As we move into a new year, undoubtedly most of the leaders within organizations have put together plans, initiatives, and goals around their organization. Unfortunately, as of writing this, the landscape of US companies means that few organizations included culture as a critical part of their charter and some of those are only doing it because of outside pressure or even because they heard it would increase profits.
While yes, it does increase profits, how would it make you feel if someone you work for said "I'm only doing this thing for you so that the company can make more money"? That conversation may never take place, however, the actions taken by the hearts of leadership convey that message time and time again. It's why when we speak of 'wellness' rather than wellbeing, all those expectations to be within a certain BMI or waist to hip ratio in order to get an incentive feels...off (see also off-putting). When your heart isn't in it, people can tell. Just as leaders can tell if someone is just working for a paycheck, employees can tell when leaders are just there for a (larger) paycheck.
Sometimes though, leaders have the heart for their people. I genuinely believe we have more of those than the organizational culture landscape would indicate. At that point we often get asked in some way: "So, yes, we believe culture is extremely important - so what's the formula/steps/tasks to make it happen?" And we LOVE that question but this is where a leap is needed to happen within the leader themselves. Simply put, we can't force-build culture.
You'll hear us talk about how we need to "create a framework that enables the employee to say yes more times than no to beneficial decisions". This is where I can normally see people think "huh?" and rightfully so. It's meant to be vague and only somewhat specific. To help the conversation, let's look at two approaches that result in vastly different cultures: Construction and Farming.
With the Construction approach organizations often think about how to fix a problem, create a solution, and then it's built. You control what wood is being used, the cuts used to shape the wood, what trim pieces to cover up blemishes, and just about every step of the process is something you can build or reframe by your design. For organizations, this is often what we look at for creating a successful business. We look at a problem, hire people we feel like will do the job, tell them the basics to do it, and then ideally it gets done with relatively low mistakes.
With this mentality though, leaders have this mentality of control, but that only reinforces unrealistic expectations, and quite frankly harms both the organization as well as the employees in it. Leaders think they can control every aspect of the employee with a myriad of rules, expectations, trainings, and manager oversight. The reality is people are, well, people. You can't control the baggage they bring, the opinions they have, what happened at home that they're bringing to work (and vise versa), and so many other things. We as leaders need to start looking at this as a relationship, not as a machine.
The mentality we often refer to when talking about building the framework is one of a farmer. Think about it, the farmer grabs the seed, plants it in good soil, sows it, and reaps the harvest. What you might miss though, is that the farmer doesn't control the sun, rain, or really most of the conditions that is needed for the seed to grow. All they can do is ensure they are there to keep pests & predators away, and give what they can if they notice the elements aren't lining up the way the seed needs them to, such as watering the seed when no rain has come.
Think about your most meaningful relationships. The ones that you'd go above and beyond for such as possibly a spouse, child, or maybe a close friend or relative. Each one of these relationships has a key underlying component - support. Just like the farmer you've supported your spouse/child/friend countless times in both good and bad experiences. That's what strengthens the bond. Now, why is it that we can't do that for employees within an organization? Well, turns out the organizations that have figured this out can be found on Fortune's Top 100 Companies to Work For among other lists of incredible stories showing how they support their team.
For this new year, think about how you're tending to your employees. Think about how you're developing a relationship with them. Consider how you're being inclusive of their lives, needs, and wants not just inside the business, but in life. How are you creating an organization that as soon as employees start their first day, they are excited, engaged, and wanting to do more simply because of the environment around them? It's a large task, but it's one that will take your organizational culture to the next level and one that will enable your team to thrive long-term and for the organization to reap a harvest larger than you can imagine.