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by Jim Hemmer | July 01, 2016
In my previous article, I discussed how a manager can help cultivate an engaged, effective workforce first by understanding his or her company through measurement. But in addition to surveys and other methods, it's important to learn what the culture is through observation. Walk around as much as possible and observe. Are employees friendly and open with each other? When something goes wrong is there a flurry of emails talking about how to solve the issue, or is finger-pointing the first reaction? Listen to your customer service agents on the phone -- are they friendly and helpful or apathetic? 

Connect the Dots

Once you pinpoint the major issues and prioritize the most important ones, it's time to figure out the source of the problems. In some cases, personnel changes will be in order, but keep in mind that most employees (including line managers) are a product of their environments and the rewards systems in place. You'll need to modify policies to support the desired outcomes. For example, when employees are rewarded solely on operational metrics, customer service will likely fall by the wayside. If you want employees to focus on the customer, you must start emphasizing and rewarding outcomes such as positive customer survey results, lower customer attrition, repeat business, etc. 

Make a Plan and Put it in Place

Once you identify the policies that need to be changed, put a plan in place to do so. Communicate the changes throughout the organization, and back them up with support from upper management. Employees need to see their leaders actively following and enforcing the policies put in place or they will not take them seriously. 

Toby Cosgrove, CEO of the award-winning Cleveland Clinic, understood the importance of leaders when he identified four key behaviors that he believes are essential to effective leadership. He organized a leadership summit in which he shared these behaviors with more than 3,000 employees: leading through change, demonstrating character and integrity, fostering teamwork, and developing ourselves and others. It's imperative to get your leaders on board with the change you wish to see in your organization and ensure that they embody it.

Reinforce Changes with Recognition and Rewards

Perhaps the best way to model desirable behaviors throughout your company is to publicly recognize them. Once employees see their colleagues being recognized and rewarded for certain actions, they will emulate those actions in hopes of receiving the same accolades. Slowly the old ways will die and be replaced with the new systems you have put in place, and the culture will begin to change. 

Midwest healthcare system UnityPoint has recently shifted its focus to creating a quality, cost-effective patient experience from its former volume-based strategy. New CEO Kevin Vermeer has stated that the strategy is to move to a team-based health care approach that centers around care coordination, which is a step along the path to transforming from a system that is hospital centric to one that is patient centric. This strategy is supported by an employee recognition program that awards teamwork and going above and beyond to ensure patients have the best experience. Achievements are displayed in a social feed on the site's home page for others to see and offer their congratulations, and truly impactful actions garner monetary rewards.

As a CEO it's tempting to focus only on numbers, and it can be easy to wave off intangible concepts like employee engagement and company culture. However, remember that people run your organization, and they are not governed by numbers. They work harder when they feel included, inspired, and valued. They work better when they have clear direction under leaders who care about their development and listen to their feedback. As the adage goes, "we get the culture we deserve." Take the steps to transform your culture and all of these intangibles will show up in a very real place: your bottom line. 

Jim Hemmer has more than 25 years of experience in the high-tech and software industries, and has been a senior executive at companies in all stages of development from early stage to Fortune 500. For the past two years Jim has been CEO of WorkStride, a company dramatically changing the world of employee recognition, incentive, and engagement. The WorkStride platform is positively impacting employee behavior in leading companies around the world. He holds a BS in Electrical Engineering from Rutgers University and an MBA degree from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Connect with him on Twitter or LinkedIn.