Blog posts

Rosa Parks Talk at TWW

I had the honor to address the local political group Together We Will on multiple occasions. On this occasion in February of 2017 I opened with a short talk on Rosa Parks, a strong female that, looking out for herself, made a huge impact on the world. I hope we can all learn from this lesson. This video is just a short excerpt of that talk.

Video credit: Priscilla Sanders

Copyright Devorah Allen 2018. All rights reserved.

When Life is Uncertain – Part II

Internal Adaptation

In part one we said that we have to externally adapt to new situations – a new job, a new place to live, new friends, a new single life, etc, and that when we do that we ALSO  have to adapt internally, which can affect our self identity.

  • We question who we really are – our Self Concept
  • We question what good we can contribute to the world – our Self-Esteem
  • We question what we are really even doing here – Self Awareness
  • We feel like we are alone or no one understands us – Social Awareness

Self Concept Is our perception of who we are and what we can handle/what we are capable of doing. This includes the knowledge, talent and potential necessary for success. This is why it is so important to use each interaction after an adaptation as a chance to learn, to gain the knowledge and skills needed to adapt to this new environment.

How does this relate to ‘fake it till you make it’ when life doesn’t stop and we need to perform even when we are no longer in possession of the knowledge we need to succeed? Will talent and charisma temporarily bridge the knowledge/skill gap?

When we do ‘fake it till we make it’ and we do make a mistake, do we (self concept) believe we can learn from the mistake? Can we handle the rejection or disapproval of others when we don’t measure up? Approval is like a drug. If we crave the approval of others we begin to value their opinion of us over our own. Our decision-making process now changes to being unable to do anything without the approval of another person.

Can we, instead, look at the disapproval as simply a challenge to improve? If we do, we already win, because viewing it in a positive way will bolster our self concept. We are learning and growing by taking on this challenge because we are engaging ourselves to learn how to do something better, adding to our arsenal of capabilities.

Self-Esteem – Is confidence in one’s own worth or abilities; faith in oneself. 

When we know we are going to have to swing out to a new platform, now is a great time to do Self-Affirmations. Self-Affirmations are not the same thing as positive affirmations.

Self-Affirmations are thoughts about yourself that focus on qualities or abilities that you actually possess that you know have value and worth in the real world, such as, “I am a quick learner and therefore I will adapt quickly” or “I can see root causes quickly and know how to fix them”.

Positive affirmations are idealized versions of yourself, such as, “I will find great success!” or “I deserve the best!”.

The time to do a Self-Affirmation is before the possible rejection. Affirm to yourself your qualities and abilities before important meetings, big changes or when your anxiety is going to be the highest.

When we do make a mistake, and we receive the disapproval of others, if we do not have confidence in our own worth or abilities, this can even further reduce our performance. This is a vicious circle. As an adaptation, we MUST believe in ourselves and have faith in ourselves, that we WILL learn the new ropes, learn the new job, be able to find our way around a new town, find new friends, find a new partner (if we want one), heal.

When we look at the disapproval of others as a challenge, however, this allows our self-esteem to remain in tact.

Think about two people – 

One is an expert at one area their entire lives. Let’s call this person Sam. Sam has spent all his  time doing this one thing and getting better and better at it. In his life everything remains static.

The second person – let’s call her Chloe – has had many major changes. From the dock, Chloe   grabbed the rope and has swung out to new platforms OVER AND OVER. Will she ever become an expert again like Sam? Sure, but to what degree? That depends. Over the course of a life does Chloe swing out to 5 platforms? 10? 20? How long has she been on this last platform? So, the short answer is that YES, Chloe can become an expert as well as (or better than) Sam. Why? Because at some equilibrium point any level of expertise tapers off and levels out. There is nothing more to learn about that subject.

So Chloe, by swinging out to that platform, has increased the breadth of her knowledge and eventually catches up (or pretty darn close to it) to Sam. Furthermore, Chloe has increased her level of skills and capabilities more than Sam. Why? Because Sam has only the experience of one platform. This swinging back and forth, that felt so horrible at the time, has increased the adaptability of Chloe and thus her value to an organization and even to herself and her loved ones. At this point, after all she has gone through, she can adapt to just about anything!

So, swinging out to new platforms increases our own Self-Concept and Self-Esteem.

Self-Awareness Conscious knowledge of one’s own character, feelings, motives and desires. Being knowledgeable or informed.

In addition, the more Chloe learns, the more she understands that she knows very little about the things that she doesn’t know.  This self-awareness needs to be the first thing she attends to. She needs to know how she reacts to things, what her triggers are, what she likes. What she doesn’t like. What her values are. What is important to her. From there, this self-awareness leads to a broader Social Awareness.

Social Awareness – has to do with understanding how we react to different social situations and effectively modifying our interactions with other people to achieve the best results.

In the grand scheme of life, Chloe sees that there is room for differing interpretations and understandings about people, culture and what change/adaptation can do (good/bad) to a person. She can see that people are just busy. It isn’t that they don’t care. She is never really alone if she will be the first to reach out to someone else and tell them she needs help. Also, many times this broad social awareness allows for a more liberal viewpoint than someone like Sam who has only ever had one dock and never swung out on any ropes. It helps Chloe to know that she should not judge others so harshly. Maybe they are going through a lot too? Sometimes people are swinging out on ropes and we don’t even know it. How any of us interact with others many times determines our level of success.

Benefits of Going Through Uncertainty

I have good news! All that uncertainty that made life horrible for a little while comes with benefits!

  • People gravitate to those who aren’t afraid to swing out on ropes. This can be a very good thing. New friends and opportunities will come out of it, for sure!
  • People who swing on ropes know how to do things others do not know – because they had to spend the time to learn a broad variety of knowledge, learn new skills and new capabilities.
  • They are seen as brave. It can be very scary to swing out on ropes, and people realize that.
  • People who swing on ropes are interesting and fascinating – almost as if they are some new alien species that has done things that ‘normal’ people could/would never do. #lifegoaldontbebasic 
  • After swinging on ropes, rope-swingers know that failure is normal and to be expected, and therefore freak out a lot less when they have to adapt to something new.
  • After swinging on ropes, rope-swingers know that there are LOTS of platforms out there to land on, even if temporarily.
  • After being out there on other platforms, a rope-swinger can JUMP to similar platforms without too much extra effort. #Bonus
  • Rope-swingers have come to understand that every time they swing out they learn how to do it better and adapt more quickly to the new platform. This creates ever-increasing success.

So…Uncertainty? It sure doesn’t feel good while it’s happening, but we have the ability to adapt – both internally and externally – to just about anything that comes our way.

So, hang in there ok? And reach out to someone who cares about you if you are hanging on a rope and can’t find that platform under your outstretched foot.

Copyright Devorah Allen 2018. All rights reserved.

When life is Uncertain – Part I

We all have ‘givens’ that are supposed to be constant, right? Well, what happens when the ‘givens’ of a stable job, stable relationship, stable transportation fail us? What happens when…

  • You’ve lost or changed a job (whether your choice or not)
  • You lost a house/apartment/had to move for some reason
  • Your car is in the shop/have no transportation
  • You just went through a divorce/breakup
  • A loved one just died and nothing makes sense anymore
  • You just went/are going through a personal tragedy
  • You or your partner has an illness which will affect everything
  • You are caring for a sick/older family member
  • Some other yuck happens that I failed to mention

What then? What if we are going through MORE than one of these things at a time? One is hard enough! What if any/all of these things has made our lives uncertain?

Sure, we could fold in on ourselves and give up. God knows we will feel like it sometimes. We could withdraw from our friends, stare at the wall, never go out. Basically give up on life. I mean, if any of these things happen to me, the world is against me, so why even try, right?!

This isn’t really about CHANGE. It’s about ADAPTATION.

In Part I we will look at External Adaptation. In Part II we will look at Internal Adaptation.

External Adaptation

It’s like standing on a dock. By the dock you see a rope hanging from the tree branch out over the water. You grab the rope and swing out to the platform a few feet away.

When a person has one change, they can swing out to the platform and, when time passes, or things settle down, or they get the job/the car/the house back they can just swing back into the familiar. Sure, the time away from the dock was awkward, but they are insulated from the enormity of the change because of the familiarity of all the rest.

But what if MORE than one of these things happen at once? When more than one change happens at once, it becomes not a change, but an adaptation. There may not BE a dock to swing back to from the platform. There IS no place of familiarity or comfort, or perhaps only a very small part of the familiar is available to comfort us. Even if we did some of the change on purpose or for growth it really puts a person out of sorts.

Why? Because all of our life experiences no longer apply to our new situation – to the little platform we find ourselves on. So, what do we have to do? ADAPT.

What is ADAPTATION? A Composition rewritten into a new form, a modification of an organism that makes it more fit for existence under the conditions of its environment which improves its fitness or survival.

So, we rewrite ourselves. We modify ourselves to improve our chances for survival under the new rules of our situation.

There can be a significant learning curve. One cannot expect to be an optimal performer in life (for anything) immediately. Through practice, and patience, we externally adapt.

We learn the new job over time. We find a new house/apartment/stay with a friend. We grieve and mourn and time heals. Eventually even the worst things come to an end.

Internal Adaptation

When external ‘givens’ change, what does that do to the internal ‘givens’, the internal landscape of the person? How does this affect our sense of identity?

Read Part II to see how Adaptation affects our internal sense of identity.

Copyright Devorah Allen 2018. All rights reserved.

 

 

Core Values – Why are they important?

Let’s first define what values are.

Values are terms we use to explain how we measure achievement. These values determine our actions and beliefs. These chosen measurements lead to real-life behavior. Values apply to both employers and employees, and create behaviors in each.

Corporate Core Values

Creating or updating core values is a very popular organizational trend lately. These core values purport to define how the company and its employees behave.

These core values may include corporate-speak, such as:

· Sustainability (or an environmentally sustainable workplace)

· Social responsibility (Some initiative for the betterment of the community)

· Technological Innovation

· Optimize Towards Ideals

· Agility

· Do No Evil

· Growth and Learning

· Embrace and Drive Change

Then there are one-word values, such as:

· Integrity

· Accountability

· Empowerment

· Respect

· Fun

· Family

· Teamwork

Many companies (nonprofits and government included) expect their employees to memorize their core values, and some even tie performance metrics to their adherence. Think about that. If you have to memorize an imposed list of values – some of which aren’t even clear in relation to your job – how likely are you to be able to actually put them into action?

There is also a trend to ‘hire for values’ – perhaps by use of a pre-hire assessment or by carefully crafted questions during an interview. This could work if the company truly created an environment in which processes, procedures and rewards actually allow employees to behave in accordance with the stated values.

Companies say that they want these values to guide both corporate and employee decisions and actions. They want resonance between what is stated on the website and what the company and employees actually do.

Great! Except…well this can be tricky, since many companies come up with a list of what they say the core values are, but their own leadership/management team’s actions undermine employee adoption of them by rewarding something other than the stated core values; or their processes and procedures contradict their own value statements. So, really, it isn’t what the core values are necessarily; it could just as easily be what they wish the core values to be – as if by stating it, they can make it so – or as if the organization can do one thing but expect something different and better from the employees.

Example: A company has the core value of Operational Excellence. This value – performing each action with the highest quality and efficiency – is a great predictor of long-term success. Six Sigma, Lean Six Sigma and Total Quality Management have proven that. However, what if the company rewards short-term goals and quick wins over slower quality processes? Those short-term goals can have an adverse effect on adherence to processes that would lead to Operational Excellence. Since the reward is for short-term success, employees will likely not have the will to behave in accordance with this stated core value. Instead, the real core value that finds expression in action is Quick Profits lead to bonuses.

Another example: A company has the core value Embrace and Drive Change – yet puts roadblocks to innovative thinking and experimentation by reprimanding those that fail to hit targets on the first iteration of a new concept. Is it such a surprise that very few bright ideas are being proposed by employees? So, the real core value is Follow the Status Quo.

Another example: An organization has the core value of Growth and Learning. Great! Except that there is no provision for employees to leave their desks long enough to attend training or to attend coaching on professional development goals – much less provision in the budget for outside training or attendance at industry conventions. So the real core value is Profitability, not Growth and Learning.

Stating one core value and then reinforcing a different value through processes and rewards creates cognitive dissonance for employees, which is a great demotivator.

To make it even more complicated, a company can have a list of core values that are derided internally as nothing more than slogans.

For instance, a company lists Employee Engagement as a core value. However, managers with no understanding of the business are hired from outside the company while qualified employees with deep job knowledge are not even interviewed. When these same new managers come around touting Employee Engagement and arrogantly neglect to ask the employees what they think about x, y or z and then make unilateral decisions about things they don’t understand, the employees snicker to each other, “this is what employee engagement looks like?” and mock the system and culture that produce it.

Interestingly, but not surprisingly, companies that do create environments that matches their core values (like Zappos) are also consistently known as among the best places to work, as seen in such lists as Fortune.com Companies like Zappos know that they should look for employees whose personal values match their corporate values. What this means is that those employees don’t need to try to match their values – they just naturally already do. There is no cognitive dissonance to try to overcome – and employees convey this resonance by voting their approval on the Best Place to Work survey form. Those are the employees that ‘stick’. The ones whose values ultimately don’t really match are weeded out.

It is, therefore, imperative to choose employees wisely based on shared values – and for organizations to enact resonance between their stated core values and their actual culture, processes and reward systems.

Personal Core Values

So, what personal values do we hold that will determine our success?

Well that depends. Success is subjective and personal. We first have to ask, what is important to me?

Do I place value on external measures of success or on internal states of contentment and meaning, leading to a more purposeful and productive life? I will choose an employer (or to be an employer) based on this answer.

For instance:  Do I constantly compare myself to other people?

If so, that metric for achievement means that I have to be better, more popular, more monetarily wealthy, in a higher position and so-forth than someone else. If I am not, then I may become jealous, angry, feel under-appreciated, all of which can lead to envy and bitterness, and a very real chance of being unhappy. I will want to work in a place that is known for success and will reward me regardless of the means I employed to reach that end.

What if, in contrast to that, I measure achievement by how well I get along with others, how competent I am in my assigned job duties or projects, how well I communicate, how effective I am as a team member or leader, how I benefit my organization by being ethical, present, mindful and confident, yet empathetic? That may very well lead to a meaningful, contented life. I will want to work in a place that is known for being ethical, communicative, that values its employees as seen in its actual culture.

Which person would I like to work alongside every day? Which would I like to work for? Which would I like to be?

Another question: Do I value money over finding meaning?

If so, that metric may look like taking the highest-paying job I can find, regardless of the culture/value fit. I may also have no trouble stepping on and over the backs of others to get to where I want to go. I will constantly be in competition with my co-workers, neighbors, friends and, I daresay, my significant other. It’s all about the prestige, the car, the clothes, the fancy dining, the trips to Paris and New York, the adoration of my family and peers. The trouble with this is I may find it very empty and lonely when I look around and see only those who hang around for the free drinks.

On the other hand, what if I measure my achievement in working for a place that has an integrated work-life? This company may expect a lot from me, but also may offer an onsite gym, or a nap room, or flexible work hours, or on site child care to create the environment for integrated work-life (Family core value in action).

What if I measure achievement by working in a place that incorporates gender/cultural/ethnic diversity and same-sex benefits in its strategic human resources plan? (Inclusion core value in action).

What if I value starting my own business that benefits humanity in some way – promoting social justice or the elimination of poverty in minority children, for instance? (Social responsibility core value in action).

In choosing any of these paths and these types of values, I may very well find meaning and fulfillment in my everyday life, and probably feel a lot less bad stress too.

Which person would I like to work alongside? Which would I like to work for? Which would I choose to be?

This is the discussion we need to have about values. Organizations of all kinds should think hard about whether their stated core values and their corporate culture agree. Is the behavior that they reward in line with their stated core values? If not, this could be creating the dissonance that creates employee turnover and low morale. Employees should be sure they are working for a company where the core values agree with their own and are more than a slogan. This will set up both organizations and employees for success. This is why Core Values are important.

Does your company’s core values match what they actually reward or allow?  What do YOU think is the most important personal core value? Please share your comments below!

 

Image Credit: http://www.leblogducommunicant2-0.com/

Copyright Devorah Allen 2017. All rights reserved.