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Building a Fulfilling Culture

I read an article the other day. It’s about a method to help you find a fulfilling job for yourself. Since then, I’ve thought that some of the principles in it are great ways for leaders to create and keep a healthy culture in their organizations. I believe that the culture you establish leaves a lasting impact long after you leave the organization. I’ve seen this over the years not just with teams I’ve led, but with teams with other great leaders. The four aspects of leading I wanted to write about are: Inspiring your people, making people feel useful, respecting people, and growing your people.

Inspiring your people.

To me, this is providing a vision for your organization and getting buy-in across the team. The vision must be something in which the team believes. It must be a lofty goal that propels the business forward.

Good leaders create this vision with the help of the other team leaders. As a leader, we need to make sure the vision for our organization matches the company’s business goals. For it to impact the people in the organization, it must be achievable. The team needs to have a plan to make this vision a reality.

I worked on a team where the leader had a vision, but they set the timeframe to make it unachievable. Everyone on the team knew it wasn’t achievable. The team’s morale took a big hit within this organization. People stopped working long hours because they couldn’t see how it was going to help meet an impossible deadline. People started to leave the team.

Eventually, the leader instituted a policy where nobody could leave the team as the attrition rate was affecting the ability to release the product. After the product was released, there was a 40% attrition rate.

Making people feel useful.

People want to know how what they are doing impacts the larger organization and company they are working in. For me, if I don’t feel that what I’m doing is impactful, I’m likely to start looking for my next role.

Impact is a strong component of being useful. As leaders, we need to help people see how what they are doing is useful for the organization. Show how the work helps the team get to its vision.

Different people might have different views on what being useful is. For some, it might be coaching people. For others, it can be just being in their office and writing code.

So as leaders, we need to make sure we these differences into account. Find roles for people that fit what they can do and what they want to do. This is part of planning on how to get to the vision.

What does the team need to accomplish? Who on the team would be able to accomplish each item that needs to be done?

We also need to make sure the work is challenging (more on this below).

Teams need to feel useful, as well. So, thinking about how each team plays into the overall vision is essential as it trickles down to the people on each team. One area where I’ve seen this impact is Engineering Systems. Most team’s I’ve been on don’t do a good job valuing the work in this area. I had one boss Jigar Thakkar, who made it a point of not only valuing this area but emphasizing it. He would remind his leadership that he wanted the best people on the team working in this area. He would usually follow it up with, and we need to reward them. This emphasis took a team and made the people on it feel useful and valuable.

Respecting people.

I think a big part of Respecting people is Servant Leadership. If you are focused on being a servant leader, respecting the people around you comes naturally. I feel lucky that 25 years ago, I had a great boss that demonstrated this for me. Back then, I don’t think he or I had heard of the term. However, he was a servant leader.

He would always ask people; he never ordered people. He showed empathy for the people around him. Work-Life balance was something he showed and required from his leadership team. He would work with the team to create a vision, goals, and principles and then trusted the team to do what was needed to accomplish the goals.

I remember once he asked me, “John if you don’t trust the people to do what needs to be done, why are they on your team?”. This was both a reminder that trust is a big part of being a leader, and that if someone on the team can’t create a trusting relationship, that person will hurt the team. Fortunately, the people that aren’t trustworthy are few and far between.

Satya Nadella is also a servant leader. Back when I worked in Dynamics, he was my VP. There was a large project that was important to him and the team. He wanted me to drive it. I can’t tell you how important I felt when rather that order me to do it, he came to my office and asked me to do him this favor. He could have asked my boss or sent an email. Instead, he made it personal; I was doing him a favor. A big part of respect is making it personal. Building a personal relationship with everyone around you helps a team feel motivated and respected.

Growing your people.

People want to grow their capabilities. Leaders need to find ways to help the people within their organizations grow their skills.

Finding challenging work is essential in helping people grow. Encourage the more senior people to mentor the newer people in the organization. Promote from within where possible. Help the organization’s leaders to think ahead on what new areas people on the team will need to grow in to help achieve the organization's goals. Find ways to provide these opportunities to the right people.

One other aspect of this is knowing when to help someone move on from your organization. If what they want or need to help them grow can’t be provided within your organization help them find what they need in another organization. This may seem counter-intuitive, but I think about it more like, I’m facilitating getting a more skilled employee in the future. Also, this is what a good company should do. Better to keep the good employees with the company and happy than keep them stuck in a job where they can’t grow, which may lead them to leave the company.

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