Author: liz

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I don’t take pictures, the pictures take me.” – photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson

What is it about the corporate environment that makes listening such a difficult-to-achieve skill?

A sampling of the 345m Google search results from the phrase “listen better”:

  • Fast Company: How One Simple Change Can Make You A Better Listener
  • Forbes: 10 Steps To Effective Listening
  • Harvard Business Review: Everything You Need to Know About Becoming a Better Listener

Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts, argues that there is a cultural bias towards extroverts in the business world because we tend to favor action over contemplation and charismatic over bland personalities. Yet, considering a third to half of the population are introverts, it would behoove us to reconsider. Especially since, introverts “listen more than they talk, think before they speak.”

In fact, according to Adam Grant of the Wharton School and Francesca Gino at Harvard Business School:

“In a dynamic, unpredictable environment, introverts are often more effective leaders—particularly when workers are proactive, offering ideas for improving the business. Such behavior can make extroverted leaders feel threatened. In contrast, introverted leaders tend to listen more carefully and show greater receptivity to suggestions, making them more effective leaders of vocal teams.”

While listening may come naturally to introverts, are there ways to effectively cultivate it (besides reading how-to articles)?

I recommend a creative outlet. The link between listening and creativity is tied to relinquishing control. We have to let go of the outcome, be receptive and embody vulnerability to truly explore an idea and, in fact, a conversation. The act of being able to live for an extended period of time in ambiguity requires the same mentality whether creating a new type of art or listening to an unfolding discussion.

A frequent refrain from artists is that the material “speaks” to them. Whether your material is a blank canvas or an employee, letting creative ideas surface requires the act of listening. Give it a try and you may be surprised by the results.

“Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.”

As the new administration fails us on inclusivity, corporate America has an opportunity to set an example. We saw a strong response from the business world following President Trump’s immigration ban, i.e. Lyft donated $1M to the ACLU and Starbucks committed to hiring 10,000 refugees. However, companies need to be thinking and acting on Diversity & Inclusion all of the time not only because of values, but because it makes good business sense:

  • Gender-diverse companies are 15% and ethnically-diverse companies are 35% more likely to outperform their peers.
  • Companies with more women on their boards outperform their peers over a long period of time.
  • Inclusive teams outperform their peers by 80% in team-based assessments.

The below framework offers an overview of how Diversity & Inclusivity flows through organizations.

Bersin by Deloitte’s Diversity and Inclusion Framework

Cultivating a diverse and inclusive culture is a win-win for companies. Diversity & Inclusion drive innovation through:

1. Employee Resource Groups

  • Based on the company’s internal LGTB Employee Resource Groups, Clorox’s Burt’s Bees® launched it’s first LGTB-targeted product. Miriam Lewis, Principal Consultant, HR, noted that “inclusion equals innovation.”

Burt’s Bees Limited Edition Rainbow Pride Lip Balm Pack

2. Knowledge Management

    • Walmart initiated monthly CEO-hosted Town Hall Meetings, annual Associate Opinion Surveys, and an Open Door process to create an environment where ideas surface and grow. These actions resulted in direct business strategies with:
      • Money Center: Walmart offers millions of unbanked and underserved customers a series of low-cost financial services through in-store Money Centers (check cashing, bill payments, money transfers, MoneyCard, etc.).
      • Direct Farm: a global program focused on driving agricultural sustainability. In 2010, Walmart China engaged more than 470,000 farmers in the Direct Farm program. The company endeavors to reduce produce waste by 15 percent while upgrading 15 percent of Direct Farm program products from Green to Organic certified.

3. Diverse Employee’s Perspectives

    • At L’Oréal USA, Balanda Atis, a group leader in research and innovation, initiated a project to explore problems non-Caucasian women face. “As a woman with darker skin, I have always had a difficult time in trying to find a shade of foundation that was appropriate for my skin tone. Furthermore, I know that this is a concern for consumers.” Her team conducted a series of interviews nationally with women and measured skin tones. Atis and a team of scientists demonstrated scientifically that women of color have specific needs giving the company a competitive advantage leading to Mizani, a L’Oréal brand that targets women of color.

Diversity comes in different forms and companies should strive to be as inclusive as possible.

Visible and Invisible Diversity Traits


Steve Jobs said, “The source of wealth and capital in this new era is not material things … it is the human mind, the human spirit, the human imagination and our faith in the future.” Let’s cultivate that and create better businesses in the process. 

“A $450 billion problem.”

“70% of employees aren’t fully engaged.”

 

If you’ve ever wondered why caring about employee engagement is important, the above intimidating statistics may catch your attention. Yet, the conversation among business leaders is rarely on whether or not employee engagement is important (it is!). The disagreements instead lie in how to improve it. Employee engagement is a tricky problem to diagnose since it depends on an intricate set of drivers from across the organization, including ones outside of the employee’s defined role, such as Work/Life Balance, Physical Work Environment, Play, People, Sense of Accomplishment, Brand Alignment, and more.

Figure 1. Drivers of Employee Engagement

Source: “Employee Engagement in Theory and Practice: Why Should You Care About Employee Engagement?” (2015) Microedge.com. MicroEdge, LLC.

With limited time and resources, what should leaders focus on? Research points to the following as the top four issues to improve engagement: Role Design, Organizational Identity, Career Ladders and Community.

Figure 2. Employee Motivation Ranked by Company Process

Source: McGregor, Lindsay, and Neel Doshi. “How Company Culture Shapes Employee Motivation.” Harvard Business Review, 20 Apr. 2016.

At limeSHIFT, all of our workshops establish collective intention setting. We help employees connect with their own source of purpose and connect that with the people and environment around them (People, Place and Purpose). Under this lens, we view Role Design as more than the tasks assigned to the employee. Effective Role Design means an individual has a clear purpose within a collective context. It helps to set boundaries, empowers individuals within the collective and creates ownership by building out spheres of influence (see our methodology in Figure 3). Thus, our work also influences both Organizational Identity and Community.

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Paul Leinwand and Varya Davidson discuss how Starbucks savvily utilized its culture to promote strategic initiatives. The bottom line:

“Let people bring their own emotional energy to an enterprise where they feel they have a stake… thus leverage the company’s culture to bring its strategic identity to life.”

Two key ideas jump out of this statement: “their own emotional energy” and “stake.” Translating into limeSHIFT terms, we see “individual purpose within a collective context” and “ownership.”

People, Place and Purpose.

Align individual and organizational values and give people a sense of ownership in the company and employee engagement will drastically improve. We know because we’ve seen it. The spark of excitement from a new collaboration. The renewed vigor for work. The pride that tilts an employee’s chin up slightly higher. Those are the clear signs of engagement that we get to see after a limeSHIFT workshop.

Figure 3. limeSHIFT’s Co-Design Methodology

 

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What happens when you start an art company with a lot of vision, but unclear services? How do you pitch and sell your work?

This is limeSHIFT’s current challenge with sales. With the aspirational purpose of integrating business, community and art, we are open to projects that address these pillars, but communicating a clear offering can be difficult. As we say in the startup world, we are targeting “Innovators,” the first level in the Innovation Adoption Lifecycle:

DiffusionOfInnovation

Everett Roger’s Diffusion of Innovation

At this stage, our clients inherently see value in our vision, can grasp a potential application, and are open-minded and willing to try something new.

Recently, limeSHIFT had the opportunity to pitch a new client. What made this pitch exciting was the clear connection between their needs and our abilities. Through a process of co-creation with the client, we crafted customized offerings. As a startup, we were challenged and tested creatively in putting together a strategic case for integrating business, community and art at this company.

We surprised ourselves (and the client!) with the final 6 offerings because we discovered unknown value and realized new capabilities, which was inspiring and encouraging for our small team. The offerings were:

  1. Cultural Discovery and Space Assessment
    • What: Quantitative and qualitative research on values and space use with surveys, interviews, and workshops to evaluate energy and movement of employees
    • Why: Provide an outlet for employees to speak freely about the organization’s mission and values to provide clear, unfiltered feedback to leadership; assess and identify areas of energy imbalances in the office and reinvigorate dead spaces
  2. Co-Created Art
    • What: Co-created art aligned with the company’s values and strategic vision
    • Why: Provide creative workshops focused on the employee skills needed for the company to achieve its strategic goals; Create artworks by and for the employees to inspire them every day and align on company values
  3. Commissioned Art
    • What: Commission local art nonprofits in collaboration with Corporate Social Responsibility
    • Why: Connect the company to the local creative community by supporting art groups and highlight the company’s social impact objectives to inspire employees
  4. Employee Gallery Wall
    • What: Curate and construct an employee-created art gallery wall that will change periodically to encourage conversation among the community
    • Why: To highlight internal talent and allow employees to share their creative work encouraging openness, curiosity, and confidence
  5. Space Design and Wayfinding
    • What: Ergonomic solutions and signage to encourage cross-team interaction, efficient space usage and easy navigation in the new space
    • Why: To tackle workspace innovation, effectiveness, and efficiency with mindful and aesthetically-aligned signage
  6. Curated Art for Remainder of Office
    • What: Select and purchase artwork that cohesively fits with the rest of the space and integrates findings from the Cultural Discovery
    • Why: To complete the office design with thematically curated artwork

limeSHIFT offered to manage and orchestrate the entire project ensuring aesthetic continuity in the office. Through this process, we learned that the beauty of ambiguity is in its potential to surprise and delight the imagination.

The first client. The first project. The first co-created corporate art installation.

How meaningful is a startup’s first engagement? For limeSHIFT, it was everything.

Last month, limeSHIFT finished its first engagement with a corporate client. An idea that originated in an MIT classroom became a reality at Life is Good’s Boston headquarters. limeSHIFT, as a concept, has been evolving for years; it’s the culmination of work started by Yazmany Arboleda and Nabila Alibhai with their 2013 orchestration of Monday Mornings in Kabul, where the mission was to use the insertion of art and beauty to transform a community and change public narrative.

By moving this practice into a corporate setting, limeSHIFT was testing a new idea, using public art methodologies in a private community. As noted in limeSHIFT’s first blog post, I wrote, “our job was to create art that would inspire Life is Good’s employees to spread optimism externally.”

limshiftimages_02-1

#electricJOY, Yazmany Arboleda, 2016

Through a process of quantitative and qualitative research and workshops, Yazmany and I dug into the culture, ethos and inspiration at Life is Good. The result was two art installations, #electricJOY and #helloSUNSHINE, located in the stairwell and lobby entrance, respectively.

Employee feedback was overwhelmingly positive. On #electricJOY, Christine Kwitchoff, Director of Global Sourcing, noted that “this mural has sparked so much conversation and really sets the tone for our interaction with others.” Colleen Clark, Director of Optimistic People stated, “it’s a beautiful representation of the people at Life is Good and the reality and the authenticity of the moments they go through in any given day.”

The inspiration for #helloSUNSHINE came from a workshop where Emily Saul, Director of Programming at Life is Good Kids Foundation, wrote the following as the intended message for those entering the space: “Hello, I see you. You matter. Your time matters. What you do here is valuable. Be inspired to be here and help make Life Good for the world.”

Elizabeth Segran, Staff Writer at Fast Company (Moderator) Yazmany Arboleda, artist and cofounder of limeSHIFT Elizabeth Thys, CEO of limeSHIFT Bert Jacobs, CEO of Life is Good Colleen Clark, Director of Optimistic People at Life is Good

Elizabeth Segran, Staff Writer at Fast Company (Moderator)
Yazmany Arboleda, artist and cofounder of limeSHIFT
Elizabeth Thys, CEO of limeSHIFT
Bert Jacobs, CEO of Life is Good
Colleen Clark, Director of Optimistic People at Life is Good

We unveiled the artwork during a Boston Artweek Panel where Bert Jacobs, CEO of Life is Good said:

  • “Every company including Life is Good is challenged to get their teams to feel united and inspired all the time…Art like nothing else in the world can bring people together.”
  • “We benefited in productivity during the weeks when the project happened because it created energy in the space”
  • “Cross-departmental collaboration increased rapidly when we started working with [limeSHIFT].”

In the end, our first project with the help and support of the Life is Good community inspired us to continue with our work. It encouraged us that there is, in fact, a place in the world for more social practice art. For that, we are eternally grateful. The first truly is everything.

“What they did was open up a curiosity in all of us that I think makes us better decision makers and better community members.” – Colleen Clark, Director of Optimistic People at Life is Good

 

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Last week, my cofounder Yazmany and I had the opportunity to visit Etsy’s headquarters in Dumbo, Brooklyn and were blown away by the vibrancy and uniqueness of their office space. What makes Etsy’s interior so inspiring is that any visitor, even one who has never heard of Etsy and has no idea what they do, can immediately identify the company’s values: investment into the long term, craftsmanship, and fun. The office design says it all. In fact, Etsy is savvily putting its office art to work.

 (more…)

Culture eats strategy for breakfast

This oft-cited quote (thanks, Peter Drucker!) runs true to the purpose of limeSHIFT. It’s something that we believe and why we are so passionate about improving corporate culture. As it turns out, we’re not alone. According to a new study from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, more than 1,800 CEOs and CFOs globally confirmed that culture is a top priority. Yet, only 15% of senior executives report satisfaction with their current corporate culture and, more importantly and surprisingly, 92% report that improving culture would improve the value of the company.
 Read More…

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Organizational culture research points to significant financial benefits for companies that invest in giving. In his article for Harvard Business Review, “In the Company of Givers and Takers,” Adam Grant, Professor at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, states that “higher rates of giving were predictive of higher unit profitability, productivity, efficiency, and customer satisfaction, along with lower costs and turnover rates. When employees act like givers, they facilitate efficient problem solving and coordination and build cohesive, supportive cultures that appeal to customers, suppliers, and top talent alike.”

So why aren’t more companies investing in creating cultures of givers? One answer is simply that they don’t know how.  Read More…