What Leadership Needs from Employees: Supporting a Great Company Culture

Posted by Renay Picard on Sep 13, 2016 11:30:00 AM

Trust and transparency are terms that are easily thrown around in the workplace. When speaking with company leaders and scanning company websites, you will often see comments such as:

  • “We believe in a transparent workplace.”
  • “We have an open door policy.”
  • “Building trust is a top priority.”

While these sentiments are certainly appreciated, there’s a vast difference between just saying them and actually making them a reality. And it takes hard work to truly implement trust and transparency as core tenets of your business and company culture.

And when there is a disconnect between what companies say and what they actually do, then you will often find the seeds of discontent not far behind. Employees who feel they are working hard, looking for potential advancement and recognition can easily ferret out what’s true and what’s not. While some may take a proactive approach and discuss issues that might arise, others have a tendency to “stir the pot” by bringing additional employees into the fold of their discontent. This is clearly a problem for company morale and productivity, breeding a cycle of negativity.

But the reality is that the concepts of trust and transparency must live on a two-way street; yes, employees need to rely on leadership to set the corporate path and promote a positive, supportive company culture that values their contributions. But just as employees have a right to expect these things, so too does management need the same from its workforce.

I recently sat down with Dave MacKeen and Mark Biscoe, members of the executive leadership team at Eliassen Group, to discuss these concepts.

Renay: What do you look for from the Eliassen Group team when it comes to trust and transparency? What are the specific actions they can take to ensure this aspect of the Eliassen company culture?

Dave: I believe there are a few key things that we expect from our team members:

First, always take advantage of company programs that encourage the sharing of feedback and new ideas. So often times people have some amazing ideas and/or have seen some really innovative practices in other companies where they’ve worked but they don’t step forward to share this with anyone. That’s why we have implemented a program called eTank that offers employees the opportunity to submit ideas and be recognized for these concepts.

Second, if you have issues or concerns, raise them with your manager and the leadership team. If no one knows, then we can’t do anything to resolve the issue(s). I know the concept sounds simple but it doesn’t happen as often as it should. That said, our expectation is that when you do bring forth an issue, bring details, facts and a proposed solution. These details will lead to meaningful discussions that can help to affect change.

Mark: In addition to Dave’s thoughts, my expectations as to the best way to reinforce trust and transparency is to always give the benefit of the doubt to your teammate. Whether they are your leaders, peers, or folks that work for you, trust and believe until proven otherwise that we are all doing what we think is best for the firm. Things move so fast these days that if we don’t have that foundation of belief in each other, then the predictable distractions will take you down and suck all the life and productivity out of you and the rest of the team.

My favorite saying is “It’s up to you.” Your attitude, your commitment, your success is truly in your hands and how you reinforce these with the team can truly impact everyone in such a positive and productive way. Trust and transparency naturally evolve from these types of cultures and environments.

Renay: These days, many companies work across multiple geographies with distributed teams that may be located thousands of miles away from each other. How can companies achieve and maintain a strong level of trust and transparency in these distributed work environments?

Mark: It’s a great question and it’s certainly not easy. But that’s why regional leadership is so critical to the equation, especially when you have an established company culture in a headquartered location with field offices that are trying to build recognition, hire employees and develop a workplace environment that both reflects the values of the company and still respects local culture.

Strong leadership that can bring corporate values coupled with their own management style is the foundation; from there, field team employees can stand on their shoulders and also work with the corporate teams who are there to support them. When there is open communication about expectations, an ongoing discussion about how to improve, and the right resources are in place to support processes, all of these pieces work together to build and sustain a productive, team-oriented culture, regardless of location. At Eliassen Group, we use the term “One Team” which is how we see ourselves and what we want our employees to believe every day.

Dave: It goes without saying that each individual location has its own “personality” that not only reflects the company but each employee who works there. Organizations with multiple geographic locations need to embrace the unique characteristics of their teams while also ensuring that the company values are persistent. And, to Mark’s point, this starts with leadership and needs to extend across the company.

From there, ongoing communication is a must. And that’s not just about a quarterly staff newsletter; it’s about sharing the vision, the challenges, and changes that are taking place across the company regularly. It’s about highlighting the good, the bad and the ugly so that employees are informed and are truly a part of the company. In the end, if someone is not fully informed then they can’t make the best decisions about what’s right for them.

I also feel that face-to-face visits and bringing the entire team together is really important. As companies grow, logistics and budgets can make this challenging but when it is possible, it can make everyone feel more connected and energized. Suddenly that person who you talk to three times per week in the Midwest doesn’t seem so far away.

Renay: Any last pieces of advice you would give to other leaders about what they can and should expect from their teams?

Dave: I would say that being open-minded, flexible and realistic are all very important. Good leaders recognize that each individual is unique and brings their own set of values and motivations to the table. So we work hard to develop communication flows, find ways to continuously stay connected and understand what’s important for our teams. But we’re not mind readers; we need input from our employees and suggestions on how we can improve.

It’s also important for employees to be realistic. It’s not possible to accommodate every suggestion and things aren’t always perfect. Our values and vision for the future guide our actions and ensure that we stay on the right path. But sometimes, due to shifts in the market and the changing environment, we are thrown a curve ball. And when that happens we all need to be flexible.

When all is said and done, if you are being transparent with your team, then you should expect the same in return. And if the current environment is one that they are not necessarily happy with, then it might be in their best interests – and yours – to locate a different opportunity. If trust is a part of your organization, then it will shine a light on the right path forward.

Do you have questions about how to encourage and sustain employee engagement? Are you working hard on building a strong company culture but facing roadblocks? We’d love to chat with you! Reach out to us at solutions@eliassen.com and join the conversation on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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