Business leaders want a culture that drives greater productivity, profitability and employee engagement. This article will help you optimize these results by focusing at the root cause level- the people!
Most business leaders are conditioned to think of issues with people, processes and technology as distinct categories. They’re not. In reality, all problems are people problems at their root. People design, implement and execute processes. People develop, select, implement and maintain technology. That’s why optimizing people is the most effective way to optimize processes, technology and overall company results.
This is something Google understands. It’s performance as a company defies the traditional laws of business. Google is clear that people are its main resource. It’s workforce of over 88,000 people as of December 2018 demonstrates this. In fact, people are the most important resource for all businesses, regardless of industry or size. The lessons from Google are based on principles that apply to all businesses.
The Society for Human Resource Management published an article titled “Google’s Top-
Notch Culture Boils Down to These 3 Principles”. Laszlo Bock (ex-SVP of People) said Google’s cultural success boils down to three main guiding principles
• Mission that matters—a clear mission and vision statement to motivate and unify employees
• Transparency of Leaders—a crucial element to build trust and collaboration
• Giving everyone a voice—a perspective that values everyone’s opinion and point of view
Let’s consider specific actions to apply these principles along with my personal experience.
Mission that matters- most people experience a significant increase in passion and energy their actions matters to other people or to a cause that’s important to them (i.e. something bigger than themselves). This provides a sense of ownership. Unfortunately, very few mission and vision statements do this well. Here are 4 steps to create mission and vision statements that matter to the employees:
- Make sure the entire executive leadership team understands the critical importance of this task. Otherwise, it can easily become another “check the boxes and get it done” project.
- Create clear and concise verbiage that communicates the benefit to others (customers, society, etc.) that the organization provides. Allow for multiple iterations to create a clear, concise, authentic and inspiring message. For example, Google’s mission is “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
- After creating a suitable mission and vision, communicate clearly with subordinates how their work contributes directly to the mission and vision. Never assume this is obvious to people.
- Starting at the top, leaders need to demonstrate with their actions behavior that aligns with the mission and vision. Without this, efforts will fail.
Transparency of Leaders—this is difficult due to the conditioning of most business cultures and society in general. We feel vulnerable when we are transparent. We don’t want our authenticity to be used against us. This has been a personal struggle for me due to my own fears about being vulnerable. I’ve learned that by accepting who I really am (including my weaknesses and insecurities) and openly revealing my thoughts and feelings in a respectful manner, others tend to follow suit. This has consistently enhanced trust and collaboration in my work and home life. Here’s four steps to increase comfort and effectiveness in being transparent:
- Have a regular practice (e.g. mindfulness meditation, religion, therapist, coach, etc.) to increase personal awareness and acceptance of our imperfections. Leaders often have strong egos and feelings of personal greatness which can be attempts to mask our insecurities/vulnerabilities. Research has shown that people connect on vulnerabilities (courageous openness) rather than strengths.
- Develop a trusted support team and communicate with them openly and honestly on a regular basis. Provide the sincere feedback that is critical to everyone’s growth. Create a safe, confidential space to share authentic thoughts, feelings, insecurities etc. Without this safe environment people will not be authentic. Transparency, like any other skill, is developed through regular practice.
- Bring your developing transparency proficiencies into use at work with other leaders and subordinates. This way, your organization develops a culture of trust and collaboration. Use your judgement with the help of your support team on how transparent to be on issues that are not ready for public announcement.
- Be willing, to struggle, fall and get back up again. Changing old habits takes time, effort and patience. Know that it’s worth the effort.
Giving everyone a voice– When leaders make decisions regarding strategy and tactics it’s usually a lengthy and difficult process filled with data, high-level perspectives of smart people and years of experience. Leaders expect their people to implement the policies and procedures developed from these well-conceived efforts. It’s frustrating when subordinates disagree with our decisions, sometimes believing that we’re completely off target. It’s also not practical to stop what you’re doing to listen every time an opinion is voiced.
Nevertheless, it’s the wise thing to do because:
- Each perspective provides a unique viewpoint for insight and innovation
- Lower-level employees are on the “front lines” dealing with customers, suppliers and others who are critical to the business. They’re directly in touch with threats and opportunities the leaders may not see
- People have the need to be understood and valued. Violating this reality damages engagement, company culture and results
Below are four practical steps give an appropriate voice to your workforce. If a company with over 88,000 employees can provide everyone a voice, smaller companies should be able to as well.
- Create simple mechanisms to facilitate written employee ideas, concerns, opinions, etc.: This can include, surveys, emails to leaders, dedicated online/intranet location for comments, etc. It’s fine to include reasonable guidelines for comments. For example, complaints must include a suggested solution rather than just complaining.
- Have a regular town hall meeting or employee forum for people to ask questions and discuss issues.
- Train managers how to create a safe, open environment for subordinates to communicate. This can be a basic element of leadership training.
- Provide the ability to evaluate managers. Accountability should flow both ways.
Intentionally developing a culture that optimizes your workforce is a wise leadership move. Google and other companies have prioritized the development of human potential as a strategic advantage. What can you start doing now to benefit from the results that have been well-validated?