My first supervisory role provided me with a foundational leadership lesson that I have never forgotten.
I was concerned for those in my charge because they had a history of conflict and were constantly challenging their supervisors. They were long term employees with valuable intellectual history, providing information services to the larger organization…and they were unhappy.
My goal was to make things better for them.
I saw that they were isolated and underappreciated, so I set out a strategy to help them interact with others from different departments in our very large organization…to get them out of what I saw as an isolated workplace.
I believed that if they were simply able to see other departments, to understand how their contributions impacted others (how others benefited from their services), that they would be happier, more fulfilled, and would feel more valued.
I shared my strategy with them and asked for their input into an effective schedule that would have them taking turns out of the office learning about the other departments they served.
Once the schedule was made, a new challenge emerged. They seemed to be either sick or wanting to change shifts with their co-workers to avoid times that would take them away from their own office environment.
I now realize that my “good idea” was based on what I would have liked had I been in their role. What they wanted was something completely different.
What they really wanted and needed were two things: a choice in creating their own space with pictures and artwork, and to hear the positive feedback from those they provided service to…those in other departments they did not see.
All it took was a paint job in the coffee room, a few pictures and a bouquet of silk flowers…each flower representing very specific positive feedback that I was privileged to hear and bring back to them. It was that simple and those changes brought a sense of belonging to this group of invisible and valuable employees.
What I hadn’t originally recognized was that what they really needed was to have me listen and hear from their perspective what would make their environment more effective and rewarding. I didn’t have their answers…they did!
Once I heard their needs, I was able to support them in creating a better work environment which happened to be much easier than the answers I had been cooking up!
In listening and hearing them they felt a greater sense of belonging both with me and the organization…those whose feedback they finally heard. My shift to listening increased my sense of belonging to this team and the results were remarkable. They were more productive and engaged, there was better communication and less conflict…and they were happy!
What are you not hearing? What is not being asked?
What does belonging look like in your organization?