There’s some bad news about modern workplaces: While all leaders preach about culture, most cultures are nowhere near as effective as they could be and many are riven by tensions. Such dysfunction drains employee energy and creativity rather than fueling them.
According to the Society for Human Resource Management, workers “who say their company has a poor or average culture are more than three times as likely to agree that they dread going to work than those who say they have a good workplace culture.”
So, how can managers better lead their people to improved performance given all the distractions and challenges we face today?
Our task in researching the best workplaces has been to help leaders understand how to effectively create an environment where employees feel engaged, enabled, and energized. The research we’ve tapped included our own surveys of more than a million people, which helped identify three core attributes of the most effective leaders, attributes that should be goals for us all in 2020:
Put Culture First
Holiday gifts are great way to recognize your people for their hard work all year long, but they should not be mistaken with performance awards or bonuses. The true message of a holiday gift is that everyone in the organization is critical to the organization’s collective success, which is why smart leaders give everyone the same gift (or the same selection of gifts). Bonuses are where we differentiate employees based on their specific contributions.
Manage to the One
Lack of career development has become the number one reason why employees leave their jobs—a change from just a few years ago when pay topped the list. Focusing on career development is a relatively low-cost way to keep team members and keep them engaged, and is well within the control of the leader. We’ve found considerable payoffs in increased passion, creativity and productivity when leaders take even a small amount of time to personalize responsibilities based on team members’ individual drivers. In many high-engagement teams, we discovered variations on a practice we call job sculpting, in which managers give each employee some work to do that is especially motivating to him/her, while altering or transferring other work that might be demotivating (if at all possible). Sounds simple, right, but the payoffs of a formal process like this can be remarkable.
Lead with Gratitude
The year 2020 will be the Year of Gratitude. In our research we have found that managers who express sincere and frequent gratitude for their employees’ achievements have on average significantly lower employee turnover, higher customer satisfaction, and higher worker engagement levels. Despite these benefits, few leaders effectively utilize this simple tool.
The promise of this practice, according to professor and author Brené Brown, is a more joy-filled life. “The relationship between joy and gratitude was one of the important things I found in my research,” she said. “I wasn’t expecting it. In my twelve years of research on eleven thousand pieces of data, I did not interview one person who had described themselves as joyful who did not actively practice gratitude.”
Still, for some leaders, learning to practice the soft stuff like this might feel too mushy and touchy-feely. It might be tempting to tune it out as irrelevant to the bottom line, especially for those who need to hear it the most. But making human connections is our job as leaders, and helping employees feel valued and providing a little boost of joy at work can make a huge difference.
Expressing gratitude isn’t about being nice, it’s about being smart … and it’s a vital skill every leader needs to master.