That Monday morning feeling
A great workplace culture is said to be like the wind. It’s invisible, yet we can feel it, hear it and see its effects. When it’s filling our sails, we surge forward. Without it, we aren’t going anywhere.
In a powerful quote that resonates with truth, U.S. workplace culture expert, Bill Marklein, describes culture as how employees’ hearts and stomachs feel about Monday morning, on Sunday evening. We all know the feeling.
While researching a blog on workplace culture late last year, we discovered an organisation called Great Place to Work (GPTW). GPTW describes itself as the global authority on workplace culture. It has surveyed more than 100 million employees worldwide since 1992, and used the insights discovered to define what makes a workplace exceptional.
The organisation produces more than 140 best workplaces lists, globally, which represent 10,000-plus companies across 97 countries, in 92 languages — including the prestigious and influential annual Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For in the US.
Over the years, we’ve had fascinating conversations about what it takes to be an exceptional workplace, and why it’s important. We’ve also always had a strong feeling that our workplace culture is unique and positive, so we decided to test that by taking the GPTW survey ourselves — and became an officially certified Great Place to Work in the process.
Our work in culture goes back more than 25 years, when we started as a management consultancy specialising in the challenges of leadership. It continued when we established our creative services business in 2015, with a strong focus on building an organisation with an empowering and enduring culture.
The Being Group is renowned for its work in developing and evaluating culture for a broad range of clients, including the Australian Taxation Office, Sydney Water and the Department of Defence. So, we live what we teach.
The great awakening
The 60-question GPTW survey is completely anonymous and independent. It’s designed to measure companies on factors such as employees’ ability to reach their full human potential, how employees experience company values, their ability to contribute ideas, and their perception of leader effectiveness. If you have unhappy employees looking for an opportunity to vent, it’s not going to go well.
There are some very good reasons employers around the world are paying more and more attention to workplace culture, also known as employee experience (EX). There’s a clear, direct and measurable correlation between a great workplace culture and profit. In 2020, businesses in the “100 best culturally in the U.S.” outperformed the rest of the market by 16.5%.
It’s also about attracting and retaining the best talent. Employees will consistently choose, and stay longer with, the organisation with the best culture. And clients most definitely prefer the experience of working with a happy, positive and vibrant agency. Communication, trust, and therefore a successful result, are always better.
“There is a ‘great employee experience awakening’. 92% percent of organisations surveyed will be prioritising employee experience over the next three years,” says the executive summary of a 2021 employee experience survey by Willis Towers Watson.
But how exactly do you create a great workplace culture?
“It always comes back to one thing – trust. Trust is the one thing that matters to people above all else. It’s one key constant, all over the world,” says Great Place to Work’s Director of Marketing, ASEAN and ANZ, Bernadette O’Connor.
For leaders, creating a culture is most definitely about being the change you want to see. “You’re either building, breaking or rebuilding trust in every interaction with employees,” says Bernadette O’Connor. “So, you need to make each one count.”
“Truly listening to employees sounds quite basic, but we see the best-performing organisations in our surveys get comments back that the leaders are accessible, that people genuinely feel they can give feedback. A real two-way street of listening and speaking is high-up in creating a great workplace, for sure.”
The Being Group’s Principal and Co-Founder, Kerry Neethling, was determined the business would always have an excellent workplace culture.
“In my time in corporate roles, I saw a lot of what I didn’t want in my own business,” she says. “I saw how destructive and counter-productive some workplace cultures were. So, I was always determined BEING would be the best place to work we could possibly make it.”
“The experience of launching and growing The Being Group has changed my belief in the importance of good culture, to a proven understanding. Having seen positive culture at work, I now know it’s even more important than I first thought.”
The Being Group is now a swiftly growing full-service strategic and creative agency in Sydney and London, with almost 50 staff working on more than 80 live projects for a blue chip roster of corporate and government clients.
Writing the future
“When we came to create our own company culture, we had some factors in our favour — a blank slate, and a deep personal desire to write our future. As a person, I love showing other people how important they are to me and those around them. Deep down, I believe everyone on the planet is equal and deserves respect. That’s an excellent starting point for culture-building,” says Kerry Neethling.
“If you employ good people, value them and their work and behave like decent human beings, a great culture is a by-product of that care and attention. That, in turn, creates a great place to work,” says The Being Group’s CEO, and culture specialist, Siebert Neethling.
“We take our culture very seriously. We recruit for it, and we make sure we live it every day. We respect each other, treat each other with compassion and empathy and bring out the best in each other. To be surveyed and accredited as a Great Place to Work is extremely gratifying. We understood we had a great culture, but to have that independently measured as an objective fact, shows the work we’ve put into our culture has been worth it,” he says.
It takes a great deal of consistent effort from leaders to build and maintain a positive culture. There’s a big difference between genuinely listening to and caring for employees every day, and making a hopeful claim — Hey, we have a great culture, we really do! — on your home page.
Things like Friday afternoon drinks, birthday celebrations, an office pool table, parties and dress-up days don’t make a culture. In fact, they’re meaningless and can be downright annoying if they aren’t underpinned by an authentic, visible, ongoing commitment to trust and two-way communication.
“It’s so rewarding to know the culture we’ve created is strong and alive, and The Being Group is a place where people want to be, and do great work,” says Kerry Neethling.
“In the end, we’re doing all we can to make people feel good on a Sunday evening, when they’re thinking about their Monday morning.”