Glass Cracker: Kristina Verner

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Even as I start to write this I’m chuckling to myself because I know I’m about to get in trouble. I’m ok with that, because the means justifies the end.  When I first moved back to the region I now live, one of the first woman I met was next to me on a treadmill.  What was striking about the encounter was that we were both women, in technology, the same age, and blonde.  Until that moment, I had never had a person that understood the complexities of being all those things together.

We also discovered that we were both hugely passionate about where we lived and immediately starting dragging one another into volunteer projects.  Then in 2010, I accepted a position that required us to work closely together.  The result? I only admired her more.

She’s got a growing list of awards (Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Award winner anyone?) and she was voted teacher of the year for the courses she taught when she wasn’t busily coordinating community partners and helping our region be named one of the Top 7 Most Intelligent Communities. In 2011, when my community got named because of her I immediately saw my phone ring, then my blackberry buzz, then an email pop-up and I knew that I was about to kiss my personal life good-bye for a period of time.  I picked up the phone to hear her voice filled with energy “I’m going to need you on this.” Followed by the biggest compliment I’ve received to date “because I need another me.”

I actually don’t remember saying yes, but I’m sure I must have because before I hung up the phone I had three emails, reports to review, and a 7 am breakfast meeting scheduled for the next day. The relentless work would cause me to cancel my birthday and her to cancel an anniversary.  Work life balance? Not this time but we were on a mission.  Welcome to the world of glass cracking with Ms. Verner.

Recently, she headed up the road to Toronto Ontario.  Not surprisingly I got the call that after being there for less than a year the City of Toronto had now made it on to the short list for intelligent communities. I joked with her (half seriously) that perhaps her arrival had instantly made the city smarter and that was the secret sauce.  She asked about the chances of me taking some time off from my own community work to go up the road and work on this with her – our laughter filled the lines. “Not this time.” I replied. “This time I’m celebrating my birthday.”

So what makes Ms. Verner so successful at helping communities find their “smart spot”? The fact is that she has the unique ability to dive into a community’s fabric and uncover the stories that most overlook.  It also helps that understanding how technology and human behaviour intersect happens to be a passion that makes her see connections that others do not.

Her commitment to technology for the betterment of positive life outcomes in communities is inspiring.  In her current role as the Director of Intelligent Communities for Waterfront Toronto she is responsible for building out one of the world’s preeminent intelligent communities.  We spend most of our conversations sharing technology strategies being used to make differences in developing nations, bantering between my Star Trek loyalty versus her dark force of Star Wars, and discussing her latest foray into intelligent communities.  We also strategize on ways to  get more women on to tech panels and bemoan the fact that despite all our advances as society  we still find ourselves as the lone woman in a sea of men at our different tech meetings.

That said, her drive and passion makes her a force to be reckoned with. She continues to break down barriers and pave ways for our communities and it’s for this reason that Ms. Verner is definitely one of my favourite Glass Crackers!

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The Importance of Appreciation

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I heard my friend’s voice over the phone line crack as she told me the two words that almost brought this strong, professional woman to tears in front of a group of power players.  “Thank you.” she said in amazement. “My boss actually thanked me for all my work and let everyone know it was me.” We have one of those friendships that goes back and she knew I would understand the power of that moment.

Very early on in my career I had a boss turned mentor reveal a very telling characteristic of me during a review.  I had been busting my butt to get my next “level” at a large corporation.  For a number of internal political reasons that wasn’t going to happen even though I had exceeded all the criteria.  The solution was going to be to pay me at that level but not actually “give” me the level.  Fortunately, he was a man of integrity who called the silly shenanigans out and used the moment to teach me about myself.  “Look, it Karolyn.  Here’s what I know about you.  You aren’t motivated like other people.  Other people care about the money, but I bet if you had to choose you would take the recognition over the money.”  I made a smart Aleck remark about wanting the money – I was early in my career and needed the money after all – but then I conceded.  He was right! So what was wrong with me?

Apparently nothing. According to a 2008 Global Recognition Study – appreciation changes everything. This compelling global study revealed appreciating great work accelerates engagement significantly. Across cultures. Across industries. Across the world.

Why? Because appreciation is more than just saying thanks, it is acknowledgement and validation of a person’s worth.  It’s taking that moment to value their contribution and recognizing what they bring.  According to this study it also builds trust and trust is another major factor in engagement. So much so that the study showed a 35% to 65% difference in engagement between low trust and high trust companies without appreciation. The real surprise is that adding appreciation boosts engagement in low trust companies up to 63%–nearly the same as companies where trust is high.

As a person in the career trenches for nearly 19 years now I get this. Nothing is more disheartening than to learn your peers are bashing your contribution – whether it is justified or not.  Multiply that ten fold if you find out it is your boss or the leadership in your organization.  As one friend  pointed out, “I’m not sure what’s worse. The critical comments or no comments at all but people taking credit for the work they are so ‘dismissive’ of.” Both show a huge lack of respect and appreciation but I do know that critical comments KILL, and I do mean KILL, morale.  Constructive comments BUILD because at their heart they are appreciating the effort that went into the work, taking a moment to appreciate the person, and professionally and sensitively wanting to make it better.

There is no more difficult industry than marketing for this – everyone has an opinion and everyone believes they are an expert. I’ve learned that one layout or design can be both loved and hated within the same company and even on the same team with the same goals.  “I love this design! It’s clean, fresh, simple and to the point.” Can be met with “I hate this design.  It’s too simple, boring, and has no pizzaz.”   A better way to approach this is with “Tell me your thoughts here?” or “I have some ideas about this, can I share them with you?”

I am unapologetically known for my enthusiastic cheerleading of my teams.  It comes naturally to me and the reason is because I have tasted first hand the opposite and refuse anyone on my watch to experience that sort of negativity.  That and when I see the people I work with slogging it out in the evenings and giving up weekends I can’t help be impressed.  Sometimes it rubs employees on other teams the wrong way who don’t have leaders doing that for them.  “Why do THEY get all the praise? Aren’t we important?”  I’ve been there to and let me tell you it sucks.  In fact, the reason I went to work for the boss who revealed my motivation to me was because I saw him in action praising his team.  Who doesn’t want to be around that?

Back to my friend, in that moment I was happy for her and frustrated for myself.  I was coming out of a particularly tiring stretch.  I had been sacrificing my evenings and weekends for weeks that turned to months and months that turned to more than a year.  Only to be criticized and judged every step of the way. The reasons were many and complicated and fortunately my mentors and support team kept providing me my true north.  When my work was criticized I never dismissed the comments but rather took it to this group and said “Can you take a look at this and tell me what you think?” Sometimes I made slight tweaks but often the validation I received gave me the motivation to tackle the nay sayers and negative Nelly’s in my present circumstance.

My one friend pointed out “Appreciation is appreciation.” Meaning for all the work I was doing the team I was surrounded by would have the same level of appreciation for my contribution whether I was killing myself or not.  In other words – they just would not.

It makes me smile now as I think back on the various teams, leaders, and staff over the years. An interesting pattern has emerged.  It’s not surprising really, but here it is (at least in my life anyway).  Those people who lack appreciation, talk out of two sides of their mouth, and are abundant with the critical comments – even years later – are often still miserable.  They don’t exude joy.  They are still griping and complaining. For many, they haven’t really progressed much beyond where they were when I met them, and even if they have, they aren’t any happier about their successes.

It’s sad, really – but, oh the difference in those who express appreciation.  Returning and seeing them after an absence of 10 years and I find they are filled with a greater sense of calm, peace, and pure joy.  Many have leaped ahead of the competition and are now overseeing entire divisions of companies, or have achieved what seem to be truly remarkable results in a short amount of time.  It’s not because they use “saying thanks” as a way to get ahead because people see through that bologne.  No, it’s because they truly appreciate people and life.  They are engaged with everything around them and as the study reveals – that changes everything!

 

 

 

Stepping Into Your Next Big Dream

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My girlfriend burst out laughing over lunch when I told her an excerpt from a journal entry I wrote when I was 18.  It said, “Lord, thank you for my new job at Suzy Shier, it’s my dream job.”  At that time and point in my life it really was my dream job.  I’d been slugging away at three jobs – all in the food industry.  This would be the first job that when I finished my shift I wouldn’t smell like food. I could actually go straight from work to hang out with friends without having to shower.

So, it was a dream.

Fast forward 20 years, and my life has taken me on the journey of a lifetime.  I thought I would be a missionary and head to Africa.  Instead, I have spent the last 20 years working in the corporate world.  I’ve landed a few roles that were also “dream jobs” for me for different reasons –  more responsibility, trying something new, or working with people that I knew would inspire me.

In all cases,every time I’ve stepped into the next stage of my life there has been one thing in common. A step of faith.  My favourite book that I have given to many is called “The Dream Giver“.  In it, a man named Ordinary leaves the Land of Familiar in pursuit of his “Big Dream”.  It is that first step out of the Land of Familiar that is always the scariest. 

Watching a movie unfold with a person chasing their dream is always inspiring but it never gives the viewer the full impact of their choices.  When you do something new, something totally different you are actively choosing to leave your comfort zone – often to work with people you don’t know, doing something in a different place – with nothing but “hope” on your side that it will work out.

It’s not always been a smooth ride.  I’ve made that big step and ended up meeting the most amazing people.  One of those people is now best friend and she refers to the season and team we worked on as “Camelot”.  Every day we worked with people we really loved, who inspired us, and it didn’t feel like work. I’ve had that happen more than once, but I’ve also experienced the opposite.  So is it worth it?

The answer is simply yes and for this one reason.  What has driven me, and what I hope will drive you is this single thought. “What if…” I never want to look back and say “If only…”  The journey may not be smooth, it may even be rough, but you will be stronger for what you experience. 

So go on, take that leap of faith, and step into your next big dream.