Digging deep

Jan 08, 2018

While having a fun workplace is great, the good times must be underpinned by hard work and an ever-present commitment to the firm’s mission.

Let’s not kid ourselves. Our workplace cultures are about a lot more than just the fun stuff. Sure, everybody loves a mini-keg on a Friday afternoon, a good office holiday party, forming a team to run a 5K charity race, or taking the families out to a ball game. And make no mistake, those activities are an important piece of the puzzle in ensuring your employees are happy. However, we all know that a positive, effective corporate culture requires much more than that – things like values, mission, communication, collaboration, respect, advancement opportunities, and operational goals. Culture is the manifestation of an organization’s soul.

But, how can we ensure that the fun part of the culture marries with the hard work of profitable growth and outstanding performance? In October, Little held a THINK-athon, an eight-hour event encouraging employees to collaborate into the wee hours of a Friday night solving industry related challenges, on their own time. While the premise may sound a bit sweatshop-ish, employees were given something equally valuable in return – a chance to be involved in an authentic, high-energy event that allowed participants to remove organizational boundaries and job titles to create breakthrough solutions. At its core, this event aimed to be fun – a cultural attribute Little employees wake up every day appreciating. At the same time, however, the fun, which consisted of food/drinks, music and mini skill-building workshops, coexisted with helping Little advance its mission of generating breakthrough ideas that create a better future.

Will this culturally-focused activity lead to tangible high bottom-line impact? Probably not by itself. That’s why Little also has programs like our grassroots, in-house research and development program that fosters innovative and habitual breakthrough thinking. The LaceUp mini-grant initiative gives employees the opportunity to explore, collaborate, and test an idea they are passionate about. Since launching in 2013, LaceUp has funded nearly 80 projects. One of them was the genesis of our Center for Building Performance, which takes a holistic approach to optimizing buildings for occupants and owners throughout the design, construction, and occupancy phases. This is where the intangible nature of an entrepreneurial culture focused on its employees transforms into tangible competitive differentiation and bottom-line impact.

So how can we make sure that our workplace strikes a balance between the fun, caring, authentic environment, and the rigor of a work culture that leads to profitable growth?

  • Keep your mission and values front and center. When you hear leaders at all levels of an organization talking about the mission, it gives employees a compass to guide their efforts. Breakthrough thinking is at the center of Little’s mission and having it be a driving force behind culturally fun and exciting activities helps reinforce that we all play a critical role in making sure this mission benefits our clients and those who use the projects we design.
  • Motivate employees by celebrating successes. What better way to reinforce your values than to recognize those that are exemplifying them and creating results by doing so? There are multiple ways of doing this. Some involve money or other material rewards and some just involve a pat on the back. We all have the choice as to whether we want to go the extra mile in order to contribute to our organization’s success. As leaders, it’s our job to provide the right motivation and autonomy that encourages that commitment. We should inspire employees to be more thoughtful and proactive in crafting ways their contributions can lead to additional meaning and fulfillment for themselves, while also benefiting the firm.
  • Encourage successful collaboration. Perhaps there is such a thing as collaboration overload – endless meetings, relentless emails, and pointless interactions. However, when done successfully, collaboration leads to innovation by taking full advantage of people’s strengths and respective differences. Oftentimes, we forget that collaboration can also be done outside of the walls of our own organization. Collaboration with groups such as universities and complementary industry organizations often brings new perspectives and ideas that will help push your firm forward.
  • Be authentic. When you have a culture that’s authentic, you have something competitors can’t imitate. Use your mission as your guide to stay true to who you are and you’ll attract top talent and loyal clients.

Dig deep into your culture. Does it coexist with the tangible nature of bottom-line impact? Cultivating this approach takes strong leadership, emotional investment and buy-in from employees. Organizations with a strong and unwavering focus on mission and values and a unique culture that gets their employees excited to come to work every day (with or without a mini-keg), will be the ones who outperform financially and who attract the best talent and clients.

John Komisin is Little’s president and CEO. He can be reached at jkomisin@littleonline.com.

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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.