Building a Winning Company Culture Includes Embracing Creative People With Patricia Carl

Building a Winning Company Culture Includes Embracing Creative People With Patricia Carl

VENTEUR spoke with Patricia Carl, Speaker, Coach, and Founder and CEO of Highland Performance Solutions (HPS), about how to develop a solid company culture. As a leader, Carl is inspired by human-centered motivation and behavior in the workplace and its profound effect on individual fulfillment and performance. She founded HPS to enable organizations to deliver on strategy by leveraging their most important asset: their people. Her thought leadership has resulted in her being a guest speaker on topics such as conscious capitalism, empathy-driven leadership, leading in the new world of work, high-performing teams, and executive presence. Patricia is working on her first leadership book.

How can leaders cultivate a culture of inclusive leadership throughout their organizations, and why does such inclusivity matter?

On a very fundamental level, people want to feel like they belong. At work, you assemble a team of individuals, all of whom come in with previous experiences and perspectives. The goal is to build a culture that not only embraces this diversity but also celebrates it and considers it a necessity for doing good work. 

You have to expand your capacity for appreciating perspectives; when you have a narrower berth for it or when your environment is too regulated, it makes it difficult for people to show up as themselves. It makes people feel like leadership is saying, “We only like this part of you. Leave the rest at home.” That hurts the individual, and it hurts the team. 

Leaders should create an environment that, first and foremost, invites diversity in every form.  

How important is recognizing employee achievements to developing a positive work culture, and why?

Knowing that you’re valued and that your contribution makes a difference is a basic human need. All relationships–professional and personal–need that current of positive communication and affirmation to keep them functional and growth-oriented. At my consulting firm, we believe that employees who feel valued will be the ones to build thriving organizations. Employees must understand and see how their work matters to the larger picture and contributes to the company's mission. Consistent gestures of appreciation and gratitude have a significant impact on that.  

Patricia Carl, Speaker, Coach, and Founder and CEO of Highland Performance Solutions

What should celebrating employees’ milestones and achievements look like, and why?

I think how appreciation is communicated at work is a matter of one-size-fits-one. One of your employees might feel most valued when their accomplishments are publicly celebrated. For example, a shout-out at an all-hands meeting while another employee might prefer a personal written note or voicemail. The more you can understand your employees’ comfort levels with praise and communication, the better you can tailor your approach to celebrate their accomplishments.

According to The American Institute of Stress, 83% of American workers suffer from work-related stress. What are three out-of-the-box ways leaders can help reduce their employees’ work-related stress and add to a positive work culture, and why these three? 

1. Help Them by Helping Their Leaders

Gallup recently found that “unfair treatment at work” was the number one reason employees felt burnt out. If an employee is chronically stressed at work, ineffective management likely plays a part in that. Leaders need to start by checking themselves: their own stressors can greatly influence the tone and tenor of the team. 

Do leaders have the training and resources to build that positive micro-culture and camaraderie? Do leaders set good boundaries between work and life? Do leaders coach on how to prioritize? If the answer to those questions is no, the stressful environment likely stems from leadership, and that must be addressed first.  

2. Let Them “Job Craft”

If your employee is experiencing significant stress over their workload, it may mean there’s an imbalance between the parts of the job they love and the parts they find depleting. In this case, you and your employee can co-create a role tailored toward that sweet spot of what they love to do and what they excel at. This will shift their focus to work that energizes them and alleviates stress.  

3. Understand the Bigger Picture

If it seems like your employee is in continuously in crisis mode, dig a little deeper and see if you can pinpoint what they are struggling with. Is it an issue of prioritization? Workload? Interpersonal conflict? Are they going through something personally that is affecting their work? 

Get further context around their challenges and see what changes you can make together. It also doesn’t hurt to zoom out and put a situation in perspective. You can remind them that at the end of the day, they’re not doing heart surgery (assuming they are indeed not doing heart surgery). This mindset shift is especially helpful in reducing self-induced stress, where an employee might be their own worst enemy in terms of high expectations and pressure.

66% of American workers suffer from sleep deprivation caused by work-related stress. How can leaders determine whether these types of issues are due to toxicities stemming from leadership or compartmentalized toxicities that happen without the leaders’ knowledge, and how can they be addressed

Leaders can support employees struggling with stress by creating safe spaces and listening to them. I am always surprised to discover how many leaders don’t connect live with their direct reports every week. From where I stand, this weekly touchpoint is not nice to have; it’s essential. The purpose of these touchpoints should be to better understand how your employee is doing mentally and emotionally instead of talking through a to-do list. Leaders should take this time to understand what is going on with an employee, personally and professionally–and together, they can take steps to find the proper support.

Not all environments need creators. However, what value can developing a creator work culture add to an organization, what might that culture look like, and how does one develop it from the ground up?

I would beg to differ with your first point. I think all environments benefit from creative, innovative people and ideas: whether that’s innovation with a big “I” or a little “i.” Every organization needs game-changing ideas and incremental improvement; both require creativity.

You have to allow people to “fail fast and forward.” They should know they can bring big, out-of-the-box ideas to the table, try them out, and learn from their successes or failures. If you create a culture where your people are too afraid to take risks, you limit ingenuity–and I can’t think of an environment where that is preferable!

Startups often require employees to do more for less and do so with smiles. How can leaders spot when employees are overworked, positively intervene, and what corrective actions should be taken, and why?

Again, this comes back to making sure leaders are talking to their people. When you make communication a priority, and you promote open and honest dialogue between direct reports and managers, you eliminate the need for guesswork on the leaders’ part and a sense of passivity from the employee. Leaders should ask their employees regularly: “What are you struggling with?”–and be clear that they want to know. 

Employees should feel they can come to their managers with their issues and that the response will be grounded in empathy and focused on solutions. We also know that not all work is equally depleting for people–in fact, some types of work are energizing for us. Ensuring that a reasonable proportion of their work excites them helps counteract burnout.

Does offering benefits such as four-day work weeks, unlimited PTO, health insurance, and the ability to work from home make up for toxic workplace cultures? 

All of the benefits and perks in the world can’t make up for a culture where people feel unheard unappreciated, or, worse, mistreated. People expect their social, emotional, and developmental needs to be met at work; toxic cultures aren’t delivering on that. Employees will ultimately check out, whether that means quitting or quiet quitting–situations where they feel the employer-employee contract is imbalanced. We’re seeing people take pay cuts and forego other perks in favor of a workplace and leadership team that treats them well, allows for autonomy, and supports them as a whole person.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

To add to that last point, again, I think one of the most powerful benefits an organization can give to an employee is a leader who knows how to support them. Leaders are the difference-makers. They have tremendous influence over the engagement, productivity, and retention of their team. 

They also profoundly affect how and if employees are enabled to use their strengths. Organizations that take leadership development seriously and prioritize it will have an advantage in terms of having their pick of talent and keeping them engaged. When employees are cared for and engaged, an organization’s customers will have great client service, which translates into a competitive advantage and results.

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