New Year: Hit the Reset Button on Company Culture and Employee Engagement

Deborah Hartung
Culture & Leadership Consultant | Writer | Keynote Speaker | Women in Leadership Advocate

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Happy New Year!
An exciting time, full of promise and good intentions which, sadly, often fall by the wayside after a couple of weeks when people realize that changing their lives and their daily habits, requires some actual work. It’s one thing to abandon a personal goal to get fitter or watch less tv, because you’re really only accountable to yourself. But, when you have a business to run, the stakes are so much higher, and the work is so much harder. Don’t let that deter you – the rewards are also so much greater! So, in the spirit of the New Year, here are 5 practicals’, no-holds barred guidelines that have been proven to work for any organization wishing to improve employee engagement and workplace culture.

Know what you’re dealing with
You can’t fix something if you don’t know what’s broken or where to begin. Knowledge is power, and you need to know exactly what it is that you’re dealing with. Collect all the data you possibly can, from various sources within the business, including culture surveys and suggestions received from employees. One of the most fascinating trends I have personally observed in all the corporate clients I work with, is the massive disconnect between perceptions of company culture in the C-Suite as opposed to views gathered from amongst the lower ranking employees who actually interact with your clients and products, directly. Contrary to popular belief, it is the lower level employees who have the best suggestions on how to improve customer service or what innovative products would really set your brand apart. Give those employees a safe forum to communicate this information and check your ego at the door if you really want to change anything in your business for the better.

There’s no room for ego-based denial in this process and I strongly recommend you work with an organizational transformation specialist and a team of coaches, because it’s very hard for senior leadership to make changes that they don’t truly believe are necessary and that they don’t buy into.

Know what you want
One of the most basic leadership tenets we are all familiar with, is the importance of having a clear vision. In this context, you need a clear vision of the company culture and the levels of employee engagement you want to see within your organization. A transformation specialist or coach can help you gain clarity on exactly what your desired corporate culture looks and feels like and they will also help you to distill these into behaviors and actions that will support this desired culture and help cultivate it throughout the business.

Work to change behavior
This is hands down the toughest part of transformation and it’s the number one reason people don’t follow through with their New Year’s Resolutions. Making a lasting and impactful change is really hard work – even more so across an entire organization. It is highly likely that this step in the process will take a minimum of about 6 months of intensive coaching, facilitated learning sessions and regular feedback meetings, all of which aim to create the habits and behaviors required to change your culture from what it truly is, to align with the vision you have set for what you want your culture to become.

Recognize, reward, retain
In order to really embed the changes and ensure that everyone is truly living your values and working to bring your vision for culture and engagement to life, you will need to re-define the concept of ‘high performance’ to not only include what an employee delivers, but also how they go about achieving these results through values-congruent behavior.

I am a huge fan of the ‘performance values matrix’ developed by Dr. Cameron Sepah and I work with clients on implementing this process as part of an organizational transformation. It requires not only a change in thinking around what constitutes high performance, but also a robust recognition and rewards programme that enables you to publicly recognize values-congruent behavior and to tie that recognition back to a reward that actually means something to the employee. This programme, in turn, should form a core part of your talent management strategy to retain employees who are not only good at their jobs, but who also display the values and behaviors which advance your desired corporate culture.

Not everyone will be on board with this change and you may need to make some tough decisions regarding some of your first line managers and supervisors, especially – even if they have historically been a ‘high performer’. If they cannot or not will not behave in a values-congruent manner and help advance the culture you are seeking to create, you will need to either redistribute talent within your business or encourage the worst offenders to seek alternative employment elsewhere. It may seem harsh and I’m not suggesting you go on a firing spree. Part of the transformation is leadership development coaching aimed at embedding the desired behaviors and values throughout the entire leadership team. If there are employees – especially in management and leadership roles – who aren’t improving, there is no place for them in your organization because they will undo all the good you are trying to achieve.

If you are going to set the intention to create a remarkable corporate culture and a company where people truly want to work, now is the time to do it. The global HR community is brimming with thought leaders and transformation specialists, supported by some amazing technology that enables you to collect workplace data and translate that into actionable steps that will improve communication, collaboration and innovation in your company. This, in turn, automatically increase engagement and it reduces absenteeism and staff turnover. Make this the year you start truly listening to your staff and start taking action to create a workplace you can all be proud of!

To learn more about how DirectSuggest can help foster innovation & efficiency in your business and help you identify some of your High Potentials please click here.

Deborah Hartung (
Deborah Hartung is a Culture and Leadership Consultant, Coach, Writer and Keynote Speaker from Johannesburg, South Africa. She has been working in HR and Leadership Development Coaching for almost 20 years and is especially passionate about the opportunities for the advancement of humanity through technology and the potential to improve the human experience in the workplace in the future of work. Deborah is an advocate for women in leadership and in addition to her global HR transformation consulting and leadership development coaching work, she writes extensively on this and other topics, for numerous publications.
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