Investing in Your Workplace Culture Is an Investment in Your Success

By Craig P. Anderson

President, Student Connections


Having the right culture for your organization can often mean the difference between success and failure. But sometimes getting to the right culture means you must dismantle the existing one. At Student ConnectionsSM, a Strada Education NetworkSM company, we have made a great effort to drive an extreme culture makeover over the last two years to position our business for long-term success.

A great culture drives higher employee engagement. Gallup reports that only 30 percent of employees are engaged at work. And that lack of engagement is costly. Companies with disengaged employees have 50 percent more employee turnover, 22 percent less utilization and productivity and deliver worse customer service, based on a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management. Gallup also found that companies with disengaged employees are one-third less profitable.

Chances are your employees are disengaged and you may not even be aware of it. As I look back on our journey to improve culture and engagement, there are three key learnings:

  1. Engage yourself as the leader, and commit to it.
  2. Help your team align with your mission through effective communication.
  3. Measure engagement, and use those findings for continuous improvement.

Engage

Culture and engagement drive business success. And culture starts with the leader. One of the most intimidating things about redefining your culture is that you, as the leader, must visibly embody that culture every day. And on the days you don’t, people will certainly notice. So think carefully about the kind of place where you want to work. Early on in my time at Student Connections, I placed tremendous focus on reducing expense and making hard decisions. I communicated to the broader team only when I had to, preferring to work through my leadership team. My office was even set up such that my back was to my door. Rarely, if ever, did I engage with the larger team.

Over time, I came to realize that while I was doing a great job at the strategic, technical and tactical aspects of leadership, I was ignoring the people. And I was, in fact, creating a company that I wouldn’t want to work in. And with that realization, I knew it was time to make a change. With the help of some great mentors, I began to think about the kind of place I where wanted to work and began to build it.

Communicate

CommunicateOnce I had my plan in place, the first step was to begin to communicate it. I began to get out of my office more. I got to know the team and told the story of what we were going to do. I went from quarterly town halls, which I did out of a begrudging sense of obligation, to monthly town halls. I moved from a very formal tone to a much more approachable one. I shared where I saw us going, acknowledged the challenges in getting there, but stayed strong in my belief that we will get there. Our employees responded, and we started to see clearer communication throughout the company.

We also began to communicate with employees the importance of our mission: to make students better consumers of postsecondary education. Last year, Student Connections helped over 300,000 students bring $3 billion worth of delinquent loans current. We also developed a suite of mobile-enabled nonacademic skills training to help students make better decisions on their postsecondary journey. The work we do matters, and we made it a priority for employees to understand that and how their role tied directly to achieving that mission.

Measure

In business you measure efficiency, profit and loss, revenue and expense, and a variety of other KPIs. Given the dramatic business impact of a highly engaged workforce, it’s curious that so few companies track and measure employee engagement. A variety of tools have been created to measure engagement. At Student Connections, we measure it once per quarter. One of our KPIs for the year is tied to increasing engagement. Further, we are working to identify the impacts of increased engagement on business results.

Dramatic cultural change is a highly intentional effort for business leaders. It begins at the top and filters down through the organization. That intentionality must be communicated and tied to how it will positively impact business goals and the employee experience. And finally, these efforts must be measured so you can make the needed adjustments for continuous improvement. If you begin this journey, I’d love to hear from you. You can find me on Twitter, where I also tweet about culture leadership and higher education.

This post also appears on blogs for MBA World and Student Connections.