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Create a Culture That Values the Assist in the Workplace

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Tue Feb 28 2023

Create a Culture That Values the Assist in the Workplace
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Magdalena Mook, CEO of the International Coaching Federation, reflects on a recent interview with Sanyin Siang, a Thinkers50 top executive coach and professor at Duke University.

As a leader in the talent management and HR space, I speak with leaders on topics impacting our industry. Recently, I had the privilege of participating in a LinkedIn Live discussion with someone I admire greatly: Sanyin Siang, executive director of Duke University’s Coach K Center on Leadership and Ethics (COLE) at its Fuqua School of Business.

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Siang influences the way I lead a membership organization of over 50,000 professional coaches around the world. Her exceptional insights on how to display authentic leadership and foster team cohesion in the workplace are genuinely inspirational. She also is a Thinkers50 honoree, a CEO coach and advisor, the creator of the site Superpowers with Sanyin, and a professor for Duke University’s Pratt School of Engineering management program.

Siang’s mission is to enable greatness in others with a focus on a revolutionary concept often overlooked in how we recognize workplace success: valuing the assist. This concept, championed by Siang to drive her coaching work with leaders and employee teams, is a game-changing component for tuning into individual and team superpowers.

When we hear someone talk about valuing the assist, our minds easily jump to sports; the player who throws the pass that sets up a teammate to make a basket or score a goal is providing the assist. It is such an important part of team sports that athletes are often credited for assists in their performance statistics.

This idea also can apply to workplace teams. When one employee lands a new client or earns a big win for the business, such a victory is often lauded. For each public-facing win, however, there is often another team member who did vital work behind the scenes, allowing this employee to achieve the win—perhaps they performed crucial research, made a connection in their network, or shouldered the brunt of another project so their colleague could commit time to the newly-won project. When managers and leaders value the assist and praise team members who supported the journey to success, they create a more collaborative, nurturing, and uplifting work environment for the whole team. In turn, this environment promotes more significant business outputs, improved company culture, and higher talent retention rates.

To shift an organization’s culture and foster an environment where the assist is actively celebrated, coaching for leaders and team members can be a crucial foundation. How can HR leaders introduce this practice, foster the coaching skills to put it into action, and instill a positive shift ensuring its adoption long term? Here are three steps to get started.

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1. Equip leaders to step up and speak up. The behavior of leaders strongly influences the larger team. When a leader speaks up about the accomplishments of everyone involved in a successful endeavor and models the behavior of valuing the assist, it signals to the entire team that everyone is important and appreciated.

In this instance, the trickle-down effect of learned behavior is powerful. It empowers individuals on all levels by letting them know they have the agency to recognize support and call it out.

The HR team can activate this process by introducing the concept to leaders and equipping them with the skills to recognize contributions within their teams.

2. Be Persistent. Be Consistent. HR leaders repeatedly focusing on their team strengths achieve the best results for their business. Encourage the organization’s leaders to constantly celebrate assists across all their teams. Speaking up once about the value of the assist will be beneficial, but real change comes when an action becomes a habit, which creates a practice that everyone joins in organically. It becomes an internalized way of operating in an organization.

It’s easy for team members to become competitive if they are fighting each other to close a sale and earn credit for the win. But when employees spend their time vying against each other instead of working together, they undermine each other’s efforts and create widespread redundancy. When it is clear through leadership’s communications and actions that support is valued just as much as the win, team members are empowered to support the greater good and stop hoarding credit.

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3. Encourage authenticity and elevate diversity. It can be difficult to see in the moment, but individuals thinking differently and willing to express ideas going against the grain can be some of the greatest contributors to a project’s success. If a team is full of optimism for a project, skepticism may not be appreciated. But that different point of view can play an important role in fortifying a project against road bumps and equipping it to succeed. Those challenging others to address weaknesses provide invaluable perspectives and insights that can function as crucial assists.

Creating a psychologically safe environment for raising objections starts with coaching, which can support team members’ capacity to show up with authenticity and communicate with curiosity rather than becoming defensive or shying away from conflict. A leader with coaching skills is better equipped to model for other team members. The value of different ways of thinking can stimulate and turn team conversations into spaces where this sharing is encouraged.

Value the Assist and the Entire Team Succeeds

In a professional setting, it is generally easy to recognize an employee who has accomplished something of significance for the organization. But when HR equips its leaders and managers to explore further and give the same recognition to those offering the crucial assist, it can be transformative.

Siang’s revolutionary insights into the ways an organization’s culture impacts overall business success can create a game-changing shift that translates to retention and the bottom line. With a coaching approach, HR can equip their leaders and managers to bring the practice of valuing the assist to their teams and achieve long-term success.

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