Improving work culture


In 1788, Edward Gibbon set forth in his famous multivolume work, "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," his ideas about why that great civilization withered and died. Surprisingly, it involves moral decay, both societal and individual, just as much as it does political dysfunction.

While most of us have little control over the global situation, we do have some control over our personal lives, starting at home and moving on to the workplace. Studies have consistently shown that salary is not the most important factor when considering where one works – it's corporate culture.

Corporate culture is what we call the pervasive values, beliefs and attitudes that characterize a company and guide its practices. To some extent, a company's internal culture may be articulated in its mission or vision statements. Elements of corporate culture include a company's physical environment, human resources practices and the staff itself. Corporate culture is also reflected in the degree of emphasis placed on various defining elements such as hierarchy, process, innovation, collaboration, competition, community involvement and social engagement.

It's no surprise that Fortune's Best Companies happen to be many of the same companies listed as the best places to work. Companies that are concentrating on culture are seeing the biggest payoffs because they are putting their employees first.

I've always said if you take care of your people, they will take care of your customers. And your company will thrive.

According to an article in Forbes magazine, traditional companies such as Aetna are now heavily focused on culture. Last year, The New York Times published an article about Aetna's CEO, Mark Bertolini. He has raised wages, improved health benefits and introduced yoga and mindfulness training to his entire company to improve staff retention and culture in the call centers. Their $100 million-plus employee-turnover problem is rapidly going away, and he claims to have already improved the bottom line by 3-4 percent.

Corporate culture is consistently listed as an important factor in retaining employees at every level, but perhaps most significantly the millennial generation. In a nutshell, while making money is important, the potential to make a life that matters is even more important.

Do you know your organization's culture? Management expert Richard Hagberg on asks the question and says that many managers, particularly senior managers and the CEO, often base their views on hope rather than objective fact.

In order to ground your assessment of your workplace culture in reality, he suggests you ask these questions:

n What 10 words would you use to describe your company?

n Around here, what's really important?

n Around here, who gets promoted?

n Around here, what behaviors get rewarded?

n Around here, who fits in and who doesn't?

Hagberg says the reality is that whatever management pays attention to and rewards are pretty strong indicators of the culture. Brutally honest inquiry should be a first step to gather insight as to what your workplace culture truly is. Sometimes it's nowhere close to what management set out to create.

Strong leadership is central to engendering a positive cultural environment. If you are in charge of a team that is not functioning properly, it's probably your fault. You need to take a good hard look at yourself and take responsibility for the situation so you can repair it.

Corporate culture extends far beyond employees. Your customers, vendors and competitors are watching. Who wants to do business with an organization that can't be trusted or respected? I'll tell you who – no one. Your public face reflects your internal face. The mirror doesn't lie. n

Mackay's Moral: Your corporate culture is like a petri dish – make sure only the good stuff grows.

Harvey Mackay is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive." He can be reached through his website,