Workplace culture has made the news a lot lately — and it’s not always pretty.
This summer, the New York Times reported on Amazon’s “little-known experiment” in pushing its white-collar workers. Between internal competition and long hours, they revealed that pressure is so high employees regularly see their officemates in tears.
Maybe this works for Amazon, but for the rest of us, neglecting company culture (and making people cry) isn’t an option. Culture impacts morale, hiring, productivity and — ultimately — your bottom line. More than that, it’s about choosing whether you want an organization that benefits just you and your shareholders — or one that’s good for the entire team.
In 1994, I fired my entire company – all 11 employees. Having made some major hiring missteps, I had an epiphany and realized that culture is everything. From that moment on, I decided that our people and our culture would come first. To reinforce that choice and make myself accountable, I even posted “It’s all about people” in the front entrance of our office, in huge vinyl letters for everyone to see. It’s still there today reminding us of that commitment.
Here are three culture building tips from my experience on the frontlines.
Tip 1: Create a high-energy workplace.
People spend more than half their lives at work – it should be fun. At O2E Brands, we have a casual, open-office environment that enables interaction and collaboration. Our president and I don’t have private offices (no one does), and it turns out that set-ups like this are good for business: open-offices boost communication, interpersonal relations and job satisfaction while reducing conflict.
But it’s not just the floor plan that keeps our people engaged. Every morning, the sound of a ringing marine bell cuts through the office buzz, signalling the start of our seven-minute standup “huddle”. The entire company attends to hear good news, numbers and even a (surprisingly non-cheesy) cheer. The huddle fosters transparency, collaboration and an opportunity to appreciate that we are working together as a team.
Other companies have amped up the workplace in different ways. Silicon Valley’s tech titans are famous for having everything from in-house massage and yoga studios toslides and fire poles. And you’ve probably seen video games or a ping-pong table at a workplace near you. The underlying goal of these efforts is similar: Create an environment where people love to do the work they love and everyone benefits.
Tip 2: Give employees space to dream — on and off the job.
You’re not the only one with visions for your company’s future. Your team has dreams too, and giving them an outlet to express them increases engagement and may even turn out some awesome initiatives. Google GOOGL -0.49% is known for giving its workers “20% time” to pursue side projects, a policy that led to the creation of Gmail and Google News. Giving people time and space to put down day-to-day obligations and think “big” leads to happier employees who help push the business forward.
At O2E headquarters, we have a “Can You Imagine?” wall where employees can post ambitious goals that they want to lead. For instance, one staffer envisioned expanding 1-800-GOT-JUNK? to Australia. Over the years, this evolved from a skunkworks project to a major initiative, and now we’re sold out in every major metro ‘down under’.
Tip 3: Share the wealth with your employees.
It’s no secret that money is a motivator, but the feeling of ownership is equally powerful.Employees who feel like owners have a real incentive to contribute to the company’s success. The best profit-sharing programs cover both bases, and the result is an office environment where people are excited to share in the outcome.
We learned that lesson firsthand in 2004, when we committed 25 percent of our profits to our people. Since that time, people have seen that their actions are directly linked to their income, and they work together to cut costs and boost revenue.
For example, our office manager recently struck a deal with Red Truck Beer Company to co-sponsor First Round Fridays, a bi-weekly celebration where we buy our staff their first drink to kickoff the weekend. That partnership means that a great local brewery gets a new following of customers, and we’re able to host an event that builds culture – all while keeping the bottom line in mind.
Apart from the benefits to our culture, profit-sharing has actually boosted profitability, big time. In the first year, our bottom line after payouts grew by nearly 800 percent. Ten years later, the rewards continue to roll in: last year we reached new highs and every member of the team received a profit share equal to eight percent of their salary.
It’s not hard to find similar profit-sharing success stories. In February, Southwest Airlines announced a record US$355-million payout for 2014, giving each employee the equivalent of five weeks pay. However, it’s important to identify your objectives before creating such a program. For it to work, employees must understand your company’s challenges and have the ability to contribute to its solutions.
If your company has a bold vision, you need people who are equally ambitious and willing to challenge you and the status quo. Investing in the right office culture hugely boosts your odds of attracting and retaining incredible talent. And while being “most eligible boss” isn’t about popularity, frills or fringe benefits-it’s about laying a foundation for sustained growth and bringing the whole team along for the ride within an organization they love.
Brands, which includes companies like 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, WOW 1 DAY PAINTING, You Move Me and Shack Shine. He's passionate about helping others grow small to medium businesses and corporate culture. Tweet him @brianscudamore
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