How to create a positive work culture
Written by Bill Sims, Jr.
Creating a positive workplace culture is extremely important to cultivating a productive and profitable company. The quality of work we do depends on the quality of our workplace culture. When the environment we work in is positive, we become more engaged and committed employees. By definition, workplace culture is a pattern of behaviors that are supported by a management system over time. Harnessing the power of positive reinforcement is the quickest and most efficient way to a better workplace culture.
The first step in creating a more positive workplace culture is recognizing that your current culture is not where you want it to be. It can be difficult to define your culture - almost like nailing Jell-O to a wall - because it is made up of many small behaviors. But it starts at the top with company leaders. The way they act and behave will be mirrored by employees. So if you want to change the behavior of your employees, start by changing the behavior of your leaders.
Leaders can start doing this by listening to their employees and understanding what motivates them. Get to know them, ask them their opinions and share yours in return. I think the most powerful things that bosses can to do are communicate, be transparent and tell people where the ship is headed. Bosses should be asking questions like, “What are we doing that we could be doing better? What’s broken, and how can we fix it?” Ask those questions, listen to the employees and, most importantly, empower the employees to go fix the problems.
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Research tells us that that more than money, employees want to feel like they are making a difference at work and getting recognized by their boss for making that difference.
As employees, we want the ability to do things, to change things. So often employees’ ideas are not listened to or acted upon. It is the boss’ responsibility to provide the money, the time, and the resources for employees to complete tasks and make improvements, and to then celebrate and recognize those people for their contributions.
Now, this goes against many traditional management styles, the command-in-control, my-way-or-the-highway mindsets of old. The majority of bosses do what I call “Leave Alone/Zap” management. Simply put, it means that we leave employees alone and say nothing when they do something right, but we are quick “zap,” or to punish them when they make a mistake.
This kind of aggressive management style might get the job done temporarily, but it doesn’t create an environment where employees will take initiative to do things when their supervisor isn’t watching. And it will not produce the highest-performing culture possible.
Rosabeth Moss-Kanter, a professor at the Harvard Business School and an author of numerous books on business management techniques, said, “Compensation is a right. Recognition is a gift.” In other words, paychecks get people to show up at work. But to get more from people than just average performance requires you as a leader to provide additional coaching and feedback when people demonstrate the behaviors that drive results in your company. Bosses who think they don’t need to tell their employees they are doing a good job are not fully engaging them. It doesn’t cost you any money to tell somebody they did a great job. Believe it or not, saying thank you for doing a good job is a much more powerful motivator than a paycheck.
Bosses should give employees immediate, sincere feedback when they demonstrate desired behaviors. That way, the employee will be more likely to repeat those behaviors in the future. That’s the power of positive reinforcement. If you don’t do that, then you won’t get those extra behaviors.
For 40 years, my company has designed and implemented behavior-based systems and approaches that bring continual improvement with positive reinforcement. In my work as a business consultant, I have built more than 1,000 recognition programs for companies including Dupont, Coca-Cola and Ford. They recognized that their work environments could be better and sought help and ways to fix it.
What I’ve learned from helping so many companies is that without positive reinforcement, you are getting less performance from your team than you could be and your workplace culture will suffer. It’s only a matter of time before some other company does it better and leaves you in the dust, taking your good employees with them.
In my workshops, I frequently ask bosses, “Is culture change fast or slow?” Most people think it’s slow, but in reality, you can change culture in one day, if you know how. Culture change is as simple as changing the behavior of the leadership team. By inverting the leadership structure and delegating responsibility to employees, culture can shift dramatically and quickly. Move too slow, and employees might think you are not taking their ideas and suggestions seriously. But like going on a diet, culture change is something you must continue to work at. Day in and day out.
So there you have it. When a workplace culture is positive and happy, the employees are happy, and they work harder to make their clients happy. The end result will be that profitability will increase and turnover will decrease. But remember: creating a positive work culture starts at the top. If you want a positive team, you must be a positive leader. And the best leaders are those who truly harness the power of positive reinforcement to create high-performing teams who do the right thing even when leaders aren’t watching.
About the author
Bill Sims, Jr. is President of The Bill Sims Company, Inc. For nearly 30 years, Sims has created behavior-based recognition programs that have helped large and small firms to deliver positive reinforcement to inspire better performance from employees and increase bottom line profits. A sought-after speaker, he has delivered leadership workshops and keynote speeches around the globe, and has built more than 1,000 positive reinforcement systems at firms including DuPont, Siemens VDO, Coca-Cola, and Disney.
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.