There is a great line in this Aretha Franklin classic which is “R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me”.
A lot of the work that we do at Ridgeline HR has to do with developing and maintaining the right behaviours in workplaces built on respect for people regardless of their station and their personal characteristics.
In 2011, I was privileged to present on the subject of respectful workplaces at Melbourne Law School in conjunction with the Australian Institute of Employment Rights and the Centre for Employment and Labour Relations Law.
The focus of my presentation was on the characteristics of an effective respectful workplace program and, in this context, here is what R-E-S-P-E-C-T means for me:
Everyone is responsible for their own behaviour and for influencing the behaviour of those with whom they come into contact. Values should be clear and people at all levels from board down to the shopfloor should be held accountable for practising them consistently at all times and performance against values should be measured and used in performance management processes.
People are educated and trained in why the values are important, how they are applied in practice and what that means in terms of how they and everyone else are expected to behave. People are encouraged and congratulated for doing the right things in the right way and are encouraged and thanked for identifying contradictions and taking appropriate action to stop the wrong behaviours.
Every workplace is unique and values and behaviours need to be socialised to the nature, culture and structure of the organisation. Due regard must be had to the people demographic (employees and other stakeholders) and the prevailing paradigms of organisational behaviour (the good things to be preserved and celebrated and the contradictions that need to be addressed to ensure a respectful workplace).
This is about doing it every day in every way – in the way that board and management make decisions, in the decisions themselves, in policies and procedures and in the way that everyone at every level interacts with each other, in not tolerating contradictions but fixing them and in maintaining the message day in day out, saying “thanks” and saying “sorry” as and when appropriate – really living the values.
This is a journey where we continuously learn about new challenges and opportunities, where business circumstances change, where people come and go (employees, customers, suppliers, etc) and so the respectful workplace is something which continues to evolve and adapt to different needs. There is a need to conduct periodic healthchecks to look for contradictions and opportunities for improvement as well as to recognise and celebrate the successes. Like most things in life, it is about continuous improvement.
A truly respectful workplace is one where all of the stakeholders are partners in the values and required to demonstrate them – board members, managers and staff but also customers, suppliers, contractors, associations or unions and any others who have an interest and involvement in the workplace, Community also means recognising people as individuals and having respect for the people, relationships, beliefs and activities that are important in each one’s life. Diversity is valued and celebrated.
The foundation upon which any respectful workplace is based. For it to work, we must trust in the values of the organisation, the commitment of board and managers to lead by example, the willingness of all stakeholders to engage in the journey and the ability to rely on everyone to do the right thing and to be supported in doing that, Only then, can people genuinely believe they have a respectful workplace.
So that is what R-E-S-P-E-C-T means to me – what does it mean for you?