Extensive research has shown that a positive work culture often results in productive employees who both value their work and feel valued themselves.
But company leadership, not the employees, usually creates that culture. Executives and managers have a significant responsibility to establish a positive culture that is conducive to company success.
“Culture can be thought of as the inner life of the organization,” says Cynthia Howard (www.eileadership.org), an executive coach, performance expert, and author of the book The Resilient Leader, Mindset Makeover: Uncover the Elephant in the Room.
“It is the self-sustaining mix of values, attitudes, and behavior that drives performance. Culture is the brand identity of the company, and it has the ability to attract and retain great talent or not. Thus, it’s incumbent on the leaders to be aware of their culture, what they can do to improve it, and honestly assess if it’s the kind of place where people want to be and want to grow.”
Another key reason that company leaders need to make work culture a high priority, Howard says, is because millennials — who comprise the largest segment of the workforce — rank culture as their top consideration when choosing where to work.
Howard offers five ways leaders can foster a positive work culture:
Model positive, respectful behavior. Howard says a positive work culture starts with the leader setting the tone, which can send the right message to leaders at other levels in the company. “Don’t play the blame game,” Howard says. “Encourage an environment where it’s OK to make mistakes and move forward. Frontline staff crave leaders who understand them and care about them, will mentor them, and will provide professional guidance to make fair and tough decisions.”
Show gratitude. “Show your gratitude and appreciation for accomplishments by acknowledging people during a meeting or with a note,” Howard says. “Celebrating wins lifts morale, and when people know they will be recognized for exceptional work, they’ll be more motivated.”
Communicate consistently and with clarity. “Keep employees in the loop with consistent updates,” Howard says. “Give them regular feedback, not just at review time. This keeps people connected, feeling part of the team, and removes the mystery — and inherent tension — of where they stand. Create clear goals, and make everyone feel that they are necessary components toward reaching those goals. That inspires an environment of inclusion, pride and commitment.”
Really listen. “This is the important other side of communication that some leaders fail to master,” Howard says. “For the leaders underneath you and the employees throughout a company to truly feel valued, they have to know they have a voice and that it will be heard. Be open and encouraging to others’ ideas and solutions.”
Promote collaboration. One of a company leader’s primary jobs is getting the most out of their team — mainly by defining the importance of team. “Maximizing the strengths of a team means knowing each person’s uniqueness and talents and using them in the best possible way,” Howard says. “It also means creating a culture where everyone respects each other’s talents and is enthusiastic about working together for the greater good.”
“Poor culture leads to lots of turnover,” Howard says. “When you as a leader instill and insist on a positive culture, you reap the benefits. Happy, engaged employees mean a thriving company.”
Cynthia Howard (www.eileadership.org) is an executive coach, performance expert and the author of The Resilient Leader, Mindset Makeover: Uncover the Elephant in the Room. She researched stress and its consequences in performance during her PhD. In the past 20-plus years she has coached thousands of professionals, leaders and executives toward emotional agility and engaged leadership.