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For most workplaces there are taboo subjects such as politics, office romance, biases, prejudices and religion. It makes sense since these conversations can easily create awkwardness, negativity, anger, strong responses and conflict which are all non-productive and create hostility. This post is not about finding ways to discuss our religious or spiritual beliefs in the workplace, but instead how to live those beliefs that promote harmony, care, compassion, empathy, cooperation, self-esteem, and happiness. Not only are these promoting positive characteristics towards others creating a more enjoyable workplace, but they are also the basis for higher levels of performance.
The following is a collection of observations and stories that demonstrate the power of living and demonstrating our core values and beliefs in our actions and words.
A CEO Transforms Their Company Based on New Values
I begin with my favorite story of a leader who transformed the workplace based on his own revelations and consistent with his beliefs and values. You may have heard of Johnsonville Sausage, whose products are found in every major grocery outlet. To appreciate this story I strongly encourage you to read the Harvard Business Review case study, “How I learned to let my workers lead”. It was a very successful company making lots of money, yet Ralph Stayer, CEO, observed the following, “What worried me more than the competition, however, was the gap between potential and performance. Our people didn’t seem to care. Every day I came to work and saw people so bored by their jobs that they made thoughtless, dumb mistakes.”
Here is a prelude to this story from his book on this topic, “Flight of the Buffalo”.
“But Ralph Stayer is not interested in talking about wealth and corporate success. Not in the usual context, anyway. No, Stayer wants to talk about the morality behind big business—or at least the morality that can exist when executives shift their focus from growing wealth to growing souls.”
“It’s actually immoral for me to build a business where I’m just using people to make money. My job is to help them develop their talents to the best of their abilities. Rather than using the people to build the business, my job was to use the business to build the people.”Gulfshore Life, Ralph Stayer: A Man with a Mission, How he built his sausage empire and now turns to promoting fresh thinking on Christian values. June 2015. http://www.gulfshorelife.com/June-2015/Ralph-Stayer-Johnsonville-Sausage-Wisconsin-Naples-Florida/
He came to a stark realization, “I realized that I had been focused entirely on the financial side of the business—margins, market share, return on assets—and had seen people as dutiful tools to make the business grow.” The rest is history and an outstanding example of self-managed teams and empowering and challenging the employees to run the business, and they did! To see factory workers in a freezer environment engaged, excited and making the decisions was absolutely amazing. Ralph had found a way to transform a company based on his deep religious values and beliefs.
A Leader’s Values Drive Their Behaviors
I had first hand experience of this with my own manager. He was very personable and went out of his way to make strong personal connections. He shared that his core values and beliefs were stated as follows; “Faith, Family, and Friends”. It is one thing to pronounce your beliefs but another to live them in every way and in every day. That he did. He always went out of his way to connect with his team and be there for them. You knew he had your back. His team meetings were awesome and always included personal and team development opportunities followed by team events that evening.
Whenever I traveled to our corporate offices, my boss would invite me to his home for dinner and an evening with his family. As I came to know him it was clear that he acted in a way that was very consistent with his core values and beliefs. He was a great leader and challenged each of us to grow and develop, to become better. It was easy to rank him as my best manager, and clear that it was his beliefs and values that directed who he was.
Offering Care and Compassion To Others
I worked in a call center which can be a tough job. Turnover rates are high causing a revolving door with talent. I was asked to lead an initiative to understand and correct this high turnover. I began by looking at the turnover data by cost center and manager. Most of the numbers were staggering. Employees were only there for months, not years. However, there were two departments that were very low, and would be the envy of any department anywhere! My first impression was this these were not call center jobs, but they were. Their employees handled very similar tasks to the rest of the company.
I started by talking with the manager who suggested that I talk to the employees first. This response is uncharacteristic of most managers. I met with individual employees and asked them questions pertaining to their job, manager, and company. When I asked them why there was little turnover in their department, every one of them stated that this was due to their manager. “What do you mean?”, I inquired. The common theme related to how their manager cared for them. What a dramatic difference compared to the responses I received in the high turnover areas. Many of these employees also gave the response of their manager when asked about the high turnover in this case, but in this case their manager was referred to in a derogatory way.
I met with the manager with the low turnover and asked what she was doing and why? She stated that she really cared about her employees, and realized that many were struggling in their life outside of work. Most of her employees were single Moms, where were there for a job and to make ends meet. She stated that she had attended some leadership training which included the One Minute Manager, a book by Ken Blanchard. What she took from this was the importance of connecting with each of her employees for 1 minute each day so to connect and build relationships with them. She had notes for each of her employees which helped her to keep track of each employee’s situation.
She would use this time as a check in for what often related to challenges and situations they were experiencing outside of work. From this we worked with Human Resources and outside agencies that had ideas for common situations such as their child being sick which would often prohibit them coming to work and eventually getting terminated. She helped her employees solve their problems and in return received their loyalty and work ethic.
As I came to know this manager I discovered a person with genuine empathy and compassion, valuing her employees as real people, not just assets to get the work done. She stated that this is how she chose to live life and since work was where she spent most of her waking life, that this is where she would care for her employees.
The Power of a Smile & Being A Great Listener
I worked in a manufacturing facility with 1,500 employees. One of my core beliefs was in people, and more importantly to make a difference every day. I arrived early every day as the employees were arriving and walked the long hall to my office. I took this opportunity to smile and say Good Morning to each employee. As I learned their names I added their name to my greeting. When they did not smile back, I asked them if they are okay. Over time this developed into a trust with them and they often shared their personal circumstances or frustrations. I listened intently on what they had to say and used active listening skills to formulate my replies. I often could not do anything about their situations, but was a shoulder to lean on.
I would make a mental note of these conversations and on the next occasion I ran into them I would inquire about our prior conversation. I would often walk the manufacturing floor daily to make connections and see what was going on. I used my sense of humor to joke around and generate a laugh.
It was seven years later when I had received a promotion and would be leaving the facility that I met with everyone during a going away party. It was here that I learned the power of what was a simple habit based on a core belief. Many met with me 1:1 to let me know how they would miss me and how grateful they were for my devotion to them and the many chats we had. We shared tears and I realized that even with all the awards and accomplishments I had made, that it was those with people that meant the most to me. These are the lasting memories we make. The achievements will be forgotten over time, but the care we provide will not.
It is so easy to be consumed with the business matters of the day, our projects, and our close connections, but not-so-easy to take those minutes each day to connect with others and help make their day. It is incredibly easy-to-do, but so few do it. I realized that it takes a conscious effort to remind ourselves of what is really most important, and challenging to identify and develop our core beliefs. It is also a function of whether or not we have received this from others, particularly if we are unhappy or frustrated. What I discovered, along with the individuals mentioned in this post, was that making someone’s day, made me happy! So, I did it every day, to make myself happier as well!!
Michael is an award winning author, speaker, facilitator and coach on the topics of Personal Growth, Self-Discovery and Enlightenment. Visit my website for more information (growhumanpotential.com).