Discover a handful of simple tools to humanely lead your employees while diligently meeting your business goals.

Everyone needs a sense of purpose. Without it, motivation dies. We need to know why we do what we do and whether it agrees with us. Shortfalls hinder our dedication, particularly in the workplace.

For employees, the company needs to have its own purpose. It helps them contribute to the company in the long term, without burning out. Moreover, it is something which has the power to unite all employees behind one common goal. Needless to say, it encourages them to fulfil their potential for the company's benefit. However, the most prominent tools to help keep it all together—and the ship sailing—originate not in company targets but in company culture.

A good company culture springs from a clear definition of company values and its vision and mission statements. All three must come from and inform the company as a whole. While a value statement shows the “soul” of a company, a mission is a statement about the why – why the business exists and what it is trying to accomplish today. Vision, on the other hand, gives employees an idea of where their company might be in the next few years and whether they can picture themselves along with it.

Once defined, such a threefold company culture serves as a personality of its brand. It integrates and, to some extent, controls the behaviour of its employees. It may, for example, serve as a reminder of relationships and interactions between different parties within one institution—for instance, teachers, students and their parents, or carers, in a school context.

Shared ethos and values, shared ideology, practices, and even a certain management style can create a powerful driving force for an organisation. This is particularly true if they are all aligned with the company strategy too. Otherwise, which is not uncommon, they may sabotage all efforts. Thus, they should be consciously produced—for example, through the policies protecting human dignity, transparent organisation charts and other power influences, consistent methodology and vocabulary for project management (such as Agile), and even routines and company events. The company culture hides even within stories that employees share with each other, unintentionally signalling to one another acceptable behaviours.

Even a company culture needs a strategic plan

Every company needs a strategy which involves employees on all company levels. It may start with a Business Plan, or its more modern equivalents such as Business Model Canvas or Lean Canvas. At an early stage, even a SWOT analysis will be of value.

All such models ask important questions that help refine an initial idea for the business much further. However, with his book “Start with Why”, Simon Sinek takes an extra step, identifying something truly essential. In a very straightforward manner, he captures and presents what characterises great leaders and organisations – they start with “why” for what they think, act and communicate.

Sinek’s core idea is groundbreaking yet straightforward – people don’t just buy what companies do (such as their products and services); they buy why they do it. Let's remind ourselves of Apple and their inspiring mission “to make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind” or Quora’s strong belief in their place in this world – “to share and grow the world's knowledge”. Such a mission does not only “sell” to a (prospective) client base but also to its employees and what they are set to achieve – from specific and tangible actions and key performance indicators to strategic objectives, informing even their own values.

It might be difficult at first to anticipate the future and define these for the years to come. But a good balance of long and short-term goals is necessary for a successful company strategy. It makes it strong, flexible and adaptive, helping inform tactical efforts and macro and micro-level planning.

Managers in small startups often fall for a bias that hiring “good” people will produce a great culture itself, without a need to spend extra time on meta-activities. However, every new person in a team changes that team’s dynamics. A sudden influx of fresh workforce, not exposed to the curated, façade-like company culture (for instance, demonstrated during the employee onboarding process), will affect the team's dynamics even more, often irreversibly. As a result, it will leave the company's true, “ad hoc” culture truly vulnerable. The challenge of redefining such a company culture created on the go, when employees already settled in and developed their habits, will be truly immense for the company leaders. It's much easier to outline at least company values, mission and statement before the first team is built. In an overall calculation, it pays off to invest in never having to boost morale...

What role does the manager play

In my last job as a manager, a big part of my role was scheduling and prioritising the workload. Then, communicating it to others. Having built a strong and reliable team, I was comfortable “giving orders” and instructions, checking task completion and evaluating project progress. It wasn’t always easy to estimate timeframes accurately, especially within a creative sector, but it’s something my team members, as well as managers, were well aware of. We discussed it in regular performance reviews to plan for improvements, and identify any obstacles for me to remove from my team’s way. After all, my priority was that they can fully focus on their craft.

Outside the team, I was forecasting trends for our core products, monitoring their performance and planning for future changes, which at a later time often informed my team's upcoming projects or even career prospects. In that aspect, it was a very analytical, rational, often data-driven, role. But, at the same time, it included the human factor, as I had to focus on people and how I led them.

It’s easy to deduce from the above description of my role that on a daily basis, I was planning and coordinating by utilising both human and non-human resources. My object was to successfully implement a company strategy by matching the right people with the right tools, tasks and projects. Such exercise had to be performed with humane communication, often persuasion, and, ideally, in an inspiring manner.

Therefore, my role as a manager was to communicate our organisational strategy to make it happen as a team. My accountability was essential – I was standing by decisions, actions, and the overall wellbeing of managed projects for which human beings were key. I had to take into account not only the big picture goals but also the wellbeing of the team. Thus, I was balancing multiple levels of accountability to navigate this business successfully. Dr Blakey and Day, the authors of “Challenging Coaching”, specify what these levels are – (1) personal actions, (2) shared interpersonal work, and (3) organisational, such as mission, vision, culture and goals.

Since employees’ style of work is often inherited from top to bottom, by being modelled, it may only take an inspirational leader for a team to set up a good example. This is simply because many employees don’t have a robust agenda on their own. Instead, they come to a new workplace with an open mind to learn what’s expected and accepted by those who manage them, even if the rules are written down. On this spectrum, as a leader, being followed by a team because it wants to follow is paradoxically easier to “enforce” and more humane to carry out than showing them that they have to.

According to Maxwell and his theory of leadership, people particularly follow others when they recognise and appreciate who they are and what they represent. For a leader, it’s something worth striving for.


Paula Kaminska
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