9 Steps For Building A Better Workplace

9 Ideas That Will Help You Create a Better Workplace Now

Do you want to build a healthier, more positive, and productive workplace?

The concept of workplace health became very important to me in my twenties when I worked in a place that had 50% turnover of staff each year. Obviously, there were issues or people would have stayed longer, but the company didn’t see it as a problem.

That experience is what shaped my “Why” — the reason that I do the work I do. I left that organization thinking “There has to be a better way!” and a few years later I founded The Better Workplace Conference, which I ran for 17 years.

This conference presented a new vision of work–one that focuses on thriving, not surviving. One where we create cultures within which people have autonomy, can flourish, and contribute their very best work. This continues to be the focus of my work with organizations of all kinds.
Here are 9 tips to get you started on the path to creating a better place to work.

1. Understand Why Employees Do (or Don’t) Contribute

People generally want to contribute. For the most part, people want to exceed our expectations and feel valued for their work.

If someone is not contributing their best, what is happening within your culture that may be holding them back?

For example, is there a culture of meetings in your organization leaving people with reduced time to do their work? Is there a culture of crisis? Overwork?

Every culture is different, and patterns can often unwittingly develop, hindering our performance, creativity, innovation, and productivity. Becoming aware of the cultural norms in your organization and working to shift them in a more positive direction will allow for more contribution.

2. Create an Upstream Vision

A focus on creating a more positive culture means shifting focus from downstream to upstream thinking.

The current focus on organizational health in most companies is a conventional management approach using problem-solving versus vision-finding, and focuses on treatment versus prevention. A more transformational leadership style, focusing on vision and possibility-thinking is the approach that positive organizations take.

Sometimes when we are stuck downstream, we can get so busy managing crises that we forget, or we’re too tired or too busy, to look upstream to see why the problems are happening in the first place.

3. Keep Asking Important Questions

When leaders model the positive behaviors they want to see, and engage their teams in creating a vision; the culture begins to shift.

Five valuable questions to use in this process are:

  • What do we want our culture to be? (culture)
  • Why do we exist? (mission and purpose)
  • Who are we when we are at our best? (quality)
  • What are we striving to become? (vision)
  • What guides our everyday behavior? (values)

4. Skip the Cookie-Cutter Programs

There is no step-by-step checklist approach to this work. Although cookie-cutter or program approaches are the easiest to implement, they are rarely successful when it comes to building a better workplace.

Focusing our efforts on making the culture more positive is far more likely to be effective.

Dr. Michael West is Europe’s leading expert on healthcare leadership and its impact on financial sustainability.

He and his associates have reviewed the literature on climate and culture over the past 50 years. Their finding is that the most significant influence we can have on the culture is through leadership.

As Dr. West has said, “If we can get to a situation where leaders are behaving in compassionate ways (the four behaviors being attending, understanding, empathizing and supporting), this is what begins to transform cultures.”

5. Create Conditions that Allow People to See Possibilities

Evidence-based practices increase our positive emotions as individuals and teams and create conditions for organizing positively. (Positive Organizing is a business discipline that is close to twenty years old now that studies the practices that lead organizations to become positive places to work.)

This allows us to see more possibilities and be more productive.

Try some of these ideas:

  • Start your meetings with a positive story, a win from the past week, or a round of gratitude.
  • Instead of focusing only on lagging measures like absenteeism or turnover, measure healthy workplace practices too, like how often recognition systems are used or how many high performers have been identified.
  • Invest in a positive culture: put resources toward training and development, understanding your culture, coaching and mentoring opportunities, emotional intelligence, appreciative inquiry training, recognition, and measurement.
  • Bring in outside experts to lead retreats and workshops on visioning for a positive culture and how to increase positive emotion in the workplace.
  • Encourage play at work. When people are permitted to play, they feel safe, and as a result, they often will take more risks and be more creative.

6. Choose Transformational Leadership

Moving from a conventional management approach to a transformational leadership approach will lead to a better workplace.

This is difficult because most of us have been brought up through the ranks with more conventional command and control management.

Transformational leadership focuses on vision versus problem-solving, pays attention to asking questions versus having all the answers, and engages people in purpose, possibilities, and the common good.

7. Resilience is Key to Long-Term Success

Some practices increase our resilience as individuals, teams, and organizations, which results in sustaining great work.

In the process of leading, we have a choice. We can have a busy and exhausting culture, or we can create a culture where continual renewal and resilience are possible.

This starts with rewarding balance, fairness, and other values you want to see in your organization.

8. Know that Course Correction Will Be Needed

The path to organizational health is not clear-cut; it will be murky. Course correction along the way will be necessary.

One of the principles of positive organizing towards a better workplace is learning to trust the emergent process.

When we begin to implement new leadership practices such as asking transformational questions or examining our leadership hypocrisies, the results are not immediate.

But as we practice and trust the emergent process, results develop on their own time and in different ways than we may have orchestrated. Often the results are even better than we expected.

9. Be a Model of Integrity

There are many great evidence-based tools to help you in your quest for a more positive, healthy culture in your organization.

As Dr. Robert Quinn says, “The first and foremost tool for bringing cultural change is me increasing my integrity and then getting other people from the organization to increase their integrity.”

Start Building a Better Place To Work Today

It is possible to create a culture where everyone can contribute their best. It is possible to achieve excellent, high-quality work in your organization and reap the benefits.

And it often means going against the grain of the direction that work is taking in this society. It means being positively deviant and developing workplace practices that transform the psychological and emotional environment.

The points above are just 9 basic ideas that jumped out at me as I was doing my background research for my book. These ideas are further discussed in its pages and in my online course — there’s much more to this that I’d love to help you with.

If you’re interested, send a message to get started!

Follow this blog for bi-weekly ideas to create your “better place to work” from Deborah’s book A Better Place To Work: Daily Practices That Transform Culture.

Want to order a copy for each person on your team? Ask us about reduced prices for bulk orders.

Enjoyed this article? Here are three more to help you:

Are Your Blinders On?
Let’s Make Work A Healthy Life Experience!
Up The Water Spout Again: 8 Positive Ways To Flourish

This article was originally published in 2018, but has been updated in 2021. 

Photo by Jopwell from Pexels

Deborah Connors

Deborah Connors teaches leaders to radically shift culture so that people can flourish. She is an engaging speaker, storyteller, author and coach.

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