9 Ideas That Will Help You Create a Better Workplace Now

I caught up with my friend Kathryn on a recent trip through Field, in the Canadian Rockies, where she and her husband run a pottery studio. Getting together reminded me of when we worked together as lifeguards in my teens at a small, outdoor pool in Central Alberta.

I have great memories of this first job and how much fun we all had, on and off work. Aside from having a job that allowed us to be outside all day, we also had the autonomy to create a fabulous place to work. I didn’t know at age sixteen how rare this was.

A few degrees and workplaces later, I found myself in a completely different work situation. It was a place where the people leadership was lacking and employee turnover was about 50% annually. It was at this place that I thought, “There has to be a better way!” which is what made me start and lead The Better Workplace Conference for 17 years.

It’s my “WHY.”

It’s why I spent the past 30+ years devoting my work to creating better workplaces. It is why I wrote A Better Place To Work: Daily Practices That Transform Culture.

There are 9 basic ideas that jumped out at me as I was doing my background research for the book that are further discussed in its pages and in my online course.

  1. People generally want to contribute.  For the most part, people want to exceed our expectations and feel valued for the work that they do. 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 that can hinder 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 more contribution.
  2. A focus on becoming more positive means shifting focus from downstream to upstream thinking. The current focus on organizational health in most companies mainly follows the medical model, which is a problem-solving, treatment-focused approach. Instead, we must move to a more vision-focused, possibility approach. Sometimes when we are stuck in 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 crises are happening in the first place.
  3. When leaders model the positive behaviours they want to see, and engage their teams in creating a vision, the culture begins to shift. Five useful 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. 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. 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 behaviours being attending, understanding, empathizing and supporting), this is what begins to transform cultures.
  5. There are evidence-based practices that increase our positive emotions as individuals and teams, and create conditions for organizing positively. 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 being 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 given permission to play, they feel safe, and as a result they often will take more risks and be more creative.
  6. Moving from a conventional management approach to a transformational leadership approach will lead to more success. 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. There are practices that 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 culture that is busy and exhausting, or we can create a culture where continual renewal and resilience is possible. This starts with rewarding balance, fairness and other values that you want to see in your organization.
  8. 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 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 event better than we expected.
  9. 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 own integrity and then getting other people from the organization to increase their integrity.”

A new vision of work emerging. It is about flourishing versus surviving. It is possible to create a culture where everyone can contribute their best. It is possible to achieve great, 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.

Do you want to know more about practices that transform workplace culture? Follow this blog for bi-weekly ideas to create your “better place to work” from Deborah’s new book A Better Place To Work: Daily Practices That Transform Culture.

If you want to delve deeper into these practices join Deborah’s online course 8 Weeks To A Better Place To Work starting again October 18/18. Log in every week from the comfort of your office or home and join others, like you, who are engaging in new practices to improve the health and positivity in their workplaces. A complimentary copy of A Better Place To Work will be sent to you as a part of this course. It’s like book club, with online coaching – fun, informative and hugely practical!

Order your copy of A Better Place To Work: Daily Practices That Transform Culture, with reduced prices available for bulk orders for your team and organization.

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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