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Setting people free to do great work is one of the most important principles for a company leader to embrace. Productive employees who are engaged and inspired by their work are the key to workplace excellence. The real question is: How can companies create the circumstances that give people the freedom to thrive? When your employees are empowered to help impact their own progress, they feel much more valued and capable as contributors.
This means, in part, ensuring that people aren’t simply assets on a spreadsheet. Companies that focus on building cultures, policies and practices that provide engagement and inspiration are freeing their entire organization to be better at what they do.
As company leaders, our success ultimately depends on freeing our people to do great things. Here are a few principles that have helped me build supportive, freeing cultures throughout my career.
Related: 8 Reasons You Should Give Your Employees More Control
Be inspiring, not challenging
Leaders must find ways to inspire the people around them rather than simply challenging those they consider underachievers. Storytelling is an essential skill that will help your teams understand both the company’s goals and their roles in reaching them, and is a powerful way to change hearts and minds.
Highlighting the “why” — especially in a creative, engaging way — is a critical part of your role as a leader. This is clear as company and HR leaders are being called upon to make difficult decisions in this unique environment, including navigating hybrid work, needing to lay off employees in an economic downturn and responding to increased salary expectations. Combine that with a looming economic crisis and you have a volatile mixture that is pushing cultures and policies in new directions and taxing the patience of many company leaders.
Recent headlines have spotlighted many of the battles some leaders are undertaking in order to bring their vision for the future of their companies to bear, and many of these efforts end up pitting employees against the executives.
At BambooHR, we are a product-led company, which is tricky and requires a lot of discipline to get right. In order to do that, we maintain a sharp focus on how every single employee can help create products that delight our customers. Although not everyone is a designer or an engineer, we all share a common vision of delivering value, and that helps us see how our work contributes to success.
At the end of the day, the vast majority of employees want to have a positive impact on the company through their work, and helping your people see the purpose of their efforts is essential to success during these challenging times. Embracing a vision that inspires will have a much greater impact in the long run and help people be free to do their best work.
Related: To Have an Innovative Company, Let Your Employees Take the Reins
Invest in creativity across your company
Along with inspiring people to understand and embrace the vision, leaders need to invest in creativity at every level of the company. This often means dedicating time and resources when teams bring you new ideas that they believe will benefit the organization.
Taking that leap of faith is rarely easy for a leader to do, especially when budgets may already be tight. And certainly, ideas need to be thoughtfully considered, not just rubber-stamped. But creativity is the lifeblood of any organization, and the potential reward for encouraging it across your company goes far beyond the balance sheet.
Over the years our investment in creativity has encouraged essential, transformational ideas that address the vision of the company. For example, recently I’ve seen people in accounting, sales, CX, customer support, HR and marketing all finding innovative ways to save money, bring on new customers and improve processes.
Investing in creativity will also improve how people approach change and embrace new opportunities. Right now, powerful, emerging technologies like artificial intelligence are heralding a new digital revolution, and companies will fall far behind if they are not already seriously considering how to integrate them. The advent of AI means there has never been a better time to harness creativity within a company. Bringing every part of your team along will multiply the number of people you have working on new solutions.
Above all, enshrining creativity at every level signals to people that their ideas are valued and highlights their positive impact on the company. Leaders can further free people to do their best work by providing time and resources for creative ideas.
Related: The Best-Kept Secret to Cultivating Creativity and Innovation
Embrace design thinking
A few years ago, I was at a professional crossroads after a number of intense years. I was lucky enough to have some options, but I didn’t have any idea what to do for my next step. To clear my head, I went with my wife on a vacation to Mexico. It was there, on a beach, that I read a book titled “Designing Your Life,” which became a powerful catalyst that led me to my current role.
The book was written by two product designers and Stanford professors and it provides a framework for building a fulfilling life, using a concept called design thinking. It was a lightning bolt of inspiration that led me to think about many aspects of my life in a different way. Our instinct, when we run into a stumbling block, is to immediately jump to finding a solution. The key to design thinking is taking time to understand the actual problem and considering a wide range of possible solutions.
Your people want to make an impact in their roles at work, and it can feel daunting to even find where to start. Design thinking is a great framework to help your teams uncover the challenges and sticking points they face and brainstorm creative solutions. Your people want to be successful and have a lasting, important contribution to their work. Helping them feel free at work is crucial for achieving this result.
Ultimately, your people are the most important part of your business. Inspiring your teams, investing in their creativity and giving them tools for problem-solving will let your employees shine.