"Help," "Thank You," and "Reach"—My Three Words for 2010 (What are yours?)

My first post of the year was going to be my predictions for 2010.  But prognostication is a tricky business, especially this year when so many variables are in flux.   I decided to take another tack and focus on what I could control—my actions.   Specifically, what actions in 2010 would achieve the results I wanted to see personally, professionally and culturally?  Even more specifically, what three words best embodied those conscious actions?

Three words?  My inspiration for this word-based approach came first from Seth Godin’s recently released free e-book, "What Matters Now."  It is a compilation of 50+ experts from a variety of industries and disciplines musing on a single word that’s important to them.  Then, I came across Chris Brogan’s "My 3 Words for 2010" blog post.  It turns out he has been picking three words to guide his efforts for the coming year since 2006 and has found it very powerful.

Following their lead, my three guiding words for 2010 are "Help," "Thank You" and "Reach." 

"Help"…Preemptively

I’ve always tried to be helpful, but honestly my helpfulness was, more often than not, reactive.  If someone said they needed help, I would readily provide it.   Then, last year I began to wonder, "What if I offered my assistance proactively, before people asked?"  It started with Jonathan Fields, a career author/blogger, who signs on to his Twitter account (@jonathanfields) everyday, "Morning, great people!  Who can I help today?"

Even though I’d never met Fields, who is a "Dad, husband, author of Career Renegade, lifestyle entrepreneur, marketer, and blogger," when his question popped up on my Twitterfeed each morning, I found it made me think differently about my day.   I’d ponder for a moment, "Yeah, who could I help?"

Then I turned thought into action.  I began to test "preemptive" helping.  Most people responded to my unsolicited offers of help with surprise and, "Thank you so much.  I can’t think of anything right now but I will let you know."  I realized that unprompted, sincere offers of help are so rare that they caught people off guard.  But it felt great to ask, so I decided to continue, "How can I help you?"

I didn’t appreciate the lasting impact of this simple question until my friend, the Authentic Organizations management expert, CV Harquail told me what happened after I asked her, "How can I help?" a couple of months earlier.

Because CV is not only smart but very generous, it was easy at the end of our lunch two months prior to say, "How can I help you?"  While clearly surprised, she thoughtfully considered my offer and asked for my input on a couple of issues.  She thanked me.  I loved our conversation, but didn’t give it much further thought.   However, to CV, my question had become, "Cali’s killer question" (not realizing at the time that Jonathan Fields was the original inspiration).

It turns out that after our lunch, CV decided she would begin to ask others, "How can I help you?" because it had meant so much to her.   But she wasn’t prepared for the intense reaction she experienced after posing the question to a longtime colleague whom she hadn’t seen in awhile.  Toward the end of their visit, she said to him, "How can I help you?"  As she recounted to me, "He stopped.  You could tell he was shocked.  And then he began to tear up and said, ‘No one ever asks that question.’  He was visibly moved and stunned by my offer."

I’m not the only one motivated by Jonathan Fields’ daily offering of service on Twitter.   Alexandra Levit, author and Wall Street Journal columnist wrote a piece entitled "A Habit of Generosity," mentioning the power of Fields’ daily missive.  I couldn’t help but wonder what the world would be like if all of us started our day by asking how we can be of assistance.   Perhaps grown, successful businessmen would no longer be brought to tears by the simple question, "How can I help?" 

So, wonderful readers, "How can I help you?" in 2010?  I really want to know.

"Thank You"…Concretely

Service ("help") and gratitude ("thank you") go hand and hand.  One of the people who have shown me that link more clearly is Anita Brick.  While her day job is Director of Career Advancement Programs at University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business, one of her personal passions is encouraging others.  A concrete method she uses to express her gratitude is the simple, yet powerful, thank you note.

Periodically, over the five years I’ve known Anita, a beautiful note has arrived in the mail thanking me for the work I am doing and encouraging me to continue on.  Each time, it has meant so much.  And I am not alone.  She does this for an amazing list of individuals in many different industries, undertaking many different endeavors.  She has a strong vision of what the world would look like if we all took the time to encourage each other with very specific, periodic "tokens of appreciation."

For the past couple of years, I’ve wanted to follow Brick’s lead because I’ve personally experienced the power of her active thanks.  And over the past six months I’ve tried to say "thank you" more consistently.  But this year, I’m going to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and make it a point to appreciate the many people I admire and encourage them to continue on their path.

To whom did I send my first note, written on the special cards I bought specifically for my new "appreciation" practice?  Ms. Anita Brick.  Thank you, Anita.  You can follow her on her Encouragizers blog and on Twitter at @Encouragizers.

Readers, thank you for joining me in the ongoing conversation about what it means to live, work and grow a business in the new work+life flex normal.   I look forward to taking it to the next level with your in 2010, which bring me too…

"Reach"…Widely

While productivity numbers and profits are growing, the research related to the reality of what it actually looks like to work, live and run a business is pretty grim:

  • 40% of employees in a recent Workforce Institute/Harris Interactive "Productivity Drain" poll said their productivity was negatively impacted by layoffs.  Of those 40%,  66% said that morale has suffered and people are less motivated, and 64% report that there’s too much work and not enough people to do it.
  • Watson Wyatt/World at Work’s 2009/2010 U.S. Strategic Rewards Survey found:
    o    41% of employees think changes the business made has had an adverse impact on quality/customer service.
    o    44% of employees said there’s been a negative impact on productivity.
    o    79% of employers said there’s been a negative impact on employee workloads.
    o    64% of employers felt employee work-life balance has been adversely impacted.
    o    69% of employers said cost-cutting made managing work-related stress worse.
  • Career Builder’s 2010 Job Forecast Survey of employers painted an equally dismal picture in terms of potential relief from increased hiring.  Sixty-one percent of employers said there would be no additional hiring, and only 20% said they would increase headcount in 2010.  This is an increase from 14% in 2010, but still most employers won’t be hiring full-time employees.

So, what do we do?  This is where "reach" comes into play.  Change happens when there’s enough pain to look at new ways of operating.  According to the data, there’s serious pain out there.  But, what do we do differently?  That’s what this blog, my Work+Life Fit blog, and my Twitter stream are about.  Presenting cutting-edge, innovative strategies for people, leaders and business to achieve sustained, long-term success in today’s reality where flexibility in work and life is the new normal.   But, I need to extend the reach of this message and the information in 2010.

To that end, I am asking you to help spread the word:

  • Encourage people to sign up for my Work+Life Fit Blog’s RSS feed (which also includes my Fast Company blog posts).
  • Follow me on Twitter @caliyost.
  • And send me all of the great research and good ideas for new ways of working and living that move us beyond the self-defeating and limiting short-term approaches that no longer apply.  I will share them.

Old and tired thinking will continue to be the default way of operating until new strategies take their place.  Something has got to give.

Real, sustainable, long-term growth is only going happen through innovation and engagement.  That requires a flexible, motivated, committed, globally-focused workforce and an equally flexible, customer, employee, globally-focused business model.  But we need to reach as many leaders and individuals as possible and show them "how."

Help, Thank You and Reach.  My three words for 2010.  What are yours?  If you need some help getting started, check out Chris Brogan’s "My 3 Words for 2010" post.    Happy New Year!

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