I had a productive and far-reaching conversation recently with a Signe Bishop, a whip-smart colleague in my professional network. She leads management training, both for new managers and (later) experienced ones to deepen their practice, for a large teaching hospital. She sparked me to return to an idea I’ve been marinating for a while.
We agreed that it’s fun, rewarding and often easy to manage engaged, curious, creative employees.
The challenge is to get managers to do the hard work of reaching out to employees who have lost (or never had) that zeal. When our colleagues and those we are meant to manage seem adrift in the flotsam of daily routine and a less-than-inspired workplace culture, we owe it to them—and to ourselves—to reach out with specific tactics to change things.
Our workplaces are only as good as our culture, and a lackluster culture should be addressed head on, with positivity and passion,* but also with techniques that engage. I have always felt that it is my responsibility to create the kind of place where I want to work wherever I happen to draw a paycheck. (Perhaps that comes from the experience that there never really is The Perfect Job.) It rubs some people wrong, but in the long run I’ve won over more than I’ve lost.
When addressing workplace culture, it is akin to… check that!… It IS a matter of change/learning management. In order to change attitudes and, ultimately, performance, a manager (or concerned coworker) needs to create:
- Vision: Habits are tough to break. Attitudes and culture that are vibrant continually renew and grow, while their opposite is built on thoughtless habit. The first effort is to build a vision for work that doesn’t feel habitual, but creative and verdant with opportunity. (This might be the hardest of the four, and may follow from the others organically.)
- Plan: What would the person like to do? Where do they see their career going in 1 year? 3 years? 5 years? Sometimes folks are not even aware that we have path to choose. I had the benefit of a great manager years ago who pushed me to think big and specific, and it made a world of difference to me years after we parted (she remains a friend). Help people see that getting their current position is just a step, maybe the first step. Create specific plans to track movement, with knowledge that it will be ever-shifting as you travel.
- Skills: This is where managers tend to concentrate first (and sometimes, the only area they focus on). Yes, it’s important to develop skills in the context of performance improvement and professional development. We often ask for skill development without reference to the purpose or larger context (plan and vision). WIIFM remains the heart of any learning activity. Skills, and how a person should learn and apply them, need to be explicit and relevant.
- Autonomy: This is the flip side of trust. Grant as much autonomy as you can, and trust that people will find their productive way. (If they don’t, they’re not the kind of people you want.) All the planning and skills in the world will not set folks free to find better practices, innovative ideas and happen on new insights.
* For those of you who know me, this will seem really weird. I’m so not the rah-rah, hug-it-out type.