When people ask me about the best workplaces and what makes them tick, the answers people gravitate most towards are the innovative perks and programs they use. However, what gets less notice and is possibly more critical are the leadership qualities that makes these programs successful: courage and vulnerability.
I was reminded of this by a presentation at the 2011 Great Place to Work® Conference held in Denver, CO. Beth Kavelaris, Director of Culture & Integration at Baird, was sharing how her firm continues to build and protect their culture. In the course of her presentation, she described how the firm sees and treats their culture as a profit center, and the many innovative programs that support this philosophy such as its fanatical hiring approach and an internal TV series, “Whose Culture is it Anyway?”
Yet, the secret behind their success was shown in how Baird executives handle employee feedback. When the firm was going through growth and restructuring, associates began to worry the firm’s culture was fading. In response, they conducted a cultural assessment, identifying several strengths and many negative findings that pointed back to Baird executives and their leadership. When these results were reported to Baird’s executives, they accepted it and chose to share it all, not mitigating or softening the negative feedback.
It takes vulnerability to ask employees how you’re doing and courage to admit you heard them and then do something about it. This openness pays off. By listening and sharing back out the feedback, executives were able to build trust and respect with their associates.
Marcus Erb is a Senior Research Partner and Senior Consultant with Great Place to Work® Institute and author of a monthly column on creating great workplaces in small businesses for Entrepreneur magazine.