What a Culture of Respect Really Looks Like

January 29th, 2019|Insights|

Originally published by TEC Canada speaker Dr. Gustavo Grodnistzy

Recently I had the honor of working with The Executive Committee, Canada, better known as TEC Canada, during its “Canada Day” in San Diego. I gave a two-hour keynote presentation on culture as part of a full-day conference, which extended into the evening with a dinner gala and awards ceremony. While I speak at this type of event dozens of time per year, this experience was unique and remarkable for one primary reason: the culture that was evident as soon as I walked in.

In an organization as large and geographically disparate as TEC Canada, it is common to have subcultures that are outliers or not aligned with the overarching culture of the organization. In such cases, I see disgruntled employees or business partners complaining about a lack of communication, inauthenticity and a lack of integrity in leadership.

There was none of that at TEC Canada. Zero. While there were indeed subcultures (based on geographic region, experiences, goals, etc.), all seemed well aligned with the overarching culture of TEC Canada. I say that based on the behaviors I saw from employees, contractors and outside business partners alike. All were fully engaged in a way I have seen in few other organizations. Naturally, I was curious about what I was seeing, so I began to observe the interactions between the people there. What I saw was a brilliant reminder of what so many people want — though, sadly, so few receive — in the workplace: Respect.

Respect Is Real — and So Are the Benefits

Many people see respect as this amorphous thing – a psychological construct difficult to codify or define. In fact, though, respect in the workplace has been very well studied in psychology and other disciplines.

In a study done by Christine Porath and Tony Schwartz interviewing nearly 20,000 employees globally, they found that being treated with respect by leadership was more important to employees than appreciation, communication, recognition and useful feedback. Employees even found respect more important than opportunities for learning, growth and development. There were no leadership behaviors that had a bigger impact on every outcome measured in the study.

Employees who felt respect from their supervisor reported:
• 92% greater focus and prioritization on their work
• 89% greater enjoyment of their job
• 56% better health and well-being
• Feeling 1.72 times more trust and safety
• Finding 1.26 times more meaning and significance in their work
• Being 1.1 times more likely to stay with the organization

The Two Kinds of Respect

Psychology teaches us that there are two distinct types of respect. A healthy workplace culture needs both.

• Owed respect is given to all members of the culture and organization — whether employees, business partners or contractors. It fulfills the primary human need to belong to something larger than ourselves. In a culture with owed respect, interactions communicate that every member of the culture has inherent value. Owed respect is clearly absent in cultures that demonstrate micromanaging, unreasonable financial controls, abuse of power and a belief that employees or business partners are “widgets” and interchangeable.

• Earned respect acknowledges those members of the culture who exhibit behaviors that support the culture and its values. It fulfills the human need to belong through contribution and impact. It recognizes members of the culture who go above and beyond, and it affirms every member’s strengths and abilities. Diminishing or devaluing the work of others, taking credit for the work of others, providing disinformation about performance and failing to recognize high performance are all characteristics of a culture that has low earned respect for its members.

Filling the Respect Gap

These ideas can help you increase the level of respect in your workplace culture.

• Assess the state of respect in your culture. Some cultures focus on earned respect more than owed respect. For others, it’s the opposite. Understand where you are so you can begin to fill any gaps.
• Build a foundation of owed respect. Every employee, regardless of pay, title or position, should experience dignity by being recognized and respected. This is particularly true for lower-wage members of the culture.
• Model behaviors associated with owed respect. Research points to active listening and demonstrating genuine value for diverging ideas as paramount to demonstrating owed respect. Both these behaviors cost the leader and organization nothing.
• Understand the cultural effects of respect. Just as bad behavior and poor performance can send a culture into a downward spiral, demonstrating owed and earned respect can create an upward spiral.
• Think of respect as a candle. When you use a burning candle to light a second candle, the first candle has lost nothing. And now both candle holders benefit from more light.
• Think of respect as a time saver. Some managers may say or think, “I don’t have time to show my supervisees respect – I’m too busy.” This is nothing more than an excuse. Respect has more to do with how you communicate than what you communicate. Offering owed and earned respect will always save time in the long run.
• Be consistent. As with any culture shift, an approach to increasing respect that is inconsistent or haphazard can do more harm than good. Be consistent, be mindful and reap the benefits of respect in your culture.

Many people fancy themselves leaders because of their title or position in an organization. But in truth, they couldn’t lead their people out of a burning building. Even if they were on the right path, their people don’t trust them, so they wouldn’t follow.

What I saw with TEC Canada was the opposite. I saw a large group of people who would follow their leadership team through fire. No single reason can explain that level of commitment and engagement, but one clear factor was the owed and earned respect throughout the TEC Canada culture.

If you have questions on this post or any previous post, don’t hesitate to reach out and ask.

Keep cultivating your culture!

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