Lately, I have been thinking a lot about our readiness. Readiness to change, to develop and to embrace the new thinking, new ways of working and new ways youngsters approach life.
As a leader, are you truly open to listening to new or different ideas and approaches? Or are you actually fixed into your own mental model without realizing that you are, well, shut? Or then, are you so focused on execution and urgency that you push aside any idea or signal that could disturb your track even if stopping and taking stock might, in fact, lead you to a way better result? What about our organization, do our managerial or leadership frameworks match the expectations, or would they need to be heavily red-penciled?
No people, no business
We hear and speak a lot about the scarcity of talent available for organizations and about how important it is to develop customer experience and employee experience. Still, are we ready for the new wave of talent graduating from schools to work-life?
These “youngsters” (and yes, I can say that as I’m already a senior myself… even if I think I am very young in heart and mind…) have grown in a different culture than those of us who have been working a few years already. As a potential new recruit, I myself would definitely want to do a thorough cultural audit before I join a company to be sure that the to-be-working environment really allows me to flourish and be productive. And hey, even us seniors expect our leaders to have a growth mindset and for our working environment to support us better than before.
Suppose that we in organizations have not been able to or have failed to develop our employee experience and our organizational culture to match these expectations. If that should be the case, the graduates will choose differently and go elsewhere, and then the business faces a severe risk of not meeting its business targets.
One could say that the risk map in those businesses which are dependent on people will be in the red. Businesses often focus on other types of business risks but the people-related risks are equally if not even more important to understand and address.
Dialogue is the answer
When I think about developing a culture that would foster a great employee experience, I think of some “eternal truths” in human interaction. We need to be heard and involved in the decisions that affect our lives, and we need to be appreciated and feel that someone cares about us.
It sounds simple but seems ever so difficult to us, especially if we just keep on doing what we have always done, keep on the safe and well-trodden paths: if we don't embrace new information and re-learn, if we don't dare to be vulnerable and brave, to step outside the familiar. As I have mentioned in one of my earlier blogs, just starting to ask questions already takes us on a new path, so why not take the step!
As said, the recipe for success is eternal at large; there is nothing new even if we manage to churn a large number of leadership books out every year. Apologies, I just had to say that – and maybe it says more about us readers than the authors; perhaps we learners are not focusing on learning. And yes, new information does come to light when we get more data, for example, as to how our brains really work.
So then the recipe – learn to listen to your team, the needs of its individuals as well as the whole team. Focus on enlisting and enabling, on ensuring space for thinking. Foster a culture where your team truly discusses: listens and learns from each other. Help your people to learn to give daily feedback and to release tension when tension begins to build. Pay attention to friction, as friction is the number one obstructer of change and development.
People do not typically oppose change and development just for the heck of it. Your team members do need to understand the grounds and facts around the need for changes, but the most important thing for you as a leader is to understand the factors creating friction, also emotional friction. I often think people need more enlisting, a leader that listens more than evangelizes. So, do your utmost to reduce friction and help remove big or small obstacles.
Embrace the growing pains
Still, it is essential to understand the business and team environment in which you are. Understanding the possibilities and boundaries, which the environment poses to be able to proceed. Many books mention the capability to adapt, but is it really adapting that we need or rather belonging? Becoming part of the new environment while bringing new fresh, let us say, insights or ingredients to it. This takes me back to our need for belonging and for being appreciated – becoming a part of something, something that has a purpose for both the team and me.
Taking steps outside of the box, the comfort zone, is hard as our brains are wired to support following the easy and known tracks. Our brains, while being plastic, also seek efficiency. For all of us but especially for a leader, it still is worth the while. Do whatever works for you to take the first steps – read a book, listen to a podcast, discuss with a role model of yours, enlist a coach, and then realize that reading a book is not enough.
You need to be able to be vulnerable to be brave, to expose yourself to the new. As a learner, you need to start practicing what you have learned in real life, and boy, do you need to practice, as it is so easy to go back to the previously learned smooth tracks, especially when you are busy or stressed out.
Then the caveat: your team will notice when you or your organization is whitewashing — using newly learned buzzwords without really doing something in a different way. Stay away from this, really. Instead, an organization and its individuals should foster authenticity and have a cohesive approach, commonly crafted and shared leadership and cultural cornerstones.
Make a roadmap for the behavior you want to see; this makes it much easier to become a reality. Otherwise, your strategic targets will not be realized, as there will be individual agendas and targets. Those will take the company forward but maybe not as efficiently nor perhaps towards the aim desired. Note the stress on the word shared. In an organization, if you do not have a shared understanding, it is as if you are playing a team sport where everyone is playing using their own playbook. That’s a mess you want to avoid.