Democratizing Excellence in the Workplace

Advancements in hiring practices continue to ensure that only the very best people are hired by an organization. Newer technologies and startups (like that are focused on measuring human competence in increasingly novel ways are doing their bit to aid in this process.

This certainly ensures that companies get the best pick from a group of potential candidates. However, the probability of a profile, skill, passion or psychological mismatch still does exist in the hiring process. One could argue the need for continual tweaking of the hiring process, which certainly warrants merit. That said, a perfect hiring match is unlikely to occur one hundred percent of the time.

Dilemma for most leaders, though, is to deal with the mismatched talent and the job profile or learning to cope with the new hires inability to meet the exact demands of the job. Several companies have come up with some novel ways to part with such employees pretty early on in their tenure using mutually acceptable and employee-friendly packages and such. Zappos, is a great example in this category. However, the moral, ethical, financial and HR issues involved in making these decisions do not fit the needs of large scale enterprises. Nor does it help in the case of an aging workforce or an existing employee base, whose nature of job is continually evolving due to market pressures.

Today’s leaders, have to come up with credible, repeatable, efficient and humane ways of including the larger workforce into the building of the enterprise before resorting to harsher or even amicable ways of parting with each other. What this calls for is the ability to Democratize Excellence in the workplace that will give a fair chance to such employees to feel included, learn the tricks of the trade and have a decent chance to shine at their very best.

Here are three things that leaders can do to kickstart the process:

  1. Creating the safe space for employees to operate in. Almost often, the issue with the workers who are mismatched with their job profile is not their inability, nor the refusal to learn or absorb a new skill. The issue is usually one of stigma that gets attached to exposing one’s lack of knowledge or insufficient skill to perform the job. Acknowledging the need for education in the skill / subject that will make them do their jobs better, means having to live with the possible outcomes, which include demotion, unfair or not so good rating during review time or in the worst case being let go. By creating a safe space for employees to operate in, companies can allow for these employees to come out of the knowledge closet and learn the subject / skill and become better fit for the job on hand. Not casting the employee in a light that will make him/her feel ashamed or be worried of the consequences is a great reflection on the type of company and how it is willing to treat its employees. Employees will certainly acknowledge the compassionate viewpoint and are more likely to engage in their work and increase productivity. With hiring cycles ranging from 8 to 12 weeks on an average, this might very well be a cheaper option thereby making the case for fiscal advantage as well.
  2. Creating the necessary platforms for knowledge collaboration. Most companies have Centers of Excellence and other similar forums some of which also include knowledge dissemination as part of their core charter. Rewriting, redefining or tightening up the charters of such bodies to allow for inclusivity will create the non-threatening opportunities for employees to participate in and partake in learning and practicing much needed skills. Accompanied by a formalized buddy system, mentoring programs and training programs companies can certainly solve a big portion of the skill mismatch problem.
  3. Allowing for open, compassionate and periodic review systems. It is not uncommon for individuals and leaders to wait for half yearly or annual review periods to discuss expectations, goals and other necessities. While those certainly work, they do not happen at a frequency that is conducive enough for the situation at hand. Formal one-on-one reviews conducted weekly or fortnightly, coupled with the freedom and space necessary to openly discuss such knowledge gaps will serve the problem better than annual performance reviews. Plus, annual reviews are usually the time when compensation is reviewed or workforce optimization exercises are carried out. Frequent feedback opportunities are the perfect vehicles to tackle and address this issue with knowledge gap.

The onus will have to rest on the employees as well. Employees in such situations have to certainly be aware of, acknowledge and be willing to address the situation. Not taking action could only work against their favor and creates any amount of unpleasantness for all concerned. Rather than waiting and facing drastic measures, being upfront and willing to talk to their immediate supervisors will help employees be integrated with the workforce allowing for growth both for themselves and the company.

Compassionate Leadership

Compassion and Leadership are not two words that usually show up in the same sentence, at least not in most corporate perspectives. But, coming to think of it, compassion should be the single biggest defining factor in how Leadership and Leaders are defined and known by.

The epitome of leadership is usually described using phrases and adjectives such as inspirational, principle or value centered and by-example. All key qualities and essential for any leader – aspiring and experienced.

However, the pinnacle of stellar leadership should be one of compassion. Treating your team with the same kindness that you will treat your family with should be the norm and not the exception.

Considering the ever increasing hours that the workforce spends in the office, it wouldn’t be a stretch to cite family as the yardstick of how people need to be treated. After all, more and more people spend longer hours at work than at home.

Most often though, leadership is usually lost in the trappings of a title, perks, size of the team, plush office and other materialistic paraphernalia. Making a case for a leader who does not focus on these outwardly significant elements, will be a topic for another dayNonetheless, even those that appreciate these hard benefits can still cultivate and show compassion in their workplaces.

A defining characteristic of a compassionate leader is how they approach issues. While many factors would compete for this key principle, the biggest one would be how the leader approaches a fact or an issue – with the head or the heart. The head in this case is the no brainer. In the workplace – it all boils down to data, facts, figures, charts and statistics. And most certainly there is a place for that. No arguments there. However, a compassionate leaders approach should be rooted in the heart where there is room for emotions, feelings and stories.

Of course, the thorniest argument against compassionate leadership is the leader’s ability to meet the numbers for the organization aka deliver results. The misconception that compassionate leaders are soft, mushy, teary eyed and easy going is antithetical to strong leaders who have the courage and self-esteem enough to deal with compassion while exercising the will power and discipline to meet the numbers. In fact compassionate leaders tend to achieve bigger, better, cheaper and faster by virtue of having a team that appreciates how they are being treated. Not to mention the overall effect this can have on employee engagement. That alone will make compassion a worthwhile pursuit. In a nutshell, both these qualities need not be mutually exclusive to each other.

Managing diverse workforces, where age, gender, race and multiple orientations come into play, will call for more managers to adopt compassion as the primary driver of their leadership style.

If you are a compassionate leader, I would love to hear your thoughts on how you exercised compassion in your workplace without losing sight of numbers and goals for your organization.