Earlier this month, I had the honor of attending the inaugural CultureCon event here in Madison. The event was focused on helping leaders be intentional about workplace culture. This is a topic I have a lot of passion for, and that I think should be on every business leader’s mind, due to the link between culture, performance (employee and company) and customer satisfaction. It was a great event and I’m already looking forward to next year. In the meantime, I want to share some key elements of workplace culture, along with a few ideas to improve it.
Let’s start with why culture is important. An engaged culture positively impacts business results. I can’t think of anywhere this is more important than in small organizations and startups where resources are limited and every employee, and likely every customer, are important. (If every employee is not important, it’s time to revisit why you have the role/person on your team). Several years ago, Simon Sinek, a bestselling author, motivational speaker and organizational consultant, (@simonsinek, April 16, 2014) Tweeted, “Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first.” Let the truth of that statement sink in for a minute. How do you feel about a visit to the DMV? How many DMV workers really seem to love their job? Not only are happy and engaged employees more productive, but their passion and purpose…or lack thereof, can directly impact customers.
Culture is more than summer hours, casual dress and free soda…or even a beer fridge! These might be things employees enjoy (also important), but they do not have a significant impact on employee or business performance. So, what does? Tying the individual person to the work. Here are a few examples.
- Purpose – Employees want to understand how their work contributes to the to the goals and objectives of the organization. They also want their work to align with their personal believes and motivations (i.e. how they feel about the company’s mission, pay, benefits, work/life balance, etc).
- Empowerment – Employees want to provide input into what they do and how they do it by being involved in decisions such as in determining their goals or the projects they work on, or perhaps how, when and where they do their work.
- Mastery – Employees want to be good at what they do and have opportunities to continue learning and growing.
- Connection – Employees spend a lot of time at work and want to feel like they belong as a person, have trusting team relationships and are appreciated for the work they do.
Here are some actionable ideas that will help you tie the individual person to their work in your company, and strengthen your workplace culture, engagement and business results.
Define your company’s vision and make it real for employees
If you haven’t already, define the vision for your company. What are you trying to achieve and how will you get there? Share it with your employees. Set company goals in alignment with the vision and determine how you will measure them. This is a great way to make it tangible for employees. Be transparent with your employees, share important financial metrics or other business results. Start with those that the employees can most relate to or impact. The more they understand what the company is trying to achieve, the more likely they are to be invested in helping the company get there.
Set clear performance expectations and measure results
Collaboratively with employees, outline their goals or objectives and help the employee understand how they impact the company goals. Including employees in the goal setting process helps them feel a sense of autonomy and inclusion/significance. Determine how you will measure performance in a tangible way (i.e. meet 95% of sprint deadlines, achieve x% of customer satisfaction based on surveys, bring in $x revenue per month, manufacture x lots per week, etc). Review progress to goals on a regular basis, celebrate success, and identify and help eliminate roadblocks.
Establish core values
By defining core values, you are setting the guidelines of what is important to the organization about how work gets done. Consider who will be involved in the process of establishing core values, and at what point. You could start with asking all employees to brainstorm ideas and then the company’s leadership team can narrow it down to the final list, or vice versa. Make sure to define each one in a sentence or two, so everyone is clear on what it means and how they will live them daily. Consider how you will use them. Defining them and hanging them on the wall isn’t enough (this may seem obvious, but it happens a lot). You can use them when making business decisions – what options align with the company’s core values; managing performance – how you get results can be as important as what you achieve; and hiring – evaluate candidates both technically, as well as how they will culturally fit into your company.
Communicate. Communicate. Communicate
I know it seems cliché, but this is something few organizations do well. Reflect on how you are communicating with your employees. What is working and what isn’t? Do you empower employees to communicate upward, down and across? Do you listen and really hear what your employees are saying? Consider doing a Start/Stop/Continue exercise to better understand what’s working and what isn’t. Be sure to include other members of leadership, and encourage each other to share critical feedback during the exercise. This will help make it safe for employees. Allow yourself to be vulnerable.
Don’t forget to celebrate. Even small wins and successes can, and should, be celebrated. Understand how your employees like to be recognized individually, and treat them how THEY want to be treated. Foster an environment of accountability and positive team dynamics through a peer recognition program and empower a group of employees to define, establish and manage it. Be creative when celebrating as a company and think outside the box, or better yet, ask employees for their ideas. It doesn’t have to cost a lot in time or money to be meaningful.
Finally, measure your culture or employee engagement. Concrete data can help you know where to focus your efforts by understanding what you’re doing well and where the greatest opportunities lie. Share the results with employees, just like any other business results or financials – it’s that important. But, word of caution – if you measure it, be prepared to act on the feedback. Nothing will derail your culture more than asking for feedback and not doing anything with it.
Your culture will continually evolve as your company changes and grows, and the key is to be intentional about how the culture evolves over time. Focus on progress, not perfection.
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