Want productive, engaged team members? Create workplace dignity and respect.

CultureU Performance

How do leaders and team members treat each other in your workplace today? Do they interact respectfully and civilly . . . or aggressively and selfishly . . . or somewhere in between?

When I ask leaders this question, they typically respond with “Well, I think they treat each other OK.” They are not confident in their perceptions because they don’t pay enough attention to the quality of workplace interactions.

Most Leaders Invest Greater Time and Energy on Results Than They Do on Culture
Leaders typically invest greater time and energy in their company’s products and services than they do to the quality of its culture – yet culture drives everything that happens in an organization, good or bad.

There are good reasons why leaders focus primarily on results.

Most organizations began with a product or service that customers wanted. The company evolved by focusing on how to deliver those products and services efficiently and at a quality level that customers demanded.

The company’s “reason for being” was to get products out the door or services delivered. Results and performance were closely monitored; they were the only metrics that mattered.

From the beginning, that primary – or exclusive – focus on results was the only thing that leaders were asked to do.

Don’t get me wrong. Productivity and delivering on your product and service promises are hugely important – but they’re not the only important things in your business. Effective leaders know that the health of their organization’s work environment is equally as important as results.

In fact, the quality of your work culture may even be more important than results.

Here’s why: when employees report that they are treated daily with trust, respect, and dignity, their engagement goes up (by 40 percent or more), customer service rankings go up (by 40 percent or more), and results and profits go up (by 35 percent or more).

To create an environment of trust, dignity, and respect – in every interaction – leaders have to be intentional about the quality of their work culture.

WD-40 Company’s Tribal Culture
Garry Ridge takes workplace culture seriously. As the president and CEO of the WD-40 Company, Garry is responsible for a multi-brand, multi-national organization that was once as siloed as you can imagine. When Garry accepted the CEO role back in 1997, command and control was an apt description of the company’s culture. Team members withheld information that could boost their peers’ success. Leaders didn’t delegate authority. Leaders micromanaged talented team members.

Garry realized that if the company was to be both globally successful and a great place to work, he had to change the company’s top down, “I win, you lose” culture.

Garry and his leadership team created a tribal culture based on formalized values and behaviors. They made workplace respect and dignity as important as performance by measuring employee engagement every year. That engagement survey provides hard data about employee perceptions of leader effectiveness, relationship quality, promises made and kept, civil treatment in every interaction, and more.

We treat people with respect, we honor each other. We’re here to create memories together, we’re here to do good work, we’re here to keep promises. That’s why we’re here.

– Garry Ridge, “chief” of the WD-40 Company “tribe”, from an interview with the University of San Diego

To Garry and the WD-40 Company’s leaders, their every-other-year employee engagement survey is as important a marker of the company’s success as their $340M in net sales in 2014.

Many companies conduct engagement surveys – some even do so regularly (annually). The average level of engagement in global organizations is about 30 percent. At WD-40 Company,  93 percent of global employees report they are engaged. That is triple the normal ranking!

An amazing 98.7 percent of WD-40 Company employees feel they are treated with dignity and respect (!). Communication from leaders, clear expectations set by leaders, and leader dependability all score 97 percent or higher.

Those are amazingly high engagement scores. Garry and his global leadership team are clearly doing many things right!

How to Boost Workplace Dignity and Respect
Workplace dignity and respect isn’t something a leader can simply demand and then enjoy. It requires leaders to be very specific about what they expect, to communicate those expectations often, to demonstrate those expectations in every interaction themselves, and to align others’ behavior to those expectations.

Every minute of every day.

The first step: Define. Effective leaders define both performance standards and values standards. They then model them, coach them, praise behavior aligned with them, and redirect mis-aligned behavior.

Values must be defined in observable, tangible, measurable terms. They must be as measurable as performance metrics.

The second step: Align. Effective leaders don’t tolerate anyone mistreating others, be they peers, team members, or customers. Not even once.

Workplace dignity and respect isn’t a target that once reached means “you’ve arrived” or that daily interactions will always demonstrate desired dignity and respect. People know how to be nice but too often they are not nice to each other – we see it in our polarized societies around the globe all the time.

Imagine this common workplace scenario. If a team member engages in twenty conversation on a given day, and nineteen of those interactions are respectful and dignified, that’s really good. However, that one dismissive interaction, where the team member left feeling discounted and disrespected, blew it.

At the end of that day, the team member would say, “No, we don’t treat each other with respect and dignity around here.”

And that player would be exactly right.

Maintaining a consistently civil or even validating work environment requires constant modeling by leaders and tending by leaders.

Alignment also means that you measure the degree of values alignment religiously. Just as WD-40 Company does their bi-annual engagement survey, leaders must invest time and energy in gathering employee perceptions of values, valued behaviors, and their engagement.

The third step: Refine. Every other year or so, effective leaders examine their valued behaviors to see if tweaks are needed. The company’s values don’t change but the behavioral expectations just might.

People might be living your current behaviors – and will do so even if you change the behaviors listed for your values. New behaviors may be needed given the demands of your business.

You are leaving money on the table if your employees aren’t treated consistently with dignity and respect. There’s no time like the present to boost the quality of your work environment.

Questions to ponder: What is the engagement level of employees in your company? How much time and energy do your company’s leaders invest in the quality of workplace relationships and interactions? If your company does have defined values, to what extent are they lived and measured?

I welcome your thoughts, please share them below.

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S. Chris Edmonds is the founder and CEO of The Purposeful Culture Group. After a 15-year career leading and managing teams, Chris began his consulting company in 1990. Since 1995, Chris has also served as a senior consultant with The Ken Blanchard Companies. Chris provides high-impact keynotes, executive briefings, and executive consulting. He is the author or co-author of seven books, including Leading At A Higher Level with Ken Blanchard. Learn how to craft workplace inspiration with an organizational constitution in Chris’ latest book, The Culture Engine: A Framework for Driving Results, Inspiring Your Employees, and Transforming Your Workplace. His blog, podcasts, assessments, research, and videos can be found at http://drivingresultsthroughculture.com.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • James Morrill

    Totally agree and find the WD-40 story inspiring. Wondering what a culture guru might think about the Amazon workplace described by the NY Times this past weekend?

    • http://drivingresultsthroughculture.com/ S. Chris Edmonds

      Thanks for your kind words and question, James!

      The NYT article on the “bruising” Amazon HQ culture is well-researched and thoroughly vetted. I believe the article describes that current culture accurately.

      A culture that tolerates mis-treatment, discounting, blaming, and worse is not going to inspire engagement, service, or results over the long term. It might inspire results over the short term, but engagement and service will suffer.

      If the only thing that gets measured, monitored, and rewarded in a culture is results, players who choose to stay in that culture will get those results in any way they can. Bending the rules, cheating, screwing your peers, etc. all are on the table. In fact, those behaviors may even be rewarded (!).

      That’s not the kind of environment I’d like to live in. Thoughts?

      • Felicia Baucom

        I’m going to jump in and tell you that I left an environment that was toxic. I get that a lot was expected from the teams – there were deadlines to meet to implement EMR at a healthcare system – but the rudeness because of the high pressure was really unnecessary.

        I was telling my husband the other day that any chance I could work away from the office, I took it. And I most certainly craved my days off.

        That experience lasted almost 4 years. Almost 4 years of rudeness, back-stabbing, gossiping, eye-rolling in meetings, cliques. When I had the chance to work from home for another organization, I did, even when that meant LESS money.

        The sad thing is, I still feel like I should have stuck it out, had a thicker skin, or whatever, but that’s not how I’m wired and I hated seeing others being treated the same way. I also hated doing good work and not being appreciated for it.

        Fortunately for me I did it have to stay there (there was a long stretch of time when I felt I had no other choice). I realize for many people making a job change is risky. Since I’m not working now I explored the idea of helping people who are struggling with workplace issues and helping them to realize the issues may not be their fault (e.g. you brought it on yourself, yep I’ve heard that one), or helping organizations to consistently treat their employees and customers with respect and dignity.

        • http://drivingresultsthroughculture.com/ S. Chris Edmonds

          Thanks for sharing your experience, Felicia. That was a very difficult environment, and – as you said – it didn’t need to be rude and demeaning. I’m glad you have found peace – well deserved – and hope you can help organizations do both: perform well while treating people nicely. All the time.



          • Felicia Baucom

            Hello Chris,

            Thank you for your response, and thank you for your post. I did find it highly refreshing, and I guess somewhat triggering, hence my, um, reminiscing. :-) Here’s hoping that others will read your post and use these ideas in their workplaces.

          • http://drivingresultsthroughculture.com/ S. Chris Edmonds

            Thanks! That’s my purpose on this planet – to help leaders create productive, engaging work environments where everyone is treated with dignity and respect, in every interaction.