The way we see people in the workplace creates a filter that guides our working relationships with them. This is where most companies face difficulty because they state what they hold out as an ideal through core values, yet in actuality behave very differently based on the internal convictions of the company’s leaders. We tend to espouse the right principles and have a sense about how we should think and act, but family of origin, personal beliefs and personal preferences trump these good intentions. The truth is that most companies rarely do what they say when comparing their behaviors to their values. The corporate community will clearly see this mismatch as hypocrisy, creating a sense of resignation resulting in a morale deficit. It’s all too easy to dismiss other’s concerns as mere complaints and judge them for not being whole. I remember working with a company that insisted they had it right—yet, their turnover rate spoke loudly about their inability to create the right human incentives.
At the root of this dilemma is how we actually see our employees. If we, for example, view them as utilities we will have a very legal and authoritarian way of relating to them. If we see them as valuable human beings, contributors and partners in a process to create growth and results, then we’ll respect them for who they are, not just what they do, and develop stronger bonds. Cultural beliefs that indicate a need for change are those that fail to address true wholesome, human incentive systems. If, for example, a leader’s mindset is rooted in gender or ethnic bias, they will surely exclude those who are not like them and unknowingly mentor others (who are exactly like them) to do the same. We would never admit to such biases, usually because we are unaware, but they will lurk in the subconscious and manifest themselves in our corporate communities unless we dig deep and honestly evaluate ourselves and our culture.
Daniel Goleman, in his book “Primal Leadership,” writes about a condition he calls “CEO Disease.” CEO Disease exists when organizational leaders are cut off from true and candid feedback from those around them due to their position and title, and usually supported by a leader’s unspoken desire to receive only positive feedback. Under these circumstances, leaders will likely fail to receive the type of input that helps them to grow and improve, and it will prevent the organization from cultivating virtue and respect. No single person or organization has “arrived.” We are all on a journey of continual improvement.
Below are some ways to discover how we are seeing your employees:
– Ask those around you, “What’s it like to be on the other side of me?” If our gestures and messages are telling them “give me the answer I want to hear,” we’ll continue to suffer with CEO Disease. If we are sincere and have promoted a safe environment, seeking genuine and authentic feedback, then we’ll get the honest truth.
– Reflect on what makes you uncomfortable. Areas of discomfort can point to an unrealized bias. If, for example, a leader only connects with the men or only with the women in the firm, chances are there is some sort of barrier or gender bias. The same principle could apply to ethnicity, pedigree, or various other mindsets. Once you determine your uncomfortable feelings, process them with a trusted resource to ensure they are not impacting relationships.
– Develop a feedback council. This is a collection of a few peers and some direct reports where we create an alliance to provide ongoing feedback in a safe environment. We should meet with them monthly as a group, but then ask them to provide personal feedback, real time, on our performance. It can be transformational for a leader who has a humble heart.
Some may say, why go to all this fuss—nobody is perfect and this is all soft stuff that’s hard to measure. Yet, if we truly want high performing teams, we’ll do the work necessary to create a productive environment, eliminating barriers to execution, which are usually rooted in culture and personal human experiences. And, beyond that we know whatever happens at work, we take home. The responsibility to create a good, wholesome workplace environment rests squarely on the shoulders of the organization’s leaders. The rewards of paying attention to the culture in this way include a sense of belonging for its people, a word on the street that says this is a good place to work, and a public image that attracts clients. It also creates a sense of accomplishment when one realizes that the company not only provides employment opportunities and financial resources for its people to live life, but also meets the social and educational needs around teamwork and sacrifice, and is literally a feeder system for what happens in the home.