A great workplace is about more than its perks.
Workplace culture is a passion of mine and I am always searching for glimpses into organizations that, simply put, do it better than everyone else. I think my obsession with making a difference in the work that I would eventually do began when Jerry Maguire first read his mission statement and touted that relationships were really at the heart of success. Ah, Hollywood.
All these years later, I still believe that caring more and striving to change lives is the key to lasting success. I also believe that most of us want to be part of a business that cares, one with loyal team members and guests, and one that, of course, is productive and makes money—we gotta eat, after all.
While most people start out with these objectives, over time some organizations start putting them in the wrong order and begin to believe productivity and profitability is achieved at the expense of caring for their teams and customer relationships.
We begin to cut important corners when scheduling trying to save a little money in labor, forcing those who remain to carry a bigger burden and potentially affecting guests negatively. Or the stress of trying to make
our numbers cause our smiles to become brittle and words to become sharp or sarcastic with a team member. Or little by little we strip away team member empowerment with decrees like, “come to me with every guest complaint” and “why didn’t you just do it like I told you?” which ultimately results in a workforce that doesn’t dare do more than meet the minimum requirements of their roles. We’ve built a culture that taught them not to.
It’s much easier to talk about living values and shifting culture than it is to actually do it. Shifting culture takes time, but if you’re up for it, here are a few ideas that the best organizations have internalized to get that award winning culture.
No. 1: Care about your team.
This idea can be misleading because showing you care is trickier than it sounds. How do you show your team you care about not only their contributions, but them as people? Trendy corporate America is in love with the idea of team building events, throwing team parties, flexible working hours and foosball tables in the break room but simply copying these perks is the wrong way to approach culture.
Team building events, activities, and incentives can be terrific outward displays of caring, but only when they’re authentic. For example, if in your heart of hearts, you don’t respect your team, no pizza at a team meeting is going to overcome that.
If your stress causes you to lose control of your emotions and yell at team members instead of providing constructive coaching, no motivational quote, gift card or even cash bonus will make them forget and continue to trust you or your motives. And once trust is broken, it’s very difficult to earn it back.
While I love team incentives and outings, they will only strengthen team bonds when you’ve taken time to show you care in more meaningful ways. Some ideas:
Take the time: Spend time with your team to learn about their individual goals and interests so you can help them win. Do they want to go to college? Do they want to become a manager at your facility? Do they want a future career in marketing, training, or human resources? Today’s younger team members are especially interested in what their futures will look like, and you can help funnel their energy in creative ways that not only serve the individual, but also your guests and, ultimately, your business.
Ask what they think: Actively seek feedback from team members (and guests!) about their experience in your facility and actively show them that you’re doing something with that feedback. People are much more forgiving of your faults if they feel like you’re hearing their feedback and trying to make improvements. The absolute worst thing you can do with feedback is to solicit it and then ignore it. Bottom line, if you aren’t prepared to do something with constructive criticism, you likely aren't ready to receive it.
Invest in their growth: Invest in your team by providing them ongoing training and coaching opportunities. Make coaching a part of your day to day discussions with team members so that they learn something from work every day. This could mean pairing up team members for peer to peer coaching, formal workshops, or just “nugget” training sessions on a regular basis. A side benefit is that people are more likely to stay with you long term if they are continually learning something new on-the-job.
Be clear about what you expect: Just like your goals should be SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time bound), so should your expectations. Team members shouldn’t have to guess what you’re thinking. When creating job descriptions, goals, and even check lists, make sure you’re answering those questions of “who, what, where, how (if necessary”), and “by when.”
No. 2: Be the boss.
This concept is especially difficult for new leaders who have previously been peers to the staff they now manage. And as the boss, you must learn to navigate the balance between leader and friend. You’re not their friend so you can’t play favorites. Staff with whom you had friendships in the past need to know that your role is different and because of that, you must take a good hard look at the values you previously displayed. This could mean the way you engaged with guests, small liberties you took while on shift, or gossiping about others (however harmless it may have seemed in the past). Never, ever engage in any type of gossip about any staff or other leaders if you want a cohesive, well running workplace.
No. 3: Be honest about performance.
Part of being the boss is being able to tell the truth about performance and to have difficult conversations about what is and isn’t working. I hear all the time, “I’m not a confrontational person” and “I don’t want to hurt their feelings” but absolutely no one benefits from a leader that can’t talk candidly about performance. Team members can’t grow, coworkers look on and see behaviors you seem to believe are acceptable, and your guests aren’t being served at the level your stated values suggest.
You can argue both sides of whether you should implement a formal performance review process but what those processes do offer is a structure that can help you get started setting expectations, standards and begin to manage to them. But don’t get bogged down in the paper work—the key is to actively communicate with your team members so that everyone is clear about what they’re supposed to be doing (and why!).
No. 4: Walk the talk.
No matter what, your leadership skills (and any shortcomings) are on display every day. You can never expect from your team what you don’t demonstrate yourself. If you expect them to be on time and ready for the day, yet you always start meetings late and aren’t prepared, you’re showing them you have what Patty McCord, former Chief Talent Officer of Netflix, would call a “mismatch between values.” You claim to value one belief, but your actions contradict that value.
For example, you can’t expect team members to go “all in” and do whatever it takes to make your facility safe and clean for guests when you haven’t fixed the light that’s been broken in the break room for over a month. Your actions would say you don’t value everything being in working order.
A great culture is built on a foundation of authenticity—and that builds trust. Get real with your teams about why they’re important to you, your guests and your business, and work together to build a culture you can be proud of.
Have other ideas about what makes a great culture? Share them in the comments or on Twitter!