Over the course of my leadership and work career, which spans more than 15 years, three continents, politics and businesses including Rocket Internet (The Iconic and Dalani), Bain & Co management consulting, venture capital and three of my own start-up ventures, I’ve been exposed to a wide range of workplace cultures.
At different stages, I have been a happy and an unhappy employee, as well as a great and an awful boss. So, with all of that in mind, here are some tips on how to create a happy and creative workplace culture.
1. Start with clarity
Define success upfront. Firstly, figure it out for yourself then communicate it clearly. It should be a conversation, ask your employee what they think great would look like, tell them your vision and together come up with a plan. Give them an opportunity to delight you.
2. Be generous with compliments and empathetic with areas to work on
Most of us need a ratio of many more compliments to criticisms to feel happy and valued at work. When we screw up (which let’s be real, we all do!) it’s rarely because we’re lazy or uncaring. It might be due to life outside of work, period pain, or broken technology…the reasons are vast and varied but they can impact an individual’s output. As a leader, it’s important to first assume there’s been a good reason for the mistake, then give the person a clear path to turn the situation around, with your guidance and support.
3. Cultivate creativity by starting with “yes”
This one is trickier than it sounds, especially if you’re a perfectionist like lots of us startup founders tend to be. Chances are your team will present a lot of ideas to you that you won’t love, but you need to tread carefully so as not to break the spirit of your talented employees. After much reflection, I have a few tactical tips on how to go about this.
Firstly, when someone comes to you with an idea you don’t like, consider that they might be right. Are they bringing a fresh perspective that is exactly what your business needs?
Secondly, see if you can find a way to let them implement their idea, even though you think it’s a bad idea, so they can learn the lesson themselves. Is there a way it can be done with limited negative impact? Can they test it with a subset of your audience? This way they can learn and move forward, rather than just feeling blocked and resentful.
Finally, if it’s an absolute clear no-go, be very encouraging but clear in your “no”. By clearly explaining your rationale your colleague will feel less dejected and is more likely to incorporate your feedback when presenting other ideas in the future.
4. Bring energy to your team…starting with yourself
You need to look after yourself, or as airlines say put your own oxygen mask on first. One-dimensional humans, who put all their energy and identity into one thing, are the most vulnerable to burnout. Cultivate your energy by exercising, seeing friends, indulging in your own quirks – whatever gives you energy is symbiotic with being a great boss.
Watch out for signs of burnout. These include struggling to sleep, needing to muster all your self-discipline to go to work in the morning or just becoming irritable. When this happens you need to take it seriously, take a timeout and if you’re not over it quickly, get professional help. There’s no faster way to burn out your team than being burnt out yourself.
Margot Balch, Co-founder and CEO, The One Two