At the end of the day, in most industries, it’s your front line folks who are taking care of your clients and who are doing the heavy lifting. And yet there is often the perception that those on the front line are not as “valuable” as the “higher ups” because they’re not paid as much.
For example, when I ran the moving company, I wasn’t the one taking the piano up the switchback staircase, my crew guys were. They were the ones arriving at my customers’ homes, loading their worldly possessions and then safely placing belongings at the new home. My crew guys were the face of my company. And in the moving industry, it is very common to have the frontline crew and the office staff squabble. Often movers perceive the office staff as having it easy (sitting in desk chairs all day), while the office staff may perceive the crew as replaceable unskilled labor.
I wouldn’t have achieved a turnover of 40% less the industry average if I treated my movers as replaceable, “less than” labor.
So how do you change the value perception and power dynamic in your culture?
Here are 3 steps to consider:
1) Demonstrate interdependency and foster respect. I made sure the office staff knew they existed to support the crew. I was always incredibly clear as to how critical both the crew and office were to the success of the organization – and how they absolutely needed one another. I demonstrated their interdependency by connecting the dots through examples of crisis and success. Light bulbs would go off, as well as awareness of the challenges and difficulties of each position. In this awareness came respect, and a desire to have one another’s backs when things went awry. When calamity ensued, it was no longer about whose fault it was, it was about how to support one another to get through the situation in a way that best honored what they’re up to in the world. Instead of being self-focused, or team territorial, they were a stand for the entire organization and to the success of our commitment.
2) Change the labels. When I originally started working with a homecare client, they had “internal” staff (office) and “external” staff (care providers). External simply meant out in the field and outside of the office. However the language suggests a significant separation between the two and “external” could even be misconstrued to mean, “you are outside the inner circle, excluded from the internal operations.” We changed the language to reflect the desired culture. Internal staff became “support” staff and external staff became “direct care” staff. The roles and relationship became clear: support staff exists to assist the direct care staff.
When you think about your team, what labels do you use? And are those conducive to the culture you want?
3) Invert your organizational chart. Put leadership on the bottom serving those above them. And put customers, patients or students at the top, and each level in between serving the levels above them. Imagine if advancing in your organization meant reaching your way to the bottom so you could serve more of the team.
For more on power dynamics and other vital workplace culture topics, check out Culture Works: How to Create Happiness in the Workplace. Also available on Amazon.