I just completed my three-part series about how CEOs can model culture and influence it using the SCARF model (employees’ perceptions of Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness). Now let’s look at how I applied those principles to build the specific employee-centric, high-performance culture I wanted to create.
I use these 10 items not as a list of perfect policies to implement, but as a set of concrete examples that together were effective in my businesses. There are many different approaches that could be successful as long as they are implemented consistently and lead to the behavior you need to be successful.
My businesses have always produced intellectual property as their main product. For these types of businesses, employee creativity is of paramount concern. For this reason, focusing on high employee engagement levels is very effective in promoting the mission of the company. For other industries an approach that rewards something different may be more appropriate.
Here are the first three of my 10 measures:
1) Private offices for all employees
All my employees get their own office. I have always felt that it was axiomatic that knowledge workers are more productive when they work in a private walled office. The movement to cubicles in many businesses was to me penny wise and pound foolish. While they may save a few bucks on furnishings, cubicles cause losses in productivity that cost the company far more than it saves. I believe offering private offices also provided my companies a recruiting advantage over companies with cubicles.
Now before my startup friends start commenting that they have a great culture with 10 employees all in the same office, let me comment. I am talking about established companies that are well past the search for a business model phase. When you are still trying to figure out a market or build a product, there can be advantages in working together. As the company matures it’s great to still have some areas where teams can gather, but everyone needs their own space.
Clearly, the SCARF model would tell us that a private office provides the worker with a greater sense of status and autonomy than a cubicle. In addition, if everyone has their own office, it avoids the issue of fairness around who gets an office and who doesn’t.
2) Open meeting policy
I made it standard in my companies that anyone could attend any meeting they wanted unless specifically excluded. Obviously, some discussions of employee pay and personal issues must be kept private, but the vast majority of meetings don’t deal with these sensitive issues. I would invite my entire staff to board meetings as well. Many of them had never been in a board meeting. By seeing the interaction and knowing what topics interested the board, they felt more tied to the investors and shareholders. The sense of openness this policy generated increased status and made people feel more certain about future events. When a culture is secretive, employees can waste energy and creative resources worrying and gossiping about unknowns.
3) Anonymous feedback mechanism
Any time a decision is made by a member of management, employees will assume that the CEO has sanctioned it. Therefore, it is critical to have a way to obtain honest feedback from all parts of the organization about the decisions being made in your name. Employees need to be able to alert the CEO about issues without worrying about repercussions. While the employee may not always be right in his or her complaint, this will let the CEO know where potential issues could develop.
This will make employees feel much more part of the team rather than just an interchangeable cog. It also allows employees a chance to point out situations that they feel might be unfair to themselves or other workers. If the CEO puts such a feedback mechanism in place, all comments should go directly to the CEO and cannot be pushed off on lower level staff.
In my next post in this series I will cover measures 4-7.
Behind closed doors: Avoiding the corporate “Snowden effect” (SmartBlog on Leadership)