In the basement without windows of a fairly non-descript building in Ann Arbor is a mighty software development company—Menlo Innovations. When I visited Menlo I expected a gloomy environment. Instead when I arrived, the basement was brightly light and electric with conversations. The industrial funkiness of the space was immediately charming. Menlo had turned a would-be bummer location into one perfectly suited for their work.
In my new book, The Optimistic Workplace, I feature Menlo as an example of a workplace that wows employees. That wow factor created a place they love to work. I studied Menlo and multiple other organizations that have created optimistic places to work and found there are similar traits in the culture and climate that can be isolated and leveraged to spectacular results.
Culture versus Climate
Before diving into the wow factors, I want to distinguish culture from climate. Simply stated culture is how things are done in an organization. Climate, however, is what it feels like to work somewhere. It’s rooted in employees’ perceptions, and is significantly influenced by your leadership style.
While culture is difficult to change, you can more readily shift the climate through close, daily interactions with employees. What follows are 18 ways you can shift the climate to feel optimistic. In short, these are ways to wow employees to create a place they’ll love.
18 Ways to Wow Employees
- Create clarity: To love the workplace, employees need to know what they’re doing is important. For this to occur, there must be clarity in direction, goals, and even purpose. It feels good to contribute to something important. Clarity is a key ingredient.
- Promote Purpose: Organizational, team, and individual purpose are key to wow employees. We all want to contribute to something bigger than ourselves. Purpose paves the way for this to happen.
- Magnify Meaning: Do you know the significance employees experience when working? Do they experience it at all? Know what meaningful work is to each person on your team and help shape the context for them to experience meaning in their work.
- Lean in on Leadership: Your leadership style accounts for the biggest influence on the climate. Your mood creates the vibe. Learn what your style is and leverage it to help cultivate the optimistic workplace.
- Create positive outcomes: Work for many is a drag. It’s a soulless place where dreams die. This doesn’t need to be reality for your team. You can focus on creating outcomes that delight, motivate, and invoke people’s greatest talents. You simply need to think through and plan to create positive outcomes.
- Know and show your values: What do you stand for? Most of us don’t know what our personal values are beyond intuition. Know, define, and show your values through your leadership style. Make it known the good you stand for.
- Single out strengths: Strengths aren’t the things employees are good at. Strengths are energizers. Energizing work taps into intrinsic motivators and help work flow. Strengths life people’s performance, despite skill level and experience. Focus on strengths.
- Gear for growth: Help employees develop a plan for advancement, whatever that looks like for each person. Not all employees want your job. Learn what their career aspirations are and help them put into place a plan to get there. Just don’t ask, “where do you want to be in a year?” Who knows. Learn what’s important, purposeful, passionate to each person on your team. Then tailor a solution that helps them realize their potential.
- Jointly job craft: In the traditional HR mindset, there is job design. An outdated practice that designs a job excluding the people who actually do the work. Job crafting is a philosophy that partners with those doing the work, taps into strengths and marries business need with human potential.
- Factor in flexibility: We all want to do our work in flexible conditions. With the ubiquity of technology—smart phones, tablets, cloud services—employees can work anywhere at anytime. Give employees greater flexibility in their work.
- Cultivate community: Build dependency amongst people on your team. A community is a thriving group of people who cover for each other and support one another in their individual and collective efforts. The team is more important than any one individual.
- Have higher quality collaborations: Pair people up who can learn from one another, support each other, and develop routines that reinforce people coming together to collaborate.
- Master mutuality: Mutually beneficial relationships create win-win-wins: you win, I win, we win. The rugged individual who looks out for himself is a threat to mutuality and to the team. Orchestrate pairings of people to help this vital workplace reality to emerge.
- Maximize work-life mix practices: Some innovative companies have created what they call an anti-workaholic policy, and is really intended as a corporate philosophy as much as it is a policy. The idea behind it is that employees need to have time to do things important to them outside of work. It’s hard to have a work-life mix when work dominates employees’ time. As a leader you can significantly influence this mix.
- Act on expressing appreciation: People leave managers. And they also leave because they’re under appreciated. Let people know why you appreciate their hard work and results. It costs you nothing and means everything.
- Spend time in the “Field:” Letting meetings dominate your schedule is killing you and weakening your relationship with employees. Block time and fiercely defend time you spend walking the floor, learning what’s going on in employees lives and in their projects.
- Inspire employee activism: In this Social Age, employees can be your greatest advocate for what your company does, creates, and stands for. Savvy social leaders recognize the powerful opportunity to expand brand awareness when employees proactively promote the best things about their employer. Inspire them to be activists. Just don’t control the message.
- Raise employee resiliency: Key to resiliency is purpose. Research finds that the greater insight a person has to his purpose, the more resilient he is. In the high pressure demands in today’s workplace, resiliency is a well-being focus that is key to thriving employees.
Give people hope that goods things will come from their hard work. Wow employees through your leadership actions. Create workplace optimism. It’s time work isn’t a drag anymore.