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Culture Works, Part 3 – Making A Contribution


Every person in your organization has the innate desire to contribute, to believe that what they do at work matters and has value. Each of them wants to experience the joy that comes with doing something really valuable at a really high level.

Does your organization believe that everyone is great at something? Do you believe that everyone is great at something?

At the core of contributing is the belief that everyone is great at something. When people believe they can contribute, this greatness emerges. Unfortunately, a culture of compliance and complacency often prevails instead.

In most organizations people lead lives of quiet mediocracy and malaise. How many of us would say that the best part of our work day is when it ends? How many of us truly look forward to going to a place where contributing is not embraced or encouraged? At the root of complaining about work is the lack of ownership. If I am not asked to contribute to problem solving, I am relegated to only identifying problems and then vocalizing my disdain.

We believe that people in your organization want to belong and out of that sense of belonging they want to contribute. They want to know that what they are great at is valued; that they are part of solutions.

The work of leadership is crafting thriving organizational culture where people both belong and contribute.

To craft this kind of culture three things must happen:

1.    Shift away from weakness-based culture. Most of our present systems for managing people are based upon weakness. While we may call it “Performance Based Management”, it is centered upon identifying weakness and then developing plans to become better at those weaknesses. A few times a year we get our evaluations that outline what we are not good at doing and what we need to do to get better. Then we are tossed a few encouraging words in hopes it will make up for the rest.

Or we are subjected to the “360 Assessment”. This  tool is the equivalent of painting a target on your chest, placing a blind-fold over your eyes and then inviting your boss, peers and employees to shoot arrows at you, all the while being grateful for the “feedback”.

2.    Embrace a strength-based culture. This culture seeks to find what people are good at; what their strengths are and then empowering them to use those strengths to contribute. Everyone has strengths. It is a matter of uncovering them, embracing them and then setting them free.

3.    Encourage a new way of thinking and working that honors what people are great at doing.  What if you had a laser-clear focus on where people excel? What if you knew what people brought to every meeting, project and challenge? What if the driving force in planning was no longer someone’s job description, but their strength-profile? How would your hiring process change if you searched for needed strengths rather than prescribed skills?

The desire to contribute is a powerful one and it exists at every level of your organization. After a recent training session with the Office of Information Technology (OIT) at the University of Colorado, I had a conversation with a mid-twenty something manager. He had recently been promoted to his position and was now managing people quite a few years older than himself.

His anxiety was high. He expressed his desire to do a good job, but felt ill-equipped to manage people, much less lead them. I asked him why he thought he’d been promoted. At first he gave a very technical, skilled-based answer. But in a matter of minutes I knew that his new position had little to do with any of that. He had a strong desire to contribute to his department and to the University and he was demonstrating strengths in thinking strategically and achievement. Fortunately, he is working in a place that has embraced strengths and is crafting a culture based upon that.
Is your organizational culture like that?

Trevor J. Bron is a Culture Architect and Executive Advisor at TAG. You can learn more about Trevor here.