(2) Catherine AllenIn this seven-part series, we’ll talk with Catherine Allen, Senior Vice President in our Boston office, and look in-depth at what each of the 7 core values means and how they affect our work, our clients, our employees, and our community. In this post, we look at what it means to be positive at SHIFT.

Positive doesn’t mean being happy or agreeing all the time. What it means, what we need people to do, is bring energy and enthusiasm to their work. It means being supportive of others, being supportive of the processes we use, of the clients we work with, and of the firm. You don’t always have to have a smile on your face, but you do need the spirit and energy of “we’re in this together and moving stuff forward”. People who lack that spirit can be detractors to the organization and can ruin not only a working environment, but a client relationship too.

Positive is about being constructive. In a brainstorm, the absolute worst thing you can do is just shut the door on someone, on a coworker. Even if someone comes up with an idea that isn’t amazing, positive means saying, “That’s neat, and here’s a twist on that” rather than “No, that would never work. That’s a really stupid idea.”

Another way I describe positive is someone who’s nice to be around. That’s tougher than it sounds – being a powerful presence, being an inspiring presence, being a comforting presence, even being a healing presence – that’s positive. We all have known people who, after being around them, you wanted to go take a shower or needed to get few breaths of fresh air elsewhere. That’s the opposite of the kind of positive presence we want. What if you were the kind of person that other people loved to be around and felt inspired or happier just because you were there?

People go in natural cycles and rhythms with their own positivity. That’s life. Personal issues crop up from time to time. Sometimes you have to endure a bad client or you have a good client who’s just enduring a massive crisis. Positive doesn’t mean being inhuman or insincere. It means not letting the bad stuff stick to you when it happens.

As a manager, creating a positive environment is really difficult, especially if you’re having the occasional personal lull in your own. Fostering environments where people are supportive and positive comes from leading by example. Giving praise needs to be specific to be memorable. “You did a great job” is less impactful than “You did a great job helping this client to land a piece of coverage that they didn’t expect”.

We’ve institutionalized some of these practices at SHIFT, like the kudos program (where you publicly applaud and award someone’s efforts that went above and beyond the call of duty and we randomly reward nominees every month), the three’s company lunch program, and many other programs to encourage a positive environment. Even little things like having senior executives Like or retweet individual updates on our internal social networks – things like that create a stream of recognition for hard work done, and people are always more positive when they feel appreciated.

Being a good listener is a powerful practice for building positivity that gets overlooked often. In a fast-paced work environment, it’s easy to be distracted, to not give 100% of your attention to someone, but if you want to create a feeling of positivity, giving them your undivided attention is a simple way to do that, to create that intense personal connection that shows you really value what they have to say.

Ultimately, positive is emotional resilience. When life gets tough, instead of taking the beating, can you roll with it and bounce back quickly? Do you have the team and the support you need to weather the storm and still accomplish what you need to accomplish, and can you provide that support and care to your team members when they need it?

Catherine H. Allen
Executive Vice President


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