A HR director of a global  business offers insights into how a cultural shift reaps dividends

It is widely known that a happy workforce will improve the bottom line and create a more productive and durable business.

Metadata freely available clearly demonstrates the significance of an engaged workforce with a great culture, with profitability on average up by 20 percent in engaged workplaces. It is a standout business principle that lower absenteeism, less employee turnover, fewer safety incidents, higher productivity and higher profitability flow from people who feel  good about going to work.

And yet, despite the overwhelming evidence of the benefits of creating a good culture, we all have war stories of terrible bosses and toxic work environments, bosses yelling at employees  for laughing at work, nepotism and favouritism, workplace bullying, discrimination and deliberate ignorance of workplace issues, all contribute to poor engagement, culture and therefore performance. 

I once worked for a boss who was a bully and who would treat people like they were idiots. He already had one or two people off on stress because of his behaviour, it literally killed the culture. I barely lasted 12 months.

Importance of ethics working in world’s trouble spots

Having worked in some of the world’s trouble spots where war, virus disease and economic strife were widespread, including Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, West Africa, as well as more sedate places like regional Australia, this gives me a broad perspective on how vitally important culture is to any business.

Creating a great culture is not rocket science, it is simply about respect, manners, common courtesy, allowing the free flow of ideas and opinions, being collaborative and supportive and, most of all, allowing people to do what they are good at. Great cultures are built with everyone’s buy in, but it starts from the top and you can’t fake it.

People will sniff out insincerity really quickly, bosses who say they have a great culture and yet refuse to say hello to people, or when they do get a chance to talk to people, they treat them disrespectfully or use small words and demeaning language. People aren’t silly, they will spot the insincerity and they will leave. It literally filters down, and the good filters down as well as the bad.

Being genuine is key

Working in difficult environments has cemented my appreciation of the importance of business ethics. A key message is being genuine about how you look after your people, otherwise it falls to pieces. In countries where there is high pressure, such as in Zimbabwe during a severe economic crisis when ourfinance director was kidnapped, in these situations you can’t be fake otherwise you could literally die.

When I was working in Liberia for an NGO in the midst of the Ebola crisis, people were dying everywhere, but people used to like coming to the middle floor where we worked. The people downstairs were depressed about the deaths, and people upstairs were too serious about everything. Ebola was pretty serious, but you develop a culture with the people with whom you are working by being genuine in what you do, even if it is by making a bit of a joke or saying hello to people, or being respectful to those people; you are in their country, respect their rules, respect the way that they work.

Creating a great culture

How do we create a great culture and an engaged workforce?

  1. Clearly define what your company values are
  2. Walk the talk on the values
  3. Embed the company values throughout internal and external comms.
  4. Measure and review employee alignment to values
  5. Recognize and reward the behaviours that demonstrate the values

Over the past two years, Crawford Asia has undergone a cultural shift and aligned to our values  broad reaching engagement activities.  Our RESTORE values are about Respect, Empowerment, Sustainability, Training, One Crawford, Recognition and Entrepreneurial  Spirit combined with our purpose to restore lives, businesses and communities.

Crucially, we populated the regional and country leadership roles with leaders who walk the talk with a view to ensuring the culture fits.

Employee surveys

We conduct employee pulse surveys every six months to find out what is important for our employees. For engagement to work there has to be a reward or incentive to answer the question “What’s in it for me?” The reward component cements the culture via engagement. Providing a workplace that allows our employees to do what they are good at, giving clear career pathways and practical assistance on that journey is the cherry on top for “What’s in it for me?”

Great cultures are built with everyone’s buy in, but it starts from the top and you can’t fake it

There is no time to rest with culture and engagement. Each week our Country Leaders provide inclusive goals, the reasons why we need to reach the goals and provide the assistance to get there. Each month a President’s update on what’s happening in our business, new initiatives, market wins, employee benefits and assistance and sector and country specific information highlighting excellent work is delivered to every employee in our region.

We treat our employees like we treat our external clients, meaning we make sure internal communication is always of a high standard.

Another key component in this cultural shift is that we have got a clear message around accountability, something we are getting better at each day. You do the work; you will get rewarded. Communication is direct and it’s honest, and we will hold you accountable, everyone is accountable.

Crawford is made a stronger, more successful  business through its employee-centricityand that is why its strategy for the year ahead revolves around embedding an empowered culture deep into the heart of the company and all its operations.