Recharging My Batteries: Positive Business Conference Highlights

Casey White - Director of Marketing ·

Who doesn’t love a chance to recharge their professional battery every so often? As an attendee at the fourth annual Positive Business Conference hosted by The Stephen M. Ross School of Business at U-M, I can tell you that it was a welcomed opportunity!

The business leaders and academic experts speaking in the workshops were incredibly enlightening and motivating. Each speaker brought a unique perspective and shared powerful stories related to the theme of this year’s conference, “Positive Leadership: Practices and Inspiration.” I hope you enjoy reading my impressions from a couple of the most impactful sessions I had the pleasure of attending.

Bruce N. Pafu, Keynote session Partner, Advisory; Human Capital Strategy and Culture Transformation at KPMG LLP

Session Topic: Rediscovering your purpose at work

Known around the country as a thought-leading HR executive and consultant, author, speaker and behavioral scientist, Pafu introduced in this session the idea of crowdsourcing – a unique way of collecting information for a task or project by enlisting the services of a large number of people, either paid or unpaid, typically via the internet

In an effort to increase positive employee engagement, Pafu created a social platform template for employees to capture details about how they saw themselves contributing to the organization. His goal was to revitalize people at work by creating a way to empower employees to share their personal and professional stories, which would in turn have a positive effect on the entire employee community and company as a whole.

To illustrate his employee engagement concept, Pafu shared a story about President John F. Kennedy’s visit to the NASA space center in 1962. President Kennedy kindly introduced himself to a janitor and asked him what he did at the center. "Well, Mr. President," the janitor responded, "I'm helping put a man on the moon." Clearly, this janitor felt engaged in his work and knew he was making a positive contribution to the organizational purpose. Imagine how the story feels if the janitor had responded, “I’m just part of the cleaning crew.”

The concept of creating our best selves in the workplace led me to start thinking, “How can we, at EDSI, continue to encourage our employees to better connect their job role and personal passion with our organizational purpose?”

Here were some of my main takeaways from this important session:

  • Ask people thoughtful questions like “What is your personal purpose?” or “What are you most proud of at work?” and then compile and share that information in a unique way
  • Shine a spotlight that helps people feel connected in their individual roles to the purpose of the organization
  • Build a collaborative culture with input and perspective from all levels of employees

The topic of the second workshop I attended centered on awakening compassion at work. Two accomplished leaders brought diverse ideas, and demonstrated that compassion can be a competitive advantage.

Monica Worline President, EnlivenWork; Affiliate Faculty, Center for Positive Organizations, University of Michigan

Jane Dutton University Professor of Business Administration and Psychology, University of Michigan

Session Topic: Awakening Compassion at Work

One of the very first things the speakers asked us to do was a “stare into a stranger’s eyes” exercise. I had never done this before. I participated and stared into the eyes of a woman I’d never met for over a minute, and I have to admit – it was very awkward – but also very enlightening. It forged a connection between the two of us, and I couldn’t help to feel a deeper sense of comfort and openness with her afterwards.

The exercise created an intimate opportunity to share with others in a meaningful way. I’ll never forget one of the speakers saying, “Look for the pain in their eyes.” That really spoke to me and reminded me that every person has struggles beyond the smile they offer at work.

Dutton and Worline focused their discussion on being mindful and “in the moment,” remembering to recognize the whole person versus just an employee. In the end, it helps build trust and loyalty, both crucial to building successful, high-functioning teams and providing incredible service to others.

Here were my main takeaways from this impactful session:

  • Be fully present in conversations with others
  • In order to forge more meaningful connections, dig deeper and ask more questions
  • Recognize that each person has different wants, needs and preferences

Do you have any stories to share related to rediscovering your purpose or awakening compassion at work? Or, even if you just have a thought or idea on these topics, please email me at I’d love to hear from you!