When leaders set a course for change, the new direction often means that their team will have to make adjustments and accommodations. Let’s assume that the leader has dedicated themselves to the fundamentals of leadership, including:
- Establishing positive relationships
- Aligning systems and processes
- Helping team members grow
There’s an essential next step that needs to occur: Creating an affirming work environment.
The Insidious Impact of Negativity
What does an affirming work environment look like? Basically, it’s a workplace where words of affirmation far outweigh admonishment or criticism. This can be a key piece in how your team grows and thrives. While it might seem like a small thing, especially when viewed against the firmament of leadership actions and responsibilities, providing team members with affirmations acts as a catalyst for improved productivity.
A workplace affirmation encourages team members to move forward, by acknowledging the value of their work. Everyone feels more confident when their efforts are met with encouragement and support rather than indifference, criticism, or, worse, belittlement.
Maybe this seems glaringly obvious, but when the workplace norm is negative feedback, sarcasm, and raised voices, team members struggle. This dynamic can become a subtle pattern of negative reinforcement that goes unchecked for years, leaving senior leaders to wonder why productivity, retention, and engagement are so low.
The environment and culture within which people work has a direct impact on their productivity. Pay attention to the ratio of authentic affirmations emanating from leadership and other trusted team members. This is an exceptionally important factor in retention and overall job satisfaction.
Creating an Environment Where Positive is Possible
Great leaders often possess the ability to create environments where others thrive and even surpass their presumed potential. In the past, teams were often considered responsible for making leaders look good. That’s no longer the case. Now it’s a leadership responsibility to create conditions that will allow you to provide more affirmation than criticism.
Too often, pressing duties and deadlines compete for attention, causing the well-being of work environments to be categorized as, “something that will take care of itself.” But nothing in a workplace that is consequential to long-term success ever takes care of itself.
Implementing a New Mindset
Frame the work. This requires ensuring that parameters and restrictions are understood from the beginning, and creativity and innovation are free of micromanagement. Assign work that acts as a reachable early success, in order to build confidence. As your team builds their success, invite them to celebrate, but also be self-reflective, instilling belief in their capacity to perform.
These steps place you in a position where you can provide further affirmations and point team members’ self-criticism in a positive direction.
When you fashion an environment where responsibility and reflection become part of the culture, another wonderful transformation can begin to take place. Work evolves from a transaction between leader and team member, to a place where both share ownership of the outcome. You’re able to facilitate the work with the full engagement of your team.
Authenticity Is the Secret Sauce
For an environment such as this to thrive, those within it must trust in its authenticity of purpose and intention.
Consider your own commitment to creating and sustaining such a workplace. When your team members suspect changes are merely the flavor of the week, or perceive them as institutionally patronizing, it calcifies their cynicism and can have a negative effect. To implement meaningful change, you need to show caring, compassion, empathy, and support for others.
You also need to establish norms for communication. If your team is in agreement from the beginning on these norms, you’ll find a great deal of support for the work. Norms entail:
- How communication is undertaken
- What types of communication will not occur
Another way of affirming authenticity is to have a set of values people can see as active and influential on daily work. Consider setting aside sacrosanct times when team members are encouraged to share positives with other team members in order to support these values.
Thinking Beyond Short-Term Gains
Consider what motivates people, both immediately and over the long term. A toxic environment extracts the energy and goodwill necessary for your team members to be productive. To support your large goals of sustained success and help your organization progress toward the fulfillment of its purpose, invest time and energy into creating a workplace culture of affirmation.
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Tim, with his extensive background in education and management, is a great part of our Fired Up! team dedicated to inspiring teams and leaders. At Fired Up!, our work is dedicated to harnessing the power of culture to equip leaders, build amazing teams, and align operation practices to engage organizations and drive breakthrough results.