Over the past two decades, we have seen a drastic shift to making the workplace look and feel more human. Hierarchy and bureaucracy are now fossils of the Industrial Age, as employees are becoming increasingly more agile, entrepreneurial/intrapreneurial-minded, and desire to play a bigger role in making decisions.

So it's not so surprising to see shared values like freedom and transparency as the "new normal" in the current social and relationship economy. The old guard hanging on to the command-and-control management style of treating people like functions or numbers is officially dead and buried. 

What is alive and well is a more human-centered way to do business. And now research has discovered a surprising (and hard to swallow) secret weapon found in the most powerful emotion a human being can experience . 

Build a culture of love.

No, I'm not trying to revive a hippie culture in your office, so leave your lava lamps and incense at home. However, moving forward, any leader with a hope and a vision for developing a strong work culture will need to craft an environment that feels more like community and family than a corporate space.

This is where Wharton management professor Sigal Barsade, an award-winning researcher, and her colleague Olivia O'Neill, a management professor at George Mason University, can provide science-backed context and evidence for building a great culture.

In their longitudinal study of caring workplaces, the focus was placed on "emotional culture" rather than "cognitive culture." To make a distinction, when you hear people use the term "culture" loosely,  Barsade says it refers to the "shared intellectual values, norms, 
artifacts, and assumptions that guide group behavior." In other words, this is the "cognitive culture" of an organization, and it's the wrong target. 

When companies run into culture problems, as Amazon did for allegedly sacrificing employee well-being to meet hard performance expectations, troubles may lie in its emotional culture. Barsade defines that as "the shared affective values, norms, artifacts, and assumptions that govern what employees feel, what emotions they express, and which they know they are better off suppressing."

This is where we should be aiming. She says a better understanding of people's shared emotions at work can have important outcomes for organizations. But many leaders shy from discussing emotions, which comes at a high cost to their companies.

O'Neill found that emotional cultures fueled by "companionate love" influence business outcomes like absenteeism and financial performance, as well as employee satisfaction, burnout, and teamwork.

What does "companionate love" look like? It happens "when colleagues who are together day-in and day-out ask and care about each other's work and even nonwork issues. They are careful of each other's feelings. They show compassion when things don't go well," Barsade says.

"When business leaders ignore emotional culture, they overlook a fundamental part of being human and thereby stunt the potential of their companies," says Barsade.

The starting point.

Before you roll your eyes, let me remind you that one of the outcomes for a culture of love is financial performance -- the bottom line! So, to transform a potentially toxic work culture to a healthy community of love will take monumental strides. And let's face it, for some companies, it may be impossible to make that shift.

Unless you have the right leadership championing this cause. It will take visionary, compassionate, human leaders with a growth mindset and bias for action to set the stage and model the behaviors for this change. I speak of leaders like Salesforce CEO Marc 
Benioff, who let nothing stand in the way of addressing the pay gap between men and women at Salesforce. He did it because it was the right thing to do. It's no coincidence Benioff has a 97 percent CEO approval rating on Glassdoor.

To build a culture of love for competitive advantage, it will take a leader with a fierce resolve who wants to solve the hard stuff with the soft stuff. 

Here are three ways to start building a culture of love for your business or organization. 

1. Invest time in getting to know your people.

Speaking to the senior leader now, this means spending time with valued employees and managers, and not for your own personal gain. You do it to learn who they really are, what makes them tick, what their goals, passions, and aspirations are. 

The focus should be on deepening relatedness -- by sharing information about yourself and the organization (transparency), showing that you care about them (empathy), and discussing your intentions openly (authenticity).

In getting to deepen a professional relationship, you'll learn about their strengths and their gifts, and how to apply them for competitive advantage.

2. Build community.

Building community can happen only through connecting, collaborating, and making relationships work. You also can't have strong communities if you don't celebrate accomplishments along the way -- big and small. Celebrations can be personal or professional, for individuals or a team. This is the essence of community.

But beware of community or collaboration killers. Author Ken Blanchard says the main barriers to community are power silos, people and departments that hoard information in a top-down hierarchy.

In his book, Collaboration Begins With You, Blanchard points out some key silo-busters: 

  • Actively seek different points of view and encourage healthy debate 
  • Nurture safety and trust 
  • Talk openly. People need to know it's safe to express themselves, and that their opinions will be respected

3. Listen to many voices.

A culture of love celebrates differences and gains strength from a diversity of styles, experiences, thoughts, and expressions.

From a business standpoint, cultures do this with the aim of fostering a healthy and productive work community where there is a steady flow of ideas and fresh perspectives that lead to results.

In this kind of corporate "tribe," team members hold themselves accountable for protecting the culture's values, making sure all voices are heard and that people's opinions are freely expressed. 

Now you be the judge. Will a culture of love work for your company or team?