My latest Articles

(Thought and Vigor, Fast Company, Talent Culture, Switch and Shift, and more)

  • The Overlooked Social Responsibility Program That’s Staring Companies In The Face
    Plenty of companies do a lot of great work when it comes to corporate social responsibility. And many companies are generous with their flexible and remote work policies. But very few see these two things as having much, if anything, to do with each other. But flexible work isn't just nice to have—it's a vital part of using work to make the world a better place. In other words, social impact starts at home. And unless you treat your employees right, and take their work-life issues seriously, then everything else your CSR office does, however laudable, is just an add-on. Setting The Tone For The World We Live In One reason why flexible work policies are so important to a social business is that it sends a message about how you view the world and your company's place within it. Socially conscious businesses are about bridging what's good for the bottom line with what's good for people. Human and environmental well-being don't get sacrificed on the altar of the fast buck. Inflexible working arrangements came from a way of working—and a view of work—that saw people as little more than a resource for achieving business ends. It didn't matter so much whether the pattern of work suited employees as long it suited the business. By giving your employees the latitude to do their jobs in a way that suits their lifestyles, so long as they keep up their performance, companies show they they care about what's good for their employees, Read more
    Source: Fast CompanyPublished on 2016-07-30By Mark Lukens
  • Working With Joy/Happiness: 7 Steps to a Happier Workplace
    Why should we care about happiness? It’s the sort of question that could only come up in business. If you were at home, on holiday or out on the town socializing then the answer would be obvious. To a child, the desire to be happy is so obvious they probably couldn’t even put a reason into words. Happiness is what motivates us, what makes life worthwhile. Everything else we value is a means to that end, for ourselves or for others. Yet happiness at work is something we often ignore. Some even scoff at talking about it. So why should you care about workplace happiness? And as a leader, how can you inspire and spread joy? Why Workplace Happiness Matters Years ago, I got into a conversation about work with a friend of the generation before mine. He didn’t do an especially unusual or entertaining job, yet he took joy in it. He said that he couldn’t bear the thought of spending his day watching the clock, just waiting to leave. If he was going to spend that much time doing something, he needed to enjoy it. His words pinned down a long standing problem – the dissonance between how we ideally believe we should live and how we have accepted that we must work. We have been told that we should make ourselves happy, yet we have also been told that we should put our noses to the grindstone and work no matter our feelings. This creates cognitive dissonance, Read more
    Source: Thought and VigorPublished on 2016-07-06By Mark Lukens
  • Letting Go of Control – Being better leaders
    What do wartime generals and effective parents have in common? They can both help us to become better leaders by letting go of control and instead setting expectations. The Family Business As we try to tackle issues of income inequality, it’s increasingly recognized that parenting really is a full time job, with all the hard work and specialist skills that involves. What we’re slower to recognize is that parents are a group of professionals we can all learn from. Delving into a description of parenting may seem like teaching some of you to suck eggs, but for others – those without children – this is a world of mystery. And that balance between the risk of becoming patronizing and the risk of not giving enough information or guidance is one that parents face every day. You’re under pressure from the kids to provide attention and cater to their physical needs, a pressure that becomes less constant but no less real as they grow up. At the same time, you’re under pressure from yourself to make sure that they’re safe, happy and learning to deal with the world in appropriate ways. With every ounce of energy going into this balancing act, it’s easy to take shortcuts, and that’s the point at which parenting becomes controlling. It’s easier to say “you can’t go to that place” than to teach your child to play safely in a less secure environment. It’s easier to discourage their friendship with a child whose influence you don’t Read more
    Source: Thought and VigorPublished on 2016-06-28By Mark Lukens
  • Gen X, Y, Z – What We Know and What We Do
    Ever since the arrival of Generation X (Gen X), there’s been a wealth of analysis on what each new generation of employees wants. The information is there for us to use, the strategies are simple, and we all nod our heads sagely whenever we hear that Gen X want authenticity while millennials want flexibility. But for all this knowledge, there’s a huge gap between what we as leaders know and what we do. Millennials Want Flexible Working Let’s start with the wave of employees businesses are most focused on right now – the millennial generation. Born in the 1980s, they’ve been raised on the hype of freedom and flexibility, the idea espoused by both left-wing social liberals and right-wing economic liberals that you can and should create the lifestyle you want. Making this a reality means flexible working, and many companies are trying, or claiming, to provide this. But the reality doesn’t live up to the hype. Recent research by EY found that one in six millennials had suffered negative consequences from using flexible working, facing negative impacts on their careers, while 47% said that their hours had increased in the past five years, a change that makes it harder to work in a flexible, balanced way. The Smartphone Generation Want Personalization Attention is starting to turn toward the upcoming Generation Z, sometimes referred to as the iGeneration. Brought up in a world of smartphones, internet access and social media marketing, this generation wants and expects things to be personalized Read more
    Source: Thought and VigorPublished on 2016-06-22By Mark Lukens
  • The Hidden Leadership Skill Every Good Parent Eventually Masters
    The fact that saying "parenting is a full-time job" is cliche doesn't make it any less true. But we seldom see parents—with all the hard work and specialist skills they bring to the challenge—as actual professionals in that field. And while trying to advance that claim may come off as patronizing, failing to point it out would be a missed opportunity. Incidentally, it's exactly this balance, between risking condescension and withholding important information, that parents face every day with their children. Through intuition, experience, and often difficult analysis, parents hone a skill that other leaders regularly struggle with: knowing how and when to let go of control and set expectations instead. How Parents Lead You're under pressure from your kids to give them enough attention and cater to their physical needs, a pressure that becomes less constant but no less real as they grow up. At the same time, you're under pressure from yourself to make sure that they're safe, happy, and learning to deal with the world in appropriate ways. With every ounce of energy going into this balancing act, it's easy to take shortcuts, and that's the point at which parenting becomes controlling. Effective parenting involves setting boundaries, explaining why they exist, and then trusting children to respond to them on their own.It's easier to say, "You can't go to that place" than to teach your child to play safely in a less secure environment. It's easier to discourage their friendship with a child whose influence you don't Read more
    Source: Fast CompanyPublished on 2016-06-19By Mark Lukens
  • The Whole Employee
    Even the most useful ideas sometimes cause problems. Work life balance, which has been crucial in re-evaluating our attitudes towards work, is one of those ideas. By drawing a line between the parts of our lives that are work and those that exist outside it, “balance” treats people as collections of separate components, rather than the fuzzy messes of intersecting issues that are real human lives. Work is affected by what happens outside, and vice versa. Not just accepting this but embracing it can allow us to lead our organizations towards something better. It’s time to stop balancing the separate parts and consider the whole employee. To let the parts of their lives be intertwined, and to make the most of the benefit this brings. Letting in the Outside Life The first step towards dealing with employees as whole people is to consider communication. We often treat large parts of people’s lives as neither relevant nor appropriate to the workplace. A gay employee may remain uncomfortably closeted because they are not sure how colleagues will respond. Employees with unusual hobbies may keep quiet about their passions for fear of mockery, and so never tap into their enthusiasm in the workplace, treating it as a space in which they don’t get fun or satisfaction. Employees going through turmoil at home may alienate those around them with an unexplained short temper or erratic behavior, when feeling they could speak up, even just a sentence to explain their circumstances, would make everything clear Read more
    Source: Thought and VigorPublished on 2016-06-17By Mark Lukens
  • Footprints Not Pedestals: Leadership as an Activity Not a Destination
    Why do you want to be a leader? For the money, the control and the swanky office? Or for the difference you can make to the world along the way? If it’s the former then you’re setting yourself up for disappointment, because real leadership isn’t about the destination – the prestigious job and the office suite. It’s an activity, and treating it that way is the only way you’ll get real satisfaction from your work. Why You’ll Never Reach That Peak Treating leadership as a prize, something prestigious you’ll get for your hard work, means aiming for a goal that doesn’t exist. One reason is obvious, or should be if we stop to think about it. Leadership is hard work. Once you get there, you’ll always have more to do. It isn’t the reward for your work – it is the work. Once you reach the dizzy heights, whatever your field, you’ll have to keep working to stay there. Staying on the peak is a balancing act. But the other reason is that the idea of reaching “the top” is illusory. Power and prestige are relative. However high you reach, someone will always have more than you. If your satisfaction is based on owning that power then you’ll never be happy, because there’ll always be more that you could have. There’ll always be someone doing better than you. Why You Shouldn’t Want To This gets into why that status and power isn’t any more desirable than it is realistic. To Read more
    Source: Thought and VigorPublished on 2016-05-19By Mark Lukens
  • Managing Your Mind
    Understanding ourselves can be a humbling experience. Whether it’s recognizing a small mistake or understanding what microscopic specs of stardust we are in the context of the universe, these are moments when truth intrudes upon our sense of self. One of the most important truths neuroscience provides for us as leaders, and one of the most humbling, is just how quickly and easily we can do harm through our attitudes. As with all such truths, this can help us to become better leaders. Emotional Contagion Emotional contagion might sound like something from an episode of Star Trek, but it’s an all too real challenge. We might think that we have our emotions under control, but in reality we give off many tiny indicators, and the people we interact with pick up on our emotional states before either we or they are aware of it. Happening in mere milliseconds, this leads to the spread of emotions, especially negative emotions. Neural systems responsible for emotional arousal kick in before the conscious mind has had time to process the information. Unhappiness, frustration and other counter-productive emotions spread. This means that our bad moods as leaders can easily spread as we move around the organization. Even when we think we have our feelings under control, we may leave disenchantment in our wake. Threat Responses Much of the way our brains work is designed for a simpler time, when we were struggling to survive. This includes the threat response. Triggered by unexpected events, the threat Read more
    Source: Thought and VigorPublished on 2016-05-18By Mark Lukens
  • What Causes Uncomfortable Work Conversations And How To Avoid Them
    The foundation of good communication isn’t the words but the feelings underlying them. As leaders, we set the tone for communication in our businesses. We know that we set an example, and that the way we communicate will set the tone for the organization. But why is this important? And how can we break out of the trap of toxic communication to improve both the happiness and the productivity of those around us? The Importance of Good Communication Good communication is important for a number of reasons. Most obviously, there are the inefficiencies that come with poor communication. A study by academics at the Harvard Medical School and the University of Boston found that over $12 billion per year is wasted in the US medical sector alone due to inefficiencies caused by poor communication. Communication is an important factor in limiting conflicts, improving employee satisfaction and avoiding employee burnout. Other studies have shown how communication variables play a direct part in satisfaction and burnout, and so in both the productivity of your workforce and how long they stick with you. Good communication is not just nice to have. It’s vital to the smooth running of any business. Creating Positivity Yet poor communication is the norm in many businesses. Typical workplace conversations contain four times as much rehashing of past problems and assigning of blame as they do focusing on the present and looking to the future. This leads to an atmosphere of fear and tension, and increases the number of Read more
    Source: Thought and VigorPublished on 2016-05-14By Mark Lukens
  • Putting People Before Profits
    It’s a principle we all ascribe to in theory – that human beings matter more than money in hand. Yet how many businesses are really built around putting people before profits? How many of us can say that, in the way that we run our businesses, we are treating the world in the way that we want it to treat us? But putting people and principles at the heart of our business doesn’t mean missing out on the opportunity to make money. Far from it, though it’s seldom acknowledged, putting people before profits is one of the most powerful and enduring paths to success. Providing for a tribe As Seth Godin has pointed out, innovative artists and businesses succeed not by creating fans and customers from scratch, but by connecting in with an already existing tribe of interest, a group of people who will want the product you are putting out there. The obvious route for business, the one too many take, is to try to grab a chunk of the largest pie. They look to sell their products to the whole of humanity as an anonymous mass, despite the fact that none of us are interested in the same things. They try to enter into already crowded markets, concerned not with people and their interests but with head count and with drawing attention. Far better to start with what interests people, what you are passionate about and believe others will be passionate about. Find a tribe that is under-served Read more
    Source: Thought and VigorPublished on 2016-05-12By Mark Lukens
  • Here’s How Your Ambition Today Might Let You Down Later
    Why do you want to be a leader? For the pay, the influence, the swanky office? Or for the difference you can make along the way? Of course, these things aren't mutually exclusive, and it's okay to be ambitious. But if you tend to weigh the former perks more heavily, you may be setting yourself up for disappointment. Why? Because real leadership isn't about the destination—you never actually arrive. It's an activity, a process—and treating it that way is the only way you'll get real satisfaction from your work. Why You'll Never Reach That Peak . . . Treating leadership as a prize, as something prestigious you'll earn after putting in a certain amount of hard work, means aiming for a goal that doesn't exist. We don't get to become a complete, whole person and then stay that way. We're always growing, always changing, always aging.One reason for this is obvious, or should be if we stop to think about it. Leadership is hard work. Once you get there, you'll always have more to do. It isn't the reward for your work—it is the work. Once you reach the upper level, in whatever your field, you'll have to keep working hard to stay there. And that requires a careful, often difficult balancing act. But the other reason is that the idea of reaching "the top" is itself a fantasy. Power and prestige are relative. However high you climb, someone will always have more than you or appear higher up. If Read more
    Source: Fast CompanyPublished on 2016-05-12By Mark Lukens
  • Should We Cap Executive Salaries? Pay in the Age of the Social Business
    Social business isn’t just about creating more ethical products. It isn’t about small tweaks that make a business less ugly. It’s about addressing the fundamentals of society and of a business within society. And nothing is more fundamental to business than pay. After all, nobody would go to the office without it. So what are the problems with the current approach to pay? And what might we change to make pay work better for society? Letting Go of Entitlement There’s a reason why we’ve heard so much talk about entitlement in recent social debates. Arguments ranging from political engagement to the plots of computer games often boil down to attempts by one side to create greater equality, while the other side defends the status quo, feeling they are entitled to what they have simply because that’s how things have been. Like the angry voices of “Gamergate,” many in business feel entitled to ever-rising pay. In this view, doing well entitles us to ever higher wages. Our pay should never drop unless we make a cataclysmic error. And it indulges those at the top to massive sums, with CEO’s receiving 300 times as much as average workers. But this approach to pay is not set in stone. As recently as the 1970s, the pay ratio between CEOs and average workers was only twenty-five to one. Ever-rising wages are connected to the dangers of inflation. If we let go of our entitled assumptions, what models could we adopt instead? Leaving Behind Performance-related Pay Read more
    Source: Thought and VigorPublished on 2016-05-11By Mark Lukens
  • Why Leaders Should Seek Out Immigrant Employees
    Migration is one of the greatest challenges facing modern society. The OECD estimates there are currently 232 million migrants globally, while Migration Policy Institute data shows the United States is the most common destination. Reactionaries see this as a threat. But as socially conscious business leaders we should be seizing the opportunity it creates – to build closer communities, a better society and stronger businesses. The Great “Debate” The arguments against migration are all too well covered in the press. While politicians in America discuss whether to build a wall or just use armed men to keep out our neighbors, Europe grapples with the crisis triggered by sudden and massive migration from Syria, a country devastated by environmental collapse, fundamentalist politics and civil war. While Canada sets an example by welcoming refugees as human beings, most of the West is screaming in alarm. The arguments are simple – these people will take our jobs and destroy our culture. In reality, the sort of people who migrate are disproportionately those who will contribute well to the economy. Demonizing them creates the sort of dysfunctional society of which politicians often complain. Embracing them can help us to build a better workforce. Addressing the Facts The truth is immigrants are not taking on the same jobs that American-born workers prefer. They are around fifty per cent more likely to work in service or heavy labor jobs, and significantly less likely to work in the professional and office-based occupations that provide the greatest status and wealth. Immigrants are taking on the jobs Read more
    Source: Thought and VigorPublished on 2016-05-08By Mark Lukens
  • What Causes Uncomfortable Work Conversations And How To Avoid Them
    In 2010, researchers at Harvard Medical School and the University of Boston found that the U.S. medical industry wastes over $12 billion per year thanks to inefficiencies caused by poor communication. You probably don't need a study to tell you why good communication is so important in the workplace, though. At best, it heads off conflicts and keeps everyone working together—productively and happily. Other studies (for good measure) have shown how communication plays a direct role in boosting employee satisfaction and avoiding burnout. Even trying to lighten the mood can do damage when it's done wrong.So it follows that, at worst, bad communication can be a major source of stress, discomfort, and even employee attrition. But not all uncomfortable work conversations are necessarily bad—they might just signal that it's time to make some improvements in how your team members communicate with one another. Here's how. Creating Positivity In A Bad Environment Unfortunately, poor communication is the norm in many businesses. Typical workplace conversations have been found to contain four times as much rehashing of past problems and assigning of blame as they do present-day and forward-looking solutions. This leads to an atmosphere of fear and tension, and increases the number of uncomfortable conversations employees are likely to have. Before long, a combative mentality pervades your office, preventing basic cooperation from occurring. Under these conditions, even trying to lighten the mood can do damage when it's done wrong. Deliberately injecting humor might feel like a smart move, and mere light banter, Read more
    Source: Fast CompanyPublished on 2016-05-02By Mark Lukens
  • Should We Cap Executive Salaries? Pay in the Age of the Social Business
    Social business isn’t just about creating more ethical products. It isn’t about small tweaks that make a business less ugly. It’s about addressing the fundamentals of society and of a business within society. And nothing is more fundamental to business than pay. After all, nobody would go to the office without it. So what are […] Read more... Read More» The post Should We Cap Executive Salaries? Pay in the Age of the Social Business appeared first on Switch & Shift. Read more
    Source: Switch and ShiftPublished on 2016-04-26By Mark Lukens