Rushing into action, you fail.
Trying to grasp things, you lose them.
Forcing a project to completion,
you ruin what was almost ripe.
Therefore the Master takes action
by letting things take their course.
He remains as calm at the end
as at the beginning.
He simply reminds people
of who they have always been.
He cares about nothing but the Tao.
Thus he can care for all things.
―Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
I recently did a podcast with Dr. Phil Finemore. The title of his weekly series is Strength for Your Purpose, and we quickly found a shared affinity for encouraging others to embrace their authentic voice. I found Phil’s personal mission—to “help busy Maine professionals achieve the mental, emotional, and physical strength they need to fulfill their true purpose in life”—both timely and compelling. I have long been an advocate for “putting work back in its place.” Our jobs should be important, but not all-consuming. Work should be energy-giving, not draining. Work should enhance the lives of the people who do it.
Of course, historically, this has not always been so. I remember early in my career putting excessive energy into my work and exhausting everyone around me, myself included.
Millions of Americans can relate to this. Work has often been draining for the people who do it, and the very ethos of a job well done has encouraged discomfort in the workplace. Somewhere on the road to “bigger, better, more,” corporate executives convince themselves that competing at an elite level requires anxiety and stress, pushing and prodding, yelling and intimidating. Excellence requires tension.
It turns out that none of this is true, or even helpful. In fact, the key to organizational excellence lies in creating the opposite kind of culture, focusing on removing the tension and helping everyone to relax and be themselves. That’s the path to twenty-first-century business excellence.
Our first mission at Hancock Lumber is to enable everyone at work to feel trusted, respected, valued, heard, and safe. Said differently, the goal is to eliminate the stress. This work culture did not come easy; it took a decade to develop. Managers and supervisors have long been trained to associate stress as a prerequisite to business success, which can make it hard to fathom an alternate possibility. How can we be market leaders without pushing ourselves to the brink? How can we be globally competitive with respect to cost or productivity without extracting every ounce of energy from the team?
I recently sat with a group of Hancock Lumber employees and my question to the group was a simple one:
How does your work experience at Hancock Lumber impact your non-work life?
Here are just a few of the responses:
- Personally, I’m just generally happier with work—which makes everything that much better.
- It’s a great feeling to wake up on the weekend and have energy for your day, and your family.
- I’m not a reactionary person anymore. I’ve been described at home now as patient and calm. This is all because of the people I’m around at work every day. Everyone at work is there for each other, and that just carries over.
- I’m not going home all stressed out.
- There is much less decompression time required after work than there used to be with my former company.
- It’s just the energy. My old company was a pit of despair; everyone was just so unhappy. Here I have energy to go home and do stuff and stay active.
Achieving peacefulness at work is not hard. It simply takes a new set of priorities and a fresh perspective. Do the employees exist to serve the company, or does the company exist to serve the people who work there? I believe the latter should be the case. When a company first adds value to the lives of their employees, the company will soar on the wings of the thriving humans at work.
I recently told one of our top executives that my goal in our work relationship was to never make him do anything he didn’t want to do. Immediately I realized how different that statement was from the traditional approach. In my younger days my entire focus was on how to get people to do things they really didn’t want to do. It goes without saying that this created average results at best.
When people know they will not be bullied or coerced at work, they feel safe. When people feel safe, they act authentically. When people act authentically, they thrive. I can’t remember the last time I saw someone at Hancock Lumber raise their voice or even interrupt someone.
World-class business performance can be calm.
World-class business performance can be energy-giving.
Work should enhance the lives of the people who do it!
Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours.
Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.