Today we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day – well at least some of us do. There are people who will be taking the day off and others who are heading into work as usual. This Federal holiday marks the birth of Dr. King each year on the third Monday of January. More importantly, it is a day to reflect on the meaning King attached to equal rights. Equal rights for all people regardless of background, gender, sexual orientation, or national origin. I’d like to use this day to foster some thoughtful contemplation for how we can honor him today where we work.
When civil rights – the rights that are inherited from birth that proclaim that every person is protected from physical or emotional harm, discrimination, repression or any other form of infringement upon their freedom to act within the society and political climate that they exist in, are violated, there is severe damage. Fear can replace trust. Violence often overcomes peaceful discourse. Power and control override contemplation and compromise. Willingness to speak up and contribute is stifled or snuffed out altogether. What a waste. A waste of human resources.
In 30 years, I’ve worked in large complex Fortune 500 companies, small start-up operations, and mid-sized businesses with just a few hundred people. One thing I know for sure is that all organizations that flourish fully engage the whole person in business situations that require debate, decision-making, and organizational planning. They disagree respectfully, deliberate with vigor and in full consideration of contrasting perspectives, and include those who are working in different roles than their own. They are clear and consistent with the need to share information and they do so in a way that all people can receive it. This is their culture and it is a powerful tool for establishing accountability and promoting full employee engagement.
Sadly, that’s not the culture all companies subscribe to. Not even close. In organizations where civil rights are treated with indifference and neglect, the effect on people is potent. And this type of behavior is more prevalent today than ever. We know it’s true. We hear about this Every. Single. Day. So, when organizations refuse to examine and elevate their internal culture and communication habits they fail to fully engage the whole person, the heart and soul of their business. Productivity suffers. People leave or disengage. And they tell others about their experience.
So, I am challenging you to hold up the mirror today and ask yourself how you can be the change within your own organization as a leader, individual and just a good human. Everything that you do will prompt a reaction. If you are kind, you will receive kindness. If you stand up respectfully for the guy who is getting bullied in a staff meeting, you will receive respect. If you set the standard for giving and receiving feedback honestly, with genuine concern for that person and the well-being of the business, and yes, with love for one another – you will diffuse any opportunity for contempt, retaliation, and anger. If you have the willingness to support someone who needs help; you will be repaid in dividends. This is how we manifest healthy culture.
In the spirit of celebrating the values, beliefs, and leadership embodied by Dr. King how will you be the change in your company today?
VP People & Culture