Sunday, July 18, 2021

Coaching Conversations, July 2021: How to Keep Your Employees Engaged

First of all, an update: I floated a new series of posts here last month that I titled "The WAIT List," using the acronym "WAIT" to stand for "What Am I Talking" about with clients. The content appears to have been well-received... but the title? Not so much. So I'm going for the most basic, but perhaps most descriptive, title. So here's my next "Coaching Conversation." Thanks for reading.

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In light of this summer becoming titled "The Great Resignation" by many, I met with two different
groups of managers this past week to talk about some of the many challenges they are encountering as their employees start returning to the office. The list is long: 

  • employers are experiencing remarkable levels of turnover;
  • many workers resent the return to commuting;
  • some feel they have not had any margin between persevering through the pandemic and now facing the return to the office;
  • a lot of parents are not finding reliable childcare;
  • there are several expressing a desire to continue to work remotely - as one manager described it, while working remotely even one day a week was not an option for most at the end of 2019, many employees in 2021 now cannot believe they are "only" being allowed two days a week to work from home; 
  • let's be honest -- some people just want a change.

As managers and leaders, how can we make the return a healthy and positive one? It will require all of us to adjust some of our approaches to leadership. The workplace in 2021 is changing rapidly, and we need to remain agile in order to stay ahead of it all.

Harvard Business Review recently published a very good article titled "The Real Value of Middle Managers." I heartily recommend it. This quote really stayed with me:
Especially as remote and hybrid work takes over — and the distance between employees increases — middle managers are more important than ever... It is time to reunite leadership and management in one concept, and recognize middle managers as CONNECTING LEADERS. (emphasis mine)

I appreciate how the author seeks to reunite the concepts of "manager" and "leader" into one concept, but I want to emphasize what I focused on with the two teams of managers I met with last week: middle managers will need to double-down on relational investment as we move forward. 

Every workplace newsletter and blog and podcast is stating some variation of this reality: employers and managers cannot just focus on project management and operations. Given the incredible tumult of these past eighteen months, and the vulnerability we experienced with one another on a variety of levels, leaders are going to be relied upon to provide coaching, cultivate emotional intelligence, and even offer psychological support at times.

I know, I know... perhaps this is not what you signed up for. But the workplace plays a significant role in most people's lives. Research has shown that employees who feel connected to their organization work harder, stay longer, and motivate others to do the same. People want purpose and meaning from their work. They want to be known for what makes them unique. This is what drives employee engagement. And they want relationships, particularly with a manager who can coach them to the next level: this is who drives employee engagement.

So if you want your employees to remain committed, and not just survive, but thrive, employers will need to devote consistent effort on a few key things:

  • FEEDBACK. Employees will stay if they know they will be recognized for their contributions.
  • PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT. Team members will be energized if they see opportunities for professional growth and career development.
  • TRANSPARENCY. Colleagues will band together if they understand when organizational change happens and why.

On top of all of your other responsibilities, how do you find the time to do this?? Great question. I recommend these 4 steps:
  1. Commit to monthly meetings for your team that are dedicated to professional development.
  2. Embed that time in your schedule: First Fridays? Last Thursdays?
  3. Try to build some fun around that: include coffee and donuts, or a unique location where you will be uninterrupted and able to collaborate in a creative way.
  4. The KEY: make a plan NOW for the coming year!

Professional development can and should come in a variety of forms: special speakers, webinars, articles, podcasts, book clubs, mentor programs, coaching, case studies, off sites...

Last but not least... I believe this plan is most effective if it is also paired with monthly 1:1’s with each team member. This is where you can customize the approach and focus on unique needs and issues. Transactional leadership simply does not work anymore. We have to be committed to building trust over time, and setting up our employees for success.

I have a TON of resources, so feel free to reach out to me if this feels overwhelming. I can't emphasize this enough: Set the schedule and make sure you prepare adequately. Carve out time each month to prepare, and bring variety to your training strategies. And let me know if I can help! Email me at

Thursday, July 8, 2021

July 2021: Reflections on Returning

I don't know about you, but I am finding this a rather disorienting time. I am certainly thankful we're not quite as fraught as this time last year (escalating COVID numbers in the US, protests sparked by George Floyd's murder, and a contentious presidential campaign), but things are still complicated and scary. Just checking the news this morning sent chills: a presidential assassination in Haiti, chaos in Afghanistan as the US withdraws troops, rising numbers of bodies found in the condo collapse in Florida. I can chalk up some of the anxiety to the endless 24-hour news cycle, but these are tragedies regardless.

Fun blog post opening, right?! But I cannot try to happy talk my way around what I am hearing. At the same time, I am finding that it all becomes somewhat more manageable if I talk about it with those I trust. This is one of the things I have experienced out of the pandemic -- people are more willing to talk about difficult things more readily. The resources I am listing this month are borne from those conversations and reflections. I hope they prove useful to you too.

The Age of Reopening AnxietySure, there are a TON of articles out there about life post-pandemic. I felt like this one actually had something to say. [Hint: note the new term "cave syndrome."] I especially liked it because it put words to some of the hazy feelings and thoughts I was having. Even better, it's not all gloom and doom. As stated at one point in the piece, "Some individuals’ private lives had benefitted from the slowdown. 'Some people have let themselves discover empty time, and actually inhabit it, and not be pulled into the ever-present temptation to fill it,' he said."

You Can’t Cure Your Employee’s Existential Crisis. But You Can Help. While the previous article addresses more of our personal life challenges as we slowly return from the pandemic, this article is more geared toward the role of leaders and managers in the workplace.

How Do You Ask Good Questions? I suppose this post emerges from a discussion around how to be a good podcast interviewer. But in the spirit of the "I have forgotten how to socialize" dilemma that many are feeling as we return to in-person gatherings, I think this has some good ideas to try out.

What I Am Reading And Listening To. So many different things are occupying my attention right now as I try to process all the crazy going on:

  • Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted. I’m semi-obsessed with this book by Suleika Jaouad. My friend Nancy Rust, a writer, recommended this to me. I read it in about 5 days. You know that feeling, where you are reading it when you brush your teeth, go to the bathroom, make breakfast. The experience got extended when she was interviewed on several of my go-to podcasts and I learned even more. She provides profound insights on mortality, purpose in life, writing, suffering, etc. That has prompted great opportunities for reflection. My favorite interview of her was this one with Tim Ferriss. Fun extra: go to Jaouad's website,, and sign up for their free weekly journaling prompts if you are already a journal keeper or want to get started.
  • Can't Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation. Anne Helen Peterson provides fascinating (and sometimes cranky) insights on the struggles for Millennials and Gen Z as their early education and work experiences bridge the Great Recession of 2008-2009 and the recent pandemic. These younger generations have gotten a bad rap and clears that up real quick. Wow. She also has a newsletter on Substack that is pretty darn interesting.
  • Plenty: Eating Locally on the 100-Mile Diet. This was a re-read for me to provide renewed motivation for good "food hygiene" in terms of eating seasonally, organically, and locally.  I first read this book 10 years ago or so, when I first decided to try eating seasonally and organically. "Locally" is mostly possible, but I have some dietary restrictions that sometimes makes that less possible. But Michael Pollan, in "In Defense of Food," taught me how to shop around the edges of a grocery store.
  • The "Sunday Read from the NYTimes." This is a part of The Daily podcast but it's become a regular Sunday habit for me to hear long-form journalism audibly. I recommend this recent episode about the woman who insured we would learn about Van Gogh. Amazing!
  • PBS News Hour. Feels less panicked and less dramatic that standard cable news, who feel like they are trying to stir me up hourly into a frenzy. I listen to the podcast while I'm making dinner and get caught up the latest without getting heartburn. I also occasionally listen to BBC World News to make sure my perspective is not too US-centric.
  • Smartless. 100% silly, guilty pleasure. Few podcasts make me laugh out loud, but this is one of them. A fun way to unwind. Favorite episode so far: the interview with Maya Rudolph.

  • Last but not least: Read about a 70 year old woman who was the first woman to thru-hike the
    Appalachian Trail alone -- and she did it in tennis shoes.
    Wow. Who knew? Whenever I start feeling sorry for myself, I can think about Emma Gatewood. Sheesh.

Thanks for reading... stay tuned for updates on more recent podcast interviews (I just recorded two this morning!) and coaching conversations. Reach out to me at with questions or feedback.


Hearty Bread for the Whole Journey? aka, "What's with the vague subtitle?"

If you have sat through (endured? enjoyed?) one of my Strengths Finder presentations, you know that I often refer back to my life as an eter...