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Shaping workplace culture - including end of year conversations with employees

What a year. The measures to combat COVID-19 have cost the vast majority of organisations a lot of energy. Despite all the online meetings, the quality of personal exchange has been different from what we had hoped for and were used to. And now the end-of-year and goal-setting meetings are about to follow. Especially in these stressful times, it is important to meet at the same level and have a discourse on what and how a person can contribute to the added value of an organisation. It is not so much a question of how goals set from managers can best be achieved, but rather how the skills and competences of the employees can be optimally used to implement the mission and strategy.

In the sense of such empowerment, employees are provided with both creative flexibility as well as the assumption of responsibility and implementation competence. And then it is about being able to let loose, because people are self-determined beings and you cannot force a person to be happy.

The pressure of making people happy 

I am often asked by organisations and managers what they could do to increase the job satisfaction of their employees.  An anecdote from my psychology internship more than 15 years ago at the Psychiatric University Hospital in Zurich always comes to mind. Back then, in a quiet minute, the head doctor of my internship gave me a few thoughts on suboptimal relationship patterns. One issue was that it was not possible for anyone to make other people happy if they were not willing to do so of their own accord. Although people often expect other people to make them happy, this assumption never works. In relationships, you can only create the framework conditions so that other people can grow. No more, but also no less. In other words, and I've heard it said before: "The grass doesn't grow faster if you pull on it" or "You can lead the horses to the watering trough, but they have to drink themselves". 

At some point in the course of my work, I realised that the same reasoning also applies to the relationship between managers and employees (or to Great Place to Work consultants and client organisations). But this also means that a manager or an organisation is allowed to take the pressure off itself to have to or to be able to make its own employees happy. The decision about whether one wants to be happy or is on the path to happiness begins in the head of each person. However, the decision of the employees to create their own Great Place to Work can be supported by the organisation and the managers through the appropriate design factors.

Three design factors for a Great Place to Work

The Great Place to Work studies show that employees are committed to the workplace if they can help define their own contribution on the basis of their competencies and skills. As a consequence, there is a higher rate of innovation as well as various potentials for value creation (e.g. lower turnover and absence rates, higher commitment and intrinsic motivation as well as higher turnover growth and improved profitability). This potential of the employees is realised when, within the framework of a culture of trust, both the values of an organisation are lived in daily interaction and the strategy is communicated at the appropriate level. And that requires three things. 

Model For All in Realtion4

First condition: A trust based workplace culture

Trust is the most important foundation for positive and resilient relationships between employees within an organisation. Employees trust each other when they perceive each other as credible, respectful and fair in their dealings. In addition, camaraderie and pride in one's work activities have a strong influence on the creation of a trust based workplace culture. For example, camaraderie without trust in leaders leads to an "us against them" mentality. Similarly, pride in one's work activity degenerates into a consolation prize in a culture of mistrust because people want to share the meaningfulness of their own work activity with others. A trust based workplace culture is therefore the basis for employees to even think about their own contribution to the value creation of an organisation.

Second condition: Living values

The values of an organisation serve as an orientation for employees as to what is desirable behaviour in daily interaction and beyond. They are not merely artefacts on nicely designed documents, wall posters and the career website of an organisation, but guide daily work and decision-making behaviour. Optimally, the values support the implementation of the strategy by highlighting and supporting the appropriate behaviour of employees. The values of an organisation then also show the normative framework against which an employee's own contribution can be aligned - i.e. HOW to do something. This value-based perspective is becoming more important as part of workplace culture as organisations are increasingly confronted with stakeholder expectations for meaningfulness, transparency and the fulfilment of their social responsability.

Third condition: Leadership

In the context of workplace culture, leadership is understood as a comprehensive phenomenon and can be perceived as hierarchical, functional as well as situational. What is important here is that leaders fulfil their role model function and thus exemplify the desired characteristics of an organisation. This happens mainly in the social relationships with all employees by making them respectful, appreciative and fair. Another important point is that leaders are able to communicate the organisational strategy coherently and in a way that is appropriate to the target group. This transparency and clarity enables employees in every position and function to think about what their own contribution is to the organisation's goals. It is therefore a question of WHAT needs to be done. This definition of one's own contribution to achieving the organisational goals increases the perceived meaningfulness of the employees' work activities. It becomes clear why every person in an organisation is needed (or not) to achieve the strategic goals. Because even the most beautiful clock stands still if one cog in the clockwork is missing.


 Photo by Laura Ockel on Unsplash

Being able to think a Great Place to Work

If you bring together the culture of trust, the lived values and the quality of leadership, it becomes clear why these should be discussed in a year-end or target-setting meeting: They lay the foundation for an open discourse on the "how - values" and "what - strategy/leadership" with regard to shaping the employees' own contribution. On this basis, employees can design their own Great Place to Work. Managers can be available to employees as coaches or mentors in this process. However, it is the employees themselves who decide to take on this meaningful challenge and set out on the path to creating their own Great Place to Work.

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