The Idea Dude

CONNECTING THE DOTS ONE AT A TIME

Sunday, January 14, 2007

10 things to build corporate culture

I read Ben's post on Do you make happy with your co-workers?. I especially loved the comments. There are clearly people who go out of their way to help create better workplaces and be happiness catalyts. However, my legacy over the last decade has been to be thrust into pretty tough situations, to turn leaderless, demotivated tech teams around. I fared better in some situations than others, but I always learnt from each experience of what it takes to be a better colleague, mentor, manager, leader and employee.

The concept of happiness in the workplace as a topic bothered me not because it is a bad or unimportant topic but I don't believe it is the goal of a company to make employees happy. (At which point I'll probably get a thousand angry comments). And yes there is a subtle difference between this and Ben's post of 'making happy with your co-workers'. My point is if you do the right stuff that builds a great culture in a company, most of your employees will be happy (as a by-product) most of the time. Those who aren't perhaps shouldn't be there in the first place. Culture is a way of doing business, treating employees. It is pervasive and doesn't require a certain individual to be around before good things happen. Ergo, happiness isn't the responsibility of one person in a company because it removes the responsibility from each person on the team. Making people happy isn't the end-game either because it is the single biggest reason young and weak managers make wrong business decisions that in the end makes everyone a loser.

Building great cultures is part of the responsibility of the leadership in any company. Here are some that I try to do most of the time (I say most because like most mortals, I too forget or do the wrong thing under stress). Building culture is the process of getting everyone to buy into the same value system and make the necessary positive emotional investment into something that occupies 1/3 or more of their daily lives.

  • 1. Communicate: Lack of communication is the #1 culture killer. Keeping people in the dark is a no-no. Employees and team members want to know what you're thinking, where is the vision, how well we are doing, what are your challenges are. Communication is the key to transparency. For people to make emotional investments into your company, they must possess sufficient knowledge to cross that chasm.
  • 2. Engage: Communication isn't a one-way thing. It follows that it is important to engage your team by listening. Ensuring a constant dialog means that you have important feedback from people who do care about your company. Dialog also implies a constant two-way flow of ideas. The collective IQ is indeed greater than the sum of the individual employees and also of any single individual. Like Napoleon, practice the habit of eating with the troops, you'll learn more about your company in an informal context than at any company meeting.
  • 3. Respect: Be genuine about the input of each employee. You may not agree but they should know that their input and feedback is valued and seriously considered. In turn, they should respect your decision which may not be in line with their opinion because that's where the buck stops. Treat each person as a peer regardless of station or position. Respect also means that people will feel comfortable in sharing bad news or difficulties before it is too late. Working with integrity and being fair goes a long way in garnering respect.
  • 4. Recognize: Recognition is one of the most neglected activities. We fail to recognize achievement either because we are too busy, we feel it takes the limelight away from us or it make us vulnerable by letting an employee know they are important to our business. While, most people will say that they leave because of a better paying job, the deep-rooted, honest reasons are often because no-one recognized them as value-add contributors who made a difference. Offer genuine praise liberally where it is due. And it doesn't have to be an annual bonus or an announcement in a company letter, often a simple thank you in an email or comment in the hallway is more personal and has more impact. This is a practice that should not be relegated to management but practiced by all.
  • 5. Mentor - challenge, inspire, motivate: A source of unhappiness is malaise, especially amongst intelligent people. Their own happiness whether they know it or not is from achievement. Challenge people to exceed their own expectations. Help them identify and articulate goals that are consistent with corporate goals for a win-win situation. Help people understand that it is as important for them to grow as individuals.
  • 7. Trust: Learn to delegate and trust. Trust is based on several things, you hired well, you are aware of the team skills and limitations and communicate well what the company value system and goals are. The goals are important so that right decisions are made to achieve them, the value system is important because it reflects how decisions are made and how those goals are achieved.
  • 8. Love: Sweat the little things to let people know you care. Be the one that unexpectedly brings in the donuts and coffee for an important meeting. Pitch up at 10pm with snacks during that late night burn. Give people a day off for working on the weekend. Or the personalized rose and chocolates to all the female employees on Valentine's Day. Be careful about doing the same thing with regularity, what was a wonderful surprise becomes an entitlement.
    Tough love comes when you sometimes have to let someone go because even in their own unhappiness they do not have the courage to make that difficult decision choosing rather to remain and poison the minds of those around them. As I said, happiness is a personal choice, you can only create condusive environments and opportunities that encourage it.
  • 9. Environment: Pay attention to where and how people work. The convenience of a coffee machine, clean washrooms, (even the classic foosball table soon to be replace by the Nintendo Wii), ample workspace. Encourage family photos, fluffy toys, superhero figurines. i.e. let people define a space they feel is theirs and they are happy to live in 8 hours a day. It should be their home away from home.
  • 10. Smile: Probably the most important catalyst of all. It is your secret weapon. Being upbeat, hopeful and determined regardless of circumstance. Each person has the enormous power of defining the mood of the company. That smile, seemingly insignificant, could mean the difference between a good or bad day for someone else.

Wow, it wasn't meant to be a long post but I guess I cared more about it than I thought. Some companies err in that they emotionally abuse their employees by being cold, calculating and uncaring while others fail because they perhaps they cared too much, making poor business decisions that would ultimately everyone anyway.

People get up and go to work because it is a combination of renumeration, respect, fulfillment, fun and achievement. Building the right value system and culture ensures that it is never left to one individual but it is the collective effort of all who choose to participate. Those who don't should leave the building.

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