Mindfulness in the Workplace: The What, Why and How of Building a Mindful Culture

Mindfulness in the Workplace: The What, Why and How of Building a Mindful Culture

Your employees are busy, but nothing is getting done.

Your team is working hard, but projects fall behind.

Everyone’s inboxes are abuzz with activity, but decisions don’t get made.

Individual members of your team are talented and hardworking, but as a whole, the team is not as productive as it could be.

…. Does any of that sound familiar?

We live in a distracted age. Phones buzz, watches tweet, and even the commute to work has dissolved into an endless array of options: radio? Streaming? Podcast? Sirius XM? There is a constant influx of information battling for your employee’s attention, a constant risk of distraction not just pulling them away from the work at hand but draining their mental energy and leaving them unable to perform at the level they’re capable of.

So, as a leader within your organization looking to protect your team’s ability to consistently do good work, what can you do?

The answer many high-performing companies are turning to is mindfulness.

What Is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness in the workplace is not just an excuse to splurge on branded yoga mats for the office (after all, not everyone’s flexible enough for One-Handed Tree Pose!). Rather than a specific physical practice like yoga or meditation, mindfulness is an approach to work and time that respects the mind’s ability (and need) to concentrate on one task at a time and an approach to work that leaves room to reflect on the implications of our actions and decisions.

The technical definition of mindfulness is an awareness of yourself and your surroundings in the present moment. In practice, mindfulness in the workplace is …

  • Thinking through an email before you send it so that you provide all the details the recipient needs the first time

  • Focusing on the customer’s needs and making sure you’ve met those needs before ending an interaction

  • Releasing a product that represents the best of your team’s abilities, not the result of frenzied multitasking

  • Making decisions that reflect your company’s values instead of decisions that solve the short-term problem as quickly as possible

  • Being intentional about how you communicate and how you spend your time

What Are the Benefits of Mindfulness in the Workplace?

There’s a reason that industry-leading companies like McKinsey & Company, Procter & Gamble, and Apple implement mindfulness programs for their employees: it’s been proven to deliver significant and long-lasting benefits in three areas that are critical to maintaining high levels of creativity and productivity: focus, attention, and behavior.

Focus

The ability to focus is really an ability to avoid distraction. By practicing mindfulness techniques, employees increase gray matter in the brain, thus increasing density in the areas of the brain responsible for learning and memory. As a result, they can maintain higher levels of attentiveness and concentration and spend more time on a given thought, project, or task, than usual.

Attention

Mindfulness stabilizes attention in the present and helps employees pay attention to visual and audio information longer. In particular, mindfulness has been shown to improve the “three qualities of attention”: control, stability, and efficiency. As a result, instead of allowing our minds to wander for approximately half of our waking hours, we gain back control over that time, and we can put it to good use.

Behavior

Mindfulness techniques have been shown to enhance the function of parts of the brain and result in superior performance in self-regulation, learning from past experiences, and decision-making. In one report, 80% of senior executives at General Mills who took a company-sponsored mindfulness course reported a positive change in their ability to make better decisions and 89% said they became better listeners.

Mindfulness has also been shown to have a positive impact on resilience, collaboration, and complex leadership ability. Click here to read more.

How to Incorporate Mindfulness Into Your Culture

If you’re reading the Culture Summit blog and getting your plans in place to attend this year’s Culture Summit, we don’t need to tell you that you can’t just throw mindfulness into a mission statement and assume it’s a part of your culture. Like any other culture attribute, mindfulness is something that your organization needs to embrace on a deep level so that your processes and policies grow out of it.

If you want to build a more mindful company culture, plan ways you can exemplify and incorporate mindfulness into leadership decisions, company-wide processes and policies, and reinforcement opportunities. Here are a few examples to get you started:

  • Encourage employees to take mindfulness breaks throughout the day, whether structured (meditation, yoga, etc.) or unstructured (looking out the window, closing your eyes, etc.). Be sure to ask managers and members of the leadership team to model these breaks and share insightful thoughts or surprising benefits with the rest of the team.

  • Invite employees to turn off notifications for email and texts and instead check computers and communication tools at appointed times. (But make sure such a schedule is appropriate for your industry and your team’s job requirements – this would not be appropriate in a newsroom or marketing agency in which quick responses and approvals are critical).

  • Provide as much context as possible for leadership decisions and process and policy changes. “Because we said so,” and “Because it’s always been done this way” are not mindful policies.

  • Explain what impact the leadership team hopes each decision will have on the future to show that decisions are made in a thoughtful and deliberate way.

  • Incorporate brainstorming and thinking time into the creation of policies by setting a time limit for implementation, such as, “New policies will be approved five days after a draft of the policy has been agreed upon.” (The trade-off, of course, is that this will slow down decision-making, so it may conflict with other values such as being agile).

  • Ask managers to provide positive feedback and awards to employees who display qualities of mindfulness in their everyday work, such as setting aside time for brainstorming or provide well thought-out context to decisions.

Do you see a need for mindfulness within your workplace, or have you put in the effort to incorporate mindfulness into your company culture? Tell us in the comments!

What We’ve Learned About Scaling Culture to 1000 Employees

What We’ve Learned About Scaling Culture to 1000 Employees

Welcome to part three of the scaling company culture series! Don’t miss part one, “What Your Company Culture Needs at 10, 100 and 1,000 Employees,” or part two, “We Just Added Our 100th Employee… Here’s What We’ve Learned About Scaling Culture.”

Whether your company is already growing at breakneck speed or you’re sure you’re on the verge of something big, one of the first things you need to start reading up on is scaling company culture.

After all, there’s a reason your company is doing well: it’s got a certain something that’s making your team and your customers flourish, and you want to make sure you don’t break whatever’s working when you multiply tenfold.

So, why not ask people who have already done it?

This is by no means a comprehensive how-to for scaling culture to 1000 and more, but we think these are three lessons worth learning from HR leaders and executives who have been there, done that:

Lesson #1: Former BlackRock Exec Says Put Your Ear to the Ground

Charting a course for company culture past 1000 employees often starts with a map of where the leadership team wants to go. There’s nothing inherently wrong with getting your values straight (in fact, that’s #1 on our list of how to scale culture), but the planning process shouldn’t be exclusively high-level leadership oriented; it should also take into account what attracted your employees to the organization in the first place.

“I start by talking to all levels of employees about what makes the company unique from their perspective and their ideas about possible improvements for the future. Then I take time to compare and reconcile the differences and opportunities amongst levels and departments,” says David Dalka, keynote speaker and Managing Director of Fearless Revival, who led numerous critical project teams that redefined industry business models at BlackRock during its 80 to 800 employee growth phase. “That feedback analyzed empirically, allows everyone to figure out which items you should attempt to scale.”

“One of the cultural values that surfaced during the early days of BlackRock was our team’s ability to incrementally innovate to create a dramatically different process from what everyone else was doing,” continues Dalka. “We were challenged to destroy the jobs we had to build new ones that contained higher and higher value work that created better outcomes for all stakeholders. You can only do that in a company that empowers its employees and sees an abundance of opportunity, not scarcity.”

Lesson #2: Lyft Says Nurture Cross-Departmental Partnerships In the Recruiting Process

Ready to be impressed? Since 2014, the San Francisco-based transportation company Lyft has scaled from 80 to 2,000 employees. The company hired 1,230 new employees in 2016 and is set to exceed that number in 2017…. all while maintaining an excellent 4.0 overall employer rating on Glassdoor.

There isn’t necessarily one secret to maintaining culture, retention, and candidate quality and satisfaction while growing so quickly. But among many great ideas like moving from “culture fit” to “values fit” to speed up the hiring process and building authentic community connections, we want to highlight the team’s focus on nurturing cross-departmental partnerships throughout the recruitment process.

Scaling Culture During Hypergrowth: The Lyft Story

Image captured from “Nailing Culture During Hypergrowth: The Lyft Story,” presented by Lever and Teammable. Click here to view the entire webinar.

“When some companies think about underrepresentation, they often set broad, company-wide diversity goals,” says Tariq Meyers, Head of Inclusion & Diversity at Lyft. “But what ends up happening if you don’t take a departmental approach is that you’re not really able to figure out what perspectives are missing by level, team, and organization. So, when I’m working with department heads, I often invite the talent acquisition leadership, recruiters, sourcers, and coordinators to join me with my team, department heads and business partners along with hiring managers in the interview loop to get in a room and ask, ‘What perspectives are missing in your room?’”

Lesson #3: Former Exxon Mobil Exec Says Don’t Forget the Follow Through

When Millie Bradley, retired Exxon Mobil exec, was scaling 200 different company cultures with 100,000 employees, the key was the follow through. Bradley was surprised to find that the culture and implementation of culture needed to be renewed over time. So right at the top of her list with clear global policies, management buy-in, and extensive training comes stewardship and monitoring.

When Millie Bradley, retired ExxonMobil exec, was scaling the company culture across 200 countries and 100,000 employees, she realized that long-term success takes follow through. Bradley realized that the implementation of culture needed to be continuously reinforced to be sustainable. So right at the top of her list of advice — along with clear global policies, management participation, and extensive training — comes stewardship and monitoring.

“Operating management is ultimately responsible for a culture of integrity and ethics, so ownership of all violations of policy, annual stewardship to senior management of organizational culture, and face-to-face participation in the training of employees is critical to sustainability,” writes Bradley. “Making stewardship of ethics a management stewardship item, along with operating excellence and financial performance, sends a clear message to the organization about the importance of culture and values.”

Are you in the process of scaling company culture past 1000? Let us know in the comments what you would add to this list!

We Just Added Our 100th Employee… Here’s What We’ve Learned About Scaling Culture

What We’ve Learned About Scaling Culture to 100 Employees

In the first article in this series, “What Your Company Culture Needs at 10, 100 and 1,000 Employees,” we took a practical look at the components that need to be in place as your company grows and reaches those milestones.

But what does it take to actually make the move from 10 to 100 employees? What challenges do organizations typically face, and how does scaling culture overcome them?

Today, we’re going to hear what our Culture Warrior community has to say about scaling culture. If you’re setting out to scale a company culture to 100 employees or your current culture isn’t scaling well, here’s what our experts think you should do:

Lesson #1: Identify what’s going wrong with your culture

People add complexity, so it’s natural that your processes and structures will grow as your roster does. But when those processes and structures have a negative impact on your company culture – when they take away from the natural give and take of your community as it works through challenges – it’s time to bring the focus back to company culture.

Here are several examples of the challenges our Culture Warrior’s organizations were facing that made it clear that scaling company culture was the solution:

  • Poor morale and high turnover
  • Lack of company direction and very green leadership team
  • Lack of accountability to goals
  • Not enough infrastructure to support growth (or to support remote growth)
  • Loss of intimacy because growing required the addition of more structured systems
  • Fear of losing control on the part of the older leaders and clinging on to old ways as part of the “old guard”
  • Fast growth and increased diversity leading team members to feel that they did not know each other well
  • Cliques forming and competing for influence

If you’re experiencing any of these warning signs, there’s a strong chance that what’s ailing your organization is culture-related and can be improved with intentional effort.

Lesson #2: Focus on one thing at a time

High-performing (and fast-growing) companies like Zappos, Google, and Apple know the truth about company culture: you can’t do more than one or two big things at a time. That’s why we weren’t surprised by our expert’s second lesson for scaling culture: you need to focus on one thing at a time and grow buy-in among your team members by moving from one small victory to another.

“Introducing one new idea at a time allowed everyone to experience the benefits,” writes Dada Nabhaniilananda, Head Instructor at The Monk Dude, LLC. “The group adopted some new ideas so completely that now they think it was their idea!”

Focusing on one or two big changes also has the benefit of limiting the amount of confusion your employees experience, leading to better implementation. Or, as another contributor mentioned, “Once you have a structure to follow for meetings or a roadmap that you’ve communicated effectively, people just ‘get it’ better.”

Lesson #3: Scale company culture with the three Cs

Our contributing Culture Champs were very clear that the key to achieving successful culture change at scale lies in three important words: clarity, commitment, and communication:

Clarity

Successfully scaling company culture requires that you know what you’re changing and why before you bring it to your leadership or employees. If you don’t have complete clarity around where you’re going and why, your efforts won’t get you very far.

One human resources professional shared the steps he took to make sure there was clarity around the culture:

We created a company playbook so everyone knows who we are, how we work, how we will succeed as a company, our core values, etc.

 

We also aligned all core values and job-specific key goals to a new performance management process and created a company interdepartmental operations manual so everyone knows the rules to follow for certain internal procedures.

 

This improved clarity and communication across the organization lead to shorter weekly stand-ups for the entire company that were more effective and fun.

It will also help you gain consensus around what’s changing and what’s not. For example, Justyna Krzych, current Change Manager at Zalando who scaled in her previous role as Head of People & Culture at Mindvalley writes that, “we revisited our values to ensure we’re inclusive of all perspectives and realized that our values remain the same.”

Through this communication exercise, she discovered something very helpful: “There were new points to incorporate, but fundamentally, in all our diversity, we were still unified by the values that were there since the beginning. We’re diverse, but fundamentals unite us.”

Commitment

It’s also critical to gain the support of the higher-ups. Without an official pledge from senior leadership, your efforts won’t have the gravitas they need.

“Get commitment from C-level players to support the change,” writes Ron Branch, HR Director at Kellogg. “A lack of buy-in from management and employees can lead to negative surprises.”

Nabhaniilananda adds to the importance of commitment: “Spend time, especially with the leaders, explaining the benefits to them of scaling the culture and inviting their input and listening to them,” she writes. “Don’t be too hasty to move forward without getting buy-in from anyone who might feel threatened by growth.”

Communication

The final piece of the puzzle in successfully scaling culture is to make communication a priority. Even with a clear mission and committed support from leadership, your employees can’t move forward with your plans if they don’t know what they’re supposed to do.

“Listen with an open mind and don’t assume that “everyone knows,’” writes Krzych. “Once you engage in the conversation, you can really understand and incorporate different perspectives to make your company more than just a workplace.”

Part of that communication process for Nabhaniilananda was introducing a specific process for encouraging communication between veteran employees and new employees:

“Some long-term employees seemed to be threatened by the idea of our organization growing and engaged in unconscious sabotage to try to prevent that growth,” she writes. “We introduced a system of mentorship so that the older, more experienced leaders coached the rising younger leaders, got to know and trust them, and felt that their knowledge and experience was appreciated.”

We’re so impressed with the extensive knowledge our contributors brought to this discussion on scaling culture. So, we have to ask:

What can you add on these thoughts on scaling culture?

4 Ways to Re-Energize a Legacy Culture Without Alienating Original Employees

4 Ways to Re-Energize a Legacy Culture Without Alienating Original Employees

Few organizations have the luxury of focusing on company culture from the start. More often than not, it’s simply the byproduct of habits and attitudes of the founding members, original employees, and first hires resulting in a legacy culture.

But what happens when you look up and realize you’ve grown to that benchmark you thought was a long way off and your culture isn’t scaling well? Or that your culture has taken a turn for the worse and too much of a certain something has crept in, like negativity, gossip, or competitiveness?

There’s no starting over. Your veteran employees are good at what they do, and you value the loyalty they’ve shown over the years. So how do you reset an out-of-date company culture – or fix a broken one – without turning off employees who have been around since day one?

Read on:

1. Tie change to meaning, not mandates

As the global innovation company IDEO wrote for The Harvard Business Review, movements start with emotions, not calls-to-action. You can ask, beg, demand, or force your team to do anything, but the results won’t be nearly as powerful as true culture change would be. At best, entrenched employees will humor you and hope the phase passes quickly; at worst, they’ll roll their eyes and start looking for a new job.

Instead, bring the focus back to the deeper purpose of your organization and tease out what that should look like in the emotional landscape of your team. Use the push for a culture change as an opportunity to check in with the employees who have been there from the start and help them connect with the new vibe.

For example, what is it about your company’s mission that originally attracted your veteran employees? Has that mission changed? (In which case you’ll need to address that and see if they can get behind the new vision.) Has that mission evolved? (In which case you’ll just need to help connect the dots). Let every conversation come back to a meaningful, “Why?” instead of a behavior-focused, “What?”

2. Welcome tense conversations

There’s no dodging the fact that change management is hard. You could be implementing a new 50% raise policy with every employee and you would still probably run into one employee who’s upset, one who’s going to quit, and one who feels like it’s a slap in the face to all the ways they’ve contributed to the company. (Just ask CEO Dan Price, who raised everyone’s minimum annual salary to $70,000 and still had a few people leave over it).

Before you start to work with your team through some of these company culture changes, embrace the fact that there will be difficulties and that people won’t always see it the same way. Welcome frustrated and discontent conversations and try to bring the conversation back around to the deeper “Why,” of the changes.

For example, when Kronos CEO Aron Ain implemented an unlimited time off policy, a lot of veteran employees actually didn’t like it! They felt like the vacation time they’d accrued was going to waste, that new employees shouldn’t get so much time off when they themselves had to work for it, and so on. Instead of smiling and nodding, Ain and his HR leadership team sat down with each employee and heard them out. They weren’t about to change the policy, but addressing each of the employee’s frustrations went a long way towards bringing the focus back on the benefits.

Related: Creating Culture Across Remote Teams: 10 Tips from Pioneering Companies

3. Honor your employee’s commitment – long-term and short-term

Jumping right to, “This is the way it is – adapt or leave,” will drive your experienced employees right to the job boards. But if you spend too much social capital on honoring the old-timers, you’ll end up alienating new employees. (After all, if there’s anything worse than feeling left out of the future it’s feeling like you’ve joined a team that lives in the past – you’re just walking around stuck in someone else’s inside joke.)

How can you walk this line? By bringing the attention to commitment and loyalty to the company’s purpose, not necessarily duration or “who was there first.”

For example, communicate to veteran employees that you value their time and the longevity of their commitment to the company, but keep relating it to where you are now and where you plan to go (not just that one isolated moment in the past). Express your excitement for the contribution of new team members freely, but bring it back to how it furthers your organization’s original or founding goals (if possible).

In practice, this could mean balancing awards or bonuses for service time, like longest tenure with the company or biggest client network, with equally valuable prizes for accomplishments not tied to service or seniority, such as most improved, biggest collaborator or contributor, or “Put Out the Biggest Fire.”

4. Ask them to lead

When you’ve been a part of a team or organization for a long time, it’s natural (and healthy) to feel a sense of ownership over how things are done and what changes are made. Put yourself in the shoes of one of your most senior employees – wouldn’t you feel powerless or left out if you thought your company was growing without you?

Instead of bringing culture change to your legacy employees as an  “Us Versus Them” event, turn it into a partnership by asking them to lead a particular change. When legacy employees are change agents – especially if they feel informed and connected to the new value – they’ll be less likely to undermine the change and more likely to promote it. Here are some scripts you can use to ask for buy-in and leadership on these company culture changes:

  • Your feedback about X has been incredibly helpful. Now that you’re confident X will help you X, what do you think about helping us bring the rest of the team on board with the change?
  • You’ve been very clear with your feedback, and I appreciate that. The leadership you’ve shown here will be really helpful when we make X change next – can we count on you to support us with that?

Don’t miss this one: A Step-by-Step Strategy for Communicating Change Across Distributed Teams

Culture is behavior. If you tell people to think a certain way or ask them to behave in a certain way, they might comply for a week or two, but you won’t achieve any of the benefits of true, fundamental culture change. If you want to change the way your company works, collaborates, and communicates – without alienating your first hires – you need to encourage new relationships, behaviors, and habits among new and old employees alike.

We hope this list can help you start brainstorming ways to welcome legacy employees into the company culture change process, but we’d love for you to share your wisdom, too.

What would you add to this list?

A Step-by-Step Strategy for Communicating Change Across Distributed Teams

A Step-by-Step Strategy for Communicating Change Across Distributed Teams

There is just one thing you can be sure about in your business – and that is the fact that it’s going to change. Whether you’re someone that drives change for the sake of progress or someone who tries to resist change, it’s inevitable – and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.

What you can do is control how you handle change, including the way you communicate it to your team. This is even more important if you’re part of a company with distributed teams.

Delivering the right message to the right people in the right way is key to ensuring your team understands:

  • What’s happening
  • Why it’s happening
  • How it will affect them
  • What (if anything) they need to do to facilitate the change

Get this wrong, and you risk alienating employees and hindering how effectively change is implemented.

Managing this is a challenge in businesses with just one facility. When teams are distributed over multiple facilities and locations, the risks increase substantially, which is why it’s all the more important to implement and follow a strategy when communicating change.

Preparing to Communicate More Effectively for Distributed Teams

We’ll run through a step-by-step strategy for communicating change across distributed teams in just a moment, but before that, let’s go over a few things you can do (and probably should do) to prepare to communicate more effectively, in general.

Implement a company-wide communications platform

It’s vital that to communicate change – and to communicate, period – distributed teams all use the same web-based communication platform (and use it in the same way).

I use Slack, but there are countless other options if that doesn’t fit your needs or budget. Here are just a few:

Once you’ve picked a platform, you need to lay out the foundations of how you’re going to use it. This will, to an extent, evolve over time. However, it’s important that you’re all on the same page from day one.

The majority of these platforms revolve around two key features:

  • Private messaging
  • Shared message boards, groups or channels

Private messaging is just that – a private, instant messaging service between two or more users.

“Boards, groups or channels” (which are essentially all the same thing, just with different titles) are where messages you want to distribute to specific departments, teams, or the company as a whole, are shared.

This is where ensuring all users are on the same page – and by that I mean that they’re all using the tool in the same way – is so important.

Not all members of staff are going to have access to every “board,” so it’s critical you ensure the right team members have access to the right information.

For instance, you might have a board for “customer service,” another for “sales,” and another for “HR.” Chances are your sales team isn’t going to need to view the same messages as your customer service team, and vice versa. They only need access to boards that concern them and their work.

Establish “golden hours”

Time zones commonly cause problems for distributed teams. If you have teams operating in wildly different time zones, there’s a high chance there will be minimal, if any crossover, between working hours.

To counteract this, you can establish “golden hours” – a time period in which the maximim number of staff (ideally all staff, although that’s not always possible) will be at work.

Figure out when this crossover is, and ensure all key communications are made during this time.

Foster a transparent culture of continuous communication

While some announcements need to made using a specific process (like the one we’re going to go through in just a moment), there are going to be many more snippets of information that are worth sharing, but don’t call for a formal announcement.

Unfortunately, it’s easy for these sorts of things to fly under the radar and not be announced – at all.

Fostering a culture in which sharing information becomes second nature to your team is key.

For this to happen, when a staff member hears or receives new information, they should:

  • Ask themselves or find out if it’s confidential
  • If it’s not confidential, decide who else it concerns
  • Share the information via an appropriate channel – depending on who else it concerns, this is likely to be either in person, or via email or your company communications platform

A Step-By-Step Strategy for Communicating Change

Some information can be shared informally. I’m referring to things a team member or members need to know, but that do not have a substantial direct impact on them – either positive or negative.

Other information, such as significant internal changes that will impact employees’ day-to-day lives, calls for a more formal approach – like the following strategy, which is what I use to communicate change to distributed teams.

Step 1: define your message

Before you can broadcast your message, you need to define exactly what your message will be. This might sound straightforward – you just say what needs to be said, right?

Unfortunately, the effectiveness of your attempt to communicate change, especially across distributed teams, begins with what you say and how you say it. For that reason, defining exactly what you’ll say ahead of time is essential.

To do this, you need to establish:

  • What does your team actually need to know?
  • How should you word the message (in such a way that you eliminate the risk of crossed wires?)
  • What questions are employees likely to ask?

Use this information to craft a statement that divulges your message clearly and concisely. Before signing off on the message, ensure it only contains essential information, and that nothing within it is liable to be misunderstood. Consider the connotations of the words you use, too. “X is leaving the company” has very a different connotation than “X is pursuing a new opportunity” – the first one can potentially be construed in a negative light.

Step 2: decide who’s best-placed to deliver the message

This step ensures that multiple people don’t attempt to deliver the message – all potentially in slightly different ways.

One person at each of your premises should be assigned the task of delivering the message, or, if it’s to be delivered via your communication platform (more on this in step 3), handling questions and follow-ups.

Step 3: decide the best channel for delivering the message

There is no one “best” way to deliver your message – it all depends on your company culture, and the nature of the message itself.

Townhall announcements

A “town hall” announcement (i.e. a public announcement made in an open domain to as many members of staff as possible) ensures everyone hears the same message, at the same time. This greatly limits the odds of the message being misheard or wires getting crossed.

Townhall announcements are best suited to positive messages that help bring the company together. Do not use this method for delivering potentially bad news (unless you want to instantly shroud your offices in negativity).

Line managers to teams

This might also be referred to as “the cascade.” It involves messages being passed “down the ladder” from management to the level below them, and then again to the level below that.

It’s well-suited to the delivery of “bad news,” since it limits how many people will hear the message at once, and allows for (if needed) the message to be delivered in different ways, to different people. It also means concerns can be raised and addressed immediately.

Be aware, however, that this method is vulnerable to the “Chinese whisper effect.” However well you plan your message, each additional person involved in delivering it increases the odds it will be changed or diluted.

Internal communications platform

Messages delivered this way are usually presented in a written format, which eliminates any margin for error: you have total control over the wording used and you will know, without doubt, what’s been conveyed to each employee. It also makes it really easy for employees to follow up with questions, and in turn, for you to answer them.

On the downside, this method can be seen as impersonal or even cowardly – like you’re intentionally hiding behind a screen (which, perhaps, you are).

Step 4: prepare to handle follow-ups

It’s almost inevitable that when you announce change, employees are going to have questions. As part of your strategy for communicating change, you need to be prepared to answer them. Specifically, you need to formulate a process for employees who want to ask questions, raise concerns, and provide feedback.

Your internal communications platform is ideal for this.

If you used it to deliver the initial message, just let employees know that any questions or comments should be posted there. You may even want to create a specific “group” just for delivering the message and addressing follow ups. This ensures all information pertaining to the change is stored in one location.

Even if you’re delivering your message by another means, you might still want to consider using your internal communications platform for handling follow-ups.

In all cases, you need to:

  • Decide who will be responsible for answering questions
  • Ensure they know who to talk to if they don’t know the answer to a question
  • Brainstorm questions that are likely to be asked and prepare answers to them
  • Implement a system for asking questions privately, and ensure all staff members know what this is

You might also want to consider setting up follow-up meetings, or at the very least, repeating the message and encouraging staff to speak up if there’s anything they’re unsure of.

If you aren’t prepared to deal with the aftermath of your message, and you don’t provide a clear route for asking and answering questions, you risk staff trying to decipher what’s happening between themselves (or in other words, gossiping). Employees will raise and ponder questions with each other, which will inevitably lead to incorrect conclusions and more often than not, a worried and unhappy workforce.

Of course, there is no foolproof approach to communicating change – especially when it’s bad news. You can, however, control the impact of the change on staff morale by taking the time to plan how to communicate it and preparing to deal with what happens after.

Have you ever been responsible for communicating change – either to distributed teams or a single team? How did you do it and what, if anything, would you do differently next time? It’d be great to hear your thoughts if you have the time to leave a comment below.

Creating Culture Across Remote Teams: 10 Tips from Pioneering Companies

Creating Culture Across Remote Teams: 10 Tips from Pioneering Companies

One of the biggest challenges facing remote teams is how to create and maintain a positive company culture. In fact, it’s hard enough keeping a whole team happy and motivated when you all share a workspace. Get a remote team of employees that have limited, if any, face-to-face contact, and this problem gets magnified a few times over.

That said, while it’s undeniably difficult to create a remote company culture and ensure distributed employees feel that they’re working towards a common goal, it’s certainly not impossible.

Here are 10 tips from pioneering companies that have bucked the trend of remote working = isolated working, to create a positive company culture across their remote teams.

1. Acceleration Partners – Invest in the right technology

It’s pretty much impossible for a remote business to operate successfully without the right technology. Legacy on-premise systems need to be replaced with cloud-based solutions that allow employees to work collaboratively and communicate with ease, regardless of where they’re located.

Acceleration Partners is a leading affiliate marketing company that boasts an impressive client list including brands like Adidas and Target.

Technology has played a key part in ensuring their remote team members feel as much a part of the culture as those who work from the office every day. Their chosen suite of tools includes:

  • Zoom – for video conferencing and other meetings.
  • Skype – to simplify real-time communications between employees in different locations.
  • Google Docs – to streamline task collaboration.
  • TINYpulse – to anonymously gauge workers’ feelings and identify any issues or concerns that may need addressing.

Read more about the steps Acceleration Partners has taken to create culture across remote teams here.

2. HelpScout – Leverage video

Help Scout’s team is spread out across the world – a setup that, as we know, can make it extremely difficult to create a positive company culture. Video is key to remedying this.

The company hosts weekly “Monday morning video parties” that are designed to “keep the team informed about new feature releases, birthdays and other company-wide news.” The meetings can be viewed live or team members in incompatible time zones can tune in later, so they don’t have to miss out.

Help Scout uses video for more than meetings, though.

I love their “Cribs” idea, in which team members were encouraged to give their colleagues insight into their life by making video tours of their homes.

They also host monthly “Troop Talks,” which they describe as “a lightly structured monthly video chat centered around a single topic.” Participation is totally optional, and staff members are notified in advance of the discussion topic, so they can decide whether or not they want to come along.

Read more about how Help Scout leverages video to create a remote culture here.

3. 15Five – Embrace transparency

Embracing transparency is something all businesses today should be trying to do. However, the additional challenge of building trusting relationships in remote teams makes transparency even more important.

15Five leverages their own tool to help foster a company culture based on “trust, accountability and transparency.” The company is always open to hearing feedback to the point that they encourage employees to give feedback on the performance of management.

Read more about how transparency is part of 15Five’s remote culture here.

4. Groove – Assess potential employees’ “fit” with a trial period

I can’t really state enough how important employees are to your company culture. Staff members who don’t share your beliefs or values and who don’t “buy into” what you’re trying to achieve will – almost certainly – have a negative impact on your culture.

To help minimize “wrong hires,” help desk software giant Groove assesses each potential employee’s “fit” with a trial period. This is designed for the benefit of both the potential staff member and Groove themselves. Not only does Groove want to ensure the potential hire will “fit” into their team, but they want the assurance that the person is going to feel happy and fulfilled in the role.

Only once the trial period is completed and it’s decided the potential hire “fits” the Groove culture, will they be taken on full time.

You can read more about how Groove hires top talent remotely here.

5. 6Q – Introduce new remote workers to the whole team

It goes without saying that when a new hire comes to work with you on-premises, you introduce them to everyone they’ll be working with and, depending on the size of the company, potentially to the whole team.

Unfortunately, this social ritual is often sidestepped when that employee works remotely. 6Q, which offers tools for collecting employee feedback, follows a process that ensures this doesn’t happen when they welcome someone new.

They send an introductory email to every member of the team that includes, alongside the new hire’s contact details, their answers to five non-work related questions.

In addition to this, they encourage the new hire to arrange one-to-one meetings with as many members of the team as they feel comfortable with.

You can read more about this, and other ways 6Q fosters a positive company culture in a remote team, here.

6. Teamwork.com – Acknowledge and reward hard-working remote workers

When you all work from the same location, it’s generally pretty easy to see how hard employees are working and pick up on their achievements. You can hear them go that extra mile for a client on the phone and you know when they’re staying late or arriving early.  This also makes it really simple to thank those staff members for the effort they’re putting in.

Things are very different on remote teams.

You need to have a great deal of trust in your staff and pay extra attention to the work completed to assess who’s slacking, and who’s going above and beyond.

You also have to make a particular point of thanking and rewarding those who deserve it.

To ensure their remote workers’ achievements are acknowledged, Teamwork.com holds quarterly “Teamwork Legend” awards in which their employees’ contributions are rewarded with certificates and gift cards.

You can read more about this and other ways Teamwork.com manages successful remote teams here.

7. Buffer – Schedule regular retreats

One of the biggest barriers to creating a great company culture in remote teams is a lack of face-to-face contact (video helps, but is no substitute for working with your colleagues in person).

To get around this, Buffer schedules all-expenses-paid retreats for the whole company, three times a year. This means they’re paying for flights, accommodations and (most) meals, as well as a few activities.

It’s worth bearing in mind that these retreats aren’t “holidays” as such. The team is expected to work their usual hours (give or take), but for these 10 days the team can come together and operate like a “typical” company (except for all the after-hours social activities).

You can read more about Buffer’s retreats and watch a couple of videos on what they’re like and why they do them here.

8. Edoc – Create a culture of learning

One of the secrets to being happy and fulfilled at work is feeling confident in your abilities – being sure that you’re good at what you do. Questioning our ability to do our job will drag us down, and understandably so.

This is why it’s important for every company to give their staff the tools they need to develop their skills and perform their jobs to the highest possible standard. Of course, ensuring remote employees have what they need isn’t always easy. Often senior members of staff will train more junior employees in-house – an approach that’s difficult, if not impossible to replicate remotely.

However, just because it’s more difficult to keep remote staff up to speed than in-house staff doesn’t mean you should leave them to figure things out for themselves and hope for the best.

Edoc, which builds tools designed to aid in productivity and collaboration, understands this, and as a result has incorporated a “culture of learning” into their overall company culture.

As well as ensuring employees have access to courses and other training opportunities, Edoc hosts a whole month of company-wide professional training sessions every year.

In fact, Edoc’s CEO Jim Mullaney once hosted six weeks of “Friday leadership trainings” from his own home. Local staff were invited to come along in person while those who lived further afield could telecommute.

The result is happier staff that sticks around longer. As Jim says: “If employees aren’t learning, they’re leaving.”

Read more about how Edoc built a great remote company culture here.

9. Basecamp – It doesn’t have to be all or nothing

Often when we think about remote working, we think about employees on the other side of the world from their employer, or people traveling the world, working from a palm-tree lined beach (totally impractical, but it makes a great visual).

Image Credit

The reality, however, is that not all remote staff always work remotely. Often staff that lives locally will switch between working remotely and coming into the office as it suits. This is great for company culture, since staff benefits from regular face-to-face contact. It’s also an ideal middle ground for many employees who have obligations that prevent them from working in an office full-time, but that would miss the social aspect of sharing workspace with a team.

In other cases, some companies will employ a mix of remote and in-house workers.

This is something the project management specialists at Basecamp have done. Their team started out working in a traditional office setting but found that the space they had was bigger than they anticipated needing, and that the rent was too high.
As a result they decided to rent just a few desks instead. Today, the majority, but not all, of their employees work remotely.

10. Zapier – Trust your team

Trust is essential in all companies, but it’s even more important when you work remotely. This is something Zapier has come to understand while building a team of remote workers.

The issue largely comes down to the fact that distributed teams don’t know how much or how hard their colleagues are working. While some companies try to resolve this with rules dictating things like when bums should be on seats, or even requiring them to be on camera all day (yes, this is a real thing at some firms) most companies, like Zapier, understand that all you really need is trust.

If the work’s getting done that’s a sure sign your remote employees are pulling their weight, and really, that’s all you need to know.

Read more about how Zapier has built their remote company culture here.

Do you have any tips to add for creating culture across remote teams? Comments are below if you have a moment to share them:

What Your Company Culture Needs at 10, 100 and 1,000 Employees

What Your Company Culture Needs at 10, 100 and 1,000 Employees

As a company grows, something that can make or break it is its culture. A good culture creates happy, hard-working employees who stick around for the long haul. Conversely, a poor culture leads to disengaged employees, poor productivity, and high staff turnover.

Which of these scenarios do you think is going to help a company be more successful?

Needless to say, if your employees are happy, everyone’s happy. But what does it take to create an environment that your employees want to be in, and can thrive in? And how will this change as your company grows?

Some companies think that if they offer a few fun perks, their staff will be happy and the culture will take care of itself – but they couldn’t be more wrong.

While we’re going to discuss perks that can help foster a great company culture, there is so much more to company culture than free beers and flex time.

“Company culture is not a foosball table.” Melissa Tsang, Referral Candy

  • Your core values.
  • The mindset of your team.
  • The environment or “feeling” in the workplace.

These are the things that define your company culture. The perks just help to shape it.

“[Culture] lives in the collective hearts and habits of people and their shared perception of “how things are done around here.”” Bryan Walker and Sarah A. Soule, writing for Harvard Business Review

The ideal company culture is built on people who are there to do more than collect a paycheck – they’re there because they love their work and the people they work with. They’re along for the ride, basically.

Of course, company cultures like this don’t create themselves. It takes hard work, consistency, and an open mind to cultivate a great company culture – and it only gets more difficult as your company grows.

Here are a few key things that every company culture needs at its critical stages of growth, and how your approach to managing company culture needs to change with them.

 

Company Culture at 10 Employees

Startups have it pretty easy as far as company culture goes since it’s much easier to keep 10 staff members happy than 100. It’s also a good time to experiment and figure out the company/culture fit – after all, if you’re going to get it wrong, it’s better to get it wrong now. That’s because the bigger your company is, the longer it takes to implement cultural change – reportedly about three years, for medium and large organizations.

A solid hiring process

Your employees are the foundation of your company culture, so it’s critical to lay down a process for finding and hiring the right people as soon as possible.

You want to hire (and keep) the people that want to be there. Take Zappos. They offer new hires $2000 – to quit. This is because they only want to keep people that want to be there. If you’re only there for your paycheck, you can take your cash and leave.

Zappos Cubicles

While you don’t need to go that far, you should at least be asking interview questions that are designed to determine whether someone’s a fit for your company culture.

Things like:

  • What is (or was) your relationship like with your current (or previous) colleagues?
  • What sort of management style do you work best with? (Ask this question when hiring for both management and more junior roles).
  • What’s your biggest pet peeve in the workplace?
  • What things are most important to you in your professional life?

An open door policy

Your relationship with your employees is as important as their relationship with each other. Prioritize getting to know them. Ensure they always feel comfortable coming to talk to you.

An open door policy should mean literally that – an open door. Sure, there are times you need to keep it closed, but make sure that only happens when absolutely necessary.

Let your employees know that if the door’s open, they’re welcome to come in. If it’s shut, they can send you a message, or come back later.

Of course, simply telling employees they’re welcome to talk to you doesn’t mean they’ll want to. You have to be the kind of manager your staff wants to approach.

This means you…

  • Don’t criticize staff when things aren’t going according to plan, and certainly never patronize them. Support them in making improvements, instead.
  • Work as hard, or harder, than they do.
  • Never, ever, appear put off when staff asks questions or for help. You only have to do this a couple of times before employees start to learn (consciously or unconsciously) that they have to be wary about when, how, and how often they approach you.
  • Be transparent – it has a direct correlation to employee morale.

Bear in mind that as your company grows, it’s critical that all new management adopt an open door policy, too.

Keeping leaders close to the rest of the team has been a priority for Power Digital Marketing, which holds monthly, personal one-on-one meetings between execs and juniors – the reason being that (in the words of their CEO Grayson Lafrenz) it “ensures everyone feels like a priority and that their voice is heard. It also deepens the bonds and relationships between our team members.”

A break area

Break areas should offer a comfortable place for downtime where employees can socialize away from their workload.

Prioritize comfortable seating, arranged to encourage conversation, as well as a dining area. Offering entertainment is nice, but not necessary – at least at this stage. As your company grows, the break area and the facilities it offers will have to grow with it.

A regular schedule of social events

Aim for one a month. It doesn’t have to be anything “big” – drinks in a local bar should make most people happy. Don’t feel you have to fund events, either (although a goodwill gesture, like getting the first round, will definitely be appreciated).

Trust in your employees

If anything, this last point is the most crucial.

This is because one of the worst things you can do for any company culture is to micro-manage your employees. Happy employees are born out of a management team that is there for them when they’re needed, but that ultimately trusts them to do the right thing.

“Do not keep smart people on a tight leash.” Barry Appelman

Company Culture at 100 Employees

As your company grows, relationships will naturally change.

10 or so employees are likely to form one, single, tightly-knit group. You’re probably also going to have a very flat management structure.

As more people join the ranks, different “tribes” are going to develop – regardless of how adept you are at bringing the right personalities on board – and there’s a greater chance that some people will feel like they just don’t “fit in.”

In fact, research has shown that the faster your company grows, the more apparent these shifts will be.

Image Credit

It’s certainly not impossible to maintain a close company culture as you grow, though. When MyCorporation started out, they felt like family, a feeling they worried they would lose as they expanded. However, through regular team activities and a culture of kindness and encouragement, they’ve stayed “close and connected.”

That flat management structure which was so fundamental to your company culture in the beginning is likely to change, too. That’s normal, and in most cases, necessary. What you need to do, however, is implement systems that ensure all voices are heard and that everyone, regardless of their role or relationships with others, feels that they’re working towards the same common goal.

A mission statement

While you can write a mission statement at any point, it often makes sense to hold off until the company reaches a certain size and you have a concrete idea of both your company’s and employees’ values.

It’s always a good idea to involve your staff in creating your mission statement, too. Ask them to share what they see as the company’s mission or values, look for common themes in their responses, and work this into a statement that everyone agrees reflects why they come to work and what they’re trying to achieve.

Here’s an example of this in practice from when Buffer set out to define their company values. This is the form they distributed to staff:

And here’s one of the completed forms they got back:

Regular culture reviews

Ask employees to rate your culture on a scale of 1-10 and provide feedback on what they do and don’t like about it.

Do this once a year, unless responses signal that more regular reviews are needed.

Input from employees

Allow your staff to get involved in shaping company culture. Encourage feedback and make speaking up easy by implementing a system in which employees can share thoughts and ideas anonymously, or at least without judgment.

An onboarding process

The bigger the company, the more difficult it generally is for new employees to fit in. This means that implementing (and following) a set of procedures for onboarding new employees is essential.

This should include things like:

  • Ensuring someone is in the office and ready to greet the new hire as they arrive.
  • Getting everything they need to work (computer and phone, for example) set up and ready to go before they arrive.
  • Giving them a tour of the premises and introducing them to everyone they’ll be working with.

It’s also a great idea to assign each newbie a “buddy” who will take them under their wing, show them the ropes, and be their first port-of-call for answering questions.

An ability to adapt to changing staff dynamics

The sort of relationships a company of 10 might have are often impossible or inappropriate to maintain in a company of 100 or more. Learn how relationships change as companies grow, and figure out how you can help your staff foster and maintain strong relationships – with both existing and new staff members – as the number of faces they see every day increases.

Company Culture at 1000 Employees

A company with 1000 employees probably has multiple sites in different cities. They may well have even expanded into other countries. One of the biggest challenges, therefore, becomes maintaining, across all branches, a culture that’s in line with the company’s core values, but that also accommodates the unique needs of each location and its people.

The delicatessen chain Zingerman’s is one such company that has dealt with the issue of maintaining their culture across different locations. Their solution was to push for a coherent culture across all locations, but to allow for cultural variations across different departments and shifts. Specifically, they encourage their leaders “not to fight against this diversity, but rather to focus on the positive.”

Here’s what else you need to do to ensure your company culture is consistent (within reason) in a company with 1000 employees or more.

A plan of attack for dealing with organizational change

Change puts staff morale and, in turn, company culture at risk. Devising a contingency plan that details how to positively communicate and roll out organizational changes can help staff adjust, and reduce impact on company culture.

A systemized yet personal and approachable HR department

Big companies need systemized HR departments – without this, they’re very likely to buckle under the pressure. At the same time, an effective HR department needs a personal approach. The challenge is how to balance these opposing working styles.

You might want to start with easing their workload by outsourcing some of their more basic administration tasks.

A head of company culture

A business of this size likely has divisions that operate autonomously. This puts communication and company culture at a high risk of being siloed. If you value your company culture, hiring someone who’s responsible for overseeing and helping maintain that culture across sites and divisions is essential.

Take Google, which offers perks including free, chef-prepared meals, subsidized massages, nap pods, and death benefits.

A Nap Pod in action

They understand that these perks are not enough to create the culture they want their employees to enjoy, so in 2006 they employed a “Chief Culture Officer” whose job included protecting “key parts of Google’s scrappy, open-source cultural core as the company has evolved into a massive multinational.”

It’s probably safe to say this culture has had a big part to play in the impressive 4.4 rating Google has on Glassdoor.

What do you think companies need to create a positive culture as they start out and as they grow? Do you have any company culture stories to tell (good or bad)? If you do, it’d be great if you could spare a moment to share your thoughts in the comments below.

Making the Business Case and Getting Leadership Buy-in for Culture Initiatives

Making the Business Case and Getting Leadership Buy-in for Culture Initiatives

Marta Riggins, Global Marketing Director at LinkedIn Talent Solutions

Scaling Culture: Insights From Leaders at Various Levels in a Company

Scaling Culture: Insights From Leaders at Various Levels in a Company

JD Peterson, Chief Growth Officer at Culture Amp

Dan Spaulding, Chief People Officer at Zillow Group

Konval Matin, Director of Culture and Talent Development at Shopify

Sarah Nahm, CEO at Lever.co

Creating Authenticity, Connection, and Growth

Creating Authenticity, Connection, and Growth

Sean Kelly, CEO at Snack Nation