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Fostering a Positive Work Environment

"A positive work environment is one where employees feel valued, motivated, and empowered to do their best work." - Unknown

The working environment has changed dramatically since I first wrote this article in 2016 and it appeared in the Leadership section of Badass+Living. Many are not working from a company office at all, some are working hybrid, and unfortunately, far too many are not working at all. The original impetus for this blog was to identify four points to create a positive work environment. Since I was drawing from my personal experience, I was using the entertainment industry as the source of the examples.

I acknowledge that what goes into the culture of a workplace that makes it “positive” and what actually defines “positive” are far more complex than the surface level points listed below. However, that is not to diminish the value of these points. At the time when each of the below were part of the culture of the company I worked for, employees had said that as a leader, I helped create one of the best working environments they had ever experienced. Of course I can’t take full credit as the one responsible for the environment. I had an incredible boss who was setting an example from the top down and it takes individual contributors willing to work together as a team and embrace the culture to make it work. For the original blog, I went back and spoke to former employees to see if I could succinctly articulate what made the culture so productive and welcoming. Here are the four points that I believe still hold true today and are applicable to more than just the entertainment industry.

Create a blameless culture

Creating a blameless culture nurtured an environment of teamwork. The unwritten policy was to let people tell you their mistakes, listen to what went wrong and to try to find a solution or to find a way to prevent repeat mistakes, all without asking ‘who.’ We asked ‘where’ or ‘how’ it happened but we avoided the ‘who.’ Conducting business this way fostered teamwork because no one individual was going to be blamed and the way through and forward was the focus.

Learn to say “please” and “thank you”

Genuinely said, “please” and “thank you” are some of the most important words in a workplace because they convey caring, gratitude and signal respect. As much as possible, we made it a point to say “thank you” to everyone: from the lobby staff to the maintenance workers to the assistants, to the hard working individuals and to the leaders of each project. On the occasions that I left and there was still staff working, I acknowledged their efforts by saying “thank you” and “good night.” Adding in a “please” to a request acknowledged that what was being asked was a request, not an order. In our Monday morning staff meetings, we would ask the department heads to name anyone that worked over the weekend, or had gone above and beyond the week prior. We wanted to be able to say “thank you” to that person by name. It was often a successful way to get the names of the hard working entry-level staff recognized in front of the company executives. I wove this practice into all my positions thereafter and refer to it as giving “kudos”.

Have an open-door policy

A former employee told me that seeing my office door open made a big difference to her and to other employees in creating a welcoming environment. To them, having my door open meant we were available to them, that we were engaged in their work and that we were part of their team, not just the leaders. With the door open it meant that anyone could come in at any time to run an idea by me, to get a temperature check for a decision, or to simply vent. Women especially found this open door policy helpful because quick check-ins, without formal appointments, sometimes gave them the senior level encouragement they needed to boost their confidence and vocalize or act on their professional instincts. Many people made their way into my office via the open-door policy and they would often turn a ‘pop-in’, to a sit down mini ‘coaching’ session. It was my enjoyment of these sessions and my belief that it helped them, that much later became one of the reasons I transitioned to coaching. While being in the office is limited today, making yourself accessible to employees through workplace chat features, genuinely being present for 1:1 meetings and engaging everyone in team meetings can help serve the same purpose.

Value honest and transparent communication

I remember working for a network when it was being merged with a larger company and we learned more from the newspaper on our subway rides to work than we did from upper management. It created an environment of fear. Wondering who was going to get laid off fueled rumors, “I heard it was Rebecca in Ad Sales,” and perpetuated the blame game, “But Joe said it was okay to go forward with the expense”. When the company I helped lead went through an acquisition, we would regularly call everyone together and disclose as much information as we possibly could. We were honest when we couldn’t answer a question, we said, “we can’t answer that now but we can tell you this…” We always made sure we had something we could tell the team so they felt “in the know” and a bit more comfortable during the company changes. Communication from management to all staff reduced fear and minimized time spent worrying that could be better spent productively.

In Closing

These are just a few of the ways we were able to foster a positive work environment while I was a company leader. I acknowledge that there were challenges to keeping this environment as the company expanded and grew, and we weren’t always perfect. I think in building a culture, a little effort can go a long way and by just incorporating a few of these points, it can start to make an immediate difference.

Originally published in 2016 “Footnotes of a Former COO” appeared under Leadership in Badass+Living.


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