Volunteer Time Off (VTO) Programs Can Transform Employees

Photo credit: Larm Rmah for unsplash.com

Photo credit: Larm Rmah for unsplash.com

Beyond offering leadership academies, mentoring, and coaching, more companies are choosing to engage employees in a more meaningful, personal way by offering Volunteer Time Off (VTO). I am a firm believer in volunteerism and how it enhances professionals’ skills. What is unique about VTO is that employees are paid while working on important local, national, or global community projects, learn from the experience, and hopefully apply that learning at work. Outdoor gear specialist Patagonia offers employees a variety of VTO opportunities, and sales leader salesforce.org offers its employees seven paid VTO days each year.

VTO is a win-win for both employer and employee. Here are some thoughts on the benefits of VTO:

Deeper level of connection. Service to others sets aside the ego because your number one goal is to help others. Many companies require employees to remain “unplugged” from technology while participating in VTO. No quick sales calls. No checking in with the office. The whole point of the experience is to engage fully in the work to be done.

Present moment awareness. When you are volunteering for others, you are most concerned with handling the task at hand, no matter what it is. Whether helping to build a Habitat for Humanity home in an aging urban city or bring fresh water to a small village in Africa, you are most mindful of what you are doing from moment to moment.

Expanded worldview. When you see the world from an entirely different perspective while living among people whose cultures and way of life are completely opposite from yours, it shifts your worldview. Some say the experience is as if someone removed a film from their eyes so they could see more clearly.

Transformation. Beyond an expanded worldview can come a complete transformation of mind, body, and spirit. Acts of kindness build character. You may see a slight change in yourself, or you may see a different person emerging after a VTO experience.

Better employees. When you learn something new every day, use different creative thinking or problem solving skills, and lead, or even follow, you return to your company as a better employee. You gain much more from an offsite cultural exchange than you ever could experience within an office environment.

Shared, supportive values. Companies that offer VTO to its employees share positive values with employees, like compassion, kindness, generosity, and creativity. When you work for a company that practices social responsibility, you just feel good when you come to the office every day.

How could a Volunteer Time Off program benefit your company and its employees?

Take Time Today to Say “Thank You” For a Job Well Done

Photo credit: Pete Pedroza for unsplash.com

Photo credit: Pete Pedroza for unsplash.com

Today is Administrative Professionals Day. This day of recognition for hard-working support staff falls on the last Wednesday of April each year. Celebrations like this beg the question,  How often should you thank someone for doing a good job? In my humble opinion, you should thank anyone who does a good job anytime it comes to your mind. Hopefully it’s more than once a year!

Beyond saying the words “Thank You,” remember to show it in your body language as well.

During one of my communication workshops, I emphasized the importance of aligning verbal and nonverbal language. I discussed how we communicate nonverbally in six primary ways (facial expressions, gestures, posture, movement, appearance, and silence). When I reached the topic of Movement, a young woman (we’ll call her Jennifer) raised her hand and began to share her story with the group. She had learned an important lesson and wanted others to learn from the mistake she had made.

One day, a co-worker pulled her aside and said in confidence, “Sarah thinks you don’t like her.” To this, Jennifer replied in shock, “I love Sarah! She does so much to keep our entire department going. I couldn’t imagine us being as successful without her. Where did she get that idea from?” The co-worker said that Sarah, who was the department’s administrative assistant, explained that each morning she would say “Good morning!” to Jennifer as she walked in the door, yet Jennifer never replied. She interpreted Jennifer’s nonverbal language as “I don’t like you.”

You see, every morning Jennifer entered the building with coffee in one hand and her purse and computer bag in the other. She was focused on reaching her desk and getting to work immediately. She walked very quickly through the hallway, never noticing that Sarah was greeting her every day. “I just feel awful that Sarah thought that I didn’t like her. Thank you so much for sharing this with me,” Jennifer told her co-worker.

The next morning, Jennifer entered the building and said, “Good morning, Sarah.” Sarah replied with excitement and a wide smile, “Good morning, Jennifer!” From that moment on, Jennifer became much more aware of how her behavior affected co-workers. She also experienced firsthand how good it felt when she acknowledged Sarah.

Take the time to check your verbal and nonverbal language. Are they in alignment? Or are they incongruent and sending mixed messages? When you take the time to say “Thank you for doing a great job,” make sure your verbal and nonverbal language complement each other. Based on my experience, the simple recognition of a job well done is more greatly appreciated that any candy, flowers, or lunch. Happy Administrative Professionals Day to everyone who makes our day-to-day business operation run more smoothly.

Repositioning a Generation: How March for Our Lives Elevated Generation Z’s Image

ThankYouthPosterWhat has happened since the tragic February 14, 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, is truly remarkable. In just five short weeks, Stoneman Douglas students ignited a nationwide youth movement #NeverAgain to speak out against gun violence, encouraging participation in the March 24, 2018 March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C. and cities around the world. The result: Their generation, Generation Z, has elevated its position in our American psyche, shifting older generations’ views of them from “entitled” or “lazy” to now a generation of doers, thought leaders, and change-makers.

These youth elevated their image in several simple yet powerful ways:

Determination. The Parkland students were determined to give voice to an issue that has plagued our country for decades. They succeeded in setting themselves apart in the March for Our Lives and changing how others saw their generation.

Inclusion. Students, teachers, administrators, parents, and the general public were invited to participate in the March for Our Lives. Just two weeks after the Parkland shooting, students from Chicago were invited to Parkland to share their experiences. Two days before the March, Parkland students met with students from Thurgood Marshall Academy in Washington, D.C., to discuss their experiences with gun violence.

Organization. What the Parkland students were able to accomplish in just five short weeks is incredible. Students accepted full responsibility for getting their tasks done, and they achieved them.

Eloquence. The memorable presentation by Emma Gonzalez, and her powerful use of silence, has people talking about how she may become Time Magazine’s Person of the Year. Emma and other Parkland students appeared on the national platform for the first time in their lives. Each student spoke with such deep emotion, compassion, and eloquence.

Positive Messaging. Filled with passion and emotion, students’ messages remained positive, clear and consistent throughout the speaker program as well as media interviews. Presenters focused on telling their own stories with insight and great maturity.

All of that hard work created a new statistic: The March 24, 2018 March for Our Lives represents the largest youth demonstration since the Vietnam War (reminder: that was more than a half century ago).

When asked by a reporter “What’s next?,” without hesitation, Stoneman Douglas high school student David Hogg quickly and succinctly outlined what those specific next steps are:

* Reach out to eligible youth across the country, encouraging them to register to vote, and then vote in the next election.

* Host Town Hall meetings in every Congressional District across the country, inviting sitting Congressional representatives to meet and discuss gun legislation.

* Encourage participation in an April 20 nationwide student walkout, the anniversary of the Columbine shootings.

* March on all State Capitols and meet with elected officials.

The level of planning and organization of these high school students is truly remarkable.

One final observation: Kudos to MSNBC, who devoted an entire 24-hour news cycle to live coverage of the March for Our Lives. Top MSNBC news anchors shared the role of anchoring throughout the day, inserting live interviews in Washington, D.C. and in cities around the country. What also impressed me was MSNBC’s dedication to including a diverse group of reporters, including a number of young reporters. I especially appreciated that MSNBC did not repeat the same story multiple times; rather, they provided fresh interviews throughout the day.

Th poster that I carried (seen above) during the Saturday, March 24, 2018 March for Our Lives in Cleveland, Ohio (one of hundreds of participating cities) represents a clear message: Focus on today’s youth because they have a voice that needs to be heard, they rallied others to participate in this march, and they deserve our support and recognition.

The March for Our Lives was truly an historic event, one that we will be talking about for years – and generations – to come. For anyone who wonders what the future will be like for the next generations, the message is emphatically clear: They are in good hands.

When the Student is Ready, the Teacher Appears…and Reappears

Photo credit: Fischer Twins for unsplash.com

Photo credit: Fischer Twins for unsplash.com

It was the title of the article that first captured my attention more than 30 years ago as a budding, young professional:

Work Hard; Love People; Be A Professional

Then, the first sentence, in all capital letters, begins: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A PERFECT JOB.

The article, written by Elinor J. Wilson, then Director of the Colgate University Bookstore and sitting President (1985-86) of the National Association of College Stores, appeared in The College Store Journal.

The same article title that caught my attention all those years ago stood out the other day, as I purged old paper files and organized my office. Asking myself the all-important question as I touched each memory, “Does it stay or does it go?,” the answer was an emphatic “Stay!” The fading copy is carefully and meticulously highlighted in yellow, with specific words and phrases then underlined in red.

That first paragraph continues with, “In any position, you will find some duties which, if they are not unpleasant immediately, eventually will be. Success depends not merely on how well you do things you enjoy, but how conscientiously you perform those duties you don’t enjoy.” Reread this last sentence. What refreshing honesty. These words of wisdom could be incorporated easily into new employee orientation or onboarding programs.

Wilson outlines several specific, simple rules to better one’s chance for success:

• Have ambition

• Learn everything you can about your work

• Broaden your horizons

• Set your goals high

• Learn self-discipline and self-reliance

• Communicate effectively; put your ideas into clear language

• Be thorough; cover every side of a question; follow every lead

• Set a definite goal for yourself

She adds, “Before you know it, you may find the ladder of success stretching out below you instead of rising ominously in front of you.” She emphasizes how important it is to Keep (maintain action by care and labor) Doing (deeds of interest and excitement). The true professional is in constant motion, continuously improving, and including others in important decisions.

One of my favorite sections of the article, though, is a discussion about time.

“If you had a bank that credited your account each morning with $86,400, that carried over no balance from day to day, and allowed you to keep no cash in your account, and every evening cancelled whatever part of the amount you had failed to use during the day, what would you do? Draw out every cent, of course!

“Well, you have such a bank, and its name is time. Every morning it credits you with 86,400 seconds. Every night it rules off, as lost, whatever of this you have failed to invest to good purpose. It carries over no balance. It allows no overdrafts.

“Each day it opens a new account with you. Each night it burns the records of the day. If you fail to use the day’s deposits, the loss is yours. There is no going back. There is no drawing against the tomorrow. You must live in the present, on today’s deposits. Invest it so as to get from it the utmost in health, happiness, and success.

“The secret for controlling time is that there is always enough time to do what is really important. The difficulty is knowing what is really important.”

Wilson encourages the reader to focus on professional development, hard work, dedication, and resourcefulness. “Be a giver to life instead of just a receiver,” she adds.

She ends the article with one simple sentence: “The light of leadership shines only because of the spark offered by each individual.”

Wilson’s words of wisdom are as relevant today as they were when she wrote them more than three decades ago. I hope they resonate within you as they continue to do within me. There is so much more that we can do to contribute and create positive change in our workplaces, our communities, and in the world. Keep doing. Work hard. Love people. Be a professional.

To Build Client Relationships, All You Need Is Love

love-is-all-you-needHow much love are you giving to your clients? How do you show them that you care?

While some people focus more on romantic love on Valentine’s Day — showing affection through flowers, candy, or a romantic dinner — it’s the more universal meaning of love that reminds us that we can do  more to meet the needs of our clients. The Oxford Dictionaries defines love as “an intense feeling of deep affection” or “a person or thing that one loves.”

One of the most iconic songs about love, All You Need Is Love, written by John Lennon, sung by the Beatles, and released in July, 1967 shares a message that is just as relevant today as it was back then.

If you were to show your clients (internal and external) how you love and care about them, what would that look like? How would you show them that you care? Here are some simple tips to help you give more love to your clients:

Get personal. In all relationships, whether business or personal, we learn about each other by sharing information about our lives, not just our business experience. Learn about your client’s personal life, hobbies, interests, family, charitable causes, life goals, greatest challenges, and triumphs. The more you know, the deeper your relationship can become.

Acknowledge that you enjoy working with them. All too often, we rely on implicit rather than explicit communication, which can keep people guessing. If you love working with a client, tell that client exactly how you feel. “I enjoyed working with you on this project because we brought our individual strengths to the process. I look forward to working on our next project.”

Keep in touch. It’s easy to get busy working on other things, yet it’s so simple to pick up the phone, send a quick email or text to check in with your clients. Your thoughtfulness will go a long way to deepen your relationship.

Get in the habit of asking. We often forget to ask the much-needed question: “What else can I do to help you?” This will get your client thinking beyond today, and planning for the future. If your client hasn’t thought about this, your question will get the ideation process moving.

Show your appreciation. Your client could go to someone else for services, yet you were the person who was chosen for the project. Send your client a note of appreciation that says “I value you as a client.”

Have fun. The best working relationships that show love in action are those where people feel comfortable with each other and bring more of their authentic selves to the relationship. They have fun. My favorite clients are the ones who share that mutual feeling…I love working with and being with them, and they feel the same way about me.

As you look at your relationships with your clients, answer these questions:

What are you doing to make your clients feel more connected to you?

How can you show your love to your clients?

Don’t just express your appreciation one day each year. Show your clients how much you value them throughout the year.

Pause and Reflect With Powerful Questions

Photo credit: Glenn-Carson Peters, unsplash.com

Photo credit: Glenn Carsten-Peters, unsplash.com

Happy New Year, and welcome to a year of possibilities. Regardless of how 2017 ended for you, the benefit of turning that calendar page to a new year is that you have an entire year ahead of you, ready for planning and action. Here are a series of questions to keep you focused and engaged in making 2018 a productive and meaningful year for you.

First, Take a Brief Look Back

While it’s not often healthy to dwell in the past, it is helpful to take stock and summarize how the past year went for you.

What were the high points of the year?

What did you do extremely well?

In what areas did you exceed your own expectations?

Did you meet or exceed your goals?

What were the top three lessons you learned from your experiences? (Include both career and life experiences)

Who provided you with valuable mentoring or coaching expertise and guidance?

If you could use one word to sum up 2017 for you, what word would it be?

Now, Look at This Moment Only

After you have reflected on the year that has just passed, now turn your attention to this moment…right now, today. Don’t even look at or think about tomorrow yet. Answer a few simple questions:

How are you feeling about yourself, your life, right now? (Good? Not so good? Not sure?)

If you could choose to do anything at this very moment, what would it be? (Is it something you usually do or rarely do?)

What are you most grateful for today? (Do you feel this way every day? Sometimes? Never?)

What person(s) are you coming into contact with today, and why? (Are there positive or negative feelings attached to that person/those people?)

In what way are you living your core values today?

What one word best describes your attitude today?

Last, Take a Look Ahead

Good for you. You have summarized the past year. You have taken a moment to value and appreciate how you’re feeling today. Now the fun begins…the future! The thing about life is, even if you have planned out everything in the finest detail, there are going to be unexpected twists, turns and events that can postpone or sidetrack your goals. How resilient or flexible will you be when that happens? How long will it take for you to get back on track?

Looking out across the next 12 months, what is the one big goal that you want to achieve this year?

If you took that big goal and divided it into 12 smaller chunks (by month), what would your plan look like?

Example: If your goal is to write a book (which is a big goal; I speak from experience), then what steps do you need to take between now (no book) to then (finished product in your hands)?

What resources will you need to accomplish your goals?

What mentoring or coaching services would you need to help you meet your goals?

Looking at December, 2018, if you were to look back on the year that has just passed, what would you like to say about your accomplishments?

I hope these questions have helped you to put into perspective the year that just passed, where you are today, and where you would like to be in 2018. May it be one of your best years ever.

Give of Yourself This Giving Tuesday

#GT_logo2013-final copy small

Black Friday has come and gone. Cyber Monday sales are over. And the numbers are in. Drum roll, please. Between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, online retail sales totaled $13 billion. Yes, that’s with a b. Giving Tuesday, the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, is designed to remind us that amidst the rush of holiday spending, we must also remember that in every community, there are people in need who need our support. Here are some thoughts on how you can participate in this global giving event:

Set aside funds for charity. Let’s say that between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, you spent $1,000 on gifts for your family and friends (and you know there were a few purchases for yourself too). If you took just 10% of what you spent and gave that $100 to charitable organizations, you could make a difference in other people’s lives. (Could you imagine what it would be like if charitable organizations benefited from this 10% philosophy? Ten percent of $13 billion in retail sales equals $1.3 billion to nonprofit organizations. Wow. Imagine what we could do if we adopted this 10% philosophy.)

Think small, dream big. Within the nooks and crannies of communities are smaller, lesser known nonprofit organizations that achieve great things for the underserved, usually because the organizations don’t have as much overhead. Do some research and find those organizations in your community.

Give a little. If your funds are tight this year and you don’t have as much to give, then give a dollar or two. Do you realize that you can feed one hungry person an entire meal for about a dollar?

Volunteer. Beyond financial donations, charitable organizations benefit from hands-on help from ordinary people like you and me. Tasks can include serving meals, delivering food baskets, cleaning up properties, teaching people to read, or visiting the elderly. Organizations like Volunteer Match offer volunteer opportunities in more than 100,000 communities worldwide.

Let others inspire you. If you need to be inspired to volunteer, then review this year’s CNN Heroes list for consideration. The stories of unconditional love and a passion to serve will inspire you.

Be a positive role model. If you have children in your household, in your neighborhood, or in your workplace, teach them to care about others at an early age. Let them see you in action volunteering and helping others who may be less fortunate. Seeing is believing. You will inspire them to serve.

How are you celebrating Giving Tuesday? What one thing can you do to help others?

Get up-to-the-minute news posts by following Giving Tuesday on Twitter at @GivingTues.

Step Outside Your Comfort Zone: Get Involved in Make A Difference Day

DLPk7ggWAAAjC08.jpg-largeSaturday, October 28, 2017, is Make A Difference Day. Twitter: #MDDay. This event is one of the largest single days of service across the country. Projects range from cleaning up public parks and building homes to serving meals to the needy. The annual event began in 1992, sponsored by TEGNA, Inc. with the support of Arby’s Foundation and Points of Light.

You can either start a project or volunteer for a project that is already organized. Find a project in your community here from the Make A Difference website. When I searched for events in my zip code, I discovered 20 projects that are happening in my area, from park clean-up and reading to underprivileged children to building an inner-city garden hoop house and knitting warm scarves and mittens for the homeless. Also, check your local television stations, radio stations, public libraries, schools, park systems, or nonprofit organizations to find projects right in your community. Or if you are feeling ambitious and want to travel out-of-state, participate in a larger scale project or historic site preservation. You will feel inspired when you read the stories about the 2016 project awards.

Beyond this one national day of service, consider simple things that you can do to be of service to others every day.

At the end of the day today, take a few minutes to pause and reflect on what difference you have made – in the lives of people who you have touched or in your community. When you invest that time in assessing your impact on the world around you, you will value and appreciate your many contributions. You will feel great pride in what you do. You will inspire and motivate others to do more.

First, it begins with you. Take care of yourself and your health so that you can continue your good work. What did you do for yourself today that made you feel good about yourself? Did you start your day with nutritious food? Did you walk a few laps around your neighborhood to improve your stamina?

What did you do for others today that brought you joy? It could be something simple like packing a note in your child’s lunch, or involving a neighborhood in creating a delicious meal together. Did you open the door for a disabled person at the office? Did you help an elderly person carry her food tray to her table? Did you stop and visit a friend or relative who lives alone and enjoys your companionship? Did you give someone a chance to lead others because you believe in that person?

What did you do for your community today that made a difference? Did you bring your talents to a nonprofit organization’s board? Did you help to make an important decision that will have a positive impact on your community? Did you volunteer at a local fundraising event? Did you help build a home for a family in need?

If you want to invest more time in making a difference, then focus on that outcome. When you choose to do more for others, to make someone else’s life more comfortable, or to make your community a better place, the opportunities will come to you. You can also bring your own big ideas into fruition. Anything is possible when you have a strong desire to make positive change a habit.

Find Joy in Serving Others

HelpingHands2One of the greatest pleasures you can get out of life is being completely selfless — thinking of others before you think of yourself. It doesn’t require much effort…just a little.

On a hot summer day more than a decade ago, my husband and I attended a local art festival. Did I mention that it was a hot day? It was about 90 degrees. After an hour of walking in the heat, I needed something to quench my thirst. The iced cold beverages were flying out of the vendors’ coolers and I decided to buy one. As I stood in line, a woman in a wheelchair was ahead of me. She asked the vendor how much the water was. “One dollar,” he replied. “Oh, I don’t have a dollar with me,” said the woman. The man said he was sorry but the water cost one dollar.

That’s when I decided that I would buy this woman a bottle of water. After I made my purchase, I walked over to the woman and handed her the bottle. “Here is some water for you,” I said. She looked at me in disbelief. Surely she was mistaken. Why would a total stranger present her with a bottle of cold water? “What?” she asked. “I overhead you say that you wanted some water. Here’s some water for you,” I said again. She extended her arms up and pulled me down to her to give me a hug. She began to cry. She said, “God bless you! Thank you. I was just released from the hospital this morning and I don’t have any money with me. I’m so hot and thirsty. Thank you so much.” Giving water to that woman was the high point of my day. I have a feeling my act of kindness was the high point of her day.

Think of the people around you — at work or at home — who may be struggling, frustrated, or simply confused. Your word of encouragement, act of kindness, or generosity of time can change their outlook. What can you share with them?

Sometimes you have to trust your intuition and do what your heart, not your mind, wants to do. When you see someone in need, ask yourself how you could help. You, too, could make someone’s day. Wonderful surprises await you. Ask yourself every morning, “Who can I help today?” At the end of each day, ask yourself, “Who did I help today?” It only takes a minute or two. Soon, serving others will become so natural for you, you will do it without thinking.

©Christine Zust

This Summer, Consider Hosting a Reunion

family-reunionSummer is the time of year when you can kick back and relax, go on vacation (or a stay-cation), cookout on the grill, enjoy daylight longer, and reunite with family and friends. Even if you’re in the midst of a demanding project this Summer, you can still take a break to enjoy nature or a short retreat.

A reunion is important. It reconnects you with people who you haven’t seen in a while, or family members you haven’t visited in a long time. If you were to make a short list of “must-see” individuals this Summer, who would make it onto your list? Pick up the phone and call or send a quick email or text.

Why reunite? To reconnect. To remember. To say “Thank you for being there.” To celebrate the good times. To simply be.

I recently co-chaired a reunion event for a women’s civic organization that I led as president more than 25 years ago. The organization sadly closed its doors about a decade ago. My reunion co-chair was the club’s executive director during my term as president. She remains a close, longtime friend. We decided to recognize the club’s founding in 1916 with a 101st anniversary celebration.

Sixty women attended the event, some of whom I hadn’t seen in 20-25 years. The energy level was palpable. Over cocktails, during dinner and dessert, there were lots of laughs and plenty of hugs and kisses to go around. We paid tribute to the years of history we shared together. Many served on the board as I did, chaired committees, or volunteered in the office. The women reminisced about their collaborative community work, fundraisers and programs they had chaired, and lasting friendships they had made through their club membership. Everyone felt valued and connected, celebrating being part of something larger through the club.

When asked to comment on what lessons they learned or a favorite memory, they shared: “Meeting diverse women who I would not have met otherwise.” “Great women.” “Lifetime friendships.” “Best leadership training ever.” We received rave reviews from the women who joined us that evening, some of whom insisted that we reunite every year. It is clear they want to remain connected, so we will make sure that happens.

What about you? What reunion will you be planning this Summer? Who will you be reaching out to for a get-together? Whether it’s a larger group or just a few people, take the time to celebrate who you have shared history with. Rekindle those relationships with people who have influenced or inspired you. The years pass by too quickly. The time to reunite is now!