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HR Connection: Ten things you can do to improve your corporate culture

What is a corporate culture? According to Entrepreneur Magazine, corporate culture is a blend of the values, beliefs, taboos, symbols, rituals and myths that all companies develop over time. Others describe corporate culture as the way a company’s owners and employees think, feel, and act or live out their values.

According to the company Brand Integrity, which works with organizations on managing their employee and customer experiences, “a healthy culture occurs when your values, culture and reputation are all working together and your employees are truly engaged at work, living your brand every day and creating a positive, productive environment internally and externally.”

However you define it, if you have a healthy corporate culture you will be more competitive in the work place.

As company leaders, we should be “culture ambassadors” and keep watch over our organizations. If you have not assessed your culture recently, here are 10 common sense things you and your leadership team can do right now to help maintain or move towards a healthier corporate culture.

1)     Be visible. When was the last time you walked around your company and talked to employees, or went to the employee break room for lunch? Do you see examples of employees in action? Is there a positive vibe? Visibility for leaders can also be key to increasing your approachability.

2)     Talk to employees. Great managers spend less time talking and more time listening. Sometimes the best way we can test the temperature at a company is to simply meet with employees one on one and ask them how things are going. Seems simple enough, but when you are busy, what is one of the first things you postpone? Keep your door open. Employees who feel comfortable communicating with you will feel valued and will be more inspired to do their best work.

3)     Say thank you and celebrate success. There is a difference between recognizing someone by a simple thank you and providing strategic recognition, which is thanking someone so others can learn from it.  For example, instead of saying nice job to employees when you see them in the hallway, thank them for their work at a staff meeting and explain how what they did ties into your core values. According to Daniel Pink in “Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us,” to ensure you get an engaged, productive and committed employee, they need to understand the difference their work makes. Giving praise in public is a way to model desired behaviors.

4)     Look at your data. When was the last time you surveyed employees on how happy or engaged they are? Reviewed turnover statistics or absenteeism data? Looked at exit interview forms to determine why employees are leaving? Reviewing employee data regularly can help you spot problems early on before they really impact your culture.

5)     Pay your employees to volunteer in the community. While there is a cost for lost work time, challenging your employees to give back to the community is frankly a win-win for a company. While you can’t have every day be a volunteer day, the power of employees working a Habitat for Humanity project or a United Way Day of Caring project is enormous. According to a survey from LBG Associates about employee volunteer programs, 71 percent of employees who participated indicated they felt more positive about their company as a result of these programs. In addition, a corporate volunteerism study by Deloitte showed that 61 percent of millennials surveyed consider a company’s commitment to the community when making a job decision.

6)     Provide wellness opportunities. A well-managed wellness program can impact employee recruitment, engagement and retention. When employees feel like their employers care about them, they tend to be more productive. According to a study by the Principal Financial Group, 45 percent of workers stay at their jobs because of wellness programs offered by their employers.

7)     Spend time with your high performing employees. Don’t let problems keep you from mentoring, developing and rewarding your top employees. While employee turnover is expensive, turnover of your best people can be a culture killer. According to an article from the Financial Post, “the top 16 percent of employees generate 60 percent of revenues; the bottom 16 percent cost the company 20 percent in revenue.” Redirect some of your time to your best performers so you don’t lose them to another employer who will pay attention to them and capitalize on their contributions.

8)     Not only ensure the right people are on the bus, kick the wrong people off. How many companies drag their feet on terminating an employee only to say when the deed is done that they wished they had done it months ago? Toxic employees can kill a corporate culture. Providing training and development opportunities, but give a deadline and enforce it.

9)     Be transparent. When times are tough, sugarcoating information or not communicating the full picture can make employees think that things are worse than they really are. Addressing bad news head on and asking employees to help formulate solutions can be extremely beneficial for problem solving and keeping employees engaged.

10)  Live your core values. As a leader, do you know what your core values are? Can you recite them? Even more important, do you model them? As leaders, we know our employees are always watching. That being said, nothing can hurt a corporate culture more than communicating that you should “do as I say, not as I do.” As stated in a tweet by Marshall Goldsmith, “those who lead by example and demonstrate passion for what they do make it much easier for their followers to do the same.”

Maintaining a healthy corporate culture takes work. As Louis V. Gerstner Jr., the former CEO of IBM, stated, “The thing I have learned at IBM is that culture is everything.”

Michelle Pedzich is senior vice president, Human Resources, for Canandaigua National Bank and Trust. She oversees the human resources and training functions and is responsible for developing strategic initiatives and communicating and executing human resources throughout all levels of the organization. This article is brought to you by the Rochester affiliate of the National HR Association, a local professional HR organization focused on advancing the career development, planning and leadership of HR professionals.

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