By Shona Mackin, an EO Sydney member and Managing Director of Freedom Events.
I knew I was on track with my company culture plan when, on the office suggestion board one day, an employee had written “dress as a pirate” day. I run a call center, and it’s important for me to have a team that’s energetic and committed to establishing an enjoyable workplace. Though creating a fun-filled work environment may sound like an easy project to initiate, it’s not as easy as it sounds.
One of the key things I’ve learned about creating a unique culture is to ensure that people understand the reasons behind the plan. In my case, I wanted to create an environment that helped energize people during lulls and fostered collaboration and creativity on a daily basis. I made it a point to share this goal with my team. Because they knew my plan wasn’t an empty attempt to please the staff, but a real attempt at getting everyone energized, they bought into it.
In the process of creating such a culture, I have tried a multitude of things, some that worked and others that crashed and burned. For example, I’ve instituted a 3 p.m. dance-off competition to get the blood flowing, hosted left brain/right brain exercises to increase mental acuity and established morning sing-a-longs to liven up the office. I even had a basket of fresh fruit delivered each week to decrease the amount of junk food in the office. When an employee notices that the team needs a pick-me-up, we stop and snack on oranges and apples. This not only increases the energy level in the office, but it affords us a chance to take a break and reconnect with one another.
All of these activities are planned to remind my employees that how they feel and act makes a big difference in the success of their workload, and ultimately, the success of the company. My biggest lesson learned when it comes to building a company culture was the pitfalls of being too liberal with rewards. I found that this leads the team to expect rewards on a consistent basis, even when they’re not performing to their potential. I wound up having a team that would deliver only if there was a reward in it for them.
I eventually realized that I was rewarding employees for less-than-desirable behavior. I broke the cycle by sitting with the team and letting them know that I would be changing the remuneration schedule and any rewards going forward would only occur once the daily expectations had been exceeded. I had a small amount of kickback and found that I lost a few team members who were on board for the wrong reasons.
However, what I did discover is that a great number of employees backed the company vision and found ways to get rewarded for going above and beyond. I also learned that creating a fun company culture has more far-reaching effects in my business than the institution of a basic reward system. By fostering an environment that encourages creativity, rather than simply handing out rewards, we have been able to achieve more growth through a unified approach. Now, we work as a team, not simply as individuals.
My aim is to create an environment that people enjoy coming to; a space where they leave with more skills than they arrive with that will serve them in their future positions. We work to create a space that is nicer and more comfortable and fun than if they were to stay home. Creating a great culture is more effective for our business than rewards programs. In the past, when I focused on reward by monetization over culture, I have ended up with people on the team who were in it for themselves, not for the big picture of the company. The staff turnover was higher and the team not as happy or helpful. These days I focus on finding people with values aligned with myself and the company; they still get rewarded on achievement, but it is not expected and is more appreciated when it comes around.
All in all, this experience taught me that a company culture is really only as good as the people you employ. Having the right people up front helped me tighten the hiring process and ensured that they would be willing participants of our company culture. As an entrepreneur, it’s important to me that my company continues to evolve on a cultural level, and that I employ people who are as dedicated to the future of the business as I am. It is my belief that if I look after my team, they will look after me and the company.