In today’s job market turnover is expected. Gone are the days that a person stayed in a job 30+ years. Companies are lucky to keep an employee for five years, and even that is on the longer side! So, while turnover isn’t exactly a bad thing, what is your company getting out of every employee? Is your company maximizing each person’s potential?
Think of it this way: If we approach culture in the traditional sense, there is an expectation that employees will think and act in certain (stated or unstated) ways, even though each person comes to a company with a wide array of different experiences and perspectives. So, imagine each person, as they believe they are expected to be, signified by a building block. Now, inside each building block is their expertise, experience, and perspectives, which we will signify with sand. Think of your company as a jar.
If we used traditional culture building methods to establish a “winning” culture, there is an expectation of a certain shape that each employee conforms to. No matter what shape each person is expected to be, there will always be empty space in the jar. There is always going to be expertise, experience, and perspectives that aren’t shared because they do not “fit” the mold. Now, what if you could take traditional business expectations away and allow each individual to freely and openly share their expertise, experience, and perspectives without fear that it doesn’t fit a particular mold or shape, because there is no mold or shape to subscribe to. What if we began to create company culture on the foundation of love and unwavering respect for each unique perspective? You could readily fill your company with a maximized version of each individual and could create some refreshingly new results. And while diverse hiring practices are important, simply looking more diverse as company is not enough.
For example, it’s no secret that tech is lagging when it comes to creating a space for visible diversity (Find WSJ stats here). Tech leadership consists predominately of white males. When it comes to minorities and women at the top, the pickings are slim. Beyond the traditional view of diversity (diversity we can see), is invisible diversity. This type of diversity comes from the different ways that people think and behave. It can mirror visible diversity, but it might not. And while hiring people who have different perspectives is helpful, it does not guarantee that people will share their unique perspectives. Unlocking and sharing these different perspectives holds the key to a fearless culture. Do people who bring visible diversity to industries such as tech feel as if they can bring their “whole-self” to work, or do they acquiesce to the invisible beliefs that the majority holds? This is a concrete example for where one may feel they have to fit a certain mold, or think and act in a certain way, in order to be successful in a company.
Those in leadership positions typically set and solidify company culture. But, what are we missing out on by conforming to more of the same? In a world where the information that is valid today, but not tomorrow, tech is moving pretty fast and reaping the rewards. Think about how fast tech could move if all voices were heard and all potential was maximized. Not based off how people thought they should be but by honoring who people really are. A culture like this would require vulnerability and to attain this companies must have psychological safety. For one to feel empowered enough to speak their truth in a candid, confident, and respectful way, they must have a belief that they will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes. But who is responsible for psychological safety?
According to a 2015 study by Google, the number one predictor of a high-performing team is psychological safety. The problem with psychological safety is that it is based off of an individual’s belief. There is no guarantee that one will or will not be punished or humiliated. In fact, feeling humiliated is only in control of the person who is experiencing the shame or foolishness used to characterize it. We may or may not be punished for what we say, that is out of our control and this is what makes speaking up so scary!
This isn’t to say we can’t do things in organizations to help people feel psychological safety, though. This is both a systemic and personal issue. So how do we ensure people don’t believe they will be humiliated or punished? Well, it happens internally, one person at a time. It starts with you and how you view the world. If we begin with self-awareness and learn tools to speak up while minimizing defensiveness in others, we can then move to make a difference in the system as well. If you are a leader, one of the first steps you can take is to begin listening to people, especially those who feel marginalized. Create the space for people to express how they are feel and help them decide how they want to move forward and how you can support them. If you aren’t a leader, find someone who can hold the space for you. Always ask yourself, “what is my role in this?” There is always something you can do.
Ultimately, what you feel is a reflection of your own internal condition. No one can make you feel shame, guilt, embarrassed, foolish, happy, sad, angry, or annoyed. Hell, no one can make you feel any emotion. We all feel these emotions as a sign of an internal conflict or an internal alignment. There is a lesson in these emotions, so unlike society would like us to believe, the idea is not to avoid so called “negative” emotions. There is strength and power in each of these emotions, and it is our duty to unpack them to live our most influential and freeing life! Furthermore, there is no such thing as a positive or negative emotion. There are emotions that make us feel better than others, but that in and of itself, does not make an emotion good or bad, positive or negative.
In my work I’ve uncovered, to my surprise, that some people like the way that sadness feels as it fuels their creativity. It’s not emotions that are bad or good, it’s what we are inspired to do with the emotions that matters. Emotions are teachers. They are teaching us about the stories we have collected in our minds about the condition of the outer world. They are teaching us how our outer world is in alignment with or not in alignment with how we think the outer world should be. They are teaching us about our hidden expectations. Do you believe that someone outside of you holds all the power? Do you believe you hold all the power? Do you believe there is truth to both?
To overcome these emotions is to step into these emotions. What is happening that makes you feel these emotions? How can you see the person who is triggering the emotions in you as helpful (what is the lesson)? What beliefs are you holding onto that are causing you to have uncomfortable emotions? What expectations do you have that this situation might be different than it is? Once we uncover these truths hidden inside ourselves, we can begin to have dialogue about what they reveal. It is only after we understand ourselves that we can begin to make meaningful changes to the systems we operate in. This discovery and awareness helps us decide what is best for us. Do we want to make a change? Is the effort worth it to us to make a change? Is there enough of a match within the company to stay? How can we match what is best for us inside or outside the company? Is there room to be a human in your company?
Companies that are ready to look at their own biases, emotions and underlying beliefs will be readier to engage in maximizing and empowering all voices. So, while diversity hiring practices and diversity and inclusion training are absolutely essential, they are only the first step. It takes deep curiosity, candor, and confidence to take this journey. And, until organizations are led by people who are willing to model this, diversity and inclusion hiring practices and training alone are a waste of time.
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