Five Leadership Actions to Nurture Positive Organizational Culture

The Great Resignation has become a critical discussion topic in many executive forums and a cause for concern with enterprises. In this contact-free, digital experience economy, organizational leaders must rethink their strategies for delivering customer-centric products and services in considerably shorter cycles and ensure that this delivery is sustainable, creates a competitive advantage, and is fulfilling to their workforce. The global pandemic and other complex world events (systemic racism, economic instability, rising inflation, and pay inequality, to name a few) have prompted the workforce to reevaluate their priorities and their purpose, resulting in people quitting their current roles in pursuit of being a part of something more meaningful. 

On the one hand, it is encouraging that people are focused on their purpose (their Why as identified by pundits like Simon Sinek). On the other hand, exit interviews have highlighted that culture mismatch and lack of resonance with corporate objectives are primary reasons for quitting. While the great resignation has become a recent trend, many organizations that embarked on digital transformation journeys have been challenged with talent retention and attrition. Reimagining processes (agile transformation) and adapting to newer technologies (technology transformation) are challenging and arduous endeavors. 

A positive organizational culture rooted in a powerful purpose that nurtures people and is invested in their happiness is crucial for attracting and retaining the real value creators – people. Here are five leadership actions, called the 5Es, that organizational leaders must demonstrate to instill a positive culture: 

Empathize

Empathy at the workplace is the engine for psychological safety, leading to a happier organizational culture. The last few years of global adversity have demonstrated the value of leading with empathy. It is no longer sufficient for executives and leaders to put themselves in others’ shoes and feel what they are going through. Creating a safe space for others to feel their emotions completely and taking actionable steps to reduce the workforce’s anxiety is critical for nurturing a positive culture.

In that regard, the impact of words and language is significant. Words like people instead of “human resources,” “and” instead of “but,” and encouraging inclusive language are simple steps to make empathy a core tenet of organizational culture. A rich culture around empathy expands it to its customers, partners, and stakeholders outside the organization. 

Empower 

People, not technology, are the true value creators within an organization and leaders must empower them to reduce organizational friction that diminishes this value.

The last two years have underscored the value of embracing life as it happens. There is no pragmatic approach to isolating personal and professional life anymore. We as humans were never able to do so and only operated with the illusion of separating them. It is time to embrace our foibles because that makes us unique. 

Flexible work locations and hours, promoting a sustainable pace, and focusing on outcomes instead of deadlines promote a positive culture. Empowering decentralized autonomous teams with enough authority and decision-making power to be productive and contribute with innovative ideas enable them to take more risks, experiment more, and achieve their business outcomes.

Entrust

Never second-guess a team’s how if you have clearly articulated the business outcome’s Why.

No one comes to work planning to do an inadequate job. Successful leaders acknowledge this fact and trust that their workforce will successfully achieve their business outcomes and emphasize this trust by empowering them and allowing them to operate autonomously. Trust and verify becomes the operating model for the organization. Having defined Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) and a clear purpose will help build a trustful environment. The focus shifts from deadlines to continuous delivery of customer-centric features that drive business outcomes.

Autonomous teams adopt data-driven decision-making, candid conversations rooted in psychological safety, and lean experimentation as part of their team norms. People are more prone to take risks, innovate, make mistakes, accept their failures, and share their validated learning because they know that organizational leaders trust them to be value creators.

Engage

Effectively engaging with a remote working environment faces considerable challenges with traditional approaches. Several organizations have embraced multi-channel approaches to disseminate information and engage with the workforce, which had caused an information overload. Each organization must evolve its existing communication models to cater to its specific organizational culture, with the focus on improving the signal-to-noise ratio. Asynchronous communication, transparency, consistency, and frequency are vital for creating a culture of open communication and encourage anyone (regardless of title) to share their ideas safely and with candor. This culture also signals that everyone’s voice has value and that leaders genuinely care for team members. 

Equip

As organizations adapt to the inevitability of having a hybrid or remote workforce, it is crucial to rethink and reimagine existing processes and modernize technology stacks to equip the organization. Leaders must invest in good productivity tools that are responsive, persistent, and integrate seamlessly with the existing ecosystem. Pairing, mentoring, and coaching improve team bonding and trust. Adapting to newer ways of working can be stressful to a remote workforce, and therefore leaders need to celebrate failure, encourage experimentation, and promote fun. 

However, having the most sophisticated technology and optimized processes are useless if the workforce does not have time to utilize them. Meeting overload has impacted team productivity and happiness significantly and leaders must equip teams to handle this phenomenon in constructive ways.

There is a profound difference between reducing pain and building happiness. Reducing pain is momentary; building happiness is persistent.

The events of the last few years have compelled us to fork to a different feature branch of humanity. It is almost impossible to merge to the main branch as the features that we developed over the last two years are not backward compatible. The 5Es framework enables organizational leaders to nurture this new branch and promote it to main efficiently. It is definitely an exciting time to be a technology leader.

Authors

  • Dr. Gautham Pallapa is an Executive Advisor for VMware. He works with C-Suite and executives at Global 2000 enterprise customers in transforming their strategy, processes, technologies, culture, and people to achieve their objectives and business outcomes. His mantra is "Transform with Empathy" and has successfully led several business transformations and cloud modernization efforts in various industry verticals. Gautham is an agile coach, a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, a SAFe Agilist, and an Ambassador for the DevOps Institute. He writes/talks/works on transformation, elevating humans, helping underprivileged people, and giving back to the community. Gautham was awarded the 2018 Tech leader of the year by AIM for his contributions. He has an upcoming book called "Leading with Empathy" which explores these topics in detail.

  • Asanka’s goal is to connect humans and technology by helping organizations implement digital transformation programs that result in consumer-driven digital applications. In his current role as the Chief Technology Evangelist, Asanka drives efforts to create, refine, and enhance WSO2’s corporate reference architecture and is responsible for spearheading a thought leadership outlook that defines WSO2’s corporate reference methodology for development, customer success, and implementation. Working closely with customers, partners, and analysts, he evangelizes WSO2’s technology vision. Asanka has over 20 years of industry experience, which includes designing and implementing highly scalable distributed systems, SOA and microservice architectures in the financial domain, mobile platforms, and various business integration solutions. He is also a committer of the Apache Software Foundation. Asanka is a regular speaker at numerous global events and many tech meetups in San Francisco Bay Area.

Dr. Gautham Pallapa

Dr. Gautham Pallapa is an Executive Advisor for VMware. He works with C-Suite and executives at Global 2000 enterprise customers in transforming their strategy, processes, technologies, culture, and people to achieve their objectives and business outcomes. His mantra is "Transform with Empathy" and has successfully led several business transformations and cloud modernization efforts in various industry verticals. Gautham is an agile coach, a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, a SAFe Agilist, and an Ambassador for the DevOps Institute. He writes/talks/works on transformation, elevating humans, helping underprivileged people, and giving back to the community. Gautham was awarded the 2018 Tech leader of the year by AIM for his contributions. He has an upcoming book called "Leading with Empathy" which explores these topics in detail.