Tag Archives: well-being

Chillin’–A Personal Well-being Primer

Hey Activists….saving the world starts with me dropping one pebble at a time into one pond at a time.

Chillin’ objective: provide a people-friendly, WIIFM-intensive, non-threatening introduction to scientifically validated, self-care disciplines. It’s not weird old hippie stuff, not excruciatingly painful yoga, not mantra-chanting incense-burning meditation, not falling into a self-induced trance from candle-gazing. All of that is too strange for most to even think about trying. But most people don’t realize the damage done by physical and emotional pressures they may not even be aware of. Just as most don’t realize the incredible benefits of actively managing their mental-emotional and physical well-being, and don’t know how easy it can be.

What if there was a way to hit a reset button, neutralizing emotional and physical stressors that can turn your brain to jell-o and can even kill you, quickly or slow but sure?  Simple ways to “chill” your body and mind anytime anywhere without anyone knowing, using scientifically validated techniques that have been practiced for hundreds of years? Would you give it a shot?

I’m no guru, but I have managed to learn how to handle things pretty well most of the time.

Four Easy Essentials

“Mindfulness” is the airy-fairy mystical-sounding rage, but it’s nothing more than being fully aware of something and staying focused on that one thing. Hit File Delete for all the other noise.

It takes little time to practice and learn four essentials that work together: Focus, Breathing, Posture, Routine. Kids easily embrace Chillin’, but most adults have a lot of catching up to do and bad habits to unlearn. It’s OK to ease into it, you can learn the mechanics one at a time. Just don’t lose interest if magical results are not immediate.

(Essential One) Focus–Mental Discipline. An undisciplined mind can be a dictator–chaotic, unruly, a bb in a boxcar. Find a focusing aid, ONE thing to direct your thoughts at: the right music (a couple of examples follow) a physical object, or one thought in particular. My favorite easy Chill routine is the right music in the background while staring into a candle flame, focusing on just the flame, then adding a little mindful breathing. Five minutes can do wonders.

It helps for starters if you’re in the right environment with few distractions, but later you’ll be able to focus enough to block out the distractions around you anytime, anywhere. Just don’t chill so much you snooze in a board meeting.

(Essential Two) Breathing. You know how to breathe already but it’s a little different when you’re in Chill mode. First, focus on every breath—in through your nose, out through your mouth. Use your mental discipline to focus on speed and depth. Park your mind on nothing but breathing…it’s your first focal point! Slow, controlled deep, breaths. It will eventually become second nature.

Most people think their chests should puff way out when they’re deep breathing. Aim lower! With your hand on your diaphragm—middle of your chest just under your breast bone, above your tummy—slowly fill your lungs to maximum capacity. As you breathe in you should feel your stomach push out (no worries…it will go back down!). Deep breathing and singing from the diaphragm is used by accomplished singers because they get more power and control and are able to sing longer phrases. I’m not “accomplished” but I’ve been told by real pros that it works.

(Essential Three) Posture. Your spine is the superhighway for your nervous system and all of your energy flow. I can testify–the spine is critical.

Except for a (really) old football injury, the only back problem I’ve ever had was a few years ago, a nagging muscle issue. The chiropractor probed each vertebrae on both sides of my spine. He finally pressed on one wing and my right arm went totally dead. My back / muscle issue was rooted in the nerve flow regulated by one specific vertebrae wing. Easy fix.

You can get started right now. Lousy posture must be fashionable-quick check: how’s yours right now? Wherever / whenever you are sitting or standing, just straighten your spine! Add a little arms-up stretch and twist while you’re at it. If you’re like most you’re all hunched over and tensed up, and just that minimal movement will pop a few bones. It’s not just an old age thing.

A 10-minute daily yoga routine called The Five Tibetans is a simple stretching sequence that flexes and aligns the spine in the right order. Key words: stretch, flex, align, routine. Stay tuned.

(Essential Four) Routine, First Cousin to Discipline. An old football coach said “practice the way you want to play, because you play the way you practice.” Very zen for a jock in the 70’s but it holds true for sports, music, any hobby, relationships, anything.

Your first self-care session

Discipline / Focus, Breathing and Posture are all in play. This should quickly become a Routine for you. It won’t take long to learn or to realize immediate payback. You can do it any anytime anywhere, without anyone even knowing. If I have a particularly crazy group of students, I’ll do it. If my blood pressure is too high at the doctor’s I say “give me a couple minutes”. They come back, re-do my BP, it’s dropped 20 points. So here’s what you do….

Posture, alignment. Sit in a comfortable chair with your back straight, feet on the ground, thighs parallel to the ground. Rest your hands palm-down on your thighs. Option: cross-legged on the floor if you can. It worked for the Indians, full-blown lotus not required. It kills my ankles so, no. But your spine MUST be straight—that superhighway thing!

Control your breathing. Take slow and deep breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth. Check your diaphragm, it should be moving.

Focus. Close your eyes, focus on every breath—the changing sound of the nose>mouth in>out cycle, how the air feels coming in and going out, your stomach’s movement. Block out thoughts about anything else. Blocking may be rough at first—our minds are power-hungry dictators.

Expand your focus as you get more adept at this kind of breathing, graduating to “whole-body relaxation”. Become fully aware of your body one part at a time. Consciously relax that part. Focus on nothing but that part and how it feels as you fully relax it. On to another part, repeat.

Option to closing your eyes: use a specific focusing object to rest your eyes on. Don’t over-analyze the object, just rest your gaze on it and stay there. Let the object melt away, let your eyes glaze over. (it’s called spacing out, like most men I can do this in a heartbeat). Candle flame works great, but it’s a little awkward to light a candle in a high school classroom.

 

BONUS environmental elements: especially when you’re starting out, if you can choose your location a quiet and secluded, solitary place is ideal. Mood lighting (low) helps too.

Extra-extra bonus: music or white noise helps focus and minimizes noise distractions. Baroque = good. Rap and metal = bad. Anything with lyrics is distracting. Stay tuned for Chillin’ Music.

Let’s Talk a Little Yoga (very little)…The Five Tibetans

How scary is yoga? You’ve heard all about your kundalini and seen the workout vids, right? For most, “kundalini” is some kind of exotic liqueur. I’m 63. I used to be in good shape, athletic, active. But fitness hasn’t been high on my priority list for over a decade. I’ve never followed an exercise regimen of any kind, not even regularly walking. I have never ever obsessed over what I eat, just within reason…a heart attack tends to bring you down to earth. I guess I’m lucky. Maybe stupid. My no-exercise excuse besides no time: I hadn’t found the right routine for me.

I’ve always refused to consider contorting myself to the point of wondering whether I can untie my limbs from the crazy positions those yogis get into. And the Five Tibetans is traditional yoga. But I can easily do this routine. It’s a ten-minute sequence, longer only if you really get into it. But it will work wonders, and it’s scientifically validated to boost physical and emotional well-being. Confession: I need more discipline here!

Read the tutorial and get started easing into things now–linked above.

 

Music Therapy

The science of music therapy is amazing, its broad benefits are impressive and well-validated. It’s so fascinating that it’s tough just to focus on the relaxation aspect, but here goes.

Neuroscientists Discover a Song That Reduces Anxiety By 65 Percent. Excerpts:

Researchers at Mindlab International in the U.K. wanted to know what kind of music induces the greatest state of relaxation. The study involved having participants try to solve difficult puzzles — which inherently triggered a certain degree of stress — while connected to sensors. At the same time, participants listened to a range of songs as researchers measured their brain activity, heart rate, blood pressure and rate of breathing.

They found one song, “Weightless”, resulted in a striking 65 percent reduction in participants’ overall anxiety, and a 35 percent reduction in their usual physiological resting rates.

Interestingly, the song was specifically designed to induce this highly relaxed state. Created by Marconi Union, the musicians teamed up with sound therapists to carefully arrange harmonies, rhythms and bass lines, which in turn slow a listener’s heart rate and blood pressure, while also lowering stress hormones like cortisol.

DOUBLE-DIPPER APPLICATION. Some people need structure or it’s not a “real” song. But sound of any kind is magical. Watch and listen in a quiet and soothing environment, staying focused on the sounds and graphics. And while you’re at it, do your controlled breathing. They’re meant to work together. Weightless, 8min version 

That’s it for now. If you like what you see or have your own favorite routine, leave a response or drop a line craig.althof@gmail.com Please remember…the whole point is to make this as non-intimidating and accessible to regular people as possible. No voodoo, no dead language incantations, no over-the-top spirituality. Just some everyday Chill.

Live Long and Prosper-A Vulcan History Lesson

Logic is the cement of our civilization, with which we ascend from chaos using reason as our guide.” – T’Plana-Hath, Matron of Vulcan Philosophy

Vulcan history is a long journey from ancient civil wars that nearly destroyed Vulcan, to their embracing of logic through the teachings of Surak. Why did Spock’s home planet Vulcan turn its back on emotions in deference to logic?

Vulcans were once barbaric, war-like and “nearly killing themselves off with their own passions“. As half-human Spock put it “Vulcan, like Earth, had its aggressive, colonizing period; savage even by Earth standards. There was a time in the past when we were an extremely violent race. We nearly destroyed ourselves. Paranoia and homicidal rage were common.” A small group of early Vulcans, reported to be liberals, began to mentally train themselves to suppress their emotions.

None too soon. Vulcan was tearing itself apart. Rampant emotions and a hostile warrior culture led to many widespread wars using terrible weapons like atomic bombs and the Stone of Gol. But the philosopher Surak made a radical proposition: lead a life governed by logic rather than emotion. His teachings showed Vulcans a path towards peace and they quickly spread. Spock reflected on the shift to logic: “We were once wildly emotional, committed to irrationally opposing points of view, leading, of course, to death and destruction. Only the discipline of logic saved my planet from extinction.

Vulcans are not natural paragons of emotionless logic. They are actually far too emotional for their own good. Their natural disposition is quite earthly human: erratic, volatile and quick to anger. So they go to great lengths to suppress their natural feelings with disciplined mind control. The Vulcan embracing of logic includes an iron discipline about feelings – an almost Buddhist extermination of the ego, freeing the person from illogical emotional impulses.

Spock was only half-Vulcan, the offspring of a human schoolteacher and a Vulcan father. This created a deep, ongoing and powerful conflict between logic and emotion, described by Earth counterpart Leonard Nimoy as … “struggling to maintain a Vulcan attitude, a Vulcan philosophical posture and a Vulcan logic, opposing what was fighting him internally, which was human emotion.”

Of my friend, I can only say this: of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most… human. (Kirk’s eulogy for Spock)

The Vulcan culture survived and thrived. End of history lesson.

(Two sources for Vulcan history: http://memory-alpha.wikia.com/wiki/Vulcan_history  and http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/features/the-vulcan-way-how-to-live-long-and-prosper-1672660.html

Is There a Lesson?

Earth is embroiled in civilization-threatening conflict. The dark side of our emotional human nature is becoming more and more dominant with greed, power-grabbing, corruption, indifference to others, brutal killings, senseless wars that are somehow always logically or morally justified.

But the Vulcan civilization survived a similar crisis and thrived. What can we learn from our distant homo sapiens cousins? Must we also banish emotions in deference to logic?

Earth’s humans face a dual threat: 1) rampant emotions and whacked out values fueling phobias and paranoia, hatred, bigotry, “me first” nationalism; and 2) blunt-force logic: cold, calculating, it’s-only-business, inhuman disregard for others in deference to profit, possessions  and power.

There’s a significant difference between Earth’s and Vulcan’s strain of homo sapiens. Our issue is more complex than Vulcans faced. Earth’s science community has determined that social-emotional attributes are what makes Earth humans human. Our emotional, impulsive, intuitive side is our redeeming quality, but it may also become our downfall.

Human emotion is as essential to our survival as the physical environment. We thrive on intangibles like sense of purpose, living by our values, healthy personal relationships, belonging / being part of a strong community. As social well-being has been found to intertwine with physical well-being these are critical to sustaining the species. It’s also been verified that social-emotional well-being drives achievement and success, as well as physical health and longevity.

But there’s a down side to strong emotions rooted in the way the brain and body interact.

Emotional input or negative experiences trigger a highly sensitized involuntary fear response that is so strong it can block out logical thought. These negative external stimuli can trigger brain trauma which causes the involuntary reactions due to our “fight or flee” instinct.  A traumatized brain can be a tired, hungry, worried, rejected, or detached brain which causes a person to have feelings of isolation, worry, angst, and fear.

When a threat, either real or perceived, is felt the brain and body both prioritize survival. Both go through changes to enable rapid scanning for physical warning signs and emotional signals of unsafe conditions.  We react to signals physiologically, our irritated limbic system increases blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration with an excessive secretion of stimuli—cortisol and adrenaline—pumping through our bodies.

We’ve long known about the potential physical damage from stress responses. Chronic activation of this fear response can damage parts of the brain as well as the body due to elevated stress levels. While humans are naturally social creatures that thrive on and crave social connection and attachment to others, if we encounter physical or emotional danger problem solving, reflection, and emotional regulation are compromised and diminished.

(Brain theory information is from Brains in Pain Cannot Learn! )

So, What’s a Human To Do?

For humans, our emotions are a good thing. We cannot survive without them. But an over-leveraged strength can become a weakness. So, how do we embrace our emotional strengths while keeping them in check? Mindfulness and meditation, even at a very basic level, can do wonders. So can rediscovering our true selves (purpose values, norms, belonging…). But body and mind are one system. So don’t forget the bean sprouts. And sensible exercise too. It’s not all esoteric pixie dust.

Humanity’s struggle to harness our emotions is a matter of species survival. Thankfully, there is a broad and potentially powerful awakening underway. Live long and prosper ….indeed! As Spock would exclaim, with one pointed eyebrow raised for added emphasis…. “Fascinating!”

Process is Process-Education Too

I grew up in manufacturing— making stuff, delivering on customer expectations, process control, hitting the numbers. Time to go back to my roots for some common-sense introductory process management. For those in the education business, this applies to you too.

How Things Work: Three-minute New Hire Orientation

Each process step adds value to incoming material (inputs) by transforming the product in some way. Process specifications are based on customer needs and requirements. The customer may be the next step in the overall process or the end user. Minor defects may be repaired, but if a product is too far out-of-spec it becomes unusable. Too many unusable units from one step can bring the entire process to a grinding halt. If the production schedule is missed, heads will roll.

Internal or external customers do not appreciate having to cover a supplier’s mistakes by reworking substandard units to make the product fit for use. Repairs are costly and repaired units are not as functional as those made right the first time. If product is too far out of spec it is scrapped, a huge bottom line drain and productivity killer. And resources are diverted to make up for lost units. If a supplier cannot resolve its process issues and consistently meet requirements for both quantity and quality, the customer may have no choice but to find another supplier.

Common reasons for missed requirements are simple to resolve: unclear, poorly communicated or ignored customer specs. Business is pretty simple too: customers reward suppliers who meet needs and punish those who do not. In a market-driven world, if you keep the customer happy you stay in business. Don’t and you’ll have trouble keeping the doors open.

perpertual gitRdone2small

Process is Process, Customers are Customers…Usually. Education is the sole supplier of human resources to the employer and community markets. Education is an out-of-control process. Don’t hate on me yet, my academic friends. There’s a valid reason and it’s not all your fault for a change!

Education is not market-driven and finding another supplier is not an option when the vendor is the education system. Employers and communities are captive customers, they are co-designers of their prison. They have not been actively involved, have not helped education set goals and develop curriculum based on customer needs and expectations, have not provided performance feedback, have not helped the supplier meet those expectations.

Wait, you say…”what makes you think Education even wants our outsider help? They’ll only snub us if we meddle in their affairs.” Is that a valid assumption? Think about the eight ball Education is behind with the demand to deliver more with fewer resources. Sounds like your world, doesn’t it Mr. Operations Manager? Maybe you should challenge those assumptions and feather your own nest while you’re at it.

Problem Analysis

Current State: the education process transforms raw material called students. The output of the education process enters the workforce and community. Both customers are impacted by an under-developed talent pool and poorly prepared future citizens. Productivity is falling, social issues are rising, grads do not have a purpose or clear path forward. Outputs can be customers too.

Problem Statement:  customers’ needs and expectations have not been clearly communicated to the supplier. Traditional driving metrics are cost per unit, capacity utilization and velocity of product through the system. The new standard is first-time quality: make it right the first time with “rightness” determined by how fully requirements are met. Conflicting goals among performance measures are common in the private sector among the Holy Trinity of cost, capacity, throughput. And then along comes quality. Education faces the same conflicts.

Can you really achieve low cost, rapid production with full asset utilization and high quality at the same time?  Traditional management thinking says there is give and take. But years ago W. Edwards Deming identified variation as Public Enemy Number One. The more a process is in-control, the more consistently high quality the outputs are as the process is more capable of hitting spec dead-on, not just within broad upper and lower spec limits. And Phil Crosby proposed decades ago that “Quality is Free”. Poor quality eats your lunch–rework, scrap, lost production, missed deliveries, poor attitudes.

Marginally out-of-spec outputs can often be reworked. But repair is expensive, it doesn’t add new value, it consumes time, it can never make something as good as an original produced right the first time. The supplier falls behind, and is producing sub-par goods for the customer.

When the process cannot consistently provide in-spec product (students), it’s time to invest in upgrading the process. Universal Truth: the cost of limping along on old, incapable equipment far outweighs the cost of re-tooling an entire production facility. Evolve or die.

Education determines crystal clear academic requirements for students. But there is little input from customers, just after-the-fact complaints. Because customer needs are not being met Education is labeled an unreliable supplier with out of control processes. Impact: the private sector and society have significant problems. Education is in the middle-both impacted by, and part of, the issues.

All Things Considered….

Root Cause: if requirements are not accurate up-front, no amount of downstream fine-tuning can make up for it. And there are no customer requirements in the education process.

Resolution: a customer/supplier partnership to set requirements early in the academic life cycle. Use requirements to develop curriculum, learning objectives and outcomes. Then, set controls in place to ensure those requirements are consistently met throughout the entire education process.

The Spec That Matters Most comes from the customer. Learning objectives must be driven throughout the education cycle by customer needs. Collaboration ensures that needs and expectations are realistic, truly critical to output quality, and clearly communicated.

The Learner Goal That Matters Most is to make sure learners have a vested interest in their education, that they are hopeful for what’s ahead, and they can see that education will help them get to a promising, desirable future.

The Education Process Output That Matters Most is highly engaged young people who are ready to take on the world, regardless of what comes at them.

The US is market-driven, we’re used to it. Process management and customer requirements in a market-driven system are common sense and necessary. We’ve dropped the ball here with education because we’re not very good at Big Picture thinking. Here’s the key:

Until we consider education, society and the private sector as part of one big system we’ll continue down the same path and get the same results.

Those results have been unacceptable.

It’s Much More Than ‘Employee’ Engagement

Engagement efforts are mostly focused on employees and the workplace. That’s where the money is. Companies get impressive bottom line improvements if they understand and use the right engagement levers to turn the key that unlocks employees’ overdrive. Consultants get rich selling their unique engagement potions to companies that get richer and want more.

Not many consultants are making their mark helping boost student engagement in schools, or helping local governments increase citizen engagement and community involvement, or helping civic groups boost their membership’s engagement. What is the dollar impact of disengagement in those areas anyway? And what’s the payback for me as a consultant? Why bother?

None of those will pay the bills, Junior. Stick with “employee engagement”.

It’s rare you see something on “engagement” without the other “e” word-“employee”. But we’ve suboptimized the benefits and potential impact of engagement by focusing so much on how only workers are engaged. People are engaged when they are fully connected and committed to an endeavor or course of action, whatever the endeavor may be. They are willing and able to put extra effort into getting the job done and doing it well, whatever the job may be. Performance, goal attainment, individual satisfaction and well-being all get a boost from higher engagement in whatever the area may be.

Engagement is a game-changer for more than just the workplace. It applies to students, citizens, family members, and social / civic groups too.

Disengaged employees piddle around, complain too much about nothing and do just what they need to, to get by….almost. They’ll leave soon as they can find a more promising place to piddle around, a workplace where they can more freely whine.

That’s a little sarcasm, of course. Some companies and their leaders go out of the way to come up with stupid ways to disengage their employees, or they just don’t care. Those companies and leaders usually get what they deserve, or don’t get all that they could from their people.

Lost productivity and attrition are the heavy hitters, easy to put a value on. So the impact of employee disengagement is easy to measure. But how do you assign dollar impact to disengagement in those other areas? Consider the following symptoms:

  • Disengaged students don’t care about their education. They tune out and under-perform. Worst case, they drop out of school. They see little promise for the future, little hope they have a chance of becoming anything but a bad statistic. The social and economic cost of student disengagement is huge, as is the tragedy and dollar amount of wasted potential.
  • When a social or civic group’s membership is disengaged, the organization may simply cease to exist or become irrelevant. Nothing of any importance happens. Membership becomes little more than a token, obligatory gesture, an excuse to get out of the house.
  • Disengaged citizens don’t bother to be informed or involved. What’s the point? Many of those who do vote don’t have the information they need to make good decisions. People don’t care about the community and it goes to hell physically. There is a steady rise in civil and legal problems, and an abundance of increasingly significant social issues. People can’t get the hell out of Dodge fast enough…if they can escape at all.

I’ve studied the more prevalent engagement models and identified the following attributes of an environment that supports high engagement. They are pretty much the same whether work, school, community or civic / social group. If you want more than my selection, study any engagement model. Better, look at several and find the common elements that support high engagement. These are mine.

Universal Attributes

  1. Relationships built on caring and trust: no matter our age we all need to be nurtured. Humans thrive when someone truly cares about them. Not about what they do or how much they do or how well they do it…but they actually care about US.
  2. Sense of Purpose: what makes you get up in the morning; being involved in something that matters long-term; making a difference in the grand scheme of things;
  3. Community: humans are social creatures and have been throughout history, banding together in tribes for safety and companionship. But it’s more than strength in numbers, more than birds-of-a-feather. We have a basic human need to be part of a group;
  4. Values-centered: we’re drawn to situations where our values are at least somewhat in alignment. We can experience considerable discomfort when our values are stifled or contradicted, even when we’re not aware of what our values are. We know something’s not right, we just don’t know what or why
  5. Clear Expectations and Feedback: we’re more willing to take a trip if there’s a roadmap for how to get from here to there. People are driven to make a meaningful contribution. They need to know they’re doing the right things and how they are doing real-time. Even better is if the destination is compelling, and if the route and the tasks to accomplish are…
  6. Connected to Vision: Moses didn’t just say “let’s go wander aimlessly in the desert for a few decades” even though that’s the way it turned out due to a major error in judgment. They set out for the Promised Land. Connecting to vision can be as simple as providing the “why” behind the “what” and having a line of sight from everyday tasks to the top goals of the organization.
  7. Opportunity to Shine: when people do what they do best and truly enjoy doing, they are likely to produce more exceptional results. Satisfaction and well-being skyrockets, leading to even more impressive performance. It’s a reinforcing loop and common sense too.

Most of the mainstream models concur: these are the heavy hitter levers of engagement. What do you think? Any to add?

The Acid Test: you may not have given much thought to them before but whether or not you know it those attributes affect you. As they are heavily influenced by values, relative importance varies person-to person. How important are each of the attributes to you? I put the attributes in priority order when I do my gut-check, highly recommended….

Personal Application: do a well-being check-up using the attributes when something changes in your environment or you’re bothered by something but not sure what’s wrong…or even if you are feeling especially energized. We’re prolific firefighters, we thrive on trouble-shooting problems. It can also be extremely valuable to assess the situation when things are going exceptionally well, so we know what to emulate to make more good stuff happen later.

Your Assignment: build a spreadsheet with the attributes as row titles and these four areas as column headers: Work; School; Community; Family. Describe how each of the attributes is relevant to each area, and how important each of the attributes are to each area. Last: how great is the impact of each attribute on each of the four areas?

Engagement Cross-Attributes

Closing Thoughts

There is a physical and emotional buzz that comes with being highly engaged. It is both addicting and contagious. If you’re engaged at work, it’s more likely you’ll also be a highly engaged citizen and family member. Highly engaged students not only do better in school, they are also more likely to be highly engaged employees, have a happy and successful family life and will become involved, contributing, productive community members. Highly engaged family members and model citizens are typically model employees, successful in the private sector.

If you’re surrounded by highly engaged people you’re going to catch the bug from them, and others can catch it from you. But the reverse holds true too: disengagement is highly contagious, and crossover disengagement is an extremely destructive force. Again, it’s a reinforcing loop and common sense.

You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make. (Jane Goodall)

Good for What Ails Us

Engagement theory is well-known and has been heavily researched for years. The things that enable a high-engagement environment are also well-known, and their impacts well-validated.

Focusing only on employee engagement undermines impact potential. Engagement is contagious with a probability of crossover. Engagement-minded leaders have broader influence and impact than in just their primary sphere of influence. True for private sector, education or community.

Business leaders, government officials, education professionals, community and civic leaders—all would do well to understand the power of engagement, leverage the appropriate engagement attributes within their sphere of influence, and then reach further out.

It’s much more than employee engagement. It’s for the greater good.

The Natural Order of Things

I’ve been on a mission to develop a working understanding of the interrelationships among and the dynamics of impact and influence; values and values-based leadership; engagement, well-being and the Greater Good. In doing so, I’ve tried to stay objective, formulating a hypothesis then setting out to refute it—trying to prove my hunch wrong.

But every path I followed ended up at the same destination, the hypothesis refused to go down in flames: organizational sustainability begins with me. For a company to achieve performance excellence and sustainable maximum results, it must invest in helping people connect with what is truly important to them personally. What drives them—not at work, but what is their life’s mission? What values influence their daily actions and help them set personal priorities?
Without people who are well-connected and personally aligned to their personal purpose and values, excellence and sustainability and all that other bottom line stuff is simply out of reach.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. But I’d love to see alternative views, so what do you think? The whole thing is a bit long, here’s a link to The Natural Order–the whole enchilada.

The New Wellbeing-a Trifecta WIN

I have been an employee engagement addict since my first experimentation in 1996 with Gallup’s Q-12 process. I am currently a “guru” in the UK’s Engage for Success movement, not noted as a resume feather but because e4s is an essential connector to experts and thinkers in this area that helps keep me up-to-date.

This past summer, a hospital CEO friend introduced me to Blue Zones (see below) and the new, proactive direction of health care management for providers. At the same time, e4s published a report that establishes an undeniable connection between well-being and engagement. Last, I discovered that my home state of Iowa has embarked on a Healthiest State Initiative,  which uses the Gallup-Healthways report noted below

It was exciting that my old friend Gallup is moving in parallel with my evolving personal interests! But what sealed the deal for me was that several key indicators of well-being are also among the critical drivers of high-engagement. Result of this Summer of Discovery… I am hopelessly caught up in this new collaborative initiative where well-being and engagement join forces.

I do hope you’ll check the links. Well-being is way more than just a slogan or an occasional CSR event that generates another t-shirt (I have a closet full). Well-being is a trifecta win and deserves to be front and center.

WIN for Me
Personally embracing well-being helps you live a longer, healthier, happier life. But the parameters of “well-being” have grown. It’s no longer just about bean sprouts and exercise. Well-being is also impacted by spiritual things: sense of community or belonging, being part of something greater than “me” or having a purpose or calling, living within a strong values base, personally and professionally.

I pay marginal attention to exercise and diet, I’m far from an exercise nut. Way far from. But those spiritual elements are dead-center in the middle of the world of engagement, therefore wildly important to me. And that “live long and prosper” thing is pretty tantalizing too.

WIN for Organizations
Healthier people are more productive and not just because they are at work rather than home sick. The cost of poor health for business is huge, and the social price tag is equally staggering. Even Harvard economics guru Michael Porter weighed in on this, in the context of shared value:  “There are numerous ways in which addressing societal concerns can yield productivity benefits to a firm. Consider, for example, what happens when a firm invests in a wellness program. Society benefits because employee and their families become healthier, and the firm minimizes employee absences and lost productivity.”

Springing from Porter’s shared value, Triple Pundit’s core philosophy is that the economy, environment and society are inseparably related, and an understanding of all three is critical to long term profitability.

Is it just me, or is promoting well-being a high-impact sustainability strategy?

WIN for Community
People and employers co-exist in the community. When citizens are generally physically and spiritually healthy, the community overall is a vibrant one. When a community’s citizens are spiritually and physically healthy, social issues—crime, drug use, abuse, truancy and dropout rates—all improve.

Citizens are also employees. A healthy citizenry and robust surrounding community means local organizations have a deep, well-stocked talent pool in their back yard. Recruiting and retention are both a breeze—people want to relocate to the community, and they want to stay. In other words, the entire region’s economic development status gets a major boost.

I have this urge to build one of those three-circled diagrams with the sweet spot in the middle. That sweet spot is the Trifecta WIN. The really important thing: the relationship is a reinforcing loop / virtuous circle. Each one of the three impacts the other two. So, how to kick things into motion?

Billion-dollar Questions
1. Which stakeholder stands to gain the most from well-being? Answer: ALL THREE.
2. Which of the three stakeholders is in the best position to have a major impact on well-being? Answer: while it starts with “me” the most influential institutional force in our adult lives that can trigger broad benefits is the employer.
So, what’s the holdup?

(a little more information…)

Blue Zones
In 2004, author / traveler Dan Buettner drew a really tough assignment from National Geographic: identify pockets around the world where people lived longer. He found several areas where people reached age 100 ten times more often than in the United States. Scientists then went to each location to study what could explain the difference in longevity and found that all these pockets had nine common lifestyle characteristics.

The real kicker for me is that these life-prolonging characteristics include both physical and spiritual elements. Purpose, values, connecting, social networks, family and sense of community all lead to a better, longer life. Still, most of the well-being community continues to lock in on the physical aspects only. Is it because that spiritual stuff is a little weirder therefore harder for people to embrace?

The Gallup-Healthways Report  (link to recent reports)
Healthways and Gallup conduct an annual analysis of well-being across the United States. In true Gallup bigger-is-better fashion, more than 178,000 interviews were conducted on physical and emotional health, healthy behaviors, work environment, social and community factors, financial security, and access to necessities such as food, shelter and healthcare. And it is ongoing: “Gallup conducts 500 telephone interviews a day with Americans to gather their perceptions of well-being, for a resulting sample that represents an estimated 95 percent of all U.S. households.”

From the introduction pages of the 2013 Gallup / Healthways report: “…individually, high well-being means a life well-lived—all the things that are important to each of us, what we think about, and how we experience our lives. In the aggregate, high well-being means healthier populations, more productive and profitable businesses, and more economically vibrant communities….Where a culture of well-being takes hold, positive health, cost, and productivity outcomes follow…. Simply stated, people with higher well-being cost less and perform better.”

“Well-being is about the interaction between physical health, finding your daily work and experiences fulfilling, having strong social relationships and access to the resources you need, feeling financially secure, and being a part of a true community.” (Tom Rath, Gallup / Healthways Report intro)

Hugging Trees Triggers High Engagement. Seriously!

I’m a “green” guy. I spent the last five years with a wind turbine blade manufacturing plant and learned quite a bit about environmental and energy issues. This started as a green piece then it took a hard right turn into what many feel is the most powerful driver of engagement, self included…having a higher Purpose, hearing “the calling” of your work.
Climate change. What a topic to be polarized and politicized. Is it or isn’t it man-made? Answer: yes, no, maybe, who cares?

Let’s look at a just few basic indisputables without getting all scientific, quantitative and other know-it-all tactics…first, we do know that fossil fuels produce greenhouse gas emissions, and we are fairly certain the stuff is not a good thing to spew into the atmosphere. We do know that greenhouse gases do something bad to the ecosystem. How much bad is irrelevant, bad is bad.

Indisputable two: fossil fuels are not limitless, they will run out. How soon is irrelevant. Is it OK to continue our addiction because there’s enough to last us through our lifetime? I’m at a point in life where I worry about my kids and grandkids. I can’t accept my generation staying selfishly addicted, passing the addiction on to them and letting them figure out how to go cold turkey.

One more indisputable, just because three is a good number…it’s not dwelled on much but traditional production of energy guzzles millions of gallons of water. Water is a finite resource, we’re seeing localized shortages already. And humans kind of need the stuff.

There’s another energy indisputable or two surrounding nuclear plants, but I won’t go there for now. We’ve seen disasters with long-term impacts, and fairly recently. Oh, and what about this “fracking” business for extracting natural gas from shale beds?

What it comes down to: if something is bad, if you have a choice you should consider doing less of it. If it’s good, do more of it.

It scares me more than a little that we feel entitled to take and do whatever gives us immediate pleasure and is most convenient. Native Americans and other early people got it-they understood that we are Earth Mother’s guests, and as stewards we have huge responsibilities.

As Forrest Gump said “and that’s all I have to say about that.” On to engagement and triggering higher levels of productivity, profit, retention and other highly coveted bottom line items.

Every study I’ve read (correct me if you’ve found a relevant exception!) reports that sense of purpose is a huge contributor to higher levels of engagement. If people feel they are making an impact on the greater good, that they are involved in something way more important than doing mindless stuff that earns a paycheck they are more committed, more tuned in, more emotionally attached, more satisfied. More productive. Give people good reason to care and to stick around, and they just may do both. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Gallup references “The Calling” and the UK’s Engage for Success movement highlights “Strategic Narrative”. If you’re interested, I pulled together links to these and more for another project, in References for Establishing Purpose. There are several valuable sources here—I hope you’ll indulge yourself. Also, here’s an earlier post of relevance: What’s the Purpose?

In my tenure with the wind turbine blade builder, one of my regular assignments was to spend two hours with new hires. We had a huge attrition problem, so the orientation sessions were very frequent. My slot was inherited from the plant GM—an introduction to the company, the plant, and most importantly the industry. I knew from studying engagement theory that “purpose” was an essential so I really dug into the pros and cons of alternative energy vs the fossils. Goal: help new hires understand the significance of what they were embarking on which I proposed was nothing less than a mission to make the world a better place for our and especially for future generations—MY grand kids and theirs. I was shameless, didn’t pull any punches…used pictures of my grand kids to make the point more real and it choked me up every time.

There were several instances of people on the floor even a year or two after they started, telling me that segment made a lasting impression on them. My gut says that 2-hour investment helped good people decide to stick around and maybe to put a little more effort into their work. Unfortunately, that two hour segment ended up being dropped by the powers that be.

Moral of the story: an opportunity to communicate one of the most powerful Purpose narratives around—making the world a better place—was squandered rather than emphasized.

Two take-aways I hope you’ll have:

  1. Understand the issues behind the environmental debate. There’s a lot at stake.
  2. Find your Purpose, personal and professional. Leaders, help others hear their calling. There’s a lot at stake.

What do you think?