations in the workplace, especially Gen Y, and how this generation, and their exposure to technology, is changing the way business does business. That being said, the editors are clear that digital natives might not fit nicely into a specific generation – instead, this term relates to “early exposure to digital technologies” (p. xiii).

The editors and authors cover a wide range of topics including social media, intellectual property, and marketing to, hiring, and educating the digital native. There is also a very interesting topic related to digital natives in policing.

A few tidbits I found interesting
  • Editors echoed what I first heard, with some surprise, from Jason Ryan Dorsey during his keynote address at the 2010 NCDA conference – don’t expect this group to know how to use technology. As Dorsey points out – they are more tech dependent than tech savvy"
  • Managers don’t need to embrace social media or digital technologies personally but they do need to understand it as an “emerging work practice if they wish to maximize the digital native work force” (p. 17) 
  • The ethics chapter mirrors many of the discussions we, as career practitioners, have with clients including how prospective employers can probably find those “wild weekend photos” posted to a Facebook page and how we as consultants, recognize that intellectual property in a digital age is different 
  • As a parent of a 12 year-old exposed to digital technology at an early age, the section on educating the digital native was eye-opening. The final chapter Native Knowledge: Knowing What They Know and Learning How to Teach them Best is a must for any educator. Would it be inappropriate to purchase a copy for my son’s teacher?
Overall I highly recommend adding this book to your library. Dancing with Digital Natives is available at Amazon , Chapters , and other retailers.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Networking Skills for Introverts

Networking, at its very core, seems to be an activity better suited to extroverts – those people who gain energy from groups and social interactions and do their best thinking externally. Introverts, on the other hand, are more inward thinkers, often finding social interactions draining. Although, in general, they prefer smaller groups and more one-on-one interactions, that’s not to say that all introverts are bad networkers (or that all extroverts are great networkers) – it just that introverts may have to work a bit harder.

So what can introverts do to make networking a bit easier? Practice and preparation are key. Below is a summary of the networking for introverts tips highlighted in a recent article.
  1. Get to know people before – check social media sites and/or event sponsor’s forums/blogs
  2. Go prepared – bring business cards, know the dress code, and have a map to the location
  3. Start a conversation right away – don’t wait; the longer you do, the harder it will be to get started
  4. Look for another seemingly shy person and engage them in conversation
  5. Don’t talk too fast – ask open-ended questions and actively listen to the response
  6. Don’t overanalyze afterwards – if you made a mistake, don’t beat yourself up
Interested in learning more? Pick up Devora Zack’s Networking for People Who Hate Networking: A Field Guide for Introverts, the Overwhelmed and the Underconnected or Carole Cameron’s SPLASH! An Introvert's Guide to Being Seen, Heard and Remembered.

Remember, individuals are complex and multi-faceted. Introversion/Extroversion is just one component of your personality; other components will impact your success in networking and a variety of other business- and career-related activities (e.g., sales, conflict resolution, team building, leadership). One framework for understanding personality that Life Strategies uses is Personality Dimensions (PD). Want to learn more? Book a workshop for your team – contact us at info@lifestrategies.ca. Interested in training to use Personality Dimensions ? Consider becoming a certified facilitator – click here to learn more.

Feel free to share your networking experiences as introverts or extroverts in the comments section. What’s your biggest challenge? How does your personality impact your networking success?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Fun in the Workplace

Did you know there are more than 2 million results when you Google “fun in the workplace”?

Clearly I’m not the only one who believes work should be fun! Some of the sites highlight the importance of laughter (e.g., Did you know that preschoolers laugh 400+ times per day compared to 15 times per day for adults? That’s, of course, unless you have preschoolers in your life – our grandchildren definitely make me laugh!) From a practical perspective, laughter releases endorphins (the happy gasses) that do you as much good as strenuous exercise. If you’re struggling to find something to laugh about, there are some pretty funny YouTube videos (try the “office stress” tag).

Other authors link fun and laughter to productivity . Employees who enjoy coming to work are energized and engaged. That energy will fuel their ability to get their work done – even when it means slogging through some unpleasant or tedious tasks. Facilitate resilience by building in fun.

Surprises can bring fun to the workplace. After a particularly challenging project, I once took our staff to the local mall for lunch. I then gave them each a mall gift card and told them they couldn’t come back to the office until it was spent. THAT was FUN!

Sharing funny stories or unusual perspectives can be fun, too. We often laugh over “Freudian” typos (e.g., just yesterday I was reading someone’s description of her siblings as “bothers” rather than “brothers”). Our team also delights in taking what I say out of context, threatening to publicly quote something that sounds completely outrageous.

Fun is good for business. Think about where you shop or seek out services. Are you drawn to the places where people are laughing and seem to enjoy themselves? So am I . . . so I know it’s good business to support a workplace with lots of laughter and unexpected treats.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Keeping the Disconnected Team Connected

With today’s flexible work arrangements (e.g., telecommuting, job sharing) and geographically dispersed teams (e.g., satellite offices and multi-national corporations) it is becoming more difficult for employers to build a sense of “we,” maintain a stable and consistent corporate culture, and foster supportive communication and cooperation between team members. Employees who don’t physically work together may struggle to recognize the priorities of others, lack an understanding of what each member’s “job” really looks like, and be unable to access the resources they need – or even know such resources exists. Furthermore, if they are working alone, whether at home or abroad, they may feel isolated and neglected.

No matter what employee structure you have or are working within, to foster employee engagement and business success, it’s important to make time for the team to connect. Here is a short list of ideas, some of which we’ve used at Life Strategies.

Develop a system for regular updates to keep everyone “in the loop” and help them stay connected
  • Choose a method that works for you – in person, over the phone, via the internet (e.g., GoToMeeting)
  • Use a framework to structure your meeting (e.g., Let’s CHAT!)
Utilize alternative methods of connecting beyond email or phone (e.g., Windows Live Messenger, Skype, Blogger, LinkedIn)
  • However , don’t rely solely on electronic communication; pick up the phone if necessary
Invest in professional development opportunities that get dispersed teams together
  • Attend workshops, seminars, and/or conferences
  • Take part in webinars or teleconferences
  • Provide an opportunity to debrief learning
Set aside time for fun
  • Arrange a potluck at team meetings
  • Participate in a charity event
Celebrate “good news” and recognize team successes
  • Use something quick and simple (e.g., an informal congratulations email, post on company intranet or blog) or more formal (e.g., “employee of the month”)

Monday, July 11, 2011

Employee Engagement Indicator

A popular concept for many of today’s organizations is employee engagement. There is a plethora of information available on the topic; a Google search resulted in over 3.5 million hits. In researching employee engagement as part of my doctoral program, I was somewhat surprised to learn that a wide-variety of definitions exist. Each individual, from consultants to scholars, has his/her own definition – while quite similar when talking employee engagement there is no guarantee everyone is speaking about exactly the same thing. A colleague of mine presented it as everyone talking about apples but some are focussed on Gala and Fugi while others are talking Granny Smith and Red Delicious. The differences may be slight but can still cause confusion and misunderstanding. In our work helping organizations increase engagement, often through career development initiatives, we first recommend establishing or adopting a definition which resonates with the team.  At Life Strategies we’ve adopted a four-factor model of engagement:

Alignment – fit between individual and organizational values
Commitment – loyalty and intent to stay with the organization
Contribution – level of discretionary effort employees are willing to make (i.e., going above and beyond). 
Appreciation –awareness employees are valued and their effort to support the organization’s goals is appreciated

In seeking to measure engagement along these four factors, we developed the Employee Engagement Indicator (EEi). The EEi is a 40 question survey with 10 questions per factor. The total score is intended to indicate an overall level of employee engagement on a continuum from full disengagement to full engagement.  Sub-factor results can also be analyzed (e.g., level of contribution).

While we are still researching the psychometric properties of the EE-i, preliminary results have been interesting and have demonstrated how a low score on one of the factors can drastically impact overall engagement results. Interested in using the EE-i with your own team? Contact us at info@lifestrategies.ca for more information.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Synergy of Teams

People are constantly asking me how I do all that I do – my response invariably is that “I have a great team!”

At its simplest, synergy is defined as “two or more things functioning together to produce a result not independently obtainable.” Research has demonstrated that synergistic teams can out-produce even the most talented member – and we’ve seen that over and over within the Life Strategies teams.

There is strength in diversity – at Life Strategies, we deliberately build teams that comprise individuals with different competencies and styles. This, of course, means that we all have to embrace and appreciate diversity. Sometimes it’s easier to work with people who approach tasks the same way or share a very similar perspective. However, by choosing to surround ourselves with people who see the world differently and bring unique skills and talents we minimize our blind spots and maximize our productivity.

Do you really know the strengths and talents on your team? Do you let people do what they do best . . . and try to accommodate their weaknesses? Or, are you trying to do too much independently – spending hours at tasks that others could do better in a fraction of the time?

Tools like Personality Dimensions® can help you better understand the teams you work with – whether at work, in athletics, or on community boards. Most members of the Life Strategies team are Personality Dimensions facilitators or Master Trainers . . . aside from facilitating workshops, though, we all walk our talk – celebrating the diversity on our team and providing opportunities for each other to do what they do best. Contact us at info@lifestrategies.ca if you’d like to introduce your own team to this amazing tool.