3 steps that will enliven a struggling corporate culture

Ashley Goldsmith Profile picture for user Ashley Goldsmith February 2, 2016
Corporate culture matters at a time of fierce competition for talent. Workday's CHRO Ashley Goldsmith offers three tips to put your culture back on track

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Ashley Goldsmith, Workday

Culture is about how your management treats employees, how employees treat each other, and how everyone at your company treats customers. It’s a reflection of the day-to-day experience everyone has at and with your company, and has a big impact on business outcomes.

That’s why HR knows that culture especially matters at a time when competition for talented employees is as fierce as ever. With the US job market hitting new highs and UK unemployment at a ten-year low, companies are looking beyond traditional compensation packages and placing a greater emphasis on creating the right corporate culture when it comes to finding and keeping the crème-de-la-crème.

Of course, corporate culture can’t be fixed simply by posting a mission statement on the wall, or moving in some bean bags and table football. There’s a level of sincerity and authenticity that can’t be faked, and whether you’ve had specific cultural challenges or seen your organization’s ethos gradually erode, 2016 is HR’s chance to drive cultural change and play a strategic part in the success of the wider business. With that in mind, here are three common cultural scenarios and strategies for what to do about them.

1 - Empower your employees, establish trust and give them a voice

In canteens, break rooms, and back offices the world over, employees talk. If they can’t voice their concerns to management and feel like they can be open and honest then they’ll talk to one another instead. Employees become afraid to speak up during meetings and workers become unhappy. Any workplace that stifles communication cannot expect to drive innovation or creativity.

A good place to start is with open and transparent communication. As far as possible, give employees the facts and tackle tough issues head on. There’s very little room for sugar coating, and that is where management can build trust and let employees know they are being given the full story and also that their voices are being heard.

As the old adage goes, in the digital age, the medium really is the message. HR should be thinking about internal forums and collaboration platforms which are a good place to start conversations in addition to face-to-face meetings and email. Do remote employees have the same ability to take part in open communication as those based in the office? Technology can break down these barriers and democratize the employee communications process.

Encourage and prepare for honest feedback. Acknowledge any discontent and assure employees that management is working to come up with solutions. Most importantly, follow through with this assurance and prepare to make some changes. Rethinking your culture strategy isn’t easy, but it’s necessary in order to retain talent and develop or even regain the positive workplace you want.

2 - Know your cultural values and stay true to them to avoid an identity crisis

There are so many global examples of companies doing corporate culture well that many organizations end up enviously mashing together what they see as the best bits from other companies without much of a strategy at the core. Culture is a reflection of a company’s values. Without a real understanding of who you are and what you stand for as a company, it’s impossible to set expectations for workplace behavior. Only by drawing a line can you ensure that people don’t cross it. Failing to do so can lead to disrespect among peers; competition, politics, and backstabbing among teams; and unscrupulous sales tactics.

If you haven’t already drawn up your core business values, think about what you want your employees to strive for each day and the type of personality and character traits that would thrive in your organization. If your existing values are dated or currently used as drink coasters then it’s time to revisit the process with your executive leadership and discuss a new plan for communicating values in a more effective way.

Storytelling is a powerful communication tool, especially when it places the employee at the center of the narrative. Think about how you can bring examples of your values to life — talk about an employee going the extra mile to help a customer or to push a project over the line. Employees have heard “the customer comes first” mantra many times and recognizing employee success can inspire success across the whole company.

3 - Improve employee retention by building meaningful relationships

For the most part, when employees imagine their future, your company isn’t in it. Such are the dynamics of the post-loyalty digital world, and businesses have to work exceptionally hard just to keep employees engaged. Motivation and performance are stunted when managers fail to provide feedback on why employees were left out of projects or don’t include them on correspondence. Or, more benignly, when good employees receive praise but have no clear path to future growth inside the company, they may “vote with their feet” and take advantage of a great job market.

HR leaders should encourage employees to develop personal relationships with peers and mentors. These kinds of relationships are absolutely necessary to strengthen trust between managers and employees and build employees’ confidence to perform well. It’s also important to talk about career goals, and make employee development a priority, not an afterthought. HR should ask questions about how performance is reviewed within their organization. Do employees have access to continual feedback, or is the annual performance review the path you follow? Continual touch points which highlight successes and development areas can be a great way of keeping employees engaged.

As with many facets of corporate culture, it’s imperative that C-level executives set the tone, and make it clear by their words and actions that employee development is a business imperative. This sets the bar for managers throughout the company, and lets them know they need to prioritize time for relationship building with the people they manage.

Be confident in your ability to influence change

Rethinking your culture strategy isn’t easy, but it’s necessary in order to retain talent and develop or even regain the positive workplace you want. Increasingly, culture is being recognized as something that drives employee engagement and business outcomes. Better communications, strong core values, and leaders who are committed to employee growth and empowerment will help steer the ship back on course.

Image credits: Figures on a grid © liravega - Fotolia.com; headshot by Workday. 

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