Cheryl Fields Tyler is CEO of Blue Beyond Consulting, building effective organizations where both the business and the people thrive.
This article is the third in a series that explores business as a force for good in all its dimensions—for “me” as an employee, for “us” as an organization and for the “world,” inclusive of our communities and society as a whole.
There’s no question that a thriving culture is paramount for both organizations and the people who work in them. It’s the single best predictor of employee satisfaction and among the most important reasons employees stay with their current employer—or start looking for another job. Companies with strong cultures are also five times as likely to be high performing—with one recent study reporting that 72% of leaders believe culture helps drive successful change initiatives while 69% assert it’s offered a competitive advantage during the pandemic.
Top Traits Of A High-Performing Workplace Culture
The good news is that company leaders and knowledge workers are largely aligned on the characteristics essential to building and maintaining a high-performing culture. According to my company’s research—and backed by studies from Gallup, Deloitte and others—those top traits include:
• Effective communication
• Collaboration and teamwork
• Leaders who are good role models
• Clear goals and accountability
• Trust and psychological safety
• Learning and growth
• Compelling purpose and principled values
The Disconnect Between Leaders And Knowledge Workers
The not-so-good news? Relative to those traits we largely agree are important, our research reveals a sizable gap between knowledge workers and company leaders on how we think our companies are doing. In short, company leaders have a far rosier view than knowledge workers, with just one in four of the latter strongly agreeing that their company exemplifies the factors identified as important, according to our survey of 753 business leaders, HR leaders and knowledge workers.
In addition, we found a big disconnect between business leaders and knowledge workers when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion. According to our study, DEI is important to far more knowledge workers (81%) than business leaders (65%). Drilling deeper, we found DEI is essential to 9 in 10 knowledge workers who are younger, and who identify as being from underrepresented groups, while the same is true for just 50% of white male business leaders 45 and over.
Our findings track with a 2021 Momentive poll on “The DEI Disconnect” in the workplace, which found that business leaders are much less likely than the average employee to agree that DEI is “an important factor in our company’s ability to drive success” and more likely to believe “DEI to be a distraction from our company’s real work.”
A New Way Of Leading
These findings make it clear that we still have a lot of work to do to rewire ourselves for a new way of leading. Here are four recommendations to close the know/do gap:
1. Prioritize culture. The alignment on what it takes to build an effective culture is clear—but knowledge workers are telling us we are not doing a very good job. Focus on what we know is key: effective communication; clear company strategy, goals and accountabilities; effective collaboration; strong leadership; compelling purpose and values; and practices that build deep trust and belonging for all.
2. Communicate proactively, candidly and often. Find creative ways to authentically communicate about priorities and challenges with employees. Town halls and broadcast emails help everyone hear the same messages, but there are many ways to connect more deeply with our teams. Whether it’s posting more personal messages on LinkedIn, holding one-on-one “skip-level” conversations or participating in small group sessions on issues, leaders can communicate and model transparency, values and care for employees every day.
3. Listen deeply and regularly. Create new practices for deep listening and continuous learning about the issues important to different groups across your organization. Look beyond overall engagement scores to find what matters most to diverse demographic and identity groups. Take the time to ensure psychological safety in these forums so people speak freely without fear of repercussions. Report back on what you heard and what you will do as a result, so they know their concerns and ideas are effecting change.
4. Elevate diversity, equity and inclusion. Identify and share metrics and benchmarks to show progress on your diversity, equity and inclusion journey. Stating organizational and individual goals around DEI, and how they connect with your organization’s strategy, demonstrates your commitment. People want to see progress over time and also where they can do better. You can reinforce the importance of welcoming diversity by modeling inclusive behaviors such as ensuring everyone’s voice is heard in a meeting or going outside your network to recruit more diverse candidates for open positions on your teams.
From my company’s own internal learning journey, I know that this is hard, but essential, work. The expectation that business is a force for good for “us” in our day-to-day experience at work is evidenced by the clear and consistent alignment on what it takes to create and sustain an effective company culture. The question on people’s minds is, can we trust our organizations to deliver on what we agree is most important? Let’s step up to this challenge together.
Next up in our force-for-good series: What does it mean for business to be a force for good for “the world”—and why is it important for leaders to take a stand and build capabilities internally for challenging conversations and learning across differences?