By Ronen Aires an EO South Africa-Johannesburg member and director of Student Village
Every day I ask myself, “What motivates my staff to come to work and give it their best?” Sure, I foster a comfortable environment and encourage people to grow through peer-to-peer experiences. But what keeps them coming back? Turns out, it all comes down to company culture.
Six years ago, a friend and I started Student Village, a youth- oriented marketing company. We had just completed a short-term sentence in a stuffy corporate environment and felt we were ready to conquer the world on our own terms.
Coming out of a place that was creatively stifling and riddled with politics, I knew what kind of environment I needed. I wanted to create a cool place of business where my co-workers and I would want to spend time; a place that encouraged creativity, inspiration and fun. A place I could call my own.
I’ve long felt the workplace – any workplace – should be a place where people can thrive as opposed to survive. It’s a place where we have an opportunity to try new things, surprise ourselves, reach new heights and have fun. I took this open-minded approach and applied it to my business. The result: I have maintained a staff retention rate of approximately 95 percent.
How does my company stay humming? Our environment is output focused as opposed to clock focused. There are also basic guidelines for office hours, but they are just that: guidelines. Yes, it is important to have some structure; however, people are encouraged to “get the job done” as efficiently and successfully as possible, not to “sit out” their hours and look busy.
Our dress code is also relaxed. This allows for individual expression through clothing. My aim is to have a staff of “integrated individuals,” people who can be themselves in the workplace. As such, we discourage the “work personality” and the “leisure-time” personality. This adds to the personalization of the work experience, one of the most important factors in my company’s culture.
We also have unique incentive programs for each individual. Because of the small environment, we strive to get to know what makes each staff member tick. We do this by tailoring each employee’s incentives to what they are driven by— often times, it’s not cash. For example, we recently rewarded our promotions team with an overseas trip. They felt so appreciated and returned from the trip inspired to strive for even greater heights.
Even though incentives are nice, there’s still work to get done. To ensure tasks are accomplished, we hold weekly team meetings that allow for constant communication and brain-storming. We also talk about our strengths as a company, what needs to be improved and any ideas that could foster growth. For example, we recently introduced a new rule to ensure maximum staff attendance: The doors to the meeting room are locked at 8 a.m. This has had a surprising result— an almost perfect attendance record every time. By locking the door and not allowing latecomers to attend, the meeting has turned into something employees don’t want to miss.
All in all, my company culture has helped keep my retention rate high. I know that if I continue to treat my employees with respect and provide incentives to learn and grow, it will stay that way. I believe that company culture is the DNA of every business. It is bigger than any single staff member and, if strong enough, will decide if someone will thrive or become a casualty in the company. No matter your industry, if the environment, culture and people are right, the company becomes a platform for people to grow, face their fears and ultimately thrive.
Ronen Aires is the Co- Founder of The Student Village, a South African marketing and media company focused on the student market. His website, www.studentvillage. co.za, is a popular online community for international students. Ronen can be reached at ronen@ studentvillage.co.za.