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Inspiration for innovative employees

Why good employees leave your organization (and how to stop them!)

I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes a successful organization when I came across this article on LinkedIn.  In the post, Vartika Kashyap describes a few key reasons why good employees leave organizations and I can’t disagree with any of them.  Between unnecessary rules, not recognizing contributions, promoting the wrong people, and neglecting their personal growth, organizations and companies that practice these bad habits (including organizations I’ve worked for), put themselves at a real disadvantage when it comes to hiring and retaining talented associates.

However, I’ve also worked for some really great employers.  Employers who fix all the above faux pas of their lesser counterparts are definitely ones to keep your eyes on.  These organizations know the value of human capital, and they won’t disregard the contributions or talents of their star employees.  All in all, I think Vartika hits the nail on the head with why an employer would drive away quality employees, but this article would be pretty short if I didn’t add a fifth element.

Encompassing all the above factors, the fifth reason why good employees leave organizations is that the organtizations themselves are not innovative.  How can innovation contribute to employee retention and goodwill?  By promoting and fostering the other four factors!

Innovation that Inspires

Think about it:  an innovative company will create rules and guidelines which don’t hamper creativity and productivity but foster it.  Innovation means recognizing the amazing contributions of fellow associates and promoting them to realize their full potential.  Innovation also means creating engaging and stimulating activities, processes, and systems which enhance the personal growth of employees.  When a company or organization fosters a culture of innovation, it strives to do its best by its employees, and in turn promotes a co-creation of value between the two; a symbiotic relationship forms with mutual benefits between individuals and the larger governing organizations that encompass them.

Constant, Gentle Pressure

As for how to stimulate this symbiotic relationship and create a culture of innovation, I’ll take a page from one of my idols whom I’ve written about a few times before.  Danny Meyer, restaurateur and entrepreneur extraordinaire, invented the idea of a “constant, gentle pressure” for implementing change within an organization.  Through employees and managers who strive for continuous improvement, never forcefully but always consistently, an organization can strive to be its best and never rest on its laurels.  This type of culture is one that’s inspiring to employees, not off-putting, and one that will attract and retain the best talent, not drive it away.

At the end of the day, associates deserve an innovative culture because it’s the fountain from which the other attractive qualities of a compelling organization flow.  When you add in that constant, gentle pressure, you get a fountain that overflows with the stuff of great organizations.

Kindness means Business

The Business of Being Kind

Like most everyone, I’ve received a lot of advice over the years, coming from a variety of sources and spanning the spectrum between incredibly useful and incredibly useless.  Furthermore, and not to get too technical here, but all the advice I’ve received lines up on a bell-shaped curve, which is slightly skewed toward the “bad” advice end, with only a few good solid pieces sticking out as outliers over on the “good” side.  Some time ago, I came across some really great advice from one of my supervisors where I currently work and I only recently began integrating that advice into my life.  Furthermore, the advice is so simple, so easy to implement and yet so important to my current situation and future aspirations that I am kicking myself for not realizing and taking to heart that advice sooner.

So what is this magical piece of advice?  Be kind.

Just two words, but two words that have so much impact and so much meaning if utilized to the extent that they are meant to be.   Being kind means having compassion and consideration for other people and things.  Being kind means empathy, not apathy.  Being kind is so easy to do if you put yourself in someone else’s shoes and reflect on their experiences the best you can.  Finally, and here’s where the lesson comes in, being kind is extremely beneficial in the workplace.

Don’t believe me?  Well we all know you might despise Craig from the marketing department or that you think your boss Jeff is a moron, but research from a variety of universities shows that a workplace culture that stresses kindness and forgiveness translates into higher productivity, higher self-worth and confidence, and a better-perceived image of management.  This type of research comes to fruition and bubbles to the top through conferences like those held at Stanford University (https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/insights/psychology-kindness-workplace) which held a “Compassion and Business” conference back in 2013, bringing together the best of psychology and business to stress the need for kindness in the office environment.  It’s fantastic when businesses and universities can conduct and support this type of research and share their results for the benefit of so many people.

What is even more fantastic is that I think my company has a terrific culture centered on kindness toward employees and other stakeholders.  As an employee, my supervisors take great care to make sure I’m doing work that I like, that I get the necessary time off I need to take care of my other commitments, and that I’m happy too.  That level of care translates to more productivity on my part, in addition to a higher overall level of happiness.

Moreover, being kind has implications for what I hope to accomplish and how I hope to behave in the future.  As a hospitality professional, being kind and considerate to all guests is paramount to guest satisfaction and repeat business.  As I wrote in my last post, one of the ways to add hospitality to your own life is to be kind and considerate, and that goes for employees of hospitality organizations in addition to the everyday person.  My kindness in every guest interaction is so important, so reflective of my own personality and the culture of whatever company I represent, that it should take on more meaning in organizational culture that I believe it currently does.  For many organizations, the emphasis on kindness and the guest experience is there, demonstrated most beautifully when I worked for Marriott International.  For other organizations, the emphasis is not there and I think we’ve all worked for one organization or another that has that lack of focus on kindness.

Unfortunately, the lesson in kindness has come too late in my life to rectify mistakes I have made, some quite recently.  The good news is that orienting oneself towards being kind doesn’t take that much time or effort to do and I’ve begun trying to do just that for myself.

 

Lydia and Samson at Streets on Carson

Streets on Carson with Lydia Grubic

When one thinks of street food, I dare say to ask what he is thinking about: it is usually either lukewarm hotdogs being dispatched from a metal cage on the streets of New York or some very suspicious nuts being moved around a large metallic bowl and disbursed via the smallest Styrofoam cups you’ve ever seen.  Conclusion: not at all appetizing and certainly that was the image I had in my head.  However, the game has forever been changed with a restaurant located in the South Side neighborhood of Pittsburgh called Streets on Carson.  Quite simply, the restaurant offers street food from around the world, and by that I do not mean any of the potentially graphic images described above.  This restaurant is all about a modern take on the world’s classic street food, with exotic yet reassuring flavors and dishes to satisfy any palate.  My friend Lydia was kind enough to recommend and invite me to experience this gourmet street food extravaganza, so naturally I had to review it!

Atmosphere and Service: While the venue itself was fairly dark and mysterious from the outside, walking inside you find a quiet, relaxed yet really hip atmosphere.  There’s tasteful graffiti and subtle lighting fixtures throughout the space that give a really cozy feeling to the whole place.  The mixing of wood and metal furniture took me back to Pittsburgh’s roots, a subtle but meaningful throwback to the Steel City.  The service was actually a pretty interesting thing to note, since our server was aware from almost the very beginning of our presence as reviewers.  That being said, I think the “pressure” of me critiquing the whole process (I write “pressure” because my review has almost no impact on the restaurant and carries no weight and meaning, other than for my own enjoyment and the enjoyment of my guests), was handled rather well.  He joked with us about what I was doing, keeping the interactions light but direct.IMG_8110IMG_8108

Food: There were so many interesting dishes on this menu that it was difficult to narrow our choices down to only four, but we each chose two items that sounded the best and got to sample a little bit of everything from all over the world.  I will note that because of the focus on freshness and local ingredients, not all of the menu items will be available all the time, a worthy sacrifice for the sake of superior quality.  Let me take you on my food journey around the world:

 

 

IMG_8103

  • Duck Fat Fried Poutine- Cremazie Ouest, Quebec:  If this poutine could sing, it would carol a beautiful aria of delicious melodies with every bite.  Fanciful language for sure but there is something truly special in anything fried with a strong oil like duck fat.  It intensifies the flavor of any food, and using the potatoes as a base, the duck fat can bring out the flavors of the warm gravy and the fresh cheese curd like no other.  The dish certainly could have used more gravy, but it was nonetheless entirely satisfying.IMG_8101
  • Arancini- Ballaro Street Market, Sicily:  The adult version of Macaroni and Cheese bites, these rice balls pack a gooey, cheesy punch in every bite.  The tangy and only slightly spicy sauce gives more depth to the dish and allows for a differentiated tasting experience, depending on the quantity of sauce you use.IMG_8102
  • Pork Spring Roll- Longhua Road, Shang Hai:  This is your basic spring roll, so there isn’t too much to note here in terms of uniqueness.  However, you really get a sense for Streets on Carson’s emphasis on freshness here because unlike your typical Chinese restaurant, this spring roll is artfully plated, served atop a sriracha aioli, and has distinct flavors that don’t simply blend together in a bland, lukewarm mush in your mouth.  Quite the contrary, these spring rolls are the epitome of fresh cooking and the result is pure happiness.IMG_8097
  • Tapioca- Laranieiras Market, Rio de Janeiro:  Both Lydia and I have always heard about tapioca, but never really knew what it was.  Apparently, tapioca is a starch extracted from the Cassava root and native to northern Brazil.  Being the adventurous eaters that we are and wanting to pay tribute to the successful Rio Olympic Games, we ordered these small tapioca cakes with a chipotle aioli drizzle.  While not my absolute favorite dish (mostly due to the texture) I can still say that the tapioca takes on other flavors really well while still being a distinct grain with its own taste.  Not a bad combination in my book!
  • Beverage of Choice: 4 Seasons Brewing Company, 60 Degrees and Snowing: My drink of choice was a blonde Belgium ale from the 4 Seasons Brewing Company, located in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.  It is very light and smooth, making it an easy sipping drink and great for in between bites since the taste fades fast.

Streets on Carson food map

Price: Altogether, my bill came in at about $25 dollars including the gratuity.  I think one of the great aspects of this restaurant is that you can order a bunch of different plates to share and not break theIMG_8104 bank.  Most menu items are prices around the $7-$10 price range and they are certainly big enough to share.

The Verdict: 8.75/10

Translation: Streets on Carson has all the makings of a truly global restaurant for the Pittsburgh area.  It’s a fresh, inspired idea with much to offer Pittsburghers who need to escape the domesticity of Americana fare.  The location is a little out of reach for what I think a place of this caliber deserves; in saying that, however, Southside feels like a good match for this place, mixing well with the variety of bars and restaurants that make Southside so unique.

Lydia’s Take: Certainly the quality of the food for the price is unbeatable and the service is fast but not too overwhelming.  I actually found nothing immediately wrong with Street too, which is certainly a good sign!  This is probably the perfect place for a first date or any event where you need to meet new people because the different dishes offer plenty of topics of conversation.

Lydia is a senior at the University of Pittsburgh majoring in neuroscience and minoring in chemistry who lives just outside of Pittsburgh.

Streets on Carson, located on East Carson Street in the Southside Neighborhood of Pittsburgh,  has a eclectic menu “comprised of small dishes found in the most frequented markets, streets, and bazaars around the world.”  You can find the full menu and location here: http://www.streetsoncarson412.com/

 

Entering a New Role, Taking that First Step

“I shouldn’t be nervous at all.  I’ve done this half a dozen times”, I say to myself as I enter Two Chatham Center, home to the Pittsburgh based AccessData, a Broadridge company.  I made my way into the office, where I greeted my fellow interns and my supervisor with a bright smile on my face but a knot in my stomach.  This was to be my next internship for around four months (or longer) and even after having several internships and part-time jobs before now, I was still uneasy.  For some reason, the foray into an unfamiliar office environment, with little knowledge of the company, the culture, and the people, still unsettles me.  What is even more bizarre is that I knew I had nothing to be worried about: I had obviously interviewed well, beat out the best of the best candidates to get to this point, and demonstrated that I match the “type” any company looks for in a qualified, outstanding employee.  Maybe I’m concerned other employees won’t like me.  Perhaps I’m concerned I won’t perform to the level expected of me in my new role.  With all these reasons to doubt myself, it can be difficult to enter a new job with a positive attitude, and although I masked my nervousness well, these thoughts still plagued my mind like a swarm of pesky flies.

It’s now one week later and I can definitively say (as I knew was the case all along) that I had nothing to worry about.  Not only were all of my colleagues welcoming and supportive of me and the other new interns but our supervisor did everything possible to settle us into our new roles with the least amount of friction.  I felt like a valuable part of the team right from the beginning, and by the end of the week I had the confidence to know that I can take on this job with the can-do spirit that I’ve come to hone through my past experiences.

So why was I at all nervous?  If you’re anything like me, you subconsciously ask yourself questions at an almost breathtaking speed, where as soon as you’ve settled one thought, another one pops up to take its place.  And while I can’t necessarily stop the questions from coming to a head, I can take some managed steps to mitigate the impending tension (or, in other words, calm down).  First, I always have positive attitude when I enter a new company.  Even if you’re masking some insecurity, a friendly demeanor will undoubtedly make everyone around you more comfortable and receptive to a new presence in the office, and may even initiate fast friendships.  Second.  I learn as many names as I can.  One of the topics in Dale Carnegie’s book How to Win Friends and Influence People (my review can be found here) is that learning people’s names goes a long way to showing you respect and care enough about your colleagues to remember a vital piece of information about them, and it may make conversation or asking for help go more smoothly (instead of saying “hey you!”)  Finally, I believe that the most important trait to have is a can-do spirit.  Having the mindset to always try your best at a new task or perform to the best of your ability in your new role will always garner more respect than saying “I can’t do it.”  We show appreciation and respect for our new colleagues, who were often times in the same positions as us, when we roll up our sleeves and say “Yes we can”, even when the opportunity for failure exists.

As I continue down my career path, I know that I’ll have to enter many new offices with the same thoughts and uneasy feelings as I had experienced a week ago.  But following my plan and staying true to what I do best, I’m sure I can meet that challenge and succeed.

 

London: The Truly Global City

Today was my first day of classes in the city of London.  While I only had one class so far, International Economics, there was so much jammed into that one three-hour period that it both inspired and bored me, an interesting combination of excitement and misery that I suspect will become the norm.  The section of today’s course that inspired me, however, was the realization that London is maybe the first city I have been to that is globally connected.  Now you could argue that New York City or Philadelphia, locations that I’ve been to many times, are equally dynamic and worldly.  I would counter with the fact that I have never lived in either of those cities for more than a week tops and that I was only ever a tourist in either place.  Here in London, I am living, working, and playing for over three months in a city of 8.5 million people, where three hundred different languages are spoken and which is the number one financial center in the world.  So while New York and Philly were great places to visit, the multi-cultural atmosphere and the gravity of what I do with my time here are so much more important than it was in America.

Which brings us back to the section of my International Economics course that spoke to me today.  Our professor showed us a video of Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund and quite possibly the most important woman in the world, giving a speech entitled “A New Multilateralism for the 21st Century” in February of 2014 in which she addressed a number of important economic and cultural issues.  While the speech was given in London almost two years ago, the shocking statistics and heartfelt messages are still relevant, if not more shocking and heartfelt, today.  I realized that I will have the opportunity to experience and learn about some of the topics that Ms. Lagarde touched on, including income inequality, gender inequity, climate change, and international trade, not just through the class itself but also because I am living in the epicenter of a cultural and economic epicenter where these discussions are still on going, where action is being taken, and where the results are free and clear for everyone to see.  More than ever, London is taking a commanding presence on the world stage, with the most foreign direct investment projects of all cities in the world and strong growth among all sections of its economy.  There are important changes being implemented and issues being argued here that will affect the whole country like raising the minimum wage to the American equivalent of twelve dollars an hour and the eventual referendum to split from the European Union.  I’ll see the impact directly in a city as multi-lateral and highly diverse as London is, and I’m so excited to learn about its role on the world stage.

If you have some time to spare, you can watch Christine Lagarde’s intellectually inspiring speech here: Christine Lagarde: A New Multilateralism in the 21st Century.

Hospitality: It’s a Give and Take

My second day in London started off very differently than back in the states, including getting lost on the Tube (the English subway) while heading to class and trying to memorize the names of a dozen new people.  There is something, however, that was very much the same today as it is back in the United States and as I suspect it is around the world.  That something is the language of hospitality.  No matter where you are in the world, if you approach your fellow man with general warmth and sincerity, with the goal of helping him or seeing that his needs are taken care of, you will be received gladly and even rewarded.

I witnessed the language being spoken today around lunch time when some friends and I entered a local Italian restaurant after class, but not at first.  Our server was a solemn young girl who would’t speak to us and the restaurants owners, an older couple who seemed of Italian descent, were fiddling around with what seemed like a printer in the room next to us.  While I was thrown off by the lack of cheerful service that I’ve come to know and love in the U.S., I’ve learned that the English aren’t very emotional people in public and I suppose I mistook that for a deficit in genuine hospitable service.  Nevertheless I tried to have a good time with my friends at least until the the older woman of the couple came over to our table, asking if any of us had any experience with technology or computers.  She explained that her husband was trying to get the new fax machine they had just bought to work but it just kept making strange noises.  Being minimally technology-oriented but maximally service-oriented and clearly seeing the woman’s distress, I volunteered to assist her and her husband.  As soon as I stood up to help, the air in the room changed from one of isolation to one of cheer.  The couple were very friendly to us then on (the fax machine was an easy fix, I just turned on “automatic answer” button and it seemed to work fine), complementing how helpful and knowledgeable we all were and giving us all free sodas to drink.  I even got a small word of appreciation from the now genial young girl.  It’s amazing how a little friendly service can pay dividends like that, and although it might be unorthodox for the customer to initiate the service transaction in this way, our experience at the restaurant was better for it.  We left the restaurant very satisfied and promising to come back and patronize their store again.

The lesson here is clear: hospitality is a universal language.  When you give some, you receive some in return.