I’m not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. They’re hard to keep, it’s an emotional kick in the teeth when they don’t work out, and they seldom make a lot of sense from a leadership perspective. Sure, it would be great to drive the company to bigger profits, be more innovative, have happier employees and Be a Better Manager, but for most leaders, the world of work is not set up to help reach those goals. Why? There are a million reasons:Employees may not really understand your business, competitors are innovating and your company feels a bit too tied to older technologies, your employees may be unhappy – just look at the number of resignations in the past six months. It’s time to tune in.
Stop a minute and think about that last one: your employees are unhappy. And a big part of your job is keeping employees engaged, productive and happy.
If you’re a leader, it may be shocking to think that a large percentage of your employees are dissatisfied. But you know it’s true, because talent retention is an issue, hiring is tough, and the corporate culture you and your executive team spent so much time building is falling apart. Conventional tools to sustain and repair culture – office get-togethers, 360 reviews, informal talks, free food, T-shirts – all a flop. You’re in a stall and there’s not much time to recover. This is when you realize you do have a New Year’s resolution: Change the Corporate Culture.
When culture has been damaged, how can you resolve – and succeed – to repair it? Lead with your emotions. Think about what it means to be happy at work at for people at levels of your organization – from product development to sales to marketing to HR. Talk it over with your leadership team, and come up with an actionable list of five things you can do right now, Q1, to rebuild your company’s culture. Here’s where I’d start.
Employee Recognition: Look at the mechanisms in place, formal and informal, to support employee recognition. Compensation is one tool, but it may not be the best. I advise companies to align informal recognition closely with your workplace culture. If you are leading an innovative startup with a lot of innovative, technical people, rewards may be less about money and more about time to work on side projects in areas that reflect the employees’ interests: social, mobile technology, community engagement. If you have a multigenerational workforce it will be a bit harder to get the mix right, but remember to include all employee recognition with genuine emotion. Make it personal, and make it heartfelt.
Performance Reviews: Performance reviews are painful. Most managers and employees dread them, but for the majority of companies, reviews are part of the employee recognition system. In many cases they are a broken, toxic and misused tool, and they’re killing corporate culture. So do a health check – step up and put yourself through the same system used to evaluate employees. I’m betting you won’t be happy with what you find. Reviews have two main components: the people involved, and the technology used to gather and process the review content. Tackle the people first. Make sure everyone understands the purpose of reviews and how reviews affect corporate culture. Check in with recently-reviewed employees to ensure the review had the right impact. Consider new systems and technologies which improve the mechanics of the performance review system – a few I’ve check into remove bias and spot inconsistencies before the review ever gets to the employee’s ears, making it easier to trust reviews won’t damage morale and culture.
Social Connection. There is absolutely nothing more central to a healthy culture than connected leadership. Dedicate a portion of your time to being available to employees, to connecting in semiformal (think stand up meetings) and informal settings (the cafeteria). Keep your door open as much as possible, and don’t cast your eyes down every time an employee walks by your door. Think about how it would feel if every time you walked by, people looked away. Engage your emotions when you connect with employees. IF you don’t they’ll know in a heartbeat, and your culture will suffer.
Set expectations, and expect the best. People need to know where they stand, and they can only do that if they understand what’s expected of them. This goes beyond setting performance goals – it includes when to show up for work, how to behave (no it is not ok to paint your nails at your desk), and how to treat co-workers. Be clear about what your expectations are for the company, too – communicate successes, discuss risks, and share goals big and small. Be honest when things aren’t going the way you want, and share suggestions for improvements. If you lead with your emotions, you’ll communicate that you expect the best not only of employees, but foremployees.
Recharge Your Workplace Culture. To be an emotionally honest and available leader, you’ll need to make time to step away and recharge your batteries. Taking vacations, going to seminars, meeting with peers – all are ways to recharge. Most importantly, recharging is a great way to model healthy behavior. If your employees are continually leaving vacation days on the table at year end you’re not doing it right. Ask HR to run a report of what percentage of employees didn’t use their allocated vacation. It will be a heat map of danger spots in the organization, places where the culture is veering in the wrong direction.
It’s not a leader’s job to make all employees happy, but it is a leader’s job to build a culture in which employees can be productive, engaged, grow professionally, and work in conditions that support being happy. To build a supercharged, super-committed, super-performing workforce, build a culture in which you and your leadership team can reach employees on an emotional level. It’s a New Year’s resolution you’ll want to keep.
Meghan M. Biro, Contributor
I cover talent, leadership, career, HR tech and social enterprise.