Sustaining a Positive Workplace Culture

The Situation

You’re already a pro at creating a respectful and positive workplace culture. Your workforce knows, lives, and measures up to your core values, you regularly deliver training on positive people skills, your managers are trained to have candid conversations about performance and growth, and probably so much more.

We recently had a client who was doing all of these things too, but when we dug into the perceptions of their workforce through a climate assessment (i.e., employee survey) it wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns.

Bartholomew Financial (the name has been changed) is a small financial services company that was growing quickly and realized they needed to bring on an HR Business Partner. When they did, we did a listening tour to get to know people and find out what they needed, wanted, and loved about working there.

When we presented her report to the leadership team, they were shocked. People weren’t happy, and the leadership team had no idea. All this time, they’d figured the cool workspace by the beach, the generous bonuses, and the “family-first” culture was working.  They were so jostled by HR’s news, they wanted another expert to get some quantitative data and so they hired us.


Positive Workplace Culture

We worked with them to develop and deliver a short survey, and uncovered the same information the HR’s listening tour did – while statements like, “My team gets along well with each other” were rated with upwards of 90% positivity, the organization itself had much room for improvement.

For example:

  • 49% of the workforce did not have confidence in the leadership team
  • 50% weren’t clear on how their role helps the organization achieve its goals
  • 35% felt the departments didn’t communicate well
  • 74% were dissatisfied with promotion opportunities (or the lack thereof)

It turns out that despite all of that work on the company culture, the leadership team was missing a key element – they’d failed at communicating the company goals, how each person’s role played into achieving those goals, and how their bonuses were tied to individual and company success. The ad hoc bonus amounts actually created problems, not the motivation it was intended to create.

Unfortunately this is a pattern we see a lot – an organization has spent resources on all sorts of things to make their workplaces better, but never stopped to ask employees what they needed or wanted in that endeavor. 

Time and again companies fail to get culture right because they haven’t assessed what’s working and what’s not, nor have they made culture a part of their annual strategic planning. In Bartholomew Financial’s case, they hadn’t done any strategic planning at all – the plan was always just to grow. 

Not to worry, though, this story has a happy ending. Armed with the data and knowledge that their workforce was craving a future vision and more direction from leaders, they held strategic planning meetings and determined their key goals and performance indicators. This was published to their workforce, and they’ve got a shiny new performance management system that will track individual performance and KPIs as they relate to the organization’s. Now they can clearly communicate about promotions and bonuses, and align organizational processes and procedures with the strategy. 

And yes, the goal to grow still remains. But now it’s a clear goal, and everyone can work in tandem to achieve it.