Developing company culture

Nov 28, 2021

Five ways to develop company culture and how taking these steps can improve your firm’s work environment and your business.

OAC Services Inc. has really focused on company culture over the past five years, winning multiple accolades including ranking among Seattle Business Magazine’s 10 Best Companies to Work For, as well as Puget Sound Business Journal’s list of Washington’s Best Workplaces for five years. So, what makes a company culture work? How can this help a business to succeed?

Here are five ways to develop company culture and how this can not only help improve the work environment, but also help improve your business:

  1. Communication. Strong communication is essential to success. Companies that have open dialogue among all members of their workforce can ensure that problems are solved faster, errors are avoided, and an open-door culture can exist. This, in turn, translates to AEC jobsites where time is money, and any conflict or issue can derail even the most well-planned of schedules. What has been evident is that communication must be targeted for it to be effective both internally and with clients.
    OAC has taken the opportunity to proactively create interactions throughout the company using the technology we have available. This is doubly effective, simply because OAC staff are utilizing much of the same technology to interact with clients. They are directly translating what they practice in our company culture to improve and provide added value to our client services.
    One such example of OAC’s growth in communication was in our recent datathon competition earlier this summer. This was inspired by tech companies’ hackathons, where teams of programmers compete to create innovative solutions or prototypes. The competition encouraged communication between different teams and groups of employees to work together to come up with a pitch using a subset of available data. The five teams then developed their ideas over several weeks, shaping the data into a usable plan that would benefit the company. These types of events and challenges create open dialogue between groups and allows for creative solutions to be developed, and even work through challenges that come with developing something new.
    According to OAC’s CEO and Principal in Charge Shawn Mahoney, “We are now no longer constrained by geography or time zones; if we have models, pictures, or the raw data, we can proactively contribute to client solutions and really, it’s an opportunity to present our culture of collaboration and communication as well as the utilization of our team’s talent and experience that we couldn’t always show in the past.”
    The major takeaway from this statement is to use technology to create a connected culture. Today’s thriving businesses utilize Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and other programs to drive interaction with their workforce and clients. In the current climate with COVID-19 and remote working, these are readily accessible tools that can be formatted to suit a variety of industries and cultures. Mahoney says that OAC’s utilization of communication technology, “provides opportunity to proactively create interactions throughout our company.”
  2. Open leadership. People are the reason behind a company’s success. Without an engaged and invested workforce, it would be impossible for most firms to function, let alone thrive.
    According to OAC Senior Human Resources Director Anna Richardson, “OAC has always been, in my experience, very people-first in our decision making. I see us viewing our clients’ needs and our people’s needs as the top priority. That is really the driver for everything else. Every time OAC communicates, it has to be with intention and purpose and deliver a clear message.”
    Companies should be allowing access and encouraging questions to leadership. You want to have a leadership team with an open-door policy where anyone can talk to anyone without having to go through a never-ending series of supervisors and managers.
    Richardson continued, “Early on in the pandemic our leadership teams said, ‘We need to over-communicate with our people about the state of our business.’ We started having weekly company calls where everyone was kept up to date on every facet of OAC’s business. We answered questions honestly and with the intent to inform and clarify issues that people were having. That meant our employees were better able to focus, and that naturally benefited the projects we were working on, simply because there were fewer distractions.”
  3. Employee collaboration. Eighty-six percent of employees and executives cite lack of collaboration or ineffective communication for workplace failures (Source: Salesforce). So, fostering collaboration in the workplace is a key component to a successful work culture.
    According to Mahoney, “There’s nobody’s name over our door. We are an employee-owned company, and we are, in a manner of speaking, in it together. Individually, we want to give our employees the best working environment, where we want them to grow and develop, personally and professionally. As a collective, we want our employees to work collaboratively, bringing all their individual strengths together.”
    The aim of collaboration in company culture is to develop a cohesive, integrated, and better-connected team while still respecting individual preferences, workstyles, schedules, and personalities. Thereby ensuring an employee’s autonomy while also ensuring they align with company goals. How does one succeed in this balancing-act?
    Mahoney described one such successful example: “We worked on incorporating a behavior self-assessment tool into a team-building exercise to really examine our individual work styles and personalities so we could better communicate with one another and empower our employees to come together and see their strengths and how they operate within OAC. We saw that it really did create value and understanding toward each other and helped to really boost our collaborative spirit. That means that no matter who we team with from our own roster or other AEC companies, we have a better understanding of each other, the client, and overall, the team dynamic that we then successfully brought to our projects.”
  4. Learn from mistakes. There are many ways to grow a quality company culture, but what is the secret to ensuring that growth continues to yield results with clients?
    One rule of thumb is that companies need to learn from mistakes. Taking criticism from your workforce can lead to improvements that drive performance. Clients want to see that companies are adaptive, can improve, and learn from their mistakes. Often in the AEC industry, clients are seeking transparency and honesty from companies that have dealt with challenges and developed “lessons learned” solutions that they carry forward in future projects.
    As Mahoney states, “Growing and developing people in the workplace means learning from your mistakes. What I loved about the ‘best workplace awards’ is that they were the result of anonymous companywide surveys. So, you can’t fake that stuff. People were providing real input and their unvarnished feedback. If they were saying to us that we were lacking or failing in certain areas, then that made me want to improve, to make OAC the best place it could be.”
  5. Carry the culture forward. It’s important for companies to try to stay ahead of the curve. It’s even more important for companies to understand that the formulae for success are ever-changing. So, the best advice is to grow and adapt as you increase your workforce or your geographical presence. Bringing new employees into the culture ensures you continue to go down a positive path.
    According to Mahoney, “Every time we add a new employee, that’s another person we can bring into our culture and benefit a client.” Mahoney continued to discuss the future of the AEC industry and how culture will play a larger role in company-client success: “We need to develop that next generation of leadership.”
    One example that OAC has employed is the development of employee-led committees and councils that are a catalyst to creating a better client experience. These include such groups as the OAC Safety Committee or the OAC Data Governance Council. By simply having and developing these committees, companies can create safer jobsites for clients, identify new data sources, and proactively engage their workforce.
    “As a firm and as an industry at large, we need to build and develop the careers of our teams, so they’re competent, people-focused future leaders,” Mahoney said, “You hope to hire the right smart people and teach them to do what you do better than you ever did. To carry the legacy forward.”

OAC maintains a proactive attitude toward its culture as reflected by its commitment to making better happen, everywhere. One thing that is clear, OAC remains excited and focused toward continually developing its culture and customer experience in always being better, in every interaction. 

Callum Roxborough is a marketing specialist with OAC Services Inc. Connect with him on LinkedIn. This article also included contributions by Shawn Mahoney, OAC’s CEO and principal in charge, and Anna Richardson, OAC’s senior human resources director.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.