Take steps to build a strong 'family' work culture

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Bob Land


Business Columnist

Monday, October 1, 2018

Do our workplaces have an employee friendly culture?

Many of us 45 years or older were raised in authoritarian family and work environments. If we were fortunate, we were guided by good strong leaders with a strong work ethic and vision. But some of us were not always raised in constructive environments that built us up. Some were motivated by stern and intimidating leadership styles. Are we surprised that we lead how we were led? Maybe the “give me 50 push ups” punitive style of leadership has crept into our styles?

In their excellent book “Everybody Matters” Bob Chapman and Raj Sisodia challenge business leaders and managers about the culture they are creating. “Our people (employees) matter” says nearly every CEO on the planet. “Without our people” so the logic goes, “we would not achieve our goals.”

Well, Eastern North Carolina leaders, “What employee culture are you creating”?

Rare are business leaders who will admit that their employees do not matter. But there is a huge disconnect between merely understanding the value of your employees and actually making decisions and creating a daily environment that improves your employees lives. It is sort of like saying “My kids are super important” but always putting your work ahead of them.

Creating a strong “family-like” work culture requires intentional hard work. It requires values plus behavior demonstrating those values. Strong families and organizations need “strong and clearly stated values.” But a sign on the wall that states “Integrity” or “Responsibility plans” is not enough. We need servant leaders in our organizations who believe, live, flesh out and pass on the baton of the fruitful values of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control.”

Leaders, your actions and words are shaping the culture you are building. How are you doing? Are you still reflecting the Vince Lombardi, strong-armed styles you were groomed with? Do your employees know you care about them?

Business owners and managers are finding that they must first serve their employees. Employees are the first customers of the business owner. Here are a few basic ideas that leaders are finding successful in creating a “strong family” work environment. These are new ideas to many of us.

■ Quantity and Quality Time: Budget time for building relationships with your employees. Ask questions about their family, kids, their goals. Work out at the gym with them, go to a ball game with them … LISTEN. Eat a meal with them, LISTEN, spend a break time with them, invest time and money on them. Really hear what they are saying and see what you could do to make their workplace better. Be the kind of boss you would have liked to have had. Write a handwritten note “congrats on a great job,” etc…

■ Shepherd lead — not cowboy lead: Shepherds lead their flock of sheep from the front. Go before them, model, guide and inspire. Cowboys crack the whip and “cattle drive” their herds from behind. What is your management style? Lead or drive from the back? People will follow a caring leader who knows where they are going.

■ Show them: Demonstrate it. Model it. In house, in a safe environment … Train your employees how to give your customers “wow” exceptional service. Show them yourself ... show your managers how to “serve your employees.” You be the one. Perfection is not required, but excellence is. If they copied you, how would it look? Are you early to work, prepared, enjoying being there, giving an ear to a needy employee?

■ Watch them: Still in house, in a safe environment, constructively use role plays, with accountability, how to keep improving toward excellent service of your customers. You and your managers watch, encourage, tweak and reward your employees. Get the right people on your company bus. Get the right employee in the right role. Be patient. Catch them doing well — build them up while also calling them to improvement. Have vision for their development. Use outside personal trainers to take them further than you can.

■ Send them out with a senior employee: Once graduating the classroom part, send them out with managers or senior employees to serve real live customers. Overseeing manager is a personal advocate of new trainee. Take notes, practice, tweak, encourage, care, LISTEN. Find future managers. Send them out in pairs or by themselves when ready. The little eagles are ready to fly out of the nest. Managers go back and train others.

■ Now have them train others: Now help the model developing trainee and employee come full circle and pour themselves into new employees by training them. Maybe they are developing into a manager or future owner.

■ Financially: Have an employee benefits package that promotes this “family culture” you are building. This includes: 1) Meeting the basic financial needs of your employees in salary and benefits and 2) Rewarding exceptional performance. Give bonuses in salary, time off, etc … Implement executive bonus planning, key person protection, income protection and long-term  and extended care planning for your rain-making, key people. Care for them in action. They are in fact your “work family.”

Bob Land is president of Landmark Financial Services LLC, a 26-year-old executive and employee benefits firm that provides national service through an affiliated network of independent agency offices in N.C., S.C. and Va.