Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving week is a perfect time to stop and reconsider the importance of saying “thank you” — in our personal lives for sure, and also at work.

It’s also a perfect time to think about how expressing gratitude should be a year-round focus, voiced whenever it’s deserved.

With this in mind, I was thinking about a post I previously wrote (Our Moms Were Right).

It was inspired by a Wall St Journal article about research indicating “The workplace ranks dead last among the places people express gratitude…”

The article was written two years ago, but it’s very unlikely the volume of workplace thank-you’s has increased much.

Here’s the link to my older post. It highlights reasons why managers should be more generous in expressing gratitude, both for the recipients’ benefit as well as their own.

Have a very happy and restful Thanksgiving!

Halloween. It’s back…

It’s mid-September but Halloween is front of mind at Universal Studios Hollywood because this Friday is opening night of Halloween Horror Nights 2013.

Halloween Horror Nights (HHN) is our annual nighttime event featuring entertainment geared toward horror-lovers and Halloween aficionados. We say the event is for ages 13 plus; it’s definitely not for children or the faint of heart.

For many of us at Universal Studios Hollywood the event has become a year-round endeavor. This is especially true for the core group of people leading the entertainment plans as well as for my team working on social media.

Facebook and Twitter have become amazing platforms for keeping fans engaged throughout the year — which means we have momentum heading into the start of the broad advertising campaign in September.

Universal Studios Hollywood held HHN in the late 1990’s but put the event on hiatus from 2001 – 2005. (Universal Orlando had it running throughout those years). My involvement in the event began with its return to Hollywood in ’06.

The timing of the ’06 return — coupled with the fact that digital has consistently been a primary communications vehicle since then — makes the history of HHN social media programs something of a mirror reflection of the history of mainstream U.S. social media.

Following is a summary of Universal Studios Hollywood’s HHN social media evolution.

2006, the re-launch year

MySpace was king.

As you may recall, Facebook was only opened to the general public in late Sept 2006. Up until that point it was restricted to students and select others. Its user base wasn’t yet large enough to be relevant to HHN marketing.

YouTube was more mainstream, having opened to the public in 2005. We dabbled with YouTube in Fall 2006, but MySpace was much more popular at the time and that’s where we paid the most attention.

The event was themed around a fictional character named The Director — a twisted, violent, blacklisted filmmaker who was out for revenge on the Universal Studios backlot. We created a MySpace page for the character, filled with videos, photos and other content that set up his back story and told of his appetite for blood.

The page was very 2006. Luckily, it was 2006. The page was a hit.

2007 – 2008

YouTube became the focal point of HHN social media engagement, while MySpace faded out.

2009

While we continued (and still continue) to create videos for YouTube, 2009 marked the start of official HHN Facebook and Twitter accounts.

From the get-go we gave Twitter and Facebook their own voices and perspectives. Twitter is used to provide more of an “inside baseball” view of the event (which has been executed well largely thanks to the passion and commitment of the event’s creative director) while Facebook provides more general event news and related entertainment (e.g., via the posting of original horror-related images/memes).

On a personal level, the launch of these social programs led to what should probably be the only time my name is ever mentioned on Bloody-Disgusting.com

2010 – 2012

This period was marked by steady growth of the event’s Facebook and Twitter audiences, experimenting with YouTube video advertising, and the addition of social commenting on the Halloween Horror Nights website.

HHN Instagram launched in 2012.

2013

New for this year is the start of HHN’s Instagram videos (the capability was launched in June).

Onwards

Wow, a lot has happened in seven years. Who knows what’s in store over the coming years… for sure there’ll be ever more ways to share the HHN scares.

I must end with a very well deserved thank you to my teammates/co-workers who’ve contributed so much effort and creativity to all the above-mentioned programs.

(Disclosure and disclaimer:  As noted in my bio and is obvious from the post, I’m an employee of Universal Studios Hollywood and am personally involved with the programs discussed above. All comments reflect publicly available information. Opinions reflected on this blog are personal and do not represent the opinions of the company).

Contradictions Lead to Crazy

Confusion! by LuluP (creative common license)

I’m reading the book “Conscious Business: How to Build Value Through Values” by Professor Fred Kofman. While only a short way in, so far I’ve found it to be very insightful.

Based on this, I started following Professor Kofman’s “Influencer” posts on LinkedIn.

I really appreciate and recommend his two most recent posts.

In the first — titled, “Is Your Job Driving You Nuts?” — he discusses how to recognize stress-inducing contradictions that may (or likely do) exist in your workplace.

Here’s a key passage:

When you combine unattainable goals with contradictory managers you get double binds, those emotionally distressing dilemmas that can cause schizophrenia. Argyris found double binds of the following kind in every organization he studied:
1.    The manager gives a contradictory order.
2.    The manager makes the contradiction un-discussable.
3.    The manager makes the un-discussibility un-discussable.

Making the “un-discussability un-discussable”… stress-inducing indeed. At a minimum, it’s frustrating and makes good employees long for a less thought-stifling environment.

He goes on to explain:

Inconsistencies and misunderstandings are inevitable… The good news is that inconsistencies are necessary, but not sufficient to create double binds. The condition for craziness is un-discussability… A culture of mutual learning, in which people are open to discussing dilemmas, is the best antidote.

In his subsequent post, Prof. Kofman addresses how to reduce or “dissolve” organizational contradictions.

Here are links to the full articles:

Is Your Job Driving You Nuts?

Discussing The Un-discussable – How To Stay Sane At Work

If you’re interested in following Professor Kofman on LinkedIn, here’s his Influencer page.

Fall In Love with Someone Else

Image courtesy of Ani-Bee (Creative Common license)

A recruiter recently contacted me about a marketing position. After describing the role, he told me the hiring executive’s ideal candidate would have experience working in three specific industries.

I looked up the hiring executive’s profile on LinkedIn and – surprise! – his background matched what he wanted from his ideal candidate.

I was reminded of the Seinfeld scene in which Jerry tells Kramer that he’s fallen in love with a woman who’s just like himself:  “Now I know what I’ve been looking for all these years. Myself! I’ve been waiting for me to come along. And now I’ve swept myself off my feet!”

In the case of the hiring executive, looking for such a close match to his own background was a somewhat extreme case (perhaps driven by an insecurity that’s allayed by thinking, “I’m really good at my job; so for someone else to be good they need to be like me”) of what I see as an all-too-common mistake:  filling positions with people of similar professional backgrounds.

It’s obviously very common to see job postings that ask for experience in the same industry as the given opening.

In my opinion, the value of this similar experience is greatly exaggerated.

In fact, in most cases it’d probably be better for hiring managers to look for intelligent and curious people from other industries. Every company is already filled with people who know its particular industry. What’s more valuable is adding outside perspectives.

Sure, new employees coming from different industries will take a little longer to get up to speed. However, in the case of intelligent hires, that’s only a short-term issue.

Medium- to long-term, the slower learning curve will likely be outweighed by the benefits of an outside perspective:  asking different questions, generating different insights and adding new ideas.

Team leaders who want to foster innovation and creative problem solving should apply the lesson of America’s melting pot (that the convergence of people of many different backgrounds yields creative energy) not only to racial/ethnic/cultural diversity but also career-background diversity.

As for Jerry Seinfeld’s character, he learned the hard way. After getting engaged to Jeannie Steinman, he confessed to Kramer, “I think I may have made a big mistake… All of a sudden it hit me and I realized what the problem is… I can’t be with someone like me, I hate myself!”

————————————

For a laugh:  I found the following video — someone stitched together the Jeannie Steinman story line and uploaded it to YouTube.

…..

(I didn’t upload this video to YouTube. I’m pulling into the post a video somebody else uploaded. If the legal copyright holder has any concerns, please notify me using the Contact form found via the above header navigation).

Reminder to self: Stop

An ideal to take a break (Mykonos patio with view of harbor and beach)

I highly recommend a recent NY Times article by Tony Schwartz titled “Relax! You’ll Be More Productive.”

If you’re like me – often eating lunch at your desk; not always using all your allotted vacation time – you’ll probably agree the article is full of good reminders.

The key point of the article is that while it’s common to work longer and longer hours to get more done, many of us would actually increase our productivity (and presumably our creativity) by resting more.

“Paradoxically, the best way to get more done may be to spend more time doing less. A new and growing body of multidisciplinary research shows that strategic renewal — including daytime workouts, short afternoon naps, longer sleep hours, more time away from the office and longer, more frequent vacations — boosts productivity, job performance and, of course, health.”

I definitely agree about afternoon naps. I previously worked in Japan in an environment that was open to short naps. Closing my eyes when needed and sleeping for 10-15 minutes left me much more energetic than another cup of coffee or tea would have.

Companies that embrace napping – perhaps only a minority of progressive companies in the U.S. – are on the right track.

A concept discussed in the article I was less familiar with is that “during the day we move from a state of alertness progressively into physiological fatigue approximately every 90 minutes” and consequently “working in 90-minute intervals turns out to be a prescription for maximizing productivity.”

I couldn’t guess the number of days I’ve pushed through an entire afternoon, 1pm to 6pm, if not longer, without a meaningful break.

I’m interested in seeing the effect of spacing out two meaningful breaks during this period – if possible, short walks outside or a few trips up and down the office building staircase.

“Relax! You’ll Be More Productive” is currently ranked as the NY Time’s most emailed article over the past 30 days. With business culture seemingly hurtling toward an ever-more-breakneck pace, it’s understandable why.

Our moms were right, part 2

Thank You image (by woodleywonderworks)My previous post about the shortage of thank-yous in the workplace was spurred by a Wall Street Journal article (titled “Showing Appreciation at the Office? No, Thanks”) listing a variety of fears and concerns that cause some managers to withhold expressions of gratitude.

One of the fears discussed was that of embarrassing employees, since some people dislike being thanked in group settings or even in private.

I believe the article really exaggerated the extent of this potential risk while ignoring a related consideration that’s much more important.

While people with a distaste for being thanked exist, it’s safe to say they’re a very small minority. And it probably doesn’t require extraordinary skills of perception for a manager to realize if one of those people is amongst their ranks.

The risk of accidentally embarrassing one of these people is greatly outweighed by the benefits of thanking everyone else.

In addition, I’m willing to bet that for most of the “don’t thank me” people, their biggest issues are with public attention and insincerity; but if gratitude is expressed in private, with tact and when truly merited, it will be appreciated.

The real risk of public thank-yous

From my observation, the much more relevant potential pitfall of public thank-yous:  the risk of perceived exclusion. For every person thanked, there’s often someone (or someones) thinking, “what about me? I contributed to that the effort, too.”

Perhaps a key consideration is that whenever you thank someone in a group setting, it’s a good idea to include a comment along the lines of:  “and I know John had support in making this happen, so if you’re one of the people who helped, thank you, too.”

The fear of embarrassing people is not a good reason to withhold expressions of gratitude when the vast majority of people want them.  Plus, per my previous post, it’s healthy to say thanks.

Our moms were right

By the G™ Used under the Creative Commons Attribution license

Have you had the feeling that thank-yous are relatively rare at the office?

If yes, apparently you’re not alone. And apparently you might be right.

According to a recent Wall St. Journal article, “The workplace ranks dead last among the places people express gratitude…”

The article — written by Sue Shellenbarger and titled “Showing Appreciation at the Office? No, Thanks” — discussed research indicating that “employees who feel appreciated are more productive and loyal. But that message hasn’t yet reached many of those in charge.”

Why the lack of thank-yous?

According to the article, mainly fear and insecurity:

•    Fear of appearing awkward or insincere
•    Fear of inflating employees’ egos
•    Fear of embarrassing employees
•    The feeling that critiquing employees, not thanking them, makes one appear more ‘in charge’

Also referenced was the topic of cascading bad behavior:  nobody thanks me, so why should I thank my employees?

In a perfect work world…

Ideally all people promoted into managerial roles would be able to set aside insecurities and pettiness and would treat employees in a way that makes them feel appreciated.

But in reality…

While some managers consistently act in this manner, many do not. (Or maybe the majority do not, from what the research referenced in the article indicates.)

It’s likely that a good number of managers intellectually understand the benefits of a workplace culture of gratitude but in practice do not consistently contribute to creating one.

But there are many reasons they should, including:

1.    It’s polite

Our mothers were right.

2.    It feels good

It’s like all the studies that show giving gifts can feel as good as receiving them. When someone does something well and you look him/her in the eyes and express a genuine thank-you, it just feels right.

3.    It’s healthy

There is a growing body of research focused on the health benefits – both physical and emotional – of being thankful.  According to Harvard Health Publications (Harvard Medical School), “most of the studies published on this topic support an association between gratitude and an individual’s well-being.”

4.    It’s good management

Expressing appreciation helps lead to happier employees, higher productivity and less turnover.

Thinking that saying “thank you” is a risk because the recipient of the praise might feel overly important and ask for a raise – which is one of the fears the WSJ article referenced – is shortsighted and/or cowardly.

Would those managers rather have employees who feel their contributions are taken for granted?

A manager who thinks a subordinate or colleague doesn’t notice (or doesn’t mind) the slight of withheld thank-yous is kidding him/herself. People do notice, and employees who feel unappreciated would rather work for someone else.

And the employees who most frequently deserve sincere thank-yous are typically the ones the company would least want to lose.

Happy holidays and, speaking of appreciation, thank you for reading this post.