Want a strong company culture? Empower employees to drive it

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Print this page by Rob DiRocco

The beginning of a new year is an energizing time in offices across the country. For many, it’s one of the most productive seasons for planning the year’s workplace culture initiatives. As you and your team plan the year, I encourage you to engage your employees on a deeper level to help build a winning culture. Don’t invite employees to accept the company culture. Invite them to help create it.

In many companies, the culture is set by management and often driven by human resources. At Asurion’s D.C.-area offices, we’ve encouraged employees to create and drive the workplace culture themselves. We’ve turned the thinking upside down and have put our employees in the driver’s seat of our culture-building initiatives. Our leadership team still plays a supporting role via active participation, leadership oversight with HR and some funding, but the activities and events are largely led by the employees.  As a result, participation in our culture activities is up, and we have seen dramatic improvements in employee engagement and satisfaction rates.

These improvements matter. Research shows that employees who engage strongly with their community and their employer are better at their jobs. They take pride in their work, their company and its mission, their co-workers and perhaps most importantly, themselves and their community. I’d like to share some best practices I have experienced in my role at Asurion that I believe could benefit businesses and communities in our state.

Empower employees to own initiatives

Office leaders can often be critical of implementing a community-driven, culture-heavy philosophy. Leaders set the tone for company culture. If building a positive and healthy culture is important to the individuals at the top, it will permeate every level of the organization.

I have discovered, however, that empowering employees to help define and grow our company culture produces the most benefit. Our Culture Hub team is spearheaded and driven by our employees, with rotating leadership. They choose which organizations we support and develop relationships with. They initiate and implement office activities, from our Volunteer Week to inter-office networking and fun events. As a result, we’ve seen a more engaged and driven workplace culture, evidenced by our participation numbers and stronger collaboration among teams.

Consider allowing employees to take initiative in building employee engagement within the company, among co-workers and within the community. Taking a step back and allowing such a culture to grow organically is what makes it real. Create an environment where employees feel empowered to make a difference by their own volition, for themselves and for the larger good of their company culture and community. I believe that is where the value lies.

Make giving, learning and connecting fun

At Asurion, our employee-driven Culture Hub team works to engage employees on multiple levels to support a cohesive office culture. Year-round happenings include cross-department social networking events and professional development opportunities designed around topics that our employees select. Additionally, our employees organize our annual Volunteer Week activities in which they raise funds and participate in hundreds of hours of volunteer activities. These efforts benefit local nonprofit groups which our employees pick, such as the Capital Area Food Bank and Cornerstones, a Reston-based nonprofit that promotes self-sufficiency by advocating for those in need of food, shelter, affordable housing and human services. Our office networking and professional development events are driven by feedback from our employees who’ve told us that it’s important for them to meet co-workers across departments and learn about other functions within the company, to help learn and grow in their own careers. This effort at cohesion results in stronger companywide activities such as our annual Volunteer Week, when we ask everyone to come together to support causes important to them and to Asurion.

Making these kinds of activities fun is important, too. Associates had a blast during Volunteer Week – we created in-office challenges, such as putt-putt games, to encourage competition in giving. We decorated the office with pink flamingoes to rev up excitement for donations. As a result the energy grew among our teams, and our productivity rose to match the energy level. It was a contagious effort that lifted everyone’s spirits at all levels of the organization. These are just a few examples of small ideas that can get an office engaged in fun, cohesive activities.

Connect with your community

Developing workplace culture and corporate-community relationships fosters pride in oneself and in one’s company and co-workers. The benefit to the company’s bottom line and morale cannot be measured.

Of course, I say all of this from the perspective of a business leader, with my employees and colleagues in mind. However, I can’t ignore the enormous benefit that corporate volunteerism and community-building also have on just that – the community. There are needs every day in each community – including homelessness, child hunger and access to affordable childcare – which no single person can fill. Businesses and organizations hold enormous power to build and support communities. I believe they also have a responsibility to do so.

If your employees are already driving the workplace culture in your office, then you are likely seeing similar success. As a leader, there is no better feeling than an empowered and engaged workforce. I encourage all business leaders to invite their employees to take an active role in developing their company culture to help build personal meaning within the workplace and within their communities.

Rob DiRocco is senior vice president for Retail Solutions at Asurion in Sterling.

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