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A New Paradigm

It starts by listening deeply


Traditionally the New Year is a time of reflection and opportunity—a time to make personal resolutions to better ourselves as human beings, partners, and co-workers. However, some people just want to change their partners and co-workers instead of themselves and will put great effort into the attempt with little or no effect. In the spirit of looking forward and creating positive change in the world, let’s talk about how we can bring about change where everyone wins, where we unlock the amazing potential of every employee to rise to their best game and deliver the results in our companies that truly mean success. If this sounds too good to be true, it’s not. In fact, there is compelling evidence that if you are not creating a paradigm shift to a more engaged workplace, you are behind the power curve.


Evolve or Die

General Electric (GE), under Jack Welch, was famous for rating managers ruthlessly. If you ranked low, you were summarily fired. This “Rank and Yank” system was brutal and annual reviews were dreaded. In 2015 GE abandoned the annual review process entirely. They and many other major corporations realized that performance management is a moving target, not just an annual set of goals. Most organizations have gone to an ongoing coaching model where frequent continuing support is offered to all employees in order to allow everyone to work up to their potential. GE even has an app for it.

Our workplaces must evolve or die; it’s really a simple choice. If your workplace is not stepping up to embrace a healthy engaged workforce, then the painful reality is that it is dying through talent loss and unhappy mediocrity or becoming the place where innovation, results, and competition go to die. There is only one positive choice for companies in today’s world: It’s either get on the bus and become a workplace that empowers everyone or get left behind. So how can you make informed choices on creating a great workplace?


Questions and Conversations

It starts by listening deeply—listening to every employee’s point of view, issues, concerns, and successes. Groups of related workers and cross departmental workers need time to talk to each other in order to find solutions and innovate. Do you have standing quality improvement groups in your workplace? Are they tasked to look for ways to make a process, service, or product better? Are the recommendations that come from these teams listened to? Implemented? Do your teams understand the need to view an opportunity through the lens of a return on investment if it is implemented?

All these questions are in need of a conversation. Are you creating the opportunities for these vital discussions to occur at all levels of your organization?

The questions and conversations above also have to be filtered through the lens of work/life integration. How will any changes affect me and my quality of life? We are moving towards a model of integrating our lifestyle and beliefs and social needs with our work lives. Work/life balance is a bit of a myth.


A Better Workplace

I don’t know anyone who wants to work in a place where everyone is grossly dissatisfied and unhappy and unconnected to each other. The workplace of today must be a place where everyone trusts one another and has respect for every individual, and where all contributions are sacrosanct.

This is where asking employees to define a better workplace and the ways to create it economically is mission critical. Whether it is benefits, work hours, subsidized childcare, or simple amenities like lit parking lots, the best workplaces are asking these types of questions and implementing programs to attain and keep the talent they have engaged and motivated.


Acknowledge, Recognize, Celebrate

The final piece of this puzzle is Acknowledgement, Recognition, and Celebration. Have you ever noticed how quickly social media posts get acknowledged with a “like,” a “love,” or an emoticon of celebration? We are quick to be there in congratulatory support of our friends online, but does that also happen at your work? Have you ever noticed that in many workplaces doing good work is like wetting your pants while wearing a dark suit—it gives you a warm feeling and no one really seems to notice.

How does your workplace stack up? Do your employees feel their contributions are recognized and acknowledged? Does everyone recognize how their efforts contribute to your organizations success? Groups that do acknowledge, recognize, and celebrate have fun achieving and outperforming competitors. They quickly mitigate issues, and they become close and supportive of each other to the best of their abilities. And frankly, we will always remember those teammates because of what “we” accomplished together and the fun we had doing it.


Choice and Voice

I hear and see a lot of people say change is hard and people don’t want change. The truth is people don’t want change put on them without any choice or voice in the matter. When employees are truly engaged and listened to and have substantive dialogues to improve the workplace and business outcomes, they become empowered. When we put everyone in charge of success, with power and authority to achieve it, we all win.

The illusion of command and control management is a dinosaur in today’s world. The choice couldn’t be clearer. Do you want your workplace to survive and thrive or go the way of the dinosaur?



This article first appeared in the January 2016 print edition of Alaska Business Monthly.

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