“If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”--Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Restrictive diets often have the opposite effect we intend. A restrictive approach means all attention goes toward preventing certain foods from crossing our lips. When the mindset is “I can’t have x, y, and z,” we feel extreme shame when we “fail.” Even when we meet our goals, we have a nagging feeling that we could’ve done more. Instead of being inspired by how far we have come, we feel ashamed by how far we have to go. I find that for a healthy body and for a healthy business, I have more success with a prescriptive approach—meaning I focus on all the things I must do in order to fuel my body or build a healthy company.
For my health, I think about how the kale in my freshly pressed morning juice will nourish my body and fuel my brain, helping me focus throughout my busy day. When I work to incorporate as many nourishing, complete foods into my diet as possible, I am inspired by all the good in each bite. This prescriptive approach is a totally different way of looking at my overall wellness than the restrictive diets so many of us have tried. And I’ve found that my health concerns are taking care of themselves. I have more energy, I’ve lost weight, and I don’t get panicked by short-term “failures.” It seems counterintuitive, but it’s true.
I approach my company the same way. Instead of telling my team members all the things they “shouldn’t” do, I strive to inspire them. I talk about how, when they play their part to the fullest, the company really benefits. Companies that focus on everything employees and departments “shouldn’t” do create a culture of panic rather than one where individuals are inspired to meet their goals and rise to the standard. Look at your dress code or company handbook as a guide. Do you see more “don’ts” or more “do’s”? This is a good exercise to hold a mirror up and see what message you’re sending your employees. Now consider your department meetings and company rallies or other company-wide communications. How much does the language focus on all the things people shouldn’t be doing versus what they should? Now dig a little deeper and consider your weekly meetings. Do you talk most about what frustrates you, or do you cast a vision for all the things you’d love to see happen? Sometimes it’s easier to talk about what's keeping you up at night, but by flipping the script, you can do wonders for your culture. A simple example of flipping the switch is translating “Tardiness will not be tolerated” (restrictive) into “Open your sales office 10 minutes early to ensure a positive customer experience” (prescriptive). Restrictive policies and procedures come across as governmental while prescriptive statements and policies give people ownership. When your culture is restrictive, you have to keep making rules to clarify previous rules if they aren’t descriptive enough, and you end up with a long list of “don’ts” that employees only read as a sleep aid.
In order to make changes toward an inspirational culture, consider the outcome you want to achieve. From there, work on rewriting any restrictive policies and incorporating prescriptive language and guidelines. Carry that approach over to company or departmental meetings as well as one-on-ones. Don’t misunderstand me: I’m not talking about not having standards. You absolutely must have standards and expectations for your people. Just make sure they focus on what you DO want your employees to do and represent. So instead of “I can’t stand when employees look sloppy” or “I can’t stand when job sites aren’t clean,” you could say, “Maintain a professional appearance/job site.”
On a company or organizational level, this culture shift means making your vision transparent. Give every employee access to the vision for the department as well as the guiding principles the company was founded on. Give employees ownership so that they are inspired by your vision for the company or department, and they will take personal responsibility to set sail toward a vision and goal they’ve made their own. Such an approach creates a unified philosophy, leading to a stronger team, increased morale, and a more profitable organization.