Listen to the Silence

sherrie-suski-emptyEach day we surround ourselves with noise from podcasts and social media alerts to incessant Zoom meetings with colleagues, to radio and TV.  Our world has conditioned people to crave noise.  When we aren’t listening to input, our minds are just as noisy with thoughts that are swirling about often hopping from one topic to the next as we convince ourselves that this is what is necessary to gain as much information as possible in the shortest amount of time.

How often do we stop to think that the most insightful learning sometimes comes from listening to the silence?  We have been conditioned to be silence avoidant.  If someone is not speaking for too long, we have a general feeling of malaise where we will jump in to fill the void.  Sometimes, however, the silence truly does speak louder than the words. And sometimes, the words that follow a long silence are more sincere than those that tumble out of our mouths so effortlessly.  

According to experts who spoke to the sound insulation company, Acoustical Surfaces, the fear of silence, or “sedatephobia,” is becoming more and more common, causing people to feel uneasy in quiet places or situations (think the library and awkward pauses in conversation). Interestingly enough, leading hypnotherapist, Dominic Knight, said the phobia has only surfaced within the last 50 years or so, which could suggest we live in a “much noisier world” than, say, the environment our parents and grandparents grew up in.

There’s no one root cause of a fear of silence, according to doctor of psychology and licensed clinical social worker, Dr. Danielle Forshee, LLC. However, she tells Elite Daily, “silence generally stimulates us to be able to notice our automatic thoughts,” aka uncontrollable, and often-uncomfortable thoughts that occur when triggered by something else. Because these thoughts often cause stressful emotions to ensue, she says, “most prefer to not sit and notice their thoughts, and sound provides that relief.”

Imagine the infamous employee reference check.  You ask the prior manager if they would rehire the applicant and there is a pause that you did not expect.  You have two choices: 1) gloss over it and repeat the question or move on to something else or I have even seen recruiters answer their own question just so that the silence does not hang in the air like an early morning fog or 2) allow the pause to hang in the air and then listen very closely to what the person has to say after that pause.  There is a reason it happened.  

Being comfortable with another’s silence requires that we become comfortable with our own silence first.  Practicing mindfulness can be one way to become more comfortable.  Engaging in a daily meditation practice, whether it be for a quick five minutes in the morning or a lengthier hour in the evening, does incredible things for the human mind, such as relieving built up anxiety, quieting mental chatter, improving focus, and increasing self-esteem and feelings of confidence.

So the next time you find yourself avoiding the silence, take time to explore what is triggering your need for constant noise distraction. Appreciate the learnings that can come from silence.  

High Trust Cultures

Why spend valuable time and other resources espousing, creating and building a high trust culture?  The answer is relatively simple, it’s that high trust sustains high performance.  Consider the following statistics from Great Places to Work

  • Employees who are committed and engaged at work are 87% less likely to leave their current company.
  • Organizations with engaged employees outperform those with low employee engagement by 202%.
  • The GPTW 100 Best companies have outperformed the overall market by a factor of nearly 3X.
  • Companies with engaged workforces have 5 times higher shareholder returns over 5 years.

sherrie suski high trust

In the chart above, it is clear that the Low Trust/ Low Performance cultures are in danger of closing their doors.   They will likely experience difficulty in attracting and retaining employees and those that do remain will be operating at a third of what their highly engaged counterparts are giving.  No company can sustain this environment for long.

A High Performance/ Low Trust culture may seem like it isn’t that bad, until you look closely.  The high performance is being given not out of a desire to achieve meaningful results, but out of a desire to avoid negative repercussions.  High performance cultures may attract employees, but the retention suffers.  Employees quickly realize that it is an eat what you kill environment where no one has their back.  These cultures have often times not spent the requisite time to develop and articulate a “Why” or a “Purpose”.  Employees may work exceptionally hard for a period of time, but without feeling like they are working toward something, will quickly burn out and move on to more meaningful opportunities.

A High Trust/ Low Performance culture may seem attractive from an employee point of view and likely will not have too much difficulty attracting employees, but the employees who are comfortable in these cultures are not of the driven to succeed mentality.  Fairly soon, they whole company falls into a state of mediocrity because there is no one willing to push the boundaries, no one is driving the business forward and everything remains status quo, a recipe for a painful organizational death in a world where technology has moved at warp speed.

The ideal culture is one that is founded on High Trust and High Performance. Neuroscientific research shows that trust reduces social frictions and promotes cooperative behavior among colleagues — and that managers can create high-trust, high-performance teams. Research has revealed organizational trust as a key part of culture that directly influences how willing your employees are to go above and beyond in their roles. Frictions naturally occur when humans collaborate, but at the same time, our brains are built to work in teams so there is a tension between wanting to be a team member and seeking to avoid conflicts with others by avoiding other humans. Research on the neuroscience of trust has shown that trust acts as a social lubricant, reducing social frictions so working with others is easier, more efficient, and more enjoyable. And when people work more effectively together, productivity and innovation levels rise.

Building a high trust environment is not only good for your employees, but also for your business!

Preparing and Selling a Business Use Case

sherrie-suski-businessimageThe Business Use Case 

is a reference point before, during, and after a project. As the project begins the Business Use Case establishes the ultimate goal of the project for all stakeholders—including the project manager and sponsor. There are invariably concepts in the minds of the key project participants of what they expect the project to accomplish.  The vast majority of unsuccessful projects fail not because of poor project management, but because of poor decisions with respect to the choice of projects. A good business case helps to make right decisions and avoid a waste of time and resources. 

A Business Use Case should include the following categories:

Executive Summary

An Executive Summary should speak to the overarching goals of the project.  What is it, how does it benefit your company and what type of evaluation process have you gone through to narrow down the field to the top 2-3 vendors.

Vendor Recommendation

Here it is key to speak to differentiation amongst the top vendor selections.  What does each offer and why does your selection stand out as the right choice

Overview of Business Case

This is the meat of your presentation.  Talk about the purpose and scope of your projects, what the key deliverables are, who the stakeholders are and key team members that will participate in this implementation.  You can also include a brief financial summary here if warranted.

Cost Analysis

Here you can begin to break down the costs of both the software licensing and the implementation fees.  These are likely best served by breaking them into two sections as the software licensing fees are on-going where the implementation fees should be one-time costs.  It may also be helpful to add the number of hours required of the vendor and of team members in this section. 

Implementation Phases

Especially for large projects, you should break them down into phases.  Usually you will see somewhere between 3-6 phases depending on the length of time necessary for the implementation.  If various modules have been purchases, it’s a good way to showcase which modules will be implemented when.

Anticipated Benefits

This is your opportunity to sell!  Think about not only direct savings in terms of cost, time or headcount, but also costs savings that might result from decreased turnover, automation of processes, lack of errors, speed and efficiency.

What Disappointment Says about You

sherrie-suski-disappointmentWhile I know some of you will disagree, your feelings of disappointment in another person generally have nothing to do with the other person and everything to do with you.  Saying “YOU disappointed ME” is not only a morale-killer, but it backfires and reveals more about you than anyone else. Whether in a personal or professional setting these words speak to how you handle life when things invariably don’t go the way you had hoped.

Avoid accountability

First, and actually the most important — as the manager, you own the work of people who report to you. Their work is your achievement or lack thereof. If they have not delivered a quality product, it is your responsibility to help them figure out why. It is not your job to point fingers, deflect blame, and pronounce that the failure was somehow an inherent part of their being.

Show disrespect

You do not see your employees as colleagues working together toward a shared goal, and you are not showing appreciation for their effort. Your words reveal an out of place parent-child dynamic, in which the focus has become your approval rather than the work itself.

Ignore learning

These words have such a sense of finality that they would bring anyone to a crushing halt. You essentially show a lack of faith that the other person can change and grow from the experience

You also make them question their own competence in the job.

Condemn quickly

You think that you are maintaining high standards, but you show that you are a harsh judge of people who are simply trying their best. Disappointment should be a last resort and should be reserved only for people who do not, repeatedly, give their full effort.

Display insecurity

You think you are calling out the other person’s shortcomings, but if you dig deep, you will find you are mainly disappointed in your own effort

Your expectation did not match up with the reality of the situation, and in frustration, you blamed someone else.

Reserve the word “Disappointed” for situations where it is no one’s fault.  “I am disappointed that the Company picnic got rained out” or “I am disappointed that the flight got delayed and we missed the presentation” In these situations, everyone is empathic and agrees.  It puts into words what many people are feeling and can unite a team.

Internal Corporate communication Strategy


When we think about the terms branding and communication, we often think about external efforts targeted at consumers of products or services which are normally the purview of marketing agencies or internal marketing teams.  However, internal corporate communications to our employee base is critically important in determining our ability to align our teams around one united purpose or mission and to effectively launch programs in support.

Developing an internal communication strategy necessitates that we consider the following:

Audience –  Who is our audience and what do we want them to hear?  Are we speaking to senior executives, investors or to our employee base?  If to the employee base, t what level should the communication be written?  Speaking to a group of data scientists may be different than speaking to a group of retail employees.

Channel/Format which channel(s) will be most effective when delivering this message?  IS this a message that can be communicated in writing or is the intent likely to be lost?  Should a live feed be followed up with video available to all who may not have been able to attend?  Is the expectation for all people leaders to waterfall the communication down through their teams?

Goals/Objectives this can be further broken down into the following categories:

Decision Making where the goal of the communication is to listen, understand all viewpoints and come to a consensus in order to be able to move forward

Information Sharing where the priority is around getting the information out and disseminated quickly, efficiently and accurately

Status Update meant to connect employees to areas of focus

Team Building crat alignment around short and long term goals and foster personal relationships on your team

Problem Solving often linked to a discussion focused on deliverables and how you as a manager, can remove roadblocks to allow your team to progress

Innovation brainstorming sessions that can focus on how to drive the company forward and gain a competitive edge

Schedule – decide how often and when this type of communication needs to occur.  There is a fine balance between over and under communicating

Responsibility – who should have the responsibility for crafting the communication and who should have the responsibility for delivering the communication.  Inherent in everyone’s responsibility is the need to follow up to ensure that the message you wanted to deliver was indeed received.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that communication plans and channels will take care of themselves.  A well-orchestrated plan with all of the above components will help to ensure that your company is both aligned and informed!


The Only Constant is Change

sherrie-suski-officeChange is inevitable in our personal lives and in our organizational lives.  Growth, without it, is impossible. Yet, instead of embracing change, most employees, and people in general, find it unsettling and approach it with trepidation.  That is the very reason that you should have a well thought out plan when it comes to introducing change to your organization.  Change Management can be thought of in three steps: 1) Preparing for the Change, 2) Managing the Change and 3) Reinforcing the Change.  

Preparing for the Change

There are a number of questions to ask as you start to prepare for change across an organization and the larger the company, the further in advance you need to start.  It is not unusual in a very large organization to see a change management effort span 2-3 years.  Be ready to:

  • Establish Organizational objectives- determine what you are trying to achieve or what problem you are trying to solve
  • Identify Groups Impacts- determine who the change might impact
  • Identify individuals impacted- note if any salary adjustments are warranted
  • Readiness assessments- conduct assessments to determine if your organization is ready to make a change and how much, if any, resistance you will face
  • Identify risks, potential resistance- talk openly about risks and how you would mitigate those.  Would people leave? Would they become less engaged?
  • Document Strategy- document everything in a project planning tool like Asana, so everyone can add to it
  • Build team structure- contemplate a team structure and decide who will be responsible for which initiatives
  • Create a sponsor model- where do you need your sponsors and at what levels of the organization
  • Prepare sponsors- meet with your sponsors.  The questions they have are likely the ones your workforce will have

Managing the Change

Once you are ready to roll it out, think through the following:

  • What needs to be communicated – what and how should you communicate.  What channels will you use and who is responsible for drafting and then communicating?
  • What Coaching do we need- should you engage a coach or firm whose primary objective it is to run these types of change initiatives
  • What training is needed- who needs to be trained and on what and how will they receive the training
  • How will we manage resistance- where do you expect resistance to come from and can you get ahead of it
  • What does success look like- imagine that everything went smoothly, which it won’t, but it’s important to have a vision for the goal

Reinforcing the Change

Once you have rolled it out, you will need to reinforce it through multiple channels and multiple times.  You will feel like the communication is overkill, but I guarantee, someone will say “ I was never notified of this”.  Some of the ways you can reinforce the change are:

  • Collect individual feedback- whether in person or through surveys, it’s good to know how people are reacting
  • LISTEN to impacted employees
  • sometimes employees just want to vent and that should be OK
  • Audit for compliance- since you went to all the trouble to make the change, you do want to ensure that it actually stuck, so figure out how you will audit
  • Measure that change has taken place- contemplate up front what measures of success look like.  Is time to market faster? Is there less turnover?
  • Identify gaps and develop appropriate responses- no matter how much time you spend, something will always be overlooked.  Figure out what it is and course correct.
  • Celebrate Success- don’t forget to celebrate and thank the people that made this all possible!

The time you spend up front detailing a well thought out change management plan will pay huge dividends upon execution.

Employee Experience Platforms – Improving the Moments that Matter

sherrie-suski-workerEmployees today expect to have the same quality digital experience at work as they do as a consumer/customer outside of work. Companies are responding by shifting their focus to address the full employee experience and those that figure out how to make their employees’ experience as wonderful as their customers’ experience will certainly have a competitive advantage.

It’s also about ensuring that in today’s often-fragmented organizations, employees feel connected to their work and their colleagues, understand the organization’s purpose and their place in it and can easily find the information they need for tasks ranging from making benefits choices to furthering their education and development. They are looking for that true omnichannel experience.

Employee experience platforms allow HR leaders to build employee journeys, develop apps, create and monitor workflows, and add chatbots and other forms of conversational interfaces to the mix. They can be used to facilitate communication of major events, such as a transformation the organization is undergoing or M&A activity with broad reaching impact.  It can also be used to help employees address, with self-serve capability, major life events, such as getting married or going on a leave of absence.

For example, ServiceNow,  is an HR service delivery portal that can be integrated with Workday.

While Workday is the system of record for transactions, ServiceNow is the system of action for services. It is used for on-boarding, self-directed benefits open enrollment, LOA’s, payroll changes and offers search capability for HR questions through a portal.  The two highly renowned platforms are integrated through synchronization of employee profile information in the HR application with your organization’s current Workday solution.

A positive employee experience is more than just a nice to have.  It is directly correlated to better customer service, improved sales, and top-line revenue growth and reduced costs. It’s much more than, say, just providing a good experience via a smooth payroll transaction.

An exceptional employee experience requires things like showcasing employee opportunities for growth, encouraging them to make important decisions, take prudent risks and innovate and demonstrate that they are a part of a winning team!

These platforms can be used to create and deliver “rich content,” including images and videos, that are branded to the company.  For example, the platform can deliver personalized push notifications to employees based on their roles. Cleaning staff, for example, will see regular reminders of how their job helps prevent the spread of bacteria and viruses during flu season.

Changing behavior takes time—it’s about messaging, measuring and iterating and having the technology platform that makes it possible.

Employer Value Proposition

In this economy, defining your EVP, Employer Value Proposition,  is critically important.  Each candidate you speak with likely has multiple offers and if you can’t clearly explain how and why you are different and better and what you stand for, it is likely their decision will be to take their desirable skill set elsewhere.

For those of you with knowledge of basic psychology, think of the EVP as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. There are base needs where you need to stay competitive.  Those include compensation and benefit offerings.  There are differentiators which include whole wellness initiatives and career growth and there is the unique reason why you r company exists.  More employees today are looking for alignment between their personal values and the values a company espouses.

Competitive Offerings

Remaining competitive in this fast moving economy is no small challenge.  A scarcity of qualified people to fill positions a makes this a buyers’ market.  Ensure that your midpoints are truly targeted at around the 60th percentile of the market and consider developing a lead/lag or lead/lead structure that will allow you to stay ahead of the market not only at the beginning of the year, but throughout the year as well.   Benefits are another area that you need to just take off the table in the candidate’s equation.  They should be competitive, your employer to employee cost ratio should be average or better.  You might consider adopting a safe harbor 401(k) plan where all employer contributions are immediately vested.  This is appealing to the millennial crowd who are expected to have upwards of 15 jobs throughout their lifetime.


Here’s your opportunity to really stand out from the crowd.  Make sure you can answer the questions around a prospective employee’s career path within your organization.  What percent of your positions are filled internally?  Do you have Individual Development Plans?  How often are they updated?  What type of training do you offer? What is the most likely next position and how long might it take to get there?  How are high potential employees identified in your organization?

Workplace lifestyle or total wellness is another area that you can make a name for yourself.  Employers are waking up to the fact that employees who are struggling with emotional, social, physical or financial issues outside of work are not able to bring their best selves to work.  Employers are increasingly focusing on wellness platforms that are not only fun, with contests and prizes, but offer employees a wealth of education opportunities.


Ultimately, your purpose statement needs to explore and clearly state your WHY.  It should be a unique expression that sets your company apart and tells you candidates what you truly stand for.  One of the better books on this topic is Start With Why by Simon Sinek.  Make sure that it speaks to what is unique about your organization and is not compiled of generic statements.

Overall, the more you understand about why a candidate should select you, the better able you are to convince the candidate of that fact!

Can People Analytics Strengthen your Internal Communication Strategy?

One of the largest challenges experienced by companies who grow quickly and broadly is that of communication.  It’s like the old childhood game of telephone. After it has been repeated 8 times, the message is no longer the same. It’s not on brand, it has lost its intent or worse yet, it is simply no longer factual.  Some companies are turning to People Analytics, a subset of Organizational Network Analytics (ONA),to start to solve these problems.

People Analytics allows organizations to visually see the flow of information within the company.  There are three main kinds of communicators, according to the Deloitte consulting firm, one of the main proponents of ONA. Central communicators are influential people who seem to know everyone, are up to date on important news, have lots of information to share and willingly share it. They can be located anywhere in a hierarchy and often times may be in lower level positions. Knowledge brokers, in contrast, facilitate information sharing by serving as bridges between nodes. These are people who are situationally connected based on a work product or short term project.  Peripheral communicators are low-profile people with poor or nonexistent connections to the organization. In order to have an effective communication strategy is has to be defined and executed with all three types of communicators in mind.  

Uses for ONA

For example, knowledge brokers often have important connections, not only situationally internal to the organization, but external to the organization as well.  This outside information and expertise can go underused if the broker lacks strong internal ties. Peripheral communicators are at risk of leaving the organization, which can be a detriment if their skills are highly valued. The insights from ONA may also reveal that people with formal authority and titles are not the real leaders of the organization. Identifying the leaders can, for example, speed buy-in and adoption of new initiatives.

Most companies have a strong focus on diversity and inclusion initiatives and companies can use ONA to spot exclusionary tendencies that might indicate discrimination or bias. Consciously creating project teams to ensure that there is diversity of experiences and thoughts goes a long way to securing the best outcome.  ONA can also help identify internal candidates for job openings and promotions. Strong communication skills are necessary at almost all levels in an organization.  

Workforce planning is another talent management function that can benefit from ONA. Managers can use the analysis to decide where to reassign people so they collaborate more effectively using the least amount of resources. ONA can help identify where work is being done and who is doing it, which can affect decisions about hiring, promoting and developing employees.

While not the only answer, ONA and the use of People Analytics can be one strategy to employ when contemplating your communication strategy.  Knowing where your starting point is, who your informal organizational leaders are and who you need to spend extra time with to ensure optimum levels of engagement is a big step forward!

Why you shouldn’t post a job description

sherrie-suski-descriptionsJob descriptions most certainly have their place.  Written accurately, they spell out the specific requirements for each position within the company, list essential job functions, any physical requirements and the education or certifications necessary.  However, few individuals are compelled to join a company based on a very dry outline of what the job entails. Employees today are looking for the story behind the company. What do they stand for? What is important to them?  Are they aligned with a candidates’ personal values? And how do the employees fit into that equation?

Zappos is a perfect example of a trend setting company that has done away with posting job descriptions altogether.  Instead of applying to specific jobs, their careers page allows candidates to opt-in to the Zappos community. People get to know the company on an informal basis instead of focusing on a job.

Here’s how they describe it on their Insights blog:

Anyone coming to our new careers site will see information about each department — our employees, the department’s unique culture, and which roles that department typically fills. Job seekers will have an opportunity to make an introduction to that department rather than apply for a specific position. The whole concept is to “take a look Inside Zappos.” Job seekers will get to take a look “Inside Finance,” “Inside Merch,” etc. If they look inside and like what they see, they can introduce themselves and become a “Zappos Insider.” Without the ability to apply for specific roles, we will no longer need to send inhumane rejection templates. Instead, we can begin to focus on long-term engagement.

Focusing on the company and attracting people who are aligned with your values is critically more important than sourcing for a specific skill set.  Often times, the skills for the jobs being hired for can be taught, but it is an uphill battle to convince someone who is not aligned with your culture that it really is the best way to do things, treat people, speak with residents etc..

Think for a moment about the difference in these two statements:

  1. Responsible for developing, enhancing, modifying and/or maintaining applications in the Global Markets environment
  2. Launch new trade application in the Global Markets environment

Which one is a call to action?  Which one says something about where the company is going and what is important to them?  And which one has the better chance of attracting a driven, high potential candidate?

This is a great picture of a skill set that was almost certainly not outlined in a traditional job description.  

Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want and to emphatically state who you are.  The old adage :if you don’t stand for something, you stand for nothing” is an immediate turn off to today’s top candidates!