12 Ways to Keep a Great Corporate Culture
How to Improve Talent Management and Employee Engagement
Whether you are a job seeker or an
employed manager, organizational culture is important to you. If you are
looking for a new opportunity, you’ll want to find a company whose
mission and values mesh with your own. If part of your responsibility is
nurturing and reinforcing a supportive environment for your employees,
you need to know what the key considerations are for developing and
maintaining a great place to work.
As a career management professional, I
help each of my clients identify the components of his ideal job
description, including both what he will be doing and the working
conditions which best support his effort. It should come as no surprise
that people find their company’s culture as important to their
satisfaction on the job as the activities they perform.
What are the keys to providing a strong
and enviable culture? Here’s a checklist for you to consider:
State a clear mission. Then live it
daily. How many times have you been through a
vision-mission-goals process where the recommendations are neatly
tucked away in a large blue binder? Or, your mission is displayed
prominently on plaques around the office, everyone pays lip service
to it, then ignores it in day-to-day business. Perhaps a
framed/glassed mission statement suddenly appears on the wall.
Neither you nor your employees had a role in creating it, nor any
idea how to implement it. All of these scenarios chip away at morale
and give associates the impression their ideas and feedback are not
The Dawson Group, whose mission statement is, “We will provide world
class human resource services and have a life,” makes sure its
employees and contractors take their mission seriously. Many of them
telecommute, work part-time, flexible hours or volunteer at their
children’s schools on weekdays. Kathy Dawson started her own
business to flee from the 60-hour weeks and constant travel expected
in corporate America. She and her fellow professionals reinforce an
environment where people can work smart and lead balanced lives.
Develop a strategic plan
that’s understood and embraced by all levels of the
organization. An org chart du jour and a direction as changeable
as Texas weather breed both confusion and intellectual paralysis.
People eventually tire of running in circles and decide to sit out
management’s latest whim. Or, they each form their own
interpretations of what management wants, then run helter-skelter
trying to implement their assorted perceptions. If you don’t know
where you’re going, any road will get you there.
Vicki Henry, owner of Feedback Plus, has an open ledger policy for
her employees. They can read the company’s financial statements any
time they wish. Their compensation is based upon their work team’s
and company’s performance vs. the annual goals and action plans
they’ve collectively developed.
While it may not be feasible for every company to have an open
ledger policy, it’s important that, whatever the size of the
organization, each employee knows where she is going and how she’s
supposed to get there.
Show me a company with great
communication at all levels, and I’ll show you a great company.
Great leaders set a clear direction, then constantly reinforce it.
They are masters at involving people at lower levels in the decision
making process, because they know it encourages ownership of the
Olivette Whipple is the Director of an IBM call center that employs
over 650 telecommunication specialists. Managers from companies
around the world visit her center because it represents the venue at
its best. What makes this center so special? The employees who work
there designed it themselves. With management’s encouragement, they
also take responsibility for making ongoing process improvements
when they see a better way to get the job done.
At TI the CEO does quarterly broadcasts to all employees and
encourages them to call him with their questions so everyone can
hear the answers. The company also makes tremendous use of its
intranet for communicating all types of information to every level
of the organization.
Build a culture where everyone is
part of the team. In a recent survey of 14 companies who are
highly respected for their exceptional cultures, every one of them
mentioned the necessity of teamwork among employees, departments,
suppliers, customers and stockholders. When a CEO lays people off to
increase his stock’s price, he’s making opponents out of people who
should be teammates. When a purchasing manager strong-arms her
suppliers into slashing parts prices, she improves the short-term
bottom line, while incurring long-term resentment.
The age of pitting one star performer against another is over.
Collaboration and cooperation are the names of the game now. With
all the competition from bonafide competitors, who needs internal
Interstate Batteries has intentionally developed a system to reward
achievement based primarily on team performance. After a
particularly stellar corporate performance, the CEO invited everyone
to a spontaneous party, gave them the rest of the day off and handed
out $50 bills to use as mad money on their mini-vacation.
Be flexible to change. The old
cliché about change being the only constant is truer today
than ever. These days Generation Xers and Baby Boomers alike are
looking for more flexible hours, continual training and the
opportunity to make a difference. The implied contract between
companies and employees is no longer valid. Companies must flex
their policies to conform to employee needs or risk losing both good
recruits and veteran associates.
Technology and the global marketplace are also changing the way
companies do business. Texas Instruments sold many of its defense
and semiconductor business units to concentrate on digital signal
processors. While pundits debunked its risky strategy, TI became the
largest producer of DSPs in the world. The company has also ramped
up its diversity programs to take advantage of the backgrounds of
its employees worldwide. TI’s management knows that it must develop
a strong global presence to continue its leadership in cutting-edge
high tech products.
Have fun. When business reporters
ask executives which companies’ cultures they most admire,
Southwest Airlines is invariably at the top of the list. This
company can think of more reasons to party than any other I know.
But they party for a purpose. The recruiting department recently
invited Southwest employees and their friends to a soiree at a small
city airport where they were having difficulty filling positions.
Result: they hired a lot of their employee’s friends for a cost per
hire of $3.50 a head!
IBM’s call center plays bingo on Mondays and Fridays. Winners get
immediate cash or movie coupons of their choice. This innovative
game increases their concentration, cuts absenteeism and long coffee
breaks and it’s fun. They even have free popcorn!
Respect each individual’s desire to
do a good job and give him the opportunity to make a tangible
contribution. Theory X, where management assumes everyone is
intrinsically lazy, has given way to Theory Y, where the company and
its associates have mutual respect for one another. When management
expects employees to do their best, allows them to develop their own
work process, gives them flexibility and listens to their ideas,
productivity soars. It’s the Pygmalion Effect in action.
While Baby Boomers used to be willing to toe the company line,
Generation Xers are not. They expect to be treated as professionals,
who can make an important contribution. They are much more
independent than their father’s generation and never think of
themselves as “company men.” To attract and keep them (and their
now-jaded parents), employers have to cede some power and give them
the respect they expect.
Provide training, training and more
training. Another characteristic of companies with great
cultures is their commitment to offering employees the opportunity
to continually improve their skills. While training to increase
specific job skill proficiency is a part of the package, it’s not
the only type of training offered. Learning more about computer
software, customer service, communication techniques, and other
ancillary issues promotes associate productivity and increases their
likelihood for staying on the job.
On-the-job training is important as well. People who are
cross-trained to do more than one job, serve on a company-wide task
force, act as project manager for an ad hoc program, or mentor a
fledgling teammate enjoy the challenge of trying something new,
adding a new achievement to their resumes and becoming more valuable
to their employer.
Catch people doing something right.
Then celebrate. Reward systems are vital to promoting
a great culture. The Imprimis Group, a consortium of temporary
agencies based in Dallas, rings a bell every time someone gets a job
order during a phonathon and rewards the winner with a certificate
to Starbucks. Feedback Plus gives Plus-bucks to its employees on an
impromptu basis when they catch them doing something right. Then
they auction prizes paid for with the Plus-bucks.
Interstate Batteries “loves to give things away.” They have a
Crystal Award Luncheon every quarter to honor employees who have
made outstanding contributions to the company. The company gives out
t-shirts and movie certificates for good deeds and runs regular
promotions to reward team effort.
Shape an individual development plan
to grow each employee. Several companies mentioned this practice
as one that attracts and keeps great employees, because it says the
organization values them and is willing to spend time and money to
help them grow. While this process takes time to plan and implement,
both the corporation and its associates gain tremendous benefit from
Employees share in company profits.
So often we read in the Wall Street Journal or
Business Week about the size of executive compensation packages
and how they keep increasing primarily due to stock options. Many
companies are providing these options or profit-sharing plans to all
their employees, usually based upon team and company performance.
Employee ownership creates a powerful incentive to improve
productivity while it acknowledges the important contributions made
by everyone on the payroll.
Focus on customers. A company
with a great culture isn’t in business primarily to make money. Its
main goal is providing outstanding products and superb customer
service. Southwest Airlines particularly prides itself on its quick
turnaround time at the gate, its exceptional record for on time
arrivals, and its unusually low incidence of lost luggage. It has a
tradition for doing whatever it takes to get the job done.
Nordstroms has built its culture on war
stories that illustrate customer service far beyond the call of duty.
One of the reasons the chain has been so successful is the trust it
places in each store employee to make the right decisions. Instead of
having to find a manager to deal with an unusual situation, the sales
associate is empowered to handle it himself. Consequently, the customer,
the sales person and the store all benefit from the immediate resolution
of the problem and the long-term relationship it nurtures.