Do you know if your people are happy?

Today, engagement surveys are a popular way to assess and measure what I’ll call a given company’s HYPE factor, where HYPE stands for “Happiness Yields Productive Employees.”

While these surveys are helpful in identifying trends and areas of strength as well as opportunity across all layers and levels, follow-up that is actionable and intentional is even more important.

Unfortunately, in the wake of the roll-out of these initiatives, the oomph of the goal sometime loses steam. People get busy. Projects are due. Ecetera. Ultimately, companies may have the data, but they fail to build a plan to address what the data presents.

Quite honestly, that’s the hardest part. Building the plan and putting it into action. Action and intention become the differentiators between impact and status quo.

Here are two ways you can figure out if your people are happy:

No. 1 If the company has engagement survey results and you can get access to them (usually from the CHRO or equivalent), interpret the findings yourself and build a plan of attack.

Most vendors these days slice and dice the information pretty well for you. Using this info, write down three SMARTe goals that you think will help make your people happier. Check in with yourself regularly (once a week minimum) to document your progress.

What’s working? What’s not? What has changed, good/bad? The key is seeing where the behaviors are different and making sure you understand why, so you can replicate and apply to other areas as relevant.

**Even if you have access to this info, you can still go through the following exercise to get more personally relevant data from the source: your people.**

No. 2 If no such info exists, or you can’t get access to it, build a simple rating system yourself. Make a list of each of your team members and rate them 1-10 based on how happy you think they are at work.

It’s a loaded question so I’d suggest focusing on job satisfaction since the job is fundamentally how they are contributing to the team. Write down some examples of what helped you come up with this number.

Then, have a 5-10 minute chat with each member, and ask them how they would rate themselves on the scale. And have a dialogue about it.

Why did you pick that number? What are some examples of times that made you feel this way about your role? How do I affect that number? What do you need to improve your happiness at work?

Take notes. Chances are you’ll get way more context 1:1 than a survey can provide. After you’ve met with everyone, try to identify common words or themes, anything that sticks out as consistent to you. Then write down your three SMARTe goals and proceed as with No. 1.

Part of this is trial and error – you have to try different things to have the information to make your decisions on. It’s a feedback spiral in that way.

To see results, you need to be consistent and intentional with your approach to understanding what makes your people happy. Whether is through a formal company survey or self-initiated, the key is to follow-up regularly in actionable and intentional ways.

Are You Aware?

Self-awareness and how people consciously acknowledge each other’s similarities and differences is not a new idea but has gained traction in response to the complexities upending our workplace.

The most common example we hear of is what Daniel Goleman coined as “Emotional intelligence” (sometimes also called EI or EQ), or the ability to identify and regulate your own feelings, and the feelings of people around you.

In concert with Daniel Goleman, there are individuals out there discussing other types of “intelligence.”

Barbara Annis, for example, coined the term “Gender Intelligence” in the early 1990s. Her company “recognizes, values, and leverages” gender differences to drive results.

In addition, Harvard Business Review published an article by P. Christopher Earley and Elaine Mosakowski in October 2004 about “Cultural Intelligence,” or “an outsider’s seemingly natural ability to interpret someone’s unfamiliar and ambiguous gestures the way that person’s compatriots would.”

Each of these frameworks seeks to demonstrate value in the conscious effort of understanding your peers from a particular vantage point i.e. emotional, gender, cultural.

Regardless of which approach resonates with you, the key takeaway is self-awareness and being intentional and thoughtful in your approach is critical to your success in today’s chaotic landscape of a workplace.

Focus On People

Humans operate using categories, in the form of stereotypes and other frames of reference to navigate our personal and professional lives. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be able to attempt to process, let alone understand, the now 11 million bits of stimuli coming our way at any given moment.

This protection mechanism initially developed as a way for early humans to quickly distinguish between friends and enemies. Even with this biological shortcut, we’re still at a disadvantage given the changing landscape brought about by the Information Age.

Our grandparents saw as many people in one month as we do in one day.

As a result, our innate biology struggles to keep up with this avalanche of data.

The challenge is that oftentimes, in light of our biology, we miss out on the whole story. We neglect what might be crucial pieces of information and end up with a completely different reality than maybe it should be. Each individual has their own filter through which they experience the world, for better and for worse.

This unconscious bias is human. We’re guilty of it daily; it’s evident in how we run our businesses. Mindtool states, “Many organizations are so focused on their processes that they lose sight of their people.” We get so caught up in managing information coming from every which way that we forget about the people keeping the lights on. Yet, we still need to hire, train, and develop people to be successful in their jobs. The answer is the obvious one: focus on people.

Is your company meeting your peoples’ core needs? (See the NYT article and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for some discussions about what these look like.)

Are you providing platforms for people to explore their greatest strengths and engage in their work according to these strengths?

Remember, when your natural behaviors match your job’s behaviors, you’re more likely to be happy at work. And don’t forget, happiness yields productive employees.

Contact Sara at to learn more.

“I use these platforms, I just don’t let them use me.”

“I use these platforms, I just don’t let them use me.”

Sean Parker’s recent interview with Axios has reinvigorated a centuries-in-the-making dialogue about the human brain. How we consume information has evolved as a result of inventions/advancements/changes like the printing press, the television, and most recently, the internet. Social media is a by-product of the latter.

Once might even call these inventions distractions.

In fact, David Carr, author of The Shallows – What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brains, did:

The distractions in our lives have been proliferating for a long time, but never has there been a medium that, like the Net, has been programmed to so widely scatter our attention and to do it so insistently.

The vulnerability of human psychology that Sean Parker alludes to is related (among other things) to impulse, our innate human need for gratification. While Parker asserts Facebook has done this intentionally, there are elements of this in most applications we use today in our daily lives.

Consider the GPS. While helpful for navigation, there are times where these systems falter: they don’t have sufficient mapping capabilities; the address is incorrect and you wind up somewhere unintentionally; it says to make a U-turn when you know you can just go left and arrive at your destination.

The point is, we have these great, complex brains and sometimes we let things take advantage of them and override their capability and strengths. The challenge is having the awareness to realize when this is happening, and adjust accordingly.

So, as Sean Parker states, use these platforms to your heart’s desire, just don’t let them use you.

Thanks For The Feedback

Giving feedback is tough. Receiving feedback is even tougher, especially when the content delivered is off-base, unfair, or lacking direction. Doug Stone and Sheila Heen blend the art and science of receiving feedback in their book Thanks For The Feedback. For the receivers out there, Stone and Heen offer some things to keep in mind as you translate what you might be hearing:

Feedback is really three different things, with different purposes:

Appreciation – motivates and encourages.

Coaching – helps increase knowledge, skill, capability, growth, or raises feelings in the relationship.

Evaluation – tells you where you stand, aligns expectations, and informs decision making. We need all three, but often talk at cross-purposes.

Evaluation is the loudest and can drown out the other two. (And all coaching includes a bit of evaluation.)

Be thoughtful about what you need and what you’re being offered, and get aligned.

Find Your Greatness

From an initial $50 investment by his father, Phil Knight built Nike. He created a business rooted in a vision, in partnership with a seemingly mish-mosh team devoted to bringing their mission to life. Shoe Dog recounts Knight’s journey to greatness while offering up some of his key learnings along the way. Some of my favorites are:

We wanted, as all great businesses do, to create, to contribute, and we dared to say so aloud. When you make something, when you improve something, when you deliver something, when you add some new thing or service to the lives of strangers, making them happier, or healthier, or safer, or better, and when you do it all crisply and efficiently, smartly, the way everything should be done but so seldom is, you’re participating more fully in the whole grand human drama. …You’re helping others to live more fully, and if that’s business, all right, call me a businessman.

One lesson I took from all my home-schooling about heroes was that they didn’t say much. None was a blabbermouth. None micromanaged. Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.

If you’re following your calling, the fatigue will be easier to bear, the disappointments will be fuel, the highs will be nothing like you’ve ever felt.

Knight’s connection – to his work and to his people – and belief in his vision, paved his path to greatness.

In 2012, Nike rolled out a campaign entitled Find Your Greatness:

Somehow we’ve come to believe that greatness is only for the chosen few, for the superstars. The truth is, greatness is for us all. This is not about lowering expectations; it’s about raising them for every last one of us. Greatness is not in one special place, and it’s not in one special person. Greatness is wherever somebody is trying to find it.

Coincidence? The point is, we all have the capacity to be great, whatever that means for each of us. Because it’s different. We each have our own ideas, beliefs, experiences, perspectives, and preferences that shape how we view and participate in the world.

What we have in common is that we are all human. Humans are different by nature. In these differences lie our greatness. Find your greatness. Remember you are human. Repeat

So, I challenge you, what’s your greatness?

I Have News

Up In The Air, 2009
Ryan Bingham: Do you know why kids love athletes?
Bob: Because they screw lingerie models?
Ryan Bingham: No, that’s why we love athletes. Kids love athletes because they follow their dreams.
I’ve worked for a professional sports team for seven seasons, and covered sports as a journalist throughout most of my college career. For 10 years, I’ve witnessed up close the purity of human beings challenging their physical and mental strength in their quest to achieve greatness, whatever it is they define that greatness to be.
Now, I begin a new journey, my next adventure, to pursue my own dream. Now, I begin my new role as the Vice President of Client Engagement for SDLI, a leadership development and coaching practice. My team and I help companies examine their people infrastructure, as well as identify and create opportunities for their teams to grow and succeed, whatever that means for them.
I’m so grateful to those of you who have supported and believed in me and my vision for a better workplace. I’m thrilled to begin this next chapter focusing on helping people meet their potential at work.
Because all human beings should feel safe and empowered in pursuit of their dreams.
Contact Sara at to learn more.