A lot has been written over the years about the importance of workplace culture – it is the subject of thousands of books and is a major component in every management and leadership course. By its nature, culture is ever-present and continually evolving in line with the ideation and leadership of the time. In recent times, it has become more of a hot topic in Australia due to the Royal Commission and the numerous regulatory actions flowing from it.

Over in the States, in a recent workshop series for business owners (conducted by Business Health), the topic was one of the major issues. In particular, owners were grappling with the challenge of managing staff who worked from home (an increasing trend as firms struggle to find the necessary qualified talent locally). By way of background, we began by conducting confidential staff surveys for the participating workshop attendees (in the feedback we collected comments were both positive and negative, as to how staff perceived the culture in which they worked).

We found the ensuing discussions with these owners encouraging, positive and focussed on the ‘how’ of their ‘culture’ ie. what were they doing to shape and nurture the ‘right’ culture in their business. During our work with these business owners and their staff, we observed there were, not surprisingly, a number of common attributes and viewpoints. I know that for most, what follows isn’t anything new, but it can sometimes be easy to forget the ‘basics’ when contending with the ever-evolving ‘new world’ of business:

  • Frequent and open communication from owners was the cornerstone to creating a good culture. And not simply through focussing on the ‘work stuff’ – staff were very keen to understand the overarching plan for the business and how was it making progress. A regular (ie. 6 monthly) ‘State of the Nation’ update to all staff was viewed as important. 
  • Remote staff should be bought into the office for these updates (coupling the update with some additional training), if not possible, these updates could be attended through video conferencing (Zoom for example). Remote staff must always be included (attendance was considered a ‘must’). A word of caution here – ‘State of the Nation’ updates are not substitutes for individual/one-on-one discussions with team members.

  • While consistency, transparency and fairness are obvious key drivers of culture, they can easily be overlooked – especially in times of high workload and/or disruption. In particular when they relate to remuneration and incentive payments, the way people are managed and the standards they are held accountable to, career development opportunities and the allocation of workloads.
  • Treating clients & staff with respect was another common ingredient to a ‘good’ culture. For clients this could translate to always focussing on the value being delivered to the client, never taking the client for granted, saying ‘thank you’ from time to time, providing transparency in the fees they are paying, letting them go if you can’t help them and proactively seeking their feedback on a regular basis. It goes without saying that the business should have a ‘relationship focussed’ CRM – where data other than simply the product information, was kept and refreshed regularly. The likes and dislikes of the clients (golf or football, red or white wine, opera or rock for example), the names of their children, preference for email or hard copy, morning or evening meetings and so on. 
  • For staff – up-to-date job descriptions, clearly defined work objectives (quantifiable and achievable) and a professional performance appraisal (conducted at least once a year) were key drivers to a good culture. Encouragement through professional development and recognising important personal milestones weren’t far behind. Acknowledging the partners of staff wherever possible was also viewed highly.
  • It follows from the previous point that saying ‘thank you’ and/or publicly acknowledging a staff member when they had ‘gone the extra mile’ in relation to a specific work issue, carries a great deal of weight.
  • Allowing people to feel proud of where they work is a great contributor to culture – easily achieved by placing staff profiles and photos on the company website, ensuring corporate marketing material includes bios of senior staff, acknowledging individual contributions at client events, seminars and in newsletters etc.
  • Having a sense of fun certainly contributed to the underlying strength of the culture. Whether it was hosting ‘Pasta Wednesdays’, celebrating Xmas in July or awarding the mistake of the month. You’ve got to have a laugh, right!
  • Leaders make a positive statement when they actively support (or better still participate in) community or charity events. Giving back was viewed by everyone as simply a ‘nice’ thing to do (and to be associated with).
  • Whatever the relationship – always do what you say you are going to do, and if for some reason you can’t, communicate the fact as soon as you can.
  • Finally, pay your team the courtesy of asking for their views and opinions – it seems to us that too few business owners are taking the time to seek feedback from their staff in a confidential, anonymous manner. Sadly, Business Health’s Confidential Staff Survey is one of our least requested diagnostics – says it all perhaps?

When you are setting goals for your own workplace culture, a great question to ask yourself is – what is the worst behaviour you’re willing to accept? As I said at the beginning of this piece, there’s nothing new here, and there will always be different & ever-changing attitudes, but the fundamentals mentioned above must, in our view, always prevail if the ‘culture’ is to be a good one.

For your consideration.

Terry Bell

Business Health Pty Ltd

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