5 Simple Steps to Create an Award-Winning Culture

 (By Ben Kirshner)

Regardless of the size or structure of your organization, your people look to leadership as an example of how to behave. This makes it vital that your leadership team sits down to define core values. To get your introspective juices flowing, identify your all-star players and discuss which core values make them so successful.

If you’re having trouble attracting or keeping top talent, it might be time to turn an analytical eye toward your company’s culture

My firm was ranked No. 1 on Crain’s New York Business Best Places to Work list. It was also named Best Agency by the U.S. Search Awards. While some might see this as an “aligning of the stars,” I know that these acknowledgements were the result of a highly strategic plan that centered around attracting top talent.

Many companies say that finding top talent is difficult or that there’s a talent shortage. Finding talent is not the issue. Attracting talent is the problem.

And today, the very top talent—the type of people who both make your company a great place to work and increase the quality of the work you do—aren’t looking for a snazzy job description, and they aren’t scanning an endless stream of Twitter updates for job news. They will, however, notice a company that has a unique culture and attitude.

So, what does your company culture look like—and how can you take it to the next level?

1. Define top-down values, and recognize those who exemplify them. Regardless of the size or structure of your organization, your people look to leadership as an example of how to behave. This makes it vital that your leadership team sits down to define core values. To get your introspective juices flowing, identify your all-star players and discuss which core values make them so successful. Then, narrow your list based on these insights, considering whether each value would be important enough to hire or fire someone over. Finally, trim your list to three to five values that truly make up the structure of your organization.

Use your key values to guide decisions and set clear expectations for your teams. Then, recognize employees who truly exemplify them. At my company, we set up “halls of fame” for employees who embody each value. We also hold quarterly awards ceremonies with official invitations, nominee announcements, champagne and trophies. It’s a fun way to get everyone engaged while also celebrating what drives us and makes our culture truly unique.

2. Have an attitude of gratitude. Employee satisfaction goes beyond compensation. You may already have employee recognition processes in place, but there’s always room to expand and show employees that you value their hard work. At meetings, give special shout-outs to standout performers. Host a happy hour or lunch after a particularly busy or stressful week.

In that same vein, promoting a clear process for growth and promotion is key. Employees want to know that the work they’re doing is contributing to the company’s goals as well as their own. Our account managers receive a percentage of the profits from client work, which showcases how important they are to the growth of our company and the satisfaction of our clients. Consider how you can make your employees “owners” in your company’s success.

3. Open the lines of communication. An important component of any successful culture is open communication. When employees feel they can engage directly with leadership, they’ll build a stronger sense of community with your organization as a whole. Plus, employees respond better to executives who seem approachable. Unlike closed-door businesses, winning cultures allow employees to provide open feedback on the state of the business and flag any current issues they may be facing.

For example, we encourage our employees to tell us if they’ve been approached by a recruiter or offered a job at another company. When they do, they receive a bottle of wine. We toast the fact that our employees are sought-after assets, but they want to work for us. This type of transparency doesn’t happen if you don’t encourage openness.

4. Foster the circle of education. In any industry, success comes from pushing the envelope, becoming smarter and learning new skills. At the center of an award-winning culture is a hunger for growth and new knowledge. It’s important to hire employees who are committed to expanding their industry knowledge and eager to learn. Remember to provide them—that’s right, pay for—the opportunities to do so.

5. Start from square one. Finding a good culture fit should be a top priority from a prospective employee’s first interview—or even before. Look for people who align with your values and mesh with your culture. If current employees don’t fit the bill, it may be time to let them go.

Before my company’s initial phone screenings, we send a short list of culture questions for applicants to return with their resumes. First, we request that they read the agency’s Painted Picture for 2016, which defines our vision and goal for the coming years. Then, we ask about the impression they got from reviewing the Painted Picture, their interest in the company, their personal values and goals, and the one thing that makes them unique. Their answers give us insight into whether or not they’d be good culture fits before they’re even screened.

Cooking up an award-winning culture is no easy task. But by starting with the basic ingredients, you can create something great—and entirely your own.

Ben Kirshner is the CEO of Elite SEM, an award-winning, fast-growing online marketing agency with a passion for building a team of elite industry experts.

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