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Oct 1, 2020

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, and the sweeping changes to the workplace that came with it, organizational systems and processes were bent, cracking, and broken. Over the last three decades, the billions of dollars invested to optimize company culture, employee engagement, and change management have unequivocally failed to achieve the overarching desired result: creating and sustaining a purposeful, positive, productive work culture.

Despite good intentions, we have not built a nation of purposeful, positive, productive workplaces. Employees do not feel valued and therefore loyal. Leaders do not feel effective and therefore competent. But despite moments of hope, we’re not surprised. After all, we humans design companies to thrive in easy times, not to endure hard ones. 

This moment — as we inch closer to a post-pandemic world and a new workplace reality — offers a chance to understand why previous efforts have failed. It’s an opportunity to assess our own decision-making with fresh eyes and try alternative ways of inspiring a workforce to reach their full potential. 

The question is: Are you ready to begin leading in a way that makes a big promise to humanity — then delivers on that big promise?

Putting Good First

Too many of today’s business (and political) leaders still see people, communities, and the climate to be acceptable casualties in the war for profits and power. Today’s attuned employees see themselves, their communities, and their climate as casualties in a war for profits. This is in direct contrast to the personal values of especially newer generations of workers.

At this moment, we have the most outspoken workforce the world has ever seen. Employees expect companies to make morally just decisions. They expect respect. They expect to have a voice. Regardless of how society at times seems to accept short-sighted, self-serving decisions as normal, today’s employees expect companies and their leaders to be a force for good in the world. 

It’s a higher standard. 

The Ugliness of Putting Good Last

We define ugliness, in part, as “immoral in nature.” Right now, organizations are getting a crash course in how easy it is to be considered “ugly” in the eyes of the public. Whistleblowers, activists, and influencers are altering companies’ public perceptions. Their words and actions are escalating “bad” situations (which are mostly internal issues) to “ugly” (where the bad hits an irreversible and very public tipping point). 

And all it takes is one click of the “Post” button, like this statement from Amnesty International, after researching whistleblowers’ complaints about unsafe working conditions inside Amazon fulfillment centers:

“Amazon is one of the world’s wealthiest companies and its profits are surging because of this crisis. It is repugnant that the company’s workforce feels their safety is not being taken seriously. Jeff Bezos needs to step up and address the legitimate and vital concerns raised by Amazon staff — we should never place profits above people.” 

Initially, Amazon fired several employees who demanded the company deep-clean workspaces and strictly observe social distancing. After public outcry, Amazon walked back its hardline stance, closed warehouses temporarily for cleaning, and ordered millions of masks for its workers. 

Pivoting for the Greater Good

Why do some organizations thrive in an era of constant change? Because leaders of these companies understand that timeliness matters. Doing the right thing, right away, brings greater dividends than being forced into right action later.

It’s a fallacy that big corporations can’t shift gears quickly. As the cliché goes: “Where there is a will, there’s a way.” 

As COVID-19 first began its terrible rampage, one of the very first companies to put good first was Estée Lauder. Not only did the organization transform its production lines to manufacture hand sanitizer for emergency-response and healthcare workers, it was among the first companies in the world to donate supplies and contribute to pandemic-relief funds, including for its own employees. While most of its peers remained paralyzed by the magnitude of the pandemic crises, Estée Lauder jumped into gear to help in every way that it could. 

What’s more, employees do not perceive organizational goodness as good just because senior leaders say it’s good. The social proof of “good” lies entirely within the employee experience and public perception.

The Power of Reciprocal, Synergistic Good

“…history is going to judge us not only on how well we prepared, it’s not going to just judge us on how well we responded, but on what we learned from it, and what we change.” Dr. James Black, Medical Director of Emergency Services in Phoebe Putney, Georgia

As a leader — and perhaps a developer of leaders — you’re in a unique position to trigger a ripple effect in your company, one that starts with a small drop and becomes larger circles putting good first. To begin, it’s important to understand the four cornerstones of a Good Comes First culture:

  1. Place values on the same pedestal as results.
  2. Create a workplace where trust is contagious, validation is pervasive, and respect is expected.
  3. Monitor, measure, and reward alignment to agreed-upon standards for desired behaviors and expectations of performance.
  4. Create a servant purpose that makes the serving of employees, customers, and communities just as important as profits.

In normal times, ensuring a positive employee experience daily requires investment of time, energy, and kindness. Charitable endeavors in your community require investment. Celebrating successes, growth, and accomplishment requires investment. 

These are not normal times, of course. For many organizations, budgets are tighter. So how will you fund building a purposeful, positive, and productive culture? With better results and higher profits generated by an immensely engaged workforce and delighted customers.

3 Benefits to a Good Comes First Culture

Moreover, we’ve found that leaders who create and sustain a Good Comes First work culture enjoy three tangible benefits:

  1. Employee engagement goes up by 40% or more. Employees who feel respected and valued bring fresh ideas, improve processes, and cooperate with trusted peers daily. 
  2. Inspired employees are directly responsible for improving customer service rankings, again by as much as 40%. When customers feel respected and cared for, they remain customers — and they brag about their experiences to others. This creates a powerful word-of-mouth validation of the great service your company provides. 
  3. This higher engagement of both employees and customers delivers higher service, which leads to the benefit many leaders appreciate most: improved productivity and higher profits. In many organizations, those numbers improve by 35% or more.

That’s a powerful cycle of good that generates more good, day in and day out. It’s leading in a way that makes a promise not just to the future of your company but to all of humanity, which your leadership impacts over time.

So ask yourself: What small step can you take to put good first and create a culture that lasts?

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