Last week, I shared my thoughts on the importance of speaking up when things have gone horribly wrong in society. I also shared that I would be hosting my “Black Out Show” as my first Ask Czarina Live after vacation. What I didn’t realize was how much extra courage and strength I had to muster up to get through my show.
It’s one thing to tell yourself you are going to do something monumental. It is quite another thing to recognize your accountability to deliver a message and story that resonates in spite of the difficulty of the topic.
Prior to the show, I watched the videos of the Alton Sterling and Philando Castile killings again. I watched the breaking news stories for the slain police officers and I immediately became emotional. I attempted to put on makeup to make myself appear as if I had it together, but the reality was I was a milli-second away from falling apart for everyone to see.
At the stroke of 10 pm, I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders. I knew that I was speaking for more than just myself which pushed me beyond my very palpable fear. I remembered those two little girls pictured above and recognized the duty I have as their mother and as a woman to show them that nothing should prevent them from being fully seen, appreciated and heard in this world.
I want my daughters to know that raising your voice when others find it easier to be quiet takes courage. I am showing them through my own actions that speaking the truth in a time when it is preferential to lie takes strength. In the end, I hope they will see that business should not only be profitable, but socially responsible.
An hour and nine minutes later, I felt lighter and proud that I delivered on my promise. My viewers kept up their end of the bargain as they listened without starting any arguments, fights etc. All of this proving that we can have civil discussions around race issues and politics, if we first are willing to listen more than we speak. It also illustrated that we all can speak up without it being disastrous for our reputations and businesses.
As a friend of mine shared, you can’t go wrong when your words are from your heart and they are delivered with poise and professionalism.
In case you missed the show live, I am making sure to share it with my readers here. Thank you to those of you who have reached out to share your feedback on the show. It really makes me feel good to know, I made a difference by using my voice and platform.
Many years ago, my parents enrolled me in a camp near my childhood home. The children that attended the camp were mostly black with a sprinkling of Latinos. Besides the usual water gun fights, outdoor sports and movies – I learned something that summer. It was the goal of the camp organizers that every one of us campers learned the black national anthem. If you are African-American and you grew up in the states, you have probably heard or know by heart the black national anthem: Lift Every Voice. The camp counselors said it was important that we knew it because we come from greatness and should be proud of who we are.
All I knew back then was it was a beautiful song and it made me proud of my heritage. What I didn’t know is this song I hold dear is really a poem by James Weldon Johnson that was set to music by his brother, John Rosamond Johnson in 1899. I, also learned that the very first performance was on Lincoln’s Birthday in 1900 sung by 500 children who attended the segregated Stanton School where James Weldon Johnson was Principal.
I found myself thinking of this song recently – as I took stock of the massacres of black men and cops that have marred almost every shred of optimism and hope I have for the people of the U.S. at the moment. It got me to thinking that while it is the official black national anthem; it is a song that every citizen of this country needs to hear and embrace.
The lyrics of the anthem goes as follows (note: this is the short version):
Lift ev’ry voice and sing,
‘Til earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the list’ning skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on ’til victory is won.
I won’t rehash what has gone on in this country in past two weeks, because I am not yet in an emotional place where it would be received well. Instead, I will draw everyone’s attention to the importance of speaking up when things have gone terribly wrong in the world. For as vocal as we have all become about everything from why the baristas at Starbucks can’t get your name right to the terrible service you’ve received at a restaurant – we are incredibly quiet and inconsistent on standing up for one another when injustice is plaguing one of our fellow citizens.
We raise hell if we sit on the tarmac for longer than five minutes during a flight takeoff. In some cases we take to airing our dirty, frivolous laundry out in hopes that onlookers will take pity and support us in our narcissistic moments of needing to be right in the court of “Facebook Friends” ( I really witnessed this recently). Insert hashtags, creative graphics and filters for an extra show of support for some of the world’s tragedies and you have in me a woman who is thoroughly fed up with the phenomenon of “social media activism”.
What is “Social Media Activism”?
It is when you meander from tragedy to tragedy (which often conveniently excludes tragic events that affect people of color) online with no real purpose. You will throw up a Facebook filter in support of a recent tragedy, because everyone else in your timeline did – yet you say nothing of value about the subject. It is creating a hashtag in outrage of a world event or tragedy, but the movement lives and dies on social media and never gets traction in real life. Moreover, it is when you lurk looking for opportunities online to force your political agenda, views and/or hatred for others, but you stand for nothing in real life.
None of this helps anyone if you don’t say something or even better do something when tragedy faces us as a society. I was asked in a recent interview if I worry about tackling controversial topics and whether or not it will impact business. I replied with a smile and said the following: “I am at a point in my business where I am happy to work with businesses with whom I have synergy. I don’t say anything that isn’t rooted in fact, so if they aren’t pleased with my approach they can always hire the next gal.”
While I have no desire to live in the pits of controversy day in and day out, I know that I have a following and influence. I also know that having influence puts you in a unique space to educate people and raise awareness. To be in that unique space, you need to have the courage to speak up for those who cannot or who would be otherwise ignored.
There are plenty other instances when we can laugh at absurd videos, marvel at babies and kittens and have fun while being social beings. 2016 is calling us to be more than the latest viral video or business tip we are discussing for the thousandth time. Speak up, add value, educate, collaborate with a social organization to raise awareness. Do something, but do not be silent.
Some more perspective…
I have two Caucasian friends who have been in communication with me since the killing ensued in early July and if I’m honest every killing of a black person prior to as well. Their words were kind, loving and supportive. When I say “lift every voice”, say something or do something, it doesn’t have to be a huge endeavor. It can be a simple text, email or phone call to show support or merely to listen and better understand why many of us are fed up. Just don’t be silent.
My way of doing something is to educate and speak out. I will be doing just that when I return to my Periscope.tv show Ask Czarina Live this Thursday night. I will be hosting “The Black Out” Show. It will be a show to educate and to have a civil conversation about what’s going on in this country. If you are up at 11pm EST and want to join in follow the instructions in my promo graphic. Let’s be better than what I see playing out online, in real life and in the news.
For at least the past two weeks, I have been beyond tired and uninspired to write anything new. I am not a fan of forcing myself to write when I’m not feeling it, so I decided to honor the space I have been in. To describe the feeling, I have felt like I am in abyss of a wandering mind and unable to dig myself out of it.
I started out with the obvious feelings and reactions of being mad at myself for not pushing through. That was until I decided to evaluate what I have accomplished and why I may be feeling listless and lacking in new ideas.
The reality was: I have been working damn hard for over six months no real downtime. This may sound like a humblebrag, but unless you understand how an entrepreneur’s mind works that will be your only conclusion. My mind is constantly racing with thoughts of new ventures, things I need to do and questions of whether I am doing enough to reach my goals. That’s just on the professional end of things. On the personal end, it is kids, husband, home life etc.
In taking stock of what I set out to do and what I actually accomplished – it allowed me to accept my tiredness and need to unplug as a warranted effect of my hard work. Cleaning my whiteboard of projects completed wasn’t enough. I needed to take the time to write down what I had done specifically so I could quantify and see it.
I got my mojo back today!
One thing I am very intentional about is keeping the right people in my circle of trust. These people remain nameless, but I praise them loudly and often, because they keep me on target and sane.
Sharing is caring.
Today was no different – as I met with my one of my friends/business partners. We met as we do annually to discuss how our academy went. Over Mexican food and great drinks we discussed our successes and room for improvement. We also discussed life and business since we wrapped the academies. Shockingly, I am not alone in this abyss of wandering minds. My business partner was experiencing the same feelings. A few drinks and many admissions later, we both were idea machines!
So, how does a casual lunch and drinks inspire one to move from listless to inspired again?
It’s all about people! Whether you are an entrepreneur or something else, we all have an innate need to be seen, understood, heard and empowered. We especially need this positive energy from others when we are unable to motivate ourselves .
When our smartphones are in the red and about to die, we frantically hustle to find a plug to power up our batteries again so we can continue surfing , sharing, chatting etc. Today, my business partner and I plugged-in to one another to recharge and keep going. We essentially threw one another a lifeline.
I was convinced that my upcoming vacation alone would do the trick ( and I still kind of believe that). However, I really needed to spend some time connecting with someone in my circle of trust to put things in perspective. People often ask me if I miss working in an office with people. My answer is always “no”. I am not the kind that needs constant human interaction, but I have learned enough to know when it is prudent to tap into others.
Here are some tips for navigating periods of low-to-no inspiration or energy:
1) When your body slows you down, it is because you need to slow down. Honor that space and time and be still. It’s usually a warning to slow-down. Also, a lesson is usually on the way when this happens.
2) Evaluate how you reached this unwelcomed slowdown. More often than not, you will find that there are some steps and/or missteps that brought you to this place. Write it out, find your blindspots and forgive yourself.
3) Plug into your circle of trust. Many times we believe our struggles are unique to us. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable enough to ask a question or to share your experiences will help you shake the “unique struggle” mindset. This allows you to normalize your feelings, get out of your head and resume productivity.
Whether you are an introvert, extrovert or ambivert – people need people. If you want to be successful both professionally and in business you need to have at least one other person you can call to cry, vent , or bounce ideas off of. It is too much of an emotional and physical burden to bare for you to carry it all alone. Find your tribe and plug-in when you need to recharge. Trust me it’s okay.
I completely get that there are many businesses that continue to feel the pinch financially. With that “pinch” it requires cutbacks in certain areas and in some cases across the board. One of the areas I am seeing some less than reasonable cuts in is: supplies and tools. You may be thinking that this is extremely reasonable to do in a time of strained budgets, but it really isn’t.
Please know when I say “supplies and tools”, I’m not talking about the kind of cutbacks that result in getting rid of the colored post-it notes to go with the budget yellow ones. I’m talking about cuts to supplies to the extent of employees not having enough resources to do their jobs.
Still in the dark? Here’s an example.
A world-renowned law enforcement agency with millions of dollars earmarked annually for its operation has a printing paper deficit. In many of its departments it is a requirement to print various pieces of information to complete several of their processes. The printing paper deficit has gotten so bad that employees hoard reams of paper when they are ever lucky to receive a shipment. The hoarding of paper means that many employees are left without any paper which then causes them to beg and barter among themselves for company resources to get their jobs done.
To make matters worse, there are two said printers in some of the departments with high-volume printing work, which means there are constant interruptions to the flow of work to wait for other printing jobs to finish before retrieving their own work.
One day, there was very little paper, computers were having a moment, and one of the printers was out. Keep in mind that there is also a quota looming over these workers heads for having to have a certain number of queries done on new hires per day. With no letting up on the queries despite the severe deficit in office supplies to get the job done, the employees are left thinking: ” What do you want me to do?”.
Let’s talk systems and tools.
How do you have employees show up and expect them to work without access to the very systems they need to get the work done? In a recent instance, an employee went almost four months without having properly assigned codes and access to the systems they needed to get their job done. Instead, they had to use the usernames and passwords of a co-worker to complete work. During this time of sharing usernames and passwords, the co-worker changed codes frequently without sharing this with the new employee – so you can imagine there were several lockout instances.
Again, I can’t understand how we can talk about employees being unproductive, yet not give them the resources or tools necessary to get the job done.
If your budget is scant or you have fallen into this rut without realizing it – let me be your light and guide to proper onboarding and productivity measures:
1) No one should be transferring or hired into your company without being allocated the pertinent tools, resources and/or access to systems. You want productivity on day one and your employees want to be productive. Create a simple system for onboarding new people so that their access to things doesn’t fall through the cracks. It is not your employees’ responsibility to onboard themselves and properly assimilate. We must do better!
2) Purchasing office supplies is not your employees responsibility. Now, I’m not saying if your employee enjoys a certain expensive pen or supply that they shouldn’t be responsible to purchase it on their own dime. I am saying that if you cannot afford printer paper, you have a bigger cash flow or budget problem on your hand that needs to be addressed. Outside of maybe teachers and healthcare professionals purchasing applicable uniforms, there is no good reason in my head why an employee should have to purchase supplies out of their own money to complete your work.
3) Less is only more when employers are saving dollars. Sometimes you have to invest. If the expectation is for a high-volume of work to be churned out, you need to speak to your staff regularly to keep a pulse on how the technologies, tools, processes and resources available to them are working out. Often times, we see the work getting done and assume all is well on that front. The reality is your employees – in many cases are moving mountains, dealing with your cutbacks and creating workarounds to get your work done. The least you can do is check-in with them and make the investment when it is clear it is time for an upgrade.
When it comes to work, we are only as productive as our environment and resources will allow. Work ethic matters as well, but for the sake of the article we will assume most people come to work with an intention to do their best. Give your employees the support, resources and tools they need and watch them thrive.
There are still companies who are tardy to the social media party. It’s not a bad thing. Businesses have either thought social media was going to exit as a one-hit wonder or they were laying-in-wait until it became absolutely apparent that they needed to jump in.
What fascinates me is that the companies who have an interest in building an online presence via social media – seem to forget that they have some internal work to do before hitting the very public social airwaves.
Getting on social media is the easy part.
You want to be on social? No problem, head to your platform of choice, create your free account and get posting. The problem for businesses is that they jump on this bandwagon of social expecting that doing so and directing their employees to talk them up on social media is the holy grail to their success. If you are doing this or plan to deploy your company’s brand to the digital and social airwaves – please stop!
You want to be a beloved brand on social media, but your employees really want you to treat them like human beings.
Clearly, there’s a disconnect here. While you are spending top dollar with a PR or Marketing firm to expand your reach to social media, have you forgotten your employees in the process? You just spent tens of thousands of dollars on hiring outside firms to make you look good, yet your employees haven’t seen a proper raise in years – priorities much?
Customers won’t buy from you just because you have a social presence and your employees will not say positive things about your company just because you demand they do so. While it may seem that social media is a good place to “keep up appearances”, it really isn’t. This doesn’t mean you need to be perfect, but rather that people expect a real depiction of how you operate, what it’s like to work with you etc.
If the morale within your company is suffering and you choose to overlook it and head to social media – you are setting yourself up for failure. Not only are you making it harder than it ought to be for employees to share their experiences, but you risk your employees airing out your dirty laundry on social.
A mini case-study…
I was on Instagram recently and I see one of my former employers’ promoting some sponsored posts. Somewhat intrigued, I click on one of their ads to see what they are promoting. After reading the caption, I move on to the comments just to see what people are saying. Throughout the comment section is comment after comment where employees are bashing and making fun of the company for stretching the truth about how they operate. Not only were there employees on this thread, but there were people who have applied to this organization and were treated indifferently.
For the next hour, I continued to click through their sponsored posts, finding only one that portrayed a positive image and lacked any apparent bashing. Unfortunately, for this company their intentions were undermined by their lack of attention and effort where both employees, candidates and customers were concerned.
Let’s examine where they went wrong and how you fix it:
1) The morale in this company is poor and they blatantly overlooked it. As I mentioned, I worked for this company once upon a time. The morale sucked then and as I hear it – it is worse now. There’s not enough PR in the world to fix the fundamental issue of employee’s loathing where they work or customers being disappointed with their experience with you. It’s not a travesty that you have been wrong in how you operated. However, it is a cardinal sin when you know you aren’t doing right by employees and customers and refuse to fix it. Check-in with your employees, triage the issues and take action to fix it prior to heading to social.
2) They are doing a lot of pushing and not enough listening internally or on social. If I am the one managing the social media for this company, I would have retreated by the third sponsored post where employees were lambasting me. This company continues to put out more and more ads with the same result. The question here isn’t who can I fire for making us look like jerks on social media, but rather are we listening to our own internal airwaves like we should be? Companies spend a ridiculous amount of time, money, and resources pushing out engagement, post-service, pulse surveys. All of this knowledge gathering that we do every year and yet we aren’t hearing our customers and employees like we should. Less push, more listening would have helped this brand in launching successfully into the digital sphere.
3) Employee Advocacy under duress never works. This company was actually an early-adopter of social media. They were one of the ones who had the budget to explore what digital branding could do for them before it became the hot topic that it is today. Long before we had experts and established standards for social media – it felt wrong to push employees to talk you up on social. I will never forget them talking to us about the magical number of times they wanted us not only to be engaging on social on their behalf; but also directing the message. Personally, I hated my job with them at the point that this was deployed. Having them tell me that I had to say “nice” things about my experience and the company on social was not only a lie – but made me feel sick to my stomach. Social sharing should be organic and not forced. Would you want to recommend a place where you had a bad experience? I’m guessing your answer is: “no”. The same applies to your employees.
The purpose of having an online presence is to further your visibility and authentically connect with audiences and communities in a way you wouldn’t be able to ordinarily. Social is about reciprocity, transparency and being genuine. It is not only wise but recommended that you take the time to deal with any internal demons that may surface and undermine your efforts on social media. You may not be able to thwart every heckler or angry customer, but you will at least set a solid foundation for your brand to grow and thrive.