If you’ve ever come across the phrase “Company Culture”, there’s a good chance it was in relation to free snacks and foosball tables for the employees at Google or Apple. “Employee Engagement”? That’s for the consulting world with a thousand seminars on white-collar management skills. We never hear these fancy terms and “moving company” in the same conversation, let alone the same sentence.
Or do we?
Traditionally, there hasn’t been much behind the nuts and bolts of the work of a moving company. We show up, we do the job, and we treat the customer right. Nothing to it – except a lot of back-breaking labor.
But times are changing. Employees are changing. What people want out of their jobs is evolving. For us to survive and succeed, we have to evolve too.
What exactly is employee engagement?
On the inside, you could say it’s an attitude, a consistent state of mind wherein an employee likes to go to work because he or she is tuned in to what the company they work for is all about. On the outside, it’s the visible result of this mindset.
There’s a whole lot more to it than that – and volumes have been written on the subject – but at the end of the day, employee engagement is the difference between a bunch of individuals working for their paychecks and a team of people working toward a common goal.
Now, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could just have a bunch of fully-engaged people walk in and fill out applications to work for us? Yeah, good luck with that. Even if that occasional motivated and bright individual does walk through our doors, he or she isn’t going to stick around unless there’s a feeling of engagement. And where does that feeling come from?
You got it. It comes from management. It is up to each of us to create an environment where individuals morph into a team.
And how do we do that? How do we create an atmosphere that will not only attract good people but help us hold onto them? This is where that other term, “Company Culture”, comes into play.
“Company Culture”: The real driving force behind employee engagement
HAPPY EMPLOYEES = ENGAGED EMPLOYEES = PROFITS = SUCCESS.
While this is not a universal truth, it’s a solid foundation on which to build a successful business.
But without a positive company culture, those employees aren’t going to be very happy. So they won’t be engaged. And then there goes our equation for success.
The term “Company Culture” has been thrown around a lot – usually in the context of free snacks and a spacious employee lounge. While this might work at a place like Google, it doesn’t work everywhere. And really, it’s all just stuff. Culture is not just “stuff”.
Culture, in any group situation, consists of the patterns of behavior that determine how things are done. Company culture, then, is how the entire employee structure, from the CEO on down, approaches work on a daily basis. It’s the accepted and ongoing set of behaviors that produce what we hope is a feeling of happiness and a sense of engagement among our employees.
Wait a minute. Behaviors, not things, produce happiness?
That’s right. Those happy employees are not to be mistaken as the foundation of a positive workplace culture. Happy employees are a result of a positive culture that is built on the behaviors that align with our company goals.
At a moving company, where the main goal is to provide a stellar moving experience, it is critical to create an environment – a culture – that fosters stellar customer service.
This can include free snacks and energy drinks for your crews – something Meathead Movers, a growing moving company who utilizes many company culture techniques, began providing as a part of their cultural revolution. But there’s more to it says Erin Steed, Chief Strategy Officer at Meathead,
“We changed the culture. … We started doing in-person estimates so we can make sure we’re putting the right amount of men on the job. In addition, we empowered our dispatchers to give our employees whatever they want. ‘So you’re feeling a little tweaked. OK, do you need a chiropractor appointment? Do you need a massage?’
In addition, we expanded the job description of the worker. To make money with us you don’t just have to move heavy furniture. You can also do administrative work, you can wash the trucks, sweep the floors. … It kind of matured from an immature “macho man” business to one that’s really like a sports team where we take care of the employees and make sure there’s a sustainability.”
This, among other strategies outlined in the interview, is how the people at Meathead are focused on creating a culture that will further employee engagement – two elements of which, as this piece from Strategy + Business called “Improving Company Culture Is Not About Providing Free Snacks” invokes, means giving an empowerment to make decisions and a freedom to innovate.
Meathead does both, giving their dispatchers more control and being open to advice from their crew members. (Their VIP Chair idea is great.)
Giving them a reason to change
Giving your employees both the material things (like energy drinks and massages) and immaterial things (like the power to make decisions) helps create a more engaging culture. Just keep in mind that the culture-building process is a two-way street. The thing is, if your employees aren’t yet engaged, they won’t really be scrambling to jump on board the company culture boat. You have to get them there first. To get them moving in the right direction, your approach is crucial.
Say you want your crews to be more consistent in cleaning out and straightening up the trucks at the end of each day, or maybe to stop wearing jeans to work. Simply going around telling everyone loudly “hey enough with the jeans, I want everyone in navy blue pants from now on” may work for a while, but it’s not an effective long-term strategy for developing a positive company culture.
If your employees don’t see any real benefit to cleaning the trucks and ditching the jeans, they aren’t going to do it – at least not for long. You can promise monetary bonuses. You can threaten to fire them.
But without a meaningful reason, all the promises and threats in the world won’t change them. And it sure won’t make them happy.
Believe me, I know.
So how do we go about changing our employees’ ways?
How to develop our employees’ motivations
Motivations come from relating behavior to reasons, and then to goals. Why is it important to straighten up the trucks at the end of every day? “Because that’s what we do” is not a reason, a goal or a motivator. “So everyone (including you!) can hit the road in the morning” is a much better start. Follow up with the idea that customers love it when their movers are on time, and are apt to tip a little better after that positive first impression. “And besides, you don’t want to have to clean up someone else’s mess, right?”
You have to relate the desired behavior to a directly consequential result.
Here’s a story: In my earliest days as a mover, I was working on an unload in Colorado when one of the guys started folding up the furniture pads while the rest of us were hauling in the last few boxes and pieces of base. “Come help when you’re done,” he said to me. And as the crew leader was finishing up the paperwork with the customer, the rest of us banged out the rest of those pads and cleaned and swept the back of the truck. As soon as we pulled into the lot back at the shop, everybody split.
No time wasted, and the truck was ready to go the next morning. Positive company culture in action. Which brings up a second way to develop employee motivation.
Here, it wasn’t the dispatcher or the operations manager or the boss who was telling me to help fold those pads. It was one of my fellow crew members. This is a point made by, among others, strategy&: the importance of peer reinforcement cannot be underestimated and should certainly not be overlooked.
“Culture might start at the top,” we are told, “but it is reinforced at every level. Having a peer point out the benefits of change, instead of an executive or manager, is very powerful and leads to improved behaviors that continue even when nobody is looking.”
As a new guy, I’d probably be inclined to do what my boss tells me anyway – at least for a while. But seeing my fellow crew members tackle the job without hesitation – or explanation – made a bigger impression on me than it would have if my new boss had lectured me on it. So in the course of your quest to evolve your company culture, look for those employees who would make good peer leaders.
Problems are a good sign
Maybe your culture isn’t the greatest, or maybe your team is stretched thin. When employees get tired, or disgruntled, or suffer some kind of setback, the drop in morale can lead to a short-term drop in engagement among your people. But even when the chips are down, a strong company culture endures, meaning your employees will continue to act in the same goal-oriented way.
Taiichi Ohno, former Executive Vice President of Toyota, the world’s largest producer of automobiles, used to have a saying. “Having no problems is the biggest problem of all.” Because for Ohno, problems were actually opportunities to improve. Without problems, there’d be no improvement.
And whenever a problem arose, Ohno used a simple tactic to solve it. “Ask why five times,” Get to the root of the problem. “The root cause of any problem,” he knew, “is the key to a lasting solution.”
While the example Toyota uses has to do with manufacturing equipment, the strategy of asking why can be applied to any issue. Author Charles Duhigg couldn’t understand why his family of four could never seem to figure out how to have dinner together. After learning of Ohno’s “Five Why’s” he began asking questions, working backward until he realized that his family’s dinners were always sabotaged (albeit unintentionally) because his children took too long getting dressed in the morning.
Yes, that’s right. It turned out that if the kids got dressed quicker in the morning, the family would be able to have dinner together at night. This surprising, almost unbelievable connection would never have been discovered if it weren’t for the inadvertent advice of a former executive vice president of a Japanese car company!
So if you can’t understand why so many of your jobs take longer than estimated, or why your guys have a habit of running out of boxes during a pack job, or why no one ever cleans the trash out of the trucks, start asking why over and over. Trace it back. The answer may surprise you. What’s more, by solving these problems you’ll be taking steps toward a stronger, more stable company culture.
The finishing touches on your culture
But the biggest why has nothing to do with any one problem or issue. Rather, it has to do with the very existence – and the true future – of the business you are building.
In his talk on business success, speaker Simon Sinek makes it clear that no matter what kind of company you run, the truth is unchanging.
“People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it.”
This goes for your customers, sure. But it also goes for your employees.
Find your why, and you’ll find the foundation for your company culture, your employees’ engagement, and your ultimate success.