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How to build culture and why it matters.

Today's job market has nearly every employer stumped. What more can I offer to attract quality employees? And how do I better retain the employees I have? Salaries and benefits are more competitive than ever, but it just doesn't seem to be enough. Why is that? A new generation controls the majority in the workplace and they're placing value in different areas than the generations before.

Millennials now make up over one third of the workforce at 35% according to Pew Research Center, with the gap steadily climbing and expected to reach 75% by the end of 2025.

If your business doesn't cater to their needs, you will suffer the consequences. So, what is it they want? We keep hearing about the importance of remote work and flexibility, terms that are foreign and frankly often unattainable in a predominantly manual labor industry like woodworking. But, there is something more important we can all offer; culture, connection, ensuring our employees feel seen.

We share this not only from others' research but also from first-hand experience. Allmoxy is a company of primarily millennial employees. As a software company, we can offer flexibility and remote work (both of which we do). Yet, when asked, "what makes you want to work here?" All of our employees respond with the same answer, "really feeling part of a team". It's the culture that trumps all. This wasn't an accident. Being passionate about the prevalence of individual and human connections, no matter how much our team grows, or how remotely we work, we spent a lot of time over the last few years trialing different practices and ways to meet (both virtually and in person) that would help us feel connected.

We have a weekly company-wide meeting that once served as a touch base or an update on everyone's departments for that week. However, as our team grew there was too much to be covered in an hour. We started breaking into separate Management and Department meetings, but suddenly new hires on different teams knew nothing about those working in other departments. How could we expect them to feel like they mattered to the company as a whole when they only knew part of it? That's when we revamped the company-wide meeting to serve as a place to grow our culture, rather than just another place for managers to talk while employees listen.

We call it “The Innovation Discussion” it's a weekly company-wide meeting where we spend one hour in open discussion covering two topics:

  1. A pain point that has been identified by management in the leaders' meeting. Now employees from various teams get to hear about what's happening throughout the company and everyone can share solutions that haven't been considered before. It also provides a space to freely discuss ideas for improvement with the senior staff.

  2. A randomizer selects a team member to lead with a topic that has inspired or intrigued them recently. A weekly meeting reminder is sent to the team with the following text:

Our inspiration discussion will be led by (employee name).

Remember, the purpose of this discussion is to find inspiration, new angles, and new perspectives, to keep things fresh, to learn something new from each other, and to bond personally as a team. We want everyone to try to participate!

Some possible prompts:

What life experiences, books, podcasts, articles, or ideas have you had lately?

What were the big ideas, the game changers, the items that made you think?

How can you apply ideas from THAT to our company, our work?

Ask the group: "How do the rest of you overcome/accomplish/deal with...?"

We begin our meeting with the randomly selected team member's portion. They introduce the topic and then open it up to the group for discussion. The freedom given in the topic selection sounds daunting, but it allows for such a variety that we don't feel we will ever run out of fresh topic ideas or tire of this practice. To give more of an idea of the variety topics have ranged from coaching a youth sports team to how to give love unconditionally*. In essence, this practice is a weekly team trust fall. It allows space for vulnerability and real connection where we all learn something about both ourselves and our co-workers.

When the conversation surrounding the inspiration topic is dwindling we spend the remainder of our allotted hour asking for input on the pain point a manager would like employees to weigh in on. Sometimes this is a half-hour, others we don't get to it at all. That's okay because we have found the team growth that comes from the inspiration topic to be so beneficial we try not to stop it when thoughts are free-flowing.

The transformation we have seen take place in the company's culture due to this meeting is the reason we feel passionate about sharing the concept with readers today. When you have a team that bonds weekly like this they truly begin to work together, and for each other, in an entirely new way. These discussions have organically grown the team's loyalty only to each other, but to the company.

We have learned so much from these conversations and feel so passionate about connection-building practices we would like to begin sharing some of them here on Business Briefs in an attempt to host an open discussion collaboratively. Our hope is to bring us together with customers, competitors, and colleagues alike. We look forward to sharing more and encourage you to find a place to implement a culture-building practice in your own companies!

*The only topics we leave off of the table are the standards that do not belong in a workplace as they could cause hurtful division. I.e. Politics and Religion.

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