5 Ways to Create a Better Workplace

With a tight labor market and a low unemployment rate of 3.5% (as of September 2019), employee retention remains top of mind for many senior executives.

Fortunately, leaders at every level have the power to make small changes that over time create better places to work, and thus attract and retain employees. This article offers five simple ways leaders at any level can create better workplaces.

1. Lead yourself

William Penn said, “No man is fit to command another that cannot command himself.” Self-leadership is about knowing who you are and what you stand for, then making decisions and course corrections based on this self-identification. When I first started my business, my decision-making process was based on the maxim “improving communication and relationships everywhere.” If what I was doing didn’t improve communication or relationships, then I knew it was time for course-correction.

What to do: Create a maxim. A maxim is a short pithy statement expressing a rule of conduce. Test every decision and behavior against your maxim and you will know when you are on or off course.

2. Build trust

There’s probably nothing more important to your leadership reputation than the ability to earn the trust of your employees, colleagues and executives. According to Stephen M.R. Covey, a top thought leader on trust and author of “Speed of Trust,” “Trust includes two primary components: character and competence. Character includes your integrity, motive and intent with people. Competence includes your capabilities, skills, results and track record.”

What to do: Create your own trust audit that includes five character traits and five competency traits. Grade yourself on a scale of 1-10, then compare those scores with 10 volunteers who agree to rate you anonymously.

3. Speak truth kindly

When giving feedback, it’s easy to let frustration override facts. This is why many new leaders avoid difficult conversations: They don’t have the skills to override strong emotions so they simply procrastinate initiating conversations that need to happen. Avoiding the elephant in the room only creates surprises and resentments later.

What to do:  Focus on facts, not frustrations. First, identify the gap in performance. What are they doing or not doing? Then connect the dots. How does their behaviors affect the business?  Example: “When we don’t greet customers immediately we put ourselves at risk of losing them,” works a lot better than, “You aren’t very observant and it doesn’t seem that you really care.”

When you learn how to state the facts without letting emotion wash over you it’s easier to address small problems before they turn into major issues.

4. Stop rescuing

Just because you are the leader doesn’t mean you need to fix every problem. When you fix every problem you create co-dependency, and your open door will soon become a revolving door. You must distinguish between helping and rescuing. Helping is teaching a man to fish, while rescuing is serving up a fish dinner and then offering to wash the dishes.

What to do: When an employee comes to you with a problem, be prepared to coach the employee to solve the problem. The way to coach is by asking questions, so be prepared to create a list of questions relevant to the situation. Some qood questions to begin with are: What have you tried so far? What choices do you think you have? What is your intended end result?

5. Create a conscious bias

As a leader, you have to constantly work on how you “see” your employees. We are all subject to unconscious bias, stereotyping people by their age, background, race, education and other characteristics. The way we see others affects how we interact with them. David Rock, author of “Your Brain at Work,” says, “ When you think someone is a foe, you don’t just miss out on feeling their emotions, you also inhibit yourself from thinking their ideas, even if they are right.”

What to do: Create a conscious bias that works for the common good. For example, when Tom Landis opened his ice cream store in Texas, it was for the specific purpose of offering jobs to people with disabilities. This entrepreneur decided to consciously look at possibility instead of disability. Decide to create a conscious bias by choosing to see your employee’s humanity, their potential and their value.


Leaders have a lot of power when it comes to building great places to work. The leader must be the example, and then must offer resource and guidance so that employees can continue to grow and add value for the organization.

Article originally published via SmartBrief.

Marlene Chism is a consultant, international speaker and the author of “Stop Workplace Drama” (Wiley 2011), “No-Drama Leadership” (Bibliomotion 2015) and “7 Ways to Stop Drama in Your Healthcare Practice” (Greenbranch 2018).  Download “The Bottom Line: How Executive Conversations Drive Results.” Connect with Chism via LinkedInFacebook and Twitter and at MarleneChism.com.