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3 core drivers of a positive company culture

Free ice cream for all employees every other Thursday!

Ice cream’s good. Free is definitely good. But for one local company where a friend of mine worked, it wasn’t good enough. In fact, the good will those leaders thought they were building quickly turned into grumbles.

Ice cream couldn’t counteract the pervasive culture of distrust and a lack of transparency. Company leaders couldn’t see the enormous root problem, reaching with long tentacles to every department and employee. It left a bad taste in his mouth no ice cream sandwich could expunge.

So, what does a solid company culture look like, and why is it so important?

Culture goes beyond fun perks

With 18 years at AdamsGabbert – and several stops at other major KC employers before that – I’ve had a front-row seat to a lot of different corporate cultures and environments. In my current role, I have an opportunity to help many other companies improve their own processes and performance. Often, that work leads our team to uncover hidden issues that can have far-reaching effects on the overall culture.

But what is culture? Whether it’s beer on tap, a ping-pong table, or those cool sleep pods at Google, we often confuse company perks with company culture. It’s an important distinction, because just like those ice cream deliveries, these little perks only improve employee satisfaction when they’re added to a foundation of solid company values. And the stakes are high, writes Alan Kohll in Forbes:

“From recruiting top talent to improving employee satisfaction, it’s the backbone of a happy workforce. Without a positive corporate culture, many employees will struggle to find the real value in their work, and this leads to a variety of negative consequences for your bottom line.”

To build a solid company culture, you need to focus on three key areas. These three are a big reason I’ve been at AdamsGabbert for 18 years, and I’ve spotted them at some of the most successful companies in Kansas City:

1. Transparency

I appreciate the ability to walk into Denise’s office with my ideas or concerns, and my feedback is welcome. Transparency means more than just a literal open door, of course; it’s a culture of open and honest feedback – as well as a healthy sharing of information – that leads to trust in the ranks and makes me feel like I’m valued.

In fact, a recent study found that management transparency is one of the top factors driving employee happiness. Yet, the same research found that only 24 percent of employees felt like their own management was transparent. This is why it’s so important that leaders communicate honestly and remain open to discussion—as well as seek new ideas and feedback from staff.

2. Communication

From Slack to Microsoft Teams to everything in between, companies have more communication tools available than ever before. But it’s not just having the media and the ability to connect to information; it’s what’s done with those communications. Email is great, but if I decide to copy 50 people on an email that doesn’t directly involve them, I’ve slowed down their work performance and possibly created unnecessary confusion. It’s up to management to set the standards and the expectations regarding how employees should communicate in a way that’s not only efficient but also respectful of everyone’s time.

You can really see the impact of this in regular internal meetings. By setting expectations with the leaders of those meetings (as well as the participants), you increase the value everyone receives from the meeting and streamline the agenda. That means everyone walks away from the table feeling like it was time well-spent.

3. Investment in employee development

Every employee is hired for their skill set and an ability to perform a specific job function. But when you view your people as more than just a sum of their skills – when their value is more than just the fulfillment of a job description – they’ll be empowered to develop their own talents and learn new skills. That also leads to a benefit to the organization because it means there are fewer single points of failure in the company because employee development often overlaps with other areas of the business.

I’m privileged to work in an environment where I’m encouraged to learn, which not only makes me more valuable to the company but also satisfies my desire to better myself. It’s a win-win.

Build the bedrock for a strong culture

Culture is a broad term with many connotations. For me, it’s all about the ability to remain true to myself but also contribute and be a part of the larger organization. It’s about cultivating an environment where employee effort not only improves that individual’s personal brand and worth but strengthens the brand of the organization as well—both in the community and with clients.

Every employee seeks satisfaction and validation in their own way, and each company must find that right mix of recognition and little extras that speak to who you are. Before you get too far down that path, however, make sure you’ve established these core values to serve as a foundation for the culture you wish to build.

Otherwise, your efforts will melt faster than an ice cream bar in the hot company parking lot.

Jacob Orrison is the Director of Advisory Services at AdamsGabbert, a catalyst for growth, a spark for innovation, and a facilitator of progress. Founded in 1999 and based in Overland Park, Kan., AG focuses on advisory services, staffing services and technology services—all designed to make business better for their clients. How would you rate your company’s corporate culture? Share your thoughts on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter!

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