Creating a Culture of Empowerment


One of my favorite quotes came from Steve Jobs: “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

That mantra is extremely important as a driver to building a high-performance team and culture. Whether you are a 5-person company or a 5,000-person company, you need to really give some thought to why you are hiring the people you choose to hire.  You also need to consider how you create opportunities for idea sharing and innovation in a practical way that includes all levels of the corporate ladder.

It’s really important that you don’t pigeon-hole someone into a role with no ability to contribute to the larger success of the organization across all levels if you’re hoping to create a culture that empowers individuals and generates loyalty to the cause.  Ideas can come from many places, and sometimes the best advice can come from those who are not too close to the trees to see what’s really going on.

If you’re a small company, what you do in the first 15 hires will largely dictate where your culture will fall, and that’s something I spend a lot of time advising companies about that are in this phase.  However, as you grow, it’s natural for people on your team to feel threatened by the great talent you bring in; everyone is human and likes to feel appreciated.  When that happens, it’s important that leadership recognize that challenge and coach people accordingly to ensure that those that feel threatened don’t squash the creativity and contributions from the promising upstarts.  Recognition, coaching, and candid feedback are three pillars to building a healthy communication structure across your business.

When you win, you win together.  Conversely, if you build a culture that doesn’t allow for people to spread their wings, you’ll most likely lose together too and lose key talent.  Diversity plays a key role in this, because a room full of “yes people” will never challenge the status quo and that is a common reason behind companies losing their competitive advantage.

So, as you think about your team and the culture you desire, be honest with yourself about just how open the culture is for communication and idea sharing currently.  No company is perfect, but if you feel that you’re particularly lacking in this area then have your leadership teams set up workshops or innovation meetings to start to foster a stronger, more collaborative culture.  Open your door a bit more and welcome the feedback; make sure that same approach is taken by all of your leaders.  Don’t be dismissive of someone’s ideas; if it is not a good idea, then explain why and let people into your way of thinking.

Investing now will ensure that others will invest later on your behalf.  A high-performance team is not built overnight.

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