Making Employment Agreements Work

The Problem

As workers, we may feel we’re victims of the company.

Every day we trade our life energy to the company in exchange for stuff.  Workers often feel short-changed.  We’re not paid enough.  Our benefits keep shrinking. Training promises aren’t fulfilled.  Opportunities for advancement never materialize.

Worse, we feel we have no say at all in the decisions our employer makes about the stuff they deliver.

As employers, we feel like victims of our employees.  We trade precious, hard-earned resources for life energy from our workers.  We’re not getting a fair share of our workers’ life energy.  They come five minutes late and leave five minutes early.  They’re playing video games and talking on their cell phones.  They aren’t doing their jobs or giving it all they’ve got.  They’re not vested in the company’s success.

Worse, we can’t get them to do anything.  We ask, we order, we train, we write memos.  We don’t have any say at in the decisions they make about the life energy they deliver.

Our Answers

Make agreements transparent

Empower workers and owners to…

  • negotiate the agreement publicly, all the time
  • hold everyone accountable for honoring the agreement
  • manage conversations about work

Change the basic nature of the agreement by

  • Add joy to the exchange
  • Adding exchange elements such as trading waste reduction for employee benefits
  • Forming teams to address processes
  • Engaging in volunteer work together
  • Changing the evaluation method – ie, performance evaluations

Quality guru W. Edwards Deming said 40% of most companies is waste.  Workers represent your biggest expense.  What if 40% of your labor investment is waste?

Process teams that work

“I never knew that’s why you needed the goldenrod copy!” “When did we start doing it that way?” “Why are you doing THAT?!” Many business problems live and breed in the cracks between departments.

“Process” is a way of seeing work. Seeing work as process let’s us use powerful tools to help us:

  • Standardize work so it gets done the same way every time
  • Make work predictable so we can make commitments to our customers
  • Measure how well work is being done
  • Test ideas about ways to do work better
  • Train and retrain workers
  • Keep work from falling in the cracks

Seeing business as a series of processes and using process tools helps us understand work in ways that get us into action to improve results. More important, once we’re in action to improve work, these tools help us understand what’s working and what’s not working, and what to do next. Seeing work as process creates a never-ending game of improvement.

A team is a group of people committed to a common goal and to each other. When people come together to improve a business process and support each other, we’re creating an environment that supports great work.

  • Everyone may join in uncovering root causes – the ones hidden deeply in the-way–we-do-things-around-here – the ones that always lead to problems.
  • Everyone begins to accept responsibility for setting and sustaining the pace of improvement.
  • Everyone begins to own their piece of the conversation, which leads to owning their piece of the work.
  • Everyone may exercise their personal power in the context of agreements about the work.

Improving Productivity of Workers and Volunteers

Although many problems plague business owners and leaders, if workers and volunteers own their work and show up committed to pulling in the same direction, there’s a feeling of hope.

When workers and volunteers aren’t committed to their work, each other, or the mission, it’s always an uphill struggle. It’s that simple.

For me, there’s no greater frustration than the waste of human potential. As I see it, the natural pull is towards personal pride in good work. People love to serve, and worship leaders who create opportunities for them to shine.

So what’s the problem? Customers love great service; workers love great work; owners reap benefits when all the pieces line up. Somehow, the pieces are way out of line: customers aren’t happy, workers aren’t working, owners aren’t prospering.

After years of watching this silliness, and experimenting with ways to work the pieces into alignment, we’ve developed simple, straightforward tools to bring sense to business.

If you’ve got a single employee or volunteer who is not pulling their weight, or worse, who is sabotaging your organization, I can help. If it’s a group or team that’s causing trouble, I can help. If it’s everyone, I can help!

Contact me for a free initial consultation – you buy the coffee. Fees are negotiable for this special service. The idea is to get things turned around and moving in the right direction as quickly and as painlessly as possible, and in a way that keeps them moving forward.

Love Volunteers

In our universe, there are only a few resources which are not subject to the law of decay. One of these is love. Love given multiplies.

How can you bring love energy into your volunteer program in a way that contributes to its sustainability, and to the sustainability of your organization?

Love VolunteersLove is an energy that fuels your organization’s mission. When love is added to work, no task seems beyond accomplishing. When love is present in work, volunteers come early and stay late.

Love is the ultimate gift you bestow on your volunteers, and the gift you would like your volunteers to bestow on your clients.

Choose Joy When Trouble Comes

Choose Joy When Trouble ComesHow do you choose joy? I don’t mean how do you, personally, choose joy. Rather, what are the best methods?

Begin by being aware that joy has flown. It’s not easy to be watching yourself constantly – monitoring every thought.

What are the triggers that let you know you’ve lost the joy?

Triggers could be physical – heat, pounding heart, tension. They could be mental – violent thoughts or stories with no joy in them. They could be emotional – feeling angry or unsettled.

What’s the threshold where any of these triggers kicks in? Try to lower those thresholds – we need to notice when joy is moving away because it’s easier to choose joy before real trouble takes hold of us.

Now you noticed you’ve lost your joy. Stop. Stop acting. Stop thinking. Stop your stories. Just stop everything. Stop!

As you stop, the triggers flow past you but do not stick. The heart still pounds, but you’re watching it pound – you’re no longer the pounding. A thought or story may come – just let it go by. Notice the triggers separating from you. They are the triggers. You are you.

Now you’re giving less attention to the triggers. You notice them – and then let them go. They’re losing their sting. They’re not feeding your upset any longer.

A space is opening around you – a space of quiet. Something in your situation set you off. That triggered an upset in you that took the place of your joy. Now you’re taking energy away from the situation and the upset. What’s taking their place is a sense of peace.

In this space of peace, choose joy.

Fill the space with your intention to choose joy. Bring forward something in your experience that you immediately associate with joy. Pay attention to the joy that’s coming. Continue filling the space with your joy until the triggers subside – your body, mind, and feelings calm down. Keep with it until your joy is strong.

Then, get back to work!





The Joy of Snow

Joy of SnowBack in the suburbs south of Chicago, just about every kid’s first jobs are mowing lawns and shoveling snow. These are obviously seasonal gigs – jobs parents, retirees, and wealthy neighbors don’t want to do – or cannot do themselves.

Let’s take snow shoveling first. What kind of work is it?

Snow comes at any time, day or night, and often just keeps coming. Work conditions can be nasty – very cold, very wet, very windy, and very dark. One tool is required – or at least that’s how it was done long ago, when I was in the snow-removal industry.

Snow can be very heavy, especially if it’s wet and you’re making a long throw. Mostly, you work alone. Sometimes, by the time you reach the end of the sidewalk or driveway, snow has re-covered your starting point, erasing evidence of your work. Start over.

Shoveling snow can be hazardous. Besides freezing fingers and toes, pulling muscles and throwing your back out of alignment, there’s a high risk of slipping and falling on ice.

You may take this as evidence that I’m nuts: I loved shoveling snow. For me, this chore still evokes joy. Of course, living in Arizona does limit opportunities to partake.

Do you like to work alone? You could be a known war criminal and if you told officials set to capture you that “I’m going out to shovel snow,” you would probably be spared at least until you finished the job and enjoyed a hot cup of coffee. Isn’t it wonderful to know that you’ve got at least one safe hiding place in the world?

What a beautiful setting for being alone. The air is cold and crisp. Wearing heavy clothes, hats, and scarves makes you feel insulated from the world. It’s quiet – snow keeps noisy things away and seems to soak up what little sound dares disturb the peace. Once you get going, the loudest sound around is your breathing. There’s peace in listening to your breathing. I particularly loved shoveling at night, because it’s quietest then.

And the most beautiful.  During the day, new snow hides imperfections in the view, covering them in white. You see shapes then instead of details. At night, you hardly see even the shapes. You see the light reflecting off the snow. Once your eyes adjust, there’s plenty of light to see by.

Many wonderful poems have been written about the beauty of snow – they don’t write as many poems about office cubicles.

Shoveling snow is perfect mindless work. Over and over, repeating the same motion. This kind of repetitive physical labor calms the mind. The rhythm puts my monkey mind to sleep. Thoughts come slower and seem clearer somehow. They linger awhile. Sometimes, thinking stops. There’s just doing. Nowadays, we pay the guru to teach us how to reach this state. Try shoveling snow.

If you don’t work from a good plan, you can shovel yourself into a corner and make your life quite difficult. You have to take careful note of  the weather and the snow itself. How many inches are coming? How quickly? When will this snow melt, clearing a spot for our next round? Which way is the wind blowing? How hard? What kind of snow am I dealing with? Then you have to mentally move the snow into piles, making sure it will fit, minimizing the effort necessary to get it there. Being smart counts when it comes to shoveling snow.

Ah, the rhythm of shoveling! The shovel hitting pavement, biting into the snow. The snow crunching in response. The shovel scraping across the icy drive. The momentary quiet as the snow flies towards the pile. The snow landing as you reload your shovel. Your breathing. The sound of whatever song you’re playing in your head to keep the beat.

When you finish, you know it. You see it. You can rest proudly. The world is free to move about again – it’s safe for family and neighbors.

Now go on inside and get a nice cup of hot chocolate – you’ve earned it!

Thanks for reading this little piece from “Choosing Joy at Work.” We just got home from a lovely piano concert, where we shared a conversation with a pianist who hates snow. It seemed just the time to resurect this message about the joy of snow!

I’ll be Happy When…

I’ll be happy when this is all over. Then I can relax and pay attention to my peace – my joy.

I’ll be happy when my vacation comes. Then I can leave my troubles behind for a few days and catch up on joy.

I’ll be happy when I retire. Then I can sleep in, wake up slowly, yawn and stretch, and be joyful.

I’ll be happy when I die. Then I’ll be heaven.

Get over it. Joy is here now. You are here now. Why not connect with your joy now?

“When” never comes. It’s always only now.











Basketball is Joy

“’The last couple of games I hadn’t shot the ball well,’ said Robinson, who had 18 points off the bench to support Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer with 21 each. ‘So I told myself, ‘I’ve got to get back to my whole Peter Pan theory: You cannot fly without happy thoughts.’’” – Sam Smith and Nate Robinson

“Though Noah added that the perfect interior pass isn’t quite his favorite moment. ‘It’s probably getting a rebound and dribbling up court,’ said Noah. ‘But Thibs really doesn’t like it when I do that. I like doing it, but I’m not really supposed to and I get in trouble.’” – Sam Smith and Joakim Noah

I’ve found joy in basketball since I was a little kid. Even now, I enjoy reading Sam Smith’s columns about the Chicago Bulls – my team. Today’s offering was a hoot.

Basketball is JoyNate Robinson is a happy-go-lucky, high-energy employee working for a boss known for discipline, self-control, very hard work, and playing within the system. Does this sound familiar? The guy who sometimes does incredible work, makes his share of critical mistakes, and drives his boss crazy?

Joakim Noah is a very hard working, high-energy hippie working for the same conservative, balding boss. He understands and believes in his boss, but likes to have a little fun too. He knows when he’s going to get in trouble – and proceeds anyway.

What I love about these employees is that they cannot contain their joy. They work hard and do their job – they produce terrific results and make spectacular mistakes. But when they feel themselves slipping, they just have to do something to recapture their joy.

Basketball, like work and life, is still a game. Basketball is joy.

Peter Pan and the hippie – and the joy.

Volunteering Works

Volunteering WorksIt’s the holiday season – a great time to volunteer. Soon it will be a new year – a perfect time to volunteer. It’s today – another moment ripe for service.

It’s no secret I’m a champion of volunteering. Volunteering works. It works for you, for the organization you work with, and for the clients that organization serves.

You get to practice a skill or learn a new one. You get to meet new people. You get to make a contribution. You get to work in an environment less constrained by limitations of money and rules. And there’s much joy in volunteering.

Your organization gets free labor – qualified and devoted labor. It probably gets other contributions from you. It gets to disseminate it’s message through you.

Your organization’s clients get you. They get your touch, your caring, your skill, you love. They get the products and services you provide. They get to be a part of something bigger than themselves.

Volunteering is a very old way – and it’s the new way. As our old economy dies, we’ll find ourselve helping each other in new ways – ways that require us to connect with each other and share our talents.

Volunteering works. It’s a great day to volunteer.

Going Independent

Enough of this working for The Man! How about going independent?

You’re darn good at the work you do – too good to be making the sacrifices you make for the measley benefits you receive. You can do this on your own – it can’t be any worse than it is now.

Going IndependentSo, you’re thinking about going independent – breaking out. You’ll start your own gig with tons of great ideas nobody else has thought of. You can see it now. Soon, you’ll be WORKING FEWER HOURS AND MAKING LOTS MORE MONEY!


I’m not saying to stop thinking about going independent or to always remain in a job. I’m saying you’re not in fit spiritual condition to make this decision yet. Please hear me out.

First, there are a couple of classic books that will help you see what lies ahead – I’ll review them in future blog posts. The point is, don’t be just  dreaming about the trip – check out the roads.

Hopefully, that paragraph slowed you down a minute. Now you can focus your attention on building an informed plan to guide you forward.

By the way, in addition to doing the work you love – the work you’re really good at – you’ll also have to learn to run a business. But first, you’ll have to learn to start one. These are both doable, obviously. And because most people fail at least a couple times before they figure it out, you may want to get a head start by learning all you can before you launch.

What’s most important though, is your joy. Take time now to find your joy in your current work. It’s there. Get clear about where your joy lives and then give your attention to expanding that joy. You’ll receive three terrific benefits.

First, from now until you start your business, you’ll experience more joy around your current job. That’s a good thing!

Second, you’ll learn about your joy in ways that guide you as you create your business. It’ll be great to stock your new venture with loads of joy!

Third, you’ll experience joy now, in ways that contribute to your health and your sanity. From the space of joy, you’re now in fit spiritual condition to move forward!