Your employees seem happy. You haven’t really noticed any major discontent. But what are they saying to their family? Their friends? When was the last time you paid attention to the values you espouse and how they are being enacted in the workplace? Do you really know your current culture and how your employees feel about it?
Just as it is important to know what your customers are saying about your products and services, it is critical to understand your employees’ needs and concerns. What does it mean for your company if the employees are complaining about company integrity,lack of accountability, refusal or inability to innovate and lack of leadership? Do you want to know, or is ignorance bliss? And if you do know, what do you do about it- brush it off because what do they know anyway?
Leaders take heed. Employees are brand messengers and at the same time representatives of the culture. Don’t ignore their messages. Give them an opportunity to be heard at work and take seriously what they say. Compare what they say to what you would like them to be saying. How big is the gap? Do something or not? Ignore them at your own risk and the risk of your company’s sustainability.
Employees that interview well and ultimately get hired show enthusiasm, confidence and engagement. They are not a bundle of stress and anxieties. Who wants to hire and deal with that? Yet a glance inside most companies finds a high percentage of employees who are stressed out and lacking engagement. What happened? They didn’t come this way.
Many employers justify this change by saying that “this is the big leagues and what we do is hard” and employees need to suck it up and keep going. Sounds like they are trying out for the movie role of a Marine drill sergeant.
Conditions at work are what cause employee stress most of the time. It can come from unreasonable bosses, unreasonable workload, lack of collaboration, lack of voice, lack of decision making authority, being used in a position that does not take advantage of a person’s skills or talents or any combination of them.
People welcome a challenge at work, particularly if presented in the right way; if it allows them to do what they do best and if they have the right team around them to be successful. Much stress is not from the challenge itself but from the absence of the factors that enable employees to successfully meet it.
If you see stressed out employees, what do you do? Do you consider it normal? Do you want to reduce it, and if so, have you considered how? If not, you are complicit in the erosion of your own human assets that are costing your organization big money. Remember, they didn’t come to you this way. What are you going to do to undo what your company has done to them?
Organizational culture is a hot topic- finally. Numerous books, scholarly papers and blogs and articles are being written about it regularly. Down in the trenches of businesses large and small, it is addressed much less often. So it is interesting to observe and see how and where the culture really “sits” in an organization.
Ideally, it would permeate every nook and cranny and be a part of every employee’s DNA. It would guide decisions, actions, tactics and strategy. In actuality, that is usually not the case. Sometimes it is the leaders who lead the culture by words, example and by holding others accountable to it. And other times, the leaders seem to be AWOL on the subject. In those instances the company can lose its way, or it can be kept on its path by others picking up the flag and running with it. Culture champions influence those around them to remember why they joined the company, why they were once passionate about it, and how they can still make it great, even in a cultural leadership vacuum. Instead of complaining about the bosses, they are taking matters into their own hands and setting examples of how to align values and behaviors.
Stories of the machine operator or accounting clerk; or the nurse or a mid-level manager helping to get the train back on the tracks are not just isolated anecdotes. Individuals can lead a few followers and turn them into a movement, which from the bottom up, get the culture to where it needs to be. Don’t jump ship if the company’s executives have culture amnesia. You can be the big dog and get the culture wagging again.
As everyone knows, the economy has not been great, especially for middle market and small business. Leaders are constantly looking for ways to fix what they perceive as broken in order to get over the next hurdle. Rather than doing that, it will serve organizations much more if everyone takes a step back, pauses, and reflects on what they are doing well. Appreciating the positive, encouraging even small successes while identifying and building on strengths could reap better results than constant attempts at “fixes.”
People don’t want to be “fixed”, they would prefer to grow and develop. Displaying core values through behaviors that support them make the culture and the brand strong, The employees that exemplify those values through their behaviors are the heroes who need to be emulated and replicated. Let those who are the cultural champions lead the charge, and watch what gets “fixed” along the way.
Founders and leaders of companies may find it easy to work for the love of it. Their time spent creating an idea that becomes a company is full of passion and love. They have a strong sense of pride and investment in the organization. It is like they have given birth to something that they want to nurture, cherish and grow to become something great. What if they could pass on that same sense ownership to their employees?
Consider Bobby Jones who was the most successful amateur golfer ever to compete at a national and international level. When asked why he never went pro, he answered, ”for the love of the game.” How powerful would it be to have a full staff complement of employees want to sign up for something that gives them meaning and purpose? We can look at the individuals that join the Peace Corps or VISTA and want to capture their passion. We can stand in awe of the doctors that go to the front lines of war with Doctors Without Borders; and the lawyers fighting the death penalty for convicted felons. They have passion for what they do. They are joining established organizations because in their gut, the organization represents who they want to be.
Company leaders ideally want to hire people who can be that passionate about their work. It is not an easy task. It is easier if the leader exhibits the passion, paints the vision, sets the example and shares the values that will enable a prospective employee to get it intellectually and then feel it. As the organization grows, every person doing the hiring needs to be able to do the same thing. And it can’t be phony- it is not just for the purpose of an interview. Every company needs to live it, breathe it and reinforce it continuously. It can be done. It takes work, it takes awareness, it takes mindfulness.
People want believe in something. They want their time spent at work to be meaningful. Help them make it so. Is your passion shared by your employees? If not, are you willing to do what it takes to get them there? Are you willing to build a culture of employees who work for the love of It?