Jumping off the cliffStarting a business, leading an organization, going where God leads you to provide services to those in need or even being a boy scout leader is not for the faint of heart.  And although we embark on these responsibilities every day, only a few have the guts to jump off the cliff and lead differently.

Most leaders look to what’s always been done to decide how they will lead and manage in their role. The problem with that approach is …”If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” ~ Henry Ford

The Risks of Leadership

True leadership is all about risk. Risking everything to make something extraordinary happen. The question is – do you have the stomach to risk leveraging your OC (Organizational Culture) as a competitive advantage? Most leaders think risk is investing in an expensive piece of equipment or new technology, but real risk is trusting (really trusting) your people to deliver results.

One of my client’s recently realized that although their leaders were working extremely hard and putting in lots of hours, employee performance and business results weren’t getting where they needed to be. So, we decided to do something different. Something that would better engage employees and enlist their sense of accountability and personal responsibility to help turn things around.

That was the easy part! The hard part was jumping off the cliff – did we really have the guts to take a risk and do something that none of the leaders had done before? In other words, did we trust our employees enough to let them help run the business, make decisions and act like adults? And, did we trust our leaders enough to lead and manage in an environment where we trusted employees (i.e. we didn’t have a rule or a policy for EVERYTHING)?

The simple answer is Yes and No. The desire to trust employees was there, but the blind faith to take the leap, well that was another story! And isn’t that the way it always is with trust? Your intentions are good, but then comes the leap of faith to put your good intentions to the test – can you really do it, especially when so much is at stake?

One of my mentors used to tell me, “If you want employees to trust you, you have to trust them first.” Well isn’t that just great – they don’t’ have to trust me first – I have to trust them first – who decided that??? But human nature being what it is, most people, when they know others are counting on them, have a huge desire not to let them down. And this faith in human nature is what begins to develop the loyalty of a strong OC.

The OC Equation™ Depends on Mutual Trust

When building a strong OC, both leaders and employees have to be willing to put their trust in someone else to live up to both the stated and rewarded values and philosophies and back that up with consistent actions. In other words, The OC Equation™ (Values + Philosophies x Actions = OC) only works if both parties actually live the organization’s values and philosophies through their actions.

For example: If trust is one of your organization’s stated values, and you have articulated and communicated specific philosophies as to how you expect all employees to demonstrate trust, everyone’s actions have to back those up or your equation (and your OC) falls apart.

Trust in Action

This client decided to jump off the cliff. And they demonstrated their trust by dumping their legacy punitive attendance policy, implementing a no fault attendance policy and providing unlimited pay for absences. Yes, you read that right – unlimited paid absences!

“What??!! You’re kidding right? You’re going to actually pay employees when they are absent and expect attendance to improve???? Are you crazy???” Those were some of the comments we heard from leaders and employees. Our response was “Yes – but with great trust comes great responsibility.” The expectation we established with the employees was that we were going to pay employees their entire weekly salary, even when they’re not here, but they, in turn, commit to only being absent when it is absolutely necessary. And we TRUST them to make that decision. In addition to establishing the expectation, we also reiterated the attendance expectations and recommitted as leaders to coach and counsel employees who might abuse such a system.

Come into the Pool – The Water’s Fine

Think we’re crazy? Think again. This idea of treating employees like adults and increasing respect and dignity in the workplace is spreading like wildfire and paying off in increased loyalty, profitability, revenue and productivity.  Companies including Best Buy, Netflix, Evernote, Zynga, Red Front Events, and even small boutique marketing agencies like Ciplex are finding that a strong OC results in profits.

Recently I had a client offer employees the option to work from home 2 days a week to save on gas and commute time. Legacy managers literally freaked out and said it would never work, that employees would see that as an extra 2 days of vacation per week and nothing would get done! Actually, the opposite was true, as a matter of fact, most employees showed up at work every day anyway. When we asked them why – we learned that just the “thought” of having that kind of flexibility was all they needed and most didn’t even take advantage of it – let alone drop productivity.

Ready, Set, JUMP!

So the question is, are you ready to Jump off the Cliff? Are you ready to trust your employees and leverage your OC as your undeniable competitive advantage? Break away from the pack and dare to travel the road less traveled – there’s a reason it’s less traveled, but with great risk comes great reward!

What’s your story? What would you do to work in a company with a great OC? Would you violate that trust or would you do everything in your power to protect it? We’d love to hear your story.