Look at the job description for any role in any department at your company and you’ll likely find some overlap between the core competencies.

For many organizations, these competencies, among others, dictate the culture of the organization. Individuals won’t be hired if they don’t share the same values (often aligned with core competencies) as the organization as a whole, and the HR team is required to ensure that resumes fit the bill before bringing someone in for an interview. These parameters are defined not only to find the right fit for the job, but to also find the right fit for the organization, parameters that are often initially established by senior management.

But think about who fills those roles. Do you see those core competencies accurately reflected?

“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”

I was reading The Magic Ring, one of the new books by public philosopher Tom Morris and came across the line “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” It reminded me of the impact we have on each other, particularly in the workplace.

Workplace culture refers to the set of values and beliefs that influence the behaviors of the organization. It is in the workplace culture where we become sharp or dull and it is management’s role to define, create and support a workplace culture, and model the behaviors, that brings out the best in each employee.

Think, for a moment, how your colleagues have a significant impact on your feelings toward work. Employees can either sharpen each other with support and skill sharing, or, through gossip, prejudice and the lack of self-management, can dull each other down. There always seems to be office gossip and office drama, yet many organizations struggle to manage this while maintaining a positive workplace culture. After all, regardless of the organization’s size, it should be the goal of any organization’s senior leadership to define, create and support the workplace culture that brings out the best in each employee.

Getting Management’s Attention

Employee disengagement continues to hover around 70% according to the Gallup Organization’s State of the American Workplace report. Once employees are wisely hired into roles that align to their abilities and interests, it is the workplace culture that then most influences employee engagement. An employee-focused workplace culture that activates employee engagement is one where managers think and act as coaches. It is one where managers value, support and develop their employees to achieve their potential. It is one where employees know and are held accountable to achieve their objectives and work together to deliver an exceptional experience for customers. It is one where the strengths and abilities of each employee are known and used by their teams to create the best outcomes. It is one where what is different and unique about each employee is celebrated and used to create organizational opportunities. 

Organizations that experience high employee disengagement rates, however, are often the organizations that struggle to achieve their objectives, and interactions between employees – and the interactions between employees and customers – are challenging.

Thinking Differently

Reflect on these questions to determine whether your workplace makes your employees sharp or dull.

  • Does your organization encourage all employees to develop into their greatest selves by offering education, training and a supportive workplace?
  • Does your organization encourage collaboration instead of competition?
  • Does your organization maintain a high standard for personal interaction and include respect for differences, backgrounds and approaches to problem solving?
  • Do your employees openly support and applaud great performance from other employees?
  • Do your employees share what they know to help others raise their performance and contribution?
  • Do your employees care about each other as people and support them in their workdays?
  • Does your management set the standard through their words and actions that everyone is respected, valued, committed to learning and focused on delivering their potential?
  • Do the leaders in your organization run an ethical and respectful organization, one where you would be proud that the people who matter most to you could work?

Every day, we have the opportunity of raising our skills and the skills of those around us. Yet for many, when we find ourselves in the situation where we can sharpen others, we can be petty, judgmental, reactionary, narrow-minded and selfish. How does this make anyone, or the organization as a whole, better?

Without a specific initiative for improvement (as part of your commitment to an employee-focused workplace culture), you will find your employees get busy in their days, allowing old habits, including the unproductive ones, to return. But by making employee engagement part of your culture, you will notice how much more capable your team is and, perhaps most inspiring, they helped each other get there.