Two separate studies were conducted by Google and the Royal Bank of Canada to determine what traits make for a good boss versus average or even bad boss. Here is what they discovered….
How many great bosses have you had in your career? For me, two stand out. One was with a job I hated, the other was with a job I loved. One was male, the other female. One was a lot like me, the other not like me at all….except maybe for our sense of humor. One was stubborn and feared by some in the organization. The other was the friendliest person you’ve ever met, quick to put others at ease. So, how is it that I would find these two VERY DIFFERENT people equally great? Had I changed over time? There were about ten years between these two bosses after all. I’ve worked with many great people but what made these two bosses great? There is no shortage of research on leadership; however two of my favorite studies were performed by Google (2008, then updated in 2018) and Royal Bank of Canada (RBC, 2011-2013) in separate attempts to determine what makes manager good?
What does a good boss look like?
Do you know a good manager when you see one? Based on the findings of both RBC and Google, not at first glance. Both studies report good manager traits having little to do with what the manager does, but how and why they do it. Micro-managing determined highly ineffective by both groups, suggesting a good manager’s day revolves more around strategy and developing or coaching employees; however nearly all other findings relate to how a good manager engages with employees. Being genuine and showing an interest in both personal and professional well-being for employees rate high on both lists suggesting empathy for others and authenticity are essential in making employees feel valuable. Today this should be no surprise. In 2017, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy wrote about the impact loneliness is having on the workplace. A person with a poor network of friends and family, lacking support needed to push through this epidemic of loneliness in most cases will still need to work, making work perhaps their only opportunity to feel connected. If true, doesn’t it only make sense employees respond positively to managers that seem invested in the employee’s personal journey? Look over the list provided here. How many listed traits do your top managers possess? More importantly, do you feel your under-performing managers can learn the traits and behaviors necessary to be more effective? Can a manager learn to be empathetic and genuine?
Why it matters
Google’s parent company, Alphabet, employs more than 107,000 people worldwide. The company owns more than 88% of search engine market share and is in the race to join the highly exclusive $1 trillion dollar list. RBC employs 80,000 people, and with 1.28 trillion dollars in assets is the biggest bank in Canada and the 11th biggest bank in the world. They look for ways to excel, commit to a solution, and go ALL IN. Google and RBC’s choice to independently research their own management practices that were proving to be effective versus ineffective and build their teams and leaders on these principles is no accident. This research, although beneficial to many, was not done for humanitarian reasons. Good managers drive success. In a study, employees working for a manager identified as average when changed to a manager identified as highly effective, increased productivity by 50%! Good bosses also have lower employee turnover and themselves also stay with companies longer than bad managers. It’s important to note, the 2008 Google study was only after Google surveyed their own engineers to determine whether managers were at all necessary within their organization. It was perhaps this initial project that led them to realize that a good boss is highly valuable whereas a bad boss is actually worse than no boss at all.
I stay in touch with each of my former managers. I trust that I can call either of them today and they will still take time out of their busy schedules to help me. I don’t know what their relationships were like with my peers or other leaders within our former organizations although I suspect those relationships were positive. It was perhaps a year ago that one of them reached out to me in need of a favor. I stopped everything I was doing and immediately jumped at the chance to help my former boss and friend. It was no different when I worked for these individuals. I cared as much about their success as I did my own. That’s the thing about a great boss – their fingerprints from pushing you forward, catching you when you fall….are EVERYWHERE in your life! A great boss changes your life, But because it’s authentic and they genuinely care and love their jobs, it happens so naturally and organically. Only in hindsight do you look back and wonder….were they working for me or was I working for them?
What do you rely on most in your world? Water? Your smartphone? Coffee? Okay, clearly these are my go-tos but whatever you find critical to your day-to-day routine, one thing holds true, all of those things are marketed, heavily. TV and radio commercials, ads in our online publications and Google searches….our favorite celebrities and influencers posting and blogging about them….ALL methods of marketing the importance of products that we already hold valuable. And although life without these things may seem unimaginable today, it’s likely you decided this to be the case only after they were first marketed to you. Marketing strategies identify, articulate, and some may argue create, consumer needs aligning those needs to specific products and services. Now consider this, how important is employee buy-in to your workplace? Enter the case for internal marketing.
Have you ever introduced a benefit plan that everyone hates? Or perhaps you’ve rolled out a new commission plan to a sales reps who feel commission payouts are unattainable? If you’ve ever had the unfortunate experience of leading a company change where employees were not bought in, you’ve learned the hard way that without buy-in, successful implementation is a mere pipedream. As consumers and employees make decisions and choices not on logic but on emotions and psychology. Just as a good product or service is not enough to ensure high market share, a great workplace is not enough to attract and retain valuable employees. Without marketing highlighting why our products, services, and workplaces are great – people fail to remember, and the magic is lost. Here are some internal marketing ideas to enhance your company culture that generate a return on your investment (in people).
1. Why you?
What drives customers to choose you over competitors? Why do employees choose your company over any other? If you’re having difficulty answering the second question with as much confidence as you answered the first, don’t feel bad as this is the case with most leaders I meet with. Many have responses like “we offer a great benefits package” or “we pay top dollar”. When challenged however, reasons just don’t hold up. So, give pause to the question of why employees choose your company because the answer is important. The answer should serve as the foundation to every employee initiative – recruiting, onboarding, retention, and so on. Why people choose you as their employer reflects what your employees value most. How well you deliver on this value ultimately determines how happy, engaged, satisfied, and successful your employees are. You meet with employees individually to discuss why they choose you. Because it can be a complex answer, one-on-one discussions can provide great insights. Because anonymity can lead to more honest answers however, you may instead prefer to use an employee survey to solicit a variety of responses. Regardless of the method you choose, asking is critical.
2. Your vibe attracts your tribe.
Knowing why your most valued employees choose you is the most important piece of information a leader can have. A close second is how to communicate this message. When recruiting for an open position for example – it’s important to know what speaks to your tribe. Where do they look for jobs? Are they even looking? What about the job and your company’s culture is of interest to the “right” employees (“right” meaning having shared values with others in the company as well as the skills and experience necessary to perform the duties of the position). This year for the first time since recorded, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported more open jobs than unemployed workers to fill them. This means employers must actively attract candidates to fill their open positions – no more relying solely on unemployed workers actively looking for jobs. When competition is high – marketing will often determine the winner. Like never before, it’s important for employers to market their employer brand. This is different than marketing your brand to end users and consumers. An employer brand comes back to why you (as an employer)? Passive candidates, because they are by definition not actively looking for jobs, require more from recruiting than just posting openings to a job board. They are not looking for you. Like marketers find consumers, employers must instead target and source candidates the candidates they want to hire. And because educated candidates, like educated consumers, tend to be more valuable – get your online (employer) brand together. What are current and former employees saying about working for you on review boards such as Glassdoor and Indeed? How does your website’s careers page reflect your culture and employee experience? The goal is not to have the most robust or most beautiful online representation. Your goal is to have the most accurate online employer brand representation – because that is the one that will attract your tribe.
3. Fake begets fake.
Speaking of accuracy….have you ever hired someone with the perfect resume followed by the perfect interview only to realize that it was all BS?! That guy was never the top sales rep with his previous company! Just days into the job it was evident he never sold anything in his life (oh – except he sold you on giving him the job – ouch!). Take a look at your hiring process. Is it genuine? If you’re attracting candidates who seem too good to be true only to later disappointed when they prove to be, assess how authenticity is tested in your recruiting and hiring process. Why employees choose you is just as important and why those who don’t belong in your company don’t choose you. You cannot successfully be all things to all people. So, own who your company is….and isn’t. If you don’t believe in employees to work remotely, make it known early in your recruiting process. If you choose to offer only one medical plan because it affords you lower premiums and makes it more affordable for all employees to cover at least themselves (rather than more coverage to less employees), say so! An authentic message is not appealing to everyone. With authentic messaging we appeal to desired candidates and simultaneously repel those who would not be successful with our company. Open jobs can be costly to a business, but the wrong hire, catastrophic. Take time on the front end to articulate who your company is, what the culture is really like, what your employee experience has to offer. When it comes to recruiting, quality trumps quantity ever time.
4. Consistency counts
A friend of mine works for Charles Schwab. One day she was telling me how she was butting heads with another leader of an internal team on a project. Then as if by magic, her frustration seemed to vanish and she said, “but we resolved it once we stepped back to consider what was best through the clients’ eyes”. What the heck was she talking about? I asked her to explain – and she did. She told me this phrase is what most Schwab employees use to settle disagreements and make decisions. I couldn’t believe it. Charles Schwab employs nearly 20,000 people and this one simple phrase allows team members to solve problems, for the most part, consistently. Consistent messaging sticks. We as humans, appreciate knowing what to expect because it allows us to and predict benefits and consequences and ultimately make what we consider to be better choices. Marketing has long time realized this concept with what they refer to as “the rule of seven”. The rule of seven suggests people need to be exposed to a message at least seven times before they remember it. While unsure there is any true science showing seven to be a magic number, I can say that many companies I meet with struggle to communicate with enough frequency and consistency to resonate with employees. One of the attributes of the employee experience we at Culture Engineered test on is communication. Of the ten attributes we test on, the communication attribute shows challenging to most companies, regardless of industry, size, or structure (flat versus hierarchical). What we often find is that communication itself is not bad. It’s just not done consistently or frequently enough. One of the best ways we’ve found to resolve the communication issues in the workplace is to start all corresponding communications with the phrase, “because you asked for more effective communication, we’d like to announce (insert initiative)”. This phrasing helps align a changed way of communicating in response to employee feedback and also helps make messaging sound more consistent. Leaders are usually resistant at first, fearing employees will feel they’re repeating themselves. In three nearly three years we’ve been using this approach to resolve communication issues, we’ve not received even one employee response suggesting we’re over communicating.
5. Engage your superfans
What product or service are you in love with? For me, it’s our vet Dr. Mangone. We foster dogs, specifically senior dogs. I’ve had dogs all of my adult life and am known to take in strays fairly frequently. Most need some sort of medical attention. Until just two years ago, I had with me my Dingo mix dog, Caleb, a rescue I took in when I was in college. He lived to be 17 years old and our vet cried with us when Caleb took his last breath. If our vet treated people, I’d be a lot better about going to him as my doctor. I sing his praises to others constantly and have referred fellow animal lovers to him. I am a superfan when it comes to our vet – promoting him more confidently and convincingly than perhaps any ad or paid advertisement ever could. Who are your superfans that work within your company? A few weeks ago I visited a well-known tech company here in the valley. While they’re recognized as a tech success story here in the Phoenix-metro community, they’re also notoriously known for laying off employees annually during the holidays, despite healthy financials. The tech community in Phoenix is a close community – so when companies with healthy profits routinely and systematically layoff the employees who helped the company to be a success, word travels quickly. During my visit however the woman showing me around their campus beamed. Telling me stories of the team coming together to earn bigger bonus payouts and giggling proudly as she divulged the company has a $15K per month allowance for sugary employee snacks, she seemed oblivious to how insensitive this seemed to the outside world. To me, an outsider, it was nauseating. Don’t get me wrong, layoffs happen and unfortunately I’ve been on both sides of that unpleasant situation – but to scale only to later layoff employees recklessly and in the same breath preach company culture and loyalty is disgusting. Remembering the countless conversations with developers I’d had over the years who once dreamed of working for this company only to later be tossed aside without reason, her admiration for the company made me feel like I was in an alternate universe. But then I realized, she’s a superfan. I of course do not condone the reckless practices of this company nor am I encouraging the use of manipulation to mask unethical practices. I do however have a question for the leaders running ethical and honest businesses out there, what would happen if you nurtured your superfan employee relationships? Are you inviting them to collaborate on employee/culture initiatives with you? At Culture Engineered, we’ve found the key to articulating and driving a company’s employee experience is the Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS). While our survey is anonymous, we are able to deconstruct the employee experience with this metric and determine what of the ten attributes of the employee experience are driving that employee experience to be positive. High eNPS scores are the marks of your superfans. Because of the high correlation with high eNPS scores, employee satisfaction, and performance, it’s important to understand what about your employee experience resonates and inspires your superfans. These are your advocates….your key employees….drivers…stars….whatever term you prefer, they are as passionate about your company’s success as they are about their own success. Today, identify them if you haven’t already done so. Learn what makes them so dang into your business and invest in those aspects of your employee experience. Not only will you make them even bigger advocates than they were even before, but you will attract more by focusing on creating the experience that the “right” employees value most.
We need to realize that internal marketing is only manipulative when we fail to be honest, ethical, or authentic. It isn’t enough to invest in making our workplaces great – we also need to ask what our employees appreciate and commit to making what employees value a priority. Great leaders and companies invest a lot of time, money, and energy into making the employee experience satisfying and rewarding. But if we’re not sharing with employees our intention to make them feel more valued, and instead allow them to assume our great culture happened by chance, we’re missing the opportunity to show them how important they are to us. We as leaders will fail. We will mess up. Sometimes we will be forced to make difficult decisions that employees don’t fully understand. Be transparent and open with your intentions when you can. This in itself has a huge impact on employee perceptions and feelings about their work – arguably more so than most bonus plans or costly perks. Today – start incorporating these basic marketing principles into your employee interactions and initiatives and be amazed at how quickly and positively employees will respond.
There are two reasons an employee fails to meet reasonable employer expectations – either they can’t or they won’t. Falling short of expectations is often assessed through the lens of skill or will. When the employee is trying but lacks the knowledge or experience needed to succeed in his/her role (skill issue), the solution is most commonly solved with training, coaching, better systems or access to resources, or sometimes mentoring. Managing difficult employees, employees that are not trying however (will issue), is a much bigger challenge.
Behavioral issues are often misdiagnosed as skill/performance issues and therefore often go unresolved. This is especially unfortunate as these behavioral issues can be incredibly damaging to a company’s culture and success. Some of the most common workplace behavioral issues are:
Excessive absenteeism or tardiness (when not as part of an accommodation)
There are two reasons behavioral issues are more difficult, 1) inexperienced leaders, and 2) employee actor-observer bias.
Perhaps the hardest lesson learned in managing and leading people is that we all perceive, think about, and value things differently. It’s easy to say, but when leading a team of conflicting personalities and priorities to achieve a common goal – the leadership can seem overwhelming. Diagnosing why a person with the desire to succeed isn’t, is a tactical diagnosis. An employee wants to get more sales, has a great attitude, works hard, and asks for help – it doesn’t take a lot of experience to recognize he needs training. He’s putting the work in but needs help turning activity into sales. What about the salesperson that isn’t “working hard”? She previously hit her quota every month – but her sales have declined steadily over the last few months. Is she calling out sick all the time? Is she showing up late? Leaving early? When at work – is she working effectively or talking with co-workers and tending more to her social media accounts than customers. Is she selling to fewer people, closing smaller deals, or both? She has shown she can do the job, but somewhere along the line stopped. Why? This is a harder problem to solve because it requires insight, empathy, and a genuine desire to understand. Generally, these are leadership qualities developed with experience. It’s by managing and leading people that you develop the confidence and self-awareness needed to step outside of your own head willing to look at a situation from the perspective of another. Good people make bad choices all of the time. Many inexperienced managers assume the person “doesn’t care” or simply “has a bad attitude”. A leader I worked with in the past would respond to managers complaints about an employee by asking the manager, “was the employee bad when you hired him or did you make him bad?”. If you want employees to understand the “why” behind your company’s purpose, you need to understand their why as well. Why do they choose to work hard? Why do they sometimes choose not to? You can discipline them, you can warn them, you can suspend them, but nothing serves as a solution to a behavioral problem unless you first understand the why behind it. Why did they stop caring? That’s the first step on the path to a solution. Most employees can regain their love and passion to succeed in their role. First though – we as leaders NEED to ask what caused it to be lost in the first place.
The actor-observer bias at work
The actor-observer bias is one of several attribution biases, concepts used in social psychology to describe irrational patterns in how we view our own behaviors and interpret behaviors of others. The term refers to our tendency to attribute our own behaviors to situational factors while attributing behaviors of others to internal factors. Put simply, we see our behaviors as a reflection of a situation but perceive others behave a certain way because that’s who they are. This bias causes behavioral problems to surface in two ways, 1) biased employees see their decisions and behaviors as the only option, rather than a choice, and 2) biased employees subscribe to the idea that only bad people do bad things. Because someone doesn’t see himself as bad a person, he is incapable of doing bad things and as such, his behaviors are justified. Think of an employee who is frequently late or absent. Does she always have a reason? Does she seem to feel you too should excuse her absence –as though she had no choice but to be late or miss the day? A person harassing others, although clearly a more serious offense, often does not recognize himself as a harasser. Because the person doing the harassing believes the person he is harassing either wants or deserves the unwanted attention, he typically feels his behavior is justified. Ironically, the harasser is often the most offended by harassing behavior demonstrated by others, seeing other harassers as bad people rather than people engaging in harassing behavior (2 Reasons Your Harassment Training is Failing). Research suggests this bias occurs less often with people we know well – most likely due to exposure. We see ourselves, behaviors, and decisions as a reflection of situations and the more familiar we are with situations faced by others, the more we recognize that most of us are neither all good nor all bad. Self-awareness allows us to see ourselves objectively, recognizing the impact our decisions have on others – and that every decision is a choice. So, next time you’re forced to address an employee’s excessive absences or tardiness, ask him, “do you feel that everyone else that makes it in on time for work has it easy? Do you feel they do not have extenuating circumstances that they must manage in order to get to work?” This question can be a game changer in addressing similar behavioral issues. With more serious behaviors like harassing others or insubordination, it’s important to focus on how the employee’s behavior impacts others – and how the behavior is not in line with the company’s values or culture. When behavior issues are deliberate such as theft, fraud, or harassing behavior that’s hostile, manipulative, or calculated, it is very unlikely the leopard will change his spots. There is always a chance that a person engaging in scheming and cunning behavior will change for the better; however, this is a decision she will make on her own. No punishment, threat, or training will change the behavior and in many situations the person will only use warnings to behave poorly in a more conspicuous way. It is up to each company and leader to find the right balance of forgiveness and accountability. People will make mistakes and poor choices – to what extent you, as a leader, are willing to accept the harm those mistakes and poor choices brings to you, your company, and employees, is a choice you must make.
It would be great if we all just got it. If we all saw our behaviors and decisions as choices and possessed the self-awareness to see how we impact others. The reality is, we are flawed. There is no such thing as a perfect person and therefore cannot be a perfect employee, or leader. A successful workplace culture isn’t about perfection. A successful culture is about a group of unique individuals coming together to achieve a common purpose. So the key is establishing a common set of values and then communicating, upholding, and delivering on those values relentlessly – addressing when actions or behaviors deviate from what benefits the group, as a whole, or their collective purpose. Strong and healthy workplaces have behavioral issues. They only differ from toxic workplaces in how leaders respond to those issues. Address the behaviors harming your company’s culture today because it’s the only way you will ever achieve your purpose.
Watch our tutorial on how to address employee behavioral issues here.
What is the one thing worse than having an employee fail to meet your expectations? Talking with that employee about it – that is worse. It’s uncomfortable. Today one of the most common issues plaguing workplaces is our unwillingness, or in some cases unfamiliarity, of having difficult discussions. These discussions, when done well however, elevate a business. When talking about performance issues with employees, there are seven key components that make it an effective conversation.
7 Tips to Navigating Employee Performance Discussions
A Gallup study shows employees are largely dissatisfied with both the amount and accuracy of the feedback they receive from their manager. While historically performance discussions were limited to annual reviews, recent trends lean toward more frequent conversations such as biweekly or monthly. Whether annually or biweekly, there are steps every leader should take to ensure it’s a quality conversation.
Determine whether it’s a trend, indicating a performance issue or an isolated incident.
Particularly if you subscribe to less frequent performance discussions, it’s important to address trends differently than isolated incidents. While isolated incidents can be damaging to companies and frustrating to managers, they do happen, to all of us. When talking with an employee about an isolated incidentfocus the discussion on how to avoid the situation from reoccurring. When discussing trends, work with the employee to identify what skill or knowledge gap is causing the ongoing issue.
While there may be times you choose to have a third-party present, meetings should take place in a quiet, private setting so as to respect the dignity for the employee. Performance conversations are humbling. The two worst things to bring into a performance discussion are a big ego and a chip on your shoulder – and they tend to accompany public shaming. Leave the praising to public settings.
Sometimes an employee may not recognize the impact her performance issues have on the business. It’s therefore important to express your observations from a place of concern rather than frustration. If you really believe a person is intentionally coming to work each day to do a bad job, you have a “will” issue, not a skill issue.
Ask, don’t tell.
You may be an expert on the operational process or role but we as self-aware individuals are the experts of our own thoughts and behaviors. So even if you believe you know what the employee is struggling with, it’s better to ask the employee why he is struggling rather than diagnose. If Joe is not meeting sales goals, ask him why. But keep him honest. If Joe says he’s just having a tough month and he’s actually having his sixth consecutive tough month, respectfully remind him. Hold him accountable to his own behavior and self-awareness.
Collaborate on a solution.
Both you as the leader, and the employee should want the same thing – success. When the employee is successful, you’re one-step closer to a successful company. Performance discussions often become combative, which makes no sense whatsoever. A leader doesn’t ask an underperforming employee why she is struggling to corner her. A leader asks for the employee’s insight to empower her, a critical first step on the path of improvement. You, as the leader, should push back on phony, surface-level reasons given by the employee such as “just having a bad month”. This is not to be confrontational, but because you are genuinely interested in helping the employee develop professionally, and overcome challenges contributing to her poor performance.
Get buy-in by asking about concerns.
We all love to have people agree with us – but in situations like performance discussions, it’s a bad sign. Bad habits and skill gaps do not happen accidentally. Gaps worsen over time because we dislike or undervalue the importance of overcoming them. So, because conquering performance issues often requires hard work on the part of the employee (training, practicing, stepping out of his/her comfort zone, etc), it’s only natural that the employee will have some anxiety about the process. Yes, natural. A person telling you what you want to hear, a “yes man”, doesn’t bother to consider concerns. A yes man is simply looking to appease you, putting an end to the conversation. If the employee doesn’t express concerns, do it for him. Ask him, in a variety of ways about how he will handle potential setbacks. If you and the employee decide training will resolve the performance issue, ask what concerns the employee has about adding training to his already heavy workload. “Do you feel 2-3 hours of training each week is doable given your upcoming projects and deadlines?” Failing to plan is planning to fail, so work with the employee to resolve conflicts proactively. This too is an important part of earning an employee’s trust that you, as their leader, care about their success.
So, you have a great discussion, identify what is needed to resolve the issue and the issue seems to resolve itself! Wrong. Its the employee who worked to resolve the issue. I guarantee, no matter who the employee is, she is waiting for you, their leader, to acknowledge it. The same can be said for when the issue continues although the waiting is coupled with anxiety. Set a reminder in your phone, calendar, or schedule a meeting to revisit with the employee. Recognize the employee’s efforts when the issue is resolved. If the performance issue persists, assess why the solution you and the employee developed failed to resolve the problem. Without the follow up, regardless of the outcome, the performance discussion you had with the employee is a failure. She may be a better performer, but without the follow-up, the perception is, you only care about the business, not the individuals within it. It’s a fair-weather relationship, at best when a leader fails to recognize the collective “employees” as individuals.
Yes, it’s work. Yes, it would be great if employees just knew how to improve without these awkward interactions. But, we as people are complex. Think of someone that took the time to help you to become better. Was he genuinely concerned about your well-being or were his motives self-serving? Was she there to celebrate with you when you succeeded? Relationships take work and, like anything, it’s the things we work on that hold value. Have the difficult performance discussion today and start holding your people accountable to their greater self. A good performance discussion reminds us of what we’re capable of becoming.
How do people respond when you say diversity? If you’re getting eye rolls and long sighs when bringing it up at the office, know this….it’s not them, it’s you.
Only 9% of the population rejects diversity. Because HR and employment attorneys have historically misused this term, workplaces are now desensitized. We’ve long known the advantage true diversity plays in a company’s success. Better results, start with better discussions. Immediately increase the role of diversity in your workplace by eliminating these two words: should and required.
Stop “shoulding” on everyone
There are a lot of things in life we should do. We should…eat healthier. We should…..drink less caffeine. We should….save more for retirement. But, what we actually do is much different. We eat (too much) pizza, cake, ice cream. We treat ourselves to sugary and expensive Starbucks. When someone tells us what we “should” do…..we hate it. “Should” is loaded with judgment and invokes the feeling of being judged. When discussing diversity, instead use words like need, must, critical, vital, and essential. Truthfully, these words are more accurate. Data shows with diversity comes better company performance. Research by McKinsey & Company in 2014 and 2017 attributes diversity to higher profitability. A 2017 study by the Boston Consulting Group found a correlation between diversity and innovation. The Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Index by Thomson Reuters, published annually since 2016 also provides similar insights. Even still, this research does not do the topic of diversity justice. The term diversity is not unique to workplace culture. We talk about diversity in science, finance, and even agriculture. There is a common theme, diversity is a function of survival. Without diversity, extinction and failure are inevitable. Diverse perceptions, skills, and ideas drive success for any company. When talking about diversity in your workplace, are you using the word should, implying it’s a nice thing to do and about keeping up appearances? Or are you talking about diversity as we know it to be….the key to survival?
“Requirement”……code for something you HAVE TO do.
Why do you pay taxes? Most of us pay taxes because we have to. Most of us also don’t see much value in paying taxes. This is no coincidence. When we only talk about the legal requirements and risks of not incorporating diversity, we devalue the concept. We’ve made diversity an obligation. From a compliance perspective, we’re typically talking about protected classes under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act when we talk about diversity. While ensuring protected classes are not underrepresented in your company is important, diversity does not stop there. Embracing true diversity is to appreciate differences in others – understanding that varying perceptions within a team makes the team stronger. While demographic information may play a part in our experiences and as result perceptions, to say that an entire demographic group has identical experiences and perceptions is ridiculous. The more variety we have in interests, backgrounds, education, experiences, and passions around us – the more perceptions we have to make our group stronger (than any one of us alone). This is the true strength that comes from diversity. It is not about “looking” like you’re committed to diversity. It’s about utilizing our differences (in perceptions and skills) to offset one another’s weaknesses, creating collaboratively for a common purpose. Diversity is synonymous with healthy – so the healthier your company goals and values, the more diversity you will attract. The more you commit to true diversity, the more valuable your goals, purpose, and company. Diversity can be hard to manage because you are deliberately seeking out others to challenge ideas and groupthink. The reason diversity is more challenging to manage however is the same reason it makes a group stronger. The outside world is diverse. A diverse company understands the importance of reflecting the variety of the market they serve. What fails to survive within a diverse company will fail to survive outside of it. Uniform companies made up of biased, like-people lack this advantage. Concepts and ideas pass easily in a like-minded group – but fail when tested in the diverse market of consumers.
Next time you are with your team, look to your left and look to your right. How different are they from you and each other? Do they have the same experience and skill sets? Are they the same age? Do they have similar interests? Are they similarly educated? The more different they are from you and each other, the more likely you as a team are to survive. This is the advantage that is diversity. Who couldn’t benefit from this type of advantage?
About the author
Teresa Marzolph is the Founder and Head People Strategist for Culture Engineered believing success is rooted in feedback. In her career she’s helped both small businesses and large corporations attract, develop, and retain top industry talent through effectively capturing and using employee feedback.
You’re finishing up your workplace harassment training and everyone signed your company’s anti-harassment policy. No #MeToo issues for you, right? While you’ve done enough to comply with the administrative requirements, your training has likely done very little to actually prevent harassment from happening in your workplace. Why? Two reasons.
Problem #1: You’re solving for the wrong problem.
In 2015, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) assembled a task force of attorneys, professors, advocacy groups, and labor groups to better understand workplace harassment. In 2016 they published their report. Turns out the majority workplace harassment training fails to address most common forms of harassment. For example, the task force asked a random sample of women if in the past they’ve been sexually harassed, 25% indicate being victim. When asked if they’v been subjected to sexually-based behaviors such as unwanted sexual attention or sexual coercion, the percentage jumps to 40%. When asked about “gender harassment” however, a term used to describe gender based hostile behaviors devoid of sexual interest, an astonishing 60% of women indicate having been victim to such kind of harassment. When it comes to sexual harassment training however, we tend to focus on the more traditional forms of harassment such as quid pro quo. These types of harassment are less prominent in our workplaces. The report suggests that training often targets the wrong audience. We know very few victims report harassment, the EEOC estimates 25%. Harassers are of course not self-reporting. Yet we tend to direct our harassment training to victims and perpetrators, failing to incorporate a bystander component. The EEOC recommends a path modeled after the “It’s On Us” campaign, an endeavor launched in high school and college campuses to end sexual violence. The program incorporates bystander training, empowering everyone to be part of the solution. While not much data exists on the success rate of bystander training in workplaces, it’s clearly an “out of the box” response following decades of ineffective training primarily tailored to harassers and the harassed.
Problem #2: Your content is generic.
Quality training can be time-consuming, and expensive. But…so is workplace harassment. Was your training designed specifically for your company? How about your industry, or employee demographics? Is the facilitator familiar with your company? The more customized the training, the more effective it will be as it should be an extension of your culture. While most workplace cultures reject harassment, there are still unique aspects of workplace harassment which training should address. For example, how companies define harassment can be very different as some use the legal definition and others operate under a broader definition. I once participated in a workplace harassment training conducted by a corporate attorney for a news station. As the facilitator, she reviewed with us the legal definition of harassment, the company policy (straight from the handbook), and ended by discouraging everyone from engaging in inappropriate conversations that may be offensive to others (like sex, race, etc). Remember, she was conducting training for a newsroom, full of reporters and producers. What news stories don’t have some controversial element touching onrace, color, religion, sex or national origin? This training was clearly designed to fulfill compliance obligations, not change behaviors. She failed to provide employees with a valuable experience or incorporate stimulating content that would have benefited the company. An effective workplace training should: 1) set employee expectations on a company’s approach to harassment in the workplace, 2) explain the employee’s role in enhancing, upholding, and/or protecting the culture against harassment, and 3) educate & encourage employees of tools & resources available to them to keep their workplace free from harassment. So, find unique content that will benefit your team. Highlight some lesser known, but thought-provoking harassment cases that really challenge the traditional concept of harassment. Give employees tools to report concerning conduct without fear of retaliation such as an employee survey or an anonymous feedback reporting tool. Although we all prefer employees to be comfortable reporting concerns openly, unconcerned with retaliation, don’t take an employee’s need for anonymity personally. The EEOC report cites a 2003 study in which 75% employees who spoke out against a company faced some sort of retaliation. Even if your company is genuine in its investigative efforts, employees may have experienced some sort of retaliation with past companies, leading them to be a bit cautious.
Going into 2019, revamp your training and invest in better tools. Employees will likely always dislike the idea of anti-harassment training. Employees however are typically excited to learn how your company values their concerns and feedback. They value a company’s efforts to make sure they are happy, healthy, successful, and safe (physically and emotionally) at work. Harassment simply can’t survive in an engaged, supportive culture.
Teresa Marzolph is the Founder and Head People Strategist for Culture Engineered believing valued employees produce valuable results. In her HR and culture career she’s helped both small businesses and large corporations attract, develop, and retain top industry talent.
So, you want to know more about your employees. Why not just run a simple employee survey, right?! Unfortunately, this is the haphazard approach has been adopted by many companies and is why 78% of companies using employee surveys fails to see improvement. Any survey produces data, but quality data comes when you use employee surveys strategically. So, before asking your employees to take a survey, consider the problem you intend to solve using survey results. Comparing five of the most popular types of employee surveys used today, which one best serves your company’s needs?
1. Onboarding (New Hire) Survey
Purpose: Onboarding surveys are designed to examine an employee’s experience from the time they apply for a position through the time the employee completes the “new hire” phase which is different for every company. Often surveys are done at various integrals following their first day with the company such as weekly, or monthly.
Types of companies that can benefit from this survey: Generally, companies are most interested in surveying their new hire process when they are scaling rapidly, seeing a significant drop in engagement amongst new hires, or new hires are turning over at a higher-than-normal rate. By effectively using an onboarding survey, companies gain insight to what they are doing right and wrong when hiring and onboarding employees.
Tip: A company will typically use survey results to answer the following, “are we hiring the wrong people OR are we hiring the right people yet failing to meet new hire expectations as their employer?”. While more often than not, the answer is “both” – through analyzing survey data they can identify what side of the equation they are struggling with most, hiring or onboarding.
2. 360 Degree Survey
Purpose: The 360-degree feedback survey is designed to solicit anonymous feedback regarding an employee’s performance from all levels within the company (supervisor, peer, and subordinate).
Types of companies that can benefit from this survey: 360-degree surveys are generally best suited for larger companies as launching and managing this type of survey is complex. When conducted successfully, results from this survey can provide a holistic view of an employee’s performance. 360-degree surveys place an equal level of importance on lateral, subordinate and supervisor feedback whereas traditional reviews tend to view an employee’s performance with a top-down approach, taking only the supervisor’s perception into consideration. Therefore, a company that places importance on working collaboratively at all levels within the organization will likely feel 360-degree surveys are of great value to their success.
Tip: If you wish to launch a 360-degree survey, consider engaging an expert. Feedback from 360-degree surveys has been criticized as unactionable and irrelevant to improving a company’s productivity. Quality questions (proving to be valid and reliable), random sampling, and strategic coaching are key to using this tool effectively.
3. Pulse Survey
Purpose: The pulse survey is a simple and relatively short survey designed to get insight to the overall health of a company, often conducted more regularly than other surveys (so as to identify fluctuations in employee satisfaction or perceptions on aspects of the company).
Types of companies that can benefit from this survey: Companies looking to gain quick and valuable insight into employee perceptions for the purpose of implementing strategic changes will benefit from this type of survey. Because identifying trends is key to this process however, only those companies willing to share survey results with employees (to some extent), committed to addressing workplace issues (as identified in survey results), and conducting surveys on an ongoing basis should engage in this type of survey.
Tip: Prior to announcing or launching a pulse survey in the workplace, leadership must determine their commitment to addressing workplace issued identified by the survey, how they will share the results with employees, and the frequency they will conduct pulse surveys. While employee morale will typically improve immediately following a pulse survey’s launch, they just as quickly deteriorate (or even worsen) if the company fails to engage employees in the action plan following the survey. Keep in mind, survey trends are more important than any one set of survey results when it comes to pulse surveys.
4. Employee Engagement Survey
Purpose: Employee engagement surveys are designed to assess the level of which employees understand and care about their work as it relates to the company’s success.
Types of companies that can benefit from this survey: A trending concept since the 1990s, employee engagement is believed by many companies and scholars to be key to creating and sustaining a high-performing business. Employee engagement is especially critical to companies with a relatively flat organizational structure, comprised of a large Millennial population, and/or are in highly competitive industries.
Tip: Keep in mind that changing employee beliefs and notions about work is a very robust and complex process. While a good employee survey will provide insight into an employee’s understanding of how his/her work matters to the overall company’s success, your plan to change the employee-company relationship needs to recognize the manner in which your company informs, supports, and recognizes employees of their importance. It is fair to assume your employees had some ideas and expectations of work before coming to your company. Since hiring them however, you’ve either perpetuated or defied these ideas – both of which have different pros and cons, depending on their preconceived notions. You can have a mission statement, vision statement, values, handbook, policies and procedures, but all of these are just words on paper until you act on them which will ultimately dictate the level of which your employees feel engaged in their work. Review each way you, as a company, interact with employees and look to make it as meaningful of interaction as possible.
5. Exit Interview Survey
Purpose: Perhaps one of the most commonly used and widely recognized surveys used in the workplace, exit interview surveys are used to identify company turnover trends – why people are leaving the company.
Types of companies that can benefit from this survey: Because the cost of turnover is considered to be so expensive (a study estimates 1.5-2x an employee’s annual salary), it is recommended that most companies conduct exit interviews when an employee leaves the company (voluntarily). Exit interviews are even more critical for companies in industries where there is a labor shortage (regionally such as teaching or nationally such as skilled trades or truck drivers), or when companies have a high turnover rate (for the company as a whole OR within one group such as department, tenure set, or demographic). Understanding why people choose to leave your company will help you hire, train, develop, and ultimately retain better. Conducting exit interviews is a company’s first step in the process.
Tip: While use of exit interviews is a common practice, most companies fail to do this well one reason – a lack of discussion. The number one response people give in an exit interview to the question (or some derivative of the question), “why did you choose to resign from the company is “more money”. Realize however that is a reason to accept a new job, not leave a job – for the sake of your company’s needs . Were they looking for a job? What prompted them to look? Or if they were not on the job hunt, and instead were actively recruited by the new company, why did they take or return the recruiter’s call? In most cases, candidates are unaware what the new job pays until they interview. If these questions don’t work and the person insists he/she was not actively looking for a new job, don’t hesitate to ask the hypothetical question – what if your company was willing to match their new compensation, would they stay? This question can work magic. This one question has allowed companies to retain some of their best employees for a fraction of what it costs to recruit, hire, and train a new employee. If you are unable (or unwilling) to match their new offer, it still gives you amazing insight into the other reasons they wish to leave. These are likely the reasons that played into their decision to leave your company. The position offer more money merely presented a manner of carrying out their decision to leave. Don’t be surprised though if these conversations take some by surprise. Quality exit interviews can be uncomfortable for the resigning employee and the company representative. Because of this a neutral party such as HR is generally the best person to conduct exit interviews, or engage a reputable third-party to perform exit interviews for the company. With valuable data collected from interactive, dialog heavy exit interviews, you start to see employee departures as learning opportunities – a mindset common among the best employers.
Regardless of what survey you intend to use, keep in mind these three tips:
Don’t ask unless you plan to act. Asking an employee to share his/her opinion does two things – it engages them in the solution (holding them him/her accountable) and implies that you and/or the company value feedback as part of the continuous improvement process. When you fail to act, employees will often feel betrayed or as their opinions are unimportant, causing them to underperform and in some cases even act out against the employer. So, when you ask, make sure you’re asking with intentions to improve – not because it’s a “to-do” item on your list.
Who is asking is often equally as important to what you are asking. Many leaders fail to realize how fearful employees are in giving honest, open feedback to company leadership. Unfortunately, retaliation is not as uncommon as we’d like in some workplaces. So, if you are new to the surveying process or recognize employees may be uncomfortable sharing their feelings or insights with the company directly, engage a third party. We all wish employees trusted us more, but trust is something that is earned. Being sensitive to employee feelings by providing them an extra layer of anonymity is not only a great step in earning their trust, but also the only way to ensure that the data you collect is true and useful. A censored survey only serves to inflate egos and ultimately serves no person or company for much else.
How you ask can make a difference. Are your employees comfortable taking an online survey, OR is it better to use a paper survey. Do all employees have access to the same communication tools (ie Slack, email, intranet)? By failing to recognize what level employees are comfortable with technology, you may inadvertently be censoring your survey results. Have a communication plan for launching your survey – informing employees of when the survey is available, when it ends, how information will be used, where they can access/get their survey, whether or not the survey is anonymous, and information about the third-party administering the survey if you choose to engage a separate company. You will need to remind people to participate. Depending on the type of survey and reasoning behind the survey, you may even wish to partner with your marketing team to develop inspiring communications that will motivate employees to participate in the survey process.
Equipped with a purpose, relevant data, and the genuine intention to improve as an employer, surveys will be your key to shifting from a reactive, chaotic place of work, to a thoughtful, collaborative, proactive culture. What survey is standing between you and a better workplace?
Prior to finding my career in HR and company culture, I tried out a lot of jobs. A LOT. One job I really liked was working as a matchmaker. Setting people up on blind dates that is….not manufacturing matches to light a fire (you’d be surprised how often I had to clarify this point). This was before internet dating and apps were popular and the company I worked for appealed to “busy professionals”. Single clients completed a basic profile application, answering a variety of questions about themselves and their preferences, including hobbies and interests. It didn’t take long for me to realize most people overstate their interests, activities, and hobbies in this process. Hiking, rowing, sailing….it seemed that almost every client and potential client had the most active lifestyle on paper but in discussion would admit they rarely (if ever) engaged in these activities. I found this so confusing. Why would someone misrepresent their interests? Later in life as my career progressed I found this behavior to also hold true and be equally as destructive in hiring. In any type of interview environment, or when asked to describe ourselves objectively, we tend to describe the person we want to be rather than the person we are. Both companies and job-seekers will often describe the workplace or person they aspire to be rather than who they actually are. It’s then not a surprise that studies show 89% of turnover in the first 18 months of employment is typically due to a poor culture fit. Turnover is estimated to cost companies 50%-150% of the position’s annual salary. So, if you lost 10 employees this year with annual salaries averaging $40K each, your true turnover costs are likely somewhere between $200,000 and $600,000! Anywhere from $178,000 to $534,000 of this cost is because in the hiring process you either failed to accurately represent your company’s culture, or candidates were disingenuous (and you’re failing to recognize it). Neither applicants nor companies win when culture misconceptions happen. Fortunately, both sides of the interview process can stop this cycle of dysfunction. Here, are some tips that work!
Steps for employers:
1. Define your culture.
What is your company culture? If you’ve not gone through this process, it’s important to first understand what “company culture” means. It’s not about looks, age, gender, or anything that your workplace might represent physically but instead, what underlying core values, characteristics, and motivations does your team share. A good place to start if you’ve not defined your culture is having an informal chat with your most valuable employees to understand what matters most to them about their jobs. What benefits or perks of the job do they most appreciate? What keeps them motivated to show up everyday and kick butt? How do they describe the workplace to friends and family? What things do they most appreciate about their coworkers? What do they dislike about the job or workplace? There are great workshops and structured activities that can help you in this critical process, but don’t use that as a reason to delay. Truthfully, you should have these discussions regularly within your company – at various levels. Your culture isn’t something that just appears. It’s what is created each day by every decision, change, hire, policy, and conversation. It’s an experience, not a uniform. An employee’s perspective both creates and is created by a company’s culture which is why it’s important to make them a part of this culture-defining process. Leaders may guide and support culture, but all employees create it – so ask them about it rather than just assuming.
2. Identify ways to test the culture-fit factor in job-seekers.
Now that you have identified some commonalities shared by your team, look for ways to test whether or not a job-seeker shares those values. Here’s where you can get creative. For example, Google, a company known to value out-of-the-box thinking (often to solve for complex problems) asks questions like “If you were a platypus stuck in a dumpster and your feet were made out of butter, how would escape?”. There is no way to really fake creativity in this answer. There is also no real “right” or “wrong” answer, although an answer lacking imagination is obviously wrong for Google. Southwest Airlines calls on employees to have a “fun-LUVing attitude” and will sometimes asked flight attendant applicants “how do you keep the workplace fun?”. Both are great examples of not just asking job seekers to describe themselves or traits consistent with your culture, but demonstrate them. These questions give insight to the candidate’s mindset in an unexpected way that cannot be practiced or rehearsed. Look for ways you can do the same in your interview process.
3. Create a candidate experience that resembles your employee experience.
A few weeks ago I was talking with one of the original leaders to join Tuft & Needle, a Phoenix-based mattress company that has disrupted the industry. I asked him about hiring during their intense growth, going from 80 employees to 140 employees in just one year. He said it was at first an all-hands-on-deck, chaotic approach – lacking any structure, consistency, or strategy. When I asked him about the culture during this phase, he described it similarly. In this sense, T&N’s candidate experience was a success because it accurately resembled the culture that existed for employees (at that time). If you’ve been part of a startup, you know it takes a certain type of grit to do well in such an environment, and perhaps a glutton for punishment to love it. A person in a startup needs to be passionate and intensely focused on goals, yet extremely willing to switch gears when priorities change as they often do in such an environment. So, if your company is going through a transitional period, does it make sense for the candidate-experience to be smooth and seamless? Are you hiring for the company you are becoming or the company you are today? Chances are, you need fill some critical positions today, so save candidates the frustration of feeling they’ve been victim to a bait-and-switch job offer and start exposing them to the experience as it actually is. Is your workplace highly-competitive? Then so should be the process you use to hire new employees. If your company lacks structure, then so should your hiring process. Companies will often gently guide candidates through the hiring and onboarding process, then dump this same person into an autonomous , sink-or-swim company culture, confused as-to why yesterday’s stellar job-seeker is today’s under-performing employee. Keep in mind, as an employer, your goal is not simply to find applicants with the best skill sets and experience. Your goal is to find the applicants that will transform into your best employees. To find these gems, you need to observe them in the right environment that resembles your workplace.
Steps for job-seekers:
1. Research the culture before interviewing (or even applying).
Before you buy something, you likely research the online reviews. Because most purchases will not impact us or demand as much from our lives as our jobs, it only makes sense we put as much, if not more, energy into learning about a company we may work for. There are several places you can learn about a company’s culture. Two of the most popular websites are Glassdoor and Indeed.com. On Glassdoor, in addition to current and former employee reviews about working for the company, you can also learn from candidates about the company’s interview process. Look not only at the company’s rating, but also the reviews. What matters to one person may not be what matters to you, so keep an open mind. Pay specific attention to trends. Like most review systems, the unhappy customers (in this case, employees and candidates) are often the first to submit reviews. If you aren’t able to get what you need from these job sites, try using LinkedIn to connect with existing or former company employees. Many people are eager to talk about their experience. In this approach, contrary to the feedback you’ll likely get from the job sites, you’ll tend to hear back from employees with a positive employee experience.
2. Identify your goal for the interview.
An interview should be a get-to-know you, fact-finding mission. It is not a process designed to help you overcome any professional insecurities you may have by “winning” a job. All too often job-seekers fail to recognize that they too have a responsibility to choose a job in which they believe they can be successful and happy. To decide whether or not you will do a job well and will be successful with a company, you need to first learn about that company. Ultimately, if the person conducting your interview is uncomfortable with your directness, perceiving you as “entitled” or challenging their authority, it’s likely not the job for you. I still remember one of the first times I was challenged in an interview to be honest in a way that I feared may take me out of the running for the position (and I REALLY wanted this job). The CFO asked me, “if I were to ask your current boss what feedback she’s received on you that you need to work on, what would she say?”. In that moment I thought to myself, I could lie and give a fake, safe answer like “don’t be such a perfectionist” or “stop working such long hours”. On the other hand, I could instead give her my honest answer, that I need to work on being abrupt with people because it gives them the impression that I don’t care. My manager recently gave me this exact feedback and accurately pointed out that I put too much value in solving the employee’s problems and not enough value in listening to employee concerns. The feedback was ugly and unflattering, but it was true. Sweating and clenching my fists, afraid that I was kissing my dream job goodbye, I responded with the truth. About a year later over drinks, because I did get that job, the CFO and I laughed about my answer. She shared with me that she too struggled with a similar problem and felt it wasn’t a big deal so long as I was aware of it and working on it. By being honest and genuine I was able to test the company’s willingness to develop and support employees. It was a win for us both.
3. Be authentic.
Recently we were contacted by the Huffington Post to give insight on their upcoming article “The First Thing You Should Do After You Walk Out of That Job Interview. Within the article, they discuss the effectiveness of post-job-interview follow-up, asking whether or not candidates following a job-interview should send a thank you note and how to do so without coming off as a kiss-up. My advice was to be authentic. Once you’ve researched and interviewed with a company, you should have enough information to decide if you and the company are a good match to move forward. If you are the type of person to follow-up with a thank you note, send a thank you note. If you are not however, or perhaps the company is not the type to appreciate such a gesture, perhaps it’s better to skip the sentiment. You will be happiest and successful in the jobs that compliment you, and that’s not every job out there. So, be genuine in your interactions with the company so that the interactions are uniquely “you”. Although my advice to be authentic is not meant to encourage you, the job-seeker, to act as you do with friends at happy hour, you should be your genuine professional self. I was never meant for a stuffy overly corporate job. While an HR person at heart, my approach has always been non-traditional and direct. Not everyone loves these qualities in their HR department so it was important that I found companies that valued these traits, allowing me to be happy and successful in my jobs. The same goes for clients we support today as any productive, effective relationship ultimately comes down to a good culture fit. A good company should reveal to applicants the true culture of the workplace (both good and bad). Companies as well as candidates can make themselves out to be flawless during the interview process. While this is highly unlikely, really consider what it means when a company or person sees themselves as without flaws. Do you value perfection? If this is not your thing, best to seek out a company and job where continuous improvement is valued, and imperfections are seen as opportunities for development.
The 4th and final step for both employers and job-seekers is to be relentless. Tony Hsieh, founder of Zappos, an online clothing and shoe retailer known equally for their great customer service as they are a rewarding company culture, tells a story of having their core values tested. Be humble is one of their 10 core values. Years ago, they would often include the shuttle driver, responsible for shuttling traveling applicants to and from the airport and headquarter location, in their interview process. They would ask the driver how the candidate treated him/her. Hsieh recalls having to pass on some exceptionally smart, talented, experienced executive candidates because they failed to “be humble” in their interactions with the driver. While they could’ve likely advanced the company at the time, Zappos and Hsieh were unwilling to compromise on their culture to do so. Considering Amazon purchased Zappos for $847 million in 2009, their decision to preserve their culture above all else while challenging at times, proved to be the right decision. If you are looking for a job or you are an employer looking for the right candidate, focus on the experience. Mahatma Gandhi said, “action expresses priorities”. A person may describe and even see himself a certain way, but how he responds to your hiring process is more telling. Similarly, a company may have an impressive purpose, mission, vision and values statement, but how you feel when employed by them or interviewing with them is more indicative of their company culture than anything on paper.
Teresa Marzolph is the Founder and Head People Strategist for Culture Engineered believing valued employees produce valuable results. In her HR and culture career she’s helped both small businesses and large corporations attract, develop, and retain top industry talent.
Monthly, I host a culture event featuring leaders from various companies with amazing workplace cultures. In these events I ask each guest when he/she became aware of their company’s culture. All too often, they respond with a story of how they discovered the importance of culture too late, usually a lesson learned the hard way. Some waited until 20 employees, others after making a bad hire.
So when should you start addressing your culture strategically? Whether you are an Entrepreneur, small business owner, mid-size business leader, or corporate executive know this….YOUR BUSINESS ALREADY HAS A CULTURE. If you have a service or product, you also have a culture just as you have a brand. The size of your business can determine the level of work your culture requires, unless it’s a small but bad culture. Bad cultures are always a lot of work to turn around – I know – this is what I do! Yesterday I shared some tips with the hosts of the Entrepreneurial Talk Podcast (see live recording below) on culture for every size business. Providing even more help on this topic, I’ve outlined some general culture exercises and guidelines based on the number of employees.
How many employees make a culture?
Teresa Marzolph with hosts of the Entrepreneurial Talk Podcast talking culture for every business.
In addition to handling your own sales, marketing, accounting, customer service, and IT, you now have culture responsibilities? In short, yes. But, it’s not as tough as it sounds. I mean, how much can you deviate from yourself? You and your values are the culture of your business. In this scenario culture work is more about defining your purpose and your own core set of values. It may seem silly, but you DO need to establish some core values. Most entrepreneurs can recall a time they deviated from their purpose or values, and it’s rarely a good story. Have you ever taken on a client you suspected of being dishonest or deceptive? How about deliver a product or service that was less than satisfactory because you were in a hurry and out of time? These are examples of solopreneurs deviating from their own culture and values. These values should dictate the vendors you choose, sub-contractors you work with, leads you target, how you market to them, etc. Should you later decide to add to your team or take on a partner, these will be key to growing successfully.
Culture for 2-15 Employees
Building on culture needs for the Solopreneur, you’re now getting into some compliance matters. Payroll, time off benefits, worker’s compensation, and some core policies will help to manage your risk. While it’s common to want to just slap some policies and procedures together and fill seats (perhaps even with friends), it’s important to incorporate culture into these essentials. The time spent on infusing and capturing the company’s culture into basic policies, procedures, and practices will help a lot moving forward. Lincoln said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”. Your culture will be tested and building it on an unstable foundation ensures it will fail. So take the time to focus on what you CAN control and sharpen your axe. Without spending the time on being proactive, the time you spend later on chopping down the tree is much more time consuming, expensive, and unpleasant. Furthermore, without preparation the tree you’re so eagerly chopping down may just fall on you. Research the federal and local laws that impact your business or engage someone to do it for you. Get some expert culture help on hiring and training so that you attract and retain the right people. You likely don’t need a full-time HR person yet, but that doesn’t mean you are without HR needs. Many payroll companies offer on-demand HR support, or you may choose to engage an HR consultant on occasion. Ideally, the expert you choose will have experience in both traditional HR knowledge (ie compliance and risk management) and culture. Historically we talk about these things separately, but when done correctly, they are two sides of the same coin.
Culture for 16-49 Employees
At this point, your payroll, compliance reporting, hiring, benefits, and employee relations issues are getting to the point where it makes sense to hire someone. This person is likely tasked with and focused on the administrative side of human resources, but lacking experience with culture strategy. You’ll see as the business grows in size, your people (or HR) strategy shifts from a focus on compliance to a focus on culture. Compliance and integrity is at the root of every solid culture; however it in itself is not culture. For example, simply having milk, salt, flour, yeast, eggs, and butter does not in itself give you bread. You merely have a good start to prepare some tasty bread. So, at this size, building on the culture exercises from the 2-15 headcount approach, it’s important to start focusing on employee performance and recognition. I meet a lot of business owners that think they’re too small to worry about these things. While employees at this size company still have a pretty solid understanding of how their work impacts the company’s success, they can sometimes feel underappreciated. Companies this size also often fail to provide training or develop their employees. Make sure continuous improvement is part of your culture by focusing on goals at every level. Managers and employees should meet biweekly or monthly to discuss the employee’s progress toward meeting company goals (designed to help the company succeed) as well as the employee’s progress on his/her own professional goals (designed to help the EMPLOYEE succeed). These one-on-ones don’t need to be long, but they need to happen regularly and need to be effective. When done correctly and managers are bought in, these meetings can work wonders – improving the employee-manager relationship, and also improving the overall efficiency of the company. Even at this level, managers can often lose sight of issues at the front lines felt by customer-facing employees. If coming together regularly in a meeting, both managers and employees are held accountable to progress and support. The employee is given opportunity to shed light on potential issues before they explode. In a company this size, every person is EXTREMELY valuable and even the smallest culture deviation can wreak havoc in an entire office! Stay in the know by setting up proper communication channels.
Culture for 50-150 Employees
When I was first starting out in my HR career, the rule of thumb was one HR person for every 50 employees. As employee expectations have changed over the years, so too have work demands, geographic restrictions, accessibility, and technology. As result, the need for human resources has also changed. A company with 50 employees in many ways faces the same federal regulations as does a company with 5,000 employees. There are still some exceptions of course, and every employer must also comply with their own local employment laws. Administrative tasks under the HR realm at this size are too much for divisional managers (operations, sales, etc) to handle. Culturally, 50 employees is where companies can derail. At this point you may have layers of management, making it more difficult to keep everyone “on the same page”. Communication needs to be strategic. Transparency doesn’t happen automatically at this size and companies run the risk of becoming siloed. People may feel unrecognized or underappreciated. When transparency and recognition are lacking, animosity can set in, most often leading to allegations of favoritism or preferential treatment (where harassment and discrimination charges are born). If left unattended, good employees are often the first to leave, allowing a mildly negative culture quickly to grow toxic. Compliance should be maintained in workplaces of this size, primarily focusing on culture. If you are not confident in your ethical integrity, hire a compliance expert or firm to do an audit of your employee handbook, employee record retention practices and record-keeping, injury reporting, compensation practices and strategy, benefits reporting, and workplace safety. Additionally, implement safeguards such as using an ethics hotline, where employees can make anonymous ethics tips that are reported back to the company executive team. Ensure you have either an HR person or consultant available to conduct workplace investigations. No business owner loves to learn of ethical violations or employee issues, but they are inevitable. Realize it’s better to hear of these issues early, from an internal source versus officially from a government employee, or worse, an attorney. Wherever possible, make feedback a part of your culture. Don’t wait until you lose your top talent to investigate whey they are leaving. Don’t wait until you’re charged with an EEOC claim to make diversity a priority in your workplace. Employee surveys can be of help and there are a million survey companies out to choose from. Proactively seek feedback from employees – but be sure to do it strategically. I once worked with a company that designed and administered their own employee survey. While their intentions were good, the survey sucked. Full of open ended questions, asking the same questions over and over in different, confusing ways. The survey completion rate was terrible because it was too long to take! Employees used text fields, not to answer survey questions but instead report suspicions of discrimination and unethical business practices. Because it was anonymous, there was no way to investigate or even ask about the claims leaving the company in a risky and powerless position. Also, because of the poor strategy and phrasing of the questions, the data was essentially useless, lacking substance or actionable quality. The lesson here is to use a trustworthy source if you’re gathering feedback and opinions. In my experience, by just introducing an employee survey employee morale improves. A word of caution, DO NOT CONDUCT AN EMPLOYEE SURVEY IF YOU ARE UNWILLING TO TAKE ACTION. While morale will typically improve immediately following a survey, it will just as quickly crash and burn if leaders fail to address or act on the feedback. When you ask an employee’s opinion and they give it, it is a sign of trust and faith in the company. To then do nothing and say nothing in response to the feedback (to the group) is a kick to the teeth. Companies that have made this mistake will end up worse than had they never asked at all. Commit to making the workplace better before conducting a survey.
Culture for 151-500 Employees
These companies should be almost entirely focused on culture while maintaining and managing compliance. If you are a company this size and are considering outsourcing any aspects of HR, outsource the compliance side, never your culture. Receive updates of law changes. If you have a significant number of employees on leave, engage a company to administer and report to you leave usage for your company. If you choose to continue managing all aspects of HR (from compliance to culture) in-house, have a person familiar with culture and strategy on your team, or hire one. Culture can be very difficult to manage at this size, particularly if you are not located in one central location. If employees are working remotely, it’s even more difficult because employee engagement is now likely your biggest challenge. Employees in a small company with less than 50 employees are keenly aware on what it means when they fail to show up for work, perform, or meet their goals because they are closer to the end product or service. Unfortunately we can become unaware or apathetic to the achievements or challenges of others when we don’t see it such as with larger companies. In a company with 151+ employees or in a company spread out in multiple locations, perceptions become limited. Culture work for these companies is focused on the employee experience as a whole. How are you attracting top talent? If you don’t hire the best, your competitor will. How are you onboarding employees to make sure they are setup for success from the beginning? How is information dispersed throughout your company? What do you do to motivate employees individually? Does it prevent them from collaborating? How do you incentivize both innovation and consistency? It’s in the complexity of the human experience where a true strategist shines. A person familiar with how the employee experience translates to company success, capable of tapping into and interpreting workplace trends and behaviors, can elevate both a company’s culture and performance. Because strategists can be expensive, it’s sometimes uncommon for companies to hire a person of this caliber, even at this headcount. If you’re looking to keep overhead costs down, engage a firm, consultant, or someone to help you. Technology has wonderful feedback and surveying tools available that are affordable, some providing just feedback and data and some complete with analysis and support. Experts are also able to do a significant amount of this analysis and support virtually. Choose the method and approach that is best for your team.
Culture for 501+ Employees
Hire. A. Strategist. Hopefully it goes without saying, at this size a company should have a dedicated people strategist as part of their team. Managing your culture’s reputation, like managing your brand, takes a lot of insight, time, and is best when done proactively. Like the saying “more money, more problems”, “more people, more chaos”. I tell my husband all the time, people are messy and this is why I love my job. At this level, you should know as much about your target market as you do your ideal candidates, if not more. How well do you know your most loyal customers? Know your high performing employees better. I’ve seen companies invest hundreds of thousands of dollars on market research yet hesitate to invest anything in doing 360-reviews, a PULSE survey, or even an anonymous feedback tool. I ask leaders of these companies what they know of the first-line employees that engage with customers. Not their favorite question of course, but it demonstrates my point. If you choose to invest money and time into researching the customers you serve and leads you target; however invest no time or energy in learning about the employees that serve them directly, it’s money wasted.
Many factors can impact your company’s culture needs. The number of people you employ can have great influence on a company’s culture demands, partly due to compliance requirements associated with headcount. At any level, the first step is to assess risk, ensuring any assumed risk is deliberate (some risks are worth taking so long as it’s a calculated choice). Once a company’s leader (or the soloprenuer) is comfortable with the assumed risk, implement a system to “manage” compliance and invest in they company’s culture. This is something corporations have been doing for decades. If you have a business, regardless of the size, you are most likely competing with at least one large corporation well-equipped with strategies to attract, retain, motivate, and develop top talent in your industry. Now is the time to catch up! Understand and deliver on culture expectations for your team and they will deliver on performance expectations you have for your business.
Teresa Marzolph is the Founder and Head People Strategist for Culture Engineered believing valued employees produce valuable results. In her HR and culture career she’s helped both small businesses and large corporations attract, develop, and retain top industry talent.