An employee shows that they are as effective as a team leader as they are as a team member. If collaboration is one of your business’s core values, this behavior might be an indicator of a worker that embraces your company’s culture. Civilis Consulting CEO, Kim Troy explores how to recognize and bring to life a well-defined, well-embodied company culture that can be the glue that holds your business together during tumultuous times in this Forbes Business Council post.
It was a conscious decision to be a virtual company, and it’s actually a decision that we made long before Civilis came to be. As serial entrepreneurs, we’ve found lots of ways to make money. But as far as we’re concerned, making a profit is not the only reason to build a company. We’re of the mind that if you have the unique ability to create anything from nothing—to turn a mere idea into reality—why not build something that makes the world, and the people in it, better for it?
Our philosophy is that our company’s very existence should support the lifestyle of the people in it, rather than the other way around. Quite simply, Civilis exists to make life better for everyone we work with: our employees, our vendors, our contractors, and our clients. If we’re not adding value to those relationships, then what’s the point?
Being a virtual company is definitely not a cost-cutting strategy. In fact, it’s no less expensive than having a traditional office (we know, we’ve done the math). Rather, our virtual environment is a deliberate cultural strategy that allows all of us to do what we love and love what we do.
But a virtual workplace is not right for everyone. Whether you’re an employer considering instituting a teleworking program, or a prospective employee dreaming of a Google-esque career, here are a few things to consider.
Virtual company considerations for employers
- Attract top talent – As an employer, a virtual workplace allows us to recruit the best talent from across the US, without geographical constraint. Without a physical office, we can seek out and hire the very best in our field without requiring these folks to relocate.
- Maximize productivity – Because our people have complete freedom to work in whatever environment is most productive for them, together we can literally customize each person’s workplace. Some of our employees prefer to work from a busy, energetic location, so in those situations we arrange for our team member to work from a co-working space or even from a neighborhood coffee shop. Some do their best work in a quiet environment free of interruptions, so in those situations, we help our employee find a location with four walls and a door, or to set up a dedicated office in their home.
- Well-defined and highly functioning infrastructure – We’ve found that well-documented, easily-understood processes have been key to our virtual company success. We have documented job descriptions and performance expectations for each and every member of our team. Every policy, procedure and process—from when to use email vs. phone vs. IM, to how to conduct a strategic planning session with a client—is documented and accessible online as a shared file. And our technology has to be top notch, so we have a small but mighty team of gurus in-house as well as a 3rd party IT support vendor who work together to ensure we stay connected to each other at all times.
- Hire for cultural fit – We realized early on that our company culture was actually an outgrowth of what was important to us, the founders. We learned (the hard and costly way) that the people we brought on board would have to have values similar to ours if they were going to thrive in our nontraditional environment. So in our hiring process, we go to great lengths to discuss company culture and values with our candidates, and we use screening instruments to measure for cultural fit.
Virtual company considerations for employees
- Personal-work-life balance – Our virtual structure allows our people to not only work from wherever they please, but to set their own schedules as well. There’s something very liberating about deciding when to arrive at work, when to take a break, or whether to set up your mobile office outside today. We have found that giving our team members control of their own working environment makes for happier, healthier employees.
- Working independently – To be successful here, our employees have to be self-directed and self-motivated. They need to be energized by working for long stretches of quiet time without interruption or without another human being in the vicinity. Some people, without another person around to provide direction and discipline, can find themselves too distracted by non-work goings-on (e.g. that load of laundry really needs a good folding). If you’re the type of person who needs others around to keep you focused and on task, the virtual office world might not be for you.
- Limited feedback – Although we try hard to provide lots of public recognition (a really effective way to encourage great behavior) virtual kudos often don’t have the same impact as a literal pat on the back or round of applause. Every day, at least one person on our team does something truly spectacular that the rest of us aren’t around to experience firsthand. If you’re the type of person who likes to be front and center, or who derives satisfaction only if someone else recognizes what you did, a virtual workplace might not be a good fit.
- Support of your non-traditional job – Although the virtual workplace is gaining popularity, it is still considered by most an unconventional way of earning a living. Friends and family might not take you or your career as seriously as if you went to work at a big company with a physical presence. If the opinions of friends or family members are important to you, it might behoove you to include them early on in your interviewing process so that you can make sure they get all their questions answered before you decide to make the leap.
No doubt, a virtual company structure provides tremendous advantages to a company and its team. But being successful in this environment requires an honest understanding of what it means to be a part of such a company. Just like a brick-and-mortar company, a virtual company experiences all the highs and lows of a traditional workplace—the good, the bad and the ugly. And remember: Although you may not be able see the secret sauce being made, it is still very real and very yummy.
Our client, a national financial services wirehouse, tasked its branch managers and executive directors with recruiting financial advisors with robust books of business to their respective branches. The challenges were threefold: First, the people in those roles were already hard-pressed to meet the many operational demands of running a branch. Second, these markets are extremely competitive. Third, firms and managers must build relationships with potential recruits months (sometimes years) in advance to compel them to move.
We created the Talent Pipeline Program™, a one-to-one relationship nurturing program in which we systematically identified ideal candidates and conducted outreach to those individuals through digital channels on behalf of executive directors and branch managers across the nation. We provided unique and authentic messaging, outreach tracking, and timely follow-up with potential recruits.
TThis effectively built awareness for our clients, helped them build rapport with key individuals in their market, and laid the groundwork for them to meet with those individuals in person. On average, our efforts enabled each client to recruit 1.5 advisors, each managing an average of $50-100 million in financial assets, within each six-month period of our engagement.
Collection agencies have a reputation for toxic culture and high-pressure work environments. Our client, a collection agency with a unique and compassionate approach to collections, was struggling to attract people with the right temperament and values. Posting on digital job boards led to a high volume of unqualifies applicants. HR and hiring managers were overwhelmed with screening, and constant understaffing meant that quality team members were over burdened and turnover was high.
We interviewed staff members, supervisors, HR leaders and c-suite execs to identify who the best employees were and why. We learned how ideal employees came to learn about the company, what attracted them, and what they most enjoyed about their roles. We found that the most effective team members had compassion and empathy traits in common. They relished the opportunity to help people improve their lives and get out of debt.
By developing a profile for the ideal employee and creating a separate marketing strategy focused solely on recruitment, we reduced the number of incoming inquiries by 50%, while doubling the number of qualified inquiries. The HR team was able to redirect valuable time toward face-to-face interviewing. Turnover improved drastically, ensuring the best people stayed on board longer. The number of jobs open at any given time was reduced by 75%.
No doubt, you’re hearing a lot about company culture these days. It’s because a well-defined, activated culture helps employers attract top talent in a world where unemployment is low and competition for the best-of-the-best is at an all-time high. A strong culture means the most productive and valuable employees stay on board, while those less productive employees go looking elsewhere. A strong culture ensures everyone works in harmony to achieve unprecedented results. Indeed, culture is THE “thing” that makes a company successful these days.
But culture can be a somewhat nebulous and elusive concept and can mean different things to different people. So how do we get our arms around this “thing” called culture?
Fundamentally, it’s important to recognize that a company’s culture is more than a set of values painted on a wall, and it goes beyond a paragraph or two in the employee handbook. The culture is manifested in the behaviors of the people who lead and work within the company. It is exhibited in the way team members behave toward each other and toward customers. And it provides a framework for decision-making, serving as the North Star that guides leaders and team members in doing the “right” thing.
As leaders, how do we ensure that we and our people are exhibiting our company’s culture? Here’s a roadmap:
First, identify and articulate behaviors that embody our company’s values
The key is to know what our company values look, sound, and feel like so that everyone—employees, customers, vendors, and other stakeholders—can recognize when our values are being demonstrated (or not).
For example, if collaboration is a cultural value, behaviors might be:
- An employee shows that he is as effective as a team leader as he is as a team member
- An employee works with another employee to help her meet an important deadline, even though it’s not part of his usual responsibilities
- An employee goes above and beyond to help a coworker look good in the eyes of his superiors or clients
Second, lead by example
As leaders, the best way to move others to action is to first act ourselves. This is especially effective if we do so with vulnerability.
If integrity is a cultural value that we want others to emulate, here’s what we might do to lead the way:
- Admit that we made a mistake or that we are weak in a particular area
- Using compassion and empathy, tell a customer or employee something we know they don’t necessarily want to hear
- Explicitly refuse to engage in petty gossip or office politics
Third, allow for practice and tolerate failure
Everyone will interpret the company’s culture a little differently, as perceived through a lens of their own unique personal and professional experiences. Most humans learn by trial and error—especially when it comes to very subjective concepts like company culture and values. Encourage people to practice demonstrating the behaviors we’re looking for. The best way to do that is to tolerate—and even encourage—an environment where people can fail.
If excellence is a cultural value, here’s how we might allow for failure:
- Encourage a team member to accomplish something she’s never done before
- Create a quality control system where each person has someone else double-check their work before it is delivered to a client
- Give an employee unlimited authority to satisfy a disgruntled client
Fourth, incentivize and reward behaviors we’d like to see more of
Catch people doing it right (remember the one-minute praising?). According to Ken Blanchard, author of The One Minute Manager, taking 60 seconds to praise an employee’s good work can go a long way to reinforcing productive behaviors. Rewards don’t have to be monetary. Studies show that being praised in front of peers is more satisfying than monetary bonuses or a formal promotion.
If fun is the cultural value we want to see more of, we could try these:
- Hand out a “you’re awesome” sticker to anyone we see demonstrating one of the company’s values
- Commit to sing a solo at the next company meeting when the team accomplishes a notable goal
- Give each employee a small budget to reward someone else for doing something that exemplifies the company’s values
We get it
When leaders and front-line employees alike embody the company’s culture, it’s easy to work there. Decisions on-the-fly tend to be the ‘right’ and best ones. There’s a harmony and unity throughout the company, which lead to measurable and positive outcomes, such as better efficiencies, lower turnover, improved client satisfaction, and higher profits.
If you’re ready to set yourself apart and recognize the need to go beyond the writing on the wall, Civilis can help. We help companies bring their cultures to life through our CULTURE ACTIVATION™ program.
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