‘You do you’ — Creating a productive work culture balances individualism with teamwork

When my son Wesley was 4, I took him to a new dentist. The dental hygienist asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. “I want to be Wesley,” he said without hesitation.

The purity and simplicity of his answer has stayed with me ever since. That he defined his future not with typical boyish aspirations, but by just wanting to be himself, is a philosophy I’ve embraced personally and professionally.

Traditional business thinking has long suggested that we leave our personal lives at home. In today’s millennial era of work/life balance, that’s pretty much the equivalent of checking your identity at the door.

Who we are follows us wherever we go, and evolved organizations are creating cultures that balance normative behavioral ideals with individual rights for authentic self-expression.

The key for company leaders is to preserve enough established order while supporting a be-true-to-self environment that allows employees to care less about what people think and have more freedom to contribute in their own voice.

Here are some ways to encourage that:

Understand what motivates each individual. Don’t just use your judgment. Consider personality testing to objectively assess the communication styles and psychological profiles of your employees. Honor and relate to each person differently. Test and know thyself, too. 

Create positions around people instead of people around positions. Customize job descriptions for the strengths of your staff to maximize their engagement and performance. Don’t accommodate individual weaknesses to the detriment of your organization, but set your employees and teams up for success and provide training. 

Have an open-door communication policy. Be approachable, accessible, responsive and respectful. Pay attention and suppress your ego. Some of the best organizational development ideas don’t start at the top.

Provide a formal system for feedback. Use regular employee opinion surveys to solicit confidential, candid reactions and ideas. Publish the results without filtering, and implement visible change. 

Hold real meetings of the minds. Inspire employees to show up in their power, knowing their thoughts will be heard. Eliminate head-nodding, going with the crowd and fear of rejection. Cast no judgment, and promote having an unpopular opinion. Herein, better ideas and greater morale will be discovered.

Recognize ethical differences. Because employees hold a variety of belief systems and moral values, the distinction between right and wrong is more fluid and personal than ever. While many business decisions are clear-cut, others fall somewhere along the black-and-white continuum. Regard individual political, spiritual and cultural ideologies without compromising company viewpoints.

“You do you” is a new spin on a familiar concept, and it’s becoming a reality for all generations in the workplace. Adapting it can let a company grow up to be a better version of what it was.

Scott Forster is co-owner, vice president and COO of Magnus International Group. He has been an entrepreneur since his early 30s. Magnus is an award-winning innovator in natural products development and manufacturing that has been ranked No. 1 on the Weatherhead 100 fast-growth list.