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Are You #Failing At Building A Healthy Company Culture?

Krissie ThorntonGuest Post: Krissie Thorton is a customer champion, community builder, and marketer passionate about helping startups and entrepreneurs with growth and marketing strategies and execution.  You can connect with Krissie on LinkedIn or Twitter

Disclaimer: I wrote this back in April on a flight to LA and forgot about it until I decided to clean up Evernote. This isn’t directed at any particular company, though over the last 15 years I have worked both for companies that fostered great culture and those that failed miserably. I’ve yet to publish anything on LinkedIn despite having about a dozen posts in draft, so thought I’d share something that was complete.

It amazes me that so many organizations fail horribly at building, fostering, and maintaining a healthy corporate culture today. Your employees are your greatest assets. Without them – you have nothing. No one to build, develop, improve, and support your product or service. No one to serve your customers. No one to generate revenue. Given that – why do we treat our employees so badly? Why do we treat them like less than how freaking valuable they are?

Happy workers who feel fulfilled in their work will output more than 300% better quality work and service than those who are disgruntled. (Okay that’s a made up stat, but it’s got to be something close to that).

All Hands InWhile, yes – we need work to pay bills, support our families, put a roof over our heads, clothes on our backs, and food on our tables – as human beings we all deserve to feel valued in the work we do. Whether we are flipping hamburgers or running a multi-billion dollar company – we’re all important. We’re contributing to the world in our own way. Making someone’s day better, making the world a better place no matter how seemingly meaningless our job might be. So why do so many employers insist on running a company like a dictatorship?

Startups, in their nature, are typically much better at fostering a healthy company culture and value system early on – when you have a smaller team, usually a few are your friends, you’re all struggling to succeed together, and anyone that helps you contribute to your success are the most important people in the ‘verse. It’s disheartening to think that larger organizations don’t see that the people who are helping keep them in business and grow are also the most important people in the universe. (next to customers, of course!)

It’s like with any relationship I guess – in the early days, you give your 100% to it – you do your best to be the best for that person, and show them how much you care – through affection, gifts, attention, all the little things we do in the beginning that create butterflies and stars and unicorns and happiness. Then – we get lazy and complacent. We forget what it was like to struggle – to not know what laid ahead. To not know the future. Would this work out? Will this be long term? Will they love me forever? We forget that these things take constant nurturing, and reminding our significant other how much they mean to us. We start to take them for granted. We start to think they’ll never leave out of sheer loyalty. Vows. Children. Comfort. Security. And then when they do leave – we’re left standing there wondering what happened? We gave them vows. We offered security. A home. Things. Stuff …

The value of people is so completely underrated.

Yes, there are always “bad employees” – but they’re really not “bad” (okay, maybe a very small number are). Most likely – they’re unhappy. They’re doing the wrong thing. They’re undervalued. Unappreciated. Under-utilized. Have undiscovered talent hidden somewhere that no one has taken the time to bring to light.

Why does this happen? Because companies grow, and outgrow practices that are easy to manage when they’re smaller. It’s easy to have your finger on the pulse of the business when you have 10, maybe even 20 employees. But as you grow, this gets harder and harder. You start to rely on software instead of shoulder taps.

Organizing team meetings takes more effort to coordinate schedules, and disrupts progress. It’s near impossible to know on a daily basis what people are working on – what they’re achieving, what they’re struggling with. You rely on managers to keep an eye on things and work with their teams, and bring you the feedback. Managers get overwhelmed. Their teams grow, and they suddenly have no idea what anyone is working on. You introduce software to manage your people and collect their daily time data for the hours you’re paying them for because you need it for accounting purposes and payroll … Employees hate it and feel like a number. Punch in. Punch out. Cubicle farm fever starts. They stop feeling fulfilled in their work. They start to hate their job. They get other offers. They leave. The cycle continues. For you – and for them.

So what can you do?

  • Show people that you value them. Without them – there is no company.

  • Ask people about the work that they’re doing, and how they feel about their job. What would they do differently? What do they think can improve their job?

  • Ask people what they need to do their job better – and give it to them.

  • Give kudos and celebrate victories – both big and small. Even the smallest act of appreciation can go along way.

  • Find tools that help give you insight into what people are working on, and make sure it’s not disruptive to them.

  • Inspire your team by sharing what you’re working on. What your struggles are. Show them that while you know a hell of a lot, you don’t know everything.

  • Be as transparent as you can.

  • Lead by example and show your team that you and your company believe and live your values.

  • Give back to the community.

  • Give back to your people.

  • And never forget that they are the most important people in the universe while you have them, they’ll return the favour ten-fold.