Inside is the New Outside from Melissa Waggener Zorkin on Purpose Leadership

Inside is the New Outside

At the start of 2020, we were forced to take everything we knew inside. I’ll be honest — I love the outdoors. I crave it. Of course, now that we're stuck inside, our homes — and the people in them — have become our everything. Not that they weren’t our everything BEFORE COVID-19, but for many it’s forcing us to redefine our connections with the people closest to us. As leaders, we need to redefine our closest connections within our companies. Just how ready are we to do this?

Taking the leap of faith to redefine what your business puts first isn’t the easiest, but it is necessary. In our research with Quartz, we found only 20% of business leaders are prioritizing investments to address factors like employees’ emotional health, equity and inclusion, and culture. And only 50% of respondents said employee engagement programs were meeting their people’s needs. That is not just an HR misstep — it’s also a missed business opportunity.

We must put our people — the souls and forces INSIDE our companies — first. And understanding “inside is the new outside” is crucial. Here are three fundamental principles that I believe will help your organization pull through in the new year and beyond:


Lead with empathy

The first thing we can do as communicators is show up as humans first. Remember, we hire the whole person, and whatever is going on for THEM must matter to leadership. When COVID-19 hit, WE introduced “8 For You,” an additional day of paid time off to help employees prioritize their mental and emotional well-being, which we repeated again recently. We also expanded our community engagement offering so employees feel encouraged to support the causes that matter most to them, such as peaceful protests and volunteering.

Your employees are more than the people who work in your organization. They’re caregivers, mothers, fathers and support systems. Recently, being named one of  PRWeek’s Best Places to Work of 2020 was a tremendous honor but it would never have been possible without all-up respect within the agency. It’s never been about me or any one individual: WE is about us.


Make listening an organizing principle 

Strong employee engagement gives organizations an infrastructure to ensure constant feedback. Listening to our teams is less about annual surveys and more about creating consistent, two-way communication.

It’s great to see software company Atlassian making its internal COVID-19 employee surveys opensource. Not only does its approach to regular employee surveys demonstrate responsive, two-way communication, the company’s transparency is helping to create a standard for other businesses to follow. Create portals for your employees to feel like they can share thoughts about the company safely, while also knowing their feedback will be respectfully shared with leadership teams. Listen, and then take action together.


Practice agility

The only way to be agile is to practice agility. It’s a muscle we’re all building, and it will have a compounding effect on your organization. Agility also requires demonstrating purpose-driven leadership in moments big and small. This is something consumer goods company Unilever has invested in with the Halo Code. These steps show how as organizations we can be nimble in protecting one another and standing up for what’s right.

Spending more time indoors has left me with many thoughts swirling in my mind but my friends, family and colleagues are the people who matter most to me. They’re the ones who allow any experiences we had outside together to now feel richer inside. We are craving togetherness, and we must be ready to constantly rethink and relearn our relationships with one another. As leaders, we need to continue to practice these three steps, helping our employees feel like they’re in a place where diverse talent can thrive. Start at the start, and make a goal for how you can measure a sense of belonging inside your company. What’s INSIDE your own company is your core soul, and it defines who you are and what your company stands for. This can be a time of great growth if we all take the time to listen, learn and make sure we are truly meeting the needs of our people.

January 26, 2021