“I have a dream.”
We often associate these powerful words with Martin Luther King and how he wanted to change the world as he knew it. What if we removed that context? Think about every person who shows up to work each day and assume that they too “have a dream”. A dream for their family? A dream for a level of “success”? A dream to retire early? I can’t imagine that the majority of people wake up every day dreaming of living on the beach slamming Corona’s. But, I also don’t believe it’s everyone’s dream to work 40+ hours a week in a stale environment doing uninspiring, unengaging work.
Is there a new wave of possibility on the horizon?
Can organizations ultimately help their employees pursue their “dream” while attaining greater business results? I believe they can. Research on Millennials is showing that they are beginning to view organizations that match their values as a vehicle to pursue their goals and dreams. A “co-laboring”, a working together to achieve common but separate purposes.
Employees want to enjoy their jobs - they want to give their best to their company, and they desire to be deeply fulfilled. They are volunteering after work, joining clubs and sports teams. This is all in an effort to feel passion in their life. Somewhere along the way jobs have become a burden instead of a passion. In fact, research shows that over 70% of people aren’t happy in their jobs.
That number is staggering, but I believe the right engagement focus and “co-laboring” approach can change the world as we know it. Right now it is estimated that disengagement costs between $450-550 billion dollars every year for the United States alone. Imagine a workplace where employees were given the opportunity to develop who they are while being equipped with the tools to excel in their strengths? This would lead to better outcomes for them and their company, meaning more progress toward their dream and profit for the organization.
I can hear some of you churning at the thought of developing people and committing the energy to helping them achieve their goals and dreams - and then these people leave. We are entering a new economy and the rules are changing. Millennials are here and the working relationship mechanics are experiencing a new demand from the marketplace.
The question has to become: How can we create an environment where our employees don’t dread coming into work? A culture where the best part of their day isn’t their Starbucks latte?
Let’s look at some ways a leader or organization can truly “co-labor” with their employee?
Create Fantastic leadership environments
One of the most straightforward ways to develop people is by creating an environment that allows that to happen. When leaders focus on creating an environment that celebrates positive leadership and human development, it changes the temperature. When people feel there is no hope and little talk of their growth, it creates a captive environment. Captive people focus on survival instead of growth and thriving. Surviving people don’t have energy to go after their dreams. If they don’t have energy to go after their dreams, they certainly aren’t bringing their best to the organization.
I recently had a conversation with a VP of a global company about leadership development programs, and he said they do an event fairly consistently. I was shocked as he went on to say fairly consistent meant once every couple years. If there is going to be an opportunity for people to feel that their dreams are coming into focus, they are going to need to be equipped and prepared. and if organizations are the ones to do that for them, consistency and accessibility are crucial to make this happen.
When I speak to entrepreneurs, I often point out that it’s hard for us to achieve our assignment until we have alignment. The same is true inside corporations to strengthen the co-laboring relationship and bond between employee and employer. When an individual’s skill set and strengths are aligned with the roles and projects available, you hit an instant boost in engagement. Alignment fosters engagement and development.
While I was at the CPA firm I constantly struggled with the idea of doing an audit. We already knew the outcome, so all of our work was checking and testing. This was pure torture for me, as the work provided no value and was rooted in my weaknesses. However, during my second year I was placed in a unique situation that required one of us to give an impromptu presentation to the client. As we all looked at eachother in the room, I said “I’ll do it.” I can remember walking out of that presentation thinking that was the most amazing thing I have ever done. My co-workers were in alignment with the work we did on a daily basis - and I had just experienced it for the first time. This client got my best work, the firm got the greatest value out of me, and it ultimately created a win-win.
3. Talk in terms of strengths
From the time we brought home our first report card to every sub par performance review, the focus has been on fixing the thing that isn’t working well. We’ve been told “Get that C in math up, or else!”. Meanwhile, every other above average grade is ignored, and the focus narrows in on the weakness.
As professionals we are told to be better - but the only way we know to “be better” is to fix the things we aren’t good at. That’s our context for improving. But when leaders can help you be better by focusing on what you do well - everything changes.Instead of defining your progress on what went bad with that last project, leaders can ask the question: “WHAT WENT WELL?” As those elements are identified, then you can ask how that skill, process, or thinking could be used to work on the specific element that didn’t go well last time. The truth is we have to get better in order to grow. The choice is what’s the best way to grow - fostering a strength based conversation is rooted in neuroscience and creates a stronger bond in the co-laboring partnership.
4. Honor and respect
Late last year I was talking with a supervisor who had been with his company for over twenty-five years. As we were working through some of the cultural changes his company had gone through, he shared what he felt to be a major turning point that had happened seven years ago. Before that point, the company had a deep culture of honor and respect, and when they had to go the extra mile they did so with passion. He told me that their current turnaround times had dropped by almost 50%. It hurt them the most in emergencies when they needed to push hard, but had no drive to give anything more. If an organization is to co-labor with their people, honor and respect are very real drivers in the motivation and performance of people.
How many cultures have lost the power of honor and respect, and in turn lost the heart of their people? The greatest challenge for leaders is that different generations feel honor and respect in different ways. Millennials get ragged on for thinking differently about work and life balance, and having a certain demand on flexibility. Although feeling entitled towards something doesn’t automatically mean you should get it, their feelings are still legitimate. By squashing their concerns, they feel disrespected and engagement slips.
When I first worked at a CPA firm years ago, I remember getting up from my cubicle to go ask my manger a question. Before I arrived, one of the partners walked out of their office with a frown on their face and brushed by me. I immediately thought “What did I do?”. In reality, I did nothing. I’d never even worked with that partner - but the environment of the company was so feedback deprived that I naturally thought the negative look was associated with me. Because I never knew where I stood on my performance and development, I felt like I was always guessing and wondering. This becomes a Huge energy waster.
How many times a day do people have to guess where they stand? When an environment becomes rich with both positive and negative feedback, it allows people to do their best work because they don’t have to spend time and energy wondering where they stand. Think of professional athletes who get immediate feedback during a timeout of an important game. If these high performers need immediate feedback to improve and get better, don’t we as professionals need consistent feedback to know how we are doing as well? When there isn’t energy wasted on guessing, it can be put into the work and pursuit of a worthy dream.
These are environmental and atmospheric changes that will absolutely transform how people feel when they come to work everyday. It will change how they show up and their level of commitment. They will begin to have more creativity and excitement for the future because of the co-laboring approach to work. Organizations and leaders have the incredible opportunity to co-labor with their people as they pursue their lifelong dreams. When this happens I think they’ll be surprised at what may happen in return.
Today, 70% of the US workforce woke up and went to a job doing work that didn’t bring life to them. I have a dream that one day every one can not only love their work, but feel engaged, energized do something that matters to them.