In Road to Respect, I talk about the fact that it is not the absence of disrespect in and of itself that creates superior business results. Rather it is the releasing of individual potential that a respectful workplace fosters that produces that outcome. Respectful, relationship based cultures create an environment where people feel connected, where they want to contribute to their full potential and are empowered to do so.
Last spring I was facilitating a respectful leadership session with a client with whom I have been working for the past couple of years. Given that Road to Respect leadership is relationship based, we spend a lot of time in those sessions focused on respectful communication: what it is and how to develop the skills that allow us to demonstrate it.
We were working through a number of role play scenarios, intended to provide skill practice for the participants. The skills I want participants to learn are included in a written guide that each person receives. Practically speaking, what that means is that there is generally a lot of reading and page turning when we are doing these exercises. At one point, one of the participants spoke up and said, “You know, it would be really helpful if this stuff was available as an app. Then we would really be able to make use of it and access it when we need it.”
Developing an app was something that had never occurred to me, however, as soon as this fellow said it the light went on. For years I have been providing my clients with materials in paper form because, let’s face it, when I started out 13 years ago that was the status quo. I talk to my clients about ensuring that participants put their materials in a binder that will be easily accessible when they need them.
But let’s face it. Can you really pull out a binder when you are walking down the hall and overhear a disrespectful comment? Will you be able to access your binder when you are in someone else’s office? Will those paper materials be there to support you when you really need them?
My goal is to have respectful communication become a workplace norm within my client’s workplaces, because it is that norm that lays the foundation for a respectful, relationship based culture. Now I have a resource that will greatly increase the possibility of that goal being achieved – the Road to Respect Speak Up E-Guide, an e-pub that can be used on an iPad, IPad touch, iPhone, Blackberry or Android phone, developed as a result of the comment I heard in that session last spring.
I purposefully structure my training sessions as an interactive conversation. I have been working for years to develop a presenting style that will encourage learners to be engaged and participatory. I know that the subjects I talk about; respect, disrespect, power, harassment, and bullying are not easy to talk about. I know that many of us would prefer to avoid talking about them.
I also know that, as James Baldwin once said “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” If we want to eradicate destructive, disrespectful, power based behaviours in our workplaces, we have to start talking about them. My job is to provoke that conversation.
I am strategic about building trust and relationship in my sessions. Before the sessions start I always take time to say a quick hello to everyone in the room, so that I have at least a brief moment to establish an individual connection. I ensure that we have tent cards on the tables so that I can call participants by their names. I ask a lot of questions. I share personal stories because I appreciate the power of stories to create “relateability” and to build relationship. I talk about what we need to do to create a safe place for disclosure, about the guidelines we need to agree to so that everyone in the room will feel safe to speak up.
I don’t do this because I want my participants to generate great ideas to promote my organizational effectiveness. I do it to make the training more effective, to ensure that my client’s desired outcomes are achieved. I do it because I want to model the respectful behaviour I work to promote.
That fellow suggested I develop an app because he could see the practical application of a tool that would help him become a better leader, one that would support him in aligning his behaviour with his values. When I followed up with him after the session he also suggested that the potential market for the app could be huge. As we talked, I got excited, not so much about the sales potential of the app, but of the potential value of that app to support my clients in building respectful relationships to promote my vision of respectful workplaces.
I spend a lot of time writing about why respect is a must have in business. What is so great about this experience is that it is giving me a chance to live a very personal and practical application of the theme of Road to Respect. One of the reasons respect works to build business success is because it creates an environment where people want to contribute. It provides the safety and support people need to express their authentic selves at work. It creates an environment where success becomes a collective experience as well as a shared goal. It embodies the “lift as we climb” philosophy.
I doubt that I would ever have thought about developing the Speak Up E-Guide. But because I spend so much time thinking about creating a respectful environment in my training sessions, the outcome is an atmosphere that allows innovative ideas to be ignited and expressed. My organizational effectiveness – my ability to support my clients to build respectful relationships, and by extension, respectful workplace cultures – has been greatly enhanced as a result.
What kind of business results are you hoping to produce in 2012? Would creative and innovative ideas help support those outcomes? If so, figure out whether your workplace practices are serving to ignite innovation or stifle it. Access respect and release the untapped creative potential in your workplace.