Boxing People In
A chronic problem plagues many businesses today – one that damages the Employee Experience and limits their potential for success.
Have you noticed how prone we are to box people in by their current title and role within a company?
The same past achievements that were drawn out during the interview process are almost immediately (and dare I say intentionally) forgotten once they start their new job.
It’s often forbidden to talk about what you did at Company X now that you’re with Company Y.
But it isn’t just previous work-related experiences that are forgotten. We tend to overlook many other things that make people unique, interesting, and worthy of admiration.
Take a moment to list three or four things that you’re most proud of in your life (they don’t need to be work-related; probably shouldn’t be). Do your coworkers know about any of them? Do you know the three or four things that would be on their lists?
Celebrate Past Achievements
Perhaps someone on your team was once a star athlete in college. Maybe a coworker traveled the globe on an epic adventure.
Another team member might have been raised in different country and culture – maybe they’re fluent in 3 languages. The person sitting across the aisle from you might be a sculptor or a D.J. who moonlights at local clubs.
The list of interesting facts about those you work with every day could go on and on.
People are fascinating! Everyone has a unique background and perspective with different passions and priorities.
But Why Should We Care?
If they aren’t on the design team, why does it matter if someone’s an artist? If they aren’t in the IT Department, why would it matter that they used to be captain of an all-state computer programming team?
It matters because our passions and experiences make us who we are. We’re much more than what our current titles indicate and we will respect each other more and work together better when we are familiar with each other’s individual strengths, passions, and background.
Satya Nadella’s Example
In his new book, Hit Refresh, Satya Nadella talks about an executive meeting at Microsoft where they started seeing beyond the titles of each person in the room:
We shared our personal passions and philosophies. We were asked to reflect on who we are, both in our home lives and at work. How do we connect our work persona with the life persona?
People talked about spirituality, their Catholic roots, their study of Confucian teachings, they shared their struggles as parents and their unending dedication to making products that people love to use for work and entertainment.
As I listened, I realized that in all of my years at Microsoft this was the first time I’d heard my colleagues talk about themselves, not exclusively about business matters. Looking around the room, I even saw a few teary eyes. [emphasis mine]
It’s all too common for coworkers to collaborate on projects together for years without knowing much about the other’s individual skills, passions, background, or experiences. But our work becomes so much more interesting and effective when we really get to know each other.
When I first learned that a coworker was an author of a book that sold over 1/4 million copies, I was stunned – I had no idea and no one else knew either. How many times would we have gone to him for advice about publishing-related projects had we known this about his past?
There are ways leaders can raise visibility to the unique achievements, passions, and background of those on their team. Here are 5 simple suggestions:
- Don’t be afraid to chit chat once in a while (and try not to discourage water cooler conversations)
- Take your team members out for coffee, lunch, or even just a walk so you can get to know them better
- Ask thoughtful questions about their former jobs, what they’re most proud of in their life, and what they favorite hobbies are
- Consult people for advice about projects that are related to their individual experiences even if it has nothing to do with their current job description
- Create cross-functional teams that broaden each person’s area of influence beyond their current job description
When people are boxed in, they feel defined by their current role. It’s almost as though the best parts of themselves are hidden in a dark shadow behind their cumbersome job title.
But effective leaders intentionally draw those valuable traits out into the light so each person knows that they are seen (Avatar-style) and valued far more than their title might indicate.
What would you add to this list of 5 suggestions? Please share this article along with your tips or an example of how a leader helped raise visibility for you.