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8 Keys to Building an Engaging, Employee-Centric Culture

October 9, 2019

Company culture

A unified corporate culture is vital. It’s not all about accolades, awards, and status. It’s about being successful. Simply put, a strong company culture builds identity, helps with talent—retaining and attracting it—and elevates your brand’s image. I believe a strong company culture is achieved through the balance of aligning good people with a clear vision and strategy. Leveraging an impactful company culture to help drive a profitable financial model is the heartbeat of any successful business.

Setting the tone for corporate culture starts at the top. Period. You beat your competition by retaining and recruiting great talent, and you do that with a great culture. People want to be on your team.

In private equity, I get to see the good, the bad, and the ugly of company cultures. Many businesses say they have a great culture, but so few actually do—or worse, they don’t know they don’t. The company’s foundation is its culture. Foundation cracks lead to instability. Instability leads to system failures.

How to start the engine of success

Here are my eight keys for a successful company culture:

Know your workforce. Many companies don’t see their workforce as a primary tool for success. That’s unfortunate, because knowing your workforce enables leaders to be intentional about crafting an authentic culture that speaks to their employees. It helps guide innovation in areas ripe for growth. Your workforce is like a focus group for success—listen to them and learn how to grow.

Foster work-life integration. A popular concept for leaders is to push the notion of work-life balance, but all that really means is to make your time spent working equal to that spent not working. Balance is not a bad thing, but in this context, it compartmentalizes life and work. Instead, leaders should foster a work-life integration environment where time at work feels fun and life freedoms are accepted. Work should complement life, not compartmentalize it.

Deliver purpose. Simply put, define your “why.” Delivering purpose goes a long way toward cultivating employee fulfillment.

Encourage entrepreneurialism. A company built with an entrepreneurial spirit at the core empowers rank-and-file employees to challenge senior-level management, even the CEO or founder, about the way a product is made or a process is run. In these environments, the hierarchical scales are evened both physically, with open-office floor plans, and figuratively, with open lines of communication. To have an entrepreneurial spirit is to create tension by challenging the way things are.

Have a smile policy. Having an open-door policy is one thing, but having an open door with a smile is the real deal. No employee is going to saunter into a leader’s office if he or she looks uninviting—even if the door is open. Leaders must invite the conversation to deliver true transparency. The best way to do that is with a smile when someone comes knocking. Beyond basic manners, it’s such a simple act that shows your team members you care.

Take time to celebrate. Celebrating a birthday is still a big deal—it’s a party! This may seem sophomoric, but celebrations are infectious. A leader who celebrates birthdays gives employees permission to inject fun into the workplace. It’s the easiest way to break down walls and create camaraderie. Leaders who celebrate let employees know they’re human and that celebrating life is worth a break.

Make HR the concierge, not the police. As the department whose sole purpose is to manage the company’s workforce, HR should always be positioned as a support department for employees. In essence, leaders in HR should act as a concierge for employees rather than as police.

For example, when it comes to company communication, leave out the policy-driven terminology. PTO should be called what it is: vacation, family time, a brain break, and so on. Tell employees they deserve the time off and have earned it. This shifts their perspective away from a disengaging authoritarian leadership and shows them that the company cares.

Take time to give back. In a recent PwC survey, “Workforce of the future,” Millennials reported that the impact they have on the environment is just as important as their salary. You will find that most teams are enthusiastic and motivated to give back.

Almost every team I have worked with enjoys stepping away from the office and jumping into community volunteer projects. Donating time as a company also paves the way for team building and leadership development and growth. One major caveat: For volunteering to truly impact the organization, the culture must support and value philanthropic endeavors 100%. Without this support and buy-in, the program fails.

A company’s culture is meaningful, impactful, and directly affects all who work within it. Therefore, it should be given due respect and crafted with intention. When I’m asked who inspires me, my answer is always the same—Richard Branson. He has done a great job of advocating to the world that people can build incredible companies that do important work but still have a ton of fun along the way. I couldn’t agree more. Go have fun. Build an outrageously great culture.

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About The Author

Vic Keller is managing partner for Dallas-based private equity firm KLV Capital and chairman of STATinMED Research. Keller brings deep operational expertise across multiple sectors including automotive, financial services, private equity, manufacturing and distribution and technology. He is an entrepreneur by nature and has over 20 years of experience in establishing, growing, and optimizing both national and international companies.

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