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The Best Place to Work

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Where is the best place to work? Today’s guest post from Lorraine Ball asks about what makes for great workplace culture (and what doesn’t).

When I started my company, I knew that if I ever had employees, I wanted them to feel that Roundpeg was the best place to work. My career has been filled with jobs I loved and a few I didn’t, so I  had a pretty clear picture of what would make Roundpeg a great place to work. I knew it would be the culture.

The word “culture” gets used a lot. When a company institutes a Colts Blue Friday or brings in pizza for lunch, everyone says “they have a great culture.”  While those things are nice, culture is about more than what you wear to work or how often you bring in food. Culture is about what you really value as an organization.

Workplace Culture: Pizza Party

© Flickr user Lachlan Hardy

So how do you build a great culture? As the leader, it starts with you. Deliberately or by accident, you mold your culture with the decisions you make.

What do you value?

It’s a simple question, but the process of getting to the answer is not simple. Do you value your employees or the relationship with your shareholders? When you can’t please both parties, who wins? Do you value deadlines or accuracy, innovation or efficiency, collaboration or competition,  community or individual excellence, honesty or tact? You can’t have it all. In most cases, one has to be sacrificed  for the other. Which will you choose?

No one right set of values

While great cultures are based on clear values, there is no one right answer or perfect combination of values. Winning sports teams clearly display this diversity of values. Some teams are successful because of the individual performance of one superstar and others succeed because the team works as a solid unit. Some teams rely on the strategic direction from a great coaching staff and others win because each player is willing to take risks under pressure. The teams that win are clear about what they value and everyone on the team knows what is important.

Support your values

Whatever your values, make sure everyone on the team knows what they are and why those values were chosen. Don’t just talk about the values, build rewards and incentives into your organization to encourage people to behave in accordance with those values. If collaboration is important, set goals that can only be achieved if the team works together. If efficiency is important, reward individuals who find ways to streamline processes.

As you hire new people, look for people who seem to naturally exhibit the behaviors you value. At Roundpeg, passion is important to us. Someone who uses the phrase “ I wouldn’t mind doing that” when talking about a task or assignment won’t be offered a job on our team. It seems like a small thing, but their choice of words clearly conveys their lack of passion. They won’t fit in our culture.

Walk the talk

A strong culture is one where leaders  “walk the talk.” They prove through their actions that the values they say are important really are important. They do this by keeping them in the forefront of their decision making process in good times and bad. Most companies say people are an important asset, but few behave that way when the business cycles down. When sales fall off, suddenly the conversation turns to headcount as people stop being names and become numbers.

Companies which really value their people feel different. I saw that in one of my first jobs working for a large ($750 million) family-owned business. The president was accessible and made an effort to get to know the people who worked for his company. I have this wonderful vivid memory of John sitting on a stack of boxes in my office as we discussed a new project.

Lorraine Ball As a result of the value he placed on people, when we reorganized the company, shutting down regional offices, there were a lot of conversations about the impact on the people. He was actively involved in discussions about alternatives and demanded the plans include support for people through the transition. Although there was a significant staff reduction, those of us who remained didn’t have the typical survivor guilt or fear that we would be next.

Respect

There are many paths to greatness for a company, but I know all of them include respect. Ultimately, you create the foundation of the culture, but it will grow and change in the hands of your team. When you respect your team, you trust them to make the right choices to support the culture. You rely on them to bring others into the culture as the company grows.

Today, Roundpeg is everything I always hoped it would be. It is  a place where creative, talented, passionate people are serious about what they do. But it is also a comfortable place, relaxed place where we have fun along the way.

Lorraine Ball can be found at the center of the chaos that is Roundpeg, a Digital Agency, serving the small business community.

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