“Everyone” Issue

Exciting News for a New Year and a New Day! TWEAK IT!

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I am excited to share news about my new book, TWEAK IT: Make What Matters to You Happen Every Day, which will be published by Center Street/Hachette on January 8, 2013!

I can’t express my deep gratitude to everyone who supported me throughout the TWEAK IT creation journey.  And here it is!

Why TWEAK IT?

Do these everyday work-life tradeoffs sound familiar?

  • Prepare for a meeting, or leave work a few minutes early to go to the gym?
  • Catch up on emails, or meet a friend for coffee?
  • Ask for overtime or take my mother to the doctor?
  • Finish some paperwork, or read at my son’s school?

We all wrestle with questions like these every day.  How do you do your job and take care of yourself, nurture your relationships, keep up your job skills, care for your loved ones and maintain your personal finances and home?

In TWEAK IT, I reveal the secrets of the work+life fit “naturals.”  These are the people I’ve met over the years who seem to fit all of the pieces of their personal and professional lives together with ease.

As I studied the naturals, I discovered they regularly follow four simple practical steps when managing their actions and priorities on and off the job; however, survey results confirmed most of us don’t.  We either don’t know how important these commonsense steps are or we ignore them.  That used to include me!

TWEAK IT shows all of us how to unleash the power of small changes that have a big impact!

How can TWEAK IT help you?

TWEAK IT translates the secrets of the work+life fit naturals into a doable weekly practice that’s accessible to everyone, whether you are a man, woman, mother, father, entrepreneur, millennial, caregiver or pre-retiree.

The weekly TWEAK IT practice of small changes, or “tweaks,” builds that solid foundation of everyday contentment and order we all crave—one step at a time.  You will learn how to:

  • Create a “TWEAK IT snapshot” that brings all of your work and personal realities together in one complete picture.
  • Use your current calendar & priority list to successfully manage this “snapshot” on a regular basis.
  • Choose the standard tweaks you would like to see happen consistently every week (going to the gym every morning, or making sure to sit down with the entire family for dinner four nights out of the week).
  • Pick your unique Tweaks of the Week – the new, periodic small actions and priorities you would like to add to your routine over the next seven days (reviewing household finances, setting up a LinkedIn profile or trying out a new sporting activity during the week).
  • Partner with your boss, coworkers and family members to make these tweaks a reality.
  • Review and revise their weekly Tweak It practices to keep it fresh and relevant.

To ensure your success, TWEAK IT includes the “get started” advice of experts from over fifty work and life related areas, like wellness, career relationships, personal finance, caregiving, and life and home maintenance.

Because I wanted the support and learning to continue even after you finished the book, we created the TWEAK IT TOGETHER mobile-friendly community site.  The site will launch on Monday, January 7th, the day before the book is released!

How can you get started?

Pre-order TWEAK IT! Order now through your favorite online retailer and be sure you are among the first to get it!  Amazon / Barnes&Noble / IndieBound

SPECIAL Limited Time Offer! If you pre-order three or more books, send us a copy of your receipt (cali@worklifefit.com) and we will send you a special thank you gift!

Like the NEW! TWEAK IT Community Facebook Page and Tell Your Friends!

Stay tuned for more updates!! If you haven’t already, be sure to join our mailing list.

As you can tell, I am so excited to share all that I have learned as I researched and wrote TWEAK IT, and I look forward to helping everyone “Just TWEAK IT” in the coming months!

Work-Life Hits the Front Page of the NYTimes Sunday Business Section–Why It Matters

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In case you missed it last week, Hannah Seligson wrote a thoughtful and compelling article entitled, “When the Work-Life Scales Are Unequal,” that appeared in the Sunday New York Times business section.

The article deftly addressed the perceptions and realities of unequal work-life “balance” in the workplace (As a colleague in the work-life field said on Twitter, “Good job, everyone.  I was prepared to be annoyed based on the headline. Nice piece!”)

I’m honored that Selignson included my insights in the article as well as cited findings from the 2011 Work+Life Fit Reality Check survey; however, what I found particularly remarkable were:

  1. The placement of the article on the front page of the Sunday New York Times business section, above the fold, and
  2. The large picture of a father with his child at swim lessons accompanying the article.

The placement and the picture represent noteworthy and important symbolic shifts for the work-life debate.  Why?

Work-Life as an “everyone” issue takes its rightful place as a business topic

Historically, the “Style,”Family” and “Life” sections/segments of major media outlets have covered the work and life beat.  The message sent was that work+life fit is nice and interesting topic, but it doesn’t impact the business directly enough to warrant front page, above-the-fold attention in the business section (in “Careers” perhaps, but not “Business”).

Yes, articles related to attracting and retaining women when they became mothers got some business coverage, and more recently, pieces about fathers and work have started to appear here and there.

This article was different. It was front and center, in the Sunday business section of The New York Times.  And it focused on the reality that we all have lives outside of our job that we have to manage. While we don’t need to tell each other what we are doing when we leave work, we must improve how we collaborate and coordinate. We have to focus on how we get our respective jobs done so that what matters to us, personally and professionally, happens in a way that works for everyone.  That includes men, women, single people, married people, parents and elder caregivers.  Everyone.  And being able to manage that process effectively does impact the business.

Does that mean work+life fit shouldn’t be covered in the “Style,” “Family,” and “Life” sections/segments in the media?  No.  We can always use more help with how we manage the “life” side of the equation better and smarter in the context of work, and that fits beautifully in those categories.  But, acknowledging the “work” piece of the puzzle in the context of life is equally as important, and belongs in the business section.

The picture says it all: work-life is not just an issue for women and moms

I was out of town for the long weekend, so I didn’t see the hard copy of the article in print until I returned home on Monday.  Online, there’s a small picture with the article of Aziz Gilani, a director of DFJ Mercury, and his children, Aleena and Ziyad, whom he often takes to swim class during the workweek (image credit: Michael Stravato, The New York Times).

But in the printed paper, that same picture is huge, and placed prominently on the page.  To see an image of a father who leaves work to take his children to an activity on the front page of the business section of the Sunday New York Times, again, wow.

Contrast that picture with the question I posed during a speech I gave two weeks ago, “What are the two most prominent work and life stories in the media over the summer?”  Without missing a beat, the group shouted, “Anne Marie Slaughter’s article in The Atlantic about how women can’t have it all,” and “Marissa Mayer, the pregnant CEO of Yahoo.”  I then asked the group of attendees, “What message does that send about work and life issues?”  Again, almost immediately, “That they are about women and mothers.”

Yes, women and mothers need to flexibly manage their work and life everyday and throughout their careers (I am a mother of two and I understand all too well), but as the image of Gilani and his kids that accompanied this article shows so clearly, so do men and fathers.  And, while not pictured, so do young people going back to school at night, or someone caring for an adult sibling with disabilities.

Maybe I’m jumping the gun, but I hope that the “When the Work-Life Scales Are Unequal” article is the first of many more that deal with the challenges we all face managing work and life in a modern, hectic world.  And that those pieces also appear on the front page of the business section, above-the-fold, in major media outlets like The New York Times.  It’s long overdue. If there are examples, please share.  I’d love to see them.  Because that’s where the topic also belongs.

My CNN Headline News “Work+Life Fit (Not Balance) is an Everyone Issue” Segment

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Yesterday, I appeared on CNN Headline News to discuss the work+life “fit” issues raised in Sunday’s New York Times article “When the Work-Life Scales are Unequal.”

Cali Williams Yost, CNN Headline News (9/4/12)

My keys points in the segment were that we need to:

  • De-parent and de-gender the conversation about work and life.  In our modern, hectic world, we all need flexibility and support to manage our responsibilities on and off the job.
  • Communicate and coordinate with each other more effectively to get our jobs done, and to make what matters to us in our personal lives happen as often as possible.  This mutually-beneficial collaboration and coverage model replaces the traditional “9-5, in the office, Monday-Friday” boundaries that used to tell us when work ended and our personal lives began that no longer exist.
  • Stop seeking work-life “balance” because it doesn’t exist.  All we can find is our own work+life “fit” and do it in a way that considers our needs and the needs of the business, our manager, and team.
  • Do a better job planning the personal activities and priorities we want to make part of our week.  See where there might be a conflict with work and identify whom you need to coordinate with.

What I didn’t get a chance to say is when you initiate that work+life fit coordination discussion with your colleagues, focus on “how” you are going to get your job done, and not on “why” you need to work differently.  It makes that conversation more productive and more likely to result in a mutually-beneficial outcome.

Monster Careers Work-Life “Balance” Twitter Chat (#MWChat)

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On Thursday, August 16th, I co-hosted Monster Works Twitter Chat (#MWChat) with Charles Purdy of @MonsterCareers, and my good friend, career coach extraordinaire, @MaggieMistal!  

Also, stopping by the chat to offer her helpful wisdom was another friend, career coach Miriam Salpeter (aka @Keppie_Careers).

Check it out at the following link: http://on.fb.me/OJlZm9

3 Work-Life Assumptions That Are Often Wrong (and Costly)

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Over the last two decades, work and life have transformed so radically that the language we use (e.g. “balance) and the beliefs we hold about the decisions we “should” or “can” make are often out of date.

Here are three examples of work-life assumptions that are frequently wrong…and costly:

Wrong Assumption #1: When a woman has a baby, she will want to work part-time (or not at all), and won’t want to take on more responsibility or travel. Unfortunately, some leaders, managers and colleagues of women in the workplace still make this assumption.

This bias is based on beliefs that continue to influence behavior, even though they no longer broadly apply. For example, Gayle Lemmon recently wrote an article in The Atlantic about research that showed some men in traditional marriages still unconsciously overlook women in the workplace for promotion, etc. because of their assumptions about women and the role they play. In reality, only 29% of children have a stay-at-home parent. The rest either live in a single parent home or both parents work for pay.

  • Why it’s costly: It costs women in that it reinforces the well-documented “motherhood penalty” that affects their career advancement and earnings. It’s costly to employers because the business doesn’t have access to or develop the talent of some of its best employees.
  • Assumption Update: Don’t assume. Discuss preferences which each individual woman. After having a child, some women will want or have to work full-time. They’ll be happy to travel and welcome additional responsibilities. And even if they don’t, women who choose to scale back their career may want to only for a certain period of time. Not forever.

Wrong Assumption #2: Men don’t care about work-life issues. This is an extension of the previous inaccurate assumption. The bias is that work-life is a women’s issue, or more specifically, a mothers’ issue.

From my experience working inside companies, most men care quite a bit about how they manage their lives on and off the job and want to be invited into the conversation. In fact, research shows that men in dual-earner couples are experiencing more work+life conflict than women.

  • Why it’s costly: It costs men because they don’t feel that they have permission to get the support and flexibility they need to manage their work and life better and smarter. Employers lose the productivity and engagement from unnecessarily stressed and overwhelmed men.
  • Assumption Update: We all need to manage our work+life fit everyday if we want to see our friends and family, stay healthy, etc. That includes men and women. And all of us will experience major life transitions that will require a more formal reset of our work+life fit, whether it’s becoming a parent, caring for an aging relative, relocating with a spouse, going back to school or semi-retiring.

Wrong Assumption #3: You can’t have a life and start a successful business. Whether it’s Steve Jobs’ complete devotion to Apple at the expense of time with his family, or Tony Hsieh’s expectation that Zappos employees spend 10-20% of their time outside of work with each other, the assumed gold standard of successful entrepreneurship is 100% work to the exclusion of everything else.

  • Why it’s costly: It scares off many women and men with great business ideas but want to tuck their kids in on occassion and maintain a relationship beyond the people at work. The economy as a whole loses because jobs that are badly needed are not created. It costs potential entrepreneurs, especially women, because they don’t have access to as much capital to grow their businesses.
  • Assumption Update: No one will ever have “balance,” but you can grow a successful business and still have some life outside of work. There are plenty of examples of people doing it and doing it well. This includes the mothers leading successful entrepreneurial ventures who were featured in a recent New York Times article written by Hannah Seligson. Is it hard work? Yes. Can it be done? Yes.

The answer is to assume nothing when it comes to how we want and need to manage our lives on and off the job in a busy, flexible, hectic modern world. Not only are our assumptions often wrong, but they can be costly to both the individual and the business. Instead let’s keep talking to each other. Learn the facts and come up with unique answers that meet our personal needs and the needs of our jobs.

What are the incorrect assumptions that you see people making about work and life? What’s the cost and how can we update those beliefs to match today’s reality?

For more, be sure to connect with me on Twitter @caliyost.

7 Tips for New Grads to Achieve Better Work Life Balance

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This past weekend I attended my college reunion. A highlight was the chance to meet current students who helped host the event. When one of these smart and enthusiastic student ambassadors asked me what I did for my career, I explained that I make work more flexible inside of organizations and help individuals to use that flexibility to manage their work and life. But I was unprepared when he replied, “So how do I find work life balance after I graduate?”

Unfortunately, my mind wasn’t in work-mode at that moment and I fumbled my response. It wasn’t until I drove home that I realized what I’d wished I’d told him (doesn’t it always happen that way?).

So here are my top seven tips to help recent or soon-to-be graduates find the work-life “balance” that, research shows, is one of their top priorities:

1. There is no “balance.” Update your language and mindset to reflect what you really want and to get manager support.

When I talk to recent graduates, I don’t hear that they expect a 50-50 split or “balance” between their work and personal life every day.  They realize there will be times when they have to work a lot and other times when they might not. What they want is the ability to work flexibly and differently depending upon what’s going on at work and in their life at a particular time.

As one recent graduate told me, “I am happy to work all weekend if you need me to, but don’t make me sit here all day if I’m not busy and could leave early, run errands, see my friends, and get to the gym.”
It’s time for a language and mindset update.

The language that’s worked for me over the past decade and is being adopted by more employers is work-life “fit,” or the unique fit between your work and personal realities. It will change day-to-day and during major life and career transitions, like going back to school, having a baby, or caring for aging family member.  What you want to have is the flexibility to manage your work-life fit in a way that works for you and your job.

For some, the goal will be the complete, seamless integration of work into your life. However, many will prefer to deliberately separate the two as much as possible. Neither goal is right or wrong. It’s a matter of the work-life fit that you choose.

Another reason to stop using balance to describe your goal is that managers tend to interpret what you are saying as “work less.” They don’t hear “work differently and more flexibly.” In an economic environment where organizations are forced to do more with fewer resources, anything that infers working “less” won’t be positively embraced.

So how do you get support to work differently and more flexibly?

2. Realize you are a “digital native,” but many people you will work with and for are not…at least not yet. You can help them get there. It might seem like a no-brainer to you to get to work a couple of hours later in the morning because you were on the phone with Asia for three hours from home the night before. But that might not be so clear to a manager who expects you to be at your desk by 9 a.m. every day, rain or shine, call or no call. If that mismatch of expectations happens, don’t take it personally. Open a dialogue about how working more flexibly and differently can benefit the business. You do that by remembering to:

3. Focus on how the work will get done and the business will benefit by working flexibly and differently.  Don’t emphasize “why” you want to do it and how you will benefit. As I advised in a recent blog post, managers support flexible work when it’s clear how the work will get done. This is especially true for recent graduate who may require more supervision. Will your manager/supervisor need to be available to answer your questions if you work on a project at night from home? Is that going to be convenient for them?

A recent Student Employment Gap survey of employers conducted by Millennial Branding found that employers looked for teamwork as one of the top skills in their new hires. Show that you are focused on the needs of the business and your team when you propose working more flexibly and differently.

4. Use the power of the “pilot.” If you want to work more flexibly, but your manager resists, offer to test it out for three months. This gives your manager comfort that they aren’t committing to something they think might not work out (even though most likely it will). It’s called using the power of the pilot.

5. Try not to completely disconnect from the workforce for a long period of time. Chances are you will experience a major life transition at some point in your career like having a baby, relocating for a partner’s new job, or caring for an aging adult. Life is long, unpredictable, and expensive. It can be risky to step away from the workforce.

Before you quit completely, try to propose a flexible work plan that will allow you to remain employed while taking care of your new personal realities (click here for a step-by-step, how-to for creating a plan). If you do decide to leave the workforce, be strategic about it. Check out iRelaunch.com for great advice about how to plan a career break. (Click HERE for more at FastCompany.com)

I would love to connect with you on Twitter @caliyost.


3 Reasons Why Card-Carrying Capitalists Should Support Paid Family Leave

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In business school, we were taught that a solid strategy recognizes the exogenous (external) and endogenous (internal) challenges facing your business and addresses them. Employee child care and eldercare responsibilities are not only two major external business challenges, but they become internal issues the minute an employee walks in the door or signs onto his or her computer.

In the U.S., we pride ourselves on our capitalistic, profit-oriented savvy; therefore, given the growing magnitude of employee caregiving realities, you would assume that employers would support a clear, consistent uniform strategic response.  One that minimized business disruption and kept employees engaged and productive over the long-term. Unfortunately, the reality is the exact opposite.

Status of Paid Family Leave in the U.S.

Out of 178 countries worldwide, the United States is one of three that does not guarantee new mothers paid leave. The other two countries are Papua New Guinea and Swaziland. Nationwide, in March 2011, only 11% of the private sector workers and 17% of public sector workers reported having access to paid leave through their employer.

Only two states in the country, California and New Jersey, offer six weeks of paid family leave to men and women who are caregivers.  Even in the face of state budget challenges, both programs are healthy and successful. Unfortunately, the state leaves are not job-guaranteed which makes the time difficult to take. (New Jersey Paid Family Leave Fact Sheet / California Paid Family Leave Fact Sheet)

Yes, there are 12 weeks of job-guaranteed FMLA, but it is unpaid and employers with fewer than 50 employees are exempt which eliminates a large percentage of workers.

In terms of private paid leave offered directly to employees by employers, 58% of mothers who gave birth and were offered leave by their employer received some form of maternity disability pay, but only 14% of men on paternity leave received any replacement income (2012 National Study of Employers). That means 42% of mothers and 86% of fathers with employer supported leave received no income at all.

A Brief History

Historically, a coalition of labor, women’s, child and health advocates have promoted paid family leave. They’ve emphasized the well-documented public health benefits, the peace of mind of employees, benefits for children and eldercare cost savings. While valuable and important, these rationales haven’t withstood the “job killer and “anti-business” arguments used by groups like the Chamber of Commerce to fight approval. (Note: at the end of the post, you will find new information that could indicate the Chamber’s position on caregiving as an important business challenge is evolving, at least in their organization.)

Why?

There are workplace and public policies that plan for time off and income replacement in case of illness or injury. There are 401Ks and social security for when you retire and can no longer work. Why isn’t there a coordinated, uniform workplace and public policy that offers time off and at least partial income replacement when people, inevitably, have babies or an aging parent needs care? Why?

I wanted the question “why” answered when I attended last month’s Paid Family Leave Forum at the Ford Foundation sponsored by the National Center for Children in Poverty, New York State Paid Leave Coalition and A Better Balance. What I learned reinforced my long-held belief that every card-carrying capitalist should support paid family leave public policy because:

  • Paid family leave acknowledges and addresses a reality that directly impacts every business and, therefore, should be planned for strategically, uniformly and deliberately;
  • Paid family leave is NOT a tax, but income replacement insurance program funded by employees at minimal cost and
  • We are paying for a cost for caregiving already, albeit indirectly and inefficiently.

But, First, Don’t Shoot the Messenger

Before we dig deeper into each of the reasons listed above, I have to establish my business credibility, or “cred.” Too often when someone tries to engage the business community on issues that they consider “soft” or societal in nature, the messenger is dismissed as “not understanding business.” This, in turn, dismisses the message. I’m a messenger who can’t be easily dismissed with that argument because I do “get” business.

I was a banker for seven years, specializing in lending to closely held companies and I graduated, with honors, from Columbia Business School. I can rock a balance sheet and cash flow statement with the best of them, and I’ve even been known to find a strange joy in deciphering the “story” within the notes at the back of an annual report. I am a flexible work strategy consultant who works inside of organizations regularly, and I believe that both people and the business must benefit if flexible work is going to succeed.

As advocates for paid family leave found in California, I am not alone. Many business people support a uniform, public policy to address this challenge, but their voices were drowned out by the groups lobbying against it.

3 Reasons Every Card-Carrying Capitalist Should Support Paid Family Leave

My knowledge of and respect for business is why I think every card-carrying, profit-oriented capitalist should support paid family leave policy (or at least not stand in its way):

Reason #1: Paid Family Leave acknowledges and addresses a reality that directly impacts every business and, therefore, should be planned for strategically and deliberately.

The truth is that we are all potential caregivers. We may not end up having children, but all of us have parents and aging relatives who will very likely at some point require care.

Most mothers and fathers have to work and will be in the workforce when they have children. According to studies by the Center for American Progress, “in 2010, among families with children, 49% were headed by two working parents and 26% by single parents.” In 2009, employed wives of dual-earner families contributed 47% of total family earnings. In most cases, the income of both parents is critical to a family’s financial well-being.

With regard to eldercare, in 2010, 45% of employees surveyed said they had eldercare responsibilities over the past five years, and 49% expect to have responsibilities in the next five years. As the population ages, the eldercare challenges are expected to grow and many of those caregivers—men and women–will be in the workforce.

Paid family leave as public policy acknowledges the reality of caregiving by creating a uniform, clear response. Disruption is minimized because everyone knows the rules of the road. Business can plan in advance how the work will get done should an employee take leave for the prescribed six week period of time. This is especially true for maternity leave where, usually, you have months to plan. For example, perhaps the business can use the wages not paid to the employee on leave to hire a temporary worker, or to pay exist staff to take on the extra work during the leave.

It’s worth noting that a follow-up study of employers in California found that a majority felt paid family leave had either a positive or neutral impact on their business.

Reason #2: In the case of California and New Jersey, Paid Family Leave is NOT a tax, but an income replacement insurance program funded by employees.  In fact, some advocates feel a more accurate name is Family Leave Insurance. (Click HERE to go to Forbes.com for more)

It’s 10 P.M., Do You Know Where Your Employees Are? 4 Steps to Set After-Hours Work Expectations

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The other day I sat with three senior leaders from three different industries. One was the CEO of an international PR and communications firm. One was a partner of a professional services firm, and the other the president of a national not-for-profit. As it often does, our discussion about work and life turned to technology. I asked them how they used their smartphones and laptops to stay connected to work after traditional business hours:

”I keep my phone on 24/7, but I don’t respond to everything, all the time.”–CEO of the PR and communications firm.

“I sometimes send emails at 4 a.m., and on the weekends just to get a jump-start on my day and week.”–president of the national not-for-profit.

“My phone goes in my briefcase when I get home and I don’t look at it again until the next morning.”–partner of a professional services firm.

Three leaders, with three very different uses of technology. So I asked them, “How many of you have sat down with all of your direct reports and explained how you prefer to connect with work, and specified what you expect of them?”

All three shook their heads and said some variation of the following statement, “No, I haven’t done that, but they all know that I don’t expect them to do what I do.” My response was, “I’ll bet that isn’t true,” and I shared what I see too often in many organizations:

Leaders fail to clarify their personal preferences for staying connected to work with technology, and don’t share their expectations of the responsiveness with their direct reports. This leads to misguided assumptions that can wreak havoc on the work/life balance of their employees. And most leaders have no idea any of this is happening.

Here’s my advice:

Recognize that you have to initiate the conversation with your direct reports. They won’t because they don’t want you to misinterpret their questions as, “I don’t want to work hard.” For example, I worked with a senior leader who always caught the 5:00 a.m. bus to the office. On his ride, he did all of his emails and was so pleased that his team were “morning people, too–they get right back to me!” Imagine his surprise when I told him, “Actually, many are setting alarms for 5 a.m. to be awake and reply to you.” “What?!” he responded, “Why didn’t they say anything?” To the person, they all told me they were afraid he would question their commitment if they did.

Decide what you really expect in terms of response and connection. Part of the problem is that leaders are so busy using technology to manage their own work/life balance that they haven’t thought about what they actually expect from their team. The leader who emailed from the bus at 5:00 a.m. told everyone that if he really needed them he’d call their mobile phones. If an email was priority, he’d identify it. Otherwise feel free to respond whenever they can.

Have a meeting, state the parameters clearly, and then be consistent. People watch the behavior of leaders like a hawk. If there’s even a whiff of inconsistency between what you told them and how you actually behave, they will go back to assuming they need to follow your technology schedule. So if you state, “You don’t need to respond to emails at night, I’ll call you if anything is urgent,” don’t penalize someone who missed an important issue because they didn’t answer an email, but were never called.

Finally, keep the lines of communication open and encourage ongoing clarification. Assumptions people make about their manager’s expectations are rarely accurate, especially when it comes to connection and access to work via technology. Set the record straight. It’s an easy way to offer your people more control and consistency over the way work fits into their lives–something we all need.

If you’re a manager, have you clarified your expectations of access and connectedness with your direct reports? If you haven’t, why not? If you did, what did you learn? What difference did it make?

(This post originally appeared in Fast Company)

3 Reasons Entrepreneurs Need to Discuss “Work” and “Life,” but Stop Talking About “Balance”

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Last Friday, I had the privilege of participating as a panelist at The White House Urban Economic Forum hosted by Barnard College. The event focused on inspiring, funding and providing technical support to women entrepreneurs.

A recurring theme throughout the conference was how to start and grow a business while taking care of the other parts of your life.  For example:

  • Rebecca Blank, Acting Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce, explained that when women are asked why they started their businesses they’re more likely to answer, “So I have flexibility to manage my life and my kids.” In contrast, men respond, “To make a lot of money.”
  • Joanne Wilson, an angel investor and Gotham Gal blogger, said she thought every woman should be an entrepreneur because it gives you the control and flexibility to do work you love and take care of the other parts of your life.

But when one of the moderators, Arianna Huffington, asked the women on her panel, “How do you balance your work and life?” everyone got so quiet you could have heard a pin drop.  If issues related to work and life were so front and center throughout the day, why was “balance” such a tough topic for the group to address?  And why does it matter?

There is no work/life “balance,” which is why no one can answer the question. It’s not that we don’t want to answer the question.  It’s that we can’t, no matter how hard we try (here and here).  This is especially true for entrepreneurs who rarely have any physical or mental division between their lives on and off the job.

The way to start a productive conversation on the subject is to ask someone, “How do you manage the way work and the other parts of your life fit together?”  The conversation shifts away from limiting, unachievable, one-size-fits-all “balance,” to the possibilities of a person’s unique work+life “fit.” You leave room for the truth that there will be times when work is primary, and the other parts of life take a backseat, and vice versa.  And that’s OK.  We can learn from our individual “how to” stories.

It’s imperative that we share our judgment-free strategies for managing work and life if we want women-owned businesses to achieve their full growth potential. Since the research shows that women entrepreneurs are motivated in part by work+life considerations, then it’s critical to share strategies for managing how all of the pieces fit together.  It’s the only way women are going to see the possibilities for themselves and their businesses, and expand beyond the “it can’t be done” meme that’s out there.

Personally, when I heard that my fellow panelist Margery Kraus grew her company, APCO Worldwide, to employ 700 people around the world while staying married to her husband for more than 40 years, raising three children and spending time with 10 grandchildren, I thought, “If she can do it, so can I.”  Technical advice for business growth is important but so are the “how to” strategies for personal success (as you define it for yourself and your family).

We need to challenge the “all work, all the time” model that dominates entrepreneurial lore and funder expectations. In his book “Delivering Happiness—A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose,” Zappos founder, Tony Hsieh, shares his secrets to entrepreneurial success.  One of his rules is that Zappos employees spend a certain percentage of their time outside of work with each other.  A busy entrepreneur who has other personal responsibilities is going to look at that blueprint for growth and think, “I can’t do that.” But is it really necessary?

After more than 15 years creating work+life fit and flexibility strategies for all types of companies, I can honestly say I don’t believe that the “all work, all the time” model is the only path to business success. It’s time to identify and celebrate other examples where an entrepreneur works hard, achieves results but doesn’t completely ignore their own well-being and their important personal relationships.

Changing the narrative around the work+life fit expectations of an entrepreneur is especially critical for women.

Even Jessica Jackley, the highly successful founder of Kiva.org and now CEO of ProFounder, faced blowback when one of her VC investors discovered that she was pregnant with twins. He bravely admitted thinking, “A pregnant founder/CEO is going to fail her company.”  His public honesty allowed Jackley to eloquently point out that her pregnancy shouldn’t interfere with her company’s need for funding and ability to deliver results.  She will figure out how to make it all work.  Success didn’t require an “all or nothing” choice.  But too many entrepreneurs still think it does.

Let’s learn from each other by asking, “How does your work as a busy entrepreneur fit into the other parts of your life?”  There’s no right answer or “balance,” only countless possibilities for growth and success, personally and professionally.  And in the process, we can expand beyond the outdated “all work, all the time” entrepreneurial growth mindset that limits everyone—men and women.

If you’re an entrepreneur, how to you grow your business and manage the other parts of your life?  What’s your work+life “fit?”

Embrace Uncertainty, and Ride the Butterflies

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In the early 90’s, I turned my back on a successful banking career to go to business school and become a work+life strategy consultant.  This was before most people had even heard of telework or flexible hours.  Yet I walked the halls of Columbia Business School in 1993 confidently stating this seemingly crazy goal.

Many, many people thought (and said) I was nuts.  Armed with incomplete information, intuition and support from key people, I did achieve my goal…and more!   But it would have been much easier if someone had charted the course for me.  Now someone has.

In his new book, Uncertainty, creation, marketing and innovation expert, Jonathan Fields, lays out the path that everyone can follow, and not a moment too soon.  The level of ambiguity that pervades our lives and work seems to increase daily.  Uncertainty breaks down the steps of how not only to survive but thrive, personally and professionally, in a world where the unknown is the new normal.

Recently, I spoke with Fields about his important, timely new book Uncertainty.  It’s the guide that I wish I had when I jumped, feet first, into the abyss of ambiguity.

Cali Yost:  Jonathan, let’s get started with why it’s so important to embrace uncertainty today?

Jonathan Fields: We live in a world where uncertainty is now the rule.  It’s all around us.  Either we learn to live with it or we suffer.

Nothing unique is created if you wait to have perfect information.  Great art, new and innovative ideas all happen in the face of uncertainty.  If you wait to get all of the information before moving forward then you aren’t creating.  You are just repeating because someone else has done it before.

Cali Yost: According to the research throughout the book, we avoid uncertainty even at our own expense.  I loved how you reframed the two aspects of uncertainty that trip us up most often—Fear and Butterflies.  Can you talk about Alchemy of Fear and Riding the Butterflies?

Jonathan Fields: Research shows that when we experience uncertainty the parts of our brain related to fear and anxiety light up.  Often we experience it as the sensation of having butterflies.  But butterflies are not comfortable.  In fact, we want to hunt and kill the butterflies!  We back away from where we’re trying to go and shut down.  But instead, as I discuss in the book, we need to harness and ride those butterflies toward our goal.

In terms of fear, you need to train your mindset to succeed in the face of that fear in the same way you would pursue mastery in a particular field.  It’s what I call the Alchemy of Fear.  You do this by focusing on four key areas that I describe in the book:

  1. Workflow optimization, through single tasking, etc.
  2. Personal practice, like exercise and Attentional Training
  3. Environmental and culture change, by creating “hives” and judgment leveling opportunities
  4. Outlook optimization or behavior, by reframing and growth.

(Click here to learn more about how to get one of Marty Whitmore’s limited edition Ride the Butterflies or Alchemy of Fear illustrations commissioned by Jonathan Fields for FREE)

Cali Yost:  I’m glad you mentioned judgment leveling opportunities.  I realized as I read your book, that you gave me the gift of a judgment leveling opportunity a few months ago when we had lunch.  You patiently answered all of my most basic, potentially embarrassing questions about marketing.   By allowing me to test ideas and clarify my base knowledge, you gave me a foundation from which to take what I learned to the next level, and then the next.  How can others create judgment leveling opportunities for themselves?

Jonathan Fields: Judgment is important because you want and need the data to guide your mission.  What you don’t want is the emotion that too often goes along with the data.  That’s what causes people to stop experimenting.

You can either join an existing group or create the environment yourself that gives feedback without the shutting people down.  The good news is that today you can even do this online.  There a many stories and examples in the book but here are a few things to look for:  (Click here for more)

(This post originally appeared in FastCompany.com)