Successful organizations are built with capable workers who are driven to succeed; this blessing is bound to come with its attendant curse – stress. The need to reduce workplace stress is real, everywhere. Organizations have developed many interesting and innovative ways of making the workplace fulfilling and less stressful, with great intent and mixed results. Most of these efforts involve increasing material comfort, flexibility at work, transparency, collaboration, and conflict management. All these are meaningful and required.
Missing in the above toolbox is anything with the potential for transformation of the individual and thus the organization, in the long run. Grace is a transformational value – for both the individual and the organization. Grace, when inculcated as an organizational and individual aspirational value, can make workplace relatively joyful and fortify the wellbeing of the employees in the long run.
What is Grace?
Have you ever experienced undeserved good being done for you? Have you ever been spared the cost for your words or actions that have hurt someone else’s interests, in any way? Have you been shown gratitude just for doing your duty? If you answered ‘Yes’ to any of these questions it means that you have received Grace and you are graceful enough to know and admit it. Everyone is a recipient of Grace at some point or other in life, though some do not understand, recognize, or are incapable of the same.
Grace, in the divine realm, is ‘benevolence to the undeserving’; a reflection of the nature of the divine entity than the worthiness of the beneficiaries. While my use of the term Grace is inspired by faith, the application of the concept of Grace in our daily lives can be secular and logical, and not limited to those with faith. In exemplary exercise of Grace, we respond to a negative act with a positive response, in service of the larger good. Grace leads us to be conscious of and contribute to the welfare of others beyond what is dictated to us by law, culture, and social norms. Grace is an opposing force to the excessive manifestations of the natural tendency of self-preservation. It is not easy – unless we train for it.
To be capable of true Grace, in addition to core values of honesty and integrity, we require a foundational understanding that
- Each one of us is entirely insignificant in the larger context of the universe, and only by standing together humanity counts for something
- Everything that we have has been given to us; or has been enabled, directly or indirectly, by family, society, and nature (for those with faith, everything is of and from God)
The immense gratitude that follows this understanding is the core logic and justification for human Grace; such knowledge and gratitude can also be the motivation, conscious and in the core of self, for the transformation required for practice of Grace.
Grace manifests itself in the thoughts, words, and actions of the practitioner. Grace elevates the person who practices it, and leads to a life filled with inner peace. Grace yields love, respect, and healthy relations. Grace makes for a better workplace, with less friction and high positive energy.
How is Grace relevant in an Organization Context?
It is no surprise that a very significant portion of our productive lives are spent at work, commuting to and from work, thinking about work, or spending time with those we work with. In 2016, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that an average American work day was 8.8 hours long. A Gallup poll in the same year reported a figure of 10 hours (likely some exaggeration in that). Commute times were on average 50 minutes to and from work as per Census Bureau figures from 2006 to 2011. Remove the time we spend in sleeping, resting, personal care, and unavoidable chores, the work-related time will easily occupy a huge majority of the available time.
Our work has to be a source of joy and satisfaction in order for us to live healthy lives. While it is all well to talk about compartmentalizing work and personal lives, it is unhealthy to suffer in one with the hope we can compensate in the other; any boundary we try to erect will be very permeable. All of us can use a lot of Grace at work and in life.
Grace has costs of time, energy, money, and control (with tremendous benefits to the individual and the organization, though not measurable in the short run). Grace as a business value may not make sense in a pure capitalistic context, where the overarching goal is to maximize returns to the shareholder; however, such a goal of maximization is neither sustainable nor healthy (social upheavals result from excesses). Organizations are better off optimizing returns for all stakeholders (shareholders, employees, partners, and community), in the long run.
Practice of Grace strengthens leadership. When a leader is able to look beyond his own sphere of interest (which is necessary to show grace) he will see world differently, expand his horizons, and improve overall reach. Grace helps reduce stress, improves health and wellbeing, improves work performance, contributes to employee retention, and catalyzes positive intent in the organization.
Grace elevates life from a zero-sum game to a reality with new value creation all the time (value defined as welfare of the universe of humans).
Instituting Grace as an Organizational Value
Culture starts at the top. If the Leader(s) of the organization are committed to the idea of Grace as an organizational value, then the long journey can begin with good probability of success. Grace has to be internalized and propagated from the top in order to take root and flourish in an organization. Grace has to be formally included as a key part of the organization value system and the top management has to be committed to individual transformation.
I would suggest the following approach for building the desired culture:
- Set and track on transformation goals for top management, using the tools in the Program to be established (see below)
- Seek creation of small centers of transformation and encourage employees to self-select themselves in to such groups
- Establish a Program with clear goals and enabling policies, processes, training, communication, events, measurement, and rewards
- Permit evolution in line with core goals of the Program and in line with the Vision of the organization
- Adjust the desired profile of future employees to include personality attributes aligned with Grace.
Under the main goal of instituting Grace as an organizational value, we should seek clear results in terms of
Awareness : Understanding of the concept of Grace and its practical value to organization and individual; areas of shortfall
Prevention : Averting thoughts, words, and actions that lead to conflicts
Correction : Effective, positive, and empowering resolution of conflicts
Transformation : Thoughts, words, and actions for the good of all, even at the expense of self
The Program will have components designed to directly or indirectly achieve the program goals listed above. These program components will be
Policies : Policies designed to encourage mutual and group trust, reduce/ prevent conflicts, and encourage positive/ affirmative communication and collaboration; Policies to protect against license and entitlement mentality
Best Practices : Guidance with examples for positive/ affirmative communication, language, actions, and conflict resolution
Training/ Education : Content and programs for awareness, prevention, correction, and transformation; training to spot opportunities to exercise Grace
Individual Events : Periodic and ad-hoc activities focused on the well-being of the individual
Group Events : Periodic and ad-hoc activities focused on the well-being of the group; game exercises
Measurement : Stress measurement and tracking; anecdotal evidences
Rewards : Formal recognition of progress and exemplary instances
It is never too late to start. Once on the path to transformation, with clear intent, even if the program does never reach anywhere near a complete state, the health of the organization and wellbeing of all the stakeholders will keep getting better. The satisfaction of making life better for all us will be worth the time, energy, and any other costs we incur.
At DivIHN, the culture we espouse is ‘Excellence, with Grace’. While the management members have a good understanding of Grace and have the desire to grow in it, we are very much in very initial stages in institutionalizing Grace as an organizational value.