“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”:
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:
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
Burt’s Bees Limited Edition Rainbow Pride Lip Balm Pack
2. Knowledge Management
3. Diverse Employee’s Perspectives
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.
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
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:
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:
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.”
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.”
We unveiled the artwork during a Boston Artweek Panel where Bert Jacobs, CEO of Life is Good said:
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
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.
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…