The era of the robber baron is long gone and the days of the rapacious capitalist are dwindling. The corporate world that once rewarded aggression and strong-armed business dealings is now refocusing on collaboration, transparency and corporate responsibility.
This amounts to an absolute cultural about-face for many companies -- a rewiring of the corporate brain to reward skills that net a more collaborative workplace.
Most companies are still only halfway through this transition. And many are still searching for the tools and the tactics to power their success.
The bean counters have been slow to quantify the impact of such changes on the bottom line. But turnover rates, customer loyalty, brand image and project accountability for companies demonstrating this new mind-set may eventually show that a sustainable culture and profitability are the new yin and yang of business.
Here are four ways that companies can reframe their corporate culture to be more flexible amid all the technological innovation, globalization and constant communication of today's business world:
1. Help employees become inspired by the “why” of work. Managers and executives sometimes fail to grasp the motivation for why people work. Humans are complex creatures, thriving on reaffirmation, praise, the inspiration of working in a tight-knit team or the ambition of changing people’s lives by building great products. They work for a paycheck, too. But truly inspired workers are motivated by much more. Understand that to unlock the secret to motivating employees and connecting them in a team.
A 2013 Gallup study quantified the immense benefits of an engaged workforce. Companies with highly engaged employees outperformed firms with lower engagement by 10 percent in customer ratings, 22 percent in profitability and 21 percent in productivity. They also saw significantly lower turnover and absenteeism and fewer safety incidents and product defects.
If employees are adrift in a work environment not understanding the why, they will likely have a morale problem. Connect employees to the “why” and motivation, innovation and great customer service will follow. The personal “why” and the company “why” should be aligned and complimentary.
2. Make philanthropy a company cornerstone. After the Great Recession, Gordon Gecko’s “greed is good” motto from the movie Wall Street seems reckless. Today, many consumers and employees are aligning with companies dedicated to philanthropy and corporate responsibility.
Forward-thinking companies are weaving philanthropy into all aspects of corporate culture and discovering that giving can have a positive impact on the way they develop talent, retain employees, promote leadership and serve customers. Giving is a critical way some corporations build teams, encourage leadership, recruit and retain employees and connect with customers and their communities.
Philanthropy is “R&D for business” and a “growth strategy,” says Doug Conant, a former Campbell Soup Co. CEO: “The more we leveraged our business resources to deliver social value to the communities around us, the more engaged our employees became and the better we performed in the marketplace.”
Fifty-nine percent of Fortune 500 companies increased philanthropic giving from 2007 to 2012, according to the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy, whose member firms gave $14 billion to charity in 2012. As chairman of that committee, Conant sees philanthropy as a staff development tool, a way to connect with community and “as incubators for promising ideas and a mechanism for understanding both community and corporate needs.”
3. Build teams that learn and adapt together. The every-man-for-himself outlook is being replaced by an ethic that prizes the success of a team over the accomplishments of single employees. If individual survival and personal reward are the focus, team members will build silos and create a “scarcity” mentality even in the face of abundance of opportunity. Teams succeed through collaboration, effective communication and adaptation.
One of the greatest achievements for a company is creating self-sustaining teams whose members learn and grow on their own. Fostering a company culture where ideas can germinate and thrive organically and where team members adapt and advance by interacting with others is the hallmark of a self-sustaining work environment.
A team structure where members mutually benefit from collaboration is critical for a company’s bottom line as well as staffers' sense of connection.
4. Streamline communication. Effective communication is a key trait that companies look for in a 21st-century work world. Yet today's workplaces are saddled by communication overload. Often, employees these days communicate too much, incessantly sending email, setting up conference calls and conducting staff meetings and strategy sessions.
High-performing teams communicate effectively by balancing communication with action. They target their communication to be actionable.
If companies were to step back and analyze their business operations, communication is an area where streamlining and sharpening could save time and boost effectiveness.
According to a report by international training firm 360 Solutions, a business with 100 employees experiences on average 17 hours of downtime a week, lost to having to clarify communication. This translates into an annual cost of nearly $530,000. The report also noted that 38 percent of staff feedback hinders employee performance.
Wading through emails, sitting through long, unfocused staff meetings and overbooking a week with conference calls can sap productivity and motivation and make it hard to decipher what's truly important.