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Ask your employees to help you in creating a positive workplace

“I attribute my success to this: I never gave or took an excuse.”
—Florence Nightingale

In their book “No Excuses: How You Can Turn Any Workplace into a Great One,” authors Jennifer Robin and Michael Burchell explain common challenges to building a great workplace, and ways to overcome these perceived obstacles. While making excuses and rationalizing missteps is not unique to the business world, it is evident that creating a workplace culture that empowers employees and adheres to core values can help to avoid the propensity to “excuse” responsibilities to improve the work environment.

As the authors note, challenges exist across all industries, and every business is not as unique as leaders believe. At Dixon Schwabl, we are often approached by business leaders who think they cannot become a great workplace because they do not have the inherent creativity and fun of the advertising industry. They assume that their profession is tied to established tradition or rigid standards and cannot be an award-winning workplace.

However, through their research and consulting for the Great Place to Work Institute, the authors have found that everyone is essentially looking for the same thing at work: “a place where they can experience trust, pride and camaraderie.” In fact, the companies receiving “Best Companies” recognition span a wide variety of industries, from mining and quarrying to telecommunications and construction. The top five excuses for not building a great workplace are time, operating environment, employees, timing and leadership. Here are three solutions to any excuse encountered by a workplace:

Make every interaction an opportunity to build trust;
Get clear on your core values and define your organization’s behavior; and
Find opportunity in challenges and seek inspiration from other great workplaces.

Reviewing these solutions calls to mind Dixon Schwabl’s experience developing a positive, proactive culture. Our team members not only are the source of many of our most popular and well-received perks, but also drive our philanthropic activities, internship program and mentoring, and everyday workplace “wow.” This is in part because we give our employees the opportunity to voice their opinions regularly and invite them to lead initiatives within the agency. From organizing and assembling Thanksgiving baskets to donate to area families to forming a new yoga team to creating a 24-hour video gaming marathon charitable benefit at the agency, employees are energized knowing that anyone can be an “ambassador of fun” at our company.

Another great workplace empowering its employees and adhering to solid principles is Nordstrom. The fashion retailer succinctly shares its values with a one-line employee credo: “Rule No. 1 is ‘Use good judgment in all situations.’ And Rule No. 2 is ‘Go back to rule #1.’” A trust-based organization thrives on shared values and principles, and—whether written or unwritten—these become ingrained in your culture. These values are cited as the foundation for trust-based relationships in the workplace. The Great Place to Work Institute’s Trust Index Employee Survey represents two-thirds of a company’s overall score in the Best Companies to Work for lists, with trust-based rather than transactional practices receiving the greater emphasis. Employees who are kept apprised of workplace decisions and issues, receive training and development, and receive a fair share of the profits are more apt to experience company culture at its best. Personal, professional and leadership development are all part of creating a positive company culture. Introducing a new training mechanism, creating a charitable event, or launching a wellness program requires employee buy-in to succeed. If you aren’t sure what employees will enjoy—ask them. Often, business leaders tell me that they invested in a new program only to watch it fail—usually because they did not fully understand employee needs or goals. While not every perk works for every company, most team members appreciate a program that addresses their specific needs.

Many great workplaces provide unique perks designed for their employees. Cirrus Logic, a supplier of components for audio and industrial markets, offers the “Valentine’s Day Bailout,” a stress-free approach to recognizing employees and their loved ones. The company brings in cards, flowers and boxes of candy for employees, and offers a sign-up for the quarterly “Date Night” with the company arranging cooking classes, painting classes and other activities. Zappos, an online clothing store and gift shop, offers a “Wishez” program, inviting employees to write what they wish for and then post it publicly. Other employees are empowered to grant the wishes of their colleagues. Wishes range from a Starbucks Frappuccino to attorney fees, yet they are granted internally by colleagues and co-workers at every level in the organization.

A strong company culture is not a fad or trend—it is recognized as contributing to the bottom line and playing a direct role in business success. If employees feel valued, they will work to advance the company overall. For example, Marriott employees who work behind the scenes are said to work in the “heart of the house” and not the “back of the house”—a simple change in terminology can help employees feel appreciated. At Dixon Schwabl, we do not call our lower floor the basement; we refer to it as the “Level of Love.”

There are no excuses—whether you have limited budgets, tight resources, a changing corporate landscape or other impediments to progress—you must strive to create a great workplace. Use systems you already have in place—company meetings, team lunches, holiday celebrations—to deepen your relationship with team members and build a strong culture starting today.

Lauren Dixon is CEO of Dixon Schwabl Inc., a marketing communications firm, which has been honored as a best place to work.

12/5/14 (c) 2014 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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