A lot of managers and business leaders make the mistake of underestimating the importance of their company’s culture. They believe that if the work is getting done then everything is fine, regardless of the negative impact of morale or office politics. They could not be more mistaken. To understand the importance of a good culture, simply understand this equation:
A good culture = success
If that sounds overly simplistic, think about this. Harvard Business School Professor Emeritus James L. Heskitt recently published a book called, The Culture Cycle: How to Shape the Unseen Force that Transforms Performance. In it he explains that almost half of operating profit can be attributed to the working environment that employees operate within.
“Organization culture is not a soft concept. Its impact on profit can be measured and quantified. We know, for example, that engaged managers and employees are much more likely to remain in an organization, leading directly to fewer hires from outside the organization,” he writes. “This, in turn, results in lower wage costs for talent; lower recruiting, hiring and training costs; and higher productivity (fewer lost sales and higher sales per employee). Higher employee continuity leads to better customer relationships that contribute to greater customer loyalty, lower marketing costs, and enhanced sales.”
That’s pretty straightforward, and provides food for thought. Everything in that list — lower recruiting, hiring and training; higher productivity; better customer relationships and loyalty; enhanced sales — is exactly what every organization is working towards. So how can you influence your company’s culture? First, understand what culture really is. It’s not a question of whether you’re giving your employees free coffee in the morning or letting them work from home as much as it is creating an understanding that everybody is working together in order to be successful. That means that you need to create an office culture that fosters stronger relationships between all team members and makes each person understand that they have value, that they are appreciated and that they are an important part of the team.
Much of this comes from the priorities and every day processes that are observed by your employees: the rewards, whether formal or informal, that are given for the behavior that you want internalized within the company’s day-to-day operations. The key to managing employees towards a positive company culture is not different from the way you run your family. You provide positive feedback for the behaviors that you want until an overall value set is internalized. David Packard (of Hewlett-Packard) famously established 11 simple rules for creating a positive business culture that I’ve summarized below:
- Think of the other person first
- Make the other person feel important
- Respect the other person’s differences
- Show sincere appreciation
- Eliminate negativity
- Stop reforming and correcting; instead suggest a better way
- Be empathetic
- Don’t let first impressions mislead you
- Pay attention to the nuances of your own behaviors and responses
- Be genuinely interested in your staff
- Constantly practice these rules
These types of values and behaviors come from within and filter down within an organization, and if your current office culture does not reflect this kind of mindset, then making change can take time. Communicating the importance of a positive culture to those responsible for managing employees is a start, but it is essential that there is consistency in how it is enforced. Writing new guidelines for has nowhere near the impact that true leadership will, and there are a number of inexpensive ways that you can create change that will immediately get the message across and build stronger relationships and trust within your organization. Here are several of our top suggestions for small changes that can make a big difference in your office culture:
Shake up your seating arrangement
If your office’s physical structure allows it, establish a regular schedule of relocating where staff members sit every few months. Keeping the same people grouped together over an extended period of time limits interaction and the exchange of ideas and reinforces the establishment of cliques that can create negativity. When you force people to sit with one another they open their minds to each other and new perspectives and understanding can form.
Take teamwork to a whole new level
No matter where you are or what you do, your staff can find a 5K charity run, a “cook for a friend” program, a local gym offering a “get in shape” program that you can get on board with. Even something as simple as organizing a softball team and encouraging the rest of the staff to attend games and cheer the competitors on is a great way to have staff and management let down their guard and start working with each other towards an entirely different common goal. Doing so will work wonders within your organization and build cameraderie, as people begin to see each other in a different light and respect strengths and abilities that they had not been aware of. It also can give you a great excuse to host celebrations that continue the good feelings all around.
Involve more people in the interview process
It’s traditional to limit the responsibility for interviewing prospective employees to your Human Resources staff and the managers who will be directly involved with a new hire, but consider the benefits that expanding that process holds. Not only will you send a clear message to your staff that you value their opinions, but you’ll also provide yourself with a completely different perspective on how well an applicant may fit into your organization, or will relate to your staff. Does a management candidate respond less respectfully or less seriously when being asked questions by an admin then by a senior manager? Is that type of attitude going to help or hurt your company culture? Taking this step requires some training regarding the questions and answers that can and cannot be provided, but is well worth the effort.
Emphasize the positive
Meetings are a necessary evil, but you can use them to your benefit. Make it a requirement that as each person speaks, they share something positive that has happened to them, whether work-related or otherwise. By insisting on some kind of good news you create an association with positivity that can quickly become a habit. Even if it initially feels forced or corny, it will eventually become something that people will look forward to and may strengthen and personalize work relationships.
Celebrate the wins
Whether it’s a new contract that somebody finally got signed or a successful fund-raiser for the charity that you’ve decided to support, make sure that you take the time to celebrate the wins, both large and small. Maybe it’s as simple as making sure that there is a cake and flowers for somebody’s birthday or getting out of the office for a happy hour to celebrate a big sale, take the time to recognize accomplishments and get everybody involved in the celebrations.