Webinar Recap: The Lighthouse Effect

September 23, 2021 Aaron Kinne

As he opened the recent webinar, “The Lighthouse Effect: Nine Steps to Cultivating Everyday Gratitude,” Workhuman® CHRO Steve Pemberton shared a moving and insightful quote from organizational psychologist and best-selling author Adam Grant: “The people who matter most in our lives are just like lighthouses. We can count on them to stay sturdy through a storm and shine a path to guide us through darkness.”

Co-presenter Carmen Ortiz-McGhee, chief operating officer of the National Association of Investment Companies (NAIC), echoed that same sentiment when she observed: “The lighthouse is noble, selfless, steady, and faithful. It doesn’t judge, and it doesn’t ask how the traveler has come to be in the storm.”

Those insights set the backdrop for a revealing look at the concept of a human lighthouse, and the impact such special humans can have on our lives and our work. The presenters explored how the beacon of a human lighthouse can inspire gratitude, connection, feedback, and recognition – and how small, everyday moments of gratitude can have a positive impact on organizational culture. Here are some of the key takeaways from the program.

The 4 key elements to becoming a true human lighthouse

The presenters noted that it’s important we understand what being a lighthouse really means. In their view, there are four key elements to becoming a true human lighthouse:

1. Meet people where they are – “Accepting people and their behaviors is one of the most important aspects of getting the full story,” she noted. “Accept them for who they are – and not necessarily who we wish they were.”

2. You too needed grace at one time – “We’ve all had bad days and tough moments, and it’s really easy in those times to realize that – more than judging – we need to understand,” she observed.

3. Judgement is a two-way street – According to Carmen, “I think it says more about the person who’s making the judgement – and the assumptions about that other person – than the one who’s being judged or criticized.”

4. Get below the water line – Steve noted that a culture of recognition begins when we look beyond visible diversity traits – gender, skin color, physical traits – and look at invisible diversity traits such as thinking styles, ethnicity, values, and sexual orientation. “Look at all these other opportunities, lighthouse moments,” he observed. “Ways that we have to connect; to really see each other, and to see that more common story. So a culture of recognition – it may begin above the water line, but its greatest power is below the water line.”

Recognition – now more than ever

In these turbulent times, we need the power of recognition more than ever, according to Steve. “What is being asked of us is that together, we have to create that more common story,” he said. “That story is below the water line – the things you can’t see when you first meet someone.”

Carmen added that it’s “really powerful to understand that those simple moments of sharing yourself – of giving a kind ear, of listening to someone … are sometimes the most powerful moments a person can have as a lighthouse.”

Help and heal

Carmen and Steve then explored the second lesson of the day – the belief that human lighthouses help and heal. As Carmen sees it, healing pain “can come from shifting our own struggles towards that which might better the lives of others and turn our pain into someone else’s possibilities.”

In her view, this has important implications at the organizational level. “We have to understand where our people are so we can then understand the right strategies to put in place – to make sure we’re reflecting where our people are at any given moment.”

Steve pointed out that connections are “created, strengthened, and sustained through human moments that matter.” So where are those moments of connection? According to Steve, given the dissonance and discord in so many parts of society, it is in the workplace. As he sees it, the workplace “can be the last best place for us to come together to find those moments of connection of humanity. Because it’s already an available space where you have multiple generations, languages, life experiences, and perspectives.”

The power of recognition – the data backs it up

Steve shared a slide with data that backed up the real, measurable impact of recognition. Workers who have been recognized in the last month:

  • Report feeling less stressed
  • Are 2x more likely to trust in their company’s leadership team

According to Steve, we have an opportunity “to quite literally shift the denominator of culture.” He challenged the audience to think each day about who they could recognize, celebrate, and give gratitude. And likewise, he asked them to imagine what it would be like to receive recognition and gratitude on a frequent, ongoing basis.

According to Carmen and Steve, the power of social recognition is transformative because it:

  • Is visible and inclusive to all employees
  • Empowers employees
  • Taps into the power of the crowd
  • Broadcasts positive behaviors
  • Engages the organization as a community

Steve pointed out that the pandemic has denied organizations – and the humans who work for them – a sense of community. “Through no fault of our own, we’ve lost our glue as organizations and as cultures. And now, as so many of us are moving to hybrid ways of working, we’re going to have to work even harder to get our glue back. And recognition is certainly one of the ways to get that glue back.”

Psychological safety comes to the forefront

He went on to note that in this time of uncertainty and unrest, employers are actively exploring ways to create psychological safety within their organizations. “It’s no accident that we’re talking about mental health and mental well-being in the workplace far more than we ever have before,” he said. That’s again where social recognition can play a key role:

  • Psychological safety is highest for employees recognized within the last month
  • Recognition can be a powerful tool in retaining a diverse workforce – after one year in a recognition program, Asian, Black, and Hispanic employee turnover drops 20% and female turnover drops 17%.

“What’s good for people is good for business.”

They then explored the ROI of recognition as it impacts turnover, performance, and engagement:

  • Turnover – On average, an annual rate of 7-10 recognition moments is correlated with 2x lower chances of voluntary turnover.
  • Performance – Employees who receive frequent recognition (at least 5+ awards per year) are significantly more likely to also increase their year-over-year performance rating.
  • Engagement – Employees recognized with 1.5-2 awards each quarter feel significantly more appreciated for their performance – and as a result are significantly more engaged.

The bottom line? As Carmen put it: “What’s good for people is good for business.”

“Work is where we meet people who are different from us, and it gives us countless opportunities to be a lighthouse,” she added. “It enables us to use the power of recognition and gratitude, and to make a real impact on both the business and our people, every single day.”

A call to action

The program ended with a call to action from the presenters, asking the audience to reflect on the human lighthouses in their own life and career. “We’re asking you to offer your own human lighthouses – personal and professional – a moment of gratitude,” said Carmen.

Steve asked that people recognize “the whole human, and as a result, create that more connected workplace … As you look down at what’s been the journey of your life, you realize that you almost certainly would have wound up in some alternate world were it not for that [human lighthouse]. So can we take a moment and recognize that individual? It’s something we all have the power to do.”

About the Author

Aaron Kinne

Aaron Kinne is a senior writer at Workhuman.

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