5 Ways Leaders Can Improve Culture – Without Hurting The Bottom Line

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In this guest column, Vivian Maza, chief people officer at Ultimate Software, argues that big budgets don’t build cultures. Real engagement with each employee does

Every company wants to create a happy and healthy workplace for employees, but few organizations have endless resources and time. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to improve your culture without straining your bottom line. In fact, starting small often has the biggest impact.

For more than 25 years Ultimate Software has focused on putting people first. Here are a few everyday practices that help us protect our employee-centric culture.

1. Treat Every Employee As An Individual

When HR leaders think about ways to improve their corporate culture, they often consider their people as a collective group. Throwing a company-wide party to celebrate a corporate milestone or offering paid service days can certainly have a positive effect on a large number of employees, and both are great for culture. But don’t lose sight of your people as individuals.

No matter what their roles or titles, above all else your employees are human beings with unique feelings, thoughts and ideas. Every person plays a role in your company’s “big picture” and contributes to your overall success, so don’t treat them as anonymous workers. See people as who they are and commit yourself to caring for them, respecting them and trusting them on a daily basis.

As much as possible, ensure you and your HR team get to know each employee on a personal level. Big parties are great, but so is knowing a programmer’s son has his first big swim meet after work — and giving that programmer the schedule flexibility to experience a milestone family moment. If your company is too big to know everyone on this level, encourage managers to act as extensions of your team (more on this below). Such small acts of kindness can have major positive impacts on your people and will contribute to your overall culture and company morale.

2. Don’t Just Say Thank You — Write It Down

Think about the last time you received a handwritten thank-you note. Not a text, not an email — an actual ink-on-paper note. How did that make you feel? Probably great. No matter the reason for the note, you likely felt valued and respected, maybe even honored.

Taking a little extra time to appreciate your employees this way leaves lasting impressions. It shows them you care so much that you took a few extra minutes to show your appreciation on paper. Handwritten notes can boost morale, be that extra “push” an employee needs and even inspire them to write their own “thank you” notes for others who’ve made an impact.

3. Prioritize Your Relationships With Direct Reports

Vivian Maza
Ultimate Software’s
Vivian Maza

A lot of what makes up a positive company culture comes down to regular communication and quality relationships.

Build a better culture by taking your direct reports to lunch every so often, or grabbing coffee together. Don’t meet — chat. You can learn so much just by talking with someone. Use the more casual environment to ask how your staffer is doing, solicit feedback and get a sense of their workload. Learn more about their goals, both short- and long-term. Getting to know them better as people is a meaningful step in building trust, and employees who trust their managers are ultimately happier and more likely to stay.

Also, it’s not just where these conversations take place, but how often. Establish a regular cadence — weekly, bi-weekly or monthly as schedules allow. Trade the once-annual, all-encompassing performance review that tries to cover everything in one hour (and which aren’t fun for anyone!) for an ongoing conversation. This is vital to helping virtual employees feel more connected, too.

If you’re worried your direct report won’t open up in a one-on-one situation, try skip-level meetings or “safe” lunch roundtables with peers. A small-group environment can make for a more open conversation.

4. Host A Town Hall For Candid Feedback — And Listen

A town-hall meeting is another simple way to create a forum for sharing feedback and really listening to employees. Even if everything seems to be going well and teams are happy, town halls will give you a chance to build on your strengths and create opportunities for making things even better.

It’s increasingly important for employees to feel they have a voice. Our research shows that 75 percent of employees are more likely to stay at a company longer if their concerns are heard and addressed.

If you can’t gather everyone together for in-person town halls, consider sending pulse surveys. Today’s HR solutions offer the ability to survey an entire company, ask open-ended questions and analyze feedback and real sentiment instantly.

5. Encourage Companywide Giving And Volunteering

Giving is a core component of our company’s culture because it offers opportunities to bond as a team, while supporting valuable causes. For companies with big and small budgets alike, giving time can feel more impactful than spending money on department-wide outings or treats for the office.

A company match on donations is a wonderful option if your business has the resources available. But giving can also be as simple as organizing team days like a park cleanup, or encouraging people to extend their lunch break for a regular volunteer stint.

As you consider your options, involve your employees in the conversations and let them have a voice. Your people want to know their company cares about more than just business. Our recent study found 85 percent of employees were more likely to stay with an organization that showed a higher level of social responsibility.

Extravagant parties and expensive swag aren’t the way to build a lasting culture. Real employee engagement starts with your people — not perks — and with these cost-effective initiatives, you can start making a difference today.

Vivian Maza has served as chief people officer at Ultimate Software since 2004. Before then, she was Ultimate’s office manager since the company’s inception in 1990. Prior to joining Ultimate, she was a systems analyst for the wholesale division of ADP. Based in Weston, Fla., Ultimate Software is a sponsor of the HCM Technology Report.