“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” is a quote often attributed to Peter Drucker. It means that your best strategies will be destroyed by a bad culture.
Good or bad, your company has a culture. Did you arrive at your culture intentionally, or did it just happen? For the team at Amnet, up until 2012, it just happened. We had grown from one tech (me) to a 15-person IT service provider. We grew on our reputation of quality and service, but within the organization, things were no longer working well and it wasn’t fun anymore. I wanted to quit my own company. The last straw was when our dysfunctional culture resulted in dropped balls that cost us one of our largest, and one of my favorite, clients. We deserved to lose their business and I was just sick about it.
You may have heard the Italian proverb, “The fish rots from the head.” Well, I was the head of the fish — it was my company. I was determined to stop the rotting.
In fall 2012 I called a team meeting to address our culture. I asked the team to brainstorm some words reflecting what they wanted Amnet’s culture to be. They said: symphonic, accountable and fun. Then I asked them to describe our culture as it was. They said: frantic, blaming and frustrating.
So, I asked: “How do we get there from here, and who’s willing to commit to do what it takes to make it happen?”
With intentionality, we began our journey toward a positive company culture. Behavioral standards were set and enforced. We were committed to how we hired and why we fired.
Some people self-selected out. Others, we selected for them. Fast forward 5½ years and Amnet has received numerous accolades regarding its workplace culture. And the result of a good culture includes happier customers. We’ve been selected as the Best IT Support Company by the readers of the CSBJ and honored for our “Excellence in Customer Service” by the Better Business Bureau of Southern Colorado.
Q12: How the turnaround started
Gallup performs an annual survey of employee engagement called the Q12. Its 2017 State of the Workplace Study states that, overall, 33 percent of our country’s employees are engaged, 51 percent are not engaged and 16 percent are actively disengaged.
You can’t have a great culture when two-thirds of your team is either disengaged or actively disengaged. Working on culture without first addressing engagement would be putting the cart before the horse. We set out to boost our engagement by getting rid of our actively disengaged people and engaging those not engaged by gradually implementing solutions to answer each of Gallup’s 12 questions (tinyurl.com/CSBJ-12questions). Those questions include:
• Do you know what is expected of you at work?
• Do you have the materials and equipment to do your work right?
• At work, do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?
• In the last seven days, have you received recognition or praise for doing good work?
• Does your supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about you as a person?
How would your team answer these questions? In 2012, I wasn’t proud of our results. Today, I’m confident in and proud of our scores. It was a difficult journey with plenty of missteps, but it was absolutely worth it. I love our team, and work at Amnet is fun again — for all of us.
Culture is more efficient than strategy
According to the 2017 Gallup report, when compared to businesses in the bottom quartile of engagement, those in the top quartile realize benefits in the following areas:
• 41 percent lower absenteeism;
• 24 percent lower turnover;
• 17 percent higher productivity;
• 70 percent fewer employee safety incidents;
• 20 percent higher sales; and
• 41 percent fewer quality incidents.
What strategy could you employ that would gain these results? A 17 percent boost in productivity should be reason enough for your most important strategy to be to focus on your culture. You may need to start like we did, with employee engagement.
Once we improved our engagement, the steps we took at Amnet to have a great culture will not fit into my 800-word limit of this article, but I will be writing future articles describing what we’ve done. But please don’t wait to get started!
Trevor Dierdorff is the founder and CEO of Amnet, a computer support and services company in Colorado Springs. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.