What we say

On belonging.

Jan 3, 2018

Sixth grade was a tough year. New school, new teachers, more responsibility. The morning of the first day had been full of challenges, but lunchtime served as a much-needed break. I walked out of the food line in the cafeteria, tray in hand, and began searching for a familiar face. I never ran with a large group of friends in school, just a small circle of people, mostly introverts like me. This was the first time we were separated for different classes, so none of us knew exactly what our lunch schedule would be. My eyes darted quickly back and forth, but I didn’t see any of my people. Not one.

The ability to play it cool is an essential skill in middle school, so I never stopped walking as I searched the crowd, hoping I would soon see a hand in the air, waving me down as a signal that there was a saved seat. But alas, I had reached the back of the room without spotting anyone. So I just chose an open seat at the last table, trying not to make eye contact with anyone who had already set up camp there. I didn’t lift my head for a while, but when I did my eyes were met with unwelcome stares from the others. It was obvious…I didn’t belong.

We’ve all been in this predicament, right? Whether it was in middle school 16 years ago or last week at a professional networking event. There is no worse feeling than knowing you are unwelcome, or worse, unnoticed.

When I first began working at Piper & Gold, I knew this was a different work environment than any I had been a part of before. From the beginning, Kate placed a high emphasis on fostering a “family” culture among our team. In fact, it’s one of our #Truths…we are family, and family matters.

So what does this have to do with public relations? In his book Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek suggests that “a feeling of belonging, of shared values and a deep sense of empathy, dramatically enhances trust, cooperation and problem solving. Team members are better equipped to confront external dangers because they fear no danger from each other.”

This first became evident to me one day while we were sitting in our weekly team meeting. At the beginning of each meeting, we go around the room and do what we call “Pride, Promise, ‘Preciate,” where we let everyone know what we’re proud of from the previous week, what we promise to accomplish in the coming week and take time to show appreciation to others who have helped us. It’s our time to check-in and make sure everyone is on the same page.

On this particular day, one of our team members began sharing that it had been a particularly tough week due to some unforeseen circumstances in her family. While she was sharing some heartbreaking news that they had received, she began to cry. My first thought was, “Are we really crying at a team meeting?” Of course, as soon as this crossed my mind I realized there were tears streaming down my own face.

That’s when I realized that our #Truths aren’t just words we throw around or fancy prints that we hang on the wall. They are the core values that we live by. And that’s why we’re able to do such big things for our clients and in our community.

In the words of Simon Sinek, “Intimidation, humiliation, isolation, feeling dumb, feeling useless and rejection are all things we try to avoid inside our organization. And the way to do that is by giving people a sense of belonging. By offering them a strong culture based on a clear set of human values and beliefs. By giving them the power to make decisions. By offering trust and empathy.” Yes, yes and yes.

This year, make sure everyone on your team knows they have a seat at the table. I think you’ll be surprised at the difference it can make.

How are you cultivating a culture of belonging in your organization? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

Tags: #culture

Caleb Johnson Project Strategist

Caleb Johnson

Caleb is a storyteller, illusionist and penguin enthusiast. He is passionate about making meaningful connections and creating memorable experiences for the clients he serves. 

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