I present to a lot of different groups and when I say, “Culture is the essential glue,” I often get a lot of deer-in-the-headlights looks. Even people in our own business, in recruiting and HR, push culture down the priority list. Hey, you can always put up some posters, right? Like that cat hanging from a tree saying, “Hang in there!”
To me, great culture is about having fun and loving your work, but I’ll lead off with a reason that resonates with most people: it can save you money. How? It’s crucial to retaining your top talent, and replacing talent is expensive. A 2008 SHRM study estimates that the total cost, including recruiting, training and loss of productivity, could run as high as “90% to 200% of an employee’s annual salary.” Ouch.
At Decision Toolbox we put culture first and it works. We have a lot of people who have been with us for at least 5 years, and quite a few who have 8 years with us (by the way, if you’re keeping score, the national average is 4.6 years, according to the US Bureau of Labor). All but one of my C-level execs have been with DT at least 10 years. Enough numbers. HOW does great culture keep people on your team? At DT it does so by helping people love their work, and I’ll give you an example. At our last nationwide All-Staff gathering, we asked everyone to write down why they work at DT. Similar reasons came up again and again: they love our flexible virtual model (everyone works from a home office) and the fact that they are more like partners than employees. But one of the biggest reasons is that working at DT means being part of something special and unique. Jay Barnett, our founder, boils it down to this: “Recruitment is too important not to be done really well. Work is too time consuming to not be loved.”
I could write about DT all day, but there are other great examples out there. If you shop at Trader Joe’s, you’ve probably noticed how upbeat their people are. They’re bagging my groceries and they’re smiling and having fun … not like the baggers at some other places. That enthusiasm makes us respect them, don’t you think? It’s because Trader Joe’s culture is unique and goes deeper than Hawaiian shirts. It motivates their people to respect themselves by helping them feel they are part of something that’s bigger then themselves and something that’s unique. TJ’s culture even comes across in their marketing: while other grocers promote freshness or low prices, Trader Joe’s promotes quirkiness and fun.
The story’s similar at Starbucks. The average tenure of their Baristas is six years! They make coffee for a living and earn something close to minimum wage, but they LOVE their jobs. I’ve ordered lattes at other coffee houses without really noticing the person behind the counter, but Starbucks Baristas stand out. I naturally respect them because they clearly respect themselves, and respect comes from the culture.
You build your business with your head, but you create culture with your heart. Employees give us almost half of their waking hours. Ask your heart this (and tell it to be honest): shouldn’t those be some of the best hours of their lives? Your culture should respect every employee, acknowledge their potential and recognize their contributions. It’s the framework that employees use to create meaning and purpose, for better or worse. What meaning and purpose are your people creating?
A lot of business leaders think culture is squishy. They don’t like squishy. They’re more comfortable with data in spreadsheet rectangles. But culture makes up MORE of the foundation of a successful business than sticks and bricks do. Employees don’t come in to your company every day because of the paint on the walls or the water in the cooler. They come because of culture.
Culture is the framework employees use to create meaning and purpose, and THAT’S what motivates people to give their best. We’re proactive about that framework at Decision Toolbox (DT), and it helps us put some nice numbers in those spreadsheet rectangles. Hopefully that squishiness is starting to look a lot more substantial. The goal is to create the best environment possible, the kind of environment YOU want to work in. And it’s more than just good sense; it’s the right thing to do.
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