“I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination”   -James  Dean

In any organization, the CEO plays a major role in shaping the workplace culture. “Culture which encompasses an organization’s values, benefits and norms-is another key lever for reinforcing strategy and influencing how the organization, as a whole goes about doing it’s work. CEO’s can shape a company’s culture in many ways, from the time they spend talking about it at various forums, to personally recognizing, rewarding, and celebrating those who exemplify the desired culture while taking corrective action with those who don’t” (How CEO’s manage time, by Michael Porter and Nitin Nohria, Harvard Business Review, July-August 2018).

By using face-to-face interaction, CEO’s can influence and delegate assignments to employees. They can also use it to scout talent from within the organization that might need some extra appreciation or can be more useful elsewhere. However, the manner in which they do this can change the efficiency of the work being done, which is why good relations are so important.

Besides benefitting the employees, CEO’s can gain invaluable insight into the true state of their company if they build good relationships with everyone and take the time to listen. By listening, trust can be built, and by building trust, employees usually follow. The CEO can earn legitimacy in several ways by demonstrating values, ethics, fairness and selfless commitment to the company and the people.

If a company is going to succeed, a key element is how the CEO handles crucial conversations. Everyone has feelings and emotions that should be appreciated and respected, especially by a CEO. Silence fails, and always will. Therefore, it is important for leaders to open up and prioritize a good, transparent work culture. “When it comes to the corporate world, the most common complaint of executives and managers is that their people work in silos. They do great at tasks that are handled entirely within in their team”. (From the book: Crucial Conversations; Tools for talking when stakes are high, by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler)

People who are good conversationalists have an understanding of the simple fact that they have to work on themselves first and others second. “They realise not only that they are likely to benefit by improving their own approach, but also that they’re the only person they can work on anyway. As much as others may need change, or we may want them to change, the only person we can continually inspire, prod-and shape-with any degree of success-is the person in the mirror”.

Organizations consist of variety of people trying to do their very best. However, because we all have emotions and go through successes and defeats, conflicts often arise. If a work task is too big of a challenge, or the employees are in disagreement on how to solve a task, it is crucial for a CEO to be able to handle this situation correctly. Thus, dialogue is key.

The workplace culture and atmosphere also varies. Some consists of good leaders and CEO’s who prioritize its people. On the other hand, many organizations fail its people by focusing more on the outcome rather than taking care of the employees. In her article: Do Your Employees Feel Respected ? From Harvard Business Review, Kristie Rogers asked what mattered most for the workers, and she wasn’t surprised that feeling respected by superiors often topped the list. Rogers also refers to a recent survey by Georgetown University’s Christine Porath of 20 000 employees worldwide, where respondents ranked respect as the most important leadership behaviour. Despite this, more reports of disrespectful and uncivil behaviour are made each year. Why is that? According to Rogers, managers and other high-status employees who feel respect on a daily basis are simply not aware of the fact that they are being respected. On the other hand, those who lack a feeling of respect from those around them are highly aware. Thus, part of the problem is that leaders are blind to the problem surrounding them. In addition to this, she say’s that leaders have an incomplete understanding on what workplace respect actually implies, and will fail in their attempts to create a considerate workplace. It is hard to fix a problem you didn’t even know existed.

In her book; The Fearless Organization, Amy C. Edmondson, gives us some great examples of how to care for our people. She uses an example from another; The Extraordinary Power of Caring for your People Like Family, by Bob Chapman and co-author Raj Sisodia, who believe that a company’s mission should be to “measure success by the way we touch the lives of people”. They are of course speaking of the “Barry-Wehmiller” method; “Caring for the employees-“team members” in Barry- Wehmiller-speak-using tangible measures of employee well-being has proved to be a sure recipe for establishing a psychologically safe workplace where learning and growth thrive”.

Today, Barry-Wehmiller is a 3 $ billion business with 12 000 employees in 28 countries. It was founded in St. Louis in the mid 1880s as a machine manufacturer for brewing industry. During the Great Recession of 2007-2009, the number of orders declined considerably, and it seemed like the only solution to the problem would be layoffs. CEO Bob Chapman had a different idea. Instead of ridding himself of employees, he implemented a program of shared sacrifice where everyone would take four weeks of unpaid furlough at the time of their choosing. As said best by Chapman himself; “all family members would absorb some pain so that no member of the family had to experience the dramatic loss”.

The company has now developed a well-documentet approach to their values and methods, leading to the internal “Guiding Principles of Leadership” document, written with the input of employees. The document is meant to, among other things, create an environment of trust and bring out the best in everyone. “Shortly after the document was drafted, Chapman traveled to various units and sat down with small groups of people to listen to their feelings about the Principles. He learned that trust-employees feeling trusted by management-was key, and that time clocks, break bells, and locking inventory in cages inhibited that trust. Chapman describes immediately getting rid of what he calls “trust-destroying and demeaning practises” inappropriate for responsible adults. Listening sessions, as they are called, have since become institutionalized times where team members are asked to speak their minds”.

Returning to Kristie Rogers and the topic of respect. Being respected within the workplace benefits both the people and company itself, including the leadership. “Employees who say they feel respected are more satisfied with their jobs and more grateful for-and loyal to-their companies. They are more resilient, cooperate more with others, perform better and more creatively, and are more likely to take direction from their leaders”.

On the other hand, if you have a lack of respect, it can inflict real damage; “To quote from the best-selling book; Crucial Conversations, Respect is like air. As long as it’s present, nobody thinks about it. But if you take it away, it’s all that people can think about”. She continues by saying; “Disrespected treatment often spreads among coworkers and is taken out on the customer”. So not only are the employees suffering this injustice, but the company as a whole suffers as a result of it.

From her research, Rogers has found two important types of respect which values employees; owed respect and earned respect.

Owed respect constitutes an equal form of respect showed to everyone within an organization- everyone is inherently valued. It meets the need to feel included.

Earned respect is individual and related to being recognized for good work, including valued qualities and behaviours. “It distinguishes employees who have exceeded expectations and, particularly in knowledge work settings, affirms that each employee has unique strengths and talents”. Roger’s view on being respected by CEO’s as well as leaders and managers tells us how people within the organizations actually are.

Roger’s seven important ways to implement owed and earned respect:

1. Establish a baseline of owed respect.
Everyone in an organization should be recognized and respected. This is especially important the lower down on the “corporate ladder” they are. “Take a moment to consider whether your professional stats is keeping you from perceiving a gap in respect, and note that simple acknowledgement or praise from a leader is often enough to make an employee feel valued”.

2. Know how to convey respect in your particular workplace.
According to Roger’s, everyone has a responsibility to shape the environment by respecting one another. Research shows that specific behaviours that convey owed respect include active listening skills as well as valuing our different backgrounds. “For leaders, delegating important tasks, remaining open to advice, giving employees freedom to pursue creative ideas, taking an interest in their nonword lives, and publicly backing them in critical situations are some of the many behaviours that impact respect”.

3. Recognise that respect has ripple effects.
The outcome of every business has to do with how the leaders behave. “The cascade from the top down is also likely to shape the way employees treat customers, industry partners, and members of the community”.

4. Customise the amount of earned respect you convey.
Besides making sure that owed respect is implemented and provided everywhere to all employees, CEO’s can tailor the type of respect they show their employees based on their individual accomplishments and needs. “Alternatively, if your culture focuses largely on individual contributions, you might emphasize earned respect while ensuring that performance standards are transparent and direct employee’s attention to objective deliverables rather than to subjective compassions with peers”.

5. Think of respect as infinite.
Everyone who does a good job, deserves respect. “Respect is not finite, it can be given to one employee without shortchanging others. This is true both owed and earned respect. All members of an organization are entitled to the former, and all employees who meet or surpass performance standards deserve the latter”.

6. See respect as a time saver, not a time waster.
How to convey respect doesn’t have to come at expense of other critical tasks. “Christine Porath, calls lack of time a ‘hollow excuse’, pointing out that respect is largely about how you do what you’re already doing. Jane Dutton, agrees, suggesting that owed respect is best embedded in our normal interactions and can be as simple as communicating and listening in appreciative ways, being present to others, and affirming other’s value to the company”.

7. Know when efforts to convey respect can backfire.
Are you showing respect in the right manner? If you use vague, generalized language, Rogers explains that you are using a false or manipulative form of ‘respect’. This can be perceived wrong and therefore make a situation worse. “Attempts to demonstrate respect may cause more harm than good if they are inconsistent or haphazard. Employees are likely to perceive vague expressions by HR or high-level leaders that are not enacted day-to-day by managers and peers as manipulative or disingenuous”.

Because today’s business-world is so competitive, we often get lost on the path of numbers, statistics, growth and other on-paper values. However, we must not forget what are driving these – our employees. In order to have successful company, we must have successful employees. And the employees are much more likely to thrive if they are happy, feel appreciated and respected by everyone. So whether you are a CEO, working in a cubicle, or somewhere completely different, your company’s core values are essential in the triumph or defeat that you experience.

“Coming together is a beginning; Keeping together is progress; working together is success”     -Edward Everett Hale

Inger Lise E. Greger, MSc. Change Management






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