Guest blog by Isaac Szymanczyk, business storyteller and founder of Conveyor.
I had the privilege recently to attend the Executive Culture Summit: Harnessing Culture to Fuel Growth and hear from a few prominent leaders on what it takes to make great employee cultures. The heart of the program was an in-depth panel discussion with CEOs of three major Northwest companies: Ryan Hartman, CEO of Insitu (a Boeing company); Lisa Sedlar, CEO of Green Zebra Grocery (and former CEO of New Seasons Market); and Marty Nash, President of Dave’s Killer Bread.
All three discussed various approaches and challenges for growing company cultures. Here are six highlights from the panel.
1. Focus on the Positive
Instead of looking for problems to solve, look for things to celebrate. It’s easier to focus on things that are not working, but you have better odds of improving the things that are working. Hartman said a great way to start your team meeting is to ask “what’s going well?” People will build on positive energy and naturally find the things that are broken and work to fix them with better attitudes.
2. Revisit the Why
Building culture requires getting the team on board. The business has a mission, but employees have their own motivation for working: kids, goals, retirement. Helping people achieve their own “why” while moving the business forward is good for everyone. Asking “why are you here?” helps orient everyone on what the team needs to do and helps each member of the team align their personal “why” with the business “why.” Leaders must remain focused on the why to reinforce positive energy.
3. Actively Listen
Sedlar explained a few of the things she does as a leader in a fast-moving grocery business. By talking with employees, listening carefully and repeating back what she hears, she helps ensure she’s in touch with team challenges and can prioritize decisions well. Understanding what’s important to employees can help leaders prioritize things like flexible work weeks or dog-friendly workplaces. She notes that asking for feedback takes more time out of the day, but the benefit to culture is well worth it.
4. Show Them the Vision
Employees want to know their company is a fun and flexible place to work, has a purpose and aspires to be great. It’s important to clearly spell these things out and help people understand what you’re asking them to do. Nobody gets excited to come to work for a company that’s going nowhere.
5. Trust the Team
Nash explained how the company hires people with unconventional backgrounds, partly because the company believes in giving people a second chance. The experience at Dave’s Killer Bread has been that when they trust their employees with responsibility, employees return the trust “in spades.”
6. Culture Needs Cultivation
Culture is like atmosphere — it happens whether you like it or not. As one participant noted, “culture is what happens when the boss is out of town.” Employees won’t always naturally make decisions that are consistent with company culture and values, but they have a greater chance when leaders make expectations clear — empowering their people with a path and the potential to contribute.