Twenty years ago, many of these ideas below were reserved for tech startups in the Silicon Valley. That was then, this is now.
If your company is just joining the revolution and transitioning to a more human workplace, here are six best-in-class strategies from leading executives, one former Navy Seal, and the latest scientific evidence.
1. Leaders care about their employees as people.
Leadership coach and former Inc. 500 CEO Alden Mills, a former Navy SEAL tells strategy+business: "To lead is to serve and to serve is to care." He noted that executives who expect employees to be all in for the mission yet treat them as "disposable units of production" fail to understand the human part of the equation. He says, "Truly great companies treat their employees like they treat their customers."
2. There's a growth mindset throughout the organization.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, bestselling author of Hit Refresh: The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft's Soul and Imagine a Better Future shifted his culture from a stagnant know-it-all company to a learn-it-all company. The inspiration for that comes from Carol Dweck's work on growth mindset, which stimulates more motivation and productivity in people. Nadella tells Wharton professor Adam Grant, "[Say] you have two students -- one of them has more innate capability, and the other has less. The person who has less, but is a learn-it-all, will ultimately [become] better. That applies to CEOs, and that applies to companies. I think it has been a helpful cultural metaphor for us to say that you can't act like a know-it-all; you have to be a learn-it-all."
3. Management removes obstacles from employees' path.
LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner is a firm believer and advocate for "compassionate management." This is the understanding that the role of every manager is to remove "the boulder on the chest" of employees and alleviate their suffering. In other words, it's empathy with massive action attached. It's experiencing another employee's struggles and challenges that interfere with his or her work, and doing everything within your power (as a manager, or even as a colleague) to alleviate that suffering -- to "take the boulder off their chest." Weiner says, "[T]his all goes into this concept of managing compassionately and I think if organizations can learn to do this at scale, it's a complete game-changer."
4. Company benefits focus on allowing people to integrate work and life outside of work.
Rebecca Cantieri, chief people officer for SurveyMonkey, takes care of employees with innovative and industry-leading benefits that will make most employees salivate. It includes extended parental leave programs to ease an employee's transition back to work, holidays, sabbaticals and bereavement pay. In addition, SurveyMonkey offers unlimited personal time off, 16 weeks of paid parental leave for both mothers and fathers, extended bereavement leave and more. She tells Employee Benefit News, "These policies have been tremendously well-received and will help employees focus on family when it's a priority."
5. Humor and fun are part of the everyday culture.
Stanford Graduate School of Business professor Jennifer Aaker and lecturer Naomi Bagdonas, who co-teach a class at Stanford's business school called Humor: Serious Business, have found that humor works as a powerful strategy for increasing employee retention, reducing workplace stress, and improving problem solving with innovative solutions. The reason it works so effective is because the very act of laughing sparks the release of oxytocin, that feel-good brain chemical that enables social bonding, improves relationships, and increases trust. Bagdonas calls humor "an underleveraged superpower in business."
6. People trust one another.
Speaking of oxytocin, Dr. Paul Zak, author of Trust Factor: The Science of Creating High Performance Companies, discovered that trust is truly what makes work exciting, productive, and innovative. While measuring the brain activity of people while they worked, he found that the oxytocin "facilitated trust, generosity, connection to others." What leaders and managers need to do is figure out the job tasks and behaviors that will release the feel-good neurochemicals in the brain, like oxytocin. In Zak's research, eight specific "trustworthy" management behaviors will do just that, thus boosting performance across an enterprise:
- Recognizing peers and co-workers for excellence.
- Assigning a team a difficult but achievable job (which induces "challenge stress").
Giving people discretion and greater control in how they do their work.
Sharing information broadly.
Facilitating whole-person growth where people develop personally as well as professionally.