Max Horkheimer said, “Well-informed cynicism is only another mode of conformity.” Like me, you’ve probably been the target of organizational culture change initiatives. Companies have told us what values we should have. We’ve tried to live those values while expecting our coworkers and leaders to do the same. When others disappointed us, we became cynical. In this post, I’m proposing real behaviors, not values. I’m fortunate to work with individuals and organizations that actually do these behaviors. They have inspired me. I know that the world of work can change.
Last week, in Part I of this post, I wrote about why the world of work needs to change. Toward the end of that post, I asked you to imagine an employer who accepted and acted on the same responsibility that we can each take for improving our own satisfaction with work. I ended the post by asking, what would that employer look like?
people are an end in themselves, and not just a means of production
That employer would truly put people first. They would know that people are an end in themselves, and not just a means of production. This means that employees have non-working lives that are at least equally important to their employer as they are to the employees, and then they are workers only second; maybe even third or fourth. This is respect, and respect also means non-judgmental acceptance of individual uniqueness, accepting what is important or not to each person.
doing something that is meaningful to each person
But respect alone is not enough. The employer must show that they respect enough to care; caring is active. To be caring means actually doing something that is meaningful to each person. To be caring, employers and employees need to be able to have a conversation about what is important. Sure, money is important, but decades of research show that money only goes so far. Once people are compensated fairly, there is so much more that makes a job great. Employees need to communicate those things that will help them thrive in the organization, and then understand how working there can help them thrive in their life outside of work. Employers need to listen and act.
an employer who respects employees enough to support them in a way that the individual employees actually want
Does this employer sound too good to be true? Winston Churchill said that courage is the greatest of human qualities because it guarantees all others. Why does it take courage to be that employer who respects employees enough to support them in a way that the individual employees actually want? It takes courage because this is not our current world of work. Courage often means being first. With being first and being different comes uncertainty.
it’s the true innovator who will change the world of work
For most of us, so much of what we do in our lives we do to reduce uncertainty. But if it’s so uncomfortable to be first, then how does innovation happen? True innovators struggle to conform. They struggle to work for someone else or do the same thing over and over. For them, the uncertainty that comes with innovation is a welcome gift. For the innovator, certainty is bondage. It’s the true innovator who will change the world of work.
without commitment, this is just talk
An often-heard complaint in organizations is that senior leaders are out of touch with the day-to-day. My response is that, in most organizations, they should be. Innovators are on to their next project before most of us have learned about their last project. Being in touch with the day-to-day is the job of a manager, it’s not the job of a visionary, innovative leader. But again, to care means to put people, those people for whom uncertainty creates anxiety, first. This means that respectful, caring and courageous leaders need to ensure that their leadership team is committed to following through on all those innovative things that support thriving in the organization. Respect, care and courage, not backed-up with commitment, is just talk . . . perhaps, it’s not respect, not care, and not courage, at all.