Clients often ask me how they can support initiatives in their workplace to make it a more supportive environment for their team.
Being in the business of marketing, advertising and digital, I know that written content helps to develop relationships and build trust. In fact, I spent $50,000 on content to learn about what issues were really important to people at work in a bid to help develop that trust.
But developing a culture that champions and rewards transparency is not as easy as writing a few blog posts on diversity. It’s about the actions you take as a business and putting your money where your mouth is in terms of reflecting how your team feels.
Genuine connection comes down to how vulnerable we are willing to be with others. It is the act of sharing stories, vulnerabilities and even fears that help bring us together.
When you reveal something about yourself that is not widely known to others, you’re showing that person or audience who you really are. You’re demonstrating that you trust them. This, supported by consistent behaviour that demonstrates integrity, builds trust.
So many impressive leaders in my network have faced adversity in different forms and balanced this with growing a business, and more often than not, significant personal challenges going on behind the scenes: sickness, loss of a loved one, trauma and financial and emotional setbacks. These experiences, which have shaped who they are as individuals, have gone on to influence the type of leaders they are and the team they attract.
I believe any business can be transformed by listening and leading by example. Here are the lessons I’ve learned since spending $50,000 to find out what is important to my community and team.
1. Never make assumptions about people’s lives
I’ve learned from tech entrepreneurs that one of the most common mistakes is investing in a solution without asking customers what they want. When we started the Leading Ladies series, for example, instead of dictating the content we thought would be relevant, we asked interviewees to share their own stories that they haven’t had a chance to share before.
We told them they had access to a blank canvas and nothing was off limits. The floodgates opened. We discovered that issues such as bullying in the workplace, racism, homophobia, sexism, parental leave and negotiating a pay raise were all affecting many workplaces, and these brave individuals wanted a platform to address it.
I realized that perhaps many workplaces still create initiatives without actually asking their team what’s important to them. It’s tricky for many employees to verbalize what they need without fear of consequence.
I think the bravest question any leader can ask themselves is, “Have you asked your team what they need, or are you making assumptions based on your own point of view in a position of privilege?” Does your team feel they can tell you what they need, or are there opportunities to create an anonymous feedback loop so you can better learn how to support them?
2. You can’t be what you can’t see
After months of research, writing, profiling senior women in leadership positions, hours transcribing interviews, commissioning countless photo shoots and developing content, some interesting things started to happen.
I started to receive emails from people saying our stories had helped to shine a light on an issue that was pertinent to them. I received phone calls from people in tears, saying they’d faced similar adversity and for the first time they didn’t feel alone. People told me they felt heard and that the series showed them what was possible.
I realized countless men and women, from junior professionals to executives, were seeing themselves in these stories, and that was changing people’s perceptions of themselves.
It made me realize that perhaps we could all do a better job of showing our team that it’s OK to be human at work. That it’s possible to be yourself, open, honest, transparent and still be liked, respected and rewarded.
Workplaces with greater diversity deliver higher returns. Could you do a better job of more accurately reflecting the diverse range of opinions and influences that no doubt exist in your business? Are decisions reflective of what’s important to the wider team or just a select few?
3. When uncomfortable, think of what others will learn from you
Truth be told, when I told people I was going to invest so heavily in content, not everyone loved the idea. I was told I was nuts. It wouldn’t generate ROI. Interestingly, and perhaps more reflective of the industry, I was also told to be careful about what I had to say.
When you do something new, you bend, you grow and sometimes you fall over. You might even fail. But if you don’t do that new, scary thing, you’ll be exactly what other people expect of you and no further away from those doing the same things.
If you really want to be competitive and attract and keep the best talent, ask yourself this: “Are we communicating our initiatives internally and externally to let people know there are great workplaces like ours out there? And if we aren’t, is there a reason for that?”
A recruitment expert and the founder and director of Agency Iceberg, Anna O’Dea has placed thousands of employees in the best workplaces. O'Dea is also the founder of #LeadingLadies, an award-winning interview series featuring C-suite professionals’ career journeys. For more information, visit agencyiceberg.com.au.