Veronique James is a member and former president of Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO)'s Arizona chapter and CEO of The James Agency, an integrated agency specializing in consumer advertising, public relations and digital marketing that has been honored locally and nationally for its excellence in workplace culture. We asked Veronique how she created a nurturing and inspiring workplace. Here's what she shared:
No matter the industry or profession, in today's fast-paced business age, you undoubtedly spend the majority of your waking weekday hours at work. A lot of us spend more time with our colleagues than with our own families, and some weeks, the office feels more like our primary residence. As a mother and wife, I understand how difficult this reality can be. So, how do we make it more tolerable?
The benefits of a positive work environment are well-documented: Creativity, productivity and happiness go up while--like a counterweight--stress levels sink significantly. As a business owner and leader, that's the kind of workplace I strive to create. Since I'm going to spend most of my Mondays through Fridays at work, I want it to be a place that inspires and nurtures my team--and myself!
Here are seven tips I've used to build a work environment where my team and I can thrive:
1. Begin with gratitude.
I strongly believe that it is a privilege, not a right, to work together. In our agency, we begin each week with a 15-minute all-hands team meeting where the first item on the agenda is team kudos. Giving people a vehicle to express appreciation for one another in a public forum raises the morale of the entire group, establishes a positive tone for the week and helps people feel acknowledged and valued. Starting with gratitude in any professional situation sets the intention of appreciation, which will permeate throughout the organization.
2. Create a safe environment.
There is nothing more damaging than toxicity in a professional environment. It stifles new ideas and inhibits collaboration. Creating a safe work environment means eliminating negative personalities and respecting every idea--whether it's from an intern or a tenured senior team member. Lead with honesty, integrity and vulnerability to help your employees feel safe.
3. Don't leave your dirty dishes in the sink.
This metaphor essentially means, "Don't leave a mess for someone else to clean." There is nothing more frustrating than picking up a project where someone left off to find that files are missing, the work is a mess or someone saved a crucial document to their desktop moments before boarding a flight for a two-week vacation to Paris. Not leaving a mess is the functional interpretation, but the emotional definition is, "Respect everyone's time." If someone has to duplicate your efforts or take time away from their daily responsibilities to hunt for a missing document, you are basically saying you don't care about their time. Time is our most valuable currency. When we aren't respectful of our colleagues' time, we are contributing to a negative workplace environment.
4. There are only opportunities in business, not problems.
When emotions are high and stress levels skyrocket, even the smallest workplace issues can seem like towering boulders. I tell my team that what we're experiencing isn't a problem; it's an opportunity to reflect, analyze and evaluate so that next time--and there's always a next time--we'll do better. Also, I try to find irony or humor in every situation. Making your team smile by bringing perspective to the situation can quickly lighten a very emotionally charged room.
5. Consistency is key.
There are so many new trends in company culture: flex hours, team building, open workspaces, unlimited paid time off, bringing pets to work--and the list goes on. It's easy to be tempted by what may seem like worthwhile workplace perks or try to replicate what competitors are offering. However, the same tactics don't work for every company. Above all, my team has found that consistency is key for us, rather than being distracted by the latest professional culture craze. Although change can be healthy, disrupting a good thing can be detrimental and affect the cultural balance of your organization.
6. Encourage positive thinking.
Life is short. Why waste time on negative behaviors that don't align with your business' moral compass? I proactively encourage my team to think positively--All. The. Time. Even when things seem to be spinning out of control or we didn't achieve the result we anticipated, positive thinking will eventually cultivate positive outcomes. Setting weekly, monthly and yearly positive intentions as a group will help to align your team and ensure that everyone is facing toward the same North Star.
7. Don't sacrifice the important for the urgent.
It's easy to punt team one-on-ones for an urgent client call or meeting, but that connection with your team is crucial to maintaining a positive workplace culture. As the leader, you are the cheerleader of the company and the glue that binds your organization together. Without regular connection to your people, the mission, vision and energy of the business can quickly dilute and degrade your cultural fiber. It's okay to reschedule; just don't let important conversations get replaced by urgent demands and deadlines.
Dependability, structure, clarity and meaningful work are all ingredients that, when combined, can culminate in a solid foundation for a positive workplace. Add your own awesome sauce and voila ... you have the magic recipe!