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The concept of workplace culture in corporate America usually means flexible hours for employees with children and casual Fridays. Which may be perfectly acceptable.
For small business owners and entrepreneurs, however, workplace culture is a more loaded term. It is an essential component of remaining competitive because clients and customers are now demanding diversity within the companies they work with; it is also a way to recruit top talent. Companies can no longer pay lip service and not deliver, which means they need be more creative in how they foster a workplace culture that reflects the same ingenuity they promise to companies they partner with or serve.
Related: 10 Examples of Companies With Fantastic Cultures
Good planning requires a fresh mindset, which starts in the office. Here are a few ways we foster innovation at my company:
New business days
The day-to-day rush can often be the very thing that stands in the way of making time to get new business. New business days are something that can correct that. This is a period when the company can shut down to the outside world, which allows everyone in the family, from HR to IT, to brainstorm new pitches for potential clients. The freedom to create and collaborate without having the usual work responsibilities is essential to focusing on a single goal. The challenge is to use those days to their full potential. Make sure the slate is wiped clean — everyone should be ready to brainstorm new ideas for client pitches. Don’t let employees introduce issues or topics that stray from those goals. The simpler you can keep these days, the better chance you’ll have in achieving real results.
For PACO, the strategy of new business days is working: The agency has netted two new accounts as a direct result of the brainstorming period.
Related: Lead Like a Founder to Inspire Your Team
Too often employees are kept in the dark about where the company is going and how things are faring, factors that can create unneeded anxiety that can negatively affect the work. Pow-wows can make sure that doesn’t happen. During these weekly sessions, update your employees on all company news, good or bad. The transparency not only makes employees feel like they have a personal stake in the company, but it also builds greater loyalty.
The challenge, of course, is how you present news when it might be bad, such as a downturn in revenue or the potential for layoffs. You do this by focusing on the future. Talk about what the company is doing to turn things around and solicit ideas from your employees. Good ideas are everywhere, so find a way to solicit them in a safe environment.
Related: How Your Culture Will Ensure You Keep Your Edge
Giving employees a voice
Your company should be committed to issues that directly affect your employees. At Paco, we allowed employees to leave with pay in February so they could attend the national Day Without Immigrants rally in downtown Chicago. For A Day Without Women in March, the agency also closed its doors and paid all its employees in recognition of the importance of equitable treatment in the labor market for women. The agency also held a postcard drive addressed to legislators that detailed the reasons why women’s issues are important. It is now an annual agency event because without women we could not exsist.
Unlimited paid time off (PTO) for all employees
This policy combines vacation, sick time and personal time into a single bank that employees can use on an unlimited basis to take time off from work. The advantage for employees is that they no longer are forced to explain why they will not be in the office, and managers no longer have to police their behavior. Finally, unlimited PTO gives all employees greater flexibility and expands the work-life balance that is so essential to making their workplace more nurturing. By removing the anxiety of having to explain reasons for being away, employees are free to make discoveries in an environment where they know they are valued.
Related: 4 Tactics to Steal From Startups That Find the Best Talent
For the employer, the advantage of unlimited PTO is that it generates enthusiasm among workers and attracts top talent. Research shows that workers often never take advantage of the additional time off but instead like to know it’s there if they need it. In fact, the research organization Project Time Off shows that the average American even leaves one-quarter of their paid leave to expire by year’s end. By offering unlimited PTO, your organization will be joining forward-thinking companies like Netflix, Grubhub, LinkedIn, Grant Thornton and General Electric.
Giving clients the assurance of diversity and ingenuity requires demonstrating an understanding that it starts with the culture at home. This is the only way that the industry will keep up with the ever-present social, political and economic changes happening in society. Clients should be able to walk through your doors and see an operation that not just reflects the modern world, but one that is actively engaged with it.
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