Three Ways to Foster Value Creators in an Organization

As humanity shifted to a contactless, digital-first operating model, it has become essential for organizations to deliver value to their customers and the market frequently and consistently. Speed to value has become a critical key performance indicator for success, resulting in a need to reduce friction in flow and invest in technologies to achieve a rapid pace of development. However, technology can only be an enabler and does not create value on its own. People are the actual value creators and leaders who must ensure that the workforce is appreciated and enabled to innovate, grow, and develop. Here are three steps to foster these value creators within an organization.

Foster Value Creators

Nurture a positive culture

Having the right organizational culture is imperative for a company to sustain itself in a hyper-dynamic world. More than 70% of all change initiatives fail because of culture or misalignment in the workforce. Leaders must nurture a culture that is positive, willing to change, and can rally behind the vision and purpose of the organization. Building a positive culture requires trust and respect to be an organization’s bedrock.

If you have clearly articulated an initiative’s Why, never second guess a team’s How.

As a leader, the focus must be on clearly articulating the Why (the purpose), the business outcomes required for success, and outlining the value the customer, workforce, stakeholders, and the company will achieve. Next, they must empower the workforce and equip them with tools to be successful. Once leaders champion trust and respect, team bonding increases, improving collaboration. Open and candid conversations ensue, and respect grows within the organization.

This, in turn, creates psychologically safe environments. Teams are enabled and entrusted to achieve business outcomes. Talent retention reduces, and the organization becomes attractive to highly skilled individuals. In this safe environment, people take risks and experiment. They are comfortable with failure and can innovate better. Leaders can improve psychological safety by avoiding the word “failure.” A good friend, Sunil Sharma, asserts that insights and learning are constant outcomes whether one succeeds or fails in an experiment. So why associate a negative word with a result that was not expected? This is a potent mindset that leaders can embrace to nurture a positive culture. The result of an innovative experiment is not binary in nature. Rather than think in terms of success or failure, we can evaluate if we need to pivot or persevere based on the results of experiments. 

Organizations that promote psychological safety are successful and productive. It improves innovation, breaks silos, and makes people happy. This drives a positive culture within the organization.

Focus on High Value Activity

Have you ever been excited to experience a new place and create new memories only to be frustrated by the amount of time spent packing and repacking suitcases to conform to size, weight, and approved items that airlines allow? And then arrive at the airport, only to find that the flight was canceled, requiring you to spend long periods of time with customer service or the ticketing agents to find an alternate flight and still have a semblance of a vacation?

In both these scenarios (which have become highly probable in recent times, unfortunately), the high value activity is traveling to a place and creating new memories and experiences. All time spent otherwise might be necessary, but they are low value activities. Similarly, in organizations, high value activities are the primary functions of a role. For instance, innovating and developing features and applications that delight customers is high value activity for developers, while spending time figuring out how to spin up infrastructure, or navigating through YAML hell would be considered low value activity. For operators, having good observability and ensuring that the systems are stable, secure, and scalable are high value activities, and manually running commands to patch or deploy software are low value activities.

Leaders must invest in appropriate tools and software that enable the workforce to focus on their high value activities and have systems or automation perform the mundane tasks. This philosophy is also a core tenet for Lean, Agile, and DevOps principles. In a hybrid working environment, organizations need to rely on technology to drive behavior, help team members focus on their high value activities, and reduce manual toil and friction so that leaders can nurture a positive culture.

Be an empathic leader

Empathic leadership focuses on understanding the need of team members, being sensitive to their growth needs, and selflessly striving to remove impediments so that teams can focus on their high-value activities and innovate in a secure environment.

When a leader can look at a fellow workforce member and put themselves in their shoes, understand the pain or stress they are undergoing, and value the member’s happiness over their own, the leader is genuinely empathic. 

Leading with Empathy: Understanding the Needs of Today’s Workforce

But for an empathic leader to nurture a positive culture, they must go beyond having an emotional connection. They have to take concrete steps to reduce the pain and stress. They have to act.

Empathic leaders create a safe space for the workforce to be fully present, feel valued, and provide them with all the tools necessary to innovate, brainstorm, and experiment. This safe space becomes the creative engine for the organization and generates business value at a sustainable pace. 

An empathic leader is like a parent who wishes to give her children the best education in the world, discipline, help them grow, provide them with the best opportunity, and enhance their self-confidence. Empathic leaders demonstrate similar love towards their teams, support them through failure, guide them towards their outcomes, and protect them from unfavorable situations to the best of their abilities.

People are the true value creators

As organizational leaders traverse these challenging times, it is imperative to acknowledge that people, not technology, are the actual value creators. Investment in creating a positive culture that fosters empathy and psychological safety will enable teams to focus on their high value activity and innovate more, driving to sustainable delivery of business value.

Dr. Gautham Pallapa

Dr. Gautham Pallapa is a Senior 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.