How to create a company culture that engages staff all year round
Phil Andrews, CEO, USA Weightlifting, discusses how business can create a company culture that engages with its staff.
As the holiday season approaches it can be easy for staff to become less engaged and distracted from their everyday tasks. It is times like these where a strong company culture is essential to ensuring employees stay motivated while still being able to enjoy the festive period.
A positive culture within an organisation stems from the leadership team being open, collaborative and supportive, without micro-managing every aspect. In our organisation, that means the combined efforts of 27,000 people connected to weightlifting – including our members – being better at driving progress and change than one person dictating their opinions to everyone.
One of the key factors that helps keep staff highly engaged is to give them a sense of purpose in the work that they are producing. Do they understand your vision and values? Are your staff reminded of them regularly and why they are vital to supporting your purpose and to achieve your goals?
Ask yourself: why are we doing this? Who/what cause are we helping? What are we trying to achieve?
For me, this is about always considering the needs of the people in your organisation, whether that is a junior hire or an executive joining the company board. The key to achieving a positive culture is to lead with empathy, which stems from understanding where employees, suppliers, customers, members, and athletes are in their perspective. It is the people on the ground who are often doing the real work and having the real influence, and they are the ones that reflect positively or negatively on your organisation.
Staff members now expect their employers to show a commitment to their health and well-being, something that we have taken measures to implement at USA Weightlifting.We introduced our first mental-health focused program, the "Athlete Wellness Program" because we recognised the importance of the health of our athletes and our sporting family.
Transparency and strong internal communication also help to get the buy-in of your staff, ensuring that they understand their role in the business. New CEOs that come into an organisation and try to make sweeping changes without consulting staff that know the business inside out are often met with resistance. It shows the importance of learning the culture before trying to change the culture, however experienced or knowledgeable you may perceive yourself to be. Consistent internal communication will allow you to engage with your team and build stronger relationships with your stakeholders.
Another important factor in maintaining employee wellbeing and morale is to always give staff a voice to express their opinions. Too often, it is something that companies overlook as they obsess over hierarchical positions within the organisation. We have two ears and one mouth, and I do a lot of talking in my role, but always remember that I must do twice as much listening. Feedback is a critical part of this, but not just from the CEO to their members of staff. It helps the business to run smoothly and shows employees that the organisation cares about them and their career. This is a two-way street, and feedback from staff should be actively encouraged to help implement positive change.
The way that you engage with your audience or customers also goes a long way to defining your company culture. I still take time to read emails in the general inbox and listen to voicemails which really gives me an indication of what is going on at a grassroots level, and that is the level you need to know about.
The importance of a positive company culture can never be underestimated, and it is hard to blame anyone for being unmotivated when working for an organisation that doesn’t share their core values. By investing time, money, and effort into your employees, you give them a reason to invest their future with your company and in turn, to help your company thrive.
How innovation is transforming government
According to Washington Technology’s Top 100 list, Leidos is the largest IT provider to the government. But as Lieutenant General William J. Bender explains, “that barely scratches the surface” of the company’s portfolio and drive for innovation.
Bender, who spent three and a half decades in the military, including a stint as the U.S. Air Force’s Chief Information Officer (CIO), has seen action in the field and in technology during that time, and it runs in the family. Bender’s son is an F-16 instructor pilot. So it stands to reason Bender Senior intends to ensure a thriving technological base for the U.S. Air Force. “What we’re really doing here is transforming the federal government from the industrial age into the information age and doing it hand-in-hand with industry,” he says.
The significant changes that have taken place in the wider technology world are precisely the capabilities Leidos is trying to pilot the U.S. Air Force through. It boils down to developing cyberspace as a new domain of battle, globally connected and constantly challenged by the threat of cybersecurity attacks.
“We recognize the importance of the U.S. Air Force’s missions,” says Bender, “and making sure they achieve those missions. We sit side-by-side with the air combat command, intelligence surveillance, and reconnaissance infrastructure across the Air Force. There are multiple large programs where the Air Force is partnering with Leidos to ensure their mission is successfully accomplished 24/7/365. In this company, we’re all in on making sure there’s no drop in capability.”
That partnership relies on a shared understanding of delivering successful national security outcomes, really understanding the mission at hand, and Leidos’ long-standing relationship of over 50 years with the federal government.
To look at where technology is going, Bender thinks it is important to look back at the last 10 to 15 years. “What we’ve seen is a complete shift in how technology gets developed,” he says. “It used to be that the government invested aggressively in research and development, and some of those technologies, once they were launched in a military context, would find their way into the commercial space. That has shifted almost a hundred percent now, where the bulk of the research and development dollars and the development of tech-explicit technologies takes place in the commercial sector.”
“There’s a long-standing desire to adopt commercial technology into defense applications, but it’s had a hard time crossing the ‘valley of death’ [government slang for commercial technologies and partnerships that fail to effectively transition into government missions]. Increasingly we’re able to do that. We need to look at open architectures and open systems for a true plug-and-play capability. Instead of buying it now and trying to guess what it’s going to be used for 12 years from now, it should be evolving iteratively.”