Social adoption:: Find their solution, don’t sell yours

img-collaborationIf you read this blog, chances are you’ve spent countless hours trying to sell the value of collaboration to business units or project teams across your organization. I’ve tried to creative tactics – honestly, I’d have a few less greys if Daniel Pink had published To Sell is Human years ago – focusing on business issues, value propositions, inspiration and potential.

I’ve sold the successes we had and retold the stories we shared. I’ve surfaced problem resolutions and surprising outcomes to help teams connect positive outcomes to their own situation. I dug and dug until I found something that connected with the target audience. Obviously, I see huge value in collaboration; sharing ideas, encouragement, support and expertise is what I do on a day-to-day basis and what I expect from others, but that’s not a universal truth and it’s important to remember that when you are trying to “help.”

In almost every org I’ve worked for/with, the training for social technology is to simplify the tools and site development to the point where any user can start building sites and sharing content as soon as possible. Make it easy to use and impossible to break. We develop templates to minimize the required starting lift. We create chunked support materials to allow employees learn only what they need to learn to perform a task.

Unfortunately, that simplification also makes it hard to control the flow of information and content on sites. Employees are routinely asked to fit a square peg into a (nicely designed) round hole. For our Jam sites, we ask teams to use the SAP created templates or a customized TELUS template. This makes it easy to create sites, but also makes it easy for the purpose of the site to get lost behind widgets and design. The general assumption is that if we can let teams hit the ground running, chances are they will be more interested in sharing ideas or content.

In reality, the most important collaboration occurs before you design or launch any new site.

Selling collaboration is one thing; creating a solution is another. Before a team creates a solution, there are many important questions that should be asked. At TELUS, we’ve stopped talking about the benefits of collaboration, and now simply ask why is the site being built, what value does it add and what will help it stay relevant over time?

If your new users can’t answer these questions, chances are even the best designed, easy to use community will stagnate quickly. Even worse, if users don’t know why they are visiting a site and are forced to hunt blindly for content, the platform will become a distraction that will derail productivity.

We’ve realized that standardization and simplification are important, but creating sites that allow users to ask a question, find an answer or consume content effectively is what will drive results and allow the user to get back to the task at hand. Alex Pang – author of the Distraction Addiction – offers this insight:

“There are times when it can be a lot more efficient to ask the person who knows the answer to a question, than to hunt around the corporate intranet or two-year-old crowd-sourced FAQ for the answer,” Pang writes. “However, we need to just do that judiciously, be mindful that your convenience may come at someone else’s expense, and do it only when necessary.”

So how can you help?

The biggest value I can add to any discussion about collaboration is perspective. When I meet with teams, the first thing I do is share a single .pptx slide.
whyarewebuildingthis

What is the purpose of this site?

While this seems like an obvious question, it’s one that gets forgotten more often than not. Is it a marketing site? A support channel? A site set up because your director said we need to use the new tools? If you don’t determine the purpose of your site, you will most likely not showcase the best content or user experience.

If you want your Jam space to be a support channel – maybe an easy way to allow field technician to ask a question to a large group of technicians and capture that context – it makes sense to surface the Forums or even Feed Widget on your Overview page. If your site is more of a brochure site – maybe a Meet the HR team – it makes more sense to showcase the People widget (Featured Member) and work on an engaging Overview page. If it’s a Learning space, highlighting the appropriate content (maybe, using hashtags) helps direct users as soon as the page loads.

Bottom line, even though ideas like all content must be accessible in less than 3-clicks have been debunked, your site will be more effective is you surface appropriate content on the home page. In order to do this, you need to clearly understand the site’s purpose.

Will this site improve on existing process?

In large organizations, the creative workarounds teams come up with are incredible. When a tool or process doesn’t meet a team’s needs, it is morphed until it does. Asking a team to change for the sake of changing is a difficult and often detrimental to your working relationship. If you don’t ask this question, and proceed to implement a solution that impacts actual work, your business partners will begin to question your intentions.

Sometimes it’s best to simply walk away.

When I meet with teams and ask them to explain there current process and try to determine if changing how the team does something is worth the work and training required. If it’s not, I am honest with them. “Listen, this tool won’t make your team more productive or reduce the time required to perform specific tasks. If there are other issues you are having, maybe we can use our collaborative tools to help.”

I’d rather earn their trust and build a relationship so when I do find a problem that can be solved by our collaborative tools/methodologies, they know I actually understand there issues and am trying to help.

How can you keep group members coming back?

By definition, collaboration is a two-way street. A lot of group admins assume the two-way flow of ideas and content is the responsibility of the users. By asking this question prior to launch, you can model behaviors and pre-set the expectations of the group. How often will the content be updated? What is the expected reply time to questions asked in the forums? If a group admin doesn’t have a clear understanding of posting cadence and service level agreements, users may question the value of the site.

When we launched Jam, we asked technicians to use Forums to ask questions, promising timely responses. Because no SLA was documented, questions took a back seat to other tasks. Once technicians realized it was faster to call another technician or simply start scouring product documentation, they stopped using the site. We lost their trust, and almost instantly our collaborative space became static.

When we proposed a similar solution to another group, we talked expectations and commitments. Group admins committed to answering all questions within one hour. As a result, technicians began to trust the process and actively participate. The tool met the needs of the user group and as a result, the Jam space was successful.

Before you can help team use new tools and transform they way they work, I suggest you take a step back and determine if they are ready to support the transformation and if the shift is appropriate.

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Are your learners finding the right content in SAP Jam?

2 men jigsaw pieceI spent most of last week in Vancouver for product meetings and TELUS team focused sessions. On Day 2 of our Performance Culture sessions, Jocelyn Berard (VP Leadership & Business Solutions International at Global Knowledge) sat with us to talk about leadership and influence.

The session was inspiring, but the big aha moment (or a-ha moment?) for me was a quote he shared from a physician placed in charge of a hospital. When asked what made a physician a good leader, the doctor suggested that before you can lead physicians, you need to prove you actually are a good physician.

The concept of being an expert before becoming a leader is something concerning in today’s world. Technology provides everyone a platform for thought leadership (undoubtedly, sharing ideas and theories helps progress leadership and collaboration at the speed of fiber optics), but it also changed the job description of most HR professionals. We are no longer expected to simply understand benefits and hand out forms; we are essentially tasked with being technology champions (for anyone that’s seem their organization migrate HR process to the cloud, we can commiserate over a drink) and solution architects in addition to any traditional expertise our roles might require.

We are constantly asked to display our knowledge and establish trust with the people we help on a daily basis, and as a result we need to be equal parts visionary and subject matter expert. We are not just asked to teach people about our tools, but how to use them most effectively. In simple terms, if we can’t help people how can we lead them?

Over the last year, my role has switched from big picture visionary to task based efficiency. Truthfully, I’m okay with that. If we are asking employees to change how they work, why they work and also learn how to use tools to help execute on either transformation, as an HR professional, I need to be able to help when questions are asked. At TELUS, three of us are tasked with promoting JAM (our social hub) and collaboration. We’ve spent the last few months creating demos, providing tips and tricks and hoping to show employees how social collaboration can improve business efficiency and drive results.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to share a few of the tips here. Ideally, people will read these tips and want to share their own. Mine will be focused on JAM, but collaboration is about capabilities, not tools.

Sharing targeted content in Jam

One of the biggest complaints we get from our users is that there is just too much information being shared. The feeds move faster than they can process/digest, and groups become unruly within weeks. You often hear that too much collaboration is a problem that most orgs would love to have, but in reality, too much content is as scary as not enough content for many users.

To help “promote” relevant content, you can use the Featured Content option, but that is a very manual and restrictive process. If you use the Featured Content (or any of the default settings), you cannot feature specific, user generated content over time. Instead, we made the decision to filter content widgets by hashtags. Using the hashtag is an incredibly easy way to promote content that aligns to key corporate objectives or is timely and appropriate (for example, we leveraged the hashtag for our career development process and yearly objectives to coincide with the deadlines for both).

In most cases, your Content widgets will be filtered by type. Whether you chose “Featured”, “Last Updated”, “Most Viewed” or “Most “Liked”, you are basically locking into a singular strategy for content promotion.

content_type

You are either leaving the decision to the group admin (featured content) or the voice of the crowd (any of the filters that rely on views or updates). In this example, our Content widget is filtered to display the last five documents (this includes a video, pptx, image file, Jam poll and a wiki page) that were updated within this specific group.

standard_view

 

Using hashtags allows you filter the content displayed but still leverage the voice of the crowd. You can surface documents based on key topics, but allow update date, likes or even views determine what documents get highest priority. In this example, we want to showcase any content applies to leadership. By adding the hashtag “leadership” to the Content widget, we ensure that only users will only see content that has been tagged appropriately.

To add the leadership hashtag:

  1. Click Edit to switch your wiki page into edit mode.
  2. Navigate to your Content widget.
  3. Click the Edit button.
    Edit
  4. Type “leadership” into the Filter by tag text box.
    leadership
  5. Click OK.

When the page reloads, you can see that the Content widget now only displays the content that has been tagged.

leadership_view

Instead of five documents, you only see three. Essentially, the group admin has determined what topics are most important to the group, but allowed the group to determine what content is most effective or important.

Hopefully this tip will help you streamline the user generated and social content and provide a more tailored and effective environment for your group collaboration.

If you have any strategies you’d like to share, please leave links or comments.

Fresh start: TELUS Transformation Office

services_hero-300x139Wow. Yesterday already seems like a distant memory. For most of the last year, I focused on building marketing materials, doing research, creating strategy & recommendation documents and working with pilot customers in preparation for a new role within TELUS. Knowing that as of yesterday we finally moved from planning to reality hasn’t quite sunk in – you know, forest through the trees type of thing – but my work  life has changed completely.

Yesterday, we launched TELUS Transformation Office, a future of work consulting wing within TELUS that aims to help organizations improve corporate culture and improve employee engagement. Ideally, we can take our experience, insights and successes and help other organizations in their own attempt to evolve leadership, digital readiness, career & talent services, and the onboarding experience.

Without question, this is a new type of mentality for us. Learning is a unique space. I honestly believe that there are very few walls between people in this industry. We’re all in the business of helping people, whether it’s internally or externally. We share freely on blogs, wikis, chats, twitter, at conferences and basically in every forum possible. We all have the same, altruistic goal; to make work better for the people we support.

Right now, most of this sharing is done informally and meant to inspire, not transform. By formalizing the process, we hope that organizations can get the traction not only to start the journey, but to continue it. The end goal is too important to have it pushed to the side of the desk or the left to the energy and influence of a few dedicated workers.

I was in a very fortunate position. I loved my job and I love working for TELUS. In terms of Enterprise learning/collaboration and corporate culture, TELUS is pushing the boundaries and changing the conversation. It was no longer a desperate ask of “how can we fix this?” When we talk to anyone about the state of learning, collaboration and culture, they ask “how did you fix it?” It’s no longer theoretical knowledge. Great culture and collaboration is reality at TELUS.

In my (almost) five years at TELUS, we’ve gone from virtually no social technologies and very little cross functional collaboration to an industry recognized success story. We’ve incorporated a leadership model that encourages collaboration and as a result, we’ve deployed new tools and cultivated a workforce that not only understands how to share and leverage technology, but why collaboration is vital to our business and can dramatically improve the customer experience. Simply put, we’ve taken our ideals and moved them from an HR project to a organization-wide vision. The difference is huge.

Basically, in terms of learning, my role was as close to the perfect fit as I’ve come across. I was able to explore tools, work with new people and really try to prove value in the methodologies and capabilities we’ve been preaching for years. We were able to successfully unite leadership, learning and collaboration. That’s probably why the possibility of helping other organizations do the same thing is so exciting. It’s no longer a pipe dream. The need is there, the technology is available and – without sounding like a documentary trailer – the time for change is now.

Society isevolving; it’s harder to get people’s attention and as learning professionals we need to constantly reevaluate our approach. It’s scary, but it’s also exciting. We know that the fundamentals of leadership and learning should be blended with the move to a more technology based ecosphere to help people understand how to succeed and feel connected/supported. We know that people demand more from their job than just a pay cheque and that right now and we know that almost half of the people that go to work each morning aren’t happy. This needs to change and we want to help.

Watch this video to learn more about how we transformed TELUS, and how we can help you.

Failure must be an option

love-mlm-failure-010A few days ago, I read a quick article about what – outside of passion – defines a great leader. According to LB Adams, the number one trait that great leaders should possess is the willingness to fail. At TELUS, risk and innovation are part of our DNA and as a result, we prepare for and react quickly when we aim high and come up short.

As I talk to more and more organizations, I realize that TELUS team members are very fortunate and in most cases failure is not an acceptable outcome. Imagine working for an organization where employees rejected learning opportunities and any career development that involved testing of any sort because they were afraid how their managers would react if they failed the associated quiz?

If an employee is scared to even register for training, how could they ever feel comfortable suggesting changes to products or process? Even scarier is to realize that if an employee was afraid to share an idea or push free from routine, over time it will be harder to help them feel inspired to come to work every day.

If you look at any organization’s values, chances are you will see some sort of variation of innovation standing arm in arm with respect, communication, respect, quality and integrity. It’s great to have these example on the wall of your boardroom, but how can you push innovation if mistakes and failure are deemed unacceptable?

How does fear impact team culture? Immensely. Optimism is hard to find in most orgs. For every energetic, glass half-full employee you meet, you will find at least one that always thinks the worst. How many times have you heard statements like, “that won’t work” or “our people won’t buy into that” the minute an idea is thrown out for evaluation?

In the last four years, we’ve been forced to trust each other and test the resolve of our team members. Was everything perfect? Did we hit a home run every time we stepped to the plate? Of course not, and looking back it was those failures that helped make huge strides as we shifted direction. Originally, we developed a strategy and deployed it to the organization. We saw good success and were thrilled with the organic growth we saw across pockets of the org, but when we were forced to dig deeper, we also saw opportunities for improvement.

Even with high adoption rates and dramatic increase in usage, we made some tactical errors, none bigger than the decision to roll out independent channels for social learning and collaboration. We were so happy to be able to provide a complete suite of independent tools – micro-blogging, video sharing, document collaboration, coaching, mentoring, subject-matter expertise and personal profiles – that we overlooked the fact we were creating new silos of information. We built tools internally, leveraged existing technology and purchased new tools that didn’t integrate seamlessly with what we had. We opted for a phased approach to help ease team members into the collaboration space, which ultimately led to increased demands for training and siloed collaboration.

In a recent interview,  Shawn Price (President for Global Cloud and Line of Business at SAP) mentioned that these individual channels were like ghost towns. At TELUS, they were more like club memberships. We had high traffic and collaboration – this infographic is a great place to see how collaboration increased over the last few years – but users opted for the the technology that best suited their comfort level. If I was trying to force a golf metaphor here, our users didn’t play other courses.

The more we analyzed our collaboration metrics, the more obvious it was that if an employee understood how to create a video and share it internally, most likely they continued create and consume that type of content. There was no proof that they also explored skills sharing, micro-blogging or blogs and wikis. People tend to stick with technology and processes they understand and we unintentionally facilitated that behavior.

When we made the decision to consolidate our social tools into a singular collaborative platform – SAP Jam – we started to realize that our success hid some of the failure. We encountered territorial users, unwilling to learn new technologies. We encountered users that demanded specific features instead of adapting to new, more robust set of tools that provided more collaborative options. We realized that our collaboration data, in a consolidated form, was a success story, but we were actually promoting a strategy that created segregated audiences. We had to build migration training/strategies. We had to rework communication plans.

What this meant was we needed to re-evaluate our adoption and learning strategies and ask the business and the leadership team for patience and support. In certain organizations, we would have encountered resistance. “Didn’t we just try this?” “Why should we invest more resources in something that is already in place?” There was no talk of ROI and no skepticism that we could get it right and improve on the successes of which we were so proud.

we were able to present a plan that highlighted where we succeeded, but focused more on where we went wrong. We didn’t try to cover up gaps. We readily identified them as areas we knew we missed and would win over. Our assumptions about adoption were proven wrong over time, and as a result, we were able to come up with a better launch and adoption plan for the release of Jam.

What does this mean? Well, in less than a year, 75% of the organization has accessed our collaboration platform. We’ve been able to consolidate tools without losing the support of our user communities. We’ve lowered the TCO and required support resources. We also created a better, more targeted set of learning materials based on the metrics we tracked from our other tools and how existing learning was consumed.

We are early on in our deployment; the first year is often heavily based on communication, transition and migration but our failures have helped us determine a plan that will hopefully turn a good story into a great one.

It’s easy to tell someone to roll out a consolidated, integrated solution. It’s more realistic to prepare for small wins and failure while you move towards your ideal end state (the utopia where tools that talk to each other, users that are participative and happy, and leadership that supports the project). In most cases, that dream state is not possible – we all fight for every dollar and every successful adoption story. But if your leaders let employees be pragmatic and learn from each incremental step, you will get there.

By letting your organization know that it’s okay to fail and move forward, you will develop resilient workers that take that core value on innovation off the boardroom wall and truly live it every day.

Leadership: It’s not a marathon or a sprint

runningWhat was your time?” One time over beers, my brother-in-law suggested that asking people about their race time is a more clever way of saying, “I don’t run very much.” Running, like most passions, is an ongoing, ever evolving journey. It’s not about a single race or distance completed. Knowing you ran a 40-minute 10K or sub-two-hour half marathon five years ago doesn’t mean much today. Are you still running? How has your routine or thoughts about running changed?

Until running becomes a meaningful part of your day, you are not a runner. You are simply going for a run. The same is true for leadership.

This may seem like an odd intro to a post on leadership, but as I scrolled through my twitter feed last night, I got very nervous. We’re starting to slide down a very slippery slope.

Without question organizations need a vision to define actions and model behaviours. I know that people – myself included – search for inspiration from other people, but I feel we’ve gone too far. We’ve got too many visionaries and not enough examples of actual, practical leadership. Leadership is based on historical and future facing methodologies. It should evolve over time, and truly shines when things go wrong. Leadership is not a Buzzfeed like list of PowerPoints, clever acronyms and analogies.

In twenty minutes last night, I saw thousands of posts from hundreds of very smart people. I know Twitter’s 140 characters are meant to inspire, and without question, if you keep scrolling something will resonate with you. I saw leadership compared to sports teams, war heroes, emotions, inanimate objects, childhood actions and breathtaking art.

This is great for some people, but personally, I’d rather read about the impact and learn how these comparisons inspired action and people. To me, talking about models, acronyms and finding inspirational quotes is no different than asking someone what their last race time was. Leadership is an action; a passion that you should develop and display with purpose and routine. Finding a quote that resonates with your view of leadership is good, but using that inspiration to form your leadership style is the real challenge. You are more than your time, and you must be more than someone else’s words.

People look at TELUS as a textbook example of great culture and strong leadership. I honestly believe that to be true, but not because we tried to implement ideas that were so radical to those proposed by our competitors. There was no silver bullet, and no singular model that helped us drive engagement from 53% to 83%. I think we just focused on the value of culture more than some organizations and dedicated our efforts towards creating a culture that allowed individuals to feel supported and fulfilled.

We worked hard to create a leadership model that is accessible to all, but the real benefit is the playbook we created to help people understand the behaviours and actions that help all team members display leadership regardless of role or tenure. While that may sound like HR speak, the reality is we enabled team members to lead by example and inspire others. It’s not the model; it’s how the model is put into action.

People are naturally inspired by charismatic people speaking to an audience, but I’m inspired when people do amazing things without the luxury of an eager audience. I see true leadership in small wins, like when I hear about an engineer developing informal curriculum on his own time (without being asked), simply to help are field techs learn about IPV6. Leadership cannot only come from those with titles and reports.

I take my view on leadership (ironically, considering the theme of this post) from a quote that’s been on my wall for years. Yvon Chiounard, the owner of Patagonia and protector of the environment once said, “To do good, you actually have to do something.” It’s such a simple idea, but one that’s shaped how I interact with people and try to lead. I have no reports, but I work with new people every day. I don’t have a leadership toolbox, just a work ethic and desire to help.

Organizations need to maximize the power of the individual and celebrate the results. Employees should feel comfortable voicing opinions, surfacing ideas, but they must be empowered to put ideas into action. Our role, should be to nurture and share the successes with the rest of the organization. Showcasing the tangible results of all the hard work will help transform leadership from a concept into a continuous action. Real life examples of leadership and success will motivate people. They are the stories that build trust in a concept and in each other.

It’s easy to talk about leadership concepts, just like it’s easy to talk about running shoes, past races and training tips. The real challenge is getting people to actually go for a run or to be a leader. When we actually start doing either, we fail, we learn, we sweat and we hurt. We also grow, we improve and we find our stride.

We need to help people become runners, not just tell them to go for a run.

Mentoring

For some reason this post was trapped in my draft folder. I thought I had posted it long ago, before my Dad passed away. I wouldn’t post it now, but after reading a nice post on the mentoring, it feels right to share the lessons I learned from my greatest role model.

——–

boysAnyone that knows me I’m currently forced to the role of spectator in life’s cruel design. I’m – remotely – watching my father lose his fight with brain cancer. Slowly but surely he is losing everything that defined him – his mind, his control, his spirit.

The one thing I can’t shake as each part of him fades away is that not only I am proud to call him my father, but how lucky I was to be adopted into a family that provided me not one, but two fantastic role models.

This is the letter I wrote him, hoping to finally offer him the words I couldn’t choke out as each visit became more final and the need to say everything at once became so great. I am sharing it here, not just to remind everyone how short life can be, but to prove the value in mentoring.

We are so focused on technology and progression, we forget that so many lessons are learned from failures and good teachers. My father taught me manners, work ethic, respect, dignity and confidence; none of these things define my current role (or any role I’ve ever had), but those qualities are why I succeed in my career.

He never sat me down and said, “Son, go to work every day. Don’t max out on your sick days because you are too tired and need a day off.” He told me once – after a meaningless house league hockey game that I scored some goals – to never boast but he never once said, “never take credit for things you didn’t do and always share your successes with those involved.’ He didn’t say, “never blame mistakes on other people.”  He never demanded that I be perfect, he only hoped I would always try to be. He never told me how to be a good husband, great father or (hopefully in time) caring grandparent. No, I learned these things simply be modeling myself after his behavior.

I read leadership books, hear motivators speak, and take learning seriously. These things, of course they inspire me but they aren’t the foundation that keeps me striving as an employee and as a human being. The lessons I learned at five, ten, fifteen and overlooked from about eighteen until I was twenty-three; those are all attributed to a role model I was lucky enough to have.

We have that chance to find people that can help us find our true calling. We can ask for help and offer our guidance to people that ask the same. We can challenge ourselves and inspire others to stop accepting good enough as, well, good enough.

I miss you, Poppy.

Dad,

I remember it was about grade 10 when it first started happening. I’d meet one of your patients in the halls of Halifax West and they’d say something like, “your dad is amazing.” Because I was a dumb kid that somehow thought grades equated to intelligence and wisdom, I usually required with something dismissive like, “you think so?” Or, “you must mean someone else.” Then I’d laugh. I’d laugh because I thought I was clever. I thought I knew everything.

What I didn’t know, what I was too young to know was, everything. I was too young to realize family wasn’t an inconvenience. It was a blessing, something taken from us far too often and far too early. I was too young to know that family was there when things got bad. I didn’t know that often, they show up in hospital rooms and at funerals when friends can’t run away fast enough.

I didn’t know what it took to be a good partner. I didn’t know that putting someone else first is a constant challenge, because I was too young to know what loving someone more than myself was possible. I certainly was too young to realize how much work kids are, and how quickly they become the most important thing in your life.  I didn’t realize how exhausting 60 hours weeks were, so I assumed it was easy for you to work 12 hours a day and still make every baseball, soccer, basketball, hockey and tennis practice. I was too young to realize that sometimes coming home and collapsing on the couch is the best feeling in the god damned world and not giving into that is almost impossible. I foolishly thought every parent just did these things for their kids.

I was too young to realize that work was just that. It was more than hours spent and pay received. I didn’t understand about challenging yourself and finding your passion. I didn’t know that sometimes you just put in the hours because your work is a large part of who you are and where you get your energy. I didn’t know that the pride you get from knowing your peers trust you and know you will help them unconditionally is worth the sweat and exhaustion.

I was too young to realize that you weren’t like everyone else I’d come across in my career. I thought everyone worked long hours and refused to sacrifice the respect of their peers and customers for their own personal gains. I thought everyone took the high road, shared the successes and shouldered the blame.

I was too young to know that all the things I thought were easy are actually some of the hardest things in the world.

Over the years, I’ve made mistakes but you and Mom gave me the foundation I needed to remain standing. I’ve met too many people from broken homes that were lost, and would give anything for the guidance you offered and I tried to reject. If you need to know anything, know that I’m where I am because of you, and if my boys and my peers can take any of what I’ve learned and be anything like you, they will be better for it.

Obviously, the bonds we form at work are not the same as those between a caring father and his son, but we can’t ignore the importance of either. Too often we let people flounder, dismiss their efforts or lack of understanding as a lack of value. We give up on people, instead of helping them. We refuse to admit we can help, or that maybe we can learn from them as well.

It’s been 8-months since my Dad passed away and I’m surprised by how energized I am to be better, to learn from the people in my life and hopefully share my experiences to those that could also find value. My Dad took classes until the final few months, and never lost his passion to learn, lead and grow. I can only hope his last gift to me is sharing those same desires.

Pink Shirt Day: Is the office any different than the playground?

Two days ago, I came across a brutally honest and beautifully written look at the impacts of bullying. Canadian poet Shane Koyczan and a slew of talented animators came together for “To This Day.” The result is a synergy of words and images, movement and pain that create a video to remind everyone that even the most nonchalant words, the ones we often forget seconds after they escape our lips, can change the outcome of a person’s life forever.

As a parent, I’m constantly afraid that my boys will be judged on something arbitrary (and ultimately irrelevant) at a young age and suffer through years of abuse. I’m powerless to help, holding onto the hope that my wife and I can give them both the confidence and self-esteem to push on,  be better human beings and grow up without succumbing to the crippling fear of not fitting in.It’s scary to think all we can do is pray that when we tell our kids they are special (no matter what they hear from other people), they believe it.

I never had to deal with the ridicule or fear, mostly because I developed a love of sports and had enough athletic prowess to play on sports teams at a young age. As a result my social status was easily defined and I was popular. I was never tormented for my pipe cleaner arms, my crooked and stained smile or the fact I was adopted. I was never called stupid, or fat, or ugly, not because I wasn’t, but because I had the protection of the herd. I dressed the part and had the security of relationships created simply from playing on teams with the most popular people.

Fitting in without having to try, the inherited wealth in the currency of youth, let me develop confidence. I wasn’t cursed with an uncool love of books, music, art, computers – things I love wholeheartedly now, but wasn’t strong enough to display then – or any other unfair social poison. My norm was the norm, so I was allowed to walk freely, never in the path of insults or bullies.

If you talk to most of the people in my life, I’d think they’d mostly agree that I’m a nice guy that cares about people. Even back then, I was sympathetic to my friends, hoping to make people smile and laugh with quick comments and funny stories. Basically, I wanted needed to be liked and tried hard to make sure I was.  Sadly, I felt like part of being liked was to be a bully to those outside of my social circle. I used simple mathematics as a justification; if 80% of the people are laughing, it was OK.  The 20%, the one person in a group of five being insulted, was collateral damage in a schoolyard wars. Every insecurity I had/have, well, if I joked about it quickly before deflecting the spotlight to someone else’s most painful flaw, I didn’t have to worry about my issues defining me.

It took me years to realize how hurtful I was. Someone should have shut me up; I deserved that and more.  I’ve tried to change; I’m still too quick with words and insults. I still dismiss people’s ideas and contributions as pointless or wrong, especially at the office. Unfortunately, work is like family. We are randomly put together and told to get along. Of course, we won’t get along with everyone we meet. There are too many factors at play; interests, age, engagement, outlook. Anyone that’s single will tell you how hard it is to find someone that with whom you can share even a few of these things so asking a team of employees with no control of the situation to see eye to eye and become more than just colleagues, is basically impossible.

Not getting along, however,  is not an excuse to treat someone unfairly.

What example are we really setting?

Most parents sit down and tell their children to be nice to everyone. Don’t call people names. Share. Include. We get frustrated and sad when we see kids being cruel but we do the same things every day at the office.

“He’s useless. I wish he wasn’t on our team.”

“She doesn’t get it. How did she ever get hired?”

This has to stop. Now.

I know I’m guilty of these dismissals; I judge a team member’s value on how closely their career goals or measured output aligns to my own priorities. Assuming that because they won’t drop everything to answer a request or don’t believe in the same strategies I do, that they are a less valuable team member. We know little to nothing about any of the people we work with, especially with the increase in virtual teams and part-time employees. We form an opinion on deliverables and arbitrary details shared over conference call lines. When you comment on my energy level or my commitment, do you know that my dad is sick? Do I know if your daughter is being bullied or if money is tight and you are scared you can’t pay your mortgage? Do I even really know if you are happy in your role?

No. I. Don’t.

In an ideal world, we’d have the open dialog needed to get to the root cause of the problem. We’d work collaboratively to solve the problem and assess potential solutions. Sadly, we don’t have the time (or maybe, the desire) to do that for every single person. Those crucial conversations happen quarterly (or even less frequently) and the only real change is a shift to another section of a 9-box, an action that is almost impossible to remove from people’s conceptions.

As a kid, I watched how my father approached his profession. I saw how he valued his patients and viewed work ethic. He never once sat me down and said anything about working every day because that is what work is. He never said to treat people with respect, he just did it. And that’s how I learned. I saw good behaviors and repeated them and they’ve stayed with me to this day.

I constantly ask my boys to “be nice.” If Cillian uses a word like “stupid”, we stop whatever we are doing and talk about why that is such a hurtful term. Why then, do I condone people using similar terminology at work? Or even worse, why do I contribute to the dialog in an equally negative way?

At the start of this month, I made a decision to start having tough conversations with people at work, hoping to find solutions instead of just contributing to the problem. Instead of checking out or giving up on people, I wanted to try to re-engage and find middle ground. It’s important to have those tough conversations, but part of the solution is stopping the hurtful conversations that fill dead air on calls and text boxes on IM.  Standing up for team members and stopping toxic conversations is more than just preserving team health, it’s a sign of respect for the people you work with. Every time we resort to those oversimplifications, we make it harder for a team member to grow.

Is a team member “dumb” because she’s overwhelmed? Of course not, but far too often a mistake at work is no different than wearing the wrong kind of shirt on the playground. It leads to assumptions and rash judgments. We try to be role models for our kids and set a good example, but we should be setting those same examples for our fellow team members. People mimic good behavior. People want to be treated with respect. People want to feel safe to explore ideas and who they are, whether they are 11 or 61.

So this Feb. 27th, when you proudly dress your kid up in pink, remember there are people in your workplace that need your support too.