Improving Company Culture
Contributed By Tim Kopp
Tim Kopp is a partner with Hyde Park Venture Partners, one of the leading early stage tech investors in the Midwest. Previously, as CMO of ExactTarget, Tim helped grow revenue to $400M, and held influential roles in both the company’s IPO and eventual acquisition by Salesforce of $2.7B. Visit his blog at cmovc.com.
(May 4, 2017) — I love hearing details about a company’s growth story when they pitch to me. But, revenue alone certainly doesn’t provide a clear picture of everything that is happening. The tell-tale sign of organizational health is the quality of employee engagement. Success in this area takes a group effort. Of course, the CEO and other key company execs set the tone, but it takes buy-in from every leader and manager inside the organization to foster an environment of true employee engagement.
There are numerous resources (blogs, books, research papers—you name it!) that seek to help leaders engage their employees. But distilled down, the #1 principle for effective employee engagement is intentionality. By being intentional with employee engagement, you not only tell your employees you care, you show them. (Talk is cheap.)
People don’t quit their jobs—they quit their bosses.
Managing people can be messy, and there certainly isn’t a cut and dry blueprint for managing different personalities, skill levels, and employee needs, all while staying on top of your own workload. The only way your employees remain your top focus is by making your employees the priority.
Perhaps more than ever, the lines between personal and professional life are blurred. Employees want to know who they are working for, the mission of the business, and how they play a key part—not just what the company does. After all, people don’t come to work for companies, they work for people. It’s important to humanize yourself in leadership, as well as the employee experience through personalization, attention, and ongoing prioritization.
One great way to do this is to create meaning in the job that goes beyond the normal context of work. Your employees love to be reminded that they are a part of something bigger than themselves.
Checkpoint: Does your mission create meaning beyond work alone? Are regular 1:1 meetings a staple of your management rhythm?
In order for your employees to think like owners, you need to own the employee journey.
Your employees should matter more than your customers. If you think about it, an investment in your people is actually an investment in your customers. While many companies say they invest in the employee journey, it’s not being put into practice. The problem usually isn’t the lack of awareness, but rather, the failure of execution.
How can you ensure that it’s more than lip service?
Owning the employee journey means there is goal alignment from top to bottom and side to side throughout the organization. The strategic plan and goals of the company should be clear and well-documented. Each executive, manager, and employee should work to understand how their role plays into this vision. One exercise that we utilized when I was at ExactTarget was Salesforce’s V2MOM (Vision, Values, Methods, Obstacles, Measures) process. The key is to focus on simplicity and ultimately drive cross-functional alignment.
I am also a big believer in the “whole person” mantra. A person’s work can’t be isolated from their life, as lives are impacted by the physical, spiritual, social, and (yes) professional. As such, the employee journey should reflect this level of understanding in how goals are set and reached. Managers need to work with their teams to set broad goals, as well as individual goals.
When there’s clarity around an employee’s path, purpose, and the larger vision of the company, you enable your employees to think like owners.
Checkpoint: Who owns the employee journey at your company? How is success and accountability measured? Is employee experience a line item in the budget?
In 2012, Google launched a multi-million dollar study called Project Aristotle to understand how teams work most effectively together. The findings pointed to one key factor affecting productivity more than any other—psychological safety.
Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson defines psychological safety as “a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject, or punish someone for speaking up. It describes a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.”
From past experiences, I have witnessed a close correlation between community among employees and their subsequent productivity. I have also seen firsthand how critical of a true investment it is in the onboarding process is—not just a checklist item on Day 1, but a true immersion in the business.
In another Google example, the company’s people operations team unveiled five simple recommendations to help managers onboard new employees:
These aren’t rocket science, but they are game-changing in their impact. By focusing on these five recommendations, Google improved onboarding results by 25%.
Notice above that a peer buddy, a social network, and regular check-ins were all part of Google’s recommended onboarding process. Employees want (and need) to be bought into what they are doing. The best way to get people excited about the company and their work is through the contagious passion and energy they see in others. It builds community.
Community can play a big part in combatting what I call the “trough of employee disillusionment,” similar to the famous Gartner technology hype cycle. Typically, six to twelve months into the job, new employees usually start to feel the fatigue and reality of their work. They go through a period of questioning why they joined the company and what they should do about it.
The best way to combat the times of disillusionment and isolation is through community. When there’s a sense of community, employees feel acknowledged and supported, distancing natural feelings of complacency.
Checkpoint: Do your onboarding efforts last beyond the first week on the job? What are you doing to continually make sure you don’t alienate your newest team members?
Plain and simple, your employees want to know what is going on throughout the company. In most cases, it’s an employee’s right to be trusted with important information and to understand how changes affect them. This vulnerability builds trust and empowers your workforce.
In my role at ExactTarget, we had team huddles on a weekly basis with our marketing team. On a few occasions, I even got called out for being overly positive. People don’t want to be fed the standard PR headlines—they want to know the real stuff that is going on and have a voice in important team decisions. Employees want to understand what the problems are and how they can have a seat at the table for solving them.
Yes, too much information can be distracting and immobilizing, but the bigger opportunity is to create a feedback loop that values your employees’ opinions and opens the lines of communication. Many times, you can come to a better decision by encouraging diverse feedback.
Checkpoint: Are you giving your employees a seat at the table or are you shielding them from all of the decisions? How do you give your employees a voice?
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Organizational health and employee engagement are very complex topics. At the risk of oversimplifying, I believe the fundamental principle is intentionality. The onus is on company leaders to create an environment where employees can learn, grow, and thrive. Because once you’ve created the environment, you need to give it away to your employees and support them. I believe in this concept of “freedom in a framework” because to truly own something well, you must give it away.
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