The Power of People-Centered Culture

By Janice Shapiro

“If we want people to fully show up, to bring their whole selves including their unarmored, whole hearts—so that we can innovate, solve problems, and serve people—we have to be vigilant about creating a culture in which people feel safe, seen, heard, and respected.” —Brené Brown, Dare to Lead

In the 2020 workplace, people are fully showing up. Work and life have blurred into one reality, and few boundaries exist between one’s personal and professional realms. Your employees are juggling more today than ever before, attempting to work, parent, teach, and survive—all while isolated from critical community resources and support.

Creating people-centered cultures

In this new working normal, how are you creating an environment where employees feel safe, seen, heard, and respected?

According to Gallup, a culture of psychological safety enables employees to be engaged. Psychological safety is being able to show and employ one’s self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status, or career. Organizations that cultivate psychological safety have more engaged employees and higher performing teams. Psychologically safe cultures are high in risk taking and innovation.

Amy Edmondson, Professor of Leadership and Management at the Harvard Business School, writes about psychological safety in her book, The Fearless Organization. She provides a toolkit for leaders who want their organizations to be safe spaces for employees. In fully virtual workplaces, leaders must work even harder to maintain such safety. Edmondson’s toolkit includes a three-phased approach:

·       Setting the stage. Set clear expectations for employees and emphasize the why behind those expectations. This creates shared meaning.

·       Inviting participation. Be humble, ask good questions, listen actively, and create forums for discussion. This invites employees to use their voices confidently.

·       Responding productively. Express appreciation, destigmatize failure by offering to help and being forward-looking, and define clear violations of trust. This builds a continuous learning culture.

Encouraging people-centered coaching

As Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs has taught us, once you meet your employees’ psychological needs, they will be free to pursue deeper meaning and fulfillment, eventually reaching self-actualization. As you aim to foster whole-person wellbeing in your agency, consider how effectively you are paving the way for employee learning and development.

Coaching is one of the most powerful strategies to drive employees’ personal and professional growth. According to Carter McNamara of Authenticity Consulting, the coaching partnership – that between a professional coach and a client – provides structure, guidance, and support for individuals to:

  • authentically assess their current state
  • set realistic goals based on their strengths and needs
  • take relevant actions toward those goals
  • learn through continuous reflection and feedback.

Peer coaching groups are another trend growing in adoption throughout the nonprofit sector. Groups provide opportunities for nonprofit employees, regardless of role or function, to be coached and learn to coach others, in a small group setting with employees outside of your organization.  These groups can benefit your employees in the following ways:

  • Increase communication capacities. Participants learn how to listen better and ask poignant, thought-provoking questions. Peer coaching groups provide a space to practice and hone these critical interpersonal skills.
  • Problem-solving capabilities. Peers holding similar positions in different organizations can explore challenges they are facing in real life, inviting new ways of thinking about problems at work. They are better positioned to move the needle toward actionable solutions.
  • Higher engagement at work. The nurturing environment of peer coaching groups increases employee well-being and engagement. Organizations benefit from employees who are more reflective, accountable, and performance oriented.

We at PENN Creative Strategy believe that your role as a nonprofit leader is to instigate growth and forward momentum in your people and organization. We are here to help you stay focused on the change you envision. We partner with dozens of organizations to build your people capacity through peer coaching. Learn more today.

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