• Sara Murdock

From Panic to Peace (Part 3)--Achieving the ultimate work environment

Admittedly, that title might sound like clickbait. But we’re not pretending there’s perfection, we’re exploring how businesses achieve facile innovation. An organization’s quality comes from its ability to embrace change, messiness, and uncertainty--innovation isn’t just for products and services, but for human experience as well.

Trends like “flat” org structures, influence instead of micromanagement, and “matrixed” businesses are all the rage. We’re also surrounded by “safe space” and “whole self” value statements. The premise is that it’s OK to bring your authentic personality and complete identity to the office (or zoom meeting). No need to mask yourself or keep your quirkiness in check.

The sentiment is beautiful... Yet the desire to have a work culture that transcends hierarchy, class, and caste, is often mostly utopic and not terribly real.

Like many good-intentioned attempts at changing culture, a strong desire to be a great place to work can feel like it must result in a great outcome for your team. Yet intention doesn’t amount to ability and can actually make things worse for your team. Why? Individuals who intend one thing but do another are confusing for those around them. Companies are no different.

Like most people who are high functioning in some ways but observably full of contradictions, companies that self-contradict confuse their employees. The reason the company should care? Because highly confused people with emotional and logistical whiplash have to spend a lot of energy managing your messiness.

The boss or the company is like the parent who wants to do well for their child but hasn’t managed their internal state yet. Whether or not we “see” the confusion of the adult--who might have learned to mask it--we can see the confusion manifest in the child.

What are some indicators that there’s confusion in your org? How do you know if a company/manager/executive/trainer is attempting to create safety or inclusion but probably needs some (or maybe a lot) of help? A few examples --

>> There’s an expectation your team will trust you… even though you haven’t established deep trust and meaningful rapport.

>> You announce “this is a safe space” without clarification or standards for productive engagement like how to respectfully disagree without getting derailed into debate.

>> There’s consistent double talk like “we don’t usually do this here but…”

>> Managers are “used” by executives to keep the team in line without being equipped with significant decision-making ability. (Example: The collegial manager who constantly tells the team they have their back but has no recourse to do so.)

>> There’s simply a lack of transparency. (Example: You have to trust us because this will all make sense after the re-brand… which will finish up 6 months from now.)

So what’s the antidote?

Be present. Be honest. Be open to whatever happens.

The examples here may come from conscious or unconscious coping mechanisms. That’s why there aren’t concrete action steps or a definite template for how to be the best boss or have the best organizational structure.

To circle back to the beginning, creating a utopian environment doesn’t require perfection, it requires presence, honesty, and non-attachment to outcome. But don’t underestimate the power of presence, honesty, and non-attachment to outcome. This is a golden trifecta! Even though there’s no such thing as a perfect place to work, if practiced consistently and earnestly, this trio will lead you to the best possible version of your company.

Utopia can be daunting or aspirational. Your choice. I choose aspirational. Might I suggest you give it a try?