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Clearly, since 1994, running a business or a team – especially in retail – has changed significantly. But as the complexity set in, we got super clear that two things matter most – always have and always will – and that’s customers and your team. And we’ve been on a search for how to understand, measure, and act to improve them. On the employee side of that equation, it’s become the search for understanding culture.
What is culture?
There are a million technical definitions around culture.
From the technical – “the ideas, customs and social behaviour of a particular people or society” (Oxford Dictionary) – to the more colloquial – “how we treat each other around here”. That last definition is what we use when working with clients every day.
How does your team treat each other?
How do you treat your team?
How does your team treat customers and clients?
How does your team treat suppliers and business partners?
The answers to these questions tell you everything about ‘culture’.
It’s understanding the “why” behind those behaviours that will help you understand how to change it or improve it for the better.
A complex system
To understand the “why” behind behaviour, you have to understand the complex system that is actually culture. How people were recruited, how they were trained, how they’re expected to behave, how they’re rewarded, and the list goes on and on.
Against that, there’s a whole bunch of new metrics we use to map and measure that complex system, and they’re incredibly exciting. But if you want a short-cut to understanding the quality of your current culture, here are a few key things to look for:
Are people like us, included and welcomed around here?
Are we expected and appreciated?
Do we ‘belong’?
Do we trust our colleagues and boss?
Are our relationships in good shape?
Do we feel free and confident to raise ideas and make improvements?
Do we have agency over our own work?
And, most importantly, is this important work?
Whether others rely on us and we’re accountable to do well.
If you ask those simple questions, and listen for the answers, you’ll come pretty close to finding out if your team, or your organisation is highly engaged and ready to go the extra mile, or whether they’re just waiting for the next better place to be.
Can you fix culture?
The short answer is ‘yes’, but it takes action.
Let’s break it down. Do you know your team? And if you don’t, how can you know whether they feel included? There’s advice I often give: “It’s hard not to like someone when you know their story.” Spend time listening to the stories of each of your team. Know them. Hear them. Be interested in them.
Do you appreciate your team? And if so, how do they know? Some of them will simply need a quiet thank you. Others would like a team-wide announcement or public speech about them. Find out how each person needs appreciation, and when they do well, deliver it.
Are the relationships working across the team? We often draw team and organisational structures as hierarchies, but really they’re like honeycomb – all knitted together, leaning on each other, dependent on each other, impossible to break apart without damaging the pieces surrounding it. Ask your team whether they know their colleagues. Encourage them to have coffee, eat lunch, and chat. Relationships take time, so make space for them. Most people, when asked what they love about their job, will say “the people” and mean their colleagues.
Are people offering great ideas, or going the extra mile without instruction? If not, what’s stopping them? When did you last ask what it would take to improve customer service, or what actions you could take to make it better to work here?
And finally, are you actually relying on people to do well? We all rise (or fall) to expectations. Expect a lot, and assume people will do their best, and they almost always will. And then appreciate them.
Start with these questions, these insights, and do something with the answers.
The 2020 lesson
This year, we got a lesson in what matters and what doesn’t.
As human beings, we’re all tribal. I don’t mean in the political sense – there’s already too much conversation about that. I mean simply in the human sense. We like being in amongst other people – together – achieving things, laughing, leaning on each other and making a difference.
As we locked down 2020, it became blatantly obvious how much the tribe and the work we do together matters to each of us. Culture matters to each of us.
The new rules of engagement are clear – and they’re not about going faster or doing more with less. Nor is it about torturing people with a lengthy survey and long action planning classes. That’s old engagement.
The new rules of employee engagement are all about connecting with each other, knowing each other, relying on each other, and being good to each other. Find great people who care deeply about the work and your customers, look after them better than anyone else ever did, genuinely appreciate their work, and ask them how to make it even better.
You’ll be very surprised how easy it is. You’ll be even more surprised at the difference it makes to your own engagement.
Rhonda Brighton-Hall is one of Australia’s foremost experts on People and Culture. A former Telstra Business Woman of the year and AHRI HR Director of the year, Rhonda is now CEO/Co-Founder of mwah.
If you want to talk more about Culture and Employee Engagement, get in touch at email@example.com