Build a thriving culture by managing the disconnect between perception and reality
Over the course of the last several years, I’ve encountered a wide range of organizations that want to embrace and benefit from a thriving culture, yet they have been unable to do so. For many of them, it is because there is a disconnect — a disconnect between what they think their work environment is like and what employees experience.
To manage the disconnect, organizations must be willing to ask the right questions, listen to the answers, and act.
Managing the Disconnect
In sociology, we often use a theory called the Thomas Theorem to explain social phenomenon that we see and experience. It was first developed in 1928 by William Isaac Thomas and Dorothy Swaine Thomas to help explain how perception becomes reality; it states that if people define situations as real, they are real in their consequences. And the consequences are what leaders have to manage today in their workplace environments.
Perception Becomes Reality
Think of it this way. Have you ever tried to get a child to go to sleep that believed there was a monster in their closet? The monster in the closet (situation believed to be real) prevents the child from being able to go to sleep (real consequences).
This same simple logic holds true in our work environments. If employees perceive situations as real, they will have very real consequences.
If employees do not feel like they have an opportunity to thrive, they will not thrive. And not thriving leads to loss of productivity, challenging workplace dynamics, lack of innovation, poor customer service, low retention, and high turnover.
Ask the Right Questions
To combat what is preventing employees from thriving, leaders must be willing to ask the right questions. As I discussed last month, it can be as simple as:
‘What is preventing you or your coworkers from thriving in our organization?’
Listen to the Answers
Asking is just the first step. Leaders must also be willing to listen to the answers. There is an adage that goes something like “don’t ask a question that you don’t want an answer to.” This is true, because if you ask and do not listen or do not act, you may do more harm than good.
There are leaders that just do not ask, because if they do not ask, they will not have to deal with the answers. But long-term this is not good for your staff or your company.
To create a thriving culture, organizations and leadership teams must be willing to build awareness of the reality that is, so that they can move towards the possibilities of what can be with action. This includes:
- knowing change is needed,
- knowing what to change,
- and being willing to change.
Every organization is different. Asking, listening, and acting are the keys to moving away from managing what is coming downstream. New York Times bestselling author, Dan Heath, said “[w]e can – and we should – stop dealing with the symptoms of problems again, and again, and start fixing them” by looking upstream for the source of the problem. (Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen, 2020, p. 15)
Downstream action is trying to deal with turnover, toxic environments, loss of productivity, and lack of innovation. Upstream action is finding the source of the problem – what is preventing your organization and team from thriving in the first place – and dealing with it at its source.
It is Time to get Clear and to Act
It is time to get clear on what it is really like to work in your organization. It is also time to take action to change what needs to be changed to create an environment where everyone feels like they have an opportunity to thrive.
All my best on asking the right questions, listening to what is said, and on showing your staff you care enough to act.
Kristin Heck Sajadi
Kristin Heck Sajadi, Social Awareness Educator, Social Dynamics Consultant, Founder, Shyft Strategies, LLC
Sajadi is a sociologist, entrepreneur and developer of the Shyft5 TM program – helping individuals and organizations build thriving cultures by overcoming the bias and blind spots holding them back.
Shyft5 TM program tackles challenges and builds awareness—the benchmark for effective communication, productive interaction, and thriving cultures in today’s organizations.
At Shyft Strategies, we help you uncover the unconscious thinking and actions that create obstacles and barriers. We help you navigate today’s new business and human capital reality. The first step to moving forward is increasing awareness. Awareness isn’t just learning a new fact or statistic. It is connecting the dots between the reality of what is and why, so that we can consciously and cognitively shyft to what can be and how.