Be Genuine — What makes you/the organization so unique and amazing? One of my favorite quotes is: Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken. — Oscar Wilde.
That premise couldn’t be more true than in the workplace, especially when leaders want to generate a more positive culture. Celebrate and showcase what makes you, your colleagues and your organization so different and so special. When people feel appreciated for who they are, rather than just the role they have, they will be happier and more productive! Be willing to fail. Be willing to be humble. Be willing to showcase your quirks. Be willing to cackle in a meeting (that’s me!). It will help cultivate employees who have the confidence and approval to try things outside of the box, which will inevitably lead to an enhanced company culture.
As a part of my series about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Darcy Miller. Darcy is a corporate lawyer, a stand-up comedy dropout, a workplace expert and an author. Despite being the first attorney in her entire family, she quickly rose up the corporate ladder as a result of her genuine work ethic, resourcefulness and professionalism. While practicing law has been the foundation of Darcy’s professional career, she’s also been celebrated for mastering the art of facilitating understanding, collaboration and connection between just about any groups of people. Darcy is on a mission to transform the world through kindness. By showing how kindness — to yourself and your colleagues — can be leveraged as a tool to create positive corporate change. She is the founder of Pin & Pivot, an organization that has a successful track record of helping companies generate productive employees, improve communication processes and build dynamic company cultures that cultivate respect, fun and collaboration. Darcy recently published her first book, Bring in Donuts: And 35 Other Sweet Tips to Transform Your Career Today, which reveals practical, fun and actionable tips for navigating the workplace that readers can put into place today. Most importantly, she is the proud wife to her incredibly supportive husband and the grateful mom to her three little kiddos.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Absolutely! When my sister was pregnant, I wanted to surprise her at her baby shower with a video of all of her baby’s grandparents giving timeless advice and sharing their lifelong heartfelt stories. As I travelled around the country to film the video, there was an underlying theme of each powerful and emotional story from my nephew’s grandparents: Life is short, so do what you love every single day.
That underlying theme nagged at me until the glorious day of the baby shower, when I presented my sister with this legacy of wisdom without a dry eye in the room. As I drove away from the shower that day, I decided that I have to do what I love, including from a professional perspective. Being a lawyer can be rewarding, but improving company cultures is what I was born to do in this world. And I love doing it every single day.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Working with organizations on transforming company culture and developing their employees always leads to some fascinating stories.
At the end of every single event, I bring blank thank you notes with pre-stamped envelopes. I encourage every person in the room to write a thoughtful thank you note by the end of the day. It can be written to anyone. It can be to their grandma, their sister or their neighbor. It can be to someone who bought their lunch, someone who gave them advice or someone who took a chance on them.
Several years ago, a former audience member sent me a message out of the blue. She shared how impactful that thank you note was in her life. She sent the thank you note to her high school drama teacher, thanking the teacher for how much confidence they had poured into this former audience member during those formidable high school years. The drama teacher immediately responded to the audience member and they have been in regular contact ever since that thank you note. In fact, the drama teacher even helped the audience member get a new job!
That story solidifies exactly why I love connecting people together!
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
You will probably laugh at this one. Wait for it…I’m actually working on filming some fun(ny) music videos about the workplace. Organizations will be able to use these to help add an element of fun to meetings, presentations or just an ordinary Tuesday lunch hour.
The goal is to create videos that showcase the marvelous music of many genres — anywhere from hip hop to country to rock, while celebrating the positive aspects of the workplace.
We spend too much time at the workplace not to have fun once in a while (or a lot!). And a simple two minute music video can be the catalyst for connecting colleagues — which is the foundation for every positive company culture.
Ps — I’m a terrible singer, so I’ll be recruiting some actual talent to sing! However, I think I’m a good dancer, so that should be a treat for everyone.
Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?
It takes my breath away to truly absorb that massive statistic. It is incredibly disheartening to learn that more than half of the workplace is unhappy, despite the countless hours they spend there every year. Sadly, though, it is not a huge surprise.
At an organizational level, there are organizations that truly don’t value their employees as more than just a warm body who has a specific job title within an organizational chart. Essentially, some organizations consider their employees as just a cost and not as unique, valuable assets. This lens on employee relations results in a lack of trust and confidence across the organization.
At the management level, managers are often not properly being trained or are not being trained at all to onboard, retain and develop their teams. Some people are skilled at being managers and some are not. If an employee has a manager who doesn’t know how to manage them, recognize their strengths and develop their weaknesses, then that is simply a recipe for reciprocal unhappiness. This lack of training and processes results in confusion and frustration for everyone involved.
At the employee level, employees may not know how to properly communicate and collaborate with their colleagues. As a result, employees are not able to be effective with their time, which gets them behind schedule and not able to be successful in their role.
The good news is that all of those seemingly overwhelming reasons that employees are unhappy can be fixed through comprehensive training, effective collaboration and detailed implementation. There is hope, my friend!
Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?
An unhappy workforce is more than just a ripple effect on a company. It’s like a cannon ball in a blow-up pool.
- Company productivity is directly impacted by unhappy employees because those unhappy employees are lacking the intrinsic motivation to do their job. Unhappy employees typically are magnets to other unhappy employees, which can lead to conversations about how unhappy everyone is — which leads to toxic conversations that steal time from the company and prevent actual work from being done!
- Company profitability is directly impacted when unhappy employees aren’t getting their work done. When the work isn’t getting done, a company can’t be its best for its customers. When customers aren’t getting the best service/parts from their suppliers, those customers find new suppliers. If a company doesn’t have customers, sadly, it can’t be profitable.
- Employee health and wellbeing is the saddest part that is impacted by unhappy employees. I’ve personally witnessed employees who are so stressed (whether self-inflicted or organization/boss-inflicted) that they can have severe physical and emotional consequences as a result of their workplace circumstances. It’s horrific — and we have to make some drastic changes to prevent this from happening in the workplace.
Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?
Here are 5 things to create a fantastic work culture:
- Donuts. Bring in donuts. Seriously — How can you better connect with others? (Food is a great start.)
Here’s an example of how food connected me with a previously unknown colleague who eventually became a colleague and friend who I worked with closely on a daily basis: I love sweets. So, obviously, I try to sneak something sweet into everything I eat and drink. Both at home and at work, I use an aerosol can of whipped cream to completely cover my cup of coffee. It is also a perfect lid for my coffee cup as I walk down the hall to my desk. Seriously, try it!
As you can imagine, it is quite hilarious to watch a grown woman attempt to be a barista at the office kitchen. I’m always fumbling around with creamer, stevia packets and the coffee pot. After one of my colleagues watched me blunder around with my coffee a few times with an amused and bewildered face, I laughed out loud and told them why I was covering my coffee with a frothy layer of whipped cream. It was a two-minute conversation between people who worked in two entirely different departments. That conversation led to other casual conversations over the months and years. Fast forward a couple of years, and we ended up working together on a couple of projects. And voilà — we already had a connection so we didn’t have to awkwardly get to know each other, which made it easier to move right into effectively communicating and collaborating together. The culture between us was positive as a result of some conversations around food.
- Communicate Effectively — How can employees be clear and concise?
Every single day in the workplace we are exchanging information with colleagues. When communicating with colleagues, we must always know the reason why the communication is taking place. Before you initiate any communication, ask yourself, “What am I trying to accomplish?”
Give the other person the information they need, in the order they need it, in words designed to be clear and concise. Keep everyone focused on the goal for the outcome of the communication.
Remember that every communication reflects upon your career, whether it is crystal clear or clear as mud. Emails/phone calls/meetings/voicemails — they all matter. They all add up to the sum of your reputation.
- Showcase Gratitude — Who has helped you/the organization along the way?
Showing gratitude in the workplace will truly set the foundation for an incredible company culture. As a leader in your company, you can be a gratitude trailblazer!
Here’s an example of how gratitude changed the trajectory of my career:
A few years into my career, I applied for a job that I had no business applying for because I didn’t have the exact skill set or the amount of experience required for the job. Somehow, I got an interview. Fast forward a few weeks and I eventually got the job. How did I get this job? Three words: Thank you note.
That probably sounds far-fetched, but it is a true story. A few months after I got the job, I asked my boss why they picked me for the job. (I was still entirely bamboozled as to why they picked me out of all of the other candidates.) He didn’t skip a beat and said I was the only person out of countless interviewees who sent a handwritten thank you note and it meant that I would treat my clients well. He understood that in business, being grateful and appreciative of your clients goes a lot farther than many other skills that people have on their resume.
Now if we flip this story around, as a leader, imagine if you wrote thank you notes a person in your organization? And that person kept that thank you note for years in the squeaky, third drawer of their desk. Eventually that person left the organization and they ended up a leader at another organization where they have influence on whether to hire your daughter/son/niece/neighbor. Guess what they will remember about their connection with you when making that hiring decision? Not the 2nd quarter results of 2017 that you presented. No, they will remember your gesture of gratitude and what an impact that made on them. Isn’t it amazing how gratitude can truly come back in a positive way, even when we least expect it?
- Be Genuine — What makes you/the organization so unique and amazing?
One of my favorite quotes is: Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken. — Oscar Wilde.
That premise couldn’t be more true than in the workplace, especially when leaders want to generate a more positive culture. Celebrate and showcase what makes you, your colleagues and your organization so different and so special. When people feel appreciated for who they are, rather than just the role they have, they will be happier and more productive!
Be willing to fail. Be willing to be humble. Be willing to showcase your quirks. Be willing to cackle in a meeting (that’s me!). It will help cultivate employees who have the confidence and approval to try things outside of the box, which will inevitably lead to an enhanced company culture.
- Have Fun — How can you make your employees smile once in a while?
Yes, having fun needs to be on this list.
Yes, having fun is important for a company’s bottom line.
Yes, having fun fosters an amazing corporate culture.
Despite doing an AMAZING job of connecting, communicating and collaborating…work days in a cube (or in an office) can get a bit bland for some employees. Dare I say boring once in a while? As a leader, you can liven it up a bit!
Here are some easy, inexpensive ways to connect with your colleagues, improve your company culture and have some fun!!!:
Laugh together — Where would you rather work? At a company that has a jovial vibe or one that has a serious vibe all of the time? If the productivity and revenue is the same at both companies, I’m guessing that most of you would pick the workplace that has smiling employees.
Decorate — Spice up your work space! Just like laughter, making your work space a bit more fun will make for a better work culture — for you and your colleagues. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just have it align with the culture your company wants to showcase.
Monthly Events — Have some scheduled monthly events! They don’t have to be expensive and they don’t have to take up too much time. The investment is worth it to bring people together and create some enjoyable memories together as an organization. Find some goofy dates to celebrate, like National Donut Day on June 1st!
Donate Time or Resources — One of the all-time favorite memories of my career is when our department donated time to a local charity. Annually, we would have options of where we wanted to donate our time. One year, we had the opportunity to work with an organization that gave clothing to people in need. We sorted clothes, unpacked boxes and bonded on a new level. Working side by side with colleagues, while working towards a greater was humbling and incredible. It changed us from being colleagues to friends. It changed the way our department worked together. It changed us. It changed me.
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?
It’s honestly pretty simple. Be kind — inside and outside of the workplace. Give people some grace. We have no idea what is keeping them up at night.
Here are some simple ways to be kind:
Open doors for people.
Say thank you.
Respect people’s personal bubble.
Praise someone other than yourself.
Wave when someone lets you into the next lane.
Put a tip in the jar.
Park within the lines
Give someone everyone a compliment as often as possible.
Make someone laugh.
Bring in donuts.
Your kind gestures may be the difference between steering someone towards being an unhappy employee or steering them towards being a grateful employee.
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?
My leadership style is one of praise, hard work, resourcefulness, ethics and humor.
Each day, I actively give employees specific examples of what a great job they are doing for the organization.
Each day, I actively tell employee’s supervisors specific examples of what a great job they are doing for the organization.
My moral compass is prominently in the driver seat of my career. It has been the driving force of how and why I make my professional decisions. It has never let me down. Not once.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My dad. 100%.
For a few months before I started law school, my dad got me a job at the company where he worked. I sat at a different location than my dad for most of the time, but I had the opportunity to meet countless people who had worked with my dad over the past few decades. Every single person — from plumber apprentices to the corporate admin to the CEO — told me how much they respected my dad because he is an honest, hard-working, generous, selfless, ethical, resourceful and fun colleague. While I already knew he embodied those characteristics in his personal life, I was even more impressed (and honored) that he was consistent with his impeccable reputation at the workplace.
So, at the ripe age of 22, I decided that I wanted to earn the same type of reputation that my dad earned over a period of 30+ years in the plumbing industry. How did I do that? I seek wisdom from my dad every chance I get. He gently reminds me of what really matters in life — and that is how you treat others every minute of every day.
9How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
As my circle of influence has grown over the years, I do my best to actively pour helpful, actionable and humble wisdom back into this world. Even more important than sharing wisdom, I try to bring goodness to the world by leading by example — by trying to be truly kind to everyone I meet — whether in the office or out of the office.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” — My dad (Roger Cox)
That simple phrase has been my career’s north star.
As an attorney, I have to look for the worst possible risk in every situation and share that worst case scenario with my colleagues. So, I’m not exactly sharing happy news all day. Therefore, it has been absolutely crucial that I’m proactively choosing my delivery carefully. The content of the message has to be given, but we can control how we send it to others — in a way that is respectful.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’m on the path to inspire a kindness movement in the workplace.
Thankfully, there is a kindness movement in the personal development realm. However, the workplace has been left behind.
Between speaking engagements, consulting organizations, opening doors for others, writing books, eating donuts with colleagues, creating corporate music videos and more — I’m enthusiastically gaining traction for corporate kindness movement. I hope everyone will join in!
We spend entirely too much time at work to be miserable as a workplace and it’s my life’s work to make the workplace a more positive place. We can do this!!!
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!