Pay them a competitive salary. Protect against mission and role creep. Give something clear to work toward and a strategy to employ to get there.
As an organizational leader, these are the foundations of developing a healthy relationship with your workforce. I’ve found there are other signs of an empathetic organizational culture that you can develop, without excessive budget needs.
These are examples of ways to show your team that you actually care about them as people. It goes a long way to develop the relationships you need to take on a big challenge, particularly without a pile of money.
Another clear opportunity is any sort of professional development opportunity. We do that sort of thing, though I’ve often felt budget constrained — we have done clever partnerships for in-kind offerings for employees we want to invest in. There are also lots of examples of ways to build team chemistry and culture — we do an annual retreat and an internal planning day, among other features.
But for this post I wanted to focus on small interventions that I’ve found to have outsized impact on showing that I do quite genuinely care intensely for the teams I bring together. Here’s a running list of such examples:
- Offer as much transparency about organizational health (good and bad) as possible, and do so with the explicit goal of teaching. There is so much to be learned from the view you get to have as a leader.
- Find a low-cost professional development tradition. We haven’t always executed this flawlessly but for years we’ve complemented our monthly ‘all-team call’ with a ‘show and tell,’ in which we sometimes welcome outsiders
- Promote perks within existing offerings, like your healthcare plan. Our company healthcare plan offers free access to a nutritionist. I was interested in this and found other staff members were too, so I found a compliant nutritionist and shared her information with staff. It came at no additional cost.
- Look at your 401k plan as a personal finance teaching opportunity. I’ve found many organizations take for granted that all teammates will have a rich retirement and savings strategy. Of course we know that’s not true. At no additional cost, we annually host a financial planner associated with our 401k plan to do an open session on retirement savings and ask he offer up private time for interested teammates. This topic is of personal interest to me, so, without being too invasive, I try to encourage teammates to take their retirement strategy seriously. (I take great pride in noting that several teammates of ours started their first ever retirement savings with us).
- Celebrate PTO and other healthy breaks. I fear the self-care phenomenon is destined to jump the shark into pandering. But finding small opportunities as a leader to make use of PTO, to take breaks (during the day and truly disconnecting elsewhere) conveys the importance of healthy habits.
- Share and exchange work hacks that are about efficiency. I love tips about getting work done more smartly — strategies for calendar usage, email, task and project management. Certainly I like sharing these because I always want our team to get smarter and better, but I also aim to introduce these as small internal professional development opportunities.
- Underscore when and how an opportunity can benefit a teammate beyond their role with your organization. I often say something playful like “even though I never want you to go anywhere, this project will be good for you at another organization.” I don’t overuse it, but I do mean it when I do say it. My point is that work with us can be transferable.
- Celebrate your alumni network. This year we at Technical.ly hosted our first alumni event, the next step in a long-effort to maintain relationships with anyone who has provided value to the organization. This conveys we do care about people even after they are “actively producing” for the organization.