A top question we’ve been hearing throughout the pandemic has been: “How can we create a desirable workplace culture that attracts and retains top talent?”
I recently asked a highly successful integrator this very question (the company has created an excellent workplace culture). I wanted to know: How did they do it?
The response was: “It’s pretty simple, really. You just have to make your place the place to be.” That makes sense, but how do you do that? Another quick reply: “You have to do two things: you make sure your high performers stay, and your low performers have to go.”
As many of you have seen as part of NSCA’s strategic planning process, we sort performers into three categories:
You can also view these as your A, B, and C players. Over the years, we’ve found that leadership’s tolerance for and acceptance of those who operate in the “unacceptable” range is what drives exceptional people away. It shows up in the form of: “I quit because of my manager, not because of the company, the work, or the compensation.”
Turning Managers into Leaders
Often unintended, managers and newly appointed leaders can sometimes “undermine vs. emphasize authority.” High performers placed in positions of authority will not tolerate this. Low performers don’t really care one way or the other (as long as they aren’t blamed for bad outcomes).
When the executive team swoops in to address a problematic situation, it should be done in a way that reinforces—not undermines—the authority of managers or fixes the problem for them. Imagine micromanagers coming to a project meeting simply to reinforce the authority that project managers have been given vs. overruling a decision they made. That’s a big step and key element of building an ideal workplace.
An Ideal Workplace is an Innovative Workplace
The career development and talent management model used to build out the ideal workplace can be viewed like the flywheel principle illustrated in Good to Great.
Elements that require intentional and constant positive momentum include:
- Engagement and inspiration (as opposed to ignoring and constant belittling)
- Good compensation and benefits
- Respect and support
- A team environment (especially as the workplace becomes more diverse and generational)
- A culture of good (community, environment, sustainability, DEI)
- The opportunity to move around the company (using the career lattice model)
- Personal and professional growth (education and training)
- Innovative solutions and tools for success
Teams and Teamwork are Key Motivators and Success Drivers
Building out an innovation team is a key part of workplace culture. Innovation can be viewed both as what you deliver as well as how you deliver it. It can support things like processes, automation tools, productivity tools, predictable scheduling tools, business analytics, etc.
When structuring a team, one common mistake is often made: placing the same types of thinkers on the team. For example, asking the top three engineers, three leading designers, or three skilled technicians to join the team—where they’ll likely come to the same conclusions in the same manner.
Instead, there’s another collaboration model that is proving effective—one that considers diversity in terms of mindset: thinking, planning, and execution.
Try putting these three types of people together:
- The Hippie. This is your “wait-a-minute” person—the one who asks everyone else to slow down and think things through before spending time and money. Generally, this person is the calmest and most experienced person in the room, and they serve as the voice of reason.
- The Hacker. This is the person who will always say, “Sure, we can do that. Give me a week, and I’ll have that ready for market.” Typically, they’re the least experienced and are also highly energetic and tech savvy. They don’t like sitting still—even for a minute.
- The Helper. This person is cautious. They’re often the ones saying, “Let’s document all of this and be ready to present to management once everything is tested.” They follow the rules; they’re disciplined and process driven. They’re deep thinkers who take notes and have already sent updates by the time the others return to their offices after a meeting.
Building a Family Culture
Some believe that, if you treat employees like family, then no one will ever want to leave. But it’s not as easy as it sounds. It’s an important element of an ideal workplace, but it’s one that I’ve also seen create lots of emotional challenges. Owners and leaders are devastated when a family-like employee leaves.
In my travels, I work with many family-owned businesses. I’ve seen conflict and, in many cases, some of the worst family-like behavior within these organizations. Tolerating bad behavior in family-like businesses erodes workplace culture quickly.
I often suggest that family businesses work to create more business-like cultures; I’ve also suggested to non-family businesses that they work to incorporate more care and compassion to resemble something more like a family-style business. The trick is finding a balance between the two.
High Performance Requires Constant Communication
If all your staff meetings focus on problems rather than people, then this can become an indicator of leadership not caring about employees. There are topics and people you may tend to avoid. Many companies with high turnover have owners, leaders, and managers who simply don’t want to deal with things. This culture of “conflict avoidance” leads to unwanted churn and frustration.
Here’s a test to see if you fit into the “conflict avoidance” trap. Think about two or three people and two or three recurring problems that have been ongoing sources of frustration. Now think about the desired situation. I assure that your life will be better once you figure out how to resolve these situations. And guess what? The workplace will become far better for it because, if you can spot these recurring problems, then so can everyone else. Your people are smart—they know.
Talking about Culture at BLC 2022
This topic will be at the forefront of the Business & Leadership Conference 2022. Influential Writer and Brand Expert Denise Yohn will be explaining what it takes to create a powerful workplace culture—and it often involves forgetting everything you think you know about the topic already.
You don’t need perks and parties. You need engaged employees who produce the right results and help build a great brand. You’ll learn how to infuse your culture with your core values and align your people with your unique identity so you can produce a healthy organization and valuable brand.
She’ll also be leading a breakout session on how to achieve brand-culture fusion in your organization. We’ll walk you through the playbook for achieving brand-culture fusion, futureproofing your business, and creating a workplace culture that attracts the best talent.
Chuck Wilson is CEO at NSCA.