5 Work Life Rules That Stand the Test of Time

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As a coach, it is vital to reflect upon my own work life and learn from its experiences. Ultimately, offering advice without introspection — could read as empty & hollow. As with most career journeys, there have surely been highs & lows. I’ve held roles that were for the most part glorious, where work felt like an expansion. I’ve also found myself in roles that were challenged from the start, leading to doubt and exhaustion.

All in all, no matter what the cards hold for us — there are constants that should be present to sustain us. These elements provide the foundation to both endure & expand.

Here are a few I’ve noticed.

  • Practice radical self-knowledge. I’ll be blunt. I only refer to this dynamic as radical — because we usually fail to truly understand ourselves, which deeply affects our journey going forward. Of course, no one can fulfill this for you. (Self-knowledge is essentially a labor of love.) This begins with monitoring your levels or energy, then understanding what feeds your workplace soul & what ultimately drains it. It is building in moments of pause to reflect on how we respond and change. There is no substitute. (When I work with teams, we never broach collective team dynamics until we complete the individual discovery process.)
  • Work where your skills & strengths are valued. Organizations are needy creatures, lopsidedly offering rewards (both intrinsic & extrinsic) when specific skills are required. For most of us, we’ll find ourselves in situations where the alignment of our skills & an organization’s current needs, is not present. Know that your strengths remain worthy — they are simply not simpatico with the business landscape of the organization in which you currently work. Recognizing this fact can protect you from harsh self-judgement and could free you to move along to thrive somewhere else.
  • Find career advocates (other than yourself). Self-reliance is obviously an important aspect of career evolution. For example, you must be able to reflect upon & communicate your core needs & goals. However, other perspectives of what is unfolding for you career-wise will benefit your journey (a 30,000 foot view for example, is vital). This article published at HBR, aptly discussed the notion of a career “Board of Directors”. These would be people who do not work with you directly, but are able to weigh in on career matters when needed. Start with 2 or 3 people who might offer opinions that you trust & respect. Try to avoid making career decisions in a vacuum. This will invariably backfire.
  • Make a habit of envisioning your future. One of the most useful articles I’ve read in the last 10 years is this one: You Need to Practice Being Your Future Self This piece tells the story of how we become mired within our current career context and fail to envision ourselves differently. While it is well and good to address current issues at work, this leaves little room for what could come next. Until we devote time to ignite our powers of imagination regarding work life — it can be difficult to grow.
  • Finding moments of excitement. Personally, I’m fine doing the difficult, and sometimes tedious tasks of my role. However, I find moments of exhilaration are necessary to sustain me. A pounding heart before a client presentation. The thrill of a new data set. Whatever excites you at work needs to be present, if at all possible. These moments may be indeed be rare indeed — but they fuel the work life soul.

Have I missed something? Please share it in comments.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist & speaker regarding the dynamic nature of work life. A charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program, her consulting practice helps people, teams & organizations build stronger work life foundations through the practice of core stability. Her thoughts on work life have also appeared at the Harvard Business Review, Forbes, BBC Work Life, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

10 Timeless Quotes to Combat Writer’s Block & Other Work Life Maladies

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I’ve been suffering from writer’s block.

I’ve never experienced this state of mind personally, and my tool kit to combat it isn’t fully built. The experience could be the cumulative result of so many factors; the pandemic, family challenges/changes and my own evolution. On some level, I view this “forced hiatus” as necessary. A required break. A brick wall secretly erected to deflect my path. Somewhere, in the recesses of my unconscious, change is afoot.

I believe there is a reason for all of this — and resolution will come.

You may be experiencing your own form of “writer’s block”. It may manifest as a lack of passion for your work, a nagging sensation of restlessness or the feeling that everyone and everything at work annoys you. I view this as valuable information to be processed and utilized. It can be the fuel for needed change. I don’t think any of us has been immune to the passage of history we have just experienced. You may be feeling the impact in this moment.

In the scheme of things, writer’s block may not rank highly in the field of life’s problems — but it is indeed real. So, rather than being absent on this channel, I’d like to share a few strategies for moving beyond this frozen inflection point.

These are a few of the quotes that seem to melt the icy path toward my keyboard. They explore topics such as creativity, the notion of a muse & why our work is vital to us. (Hopefully, topics for future posts.)

As always, respecting our core is vital. So, each of the following bits of advice addresses some part of our work life foundation. The first reinforces my philosophy that self-knowledge & respecting our individual differences is key at work. The last, that there is always something to be discovered and shared with others.

Please share your favorite quote in comments & what it means to you, whether or not it is one that I’ve shared. Looking forward to the conversation.

  1. No one is you, and that is your power. – Dave Grohl.
  2. Wherever you stand, be the soul of that place. – Rumi
  3. I am my own muse, the subject I know best. – Frida Kahlo
  4. A line is a dot, that went for a walk. – Paul Klee
  5. There is nothing so stable as change. – Bob Dylan
  6. The good life is a process, not a state of being. – Carl Rogers
  7. It is never too late, to be what you might have been. – George Eliot
  8. Love and work are the cornerstones of humanness. – Sigmund Freud
  9. If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading. – Lao Tzu
  10. Somewhere something incredible, is waiting to be known. – Sharon Begley

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist and a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. She is the co-founder of Goba — a consulting practice that helps people & organizations build stronger work life foundations through the practice of core stability. Her thoughts on work & organizations have appeared in the Harvard Business Review, Forbes, BBC Work Life, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

Reality Check: Does Your Job fit?

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I’ve been on somewhat of a bent lately — sharing both observations & articles (my own included) concerning job fit. Perspective is key here. Particularly if & when, we are stuck with one way of examining how we align with our work. At a root level, this topic occupies a good deal of bandwidth within my own career & with those of clients, whether that energy is selection or development focused.

This is for good reason.

Job fit matters.

This week I’ve re-shared my most well-read article of the past 10 years, both here at LinkedIn and at my personal blog — 7 Telling Signs Your Job is a Poor Fit. As my readers often do, they pose the questions that need to be asked. In this case from Supriya De:

“Thank you for the insights Marla. Are you planning a follow-up piece on what to do next when in this predicament?”​

I wasn’t actually planning on writing that piece, but realized that I should. In this case, it may be helpful to continue the conversation by considering specific topics that might address and hopefully improve job fit. (Please note that I’ve written on these topics previously, but had never thought house them under the topic of job fit.)

Here are a just few to consider:

  • Non-Negotiables. Understanding the unique set of work life elements necessary for us to truly engage (and excel) at work, is vital to find a role that truly suits us. Self-knowledge reigns supreme here — as no one else can conceivably complete this step for you. Indeed this requires a look inward, toward the work-life moments that either drained you or lifted you toward your potential. Yes, this demands both time & contemplation — but it is truly worth the trouble. Start with a list of 5 non-negotiables elements that you require to approach job fit. Own them. Declare them to others (diplomatically, of course) if necessary.
  • The Goal Test. Goals are a funny element to ponder, because we are endlessly told to acquire them — but never how to “give them the boot”​. However in many cases, goals can be the root of our job fit undoing. As human beings, we rarely allow for how we inevitably evolve. As we do, as both people & contributors (often unbeknownst to us), our goals also begin to shift ever so subtly. When we fail to realize that our goals have become misaligned, trouble can follow. Goals actually have an expiration date — and reach a point where they no longer serve us. I’ve seen this manifest with coaching clients (at various levels) who are very uncomfortable, but do not identify job fit as the issue. This forces these questions: “​Is this setting fulfilling? Are the goals espoused here in alignment with any of your current goals as a contributor? Do you wish to remain here longer-term?”​
  • Career Envy. When I first read about career envy at Gretchen Rubin’s blog (she experienced envy before leaving law behind and becoming a writer), it hadn’t really struck me personally. However, with time — it struck me as well. (I found myself quite envious of creative endeavors, wishing I’d chosen a field such as marketing or advertising. (I’ve since collaborated with creatively-centered organizations.) What I’ve learned is this: the pangs of jealousy may hold a window to our future. Reflect and carefully observe the career paths that evoke envy; then note the specific elements behind that emotion. Is it the setting? The types of projects that are completed? The end-products delivered to a client or customer?

I realize that this short list is only the beginning of a host of topics that we could consider. However, as we start to emerge from the pandemic, I can’t think of a better to time to take stock and note how we have changed — and what we might require to achieve job fit.

Attempt to reflect upon your own industry, your organization and role.

How are you doing fit-wise?

Above all — embrace the you of today.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist and a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. She is the co-founder of Goba — a consulting practice that helps people & organizations build stronger work life foundation through core stability. Her thoughts on work & organizations have appeared in the Harvard Business Review, Forbes, BBC Work Life, Quartz and The Huffington Post

First Jobs & Core Stability: My Advice to 2021 College Grads

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I can only think of a handful of moments that would have been a more challenging time to enter the world of work. (The economic of crisis of 2008 quickly comes to mind.) In today’s pandemic world, job interviews are likely remote experiences & the flow of your job search may feel weirdly isolated and opaque. Recent grads won’t have the advantage of site visits or sitting in the same room, face to face, with one of their potential team members or supervisors. Yet, we will muddle through it — with some of the adaptations becoming part our longer-term future. In the post-pandemic world of work, the idea of “the office” will have already evolved, and there will be increased opportunities to work at a distance (hopefully opening up new possibilities for far-flung career paths).

However, certain things about finding work should remain the same. At the root of all this, is effectively matching you with the work that will help you find success. In this regard, my work in core stability, might lend a useful lens to your job search. At the heart of the matter is this: you are you — and determining the role that would best align with you — is still of great importance. Focusing on this alignment, will likely make you a happier & stronger contributor to whatever organization you join — and you can play a key role in this process. The premise is simple: find a role that accesses your strengths & fully engages you. To achieve this, you must settle yourself & reflect. Core stability requires that we deeply understand ourselves and our work life non-negotiables. This requires that we practice something I refer to “radical self-knowledge”. As the name implies, it eludes to the notion that knowing you — what motivates you in work settings, drains you & engages you — will play a key role in your career journey.

In this spirit, here are a few things to consider as you enter the job market — keeping the principles of core stability in mind.

  • Know you. Never underestimate the importance of understanding yourself. The more self-knowledge you quickly accumulate, the greater the chance of a better job fit. Think of your experiences during your college years, grab a notebook and answer these questions: What motivated you and helped you to feel engaged? What was the setting? Type of team? Leader style? What experiences drained you? Ask yourself what the deciding elements were. Refer to your notes often. If possible, respect these elements when searching/choosing a role. (Read more about work life non-negotiables here.)
  • Role Setting. Doing what you do, is one thing. The actual place where you unleash all of your training and talent is another. For example, an I/O Psychologist can work in a variety of settings; a fast paced consulting firm, a larger organization or a university setting. Each has unique qualities. (I opted for a consulting firm, where I had worked PT as a student.) This may be the case in your field as well. Become an expert in setting differences and how these differences might affect the “gestalt” of your work life. Ask yourself this: How would the differences affect your work life well-being?
  • Know Your Teaming Preferences. Teaming will likely remain a critical aspect of your work life. If you are leaving university and have found teams troublesome, the issue may not have been teaming per se, but the qualities of the team in which you were working. Do you work best in a tight, close-knit team & or within a looser structure? Ask questions concerning both team structure and work flow, with regard to any potential role. Try to gain a clear picture of what teams might be like within your new role.
  • Understand your place in the customer/product journey. Perspective is the key here. So — attempt to visualize how your role fits into the larger scheme of things — and how this might affect your feelings about work. For example, as an engineer you might work for a specialty supplier or the larger manufacturing organization. What role would be more meaningful to you? What aspects of the work in these settings might contribute to engagement or disengagement?
  • Seek Clarity. Bottom line, if you cannot ascertain how your work life will look day to day, you need to probe for more information. The devil is in the details, when it comes to a potential good fit. Know the role and try not leave the details to chance. Burnout can arise in a fast & furious manner, when you are left in the dark.

Hoping these notes provide some guidance as you begin crafting your path. When I reflect back on my first role — it was purely chance that I landed where I felt both challenged & rewarded. I find this alarming.

I’d like to increase the odds to work in your favor.

BTW, you can read more about core stability in this post at the Harvard Business Review.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist and a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. She is the co-founder of Goba — a consulting practice that helps people & organizations build stronger work life foundation through core stability. Her thoughts on work & organizations have appeared in the Harvard Business Review, Forbes, BBC Work Life, Quartz and The Huffington Post

 

What You’re Feeling is Burnout

Winter Approaching. M. Gottschalk

I felt it was time to speak about burnout.

Considering the year that we have all muddled through, it can come as no surprise that many of us are feeling exhausted. For unknown reasons, I never thought to share my developing burnout saga. First let me say, the dynamic was hastened by the pressures of the pandemic — yet it is possible that the roots may have already been established. I’ve also realized, that if we fail to see the writing on the wall, burnout can take hold in a manner that can be difficult to shake. It is real. We need to act promptly. To protect ourselves. (See an overview of the research here.)

As a consultant, I’ve discussed burnout with many individuals over the years. I’ve seen burnout manifest during unpredictable organizational change initiatives, as well as industry peaks. It can occur because of one perpetually trying client or the full brunt of a dire economic downturn. But, no one is immune. We seem to experience burnout as individuals — so its particular course is also individual. This can throw us off the trail and possibly leave us unprepared.

Know that burnout will not look the same across contributors, and should be addressed when it is likely a factor. (See my targeted session here.)

Above all, we should be discussing the issue and sharing experiences. Personally, burnout manifested like a storm gathering courage in the distance. There were signs it was approaching. Pangs of apathy and avoidance. Yet, because that is alarming on many levels — particularly because in most cases (as was with mine) the work is our livelihood — we try to ignore its presence. We may have trained for years or others may depend upon us; there are so many reasons that we cannot simply pick up, check out or change course. As a rule, I believe we opt to compensate and press on.

We assume there is nothing to be done, as we cannot change the things we must (and in many cases previously loved) and should do.

However, there are costs to this strategy.

Engagement with our work wanes. Motivation plummets. As is the case now, we have also lived through a tumultuous time in history which has affected every breathing corner of our lives.

We cannot expect all of this this to steer clear from our work lives.

While we may not be able to walk away from our responsibilities, we can take the time to understand the winds within our own storm. This may offer clues that can lead to solutions. So, here are a few things to consider when approaching burnout.

Hopefully, the topics may alert you to something that can be addressed.

  • We have broken psychological agreements about work life with ourselves. In many cases, there is a psychological contract with ourselves, that we have breached. We may have briefly thought: “I’m extremely weary of this” or “I’m not as happy with this part of my career, as I used to be”, but we pressed on. The scales were tipping and we kept on going, without considering where that path might lead. The rewards were simply not keeping pace with the investment of time, trouble and emotion.
  • When to stop is never discussed. We are offered an abundance of advice about how to start something. Yet there is not nearly enough discussion about when and how (and why) we should slow down or step away. We conveniently forget that remaining productive over the long-haul requires balance & rest, even with the tasks that we love. We may not have had the strategies in place to achieve this.
  • We wait for a savior. It is unlikely that someone will approach you to say, “Stop what you are still doing well.” You must take on the responsibility of your own psychological resources. Monitor feelings of hope, self-efficacy, resilience and optimism. Pay attention if one has fallen precipitously.
  • Declare or wither. One pillar of core stability, is to embrace radical self-awareness regarding what you need to stay productive. We cannot always choose the roles, tasks, or people that are a part of our journey. However, if it is humanly possible to affect core elements before burnout sets in, do this. Declare the elements that are vital to your well-being as a contributor.
  • Acknowledge that living through history is an accelerator. As a child I used to try to imagine how others had lived through World Wars. What were they thinking? Could they go back to living normal lives, that would include joy or a sense of calm? I can only hypothesize that they would not want to return to the elements of their lives that were already worn or troublesome. They would want to grab life and live it to the fullest. That a clear purpose to live well, would dominate.

I do not have the answers — only more questions. However, acknowledging what we have lived through and how this affects our work is vital. Above all, know that our collective journeys are personal, and this requires a very personal solution.

Do you have a strategy to mitigate burnout? How has this helped you? Share it with this forum.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist and a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. She is the co-founder of Goba — a consulting practice that helps people & organizations a build stronger work life foundation. Her thoughts on work & organizations have appeared in the Harvard Business Review, Forbes, BBC Work Life, Quartz and The Huffington Post

Do Our Relationships with Social Media Say More Than We Think?

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I seem to have developed the habit of personifying social media outlets.

That may sound a bit off. But trust me, it’s not the first time I’ve engaged in this strategy. As a consultant, I’ve always thought of organizations as having a distinct vibe or personality, separate from the clients that I meet. (Some are depressed. Others frenetic.) Over the years, I’ve developed a strong propensity to craft stories out of disjointed facts, observations and conversations. It may be a bad habit. Yet, it helps me makes sense of things at the start of a project, when there are one million details to consider.

This habit seems to have extended to social media. To be quite honest, I usually find Facebook tedious and bit needy. Instagram often feels fickle & hyped up on pretty places (which I truly enjoy, btw) & success-oriented quotes. LinkedIn nearly always feels focused & fair (I have more than my share of followers over there, so I am likely biased.). Twitter feels balanced on most days; a bit like my memory of my high school cafeteria at lunchtime, except for the realm of politics. You are clearly aware that all of the groups are present, but no one really cares if they hang out near you.

My assessment of a social media definitely impacts my willingness to enter into a relationship with them. My patience can be worn thin, just as I would feel when ready to leave a noisy party.

These days, I’m only willing to invest my time and trouble where I feel loosely accepted. I’ll scale back, if I have a clear and present sense that the algorithm is on a path to “ostracize” me. (I’m a proud sort.) I’ve also learned some hard lessons. When re-starting on Instagram, I re-shared a random photo of an old structure in London and the photographer reported me to the powers that be. This unfolded even though I had clearly attributed her, took the photo down immediately & tendered an apology. Turns out she was somewhat of a big deal over there. I explained that my articles are often shared without my direct permission, but if attributed I’m usually ok with it. But, alas this was her foul to call. The onus was on me.

Lesson learned: Don’t share great photos on Instagram? Well, I now know that Instagram is a business for many — and I whole-hardheartedly respect that.

If a coaching client were to ask me about this topic, I know how I would respond: Spend time where you feel uplifted. If something feels wrong, stay away. Build your personal brand where you feel aligned with the “vibe” & you can express yourself.

By now, you’re likely getting the sense that my relationships with social media bear a resemblance a Rorschach assessment. I concur. It is entirely possible that social media has re-ignited my teenage insecurities & I am projecting.

On the other hand, it may simply be a lack of stimulation during the marathon that is this pandemic.

I’m unsure.

You make the call.

Have you ever personified social media?

Share your experiences.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist who focuses on empowering work through the development of a strong foundation. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including the Harvard Business Review, Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

First Jobs, Foundations & the Movies

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Our early experiences with work are foundational. We tend to write these jobs off as our careers progress, likely because of our age or the role. Yet, whether these occurred at 16 or 22, with a second look — there is always more there than meets the eye. While these roles may not correlate with what we do down the line, they offer opportunities to learn about people, expectations & environments. When I work with developing leaders, history is never ignored & always respected. The Core Intensive begins with exercises that explore the past, and first jobs (along with first bosses) — are often a common discussion topic. For better or worse, these experiences shape us.

The moment I turned 16, my father inquired about where I intended to work.

To be quite honest, this came completely out of the blue. We hadn’t really discussed work in any concrete fashion until that moment. We did have frequent conversations about school work, most often chemistry and my assessment that I didn’t have the brain power to pass the course (he was having none of that). Yet, the expression on his face as he posed the question, let me know that the conversation was a serious one. I needed to find a job — and pronto.

Well, I did find that job.

Luckily, a friend let me know that the floor manager of a large, local movie theater was looking for recommendations to fill a role. It was my first job interview. Mrs. Killeen was an impressive individual, apart from her title & responsibilities — as I could feel her strength and experience during the interview. She informed me of duties; ensuring that all patrons had a ticket, helping them to their seats if necessary, keeping an eye on theater doors, aisles. She also explained that from the moment my employment started I was a part of a team, a representative of that business and a part of the theater workers union. (She also explained that my parents could come anytime “on the house”. I can recall how she would greet them like visiting diplomats, letting them pass through the velvet ropes.)

At 16 of course, the importance of all of this landed completely over my head.

The job included long hours on your feet and knowing your way around a broom & dustpan. In between Saturday matinées, you spent a great deal of time picking up popcorn containers and drink cups. Saturday evenings were often sold out and busy beyond belief. I felt sorry for my co-workers in the ticket booth & behind the refreshment counter. When a new blockbuster was released, it was a absolute madhouse. We would often have to shift patrons to make room for all ticket holders in a sold-out house, which had to be carried out with respect and some measure of authority. As you can imagine, we took the brunt of complaints. (That never got easier.)

Yet — the experience held glorious moments.

We would of course, see the same movie scores of times. To help the time pass, we would memorize the dialogue and take on the roles at the back of the theater. When we screened a comedy, I never tired of hearing a packed Saturday night crowd roaring in laughter. (Sometimes people were nearly rolling in the aisles.) That fed my soul somehow and I’ll never forget how that looked & felt. (Comedies remain my favorite genre.)

I learned much in that building, about the heart of work & how bringing a bit of joy to people’s lives is a reward in itself. When I did well, I was recognized. When I made mistakes, I was put on the right track. I formed strong bonds with colleagues. When I went off to college, I would come back to work on breaks. It was a solid place to come back to. It felt like home.

Of course, with time, everything ends. I recall hearing that Mrs. Killeen had retired.

The building no longer functions as a theater.

But, as I pass it on Orchard Lake road — my mind is alive with thoughts of Saturday nights, spilled popcorn and laughter.

What was your first work experience? What did you take away from it?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist who focuses on empowering work through the development of a strong foundation. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including the Harvard Business Review, Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

Time, Tide & Usefulness

So, as the fates would have it, the pandemic is not a sprint — but a grueling marathon. Work (for some of us) is still present, although likely in some morphed form. The pace or tenor may have been revised. Colleagues may have scattered. Yet hopefully, your heart, passion and loyalty are still present, although possibly bruised and battered.

A lot has happened. Every day there is more to digest.

Yet fall has still arrived. The days are still becoming shorter (at least here in Michigan) and my garden is still quickly fading. The tide still returns. Soon winter will come. Mother nature hasn’t bothered to blink an eye.

What are we to make of all of it? What comes next?

As as a young college student (pre-major), I drafted a rather depressing, dream-based short story named “The Far Side”. It mused of a dystopian world, where those with a useful profession were transported in the dead of night to an undisclosed location, in an effort to save the world (from itself). Some sort of traumatic event had already occurred — and while traveling through seemingly endless darkness and barren landscapes, there was a palpable sadness among the passengers. Yet, at the same time a resolute calm. A firm sense of determination. All I knew at that moment, was the aching pain of becoming separated from my family. I was unsure of their fate and on which side of the sorting algorithm had I fallen. Was I deemed useful?

At the time, I was a struggling college student on many levels. My parents had just divorced, Microeconomics was proving a relentless challenge and my tiny, insular world seemed to be collapsing. But, I had an inner sense that training to do something useful, was one key to getting past my present.

Feeling useful is important to all of us. It is a vital part of our work life core, especially when things are literally going sideways. Whether we are blessed with fame, wealth or acclaim really does not matter. Striving to be useful — is something of note that we can all achieve.

What matters is that we apply our training, our gifts, empathy and strengths.

That we create a small, useful ripple, in this vast ocean of a world.

Not simply for the betterment of others, or for the world — but for ourselves.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist who focuses on empowering work through the development of a strong foundation. A charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program, her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including the Harvard Business Review, Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

Here’s How to Build a Stronger, More Stable Organizational Culture

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We would all like to build a strong, stable organizational culture. Yet, we often underestimate the enormity of the challenge to do so. I’ve spent years as a consultant, diagnosing organizational issues — and if I have learned one cogent lesson it is this: It is always difficult to face what has gone wrong.

In a sense, we dance around the issues. We build compensatory mechanisms to manage the fallout. We make excuses.

In the end, we often treat the entire situation like a spoiled child that we would rather not upset. Yet, to truly build a stronger organization — we must honestly examine and address the elements that have contributed to its current state. (In my practice, I often utilize the philosophy of Core Stability to support the exploration phase of a client relationship. See a definition below.)

Organizational Core Stability: A confluence of elements including, but not limited to: 1) clarity surrounding the development/communication of mission, goals, strategy and expressed values, 2) clear governance, 3) alignment of resource priorities, 4) shared performance metrics.

No argument here, facing the music can be a painful process. There can be discussions of blame, of thwarted efforts to improve, of unrelenting, stubborn obstacles. However, examining the discord — note by note — is the only way to move forward. (I’ve found that my role is just as much about cushioning the blow, as it is diagnostic.)

If your organization has begun this process, take heart — and remember the following:

1. No one sets out to build a sick culture. I’m going to absolve everyone of their guilt in the name of forward progress. Horrible cultures seem to take on  a life of their own. Time, growth, and the wrong metrics — push organizations further down the wrong path — somewhat like a bully that is intent to steal your lunch money. The resulting condition can serve as a devastating blow, yet no one wanted it to happen.

2. Letting go of blame can be liberating. When we let go of blame, of silos and functional turf, we can get to the business of changing things. Stabilizing the organization is the first step on the road the rehabilitation. Internal organizational stability requires that you examine topics such as governance, decision-making, resources and how you treat your people. Rebuilding your culture starts from the nucleus and moves outward. (Moreover, “dark-side” elements, such as narratives that over-ride healthy habits, must be unearthed and quickly addressed.)

3. Start small and behave differently. The proof is in the pudding as they say — and the best way to improve a sick culture is for it to behave differently. If you manage a team or department, make no mistake, it is a living, breathing micro culture. Know that if observed behaviors do not change in line with a declared change, there is little hope of rehabilitation. The culture will continue to decline and the organization will lose both people and opportunities.

Change is often about forgiveness.
About re-focusing toward the future and leaving painful narratives behind.
In a sense, this must be extended to the larger organization as well.

Allow it to move on.

Have you ever been involved in an effort to change an unhealthy culture? Was it successful? What were the greatest challenges?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist and a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her training series The Core — helps people & organizations build a stronger work life foundation. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in the Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

Where We Are Now With Work

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There is nothing so stable as change. – Bob Dylan

I’ve not felt like writing in weeks. I have 45 open drafts. That’s a record (even for me).

There is a malaise that meets me at my desk on many mornings. I would characterize this as a lack of energy. A bit of resistance to do the work I normally love.  (Indeed, I am grateful to still have a role to occupy my mind.) I will hypothesize that the pace of both challenge and change in our world, has finally caught up with me.

Of course, none of us has all of the answers. We can only bring our collected knowledge and best intentions to forge ahead.

As I usually do, I’ve talked to others about their work as well — how it has changed (for better and worse), how it will remain so for some time, how we must adapt. What I’ve learned, is that we are entering a new phase of work life, “post” the arrival of Covid. The changes we are going through come with an element of loss and we should open to speak about all of it.

We are each affected differently, that goes without saying. But, as aptly expressed in this HBR article: “If we can name it, we can manage it.” I’ll start. You can join in the comments section if you wish.

I am quickly realizing that this crisis isn’t a sprint. It is a marathon. We are in this for the long-haul. Some of the elements of work life that once were — may never return. Some of the changes will be useful. Other changes will likely make us feel oddly out of sync. (We seem to be moving through a crash course in “digital transformation,” in real-time.)

I also know that we should draw from our foundation, our built work life core — to help us along. We must acknowledge what we can bring with us on this journey. More specifically — that we can bring along the good, as well as the challenging. (A strong nod to positive psychology here.) Bolstering our resolve with the positive, is vital. This may be a useful strategy in our arsenal to combat all of the work life twists and turns, yet to come.

What we’ve built.

We bring along the elements of our work lives that we have nurtured. The strong teams. The great colleagues. The challenge of the work. The healthy cultural landscapes.

These elements will help us adapt, help us face the changes with resilience.

Of course, when the dust settles we’ll have decide if we still fit — and at least assess where we find ourselves within our current organization. The outcomes of which will not be easy to predict. It is hard to know what choices (good or bad) an organization will make. What choices you must make. Yet, I do know that you should pause to re-evaluate constructs such as the psychological contract. Discuss it openly. Declare what you need to stay engaged and healthy. Managers should have an open and honest conversation with each one of their employees to take stock.

Ultimately, our world of work is now characterized by change.

To keep pace — look to your core.

Lean in to the great things you have built.

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Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist & speaker, who explores the value of core stability to empower work & career. Her course, The Core Masterclass teach managers how to build core stability for themselves and their team.