Career Center Blog

March 12, 2013

The importance of building a culture of respect


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The importance of building a culture of respect

(Photo: Microsoft Free Clip Art)

Earning respect isn't always easy. Nor should respect be something only subordinates are forced to give managers. To better compete in this global economy, a key strategic objective of executive teams and human resources managers should be creating a culture of respect. Here's how some companies have gone about it.

Put people first
Howard Behar, retired president of Starbucks Coffee Company, helped establish the Starbucks culture, which stresses the importance of people over profits. Earning the respect of employees turned out to be a byproduct of the culture they created, not the initial goal.

"We had our guiding principles and guiding statements, and nothing in them said anything about coffee. It was all about the way we wanted to live our lives as a company," Behar says. "And as long as we could stay in sync with those, it helped create trust and respect within the company."

Walk the talk
Building a company culture of respect requires speaking and acting in ways that demonstrate management's commitment. Notes Behar, "We approached creating the Starbucks culture in exactly the same way you approach building a healthy family relationship. We knew trust and respect were built by how you act, so we stressed three key aspects: One, we're all in this together; two, we want to have open conversations; and three, respond -- speak up immediately."

Starbucks put into action the three focus areas, making sure there were no special perks for executives and that all employees were called "partners." The company held open-forum meetings in which any partner could ask anything and management would address it, and included a feedback card in every partner's paycheck asking for comments on anything that seemed to contradict its values and morals. Behar read every feedback card submitted.

Model the behavior
Earning the respect of employees is also about management modeling the behavior they want to see. According to Sunny Kobe Cook, co-founder of Sleep Country USA, "There should never be a task seen as 'beneath you.' Over the years I've done everything from cleaning the bathrooms to going out on mattress deliveries with various crews. I went to every new store, actually doing work, not just buying pizza for lunch, and I worked in a store every holiday we were open. If they were working, I was working!"

Bill Mixon, president of Universal Hospital Services, Inc., believes modeling the leadership behavior you desire is also about treating employees with dignity and respect. "If employees respect a person's leadership, they are more prone to put those same leadership qualities into practice," he says. "Empowering employees to make decisions also builds trust. When you show employees you trust their knowledge and skills, you allow them to make smart decisions that benefit the company."

Employer benefits
Over time, building a culture of trust pays off exponentially. "A key benefit is [employees'] commitment to the company and their jobs. Loyalty is another benefit [of respect]," says Cook. "People want to be part of something, and this makes them feel like they belong. It becomes more than a job and reduces turnover."

Adds Mixon, "When employees feel valued and appreciated, they take stronger ownership of their work and seek new opportunities to grow in their roles. This not only benefits the employee, but also the company and its customers."

The foundation for earning respect is establishing good relationships with employees by building trust within the organization. "If people are feeling trust, they will be more productive, be more willing to take risks, be creative and solve difficult problems," Behar says. "It doesn't mean issues won't arise, but it means you can withstand just about anything because you can talk things through."

Lisa Quast is the founder of Career Woman, Inc., a career-coaching and business-consulting company. Email her at lquast@nwjobs.com.

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Karen Burns Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.

Kristen Fife Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.

Lisa Quast Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.

Randy Woods Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.

Former contributors

Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.

Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.

Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."

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