One of the most important factors in your successfully creating a great workplace is the degree of support you receive along the way. Creating a great workplace doesn’t happen overnight, and your efforts are often met with as many missteps as there are successes. Without someone to be a sounding board, an encourager, and a reframer your job is made much more difficult. Who plays the following roles for you?
The Sounding Board
I often find that it is difficult for leaders to see past their constraints, their intentions, and their results. Take a simple situation – one where employees desire more cross-functional collaboration. A leader faced with this feedback might lament about the siloed nature of the organization (constraints), reiterate her goals to arm her own employees with the facts they need (intentions), and her semi-successful attempts at getting information from other functions as it is needed (results).
Sometimes it takes another person acting as the voice of the employee to bring the leader back to the issue at hand. “Look, this is about people interfacing with other departments. How can we create that in a meaningful and successful way? Can we host cross functional summits? Create task forces? Share newsletters or meeting minutes across departments?” Sounding board questions “unstick” the leader from his or her own experiences and put the focus back on the employee experience, which ultimately is what will help to resolve it.
Your first attempts at building trust with people may not be met with a warm and fuzzy response. When you change your one-way communication in staff meetings to a round robin report of what is going well for everyone, the initial reaction may be “What’s gotten into him?” Or a lukewarm, “Things are going fine. Nothing really to report.” As trust and respect builds, the response will become better and more likely to create a great workplace, but at the outset, there may be some skepticism to cut through.
The encourager can help you to stay the course until those positive results begin to occur. We are hard-wired to do things that result in positive outcomes, so until those outcomes come from your workgroup itself, the encourager serves as a proxy. “It sounds like you are really trying to connect with people. I’d try it again next week and see if people warm up to the idea.” Certainly you may need to course correct down the line, but the first step is to try something often enough that you learn a little bit about what works in your workgroup.
I’m inspired by the work of Marcus Buckingham who reminds us to pay attention to and capitalize upon our individual strengths. The same reframe should happen in order to make your workplace great. I often tell people to build on what is going well, but identifying what is going well and then keeping it top of mind is no easy task. We live in a world that focuses on deficiencies first. I would venture to guess that you can more quickly identify what isn’t right with your work group than its strengths. The reframer’s job is to remind you to keep some, if not most of your attention on what is going well.
In cases where this person resides within your workgroup, she may provide reminders as to the good things. “You are right, many people didn’t respond to your question about their successes last week. But, a few did, and others certainly seemed interested!” Or, even if this person has no idea what goes on at your workplace, he can be vigilant about watching for unbalanced language and ask questions to get you thinking and talking about successes.
Building a great workplace is easier if you have your own personal board of directors – people who can hear you, encourage you, and reframe your thinking. Your challenge: find your sounding board, encourager, and reframer…and find ways to serve these roles for others!
Jennifer Robin, Ph.D., is a Research Fellow and former Senior Consultant with Great Place to Work® Institute, and co-author of The Great Workplace: How to Build It, How to Keep It, and Why It Matters.