Culture Shock: How to Evolve Your Workplace Culture for Today’s Employees

“Culture” is the latest buzz word. Workplace leaders gobble up research and best practices on the topic because many have come to the realization that creating engaged employees results in more productivity, better performance, more successful recruitment and retention …

and it’s also just the right thing to do. Although executives and managers are drawn to the “culture” discussion, they often struggle to implement any real change within their workplace.

Many established executives and managers are hesitant to rock the boat for fear of damaging familiar boundaries… they take only small steps to improve culture and either fail to champion further initiatives or abandon the effort altogether. Yet, the truth is that organizations oftentimes need to make the leap and undergo a culture shock in order to experience real changes that benefit their workforces and position them for success in the future. This white paper, developed by About Talent in conjunction with workplace culture expert and bestselling author Curt Coffman, outlines steps that employers and managers need to take to undergo a positive culture shock and come out on the other side with a more engaged workforce, in addition to examples of organizations that have experienced significant improvements from simple, imitable policies.

Successful Management Practices: Then and Now

Research completed by Roth Companies (the parent company of About Talent) and Curt Coffman, Chief Science Officer of The Coffman Organization and bestselling author of Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch, has found that most employers still oversee their workforces using outdated management practices. In the past, the greatest driver of employee satisfaction was compensation (including salary and pension). Today, employees say that they crave meaning and purpose in their roles. Additionally, survey responses gathered by Quantum Workplace, an engagement survey and employee feedback company, indicates that a top driver of employee engagement is “the leaders of this organization are committed to making it a great place to work.” Today’s top performers also desire flexible work schedules and locations allowing them to balance work and life. “Your organization might have the world’s best systems, processes, and technology to drive people initiatives in the organization, but if they don’t meet the needs of current and future generations, they may not be of use,” explains Coffman. “Great managers know when it’s time to make a change in order to do right by their employees and help them—and their businesses—not just survive, but thrive.”

An Action Plan to Revitalize and Revolutionize Culture

Changing your culture doesn’t mean replacing your existing management team; sometimes it takes just one leader in the right role to present the big picture … a culture champion who can effectively sway fellow executives who may be of the opinion that “it’s worked for us in the past, so why change things?” When it comes to driving cultural developments, the following “how to” list can help your organization get on track.

  1. Designate one person or team to champion new initiatives.
  2. Source feedback from employees—ask them what would increase their engagement.
  3. Research what’s worked for other organizations within your industry.
  4. Make a plan that includes a timeline of new program rollouts and SMART (specific, measurable, assignable, realistic, time-related) goals.
  5. Take baby steps and roll out one program at a time to ease into change.
  6. Be prepared for some discomfort; change is neither easy nor always welcome.
  7. Stay the course—long-term results aren’t going to be immediately visible.
  8. Celebrate small wins along the way, such as increased engagement scores on internal employee surveys or noticeable improvements in day-to-day camaraderie.

“Change doesn’t happen overnight, especially when new initiatives affect hundreds of coworkers spread across more than 100 locations nationwide, as is the case with Roth Companies,” says Adam Roth, Roth Company’s President and Chief Operating Officer, and architect of many of the company’s award-winning workplace programs. “For example, when our senior leadership team rolled out our 9/80 Flex Schedule that enables coworkers to work nine longer days in two weeks and have every other Friday off—the only one of its kind within the staffing industry—a majority of our managers had concerns. They wondered how they were going to keep their branch offices afloat with half of their coworkers out of the office every Friday. Yet, we saw significant increases in engagement among all coworkers after its implementation and increased productivity… not to mention greater financial success in the long run!”

Models of “Best to Work For” Culture

Although not all processes and programs may work for every organization, employees across all industries and geographies do crave certain policies and elements that these “Best to Work For” organizations swear by.

A Line of Sight to Their Purpose

Successful eye clinic chain Aravind Eye Care System has built their workforce and workplace around a single mission: “To eliminate needless blindness.”  This enables everyone to rally around a single goal, and to understand how their actions help to better society.

Take away: Employees need to realize their role in achieving your organization or department’s mission. Without that knowledge and the ability to work toward a specific purpose, they will feel aimless. Build a line of sight from each employee to your workplace’s overall purpose and position each person for success.

Creative Time

The 3M Company that produces everything from Post-It Notes to medical products enables employees to dedicate 15% of work time toward creative pursuits. Another notable “Best Place to Work,” Google encourages coworkers to pursue their passions and develop innovations during work.

Take away: Employers often nudge their employees to resolve problems in creative ways, yet, they do not create environments that breed creativity and innovation. Allowing employees to discover and then explore their passions can spur out-of-the-box thinking and product development, and could do wonders with breeding positive energy in the workplace. If you do not have the resources available to allow a “15% creative time” policy like 3M, start small—carve out an hour every Friday.

Hire the Right People and Trust in Employees

One financial services company in Mumbai, India gives employees the freedom to create their workdays, as long as they are physically present in the office for team meetings and essential duties. Each coworker comes and goes as they please, building their schedules around their projects and ideal work environments.

Take away: Overseeing your employees closely is not going to make them more engaged—giving them freedom and trusting that they’ll do the right things and get their work done, will. Afraid that employees will abuse the freedom? In this management model, anyone who doesn’t fit with your culture or exude a passion for your business goals is going to stick out, enabling you to build upon a core staff of employees who are “all in” and can’t wait to come to work. 

The Shock Will Wear Off

Injecting new cultural programs into your workplace can be a shock to the system… but the shock will wear off once they become the new norm and more coworkers jump on board. Take the leap and start taking steps toward improving your organization’s employee engagement—there may be some initial discomfort, even resistance and push-back, but it will be followed by positive results and a loyal, productive, excited workforce.

Sources: Curt Coffman and The Coffman Organization, Quantum Workplace, Aravind Eye Care System, 3M, Google.