At the Steople holiday lunch last week, the question was posed, “What is your favorite Christmas gift ever?”  Everyone’s face lit up as we talked about puppies, Grease albums, and tennis shoes…but even better was the next question, “What was the best gift you ever gave?”  That one sparked tears as we remembered loved ones and some of the meaningful moments through the years.  Of course, we are a team of deep thinkers, so we loved that discussion!

Now in thinking about the Holidays, one of the things that I love the most about the season is giving.  Of course, I love to receive great gifts too, but if you know me you know I am a gift-giver!  I love people opening a present with excitement and joy – it is like the kid in them comes out!  Now I do know that personality-wise there are people who are motivated by altruism and affiliation more than others, so it is not to generalize here, but isn’t that what we do this time of year?

Giving Has Great Benefits 
The holiday season is upon us and with it the hunt for the perfect gifts for family and friends. But what exactly happens in your brain when you give a gift? And is the old saying really true that “giving is better than receiving?” It turns out, gift-giving, particularly when the giftee is someone with whom we have a close relationship, activates key reward pathways in our brain, provided we don’t let stress take away the joy of the occasion.

In fact, several studies over the last decade have demonstrated that spending money on someone other than yourself promotes happiness. That’s because when we behave generously—be it donating money to charity or giving a loved one something they really want for a holiday—it creates more interaction between the parts of the brain associated with processing social information and feeling pleasure. In one example, researchers gave 50 people $100 and instructed half of them to spend it on themselves, and the other half to spend it on someone else over the next four weeks. Then, they performed functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure activity in the brain associated with generosity and pleasure during a social sharing task. They found that those who spent money on other people had more generous and fair interactions with other people and reported higher levels of happiness after the experiment was over.

“Oftentimes, people refer to it as the “warm glow,” this intrinsic delight in doing something for someone else,” said Simon-Thomas, Ph.D., who studies the neuroscience and psychology of compassion, kindness, and gratitude at Berkley. “But part of the uniqueness of the reward activation around gift-giving compared to something like receiving an award or winning money is that because it is social it also activates pathways in the brain that release oxytocin, which is a neuropeptide that signals trust, safety, and connection. It’s often referred to as the ‘cuddle hormone.’”

When oxytocin is part of the equation, the reward is slightly different in that it can be sustained longer, unlike the brief lifespan that a pure dopamine response has. These effects on the brain are even present during various steps leading up to the actual opening of the gift, such as shopping for the gift and wrapping it. The whole experience of figuring out what to get for someone you love and simply anticipating being in the room with them while they open it activates those same reward pathways and is all part of the joy of gift-giving.  Maybe that is why most of us, during this time of year, find joy in finding just the right gift.

Still, while gift-giving and gift-receiving can often lead to hopefulness and excitement, the lead-up to giving a gift can bring on other emotions, including stress and anxiety, said Scott Rick, Ph.D. at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. Rick is known for developing the Tight Wad-Spend Thrift Scale which found that there are real brain and behavioral differences between tightwads and spendthrifts and that they’re related to an emotional experience called “the pain of paying.”  “When it goes right it can be a wonderful thing but can also come with a lot of anxiety over how much you’re spending or whether or not they will like the gift,” Rick said. There’s also the dreaded experience of being in a position where you receive a gift from someone you were not expecting to, and don’t have a gift of your own to reciprocate. This awkward scenario can cause patterns in the brain that mimic an actual pain response.  None of us love that moment because we all crave the moment of wonder when someone else says, “I absolutely love it – it is perfect!”

Giving In the Workplace
So, what does all of this have to do with organizations?  Well, during this time of year our society, including our workplaces, is very inclined toward gift-giving.  Whether it is a round of dirty Santa or a cookie exchange, or bonuses…this is the time of the year when all of these rewards and pitfalls come into play.  We want to give a gift, but we also want to make sure we are on the right track as we do.  So, as you close things out for the year, and hand out those last-minute gifts to your team members, keep all the above in mind, and consider these suggestions for giving in the workplace:

1. Keep it voluntary. It should never be mandatory for an employee to purchase gifts for co-workers.  Making it spontaneous and informal makes it much more natural.

2. Stay professional. Make sure you understand the company’s culture before you give a “gag” gift.  Ensure that you give something that is appropriate.  If you pause and wonder if you should give it, that is probably a clue to go a safer route.

3. Be fair.  Giving everyone the same gift is the preferred method of workplace gift-giving. If you plan to give gifts to only a few co-workers with whom you are particularly close, do so outside work. Showing favoritism, even accidentally, can be extremely counter-productive, and sometimes detrimental to your company’s culture.

4. Keep it simple. Try to tailor your gift to the taste and personality of your co-worker. And don’t overdo it – no one wants to be uncomfortable or caught off-guard when receiving a gift.

5. Avoid items that may be considered too personal. Steer clear of giving gifts that could be misinterpreted.  A token of your appreciation or a kind gesture at the end of the year can be derailed if a gift is too personal or inappropriate.  If you question it, ask for advice from someone you trust.

6. Baked goods are king. If you are unsure about what to give your co-workers, treat them with sweets. Baked goods are a great opportunity for employees to show their thoughtfulness without being viewed as going overboard.

The holidays are a time for celebration and appreciation. My guess is that you don’t know what a gift you are to us here at Steople.  We see the amazing work you are doing in your workplace.  Please stop for a moment and let that soak in – we appreciate you!  You are our colleagues, clients, and friends.  Thank you for doing all you do in the world of work…leading and influencing within an organization is not for the faint of heart.  From your Steople family we are hoping you have a wonderful holiday and a Happy New Year.

Have you ever had a month when the same themes keep coming up over and over?  It happens to me often…not sure if that is because I am looking for it or if the universe is trying to get a message to me.  This month has been like that.  The theme seems to be…take the time to focus on relationships, not tasks.  The first evidence of this theme was a story by Pam Berg that I read on Instagram:

Make the Chili
“A good friend of mine unexpectedly lost her husband.  A couple of months later we were running together chatting about nothing.  She asked what my dinner plans were, and I told her my husband wanted chili, but I didn’t feel like stopping at the store.  We ran a few more minutes when she quietly said, “Make the chili.”  It took me a few minutes to realize we were no longer talking about dinner. It was about going out of your way to do something for someone you love because, at any moment, they could unexpectedly be taken from you.

So today I’m sharing with you that wisdom handed to me by my dear friend, that I’ve thought of many times since that day.  Next time someone you love wants to go for a walk or watch a football game or talk to you about their struggles or just put your phone down and give them your undivided attention, just do it.  Make the chili.  Love deeply and selflessly.”

Post Malone 
A couple of weeks ago, Layla and I traveled to deliver a leadership program at an LNG company in Houston. The fourth business quarter is always a race to the finish as a consultant.  We are completing work that needs to be delivered before the holidays (everyone using their budget when they can) while also ramping up to deliver the needed work in the new year.  We often refer to it as “semesters” where sometimes there is a little more leisurely pace and other times it is finals.  It is easy to get burned out at this time and we all take a breath during our time off over the holidays.

The last couple of months had been incredibly busy so I knew I wanted to do something fun so that we could relax and re-energize together.  We were going to be staying downtown which just happened to be within walking distance of the Toyota Center.  Fortunately, there was a concert – Post Malone… which we both love…so I purchased tickets for us with dinner and drinks before the concert.  We had SO much fun.  We had a great dinner, the margaritas flowed, and we got to sing and dance, cutting loose to one of our favorite artists.  And you know what Layla said to me while one of the last songs was playing?  “I really needed this”.  So grateful we took the time because guess what?  So did I.  This was my second piece of evidence that a theme was developing.

Hanging Out and Feeling Loved
Opening up the mail one evening, I received an invitation from a friend to a “Girl’s Night Out”.  That friend, Candice, is an amazing woman in the community whose family has always been dear to me.  They are a hard-working family whose son played basketball with my son and, since graduating high school, has had an amazing professional career.  I’ve always been incredibly happy for their success and, at the same time, admired Candice because of her authenticity and dedication to the community.  Of course, I immediately texted her and told her I would be there.

As I approached the front steps of her house, I still wasn’t exactly sure what this evening was about.  Fundraiser?  A longstanding party with women I didn’t know?  I wasn’t sure, but I was up for the adventure.  I was greeted with a hug, a glass of wine, and a quick spin around the room.  There was amazing food, a fresh flower station where you could build your own bouquet, a permanent jewelry booth, a tree with a present for everyone, a photo booth, and a room full of about 50 new friends.  Once all of her guests arrived, Candice clinked a glass for attention and shared a story about a dear friend of hers who had ended up ill in the hospital.  She spoke of the regret she felt standing at her friend’s bedside.  The truth was, they were great friends, but with small children and a busy life, they had not made enough time to get to together.  She talked about how busy all of us get…moms, wives, and daughters… and how her intention for the evening was to create an amazing night for each of us to get to know one another, get a bit pampered, and build a community of strong women.

As Candice spoke, I teared up.  Here was my friend taking the time to make a difference in our lives. She was reminding each of us how much we mean to one another and how little we value it enough to slow down and take time together.  During that evening, I met new friends, felt loved and valued, and, overall, was inspired!  She had done an incredible job of making people her priority with a generous spirit and a few beautiful indulgences that touched our hearts.  The third evidence of a theme, do you see it?

Why Making People Your #1 Priority is Your #1 Priority
Now, why am I telling you about these little reminders that I seemed to be getting this last month?  Well, first, because I care about you, and second because I care about the people you are called to serve.  As a leader, I want you to get the same message I have been getting – slow down and be intentional in how you spend your time – especially these last few weeks of the year.  I know we all fall into the hustle and bustle of the season…but how can you relax a little and make it more meaningful with those you care about?

Emotional Intelligence (EI) is “the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others,” including the capacity to identify emotions, harness emotions, and apply them to tasks like problem-solving, and the capacity to regulate emotions and support others in the regulation of their own emotions.  I’m sure you have heard this before, but it is a very important concept for people who are in positions of leadership.  Our belief here at Steople is that as a leader you need EI to handle the time and energy that you must invest in your team.

Leaders must develop the capacity to care for and support team members as they encounter personal and professional challenges, from failed initiatives to failed marriages. This capacity changes the lens through which a leader looks at every meeting and interaction. Instead of approaching time with employees as solely a business-oriented strategy conversation, high culture/high-profit leaders focus on the support they provide to the team members involved. Certainly, much of that support is strictly professional (what resources do I need to expend, for this effort to be successful?) but a significant proportion is emotional as well (what support can I expend, for this person to be successful?). There is a business case for truly caring about and investing time in those who stand by you day in and day out reaching for your combined goals.

Being Intentional with a Plan
To me, it is great news that studies have found that CEOs (and all leaders)  who spend more time with their employees lead more productive companies.   It makes our job so much easier as we speak with each of you in your respective companies making the case that keeping people the priority pays dividends.  So what can you do to be more intentional?  Well, my recommendation is to start today and consider implementing the following:

  • Do your people know how relevant they are to the success of the team?  Do you take time to get to know them on a personal basis?  It should be part of your vocabulary and routine.
  • Prepare for each meeting on your calendar by asking the question, “Who is in this meeting, and how can I help them succeed as an individual and as a team member?”
  • Review your routine: does it reflect an orientation toward people? How would you get feedback if you are unsure?
  • What new habits could you start to make clear your prioritization of people? Office walk-throughs? Handwritten notes? Informal time together?
  • Among your executive team, who is the best at caring for people? How do they illustrate this care? Has it made them more successful? How could you celebrate their approach publicly, to encourage others to do the same?
  • Do you ever have someone say “I know you are busy…” Do you impress on people how busy you are which then somehow sends the message you don’t have time?  Do you leave “white space” on your calendar?

I’ll be totally transparent, much of the time, I choose what I write about based on what I am “feeling” now.  I’m working on this “slowing down” right along with you.  It is SO easy to get pulled into the running of the business and delivering to our clients.  Even as an organizational psychologist who knows all of this, I must continue to work on it.  It is easy for me to tell myself that people are busy, they don’t want interference, they don’t value the time to pause, and that I have other things that take precedence.  But even worse than that…one day can just roll into another without INTENTIONALLY making the time.  I believe that being honest and normalizing what our tendencies are is the first step to changing for the better.  So my question is, what are you going to tweak over the next few crazy weeks either personally or professionally?  Let us know how we can help continue to build those great leadership habits as we close out this year and move into 2023.  Remember, the next time someone you love wants to go for a walk or watch a football game or talk to you about their struggles or just put your phone down and give them your undivided attention, just do it.  Make the chili.  Love deeply and selflessly.

I woke up the other morning to the news that Bob Iger is returning as CEO of Disney.  Iger came up through the ranks in a 50-year career at Disney and has an almost mythical status as the leader. He spent 15 years as CEO and was instrumental in acquiring major brands like Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm, the home to Star Wars. Iger also closed the $71 billion deal to buy most of 21st Century Fox and kicked off the streaming revolution with Disney Plus. Most people would say that anyone would be hard-pressed to find someone who says a bad word about Iger.  And what does he attribute his success to? Building relationships, demanding excellence, and sweating the small stuff.

I’m sure most of you have been to the magical world of Disney. It is a rite of passage as a parent that you bring your kiddos to Disney to see that look of wonder when they set eyes on Mickey and the Princesses for the first time in person. We did that as a family…staying on property at The Animal Kingdom, getting Fast Passes, chasing after those character autographs, and watching Tinkerbell float across the sky during the evening light show. It was magical! But one of the memories I have of that trip has nothing to do with the Disney characters and more to do with a mistake I made that Disney helped me correct with their legendary service.

We had been having a great day in the Magic Kingdom…until I realized I didn’t have my phone. Now, this was in the early days of cell phones, and I remember that phone well…it was small and had a black and white checkered Coach phone case. Of course, panic struck and as I made my way to Lost and Found, I had very little hope that it would be there. But guess what I walked into? A room filled with cell phones…and there was mine sitting on the shelf!  I couldn’t believe it and automatically told the lady at the front desk…if this was any other theme park, it would have never been found. She nodded and said they had a swift protocol of how to handle a lost phone. They had even shut it off so that it wouldn’t drive the employees crazy and so that the battery would be saved when found by its owner. That was a WOW experience for this customer. It perfectly illustrated the care and planning for every single detail that Disney is known for.

The Story Behind Disney’s Trash Cans
Along with this “small catch” the theme park had implemented, there are 1,000 other small things that are tended to. At Disney, attention to detail is something of an art form, stemming from the founder, Walt Disney. His passion, which one could argue is at the very core of the company’s values, was famous for his eye for detail, and he made sure that everyone paid the same attention that he did. As an example, Disney trash cans are legendary. It Is rumored that there are holes underneath the cans where the trash is swept away in underground tunnels. It isn’t true, but what is true is that each and every can is created to be a piece of art that is specific to the part of the park that it is located. The cans are ever present in the background of Disney vacation photos. They’re a vital necessity to a pleasant guest experience. Yet, they’re barely noticed. The humble Disney trash can might be easily overlooked, but actually has celebrity status with people vying for the trash can merchandise and swag that can be found in the Disney stores.

Why did Disney focus on trash cans?  First, Walt realized that if you keep a place tidy, it’s more likely that guests will throw away their trash, so he did research into how far someone would walk before they dropped their trash on the ground. He found that 30 feet was the magic number, so wherever you go in a Disney Park, a trash can will never be more than 30 feet away from you. Second, every trash can is designed in a way that blends into its surroundings and doesn’t remove the guest from the immersion of their experience. They are works of art and are meant to enhance the customer experience.  Again, the little touches here and there truly make a difference.

Customers Notice Everything
You may not be consciously aware of it, but you are subjected to annoyances every day.  Some you might just filter out and move on, but others might really bug you over time and impact your satisfaction. Interestingly, there is a human premise that it’s always the little things people seem to notice and get annoyed about, not the big things. See if any of these annoyances resonate with you:

  • The dust ball in the corner after the professional cleaners “finished” their job.
  • The dirty marks on your cupboard door after the hinges have been replaced.
  • The realtor who didn’t remove their shoes when entering your home with a client.
  • The absence of free WIFI on the cruise you spent a lot of money on.
  • The appetizer you didn’t order on the restaurant bill.
  • The grease on the steering wheel after they have finished servicing your SUV.
  • The dropped call when we are trying to book a hotel room by phone.

These are the things we notice; they cause us to rethink whether we want to continue to do business with the guilty organization. These are the things they expect NOT to happen. They represent the basics of business, and we expect them to be performed without a flaw. But when things break down, we are emotionally caught up in the event and often behave in a way that doesn’t reflect who we really are. We confront the person who greets you at the phone store for not seeing us on time. It’s a small issue and shouldn’t matter, but it does. These are the things that we tell ourselves might indicate an organization is not concerned to do what’s necessary to finish the job completely for us. It says to us that they want to get it done and move on to the next customer.

Take Care of the Little Things
People get tired of the “big box culture”.  Someone once told me – people want to feel special and that they matter.  To be honest, that includes not just customers, but employees as well. That mantra has always stuck with me and has made me become more intentional in how we show up at Steople. My question to you is what small details in your company would frustrate customers? Not the big things, but the little things that might negatively impact your brand. How can you work on making the minute details as important as the big deliverables? What can be done?  Here are some sample actions that might be taken to implement strong “little things matter” values.

  • “They Notice Everything” posters should be plastered about the workplace to remind employees to take care of the little things for not only customers but their fellow employees.
  • Leaders should monitor every nook and cranny of the organization to pick up on and change “maybe they won’t notice” attitudes and behavior.
  • If customer surveys don’t already have questions relating to how well the little things are performed, add them. And include write-in comments to obtain a more personal customer perspective on what needs to be addressed.
  • Include “little things” as part of the internal quality control of your organization. If little things aren’t taken care of on the inside among employees, it won’t happen on the outside with customers. Set meaningful metrics to meet these.
  • Get input from frontline employees on the little things that are regularly missed and treat these as priorities for resolution. They know what the major issues are; listen to them.
  • Hold the leadership team in every function of the organization accountable for improving how well the little things are taken care of. Make it part of their annual performance and bonus plan.


Attention to detail is a culture that leads to sustainable competitive advantage because most organizations don’t have — or don’t desire to have — the competency.  They don’t understand the little things aren’t little at all, they’re HUGE and can make the difference between a wildly successful business and a mediocre or failed business.

This is the time of year for reflection on the last 12 months.  I encourage you to take stock of those things that might need to be focused on in the new year.  Here at Steople, we are always here to support you and help you with the things that matter most in your culture.  We are grateful for your partnership and wish you a great holiday weekend!


I know so many of you can relate to what I am about to say…we are looking for great talent!  It is the #1 need of our clients right now and we are in the exact same position.  We have about a 90% success rate so far and want to make sure that we keep our great record of hiring great talent alive and well.  Probably much like everyone else we are looking for people who are smart, diverse, caring, fun-loving, business-minded, entrepreneurial, team-oriented, and problem-solvers (I know what your thinking – is that it?). Well, since we talk to so many of you about your strategy, we thought we would give you a peek behind the curtain at what our talent strategy is and our thinking behind it.  It comes out of years of seeing best practices from other companies we have worked with:

1. We are highlighting that we are a great place to work in our branding.
If we don’t tell our story, others will do it for us—and it might not be the narrative we want. Having a clear job description was a prerequisite 10 years ago, but it’s time to up our game. Not only must we use our website as a platform to showcase what makes the work we do incredibly meaningful, but we must also carry our brand message across social media channels and in the stories we share in person. For example, recently we applied to the 2022 Best Places to Work, and on the question “How likely are you to recommend your organization to a friend or colleague?” we scored 100%.  We don’t highlight that enough! Doing so will paint an accurate picture of what we are about for prospective hires and let them know what it’s like to work for our company.

2. We are maximizing employee referrals.
An astonishing 96 percent of companies with 10,000 employees or more—and 80 percent of those with fewer than 100 workers—say referrals are their #1 source of new hires.  Honestly, if an employee is willing to put their reputation on the line and bring in one of their friends or family into the company, that is our best tactic! Every employee should be a recruiter for their company, but few think that way.  To fix that at Steople, we offer a large bonus check to any employee that provides a reference that is then successfully hired.  Then it makes it worth employees’ time to reach out to their contacts, rather than expecting them to do it out of the kindness of their hearts. We believe you must truly incent people, not just say “thank you”.

3. We are offering benefits based on our core values and being transparent about who we are.
We continually emphasize what sets us apart from our competitors and acknowledge that we are not the company for everyone.  For example, while we are a global company, we have smaller, more boutique offices in various regions that offer bespoke services to our clients.  Often, we have young college graduates who want to be at larger firms with Fortune 100 clients.  What I impress on them is that it depends on what they want…in a large firm they will learn a lot, but they will be a cog in the big wheel, while at our firm they will have a voice and essentially be able to “own” their own business.  Another differentiator is that, while we work hard, we have a lot of flexibility and aren’t the “road warriors” working 80+ hours a week that the big firms do.  See where I’m going?  Additionally, we are always revising our benefits package ensuring it aligns with our core values. Examples include offering a personal development budget because we are a learning culture and concierge medicine benefits, so employees can focus on their well-being.

4. We also love our committed contract workers and their need for flexibility.
Since 2009 we have utilized contractors who you would never know weren’t employees.  Their commitment and dedication are remarkable.  The pandemic has ignited the gig economy in other sectors and people are now embracing part-time talent especially since it is so difficult to find good talent or excessively costly to hire full-time employees. Since we are a service firm the nature of our work is flexible and project-oriented, so it really lends itself to part-time workers.  But what we have come to realize over time is that it isn’t the number of hours a week worked, but the commitment to the team, the clients, and excellent outcomes that is important to us.  Embracing “new” ways of working that aren’t a part of the typical employee pool is important, especially during times of low unemployment numbers when full-time talent is so difficult to find.

5. Remote work expanded our talent pool significantly.
We aren’t going to fight the relocation battle.  So much of the work we do in our firm now is either via Zoom for coaching or we travel to do in-person work with teams. We realize that talented candidates have myriad career choices, and many of them are going to opt against moving to pursue a job opportunity…in fact, over 80% of today’s workforce wants to work remotely in some fashion.  But what we also realize is that most organizations fail to effectively structure and manage remote workers which can turn a potential solution into a waste of resources as remote workers struggle to understand and complete their duties…that is something we are keenly aware could be an issue and want to guard against.  Yes, we really are organizational psychologists that are that self-aware!

Now, all we need is your help in finding our next great talent!  Send a great one our way today…
You will find a QR Code below to send on to anyone you know who might be a great fit for the Steople team!

As I sat in the passenger seat of Debbie’s car, she gave me a tour of the beloved Ft. Worth children’s hospital she had worked at for the past 43 years.  She spoke with love and respect about what she had helped build over that time.  She reminisced about the two small buildings they had started in all those years ago and pointed to the numerous blue-topped roofs and sprawling grounds they decorated with adorable, welcoming-to-children topiary landscaping.  We saw the Ronald McDonald House and the staff childcare center, as well as the numerous areas for reflection and relaxation for those suffering a physical setback.  She talked about how the pandemic trauma of the last two years had impacted the culture they had built and even threatened to crumble it.

Regardless, as we pulled into the parking garage, she greeted the parking attendant warmly and asked how he was feeling, saying to me, that he had just recovered from surgery.  As we strolled the brightly colored hallways, Debbie chatted and hugged her way across the campus.  She would quickly point out those individuals who had been with the hospital for decades and were so dedicated to the cause of helping children heal that they wouldn’t think of leaving until retirement.  During this tour, I fell in love with this new hospital client of ours and told Debbie how inspired I was to be a part of their purpose on this planet.

The whole experience was remarkable and seeing so many long-term employees reminded me of another group I had worked with the week before who had recently been acquired by one of my clients.  During our joint company strategic planning session, we were discussing the “talent war,” and we all listened intently as two of the owners of the acquired company talked about the team that became family over the years.  They had started at the age of 16 working in the lumber business and were set to retire from that same company in the next 5 or so years.  They talked about others in the business who grew up together, got through school, enjoyed fishing trips as a team, went to one another’s weddings, and celebrated when they had children. We are talking retention of 31…28…19 years, which are unbelievable numbers in today’s world.

So how is this possible and do we have any chance of recreating this in today’s job market?  Some will say “No way, today’s workforce isn’t nearly as loyal, and it is not realistic.”  But is that true?  Or can we at least aim to be a significant part of an employee’s work history?  I believe we can.

Develop a Great Retention Initiative
Many employers are no doubt wishing that the Great Resignation, where employees have been quitting their jobs in record numbers since the Spring of 2021, would suddenly become a very different trend: the Great Retention. But research suggests that many workers remain confident about their prospects in the current hiring market, in fact, 41% of respondents are currently looking or plan to look for a new role in the next six months.  This means employers must still be vigilant about the risk of top performers walking out the door.

This, in my opinion, is the number one issue, outside of finding talent, for companies today.  Every single coaching or consulting conversation I have includes the current challenges with talent.  And it’s not getting better anytime soon.  We have to look at those companies who are doing it well, come up with creative strategies, and listen to what our most-valued employees are telling us. Based on research and my own anecdotal evidence there are 8 areas that I believe you need to focus on as a leader to retain your talent.  I hope these resonate with you and inspire you to work on at least one of these:

1. Create and Support an Inclusive “Family” Culture
Having a “sticky” culture where people take care of one another and truly care is crucial.  Through the years that is one common thread in companies I have seen be successful in keeping their employees long-term…they are one another’s work family and it would be unthinkable to leave that family.  Now with that kind of vulnerability, you must make sure there are good boundaries in place so there is no “family dysfunction”, but essentially these teams support one another through the good times and the bad.

2. Find Each Team Member’s Motivation ‘Lever’
“Money” is not the reason people stay in a job.  It can be demotivating if they are paid unfairly but thinking about throwing money at an employee who is thinking of leaving is the wrong strategy. Every person has his or her levers of engagement and motivation: Fun. Authority. Development. Responsibility. Autonomy. Respect. Recognition. Challenge. Variety. Figure out what each individual needs, then figure out how to best work towards it. Meeting those individuals where they are is one of the best things you can do as a leader.

3. Emphasize Shared Non-Negotiable Core Values
From the beginning, recruit people whose values align with yours and the company. This builds a positive atmosphere and culture, which resonates with people and keeps them on board. Consult with your people, find out what they care about, and build collaborative solutions that inspire their loyalty and commitment. People like to feel included, and valued and that their contribution makes a difference.  The great thing about this is that if there is a value mismatch the team will pick it up instantly and advocate to keep the shared values on track.

4. Rally Everyone Behind an Emotionally Driven Purpose
Most employees want to feel part of something bigger and to be proud of it. In addition to rewards and positive feedback, leaders can inspire others by consistently and regularly communicating a clear purpose that people connect with emotionally. It is easy to get mired in the day-to-day details; step back and connect those details to a broader vision. This means embedding it in your everyday work not just from a “marketing” perspective (posted on your website), but in daily conversations as evidence of working towards that incredibly important purpose beyond making money.

5. Change Old-School Thinking Against Flexibility and Track Results Instead
In 2022, people value flexibility more than ever. If someone is in a role that can be effectively carried out through flexible work, then offer this. Not only is this hugely rewarding for employees, but it also gives them a sense of comfort, knowing that you trust them to carry out their role effectively and manage their own time.  And don’t automatically assume the younger generation will take advantage of it.  Depending on what stage of life and career people are in will determine how much or how little structure or time in the office they will need or want.  Track results, not “butts in chairs”.

6. Get Everyone Directly Involved in The Company
Money is the result of successful work and not a sustainable source of motivation. Other important forms of compensation include having fun, working on something great, recognizing and appreciating colleagues, and the feeling of having achieved something challenging. Coming from this mindset, rather than just exchanging their time for money, the culture should encourage an “owners’ mindset” in the employees.  The employees can then be a part of building something inspiring that they can be incredibly proud of.

7. Recognize Your Team Member’s Humanity
The most meaningful way to recognize employees amidst all the difficulties we are facing in the current challenging business and social environment is to first and foremost recognize their humanity. Know the individuals on your team and recognize each employee’s unique challenges as the year unfolds.  Command and control are out.  Prioritize time, space, and opportunity for them to thrive and reach their goals by guiding their growth and investing in them. Compassion is one of the most overlooked leadership traits to leverage, especially after a couple of tough years.

8. Share What Each Employees Role in Your Vision for The Future Is
Inspire people to want to work with you and each other by sharing your vision and their role in it. You might be working your way through current challenges, but your eyes are on the future. Tell them about three indicators informing your vision for the future and why those give you confidence. Assure your people that they are building the foundation for a future in which all of them play a part. Be honest, specific, visionary, and hopeful.  People love making a difference and being a part of something big.

The list above is near and dear to my own heart.  The two that were highlighted by the clients I was working with the last two weeks were knowing one another on a personal level and ensuring people understood how relevant their contribution was to the success of the organization.  This aligns nicely with Patrick Lencioni’s work on employee engagement.  I would hope that you might look at the above list and rank yourself from 1 to 5 on each.  Then ask yourself which one you might need to work on from now till the end of the year.  If you are diligent in working on it, it will pay off…I promise!  If you need more resources, please let us know, and, as always, best wishes in your leadership journey!

As I crossed the street in downtown Melbourne with my fellow directors, I reveled in the idle chit-chat I had been missing for 3 years.  I was back in the Land Down Under for our annual Strategic Planning Meeting…out of Zoom Room Purgatory!  As we walked, we randomly talked about the rich history of Italian influence on coffee in Australia, the difference in men’s dress from Sydney to Melbourne, and the politics of the most recently elected prime minister.  How much I had missed my peers and the banter we always had back and forth! We were all energized because we were going to a bonus in-person client event.  This one was special because it was taking place on a Tuesday at lunch at the RACV (Royal Automobile Club of Victoria) with a handful of Aussie clients and colleagues to simply connect and discuss what was weighing heaviest on their minds.

As I entered the venue, it was absolutely gorgeous with antique cars, beautiful furniture, exquisite chandeliers, and elegant waitstaff! We were served appetizers and adult beverages as we were waiting to be seated.  Upon being introduced to people we had not met, we all commented how decadent it felt for a Tuesday afternoon…and, in some ways in our minds, it was a celebration of the return to us getting back to in-person events.  I met several outstanding professionals in the retail, financial, hospitality/food service, government, and not-for-profit sectors.  We were all seated and after putting in our lunch orders we got down to business.  There was no agenda and the question posed was “What are the current wicked problems in your business to be solved?”  It was amazing how similar the themes were, and I have captured them here, hoping that they resonate with you (you are not alone), dear readers.

Current Pressing Problems

1. How can we attract and retain people who are aligned with our purpose and culture?  As we went around the table with everyone introducing themselves it was evident what the biggest pain point was.   It is a run for talent as many of you reading this have experienced.  There is recent inflation of salaries and people jumping from job to job.  Something that was confounding to everyone was how people had evaporated – historically they would have had 1,000 apply for a job and now there were 30 applicants.  On top of that, it was discussed that the power dynamics had shifted. What used to satisfy employees no longer does.  We have had to get much more creative to meet the needs of those we are charged to lead.

What is going on from my point of view?  For many skilled, professional workers, the historical changes to their lives and the way they work over the past two years have essentially flattened Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  In the past, job security, decent compensation, and at least a tangible opportunity were the price of entry for people coming into organizations. Now a massive number of employees not only want to feel invested in the work they do, but they also want to see that their employer is invested in the same things they value and believe in. Employees, at the very least, want to:

  • Feel valued, have a voice, and have the potential to grow
  • Have a sense of belonging among caring, trusted, and diverse-thinking colleagues
  • Trust that the work that is being done has purpose and meaning
  • Have the flexibility to integrate work with their personal lives

Now, none of this comes as a surprise to any of you, I know.  But, what strategic initiatives have you put in place to address these in your core ideology, hiring practices, employee benefits, DEI work, leadership programs, and ability to build high-performing teams?  With some research on best practices and input from your employee base, you can create strategic initiatives to begin to address these issues.  Yes, it takes time and, just like you, sometimes I feel like I take one step forward and two steps back, but that really is what leadership is. Without the obstacles the journey wouldn’t be as sweet, would it?

2. How can we enhance our employee value proposition (EVP) so it resonates?  One of the clients who was sitting at our table spoke at length about the cultural work their company had done in the past year.  They talked about how important creating a clear core purpose was to establish a great culture. The result was the team rallying around such a deep, important reason for being in existence and that driving performance and engagement within the organization. This conversation led to the group agreeing that previously, having one clear employee value proposition was enough.  Not so now.  The great organizations ask themselves what can we do to make people feel loved and safe?  The employee value proposition is not a one size fits all and there must be several.  Companies must listen and realize what is important to the different groups.

What is going on from my point of view?  With so much riding on escaping “the Great Resignation” unscathed, employers are starting to realize that they must start from scratch and create a strong, multi-dimensional EVP that fully delivers on their company’s employee-experience promise. One that fuels a culture where everyone can bring their full range of talents, feel included and valued, and do great work in a great environment.  In order to have a really great EVP, these are 3 of the things our clients are including in successful ones:

  • Your EVP must be linked to your purpose. People are increasingly looking to join organizations that have a greater purpose beyond profitability. Ensure your EVP clearly articulates this purpose and connects to the employee experience and the role your people have in helping your organization achieve the greater good.
  • You must foster a culture of belonging, flexibility, and growth. How does your organization facilitate connection and inclusion? How does it help people learn and grow? How does it accommodate everyone’s unique needs? These are questions people ask in both their job searches and their own organizations and should be outlined in your EVP.  This absolutely relates to our #1  issue above!
  • You must look inside first and create a movement. Involving your people in the creation process is critical to ensuring your EVP is both real and a little bit aspirational. Soliciting feedback and giving your people the opportunity to show and tell the world about who you are as a company is one of the most powerful ways to bring your EVP to life.

Warren Buffet talks about a Value Proposition is a moat that separates you from your competitors.  It is tough to cross and get to your castle.  In other words, what sets you apart as an employer that would be hard to replicate by other businesses in your sector?  That is your EVP…and you can’t just rely on one.  You have to have several that address the diversity of your employee base.  Don’t you want to be the employer of choice?  It is such hard work!

3. How Can We Convince Leaders That They Have to Lead Differently?  The final theme that jumped out at me as I sat at this luncheon with a room full of incredibly smart, thoughtful people had to do with leadership. Of course, a subject near and dear to my heart. I don’t have to tell you that the pandemic changed leadership forever. It started with CEOs I know having weeks of sleepless nights putting together contingency plans and solving problems for an event that few predicted and even fewer prepared for. If their thinking didn’t flip on its head during this time, then they are being left behind. They had to pivot their thinking on the hybrid work environment, how to hold remote people accountable, how to shift away from the top down, how to create psych safety in a scary environment, how to influence people to get into leadership roles, and how to get more comfortable with technology in a split second…among 100 other 360 degree pivots. We all did. But, what many of us are facing now is not just the logistics of leadership, but also the mindset and that is what this table of high-level thinkers was grappling with.

What is going on from my point of view?  Remember prior to the world shutting down when we used to talk about VUCA?  Wow!  We had no idea what we were even capable of then!  We have come so far, yet we can still start to drift towards old ways of thinking.  The three things I am seeing will not revert back and we need to help leaders need to rally around are:

  • Being agile because the ground is always shifting.  In today’s world leaders are more exposed now than they have ever been before and they are feeling it.  They are having to make rapid and (somewhat) informed decisions amid so much uncertainty.  Gone are the days when leaders could make decisions from muscle memory and their years of experience – using the power of their high-performing teams to co-create solutions is key now more so than ever.  Being able to have other peers that you can discuss some of these challenges might be one way to get innovative in this space.
  • A human approach to staff that puts people first.  Leadership, more than ever, is about creating the conditions in which your people can thrive and perform at their best.  Leaders need to be aware of their own biases towards different ways of working, re-examine various populations of workers that have been underutilized in the past, and role-modeling the right behaviors to break the culture of “having to be present”, while also taking accountability for re-assessing how current policies and processes will disadvantage certain types of workers.  Being able to conduct professional audits and/or engage in coaching to advance your approach to leadership is definitely indicated here.
  • The ability to build inclusive and connected hybrid teams.  One of the biggest needs we are hearing about right now is being able to manage remote teams.  Communication, collaboration, innovation, and building relationships with each other are such a challenge.  While some sales teams have worked this way for years, other teams are just now getting up to speed and, while there are benefits, are also seeing disconnection and lower job satisfaction.  There is a myth out there that the younger generation doesn’t want to come back.  To be honest, we are seeing the opposite – they miss that social interaction!  So getting comfortable with technology and potentially investing in more in-person work pods or off-site opportunities are some examples of the new ways of thinking that leaders are tasked with.

Why Steople?

What was remarkable about sitting around this table was the depth of the conversation at hand.  This was a group of individuals that did not know one another before this event, but they absolutely opened up and discussed some of the most pressing pain points in their own companies freely.  We ended the lunch by asking them what they sought out of a partnership with a company like us.  It warmed my heart that what Steople on the other side of the planet brought was insight, perspective, and a richness of resources.  Partnering with skilled professionals who brought both science and practical business knowledge to accelerate learning and change throughout each organization had been invaluable.  Our value proposition is there for you – deep relationships, research of best practices, and pragmatic solutions.  As always, we are here for you and your leadership journey.  We want nothing more than to see you succeed!

Last week I got to do something I haven’t done in over two years.  I finally made it back to the movie theater!  I’m an 80’s kid so getting to see Top Gun: Maverick was such a treat.  There was one scene that really touched me.  Val Kilmer’s character told Tom Cruises character “You need to let go.”  Now, I’m not giving any plot line away here, but the reason it had such an impact on me is that I feel like this has been the story of my life lately. Letting go of any fears I have about scaling the business. Letting go of a way of life with my youngest going off to college.  Letting go of being in the middle of every client engagement.  Letting go of well-ingrained habits that are negatively impacting my health. Letting go of relationships that don’t serve me. Letting go of long-held beliefs and assumptions.  Letting go of needing to make everyone happy.

But, I must admit this scenario isn’t always the case for me. I don’t always take the time to acknowledge what is going on inside of me or even in the world around me. Life gets in the way, and it is incredibly easy just to keep busy and stay content with the status quo. I chose to write this week on a subject that I struggle with because while we strive to help others grow, we aren’t without fault, of course.  . At Steople we believe that we should be walking the talk – that means everyone should constantly be stretching in their leadership abilities in order to become more effective. For me, the last few years have included always having “One Big Thing” that I was working on.  Some of these have included not being a bottleneck, slowing down while communicating more, implementing more automation to improve processes, and handing off work.  But, one of the biggest ones I have struggled with is acknowledgment.  I am a person who will always thank you, but not always remembers to acknowledge the good work.  I am a person that is fairly high on emotional intelligence, but not good at slowing down and acknowledging someone’s low performance.  See how one type of acknowledgment is positive and one is more negative?

Acknowledgment is defined both as displaying the appreciation for something good and as expressing the existence of something negative. Often, they go hand in hand.  Being an intentional leader who can acknowledge the good (for example, other’s achievements) will demonstrate that you are focused on results and able to share the credit. Being an intentional leader who can acknowledge the bad (for example, your own mistakes) will demonstrate that you are responsible, honest, and relatable.  If that is the case, why do many of us struggle with acknowledgment?

Underlying Reasons Why Leaders Don’t Acknowledge the Obvious

It is important to understand why people aren’t willing or able to acknowledge the good and the bad.  While understanding the “why” doesn’t solve the problem, it does shed light on others and/or our own behaviors.  Understanding what those underlying causes might be will allow us to have more grace with others and name what is really going on “under the hood” as we try to grow past our own old triggers. The following are some of the possibilities:

  1. If an individual is competitive—because they need constantly to prove themselves—then explicitly saying they are wrong or paying tribute to another’s achievements might make them feel as though they’re admitting inferiority, ineptitude, or defeat.
  2. If an individual was “recognition-deprived” when growing up, praising another might make them feel uneasy because they have been so accustomed to looking at things with a very critical eye.
  3. If a person thinks that another’s accomplishments and contributions are no more than what ought to be expected from them, they may not regard such acts as even worthy of acknowledgment.
  4. If a person believes that lauding another for their achievements might go to the recipient’s head—that is, lead them to become conceited or egotistical—then they may intentionally withhold recognition.
  5. If there is a culture of retribution where people have a need to “cut and cover” themselves to survive, they may be more likely to either throw someone else under the bus and/or not even acknowledge their own part in the problem.
  6. If an individual isn’t very motivated by acknowledgment themselves, it might not even occur to them that slowing down enough to recognize a person’s efforts and accomplishments might be in order.

The Importance of Acknowledging The Good

There is one simple action that can dramatically increase any leader’s success in gaining the support and engagement of his or her team members – acknowledge great work. That means calling out excellent accomplishments by your employees or peers right away, authentically, and in consistent increments.

Research by Harvard Business Review article involving 980 respondents from companies with more than 1,000 employees, suggests a special connection between acknowledgment and job satisfaction. Seven out of 10 employees who report they’ve received some form of appreciation from their team members say they’re happy with their jobs. Without that recognition, just 39% say they’re satisfied. And frequency plays a big role. Among employees who were called out for great work in the past month, 80% feel fulfilled at work. That number declines sharply with time: 75% satisfied (recognized in the past 1-2 months); 71% (past 3-5 months); 69% (past 6-12 months); 51% (past 1-2 years); 42% (more than 2 years ago).

We don’t think you have to worry about creating a specific “program” to acknowledge those good things you see happening in the workplace.  Simply remember 4 things: Don’t wait. Be specific. Be genuine. Treat employees like snowflakes…okay, I may need to explain that last one…the idea is that every employee responds differently to recognition. Many appreciate public praise. Others cringe if they’re made the center of attention. Know your team and tailor your acknowledgment so it produces the greatest impact for everyone.

The Importance of Acknowledging the Bad

Reasonable people realize when a mistake has been made and often, owning up to it solves the problem. Not owning up to it adds fuel and ignites a problem you may not be able to contain later. When a delivery is late, when your service was off the mark, when you completely forget an important deadline or phone call, don’t try to deny it. As soon as you realize it’s you, or your team, that’s dropped the ball, don’t make excuses.

Everyone makes mistakes. Literally everyone. Odds are good if mistakes are not typical for you, people will be appreciative and lenient when you come at them with honesty. You’ll also build up trust because everyone knows how hard it is to come forward and own your errors. Be courageously transparent and people will notice.

Believe it or not, some great companies celebrate mistakes internally with the intention of learning from them. Online giant Etsy gives out an annual award—a real three-armed sweater— to an employee who’s made an error. This demonstrates that accidents are acknowledged as a source of data, not something embarrassing to shy away from. The sweater goes to whoever made the most surprising error, not the worst one, as a reminder to examine the gap between how things are expected to happen and how they do.  And it absolutely improves innovation and decision-making in the process because people are not afraid to make mistakes!

What About the Ugly?

Now, as you know I am a big advocate of transparency as a leader, so I am going to say something here that might not be very popular.  What I’ve seen over the last several years in working with clients is that another responsibility of a leader is to go to bat for your team.  A leader in touch with their team’s capabilities, workload, intent, and environment can “protect” their team from the Ugly at times.  This might mean standing up to their board, it might mean not delivering bad news prematurely, or it might mean taking up for one of their team members over an established relationship with a client or vendor.  Now, that shouldn’t be the go-to or begin to become an unhealthy dynamic, but being courageously authentic and sometimes standing in the line of fire for your team can be key in certain situations.

As a leader, it is necessary for you to go above and beyond to acknowledge both the positives and the negatives…and being courageous in the meantime.  Being consistent in this will pay dividends in building your reputation as an effective leader.  Not to mention, being able to navigate the positive/negative ratio builds your credibility.

Have you ever had a month that was a blur?  I would say that May was definitely that month for me.  My son, Jake, graduated from High School, which for those of you with kids who are launching into the “real world” means senior pictures, iconic moments, parties, family gatherings, and a senior trip.  Before heading off to his freshman year at the University of Oklahoma this fall, the senior finale was his graduation trip to Mexico.  I went as a chaperone, along with several other parents, to ensure that all 25 seniors stayed alive and well and got back to the states safely.  Mission accomplished!

Just before the senior trip, I was asked to speak at a leadership conference by one of our global clients.  The topic was Psychological Safety on High-Performing Teams, with around 200 leaders, and the location was Waikiki Beach, Hawaii.  Not bad, right?  I flew directly from Mexico into Honolulu and dived right in with the leadership team.  The agenda was packed full of really great exercises and experiences.  This organization does amazing work saving cancer patients’ lives, so their Noble Purpose is, obviously, incredibly important.  But, as with any company that is publicly traded, has lived through a pandemic, continues to try to get good talent, and is plagued with supply chain issues, they have had their struggles over the last two years.  The great news is they have an incredibly competent leadership team and employee base and are working through those challenges with grit and grace.

As with any client work I am a part of, I did a quick “post-game review” as I flew home from the gorgeous Hawaiian islands.  I reflected on the high points of what really resonated with me from this gathering that other companies and leaders might be able to learn from.  I wanted to share with you today three of my observations:

Spend the money to get your people together.  Like many of you, this company had a “built-up” travel budget for the last couple of years which allowed them to pull out all the stops for this corporate event.  They were able to mix strategic meetings, tactical discussions, get-to-know-you sessions, and intact teamwork with fun events such as a beautiful sunset cruise, amazing food, and a lively luau.  Even with all of that, do you know what the #1 comments were from most people at the conference?  They went something like this…”We needed to get together.  Some of us hadn’t ever even met in person.  The efficiencies that come from 1:1 impromptu discussions will absolutely pay off.  I never understood how my job impacted these other areas of the company so much.  We missed one another. Can we do this every year?  It was fantastic!”
Keep core purpose and core values central in all you do.  Throughout the conference, the main tie back to everything they did was their Core Purpose.  It is a good one!  “We help people with cancer and rare diseases live longer, better quality lives.”  Everything they do drives towards this purpose which is extremely inspiring.  They consistently talked about and tied in their Core Values which essentially are the guardrails of their behavior.  They strive to be extraordinary, they pursue their goals with determination and integrity, and everyone counts.  They made it simple and relevant to the people that dedicate their lives to this company.  The teams had such a blast making a montage of videos representing each of these core values.  At the end of the last day, one of the comments from their board was “I’ve never seen a company as effective as you are in embedding their core ideology into the culture.”
Share the customer’s experiences with employees.  One of the most poignant moments of the conference came when the physicians that actually work with the patients and the patients themselves voiced how the work that these leaders do day in and day out has positively impacted their lives.  The patients did an amazing job painting the picture of what could have happened and what actually occurred thanks to employee efforts.  The team members had tears in their eyes as they listened to how their core purpose has come to life – saving people’s lives.  Some of the various employees (such as sales teams or patient-facing teams) hear these stories often, but they get so busy they neglect to pass on this incredibly inspiring information.  Slowing down to allow this storytelling to become a part of the folklore of the company can create a synergy that drives those going after the goal of healing cancer to go above and beyond.  It can be magical!
So is there anything that resonated for you in these three key lessons?  If so, what can you do to make magic happen for your team or company? I saw the benefits of the focus given to these three initiatives come to life right before my eyes – it was uplifting and I came away inspired.  Keep in mind for your team, it doesn’t have to be a huge initiative…it can be a small tweak here or there that makes a really big change for the better!


As Told by Sean Williams, Team Member of Flintco Construction
I opened my eyes slowly as the sun streamed through the cracks of the thin curtains that hung haphazardly over the small window across from my cot.  I moved slowly getting oriented to the new world of Rwanda I had become a part of only a short 18 hours ago.  I could hear the chickens clucking outside under the open window along with the tinkling of laughing children in the distance.  It had been a long 36 hours of travel when we finally arrived yesterday afternoon.

Our Journey In
As I lay there I reflected on how this amazing adventure had come to be.   After our leadership had been introduced to Bridges to Prosperity at a construction industry event, they realized the tie our core values had to their mission, so the decision was made to join in their efforts to build much-needed bridges. The call went out and we had responded, knowing that we could make a big difference in another part of the world. The last few months had been filled with planning meetings, getting various immunizations, gathering donations, and purchasing construction tools and safety gear.  We had just kissed our families goodbye and traveled halfway around the world.  Touching down yesterday in a land where none of us knew the language or how to navigate foreign kiosks and signs was definitely eye-opening!  But as we exited the airport with all of our luggage, tools, and safety gear we were warmly greeted by our driver, Bati, who was transporting our team to the hotel for the night.  With 10 of us and our staff, we somehow squeezed all of us and our gear into Bati’s for a midnight trip through Kigali.  The rest of the evening/night was a blur, as I don’t remember checking into our hotel.  I awoke still tired from the days of travel to find breakfast waiting for us and praying that there would be coffee.  The coffee did not disappoint nor did the breakfast of Shakshuka with freshly made bread.  As our team trickled in for breakfast;  our drivers, who would be helping get to a from the site every day, arrived in two old green Land Cruisers.  As we talked logistics with our drivers, the first priority would be getting to the local market to stock up on food before venturing out to the remote village.  Upon arrival at the local market, with our driver’s assistance, we divided and conquered our list to load up the 10 grocery carts…enough to last the entire two weeks we were here.

It had been a slow 4-hour trek out to the village. As we rolled along, the roads were in pretty good shape for the most part and we had very few cars that passed us.  As we bumped along the driver informed us that Rwanda is called “The land of 10,000 hills” for a reason.  There is not a flat piece of land anywhere in the country… there are hills, there are twists, and there are turns. The country was just gorgeous.  I leaned my forehead on the window just watching the countryside go by simply soaking up the sun.  At that exact moment, our Land Cruiser made a sharp left turn and dropped down into this dirt road.  That’s when things changed, and reality hit.  There had been recent rain and so the rivers were overflowing and a huge body of water was running wild right beside us.  I peered out seeing our tires were barely skimming the edge of the river.  We began the steep climb up on a very rutted dirt road. In the back, we could hear our groceries jostling around and we quickly grabbed onto the “sissy bars” to stay put.  After some time, we came to a clearing with the village spread before us.  We soon began to see what village life is really like…there were village people everywhere hard at work on their daily tasks. We saw women carrying water jugs, men tending to livestock, and children on what looked like recess playing an unfamiliar game.  I was entranced by this whole different way of living day by day with no electricity and being, for the most part, off the grid.

The village of 1,000 people was waiting for us as we squeezed the Land Cruisers through the 12 feet wide entrance into the village. We saw heads pop out from all the thatched roof home doors and windows. They were wide-eyed and looked to be asking what was going on.  Immediately what seemed like the whole village was surrounding us and we carefully stepped out of the vehicle realizing we couldn’t actually communicate due to the language barrier so busily tried to get our gear out as our driver translated what was going on.  The thing I’ll always remember about that moment is the curiosity and wonder each of these groups had about each other.  We knew we were embarking on something both strange and wonderful.  They bustled us through to the 400 square feet home with our gear, clothes, and food. It was tight accommodations. And so we were here!  Exhausted and excited at the same time.  Sleep came fast and this morning I woke to a feeling of wonder that we made it this far. Today we would make our way to the site where we would build a bridge that would so positively impact this village.

Teamwork Made the Dream Work
Everyone in the house is starting to stir and after a quick breakfast, we load up our gear.  None of us know what is ahead of us, but we all have that feeling of intense anticipation.  Although we all work for the same company, before this trip we didn’t know each other at all.  But, we understand (and this falls back on our ethos) why we were here and why we were chosen.  That is our motivation. And the one thing we also know as a Flintco team is that we’re not going to fail.  We are outside our comfort zones, but we are going to make this happen.

What we weren’t aware of was how much we would bond over this experience.  We had little contact with the outside world.  We all worked seamlessly together over the coming two weeks, living our core values, and gaining confidence in our roles and abilities.  Every day we would debrief what went well or didn’t go well.  We laughed and cried together.  We would stay ahead of schedule and begin to integrate into the community.  As the day progressed, the village people would come to rely on us and us on them.

The Village Culture
I will never forget the people of the village. The atrocities that happened in this beautiful country in the 90s hung like a cloud over all of us throughout the trip.  Initially, I noticed they were nervous and a little bit hesitant with us – they honestly didn’t think we were real at first.  But, that first day, as we were all standing on the edge of the hillside talking about the day’s logistics and doing our safety kickoff… we consciously integrated ourselves within the community. We just went and just spread out. There were some strange stares… like what are you guys doing? Why are you standing beside me?  And the crazy thing is, it wasn’t anything we had talked about doing before it happened it was totally intuitive!

Our first day on the ground was awkward. Initially, we used a lot of nodding and very little speaking. As an entire group, we immediately got into a great rhythm.  I noticed early on that the villagers would look over and see that we were working hard and doing good kinds of things.  This definitely helped with the trust!  By the second day, they knew we were in it until the end…we were all in to help them.  We got to know them and what their names were, who their family was, were able to say simple words like hello, and started to learn more of the language. They learned a little English and we learned a little Rwanda!  We were part of beautiful ceremonies, played their sports, and ate the meals they offered. By the end we had friends.

The Bridge is Built!
As for the noble purpose of why we were here – it was all about saving lives by building the Bridge. We listened to story after story about the loss of about 10 people a year trying to cross this bridge. They basically had only a log to cross this river. The new bridge ended up being 90 meters…It’s basically the length of a football field.  Imagine walking down an incredibly steep hill for half a mile to get down to the log and shimmying across to see family members, getting medical care, fetching food and water…all that is solved now with a beautiful bridge!

Upon completion of the bridge, there was an amazing celebration.  There was singing to bless this monumental accomplishment. It was incredibly powerful.  They had the tribal members, leaders in the community, and everyone that helped speak about the bridge.  They spoke of the importance to the community and everyone who was there took an initial walk over the bridge to christen it. What those 100+ people walking across the bridge meant was that it was safe to use, and everyone was meant to celebrate.  The singing, the dancing, and the gratitude expressed by this beautiful group of people… were inspiring.

Cristina’s Take
What an incredible story of a newly established team (Flintco, Bridges to Prosperity, and the Rwandan people) working so well together!  Can you think of a time when you worked on a team that seemed to flow effortlessly?  Reflecting on it, humanity’s greatest accomplishments have resulted from team efforts. No one is an island; people everywhere survive and thrive by pulling together. Ironically, however, organizations are finding it harder, not easier, to build successful teams. Numerous studies show that only 20% of teams are considered high performing.  This is especially true in fast-paced 24/7 global teams that are constantly switching across functions.

What we see so much of the time in our work with teams is that there is a “Professional Culture Clash”.  Different areas in an enterprise tend to approach a common project or initiative very differently as it relates to jargon, timelines, and approach to the work.  Sometimes this might be due to different skill sets and personalities that, if channeled effectively, might result in diversity in thinking…which is positive! However, so much of the time there is actually a “Scarcity Mindset” which is where people on the team feel as though they are competitors on the same team…which is not a positive! So, what made this Flintco team so successful?  I believe so much of it had to do with two things:  Alignment around core values and evidence of psychological safety.

  1. Alignment on Core Values. Values are powerful business imperatives that provide insight into a company’s impact and direction. Values need to resonate on a deep level with employees and leadership to be effective components of day-to-day decision-making — not being stagnant and only displayed on office walls or coffee mugs. They are the filters that help guide all our actions and behaviors.  Flintco’s core values are firmly embedded in its Ethos and in its culture.  They are committed to the success of the overall team, they believe mediocrity is not acceptable, and they stand by the fact that they will positively impact other communities with their knowledge and skills.  This absolutely shined through when you think about how core values drive behavior on a team – they came in clutch for this team!  Question:  Does your organization live and breathe your core values?
  1. Evidence of Psychological Safety.  Psychological safety is the climate of the team in which one believes that you can speak up…essentially it is permission for candor.  It is foundational to have psych safety on a team to ensure the best decisions are made, mistakes are noticed and corrected, and innovation flourishes.  Typically, people don’t speak up if they feel what they have to say won’t be received well.  It is something called “Discounting the Future” where the potential humiliation of the here and now is more significant than the potential for harm in the future for not speaking up.  What was remarkable about this trip was that psychological safety was almost immediately established based on the trust established by actions taken across all three groups.  The reason it happened quickly was after a couple of days of working together it was apparent that people were competent, they would follow through on what they said they would do, they had each other’s back, and they authentically cared.  The four key components of trust.  Question:  Can you say that there is trust and psychological safety established on your team?

If the answer to both of those final questions above was “Not Sure” or “No,” then I encourage you, dear readers, to immerse yourself in the literature of Simon Sinek or Amy Edmondson’s work.  These two gifted researchers and authors will take you a long way on the journey of embedding these two important realities in your team culture.  As always, at Steople. we are here as well to talk through any questions you have in building the type of team Flintco lead in Rwanda. Have a great rest of your week!