Employees appreciate working for an employer with a strong culture. Not only does it give them a place to fit in, but it also allows them to feel like their work matters in the bigger picture.
Companies are quickly discovering, though, how important it can be to celebrate not just the collective, but also the individual. As Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries, an executive coach, psychoanalyst, and management scholar, warns in a Harvard Business Review article, “Healthy corporate cultures can easily turn into corporate cults, whether leaders intend for it to happen or not.”
Google is a prime example of an organization that’s trying to find the balance -— but it’s a big ask.
Known for its strong, attractive culture built around open discourse, the employer recently took a major step in the opposite direction. In deference to the social views of all Googlers, Google set forth a revised set of directives tacitly barring political discussions on its forum. It was a little like throwing the baby out with the bathwater, although Google’s overly cautious reaction was understandable. After all, building and maintaining a respectful culture is tough. Yet the goal shouldn’t be to tamp down on debate, but to encourage authentic conversation that stirs minds and fuels innovation.
Ultimately, every leader should want to foster a culture of respect, not a cult of groupthink. If your corporate culture is starting to feel more ritualistic than individualistic, try these tactics to help your people become celebrated contributors in an evolving community.
1. Make sure your culture reflects your people.
In a democracy, individuals and their desires should be represented. As needs shift, society should move accordingly. Your business can achieve this same natural ebb and flow by listening to employees and responding to what they want rather than always telling them what to think and how to act. “Companies should learn what employees actually need, want, and value — and then reflect it in their cultures,” says David Lesniak, CEO of Personiv, an outsourcing solutions provider. “Our engagement efforts are customized to our employees, which is why they’re successful.”
Solicit information from your team by going straight to the source via one-on-one meetings, group gatherings, and polls. Then, leverage what you learn to change the culture to fit your crew, whether that means offering more outdoor semi-yearly retreats or switching up the coffee in the break room.
Consider, too, how mandatory your corporate events should be. While one individual may want more happy hours, another might want childcare options. See how many unique needs you can address, but don’t force the team to participate in everything.
2. Accept ideas from all corners.
Executives may hold impressive titles, but they aren’t the only ones on the payroll who can come up with brilliant concepts. In fact, the brightest innovators could be anywhere on the corporate org chart. Unfortunately, they won’t get the opportunity to share their insights unless the culture opens the floor to every voice.
At Slack, for example, the concept of teamwork means more than simply getting tasks done. The fast-growing collaboration tools vendor uses its technological savvy to fuel constant collaboration between teams. Beyond tech platforms, leaders can show that they value individual ideas in other ways. Offer your team an occasional change in scenery for brainstorming, or consider initiating a new competitive challenge, hackathon-style.
Leaders should request colleagues’ opinions — and then actually use them as valued springboards. The end goal is to enable collaboration and divergent thinking, which is why you should encourage employees to challenge each other and own their unique ideas.
3. Give the green light to outside interests.
Too many companies hush the conversation about team members’ personal penchants and side gigs. It leads to dehumanizing workers and unnecessarily glorifies the 9-to-5, which isn’t exactly conducive to making employees feel like part of a supportive family.
Tandem, a product development firm, takes a decidedly different view. As founder JC Grubbs explains, “Overtime isn’t a thing at our company — you put in your 40 hours a week and go live your life.” In fact, Tandem employees are so interested in what happens outside the company that workers are encouraged to talk about their hustles and hobbies, sometimes even giving demonstrations to co-workers.
Instead of ignoring the fact that your staff members have diverse outside interests, take the time to celebrate them. You may just find that they bring more to the table when they realize you support their unique talents. Plus, they’ll breathe fresh life into problem solving, thanks to your encouragement of their well-roundedness.
Culture will happen whether you’re paying attention or not. Take an active role in supporting the individuals in your company to ensure the culture at your company remains robust, not robotic.