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Some businesses ride or die on strategy alone: If culture stands in the way of strategy, then strategy goes out the window. Really, though, the two are interdependent functions of the same mechanism. Strategy sets the direction, but implementing projects efficiently depends on a solid, healthy company culture.
Culture should be integrated into every aspect of business strategy, and at the heart of culture lies employees. The frontline between a company and its customers should be people who love their jobs, care about customer satisfaction and promote overall company success. Employees are a brand’s first customers and best advocates, and company culture is the key to keeping them engaged.
Here are three ways to make dramatic improvements.
1. Build high levels of trust
Brands need to generate and sustain a culture of believers and advocates, which comes from building trust. Leadership behaviors can start this process, but it is the mission of strong culture to establish trust among all levels. Employees want their company’s mission to align with their personal values. If they believe in your goals, they will support your success. People work and behave better as a team when they trust that everyone is on the same page.
Building trust is the key to greater employee engagement, which has a direct impact on customer satisfaction. A Harvard study of data collected by Sears in 1998 found a definitive link between employee attitude and customer-satisfaction scores. The resulting employee-customer-profit chain system was heavily dependent on adequate training and establishing trust.
Research has demonstrated a scientific link between trust and economic performance. People in high-trust companies report 74% less stress, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days, 76% more engagement, 29% more satisfaction with their lives and 40% less burnout. A 2015 study found significant causality between employee satisfaction and a company’s financial performance, and another review found that positive employee perceptions resulted in higher operation margin, revenue per employee and return on company assets.
2. Develop an emotional commitment
Engaged employees need to feel confident that they belong and are important to the company, so go the extra mile and show them that you care. Take the time to know each individual employee on a more personal level and take a genuine interest in his or her success. One study found that positive interactions between employees and their leaders encourage them to make greater contributions to the team.
Nurture an emotional commitment with your employees with rewards and recognition beyond pay increases and promotions. Employees want to feel a sense of ownership and that their input can make a genuine impact, so reaffirm their areas of strength and encourage their innovation. When they trust that they have a home to grow within a company, they go the extra mile to excel for themselves, their coworkers and the business as a whole.
Inspiring employee engagement generates both commitment and connection, intellectually and emotionally. Highly engaged employees are motivated to succeed, but they also want to help others and inspire them to do their best. When employees take pride in the organization and are committed to its success, they become highly persuasive advocates for the brand who help meet company goals faster.
3. Address disengaged employees
Just as high employee engagement can help a company, disengaged employees can hurt it, so have a plan ready to address employee disengagement. Employees don’t quit jobs, they quit managers, so start by coaching and training great management. Be sure to first provide them with all the resources, tools and data necessary to implement best practices, and then make engagement a key performance indicator to hold managers accountable.
Engagement is a two-way street, and getting employees engaged requires engaging them. A 2017 study found that most employees assume leadership is responsible for keeping them engaged. Encourage feedback through one-on-one meetings, surveys, exit interviews and performance reviews, including their evaluation of the management. While discarding disengaged employees results in negative feelings towards a brand, making institutional improvements that lead to employee satisfaction has been linked to better stock performance.
Disengaged employees can cost companies up to $550 billion per year and hurt your positive company culture. Insecure or unhappy employees may already be slacking in their responsibilities, reading job postings or, worse, venting their “I hate working here” attitude to their coworkers. By proactively instituting feedback mechanisms that keep employees engaged, however, you can be more involved in making sure that they never get to such a point.
The research is clear: When you position a healthy team culture as the strategic foundation for a business, it drives performance outcomes. I always say, “If culture eats strategy for breakfast, what the hell is for lunch?” Strategy alone can leave you starving, but with culture as a constant and integral part of your overall company diet, you end up with an abundance at every meal.