Musings + Essays

Workplace Mantras.

By: Jen Shoop

*Image via Wit and Delight.

Do you have a workplace mantra? I have been lucky to work with a number of creative and inspired people across my career and have benefited from some of their go-tos on a number of occasions. I wanted to share a few that I found proved true as I worked alongside others:

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” This always made me stop and think about how well I was upholding the values of the organization, and how much time I was dedicating to fostering openness and goodwill across my team. Culture-building can take on a range of forms, and frankly (this will come next) it has to come from the top. On a concrete level, culture-building sometimes means doing happy hours and group outings, but mostly, it means carving out one-on-one time to check in with individual team members and scheduling activities that map to core culture values. As an example, in several of my previous roles, we wanted a culture that celebrated creativity, speed, outside-the-box thinking, etc. So we would craft design sessions and group brainstorms to model the kind of design thinking we wanted, while encouraging people to work together towards a common goal. One of the most effective activities (this was several jobs ago) entailed performing SWOT analyses of our own work as a collective. I was always surprised at how much junior members enjoyed participating in these, and I felt like we all enjoyed a greater measure of ownership afterwards.

“Culture flows from the top down.” Leadership sets the tone. Period. It doesn’t matter how great the managers are, the individual contributors are, the mission is, etc. It all comes from the top. There have been a few occasions over the course of my career where it became obvious that one member of the leadership team was not a good culture fit, and it always felt like his/her team sort of rotted from the inside out and then began to rub off on other teams, too. It can be extremely difficult to correct or treat this situation. Sometimes, this is ruinous for an organization.

“Focus is your scarcest resource.” Something I pinned above my desk while in a design-centric role at a start-up, where it was easy to find myself sucked into tasks that should not have been prioritized.

“Talk to the extremes.” This is critical for any product- or design-focused role. Talk to the extreme users — how are your “power users” engaging with what you are building? And why are “non-users” NOT using your product? So many insights from these conversations.

“Onward!” I’ve adopted this as a personal mantra over the years. Keep moving forward, with enthusiasm. I stole this from my last official boss — he signed all of his emails with this and it established a sense of momentum and optimism in the workplace. Encountering this phrase multiple times throughout a day made me feel more prone to take risks, try things, and then move on if they did not pan out — energy we needed as a high-octane start-up.

“If someone else can do it 80% as well as you can, delegate.” It was always difficult for me to relinquish control; I will admit that I am prone to micro-management. But this phrasing helped me maneuver around the prospect of delegation. Of course the “80%” number is arbitrary, but it affords enough of a guardrail to help with making an assessment as to whether something should be passed along.

What about you? What phrases have shaped you as an employee, manager, or leader? Do you keep anything like this pinned above your desk?


+The dotted lines between work life and personal life.

+My last installment of my ongoing fictional work.

+Have you ever had a bad boss?

+Advice for graduates.

Shopping Break.

+Three dresses I’m currently lusting after: this Lug Von Siga (50% off), this bustier Staud (in the fab blue!), and this crocheted SEA (60% off!).

+The perfect wedge to wear all summer long. Also comes in white.

+The chic breakfast tray I never knew I always needed.

+Perfect back-to-work dress. The drop waist adds interest. Also comes in a fab bold pattern that reminds me of something by La Double J.

+Check out this bold Celia B dress — 40% off.

+I’m already looking ahead to a long car trip we’ll have in July — I shared tons of great car activities for littles here, but this looks like a clever solution for my daughter, who LOVES to draw.

+Speaking of car travel with littles, we are still loving our Nuna Rava carseats. I was torn between Clek and Nuna but my daughter is prone to carsickness and you can take the entire Rava seat cover off and launder it, so that clinched the deal. If you buy them here, you get a gift card back — that’s the promotion I used to buy ours since they are impossible to find on sale.

+Does anyone have a preferred whitening strip brand? I keep hearing about Lumineux. Anyone used?

+These personalized keychains would be a cute favor/gift — or a way to personalize a set of keys you’re giving a parent/neighbor/friend (add something cheeky/personal as the inscription!)

+I asked last week (scroll to post-scripts) about self-tanning drop recommendations, and a few of you came back with Saltyface, a brand I’d never even heard of. I wanted to mention that I normally just use a heavy hand with powder bronzer to achieve a glow! I love (!!!) this brand’s bronzer and have used it for over a decade now with no intention of switching to anything else. It’s perfect. It is pricey, but a palette lasts a very long time. It’s well-packed/does not crumble.

+These letterpress prayer cards would be a beautiful keepsake for you or a loved one. We actually put a prayer that my MIL wrote in her own hand in one of these lucite frames and keep it on mini’s dresser!

+Have been eyeing this Loewe basket bag for literally three seasons and counting.

+Love these shorts.

+Cutest monogrammed children’s sweatshirt.

+These flats are fab. I feel like they’d go perfectly with everything from white jeans to dresses all summer long.

+This gorgeous Self-Portrait just went on serious sale.

+These handmade crochet bags are just beyond fab.

+This dress for a little is beyond adorable.

+Pretty patchwork dress.

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12 thoughts on “Workplace Mantras.

  1. Just revisited your kid car trip post for some new ideas! I definitely used a few of your ideas last year, but unfortunately the girls seem less interested in sticker books and water wows this year. The snack boxes will still be a hit though! We, too, will be taking a long drive in July so let us know if you come across any more great ideas/products for road trips!

      1. Oh – and these:

        My sister said her boys are SO obsessed with these. I tried them with mini maybe a year or so ago and they were too difficult for her at the time (and there for very frustrating). I will need to revisit to see if she finds them better suited now!


  2. Mine is another pull from Coffee and Crumbs – what does love require of me in this moment? I find that this phrase guides a lot of my work in a very traditional, corporate, male dominated field. Sometimes love (of others) requires pulling an extra few hours over the weekend for a team project so someone else can enjoy their parents’ visit to town. Sometimes it’s just total baby boomer energy – love of my family requires me to sit here at my desk today and just get stuff done. Often love (of my family) requires me to hold a boundary that I’d be otherwise afraid to – but knowing my work boundary is there so I can show up at my daughter’s school picnic makes me brave. A lot of times, love (of me) requires me to step into leadership from my own little spot on the team to carve out my own opportunity or protect my peace. This little mantra helps me reframe many of my interactions at work and pushes me to organize my life a little differently – not a balance really, just a constant assessment of priorities.

    1. Wow – this absolutely knocked my socks off this afternoon. I know I will be carrying this with me for a long time. Thank you so much for sharing the phrase, and all the different ways it can live out.


  3. I have two, they are more personal than professional though I find they help me when I try to navigate professional spaces/make decisions regarding my work.

    “You don’t have to get a job that makes others feel comfortable about what they perceive as your success.” — Cheryl Strayed

    “It is unwise to put the quality of your life in the hands of a corporation.”

  4. My team at work decided on a handful of guiding principles several years ago, my favorite of which is “clarity is kindness.” In other words, communicate needs and expectations early and often. Make roles and responsibilities explicit. In times of transition or change, lay out timelines and keep people updated. Be precise in your emails. Say what you mean. It applies to folks of all levels in the workplace hierarchy, and everyone is better off when clarity is prioritized!

    1. I love this mentality, and having a known/shared tagline like this would give me the imprimatur to make things known/open. Thank you for sharing this!

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