Three Steps Toward an Intentional Culture

by Doug Claffey

In my previous posts, I discussed the importance of being intentional about culture and taking the first step by measuring employee engagement. With this understanding and data in hand, you’re now ready to unlock the untapped potential of your organization.

The good news is that unleashing potential does not require a dramatic increase to pay, perks, or benefits. And it’s not about hiring and developing superstars. Sure, all of those can produce short-term results. But they’re expensive — and more importantly — not the most effective means.

From our research of tens of thousands of Top Workplaces, we’ve identified 15 culture drivers. We’ve also determined employee engagement increases when employees feel safe and connected to your organization. So, let’s start with the three essential steps that will help you craft a winning culture:

1. Take an employee-centric approach

What does that mean? With an employee-centric approach, management first considers the employees and how business decisions affect them.

Relationships are critical, including an employee’s five key relationships: with their work, their team, their manager, the organization, and finally, senior leadership.

Top Workplaces put employees at the center of all communications about business results and new initiatives. Employees hear news about the company before it hits the newsstands.

2. Build trust and connect at scale

Human beings are wired to perceive threats. In order to build a culture of trust, you must first remove the perception of threat and build a sense of inclusion. Employees need to feel safe in highlighting issues to senior leadership.

In smaller companies, leaders can be quite effective at building trust and communicating effectively. The challenge comes as the team grows to hundreds or thousands of employees.

Connecting at scale involves more than just sending additional emails or using Slack more extensively. More communication does not, in itself, result in employees feeling connected. Connecting at scale means having channels for open, two-way communication where employees feel safe and can form meaningful connections across the organization.

Top Workplaces incorporate a number of trust-building approaches when connecting at scale. For example:

Shared values: Values are clearly communicated and reinforced in all interactions. When values are well-known and enforced, employees trust each other to live those values.

Skip levels: Direct communication between upper-level managers and ground-level employees allow senior management to gain insights into the organization’s effectiveness, without filtering by middle management.

3. Adopt a coaching mindset

The relationship between employee and manager is critical. Top Workplaces develop that relationship using a coaching mindset.

Unfortunately, all too often we set up hurdles that keep managers from becoming truly successful. Managers get promoted for their technical competence, not their connection skills, and are left to figure out how to manage with little or no training. Oftentimes, the organization imposes highly structured performance assessment approaches that inhibit collaboration and create distrust.

Many organizations are rethinking their approach to promotions and reinventing the manager role. They are moving away from a supervisory focus and moving towards a coaching relationship in which the expectations are different. When adopting a coaching mindset, managers focus on getting the best match between employees’ skills and interests and the work to be done, while also mapping out the long-term development of members of their team.

Culture technology to the rescue

While practices such as town hall meetings, focus groups, and elaborate manager training often prove useful, they also require a great deal of time and expense. The process of developing an employee-centric focus, building trust, and adopting a coaching mindset can seem daunting and results take time.

Fortunately, culture technology provides very effective options that organizations can use instead of, or in tandem with, traditional approaches.

Unlike conventional approaches that tend to be very leadership-intensive, culture technology offers a scalable solution such that grows with your organization.

Successful organizations know the value of proactively managing culture. Engaged employees meet personal career goals while serving organizational needs. The three best practices discussed here will propel your organization to success, and culture technology can provide the necessary tools to help you reach your goal.