Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Gamify It: The Power Of Competition

The drive to compete is hardwired into the human brain. In the most primal sense, we are driven to compete for food and for mates. Once those two are squared away, that competitive urge seeks other ways to be satisfied.

People like to compete. It gets the blood moving and lifts the spirits. In short it’s fun.

The urge to compete is a valuable tool for employee engagement. If you want people to pay attention, whether it’s to a new intranet or the need to complete an employee survey, try gamifying it.

How do you do that? Try an online scavenger hunt with questions that lead them to the intranet to find the answers. Put one department against another for percentage of participation in the employee survey.

It’s not about the prize; it’s about winning. The rewards don’t have to be huge, although at Tribe we’ve found people will do almost anything to win an iPad. The prize can be a $25 gift card, or an early quitting time on Friday, or even a candy bar. What matters most is getting employees fired up about a little friendly competition.

Our employees at Tribe love to compete. We’re currently in the early weeks of our almost-annual fitness competition, but we’ve also been known to begin a status meeting with a contest to see who can fill in the most states correctly in a photocopied map of the United States. We also have an annual wine tasting competition with cash prizes for identifying the most wines and guessing the most expensive and the cheapest wine correctly.

Although our most long-running competition is the stopwatch thing. Employees are challenged to start and stop the stopwatch in the least amount of time possible. The prize? Nothing more than bragging rights. But around here, that counts for a lot.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

The Zen Of Not Multi-Tasking

Try doing just one thing at a time. For most of us, multitasking is so ingrained in the way we work and live that it feels like we’re wasting time to focus on only one activity.

The irony is that it seems to slow time down. When your brain is not switching back and forth between multiple functions, you’re able to focus more fully on what you’re doing, and in many cases complete the task more quickly.

But that’s hard to believe when you’re busy. I have an awful habit of continuing to type on my computer when someone comes into my office with something they want to talk about. Sometimes they do catch me mid-thought and I just want to finish that one sentence of whatever I was writing. But beyond that, it would benefit us both if I could break away from the keyboard and truly listen to what they came to say.

Besides that, it would be more enjoyable. Being distracted by someone talking to me when I’m writing is a little agitating. If I’m either just having a conversation or just writing, I find both a lot more satisfying. How about you?

The Quantum Wellness Cleanse aka “Why I Ate Dinner by Myself for 18 Days”

I will no longer roll my eyes when a friend is on a new diet or doing a cleanse while I savor each bite of my bacon cheeseburger. Doing a cleanse was not my idea, it was Elizabeth’s, the CEO and President of Tribe. She weighs as much as I did in seventh grade, but thought it would be a good idea.

“No alcohol, caffeine, gluten, sugar, or animal products and it’s just for 21 days,” said Elizabeth with her usual upbeat perkiness. I’m just an occasional drinker on the weekends; only drink caffeine once every couple of months, so really only giving up three things for three weeks couldn’t be that hard. I agreed to participate and was excited to see how “cleansed” I would become. I was also curious to see if I would lose any weight. Elizabeth typed up a list of what we couldn’t eat, what we could eat, and some menu suggestions.

After the first week, I thought I’d flip through Kathy Freston’s “Quantum Wellness Cleanse” book to see if there were any other food suggestions. I discovered this is actually more than just a cleanse, I was supposed to meditate each day as well. I’ve never meditated before, but since I would also never dream of being a vegan, I thought I would do it for the rest of the cleanse. I flipped to the day to find my daily meditation. It was to say on the inhale “I am” exhale, “stronger than food.” While that simple phrase endlessly entertains me, I decided to only stick to the diet aspect of the cleanse.

After eating beans, rice and salad for a week, I needed to get creative. My boyfriend bravely came over for dinner to be served quinoa spaghetti with vegan gluten free organic pasta sauce. I mixed in a bag of frozen vegetables and a side of Vans’ wheat gluten free waffles. Being the good sport that he is, he just sat down, smiled and said “I’ve never had waffles with spaghetti before.”

I made it through day 19 of the cleanse and decided I had enough. Days 20 and 21 were Saturday and Sunday and I wanted to enjoy my weekend. I lost seven pounds and had a new appreciation for not having food allergies. Taking the time to read all the packages to make sure my food didn’t contain gluten was such a pain.

I also realize I might be lactose intolerant. Either that or maybe my cleansed body prefers not to be filled with deep fried delicious mozzarella gooiness smothered in creamy Parmesan dressing. Hard to say. This cleanse definitely made me more conscience about how certain foods make me feel. And when you think about it, who wouldn’t love to lose seven pounds? I’m happy Elizabeth suggested I do it and I’m glad that I did.

The Right Words at the Right Time During Change

Change happens. For any company that wants to continue to remain relevant in their given industry, it’s essential that they’re prepared to develop new ways to reach their customers. Change may be a necessary ingredient of success when it comes to corporations, but how it relates to an organizations workforce is another matter.

People enjoy security when it comes to their careers. When changes in the company start to occur, it can sometimes cause a bit of anxiety and concern. These feelings can cause employees to think about looking at other job opportunities they believe will give them a stronger sense of security. Your company doesn’t want to lose talent you’ve already invested in, so communication is key to keeping people informed about changes on the horizon and to ease any unnecessary worries. The communication channels Tribe suggests are vehicles such as leadership blogs, internal publications and intranet portals. These are great ways to reach your workforce, but what you communicate is just as important as how you communicate.

Employees need to see the change as an opportunity. Change content should focus on how the company will become stronger and employees will have the chance to update their skills or acquire new career paths. It should be communicated to employees that they are a part of the change. It will be their hard work and dedication that allows the company to alter their direction or make the necessary adjustments to remain competitive in their field.

That being said, the above should be communicated truthfully. If a given change will result in the shedding of jobs and not expanded opportunities, leadership’s credibility with their workforce will take a severe hit and could drastically affect employee confidence in future endeavors.

Simply put, your employees enjoy their comfort. It can be hard for them to accept, but if you focus on the changes creating a stronger sense of stability, and deliver on that promise, your employees will be more likely to support future company endeavors. And that only makes your organization stronger in the long run.

New Generation Non-negotiables

It’s no secret that the new generations think differently about what they want in a job. Companies are adapting in order to be more attractive to these young workers. Recession or not, top tier talent is always hard to find and you need to have some practices in place or they’re never going to pick you for the dance.

Hours are in the eye of the beholder. It used to be all about the nine to five, but that attitude would never cut it with Generation Y. The line between work and home doesn’t really exist. The new norm is checking your iPhone on the weekend. Gen Y has no problem doing this as long as they have some flexibility during the week. Telecommuting programs are also a big plus. Companies are starting to realize that it’s not when the work gets done, as long as it does get done.

They’ve never known a world without technology. They grew up with the Internet, cell phones, iPods and Facebook. It’s the fiber of their being and it’s incorporated into every aspect of their life. Telling them they can’t use it is like telling them they can’t breath. If listening to an iPod at work makes them more efficient, than it’s a win win. How’s your intranet? This should be the hub of the employee experience. All your employees need it but the young ones expect it.

Loyalty is with their team not the company. Gen Y likes to jump jobs about every 18 months. They aren’t loyal to their company but rather to their boss and work. If a Boomer was unhappy with their management they would probably stick it out, but Gen Y will just move on to the next opportunity. Friendship is hugely important and they will often take a job just to work with their friends. They also don’t believe in the career ladder and look at it more like a lattice. They have fluid careers they can start and stop. They just want to be doing what’s important to them.

Making a difference matters. Support for volunteering is a benefit that Gen Y values the most. According to a recent Deloitte survey more than half of workers in there 20s prefer employment at companies that provide volunteer opportunities. By having volunteer programs you will increase your ability to recruit and retain.

It’s really just work/life balance. Everyone wants it not just Gen Y. Figure out what works for your company structure and then align it with what new recruits want. Add a technology spin or a volunteer program and you’ll have happy, productive and engaged young employees.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

The Nice Way To Be Less Stressed At Work

Be nice. When we’re stressed, that quality of niceness is often the first thing to go. When you’re frustrated by a project gone awry, it’s temping to blurt out what you think someone else did wrong. And in a time crunch, it seems a lot faster to skip the common courtesies and just bark your orders to underlings.

But nice helps. It can help grease the skids with those around you, and it’s also makes the situation less stressful for you. Imagine how your body feels when you’re storming around yelling and cussing. And then think about how it feels when you’re being genuinely kind and understanding and compassionate.

We’re all in this together. Whether you’re talking about working with difficult colleagues and making impossible deadlines, or the fact that we all share this one small planet, we’re all up against challenges.

You can connect or you can clash. Every interaction we  have with another is a chance to connect or to be an adversary. Even when you disagree, there’s an opportunity to do it respectfully and graciously.

Try it. The world could use a little more nice.


The Evolution of the Textbook

Apple never ceases to amaze me. They constantly prove that the possibilities are endless. Just when you think it couldn’t get any better, a newer and even faster version is introduced. Whether it is a new phone, app, or other form of technology, customers can always count on Apple to deliver top-of-the-line, cutting edge and user-friendly products that are consistent with the Apple brand.

One of Apple’s more recent developments in particular caught my attention and sparked my interest this week. I’m referring to iPad’s new feature to download textbooks from the App Store. That’s right, textbooks! And available at the low cost of $14.99 or less. Apple announced iBooks 2 for iPad yesterday after partnering with big publishers like McGraw-Hill and Pearson. This is probably going to be one of their largest drivers of revenue to date.

To think, just 2 years ago I was in college, carrying 45 pounds and $500 worth of books on my back when I could of just had a 3 pound tablet in my purse. Needless to say, the current generation of students has it made.

However, with every positive comes a negative. It makes me a little sad to think that my children might never get to see or feel a textbook. It’s a completely different experience to dive into a textbook, to smell the pages, to actually have to look up a term in the glossary instead of typing it into a search box. I know that technology exists to make things easier, but I believe exposing children to technology at too young an age robs them of their ability to problem-solve, to become resourceful and independent. Of course, this is just my opinion. I’m sure I’ll one day be a parent of a 2-year-old who knows how to use an iPhone, but I’d like to think that textbooks and cursive writing will stick around for another decade or so!

What do you feel are the pros and cons of kids using iPads in school instead of textbooks and notepads?

The Internal Brand Message Must Match the External Brand

Mixed messages cause disconnect between brand perception and reality. Historically, companies have had different messages for their internal team while other messages for their consumers take on a completely different perception of the brand altogether.  We know that brand perception is what people actually believe your brand is and it often doesn’t match what you would like your brand to be.

Consistency is king. Having multiple messages and changing them often can leave consumers and employees confused and left to develop their own reality of your brand.  By keeping a consistent message over a long period of time, you will be able to create the brand reality for both consumers and your employees.

All employees should be brand ambassadors. Employees should be your biggest brand ambassadors.  When employees are given different messages internally than you are promoting externally, they aren’t equipped to be an authentic sales force.  By ensuring your team is educated on the same brand message and aware of new campaigns before consumers, you will make them feel empowered.  In turn, your employees will help make your customer believe in the brand you are trying to convey and grow the business.

What can you do to ensure your internal brand and external brand match? One of the first steps it to conduct a brand audit.  An audit will help unify your organization and your messaging by showcasing disconnects. Next, develop a plan to build a consistent brand message across all entities – employee intranets, publications and all consumer advertising.  Having a core brand message is critical to keeping your communication and advertising teams focused on what and how to communicate with both your employees and consumers.  By knowing your disconnects and having a consistent messaging strategy, you will eliminate any grey areas of what you believe your brand is and what a consumer perceives it to be.

Recognizing Hidden Talents

As a manager, your greatest tool is the collection of people working around you.  Behind any successful manager is a staff of talented and driven employees working towards a common goal: providing value to the company. While these employees have likely proven their worth time and again through their everyday job responsibilities, they may have even more to offer than meets the eye. The ability to identify and recognize hidden talents within your workforce can enable you to gain a competitive edge with the resources already available and grow your company from within.

Get to know your staff. Understand their personalities and what they bring to the table. Each employee has their own unique set of skills that may or may not be easy to recognize. Look for trends in their work and identify strengths and weaknesses. Then, find opportunities to showcase their skill set and use them to help achieve specific goals and objectives. Employees will appreciate that you’ve recognized their abilities and see that their talents can make a difference.

Create challenges. Employees are typically driven by competition; use this as a way to increase productivity and elicit new ideas. Develop friendly competitions that will not only increase motivation by allowing employees to step out of their normal routine but also provide an opportunity for them to show you a side you might not have seen before. You never know where the next great idea might come from!

Focus on their future. Talk to your staff individually and find out where they want to be in the future. Professional advancement can only happen when a person is able to grow from their previous position and show the capacity to take on more challenges. Regardless of profession or level, employees are constantly looking to take the next step. Determine where they’d like to be down the road and set personal goals for them to get there by expanding on their current responsibilities. The talent to get to the next level may be there but they might not have needed it to this point in their career.

The next time you have a major challenge to take on, let your employees show you what they can do. Too often managers will look for outside expertise when the capability to get the job done is right under their nose. Instead, trust in your staff and give them the chance to surprise you.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

How Silence Can Improve Your Career and Reduce Your Stress

Are you afraid of silence? Our culture certainly encourages us to fill our days with noise, whether it’s by having the TV on all the time or keeping ourselves so busy we never have time to stop and spend a few minutes in quiet.

Spending time in silence is one of the best ways to cultivate that inner voice. In business, your intuition is one of your most valuable assets. In my experience, the more you listen for that guidance, and the more you act on it, the stronger your intuition becomes.

The Quakers know about the power of silence. From what I understand, their worship services do not include a sermon from a minister or priest. A Friend’s meeting begins and ends with sitting together in silence, and the silence in between is broken only when someone feels moved to stand up and share some insight.

The disciplined silence is intended to help one hear that still, small voice inside. I believe members of the Religious Society of Friends would say they are listening for the voice of God or spirit. If that concept makes you uncomfortable, just stick with the idea of listening for your own inner wisdom.

That inner wisdom can help you make better decisions at work. If you will trust it, you’ll quickly find that it is a shortcut to productivity and success. Silence can help clear away all the mental clutter that prevents us from seeing clearly what we should do next.

The simplicity of silence can also help you live a less stressful life. The enforced stillness of sitting silently can help quiet that constant to-do list in your mind. You also might find that life seems to move at a more comfortable pace when you approach it with the calm gained in silence.