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Changing Your Culture by Bringing Humanity to the Workplace

Managers, from the senior level down to the front line leaders, often have the misconception that to manage effectively, neither they nor their employees can actually show their human side at work.

These managers believe that to allow personality, humor and humility gives away too much of their power, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Maybe back in the command and control era of management, when employees clocked in and clocked out and were expected to repeatedly perform routine tasks, this type of emotionless management style may have worked.  But the workplace is different now.  Today, we call on every employee to use their creativity and innovation to help companies compete on a global level.  And to create an environment where that will happen, the command and control management style doesn’t work.  Why?  Because you can’t demand motivation or inspiration.  Instead, you have to develop an atmosphere where that behavior is fostered—and then expected.

Employees must know that they can suggest new ideas without those ideas being immediately shot down.  They must be encouraged to think outside the box and go beyond their job descriptions to help their companies compete in a knowledge-based economy.  Creating this type of work environment requires a sense of humanity in the workplace.

It’s a common belief that money is the great motivator.  But the best performers are motivated intrinsically by a sense of pride in their accomplishments or by a desire to please.  The human element cannot be ignored, and some of the most successful companies have recognized and capitalized on this.

Zappos, the online shoe retailer, for example, lists “create fun and a little weirdness” as one of its core values, along with “be adventurous and drive change,” and “build a positive team and family spirit.”  It’s easy to see how this type of culture encourages employees to invest their individual talents and to use their unique personalities to do so.

At the Zappos customer call center, employees are encouraged to decorate their cubicles, bring in pets and make their workplace feel more like home.  Zappos doesn’t necessarily pay more than another company’s call center, but its employees are more motivated because they feel appreciated and needed.

Creating that kind of environment starts at the top, and Southwest Airlines co-founder and former CEO Herb Kelleher certainly did so.  Your employees come first, Kelleher has said.  And if you treat them right, they’ll treat the customers right, which will make the customers come back, and that will make the shareholders happy.

Kelleher injected humor and fun into the workplace in his own way, which included dressing in drag and dressing like Elvis.  Kelleher’s sometimes offbeat tactics, along with a dedication to service, inspired the passion of his employees, and the company grew from a regional airline to an industry leader.

How should you, as a manager, inject humanity into the workplace?

  • First, be aware of your own attitude as you come into work.  You can set the stage for a good day or a not-so-good day for your employees just by how you enter the building.  Are you smiling and taking time to chat with employees, or are you striding in, harried, and hunting them down for an update on a project?  More than you probably realize, employees take their cue from your behavior.  If you already look under the gun at 8 a.m., you’re not likely to create an atmosphere of creativity and innovation.
  • Make time for fun.  Look for opportunities to celebrate your and your employees’ successes.  Celebrations don’t have to be extremely time consuming or expensive, but they do need to be sincere.  A coffee break and a timely toast can be more meaningful than an impersonal, yet elaborate, awards dinner.
  • Look for humor.  Humor is a great stress reliever. Studies have shown that humor and laughter have significant physical and mental benefits.  Humor helps people bond and puts them on the same side of the table.  I’m not talking about making fun of each other; I’m talking instead about sharing stories and experiences that may have made you smile and that may make others smile as well.

You can’t just write a policy saying that this is the new culture.  You have to demonstrate it from the top level on down, in a thousand different—yet consistent—ways.  By acting like a human yourself, and celebrating those common elements with your employees, you will start making that change.  And you don’t even need to don an Elvis costume to do it.

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  6. AFisher

    July 25, 2012 at 12:45 am

    Thanks for writing this article.  I can’t agree with you more that top level management have to start looking at the human equation and how that affects the business.  Happy employees are more productive, more creative, take pride in helping the company suceed and more.  It’s great to see an article like this.


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