How to Build a Workplace Where Everyone Thrives

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Too often, companies fall into the trap of treating people as secondary to a product instead of seeing that without people, there would be no product. For small to midsize businesses, it’s especially easy to lose connection with employees when the focus becomes all about automation, valuation and gross profit as they scale. But remember, if an organization grows to 2000 people, it’s the first 20 who tend to establish and perpetuate the culture. So the question becomes, what kind of culture do you want to set initially?

To get the best out of people — and for employees to get the best out of the company — leaders must treat the employer-employee relationship as a mutual partnership. Then, we must select for cultural fit to always build on that sense of community and belonging. One of my former CEOs summed it up best when he told me: “I want you to help me create an environment where the weekend gets in the way.” He meant a workplace where people were so fulfilled in their jobs that the end of business on Friday felt like being taken away from what they love.

Related: How To Build A Strong Culture With A Remote Team

Our people are more than a “cost”

The idea of taking a community-centered approach to running a business was crystalized in one of my first executive jobs, where I was in charge of a large healthcare company’s call centers. The people who called in had real and urgent problems: They were sick, had an emergency or needed an appointment. But we had become so data-driven — focused on metrics like call handle times and calls-per-hour — that we had forgotten the human toll of these exchanges.

My approach has always been for management teams to be open to empathetic dialogue if one of our representatives or nurses had trouble hitting their data. We needed to allow some latitude for patients to tell their stories rather than just cutting them off. It was a formative experience because I learned to look at the data behind the data — in other words, the human dimension of the business. However, my learning was far from done.

Related: What Happened to the Workplace? How to Make It More Human

Determining root causes of attrition

I have seen the link between many resignations across an organization and hiring managers treating people as a commodity. After doing a root-cause analysis, I found the overriding mentality is: “If someone doesn’t like it here, they should be happy just to have a job.”

That was the polar opposite of the culture I wanted to drive. If you are experiencing a high turnover or attrition rate, there are two tried and tested methods for gauging why people are leaving. In both cases, never be afraid to hear the truth about your organization because that’s where the solutions lie:

  1. Employee surveys: Look for trends in direct feedback. If different departments are losing people, it could be the culture of the entire organization. If the same things are mentioned consistently from one department, the issue is likely centralized. Watch out for data points that cluster around an outlier for underlying problems.
  2. Exit interviews: I ask people, “If you were to ever return, what would you like to see us enhance or implement as an employer?” Leaders still need a good filter to know when people are just venting, but these data points will reveal whether you are selecting the right people, posting in the right areas, or in too much of a rush to put warm bodies in place.

Related: 7 Lessons CEOs and Hiring Managers Learned from Exit Interviews

How to change hiring practices

The overarching theme of changing hiring practices to create a workplace community is choosing only people who possess the right skill set and fit for your team and culture. To get everybody from C-suite down to share this emphasis, here are five practices to follow:

  1. Agree on what type of culture you want because it will affect your choices. If you have a very collaborative organization, a more authoritarian or hierarchical leadership style is a poor fit.
  2. Prioritize the candidate profile over demographics. This approach almost builds without a name, face or gender to focus on cultural fit. It helps create a diverse, inclusive and thriving workplace community.
  3. Involve hiring managers in candidate screenings. There may be the temptation to select the most experienced person, but any red flags need to be included on the scorecard.
  4. Set realistic timing expectations. In companies that always innovate, sometimes hiring is rushed. Instead of hiring 20 different personalities, try hiring five who have the right profile and build from there. If it takes 45 or 90 days to get the right person, that’s how long it takes.
  5. Build your workforce through employee referrals. People tend to refer those with similar values so then your community can build from within.

Related: 10 Strategies for Hiring and Retaining New Employees

Creating true partnership

There are two other points to consider, both of which will come across in the interview — treat the hiring process as a two-way evaluation and give people time to decide. As VP of human resources, I still do interviews, which is what I tell candidates: “I’m fully aware that you’re interviewing us just as much as we are interviewing you. And you have the right to say ‘no’ if it’s not the right fit because this is a partnership: You’re going to hold me accountable to everything that I’m saying, and I’m going to hold you accountable to everything you’re saying.”

Community is built on this foundation of transparency, mutual trust and responsibility. After three decades in human resources, my message to business leaders as we all become more and more automated is this: Never forget who got us here. By giving someone time to accept or reject an offer, we are really allowing that person the space to feel like they are part of something bigger, rather than feeling lucky just to get a paycheck.

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