In Part 1 of our examination of corporate culture, we looked at ways that job seekers can tell if a company is a good place to work. From flexibility and a clear mission to just remembering to have a good time, the qualities discussed last week are key to creating a supportive workplace that employees love. But while fun and dynamism are attractive to most job seekers, they aren't the only elements that make for an ideal office. Candidates need to consider how much a prospective employer will help them develop new skills and advance their careers as well.
In today's tight employment market, as a job seeker it's tempting to simply jump at the first opportunity that comes your way. After all, the recent increase in available jobs is still being outpaced by rising unemployment, and who knows how long it will be until you'll get another offer? However while the lure of a steady paycheck may be hard to resist, it's important to consider how you want to your career to develop -- do you see yourself rising up in a company, acquiring new skills and improving your earning potential? If so, it's important to find an employer that doesn't just pay you twice a month, but also provides tools
and incentives to help you grow.
In Part 2 of our examination of good corporate culture, we highlight six things good companies do to help their employees build lasting, successful careers:
- Respect each individual and give everyone the opportunity to contribute
- Provide training, training and more training
- Catch people doing something right, then celebrate
- Shape an individual development plan to grow each employee
- Employees share in company profits
- Focus on customers
Theory X, where management assumes everyone is intrinsically lazy, has given way to Theory Y, where the company and its associates have mutual respect for one another. When management expects employees to do their best, allows them to develop their own work process, gives them flexibility and listens to their ideas, productivity soars. It's the Pygmalion Effect in action.
While older workers are used to toeing the company line, Gen Y employees are not. They expect to be treated as professionals who can make an important contribution. They are much more independent than their parents' generation and never think of themselves as "company men." To keep them productive, employers have to cede some power and give them the respect they expect.
Another characteristic of companies with great cultures is their commitment to offering employees the opportunity to continually improve their skills. While training to increase specific job skill proficiency is a part of the package, it's not the only type of training offered. Learning more about computer software, customer service, communication techniques, and other ancillary issues can improve productivity and save companies money down the line.
On-the-job training is important as well. People who are cross-trained to do more than one job, serve on a company-wide task force, act as project manager for an ad hoc program or mentor a fledgling teammate can add a new achievement to their resumes and become more valuable to their employer at the same time.
Reward systems are vital to promoting a great culture. The Imprimis Group, a consortium of temporary agencies based in Dallas, rings a bell every time someone gets a job order during a phone-athon, and rewards the winner with a Starbucks gift card. Feedback Plus gives Plus-bucks to its employees on an impromptu basis when they catch them doing something right. Then they auction prizes paid for with the Plus-bucks.
Interstate Batteries "loves to give things away." They have a Crystal Award Luncheon every quarter to honor employees who have made outstanding contributions to the company. The company gives out t-shirts and movie certificates for good deeds, and runs regular promotions to reward team effort.
Several companies mentioned this practice as one that attracts and keeps great employees, because it says the organization values them and is willing to spend time and money to help them grow. While this process takes time to plan and implement, both the corporation and its associates gain tremendous benefit from it.
So often we read in the Wall Street Journal or Business Week about the size of executive compensation packages and how they keep growing, often even as companies are on the financial brink. However many companies that aren't asking for bailouts provide stock options or profit-sharing plans to all their employees, usually based upon team and company performance. Employee ownership is a powerful incentive to improve productivity, and more importantly acknowledges the important contributions made by everyone on the payroll.
A company with a great culture isn't in business primarily to make money. Its main goal is providing outstanding products and superb customer service. Southwest Airlines particularly prides itself on its quick turnaround time at the gate, its exceptional record for on time arrivals, and its unusually low incidence of lost luggage. It has a tradition of getting the job done.
Nordstroms has built its culture on war stories that illustrate customer service far beyond the call of duty. One of the reasons the chain has been successful is the trust it places in each store employee to make decisions. Instead of having to find a manager to deal with an unusual situation, the sales associate is empowered to handle it himself. Consequently, the customer, the sales person and the store all benefit from the immediate resolution of the problem and the long-term relationship it nurtures.
In an era of layoffs and cost-cutting, many jobs increasingly feel like temporary positions that employees will leave as soon as something better comes along. But for those who aspire to more than just hopping from job to job, finding a company that helps you develop and grow can pay dividends for the rest of your career.