“If you don’t devise the right corporate culture one will be created for you,” says Ron Cain, CEO of TMSi, a national logistics firm.

“Therefore, if you’re going to have a culture, it’s up to management to make sure you have the right one.”

How important is culture in your company?

A workplace culture can be productive or disruptive, adversarial or collaborative, and, ultimately, profitable or unprofitable. It is up to management to decide – or allow someone else to define a company’s culture.

Everyone, whether they believe it or not, judges themselves by the company that they keep and, for 40 hours a week, the company they keep are their co-workers. People also forge a significant amount of their self-image from their workplace – what they do and with whom they work inevitably becomes part of who they are. This obvious truism has an impact on every office, every business, and every shop floor in America.

So how does one build a healthy, collaborative, and profitable culture at their business? The United Nations defines culture as a “set of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features of society or a social group. It encompasses ways of living together, value systems, traditions and beliefs." Building one in the workplace is a step-by-step process.

Defining your culture to realise the opportunity.

The first step involves taking your workplace culture seriously. If you begin by assuming that “culture” represents some fluffy HR concept, then you are failing to realise the importance of how your employees interact with each other and with your customers.

Culture sets the tone for your operation – everyday. Labour costs generally represent about two-thirds of the cost of producing any good or service and it is up to you whether that expenditure proves to be an investment or just a cost.

Creating a culture that works for your business is a way to use labour costs to constantly improve efficiency and profitability while building a workforce that is capable of adapting to new challenges in a changing economy.

Further, a positive workplace culture means that you are more likely to retain the kind of employee that you want. If you build a comfortable and empowering place for employees who fit your business, you will be better able to attract and retain them.

Once you’ve decided to build a constructive culture, you have to ask several questions.

  1. What kind of culture drives your organisation?
  2. Can an investment in improving your workplace culture improve your profitability?
  3. Do you have the right team?
  4. Is your leadership team ready and able to change?
  5. Finally, are you personally willing to fail?

After this evaluation, you’re ready to begin implementing a culture change. This process evolves through seven stages.

First, you need to identify your core values.

After identifying your company’s core values, you move to the second stage of this process: Develop a vision and/or mission that fits your organisation.

Third, working to build the right team is essential for success. The right team isn’t based on titles or lines of authority; it is about finding the right people to achieve your mission. Start at the top and hold each and every level accountable. As you progress, be aware that your team will change with your culture. Evolving goals require changing leadership.

The fourth part of this evolution is based on the need to rely on experience and learning from the past to mould the future. Staying humble and being fearless about asking for advice from people throughout the organisation is allows everyone’s experience and background to drive and enrich your business.

None of this will do any good unless the people in your business know and understand the project of building a performance-based workforce. You need to take a fifth step and communicate to educate. Your employees have to see that you’ve truly bought into it. Every time you interact, you have an opportunity to reinforce your culture, values, and mission and you should take advantage of those opportunities.

The sixth stage of building a performance-based workforce is evaluating to improve performance. Specific dates and measures allow you to review the state of your workforce culture. Employee surveys are useful tools for this. Being part of a performance-based workforce means keeping your eyes open and observing how employees participate and engage in their jobs.

In the seventh stage, you have to commit to having Fun. People spend nearly 40 per cent of their adult lives at work and it’s not worth it if you don’t have fun. Let people see the human side of you. Real behavioural change occurs at the emotional level, not at the intellectual. If something doesn’t feel right, people are unlikely to be committed, even it is objectively the right approach.

If you take these steps, your culture will begin to drive productivity and your increased productivity will drive profitability.

Identifying the tools necessary for your plan.

To realise a performance-based workforce, you’ll need both a plan and the tools to complete it. Before you start sawing floor planks you should probably have a blueprint for your house, so let’s start with the plan.

Your blueprint is a statement of your strategy and should provide a birds-eye view from 15,000 metres. Your blueprint should derive from the mission statement and, taken together, your blueprint and your mission statement should tell the story about how you want to create a performance-based culture.

The tools in the toolbox are the tactics you’ll use to build the culture. Here are some tools that we used at Synergy to build our performance-based culture.

A good tactical start is making sure that your efforts are visible. Visual management means fighting the “out of sight, out of mind” effect by keeping the culture-building project in sight. Use technology to your advantage with e-mail updates, put messages on pay stubs, and set up information centres to keep everyone in the culture loop.

By setting achievable goals and rewarding people who attain them, you can stretch the competencies of your workforce. Paying for performance means building bridges between the workforce and the bottom line. Once you’ve accomplished that, you should consider a mix of individual and group incentives, adjusted annually. These incentives should pay for themselves – improvements in bottom line should be used to fund incentives.

Implementing your plan for a performance-based workforce

The first move to make when implementing is closely tying your incentive plans to your core mission. By identifying the key performance indicators (KPIs) that measure your business’s profit performance, you can create measurements for a performance-based workforce. The KPIs usually measure service, quality, sales, cost, or safety or some combination of these. Monitoring KPIs allows you to use metrics to convert performance to profitability and to reward appropriately.

Next, you need to decide how you’ll disburse incentives. What type of incentive plan will yield the best results? The answers to these questions will tell you what incentive plan will most effectively drive behaviour with your employees.

Last, but absolutely not least, make it fun!

You know your people. People won’t remember what you said or did, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel. People define themselves by what they do and where they work – it’s 40 per cent of their time, after all – and if they like coming to work, you will have gone a long way to building a performance-based workforce that works with you.


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