What CEOs want: Bring your whole being into your job

Whether its new employee orientation programs or leadership programs, at some point during the course there is an explicit or a subliminal call to bring your “whole being” into the job. That’s what every CEO wants. Everything else stems from there.

I’d like us to explore that a bit. What is “whole being” ? Why is that important? Who does it benefit? How can you do it- sustainably? Is it even achievable? Why do corporations struggle with this. Are they really serious about this or is it one of those desirable holy grails whose cause is lost even before the journey to find it starts? Lets start with the what.

What does leadership mean when they ask of employees to bring their
“whole being”?

Merriam-Webster dictionary has a plethora of definitions and meanings for the word ‘whole’. We’ll settle for one:’constituting the total sum or undiminished entirety’.

We human beings are complex. The being is the sum total of our physical, mental, social, financial, environmental and spiritual states and all permutations and combinations of interactions among ourselves from a manifestation of all these states within each of us.

Bring your ‘Whole being’ would mean “Bring your total sum or undiminished entirety to work”. The whole being needs to be focused on producing results for the corporation.

Why is that important?

The oft quoted recent Gallup poll comes to mind. 87% of the global workforce is disengaged and these include all variations of disengagement including presenteeism and absenteeism. If any one of the 6 dimensions called out above are compromised, it impacts the “whole being”. Hence if corporations are serious about having employees bring their whole being leaders and managers would need to take some accountability to enable it besides the employees themselves. We’ll see how in a minute.

Who does it benefit?

The answer to this question may surprise you. The obvious answer is the corporation. The less obvious answer is a whole nation. The reason is because everything in this world is connected. From getting the wonderful news of the complete remission from a life threatening carcinoma of my colleague and friend’s daughter living in a city in the US to News of Michael Schumacher being grievously injured and recently making a recovery. We get it know about it. It takes up mindshare. We connect. It becomes a talking point for many and can detract from our activities. I call these out to remind us of how fragile our attentiveness is. In turn how vulnerable our ability to stay “whole” is. So any investment in bolstering the “whole being” can only yield positive outcomes.

How can you bring your whole-being and do it sustainably?

The tempting answer is..No that’s not possible. And that could well be true i.e. you can attempt to bring your whole being and contribute immensely to your company on one day and another day you could be missing out all the action. So we have a dilemma. The way to tackle that dilemma was partially in my earlier post, CEOs, wake up to Presenteeism in your Organization, June 16, 2014. It starts with measuring Presenteeism. Presenteeism is tactical disengagment. If Presenteeism is neglected or ignored it can lead to chronic presenteeism which then becomes a strategic problem of lack of engagement. So it is the responsibility of the employee to remember and be honest to why they are in the job and here’s what been missing in corporate policy…their side of the wager– which is to not just be interested in the employee’s peak output and opinions but in the well-being of the employee’s ‘whole-being’ as well. In the 100 plus years of the largely western model of large scale businesses, CEOs and managers with very rare exceptions have fought shy of caring for the employee holistically. Some believe that by offering extended insurance coverage to employees’ families its a done thing. It’s neither a done thing nor is it an equitable balance of trade. Employees are expected to give up their discretionary time even to meet corporate objectives and are not expected to get more than what’s on contract in terms of total rewards. So here’s the thing…Corporations cannot expect sustainability until they play their part in nurturing it. The challenge and opportunity is in How can you nurture it? There are some ideas later in this post.

What’s stopping CEOs from making this achievable? Why do corporations struggle with this.

Here are a few reasons why nurturing sustainability is a challenge:

1. Its getting into unchartered territory. In today’s VUCA world, besides few CEOs/ex-CEOs like those of Costco, HCL or Zappos, no one is willing to make that mental shift and walk the talk of “We Value our people”. Its more truthfully rather, We value our people’s contribution. We need to develop the will to change that.

2. Belief systems that are rooted in old-world thinking – The demographics of Most CEOs of large successful corporations world-wide are para-Baby Boomers. These folks did not have to carry laptops and get pinged 24×7 in their most productive years of their lives. I am one of them. Once you have lived long enough in that rarefied orbit and made it big, its an entirely different world of priorities. It scares the daylights out of us to even imagine how complicated the life of a Gen X/Gen Y call-center employee is in trying to balance his 14 hour work day with a working wife, a pair of elderly parents and a new born kid to boot. Multiply that by the number of employees in that mode and we’ll choose to steer away from it.

Whereas Gen X and Gen Y folks have inherited a different work culture. One that demands them to be ON 24×7, one where its relatively easy to be substituted, one where change is the norm. Yet they get to see very little in terms of support on several of the essential dimensions of wellness. So here’re some ideas worth sharing on what motivates these folks: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/206502

3. The tools of nurturing are still being invented. The best tool corporations have today is Mentoring. Its a great start. The opportunity to take this forward and deeper is there. Dr. James Prochaska and team uncovered 11 factors that can act as barriers to sustained productivity in their paper “The Well-Being Assessment for Productivity: A Well-Being Approach to Presenteeism”. Look out for means to uncover these in ways that Gen X and Yers are comfortable participating in i.e.mix of using electronic means to communicate with them and face-to-face meetings. This generation is far more fluent and comfortable with technology than any other group and today forms the bulk of the workforce. CEOs should invest in looking for the means to uncover these barriers. The investment will pay back with interest over time.

Its doable with the following simple things in place:

1. Senior Leadership’s collective will to truly value employee’s sustained well-being and Not an employee’s sustained output alone. The former precedes the latter. The evidence of this collective shift will be seen when this will prompt Strategic initiatives and allocation of funds to take action, create metrices and provide the necesary trainings and alignements in HR policy to support the “whole-being” while on the job and beyond even.

2. Choosing the most suitable partner(s) to provide an unambiguous process, the IT framework, and governance to periodically run assessments, guide targetted mentoring and training and measure outcome and trends. Start small with a pilot over 6 months and 100 employees and test the results. Learn from it, iterate and move forwards.

3. Look for associations between this strategic initiative and business successes over a couple of quarters and feed it back to the employees that the new actions fostering and nurturing the “whole being” are a true win-win!

4. Encourage everyone to become ambassadors and Multipliers of the new initiative. In the book Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, Wiseman and McKeown look at various types of leaders and identifies two different types of leaders, Diminishers and Multipliers. Multipliers see genius in others; create intensity that requires best thinking; extend challenges; debate decisions; and instill ownership and accountability. On the other hand are so called Accidental Diminishers. Those who hinder and otherwise keep their employees’ productivity at a minimum. The authors give what they consider to be solutions and guidance to the issues they bring up in the book.

Recall that Merriam-Webster dictionary has a plethora of definitions and meanings for the word ‘whole’. We settled for one: ‘constituting the total sum or undiminished entirety’. So lets refrain from hindering action or ignoring the effort needed to foster the “whole-being” and lets refuse to become a collective accidental Diminisher at such a most foundational level.

In conclusion: Whether its a new employee or senior leaders and mid-level managers there is an ever-present call to bring your “whole being” into the job. That’s what every CEO wants. Everything else stems from there.

What has been your experience…what actionable ideas might you suggest to make you sustainably whole at work?