Monthly Archives: June 2015

Comedian Woody Allen famously stated that “showing up is 80% of life.” And showing up is essential to success. But, when it comes to workplace success, showing up is only half of it. Wanting to be there is what drives true success and results.

Anyone who has ever worked in a crummy job will tell you that working for a paycheck is far less desirable than actually wanting to work. Building and maintaining an environment people want to return to day after day is the key to employee engagement. When employees are excited about and engaged in their work, it results in greater company impact and stronger culture, customer relationships, and bottom lines.

According to the 2012 Gallup study “The State of the Global Workplace,” only 30% of employees in the United States reported they were “engaged” at work (psychologically committed and making positive contributions). Even more troubling, 52% indicated they were “not engaged” (lack motivation and are less likely to invest effort in organizational goals/outcomes), and 18% were “actively disengaged” (unhappy, unproductive, and liable to spread negativity to coworkers). Clearly, just showing up isn’t enough anymore.

Gallup estimates that “actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. between $450 billion to $550 billion each year in lost productivity. These individuals are more likely to steal from their companies, negatively influence their coworkers, miss work, and drive customers away.” Ouch.

Furthermore, research from the Hay Group found that companies with highly engaged people consistently outperform those with the most disengaged employees—to the tune of 54% more employee retention, 89% more customer satisfaction, and four times the revenue growth.

How can you help employees want to work, versus just show up? Here are a few ideas:

1. Hang out with your coworkers. Studies show that peers, not money, are the #1 influence for employees to go the extra mile. When you like people, you want to help them. Many companies are realizing the importance of knowing your coworkers informally and are finding ways to promote these ‘beyond-work relationships.’ Some leaders throw TGIF parties every Friday at 4 PM. And their employees still get just as much work done on Fridays because they’re motivated to finish and don a party hat, eat some cake, and do the hula with their friends.

2. Let people be themselves. Let a little of that ‘inner quirk’ come out from time to time. It makes room for creativity and shows your employees are human. Zappos is a great example. One of its core values is “Create fun and a little weirdness.” Check out this real excerpt (taken from Delivering Happiness) of a live chat on by a customer who seemed to want to put this particular core value to the test:

Jonathan: Hello Timmy. How can I help you?
Timmy: Do you know how wide the G-Shock Atomic Solar AWG101 SKU #7403774 is?
Timmy: I mean, how big a wrist it would fit?
Timmy: Timmy has a big fat wrist
Timmy: Timmy need watch grande
Jonathan: I’ll see what I can find out for Timmy.
Timmy: Awesome. And can we please continue to talk about Timmy in the 3rd person? Timmy likes to boost Timmy’s ego by talking about Timmy that way
Jonathan: Jonathan would be happy to neglect the use of pronouns for the duration of this conversation.
Timmy: Jonathan and Timmy shall get along just fine

The conversation continued (entirely in the third person) and ended with Jonathan upgrading Timmy’s account for free and Timmy becoming a committed, lifelong customer.

3. Invest in your people and their interests. Put time and energy in growing your employees. Google is famed for their “20% rule.” If you work at Google, you can spend 20% of your time doing whatever you think is the best thing to do. This creative autonomy has birthed projects from Google News (a researcher who became more interested in how we read the news after 9/11) to the construction of a hospital in rural India (from three software engineers). The policy is grounded in the simple truth that people like to work on things they think are important—not just the things their boss thinks are important. Knowing how to channel employee motivation is essential to maintaining an innovative and engaging culture.

4. Create shared meaning and experiences. We all want to be part of something bigger than ourselves that we believe in. Gallup found that “only 41% of employees felt that they know what their company stands for and what makes its brand different from its competitors’ brands.” People want to work for companies they are proud of. If you give them a reason, they will be some of your best brand evangelists.

Showing up is important, but Woody overestimated how much. As leaders, we don’t just want warm bodies showing up to the office and slugging through the day. We want people who are fully engaged and want to be there. Strive to make your workplace one where employees want to do far more than just show up!

I’ve been on a bit of a crusade lately to spread the word about the importance of workplace culture. More and more people are talking about culture in the business world these days. And that’s a good start. But, I’ve noticed that the conversation is pretty one-sided. It’s all about the employees—how employees influence culture, what employees can do to change it, and how businesses should use employees to build better workplace environments.

The importance of employees in the cultural equation is undeniable. However, it’s time to take a step back and change the way we think about culture at a higher level. It’s about a lot more than employees. Consider the impact outside partners have when it comes to forming and nurturing workplace cultures.

Companies spend countless hours recruiting and evaluating job candidates, trying to ensure each new recruit is a good “culture fit.” Screening tools, interviews, and personality assessments are just a few of the methods used to decide if a candidate will fit in and contribute to company culture in a positive way. Companies like Zappos and Pardot have this process down to a science. If one interviewer vetoes a candidate in the culture category, it’s over. No offer letter. Period. The end.

And it makes sense. We’ve all seen the impact of a positive or negative cultural fit on the broader work environment. Get it right, and you’ll see higher employee engagement, job satisfaction, and business results. Hire a bad egg, and you’re in for a very rocky ride.

Now, consider how much time we spend screening our outside partners for culture fit… Yeah. You’re not alone.

Most companies completely bypass any cultural assessment for outside influencers—which is troublesome. From third-party vendors to contractors, advisors to Board members, these ‘outsiders’ can have a profound impact on workplace cultures—as much as (or more than, in some cases) actual employees.

I think back to the outside parties who had significant exposure to my business and employees. These include benefits and wellness partners, real estate brokers, and others. Every interaction between my outside partners and our employees impacted our culture in some way – positively or negatively. So, why don’t more companies screen outside partners for culture fit?

Outside parties are oftentimes referred to as “agents” of the company. But, the reality is that, to the outside world, agents are your company. Other employees, customers, and the general public don’t differentiate between the legal designation of employee and non-employee. All people see is someone associated with your company, who is therefore assumed to be acting on the company’s behalf.

Perception is reality.

Here are five tips to ensure your outside parties are the right culture fits:

1. Identify and understand the type and level of interactions your outside parties will have with employees, customers, and the general public. You’ll be surprised how much influence and access they have.

2. Identify a key point-of-contact(s) from each outside partner who will interact with your stakeholders and meet with them before you sign on the dotted line. It is not enough to like your partner’s leadership team. Make sure the ‘feet on the street’ align with your core values and culture.

3. Interview outside parties in the same manner that you would a potential job candidate. Have face-to-face meetings. Learn about how they would interact with your employees, customers, and prospects. Be thorough, and get multiple opinions from your team before making a decision.

4. Check references. If a potential partner can’t supply a list of references who vouch for their integrity, professionalism, and commitment, that’s a red flag.

5. Quickly eject any outside partner (existing or potential) who are cultural misfits. Like employees, one cultural bad apple can ruin the bunch. No person, regardless of resume, is worth risking the culture you’ve built.

Outside partners can be a huge value-add and are often a business necessity. The key is to enter into those relationships with your eyes wide open. Your partners will influence your culture—the only question is ‘How?’

It’s time we all placed the same emphasis on outside partner culture fit as we do on employee culture fit. Start with your own company, then spread the word. I won’t be satisfied until we fundamentally shift the culture conversation.

Originally published in Forefront Magazine.

Also published in FirstPerson.