CHICAGO — An entire industry has grown around the desire of business owners and leaders to create a culture that not only attracts the best employees but keeps them for the long term. While there is no shortage of advice on the subject, the truth is that work and intentionality are key in generating a positive workplace atmosphere.
In Part 1 of this series, we explored how the “secret” of creating a positive workplace culture isn’t really a secret at all. In Part 2, we continued our examination of making a positive culture by drilling down into what employees actually want from their leaders. Today, we’ll conclude by looking at concrete steps leaders can take to change their company’s culture for the better.
Building the Team
The process of building a winning team starts at the very beginning, during the interviewing and hiring process, says Brandee Christensen, culture and support manager for Gunderson’s Cleaners in Appleton, Wisconsin.
“In my experience of hiring and retention, the worst thing that you can do is not be prepared for an interview,” she says, “to not talk about the culture and values. We can get caught up in ‘How much do you want to make?’ and ‘When can you start?’ By having those personal conversations about what we believe in, and how we’re going to move their career forward, we can give them the best experience — even if they’re only going to be here for a couple of years. It’s easy to miss that in the initial interview, and during the onboarding process, as well.”
During the interview phase, those high-performing team members you value need to play a part in bringing in new team members, says Sean Abbas, president of Threads Inc., a software company he co-founded to help organizations review employees and manage performance.
“Have them participate in hiring — they will never allow (low-performing individuals) into the group,” he says. “You might, because you’re not one of them — you’re not going to have to work with that person every day. But if they have to, they’re not going to let them in. Let them participate in the hiring decisions.”
Abbas says that one of a leader’s most important roles is to make sure the company’s leadership structure is set up with intentionality.
“When it comes to retaining employees, not only do you have to be a great leader, but you have to make sure your manager isn’t a manager just because they’ve been there the longest, or because they know the machinery the best,” he says. “You need to pick leaders for your company — those people who are willing to be servants of the employees who work there. They should be going out of their way to be doing everything they can to facilitate the success of the employees, not themselves.”
The other facet of fostering a positive workplace culture is making sure that employees who are polluting that atmosphere are put on notice.
“If you have people who are poor cultural fits in your organization, you better not have them there for very long,” Abbas says. “So many people today are saying, ‘Look, I can’t find people, so I’m keeping individuals in my business who don’t treat customers right and who treat co-workers like crap. I’m keeping a supervisor who has absolute total knowledge of the business, but is a complete and utter train wreck when it comes to human beings.’ I think business owners look at people like that and believe that job knowledge offsets their shortcomings and how they treat people. It doesn’t.
This is especially true when these unhappy employees are supervisors or in charge of training new employees, according to Abbas.
“If the person says, ‘You didn’t hire me to be nice to people,’ tell them to get out and start over,” he says. “I can almost promise that you’ll be happier the next day. You’d be better off training these new people and getting them doing it your way as opposed to giving them to this person who’s a disaster for training.”
Abbas and Christensen each believe that keeping constant, consistent lines of communication is the cornerstone of creating a positive culture.
“There’s great value in, for lack of a better term, a town hall meeting,” Christensen says, “in listening to the employees, even though it may be hard to hear. They are the customer-facing part of your business, so you really have to understand how they feel. Not just promise that you can make the adjustments, but sincerely listen to their feedback and be available on a daily basis.”
This goes beyond a leader-employee relationship, Abbas says, and into something more fundamental.
“Stop for just a minute and think back in your life,” he urges. “Was there anybody who changed your life or moved you forward? Who made you better? Is there anybody that you look back on fondly as a mentor? I will promise you that person did not always tell you what you wanted to hear. They told you what you needed to hear.
“They had high expectations of you. Maybe they said, ‘You’re not giving enough — you’ve got to step up bigger. You’re better than this.’ You were mad at them at the time, but you reach a time in your life where you know what they were doing for you.”
Change for the Better
Christensen says that leaders need to understand the role they play in creating the culture of their workplace — and if it can be improved.
“You need to have that self-reflection, and you might have to be prepared to change as a leader,” she says. “If the culture is bad, there’s a reason why. No one leader might be completely at fault, but there’s something in there that you might have to be prepared to change.”
Also, owners should be realistic about the process of improving the workplace atmosphere.
“Culture change takes a long time,” she says. “It could take years — the workplace has to understand that it’s not going to happen overnight.”
Still, Abbas says, there are few things more rewarding in a workplace than making it a place where people want to be.
“To me, that’s probably the biggest benefit of a great culture,” he says. “It just feels good. It’s so rewarding to the individual, and it’s so rewarding to the leader. And it doesn’t mean that it’s always perfect. It just means that you’ve done right by people, and you treat them well.”
For Part 1 of this series, click HERE. For Part 2, click HERE.
Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Dave Davis at [email protected].