“I used to work stupidly hard, but then I bought my attitude boots,” sang John Reid-Dodick, AOL’s Chief People Officer. John spoke about the rapidly changing work environment at AOL over the last few years and the pressure it puts on leaders. They’ve made so many changes and undergone such dramatic shifts in business models that their “normal” pace of business could only be characterized as frantic. John likened this kind of frenzied ramp up to the example of a frog in boiling water: as the water slowly gets to boiling temperature the frog is so used to the increased temperature that it doesn’t try to escape the pot of water—then it dies. A tough comparison for a work environment, for sure, but one that many companies have been grappling with in recent years with the tough economy.
Instead of giving in to the frantic status quo and accepting it as the pace of business today, John and his HR leaders created a sustainable high performance model. They developed a plan to move from frantic to agile. One of the most forward-thinking tenets of sustainable high performance is energy management. Learning sessions for leaders in energy management include things like nutrition, naps, and inner dialogue. What a change from leaders who were constantly moving from one fire to the next to, instead, ensure they were prepared for the day’s challenges by taking a 20-minute nap before their big afternoon meetings. AOL changed to a more holistic approach to engaging and retaining employees in a time when they were experienceing high executive turnover. They knew they had to make a change, and it had to be dramatic. But, it starts small, they started focusing on behaviors, which turn into attitudes, which turn into a culture. It’s not an easy task to create such a dramatic shift in people-focus from frantic, reactive performance management to believing that the quality of one’s attitude is as important as the quality of one’s work.
That brings us to John’s stellar performance of his song “Attitude Boots.” He wrote the song after he had a personal experience where he bought a pair of cowboy boots that made him feel more positive about himself and his work. Other people noticed the change, and it’s a great lesson for HR folks to ask their employees: what are your attitude boots? Where do you find the focus to tone down the noise and find your center so you can perform at your best?
It’s important for employees to feel confident to bring their best self to work. Why? Because everyone benefits when each employee is working at their best. Take a look at the culture at your workplace—is the pace at which you’re doing business sustainable for all? Or do you need to create some nap spaces so employees can re-energize? Are there spaces for leaders to feed their brains to keep them running in top shape? Perhaps you need to bring in workshops to expand the learning offerings or introduce a social learning program—where employees can teach each other. Uploading videos to share best practices—employee made, not force fed from higher up—could really re-energize a workforce and serve as brain food. (And, bonus, it could be pretty low cost.) More detail to come about social learning in the next blog post.