A blog about reputation, marketing and employee morale.

Strengthen Workplace Culture With A Book Club

Posted by Janet Smith on March 31, 2016

I love the idea of workplace book clubs, and have recommended to some of my clients that they consider starting one. When executed well, book clubs are a terrific way to bring a cross-section of employees together to discuss ideas and opinions, thus building and strengthening co-worker relationships.

I recently came across an outstanding blog post on techcrunch.com, “How To Use A Book Club To Turn Your Startup Into A Learning Machine,”  written by Dmitry Koltunov, co-founder and CTO of Alice, a hotel industry software company.

In his post, Dmitry explains the genesis of the Alice book club:

The idea to start the book club came to fruition over a year ago when we were dealing with a customer training problem. I made a suggestion to our team based on something I read in Delivering Happiness, a book by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh detailing how he created a corporate culture with a commitment to support. That’s when one of our team members turned to me and said, almost bewildered, “How do you have time to read?”

…and that question got Dmitry thinking:

As a leader, this raised a huge red flag. The short answer is: We don’t. In the startup world, the days are long, the tasks are endless, your ambitions are growing and there is not enough time to get dinner, let alone read a book at your leisure. I realized we had to prioritize learning as a culture, or we would never find the time — and be doomed to constantly reinvent the startup wheel.

He realized that regardless of the industry, all startups deal with similar challenges, and “given that 80-90 percent of startups fail, books provide direct access to people who have done it and can help you ‘grow up’ before you run out of funds.”

So the leaders at Alice decided to create a tradition: a monthly book club, with titles selected to address challenges the company was facing at the time. For example, when the leaders wondered how best to encourage innovative thinking, the book was Daniel Pink’s Drive. And when they needed ideas for hiring incredible talent, the book was Who: A Method for Hiring, by Geoff Smart.

Dmitry provides excellent guidance for structuring a workplace book club, and I strongly encourage you to take a look!  Though he writes from a startup perspective, his suggestions could certainly be adapted to larger organizations, or a department within a big company.

Alice is now three years old, and Dmitry says in his post:

Our company and how we do business has changed quite a bit with the book club tradition. The books did not always have the answers, but they always fostered a good conversation. Sometimes we applied the things we learned directly, sometimes we adjusted to our culture and other times what we read simply reinforced what we were already doing. Each session brought the team closer and helped us understand our company better.

Thanks for the inspiration, Dmitry!

The Number One Way to Say Thanks on Employee Appreciation Day

Posted by Janet Smith on March 3, 2016

This Friday is Employee Appreciation Day — it’s always the first Friday in March.

There are many ways to show employees that they are appreciated — lunch, an appropriate gift or a gift card, time off, a bonus check, flowers, their favorite candy or cookies or other treat, a training class or workshop they will find really interesting, tickets to a sporting event or performance you know they’ll love…these are all wonderful (just make sure you choose something that the employee will love, not something that you love!). While giving the gift, tell them much you appreciate them, and some of the reasons why. Face-to-face is best, of course.

(If you have read this far and think it’s silly to spend time thanking employees, remember that “not feeling valued/appreciated” is consistently one of the top reasons why employees leave a job. And many more who don’t feel appreciated stick around…but just show up to work and do as little work as possible. See more stats at the end of this post.)

I’d like to offer another way to thank employees that they will love, and will make them feel special and valued for their contributions: a heartfelt thank you note. The note can stand on its own, or accompany a gift. A thank you note is appropriate to give on Employee Appreciation Day, as well as any other day of the year.

I’m offering you a quick, easy, fun way to write a personal thank you note to an employee (or to a co-worker, boss, leader — anyone…). But first, a few more thoughts about thank you notes.

Thank you notes that are handwritten are even more special. It’s rare to receive a handwritten note, and it’s something that people love and something that people typically save. And you must agree — an emailed thank you note isn’t nearly as likely to be printed out and tucked away for safe keeping and posterity, as is a handwritten thanks.

At some point after a bonus check is spent, food is enjoyed, a book has been read, or a baseball game has been attended, those things will be all but forgotten. But many people (probably most people, though I have no scientific proof of that) save special cards that they receive for years and years. Many thank you  notes are probably saved forever!

SO….some years ago, I created a FILL-IN-THE-BLANK WORKPLACE THANK YOU NOTE that I’ve used dozens of times with participants in my training and coaching classes, workshops, and team-building sessions. Everyone always loves it, because this thank you note provides four sentence starters (because starting the sentences is the hard part!). Just complete the four sentences, and you’ll have a thank you note that expresses why you think so highly of the recipient.

I guarantee that the receiver of this note will smile and feel valued, appreciated, and very pleased (if not extremely happy and joyful!). Take a look and please use this easy template as a guide for saying thank you on Friday…and many other times throughout the year.


And on the topic of appreciation…thank you so much for reading my blog! I am sincerely grateful for you!

 — Janet

PS: In case you’re interested, here are some workplace research stats on the subject of employee appreciation:

  • 79% of employees don’t feel strongly valued for their work. (TINYpulse)
  • 65% of U.S. workers say they weren’t recognized for their contributions in the past year. (OC Tanner)
  • 39% of employees feel underappreciated at work, and 77% said they would work harder if they felt more appreciated. (Globoforce)
  • The top 15% of companies that make it a priority to recognize and appreciate employees experience 46% fewer voluntary employee resignations, and 12-15% improvements in overall employee performance. (Deloitte)
  • 57% of human resource professionals working for companies that introduced co-worker recognition programs reported increased levels of employee engagement. (Society for Human Resource Management)


3 Tips to Decrease Boss-Related Stress

Posted by Janet Smith on January 26, 2016

Bosses typically deal with a unique kind of stress that is the result of overseeing other human beings who (as humans) will inevitably…

  • Make mistakes
  • Fall short of expectations
  • Miss work for illness and a variety of other reasons
  • Get distracted by personal issues, and
  • Do who-knows-what because they have unique personalities, opinions, ideas, strengths, experiences, perspectives, and motives. Etcetera.

As a workplace culture consultant, I work with a lot of bosses. And without exception every one of them talks about the stress of overseeing people.

To minimize this stress, I encourage bosses to:

1. Accept the fact that employees are human. Human beings make mistakes, fall short of expectations, miss work for illness and a variety of other reasons, get distracted by personal issues, and do a variety of things that seem right to them because of their unique personalities, opinions, ideas, strengths, experiences, perspectives, and motives. Etcetera. This includes you and me: we each do all of these things. If you can’t accept the fact that human beings aren’t perfect, and that every employee will make mistakes, please do everyone a favor and find another job, or hire other more understanding people to be the boss.

2. Clarify everything. I recently worked with a boss who complained about an employee that would occasionally get up and leave work half an hour early.

“Have you spoken with her about it?” I asked the boss. The boss responded, “No, but she should know the rules around here.” (Bet the employee doesn’t know that rule, I thought.) Then I coached the boss on how to talk with the employee about the issue.

Before the boss had that meeting, I had an opportunity to talk with the employee myself, about another issue. While we were talking, I casually asked her what time her workday ended. “My day officially ends at 4:30, she said, “but occasionally I have to leave at 4:00 to take my son to an appointment. I’m so fortunate to have a boss who doesn’t mind if I do that!”

Not only is this a true story, I hear similar conflicting versions of the same story all the time.

Here’s what happened. The first time the employee had to leave early, she talked to her boss about it the day before. The boss said, “No problem! We all have things like that happen once in awhile. Don’t think twice about it — just leave when you need to leave.”

The boss was being supportive (which is wonderful), and let the employee know that leaving early the next day was not a problem. The employee heard something different, though. She heard her boss say that it’s no problem to leave early any time she needs to.

From experience, I can tell you that all bosses fail to clarify things for employees, including expectations, how performance is measured, what priorities should be, who employees report to, opportunities for advancement, and when they’ll be eligible for a raise — in addition to dozens of non-clarified rules, processes, and procedures having to do with work hours, absences, vacation, breaks, and so on.

When the boss doesn’t clarify, employees make assumptions, do what they think is right, guess, do their best, wing it. They usually feel that they’re supposed to know, so they’re reluctant to ask for clarification and risk looking stupid.

3. Meet individually with employees, frequently and consistency.  During these conversations, ask and answer questions, continue to clarify and discuss expectations, provide feedback, demonstrate appreciation, encourage, offer your help, and make it clear they are being held accountable.

Accountability is a critically important topic, and bosses who don’t hold employees accountable have the highest levels of stress, frustration, anger and disappointment. I will cover it in detail in my next post.

Unconscious Bias Is Not Okay

Posted by Janet Smith on January 20, 2016

UNCONSCIOUS BIAS in the workplace is damaging and unfair. It affects the lives of millions, holds people back, crushes spirits, and dashes dreams. And it greatly diminishes the work experience for everyone.

I’ve been familiar with this topic, but really had my eyes opened last week when I attended a two-hour presentation on unconscious bias in the workplace, sponsored by the Kansas City Diversity and Inclusion Consortium and the Kansas City Business Journal. It was time incredibly well spent.

The outstanding keynote speaker was Sue Townsen, National Managing Partner, HR Diversity and Corporate Responsibility for KPMG US. The company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, and record of success in this area, are very impressive.  Sue mentioned that one of the company’s current initiatives is focused on retaining those employees who are in the millennial age group.

Sue’s comments made me realize that regardless of how unbiased and fair we believe ourselves to be, we each have biases that impact our thinking, decisions and opinions — whether we are aware of it or not. These biases develop during our formative years (we are born bias-free!) in areas where bias is possible such as race, ethnicity, color, religion, age, abilities or disabilities, gender, gender identity, sexual preference, weight, speaking voice, accent, appearance including piercings, tattoos, personal style, clothing, and hair (the style, the color, the lack of). And this isn’t an exhaustive list.

Unconscious bias may be natural and unpreventable…but that doesn’t mean it is okay, that it’s acceptable, that we can’t learn to overcome it, or that we shouldn’t be concerned about it. It is critically important that everyone in leadership, management, and HR roles take action to tackle unconscious bias, because it has a huge negative impact on the lives and futures of millions. And because it makes workplaces less inclusive, less interesting, less appealing, less dynamic, less talented, and less successful.

The opening keynote was followed by fascinating panel discussion. Sue served on the panel, along with Deth Im, Director of Training and Development for PICO National Network; Dr. Susan Wilson, Vice Chancellor, Division of Diversity and Inclusion for the University of Missouri-Kansas City; and Dan Nilsen, Founder and Chairman of Bishop-McCann.

Here are some key points that resonated with me, and are important for all leaders and HR professionals:

  1. Be aware of anchoring bias — relying too heavily on one trait or piece of information. For example in the hiring process, an interviewer could have an anchoring bias in favor of candidates who graduated from her alma mater.
  2. Also be aware of affinity bias which occurs when we ignore or overlook the negative traits of candidates we like and who seem to be like us.
  3. To have even a slim chance of being effective, diversity training must be a positive discussion, not a shaming experience for the participants. (Editorial comment: corporations started implementing diversity programs at least several decades ago, yet only 1 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are black, and only 4 percent are women, according to 2015 data from Catalyst and CNN Money. Traditional methods of diversity training are typically not effective.)
  4. A collaborative approach to dealing with unconscious bias is best. Sure, someone who is qualified should lead the charge. But there must be an across-the-board desire by all leaders to address these issues and work together to do so. Therefore…
  5. Diversity and inclusion programs must be tied to an organization’s mission, and…
  6. Discussions among co-workers about diversity and inclusion must get real if progress is going to be made. That means people have to get outside their comfort zone and talk honestly. (This type of real conversation about bias, unconscious or not, doesn’t happen enough under any circumstances, and is extremely rare in the workplace. And that’s one of the reasons why diversity training hasn’t made a difference.)
  7. To minimize unconscious bias in the hiring process, use standardized questions, determine hiring criteria in advance, and train people who make hiring decisions about unconscious bias. And remember that throughout the hiring process, effectiveness is more important than efficiency.  That means take your time, think things through, and search for evidence that unconscious bias may be at play.
  8. Take advantage of outstanding open-source training about managing unconscious bias that’s available online. Facebook has a video series that covers their unconscious bias training.  Google offers quite a bit of information as well. If you seek, you will find some really good stuff.
  9. When there is a vacuum in the information that we have about someone, something, or about a situation, our brains automatically fill in the void with what we know. This is another reason why good training and honest conversations about unconscious bias are so important.
  10. We all should learn about, and consider taking, the Harvard Implicit Association Tests (IAT) that “measure attitudes and beliefs that people may be unwilling or unable to report,” as described on their website. “The IAT may be especially interesting if it shows that you have an implicit attitude that you did not know about. For example, you may believe that women and men should be equally associated with science, but your automatic associations could show that you (like many others) associate men with science more than you associate women with science.” I took one of the IATs this morning, and the results were very interesting. I’ll be taking some of the others.

Unconscious bias exists in all of us. But that doesn’t let us off the hook. And once we know and understand this phenomena, we have a responsibility to identify our own biases, appropriately question others about theirs, and find opportunities to raise awareness of this topic. If we are in the position to do so, we must make it a priority to call attention to unconscious bias in our workplaces, create opportunities for honest conversation, and provide excellent training programs with proven track records.

One boss or hiring manager can change the course of someone’s life by deciding to hire (or not), promote (or not), or develop (or not). Such decisions must be based on balanced, rational decision-making…not as a result of unconscious bias that prevents many job candidates or employees from ever having a chance.












Lucky X2: Lottery Winner Has Millions AND Loves Her Job!

Posted by Janet Smith on January 15, 2016


This morning I saw this couple, John and Lisa Robinson of Munford, Tn., display their winning Powerball ticket on the Today Show. John bought the ticket on his way home from work last night, less than four hours before the winning number was drawn. It is reported that the Robinsons are one of three winners of the $1.6 billion Powerball lottery drawing. If this is so, the Robinsons will receive just over half a billion dollars. After taxes, that will leave them with $350ish million.

Hard not to be envious, right?

But there’s another reason why a lot of people may envy Lisa: She loves her job! Despite this unexpected and nearly unprecedented financial windfall, she doesn’t plan to quit her job at a dermatologist’s office.

It will be interesting to find out what Lisa and John plan to do with their millions. But I’m even more interested in finding out what makes the doctor’s office Lisa works in so great that she wants to keep working there.

It has to be a very healthy culture, where everyone is respected and treated as an adult. The co-workers undoubtedly get along well, and support and care about one another. Everyone working there must feel valued and an important part of the success of the practice. Sadly, the percentage of workplaces like this is very small. Okay, not as small as your chances of winning the Powerball…but Gallup studies show that only about 13 percent of workers in this country actually like going to work.

There are seven critical mistakes that most bosses make that hurt employee morale and engagement — but I’m guessing that the leaders and managers at this dermatology practice know better than to make these mistakes.

It’s possible that as time goes on, Lisa will decide to do other things with her time, and resign from her job. But the fact that her initial response after becoming a multi-millionaire wasn’t take this job and shove it, but rather, I’m gonna keep this job, ‘cause I love it tells me that Lisa is a very fortunate woman indeed.





14 Leadership Skills Create ‘Boss Sauce’

Posted by Janet Smith on January 14, 2016


MHI Global is an international leadership consulting firm that’s 50 years old. A few months ago, the company released the results of a study called Universal Leader. To conduct the study, MHI researchers surveyed hundreds of employees from around the world and asked just one question: What does effective management look like?

In response to that question, 14 key leadership skills rose to the top that MHI is calling Boss Sauce. None of Boss Sauce “ingredients” were surprising, but it’s nice to have another study confirm what I believe to be true! Here’s a quick overview.


Says MHI: Your employees rely on you to lead them. Sometimes you have to make changes based on feedback.


Says MHI: There’s an old adage in business — hire people who are smarter than you. To use their skills to the fullest extent is a skill in itself. Apply the collective wisdom of the team.


Says MHI: A good organization has a clear understanding of what success is. A great organization will tell the employees how they can help navigate. Quality leadership often means helping employees see their role in the vision for the future.


Says MHI: You might be surprised to find how many coworkers aren’t co-working. They might not even know each other’s names. That’s not good for business. This study shows that a tight-knit team coordinates, works together, and accomplishes more.


Says MHI: How do you, personally, measure success? Whatever your key metrics are, your team (top to bottom) should know them. And each employee should know you believe they can achieve them.


Says MHI: Your employees need appreciation to be motivated. Give your team something to look forward to, and you might be surprised at what they accomplish.


Says MHI: Recognition is powerful. We all want to feel appreciated. Praise good performance both privately and publicly and always advocate on behalf of employees.


Says MHI: Giving your team the necessary, accurate, and appropriate details for any given situation will create trust and productivity. Your employees will feel closer and work together to overcome challenges.


Says MHI: Make the effort to really help employees see what they can do - how they can perform better on particular tasks. Your efforts will pale in comparison to theirs.


Says MHI: When an overwhelming project comes in, sometimes employees shut down. Be clear and specific about next steps. Manage the project as much as you lead the employee.


Nobody wants to do the grunt work. Unless you, the leader, pitch in. And suddenly, it isn’t grunt work. Putting yourself at the mercy of hard work puts you at the front of the pack. Your employees will follow.


Says MHI: You are where you are because of where you’ve been. That means you have a long history of success. Teaching what you’ve learned to someone under your wing will only lift you up higher. And your team will be better for it.


Says MHI: Finding motivated people isn’t an easy task, but nurturing them is. Take the time to get to know your employees’ skills. Give them the opportunity to be more effective in their work and help them grow. Making them better makes you better.


When your employees are satisfied, they’re happy. But be careful not to let satisfaction turn into boredom. The comfort zone can be a dangerous place. Try cheering them on to greater accomplishment by stretching them outside their comfort zone.

Take the time to say “hi” every morning!

Posted by Janet Smith on November 23, 2011

Yesterday I received an email from my mom…that she received from someone else…that certainly stole my heart. It consists of four photos, telling the story of a deer that visits a cat every morning! Seems the two unlikely critters have formed a bond and start out every day showing one another some genuine affection. The kitty’s owner decided to snap some pictures to document this remarkable daily meet-and-greet event.

As an employee morale consultant, I can’t help but think how many people would benefit from following the example of this deer and cat. I simply mean that when you arrive at work, greet your co-workers pleasantly. And if you’re a leader, boss, manager, or in any kind of a supervisory position, say hello to those who report to you if at all possible. It shows that you care, and it makes a difference. Visit employees on their turf (stop by someone’s desk, go out on the warehouse floor, etc.)…and you’ll score extra boss points.

Saying hello and giving a smile to employees doesn’t cost a thing. And like the deer who keeps coming back to visit the cat…it will definitely be noticed!

Here’s a quick way to make an employee feel valued

Posted by Janet Smith on May 6, 2009

Catch an employee as he or she is leaving at the end of the day, and say, “I just want to make sure you know how much I appreciate you and all that you do for the company.” Accompany with a genuine smile and if it’s your style, maybe a pat on the shoulder.

Some may react with slight embarrassment or even with an awkward silence, but that’s okay. Assuming that you’re a decent boss and the overall work environment is pretty good, they’ll walk out the door feeling on top of the world knowing that they matter.

Should yesterday’s Administrative Professional’s Day be the last?

Posted by Janet Smith on April 23, 2009

Yesterday was Administrative Professional’s Day. And I’m starting to think that a day singling out secretaries, receptionists, administrative assistants, and other clerical workers may not be the best way to honor these invaluable employees.

I was quoted yesterday in a blog post on The Glass Hammer, an online community for women executives in financial services, law and business. I stand by what I said: “Flowers, a card, candy, and a lovely lunch are all terrific—and I would never, ever discourage a boss from doing these kinds of things in honor of Administrative Professionals Day. However, these are not the things that admins want most. What they really want—and what will make them feel extremely valued and appreciated—are opportunities for professional development and career growth.” 

But a comment in the same post from Jennifer Bergeron, Human Resources Training Specialist for Summit County Government in Breckenridge, Colorado, really gave me pause. Jennifer concurred that career advancement and education opportunities for administrative professionals “lets them know that they’re part of the team, not an outsider.”  But she also said, “Speaking as a professional past administrative assistant, I actually felt demoted when recognized for the day.  I’ve worked in small offices, and served more as a marketing assistant, event director, and public relations specialist, so when flowers appeared on my desk to note my admin skills, I tried to be happy about it on the outside, but inside I wondered if that’s how I was truly seen.”

This annual workplace holiday just may be outdated and irrelevant…and it’s unlikely to be much of a morale-builder. Many factors contribute to high morale, and a big one is when bosses at every level consistently acknowledge, affirm, thank, and show appreciation to every employee, all year around. But since the annual observance isn’t going to go away any time soon, bosses should consider the advice I gave in The Glass Hammer post: Eliminate the guesswork, and ask employees how they like to be recognized and what makes them feel appreciated. And I’ll take that a step further. Right now, with the next Administrative Professionals Day almost a year away, sit down with your clerical and administrative personnel and ask what they honestly think of the day. If they like it, find out how they’d like to be recognized when the day rolls around in 2010. And if they don’t like it, offer to ignore the observance from now on.

Dear Domino’s: I told you so

Posted by Janet Smith on April 20, 2009

Dear Domino’s: I hate to say I told you so…but…I told you so.

I’ll explain in a moment. But first, let’s recap. One week ago today, on April 13, a video was posted on YouTube showing a few Domino’s employees doing some really disgusting things with food, as they appeared to be preparing it for customers. The video has since been taken down, so I don’t know how many people ultimately viewed it-but I read that on April 15, it had been viewed 562,627 times by 8 a.m., 728,816 times by 3 p.m., and 930,390 times by 9:30 p.m. A stellar example of social media’s viral nature.

The employees have been fired and face felony charges. And Domino’s is now fighting for its reputation. A two-minute video created by the Domino’s organization, featuring an apology by Patrick Doyle, president of Domino’s USA, was posted on YouTube on April 15. I just checked, and it has received 540,896 views in five days-not bad, but certainly no comparison to the number of views the damaging video received just in one day.

So here’s why I’m feeling just a teensy bit smug. A year ago-on April 16, 2008-I wrote a blog post titled, “The Domino’s effect.” I detailed an experience of mine with the big pizza chain-or more specifically, with an extremely apathetic Domino’s employee. It had to do with being charged $16.00 for two medium pizzas, although three mediums cost $15.00.

The point of my post wasn’t that the employee was a bad person or even a bad employee. My point was that Domino’s clearly did not empower its employees to make even the smallest decisions in order to make customers happy. I wrote, “Somewhere up the line, a manager at Domino’s decided that this low-paid, hourly worker was not important to the success of the company. Someone made the decision that he didn’t need to understand the goals of the company and that he didn’t need to understand how he contributed to the achievement of those goals. And it’s clear that no one thought he should be empowered to give the customer a good experience. Who can blame the kid for not caring?”

Unempowered employees become apathetic employees. It’s the only way they can really survive that kind of work environment. If they continue to care, but can’t do anything about it, they’ll be miserable, frustrated, and angry. Stop caring—and it’s much easier to get through your shift.

As far as I can tell, Domino’s still doesn’t get it, even in the face of this supreme (go ahead and groan!) reputation nightmare. In the video, Doyle says, “Nothing is more important or sacred to us than our customers’ trust.”

That way of thinking is faulty, Mr. Doyle. There is something more important than the trust of your customers. It’s the commitment and loyalty of your employees, which only happens when they are empowered, respected, communicated with, valued, thanked, and made to feel that they are an important part of the company’s success.

Doyal also says, “We are re-examining our hiring practices.” Well-that’s never a bad idea. But I suggest, Patrick, that you re-examine the way employees are treated, too.  Even the best employees become negative and apathetic if they are not empowered, respected, communicated with, valued, thanked, and made to feel that they are an important part of the company’s success.

“It sickens me that the actions of two individuals could impact our great system,” Doyle says in the video.

It’s tragic that any well-intentioned organization should have its reputation threatened by the sickening actions of two employees. I have genuine compassion for everyone affiliated with Domino’s and sincerely hope they weather this storm.

But Mr. Doyle, as you evaluate the cause of this crisis and implement policies to prevent anything like this from happening again, please don’t miss a very important lesson.  It can be found in the three words I used to end the blog entry I posted almost one year ago to the day before the corporate giant’s image went south: “Employee morale and reputation go hand in hand. Domino’s got eight bucks from me that day. But my opinion of the company tanked. Every employee matters.”