Every company has a culture, much like every individual has a personality.
And like a personality, a company’s culture can develop organically over time. Or, it can be purposefully molded, shaped using specific values and practices to achieve a particular goal, like productivity.
This article is about the latter. It's about creating a culture that's productive by design.
Fostering a Productive Company Culture
Culture consists of set values and practices that are shared by a group of people. A club, for instance, or a company or a country.
Values are the concepts that dictate our sense of right and wrong.
Practices are the specific actions we take to reinforce our values.
For example, an honest person:
Practices leaving a note after damaging a stranger’s car with a shopping cart
Now that you know the building blocks of culture (and personality, for that matter), here's a crash course in the values and practices proven to foster productivity at work:
1) Value: Health
People ignore their health because being unhealthy is so much easier and cheaper, so much more fun. But that’s the wrong way. We all know it is.
And while employers can't force their people to live better, healthier lives, it’s certainly in their best interest to make it easier for them. Because, as you’re about to find out, health is the bedrock of productivity:
At 9:00 AM, Freddie walked into his office clutching a cup of black coffee. He’s been up for about six hours.
At his desk, he took off his backpack, unzipped the main compartment and removed his laptop, setting it down gently next to a framed photo of his newborn daughter, Sofia.
He smiled at the picture and thought, She’s worth every waking moment.
A nap room is a designated, comfortable space employees can use to recharge. It’s a place to go if you’ve had a restless night, for any number of reasons.
HubSpot’s CEO, Brian Halligan, told The New York Times that his best ideas come to him either right before or after a nap. “I’m trying to encourage more people to have naps,” explained Brian, “because, hopefully, more people will have these brilliant ideas.” It may be unorthodox, but Brian’s pro-napping philosophy is backed by research proving that even quick “power” naps will boost memory, creativity, and energy levels.
“Hey Eddie,” said Marvie, my colleague. “You okay? Have a headache?”
I picked my head up off my desk and cracked a smile. “No,” I said. “Had a burrito.”
TRY:Healthy Office Kitchens
I have a problem. It’s called eating-Chipotle-at-noon-on-a-workday.
I love Chipotle. I love the way it smells when I walk in, and the anticipation that washes over me in line. I love the way it tastes when I finally bite into it, and the “full feeling” I get after I consume an entire burrito and Coke and chips and guac …
But my brain hates it -- and here’s why: My body digests Chipotle burritos very slowly. In fact, my digestive system works so hard to process all the carbs and fat that the flow of oxygen to my brain becomes stifled. Grogginess sets in. I become unproductive. Of course, I’m not alone. Most people react this way after eating a lot.
Thing is, we all know that a heavy work lunch is a bad idea. We just don’t care. By noon, we’re too hungry and drained to make the right decision, so we go with what’s easiest, or most tempting. Employers that stock their office kitchens with light, healthy options are making it easier for their people to graze throughout the day. Grazing keeps employees’ blood sugar stable, which helps them make good choices come lunch time. Choices that will support healthy bodies as well as productive, healthy minds.
Think of it this way: Eating healthy isn’t about resisting temptation. It’s about making the decision to eat healthy as easy and simple as possible.
Kim and Sarah stepped out for lunch before their 1:00 PM conference call. The two women have worked together for years.
“How much do you pay for your gym membership?” asked Kim, making conversation.
“Oh, man … ” Sarah said, “almost $60 a month.”
“Yeah,” said Sarah. “Work pays for half of it, but I still don’t go. Hard to find the energy, you know?”
They found that sex makes people the happiest, but exercise is a close second. Exercise also increases energy levels in the short-term while slowing brain degeneration over the long-term. These benefits, however, don't make it any easier to start an exercise routine. The more sedentary you are, the more uncomfortable it can be to get moving.
An autonomous employee is empowered to make decisions on behalf of her or his organization. They’re also held accountable for those decisions, which seems intimidating and stressful but, in fact, has been proven to increase job satisfaction and, in turn, productivity.
Furthermore, empowered workers are generally more satisfied at the end of a long day. They’re also less likely to quit, largely because they have a sense of ownership over their work and time, brought on by:
“Is he asleep?”
“Yeah, out like a light.”
“I’m so sorry, Matt,” said Yona. “I should've been there to pick him up when I said I would.”
“It’s okay, Yona. I understand. Nate’s school understands. Work’s work. What can we do?”
The electric teapot clicked off. Yona stood up to pour herself a cup of tea, adding honey and a lemon wedge for her sore throat. Then she sat back down and let the teabag steep.
“I’m exhausted,” she said.
“I know,” said Matt. “I am, too.”
A flextime policy gives employees more freedom over when and where they work. It throws out the convention that workers must abide by a uniform schedule, which people appreciate. People value the work-life balance flextime provides, the control it gives them back over their time.
Flextime empowers professionals to focus less on time and more on deliverables, on quality. It also helps parents be parents, and caretakers be caretakers. Forcing people to choose between work and family is wrong because it’s unfair. The fact that technology makes it largely unnecessary adds bite, too.
Genevieve was too eager to wait for the elevator. She took the stairs.
She made her way down the steps quickly. Two flights and a walk-down-the-hallway later, she was where she was going: Her manager’s office.
The door was open. She walked in with a smile and told her boss the good news:
“Dan proposed yesterday!” she said. She was flushed. She asked for a week off next month. Dan had asked her to take a trip together. “Something to celebrate, I guess,” explained Genevieve.
“Vievie,” said her manager, “I'm so, so happy for you. I am. But I don't know if I can sign off on this.” Genevieve pursed her lips. Her eyes shot down to her toes. “You're already a couple days in the hole from that last vacation you took eight months ago.”
“I know, I am,” said Genevieve, “and I hate to ask, but I just had no idea,” she smiled a genuine smile.
Interestingly, even though people hardly took advantage of the generous policy, they still cited it as one of their most valued benefits. Why? To understand, consider the message an unlimited vacation policy sends to employees:
You’re independent: “We hired you to do a job. How you get it done is up to you.”
You’re trusted: “We’re confident you’ll make the responsible choice for the company, and yourself.”
You’re an individual: “We respect that your situation is unique.”
Oliver works from home three or four days a week. He wakes up around 9:00 AM, just as his wife is arriving at her own job in a corporate office complex 45 minutes away.
Most days, he hops out of bed refreshed. He puts on a pair of sweatpants and a Henley shirt. He brushes his teeth. He fries a couple eggs. He eats. No rush. Eventually, he sits down at his desk, muttering the same two words damn near every day, his entree into work: “What now?”
While flexible schedules and generous time-off packages give people space, goals keeps people grounded and focused, accountable for their time and performance. Goals let employees know what the business expects of them, and when it’s due.
Short-term goals, specifically, are effective time-management devices because they can be refreshed every day, even every hour. Knowing exactly what’s in the work queue each morning is a comforting feeling. Plus, taking the first step is easier when you know what the second will be, not to mention the third and fourth and so on.
3) Value: Tact
Tactful people get along. They’re well-liked because they’re generally considerate and respectful. Their emotional intelligence drives healthy collaboration, which is productive on it’s face.
Organizations that value and reinforce tact are enabling employees to get more done in less time.
Practice: Respecting Inertia
John was staring again.
Not at anything in particular, just at an arbitrary spot on his desk. It had no significance, really. It just happened to be where his gaze landed as fell deeper into thought, on the brink of an idea … something valuable … something that would change the way …
“Hey, John?” said a voice.
Concentrate, John thought, still fixated on the spot. Don't lose this.
“Hey John, so-listen-to-this …”
Fffff … it’s gone. “Yeah,” said John, deflated. “What is it?”
TRY:The “Headphones” Rule
Inertia is a terrible thing to waste because starting something, especially at work, is so difficult. But it still happens all the time, especially at work. In offices, particularly those with open layouts, sudden interruptions force professionals to repeatedly start over, losing their focus and, more painfully, their ideas in the process.
The “Headphones” Rule is a small action that can help change this behavior. It’s rooted in a simple gesture: If a colleague has headphones on, don’t interrupt them. Instead, send them an email or a meeting invite.
You can be sure that, unless it’s an emergency, they’ll appreciate it.
Practice: Respecting Time
The conference room was quiet. Nobody wanted to start.
“Does anyone want to start?” asked Sam. Earlier that day, she had called the meeting to discuss next steps for the new eBook idea she’d proposed in the last team meeting. Her Outlook invite was brief and to the point:
Team, it started, this meeting is to discuss next steps for the new ebook idea I proposed in our last meeting.
“In that case, I guess I’ll start,” Sam said, awkwardly. “Though I’ll admit I really just wanted to spitball ideas here. Brainstorm, I guess … ”
TRY: The “Meeting” Rule
It’s estimated that unnecessary or unorganized meetings cost U.S. businesses $37 billion a year.
End with specific actions: (e.g., Pick two topics for a next-Wednesday delivery.)
Adding these requirements to every invite will give attendees an opportunity to prepare beforehand. These minimums will also continually refocus people during the meetings, keeping them on-time and on-subject, productive.
Practice: Respecting Opinions
The family sat down to eat dinner:
“We got a call from school today,” said Mom. “She said you called someone’s finger painting ‘stupid’?”
“So?” said the kid. Mom looked at Dad.
“Son,” said Dad. “Rule #1 in life: Be nice to people.”
TRY:The “Triple-R” Rule
If you’re not nice to people, nobody will like you.
That’s why being respectful, especially at work, is so essential to productivity. The more tolerant you are, the easier it’ll be for others to appreciate your presence and consider your feedback. The easier it’ll be to form healthy collaborations.
The “Triple-R” Rule calls for employees to willingly be receptive, respectful, and reflective when confronted with a new idea, methodology, or concept. Here’s a quick breakdown:
Being receptive demands actively listening to people. You know, making eye contact, leaning in, and not interrupting when a colleague is speaking.
Being respectful demands empathy. Recognize that your colleague has a different perspective, one that's shaped by unique experiences.
Being reflective demands deep thought. Before rejecting your colleague’s opinion, give yourself some time to think about it acutely, alone, without bias.
This can be hard. In your personal life, it may even be impossible. But at work, remember: You want to be easy to talk to. You want to be easy to work with. It’s really good for business.
That’s up to you.
Originally published Apr 10, 2017 6:00:00 AM, updated February 18 2021