According to a recent Forbes article, 4 out 5 key 2021 business trends are people related. Organizations are leveling up their engagement initiatives in reaction to the pandemic’s disruption of a traditional work environment. Culture transformation and employee engagement have become the two most prioritized subjects across companies and so begins the search for the magic formula to beat burnout, drive mental health and wellness, and find the miracle platform for virtual engagement.
While the pressure has been put on organizational leadership teams to create a sustainable and appealing space for employees, we would be remiss not to acknowledge the other side, the employee side….
Employees need to help themselves first.
There is a lot of stress put on organizations to build the right culture: a culture that supports the mission and vision, one that attracts and retains top talent, and one that is engaging. While there is opportunity in how organizations approach culture, there is also a need for the individuals working for these companies to do their own work to fit in and thrive; it is a two-way street.
If you are an individual trying to navigate your organizational culture, or if you are a cultural leader looking to help yourself and create impact in your employees’ day-to-day experience, see below for 6 ways to meet cultural change initiatives half-way:
1. Learn the Business
Often times employees get caught up in their daily job function and do not take the time to learn the entire business, meaning all of the separate teams that make up the whole. You may have an understanding of what other teams do and the product or service your company provides but could you really speak to the work of a department within your organization that you find to be the least interesting? An understanding of the business will help you feel more connected to your work. First, ask yourself: what is my current understanding of the whole business? What don’t I know? A clear assessment of your existing knowledge will help you to identify what you need to learn about.
Once you know what you don’t know, schedule time with different departments to learn about their work, this time will also help you build into relationships. Once you have met with a department head or team member, request to attend a meeting or two-this will not only help you learn the business on a deeper level but will attune you to different sub cultures and languages throughout the company.
Attend any type of leadership address that you can, whether it be a Town Hall or a CEO podcast, and take notes! Giving routine corporate addresses your full attention combined with detailed note taking will further solidify your understanding of the company and its big picture goals. You will also be able to connect to the content personally and find alignment between your values and goals and that of your company.
Get close with your HR team. They hold the keys to the proverbial castle and are the breeding ground for new company initiatives, lingo, and culture change, they are the most connected to every other team and have a broad and often times deep scope of what is really happening in a company vs. what is being presented. A relationship with your HR business partner will be a front row seat to what is working, what is not, and the direction the company is headed.
2. Ask for What You Need
·Seek clarity on your role and responsibilities by constructing a list of detailed questions for your leader. Set the intention to get clear on what is expected of you.
Keep an open mind and be willing to do work that may be challenging if it makes you better at your job: ask questions and set up time with internal partners who can support you in developing your skillset.
·Do not wait until after a meeting ends, ask questions for clarity in the moment and let go of the fear that you may sound stupid; if you have the question other people will as well or better yet, you asked a question that no one had thought about yet.
Make a list of the tools and resources you need to do your job and then determine the items that you can get for yourself and the ones that you need support with and then ask for that support!
3. Build into Your Relationships
Gallup’s infamous, I have a best friend at work question challenges many employers on their engagement survey results because many employees will answer no to this question. While it is important for the employer to create a safe and welcoming space for friendships to form, it is not up to them to ensure you are making friends-this is on you. Scheduling virtual coffee chats or peer-to-peer check ins are great ways to get to know your coworkers better.
Keep it informal. Your work relationships do not have to be personal; you can build into a professional relationship by keeping your meetings more casual and friendly. Carving out space to riff on a project plan or hold a brainstorming session allows you to focus on the work while enjoying your relationships at work.
Ok, this next one may seem harsh, but it needs to be said: many people use their families as an excuse to not connect with their coworkers, ex: I can’t meet for virtual happy hour because it’s dinner time or I am helping the kids with their homework, or insert any excuse here…, it is not about the inability to attend one or two gatherings, it is about not finding the time when you can make it work. Make the time to connect in a meaningful way, it is as simple as that.
When you find common ground with those around you, you interact on a deeper level and feel more connected to your job. In meetings, working sessions, touch bases, etc. Listen for information that you relate to and speak up when you find commonalities between yourself and others. This content also holds as a good conversation starter with a coworker after a meeting: even sending an instant message to say, hey I can relate to what you shared in that meeting, I had a similar experience…, will do wonders for your bonds at work.
4. Manage Your Time
Identify the times of day where you are consistently the highest functioning and do your best to schedule the most important meetings or work during that time-you most likely will not have full control over scheduled meetings, however, the goal is to manage as much as you CAN so that the things that are out of your control feel intermittent and less all consuming
Schedule your time off (especially for big events) a year in advance, this way you can put in your vacation time up front: this enables you to have something to look forward to throughout the year and gives you back some control over your time.
Plan out your weeks at least a week in advance: a good rule of thumb is to inspect your calendar for the following week every Friday and comb through meetings that you could cancel or delegate, block out meeting free times to do your work, and plan out daily breaks so that you can recharge.
Learn to say no to opportunities that are not worth your time: this doesn’t mean being insubordinate but rather finding the space to think through what activities are productive to your work and continual growth and which ones are not. You may not be able to say no to everything, but you will find that you have a lot more control over your workload than you think, it is simply a matter of presenting the business case for it. Saying no should be reflective in personal opportunities that derail your work as well. For example, if you have a big presentation on Monday and your out of town friends want to visit the weekend beforehand, it may make sense to tell them no so that you can be at your best on Monday morning.
5. Seek Out Opportunities
Get clear on your skillset and top talents and then look for ways to introduce those talents into you work
If opportunities to show off your best assets are not available, create them! Find a problem that you can solve for your company, create a strategy to solve it, and then present your idea to the necessary parties. This may mean that you will be taking on more work, however, this stretch assignment will give you the opportunity to not simply show up for work but to tap into your passion.
Expand your breadth beyond your current role and team: get to know other people in the organization and create connection points within different teams and most importantly share your skillset with them, let them see your best work. If an opportunity for good work or an interesting role comes up within any of these teams you will be aware of it and will already have the relationship with the business. If you do this well, you will find that these teams will seek you out when opportunities arise.
Routinely check in with your company’s open job portal and beyond this, read about different job descriptions and qualifications (even if you are not interested in the job). This work will help you get really clear on the overall need your company has in regard to talent + work and will give you a deeper understanding of how you need to show up each day in order to stand out.
6. Find a Mentor
Do your research. You do not want a mentor just because they are in a leadership role or serve some type of elite purpose, you want to find someone you truly connect with. My recommendation is to listen carefully during company wide meetings, pay attention to different executives, and research people on LinkedIn; these are all tools that will help you identify a person that intrigues you and that you would like to learn from.
Set up virtual meet and greats with leaders throughout your organization and begin to assess those that you click with as a way of realizing a potential mentor
Once you have identified some potential mentors, make the ask. I recommend making the ask via email so that you can give the person appropriate space to think about the offer and if they have the time to serve you in the best way possible.
Once someone has accepted your mentor request, the mentor/mentee relationship begins, and it is your responsibility to manage the scheduling and agenda of your meetings. It will be important to get really clear on what you want from your mentor and how you can make the best use of your time with them.
It would be highly improbable that a company would be able to construct itself in such a way that it offered everything to everyone in terms of engagement; employees have a lot more power over their own engagement than they may realize. It is the responsibility of a Human First organization to create a space where employees have the proper tools, support, and training to work through their own stuff. So, I am calling bluff on the entire responsibility of engagement falling on organizational leaders because wouldn’t that in fact be the opposite of engagement and a complete imbalance of the power scale? That is a hierarchy. In a democracy, we all work together in creating something that has a little piece of all of us incorporated….
Culture change begins and ends with you.
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