Use this Secret Weapon to Shape your Office Culture
Hello! My name is Brad Price, and I’ve been the Director of Human Resources at ActivTrak since October of 2016.
When I came on board, one of the first things I implemented was quarterly engagement surveys. Leadership can use engagement surveys to gain insight into their organization’s culture, like how employees feel, if they are engaged, and if they fully understand their role in the context of the company’s mission.
The idea is to ask relevant questions and get honest feedback to inform the decisions and policies you make.
And just like your dream vehicle, the whole process is completely customize-able! For example, it’s up to the organization how they collect feedback. When answering questions anonymously, people are emboldened to be completely frank and candid. And though that type of feedback is extremely valuable, if you see a troubling response that requires targeted action, you can’t address it directly because you don’t know who said it. That puts you in a real pickle, doesn’t it?
You can save yourself some trouble by giving people the option to identify themselves. This method straddles the edge between two extremes, but ultimately you could be left with the same scenario of not knowing which person needs help. That’s a problem you don’t experience if you require people to identify themselves. We administer surveys at ActivTrak with identities intact, and we make sure the team knows there will be no negative actions taken against them by including a disclaimer:
Note that anonymous surveys make it difficult for us to address any problems you might have with you directly, and as such, this form will collect your email address. It is also important to note that no negative actions or recourse may be taken against you by the company for any opinions, thoughts, questions, ideas or statements put forward by you in this survey, provided that they do not cross any legal boundaries or contain admissions of guilt as defined by State and Federal Law.
No matter which method you choose, employee engagement surveys are as invaluable as regular checkups at the doctor. It’s important to have your finger on the pulse of what’s going on with your team. If you aren’t checking the pulse regularly, you may eventually find that you aren’t growing as you should. In this state, it’s very likely that people are unhappy, disengaged, and they will leave, or worse, just exist. In fact, based on a survey by SnackNation, 93% of people in a toxic company culture would bail if offered a higher salary somewhere else! On the flipside, 34% would remain in a positive culture even if offered a higher salary elsewhere. That’s pretty significant, considering money is a driving factor behind job changes.
So you want to create a culture where team members would stay on board when offered more money to leave your team. How do you do it? While walking up to a team member and asking them how they are doing is helpful, gathering considered feedback to effective questions and tracking trends affords greater insight. It’s the key to making meaningful decisions when crafting an environment where people want to be!
Don’t believe me? I’ve got real-world data to back that up! I want to share with you the insights I’ve gathered from our employee surveys and the steps we’ve taken to listen to the people who make ActivTrak what it is. I’ll start with some background.
Employee Surveys at ActivTrak
At ActivTrak, we complete surveys every quarter. We’ve done this since Q4 of 2016. We decided to conduct them quarterly to see if there are any significant shifts in the employees’ perspectives as we make changes. It’s much easier to determine which changes in our culture affect overall morale with brand new data every three months instead of every year or even twice a year. We can ask ourselves, “Are the things we did a few months ago making an impact,” and with data collected, we’ll have an answer. We can then more accurately determine which path to take.
Everyone on our team, including high-level employees, takes the survey. The only people excluded are the founders/owners since many of the questions are irrelevant to them, and the chance exists they might skew the results. It’s essential that you get the most relevant and clean dataset as possible.
When it came time to decide which questions to ask, I knew where to turn. I had a very positive experience with the Gallup employee survey at a previous company. After some research, here’s what I discovered:
- Gallup has studied survey results from more than 25 million employees around the world
- They wrote the bestselling book on engagement – twice!
- Their researchers spent decades writing and testing hundreds of questions because their wording and order mean everything when it comes to accurately measuring engagement
Since there’s no sense in trying to reinvent the wheel, I knew Gallup was the best way for us to get the feedback we needed. And no, this is not a commercial for Gallup, but I do believe the 12 questions they landed on have helped us gain meaningful insight into our team. Take a look at our results below to give you some context.[infogram id=”survey-results-1h7g6kmgox0g4oy” prefix=”FuN”]
The awesome thing about these surveys is that after just one cycle you’ll have an idea of how everyone is currently feeling. The next step, as I mentioned above, is to make relevant changes and measure the results of your next survey. It helps if you have some established values to use as your guiding principles.
Focusing on What’s Important
There have been two overarching values which inform the decisions we make, policies we create, and benefits we offer:
- Family comes first
- Every person who works here is a real person with a life and a story
When people know they can focus on their family freely, they tend to be happier. Imagine that! People also tend to have a more favorable view of their job when given the freedom to adjust work hours as necessary, say, for appointments or other personal reasons. Here’s a perfect example that happened recently. Spencer, a content creator at ActivTrak, is in the process of selling his house. He was scrambling to get some last minute projects done before the house was listed and needed to come into work a bit later. In this situation, what would his opinion of ActivTrak be if we forced him to use up sick time or vacation days to do that?
With those two overarching values in mind, here’s what we’ve implemented:
- Flexible hours
- Work from home when needed
- Unlimited paid vacation
- Healthcare for employees and dependents
As you can expect, the atmosphere around the office brightened considerably as we implemented those benefits. People are happy they can work from home if they need to take care of a sick child. And while there are times when they need to be out of the office to take care of something, it just means employees are happier and work better when they are in the office.
These values have helped us in the decision-making process considerably, but sometimes you just need the hard data and honest feedback only surveys can give to know what to do. Let me show you what I mean. Have a look at what we did with our insights.
Improving Culture in the Office
We want to provide an inviting and enjoyable environment, seeing as how it’s where each person will be spending most of their time. From the survey results, we discovered the opinions of the office were not as high as we’d like them to be. But to be fair, it made sense. You don’t want to be staring at a boring wall and working on outdated equipment all day! We also realized there’s so much more to the office than computers and printers. With that feedback, here’s what we’ve been able to bring to the culture at ActivTrak.
- A variety of healthy snacks
- New stand up desks
- Painted walls
- Hardware upgrades
- Monthly team breakfast
- Monthly happy hours for employees and their partners
As we phased new things in we saw consistent improvement each quarter in happiness and engagement. The average result for the responses of “I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work” increased! People love the variety of the healthy snacks we have and take advantage of the choice to work standing or sitting. The monthly breakfasts and happy hours provide a relaxed and fun atmosphere for team members to get to know the people they sit next to each day and their families. While not every decision we make will suit your context, you can make decisions that align with your culture and values.
We also learned that listening to your employees and meeting their needs is much more than the physical and environmental changes listed above. There’s an emotional element at play, too.
Understanding Their Value
First of all, people need to understand what the mission of the company is if they are to understand their importance. If they don’t understand their role in the overall mission, you can imagine why they’d feel disengaged, like they don’t have a purpose. Maybe you know an employee who has felt like they don’t see why they come to work each day. “What’s the point? Does what I’m doing even matter? No one cares about what I do every day, so why bother?” With thoughts like these, no wonder people end up disengaged!
You see, a company cannot be successful without a culture that causes people to feel valued. In many ways, that’s overlooked, which is why one of the questions in the Gallup survey is, “The mission of the company makes me feel that my job is important.”
After analyzing the results from the first survey or two, we knew we needed to make it as clear as possible to everyone what our mission is and how they fit in. And so, we began performance reviews that are relevant, focused on a growth path, and personal and professional development. Giving the employee feedback is just as important as them giving us feedback. In these sessions, both team leader and employee look back at progress and plot new, exciting, and relevant goals that keep the mission of ActivTrak at the forefront.
Once the reviews commenced, we were excited to see an increase in the number of team members responding positively to the question, “I know what is expected of me at work.” As a side effect, we saw positive growth in the responses to “My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.” People here know that we value them for the people they are, and that they’re not merely robots.
To build on that idea, each person now has the opportunity to complete the Gallup Strengths Finder. With this assessment, each employee answers a series of questions, and proclivities toward certain strengths are revealed. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are already a pro at something like Communication, but there’s the potential for that skill to be developed into a strength. For example, some have found they have the strength of “Relator,” meaning they enjoy working hard with friends to achieve a goal. Does that mean that do it all the time? No, but by it being identified as a strength, they have the potential to work better and have a more satisfying result if they work hard with friends.
So a person knows they are a “Relator,” so what? Well, I believe it’s important to understand the strengths and weaknesses of colleagues. It helps to know how to better interact with each other. So during our Team Breakfasts, we take time to share the strengths with the team. You learn more about the person, how they think, and what they need to do their most fulfilling work.
Finally, I’d like to share something interesting I discovered from these surveys. There’s a question on the Gallup survey that says, “I have a best friend at work.” What I enjoy about this question is that people interpreted it differently. All the other questions were pretty straightforward. But with this one, some took it at face value and said, “No, my bestie doesn’t work here.” Others instead interpreted it as, “There’s at least one person here I consider a friend, someone I can go to and vent about a bad weekend.” With different interpretations, the results for the question were less than stellar.
But just as compelling, the answers to this question have also evolved as we deliberately focused on getting to know one another more. As we grow closer as a team over time through our breakfasts, happy hours, and just the day to day interactions, our employees have made “best friends” with other team members. They now have someone they feel safe talking to when they need to, and the survey results speak to that. Remember, every employee is a real person with a story.
Don’t Overlook Culture and Engagement
I can’t stress enough how important it is for organizations of all sizes to use the tools at their disposal to get a sense of how their people feel and think. Here’s the crux: A company does not succeed on a good product alone. You need a team of people who are happy, engaged and understand why they are there.
Sure, businesses have made great strides over the past several years, but I believe culture and engagement at work are still overlooked. Companies refuse to put their money where their mouth is. Many of them even administer pointless employee surveys and don’t make any changes.
Don’t be one of those companies! Give employees a voice and listen. Make changes. Do everything in your power to improve your company’s culture. If you do, people will be happier, more engaged, and feel valued, making success much more likely. Happy people AND a successful organization? I’d call that a win-win!