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Most businesses are quite complicated. With customers, employees, partners, regulations, financials, industry dynamics … it’s a whole lot to wrap your mind around.

Don’t get me wrong — that’s all necessary.

The problem is that your team can get lost in all that detail. The larger the organization, the smaller each person’s contribution feels. So motivation slowly ebbs and nobody even notices.

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Today I’m speaking from my heart to your heart. Because we’re all more focused and productive when we bring our heart into our work.

But we struggle to describe how that works. We tend to more strongly relate to the logical, unemotional part of business: income, job tasks, and so on. And that’s fine, but terribly incomplete.

The part which draws you in, and keeps you engaged, is mostly emotional.

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This has been a heady time for Small Fish. And I appreciate the honor, really.

But if the major incentive to recognize people is merely to make them feel good, there’s not going to be much lasting impact. We’ve seen that with round-robin “employee of the month” programs where folks get a reward for … something?

We need to have recognition that’s more focused than that.

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All organizations have goals, no matter what the size. Sometimes they’re clear, sometimes not.

But when the organization gets large, the employees rarely find the goals to be motivating. Instead, they often revert to the lowest common denominator: What do I have to do to keep my job?

This drives leaders nuts.

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I started out my career as a software engineer. Software doesn’t tend to be quite as elegant as other forms of machinery, but I totally get the concept that things are beautiful when they run efficiently and reliably.

That’s why I’ve found it amusing that my emphasis has shifted almost entirely to the “people side” of business. People are messy, unpredictably, and endlessly challenging.

I guess it’s because I’m a problem-solver at heart, and people offer an infinite array of problems to work on. Yet, we envision our businesses as that “well-oiled machine,” running like a top.

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Almost 4 million workers in the US quit their jobs in April 2021. That’s just stunning.

And, as we know, it’s a mixture of many job openings, people changing their career paths, and dissatisfaction with current situations. Workers are really rethinking their options right now.

As an employer, I assume that you’d like to keep your best people around. But there’s a problem:

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I want to express my appreciation for all of you who have stuck with me for so many years. I’ve been publishing a newsletter since 2010, and have received an incredible amount of support and valuable feedback.

Thank you.

And that’s the subject of this article, actually. Expressing thanks for the great work that people are doing, whether paid or not. This is something I’ve learned with leading volunteer groups, but just as important for my employees.

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2020 was so sad because of limitations on physical gatherings. I know many organizations which have cancelled holiday parties and celebrations as a result.

It’s the wrong way to think about it.

Sure, you can’t do what you’ve traditionally done, and it’s disappointing. But the real question is: what can you do with available resources?

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As I mentioned last week David Peterson is the Director of Executive Coaching & Leadership at Google.

He mentioned a phrase which stuck with me: “There’s no learning in the comfort zone, and there’s no comfort in the learning zone.” Last week I talked about the first part, today I’d like to focus on the second.

Why does learning push you out of your comfort zone?

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I had a chance to see a presentation by David Peterson recently; he’s the Director of Executive Coaching & Leadership at Google. And a brilliant coach!

He mentioned a phrase which stuck with me: “There’s no learning in the comfort zone.” There’s actually a second part of the statement, but I’m going to talk about that next week.

So why would the comfort zone be a place of no learning?

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