Win-Win Work™: What It Is and How Employers Can Reap the Benefits

It’s no secret that workers all over the world, across nearly every industry have HAD it– they are just done being overworked, micromanaged, gaslit, suppressed and unsupported for too long (WAY before the recent pandemic). Their families are struggling, their health is suffering no matter how much effort they put in, their wallets still feel pinched. And above all else– no one in power seems to be listening to their very real, very hard human stories. Perhaps the only way to get the attention of those in charge is to quit– quietly or loudly. But that still doesn’t afford workers the fundamental human needs of having a sense of belonging and fulfillment in work or in life. So, what other options are there to do great work while living a whole life well? And how do workers rise up in a conscious way– one that actually creates more opportunity for themselves and their employer?

Then there are the employers in equally challenging circumstances. Company leaders are in a position to navigate extended periods of intense labor market conditions, increasing business regulations and threats, plus ambiguous economic signals, all while simultaneously feeling pressure to maintain and further enhance wellness-centered workplace policies that were essentially born during the height of the COVID-19, which we are beyond. In a world where the ability to survive periods of downturn and uncertainty is a precursor to thriving, is choosing trust over control or investing further in employee wants vs. just needs even a realistic option?

Clearly, we’re living (and working) in a time marked by out-of-sync, lose-lose dynamics between employers and the people they employ. There’s got to be a better way…

And THAT is what Truist’s Win-Win Work™ methodology aims to solve.
What do we mean by “win-win work” and what are the core principles of the journey to get there? Great questions… let’s get to it.

First, it’s important to establish a common understanding around the definition of “Employer” or “Company”. We are not talking about an inanimate object in either case. By definition, an “employer” is a company one gets paid to work for. And a “company” is something a collection of humans creates. In the Win-Win Work framework, a company is never the subject of the equation we’re aiming to solve. Rather it is the byproduct of what our subjects (humans) either intentionally create or absolve. Therefore, we are looking at a dynamic of human vs. humans (NOT human vs. entity).

Next, it is important to acknowledge that the dynamic present in today’s labor market has never existed before. There is no previously defined playbook to just dust off and follow. However if you zoom out a bit, there have been similar power vs. outcome dynamics present in adjacent spaces that we can study, learn from and apply in relevant ways. And that is exactly what we’ve done to develop the Win-Win Work methodology. We’ve sought inspiration and combed through research from several adjacent arenas (high performance athletic teams, respectful parenting practices, principles of energy management and quantum physics, and non-violent communication to name a few), to arrive at an approach that we believe leads to a more human-centered, predictable path toward mutual success; one where both sides can realize their full potential and feel in alignment with the process.

While the nature of the “problem” or goal might be vastly different, the Win-Win Work formula stays consistent, yet flexible. Below we summarize the 5 core principles on which it is based: 

1. An Assumption of Goodness

Dr. Becky Kennedy’s work aims to create more balanced, productive relationships between parents and their children. What other human relationship in the world is as complex and high stakes as this one? Personally, her strategies have been the single most impactful resource when it comes to achieving win-win outcomes with my kids (most of the time, at least). Her theory is based on a single foundational belief that can be applied across many different situations and relationships to create more balance, harmony and equity. And that is the belief that we are all genuinely good inside; that we are all doing the best we can with the resources available to us at any given time. 

If we approach workplace strategies or interactions from the place that Kennedy’s work suggests, win-win outcomes in the workplace are at least possible. When we assume the other party is just a compilation of their outward behaviors, or operating with ill intent, we start down a path of disconnection that will never lead to an aligned destination. 

So, before jumping into a debate or egoic action that dishonors the other side, we pause. We pause and remind ourselves and our clients that the other party is a human being (or collection of human beings) who is/are genuinely good inside. If their behavior is showing otherwise, it is because they are either lacking skills to meet your expectation or lacking the connection required to put those skills to use. Then we move onto principle #2.

2. Active Listening Before Action

The Win-Win Work methodology assumes both sides want the other side to do well and believe that when that happens, they too will benefit; in short, it’s never a zero-sum game. With that principle in mind, it is impossible to help someone do well if you don’t first understand their definition of “well” and how they believe their current experience measures up to it.

It has always baffled me when a client (or prospective client) has wanted us to build an employee experience improvement strategy or authentic People Deal (modernized EVP) and asked us to remove the Research portion of the project scope. If we don’t have the insights, how the heck can we put together an action plan that has a high degree of confidence in delivering value? And how do we engage people around the solutions if they don’t feel heard in the process?

When problems arise in company cultures or in employee groups, oftentimes listening can be the only solution necessary– workers feel heard, better understand why things are the way they are and can move on with acceptance. Sometimes it’s at least the first first step in the right direction toward a transformative solution, but the reverse cannot be true. You can never have an effective solution without knowing the core truth about the people it will affect.

3. Singular Accountability for Closing the Knowing → Action Gap

Nothing is worse than knowing what needs to be done, but quarreling for all of eternity about who’s going to do it. The following scenario is all too common in the Human Capital domain:

A project or problem is raised by Team A. Team A funds the work, secures an “executive champion”, starts the work by gathering relevant insights to fully illustrate the challenge, and leads the development of an effective solution. Implementing that effective solution requires active participation from Teams A, B, C and D though. Team A doesn’t have the bandwidth to do their day job and coordinate + track all action items for Teams A, B, C, D. They request a Project Management resource, only to be denied by the executive champion for an ambiguous reason (“tough quarter”, “the role is not tied to revenue”, “another part of the business just had layoffs so the optics will look bad”, “[insert your own example excuse here]”). The momentum is lost and all those great insights exist in a sad purgatory without action taken against them. Someone raises this same issue a year later and it is recalled that the organization tried to solve it before and it didn’t go anywhere, so they continue on. Two years later someone raises the same issue and the new Team A naively repeats the historical path to “insights purgatory”.

While some organizations have PMOs set up to lead multi-function projects with a high level of ownership and accountability, most organizations don’t. Even those that do aren’t always successful for various reasons– lack of perceived authority, contributor bandwidth issues, competing organizational priorities, differing project management tools, etc.

The unfortunate result?

Great insights that go to waste with no action taken against them, and employees who feel let down after their contributions have seemingly entered a black hole.

Before starting any complex organizational project it is critical to have ONE senior level person with high passion and governing authority FULLY own the transition from knowing to action within the project roadmap. He/she should have the means to (re)allocate resources, set measurable goals and influence the head of relevant functions. Otherwise we’re headed toward a Good Try - Still Losing territory.

4. Forming New Agreements

Once insights have been gained, actions are clear and both sides are grounded in the future vision it is important to develop a new, equitable set of goals and/or standards that representatives from both sides provide input into, feel good about and can commit to on behalf of the group their presence represents (company leadership or fellow employees). This is not about hierarchical rules. Afterall, Mike Krzyzewski (“Coach K”) attributes Duke’s high performance in Men’s Basketball for over the past four decades to the fact that all team members contributed to and abided by a set of shared standards and deviation outside of those resulted in definitive, known consequences. By having that transparent agreement in place, the team culture largely became self-governing, which should be the aspiration of all business leaders as well.

The revised set of shared goals (what we need to accomplish) and standards (how we will accomplish them) is best presented as a give / get framework so that both sides are excited about the value to be gained through alignment and are willing to have skin in the game to get there. This step is best completed in a live, co-creation forum (series of workshops, offsite days, etc.) which Truist often facilitates for clients.

5. Routine, Predictable Check-ins

Cultivating a happy, productive workforce that ignites maximum business performance is not a destination. It is an ongoing practice that requires structure, discipline and appropriate resourcing. High employee reviews on or a strong quarterly performance dashboard is only a snapshot of that moment-in-time; it’s not a guarantee of future success when left unmanaged. In Buddhism, a “practice” refers to a specific activity that one does every day, in order to gain clarity and live in line with one’s beliefs. For leaders who believe that “talent wins”, checking in and intentionally managing mindsets and activities in one or more of the areas mentioned in this article is the only way to make that belief a sustainable self-fulfilling prophecy.

It’s important to mention that not every situation encountered in the employer:worker relationship requires activity in all areas. Sometimes one or two areas have been covered well, but friction is still being experienced by one or both sides because there’s disconnect in another. If data or experience are telling you that both sides aren’t winning in your organization, let Truist help you uncover why through a FREE discovery call. Click HERE to book your preferred time