Author Archives: Bonnie Milne

What three pieces of advice should post-secondary grads take to heart?

Bonnie Milne, PhD

Bonnie Milne, PhD

My youngest son is graduating from university this year so I have some, albeit limited, experience with this topic.  I say limited, because my son lives in Vancouver and his Dad and I live half a world away, in the United Arab Emirates.

When we spoke to our son earlier this week, he said that he has been going for interviews and contacting people to set up meetings, coffee, really, and he feels that he is on the verge of getting a job.  This job will be his entry to the world of urban planning and he is approaching his search from a number of different directions.  He’s cashing in his social capital, meeting with friends of friends.  He is searching in unlikely places for opportunities and he is applying to jobs he finds online.

When I was an instructor at BCIT, the arrival of spring signaled the big job search for the upcoming graduates.  I taught the Radio students and it seemed that they would all be applying for the same jobs – a scary thought, but it always worked out.  They seemed to know who would get which job because they knew one another’s strengths and didn’t see it as a competition.  I always admired the way they handled this.

The Human Resource Management students, on the other hand, would be trying to decide when to write their credential exam so they could get a jump start on their journey to the CHRP (Certified Human Resource Professional).  This exam usually came toward the end of a jam-packed program and their stamina astounded me, they must have been running on empty!  All the same, they would be looking for work, too.  A few would put it off so they could take a break, but most of them suited up and set off for interviews, maybe informational interviews, but interviews none the less.

Now on to the advice – it’s so wonderful to be asked for advice, but it’s also a huge responsibility.

Believe in Yourself

I think this is one of the few times in life when you can be really directed, hopeful, focused and enthusiastic.  Really, you’re at your best.  You’ve just achieved a life goal, that of getting an educational credential.  With your diploma or degree in hand, you are a new person and you have every right to look for the kind of work that you have been trained and educated for and that you want.  Your skill set is unique, because even though you have been learning with a group of colleagues, you are not the same as them, your experiences are different, what you are taking away from your learning is different and surprisingly enough, the work you want might also be different.  So believe in yourself and let people know what you know.

Use Every Possible Connection

Use your social capital.  Social capital helps us get things done, by making the resources of others available to us. While monetary capital is based on money, social capital is based on relationships and social networks.  There are three types of social capital: bonding – tightly knit groups that share similar beliefs and values – these enable us to get by on a day to day basis.  Bridging capital consists of loosely knit groups of more diverse individuals – these are the connections that are more likely expose us to new ideas or new experiences.  And linking capital, which is the connections we have to those who are in power – this would be known as ‘wasta’ in the UAE, and is the most tenuous.  These are the relationships we call on when our other resources are depleted.

Studies have shown that higher education leads to an increase in social capital, especially bridging capital, so use these connections.  Research also shows that these are the relationships that are most likely to get you work in a field that is outside the normal work your family and friends do so use your connections and everyone else’s.

Put Scaffolds in Place

Put some scaffolds in place, and then, be choosey.  Make sure that you have an income if you need one.  Work at a part time job so you can support yourself until the job you really want comes along.  Once your security net is in place, only apply for jobs you are qualified for and you really want.  There is no sense submitting your resume to everything that comes along and you know how difficult those cover letters are to write.  This doesn’t mean to only apply for the job of your dreams, but make sure that the job you are applying for is something you want to do for a while and can be used as a springboard to keep your career moving.

Bon Voyage!

Related Pages:

1. What Three Pieces of Advice Should Post-Secondary Grads Take to Heart? by Carolyn Courage, CHRP

2. It’s a Big World Out There! by Christine Ramage, CHRP

3. Coffee Shop HR World Café: What Three Pieces of Advice Should Post-Secondary Grads Take to Heart?

Making a Difference Through our Work

Meaningfulness increases significantly with density and diversity of sources of meaning; the relationship between density and meaningfulness is largely mediated by diversity. Findings indicate that commitment to numerous, diverse, and, especially, self-transcendent sources of meaning enhances the probability of living a meaningful life’ (Schnell, 2011).

Over the past few weeks, I have been reading two books.  The first one, Eight Lives Down is about British bomb disposal expert, Chris Hunter.  The book takes the reader through four months of his work in Iraq mainly in the war torn city of Basra, where he and his team braved attacks to go about the work of bomb disposal.

The second book, On the Front Line: The Collected Journalism of Marie Colvin 1986-2012 is a collection of the author’s reports from war zones.  Colvin, an extraordinary writer and an incredibly brave woman was killed in Syria last year.

What do these two books have in common and what do they have to do with HR?

Both books are, of course, nonfiction and although Marie wrote about conflict in other places, many of her accounts are from the Middle East.  Chris’s story is centered in Iraq.  As a resident of the Middle East, I want to know what is going on in the nearby countries and both books were not only great reads, but very eye opening.

Chris Hunter and Marie Colvin expressed an incredible dedication to their work, but beyond that, they felt their work was vital.  Chris was intent on saving lives and Marie was fixated on getting the story out.

I think most of us want to do work that is important; we want to make a difference, to build a better world through education, managing product quality, leadership, research, service – whatever we do in our jobs .   We are not content to have a job that just brings in the pay.

As HR professionals, I think it is important to remember that our colleagues and employees have a desire to do their best, to make a difference, to contribute no matter what their work.

Most of us will never be asked take the risks that these authors took, or save lives on an almost daily basis, but we will make a difference – often more than we know.

In 2009, John Varney, Chief executive at the Centre for Management Creativity, in Settle, in the United Kingdom wrote, Leadership as Meaning –Making.  He makes the case that the role of a leader is to ensure that people’s work is meaningful.  As he sees it, meaningful work negates the need for traditional supervision.  The leadership role becomes one of championing employees to overcome challenges so they can find fulfillment in their work.  People are motivated and energized by the idea of making a difference.   Recruiting and retention are easier because applicants are attracted to companies where they can make a difference.

Fortunately, there has been a lot of research on what gives meaning to people’s lives.   I am somewhat familiar with the work of Tatjana Schnell, a professor and research psychologist at Innsbruck University in Austria.  Schnell has developed what she calls ‘domains and sources of meaning’.  Schnell identifies several sources of meaning, including: challenge, freedom, knowledge, achievement, tradition, community, fun, care and attentiveness.    She also talks about the importance ‘taking responsibility for affairs beyond one’s immediate concern’. 

According to Marano (2004), when workers know their work makes a difference, productivity rises and so does job satisfaction.

How can we build an organization that makes people’s work meaningful?  It seems to me that it goes right back to the vision and mission– if employees understand see them as meaningful and understand their contribution to achieving them, this is a good start.  In his article, Marano talks about research that shows the employees who can see the client’s satisfaction with the product are more motivated.

As I finish this off, I am reminded of a cleaner who worked at SFU when I was a student there, he had all kinds of signs fastened to his cleaning cart and he was always whistling or singing as he went about his work, cleaning the outside concourse.  At the time, it didn’t strike me as important, but now I can see that he was making his job meaningful.  He was happy in his work and he made a difference.  That concourse was clean and even on days when the burden of the world was on my shoulders (studying seemed like hard work, indeed) he brought a smile to my face.


Colvin, M.  (2012).  On the Front Line.  Harper Collins

Hunter, C. (2010) Eight Lives Down.   Transworld

Marano, H. (2004.) Making a Difference at Work.  Psychology Today

Schnell, T. (2011).  Individual differences in meaning-making: Considering the variety of sources of meaning, their density and diversity. Personality and Individual Differences, 51(5), 667-673. doi:10.1016/

Varney, J. (2009). Leadership as meaning-making. Human Resource Management International Digest, 17(5), 3-5. doi:10.1108/09670730910974251

Varney, J.  Sustainable Leadership Makes Sense

What is the best way to manage a virtual team?

Technology has made it possible for us to connect and work with others around the world.  I love the descriptions from the World is Flat (Thomas Friedman, 2007) of analyses being completed in Australia overnight for physicians in the United States.  We are all familiar with the outsourcing that has taken place with call centres in Canada (Nova Scotia) Ireland and India.  In a way, these are virtual teams.

But here, I will focus on virtual teams that are working together on a project for one company.  These are teams where the members reside in different countries, often in different time zones.

A few weeks ago, I had a Dutch woman come and visit my students.   She said that the Dutch are often thought to be blunt because they speak their minds.  In the meetings she attends, people are expected to say what they think.  So I can just imagine how her and my Egyptian colleague, who tends to communicate in a very circular fashion, would manage on a virtual team.

I have read that virtual teams need to be clear on their objectives and their roles.  I am not sure if you have ever had a conversation about roles over the phone, but this can be quite difficult – some of us like to play on paper or on a white board to help illustrate what we mean – the visuals clarify our thoughts and this just isn’t possible over the phone.

The technology used is important, often key to the success of virtual teams.  Some teams use Skype which has a video streaming component, but I’ve found that even when I am working with one other person, the video sometimes overloads the system and has to be turned off, so I am not convinced that it will work with a team unless you have a dynamo computing system.

I’ve also used video conferencing when working in a team and although the interaction is a little stiff, the visuals are great.   I don’t think we realize how often we speak over one another until we are in a video conference or a teleconference and then it becomes quite clear.  ‘No, sorry, you go ahead’ seems to be a common phrase – with at least two people saying it at the same time.

Using a common system to exchange and update data can be really helpful.  Both Dropbox and SugarSync work very well – except when two people are editing same document at the same time – then it gets confusing.

So with all these concerns what does work?  How are virtual teams successful?  What role does the manager play in this success?

According to research cited by Guedes-Gondim et al. (2011) the performance of work teams depends on the member’s beliefs about the effectiveness of this mode of work.  So when a manager is putting together a virtual team, perhaps one of the first questions she needs to ask the potential members is how successful they have been on other teams.   If they can cite successes and enjoy working on teams, in general, this should make them a better candidate for a virtual team.

Team members who have used the media and worked with each other in the past are more likely to see success early on in the process.  Guedes-Gondim et al. (2011) cite research showing the types of communication virtual teams engage in, normative – what the team values and expects of each member, regulative – how the work is to be done i.e. structures, protocols and organization, and cognitive – performing the task.

Given this, perhaps the role of the manager is to help the team develop protocols, and define roles and responsibilities while keeping focused on the end result.  The manager can also ensure that there is an opportunity for team members to recognize each other’s strengths and learn more about the ways that each person will contribute to the project’s success.

Guedes- Gondim et al. (2011) also cite research that shows that people who are in the same occupation, with similar education and professional standards can work well together across cultures.  Physicians, scientists, accountants, and HR professionals, for example, are more likely to understand one another within their professional context.   A team that is diverse in both culture and profession are going to be find it more difficult to communicate and will need more guidance from their manager.

I know that trust is important in every team’s interactions.  It seems that one role the manager can play is to provide opportunities early on for team members to learn more about each other.  They could review case studies of successful teams to they can see what has worked for others.  This would give the members an opportunity to build a bit of history, to see where they agree and disagree and how they can support one another and resolve issues that may occur as they progress in their work.

One of the statistics I read a number of times is that only 30% of virtual teams are successful.  This is not an encouraging statistic but there are similar statistics around about change management projects.  It seems that if managers help the team members focus on their strengths, learn to work with conflict, rather than avoid it, and develop trusting relationships, virtual teams can be successful.    Inspirational management, indeed!

Guedes- Gondim, S. M., Puente-Palacios, K., & Borges-Andrade, J. (2011). Performance and learning in virtual work teams: Comparing Brazilians and Argentineans. Revista De Psicología Del Trabajo y De Las Organizaciones, 27(1), 31-31. Retrieved from

Nationalization as Affirmative Action

When Geraldine said that the topic for this month was to analyze the success of affirmative action, it took me a while to think about how affirmative action works here in the United Arab Emirates.

In Canada, affirmative action focuses on women, indigenous people and minorities, but in the oil rich countries of the Middle East it focuses on nationals (indigenous people) only.  The goal of affirmative action is to place qualified nationals in the technical, professional and labour roles currently held by expatriates.  This goal is congruent throughout the United Arab Emirates (the Emirates), the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait etc.  These initiatives are referred to as Emiratization, Saudization, Omanization and Kuwaitization respectively.

In these countries, foreign labour is employed to do much of the work.  Among Saudi Arabia, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, the Emirates have the highest ratio of expatriate workers.  It’s estimated that 88% of the population are expatriates (Rees et al. 2007).   In Canada, these workers would be immigrants and essentially there would be no distinction between them and the national workforce, but in the Emirates it is almost impossible to gain citizenship so employees have resident work visas and retain citizenship in their home countries.

One of the drivers of these affirmative action programs is the increasing unemployment rate for nationals leading to a concern that there will be civil unrest. As Looney (2004) notes: The unemployment rate among Saudis is 8.2 percent, reaching as high as 32 percent among younger workers. Clearly the inability of a youthful Saudi workforce to displace foreign workers is one of the great challenges facing the Saudi authorities

Economically, repatriating jobs is important because expatriates typically send 50% of their earnings to their home countries so they are not investing in the country where they reside, nor are they purchasing as many goods and services as the nationals. It is estimated that a decrease of expatriates would increase the purchase of goods and services leading to an increase in earnings in the private sector and an increase in international investments (Taecker, 2003 cited in Looney, 2004).

Two polices that have been introduced to stimulate this change-over include: charging fees to hire expatriates and providing financial incentives for hiring nationals.

In the Emirates, the Emiratization program began in 2000.  It was marketed as ‘positive discrimination’ and quotas were set for targeted industries including banks, airlines as well as for certain positions including HR managers, Secretaries and Public Relations positions.

Tanmia, The National Human Resources Development & Employment Authority, is tasked with leading the way and their mandate includes, reducing unemployment of nationals and recommending policies to the government (Tanmia 2006 cited in Mashood et al 2011).  In tandem with these initiatives, the Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development focuses on the development of Emirati entrepreneurs, providing them with training and loans to start small businesses.

Like the Emirates, the Omani government is focused on job creation in the private sector for nationals. They are trying to improve the working conditions in that sector to attract Omanis and they are also encouraging Omanis to become entrepreneurs.

Funding higher education is another way the governments encourage their citizens to prepare themselves for gainful employment.

Has Affirmative Action Succeeded?

Back to the initial question: have these affirmative action programs been successful.  The articles I found are not completely up to date, but my observation is that these initiatives have been successful in the public sector and in the banking sector.  I still see very few Emiratis in private enterprise.

The public sector has higher wages, shorter working hours and more flexibility than the private sector. Private sector employers seem to prefer expats due to their knowledge, skills (including language skills), working attitude, related discipline issues and, one of the main factors, lower pay roll cost … (Mashood et al 2011).


Affirmative Action has made a Difference in Public Organizations

While it seems that there is a ways to go before nationalization becomes a fait accompli, I have to wonder if the tipping point is closer than we think.   In the Emirates, the government has offered incentives for hiring Emiratis – sometimes their salary costs are covered for the first year, and they have also increased wages in professions, like teaching to attract Emirati graduates.  Our college has a number of Emirati women who are administrators and instructors and our Associate Director is an Emirati man.  It is unlikely that we would have come this far without affirmative action, so looking at it from that perspective, it is a success!

Suggestions for the Future


Looney (2004) suggests that the government in Saudi Arabia needs to continue to offer incentives to encourage nationals to take jobs in the private sector.  His suggestions include:

  • making social benefits available to all nationals not matter where they are employed
  • limiting public sector employment
  • rationalizing recruiting and termination policies for nationals and expatriates
  • promoting self-employment
  • increasing technical training

I look forward to following the progress of nationalization in these countries and to reading what others have to say about affirmative action in the areas they are exploring.



Mashood, N., Verhoeven, H. & Chansarkar, B. (2011) Emiratisation, Omanisation and Saudisation- common causes: common solutions?

Looney, R. (2004) Saudization and Sound Economic Reforms: Are the Two Compatible?

Strategic Insights, Volume III, Issue 2

Rees, C., Mamman, A. & Braik, A.B. (2007) Emiritization as a strategic HRM change initiative: case study evidence from an Emirates petroleum company, International Journal of Human Resource Management, 18(1) 33-53

Motivational Team Building


At a Research Roadshow held at our college this week, I led a one hour workshop on a technique called Photovoice.  In participatory research, Photovoice uses photography as a tool for social change (Community, n.d.).  In this workshop I was demonstrating how to use Photovoice in research but I realized that it can also be used for team building and motivation which leads to individual and organizational change.

I asked participants to bring a picture to the workshop that represents an achievement in their lives.  Let me share this experience with you.

The first photo was of our colleague who is leaving the college.  She was ‘on stage’ with the Director of the college, and the organizer of the social event where the recognition took place. 

At first I was concerned that the participant had misunderstood my request, because she wasn’t in the picture and she talked about the achievements of those in the photo and how much she admires them. 

With a little trepidation, I asked her how this photo represented her achievement.  Her answer reassured me that she completely understood my request. She loves to acknowledge others and she does this through photography.  She had spent her time at the event taking pictures of people engaging with their colleagues and families taking part in the activities, just, having fun. Then she had sent these pictures to the people who were in them. That was her achievement, capturing the enjoyment of others and giving it back to them!

The second photo was of a young couple on a beautiful beach. The woman who shared it explained that this was a photo of her newly married son and his wife on their honeymoon and that as a parent; it was a huge achievement to see her son married to his childhood sweetheart.  She told us that her family lived in one of the cities in Mexico that has a major drug problem and she is so proud that her son and his wife have managed to be successful in their careers and their lives.  This is a clear reflection of her and her husband’s parenting.

The next photo was of stacks of paper on a tile floor and I had a difficult time figuring out what this might represent.  Had this person finished his marking?  No, it turns out that this was a picture of his Master’s thesis in its last iteration!  His relief, joy and pride of having finished were evident as he talked about this achievement.

Another participant showed a photo of himself with two others in a formal setting.  He said that he had entered a sustainability competition in the Netherlands and he didn’t win and this was a photo from this competition.  But, he went on to enter a second completion in the Far East where he did win!  So this photo was his inspiration.

Finally, one of the women shared a photo of a painting called ‘Reclining Woman’.  The painting was full of rich, vibrant colours.  The woman explained that this was her first painting and she couldn’t believe she had done it.  She loves interior design and dresses flamboyantly and many people had commented that she seems like an artist – and it seems that she is.

This portion of the workshop took about twenty minutes and really energized the group. 

As I reflected back on it, I thought that this would make a wonderful team building exercise for a department or a small company.  It brought to light the strengths of the people in the room, helped them get to know each other and created some alliances as they discussed their achievements.  I know that this has given them topics to follow up on with each other – positive, generative topics – that are always good to have in the workplace.

I think many of us have learned that talking about ourselves is ‘bragging’ and we shouldn’t engage in it. And, yes, sometimes that is the case.  But in a loosely structured setting, where everyone has the opportunity to share, talking about our achievements and successes can be energizing and motivating.  Why not give it a try in your next team building session?

Photovoice Websites and Resources

Coffee Shop HR World Cafe III: People Who Love Their Jobs

This month, Geraldine challenged us to find someone who loves their job.   I thought, ‘Now how could this be a challenge?  Lots of people love their jobs!’  Then I started to look around my workplace and I realized that because we had just come back from a vacation, many of us were questioning whether or not we should be here.

‘Here’ is the United Arab Emirates, a small progressive Arab, Muslim, country in the Middle East, far away from our families and friends.  For those of us who are expatriates and used our vacation to celebrate Christmas with our families, returning to work wasn’t easy.  Yes, we have, for the most part, lovely places to live.  My husband and I, for example, live on a golf course.  We look over our back garden wall to the green and a long, beautiful, fairway.   In the mornings, I walk our dog on the beach with a couple of other women and three more dogs.  We tell stories, laugh and have a great time.  It’s an amazing launch to my day.

We also have a reasonable work load and good pay.  Expectations are clear and we are all aware of the joys and limitations of our work.

So what could possibly make us think about leaving?  Well, every job has its ups and downs.  As I read recently, most employees begin to question their commitment and disengage as a result of a ‘shocking or jarring event’ (Branham, 2005).  This event is usually the ‘last straw’.  While ‘vacation’ is not on Branham’s list, it is on mine.  I have known many people who have made life changing decisions while on vacation.  It seems that the change of pace opens our minds to new possibilities.   So, as I looked at my recently returned colleagues, I couldn’t bring myself to ask if they love their jobs.

As it turns out, finding others who love their jobs was not difficult.  I focused on my Emirati colleagues and students.  Those who have strong roots in the country and are surrounded by their families!

I began with one of my students at the men’s college who recently began working for the military.  He had mentioned that he was pleasantly surprised by the organizational culture of his workplace so I followed up with him.  He credits his ‘boss’ with setting the tone.

His boss makes sure that everyone sits down to breakfast together and when they are having breakfast; there is no ‘rank’.  Every person is equal and every person is encouraged to speak, not about work, usually, but about their interests and their families.  If someone has to leave the breakfast, they don’t need to ask permission, they just leave.  My student loves this time with his colleagues and his boss.  He has learned much about interacting with others and about life.

If my student is caught up on his work, his boss will stop by and tell him to take the next day off.  No questions asked.  When someone does have time off, whether a day or the weekend, his boss tells them to turn off their mobile, forget about work and focus on their family and friends!

My student says that when it comes to mistakes, the boss is very forgiving; he takes time to help the employees understand what needs to change and ensures that they have the training they need.

So how does my student respond to this treatment?  He stays late to complete his work, he is eager to learn and he often tells his boss how much he appreciates him.  He applies the concepts he is learning in the Human Resource Management program at the college, that is, he takes his learning to work.  He feels important and appreciated and he reciprocates.

The second person who loves her job works in Continuing Education at the college where I work.  She too credited her boss with making the difference.  She says her manager is really encouraging, and provides her with challenging projects.  Recently her manager was promoted and the woman I interviewed is now wondering if she too will be promoted.  But, for the time being, she is focusing on her studies as she works to complete her Bachelors.  That is another benefit she appreciates, she can schedule her paid leave so she can study for exams.

She tells me that one of the best parts of her job is working with people in the community, helping them return to the college or enroll in training programs.  She meets up with people she knew years ago and is able to see catch up with them, learning about their families (six children!) and their other successes.   It is a small, tightly knit community and she really enjoys being a part of it.

It seems that my colleague is entirely suited to this work as she loves learning and enjoys meeting and working with others to help them achieve their educational goals.

So, there you have it!  A very small sample size, but I have found some similarities.  The role of the leader is so important!  Something that I’m sure doesn’t surprise anyone.  Giving people leeway to do what they want to do – whether it is to study or to be with their families and ensuring that they really take time off when they are not at work.  The idea of being engaged with the job 24/7 isn’t important to these leaders and seems to make these two employees love their work even more.   And, needless to say, they give their all when they are ‘on the job’.


Branham, L. (2005).  The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave   How to Recognize the Subtle Signs and Act Before It’s Too Late.  AMACOM, New York.

Facets of Motivation

Because I live in a country where decisions are made at a family, rather than an individual level, I was curious about how one would stay motivated if achieving a goal was not simply an individual endeavor, but was mediated by family members. Bear with me, I will bring this back to HR in a moment, but first, I’d like to share a conversation I had with one of my students at the women’s college where I teach.

I asked my student how she stays motivated when she wants to do something and her family disagrees.

Without hesitating, she described the steps she takes when her parents tell her she cannot pursue a goal. First of all, she envisions her goal and imagines what it will be like when she achieves it.  This surprised me, because I thought a ‘no’ was a ‘no’, so I wondered why she would be focusing on achieving her goal when her parents had vetoed it.

Secondly, she talks to her friends and other family members and gains support for her idea.

Thirdly, she figures out what her parents object to, that is, she reflects on what is it they are concerned about.  In the example the student shared, her parents disagreed with her plan to apply for a scholarship that would see her spending ten days in New York City.

Her fourth step is to research ways to allay her parents’ concerns and come up with solutions she thinks might work.  She then shares these ideas with her parents.   If they raise other concerns, she addresses these as well and, when she can, she shares benefits to her goal that her parents may not have known about.  In this case, if the student was granted the scholarship, it would enable her to enter the workforce at a higher level, something her parents may not have thought of, but would be pleased with.

She doesn’t give up; she keeps focused until she has convinced her parents.

I asked how she developed this strategy and she said that as a young child she began working out ways to bring her parents onside.  Her older sister took ‘no’ for the final answer and didn’t pursue her dreams, but this student says she is intrinsically motivated so she would go ahead and work out how to alleviate her parents’ concerns.  Now she coaches her older sister.

Tying this back to the question of how to motivate employees, it would seem that intrinsic motivation is stronger in some people than in others.  Some people will need external motivation and others won’t.  So yes, it is up to leaders to motivate those who need it.  Those who are intrinsically motivated, as my student pointed out, will find ways to achieve their goals, leaders need only provide support, encouragement, or in some cases permission, and then step aside.

Reflecting on my student’s example I realized that this ties back into the workplace where it would be useful to provide training for employees in how to achieve their goals, not the ones that are set for them, but the ones they identify on their own.  Quite often employees come up with ideas that would enhance their organization’s performance, but they don’t know how to introduce these ideas or build support for them.  My student’s technique strikes me as a good starting point for helping employees develop strategies to achieve their goals by asking for assistance from others.

As managers or leaders, it would seem that it is important to encourage these employees by creating an environment that is relatively free from constraints where new and creative practices can be developed – the premise of ‘skunkworks’.

I have noticed that employees will often work on a project they are interested in with great dedication and little thought of rewards, perhaps as a form of self-actualization.  It seems that many employees are interested in ‘making a difference’ in their organizations especially when they define the terms.

On the other hand, it is important to remember that work is but one facet of a person’s life and their motivation will fluctuate depending on where their focus is at the moment.  We can expect interruptions in our employees’ and colleagues’ motivation, but these won’t last.

Some employees see work is a safe haven of predictability when their life is in chaos, it is a place where they have control and a sense of stability.  These employees will be motivated to maintain routines and will work well within a structured framework. They won’t be as interested in creating or participating in change initiatives but they can be counted on to put the systems in place to normalize the change once it has been adopted – once again creating a sense of stability.

Listening to our employees and colleagues can give us answers more quickly and efficiently than speculation coupled with trial and error.

I didn’t anticipate the answer my student gave me and I am not convinced that another student would share her approach, but I am sure that every student has a strategy.  Indeed, when I asked my young granddaughter how she stays motivated when she has difficulty with math, she explained that rewards are very helpful.  Time to practice, praise and recognition keep her going. Staying with a concept until she understands it completely is important, she doesn’t like to move on to new processes before she has mastered the current one.  Wise words indeed!

As always, I am amazed at both the complexity and the simplicity of the responses and the ways to ensure colleagues and employees are motivated. Time for some introspection!


Strong, P. (2006). Honors as Skunkworks. Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council. Vol. 6, 2.

Cundall, M.  (2010). Service learning and skunkworks in a senior honors colloquium.  Honors in Practice. Vol. 6