Beer in the Cafeteria

Do you need beer in your break room?

At a company I worked at years ago, my colleague wanted to bring a beer tap into the cafeteria. He thought this would boost employee engagement and make our company hip. While this sounded quite tasty, I knew this wouldn't work to improve our company culture.

I came across an article in from another HR professional that resonated with me on this topic and I wanted to share it with you. According to Melissa Daimler, “there are three elements to a culture: behaviors, systems, and practices, all guided by an overarching set of values.” She explains that a great culture exists when all three elements are aligned with each other, as well as with the organization’s values. When “gaps start to appear,” problems soon follow. With enough problems and a little time, great employees start to leave.

Behaviors, Daimler writes have to be modeled by senior leaders. They need to be defined and everyone must be held accountable to them, even those at the top.

Systems-How are you aligning those behaviors into your systems like hiring? How are you assessing those behaviors? At one company where I worked, we defined our values into behavioral statements and included them in the performance review so that we could more easily determine who was adhering to them.

Practices are all of the ways things get done from making decisions and running meetings to feedback and corporate events.  If you ask someone why we do something and they answer 'because this is how we've always done it' then you know its a practice that must be re-evaluated.  As companies grow and change, the practices need to do the same or they will stagnate. 

Having worked in Boulder for a big portion of my career, I heard many stories of cafeterias stocked with goodies, bean bag chairs, and even beer kegs on Fridays.  These are not the kind of things mentioned by Daimler in her article.  The point is that culture and employee retention can't be bought.  It has to be crafted and built over time.  

A strong, stable workplace culture can ultimately induce people to stay in a position, or at least with an organization. If you have made some positive strides but haven't yet reached the pinnacle yet, do not fear.  It takes focused effort, with small incremental steps.  It's tempting to try to implement a 'quick fix" but its important to remember that culture can’t be patched on—it has to be built from the ground up.

Need some tips to get you started?  Here are some things I've tried over the years that have worked well:

Ask! Many companies I've worked with have tried to increase employee engagement without really addressing core issues.  Ping pong tables are not going to fix the culture when you have senior leaders in the business who are bullies.  Senior leaders can initiate the process and make final decisions, but ask your front line staff what's working and what needs to be changed.

Have a plan- You can't expect to make improvement without knowing what areas of engagement you're specifically looking to improve.  Target lower areas that will be meaningful for your employees.  Tell your employees what you're working on and get their suggestions.

Get help- Improving your culture is not for the faint of heart, nor is it an easy task.  It needs laser sharp focus.  With everything else on your plate you need to ask yourself if its going to be one of your top 3 priorities.  If not, it can be beneficial to seek the input of a trained expert who has done the work before.  They can create the spark to ignite the cultural change needed.

Involve your leaders- It’s critical that each department leader have an annual engagement plan developed and implemented based on lower scores for their area, if you're ever going to get traction organizationally, support from all leaders across the company is key.

Culture takes time to define.  It takes work to execute, but the payoff is invaluable.   

Shift your organization

In The Edge last time I discussed the value of creating a culture of learning and its importance to your business. This time I’d like to share how to go about doing that in your organization.

How Do You Get Started?

Shifting the organization to create a culture of learning is easy to talk about but can be hard to implement.  Below are 8 tips you can use to begin to shift your culture towards learning.

  1. Make learning part of the organization’s strategic success. Integrate learning with talent management in support of capability development.  Perform a talent SWOT with your senior leaders and tie it to your strategic plan then cascade learning down into the business.  Repeat this process annually and monitor results for continuous improvement.
  2. Make a belief in learning a part of the organization’s culture of leadership. Use leadership development programs to encourage leaders and management to take ownership of the learning culture.
  3. Ensure your learning development programs encourage leaders to take ownership of learning culture:
    • Get their buy-in on what’s being offered
    • Have leadership emphasize learning as an important activity
    • Influence them to invest time, money and resources
    • Have leadership participate in their own learning
  4. For a learning culture to be ingrained, it should be mandatory for all individuals in the organization.  Training and development plans that are not formalized run the risk of not being taken seriously and as a result not implemented.  Reinforce with employees that the company provides learning opportunities but the learning is up to them.  It’s ok to make certain aspects mandatory to shape the culture AND empower employees to take charge of their own learning.
  5. Make knowledge sharing an organizational habit. Institutionalize knowledge sharing by incorporating incentives and opportunities into every learning and performance management process.
  6. Develop knowledge and information sharing into a formal process.  People will be more encouraged to share knowledge and information if they are required to do it.  Formalizing the process makes sure that everyone who needs the information gets it. 
  7. Create formal mentoring, shadowing, and buddy programs.
  8. Offer vibrant and accessible learning events for every level of employee.

Shifting the culture of an organization is not for the faint of heart. It can take months and even years to get it to where you want it to be. The long term pay off however, can make the difference in the profitability and competitiveness of the business.


Create a culture of learning

Do you have a culture that fosters learning and ultimately transforms the organization? Is your culture neglected and left on its own, which can breed conformity and stagnation?

Organizations not focused on learning experience high turnover, struggle to keep customers, and ultimately fall behind competitors. They may be profitable in the short term but ultimately fail.

Organizations with sustained learning practices thrive. They understand the connection between cultivating talent and growing a business.

What is culture? 

It’s like the air we breathe—it’s all around us yet very hard to see. You notice it when you go from one company to the next. 

It’s made up of all of the policies, practices, and values demonstrated. It’s how we behave and even more so, what people get away with.

Culture is hard, not soft. It’s not a ‘touchy feely’ thing—but rather an important set of behaviors and processes which impact your organization’s success.

What do your leaders do when something fails for example? How do they treat people who deliver bad news? How well are decisions delegated to owners of a problem?

The answer to these questions and others will vary from company to company and shows a difference in organizational culture. These critical questions which deal with culture, and their answers, often mean success or failure for many business initiatives.

What is a culture of learning?

A set of organizational values, conventions, processes, and practices that encourage individuals to increase knowledge, competence, and performance.

Why does this matter?

According to a study by Bersin & Associates, titled “High-Impact Learning Culture: The Best 40 Best Practices for Creating an Empowered Enterprise” Organizations that have a strong learning foundation in place tend to significantly outperform their peers in several areas:

  • They are 32 percent more likely to be first to market.
  • They have 37 percent greater employee productivity.
  • They have a 34 percent better response to customer needs.
  • They have a 26 percent greater ability to deliver quality products.
  • They are 58 percent more likely to have skills to meet future demand.
  • They are 17 percent more likely to be market share leader. 

In addition to this study there are others that also point to statistically significant relationships between learning organization behaviors and performance measures.

A learning culture is very business-relevant and not at all academic. “Learning Culture” is what enables BP, Toyota, Microsoft, IBM to identify the problems in their products and fix them quickly.

It’s what enable Cisco and Goodland and Apple to ‘out innovate’ their competitors. It’s what enables Walmart, UPS and Dell to drive down costs and maintain service quality. 

It’s what enables ING Direct, Zappos, and Starbucks to grow at rates 10-100X their competitors. And it’s what prevented Digital Equipment Company, Tandem, Apjollog Computre and Silocon graphics, Kodak and hundreds of other defunct companies from embracing change in their markets and evolving their products. 

This topic is important! It means life or death for many organizations.

How do I know if my company is a learning organization?

There are several ways you can begin to assess whether your organization stands in becoming a learning organization.

First, you can begin by asking some key questions. I’ve given you a head start in this document. Use this tool to self-assess your culture.

Once you have evaluated your answers, pass this survey on to other leaders in your business and use it as an aid to begin dialoguing with each other to see how aligned you are. Discuss how your results vary from theirs and where they are similar. Conduct focus groups with employees or customers.  See how leadership’s view vary. Strategize at a retreat, business planning session or at staff meetings.

Once you know where your opportunities are as an organization, you can begin making necessary changes to transform your organization. This is not an overnight process, but takes steady, focused, long term effort.

Are Your Employees Your Greatest Asset?

When I ask this question most leaders and CEOs vehemently agree yes to this question.  They are the life force to our customers, essential to producing and delivering our products or services and are the face of the organization to the public. However, my next questions: “What are you doing to develop and retain them?” and “What investment are you making to develop your leaders?” often elicits a deadening sound of silence.  Or sometimes I get an answer that mentions half-hearted training efforts with no rhyme or reason as to why they are doing them.  It usually is not consistent throughout the organization, which would encourage true behavior change.  Nor is it tied to their strategic objectives or what they hope to accomplish as an organization, so it is not valued by top leadership. According to Gallup’s recent State of the American Workplace report, only 22% of U.S. employees strongly agree that their company's leaders have a clear direction for their organization. And only 13% strongly agree that their organization's leadership communicates effectively.  This has helped lead to the disheartening metric of only 33% of American workers surveyed being engaged.

Many organizations ascribe to the method of “trial by fire” leadership training or “one and done” single day training events.  It’s no wonder that many companies say that turnover is their number one challenge.  We know from the research than employees, more often than not, leave their boss before leaving their company.

Stand out from the crowd and become an employer of choice!  If you really want to make a difference to your customers, your team and ultimately to the bottom line, then think about doing something more than just talking about how important your employees are.  Advance your talent through development opportunities.  Prove that you value them!  Invest in your leaders (Coaching Skills Development) so that they have the tools they need to inspire, create innovative cultures and coach your employees to greater heights.

Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team

The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team™  is an assessment-based learning experience that helps individuals and organizations reveal what it takes to build a truly cohesive and effective team in the most approachable, competent and effective way possible.  Powered by Everything DiSC®, the profiles help participants understand their own DiSC® styles. Bringing together everyone’s personalities and preferences to form a cohesive, productive team takes work, but the payoff can be huge — for individuals, the team, and the organization. The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team program helps teams understand how, as a team, they score on the key components of The Five Behaviors model:

  • Trust
  • Conflict
  • Commitment
  • Accountability
  • Results Each individual on the team will also understand their own personality style and their team members’ styles, based on the DiSC® model: D: Dominance, i: Influence, S: Steadiness, and C: Conscientiousness, and how their style contributes to the team’s overall success. The program is designed exclusively for intact teams and work groups. The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team harnesses the power of Everything DiSC® and the clarity and simplicity of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team™ model.

The Five Behaviors Model is used to help team members learn to work together more efficiently and effectively and become a more cohesive team. A productive, high-functioning team:

  • Makes better, faster decisions
  • Taps into the skills and opinions of all members
  • Avoids wasting time and energy on politics, confusion, and destructive conflict
  • Avoids wasting time talking about the wrong issues and revisiting the same topics over and over again because of a lack of buy-in
  • Creates a competitive advantage
  • Is more fun to be on!

7 Tips on Creating a Culture to Drool Over

Trying to create a winning business culture?  It might not be as complicated as you think.  Much has been written on the value of a great work culture and how it can support the goals of the business and maximize profitability.  Companies that have bought into this are Southwest Airlines, Zappos, Google, and Edward Jones.  They seem to be on the ‘best of’ lists all the time.  It can be a significant differentiator from your competition and can create a competitive advantage for your company.  Who wouldn’t want to work for a company named on Fortune 100’s best companies list?  Imagine how much easier it would be to recruit and retain the best and the brightest talent.  Yet it’s amazing how many businesses fail to make the long term investment needed to achieve this success.  Many focus instead on slick marketing campaigns, reducing expenses such as rightsizing, implementing new technology and spending a wealth of resources on any of these and more.  According to Steven Covey’s 7 Habits for Highly Effective People this is focusing on what’s urgent rather than what’s important.  There is no harm in the short term, but in the long term, this is just firefighting and not getting to the crux of what will make you truly a company that will be touted by your existing employees and creating a line of applicants of the highly skilled waiting at the door.  Here are 7 steps to get you started in the right direction to create a culture for which anyone would drool.

  1. Hire the right fit for the culture you are creating. This means being clear on what that culture is and even more importantly what it is not.
  2. Move the wrong ones off of the bus. This can be hard with long tenured staff who have provided much value in the past or are still contributing.  Offering a severance package and signed release of claims allows them to leave the business with dignity and grace and giving them security for the short term.
  3. Start at the top with senior leaders and have well defined values that you hire and fire to.
  4. Hold others accountable to the values you have defined. Incorporate these into your HR and business practices.
  5. Start with your own team. Invest in them and help them become more effective as a unit.  This is a great way to ignite other areas of the business once they have seen the positive change from within your group.
  6. Assess where you are and what needs to change. Conduct “stay interviews” to find out why your best and brightest stay and what they value in the current culture.  They have their boots on the ground and will be able to give specifics about what needs changing.
  7. Develop an action plan and stay the course. Changing culture is not for the faint of heart.  It takes perseverance but the rewards are plentiful.