Creating a Positive Corporate Culture for Employee Engagement

If you want to inspire employees to produce great work, creating a strong, vibrant company culture remains a core focal point for any business leader. A new report from EMA Partners’ Chris Hardy explores how to build a strong corporate culture with engaged senior leaders!

May 16, 2024 – Corporate culture, when nurtured properly, creates a workforce that is not only dedicated but also emotionally and intellectually committed to the organization’s goals. This exploration delves into effective strategies for nurturing a resilient and vibrant organizational culture, according to a recent report from EMA PartnersChris Hardy. “Additionally, it addresses the critical challenge of rejuvenating cultures that may have grown weak or toxic, offering valuable insights for transformative leadership,” he said. Mr. Hardy points to five ways to build a strong corporate culture with engaged employees:

1. Define Foundational Values: “Company founders play a pivotal role in establishing the bedrock of corporate culture,” Mr. Hardy said. “They must introspectively review their values and collaboratively outline the principles that will guide the organization. A unified set of values is essential for creating a cohesive cultural foundation.”

2. Application of Values: Agreement on values alone is insufficient, according to Mr. Hardy. He says that founders must delineate how these values apply to various situations the company may encounter, aligning them with the organization’s core purpose. This clarity ensures consistent application across diverse scenarios.

3. Assessment of Fit: Mr. Hardy also notes that an integral step is evaluating both current and prospective employees for their alignment with the company’s values. He explains that this ensures a harmonious blend of individuals whose beliefs resonate with the organizational culture.

Related: Designing a Winning Corporate Culture

4. Continuous Education: “Ongoing education on the company’s values, initiated during the hiring process and reinforced at regular intervals, is imperative,” Mr. Hardy says. “This continual reinforcement ensures that employees remain cognizant of the organization’s guiding principles.”

Chris Hardy is managing director, EMA Partners Johannesburg. He has been a search practitioner for over 20 years and established the EMA Partners office in South Africa. Mr. Hardy is a member of the EMA Partners global executive committee and currently serves as the vice president of finance. He leads the board and CEO practice for EMA Partners in Africa. Mr. Hardy has extensive experience supporting clients with global engagements across Africa & Europe, and in multiple industry sectors including financial services, payments & FinTech, FMCG, manufacturing and mining. He has conducted numerous continent-wide executive search assignments, acquiring experience in cross-border searches for multinational clients. 

5. Living the Values: Leadership must set the example by embodying the company’s values internally and externally, according to Mr. Hardy. This entails a holistic approach where everyone, from top to bottom, embraces and integrates these values into their daily actions.

Mr. Hardy also offers four ways to addressing weak or toxic cultures.

1. Establishing Benevolent Values: In the face of a weakening culture, management should collaboratively define a set of benevolent values that align with the organization’s ideals. Mr. Hardy notes that this step serves as a reset, redirecting the company towards a positive trajectory.

2. Values Application and Assessment: “Just as in the initial stages of culture building, management needs to specify how these values should manifest in behavior and practices,” Mr. Hardy said. “All employees should be assessed for their values, ensuring alignment with the revitalized organizational ethos.”

3. Educating on Renewed Values: Mr. Hardy stresses that employees must be educated on the updated values, emphasizing the shift towards a healthier culture. He says this education fosters understanding and promotes a collective commitment to the revitalized organizational values.

4. Leadership Transition: Management should pivot from a traditional managerial approach to a leadership style, according to Mr. Hardy. This involves understanding that employees are not merely resources but individuals to be cared for, nurtured, and empowered.

Transitioning from Management to Leadership is Key

The shift from a traditional management style to a leadership-oriented approach represents a fundamental transformation in how organizations perceive and interact with their employees, according to Mr. Hardy. “In the management style, employees are often viewed as resources akin to other operational assets like machinery or office equipment,” he said. “The focus is primarily on task execution, and the employee is seen as someone who must be trained and supported to carry out assigned tasks efficiently and to predefined standards.”

Related: 6 Steps for Creating an Inclusive Workplace Culture

The relationship between the manager and the employee is characterized by the manager providing explicit instructions, which the employee is expected to carry out,” Mr. Hardy said. “Supervision is constant, and the employee’s role is essentially to follow instructions and receive agreed compensation.”

Leadership Style

Assessment of Capability and Resources: Leadership begins with the manager assessing whether the employee possesses the necessary skills and capabilities for the job, according to Mr. Hardy. It extends to ensuring that the employee has the resources, ranging from office supplies to a clear job description, needed to perform the job effectively.

Accountability and Autonomy: “Employees are held accountable for their work, and expectations are set,” Mr. Hardy says. “Unlike constant supervision, the leadership style encourages employees to work with a degree of autonomy. Performance standards are established, and at intervals, the employee’s performance is measured, leading to appropriate discipline or recognition.”

Caring for and Growing Employees: Mr. Hardy also notes that the essence of leadership lies in recognizing that employees are not just resources but individuals. “Leadership involves caring for and nurturing the growth of employees,” he said. “It is about building a relationship of trust, understanding individual strengths and weaknesses, and providing support for professional development.”

Focus on Engagement and Motivation: The leadership style goes beyond task completion; it aims to engage and motivate employees by aligning their individual goals with the broader objectives of the organization. Mr. Hardy says this approach fosters a sense of purpose, belonging, and commitment among employees.

“The transition from the typical management approach to a leadership style represents a paradigm shift in organizational philosophy,” Mr. Hardy said. “It signifies a move away from viewing employees as mere cogs in the machine to recognizing them as valuable assets whose growth and well-being are integral to the organization’s success. In adopting a leadership style, companies can create a more dynamic, engaged, and resilient workforce, ultimately contributing to sustained success in the contemporary corporate landscape.”

Related: The Importance of Culture on Today’s Businesses

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Executive Editor; Lily Fauver, Senior Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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