Many companies recognize the value of each employee contributing their individual characteristics and attributes toward creating an enjoyable, productive, and innovative workplace culture. But how can leaders get employees to engage in building that culture? In this article, Ron Cardenas, Vice President of Human Resources at Gavilon, an agriculture holdings company based in Omaha, Nebraska, examines how company leaders can encourage employees to help create a place others will want to work. Cardenas is a human resources expert with over three decades of professional experience, specializing in employee relations, compensation, compliance, and talent management.
It starts during onboarding
The adage, you only have one chance to make a first impression, is true about interpersonal relationships, and it is also true about new employees. The onboarding process is the opportunity organizations have to set expectations about how much the company values employee engagement and contribution toward developing the company culture.
The opportunities for and messaging about employee engagement must reach far beyond the onboarding process, but that is where leadership can set the stage, says Ron Cardenas. Subsequent enticements to contribute to a successful workplace by building the company culture should reinforce what the new employee was told during onboarding.
If a company fails to set this expectation during onboarding, it will be more challenging to convey it later. The employees will tend to discount the invitations to engage as disingenuous or platitudes.
Tear down impersonal walls
Leaders often cling to the sense of comfort and safety that comes from keeping the workplace and their relationship with employees transactional. The employees come to work and do their job, and the company pays them—a simple transaction.
As Cardenas explains, a transactional work environment is not conducive to employee engagement. If employees sense that leadership is not willing to be vulnerable and engage with them personally, they will be extremely hesitant to open up and contribute to developing company culture.
For example, an employee may have a great sense of humor, but if they do not believe the company values that characteristic, they will suppress it while at work. Likewise, an employee with a creative style could improve the company’s work culture if encouraged to contribute their innovative ideas.
Company leaders must tear down emotional barriers that create a protective shield between them and their employees. By their actions, leaders should show their employees that they are willing to expose the person behind the position.
Rigidity is another way companies subliminally send a message that the status quo is the only acceptable course and that innovation is not valued. A willingness to try new ideas and experiment with unconventional schedules, work assignments, flex time, and other ideas will encourage employees to think creatively about their work environment. There are numerous ways that employers can be flexible and demonstrate trust in employees that don’t cost money.
Nothing has the power to get employees to invest in their jobs like genuinely caring for them. When workers trust that their manager cares for them as individuals, they are motivated to do their best work and help create an exceptional workplace.
A word of caution here; workers have an uncanny ability to discern the difference between genuine feelings and manufactured or exaggerated sentiments. Cardenas argues that the difference will be evident to those you lead. Managers must learn to care for their employees, not learn how to act as if they care.
Acknowledge employee contributions
When employees contribute to building a positive work environment, acknowledge their efforts. If, for example, an employee goes out of their way to create a welcoming environment for new employees, let them know how much you appreciate what they do to make your company a great place to work.
Even more than a pay raise, employees are motivated by an acknowledgment from their managers. Train managers to always look for opportunities to reinforce desirable behavior with appropriate acknowledgments.
About Ron Cardenas
Ron Cardenas is the Vice President of Human Resources at Gavilon Agriculture Holdings in Omaha, Nebraska. He is a versatile Human Resources professional with over 30 years of domestic and international experience. His track record includes creating and launching talent strategies for global organizations in varied industries.