Two GREAT articles by two accomplished authors: Jane Horan and Shawn Achor - both leaders in Talent Development and active in the Association for Talent Development (ATD).

Jane writes about a long-standing talent issue facing all of us: purpose and mastery. Jane reinforces the essential need for organisations to change the way in which people work.

Not new, however, I feel that leaders of companies are jut not getting it! Read her Jane’s insight and opinion here.

If you feel in the mood for more gems of wisdom, then go on to read Shawn Achor’s article on engagement. This is a great case study…for those who need current data on happiness at work and how Cemex turned their company around by consciously “cementing” employee happiness.

Visit the ATD website for more great gems, resources and links: www.td.org

Peta Horn (2 May 2018)


By Jane Horan

Globalization, innovation, disruption, technological evolution, data explosion—the world of work has forever changed. Combining all these elements is a powerful structural transformation in countries and organizations. These changes will impact us all, and how we'll shift from goods to services—with the rise of robots, algorithmic power to reduce work, and demographic transitions with Millennials moving into leadership and Boomers moving on.

This new way of working involves flexibility, short-term contracts, and an “anytime anywhere” workforce, creating new opportunities for organizations and career navigation. While work has changed, some career planning models still have remnants from the past—micromanaging production and promotions based on tenure. To keep up with changing demographics and employees’ ambitions, organizations are shifting toward individual career ownership and finding purpose at work.

The Deep Shift to Finding Purpose

When we connect the dots to changes today in both organizations and individuals, the notion of finding purpose at work makes a lot of sense. This is hardly a new concept; throughout history, mankind has pondered this quest for purpose—the “What are we here for” question. Aristotle searched for meaning and values, Abraham Maslow had a hierarchy of needs, Viktor Frankl explored the search for meaning in logotherapy, and more recently, Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson have conducted research on what makes life worth living. In recent research, Imperative and New York University found that Millennials, women, and people over 55 are more likely to be purpose-oriented workers. And more importantly, they were more likely to:

  • Be leaders, by 50 percent.

  • Have stronger relationships with co-workers, customers, and clients (and therefore be more collaborative) by 51 percent.

  • Find fulfilment at work, by 64 percent.

  • Possess improved psychological and physical well-being.

For the past eight years, my team and I have interviewed mid-career professionals, business leaders, and managers on career transitions, and found that purpose infiltrated every conversation. We uncovered cross-cultural differences on the definition of purpose. Based on these insights, we’ve started an ongoing dialogue with HR and career advisors on the definition, value, and impact of purpose at work. To help shape and design career conversations, here are a few things to consider:

Start With Pivotal Events After a pivotal career or life event, employees are more apt to explore purpose and meaningful work. These pivotal events can be positive or negative—stepping into a bigger role, moving to a new division, relocating to another country, or being overlooked for an opportunity. It can also be a return to work after an extended leave for sabbaticals, paternity, maternity, or family leave. At such critical career junctures, employees begin to ask deeply reflective questions on impact, meaning, values, and purpose. While reaching the mid-career point typically triggers such questions, we found that the questions start earlier in Asia, particularly in China.

Focus on Strengths Seligman and Peterson’s research on 24 character strengths and positive emotions provides a foundation for what makes work meaningful. Crafting jobs around strengths drives engagement and increases performance results.

Too often, purpose is confused with finding a cause or a revelation, which is not the same thing. Finding purpose at work is to use one's core strengths and intrinsic motivations. By following this insight, some managers started to ask their teams to craft roles around strengths and what matters most to the organization.

To understand purpose at work is to uncover who, why, and how at work. That is, who you impact, why you do what you do, and how you deliver. Aligning these areas increases fulfilment at work, which leads to increased productivity, innovative ideas, and a greater likelihood of staying.

Career Conversations Are Critical Here’s where things may come undone. Career conversations are often wrapped around year-end performance discussions. Not only are those different conversations, but a career conversation cannot be an annual talk; it must happen on a regular, ongoing basis. Career conversations should be stand-alone, 10-minute, weekly conversations.

If we look at today's demographics, the Millennials and Generation Z are the most diverse and inclusive generation to be entering the workforce. This is a social media–savvy group, adept at virtual collaboration and comfortable with instant feedback. They will challenge the old way of working and communicating for years to come. Thus, it’s now critical for everyone to move away from lumping performance conversations with career development, and toward uncovering an employee's motivations, strengths, and values. This requires the proper blend of questions and reflexive listening to understand what matters most.

Want to Learn More?

I'm looking forward to sharing our insights from purpose-led research, and taking you on a reflective journey to find purpose at work, every day. Please join my session at the ATD 2018 International ATD 2018 International Conference & Exposition, How to Find a Meaningful Career.


Jane Horan

Jane Horan, an author, speaker, and leadership expert, is the founder of the Horan Group, a strategic consulting firm helping organizations build inclusive work environments and meaningful careers. Prior to the Horan Group, she held senior Asia Pacific management positions at the Walt Disney Company, CNBC, and Kraft Foods. Jane has an extensive background in cross-cultural leadership and global team development, and is a frequent speaker on transformational women leaders, workplace politics, career transitions, and unconscious bias. She has authored two books, I Wish I’d Known That Earlier in My Career: The Power of Positive Workplace Politics, and How Asian Women Lead: Lesson for Global Corporations. Her third book, Career Arcs, will be published in 2017. She holds a doctorate from Bristol University in leadership education.


By Shawn Achor

Faced with the lowest engagement scores of any division in the country, CEMEX BSO sparked an employee-led positive culture change that has transformed their organization into a blueprint for success. Here’s how.

The Challenge

In 2008, I started talking to leaders around the world about the potential of positive psychology in the workplace. This emerging science showed a clear connection between happiness and optimal performance for individual employees and their organizations.

My research and that of others in the field of positive psychology reveals a stunning array of benefits for happy organizations, including higher profitability and customer satisfaction ratings, increased productivity, lower turnover and absenteeism, and even reduced levels of stress. Overall, organizations that put into practice what I've dubbed the Happiness Advantage are proof positive that a happy, engaged employee is the greatest competitive advantage in our modern economy.

According to Gallup’s 2017 State of the Global Workplace Report, a whopping 85 percent of the global workforce is disengaged. However, Gallup also reveals tremendous value in the 15 percent of the workforce that is engaged—highly engaged business units are 17 percent more productive and 21 percent more profitable than disengaged business units. Furthermore, the American Psychological Association found that “psychologically healthy workplaces” have 21 percent lower turnover than the U.S. average, as well as 21 percent higher employee job satisfaction.

However, many organizations are still struggling to incorporate happiness as a business strategy. Below, I profile the business solutions organization (BSO) at multinational building materials company CEMEX, where its leadership and teams of like-minded employees are making happiness a top business priority.

A Desperate Situation

In 2016, the CEMEX BSO division, led by German Carmona and Donna Gearhart, was facing serious problems. “The BSO had the lowest engagement scores in the U.S., and 2016 continued that downward trend,” German and Donna said. “The BSO had been facing many challenges over the past four years that were working against employee engagement. We had organizational changes, sent jobs to Mexico, outsourced many of our positions, had layoffs of long-term employees, and increased workloads on retained staff. We needed to find a miracle to turn employee engagement around.”

CEMEX managers were focused on the numbers, and they were not looking good. Engagement scores were down, and morale was low. Operating and financial metrics were below targets. Expectations were not being met. The “people problem” was an issue directly affecting business outcomes. Along with the challenges of low engagement, CEMEX was also facing potential problems with high attrition—something most executives aren’t eager to discuss.

To improve its low engagement scores and address lowering capacity and other negative consequences of attrition, CEMEX needed an “inside-out proposition” to come alive that valued their employees as whole, individual people. CEMEX needed to become a place where people believed what they do and what they think matters, and that they are more than replaceable parts of a large, global, and complex workforce.

They suspected that if the culture became more positive and empowering, the problems of engagement and attracting top talent would be solved.

The Happiness Advantage

CEMEX leaders knew they were on to something when they discovered the Happiness Advantage | Orange Frog Workshop (HA|OF).

This unique experiential workshop and sustainability initiative teaches the science of sustainable peak performance through a parable called The Orange Frog. I wrote this parable to share the seven core principles of the Happiness Advantage, which are based on my research and the work of other scholars in the field.

In the parable, Spark was exactly like every other frog in his pond with one notable exception: a slight but noticeable orange spot. And this orange spot makes Spark feel uncomfortably different.

Spark begins to make a disconcerting observation; when he does things that make him feel better (and produce more positive results) the orange spots increase. Spark is left with a difficult decision: be normal, which makes him less conspicuous, or continue doing those things that make him happier, more productive, and more orange.

By the end of the story, readers see and feel pressures they recognize in their day-to-day life. They also witness the remarkable transformation when Spark finally chooses to embrace an orange way of life. Not only does his own personal satisfaction and productivity increase, these same results start to ripple out to other frogs in the pond.

BSO leaders German and Donna looked at HA|OF as an intrinsic engagement solution and trained most of their division in 2017, and are continuing to train new hires.

German attended the very first CEMEX HA|OF along with all his top managers. This sent a clear message: CEMEX leaders are taking this training seriously and are leading by example. The consensus around their office is that employees have experienced a truly dramatic change. “It has significantly transformed our environment, mindset, and culture. Our employees are fully engaged, enjoy coming to work, and are much more creative and productive,” German said.

I love seeing the Happiness Advantage improve “soft stuff,” but when hard, bottom-line results improve too, that shows me just how powerful positivity can be—and the BSO did not disappoint. According to IBM Kenexa Employee Voice, one of the world’s leading employee feedback and engagement tools, the BSO division’s employee engagement scores increased 20 percent, or 12 percentage points (the largest improvement in CEMEX across the United States). Incredibly, some individual teams within the BSO had engagement scores improve 19, 24, and even 31 points!

CEMEX BSO’s positive transformation has also been linked to several important bottom-line results:

  • improved working capital position

  • higher EBITDA

  • improved consolidation processing time for key reporting and improvements in several continuous improvement efforts

  • faster release of monthly results to top management.

Embedding Principles of the Happiness Advantage

The process CEMEX BSO followed to solidify their positive transformation began with the HA|OF workshop. Afterward, an internal BSO Orange Frog team was formed, followed by a Chartering Team vision/strategy session. Workshop graduates applied the Happiness Advantage principles they learned in the workshop, which secured the involvement of more BSO employees. This process is sustained by continuous positive changes to how work gets done, specifically through embedding positive practices into work routines (for example, starting meetings by having attendees share three things for which they are grateful) and changing social scripts—the unwritten rules for how people are supposed to think and behave at work (for example, changing “we are too busy to take lunch” to “taking lunch together will help us work better together”).

CEMEX has stories of office overhauls, personal transformations, and bottom-line results to show that they have greatly benefited from investing in the happiness and engagement of their employees. The BSO expects that the ripple effect of positivity will continue to spread throughout the organization, leading to higher engagement and long-term success.

An inside-out proposition leading to organic employee-driven change, 20 percent or 12 percentage points higher engagement, supporting the success of HA|OF in driving business outcomes throughout CEMEX. Leaders focused on both hard results and the “soft stuff.” I call these results the perfect mix for Cementing Happiness at CEMEX.

How to Start Your Own Happiness Transformation

Organizations must equip their managers with the tools to lead positive change. It is not enough to have managers read a book or attend a seminar; managers need to be fully convinced of and be prepared to articulate the benefits of happiness. Our experience indicates the following requirements to ignite an era of mobilizing happy, engaged employees as a deliberate business strategy:

  • Visible action to address damaging social scripts at work—writing new scripts that advocate and promote the link between happiness and success at work, and visibly removing social scripts that do not.

  • Patience for happiness to take root and support for organic, employee-driven growth within the organization.

  • Embedding individual and organizational work routines with practices to create positive emotional experiences at work.

  • A willingness to create space and structure for happiness to live, especially for new teams and necessary time commitments.

  • Senior management visibly supporting and learning about the benefits of the Happiness Advantage. Walk the talk!

  • Widespread, visible communications to convey that change is happening. Painting the walls is a simple and direct way to broadcast this message.

  • Systems in place to spread the learning. In addition to formal training systems, consider implementing coaching, mentoring, or organized volunteer programs.

By capitalizing on the science of happiness, employees at all levels can help their organizations become more successful and enjoy the well-being that accompanies high engagement and job satisfaction. Senior leaders who choose happiness, and make the required commitment, stand to create organizations that learn how to optimize the benefits of positive emotions and have this learning spread throughout their organizations and outward to their customers. This marks an opportunity not just to make companies more profitable, but to make the world a happier place.


Shawn Achor

International best-selling author Shawn Achor is one of the world’s leading experts on happiness, success, and potential. His research has graced the cover of Harvard Business Review, and his TED Talk is one of the most popular of all time, with more than 17 million views. Shawn spent twelve years at Harvard before bringing his research to neary half the Fortune 100, as well as places like the Pentagon, impoverished schools in Africa, and the White House. His research has also been published in top psychology journals and featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and Fortune. His interview with Oprah Winfrey and his PBS program have been seen by millions. He now serves on the World Happiness Council and continues his research. Achor also partners with the nternational Thought Leader Network. For over two decades, ITLN have worked on the forefront of organizational advancement in collaboration with the world’s most distinguished thought leaders to deliver big ideas and best practices to a global workforce. ITLN, in partnership with Shawn Achor, assists organizations around the world in bringing happiness research to life at work and in education . . . through research partnerships, training, and large-scale interventions. The Happiness Advantage │Orange Frog Workshop™ www.OrangeFrogExperience.com and its accompanying parable by Shawn Achor, The Orange Frog, are designed to deliver key lessons from The Happiness Advantage while also serving as a rallying language for teams, organizations, and individuals to provide the foundation for sustained positive behavioral change. This change is linked to core work routines and best culture practices, supporting desired business results and educational outcomes. Today, ITLN and Achor have created the largest and most successful positive psychology training for organizations and educators in the world. Their work impacts every dimension of human potential performance, intelligence, creativity, leadership ability and health – in an increasingly interconnected world where our biggest potential lies in our ability to influence others.

Both Jane Horan and Shawn Achor will be speaking at the ATD conference. Be sure to visit the ATD website to find out more.


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