So, you want to keep your employees engaged, avoiding burnout and other energy-sapping maladies?
You want your people to provide memorable customer experiences, regardless of the obstacles?
You want to inspire high performance while optimizing profits, growth, and retention?
Then you must do everything possible to ensure that your organization’s culture is ready for prime time.
An excellent guide is Eric D. Stone’s Jumpstart Your Workplace Culture: A Road Map for Igniting High Performance.
After a 26-year career at Enterprise, the iconic rental car company where his teams consistently achieved top-level results, Stone founded Clear Path Ventures to help young professionals and businesses navigate their way to success.
Stone says a high-performance culture emerges when a set of shared values and beliefs drives the right behaviors, creating a consistent experience and desirable outcomes.
“To sustain this culture, leaders must stay connected to the business through feedback and strategic sessions, closely watching for potential challenge,” Stone says. “They rely on ‘culture carriers’—influential leaders who embody the mission, vision and values, reinforcing the message. By cultivating and multiplying these ‘culture carriers,’ organizations can establish a network of passionate ambassadors, ensuring ongoing success. This network allows leaders to communicate a clear and consistent message that’s embraced by all levels, allowing their teams to focus on execution of the plans and initiatives.”
As most any leader can attest, it’s often a challenge to get employees “on board” with a culture that produces consistently good results. Stone suggests five simple ingredients—
1. A strong relationship with your manager: Create settings throughout the employee journey that encourage a listen-and-learn philosophy, which builds the seeds of trust. Think of new hire lunches, one-on-one meetings, branch buddy programs and team building events, both within and outside of work.
2. Clear communication of expectations and goals. Achieve the perfect balance of how often you meet (daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly) with the specific setting in which you meet (emails, conference calls, in person, virtually). This allows you to create a simple, consistent, and clear message, ensuring alignment throughout the organization and a shared understanding of what’s expected.
3. The right materials, equipment, and information to achieve desired outcomes. Teams should have the resources, data, technology, and training necessary to perform at the highest level. Instill a training culture and balance structured training with on-the-job learning, constantly looking for gaps in the development process.
4. A manager who encourages personal and professional growth. Foster development both inside and outside the organization, enabling employees to reach their potential personally and professionally. Whether it’s providing financial literacy and time management tips to reduce anxiety and stress or offering a well-run mentor programs and career mapping setting to facilitate progress up the corporate ladder.
5. A system in which top performance is recognized. These organizations not only have the right number of categories to reward top performance, but they also understand the rewards the employees desire. Whether it’s monetary awards, time off, a plaque, or a day with the CEO, these organizations recognize effort but reward high performance.
Stone shares some of the early warning signs that a culture needs a jumpstart—
Mood and Attitude Shifts: If negativity, arrogance, or disengagement become prominent despite a strong product or service, it’s a sign of trouble. For instance, a restaurant may offer a world class menu, but it can suffer if its staff is arrogant.
Artifact Decline: Pay attention to culture-specific artifacts that make your organization unique. These could include internal jokes, gestures, or even traditions. When these start to decline or disappear, it can indicate a cultural shift in the wrong direction.
Deterioration of Vendor and Account Relationships: If they begin to leave or communication deteriorates, it may reflect a broader issue within your organization.
Decline in Employee Engagement and Performance: Watch for declining employee engagement through quarterly surveys. Lower engagement can foreshadow retention issues and affect organizational outcomes, such as profitability and productivity. Keep a close eye on customer satisfaction scores, especially if they start fluctuating significantly. Patterns in customer feedback can signal broader problems with employee behavior, product quality, or service.
Change in Values and Ethics: When you see a spike in ethical violations (dishonesty and fraud, customer deception, sexual harassment), it can lead to cynicism and disengagement.
Increase in Silos and Fragmentation: If your organization is becoming more siloed, with teams and departments operating independently without cross functional collaboration.
Lack of innovation: If there is a decrease in the generation of new ideas or reluctance to embrace change.
Adding is easy, but subtraction is smart.
Stone says that when it comes to building a thriving workplace culture, the power of subtraction often gets overlooked.
“We create programs, write vision statements, do team building, put in place new systems and procedures, and in general, add layers of complexity,” he says. “There’s often little discussion about removing obstacles to allow people the bandwidth to follow the cultural road map you’ve laid out. Remember: clear beats clever! By having clarity, your team can truly embrace the initiatives you’ve committed to execute. It eliminates distraction and paves the way to a high performance.”
Good leaders tend to “hire for culture.” Stone explains why and how.
“In building a high-performance team, leaders must hire for culture by understanding the difference between fit and match,” he says. “When you need a specific shoe, let’s say a size 8, you don’t settle for a size 9,10 or an 11. It’s all about finding the precise fit that provides comfort and meets your needs. Fit can be construed as needing to fit into your present culture to excel. People who fit your organization might have a needed skill set, have the work ethic, or speak your language.”
Conversely, Stone says, hiring for a match is like buying a tie/scarf. It goes beyond fitting the role. It enhances the entire outfit. They bring out the best in each element, transforming the overall look.
“Hires who are a good match for your organization have all the qualities of fit but share the values and passion that define your culture,” he says. “If fit is about the head, match is about the head and the heart.”
Stone says training is a critical component of employee engagement because it combines several vital elements in the engagement equation.
“When a culture of training is in place, it demonstrates the importance of nurturing relationships by dedicating valuable time to employees’ career development,” he says. “This empowers employees to achieve their goals and exceed expectations, paving the way to career advancement and fulfillment.”
Stone says he has met very few people who were receiving outstanding training throughout the employee journey and remained disengaged. “When employees have the proper material, equipment and information to achieve the desired outcome, they experience enhanced confidence and a smoother path to success,” he says. “Obstacles get removed, and effective execution becomes the norm. When training is an integral part of the organization’s DNA, it not only gives employees the essential skills, but it turns them into the culture carriers who support the company’s values and mission.”
Peter Drucker, the iconic management expert, famously said that culture eats strategy for breakfast. Stone expands on the view. “Culture not only eats strategy for breakfast, but it happily eats it for lunch and dinner too,” he says. “But it doesn’t stop there, it keeps snacking on strategy 24/7. In my opinion, culture is the ultimate catalyst to elite execution and the genuine competitive advantage for all organizations. However, symmetry is important. You really need to be mindful that while culture powers strategy, it’s important that your strategy reinforces the culture.”
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