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Employers everywhere have suddenly found themselves in the back seat. Current decision making at most organizations on “how”, “when” and “If” their teams will return to the office can probably best be described as playing a game of “kick the can”. Companies are deferring their actions and their decision making, fearful of the impact it may have on retention and hiring new talent. In short, they are acting (or not acting) based on a position of fear.
What is missing at many of these organizations is a clear connection between their “why of work” and their strategy for where that work happens. A belief system that ties to the core values of the organization and the people within it.
For organizations that play the waiting game they are hedging their positions based on a flawed assumption that workers are better-off, or at least less likely to leave, working without any clear direction on what the future may look like.
While it is true that the move to remote and hybrid work has brought the global workforce unprecedented levels of flexibility, it has come at a great cost - mentally, emotionally, and physically. It is also possible that if you think of meaningful work as something that connects us to a greater purpose, perhaps it has had a spiritual cost as well.
Deferring or not making choices about how we might create meaningful work, reduce stress, and build better work experiences for our teams is not a winning strategy. Instead, we should be leading and shaping direction through this time of uncertainty. This kind of leadership requires a deep connection to our organizational purpose and culture, and for leaders to clearly define something each of us can believe-in.
Beliefs + Behavior = Direction
My fellow co-founder, Laura Eley, likes to define culture as: “the beliefs of an organization as they are expressed through its people’s behavior.” The key to that definition is the focus on beliefs. Positive culture change does not occur by default. It happens because we collectively come to believe (or choose not to believe) in something.
"Aligning your core beliefs is critical for gaining buy-in on your return to office plan or making any fundamental strategic change."
This definition of culture provides us an opportunity to set new expectations and to address any fundamental shift in an organization – our return to the office being just one example.
Beliefs are directly tied to your “why”. It is made up of the issues, concerns, and visions that matters most to the organization and your employees. Behavior, of course, is what your team members and colleagues do. Ultimately these beliefs and behaviors can shape an organization’s direction. We can be set adrift, or we can move into the future with common purpose.
How an organization maintains, and changes direction is not only by changing behavior but by clarifying these beliefs. Establishing fundamentally new perspectives and attitudes that people can adopt, own, and buy-into.
You cannot ask an employee to shift their perspective and to suddenly return to the workplace, or alternately, become fully remote if you have not first made it expressly clear why those decisions are tied to your core values and beliefs in the work you do. Our teams are looking for clear, collective, motivational, and differentiated sense of meaning when it comes to these large shifts in workplace behavior. It is our job as leaders to give it to them.
In helping your organization successfully shape your return, first identify what your organization truly believes in. Not just how it is defined in words but how it is supported by actions. Then explore how your return plan reinforces or conflicts with those beliefs. Finally take steps to either more closely align those beliefs, or if necessary, take on the critical yet difficult task of changing them.
Aligning your core beliefs is critical for gaining buy-in on your return to office plan or making any fundamental strategic change. It may be difficult, and brave work, but it is the only way to move from deference to collective and aligned action.