Wednesday, November 25, 2009

'Tis the season to give back ... by shopping

Struggling to find the balance between giving gifts and giving back this holiday season? Money's tight. Period. But thanks to some innovative organizations, you can delight your family and friends with gifts that do a world of good. Here's a quick run down of my favorite gifts that give back.

Stop Traffick Fashion -- Slavery still exists. Against their wills, people are bought and sold to serve in the sex, hard labor and drug trafficking industries.  Stop Traffick Fashion helps the victims of human trafficking by selling cute handbags and jewelry made by the victims themselves.

Kiva and WoKai -- If you're giving a gift to someone who also loves to give back, consider giving a gift certificate to a microlending organization like Kiva or WoKai. With these organizations, individuals can make small loans of $25 or $50 to a specific entrepreneur in the developing world trying to lift him or herself out of poverty. Kiva was a thought leader and innovator in this field, and WoKai (meaning "I start") focuses solely on China. Perfect for families trying to teach their kids about generosity. As a family they can read through the bios of loan recipients and decide who to help!

Crop to Cup --   For the foodies and coffee-lovers in your life, purchase some family farmed direct-trade coffee from Crop to Cup and include some photos of the farmers who grew it with your gift. The owners of Crop to Cup call themselves Farmer Representatives and work directly with farmers across the globe to ensure the quality of the working conditions and the coffee beans (check out their blog here). Crop to Cup's business model cuts out many of the middle men who typically make a hefty profit on coffee sales. On top of paying farmers 20% more than the average market rate for their beans, Crop to Cup gives 10% of company profits back to the farmer community in donations. And, they have great coffee!

Ten Thousand Villages -- A non-profit organization selling handmade handicrafts and home decor, Ten Thousand Villages exists to provide fair income to artisans in the developing world who would otherwise unemployed. Your purchases can help these individuals afford food, education, health care and housing.  Plus, their store is filled with incredibly fun stuff with an ethnic twist! Order online or see if there is a store in your area.

Toms Shoes -- For each pair of shoes you purchase from Toms, the company donates a pair to a child in need. Many children in the developing world go barefoot, walking to school, doing chores, fetching water, etc., placing them at risk. TOMS is committed to providing shoes to these children  through a very innovative business model -- which makes it earn my respect! Thus far, TOMS has donated over 150,000 pairs of shoes to children throughout the world. Just looking at those incredibly cute feet on the left... how can you resist?

World Vision -- Finally, for the person who already has everything and really doesn't want anything, but the generic "I made a donation in your name" just doesn't cut it -- think about World Vision. For $35 or less, you can provide education for one child, five ducks for a family, or clothes for children. When you give a gift in someone's name, that individual will receive a card detailing the purchase that was made and the impact it will have. I personally believe in the good that World Vision does -- when I was in college some of their education materials transformed my perspective, stirring up in me a passion for the developing world. They've really been around a long time and they're definitely worthy of our support.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Initial Fascination: H is for Heath Bars, Human Resources, and Happiness

Is it a coincidence that the name of one of my favorite candy bars is the same as the first five letters of my first name? Or that I'm moving into the field of Human Resources? Or that I'm simply fascinated with the exploration of individual happiness?

Perhaps not. Intrigued by research that there are more dentists named Dennis than those of any other name, researchers at Northwestern's Kellogg Business School explored the links between brands and individuals' first initials. The findings? Our love for our initials (which actually reflects a love of ourselves) drives us to consume brands that share our first initial. And get this. We don't just like the brand names, but we actually like the products more ... the taste, the look, the style. Our love for ourselves actually alters our experiences of products. A bit egotistical, aren't we? Well, not ALL the time, according to Northwestern researchers. In the theory of Name-Letter Branding, these preferences arise when we experience a strong need for a product (e.g. we're really hungry) or we need to boost our self-esteem (e.g. we're stressed out).

These findings bring to mind a study I read a while back about first initials and grades. (A similar reference here.) Essentially, Allisons and Andys love getting As, while Claras and Charlies don't mind getting Cs. I feel a bit sorry for the Fionas and Franks. An affection for Fs might not be good in school.

So, I'm left wondering what I should do with this information (aside from brainstorming cute A names for my future children). When I'm craving a Heath Bar or some Hunan food (also a fave), should I 'think rationally' and just consume something else? Should I try to overcome this bias? Actually, it's funny... this study makes me a bit more affectionate toward the letter H. Hey, if I can boost my self-esteem while eating chocolate, why not?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Five Thought Leadership Faves

These tough economic times have had a noticeable impact on the talent scene in organizations. I'm highlighting some of the latest research, findings and thought leadership from key players on the present state of engagement and what organizations can do moving forward to achieve success.

#5 DDI -- Pulse of the Workforce

So, how's the workforce doing? You guessed it. The outlook in engagement is not good. In a fascinating report, DDI presents findings that reveal the majority of individual contributors (i.e. in non-leadership positions) are disengaged, unsatisfied and feel as though their roles are stagnant. To quote the report, "They are 'In the No,' that is, they have no challenging assignments, no opportunity to learn new skills or to advance, no recognition, and, we suspect, no idea how their jobs fit into organizational objectives." These employees are not giving their heart to their organizations -- they're simply doing the job and going home. Moreover, they feel as though they have no reason to stay if a better opportunity comes along. Perhaps the glimmer of hope that stems from this research is that not all individual contributors desire to be promoted to leadership. Engagement need not be solved in the costly manner of promoting people up the food chain. There are other solutions!

#4 The McKinsey & Company -- Motivating People: Getting Beyond Money

So what's a company to do? McKinsey's research finds that not only do non-financial incentives motivate -- they motivate even more than money! The positive effects of bonuses and raises are short-lived. Rather, employees report that praise from immediate managers, attention from leadership (such as one-on-one conversations), and a chance to lead challenging projects are the most effective ways to engage them.

#3 Hewitt Associates -- What Makes A Company A Best Employer?

And the companies that take these insights to heart? They became the best employers! Leadership commitment, compelling promises to employees (and execution!), connection to the company and strategy, differentiated high performance culture, and aligned people practices constitute the key components of top employers. In sum, Hewitt's research found that the Best Employers, "have aligned their people practices with a company strategy and created an environment that produces positive employee experiences and strong business results." That's positive employee experiences AND strong business results. Thank goodness it's not an either/or game!

#2 Towers Perrin -- Perspectives - Employee Well-Being

While challenge and opportunity to lead motivates, too much challenge may be a bad thing. Late nights, fast food, workplace stress all serve to lower employee well-being, which Towers Perrin reports has direct links to employee engagement. By pushing their employees to produce, companies may see short-term gains while eroding long-term, sustained results. To the extent that work life degrades employee well-being, it also reduces employee engagement and productivity.

#1 NeuroLeadership Institute SCARF Model

My favorite thought leadership of late comes from the NeuroLeadership Institute, which identifies optimal leadership trends based on neuroscience research. This research, also presented in Strategy+Business' "Managing With The Brain In Mind", highlights five individual psychological needs: Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness. If these needs are thwarted, performance and productivity is undermined. Essentially, organizations should minimize threats related to status (think flat organizations), maximize information sharing and transparency from leadership, refrain from micromanaging employees, promote social connections among staff and employ fair management practices.

All this research seems to reiterate the same thing! Inspiring employees to be engaged and productive is not just about the money -- it's about winning their heads and hearts by offering an optimal amount of challenge, ensuring they feel valued and exhibiting sincere concern for their well-being. Confirmation bias at its best? Perhaps it's simply the truth.

My Shelfari Bookshelf

Shelfari: Book reviews on your book blog