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I'm convinced that company culture is critical to organizational success.
Over the last couple of years I’ve read and written a lot about the importance of building a company culture that fosters creative problem-solving, employee longevity, and greater employee productivity. Having started my small business career working with my father in his small industrial supply business over thirty years ago, he’s likely rolling over in his grave at some of my suggestions, but that facts are:
Although my Dad’s generation might not like these changes, I believe they have fostered a work environment where creativity and challenging the status quo have created products and technological advances that previous generations of workers would have never imagined. With that said, many business leaders still cling to some of the old notions of how to manage people while they claim to espouse the new workplace with open arms. With that in mind, let me suggest a few things that will help today’s business leaders (and that includes small business owners as well as enterprise executives) put their money where their mouth is.
Abandon Your Reliance on the Money for Time Contract with Your Workforce: My Dad was a real clock-watcher. He paid very close attention to when you came and when you left. If one of his employees was headed out the door at 5:00 pm, he would comment, “Have you got your track shoes on? You in a hurry to get out of here?”
It’s not like they were cutting out every afternoon at 3:00 or 4:00 pm. If that were the case, my Dad (and many just like him) would have thought that his employees were stealing from him. At the same time, those same “bosses” (Dad included) didn’t give a second thought to stealing an hour or two each day from their employees by expecting them to work late without paying them for it.
I once had a boss who said, “Ty, if you’re putting in eight hours a day you should probably think about putting in nine. If you’re putting in nine hours a day, you should probably think about putting in ten or eleven.”
Of course he wasn’t planning on paying me any more for the extra hours. That was over twenty years ago, have things changed?
I was in a meeting just a couple of years ago as the CEO of our company suggested, to be a good employee in his company putting in your eight hours every day wasn’t enough. He suggested that we should think about it, but maybe ten or eleven hours a day was more appropriate. I don’t work there anymore.
I’m glad I learned to work hard in the early days of my career. Today, my wife would claim that I am my father’s son (I’m not sure if that’s good or not).
Nevertheless, technology has created an atmosphere where the lines between work life and personal life are so blurred that many of my colleagues and I are addressing emails, answering phone calls, and otherwise working at night, on the weekends, and while on vacation. Because of that, I question whether or not it’s beneficial to castigate an employee who leaves a few minutes early at the end of the day, knowing that he or she will be dealing with work issues later in the evening or before they even get out of bed in the morning (I have to admit, the first thing I do every morning, as soon as my eyes open, is check my email).
At least for knowledge workers, the money for time contract just doesn’t work anymore. Let it go. Most of your employees are giving you more time than you’re paying for anyway.
Embrace the Idea of Allowing Your Employees to Work Remotely (When Appropriate): Over the last several years, I’ve worked with a number of colleagues in different locations around the country and the world. I’ve seen it work well, and I’ve seen it work not so well. Some employees do better working from home than others. However, there are some who do better working from home than in an office.
I worked with a Marketing VP one time who didn’t like the idea of anyone working remotely. He had a bad experience with a previous employee and consequentially a bad taste in his mouth. I can’t blame him, but working in an open (read noisy) office sometimes makes it difficult to concentrate. A quite place to work often makes it easier to get stuff done.
I think part of the reluctance is a reflection on the old money for time contract. “You can’t work from home, there’s no way I’ll be able to monitor whether or not you’re really “working” from home.”
If we looked more at objectives and accomplishments and cared less about how much time people put in, I don’t think we would care so much about whether or not people worked remotely. Of course, I work with a team where collaboration is a critical part of what we do every day, but there are days when I can get more work done in the quiet of my home office—so I do.
Flexibility is crucial if we really want to foster a work environment where people can creatively problem solve and people can be the most productive. I’ve met very few people who are looking for excuses to do a bad job. Most of my colleagues over the years are willing to do more than is asked to get the job done—regardless of the location.
Be Willing to Let Your Hair Down Once in a While: “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy” was something I learned as a boy. I understand that businesses pay their employees to work, not play. That’s why they call it work, right? However, I’ve found that if your people always have their nose to the grindstone you get their time, you get their consistent efforts, but that’s all you get.
We need more from our employees than their time. We need to leverage their experience, their expertise, and their smarts to create and invent the products and services that will allow us to compete more effectively with game-changing products and services that our customers can’t live without. Doing that requires a different approach.
My current CEO really wants to create a company culture where employees enjoy what they’re doing and are enabled to be creative and productive. Last week was a big college football rivalry week around here. There were a couple of days leading up to the big game that were less than productive when measured against the normal work week, but everyone in the office had a good time, we were able to let our hair down and enjoy a little camaraderie as friends. And, now that the game is over, we’re back at it.
I’ve known a number of business leaders who talked a good game (when it comes to company culture), but just didn’t deliver. All work and no play not only make Jack (and Jill) very boring; it doesn’t foster an atmosphere where they can contribute at the highest level.
The “Why” is More Important than Most People Recognize: “Do it because I told you to,” has never been a successful long-term strategy for building a culture where people are empowered to creatively problem solve, where employee longevity thrives, or where employees step up and perform at a higher level.
People want to be part of something bigger than themselves. Business leaders who can successfully articulate the vision of their companies (the why) are better able to create a culture where their people can buy in and meaningfully contribute. One of the reasons I work at Lendio is because I believe in the vision our CEO personally shared with me. For my colleagues and I, our company vision is important. I’ve observed this to be the case for many employees.
I’m convinced that company culture is critical to organizational success whether you’re the CEO of a multi-national corporation or the owner of the local hardware store. Additionally, your company culture is usually a reflection of your leadership. Culture and morale are things that come from the top. If you really believe that culture is important, you need to put your money where your mouth is.
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