Posted November 07, 2016 by

Creating a positive work culture

 

There is a lot of talk about the importance of organizational culture — and making sure you develop a positive one. Research by Deloitte earlier in 2016 shows it’s one of the major concerns of senior leaders across multiple industries. So, how do you create a positive work culture — especially for younger workers who will become the backbone of your talent acquisition strategy?

The first issue or concern that usually arises here is the word itself. “Culture” is fairly amorphous as a concept; it can mean different things to different people. Some want open communication from managers and a continuing sense of respect at all levels. Still others want kegerators and ping-pong tables available in lounge areas. All three of these perceptions are very different, but all could easily be called “culture” in the eyes of different employees.

Entire books have been written on this topic; heck, entire sections of bookstores have been written on this topic, in reality. It can’t be solved in one blog post, but here are some places to begin:

Care: You need to care about culture as a real strategic element in your business. If you only care about money and making as much of it as possible, fine. Good luck balancing that with staff retention. 

Bring culture outside of HR. Too often, culture discussions are housed in Human Resources. This makes sense on one level as they tend to own personnel matters, but your culture can’t be a series of HR-initiated documents. The sheer term “culture” refers to daily actions all over a company; this sense of culture needs to be be owned by different teams and levels, not just HR. A good example of mutual ownership with solid results is Dreamworks, where managers encourage increased responsibilities and often engage in spontaneous discussions with employees about what they think. Dreamworks’ feature films have grossed $13.48 billion worldwide, with an average of about $421.4 million per film. While there’s not a direct causation between internal management style and external results, the correlation is likely quite strong.

Core values: One way that can happen is by working together to set core values. By “working together” here, we mean cross-silos. We also mean that employees get to weigh in on core values as the company grows, as opposed to them just being set by the highest leadership levels. Netflix, which has become a highly-successful company financially, is a good example of a process around setting core values together. These core values, once set, can’t be a static document — they need to be lived (by as many people as possible) and adjusted annually, if not quarterly.

Perks determination: Part of a good work culture is perks, whether that’s a kegerator or every other Friday off or something else. Work from senior leadership to finance/accounting to HR to determine what perks are possible and fiscally viable. Create a list of potential perks and poll your employees. The top three vote-getters become a series of perks in the short-term. Revisit the idea in six months and see how it’s going. Scripps Health in San Diego is particularly good at this; for example, their bonus pool is filtered (relatively) equally throughout the organization, as opposed to just the higher ranks. They also offer tuition reimbursement, on-site massage, and pet insurance.

Priority alignment: In terms of the actual work that needs to be done, make sure there’s priority alignment around what needs to be done and in what order. Many companies, even very fiscally successful ones, are quite bad at this. Usually, poor priority alignment creates a lot of competing, urgent projects for employees. This ultimately burns them out, which increases turnover. High turnover runs directly counter to a good culture, because if people are constantly in and out, a culture can’t really emerge. You want to keep turnover down, and priority alignment is one major approach to doing so. So who does this well? Many companies, including ARM — which makes microprocessors for 95 percent of the world’s smart devices. (You’ve never heard of them, but they’re very important to your daily life.) ARM designs priority alignment around innovation, making sure everyone knows what to work on — and when — in the interest of potential collaborations and new project growth.

Managerial training: We’ve all heard the old adage — “People leave managers, not jobs.” That’s largely true. Here’s a not-so-good statistic: 82 percent of managerial hires end up being the wrong one. That’s an over 8 in 10 failure rate. Now consider this statistic: in North America, on average, a person becomes a manager for the first time at age 30. They get their first training on how to be a manager at age 42. That’s a gap of 12 years. There’s likely a correlation between that 12-year gap and the 82 percent failure rate in the first research. When you don’t train managers and leave them to figure out for themselves, they can operate poorly (or become micromanagers), and that’s dangerous to the establishment of a good culture. There are dozens of examples of good companies for managerial training, but one that regularly surfaces in case studies is Bridgespan (a consultancy for nonprofits), who uses a 70-20-10 career development model. Remember, too, that management preferences have changed over the years, as millennials bring their own managing styles and expectations.

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