Communication Coach: A tool for getting company culture right

culture | Photo: istockphoto.com/tumsasedgars
Photo: iStock.com/tumsasedgars

Company culture is a reliable predictor of an organization’s health.

If you get company culture right many things will naturally fall into place. In fact, the right culture promises to smooth out several of our industry’s top challenges:

  1. Workplace productivity;
  2. Employee engagement; and
  3. The customer experience.

Great company culture is something you know when you experience it. It’s a signature way of doing things that lubricates systems that further the business mission.

To make culture actionable, it helps to reduce it to core values or beliefs. And of course, these things have to be communicated in a way that leaves no doubt about what employees should do in every situation, especially the tough ones.

Our landscape company found the employee handbook to be a powerful tool for accomplishing this because it’s central to the process of recruiting, which is a time when minds are open.

The employee handbook sets the tone for the workplace. If it’s limited to addressing standard rules and policies, then it will only serve that purpose. If, in fact, you want employees to fully embrace your culture, don’t miss the opportunity to express the voice of that culture in your handbook.

(For more on how to discover and perfect your brand voice, check out my previous Communication Coach post.)

My landscape company drafted our first employee handbook after happening upon a copy of the handbook from Morningstar, the investment research and data firm. The name Morningstar suggests it’s not a typical Wall Street firm, and that was apparent from the voice and tone of its employee handbook.

It opens with a story about the founder and the firm he built to address a need that previously had received little attention. Reflected in the company culture was the founder’s laid-back style—khakis instead of pin-stripe suits.

We took Morningstar’s lead and shared a slice of our beginnings from when the current leadership worked in the trenches. It describes how we got started and what mattered most to us, the customer.

We wanted new team members to know that ours was an environment where everyone pitched in to serve customers at the highest level possible. Rather than stating this fact, we shared examples of how the men and women who were there in the early days took charge, making the most of limited resources.

You’ve heard that “there’s no such thing as a dumb question.” While that may be true, it’s easy to overlook the fact that many new recruits have never had experience working directly with customers. They are understandably nervous about making mistakes or asking dumb questions that acknowledge their inexperience.

For this reason our employee handbook introduced typical customer profiles, their lifestyle, how they found us and their basic expectations of us, like showing up on time and doing what we promised. If you happen to have a branded customer experience, revealing how it works to make customers happy is a nice touch to add, too.

Did every employee read the handbook?

We hope so because they were required to sign off that they did. Our managers were surprised to learn that many read it together with their spouses. After this discovery, we revised the handbook to speak to that audience, being clear that family is an extension of our culture.

The handbook was refreshed at least annually, with every team member getting a new copy. It became a ritual that underscored what would make the season ahead of us successful.

The employee handbook is indeed a legal document that must be reviewed by a competent attorney, but it can be so much more. I like to think of it as an opportunity to recommit to who we, as an organization, collectively aspire to be.

Featured Photo: iStock.com/tumsasedgars

Jeff Korhan

Jeff Korhan

Jeff Korhan is the owner of True Nature Marketing, a Naples, Fla.-based company helping entrepreneurs grow. Reach him at jeff@truenature.com. Jeff works with service companies that want to drive growth and enhance their brand experience with digital platforms.

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