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Culture Makers and Culture Killers (Part 2)

What do employees want and need from their leadership?

CHICAGO — In an age of labor shortages, the desire of dry cleaners to have a positive workplace atmosphere is an understandable one. Unfortunately, it’s also an exploitable one, with no end of “experts” willing to sell their “secrets” to owners who want to reach their goal in the shortest time possible.

In Part 1 of this series, we explored how the “secret” of creating a positive workplace culture isn’t really a secret at all. Today, we’ll continue our examination of making a positive culture by drilling down into what employees actually want from their leaders.

The True Picture

Efforts to quickly change a culture often fail because they don’t tackle the issue that truly makes a difference in improving a company’s culture, no matter the age or demographics of that company’s workforce.

“Human beings want what they’ve always wanted,” says Sean Abbas, president of Threads Inc., a software company he co-founded to help organizations review employees and manage performance. “You hear about businesses that have coffee shops, free drinks, health insurance for pets, and on and on, and leadership began to equate all that stuff with happiness or satisfaction. The reality, however, is this: The No. 1 reason that people quit or leave a business is because of a supervisor or the leader. It’s still the No. 1 reason — and it’s always going to be the No. 1 reason — but we have convinced ourselves somehow that people leave because we’re not buying and providing them with enough stuff.”

Brandee Christensen, culture and support manager for Gunderson’s Cleaners in Appleton, Wisconsin, believes her company places the correct emphasis on what it takes to build a positive atmosphere for its team members.

“For us, our culture means really being focused on our internal team,” she says. “I think they need to be heard, valued, and appreciated.”

The very way a company’s leadership views the team factors into this mindset.

“For us, it means it’s a way that we interact with our internal customers — our team — and external customers,” she says. “We’ve grown to understand that we can’t expect great service to external customers if we don’t give exceptional service to our internal customers.”

Christensen agrees with Abbas’ viewpoint about the role of leadership in employee engagement, even if it sometimes calls for some difficult conversations.

“I think sometimes culture can be turned around where we’re just going to have a lot of fun in our workplace, and we’re going to do cool things,” she says. “But it’s also having those hard conversations, with the staff knowing what is expected of them and holding them accountable for the positions they have.”

Part of that communication effort, Christensen says, is taking the time to show that leadership is truly listening to the team.

“We have come to realize that even if we think the requests of an employee might not seem important to us,they wouldn’t be asking if it wasn’t important to them,” she says. “So, we try to take all of our communication seriously and treat them as the first person that matters in our day.”

What Do Employees Want?

Much has been made about the changing face of work and the impact that younger generations have had on leadership styles. For Abbas, however, the core of great culture is still the same as it always has been for successful leaders — and a vital part of that is feeding a team member’s sense of achievement.

In a lot of ways, what employees want has really not changed at all,” he says, “and that may surprise people. I think that employees want good leadership. They want to win. They want to talk about winning and success. They want high expectations. If you think about it, if you wake up and do nothing during the day, and you have no expectations of yourself, you’ve literally just wasted the day. How does that make you feel?”

Great employees — those who are motivated and engaged — want to be around like-minded team members, Abbas says, and if leadership recognizes this, it can be a game changer for all involved.

“If we do leadership correctly, wages can far exceed what the going rate is,” he says. “If you really are doing leadership right, you’re finding 10 people who are exceptional, and you’re paying those 10 people $30 an hour. If you’re not, you can have 35 people — five who are exceptional, 20 who sort of don’t care, and 10 who literally suck the life out of the organization — and pay all of them 12 bucks an hour.”

Come back Thursday for the conclusion of this series, when we’ll explore concrete steps leaders can take that will change their business atmosphere for the better. For Part 1 of this series, click HERE.

Culture Makers and Culture Killers

(Image licensed by Ingram Image)

Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Dave Davis at [email protected].