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Flipping The Org Chart: Supporting Employees Is The Key To Success

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After running several companies and offering strategy consulting to over 60 CEO’s I have discovered a uniquely human way to approach business, where profits result from putting people first.

Traditionally we envision the CEO at the top of a pyramid which gets vastly wider at each lower tier. But I want to challenge business leaders to reimagine how we think about org-charts. What if the CEO were at the bottom?

Think of the CEO as the trunk of the tree — the one who holds and supports everyone in the organization to grow and keep the vision alive. The support trickles up into the branches — she supports her managers who in turn are in service and support to the employees. It’s a shift from a management perspective of what can I get from you, to what do you need from me?

The mechanism for providing support is creating a culture of feedback, where challenges, needs, and ideas are shared and responded to.

Shifting focus

When you focus on getting as much as you can out of your team, you don’t get very much. But when you focus on supporting someone to be the best they can be and living a great life, they bring their best selves to work every day.

This includes supporting employees in their personal goals because the fulfillment they experience influences their enthusiasm and life-force at the office.

For example, we have a writer on staff who is also writing a novel. He is honing his skills by writing for 15Five and that is feeding into his personal creative project. He knows that we support him, he is more fulfilled at home, and he brings that energy back into the office.

When people feel really supported and challenged enough to keep growing, everyone wins. But without feedback in place, without knowing where people are succeeding and struggling, you can’t engage them to help them win.

Counter-intuitive leadership

People live in a scarcity mentality where they think, if I support this employee in living a great life, they are going to spend more of that life outside the office and not bring their best self to work. When people feel supported to have great relationships at home, to travel, to achieve life dreams, they bring that enthusiasm back to work. Their creativity and productivity expands during the time they are at the office.

We no longer live in an age where productivity is measured by how many widgets someone can put together in a predetermined amount of time. An hour can be incredibly creative and productive or stifled by micromanagement.

Who is going to have a better hour, the person who comes to work feeling fulfilled and energized and supported or the person who doesn’t have time to take care of their family and brings that negative energy into the office?

What you don’t know is hurting you

We don’t exist in a vacuum. Each one of us has areas where we are succeeding, areas where we are struggling, and areas where we have blind spots. Managers can act as a really great mirror for employees to see strengths and challenges. Unfortunately, many leaders move opportunities to talk to employees to the bottom of a very long list.

With 15Five, we have automated the employee feedback process. It takes me 15 minutes on Sunday night to review my entire team of five direct-reports. I get a full perspective of what’s going on across my team. To do that otherwise I would need five 30-minute meetings just to get on the same page. I still have those 1-1 meetings but now I show up briefed and aware, so we can get into the meatier topics and dive into solving problems.

A consistent automated structure of asking questions leads to conversations about where people are stuck. Now I can take action. Maybe we can connect them with a subject matter expert within the organization or provide outside training. With feedback you learn about your people, their strengths and weaknesses, and you gain an intuitive sense about people and how to guide them.

The power of just 5 minutes a week

Some people resist 15Five because they are busy and are worried that they won’t have time to respond to all of their employees’ accomplishments and challenges.

But we have some CEOs who go through nearly one-hundred 15Fives on Sunday nights just to skim and take a look. They have established a tiered structure of executives and managers who can review answers and respond in minutes, and they get a quick snapshot of the organization.

Also, the quality of feedback is far more important than quantity. Offering a virtual pat on the back once a week by “liking” a response within the application is meaningful to employees.

The employee’s entire world shifts from that one action. Those who don’t receive feedback think, I just showed up for 40-50 hours of my week, contributed the best of my time and effort, and it doesn’t seem to really matter. That experience doesn’t lead to employee satisfaction, engagement, or retention.

But now at the end of the week the person says “Huh, I did something that I was proud of and my manager recognized it.” That will stay with them all weekend and they will bring that acknowledgement and appreciation to work on Monday.

15Five started as a way to help individuals and organizations reach their full potential. After three years I now see that our mission is creating a space for people to be their greatest selves. And we are building the tools to help other companies to do it as well.

Image Credit: Thomas Leth-Olsen

Have you ever experimented with supporting employees in their personal goals? Did it indirectly impact your bottom line? Leave us a comment below.