“The paint on the walls did not feed the children, nor did it tend the sick or educate the ignorant, but it gave hope and light, and helped to make people see there could be a different way of doing things, a different spirit, a different feel to our lives.” — Edi Rama
Edi Rama had limited resources to tackle the obstacles facing him when elected mayor of Tirana, Albania. Rather than allow his city to continue self-destructing, he decided to use art and colors to create a beautiful environment with the hopes that the people would again take pride in their city.
Spirits rose. Littering stopped. Crime fell.
I listened to Edi Rama tell this story during his TEDx talk, and it immediately impacted me in a way I couldn’t initially grasp. After watching his speech again and thinking on it some more, I realized what this meant to me and how it could help shape what I believed about business.
The concept is pretty simple: people want opportunities. The opportunity to be successful, the opportunity to compete, the opportunity to be creative, the opportunity to be heard.
By providing people an environment where they have these opportunities, they are more apt to develop innovative solutions to the challenges facing them and lift themselves and the company as a whole to greater heights.
Milton Friedman told us, “There is one, and only one, social responsibility of business: to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game.”
It is undisputable that businesses cannot exist for very long without earning a profit. And while I believe this is no doubt a responsibility of a business, I do not believe it is the sole reason for its existence.
- First, viewing the people on your team simply as resources makes it sound as if they are all easily replaceable.
- Second, exclusively engaging in activities that are designed to increase profits is a bit misleading as it implies that volunteering in the community or holding company events are worthless endeavors.
Rather, I believe that we should follow Edi Rama’s example in his city and invest in our company’s culture, the people, and our surrounding community. And as a result, our teams will see a different way to approach things; they will experience a different enthusiasm and a different feel to their work.
Create an Environment of Opportunity
So how do we apply Edi Rama’s ideas?
How do we parlay the brightening up of his city into actionable workplace initiatives that provide opportunities?
I’ve considered the culture here at Reunion Marketing and have come up with several ways that we attempt to foster this belief. Because these initiatives are not without their difficulties and certainly not the perfect formula, I’ve talked about both the positive outcomes and the challenges that we experience in attempting to create this culture.
Give everyone a voice and make them comfortable to offer their opinions
Idea: We understand that every member of the team experiences things from different perspectives and, thus, can offer unique opinions. Every person has an open-door policy and is encouraged to share ideas, challenges, and successes with others on the team.
Positive Outcomes: By allowing people to feel comfortable offering their thoughts, especially those on the ground floor of a particular initiative, we have been able to quickly identify opportunities for improvement and act on them. We also quickly leverage the successes of one group and replicate them in other areas of the company.
Because we are a young company, a formal training process was not immediately implemented; however, we listened to the challenges of our new teammates, and as some of our leaders have created successful training plans for their departments, we quickly leveraged those ideas in all other departments.
Challenges: Not every idea is acted upon, and we must ensure that this does not discourage future participation or idea sharing. It is impossible to act on every idea that is suggested; therefore, we try to encourage a culture where we don’t get discouraged or disheartened when an idea is not implemented.
Delegate large and important company initiatives
Idea: We encourage all leaders in our company to delegate the responsibility of finding solutions to problems or implementing new initiatives to all members of our team.
Positive Outcome: We have been able to work on and implement a large number of new drives that have resulted in successes for our clients, process improvements, efficiencies in our workflows, and improved the wellbeing of our workforce.
One such initiative was the creation of our GETit group that encourages all team members to meet monthly and discuss various topics — professional goals, work-life balance, personality types, etc. This single idea has brought people together from different departments and allowed us to share more personal beliefs and experiences with one another.
Challenges: Delegating is hard to do sometimes. It is not natural to allow other people to take your idea and run with it or allow someone else to take over a process that you have been fine-tuning for months. We continue to overcome this challenge by talking about the successes we’ve experienced through delegation of responsibility and also reviewing the number of terrific ideas we have that have not yet begun, but have the potential to be started by giving the responsibility to another person.
Encourage experimentation and view failure as opportunity
Idea: Because our team generates so many ideas, we encourage individuals to experiment with their ideas and share the results. Instead of being afraid of the failure that can result from constant experimentation, we attempt to view every failure as an opportunity to improve rather than a reason to give up.
Positive Outcomes: We constantly have a large team of people who are continually trying to improve various parts of our business. Rather than improvement being driven from the top of the organization, it is being driven at every level. This has resulted in creative changes to our company structure (we are now structured in a team format specifically designed around our client’s needs), improvements to our marketing philosophy, and new creative marketing campaigns.
Challenges: Sometimes these experiments don’t work, and sometimes they really don’t work. In those moments, we must maintain our philosophy that failure is an opportunity and not something to be feared or dreaded. Our culture could quickly shift if we suddenly begin to get upset with failed experiments.
There is by no means a one-size fits all way to create opportunities for people in the workplace. Our team constantly seeks out new ways to foster this culture. One of our next challenges will come as we continue to grow our group into a larger team, but we are confident that continuing to put our focus on the people will allow us to be successful no matter the size of the team.