Leave Your Baggage Behind

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Leave Your Baggage Behind is a piece written by J. Forrest, our guest blogger for the week, who is the founder of Employee Strategies in Minneapolis.  His consulting practice was created with a mission to improve workplace culture.  In addition to the practice, he is also the software company founder and owner of Alignamite, a web-based performance management tool. Intereum and Employee Strategies have partnered to share strategies for creating better places to work. And as our video shows, it’s the beginning to a great relationship.

Human behavior is complex.  We work with individuals from all walks of life and spend hours upon hours trying to understand their behavior and how it relates to a leader, a purpose, and a workplace.  Within our discipline of Organization Development, we, in effect, become like medical doctors of the workplace.  While this simile falls apart the more you unravel it, it works to explain some basic premises of our work.  Essentially, our clients present a problem and we work to address that problem or the root cause of the symptom that may exist a few layers below the surface.

A few years ago, we had a client that was moving across town.  By outgrowing their existing space, it became necessary to find a bigger office.  The move and the senior leader were met with some serious resistance.  The leader couldn’t understand why.  In his mind, he saw an expensive new office with more collaborative space, furniture that wasn’t forty years old, and closer proximity to some fun restaurants.   The logic didn’t add up and he couldn’t understand why his team wasn’t excited about the move.  So, he called us.

As we sat down over breakfast, he explained that people were furious about the move.  In his mind, the presenting symptom/problem was that employees were losing their private offices.  In our discussion, we talked about the lack of trust he was being afforded.  His organization didn’t trust him to make a series of decisions in their best interest.  The prevailing symptom to address wasn’t the loss of a private office, but rather the lack of trust between employees and the leadership team.  We decided to work together and we started a “Leave Your Baggage Behind” campaign.  The play on words to the campaign was intended to be lighthearted, but also address the very real concerns that had been festering for years.

One of my favorite quotes comes from Stephen Covey, “to listen well is the psychological equivalent of giving air to someone who is oxygen-deprived. It meets a deep, profound human need.”

The team of people we worked with was unsure about the move and the loss of perceived status in going from private offices to cubes, but what they were really mourning was the absence of influence.  They were not being heard or asked anything about their work.  Everything, it felt, was being done to them without their opinion or support.  It felt like they didn’t matter.  Turns out, the recurring issue in this organization was a leader that cared so much, he did everything himself.  Some may read this behavior as caring many more saw it as an illustration that they didn’t matter.  They didn’t matter enough to have their opinion shared on any workplace decisions.  The loss of offices was merely an easy thing to highlight.

We can complain about how we are getting softer as a society, that we cancel schools with one cool forecast or that in the “real world” not everyone gets a trophy, but in my real world everyone wants their work to be both impactful and fun.  This doesn’t happen through pure logic, it happens through human behavior.  It happens through trust and it happens when our leaders are afforded the benefit of the doubt.  This is achieved through trust.

If you’re considering an office space refresh, cheers to you!  Keep your eyes on symptoms like turnover, productivity drops, and employee stress as indicated by an increase in “got a minute” meetings.    To get a head of the curve, form an employee team that focuses on understanding employee perspectives, concerns and ideas.  If you include employees in the process, you increase the likelihood that they really do leave some of the old baggage behind.