Culture as a Business Advantage

Culture as a Business Advantage

Last week, I attended the Missouri Association of Manufacturers Trade Show and Conference in Springfield MO.  There were about 80 exhibitor booths of both solution providers and companies sharing their best practices.  The displays were augmented by 5 conference sessions and another 2 breakouts sessions on topics of key importance to the local manufacturing industry.

What really struck me were the themes of relationship and culture across multiple sessions.  With the flux in the supply of basic labor, skilled labor, and professionals, a company with a strong culture can have a strategic advantage in filling their open positions and meeting the needs of their customers.  These efforts can be difficult to measure with retention numbers and engagement surveys often filling the gap.  Often its more easily recognized as something you can see and feel when you walk into a factory or talk with employees.

At the root of these efforts was treating employees as people first.  This could be regular daily communication of leading indicators, the metrics of whether the team is winning or losing the day which then rolls into the week, the month, and the year.  It could be quarterly reviews of results with how the company was competing in the marketplace.

It could be training.  For instance, Cambridge Air Solutions gives new employees 11 weeks of training at the end of which they get a certificate, a choice of where they want to work in the factory or help in moving on if its not the place for them.  It could be something like a “Good Dads Class”.  Companies had scholarships to allow employees to pursue their passion, even if it wasn’t work related.  It could be a Better Book club in which employees get paid to read and report on a book related to business excellence including their opinions on how that it matches, or doesn’t, with their culture.

It could be including the larger team in efforts normally reserved for senior leaders, like building a vision or mission.  It could be having team members involved in screening and selecting new employees via group interviews to help ensure that those people are a match for the culture.  It could be reinforcing a continuous improvement mindset by participation and leadership of improvement events and daily incremental improvements with recognition for those wins.  It could be participating in community outreach together on a regular basis (and the United Way in Missouri announced a new partnership opportunity to do just that at the conference).

Above all it must be genuine.  People need to feel they are viewed as a person first.  They need to feel and act like owners.  Its really all the collective, repetitive, small things that make this stick.  To put that in perspective, both Cambridge and Cosmos, another featured company, had examples of employees who left to pursue higher paying opportunities with other employers who after a short while came back to them because they missed the culture so much.

If you think that this could be an advantage for you competing for people you may want to ask yourself “Are you building something like this with your team with all your interactions and is it intentional?”  This could be an opportunity for you.