A healthy corporate culture can have amazing results on a company’s bottom line. Improved productivity, employee retention, customer service and effective recruiting are just a few of the benefits of a positive culture.
Effective recruitment is enhanced by the power of positive word-of-mouth. Several studies show that at least half of all job candidates read company reviews at Glassdoor.com, Indeed.com or similar websites before making a decision to apply for or accept a position with a company. Sure, some of the reviews might be “sour grapes” from former employees who were let go, but website visitors often read several reviews to get an overall sense of whether a company’s leadership views employees as more than faceless sources of labor output.
Corporate culture is closely tied to employee satisfaction. Satisfied employees are likely to be more productive and healthy than counterparts at companies that have ignored any efforts to enhance culture or have adopted high-stress environments to motivate their employees.
Employees who believe they’re in a good working environment are more likely to remain with the company – decreasing the costs of hiring and training new employees. These employees often become positive public advocates for the company through their social networks – both online and offline.
Here are six areas to consider when seeking to improve corporate culture:
In any organization, the work must get done. Without that, the cold fact is there would be no business. However, the development of a healthy corporate culture requires managers to show considerable empathy at appropriate times to employees. Empathy is the ability to view situations through the eyes of others. Several research studies have shown that empathy is one of the top attributes employees want in a manager. Leaders without it are unable to build meaningful connections with their staff members. A study by Development Dimensions International showed that only 40 percent of supervisors were proficient in empathy. More than simply a feeling, empathy needs to be reflected in managerial behavior to maximize the performance of a team. It’s a key aspect of emotional intelligence (EI/EQ), defined as the ability to understand, recognize and manage a person’s own emotions and to perceive the emotions of those around him or her. An employee might work for a manager who doesn’t exhibit empathy. However, if that same employee knows a manager has his or her best interest at heart through words and actions, then productivity and appreciation for the work environment is likely to be substantially better.
Flexibility covers everything from telecommuting to flexible work schedules to adequate bereavement policies. While telecommuting has become increasingly popular and seems to vary by industry, it has never quite caught on as broadly as many labor experts expected years ago. Unfortunately, many business leaders continue to envision employees doing a minimal amount of work – perhaps in their pajamas – and fear the lack of visual oversight. Conversely, many employees continue to argue that the key factor in favor of telecommuting should be an employee’s productivity, and there should be a level of trust from management to allow it.
Flexible work schedules are highly popular with many companies and another way to improve culture. This allows employees to attain a better work-life balance and meet family obligations, such as picking up a child at preschool. There is often a “core time” when employees need to be on the job, but the start and stop times can be adjusted to a degree. A study by Bentley University showed that 77 percent of millennials believe flexible work schedules increase productivity for employees in their same age group.
An employee handbook should be part of any business to help set rules and guidelines about topics related to flexibility and to help employees be clearly aware of them.
3. Employee Empowerment
Most employees want to be empowered to complete assignments without their supervisors watching every little step of the process. It shows a healthy level of respect and trust when empowerment is given to employees. Yet some managers have a tendency to smother their employees through micromanagement, which creates a negative corporate culture.
Employees do need feedback – positive and negative – and they should be open to that feedback, but they will resent micromanagement when it steps over a certain pre-determined threshold they’ve set in their minds. For instance, if a supervisor wants all subordinates to have cleaned-off desks before they go home for the evening, more than a few of them might feel this is an overreach (and perhaps anonymously leave the famous photo of Albert Einstein’s cluttered desk on the supervisor’s chair).
Managers also can sometimes try to create “mini me’s” out of all their team members. These managers might expect their underlings to learn a computer program as well and as quickly as they did, or they might demand they use the same computer keyboard shortcuts they use to increase their productivity. While it’s proper to share skills with others when the position requires it, managers need to ensure they’re not smothering employees with their influence. Employees can come to resent the forced transfer of knowledge or work habits considered on the fringe of core duties almost as much as they resent the micromanagement of projects. Managers must recognize that everyone has their own unique strengths and weaknesses, and that employees will never be manager clones.
Although it might work for a while to use stern pressure and fear on employees to get the most productivity out of them, it seldom works for long. If they’re not meeting reasonable expectations and aren’t open to improving through coaching, it’s in their and management’s best interest to let them go. Some companies with unreasonable expectations take a “churn and burn” mentality, where employees are constantly searching for “greener pastures” at the first opportunity. There are statistics backing up the fact that employees leave companies because of bad supervisors more than any other factor. There are some cases where the supervisor is only following corporate “marching orders” and needs to place unfair demands on a team to meet goals, but that will seldom have any relevance in the minds of employees.
4. Employee Recognition/Feedback Mechanisms
A company without an employee recognition program is not doomed, but the lack of one can send a message that leadership doesn’t value exemplary performance. Programs vary widely in style and substance, but they all have one common ingredient – they widely acknowledge that employee contributions to a corporate effort are commendable and worthy of distinction among peers. Recognition programs typically add positive energy to what might otherwise be a mundane working environment.
Employees value opportunities to provide feedback and participate to some degree in ideas that will improve the company’s operations and working environment. When they know their feedback is being requested and considered, they feel a stronger bond with the company. Encourage two-way channels of feedback in as many situations as possible to help improve the company and its culture.
The leadership style of managers and owners can greatly affect morale and culture. Their style should create a positive environment for employees so they can be their most productive and satisfied, while also enabling the company to meet its objectives. If employees seldom hear from top leadership, a level of mistrust can set in. “Water cooler” talk and untrue rumors will often fill the void left by a lack of leadership exposure and communication. High employee morale is enhanced by plentiful communications. Transparency should include frequent performance feedback and information about the company’s goals and actions from supervisors and top leadership.
Companies often cut corners in training managers on how to lead a team. Many organizations don’t train new managers at all, expecting them to be good leaders because they were accomplished employees before promotion or hiring. How many managers have broken the common management tenet of only offering criticism in private by humiliating a team member in a group setting? This and other important management principles can be taught in a half-day session. The result would not only be better leaders inside the company, but a better corporate culture with higher morale and productivity.
Training also encompasses employee enrichment. In a good corporate culture, employees are encouraged and allowed to grow professionally by learning new skills. Companies need to offer and promote training to enhance their workforce and help their employees increase their expertise.
Six areas have been listed here as a good starting point to improve corporate culture, but there are many more. It requires several diverse elements or methods to build a strong corporate culture – not just a few. This diversity is needed because each employee will value various cultural characteristics differently. For instance, Bob in Human Resources might believe that being able to telecommute from his home on Fridays is a lot more attractive than Janet in Payroll, who is more enthusiastic about the company’s policy of allowing employees a day off every year to volunteer for their favorite nonprofit organization.
Building a top-notch corporate culture is a way to increase the odds of organizational success. Ask employees for ideas on how to enhance culture, survey them about ideas already formulated, implement the best ones, and then watch your organization take flight to a higher level.
This article was originally published in the July/August 2017 edition of Private Lender magazine.