Becoming a Great Place To Work® by learning from flowers
Flowers are unique, just like humans. Some bloom early; others take their time. Some shine momentarily and instantly take our breath away; others unfold slowly and endure. Some stretch their neck and face the sun; others thrive in the wandering shade. We all have something unique to contribute. Individually, we're beautiful. Together, we're magical.
Like flowers, human beings need suitable breeding grounds and safe environments to unfold their full potential. Caring for people as if they were flowers is our leadership philosophy. We believe this is why we are now certified as a Great Place To Work®, scoring 93%, well above the required 70%. It has surprised, excited and touched us profoundly and led us to reflect on our journey over the last three years as we changed from being profit-driven to having purpose-on-a-piece-of-paper to actually becoming purpose-driven.
We hope our learnings can inspire you and spread like seeds in the wind, so they can grow elsewhere. Perhaps in your organisation? Read on to discover how to:
- Grow your people, not your business
- Plan growth towards blooming
- Cultivate diverse flowers
- Accelerate greatness through purpose
And at last: Three essential elements to becoming a Great Place To Work®
(Hint, it's about uncovering the potential in diversity and inclusion, seeing resistance as manure and cultivating a trusting peace of mind …)
Grow your people, not your business
It took us three years to get to where we are today, growing upward and forward by looking inward. We got here through caring and ambitious contributions from each individual. Today, our reason for being has changed a lot, we've matured into a thriving culture, and we've become driven by our purpose – with great inspiration from nature.
A flower bed is an exemplary image of diversity and inclusion. All flowers are beautiful in their own right; colours, forms, scents and intents alike. So are all humans; all genders, gender identities, ethnicities, ages, religions, sexual orientations, body types and personalities. We're all beautiful, and we're all unique.
Like a flower bulb, humans unfold when we feel safe and accepted as we are. Like a flower needs light and warmth to open up – we humans need love – and like the flower closes in on itself when it's cold and dark – we humans do the same when we're afraid.
Flowers and humans unfold over time; for some, it takes longer than others. Blooming happens when the time is right.
Plan growth towards blooming
Our journey started on dry soil in a company with no clear direction, purpose or culture on which to build. So we cut the first sod by defining what flower bed we wanted to create. As our Heart of Growth, Inge Kindberg, explains:
"Three years ago, there was no cohesion in our company. Instead, there were distances between individuals who worked next to each other but not with each other. There was an unhealthy and insecure culture where things weren't openly discussed, and people put on facades. People were heading in separate directions, so even though everyone worked hard, often to their best abilities, the company didn't get that far overall."
As we reflected on what kind of organisation we wanted to be, it became clear where to weed out, replant, and where new bulbs and perennials were missing. It probably took about a year to plan and lay the foundation. Then, when the time was right, we started to take care of the flower bed, nourish it, water it and secure the breeding ground for all the things we wanted to grow.
We defined our three values; ease, love and understanding. In small groups and collectively, we discussed what the three values meant to each of us. Our value ease means making it easy for people to wear our jeans and trousers and for those making them – and thus making it easy to work at Our Units. Therefore, the individual is always our starting point, from which our organisation adapts – not the other way around. We also defined our purpose, more on that in a minute.
Cultivate diverse flowers
Each flower needs fertile soil fit for growth. Some need acid soil, others need sandy soil, some need topsoil. Some need to be dug deep into the ground; others prefer living close to the surface. Some have to be sown early, others late.
It's the same with us humans. Some have young children and drop them off and/or pick them up from daycare or school, so they might like to start early, work very focused and work evenings. Others have grown-up kids or none at all and want to meet late and work late. Some have joint-custody children and work short-long weeks alternately. Many of us at Our Units are employed full-time, but some work less because they want time for other things.
So, practising our value understanding, we don't have a fixed working schedule and a way of working that our employees have to adapt to. On the contrary, the individual defines what works for them in their life.
Over time, more people have joined Our Units. Naturally, each of us has to find our place anew every time a fresh flower is added to the bed. And when that happens, we introduce our new colleagues to our values, reminding us all of what we believe in. And we make sure we allow the new buds to take their time to create the necessary breeding ground so that the person feels safe to unfold their essence. Our Heart of Growth, Inge Kindberg, loves our way of going about this:
"One of the things we do is to invite a newly hired colleague for a person-to-person talk. In a meeting like that, we try to meet the new person from the heart and share who we are as human beings, not as colleagues, workers, or functions. On top of making our new colleagues feel welcome, we create relationships that go deeper than one might be used to. We lay the foundation for one of our core values; love."
Sometimes it takes longer for the new flower to gain a foothold. Some colleagues may become impatient and wonder why the fresh flower isn't simply unfolding. And when we sense doubt, we address it before it grows into mistrust. We shed light on it, talk about expectations, prejudices, and other feelings, and figure out how to support the person in finding out how to grow in our flower bed.
A flower bed is constantly in motion and needs to be cultivated, nurtured and addressed – like an organisation.
Accelerate greatness through purpose
A mere two and a half years after we started transforming our company fundamentally, we became a Great Place To Work®, scoring a whopping 23 % above the minimum requirement. How could we feel so great about our organisation after the inevitable turbulence and radical changes, internally and externally, that follow a fundamental transformation? And how did it happen so fast?
Our most significant shift has been from being profit-driven to being purpose- and value-driven, focusing on people first, then the planet, and lastly, profit. Being purpose-driven accelerated our journey towards becoming a Great Place To Work®.
Our purpose is to support and inspire people to embrace themselves and take brave steps towards a better balance in life and on the planet. It comes to life in different ways. First and foremost, we design classic, comfortable and effortless trousers and jeans that last. Our trousers are supporting current trends but are designed for people and to be worn for a long time. Also, our way of being and communicating, our events, creating our products, and so on, are all purpose-driven.
At its core, being purpose-driven is a way of life. It makes work feel meaningful and joyful. It's essentially about creating a breeding ground for each employee to align their personal purpose and values of the organisation. In our case, it's about embracing oneself and taking brave steps from the heart. So, our purpose is closely linked to being a great workplace.
Discovering that all employees in Our Units said they feel deeply seen by their colleagues in the Great Place To Work® survey made us all feel we've come a long way. Does your organisation have a purpose – and are you driven by it? Does your purpose support your vision of a great place to work?
We want to inspire organisations worldwide to cultivate more flower beds and embrace and support diversity and inclusion, making people feel safe to unfold as unique individuals. So, here's what we've learned so far:
Three Essential Elements to Becoming a Great Place to Work®
Uncover Potential in Diversity and Inclusion
Hire for potential rather than previous results – and create a team where people complement each other so that 1 + 1 can become 3. Create space and freedom for each individual to be seen for who they are, rather than focusing solely on what they say or do. Do activities to reflect on how people experience things differently and inspire curiosity and wonder.
See Resistance as Manure
It's easier said than done, but instead of getting annoyed when objections or disagreements surface, see it as an opportunity to gain perspective. You might end up discovering a better solution brought on by a deeper understanding. Likewise, when situations that complicate or slow down projects or relationships occur, see that resistance as manure that can lead to an even better solution in the long run.
Cultivating a Trusting Peace of Mind
Things take time, and a flower bed and its bulbs unfold at their own pace, just like organisations and humans. So, cultivate peace of mind and trust that everything is as it should be – things happen when and if they're supposed to – like the growth of a flower.