“You Belong Here.”
What if all of our organizations really, truly embodied that sentiment?
It’s a sentiment that could be found everywhere throughout the 2017 edition of the WorkHuman conference. WorkHuman, in case you have yet to hear about it, is a movement pioneered by recognition giant Globoforce, and simply put focuses on bringing more humanity back to the workplace. It’s a concept that continues to gain momentum each year, one that’s taking on a life beyond the annual conference, but is showcased to the fullest each year at the conference. The third iteration of it took place last week in Phoenix, AZ.
But back to our own workplaces and that idea of belonging. It sounds simple, right? Workplaces that value each of our employees as individuals, the talents they bring, and the complete stories of them as humans that come along with those talents?
But I’m not talking about belonging on the surface, a smile and a simple welcome to the team when they join (although that should be happening too!). I’m not even talking about the traditional definitions of diversity and inclusion we tend to think of. What I’m talking about, and what we heard throughout WorkHuman 2017 is a sense of inclusion of ALL the differences that our employees bring, and establishing a culture and leadership mindset that not only embraces, but also leverages those differences.
“May You Have the Courage to Speak Softly”
Renowned TED talk speaker and New York Times bestselling author Susan Cain is an advocate for the power of introverts in the workplace. In a world that too often rewards the loudest voice, she presents a case for the value of creating a workplace culture that does not shut down introverts, employees that very often have excellent ideas but may find themselves in environments that aren’t conducive or where they aren’t comfortable offering them up. Because let’s face it, most of our modern office environments are designed with extroverts in mind: open cubicle or even completely open work spaces, meetings where you have to be loud and first to be heard (by the way, did you know that in a typical group, 3 people tend to do 70% of the talking?), and group work and brainstorming.
But guess what? This type of environment just doesn’t work for everyone. And research shows that it’s not even overall the most effective and productive way to approach work. Susan cited that people who brainstorm alone and then come together to discuss tend to have more and better ideas than those generated in group brainstorming. And for truly effective companies and leadership, we need people who boldly jump into things as well as those who quietly take in all of the small details. We need to get beyond the cultural belief that all great leaders need to be alpha, bold, and gregarious.
Don’t Hire For Cultural Fit?
As HR pros, we often talk about needing to hire for cultural fit within our companies. But Wharton professor and New York Times bestselling author Adam Grant warned us against that. Sure, on the surface it seems like the right thing to do, and to some extent it probably is. After all, you don’t want to bring on board folks who run counter to your organizational vision and values. But we have to be careful about what we really mean when we say we’re hiring for cultural fit. Do we mean those aligned with our values, or do we really mean those who think like us? Because if the latter is the case, we’re talking about a recipe for groupthink, one of the largest contributors to organizational failure.
As Globoforce’s own Eric Mosley said in his address, “Your office is not a cult. You can’t force people to believe what you do. Meet them where they are.” If we only hire people who think like we do, we don’t cultivate original thinkers and environments that encourage those original ideas, and if we don’t have leaders who are willing to put themselves out there and even accept public criticism, how are we ever going to solve new problems and challenges as our businesses evolve? Eric Mosley also said, “Culture is the aggregate of all the characters in your company.” We have a business responsibility to ensure we’re fostering one where many characters can bring diverse thoughts and ideas forward.
Have Fun and Never Underestimate Your Impact
The two highest profile keynote speakers at this year’s WorkHuman were renowned actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus and former First Lady Michelle Obama, two names that need no further explanation or introduction. Both were presented in a one-on-one interview format, with Julia interviewed by Michelle Gielan and the former First Lady by Walgreens’ Steve Pemberton. Both exuded a true sense of authenticity on stage, and both offered many pearls of wisdom for HR leaders as we endeavor to build more inclusive and human workplaces.
Julia reminded us that we hire people for a reason; we can’t hire them for their skills and talents and then dictate how they need to do their job. There needs to be a culture of mutual respect. We also need to make an effort to be kind to one another, that kindness will win the day. And finally, she encouraged us to have fun at all costs. She learned early on in her career that if she wasn’t having fun, she probably needed to find something else to do for a living. The same is true in our workplaces; if we can’t foster environments where our employees can enjoy what they do (even if they don’t love their jobs every minute of every day), long term success could be at risk. And if we as HR pros and leaders can’t enjoy what we do and help develop leaders that model that type of environment, who else is going to do it?
Mrs. Obama cited “You never know what one word can do to a kid” in a reminder about the impact we can have. This holds true in the workplace too. Yes, children are more vulnerable and impressionable than most adults, but that doesn’t mean that words and actions don’t have impact on adults too. And that doesn’t mean that what our leaders in our workplaces say and do doesn’t have an impact on individuals, teams, and our overall cultures. If we want to have a positive impact, we were reminded that it’s okay to start small with things within our own control, and within our own worlds. Impact doesn’t have to be big and bold. All we need to do is think small and be consistent.
Chaz Bono in his opening keynote/interview was asked what WorkHuman meant to him. He responded simply with “How else would we work?” It’s sounds like such a no-brainer when put that way, but often our day to day responsibilities, practices, and policies get in the way of bringing that sentiment to life. HR pros, we have the power to effect change for to better, to help build more human and inclusive workplaces. It’s just a matter of deciding where to start and beginning with what we can control in our own companies and environments. After all, as Michelle Obama said:
“There’s no right way to be human.”
But there certainly are many ways we can. And should.