Last weekend, I enjoyed the special treat of cross country skiing in Jackson, New Hampshire (near Mt. Washington). My husband & I were visiting friends who had moved from Connecticut to New Hampshire (from cold to colder!) They are retired now, and are taking full advantage of the many outdoor adventures that New Hampshire has to offer: hiking, canoeing, skiing, etc. Their beautiful home backs up to public land operated by the Jackson Ski Touring Foundation. They have but to put their skies on and go out on their back property to hit the trails. How cool is that!
Truth be told, I am not a winter sports fanatic. Quite the opposite. But when in Rome….or New Hampshire, one must embrace the snow and hit the trails. We snowshoed the first day – which is like walking, but louder and slower. Day #2 of our winter weekend, we were set to cross country ski- totally different gear…long things with poles.
I tried to hide my fear and trepidation. It had been more than 10 years since I last was on cross country skies. I knew there would be a fair of amount of discomfort and embarrassment as I tried to figure out how to glide and move in a way that propelled me forward with efficiency and grace. If nothing else, it would be an exercise in humility. And, it’s always good to try (or retry) something new!
Once through the rental equipment center, I set out on the trails, compassionately guided and encouraged by my friend Linda. She gave me a quick tutorial and we practiced once around the field, before bravely setting out on the trails along the river.
My mind was stuck inside my body. I could feel my exhaustion mounting (and we’d only just begun). My shoulders were aching, as I incorrectly used them to assist my forward motion. I tried to relax into the gliding motion, using my legs, hips and b.u.t.t. to do the work. All I could think was “I’m going to be so sore tomorrow morning.”
When I finally got out of my head and looked around, all I saw was beauty. The trees, the river, the snow, and yes, the many people skiing by me, with significantly more speed, grace and joy. (ahh…something to aspire to). My friend Linda made the comment that the Jackson Ski Touring Foundation does an excellent job of grooming the trails. She made mention of their special equipment and efforts to keep the trails in top notch condition. No wonder it’s ranked as #1 cross country ski area in the Eastern United States.
Several miles into our adventure, we stopped for a quick break and a look at the map. Another skier also stopped and we enjoyed a brief conversation about the beautiful day. She mentioned that she had been skiing at a different resort the day prior and that the trails there were not nearly as well groomed and maintained. I asked her why it was important for the trails to be well groomed. She said (and I’m paraphrasing):
“Because it makes me a better skier, it’s safer, and I have more fun.”
Groomed trails as a metaphor for workplace conditions
I knew at that moment that this would be my blog topic for the week. The rest of day, I was completely lost in thought about groomed trails as a metaphor for the workplace. I asked myself:
- What can/must employers do to “groom the trails” for their employees?
- What type of maintenance and accommodation is essential for getting the best performance out of your workers?
- What makes them happy and want to come back day after day to your trails?
- How do employees describe your “trails” to other people (recruiting potential)? Will prospective employees recommend your workplace or not? If they had a choice, would they prefer to work elsewhere?
- Why does this matter? Oh right, there are many places that one can ski (or work). You are not the only (employment) game in town. How successful would you be if no one wanted to work at your place?
- What kind of conditions, equipment, communication, visibility, challenge, and natural beauty are necessary to make working at your company a great and noteworthy experience?
- How “resortful” is your organization?
Picking the brain of the HR Conservator
A few days later, I was having a networking coffee with Barbara AmEnde, an HR Consultant who brands herself as the “Conservator of Human Assets.” I shared my idea to write this blog with Barbara and then asked for her input on what employers and/or managers can do to groom the trails for their employees, creating the environment that brings out the very best in their people (performance and happiness). She mentioned these four trailing grooming ideas:
“Communicating expectations is not just a process, it’s a moral obligation.”
– Barbara AmEnde
- Communicate your expectations. People can’t read your mind. You must clarify goals and objectives in a way that they can understand. Break it down into weekly, monthly, quarterly and yearly milestones. Show them what success looks like, and then explain how you will measure that success. If you don’t do this upfront, you are in effect setting your employees up for failure.
- Provide the tools to do the work. The Gallup organization has led the way in employee survey templates. One of their twelve top questions is “Do you have the tools to do the work?” Sounds obvious, but many employees are hampered by the lack of updated equipment to get their work done quickly and effectively. While companies must be vigilant about controlling expenses, not providing the right equipment, tools and resources to your workforce can dampen your bottom line results and reduce employee motivation.
- Recognize and reward on a regular basis. Don’t wait until the year end review process to let people know that you appreciate their work. Barbara agrees with the Gallop-proven milestone that effective managers will recognize, reward, and coach their direct reports every seven days or so. People like to know how they are doing, and what they could do to improve. Constructive feedback, praise and appreciation are huge motivators, and they cost you nothing. “A thank you goes a long, long way,” noted Barbara.
- Be the role model you want your employees to follow. If you want your team to be on-time, then you must be on-time to meetings and events, meeting deadlines, and making timely decisions. If you want your team to do the right thing, then you must demonstrate your integrity on a regular basis. If you want your team to be effective communicators and presenters, you might want to invest in polishing your own skill set. If you want your team to reduce expenses, then you might need to rethink the first class tickets or expensive dinners with clients. Walking the talk is hard work, but it’s essential for strong leadership and followship.
What are you missing?
I invite you to share your point of view (either from an employer, manager or employee perspective) of other essentials for keeping the trails well groomed at your workplace. Rather than complaining, let’s outline a plan for making these trails so fantastic that everyone is going to want to ski (work) at your resort (organization)…including you!
Post your comments here or on social media.
Happy trails to you.