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 HBR.com 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.