Workforce CultureJoe, a graduating technician, was recruited by his local dealership. He was excited to begin — a bit nervous, but ready to dig in.

Mitch was Joe’s supervisor, and Sandy was a fellow technician who had been in her position for 10 years. Mitch wasn’t sure why Joe was being hired. He felt he and Sandy were handling the volume just fine, and he liked the overtime pay. Mitch was just a few years short of retiring and was starting to wonder if the boss’s plan for his retirement matched his own.

Sandy had put her time in and expected to be promoted into Mitch’s position. She made sure that Joe, as he got started, understood that. Mitch heard his boss talking about what an expert Joe was on the new technology and was no longer so sure if Sandy was the shoe-in for his position they both expected.

Six months into the job, Joe is no longer certain what he’s gotten himself into. He had been eager to share what he had just learned with his older teammates, but they dismissed him and give him a hard time about it. Mitch and Sandy barely speak to Joe, and, when they do, it is to point out what he has done wrong. Joe is no longer sure that this is the right career for him.

Organizational culture encompasses many things, but primarily, culture impacts employees’ attitudes and directly affects output. Organizations with positive cultures have engaged, productive employees who feel respected, valued, and invested. They have lower turnover, more innovation, and better ability to hire based on their reputation. Conversely, a workplace with a poor culture often suffers from high turnover, disengaged employees, lower production quality, and difficulty hiring. Culture isn’t easy to change. However, with commitment from leadership, it can be done.

In an effort to inspire its members and association partners in developing strategies to build a bigger, better workforce, AEM is pleased to offer its Workforce Solutions Toolkit.

Available now and free to access, the AEM Workforce Solutions Toolkit contains ideas, activities, sample materials and more in a customizable and easily digestible format. To access the toolkit, visit www.aem.org/toolkit.

The Cost of Poor Culture

According to the Harvard Business Review’s article, Proof That Positive Work Cultures are More Productive, poor culture can lead to:

  • 50% greater health care costs
  • 37% higher absenteeism from disengaged workers
  • 49% more accidents
  • 60% more errors and defects
  • 18% lower productivity
  • 37% lower job growth
  • 56% lower share price over time
  • 50% more voluntary job turnover

Many organizations may not get around to worrying about culture, or if they do, the culture issues seem too systemic to effectively address. However, the costs of poor culture are extensive. Your culture challenges didn’t happen overnight, so don’t be dismayed when they don’t change overnight. Taking deliberate steps to make manageable changes will be worth the effort in the long run.

What You Can Do

Take an honest look at your organization. It’s natural to be hesitant to open the door to feedback, but to measure success you first need to know where you’re starting from. Once you’ve identified an opportunity to grow, you can prioritize and plan. Culture starts at the top, so change is less likely to occur if leadership is unwilling to lead the culture change. Culture emerges and adjusts slowly. You need to have an “in it for the long haul” perspective. Remember the benefits of having a great culture and keep at it.

Building Your Strategy

Follow the strategies below to get started on creating the culture you need to be more innovative, productive, respected, and profitable.

1. Assess your organization.

When you walk in the door, do you get the sense that your employees like being there? Is there a shared feeling of ownership, responsibility, and accountability? Do your employees help solve problems? Do they bring problems to your attention? Are your mission, vision, and values reflected in what happens inside your doors? Do your employees even know your mission, vision, and values? The first step to success begins in understanding where you are starting from. Assessing your organization is nothing more or less than asking some good questions to get the lay of the land.

2. Assemble a team.

Culture is, by definition, created by a group of people. Therefore, it will greatly benefit the success and effectiveness of your process to gather a group of people from all levels of the organization to participate. Create a great cross-functional team!

3. Create a prioritized plan.

It’s hard to just about anything without a good plan. It’s even more important when building a new culture. Your cross-functional work team should be the designers. It’s fine to find a book, philosophy, or even another organization that you want to use as a template, but, at the end of the day, it needs to become your plan with your voice.

4. Empower managers and supervisors.

Managers and supervisors are in a key position that can either create or demolish positive culture. Very few people come pre-loaded with the gifts of providing coaching, feedback, communication, and positive affirmation for jobs well done. Yet, those are significant skills needed in those positions. As generational expectations for the workplace have changed, the role of managers and supervisors has also had to adapt to meet those expectations. For managers and supervisors who identify with a more authoritarian style of leadership, even understanding WHY employees should be engaged in this way is a challenge. To create and sustain the positive culture that will yield engaged employees, lower turnover, better problem solving, and easier recruitment, managers and supervisors must have training and buy in.

5. Check communication.

Organizational communication is the bedrock of successful companies. It can also be one of the most challenging. According to Dr. Bruce Berger, in his report, Read My Lips: Leaders, Supervisors and Culture are the foundations of strategic employee communications, “Communications influence culture through formal and informal channels, stories, rituals, shared experience, and social activities. A culture that promotes communication is participative, less formally structured, embraces diversity, facilitates shared decision making and promotes open communication and dialog.”

6. Engage employees.

Employees are the largest investment of any organization. They are the critical mass that makes things happen. They will move you ahead, keep you stagnant or can pull you down. How you engage your human capital is critical and makes the difference between surviving and thriving.

7. Celebrate results!

How do you communicate organizational or departmental progress on your journey in a way that is effective and separates success from day to day accomplishments? Celebrate! Acknowledge! Award and reward! Why is taking time to celebrate important? According to the Leapsome website’s blog on “How to Celebrate Success at Work: A guide for Managers,

  • 78% of US employees say they would work harder if only they were given more recognition
  • 35% explicitly note that under-appreciation negatively impacts their productivity

Learn More

Creating great culture can be done. A reputation for great culture helps companies recruit and retain employees. Great culture is linked to greater innovation, quicker problem solving, higher productivity, and a healthier bottom line. If you need more support, ideas, or information, get started by visiting the Workforce Solutions Toolkit or contact AEM's Julie Davis at jdavis@aem.org.

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