I try to create enough space to do reflection on a regular basis. I often want to rethink whether or not I gave enough direction, was that I provide enough clarity, and also that I provide enough support to make sure that team members are able to be a successful as possible.

Quiet quitting is the emerging phenomenon of employee disengagement, essentially quitting on the job. What strategies do high-impact leaders deploy to motivate themselves and those around them to move from quiet quitting to quiet committing? Because, at its core, there is no change without commitment. Commitment to change ideas. Change beliefs. Change perspectives. Change routines, rituals and boundaries. Organizations change one commitment at a time. One leader at a time. As part of our series about “Quiet Committing: The Top Five Commitments High Impact Leaders Make & Keep To Themselves Daily”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Kelly Fair.

Kelly Fair has made it her life’s mission to train the next generation of Black and LatinX young leaders in Chicago and across the country through Polished Pebbles, a non-profit organization that has worked with over 5,000 African American and Latinx girls and young women, provided over 500 mentors in hundreds of schools and has raised $2MM+ for partnering schools and communities.

Thank you for making time for our visit. What was the first job you had, and how did that job shape the leader you are today?

I got my first job when I was 13 years old at Dudley’s Beauty College on the southside of Chicago. Dudley’s has been a pioneering black owned hair care company that also invests heavily in the business of educating professionals to enter the beauty industry.

As an adolescent, I wasn’t that interested in summer day camps or programs. So, the summer before I began my freshman year in high school, I decided to ask my mom if I could instead get a job. Throughout childhood, I was heavily influenced by the images of beautiful and successful black women on the pages of Essence Magazine. They made me want to become a career woman. My dream career at 13 was to become a cosmetologist. My mom advocated for me and helped me that summer get an internship at Dudley’s.

This experience was so transformative for me. I did whatever task they asked me to do with excitement! My tasks include cleaning up storage closets, sweeping the floor, putting products up, and I even got a chance to shampoo lady‘s hair. But, the most pivotal task that they gave me was to work the cash register. In my middle school years I had become extremely shy, and speaking up with confidence was a challenge for me. But, interacting with those customers at Dudley’s gave me the perfect practice to communicate more effectively.

I was also mentored by the women at Dudley‘s. Even though I had interest in the beauty industry, they always encouraged me to do well academically in high school, and still prepare for college in my future.

My first job experience at Dudley aligned me for a successful career path throughout high school, college, and postgraduate years. I was mentored by strong female work supervisors in a work environment to follow their blueprint for a well-rounded success in life. This powerful experience in my girlhood served as a great model for me when I was creating the building blocks for what is now a core part of our Signature Career Mentoring Initiatives with Polished Pebbles Girls Mentoring Program.

We’re talking about quiet quitting in this series. What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned from a job you decided to quit?

Quiet quitting isn’t as quiet as people may think. The organization may not have heard directly from you that you want to quit, but they can tell you’ve quit already by observing your work product. Quiet quitting is a mindset and it seems to be more deceptive opposed to being deliberate, but when we move with good intentions, a departure from a job can then benefit everyone involved.

Quiet quitting really isn’t that impactful. I think it does more damage to the employee leaving, than it actually does the employer. Quiet quitting can leave a stain on your reputation that you really don’t desire. I know working in a big city like Chicago, makes us feel like we may never see individuals from your previous workplace again, but I often tell people big cities like Chicago is really more like a a small town, and their is a strong likelihood of you coming across those individuals again in lots of personal and professional settings.

Thus, I’ve made sure to handle every departure with extreme care. I know that can be hard especially when you’re really displeased with your work experience, or just ready to go and move on to another job. But, it’s best not to let your emotions take over, and be very strategic in planning how you quit. I think some of the most strategic moves to make when quitting include:

  • Complete exit interviews so that the employer can get feedback on how to make that workplace better for others.
  • Give adequate notice, at least two weeks notice, or more if possible.
  • Return all materials and supplies.
  • Take a lead in helping to transition your work projects so that anyone can step in to continue to steer it successfully.
  • Be grateful for the growth you experienced there, and be open to reflecting about other things you can consider to identify as targets for your own individual growth too.

When I did quit a job it wasn’t quiet, but I was only there for such a short period of time which caused a ripple effect, and potentially damaging to my reputation. It was a really small

organization, and replacing my position put them at a disadvantage. They didn’t have a lot of resources available to start all over again and replace me quickly. In that departure, even though it was an unexpected loss for the organization, I tried to give adequate notice, and handle it with respect and empathy. As a result, the individuals that I worked for have helped me so much throughout my career. For instance,

  • They mentored me in developing solutions in work challenges I encountered in the future.
  • They’ve provided stellar references for me, and validated the quality of my work with others in their networks.
  • They recommended me, and hired me for contract work that helped my business grow.

Employee Engagement is top of mind for most organizations. How do you define an engaged employee?

An engaged employee really understands the mission of the organization that they’re working with and really embodies it in everything that they do in a couple of key ways:

  1. Engaged employees executing on project-based work, Identify needs and achieve outcomes, because they also seem to have a healthy level of curiosity about all the aspects of projects that they are involved in. Therefore, engaged employees may go outside of their familiar territories and make recommendations, or seek opportunities to maximize their own professional success, but more importantly the success of the entire organization.
  2. An engaged employee also understands the importance of working together as a team. They find ways to work with others and value their contributions. An engaged employee knows the formula for success when they can find ways to work with others to help everyone win.
  3. Engaged employees serve as great peer mentors for other team members. They’re invested in the organization being successful so they want everyone to be successful, and avoid pitfalls.
  4. The engaged employee also definitely maintains a personal balance of keeping their personal life separate and very fruitful from their professional life. But, engaged employees typically like their jobs so much that they share about it with those in their personal lives, and can engage them in maybe supporting the organization they work for, or encouraging others to consider that organization or industry to be a really great place to work.
  5. An engaged employee actually gives more and shares ideas for growing the organization. They also don’t wear blinders. While executing on projects they think and act at a more macro-level paying attention to other departments, team members, universal outcomes as opposed to only attending to their assigned tasks and departments. An engaged employee of this nature understands their critical part in the advancement of organizational goals.

Say more about your Employee Engagement portfolio. What’s working? What’s not working? And what are you piloting now to address the Quiet Committing trend?

Our employee engagement portfolio currently includes weekly management meetings, departmental meetings, strategic planning meetings with staff and board members, organizational capacity building through acquiring vendors who provide external professional services, media training, professional image and lifestyle consultations, flexible hours, office and virtual options, internal employee promotions and mentoring. We also experience a healthy balance of team members with 5+ years of experience working with the organization, new employees with fresh perspectives. And, most importantly, as a mentoring organization we’re that some of our earliest mentees are now managers.

What’s not working well is managing employee expectations with title versus tasks. This is incredibly hard to manage especially in a business that is growing vigorously we need committed team members who are so invested in our mission, they understand supporting our growth may involve stepping outside of their comfort zone and assumed duties and responsibilities.

It’s also challenging when employees function as if the work they are doing for the organization is a favor opposed to the work they are being paid for. There’s a movement to be rewarded for doing the job you were hired to do, and consequently accepted the offer. Sometimes, I wonder if that’s because we are a non-profit organization.

We find ourselves costly managing CHANGE which for us means that we are constantly managing the quiet quitting epidemic, and managing those who are quietly committing. We’ve been working on being comfortable with acceptable the natural transitions of those who don’t find our workplace to be compatible with current work schedules, and priorities and may seek new opportunities. We’re intent on paying attention to all team memes and especially those who are career committing, they are actively engaging with their careers, and being proactive about their growth and learning. It’s those team members that we’re being strategic in actively nurturing, rewarding the contributions, and elevating their position within the organization.

As goes the leadership, so goes the team. How do you hold leaders accountable for their own level of engagement?

At the 15 year mark, our organization has become very intentional about choosing leaders who are both excited, but especially passionate about investing the communities of girls we serve, We seek to develop leaders who’s passion for our mission is so deep seated that they are invested in contributing to ALL of our work, not just the fun & feel good stuff, but the parts of the job that can not so easy, and can be downright frustrating. When selecting leaders with various skills sets and gifts we know that will automatically contribute to increased accountability, because they highly succeed at those tasks at stay engaged. I’m also so inspired by some of our leaders who call me, and say I slept, and had some more time to think about a tough problem we’re trying to tackle and they have another idea. Or, when they said they read an article and received some more insight on an issue. I encourage them to share these “ah ha” moments with other managers in our weekly management calls. So we can all learn a new perspective.

My efforts to hold leaders accountable also incudes insisting on deadlines, both individual deadlines, and deadlines for their teams. We also work to provide them with tools and resources to receive good information from others. As we invest in their development our expectation that will continue to contribute at a greater level to the organization.

The first phase of the pandemic ushered in the phenomenon called The Great Resignation, where employees left organizations to pursue greater meaning and purpose. Then came The Great Reshuffle, where employees left organizations to pursue promotions, pay and perks. Now we’ve entered a third phase, Quiet Quitting, where employees are deeply disengaged. What do you believe to be the key drivers of Quiet Quitting?

The key drivers of quiet quitting include the extreme silos that workers starting functioning in. They went from robust co-working spaces and offices, into extreme isolation. And, for some roles and responsibilities, the team atmosphere was needed to be successful. Our business is centered around human interaction. When mentoring adolescent girls we’re focused on teaching great teamwork skills, leadership, and having healthy interactions. We noticed that we lost some of these same skills with our team dynamic in the pandemic. Everyone began to function so independently, that once we re-engaging as a team working in a non-quarantine community some team members adapted to the independent work model, and could not reacclimate to work in groups. They got used to being their own boss, making their own schedules, and communicating less. When faced with organizational efforts to re-engage in collaborative work efforts may team members started to disengage at different levels, and the most extreme is quiet quitting.

What do you predict will be the next phase in the evolution of the employer / employee landscape?

In people’s fight for this independent working model where they work part time from home, companies are going to be seeking another layer, or a buffer employee to close some capacity gaps. The new unique freedoms introduced to us working from home the pandemic, enabled many workers not to have to participate in managing some many folks directly. This leadership gap may lead more companies to recruit more middle managers or external consultants to close those leadership gaps, and provide the necessary capacity.

What leadership behaviors need to evolve to improve employee engagement in a sustainable way?

Leaders have to fully commit to managing equity and inclusion in their workspaces. This becomes most critical as leaders are creating communication channels that ensure all voices in the organization are heard, while also maintaining the core values of the organization.

Change requires commitment and happens one choice at a time. What are the top five commitments you make and keep to yourself daily that have a material impact on those you lead?

1. I work hard to keep a commitment to maintaining certain healthy lifestyle practices that are important to me. That includes making sure that I maintain a relatively healthy diet, and also I’m pretty committed to making sure that I work out at least three or four times a week in the mornings. That’s just time that I will not sacrifice. I know that it is a huge part of assisting me to relieve stress. Also makes me feel like I’m definitely keeping a commitment to me being the best me and equipping myself to be the most calm, the most patient animals of able to be flexible and adaptable as needed in leadership.

2. At work I try not to react and make decisions in haste. I try to look at a particular situation or a problem and step back from it a bit. I’m often hopeful that given it some time to breathe, and also perhaps having a chance to check in with others with her for me the opportunity to make the best decisions possible.

3. I try to create enough space to do reflection on a regular basis. I often want to rethink whether or not I gave enough direction, was that I provide enough clarity, and also that I provide enough support to make sure that team members are able to be a successful as possible.

4. I love doing research and keeping up with trends in information that you can find in the media Google searches and perhaps from other colleagues to make sure that I am bringing that information back to my team to have an opportunity to include that in how we view our move and make certain decisions. I also think it’s critically important to just stay fresh on nutrients and ideas. For instance, I meet every Monday morning with a group of female entrepreneurs that were all a part of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 small business training program with me. We hold each other accountable to share out some of the things that we challenge with and share our recommendations on how we may be able to handle those things, and also provides a really safe space for folks to visit, and also to celebrate our accomplishments.

5. I made the commitment to always have a really great cabinet of advisers, and business coaches to assist me in the decisions that I’m making. Mentor is really great mentors always have echo points to other really great mentors and teachers that impact them. So as I grow more confidence in my abilities in my experience in leading, I’m really excited that as I keep growing I’m always faced with new challenges, and I am confident by the fact that I always have a really great group of individuals and advisers who can provide me with really great sage wisdom on how to approach some of those challenges.

What’s the most effective strategy you’ve discovered to get back on track when you break a commitment you’ve made?

If you have to step back from a commitment made, or move in a different direction, it’s important to maintain some level of accountability and trust with your team. I work hard to maintain their trust by consistently adopting the practice of being extremely transparent and honest about when I’m missing the mark. I find that I’m able to maintain relationships, and respect, when I’m really honest with them about the reasons why I couldn’t keep a commitment. But I think that I have their trust because, in addition to owning my shortfalls, I know it’s important to follow that up by reassuring them of my ability to want to improve. But, I also back up my words with sharing my proposed solutions and actions steps. Taking proactive steps like this shows them how much I value them as a part of my team, and critical contributors to our success. As I recognize my own fallibility I can also accept it in others as long as accountability is present.

Thank you for sharing these important insights. How can our readers further follow your work?

Kelly Fair: Social Media @kfairthementor www.kellykaefair.com & www.polishedpebbles.com

We wish you continued success and good health!