Workplace Culture: What It Is, Why It Matters, & How to Define It

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Workplace Culture: What It Is, Why It Matters, & How to Define It

Culture is the character and personality of your organization. It's what makes your organization unique and is the sum of its values, traditions, beliefs, interactions, behaviors, and attitudes. Here's an overview of why workplace culture is important, what affects it, and how to define it.

Why is workplace culture important?

Culture is as important, if not more important, than your business strategy because it either strengthens or undermines your business and the objectives it is trying to achieve. Culture is significant, especially because…
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Top 5 Trends in Training & Developing Talent

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Training and development is a critical aspect of an organization's talent management strategy. Every organization needs to invest in it to attract and retain talent and grow their employees' knowledge base and capabilities. Here are five current trends influencing training and development.

Trend #1: Training is a means of keeping, developing, and rewarding talent.

Training has evolved into not only a means of developing employees’ skills, but also a strategy to retain, develop, and reward key talent. In ERC's 2012 Talent Management Practices Survey, the majority (57%) of organizations say they use training and development opportunities as a strategy to retain top or key talent and 61% use it as a way to reward and recognize employees.
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Book Review: The Three Signs of a Miserable Job

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In “The Three Signs of a Miserable Job,” author Patrick Lencioni writes a fable about a retired CEO who strives to understand what causes misery at work.

Congratulations to the Winners of this month's book contest!

This month's winners are Colleen Bennett, Marlene Hansen, Amanda Peace, Roxanne Putnam, and Marci Kehoe. Congratulations! Stay tuned next month for another contest!

Brian Bailey, a retired CEO, experienced years of success as a leader. Once retired, he finds himself restless and dissatisfied, needing a business problem to fix. One night, Brian and his wife Leslie experience poor customer service at a local restaurant near their retirement home. As an inquisitive problem solver and lover of managing people, Brian begins a quest to determine why this small local restaurant is experiencing poor service, and more importantly, why its employees seem so miserable.
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The 5 Most Common Pitfalls of Performance Reviews

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Performance reviews are important tools that managers can use to boost employee performance and productivity to higher levels, but often fall prey to some common mistakes. As your organization prepares to review employee performance in the coming months, we recommend avoiding these 5 pitfalls.

 
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5 Ways to Spot & Develop an Emerging Leader

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5 Ways to Spot & Develop an Emerging Leader

Your emerging leaders are your rising managers and leaders in the making. But how do you spot an emerging leader and then develop them into a leadership role? Picking the right people and training them the right way is essential. That's why we've provided five (5) qualities these talented employees usually embody plus 5 ways to develop them.
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10 Qualities of Remarkable HR Leaders

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Remarkable HR leaders can emerge at any level. Whether they are an entry-level recruiter with a strong ability to hire unique talent, a tenured training manager who has a knack for building employees' skill sets, or a mid-level employee relations specialist with a unique skill for enhancing employee engagement, remarkable HR leaders impact their workplaces in positive ways.

Every day we witness HR leaders who find great talent in the midst of a skill-set shortage; devise competitive pay strategies to retain their top performers; coach managers to build their leadership effectiveness; create training and development programs that engage and grow their talent; design recognition programs that motivate employees; and so much more.

When we routinely interview HR leaders in the community, we find that many highly effective and respected HR leaders and professionals share certain characteristics. Here are 10 of those qualities.

  1. Caring. Remarkable HR leaders have integrity and instinctively care about people. They always put the needs and interests of their employees first. Their caring nature and emotional intelligence guide smart but compassionate policy making, and establish positive and healthy employee relations.
  2. Forward-thinking. They plan for the future of their workplaces, identifying potential threats and opportunities for attracting and retaining their top talent, as well as ways to make positive changes to their organization's culture. They ensure that they are prepared for challenges to protect their organizations and stay ahead of the curve.
  3. Passionate. Great HR leaders love and are passionate about what they do, where they work, their industry and most importantly about talent - finding it, empowering it, engaging it, and developing it. They truly enjoy what they do, whether it's specializing in a certain area of HR, being a generalist, or managing the function.
  4. Innovative. Remarkable HR leaders design creative approaches to attracting, managing, and developing talent with the understanding that to be competitive, they have to stand out from other employers and use different approaches. They are supporters, promoters, and designers of unique world-class talent initiatives.
  5. Strategic. They don't operate in a vacuum. Instead, outstanding HR leaders understand their organization's strategy, take an interest in its vision, and align their work, projects, and goals with the needs of their business. They know what high performance means and how to elicit it through talent management.
  6. Problem-solver. Remarkable HR leaders are problem solvers and impeccable crisis managers. HR lends itself to a number of unforeseen and complex legal, employee, and management problems. Great HR leaders help prevent those, deal with them, and significantly mitigate adverse effects on the organization.
  7. Communicator. Highly effective HR leaders are strong communicators and influencers. They are able to provide guidance on a range of HR issues and influence new ways of doing things to improve the organization's operations. They communicate with ease to employees and managers, and are also able to effectively facilitate change. They listen to their employees and build relationships with them over time.
  8. Ethical. Because they handle a great deal of confidential information and sensitive issues ranging from employee medical conditions and performance problems to legal matters, great HR leaders are trusted, ethical compasses of their organizations. They don't just do what's standard or required by law - they do what's right for their people - even if a higher cost or greater time investment is attached.
  9. Technology-minded. Great HR leaders vet, leverage, and use new technology to make their departments more efficient and accurate in their day-to-day operations. They aren't afraid to embark on new technology to improve their systems and processes.
  10. Life-long learner. Last, but certainly not least, extraordinary HR leaders never stop learning and networking to build their skill-sets and leadership as well as to gain new ideas. They are always trying to find ways to improve their own effectiveness, and thereby, their organization's success.

These are just some of the many qualities that can make an HR leader successful, but the bottom line is that remarkable HR leaders deliver exceptional achievements and results to their organizations by balancing the needs and interests of employees and the business.

Leadership Development Training Courses

Leadership Development Training Courses

ERC offers a variety of leadership development training programs at all levels of the organization.

Train Your Employees

4 Questions Every Manager Needs to Answer

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Successful, effective performance management by managers essentially boils down to simply answering 4 key questions for your employees.

What is expected of me?

Managers have an obligation to tell employees what is expected of them in terms of job responsibilities, projects, and goals or objectives. After all, how can you hold employees accountable without telling them exactly what you need and clearly defining what they are supposed to be doing? This question should be answered at the beginning of the performance management process each year and whenever expectations or responsibilities change. Specifically, managers should clarify and define three types of expectations:

  • what employees should do on the job (responsibilities, duties, key projects, etc.)
  • how employees should do the job (behaviors, attitudes, competencies, etc.)
  • results to be achieved over a specific timeframe (such as deadlines, goals, levels of performance, etc.)

How am I doing?

Throughout the year, managers must provide honest and accurate feedback and coaching to help employees understand how they are doing and progressing, as well as to assist them in staying on track with their performance. Feedback should include an honest assessment of employees' strengths and weaknesses and could be achieved through regular one-on-one meetings with their supervisor, formal mid-year or quarterly check-point meetings, and a final end-of-year evaluation discussion.

Although informal feedback is crucial, over the course of the year, managers should meet formally with employees a few times (at least twice) to revisit their progress on key projects and goals, address performance problems, and create conditions that help motivate employees in achieving their goals.

Don't expect your managers to take the initiative on coaching and feedback without some structure. Some managers can thrive with this informality, but many others can't. Teach them coaching and feedback methods and require structured interactions to ensure that employees receive the support they need.

Where can I improve?

Where organizations often miss the mark with performance management is viewing the process as merely a judgment and administrative record of employees' performance. While evaluation is fundamental to the process, performance management also seeks to develop employees' performance and potential to increasingly higher levels.

Based on their on-going assessment of performance, managers should identify opportunities for employees to develop their potential and discuss those periodically with employees. These opportunities may be improving performance deficiencies, attending training, focusing on skill development, or taking on new projects/assignments.

At times, the performance management process also involves answering the question "Where am I going?" in terms of discussing potential career paths and internal mobility and the requirements for moving into higher and different roles in the organization, particularly if these opportunities are tied to performance in their current job.

What’s the big picture?

Incorporating your mission, vision, values, and strategy into the performance management process helps focus your employees on the tasks, projects, and behaviors that matter most to the organization and its growth - especially if your performance management process is aimed at helping your organization meet its objectives and furthering its mission. Equally as important is to discuss how these components link to employees' performance and why certain tasks and goals are important to the organization's success. Consider...

  • integrating your mission, vision, values, and strategy into the performance review form
  • cascading goals from the top of the organization to individuals
  • continually discussing how employees' goals and responsibilities are tied to the organization's goals and objectives

When viewing performance management through the lens of these important questions, your managers can answer the questions that matter most to your employees and that are most important to their success.

View ERC's Performance Management Survey Results

This report explores performance management practices specifically related to performance reviews, performance criteria, role of the supervisor, and other issues.

View the Results

How to Prevent a Retaliation Claim

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Over the past several years, charges of retaliation filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) have significantly increased, making retaliation a major legal risk that employers face. Here are several ways that employers can prevent retaliation.

Know what employment actions are considered "adverse."

An employee can sue for retaliation if they suffer a tangible, adverse employment action - such as loss of income or employment as a result of engaging in a protected activity. They must prove that there is a connection between their protected activity and the employment action they received. Examples of adverse employment actions could be a demotion, termination, or pay cut. A negative performance review may or may not be considered adverse depending on the circumstances.

Be aware that perception is reality when it comes to retaliation.

You may not intend to hurt an employee, but an action can still be perceived as retaliatory if an employee sees it as such. For example, reassigning or transferring an employee to another location, shift, or role or even separating employees from one another can be perceived as an adverse action if the action results in an outcome that is less desirable to the employee.

Address complaints promptly and respectfully.

Take complaints seriously and treat them with respect and care - they are indicators of dissatisfaction and usually precursors to a lawsuit. Start by establishing a policy against retaliation which communicates that your organization does not tolerate retaliation and explains the steps employees should take if they have complaints. Research complaints thoroughly and document the actions you take to address them.

Make and maintain a list of protections.

Create and maintain a list of all protections under law and distribute it to decision-makers, including supervisors and managers. These protections should include employees requesting FMLA, reasonable accommodations, and those employees in protected classes (race, national origin, religion, etc.). Make sure that decision-makers are aware of the types of activities which are protected under law.

Time your decisions accordingly.

Timing is one of the most important pieces of evidence that usually supports a retaliation claim. The longer the timeframe between the protected activity and adverse employment action, the more often courts have dismissed such claims. Refrain from taking adverse employment actions close to a complaint or protected activity.

Channel major employment decisions through HR.

Require a trained HR professional to be involved in any employment decisions, particularly those that negatively affect an employee. Conduct a thorough HR review before proceeding with a disciplinary action (i.e. warning, suspension, termination, etc.) for any employee who engages in a protected action and make sure that you have plenty of documentation to back up your decision.

Train and educate supervisors.

Supervisors can be major culprits of retaliatory decisions and it's important to make sure they are not making any decisions that could be unlawful. While they may feel so inclined to "get back" at an employee, the risks of doing so often far outweigh any benefit. Share specific examples of retaliation by supervisors, common scenarios, and procedures they must follow to avoid retaliation.

On a final note, when it comes to preventing retaliation in the workplace, it's best to consult case law, your attorney, and the EEOC's website for more guidance on the subject.

Please note that by providing you with research information that may be contained in this article, ERC is not providing a qualified legal opinion. As such, research information that ERC provides to its members should not be relied upon or considered a substitute for legal advice. The information that we provide is for general employer use and not necessarily for individual application.

Additional Resources

Supervisor & Manager Training: Employment Law

In this series, supervisors and managers learn about potential legal issues such as workplace discrimination and harassment, managing employee leaves of absence, and employee performance issues. Supervisory Series is offered in AM or PM sessions.

3 Things Managers Do That Disengage Employees

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Engagement is often viewed as just an "HR thing" when in fact, managers play an even more important role in engaging employees day-to-day. Managers, however, may not realize how their actions engage or disengage employees and how that affects their team's performance and productivity. Here are 3 things managers do which can unintentionally disengage employees.

1. Devalue

Unfortunately, feeling undervalued is a common problem in the workplace and it affects engagement considerably. Instead of focusing on performance and creating value, employees who feel devalued spend their energy trying to defend or prove their value and typically underperform in the process. There are a number of common reasons and situations that could cause an employee to feel devalued, such as:

  • not being recognized or acknowledged for a job well done, or ignored
  • being passed over for a promotion or transferred/assigned to a new area
  • feeling under-challenged or that they are working below their capabilities
  • receiving a lower than expected pay increase, performance rating, etc.
  • being unfairly treated or denied a request for leave, additional flexibility, etc.
  • not being listened/responded to or asked for their input

Managers usually don't intend to make employees feel devalued, but the absence of acknowledgement and the effects of how they treat other employees or the decisions they make can inevitably backfire and leave employees feeling undervalued and disengaged.

2. Distrust

Trust is also vital to employee engagement. Loss of employee trust in leaders or their managers can create havoc on engagement. Disengaged employees who lose trust in their managers spend more time wondering what truths their managers are trying to hold back from them or questioning their manager's honesty, than creating and driving results.

Managers can lose employees' trust in ways that they may not realize. Saying one thing and doing another is a major reason that trust can be broken. If you promise something to an employee (even if it was years prior), they expect you to follow-through. Keeping your word and being consistent is the best way to keep employees' trust.

Micromanaging or over-controlling how tasks are completed and limiting employees' autonomy can also create distrust. If employees feel like you don't trust or believe in their capabilities, they may reciprocate and not trust you. Trust is a two way street, and you must be willing to give trust to gain it.

Other ways managers create distrust inadvertently are by publically criticizing employees or drawing attention to their weaknesses, keeping secrets and withholding information, making changes without honestly communicating why, telling half-truths, not practicing what they preach, and sugarcoating problems or situations. Every manager makes one of these mistakes at one time or another and the negative effects can be difficult to reverse.

3. Disconnect

Employees become disengaged when they don't have a good connection with their manager, or when a positive dynamic with their boss changes. For many employees, their boss is one of the most important people in their work-life. As a result, positive, supportive relationships between employees and their managers play a critical role in engaging employees.

When employees and managers stop communicating with one another regularly or when a positive manager-employee relationship turns sour, a disconnect can occur. Being able to resolve and manage conflicts with employees is a skill managers need to maintain their relationships and connections with employees.

Sometimes disconnects happen without managers realizing it. For example, managers can commonly grow apart from employees with significant tenure or those that don't need as much development. Also, managers can often find themselves operating in a vacuum, busily engaged in tasks and projects, but failing to make time for their people. They may become invisible to their staff or a particular employee. They may also not spend enough time trying to develop rapport with employees.

Connecting, developing trust, and valuing employees are three key ways managers can drive engagement. In the ongoing quest for an engaged, productive, and high-performing workforce, managers must realize how their everyday actions or lack of action can disengage employees and give them the skills and insights to create an engaged team.

Additional Resources

Management & Leadership Development

ERC offers a range of courses to develop supervisors, middle managers, and leaders including popular topics such as communication, conflict resolution, time and priority management, emotional intelligence, and performance management.