Tricks of the trade: Advice for building a strong workplace culture

tricksofthetrade

Trying to build a great culture at your office?  We’ve rounded up advice from some of this year’s Top Workplaces about how they’ve created thriving, distinctive cultures in a variety  of settings and circumstances.

How to sustain culture in a difficult business climate:

Last year’s 16-day federal government shutdown presented a test for workplace cultures at companies across the region. Bradley J. Schwartz, chief executive of Reston-based IT contractor Blue Canopy, shared his strategy for communicating with staffers during this challenging time:

“The messages were, first off, this was a man-made storm. This wasn’t anything any of us caused. The second was, if you look at the history of these shutdowns, they do end. We knew it was finite. We just didn’t know if it was two weeks, six weeks or three months. So we communicated that. Then, we also communicated that as a company, we were in great shape. We were financially very, very healthy. We didn’t have any debt. We were growing. We had a great contract backlog and good client relationships. So we were going to do better than everyone else. Having said that, it was still going to hurt.

“I think the other thing that was really important was the messaging. We told everyone — and it was true — that we were going to put their interest above profits. We needed to be mindful of cash and bank covenants that would jeopardize the whole organization, but short of that, we were going to put people’s interests first. We created a mind-set of what I called ‘shared pain.’ Sometimes, your contract would be shut down and somebody else’s would not. So that’s sort of like when a tornado comes through, and their house is wiped out and yours doesn’t. So what we tried to create was a feeling of community where we’re going to all contribute to each other and try to help out.”

How to create culture among a massive global workforce

Booz Allen Hamilton has more than 15,000 employees scattered across the globe. Betty Thompson, executive vice president and chief personnel officer at the McLean-based professional services firm, talked about how she aims to foster a consistent culture among far-flung workers: 

“It really starts with the values of the organization and being very clear about what they are. . . . More than anything, the way to have that unified culture is for there to be no disconnect with the experience and the words.”

How to foster a great workplace on a lean budget

Like many nonprofits, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association has built its culture on a relatively lean budget. Janet McNichol, the organization’s human resources director, on how she works with this mind-set:

“I think we really try to stick to the core things that matter to our staff. I’m very focused on providing good health insurance. . .The things that we do, we’re really all in on. They might not be the most flashy, showy things. If you focus on that, then people actually see the value in it. That’s going to be ultimately more important to them than on-site car detailing or having a Ping-Pong table.”

How to manage culture during a period of high growth

Opower had its initial public offering in April, another key milestone along what has been a rapid growth trajectory for the energy software company.  Senior vice president of people Sandy Hynes shared her advice for maintaining a culture during a fast expansion:

“To maintain a culture, every single person is an important element. . . .It is worse to have the wrong person in a job, or to settle, than it is to hold that job open until you find the right person.  Never, ever compromise on your hiring standards. It’s better to be without than be with the wrong hire. You have to be really tenacious.”

 How to engender loyalty

Out of the 50 employees at the American Beverage Association, 12 have been with the company for 20 years or more. Susan Neely, the association’s chief executive, says that that “holistic support” is key to building a culture of loyalty:

“We really do try to support people both personally and professionally in an individualized way. . . . That’s a question in every annual performance review: Are you challenged enough? What else would you like to be doing? If somebody wants to go to law school, or get a certification as a meeting planner, we’ll support that. We’re very affirmative about, how can we help you?”

 

 

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Click here to view the rankings

 

More coverage of Top Workplaces 2014: 

The No. 1 large company: JBG Cos.

The No. 1 midsize company: Applied Predictive Technologies

The No. 1 small company: Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis

Want great perks? This year’s winners have got them.

Sarah Halzack is The Washington Post's national retail reporter. She has previously covered the local job market and the business of talent and hiring. She has also served as a Web producer for business and economic news.
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Sarah Halzack · June 20