You’re the CEO of a mid-sized business and sales figures for the past two quarters show a slump in sales. HR has also been warning you that some of your best people are leaving, but you don’t see any correlation. You tell the sales manager to whip up on the sales team, to remind the reps that they have to meet quota or they will be replaced. That should fix the problem. You ignore the HR director’s concern. A year later, sales are down by double digits. Turnover has doubled. Production has slumped. An employee satisfaction survey shows that half of team members are looking for jobs elsewhere. You panic. What is happening to the company? Surely these internal issues don’t affect sales, the lifeblood of the organization! Unfortunately, yes, they do. Employee engagement affects every aspect of a business, and ultimately cash bleeds from the bottom line. Left on its own, a people problem will rot and get worse, just like a tomato on a vine, and that rot will spread to all parts of the garden.
What are the indicators of people problems?
If your business has people, chances are, you have people problems. If you have people problems, you need a culture inquiry. It’s that simple. Here are some indicators that you may need a culture inquiry:
- High turnover in a department or division (or the entire company);
- Hard-to-fill positions – Even though we are currently in an employee-driven economy and the Better Business Bureau says unemployment hasn’t been this low since 1969, don’t let this be an excuse for why you can’t find great employees;
- A business downturn – Determine what is holding you back;
- Problems with a particular manager;
- A merger or acquisition — A culture change can wreak havoc on an organization. Make sure everyone is on board.
- Fast growth – Make sure that what got you to where you are will work in the future.
Regardless of where your business is, a culture inquiry can help you identify the pain points around strategy, execution and cash that relate to people. Any company or department seeking greater profits, inclusion, retention, engagement, client satisfaction and experience, and employee experience should have a culture inquiry.
Can you perform your own culture inquiry?
Maybe you’re sold on the concept of a culture inquiry, and you’ve read books or articles on the process. Can you do your own? Sure you can. But should you? Well, maybe not. You’ve probably heard that a consultant is someone who “carries a briefcase and lives at least 50 miles away,” and there’s some truth to that. When employees know an individual too well, or see them at work on a regular basis, there is a psychological tendency not to trust that he/she is an expert, and trust is an essential factor in conducting a thorough culture inquiry. For this reason, an internal person may lack credibility. The person conducting the inquiry must have objectivity, which is difficult for an internal team member. A consultant doesn’t have a stake in the outcome other than getting to the root of the problem. They don’t allow their feelings about individuals stand in the way of providing an analysis that will get to the root of the problem.
What happens during a culture inquiry?
When you hire a consultant to conduct a culture inquiry, there is a process that leads to the final outcome, beginning with data collection. The consultant will ask you for a list of data points showing employee turnover and retention, termination, employee surveys, customer retention, customer satisfaction, and profit and loss. Your mission, values and culture statements also will be examined. Next, the consultant will lead small group discussions with employees, mixing up different team levels, and possibly conduct some one-on-one discussions. The purpose of these discussions is to verify what the data have revealed. From the discussions, the consultant determines where the biggest opportunities are so you can focus on the 20 percent that will provide the greatest result.
The consultant then presents the findings to the executive team and board of directors, discussing the results and measurements. He/she points out issues that leadership missed because of blind spots. At this point, the company can use the information to improve its company culture by addressing the top-of-the-list items uncovered, or it may decide to hire the consultant to come in and implement phase two, a culture correction. If nothing is done, the problems will not get better – chances are, they will get much worse.
What happens during a culture correction?
If you hire a consultant to work with your company to implement the second phase, the culture correction, she/he will form employee teams to address the items recommended in the report. These become the tactics for the process. The teams develop SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-focused and Time-bound) based on the data collected earlier through the use of the IMPACTÔmethod itself. Next the teams create and complete tasks to accomplish their assigned goals over an agreed timetable. After the tasks are implemented, focus groups determine the effectiveness of the solutions. The focus groups may find that further refinement is necessary, in which case the teams make adjustments to the plans and implement those, or if the plans were successful in meeting the objectives, the focus groups approve the teams’ work.
Changing the culture will not happen overnight, but a systematic approach will improve employee engagement and profits. Our statistics have shown that, within one year of a culture inquiry and correction, companies experience a 5-to-10-percent increase in employee engagement; a 20-to-60-percent decrease in turnover; a 15-percent increase in employee satisfaction; and an 8-to-15 percent increase in profit.
Shelley Smith, CEO of Premier Rapport, Inc., helps business owners and executives find and repair the “culture leaks” in their organizations that prevent them from being as productive and profitable as they can be. Using a proprietary process of inquiry, awareness and leader development, she helps businesses create the workplace environment teams need to drive success. Throughout her 30-plus-year career, Shelley has developed and implemented plans for large corporations such as Marriott as well as for small “mom-and-pop” businesses to advance their strategies and manifest stronger company cultures. She is the author of five books, including “Brass Ovaries Own Yours: Master the Mindset, Change the Game” and “How to Avoid Culture Big Fat Failure (BFF).” She has been published in Money Inc., Forbes, Entrepreneur and many others.