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Monday, November 27, 2017

Buckets of Blessings

We certainly live in a culture of more. The National Retail Federation estimates nearly 164 million people (or roughly 70 percent of us) had plans to shop sometime over the Thanksgiving weekend. That began with the pre-Black Friday openings on Thanksgiving Day and conclude today on Cyber Monday. Some 48 percent of people were set to shop online for deals today.

Newspaper ads tell me Black Friday shopping now begins sometime in October. I also read that until recently, you could actually find lower prices on line for tech products on Cyber Monday than on Black Friday. From the retail numbers reported in past years, we should actually just rename this Monday “Amazon Day” as they get the bulk of the business.

In the culture of more, it’s proven that a rising number of shoppers are using Black Friday and Cyber Monday as an opportunity for “self-gifting.” Buying for friends and family usually occurs in December. Simply stated, early Christmas shopping has developed into more for ME! Like most of us NEED more.

In light of this craze for more, I found a refreshing Fast Company article this past week titled, How Making a “Reverse” Bucket List Can Make You Happier. Most of us are familiar with the “bucket list” concept. It gained renown in a 2007 comedy-drama movie that featured Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. It grossed over $175 million dollars.

The film’s plot follows two terminally ill men (portrayed by Nicholson and Freeman) on a road trip with a wish list of things to do before they "kick the bucket." Their adventures included skydiving together, flying over the North Pole and checking out the beauty and history of Taj Mahal, India, among many other pursuits. Thank goodness Nicholson had money!

Most of us would not have quite the extravagance on our bucket lists. Perhaps a trip to the Grand Canyon. Run a marathon. Learn to play an instrument. Maybe do that skydiving thing. Maybe.

In the professional life, “more” is about achievement and recognition. Making more money. Getting bigger promotions. Receiving grand awards for performance.

As the Fast Company article states, “The reverse bucket list is pretty straightforward: Rather than writing down all of the things you hope to one day achieve, you instead write down a list of all the things you’ve already accomplished, things that make you feel proud. It’s the exact opposite of a regular bucket list–and it’s an encouraging exercise.”

What I most liked about this concept was the specific tie-in to gratitude. Cited was a 2015 study found in the Journal of Positive Psychology. It reviewed how “grateful recounting” actually enhances a person’s overall well being. Participants in the study recalled three good things from the previous 48 hours. They briefly wrote about them every day for a week. Doing this increased the recall of positive memories. And by routinely recalling these positive experiences, it sparked an increase in their subjective well-being.

I’ve done a variation on this theme for a while that I would recommend to you also. It involves keeping track of God’s unexpected blessings in your life. They come in a variety of ways. Something as simple as thanking God for getting you safely back and forth to work all of 2017. Or contact that surfaced with a long-lost friend. A surprise financial blessing, perhaps. I assure you…there is an abundance for which to be thankful.

In the world of more, I think we could use a lot more of these kinds of reflections. The reverse bucket list. And the buckets of blessings.

For starters, read Psalm 23! In The Passion Translation it starts out this way, “The Lord is my best friend and my shepherd. I always have more than enough.” (Ps. 23:1, TPT) The rest of that psalm adds colorful reminders upon which to reflect.

And the best part? These are the blessings that money can’t buy.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app.

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Monday, November 20, 2017

What Does It Mean?

The Chicago Tribune has been featuring articles relating to the top workplaces in our community. Results were determined through a study by Energage (formerly WorkplaceDynamics) on behalf of the Tribune. Rankings were based on employee surveys “assessing everything from work-life balance to confidence in company leadership.”

The 2017 list of champions included Baird & Warner, Impact Networking, and Holiday Inn/ ChicagoMart Plaza. They win in the large, midsize, and small Chicagoland workplaces respectively. Let’s give them three cheers!

Following up on this announcement, the Tribune gave us a window into meaningfulness at work. The article was titled, “Employees want their job to matter, but meaning at work can be hard to find.” It’s worth reading.

This concept of meaningfulness is noted as having been “consistently and overwhelmingly ranked by employees as one of the most important factors in driving satisfaction.” It impacts motivation, job performance, and the desire to stay in the game. Can you say "priority one"?

Thankfully, people can find meaning in virtually any kind of work. Chicagoans score higher than the national average on nearly all measures of employee satisfaction. But the area of meaningfulness seems ripe for improvement by employers. This is derived from the responses of 67,000 local employees from 219 companies.

The question we must ask is, what constitutes meaningful work to an employee? Jaclyn Jensen, associate professor in the department of management and entrepreneurship at DePaul University, has studied this. She claims that no particular kind of work has to connect to a calling to be perceived as meaningful.

From her research of 40 years, Jensen has determined five factors that determine a job’s meaningfulness. Here are the three most important: 1) It allows you to use a variety of skills, 2) It has an impact on other people’s lives, and 3) You are able see the product of your work through from beginning to end. The remaining two are “having autonomy to do your best work and receiving feedback about your performance.”

The Tribune article goes on to explain how companies can kill a sense of meaningfulness. One clear example is to overload employees so that they work under stress or cannot achieve a level of performance that they feel is needed. This makes perfect sense. 

I would like to add the spiritual dimension to the conversation. It involves the deeper question of why we work at all. It’s one of my “big three” concepts in getting a healthy perspective on how to think about work.

The answer is found in a call to serve. Every job, at every level and in every field…involves service. However, not every person in every job comes with a heart to serve. But if they did, the workplace would become an entirely different environment. I’ll say that again. If every employee showed up every day with a heart to serve, the workplace would become an entirely different environment.

I could wax on about the myriad of ways this would play out. One way in particular that would be impacted hugely: meaningfulness. Something apparently most every employee desires.

It was C.S. Lewis who said, “Never, in peace or war, commit the virtue of your happiness to the future. Happy work is best done by the man who takes his long-term plans somewhat lightly and works from moment to moment ‘as to the Lord.’”

If you learn to approach your work with a heart of service—as to the Lord—you will never lack for meaning at your job. An important truth to gobble up.

Happy Thanksgiving!

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app.

For more information on this topic:

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Scrooge Effect

For a couple of years, I co-wrote a business advice column with my long time friend Sam Deep. We called it “Dear Workplace Counselor.” The basis of our column was to take common issues that arise in the workplace and offer solutions.

Sam had most of the credentials for this. He had taught at the University of Pittsburgh for many years. Later, he served as an adjunct professor of leadership and strategy at the Carnegie Mellon University Tepper School of Business.

Me? Well I had experience in various aspects of radio management and had launched a marketing firm a few years before. I had also worked in the trade show field for a season.

I reflected on this fun endeavor of ours when I read about advice offered by a Forbes contributor in a similar kind of business advice column. Her name is Liz Ryan. She is the CEO/founder of Human Workplace.

The person writing for advice had made a poor career path decision. In hoping to move up the business success ladder more quickly, he had chosen to work for a manager who lacked good people skills. He had passed up working for someone he described as “a fantastic person.”

His complaints ranged from his boss’s poor mentorship, keeping him from engaging with high-level managers and often ignoring him as a report. This “bad manager” also has a temper. The employee feels the manager is insecure. And…she is intimidating.

His question to Liz Ryan is twofold: “What should I do? Is it normal to be afraid of your own boss?”
Interestingly, Liz responded by suggesting that the troubled employee has “power in the equation,” as well. There was sufficient evidence to show that the bad manager would lose if this employee left. And Liz then recommended the boundaries be pushed for the employee to get what he wanted.

Sounds easy enough. In reality, it’s probably a total loser of a situation. A power-driven bad manager with a temper is not likely to allow his or her boundaries pushed. Furthermore, she may be the type to believe you can just plug in another person to the job who will take the abuse. There are plenty of people who seem to fit that.

Here’s the unrecognized problem: This is a bad manager. She apparently doesn’t own the company. Somebody hired her. Somebody goofed. Somebody better recognize this or the company will lose good people. Millennials in particular don’t put up with this garbage. Truly talented people don’t either.

A wise and discerning employer knows that good managers must be tough when decisions require it. But they must also place value on the important contributions of the humans who make the machine run. That thinking is reflected in creating an environment where people feel appreciated and that they are contributing to the success of the organization.

The instruction given to church leaders by the apostle Peter fits well with advising managers in the workplace: “take care of the group of people you are responsible for. They are God’s flock. Watch over that flock because you want to, not because you are forced to do it. That is how God wants it. Do it because you are happy to serve, not because you want money. Don’t be like a ruler over those you are responsible for. But be good examples to them.” (1 Peter 5:2-3, ERV)

The use of intimidation creates an environment of fear. We can get a reminder of this unhealthy behavior this coming holiday season in considering the life of Ebenezer Scrooge. He needed a wake up call!

And if the bad manager noted in this week’s blog doesn’t wake up soon, she might not stand a ghost of a chance either.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app.

For more information on this topic:

Monday, November 6, 2017

Master Timekeepers

In past endeavors I’ve been privileged to work with a number of upper level management people and C-suite types. Often my connection to them was through participation in some type of board or advisory group. A few have been part of my small group meetings over the years.

One thing I have often questioned is how they became available for these meetings. With demanding jobs and time-pressed schedules, how were these people able to arrange to get involved in their outside interests? Is there a mastery to this?

For a time, I pondered doing a series of interviews on this question. Perhaps many others would like to know how the work day really works at the top of an organization. I no longer need to pursue this. It’s been done.

A number of professors from Harvard Business School, the London School of Economics, Columbia University, and the University of Oxford have delivered an insightful study for us on CEOs and time usage. It involved more than 1200 participants in six countries. The research results were published in the Harvard Business Review. (Link below)

One preliminary and important finding was that leaders who stay more “high-level” in focus are more effective than managerial CEOs. This was determined using a sophisticated algorithm that included “every activity a CEO undertakes in a week, as well as whether it was planned ahead of time and who else was involved.” The study offers a well defined explanation of “manager types” and “leader types.”

I’m sure many at the employee level wonder, “What does this CEO person do all day?” Might you be curious? Here’s a summary: “On average, about one-quarter of CEOs’ days are spent alone, including sending emails. Another 10% is spent on personal matters, and 8% is spent traveling. The remainder (56%) is spent with at least one other person, which mostly involves meetings, most of which are planned ahead of time. About one-third of the time CEOs spend with others is one-on-one; two-thirds is with more than one other person. (This data includes a CEO’s entire workday, not just time in the office.)”

Now comes a really important question. Which type of CEO is more effective for a company? A leader…or manager? All factors considered, the CEO whose style was more leader than manager ran more a productive and more profitable company.

Next. Is it the company itself or the leader who drives the success? Research of the before and after performance of appointing a new CEO showed higher productivity with a leader put in place. It took three years for this to be measured.

One more qualifier should be noted. Manager type CEOs tended to run smaller and simpler organizations. Plenty of them were successful at their companies. Leaders were found more often in larger firms where different and more complex skills were needed.

Elena Botelhos is founder of the leadership research firm CEO Genome Project. She coauthored The CEO Next Door: The 4 Behaviors That Transform Ordinary People into World-Class Leaders. Here is her observation:

“Our research shows that the best CEOs are highly decisive in how they allocate their time—focusing on priorities that truly move the needle on the success of their business. Often, when CEOs conduct calendar reviews and look at how their time is actually spent, they’re surprised to find that top priorities are regularly trumped by urgent fires.”

I’ve never forgotten the advice explaining that most people tend to work on what they enjoy doing, rather than what is most needed. The need for priority thinking is a constant. It’s a lesson for all of us.

To my knowledge, Jesus of Nazareth carried no appointment book. Nor was He ever in a rush. He knew His mission and stayed on task. He prioritized His team. He prayed for them. He challenged them. He loved them. And the impact of Jesus' work on earth remains today. A true leader.

May God give you wisdom to lead, serve, and manage time. . . like the Master.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.