5 Ways to Hack Company Culture: Create an Environment Workers Don’t Want to Leave
“What’s the problem?” my boss responded while we were sitting in the grass during lunch hour.
We had just gotten down from setting barn trusses — behemoth, wooden triangles meant to help shoulder the weight of the roof — and the tension in the air was thick and heavy.
We looked at each other over bites of food, not really wanting to respond. Each of us trying to figure out who was brave enough to go first.
“What you said, and the way you did it, was…wrong”, one of us replied. “You had no right to go and take over. Yes, we might not have been moving fast enough for you, but you didn’t handle it well.”
Finding the courage then, everyone took turns sharing.
I wasn’t quite sure what to say. I couldn’t get the truss to move over where it needed to be. It was 8 foot-on-center, twice the distance of normal trusses, and that means they are twice as big. Usually made out of 2x4’s, these are made with 2x6’s to accommodate the larger distance.
They are big. Bulky.
And, I’m not.
I couldn’t get it in position.
It was whopper-jawed. Bowed from moisture. We were putting pearlings on the top — 2x4’s that tie in all the trusses. It keeps them from moving side-to-side, and with trusses already 8 feet apart, you need something more to keep everything together.
But I couldn’t get the truss to line up exactly where it needed to be on the pearling.
He was getting frustrated, provoked even more by concrete arriving in a few hours.
He eventually climbed up the shell of a barn, over to the truss I was working with, grabbed my hammer, and beat it over. When it was in the right spot, he nailed it all together.
Sitting there on the grass pondering what to say, he eventually turned to me and asked,
“What about you, Jacob?”
I thought for a moment, not sure how to articulate it, and decided to just share anyways…
“You know, I spend 9 hours here every day during the week. I see my wife and child for a few hours in the morning and a few hours in the evening. And then I go to bed.
I’m not here to just make money. I want friends. I want camaraderie. I want this to be a place I want to come and work. But, if it’s always about getting the job done quickly and moving on to the next one, what’s the point?
If most of my waking hours are spent here, why would I spend it in a place that isn’t a semblance of a family away from mine? What’s the point of work if it isn’t a place you want to come to anyways? If I spend this amount of time away from home, why would I want to come here and work with you guys when it’s like this?”
The words just kind of spilled out. But I knew I hit a nerve. Everyone knew it.
Work is home away from home. Or at least it should be.
Employees Matter As Much As Customers (Maybe More)
I know, a wild statement, but it’s true!
Yes, I can hear it now…
“But customers keep my lights on. They keep food on the table for my family! Employees drain my resources!”
Yes, but that is only one piece.
Employees can actually increase the overall productivity of your business. The economic output of 2 people in a combined, concerted effort can increase exponentially.
In other words, your output gets multiplied, not just added.
1+1 = 3
And I’ve seen this play out. When I am on my own at a job site, it can take me a long time to get something done. When I have just 1 other person to help, it doesn’t just reduce the time in half from 4 hours to 2 hours, it reduces it down exponentially.
Add in a third guy who can be the “gopher” — go for this, go for that — and now you are moving!
This same principle applies in the workplace. When you add a single employee, it can easily double the work you were doing before.
No, it doesn’t always make sense, but that is the beauty of human connection and community. It isn’t always about straight workload and output:
- They see things you don’t.
- Their network can bring in more customers.
- They can streamline certain processes that are mundane for you.
- Their experiences can solve certain problems faster.
Ray Dalio recently stated…
Two people who collaborate well will be about three times as effective as each of them operating independently, because each will see what the other might miss — plus they can leverage each other’s strengths while holding each other accountable to higher standards.
My previous boss didn’t always know this. It seemed as if employees were there to just do a job. Job done, paycheck given, life is good.
Except, good employees are hard to find and even harder to keep…
Know Your Team
We were 5 men strong.
We had a good team.
Some of us were better at certain things than others. Some of us had strengths in particular hard skills. Others were better able to see the whole picture. Some of us were better at leading, while others were really good as long as the work culture was positive and fun.
In other words, each of us has things that make us tick, and things that make us stick around. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses.
Everyone has something that gets them fired up and turns them into a working machine.
Everyone has something they know a little better than everyone else.
My boss could have built a thriving business with the employees he had. Some of them were harder to get along with than others. Some of them had a lot of really great skills. But he didn’t know how to harness it and direct it for the sake of the business. He often worked as if he was the only one who could do it the best — which is true.
But you don’t build a team on the skills of one person. You train, you teach, you give up control little by little and let others take the lead in certain areas. You step back so you can oversee while others push forward.
But, you are no longer a one-man show. You may know yourself well. You might know the business better than anyone else, but your team is the gateway to accomplishing great things.
It isn’t enough anymore to just have a job description. You actually need to get to know the people on your team. You need to build a team that others want to join. The team is the difference between just doing work and doing work with family.
Listen Well & Communicate
Being a leader also means learning to listen well.
My boss was really good at issuing commands. He knew what needed to be done, and was able to organize people around the mission to do it. But, what it would inevitably turn into is just one person micro-managing the team in order to get the work done quickly.
Except work is never done that quickly when you micro-manage.
Yes, you may get the job done. It will probably look really good because you oversaw every aspect from start to finish. Itis probably something you are really proud of as well!
But in the long term, you have sacrificed speed and efficiency for short-term gains. You finish a project, and it looks great, but you’re not building your team and teaching them to perform just as well without you.
You tell them what to do, but you don’t teach them what to do.
Teaching takes time. It takes deliberation and patience. It is not quick, and you never see short-term gains. But what you get is someone who can reproduce consistent results in the long run.
I remember my first job at 14 working at a local Boy Scout Summer Camp. We were setting up camp for the following week, making sure everything was ready. I forget what I was doing or why, but I remember the program director taking about 20 minutes to sit down and show me how to make a crown backsplice on a piece of rope.
You make a crown backsplice to keep a piece of rope from continually fraying out. It splices all of the ends together so that it will not continue to come unraveled.
It was small. Insignificant. But I never forgot how to tie it to this day. (Well, mostly, it’s been a while).
But I’ve never forgotten how that made me feel. It produced a lot of respect for him as a leader and as a friend.
Sitting in the grass, pondering over how I felt, I realized, “You might be available, but are you accessible?”.
My boss made himself vulnerable by asking us what was going on. He opened himself up to criticism. But, when it was time to own it, he flung it aside like it was someone else’s problem. And that is exactly how we understood it — someone else’s problem, not his.
He explained that we were moving slow, that we weren’t fully engaged in what we were doing, that we were making little mistakes.
It was probably all true. We weren’t that engaged. But you could see the difference in our attitudes when the boss was there vs. when he wasn’t.
He might have been available, but he wasn’t accessible.
I know there isn’t much difference, but being accessible means people have access to you. You are not a brick wall where nothing sticks, you own the issues and problems. You are the leader, everything eventually falls on your shoulders. If you cannot handle it, do not lead.
But being in leadership, the outcome and environment rest on your shoulders. You have the greatest impact to create unity and a cohesive team, or tear people down and push people away. But either way, culture flows from leadership down.
You can build a phenomenal team or you will always push talented people away.
Teams win together. Or lose together.
It is never the result of a lone wolf bringing down the catch of the day, it takes a pack.
Nature knows this well enough.
Have you heard of Mycelium, these practically invisible fungi that live beneath the surface of a forest? They help generate a whole ecosystem for living things.
Let me explain: They form a “mycorrhizal network,” — webs of mycelium that integrate with all living, rooted things. This network connects all individual plants together in a single network. Then, they help transfer water, nitrogen, carbon, and other minerals to all the plants within the network.
Are you low on something? Your connection with mycelium helps transfer the excess from one area to the needs of another.
Okay, so maybe your mind is blown right now, maybe not. But, the point is: we need each other. When one person is hurting, we all hurt (and we can help). What is true in nature is also true for us. We just don’t always operate on auto-pilot like nature.
Yes, you may have some really heavy hitters on a team, but if you know your team and listen well, you should figure out how to best utilize the strengths of each individual in a way that the team can grow.
And this allows the team to celebrate when they have wins!
Everyone has a part to play.
And the celebration actually creates…
- Deeper connections
- Resiliency through challenges
- Creates trust
- Establishes a sense of “family” among coworkers
When employees have this, it makes it harder to leave for another job, even one that potentially has better pay. I know this because I experienced it firsthand working at a Starbucks years ago. It was the best job I have ever had so far.
Because it was family. The work environment was encouraging and creative. It was hard but fair. You had off-days, and coworkers compensated. You took care of each other, got to know each other, laughed with each other, and got angry when terrible customers came in.
You celebrated working holidays and enjoyed helping each other out.
There is a reason Starbucks employees stay at the job for a long time before moving on — they are taken care of by an organization and by management who cares.
The work environment costs businesses money.
It can make it difficult to leave or easy to say “goodbye”.
Take time to value employees:
- Listen Well
- Know Your Team
- Be Accessible
- Celebrate Together.
These can have a tremendous impact on the future of your company for years to come.
Do you have any horror stories from previous (or current) jobs?
Let me know in the comments below!