Keys to a Great Corporate Culture: Improving Employee Engagement

Keys to a Great Corporate Culture: Improving Employee Engagement

Taunee Besson, CMF, Senior Columnist

For job seekers and managers alike, organizational culture is of greater importance than many people realize. If you’re looking for new opportunities, for example, would you want to work for company whose mission and values you don’t respect? And likewise when your responsibilities include nurturing a supportive environment for your employees, it’s vital that you know the ways to make your business a great place to work.

As a career management professional, I help clients identify the components that make up their ideal job, including both what they will be doing and the working conditions which would best support their efforts. It should come as no surprise that people find their company’s culture as important to their satisfaction as the actual job duties they perform. But what exactly makes a great working environment? In part one of our discussion on corporate culture, we’ll examine six key factors to look for when seeking out long-term job satisfaction:

  • State a clear mission, then live it daily
  • How many times have you been through a vision/mission/goals process where the recommendations are neatly tucked away in a large binder? Or, your mission is displayed prominently on plaques around the office and everyone pays lip service to it, but ignores it in day-to-day business. Perhaps a framed/glassed mission statement suddenly appears on the wall – neither you nor your employees had a role in creating it, nor any idea how to implement it. All of these scenarios chip away at morale and give associates the impression that their ideas and feedback aren’t important.

    The Dawson Group, whose mission statement is, “We will provide world class human resource services and have a life,” makes sure its employees and contractors take their mission seriously. Many of them telecommute, work part-time, flexible hours or volunteer at their children’s schools on weekdays. Kathy Dawson started her own business to flee from the 60-hour weeks and constant travel expected in corporate America. She and her fellow professionals reinforce an environment where people can work smart and lead balanced lives.

  • Develop a strategic plan that’s understood and embraced by all levels of the organization
  • An org chart du jour and a direction that changes with the weather breed both confusion and intellectual paralysis. People get tired of running in circles, and eventually decide to ignore management’s latest whim. Or they develop their own interpretations of what management wants, leading to conflict and chaos. If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.

    Vicki Henry, owner of Feedback Plus, has an open ledger policy for her employees. They can read the company’s financial statements any time they wish. Their compensation is based upon their work team’s and company’s performance vs. the annual goals and action plans they’ve collectively developed. Of course it may not be feasible for every company to have an open ledger policy, but it is important that, whatever the size of the organization, each employee knows where they are going and how they’re supposed to get there.

  • Show me a company with great communication, and I’ll show you a great company
  • Great leaders set a clear direction, then constantly reinforce it. They are masters at involving people at lower levels in the decision making process, because they know it encourages ownership of the results.

    Olivette Whipple is the Director of a call center that employs over 650 telecommunication specialists. Managers from companies around the world visit her center because it represents the venue at its best. What makes this center so special? The employees who work there designed it themselves. With management’s encouragement, they also take responsibility for making ongoing process improvements when they see a better way to get the job done.

  • Build a culture where everyone is part of the team
  • In a survey of 14 companies respected for their exceptional cultures, every one mentioned the need for teamwork among employees, departments, suppliers, customers and stockholders. When a CEO lays people off to increase his stock’s price, he’s making opponents out of people who should be teammates. When a purchasing manager strong-arms suppliers into slashing parts prices, she improves the short-term bottom line but incurs long-term resentment.

    The age of pitting one star performer against another is over, as today collaboration and cooperation rule. In the cutthroat environment of a down economy, who needs internal one-upsmanship?

    Interstate Batteries has intentionally developed a system to reward achievement based primarily on team performance. After a particularly stellar corporate performance, the CEO invited everyone to a spontaneous party, gave them the rest of the day off and handed out $50 bills to use as mad money on their mini-vacation.

  • Be flexible to change
  • The old cliché about change being the only constant is truer today than ever. These days, workers are looking for more flexible hours and continual training so they can improve their skill sets. With the implied contract between companies and employees no longer valid, companies must flex their policies to help employees feel secure, or risk creating an environment ruled by fear and that shuns innovation.

    Texas Instruments sold many of its defense and semiconductor business units to concentrate on digital signal processors. While pundits debunked its risky strategy, TI became the largest producer of DSPs in the world. The company has also ramped up diversity programs to take advantage of the backgrounds of its employees worldwide.

  • Have fun
  • When business reporters ask executives which companies’ cultures they most admire, Southwest Airlines is near the top of the list. This company thinks of more reasons to party than almost anyone, but they also party for a purpose. The recruiting department even once invited Southwest employees and their friends to a soiree at a small city airport where they were having difficulty filling positions. Result: they hired a lot of their employee’s friends for a cost per hire of $3.50 a head!

    The call center plays bingo on Mondays and Fridays. Winners get immediate cash or movie coupons of their choice. This innovative game increases their concentration, cuts absenteeism and long coffee breaks, and it’s fun. They even have free popcorn!

In the current economy, where job seekers are accepting positions below their qualification level and most employees are just happy to have a job, it’s easy to let the importance of a good corporate culture fall by the wayside. But be warned – as a job seeker, when you don’t where you work your performance often suffers, which harms you in the long run. And although at the moment managers can easily attract top talent, if they ignore the importance of a good working environment, they’re likely to see a spike in attrition the moment economic conditions improve.

Senior Columnist Taunee Besson, CMF, is president of Career
Dimensions, Inc., a consulting firm founded in 1979 that works with
individual and corporate clients in career transition, job search,
executive coaching, talent management and small business issues. She is
an award-winning columnist for and a best-selling
author of the Wall Street Journal's books on resumes and
cover letters. Her articles on a variety of career issues have
appeared on numerous career/job websites and trade and business
journals. Ms. Besson has been quoted numerous times in The Wall Street Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Business Week, Time, Smart Money, and a number of other websites and publications.

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