In this guest column, Vivian Maza, chief people officer at Ultimate Software, details the impact of strong cultures, and discusses why they’re worth the investment in time and money.
A strong company culture impacts everything from employee productivity and happiness to customer retention and market growth. Moreover, Deloitte recently found that 94 percent of executives and 88 percent of employees consider a distinct workplace culture important to organizational success.
Building and protecting a positive culture can feel daunting to HR leaders, especially as a company grows by hundreds, or even thousands, of employees. But, there are several straightforward steps you can take to start transforming your workplace. In our 25-plus years fostering an employee-centric culture at Ultimate Software — growing from four people to the more than 4,000 we have today — we’ve focused on five key pillars.
I list commitment first because you can’t form a productive culture without first fully committing to doing so. This is your foundation. It takes true commitment from everyone within an organization, from the C-suite to the interns, and especially from HR, to create an environment where a strong, healthy and connected culture can flourish. Commitment is also critical because great culture doesn’t just happen overnight. It’s something you have to continually work on and evolve over time.
How do you earn the commitment you need to succeed? Make sure everyone in your organization understands your company’s mission, and, most importantly, believes in it. You need complete buy-in from your leading executives, who instill a companywide tone, and every individual (including virtual employees) in the organization should feel connected to the same central mission.
Remember, it’s called “human” resources for a reason. All great cultures require a baseline of empathy and human understanding to truly thrive. A healthy culture is one where people care about everyone, every day.
Just like having underlying commitment, establishing this mindset starts with your company leaders and your HR department. Are you leading by example and setting policies that encourage respect for all individuals? We all learned the “Golden Rule” in kindergarten: Treat others as you want to be treated. This idea remains a crucial lesson today and is worth keeping with us as we navigate our professional lives.
In my organization, our core value is rooted in this guiding principle. Our North Star is “People First.” We believe that when you truly care for your people, they reflect that care back toward you. By extension, they focus on always doing the right thing and caring for colleagues, customers and the community.
Communication is the cornerstone of any successful relationship, whether between friends, a manager and her direct report or a company’s CEO and her employees. Clear and consistent communication strengthens trust, a vital element for employee happiness. Our recent study found that 93 percent of employees say trust in their direct manager is essential to their overall happiness at work.
That trust grows when you’re communicating clearly and often with employees about the company’s short- and long-term goals. Ensure that your people understand the road map that will help achieve those goals, and how their individual roles will contribute to the bigger picture of their company’s success.
Also be sure to share company news, good or bad, quickly and honestly. Don’t let your people learn about major company developments from Twitter before they hear it from you. Communicate with employees at all levels, across a variety of channels, so that everyone remains on the same page and well-informed.
The company that celebrates together stays together. Be proud of your people’s achievements, and take the time to recognize them. Celebrate product, service and financial successes, but also personal milestones — completing a marathon, getting engaged or having a baby.
People like to get together and bask in happy news; it feels good, and it brings positive vibes into the office. Perhaps most importantly, creating a culture of celebration makes your people feel appreciated, which has a major impact on employee satisfaction. In fact, one study found that 79 percent of employees who quit their jobs said “lack of appreciation” was why they left.
A truly positive corporate culture extends beyond the workplace. Make volunteering in the community and charitable giving core to your company values. Ask employees what they’re passionate about, and find ways to contribute to those causes, and to support organizations that align with your corporate values. Understanding what your organization can do within your community can make life just a little bit better for everyone around you, while helping employees feel a sense of community inside and outside the walls of your business.
Set aside service days for companywide volunteering, or offer paid volunteer time as a benefit, so your employees can take time on their own to support nonprofits close to their hearts. You can also give through charitable donations, set up fundraisers to energize employees around specific causes, match employees’ donations and contribute a portion of your annual revenue to charity.
These initiatives won’t just benefit important causes—they’ll also benefit your company morale and culture, building camaraderie among your teams.
While championing something like “Five Cs” of an employee-centric culture may sound a little cheesy, we’ve found that having identifiable pillars helps keep us focused and accountable. Together, we can build and protect a positive, productive workplace where people are happy and engaged. What are your culture pillars?
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.
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