Company culture is central to achieve staff engagement and motivation, and the coronavirus global crisis has provided an opportunity to pivot and rewrite business models
A happy worker is a productive worker, goes the oft-repeated business aphorism. It is incredibly challenging, though, to keep the workforce motivated through periods of significant change, such as during the early stages of a digital transformation journey or while a startup is experiencing rapid growth. However, change is something most organisations have experienced in 2020, as the coronavirus chaos has touched every part of our lives.
Business leaders should be sensitive to this current climate of uncertainty and potential bad news. Further, they must be careful not to become fixated on the bottom line and drive staff to hit growth targets. Taking this myopic view, and not paying due consideration to staff wellbeing and happiness, runs the risk of alienating the workforce.
Focus on your culture and the business will take care of itself
Organisations that foster and communicate an inclusive, company-wide culture driven by a clearly defined purpose are likely to find scaling more manageable. And now, following the global crisis, is the time for organisations to seize the opportunity to reset their culture.
“Focus on your culture and the business will take care of itself,” says Eissa Khoury, executive director for culture and engagement at Landor, a global branding and design agency. “Having a strong culture often translates into fewer checks and balances, and boosts efficiency as employees have much better clarity on what is expected of them, and how they’re meant to work collectively towards a common goal.”
Good communication and positive contributions
David Mills, chief executive of technology giant Ricoh Europe, goes further and posits an organisation looking to attract and retain top talent while scaling, and also appealing to consumers, must lead with a purpose that benefits society.
“Financial margins are no longer the sole indicator of business success or growth, sustainability must be at the centre of a modern business,” he says. “People are looking to employers to set an example and make more positive contributions to the communities in which they operate.”
Indeed, for positive contributions to permeate throughout an organisation’s culture, they must come from the top down, says Khoury. And leaders have to be transparent and communicate plans and progress, as well as setbacks, to staff.
Company news, he says, ought to be disseminated regularly and through various channels, particularly when people aren’t physically in the same space. Moreover, leaders should engage employees by encouraging their ideas and acting on them, so staff become more emotionally invested in the project.
“When scaling and growing a company, stress and long hours are often unavoidable,” says Khoury. “The essential advice for leaders is not to lose their sense of humanity and to appreciate that pushing teams too hard for too long is a terrible long-term strategy.
“If companies want their employees to be ‘bought in’ to the strategy, then they need to have a sense of ownership. The easiest way to accomplish that is to keep employees aware of how the company is doing, warts and all.
“Should companies try to push the company line to make employees think everything is rosy, they will see right through it, which creates mistrust and disengagement. Treat employees with respect, let them know what’s happening and make them feel like their contribution matters.”
Transparency breeds trust
Abbie Walsh, chief design officer at Fjord, an Accenture-backed design and innovation agency, agrees. “A focus on financial growth means companies risk losing sight of the very culture and values their brand was built on,” she says. “And if employees aren’t already feeling like a cog in a machine, the new hires, team restructures, redefined roles and a mountain of new processes that come with business expansion is sure to lead to levels of dissatisfaction.”
Walsh believes having a clear purpose will increasingly become critical for organisations, small and large. She points to the Fjord Trends 2020 report that suggests we should care more about our impact on the planet.
“In 2019, questions about capitalism’s trajectory of endless growth with profit as the sole measurable moved from shouting on the streets to conversations in the boardroom,” she says. “There is an urgent need for businesses to redefine value, reassess their goals and scale in a way that serves the interests of investors, society and employees at the same time.”
This article – sponsored by Nespresso – first appeared on Raconteur’s Return to the Workplace for SMEs report in March 2021