The Key to a “Whole Person Culture”

Guest post from Susan

More and more companies
recognize the importance of engaged, fully developed people as employees, and
are working to build a “Whole Person Culture.”
Health and wellness programs are a good start, but the way in which
employees interact with their leaders and one another trumps perks and
benefits. Transparency, candor, compassion, playfulness, ongoing face-to-face
feedback, connection, mutual respect and genuine affection are newcomers to
old-school organizations. This desire to embrace the whole person is admirable,
however at the same time, when it comes down to it, an organization must also
take care of the organization itself, or none of us have a place to go every
How can an organization
develop successful products or services while also nurturing human beings,
flesh and blood, not just business plans and KPIs? How can we care for the
whole person AND meet the organization’s goals? And what does “the whole
person” mean, given that we don’t all want the same things?  What is the protocol when special
circumstances surface?
Think agility. Think conversations. Think flexibility.Think customization, just
like organizations do for their clients whenever possible.  
Here are a few examples:
A new mother, chose not to disconnect entirely from work during her maternity
leave. She wanted to stay involved to some degree and reminded her colleagues
that it was okay to give her a call if they had a question.  On the other hand, another employee, a new
father, disconnected entirely during his paternity leave.  No one called him and he didn’t check
in.  Which was fine. He chose unplugged
and she chose partially involved. Same policy, different interpretations. A
conversation with their leaders and teammates ensured that expectations were
clear up front.  Both got what they
needed and came back to work energized.
What about snacks in the communal kitchen/cafeteria?  Those more health conscience want bananas,
string cheese and hardboiled eggs.
Others want milk duds and doughnuts. What is an organization’s
obligation?  The solution may be to stock
a variety of snacks, erring on the generous side, and suggested that if
someone’s “must have” snacks aren’t on the list, they are welcome to bring their
A woman going through IVF talked with her boss and colleagues about her need
for flexibility.  They were happy to
accommodate her as she went through the process, however they declined her
request that the company educate all employees on what IVF is like and what to
say and not to say. 
We tend to think that
everything is about us. It isn’t. And as John Ruskin said, “When a man is
wrapped up in himself he makes a pretty small package.”  As a teenager, I remember being told, “The
world doesn’t owe you anything. It was here first.”  That may seem harsh but it has served me
well. Employees can and should expect reasonable accommodation, but should also
realize that they may not get everything they want. If everyone did, the
chances of working for a successful organization would likely be nil.
I believe that whoever
cares the most wins and it’s important to recognize that what’s going on in our
personal lives  – our marriages,
children, illnesses, pregnancies, aging parents, the death of a beloved person
or pet, not to mention any number of celebratory or heartbreaking events we
cannot always foresee and that are not spelled out in a policy – will at times
complicate our work lives.  But any
organization that has tried to meet everyone’s needs appreciates the truth of
this quote:
“You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of
the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the
Since blanket policies
don’t work for everyone, we need emotionally intelligent leaders who can handle
variances from the norm. What if an employee would prefer something that is not
spelled out in a policy? What if something happens that’s not on this piece of
paper?  You’ve got to talk it through
instead of defaulting to the knee-jerk concern that if you do this for one
person, you’ll have to do it for everyone.
Not everyone wants “that”, so no, you won’t.  And what we want is never simple.  Sometimes we no longer want what we thought
we wanted and sometimes we want what we thought we’d never want. Other things are
We want to bring our
whole selves to work.  We want to carry
ourselves around with us all the time.
Our real selves.  We want to live
our lives in full.  To pretend that
what’s going on in our personal lives can be boxed, taped shut, and left in the
garage while we are at work is hogwash. It seeps in everywhere. Who we are is
who we are, no matter where we are.  Sometimes
we need help from our employers as we navigate a personal challenge. 
So how can
organizations care for the whole person and the organization?  Ask individuals what that means to them and,
if at all possible, make it so. Have the kind of conversations we all long for
and have a right to expect. 
Fierce conversations
are an effort to understand—first of all, for yourself—something that is worthy
of your pondering. They are deeply probing explorations. Speak about the things
you want to understand. Most people want to share journeys of this kind. Forget
about being clever or impressive. Forget about persuading others to your
view.  Saying something louder doesn’t
make it true.
We want conversations of the quiet kind, where no one
tries to outtalk everybody else, where we really ask and really answer. Where
we come out from behind ourselves into our conversations and make them real. Where
relationships are enriched rather than depleted.  Where we are glad for what we contribute to
the subject and for what we take away.  
In a “Whole
Person Culture” we have face-to-face conversations where we learn what is
needed, help when we can, decline when we must.
You don’t need permission.  Just do it.


Susan Scott is a best-selling
author, popular and sought-after Fortune 100 public speaker, and renowned
leadership development architect.

Scott founded
in 2001 after 13 years leading CEO think tanks, more than 10,000 hours
of conversations with senior executives, and one epiphany: While no single
conversation is guaranteed to change the trajectory of a career, a business, or
a life—any conversation can.
In 2002, Fierce Conversations — Achieving Success at
Work and in Life, One Conversation at a Time, was published in 4 countries and,
shortly thereafter, was listed on The Wall Street Journal and UPI best seller
lists, and was one of USA TODAY’S top 40 business books of 2002. She recently
released a revised and updated version of the book.  Her much anticipated
second book —
Fierce Leadership: A Bold Alternative to
the Worst “Best” Practices of Business Today was published September 15, 2009.
In its debut week, the book was listed on The Wall Street Journal and The New
York Times best seller lists.