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Go Beyond Training to Imbue the Company’s Values

Starbucks has been in the headlines lately as its corporate leaders work to show real commitment to change through racial bias training for staff at more than 8,000 stores nationwide. But a single day of training isn’t enough. Piyush Patel, an expert in corporate culture, discusses how leaders can affect real, lasting change.’

In today’s workplace, you won’t be able to keep or attract top talent with a paycheck alone. That’s why having a healthy organizational culture is more important than ever.

Most business leaders agree — according to a study by Duke University, 90 percent of executives said culture is important to their firms. However, only 15 percent of these executives said their culture is exactly where it needs to be. So how do you bridge the gap?

Below are five ways you can start to improve the culture of your organization, which will increase engagement and drive productivity.

1. Establish a Culture of Trust

Do your employees trust they can have a frank discussion with you, without fear of repercussions? Or that private conversations will remain confidential? And when a co-worker promises a deliverable by a certain date, there’s no doubt they’ll get it done?

Those are all examples of trust — something that’s required in every healthy workplace. We all know that once trust is broken, it’s very difficult to repair, which is why this is so important.

Low-trust work environments typically have intense micromanagement. When things don’t go according to plan, people resort to finger-pointing or use phrases like “I told you so.” Co-workers carry grudges or worry that others will take undue credit for their work.

In high-trust environments, people aren’t afraid to talk straight and confront real issues in a constructive way. New ideas are embraced, and mistakes are viewed as part of the learning process. There is a high degree of accountability. People are willing to ask for help when they need it, and they share the credit.

2. Don’t Mistake Perks for Culture

Foosball tables, arcade machines and snack bars are all examples of perks, which shouldn’t be confused with culture. Perks are nice, but is that foosball table really going to be the thing that motivates your people to wake up, come to the office and do their best work every day? Probably not.

A great company is one that gives their people a genuine sense of excitement, meaning and passion for their work — something that can’t be provided by perks alone. Companies that make this mistake will have a hard time keeping talented employees around long-term.

3. Create Belonging Through Shared Experiences

A big part of creating a healthy culture is helping your employees feel a sense of belonging and making them feel like they’re a part of something bigger. Friendships with co-workers and a sense of purpose outlast the paycheck.

As my company grew, we had an annual trip for the entire team. I liked to call them “Rock Star Road Trips” because, for a few days, I’d do my best to make my employees feel like rock stars, from taking them to luxury suites at sporting events and dining out at Michelin-star restaurants to treating them to a variety of unique, once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

But building a sense of belonging doesn’t have to involve lavish road trips or extravagant outings.

You can put simpler experiences in place, like an optional weekly trip to a local restaurant. At my company, a group started a tradition called Thai Thursday. Week in and week out, many of the same people would tag along for Thai Thursday, forming a group of regulars.

These were chances to create bonding moments and shared memories together. Co-workers became friends, and in the workplace, that translated into greater productivity — you’re much more willing to go the extra mile when you know your co-workers have your back.

4. Make On-boarding a Memorable Experience

Your new hire obviously needs to go through a certain level of training in order to be successful at his/her job, but what about assimilating new hires into the culture of your organization?

To help with that, I like to use what I call the navigator program.

A navigator is a veteran employee who has volunteered to help show new hires the ropes during their first month. The navigator will help put faces to names around the company and help the new hire to truly understand the company’s core values. They’ll also help set up lunches and other social activities between the new hire and other co-workers.

The sooner a new hire can feel a real sense of belonging in the new organization, the sooner they’ll want to do great work.

5. Your People Should Fit the Culture, Not the Other Way Around

I was shocked to learn that one of my long-time employees was making subtle racist comments toward certain people in the office. He thought he was being funny, but none of his co-workers were amused. One of my company’s core values stated that we will not tolerate the disrespect of our people or their property. If there’s one thing you can’t afford to compromise, it’s your company’s core values — so I let him go.

Learning new, disturbing facts about someone you know is always troublesome. It’s during those times when your employees will look to you to determine what sort of behavior you’ll tolerate at your company.

Do you hire and fire by your company’s core values, or are they just pretty posters hanging on the wall? Showing your staff that no one is above the law goes a long way toward bolstering their trust in you as their leader, it demonstrates that your core values are more than simply decoration.

Building a great company culture isn’t something that will happen overnight, but you can take the first steps by talking openly with your employees and setting a clear vision. Even a small shift in mentality can make a big difference in developing a company culture that is envied by others.

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Piyush Patel

Piyush Patel, author of Lead Your Tribe, Love Your Work, is an innovator in corporate culture and an entrepreneur with more than 20 years of experience. He grew his company, Digital-Tutors, into a leader throughout the world of online training, educating over 1.5 million students in digital animation, with clients including Pixar, Apple and NASA. A former Northern Oklahoma College professor, Patel grew frustrated with outdated training material and launched the company from his living room with only $54 and built it without any debt or investors, eventually creating multimillion-dollar revenue. In 2014, Pluralsight acquired Digital-Tutors for $45 million.

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