Less than two years ago, the corporate culture at my web-hosting company, Rebel.com, needed serious attention. We could feel it in the air, and we had the one-star rating on Glassdoor to prove it. But, oh, have things changed.
Today, we love the culture we have, though it took a lot of hard work to get it to where it is. Launching a new brand wasn’t the only catalyst we had for raising our score to a 4.4 — we had to work on our identity, too.
Raising the bar
When we first learned about our low employee satisfaction score, we knew we had to act. It’s impossible to be customer-centric if you’re not employee-centric, and our employees were clearly frustrated with the company.
In our search for a better culture, we discovered the following five major insights that eventually helped our company around:
1. Recognize that disengaged employees can influence others.
Disengaged employees are the ones who encourage mutinies, pass on vicious gossip and hurt brand and client relationships along the way. These employees have 37 percent higher absenteeism, 49 percent more work-related accidents and 60 percent more errors in their work.
They do just enough to meet expectations — no more or less. They don’t build energy or have a team mentality. Allowing disengaged employees to have influence at your company can multiply the amount of overall mediocre work, negativity and stress.
We started turning our culture around by giving disengaged employees our attention. We took the time to listen, share insights and set up tools that would reduce their frustration. Many of those disengaged employees quickly became positive influencers. In a culture of listening, the truly disengaged are an exception, not the rule. If an employee doesn’t want to change his or her tune after really being heard, you may need to part ways with him or her.
As we hired new employees, we incorporated engagement strategies right into our system of onboarding, which helped integrate those new hires into our culture from day one.
2. Give employees the opportunity to provide feedback.
Engaged employees should also know they’re being listened to. Research shows employees are 100 percent more likely to be actively disengaged when they’re ignored. It takes a great deal of bravery for managers to open themselves to possibly negative criticism, but that openness is part of what makes a great leader.
This doesn’t just mean asking if there are any questions or concerns at the end of a meeting. Not everyone feels comfortable airing grievances in public. That’s why anonymous feedback and collaborative tools, such as TINYpulse and SpeakUp, should be used for better communication.
Although the results aren’t always flattering, the candid feedback is necessary, so long as employees are encouraged to provide both problems and solutions.
3. Don’t punish employees for giving criticisms or complaints.
Instead of trying to crush the criticism, at our company we decided to embrace it and learn more about each issue to find solutions. Anonymous feedback tools also ensure that employees don’t fear reprisal for providing honest feedback. If there’s anything an employee doesn’t feel comfortable saying in a one-on-one meeting, he or she should always feel comfortable saying it through an anonymous platform.
To alleviate fears, we held companywide meetings to communicate with our team that negative feedback would not be punished. We gave examples of how to address concerns and celebrated the courage it took to contribute with honest feedback — even the negative variety. Between the meetings and forms, we gathered all of the open feedback we needed to take action and turn things around.
4. Never leave employee questions or ideas unaddressed.
Letting feedback sit, untouched, was the same as telling our employees we didn’t care. Feedback is useless without action, whether that means simply explaining why a process is in place or reviewing the company’s systematic problems and brainstorming ways to improve them.
Regular one-on-one meetings help both employees and leaders understand one other’s perspectives and open communication to address any problems.
To gain trust, my management team and I realized we had to take action. We started with simple changes and made the time to address the harder pieces. We updated the staff on our progress regularly and publicly held ourselves accountable. Today, we operate in a model of continual improvements — the work is never done.
5. Own up to your mistakes.
When employees are brave enough to point out mistakes, leadership needs to be strong enough to own up to them. Part of transparency involves admitting mistakes and soliciting solutions to involve employees in the results. This will unite you and your employees toward a common problem and let them know you’re human.
Recently, we mistakenly failed to communicate a new policy early to employees. This made employees upset, so they worked together to communicate feedback to management. Within 48 hours, the problem was identified, discussed and resolved because both sides were willing to collaborate.
Like any change initiative, it’s necessary to quantify improvement. Team surveys where managers and employees rate themselves and each other every three to six months are easy ways to accomplish that. This allows progress to be tracked over time and improvement to be shown in key areas.
For Rebel.com, the quantification came from our improved Glassdoor score and survey results. We are now addicted to continuously improving our culture because it creates a happy place to work, and doing so has improved our business performance in ways we’d never imagined.
It was painful to discover our culture was not where we wanted it to be, but listening was an important lesson to learn. Company culture is an iterative process: You listen to feedback, create a solution and measure results. If you’ve done well, great. If not, keep trying.
Is your company struggling with culture and engagement? Re-evaluating your communication could be the difference between an authentic culture you’re proud of — and a company without employees.
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