This leadership principle is part of the Organizational Health series: 15 principles that relate to the overall health of your organization. Other Human Systems Leadership Principles are contained in the Change Management, Community Embedding, Mutual Empowerment, and Ethics categories.
Just as exercise, healthy eating, meditation, and other healthy lifestyle choices support the long-term health of the human body, the Human Systems Organizational Health Leadership Principles support the long-term health of your organization. By following these principles, you invest in the sustainability and longevity of your organization, as well as minimize burnout and turnover.
HS Leadership Principle #2: The organization consistently demonstrates valuation, respect for, and belief in staff and their abilities; empowers employees.
This principle speaks to a specific kind of organizational culture, wherein it is assumed that everybody is doing the best they can, given their resources, tools, and environment. If we believe this to be true, it follows that if an individual is not meeting work standards, it does not mean the individual is lazy, inadequate, or unintelligent. It means that the individual does not have necessary knowledge or supplies, they have not had the opportunity to develop necessary skills, or the environment is not conducive to success. As managers and administrators, when employees are not performing well, our first thought is often “this person cannot do this job the right way.” If we adhere to this belief, it is a very short hop to “this person does not belong in this organization.”
What if, instead, our first thought was “I wonder what they need that they don’t have right now in order to be successful in their position?” If we start with that question, opportunities for leadership – and positive change – proliferate. We might consider that the information they need could be communicated more clearly and consistently, or that they need a tool that we could easily supply, or perhaps the culture of their department or organization is impeding their ability to be successful. We can obtain the information we need by asking thoughtful and respectful questions of our employees.
This kind of thinking – starting with the assumption that everybody is doing their best – takes practice. I practice it every day. When we are frustrated, it’s hard to go from “I am frustrated – who is making me frustrated and how can I stop them?” to “I am frustrated – why am I frustrated and what kinds of things are contributing to the why?” The second question requires us to be self-aware, it requires more emotional energy, and it means that we have to be willing to figure out what part we are playing in our own frustration. It’s worth it, both for our own growth and the growth of our organization.
What if an employee really does not fit in your organization?
I have been accused by many people of being naïve, out of touch, and overly optimistic when I explain the benefits of assuming everybody is doing their best. I do not believe in the concept of “lazy” – I believe that it’s a derogatory term for behavior that generally has a very good reason behind it.
Of course, there are times when an employee truly is not a good fit for your organization right now. If you are trying to make this decision, it can be helpful to look at it as kind of cost-benefit analysis. Assuming that every employee is doing their best and they only need the right resources, tools, and environment, we can ask ourselves “Is this organization capable of providing the resources, tools, and environment that this person needs to be successful?” and then, “Would it be mutually beneficial to the person and the organization to figure out how to provide these things?” For example, if you realize that a group of employees is not performing because they feel like they don’t have enough organizational support, then conducting a focus group, doing some team-building, and making changes in the organizational culture and approach to employee relationships would probably be a really good investment. If, on the other hand, you have one employee who does not value their work, needs additional education that the organization can’t provide, or has health challenges that organizational resources alone cannot effectively address, then it’s very possible that they are not a good fit.
Ideally, you want to conduct this informal cost-benefit analysis in collaboration with the employee(s). This process is almost always mutually beneficial. It can be difficult and emotionally draining the first few times you do it, but you will get important information for yourself and the organization and, if it results in employee departure, be able to part on good terms. A few leadership coaching sessions with Human Systems can get you to the place where you feel comfortable with this process.