Work Culture is like Diet and Exercise

By CEO Jim Annis

Company culture is probably the most written about and one of the most misunderstood subjects. The term refers to the beliefs and behaviors that determine how a company’s employees and management interact and handle business transactions. Often implied, it develops organically over time from the cumulative traits of the people the company hires.

Most importantly, culture takes commitment. What you do consistently every week defines your results and the health of your organization. You cannot eat a single apple and be healthy, but an apple a day has been shown to improve longevity. You cannot “fix it” in a day, just like you cannot “undo” heart damage from 50 years of unhealthy eating habits. We wish it were that simple. So what’s a company to do?

Lead by example – Management is under a microscope by employees every single day. You cannot think about it like eating a dozen doughnuts in one sitting. Can you wear yoga pants for comfort and burn off the calories after few weeks? Probably. Employees are not as forgiving as those Lululemons if the CEO goes on a tirade and blows up swearing in the hallway. If you go south on even one occasion you will experience negative ramifications for a long time. At TAC we have created a culture of “do the right thing,” so people would likely think it was a joke if I went around yelling. Yet we are not perfect either.

Fail forward – We have tried – and failed – several different techniques at refining our workplace culture. We tried open book management and it did not fly here for a variety of reasons. We presented a sea of numbers at every meeting which encouraged #bringbacksominex requests. We keep experimenting to get the best engagement. Our culture has been created, morphed and nurtured over 15 years, and it has been envisioned in my brain for even longer. Throughout my career I have observed behavior I want to replicate at my company and toxicity that I never want to repeat. Fad diets never produce long term, positive health results. Similarly, an underlying culture that is rude and abusive cannot be “cured” by a one-off employee bowling night or even habitual beer fest Fridays.

Hit refresh – We introduce new ways to express our culture and remain relevant, from potlucks to making the dress code a bit more relaxed to appeal to Gen Y. It is our version of #putontheshoes. Our flexibility “within reason” is a hallmark. I simply cannot imagine not having a monthly staff meeting, but you never know if that will be eliminated from our “regimen” someday.

The Method – A consistent backbone and structure allows for measurement, accountability, reputation management, makes you relevant, and maintains your message. Ever been in a company culture where the messenger always got shot? I bet you stopped – and so did everyone else – bringing bad news. Open communication has to be both ways. If the culture is cutting people down when a mistake is made, and everyone makes mistakes, then by definition, the culture will not be bilaterally open.

Day of Rest – Taking a rest day is imperative. Lack of rest causes muscles to break down. A culture of overworking causes increased risk of everything from employee burnout to industrial accidents. Sit back and appreciate the work you have done in creating the work culture you have. Recharging gives everyone renewed energy and endorphins to be the best brand/culture ambassadors over time.

Jim Annis is president/CEO of The Applied Companies, which provide HR solutions for today’s workplace. Celeste Johnson, Applied’s COO, contributed to this article.