Find your voice: empowering people and tribes in the workplace

Workplace tribes
Martin Lucas
Voices of the World
Share this content

We humans are biologically built to be social. It’s in our DNA to collaborate, in order to survive, to overcome adversity, to evolve. This innate quality is how we came to be the most dominant species on the planet.

We are more effective when we work together, which is why we prefer to operate in tribes - we have a fundamental need not only to belong, but also to contribute and feel valued.

Today, our tribal instincts manifest themselves in many different ways from our sense of family and who we choose as friends, to our sporting preferences and which smartphone we buy. However, one tribe which is often overlooked is that which forms in the workplace and, more importantly, the energy it creates.

We don’t tend to think or talk about the energy of the workplace consciously, perhaps because it is hard to articulate let alone control: it’s a feeling. But our social DNA means we are designed to tune into feelings, to read them and adapt or react accordingly. Energy is all too often the elephant in the room; it’s the overlooked ingredient to success as an individual, a team and a company, both internally and externally.

But why should I care?

Energy is created or killed by tribal thinking. We feed off one another. Momentum is energy, positive thinking is energy, negative thinking is energy - not one we want, but energy nonetheless! The higher and more positive the energy, the more effective we are.

So, you should care if you want to create a positive environment that feeds your bottom line in incredible ways.

Incredible? Prove it!

Game on! Let’s look at energy in relation to an individual, a team and a company, then explore how we advertise ourselves.  But first, let’s explain why this matters now more than ever.

Consider the consumer’s world. We are demanding more and more personalisation of how we are treated - how we buy, how we use services. The age of impersonal call centre-like treatment is almost dead.

This shift is seeing more artisan-inspired services boom, want goose pooped coffee? Score! The world is adjusting to the demand of everyone wanting to be treated like an individual, listened to, cared about, understood... and it’s disruptive (think Uber, Omakase, Cereal Killer Cafe, Lidl et al).

What the consumer world demands the business world eventually mirrors. However, it doesn’t end there as consumer patterns aren’t the only forces at play. We are also in the midst of a huge generational shift.

Centennials have arguably the most agile and diverse minds in history. All they’ve known is ‘modern’ technology and the decision making speed that has to offer. But, more importantly, it’s their ability and desire to express themselves, which will cement the importance of energy in the workplace. Their freedom to think AND share their ways to make things easier, better, quicker, to enhance what we do and how we do it will be critical.

In short, future success or failure hinges on our ability to find our voice.

The individual

We are all individuals. We each have our own unique characteristics, habits and belief systems. All of these elements shape our day-to-day behaviour in life. You’ll notice I say ‘life’; one largely misunderstood part of humans is that we actually have a life belief system AND a work belief system.

You know that colleague who sends aggressive emails, is abrupt in conversations and yet you heard he’s the most loving husband and a doting dad? That’s a life vs work belief system in motion. Whilst we have managed to adapt and alter our environment to the point where it’s a far cry from what we had to navigate in Palaeolithic times we are still to this day built with a hunter’s survival instinct. It’s this instinct, which causes certain people to behave one way at work vs another in life.

Good leaders orchestrate their tribes through authentic two-way interaction.

Consider yourself, what kind of person are you? Do you feel appreciated at work? Do you know your purpose at work? Do you feel that your voice matters? Do you operate at work without restrictions? Are you free to share your ideas? If you are, then you have found your voice. Finding your voice is the key to self-worth. In life we can control it all, in work it takes self-belief and also an environment that understands and encourages everyone to share their thoughts and ideas.

I have a client I coach who often had ideas, but was not sharing them. Why? What we discovered was a habit where she presumed that the more senior the job title someone had, the more likely they would have thought of her idea already. Her habit was that a job title denotes the size of your intellect; the bigger the role, the bigger the intellect. Note I used past tense, now she shares her ideas and has been promoted in the nine months since this habitual blocker was identified.

This thought process is common, as are workplaces that make people feel undervalued. You see we are still stuck in the call centre, worker drone environment of business when actually that’s the last thing any of us needs to feel energised. Left unattended you end up with a workplace habit where people don’t want or see the point of finding their voice and instead become actively disengaged.

Inclusion is a critical ingredient for success for all businesses, particularly when running a lean operating model, which is why smaller, entrepreneurial companies also need to work hard to include people, whether they are employees, partners or suppliers. Any environment where individuals feel they cannot contribute is missing a chance to become more than just the sum of its parts.  

The team

The old adage that people leave managers not companies still stands true. If you join a great company, but your boss is not so great, you will be more inclined to leave. Beware of the centennials as the millennial generation are already quick to move when they lose interest or are mistreated.

Consider the individual. They want to feel a sense of purpose, to be valued and to know their voice matters. This is where leadership is key because they create and reinforce the standards of the environment. A leader understands they can make a difference to their people's lives and that their people will help them succeed. Good leaders orchestrate their tribes through authentic two-way interaction. They encourage and empower, embracing each member’s individuality.

In smaller organisations, the founders tend to occupy the role of leader by default – after all, it is often their vision and passion which has shaped the company. But as a company grows over time this passion and vision is in danger of becoming diluted as more layers of people are added to manage and oversee certain aspects of the business. It’s vital not to lose the power and visibility of the original passion which formed the business. It’s what attracted your people to you in the first place and what drives the business forward.

History is littered with examples of companies burying their passion under process and people then losing their way as a consequence. Just look at what happened to Apple when Steve Jobs left in the mid-80s.

A good leader knows how to find their voice.

A leader knows they are part of the puzzle, not the only piece.

The company

In any business, large or small, every aspect has to be fit for purpose in order to maximise the chances of success – whatever ‘success’ means. As a small business grows, if often feels a pressure to adopt the practices of larger, more established organisations. There is a deep rooted psychological link between ‘process’ and ‘professionalism’ which, if misguided, can have a negative impact on how included and valued people feel.

And so, this is where things get tricky. Energy is controllable, be that negatively or positively. The tricky part comes when a company understands they could be doing better and proactively hunt new thinking.

We are all short of time. This makes innovation, evaluating the whole causations, more difficult to deliver, so companies re-write their values. They gather people in a room or on a call and tell them their new values. The people listen, shrug and go back to their work.

Changing words on a poster does not equate to changing behaviours and certainly doesn’t change how employees feel, that’s why we have phrases like ‘actions speak louder than words’.

Remember finding your voice is about harnessing the energy of the workplace. If an individual does not understand their purpose and value, or does not feel that their voice matters then they will not contribute to creating that positive energy. You can’t just rewrite the values and hope for the best.

We have an increasing amount of information coming at us from all angles, with so many touch points to enable change, so it needs just that - many touch points, coordinated, conscious and starting with the individual.

Find your voice works on every level. An organisation and the teams within it have one common denominator - human beings. How well does your environment lend itself to tapping into this natural energy source we all have?


Please login or register to join the discussion.

By Gilly_8
13th Feb 2016 07:48

Great article Martin - and so true.

Everyone needs to feel part of the team regardless of rank - and hopefully this change in ethos is growing.

As a Manager we employ people to grow our business - therefore they should know things we do not....

By placing value on them we allow them to grow and flourish, giving them value and in turn growing the business.

Thanks (0)
to Gilly_8
19th Feb 2016 13:51

Thank you for the feedback Gilly_8. The demand for a change in ethos is definitely growing, but there remains a fundamental disconnect in the way we view work which hinders progress. There is a clear gap between what business does and what science knows, so leaders must also focus on bridging that gap for their people and future generations entering the workplace if we are to see real widespread progress.

Thanks (0)