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Does Your Company Culture Drive Away Your Best Workers?

It’s 5:30 a.m. The alarm clock rings. You wake up with a smile on your face. You can’t wait to get out of bed. Your job gives you challenge, a sense of pride, and your workplace is one of collaboration, teamwork and respect. In short, you feel a sense of family at your organization. Does this sound like you? If so, you are very fortunate. For most of us, the alarm clock brings a sense of anxiety and dread. The morning commute is fraught with stress and the day is filled with to-do lists, meetings and foreboding questions like: “How long will this job last?” “Who can I trust?” “What impossible-to-achieve quota will I be asked to accomplish THIS month?” and “How soon before my retirement?”

Going to work has never been easy. Downsizing and instability have existed within many different fields of employment. These days the socioeconomic climate has posed tremendous stresses upon organizations, with expectations to produce twice as much with half of the resources.

However, it is the organizational culture that poses the greatest stress for today’s employees. Organizational culture is simply the sum total of customs, actions, attitudes and ideas that permeate a given workplace. It consists of the rules, the environment and the daily life surrounding those who work and visit within, whether as internal or external customers. In short, it is the “pulse” of daily life at work.

When positive in nature, organizational culture can result in tremendous output with dedicated team members confidently steering the organization toward its goals. Turnover is reduced and profits are achieved.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of today’s organizations are filled with negative organizational culture characteristics, which can have a dramatic effect on work output and work life.

Below are some strategies to help nurture a positive organizational culture and keep your key employees:

Encourage and reward workers who are willing to “go the extra mile.” As a manager or director, pitch in when necessary for the greater good of the organization; going above and beyond the call of duty will not be considered an imposition when members of the organization are treated as family rather than a number on an ID badge.

Maintain open lines of communication at all levels. Open-door policies and feedback should be free-flowing and not governed by organizational hierarchy; authority should be respected but input should be welcomed from all levels of personnel since the person closest to the problem usually knows exactly what it takes to solve it.

Reduce or eliminate micromanagement. Unless the situation warrants an immediate crisis response, micromanagement is an impediment to productivity. Hovering over employees and interfering with their ability to make choices are common leadership blunders used in an attempt to improve performance. This strategy usually backfires since micromanagement not only slows down organizational process but conveys a subtle message of distrust and lack of confidence in one’s team members.

People should be encouraged to grow and evolve with the understanding that some mistakes are a part of the learning process. This strategy alone can rapidly transform a rigid, poorly performing organization into one characterized by ultra high performance.

Maintain competitive salaries and benefits. This, in addition to ample opportunities for advancement and salary step raises help reduce turnover. Paychecks should never be delayed, if possible. Place associates in their “dream job” position whenever possible and reward superior performance, generously and often.

Encourage ethical decision-making at all levels of the organization. This applies to internal and external clientele. Ethics and honesty should be part of daily organizational culture, not just a pretty phrase on a framed lobby mission statement. Organizational leaders must be keenly aware of the transparency of decisions and documentation, often available on the Internet for the entire world to see.

Leadership must be mission-driven rather than ego-driven. Collaboration, teamwork and win-win relationships are encouraged at all levels. It is never “my people” or “my program,” but rather “our team” or “our contribution.” Managers should be “we”-oriented, mission-driven coaches, rather than “me”-oriented. A powerful leadership strategy: promote your team with the same level of enthusiasm that you would promote yourself. Cover your office wall with a celebration of your team members’ successes rather than your own and you will always earn their respect.

Downsize with dignity and professionalism. Losing one’s job can be a catastrophic event, particularly for a long-time valued member of an organization. If downsizing and reorganization are necessary, associates should be given ample notice and assistance to acquire alternative positions or referrals to reduce stress and financial impact on their families.

Make low turnover rates the goal. Workers should be encouraged and motivated to stay on the job for the “long term.” Leaders should ask associates and team members what would keep them at this job for the next 20 years, and when possible, should do their best to implement their requests.

Show them the money … and the freedom. Reward people who continuously and consistently contribute to the effectiveness and profit of the organization. Interestingly, this might be as simple as a more parent-friendly schedule to buffer the stresses of childcare. Many organizations realize the value of flextime and telecommuting as a more important benefit than a raise in salary.

Build and maintain a superior reputation for excellence. Your reputation within the community and within the industry at large should be held to the highest standards. Customer relationships are never “closed deals” but instead are “clients for life.” Your advertising and marketing should reflect this commitment, starting with each newly hired associate. Think about why customers do business with a particular organization. It is most likely because of the individual associate who gave them VIP treatment.

Value people as equally as process. The number one reason why people leave organizations is because they do not feel valued. Although process initiatives are critically important in streamlining and improving the flow of work across an organization and its stakeholders, task-driven leaders often neglect the motivational best practices or lack the essential interpersonal skill sets that make people want to perform and produce at high levels.

Never stop learning. Organizations that embrace training initiatives and reward education for each of its members will go a long way toward buffering the challenges and dynamics of our global environment. When people feel empowered and supported in reaching their goals and objectives, they are far more likely to stick around when the going gets tough.

Companies that truly wish to improve their organizational culture need to take care of their people and support the critical ‘bottom rungs’ of the ladder. This is in sharp contrast to many companies where the field staff earns an hourly wage while the executives earn millions per year. Change must start at the top. Therefore, when buy-in occurs at the top of the organizational chart, this win-win mindset will have a strong likelihood of becoming part of the organization’s daily life. This in turn will have a myriad of benefits for clients, customers and the community.

About the Author

Dr. Andrew Edelman has more than 20 years of experience in conflict management, crisis prevention and criminal justice. He has helped schools, universities, government and business organizations such as AT&T, Johnson & Johnson and the United Way. A certified law enforcement officer, Edelman is a professor for the University of Phoenix. He is a graduate of Carnegie-Mellon University and has a master’s degree from the University of Southern California.

For More Information

To learn more about Dr. Andrew Edelman’s speaking and consulting services, visit

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