We are entering a culture-first era. For the first time, the Business Roundtable, which brings together 200 influential CEOs from around the world, has declared that every business should make employees, suppliers, and customers their primary focus. Companies should no longer prioritise shareholder interests above all else.1
To get the best performance from their employees, organisations need to deliberately cultivate a positive, productive workplace culture. Businesses who earn themselves a reputation as a good place to work attract and retain the best candidates,2 giving them a crucial advantage over their talent competitors.
But where and how should you start?
1. Identify your mission and values
Your employees cannot embody your business’ values unless they know what they are and why they are relevant to their work. Review your mission statement and handbook. Revise them if necessary. Upholding these values is everyone’s responsibility, whatever their position in your organisation.
2. Adopt a transparent management style
Employees want and expect a transparent leadership style where information is shared freely. Trust inspires loyalty and engagement.3 Share both good and bad news, give everyone a chance to put forward their ideas, and never gloss over or discount employee concerns. Be accessible and responsive but resist any temptation to micromanage your team. If you make a mistake, acknowledge it, and apologise if necessary.
3. Strive to increase and maintain diversity in the workplace
Many employers realise that diversity promotes innovation and increases profits,4 but are unsure how to build and maintain a diverse workforce. You need to consider how and where you recruit candidates, but this is just the beginning; you also need to track and investigate retention across diverse groups.5 Use anonymous surveys to get honest feedback from across your organisation. Ask what you can do to make everyone feel welcome. Adopt a zero-tolerance policy to bullying and harassment.
4. Adapt to the expectations and needs of today’s employees
Competitive salaries and bonuses undoubtedly attract employees, but research shows that candidates increasingly seek out companies that offer flexible working hours,6 remote working, and a sensible work-life balance.
5. Encourage collaboration across departments
One team or employee may specialise in a specific area, but this doesn’t mean they can’t benefit from an outside perspective. Encourage all teams to keep everyone updated on their latest projects and progress, and to welcome positive contributions from colleagues in other disciplines. Hold regular meetings or lunches where everyone can swap ideas.7
6. Give regular formal and informal feedback
Employees want to know whether they are performing their duties to an acceptable standard, and they appreciate timely feedback. Task ambiguity is a common cause of workplace stress. Annual reviews can be useful, but they are not sufficient. Give meaningful feedback at least once a month and more often if it benefits the employee.8
7. Recognise and reward great performance
Workers who feel underappreciated are unlikely to stay loyal to their employer. Employee recognition doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming. A sincere “thank you,” a handwritten note or public recognition can all boost morale.
8. Track your company culture
Using machine learning, Glassdoor and MIT Management Review have identified nine important measures of company culture: agility, collaboration, customer focus, diversity, execution, innovation, integrity, performance, and respect.9 These results are a useful guideline for anyone who wants to track and improve a workplace environment.
You can use quantitative and subjective techniques to assess each dimension. For example, if you want to assess innovation in your business, you can calculate the ratio of sales of new products to total sales or the number of actionable ideas put forward by employees each month. 10
9. Give your employees opportunities to advance in their careers
Workers who feel they are stuck in their roles are likely to become disengaged and may look for opportunities elsewhere. Consider whether you are currently offering your employees meaningful chances to progress within your business. If their skills need an upgrade, invest in training programs that fit around their existing commitments. When ambitious employees know that they can reasonably expect a promotion or other benefits, they are more likely to feel engaged with their work.
Your Culture Determines Your Success
With the UK unemployment rate at a 45-year low,11 businesses need to consider how they can make themselves attractive to the most desirable candidates. By acknowledging the vital role of company culture in employee satisfaction and taking actionable steps to positive change, you will be in a position to recruit and retain productive, engaged, loyal workers.
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1 - Yaffe-Bellany, D., & Gelles, D. (2019). Shareholder Value Is No Longer Everything, Top C.E.O.s Say. nytimes.com
2 - Jackson, H.G. (2017). The War for Talent Is Now a Way of Life for HR. shrm.org
3 - Llopis, G. (2012). 5 Powerful Things Happen When A Leader Is Transparent. forbes.com
4 - Cook, L. (2018). Ageism in the workplace ‘starts at 40’ for women. ft.com
5 - Miller, B. (2016). 8 Ways to Improve Diversity in the Workplace. hrdailyadvisor.com
6 - Cotton, B. (2019). 2020 Workforce to be Dominated by Millennials. Businessleader.co.uk
7 - Hall, T. (n.d.). How to Encourage Cross-Departmental Cohesion with 5 Easy Steps. inc.com
8 - Jones, M. (2017). How often should you give feedback to your employees? breathehr.com.
9 - Sull, D., Sull, C., & Chamberlain, A. (2019). Measuring Culture In Leading Companies: Introducing the MIT SMR/Glassdoor Culture 500. glassdoor.com/research
10 - Denti, L. (2013). Measuring Innovation Part 1: Frequently Used Indicators. innovationmanagement.com
11 - Trading Economics. (2019). United Kingdom Unemployment Rate. tradingeconomics.com