“One day you finally knew
What you had to do, and began,
Though the voices around you
Kept shouting
Their bad advice…”

– “The Journey” by Mary Oliver, Pulitzer-Prize winning poet

I love this Mary Oliver poem. It means different things to different people, as any poem should, but to me it means that you realize there is a better way and pursue that path. There is a message of empowerment: you are the only one who can truly change your own circumstances.

It’s been my experience that the most critical element of any thriving workplace culture is the willingness to perpetually improve and change. Why do people leave jobs for what they believe are better opportunities? Sometimes, it’s money. More often, it’s about needing change. They just can’t do the same thing anymore, unless their leadership gives them the opportunity to make it better. In those cases, if they are empowered to impact the process, they will stay and do what they can to make things work.

As a long-time business analyst, I need to see and be a part of change to feel truly fulfilled at the end of each workweek. It’s why I go to work everyday: to help facilitate smart and targeted changes and help teams think differently, even if it’s a little bit at a time.

According to Gallup’s 2017 State of the American Workplace report, “51% of American employees are not engaged and haven’t been for some time.” That means only 49% of American workers are actually happy and interested in their jobs. Pretty scary.

When you work in an environment that does not embrace change, well, we all know that influencing an organization’s culture can be like swimming upstream. It is easier to swim with the tide. To make incremental improvements needs to be culturally accepted or those changes will arrive at a dead end every single time.

Yet, if you work within a culture where employees are encouraged to “do better” and are empowered even in small ways to improve how they and their teams do their work, amazing things can happen.  Just one shift to improve a process and eliminate the all-to-often manual nature of an office job can be the very thing that makes you want to come to work the next day. Think about it: we’ve all been in roles where we had a master spreadsheet or file folders with forms that got passed around for multiple signatures. What if that master spreadsheet went away? What if you could toss the file folders in the recycling because you have a better way to work? Then you might just love your job.

Related Post: The Dangers of Manual Spreadsheets

As technology has become a way of life, the workplace hero has risen above it all to make the technology and process gel as best they can. When I meet with a new client to understand current state and start to collect business requirements on a new process and/or solution, I ask the employees what their utopian job would be like. That’s right: sky’s the limit. If you could change anything and everything to make your job better, what would it be? Then, we prioritize the needs. Of course, no one has an unlimited budget, so priorities are critical. All of a sudden, however, there is renewed hope. Sometimes, they are just plain giddy at the thought that their daily tasks could get better. Those employees realize that they can be change agents and spend the time they use on the mundane for learning new skills and being more effective.

It all starts with the culture. Employees need to feel empowered that they can offer a better way to operate and be part of the engine that feeds the change. That starts at the top and needs to be perpetuated by company leaders. If leaders emphasize that things can and should get better, then their employee teams will follow suit and “begin” to transform the way they work.

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