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8 Actionable Tips to Improve Business Culture

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I’m no expert, but these tips have been tried and tested.

It’s official, I’m getting old. I’m about to hit 40 and my hair is more grey than brown (similar to George Clooney, or so I like to think), but who cares as this allows me to benefit from cheap car insurance and also means I have something money can’t buy, something that only comes with age – experience.  Over the years I have worked in a lot of different places, which have been varied in many respects, including business size, industry and location. I have worked in large multinationals, corporate head offices and also spent a lot of time with SME’s. Obviously there are many differences between large and small businesses, but one thing that is consistent across them all – is their culture and how it can effect staff and morale.

The culture of your business is not something you can physically touch and is difficult to define, but that’s not to say you can’t understand it.  For example, when interviewing a job candidate, I can tell within three minutes if they would be a good fit for Priority One, that’s to say, whether he or she feels right and will therefore get our culture.

The company message needs to be driven from the top and believed by all. If you can do that, then the end result should to be a workforce who are happy, feel empowered and agree with the company beliefs, attitudes and behaviours.

Of course, what I believe to be great ideas to improve the overall culture of a business will not be shared by everyone, but that is exactly the point – cultures are different. You only have to take a look at a workforce and how happy they are to understand if yours is working for everyone. And by happy, I don’t mean people telling you things are great, it’s something you can feel, it’s almost atmospheric. Working in outsourced IT I get to be involved in multiple industries, and it never fails to amaze me how different the ambiance of an office can be from business to business, site to site.

I don’t claim to be an expert in this field, but I do have 20 years’ experience in dealing with staff at all levels and offices of all sizes – so I think I know what can work, and equally what doesn’t.

1. Involve your staff

And by this I mean involve them in the company journey, and involve them in decisions that directly affect work that they will be doing. You hired these people to perform a certain set of tasks, so ask them for their input.  Just because you’re a manager or director and see it one way, don’t assume it’s necessarily the right way. Ask your team for their opinion and feedback, an employee who feels like they are part of a process will work harder on that process, and take ownership of a lot more.

2. Recognise and reward effort

An employee who feels valued is far preferable to one who feels like they are wasting their time. In our world here at Priority One IT if someone goes above and beyond their role then we reward them for doing so, and more so, we present this reward in our weekly meeting so everyone is aware. As a personal touch, we also always try to get something the person will like, as this shows we’ve taken the time to get to know them as an individual and not just another member of staff.  I am not talking a Rolex watch here, but a small token that recognises good work and effort. You can also take this one step further and have your team nominate a colleague for a reward – you can’t see or know about everything so this is a great way to bond the team and learn more about them.

3. Be honest and transparent

Won a big contract? Great! Tell the staff and share the elation with them.  When a large contract comes in at Priority One, it’s champagne all round (after hours of course!) and every so often when it’s really busy or we’ve had an exceptional week, I like to bring in breakfast for everyone. It’s just as important to reward your team when you’re not winning new contracts – people need to still believe it’s a great place to work and keeping morale up is vital.  Look around at your office and ask yourself – would I like to work here, in this environment? Be honest… if you lose a contract, tell the team and explain the reasons, but always end on a high with good news. Churn is never good, but unfortunately it does happen, even if no fault of your own.  If you don’t tell your team why they’ve left, then they will make their own assumptions, which may impact team morale.

4. Team building

At Priority One we think it’s reallyTough-Mudder-Team-Shot important to encourage all members of staff to work together both in and out of the office, and for the management team to get to know each individual beyond their job remit. A great example of this was our recent participation in Tough Mudder at the end of April. Here you can see one of our teams at the finish line, including our owners Jon Abbott and Steve Thomson in the middle. Admittedly this particular team building exercise isn’t for the faint hearted and doesn’t appeal to everyone (myself included!), but there’s so much to choose from out there that there’s no reason you can’t engage everyone. You can even ask your team to come up with ideas on what to do, examples we have had and done in the past include the London Escape Hunt Experience and Urban Golf.

5. Be open to change

Just because you are doing something the way it’s always been done, doesn’t mean this is the best way to do it. You hire people because they impressed you and you want them to work for you, so listen to their feedback and be sure to ask them for it! As a manager or director there will be lots of historic systems and procedures, perhaps even those that you have directly implemented, so don’t take offence if someone suggests there may be a better way of doing it – as chances are, there is! If you take offence or don’t listen, that member of staff is lost to the business and the culture you have worked so hard on will be lost for this person. It really is that easy to disengage people. We have hired people from our competitors in the past and learned lots from their feedback, resulting in significant changes to how we work on certain tasks. If you are a closed door to change or feedback, your staff won’t bother telling you about anything.

6. Gently enforce your culture, but make sure you do

If you have a dress code or shift times, make sure they are adhered too. This sounds like you may be doing the opposite to creating a happy and healthy culture, but look at it like this… Employee A turns up on time every day wearing his suit, perfect. Employee B arrives 5 minutes late every day and wears jeans, and yet nothing or little is said – this directly results in employee A thinking why do I bother and losing belief in your culture. That said, the same goes for how these issues are dealt with, do not chastise your staff in front of the team, just take them to one side for a quick chat, and even explain this exact scenario.

7. Respect, understand and get to know your staff

Everyone is battling something you don’t know about, with any size workforce at least one of your employers is going to be having a tough time outside of work, maybe even you. As a manager or director you should always take time out to do this where possible.  By expressing an interest, you’re showing that you’re approachable and will therefore instill belief in you, which in turns generates buy in when expressing the company ethos.

8. Lead by example

Always try to remain cheerful, even when stressed and your to do list is longer than a train. Coming to work shouldn’t be a chore, if it is, people will stop coming. Make the workplace an enjoyable place to be and review it frequently, asking your staff how you could improve the office environment. If you have rules, make sure you lead by example, always. If you promise change, make sure you deliver it! I am not talking about installing slides or having a full time masseuse, but just ensuring your environment is one that people will enjoy spending time in. If the air conditioning system is broken and its summer, get it fixed!

There is no hard and fast rule that will transform a company culture, but there are definitely key areas that you can focus on. You have to have staff buy in, if they don’t believe in your company journey they are not going to give their all to help get you there. Ask yourself, what did you like about other jobs you have had or places you have worked, look around you now – are you doing any of these?

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Tom Merriott

With over 20 years experience working in the IT industry delivering unrivalled customer service, Tom is perfectly suited to advise on what's trending in IT and how best to deliver day-to-day efficiencies for our clients and readers.

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