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Six Tips to Create a Collaborative Culture

Social media can contribute to a positive workplace culture, but it’s the tip of the iceberg. Try these steps to really make an impact.

July 12, 2012
Related Topics: Global Diversity, Culture, Strategy and Management
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Companies such as Google have succeeded in creating enviable corporate culture that has landed them on lists like Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For. Other companies following suit think social media might be the answer — and, while useful, it’s just the beginning.

A June 2012 Deloitte survey titled “Core Values and Beliefs,” which included responses from more than 1,000 full-time employees and more than 300 executives, found a stark contrast in the way executives and employers view the role of social media in promoting workplace culture. Whereas 41 percent of executives surveyed said they view social networking as an aid in building and maintaining workplace culture, only 21 percent of employees agreed with the same statement.

The survey’s findings indicate that executives are looking for a quick fix to build greater collaboration with their workforce, according to Jeanne Meister, a partner at Future Workplace, an executive development firm that focuses on rethinking the workplace.

“Many [executives] believe an investment in a new social technology will provide them with the answer they seek in building a more collaborative culture,” she said. “Employees, on the other hand, are often suspicious of these tools.”

The survey also found employees value intangibles in the workplace — such as candid communication and access to management — while executives value tangibles, including competitive compensation and financial performance.

Deloitte Chairman Punit Renjen said the survey shows executives should focus on more traditional forms of culture building, such as face-to-face interaction.

“The norms for cultivating culture have not changed despite the growing use of social media,” Renjen said. “It requires managers to build trust through mentoring, face-to-face meetings and robust feedback.”

Shoe company Zappos.com has developed a reputation for its unique workplace culture. This year the company ranked 11th on Fortune magazine’s list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For.

Zappos Insights, the business-to-business corporate consultant arm of Zappos.com, was built as a way to assist other companies in promoting workplace culture.

Here are six ways a company can create a positive workplace culture, according to Jon Wolske, culture evangelist at Zappos Insights.

Define who you really are. “A lot of companies don’t have their values or vision really clearly stated,” Wolske said. “If they do, it just looks really good on the wall.” Zappos operates with 10 core values that are written as action-oriented ideals. Some examples include: embrace and drive change, create fun and a little weirdness and be humble.

Celebrate the small things. A promotion or the completion of a project can be celebrated with something as simple as pizza or cake.

Social media can be used to share such accomplishments with clients and customers to give them a feel for the company’s culture. “If it’s something you can share on those channels, that would be a great way to celebrate with people who aren’t in the company,” Wolske said.

Encourage interaction outside of work. “A lot of companies look at interaction as a risk,” Wolske said. “It could just be, it’s Friday afternoon and the whole office goes to happy hour to just celebrate getting through the week.”

Lighten things up. “I worked in a contact center that had a strict dress code of shirts and ties. We would never ever be seeing customers or vendors in person. So, the shirts and ties: Were they really more to get us in the professional mindset? It really locked us into a ‘we’re-bound-by-all-the-rules’ mindset.”

Rethink the work-life balance. “We really look at that as more of the work-life integration. While you may be at work for an eight-hour day, you might have a great idea outside of work. Why not just make your whole time blend in together?”

Get to know your co-workers on a personal level. “I look across and I see Patricia, who sits next to me. Trish has two children and a fiance, and I’ve met them all and I really know who she is beyond Trish, the girl who sits next to me. If I have to have a hard talk with someone about how, say, a sentence they said that hit me the wrong way, it’s no longer a big issue where I have to go to a manager because I’m offended. It’s just a casual, ‘Hey Trish, do you have a minute?’”

The first step to improving workplace culture is a tireless commitment from both the employers and employees to the changes each company outlines, Renjen said.

“Organizations that are exceptional and have a distinct workplace culture have clearly defined core beliefs and values that are unique, simple, leader-led, repeated and embedded,” he said. “Executives should not simply talk about values; they must live them uncompromisingly.”

Jeffrey Cattel is an editorial intern at Talent Management magazine. He can be contacted at editor@talentmgt.com.

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