Be Flexible to Retain Top Talent

So, when you talk about flexibility, one of the first things that it is important to acknowledge is that it doesn’t work for every company. Manufacturing companies have to have people on the floor at certain hours. People who work at the front desk can’t pick up and leave without notice.

But, for a large portion of the workforce, I’m seeing a new willingness to work with employees in new ways. The other day I sat down with two women who “share” a position at a popular national brand. Each of them worked three days a week, with one day over-lapping. Their manager already had told me what great jobs they did and how well the arrangement worked, and the work they brought to the table spoke for itself. The work was wonderful. It was strategic. It was insightful. Together, they managed a dozen or so people. Those people also felt good about the situation.

Soon after that, I was talking with one of our clients and he said he was leaving early to avoid traffic. That wasn’t the first time he’d said that, so I was thinking that maybe this was a regular thing. Sure enough, when I paid attention, multiple people at that company mentioned flexibility in a very matter of fact way during conversation. “My kids were home sick, so I’m working at home,” said one women. What else can you do when your kid is sick, but it interested me that she didn’t say, “My work is going to kill me because I can’t be there, and I’m worried I might get fired.” She said it with a confidence and a no-fuss air that let me know that this was OK.

And, these people are not at entry-level positions, which flies in the face of the conventional thinking that you have to sacrifice any desire to rise through the ranks if you work a flexible schedule. In addition, they are at popular national and global consumer brands that people line up to work for, so that signals to me that this mentality isn’t just for small upstarts.

Flexibility is a funny thing because even when a company gives it to you, you have to hold up your end of the bargain. Yes, from an accountability standpoint, meaning that you still have to hit certain goals and milestones, but also from the standpoint that you have to make it happen. Our CEO once said to me, “There’s always more work to be done. Prioritize. Prioritize. Prioritize.”

If you’re looking for food for thought about flexible work schedules, there was an article this week in CNN Money about that topic. Quoted in the article was John Parry, CEO at Solix, Inc. “We don’t really care when people come,” he said. “We trust Solix staff with million-dollar funding decisions, so we should trust them to work flexibly.”

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Why Your CEO Wants You To Be Fearless Now

Are you comfortable being uncomfortable? That’s one definition of fearlessness, according to Adam Bryant, author of Corner Office, who identified fearlessness as one of the five traits CEOs look for in those they hire and promote. In last week’s post, I promised to elaborate on why we at Tribe believe fearlessness is the most important of those traits right now.

Many large corporations have long been saddled with fear-based cultures. Decisions are delayed or deferred to avoid being caught in a mistake, new ideas are often mired in meeting after meeting and nothing moves forward without consensus. Legions of cubicle dwellers have built their careers on the CYA principle.

Add to that the paralyzing fear of the recent recession. At Tribe, we saw many of our client companies frozen in place — and not just because of the very real hurdles of reduced staff and smaller budgets. There was also a prevailing attitude of uncertainty because nobody could predict how bad it would get or how long it would last.

Now we’re seeing a new emphasis on fearlessness in large companies — and that may be a difficult cultural shift. We spoke recently with a $15 billion media company struggling with their CEO’s desire for his people to be able to embrace change, and to accept the fact that in their industry, everything is changing all the time. Instead of fearing change, he wants his people to face new developments with excitement.

We’re currently launching an internal program with a large brand to encourage boldness. They want their employees to model their behavior after the fearlessness shown by the founders of their brand — entrepreneurs who took a chance on doing things differently and ended up changing their industry.

Someone I admire once told me that the only way he could do his job well was to quit worrying about doing something that could get him fired. He approached his job like an entrepreneur, treating one of the world’s largest companies as if it were his own company, and then figuring out what he would do if it were completely up to him. From there, he was able to very deftly promote those bold ideas and sell them up through the company. That doesn’t mean his immediate boss always loved his approach, but if he ran into the CEO of that company in an airport today, that CEO would remember him for the landmark programs he created and the legacy he left behind.

One of the most powerful ways you can ignite your career right now is to show fearlessness. This is the time to cultivate the part of yourself that’s willing to take risks, to try a different way, to promote a new idea. This is the time to be the one who can go there without a road map; who can create a way to do something that’s never been done before; who can make a decision without having all the information. Forget about covering your behind and make something happen.

In the most recent communications from your CEO, are you hearing words like innovation or transformation or reinventing? Or maybe the CEO is talking about fresh ideas or bold moves or even using the word fearless. Not everyone around you will be able to operate that way, so do it if you can. That’s how you can set yourself apart and move ahead in today’s business climate. Now is the time when those who can make something up out of thin air will thrive.

Spirit of The Tide

It’s hard to believe the path of destruction a tornado can leave behind. Yesterday, an EF-5 tornado hit my old college town of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I graduated from the University in December and have a ton of friends that still attend the school or live in Tuscaloosa. The fatality count is at 32 in Tuscaloosa and is still rising from this mile–wide colossus.

Tuscaloosa is a bit famous for having tornados this time of year, but has not seen one of this magnitude in years. The massive funnel ripped through 15th Street destroying businesses and apartment complexes. It missed the campus by less than half a mile.

No one I personally know was injured in the disaster, but most of them at this point are homeless. Being in a college town, these kids are scared and have nowhere to go. The University has opened the Rec to students in this time of need.

What’s inspiring about this story is although destruction has consumed most of the city, U of A supporters came barreling down I-20/59 as early as 5:00 am to help. Support groups where set up in over five locations in the early hours of today. Nick Saban addressed some of these volunteers on how everyone must stay strong and do their part in the relief effort. Currently 20/59 is backed up for miles at the McFarland Blvd. exit to Tuscaloosa with hundreds of people who have driven down to do what they can.

The University of Alabama is a second home to me and will always have a special place in my heart. Where memorable buildings once stood lays nothing but rubble. It is truly shocking to see. My thoughts and prayers go out to all of the friends and families affected by this South East disaster.



My Chucks

I have a theory that my creativity is directly linked to the comfort level of my outfit that day. And, being a chick, comfort starts with my feet. Sometimes if I know a creative apocalypse is headed my way (and I know I’ll need a blast of inspiration), I need only to look on the floor of my closet for my favorite pair of sneakers.

It’s kind of hard to get your creative brain juice flowing when you are wearing four inch heels that smash your toes into a teeny-tiny point. And since corporate America insists that I cannot wear my pajamas and slippers to the office, I thankfully have my ever fashionable, always comfortable, lucky, trusty Chuck Taylor low tops to turn to for inspiration.

The next time you need to creatively channel the universe, let your muse be a comfy pair of well worn, timelessly fashionable chucks. When I wear my super awesome gray and white Converse All-Stars, all the powers of the universe are magically projected up from my feet, into my brain, and the result is pure greatness. The results will undoubtedly blow your mind. Guaranteed.


Inspired by Junior’s Backwards “a”

My son, Wyatt IV, is four years old, and a student in Pre-K. Last night, I reviewed his homework, which consists of recognizing sight words, coloring, memorizing Bible scriptures, and writing his first and last name (perhaps too much work for a four-year-old, but I suppose it beats the alternative).

He’s very good at doing his homework and often does it unattended. But when he handed it to me to check, the first thing that caught my attention was the backwards “a” in his first name. He’s done this before, but not recently. To say the least, I was slightly annoyed and couldn’t understand how complex the letter “a” can be to write. Don’t you just draw a circle and put a stem on the end of it? Trust me, my handwriting is barely legible, but I know where the stem goes.

Before I got too worked up about it, I decided to check his other work—all three sheets of it. To my surprise, my only correction was the “a” in his name. Is a backwards “a” that big a deal, especially when he’s done so well on his other work? Well, “A” is the first letter of the alphabet; it’s also the first flash card letter he learned; and it’s the only letter I’d like to see on his report cards once he starts attending school. Yep, it’s a big deal.

But as long as his mother and I gently guide him along, I’m sure it’s something that will correct itself. So I didn’t scold him. I simply told him to practice his “a’s” on a writing pad. Once he completed that assignment, he brought the pad to me and said, “See Daddy, I fixed it.”

There’s nothing verbally profound about what he said, but that’s when it made me think: I haven’t fully appreciated my son’s growth and development. Sure, he had nowhere to go but up from birth. But still, he’s made real progress. He couldn’t write his name last year or complete his homework without 100% guidance, but he can now. And there I was annoyed about some childish mistake. I’m sure in life he’ll have many backwards “a’s.” It’s more important that he knows how to fix them, and I’m inspired that he will.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

5 Traits CEOs Say You Need to Succeed — And Why the Fifth One Is Most Important Right Now

In his new book “Corner Office,” Adam Bryant explores the common factors of success he’s gleaned from over 70 CEOs interviewed for his biweekly column by the same name in The New York Times.
Each of Bryant’s columns have focused on one top executive and their answers to questions ranging from “What do you look for when you hire?” to “How do you build a strong culture?”

Now Bryant has compiled a list of five traits possessed by most of these CEOs, and which he says they look for in those they hire and promote. “The good news: these traits are not genetic,” he writes. “It’s not as if you have to be tall or left-handed. These qualities are developed through attitude, habit and discipline — factors that are within your control.”

The five traits Bryant has identified are:
• Passionate Curiosity • Battle-Hardened Confidence • Team Smarts • A Simple Mindset • Fearlessness

By Passionate Curiosity, Bryant means not only a perennial desire to learn but also the willingness to not have the right answer all the time. Many of the CEOs he interviewed stressed the importance of asking the right questions. Others emphasized the value of becoming a student of human nature, of being interested in what makes others tick.

Battle-Hardened Confidence could also be phrased as the experience of overcoming adversity. These CEOs claim they’re not looking for people who’ve never failed, but for those who’ve failed and learned to move on.

Team Smarts, according to Bryant, means more than just being a team player. It means understanding how a team functions, watching how people react to one another and most importantly, being able to bring people together around a common goal.

Having a Simple Mindset means being able to see the tree and not the forrest. He describes the disconnect between CEOs wanting their people to give them a concise summary, but getting a long Powerpoint presentation instead. This demand for simplicity is perhaps a reflection of the changing role of information in business today. Now that we can all access all the information all the time simply by going online, the premium is not in possessing the information but in being able to synthesize it and cut away all but the essential message.

And finally fearlessness, by which Bryant means the ability to be comfortable being uncomfortable. People who can thrive when they’re asked to figure out how to do something that hasn’t been done before, who are willing to shake things up even when things are going fairly well, who are intrigued by the idea of change instead of threatened by it.

Of all the traits he mentions, I would rank this last one the most important at the moment. In several of our client companies, we’re working with the internal culture to help employees adopt this sort of fearlessness. The idea of change being the new norm is a common theme among CEOs we work with at Tribe, and they are struggling to help employees view change as a good thing.

Next week, we’ll take a look at why that’s difficult, especially for employees in many large corporations.

Sports Make Life Better

When it comes to sports, would you rather play or watch?  Is winning always that important or are you just looking for a way to meet new people?

Here in Atlanta there are leagues all over the city that play on weeknights or weekends.  I recently joined a soccer team with US Club Sport, which provides many other team sports

Over the past 4 years I have played on two softball teams, one kickball team, and two soccer teams all of which have been co-ed.  We had wins and some losses, but it is always fun to watch those teams who take playing so seriously.  Taking away a win from them is always the best!

You will find that playing a sport is a great way to hang out with friends.  It doesn’t matter if you have one athletic bone in your body, just remember you must show up so your team doesn’t have to forfeit!  Oh, and from one friend to another these teams are known for being “Beer Leagues”, which means local restaurants sponsor the league and give game day drink specials.  Everyone wins in Flip Cup.

So, grab your friends and start making your life better with sports. You won’t be disappointed and they will be happy to have joined!

Are You Ready to Lead? ran an interesting article this morning about a new Career Builder survey, reporting that one in four managers said they were not ready to become a leader when they started supervising others. I have never known anyone who felt prepared to manage people for the first time, so I applaud the three out of four people who must have felt prepared!

Quoted in the CNN article is Dennis Kravetz, author of Measuring Human Capital: Converting Workplace Behavior into Dollars. He talks about how skills for success in management roles are completely different than those needed for non-supervisory roles. He gives the example of engineers, who are trained on a variety of technical competencies in college, and then their performance at a non-supervisory level is based on those technical competencies. “Supervisors primarily need people competencies (developing others, handling conflict, scheduling work, etc.),” he says. “Engineers and accountants had zero college courses in areas like this and non on-the-job training.”

I believe that training everyone on people skills would be a real business asset to any brand. Not everyone needs a full-blown course on the people competencies, but don’t you think even a little would go a long way? Just imagine all of the time wasted due to poor people competencies, and all of the business lost or never gained. Then think about all of the growth opportunities within reach if you could just reach out a little bit farther to grab it. That’s going to take the power of a team that works well together and is able to get the best out of each other.

If you’re thinking, “Not worth the time, I’ve got my management team in place,” then maybe just check to make sure your people managers have what they need to lead. If your immediate management team moves on, who’s ready to take that person’s place? If you’re not planning for that, then your business plan only goes five or so years out.

It seems like the idea that people who are trained on technical skills might need coaching in soft skills is something companies should get comfortable talking about, since the online world is virtually taking over the world. One big debate right now is where do you draw the line when texting in front of others (check out Sunday Styles article about this and be sure to read the comments). So, even if you don’t work at a technology company, you’re likely interacting with heavy technology users who are using their products.

The Career Builder Survey brings to mind a New York Times article about Google – a very successful technology company – and a recent survey within the company about what makes a good manager. “The starting point was that our best managers have teams that perform better, are retained better, are happier — they do everything better,” Laszlo Bock, Google’s vice president for people operations. “So the biggest controllable factor that we could see was the quality of the manager, and how they sort of made things happen. The question we then asked was: What if every manager was that good? And then you start saying: Well, what makes them that good? And how do you do it?”

Laszlo says he was struck by the simplicity of the “Eight Good Behaviors” for management that came from survey. “You don’t actually need to change who the person is,” he says. “What it means is, if I’m a manager and I want to get better, and I want more out of my people and I want them to be happier, two of the most important things I can do is just make sure I have some time for them and to be consistent. And that’s more important than doing the rest of the stuff.”

What do you think? How much of leadership is training? With the right tools and resources, can anyone become a better leader?

Leadership Best Practices: Be A Chicken!

I have nine chickens, supposedly for the purpose of laying eggs (you can see a few of them in the photo with my husband). I say “supposedly” because I’ve become so attached to them that I don’t really care howproductive they are. They live in a coop in my backyard most of the time, except for when they’re pecking around inside my house, which happens more than I’d like to admit. Of course, there are the tell-tale signs of feathers everywhere.

My husband and I have been interested in chickens before it became cool, although we’re much more likely to talk about it now that it is in vogue. I’ll just come out with it: We love our chickens. They’re sweet. They like for us to pet them. They like to sit on our shoulder. They like to admire our jewelry. After a hard day, to see them running around joyously with worms in their mouths gets me back on track. They’re endless entertainment for our kids. They eat scratch from our hands and follow us around. One chicken farmer suggested we walk them on leashes, but that just seems wrong. People who say chickens are mean or dumb either have never owned chickens or just don’t get them the way some people don’t get cats or snakes (we have those, too).

So, what do these chickens have to do with a blog about leadership? There’s much we can learn from their serious side. These are hard-working animals. They’re tough birds who don’t know what it means to give up.

Well, if you’re currently challenged with leading effectively or struggling with managing a team, then I’d recommend getting yourself some chickens and follow their lead. To ensure a diverse group, get at least seven, and strive for a mix of male and female. Get different types. We have Rhode Island Reds, Black Silkies, Buff Orpingtons and Americanas (which lay blue eggs).

Everybody could stand to learn something from chickens. Here’s what I’ve learned from mine:

  • Respect the pecking order. You need to respect the chain of command. So do the people who report to you and the people who report to them. Reporting structures are in place for a reason. They help ensure the flow of information, the sharing of knowledge and efficient use of resources, among other things. And if you have a group that’s particularly challenging, know that nothing’s forever. My chickens’ pecking order changes over time as new chicks are added to the mix.
  • Scratch below the surface. Don’t take things at face value. Even when it looks like a bunch of dirt to me, my chickens scratch away to make sure they’ve discovered every edible morsel possible. They’re often rewarded for their hard work.
  • Give clear and direct feedback. Don’t over think feedback or beat around the bush. Sometimes the best way is fast and direct so the recipient easily can put the feedback in context. Otherwise it’s like, “Remember that day when you…” My chickens let each other know how it’s going every second of the day through clucks, squawks, pecks and wing-flapping. They’re constantly communicating and adjusting.
  • Don’t take it personally. It’s not about you. It’s business. Don’t be thin-skinned. If something does sting, don’t stay mad. Leaders need to stay above petty behavior. Don’t forget that not everything is personal. It’s business. So encourage whiners and complainers and gossipers to get back to work. There’s always plenty of work to do.
  • Care for your group. My chickens stick together. They mix and mingle with our other pets every day, but they always have each other’s back. Even when they’re annoyed with each other, they come to each other’s defense. A team can’t truly thrive when even one member is unhealthy.
  • Don’t be afraid to fly. Don’t think you can’t do something. We’ve found our chickens 20 feet up in the trees. Something probably scared them up there in the first place, but now they’re sitting pretty – taking in the lay of the land at their own pace. And imagine how inspiring that chicken is to the others.

-By Jennifer Bull

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Can You Be A Better Leader by Taking One Day a Week to Work at Home — Or To Not Work At All?

At many of our client companies, we see people at high levels working painfully long hours. Part of that seems to be a hangover from the recession, in that they’ve lost head count and have fewer people to get the work done. But you have to wonder if, at a certain point, working excessively long hours has a negative impact on productivity. What would happen if they worked a little less? O maybe worked from some days? Have you ever considered reducing your work week, if even by a few hours? Do things fall apart at the office if we’re not there all the time?

I’m about to find out. Starting next week, I’ll be taking each Monday to work at home on a novel. I’ve promised my agent the next draft by June, and although I’ve been spending early morning and weekend time writing for the past year or so, I won’t make my deadline without taking some time out of the office.

I worried at first that being out an entire day each week would be letting down my team. What if there was an important meeting on a Monday? What if a big project needed to go out at the first of the week?

But by stepping out of the way, even for just a day, I’m leaving room for them to fill the space I usually take up. We have a strong group of talented people here at Tribe, and they know how to do what we do. Our creative director can lead the sessions where we do our initial concepting for projects, and she can make decisions on the work we present without me weighing in. The account team runs without my interference anyway, but when I’m in a client meeting, I tend to do a lot of the talking, so this will give them room to play a larger role — plus be able to get a word in edgewise. My business partner/the president of Tribe is more than equipped to run the show without me, and having us both in meetings is doubling up, in a sense.

What about you? What about your team? Might the people you manage welcome a chance to step up? Could it be good for them if you worked a little less? What could you do in your life if you spent just a little less time at work? You may not be able to spend an entire day each week out of the office, but what would happen if you made the decision not to take work home on the weekends? Or if you made a commitment to leave every day by 6 o’clock? Or tried taking one day a week to work at home?

Personally, I can’t wait to start this experimen
t. I’ll let you know how it goes, but in the meantime, I’d love to hear what you think about how that would work in your office — and your life.