In my role working with employers, I am frequently asked how to improve corporate culture. While there are myriad options to recommend, many involve management training.
One exercise I use during these sessions asks managers to describe their workplace culture in just a few words. Often, participants respond with terms like innovative, customer-focused, or driven. Then, I follow up with "How would your employees describe your culture?" and "How would your customers/clients/patrons describe your culture?" This is where it gets interesting. These descriptions often fail to sync-up with managers' personal views of their organizational culture. The heart of this exercise involves exploring the gap between the desired workplace culture, and the reality perceived by the employees and customers. Where we go from there is all about strategy and tactics of closing that gap.
In today's competitive environment, organizations use a wide variety of methods to not only assess their cultures, but to also make meaningful improvements. While there is an ever-expanding list of sources to turn to for diagnosing a toxic work culture, there is no one source for the miracle cure. Fortunately, there are increasingly well-publicized stories of employers who have healthy, thriving cultures that lead us by example. One such company happens to employ one of my closest college friends, who regularly raves about her job despite the physical demands and challenging hours. And, despite her educational background and other more lucrative career opportunities, she chooses to work at Trader Joe's.
It is not difficult to find out what makes the employment experience at Trader Joe's so noteworthy. A quick online search will point you to articles such as "Not Your Average Joe," and even a popular podcast, "Inside Trader Joe's." During my online digging, I found many glowing endorsements of Trader Joe's culture. These examples match up well to my friend's own experiences on the job. If you haven't visited a store in person, know that they use a nautical theme and call their employees a Crew. Crew members work together collaboratively and rotate duties on a regular basis. Managers trust their Crew to act responsibly and use their own creativity to serve customers. Trader Joe's Careers page states, "We are looking for hardworking, fun people -- people with a passion for food, learning, and creating delight for others. We take our jobs seriously, wear ourselves lightly and are always looking to improve our Crew." Their Careers page goes on to describe a very generous benefits package and the key tenants of their culture.
While no organization or culture is perfect, Trader Joe's seems to be a shining example of a company where there is very little gap between how leaders, managers, employees and customers describe the culture. That is certainly a worthy goal, and an outcome that is the result of intention combined with hard work. While I am confident that there is no magic pill available to create and sustain an ideal culture, there does seem to be a secret sauce. Made up of key ingredients, delivered on a consistent basis, the sauce can make for a strong workplace culture that stands apart from the competition. Trader Joe's has clearly found the recipe and I hope we can help you find yours.
If you are interested in hearing about how other organizations are endeavoring to improve their cultures so that they can win the war for talent, please plan on attending our upcoming event on August 8. Register for the event online at http://ow.ly/vtcs50uYHhL
• Mary Lynn Fayoumi is president & CEO of HR Source