Thinking about overhauling your company’s culture can be overwhelming and intimidating. Is that because culture is more of an intangible? Because it’s something you can’t see or touch? Something you can’t write out a standard operating procedure for? Something you can’t put in place over the weekend and have ready for your staff Monday morning? We like to fix things with our hands or with a written process or a set of rules, but we can’t fix culture that way.
A Solid Foundation
I like to look at culture as the foundation your company will stand on. Without a solid foundation, we know what happens over time – the building will fall apart.
Culture is the nuts and bolts of why people will follow your lead. I don’t like to look at culture as a management tool; it’s more of a concept and system of core beliefs or principles that will cultivate a staff that everyone wants to be part of.
Building a culture in your company is not only a good thing to do for your business, it’s the right thing to do for your people. Zig Ziglar – my favorite philosopher – once said, “You can have everything you want in life, if you can help enough other people get what they want.” That means if you can help your employees achieve their goals and dreams, you’ll in turn achieve your own.
That was a lot of feel-good talk, but let’s see if we can put these feelings into a “how-to” – or at least as close to one as we can get.
As I mentioned before, it’s difficult to put an intangible concept into a “how-to,” but we’re going to give it our best shot. Fair warning, though: Creating a culture will take a change of heart to achieve. If you are not open to that, you may want to skip over this article.
I’m going to give you four baseline principles or ideas to help you create a great culture among your staff. All of these principles will drive a “lead,” not “manage,” philosophy. We always want leadership as opposed to management.
Grab your pen and paper, here we go:
1. Use employee input to create a vested interest in the overall success of your operation.
How can you get people to be as passionate about your company’s success as you are? You most likely can’t, but the next closest thing is something called “buy-in.”
Are you more excited to implement your own idea or someone else’s? Everyone wants to be heard. These folks are out on the floor and on the front lines every single day, dealing with insurance companies, writing estimates, turning wrenches, straightening panels, etc. Your staff feels the pain of daily issues, every day, all day.
This is a two-fold concept. First, the relief an employee experiences when someone listens to what they go through day in and day out is huge. We all know this feeling, it’s called venting and it just feels good and is healthy. If they’re venting to you, your manager or the staff in a healthy group setting, it will keep them from doing the negative kind of venting, also known as gossip, slander, dirty laundry, etc. Gossip and chatter about the company in a negative way is one of, if not THE greatest culture killers. We need to get rid of this by any means necessary. So why not do it in a healthy, meeting-style environment? These types of meetings need to be hosted regularly, about once per week to begin. I would not recommend cutting them back to any less than twice per month, if at all.
The second part of this concept is listening to the problems that employees face on a daily basis and removing the problems or creating solutions. This should be familiar to those who practice lean concepts. You find a way to remove the waste, problems and distractions that keep people from doing their job as effectively as possible. (If you’re practicing lean or Six Sigma, I recommend using the “5 Why” method in your meeting.) I call this throwing away the fire extinguisher. You know just how much that extinguisher is used in our line of business; it’s just about a full-time position. These daily annoyances can kill employee morale and hinder productivity.
When a staff member offers an idea that isn’t so great, or isn’t something you can input, find another creative way to address their concern. If there is no way to do that, then have a quick, private meeting with them to explain why. If you find yourself shutting down employees’ ideas often, take a step back and make sure you’re addressing these ideas with an open and creative mind.
Communication involves listening with an open mind and communicating the goals you’re working toward to your staff. People want to know more than just what; they want to know why. A lot of times, people are frustrated because they don’t understand why you’re having them do things a certain way.
Most of the time, a manager or owner of a company has put a lot of thought into the way things are going to be done at their shop. After all, this is one of the reasons why they’re an owner/manager – they think through their processes and decisions carefully. (At least they should be! I bet some technicians may say different.) Technicians or lower-level managers are more doers than thinkers. So, do your best to let your staff know the why, not just the what. It can lower frustration levels and eliminate confusion.
Our workforce is getting younger as the baby boomers are retiring or finding other fields of work. They’re just plain beat up from many years of wrenching on cars. Your millennial worker is a stickler for the why. You’ll find that providing your younger employees with the proper information and explanation will go a long way toward achieving the outcome you’re looking for.
This last thought is a nice segue into our next principle: leadership. Great leaders are known for great speeches. A great speech is a strong form of communication. Take some time to prepare for your staff meetings. Don’t be afraid to share personal stories, trials and tribulations, or even some humor. You may look at it as just your staff you’re talking to, but they’re an audience that still needs to be captured. It can also be beneficial to start your meetings with hearing their side of things and what they have to say. They’ll be more apt to hear what you have to say after they know you’ve listened to their concerns and ideas.
3. Servant Leadership
Get down in the trenches with your people! Spend time out on the floor with them. Go and see for yourself (known as “Genchi Genbutsu” in the Toyota Production System). If an employee is explaining something to you, ask them to show you. Always take this opportunity. You’ll be amazed at the things you learn when you actually go and see for yourself. Toyota built an entire production model with this as one of the core concepts. (If you’re not up on lean practices, that’s where the Japanese came from earlier.)
This is a tough concept to get people to follow because it requires a little extra work and some humility. For example, if you’re having the guys come in on a Saturday to clean the shop, be there. Show up in work boots and jeans and dig in with them (but be careful, this may cause some of them to faint!). You don’t have to do this every single time, but from time to time, lend a helping hand. The next time there’s an event like this, buy pizza and spend some time talking about their personal lives (if they’re open to that). If you see someone is down in the dumps, reach out and ask if you can help them or just simply listen to them. If an employee’s mother passes away, be at the funeral home.
Sometimes this step can take a change of heart. You want this to be authentic. The way it becomes authentic is through a spirit of appreciation for what they do for you on a daily basis. I’ve seen many managers and owners carry the attitude, “I give them a paycheck, that is my appreciation.” However, there’s a reason they’re at your shop. There’s a reason you chose them as opposed to another technician who’s working up the street. Think about those reasons and appreciate them for that. If you can’t think of any reasons, that may be a whole other topic!
The next idea I’m starting to see more and more of (maybe because of social media) is serving your community with your staff. This is one of the healthiest things a company can do together. If you don’t believe me, try it and see if you can come home without a smile on your face. If it’s on a weekend, listen to the positive chatter in the shop Monday morning. You’ll notice an all-around lighter spirit. There is no better way for a company to be recognized than by serving their local community, whether it be through a food drive, car wash for single mothers, or presenting a car you voluntarily rebuilt to a less fortunate family. This will create a bond between your staff that few other things can.
Another terrific way to serve while leading is when you’re interviewing or conducting an employee review. Instead of just telling them what you want or expect, ask them what their goals and aspirations are and what they expect from you. Then, find ways to help them achieve those goals. It must be a win-win for both sides.
Servant leadership is something I didn’t practice in my early years of management. As I look back, I wonder how much farther along I would have been had I known this, both personally and in business. This step will take your culture farther than any other step we’ll talk about.
This topic is short, simple and to the point. I cannot stress this one enough. This can be really simple. Take the time to notice when someone goes the extra mile or just does their job exceptionally well on a daily basis. Even when you see someone performing a rudimentary task, take a minute and thank them. If nothing else, just have a sense of appreciation because they’re most likely performing a task you don’t want to do! It can be that simple. The best way to get your team to go the extra mile is to appreciate what they do for you.
So why is a good culture so important to a company’s success? Why should you create one in your company?
A culture creates the type of environment where people do things without being asked. It motivates employees to want to make the right decisions, to make decisions as if the company was their own.
It creates trust. It will brand a group of people who act and perform the same when you’re not there as when you are. By involving the staff in decision making and process mapping, it will make them more passionate about what they’re doing because it’s their own creation. People drive harder for their own ideas; it’s only human nature. If you appreciate 100% effort, you’ll continue to get 100% effort.
It creates a culture of people who do the right thing even when no one is looking. Culture makes the workplace better for all participants. People want to be heard! Employees want to know that what they’re doing makes a difference. Making the goals known by casting vision creates buy-in, as long as the vision is solid and beneficial to all.
There are many ways to build culture in your company. I hope I’ve given you a good sense of what culture is and how to help cultivate it. There is no “one way” to create a good culture in your company, so be creative and come up with some of your own methods.
I can tell you from experience that the concepts mentioned in this article work. They gave my business a competitive edge over others in my area when it came to finding and keeping good employees. We all know how hard it is to find good people, ask any business owner. Use these concepts to give yourself an edge and make your business, your people and yourself better today than yesterday.