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DEI + Culture

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How to be a company employees don’t want to leave

DEI + Culture / 5.23.23 / By Jessica Savage

At the crossroads of inspiration and purpose lies opportunity.

I didn’t come up with that. I probably heard it from someone or read it somewhere. What matters is that I keep finding myself in those moments, and my experiences along the journey are having a profound impact on how I consider the future of work at DS+CO.

As employers, we need to motivate people and teams to adapt to continuous change while also asking them to help our organization innovate with wild curiosity and a hearty dose of optimism. Our greatest opportunity lies in understanding what exactly each person needs to deliver at their fullest potential.

For me, many of those lessons have come from external places, like a CEO with a mission to create an inclusive workforce, or advice for building deeper understanding of how to truly fuel a culture of belonging, or an insightful book that offers guidance on how we can build successful relationships. What’s become clear is that all of us, in work and in life, want to be seen, heard and acknowledged for our contributions.

Ron Perine, managing principal and CEO of Mintz+Hoke in Avon, CT, is pumping his organization full of a “yes we can” attitude by embracing the contributions of the company’s office assistant, Cate Alix, who has Down syndrome. Cate belongs to one of the most marginalized of all cohorts in employment: adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. But Ron and his team are embracing Vanguard University professor Ludmila N. Praslova’s six principles of the canary code for building a more inclusive workplace: participation, outcome focus, flexibility, transparency, organizational and justice.

According to Dr. Praslova, employers who want to break the discrimination cycle and create a more inclusive workforce must find ways to dismantle two kinds of barriers for underrecognized groups: access barriers that prevent people from entering an organization, and success barriers that restrict representation, voice and leadership opportunities. Embedding these inclusive practices in the workplace also helps eliminate stress and frustration for all employees. That’s a win-win.

But back to Ron and Cate. Ron worked with Project SEARCH—a partnership between the Arc of the Farmington Valley and UConn Health—to customize a meaningful employment opportunity that aligns well with Cate’s strengths. She excelled in the interview and, sure enough, got the job. Her success demonstrates how connecting with employees at the individual level and leaning into their strengths can create a fulfilling experience for all.

Participation is a key part of relationship building. Imagine if employers were committed to developing each role within their organization not only as a job function, but as the foundation of a partnership they intend to build on. At the core of strong relationships are trust, empathy and understanding. We build trust by being accountable, reliable and doing what we say we’re going to do, and it’s reinforced when managers recognize effort and understand the pressures that could be standing in the way of someone’s ability to deliver at their optimal potential. So perhaps partnering with direct reports—ensuring their role and responsibilities are frequently evaluated against outcomes and adapted to best tap into their strengths—is a key to employee retention and career-pathing success.

In The Power of Moments, authors Chip and Dan Heath talk about the circuitry of successful relationships and how they’re stronger when we perceive our partners as responsive to us. What if we consider our direct reports as partners and begin to cultivate an even stronger culture of responsiveness in our workplaces?

According to research in the book by Harry T. Reis, responsiveness encompasses three things:

1. Understanding: My partner knows how I see myself and what is important to me

2. Validation: My partner respects who I am and what I want

3. Caring: My partner takes active and supportive steps in helping me meet my needs

If I’m a manager, I want my direct report to see me as their partner.

The book also shares Gallup’s six key questions managers can ask employees to better understand their satisfaction levels based on engagement, retention, productivity and profitability:

  1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?
  1. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
  1. Do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
  1. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for good work?
  1. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
  1. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?

If we get the answers to those questions from our direct reports, we can identify where some opportunity exists to go further to deliver for them. Because we believe that if we can get to the root of what matters most to our direct report partners, we can better meet their needs, coach them through challenges and inspire a growth mindset that helps provoke progress personally and professionally.

It all starts with a desire to understand what matters to each employee, then working to serve their needs the best we can while motivating them to succeed.

Inclusion + Partnership = Provoking Progress in the Future of our Workforce.

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Jessica Savage

Jessica is inspired by smart ideas, generosity—and the people all around her. At DS+CO, her leadership inspires doing good and doing good work. She sits on the SUNY Geneseo Foundation Board and is a member of the United Way Women’s Leadership Council and Girls on the Run of Greater Rochester Advisory Board. She’s DEI certified, has led multiple award-winning client teams and is an Urban League of Greater Rochester Power Broker. And she’s fueled by curiosity, collaboration and co-creation, helping her teams elevate brands, break down barriers and leave a mark on our community.