Posts Tagged ‘Values’

Kindness-MattersOur world needs more kindness.  It is a sad state of affairs when a simple act of kindness is so rare that it jumps out at us.

That happened to me today when delivering a few groceries to my mother-in-law.  Her apartment is on the 9th floor of her building.  When I got in the elevator behind an older man and woman, each of them using walkers, the man asked us what floors we wanted.  The lady said she needed the 8th floor and I said the 9th and we were on our way.  I assumed the man was also heading for the 8th or 9th floor because he didn’t push another button.

When we got to the 8th floor, the lady exited, but the man remained.  When we got to the 9th floor, I paused to allow the man to get off first, but he went for the elevator buttons again, this time saying that he was going back down to the 5th floor.  I thanked him and exited.  While walking away, I just shook my head in disbelief that the man apparently intentionally passed up his own floor just to operate the buttons for us and to get us to our floors first.  What a simple, selfless act of kindness from a man using a walker who was very much my senior!

Think about your typical day.  How many acts of kindness do you witness in others?  How many do you initiate?  Do you hold doors open for others, or do you let them close as someone else approaches, pretending you didn’t notice them coming?  Do you let cars in front of you or do you inch closer to that bumper ahead to keep another from sliding in?  How do you respond when people on the street ask for assistance?  Do you throw a few coins their way, ignore them, stop to find out their story or take them to a nearby restaurant for a meal?  How many see a family member – much less a stranger – in need and stop what they’re doing to help?  How many of us put aside our own agendas and task lists long enough to assist a coworker who is stressing out over a deadline or long list of things to get done?  How many times a day do you offer words of kindness that can encourage and lift up another soul?

Acts of kindness don’t have to be very time-consuming, although they may be.  They don’t have to cost any money, although they might.  They certainly don’t have to be planned in advance or broadcast afterward.  But they do need to be.  They need to happen, and it seems like that is only going to be the case if we are, indeed, kind people.

Kindness is not just an act; it is a character trait.  It is a quality that one chooses to value so much that it is a seemingly instinctive response to the world around us.  It may be demonstrated by those raised in environments where kindness was the norm, but it may also be a chosen response of those who experienced anything but kindness in their past – a determined response to break a chain of unhealthy behavior and replace it with something good.  Yes, kindness is a choice, but repeated often enough, it can and should become a way of life that hardly requires conscious choices any more.  It just becomes natural.

One simple example: I love stories of people in restaurant drive-through windows paying for the order of the people behind them as a random act of kindness.  Doing so tends to cause the beneficiaries to pass it on to the people behind them.

Kindness is included in that great list of spiritual gifts in Galatians 5:22-23 – “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Against such things there is no law.”  Kindness is an indicator that we are no longer living just for ourselves, but that our hearts have been transformed by our Maker to be more like Him.

Yesterday I started following Jeremy Scrivens on Twitter.  In his profile, he states: “Many people are unhappy at work. This matters; so I devote my life to help leaders create Cultures of Kindness & social collaboration at work.”  Just a few of his tweets from the past day include:

Scrivens1

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Acts of kindness can be so very simple, yet the impact can be great.  The impact may change immediate circumstances for the better of the beneficiary, but it may impact attitudes and future behavior which extends the life of the original act through ripples not tracked or even known by the original persons involved.  Also, the impact isn’t just on the recipients of kindness, but on the ones who extend the kindness to others.  Our motive for kindness should not be that we might feel good, yet there is something very satisfying in the soul about being kind.  We know in our hearts that it’s the right thing to do.

Today and each day this week, I encourage you to try to be more mindful about being kind to others in word and in deed.  Both can make a very big difference in someone else’s day and in their life.  And it may just make a big difference in yours as well.

Kindness matters.

How We Spend Our DaysOccasionally a phrase jumps off a page (or, more likely, a computer or smartphone screen) and grabs me.  That happened the other day with a tweet, although I’ve forgotten who tweeted it.  What I recall was the insightful statement: “How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.”  Fortunately, I kept the link the tweet pointed to, which was this article – a review by Maria Popova of Annie Dillard’s book The Writing Life.  While the review takes a different path with that memorable phrase than I will take here, it makes the prospect of reading the book intriguing, especially since it is a book about writing.

As I ponder the title of this post, I am immediately convicted.  I imagine on the one hand that person I wish to be, that I perhaps already imagine myself to be – that person I would like to one day be remembered as.  Then, I look at how I spent my time today, and the two don’t necessarily look the same.  It is such a simple, obvious, yet profound truth that if the sum of my life is to be “X,” I don’t get there by filling my days with “Y.”

A few examples…

  • If I want to be highly educated, then I must learn something today.
  • If I want to lose weight, then I must consume fewer calories than I expend today.
  • If I want to be remembered as a good family man, then I must spend time with my family today.
  • If I want to accumulate wealth, then I must spend less than I make today.
  • If I want to be generous, then I must give something away today.
  • If I want to achieve specific long-term goals, then I must complete a small step in that direction today.
  • If I want to grow in my relationship with God, then I must spend time with Him and His Word today.
  • If I have a career path I want to follow, then I have to take a step along that path today.

You get the idea.

In considering this subject, I was reminded of a conversation I had with a married couple many years ago.  They were several years older than me.  My inclination is to respect my elders, yet when the conversation turned in this case to the subject of charitable giving, their reasoning seemed hollow and disingenuous to me, though not uncommon.  They were heavy into a multi-level marketing business, always driven by time spent building their network and attempting to accumulate wealth.  Their reasoning related to charitable giving went something like this: “We don’t give much to charity now because we’re concentrating on our business.  If we work hard now and really do well with our income, just think of how much we’ll be able to give later on.”

We haven’t lived in their city for 30 years and we weren’t close friends, so I can’t say for sure what happened to them.  My suspicion is that they are still operating under the same self-deception that somehow, someday they will be generous with their giving, while in reality they are probably still consumed with accumulating.  They will wake up one day and realize (hopefully) that their lives have not been examples of generosity because their days have not been examples of generosity.

I understand that early years of life and even adulthood are naturally somewhat different than later years.  We don’t live static, unchanging lives exemplifying our ideal existence for decades.  But neither should we delude ourselves into thinking that something is really important to us if it is not important to us enough today to do something about.

There are things I did not do today that I should have, especially if I claim such matters as important to who I am in this world.

What about you?  How do you need to spend your time today so that you can ultimately know that you have spent your life in the right way?

The Millennials

If you’d like to better understand the Millennial generation, also known as Gen Y – those born approximately between the years 1980 and 2000 – then I suggest you read the book The Millennials: Connecting to America’s Largest Generation by Thom Rainer and his son Jess Rainer.  Thom is a Baby Boomer while Jess is a Millennial.  I admire the collaborative effort they put forth in writing the book.

But before I say more about the book, let me explain a few reasons for my interest and possible bias toward both the generation and the book.

First, I”m a 56-year-old Baby Boomer with two sons who are Millennials born in 1980 and 1983.  I spent a number of years doing college ministry seven days a week with Millennials.  I wore with pride (and still do) the name “Blue” assigned to me by some of those college students, a name taken from the old dude who hung out with the younger crowd in the movie Old School (whose manager in real life was, coincidentally, named Jeff Ross).  Part of my inclination to the Millennial generation may just be some of the values we tend to share in spite of the age difference, although we certainly differ in some significant ways, especially theologically.  Still, for whatever reasons, I like this generation a lot and I enjoy being with them.

One reason I am predisposed to appreciate the book is because Thom is an acquaintance from having attended seminary with him in the 1980s.  We weren’t in the same degree program and didn’t hang out together, but my wife typed up Thom’s PhD dissertation in those days with our suitcase-sized, 30 pound, cutting edge IBM “Portable” PC.  But, I digress.

For the reasons above as well as the relevance of the topic to my work and church, I was eager to read the book.

A word of background about the authors… Thom is now president and CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources and has been highly involved in research on many subjects in his current and previous roles.  He has written numerous books and is well respected, particularly in the evangelical Christian denomination we have both served for decades.  Co-author son Jess Rainer is also in Christian ministry.  While they do not hide (nor should they) their evangelical Christian perspective in the book, they go above and beyond to objectively analyze the research results of the 1200 Millennials studied.  The group consisted of Millennials born between 1980 and 1991 – older Millennials.  The results can be trusted as accurate for the population studied and any speculation that groups interviewed or results published are skewed to support a predetermined agenda on the part of the authors would be woefully incorrect.

It is no surprise that generations as a whole take on different characteristics than previous generations.  Everyone reading this post can likely contrast his/her generation with that of their parents or grandparents, identifying broad, generally correct differences.  At the same time, it is obviously wrong to assume that all members of any generation are alike in any, much less all, areas of study.  I only need to spend a little time with my Baby Boomer peers to realize that we run the gamut of beliefs, values, motivations, and lifestyles.  The same can be said for Millennials.  There is also truth, though, in the fact that patterns and trends emerge when studying generations.  One characteristic that may have been true for 60% of Boomers might only be true for 20% of Millennials, for example.  It is important to keep these big-picture realities in mind when reading the book.  It is vital to resist the temptation to paint all Millennials with the same brush just as it would be wrong to do the same with Boomers or any other generation.

That said, what about the contents of the book itself?  Glad you asked.

Given the study of 1200 Millennials, the book addresses a variety of topics in its eleven chapters, beginning with an introduction to the generation.  The first chapter, “Meet the Millennials,” sets the stage with some quick claims about the majority of Millennials who now make up the largest generation in America, surpassing Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) in quantity.  These general characteristics of Millennials include:

  • They are the most educated generation in American history.
  • They are marrying much later in life, if at all.
  • 65% of them cohabit prior to marriage, compared to just 10% in the 1960s.
  • They are a more diverse group than previous generations with minorities making up 40% of the total.  This diversity is assumed, expected, and valued.
  • They want to make a difference in the world, not focusing as much on self as on how they can make that difference.  They are impatient with people or institutions that impose what they consider to be unnecessary barriers to positive change.
  • They are a hopeful generation.
  • They do not define greatness as other generations might.
  • They are very relational, typically having strong ties with friends and family, including their parents whose advice they seek and respect.
  • They are willing and able learners, eager to have mentors.
  • They look to religion much less than previous generations.  While a majority claim to be “spiritual,” a very small minority consider any type of spirituality really important in their lives.
  • They are not workaholics.  They seek a better work-life balance than their predecessors.
  • They are “green” in that they think and act intentionally with environmental concerns, though not to the extremes some may imagine.
  • They are communicators anytime, anywhere, with 70% saying the cell phone is vital to their lives.  Texting is their primary means of communication.
  • They are financially confused and tend to turn toward the government for help.

Given the opening overview points above, the remaining chapters then do a deeper dive into these characteristics, sharing the research results and sprinkling the chapters with a generous number of quotes and anecdotes from the interviews.  Subsequent chapters focus on a Millennial’s perspective, family, openness and diversity, motivation, the workplace, their role as mediators, their connection with media, money, religion, and then a final chapter geared toward the church and how it needs to respond to this generation.  A postscript section summarizes many of the book’s findings and challenges the reader to be thoughtful and intentional in working with Millennials.

I found the book to be very worthwhile, informative from a research perspective, unbiased in its analysis of data, carefully written so as not to dwell to a mind-numbing degree on research numbers, and for me very practical in that my workplace has a growing population of Millennials and my church wishes it did.  Since the book was published in 2011, some of the stats such as the number of subscribers to social networks will jump out as very outdated, but there is no way around that in printed publications that have been around even one year, much less two, especially given the time involved between research and publication.

There is no shortage of articles and resources related to Millennials.  A Google search will yield more than anyone could read in a lifetime.  In just the past few days, my personal, normal, daily routine of looking at resources from people I follow on Twitter and elsewhere has produced the following resources with no search effort on my part:

My generation of Boomers is large, of course, but we’re now entering retirement at the rate of 10,000 Boomers per day while the even larger Millennial generation is making up more and more of the workforce.  Yes, Boomers will probably be able to go to their grave watching reruns of Andy Griffith, M.A.S.H. and other staples of their earlier years.  We’ll be able to find radio stations with songs from our youth, toys we grew up with, and more because there are still enough of us around to demand them.  We’ll be self-centered enough to keep thinking the world revolves around us even when it doesn’t.  But it is critical that those of all generations understand, get connected with, and learn to live, work, play, serve, and (maybe) worship with Millennials.  Reading this book will be a good start.

As Thom Rainer and Jess Rainer write in their closing words:

“Are we ready for the Millennials?
We better be ready.
They are already here.
Here come the Millennials!”

I, for one, am glad.

thriveThis is the last in a five-part series covering the five corporate values of my company, Humana:

Today’s subject: Thrive Together.  What does that mean and how can we live that value?

If we consider the word “thrive,” it brings to mind definitions such as growing, prospering, making progress, and flourishing.  It’s more than just maintaining one’s current state.  It is reaching one’s potential – the fullness of one’s capacity.  It suggests that such growth and prosperity happens in an environment that nourishes and allows room for growth, one that does not unnecessarily and unnaturally constrict such progress.

Most of us hope to thrive in many areas of our lives.  By combining the word thrive with the word together, however, the picture shifts from individuals focused on their own prosperity to one in which the whole group moves in a united direction for the good of all.  It is not a select few doing what is in their own self-interest; it is working in tandem with others in mutually beneficial ways to accomplish more together than we can separately.

To quote a small booklet from my company, to thrive together means that “we focus on shared success by breaking down silos, inviting collaboration and mentoring others.  We believe in, and act with, positive intention to create an environment of trust and integrity.”

So where do I fit in this picture?

It is vital that my personal way of working with others daily needs to include being trustworthy and demonstrating integrity.  I can’t just talk about a value; I have to model it.  I need to reach out to others to include them in decision-making, as well as be responsive to them when they reach out to me.  I must collaborate and cooperate with others willingly because I understand that each person involved has something important he/she brings to the table to help accomplish our business objectives.  I can’t horde areas of responsibility and lord over them like a king in a castle.  Even “my” role at the company isn’t truly “mine.”  It is the company’s and I am a temporary steward of that role and its responsibilities, beholden to the company to do what is in the best interests of the organization and not my own self-interests.

Fortunately, I am in a perfect role at work to help foster the breaking down of silos and building in their place a culture of communication, collaboration and cooperation through my role as the community manager of our enterprise social network.  Thriving together requires open, continuous, honest, and transparent communication.  There is no better way of facilitating that among our company’s associates than through our enterprise social platform.  That is the place where everyone is equal, where everyone’s voice can be heard, where anyone can strike up a conversation with anyone else at any level of the organization at any time about any subject.  That is the place where issues can be addressed, problems and roadblocks called out, model behavior praised, questions asked and answered, and business solutions crafted from thoughtful conversation held by engaged associates throughout the company.  As of our latest upgrade last week of the Socialcast software we use, it is even the place where projects can now be planned, managed, tracked, discussed and documented by the teams involved.  I stated at a conference in 2010 that my goal for our enterprise social network was to change the way communication happens at our company, and three years after the launch of that platform (to the very day today, May 10), we have made much progress in that direction.

I have worked with enough people personally at my company over nearly ten years to be absolutely convinced that the vast majority are dedicated, thoughtful, caring, hard-working people who want to do the right thing in the right way.  Sure, I’ve run into some that don’t fit that description and some who seem to be more concerned with thriving individually than thriving together, but they are the exceptions rather than the rule.  So I believe it is possible that we can live out this value of Thrive Together successfully in the years ahead, especially given the current example and focus of leadership.

Most people eagerly mimic the positive examples of their leaders and others they admire.  When top leaders model such values on a daily basis, the values become more than buzzwords.  Being value-focused can and should become a way of life that shapes our company’s future.  It requires moving from the awkward beginning of talking about values and learning about them to actually living them naturally because they become a part of who you are personally and corporately.  That takes time, but it can and will happen.  It requires that the values be broadly understood and accepted, not just handed down from above.  It requires regularly interjecting into discussions simple reminder questions like “How does this fit with our value of …?” so that we stay on track to make good values-based decisions.

I’m proud of the direction of my company.  I’m thankful for our excellent top leadership and for the countless great colleagues I have the pleasure to work with every day.  I’m genuinely excited about the significance of our focus on these five values and what they will mean to our culture over time – not just internally as employees but in the impact on the consumers we serve and the shareholders to whom we are accountable.

We can and we will Thrive Together.  It will take intentional, constant effort, but it will be worth it.

SimplicityWe’re nearing the end of this five-part series covering the five corporate values of my company, Humana.  Those values, again, are:

I’ve also written about the helpfulness of using these values in decision making.

With five excellent, simply stated values such as these, it’s hard to have a favorite, but today’s subject of Pioneer Simplicity may be my favorite of the bunch.  Why is that?  Why is this value important?  How can I model it and encourage it in others?

At a personal level, I’m a fairly simple guy.  I live in my modest 70-year-old Cape Cod home that I would happily empty of half its contents.  I drive a 12-year-old car that I will drive until it has no more miles left in it for anyone to drive.  I try to live out my core values of faith, family, hard work, integrity and kindness daily.  I’m planning to cut my hair back to a buzz cut or shaved completely soon because I’m tired of messing with it.  My happiest trash pickup days are the ones where I’ve cleared out more clutter from the home or garage that we haven’t needed or used in years.  One or two weeks a year I book a room at a monastery for an extended period of reading, silence, solitude, rest, reflection, study and renewal.

I am perfectly happy having a few slices of bread and butter or peanut butter and crackers for dinner.  I like my personal spaces at home, work or on the drive between the two to be clean and orderly.  I want no drama queens or kings complicating my daily existence.  I subscribe to the most basic cable service available for $15 a month that gets me 24 channels.  You will rarely catch me spending $4-5 for a cup of coffee at Starbucks (which should have been named “Five Bucks”) because I prefer my hot tea with honey in the morning, water in the afternoon, and my nightly luxury of one soft drink. I have an extremely low tolerance level for institutions, organizations and processes that are unnecessarily complex and time-consuming.  Ain’t nobody got time fo’ dat!

So when I consider the value Pioneer Simplicity, it resonates with me personally.  Still, I know that there is more I can do to model this value in my personal life.  I could still have far fewer things.  I could be less dependent on technology.  I could choose not to fill every waking hour of the day with things to do from my unending task list.

Professionally, my perception of this value is shaped greatly by the fact that my company is a large, Fortune 100 company, over 50 years old, in a highly-regulated industry, with about 45,000 employees scattered all across the U.S. and Puerto Rico.  It is probably inevitable that as companies grow, they get more complicated.  Processes get new steps tacked on to the simpler steps that accomplished them before.  New concerns and fears spawn new steps, processes, approvals, policies, restrictions and the corresponding frustrations that go with them.  But is all of that really necessary and beneficial?  I doubt it.

Old ways of thinking and those who harbor them tend to hang on for dear life when challenged by newcomers, outsiders and others more concerned with getting things done than with getting things done in a certain way.  Turf wars linger.  Silos emerge.  Barriers get erected that stifle creativity, innovation, ingenuity and fluidity.  If companies aren’t careful, they eventually morph into complicated, bureaucratic, hierarchical, controlling entities more concerned with protecting tradition and process than they are with accomplishing their business objectives in the most efficient and effective manner possible.

That’s why it is a beautiful thing to stop in the midst of a convoluted, complicated process and ask, “How does this pioneer simplicity?  What can we do to simplify this for ourselves as employees and for our customers to improve their experience?”  We need to develop the habit of asking these questions in conversations and meetings before bad, complicated processes get written in stone.  Let’s start thinking of radically simple ways of doing what we are charged with doing.

Take corporate policies, for instance.  How many internal policies are so detailed that it would take one’s full-time effort just to be aware of the details we are supposedly adhering to, much less to actually abide by them?  By attempting to imagine every scenario and respond via policy update to every unfortunate situation that occurs, we try to take simple human thought and accountability out of daily decision making, thereby dehumanizing the environment and constricting creativity.  This is an area where I’d like to know how many pages of policies we actually have on file, and then mandate that they all be simplified to no more than 1/10th their current size, maybe no more than one page each.  If you can’t explain something to me simply in a way I can grasp it, that’s your problem, not mine.

What about the processes we follow by choice or my mandate?  What would happen if individuals and departments selected just one process that they believe to be too complicated or time-consuming, and worked on simplifying it?  Do all of those approvals really have to happen in that order over that time frame via that method, or can we empower the people we have hired to make decisions to do things in the manner they deem best within, of course, the confines of state and federal regulatory requirements?  Similarly, do we have to lock down our technology devices to such a degree that many employees have better tools and software at home to work with than they have at work?

I don’t know what processes and policies contradict the value of simplicity for other areas of our company, but you can rightly deduce from the above examples that the ones that most often cause our team to bang our heads against the wall are related to restrictive policies, time-consuming approval processes, and efforts to control technology to the point of keeping us from doing our jobs efficiently and effectively.  We still find ways to get things done and to do them well, but there is room for improvement.  Your experience may be very different.

As we consider this value, let’s not forget the verb in the phase Pioneer Simplicity.  The word pioneer brings to mind those daring people of old who didn’t wait for others to lead.  They took off in directions uncharted because they believed in the value of the adventure and the potential of what that exploration might yield.  With or without others, they weren’t afraid to try something new.  They faced the danger.  They left behind the familiar.  Perhaps they suffered some along the way, but in the end, our world is a better place because of their efforts.

There is an elegance and beauty in simplicity.  For ourselves personally and professionally, we really should try it more often.

Pioneer simplicity.