Stress Relief

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06-09-2014

4 min read

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Building a culture where people can perform

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast!”

I’ve heard this statement mentioned quite frequently recently, as I work with leaders who are concerned that they are having difficulties implementing their business strategy.

This statement is often attributed to Peter Drucker, renowned for being one of the world’s leading management thinkers and writers.

It might seem strange to highlight such a statement here, particularly as this article focuses on leaders managing workplace stress by helping them create an environment whereby highly effective teams can perform.

Believe me, it’s relevant!

I don’t think anyone would disagree that it’s reasonable for leaders to expect a level of competency in the workplace, of themselves and of those they lead, to ultimately enable businesses to achieve their objectives.

The problem is that no matter how solid your strategy, without the right workplace culture, it is unlikely you will achieve what you set out to.

If the organisation is not resilient or adaptive, then adjusting direction would turn out to be far more costly, from a budget and social capital (people) perspective.

Stephen M. R. Covey, in The Speed of Trust, addresses this from the perspective of cultivating an environment of trust, and how this one virtue can change everything about your business.

Its presence or absence has an impact on your credibility. Not only in regards to your own leadership reputation, but in relation to the responsiveness of others to what you are asking them to do.

For the discerning leader, this all makes perfect sense, especially with the understanding that building the right organisational culture takes time.

But there are others who quickly dismiss this as being unrealistic, often at the expense of their own health and the business.

Let’s take a look at the pitfalls of this thinking.

Robert is the owner of a large construction company that has struggled to win three large projects. They are losing business, money, and reputation.

Recently two of his most experienced managers chose to leave the company and work for a competitor. Angry at their decision, Robert made no attempt to understand the reasons behind them leaving.

He thought that losing two experienced managers wasn’t going to hurt the company.

On the upside, he now had two more wages he didn’t have to cover. He could elevate someone else into a management role on a lower salary.

The situation quickly deteriorated. Some of the staff that had previously worked under these two managers left over the next three weeks.

Projects were now falling behind schedule, placing greater demands on a diminishing team.

Robert now had to contend with disgruntled customers and concerns that the quality of their work had fallen due to the loss of experienced managers and builders.

It was inevitable that this had begun to take a toll on Robert’s health and his family.

Although there’s always a risk of oversimplifying some issues in a truncated story, let’s make some observations relevant to our topic of building a culture where teams can perform.

Nothing lasts forever

First, it is naïve to expect that experienced managers and employees will remain with our businesses forever!

People are no longer merely looking for a job that pays a salary. They’re seeking a career that fits with their life goals.

From a CEO survey of the top 100 companies in the UK, 68% ranked talent and human capital as the top priority. Another survey indicates that for graduates entering the workforce today, they will have 13 jobs by age 38.

Robert needed to ask himself a series of questions: Why would someone choose to work for his company and not someone else’s? What incentives are being offered?

What type of work culture would make it a more attractive place to work than a competitor? Are there opportunities to acquire new skills and gain broader experience?

Stress spreads

Second, it’s incredible how a leader’s stress can cascade down an entire organisation, often functioning as a catalyst for other reactionary decisions.

And it is precisely these things that can do so much damage and undermine the very virtue that Covey believes is core to a leader’s credibility – trust!

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, discusses how to cheat chaos, and how it is largely dependent on a person’s ‘coping style’.

This is influenced by three different kinds of resources:

  • the availability of external support
  • a person’s psychological resources (intelligence, education, relevant personality factors)
  • the different coping strategies a person uses to manage stressful situations

It is critical that leaders seek out resources they need to help them cope with the stress they will face in managing a business.

Moreover, they need to be more aware of the types of behaviour they model to those they are leading.

Learn from your situations

The third observation from Robert’s situation is that he made no attempt to understand the reasons behind his most experienced managers leaving the company.

Not learning from this situation leaves the company susceptible to others taking the same action.

What we can conclude from these observations is that leaders have considerable power to influence their organisation’s culture – positively and negatively.

A leader’s ability to create a healthy workplace culture and mitigate the normal stresses that occur in running a profitable business is, therefore, invaluable.

This ability:

  • influences what employees hear when the leader speaks, or the value they attach to their job to how their leader communicates with them
  • demonstrates the resilience of the company’s core values when it is tempting to take shortcuts under pressure
  • enables the passion of vision to inspire and motivate others, rather than to berate or belittle

What’s the bottom-line?

Some questions leaders might ask themselves include:

  • What strategies have I put in place that gives me adequate time to listen to my staff and invest in their professional welfare?
  • Is my behaviour as a leader consistent with my values and what I am expecting from my staff?
  • How am I creating opportunities for my staff to develop new skills? What are some ways I can empower my staff to achieve goals that will help them grow?
  • Do I always have to be right or do I allow my staff to contribute?
Dr Glenn Williams is the CEO of LCP Global Pty Ltd, an organisation that empowers leaders and organisations to grow their leadership capacity. You can contact him at editor@leaderonomics.com.

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