happy-employees1“Anyone in a leadership role can create a microcosm that allows people to flourish.”— Misti Burmeister

Everyone wants to find a great workplace, but creating one can be just as rewarding, if you’re up for the task.

I met Jeff at a networking event in Baltimore, Maryland. A seasoned and quite successful lawyer, he immediately responded to my “elevator pitch” with, “What if you’re trying to get people to do something they don’t want to do?”

“That’s manipulation, not provocation,” I told him. “Provoking greatness is about them, not you.”

“Let’s have lunch,” he said.

We ate at one of my favorite local restaurants, Midtown BBQ & Grill. They serve locally-grown, grass-fed, hormone-free animal products – and they’re delicious! Bonus: The owners, Nate and Tony, are awesome! But I digress…

As was the case at the networking function, Jeff showed up in a sharp suit, looking astute and ready for business. After a little getting-to-know-you conversation, Jeff told me about his frustrations as a partner in his firm.

“We administered a survey to get feedback about our culture,” he said. “We wanted to know if our employees liked their work environment.”

“What did you learn from the survey?” I asked.

Suddenly Jeff went from composed and professional to exasperated. “Our culture sucks!” he said.

After I got over the shock of him using the word “suck,” I asked him to elaborate.

“People don’t like working here,” he explained. “They don’t feel appreciated, so eventually they leave. We have a 30-percent turnover rate, but the senior partners don’t seem to care. They just say, ‘We can replace them.’”

After getting feedback on their “sucky” culture, the senior partners asked Jeff to lead the charge for improving things.

“At first I was insulted, since this is something my colleagues clearly don’t take seriously or respect,” he shared. “But I quickly realized I’m the best person to help, because I genuinely care about the people in our firm.”

Taking the task to heart, Jeff created a mentoring program and began holding company socials, hoping to create a sense of community for employees. “But the mentoring program isn’t getting anywhere, because it’s not incentivized,” Jeff explained. “And the senior partners never show up at the socials.”

Jeff has finally come to the conclusion that he has only two choices: Leave or wait it out. As he told me, “If I stick around, I’ll eventually have a seat at the table and be in a position to make real change.”

Fortunately, for Jeff, “real change” doesn’t have to wait another five to seven years. As a leader, he can affect real change, even if the senior partners aren’t on board. In fact, he’s already doing it. It is in every small step he’s taking to connect employees with each other, to create a sense of community, to appreciate them, and to help them see how their contributions matter.

Shifting culture is easier when it starts at the very top, but anyone in a leadership role can create a microcosm that allows people to flourish. The key is getting committed to creating powerful connections between people. When you find ways to do that, you usher in change. Even if it’s slow, incremental change, it adds up quickly!

As one of my personal heroes, Zig Ziglar, once wrote: “Consider the termite. It does more damage than tornadoes and hurricanes combined. Yet it does it one bite at a time. Become great one bite at a time.”

Join the Conversation: What bites are you taking?

Misti Burmeister, best-selling author of From Boomers to Bloggers: Success Strategies Across GenerationsHidden Heroes and Power Suck.

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