It’s no secret that culture can be one of the most tricky parts of business to get correct, and that culture is often overlooked in favor of more tangible elements. A reason for this is the simple duality of it—culture informs the big picture of your business, yet is comprised of small cues and subtleties. However, neglecting cultural inputs is a mistake, as they are the oxygen and protein for the body of people who create and manage the systems and processes we call business.
This point is well illustrated by a story in Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point.
The subway system in New York City in the 1980’s was riddled with crime. This “culture of failure” included no air conditioning in the cars, broken windows and graffiti…and nearly 20,000 felonies each year.
What turned it around? Gladwell claims the turnaround was due to the “law of the few,” and the power of context. The subway was suffering from the “Broken Windows” theory–no one cares; no one is in charge. Graffiti equals public disorder; aggressive panhandling equals an invitation to more serious crimes. The tipping point occurred when a new subway conductor set out to win the graffiti battle. There would be no retreat: once a car was reclaimed, it was never allowed to get dirty again.
The mayor and head of transit police cracked down on the small crimes and the environment that was creating the larger crimes. They worked to create a culture of success, beginning with the smallest of details.
Gladwell calls it the ‘power of context’. In business, I call it culture.
The atmosphere in which your business lives and breathes–its context–is critical to its success. In a culture designed to breed success, management must embrace integrity, accountability, communication and approachability.
Engaged Employees are Successful Employees
People are the main inputs for culture, so hiring well (beginning with those at the top) and retention are key ingredients for success. But a poor environment does little to attract top talent, and lesser still to optimize existing talent. So where do you start?
Through my work at many companies, Clearhead included, I have found that when your employees are engaged in their work and feel that it has value within the business, you are well on your way to creating a great culture. The reasons for this are simple: employees that see and feel the value of their work are more heavily invested in it than those that are not, and employees feel most engaged when they can connect their work to the central goals of the business.
Don’t just take my word for it—the data bears this out. The most recent Gallup Workplace survey found that companies with high levels of employee engagement experienced higher levels of productivity, sales and profitability. What’s more, these same companies also had markedly better customer metrics.
How We Garner Employee Engagement
So, building a culture that prioritizes employee engagement creates an atmosphere of success for your business. That seems simple and obvious, but in practice it can be difficult to sustain.
At Clearhead we’ve solutioned for this by installing Problem Solution Mapping as the system for employees to engage with leadership and one another on both the problems and goals of the business. Quarterly, we conduct Town Halls wherein leadership outlines the goals and problems facing the business. This is done with transparency and candor, a critical part of this process. Through Town Halls we are able to communicate across practices and teams, aligning employees around central goals and problems.
The second part to this is our internal problem solving process, See Something Say Something (SSSS). Through this system employees are encouraged to collaborate and solve problems of any magnitude—from small problems with simple solutions to the large, complex issues raised in Town Halls. Everyone, regardless of practice or seniority, is welcome to identify, validate and hypothesize solutions. The progress of these identified problems is then discussed in bi-monthly meetings of the entire team. Both Town Halls and SSSS are grounded in transparency, which encourages every employee to get involved in the process of consistently improving the business.
The Secret to a Culture of Success
It is not enough to build the foundation of culture and manage it occasionally. This is because a great culture is not built by a single visionary in one great period of herculean effort. Rather, culture is built day in and day out, shepherded by many, growing and developing alongside the business. The secret to a great culture is consistency and collaboration in connecting employees to the goals and problems of the business. Investing in culture is investing in the sustainment of this system, gaining employee engagement, and building a culture of success.