how to build an authentic workplace culture
By ann rhoades
Culture | January 14, 2016
Most leaders know that a winning, engaged culture is the key to attracting top talent and customers. Yet it remains elusive exactly how one creates this ideal workplace culture.
I have always felt that a workplace where everyone from the front lines to the executive team knows the company’s values and feels comfortable and empowered to act on them is the key to an engaged, successful culture.
As an executive at Southwest Airlines, and as part of the team that launched JetBlue, I had the opportunity to help those companies develop the trail blazing, values-based workplaces they have become known for, and which are at the heart of their phenomenal success.
Early in my career, I learned that doing the right thing for the business was directly tied to the values of the organization. This led to creating a strategy that involves crafting a “Values Blueprint.” It was important that this clear, concise, one-page document identify the values that are vital to the organization, along with the specific behaviors that express those values. Just as you would not build a house working from only an image in your head, you cannot build a lasting culture without a written blueprint. Whenever a decision needs to be made, employees at all levels should be able to find the right answer there.
To transform a workplace culture, the blueprint is the starting point, but for real transformation, the organizational processes need to be connected to the value map, beginning with how employees are hired. Just because someone is skilled and experienced does not mean they are right for your organization. Companies must ensure that they hire only “A Players” who display the company’s values.
To accomplish this, I advocate the creation of interview teams made up of peers to assess prospective employees. This peer system has helped to bring in the right people and to reduce turnover at such organizations as JetBlue, Juniper Networks, Restoration Hardware and P.F. Chang’s.
As for leaders, not only is it essential that they mirror the values adopted by the organization, they must also find new ways to connect with their people, by regularly visiting and working alongside front-line employees. The best way make employees feel valued is to constantly reinforce the right behaviors, and to recognize them in writing and verbally in group settings. Recognition is the key to getting repeat performance.
Based on 25 years of experience, I have often warned leaders who dismiss the importance of culture and recognition, that they do so at their company’s peril. Whether you focus on it or not, a culture will develop and it will likely nurture all the wrong behaviors and outcomes.