Twenty or so years ago, my mission was to get a corporate job and climb the corporate ladder. That’s what my parents had done. They were successful. They made great money and had great benefits. They worked at one corporation for their entire adult lives and survived every lay-off the company ever had (and there were many). My Step-Dad’s motto was, “Make yourself indispensable.” That’s what he did and so I followed his lead.
I have to admit, climbing the corporate ladder was quite fun. I got a rush from the drama and the go, go, go energy of each day. I never knew what was going to hit me when I walked through the office door. It might be a medical emergency where I would have to give CPR to one of my employees. It might be counseling an employee through a personal crisis and helping them to land back on their feet. It might be implementing a new set of directives from our corporate team. Who knew what was coming next.
This excitement is what kept me coming to work day-after-day. I loved the thrill of each day being completely different. I loved the unpredictability of my job. Until one day, I woke up and realized I was in the wrong job. Truth be told, there were plenty of signs beforehand. I was just ignoring them. Although there were aspects of my job I absolutely loved, there were just as many aspects I despised like the rigid hours, the discouragement of creativity, the lack of trust in the employees, and the expectation of perfectionism. The pressure to perform was increasing as the standards of the company were raised. That’s okay by me. I think all companies should strive to be at their A game. Always creating new and better ways to serve their customers and employees is a smart and necessary move. The question is how are they doing it? In what manner?
You see, at our very core, humans have a need to do more, be more, experience more of who we are meant to be. Each of us has a specific set of desires and characteristics to match that. Our desire (I realize I’m going deep here but bear with me) is to experience more of who we are meant to be within any setting including work.
Within organizations, every individual within it is interested in experiencing their desire to be more and what that more is is different for each of us. If an individual’s interest is to experience being a pro-basketball player and they are working for an organization that sells shoes, they will find themselves losing interest rather quickly (because they already know who they are meant to be) or over time (when they finally discover who they were meant to be or at least discover what they don’t want to be).
All recruiters and managers know this at some level which is why they try to determine an applicant’s interest in the company during the interview process. The trouble is many applicants might try to deceive the hiring managers and recruiters in an effort of landing a paying job. First and foremost, their interest is in getting paid so they can have food on the table and a warm place to sleep as described in Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs. Once an employee has those basic needs met, he or she begins to realize there’s more to life then making ends meet. He or she begins to feel a desire welling up in them to do more, be more, experience more. Nobody, and I mean nobody, is interested in being a robot. Nobody is interested in doing the same thing every day. Nobody is interested in following a script or melding into a mold that makes them the same as everyone else. That is death to the soul.
The key to employee happiness is allowing them to be more, do more, experience more. If their individual desire is a good match with their position in an organization or at least with the organization’s mission, that’s great news for both the individual and the organization. If their desire is different, both parties should know that their relationship is temporary at best and that many things can go wrong as the employee begins to feel discontent with their job. As the employee begins to feel their soul dying (an expression of course), they will begin to fade away and find ways to escape. Their job performance will decline. They may go on medical leave or find some way to hang on to their job security while avoiding going to work. As a manager, I saw this often.
So, let’s say that an organization has done their research and found a great way to vet every employee to determine if the organization’s mission aligns with the individual’s desires and passions. Perhaps they’ve partnered with a company who does this well. Now what? The second step is putting a support structure in place that allows every individual to contribute their way and grow within the organization. Imagine that every employee is in lock step with the company’s mission. In fact, every employee is passionate about the company’s mission. Wouldn’t that be a dream come true!
Now imagine that the company turns it’s energy to encouraging every employee to serve the company’s mission, to come up with creative solutions, to serve customers the best way they know how, to lean into what they do best as an individual. Imagine the company encourages employees to share strategies with each other and develop better ways to support one another as well as the company. In a sense, it becomes the employees’ company and that’s the way it should be for they are the ones carrying out the company’s mission. The company’s culture then becomes one that builds employee self-confidence, encourages employees to take bold action, rewards attempts more than results, promotes team interaction, allows employees to solve their own problems, encourages experimentation and creativity, and encourages employees to always step outside their comfort zones, just to name a few.
The main point is that the employees are not just sharing ideas, they are implementing ideas. They are learning what works and what doesn’t work through experimentation. They are becoming experts not just in their own line of work but they begin to see how their job impacts the other parts of the business. They begin to take an interest in cooperating with other departments and finding solutions that help the company as a whole. They begin working with experts in the company and using that feedback to determine next steps. Talk about employee engagement – your employees will love coming to work! I’ve experienced this on several occasions as have many of my employees. I can tell you, when this happens, people light up. They get excited and look forward to coming to work.
To develop this kind of culture it means your leadership team is allowing employees at all levels to be creative and to experiment. This means that your leadership trusts that as long as the employees’ intentions align with the company’s intentions, they will be doing their very best to serve the company’s mission. A company structure that allows for creativity, for self-expression, for fresh ideas and new attempts to improve the company’s reputation is important. A company structure that shares it’s struggles openly and candidly so that they employees understand that the mission is at stake and go to work on finding solutions is critical.
Here’s one of the most important company strategies of them all – encouraging mistakes. Yes, you heard me correctly. Mistakes are the number one way that humans learn. We learn to walk by falling down. We learn to write good blogs by writing bad blogs. Our very best way to learn is by doing and seeing what works and what doesn’t. Your employees not only need permission to make mistakes, they need encouragement to try again using their mistakes as feedback on how to do things differently. Leaders are encouraged to reward employees who attempt something new as long as it’s with the intent to serve the company mission.
That leads me to another point: everything, everything, everything should be tied back to the company mission. That means the company mission can’t be vague. I realize there are many who have a preconceived notion of what a company mission is. For the purpose of this blog, I’ll define the company mission as it’s core purpose – why it exists. In addition to having a company mission, a company should have a vision. A vision describes what the company intends to be. A vision could include how many customers it intends to serve, how large it intends to be, or the kind of culture it desires to have. The vision should include how the company wants to shows up in the world to both the consumers and the people within it. The more specific the vision is, the more the employees can measure their decisions against it to make sure they are staying in alignment.
The bottom line is, failing to recognize the needs of the individuals in your corporation can be a serious problem. If your organization is experiencing high turn-over, low employee satisfaction scores, high incidences of LOA, FMLA or paid and unpaid leave, it is a sign that your company structure is out of alignment with your employee’s personal needs. You can continue to operate as you do today, making small tweaks here and there and getting similar results or you can design a new company vision that promotes employee individuality. As you move towards your new vision one step at a time, hiring those who are passionate about your company’s mission, you will begin to see your results improve and with persistence you will eventually become the kind of company you want be. Perhaps the journey of a company isn’t too different from the journey of an individual. After all, the company is first and foremost, a collective group of people working toward the same results. Therefore, doesn’t it make sense to carefully describe the end result you wish to achieve and empower your people to passionately pursue that for you? No doubt you’ll be pleasantly surprised by all the creative ways your people rise to the occasion and begin to transform your business into the kind of business you’ve always dreamed of.