3 Principles For A Contagiously Engaging Company Culture

Culture isn't built in a day--and certainly not in a happy hour. But with these three variables you can build a true a change agent in your company.

Company culture is one of the business world’s favorite buzzwords right now--something thrown around to collect awards and impress recruits.

In some cases, “culture” isn’t more than skin deep. Whether it’s ping-pong tables in the break room or destination holiday parties, many organizations are great at establishing the physical markers of “culture,” but it may only exist on the surface. True corporate culture, one rooted deep within an organization, should be more than perks. It should be a change agent.

By creating an environment that promotes engaged employees, firms can attract team members who are motivated to support and contribute to a company’s profitability. The question is how.

Rippling effects of disengagement

In a nation where 70% of employees feel disengaged at work, according to a recent Gallup poll, companies can’t escape the reality that a dissatisfied team translates into worse financial performance.

Disconnected staff members are often less productive and less likely to nurture strong customer relationships--a symptom that can jeopardize the health of an entire organization. Need proof? Gallup research shows that actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. an estimated $450 billion to $550 billion annually.

If even a handful of your employees are among the disenchanted, your company is taking some of that heat.

Making culture a catalyst for change

There’s no on-off switch for cultivating employee engagement. Whether you’re a startup or in the Fortune 500, it’s a process. To combat pervasive workplace unhappiness, companies should work to promote greater emotional investment--creating an office where employees can contribute while pursuing their passion and continuing to learn.

This means consistently (read: daily) encouraging business principles to enhance employee well-being and add to your organization’s “corporate mythology.” It’s not just creating careers that helps build culture; it’s fostering unforgettable experiences. There are a number of core values that play into this feat, and varying combinations that will work for different businesses, but a few stand above the rest.

To develop a culture that yields engaged employees and positive change, consider these three variables:

1. Compassion

Working through changes in an organization becomes inherently easier when firms and the people in them demonstrate compassion. When projects go awry or decisions lead to unexpected results, a compassionate culture can be the difference between deflated employees, and those confident enough to move forward. Compassion is also contagious: employees are more likely to champion the mentality when they see it in practice.

In Action:

  • Integrate “compassion gauges” into recruiting initiatives, especially for manager and leadership-level positions. The largest driver of an employee’s engagement is a positive relationship with their manager; compassionate communication is one way to achieve that ideal dynamic.
  • Conduct training that arms managers with the ability to create high quality, compassionate connections with employees. Within Manager Development programs, consider role-playing different scenarios (even difficult conversations) where managers can incorporate compassion day-to-day. It’s more of an art than a science and takes practice to perfect.

2. Thriving

Thriving employees are more likely to face adversity head-on and spearhead transformation within their organizations. A thriving staff member maintains strong interpersonal office relationships and collaborates with others to overcome positive and negative changes.

In Action:

  • Communicate your company’s mission regularly, and recognize even small actions that exemplify it. Employees that understand how their individual contributions connect to the company mission are more likely to thrive.
  • Understand employees’ long-term goals, and ask probing questions to uncover their personal and professional aspirations. An organization that authentically strives to create thriving employees has to welcome even difficult career and life discussions. Together, you just might figure out ways to play on individuals’ strengths, or find new leadership opportunities (even ones outside of employees’ core responsibilities, like chief adventure officer or chief intramurals officer) that benefit everyone.

3. Positive Deviance

Deviating from the norm may be frightening, or forbidden, in organizations with a vague culture or strict internal processes. But sometimes, employees’ nonconformity yields surprising success. This is exemplified by Facebook’s late slogan: Move fast and break things. Within your office, there are likely people whose uncommon strategies facilitate new solutions or winning results. Recognizing these cases lets employees know that their creativity and inspiration is welcome.

In Action:

  • Acknowledge when employees excel, but pay attention to times when unique strategies allowed individuals, teams, or projects to thrive. Calling out these instances can turn one-off anomalies into regular accomplishments.
  • Weave these moments into your corporate mythology, the fabled (but true) workplace stories that get passed through the ranks, showcasing times of memorable employee interaction or learning.
  • When recruiting, highlight stories of positive deviance specific to your organization and pay close attention to the candidate’s responses. Is the individual intrigued, curious or motivated by these stories? To attract candidates with the most potential for leaving a resounding impact on the organization, these characteristics are essential.

Don’t burden your HR department alone with developing a sound organizational culture and engaged employees; it’s everyone’s responsibility--especially leadership’s--to take action and help employees flourish in the midst of change and uncertainty.

By applying positive principles (not just perks), you can create a meaningful culture that reignites staff engagement. This, in turn, increases retention and employee effectiveness, both of which will have a major impact on customer satisfaction and profitability.

As the business world continues to shift at startling speeds, firms with a strong culture--one that paints change as an opportunity, not an insurmountable threat--transform successfully without losing sight of their values.

--Kevin McCarty is the president of West Monroe Partners, a management and technology consulting firm that helps clients through transformational initiatives around strategy, process, people and technology.

--Gordana Radmilovic is a leader in the firm’s Transformation Center of Excellence, and a Manager in the Business Intelligence practice.

[Image: Flickr user mrhayata]

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