Workplaces are made up of much more than walls, inventory, and employees. They are living entities with their own unique personalities. Like snowflakes and fingerprints, no two offices, shops, or dealerships are the same.
Unlike snowflakes and fingerprints, however, a workplace culture doesn’t just happen. It has to be conceived and meticulously nurtured. With careful tending, a company culture can be created where employees are productive, content, and contributing to corporate profitability.
“It’s a new generation, it’s a new aftermarket. Building a strong and positive culture within your business retains and attracts the best people in the industry and builds a great bottom line to the company,” says Bob Greenwood, president and CEO of the Automotive Aftermarket E-Learning Centre Ltd., in Surrey, B.C.
Strong and successful corporate cultures start with an emphasis on employees, notes Rob Henderson, president and CEO of BioTalent Canada, a national human resources non-profit based in Ottawa. “If you manage people, you really have only one job, and that is to keep them happy. The happier the employee, the more productive they will be.”
According to the Canada Human Resources Centre, about 60 per cent of employees are not engaged at work… and unhappy workers cost the North American business economy over $350 billion a year in lost productivity.
Job satisfaction can be an elusive goal. A comprehensive 2016 workforce study conducted by Hays Canada found that 47 per cent of Canadian professionals are unhappy in their current job. Retail employees reported the highest incidence of unhappiness at work. Just 33 per cent of those employees said they are ‘somewhat’ to ‘very’ happy.
Turning dissatisfaction into satisfaction – and increasing productivity and creativity in the process – starts with a shared purpose. It’s critical to have a common vision that everyone understands, says Greenwood.
“You buy into a concept to keep a job, but when you believe in a concept, you want to be part of it and contribute to achieving it,” he says.
Creating a collective purpose goes beyond uploading a vision statement to your website or plopping a poster on the fridge door in the staff kitchen. “Purpose today is about finding meaning in what [you are] doing,” notes Bryan Benjamin, vice-president of organization performance with the Conference Board of Canada in Ottawa. “You need a well-articulated strategy about where the company is going.”
That connection involves understanding the significance of their work – and feeling appreciated. “You don’t feel you belong in a company if you’re not given individual attention and feel like you’re being groomed to do a better job,”says Henderson.
The Canada Business Network defines corporate culture as the attitude of the people who make up the business, reflected in their values, behaviours, and ideas. According to the federal government’s small business support agency, a healthy culture enables your workforce to see the big picture and feel like they’re part of that vision. Building a strong organizational culture is more than simply enjoying a pleasant atmosphere on the job. The goal is to influence employees in a positive way so that they’ll strive to improve performance and productivity.
A formal strategy is one element in creating your corporate culture. It’s an important starting point, says Benjamin, but it will not resonate with employees at all levels. Strategy lives and breathes primarily with senior leadership, but it needs to touch all employees. Ultimately managers and supervisors are the ones who will make the strategy come to life for front-line staff.
Communications will help you develop and maintain the corporate culture you want, but the dialogue must be ongoing. “The frequency with which we communicate has to be greater than ever,” stresses Benjamin. “Staff need to be continually communicated with – not to.”
This is not a one-way flow of information, he adds. “[Employees] need to be engaged. Invite input. Give people a chance to be a part [of the company].”
The most successful corporate cultures bolsters the organization and those who work there. Henderson uses Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as an example of how companies can meet employee needs at all levels. The most basic need in the five-tier model – a cornerstone of motivational theory – is physiological needs. For companies, this translates into appropriate compensation.
“You don’t get productive employees if they can’t afford to live,” says Henderson.
The top two rungs in the ladder – esteem and self-actualization – are the levels at which many companies today are operating and creating a thriving corporate culture.
Esteem is about recognition and reward for a job well done. This can involve everything from incentive programs to contests to employee of the month awards. “You’d be surprised at the psychological benefits this reaps,” says Henderson.
Indeed, a survey conducted by the Toronto-based employee engagement firm Achievers revealed that for more than 1,700 respondents, recognition and rewards impact their decision to stay with their current employer or look for new employment. More than half surveyed said they plan to seek new jobs this year, with more than one-quarter citing a lack of recognition for their efforts by their current employer as driving their decision.
“Today’s staff wants to be part of the business; they want to know they count in the business, respected and are appreciated,” says Greenwood. “This is why ongoing and open communication is so important. Gone are the days of ‘Just do what I tell you.’”
Employees also want to work for a company that looks beyond itself and encourages its people to do the same. In practical terms, the final step in Maslow’s hierarchy, self-actualization, is about giving back, espousing values, and striving to live up to those values. It’s about more than just the bottom line.
Those values have to be more than paper thin. Leaders need to be seen and they need to be seen to mirror the ideals, goals, and vision of the company. “It has to be championed,” says Henderson. “People will take their cue from the CEO.”
If you’re unsure how healthy your company culture is, take its temperature, recommends the Canada Business Network. Do staff arrive and leave right on time? Do they take longer lunches and breaks? Do they opt not to attend company events? These are all signs of disengagement. “Fulfilled people like to come to work. Fulfilled people don’t max out their sick days. They don’t take stress leave,” says Henderson.
Traditional measures of healthy corporate cultures also include revenue, profit margins, and customer satisfaction. Contemporary measures go beyond this to uncover if there is a shared understanding and commitment about what the company stands for. This is often reflected in the beliefs, stories and experiences that employees share and pass along. They become part of the fabric of the firm.
Weaving the threads of the corporate culture that best fits your company is not an overnight exercise. “It must be ongoing,” says Benjamin.
Lip service to a unified and cohesive culture, he cautions, will fall on deaf ears.
According to the Canada Human Resources Centre, a national staffing and employment firm, the silence is deafening at many companies across the country. The Centre’s most recent Employee Engagement Index found that 60 per cent of employees are not engaged, and 15 per cent are actively disengaged at work. Only 25 per cent are actively immersed in their job.
For companies, this lack of engagement will ultimately come down to dollars and cents. The Centre notes that unhappy workers cost the North American business economy well over $350 billion a year in lost productivity.
To improve performance and enhance job satisfaction, successful companies focus on their employees, equipping them with the skills, knowledge and insight they need to feel important, connected and relevant. They build a culture around that engagement.
“If your people are not a factor in your success, they are a factor in your lack of it,” says Henderson. “There is no middle ground.”
donalee Moulton is a freelance writer based in Nova Scotia.