Have you ever been in a room, surrounded by people, only to still feel lonely? According to Cigna research, 61% of the people in that room with you likely felt the same way. This is because loneliness different from togetherness because it’s irrespective of the physical presence of others, occurring when we lack the feeling of meaningful connection with others. Affiliative disconnect is a feeling of isolation or loneliness that develops collectively within a team, despite being part of a group. While affiliative disconnect, like loneliness, may be hard to see, the symptoms are clear and can derail even the strongest of companies if not addressed.
Is your team struggling with affiliative disconnect?
Teams experiencing affiliative disconnect left unaddressed will eventually turn toxic. The key is detecting signs of team affiliative disconnect early. Some of the most commonly observed warning signs include:
Higher than normal turnover (particularly high turnover with new hires – less than 90 days of employment).
Poor team performance (particularly with customer-facing roles such as sales or customer service).
Distrustful behaviors within the team such as passive aggressive comments, finger-pointing, hostility, and/or intentionally withholding information.
A lack of interaction or camaraderie among team members. In more extreme situations, team members will often know very little about one another, despite having worked together for a significant period of time.
How to (re)ignite connection within your team.
As social creatures, we as humans take to high connection interactions like fish to water. Even individuals and teams that have survived for extended periods of time without meaningful connection are highly resilient. Here are three basic ways every leader can take to help restore connections within their team:
#1 – Make individual wellbeing the priority, for the team.
It’s an unfortunate truth that hurt people, hurt people. Although not quite as catchy, the same concept works conversely. Individuals with a healthier sense of wellbeing when working together, tend to make better teams, associated with higher job satisfaction, better company stock performance, improved productivity and customer loyalty, and reduced turnover. Research shows lonely workers are less productive and more frequently sick which can wreak havoc on any business. More importantly however, people with poor mental health and wellbeing were three to six times more likely to report frequent loneliness. Because research has also found a lonely person can transmit loneliness to others, wellbeing offers a solution to prevent the harm caused by loneliness in our workplaces and communities.
#2 – Encourage and recognize supportive behaviors within the team.
There is a popular legend of unknown origin, often attributed to the Cherokee or Lenape people, that begins with a grandfather telling his grandson of a battle of two wolves going on inside him. The grandfather describes one wolf as evil – driven by anger, jealousy, and ego, and the other good – motivated by love, generosity, and compassion. When asked by his grandson which wolf will win, the grandfather responds, the one you feed. This same battle happening within each one of us individually is also happening within our teams. When we recognize the supportive, prosocial, behaviors that are foundational to collaboration and communication within teams, we are feeding the good wolf. Because recognition has been shown to affect two areas of the brain: 1) our hypothalamus, the part of our body responsible for regulating many of the body’s key processes, such as heart rate and body temperature, and 2) our dopamine receptors which receive dopamine, the chemical that affects mood, sleep, memory, learning, and concentration, recognition has been shown to have tangible benefits on a team and virtuous benefits on individuals.
#3 – Co-create team culture.
Historically, culture was often something defined by a few leaders, perhaps with the help of outside consultants or HR, and distributed in a top-down fashion. More recently however, with growing appreciation and value for diversity and inclusivity, we’re realizing the previously one-to-many approach is far surpassed by the approach of many-to-many. It’s only when environments are inclusive, engaging the voices thoughts, and talents of diverse groups, that communities thrive. A co-creative workplace culture not only embraces but implores feedback and transparency. With the development of our newest tool, TeamEthos.io, it was the introduction of the team notifications, informing team members of how the team was doing that day and what each person can support one another in the moment, that we saw the biggest shift in team connection and success. Empowering a team to identify and solve for challenges within a process or system can be a great first step toward building psychological safety and collaboration, the foundation of any co-creative, highly connected culture.
Affiliative disconnect isn’t the sickness. It’s a warning sign that the health of your team is in jeopardy. The danger comes only from ignoring it. It’s taken the Covid pandemic to reveal another potentially harmful pandemic we’re all susceptible to, loneliness. Not everyone comes from a healthy family environment. Many struggle to create a healthy network of friends. But most of us, in our lifetimes will need to work. What if we, as leaders, make work the safe space we intentionally create meaningful connection?
Most professionals agree, having a strong company culture is important. Like most things in business however, only initiatives that produce results gain support (and investment). Because strategies to develop, sustain, or improve a company’s culture like any other project requires time and money – the question is inevitable: what is the ROI of culture? On March 26th, AZ Biz Link‘s workforce event hosts a discussion with a panel of experts on the topic of creating a culture that produces valuable results.
Kevin Black, Principal & Founder | Edge Challenges
James Murphy, President & CEO | Willmeng Construction
Julie Eklund, Director Human Resources | Kimley Horn
Michele Shuey, Global Director HR Business Partnerships & Employee Engagement | Nextiva
Teresa Marzolph, People Strategist & Founder | Culture Engineered
Gretchen Mastello, SVP Global People Operations | Axon
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.
DoubleDutch brings the power of digital to some of the largest live events. Established in 2011 and headquartered in Silicon Valley, they took off on the startup tech rocketship of VC funding and fast growth. As is so often the case, the journey to profitability and category leadership proved to be an intense ride with towering peaks and deep valleys that might have made it hard for some companies to recover. But not DoubleDutch. How do you revolutionize an industry? The DoubleDutch answer – create a workplace culture of curious, fearless people. With a 3.9 out of 5-star rating on Glassdoor and a 92% approval rating of CEO and Founder, Lawrence Coburn (who by the way responds to every Glassdoor review, personally), they maintain their position as leaders within their space.
Want to know how they do it? Join the discussion in Scottsdale, Arizona on April 18th! We are proud to have DoubleDutch GM and recently promoted Global Director of Employee Engagement, Jackie Roberts share with us the innovative people practices of DoubleDutch. Get your ticket here!
Crying, yelling, arguing, fighting. Not ideal in any workplace. So, when the Huffington Post asked Culture Engineered for tips to include in their article, Crying At Work Happens. Here’s How to Handle It, According To Experts, we stressed the importance of taking a broader approach to such events. Excessive emotion in the workplace is often and indicator of larger, underlying issues. Here are some things to consider when emotions erupt in your workplace.
What’s the frequency?
How often are employees overcome with emotion in your workplace? Weekly? Daily? By the hour? While emotions are a healthy part of the human experience, they are consuming and leave little time or energy for productivity. Too frequent of outbursts can suggest a culture of enablement or a stressful underlying culture where emotions bubble up. Such a workplace benefits from training on managing emotions or communication, shifting to proactive interactions and away from reactive. On the other hand, companies without emotional displays are not necessarily best either. Life is full of ups and downs. Given the significant amount of time spent at work, odds are, emotions will sometimes get the best of us at the office. Letting go in front of someone requires a certain level of vulnerability and trust. These traits are found within most successful environments. A workplace without emotion may indicate a lack of trust or an expectation of apathy and therefore may benefit from opportunities to interact outside of work. Company picnics and office happy hours are a great start, but trust is built by leading with integrity and compassion. Train and encourage managers to have meaningful conversations with employees over shying away from emotional employees.
Is there a trend?
Where are the breakdowns stemming from? If a select few are displaying signs of duress repeatedly, its less likely a company-wide culture issue. Review the surrounding factors of each event, identifying trends. Are the same people involved with each episode? Are outbursts more prominent in one department or role? Unfortunately, we often fail to talk about the string of events leading up to an emotional moment instead, focusing on the straw that broke the camel’s back. If an employee breaks down because she was warned about coming in late that morning, there is likely more to the story. Is there a history between the employee and manager? Has the employee struggled to get to work on time in the past? Why? These discussions are extremely valuable, helping employees to develop skills needed to succeed as well as uncovering organizational challenges within the company that may be temporarily are prohibiting it from greatness.
Employee behaviors can be signs of potential larger, developing issues within a workplace. Companies willing to assess their workplace from this perspective can expect to have a more honest, committed, and successful workplace as result. It’s not always a fun process, but when done right, companies benefit, greatly.
Your company culture – an asset or barrier? We’re here to help. Contact a Culture Engineer today by clicking here.
Today, Culture Engineered officially launches a survey focused on assessing the employee experience for educators as it relates to school performance. The process began in fall of 2017 when a staggering number of requests were received from schools around the US in an effort to improve their workplace. Not a surprise to many as the national teacher shortage has in recent years moved from a fear to reality. The shortage especially taking a toll on schools in Arizona, 866 teachers reportedly having abandoned or resigned from their role within the first four months of the 2017-18 school year1. Culture Engineered is headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona.
Education continues to remain in the spotlight for the state as Arizona Governor Doug Ducey recently announced his plan to restore $400 million to schools in fiscal year 2019, including $34 million for the second year of the teacher salary increase.2 A much needed salary increase as seen by most given the 2016 Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) survey ranked Arizona median pay for teachers 45th in the nation.3 A good start, but is it enough? To be clear here, the “it” being money. Can we expect an increase in pay to improve classroom interactions? Will better pay make schools a better workplace? While a raise definitely won’t make schools any worse, our 2017 research suggests that teacher pay does not necessarily guarantee a better performance or more success. Of the ten attributes of the employee experience, educators appear to have a very unique expectation of the workplace. Equipped with data and tools, Culture Engineered again applies the theory that happy employees produce superior results and looks to roll-out this process, starting with select Arizona schools in preparation for the 2018-19 school year. Additional “school” survey modules are expected to launch late 2018 for other valuable roles within education including school Support Professionals.
Think your school could benefit from our data-driven approach? Complete the school inquiry form by clickinghereOR call us, 855.444.2404.
Wish to nominate an Arizona school to participate? Clickhere.
Gallup’s recently released State of the American Workplace report shows that more than 51% of employees are searching for a new job. Assuming most companies are not excited about turning over 51% of its workforce – it’s important to consider what employees value in a job and company. Gallup’s same report asked employees to rate the importance of various company/job attributes.
60% of surveyed employees say doing what they do best is “very important” to them. Not too surprising when you given some of us spend more time working than we are with our own family and friends. Who then wants to spend the majority of his/her life feeling insignificant? Tip: Find ways to leverage your employee’s strengths in the workplace.
53% of employees state a healthy work-life balance is “very important”. Do you encourage your employees to use their time off benefits? Do you expect them to be available 24/7? Tip: Start recognizing those working effectively versus round-the-clock?
While incorporating these topics likely requires changing up traditional coaching conversations the question becomes – will you start discussing this with your current employees – or the 51% of new employees who you hire to replace them?