Martin Luther King Jr had been assassinated, cities were convulsed and some burned, ‘Chicago ‘68′ became a cliche for demonstrations and strong-arm police tactics. One sunny day I was deep in the beautiful wilds of Minnesota trying to find the farm of a woman whose husband had been shot down and was missing. By 2am, long before the days of social media, she was calling me terrified by the horrible calls and threats she was already getting.

Today we also face turbulent times, compounded by social media and cable news coverage. The ‘fog of war’ hurts us all. Many people are fearful for their personal future and their ‘tribe.’

What does this have to do with your business?

The conditions of our culture are reflected in our work. People spend a large portion of their lives at work. You have the power to create a better place and one that allows all your employees to be their best selves. We know that this actually increases financial success and growth. It will help your employees.  It might just help our country turn this current climate more positive too.

First, have you created a climate of respect?

Respect is more than superficial equality and basic manners – although those might be a good start in some workplaces. Respect includes valuing everyone without implicit bias or overt discrimination based on how different they might be from you. It involves creating a climate that values fairness and good faith and trust. It includes everyone in the organization treating each other well and positively. It includes neither hiring nor retaining ‘jerks’ who damage interpersonal relations and destroy trust. If your own behavior or emotions get in the way, it means learning how to control yourself too.

Second, do your policies and practices embody the ideals you seek?

When the US was in turmoil in the late 60s-mid 70s, one of the big changes in the Air Force was to the performance management system. The new system required all supervisors and managers to be rated based on their performance to support equal opportunity for all. And what we all were told was that ‘we are not trying to change your beliefs but you will change your behavior to comply or face the consequences.’ Now, of course, how you behave does influence what you believe. But the focus on behavior – visible and manageable as it is – made this new performance system a way to reduce the discrimination that existed. Not perfect, but there were results over time that moved the Air Force forward. So, if you say you value teamwork but your policies or practices are clearly focused on individual performance only, you will not get teamwork. If you say you will treat everyone with respect but you allow managers to ignore that in practice, you will not get the best employees to stay and produce.  If you say you are fast or innovative but your policies are bureaucratic or punitive, you will lose the very advantages you seek.  Take a look at your policies, think about how real they are in achieving your goals and what influence they have on your culture.

Third is communications.

You must model and value open communications and fairness to achieve a ‘best place to work’ model. Do employees who feel mistreated or undervalued have a way to express their concerns without fear? Do you see and manage people as individuals more than as ‘cogs’ in a machine? Do you actually value diverse opinions and types of employees? Do you coach people for success regularly or simply expect people to know what to do and do it? Do you tell people about the organization’s goals and progress to achieve each goal? Do you help them understand how that impacts their work as well as creates or maintains jobs?

There are simple steps you can take to make your workplace one that celebrates the best in everyone and enlists each employee in helping it grow. Your own behavior and willingness to listen and act is critical to these behaviors in others. Help and resources – free and otherwise, are available if you need any. Will you make the divisions less and the future better for your organization and perhaps us all?