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Build a Company Culture That Serves, Sizzles & Succeeds

A strong organizational culture drives challenge, performance, and positive behavior.

An organization is only as good as its people. However, bright people have more options today than ever before. In addition, good pay is no longer enough to hold the best.

Are good people clamoring to join your organization, or are resignations climbing? Do your people come in early and voluntarily stay late, or is absenteeism on the rise? Are your staff upbeat and enthusiastic, or do they gripe and moan?

Does your organization inspire loyalty, dedication, creativity, and motivation? Does your “company culture” challenge staff to learn, improve, and grow? As a good manager, you must ask yourself these questions. And you need to find positive answers.

To grow, even to survive, you must develop a company culture that attracts, inspires, and retains good staff. Take this seriously, or your organization could become a collecting point for old ideas and old thinking…”dead wood”.

Every organization has a distinctive culture. A good culture reinforces the values and behaviors that you want, and weakens the attitudes and actions that you don’t. A weak culture, of course, gives little guidance or direction, to the team, allowing all sorts of inappropriate actions and behaviors.

Make sure your company’s culture works overtime for you. Use the following ideas to build a stronger and more attractive culture inside your organization.

Vision, Mission and Values:

Are your vision, mission, and core values clearly written down in black and white? Have they been framed and hung upon the wall? If so, great! But then what happened? All too often these important statements become part of the woodwork, ignored by old-timers and quickly forgotten by new hires. Do not let this happen to you.

Integrate these key statements of purpose and philosophy into your recruitment and orientation programs, internal company communications, training, and development schemes, methods of appraisal, recognition and reward.

Ask yourself this question: “Can every member of your staff explain the company vision, mission and values in their own words, and give practical illustrations in the course of their daily work?” If so, you have harnessed the power of their alignment and understanding. If not, your team may be adrift without a clear course, or rowing hard… but in divergent or conflicting directions.

New Staff Recruitment:

Do you invest enough energy selecting staff who are really aligned with your vision and values? Do you give candidates sufficient time to get to know you and your organization – before they sign on as members of the team? Do you screen prospective employees with the powerful profiling tools available in the market today? Or do you complain about a tight labor market and find yourself content with hiring enough “warm bodies”? If so, you may not know the full cost, in money and morale, of the turnover that follows such hasty recruitment.

New Staff Orientation:

Do you actively help new staff settle in and get comfortable for long and productive careers? Or do you push the personnel department to get new hires on-line and operational in the shortest possible time?

Studies show that employees who get thorough and thoughtful orientations will stay longer and contribute more throughout their careers. Are you investing enough time and energy to help your new staff start right?

Training & Development Programs:

Investing in training and staff development programs is good. But many companies engage a wide assortment of trainers and programs, making little effort to ensure a smooth and beneficial integration.

Here is a simple test: Can each of your outside and in-house trainers clearly explain your organization’s vision, mission, and values? Can they describe the issues and major challenges facing your company today? Are you convinced their training will help address issues, solve problems, and strengthen people’s careers? If not, why not? You pay these professionals to help your people face the future. Shouldn’t they understand the future your people will be facing?

Annual Appraisals:

If you say you want a service driven organization, is quality service in your appraisal? If you want a creative mindset, are you assessing staff on the range, depth and volume of their ideas? If you want an open corporate culture, are your appraisals done in an open format? If you want cross-functional and non-hierarchical communication, do you employ a 360-degree appraisal process?

No amount of broadcasting company values will matter if people are measured by other standards.

Take a hard look at your current appraisal system. Is it up to date? Does it reward, recognize and reinforce what you want your company to become?

Rewards & Recognition Programs:

The old adage is true: what gets rewarded gets done. But not all rewards are monetary. They may be public, private, formal, informal, planned, unexpected, elegant, simple, unique.

The most motivating rewards may be public celebrations of the people and actions that exemplify your organization’s highest values.

At Singapore Airlines for example, the Managing Director’s Award is the most prestigious tribute an employee can receive. The award is given each year to those staff members whose action demonstrate the airline’s commitment to total quality service. Winners are celebrated, photographed, interviewed, published, wined, dined and praised, yet receive no special monetary award. These people become the legends, heroes and role models of the organization. Their deeds are told and retold for years to come. Their actions — and the public recognition they receive — keep the airline’s values flying high.

How inspiring are your practices of rewards and recognition? How frequently and consistently are they applied? People thrive on appreciation, recognition and reward. Does your company culture provide enough?

Company Social Events:

Too many social gatherings are expensive undertakings that provide an outlet for stress but do little to enhance communication or commitment to the business. It doesn’t have to be this way. Memorable social events can deliver enjoyment for the staff and build enthusiasm for your company’s goals, achievements and values.

Put a cross-functional team in charge of design and delivery for your next social event. Give them time and budget. Provide them with professional and management support. Set parameters and guidelines for linkage to the business and the organization. Then monitor their progress, but let the show be their own.

Lavish praise for an event well done, and you will build a tradition of interaction that deepens and strengthens as it grows.

Staff Suggestion Schemes:

Managers want feedback and suggestions for improvement from staff. But how many companies can point with pride to widely respected and frequently used suggestion schemes?

Making your program more than just a box on the wall requires rapid response from management, immediate implementation of good ideas, and generous recognition for contributions.

Try this: give away $100 (or a dinner for two) every month for the best new suggestion. Even if the first month has only a meagre selection of ideas, pick one and give the prize away. Once people realize there is a prize given out every month, you’ll find the suggestion box brimming with input by the month’s end.

Management and Staff Interaction:

Management and staff will work better together if they have abundant opportunities to interact. Schedule frequent team meetings. Provide secure opportunities for staff to speak up without fear of reprisal or retribution. Create panel discussions where all sides can ask questions and receive candid — not defensive — replies. Host social functions, team games, or a telematch. Organize a fishing trip, nature walk, overnight retreat. More is truly merrier when mingling the members of your team.

Rites and Rituals:

Companies with strong cultures evolve rites or rituals that are memorable and unique. At one multinational, significant sales are honored by the key salesperson ringing a huge Chinese gong at the beginning of the monthly sales meeting. The message rings loud and clear: Successful sales are good reason for public celebrations.

An American R&D laboratory fires a loud outdoor cannon each time one of the research teams concedes a major or costly mistake. People worry when the cannon is quiet for too long! The cultural message is understood: Invention requires making mistakes. We are here to take those risks.

At the Service Quality Training Centre, new trainers are thrown fully clothed into the water at their first company retreat. The message: “We’re all in this together. Welcome aboard.”

Internal Communications:

How does word get around from your head office? Do your memos look dry, boring and official? Is that the kind of place you want your office to be? Are your bulletin boards covered with old announcements, faded backgrounds and ancient pieces of tape? Or are they current, colorful and information-rich?

Which message do you want to send? Does your newsletter focus on current customers, real issues and difficult but significant achievements? Is it seen as an open forum, or sanitized propaganda from Head Office?

How much dialogue do you really want? If you have moved to an e-mail environment, is access open and response encouraged? Or do staff read your latest comments on-screen and then discuss implications in the washroom?

External Communications:

How you communicate with the outside world reflects back upon your internal staff.

Do your employees take pride in the advertising and public relations your company sponsors? Is your corporate image fresh or outdated? Is your organization seen as a public-spirited contributor to the community, or just another money making enterprise?

Management Role Modeling:

The most powerful action for building company “culture” is management members leading by their own example.

A senior Japanese executive was visiting one of the company’s overseas manufacturing plants. As he walked along the carefully prepared factory floor, he saw a small scrap of paper just below one of the machines.

To his subordinates shock and amazement, he detoured from the carefully prepared route and stooped to pick up the paper. Placing it quietly into his pocket, he returned to the designated path.

That one gesture did more to reinforce the company’s commitment to housekeeping than countless booklets and banners. The challenge for all of us is clear: We must walk the talk!

Make your culture nourishing.

Your company culture is like water. It can flow strongly and steadily, refreshing your team and carrying people forward. Or it can sit festering and stagnant, gradually poisoning those around it.

It can be fertile and rich, irrigating growth and stimulating new ideas. Or it can be destructive and narrow, crashing down upon any signs of change.

Resignations, absenteeism, and destructive gossip are bad news. But they are only symptoms. The source is weak morale, low motivation and a suffering company culture.

Your prescription for better health? Take action now. Build your organization to nourish people, stimulate ideas and motivate everyone towards giving their very best.

How to Harness the Power of Praise

Make your office a more effective place to work by catching people doing something right.

Another day another dollar”; “Thank God it’s Friday”; “You can take this job and shove it!” Why are so many common phrases about work so negative? What would it take for your people to say: “Another day, another welcome challenge”, “Thank God it’s Monday” and “I’ll take this job and love it!”?

Some managers claim the best way to motivate staff is through the wallet: increase pay, raise allowances, give more cash incentives. But while money is certainly useful, it is not the only key to human motivation.

Sincere recognition can mean a lot more to your staff than just another dollar in the bank. A genuine pat on the back, given at the right time, in the right way, for the right reasons, and in front of the right people; can boost staff morale and commitment in ways that money never will.

What can you do to build an enduring culture of motivation and reward at your company or organization? What actions can you take to make your people feel recognized, appreciated and esteemed?

Move beyond sporadic incentive schemes and predictable “Employee of the Month” contests. These may work on a short term basis, but they do not create a challenging and inspirational company culture.

You can make a bigger difference. Here are four key steps to help you build the long-term morale of your all-important team.

1. Learn from Everyone’s Mistakes.

Before rewarding people for a job well done, assure staff they won’t be crucified if things somehow end up poorly or fail.

In an environment of challenge and growth, people must try things they’ve never done before. And they will make mistakes. In a healthy and rewarding culture, people must be encouraged to learn from their mistakes, then quickly regroup and rebuild. Managers should work with employees to understand, rectify and improve. Together they should attack the problems, and not the people involved.

Managers might ask aloud: “What can be learned from this mistake? What processes can be improved? Who else in the company should we tell about this error so they, too, will benefit from the learning?”

Many companies have rituals for sharing success and achievements, and that’s good. But it’s the mistake no one hears about, and others blindly repeat, that can pull your ship to the bottom.

“Sweep it under the rug.” “Turn a blind eye.” “What they don’t know won’t hurt them.” These quotes are the recipes for disaster.

In Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive, Harvey McKay writes: “You’ll always get the good news; it’s how quickly you (and the rest of the team) get the bad news that counts!”

Lead by example: Start your next management meeting by sharing the biggest mistake you’ve made in the past two weeks. Explain what you learned from the experience. Then ask others for their ideas and input, listen for feedback, and thank those who offer their opinions. You will demonstrate a willingness to learn together, and encourage an open culture of sharing and communication.

What about those staff who make no mistakes? Either they are very good at hiding what is really going on, or they are not being challenged enough. The person who only makes small, safe and bureaucratic moves does not innovate or grow. In today’s turbulent markets, this is not what you need to succeed.

2. Make Appraisal Criteria Clear.

Make sure your staff understand how they are being appraised for increments, bonuses and promotions. Whether you evaluate yearly or monthly, openly or behind closed doors, in writing or in dialogue, staff must understand the criteria for their evaluation.

Introduce your standards for appraisal during the initial hiring process, explain it further during new employee orientation, and clarify the process consistently through staff meetings, newsletters and executive forums.

After you have published these “rules of the game”, keep the playing field fair. Meritocracy demands unprejudiced assessment. Nothing dooms staff morale faster than watching an incompetent who “takes care of the boss” move forward, while capable staff who don’t kiss backsides languish in mediocre positions.

Ask yourself: “Are the criteria for staff evaluation made clear? Are they openly explained and discussed so that all parties can achieve and succeed? Is the process of evaluation fair-minded?”

If your answer is yes, keep moving forward. If your answer is no or maybe, tackle this crucial issue, now. If you are not sure of the answer, check with those whose opinion really counts: your staff. Take a survey, run a poll, ask for immediate feedback.

But be forewarned: If the staff says your system of appraisal is unclear or less than fair, you’d better be ready to change. Even more demotivating than an unfair process of evaluation is an unfair process of evaluation that persists, even after staff have given you their honest opinion.

3. Encourage Career Development.

Make sure the conversation of career development is always open. Provide staff with a boss, mentor, counsellor or personnel officer who cares about their growth and professional well-being. Show you care about future possibilities and potential, not just current results or past achievements. Help staff understand those competencies required for a successful future. Help your team chart career progressions that are sustainable and realistic.

Provide access to relevant courses, seminars and conferences. Subscribe to appropriate publications and circulate articles of interest. Build a library of books, tapes and other useful resources. Keep everyone in the company aware of changes and trends in your industry so they, and you, are not caught flat-footed.

You can provide many opportunities for new learning without spending money outside your organization.

Start by cross-training one another. Use attachment schemes to integrate neighboring departments, and designate good mentors to show each other the ropes. Launch cross-departmental teams to work on cross-functional projects. Put all these plans into action and your staff’s confidence, and competence, will grow.

4. Create Powerful Rewards and Meaningful Recognition.

Tailor in-house reward and recognition programs to fortify your company culture.

Most rewards are handed down from the top: management praises staff, supervisor recognizes subordinate, boss applauds the workers. Why stop there? You can encourage recognition in all directions.

Create a “Bottom Up” award for staff to recognize and compliment their leaders. You determine the frequency and budget for this scheme, but allow staff themselves to select the winners, the reasons for winning, and the appropriate awards.

Transform “peer pressure” into “peer pleasure” on a group and individual basis. Have each department or work team select and publicly recognize a different team for their notable efforts and improvements. This encourages cross- functional understanding and coop-eration.

Ask each staff member to nominate one or two role models from among their peers. Get the reasons behind their nominations. Then recognize your role models. Publicize the reasons. Reinforce those values and behaviors.

Invite customers to participate in your staff recognition scheme. Put easy to use nomination forms at key points of customer contact. Set up a hotline for customers to call with compliments or complaints. Get your suppliers involved. Query them by phone, mail or fax. Thank them for their vote and send them a copy of the praise you then give to your staff.

Remember to reward the rewarders. Give special recognition to those managers who excel at recognizing their own staff.

What, When, Where, How and Why?

What should you highlight with your tributes and commendations? What gets rewarded gets done, so recognize and reward a lot.

Cover all traditional categories: targets met, sales accomplished, savings gained, customer compliments received. Then add some spice: celebrate the first account opened in each industry, first repeat order from every new account, under-budget completion of important projects, innovations that save the company money.

Acknowledge system and process improvements: fastest cycle time to date, shortest time to respond, most productive shift of the month, and most consistent performance every quarter.

Applaud improvement efforts in groups, sections and teams. Celebrate two or more departments — at the same time — for their progress in teamwork and communication.

To find even more opportunities for celebration, get creative. Highlight the most unusual service recovery, or most unique approach to a common problem. Commemorate the “best mistake” each month, with special focus on the learning that followed thereafter.

Create new themes for recognition each week, or month, or quarter. Keep staff motivated with unusual campaigns to arouse their interest and stimulate innovative actions.

When should recognition be provided? To sustain a vibrant culture, keep praise flowing in programmed and spontaneous ways.

The end of the month is a natural time to give rewards for targets and goals achieved. The end of the quarter aligns with financial accomplishments. The end of the year is an expected time for bonus, increments and promotions.

But the beginning of each week can also be a good time to set short-term campaigns in motion. And nothing beats Friday for a few off-the-wall commendations.

In “The One Minute Manager,” Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson encourage readers to catch people doing something right. That means recognizing good actions whenever and wherever you see them. Give merit to your deserving “Employee of the Moment” – why wait for the end of the month?

Where should you give out your awards and commendations? To build an encouraging culture, make the recognition widely known. Give praise at staff meetings, team meetings, management meetings and executive forums. Award prizes at the company picnic or family day. Bestow special honors at the annual dinner and dance.

Create tea parties, breakfast gatherings or end-of-the-week celebrations. Use every opportunity to commend superb performance and recognize successful efforts.

Highlight your awards in the company newsletter. Notify the local newspapers. Send press releases with photos to your industry publications.

Create a Wall of Fame in your plant, office or building. Take down some of the impersonal decorations and put up visual reminders of your most successful projects and praise-deserving teams.

How can you provide staff with meaningful recognition? By making the awards something your staff will appreciate and remember. For example, when the recipient is an outgoing type, throw a party, make a big fuss, go for all the publicity you can muster.

If the winner is shy, however, consider providing praise in a more personal way: special meeting, a thoughtful letter, a hand-written note on their desk.

If you are going to award a prize, try to make the honor reminiscent of the achievement. For the fastest production team, buy running shoes. For the engineer who devises a better way, go out and bronze a spanner wrench. For sales teams that hit the target, host a party with a tournament of darts.

You can give useful work tools as practical reinforcements. A new workstation can be a major motivator for a technically minded professional. A direct telephone line can mean success to the salesperson starting out. New business cards mean a lot to junior staff: give them as a premium for good performance.

And finally, why should you provide so much reward and recognition for your staff?

People have many choices of where — and how hard — to work. An encouraging culture motivates us to give our best. A sterile or discouraging culture diminishes our enthusiasm daily. Where would you rather put in your best effort?

At one local company, staff’s admonition to the newcomer is: “If you do a good job around here, you get to keep your job. But don’t expect recognition.” Now that’s a culture that needs to change!

To make the change and make it last, you must build your company culture. Create a community of recognition, encouragement and support.

It’s not an easy job, and the change won’t happen overnight. But you must take the lead and meet this important challenge. The company you build and the people you inspire may be your greatest rewards of all.

Managing Cultural Diversity in the Workplace


The inability to manage diversity in the workplace can be extremely harmful to your business. It can cost you:

  • discrimination suits
  • litigation time and money
  • legal fees/settlements
  • high employee turn over rates
  • negative community image

You can keep your risks at a minimum by understanding what cultural diversity is, why it matters, and how to effectively manage your business in terms of diversity.

What is Cultural Diversity?

The United States is often thought of as the great melting pot where anyone from any background can assimilate into a single society. This idealistic way of thinking is not too applicable to our nation today. A more realistic and appropriate “ideal” is one of multiculturalism (cultural diversity). Multiculturalism is based on the idea that cultural identities should not be discarded or ignored, but instead, should be maintained, and valued.

The importance of cultural diversity has been, by in large, accepted in American business. This is illustrated by the increased presence of women and minorities in the business world. Diversity has gone from being a moral and /or legal issue into a business necessity.

A study by the Hudson Institute for the U.S. Department of Labor found that 85% of the new entrants into the workforce in the year 2010 would be women, minorities, and immigrants. If you want your business to be successful and competitive in the future, you will have to utilize these human resources and participate in these diversity trends.

Why Does Cultural Diversity Matter?

Cultural Diversity matters to every single one of us, both professionally and personally. When a group or segment of our population is excluded or oppressed, all of us are denied. For our businesses and communities to not only, survive, but to thrive, each of us needs to be aware and sensitive to ALL the members of the community. Our communities are rich with resources. When all segments are respected and utilized, it benefits everyone involved.

A great many of us live on the “margins” of society. To be in a margin means that you are not a part of the mainstream, popular culture. In this nation, our popular culture, or ideal for business success, is white, young, heterosexual, Christian, and male. This means you are on the margins if you are:

  • a woman
  • have ANY ethnic background that is non-white
  • are not a heterosexual
  • are not a Christian
  • are not between the ages of 21-50

If you can answer “yes” to any one of these criteria, you live in the margins. This means that there are obstacles, prejudices, and stereotypes about YOU as an individual. You cannot automatically assume that society’s view of you is unobstructed or based solely on your individual character, qualifications, or accomplishments. Unfortunately, you may be put in the situation to “second guess” or question one’s motives in their interactions and responses to you.

Another fact this criteria illustrates is that more of us live IN the margins than do not. More of us DO NOT fit the societal prescription of what is normal and acceptable. While this all may be true, we all must do our best to function as productive, happy individuals.

So what are we to do? We can all strive for change. We can all be proactive in our decisions and lifestyles rather than reactive to ignorance and intolerance. When a white woman snubs an ethnic woman, for instance, she is harming herself as well. The white woman lives in the same margin as the ethnic woman, and she is only perpetuating and cementing her place there.

America is the most diverse nation in the world. Our ethnicity, religion, life experience, etc., makes each of us unique. Ideas our nation once embraced about assimilation are now inappropriate and outdated. For someone who lives on the margins to assimilate into a single idea of acceptance to fit into society is a gross violation of their individual identity and rights. This means that we all need to learn to accept what is different from us and respect it.

Managing Cultural Diversity in the Workplace

The management of diversity can be considered a response to the need to recognize, respect and capitalize on the different backgrounds in our society in terms of race, ethnicity, and gender. Different cultural groups have different values, styles, and personalities, each of which may have a substantial effect on the way they do business.

Rather than punishing or stifling these different management styles because they do not conform to the traditional white (male) management methods, employers should recognize these differences as benefits. Not only can diverse management styles achieve the same results as traditional methods, but a diverse workforce can also help improve the company’s competitive position in the marketplace.

Diversity, or sensitivity, training is now common place in the corporate world. However, small businesses need to be aware of these issues just as well. As a small business owner, your awareness and respect of diversity truly matters to your employees and your client base.

You must create a balance of respect and understanding in the workplace to have happy and optimally productive workers. In addition to this, it is important that you AND your employees are aware of the importance of respecting diversity when dealing with your clients. When you work effectively with your community, both you and the community benefit.