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How to change the workplace through value partnerships

Business leaders usually have three core objectives – enhancing the quality of their people, products, and services; enabling innovation; and driving growth. But being content with only these goals may prove to be a slippery path in the long run.

Business leaders usually have three core objectives – enhancing the quality of their people, products, and services; enabling innovation; and driving growth. But being content with only these goals may prove to be a slippery path in the long run. Instead, leaders need to be on a continuous quest to discover new challenges, meet new objectives, and achieve new targets.

In short, challenge the status quo!

But this doesn’t come easily to many. Harvard Business Review says 72% of leaders “never or rarely challenge” the status quo. Today, an equitable work culture is a baseline expectation. Employees, especially millennials and Gen-Z with their newfound values of work and workplace culture, continue to raise the bar in terms of what they expect from their leaders.

How top-performing companies, and their leaders, differentiate themselves lies in the higher value they layer over such baseline expectations – and introduce real change in people engagement. Clearly, one of the best ways to achieve this is winning over your workforce through meaningful employee engagement.

Change the workplace through Value Partnerships
The best transition from the status quo is to “stop thinking business and start thinking people.” A good start would be to develop the concept of value partnership in the workplace. As the popular belief goes: Treat an employee like a commodity, they will become one; treat them like an owner with a stake in the business, they become value partners.

Media company VaynerMedia may be small, but its employee connect is truly novel. At VaynerMedia, the HR team is called “People and Experience Team,” and the company has a Chief Heart Officer instead of an HR head. The role entails being “in touch with the heartbeat of every single person in the company” – meaning, developing a close bond with all employees whether professional and personal.

Financial services provider United Services Automobile Association (USAA) campus is dotted with coffee shops, cafes, relaxation lounges, and fitness centers. Of course, the health clinics and childcare facilities are considered par for the course. Interestingly, most employee-centric ideas at USAA come from the employees; no wonder then that it regularly features in the Fortune 100’s list of Best Places to Work.

A concept that has caught on greatly is to make your employees a key peg in the company’s performance. The impact of value partnership at the workplace will show our ability – using business parlance – to deliver a superior “end product.” For instance, employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) may be one way of promoting value partnership. Though the concept took off in the 1920s, it today covers about 10% of the private sector workforce.

Drive organizations with leadership, not business
Author and inspirational speaker Simon Sinek’s Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t claims that the best workplaces are the ones that are fixated on building trust. That’s because the leaders in such organizations form, as Sinek calls it, a “Circle of Safety,” which separates the safety mechanism within the team from the challenges outside. The logic is simple – disruptive leaders develop innovative and disruptive ideas. But importantly, the solution lies in following the simplest steps.

Steve Jobs got it right by asking his people to challenge themselves and bring new ideas to the table. The result? A host of devices that turned Apple around – and made it a closely-bonded organization. When Bruce Henderson of Boston Consulting Group instituted compulsory training for newcomers in leadership and management, the initial skepticism soon paved way for creative freedom and confidence through the rise of young leaders. Today, BCG is among few companies that boast the fastest movement of employees to leadership positions.

Simple actions go a long way in breaking the workplace status quo. Having a continuous line of communication, making employees stakeholders in your journey, or charting an elaborate leadership roadmap for the younger generation of workers scores high on employee engagement. It builds your image as someone who relates to the employees and is highly engaged.

Past results are passé; keep setting the bar higher!
Many good companies have fallen by the wayside because their leaders did not go beyond the conventional style of running a business. While companies invest billions to boost employee engagement each year, Gallup’s 2022 State Of The Global Workplace report states that 60% of people are emotionally detached at work and 19% actively disengaged – an euphemism for “miserable.” And the economic consequences in lost productivity? A whopping $7 billion!

No leader can afford to sit back believing they’ve cracked the code to building a workplace of top performers, best-in-class practices, and enhanced processes. True, it’s safe to continue the established principles and methods that are working well, but we still need to keep challenging the status quo. The leaders at Google and Apple will attest to that.

Real change starts with leaders who introduce a new style of thinking and enable a culture of innovation. This is the kind of culture we need in the workplace of today. From my experience, I learned one of my most valuable lessons: challenging the status quo isn’t easy, but not challenging it can be fatal. The erstwhile leaders of Yahoo! and Nokia may well attest to that.

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