As appeared on (HR.com)
by Gregg Lederman – CEO, Brand Integrity
It sounds simple enough. Create a set of values that define your company culture, communicate those values to all employees, and encourage them to incorporate them into their work. But CEOs of today’s leading companies know they didn’t get there by only talking about their company’s core values, they got there by actually living them.
So, how does a company ‘live’ its values?
It’s not about creating a set of core values that define who you are as a company and putting them in a gilded frame on the wall for everyone to see. We make it our business at Brand Integrity to help companies take their values off the wall and get employees—from the janitor to the CEO—to live them in their daily work lives. It starts with a basic human truth: people who feel valued and appreciated will work harder, and the end result will be loyalty to the company.
After all, as British-American author Simon Sinek wisely notes, “Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first.” That concept is evident in today’s global workforce. Every company has laudable values—things like integrity, ownership, honesty, and innovation—but according to a recent Gallup survey, few organizations are able to bring those values to life. Only 27 percent of US employees believe in their company values according to the survey, while just 23 percent say they apply their company values on the job.
This isn’t the case for HumanGood, one of the country’s leading nonprofit providers of senior living communities. John Cochrane, CEO of the Pleasanton, CA-based company, recognized early on in his tenure the critical role employee engagement and company culture play in the overall customer experience.
How did they do it? It all starts with the CEO. In the case of HumanGood, Cochrane truly understood the connection between employee recognition and positive reinforcement to company values. Cochrane and senior leaders at the company consistently leverage an employee recognition platform to highlight and reward staff for exhibiting behaviors that reinforce company values. By citing specific examples in meetings, the word trickles down and soon becomes the topic of water cooler conversation.
Case in point: During a family meeting to discuss concerns, Christine, a HumanGood team member, discovered that a couple in her community was approaching a milestone wedding anniversary. Christine and her team arranged an intimate anniversary dinner for the couple, creating a memorable experience for the whole family. Comments on the platform were overwhelmingly positive. “This is HumanGood in action! I love being part of a team that creates such special moments.”
This is just one example of the many stories Cochrane and other leaders write about on the platform, describing the impact it has on the business. Everyone reads it, colleagues affirm it by making positive comments, and it has the potential to become a company legend. The stories are told in one-minute reminders to all employees, and every meeting starts with a similar story about an employee who lives out the company values. It’s about consistently connecting exhibited behaviors and stories to company values. Over time, those stories multiply, and employees think to themselves, “I can do that!” It starts as a grassroots movement within the company that grows over time, and soon becomes the company culture. It’s the kind of action by employees that helps to increase resident/customer satisfaction and can lead to more referrals, higher occupancy, and better financial results.
But HumanGood takes it a step further. In an industry plagued by turnover, they start the process early by first recruiting and hiring people who believe in their company values. During initial interviews, they ask potential employees questions related to the company values and listen for specific examples of how they demonstrated those values in a previous job. New employees go through extensive values training during the onboarding process. The company taps into that early motivation to recognize and reward behaviors that reinforce company values from the very beginning.
The results have been remarkable.
HumanGood experienced a 27 percent decrease in nursing turnover in the first six months of employment and a 36 percent drop in total nursing turnover from 2014–16. In dining services, the numbers are even higher: a 48 percent decrease in total turnover from 2014–16, and a 51 percent drop in the first six months of employment. Overall, company profits grew by $4 million, transforming the work environment and ultimately, the experience for residents who live there (and, by extension, their families too).
In the end, it’s about making employees feel appreciated. Happy employees share their love for the company with the customer, and for the companies that get it right, the customer becomes a company champion.
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Recognition, when done strategically and consistently, has been proven to be an important driver for creating a work environment where employees can become more engaged, helping the company achieve the business results it’s committed to. Who wouldn’t want that?
The challenge is that even when managers and employees understand the value of recognition as a strategic management tool, doing it doesn’t always come naturally. Recognizing employees for doing their job well and for going above and beyond is not a habit that’s easy to adopt; however, reminders and creativity are a great way to drive consistency.
Try out some of the best practices below to see what works for you!
1. Pay it forward: One client we have initiated a campaign encouraging employees to write a recognition for someone when they receive one themselves. Suggested messaging: “You know how good it feels when you get recognized? Next time that happens, pay it forward! Recognize someone else for demonstrating our values in action!”
2. Implement five-minute recognition breaks: Think “stretch breaks” but for recognition! Take five minutes sometime within the week (Wednesday mornings, Friday at noon, etc.) to either recognize someone in the platform or comment on a recognition. Schedule it on everyone’s calendar so it’s there as a reminder.
3. Tie it to a value and REMIND: Call out a Value of the Month each month, right on the homepage. At the start of each month, remind employees what the value is and encourage them to look for examples of that value in action and recognize their peers for it in the platform.
4. Make your platform engaging: Update the platform regularly with pictures, videos, announcements/updates and stats. Keep it fresh by calling out that month’s birthdays, anniversaries, events, and achievements and encourage everyone to upload a profile image – you can even do a monthly or quarterly theme (an image of your favorite thing about winter or your pet!).
5. Download the app! At the end of a meeting, have everyone take a few minutes to download the Brand Integrity app, giving them the quickest access to the platform and allowing them to post and comment on recognition right from their phone. Managers can also approve recognition posts via the app.
6. Set up a scavenger hunt: Create a list of items in the platform to look for (a specific person’s profile picture, a recognition post tied to a specific value, how many comments someone has made, etc.) and offer up a gift card or a few extra hours of PTO to the first person to find all the right answers. This is a great way to get people in and navigating around the site to learn where to find information and statistics.
7. Share stories in meetings (One Minute Reminder): Simply pull up the Activity Feed via the app and start a meeting reading a post from the site.
8. Put certificates on display: Print certificates from the platform for your group weekly or monthly and post in a place where others can see them – a kitchen, break-room, bulletin board, or even a conference room. Rotate them weekly or monthly so the most recent stories are always on display.
9. Start a monthly recognition lunch: At the end of each month, bring in pizza or lunch for everyone that either wrote or received a recognition post that month. It’s a great way to build relationships within the team and across departments.
10. Focus on a specific behavior: Is there a behavior in your set of values that you know your team could get better at? Make that behavior the focus for the month and recognize employees who work to improve it. Post all recognition certificates related to that behavior in a visible place as a reminder to the team on what you’re working on improving.
Brand Integrity has added the ability to capture customer-based recognition and share it within its employee engagement platform. The new feature provides insights into what customers appreciate most and reinforces positive employee behavior.
In addition to boosting employee morale, customer-based recognition can benefit organizations in a variety of ways. From a Human Resources standpoint, it serves to identify the behaviors consistent with the experience an organization aims to deliver to its customers. This in turn helps employees learn and repeat such behaviors, and helps hiring managers pinpoint the kind of employees they should be recruiting in the first place.
The new feature is also particularly important for employees such as desk-less and remote workers, some of whom primarily interact with customers rather than other employees. As employee engagement continues to be a major topic of interest to companies, the Harvard Business Review contends that simple acts of recognition are the easiest way to boost morale. Customer-based recognition helps employees feel more connected to the work they’re doing, as they witness first-hand the impact they have on the customer experience.
“We have always integrated our employee and customer (patient) recognition programs and it’s been critical to have positive input from both,” says Jackie Beckerman, Chief Patient Experience Officer and Director of the Strong Commitment at the University of Rochester Medical Center, a longtime Brand Integrity client who uses the feature. “The customer-based recognition component of the program has been a huge indicator for us in terms of the link between positive feedback and palpable culture change.”
Customer-based recognition activity is integrated into the platform’s reporting dashboard, tracking not only the number of customers who have submitted recognitions, but also the amount of recognitions made by customers each month. This data helps organizations to operationalize their culture and measure how their employees are living it, and how it’s rippling out to impact their customers, and ultimately, business results.
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Achieving and improving a stellar company culture remains an elusive goal to quantify in metal fabrication. But some companies are measuring it. In one sense, it could be treated as a central tenet of process improvement.
Measurement and manufacturing go hand in hand. You measure the part count, the bend angle, the tolerances, on-time delivery, machine cycle times, sales growth, machine downtime, maintenance activity, and more. But whenever I ask managers about their greatest challenges, the conversation inevitably goes back to finding good people.
What attracts good people? Money’s part of it, but people usually lean on business jargon first: specifically, something called “company culture.” If you have a good culture, you can attract good people, develop and document better processes, train staff, increase capacity, attract more customers, build market share, make more money, pay people more, improve culture, hire more talent, and the virtuous cycle continues. In the real world, the “attract new customers” link in the cycle isn’t a guarantee, particularly if the larger economy falters. But if the virtuous cycle becomes entrenched, external factors like a weak economy could be a mere bump in the road instead of a looming roadblock.
Of all the terms in that virtuous cycle, “culture” is the toughest one to define. I view “good culture” in the broadest sense as a place where people care and share similar values. Put another way, people get along and engage easily in the company’s work environment, whatever that may be. It could be a command-and-control environment, though I don’t see this in many shops these days. Instead, I hear a lot about ideas coming from those inspecting parts, welding, and operating machines—those who do the actual work of fabricating products.
So how does bad culture fester in custom fabrication? Every situation is different, but here’s a hypothetical one to consider:
The issue starts with high revenue concentration, so high that losing just one major customer puts a shop in a world of hurt. Layoffs follow, which triggers mistrust. Those remaining go on a quest to become (at least from their perspective) as indispensable as possible.
A press brake operator with decades of experience doesn’t share much, and who could blame him? His knowledge kept him employed during the last recession, so it probably will do the same for the next. He doesn’t teach rookies the ropes, doesn’t do much of anything except continue to produce perfect parts. No one in the brake department learns from him; everyone just tries to get by.
But employees remain disengaged. They’re not learning. They just churn out parts. Leaders can’t afford to invest in the business, so the shop floor is full of old, tired machines. Employee turnover rises as the economy gets better and people leave for greener pastures. Then the recession comes, people lose their jobs, and the cycle starts again.
How did this cycle start? You could argue that it started with that major customer pulling its business. But why did the customer pull its business? More than that, why did the fabricator have so few customers? And why was one pulling its business so catastrophic?
It turns out that the fabricator had a hard time landing new business simply because it couldn’t meet its delivery promises. Those large legacy customers were always given priority, so winning and sustaining new customers always was an uphill battle.
Gregg Lederman can probably relate to this story. Years ago he worked for an advertising and marketing agency. He wasn’t happy. “He didn’t like communicating marketing messages, and then finding out that his clients really weren’t delivering on them,” said Linda Piontek, vice president of client services for Rochester, N.Y.-based Brand Integrity. “They weren’t delivering on their brand promises.”
Customers weren’t happy, and neither were the companies’ employees—and here Lederman saw a connection. A company with happy customers usually has happy, engaged employees.
Eventually Lederman, along with business partners Patrick Ahern and Doug Bennett, launched Brand Integrity, a company that uses software to measure what businesses, including manufacturers, often think is impossible to measure. They measure culture.
The service includes carefully worded surveys for both employees and customers, web-based message boards where people can give feedback, and (most important) training on how to use it all. Survey results show managers so-called “engagement trends.” Would employees recommend the workplace to others? Would they take a similar job at another company for slightly higher pay? How are co-workers living up to the company brand? Answers to these questions and more are tracked over time, as are answers to customer surveys.
All this information helps solve a basic mystery in business. As Piontek asked, “Does the customer experience match what employees think they’re delivering? Not only that, can you use that information to have conversations with customers that help strengthen the relationship?”
Regarding those messaging systems, employees post compliments, but they also write narratives about exactly what that employee did that stood out, perhaps a new idea that made his life easier.
Piontek referred to some recent entries from Waukesha, Wis.-based MetalTek International, a diversified metal manufacturer and casting company that’s a Brand Integrity client. The narratives told stories of small improvements made in specific areas in specific plants, all with appropriate “thank yous” and other appreciations. The stories not only helped people feel good, they helped spread process improvement throughout the organization.
Piontek added that, to improve culture, a company needs to have solid processes in place. “When we’re working with companies to change culture, and if they don’t address bad processes, they’re going to have a real problem changing their culture.”
If processes are undocumented or nonexistent, dysfunction rules, and people take any “culture change initiative” as just another flavor of the month. Meanwhile, people such as a skilled press brake operator keep their knowledge to themselves, a temple of order amid the chaos around them.
Alternatively, if people feel like they have the power to change things, change may well happen. Perhaps methods employed by companies like MetalTek spur communication and trust, which act as kindling for process development and improvement, which in turn improves culture, attracts talent, improves productivity and quality, attracts new customers … and the virtuous cycle continues.
The FABRICATOR is North America’s leading magazine for the metal forming and fabricating industry. The magazine delivers the news, technical articles, and case histories that enable fabricators to do their jobs more efficiently. The FABRICATOR has served the industry since 1971.
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These days, more and more companies are embracing recognition as a tool to drive engagement and give people what they crave at work (even if they don’t admit it!); however, it can be challenging to know when and how to show appreciation—especially for managers. This is often a top reason recognition is inconsistent in the work environment, which can negatively affect employee engagement, the customer experience, and a company’s ability to achieve desired results
If you’re like many companies we partner with, there are a number of ways to provide recognition and deciding which to choose isn’t always easy. The good news is, you don’t have to choose just one.
People respond to recognition differently so a combination of these 5 methods provides a great opportunity to demonstrate gratitude and encourage consistency in employee behaviors.
1. Strategic Recognition: Sharing a story that includes specifics on what the individual(s) did and how it had an impact on the organization is a great way to not only help employees feel appreciated for the relevance of the work they do, but also to share best practices that their peers can learn from.
2. Spot Recognition: Although less strategic, a quick thank you for consistency in expectations (such as arriving on time and prepared, greeting customers a certain way, etc.) supports behaviors important to the culture and reputation of the organization.
3. Team or Group Recognition: I haven’t met an organization yet that doesn’t want more teamwork so when a group of individuals work together to accomplish a goal or project, it is absolutely recognition-worthy. Calling out what the group did shows appreciation, demonstrates relevance of employees’ good work, and reinforces the importance of collaboration.
4. Achievement Recognition: Recognizing employees who earn certifications and complete career development opportunities acknowledges their focus and time investment for the better of their career and the organization.
5. Anniversary: Consistently acknowledging work anniversaries demonstrates appreciation for the employees’ loyalty to the company and also recognizes career longevity.
If recognition doesn’t come naturally, consider these methods as opportunities to drive engagement through showing appreciation. Recognition, when done consistently, helps employees feel respected and reinforces the relevance of their role with your company, which not only improves working relationships, but also helps your company achieve desired business results.
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