Whatever your role is at work or in life, showing others respect is always a good way to build a great relationship.
While growing up I constantly took the opportunity to look through my parents’ junk drawer in the kitchen. It was organized into different sections of stationery supplies, suckers, ribbon, surplus silverware, matchbooks, nut crackers, old recipes, and other misfits that didn’t make sense anywhere else. If you have a place to call home, my guess is you have a drawer exactly like this.
One day as a young kid, I was rummaging through the junk drawer and discovered a cassette tape with “Some of my experiences with Henry Ford” written on the label. At the time, anything audio-related I could get my hands on was just cool to me. My father was a national account manager with an international electronics company for 25 years, so the technology of the early ‘90s was easy to come across in our house. After listening to the tape over the next few days it became obvious to me this was not a normal audio-journal entry and that my grandfather’s life was deeply impacted by Henry Ford. His experiences with him professionally and personally had a profound effect on how he treated others and lived his life.
“I was often walking along the road near the Cotswold Cottage at the time Mr. Ford came driving into the Village with his chauffeur, and even though I was a young man of 19 and dressed in blue jeans for work, Mr. Ford always waved to me,” my grandfather, Clem Glotzhober recalled on January 29, 2000. “Frequently, about the same time, other executives would also be driving along that road, but they would never wave to me. I have thought about how Henry Ford would wave to me, but his less important assistants were too self-centered to wave to a younger worker.”
There are countless entries where Ford went out of his way to impact my grandfather in a personal way by showing him different kinds of respect. It was kind of strange. After all, my grandfather was just a chemist in the Ford-funded George Washington Carver Lab and not a crucial part of his auto empire. But still, it all felt so personal.
Harvard Business Review has a consistent study that shows about half of employees don’t feel respected by their bosses. The general rule is that respect is earned and not given, but that’s not always a successful way to build a relationship. There is a certain balance of earned and owed respect that must exist for an organization to thrive. Owed respect is something that should be applied equally across a firm, not only to employees but to equipment and facilities as well. This should create a good work environment where everyone and everything is inherently valuable. Whereas earned respect is gained through individuals displaying the firm’s core values or behaviors. Having the right balance of respect is critical to creating an all-around great employee experience. The best part about all of this is that most AEC firms don’t require a drastic policy or fundamental change to positively impact the employee experience. It can be as simple as applying some of these principles:
- Ripple effect. Good or not, leadership’s actions and behaviors are seen and often repeated throughout the work environment. Set the example you want your employees to follow, and it will become ingrained in your firm’s culture.
- Stress reduction. Having someone show you even a baseline amount of owed respect can sometimes change your whole attitude for the better. Employees with lower stress levels are more productive and more open to sharing ideas and collaborating with others. This all enhances the design process.
- Listen first; act now. Take on all toxic conversations with grace and stand up for those who cannot speak for themselves. Shutting the conversation down as quickly as possible is always best and saying nothing at all is a bad move. No one is prepared for every conversation, but knowing how to interject in a respectful tone is important.
- Be an open book. One of the many reasons to love open-book management is that it builds trust and is a huge sign of respect from the employees’ standpoint. When you share financial and strategic information it helps unify and strengthen firm culture.
- Work-life balance. AEC firms are struggling to cope with the fact that traditional workplace policies have been disrupted and will largely not return to what they were before the COVID-19 pandemic. Firms that fail to adjust will fall further behind in areas of recruitment and retention and more than likely be looking at the lower half of the barrel for future talent. It was 95 years ago when Henry Ford introduced the five day, eight-hour per day work week and it’s still tough for leaders to see the demand for change.
Ford, like anyone else, had a lot of flaws as a person, but he managed to impact people like my grandfather so profoundly he felt it necessary to share his experiences through family and publications until the very end of his life. Whatever your role is at work or in life, showing others respect is always a good way to build a great relationship.
Chad Coldiron is director of executive search at Zweig Group. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.