Friday, March 3, 2023

Tips to Improve Your Organization’s Employee Experience

Today is Employee Appreciation Day, and to celebrate, I’d like to welcome Marli Rusen to my blog in a Q&A about the employee experience, corporate culture, workplace diversity, and the role of human resources.

First, a little background about Employee Appreciation Day – and then a brief bio about Marli Rusen from British Columbia, Canada. Observed on the first Friday in March, Employee Appreciation Day was started in 1995 by Dr. Bob Nelson, initially to celebrate the publication of his book, “1001 Ways to Reward Employees,” which has expanded into “1501 Ways to Reward Employees.” The purpose was to remind employers to thank their employees when they do good work. So, as your organization considers how to best appreciate, recognize, and value your employees, read on for some amazing insights.

Marli Rusen brings many years of experience as a labor, employment, and human rights lawyer to her current work as a labor arbitrator, mediator, expert in workplace conflict resolution, and memorable keynote speaker. After working as a lawyer for 15 years, Marli made the decision that she wanted to make a positive difference in a proactive role when conflicts arose. For the last 15 years, she has served in a problem-solving, mediator role, working closely with all parties to help them arrive at a consensual resolution. She designs each mediation in a way that best meets the unique dynamics and issues with which the parties are faced to maximize the likelihood of success. Over the years, Marli has developed proactive and practical tools to help leaders resolve complex team dynamics that affect productivity, retention, and engagement. This has culminated in her creation of the MIRROR Method, a practical six-step program for leaders to follow in the face of team disruption and dysfunction. The MIRROR Method has been adopted with resounding success by numerous organizations.

QUESTION: You launched your new book entitled, "Walking on Eggshells? A Practical Guide to Resolving Stressful Conflict at Work and Home.” What are some key take-aways?
MARLI RUSEN: Here are some:

Conflict is inevitable and not necessarily a bad thing. Often, we incorrectly equate disagreement with disrespect. In fact, the mantra of “We all think the same here” is dysfunctional. Allowing for respectful discussions around difference and diversity will lead to progress. Forced consensus, however, will paralyze progress. We should not be freaked out by having or allowing differences of opinion in our workplaces.

Having said that, disagreements may become disrespectful, and conflict may become dysfunctional if accompanied by disrespectful or disruptive behavior/communication. In these situations, it is not the disagreement/conflict that causes the disrespect, it is the manner in which individuals speak to, speak about, or treat those around them, particularly those with whom they disagree.

When disagreements, disrespect, and disruption arise, it is critical to resolve them, where possible, in an early, informal, and respectful manner, using a clearly established set of ground rules. Examples of these are outlined in “Walking on Eggshells.” It is so important to understand and agree upon etiquette for having these types of conversations. This includes agreement on where and when to have these discussions and expectations on how to speak and listen to each other during them. These “rules of engagement” should be applied consistently and fairly to all, regardless of who is having the conversation.

SHARE THIS: We should not be freaked out by having or allowing differences of opinion in our workplaces. ~@MarliRusen #EmployeeExperience #DebbieLaskeysBlog

QUESTION: Your “MIRROR Method” book provides leaders with a six-step framework to diagnose and remedy workplace dysfunction, restore trust and communication, and build powerfully dynamic teams. Please provide an overview.
MARLI RUSEN: Many leaders are promoted without having the necessary training on how to lead effectively. They want to lead but don’t have the tools to show up as a leader (versus as an employee). They often learn through trial and error, at their expense and at the expense of those who report to them.

Through my MIRROR Method, the moment an issue happens on their team, I walk them through a 6-step process toward defensible and respectful resolution. The process will be FAIR, EQUITABLE, and BALANCED. The decision may not “feel” fair by the employee – but, objectively speaking, the process leading up to that decision will be.

QUESTION: Since the overall employee experience begins with onboarding, how would you create a memorable and positive onboarding experience?
MARLI RUSEN: There are three C’s of onboarding. They are:

Clarity: When roles, responsibilities, and work-related expectations are clarified at the outset, there is no wasted time on scavenging, that is, searching for basic answers on how to get things done. Employees need to be told, for example, who on each team is responsible for what; how their work intersects with and impacts others; and who they can go to with questions and concerns; etc.

Communication: Ongoing communication is critical. Since everyone communicates differently, it is preferable for leaders to engage in customized messaging and support for their staff. Some may prefer feedback in writing (such as email); whereas others may prefer verbal and hands-on direction. Also, people learn differently. When it comes to communication, coaching, and otherwise, remember that “No one size fits all.” This is especially important in the context of cultural diversity and neurodiversity. Meet your team members where they are and help them learn in a manner that best works for them. Be responsive and fluid as a leader.

Connection: From day one, employees want to feel valued, so leaders must make the time to value them in a demonstrable manner. New employees should also be paired with a longer-term employee, someone who enjoys and thrives in this role. This will help avoid the unwelcome wagon: where a disinterested team member assigned to mentor a new employee speaks poorly about the workplace and pays “lip service” to their role as mentor.

SHARE THIS: From day one, employees want to feel valued. ~@MarliRusen #EmployeeExperience #EmployerBranding #DebbieLaskeysBlog

QUESTION: There is a lot of buzz that there should be a HR position/expert at the C-Suite table. What are your thoughts?
MARLI RUSEN: Absolutely.

Human Resources is an area of expertise that requires education and experience. Consider these specialty areas: labor relations, retention and recruitment, onboarding and training, occupational health and safety, bullying and harassment, discrimination in hiring/firing, and many others.

Companies need someone from HR to handle these matters correctly for the benefit of the organization as well as from a legal standpoint. It would not be appropriate for me to review and opine on financial documents given my lack of expertise and training in finance. Similarly, I would not expect a member of the C-Suite to exclusively decide on HR-related processes and decisions when they lack related education and expertise.
QUESTION: There are many new titles for the head of personnel, aka Human Resources, including: Chief Happiness Officer, Chief People Officer, Chief Talent Officer, Chief Encouragement Officer, to name a few. What are your thoughts to change the title in order to improve the position’s value to all employees?
MARLI RUSEN: That’s a good question.

The title of Human Resources covers the myriad of responsibilities performed by the HR department. The other titles you mention are too limited in scope and fail to recognize the many roles and responsibilities assigned to those who work in this field.

For me, what’s more important than the title is that employees and leaders clearly understand the mandate of the HR department in their organization.
Organizations use their HR Departments differently. Some are neutral advisors for everyone in the workplace. In others, such as, certain unionized organizations, HR attends meetings as the “management-representative.” In certain workplaces, the same HR employee who meets with an employee in confidence about their personal struggles is later questioning them in a workplace investigation.

The confusion and lack of communication around the mandate of HR has created internal tensions and mistrust. We need to be honest and clear with employees and managers as to what HR may reasonably offer – and what it cannot.

Finally, regardless of the specific mandate attached to an HR department, it is the role model for an entire organization. Its treatment of others, including its processes around decision-making and conflict-resolution, sets the tone for the culture of the organization. For this reason, HR leaders and staff need to be mindful of how they communicate, how they treat all employees and leaders, how they handle conflict resolution, and much, much more.

SHARE THIS: Human Resources is the role model for an entire organization. ~@MarliRusen #EmployeeExperience #DebbieLaskeysBlog

QUESTION: What are the three key elements that a leadership team can do to create and maintain a positive corporate culture?
MARLI RUSEN: One of my favorite quotes regarding this topic is, “Employees don’t want the annual BBQ, they want day-to-day respect.” 

There are three R’s to answer this question:
Respectful conduct: Leaders need to walk the talk to show employees that they mean what they say. They cannot say one thing and do the opposite. The world of double standards is no more.

Respectful decision-making: Leaders must not show favoritism in their decision-making. Their decisions must be rooted in objective, work-related information, based on the best interests of the organization. Those decisions should be communicated in a respectful, consistent, and transparent manner.

Respectful accountability: Leaders need to effectively and respectfully manage disruptive behavior and poor performance that arises on their team. They cannot “disappear” in the face of conflict and controversy. They must actively engage with and manage conflict to ensure it is resolved in a timely manner.

A leader’s portfolio must contain expectations and tools for conflict resolution. In order build and maintain respectful and productive workplace cultures, conflict management must be treated as a necessary and fundamental leadership competency.

SHARE THIS: Employees don’t want the annual BBQ, they want day-to-day respect. ~@MarliRusen #EmployeeExperience #WorkplaceCulture #DebbieLaskeysBlog

SHARE THIS: Conflict management must be treated as a necessary and fundamental leadership competency. ~@MarliRusen #LeadershipTip #DebbieLaskeysBlog

QUESTION: Lastly, one of my favorite quotes about leadership is from Arnold Glasow, an American businessman often cited in the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and other publications, “A good leader takes a little more than his share of the blame, a little less than his share of the credit.” What does this quote mean to you?
MARLI RUSEN: I agree but would go further. For organizations to thrive and advance, you need to create space and opportunity for innovation and growth. Employees need to feel confident to respectfully challenge themselves, raise concerns and ideas with their leaders, and question the status quo. They cannot do so when they operate in fear of making mistakes.

Leaders who “take a little more than their share of blame” don’t point fingers or shame their team. They celebrate the wins and find solutions to the losses. This does not mean that mistakes are not addressed. It simply means that they are resolved in a fair, confidential and respectful manner. If a leader shows consistent integrity and kindness, in good times and bad, the result will be loyal, committed, and engaged employees. Respectful and inclusive leadership does not cost a cent – and its benefits are priceless.

My profound thanks to Marli for sharing her workplace insights and for appearing here on my Blog.

Image Credit: Harry Adhi via Vecteezy.

Connect with Marli at these links:
Twitter: @MarliRusen
Facebook: /marlifrusen
Book: Walking on Eggshells:
Book: The Mirror Method:

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