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Opinion: People are dynamic – their work should be too

Why designing a workplace culture that puts human needs at the core is crucial in the pandemic era, says Shane Metcalf, Chief Culture Officer of 15 Five

Shane Metcalf, Chief Culture Officer of 15 Five
|Mar 27|magazine14 min read

This past year presented challenge after challenge for everyone. For leaders, ignoring the personal side of their employees became not only impossible, it became a liability. We’ve all been presented with the opportunity to lean into empathy and learn to support our people in unprecedented ways, alongside being honest about what we ourselves are going through and how it affects us. Turns out, we’re all humans first, professionals second. 

This more human approach to leadership, or what I call dynamic human leadership, is not an altogether new idea, but it is an idea whose time has come. We now have an opportunity to reinvent our organizations and our cultures for the better, with more freedom, more compassion, more individualisation – to not only make space for human thriving, but to prioritise it and understand its strategic value in achieving business outcomes. 

So how do leaders today design a workplace culture that puts the human first?

1. Aim to create a community, not just a culture

Culture is a by-product so if you don’t have some foundational elements it can be hard to establish and even harder to maintain, especially in fast-growing companies. Instead of striving for culture, focus on creating community. Community is about connection and authentic relating, which are vital elements that are missing from many organisations today. While connection may be happening at the individual level, it must be something that is encouraged across the entire organization. 

Leaders must promote openness, relationship-building, and communication between every person in their organization. That means asking questions, leaning into hard conversations, challenging people, digging beneath the surface, and getting curious. One way we cultivate community is through a ritual called Question Friday, where one person asks a more personal question and small groups discuss their answers. This is a great low-risk, high reward activity that helps people connect on a personal level, and it’s really easy to do digitally

2. Help people better understand what they really need

This past year showed everyone the importance of self-care. While nearly everyone was worried about their physical health, mental health was also something that was top of mind and prominent in conversations, more so than we’ve seen before. Leaders can no longer pretend that what happens 'outside' of work doesn’t have a direct effect on what happens inside, and vice versa. 

It’s time that organizations do more to support their people’s health – both physical and mental. Reward better sleep. Encourage time off. Help people discover their own values and passions, destigmatize therapy and counseling. Treating people as humans rather than simply employees will not only help people feel more in tune with their natural selves, it will leave them more energized and excited to work, not to mention grateful for an employer who is actively supporting their evolutionary journey.

3. Lean into digital communication channels 

There are numerous benefits to in-person communication; however, supplemental digital channels offer distinct advantages. Digital channels offer a unique way to give people a voice at scale. It can be easy to blend into the background in large, in-person groups, especially for more introverted people. 

Digital channels provide a way for all people to offer their opinion and take in information. We suggest using a digital, asynchronous check-in to help managers and their direct reports stay in close contact and alignment. These can be great on their own, but they can be used in conjunction with a one-on-one to make that meeting even more effective. 

Digital communication channels can also help to provide more equitable and inclusive programs and cultures, as they provide different ways to communicate so people can choose what channel works best for them. With more people than ever using digital channels to communicate personally and professionally, it’s time for leaders to lean on them more – a lot of good can come out of it.

4. Recognize that you are human too

When you become a leader the other parts of you don’t suddenly disappear. There are many parts that make you a human, and it’s important to be aware of what you’re really bringing to the table. I encourage leaders to realize that the journey of becoming a true leader is a hero's journey – one in which we uncover our own foundational values, blindposts, and even shadows and 'clean up' our own psychology so we can lead from a place of service and avoid projecting our own biases and traumas onto our people. I love the saying 'Healed people heal people – hurt people hurt people.' 

Leaders, and especially founders should prioritize their own development and radical self awareness because whether for good or bad, an organization is an expression of the consciousness of their founders and leaders. Without it, the blindspots and unresolved traumas and attachment styles that inevitably come out in how people lead have unintended consequences. 

Transformational therapy and coaching can do wonders. Organizations can rarely move beyond the consciousness of their leaders, so founders, executives and leaders must do the inner work to integrate the different parts of themselves. This not only helps their leadership, it sets the tone for everyone else and gives people the permission to their own developmental work.

5. Find software that can help you scale 

You must invest in software that can support you and your organization in a changing environment. Many leaders were unprepared for an entirely remote workforce when the pandemic hit, and managers may have been the most impacted, as they had to deal with a new set of people issues. 

Leaders must find software that opens up new communication channels, helps people feel connected, and establishes habits and practices that increase communication, alignment, performance, and connection. Simultaneously the bar has been raised for the builders of software to build tools that support human flourishing, not just create addiction that drives profits. 

There has been a shift in how organizations view the importance of culture and what it takes to build and maintain a healthy one. For far too long only a small slice of the human pie was accepted and embraced in a professional setting, but there is a huge opportunity for organizations that embrace dynamic leadership.

Author Bio: Shane Metcalf is the Chief Culture Officer and co-founder of 15Five, an award-winning workplace. He is responsible for architecting a culture that produces positive brain states, builds deep trust, and belonging while tapping into intrinsic motivation and ensuring each person is achieving new levels of performance on a regular basis. Follow him on Twitter at @shane_metcalf and on LinkedIn. Also, tune into his HR Superstars Podcast here.

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