I recently heard Seth Godin give a keynote and he said "Culture is everything. Culture and your people trump marketing, sales and everything else."
It got me thinking that employers are so focused on meeting deadlines, hustling to meet customer expectations, achieving all the various success metrics to make investors or management happy — that’s it’s easy to undermine the significance of the human beings powering all of this work.
It’s 2016. Yet many companies have archaic cultures that are under-serving today’s workplace population.
Sure, we hear about employers that offer "cool" benefits like free organic lunches, subsidies for hybrid cars and onsite volleyball courts. But do those initiatives really retain the most talented employees, or attract the best candidates? Underneath such seemingly progressive veneer, many companies still expect workers to clock long hours, adhere to rigid schedules and keep personal stuff — a new baby, a sick parent a chronic illness — outside of the office, not to be discussed (freely, anyway) in front of superiors. I have also heard my share of stories from people who have frustrating relationships with colleagues or superiors where they feel undermined, devalued or dissatisfied, but lack the forum at work to discuss the situation.
I’d argue that today’s smart companies can create thriving workplace environments by embracing more feminine values. What do I mean by that, exactly? As we all know, traditional corporate culture is based on quintessential "masculine" traits of being aggressive and competitive to get the job done, not showing any weakness or vulnerability, and keeping things rather church and state. That is a relic of a bygone era, in my opinion. It’s time for employers to design workforce culture to be more flexible, collaborative, communicative and empathetic — qualities that are actually more feminine based. Innovative companies will do this. And it’s not just female employees who want such a workplace culture — men who value work/life balance want it. And millennials demand it.
Here are three ideas on how companies can take a feminine-value based approach to support, cultivate and empower talent:
1. To encourage top performance, employers will make flexibility the norm, not the exception. An 8-12 hour day, 5-days a week confined in the office with back-to-back calls and meetings can be extremely depleting, giving very little room for self-care and basic personal needs. What matters the most is the result of what employees produce and if they are performing or even over-performing, the hours of them physically being in office should matter less. If management is clear about responsibilities, expectations and deadlines with employees, then perhaps implement a "work from home day" a week policy. Perhaps allow a new mom to leave at 4pm everyday if she commits to finishing up her workload 9-11pm for say the next 3 months. The idea is to promote open conversation about what employees need to thrive professionally and personally. If employees are grateful, they will feel more tied to the organization and work harder to get the job done. A new law in California allows working mom and dads to take time off (without risking discrimination or termination) to deal with family emergencies or enroll kids in childcare or school. All states should follow suit.
2. Companies that take a feminine approach will offer extensive professional and personal development opportunities. The two are not mutually exclusive. Help employees realize their leadership potential by providing a full range of courses on well-being (including fitness, nutrition and meditation) in addition to the conventional business skills (such as networking, negotiating, and personal brand building) will get employees operating at an optimal level. Yes, there is a cost involved to hiring outside speakers or working with third parties to provide workshops, seminars and educational programs. But the return on investment is exponential.
By the way, when I say "feminine approach," I don’t mean employees need to offer benefits like in-office spa breaks or child care (although those are great perks). Instead, the emphasis is more on holistic leadership training so that individuals can lead their best in work and life.
3. Companies will provide a diverse mix of interest-based networks or support groups. If you run a software firm, you might think it logical to create a mentoring program where non-technical employees can learn more about coding or hacking. That’s your line of work, after all. But how valuable might it be to have a support network for new moms and dads? Or a mentorship program for all staff? Or corporate affinity groups for employees based on shared values and interests? Viacom Inc. is exceptional at this boasting 8 or more "employee resource groups" with fun cool names like EMERGE, the company’s LGBT and straight ally employee resource group and HERE as their women’s leadership group.
To put it in the words of Brene Brown, author of the bestselling Daring Greatly who also offers corporate training programs, "create a place for people to show up for who they are, and not for who you want them to be." Corporate cultures that provide education, flexibility, community and the space for people to bring their whole selves to work can expect employees to deliver exceptionally.
This post is part of two series produced by The Huffington Post: our monthlong "Work Well" initiative — which focuses on thriving in the workplace and aims to present creative solutions you can use to take care of yourself as you take care of business — as well as our series to mark The World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting 2016 (in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, Jan. 20-23). The theme of this year’s conference is "Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution." To see all the content in the "Work Well" series, visit here; and read all the Davos 2016 posts here.
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