How to cultivate a flexible culture at work
You have to protect your people above all.
Mary Olson-Menzel is the founder and CEO of MVP Executive Development and co-founder of Spark Insight Coaching.
In my daily conversations with executives, I hear about their challenges as they confront a rapidly shifting landscape while managing their most important resource: people. Without people, widgets don’t get made, services don’t get delivered and businesses do not run.
Retaining top talent is critical as companies and leaders work through how to achieve commercial goals for the year ahead and beyond. In fact, one result of the tight U.S. labor market is that employees have demanded more empathetic leadership and are getting it. I see in my own coaching work a notable uptick in requests to work on developing more humane leaders and helping them to create workplace cultures that are better at listening and responding to their people.
When leading, it’s important to understand what makes them tick. One size does not fit all when it comes to the individuals who make up your organization. Thus, we must invest the time and attention to develop a deeper understanding of what our employees need most — not only to do their jobs well, but to thrive and to drive the business forward.
So far this year, three people-related themes have emerged as preoccupations among my corporate clients: the ongoing need for flexibility, reimagining meetings and building more tangible corporate cultures. Here are some suggestions for how to tackle these challenges in your own organizations.
Many employees have proven that they can be equally if not more productive working from home. Yet, at the same time, they miss the day-to-day interactions and camaraderie developed when working alongside one another in the same location. As a result, more and more of our clients have designed hybrid work weeks so that employees can enjoy the best of both worlds.
However, to make a hybrid schedule operate seamlessly, parameters and clear expectations need to be set in advance. Best practices from my experience as an executive recruiter, coach and operational consultant include:
- Involve employees in hybrid work model development so they have a stake in the outcome and are invested in the success of the group as a whole.
- Understand that some employees have roles that require them to work onsite. Make sure that the new rules consider their situation and are equitable.
- Accept that hybrid work requires more coordination and set clear communication parameters for both management and staff.
- Provide technology and tech support that helps employees perform efficiently and effectively from wherever they are working.
The second recurring theme is meetings — their frequency, structure, and length. “Too many meetings!” We hear this every day, even among the best-performing hybrid teams. Post-pandemic Zoom marathons are the norm now and there’s no time left to address actual deliverables.
In a recent study conducted at Microsoft, researchers confirmed exactly what we are talking about: Back-to-back virtual meetings are stressful, and long-term detrimental to brain health. The findings also support our simple remedy: take short breaks. “Our research shows breaks are important, not just to make us less exhausted by the end of the day, but to actually improve our ability to focus and engage while in those meetings,” says Michael Bohan, senior director of Microsoft’s Human Factors Engineering group, who oversaw the project.
So, how do you keep others engaged when you might be catching them preoccupied or at the end of their work day? Step one is to know your audience. As you review your calendar, ask yourself who you are meeting with, what their priorities are, and how they best receive and process information. Second, get creative about the structure and length of your meetings. Do you really need to have a 30-minute meeting or will 15 suffice? Have you tried having a standing meeting? They tend to wrap quickly and keep everyone more focused. Meeting agendas, talking points, and templates also help to facilitate and move the conversation along to a productive outcome.
Organizational culture is the shared values, beliefs, and practices of an organization. It’s how members of an organization view their work, their colleagues, and themselves. A sense of community and the feeling of belonging are vital in the workplace. Culture is what motivates your people to come to work (to an office or via a screen) and it’s why people will stay at an organization.
Is your internal employee brand as strong as your external brand? Are you, your executives, and your staff living in the core values of the organization? A simple cultural assessment can really shed light on this question.
Culture is ever-changing and shifting and we want to make sure we are creating a culture of acceptance, equality, and performance in order to shift as the workforce needs are shifting. What was considered a great culture in 1990 might not be considered a great culture now. Therefore, we must constantly strive to create a culture of excellence in whatever business we are in.
A suggested group exercise with a few questions that my colleague, Mel Shahbazian, and I ask when creating a leadership signature and creating a culture of excellence starts with alignment of the following:
What is your North Star: Think of this as your top leadership declaration. What is the essence of who you are as a leader and as an organization?
What is your Mission: Your mission should be big-picture, long-term and meaningful. Something that people can imagine and hold on to.
What is your Goal: This is more benchmark oriented, less about values, and more about the bottom line. Actionable and trackable.
What is your Values Proposition: Prioritize the top values that you hold dearest in your role and on your team. What lights you up?
What is your Promise: What is the promise you offer to your employees and your clients/customers?
What is your Mantra: What do you say to yourself and your team every day to ensure that your culture and your words are inspiring?
According to Simon Sinek: “A culture is not invented. A culture constantly evolves … which is why it must be nurtured.”
Nurturing a culture is not only from the top down, it can be driven also from all levels of the organization. Learning from one another and taking best practices from top-performing employees can be helpful in creating a winning culture.