Five ways to create a productive workplace culture

Ian Cowley discusses five simple workplace changes his company has adopted that could help you make a huge difference to your organisation.

Establishing a strong company culture is a cornerstone to ensuring long-term growth. Get it right and you boost employee engagement, productivity and wellbeing.


We are great believers in sharing. If you trust your staff by being open with financial information and company growth information, your team will feel invested in an overall shared goal.

We publish an internal newsletter each month, which is written as well as read by the entire team. Each department is responsible for submitting information on their work so that the newsletter provides a 360 overview of the entire business. Each cog is put in the spotlight and celebrated. As a result staff recognise their important role in one finely-oiled machine.

Crucially within this newsletter we also share key financials specifically how we’re doing against the financial goals we’ve set. This openness motivates. So much so staff regularly ask for updates mid-month, knowing that their contribution to this shared goal, results in a thriving company that can deliver better rewards for them in the long run.

The digital agency Futurice takes transparency one-step further. They actually live tweet from meetings that have a company-wide impact using internal channels. While this would be irrelevant for a company like ours which is managed over one location, it’s a great idea for businesses that operate over multiple locations, ensuing everyone has access to the information that affects them. We fully admire the democratic dissemination of information.

A sense of autonomy

Throwing people in the deep end works. If you increase staff ownership you increase productivity. Rather than feel overwhelmed, staff rise to the challenge.

It’s something exemplified by double glazing business Evander. They transformed their service delivery model by reducing the number of people involved in a job, from six to two. Which meant each customer only came into contact with their job owner and the engineer.

The results have been fantastic, in terms of productivity, job satisfaction and staff loyalty. The life cycle of each job has been reduced by 50 per cent. Customer compliments ate up by 400 per cent. Complaints are down by 80 per cent and increased accountability has meant that staff take greater pride in their work in order to deliver the ultimate customer service. Of course, the system exposes but in response they have embraced the challenge of being entirely responsible for seeing a job through to the best possible conclusion.

Employee-led initiatives

This is a tactic that we’ve brought to the fore after reading about HCL Technologies and how they transformed a management-led culture. The interesting thing was they were in a good place; they boasted a $1 billion net profit on $6 billion turnover. However, they realised that in order to stay relevant in a fast-moving industry, they needed to leverage the talents of their employees. They couldn’t rely on innovation always coming from the top.

So it introduced something called ‘ideapreneurship’, which is brought to life with a series of projects, including ‘Make a Difference Jamboree’, or Mad Jam for short. Mad Jam encourages staff to pitch ideas to the senior team. The best ideas are then put to the vote and the winning concepts implemented, financed by a pre-existing pot worth $250,000. To date a total of 1,500 employees have presented more than 600 ideas.

Another project under the ‘ideapreneurship’ umbrella is more anonymous but incredibly successful. It’s called Value Portal and runs through the company intranet, asking for ideas, which will then be reviewed by senior staff. A whopping 32,000 ideas have been received through this route.

HCL’s innovation generation scheme has helped keep growth above 20 per cent despite the competitive world in which they fight.

Related: Why your company culture is vital to your success

Our version of ‘ideapreneurship’ is on a much smaller scale and uses an online service which allows us to canvas employees’ attitudes. It’s our version of an employee satisfaction survey. Each week we issue a question to be answered, anonymously. For example, when we felt morale was low, we asked our team what would help improve their working environment. Interestingly, the majority of ideas were achievable and included branded mugs (to eradicate the chipped mugs hanging around from our early start-up years), bike stands and company nights out. We have been able to implement them without baking the bank and we have immeasurably improved the workplace environment by simply taking ideas on board.

Remove ‘the bad’

To instil a healthy company culture you need to banish bad habits as well as introduce new ideas.

Our bad habit was the fact staff felt they had to take calls and answer emails out of hours. As a result they were always ‘on’ and never able to fully relax in their downtime. So we enforced a ban. It took ages to take hold. Some team members felt that they couldn’t do their job properly if al communication ended at 6pm. In fact, the only way we could impose it was by leading from the top to show it was possible.

However, once in place, this small change has meant staff return to the office energised, ready to tackle the day because they’ve had an enforced digital break. What’s more, it hasn’t affected our ability to do business. Suppliers respect our commitment to protecting our staff’s home life. In fact, some are following suit.

Weekly meetings

A new culture needs to be approved and endorsed by staff. One way to do that is to highlight the cultural ethos first thing in a Monday. Its something our PR company does really well. At 10am each Monday they hold a 45-minute briefing to informally address all the concepts described above. They share the week’s calendar (transparency and autonomy), any issues they’re worried about (transparency), what they’ve learnt from the week before (employee-led initiatives and removing the bad), news from within the industry (employee-led initiatives) and key company financials (transparency). They reemphasise the sense of team and underscore their supportive, hardworking, award winning culture by 10am at the start of every week. It’s hugely motivational.

Ian Cowley is managing director of

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