Tap into Your Talented Outliers!

Are you tapping into your outliers at work? If you don’t know what an outlier is . . . you need to read on. I’ll get you up to speed. 

Outliers Defined:

Remember the curve-breakers in middle-school? It was those 4 crazy-smart kids who got 99.5%, 97%, 95% and 92% on the Algebra II exam when the class average was 72.5%.

Your teacher would say,

“Sorry, no curve on this exam because a few people did really well.”

The class would moan. These curve-breakers are also known as outliers.

Had the class been allowed to turn in a team exam (not individual exams), these math-smart outliers would have carried the entire class into A+ range. But alas, that was not our lived reality. The rest of us, who scored in the 70th percentile, took our Cs and glared at the curve-breaking outliers. 

In middle-school it was hard to be an outlier. The majority of the class was mad at these brainiacs. 

How Outliers Make Impact:

But real-world adult life is (very happily) different from middle-school. When we find special abilities of our adult colleagues that are off-the-charts-better than the rest of the group, we highlight these abilities. Or at least, we try to. Right? 

Last week, in two separate group facilitations, our time spent focusing on the outliers of these teams made the biggest impact. The team I worked with in Lafayette, IN had a big “ah-ha” moment when they realized how to tap into Tanya’s unique ability to hear each person’s story and approach each audience differently. The team I worked with in Indianapolis, IN was shocked and grateful to learn that they had a want-to-be editor for all organizational communications. 

Are you tapping into the unique capabilities of your team members?

If not, you are missing an opportunity.

Let me know, and I can shed some light on your team’s unique abilities and how you can magnify their contributions. 

For more about outliers read Malcolm Galdwell’s remarkable book “Outliers: The Story of Success.”

Where is Your Heart at Work?

This Valentine’s week, I’m sharing the love list for the most frequently occurring strengths based on Gallup’s CliftonStrengths assessment

  • Achievers LOVE making lists
  • Learners LOVE to be on the cutting edge
  • People who lead with Responsibility LOVE gaining the respect of others
  • Relators LOVE deep and authentic relationships
  • Strategic folks LOVE to find the best way to proceed

For the record, I thoroughly love making lists (Achiever is my #3). I even add things to my list at the end of the day to feel extra accomplished. No one will ever see my daily list.

Why do I add the additional accomplishments? Probably because Achievers need a sense of success and purpose every. single. day.

Are there any Achievers out there who feel my pain? 

What’s on your love list?

#strengths #strengthsfinder #learninganddevelopment #strategy #workhappy



Loneliness v. Connection: Grow More Connections

Despite it being the month of hearts, love, red candies, and Valentine’s Day cards, there is more loneliness today than ever before.

Most everyone I know feels a bit more disconnected, distracted, and well . . . lonely.

It’s a sign of our germy and complicated times. But what’s worse is that loneliness was on the rise even before the pandemic (Harvard Magazine January-February 2021).

Being more intentional and creating more connections in 2021 is a must. Why? Because there are big psychological costs to isolation, namely increased anxiety and depression.  Like many psychological matters, there is a stigma around loneliness.  People are embarrassed and ashamed to be lonely. Admitting to being lonely is awkward . . . but ironically such an admission can be remarkably unifying in our current world.

This week I hosted 2 webinars entitled “Using Your Strengths to Grow Connections in 2021.” The response was more than heartening (pun intended). The participants clearly appreciated having a vehicle to discuss this touchy-feely and taboo topic.  Thank you to all who attended. Your candid comments and authentic insights about the challenges of making meaningful connections were invaluable. Similarly, learning how you’ve used your strengths to overcome some of these challenges was inspiring.

If you missed the opportunity to be a part of the webinar and would like to hear a taped version, please let me know. I’d be happy to share it with you.

Of course, if you’d rather inspire your team members to use their strengths more intentionally to combat loneliness and grow connections, I can help you with that as well.

Thanks to attendees and their fantastic organizations: #IUHealth #ElementsFinancial #CapitalGroup #Cabi #bayleon #elevateyourstatus #foundationfe #fairwaylawns #cardon






5 Mistakes to Avoid in 2021

Happy New Year! 2021 has so much promise, it is bursting at the seams. To ensure that the full potential of 2021 is met, everyone needs to chip in and do his or her part. Here are five tips to keep your interpersonal skills (at work and at home) inspiring to your colleagues, family members, and friends. Following these tips will lead to better teamwork, engagement, and positive interactions in any environment.

  1. Don’t Avoid the Truth . . . Do Promote Transparency
  2. Don’t Create a Homogenous Environment . . . Do Value Differences
  3. Don’t Make Vague Generalizations . . . Do Give Specifics
  4. Don’t Be Socially Exclusive . . .  Do Be Socially Inclusive
  5. Don’t Be Self-Serving . . . Do Serve Others

What Do You Gain by Avoiding These Mistakes? 

  1. Honesty and transparency promote trust. Avoiding the truth leads to uncertainty and fear.
  2. Valuing differences and leveraging those differences results in better decision making. Squashing outsider opinions decreases innovation and increases the likelihood of less-than optimal decision making.
  3. When complimenting, generalizations like, “Good work” do not encourage specific behaviors. Similarly, criticizing in a general way does not discourage problematic behaviors. Compliment or criticize the actions that you hope to see repeated or discontinued to help others to improve performance.
  4. Inclusiveness at work and at home means listening to the opinions of others and creating a sense of belonging. Inclusivity breeds comradery and increased morale.
  5. Service to others – whether that is actualized by a sharing generous spirit or sending funds to your favorite non-profit – makes the world a better place.

Be a positive drop in the communal bucket of actions that will make 2021 overflow with growth and goodwill!

Looking for a virtual or in-person workshop that promotes trust, optimizes group decision-making, and improves your team’s performance and morale? Contact me or get a copy of FRESH Leadership: 5 Skills to Transform You and Your Team to learn more.

Three Secrets to Giving Meaningful Gifts


It’s that time of year again: December. Are you considering everyone you want to buy for and wondering how you can possibly find the perfect gift for each person on your list? I am always thrilled when I find the perfect gift for a friend or loved-one. There is a certain rush that occurs when I think I’ve nailed the right gift, purchased it, and wrapped it up. While I realize that the standard of finding the perfect gift is unrealistic, the challenge to stay in the “perfect gift” game is remarkably compelling.

After some soul-searching and self-coaching, I’ve decided to change my gift-giving tune. This year I’m striving to give meaningful gifts, but not necessarily “perfect” gifts.

Below are some top-secret, coaching tips for giving meaningful gifts. You’ll see, there is a not-so-subtle theme and (no-surprise) it has to do with focusing on the strengths of each person on your “Buying For” list.

When Choosing a Gift:

  1. Consider what they do BEST. Are they amazingly gifted at starting conversations with strangers or shockingly great at solving problems? How might these natural talents translate into spot-on (and meaningful) gifts? Giving a well-chosen biography or a “how-to” book are great ways to compliment your recipient while giving a gift. For example, “You are so amazing at thinking about the future, I thought you’d love this book about vision boards.”
  2. What talents does this person have that are under-utilized? Could a thoughtful gift prompt the recipient to grow this talent? For example, a journal might encourage a great communicator to start jotting down some her terrific stories. Similarly, an art class for a creative loved-one could be the nudge that helps him to harness his artistic gifts.
  3. Think about how you picture this person? When they are doing what they love, what are they wearing (for example: cozy slippers, athletic shoes, or high heels) and what might be by their side (for example: music playing, coffee brewing, or a kitten napping)? Everyone needs the right gear to set the mood. Tap into the ambiance that helps them to use their strengths.

In Sum:

December isn’t yet a wrap (pun intended). You still have time to consider the most meaningful gifts to give, to thrill the people you love most, and to offer gifts that play to their strengths.

Wishing you a gift-giving season that inspires a fantastic 2021.

(Of course, if you’d rather just focus on helping everyone on your “Buying For” list to understand their strengths and use them daily, here’s a link that will check that box.)


Working from Home (WFH): Love it, Leave It . . . Engage It!


Whether you love it or you’re ready to leave it, WFH is the new normal for many organizations. Business Insider (October 1, 2020) claims that more than half of all Americans want to continue to work from home and two-thirds of companies plan to embrace their current WFH policies permanently.

Staying Engaged While WFH

Given this enormous shift in workplace protocol, it seems obvious that attention should be directed toward increasing employees’ engagement while WFH. Being engaged while working benefits both the employer and the employee. The employer-related benefits of increased employee engagement seem obvious: greater productivity, greater profitability, higher employee retention, increased employee loyalty, and less absenteeism. The less-intuitive (but just as important) benefits for employees who are engaged include better employee health, better home life, and better life satisfaction.

While some organizations have responded to the challenges of tracking engagement during COVID-19 – addressing the emerging obstacles of staying engaged while working from home – these approaches remain the  exceptions and not the norm.

What Can Your Organization Do?

  • The long answer is this: Continue (or BEGIN) to measure employee engagement. Yes! Full steam ahead!! Measuring engagement is CRITICAL at this time. Have you stopped measuring profits or any other key business metrics because of the pandemic?  Of course not. Employee engagement information gained at this time can help you better gauge your organization’s WFH effectiveness. Do your employees have the right tools, feel managerial support, feel a sense of belonging, and have the opportunity to grow while WFH? Gallup’s Q12 assessment (and the extensive research to back it up) indicate that these are the four basic needs connected to engagement. Of course, there will be nay-sayers who might argue, “Things are so different right now, why bother?” or “Our results will certainly be low, who wants to muddy the waters?” These objections are at best short-sighted and at worst flat out wrong. It’s important to remember that this is the new NORMAL and you must begin thinking and acting as if it’s here to stay. Bottom line: measurement of engagement during times of change is a business imperative, and this is a textbook example of great change.
  • The hack answer is this: Focus on the purpose of your organization. Jim Harter, a chief scientist at Gallup Research, is quoted in a Harvard Business Review article (Employee Engagement Does More than Boost Productivity) as explaining why this hack works so well. Harter states that when employees “clearly know their role, have what they need to fulfill their role, and can see the connection between their role and the overall organizational purpose” greater levels of engagement are inevitable.

What Can Managers Do?

  • The long answer is this: Assess the contributions and the needs of your employees. The daily routines as well as the vibe of work have shifted. Has your manager asked you what you like best and least about WHF? Are you able to contribute the same end results post-COVID as pre-COVID? Are your needs (or things that energize you about work) being met? When you have a great day, what makes it great and why? Employees are most likely to be engaged and happy at work when their strengths are being flexed.

The following personal example may shed some light on how this works. Since March 2020, my business (coaching of individuals and teams) shifted from 100% in-person to 100% video-conferencing platforms. The first two weeks of opting into this new method of WFH were exhausting for me. I thought I would NEVER adjust. Of course, I did and now prefer this new normal. I feel dramatically more productive because I have zero travel time and considerably less prep time to look “presentation ready.” My strength of “Achiever” is more easily flexed while WFH. My energizers – being busy and having new goals – quickly slipped into place when clients recognized how well my COVID-friendly coaching options fit their needs.

  • The hack answer is this: Focus on what gratifies each person most about work. If you are a manager or supervisor, ask your direct reports to answer this question: “When you have a GREAT day WFH, did you:
  1. get a large amount of work accomplished;
  2. get a chance to speak up and take charge;
  3. connect personally with people; or
  4. think, plan or learn about the next steps for the organization.

Their answers will allow you to manage each individual’s work flow more effectively and help them get more “work highs” instead of “work lows.”

Don’t let your team drift into disengagement. Need some help getting started? That’s why I’m here. Whether you’re interested in measuring engagement, supporting your team members and giving them more “work highs,” or hoping to build greater workplace camaraderie in a virtual setting, I have some fresh ideas to help.





The Challenge of Giving (and Receiving) Meaningful Feedback: It’s Like Walking a Tightrope

Feedback helps us right our path as well as stay on course. Helpful feedback should make us think . . . about ourselves and about others.

Good communication revolves around the ability to give and receive feedback in a productive manner. As a coach, I give feedback regularly to individuals and teams. If my message is too harsh, it will be disregarded because it is wounding. If my message is too soft, it will not provoke growth and change. I struggle to split the difference and find middle ground. It is a tightrope I walk every day.https://youtu.be/TSfGS7rv3co

I ask for anonymous feedback from all participants after every presentation I give. The feedback I receive keeps me growing, occasionally lifts my spirits, and sometimes keeps me humble. No one is perfect but without honest and meaningful feedback, how can we get better?

Below are tips for giving and receiving feedback. While these tips may not contain new information, they are helpful reminders for me, and possibly you.


When Giving Feedback:

  1. Make it relevant. The purpose of meaningful feedback is to help someone improve. Make sure your feedback is aligned with the receiver’s purpose, goals, and desired impact. Bottom line: it’s not about you, it’s about them.
  2. Be specific. Vague feedback, for example, “Your proposal lacked clarity” has less impact than specific feedback. Specific feedback, “You need to create a proposal template that lists specific steps for the client as well as a call to action that’s connected to a timeline” is dramatically more helpful and sets a specific benchmark for future performance. Is the feedback related to a trend or is it a one-time issue that needs to be addressed?
  3. Listen. What is the other side of the story? When delivering feedback, it is important to listen to the receiver and hear the pieces of the story that you may not know. If there are obstacles that lead to less than ideal performance, how can you help to eliminate these obstacles?
  4. Be kind. Remember that it takes at least 5 positive comments to outweigh a negative one. Being sensitive to the feelings and human circumstances of others is critical. Did a personal issue contribute to a lack of performance?


When Getting Feedback:

  1. Look for a pattern.When receiving constructive criticism ask yourself, “Have I heard this before?” Instead of chalking it up to “it’s just the way I am” (whether that be talking too fast, interrupting others, or seeming preoccupied when others need your help), ask yourself, “How can I minimize this behavior?” Change is hard . . . but not impossible. Take note when you hear multiple comments related to the same issue. Who could help you change this pattern of behavior?
  2. Be open-minded.It is easy to think, “This is their problem.” Resist this temptation. Ask yourself, “What would it be like to be in my critique-er’s shoes? What is their motivation for giving me this feedback? How is this negatively impacting their work, life, or emotional state?
  3. Listen. Of course, right? You must listen to the feedback, even when the feedback is not 100% accurate, warranted, or welcome. Remember how difficult it is to give appropriate feedback and cut your feedback-giver some slack. (This is especially true if your feedback-giver is less seasoned.) Check yourself for defensiveness. It is not becoming (to anyone). Sadly, defensiveness, and its partner in crime – hostility – can surface during moments when feedback initially appears off the mark.
  4. Be kind.Always (always, always) thank your feedback-giver. This is both critically important and difficult to do. Be sure to have a canned response for feedback that is difficult to digest immediately. For example, “I am so glad you’ve shared this with me. Thank you. Obviously, my intent was not to FILL IN THE BLANK (confuse you, be hostile, seem unfriendly). I will certainly give your comments some thought.”


Giving and receiving feedback is challenging! Be sure to walk this tightrope carefully. Falling in the direction of anger, indifference, or disregard – whether you are giving or receiving feedback – can have negative repercussions. Do you know someone who is an expert feedback giver or receiver? Send this on to them with your thanks! Positive feedback is always a day brightener.

Interested in learning more about how leaders can use feedback to catapult their teams to greater success? Check out my newest book FRESH Leadership: 5 Skills to Transform You and Your Team.


Workplace Friendships: Who Needs Them?

Seriously. You NEED a friend at work.

Gallup is the think-tank leader when it comes to understanding businesses and human behavior. Gallup’s research is based on enormous samples sizes and Gallup has a 40+-year track record of tracking engagement at work. Gallup’s research related to having a best friend at work shows interesting and inspiring findings.

Gallup’s research shows that employees with a best friend at work:

  • are 7x more likely to be engaged;
  • are better at engaging customers;
  • produce higher quality work;
  • have higher well-being; and
  • are less likely to get injured on the job.

If you are like me, you may have thought – or still believe – it’s not necessary to have a bestie at work. This kind of thinking is becoming as outdated as a Rolodex or rotary phone. In case you need to fine tune your thinking about how friendships enhance the workplace, look no further than the recent issue (July-August, 2020) of Harvard Business Review (HBR).

Alison Beard, senior editor at HBR, synthesizes three recent books that delve into the power of friendships at work in her article “True Friends at Work: The Case for Making Deeper Connections with Colleagues.”  The authors of the three books reviewed by Beard (Social Chemistry, by Yale professor Marissa King, Together, by former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, and Friendship by sociologist Lydia Denworth) agree that creating meaningful friendships at work takes effort. Deep friendships will not instantaneously appear just because we show up to work. Like all things worth having, a best friend at work takes time, effort, and attention.

For instance, the time it takes to develop a friend is between 80 to 100 hours together. To claim someone as a “best” friend, it takes much longer – a whooping 200 hours. Like so many things, a good friendship cannot be rushed, so be patient with yourself and your workmates.

Other tips for sparking meaningful friendships at work include:

  • Candor and/or self-disclosure: Authentic friendships grow early roots when you are able to share your perspective with others.
  • Reciprocity: Be sure to help others. Don’t just be a taker. Give back. Did a colleague bring in a fresh banana bread to share? You don’t need to be a baker to reciprocate. Instead, make a stop at your local donut shop or muffin place one morning to show your appreciation.
  • Listen: Everyone needs a good ear. Talking too much at work (or anywhere) can be annoying. Make sure you really listen to your colleagues’ problems.
  • Ask for help: From my personal perspective, this is the toughest one of the bunch. It’s hard to ask for help at work. We want others to ask US for help. Not the other way around. Asking for help shows vulnerability (in a good way). It can also prompt sincere feelings including gratitude, kindness, and empathy.

Whether you are back in your physical workplace or working remotely, having a close friend at work can lead to a happier and more productive environment.


Want to more about creating a conducive environment for workplace friendships and a thriving team culture? Check out my book FRESH Leadership: 5 Skills to Transform You and Your Team.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Building Engagement in Today’s World

The Do’s and Don’ts of Building Engagement in Today’s World

Have your work activities changed since March 15? Have these changes improved your work productivity or hindered it? Have they increased your engagement or decreased it? These questions are NEITHER rhetorical nor coy. Some folks are insanely busy and freakishly engaged right now, while others may be struggling. Navigating the working world with COVID-19 is anything but business as usual.

Building engagement at work and choosing to be a company who supports it’s people during the good times and the bad is what sets an exemplary employer apart from the pack. Reaching out to employees during tough times – especially in today’s tough times – and making sure they are engaged at work is what separates the great companies from the good and the not so good places to work. Below are tips for how to find the right training for your team (the DO’S) as well as insights regarding how well-meaning training efforts can backfire (the DON’TS).

Frequently, I discuss this choice as being similar to the choice we make about what to eat. Most of us recognize that some foods are healthier than others. Eating healthy and nutritious foods make us feel good in the long run.”Junk food” can taste good in the short-term but will not give us the energy we need and may damage our health in the long-term. The same goes for providing healthy training programs to your employees. Some training is simply “healthier” than others. A “healthy” training program will help you and your organization in the long run. Below are tips for what to look for when selecting the right training to build engagement in your team.


  1. Personalize Your Approach – Your people are one-of-a kind. Your training should reflect the unique personalities and the distinct talents of your team. Are you hoping to build engagement for warehouse personnel, engineers, or sales people? These three groups undoubtedly have very different likes, dislikes, needs, motivators, and more. Be sure to find an engagement training that harnesses the unique strengths of your team.
  2. Use Training Based on Research and Science – The field of organizational behavior (referred to as OB psychology) is still young – less than 100 years old. In the past, there were few training options that had scientific data to back up their effectiveness. Word of mouth became the easiest way to find a decent training program. Those days are long gone. Despite that fact, many professionals still forget to look for training programs that are based on solid research. If a training initiative claims to improve engagement, the next questions should be: how much and how do you know that?
  3. Find a Program that Is Relevant to Today’s Concerns – Make sure your program addresses recent work place changes.  Select a training program that focuses on identifying relevant problems and fixing them . During COVID-19, relevancy is more than a nice to have – it’s a must-have.


  1. Use a One-Size-Fits-All Approach – Generic training, training that is off-the-shelf, and one-size-fits-all is rarely suitable for your organization’s specific needs. Is it less expensive? Yes. Is it less time consuming to set up and deliver? Yes. Is it less effective? Absolutely yes. A customized approach to training will allow your team members to better understand each other and how they can address the current initiatives. A one-size-fits-all approach can promote disengagement because employees can feel they are not understood.
  2. Use Training Resources Just Because You Have In the Past – The easiest route is rarely the best route when it comes to training and building engagement. If your organization has a history of using a particular product, make sure that this loyalty is based on proven benefits. Effective engagement training should increase engagement as well as productivity, profitability, and customer loyalty. Dusting off outdated training programs can be viewed by employees as an “easy fix” and further increase disengagement.
  3. Ignore New Pain Points and Challenges – Overlooking new difficulties for the team, sweeping them under the rug, and pretending all is fine can confuse and anger team members. If there are real challenges that need to be addressed, find a training program that will help build consensus around solving the issue(s). Ignoring the challenges will only delay your team’s ability to right their path.

If your company is like most, you did a commendable job addressing employees’ basic needs (safety, stability, and security) during the first phase of COVID-19 (see article). Now that your state is in a subsequent phase, what’s your plan to address engagement and meet your employees’ needs?

To learn more about meeting employees where they are today and raising engagement, contact me at Sarah@freshconcepstonline.com or take a quick look at some training packages for you and your team.





Connect, Grow, and Transform: Get Your Team Out of the Box


Break out of the box

Working from home can be a grind. For many teams who are accustomed to working alongside one another, this unprecedented time of working from home due to COVID-19 has come with a high price tag. The price has been felt in a variety of ways:

  • increased stress,
  • increased loneliness,
  • decreased engagement at work, and
  • decreased overall life satisfaction.

Simply put, we don’t feel like our normal selves because our world has dramatically changed, our work habits have been greatly altered, and the healthy and energizing social interactions that sustain us have morphed into mere shadows of their former selves. As many of us make our first forays into our new world, filled with mask-covered faces and hand sanitizer at every pit-stop, we most likely feel nostalgic for the “good ole days,” when we shook hands or hugged frequently and shared germ-y pens with strangers.

However, there are ways to break yourself and your team out of this stifling box that limits our physical proximity and seems to create emotional distance.

Below are three ideas to help your team connect on a deeper level.

  1. Create a book club: Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers: The Story of Success“, Daniel Coyle’s “The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups“, or Shawn Achor’s “The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work” are three prime examples of easy and fun reads that can get your team literally and figuratively on the same page when it comes to instilling new habits that can increase productivity, spark new collaborations, and even decrease stress.
  2. Take the TED Talk Challenge: Ask each of your team members to prepare a TED Talk of their choosing and present their talk to the team. Openness to learning from each other – especially from our work colleagues – is a critical ingredient in the recipe of high performing teams. If your team members are less than enthusiastic about preparing a novel presentation, ask each team member to nominate his or her favorite TED Talk, and dedicate group time to watch and discuss each nominated talk over the course of a few weeks. Whose TED Talk had the biggest impact? How can any of the lessons learned be applied to the team? (A quick hack for this is to check out the most popular TED Talks or Oprah’s favorites.)
  3. Carve out time for a Virtual Team Strengths Training: Do you understand what makes your team tick? What strengths make your team special and unique? How have today’s workplace changes impacted your team’s work mojo? The first step to better understanding your group is to uncover the strengths of each team member. The second step includes sharing (via a virtual team meeting) how team members can support each other, rely on each other’s strengths, and move to the next level of productivity. The Virtual Team Strengths Training Package includes: CliftonStrengths assessment codes for each team member, individual virtual coaching meetings for each team member, a 1.5 hour team meeting to debrief the strengths of the team, and a book for each team member (either “Unstuck at Last: Using Your Strengths to Get What You Want” or “FRESH Leadership: 5 Skills to Transform You and Your Team”).


Contact me (sarah@freshconceptsonline.com) to put a plan in place, transform your team, and break out of the box.