A really smart guy once said that the secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.

That was Socrates, the Greek philosopher who knew a thing or two about learning to adapt to emerging circumstances.

In a world disrupted by a pandemic, an economic downturn, and social unrest, “adapting” is required of us all.

Shawn Murphy is uniquely qualified to give us some answers to questions that—until recently—we may not have even thought to ask. He has nearly three decades of experience advising companies on implementing organizational and culture change. He was handpicked to be part of IBM’s elite New Way to Work futurist group.

Shawn previously talked about the role of “belonging” in our workplace experience (see “How Will Social Distancing Affect Our Need To Belong?”). Here he addresses the behaviors that help inspire personal and collaborative commitment to an organization’s mission. 

Rodger Dean Duncan: What are some common workplace practices and mindsets that make belonging less likely to occur?

Shawn Murphy: Too often leaders reinforce individual success over team success. It’s not an either/or situation. Both are essential for belonging. When companies fail to address behaviors that undermine success, bullying for example, belonging will never be experienced. When companies fail to welcome employees and help them navigate the culture and climate, ostracism and isolation can result. Or indifference replaces enthusiasm for having an impact.

Duncan: You quote former Campbell Soup Company CEO Doug Conant as saying “Nothing of significance is accomplished when people don’t care.” Why do so many leaders seem to focus on the marketplace at the expense of the workplace?

Murphy: The reality is shareholder value has dominated the c-suite’s view of the workplace. It’s shifting with outspoken leaders like Doug Conant or companies, like the Container Store, who follow stakeholder value practices.

The value placed on the marketplace over the workplace is a leftover mindset from an earlier era. Think Gordon Gecko’s cliché, “Greed is good.” That mindset is slowly being replaced with a holistic view of what success means: for the company, shareholders, employees, for example.

Duncan: You use the words “Legacy and Fingerprints” to describe the connection between employees and the workplace. What do you mean by that?

Murphy: “Legacy and Fingerprints” is about a basic human drive: to have an impact and be remembered for it. Fingerprints are something you leave behind. Your legacy tells others what you did or didn’t do. What you leave behind is your legacy. For leaders, we need to think about what we want to leave behind and how we want to be remembered. 

Duncan: In describing culture change issues, you compare leader-role and leader-orientation mindsets. Please explain the differences, and tell us about the effects of each mindset.

Murphy: It’s common to make sense of a leadership role based on the organizational chart, or the hierarchy. The leader-role mindset relies on the hierarchy to get people to do things.

I often ask leaders, “Do you want commitment or compliance.” The leader-role mindset wants compliance. “Do what I say because I’m the boss.”

In contrast, the leader-orientation uses the hierarchy to make sense of how things get done in an organization. This type of orientation is interested in commitment. This mindset values relationships. In pulling all this together, a leader-orientation is about contribution—how can we have the biggest impact on results? These leaders know that belonging deepens relationships that are meaningful.

Duncan: You highlight LinkedIn for its practice of unleashing employee evangelists. What can other companies learn from LinkedIn about how to operationalize belonging?

Murphy: This is an interesting question. I struggle with the idea of operationalizing belonging. Belonging is part of the human condition. The human condition is messy. It’s unpredictable. Yet, operationalizing something intends to establish a set of practices to achieve a desired outcome. I don’t know that the human condition can be operationalized.

That said, LinkedIn is tapping into the human experience of belonging to learn ways to encourage belonging to be part of the employee experience. With that in mind, other companies should look at how LinkedIn taps into basic human needs that can help people feel valued, wanted, and welcomed.

For example, we all want to make a difference. We also want to feel safe. We want to grow. Use these basic human needs to influence the programs you implement. All of these conditions of being human contribute to the experience of belonging.

For conversations with dozens of other world-class thought leaders, click here to see the popular LeaderSHOP series.

Rodger Dean Duncan
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