Everyone Has a Part to Play in Creating a Positive, Innovative Work Culture

Everyone Has a Part to Play in Creating a Positive, Innovative Work Culture

Tom Cagley: Tom Cagley is a consultant, speaker, author, coach, and agile guide who leads organizations and teams to unlock their inherent greatness. He is the President of Tom Cagley & Associates. He is the host of the popular Software Process and Measurement Podcast where he has hosted almost 800 episodes.

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How can we create workplaces where every voice matters, everyone thrives and finds meaning, and change and innovation happen naturally?

Tom: I gave a lot of thought to this, and it's a great question. It's a compound question, so we must pull some of it apart.

The obvious answer is that where it's appropriate, we should leverage ideas like servant management and servant leadership β€” the material initially popularized by Greenleaf back in the 70s β€” because realistically when people are engaged, they will have a significantly higher tendency to be innovative and creative.

There is all sorts of literature on the things that get people engaged. Things that are important because it pays off for the organization both regarding people being committed and innovative.

But from an external point of view, leadership style and management style are important. Servant leadership and participative leadership are mechanisms to get people involved because they give people a choice of a goal. If you are gravitating toward a leader, you are buying into the overall goal of that leader and can pursue it. So, I think those are the relevant constructs.

The more natural answer to this question is that people must be interested in being innovative and creative and continuing to learn. There's a covariance between the two. The organization must want them to do that, i.e., servant or participative vs. autocratic management.

At the same time, if individuals don't buy into the goal, or aren't interested in continually growing themselves, then I think they need to self-select to a different group. They need to opt-out if that's what's important to the organization.

When you talk through the levels of this question, the organization needs to facilitate it by how they manage. At the same time, those within that organization also need to decide to participate that way. Both have to happen to create the kind of workspace you describe in your question.

What does it take to get an employee's full attention and best performance?

Tom: You provide them with a goal that they can commit to and support. It's important that they see the importance of what they're doing and see how they can contribute to the overall goal attainment of that goal.

Returning to your first question's answer, it becomes the whole idea of whether it's servant or goal-based leadership. There also has to be a strong central metaphor so that people can focus. There are all sorts of techniques to help people focus and get good performance. You can talk about things like the Pomodoro technique, Getting Things Done, and other mechanisms at a tactical level. But I think it starts with people wanting to attain that top-level goal. That's important to everyone in the organization, so they can deliver.

If you are a corporation, you have to stay alive. You must satisfy your stakeholders and stockholders if you're a public company. Those are absolute mandates. But if that's the only reason for doing it, the only people who will get up in the morning to do that are the corporate bankers.

That's not why Joe in IT or Betty, a programmer, gets up in the morning. They're not coming for that. They're coming to deliver value to see how they can influence what the future is within the organization and deliver value to their customers. That's what gets them up in the morning. So that goal, whatever that goal is, has to resonate with them.

What do people really lack and long for at work?

Tom: This was the hardest of all your questions. It depends on the context. If we broadly generalize, I think people need to see that they can contribute and that what they do adds value. They need not only to know that intrinsically but there also has to be a feedback model that can continually allow them to get and understand what they're doing β€” both regarding getting extrinsic feedback that helps feed their internal building of their ego so that they know that they know they're providing.

We both know internally motivated people who can do a wonderful job and contribute to getting the best performance. They're finding what they want. What they long and lack for comes directly from themselves. But I think if we take that a step out, we can say they're doing that because they found somewhere where the goal they're serving intrinsically motivates them. And they get feedback that says there's value in what they're doing, both internally and externally.

What is the most important question leaders should be asking employees?

Tom: The most important question is, "How can I make you more effective?" If we want leaders to lead, we want them to look for ways of unlocking the maximum value from people. So I think they have to ask this question. They have to be looking for how they can unlock that potential.

Furthermore, just looking isn't enough. Asking is critical. How can I make your life better so we deliver more? We can phrase that any way you want, but that's what it boils down to. How can I unlock your abilities?

What’s the most important question employees should be asking leaders?

Tom: I'm not sure I have a simple answer to this question. I think in a little bit more palatable manner, they need to be asking, "Why?" Not why am I doing this specifically, but what am I doing this for?

I'm looking for what it is in the big picture we're attempting to solve with what we're doing. What value am I providing? I think people always want to be better if they know the value. They can perform above and beyond if they know what they're targeting. I know that's a harder question for most employees and followers to ask a leader, but I believe it's critical.

What is the most important question we can ask ourselves?

Tom: Who are we serving? The reality is weβ€”and I'm talking about us as the big picture change agents β€” if we're only doing it for ourselves, then I don't think we are correctly serving the world as a whole.

I think change agents need to be helpful. There is substantial data that suggests helpful people are, in essence, servant leaders regarding the change. They can draw enough power to them so they can help influence change. The problem with that statement is that power tends to flow. We get to a point where we start serving ourselves instead of others. Therefore, it breaks down and is not as helpful to those around us.

How did our questions in this forum relate to the writing and podcasts that you do?

Tom: I have been reading and writing about the leadership and management constructs lately, so all of your questions opened up and dovetailed to the change work we both do as change consultants.

The questions helped me extract pieces of what I've been writing in my blog and talking about on the podcast recently. As I reviewed these questions over the last couple of days, I decided to read my stuff to help me frame to go back and the responses.