Sending the message that everyone matters in your organization is arguably one of the most important things you can do as a leader. I’ve learned this not only from personal experience, but I’ve also discussed this theme with thought leaders over the years. The dawn of 2021 has also brought a growing trend: the employee experience is now a corporate strategy, according to Josh Bersin’s latest research.
If you’re asking what, exactly, is included in the employee experience, you’re not alone. Today, that can mean anything from onboarding and orientation to daily events and interactions to career support and handling layoffs. Recently, I wrote about ServiceMaster’s retired CEO William Pollard, who was ahead of his time. While he didn’t have the benefit of Bersin’s research, he chose to lead with his personal values. His overriding value was to put everyone in another person’s shoes to keep them grounded and informed.
Experiencing the work lives of everyone in the company was a priority. Pollard launched a program where every officer and employee spent one day a year performing service work for customers. This annual exercise was a great reminder that leaders should never ask others to do something they aren’t willing to do themselves. The practice also helped employees and leaders check their egos in relation to direct-service providers.
I couldn’t help but be reminded of Pollard’s walk-a-mile-in-someone-else’s-shoes philosophy when I recently interviewed author Sally Helgesen. I was struck by Helgesen’s case study with the help of Ted Jenkins at Intel. Jenkins told her there were four kinds of power in organizations:
- The power of expertise: how much knowledge you bring to the job.
- The power of connection: who you know and how well can you leverage your network.
- The power of personal authority: how well you inspire confidence or trust in others.
- The power of position: how much power you hold in your position.
In Jenkins’ view, the fourth power has the most potential to alter a culture. When Helgesen asked why Intel was so successful at the time, Jenkins explained that they worked very hard to keep position power in balance and in harmony.
In other words, they viewed only one kind of position power versus many different levels, which can contribute to a toxic workplace. Jenkins added that this neutral view of all positions eliminated scenarios where a person who exercised traditional position power was never questioned, even when other individuals may have had helpful observations.
With position power blended throughout the ranks at Intel, decision-making and troubleshooting were balanced between those at the top and employees who had frontline knowledge. Furthermore, if you wanted a great parking spot, you had better arrive early. There was also no correlation between title and office space. Like ServiceMaster, Intel was keeping leaders grounded and frontline employees at the front of decision-making.
Each company had its own way of letting everyone know they mattered. In doing so, they accomplished more than they ever could have had the company relied on a few people within the C-suite. Look for ways that you can let everyone know they matter. Whether you try some of Pollard’s techniques or Jenkins’ methods, everyone will share in the observation that you’re making an effort, which is half the battle.
Watch for my final installment in this three-part series, where I’ll talk about the underlying yet enormous leadership behavior that’s at play when you let everyone know they matter.