Sarah Sladek

An Asian woman facing opposite direction in a crowd

How to Bring Belonging Back

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October 23 @ 5:55 pm CDT

Early in my career, I was recruited to sit on an association’s board of directors and given the opportunity to spearhead a priority initiative for the organization. I was thrilled and jumped at the opportunity to take on such a prominent role. Imagine my disappointment when I attended my first board meeting and the initiative was tabled. The next several meetings I attended, the initiative continued to be backburned. It wasn’t long before I found myself feeling frustrated, unappreciated, and overlooked. My admiration for the association and passion for the project waned. I felt like I no longer belonged. Feeling like we don’t belong is a feeling we can all relate to, yet many organizations are struggling to foster a sense of belonging – and have been for quite some time. We know this to be true because most associations have reported declining membership trends for the past decade, just as employers have reported declining levels of employee engagement. And here and now, the workforce turnover is so massive, this era is being referred to as the Great Resignation. Belonging by definition means two things: ownership and a secure relationship. We feel like we belong when we’re invited to actively contribute and share our opinions and ideas, and we are listened to, respected, and positively encouraged. In the late 1990s, belonging began to transition. From workplaces to membership associations, the same trend was observed: Young people were less likely to join/stay/engage/renew. In other words, young people were less likely to feel like they belong. Why the sudden shift? And why have so many organizations struggled to re-engage young people? I’ve spent a lot of time researching this trend in an effort to find the answers. The answer is quite complex, but here’s the condensed version: The shift in belonging is a direct result of significant social change and the era during which younger generations have come of age. Young people are wary of forging connections and…

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A group of office workers at a conference table with laptops

Getting Leaders On Board With Change

October 23 @ 5:55 pm CDT

How to approach leaders that are stuck in tradition and often struggle with changing or trying something new. I’ve been a futurist for 20 years, and at just about every conference I’ve presented, someone has come up to me afterwards and said something similar to this: “I agree with what you say about the need to change, engage younger generations, and plan for the future — but I can’t apply it. I’m not the leader. And the people I work for have no desire to change. The people I work for are stuck in the past.” This is a space where many people exist, working in an organization underneath a leader or board of directors who either can’t or won’t be open to the concept of change. As a result, these team members feel powerless to innovate. They have ideas, but they believe they have no voice. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the 20th century, leadership was the equivalent of power, fueled by a top down, ‘do-it-because-I-said-so’ approach. It was a role that had to be earned over time, restricted to people with significant experience and a specific job title. In its era, this approach to leadership was effective. Here and now, this approach is highly ineffective. Here and now, organizations need leaders who are willing to disrupt the status quo and be open to new ideas and solutions. Here and now, the best leaders are visionary and add value to an organization—not slow it down or kill initiative. Regrettably, too many people think about and define leadership as though we’re still working in the 20th century. They think leadership remains limited to positions and titles and say things like “my leader won’t change”. If you haven’t heard it before, I will say it now: A leader who refuses to change isn’t permission to be complacent. It’s an outdated, irrelevant notion that people in ivory towers, sitting at mahogany board tables should grant…

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Losing Our Empathy: How to Team-Build When People Could Care Less

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October 23 @ 5:55 pm CDT

Blame it on a 24-hour news cycle, social media, corruption, the increased use of profanity, or savage political campaigns, but one thing has become very apparent, we have lost what connects us to each other — our empathy. Whether we’re arguing about politics or vaccinations, guns, or abortion, or which lives matter most, our society has been unable to successfully cooperate or community-build for quite some time now. In my line of work, this means more clients calling with concerns about teambuilding and inclusion. Employers are observing increased conflict and lower tolerance. Young employees are less likely to stick around in a setting like this, so the lack of empathy is also contributing to turnover. Empathy is the ability to emotionally understand what other people feel and how they see things from their point of view. Empathy leads to compassion and the desire to care for or help someone else. And our empathy is currently missing. New scientific research revealed adults today are caring less for others and more about themselves — and this has negatively influenced youth and young professional development. According to the research from Indiana University, declines in empathy among young people started happening in the early 2000s alongside a rise in mental health problems. Both outcomes are believed to be directly associated with burn-out. With the mainstreaming of technology, shifts in parenting and education, and a greater social emphasis on competitiveness, testing, and success, children were facing challenges earlier generations didn’t face. Researchers believe this generation’s self-care and care for others was backburnered to focus on personal success and survival. Here and now, children are observing communities in conflict, even during a global pandemic. Time will tell how this experience will influence their development, but the research indicates the conflict and lack of compassion is already more prevalent among adults than at any other time in history. The questions at the top of mind right now for many leaders and teams is:…

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Leader holding a paycheck out.

The Price is Right: Why Higher Salaries Won’t Single-Handedly Solve the Workforce Crisis

October 23 @ 5:55 pm CDT

Six years ago, Dan Price, the founder and CEO of Gravity Payments, set off a media firestorm when he raised the firm’s minimum salary from $35,000 to $70,000 and slashed his own $1 million salary down to $70,000. He was hailed a hero by some and harshly criticized by others. Many analysts predicted the company would soon be bankrupt. But that has not happened; instead, the company is thriving. Six years later, revenue has tripled, the number of employees has doubled, the turnover rate was cut in half, and both the starting salary and CEO salary remain at $70,000. Here and now, wage increases are top of mind as employee turnover is skyrocketing and prospective employees are being wooed with higher starting salaries and sign-on bonuses. Undoubtedly, pay raises are needed. The wage gap is significant. According to the Economic Policy Institute, average CEO compensation is 320 times more than the salaries of their typical workers. (Six years ago, it was 265 times.) But make no mistake about it: money can’t buy love. For 20 years, Gallup has reported 70% of the workforce is disengaged, and companies have thrown money at the problem investing more than ever in perks and bonuses to try to reverse the decline. Yet, employee engagement hasn’t improved. At all. If money isn’t having the desired effect, what will? Trust. The organizations thriving and successfully engaging employees are trustworthy. Specifically, employees believe their leaders are credible, honest, and fair, and that their leaders respect them. Some people will read Price’s story and only see dollar signs. Those people are missing it. Employee engagement can’t be bought. While fans and critics alike marvel at Price’s pay structure, that’s only half the story. His team has been referred to as fiercely loyal which can only come from a trusting, people-first workplace culture. Here’s how one employee described Gravity Payment’s leadership during the pandemic:   “They didn’t do any layoffs. They didn’t raise merchant fees. They let the…

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Kick the Quit: Why Work Isn’t Working and What to Do About It

October 23 @ 5:55 pm CDT

The Great Resignation. The Talent Tsunami. Whatever you choose to call it, it’s the speck of sand in our eyes – it stings, it’s anxiety-inducing, and it’s become impossible to ignore. We knew this moment was coming. For decades, government leaders and demographers warned organizations to plan for the Baby Boomer retirement wave. For the past 20 years, Gallup has reported high, unyielding rates of employee disengagement. Then the turnover rate among young professionals hit a historic high and retaining talent was cited as the top management challenge globally. Work hasn’t been working for a while now. The pandemic made an already miserable and fleeting workforce rethink their career and life trajectories and take action. As a result, a record-breaking 11.5 million workers quitting their jobs within a three-month time span – April-June 2021. (U.S. Dept of Labor) This is just the tip of the iceberg. Studies indicate several thousand more workers are likely to jump ship within the next 3-6 months. It took time to get into this mess, and it’s going to take time to get ourselves out of it. Best to start working on work immediately.   To engage people is to understand them, and that can only come from time spent in a relationship with them   As with any crisis, addressing the situation is best achieved once one understands what is causing it. I’ve spent the past two decades researching workforce engagement trends and it all comes down to three undeniable truths:   We inherited institutions designed for the 20thcentury, which are unable to cope with the mounting pressures of constant change and disruption in the 21st century. When leaders fear change and struggle to be open to new ideas, technologies, or people, employees immediately disengage. Appreciation, respect, care, trust, and a sense of teamwork and belonging are considerably more influential in an employee’s decision to engage than compensation, benefits, or workplace perks.   Employees are more unhappy and more likely to leave because many leaders and…

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A book cover - The End of Membership As We Know It

100 Best Membership Books Of All Time

October 23 @ 5:55 pm CDT

Sarah Sladek’s book, The End of Membership As We Know It, makes the BookAuthority list Learn More  

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Sarah Sladek

Short Life Lessons from Sarah Sladek

October 23 @ 5:55 pm CDT

Sarah Sladek was interviewed by World Class Performer and named a global top performer in business strategy Sarah Sladek is an author, speaker, strategist, and futurist. She is an experienced marketing and media professional who started researching demographic shifts in 2000. Sarah is the CEO and Founder of XYZ University which goal is to help organizations identify their competitive advantage, embrace change, bridge gaps, increase ROI, and remain relevant to future generations. Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life? I grew up in the state of Iowa, in a beautiful old brick home. There was a huge yard with many flowers and trees and my father built a treehouse for me. I spent my days using my imagination, writing stories in my head. As I grew older, I closely followed pop culture, fashion, and music trends. I was already on the path to becoming a writer and futurist. Also, my brother is 15 years older, and at an early age, I realized the generational differences between us. My business, research, and books were all inspired by this realization and childhood experience. Read the complete article here     

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How to Cultivate a Sense of Belonging

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October 23 @ 5:55 pm CDT

Early in my career, I was recruited to sit on a board of directors and asked to spearhead a priority initiative for the association. I was both humbled and ecstatic to take on such an influential role. Imagine my disappointment when I attended the first meeting and the initiative was tabled. During the next several meetings, I was informed the initiative would continue to be delayed. Suddenly, I felt like I was on the outside looking in. I felt like I didn’t belong. At some point, we all experience the feeling that we don’t belong. It’s a feeling we can all relate to, yet many organizations struggle to foster a sense of belonging among their members and employees. Belonging by definition means two things: ownership and a secure relationship: We feel ownership when we actively contribute and share our ideas and opinions; and We feel safe and secure when we’re listened to, respected, and encouraged. In the late 1990s, belonging began to dissipate. From workplaces to churches, service clubs to country clubs, associations, and non-profits, the same trend was observed: Young people were less likely to join/stay/engage/renew. In other words, young people were less likely to feel like they belonged. Why the sudden shift? And why have so many organizations struggled to re-engage young people? Society is hyper-aware and focused on inclusion right now, but simply including people is not enough.  I’ve spent a lot of time researching this trend in an effort to find the answers. The answer is quite complex, but here’s the condensed version: The shift in belonging is the direct result of significant social change. Young people are wary of forging connections and emotional ties. They seek positivity, security, and respect. They are careful about who and what they trust. Young people are less willing to wait for organizations to create a place for them to belong, and more likely to hold organizations accountable for their actions (or inaction). For far too…

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How to Deal with an Organization in Denial

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October 23 @ 5:55 pm CDT

A year ago, President Trump was under fire by experts and pundits for being in denial about the seriousness of the pandemic. In the early weeks, the President referred to the virus as a hoax, refused to issue a federal stay at home order, and hesitated to fully utilize the Defense Production Act. Unfortunately, leadership denial isn’t exclusive to presidents or pandemics. Henry Ford’s denial ended up costing the company a whopping $250 million. Model T sales were declining, yet Ford dismissed the figures because he suspected rivals of manipulating them. One of his top executives warned him of the dire situation and Ford fired him. When he finally decided to make a new car, Ford shut down production for months and the company lost its lead in the market. Denial is a prominent problem among leaders, and it can lead to serious consequences. I was thinking about the power of denial recently while facilitating a meeting with a company’s leadership team. Even after presenting data to indicate irreversible decline unless the company changed course, the team struggled to see the problem. Their conversation immediately turned to a quick fix, which was the equivalent of throwing a rock into a raging ocean. Solution aversion is a powerful barrier to organizational change. Research indicates the majority of leaders rely on the ‘ostrich’ response to change, denying or ignoring the need to change until something forces a response. A popular meme, which features a cartoon dog surrounded by flames, captures this sentiment perfectly. The caption says: This is fine. There’s brain science and social science involved in our responses to change, but the bottom line is this: When the path to a solution seems too overwhelming or difficult, we prefer to avoid it. From backburnering a diet to avoiding a tough conversation, the struggle is one we can all relate to in our personal lives. Likewise, in the workplace leaders will downplay the importance of investing in a…

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gen z, generation z,

How Cancel Culture Will Change Your Organization

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October 23 @ 5:55 pm CDT

Given the opportunity to time travel, would you choose to visit the past or the future? I was participating in a virtual happy hour when this question popped up. Some experienced professionals jumped in, sharing moments in history they wanted to visit. The conversation was bubbly; people were happily caught up in their imaginations of what it would be like to experience a bygone era. Then a student from Georgetown University spoke up, and just like that, the mood shifted. “I want to visit the future”, she said. “I want to visit the future to see how much damage has been done by the actions of our society today.” Gen Z (1996-2009) are the teens and early 20-somethings who have become largely renowned for holding up the mirror to society, forcing us all to take a closer look. Under  their watch, the concept of cancel culture has been trending for most of the past year, which has become a polarizing topic of debate. Regardless of age or experience, feeling ignored drives  people to disengage, quit, protest, and cancel. The process of ‘canceling’ usually goes like this: A public figure or organization does or says something offensive. A public backlash, often fueled by political views and social media, ensues. Then there’s call to take away their cultural cachet, whether through boycotts or disciplinary action. Cancel culture has been referred to as a mob mentality, encouraging lawlessness, censorship, and the erasing of history. It’s also been referred to as a long overdue way of holding people accountable for propagating racist and sexist ideas, toxic behaviors, and making unethical, immoral decisions without any regard for others. Although it started as more of a political debate, cancel culture has now moved into the arena of generational debate. In 2019, the OK boomer meme and videos were an attempt by Gen Z to ‘cancel’ the generations that came before them. OK boomer was meant to be cutting and dismissive; a snarky…

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