Leveraging a Healthy Organizational Culture

Burns Insight: Leveraging Culture

By Patricia Tuso, PHR, SHRM-CP, PMP

Organizational health is one of the most important factors that drives employee engagement, retention, client satisfaction and success in a service business. Unfortunately, many companies spend more time and attention creating additional policies and procedures than driving a healthy organizational culture – an approach that rarely leads to a more engaged workforce or the motivation and skills to outperform competitors. At Burns, we believe that working on organizational health achieves continuous, measurable improvements, even though we are already recognized as a “Top Workplace”. Basic company policies, standards and organizational structure are important, but continuously improving “health” is a “Good to Great” activity.

The task of hiring and retaining talent is one of the most impactful strategic initiatives in the professional service industry today, and healthy organizational culture is the secret weapon in a competitive labor market. The 2017 Gallup study State of the American Workplace reports that only 33% of U.S. employees are engaged at work, and 35% of employees have changed jobs within the last three years. Conversely, 70% of employees are “engaged” at the world’s best and healthiest organizations, leading to greater retention and productivity.

Today, it is vital to attract and retain top talent through differentiation and authentic culture. At Burns, we invest in building a strong and cohesive culture, as it has a direct impact on employee engagement and our company’s brand image. We approach and treat employee engagement comprehensively – from recruiting to the hiring process, and extending into an employee’s tenure at the company – promoting and practicing our mission and values every day. The direct investment in our organizational health has been a winning formula for achieving our business goals trifecta: a superior workplace, a superior client experience, and superior financial performance.

In the book The Advantage, Patrick Lencioni discusses the difference between “surface-level artifacts, like funky office furniture, employee yoga classes, and bring your dog to work policies” and a healthy organization. “Surface-level artifacts” may be optically nice, but are not significant factors in contributing to employee success. Instead, healthy organizations encourage a culture of “trust, managing conflict, accountability, results-focused, and clarity”. Organizations perform at a higher level when employees feel informed, understand the direction of the company, know the factors used to measure growth, and see that their hard work plays an integral role in the company’s success.

At Burns, our online “Cheers to Peers” program is an outlet for our employees to engage and recognize one another for impactful work. Peers can recognize one another for a job well done via a simple thank you or award points, which are redeemable for rewards. A daily email, “Defining the Difference”, broadcasts all the good work happening around the company, setting the pace for excellence. We also place an emphasis on continuous development of our team by providing the tools necessary to enrich their technical skills and refine their subject matter expertise. We provide continuous learning opportunities through online management systems, custom in-house training, and support employees attending conferences and seminars, to foster an environment of out-of-the-box thinking, and strengthen a culture of learning and innovation. As a result, employees are encouraged to work more collaboratively, embody our company values, and tie corporate strategy to everyday assignments. This culture of engagement strengthens employee satisfaction, involves employees at all levels in meeting organizational objectives, and allows us to consistently help our clients achieve their business goals.

In the recent Gallup article, The Right Culture: Not Just About Employee Happiness by Jim Harter and Annamarie Mann, highly engaged employees account for a 17% increase in productivity while highly engaged business units achieve a 10% increase in customer ratings, 20% increase in sales, and 21% greater profitability. Organizations that understand these variables and practice a healthy culture automatically have a competitive advantage; however, there are always areas of a culture than can be improved, which requires reflection and steps for progress. Just like financial metrics, periodically tracking organizational health from all levels of a company shines a spotlight on behaviors and encourages improvement. Hard metrics inform and prioritize the necessary intervention programs to improve organizational health, and create awareness for upper management to ensure ongoing progress and positive change is being made.

Employee engagement surveys provide management a hard measure for the soft issues that impact employees’ performance. Burns’ annual employee survey tracks our organizational health to ensure ongoing progress and catch potential issues early. We’ve had the benefit of doing this consistently for over five years, and with engagement scores increasing in categories corresponding to how managers are perceived, as well as employee effectiveness, alignment, and connection, Burns’ results are higher than the aggregate engineering services industry. In the last year, we focused our energies on communication, and saw results indicating employees feel more well-informed about important decisions within the company, and more confident that Burns is going in the right direction. Conversely, our survey results indicated that improvements could be made regarding interdepartmental cooperation, which gave us a starting point for correction and positive progress. Feedback like this gives us data to drive our strategic goals, enhance our company transparency, improve communications, and continue to strengthen our values and company culture.

Culture and engagement are driving forces in the differentiation and success of professional service organizations. Firms with a healthy culture understand the integral relationship it plays in employee engagement, and the impact culture and engagement have on many aspects of an organization – especially talent acquisition, retention, and client satisfaction.