Look around your office. Which of the following is a more accurate description of your workplace culture?
Workplace One: There is a sense of mistrust and prevalence of gossip. Employees’ work is routine, efficient and predictable. Work happens in silos. Work is risk adverse: Mistakes are avoided and penalized.
Workplace Two: There is a genuine sense of community and caring. Employees are inspired and energized by what they do. Your employees take ownership of and pride in their work and your company’s mission. Risk-taking is fostered, mistakes are accepted and loss is supported.
Workplace One is a very traditional model of business — your employees are there to get their work done, show predetermined results and build profits. That’s all well and good in a static environment, but today’s economy is dynamic and thriving with disruptors. To adapt and flourish, today’s workplace must foster a meaningful culture of creativity and commitment.
To move beyond the mediocrity of Workplace One and enable a creative and dedicated culture like Workplace Two, your culture needs to promote motivation that is meaningful to the individual. This is not a touchy-feely, fluff approach; this is about neuroscience and how our brains respond to positive recognition. Our brains respond to genuine, positive feedback and connection by releasing hormones and neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin, which help us to reduce fear and anxiety and promote learning and memory. This positive state fosters a meaningful environment of creativity and collaboration.
We create meaning in our workplace through creating policies and practices that build a sense of belonging, tap into individual passions, provide avenues of purpose, and establish practices that allow for learning and growth through loss.
1. Building A Sense Of Belonging
We all have an innate need to belong. We take pride in being part of a larger community that we value and respect. Leaders build belonging into the company culture by:
• Being employee-centered. The energy you put into your employees will reap benefits for your clients.
• Treating your employees as individuals and respecting the fact that the work they do for you is only a piece of their life and not always the most important.
• Striving to create avenues for employees to thrive, mentally and physically.
• When you create a culture of belonging, it is easy to expand opportunities to create meaning.
2. Tapping Into Individual Passions
Leadership is not a one-way process. True leadership requires relationship-building with your direct reports. Your staff is not simply job descriptions; they are individuals whose ability to thrive can be enhanced by your understanding of whom they are and what they are passionate about. Tapping into your employees’ passions sparks energy, fosters creativity and promotes engagement.
To build such relationships, try beginning with the following:
• Create informal time with your team, and guide conversations that focus on their needs and desires.
• Build in more time for ongoing informal feedback. The more time you spend with each person, the more you will become aware of his or her needs, and the more you can tap into each person’s passions.
Relationship-building is personal and must be authentic. Your staff should feel genuinely appreciated for who they are and what is important to them.
3. Creating Purpose
While passions feed our energy, purpose feeds our soul. We all have an innate need to play a part in a greater purpose for our families, our communities and ourselves. What role does your company play in the larger community? Here are a few ideas:
• Foster the connection between your company’s mission and vision (registration required) and what brings meaning to your employees’ lives.
• Allow employees the opportunity to take one service day a month to volunteer at a homeless shelter, the humane society or their child’s school.
• Create opportunities for giving back as part of your leadership retreats. Seek partnerships with nonprofits that need volunteers to package materials for emergencies, schools and sustainability projects.
• Sponsor a community garden for your employees and/or neighbors.
A company culture that supports giving for the greater good intrinsically motivates their employees to thrive.
4. Learning And Growing Through Loss
One of the most powerful practices is making meaning through loss. Loss, failure, crisis, challenge, whatever form it takes provides an avenue for growth and learning. Companies that thrive on risk, creativity and change see failure is a stepping-stone to success, a part of the process and sometimes success itself.
To maximize learning and foster a culture of creativity and risk:
• Acknowledge and accept mistakes and failures as opportunities, not penalties.
• Provide constructive, timely feedback, and give your employees what they need to succeed.
• Treat your employees fairly and as individuals, and remember fair is not equal.
Loss also takes place at a level of devastation, unhinging our sense of control, breeding crisis and confusion in our lives. Crisis allows leaders and companies opportunities to strengthen and foster meaning and a culture of caring.
To foster a culture of caring and compassion:
• Ensure HR practices such as time off, working remotely and counseling are in place to support individuals in times of crisis.
• Do not hesitate to approach the individual and ask what they need.
• Empower and encourage other employees to take action to support the individual. Send flowers, cards and meals. Take their dog for walks, or take their children on outings; let the individual know they are not alone.
When making meaning becomes embedded in your company culture and leadership, your employees feel supported, challenged and respected for who they are, what they do and how they want to grow. In turn, your employees and company will thrive through creativity and commitment.